We kinda, sorta predicted this — Adrian Lukis has been selected as the next Chief of Staff to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Lukis has worked as a Deputy Chief of Staff in the administration since DeSantis took office in January 2019. He succeeds Shane Strum, who announced in February that he would resign from the position to become CEO of Broward Health.
Strum had held the position since Day 1 of the DeSantis administration.
In a Monday news conference, the Governor pitched Lukis as an effective Deputy and the natural pick for what is seen as one of the most demanding jobs in Florida politics.
“For all the hard work Shane did, usually Adrian was right there with him,” DeSantis said. “He’s worked incredibly hard. Very knowledgeable, very smart.”
Lukis came to the administration from his role as a top adviser to former House Speaker José Oliva. He previously worked as Deputy Staff Director in the House. He has also worked as a staffer in the Miami-Dade County Commission and as an attorney for a private practice.
Lukis is a two-time graduate of Florida State University, where he earned his undergraduate and law degrees.
His elevation comes as DeSantis enters the back half of his first term, a common time for turnover in an administration. That swap has been underway in recent months, with several secretaries moving out or shifting roles.
As Lukis enters his new position, his most immediate duty is to fill the Communications Director opening in the Governor’s Office, which has been vacant since the beginning of the year following Fred Piccolo’s departure to become the executive vice chancellor of the Florida College System.
—“Ron DeSantis deems presidential buzz ‘premature’” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@ClairecMc: To all that are asking: thank you to the many who have said kind things. But I will never run for office again. Nope. Not gonna happen. Never. I am so happy I feel guilty sometimes.
Today I visited La Florida Coffee & Wine for lunch in downtown Tallahassee. Be sure to stop by and show support for this great new small business! Check out their website at https://t.co/wE8IxIB90l. pic.twitter.com/AjhM9xKE20
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) March 8, 2021
—@SenPizzo: Don’t know how @got my @ results, but I don’t blame @ for the current system — although he needs to support a fix. I blame our State’s (hopefully prior) lack of proper oversight, along with his predecessor’s palpable indifference to those in need.
—@Chris_Minor10: The amount of respect between @& @ on this Education Roundtable is what we should all aspire to in politics. Difference in ideals. Mutual admiration. Productive conversation. Thanks for your time and service to Floridas Ed system, gentlemen!
—@MDixon55: [email protected], who announced a congressional bid today, is excused from House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee Meeting that just started is held in … wait for it … “Speaker Daniel Webster Hall“
—@Conarck: The way my dog absolutely must pee on top of every other dog’s pee spots reminds me so much of Twitter
— DAYS UNTIL —
2021 Grammys — 5; Zack Snyder’s ‘Justice League’ premieres on HBO Max — 9; ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ premieres — 17; 2021 Florida Virtual Hemp Conference — 17; 2021 Florida Derby — 18; Disneyland, other California theme parks begin to reopen — 23; MLB Opening Day — 23; RNC spring donor summit — 31; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 59; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 62; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 80; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 115; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 124; MLB All-Star Game in Atlanta — 126; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 136; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 144; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 168; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 199; ‘Dune’ premieres — 206; MLB regular season ends — 208; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 214; World Series Game 1 — 231; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 238; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 241; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 276; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 283; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 381; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 423; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 577.
— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —
“DeSantis, still formulating thoughts, moderates tone on CONNECT” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — DeSantis appeared to moderate his tone this week about the troubled state unemployment portal and the contractor hired to lead its creation. The Governor told reporters he’s still reviewing the draft Inspector General report investigating CONNECT and Deloitte Consulting. However, his messaging sounded like it was shifting from being highly critical to throwing CONNECT a bone or two. DeSantis, who has in the past criticized the unemployment portal as designed to fail, instead pointed out Monday that struggling unemployment systems weren’t unique to Florida. “As you’ve seen in these other states, everyone had problems with it,” he said. “This is really a Black Swan event. It was not like a typical recession. You stopped the economy.”
“Don’t blame us for unemployment failures, Deloitte tells Florida Senators” via Lawrence Mower of The Tampa Bay Times — Deloitte Consulting had no responsibility for last year’s meltdown of the Florida unemployment system the company built, executives said during a frequently tense two-hour hearing on Monday. Two executives said that the failure experienced by the online unemployment system, known as CONNECT, was “clearly unrelated” to the company’s work, which ended in 2015. And they did not know why CONNECT failed when other states with similar Deloitte software had an easier time coping with the massive increase in jobless claims related to the pandemic.
“Ashley Moody backs bill to allow for medical transport of injured police K-9s” via Mark harper of The Daytona Beach News-Journal — State Sen. Tom Wright hosted Moody and about 70 canine officers, elected officials and other supporters at a news conference at the Volusia County Sheriff’s Training Center Friday giving his Senate bill to authorize EMTs to treat injured police K-9s more momentum. Moody called it “very, very important” legislation, as last year, 130 police canines were injured in the line of duty nationwide. “Currently, paramedics and EMTs are not specifically permitted to transport our officer canines that are injured, nor are those that offer lifesaving treatment shielded from liability,” she said. Wright’s bill, SB 388, has passed through the Senate Health Committee, Criminal Justice and Rules committees without objection. It’s headed to the Senate floor for a vote next week, Wright said.
For planning purposes SB 86: Student Financial Aid by @dennisbaxley will be TPed during tomorrow's meeting of the Senate Committee on Education.
— Katie Betta (@KGBetta) March 8, 2021
“House panel to weigh pot potency today” via CBS Miami staff reports — A Florida House panel Tuesday will take up a controversial bill that would make changes in Florida’s medical-marijuana laws, including limiting the amount of euphoria-inducing THC in marijuana products. The House Professions & Public Health Subcommittee is scheduled to consider the proposal (HB 1455), filed by Rep. Spencer Roach. A similar bill (SB 1958) was filed this week in the Senate by Ray Rodrigues. The Senate has blocked similar proposals during the past two years, but Senate President Wilton Simpson has said he thinks many senators could support the proposal this year.
The only story that matters — “House subcommittee votes to repeal wine bottle size limit” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — On Monday, a House panel advanced legislation that would repeal a state law prohibiting the sale of wine in containers larger than a gallon. The House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee OK’d the bill (HB 6073) with a near-unanimous vote. Rep. Chip LaMarca is the bill sponsor. Currently, vendors who sell wine in a container larger than a gallon commit a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a $500 maximum fine and 60 days in prison. Wright’s proposal, however, would allow the sale of wine in a container of any size.
— TALLY 2 —
“House flooding, sea-level rise bill backed” via The News Service of Florida — With bipartisan support, a House panel gave initial approval to a plan to address flooding and sea-level rise in Florida, including spending up to $100 million a year on projects. “We know right here in this committee that it’s time to act,” bill sponsor Demi Busatta Cabrera said before the House Environment, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee unanimously approved the measure (PCB EAF 21-02). “We can’t wait any longer.” House Speaker Chris Sprowls has made the bill a priority and issued a statement after the vote saying the “success of our state is inextricably connected to the proper management of water.”
“Union deductions bill begins moving in the House” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Legislation to add a new step for government employers to confirm with workers that they want union dues deducted from their paycheck passed its first House panel Monday. By a 12-6 party-line vote, the House Government Operations Subcommittee gave the bill (HB 947), sponsored by Rep. Scott Plakon, its first of two approvals before it is ready for a full House vote. The Representative’s “low-level tweak” does much more than he let on, Democrats said. The new verification step would be in addition to a current process in which union bargaining agents submit written requests to begin deductions. The final certification could be as simple as a text message, Plakon said.
“Bill stressing permanent homes for foster children passes first House committee” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A House panel gave its green light to a bill to prioritize finding a permanent home for children within the child welfare system, putting that legislation on the move in the House committee process. Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera‘s bill (HB 1473) would make several changes to how and where the state places children within the system. Ultimately, the bill’s goal is to land children in a permanent home before they enter adulthood. Monday’s House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee meeting marked the first time lawmakers heard the Coral Gables Republican’s legislation in committee. She noted it was a work in progress, but the bill still garnered the panel’s unanimous support.
“House panel passes grandparent out-of-state tuition waiver proposal” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — A House panel advanced legislation Monday that would waive university fees for top-performing out-of-state students whose grandparents are Florida residents. The Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee blessed the proposal (HB 1273) with a 15-0 vote. Rep. Patt Maney is the bill sponsor. Maney’s bill looks to attract talented students by waiving out-of-state tuition fees for those who meet select requirements. To qualify, an out-of-state student must enroll at a state university in the semester after graduation, possess a high school diploma, and score no lower than the 89th national percentile on the SAT.
“Traci Koster bill to prevent free-standing ERs from misleading patients clears first committee” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Tampa Rep. Koster’s bill to prevent free-standing hospital emergency departments from misleading patients by appearing as urgent care centers cleared its first committee Monday. Members of the House Finance and Facilities Subcommittee unanimously approved HB 1157, which would require free-standing emergency departments to improve transparency on their services and costs. The bill seeks to help individuals looking for services avoid the higher costs of free-standing ER departments, which can often look similar to walk-in clinics, Koster said at the meeting. Free-standing emergency departments are off-campus extensions of licensed hospitals.
—”House panel moves two sea-level rise measures, but not without debate” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics
“Senate to take up online sales tax plan” via The News Service of Florida — A proposal that would require many out-of-state online retailers to collect sales taxes on purchases made by Floridians will be one of the first bills taken up by the state Senate. The bill (SB 50), filed by Sen. Joe Gruters, is on a list of measures slated to be heard on the Senate floor Thursday, the first full floor Session. Currently, retailers that have a physical presence in Florida must collect and remit sales taxes for items sold in the state. But that doesn’t include many out-of-state online retailers that sell to Florida customers, leading in-state businesses to complain about unfair competition.
“Could Florida end qualified immunity, which gives cops ‘absolute shield’ in lawsuits?” via Jack Evans of The Tampa Bay Times — Two Democrats have proposed legislation that would dismantle the defense at the heart of qualified immunity: That a constitutional right was not “clearly established” at the time of the violation. That phrasing makes it impossible to bring suits against officers in many cases, experts say, because some judges won’t let a case move forward unless it perfectly matches the facts of a previous case that established a rights violation. The legislation proposed by state Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby and Sen. Jones would also allow cases to move forward in Florida’s courts even if officers claimed they weren’t acting maliciously, weakening a “good faith” defense.
“Local governments want PACE to cover septic-to-sewer” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Bills filed for the 2021 Legislative Session would make a number of changes to the property assessed clean energy program, but one provision has already proved popular among local governments. HB 387 by Rep. Randy Fine and SB 1208 by Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez would add consumer protections to PACE loans, a financing vehicle that helps property owners pay for home upgrades, such as hurricane resiliency, installing solar panels, or more efficient insulation. The bills would also allow consumers to pay for septic-to-sewer conversions with PACE financing. That provision has caught the attention of some local governments, which see PACE as a way to make progress on septic-to-sewer conversions without breaking the bank or relying on a windfall from Tallahassee.
“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. But state lawmakers this year could cancel out those election results. The cruise ship issue is in the Capitol. Filed by state Sen. Jim Boyd, a so-called preemption bill would retroactively bar local governments from regulating seaport business, including restricting a vessel’s type or size.
— CONGRATULATIONS —
Monday was International Women’s Day, and North Media marked the occasion by unveiling a new look.
The women-led firm has redesigned its website, which now features modern trappings that shine through on screens of all sizes.
The public relations and strategic communications consulting firm operates throughout the Southeastern United States and represents clients in a broad portfolio of industries, including nonprofits, law firms, gaming and local governments.
This year, the firm is celebrating a decade in the Florida capital — its anchor office — as well as the fifth anniversary of its Charleston office, and the second anniversary of its Columbia office.
North Media provides its clients with a suite of services, ranging from crisis communications and legislative advocacy to event planning and brand development.
The Florida team is led by founder and CEO Allison North Jones, who cut her teeth in the journalism world, including as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps, before launching a career in public relations.
To watch the introductory video, click on the image below:
— FOR YOUR RADAR —
“EMPOWER Patients releases second PBM comic strip ‘The Rebate Game 2’” — The first two comic strips in the recently launched campaign detail the rebate process used by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). According to the group, PBM’s push specific medications because they get better rebates from manufacturers. While these rebates or savings should be passed along to the consumer, they typically are not. “And it’s all done in the dark,” they say. Florida doesn’t have a system in place that lifts this veil on its business practices. That is why EMPOWER is continuing to urge the Florida Legislature to “implement reforms that increase transparency,” which could save taxpayers millions.
— LOBBY REGS —
New and renewed lobbying registrations:
Douglas Mang, Mang Law & Title: First American Title Insurance Company
Randy Osborne: Florida Eagle Forum
— LEG. SKED —
Assignment editors — Sen. Rodriguez, Reps. Nick Duran and Anthony Rodriguez will hold a news conference on proposals HB 357/SB 1474 to allow local governments to use an automated system to catch speeders in school zones, 11 a.m., 4th Floor Rotunda.
Assignment editors — Sen. Randolph Bracy will hold a news conference to oppose SJR 1238 and “expose a brazen power grab by Republican lawmakers in Florida to limit citizens’ input and rule without the consent of the governed,” 12:30 p.m., outside of Senate Chamber, 4th Floor.
Assignment editors — The Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, the League of Women Voters of Florida, SPLC Action Fund, The Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus and Florida PTA will hold a news conference in opposition to legislation (SB 498) that permits guns on private and public-school campuses, 1:30 p.m. Eastern time, Zoom registration here.
The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee will meet to consider SJR 1238, from Sen. Rodriguez, to require approval from two-thirds of voters for constitutional amendments to pass, 9 a.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee meets to consider SB 922, from Sen. Danny Burgess, to allow state and local governments to waive postsecondary education requirements in hiring veterans, Florida National Guard and armed forces’ reserve members, 9 a.m., 37 Senate Office Building.
The Senate Regulated Industries Committee and the House Tourism, Infrastructure and Energy Subcommittee meet to consider SB 856 and HB 839, from Sen. Travis Hutson and Rep. Tom Fabricio, that would prevent local governments from blocking or restricting construction of “energy infrastructure” such as the production and distribution of electricity, natural gas and petroleum products. Senate committee at 9 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building. House subcommittee at 1 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider money needed for projects in lawmakers’ districts, 9:30 a.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.
The House Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee meets to consider HB 559, from Rep. Fred Hawkins, to require certain computer science skills to be taught in elementary schools, 9:30 a.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.
The House Local Administration and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee meets to consider HB 883, from Rep. Toby Overdorf, to prevent city and county code inspectors from starting investigations based on anonymous complaints, 9:30 a.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
The House Professions and Public Health Subcommittee meets to consider HB 1455, from Rep. Spencer Roach, to change Florida’s medical-marijuana laws, including a cap on the amount of THC in marijuana products, 9:30 a.m., Room 212, Knott Building.
The Senate Judiciary Committee meets to consider SB 76, from Sen. Jim Boyd, to make several changes in Florida’s property-insurance system, 11:45 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.
The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee meets to consider SB 148, from Sen. Jennifer Bradley, to allow restaurants to include to-go alcoholic drinks or bottles, 12:30 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building.
The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee meets to consider HB 1523, from Rep. Mike Beltran, to target corporate espionage, including on trade secrets, 1 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.
The House Post-Secondary Education and Lifelong Learning Subcommittee meet to consider HB 1505 and HB 1507, from Reps. Lauren Melo and Clay Yarborough, to make changes in workforce programs, 1 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.
The House State Administration and Technology Appropriations Subcommittee will hear an update on the 2019 law to combat human trafficking, 1 p.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.
Assignment editors — Sen. Lori Berman and Rep. Robin Bartleman will host an online news conference about legislation SB 1044 and HB 767 to protect the anonymity of victims of sexual violence or sexual exploitation, 1:30 p.m. Zoom link here. Meeting ID: 97799371130
Assignment editors — Shevaun Harris, newly appointed secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, will speak before the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, 3:30 p.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee meets to consider SB 498, from Sen. Joe Gruters, to allow more people with concealed-weapons licenses to bring guns on property owned, rented or used by churches, synagogues or other religious institutions, 3:30 p.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Education Committee meets to consider SB 86, from Sen. Dennis Baxley, to make changes to the Bright Futures scholarship program and other state financial aid programs, 3:30 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.
The House Commerce Committee meets to consider HB 55, from Rep. Toby Overdorf, to preempt local governments’ authority to place design restrictions on new homes, 3:45 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.
The House Pandemics and Public Emergencies Committee meets to consider HB 945, from Rep. Bob Rommel, to preempt certain local governments’ emergency powers, 3:45 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
The House Health & Human Services Committee meets to consider HB 133, from Reps. Joe Harding and Mike Beltran, to allow the use of so-called “baby boxes” when parents want to surrender newborn infants, 4 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.
Assignment editors — DeSantis and members of the Florida Cabinet — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Attorney General Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis — will meet, 9 a.m., Cabinet Meeting Room.
Nikki Fried praises White House for TPS order — The Biden administration on Monday extended Protected Status for Venezuelans living in the U.S., a move that drew praise from Agriculture Commissioner Fried. “Today, the Biden Administration fulfilled their promise to grant Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans in our country. I’m incredibly happy for all of the men and women who fled Venezuela looking for freedom and a better future,” she said. The order will affect an estimated 320,000 Venezuelans who fled the Maduro regime for America. The order will allow Venezuelans who clear security and background checks to remain in the United States without fear of deportation for the next 18 months. It applies to those who arrived before March 8.
Doctors speak out against scope-of-practice bill — Medical associations across the state joined the Florida Society of Ophthalmology in opposition to a bill that would allow optometrists to perform surgical procedures and prescribe certain medications. Ophthalmologists, who are medical doctors, have long battled against scope-of-practice expansions for optometrists. This year, the expansion is included in SB 876. “This legislation is not only reckless and dangerous but places patients directly in harm’s way by putting their surgical needs in the hands of those who do not have a medical degree,” said Dr. Sarah Wellik, president of FSO. “Optometrists have said that they will only be able to perform ‘a few minor procedures’ on the eye. But the truth is, the bill would allow them to perform over 235 types of dangerous surgery on and around the eye with scalpels and lasers. There is no such thing as ‘minor surgery.’
— STATEWIDE —
“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. More than a dozen local Republican activists gathered here on a recent day wondered aloud how they could make sure Pennsylvanians, Michiganders and Georgians had free and fair elections. “We can only do Florida?” asked Eileen Morilleau, a former business owner in this small town in northeastern Florida, when her GOP county chairman, Hunter Peeler, said that he hoped Florida’s 2020 elections would serve as a model for the country.
“Jimmy Patronis takes on banks submissive to ‘cancel culture’” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — In a letter sent to Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Russell Weigel, the Patronis called on regulators to police financial institutions that politically discriminate against specific groups. Patronis contended that banks who withhold services for political reasons are practicing a financial form of “cancel culture.” He called on regulators to “analyze whether a Florida-chartered bank that exhibits political discrimination toward a specific industry group is engaged in an unsound banking practice.” He also instructed the office to determine if the practice “merits issuance of a cease-and-desist order.”
“IG’s report injected into lawsuit over unemployment system” via The News Service of Florida — Plaintiffs in a potential class-action lawsuit about Florida’s troubled unemployment compensation system are trying to use a new report by the state’s chief inspector general to bolster their case. Just hours after DeSantis’ office released the draft report, attorneys for the plaintiffs filed a copy of the report in their lawsuit against the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and Deloitte Consulting, a contractor that helped put in place the state’s CONNECT online unemployment system in 2013. Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper last month held a hearing on motions by the department and Deloitte to dismiss the case, which stems from the system becoming overwhelmed last year when economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic caused massive job losses.
“Judicial logjam worsens in Florida; more than 1 million court cases backlogged” via Dave Bohman and Erik Altmann of WPTV — Despite some courts throughout Florida resuming jury trials, the backlog of pending cases continues to grow statewide, Contact 5 has learned. Contact 5 reported in September 2020 that there was a statewide backlog of 992,000 cases held up in the courts because of trial restrictions. According to the Florida Trial Court Budget Commission’s latest figures, the judicial logjam has grown to an estimated 1.14 million. “Foreclosures, contracts and debt, and all manner of civil cases, we’ve seen a huge influx of filings in these areas,” Palm Beach County Chief Judge Krista Marx said.
“Florida gas prices surge to highest mark since May 2019” via Cathleigh Winningham of Click Orlando — The average price for a gallon of gas in Florida jumped 11 cents last week. According to new numbers released by AAA, the average for a gallon of regular gas in the state is $2.72, the most expensive daily average in Florida since May 2019. “There’s nothing we can do, I mean, we have to roll with it,” said Chris Appana, a production manager at Melbourne Roofing Company. “This is what we’re stuck with. We have to go buy it. We can’t put $5 worth of gas and get half a tank of gas. There’s no way.”
“Natural gas fuels Florida’s economy” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — The COVID-19 pandemic created a divide in the workforce: essential versus nonessential jobs. And while there was much debate about what was truly essential, there’s no question our energy providers are essential. One simply has to look at Texas last month to realize how miserable life would be in the cold and dark without power. One of the most reliable sources of energy in Florida also powers our economy. And it’s jobs like these that are going to fuel the state’s economic comeback. “Natural gas is safe, clean, and reliable,” said Dale Calhoun, executive director of the Florida Natural Gas Association. “Just as important, natural gas is affordable.
— 2022 —
“Daniel Webster blasts Anthony Sabatini for launching congressional campaign with a lie” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — U.S. Rep. Webster made clear he’s not retiring and called out Sabatini for a lie. “Last week, Rep. Sabatini called me to say he was running for Congress but that he did not intend to run against me,” Webster said in a statement. “Today, he has chosen to file his paperwork for Congressional District 11 instead of another district. I never take reelection for granted. I work hard every day to serve my constituents and campaign hard every election.” In other words, game on. Webster put out his statement to local media about a half-hour before Sabatini formally posted a video announcement he will run for Congress. Sabatini signaled a major announcement last week. Florida Politics reported his federal intentions in its Brunch newsletter on Sunday. Webster said he’s game for whatever comes.
“HD 5 contender Shane Abbott banks $50K in two weeks” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Abbott raised more than $50,000 in his first two weeks running to succeed term-limited Rep. Brad Drake in House District 5. Abbott is one of three Republicans running for the North Florida seat, which covers all of Holmes, Jackson, Walton, and Washington counties as well as part of Bay County. He faces Jackson County Commissioner Clint Pate and Vance Coley in the primary. Though Abbott’s finance report has not yet been posted on the Florida Division of Elections website, the candidate said it would include “notable support from local leaders,” such as Drake, who has held the seat since 2014. “I am truly humbled by the amount of support our campaign has received already,” Abbott said.
“HD 40 candidate Jennifer Canady shows $86K raised in first report” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Canady, a teacher and Lakeland native, is one of three Republicans running for the seat, which is open next year due to current Rep. Colleen Burton hitting term limits. Canady faces Nicholas Poucher and Phillip Walker in the primary. According to her inaugural report, Canady reeled in $86,500 across 245 contributions last month. Three-quarters of her donors hail from Lakeland, which anchors the district, and nearly nine in 10 were Polk County voters.
Assignment editors — All Voting is Local Florida, and University of Florida political science professor Daniel A. Smith will hold a phone news briefing to discuss findings from their latest report titled “Casting, Rejecting, and Curing Vote-by-Mail Ballots in Florida’s 2020 General Election,” 10 a.m., Zoom link here. Passcode: 008290. RSVP at [email protected]
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“Florida reports fewer than 100 resident coronavirus deaths for 3rd day in a row” via Richard Tribou of The Orlando Sentinel — Florida’s resident death toll from coronavirus rose to 31,764 with the addition of 81 more reported fatalities on Monday while also adding 3,312 more positive COVID-19 cases to bring the total to 1,948,307. The state reported 63 resident deaths on Sunday and 98 on Saturday. Before that, it had not reported less than 100 resident deaths since Feb. 21. Average reported deaths in the last seven days continue to trend downward, with 109 per day compared to 133 per day during the previous week.
“Florida to lower age eligibility for COVID-19 vaccine to 60” via Bobby Caina Calvan of The Associated Press — DeSantis said Monday that he would drop the eligibility age for the coronavirus vaccine from 65 to 60, allowing 1.4 million more Floridians to get vaccinated starting next week. DeSantis made the announcement at a news conference in which he also railed against the latest federal stimulus package, which he said rewards states struggling with the virus while penalizing states that have fared better. As of Sunday, nearly 3.6 million Floridians had gotten at least one vaccine shot, almost three-quarters of them 65 years or older. Other eligible groups include law enforcement officers, firefighters, health care workers, teachers and people 16 and older who are extremely vulnerable to the virus.
—“Every vaccination site has a different ‘leftover dose’ policy. Here’s what we know” via Michelle Marchante of the Miami Herald
—“FEMA-supported vaccine sites keep popping up. Here is where they’re opening next.” via Andrew Boryga of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel
“Publix’s next vaccine sign-up will prioritize teachers and child care workers” via Lisa J. Huriash of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Teachers will now get priority for the COVID-19 vaccine, and they’ll get a choice of vaccines, too, depending on which day they choose to sign up, Publix announced Monday. The priority to the front of the line, which includes bus drivers, school staff and child care workers, will start with Wednesday’s 7 a.m. sign-up at publix.com/covidvaccine. Publix is taking direction from the federal government, which oversees the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. Every Monday and Friday, sign-ups will be for Moderna vaccines; and every Wednesday, online scheduling will be dedicated exclusively for appointments to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, officials said.
“Fried says end ‘Hunger Games,’ drop doctor’s note requirement on vaccines” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Fried said you shouldn’t need a doctor’s note to prove you qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine. A week ago, DeSantis made the vaccine available to all ages of patients who are “extremely vulnerable” to the coronavirus. But he also required a special form be filled out by a doctor attesting to a medical condition. That’s continued an economic exclusivity limiting shots to those with economic ability, Fried said. “Ron DeSantis is playing the Hunger Games with the vaccine while lives are at stake,” Fried said. At a news conference alongside Rep. Ramon Alexander, Fried said the state needed to publicize a plan for making vaccines available, stop holding back an untold number of shots for hastily arranged pop-up clinics, and remove bureaucratic barriers medical attention.
“Democrats: COVID-19 vaccine under DeSantis governed by ‘favoritism, frustration and confusion’” via Anthony Man of The Orlando Sentinel — Congressional Democrats faulted DeSantis for bungling the response to the coronavirus for the past year and presiding over a COVID-19 vaccination program they said prioritizes protecting the wealthy and campaign contributors. The vaccine rollout under DeSantis “has been marked by favoritism, frustration and confusion,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. “DeSantis’ behavior is the kind of reckless behavior that costs lives.” When challenged, she said, the Republican governor’s “reflexive response is retaliation or misrepresentation or just flat-out lying.”
—“Charlie Crist, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz slam DeSantis’ vaccine efforts” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics
— CORONA LOCAL —
“Jobs left Jacksonville fast in pandemic, still coming back year later” via Steve Patterson of The Florida Times-Union — Although many people in Northeast Florida have lost jobs during the pandemic, Jacksonville’s metropolitan area suffered less than most of the state. Unemployment in March 2020 stood at 4.3% both statewide and in Jacksonville’s metro area. In April, though, the rate rocketed to 14.4% across Florida, while reaching the still-terrible rate of 11.2% in the Jacksonville area. Jacksonville has had lower unemployment than the state every month since then, the most recent figures are 4.3% locally compared to 4.8% for all of Florida, state data on December shows. The variety of jobs and industries around Northeast Florida has helped the area, Rebecca Livingston, executive vice president for CareerSource Northeast Florida, said after the latest figures were released.
“Miami’s public hospital opens COVID-19 vaccine appointments to at-risk people 16 and older” via Ben Conarck of The Miami Herald — It’s about to be a lot easier to qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine appointment at Miami’s public hospital system if you have a medical condition that could put you at risk for severe disease. Jackson Health System expanded eligibility on Monday, dropping the minimum age to 16. The hospital first moved beyond the 13 medical conditions that previously qualified people for vaccines last week, but it still required a doctor’s note and only applied to people over 50. Now, after not seeing a surge in sign-ups, Jackson has also eliminated most of the paperwork requirements. Anyone who has consulted a physician for any medical condition deemed to put them at risk could qualify for the vaccine.
“Lauderhill City Commissioners got to fill 50 appointments for state Rep.’s vaccine event” via Skyler Swisher of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — With COVID-19 shots in high demand, Lauderhill City Commissioners each got 10 appointment slots for an event that aimed to boost the vaccination rate in the Black community. The Jan. 31 vaccine clinic — coordinated by state Rep. Anika Omphroy — provided shots to more than 430 seniors at First Baptist Church Piney Grove in Lauderdale Lakes. Lauderhill Mayor Ken Thurston said the event helped address vaccine racial disparities, and the shots went to seniors who met the state’s criteria. About 80% of Lauderhill’s roughly 72,000 residents are Black. “The thought was, let’s be direct,” he said. “Let’s set up a vaccination pod [point of distribution] right in the heart of the African American community.”
“Orange Co. dropping age requirements on many vaccine eligibilities” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Orange County is opening COVID-19 vaccinations at its convention center to front-line workers, educators, and medically-vulnerable people of any age. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced the new eligibility requirements at its vaccinations site in the underground garage beneath the Orange County Convention Center, one of the state’s busiest. The drive-through vaccination operation there is state-run, though in collaboration with Orange County. Demings announcement is counter to the statewide requirements set by DeSantis. Demings said he is switching to federal eligibility guidelines set out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services because the convention center has the capacity to expand immediately.
—“Community Health of NWFL removing barriers to vaccine for medically vulnerable of all ages” via Madison Arnold of Pensacola News Journal
“Pinellas teachers, district reach deal on pandemic rules” via Jeffrey S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — Pinellas County public-school students who repeatedly refuse to wear masks in class no longer will be allowed to remain in their classrooms while waiting for school officials to contact their parents. Instead, they’ll be sent to the principal’s office, where an administrator will deal with the situation rather than leaving the teacher to handle it and lead a class at the same time. That’s one of the new rules outlined in an agreement reached late Wednesday between the Pinellas teachers union and the school district. The memorandum of understanding, which took weeks to negotiate, covers various pandemic-related protocols inside the schools. The sides had a similar arrangement in the first semester, but it expired and had to be renegotiated.
“Tampa airport officials, Kathy Castor tout air travel-saving coronavirus relief” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Federal stimulus funding last year stopped Tampa International Airport from laying off staff even when air traffic declined 96%. On Monday, airport officials stood alongside U.S. Rep. Castor to offer their support to another round of relief. The airport officials and area press joined Castor at the airport to send her off to vote for the American Rescue Plan, which just passed in the Senate and heads back to the House for final approval. “The effects of this pandemic have been devastating,” said Joe Lapano, CEO for Tampa International Airport. He reminded that last year, the pandemic brought on an instant 96% drop in traffic. “That’s something you can’t model or plan for,” he said. But the passage of relief packages out of Congress aided the airport at the time.
“Tampa bars and nightclubs penalized for COVID-19 violations” via Kellie Cowan of Fox 13 — Five popular Tampa bars and nightclubs are appearing before City Council today after repeated COVID-19 ordinance violations, and at least two well-known bars have already been hit with suspensions. City attorneys say MacDinton’s Irish Pub, Club Prana, The Ritz Ybor, Club Skye and King Corona Cigars and Cafe have all been given plenty of opportunities to comply with the city’s ordinance, but code enforcement officials have found they are still consistently in violation. On the line: The businesses could have their liquor licenses suspended for up to 30 days. So far, officials have issued a three-day suspension to MacDinton’s, while Club Prana received a full-week suspension.
“Disney cruise passengers sue, claim they caught the coronavirus on ships” via Gabrielle Russon of The Orlando Sentinel — Disney Cruise Line is facing four federal lawsuits from Utah and Arizona tourists who claim they contracted the coronavirus while onboard the Disney Fantasy ship last March, just before the cruise business docked during the pandemic. The tourists said they contracted the virus while onboard and began feeling sick, according to the four lawsuits filed March 2 in federal court’s Orlando division that each seeks unspecified damages. The lawsuits accused Disney of refusing to let passengers cancel or reschedule their cruises even if they had “autoimmune diseases and compromised health conditions,” so they were “left without any option” to go on their March 7-14, 2020 trip.
— GUIDELINES —
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines Monday giving people vaccinated for coronavirus the go-ahead to ditch their masks and forget about distancing in small groups.
The CDC advice applies to groups made up entirely of “fully” vaccinated individuals, meaning those who have received both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or one of the Johnson & Johnson, and given it a couple of weeks to take full effect.
The guidance also applies to groups made up of a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people, so long as none of the unvaccinated people in the group are at risk for severe complications if they contract coronavirus.
“With more and more people getting vaccinated, each day we are starting to turn a corner, and as more Americans are vaccinated, a growing body of evidence now tells us that there are some activities that fully vaccinated people can resume at low risk to themselves,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Monday.
The CDC cautioned that it has not yet determined if vaccinated people develop asymptomatic infections and spread the virus to others.
— CORONA NATION —
“U.S. coronavirus cases post slowest spread since pandemic began” via Mark Schoifet of MSN — With the U.S. vaccination effort picking up speed, new coronavirus cases in the U.S. rose 1.5% in the week ended Sunday, the slowest increase since the pandemic began almost a year ago. The U.S. reported 420,285 infections for the week, after recording 471,198 cases in the prior seven days, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. The percentage gain was the smallest since Bloomberg began tracking cases in January 2020. In the past week, an average of 2.16 million vaccine doses per day was administered in the U.S., with the total number of shots reaching 90.4 million, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.
“How do we get back to normal fastest? Prioritize access to the vaccine.” via Zoe McLaren of FiveThirtyEight — Despite a slow start and an ongoing debate over whether prioritizing shots for the most vulnerable is the best option, the current scientific evidence clearly shows that prioritizing who gets a vaccination is well worth the effort. By strategically distributing the limited supply of doses we have, we’re reducing hospitalizations and deaths by as much as one-third, which lets us resume normal activities more quickly than if we used a first-come, first-served approach. There are too many other bottlenecks in vaccine distribution to assume that expanding eligibility would accelerate the pace of vaccination quickly enough to achieve better outcomes than our current strategy.
“U.S. government scientists skeptical of one-shot regimen for Pfizer, Moderna COVID-19 vaccines” via Thomas M. Burton of The Wall Street Journal — U.S. government scientists are pushing back against calls for one-dose regimens for two COVID-19 vaccines designed to be administered with two shots, saying there isn’t enough evidence that a single dose provides long-term protection. “It is essential that these vaccines be used as authorized by FDA to prevent COVID-19 and related hospitalizations and death,” Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s center that oversees vaccines, said. The FDA late last year approved a two-dose regimen for vaccines from Moderna Inc. and from a partnership of Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE. More recently, it approved the use of a one-dose regimen for a vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.
—“The differences between the vaccines matter” via Hilda Bastian of The Atlantic
“‘Hassle factor’ and distrust shadow wide U.S. vaccine hesitancy” via Emma Court and Olivia Rockeman of Bloomberg — The White House now says there will be enough supply for all American adults to get a COVID-19 vaccination by the end of May. Convincing a sizable portion of the U.S. public to be immunized is another matter. According to a Census Bureau survey conducted in February, only about 54% of American adults who haven’t been vaccinated say they definitely will. Meanwhile, about 23% say they will probably be vaccinated, and another 23% will probably or definitely not get vaccinated. Reaching that highly coveted “herd immunity” level is central to the U.S. government’s plans to fight COVID-19 and reopen businesses. Vaccine supply is one thing, but overcoming hesitancy to get the shot is another.
“Vaccine-skeptical Donald Trump country poses challenge to immunization push” via Joanne Kenen of POLITICO — The Joe Biden administration can finally ship large quantities of coronavirus shots into the American heartland, where health officials are encountering a reservoir of vaccine skepticism among rural Americans who’ve adopted Trump’s denial of a virus battering their communities. If a critical mass of people don’t accept COVID-19 vaccines, the country won’t achieve “herd immunity.” When there was just a trickle of vaccines, hesitancy didn’t matter as much because plenty of people were clamoring for the scarce shots. Now that the supply is ramping up, the challenge is to overcome fear, distrust and outright antagonism to the new vaccines shared by some groups in large numbers.
—“Meet the GOP voters who could decide whether the U.S. reaches herd immunity” via Dan Diamond of The Washington Post
“CDC study finds about 78% of people hospitalized for COVID-19 were overweight or obese” via Berkeley Lovelace Jr. of CNBC — An overwhelming majority of people who have been hospitalized, needed a ventilator or died from COVID-19 have been overweight or obese, the CDC said in a new study Monday. Among 148,494 adults who received a COVID-19 diagnosis during an emergency department or inpatient visit at 238 U.S. hospitals from March to December, 71,491 were hospitalized. According to the CDC report, of those who were admitted, 27.8% were overweight, and 50.2% were obese. Overweight is defined as having a body mass index of 25 or more, while obesity is defined as having a BMI of 30 or more. The agency found the risk for hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and deaths were lowest among individuals with BMIs under 25.
“Women report worse side effects after a COVID-19 vaccine” via Melinda Wenner Moyer of The New York Times — In a study published last month, researchers from the CDC analyzed safety data from the first 13.7 million COVID-19 vaccine doses given to Americans. Among the side effects reported to the agency, 79.1% came from women, even though only 61.2% of the vaccines had been administered to women. Nearly all of the rare anaphylactic reactions to COVID-19 vaccines have occurred among women, too. CDC researchers reported that all 19 of the individuals who had experienced such a reaction to the Moderna vaccine have been female and that women made up 44 of the 47 who have had anaphylactic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine.
“Russian disinformation campaign aims to undermine confidence in Pfizer, other COVID-19 vaccines, U.S. officials say” via Michael R. Gordon and Dustin Volz of The Wall Street Journal — Russian intelligence agencies have mounted a campaign to undermine confidence in Pfizer’s and other Western vaccines, using online publications that in recent months have questioned the vaccines’ development and safety, U.S. officials said. An official with the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, which monitors foreign disinformation efforts, identified four publications that he said have served as fronts for Russian intelligence. The websites played up the vaccines’ risk of side effects, questioned their efficacy, and said the U.S. had rushed the Pfizer vaccine through the approval process, among other false or misleading claims. Though the outlets’ readership is small, U.S. officials say they inject false narratives amplified by other Russian and international media.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“U.S. set to power global economic recovery from COVID-19” via Tom Fairless of The Wall Street Journal — The U.S. could help drive a powerful global economic recovery this year, as it plays a more central role in the comeback than after the financial crisis, reflecting the unusual nature of the COVID-19 shock and the flexibility of the American economy. According to Oxford Economics, the world economy is likely to grow by around 6% this year, the fastest rate in almost half a century, as vaccine campaigns allow pandemic restrictions to be lifted and businesses to snap back. For the first time since 2005, the U.S. is expected this year to make a bigger contribution to global growth than China, said the research firm. After the 2008 financial crisis, the global economic recovery was powered by China, as the U.S. experienced the weakest revival since the Great Depression.
“Airlines, public transit agencies say $1.9 trillion relief plan would prevent deep cuts, job losses” via Lori Aratani of The Washington Post — President Joe Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package would give airlines, airports and public transit agencies more breathing room to adjust to a new normal as the nation emerges from the global pandemic, transportation officials say. The legislation would extend payroll support for a third time to airlines, enabling them to avoid furloughing more than 27,000 workers when the current program expires at the end of March. It also would provide $8 billion in support to U.S. airports.
“U.S. airline flyers top 1 million-a-day pace, a pandemic rarity” via Alan Levin of Bloomberg — U.S. airlines carried an average of more than 1 million passengers a day in the past week, the highest non-holiday total since the COVID-19 pandemic began gutting travel demand in the country almost a year ago. According to data reported by the TSA, Sunday’s total of 1.28 million was the third-highest since travel collapsed in mid-March 2020. The airline industry remains severely depressed compared to before the pandemic erupted. Passenger volumes in the past week were 56% below the equivalent week in 2019, the most recent period that wasn’t depressed by the coronavirus. That number has crept up, but only slowly. In the week ended Feb. 28, passengers were 57% below pre-pandemic levels.
— MORE CORONA —
“Blood plasma might be the weapon we’re missing to control COVID-19” via Dr. David Sullivan for USA Today — What if there was a way to avoid the business shutdowns, long quarantines, and anxiety surrounding exposure to or infection by COVID-19 before a vaccine becomes widespread? We’re investigating if a blood plasma transfusion containing high levels of antibodies to COVID-19, given early in the illness, reduces the disease’s severity or even prevents people from developing an infection entirely. For those at high-risk, we believe this treatment could cut hospitalizations by half and prevent deaths. For those with milder cases, we believe that antibody-rich plasma would speed up recovery time and reduce the virus’s spread.
“Unlocking the mysteries of long COVID” via Meghan O’Rourke of The Atlantic — The quest at Mount Sinai began with a mystery. During the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in New York City, Zijian Chen turned to an online survey of COVID‑19 patients who were more than a month past their initial infection but still experiencing symptoms. Because COVID‑19 was thought to be a two-week respiratory illness, Chen anticipated that he would find only a small number of people who were still sick. That’s not what he saw. A realization dawned on him: America was not simply struggling to contain a once-in-a-century pandemic caused by a virus far more dangerous than seasonal influenza. Many patients were, for unknown reasons, not recovering.
“Late-stage pandemic is messing with your brain” via Ellen Cushing of The Atlantic — In the cold, dark, featureless middle of our pandemic winter, we can neither remember what life was like before nor imagine what it’ll be like after. To some degree, this is a natural adaptation. The sunniest optimist would point out that all this forgetting is evidence of the resilience of our species. That’s the good news. The pandemic is still too young to have yielded rigorous, peer-reviewed studies about its effects on cognitive function. But the brain scientists I spoke with told me they can extrapolate based on earlier work about trauma, boredom, stress, and inactivity, all of which do a host of very bad things to a mammal’s brain.
“Spring-break partying falls victim to COVID-19 crisis” via Heather Hollingsworth, Kelli Kennedy, and Anila Yoganathan of The Associated Press — Colleges around the U.S. are scaling back spring break or canceling it entirely to discourage partying that could spread the virus and raise infection rates back on campus. Texas A&M University opted for a three-day weekend instead of a whole week off. The University of Alabama and the University of Wisconsin-Madison also did away with spring break but are giving students a day off later in the semester. Even some students who have the time to get away aren’t in the mood. Many students say they will be reluctantly skipping trips this year.
“Celebratory ‘vaxications’ are giving the travel industry a boost” via Jen Murphy of Bloomberg — Josephine Darwin, 65, marked March 3 on her calendar with the importance of a golden anniversary and planned to celebrate it with similar gusto. On that date, she and her husband, John, 67, would officially be immune — or as near as can be — from COVID-19. Newly vaccinated with the Pfizer shot, the Nashville retirees are wasting no time getting back to travel: They plan to fly to Charleston, South Carolina, next week for a post-vaccine vacation. Call it a “vaxication.” “I can’t begin to describe our excitement to get out and meet people again,” says Josephine, who hasn’t left her home since March 17, 2020, except for brief walks around the neighborhood and to get jabbed.
“How a 97-year-old Holocaust survivor showed up for a vaccine appointment and charmed a hospital” via Alyson Krueger of The New York Times — Mount Sinai Brooklyn in Midwood typically vaccinates hundreds of people a day, depending on supply, so nursing graduate student Sylvie Jean Baptiste cannot focus on one person for too long. But Mira Rosenblatt, an older woman wearing a raspberry beret and pushing a bright blue walker, got her attention. “She said, ‘I am not nervous. I’ve been through way worse,’” Baptiste recalled. “Then she started telling her story.” Rosenblatt, 97, is the mother of four. She has eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Since 1968, she has lived in the same apartment in Midwood along Ocean Parkway, where she has also claimed a bench outside. She spends hours a day there, even in the winter, people-watching. She is also a Holocaust survivor.
— PRESIDENTIAL —
“Joe Biden will deliver a prime time address on Thursday, marking the anniversary of the pandemic in the U.S.” via Glenn Thrush and Katie Rogers of The New York Times — Biden will deliver the first prime time address of his presidency on Thursday, marking one year since the adoption of sweeping measures to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, which subsequently killed nearly 525,000 Americans and battered the economy. The President will deliver a direct-to-camera address to “discuss the many sacrifices the American people have made over the last year, and the grave loss communities and families across the country have suffered,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Monday.
“In the stimulus bill, a policy revolution in aid for children” via Jason DeParle of The New York Times — A year ago, Anique Houpe, a single mother in suburban Atlanta, was working as a letter carrier, running a side business catering picnics and settling into a rent-to-own home in Stone Mountain, Georgia, where she thought her boys would flourish in class and excel on the football field. Then the pandemic closed the schools, the boys’ grades collapsed with distance learning, and she quit work to stay home in hopes of breaking their fall. Expecting unemployment aid that never came, she lost her utilities, ran short of food, and was recovering from an immobilizing bout of COVID-19 when a knock brought marshals with eviction papers.
“‘An essential service’: Inside Biden’s struggle to meet his school reopening promises” via Ashley Parker, Laura Meckler, Fenit Nirappil and Annie Linskey of The Washington Post — The promise was clear and hopeful: With strong public health measures, then-President-elect Biden declared in early December, “the majority of our schools can be open by the end of my first 100 days.” The reality has been far more complicated. First came the clarification on Biden’s first full day as President, when the administration released a 200-page coronavirus response plan that explained the schools reopening plan included only K-8 schools — not high schools — in those first 100 days. Then came a walk-back from White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who said the administration’s goal was only to have the majority of schools back in classrooms “at least one day a week.”
“Biden faces challenge from surge of migrants at the border” via Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Michael Shear of The New York Times — Thousands of migrant children are backed up in United States detention facilities along the border with Mexico, part of a surge of immigration from Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence that could overwhelm President Biden’s attempt to create a more humane approach to those seeking entry into the country. The number of migrant children in custody along the border has tripled in the past two weeks to more than 3,250, according to federal immigration agency documents, and many of them are being held in jail-like facilities for longer than the three days allowed by law.
“How Biden is betting on Pete Buttigieg to drive a new era of racial equity” via Sam Mintz of POLITICO — A central plank in President Biden’s agenda of improving racial equity requires dismantling or re-imagining parts of America’s transportation system, which has long stacked the odds against people who most rely on it to climb up the economic ladder. Black households are three times less likely to own a car than white households, meaning they lack access to the infrastructure most heavily prioritized and funded nationwide. People of color also make up a majority of transit riders and have longer commutes. And America’s urban landscape is packed with examples of highways carving up Black communities, cutting off accessibility, and spewing disproportionate amounts of pollution.
“Biden endorses female generals whose promotions were delayed over fears of Trump’s reaction” via Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper of The New York Times — Biden has nominated two female generals to elite, four-star commands, the Defense Department announced, months after their Pentagon bosses had agreed on their promotions but held them back out of fears that Trump would reject the officers because they were women. The nominations of Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost of the Air Force to head the Transportation Command, which oversees the military’s sprawling global transportation network, and of Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson of the Army to head the Southern Command, which oversees military activities in Latin America, now advance to the Senate, where they are expected to be approved.
“Biden grants temporary protected status to Venezuelans, plans new sanctions on Nicolás Maduro” via Michael Wilner, Antonio Maria Delgado, Alex Daugherty, and Monique O. Madan of The Miami Herald — The Biden administration offered humanitarian protections to Venezuelans on Monday that would alleviate the threat of deportation for over 320,000 eligible individuals who have sought refuge in the United States. The administration determined that Venezuelans qualified under the special Temporary Protected Status designation and is also reviewing new sanctions that would further isolate Maduro, officials said. According to the United Nations, over 5.4 million Venezuelans have fled their country under the regime of Maduro, among the largest displacement crises in the world.
—“Democrats — and Republicans — praise Biden granting TPS to Venezuelans in U.S.” via Anthony Man of The Orlando Sentinel
“Trump policy that weakened wild bird protections is revoked” via Matthew Brown and John Flesher of The Associated Press — The Biden administration reversed a policy imposed under Trump that drastically weakened the government’s power to enforce a century-old law that protects most U.S. bird species. Trump ended criminal prosecutions against companies responsible for bird deaths that could have been prevented. The move halted enforcement practices under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in place for decades, resulting in most notably a $100 million settlement by energy company BP after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill killed about 100,000 birds.
— EPILOGUE: TRUMP —
“Trump rejected by Supreme Court in final election challenge” via Greg Stohr of Bloomberg — The U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider Trump’s challenge to the presidential election results in Wisconsin, rejecting the last remaining appeal that sought to overturn Biden’s victory. The rebuff came without comment or published dissent. It follows the court’s Feb. 22 rejection of a group of appeals that sought to reverse Biden’s win in Wisconsin and four other states. The latest appeal contended that the Wisconsin Elections Commission violated the U.S. Constitution by setting up mail-in voting rules that ignored state law. A federal appeals court panel consisting of three Republican appointees unanimously rejected the challenge, with Trump-appointed Judge Michael Scudder writing the opinion.
“RNC moves portion of its spring donor retreat to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club” via Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post — The Republican National Committee is moving part of its spring donor retreat next month to Mar-a-Lago from a nearby hotel for a dinner speech that Trump will headline. The move, which highlights the former President’s continued grip over the GOP, comes amid a spat over the use by RNC and other Republican organizations of Trump’s likeness and image in fundraising, as well as anxiety about how Trump plans to use his influence in the 2022 midterms. The RNC has decided to move the Saturday evening portion of the schedule to the former President’s private club to accommodate Trump and guests who would like to visit the site, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the plans.
“Trump spotted outside Trump Tower in first NYC trip since leaving office” via Kenneth Garger of the New York Post — Trump was spotted outside Trump Tower Sunday night in his first visit back to the Big Apple since leaving office. Trump pulled up to the Midtown skyscraper where he stays while in Manhattan just before 9 p.m. He was seated in the back seat of a black SUV. Upon his arrival, he waved to a lone supporter across the street next to the media. The NYPD last month began removing some of the barriers in front of Trump Tower, which were erected four years ago when Trump entered the White House.
“After 2020 fraud claims, Trump requests mail ballot” via Hanna Morse of The Palm Beach Post — Trump is set to fulfill his civic duty as a private citizen and vote in the town of Palm Beach’s municipal election. Despite his false claims about mail voting during the 2020 election cycle, Trump requested a mail ballot for the third time in his Palm Beach County voter history. The request was made nearly a week after the deadline to have a ballot be sent by mail. Mail ballots can be requested through Tuesday but must be picked up in person by the voter or a designee.
“Lindsey Graham points to GOP’s reality under Trump: It’s a hostage situation” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post — Sen. Graham’s relationship with Trump has contained multitudes. He was arguably Trump’s biggest critic on the 2016 debate stage, saying that nominating Trump would deservedly destroy the party, but he later became one of Trump’s biggest Senate allies. All the while, he seemed to want to make clear that this was a marriage of convenience rather than true conviction, the price to pay for getting things done. On Sunday, though, Graham described the relationship between Trump and the GOP in starker terms: as something akin to a hostage situation.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“COVID-19 bill to deliver big health insurance savings for many” via Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of The Associated Press — Several million people stand to save hundreds of dollars in health insurance costs, or more, under the Democratic coronavirus relief legislation on track to pass Congress. Winners include those covered by “Obamacare” or just now signing up, self-employed people who buy their own insurance and don’t currently get federal help, laid-off workers struggling to retain employer coverage, and most anyone collecting unemployment. Also, potentially many more could benefit if about a dozen states accept a Medicaid deal in the legislation. Taken together, the components of the coronavirus bill represent the biggest expansion of federal help for health insurance since the Obama-era Affordable Care Act more than 10 years ago.
—”Rick Scott pressures House members to vote down ‘shameful’ COVID-19 relief bill” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics
“Scott caught in middle of opposing GOP factions” via Max Greenwood of The Hill — Sen. Scott, the head of the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, has found himself squeezed between opposing factions of the GOP. As the National Republican Senatorial Committee leader, Scott has pledged to protect his party’s incumbents, especially as Republicans aim to recapture the Senate in 2022. But in doing so, he risks upsetting former Trump, the de facto leader of the GOP who has vowed political revenge on Republican lawmakers who he views as insufficiently loyal. Any missteps could deal damage not only to the GOP’s campaign to win back the Senate majority but also to Scott’s own political ambitions. He is widely seen as a prospective contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
—“Republican Sen. Roy Blunt will not seek reelection in 2022” via Ursula Perano of Axios
“Capitol security review identifies deficiencies as Congress debates upgrades” via Karoun Demirjian of The Washington Post — A review of security at the U.S. Capitol commissioned after the deadly riot on Jan. 6 found that Capitol Police are too “understaffed, insufficiently equipped, and inadequately trained” to protect Congress from a similar future attack. The 15-page draft report from retired Army Lt. Gen Russel Honoré, who House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tasked last month with leading the security review, outlines recommendations to address the identified shortfalls in physical and operational security. But it is unclear whether a divided Congress will heed the guidance or whether the report will become the latest flashpoint in an increasingly partisan debate over how thoroughly lawmakers should enhance the Capitol’s fortifications and how much money they should spend.
“Owning a home now easier for immigrant ‘Dreamers’ with change in FHA policy” via Juan Carlos Chavez of The Tampa Bay Times — Trump sought to restrict immigration overall and took steps to eliminate the deferred action program. Dreamers did not qualify for home loans because of how the FHA interpreted a 2003 passage from its Single-Family Housing Handbook: “Non-U.S. citizens without lawful residence in the United States are not eligible for FHA-insured mortgages.” Now, the agency takes a different view of “lawful residency,” saying on its latest forms that the handbook “did not anticipate a situation in which a borrower might not have entered the country legally, but nevertheless be considered lawfully present.” FHA mortgages, backed by the federal government, make it easier for middle-class and low-income people to buy a home.
“Tech’s legal shield appears likely to survive as Congress focuses on details” via David McCabe of The New York Times — Former President Donald Trump called multiple times for repealing the law that shields tech companies from legal responsibility over what people post. President Joe Biden, as a candidate, said the law should be “revoked.” But the lawmakers aiming to weaken the law have started to agree on a different approach. They are increasingly focused on eliminating protections for specific kinds of content rather than making wholesale changes to the law or eliminating it entirely.
— ELECTION NIGHT IN SOFLA —
South Florida features a handful of major election battles Tuesday as dozens of municipal races will be decided throughout the state.
One of the most heated contests will be the Delray Beach mayoral race. Mayor Shelly Petrolia is seeking a second three-year term and is battling first-time candidate Tracy Caruso. Caruso is a businessperson whose husband, Mike, serves in the House.
The candidates have traded barbs repeatedly. Caruso is seeking to defend her past position as a Republican while running in deep blue Delray Beach. Petrolia, meanwhile, is hoping to overcome a combative reputation during her tenure as Mayor.
Two Delray Beach City Commission seats are also up for grabs. Commissioner Adam Frankel is defending his seat against journalist Price Patton in the Seat 1 race. And for Seat 3, Commissioner Ryan Boylston is battling former Commissioner Mitch Katz in a rematch of the 2018 contest.
Several other large municipalities feature local Commission or Council contests. In Miramar, located in southwestern Broward County, three incumbents are seeking reelection to the City Commission.
For Seat 1, Vice Mayor Maxwell Chambers is facing off against magazine publisher Chris Koval and Kerri-Ann Nesbeth, a director at the nonprofit EdFuel. In Seat 2, Commissioner Yvette Colbourne is running against former Commissioner Darline Riggs. Seat 3 is a five-way race with Commissioner Winston Barnes competing against Val Glenister, Sylvia Grandberry, Lixon Nelson and Nari Tomlinson.
Back in Palm Beach County, the West Palm Beach City Commission will see two contests decided Tuesday. Florida Atlantic University instructor Deandre Poole and nonprofit head Shalonda Warren seek to replace outgoing District 2 Commissioner Corey Neering. In District 4, Commissioner Joe Peduzzi faces a challenge from personal injury lawyer and first-time candidate Jonathan Jones.
In Boca Raton, Yvette Drucker will seek her first full term on the City Council after being appointed to the Seat C seat in October. Former Boca Raton mayoral candidate Bernard Korn, stay-at-home mom Josie Machovec and former Council Member Constance Scott are looking to defeat Drucker. In the Seat D race, Councilwoman Monica Mayotte is running against real estate broker Brian Stenberg.
And in Lake Worth Beach, Mayor Pam Triolo is eyeing a fourth term amid challenges from ex-property caretaker Ron Hensley, private investigator William Joseph and former city attorney Betty Resch. The Commission seats in Districts 1, 2 and 3 are also on the ballot Tuesday night. That District 2 seat belonged to now-state Rep. Omari Hardy, who vacated the seat to run for — and win — a House seat last cycle.
In total, 19 municipalities inside Palm Beach County will feature elections Tuesday and five municipalities in Broward County. Florida Politics will have coverage of several of those contests Tuesday night.
— LOCAL NOTES —
“Defense lawyers tried to ban masks at Miami’s first in-person felony trial in COVID-19 era” via David Ovalle of The Miami Herald — Jury selection got underway Monday in Miami-Dade’s first felony trial in the COVID-19 era, but not without a twist: The Public Defender’s Office asked to ban the “unnecessary use of masks” in the courtroom. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Miguel de la O denied the motion without argument on Monday morning. The request was nonetheless a surprising one, given that court officials had worked for months with lawyers, including the Public Defender’s Office and medical experts, in arranging guidelines to ensure a safe trial at the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building in Miami. In the motion filed Sunday, defense attorneys said masks would prohibit the defendant’s constitutional right to confront a witness and be able to judge the person’s demeanor on the stand.
Seems about right — “Accused child killer Jorge Barahona ‘jumped,’ beaten by fellow inmates in Miami jail” via David Ovalle of the Miami Herald — Five jail inmates beat up notorious accused child killer Barahona at the Miami-Dade jail because “of the nature of his pending charges,” according to a newly released police report. The men have all been charged with battery by a detainee for the March 1 attack at the county jail, also known as the Pre-Trial Detention Center. According to the Miami-Dade police report, Barahona, 53, was attacked as he slept and suffered multiple bruises on his face, a nosebleed, and a small cut on his nose. Barahona is accused of murdering 10-year-old Nubia in February 2011, after months of torturing her and her twin brother inside the family’s Westchester house.
“Four proposals make St. Petersburg’s shortlist for Tropicana Field site project” via Jay Cridlin of The New York Times — St. Petersburg’s vision for the future of Tropicana Field is coming into a little more focus. Weeks after unveiling the seven developers vying to re-imagine the sprawling, 86-acre Trop site, the city has trimmed its shortlist to four. “We received many quality submissions to redevelop the Tropicana Field site, and I am thankful for the time, money and energy that each team expended,” Mayor Rick Kriseman said in a statement. These four proposals best met the city’s request for proposal criteria, said Alan DeLisle, the city’s development administrator, due to their track records and each proposal’s thoroughness.
“Ken Welch lands sweeping round of local endorsers” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — The list is a bipartisan slate of current and former elected officials and community leaders who have worked with all of the leading St. Petersburg mayoral candidates, but offered their nod to Welch. It includes local Mayors Frank Hibbard, Julie Bujalski, Sam Henderson and Sandra Bradbury; Pinellas County Clerk of the Courts Ken Burke; former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn; former Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats; former Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark; former Pinellas County Property Appraiser Pam Dubov; and former Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller, among others. Welch faces City Council Member Darden Rice and former City Council Member Wengay Newton.
“Farm Share to host food distributions in Tallahassee” via WTXL staff reports — Farm Share is distributing food to food-insecure Floridians in the Tallahassee area. Recipients will receive fresh produce and nonperishable canned goods. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, distributions are drive-thru only to minimize contact and ensure all parties’ safety, and attendees must wear a mask and arrive in a vehicle with a trunk or cargo bed. With more than 3.5 million families suffering from food insecurity throughout Florida, Farm Share meets Floridians’ everyday hunger needs by working hand-in-hand with local farmers to recover and redistribute produce that would otherwise be thrown away due to aesthetic imperfections.
— TOP OPINION —
“Spring break images resemble last year, but the message does not” via Joe Henderson of Florida Politics — Last year about this time, video of Florida beaches filled with reckless and maskless young people went global. As the scope of the COVID-19 horror gripped the nation, scenes of uncontrolled revelry were the last thing this state needed. That’s when DeSantis put up a statewide stop sign. He went on Fox & Friends to reinforce the point. “The message I think for spring breakers is that the party is over in Florida. You’re not going to be able to congregate on any beach in the state. Many of the hot spots that people like to go to, whether it’s Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Clearwater Beach, are closed entirely for the time being,” he said.
— OPINIONS —
“Biden is rolling back the culture war. The country should thank him.” via E.J. Dionne Jr. of The Washington Post — One of Biden’s early achievements does not get enough attention: He is rolling back the politics of culture wars. This is good news for his electoral and governing projects, but also for our country. This assertion will invite contradictory dissents. On the one side, culture wars were bound to abate during a pandemic and economic downturn. The other response is: Are you kidding? If culture wars are over, why is Dr. Seuss all over Fox News? To take the second point first: Sure, cultural conflict will forever be part of American life. We battle even when there’s a surface cultural consensus. But what matters is how politicized these conflicts become.
“Dennis Baxley’s big idea: Let’s take scholarship money away from college kids who want to major in useless subjects like art, history, philosophy” via Diane Roberts of Florida Phoenix — Sen. Baxley has a big idea: Let’s take scholarship money away from college kids who want to major in useless humanities subjects and airy-fairy theoretical crap like astrophysics and other such egg-headery and give it to the students who choose majors where you’re pretty much guaran-damn-teed a job. You know: computer programming; accounting; medicine; engineering; finance; technology. This proposed law is obviously related to the trauma Sen. Baxley experienced when he went to Florida State University and left with nothing but a lousy sociology degree. He was forced to become an undertaker, in thrall to formaldehyde and methanol, and later began experimenting with right-wing politics.
“There’s no excuse for vaccine madness that occurred in Miami — except that DeSantis won’t give us a plan” via The Miami Herald editorial board — The chaotic scene that unfolded over the weekend at the federal vaccine site in Florida City should be proof enough even for DeSantis: Florida needs a plan for an orderly rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. We cannot go on like this, nor should we. On Saturday, word had spread on social media and through word-of-mouth that anyone over 18 with a state ID could get a vaccine in Florida City because the recently opened location, run by FEMA, hadn’t been using up its allotment of 500 shots a day.
—“A reporter on his bout with COVID-19: ‘This is not like the flu’” via Stephen Hudak of The Orlando Sentinel
“Bridging the digital divide through expansion, tax incentives” via Josie Tomkow for Florida Politics — We pride ourselves on the wonderful amenities that our state offers to our lives. Sunny beaches, theme parks, a diverse economy offering jobs in fields spanning agriculture to the space program are just a fraction of the benefits to living in the sunshine state. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the lives of everyone in Florida. As classrooms and jobs moved from schools and offices to our homes, many Floridians were left out of the opportunity to remotely connect to these necessary institutions. While 95% of Floridians have access to broadband, over 750,000 Floridians do not have any access or it is insufficient to meet today’s technological needs.
— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —
A momentous change in vaccination policy is coming; starting next week, the Governor says the age limit will drop from 65 to 60 … which means two million more Floridians will be eligible for shots.
Also, on today’s Sunrise:
But Democrats have stepped up their attacks on Gov. DeSantis for his vaccination plan … or the lack thereof.
The Governor is NOT happy with the new COVID-19 rescue bill. Florida will be getting more than $17 billion, but DeSantis says that’s about $2 billion less than it should be.
— DeSantis wants to use $2 billion from the feds to bail out Florida’s unemployment trust fund and protect businesses from a tax increase. Congresswoman Schultz is trying to find some way to stop it.
— Lawmakers will be debating a bill to limit the power of local officials to issue emergency orders … as so many of them did during the pandemic. They’ll also talk about a bill capping the amount of THC in medical marijuana.
— And finally, a Florida Man was so distraught after his girlfriend dumped him that he burned her possessions. If only he hadn’t been in a hotel at the time.
To listen, click on the image below:
— ALOE —
“Sachs Media promotes Juliet Hauser to senior account executive” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Hauser will have greater responsibility on multiple accounts, with a special focus on health care communication. “We’re thrilled to elevate her role in this way,” said founder and CEO Ron Sachs. “Juliet’s proven communication skills make her a valuable player in our approach to managing client relationships and generating meaningful outcomes.” Hauser joined the firm two years ago and has played an essential role in diverse accounts, including the Florida Department of State’s voter education campaign, HCA Healthcare, Leon County Schools, and HIE Networks. Before joining the firm, she worked for the Florida Association of Community Developers and held communications positions at the Florida Department of Education and Florida State University.
What John Lux is reading — “Businesses flock to New Mexico amid film industry boom” via Chris Ramirez of KOB4 — As New Mexico’s film production has ballooned, several ancillary businesses that support the industry are adding to the success. In the last few years, businesses not necessarily affiliated with a production studio have expanded into New Mexico to support prop making, set creations and costume making. Before 2019, Reynolds Advanced Materials had U.S. locations in Dallas, Hollywood and Atlanta before opening shop in Albuquerque. The decision to expand into New Mexico came immediately after Netflix and NBC Universal announced major expansion plans in Albuquerque, according to Reynolds Advanced Materials specialist Brandon Green. “From an overall film standpoint, I definitely believe Albuquerque is on the map and will just keep growing,” Green said.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Happy birthday to the (still) great Kristy Campbell, Melissa Akeson of The Rubin Group, David Bennett, former state House candidate J.B. Bensmihen, my friend Adam Smith of Mercury Public Affairs, Vanessa Thompson, and Jamie Van Pelt.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.