Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.29.21

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Good morning: Here's your first look at the issues behind today's Florida politics.

Gov. Ron DeSantis approval ratings are bouncing back, and Floridians are behind one of his top priorities, according to a new poll from the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

The survey shows 54% of voters think DeSantis is doing a good job two years into his term and nearly a year after the first cases of coronavirus showed up in the Sunshine State.

Meanwhile, nearly three-quarters of voters also think businesses that follow COVID-19 best practices deserve to be shielded from lawsuits.

Ron DeSantis is bouncing back among Floridians. Image via AP. 

The legislation has already gained traction in the Legislature — it has the support of House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson and both chambers have moved the proposal through its first committee.

The Chamber is on board as well, though it is also seeking similar protections for health care facilities and providers, which are excluded from the fast-tracked bills (HB 7 and SB 72). Voters are on the Chamber’s side on that front, with more than seven in 10 saying they’re in support.

Party registration made little difference — it’s backed by 71% of Democrats, 75% of independents, and 78% of Republicans.

The Chamber also did a temperature check on the COVID-19 vaccine, finding 70% would get the shot when able. Among voters age 60 and older, desire climbed to 82%.

The poll was conducted Jan. 14-22 by Cherry Communications during live telephone interviews of likely voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The sample size included 249 Democrats, 256 Republicans, and 105 others for 610 respondents statewide.

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Jimmy Patronis makes liability protections pitch at Florida Chamber summit” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Patronis continued advocating legislation to shield businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits on Thursday during the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s 2021 Economic Outlook & Jobs Solution Summit. Patronis has spent the last few months crisscrossing the state advocating for the protections in his “Rally at the Restaurant” tour, and during the first committee weeks ahead of the 2021 Legislative Session, he’s showed up to voice his support. The Panhandle Republican opened his talk with an overview of Florida’s current economic conditions. Liability protections would allow businesses to stop “living in fear.” 

Jimmy Patronis makes his pitch for COVID liability protection at the Florida Chamber Economic Outlook & Jobs Solution Summit.

Chamber Summit: Florida business leaders push to renew target industry tax rebates” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Florida’s Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund program expired in June, and Florida’s business leaders say the state is missing out on new deals because of it. The program expired last year after the Legislature failed to renew that program, which offered tax refunds to businesses based on their performance. During the Florida Chamber 2021 Economic Outlook & Jobs Solution Summit, business leaders said they want it back. QTI was a deal-maker that could tip the scales that keeps Florida competitive without offering no-questions-asked incentives, said Cyrstal Stiles, senior director of economic development at Florida Power and Light.

Chamber Summit: Technology, education investments could bring a manufacturing boom” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The Chamber wants the state to have a top-10 economy by 2030, and it says growing manufacturing jobs is key to making that happen. While the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed economic growth to a crawl, Correct Craft CEO Bill Yeargin says the state is still in a position to boost manufacturing, if it plays its cards right. Yeargin’s company manufactures boats, mainly tow and saltwater fishing vessels, but it also has a stake in non-nautical industries. Yeargin says Florida has a “leg up” over other states due to its regulatory environment and low taxes. 

A couple of other non-Chamber Summit notes:

👩🏼‍💼 — Get to know Miami-Dade’s first Jewish MayorDaniella Levine Cava set a number of firsts, as the county’s first female Mayor and its first Jewish leader. She’s also the first Democrat to hold the nonpartisan seat since 2004. Her road to those accomplishments didn’t come easy. She overcame an election cycle in South Florida that saw Democrats take a beating. Jewish Insider sat down with Levine Cava to discuss how she came out spared the attacks and accusations of rampant socialism other candidates failed to overcome. Read her inspiring success story here.

🐆 — How money and politics could doom the Florida Panther: The Florida Panther has been on the Endangered Species list since 1973 and its last, best habitat is in Collier County where a lethal highway and boom development threaten the species even further. The Intercept takes a look at how the state animal rebounded from near extinction to only again be imperiled. Florida Fish and Wildlife appears poised to green-light development in part of what little panther habitat remains, the publication investigated how money and greed fueled by the politicization of FWS led to ongoing threats to Florida’s iconic big cat. Read more about it here.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@dataeditor: omg, it’s still January

@WHCommsDir: As the NYT ed board criticizes President [Joe] Biden this am for taking swift executive action to reverse the most egregious actions of the [Donald] Trump Admin, I can’t help but recall that during the primary, they encouraged voters to consider what a president could accomplish through exec Action. So my question is, which actions that the President took to reverse Donald Trump’s executive orders would they have liked to see him not pursue?

Tweet, tweet:

@SecondGentleman: Well, now it’s official. @MerriamWebster just added ‘Second Gentleman’ to the dictionary. I might be the first, but I won’t be the last.

@GovRonDeSantis: The #FloridaLeads budget builds on key investments in education, the environment, health and human services, public safety and more, while safeguarding taxpayer dollars and maintaining strong fiscal reserves.

@NikkiFriedFL: With Florida in a dire fiscal situation, we submitted a budget that funds @FDACS bare minimums. While these are mostly met, it’s disappointing that @FreshFromFL faces cuts when our farmers need help from #COVID19 losses, and zero funding for an environmental conservation tool.

@AnnaForFlorida: .@GovRonDeSantis just described the impact of climate change w/his budget proposal but never actually said the phrase #ClimateChange. 🤨

@GrayRohrer: “We do not allow any tuition increases” — @GovRonDeSantis in unveiling his budget recommendations; Senate leaders have floated allowing universities to increase tuition amid budget crunch.

@_jasondelgado: Florida @GovRonDeSantis is rolling out a new slogan ahead of the budget rollout Down pointing backhand index: “Florida Leads”

@TroyKinsey: In a one-on-one interview today, @GovRonDeSantis tells me his ‘Florida Leads’ budget is so named for FL’s #COVID19 response relative to CA, NY, IL & others: “A lot of those states have significantly worse COVID numbers per capita, but then, they also have worse economic numbers.”

@FloridaEA: “We realize that this is going to be a tight budget year, but now is not the time to divert any funding from our public schools. Our state must continue to invest in public schools, and to invest in our students and the teachers and support staff who serve them.” — @andrewsparfea

@FLVetsAffairs: Veterans can be proud of Florida Leads Budget recommendation by @GovRonDeSantis. Provides for completion & staffing of new veterans’ nursing homes in Port St. Lucie & Orlando, plus suicide prevention campaign, women veterans’ program & vet mentoring initiative. #FLVets

@NoahValenstein: Announced today, the Florida Leads budget includes a continued $625 million for America’s Everglades & water quality, plus an additional $1 billion to be invested over the next 4 years to prepare our communities for the effects of climate change.

@MaryEllenKlas: New revenues? @GovRonDeSants says he would like to renegotiate the compact with the Seminole Tribe, will accept stimulus $, doesn’t answer whether he supports full implementation of the online sales tax, where Florida is only one of 9 states that don’t fully require collection.

@Scott_Maxwell: Every year when the budget’s released, the 1st thing I check is the state’s care plans for the profoundly disabled. The waitlist for services is yearslong. Some kids die before they get help. Hoping this 50% reduction I see here is offset elsewhere.

@RepBrianMast: We’re moving dirt on the EAA reservoir project! Wilton Simpson can go pound it.

— DAYS UNTIL —

Super Bowl LV in Tampa — 9; Daytona 500 — 16; Dr. Aaron Weiner webinar on mental health in the workplace — 20; ‘Nomadland’ with Frances McDormand — 22; The CW’s ‘Superman & Lois’ premieres — 25; the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference begins — 27; 2021 Legislative Session begins — 32; ‘Coming 2 America’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 36; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres — 42; 2021 Grammys — 44; ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ premieres — 56; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 63; Children’s Gasparilla — 71; Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest — 78; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 98; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 154; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 163; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 177; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 183; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 207; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 231; ‘Dune’ premieres — 246; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 277; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 280; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 314; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 322; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 420; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 462; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 616.

— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —

Ron DeSantis proposes Florida budget bigger than last year, defying pandemic” via Lawrence Mower, Mary Ellen Klas, Ana Ceballos and Kirby Wilson of The Tampa Bay Times — DeSantis proposed a rosier-than-expected state budget for the next fiscal year that avoids laying off scores of employees or dipping into state reserves. His proposed $96.6 billion budget, announced Thursday, is $4.3 billion higher than the budget lawmakers passed last year, a surprising increase despite historic job losses and business closures from the coronavirus pandemic. DeSantis said Thursday that better-than-expected state tax revenue and billions in federal pandemic money allowed the state to avoid massive agency cuts.

Ron DeSantis introduces a blockbuster budget, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

DeSantis’ health care spending plan includes increases beyond COVID-19” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — More than half the spending increases in DeSantis‘ proposed budget go to combating the COVID-19 pandemic. On Thursday, the governor proposed a $96.6 billion budget, an increase of $4.3 billion over the budget he signed in June. That’s come despite a $2 billion budget shortfall, largely because of relief funding from the federal government. “Health has gotten a lot of money now with a lot of the stuff that’s come down,” DeSantis told reporters. “That’s much different than more previous to that.” The biggest spending reduction comes from Federal Medical Assistance Percentages, which allowed the Governor to replace $554.7 million for Medicaid and KidCare with federal funds.

DeSantis’ budget would add $286M in K-12 spending — DeSantis’ budget proposal includes $22.8 billion in K-12 budget spending, an increase of $285.5 million over 2020-21 funding levels. As reported by Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida, the budget proposal would bump per-pupil spending to $8,019. In the current budget, per-pupil funding is set at $7,786. The $233 jump is greater than the gap between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 budget years, which measured in at $184. Also, the proposed $132 base student allocation was more than triple the $40 increase last year. “For those who are saying education is just going to get whacked, I think we are showing no, that’s not going to happen,” DeSantis said Thursday.

—”DeSantis’ budget proposal spares students tuition increase” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics

Sales tax holidays spared in DeSantis’ budget” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — DeSantis’ released his 2021-22 budget recommendation Thursday, and a pair of popular sales tax holidays made the cut. The recommendation says the Governor “is committed to continuing to ease Floridians’ tax burden” and outlines a $65 million tax cut in the form of an eight-day back-to-school sales tax holiday and a 10-day disaster preparedness holiday. The sales tax holidays, while popular, have been put on the chopping block in belt-tightening years; however, the Governor’s $96.6 billion budget recommendation is $4.3 billion larger than the current year spending plan. The sales tax holiday on back-to-school merchandise was first introduced in 1998 and wipes out any sales taxes and local option taxes on covered items. 

Sales tax holidays are spared in Ron DeSantis’ record-breaking budget. Image via AP.

DeSantis’s budget calls for more than $420M for affordable housing” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — DeSantis’ first full budget proposal following the COVID-19 outbreak calls for more than $423 million to help fund major housing programs in the state. Last year, lawmakers mostly negotiated the 2020-21 budget before the pandemic’s start. The 2021-22 budget will be far more attuned to the fallout from the outbreak, and housing woes are certainly near the top of Floridians’ minds as the economic downfall from the outbreak continues. Under the Governor’s budget proposal unveiled Thursday, DeSantis recommends nearly $297 million for the State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program. Nearly $127 million more would go toward the State Apartment Incentive Loan Program. The SHIP funds aim to help local governments provide affordable housing options for families in need.

Budget proposal includes $165M to combat sea-level rise — DeSantis included $165 million for the first year of a bond program to help local governments combat sea-level rise and flooding. As reported by Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida, the budget also includes another $625 million for water programs and Everglades restoration. But there are some cuts to environmental programs, including a $50 million cut to the state’s conservation land-buying program, which was funded at $100 million in the current-year budget.

Nikki Fried ‘disappointed’ in DeSantis’ budget proposal — Agriculture Commissioner Fried said she was disappointed DeSantis’ budget proposal includes cuts to the “Fresh From Florida” program. “The proposed budget mostly meets those bare minimums, but it’s disappointing that when our hardworking farmers and ranchers most need help due to hundreds of millions in losses, this budget proposes cutting Fresh From Florida funding not only $500,000 in the coming year, but actually takes back $680,000 from the current budget,” she said. She also criticized a lack of funding for some environmental conservation tools.

First in #FlaPol — “Senate Democratic Leader tests positive for COVID-19” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Gary Farmer announced Thursday he had tested positive for COVID-19. He’s the third state lawmaker this week to contract the virus. “On Monday, I tested negative for the virus via two different tests,” Farmer explained in a Thursday statement. Farmer said he was feeling well, but was isolating as a precaution. “There have been no symptoms, and I hope to recover from this infection quickly,” Farmer said. On Monday, Rep. Jason Shoaf said he had tested positive for COVID-19 after becoming symptomatic Saturday. Shoaf began quarantining after the test, but Sen. Loranne Ausley blamed Shoaf after she tested positive as well.

On top of everything else, Gary Farmer tests positive for COVID-19.

Jason Pizzo could end up boosting DeSantis’ anti-riot bill hated by his fellow Democrats” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — Pizzo, a Miami Democrat whose name is often floated as a potential candidate for Governor in 2022, could play a major role in advancing an anti-riot bill loathed by most Democrats but a top priority of Republican Gov. DeSantis. Pizzo is the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, an unusual top assignment on a key panel for a member of the minority party. His panel is the first stop for the bill. Senate chairs typically get to set their own agendas, so Pizzo theoretically could stop the bill in its tracks by simply refusing to hear the measure. The bill is drawing heated opposition from progressive groups.

Citrus Health Network asks OIG to ‘expedite’ review, clear its name” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The CEO of Citrus Health Network sent a letter to Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel on Thursday asking her to speed up her investigation and into executive pay at state-contracted nonprofits and clear up any impression of financial impropriety. The letter comes after the Office of Inspector General released a preliminary report on possible excessive executive pay at DCF-contracted nonprofits. The limit is currently set at 150% of the DCF Secretary’s annual salary. Some media coverage of the report insinuated that the listed organizations, including Citrus Health Network, were under investigation. Miguel on Thursday clarified that the report was only a preliminary look and not an accusation of wrongdoing.

— LEGISLATIVE MERRY-GO-ROUND —

With a tip of the hat to LobbyTools, here are the latest movements — both on and off — the legislative merry-go-round.

On: Kathryn Vigrass is the new administrative assistant to the Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism.

Off and on: Celia Georgiades moved from administrative assistant in the Senate Health Policy Committee to administrative assistant in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Off and on: Lynn Wells moved from administrative assistant in the Senate Finance and Tax Committee to administrative assistant in the Senate Health Policy Committee.

Off: Charlean L. Gatlin stepped down as legislative assistant to Orlando Democratic Sen. Randolph Bracy.

On: Diane Diggs-Randolph is the new legislative assistant to Fort Lauderdale Democratic Sen. Farmer.

Off: Elise Minkoff stepped down as legislative assistant to St. Petersburg Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson.

Off: Beth Labasky stepped down as legislative assistant to Miami Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo.

On: Sabrina Arnold is the new administrative support to the House Health Care Appropriations and Infrastructure & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittees.

On: Sadie Haire is the new district secretary to Port St. Joe Republican Rep. Shoaf.

— STATEWIDE —

Eckerd Connects says preliminary Inspector General report lacks context” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Another nonprofit under contract with the Department of Children and Families says the preliminary Office of Inspector General report on executive pay is lacking context. The report stems from the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence scandal, which found the DCF-contracted organization had paid ex-CEO Tiffany Carr more than $7 million over three years. In the wake of the scandal, DeSantis directed Inspector General Melinda Miguel to compile and investigate contract data relating to other public-private entities in Florida. Miguel’s preliminary report showed as many as nine nonprofits receiving state funds are paying top executives more than the state allows, currently, 150% of the DCF Secretary’s annual salary. 

Florida Healthy Kids website breached” via The News Service of Florida — Hundreds of thousands of Floridians who applied for coverage or were enrolled in a children’s health insurance program between 2013 and 2020 are being encouraged to take steps to protect themselves financially after a cyberattack. Florida Healthy Kids Corp. said it was notified on Dec. 9 that addresses of several thousand Florida KidCare applicants were inappropriately accessed and tampered with. Subsequent analysis indicated there had been “significant vulnerabilities” on the website — maintained by Jelly Bean Communications Design, LLC — since 2013. As a result, personal information of applicants and enrollees, including Social Security numbers, dates of birth, names, addresses and financial information, could have been illegally accessed.

The Healthy Kids website gets a major hack.

Florida school children gain access to free books” via Jeff Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida elementary school students now can go online to read thousands of books aimed at helping them improve their literacy level. Florida House leaders introduced the Reading IQ program, fueled by the company that operates ABC Mouse, during a news conference on Thursday. It came in conjunction with the filing of a bill that would have printed books sent to homes of the state’s most struggling elementary school readers. “We all believe that access to books is something that could change a child’s life,” said House Speaker Chris Sprowls.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida sees more than 11,000 COVID-19 cases and surpasses 26,000 deaths, state says” via Devoun Cetoute of the Miami Herald — On Thursday, Florida’s Department of Health confirmed 11,423 additional cases of COVID-19, bringing the state’s known total to 1,687,594. Also, 202 resident deaths and five new nonresident deaths were announced. The state’s total death toll is 26,456. The Sunshine State has the third-highest case total after California and Texas and the fourth-highest death toll in the country, after New York, California and Texas. As of Thursday afternoon, there were 6,567 COVID-19 patients admitted into hospitals throughout the state. This is near mid-August levels when more than 7,000 COVID-19 patients were admitted daily into hospitals throughout the state. On Thursday, DOH reported the results of 174,453 people tested on Wednesday. The positivity rate decreased from 10.18% to 7.70%.

Florida sees another big day of COVID-19 cases. Image via AP.

Florida officials break silence on new, more transmissible COVID strain; other variants now emerging in U.S.” via Isaac Morgan of the Florida Phoenix — State officials have finally disclosed at least some information about the new, more transmissible COVID-19 variant circulating in Florida, following weeks of silence on the issue. The data — a list of 19 counties where the potentially more lethal strain called B.1.1.7 has emerged — came after the Florida Phoenix used a state law to request public records on the public health crisis that could help inform Floridians. According to the CDC, Florida and California have the highest number of U.K. variant cases in the nation, with 92. Other, more troubling COVID-19 variants have now made their way to the U.S., as South Carolina recorded the first case of the South Africa variant and Minnesota reported the first one of the Brazil variant.

Jared Moskowitz pulls punches against federal vaccine rollout” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Moskowitz says the problem with Florida’s current vaccine rollout is a supply shortage. Biden‘s press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that about half Florida’s allotted vaccines are unused. DeSantis‘ office shot back soon after, saying the state leads the Top 10 most populous states in administering doses per capita. Moskowitz, a Democrat and the Governor’s top official on the state’s pandemic response, said he would not give any words to the dispute. The frenzy over Florida’s unused doses, which is 45% of doses received, Moskowitz says, comes down to almost 1 million doses reserved for booster shots.

— CORONA LOCAL —

South Florida COVID-19 death toll tops 9K after another daily spike” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The COVID-19 death rate in South Florida jumped back up Thursday, as the tri-county area recorded another 49 deaths in the newest DOH report. That returns the region to numbers seen Friday through Monday when South Florida averaged just over 50 deaths per day during the four-day span. That data showed when deaths were reported, not necessarily when they occurred. One good bit of news in Thursday’s report is that the case positivity rate dropped day-to-day in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. The positivity rate for each county is hovering around 8% over the previous seven days.

Publix offers 38,000 COVID-19 vaccination appointments starting Friday morning” via Louis Llovio of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Beginning at 6 a.m., the grocer will allow 38,000 people to register for appointments at one of about 240 pharmacies offering the COVID-19 vaccine. Seven of those stores are in Charlotte County. The grocery chain is not yet offering the vaccine in Sarasota or Manatee counties. The appointments will be set for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Even if Publix had more vaccine, it’s far from the poor in Palm Beach County” via Marc Freeman, Wells Dusenbury and Aric Chokey of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Annoyed Palm Beach County leaders say they have no idea how long it will be before doses are put in the arms of disadvantaged people because the health department has no say over the vaccine aimed at stopping the coronavirus pandemic. The decision to make Publix the sole distributor isolates a significant portion of the population, especially by the Glades — without any Publix pharmacies in reasonable driving distance, County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said Wednesday. Publix, which provides up to 125 shots a day from 67 pharmacies in Palm Beach County, is completely in charge. No other county appears to be as dependent on the supermarket chain in this way.

Publix COVID-19 vaccinations are not easily available to low-income residents of Palm Beach County. Image via Twitter.

Tampa Bay has 12 known cases of the more contagious coronavirus variant” via Megan Reeves of the Tampa Bay Times — Twelve of the state’s known 92 cases of the more contagious B.1.1.7 strain of the coronavirus are in Tampa Bay, according to the Florida Department of Health. Seven are in Hillsborough County. Four are in Pinellas, and one is in Pasco. The rest are sprinkled throughout 19 of Florida’s 67 counties, with the most in Broward (28) and Miami-Dade (23) counties. The B.1.1.7 strain was initially reported in the United Kingdom, and Florida’s first case appeared in Martin County on Dec. 31. All along, experts have said they expected the variant to take hold and eventually become the country’s dominant strain of the coronavirus, which the CDC predicts will happen by March.

Hialeah Mayor appeals to Marco Rubio, Rick Scott for vaccine help, claims DeSantis snubbed him” via Marissa Bagg of NBC 6 South Florida— Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez said he’s getting nowhere with Gov. DeSantis when it comes to getting COVID-19 vaccine doses to his city, and he’s now reaching out to Senators Rubio and Scott as well as Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart. Hernandez claims Hialeah has been neglected, saying the city hasn’t received a single dose of the vaccine from the state. About 700 vaccines were administered to local seniors at a church in Hialeah and Leon Medical has been given some supply, but for a city of 230,000 people hit hard early in the pandemic, Hernandez says they are desperate for more.

Disney: Guests who receive COVID-19 vaccine must still wear masks” via Mike for BlogMickey — According to an update to the Walt Disney World website, guests who are vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus must still wear a face mask. Face coverings are required for all Guests (ages 2 and up) and Cast Members, including those who have received a COVID-19 vaccine. Please bring your own face coverings and wear them at all times, except when dining or swimming. You may remove your face covering while actively eating or drinking, but you must be stationary and maintain appropriate physical distancing.

Disney says don’t ditch the mask, even if you are vaccinated. image via AP.

Follow-up round of COVID-19 vaccinations starting Monday at Jacksonville senior centers” via Steve Patterson of The Florida Times-Union — Jacksonville officials will start next week administering the second round of COVID-19 vaccinations to people who received their first dose at a city-run senior center, Mayor Lenny Curry said Thursday. The new shots will only be available for the 11,925 people who already received the first shot at either the Mandarin Senior Center or Lane Wiley Senior Center. The new round of vaccinations is scheduled to start Monday, and Curry said people will receive reminder phone calls the day before they’re due for the second shot. People should get the follow-up shots at the same place they received their first vaccination.

A local reporter in Florida has become seniors’ unofficial vaccine hotline” via Derek Hawkins of The Washington Post — The coronavirus vaccine had arrived in Leon County, and suddenly CD Davidson-Hiers’ iPhone was lighting up with calls and texts. Seniors over 65 could now get the shots, but many said they were hitting a wall when they tried to register with the local health department. The agency’s phone played an error message when they dialed, and an online appointment form seemed to go nowhere. For the past four weeks, Davidson-Hiers has acted as an unofficial vaccine hotline for the county of 294,000, helping scores of seniors navigate a public health bureaucracy they say has left them panicked about how to get the injections that promise to end the pandemic.

— CORONA NATION —

Virus variant from South Africa detected in U.S. for 1st time” via Michelle Liu and Mike Stobbe of The Associated Press — A new coronavirus variant identified in South Africa has been found in the United States for the first time, with two cases diagnosed in South Carolina, state health officials said Thursday. The two cases don’t appear to be connected, nor do the people have a recent travel history, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said. The arrival of this variant now surging in other countries shows that “the fight against this deadly virus is far from over,” Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Interim Public Health Director, said in a statement. The two people infected with this variant are adults; one is from South Carolina’s Lowcountry and the other from the Pee Dee region, the state said, while withholding other information to protect their privacy.

Early data shows striking racial disparities in who’s getting the COVID-19 vaccine” via Ari Shapiro of NPR — Slightly more than 6% of American adults have received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine — but a disproportionately small number of them are Black and Hispanic people. The Kaiser Family Foundation group has been tracking data from the 17 states that are publicly reporting vaccination patterns by race and ethnicity, and significant disparities are emerging. In Mississippi, only 15% of Black people have received vaccinations, while they account for 38% of coronavirus cases and 42% of deaths in the state. In Texas, 15% of Hispanic people have been vaccinated, but they account for 44% of cases and nearly half of the deaths.

Novavax’s vaccine works well — except on variant first found in South Africa” via The New York Times — Novavax, a little-known company supported by the U.S. federal government’s Operation Warp Speed, said for the first time Thursday its COVID-19 vaccine offered robust protection against the virus. But it also found that the vaccine is not as effective against the fast-spreading variant first discovered in South Africa, another setback in the global race to end a pandemic that has already killed more than 2.1 million people. That could be a problem for the United States, which hours earlier reported its first known cases of the contagious variant in two unrelated people in South Carolina.

Pentagon may send troops to assist with vaccines, enlarging federal role” via Jennifer Steinhauser of The New York Times — The Pentagon is considering sending active-duty troops to large, federally run coronavirus vaccine centers, a major departure for the department and the first significant sign that the Biden administration is moving to take more control of a program that states are struggling to manage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is hoping to set up roughly 100 vaccine sites nationwide as early as next month, and on Wednesday requested the Pentagon send help to support the effort. The sites, and the use of the military within them, would require the approval of state governments.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

2020 was the worst year for economic growth since the Second World War” via Rachel Siegel, Andrew Van Dam and Erica Werner of The Washington Post — The U.S. economy shrank by 3.5% last year as the novel coronavirus upended American businesses and households, making 2020 the worst year for U.S. economic growth since 1946. Economic growth slowed in the fourth quarter, rising just 1% from the previous quarter. That’s equivalent to an annualized rate of 4%. It is the first time the economy had contracted for the year since 2009 when gross domestic product shrank by 2.5% during the Great Recession’s depths. 

2020 was a terrible year for the U.S. economy. Image via AP.

U.S. jobless claims drop; still at 847,000 as pandemic rages” via Paul Wiseman of The Associated Press — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell but remained at a historically high 847,000 last week, a sign that layoffs keep coming as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage. Last week’s claims dropped by 67,000, from 914,000 the week before, the Labor Department said. Before the virus hit the United States hard last March, weekly applications for jobless aid had never topped 700,000. Tempering last week’s bigger-than-expected drop in claims: The four-week moving average rose by more than 16,000 last week to 868,000, the highest since September.

Florida jobless claims jump as tourism faces long recovery” via Jim Turner of The News Service of Florida — With first-time unemployment claims spiking last week, a top Florida economist is cautioning that the vital, but battered, tourism industry is in for another difficult spring because of COVID-19. Amy Baker, the coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research, told lawmakers Wednesday that despite improved tax-revenue numbers for December, big-spending foreign tourists aren’t expected to flock to Florida in the coming months because of the pandemic. The state has seen an uptick in people driving to Florida, a goal of VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing arm. On average, those tourists don’t spend the same amount of time or money as foreign travelers and others who fly into Florida, Baker said.

Universal Orlando theme parks are breaking even with attendance growing, but COVID-19 pain remains” via Gabrielle Russon of The Orlando Sentinel — Universal’s Orlando and Japan theme parks broke even during the holiday season, but the coronavirus pandemic still took a hit on the division’s fourth-quarter revenue that dropped to $579 million for a 63% decrease from 2019. The theme park division’s annual revenue tumbled from $5.9 billion in 2019 to $1.8 billion for all of 2020 as some of the parks were shut down for months and then reopened with limited attendance. Despite the devastating economic crisis, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts was upbeat, saying the company is confident about the theme parks’ future and the recovery ahead.

Universal theme parks break even, but COVID-19 still stings. Image via AP.

— MORE CORONA —

Why vaccines might not be able to eliminate COVID-19” via Jason Gale of Bloomberg — Many countries are counting on vaccines to build sufficient immunity in their populations so that SARS-CoV-2 isn’t able to find susceptible people to infect, causing transmission of the coronavirus to slow and eventually stop. So far, only one human disease, smallpox, has been officially eradicated; that is, reduced to zero cases and kept there long-term without continuous intervention measures. It’s not known what proportion of the population needs to have immunity to stop the coronavirus from circulating, or whether even the most potent vaccines will be able to prevent it from spreading. It’s likely that re-exposure to the virus or a booster shot of the vaccine will bolster their protection. 

Vaccines do not mean COVID-19 will totally go away, experts say.

New York severely undercounted virus deaths in nursing homes, report says” via Jesse McKinley and Luis Ferré-Sadurní of The New York Times — An investigation by the New York state attorney general has concluded that Andrew Cuomo’s administration undercounted coronavirus-related deaths at nursing homes by as much as 50%. The count of deaths in the state’s nursing homes has been a source of controversy for Cuomo and state Health Department officials. They have also been accused of obscuring a more accurate estimate of nursing home deaths, because the state’s count only included the number of deaths at the facilities, rather than accounting for the residents who died at a hospital after being transferred there.

YouTube has removed more than 500,000 COVID-19 misinformation videos since February” via Coral Murphy Marcos of USA TODAY — YouTube has removed more than 500,000 videos spreading misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic since February, according to a letter by YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki. YouTube’s policies prohibit misinformation about the coronavirus, including claims the virus is a hoax or promoting medically unsubstantiated cures. “We’re always working to strike the right balance between openness and responsibility as we meet the guidelines set by governments around the world,” reads the letter by Wojcicki. “Our approach to responsibility is to remove content experts say could lead to real-world harm, raise authoritative and trusted content, reduce views of borderline content, and reward creators who meet our even higher bar for monetization.”

— PRESIDENTIAL —

New Joe Biden health care orders begin to unspool Donald Trump policies” via Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of The Associated Press — Biden will act to get more people health insurance in the middle of the raging coronavirus pandemic, a down payment on his pledge to push the U.S. toward coverage for all. The White House said he would sign an executive order reopening the HealthCare.gov insurance markets, something the Trump administration refused to do. He’ll also move to start reversing other Trump administration policies, including curbs on abortion counseling and work requirements for low-income people getting Medicaid. Biden has promised to build on former President Barack Obama’s health law to achieve his goal of health insurance coverage for all Americans while rejecting the single government-run system that Sen. Bernie Sanders pushed for in his “Medicare for All” proposal. 

Joe Biden starts to clean up Donald Trump’s mess. Image via AP.

Biden delays orders to reverse Trump-era immigration changes, create task force for separated families” via Camilo Montoya-Galvez and Ed O’Keefe of CBS News — Biden is delaying by at least a few days a series of executive actions on immigration that were anticipated as early as this week, including the reversal of Trump-era asylum policies and a plan to reunite migrant families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. A specific reason for the delay was not clear. A document that outlined Biden’s expected early executive actions indicated that several immigration orders were originally set to be issued Friday, but it also stressed the timetable was subject to change. A memo released by White House chief of staff Ron Klain just before Biden’s inauguration also said a specific plan to reunite migrant families would come before February 1. 

Biden administration halts effort to install Donald Trump loyalists on Pentagon advisory boards” via Dan Lamothe of The Washington Post — The Biden administration has halted an effort to install several Trump loyalists on Defense Department advisory boards, Pentagon officials said Wednesday, as the new administration considers a series of unusual appointments that were made in the waning days of the Trump administration. At least temporarily, the decision affects appointees who include Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, both of whom served as campaign managers for Donald Trump. They were named to the Defense Business Board in December, as the Trump administration also abruptly dismissed other members with a form letter from what historically had been a nonpartisan panel advising the defense secretary.

Biden’s push for $15-an-hour minimum wage faces strong headwinds in Senate” via Jeff Stein of The Washington Post — Biden’s push to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour faces significant hurdles in Congress because of strong opposition from Republicans, skepticism from some centrist Democrats, as well as obscure Senate procedures. Biden proposed the $15-an-hour minimum wage hike in his $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, which congressional lawmakers are starting to debate. Republicans are expected to oppose the measure. If Biden wants bipartisan support for his overall stimulus proposal, he would probably be forced to jettison the wage hike. Democrats are also laying the groundwork to pass their stimulus package through “reconciliation,” a Senate procedure that allows legislation to pass with a narrow majority, avoiding a filibuster.

Biden seen likely to keep Space Force, a Trump favorite” via Robert Burns of The Washington Post — To the last moments of his presidency, Trump trumpeted Space Force as a creation for the ages. And while President Biden has quickly undone other Trump initiatives, the space-faring service seems likely to survive, even if the new administration pushes it lower on the list of defense priorities. The reason Space Force is unlikely to go away is largely this: Elimination would require an act of Congress, where a bipartisan consensus holds that America’s increasing reliance on space is a worrying vulnerability that is best addressed by a branch of the military that is focused exclusively on this problem. The new service also is linked to an increasing U.S. wariness of China.

Space Force may not be going anywhere. Image via AP.

‘For Christ’s sake, watch yourself’: Biden warns family over business dealings” via Natasha Korecki, Theodoric Meyer and Tyler Pager of POLITICO — In the midst of his campaign for president, Biden took his younger brother, Frank, aside to issue a warning. “For Christ’s sake, watch yourself,” Biden said of his brother’s potential business dealings, according to a person with knowledge of the conversation. Biden, whose tone was both “jocular and serious,” according to the person, seemed to know then what is becoming plainly obvious now: His family’s business ties threatened to undermine an administration whose messaging is centered on restoring integrity in the White House. Relatives’ moneymaking ventures, most prominently his son Hunter’s overseas dealings, have long dogged Biden. But it’s taking on a new dimension now that he’s in the White House.

Federal judges are retiring now that Biden will pick their replacements” via Jennifer Bendery of HuffPost — Five federal judges with lifetime appointments who have announced plans to retire or semi-retire since last Wednesday, the day Trump left the White House, according to data provided by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. That’s after eight judges had already announced their plans to step down since Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election. The retirements keep coming. And there are likely others in the queue with similar plans. While judges may, of course, have personal reasons for retiring or semi-retiring at the beginning of Biden’s presidency, it’s safe to say, for the most part, that the timing of these judges’ departures isn’t coincidental: They wanted Biden to pick their replacements, not Trump.

— EPILOGUE TRUMP —

Mitch McConnell was done with Trump. His Party said not so fast.” via Nicholas Fandos and Jonathan Martin of The New York Times — Three times in recent weeks, as Republicans grappled with a deadly attack on the Capitol and their new minority status in Washington, Sen. McConnell carefully nudged open the door for his party to kick Trump to the curb, only to find it slammed shut. So his decision on Tuesday to join all but five Republican Senators in voting to toss out the House’s impeachment case against Trump as unconstitutional seemed to be less a reversal than a recognition that the critical mass of his party was not ready to join him in cutting loose the former President.

Kevin McCarthy, Donald Trump hold ‘very good and cordial’ meeting focused on 2022 midterms” via Benjamin Din of POLITICO — Former President Trump met House Minority Leader McCarthy on Thursday for what was later described as a “very good and cordial” meeting in which the top agenda item was taking back the House of Representatives in 2022. Although many topics were discussed, according to a readout released by Trump’s Save America leadership PAC, the chief focus was on the upcoming midterm elections, when Republicans have a chance to take back the lower chamber after posting surprising gains in the 2020 elections.

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy proves that the Republican Party is not quite done with Donald Trump.

RNC invites Trump to speak at spring meeting” via Alex Isenstadt of POLITICO — The Republican National Committee is planning to invite Trump to its upcoming spring donor meeting, according to a person familiar with preparations for the event. The RNC is also expected to invite other potential 2024 candidates and Republican leaders to the retreat, which is to be held in Palm Beach from April 9-11. Trump has yet to make a public appearance since leaving the White House earlier this month, and he has also been absent from Twitter, which banned him following the Jan. 6 insurrection. With Trump considering a 2024 comeback, the committee has been careful to demonstrate neutrality since the former President is no longer an incumbent. 

Who could have predicted the Capitol riot? Plenty of people, including Trump allies.” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post — As Trump faces his second impeachment trial, Republicans are generally doing everything they can to avoid engaging on his actual culpability in sparking the insurrection. Trump has repeatedly toyed with the prospect of violence by his supporters, and regardless of whether he bears responsibility for inciting them in this particular case. Pro-Trump online forums featured myriad predictions of calls for violence, including users repeatedly responding to a thread by saying, “storm the Capitol.” 

Trump-tied lobbyists’ revenues peaked in President’s final year” via Karl Evers-Hillstrom of Opensecrets.org — Lobbyists selling their connections to Trump capped off a lucrative four-year run with their best year in 2020. After raking in millions from high-profile clients, these Washington influencers are already losing clients under Biden but could still benefit from Trump’s continued influence over the GOP. Brian Ballard, chairman of Trump’s 2016 big-dollar fundraising apparatus and vice chairman of the Trump inaugural committee, made the most of his deep-rooted relationship with the President. A power player in Florida politics, Ballard didn’t lobby at the federal level until 2017, Trump’s first year in office. Since then, his firm raked in $71.4 million in lobbying revenue.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Marco Rubio hammered for silence on Marjorie Taylor Greene — A political committee working to boot Sen. Rubio from office is calling for him to denounce U.S. Rep. Taylor Greene for harassing Parkland survivor David Hogg. The request comes in the wake of a video showing the freshman congresswoman accosting Hogg two years ago, just weeks after the shooting that left 17 dead. “Marco Rubio is the single biggest coward in American politics, so his silence on the horrifying video released this morning is no shock but is particularly galling in this case,” Retire Rubio Senior Adviser Ben Pollara said. “Unsurprisingly, Little Marco always prioritizes his big donors in the NRA and extremists in his party like Donald Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene ahead of the people of Florida.”

Marco Rubio is being tight-lipped on Marjorie Taylor Greene, and he’s getting heat for it. Image via AP.

Parkland survivor David Hogg says it’s time to ‘take down’ Rubio” via Darragh Roche of Newsweek — Hogg has called out Rubio after the Republican failed to denounce Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene for her actions in a resurfaced video from 2018. In the video, Greene can be seen calling Hogg a “coward,” complaining that he met with senators and claiming he was funded by billionaire George Soros. The footage was reportedly taken not long after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, which left 17 of Hogg’s classmates dead. Hogg has taken to Twitter to call on Florida’s senators, Rubio and fellow Republican Rick Scott, to comment on Greene’s actions. He has also called on her to resign from Congress.

Congressional Democrats slam DeSantis for ‘hit-or-miss’ vaccine rollout” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Democratic members of Florida’s congressional delegation hammered DeSantis Thursday, arguing the state has dropped the ball on the COVID-19 distribution effort. Florida’s vaccine rollout has become a political battle with DeSantis, a Republican, leading the state and Democrat Biden now leading vaccine disbursement at the federal level. That’s led to repeated finger-pointing between the state and federal government as many seniors have struggled to secure a reliable vaccine appointment. On Thursday, three members of the Democratic delegation placed primary blame on the Republican administration. Florida has hit several bumps in the road during the vaccine rollout. The state has had some messaging snags as well, such as DeSantis prematurely marking Florida’s 1 millionth vaccination.

Florida delegation backs Michael Waltz’s bill ending federal contacts for businesses tied to Nicolas Maduro regime,” via Florida Daily — The Florida delegation in the House rallied behind Rep. Waltz’s proposal to end government contracts with businesses working with the regime. Waltz’s Banning Operations and Leases with Illegitimate Authoritarian Regime (BOLIVAR) Act would “prohibit the head of an executive agency from entering into a contract for the procurement of goods or services with any person that has business operations with the Maduro regime.” “The U.S. must use every means necessary to strip any funding mechanisms that helps bolster the illegitimate and corrupt Maduro socialist regime,” said Waltz.

Brian Mast seeks end to Lake O discharges into St. Lucie estuary” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Mast says South Florida has a once-in-a-decade chance to stop discharges into the St. Lucie River. The Stuart Republican sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers urging the federal agency to eliminate scheduled water releases from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie estuary. In July, the Army Corps will set up a discharge schedule that will dictate water management for the next 10 years. The discharges have often brought with them blue-green algal blooms from cultures constantly living in Lake Okeechobee. In past years, that has ravaged business and threatened the health of individuals living in Florida’s 18th Congressional District, Mast said. 

The GOP is self-policing … further to the right” via Philip Bump of The Washington Post — Liz Cheney, you may recall, was one of 10 Republicans in the House to vote to impeach Trump earlier this month. The response from other Republicans has not been encouragement or an agree-to-disagree acceptance. Instead, as with other heretics to the party in Trump’s era, the response has been attempting to sideline Cheney and undercut her power. For example, Rep. Adam Kinzinger also voted to impeach Trump and fully expects to have to fight to keep his seat. Another Republican has already filed to run against him in the party primary, which is more than a year away. Notice, though, where the pressure is being applied. It is safe to say that Kinzinger and Cheney are feeling heat from their Party for deciding to hold Trump to account. 

— LOCAL NOTES —

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, Softbank’s Marcelo Claure announce $100 million initiative for Miami startups” via Rob Wile of The Miami Herald — Hoping to ride the wave of tech fervor sweeping over Miami, Claure and Mayor Suarez announced Thursday a new, $100 million venture capital initiative aimed at fueling Miami-based startups. “In the venture business, you need two things: talent and capital … and on behalf of Softbank, we got together and are launching this [initiative] to support Miami based startups or ones moving to Miami,” Claure said in a live broadcast on Twitter with Suarez. Suarez has made Miami the talk of much of the tech world, using Twitter to welcome relocating businesses.

Marcelo Claure is committing $100M in seed money for Miami startups. Image via Bloomberg.

Bay County school officials frustrated with slow federal aid since Hurricane Michael” via Tony Mixon of the Panama City News Herald — Federal reimbursement for Hurricane Michael recovery costs in the Bay County school system has been far too slow so far, officials say. Bay District Schools officials held a three-hour workshop last week to discuss several topics, including expressing their frustration at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response since the 2018 Category 5 storm. To date, the district has spent $176.5 million on reconstruction since the hurricane. Meanwhile, FEMA has reimbursed $37.3 million, with a little more than $23 million of that in the second quarter of 2019. One of the issues facing BDS, said Lee Walters, BDS facilities director, is fixing something so quickly that its damage falls below the 50% damage line.

Orlando restaurant manager who rescued boy with secret sign honored by proclamation” via Daniel Dahm of Click Orlando — A restaurant manager credited with rescuing a boy from severe child abuse by using a secret sign was honored Thursday by a Florida cabinet member. Agriculture Commissioner Fried presented Flaviane Carvalho with a Florida Cabinet proclamation in recognition of her efforts. The proclamation declares Jan. 28, 2021, as Flaviane Carvalho Child Advocacy Day in the state of Florida. Following the proclamation, Carvalho wanted to share a message about her experience and what people can take away from it. “Please, if you see something, especially against kids and old people, the most vulnerable — don’t be afraid to do something about it,” Carvalho said.

— TOP OPINION —

A cultural earthquake shows need for social justice reform” via Lawrence Keefe for Florida Politics — Though the pandemic will define the memory of 2020 for many, the past year’s cultural earthquake also demanded priority attention to long-overdue needs for social justice reform. While the underlying causes are not all related to law enforcement, conflict often results from the interaction between law enforcement and communities that historically have been wronged, by reality and perception. This is especially so when the interaction involves the use of force. As 2021 advances, those of us in the legal system must work diligently to reform programs, policies, and procedures that can measurably be improved to enhance both the perception and the reality of equal justice under the law.

— OPINIONS —

Ease up on the executive actions, Joe” via The New York Times editorial board — These moves are being met with cheers by Democrats and others eager to see the legacy of Trump’s presidency dismantled posthaste. Republicans, meanwhile, are grumbling about presidential overreach and accusing Biden of betraying his pledge to seek unity. In other words, things are going the same way they often do in Washington. “There’s a sort of tribalism when it comes to the use of executive orders,” observes John Hudak, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “When your party’s in the White House, it’s the greatest thing on earth. When your party’s out, it’s undemocratic. It’s basically Satan’s pen.” But this is no way to make law.

The great free-speech reversal” via Genevieve Lakier for The Atlantic — There is a rich historical irony to the fact that today, conservatives are the ones who argue most forcefully that the decisions by private companies to “de-platform” certain speakers threaten what Trump described in 2020 as the “bedrock” American right to freedom of speech. Until very recently, this was an argument made almost exclusively by those on the left. The decision by Twitter, Facebook, and a host of other social media outlets to ban Trump from their platforms after the January 6 attack on the Capitol intensified conservatives’ long-standing concerns that the powerful tech industry is violating their free-speech rights. Trump encouraged and amplified these arguments when he issued a (largely symbolic) executive order in May 2020.

Robinhood is right to save day traders from themselves” via Conor Sen of Bloomberg Opinion — The watchful eye of government may have been part of the reason why the trading app, Robinhood Markets, decided on Thursday morning to limit customers to selling their existing positions in certain volatile stocks rather than continuing to let them buy. The rage on social media generated by that decision shows that the private sector making decisions to rein in market excess has its costs, too. Actions being taken this week by Robinhood and other online trading platforms to rein in speculative activity might be what prevents a bigger bubble that could have more broad-based negative consequences. Maybe the dot-com bubble wouldn’t have gotten as big if day-trading platforms back then had curtailed speculative activity in 1998.

Tampa hopes for Super this time without the sleaze” via Joe Henderson of Florida Politics — In 2009, the last time the Super Bowl was here, they wanted to focus on all the exciting entertainment and business options that can found here. They talked up the nearby beaches, Ybor City, growth, and our historic cigar industry. The media wanted to talk about strip clubs. Back then, Tampa and Hillsborough County had 43 establishments where ladies took off their clothes for males’ entertainment (and money). For visitors, Super Bowl week is about parties, frivolity, and maybe a walk or two on the wild side. That’s where these clubs came in.

Moving Summer Olympics to Florida? What heatstroke of genius!” via Frank Cerabino of The Palm Beach Post — We’re always trying to lure suckers here in the summer, never missing an opportunity to pretend that Florida Augusts are something other than one of the rings in Dante’s Inferno. Trust me, as a longtime state resident who has no interest in picking your pocket: Bringing a showcase of outdoor sports to Florida between July 23 and Aug. 8 makes sense if your only other option was Qatar, or if you’ve decided to make heatstroke a medal event. In Florida summers, we consider the “thrill of victory” getting from your air-conditioned house to your air-conditioned car before the trickle of sweat marches down your lower back.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

— Despite the economic turmoil created by the COVID-19 crisis, DeSantis’ newly announced budget is seeking increased spending for schools and clean water.

— Three Democrats who serve on Florida’s Congressional delegation are blasting the Governor over his management of the vaccination program.

— But the guy in charge of distributing vaccines in Florida says the real problem is a lack of “meds from the feds.”

— Emergency Management Director Moskowitz briefed state lawmakers while accompanied by Cobra: the COVID-19 sniffing dog.

— Rep. Ted Deutch, the Congressman whose district includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, is calling for the expulsion of Taylor Green of Georgia … who retweeted claims that the Parkland massacre was staged.

— And finally, a Florida Man who fired almost 100 rounds while targeting his ex-girlfriend’s current boyfriend during a drive-by shooting.

To listen, click on the image below:

— LISTEN UP —

Inside Florida Politics from GateHouse Florida: Biden’s inauguration as the 46th President of the United States could impact a host of issues important to Florida residents, including federal funding to the states and environmental policies. Journalists Zac Anderson, Antonio Fins and John Kennedy discuss how Biden’s inauguration will reset Florida’s relationship with the White House and what Trump’s new life as a full-time Florida resident could look like.

podcastED: redefinED’s executive editor Matt Lander speaks with longtime education choice advocate Clint Bolick, co-founder of the Institute for Justice. Now serving as an associate justice on the Arizona Supreme Court, Bolick recently co-authored “Unshackled: Freeing America’s K-12 Education System.” Ladner and Bolick discuss the book and imagine what a K-12 education system would look like if it were being built from scratch today. Most traditional schools, Bolick says, are nowhere close to where they need to be if America is to continue its economic prosperity and remain competitive with other developed countries. Education savings accounts, Bolick believes, are the most powerful tool for bringing about improvement in public education.

REGULATED from hosts Christian Bax and Tony Glover: Andy Palalas is Chief Revenue Officer at High Tide, a publicly-traded downstream cannabis corporation. It is among the most vertically integrated players in the Canadian cannabis market, and it recently became the first American or Canadian cannabis company to apply to list on Nasdaq. Palalas discusses his perspective on making legal weed cool and other key considerations as legal cannabis firms compete against the black market. High Tide has been active in the cannabis and cannabis-related spaces in the United States and Canada, and his perspective on the industry is a must-hear.

The New Abnormal from host Rick Wilson and Molly Jong-Fast: Authoritarians like Sen. Josh Hawley don’t have much to defend these days. Their little insurrection failed, their Dear Leader is gone, and his stewardship helped kill more Americans than World War II. But they’ve still got the politics of aggrievement. Of victimhood. Of straight-up whining. Take this past weekend, when Hawley mewled about being silenced — on the cover of a major national newspaper. “It was the absolute pinnacle of the very white, Downy white, snowy top of Mount Snowflake,” Wilson laughs.

The Yard Sign with host Jonathan Torres: Tyler Payne, Joe Wicker, Anibal Cabrera and Torres discuss the Biden inauguration, the new President’s executive orders, his vaccine plan and Florida politics in 2022.

— WEEKEND TV —

Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede on CBS 4 in Miami: The Sunday show provides viewers with an in-depth look at politics in South Florida, along with other issues affecting the region.

In Focus with Allison Walker-Torres on Bay News 9: A discussion with newly elected state Senate Democrats about their agendas as they prepare for their first Legislative Session. Joining Walker-Torres are Sens. Shevrin Jones and Jim Boyd.

Political Connections Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: Host Holly Gregory will go one-on-one with Sen. Rick Scott about the upcoming impeachment trial, the new administration and future elections; Gov. DeSantis will discuss his 2021 budget proposal and the state’s COVID-19 response.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: DeSantis will discuss his 2021 state budget proposal, the COVID-19 vaccine distribution rollout, and whether lockdowns are effective in the fight against COVID-19; and a look at the Winter Park mayoral race.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Host Gary Yordon talks with pollster Steve Vancore and longtime political consultant Mac Stipanovich.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Sen. Scott, Jacksonville City Councilman Rory Diamond and May Habib, CEO of Writer.com.

This Week in South Florida on WPLG-Local10 News (ABC): Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco and Dr. Hansel Tookes, Infectious Disease Specialist, UM Miller School of Medicine.

— ALOE —

Tampa Mayor helps Florida police rescue dog found on busy highway” via Yahoo! News — A lost dog missing since Dec. 28 was found on a highway in Tampa, Florida, on Jan. 27. Police said while it may seem “far-FETCHED,” it was actually Tampa Mayor Jane Castor who spotted the lost pooch while she was driving down the interstate. The Tampa Police Department uploaded a video showing the moment police officers captured the dog running across the northbound lanes of Interstate 275. “Mayor Jane Castor was on I275 when she noticed traffic was a bit RUFF. A boxer-mix dog was spotted running in the northbound lanes … ‘Puppy-Dog’ was then taken, tired but OK, to the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center,” the post said.

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

Tickets on sale for Disney World’s blizzard beach water park reopening” via Donald Wood of Travel Pulse — Officials from the Walt Disney World Resort announced tickets are now on sale for the Blizzard Beach Water Park, which is scheduled to reopen on March 7. Unlike when buying tickets to Disney World, travelers do not need to make a reservation for Blizzard Beach, but the ski resort-themed water park will still be required to follow capacity, health and social distancing protocols. While facial coverings are required throughout the theme park, masks are not allowed on waterslides or while in the water, nor will guests be required to wear the protective gear when eating, drinking or distanced from others.

— SUPER BOWLING —

Jackie Toledo unveils bill to protect human trafficking victims ahead of Super Bowl LV” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Toledo unveiled human trafficking legislation at Tampa International Airport ahead of Super Bowl LV. HB 523 would provide the Attorney General’s Office tools to develop a human trafficking victim advocacy program, making the state’s resources for victims more consistent. Broward Democrat Sen. Lauren Book is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill, SB 812. The program will include 30 hours of training and allows privileged communication for survivors, providing them a network of resources. 

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

Jane Castor issues executive order requiring masks at outdoor Super Bowl events” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Castor signed an executive order requiring the use of face coverings outdoors within specified locations related to Super Bowl LV. The order (2021-07) identifies the locations within the city as “Event Zones” and “Entertainment Districts.” The order goes into effect Thursday and will continue through Feb. 13. The “Event Zones” include areas of downtown Tampa and the area surrounding Raymond James Stadium. The “Entertainment Districts” encompass the Ybor City Historic District, the South Howard Commercial Overlay District, the Central Business District and the Channel District. “We want fans to feel confident knowing that when they come out to celebrate Super Bowl LV, they can do so safely in a city that takes this pandemic seriously,” she said.

Ashley Moody concerned about human trafficking ahead of Super Bowl” via Louis Bolden of ClickOrlando — Attorney General Moody is partnering with businesses, including a ride-sharing app to crackdown. “With entertainment events such as the Super Bowl, there is an increase in human trafficking,” she said. According to Moody, in the week leading up to last year’s Super Bowl in Miami, authorities arrested 44 people and rescued 22 victims of human trafficking. At this year’s Super Bowl in Tampa, authorities are preparing for more arrests. Moody said her office is now partnering with Uber, teaching thousands of drivers how to spot and report human trafficking while picking up passengers. Because of the pandemic, the training is being done virtually.

Jeff Brandes hopes this is the last Super Bowl that Floridians can’t legally bet on” via Mitch Perry of Bay News 9 — The Super Bowl is the single most popular sporting event that Americans bet on every year. Projections from the American Gaming Association before last year’s game predicted that well over $6 billion would be wagered. And thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in 2018 legalizing sports betting, the states that have enacted legislation allowing for gambling will get a nice chunk of the tax revenues for those legal transactions. However, that’s not the top reason why St. Petersburg Republican state Sen. Brandes wants to legalize sports gambling in the Sunshine State.

Superfans can ‘attend’ Super Bowl LV via cardboard cutouts” via Scott Harrell of Bay News 9 — If you can’t afford those exorbitant Super Bowl LV ticket prices, or you’d just rather not risk catching COVID-19 even for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the NFL is offering an opportunity to be seen cheering your favorite team on in the stands. Like the Rays did for their truncated 2020 pandemic season, the NFL will be placing cardboard-cutout pictures of fans around Raymond James Stadium for the Big Game. Anybody with $100 can get in on the seat-filling action by uploading an image of themselves (or, presumably, a loved one) to a dedicated website. As an added bonus, proceeds from the program will be donated to local charities. The Bucs have chosen Feeding Tampa Bay.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to Nick PrimroseUmar Sattar, and Marlene Williams.

___

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
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