The Senate is considering a bill that would change election laws, and it’s just as divisive among Florida Influencers as it is among lawmakers.
Among the many changes in SB 90 is a requirement that voters “re-request” a mail ballot for the 2022 election and every two years thereafter. Currently, mail ballot requests are good for two even-year election cycles.
Republicans say the bill would make elections more secure. Democrats, meanwhile, say it is a brazen attempt to suppress the vote.
Florida Politics asked some of the most knowledgeable lobbyists, consultants and politicos for their thoughts on the proposal and found both views were prevalent.
About three in 10 Influencers agreed with the GOP line, saying the measure was needed to provide voting-by-mail integrity. The tally included 43% of Republicans, 10% of Democrats, and 10% of those with no party affiliation.
Meanwhile, 35% said the bill, sponsored by Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, attempted to depress turnout. About a third of Democrats and 15% of Republicans chose that option. The top line got a boost from the 64% of NPAs who said it was a suppression tactic.
But the most common response — albeit by a single point — was that the bill would attract heavy scrutiny from the feds. Republicans, at 43%, were the most likely to hold that view. NPAs followed at 27%, with Democrats bringing up the rear at 23%.
—“Running an election flawlessly just isn’t good enough for vote-suppressing Florida Republicans” via Lizette Alvarez for The Washington Post
—“The Republican revolt against democracy, explained in 13 charts” via Zack Beauchamp of Vox
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@GarrettHaake: How massive is the FBI investigation of January 6th attack? Director [Christopher] Wray says investigations are underway in 55 of 56 FBI field offices.
—@SalNuzzo: To my friends at @— five minutes into @ State of the State address, and he’s used the term “right to earn a living” three times. Thought you’d enjoy 😉
—@CarlosGSmith: rewriting history here. Says we won’t let anyone close your business. Actually, YOU closed thousands of businesses. The difference in Florida is you closed them without offering a penny in relief to small business. Amirite @FloridaDBPR?
—@Mlafferty1: Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls asking Floridians to disbelieve the media: “A lot has been written and said about this Session that starts today. And much more will be written and said in the days and weeks to come. Most of it is nonsense. Nearly all of it is wrong.”
—@ClaireInJax: Florida Legislative Session preview: make it harder to vote, protest, get an abortion, sue a boss whose negligence infected you with a COVID; spend millions on sea-level rise while denying climate change; oh & maybe something pro-gun like armed guards at day care centers
— Florida Senate (@FLSenate) March 2, 2021
Blessed to have my family with me as we begin the 2021 legislative session. pic.twitter.com/NBkgPp8Iqx
— Rene Plasencia (@CoachP_CHS) March 2, 2021
First Day of Session vs Last Day of Session. Good luck to all! pic.twitter.com/7iORo4elTI
— Christina Johnson (@ChristinaOn3PR) March 2, 2021
—@bristei: Fox News says former WH press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has joined the outlet as a contributor.
—@MattGertz: I count 85 mentions of “Seuss” on Fox News today as of 4 p.m. via closed caption., they’ve covered his purported cancellation every hour since 4 a.m., saying his name an average of 7 times an hour.
—@JacobOgles: You guys do know our political leadership had nothing to do with the Mr. Potato Head thing or the Dr. Seuss thing. That was all corporate America.
—@Vtg2: “Cancel culture” is a meaningless phrase now, much like “fake news.” These are all-purpose ways of saying you disagree with someone’s approach to a situation.
— DAYS UNTIL —
Florida TaxWatch 2021 State of the Taxpayer virtual event — 1; ‘Coming 2 America’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 2; the NBA All-Star Game — 4; municipal elections in Broward and south Palm Beach County — 6; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres — 9; 2021 Grammys — 11; Zack Snyder’s ‘Justice League’ premieres on HBO Max — 15; ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ premieres — 23; 2021 Florida Virtual Hemp Conference — 23; 2021 Florida Derby — 24; MLB Opening Day — 29; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 30; RNC spring donor summit — 37; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 65; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 68; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 121; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 130; MLB All-Star Game in Atlanta — 132; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 142; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 150; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 174; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 198; ‘Dune’ premieres — 212; MLB regular season ends — 214; World Series Game 1 — 237; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 244; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 247; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 282; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 289; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 387; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 429; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 583.
— STATE OF THE STATE —
“Lifted by polls, Ron DeSantis vows: ‘The sun is rising here in Florida’” via Ana Ceballos, Lawrence Mower and Kirby Wilson of The Tampa Bay Times — DeSantis opened Florida’s Legislative Session Tuesday with a full-throated defense of his pandemic response and an outline of conservative policies he wants state lawmakers to pass in the run-up to his reelection campaign next year. “I see, in many parts of our country, a sad state of affairs: schools closed, businesses shuttered and lives destroyed,” DeSantis said in a 30-minute State of the State speech to a packed Florida House chamber. In last year’s speech, DeSantis focused on immigration priorities and creating a statewide minimum teacher salary of $47,500, described a different legislative agenda on Tuesday, one marked by optimism with echoes of a campaign rally.
—”DeSantis paints a positive picture of FL, and a scary one too, as 2021 Legislature convenes” via Michael Moline of Florida Phoenix
“DeSantis touts state COVID-19 decisions” via Jim Saunders of The News Service of Florida — DeSantis formally launched the 2021 Legislative Session Tuesday with a State of the State address that touted the state’s actions during the COVID-19 pandemic and touched on hot-button issues that lawmakers will face over the next 60 days. DeSantis did not announce major new initiatives during the 28-minute speech but tried to contrast Florida with what he described as a “calamitous reality” in other states of closed schools and shuttered businesses.
—“Read DeSantis’ 2021 State of the State address” via the Orlando Sentinel
— SOS RESPONSE —
“‘Mixed messages’: Nikki Fried criticizes DeSantis’ pandemic response, legislative priorities” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Fried criticized DeSantis, this time lamenting the Republican Governor’s pandemic response and legislative agenda. Fried, Florida’s sole statewide-elected Democrat, lobbed her first criticism as DeSantis delivered the 2021 State of the State address. “I know you’re getting mixed messages from our Governor, but we still need to stay masked and get the vaccines as soon as you’re eligible,” Fried said in a video message directed to Floridians. “Not just for our health, but to get our economy going again. Without jobs, good wages, and safe workplaces, we all suffer.” Fried’s statements on Tuesday mark her latest jabs against the Republican Governor.
Charlie Crist says Gov. DeSantis is ‘spiking the football’ — U.S. Rep. Crist, a potential 2022 gubernatorial candidate, slammed DeSantis’ for lack of humility in his State of the State. “Yet again, Gov. DeSantis is spiking the football while Floridians are still hurting — on a day when the state is reporting 7,000 new cases and 136 deaths. While 31,000 Floridians have died and hundreds of thousands have become sick or lost their incomes, Florida’s Governor fails to take responsibility for ignoring this crisis,” the St. Petersburg Democrat said. He said the Governor hasn’t made any hard decisions during the pandemic and instead has “passed the buck to local governments, with little to no guidance.
Gary Farmer says Governor wants ‘dissolution of First Amendment rights’ — Senate Democratic Leader Farmer said DeSantis left a lot out of his speech, including his top priority: “the dissolution of your first amendment rights.” Farmer, referring to the anti-riot bill, said, “the Governor and Republican lawmakers have crafted legislation to muzzle our people and restrict our speech, instead of giving our health and economy the attention that they so desperately need.” He said the time spent crafting the bill could have been spent combating the virus, pushing back against insurance rate hikes or expanding health care. “But none of that happened,” he said.
Annette Taddeo says SotS offered ‘no vision’ for the future — Sen. Taddeo, a South Florida Democrat, railed against “the divisiveness that Gov. DeSantis embraces.” She said the Governor “offers no vision” on how the state can bounce back from its current challenges. “While the Governor uses his office to pick winners and losers, I believe it’s time we have a future where Floridians can all win because their interests are at the forefront of every decision. We can get there if we accept the failures of this Governor and do the hard work to chart a new path forward for our state,” she said.
The Gov told on himself about HB1. Remember they said it was filed in response to the insurrection.
Well today he once again revealed the true intent of the bill-To suppress protests in the defense of Black lives&police accountability. Not once did he mention the insurrection.
— Michele Rayner-Goolsby (@micheleforfl) March 2, 2021
The Everglades Foundation praises DeSantis’ ‘commitment to our environment’ — Following the State of the State, The Everglades Foundation lauded DeSantis for his environmental spending plans and urged the Legislature to include them in the budget. “Time and again, the Governor has shown his commitment to our environment and the Everglades, including making the Everglades reservoir a priority of his administration. He recognizes the importance of water to Florida’s future and has devoted himself to protecting these critical areas of our state,” said Eric Eikenberg, CEO of The Everglades Foundation.
— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —
“DeSantis’ ‘Anti-riot’ legislation draws protesters to Tallahassee on Session’s opening day” via Tori Lynn Schneider of The Tallahassee Democrat — On the 2021 Legislative Session’s first day, DeSantis borrowed from a Merle Haggard song in his State of the State address Tuesday: “When you mess with the men and women of law enforcement, you are walkin’ on the fightin’ side of me.” The Governor was highlighting one of his signature proposals that he first announced in September, known as “anti-riot” legislation. A few hours later, activists from around the state converged on the Historic Capitol building to protest the measures, calling them unconstitutional and even “racist.”
—“Florida lawmakers gavel into Session with key bills looming” via Bobby Caina Calvan of The Associated Press
“Wilton Simpson backs dynamic projects, pension changes” via Jim Turner of The News Service of Florida — Sen. Simpson called for pumping money from an expected next round of federal coronavirus relief into “shovel ready” road and water projects, while backing legislation to revamp the state retirement system, as he helped open the 2021 Legislative Session on Tuesday. In a brief opening speech to senators, Simpson also maintained support for rapidly moving legislation to shield businesses and health care providers from lawsuits related to COVID-19. “The vast majority of these businesses made a good-faith effort to adhere to ever-changing guidelines,” Simpson said. Proposals by Sen. Jeff Brandes would help shield businesses and health care providers from lawsuits stemming from injuries or deaths related to COVID-19.
“‘It’s definitely not fair’: Parents, students concerned about effort to cut Bright Futures funds” via David Jones of First Coast News — A bill introduced in the Senate looks to impose new restrictions on Bright Futures scholarship funds, particularly targeting majors state and higher education leaders deem to be less employable. Senate Bill 86, introduced by Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley of Lady Lake, would direct the Board of Governors and the Board of Education to compile a list of undergraduate and graduate programs that “lead directly to employment.” Students choosing to major in programs left off the list would only be eligible to receive funding for 60 credit hours, compared to eligible students who would continue to receive the full 120 credit hours.
“Simpson says he’s open to unemployment payment increase” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Simpson suggested Tuesday he’d be willing to increase Florida’s weekly unemployment payments during the 2021 Legislative Session. Currently, Floridians on unemployment are eligible to receive $275 per week for 12 weeks. Speaking to reporters after his Opening Day address, Simpson said he’d be “willing to embrace an increase.” While the Trilby Republican stopped short of offering a dollar figure, he acknowledged that self-sustainment on $275 a week is a dated notion. Notably, he added that a $15 minimum wage at 40 hours a week would amount to a $600 payment.
Simpson undecided on THC cap — Senate President Simpson said he is still undecided on the House plan to cap the THC concentration in medical marijuana. As reported by Arek Sarkissian of POLITICO Florida, Simpson said he wants to listen to the House debate before deciding. He also said he wouldn’t be swayed by his neighbors, an MMJ-loving country music duo known as the Bellamy Brothers who often perform at GOP fundraisers. “Just like I don’t tell them how to write country music songs, they don’t tell me how I should legislate,” Simpson said.
Scoop — “Aaron Bean tests positive for COVID-19” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — The President Pro Tempore of the Florida Senate was a medical absence Tuesday after testing positive for COVID-19. Sen. Bean tested positive Tuesday morning before entering the Capitol for the Senate Session and DeSantis‘ State of the State speech, Senate spokesperson Katie Betta told Florida Politics. Bean, a Republican from Fernandina Beach, had tested negative Monday when he had meetings at the Capitol, Betta said. At all times, he was masked, she added. Bean’s wife also tested positive Tuesday morning.
“Tallahassee grown: Loranne Ausley focuses on food, shelter, jobs” via James Call of The Tallahassee Democrat — Tallahassee is a town where everyone knows state Sen. Ausley’s name. The sixth-generation Floridian’s Tallahassee roots extend to the pre-Civil War era. She is the great-great-great-granddaughter of the founder of Capital City Bank, one of the city’s leading financial institutions. And her paternal great-great-grandfather was a beloved family doctor and City Commissioner, Charles Merritt Ausley. Since winning a five-way primary in 2000 for the Democratic nomination for Tallahassee’s Florida House seat, Ausley has won seven general elections easily. When opponents crowded the field against her, she beelined straight through the scrum. When they challenged her on the issues, she prevailed.
“Is cancel culture stifling student views? Ray Rodrigues wants to know” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Sen. Rodrigues said he wants to see Florida’s universities as bastions of classical liberal education, just not exclusively liberalism. The Estero Republican this year brings his efforts to enact a diversity survey in the state’s institutions of higher education. It’s not to weed liberals out, he insists, but to make sure students are exposed to the full spectrum of values. “The classic liberal education is about teaching students how to think, not teaching them what to think,” Rodrigues said. He’s carrying a bill that would call for an annual assessment of each Florida college and state university to see that a range of political philosophies has representation in the faculty. It also prevents schools from shielding students from alternative perspectives.
—”Rodrigues wants to cap contributions to political committees backing citizen ballot initiatives” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics
“Democrats are outnumbered again, but Ben Diamond is hopeful” via Joe Henderson of Florida Politics — As the 2021 Legislative Session opened, Democratic Rep. Diamond of St. Petersburg understands his party’s challenge. Republicans hold a 78-42 lead in the House, which can be an impossible barrier to accomplish the party’s goals. Diamond said he is an optimist by nature and believes in developing working relationships with Republicans. For politicians like Diamond, the pandemic makes finding those solutions even more difficult. The virus curtailed the usual flow of constituents and groups coming to his office to offer their take on bills. Further complicating matters is Florida’s budget shortfall.
“Legislating in the time of COVID-19 means putting protections over public access” via Mary Ellen Klas and Kirby Wilson of The Miami Herald — Florida’s Capitol is hard to reach for most Floridians during the annual Legislative Session. But this year, as legislators opened their 60-day Session Tuesday trying to navigate a pandemic and stay healthy enough to avoid disrupting their activities, access to elected government is even more distant. DeSantis has not allowed the Capitol to be open to visitors even as he ordered all businesses to be open in Florida. Citizens are kept out of the buildings and at a distance, and the pandemic protocols set up by legislative leaders to allow the public to testify in person before committee hearings have proved cumbersome and technology-challenged.
“Lawmakers take on big tech amid legal questions” via Dara Kam of The News Service of Florida — After Twitter permanently removed former President Donald Trump from its site, and social media platforms began slapping warnings on posts by other politicians, Republican state leaders are punching back. But a proposed crackdown on big tech is drawing questions, even from the GOP-controlled Legislature’s own analysts. A House committee Tuesday gave initial approval to legislation to punish social media companies that block users or censor content. The vote came hours after DeSantis hit on the issue during a State of the State speech that helped launch the 2021 Legislative Session.
“House, Senate show differences on COVID-19 liability bills” via Christine Sexton of The News Service of Florida — Senate Judiciary Chair Jeff Brandes plans to expand the Senate’s version of the COVID-19 business liability bill (SB 72) to include protections for health care providers, such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Those protections have been contained in another bill (SB 74) — and the House moved forward with separate proposals for general businesses and health care providers. “I think the key is that we are focused on one singular issue,” Brandes said, adding that he plans on rolling his proposals into one bill when the Senate Rules Committee considers the issue. The House’s proposed health care liability protections (HB 7005) do not include a similar provision. The House Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee voted 12-6 to approve that bill.
“Jason Brodeur bill expediting restoration north of Lake O sails through first committee” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved a measure moving forward with a Lake Okeechobee restoration project backed by Senate President Simpson. Sen. Brodeur, who chairs that committee, is sponsoring the bill. The legislation is part of Simpson’s broader push to focus on storage north of the lake rather than just on its south side. “This bill helps expedite portions of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project to achieve more storage north of Lake Okeechobee,” Brodeur explained during the committee meeting Tuesday. Those investigations would help prepare for the project’s construction.
“Senate panel favors proposal to change how Florida uses school tests” via Jeffrey S. Solochek of The Tampa Bay Times — An effort to spare Florida students, teachers, and schools from the more punitive consequences of the state testing accountability system received bipartisan support from state senators on the first day of the 2021 Legislative Session. But several members of the Senate Education Committee expressed reservations about the measure, which is popular among many parent and educator groups. They said it might have the right intentions but could generate unintended consequences that need more attention as the bill progresses.
“Senate panel gives warm hug to bill preventing young kids from being arrested” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — With 7-year-old Kaia Rolle, her mother, and grandmother watching, a Senate committee approved a bill named for her Tuesday that seeks to prevent what happened to her in 2019. Kaia had been arrested at her Orlando school, cuffed, placed alone in the back of an Orlando Police cruiser, then booked and fingerprinted in September 2019, sparking international outrage. Democratic Sen. Randolph Bracy of Ocoee, already a criminal justice reformer and with a daughter of his own that age, made it his mission then to change the law. His bill would prevent arrests of children younger than 7 years old. Florida is currently one of 27 other states that have no minimum age of arrest.
“Parents’ ‘bill of rights’ advances” via Ryan Dailey of The News Service of Florida — Proposals to codify a “Parent’s Bill of Rights” related to what families are entitled to know about their children’s education and health care are advancing in the House and Senate. Sen. Ray Rodrigues and Rep. Erin Grall are carrying the measures approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and House Health & Human Services Committee. The plan has sparked controversy over students’ privacy rights, but Rodrigues told the Senate panel Tuesday that his proposal (SB 582) doesn’t give parents any new rights that aren’t already in state law. Instead, Rodrigues said, the bill would combine “for easy reference” provisions of existing Florida law that deal with parental consent.
“Cyndi Stevenson bill to boost mental health care access clears first committee” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A bill aimed at setting Florida on a path to increase behavioral health care access received its first nod in the House on Tuesday. The House Finance and Facilities Subcommittee voted 17-1 Monday to advance Rep. Stevenson‘s proposal to aggregate data and distribute information on mental health care access from private health insurance companies. The St. Johns Republican’s measure would require health insurers and health maintenance organizations to notify customers of state and federal requirements on behavioral health coverage and alert them to a toll-free number to report consumer complaints about the availability of behavioral health services.
“Bill to expand Big Cypress Basin authority draws concerns” via Karl Schneider of the Naples Daily News — Proposed state legislation to modify the board overseeing the Big Cypress Basin is drawing concern from Collier County officials and local environmental groups while some Lee County officials and southern municipalities hope it passes. Sen. Rodrigues, an Estero Republican, introduced the bill in late December. It suggests expanding the authority of the Collier-focused basin board into Lee County by July 1. The bill proposes ensuring “taxes collected within the Big Cypress Basin be used for projects and flood control operations and maintenance within the counties in which they were collected.” Rodrigues was unavailable for comment.
“Key West voters limited cruise ship traffic. Lawmakers will consider overruling them” via Gwen Filosa of The Miami Herald — In November, Key West voters changed how the island will deal with the cruise ship industry. They capped the number of passengers that can disembark each day to 1,500, limited mooring to ships with a capacity of 1,300, and gave docking priorities to cruise lines with the best health and environmental records. Filed by state Sen. Boyd a so-called preemption bill would retroactively bar local governments from regulating seaport business, including restricting a vessel’s type or size. A companion bill was filed in the House. Opponents to the bills, including the Key West City Commission, say the legislation goes against “home rule” and cancels what local voters already decided at the polls.
— CAP REAX —
NFIB urges lawmakers to pass business liability shield — NFIB State Legislative Director Tim Nungesser went before the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee on Tuesday to implore lawmakers to advance a bill that would protect businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits. “Under the Senate bill and HB 7 in the House, businesses that ignore the government’s guidelines would be held liable, but employers who follow the rules and do everything they can to protect their customers and employees from the coronavirus should be protected from costly and frivolous lawsuits,” he said. SB 72 passed the committee. HB 7 is expected to get a floor vote on Friday.
Justice reform group backs gain time bill — Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform said Tuesday that it supports a bill (SB 1032) that would allow prisoners to shave time off their sentences if they participate in educational or vocational training programs. “Giving people a chance to earn time off when they engage in rehabilitative or educational programs without an artificial cap is common sense criminal justice reform,” said Carrie Boyd, policy counsel for the SPLC Action Fund. ACLU of Florida legislative director and senior policy counsel Kara Gross added, “Incentivizing rehabilitation in prisons is a win-win solution to our devastating prison and budget crisis. Expanding rehabilitation credits will increase public safety, reduce recidivism, and save taxpayer dollars.” The bill cleared the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice on Tuesday with a 7-1 vote.
— LOBBY REGS —
New and renewed lobbying registrations:
Miguel Abad, New Century Partnership: Florida Association of Health Plans
Ralph Arza, Mountain Moving Strategies: Florida Charter School Alliance
Jennifer Ashton, Ashton Advocacy Consulting: Quantum Leap Farm
Brian Ballard, Chris Dorworth, Christopher Hansen, Ballard Partners: Hearing Industries Association, Mosaic Fertilizer
Ron Barnes: Google
Brian Bautista, David Browning, Mary DeLoach, Mercer Fearington, Nicole Kelly, Paul Mitchell, The Southern Group: Comtech Communications of Georgia, Easterseals Florida, Marine Resources Development Foundation, Shipwreck Park Pompano, Square, Tampa Electric Company, TECO Energy
Donald Brown, Donald Brown Consulting: American Traditions Insurance Company, Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers (ABIR), Florida Insurance Council, LegalShield
William Bunkley: Florida Ethics and Religion Liberty Commission
Kalynn Cook: Secure Democracy
Leslie Dughi, Timothy Stanfield, Greenberg Traurig: Rekor Systems
Towson Fraser, Fraser Solutions: AIDS HealthCare Foundation
Eduardo Gonzalez, William McRea, Sun City Strategies: City of West Miami, Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, Region X of the Appraisal Institute
Gary Hunter, Hopping Green & Sams: Water Street Tampa Improvement District
Jeff Littlejohn, Littlejohn Mann & Associates: American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida, Florida Engineering Society
Will McKinley, Angela Dempsey, Erik Kirk, PooleMcKinley: ConexED
Joe Saunders: Equality Florida
Stephanie Scanlon: Florida Hospital Association
Garrett Wallace: The Nature Conservancy
— LEG. SKED —
The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee meets to consider SB 1268, from Sen. Baxley, to require health insurers and health-maintenance organizations to provide coverage for hearing aids for children, 9:30 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.
The Senate Community Affairs Committee meets to consider SB 496, from Sen. Keith Perry, to change growth-management laws such as requiring local governments to include private property rights elements in their comprehensive plans, 9:30 a.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Transportation Committee meets to consider SB 100, to repeal a 2019 law that calls for extending the Suncoast Parkway and Florida’s Turnpike and building a new toll road that would link Polk and Collier counties, 9:30 a.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Agriculture Committee meets to consider SB 650, from Sen. Taddeo, to strengthen laws about tethering pet dogs and cats, noon, Room 110, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee meets to consider SB 60, from Sen. Jennifer Bradley, to prevent city and county code inspectors from starting investigations from anonymous tips, noon, Room 37, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Health Policy Committee meets to consider SB 74, from Chair Brandes, to shield health care providers from COVID-19-related lawsuits, noon, Room 412, Knott Building.
The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider constitutional amendment SJR 340, from Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., to require two-thirds votes of the House and Senate before enacting a single-payer health care system, 2:30 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.
The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee meets, 10 a.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.
The House Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee meets, 10 a.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.
The House Local Administration and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee meets, 10 a.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
The House Professions and Public Health Subcommittee meets, 10 a.m., Room 212, Knott Building.
The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee meets, 1 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.
The House Post-Secondary Education and Lifelong Learning Subcommittee meets, 1 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.
The House State Administration and Technology Appropriations Subcommittee meets, 1 p.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.
The House Tourism, Infrastructure and Energy Subcommittee, 1 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
The House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee meets, 4 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.
The House Environment, Agriculture and Flooding Subcommittee meets, 4 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
The House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee meets, 4 p.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.
The House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee meets, 4 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.
— AHOY —
A coalition of trade associations and businesses going by the name “Keep Florida’s Economy Sailing” launched Tuesday and called on the Legislature to pass bills that would protect commerce at Florida seaports.
In part, HB 267 and SB 426 would supersede local ordinances that impinge trade or commerce at Florida’s 15 seaports. Keep Florida’s Economy Sailing members say it would protect seaports from potential economic harm in places such as Key West, which passed an ordinance to block cruise ships from docking.
“Florida’s ports are major economic drivers and have become global hubs for maritime commerce, and Senate Bill 426 (and its counterpart House Bill 267) are a vital protection for our deep-water ports in Florida,” said John Wells, chair of Caribe Nautical Services and a native Key Wester.
“Rightfully so, we have heard concerns that Key West’s referendums could open a Pandora’s box that threatens the continued success of our ports. That is why maritime commerce should be responsibly regulated by the state. I thank Sen. [Jim] Boyd and Rep. [Spencer] Roach for their good bills and look forward to supporting them this Session.”
Other coalition members include the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Florida Harbor Pilots Association and Historic Tours of America.
Representatives from each group harped on the importance of passing the preemption.
FRLA President Carol Dover said the Key West ordinance threatens the livelihoods of hospitality workers in port areas.
Florida Harbor Pilots Association president Ben Borgie said the proposal “empowers the ports to operate unencumbered” by ordinances that “make port operations unpredictable and threaten port investments.”
And Historic Tours of America president Edwin Swift III said the bills could spare his industry further damage as it recovers from the “brutal wake-up call” of the pandemic.
— STATEWIDE —
Assignment editors — DeSantis will hold a news conference, 9 a.m., SunTrust Bank Building, 5435 Gall Blvd., Zephyrhills.
Happening today — Aides to DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Ag. Commissioner Fried and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis meet to discuss the agenda of a March 9 Cabinet meeting, 9 a.m., Cabinet Meeting Room.
“Three Florida officials named to RSLC Election Integrity Commission” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The Republican State Leadership Committee added a slate of state lawmakers and secretaries of state to its Commission on Election Integrity, including a trio of top Florida officials. The commission’s goal, ostensibly, is to “restore the American people’s confidence in the integrity of their free and fair elections.” While Republicans have questioned the outcome of the 2020 election and alleged widespread voter fraud, no evidence has been produced to legitimize their claims. Nevertheless, the accusations have shaken the public’s confidence in elections, with a recent poll showing that about a third of Americans believe President Joe Biden was not legitimately elected.
“From migrant families to dropouts: Thousands of K-12 kids go ‘missing,’ leading to truancy issues and a state budget mess” via Danielle J. Brown of the Florida Phoenix — School districts across Florida are looking high and low for tens of thousands of students who apparently did not enroll in a public school this year, raising questions about truancy laws and a state budget mess. The Florida Department of Education knows a few reasons why kids haven’t been in class during the COVID-19 pandemic, but not everything is clear at this point. And reasons vary from district to district. Between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, Florida’s public school population has so far declined by nearly 70,000 students, according to state enrollment data. Those are the kids being called ‘missing,’ though a better phrase would be, ‘unaccounted for.’
“Many want State Wildlife chair to resign or stop plans to fill his land off Singer Island” via Tony Doris of The Palm Beach Post — Legal moves by Florida’s top wildlife official for the right to develop submerged land he owns in the Lake Worth Lagoon drew blistering criticism from two dozen people at a meeting Friday of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Several urged FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto, an influential lobbyist appointed by Ron DeSantis, to abandon his for-profit plans or resign. The Palm Beach Post reported last week that a company led by Coral Gables-based Barreto, Government Lot 1, LLC, has revived a 1990 lawsuit to expand its final order and allow it to dredge and fill its submerged land without requiring that it receive approvals from any Florida regulatory agency.
“Process starts to fill PSC post” via The News Service of Florida — A state panel is moving forward with filling a seat on the Florida Public Service Commission that opened when DeSantis appointed longtime Commissioner Julie Brown as secretary of the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The Florida Public Service Commission Nominating Council announced a March 19 application deadline for the job. The council, chaired by state Rep. Chuck Clemons, will interview candidates and provide a shortlist to DeSantis to make an appointment.
— 2022 —
Who? — “Boynton Beach Mayor Steven Grant files to challenge Sen. Marco Rubio in 2022 election” via Skylar Swisher of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Grant filed Tuesday to run for U.S. Senate next year as an independent, launching a long-shot bid to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Rubio. Grant, 37, said he decided to run for office in part to offer an alternative to the “duopoly of Republicans and Democrats controlling the government.” Grant, who is term-limited, said he would continue serving as Boynton Beach Mayor through March 2022, when his second three-year term ends.
“Jason Fischer, Blaise Ignoglia raise big bucks ahead of Legislative Session” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Republican Reps. Fischer and Ignoglia raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the weeks leading up to the Legislative Session. Fischer, of Jacksonville, is running to succeed term-limited Sen. Bean in Senate District 4 next year. As of Jan. 31, he had $698,000 in the bank between his campaign account and political committee. When February reports drop, he is expected to show a combined $715,000 in the bank. Ingoglia is termed out in the House and widely expected to run for state Senate next year. His fundraising totals, however, are on the level of a statewide candidate. Accountants are still tabulating the final numbers, but the Spring Hill Republican expects to report $725,000 in the bank.
“Anna Eskamani’s committee pulls $100K in February” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The People Power for Florida political committee raised more than $100,000 in February. The committee’s chair, Democratic Rep. Eskamani, said funds would go toward a statewide voter registration effort. The February haul, not yet officially posted by the Florida Division of Elections, would far and away mark the biggest month ever for the committee, which Eskamani first established in mid-2017 to support her first run for the Florida House. People Power once had a $50,000 month, but that was all in one check from a Winter Park benefactor. Eskamani has made no secret of her higher office ambitions, though she has not yet signaled which she might pursue. The unabashed progressive Democrat and political organizer has increasingly sought attention on statewide issues.
“Jax trans activist Brooklyn Owen, 20, 1st to file in State Senate District 6 race” via Sydney Boles of WJCT — The first candidate to file for District 6, which includes Jacksonville, is Owen, who is transgender. Owen, a Democrat, was a teenager when her Duval County family kicked her out because of who she was. She says she was touched by the generosity of the Jacksonville residents who gave her a couch to sleep on and a warm meal in that difficult time. That gratitude inspired Owen to create a scholarship foundation for LGBTQ youth of color. Owen plans to run in support of a state-level policy similar to the Green New Deal environmental plan proposed in 2019. She said she would also lobby for increased education funding and a jobs guarantee for all Floridians.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“Florida adds 7,179 coronavirus cases, 140 deaths Tuesday” via Natalie Weber of The Tampa Bay Times — Florida reported 7,179 coronavirus cases and 140 deaths Tuesday, bringing the total number of deaths statewide since March to 31,696. The state has seen 1,918,100 COVID-19 cases through the yearlong pandemic. Florida’s first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported on March 1, 2020, in Hillsborough and Manatee counties. On average, the Florida Department of Health has reported about 5,652 infections and 135 deaths per day this week. It can take officials up to two weeks to confirm and report a coronavirus-related death, meaning the number of deaths added does not necessarily reflect the number of people who died the previous day.
“Publix gets 1 out of 4 Florida coronavirus vaccines, which officials don’t track” via Sarah Blaskey, Ben Conarck and Allison Ross of The Tampa Bay Times — State officials have shipped 70,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses a week to Publix’s central distribution hub in Lakeland in Central Florida, without knowing exactly where the shots will go, an analysis of state vaccine distribution data from the past five weeks and interviews with state officials found. The grocery chain is the state’s single-largest vaccine supplier and receives nearly a quarter of Florida’s available doses without providing state officials a store-specific distribution plan ahead of time, according to Jared Moskowitz, the director of the Florida EMA.
This idea why @Publix was picked has been utter nonsense. 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 https://t.co/IJJgS9T2dn
— Jared MASKowitz 😷 (@JaredEMoskowitz) March 2, 2021
“DeSantis dropped off 3,000 vaccines to a Pinellas senior community. But was the distribution fair?” via Bailey LeFever and Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — DeSantis held a press conference Feb. 18 at the Mainlands of Tamarac by the Gulf, announcing the arrival of 3,000 vaccines for the Pinellas Park senior community. But the process that followed after cameras turned off was chaotic and questioned by some. Pinellas County officials were in the dark when DeSantis showed up with the vaccines, and the task of finding 3,000 people to vaccinate on short notice fell to the Mainlands community. Residents and volunteers notified senior friends and neighbors. The complex, which had requested the clinic, was bombarded with phone calls.
“We should vaccinate inmates. Go ahead and scream. But here’s why …” via Scott Maxwell of The Orlando Sentinel — Because inmates may be America’s most COVID-19-vulnerable population crammed together and getting infected at much higher-than-average rates. And when they get sick, you have to pay for it. You pay a lot. COVID-19 treatments can cost tens of thousands of dollars per patient. Also, the viruses spread in prisons don’t stay there. They infect and kill corrections workers. They also infect others, all of whom can end up filling hospital beds … the ones your Mee-Maw might need. This isn’t about sympathy for convicted criminals. It’s about sympathy for taxpayers’ wallets.
— CORONA LOCAL —
“4-year-old dies in Hardee County, becoming Florida’s youngest COVID-19 death” via Clayton Freeman of The Florida Times-Union — Duval County added seven more deaths from the coronavirus pandemic, while Florida recorded its youngest COVID-19 fatality to date in Tuesday’s daily report. For the first time in the pandemic, the Florida Department of Health recorded a COVID-19 death in the 0-4 age bracket, listed as a 4-year-old girl in Hardee County. While many details are unavailable, the Florida Department of Health’s open database indicated that the girl was not hospitalized before diagnosis. The contact by which she received the coronavirus remains unknown.
“New federal coronavirus vaccine site opens in Tampa” via Allison Ross of The Tampa Bay Times — Tampa Bay residents have another venue to get COVID-19 vaccine shots when one of the state’s first federally run vaccination sites opens Wednesday at the Tampa Greyhound Track. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been working with states to open several large-scale vaccination sites around the nation to boost the administration of shots. Four such sites are opening Wednesday: 755 E. Waters Ave. RaceTrac location in Tampa; Valencia College’s West Campus in Orlando; the Gateway Mall in Jacksonville; and at Miami-Dade Community College’s North Campus in Miami.
—“Are you 50 and over? You can get a vaccine at Jackson Health if you meet these criteria” via Michelle Marchante of the Miami Herald
—“State opens new COVID-19 vaccination site in Overtown. No appointment necessary” via Joey Flechas and Ana Claudia Chacin of The Miami Herald
—“Ascension offers 3 mass COVID-19 vaccine clinics for Escambia, Santa Rosa teachers and staff” via Madison Arnold of the Pensacola News Journal
“Pasco Commissioner gets unused vaccine dose” via Barbara Behrendt of The Tampa Bay Times — Last month, Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey was in the right place at the right time. She was given the rare chance of getting a COVID-19 vaccination when doses went unused after a community vaccination clinic. County Administrator Dan Biles approached Starkey after a meeting and told her the vaccines were on their way to emergency management and would soon expire. The county had already reached out to approximately 200 county employees 65 and over who had expressed interest in getting vaccinated if doses became available.
— CORONA NATION —
THE FIRST Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been administered in the United States. 86-year-old Barbara Schmalenberger was the first here at Ohio State University. “I wanted this shot,” she just told me. “I didn’t want to settle for anything else.” pic.twitter.com/kCNE9QyrkS
— Pete Muntean (@petemuntean) March 2, 2021
“Vaccinating by age groups is unfair, particularly to minorities, advisory panel tells CDC” via Karen Weintraub of USA Today — Many states prioritized COVID-19 vaccines for people over 75, then moved to those over 65. Still, they shouldn’t keep stepping down by age, an advisory committee to the CDC said Monday. The approach is inherently unfair to minorities, committee members said, because they have a lower life expectancy and because people of color are dying of COVID-19 at younger ages than White Americans, even in their 30s, 40s and 50s. “I’m not in favor of any part of an age eligibility bracket under 65,” said Dr. José Romero, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock and chairman of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
“New Orleans Archdiocese warns Catholics to avoid ‘morally compromised’ Johnson & Johnson vaccine” via Jaclyn Peiser of The Washington Post — On Friday, as a Food and Drug Administration expert panel recommended approving the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine, the Archdiocese of New Orleans offered a differing opinion. Taking the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the Archdiocese said, would be immoral. The decision could put the archdiocese in conflict with the Vatican and Pope Francis, who have been aggressively pro-vaccine. Last December, the Vatican approved the use of vaccines “that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process,” adding it’s “morally acceptable.” However, the Pope has yet to address the Johnson & Johnson shot specifically.
“Military may revisit making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory after FDA grants approval” via Stephen Losey of Military.com — The Pentagon has not yet decided whether to require service members to get inoculated against COVID-19, once the Food and Drug Administration grants full approval for the vaccines. But in a briefing with reporters Monday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby indicated full FDA approval could change how the military’s leadership looks at this issue. “Obviously, we’re thinking about what happens when they become FDA-approved,” Kirby said. “It would change the character of the decision-making process, about whether they could be mandatory or voluntary. But I don’t want to get ahead of that process right now.”
“CDC’s draft guidelines for vaccinated Americans call for small steps toward normal life” via Erin Banco of POLITICO — The CDC is set to release guidance this week on safe activities for people who have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine amid growing questions about when, and how, shots will enable a return to normal life. The recommendations will mark the first time the federal government has signaled to Americans that they can start taking steps back to the old rhythms of work, school, and play, according to two senior administration officials involved in drafting the guidelines. The CDC guidance will include recommendations that Americans limit their social interactions to small gatherings in the home with other fully vaccinated individuals, wear masks in public and adhere to other public-health measures such as social distancing for the foreseeable future.
“According to CDC, 96% of schoolchildren still unsafe for full-time, in-person learning” via Anagha Srikanth of The Hill — As the vaccine rollout remains limited, a return to normal is looking more and more unlikely — at least by the end of this school year. Under the guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 4% of the nation’s schoolchildren live in counties where coronavirus transmission is low enough for full-time, in-person learning without additional restrictions, according to a New York Times analysis of the agency’s latest figures. In addition to implementing mitigation strategies within schools, the CDC calls for less than 50 new cases per 100,000 people in the past week as a measure of moderate to low community transmission before children can return to school full-time.
—“Children could be able to get COVID-19 vaccine by next school year, Tampa Bay health experts say” via Melissa Marino of WFLA.
“Texas to end all coronavirus restrictions” via Jacob Knutson of Axios — Texas will end its coronavirus restrictions next week with an upcoming executive order, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday during a news conference in Lubbock. After Abbott signs the new order, which rescinds previous orders, all businesses can open to 100% capacity, and the statewide mask mandate will be over, though large parts of the state will remain under mask local ordinances. “It is now time to open Texas 100%,” Abbott said Tuesday. “For nearly a half a year, most businesses have been open either 75% or 50%, and during that time, too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities.”
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“Senate to move forward on $1.9 trillion virus relief bill; Chuck Schumer says ‘we’ll have the votes’” via Erica Werner of The Washington Post — Schumer said the Senate will move forward as soon as Wednesday on Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill and pledged, “We’ll have the votes we need to pass the bill.” Schumer’s comments at a news conference Tuesday came even as moderate Senate Democrats maneuvered to limit some of the expenditures in the bill over objections from liberals who insisted they’d already made concessions on Biden’s first major legislative proposal.
“Senate Dems wrestle with unemployment benefits in Joe Biden’s COVID-19 aid plan” via Marianne Levine, Caitlin Emma, and Burgess of POLITICO — Senate Democrats are racing to mend a crucial eleventh-hour disagreement over whether to trim the boosted unemployment benefits included in Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. Some moderate Democrats call for more narrow targeting of the aid bill’s unemployment benefits and stimulus checks, including cutting the weekly federal benefits the bill would add from $400 to $300 while extending that money over a longer period of time. That debate is taking place roughly 24 hours before party leaders want the bill on the floor. Democrats don’t have much time to fight about the massive COVID-19 measure, with debate set to begin as early as Wednesday.
“Virus did not bring financial rout that many states feared” via Mary Williams Walsh of The New York Times — Throughout the debate over stimulus measures, one question has repeatedly brought gridlock in Washington: Should the states get no-strings federal aid? As it turns out, new data shows that a year after the pandemic wrought economic devastation around the country, forcing states to revise their revenue forecasts and prepare for the worst. For many, the worst didn’t come. One big reason: $600-a-week federal supplements allowed people to keep spending, and states to keep collecting sales tax revenue, even when they were jobless, along with the usual state unemployment benefits.
“China manufacturing stumbles as U.S. takes off” via Nathaniel Taplin and Justin Lahart of The Wall Street Journal — China’s manufacturing sector grew at a markedly slower pace in February than the month before, surveys released over the weekend suggested, even as similar indicators in the U.S. are signaling rapid growth. China’s weakness is likely only a blip, but if its export orders don’t recover in March and April, that could signal the nation’s economy is cooling more quickly than many anticipated. Chinese purchasing managers indexes have been trending lower since December when officials mandated new lockdowns in some northern cities to contain a rash of coronavirus outbreaks.
— MORE CORONA —
“Vaccine passports, COVID-19’s next political flashpoint” via Max Fisher of The New York Times — The next major flashpoint over coronavirus response has already provoked cries of tyranny and discrimination in Britain, protests in Denmark, digital disinformation in the United States, and geopolitical skirmishing within the European Union. The subject of debate: vaccine passports — government-issued cards or smartphone badges stating that the bearer has been inoculated against the coronavirus. The idea is to allow families to reunite, economies to restart and hundreds of millions of people who have received a shot to return to a degree of normalcy, all without spreading the virus. Some versions of the documentation might permit bearers to travel internationally. Others would allow entry to vaccinated-only spaces like gyms, concert venues and restaurants.
— PRESIDENTIAL —
“Biden urges Senate Dems to rally behind $1.9T virus bill” via Alan Fram of The Associated Press — Biden urged Senate Democrats on Tuesday to rally behind a $1.9 trillion COVID-relief bill and stood by his proposed $1,400 payments to individuals, even as some party moderates sought to dial back parts of the package. “He said we need to pass this bill and pass it soon. That’s what the American people sent us here to do, and we have to get America the help it needs,” Senate Majority Leader Schumer told reporters, describing a 20-minute conference call Biden had with Democratic senators. The president’s cry for unity came as Democrats, with no votes to spare in a 50-50 Senate, sorted through lingering divisions over the emerging bill. Those included moderates’ efforts to focus spending more narrowly on those hardest hit by the deadly pandemic and resulting economic contraction.
“Biden to prioritize vaccinating schoolteachers” via The Associated Press — Biden is directing states to prioritize vaccinating all teachers during March and announced that the federal government will help in the effort through its partnership with retail pharmacies. Biden said his goal is for every prekindergarten through 12th-grade educator, school staff member and child care worker to receive at least one shot by the end of March. To achieve this, Biden announced that qualifying individuals will be able to sign up this month to be vaccinated at a pharmacy near them. Biden said that “time and again, we’ve heard from educators and parents that have anxieties about that,” so to “accelerate” the safe reopening teachers should be prioritized.
— EPILOGUE: TRUMP —
“Trumpism grips a post-policy GOP as traditional conservatism fades” via Jonathan Martin of The New York Times — For decades, the same ritual took place in the aftermath of Republican electoral defeats. Moderate, establishment-aligned party officials would argue that candidates had veered too far right on issues like immigration, as well as in their language, and would counsel a return to the political center. And conservatives would contend that Republicans had abandoned the true faith and must return to first principles to distinguish themselves from Democrats and claim victory. One could be forgiven for missing this debate in the aftermath of 2020 because it is scarcely taking place. Republicans have entered a sort of post-policy moment in which the most animating forces in the party are emotions, not issues.
“Donald Trump, Stephen Miller think road to 2022 victory is immigration, Democrats see it as a failed playbook” via Adrian Carrasquillo of Newsweek — Just eight minutes into his CPAC speech, Trump went on his first extended riff, saying Biden has “triggered a massive flood of illegal immigration into our country, the likes of which we have never seen before.” The issue was famously one of the first things the former president brought up as a candidate in 2016, although he did not prioritize it in his 2020 race. But the placement of immigration at the top of his agenda to bash Biden comes just days after Miller, a dutiful architect of Trump’s zero-tolerance and family separation policies, told Republican members of Congress that immigration, more than any other issue, would be their ticket to bludgeoning Democrats during the midterms and wresting control of Congress.
“House fight for Trump’s financial records poised to stretch into the summer” via Kyle Cheney of POLITICO — Congressional investigators fighting to access Trump’s financial records are planning for a lengthy battle that stretches deep into 2021, according to a proposed legal schedule unveiled by House counsel Doug Letter on Tuesday. In a filing on Tuesday with the Federal District Court in D.C., Letter revealed that the House Oversight Committee had reissued a subpoena for Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, late last month. And he outlined a briefing and argument schedule that would carry the case into June, with a decision unlikely before midsummer. Any appeals by either Trump or the House could extend that timeline much further.
“Prosecutors investigating Trump focus on his finance chief” via Ben Protess, William K. Rashbaum and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times — State prosecutors in Manhattan who are investigating Trump and his family business are sharpening their focus on the company’s long-serving chief financial officer, asking witnesses questions about his dealings at the company, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The increased focus on the executive, Allen Weisselberg, could step up pressure on him to cooperate with the investigation if the prosecutors unearth evidence of wrongdoing on his part. He has served as the Trump Organization’s financial gatekeeper for more than two decades and could be a vital source of information for the government about the inner workings of the company.
“Fulton DA’s investigation into Trump heads to grand jury” via Christian Boone and Tamar Hallerman of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution — Fulton County prosecutors are expected to appear before a grand jury this week seeking subpoenas for documents and witnesses related to their investigation of Trump and some of his top associates for possible election fraud. Legal experts are split as to whether there’s a strong case to be made, but most agree Trump’s efforts to overturn Georgia’s election results merit greater scrutiny. Fani Willis, Fulton’s new district attorney, has said she’s prepared to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Some believe the recording of Trump’s Jan. 2 phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger leaning on him to “find” the votes to reverse Biden’s win is grounds to move forward.
“Brad Parscale launches super PAC” via Lachlan Markay of Axios — Parscale, former Trump campaign manager, has launched a new super PAC and sister advocacy group, public records show. Parscale said his focus is on the nonprofit arm, which will provide research and data tools to highlight “voting integrity” efforts around the country and is launching in conjunction with Parscale’s new political data firm. Parscale’s formations of American Greatness PAC and the nonprofit American Greatness Fund coincide with his return to Trump’s inner circle as the former president plots his future political strategy. Parscale incorporated the American Greatness Fund in Delaware on Feb. 24. American Greatness PAC had filed a statement of organization with the FEC about two weeks earlier.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“FBI Director Christopher Wray says the Capitol siege has been an ‘inspiration’ to terrorist extremists” via Kyle Cheney of POLITICO — Wray said that the Jan. 6 insurrection has been “an inspiration to a number of terrorist extremists,” foreign and domestic, and that the bureau is still eyeing whether any foreign actors might seek to infiltrate domestic groups to exploit vulnerabilities. Wray also said he considers the siege “domestic terrorism” and is deploying intensive resources in every field office to pursue perpetrators. Wray’s public comments are his first since the assault on the Capitol, and they come nearly two months after thousands of Trump supporters stormed the building and hundreds breached the interior to stop lawmakers from certifying the results of the 2020 election.
“House Republicans jostle over proxy voting after Florida trip” via Melanie Zanona and Olivia Beavers of POLITICO — Several House Republicans’ decision to use proxy voting while attending a political conference in Florida has touched a nerve with their colleagues. During a GOP conference meeting on Tuesday, Texas Rep. Chip Roy called out fellow Republicans who voted “by proxy” against the Democrats’ COVID-19 relief bill last week to attend the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando. With House Republicans actively suing Democrats to stop proxy voting, which allows lawmakers to vote through colleagues if they can’t be physically present in the Capitol, Roy argued that the GOP needs to practice what it preaches.
“Could Puerto Rico become a U.S. state? New bill in Congress faces an uphill battle” via Syra Ortiz-Blanes, Bianca Padró Ocasio and Alex Roarty of the Miami Herald — Rep. Darren Soto and Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González introduced a bill in the House of Representatives Tuesday that would enable Puerto Rico to be admitted into the United States as an American state — a proposal that faces an uphill battle, despite optimism from proponents that a Democratic-majority legislature might push the initiative forward. The bipartisan bill establishes a process to allow the unincorporated territory to shed its 68-year-old commonwealth status. Island residents would participate in a federally binding election called by the Governor to choose whether or not Puerto Rico should immediately be granted statehood.
— LOCAL NOTES —
“Matt Carlucci raises $533,000 for Jacksonville mayor campaign” via Dave Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — Jacksonville City Council member Carlucci hauled in $533,000 in his opening round of fund-raising for a race that is still two years away. His biggest contributions came from Brightway Insurance Executive Chairman David Miller and retired CSX executive Michael Ward. Each wrote $100,000 checks to Next Generation Jax, a political committee affiliated with Carlucci, according to a report filed with the state Division of Elections for February activity. The committee also got a $50,000 contribution from former Jaguars team owner Wayne Weaver.
“Judge: License rule in Jacksonville strip club law violates First Amendment” via Steve Patterson of The Florida Times-Union — A Jacksonville law requiring strip-club dancers to have police-issued identification is unconstitutional because it gives the Sheriff’s Office too much control over who can dance, a federal judge decided. “If Jacksonville seeks to impose a licensing requirement for performers at adult entertainment establishments, the licensing procedure must adhere to each of the requirements that the Supreme Court has laid out. The ordinance’s licensing provisions do not,” U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan wrote in an order striking down a system of identity cards the City Council approved last year.
“Gulf Power gets OK to start recovering Hurricane Sally cost, bills won’t increase” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — Gulf Power customers will see a slight decrease in their monthly power bills after the Florida Public Service Commission approved changes to the power company’s rates in response to Hurricane Sally and the end of coal use at Plant Crist. The Public Service Commission, which regulates the rates utilities can charge, approved two measures Tuesday that will decrease the cost by $0.73 for every 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity. Gulf Power sought to recover the $206 million it paid to restore power following Hurricane Sally in 2020. The commission approved that measure, which would add $3 per 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity for Gulf Power customers.
“Jurors finally return to Miami-Dade courts under COVID-19 rules. Are they excited? Well …” via David Ovalle of the Miami Herald — For the first time in one year, jurors on Tuesday took their seats in two separate Miami-Dade County courtrooms. Both cases were relatively minor, but they represented a major step toward slowly cranking back up the machinery of criminal and civil law stalled by the coronavirus pandemic. It proved an experience both familiar and strange for everyone involved in the milestone events, especially for jurors. That was most evident from a domestic abuse case overseen by County Judge Eleane Sosa-Bruz. During jury selection on Monday, she was flanked by tables, one for the prosecution, another for the defense, large clear panels between them. Jurors sat in chairs spaced out facing the legal teams.
“For the 10th consecutive year, South Florida’s winter has been warmer than average” via Chris Perkins of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — While the winter has brought teeth-chattering cold and snow to much of the nation, South Florida basked in a warmer-than-normal winter for the 10th consecutive year, according to a report from the National Weather Service. Average winter temperatures were one to two degrees warmer than the 30-year average for South Florida at the main climate-measuring sites at the airports in Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood and West Palm Beach. Fort Lauderdale had its 17th warmest winter since record-keeping began in 1912. There were several days throughout the winter when South Floridians had to pull out the long sleeves. December temperatures were cooler than normal and January close to normal.
“As attack ads fly in Delray Beach mayor’s race, an out-of-town PAC draws questions” via Wells Dusenbury of the South Florida Sun Sentinel — More gasoline was thrown on the fire in the Delray Beach mayoral race when a complaint was filed with the Florida Elections Commission against an out-of-town PAC targeting incumbent Shelly Petrolia. The complaint alleges Progress for Delray Beach, a PAC registered to Mike Ridenour of St. Petersburg, violated multiple election rules over the course of the past two months after launching a barrage of attack ads against Petrolia in the form of direct mail, robocalls and text messages. The complaint alleges Progress for Delray Beach didn’t comply with campaign disclosure requirements, in addition to alleged misinformation on campaign documents.
“What could happen to the $470M of transportation taxes collected so far” via Veronica Brezina-Smith of The Tampa Bay Business Journal — With the Florida Supreme Court striking down the All for Transportation surtax, it invites the question: What happens with the more than $470 million of taxpayer dollars already collected? Hillsborough County voters approved the tax in 2018, and money has been collected from taxpayers since. But this week, The Florida Supreme Court ruled the charter for the tax is illegal as it restricts how the proceeds can be spent and that it diminishes the county’s authority. At this moment, there isn’t a clear indication of how to handle the funds as the court’s opinion issued Thursday did not address it.
“Orange deputy suspended after Facebook post about Muslims ‘taking over America’” via Grace Toohey of The Orlando Sentinel — An Orange County deputy sheriff was suspended for almost a month after he posted an anti-Muslim rant on Facebook, in one of several posts that prompted a Muslim civil rights group to ask the Sheriff’s Office to investigate. Master Deputy Michael Johnson was suspended without pay for 150 hours after the Sheriff’s Office found he showed “unbecoming conduct” as well as “bias and disrespect” toward Muslims, according to a report from the internal investigation recently obtained by the Orlando Sentinel in a records request. The February 2020 post on Johnson’s personal Facebook page said that “Muslims are taking over America,” calling them the “most intolerant people when it comes to other religions.”
“Universal Orlando ‘evaluating’ experiences in Dr. Seuss-themed area” via Ashley Carter of Bay News 9 — Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the company that manages the late author’s books and characters, will stop publishing and licensing six of the famed author’s books because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park features an area known as Seuss Landing, which includes characters and attractions inspired by the world of Dr. Seuss. A play area in that part of the park is themed after “If I Ran the Zoo,” one of the books that will no longer be published, and includes animals and interactive contraptions from Seuss’s stories. The book has been criticized for its portrayal of Asian people, although none of that imagery is featured in the play area.
— TOP OPINION —
“Don’t sit there like idiots, Democrats — Republicans don’t want your voters to vote” via Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Miami Herald — For a nation that supposedly believes in democracy, America spends a lot of time trying to kill it. In the post-bellum era, White Democrats — the conservatives of that day — murdered hundreds of African Americans and forcibly seized state governments to disenfranchise Black voters. They constructed all sorts of barriers — poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses — that, while not explicitly mentioning race, had the intention and effect of stopping Black people from voting. The 1965 Voting Rights Act curtailed much of that. Until 2013, that is, when the Supreme Court gutted it, paving the way for a new round of barriers — photo ID laws, voting-roll purges, polling-place closures.
— OPINIONS —
“On Jan. 6 came the White supremacists. Now comes the whitewash.” via Dana Milbank of The Washington Post — FBI Director Wray, appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday to answer questions about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, told the lawmakers what should be obvious to all: that “militia violent extremists” and “racially motivated extremists” were behind the insurrection, and that there is no evidence of “fake Trump supporters” or “antifa” having any role in the attack, as Republican officials have suggested. In general, the Trump-appointed Wray testified, White supremacists are the “biggest chunk” of the domestic terrorism threat and “the most lethal.”
“Lawmakers shouldn’t use test results to punish schools” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — The pandemic has wreaked untold havoc on the classroom experience. Tens of thousands of Florida students are still learning remotely from home; harried parents are doubling as makeshift teachers, and hordes of children are falling further behind because of the lack of academic structure. That’s why state legislators are right to propose that Florida’s annual testing not be punitive to students and schools in the middle of this public health emergency. SB 886, filed by Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, would remove sanctions or penalties against students and schools underperforming during the 2020-2021 school year.
“New nursing home staff requirements would put residents at risk” via Michael Breveda of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, the agency tasked with overseeing Florida’s skilled nursing facilities, may permit nursing homes to use “personal care attendants” to staff facilities, permanently. These PCAs are not nurses. Instead, PCAs are caretakers that completed an eight-hour training requirement before caring for Florida’s most vulnerable patient population. Originally, AHCA intended to permit only temporary staffing of PCAs during the crisis. However, now lawmakers are contemplating a bill that would allow PCAs to replace traditional staff permanently.
“Florida’s insurance marketplace needs a course correction” via Virginia Clancy of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Going into 2020, the insurance market was already “hardening.” When insurance demand is increasing, and the capacity to insure risks is tightening, the result is increasing rates for homeowners and commercial properties alike. The more active storm season meant more activity in the Florida insurance market. The economy and insurance market were also affected by wildfires, assignment of benefits abuse, social unrest, and a pandemic. While these “acts of God” are not within our control, others, such as unnecessary litigation practices, are. Unfortunately, consumers will continue to see increased rates and diminished coverage options until these problems are reined in.
“Instead of standing your ground, retreat when possible” via Caroline Light in the Tampa Bay Times — We cannot bring back the loved ones killed by vigilantism disguised as “self-defense” under the purview of Florida’s stand your ground law. But 16 years later, we can at least restore the duty to retreat when a person can safely withdraw from a threat. And yet, state Sen. Shevrin Jones’ “Self-Defense Restoration Act” (SB 1052) faces an uphill battle, given the prevalence of a misbegotten belief in a “shoot first, ask questions later” method of dispute resolution. When I published “Stand Your Ground: A History of America’s Love Affair with Lethal Self-Defense” in 2017, I naively believed that the laws that originated in Florida would get dismantled by legislators and outraged citizens exhausted by the carnage that the laws encourage.
— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —
Day Two of the 60-day Legislative Session … where state flags are flying at half-staff.
Also, on today’s Sunrise:
— It’s one of the very few times over the past year that Gov. DeSantis acknowledged the human toll from COVID-19; 140 more fatalities were reported Tuesday, as the state’s death toll reached 31,696.
— Day One of Session was a time for speeches as the Governor, the Speaker of The House and the Senate President laid out their agendas for the next two months.
— Favorite moments from opening day: Speaker Sprowls promising not to be long-winded.
— There was the part where the Governor lifted a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar when Mark Antony said: “Friends, Romans, Countrymen … lend me your ears.”
— Another favorite moment was President Simpson closing his opening day speech with a quote from Dr. Suess.
— Lobbyist Ron Pierce talks about his “Steps for Session” challenge to raise money for guide dogs.
— And finally, a Florida Man was critically injured after being shot while naked and holding a Bible.
To listen, click on the image below:
— ALOE —
“6 Dr. Seuss books won’t be published for racist images” via Mark Pratt of The Associated Press — Six Dr. Seuss books — including “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” and “If I Ran the Zoo” — will stop being published because of racist and insensitive imagery, the business that preserves and protects the author’s legacy said Tuesday. “These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises told The Associated Press in a statement that coincided with the late author and illustrator’s birthday. “Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalog represents and supports all communities and families,” it said.
“Disney is taking advantage of the pandemic to make changes at its parks, CEO says” via Gabrielle Russon of The Orlando Sentinel — Disney is using the pandemic to make big changes at its theme parks that might not otherwise have been possible when the parks were open normally, Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Chapek said. “Obviously, nobody wants to have the parks closed for up to a year,” Chapek said during a Q&A Session at Morgan Stanley’s virtual conference Monday night. He said the adjustments are meant to improve the guest experience and make more money for shareholders. The only specific Chapek mentioned was the company’s decision earlier this year to eliminate its annual pass program at Disneyland, which unlike Disney World, has not reopened since the March 2020 shutdown. He did not elaborate on which further moves were coming.
“Go nuts: Reese’s making chocolate-free, all peanut butter cups” via Fox News — Hershey’s announced that it will be celebrating National Peanut Butter Day with the release of a new, all peanut butter cup. According to a news release, the new product will be called the Reese’s Ultimate Peanut Butter Lovers Cup and will only be available for a limited time only. The new candy is similar to an item Reese’s released for limited runs in 2019 and 2020, the Peanut Butter Lovers Cup, which had an extra layer of peanut butter on top of the cup’s candy shell. However, this time, the cup’s entire candy shell is made out of peanut butter and filled with peanut butter. It’s a lot of peanut butter. If you don’t like peanut butter, you’re not going to like this candy.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Celebrating today is Rep. Fentrice Driskell and Sean Stafford.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.