Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 3.4.21

Sunburn Orange Tally (8)
Here’s the day that was — and will be — in Florida politics.

Publix, the most prominent private partner in Florida’s vaccine distribution network, strongly disputed a news report insinuating the company had been allowed to operate with little oversight.

The company’s corporate office offered strong words in response to a Miami Herald report regarding the supermarket’s COVID-19 vaccination program.

“From the beginning of the vaccination rollout at Publix pharmacies, Publix has been in direct and constant contact with the state, requesting direction and frequently detailing vaccination plans at our stores,” reads a statement from the Lakeland-based grocery chain.

Publix pushes back on claims it makes it’s own vaccination rules, with little oversight by the Ron DeSantis administration. Image via Twitter.

The Herald on Tuesday published an article entitled: “Publix makes its own vaccine distribution plan. Officials don’t know where shots will go.” Reporting in the piece said the state had shipped 70,000 doses a week to Publix’s central distribution hub in Lakeland, but that the government was not kept abreast on where doses ended up from there.

The report also noted Publix and individuals connected to the company have financially supported Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The article was also published in the Tampa Bay Times.

But the article drew an immediate response from Director of Emergency Management Jared Moskowitz, the most prominent Democrat in the Republican Governor’s administration, dismissed inferences of favoritism.

“This idea (about) why Publix was picked has been utter nonsense,” Moskowitz tweeted. “We reached out to all pharmacies and they were the only one who at the time could execute on the mission. The federal government delayed the federal pharmacy program and we yet again stepped up first to serve more seniors.”

Now, Publix has forcefully condemned the claims published in the news articles as “indisputably false.”

The articles “falsely claimed that Publix’s vaccination program — begun at the direct request of the State of Florida on January 7, 2021 — has been implemented without direction, consultation and coordination with the Governor’s Office, the Florida Division of Emergency Management and the Florida Department of Health,” according to the Publix statement.

The company also criticized the reporting practices of the outlets, saying the company was not contacted about specific allegations.

“It is unfortunate that Publix was not given the opportunity to directly dispute these obviously false claims before they were published,” the statement reads. “From the onset of the pandemic, Publix has made the safety and the well-being of our associates, customers, and communities our priority. As the vaccine became available, we and other retailers were approached to help in the distribution efforts of the state. Without hesitation, we answered the call to serve as a distribution hub for communities across the state. We are proud of our role in administering more than 575,000 vaccine doses in Florida.

“Publix will continue to coordinate the distribution of vaccine throughout the State of Florida, as directed by, and in direct consultation with, the Governor’s office, the Florida Division of Emergency Management, and the Florida Department of Health.”

Florida Politics has reached out to reporters at the Miami Herald and officials with the Department of Health.

___

Joe Henderson: Wilton Simpson’s speech heavy on unity, devoid of cheap shots” via Florida Politics — The speech by Simpson at the opening of the 2021 Legislative Session didn’t have any snark. Refreshing. The Trilby Republican didn’t take shots at the “radical” left. He didn’t include slams at the media nor dire warnings that anyone who doesn’t think like a Republican is a threat to the American way of life. A leader gives that kind of speech — measured, compassionate, focused, and forward-thinking. He directed the speech at everyone, not just the Republican base. Consider the tone Simpson — a conservative’s conservative, to be sure — struck with his words. It’s also worth noting that traditionally the Senate leader’s tone on these occasions is less strident than the House Speaker. Maybe it’s something in the drinking water.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

Tweet, tweet:

@nikkifried: Vaccines for political dollars is corruption at its worst — costing lives, time, and trust. We need an independent investigation now.

Tweet, tweet:

@AaronPBean: Raising a glass of NyQuil to my friend and my Senator Jim King. Truly larger than life.

@ShevrinJones: We just sent a letter to @GovRonDeSantis urging him to extend COVID-19 vaccinations to school bus drivers, early learning educators, and ALL medical professionals. Our educational support staff and medical professionals are also essential, and should be considered.

@AnnaForFlorida: I’m super curious if other states are seeing their Governors give priority access to the #COVID19 vaccine to their political donors or is this just a Florida thing?

@OmariJHardy: Want to see systemic racism in data? Look at the vaccination rates by race for senior citizens in my county. 67% of white seniors. 34% of Black seniors. 31% of Hispanic seniors. It’s hard to survive a pandemic while being Black or Hispanic in Ron DeSantis‘s Florida.

@MaryEllenKlas: NEW: As most of Florida was waiting for COVID vaccines in January, the wealthy Keys enclave of Ocean Reef was vaccinating more than 1,200 residents. A month later, a prominent resident sent @GovRonDeSantis a $250,000 check.

@doug_hanks: Barely a line at the Miami Dade College North vaccination site. *No* appointment needed. Plenty of parking. Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson available — you can come here & be done. “We have golf carts that will take you to your car if you need help” FEMA spox Marty Bahamonde.

Tweet, tweet:

— DAYS UNTIL —

Florida TaxWatch 2021 State of the Taxpayer virtual event — 1; ‘Coming 2 America’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 1; the NBA All-Star Game — 3; municipal elections in Broward and south Palm Beach County — 5; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres — 8; 2021 Grammys — 10; Zack Snyder’s ‘Justice League’ premieres on HBO Max — 14; ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ premieres — 22; 2021 Florida Virtual Hemp Conference — 22; 2021 Florida Derby — 23; MLB Opening Day — 28; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 29; RNC spring donor summit — 36; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 64; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 67; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 120; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 129; MLB All-Star Game in Atlanta — 131; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 141; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 149; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 173; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 197; ‘Dune’ premieres — 211; MLB regular season ends — 213; World Series Game 1 — 236; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 243; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 246; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 281; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 288; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 386; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 428; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 582.

— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —

Jeff Brandes bill to shield health care providers from COVID-19 liability passes second test” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The Health Policy Committee approved St. Petersburg Republican Brandes‘ bill (SB 74) on a 5-4 party-line vote, advancing a measure that could make Florida one of a few dozen states to extend temporary provisional immunity to providers for COVID-19 infections. Brandes’ proposal would raise the bar for lawsuits related to COVID-19 against health care providers by asking plaintiffs to prove providers acted with “gross negligence.” Questions remain surrounding the legal definition of gross negligence, which state courts have defined as an action a “reasonably prudent person knows will probably and most likely result in injury to another.” Ultimately it is up to a judge or jury to determine whether a health care provider’s actions constitute gross negligence.

Jeff Brandes’ COVID-19 liability shield bill barely moves ahead, though with many kudos. Image via Colin Hackley.

___

Capitol reax: Health care liability protections

Jimmy Patronis cheers Senate committee win — CFO Patronis lauded the Senate after the Health Policy Committee advanced SB 74, which provides COVID-19 liability protections to health care providers. “Several months ago, I made it my mission to fight for COVID-19 liability protections for Florida’s health care workers, who have been on the front lines for nearly a year fighting to protect us. During these challenging times, they have stepped up more than ever and risked their own health to protect others from this serious virus. Thank you to the Florida Senate for taking action today to move this legislation forward,” he said. The bill moves next to its final committee stop in the Senate Rules Committee.

FHCA lauds Senate Health Policy Committee — The Florida Health Care Association, which represents more than 600 nursing centers and assisted living communities, applauded the Senate Health Policy Committee for passing SB 74. “The COVID pandemic has been one of the most challenging experiences for my team members. We worked behind N95 masks and several layers of personal protective equipment to protect the most vulnerable people in our state,” Kim Biegasiewicz, Chief Nursing Officer of the Avante Group, told the committee before the Wednesday vote. “It’s been a long year, and my staff are physically and mentally weary. The last thing they need is the added anxiety of having our decisions second-guessed by attorneys and others who can’t imagine the pressures we’ve had to endure.”

___

End of the road(s)? Repeal of Florida toll roads project clears first stop in Legislature” via Jeffrey Schweers of The Tallahassee Democrat — A massive public works proposal to build three new toll roads through three separate rural corridors of Florida is heading for the nearest exit ramp. A proposal to repeal the state law that created what’s known as M-CORES cleared its first legislative panel, the Senate Transportation Committee, on a 5-3 party-line vote Wednesday. The bill would redirect some $132 million tapped for the new highways to create alternate paths for expanding rural trucking routes and improving intersections. “We really had to address the fiscal impact and feasibility” of the project, said committee Chair Gayle Harrell, who filed the measure.

Scaled-back bill targets port regulations” via Jim Turner of The News Service of Florida — The House Tourism, Infrastructure & Energy Subcommittee voted 12-6 to approve a revised measure (HB 267) that would only block local regulations at municipal-run ports in Pensacola, Panama City, Key West and St. Petersburg. In the decision to remove other ports from the bill, Rep. Rick Roth, a West Palm Beach Republican whose district is just north of the Port of Palm Beach, said lawmakers were trying to solve the issue “more with a scalpel than with a sledgehammer.” Port of Pensacola Director Amy Miller warned that prohibiting a port governing body or city council from a say on types of cargo could endanger communities.

Rick Roth prefers a scalpel — and not a sledgehammer — for port regulations. Image via Colin Hackley.

Opponents of short-term vacation rental bill fear it would strip local control” via Emma Kennedy of the Pensacola News Journal — A bill aiming to bring short-term rentals under state regulation rather than that of local counties or cities is making its way through the Legislature, prompting a debate over whether the measure is a win for property rights or a detriment to neighborhoods. The argument for state regulation is one of upholding property rights and instituting accountability, according to state Rep. Alex Andrade, who is in favor of the bill. However, local and tourism officials worry the bill would overlook the nuances of the short-term rental industry and exacerbate problems like “party houses.” Currently, in Escambia County, there isn’t any kind of permit or inspection process that happens to ensure the property meets any standards.

— TALLY 2 —

Assignment editors — House Speaker Chris Sprowls will join U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States Carlos Trujillo, the Victims of Communism Foundation and other guests for a news conference, 9 a.m., steps of the Historic Capitol Building facing the Capitol Complex Courtyard.

Senators back hearing aid coverage for children” via News Service of Florida — The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee on Wednesday approved a proposal that would require individual health-insurance policies to cover the costs of hearing aids for children who have been diagnosed with hearing loss. The measure, SB 1268, is sponsored by Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley. It would require a minimum coverage of $3,500 per ear over 24-month periods. It would take effect on Jan. 1 and apply to individual policies, not group or employer-sponsored coverage. Baxley said that children being able to hear “changes their whole life.” Rep. Chuck Brannan, a Macclenny Republican, has filed a similar bill (HB 373) in the House.

Dennis Baxley gets thumbs-up for his bill for insurance to cover kids’ hearing aids. Image via Colin Hackley.

—”Code snitch? Joe Gruters pinch-hits as anonymous complaint ban advances in Senate” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics

—“Dog chaining bill advances in Senate” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics

Building design measure supported in House” via News Service of Florida — The House Local Administration & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee voted 12-6 along party lines to approve a bill sponsored by Rep. Toby Overdorf that would prevent local governments from placing restrictions on a variety of design issues on new single-family and two-family residences in what Overdorf described as “open lots.” For example, HB 55 would prevent local restrictions on building colors, locations of garages and locations of windows and doors, according to a House staff analysis. The bill would be ready to go to the full House if it passes the House Commerce Committee. Sen. Keith Perry, a Gainesville Republican, has filed a similar bill (SB 284) in the Senate.

‘Grandparent tuition waiver’ gets House go-ahead” via Ryan Dailey of The News Service of Florida — A proposal is advancing in the House that would allow high-performing students who live outside of Florida to pay in-state tuition rates at public universities if their grandparents reside in the Sunshine State. The measure (HB 1273) is dubbed the “grandparent tuition waiver bill” by House sponsor Patt Maney. It would let out-of-state students scoring in the 89th percentile or higher on the ACT or SAT exams enroll as full-time students at Florida universities and pay cheaper in-state tuition. The proposal was approved Wednesday by the House Post-Secondary Education and Lifelong Learning Subcommittee in an 11-3 vote, with three Democrats opposed.

Judge refuses to dismiss Ronald Rubin defamation case” via The News Service of Florida — Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker issued a decision denying a request by Rubin to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Kimberly Grippa, though Walker narrowed the allegations in the case. Grippa sought in 2019 to be hired as general counsel of the Office of Financial Regulation but reported what she considered inappropriate comments by Rubin during an interview, according to the lawsuit. Rubin was later removed as commissioner after an investigation that involved allegations about his treatment of women. Grippa filed the lawsuit in January 2020 alleging that Rubin had defamed her in a separate lawsuit; in emails that were part of an investigation by DeSantis’ inspector general; and in a letter provided to state investigators.

— LIABILITY POLLS —

COVID-19 liability protections are popular with voters, according to a new survey conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy.

The poll found business and health care liability protections with 72% and 74%, respectively. Notably, support transcended party affiliation, age, gender, race, ethnicity and region.

Nearly two-thirds of Democrats backed protections for businesses, while 76% support protecting health care providers. Republicans’ support for business protections was higher, at 81%, with another 71% supporting health care protections. About seven in 10 independents favor both proposals.

Florida TaxWatch, which released the results, said it was further evidence that lawmakers should keep the legislation on the fast track.

Liability shields for COVID-19 lawsuits is popular with a majority of Floridians — except seniors.

“Florida TaxWatch has been a longtime advocate of this issue and, clearly, we hit the mark. Through this survey, we confirmed that the vast majority of taxpayers want to shield responsible, hardworking business owners and dedicated health care workers from frivolous COVID-19 liability lawsuits,” FTW President and CEO Dominic Calabro said.

“Make no mistake — we must ensure that good actors are protected, and bad actors are punished, but Floridians recognize that if this legislation does not pass, we are headed down a slippery slope that has the potential to destroy our economy by as much as $27.6 billion with an annual job loss of more than 356,000.”

The poll was conducted Feb. 24-28 via landline and cellphone. It has a sample size of 625 registered Florida voters and a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

___

Bills to shield health care providers from coronavirus lawsuits may have many fans in the Legislature, but older Floridians aren’t sold on the idea.

A new poll from AARP Florida shows Florida voters over 50, by an overwhelming margin, would rather keep the right to seek damages from nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Party affiliation made little impact — 96% of Republicans, 95% of Democrats and 95% of independents agreed.

Rather than protecting facilities, 86% of those surveyed said they would prefer the state focus on ensuring state funding for nursing homes goes toward residents’ health and safety.

“Florida’s 50+ voters have spoken loud and clear. Our survey results show that Floridians strongly support policies that hold nursing homes accountable, fund adequate staffing and safety in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and ensure quality care for our most vulnerable,” AARP Florida state director Jeff Johnson said.

“Florida lawmakers should listen to their constituents and the citizens of our state. Destructive legislation that protects nursing home industry executives over Florida’s families is a shameful attempt to further degrade the quality of Florida’s long-term care system and let nursing homes off the hook. AARP Florida will continue to be a strong voice for our members and all Floridians who demand and deserve better.”

The poll also found 89% of voters over 50 believe caregivers who work in long-term care facilities should be paid a living wage. At 97%, Democrats were the most amenable, followed by independents at 88% and Republicans at 83%.

— LOBBY REGS —

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Laura Adams: Office of the State Attorney Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida

Alexander Barrera: City of Miami

Frank Bernardino, Natalie Fausel, Anfield Consulting: C-PACE Alliance, Florida Association of Property Appraisers, UnidosUS

Jacqueline Carmona, Rubin Turnbull & Associates: Hatzalah of South Florida

David Clark, Allegiant Strategies Group: Precision Building & Renovating

James Daughton, Douglas Bell, Patricia Greene, Warren Husband, Allison Liby-Schoonover, Aimee Lyon, Andrew Palmer, Metz Husband & Daughton: Ancestry.com

Laura Donaldson, Manson Bolves Donaldson Varn: Lealman Special Fire Control District

Peter Dunbar, Dean Mead: Step Up for Students

Tonyaa Fargason: State University System Board of Governors

Julie Fess, Sha’Ron James, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart: American Pharmacy Cooperative, Edgenuity

Rachel Garland: Nutrien

Mary Hall, McEwan Martinez & Dukes: Florida Justice Reform Institute

Shevaun Harris: Department of Children and Families

Brian Jogerst, BH & Associates: All State Construction

Danny Jordan, Nicola Powell, Don Yaeger, Jeanette Yaeger, Victoria Zepp, One Eighty Consulting: IXL

Jeff Kottkamp: Triangle Capital

Laura Lenhart, GrayRobinson: Canaveral Port Authority, Devereux Foundation, River Region Human Services

Allen Mortham: Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges

Jennifer Pritt: Florida Police Chiefs Association

Marc Reichelderfer, Landmarc Strategies: TrueCore Behavioral Solutions

Sam Wagoner, Sunrise Consulting Group: Pasco County Board of County Commissioners

— LEG. SKED —

The House is scheduled to meet in a floor Session, 3:30 p.m., House Chamber.

The Senate Finance and Tax Committee meets, 9 a.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Rules Committee meets, 9 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The House Civil Justice and Property Rights Subcommittee meets, 10 a.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The House Infrastructure and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee meets, 10 a.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.

The House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee meets, 10 a.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

The House Secondary Education and Career Development Subcommittee meets, 10 a.m., Room 212, Knott Building.

The Senate Appropriations Committee meets, 11:30 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee meets, 1 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The House Public Integrity and Elections Committee meets, 1 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

The House Rules Committee meets 15 minutes after the end of the House floor Session.

— STATEWIDE —

Nearly 62,000 get health coverage in Florida” via The News Service of Florida — Nearly 62,000 people in Florida enrolled in Obamacare health plans during the first two weeks of a special enrollment period, according to information by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. In all, 206,236 people in 36 states that use a federal health-insurance exchange enrolled in plans. With 61,737 people enrolling in Florida from Feb. 15 to Feb. 28, the state accounted for nearly 30% of the new enrollment and far outpaced other states.

Tom Brady backs Casey DeSantis’ student resiliency initiative — Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback and seven-time Super Bowl winner Brady is backing First Lady DeSantis’ new resiliency initiative for students. The curriculum, announced last week, is focused on helping kids learn to deal with adversity by boosting problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. In a video, Brady said it’s easy for him to keep on track right now, fresh off a Super Bowl win, but “what about when things happen in life that are very difficult when things are tough at home or a loved one’s sick? Life’s always going to present us with incredible challenges … but these moments are true opportunities and tests for us to grow.”

To watch the video, click on the image below:

Business groups wade into permitting fight” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — The Florida Chamber of Commerce and a major developers’ group are seeking to intervene in a high-stakes lawsuit over a move by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to shift permitting authority to the state for projects that affect wetlands. Attorneys for the Florida Chamber and the Association of Florida Community Developers filed documents Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington, as they seek to help defend the EPA’s decision. A coalition of environmental groups filed the lawsuit in January, contending that the EPA and other federal agencies did not comply with a series of laws in making Florida the third state to have such permitting authority.

— 2022 (AND BEYOND) —

First Republican enters race to succeed Jay Trumbull in HD 6” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Panama City businessman Grey Dodge has filed to run for House District 6. Dodge, a Republican, is the first candidate for the seat. Rep. Trumbull currently holds the seat but he cannot run for reelection next year due to term limits. “The Panhandle needs strong leadership that will fight for us and our conservative values in the state Capitol,” Dodge said. “I will put all my experience to work fighting to support Bay County’s small businesses, to limit excessive government regulation, to improve our infrastructure, and to strengthen our local economy.” HD 6 covers all of coastal Bay County, including Panama City, Panama City Beach, Lynn Haven and Mexico Beach. It has a heavy Republican advantage.

Grey Dodge is gunning for Jay Trumbull in HD 6.

Alen Tomczak enters race for HD 66” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — St. Petersburg Republican Alen Tomczak on Wednesday launched a campaign to succeed Rep. Nick DiCeglie in House District 66. The seat is open following DiCeglie’s recent announcement that he would not seek reelection in the Pinellas County district and would instead run for Senate. Tomczak was born in Clearwater to Polish immigrants. He serves in the Army National Guard and was deployed as a platoon leader in the Horn of Africa. “Our community deserves a voice who isn’t afraid to fight on the front lines to get our children back in the classroom, to put an end to runaway government regulations, to secure our borders, and to protect our constitutional rights. I’m ready to fight for the America First Agenda,” he said.

Jacksonville Democrats implode, and Republican ’23 mayoral candidates cash in” via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union — The Duval Democratic Party is imploding right on cue: Just as Republican candidates are gathering strength for an open mayoral race in 2023, raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions, including some from known Democrats, the city’s left-of-center party is, not for the first time in recent years, eating itself alive. There is a widening chasm between the way Jacksonville votes in high-turnout statewide races and how it behaves in lower-turnout but still incredibly important citywide races. Most of the energy and talent left in the local party is focused on power struggles over the deep blue City Council, legislative and congressional seats concentrated in and around Northwest Jacksonville, rather than citywide offices — particularly Mayor.

Facebook to lift political ad ban imposed after November election” via Sara Fischer of Axios — Facebook will finally allow advertisers to resume running political and social issue ads in the U.S. on Thursday, according to a company update. Facebook and rival Google instituted political ad bans to slow the spread of misinformation and curb confusion around the presidential election and its aftermath. Google and Facebook both implemented political ad bans following poll closures on Nov. 3. Google lifted its political ad ban on Dec. 10, allowing campaigns to run ads around the Georgia runoff election in January. It reinstated its political ad ban following the Capitol siege and then lifted it in late February.

Rick Scott gets no love from the MAGA-verse” via Matt Dixon and Gary Fineout of POLITICO — Sen. Scott has spent years courting MAGA supporters. But he can’t quite get them to love him. The billionaire-turned-politician is trying to build his own national brand ahead of a potential run for president, but some early stumbles — including a recent pivot away from Donald Trump — aren’t endearing him with the base. “I would argue what he has done since the election has been confusing,” said Tony Fabrizio, Trump’s top 2020 pollster and a former Scott adviser. “He votes to not certify Pennsylvania, yet the other day said [Joe] Biden obviously won the election.”

— CORONA FLORIDA —

6,014 new Florida coronavirus cases reported Wednesday; 132 new deaths” via Fox 13 News — According to the state’s daily update, the total number of cases in Florida is now 1,924,114. The number of Florida resident deaths has reached 31,267, an increase of 132 since Tuesday’s update. In addition, a total of 562 non-Floridians died in the state. As of Wednesday, the number of Floridians currently hospitalized for a primary diagnosis of COVID-19 was 3,597, with the state reporting a total of 80,024 hospitalized for treatment at some point. Vaccination efforts continue across the state. The number of new cases had generally been trending down in the fall, mirroring the number of tests being given. It began to increase again in the winter but has again started to drop.

Ron DeSantis says doctors will decide which people under 65 can get COVID-19 vaccines” via Steven Lemongello, Kate Santich and Richard Tribou of The Orlando Sentinel — It will be up to doctors to decide which “extremely vulnerable” people under age 65 will be allowed to get COVID-19 vaccinations in Florida, DeSantis said Wednesday, clearing up confusion over how newly eligible residents will prove they qualify. “[Doctors] have seen how this virus is impacting different folks,” DeSantis said. DeSantis’ executive order allowing Floridians with medical conditions under 65 to get vaccines from doctors, pharmacists and advanced nurse practitioners with a doctor’s note was issued Friday without any fanfare. A second order issued Monday required doctors to fill out a state-mandated form.

Ron DeSantis is leaving the decisions of those under 65 who get a vaccine to doctors. Image via Colin Hackley.

Superintendents seek flexibility on assessments” via The News Service of Florida — School superintendents urged Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to ask the federal government for waivers related to student assessments and accountability. Pinellas County Superintendent Michael Grego, president of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said in a letter to Corcoran that the U.S. Department of Education “has determined that students must be given assessments to understand the impact of COVID-19 on student learning.” But Grego wrote that the federal government is “inviting states to seek certain waivers to be as flexible as possible in both the administration of those assessments and the ways in which the results are used.” Grego urged Corcoran to seek such waivers because of how the pandemic has interfered with learning.

— CORONA LOCAL —

‘A melting pot for variants.’ U.K., Brazilian, New York COVID-19 strains found in Miami” via Ben Conarck of the Miami Herald — Taking a deeper look at the types of COVID-19 viruses circulating in some hospital patients, researchers at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine have identified a scattering of genetic footprints, with one viral culprit out-competing the others and surging to become the predominant strain. That version of the virus, called B.1.1.7, or the “U.K. variant,” has been in Florida since late last year, scientists agree, and is destined to become the main strain here, perhaps as soon as this month. Researchers at UM examined nearly 500 samples of the COVID-19 virus, the bulk of them from patients at Miami-Dade County’s Jackson Health public hospital facilities.

Wealthy Keys enclave received COVID-19 vaccines in January before much of the state” via David Goodhue and Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — As Florida’s eldest residents struggled to sign up to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, nearly all those aged 65 years and older in a wealthy gated enclave in the Florida Keys had been vaccinated by mid-January, according to an emailed newsletter obtained by the Miami Herald. The management of Ocean Reef Club, located in north Key Largo, also acknowledged in the Jan. 22 message to residents that the rest of the state was grappling to get its hands on the vaccine. Neither Ocean Reef’s media relations representative nor officials from its medical center immediately returned phone and emailed messages to answer questions about how it received so many vaccines before much of the rest of the state.

The exclusive and wealthy Ocean Reef Club was able to swing some early vaccines. Image via Facebook.

Northwest Florida teachers, law officers and firefighters over 50 now eligible” via Tom McLaughlin of the Northwest Florida Daily News — Seasoned educators, law enforcement officers and firefighters across Northwest Florida have begun lining up this week to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. DeSantis made vaccinations possible for employees over the age of 50 of those essential professions through a couple of executive orders issued in recent days. The first DeSantis order, issued last Friday, expanded the range of medical professionals available to vaccinate individuals under the age of 65 who had been determined to be “extremely vulnerable” to COVID-19, according to Okaloosa County Public Safety Director Patrick Maddox. At least one hospital, North Okaloosa Medical Center in Crestview, is working with local health care partners to support access to the vaccine in the primary care setting.

Bay County COVID-19 vaccine milestone reached: 50% of seniors vaccinated” via The Panama City News Herald — Bay County has vaccinated 50% of its senior population from the COVID-19 virus, health officials announced Tuesday. According to the Florida Department of Health in Bay County, the milestone was reached last week for residents 65 years old and older. “Last week we reached a significant milestone in our vaccination effort … 50% of our 65 and older residents have received the vaccine,” said Sandon S. Speedling, the health department’s administrator and health officer. “This would not have been possible without our valued community partners to whom I am thankful.” To date, 22,639 county residents have received the COVID-19 vaccine, with 15,714 of them being 65 years old and older. 

Letter sent to thousands of struggling Duval HomeRoom students to return to brick-and-mortar” via Troy Kless of First Coast News — Thousands of students are falling behind with online learning. Duval County Public Schools is sending letters strongly encouraging students struggling with Duval HomeRoom to come back to the classroom. DCPS says students who received that letter met at least one of these three criteria: they received a D or F in English, Language Arts or Reading; a D or F in Mathematics, an Achievement Level 1 score on the district’s Progress Monitoring Assessment test in Math or English/Language Arts; or an attendance rate less than 90%. According to the letter, parents must choose one of three options: notify their school they already decided to go back to brick-and-mortar, cancel Duval HomeRoom and move to brick-and-mortar on March 23, or stay in online classes.

As federal coronavirus vaccine site opens in Tampa, some get Johnson & Johnson shots” via Allison Ross of The Tampa Bay Times — Some Tampa Bay residents were among the first in the state to get a Johnson & Johnson coronavirus shot Wednesday at the new federal vaccine site in Tampa. The new site, at the Tampa Greyhound Track, 755 E. Waters Ave., is offering first- and second-dose Pfizer shots as well as some doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines, said Hallie Anderson, external affairs for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Anderson said the walk-up site, which is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, had administered about 400 shots by 11 a.m. Wednesday.

Tampa gets a FEMA vaccination site, complete with the one-and-done J&J vaccine. Image via AP.

Florida says the Super Bowl led to ‘low numbers’ of COVID-19 cases.” via Patricia Mazzei of The New York Times — When the Super Bowl was held in Tampa, last month, with tens of thousands of fans in attendance, there was wide concern that the big game and the hoopla surrounding it would result in the mass spread of the coronavirus. Experts in Florida have been trying since then to gauge to what extent those fears became reality, and the early signs are that the effect was fairly limited. A public health official said on Wednesday that the state had tracked 57 cases of COVID-19 to official Super Bowl activities. Case tracking began the week before the Feb. 7 game and continued for two weeks after the Feb. 10 parade.

Commissioner Misty Servia asks DeSantis to vaccinate more seniors in her district” via Ryan Callihan of the Bradenton Herald — In a letter to Gov. DeSantis, Servia urged state leaders to provide additional vaccines for senior citizens in her district. The letter highlighted several opportunities for the health officials to partner with Manatee to distribute vaccines by tapping into the county’s Vaccine Standby Pool or working with a large neighborhood. Servia thanked the Governor for his leadership throughout the pandemic before asking him to consider inoculating older residents in her district, which is home to several mobile home parks and an older population.

— CORONA NATION —

Joe Biden prepares blitz of action to prod schools to reopen” via Natasha Korecki and Michael Stratford of POLITICO — Biden is tapping a federal agency to help vaccinate teachers and child care workers. He is using his bully pulpit to push states to get shots into teachers’ arms by the end of the month. The administration is even considering creating a “school reopening” czar. And newly-minted Education Secretary Miguel Cardona will launch his tenure on Wednesday with a visit to middle schools that have successfully reopened, in a high-profile event with First Lady Jill Biden. The blitz is part of an intensified administration-wide push to reopen schools, as the Biden White House hurtles toward a 100-day self-imposed deadline to return children to the classroom.

Joe Biden is doing a full-court press to get schools back open. Image via AP.

A national system to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines has largely failed as states rely on their own systems” via Aleszu Bajak and David Heath of USA Today — Operation Warp Speed thought it had a futuristic solution to help ration COVID-19 vaccines so those most at risk would get doses first. It spent $16 million on Tiberius, a high-tech system meant to not only track the shipments of the vaccines but guide local decisions of where to send them. For many states, Tiberius proved either so irrelevant or so complicated that the only incentive for them to log on each week is to check the most basic of numbers: how many doses of vaccine they’re getting. The Donald Trump administration’s embrace of Tiberius was one part of its broader effort to project competence and planning expertise.

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says to avoid Johnson & Johnson vaccine if possible” via Jaclyn Peiser and Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post — On Tuesday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urged Catholics to avoid taking the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine and to choose alternatives from Pfizer or Moderna instead because Johnson & Johnson used cells derived decades ago from an abortion to create the vaccine. The bishops’ recommendation follows a similar one from the Archdiocese of New Orleans last week and a recommendation from a Food and Drug Administration expert panel over the weekend approving the Johnson & Johnson shot.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

“$1,400 checks in COVID-19 relief bill would phase out at $80,000 instead of $100,000, according to deal between Biden and Dems” via Nicholas Wu of USA Today — Senate Democrats reached a deal with Biden to limit the eligibility for $1,400 checks in his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, phasing the payments out for Americans earning more than $80,000, according to two sources familiar with the deliberations not authorized to speak on the record. The tweak is a goal of moderates who did not want the checks to go to wealthier Americans. The checks would start to phase out at $75,000 and phase out entirely at $80,000 of income for individuals, as opposed to about $100,000 in the version of the legislation passed by the House last week.

Joe Biden and congressional Democrats agree to an income cap for relief checks at $80K. Image via Getty.

COVID-19 relief bill sets $365 million for Hillsborough, Tampa” via C.T. Bowen of the Tampa Bay Times — The bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives includes about $285 million in relief for Hillsborough County and a separate $80 million allocation for the city of Tampa, Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, said. Castor, speaking remotely from Washington D.C. to the Hillsborough County Commission, complimented the county government on how it handled its earlier allocation. “Because it was so transparent and because it was so impactful on the lives of our neighbors, it made it easy for me to say to my colleagues here in Washington, ‘Yes, we need to sustain another round of emergency support for our community,’” Castor said.

Unemployment you didn’t ask for: former Florida business regulation head got a check” via The Tallahassee Democrat staff reports — Jonathan Zachem, former head of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, has joined the ranks of Floridians who received an unwanted unemployment payment. Senate President Wilton Simpson mentioned the need to address fraud in the unemployment system. DEO director Dane Eagle told a panel of lawmakers this week unemployment systems across the country have been deluged with claims. Call centers in all 50 states were overwhelmed, he said, and delays in processing applications happened in 47 states. Zachem, who led DBPR in 2017-18, said in his post he had “been working without interruption the last few years and was told I needed to call back. Then hung up on!”

— MORE CORONA —

COVID-19 can derange the immune system in complex ways, research shows. Here’s how.” via Liz Szabo of Kaiser Health News — Immune cells, which protect the body from infections, need to be “educated” to recognize bad guys — and to hold their fire around civilians. In some COVID-19 patients, this education may be cut short. Scientists say unprepared immune cells appear to be responding to the coronavirus with a devastating release of chemicals, inflicting damage that may endure long after the threat has been eliminated. “If you have a brand-new virus and the virus is winning, the immune system may go into an ‘all hands on deck’ response,” said Dr. Nina Luning Prak, co-author of a January study on COVID-19 and the immune system.

The surprising key to combating vaccine refusal” via Derek Thompson of The Atlantic — Why wouldn’t someone want a COVID-19 vaccine? Staring at the raw numbers, it doesn’t seem like a hard choice. Thousands of people are dying of COVID-19 every day. Meanwhile, out of the 75,000 people who received a shot in the vaccine trials from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax, zero died and none were hospitalized after four weeks. As the United States screams past 500,000 fatalities, the choice between a deadly disease and a shot in the arm might seem like the easiest decision in the world. Or not. One-third of American adults said this month that they don’t want the vaccine or are undecided about whether they’ll get one. That figure has declined in some polls.

Resistance to vaccinations are dropping, but there are holdouts.

Many Republicans don’t want the coronavirus vaccine. Donald Trump could change that.” via Olivier Knox of The Washington Post — In the campaign to get Americans vaccinated against the coronavirus, especially those aimed at populations skeptical of getting inoculated, Trump has missed his chance to be Elvis Presley. The former President quietly got vaccinated in January before leaving the White House instead of getting his shot in public — as Presley did in 1956 to encourage people to take what was then the relatively new polio vaccine. But the former President’s rock-star status among Republicans could still help overcome deep GOP skepticism about immunizations. On Sunday, Trump devoted a significant section of his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference to the effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine in record time, and declared: “Everybody go get your shot.”

Most of us put our lives on hold the past year. But some decided to make a big change.” via Amanda Long of The Washington Post — On March 11, 2020, the coronavirus outbreak was officially declared a pandemic. The 12 months since have been filled with undeniable, ubiquitous reminders that life is short and unpredictable. Somewhere between “How could this be happening?” and “Is this what I want my life to be?” some people went ahead with life-changing decisions. Despite the global health crisis they didn’t tread water. Instead, they created the lives they’ve always wanted. In our year of waiting, here are stories of people who didn’t wait.

How the coronavirus devastated a generation“ via Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli of The Washington Post — In one of the hardest-hit parts of the West’s most aged nation, the coronavirus blitzed through a generation in a matter of weeks. It killed more than 100 of 400 residents in the local nursing home. It forced this city to rush-order eight refrigerated trailers to hold the corpses. It created a horrifying landscape of ambulances racing to the private homes of seniors, who were dying at a rate 400% above the norm. All the while, the very measures designed to keep the elderly safe have erected a wall around them.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Biden’s Cabinet half-empty after slow start in confirmations” via Alexandra Jaffe of The Associated Press — Biden’s Cabinet is taking shape at the slowest pace of any in modern history, with just over a dozen nominees for top posts confirmed more than a month into his tenure. Among Biden’s 23 nominees with Cabinet rank, just 13 have been confirmed by the Senate, or a little over half. And among the 15 core nominees to lead federal agencies, 10 have been confirmed, or about two-thirds. According to the Center for Presidential Transition, about a month into their first terms, the previous four Presidents had 84% of their core Cabinet picks confirmed. On Tuesday, Biden’s cabinet was thrown into further uncertainty when his nominee to lead the White House budget office, Neera Tanden, withdrew from consideration.

Joe Biden’s Cabinet is half empty. Image via AP.

‘They just were not all in’: How the White House convinced two pharmaceutical giants to collaborate on a vaccine” via Jeremy Diamond of CNN — Biden’s coronavirus response team learned two things his first week in office: Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot coronavirus vaccine was highly effective; but the company was millions of doses behind its production schedule. Preliminary conversations that began under the Trump administration about a vaccine manufacturing partnership between the pharmaceutical giant and its competitor, Merck, whose own vaccine attempt had failed, were “incremental” and going nowhere fast, according to two senior administration officials. And Johnson & Johnson seemed reluctant to commit to a large-scale deal with Merck, the officials said.

White House taps insurers to boost vaccinations among vulnerable communities” via Susannah Luthi of POLITICO — The Biden administration on Wednesday announced a new initiative with health insurers to ensure some of their most high-risk customers get vaccinated against COVID-19, as the White House tries to energize lagging efforts to distribute the shots equitably. The effort, organized by White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt and led by major lobby America’s Health Insurance Plans, is aiming to fully vaccinate 2 million people 65 and older from vulnerable communities over the next 100 days. The program is essentially leveraging the work health plans already perform with high-risk patients, such as helping them book appointments, reminding them about follow-ups and arranging transportation.

— ENERGY POLL —

As the next COVID-19 relief bill nears Senate passage, a new poll shows voters want action on clean energy.

The poll, commissioned by Climate Power and the League of Conservation Voters, found including clean energy investments as part of Biden’s Build Back Better Recovery plan is overwhelmingly popular among American voters.

American voters want clean energy to be part of Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Recovery plan. Image via AP.

The poll found 60% hold a favorable view of Biden’s plan, while just 23% hold an unfavorable view. The remaining 17% are neutral.

The approval rating rises to 68% in battleground states, including Florida. The cost has an impact on support, though net approval stayed in the positive even with a $4 trillion price tag.

At that level, 56% of battleground state voters favor the bill compared to 23% who don’t. The balance were unsure.

— EPILOGUE: TRUMP —

The real post-Trump GOP divide: House vs. Senate” via Burgess Everett and Melanie Zanona of POLITICO — Technically they belong to the same Party. But on a growing number of issues, House and Senate Republicans might as well live on different political planets. And much of the intraparty strain revolves around the aftermath of Trump’s presidency. The Senate GOP is firmly behind Alaskan Lisa Murkowski’s reelection bid even after she voted to convict the former President of inciting an insurrection. But across the Capitol, House Republicans are largely leaving Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez on his own following his impeachment vote as Trump endorses his primary challenger. Even that division goes deeper than Trump, with the National Republican Senatorial Committee largely backing incumbents while the National Republican Congressional Committee doesn’t get involved in primary races.

— D.C. MATTERS —

K9s for Warriors backs PAWS Act to get service dogs to veterans” via Florida Politics — K9s For Warriors on Wednesday announced its support for a federal bill to provide service dogs to veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health conditions. The bill, known as the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers Act of 2021, is sponsored by Northeast Florida Republican U.S. Rep. John Rutherford. If passed it would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a grant program that will pay for and provide service dogs to eligible veterans.

The K9s For Warriors PAWS Act has the backing of John Rutherford. Image via Facebook.

Michael Waltz honors fellow Green Beret with bipartisan immigration legislation” via Jim Thompson of the Northwest Florida Daily News — A retired Green Beret now serving Florida in Congress is working to honor a fellow Green Beret killed in combat in Afghanistan last year while serving with the Eglin Air Force Base-headquartered Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne). U.S. Rep. Waltz, a Republican who represents part of Florida’s northeast Atlantic Coast, is sponsoring immigration-related legislation moving through Congress as the Sergeant First Class Javier J. Gutierrez Purple Heart Survivor Naturalization Fee Relief Act of 2021. The legislation would waive naturalization fees for parents, spouses and children of military personnel who have earned the Purple Heart while serving the United States. Additionally, the legislation would waive those fees for Gold Star families, comprising the families of fallen service members.

— CRISIS —

General: Pentagon hesitated on sending Guard to Capitol riot” via Eric Tucker and Mary Clare Jalonick of The Associated Press — Defense Department leaders placed unusual restrictions on the National Guard for the day of The Capitol riot and delayed sending help for hours despite an urgent plea from police for reinforcement, according to testimony Wednesday that added to the finger-pointing about the government response. Maj. Gen. William Walker, commanding general of the District of Columbia National Guard, told Senators that the then-chief of the Capitol Police requested military support in a “voice cracking with emotion” in a 1:49 p.m. call as rioters began pushing toward The Capitol.

William Walker testifies that the Pentagon slow-walked support for police during The Capitol riot. Image via AP.

Police uncover ‘possible plot’ by militia to breach Capitol” via Michael Balsamo of The Associated Press — Capitol Police say they have uncovered intelligence of a “possible plot” by a militia group to breach the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, nearly two months after a mob of supporters of then-President Trump stormed the iconic building to try to stop Congress from certifying now-President Biden’s victory. The threat appears to be connected to a far-right conspiracy theory, mainly promoted by supporters of QAnon, that Trump will rise again to power on March 4. That was the original presidential inauguration day until 1933, when it was moved to Jan. 20.

Tampa police union will fight firing of Black officer who used racial slur” via Tony Marrero of the Tampa Bay Times — The Tampa Police Benevolent Association agrees Officer Delvin White, a school resource officer at Middleton High School, should be punished for using the N-word on two occasions, said spokesman Danny Alvarez. But the union calls firing him too harsh a penalty. “We, including Officer White, believe he should have been punished because we all agree no officer should speak that way, but the punishment does not fit the allegations,” Alvarez said. In one of the cases, Dugan said, White called a Black student at Middleton the N-word as he was arresting him.

Douglas Anderson school cancels race-separated student diversity meetings after outcry” via Emily Bloch of The Florida Times-Union — A school meeting that was supposed to focus on diversity and inclusion was billed as segregated. It drew so much criticism in a matter of hours that administrators were forced to cancel. It all started Tuesday evening when Douglas Anderson School of the Arts Principal Melanie Hammer sent an email to the school’s families with the subject line: Student Cultural Meetings. The email said the school would be hosting two meetings to discuss “cultural issues that have arisen” on campus. The meetings were scheduled for Thursday for high school juniors and seniors, with the first time slot reserved for students of color and the second for White students.

— LOCAL NOTES —

Sanibel election results: Scott Crater, John Henshaw, Mike Miller win city council seats” via Karl Schneider of the Fort Myers News-Press — Sanibel residents voted in three new city council members Tuesday. The nonpartisan election filled the vacancies left by Mayor Mick Denham and council members Chauncey Goss and Jerry Muench, who were temporarily appointed to fill vacancies when Kevin Ruane and Jason Maughan left to run campaigns for other offices. Unofficial election results posted at 8 p.m. Tuesday show just under half the registered voters cast ballots for the council members. Preliminary results show Crater, Henshaw, and Miller won the majority of votes.

Joel Greenberg to stay in jail after arrest on curfew violation” via Martin Comas of the Orlando Sentinel — Former Seminole County Tax Collector Greenberg — who faces several federal felony charges, including stalking, identity theft and sex trafficking of a minor — was ordered by a federal magistrate Wednesday to remain in the Seminole County Jail after he was arrested for a bond violation a day earlier. U.S. Magistrate Embry Kidd said Greenberg violated his 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew early Sunday when he left Central Florida and was later stopped by Jupiter police during an unspecified incident.

Joel Greenberg is staying behind bars.

Orlando International Airport should keep its name — but ditch the scandals” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — State Attorney Phil Archer’s office recently wrapped up a yearlong investigation into shady shenanigans at OIA from 2019 when a handful of gubernatorial appointees tried to ram through a lucrative, no-bid and unannounced legal contract. The short version is that prosecutors couldn’t find evidence board members secretly communicated with each other in a failed attempt to steer an unadvertised legal contract to a couple of local attorneys. Instead, Archer’s office found that board members had been individually communicating with a lobbyist, Chris Dorworth, and the board’s executive director, Phil Brown, which isn’t illegal.

Tampa Bay to get two new Trulieve medical cannabis dispensaries” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Trulieve Cannabis Co. will be opening two new dispensaries in the Tampa Bay area for patients to access medical cannabis products. The additional stores make for 77 Florida Trulieve dispensaries, joining several other nearby locations throughout the Tampa Bay area. To celebrate the opening of the two new dispensaries, patients will be eligible for a 25% in-store discount at each dispensary on opening day only. The Clearwater store at 2794 Gulf to Bay Blvd. will open Thursday, and the Tampa store, located at 3126 W. Gandy Blvd., will hold its grand opening Friday. Only patients and their state-approved caregivers will be allowed inside the waiting room and dispensary.

Fourth grader at North Naples elementary school arrested” via Jake Allen of the Naples Daily News — An 11-year-old Osceola Elementary School student was arrested Tuesday after bringing an unloaded gun to school, according to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. The student is facing a felony charge after he brought the weapon to school one day after threatening to shoot two classmates, according to the sheriff’s office. Deputies learned of the threats Tuesday morning. The fourth grade student was charged with carrying a concealed weapon on school grounds.

Florida Commission on Ethics to vote on sheriff’s alleged violation” via Anna Bryson of The Charlotte Daily Sun — Sheriff Bill Prummell came under investigation by The Florida Commission on Ethics last June. Ahead of the election for Charlotte County Sheriff last year, one of Prummell’s opponents, Andrew Sheets, filed an ethics complaint against Prummell. The complaint accuses Prummell of nepotism for how the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office handled a vehicle crash involving Prummell’s son-in-law, Deputy Peter DiPiazza. A probable cause hearing is scheduled for Friday in Tallahassee to evaluate the results of the Florida Commission of Ethics’ preliminary investigation.

Bill Prummell is accused of nepotism at the Charlotte County Sheriffs Office.

Lee, Collier counties may seek to patch rift over water district funds” via Bill Smith of the Fort Myers News-Press — Lee and Collier county commissioners, at odds over proposed changes in control of the region’s water management, may try to work things out in a brewing political clash over legislation pending in Tallahassee. A bill filed by Sen. Ray Rodrigues, an Estero Republican, would add areas in southern Lee County, including Estero and Bonita Springs, to the Big Cypress Basin. Currently, Lee County is considered to be in another part of the South Florida Water Management District known as the Okeechobee Basin.

— TOP OPINION —

Operation Warp Speed’s triumph” via The Wall Street Journal editorial board — American governments, federal and state, have made many mistakes in the COVID-19 pandemic. But the great success — the saving grace — was making a financial bet in collaboration with private American industry on the development of vaccines. That effort is now letting the country see the possibility of a return to relatively normal life as early as the spring. Biden announced Tuesday that the U.S. should have enough vaccine supply for every American adult by the end of May. Last week the Food and Drug Administration finally approved Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, and this week J&J struck a deal with Merck to manufacture the single-shot J&J vaccine as well.

— OPINIONS —

Here’s our wish list for Florida lawmakers” via the Miami Herald editorial board — It’s become normal practice for lawmakers to raid Florida’s affordable-housing trust fund to plug holes in the state budget. That fund, which comes from taxes levied on real estate transactions, builds new homes, helps low-income people buy their own homes and repair existing ones. More than 275,000 renters in South Florida were considered “cost-burdened” in 2019, meaning they spend more than 40% of their income on housing. They, and so many others, need relief. And the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need to keep the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund reserved solely for its intended purpose, and Senate Bill 510, which has cleared two committees, would ensure that.

Here is my five-point plan to get students back in school full time” via Miguel Cardona of USA Today — The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest and most complex challenge our education system has experienced. It has been extraordinary to see schools, educators and families face this challenge head-on and continue to educate our students. But despite heroic work by educators and staff, the yearlong pandemic has led to fewer learning opportunities, more kids going hungry, greater stress, and a growing sense of social isolation. The disruption in school has taken the heaviest toll on students of color, students from families with low-incomes, English learners, students in rural communities, and students with disabilities impacting their social, emotional and mental health and academic well-being.

Marco Rubio deserves praise for media diversity stance” via the Sarasota Herald-Tribune editorial board — Now more than ever America needs to widen the range of voices that are heard during our national conversations — and broaden the perspectives that are shared from across the spectrum of responsible and constructive ideologies. And make no mistake: this also applies to America’s media, which must continue to make room for more chairs at the table when it comes to diversity. A 2018 report by the Columbia Journalism Review found that while minorities were nearly 40% of America’s total population, they made up less than 17% of the staff in print and online newsrooms across the country.

Voters will punish GOP in midterms for lack of COVID-19 support” via Kevin Walling in The Hill — Morning Consult and Politico last week published new polling data indicating that 76% of voters back the current $1.9 trillion plan, including more than 60% of Republican voters. Congressional handicappers would be hard-pressed to find another bill of this magnitude that has enjoyed this kind of sustained public support — a testament to the Biden administration’s laserlike focus on tackling the COVID-19 crisis and economic fallout. With a 2022 senate map filled with opportunities for Team Blue to flip key states — including open seats in North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s “political risk” seems sure to backfire in the face of this kind of public support behind COVID-19 relief.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Gov. DeSantis clarifies the rules for people under 65 who want a vaccine because of medical conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19. You just have to get your doctor to sign a one-page form from the health department; they don’t even have to say why you qualify … just that you do.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— A Senate committee debates a bill protecting the health care industry from COVID-19 liability lawsuits. Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer says the health care heroes may deserve it … but not the bad apples of the nursing home industry.

— The bill passed … but it was close.

— The Senate Transportation Committee votes to end M-CORES — also known as the “Roads to Nowhere.”

— The Senate Agriculture Committee approves a bill to ban tethering of cats and dogs. Sen. Annette Taddeo says it’s cruel to the animals and can be fatal for kids who get too close. Taddeo’s bill ran into opposition from the Florida Dog Hunters Association, but it was amended to address their concerns.

— A discussion about sea-level rise in Florida with Alec Bogdanoff with the American Flood Coalition. He’s heading up their efforts in Florida.

— And finally, a Florida Man is now in jail thanks to his fondness for power tools.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

SpaceX Starship prototype rocket explodes after successful landing in high-altitude flight test” via Michael Sheetz of CNBC — The cause of the explosion, or whether it was intentional, was not immediately clear. Elon Musk alternatively refers to explosions as “RUDs,” or Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly. The company test flew Starship rocket Serial No. 10, or SN10. SpaceX aimed to launch the prototype as high as 10 kilometers, or about 32,800 feet altitude. There were no passengers on board the rocket, as it is a development vehicle and flies autonomously. Musk remains “highly confident” that Starship “will be safe enough for human transport by 2023″ — an ambitious goal given the company began the rocket’s development and testing in earnest in early 2019.

Despite exploding a few minutes after a hard landing, SpaceX’s latest Starship prototype high-altitude flight test was considered a great success. Image via SpaceX.

Blue Angels debut ‘Super Delta’ formation with Thunderbirds, announce Memorial Day virtual flight” via Jake Newby of the Pensacola News Journal — The Blue Angels announced Tuesday night that the iconic U.S. Navy flight demonstration team will conduct a virtual flight this Memorial Day weekend as part of the 16th annual National Memorial Day Parade: America Stands Tall event. It was actually a two-headed announcement for the Blue Angels, which also revealed on their Instagram page that the Blues and Thunderbirds debuted an F-16 Fighting Falcon and F/A-18 Super Hornet flight formation known as the “Super Delta” during a joint training evolution Tuesday over the Imperial Valley in southeastern California. The team is finishing up winter training in El Centro, California, and is tentatively scheduled to return to Pensacola later this month.

Brady ‘was not thinking’ when he threw the Lombardi Trophy during Buccaneers’ boat parade” via Cindy Boren of The Washington Post — Slowly and increasingly vividly, the memories of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Super Bowl boat parade are coming into focus, particularly the moment when the tequila-sodden quarterback reared back and heaved the Lombardi Trophy across the water. The moment, captured on endless-loop social media, is one that Brady admitted on “The Late Late Show with James Corden” that he “doesn’t remember that quite as well” as the rest of the universe. At least he had the sense to heave it toward a boat occupied by receivers.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to Trent Muntz, an aide to former Senate Majority Leader Kathleen Passidomo.

___

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.

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