Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 3.8.21

Rise 'n' shine. Wake up to the best blurbs on politics and policy in Florida.

Good Monday morning.

There is a lot in today’s edition, but let’s start with some quick this.

❓ — Front-runner?

📰What they’re reading on the Plaza level: As Florida’s Governor continues to defend himself against various slays related to his COVID-19 response and, now, vaccine rollout, The Wall Street Journal is highlighting how Ron DeSantis‘ role in the virus has been vindicating. The state’s numbers are lower than places with Democratic Governors, like New York and California, but its economy, saved from extended lockdowns, is thriving. No doubt Team DeSantis is already prepping news conference quips to tout their success.

Ron DeSantis gets vindicated. Image via AP.

 — Two reasons Republicans outperformed polls: We know the 2020 election was so last year, but the Monday morning quarterbacking persists, nonetheless. FiveThirtyEight ponders two theories on why polls underestimated GOP success: former President Donald Trump capitalized on Republicans’ growing mistrust in government institutions and/or Republican voters fear ostracizing for their votes. On the latter point, FiveThirtyEight ponders what many already have: that secret some Trump supporters, or supporters of those like him, might have opted out of polls or answered differently than they actually voted. Now the question remains whether the next political cycle will see polling figure out what’s ailing them and get it right.

😭A beautiful must-read: Patrick Hidalgo was a healthy 41-year old before he died suddenly more than a year ago after frantically calling his family one night, sounding the alarm that he was having trouble breathing. Now, The New York Times documented how his family, initially told Hidalgo died of complications related to heart disease, is trying to find out whether COVID-19 was the actual culprit. It’s a touching story of loss, mystery and intense family ties.

📖What we’re reading to Ella Joyce: A Girl Scout troop in Iowa has sold more than 20,000 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies. A feat in and of itself, but especially since this troop is extra special. It’s a troop of just six girls, all of whom face chronic housing instability. The feat has already shattered their initial goal, which was to sell 1,000 boxes. Thin mints, anyone?

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

Tweet, tweet:

@CarlosGSmith: Breaks my heart to see all these medically vulnerable people turned away from the vaccine in Florida City because @GovRonDeSantis mandated a BIG GOVERNMENT FORM they can’t get signed when they try. Doc offices are overwhelmed, some are charging. Millions don’t have a doctor. WTF

@MayorDaniella: Our top priority must be to get shots in arms as fast as possible and ensure no available vaccine supply goes unused. I urge the Governor to expand eligibility requirements to meet the great demand in our community and across the state.

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

@NewsBySmiley: Michael Putney ends This Week in South Florida by calling out @marcorubio and @SenRickScott for he says “refusing” to come on the show to be interviewed. Asks viewers who want to see the interviews to contact the Senators’ offices

@Foswi: Can you even call yourself a lawyer in Tallahassee if you haven’t driven two hours one way to Alabama to get vaccinated? Yesterday the Tally bar association had enough members in a Bama Walmart to hold a meeting?

Tweet, tweet:

— DAYS UNTIL —

Municipal elections in Broward and south Palm Beach County — 1; 2021 Grammys — 6; Zack Snyder’s ‘Justice League’ premieres on HBO Max — 10; ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ premieres — 18; 2021 Florida Virtual Hemp Conference — 18; 2021 Florida Derby — 19; MLB Opening Day — 24; RNC spring donor summit — 32; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 60; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 63; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 81; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 116; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 125; MLB All-Star Game in Atlanta — 127; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 137; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 145; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 159; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 200; ‘Dune’ premieres — 207; MLB regular season ends — 209; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 215; World Series Game 1 — 232; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 239; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 242; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 277; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 284; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 382; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 424; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 578.

— MOVES —

Mike Hernández to lead LSN Partners comms shop — Political communications veteran Hernández joins LSN Communications as a partner to bolster the firm’s communication and messaging practice. He will be leading the newly formed LSN Communications Division, which will provide bilingual public relations, public affairs, media relations, crisis communications, and issue advocacy. Hernández brings more than 15 years of experience in corporate and political messaging, as well as campaign communications. He also served as an on-air political analyst for WSCV Telemundo 51, a highly rated South Florida news program. Before joining the private sector, Hernández served as senior adviser and Director of Communications for former Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez.

___

Technology company SAS Institute continued expanding its footprint in Florida with the addition of Nick Alvarez.

Alvarez was hired as a Florida Account Executive in SAS’ Government & Public Sector practice, working with well-known players including Ben Stuart, Beth Nunnally and Brian Logan.

“Nick’s talent, experience and track record of success is a perfect fit for the SAS team as we partner with Florida local and state government to tackle many of our state’s most complex public policy issues,” said Public Sector National Director Ben Stuart.

Congrats: SAS Institute is expanding its Florida footprint with the hire of Nick Alvarez.

Alvarez is known to Florida Politics readers as he was recently named one of Florida’s “30 Under 30 Rising Stars” in INFLUENCE Magazine.

He began his political career as a grassroots field organizer for Mitt Romney in Miami-Dade during the 2012 presidential campaign and has since served as campaign manager and political consultant to numerous members of the Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation.

Alvarez was the Political and Hispanic Director for former Sen. Dana Young’s campaign before serving as a legislative aide to Florida Senate President Pro-Tempore Anitere Flores for three years. Most recently, he worked on the campaigns for Rep. Anthony Rodriguez and Rep. Danny Perez, a future House Speaker.

“Nick is an invaluable asset to any team he joins. His work ethic, tenacity, and connections will allow him to thrive at SAS. I am excited to see this next chapter in his career,” Perez said.

___

One of Florida’s top medical cannabis companies has hired Taylor Ferguson as their state government and regulatory affairs director.

Ferguson comes to Parallel with nearly a decade of experience in Florida government. He was a senior legislative aide to former Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley and former Rep. Jake Raburn. He also served as campaign manager to Sen. Ed Hooper in the 2018 election cycle.

Earlier in his career, Ferguson worked as the communications coordinator for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. He is a graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University, where he earned a degree in political communications.

More congrats: Taylor Ferguson is bringing considerable talent to Parallel.

Most recently, he was a partner at a consulting firm he co-founded to help connect state and local governments to third-party PPE and testing providers to help mitigate fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Parallel is one of the largest privately held, vertically integrated, multistate cannabis companies in the world. and operates retail dispensaries in four medical and adult-use markets: Florida, Texas, Massachusetts and Nevada. Its Florida brand is Surterra Wellness.

Parallel operates approximately 50 locations nationwide, including 42 retail stores and cultivation and manufacturing sites.

Through its wholly-owned Parallel Biosciences subsidiary, the company conducts advanced cannabis science and R&D for new product development in its facilities in Texas, Massachusetts, Florida and Budapest, Hungary.

— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —

Ron DeSantis’ ‘anti-riot’ bill advances in House, but it may be dead on arrival in the Senate” via Trimmel Gomes of Florida News Connection — A controversial anti-rioting bill championed by DeSantis is moving quickly toward passage in the House but is likely to stall in the Senate. Triggered by the mostly peaceful protests after the police killing of George Floyd, sponsor Sen. Danny Burgess said HB 1 would protect against agitators who destroy properties during public disorder. Opponents say it’s intended to silence and criminalize Black protesters and allies. Sen. Brandes said lawmakers can file any bill they want, which doesn’t mean it will become law. The bill’s Senate companion has yet to be heard, and its chances are slim since Brandes chairs two and sits on the other of its three committee stops.

Ron DeSantis’ ‘anti-riot’ bill may be DOA in the Senate. Image via AP.

Wilton Simpson says he will not hinder EAA reservoir project” via Max Chesnes of TCPalm — The Florida Senate will not hinder progress on the EAA reservoir, the president said this week, after his previous comments criticizing the project cast doubts about its future. “Let me be clear,” Sen. Simpson said Tuesday, in his opening remarks on the first day of the legislative session. Over the past three months, Simpson has criticized the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir being built south of Lake Okeechobee, designed to curb harmful discharges to the St. Lucie River, which sometimes carry toxic algae blooms to the coast. In February, Simpson also urged Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers to expedite water storage projects north of Lake O by approving funding.

Chris Sprowls punts on state employee pay raise question” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — State employees will need to wait for now to learn if they’ll get another raise this year. Speaker Sprowls said his chamber would consider pay raises, a perennial issue for state workers. Even though Senate leadership is eager to give raises, employees will sit in suspense until April, when lawmakers hash out the budget. “That’s a budget question, and obviously, we have to take into account the entire budget,” Sprowls said. Florida may be recovering economically faster than expected from the COVID-19 pandemic, but budget chiefs in the Legislature still expect to keep the budget more conservative than usual. Yet Senate President Simpson told reporters Tuesday he hopes to set aside $30 million to $40 million to raise state employee salaries.

Florida was a 2020 election star. So why are lawmakers messing with success?” via Antonio Fins of The Palm Beach Post — Partisan rigidity aside, Florida Republicans and Democrats agree on at least this much: The Sunshine State in 2020 pulled off the smoothest election this century, even amid a once-in-lifetime pandemic. So, why are GOP state lawmakers in Tallahassee now lining up to mess with success in promulgating a series of, critics say, dubious if not harmful election reforms? Putting it bluntly, some say, former President Donald Trump. “That would be part of it,” said Palm Beach Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo. Rizzo said the legislation in Tallahassee is a proverbial “solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist,” and that will disadvantage Florida’s legions of elderly voters.

Florida Republicans pitch state as model for elections, expanding GOP appeal” via Joshua Jamerson of The Wall Street Journal — Florida Republicans are pitching themselves as a model for Republicans across the country on how to hold elections, handle the coronavirus pandemic and expand the GOP’s appeal to a broad swath of voters by emphasizing freedom and casting Democrats as socialist. While five states flipped from red to blue in the 2020 presidential race, Florida stayed in the Republican column, with former President Donald Trump slightly improving his performance here compared with 2016. Florida also boasts a culture that Republicans want for the rest of the country.

Student opposition mounts against scaling back Bright Futures scholarships” via Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida — Florida students are rallying against a proposal from Senate Republicans that would dramatically reshape the state’s widely popular Bright Futures college scholarship. In one week, an online petition fighting the measure eclipsed 53,000 signatures, with the bill teed up for its first hearing on Tuesday. Top GOP lawmakers this week were doubling down their plans for retooling the $650 million scholarship program. FL SB86 introduces wide-scale policy shifts that could mark the most substantial Bright Futures cutback since the Great Recession, altering how much money students can receive for the awards currently earned by some 119,925 students.

Florida students will descend on the Senate to save the popular Bright Futures scholarship. Image via Colin Hackley.

House panel to weigh pot potency” via News Service of Florida — The House Professions & Public Health Subcommittee is scheduled to consider the proposal (HB 1455), filed by Republican Rep. Spencer Roach of North Fort Myers. A similar bill (SB 1958) was filed this week in the Senate by Estero Republican Ray Rodrigues. In part, Roach’s bill would place a 10% THC cap on smokable marijuana. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive component of marijuana that makes users feel high. Medical-marijuana advocates and industry officials are fighting the proposals, arguing caps would force patients to spend more money to achieve the same effects from their medical treatment. Supporters of caps contend that high-potency marijuana has negative mental-health effects, especially on the developing brain.

— TALLY 2 —

Assignment editors — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Rep. Ramon Alexander will hold a news conference regarding “red tape for the medically vulnerable” regarding COVID-19 vaccines in Florida, 2:15 p.m., outside the Al Lawson Jr. Multipurpose Center, Florida A&M University, 1800 Wahnish Way, Tallahassee. The press should RSVP to [email protected]

Environmentalists to Nikki Fried: Join us in opposing ‘Right to Farm’ law revision” via Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO — Some environmentalists who are opposing a bill that would make it more difficult to sue farmers for agricultural activities say Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Fried should join them in opposing the legislation. The bill in question, FL SB88 (21R), cleared its last committee stop on Thursday and is headed to the Senate floor. It raises the legal standard for proving nuisance claims against farms and does not allow them for complaints arising from more than half a mile away. And the bill expands the definition of a farming operation to include “agritourism,” such as wineries.

Michele Rayner responds to racist voicemail left over anti-riot bill vote” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Pinellas County Rep. Rayner is responding to a racist voicemail left at her personal law practice Thursday morning amid the first week of this year’s Legislative Session. The message, which was left on the Democrat’s direct line in her law practice in Clearwater, said: “Michele Rayner is nothing but a f***ing n***er freak.” Rayner said the voicemail came from a restricted number, but it was in a woman’s voice. “I get it through work on Twitter and on Facebook, but it’s another thing to kind of have your personal space invaded a little bit more,” Rayner said. “You’re able to detach when it’s online.”

Michelle Rayner-Goolsby refuses to be intimidated by racist voicemail messages.

Florida Democrats propose $543M in rent relief for small businesses left out of eviction bans” via Caroline Glenn of The Orlando Sentinel — Left out of state and national eviction moratoriums, Florida businesses could find relief in a bill that would set up a $543 million rent stabilization fund and put a stop to commercial evictions. Filed by Democrats Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Sen. Annette Taddeo, House Bill 1469 and Senate Bill 2002 seek to help small businesses that make less than $250,000 a year in profits that have gotten behind on rent. The fund would cover half a business’ back rent; the business would agree to pay 25% of what it owes, and the landlord would agree to forgive the other 25%.

Lawmakers take steps to limit students’ grades being shared with law enforcement” via Kirby Wilson and Kathleen McGrory of the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times — A Senate panel this week advanced a proposal that would require Florida school districts to obtain written consent from parents before releasing their children’s grades to law enforcement. St. Pete Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes said he introduced the measure in response to Tampa Bay Times reporting on a Pasco County program. The Times found the Pasco school district shares student grades, attendance records, and disciplinary histories with the Pasco Sheriff’s Office, which uses the data to determine which kids might become future criminals. “Parents should be notified before their (child’s) school grades are being used in this fashion and should have to affirmatively consent to that use,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

— FIRST IN SUNBURN —

EMPOWER Patients coalition launches comic series, marketing campaign to highlight ‘shady’ PBMs — With the start of the 2021 Legislative Session, EMPOWER Patients, a coalition of neighborhood and independent pharmacists and pharmacies, launched a comic strip to bring attention to the “shady and anti-competitive business practices” of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs).

The comic strip series follows a neighborhood pharmacist’s struggles to help their patients while “Papa PBM” shakes him down daily. The comic strip series marks the official launch of the marketing campaign the coalition will be investing in to bring attention to this issue that “drives up prescription drug costs for Floridians.” The comic strip series will follow heavy digital advertising spend to help bring attention to the practices of prescription drug middlemen that the state continues to allow.

— LOBBY REGS —

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Jeff Atwater, Abigail Vail, Ballard Partners: Florida Peninsula Insurance Company

Slater Bayliss, Chris, Sarah Suskey, Jeffrey Woodburn, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: Binti

Louis Betz, Louis Betz & Associates: More Transplants More Life

Jim Daughton, Warren Husband, Douglas Bell, Allison Liby-Schoonover, Aimee Diaz Lyon, Andrew Palmer, Metz Husband & Daughton: 23andMe

Helena Delmonte: The Association for the Development of the Exceptional

Violet Gonzalez: MACtown

James Harris Jr.: Manatee Harvesting

Deno Hicks, River North Strategies: RedSpeed USA

Jason Holloway, DLT Consulting: Bay Area Arborist Consulting Group, Florida Business Blockchain Association

Jim Horne, Tara Reid-Cherry, Strategos Public Affairs: Affinity Waste Solutions

Nick Iarossi, Andrew Ketchel, Scott Ross, Chris Schoonover, Capital City Consulting: Hearing Industries Association

Joe Mantilla, Reed Smith: TrueCore Behavioral Solutions

Will McKinley, Erik Kirk, PooleMcKinley: Carahsoft Technology

Kathleen Orlowsky: BAE Systems

Evan Rosenthal, Nabors Giblin & Nickerson: Wakulla County

— LEG. SKED —

The House Finance & Facilities Subcommittee meets to consider HB 1157, from Rep. Traci Koster, to prevent free-standing hospital emergency departments from holding themselves out as urgent care centers, 10 a.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.

The House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee meets to consider HB 6073, from Rep. Chip LaMarca, to repeal the regulation limiting the sizes of wine containers sold in Florida, 10 a.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The House Government Operations Subcommittee meets to consider HB 947, from Rep. Scott Plakon, to change the process for deducting union dues from public employees’ paychecks, 10 a.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

Happening today — House Minority Co-leader Evan Jenne and Rep. Fentrice Driskell will host a virtual media availability, 10 a.m. Zoom link here.

The House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee meets for an update on federally funded reading initiatives, 11 a.m., Room 212, Knott Building.

The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider HB 231, from Rep. Ardian Zika, to establish a program to provide referral services to veterans and family members for help for mental health and substance abuse issues, 1 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The House Public Integrity and Elections Committee meets to workshop HB 155, from Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, to create a public records exemption for voters or voter-registration applicants, 1 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

The Joint Select Committee on Collective Bargaining meets for a public hearing about deadlocked issues, 1 p.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.

The Senate Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response meets for an update from Deloitte Consulting on its role in developing Florida’s troubled unemployment compensation system, 3:30 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee meet to consider HB 1473, from Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera, to make changes in Florida’s child-welfare system, 3:45 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The House Environment, Agriculture and Flooding Subcommittee meets to consider PCB EAF 21-01 to focus on the effects of rising sea levels because of climate change, 3:45 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

The House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider HB 1273, from Rep. Patt Maney, to 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, 3:45 p.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.

The House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider HB 67, from Rep. Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin, to prevent a public defender from being appointed if a private attorney represents the same defendant in a case, 3:45 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building. 

The Senate Special Order Calendar Group meets to set the special-order calendar, 4:30 p.m., Room 401, Senate Office Building.

— HAPPENING TUESDAY —

— STATEWIDE —

— “DeSantis is ascendant and Andrew Cuomo is faltering” via Lisa Lerer of The New York Times

—”It will be Vice (or) President Kamala Harris against DeSantis in 2024 — bet on it” via Douglas MacKinnon of The Hill

The 2024 presidential race?

Florida GOP may use stimulus to help businesses avoid unemployment taxes, but will workers benefit?” via John Kennedy of The Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Florida’s unemployment system is putting more heat on DeSantis and ruling Republicans, who are looking to quiet their worried political donor base with the help of President Joe Biden and the Democratic-led Congress’ $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package. Last spring, the state’s problem-plagued online CONNECT system repeatedly crashed under an unprecedented rush of jobless Floridians seeking to apply for benefits. DeSantis mocked the system as a “jalopy” sputtering along in the Daytona 500, but people out of work still had to wait weeks to receive payments. Now, though, powerful business groups that finance GOP campaigns are putting pressure on leaders over higher unemployment tax payments they face next month.

State tax revenues top forecast in January” via News Service of Florida — In the new report on revenues, the Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research said the $3.001 billion collected in January exceeded by $246.7 million a revised revenue forecast for the month. That revised forecast was issued in August, after months of businesses struggling with the pandemic. But the January revenue total was below tax collections in January 2020, which was before the pandemic crashed into the state. The January figure exceeding the revised forecast by $246.7 million came after the state saw bigger bumps during the previous three months. The state was $336.7 million over the forecast in December, $277.3 million over the forecast in November, and $313.5 million over the forecast in October.

Medical marijuana is booming in Florida, but the industry is nervous. Here’s why.” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — During a year when the state lost more than 400,000 jobs, Florida’s cannabis industry in 2020 added nearly 15,000 employees, according to the cannabis website Leafly. Four years after Florida voters approved its legalization for medical purposes, marijuana is a $1.2 billion business. Industry insiders say it’s growing every day. That type of success would usually earn support in Florida’s business friendly Legislature. But the 2021 lawmaking session is anything but a victory lap for Florida’s pot sector.

— 2022 —

Sunshine State dims for Dems amid election losses, cash woes” via Bobby Caina Calvan of The Associated Press — Democrats may delight in their brightening prospects in Arizona and Georgia and may even harbor glimmers of hope in Texas, but their angst is growing in Florida, which has a reputation as a swing state but now favors Republicans and could be shifting further out of reach for Democrats. As the jockeying begins to take on DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Rubio in 2022, Democrats’ disadvantage against Republicans is deeper than ever, as they try to develop a cohesive strategy and rebuild a statewide party deep in debt and disarray. Trump’s brand of populism has helped power a GOP surge in Florida, where Trump defeated now-President Biden by more than 3 percentage points last fall.

Florida is not looking so good for Democrats. Image via AP.

From vote to virus, misinformation campaign targets Latinos” via Will Weissert of The Associated Press — Tom Perez was a guest on a Spanish-language talk radio show in Las Vegas last year when a caller launched into baseless complaints about both parties, urging Latino listeners not to cast votes at all. Perez, then chairman of the Democratic Party, recognized many of the claims as talking points for #WalkAway, a group promoted by a conservative activist, Brandon Straka, who was later arrested for participating in the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. In the run-up to the November election, that call was part of a broader movement to depress turnout and spread disinformation about Biden among Latinos; it was promoted on social media and often fueled by automated accounts.

Nick DiCeglie raises $176K in February for SD 24 bid” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Rep. DiCeglie raised more than $176,000 in February for his bid for Senate District 24, his campaign announced Friday. The haul also includes fundraising activity on Mar. 1, the final day before the 2021 Legislative Session. Lawmakers are prohibited from fundraising during the 60-day Session, meaning his one-month haul set his campaign up well ahead of a long lull. Prominent local contributors include St. Pete City Council members Ed Montanari and Robert Blackmon, real estate investor Jim Holton, developer Jonathan Stanton and attorney Brian Aungst Jr. DiCeglie officially announced he was running for SD 24 Mar. 1.

Daniel Perez committee pulls in $192K via News Service of Florida — A political committee led by Miami Republican Rep. Perez raised $192,000 in February while also funneling $200,000 to the Republican Party of Florida, according to a newly filed finance report. The committee, Conservatives for a Better Florida, had about $513,000 in cash on hand as of Feb. 28. Perez is in line to become House Speaker in 2024. According to the report posted on the report, the contributions to the committee in February were $25,000 from the auto firm JM Family Enterprises, $10,000 from a Florida Medical Association PAC, and $10,000 from Dosal Tobacco Corp state Division of Elections website. The committee reported spending $227,986 during the month, with $200,000 of that going to the state GOP.

Daniel Perez makes bank. Image via Colin Hackley.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida adds 4,098 coronavirus cases, 66 deaths Sunday” via Romy Ellenbogen of The Tampa Bay Times — Florida recorded 66 deaths Sunday, the lowest single-day total in months. Sunday’s addition dropped the weekly death average to about 123 people announced dead per day. In Florida, 32,266 people have died from coronavirus. The state also added 4,098 coronavirus cases Sunday, bringing the weekly average to about 5,111 cases announced per day. Statewide, 1,944,995 cases of coronavirus have been identified since last March. About 84,000 coronavirus tests were processed Saturday, resulting in a single-day positivity rate of 5.84 percent. As of Sunday afternoon, 3,550,139 people in Florida have been vaccinated against coronavirus, with more than half those vaccinated having completed their immunization series.

DeSantis done with vaccinating by job; leaving out farmworkers called cruel” via Jane Musgrave of The Palm Beach Post — Despite pressure from farmworker advocates, DeSantis said Friday that he won’t prioritize any more groups for coronavirus vaccines, leaving hard-hit agricultural workers at the mercy of systems many can’t access. Days after he agreed school employees, police and firefighters age 50 and up could get vaccinated alongside seniors; he said he is done giving priority by profession. “We’re not doing any more occupation changes,” he said during a news conference in Ocala. “We’re going to do an age-based approach going forward.” While not surprised that DeSantis ignored their pleas, those who have seen the deadly toll the virus has taken in farming communities called the decision shortsighted and cruel.

Ron DeSantis stops vaccinations by occupation; leaving farmworkers struggling.

Hospital system contradicts DeSantis on COVID-19 vaccine delivery to luxury Keys enclave” via David Fleshler and Skyler Swisher of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Baptist Health on Friday disputed DeSantis’ claim that his administration had nothing to do with the decision to send 1,200 COVID-19 vaccine doses to Ocean Reef Club, the luxury Key Largo community at the center of controversy over whether the wealthy received privileged access to vaccines. Democrats have pounced on the issue, calling on the FBI to investigate whether vaccines were improperly directed to DeSantis’ political allies. They say it’s part of a pattern in which Florida’s wealthy have been able to get the shots, while vaccination rates lag among Blacks and Hispanics.

DeSantis administration ‘reeks of corruption,’ say Democrats calling for investigation after vaccines linked to political donations” via Dara Kam of Orlando Weekly — As DeSantis travels the state boasting of Florida’s “seniors first” policy, Democratic leaders are calling for investigations into the allocation of coveted COVID-19 vaccines. The political fight over the vaccines flared Thursday, with Fried saying she has requested an FBI investigation into the issue and Florida Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer asking the U.S. Department of Justice to probe “potential wrongdoing” by the Republican Governor. The vaccines have become a flashpoint after reports that shots have been made available to seniors in wealthy neighborhoods and have been linked with campaign contributions to DeSantis, reports that the Governor disputes.

—“Calls grow for acting US Attorney General to investigate DeSantis on alleged vaccine favoritism” via CBS Miami staff reports

—“Florida will get 645,180 COVID-19 vaccine doses next week. Here’s where they’ll go.” via Lisa J. Huriash, David Schutz and Aric Chokey of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel

FEMA vaccine site abandoned state rules, gave vaccines to any resident 18 and older” via Devoun Cetoute of The Miami Herald — A FEMA site suddenly deviating from state rules may have allowed possibly hundreds of Floridians to get the COVID-19 vaccine without needing to be part of one of DeSantis’ eligible groups. On Saturday, the FEMA satellite vaccine site in Florida City gave vaccines to anyone who was a Florida resident and was 18 and over, according to sources at the site. Marty Bahamonde, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the site should be following the same criteria established by DeSantis that all other FEMA sites do. Why the Florida City site deviated from the rules is being looked into.

In Florida City, FEMA ditched the state rules and began giving vaccines to anyone over 18.

—“COVID-19 vaccines: All it takes is a doctor’s note and a Florida site with an open door” via Cindy Krischer Goodman and Andrew Boryga of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel

—“Where can Florida teachers get a COVID-19 vaccine? The rules for eligibility vary by site” via Michelle Marchante and Devoun Cetoute of The Miami Herald

—”Florida employers and Surgeon General can require a COVID-19 vaccine, technically” via Lindsey Leake of TCPalm

Unlike the rich donors DeSantis vaccinated first, I had to hustle for my vaccine” via Fabiola Santago of The Miami Herald — If DeSantis can dispense the first COVID-19 vaccines to his wealthy donors at the Ocean Reef Club in the Keys, if he can continue to use the deadly virus as a political fundraising tool at whim, I’m getting the shot in the arm I deserve under new eligibility guidelines. No more waiting, thanks to the under 65 “extreme vulnerability” category and the new FEMA site opened by Biden in Northwest Miami-Dade. Armed with a two-page letter from my doctor outlining a qualifying condition that made me more vulnerable to COVID-19 complications, I drove to the newly opened walk-up FEMA vaccination site at the Miami Dade College North campus.

— CORONA LOCAL —

A harrowing must-readA family’s search for answers: Did their brother die of COVID-19?” via Patricia Mazzei of The New York Times — The Hidalgo siblings buried their younger brother, Patrick, six days after he had texted them in the middle of the night last March to say that something was wrong: He was gasping for air. Two days after that, paramedics found his body in his Miami Beach apartment. One of his hands still held a rosary. In the following days of March 2020, the coronavirus brought life in the United States to an abrupt halt. Only then, as their shock subsided and grief deepened, did the Hidalgo family start to wonder if Patrick had died of COVID-19. As the first COVID-19 deaths were recorded across the country, families like his found themselves in a state of haunting uncertainty that has never gone away.

—“Miami Commissioner Jeffrey Watson released from hospital after bout with COVID-19” via Joey Flechas of The Miami Herald

‘Real-life monopoly.’ Eligible residents turned away at Miami-Dade vaccine sites amid chaos” via Bianca Padró Ocasio of The Miami Herald — While hundreds of ineligible residents are now showing up to vaccination sites in hopes of scoring a leftover dose of a vaccine, Vázquez is one of many Floridians who are eligible to get the vaccine but are being turned away at vaccine sites that are imposing arbitrary thresholds for eligibility, even as facilities are not always meeting the daily allotment of available doses. At the federally-run facilities in Florida City and Miami Dade College’s North Campus, those who waited in line said the measures became even stricter on Sunday, after news spread of the free-for-all approach at the Florida City site on Saturday.

Chaos at a Miami vaccination site caused many who were eligible to be turned away. Image via AP.

COVID-19 pandemic stakes its place as watershed event in Jacksonville history” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — When historians look back on the deadly pandemic that arrived in Jacksonville in March 2020, it will go down as one of the most impactful and mobilizing events that Jacksonville has ever faced. Nearly one out of every 10 Duval County residents of all ages has tested positive at some point for the COVID-19 virus since the first confirmed case on March 12, 2020. At its most devastating, the virus has claimed 1,193 lives of Duval County residents, which is 124 deaths out of every 100,000 residents, based on a Times-Union analysis using data from the state health department and U.S. Census.

Putnam County part of Florida’s pilot program to expand vaccines in rural areas” via Francine Frazier of News4Jax — A new pilot program in Florida aims to increase vaccines in rural counties in the state, including Putnam County. The state is partnering with Health Hero Florida, an immunization provider, to implement the program in Putnam and several other counties, including Highlands, Glades, Levy, Dixie, and Gilchrist. “Our mission remains clear: we are ensuring that every senior who wants a shot, gets a shot,” DeSantis said. DeSantis has been traveling around the state, focusing efforts on increasing vaccinations for seniors in counties running behind the state average, which he said is nearing 60% statewide.

Orlando trial tests COVID-19 vaccine in teens” via Kate Santich of the Orlando Sentinel — When Dr. Salma Elfaki signed on to lead Moderna’s only COVID-19 vaccine trial for teens, the Lake Nona pediatrician thought she might have trouble finding kids — or parents — willing to participate. “Even before the news really got out, over 400 patients enlisted,” she said. “It has been surreal.” Some wanted to help society reclaim a sense of normalcy. Others were kids with health problems that made them more vulnerable to COVID-19 complications. Others were from Black and Hispanic families who sought to ensure racial equity. “Different people had different reasons, but they all were excited to become sort of pioneers in the field, if you will,” Elfaki said. “They wanted to be part of history.”

Community Health Northwest Florida holding walk-in vaccine clinic” via The Pensacola News Journal staff reports — Community Health Northwest Florida is holding a walk-in vaccination clinic from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday at Brownsville Community Center for all residents of Florida who qualify. DeSantis’ amended order expands the groups eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Florida to include persons under 65 who are “medically vulnerable,” as well as those who hold specific jobs that put them at high risk, including firefighters and law enforcement officers age 50 and older. All participants will be required to show a photo ID as well as proof of qualifying condition/job when they arrive.

What COVID-19 pandemic? Northwest Florida festivals gear up for a busy season” via Tony Judnich of the Northwest Florida Daily News — In Okaloosa County, at least, the show(s) must go on. In late February, the number of Americans killed by COVID-19 topped 500,000, more than the total number of American lives lost in World Wars I and II and the Vietnam War combined. That somber milestone led many government officials to lower U.S. flags to half-staff in respect for the pandemic victims. Now, as spring inches closer, the routine budding of plants is joined by announcements of major festivals and concerts as many people look forward to “getting back to normal” as soon as possible. The announcements about the crowd-attracting events come when Okaloosa County is still far from being safely out of the coronavirus woods.

COVID-19 adds more ‘chaos’ to South Beach Spring Break as tourists flee lockdowns, cold” via Martin Vassolo of The Miami Herald — One year after the novel coronavirus cut spring break short, the party is back on in Miami Beach, and this time COVID-19 isn’t keeping the young tourists away. If anything, it’s making Miami more of a destination for people looking to relax or let loose after being bottled up for months. Even with some colleges canceling their midsemester breaks, students from more than 200 schools are expected to visit South Beach during spring break, which runs from late February to mid-April. Police anticipate the largest crowds this month. The number of visitors is still expected to be down compared to previous years, but police are already seeing throngs of tourists fleeing to Florida from states gripped with cold weather or under strict COVID-19 measures.

COVID-19 makes Spring Break in Miami more chaotic than ever. Image via AP.

Spring Break crowd storms Fort Lauderdale beach, COVID-19 or not” via Susannah Bryan of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Thong bikinis, cold beer, and maskless throngs. That’s how Spring Break looked Thursday on the famous Fort Lauderdale strip, just days into the start of the popular college pastime that lasts into April. Universities across the country canceled Spring Break to discourage college coeds from spreading the coronavirus. But judging from the crowds hitting the beach, the kids are here in full force, pandemic or not. On Wednesday, an anonymous critic reported Café Ibiza on the county’s COVID-19 complaint dashboard for not enforcing social distancing or mask-wearing. As of Wednesday afternoon, no code officers had paid a visit to check out the complaint.

Like the Super Bowl? — “‘We’re very concerned:’ Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber worried spring break crowds could cause COVID-19 super spreader events” via CBS Miami staff reports — The sun and sand of South Beach are synonymous with Spring Break, and as travelers from across the country begin flocking to Florida for Spring Break, there are fears that there may be an uptick in coronavirus cases again. “We’re very concerned. You know, a lot of things are happening simultaneously. You have the variant down here, and we still are having sometimes dozens of deaths a day in our county,” Miami Beach Mayor Gelber said. Gelber said DeSantis had hampered his ability to give out fines, so police officers and ambassadors handed out masks.

Education chief orders Keys school to offer full-time, in-person instruction” via Mandy Miles of Keys Weekly — The state’s top education official ordered Florida Keys schools to offer full-time, face-to-face instruction for all students by the end of the month despite the school district’s and the health department’s continuing concerns about community spread of the COVID virus. In his directive, Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran indicates that the Monroe County School District will face “significant financial penalties if we do not comply with his order,” Superintendent Theresa Axford told the county’s teachers in an internal email sent to teachers on Saturday.

— CORONA NATION —

One year in: How does COVID-19’s toll compare with other causes of death?” via Louis Jacobson of the Tampa Bay Times — Now that the coronavirus has been in the United States for roughly a year, new numbers are revealing the scale of COVID-19-19′s impact on American health: COVID-19 has become the country’s third-leading cause of death, and isn’t far behind cancer. According to Johns Hopkins University data, through March 3, a total of 518,796 Americans have died of the coronavirus. And a closely watched model from researchers at the University of Washington projects this number will rise past 574,062 by June 1. “The toll of death is simply staggering — worse than I would have predicted,” said Arthur L. Caplan, founding head of the division of medical ethics at the New York University School of Medicine.

COVID-19 is catching up to cancer as one of the leading ways to die in America. Image via AP.

—“Year of loss, sorrow” via Zachary Sampson, Claire McNeill and Lane DeGregory of the Tampa Bay Times

—“Voices of the pandemic” via Amy Bennett Williams of the News-Press

—”A writer takes stock of his early pandemic predictions and advice” via David Simmons of The Orlando Sentinel

Where is the CDC’s guidance to vaccinated Americans?” via Leana S. Wen of The Washington Post — First, the CDC guidance on what fully vaccinated people can safely do was expected on Thursday. Then the release got pushed back. On Friday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said it would not happen that day, either, but that guidance would come “soon.” These unacceptable delays illustrate a larger communication problem about the coronavirus vaccines: Public health officials have chosen caution over celebration. If this doesn’t change, Americans could be dissuaded from being vaccinated, and our country might never achieve the goal of herd immunity.

US could reach herd immunity by summer through vaccinations alone, CNN analysis finds” via Deidre McPhillips of CNN — Bad actors at home and abroad sow mistrust in our system, and they are succeeding. These threats are not just to public perception; in very close elections, it is crucial that each vote be counted fairly, equally, and without dilution by fraud. To that end, Republicans should aim to shore up faith in the system and seek reasonable Democrats to join them. Not so long ago, even after the 2000 recount, bipartisan common ground was possible. Those days are gone. To stoke the fears of their voting base, today’s Democrats persistently cast advocacy of accurate voter lists and identification as racist voter suppression.

Joe Biden team plots the country’s first national COVID-19 testing strategy” via David Lim of POLITICO — The Biden administration is preparing to launch the first of several COVID-19 testing hubs to coordinate and oversee a $650 million expansion of testing in K-8 schools and congregate settings like homeless shelters. The Department of Health and Human Services hopes to open the first hub in April, as part of a public-private partnership that could eventually add up to 25 million tests per month to the nation’s testing totals. Administration officials discussed the program’s details on Tuesday during a call with industry, government agencies and state and local health departments. The effort is the first attempt at formalizing a national testing strategy, something public-health experts have wanted for months.

The Joe Biden administration is launching the nation’s first coordinated vaccine program. Image via AP.

Americans are getting fewer coronavirus tests. Here’s why that’s bad.” via William Wan of The Washington Post — Coronavirus testing sites in Los Angeles County were overrun in January. Within minutes of opening online, appointments for the entire day would be fully booked. The lines outside testing sites stretched for blocks. But demand for testing has dropped so dramatically that anyone walking off the street nowadays can almost instantly get a test. “It’s crazy how fast and far the drop in testing has been,” said Clemens Hong, a physician leading the county’s testing efforts. The average number of tests being conducted every day in America has plummeted by 33.6 percent since January. That statistic has many experts deeply concerned because it comes just as America’s recent decrease in infections and deaths is stalling at a worrisome high level.

When will America’s cities come back from the pandemic?” via Megan McArdle of The Washington Post — This is the story in a lot of American cities right now: The suburbs and residential neighborhoods seem positively lively, while downtown has more pigeons than people. Since New York City is like other cities, only much more so, it’s a good proxy for a larger question: How long until cities are back to where they were? Unfortunately, full recovery will probably take years, not months and, really, things may never be what they were. Midtown will still be noticeably emptier. In 2018, about 20 percent of New York visitors came from abroad. With most countries running well behind our vaccination rate, we should not expect many foreign tourists to return this year.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

Who qualifies for a third stimulus check? Here’s how it will work this time” via Laura Davison of Bloomberg — The U.S. Congress is slated to approve the third round of direct stimulus payments in less than a year, meaning that most Americans can expect another cash infusion in the coming weeks. Once Biden signs the measure into law, the IRS will send more than $410 billion to low- and middle-income households, the largest batch of direct household payments yet during the pandemic. Democrats say that these $1,400 payments, combined with $600 approved in December, fulfill a pledge made late last year to send $2,000 checks to American households. The hope is that the payments can help families cover costs while hundreds of millions of people wait to be vaccinated and return to more normal daily routines.

Who gets a stimulus check? Things are going to be a little different this time. Image via AP.

People in U.S. illegally can get rent relief, but it’s not well-known” via Lautaro Grinspan of the Miami Herald — Funded through the federal stimulus bill passed in December, the rental assistance program will cover up to 12 months of back rent and, potentially, an additional three months’ worth of future rent, with a cap set at $3,000 per month per household. Applications for rent relief opened will remain open until March 15. One piece of ID is required when applying for the program. Among the documentation tenants can show are U.S. government-issued IDs and driver’s licenses as well as foreign passports; noncitizens are eligible for relief whether they are in the country legally or not. “We are not seeking to ascertain the legal status of applicants,” said Annette Molina, spokesperson for Miami-Dade Public Housing and Community Development.

Remote work won’t be going away once offices are open again” via Adam Blenford of Bloomberg — After joining U.K. insurance group Aviva Plc last year, Danny Harmer spent just a few weeks with her new team before the first COVID-19 lockdown. If she has her way, that will be the most time the group ever spends together. Harmer, Aviva’s personnel chief, is figuring out the post-COVID-19 working environment for the company’s 16,000 British employees, spread among 14 offices from London to the Scottish city of Perth. And what she’s found is that while many miss the collaboration that can happen in the office, they also like the freedom of working remotely. “There’s a change in mindset brought on by the pandemic,” she says.

— MORE CORONA —

Scientists underestimated the coronavirus — and are racing to keep up with evolution” via Carolyn Y. Johnson of The Washington Post — For much of 2020, most people weren’t particularly worried about the virus’s ability to evolve. SARS-CoV-2 was changing, but so far, that hadn’t amounted to anything especially concerning. Then, in late fall, it jumped. Distinctive new versions of the virus sparked alarming surges in Brazil, South Africa and the United Kingdom. In a few short months, variants have become a global preoccupation. Nearly every time public health experts talk about the trajectory of the health crisis, they dwell on the variants, the loose cannon that could wreck hard-won progress.

Scientists are rushing to keep up with the mutating COVID-19 virus. Image via AP.

WHO investigators to scrap plans for interim report on probe of COVID-19 origins” via Betsy McKay, Drew Hinshaw and Jeremy Page of The Wall Street Journal — A World Health Organization team investigating the origins of COVID-19 is planning to scrap an interim report on its recent mission to China amid mounting tensions between Beijing and Washington over the investigation and an appeal from one international group of scientists for a new probe. The group of two dozen scientists is calling in an open letter on Thursday for a new international inquiry. They say the WHO team that last month completed a mission to Wuhan had insufficient access to adequately investigate possible sources of the new coronavirus, including whether it slipped from a laboratory.

Some children’s hospitals see a surge in rare C-19 complication MIS-C” via Jen Christensen of CNN — The novel coronavirus doesn’t usually cause severe disease in children, but for those few kids that do go on to develop MIS-C, the condition seems to inflame different parts of the body, and it can be serious. Doctors know that various children’s hospitals around the country have reported seeing a higher number of cases these past few months, even though MIS-C is considered rare. In an update on Friday, the CDC said there had been 2,617 MIS-C cases in the United States before March 1, and 33 children died. That’s up from early February when 2,060 cases and 30 deaths had been reported.

Are you procrastinating more? Blame the pandemic.” via Nicole Johnson of National Geographic — Are you staying up too late to squeeze in some leisure activities after a long day, leaving you tired and behind the next day? Are you cleaning the bathroom instead of responding to work emails? Odds are you aren’t alone. COVID-19 has spawned a global mental health crisis, and that’s feeding one of our more harmful human tendencies: procrastination. People don’t necessarily procrastinate because they are lazy. Procrastination has roots in our evolutionary development, with two key parts of the brain vying for control. “Procrastination is an emotion-focused coping strategy,” says Tim Pychyl, a psychology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, and author of “Solving the Procrastination Puzzle.”

— RELIEF —

Senate approves Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan” via Marianne Levine of POLITICO — The Senate passed Biden’s nearly $2 trillion coronavirus relief package Saturday morning after a grueling overnight session, delivering on the White House’s first major legislative priority. The 50-49 vote, entirely along party lines, came after the Senate remained in session for more than 24 hours of marathon votes. Senate Republicans sought to amend the legislation, but Senate Democrats largely stuck together to defeat any major changes to the bill, one of the largest federal aid packages in history. Chuck Schumer managed to keep his 50-member caucus mostly united throughout the process, but it was not without some last-minute drama: Senate Democrats reached a last-minute deal with Sen. Joe Manchin on the size of federal unemployment insurance benefits.

Biden stimulus showers money on Americans, sharply cutting poverty and favoring individuals over businesses” via Heather Long, Alyssa Fowers and Andrew Van Dam of The Washington Post — Biden’s stimulus package … represents one of the most generous expansions of aid to the poor in recent history, while also showering thousands or, in some cases, tens of thousands of dollars on Americans families navigating the coronavirus pandemic. The roughly $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan … spends most of the money on low-income and middle-class Americans and state and local governments, with very little funding going toward companies. The plan is one of the largest federal responses to a downturn Congress has enacted.

Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan will slash poverty by showering people with money. Image via AP.

‘We need the government’: Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief plan reflects seismic shifts in U.S. politics” via Jeff Stein of The Washington Post — A new Democratic administration facing down a massive economic crisis pushes an $800 billion stimulus package. A bloc of centrist Democrats balk at the price-tag, and Republicans are thrown into a frenzy warning about the impact on the federal deficit. A little more than a decade later, another new Democratic administration takes office, facing a different economic crisis. This time, it proposes spending an additional $1.9 trillion in spending, even though the federal deficit last year was $3.1 trillion, much larger than during the last crisis. Centrist Democrats unify behind passing the measure, and the GOP rejects it but in a more muted fashion.

—“What’s in the COVID-19 relief bill” via Gabriel T. Rubin of The Wall Street Journal 

—”6 takeaways from the Senate’s approval of Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill” via Joey Garrison and Ledyard King of USA Today

—“The business winners in Biden’s relief package: Restaurants, concert venues and airplane manufacturers” via Tory Newmyer of The Washington Post

—”Some House progressives aren’t happy with Senate version of COVID-19 relief package. Here’s what changed.” via Sarah Elbeshbish of USA Today

— “Top Biden advisers tell staff there’s ‘no room for complacency’ as COVID-19 relief bill nears completion” via Phil Mattingly of CNN

— “Narrow relief bill victory provides warning signs for broader Democratic agenda” via Ashley Parker and Marianna Sotomayor of The Washington Post

—“‘Massive and wasteful’: Rick Scott blasts passage of $1.9T virus relief package” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics

—“‘Long overdue’: Charlie Crist applauds passage of COVID-19 relief package” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics

Senate Democratic campaign arm slams Marco Rubio for no vote on COVID-19” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — The U.S. Senate on Saturday approved the American Rescue Plan: a $1.9 trillion package targeted toward COVID-19 relief and various forms of economic stimulus, without a single Republican vote. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is rolling out what it calls a five-figure buy on YouTube targeting at least one of those Senators, a Florida Republican up for reelection in 2022. The 30-second spot highlights the vote from second-term Sen. Rubio “against COVID-19 relief.” Against a tense instrumental background and devoid of narration, the creative speaks in graphics, closing with an assertion that seven of 10 voters support the Democratic relief plan and positing the question: “Why won’t Marco Rubio stand up for us?”

For Our Future Florida applauds Senate passage of American Rescue Plan — Progressive advocacy group For Our Future Florida lauded the U.S. Senate after it voted in favor of the American Rescue Plan, the latest coronavirus relief bill. “Floridians have come off one of the toughest years in our state’s history. Thousands have gotten sick and many are still unemployed. And we have a Governor who has taken his leadership guidance from FOX News instead of experts and scientists,” state director Jenn Whitcomb said. “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ rescue plan could not be more important right now for the communities in Florida who have been tested over this past year, and the front-line workers who have worked tirelessly to keep us all safe and healthy.”

Assignment editors — U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson, Darren Soto and Crist will hold an online discussion about the upcoming House vote on the American Rescue Plan, 10 a.m., Zoom link here. RSVP at [email protected]

— AP POLL —

Biden’s approval rating is riding high, and Americans are even more bullish on how the new Commander in Chief is handling the nation’s coronavirus response.

A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows Biden with a 60% approval rating among American voters. In comparison, 70% say he’s doing a bang-up job on the virus specifically.

Joe Biden’s popularity is riding high. Image via AP.

His net job approval rating comes in at plus-20, thanks to near-universal support among Democrats, 94% of whom give him high marks. Just 22% of Republicans approve.

On the pandemic, he has 97% support from Democrats and 44% support from Republicans for a plus-30 rating overall.

Also, about six in 10 Americans say Biden is doing a good job on race relations and health care.

However, he still faces skepticism on the economy, with 55% of American adults approving of his work thus far. The top-line, again, is largely thanks to strong support from his own party — 88% of Democrats approve while only 11% disapprove. Just one in six Republicans approve.

Americans are overall pessimistic on the economy, regardless of their views on the President.

AP-NORC found more than three-fifths of Americans believe the economy is in poor shape. Just 41% of Democrats and 35% of Republicans describe the economy as good.

— EPILOGUE TRUMP —

America rebalances its post-Donald Trump news diet” via Sara Fischer and Neal Rothschild of Axios — Nearly halfway through Biden’s first 100 days, data shows that Americans are learning to wean themselves off news and especially politics. The departure of Trump‘s once-ubiquitous presence in the news cycle has reoriented the country’s attention. Nearly every big news site saw its traffic decline in February, compared to a tumultuous January that included the Capitol insurrection and Biden’s inauguration. Publishers’ traffic was down across the board, and many major sites saw traffic dip more than 20%. Politics consumption dropped most dramatically, tumbling 28%.

Donald Trump’s exit is forcing many to reevaluate their media diet. Image via AP.

Trump vows to campaign against ‘disloyal’ Lisa Murkowski” via Alex Isenstadt of POLITICO — Trump is making official his plans to target Republican Sen. Murkowski, vowing to travel to Alaska to campaign against her ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. In a statement to POLITICO on Saturday, Trump said: “I will not be endorsing, under any circumstances, the failed candidate from the great State of Alaska, Lisa Murkowski. She represents her state badly and her country even worse. I do not know where other people will be next year, but I know where I will be: in Alaska campaigning against a disloyal and very bad Senator.” Murkowski, who has held her seat since 2002, has been a longtime critic of the former president and was one of seven Republican Senators to vote to convict him in last month’s impeachment trial.

Roger Stone: If Donald Trump doesn’t run for President in 2024, I’m backing Matt Gaetz” via Ian Schwartz of RealClearPolitics — “As far as whether the president is going to run again, he seems to be teasing that he may, if he does he can count on me,” Stone said. “…If he elects not to run, well, then, those of us who support his agenda, the America First agenda, we need to have a back-up candidate. We need to have someone who can win a general election on the same platform that Donald Trump won on.” Stone’s response to Steve Malzberg when asked who he would support if Trump doesn’t run: “Congressman Matt Gaetz from Florida. A scrapper. A brawler.”

— CRISIS —

‘It is a trap!’: Inside the QAnon attack that never happened” via Tina Nguyen of POLITICO — In a joint intelligence bulletin earlier this week, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security delivered a jarring warning to state and local law enforcement: violent domestic extremists “motivated by the QAnon conspiracy theory” might be mobilized to action because they believed Trump would be inaugurated on March 4. But the date came and went without serious incident. It wasn’t that the false and sprawling conspiracy theory that accuses “Deep State elites” of running a secret pedophile ring was losing steam. Rather, it was at least in part because QAnon followers smelled a trap. QAnon influencers discouraged their massive audience to avoid attending any event on that day, suggesting that any planned gatherings would be “false flag operations” designed by the government to make them look bad.

The highly touted March 4 attack never materialized. Image via AP. 

Board to begin search for permanent Capitol Police chief” via Michael Balsamo, Lisa Mascaro, and Nomaan Merchant of The Associated Press — The board that oversees the U.S. Capitol Police is beginning a search for a permanent police chief, a person familiar with the matter said, as the fallout from the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol continues. Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman has faced scrutiny from Capitol Hill leaders and congressional committees over law enforcement failures that allowed thousands of rioters to overtake police officers during the insurrection. The search for the force’s permanent leader, which has more than 2,300 sworn officers and civilian employees, will be nationwide. While Pittman can apply for the position, she is not guaranteed it, according to the person, who had direct knowledge of the search.

The search for a permanent leader of The Capitol Police is on. Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman is not a shoo-in. Image via AP.

FBI finds contact between Proud Boys member and Trump associate before riot,” via The New York Times — A member of the far-right nationalist Proud Boys was in communication with a person associated with the White House in the days just before the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, according to a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation. Location, cellular and call record data revealed a call tying a Proud Boys member to the Trump White House, the official said. The FBI has not determined what they discussed, and the official would not reveal the names of either party.

Report scrutinizes social media posts of Matt Gaetz, others ahead of Capitol riot” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A California Congresswoman has scoured colleagues’ social media posts for rhetoric that may have contributed to the Capitol riots. Her findings include hundreds of posts by Florida congressional members, including dozens from U.S. Rep. Gaetz spreading conspiracy theories about the General Election. U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, chair of the House Administration Committee, released extensive findings on Friday. While a dozen members of Florida’s House delegation voted to object to Biden’s Electoral College victory, Lofgren’s report spotlights social media activity for eight of them, all Republicans. That includes Kat Cammack, Byron Donalds, Gaetz, Brian Mast, Bill Posey, John Rutherford, Greg Steube and Daniel Webster.

Middleburg couple indicted on felony obstruction charge for part in Capitol riot” via Steve Patterson of The Florida Times-Union — A couple now face a felony indictment with maximum sentences of more than 20 years in prison. Dana Joe Winn and Rachael Pert were told they could face up to 18 months behind bars when they were arrested Jan. 26 and brought in front of a federal magistrate in Jacksonville. But a grand jury empaneled in Washington two days after the riot indicted the couple last month on five counts, including obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting.

Niceville man charged for alleged role in riot and siege at U.S. Capitol” via the Northwest Florida Daily News — Andrew William Griswold, 28, of Niceville, turned himself in Friday, according to the Jacksonville Field Office of the FBI. Griswold is charged with knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority; violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds; obstruction of justice/Congress; and knowingly engaging in disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building. His initial court appearance was at 4 p.m. Friday. The government will not seek pretrial detention. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will prosecute Griswold’s case for the District of Columbia.

Georgia family sues grocery clerk for posting about their alleged involvement in Jan. 6 insurrection” via Kim Bellware of The Washington Post — From her Washington hotel on Jan. 6, Kathryn Cagle asked for prayers and assured friends and family via Facebook that she and her mother were safe. “I thought Kate Cagle [was] on the planning committee; I hope she doesn’t plan to make a career out of planning riots,” Rayven Goolsby later wrote on Facebook. In late February, the exchange jumped from social media to a superior court in Pickens County, Georgia, when the Cagles sued Goolsby for defamation and libel. Goolsby’s attorney, Andrew Fleischman, characterized the Cagles’ suit as an example of a prominent family active in local politics using the courts’ heft to intimidate his client, who works at a local grocery store, into silence.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Japan’s prime minister first to visit White House” via Hans Nichols of Axios — Biden is planning to host Japan’s prime minister at the White House as soon as this April, the first in-person foreign leader visit of his presidency. An invitation to Yoshihide Suga would telegraph to allies and potential adversaries, including China, that the U.S.-Japan alliance will remain the linchpin of the post-World War II security framework in the Pacific. The invite also would signal a partial return to normalcy as to how the Biden administration conducts foreign policy during the pandemic, with the new president beginning face-to-face meetings with foreign leaders in the Oval Office.

Rubio brings back the Foreign Influence Transparency Act targeting Confucius Institutes” via Kevin Derby of Florida Daily — Rubio reintroduced the “Foreign Influence Transparency Act,” which would require organizations, such as the Chinese government-run programs known as Confucius Institutes, to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The bill would also amend the Higher Education Act to “require universities to disclose donations, contracts, or the fair market value of in-kind gifts, from any foreign source if the amount is $50,000 or greater.” Rubio has been pushing this bill in recent years, including in February 2020. U.S. Sens. Rob Portman, Tom Cotton and Bill Hagerty are backing Rubio’s proposal. Over in the U.S. House, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson has introduced the companion measure.

Marco Rubio once again is seeking transparency for Chinese influence at the Confucius Institutes.

Kathy Castor Introduces PREVENT HPV Cancers Act” via Kevin Derby of Florida Daily — U.S. Rep. Castor introduced the “Promoting Resources to Expand Vaccination, Education and New Treatments for HPV (PREVENT HPV) Cancers Act.” With U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier backing the proposal, Castor showcased the bill on Thursday, which was International HPV Awareness Day. “The human papillomavirus (HPV) causes six types of cancers, which leads to nearly 36,000 cases of cancer each year in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We have a vaccine that can help prevent these cancers, and it’s the goal of the PREVENT HPV Cancers Act to increase vaccination rates with an eye toward health equity,” Castor said. So far, there is no companion measure over in the U.S. Senate.

Democrats fracture over Puerto Rico statehood” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO — A divide has formed among Democrats over an issue of high sensitivity in New York and Florida: Puerto Rico statehood. Democratic Rep. Darren Soto, Florida’s first Congressman of Puerto Rican descent, accuses Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of reversing his stance on statehood for the island out of fear of political fallout in New York. This comes as liberal firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is pressing her own measure that urges “self-determination” for Puerto Rico. Florida and New York are both home to sizable populations of Puerto Ricans and they have played an ever-growing role in politics, especially in the Central Florida region. Statehood is also an issue that could create division between Ocasio-Cortez and Schumer, who is up for reelection in 2022.

USDA projects record U.S. exports in 2021” via Dan Grossman of WFTS Tampa Bay — The United States Department of Agriculture is projecting a record $157 billion in farm exports during the fiscal year 2021. Experts say much of the bump comes from China’s involvement in the U.S. market. In 2018, China only committed to purchasing $9.1 billion in exports from the United States, but this year, they have committed $38 billion after Trump signed a phase one trade deal with the country in January of 2020. 2021’s projection marks a steep increase from years of fluctuating export numbers. In 2015, the USDA reported $139.8 billion in exports, $129.6 billion in 2016, $140.2 billion in 2017, $143.4 billion in 2018, $135.5 billion in 2019, and $135.7 billion in 2020.

— LOCAL NOTES —

Wildlife chief says he’ll drop lagoon development plan and will sell Singer Island land” via Tony Doris of The Palm Beach Post — Blasted for his plans to fill and develop 19 wildlife-filled acres of Lake Worth Lagoon, the state’s top wildlife conservation official backed down and said he would sell his mostly submerged land on the northern tip of Singer Island. Rodney Barreto, who chairs the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), instructed his lawyer to sell the site rather than fight the outpouring of opposition that arose after The Palm Beach Post revealed his development plans last week. “It’s under contract. I’m getting out of it, and the property will no longer be a part of my portfolio,” he told the Herald. “It goes with the territory.”

Rodney Barreto is fed up with the pushback on his Singer Island development and is selling the land.

Governments clash in Silver Bluff as Miami police block county from reopening streets” via Douglas Hanks of The Miami Herald — Two of the largest local governments in South Florida clashed Friday when Miami dispatched police to try and stop Miami-Dade County from removing traffic barriers on a side street off U.S. 1. The skirmish unfolded in Silver Bluff, home of a long-running battle over traffic shortcuts and demands that elected officials intervene to close some entrances to keep cars on main roads. Miami backed the cause, and Miami-Dade did not. The drama built this week when Miami’s Mayor was barred from addressing county commissioners on the matter on March 2 as Miami-Dade prepared to approve a rule change making it harder to close streets.

Public corruption charges still hang over ex-Boca Mayor Susan Haynie” via Marc Freeman of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Boca Raton is on the cusp of another election Tuesday for council seats, now three years removed from a scandal that rocked its leadership. Haynie was bounced from office after being stung by seven criminal charges resulting from a public corruption investigation. While the city has largely moved on with Haynie’s successor firmly in control, she and her friends and supporters are left to wait for the outcome of her case. The allegations remain pending as the coronavirus pandemic has caused an indefinite delay in her trial. Also unresolved are similar claims against Haynie by the Florida Commission on Ethics, which could lead to a fine. She is accused of failing to report outside income and disclosing conflicts of interest as Mayor.

Thousands of young people, minorities, may vote for first time in PBC city elections” via Chris Persaud of The Palm Beach Post — Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and the heated 2020 presidential election, Sarang Hentz and thousands of Palm Beach County citizens, especially those who are younger or people of color, are eligible to do something they likely have never done before, vote in a city election. But will they? Unlike national elections, municipal races usually attract few voters. This month’s city elections may be different. Hentz, along with about 388,000 voters countywide, cast their ballots by mail in last year’s presidential election, state records show.

In Safety Harbor, ‘townies versus the developers’ dominates City Commission races” via William March of The Tampa Bay Times — The perennial political argument in Safety Harbor, development vs. preserving what everyone calls “small-town charm,” is again dominating city commission campaigns in this community of about 17,000, known as the cutest town around Tampa Bay. Safety Harbor is one of 10 small Pinellas municipalities that will hold elections on March 9, with four Mayor’s offices and 19 Council or Commission seats on the ballot. Most appear noncontroversial, but at least a couple of the Mayor’s races and the Safety Harbor Commission races generate some heat.

— MORE LOCAL —

—”FDLE investigates whether 4 Manatee County commissioners broke Florida Sunshine Law” via Ryan Callihan and Jessica De Leon of the Bradenton Herald

Doug Underhill will not run for third term on Escambia County Commission” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — The Escambia County Commission will have one open seat in 2022 after District 2 Commissioner Underhill announced he was not seeking another term for office. “My supporters sent me here on a message of reform, and their continued support is the best indication that I have lived up to that expectation and have not succumbed to the constant pressure to do things ‘the way they’ve always been done,'” Underhill said. He has been one of the most controversial members of the County Commission, drawing fierce criticism with comments on national politics and legal trouble for his comments about local politics. He is suing the county over his legal fees in a libel suit.

Doug Underhill, the center of much controversy, will not be running for reelection. Image via Facebook.

Escambia County hires attorneys to take Skanska to court if settlement talks fall through” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — The Escambia County Commission unanimously approved retaining the partnership of the three law firms of Levin Papantonio Rafferty; Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz; and Beggs & Lane to “pursue all civil remedies” to recover the damages the county suffered from the loss of the Pensacola Bay Bridge. The county has been in talks with Skanska since November to try to reach a settlement to reimburse the county for its increased costs because of the loss of the bridge, including paying the $28 million needed to replace the fishing pier at Wayside Park in Pensacola. Mark Bartlett, risk manager for the county, told the commission they were still in talks with the insurance group representing Skanska.

Jeff Siegmeister ordered back to Florida in U.S. Marshal custody” via Jamie Wachter of the Lake County Reporter — labeled a flight risk, Siegmeister was denied bond in federal court in Alabama. Siegmeister, the former state attorney for Florida’s 3rd Judicial Circuit, was indicted by a grand jury on Feb. 24 on charges of conspiracy to commit extortion, aiding and abetting extortion, federal program bribery, conspiracy to commit federal program bribery conspiracy to use a facility of commerce for unlawful activity, wire fraud and filing false tax returns. He was arrested in Arizona on Feb. 26. In all, Siegmeister faces a maximum sentence of 129 years.

Jeff Siegmeister is looking at nearly 130 years in prison. Image via News4Jax.

Fantastic idea — “Hillsborough wants a ‘large-scale’ film studio to lure blockbusters” via Paul Guzzo of The Tampa Bay Times — Area film, television and commercial production leaders say Hillsborough County has almost everything needed to become a national hub for their industry, diverse locales, qualified crew and warm weather. But they say Hillsborough is hurt by the lack of a major film studio in the county. There is a new push for one to be created through a public-private partnership. Last year, the county film commission funded a study on the matter. The county sent the study to industry professionals throughout the state for feedback last week. Input is due by March 18 and will influence a request for proposal for a public-private studio partnership.

— TOP OPINION —

What Peter Schorsch is reading — “The rise of the Biden Republicans” via Zack Stanton of POLITICO — Trump accelerated the rise of a new voting bloc that is, in many ways, the mirror image of the Reagan Democrats. Call them the Biden Republicans. Like the Reagan Democrats, they’re heavily white and live in suburbs. Biden Republicans are seen as more affluent, highly educated and supportive of diversity. Historically, they identified with the Republican Party as their political home. But the leaders who were supposed to fight for them seem to care more about white grievance and keeping out immigrants; seem to care more about social issues and “owning the libs” than about child care payments and college tuition.

— OPINIONS —

Republicans aren’t fighting Democrats. They’re fighting democracy.” via Dana Milbank of The Washington Post — The Republican Party’s dalliance with authoritarianism can be explained in one word: race. Trump’s overt racism turned the GOP into, essentially, a White-nationalist party, in which racial animus is the main motivator of Republican votes. But in an increasingly multicultural America, such people don’t form a majority. The only route to power for a White-nationalist party is to become anti-democratic: to keep non-White people from voting and discredit elections themselves. In short, democracy is working against Republicans — and so Republicans are working against democracy.

The Republican Party isn’t in trouble” via Hugh Hewitt for The Washington Post — In American politics, renewal and comebacks are never far away. Redistricting in the next two years will advantage the GOP. Most people in both parties assume that Biden will not be leading the Democratic ticket in 2024, so there will likely be a nasty battle to replace him on the Democratic side. Trump complicates the picture. The GOP has been in stronger positions, but this is no crisis. Look at the current breakdown; the Democrats’ hold on power is razor-thin. Redistricting will narrow it further, as will the inevitable midterm losses for the party that holds the White House.

Florida blocked public access to COVID-19 data. Now there’s even more it wants to keep secret from taxpayers” via The Miami Herald editorial board — For a whole year, as Floridians suffered and died by the tens of thousands from COVID-19, Florida’s government routinely kept the public from seeing detailed information about the course and intensity of the pandemic, often until the trend line had changed to better match the Governor’s sunnier version. That disgraceful behavior by a state known for its broad public-records laws is detailed in a story. That important reporting shows that Florida’s government spent a year stonewalling, obfuscating and evading requests for information about such vital matters as the number of COVID-19 deaths recorded by medical examiners’ offices, details about contact tracing to see where transmission was occurring and which eldercare facilities had seen outbreaks among staff and residents.

State employee pension change a surefire way to worsen teacher shortage” via Nancy Hosie of The Tallahassee Democrat — In Florida, we have thousands of educators, school, police, public and fire employees enrolled in the Florida Retirement System pension fund. The FRS is one of the best-funded in the country. When state employees retire, their pensions help support the economic health of our communities and state. However, a new bill in the Florida Senate, SB 84, will remove choice and force new-hire state employees into 401(k)-type defined contribution plans. New hires will no longer be allowed to enter the defined benefit or pension fund. It would be a mistake that, as has happened in other states, could cause taxpayer costs to skyrocket and hurt Florida’s ability to recruit/retain high-quality teachers.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

At the end of Week One of the 2021 Legislative Session, the House passed two COVID-19 bills: One targets scammers, the other offers businesses protection from COVID-19 liability lawsuits.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— It’s now Week Two of Session, and lawmakers will be dealing with a full slate of issues: a post-mortem on the state’s failed unemployment system, bills to limit voting by mail, guns at churches, and efforts to limit the strength of medical marijuana, among other topics.

— Gov. DeSantis is hinting he’ll be lowering the age limit for a COVID-19 shot this week. His “Seniors First” policy limits vaccinations to folks 65 and up, but the Governor says they’re going to start rolling back the age.

— When the Miami Herald reported last week on a wealthy enclave in the Florida Keys that received thousands of doses of vaccine in January when almost no one else was getting shots, DeSantis tried to defend himself by saying it was not a state site. That may be true, but officials at Baptist Health and the Monroe County Commission say the state authorized the pod, and they were ordered to provide vaccines for the Ocean Reef Club.

— DeSantis was in Winter Haven Friday when a special vaccination site opened for sworn law enforcement officers over the age of 50. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd had a message for anti-vaxxers.

— And finally, stories of two Florida Men — including a guy known as the Naked Cowboy.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

‘Miami is on fire.’ New York restaurants swoop into South Florida despite the pandemic” via Carlos Frías of The Miami Herald — Miami, what New Yorkers like to call the Sixth Borough, has seen a stream of New York City-based restaurants open around the county in the last two months. Pastis Miami, an outpost of the impossible-to-get-into Manhattan original, announced opening a second location in Wynwood. There are 11 new restaurants in Wynwood alone, according to the business improvement district. New York has led the way, with restaurants from San Francisco, Portland, Los Angeles and even Vancouver and Montreal, Canada, rushing to stake their claim in South Florida. Six new restaurants from New York-based companies have opened in the last month alone.

The venerable Pastis restaurant in New York City is coming to Miami; pandemic be damned.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Happy birthday, belatedly, to Reps. Juan Fernandez-Barquin and Joe GellerAlexis Haridopolos and FP contributor Rochelle Koff. Celebrating today are state Rep. Michael Bileca, Lance Block, Meagan Hebel, an aide to Sen. Danny Burgess, and Ryan Smith(apalooza).

___

Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


One comment

  • John Wright

    March 9, 2021 at 2:50 pm

    Well, Gov. DeSantis is on the political rise and you can tell not by reading about his many accomplishments but by the attacks by the media bot Floridian and national. DeSantis is on the Democratic party hitlist and the media has gotten the contract.
    Luckily, the people are on to them and Floridians love DeSantis.

Comments are closed.


#FlaPol

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

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