Good Wednesday morning:
Floridians preferred Donald Trump over Joe Biden by a couple of points on Election Day, and not much has changed in the four months since, according to new polling from Mason-Dixon.
The pollster didn’t put the former President head-to-head with his successor, but it did find that Biden’s job approval rating is underwater, with 47% of voters approving and 49% disapproving. The balance is undecided.
Biden does hold a dominant plus-77 approval rating among Black voters and enjoys a plus-12 among Hispanic voters, but White voters are decidedly not fans, handing him a minus-21. Women and South Florida residents were also on his side, too, though men and voters from every other region are nonplussed.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s job approval rating provides further evidence of a Republican advantage. The second-term Senator scored a plus-5, with 47% approving, 42% disapproving, and 11% unsure.
Rubio’s strongest supporters were Hispanic voters, 59% of whom approve. He’s also on solid ground with men and White voters. Both groups said they approved of him, 51%-39%. Meanwhile, he held a minus-1 among women and a minus-54 among Black voters.
Biden has a few years to bump up his support in the Sunshine State, but Rubio will be on the ballot in 2022. As of now, he’s got the advantage.
By a six-point margin, Florida voters told Mason-Dixon they’d vote to give him another six years in Washington. The same demos that gave him a thumbs-up review said they’d back him for reelection.
The poll didn’t test Rubio against the handful of Florida U.S. Representatives who are eyeing his seat, or any other named challenger.
The Mason-Dixon poll was conducted Feb. 24-28 via live telephone interviews. It has a sample size of 625 registered Florida voters and a margin of error of plus or minus 4%.
Here are a couple of other notes:
— How COVID-19 became a viral tsunami: Health officials quietly started getting calls about a respiratory virus popping up in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. But the word then was positive; it seemed to be under control. Over the course of the next weeks and months, that proved to be, quite literally, dead wrong. So how did a seemingly contained contagion turn into a pandemic that claimed the lives of billions? The Washington Post looked at various factors, including the lack of any sort of immunity and failed responses, even in wealthy countries like the U.S., to paint a picture of a virus run amok. Read more here.
— Save the panthers: Standing just a quarter mile away from where a Florida Panther had just been caught on camera crossing a six-lane highway in East Naples, and nearer still to where a female panther lived, despite being hit by a car twice, a scientist met with a reporter from National Geographic to talk about the eroding habitat threatening Florida’s beloved token big cat and the expansive highways that prove fatal time and time again each year. At their time of greatest peril in the 1970s, panthers were relegated to only a small population in Florida with just about 30 known living. Scientists estimate there are about 200, but they are a long way from being safe from extinction. Read more about why the population is under threat and what, even if it’s too little, is being done about it here.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@BrianStelter: One year ago tonight, in front of millions of loyal viewers, Fox’s @ accused the media of “scaring the living hell out of people” about the coronavirus and said, “I see it, again, as like, let’s bludgeon Trump with this new hoax.”
—@Josh_Wingrove: Pfizer and Moderna vaccine shipments to states, tribes and territories will rise next week to 15.8 million doses, from 15.2 million a week earlier, @PressSec says. Shipments to pharmacies will rise to 2.7 million from 2.4 million a week earlier.
—@EWErickson: I know a lot of smart people are out there saying the GOP was so focused on Dr. Seuss that they couldn’t mount effective opposition to the COVID plan. I think they need to learn what I’ve started learning — more voters will remember Seuss when they vote than the COVID plan.
—@SenPizzo: COVID death rate in our prisons is about 80% higher, than outside. Not one single vaccine has been offered to Florida inmates. No 65-year-olds. No 70-year-olds. No 75-year-olds. No one.
Let me get this straight:
Baby drop boxes: 👍🏼
Ballot drop boxes: 👎🏼
— Janet Cruz (@SenJanetCruz) March 9, 2021
—@Aglorios: The more I learn about @, the more I like her: she says measures like paid family leave need to be implemented to combat COVID-19’s ‘extremely unfair’ impact on women’s income, jobs
—@RandolphBracy: Lawmakers are making it decidedly more difficult for citizens to take action when their own reps won’t. My reaction: “This is such a spit in the face to every member of the voting electorate.”
—@WajahatAli: Meghan Markle has been taking hate and criticism for years. Piers Morgan couldn’t even last more than 70 seconds. The world’s most brittle and fragile snowflake.
— DAYS UNTIL —
2021 Grammys — 4; Zack Snyder’s ‘Justice League’ premieres on HBO Max — 8; ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ premieres — 16; 2021 Florida Virtual Hemp Conference — 16; 2021 Florida Derby — 17; Disneyland, other California theme parks begin to reopen — 22; MLB Opening Day — 22; RNC spring donor summit — 30; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 58; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 61; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 79; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 114; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 123; MLB All-Star Game in Atlanta — 125; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 135; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 143; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 167; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 198; ‘Dune’ premieres — 205; MLB regular season ends — 207; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 213; World Series Game 1 — 230; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 237; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 240; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 275; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 282; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 380; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 422; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 576.
— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —
“Bill changing Bright Futures scholarships stalls as student opposition mounts” via Ana Ceballos and Jeffrey S. Solochek of The Tampa Bay Times — A contentious proposal that would reshape Florida’s popular Bright Futures scholarship program and other aspects of student financial aid was abruptly postponed ahead of its first public hearing on Tuesday amid growing opposition from student groups. The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Baxley, is a massive rewrite of the Bright Futures program that currently benefits roughly 112,000 Florida students. It would take away scholarship funds for any credits that students earned through Advanced Placement and related programs they took in high school, something the state has encouraged them to do over several years.
“Jim Boyd property insurance overhaul clears Senate committee” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A significant overhaul of Florida’s property insurance laws advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Boyd, said rising renewal costs for homeowners and property owners across Florida demand attention from the Legislature. His bill (SB 76) would eliminate multiplier fees for attorneys and allow for roofing policies that allow claims payments based on the roof’s life. “The rising cost of property insurance in Florida has affected every one of your constituents and mine,” he said. With major insurance companies often refusing to write new policies, domestic providers are now losing an estimated $1 billion a year.
“Joe Gruters carries guns in churches bill through second Senate committee stop” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Legislation that would allow churchgoers to carry guns into places of worship, even when there’s a school on the property, shot forward in the Senate Tuesday. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee reported favorably on the legislation. Bill sponsor Sen. Gruters has billed the issue as a matter of property rights more than gun rights. “The property owner will be able to make any type of decision on policies and time frames as they so choose,” he said. The bill would change state law that now forbids weapons on properties with an attached school, public or private.
“Senate panel OK’s resolution requiring two-thirds support from voters to amend the constitution” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — An effort to make it more difficult to amend the Florida Constitution is on its way through the Legislature again after passing its first committee Tuesday. Proposed amendments to the Constitution currently require 60% approval from the public. But a resolution (SJR 1238) by Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez would raise that threshold to a two-thirds vote. Repealing an amendment, however, would only require the threshold that applied when the amendment first passed. That means voters could still reverse changes approved on a 60% threshold with a 60% vote. The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee gave the resolution its first green light in the committee process along a party-line 5-4 vote.
“Travis Hutson looks for Ron DeSantis’ support with latest Tobacco 21 bill” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A Senate panel has advanced a renewed effort to raise the smoking age from 18 to 21. The Senate Regulated Industries Committee voted Tuesday unanimously to advance St. Augustine Republican Sen. Hutson‘s bill (SB 1080) to increase the smoking age in compliance with federal regulations. The bill would also place tobacco and vaping regulations into separate statutes. The House and Senate passed a similar measure last year that, in addition to raising the smoking age, would have banned most vaping flavors, but DeSantis vetoed the proposed restrictions. He argued it was redundant because of federal law and that banning vape flavors would drive people to the black market or back to cigarettes.
“Corporate espionage bill clears first House committee” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — Crimes of trafficking in trade secrets will be brought into in the Information Age if legislation (HB 1523) sponsored by Lithia Rep. Mike Beltran continues to make its way through the House. “We’ve had a lot of incidents over the past years, and the trade secrets statute, the criminal statute, is actually outdated,” Beltran said. Beltran’s corporate espionage bill passed the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety subcommittee 18-0 Tuesday. The legislation has the support of DeSantis and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, who announced this bill among a package of legislation aimed at cracking down on foreign adversaries stealing intellectual property.
Special district crackdown advances — The House Local Administration and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee unanimously approved Rep. Randy Maggard’s bill (HB 1103) that would require special districts to disclose information on employee salaries and project costs, Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida reports. The bills would also require fire and hospital districts to conduct performance audits every five years and directs OPPAGA to conduct performance audits of mosquito control and water conservation districts. The bill now heads to the Public Integrity & Elections Committee. When House Speaker Sprowls was sworn in last year, he listed cracking down on special districts among his top priorities.
— TALLY 2 —
“Home rule challenge on emergency orders clears first committee” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — A party-line vote in the House Pandemics and Public Emergencies Committee is the closest answer yet on the fate of a bill (HB 945) preempting emergency powers of local governments. The legislation takes the wind out of local governments’ emergency powers by placing a sunset provision on emergency orders of seven days with the option to extend after that. It would also create a time frame for “significant emergency orders,” a new term created by the bill, that would expire after 30 days. Under that scenario, local governments would have the option to extend the order once for 60 days but only through a referendum approved by a majority of the city or county’s electorate.
“Legislators advance bills to preempt local energy regulations” via Mary Ellen Klas and Alex Harris of The Miami Herald — Florida’s GOP-led Legislature took the first steps on Tuesday to reach its goal of putting a stop to efforts by cities and counties to strengthen options for energy alternatives in the age of climate change. The Senate Regulated Industries Committee gave preliminary approval to SB 856 to prevent local governments from blocking or restricting the construction of “energy infrastructure” related to production and distribution of electricity, natural gas and petroleum products. The committee also approved SB 1128 to prevent local governments from banning natural gas as an energy source in new construction.
—”House panel OKs bill that loosens price-gouging protections” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO
Broadband bill sparks fight between telecom and utilities — A bill to allow internet service providers to attach broadband equipment to power poles is sparking a turf war between telecom companies and local utility companies. As reported by Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida, utilities say the bill (SB 1592) wouldn’t address its stated goal of bringing broadband to rural Florida, where power poles are less common. The bill would require utility companies to provide access to any power pole at a reasonable rate and require them to alter pole designs to accommodate broadband equipment. Ryan Matthews, a lobbyist for the Florida Municipal Electric Association, said the bill “grants a private cable or telecom company almost unfettered access.”
“Your phone, conversations with ‘Alexa’ would be private and confidential under Senate bill” via James Call of The Tallahassee Democrat — A proposal to ban warrantless searches of cellphones and voice-activated devices like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Nest cleared a Senate committee Tuesday with no opposition. SB 144 clarifies that the Fourth Amendment protection against arbitrary search and seizure of information by the government extends to personal telephones and electronic devices. Sen. Jeff Brandes has sponsored some form of the measure for the past four sessions. He told the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday the measure recognizes the role digital technology plays in daily life and that people have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they use the search function of a device.
“Danny Burgess bill to waive education requirements for certain veteran applicants clears first committee” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Sen. Burgess’ proposal to allow state and local governments to waive postsecondary education requirements in hiring veterans passed through its first committee Tuesday morning. Members of the Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Senate Committee unanimously approved the bill (SB 922). The legislation seeks to promote veteran employment by giving state and local governments the option to waive higher education requirements for applicants who are veterans, members of the Florida National Guard and members of the armed forces’ reserves. Burgess said the bill would not require local governments to waive educational requirements but would give them the option if the veteran candidate was otherwise qualified for a position.
“Manny Diaz bill to allow drones for natural disaster response zooms through first committee” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Sen. Diaz’s bill to allow state agencies and local governments to use drones to assess damage after natural disasters passed swiftly through its first committee hearing Tuesday. The bill (SB 518) earned unanimous approval from the Senate Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security. The legislation would expand drones’ authorized use in response to natural disasters, including hurricanes, wildfires, and floods. Current state law prohibits individuals, state or local entities from using a drone to capture private property images to protect a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy.
—”Code snitch crackdown advances in House” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics
“Bill would end some medical malpractice suit immunity” via Gary Blankenship of The Florida Bar News — A bill that would end the prohibition for parents filing negligence actions when their adult children die from medical malpractice has cleared a House panel. The Civil Justice and Property Rights Subcommittee passed HB 651 18-0 after hearing testimony from parents who had lost children and representatives from medical providers and insurance companies who warned the bill could raise insurance rates. Rep. Spencer Roach said the bill would address the “Dr. Kevorkian-like” situation where an unmarried, childless adult could sue for malpractice injuries unless that person dies, and then there is no cause for action.
— A THIRD TALLY SECTION!!! —
“A Christian? An attorney? Comment raises questions” via Christine Sexton of The News Service of Florida — Brandes said he was just joking when he said he was a “Christian, not an attorney.” Brandes made the comment on two separate occasions, each time to a Jewish Senator who asked questions about his bill (SB 74) to limit coronavirus-related lawsuits against nursing homes, hospitals, and other health care providers. The nuances of what immunity should look like and whether it should apply to all facilities are the subject of a fierce legislative fight. Brandes said the comments were about attorneys and not about members who are Jewish. Brandes said: “It’s definitely about attorneys. If somebody would have said, ‘I am Jewish, I’m not an attorney,’ I would have taken it the same way.”
Baker Act bill leaves critics wanting more — The House Early Learning & Elementary Education Subcommittee passed a bill (HB 383) making changes to the Baker Act, but advocacy groups say it doesn’t go far enough. As reported by Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida, groups including the Florida Council of Churches and Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy urged the committee to collect more and better data on how schools use the Baker Act, which allows for students with mental or behavioral health issues to be involuntarily held in treatment facilities. As written, the proposal requires schools to notify parents before a child is taken to a facility under the Baker act. An amendment significantly trimmed down the bill.
“As GOP looks to restrict Florida mail ballots, advocates unveil report that process worked” via Jeffrey Schweers of The Tallahassee Democrat — People of color, young people and new voters are more likely than their white counterparts to have their vote-by-mail ballots flagged for a signature discrepancy, but also more likely to get them cured, a report released Tuesday shows. “This is because the cure process worked,” said Daniel Smith, the University of Florida political science professor who conducted the report for the Florida Chapter of All Voting is Local, a nonprofit voting rights advocacy group. A record 14.4 million voters turned out for the Nov. 3 general election during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 44% or 4.6 million of Floridians voting by mail by Election Day.
“Glades Mayors lobby Democratic leaders to support ‘agritourism’ bill” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Mayors from three Glades-area cities are pushing Democratic lawmakers to support a proposal aiming to shield farmers from certain tort lawsuits. GOP Sen. Jason Brodeur is sponsoring the measure (SB 88), which raises the standard of proof for certain suits relating to “agritourism” activities. Mayors Keith Babb of Pahokee, Joe Kyles of South Bay and Steve Wilson of Belle Glade are attempting to bring Democrats on board for the bill, which is now on the Senate floor. “Agriculture is the lifeblood of the Glades communities’ economies, and strengthening our farmers’ ‘right to farm’ means supporting our jobs, opportunity, and access to health care, benefits, and financial security for our families,” the mayors wrote in a letter to Democratic leaders.
Jimmy Patronis pushes vendor transparency legislation — CFO Patronis expressed strong support for bills (SB 1428/HB 1149) that would change the state’s procurement system to disclose the country a vendor is organized in. It’s aimed at reducing foreign influence from countries such as China. “As it stands today, our state agencies and local governments who buy off our contracts don’t have a tool to identify whether companies are owned or controlled by a foreign government,” he said. “If the Legislature wants any information on which country tax dollars go to, we’re too limited. My message is simple — if you receive taxpayer money, you should tell us which country you’re organized in.” The Senate bill will be heard in the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee on Wednesday.
Florida TaxWatch backs bill boosting rural broadband — Nonprofit taxpayer research institute Florida TaxWatch is backing a bill (SB 1592) that would prioritize broadband infrastructure projects in rural pockets of the state. FTW President and CEO Dominic Calabro said speedy internet is “vital to talent development, health and safety, job creation, business climate, capital attraction, and Florida’s economic growth” and noted Florida’s urban areas are approaching 97% broadband coverage. More than 20% of rural areas lack access. “Providing access to critical services to all Floridians and ensuring economic growth across the state is important in the best of times; accelerating recovery and connectivity is a must in these difficult times,” he said.
League of Cities blasts home business bill — The House Commerce Committee advanced a bill (HB 403) on Tuesday that would slash regulations and preempt local ordinances on home-based businesses. The Florida League of Cities said the bill was an assault on home rule that would allow noisy, high-traffic or unsavory businesses to set up shop in neighborhoods. “Working from home, as millions of Floridians have had to do this past year, is not the same as opening a car repair shop or a funeral home in the middle of a residential neighborhood. No one wants to suddenly wake up to learn that they’re now living next to a restaurant, a tattoo parlor or a 24-hour convenience store,” FLC said in a statement.
PIFF praises passage of property insurance revamp — The Personal Insurance Federation of Florida applauded the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday after it advanced a bill (SB 76) aimed at curbing litigation. The bill would put stricter regulations on the “fee multiplier” law that allows attorneys to collect more money from insurance companies in some cases. “The abuse of this law creates an added stressor on the insurance market, and at the end of the day, the insurance consumer sees higher rates,” PIFF President and CEO Michael Carlson said. “Curbing application of fee multipliers in property cases would help restore balance, and that starts with making sure they are only used under ‘rare or exceptional’ circumstances.”
— LEGISLATIVE MERRY-GO-ROUND —
With a tip of the hat for LobbyTools, here are the latest movements — both on and off — the legislative merry-go-round.
On: Stephanie Bell-Parke is the new administrative assistant to the Senate Committee on Finance and Tax.
On: MacKenzie Hart is the new administrative assistant to the Senate Committee on Agriculture.
On and off: Katelyn Norman is stepping down and Austin Belet is the new secretary for Quincy Democratic Sen. Loranne Ausley.
On: Kendra Jefferson is the new legislative assistant to Orlando Democratic Sen. Randolph Bracy.
On and off: Kaly Fox stepped down as district secretary and Anna Scarritt is the new legislative assistant to Pensacola Republican Sen. Doug Broxson.
On and off: Doug McAlarney stepped down as attorney and Karen Dearden is the new policy chief to the House Pandemics and Public Emergencies Committee.
On: Justine Evans is the new budget specialist to the Infrastructure and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee.
On: Jonathan Mwakyanjala is the new policy analyst to the Local Administration and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee.
On: David Grimes is a new staff director, Joey Arellano is the deputy communications director, and Krista Dolan is an attorney for the House Democratic Office.
On and off: Melony Bell is replacing Brett Hage on the House Rules Committee.
On and off: Zion Gates-Norris is replacing Janeen Lofton as district secretary to Miami Gardens Democratic Rep. Christopher Benjamin.
On and off: Adrianna Tran is replacing Gladys Boot as district secretary to Ocoee Democratic Rep. Kamia Brown.
— FOR YOUR RADAR —
EMPOWER Patients third comic strip details prescription drug middlemen and ‘The Spread Game’ — As the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services is scheduled to hear from AHCA today on the December 2020 report on PBMs impact on Florida’s Medicaid system, EMPOWER Patients released the third comic in the “Papa PBM” series detailing how spread pricing works. The AHCA report showed that PBMs pocketed $89.6 million through spread pricing alone, a practice banned in many states. The relationship with PBMs is complex to begin with, and that is by design. But it’s made even more complex because their practices are “not transparent.”
EMPOWER Patients ad triggers PBM group — An EMPOWER Patients ad poking at pharmacy benefit managers is proving effective. The cartoon ad drew a response from the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs, which represents PBMs, said it was “no laughing matter.” The group said the ads push a damaging “anti-patient, anti-taxpayer agenda” and cites reports claiming PBMs, who negotiate drug prices for insurers, help consumers save money on prescriptions. The pushback comes as the Legislature considers a bill that would place new regulations on PBMs. EMPOWER Patients argues that PBMs are little more than middlemen who drive up prescription costs. CAPD counters, “Ultimately, responsibility for high drug prices rests with the drug companies who set those prices.”
— LOBBY REGS —
New and renewed lobbying registrations:
Brian Ballard, Brad Burleson, Jose Diaz, Ballard Partners: DACRA, Miami Design District Associates, Titan America
Amy Bisceglia, AB Governmental Affairs: The Children’s Forum, Florida Pharmacy Association
French Brown, Dean Mead: Anheuser-Busch Companies
Kevin Cabrera, Mercury Public Affairs: Secure Identity
Anne Cassity: National Community Pharmacists Association
Mike Corcoran, Jacqueline Corcoran, Matt Blair, Andrea Tovar, Corcoran Partners: Consumer Action for a Strong Economy
Jose Diaz, Robert M. Levy & Associates: Florida Association of Professional Process Servers
Nelson Diaz, James McFaddin, Monte Stevens, The Southern Group: ChenMed
Cody Farrill: Agency for Health Care Administration
Mike Grissom, Crystal Stickle, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Florida Chapter American College of Cardiology, Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated
Gary Hunter, Hopping Green & Sams: Titan America
Nick Iarossi, Kenneth Granger, Dean Izzo, Andrew Ketchel, Christopher Schoonover, Capital City Consulting: iLab
Timothy Stanfield, Greenberg Traurig: Risk Management Solutions
Jared Willis, Strategos Public Affairs: Early Childhood Initiative
— LEG. SKED —
Assignment editors — Rep. Fentrice Driskell joins a coalition of faith and civic leaders for a news conference to denounce the HB 1 ‘Protest Bill,’ 2 p.m., Capitol Courtyard.
The Senate Banking and Insurance Top Committee meets to consider SB 1024, from Sen. Jason Brodeur, to require a system to track complaints about insurance coverage for mental health services., 8 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.
The Senate Community Affairs Committee meets to consider SB 738, from Sen. Baxley, to allow riding bicycles without seats if designed by the manufacturer to be ridden that way, 8 a.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Transportation Committee meets to consider SB 426, from Boyd, to prevent local governments from regulating commerce in seaports, 8 a.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Agriculture Committee will receive an update from the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability about the state’s food, 10:30 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building.
The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee meets to consider SB 90, from Baxley, to require voters to more frequently request vote-by-mail ballots, 10:30 a.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Health Policy Committee meets to consider SB 876, from Chairman Diaz, to expand optometrists’ authority on administering and prescribing drugs, among other things, 10:30 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.
The Small Business Pharmacies Aligned for Reform will hold a news conference about SB 1306 and HB 1043, two bills addressing pharmacy benefits in Medicaid. Joining the group are Sens. Gayle Harrell, Tom Wright and Ana Maria Rodriguez; Reps. Randy Fine and Jackie Toledo, 12:15 p.m., House Office Building, under the portico.
The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee will receive a presentation from the Agency for Health Care Administration about pharmacy benefit managers and the Medicaid program, 1 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.
The Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider SB 778, from Sen. Ed Hooper, to eliminate a potential Oct. 1, 2023, sunset date for VISIT FLORIDA and permit the agency to carry forward unused money from the previous year, 1 p.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider SB 200, from Sen. Lori Berman, to allow parents to request their children be retained in the current school grades for the 2021-2022 academic year, 3:15 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.
Other legislative meetings:
The House Civil Justice and Property Rights Subcommittee, 9:30 a.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
The House Infrastructure and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee, 9:30 a.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.
The House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee, 9:30 a.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.
The House Secondary Education and Career Development Subcommittee, 9:30 a.m., Room 212, Knott Building.
The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, noon, Room 404, House Office Building.
The House Finance and Facilities Subcommittee, 1:30 p.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.
The House Government Operations Subcommittee, 1:30 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
The House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, 1:30 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.
The House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee, 1:30 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.
The House Education and Employment Committee, 3:15 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
The House State Affairs Committee, 3:15 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.
The House Judiciary Committee, 3:15 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.
Florida Republicans are trying to make it harder for Floridians to vote-by-mail by limiting access to ballot drop boxes, among other proposals.
Then on Tuesday, they plopped in another doozy, one that would allow only immediate family members to pick up vote-by-mail ballots instead of allowing a broader “designee.”
The proposal, a proposed committee substitute on Baxley’s vote-by-mail bill (SB 90), would directly affect Florida’s most famous Republican from voting the way he likes to vote. That would be one former President and now-Florida Man Trump.
The Palm Beach Post reported Tuesday that Trump requested a mail ballot Friday to vote in Palm Beach’s municipal elections. His request came nearly a week after the deadline to have a ballot mailed and just days before the voters’ deadline to request a ballot and have it picked up.
More than likely, as the Post reported, Trump had an associate pick the ballot up, which is what he did in Florida’s Primary Election last August and the Presidential Preference Primary last March.
If Baxley’s bill, under the proposed committee substitute, were to clear the Legislature this Session and get DeSantis’ signature, Trump wouldn’t be able to do that anymore.
— STATEWIDE —
“School advocates urge state to scrap A-to-F school grades, high-stakes testing consequences” via Leslie Postal of The Orlando Sentinel — Central Florida school board members urged the state Tuesday to scrap A-to-F school grades this year and to hold students “harmless” when they take state exams this spring. Joined by board members and school advocates from across the state, they used an online news conference to encourage the Legislature to pass bills that would do away with issuing school grades and using test scores to decide if third graders are promoted and high school seniors earn diplomas. The coronavirus pandemic has upended the 2020-21 school year, they said, and it would be neither fair nor useful to grade schools and hold students to the same standards used in years past.
“‘Brutal facts’: Richard Corcoran tells teachers state testing is necessary gauge” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — Sen. Shervin Jones hosted a virtual roundtable discussion with Corcoran and teachers from across the state to discuss education during the pandemic. Teachers submitted questions for the Education Commissioner in advance and Jones’ office compiled the list. The conversation focused primarily on K-12 education. The top of mind for teachers were missing students and state testing. Teachers said some students did not return to school when they reopened, and teachers said they are concerned state test results will be affected. Corcoran said about 80,000 students are missing from school statewide, but said that number could be inflated. Corcoran said many of those students are rising kindergartners whose parents decided not to send them to school for safety reasons.
“Florida’s minimum wage boost faces a struggle; advocates warn of low-paid workers getting ripped off” via Isaac Morgan of the Florida Phoenix — Florida workers are set to get a boost in the minimum wage in September to $10 per hour — part of the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2020 that increases the state’s minimum wage incrementally until it reaches $15 per hour in 2026. But the Florida Legislature is already looking to tinker with the amendment. And advocacy groups for higher wages are already concerned about employers who violate the law by paying some employees below the minimum wage. Essentially, those low-wage workers are getting ripped off. Currently, Florida’s minimum wage is $8.65 per hour.
“State could end clemency waiting periods” via Dara Kam of The News Service of Florida — DeSantis is proposing sweeping changes to the state’s clemency process by doing away with a minimum five-year wait before felons can seek to have their civil rights, including the right to vote, restored. DeSantis’ plan would allow felons who have paid all court-ordered fines, fees, and restitution related to their crimes to restore their civil rights “automatically,” meaning they would not be required to go before the Board of Executive Clemency to have their cases considered. But under the proposal, “returning citizens” who have outstanding legal, financial obligations would be required to go through the clemency board — made up of DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried — before having their rights restored.
Environmental groups want DEP to reject cleanup plans — The Sierra Club, Save the Manatee Club and other groups have asked Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein to reject an administrative law judge’s recommendation that the department approve cleanup plans at five springs, Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida reports. According to DEP, the cleanup plans would reduce nitrogen that seeped into the groundwater from septic tanks and agricultural runoff. Environmentalists say the plans overestimate the benefits and fail to other nitrogen sources, such as new developments. The groups and a DEP scientist had filed exceptions in the administrative law case, with the latter claiming the department’s policy toward springs was rife “public deception.”
— 2022 —
“‘Remove Ron’ rakes in $53K in February to unseat DeSantis” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A political committee founded by a faux Grim Reaper to cut short DeSantis’ political tenure posted interesting fundraising numbers in February. Remove Ron announced it pulled in more than $53,000 during its first month of operations. “When we announced the formation of ‘Remove Ron’ last month, I predicted that we would lead a movement to defeat Ron DeSantis, reverse his dangerous policies and put Florida back on track,” said Remove Ron Chairman Daniel Uhlfelder. Uhlfelder garnered attention through a series of publicity stunts dressing as the Grim Reaper and wandering Florida beaches during the pandemic while pressing for DeSantis to close beaches to curb the spread of the coronavirus. DeSantis never did that, and Uhlfelder in February announced the launch of Remove Ron.
Personnel note: Nikki Fried committee hires Abigayil Yisrael — Ag. Commissioner Fried’s political committee, Florida Consumers First, has hired Yisrael as its new engagement and outreach director. Yisrael previously worked as the deputy GOTV director for the Georgia Coordinated Campaign during the U.S. Senate runoffs in Georgia. She was also a regional organizing director for U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff’s campaign. She also has several cycles of experience in Florida, most recently as deputy organizing director with the Florida Coordinated Campaign. In her new role, Yisrael will oversee outreach and engagement efforts with community, political, and Democratic stakeholders across the Sunshine State, and develop and lead a high-impact, grassroots organizing system. Fried is widely expected to run for Governor in 2022.
“Clay Yarborough heads into Session with $400K banked” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Rep. Yarborough had more than $400,000 on hand when the 2021 Legislative Session started, forcing lawmakers to put their fundraising efforts on hold. The Jacksonville Republican is one of three sitting Representatives vying to succeed term-limited Sen. Aaron Bean in Senate District 5. He faces Reps. Cord Byrd and Jason Fischer in the GOP primary. Last month Yarborough raised $24,785 through his campaign account and another $44,850 raised through his political committee, Floridians for Conservative Values. Recognizable committee donors included Comcast and Gunster. The fundraising report for the campaign side is not yet viewable on the Florida Division of Elections website.
— CUBA —
The United States is home to more than 37 million Mexican Americans and 2 million Cuban Americans, but the latter demographic wields significantly more power in national politics, an Axios analysis reveals.
For the first time in U.S. history, the current Senate includes three Mexican Americans. There have been three Cuban Americans in the Senate since U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz took office nearly a decade ago. The others are U.S. Sens. Rubio and Bob Menendez.
Cuban Americans’ share of the Senate is more than four times higher than their share of the population, which is currently 0.7%.
The gulf is most pronounced when compared to Mexicans, but their political success compares favorably to most other Latino groups. There is no Senator of Puerto Rican descent, for instance, and the number of Puerto Ricans in the House can be counted on one hand.
Analysts assert Cuban American electeds are more prevalent because they are concentrated in Florida, one of the nation’s chief swing states and a frequent stop for presidential campaigns.
Mexican Americans, by contrast, are spread across the country, with high concentrations in states with political hegemony such as California and Texas.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“Florida back over 100 resident coronavirus deaths as cases remain under 5k” via Richard Tribou of The Orlando Sentinel — Florida’s resident death toll from coronavirus rose to 31,889 with the addition of 125 more reported fatalities on Tuesday while also adding 4,426 more positive COVID-19 cases to bring the total to 1,952,733. The state had reported three days straight with less than 100 resident deaths, but climbed back over with Tuesday’s report. So far, in 2021, daily reports have exceeded 100 resident deaths in all but seven days, although both resident deaths and cases are trending less than the surges seen in January and early February.
“Florida COVID-19 vaccine organizers discussed how upscale clinic could benefit DeSantis” via Zac Anderson of The Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Text messages between Manatee County Commission Chair Vanessa Baugh and Lakewood Ranch developer Rex Jensen show them discussing the political benefits for DeSantis of holding a COVID-19 vaccine clinic that the pair organized in the upscale community. In the text exchange, Jensen appears to be recounting a call with DeSantis. He tells Baugh that DeSantis “said he might show up” at the vaccine clinic. The texts indicate that political considerations were on the minds of those planning a vaccination event that has since become highly controversial, with critics complaining that the clinic held Feb. 17-19 limited vaccines to individuals in two wealthy, heavily white and Republican ZIP codes.
—”DeSantis raises mirror to ‘corporate media’ amid favoritism allegations” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics
“Fried suspects DeSantis contracted COVID-19 in November” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Fried told the Daily Beast on Monday she suspects DeSantis contracted COVID-19 last year. Speaking to reporters in Tallahassee after appearing on the publication’s The New Abnormal podcast, Fried described the assessment as a “personal hunch.” “You know, he went MIA for three weeks in November claiming that he was working on some statewide plan,” Fried said on the podcast. “My take is that he probably had COVID-19 and didn’t want to tell people when the vaccines first came to our state.” Fried’s suspicion centers around the Governor’s abrupt public eye departure after the presidential election.
“About 1.8 million Florida seniors are still not vaccinated” via Bailey LeFever — Three months after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that seniors were his top priority in the coronavirus vaccine rollout, about 1.8 million of the state’s residents 65 and older still hadn’t been vaccinated as of Monday. DeSantis is expanding vaccination eligibility next week to anyone 60 or older, adding another 1.4 million people to those vying with seniors for the often hard-to-get vaccine appointments. Health care workers, people of any age with underlying conditions and firefighters, teachers and law enforcement officers 50 and older also are eligible.
“Florida’s federal COVID-19 vaccine campaign is supposed to help minorities. Is it working?” via Nicholas Nehamas and Ben Conarck of The Miami Herald — A pilot program between Florida and the federal government to boost the number of minority and low-income people receiving COVID-19 vaccinations has helped more than 75,000 residents get shots since March 3, according to state data obtained by the Miami Herald. But the program may not be reaching the people it was designed to help, and it is exposing limitations in Florida’s vaccination eligibility restrictions that could slow the state’s efforts to end the pandemic at a time when more contagious coronavirus variants are spreading exponentially statewide, particularly in South Florida.
“CVS expands COVID-19 vaccination sites statewide, DeSantis announces” via Frank Gluck of The Fort Myers News-Press — DeSantis announced an additional 76 CVS pharmacies in Florida would offer COVID-19 shots beginning Friday, roughly doubling the number of sites where the retail chain is hosting vaccinations statewide. Appointment reservations can be made starting Thursday at CVS.com. The expansion will include seven stores in Lee County, DeSantis said. He made the announcement during a news conference at a CVS Pharmacy in Lehigh Acres, which will be among the new vaccination sites. This brings the total number of CVS stores offering vaccines to 157 in 30 Florida counties, DeSantis said.
— NEWS TALLY CAN USE —
With CDC guidance evolving and the Governor revising vaccination policies regularly, it can be challenging for Floridians to keep up with reliable COVID-19 information within their hometowns.
Now, a diverse array of community leaders in Tallahassee are stepping up with a new initiative to give regional residents a one-stop location for the latest accurate information to keep them safe and healthy.
In fact, that’s its name: “Safe & Healthy Big Bend.”
The communitywide public education initiative combines the resources of local governments, local hospitals and health care providers, the Leon public school system, the faith community, business, and media partners to provide the entire Big Bend region with up-to-date information on COVID-19.
The initiative’s goal is to provide residents with the most current information about vaccines, overcome vaccine hesitancy and resistance, and encourage residents to continue to use masks, maintain social distancing, and observe other safety protocols to stop the spread of COVID-19.
All of the project’s funders and partners have worked together and in their own lanes throughout the pandemic to provide facts, truth, and safe directions to local residents. The new project builds on that body of work with a unified message as everyone seeks to maintain and protect public health in this historic second year of the pandemic.
Sachs Media, retained by the funders, has conceived, created and is conducting the campaign.
The initiative will run through the summer and includes video interviews with key leaders, public service announcements, and a related digital campaign.
So why now, when it looks like hope is just around the corner? Leon County Commission Chair Rick Minor answers that well: “Vaccines offer promise to get past this, but now is not the time to let down our guard on any front. That’s the common message of this initiative.”
— CORONA LOCAL —
“South Florida sees highest daily COVID-19 death toll in nearly a month” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — South Florida’s tri-county area recorded another 60 COVID-19 deaths Tuesday, the highest daily total since Feb. 11. But the spike shows that plenty of people are still feeling the worst effects of the virus even as vaccine efforts continue ramping up in the region. Tuesday’s total also follows two straight days of relatively low death totals. Sunday’s report saw just 16 new deaths reported, while Monday’s saw 26. But as has consistently been the case in South Florida, those low daily totals did not stay low for long. Officials recorded another 1,900 COVID-19 cases across Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Nearly 746,000 cases have now been recorded since the pandemic began.
“Did MDC North move away from DeSantis’ order? Some outside guidelines say they got a shot” via Samantha J. Gross and Michelle Marchante of The Miami Herald — The federally supported vaccination site at Miami Dade College North campus appears to have pivoted from state guidelines early Tuesday and begun offering vaccinations to many Floridians 18 and older who did not meet the Governor’s eligibility criteria. Long lines snaked through the campus’ parking lot and stretched down Northwest 27th Avenue, even before the site’s 7 a.m. opening. The sight is similar to what was seen at a federally supported vaccination site in Florida City Saturday. Staffers went against DeSantis’ executive order and opened up vaccinations to everyone because the site was seeing low demand. FEMA officials reverted the site to following state guidelines Sunday.
—“Another COVID-19 vaccination site opened in Miami-Dade Tuesday, this one in Homestead” via David J. Neal of The Miami Herald
“Florida Council on Black Men and Boys to promote vaccines in Belle Glade” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — The Florida Council on Black Men and Boys met on Tuesday to discuss priorities amid the rollout of vaccines and recent start of the Legislative Session. The panel is developing a PSA campaign to reach Belle Glade residents and inform them of vaccination sites and resources, panel chair Jerome Hill said. Belle Glade is a small, predominantly African American town within Palm Beach County in South Florida. Palm Beach County has received criticism for its disproportionate vaccine rollout. As far as the county’s demographics, 19.8% of its population is Black, and yet, Black individuals make up less than 4% of its vaccinated residents.
“A day at Orlando’s FEMA COVID-19 vaccine site: Bracing for waits, locals instead find speedy shots” via Hannah Phillips of The Orlando Sentinel — Over the course of the day Tuesday, hundreds of people flowed to the federal vaccination site at Valencia College’s west campus, receiving their shots in a series of white, air-conditioned tents fed by zigzagging queues of people. The site opened March 3 and has vaccinated an average of 300 people an hour since, up to a total of 3,000 doses a day. Many who arrived Tuesday said they entered the tents fearing long needles and a longer wait time but left saying their fears had been unfounded. The site opened at 7 a.m., and the line snaked forward steadily.
“UCF to offer COVID-19 vaccines to its employees” via Annie Martin of The Orlando Sentinel — The University of Central Florida will administer COVID-19 vaccines to employees of all ages on campus starting Thursday, according to an email the school sent to employees. The school received enough of the Pfizer vaccine from the Florida Department of Health in Orange County for about 2,340 workers to receive both required doses, according to the email from Dr. Michael Deichen, the associate vice president of UCF Student Health Services. The vaccine will be administered in the Pegasus Ballroom inside UCF’s student union building by appointment only and at no cost, he said.
“Sarasota and Manatee counties prepare to register more people for COVID-19 vaccine” via Louis Llovio of The Sarasota Herald-Tribune — With tens of thousands of new people becoming eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine Monday, Manatee and Sarasota Counties are finalizing how they will accommodate the higher demand. Officials from both counties went before their respective county commissions Tuesday to discuss how people who will soon qualify will register for vaccination. After DeSantis expanded the list of people who can get the vaccine to those 60 and older beginning Monday, accommodations are needed. “We’re evaluating the executive order; we’re looking at how we can best implement that for our citizens so that it best serves them,” Chuck Henry, the health officer for the Florida Department of Health Sarasota County, said.
“Okaloosa County COVID-19 numbers looking good as heart of spring break looms” via Tom McLaughlin of Northwest Florida Daily News — A week out from the height of the spring break season, Okaloosa County Health Department Director Karen Chapman reports that COVID-19 numbers for the next few weeks “will bear watching.” From Feb. 15 through March 6, the number of cases being reported in Okaloosa County averaged about 65 per day, with 108 being recorded in a single day on March 2. For the last four days, the county has seen a small decline, she said, and statistics indicate a 37 per-day average between March 3 and March 7. “The best news would be to see this decline in new cases continue, despite moving into the heavier weeks of spring break visitors,” Chapman said in her report.
—“Community Health offers clinic for Johnson & Johnson one-shot COVID-19 vaccine” via The Pensacola News Journal staff reports
— CORONA NATION —
“Hospitals report the worst of the pandemic’s third wave is over” via Aleszu Bajak of USA Today — Detailed data released this week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services illustrates just how much the nation’s hospitals have recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic’s third wave. Although more than 1,500 Americans are dying from COVID-19 every day, the new data show COVID-19 patients comprising a smaller and smaller share of hospital admissions around the country, most drastically in the West and South regions hit hard by the disease through the holidays. “Overall, we are seeing the numbers of COVID patients in our hospitals at the lowest levels in more than a year,” said Bart Buxton, president and CEO of McLaren Health Management Group in Michigan, in an email.
News can use — “Looking for a COVID-19 vaccine? This website may text you when a vaccine is about to go unused” via Ryan W. Miller of USA Today — A new standby list for COVID-19 vaccines is rolling out across the country to connect people with doses that would otherwise go to waste. More than half a million people have already signed up on Dr. B, which texts users based on their eligibility status when there are extra doses nearby in jeopardy of going unused. Cyrus Massoumi, the website’s founder, said Dr. B serves as a “way of helping people help people.” So far, Dr. B is helping people get vaccines through two providers in Arkansas and New York, but it will have 200 vaccination sites across 30 states using the tool in the coming weeks, said Massoumi.
“At least 37 states have expanded vaccine eligibility to include certain health conditions. A new battle has emerged over who will go first.” via Amy Harmon and Danielle Ivory of The New York Times — With demand still outstripping the nation’s vaccine supply, a new skirmish has emerged over which health problems to prioritize. States, which are not bound by the C.D.C.’s recommendations, have set widely varying rules amid a dearth of definitive evidence about how dozens of medical conditions may affect the severity of COVID-19. The confusing morass of rules has set off a free-for-all among people who may be among the most vulnerable to the virus as they seek to persuade health and political officials to add health conditions to an ever-evolving vaccine priority list.
“People are getting vaccinated due to their BMI. They have mixed feelings about it.” via Maura Jukis of The Washington Post — As states move into broader phases of vaccine distribution, some have expanded their eligibility pool to include people suffering from various illnesses as well as those who smoke, or who are considered to be obese according to BMI. At least 29 states have named obesity an eligible condition. When it comes to COVID-19, some doctors have seen a link between high BMI and more severe cases that require hospitalization. Mozaffarian’s latest research indicates that 30 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations were attributable to obesity. In the early days of the pandemic, when rationing equipment was a concern, obesity was among the factors that could determine whether a patient received a ventilator in some states.
“After year of isolation, vaccinated older Americans start to reclaim their lives” via Joseph Ax of Reuters — Across the United States, COVID-19 vaccinations are changing seniors’ daily lives in ways large and small a year after the pandemic drove many in the high-risk group into forced isolation. Older Americans are again visiting family members, eating at their favorite restaurants and shopping in stores without fear of death or hospitalization. The emergence of new, potentially more virulent variants of the coronavirus is causing some inoculated seniors to return to their routines with caution. And the weight of so many deaths among their peers, plus the psychological burden that accompanied months of quarantine, will not dissipate overnight.
Define circulating widely — “Variant’s spread in Florida shows threat to U.S. COVID-19 recovery” via Jonathan Levin of Bloomberg — A highly infectious COVID-19 variant is circulating widely in Florida, prompting concern that a resurgence of the virus is possible in the state and beyond, even as cases and hospitalizations drop dramatically. In Florida, as elsewhere in the U.S., COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have dropped significantly from recent highs, helped by progress in the vaccination campaign. But conditions aren’t improving quite as quickly in the Sunshine State, at least in certain key categories. The per capita rate of COVID-19 patients currently in Florida hospitals is now about 25% above the national average. And new patients are arriving at its hospital emergency departments at slightly higher rates than the rest of the country.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“Poll finds many in U.S. still face COVID-19 financial loss” via The Associated Press — Roughly four in 10 Americans say they’re still feeling the financial impact of the loss of a job or income within their household as the economic recovery remains uneven one year into the coronavirus pandemic. A new poll provides further evidence that the pandemic has been devastating for some Americans, while leaving others virtually unscathed or even in better shape, at least when it comes to their finances. The outcome often depended on the type of job a person had and their income level before the pandemic. The pandemic has particularly hurt Black and Latino households and younger Americans, some of whom are now going through the second major economic crisis of their adult lives.
“Vaccine rollout, U.S. stimulus boost global economic outlook” via Leigh Thomas of Reuters — The global economic outlook has brightened as COVID-19 vaccine rollouts speed up in some countries and the United States launches a vast new stimulus package, the OECD said on Tuesday, hiking its forecasts. The world economy is set to rebound this year with 5.6% growth and expand 4.0% next year, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in its interim economic outlook. That marked a sharp increase from its last outlook in early December, when the Paris-based policy forum forecast global growth of 4.2% this year and 3.7% next year. But significant risks loom over the improved outlook, notably in the form of how fast authorities get vaccine shots to people.
“Airlines, public transit agencies say $1.9 trillion relief plan would prevent deep cuts, job losses” via Lori Aratani of The Washington Post — 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 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.
— MORE CORONA —
“A viral tsunami: How the underestimated coronavirus took over the world” via Joel Achenbach, Ariana Eunjung Cha and Frances Stead Sellers of The Washington Post — The failings of the pandemic response at the highest levels of government have been extensively documented. But the white-coat experts also struggled, particularly early in the crisis, to understand this stealthy pathogen. Even the scientists and infectious-disease doctors who were primed to think about the possibility of a pandemic tended to underestimate SARS-CoV-2. Chinese news reports said the illness was caused by a coronavirus. That was the same type of virus that caused SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, which flared in China in 2003 and killed nearly 800 people worldwide before the outbreak was contained.
“Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine neutralizes Brazil variant in lab study as experts warn of rapid spread” via Erin Cunningham of The Washington Post — The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine appears to be highly effective against a more contagious variant first discovered in Brazil, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, raising hopes that ongoing vaccination efforts will help curb its spread. Scientists with vaccine manufacturers and researchers conducted the study. It comes as public-health experts warn that the more transmissible variants could drive yet another surge in COVID-19 cases, particularly as restrictions are lifted across the United States. As health officials rush to get ahead of the virus variants, Congress is on track to pass pandemic relief legislation after months of debate.
“Late-Stage pandemic is messing with your brain” via Ellen Cushing of The Atlantic — I first became aware that I was losing my mind in late December. It was a Friday night, the start of my 40-somethingth pandemic weekend: Hours and hours with no work to distract me, and outside temperatures prohibitive of anything other than staying in. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to fill the time. “What did I used to … do on weekends?” I asked my boyfriend, like a soap-opera amnesiac. He couldn’t really remember either. Everywhere I turn, the fog of forgetting has crept in.
“Airlines ask White House to develop standardized COVID-19 travel ‘passports’” via The Associated Press — Leading airline and business groups are asking the Biden administration to develop temporary credentials that would let travelers show they have been tested and vaccinated for COVID-19, a step that the airline industry believes will help revive travel. Various groups and countries are working on developing so-called vaccine passports aimed at allowing more travel. Airlines fear that a smattering of regional credentials will cause confusion, and none will be widely accepted. “It is crucial to establish uniform guidance” and “the U.S. must be a leader in this development,” more than two dozen groups said in a letter to White House coronavirus-response coordinator Jeff Zients.
“Major cruise lines delay sailing again” via Ron Hurtisbise of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Several major cruise lines have again extended suspensions of operations as the industry continues to await federal guidance on when cruising can resume from U.S. ports. Royal Caribbean Group announced it canceled sailings scheduled in May on three lines. Sailings aboard Azamara, a luxury line that Royal Caribbean recently sold to a private equity firm, have been suspended through June 30. Excluded from the extension are four Royal Caribbean International ships and their scheduled sailings from China, Singapore and Israel.
“Museums launch COVID-19 exhibits: Virus-shaped piñatas, ‘happy hour’ masks” via Scott Calvert of The Wall Street Journal — In South Florida, the pandemic is already history. On display at HistoryMiami Museum in downtown Miami are a first grader’s virtual homework log with Zoom links; a high school mortarboard marked “I survived Quarantine and Graduation”; and a black Grim Reaper suit a lawyer wore to beaches last year to warn visitors about the deadly virus. Recently, the museum added two empty Pfizer vaccine vials. The artifacts memorialize ways the coronavirus pandemic upended American life, a disruption still in progress. Florida is among 10 states with the highest rates of new COVID-19 infections, and officials worry about a new spring break surge. While many people might prefer to forget all that, the HistoryMiami display of COVID-19-related objects draws a stream of visitors in masks and spaced 6 feet apart.
— PRESIDENTIAL —
“‘We need the government’: Joe 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 federal deficit’s impact. 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, 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.
“With congressional approval imminent, Biden prepares to send checks, but big stimulus challenges loom” via Tony Romm, Jeff Stein and Rachel Siegel of The Washington Post — Congress is set to give the final green light to a $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package Wednesday, setting in motion another gargantuan political lift: a Washington-wide effort to administer one of the largest economic relief packages in U.S. history. Over the coming weeks, the Biden administration must send another round of one-time checks to millions of families, rethink vast portions of the U.S. tax code, and dole out much-needed sums to help cash-strapped Americans, seeking to swiftly blunt an economic crisis that has left millions without jobs and falling further behind financially.
“Biden’s outside game to sell COVID-19 law” via Jonathan Swan of Axios — Biden‘s inner circle has spent a ton of time thinking about how to sell his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan around the country, long after he signs it into law this week. Total opposition from elected Republicans in Washington renders public popularity and bipartisanship across the U.S. vital to maintaining support for the President’s agenda. Team Biden is planning a large and long-running sales campaign, including local media outreach and the cultivation of coalition media campaigns. Cabinet officials will join White House aides in publicly selling the package’s impact — on schools, vaccine distribution and food supply for poor families.
“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 Biden’s attempt to create a more humane approach to those seeking entry into the country. According to federal immigration agency documents, the number of migrant children in custody along the border has tripled in the past two weeks to more than 3,250, and many of them are being held in jail-like facilities for longer than the three days allowed by law.
“Biden administration ditches Donald Trump plan to limit immigration for those financially dependent on government” via Pete Williams of NBC News — The Biden administration notified the Supreme Court on Tuesday that it will no longer defend a government policy seeking to impose new limits on the admission of immigrants considered likely to become overly dependent on government benefits. The Department of Homeland Security announced in 2019 that it would expand the definition of “public charge” to be applied to people who could be denied immigration because of a concern that they would primarily depend on the government for their income. In the past, the designation was largely based on assessing that an immigrant would be dependent upon cash benefits.
“Biden’s Justice Dept. already has split from Trump. Merrick Garland will go even further.” via Matt Zapotosky of The Washington Post — For nearly two months, the Justice Department has quietly rolled back several Trump-era policies and shifted position in civil cases, moves that officials see as relatively noncontroversial returns to previous ways of doing business. Now, with federal appeals court judge Garland set to take over as attorney general, the thornier work begins. Garland, analysts say, will have to improve morale and restore the traditional barriers between his agency and the White House on criminal matters, while shepherding the department’s leftward policy shift that seemed to begin immediately after Biden took office.
“12 Republican state attorneys general sue Biden over climate change order” via Joey Garrison and Ledyard King of USA Today — Twelve states with Republican Attorneys General Monday sued Biden over his first executive order aimed at climate change, alleging he lacked the constitutional authority to implement new rules about greenhouse gases. The federal lawsuit, led by Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt of Missouri, argues Biden violated the separation of powers clause in the Constitution because Congress, not the President, has the power to regulate. On his first day in the White House, Biden signed Executive Order 13990, directing federal agencies to calculate the “social cost” of greenhouse gas pollution by estimating “monetized damages” to inform future federal regulations.
“Biden dog Major in doghouse after injuring security agent” via Darlene Superville of The Associated Press — Biden has Major trouble. Family dogs Major and Champ have been banished from the White House for a doggy time out in Delaware after Major caused a “minor injury” to a Secret Service agent. White House press secretary Jen Psaki explained the canine caper Tuesday by saying the dogs “are still getting acclimated and accustomed to their new surroundings and new people.” “On Monday, the first family’s younger dog Major was surprised by an unfamiliar person and reacted in a way that resulted in a minor injury to the individual, which was handled by the White House medical unit, with no further treatment needed,” Psaki said.
— EPILOGUE: TRUMP —
“Trump makes cash grab in bid to dominate GOP” via Alex Isenstadt of POLITICO — Trump is tightening his grip on the Republican Party in the most painful way possible; he’s threatening to starve the GOP of funding. Just in the past few weeks, Trump declared at the Conservative Political Action Conference that the “only” way to give to Trump-aligned candidates was through Save America, his leadership political action committee. He has criticized the party for how it spends donor money, and his attorneys have sent cease-and-desist letters to GOP committees demanding they stop using his name in fundraising appeals. The offensive underscores Trump’s determination to maintain his hold over the GOP, even out of the White House. By urging givers to route his money through his political vehicle, the former President is attempting to monopolize the Republican Party donor base.
“NYC prosecutors’ probe into Trump finances expands to include millions loaned for Chicago skyscraper” via Kara Scannell of CNN — The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office subpoenaed documents from an investment company that loaned the Trump Organization millions of dollars for its Chicago skyscraper in a sign that the investigation into the former President’s finances continues to expand, according to people familiar with the investigation. Prosecutors issued the grand jury subpoena to Fortress Investment Management late last year, the people said, as part of their wide-ranging investigation into Trump and his company. Investigators’ interest in how Trump and his company treated the Chicago loan is an expansion of an inquiry that encompasses multiple aspects of the Trump business.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Tech’s legal shield appears likely to survive as Congress focuses on details” via David McCabe of The New York Times — Trump called multiple times for repealing the law that shields tech companies from legal responsibility for what people post. 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 content rather than making wholesale changes to the law or eliminating it.
—“Rick Scott asks Boris Johnson to join push to move China Olympics” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics
“Britney Spears’ plight triggers GOP review of conservatorships” via Catherine Larkin and Billy House of Bloomberg — Spears is stuck in the heads of some Republican lawmakers. The pop singer is perhaps the most striking example of someone whose civil rights are being deprived through a court-ordered conservatorship, according to Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Matt Gaetz. The two lawmakers are urging the House Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing to review whether Americans are trapped unfairly in these types of arrangements. The American Civil Liberties Union says that conservatorships should be viewed with skepticism and used as a last resort.
—“Matt Gaetz joins ‘Free Britney’ campaign with push to look at conservatorships” via Jackie Borchardt of The Pensacola News Journal
“Polk County woman is latest accused in U.S. Capitol riot” via Dan Sullivan of The Tampa Bay Times — A Polk County woman is the latest person to be charged in federal court with crimes related to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. According to federal court records, Corinne Lee Montoni was arrested Tuesday morning based on a criminal complaint that accuses her of tampering or destruction of records and documents, entering a restricted building and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. The complaint was still sealed Tuesday afternoon. The circumstances of the alleged crime were not immediately clear. Montoni, 31, of Lakeland, appeared Tuesday afternoon in a Tampa federal courtroom. Standing in a jury box, she wore a long-sleeved black shirt, sneakers and handcuffs.
— LOCAL ELECTIONS —
Tracy Caruso fell just short in her bid for Delray Beach Mayor Tuesday, losing out to incumbent Shelly Petrolia by around 2 percentage points.
Caruso is a first-time candidate whose husband, Mike, is a Republican serving in the House. She and Petrolia sniped back-and-forth throughout the contest, But Petrolia narrowly earned the majority to continue leading the city for a fourth term.
Two Commission seats were also up for grabs. Commissioner Adam Frankel defeated journalist Price Patton in the Seat 1 race. Commissioner Ryan Boylston again beat former Commissioner Mitch Katz in a rematch for Seat 3.
While incumbents were safe in Delray Beach, the opposite was true in Lake Worth Beach. Mayor Pam Triolo lost out in a four-way contest, as former city attorney Betty Resch cleared the majority required to avoid a runoff.
Two incumbent Commissioners also went down. Sarah Malega beat Commissioner Scott Maxwell in District 1, while Kimberly Stokes topped Commissioner Andy Amoroso in District 3.
The District 2 race, which sought a replacement for now-state Rep. Omari Hardy, is heading to a runoff between scientist Christopher McVoy and Carla Blockson, Hardy’s temporary replacement.
In West Palm Beach, Shalonda Warren won the District 2 race to replace outgoing Commissioner Corey Neering. Warren earned 55% of the vote against Deandre Poole. In District 4, Commissioner Joe Peduzzi easily fended off a challenge from first-time candidate Jonathan Jones.
Voters also stuck with what they knew in Boca Raton and Miramar. In Boca, Yvette Drucker and Monica Mayotte return to the Boca Raton City Council following Tuesday’s results. In Miramar, Vice Mayor Maxwell Chambers and Commissioners Winston Barnes and Yvette Colbourne won reelection handily.
“Lake Worth Beach election: 3-term mayor, two longtime city commissioners voted out” via Jorge Milian of The Palm Beach Post — Tuesday was not a good day for incumbents on the Lake Worth Beach city commission. Mayor Pam Triolo and commissioners Andy Amoroso and Scott Maxwell were tossed out of office by overwhelming margins after a campaign in which they repeatedly referred to their opponents as anarchists and “radical obstructionists.” Carla Blockson, appointed to the District 2 seat in December, finished second in her race against challenger Christopher McVoy, and they will face each other in a runoff on March 23.
“Voters overwhelmingly use mail ballots in Palm Beach County municipal races” via Wells Dusenbury of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Election Day in Palm Beach County went fairly smooth during its Tuesday’s municipal races, thanks in part to voters overwhelmingly choosing to mail in their ballots. Following significant vote-by-mail numbers in November’s election, nearly 70% of voters mailed in their ballots, skipping the potential lines and hurdles of in-person voting. On Tuesday, voters cast their ballots in various municipal elections in Palm Beach County, mostly centering on races for mayor and city commission seats. Nineteen of the county’s 39 municipalities held elections on Tuesday, including Boca Raton, Delray Beach, West Palm Beach and Palm Beach Gardens. Polls closed at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
Ruth’s List celebrates PBC wins — Ruth’s List Florida backed two candidates running for office in Palm Beach County and both came out on top Tuesday. Voters gave appointed Boca Raton City Councilmember Yvette Drucker a full term in the Seat C race while Sarah Malega flipped the District 1 seat on the Lake Worth Beach City Commission. “We are thrilled to see our endorsed candidates win these early races in the 2021-2022 cycle. It’s a sign of what’s to come,” Ruth’s List Florida CEO Lucy Sedgwicksaid. “As more women are stepping up to run for office than ever before, we are changing the dynamic in Florida politics. More women in leadership positions means we’re moving our state forward and improving the lives of all Floridians.”
“Phil Anderson elected Mayor in Winter Park” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — In a contest that at least temporarily drove a wedge between Winter Park City Hall and the Chamber of Commerce, former City Commissioner Phil Anderson was elected Mayor Tuesday, defeating another former City Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel. Tuesday, Anderson drew 53% of the vote, while Sprinkel got 47% in unofficial returns with all precincts reporting. Anderson’s victory comes despite a harsh standoff last month that emerged during a mayoral debate hosted by the Winter Park Chamber. After Anderson objected to the wording of a question that implied corruption by current City Commission members, he angrily confronted the Chamber’s President Betsy Gardner Eckbert. He later apologized for what looked like bullying to some observers.
“Two incumbents and newcomer Travis Smith win Fort Walton Beach Council seats” via Tom McLaughlin of Northwest Florida Daily News — Incumbent David Schmidt and newcomer Travis Smith were the big vote getters Tuesday night in a City Council election that might have served as a rebuke of the status quo at City Hall. Nic Allegretto, the second incumbent in a race that drew 12 contenders, finished third in the balloting behind Schmidt and Smith to retain his seat on the Fort Walton Beach City Council. Schmidt secured 1,194 votes and Smith 1,020 from among the 7,834 city residents whose votes had been counted as of press time Tuesday. Each voter was given the opportunity to vote for three candidates. Allegretto’s 867 votes gave him a healthy margin of victory over fourth-place finisher Debra Riley, who captured 784 votes.
“Alice White wins special election for North Port City Commission District 1 seat” via Earle Kimel of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — White earned about 60% of the vote Tuesday night to easily win the special election in a three-way race for the North Port City Commission District 1 seat. Joseph Garren received 30% of the vote and Walt Grzenikowski about 10%. White first contemplated a run for public office after retiring in 2018 and embarked on an unsuccessful bid for the Sarasota County Commission in November. The special election fills the seat won by David Iannotti in November. He resigned in December for health reasons.
“Safety Harbor pro-preservation candidates prevail in two of three races” via Kathryn Varn of the Tampa Bay Times —In the contentious race for commission seat 3, Andy Steingold soundly defeated opponent Scott Long with 58% of the vote. Incumbent Safety Harbor City Commissioner Nancy Besore secured 44% of the vote to keep her spot in the three-way race for seat 1. Both Besore and Steingold had support from a contingent of the coastal city that prioritizes its small-town charm over modern-day development. But in commission seat 2, incumbent Cliff Merz defeated challenger Liz Lindsay, who had the support of the city’s preservationists.
—“Tyler Payne ousts Mark Luna as Treasure Island Mayor” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics
—”Did Christine Brown’s husband’s racial slur diminish her election victory compared to four years ago?” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics
—”Coleen Chaney, Thomas Nessler snag Belleair Commission seats” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics
—“Incumbents Glenn Gunn, Jody Shirley hang on to Belleair Beach Council seats, Frank Bankard elected” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics
—”Incumbent Jack Nazario ousted by six votes, Suzy Sofer and Stephen McNally elected to Belleair Bluffs Commission” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics
—”David Will swipes Redington Beach mayoral seat; newcomers oust incumbent for Commission seat” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics
— MORE LOCAL —
“Jacksonville considers gas tax increase for $930 million in transportation projects” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority have been meeting with City Council members about a possible increase and extension of the local gas tax that would pay for a $930 million list of transportation projects. Curry said Tuesday the city has been able to pull together bigger capital improvement project budgets in recent years, but “we still have a long way to go and a lot to catch up on, and a lot to invest.” The city now has a 6-cent local gas tax in Duval County and can go as high as 12 cents under state law. Thirty-one of Florida’s 67 counties use the maximum 12-cent rate.
“Social media account accuses Miami schools superintendent of infidelity” via Colleen Wright of The Miami Herald — Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s shirtless, intimate selfies have been posted to an Instagram account accusing him of cheating on his wife. The account named “I have a lover” with the handle @superintendentofmiami had 14 public posts, and 55 people were following it before the account was locked down about 10 p.m. Monday, not long after the unidentified owner of the account was contacted by a Miami Herald reporter. Through a school district spokeswoman, Carvalho gave this statement Tuesday: “I am both disturbed and saddened to learn about the existence of a fake social media account, portraying illegitimately obtained images of me, that advances commentary of a personal nature meant to presumably damage character and hurt those around me.”
“Orange hotel tax dropped in January as ‘historic’ lows continued, but officials see hope ahead” via Ryan Gillespie of The Orlando Sentinel — Orange County’s tax on hotel room nights and short-term rental stays fell month-over-month in January for the first time since last April, when the region’s tourism economy collapsed in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The tax, a 6% levy, raked in $7,678,100 in January, a 70% decrease over the same month last year. The fall from December was expected given that the NFL’s Pro Bowl wasn’t played here this year as it was in 2020, the Citrus Bowl limited its capacity and December is historically a big month at the theme parks, due to holiday festivities.
“Top law official describes ‘extremely lax’ security at hacked water plant” via Stephanie Matat of Fresh Take Florida — A top Florida law enforcement official told Gov. DeSantis and other state leaders that “extremely lax” security at a municipal water plant northwest of Tampa allowed hackers to break into its computers to try to poison residents earlier this year. The head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Rick Swearingen, provided the unexpected update on the mysterious sabotage effort during a Cabinet meeting in Tallahassee. The criminal investigation continues in the case. No one was hurt.
“Bay County commissioner Tommy Hamm sues Netflix over docuseries ‘ Immigration Nation’” via Tony Mixon of the Panama City News Herald — Hamm filed a lawsuit March 4 against Netflix and those involved with a documentary series on immigration that accuses him and his company, Winterfell Construction, of wage theft. The 101-page lawsuit lists numerous items, including emotional distress and defamation. Hamm said back in August, when the public caught wind of the series, that he would take legal action against Netflix and those involved with the documentary. The group Resilience Force, which accused Hamm of wage theft, was listed in the lawsuit along with Netflix.
“Wentworth family organizing way to ‘make this right’ after founder’s KKK ties revealed” via Jim Little of The Pensacola News Journal — The Wentworth family and foundation are organizing an effort to address the historical sins committed by their patriarch T.T. Wentworth Jr. after it was revealed last year that Wentworth was a leader in the local Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s. Sharon Yancey, the last president of the Wentworth Foundation, said the family is in the early stages of organizing a series of public events to lament and heal as a community over the wrongs committed by Wentworth, followed by a restoration effort to try to correct those wrongs. Much of what will be planned during the next year, Yancey said, will largely depend on research done by Jamin Wells, a University of West Florida history professor.
“A massive Palm Beach estate has sold for $94 million” via Katherine Clarke of The Wall Street Journal — A sprawling oceanfront Florida compound has sold for roughly $94 million, about six years after it first came on the market, according to the multiple listings service and a person familiar with the deal. The property, owned by the Ziff family, was first listed for just under $200 million in 2015, but was more recently listed for $115 million. The roughly 15-acre property, known as “Gemini,” spans the width of a barrier island in Manalapan, just south of Palm Beach, and has about 1,200 feet of frontage on the Atlantic Ocean and about 1,300 feet on the Intracoastal Waterway. The coral stone-clad main house, which dates to the 1940s but was more recently reconstructed, is 62,200 square feet, making it one of the largest in the area. It has 33 bedrooms and 38 full bathrooms, according to the listing.
— TOP OPINION —
“Is DeSantis trading COVID-19 vaccinations for votes? Someone should investigate” via The Miami Herald editorial board — It’s time for Florida’s inspector general to assert her independence. DeSantis seems to have realized that COVID-19 vaccines are a gold mine ahead of his 2022 yet-to-be-announced reelection campaign, and he should held accountable with a thorough investigation. What was once a hunch that the Governor has given preferential treatment to donor-rich, wealthy enclaves in the Florida Keys and near Bradenton has become more of a certainty. On Tuesday, text messages obtained by the Bradenton Herald show the organizers of a vaccine “pop-up” clinic in Manatee County were strategic about using the event to help DeSantis’ reelection with one county commissioner texting, “After all, 22 is right around the corner.”
— OPINIONS —
“Was it really a lack of resources that led to the failures of Jan. 6?” via The Washington Post editorial board — A review of security at the U.S. Capitol commissioned by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 incursion concluded that the Capitol Police force is “understaffed, insufficiently equipped and inadequately trained.” It recommended an increase in staff of more than 850 officers and other major investments. One would not know from reading the report that the agency is already one of the largest and best-funded police departments in the country. With a budget of more than $460 million and 2,300 employees, it is roughly equivalent to the police forces of cities such as Atlanta. It is charged with guarding two square miles.
“Vaccine hesitancy is not the problem among people of color. It’s vaccine access.” via Karen Bass, Marc Morial and Cheryl Grills of The Washington Post — When the pandemic first exploded last year, it was common to hear that COVID-19 would be a “great equalizer.” After all, no one had ever been exposed to the disease before, so everyone was vulnerable. We were all in it together. Within weeks, it became clear that far from being an equalizer, COVID-19 instead preyed upon and exacerbated existing disparities in the United States, particularly along racial and ethnic lines, with Black people, Latinos, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders more than twice as likely as White people to die of the disease.
“DeSantis calls his agenda ‘election integrity.’ It’s voter suppression” via The Palm Beach Post editorial board — To hear Gov. DeSantis tell it, Florida “had the smoothest, most successful election of any state in the country.” Yet, if he has his way, Republicans in the Florida Legislature will pass new laws that will suppress the vote. In a playbook Republicans across the country are using after President Joe Biden’s decisive victory in November, DeSantis announced his support for new restrictions on voting by mail and on ballot drop boxes, needed, he claims, to clean up election nightmares that have plagued the state’s reputation since the neck-and-neck George Bush vs. Al Gore fight in 2000.
“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 of 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 broadband access, over 750,000 Floridians do not have any access, or it is insufficient to meet today’s technological needs.
“Florida parents should decide who sees their kids’ school records” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — Let’s start with a common-sense premise: Parents should have some control over who gets to see their kids’ school grades, attendance records, and other education-related information. School districts shouldn’t turn over that information to just anyone. And that includes law enforcement agencies who want to mine the data for children they think could “fall into a life of crime.” Which is why Sen. Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, is on the right track with legislation that would require written consent from parents before releasing grades to law enforcement. The move comes four months after the Tampa Bay Times revealed that the Pasco County school district shares sensitive student data, including grades and discipline histories with the Pasco Sheriff’s Office.
“Should obese Floridians have priority for COVID-19 vaccinations?” via Frank Cerabino of The Palm Beach Post — Obesity leads to impaired immune functions, which means that when obese people contract COVID-19, they are three times more likely to require hospitalization for the disease, according to the U.S. CDC. That’s why they are moved up in the line for vaccinations. Here’s another way of thinking about it: Instead of a viral pandemic, think of the situation we’re in as a beach hit by a giant wave, a tsunami. Suddenly, we’re all swept far out to sea, treading water, waiting to be rescued.
“A tourism pro on COVID-19 jolting the industry, and making it adapt” via Dennis Speigel of The Orlando Sentinel — One year ago, the tourism, leisure and travel industry felt a blow to business unlike anything ever before experienced. The shock, the jolt and the blast that coronavirus dealt to Central Florida’s tourism industry was the economic equivalent of a nuclear weapon. Airlines, hotels, car rentals, restaurants, retail and every type of leisure attraction all were rocked, socked and knocked to their knees. Companies and operators were oblivious to the seriousness of the strange and unknown villain headed toward our tourism industry and the havoc it would inflict locally and globally. COVID-19 paralyzed the industry in every way.
— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —
Also, on today’s Sunrise:
— The state reported 132 more COVID-19 fatalities Tuesday, as our death toll hits 32,481.
— A House committee approves a bill to slap limits on the amount of THC in medical marijuana. The sponsor, Rep. Roach, wants to stop people from using medicinal weed for recreational purposes.
— Critics of the bill claim Roach is trying to gut Florida’s medical marijuana program.
— A House committee votes today on a bill that combines God and Guns — the ultimate Florida combo. Patti Brigham with the League of Women Voters says House Bill 259 and its Senate companion (SB 498) are bad news. The Senate advanced the bill through the Criminal Justice Committee.
— A new analysis of the 2020 election shows there were a lot fewer problems with vote-by-mail than anyone expected; three-quarters of mail ballots flagged for errors were fixed in time to be counted. Yet Republican lawmakers still intend to place all sorts of new restrictions on voting by mail, buying into Trump’s “fraud” narrative.
— Attorney General Moody is suing the White House over its immigration policy, saying changes imposed by the Biden administration will cost Florida millions of dollars.
And finally, a Florida Man was busted after police asked for his license, and he showed them a bag of cannabis gummies.
To listen, click on the image below:
— ALOE —
“Disney+ pulls iconic movies Dumbo, The Aristocats, and Peter Pan from kids section for ‘racist’ stereotypes” via Sarah Grealish of The U.S. Sun — Settings on the streaming site’s app will deter children from watching the once-loved, now controversial, titles. For Dumbo, they explained that “the crows and musical number pay homage to racist minstrel shows, where white performers with blackened faces and tattered clothing imitated and ridiculed enslaved Africans on Southern plantations. “The leader of the group in Dumbo is Jim Crow, which shares the name of laws that enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States.” And for Peter Pan, they stated that “the film portrays Native people in a stereotypical manner that reflects neither the diversity of Native peoples nor their authentic cultural traditions.
“Disney World tickets selling out ahead of Spring Break; Hollywood Studios booked through April” via Emily McCain of ABC Action News — Disney World is selling out of tickets as Spring Break gets closer, with almost an entire week completely unavailable. The parks are operating on a reservation basis as a COVID-19 precaution, and the online calendar shows no parks available for theme park guests and Disney resort guests from March 13-19. The remainder of the month only has partial availability, with Hollywood Studios unavailable until April 11. Annual Passholders have a little more wiggle room, with Epcot reservations available on March 18 and 19. Passholders can also make reservations at Hollywood Studios starting March 22 and on, at this time.
“Ssssssuch a good dog! 2 canines used to hunt invasive pythons in Florida Everglades” via Max Chesnes of TC Palm — Truman, a black Labrador, and Eleanor, a speckled point setter, are 2 years old, weigh between 40 and 50 pounds and have a very specific task: Track down snakes lurking in the South Florida swamp and alert people to their discovery. The dogs venture out across South Florida’s public lands five days a week with a handler and a state biologist to search for the invasive snakes. “When we find a python, it’s euphoria,” said Paula Ziadi, the handler who lives with and trains both dogs. Trainers use python-scented towels to familiarize the dogs with the invasive reptile’s scent. Over a month of training, including using live pythons with embedded trackers, taught the duo to ignore visual “distractions,” like other animals.
“Toy pirate ship makes journey from Scotland to Miami” via Claudia DoCampo of NBC 6 South Florida — South Florida resident Ellie Alvarez and her father Ulises tracked down a toy pirate ship Thursday that had been launched by a pair of brothers in Scotland. The brothers, Ollie and Harry Ferguson, began the project in 2017 when they released their toy pirate ship named Adventure carrying messages in a bottle. It sailed from Scotland to Scandinavia to Barbados but was then lost at sea. The Ferguson brothers later launched Adventure 2, which has so far navigated from the North Sea to Florida. The toy is outfitted with a GPS device that allows the duo to keep tabs on the ship’s whereabouts. They share its location on social media so that other kids around the world can keep up.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Celebrating today are Sen. Doug Broxson, friend and lobbyist Shawn Foster, Patrick (Booter) Imhof, and POLITICO Florida’s Arek Sarkissian.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.