Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 3.15.21

Sunburn Orange Tally (7)
Here's your AM rundown of people, politics and policy in the Sunshine State.

Imagine you’re in the Super Bowl, and you break free after recovering a fumble for an easy touchdown run. You’re inches from the goal line and start celebrating a bit too early when a speedy wide receiver slaps the ball from your hand, causing another fumble and denying what should have been an easy score.

You know, like Leon Lett in the Super Bowl XXVII in the still famous play where Don Beebe became the hero despite his team ultimately taking a walloping.

There’s an analogy in here for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ continued COVID-19 response. Despite some early fumbles, Florida has fared comparatively well and, despite all of the partisan hating against him, he’s been right plenty of times.

But we now see him really letting loose, grabbing a cold beer in Daytona for Bike Week, for example, and talking about how he won’t let President Joe Biden lockdown Florida.

Grabbing a cold beer with thousands of your closest friends could allow COVID-19 to make one last stand. Image via Christian Ziegler/Twitter.

We don’t want Florida to be locked down again either, but that doesn’t mean the pandemic isn’t still gaining on us.

A 4th of July barbecue sounds marvelous, but unless more Floridians get vaccinated (and quick), they might just not happen. The Governor’s messaging on such things might stem from optimism and genuine hope that Floridians can begin a return to normalcy, but the reality is, even if the goal line is close, we’re still not past it, and celebrating now could give a COVID-19 a chance at a final play.

Take Europe, for example, where some alarming trends are emerging. The reassuring dip in new cases in January gave way to a new spike. Italy is headed back into lockdown mode as a result. And we know that in Europe, the COVID-19 crisis has always been just a few weeks ahead of us.

Our own people are already throwing up warning signals. Speaking on The Takeout with CBS News’ Major Garrett last week, Dr. Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist and member of Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board, pointed to the rise in the B.1.1.7 strain surging in Florida. The strain, which originated in the U.K., is highly transmittable, and some of the vaccines being administered in the U.S. might not be as effective in blocking it, though the vaccine is said to be effective in keeping the seriousness of the illness at bay.

We love living in the “Free State of Florida,” as DeSantis loves to call it, but we don’t want to be, but we don’t want to be those people who were just about to get a vaccine but got COVID-19 instead.

The message here is clear: take the precautions you need to take, even if that means ignoring mixed messages from a Governor whose interest is clearly just as much on 2024 as it is on the immediacy of this pandemic.

One more serious note:

📰Must read on how exceptionalism ignores the basics: The Washington Post on Saturday published an interactive feature exploring how Americans, and other countries, have achieved feats worthy of marvel, even while some struggle to access the most basic needs in their daily lives. The piece kicks off with a nod to Mars exploration but pivots immediately to Texas, where a 38-year-old man is still doing dishes and cooking with bottled water after a rare Arctic blast swept through the state, knocking out power grids and wreaking havoc on the Lonestar State.

Now, a mazel tov to one of the best people in The Process and his family:


@VP: — Every adult will be eligible to get a vaccine by May 1 — More than 95 million shots have been administered — 33 million Americans are fully vaccinated — 1 in 4 adults have at least 1 shot We’re making progress to get every American vaccinated.

@RepHastingsFL: It has been a year since we lost Breonna Taylor to police violence. That’s why my fellow colleagues & I passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, to end police brutality & racial profiling, increase transparency & ensure police are held accountable. We need change NOW!

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

@StuartPStevens: While standing in line to get vaccinated, I was thinking about the 8 million ads I’d made about how government involvement in medicine was socialized hell. Maybe, just maybe, it was all a lie.

@Mike_Grieco: Wait, what? … I thought the blue states needed bailing out: Florida’s deficit is expected to reach $5.4 billion in the next two years. New York projected a $2.7 billion surplus.

Tweet. tweet:

@SenAudrey2eet: Humbling & heartwarming to witness caregivers bringing their seniors to get vaxed some lifted out/in the car. Reminded some to take care of themselves, got group pics, my staff in action, thx FEMA safety ofcr, all FEMA, FDEM, Navy, Guard, nurses, CNAs, media for getting word out.

Tweet, tweet:


Zack Snyder’s ‘Justice League’ premieres on HBO Max — 3; ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ premieres — 11; 2021 Florida Virtual Hemp Conference — 11; 2021 Florida Derby — 12; Disneyland, other California theme parks begin to reopen — 17; MLB Opening Day — 17; RNC spring donor summit — 25; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 53; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 56; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 74; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 109; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 118; MLB All-Star Game in Atlanta — 120; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 130; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 138; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 162; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 193; ‘Dune’ premieres — 200; MLB regular season ends — 202; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 208; World Series Game 1 — 225; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 232; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 235; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 270; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 277; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 375; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 417; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 571.


Federal COVID-19 aid gives Florida lawmakers a chance to spend big” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — When Florida lawmakers kicked off the Session last week, they were concerned with how to close a $2 billion shortfall. Now they’re looking at a $10 billion windfall, thanks to the $1.9 trillion federal COVID-19 relief package signed by Biden on Thursday. The package includes $350 billion in aid to states and cities, and Florida’s share is already upending lawmakers’ approach to the budget. Legislative leaders had pointed to the projected shortfall as a reason to look at cutting spending for higher education and K-12 schools amid questions over how many students will be in classrooms next year. They are also considering canceling an expensive project to build three major highways. But the federal money allows the state some major breathing room and a chance to spend big.

Florida’s share of nearly $2 trillion in stimulus money gives lawmakers a chance to spend big.

5 ways lawmakers can fix Florida’s unemployment system — besides the dysfunctional CONNECT” via Lawrence Mower of the Miami Herald — During the last year, legislators’ offices were flooded with calls from desperate Floridians looking for help with their unemployment claims, leading to what is likely the greatest constituent outreach effort in the Legislature’s history. Many lawmakers vowed to fix the system when they returned to Tallahassee. Two weeks into the annual 60-day session, Democrats have proposed a variety of bills to fix unemployment, but none of them have received a hearing in the Republican-controlled Legislature. Some Republicans have vowed fixes to the system that go beyond paying up to $244 million to fix the state’s crippled online unemployment website, known as CONNECT.

Bright Futures scholarship reductions back on legislative agenda” via Evan Donovan of WFLA — After a bill to change the Bright Futures scholarship program was delayed due to public pressure, it is now back on the legislative agenda in Tallahassee. S.B. 86 has been rescheduled for Tuesday, March 16, in front of the Florida Senate’s Education Committee. The bill would reduce funding for Bright Futures scholars who completed college coursework in high school, as well as dictate which programs are eligible for Bright Futures scholarship funds. That doesn’t sit well with Julia Paul, who says her daughter attends the University of Florida on a Bright Futures scholarship after graduating from the International Baccalaureate program from Lake Wales High School.

State bills grapple with widening achievement gaps for K-8 students” via Ryan Dailey of The News Service of Florida — As the state’s standardized testing “season” looms for students, teachers and schools, proposals that would help accommodate for what is being called the “COVID-19 slide” are receiving bipartisan support in the Florida Senate. The proposals aim to grapple with widening achievement gaps and other educational setbacks caused by difficulties with virtual learning and school disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sen. Perry Thurston is sponsoring a proposal (SB 886) to prevent students’ test scores this year from counting against them when it comes to graduation or advancing to the next grade level.

— TALLY 2 —

Joe Gruters leading nationwide GOP push to change election laws” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — As Republican activists across the country work to enact new voting rules being touted by supporters as election integrity measures and slammed by critics as voter suppression, Gruters is square in the middle of the nationwide battle. Gruters attracted attention last week as the only lawmaker on the Florida Senate’s Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee to speak in favor of a controversial election bill that bans mail ballot drop boxes and changes the rules for mail ballot requests. The bill advanced, but Republican lawmakers on the committee weren’t jumping up to sing its praises.

Joe Gruters is the point man in the GOP push to reform voting laws. Image via Colin Hackley.

The official Florida voter suppression manual, vol. II” via Steve Bousquet of the Orlando Sentinel — Some things in Tallahassee never change. The face of voter suppression again belongs to the cherubic Sen. Dennis Baxley. He’s a Republican from Ocala who represents The Villages, so he may have the safest seat in the state, and looks like the hometown undertaker, which in fact, he was. He doesn’t look like the guy who would scheme to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, right after the most efficiently-run election in our history. But he holds in his hands Senate Bill 90, the death knell for voting by mail, which was so popular in Florida in 2020, especially for Democrats.

Vacation rental plan ‘clearly a work in progress’ in Legislature” via Dara Kam of The News Service of Florida — A controversial proposal dealing with vacation rentals underwent a major overhaul on Thursday, after the bill sponsor stripped out a provision that would have blocked local governments’ ability to license and inspect the properties. The fight about oversight of short-term rentals has escalated in the Legislature as the popularity of vacation properties advertised on platforms such as Airbnb has mushroomed. At the heart of the legislative wrangling is an effort to “preempt” regulation of short-term rental properties to the state, a move that draws vehement opposition from city and county officials because it would take away local authority.

Is someone trying to steal your DNA? Florida pushes to expand criminal penalties.” via Marc Freeman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — It could be a nosy neighbor questioning your ancestry. Perhaps it’s a lover who’s curious if you carry a gene for male-pattern baldness. Or a rich grandparent checking if you’re genetically related. All it takes to find out is a sample of DNA, or a person’s hereditary material, and some inexpensive testing. Experts warn that DNA thefts from a strand of hair or an item you touched are increasingly more likely, and you can become a victim without ever knowing it. Florida lawmakers, hearing concerns about this new risk of technological underhandedness and personal privacy breaches, are poised to make the unlawful use of DNA a more serious crime.

Lawmakers propose initial payment boost for families of birth-injured infants” via Florida Politics staff reports — Families with infants who suffered catastrophic birth-related injuries could soon receive a much larger initial payment from the Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association (NICA) if legislators pass a set of newly filed bills during the 2021 legislative session. The bills, SB 1786, by Zephyrhills Republican Sen. Danny Burgess, and HB 1165, by Rep. Traci Koster, a Tampa Republican, would more than double the initial cash award provided to parents or legal guardians of children accepted into the NICA program. The legislation would raise the amount from $100,000 to $250,000, increasing it annually to keep up with growing costs. The expected average benefits to each active NICA family is nearly $5 million over the child’s lifetime.

‘Broward Days’ virtually comes to life in quieter Capitol” via Steve Bousquet of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — For decades, Broward Days has been a yearly tradition in Tallahassee as hundreds of local leaders schlep to the state Capitol for a two-day goodwill blitz to remind politicians from Palatka and Pensacola what Broward’s about. A “full-court schmooze,” Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis once called it. The event is one of many that have retooled in the age of COVID-19. This year, Broward Day (singular) will be Monday, March 15, as it becomes an extended Zoom call, starting with greetings from Broward Mayor Steve Geller and county legislators starting at 11:30 a.m. It’s Week 3 of the nine-week legislative session.

Artwork by Florida middle schoolers on display for annual Art in the Capitol contest” via Tori Lynn Schneider of the Tallahassee Democrat — Student art from around the Sunshine State is being displayed in the Capitol as part of the 5th annual Art in the Capitol Competition. The statewide visual arts contest for students in grades 6-8, organized by the Department of Management Services, is available to view in a 360° virtual tour. The Capitol is currently closed to the public because of COVID-19. Art teachers judged submissions before the 22 winning pieces were transported to Tallahassee, labeled with the student’s names, schools, and legislative representatives.

Works of middle school artists are on display in The Capitol.


New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Miguel Abad, New Century Partnership: White Rock Quarries

Travis Blanton, Darrick McGhee, Johnson & Blanton: Central Florida Urban League, Santa Rosa County

Laura Boehmer, David Browning, Edgar Castro, Mary DeLoach, Nelson Diaz, Mercer Fearington, Michelle Grimsley, David Hagan, Justin Hollis, Nicole Kelly, Karis Lockhart, James McFaddin, Seth McKeel, Paul Mitchell, David Shepp, Clark Smith, The Southern Group: Apple

Matt Bryan, Jeff Hartley, Smith Bryan & Myers: TMX Finance of Florida

Ron Book: Ged Lawyers

Chris Carmody, Christopher Dawson, Katie Flury, Robert Stuart, GrayRobinson: Public Risk Management of Florida

Jose Diaz, Robert M. Levy & Associates: Gainesville Opportunity Center, Office & Professional Employees International Union

Nathaniel Erb: Innocence Project

Amanda Fraser, Colodny Fass: HCA Healthcare, Uber Technologies

Cynthia Henderson, Cynergy Consulting: Kingston Public Affairs

Christopher Holley, H2 Solutions: City of Pensacola, Gulf County

Gary Hunter, Hopping Green & Sams: HPS II Enterprises

Nick Iarossi, Ron LaFace, Dean Izzo, Ashley Kalifeh, Andrew Ketchel, Christopher Schoonover, Capital City Consulting: BeenVerified, Confi-Chek/, Lennar Homes,, PeopleConnect/Intelius, Spokeo, The Control Group/

Yolanda Cash Jackson, Becker & Poliakoff: TECO Energy

Kelsey Johnson, Erik Olson, Venn Credit Card: Rail Security Alliance

Jeremy Kudon, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe: BetMGM

Ashley Lyerly: American Lung Association

Michael Kesti, Government Relations Group: LS Tech-Homes

Maureen Mahoney: Consumer Reports

Matthew McDonald, Peebles Smith & Matthews: American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida, Florida Association of Counties, Florida Engineering Society

James Miller, People Who Think: Bay Park Conservancy

Richard Pinsky, Akerman: Driftwood Development Partners

Matthew Sacco, Rubin Turnbull & Associates: Broward County Sheriff’s Office

Rob Schenck, The Legis Group: Limonar Development, Wonderly Holdings

Ashlie Van Meter: Association for Accessible Medicines


Happening today — House Minority Co-leader Evan Jenne and Rep. Fentrice Driskell will hold an online news conference at 9:30 a.m. Zoom link here. It will also be livestreamed by The Florida Channel.

The House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee meets to consider PCB CFS 21-01 to make wide-ranging changes in the state’s child welfare system, including reports and investigations of child abuse, 1 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The House Environment, Agriculture and Flooding Subcommittee meets to consider a constitutional amendment HJR 1377, from Rep. Linda Chaney, to provide property-tax breaks to homeowners who make improvements to protect properties from flooding, 1 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

The House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider several bills from lawmakers seeking money for programs and projects, 1 p.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.

The House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider HB 279, from Rep. John Snyder, to increase penalties for criminals who cross county lines to commit grand theft, 1 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.

The Senate Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response receives an update from the Florida Department of Children and Families, the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Central Florida Behavioral Health Network, 1 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The Senate Special Order Calendar Group meets to set the special-order calendar, 3 p.m., Room 401, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee meets to consider SB 1948, from Sen. Aaron Bean, to make several changes at the Department of Economic Opportunity, including creating a cloud-based computer system for unemployment assistance, 3:30 p.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee meets to consider SB 1954, from Sen. Ray Rodrigues, to address sea-level rise and flooding, 3:30 p.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Judiciary Committee meets to consider SB 496, from Sen. Keith Perry, to update growth-management laws, including requiring local governments to include private property-rights addendums in comprehensive plans, 3:30 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The House Appropriations Committee meets to consider HB 7013, from Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, to crack down on technology companies, including barring social-media companies from blocking political candidates, 3:45 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.

Happening today — The Tampa Bay Climate Alliance hosts a virtual town-hall with Sens. Janet Cruz and Jeff Brandes, Reps. Susan Valdes and Andrew Learned, 6 p.m. Registration online here.


March Madness is upon us … TallyMadness 2021, that is!

Florida Politics’ annual bracket-filling competition to find the “best” lobbyist in Florida is well underway. Political aficionados in the capital (and beyond) can vote on a series of matchups pitting Florida’s top lobbyists against each other.

And just like last year, we’re mixing things up. For 2021, we want the big dance to be for the top in-house lobbyist in #FlaPol. For those unfamiliar, in-house lobbyists are those individuals who lobby on behalf of his or her employer, on the lines of John Holley of FP&L, Mark Kaplan at the University of Florida, or Stephanie Smith of Anthem. Contract lobbyists, such as Nick Iarossi, will sit out 2021.

That said, we are extending the call for nominations until 1 p.m. today (Monday). If you would like to nominate an in-house lobbyist or volunteer to serve on the selection committee, please email [email protected].

Submissions for TallyMadness 2021 are open until 1 p.m. today.

Voters will select each matchup winner, with first-round voting beginning this weekend and lasting through the Session’s final days.

We are also proud to unveil the first 16 names of TallyMadness 2021:

Adam Babington

Adam Basford

Carol Bowen

Jake Farmer 

Chris Flack

Andy Gonzalez

Sonya Deen Hartley

John Holley

Mark Kaplan

Tim Nungesser

Janet Owen

Toby Philpot

Casey Reed

Jonathan Rees

Stephanie Smith

Justin Thames

Let the Madness begin!


Appointed John Rood, Adria Starkey and Slater Bayliss to the Florida Prepaid College Board; John Evans to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority; Mario Facella, Holly Raschein and Ronald Lieberman to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation; Alex Martins to the University of Central Florida Board of Trustees; Jason Barrett to the University of North Florida Board of Trustees; Maximo Alvarez and Jorge Gonzalez to the Florida State University Board of Trustees.

Florida’s unemployment disaster: New investigation is 95 pages of buck-passing” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — By now, everyone knows Florida’s unemployment system was one of the biggest government-run disasters in recent memory. Every state faced challenges. But few failed their citizens as badly as Florida, where, one month into the pandemic, the state had managed to process only 4% of the submitted claims. Yes, the pandemic was unprecedented. But states a fraction of our size processed twice as many claims. At the time, DeSantis looked like the pitmaster of America’s largest dumpster fire. So he vowed to find out what went wrong and who was to blame.

Ron DeSantis should consider removing Pasco sheriff, Matt Gaetz says” via Kirby Wilson and Kathleen McGrory of the Tampa Bay Times — Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz blasted Pasco County’s controversial police intelligence program on Twitter late Thursday and urged DeSantis to consider removing Sheriff Chris Nocco from office. The intelligence program, first detailed in a Tampa Bay Times investigation last year, uses criminal histories and other information from police reports to determine which residents are likely to break the law. Asked if DeSantis was considering removing Nocco, a spokeswoman told a reporter “the Governor and his office are not involved.” The Sheriff’s Office, meanwhile, expressed its continued pride in the program.

Matt Gaetz suggests Chris Nocco should be removed for questionable policing practices.

I’d much rather be in Florida” via Patricia Mazzei of The New York Times — Realtors cold-knock on doors looking to recruit sellers to the sizzling housing market, in part because New Yorkers and Californians keep moving in. The unemployment rate is 5.1%, compared to 9.3% in California, 8.7% in New York, and 6.9% in Texas. That debate about opening schools? It came and went months ago. Children have been in classrooms since the fall. For better or worse, Florida’s experiment in returning to life-as-it-used-to-be offers a glimpse of what many states are likely to face in the weeks ahead as they move into the next phase of the pandemic, the part where it starts to be over.

Homebuyers are heading to Florida during COVID-19, but nearly as many are moving out” via Candace Taylor of The Wall Street Journal — David Gewirtz never got used to the heat, even after 15 years in Florida. Still, Gewirtz, who grew up in New Jersey, and his wife, Denise Amrich, liked their adopted hometown of Palm Bay, Florida, and probably would have stayed if it weren’t for the “brutal” hurricanes. “Staring at those tracker maps for weeks before a hurricane hits starts to create a stress level,” said Gewirtz, a technology columnist in his early 50s. “It’s three weeks of wondering whether you’re going to have a house at the end.” The couple evacuated their home in the path of 2017’s Hurricane Irma, kept driving until they got to Oregon, and decided to stay. They listed their Palm Bay house for sale. Florida, it turns out, isn’t for everyone. But you would never know it from the PR coming out of the state.

People are flocking to Florida as Floridians are flocking out.

Floridians can expect to live a long life, but Hawaiians, Californians and New Yorkers live longer” via Chris Perkins of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida, with its warm climate and abundant sunshine, has often been considered a great place to live, especially if you’re older. But relatively speaking, Florida isn’t necessarily a place for residents, young or old, to expect to live a long life. Florida, according to new data released by the CDC, ranked 22nd in life expectancy for residents. That’s behind Hawaii, California and New York, which comprise the top three in life expectancy. Floridians who are 65 years old rank seventh in remaining life expectancy.

Study finds that Floridians are underpaying for flood insurance” via Alex Harris of the Tampa Bay Times — If you live in Florida, you should probably be paying more for flood insurance. And you likely will be soon. That first finding is the conclusion of a new analysis by First Street Foundation, a nonprofit research group focused on climate impacts on property value, which found that most Floridians face a higher flood risk than their insurance costs would indicate. The second prediction comes because the National Flood Insurance Program is rolling out a new way of pricing flood insurance later this year. Experts expect it will lead to higher rates for homeowners in flood-prone places like Florida. Potentially, a lot higher in some places.

— 2022 —

‘Ron Be Gone’ starting up ahead of 2022” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — A handful of Florida Democratic figures and strategists formed a new anti-Gov.Ron DeSantis group and are pledging to begin the campaign against his reelection now, even as the Democrats search for a viable alternative. Ron Be Gone, a 527 political organization, is being organized with former U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Coral Springs Vice Mayor Josh Simmons, former state Rep. Cindy Polo, and veteran Florida Democratic strategists Brice Barnes, Joshua Karp, and Lindsay Pollard. The group is signaling its arrival with launch of a video that seeks to tie DeSantis to former President Donald Trump, whom the narrator calls “his role model.”

Ben Albritton raised $400K in lead-up to Legislative Session” via Florida Politics — Sen. Albritton pulled in more than $400,000 through his political committee between Dec. 1 and March 1, finance reports show. The committee, Advancing Florida Agriculture, began the three-month stretch with $10,000 raised in December. It followed with a $17,000 haul in January and a $216,500 report last month. Those with knowledge of the committee’s fundraising tell Florida Politics that Advancing Florida Agriculture will report an additional $157,500 raised in March — an impressive tally considering lawmakers are prohibited from raising money during Session, which started on March 2. Current reports show the committee finished February with just shy of $350,000 in the bank.

Rachel Plakon continues big buildup for HD 29 campaign” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Plakon continued in February to build a big base to try to keep the House District 29 seat in the family. Plakon reported raising $25,125 for her official campaign fund in February. She also raised 21,000 for her independent committee, Friends of Rachel Plakon. In just two months on the trail, that gives her just under $76,000 for her official campaign and $48,600 in the independent committee, heading into March. The HD 29 seat will be vacated in 2022 by her husband, Republican Rep. Scott Plakon, due to term limits. No other candidates have stepped up yet for the northwestern Seminole County district.

Rachel Plakon is trying to keep her husband’s House seat in the family.

First on #FlaPol —Grey Dodge to drop out of HD 6 race and endorse Philip ‘Griff’ Griffitts” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Dodge will drop out of the race for House District 6 and endorse Bay County Commissioner Griffitts. Dodge, a Republican, filed on March 2 to succeed Rep. Jay Trumbull in HD 6 and is currently the only candidate running. But Dodge told Florida Politics that he and Griffitts discussed the latter’s intentions to run for the seat over morning coffee on Friday. Dodge said he stepped up because others, like Griffitts, he had hoped would run had not expressed their intentions to run. With Griffitts’ decision, Dodge will back out of the race and throw his support behind his fellow Republican. “I think he’s a strong community leader, and he’s been a strong leader through the coronavirus pandemic,” Dodge said.

First on #FlaPol — “Taylor Yarkosky launches bid for Florida House” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Yarkosky will run for a House seat being vacated by controversial state Rep. Anthony Sabatini. “This morning, we delivered paperwork to the Florida Division of Elections to begin my campaign for State Representative, District 32,” Yarkosky wrote on Twitter. “I have lived, built multiple businesses, and raised a family in Lake County since 2004. I’m honored to have support from many local leaders.” Sabatini announced on Monday he’s running for Congress and filed for the seat held now by Rep. Dan Webster. That’s an earlier departure than expected from state politics since Sabatini is in a second term and had previously filed for reelection. This opens the seat four years early. The Lake County Republican launched his bid Friday by announcing a list of major backers for his bid in House District 32.

Taylor Yarkosky seeks Anthony Sabatini’s soon-to-be-vacant seat.

Polk Sheriff Grady Judd endorses Jennifer Canady in run for House District 40” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Sheriff Judd is backing Canady in her bid to replace term-limited Rep. Colleen Burton for House District 40. The Sheriff attributed his endorsement to Canady’s conservative platform and community work. “Jennifer Canady’s work as a dedicated community leader and local schoolteacher has helped make our county a better place and improved the lives of thousands of children,” Judd said in a news release. “Jennifer has a servant’s heart, and she is a results-oriented leader, which is just what we need in Tallahassee to continue our state’s legacy of conservative leadership.” The Sheriff went on to praise Canady’s support of law enforcement and gun rights.


Florida adds 3,699 coronavirus cases, 31 deaths Sunday” via Romy Ellenbogen of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida recorded 3,699 coronavirus cases Sunday, bringing the average number of cases announced per day down. The Florida Department of Health also announced 31 deaths from coronavirus Sunday, the lowest single-day total in months. In Florida, 32,860 people have died from the virus. Based on the weekly average, about 85 deaths are announced per day. Since March of last year, 1,976,808 cases of coronavirus have been identified in Florida. About 4,545 cases are announced per day based on the weekly average.

Florida’s rate of COVID-19 spread dips below 5% again” via Chris Persaud of The Palm Beach Post — For the second time in less than one week, just under 5% of coronavirus test results reported by state health officials came back positive. Public health officials want it to consistently stay below 5% to make effective efforts to contain the virus. Over the past 14 days, the rate has averaged 5.64%. Saturday was the last time the state released new test results showing a positivity rate of less than 5%. 5,214 new cases were logged statewide. While that is higher compared with recent days, the 31,658 new cases reported in the past week is the lowest weekly total since Nov. 4.

DeSantis looks ready to limit mask-wearing emergency orders by local governments” via John Kennedy of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Joining a growing swell of states, DeSantis appears focused on erasing mask requirements across Florida by now demanding that such emergency powers of local governments be rolled back by the Republican-led Legislature. The drive is being met with outrage by city and county officials, along with Democratic lawmakers who say masks and other public health steps enacted by local leaders remain a big part of Florida’s continuing push to overcome the devastation caused by COVID-19. Indeed, many claim that Florida’s relative success in controlling the spread of the virus compared to other big states is in part attributable to the mask mandates put in place by local governments like Palm Beach, Orange and Miami-Dade counties.

Florida will get 492,270 COVID-19 vaccine doses next week. Here’s where they’ll go.” via Lisa J. Huriash, David Schutz and Aric Chokey of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida will receive 492,270 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government next week, a drop from the 645,180 doses this week. The state said it was not listing doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because it was not placing the order until Sunday. The state will allocate 108,900 doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to South Florida. The largest allotments in South Florida are destined for distribution sites at Hard Rock Stadium and Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami-Dade County, Markham Park and Lockhart Stadium in Broward County, and the health department in Palm Beach County.

Florida will get nearly 500K doses of vaccine this week.

Walgreens lists essential workers as eligible for vaccine in Florida, but says it’s following DeSantis rules” via Ryan Gillespie and Jeff Weiner of the Orlando Sentinel — Walgreens now lists “essential front-line worker” as a category of people eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines in Florida, but the company said Friday that it is still adhering to DeSantis’ eligibility rules, which don’t include that phrase. “To be clear, Walgreens follows state and local eligibility requirements for the administration of COVID-19 vaccines, and we are strictly adhering to Florida’s eligibility guidelines as detailed by Gov. DeSantis on March 1,” Walgreens corporate spokesperson Erin Loverher said in a statement.

—”Physicians are being asked to determine what constitutes ‘extremely vulnerable’ to COVID-19” via Tom McLaughlin of the Northwest Florida Daily News

Older seniors in Florida falling behind on coronavirus vaccinations” via David Fleshler of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — As more Floridians become eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, one group appears to be falling behind: The very old. The vaccination rate for people 85 and up has fallen below the rate for younger age groups, even though older people with the disease face a far higher risk of death. Simultaneously, the state plans to expand access to the vaccines, lowering the age limit Monday to 60. Experts say the vaccination rate among the very old may have begun to decline after the state’s vaccine blitz of assisted-living facilities, which left out older people living at home. Seniors living on their own would face the same vaccine shortages and overloaded webpages as everyone else, often compounded by a lack of access to the internet and the absence of a car.

DeSantis to Joe Biden: You’re not going to lock down Florida again” via Mark Skoneki and Richard Tribou of the Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis took aim at Biden on Friday, saying, “I am not going to let him lock down Florida” again, even if the coronavirus pandemic worsens. The Republican Governor also said he hoped to announce by next week the date on which the age to get the COVID-19 vaccine would fall to 55 in Florida and repeated that it was his goal to have all adults in the state eligible to be inoculated before the end of April. The age will drop from 65 to 60 starting Monday, the Governor has said. The Governor made the remark about Biden apparently in response to a portion of that speech where the President urged all Americans to get vaccinated, wear masks and practice social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Federal complaint accuses DeSantis, Lakewood Ranch vaccination site of discrimination” via Jessica de Leon and Ryan Callihan of the Miami Herald — Lakewood Ranch’s vaccine site is now at the center of a federal complaint accusing DeSantis of discriminatory and fraudulent practices in the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Last month, a three-day event was held by the state at the Premier Sports Complex that only gave appointments to residents who live in two of Manatee County’s wealthiest ZIP codes, in Lakewood Ranch. According to the complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the site inappropriately gave a wealthy developer who contributes to the Governor’s campaign limited access to the vaccine. Matthew Issman, a retired law enforcement officer, filed the complaint on Feb. 18.

Ron DeSantis faces a federal lawsuit accusing him of discrimination in Florida’s vaccine rollout. Image via AP.

A preposterous readRebekah Jones tried to warn us about COVID-19. Now her freedom is on the line” via Emily Bloch of Cosmopolitan — These days, back in D.C., far from Florida and DeSantis, Jones is finally starting to exhale. “It felt like some bit of my freedom was earned back just by leaving,” she says. she’s still running her own independent Florida COVID-19 dashboard, Florida COVID-19 Action, which she started last June after being fired. She eventually raised more than $500,000 on GoFundMe to help support the site (along with her living expenses). She’s writing a book about her experience. And although she’d love to get another job working in science, she’s not holding her breath.

Jeanette Núñez labels Cosmopolitan story on Jones a ‘puff piece’” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Núñez castigated Cosmopolitan and media more generally in a Twitter takedown. “Yet another shameful example of the partisan, corporate media willfully ignoring the facts and writing puff pieces to prop up this individual to perpetuate a manufactured narrative. Make no mistake — this is a total lie and Cosmopolitan is printing defamatory information,” Núñez said. 

A year of COVID-19 disruption meant fewer births, marriages and divorces in Florida. But deaths soared.” via Amber Randall and Baidi Wang of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A year of social distancing, makeshift home offices and economic pain stopped family decisions in their tracks, with newly released vital statistics showing fewer births, weddings and even divorces last year than in any of the previous 15 years in Florida. Only the grimmest of vital statistics saw an increase. The number of deaths in Florida reached its highest level in at least five decades and possibly longer.

Tourism industry to DeSantis: Prioritize hospitality workers for vaccines” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Arguing that front-line tourism workers need to be protected if the economy is to emerge from the COVID-19 collapse, Central Florida tourism industry leaders on Friday urged DeSantis to include their employees in the next round of priorities for vaccines. The Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association, Visit Orlando, and the International Drive Chamber of Commerce each wrote to DeSantis Friday urging him to consider the state’s largest industry when deciding who should be considered critical employees for COVID-19 shots at state-run vaccine centers. Visit Orlando’s letter was co-signed by the organization’s Board Chair Brian Comes and President Casandra Matej.


Slow rollout prompts questions regarding COVID-19 vaccine equity in Jacksonville” via Emily Bloch and John Reid of The Florida Times-Union — As Jacksonville’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout nears the three-month mark and the federal site’s three-week mark, community efforts are centering on getting the word out to the city’s most vulnerable populations. This week, workers stood outside a Northside Jacksonville Family Dollar store, passing out circulars with information about the city’s federally assisted vaccine site at the Gateway Mall. Officials also said they hired 300 additional workers to do community door knocks throughout Jacksonville. 

Getting the vaccine is one thing; getting Jacksonville residents to vaccinate is quite another. Image via First Coast News.

Jacksonville hospitals put aside competition, joined together in fight against COVID-19” via Matt Soergel of The Florida Times-Union — For at least two decades, the CEOs of Duval County’s hospitals have gotten together for monthly meetings occasions to swap notes, share experiences, figure out what works and what doesn’t. They’re competitors, and they don’t lose sight of that. But that kind of sharing is helpful even in the best of times. And in the worst of times? It was, they say, a lifesaver, many times over. In a Zoom interview, the CEOs of Jacksonville’s hospitals said their regular meetings left their institutions well-equipped to coordinate health care, from early testing to recent vaccinations, as the COVID-19 pandemic struck the area.

A lot of us didn’t get it.’ Even the rich couldn’t snag COVID-19 shots offered at ultrawealthy Keys enclave” via Skyler Swisher of the Orlando Sentinel — Even at the exclusive Ocean Reef Club, not every person was able to snag a COVID-19 vaccine appointment when the shot was in short supply in January. People who did not live in the ultrawealthy enclave in the Florida Keys were denied shots because the coveted doses were reserved for residents. That even applied to people 65 and older who held social memberships to use the club’s amenities, said one vaccine seeker who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he didn’t want to be ostracized for speaking out.

Broward Mayor asks DeSantis to let local governments enforce COVID-19 restrictions” via Brooke Baitinger of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Geller wants to be able to enforce COVID-19 restrictions, especially as Spring Breakers crowd Broward’s bars and beaches. Hoping to take back the power to enforce restrictions, he wrote to DeSantis. Geller asked DeSantis to reconsider his new order that dismissed fines issued against people and businesses for violating local COVID-19 laws, including mask violations, over the last year. DeSantis issued the order Wednesday just as Spring Break started revving up on Fort Lauderdale beach.

‘Granny shouldn’t be out here’: Maskless Spring Breakers flout South Beach COVID-19 rules” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — Just as public health officials and city leaders feared, South Beach has become inundated with barefaced, carefree Spring Breakers over the last month. The virus is still spreading, but young partygoers from all parts of the U.S. are mingling without observing social distancing, and mostly without masks. That threatens to prolong the pandemic at a time when daily cases are gradually decreasing statewide and bigger sections of the population are getting vaccinated, said University of Florida infectious disease professor Dr. J. Glenn Morris, Jr. On Friday, the Florida Department of Health reported 5,214 new COVID-19 cases statewide, about one in five coming from Miami-Dade County.

School districts vaccinate teachers in effort to return to normal” via Scott Travis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — South Florida schools are taking steps to get teachers and school employees vaccinated for COVID-19, an effort they hope will start to return some sense of normalcy to education. Broward gave the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine to about 1,800 employees 50 and over Tuesday to Friday at a drive-up site at T.Y. Park in Hollywood and will continue Saturday and next week through appointments. Eligibility will expand to school employees of all ages starting Tuesday, at the request of Geller, said John Sullivan, an administrator with Broward schools.

South Florida hotels are bouncing back from COVID-19, but they can’t find enough workers” via David Lyons of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — In a surprising conundrum, recovery-minded hoteliers are hoisting “Help Wanted” signs to replenish their staffs decimated by COVID-19, but they can’t find enough qualified people. From Miami-Dade to Palm Beach County, hotels on the rebound and those that have opened for the first time are encountering trouble finding help, said Heiko Dobrikow, general manager of Fort Lauderdale’s Riverside Hotel, the oldest hotel in the city. As the pandemic shredded South Florida’s vaunted hospitality industry last March, hotels furloughed and laid off thousands of workers as domestic and international air travelers stayed home, and the cruise line industry came to an abrupt halt.

‘What the hell am I still doing in New York?’ Pandemic-weary restaurants migrate to Fort Lauderdale, Delray Beach” via Phillip Valys of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — In Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Miami, pandemic-driven Northerners are snapping up homes with cash sales — and often outbidding local homebuyers. And big-name restaurant operators are following them, lured here by warmer weather, lower taxes, fewer permitting hurdles and looser COVID-19 restrictions. In Delray Beach, New York’s Host Restaurants opened Avalon Steak & Seafood in late February on Atlantic Avenue, with a bright, coastal-themed dining room its owners say evokes the Hamptons and Martha’s Vineyard. Ritzy storefronts in the town of Palm Beach were taken over in February with outposts of clubby New York French bistros La Goulue and Le Bilboquet.

Clubby French bistro La Goulue is migrating from pandemic New York to a spot in Palm Beach.

Sarasota mask-basher was fighting for freedom; now it’s his life” via Chris Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — You could say the Sarasota County School Board meeting on Sept. 15, 2020, was a tad on the contentious side. An ICU nurse from North Port named Amy took to the podium and railed against the wearing of “face diapers” by stating, in part, that “politicians have made decisions that are not based on logic or science and seems to be lacking in humanity.” She then, for some reason, pulled out a baggie that contained one of her child’s worn masks and kept lecturing, at one point so stirred up she was crying. When her time allotment expired and she refused to leave the microphone, School Board chair Caroline Zucker cleared the room of nearly everyone.

North Port pop-up clinic next week will vaccinate 6,000 people” via Louis Llovio of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — The state will hold a three-day COVID-19 vaccine clinic early next week in in North Port to vaccinate about 6,000 people. The pop-up drive-thru clinic will be held Sunday, Monday and Tuesday at Suncoast Technical College. After early criticism that not enough vaccine was being made available to residents in the southern part of Sarasota County, this is the second time the state has held a North Port clinic in a month. That’s in addition to at least two clinics in Venice.

‘Popup preschool’ pilot program to visit Bond, South City during spring break” via C.D. Davidson-Hiers — The idea is simple: A community educates a community. A pilot project called a “popup preschool” will be in the Greater Bond and South City communities during spring break, this year March 15-19. Locals including grassroots activist Talethia Edwards, The Sharing Tree operator Carly Sinnadurai, Whole Child Leon executive Courtney Atkins and others have partnered to bring a retrofitted school bus to neighborhoods where kids aren’t ready for kindergarten.


Governors applaud Biden’s vaccine timeline, but need supply” via Kathleen Ronayne of The Associated Press — Governors largely cheered Biden’s declaration that all adults should be eligible for coronavirus vaccinations by May 1, but the goal will require a shift for states that have been methodical in how they roll out the shots. The top health official in California said the nation’s most populous state would need to work harder in the coming weeks to ensure the most vulnerable people get vaccines before they have to compete with the general public. Oregon planned to make essential workers and younger adults with disabilities eligible by May 1, not the broader population, and said Friday it wouldn’t change that timeline without firmer supply commitments.

States are cheering Joe Biden’s vaccine plans; now they just need more vaccine. Image via AP.

Medically vulnerable in U.S. put near end of vaccine line” via Bryan Anderson of The Associated Press — Across the United States, millions of medically vulnerable people who initially were cited as a top vaccination priority group got slowly bumped down the list as the CDC modified its guidelines to favor the elderly, regardless of their physical condition, and workers in a wide range of job sectors. North Carolina is one of 24 states that currently places people under 65 with “underlying medical conditions” near the bottom of the pack to receive the vaccine. The state’s top public health official, Dr. Mandy Cohen, said residents under 65 with chronic conditions were moved down the list after health officials received data showing elderly residents are far more likely to die of COVID-19.

‘Considerable degree of normality’ possible by July, Dr. Anthony Fauci says” via John Bacon and Jordan Culver of USA Today — Fauci told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that federal restrictions “will be much more liberal” and the U.S. could see a “considerable degree of normality” by the Fourth of July if U.S. cases drop as more Americans are vaccinated. But he also warned that the U.S. must gradually lift restrictions or risk a wide-ranging lockdown to halt another surge. Now the nation just needs Donald Trump to help out, Fauci says. A recent new PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll found 41% of Republicans saying they would not get one of the three federally approved coronavirus vaccines, compared with less than 15% of Democrats. 


—”17 reasons to let the economic optimism begin” via Neil Irwin of The New York Times

Stimulus bill transforms options for state and local governments” via Manny Fernandez and Sabrina Tavernise of The New York Times — The biggest infusion of funds in decades will soon start, putting state, local and tribal governments in a situation they have not experienced in years: Items that had long seemed totally unaffordable are now well within reach. The $350 billion that was earmarked for state, local and tribal governments and U.S. territories “was one of the largest spending items in the entire bill,” said Dan White, director of fiscal policy research at Moody’s Analytics, a financial analysis firm. He said the total was more than quadruple what is needed to plug state and local budget holes through next summer.



Joe Biden’s stimulus bill will be transformative for cash-strapped state and local governments. Image via Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times.

How Trump’s team amassed a $1 trillion war chest for Biden to deploy” via Victoria Guida of POLITICO — Republicans are bashing the new $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package for further ballooning the federal debt, but it’s the Trump administration that greased the path for a smooth federal spending spree. The Treasury has a cash pile of well over $1 trillion, which will allow the government to quickly disburse money in line with the sweeping new law, including direct checks to millions of Americans that are expected to start hitting bank accounts in the coming week. That robust rainy-day fund was built last year by then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who preemptively cranked up the pace of government borrowing, unsure of how and when Congress might mandate further relief measures.

Florida retailers expect exponential import growth as year progresses” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Retail imports are set to break records in 2021, the Florida Retail Federation announced this week. A new report shows that retail imports will grow dramatically during the first half of the year as access to the vaccine increases, echoing a previous forecast for 2021 retail sales growth released by the National Retail Federation. Florida retailers provide one out of every five jobs in the state, pay more than $49 billion in wages annually and collect and remit more than $20 billion in sales taxes for Florida’s government each year. “We’re optimistic given the latest data on imports, and we’re hopeful it will be a strong year,” said Scott Shalley, president and CEO of the FRF. U.S. ports handled a record-breaking 2.06 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in January.

The IRS is behind in processing nearly 7 million tax returns, slowing refunds as it implements new stimulus” via Heather Long and Tony Romm of The Washington Post — Nearly 7 million tax filers are in limbo and facing substantial delays in getting refunds so far this tax filing season, as the IRS struggles to keep up with the demands of issuing stimulus checks and implementing myriad tax code changes from coronavirus relief packages, including the one Biden signed this week. There are 6.7 million returns that have not yet been processed. The delays are largely a result of a year’s worth of extraordinary stimulus measures that have created more complicated tax returns for millions of Americans. The IRS was already straining to adjust after the December stimulus package.

Donald Trump supporters, big businesses lined up early to get PPP loans. Then gave them back” via Ben Wieder of McClatchy — The $349 billion Congress first allotted to help small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program evaporated almost immediately after it was released last April. When it emerged that several big businesses had hoovered up millions of dollars worth of loans the backlash was swift. To head off bad publicity, national chains like Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steak House returned the loans for which they had been approved. But a unique analysis of government spending data from the website suggests that far more businesses than previously known were approved for loans in the earliest days of the program that were later returned or canceled.

Businesses and supporters of Donald Trump got the first round of PPP loans. Now they are giving them back to avoid bad press. Image via AP.

Spring Break or bust: Millions board flights as pandemic enters second year” via Dawn Gilbertson of USA Today — Travelers who haven’t flown since the coronavirus pandemic began are in for a surprise if they’re expecting empty airports and planes when they return. Passengers packed planes during the Thanksgiving and year-end holiday rushes despite advice from the CDC to avoid travel and are now doing so in greater numbers for Spring Break. The latest evidence arrived Saturday from the Transportation Security Administration. The agency said it screened 1,357,111 passengers on Friday, on top of 1,284,271 on Thursday as travelers headed out on vacations. With more than half the month to go, March is shaping up to be a strong one for airlines, with passenger counts topping 1 million on seven days so far.


Massive Facebook study on users’ doubt in vaccines finds a small group appears to play a big role in pushing the skepticism” via Elizabeth Dwoskin of The Washington Post — Facebook is conducting a vast behind-the-scenes study of doubts expressed by U.S. users about vaccines, a major project that attempts to probe and teach software to identify the medical attitudes of millions of Americans. The research is a large-scale attempt to understand the spread of ideas that contribute to vaccine hesitancy, or the act of delaying or refusing a vaccination despite its availability, on social media, a primary source of health information for millions of people. It shows how the company is probing ever more nuanced realms of speech, and illustrates how weighing free speech vs. the potential for harm is more tenuous than ever for technology companies during a public health crisis.

A small group of skeptics is creating a big problem for widespread vaccination. Image via The Washington Post.

In Puerto Rican island of Vieques, COVID-19 vaccine brings relief — and anger” via Syra Ortiz-Blanes of the Miami Herald — Across Puerto Rico, people are getting vaccinated against COVID-19 at rates far higher than most of the Americas, as eligibility requirements expand and more vaccine doses arrive by plane from the United States. Puerto Ricans are flocking to schools, stadiums, fine arts centers, pharmacies, and hospitals en masse to get inoculated. But in Vieques, one of the first places in the U.S. territory to vaccinate the general population, the arrival of the coronavirus vaccine has special significance.

Europe’s new coronavirus spike is a warning to the U.S.” via David Lawler of Axios — A surge in coronavirus infections in Europe makes clear the stakes of the race in the U.S. between vaccines and new variants. Europe and North America, two of the regions hit hardest by the pandemic, both saw sharp declines in cases and deaths beginning in January. Then, Europe’s decline gave way to a new spike. America’s already slowing decline could slip into reverse next. Stephen Kissler, a researcher at Harvard who models the spread of COVID-19, says the U.S. is “lagging a couple of weeks behind many of the countries in Europe that are starting to see rises in cases right now.”

— “Europe confronts a COVID-19 rebound as vaccine hopes recede” via Marcus Walker, Bertrand Benoit, and Stacy Meichtry of The Wall Street Journal

People are keeping their vaccines secret” via Katherine J. Wu of The Atlantic — For every immunization that sparks public joy, there’s perhaps another that blips silently by, shaded with guilt, frustration, or fear. Many of the recipients of these early jabs have chosen to hide them from even close friends and family, some of the people who stand to benefit the most from the protection that immunization affords. The reasons behind the vaccinees’ reticence ran the gamut: Some worried that they would be accused of line hopping; others were wary of exposing the criteria that had qualified them. A weather forecaster in Florida wanted to avoid being prematurely called back to the office, because he’d miss out on quality time with his family. But they were united by what we might call shot self-consciousness — the worry about how others will perceive their shots.

Lockdown skeptic Scott Atlas: ‘The big issue exposed by COVID-19 is civil liberties’” via Kiran Stacey of Financial Times — To his supporters, Atlas is the man who injected a welcome dose of common sense into the Trump administration’s coronavirus response at the most critical point of the pandemic last year. To his critics, he is the man whose irresponsible advice led to thousands of deaths. He was famous mainly to regular viewers of Fox News, where he frequently appeared as a supporter of Trump’s pandemic strategy. In doing so, he became one of a small but vociferous group of academics pushing for an end to almost all COVID-19-imposed social restrictions. His opponents have accused him of peddling pseudoscience, and worse, of deliberately trying to force the COVID-19 infection rate up in an attempt to reach “herd immunity.”

Scott Atlas says COVID-19 exposed deficiencies in personal freedom. Image via AP.

It’s been one year since the last U.S. cruise. What’s in the waters ahead?” via Taylor Dolven of the Miami Herald — A COVID-oblivious zombie driving down the MacArthur Causeway might assume the cruise industry is doing well. Every day, ships arrive at or depart from PortMiami. At times, the port is as full of ocean liners as it would be on a pre-pandemic winter day. But the reality is much different. Ships that normally carry as many as 8,800 passengers and crew are now staffed by just 100 in charge of basic marine operations. They visit PortMiami only to refuel and restock. No passengers have boarded a cruise ship in the U.S. since March 13, 2020.


Biden will deploy FEMA to care for teenagers and children crossing border in record numbers” via Nick Miroff of The Washington Post — The Biden administration is deploying the FEMA to the Mexico border to help care for thousands of unaccompanied migrant teens and children who are arriving in overwhelming numbers and being packed into detention cells and tent shelters, the Department of Homeland Security said. The deployment marks another escalation in the administration’s response to the growing crisis at the border. It is part of what DHS said would be a 90-day governmentwide effort at the border, where an unprecedented number of minors are arriving without their parents each day and must be sheltered and cared for until they can be placed with a vetted sponsor, usually a parent or relative already living in the United States.

Joe Biden is dispatching FEMA to address a wave of young migrants crossing the Southern border. Image via Los Angeles Times.

Biden admin to end Trump policy that let DHS deport caregivers for migrant children” via Julia Ainsley of NBC News — The Biden administration said Friday it will end a Trump-era policy that let U.S. border agents collect information about the immigration status of people who came forward to care for unaccompanied migrant children so it could potentially deport them. The policy, which began in 2018, allowed the Department of Homeland Security to identify and deport those would-be caregivers who were in the country illegally. It meant that immigrant parents who came to the U.S. and then later sent for their children to cross the border faced possible deportation when they tried to pick up their children from Health and Human Services custody.

For Biden, there’s no place like a weekend home in Delaware” via Darlene Superville of The Associated Press — Of the eight weekends since Biden took office, he has spent three at his longtime home outside Wilmington, Delaware, including this weekend. Tentative plans for another weekend visit were scrubbed due to Senate action on Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan. Biden also spent a weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland. Many Presidents have complained at one point or another about feeling confined in the White House. Biden already has echoed earlier Presidents in comparing the experience to living in a “gilded cage.”

DNC posts billboard in South Tampa to tout rescue plan” via Mitch Perry of Bay News 9 — The selling of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan is well underway, with the Democratic National Committee unveiling a billboard in South Tampa on Monday advertising that Americans will soon be receiving those $1,400 stimulus checks and “shots in arms.” It’s all part of a strategy to sell the COVID economic relief plan to the public that will see President Biden and Vice President Harris (and their spouses) going out on the road over the next several weeks to build support for the massive spending plan – one of the most expensive in U.S. history.


Amid Republican civil war, Trump holds court — and his grip on GOP — at Mar-a-Lago” via Christine Stapleton and Antonio Fins of The Palm Beach Post — From GOP leaders to congressional lawmakers to donors to prospective political heirs apparent, a steady stream of callers and wooers has steadily descended on the Palm Beach club in the past few weeks. All are falling in line in seeking Trump‘s blessing and support and money. In their doing so, the question of how much clout Trump would retain after leaving office, and how he would wield it, has been answered. In fewer than two months, Trump has established himself as the GOP’s king and queen maker, drawing to his ornate private club some of the Party’s top influencers.

Donald Trump is still pulling the strings on the GOP from Mar-a-Lago. Image via Instagram.

Trump was supposed to be a political Godzilla in exile. Instead, he’s adrift.” via Gabby Orr and Meridith McGraw of POLITICO — He backed away from creating a third party and has soured on the costly prospect of launching his own TV empire or social media startup. His vow to target disloyal Republicans with personally-recruited primary challengers has taken a backseat to conventional endorsements of senators who refused to indulge his quest to overturn the 2020 election. And though he was supposed to build a massive political apparatus to keep his MAGA movement afloat, it’s unclear to Republicans what his PAC is actually doing, beyond entangling itself in disputes with Republican icons and the party’s fundraising arms.

A survey of Republicans shows 5 factions have emerged after Trump’s presidency.” via Maggie Haberman of The New York Times — The Republican Party in the era following Trump’s presidency is comprised of five “tribes” that have ranging affinity for the former president and different desires when it comes to seeing him continue to lead the Party, according to a new survey by Trump’s former pollster. The survey of 1,264 voters, who are registered Republicans or identify as Republicans, is the first comprehensive one conducted about GOP voter sentiment since Trump left office, and as he considers running again in 2024. It was conducted by the Republican polling firm Fabrizio and Lee, which worked for Trump in his 2020 campaign but does not any longer.

Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen asked back for 8th interview in criminal probe as DA Cyrus Vance prepares exit” via Dan Mangan of CNBC — Senior officials in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office this week asked Cohen to return for what would be his eighth interview with the office, which is conducting a wide-ranging criminal probe related to the Trump Organization. A person familiar with the case said that Cohen, while being questioned for the seventh time by officials via a video conference earlier this week, was asked to make himself available soon for an in-person interview in Vance’s office. Cohen, who now is an avowed enemy of Trump, agreed to do so, the person said.

Michael Cohen takes part in yet another marathon session with prosecutors.

Civil suits may pry out the information we need to hold Trump accountable” via Joyce White Vance of The Washington Post — Trump is a defendant in at least 10 civil cases, including his niece’s. A reckoning awaits one that will require his personal participation in instances where he has no Fifth Amendment privilege to assert, and it is likely to be speedier and more direct than any criminal reckoning. Once a civil case survives a motion to dismiss, discovery begins in earnest, the collection of precisely the sort of evidence Trump vigorously guarded throughout his presidency, hiding behind excessively broad claims of executive privilege or simply refusing to provide it. A private citizen who is a party to a civil lawsuit has to comply. Parties can’t refuse to be deposed.


Democrats bank on relief aid to win back wary working-class” via The Associated Press — When Biden visited this corner of southwestern Pennsylvania in the final weeks before the election, his goal wasn’t to win it so much as to show the area’s overwhelmingly white working-class electorate that his Party was at least willing to try. But that relationship has steadily frayed, with working-class voters now casting Democrats as the party of cultural elites who talk down to them and reject their values. Now Biden and his Party are hoping that by muscling through the passage of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief and economic stimulus bill, they can win back at least a larger share of working-class voters.

Democrats, allies launch ads touting relief bill, attacking Republicans” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Democrats and their allies are launching a pair of advertising campaigns Friday pouring sunshine onto themselves, and the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act that Biden signed Thursday and thunder against Republicans for opposing it. Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar of Miami are among 10 Republicans blasted in digital ads launched Friday by the Protect Our Care committee. That organization announced it is launching 30 different internet-based digital ads in 19 states, including the ones attacking Rubio and Salazar, holding them accountable for their votes against the COVID-19 relief bill. Nationally, some of the ads will praise Democrats for voting yes, and some attack Republicans for voting no.

Here are the ads:



Assignment editors — U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor will hold a media availability after a virtual roundtable with local community leaders and organizations on the expanded Child Tax Credit included in the American Rescue Plan, 11:45 a.m., RSVP to [email protected] for the Zoom link.

Assignment editors — U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist will visit multiple small businesses and restaurants to discuss small business and restaurant relief within the newly passed American Rescue Plan, 10 a.m., Tabitha’s Exquisite Touch Beauty Salon, 1614 Central Ave., St. Pete; 10:30 a.m., Funky Flamingo, 1418 58th St. S., Gulfport; 11:15 a.m., Heavy’s Food Truck, 2243 11th St. S., St. Pete.

What’s Marco Rubio’s beef with Amazon? The Florida Senator airs his views on Twitter” via Howard Cohen of the Miami Herald — Rubio put Amazon on blast in a 72-second video message on his Twitter account Saturday morning. In the video, Rubio sneers at Amazon’s “wokeness” and suggests the online retailer bans books. Perhaps that’s a reference to the recent flap over the decision of the estate of children’s book author Dr. Seuss to stop publishing six lesser-known titles because they contained offensive racial stereotypes. Amazon did not ban Dr. Seuss’ books. Rubio appears to be no fan of Amazon if his tweet is any indication. The rant is not meant to be a statement against Amazon workers’ attempts to unionize an Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama but Rubio did slap at Amazon by mentioning the union push.

Tweet, tweet:

Florida’s Senators go their own way in nominating federal judges for Biden” via William March of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida’s two Republican Senators, Rick Scott and Rubio, are refusing to participate in a long-standing, bipartisan system for nominating federal judges that Florida legal insiders say has produced nonpolitical, competent judicial nominees for decades. Both Scott and Rubio have said they won’t participate with Florida House Democrats setting up Florida’s federal Judicial Nominating Commissions, even though bipartisan cooperation has long been typical. Scott and Rubio called it an infringement on the Senate’s exclusive right to confirm judges.


Justice Dept. calls Jan. 6 ‘Capitol attack’ probe one of largest in U.S. history, expects at least 400 to be charged” via Spencer S. Hsu of The Washington Post — U.S. prosecutors sketched out the gargantuan scope of the investigation in the Jan. 6 Capitol breach, asking for courts to delay most cases by at least two months after being pressed by a handful of defendants and some judges to speed up trials and plea offers. In a sign of the hurdles facing the government, a judge on Friday ordered the release on bond of one of the highest-profile defendants, saying he did not see evidence that Thomas E. Caldwell of Virginia entered the Capitol or “that he was planning to do so that day.” According to court officials and prosecutors, charges have been brought against 312 people and are expected against at least 100 more.

Navy investigators found contractor in Capitol riot was known as a White supremacist” via Kyle Cheney of POLITICO — A U.S. Army reservist who participated in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot was widely known as a White supremacist and regularly discussed his hatred of Jews while working at a New Jersey-based naval facility, according to new evidence revealed by federal prosecutors late Friday. The reservist, Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, who worked as a security contractor at Naval Weapons Station Earle and held a secret-level security clearance, was arrested and charged on Jan. 15 for allegedly breaching the Capitol. At the time, prosecutors described him as an “avowed White supremacist” and Nazi sympathizer, a determination based in part on evidence provided by a confidential source to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and a YouTube channel in which Hale-Cusanelli expressed those views.

Looking the part: An Army reservist and Navy contractor charged with storming The Capitol was a well-known White supremacist and Nazi sympathizer. Image via CNN.

Florida men charged with being at U.S. Capitol attack” via The Associated Press — Two more Florida men have been arrested for participating in the January attack on the U.S. Capitol following a rally held by then-President Trump, authorities said. According to federal court records, Kenneth Harrelson was arrested Wednesday and charged with conspiring to obstruct Congressional proceedings, destroying government property, obstructing official government proceedings, and entering restricted property or grounds. He appeared Thursday in Orlando federal court and was scheduled for a preliminary and detention hearing Monday. According to court records, Christopher Worrell was arrested Friday morning and charged with entering restricted property or grounds. His initial appearance in Fort Myers federal court was set for Friday afternoon.

— “East Naples man arrested for involvement in Capitol riot believed to be ‘Proud Boy’” via Kaitlin Greenockle of the Naples Daily News 

FBI report: Lakeland woman bragged on social media about role in Jan. 6 Capitol riot” via Gary Whtie of the Lakeland Ledger — Social media postings led to the arrest of Lakeland resident Corinne Lee Montoni for allegedly taking part in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, as has been the case for many arrested in connection with the insurrection. An affidavit submitted by an FBI agent includes a wealth of detail in Montoni’s own words, photos and videos suggesting she joined the invasion of the Capitol as part of an effort to disrupt certification of President Joe Biden’s election. FBI agents arrested Montoni on Tuesday at her South Lakeland home and charged her with four crimes related to the Jan. 6 insurrection. Montoni, 31, appeared Tuesday before a federal judge in Tampa.

After Capitol riot, lawmakers chafe at security measures” via Luke Broadwater of The New York Times — Lawmakers in both parties are increasingly agitating to scale back the security measures put in place around the Capitol in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot, intensifying a debate over how to balance safety concerns and public access to a building that is a symbol of democracy. Some Republicans have turned the dispute over Capitol security into a political talking point, mocking the heavily protected complex, now ringed with National Guard troops and razor-wire-topped fencing, as “Fort Pelosi.” But many Democrats are just as unhappy with the barriers encircling the area and the troops patrolling it and are pushing to get rid of both.


Federal grand jury to hear from witnesses on JEA investigation” via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union — A federal grand jury in Jacksonville will begin hearing witness testimony in the coming weeks related to a criminal investigation into the botched effort in 2019 to privatize JEA, the city-owned electric, water and sewer utility, according to multiple sources with knowledge of numerous grand jury subpoenas that have recently been issued. Federal prosecutors have been investigating issues swirling around JEA for about a year, a probe that became public knowledge last April when the U.S. Attorney’s Office issued a grand jury subpoena directly to JEA demanding thousands of pages of documents. FBI agents and prosecutors have also conducted multiple interviews with an array of current and former JEA and city officials and others, according to information gleaned from public records and from sources.

Judge in J.T. Burnette trial sides with defense on articles involving alleged hotel bribe” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — Prosecutors in the federal public corruption trial of Burnette were dealt a setback after a judge ruled against their request to exclude from evidence newspaper articles later linked to an alleged bribe to kill a downtown hotel deal. The articles show that former Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox signaled he would recuse himself from a vote on the hotel proposal months before Burnette, a prominent local business owner, allegedly bribed him to do so. During a Wednesday hearing, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle denied a government motion to exclude the evidence, which prosecutors argued was “irrelevant” and “inadmissible hearsay.”

J.T. Burnette gets a small victory in court.

FPL proposes increasing electric bills 18% by 2025” via Ron Hurtibise of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida Power & Light customers will see their monthly electric bills rise by 18% by 2025 under the utility’s proposed four-year rate plan submitted to state utility regulators. Rate increases generating about $2 billion would be phased in beginning in 2022 and would help fund $29 billion in planned improvements, including expanding natural gas and solar power generation, hardening the company’s distribution grid to reduce outages in storms, and preparing for future customer growth. According to the company, a typical household now paying $99 for 1,000 kWh a month would pay $117 a month when the rate increases are fully phased in by 2025.

JEA considers boosting water and sewer fees paid by builders” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — JEA is looking at boosting fees paid by builders for connecting new developments to water, sewer and reclaimed water services in what would be the first jump in those fees in 15 years. JEA could bring in an additional $65 million per year, but it might mean higher home prices if builders pass the cost on to buyers. Greg Matovina, a land developer who is interim executive officer for the Northeast Florida Builders Association, whistled in reaction to hearing the fee amounts being discussed by JEA and said it likely would end up adding cost for homebuyers. “It’s a question of what the market would bear,” he said. “Right now, the market probably would bear it.”

Wheel of fugitive? Sheriff Wayne Ivey’s signature Facebook ‘show’ features non-fugitives” via Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon of Florida Today — On four Tuesday nights between Jan. 26 and February 23, 2021, right after the upbeat rock music intro and the words: “The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office Presents” appeared on-screen to the chant of “Wheel of Fugitive,” David Austin Gay’s mug shot was the first face of 10 contestants that viewers saw on Ivey‘s signature social media show. The problem is that Gay wasn’t a fugitive at the time; Gay had been in the Brevard County Jail since Jan, 25 and wasn’t on the lam when he appeared on the Jan. 26, Feb. 2, Feb 9. and Feb. 23 episodes. 

She bullied and insulted students for years; her Florida school let her keep teaching” via Andrew Marra of USA Today — By the time school administrators in Florida moved last year to fire Susan Oyer, the Boca Raton Middle School teacher had spent nearly a decade drawing harassment complaints from children and parents. There were accusations she quarreled with students. That she mocked their grades and intelligence. That she used their race or nationality to demean them. That she threatened to sue them. That she revealed confidential information about them to their classmates. Students reported she pushed a girl from behind. That she prohibited students from using the bathroom. That she belittled a girl for not being an American citizen and threatened to report her to immigration authorities.

Susan Oyer bullied and mocked her students for years and still remained a teacher. Image via Twitter.

Eric Dudley, former priest defrocked for sexual misconduct, opening new Tallahassee church” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — A once-prominent Tallahassee religious leader who was defrocked amid sexual misconduct and harassment revelations is attempting a resurrection of sorts, with plans to publicly launch his new church on Easter morning. Dudley, former rector of St. Peter’s Anglican Cathedral and St. John’s Episcopal Church, will open the doors of Christ Church on April 4 at Thomasville Road and South Ride. The church bought the property on Jan. 19 for $545,000 with money raised from its congregation of influential local residents. Dudley emailed a short statement to the Tallahassee Democrat but did not respond to specific questions about the church.


Four candidates vie to succeed the late ‘Bicycle Bob’ in special South Miami election” via Samantha J. Gross of the Miami Herald — Four candidates will compete in a special election next month to replace South Miami Vice Mayor Robert “Bicycle Bob” Welsh, who died in February of complications related to skin cancer. The deadline to make the April 20 ballot passed Friday, with two members of the city’s planning board, a former commission candidate, and a fourth South Miami resident making the cut. Voters who want to participate in the election must be registered to vote by March 22. Mail ballots must be requested by April 10.

Candidates are lining up to replace South Miami Deputy Mayor Robert “Bicycle Bob” Welsh, who died last month of complications related to skin cancer, Image via

Suspended union president wins first victory in Broward Sheriff’s battle” via Lisa J. Huriash of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The Sheriff’s Office union president, who has been suspended by Sheriff Greg Tony for almost a year, should get his job back after publicly blasting the agency for its lack of preparedness in the early days of the pandemic, according to a recommendation by a hearing officer. The 33-page recommendation, signed Friday, now goes to a three-person panel for the Public Employees Relations Commission for the final decision. Last April, Tony suspended Jeff Bell with pay, alleging that the leader of the deputies’ union had conducted himself in an unbecoming manner. Bell was accused of lack of truthfulness, corrupt practices, employee statements and abuse of discretion, and an internal affairs investigation began.

Some residents of a Florida City-owned trailer park have lived there for decades. They have until Wednesday to leave” via David Goodhue of the Miami Herald — About 70 residents of a low-income trailer neighborhood in Florida City could be homeless by Wednesday because they are being evicted by the city. Florida City has owned the 15-acre lot at Krome Avenue and Northwest Seventh Street for decades and is working to close a $6.8 million sale with developers the Treo Group, according to the city’s Mayor. The last stipulation of the contract, Mayor Otis Wallace said, is to make the land void of its occupants as well as their trailers, campers and recreational vehicles.

It’s sexy. It’s eye-popping. Is this really a government building in Fort Lauderdale?” via Susannah Bryan of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A new government complex that would serve as the new home for both Broward County and the city of Fort Lauderdale will be neither boxy nor ugly when it opens in four years or so. That’s a promise, say the very officials who will have the final say on the design. “We’re talking about a signature building that people across the world will recognize,” Geller said. “It will be something that will attract national or international attention. The feeling was that we should build a new building that would get its picture shown around the world.” The new complex will rise on the grounds of what is now the county’s central bus terminal at 101 NW First Ave., breaking the mold with an out-of-the-box design worthy of Dubai or Hong Kong.


Amazon should face unionization drive without Republican support” via Marco Rubio for the USA Today — For the past several years, Amazon has waged a war against working-class values. The Silicon Valley titan uses anticompetitive strategies to crush small businesses, bans conservative books and blocks traditional charities from participating in its AmazonSmile program. Not surprisingly, it has also bowed to China’s censorship demands. Amazon may be headquartered in America, but it considers itself a citizen of the world. Now, the company is facing a unionization effort at its warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. The move comes after a banner year for Amazon, thanks to the COVID-19 lockdowns.


Why is Biden continuing a cruel Trump policy? He should stop expelling Haitian migrants immediately” via the Miami Herald editorial board — The solution is simple. The politics will be hard. But a smart, capable and compassionate President like Biden is up to the task. He should immediately rescind Title 42, the health order from the U.S. CDC under which Haitian migrants, and others, seeking asylum are being expelled from this country without so much as a hearing. The order was a practical directive when issued as the coronavirus was taking hold last year. However, it was weaponized by the Trump administration to simply get rid of migrants. And the expulsions are continuing under the Biden administration, which is on the defensive, and should be. This now-misbegotten policy should be a big part of the discussion when the House Foreign Affairs Committee meets on Friday to focus on Haiti, its constitutional breakdown and migrants.

Democracy, right here in Florida, is at a tipping point” via Howard Simon for the Tampa Bay Times — There’s no nice way to put this: The Florida Legislature is trying to manipulate the rules governing elections in order to favor DeSantis’ reelection. Sen. Dennis Baxley is pushing Senate Bill 90. It purges the vote-by-mail registrations of millions of Florida voters, outlaws drop boxes and prohibits assistance from anyone other than an immediate family member. The Governor is encouraging support for the proposal. Democrats emerged from the 2020 election with a significant (800,000) advantage in registrations for mail ballots, probably for the first time since absentee voting in Florida became “no excuse/vote-by-mail” after the disputed 2000 Bush v. Gore election.

COVID-19 confirmed Miami’s deep disparities. Post-pandemic, we should refuse to ‘go back to normal’” via the Miami Herald editorial board — When the pandemic struck last spring, Miami went into hurricane mode, with grocery-store shelves picked clean and a sense of impending doom. The supply-hoarding eased quickly but, a year later, it turns out the hurricane parallels were truer than we knew. The COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 32,000 people in Florida so far, sickened almost 2 million and cloistered us in our homes has also laid bare our disparities. In Miami, it has exposed fault lines and brought to light years of neglect, much like a hurricane’s devastation that requires years of physical rebuilding and policy reforms. As we hope for recovery, this terrible time may be the perfect moment to work on real change.

Hey Florida Republicans, Fidel Castro would just love your Bright Futures crackdown” via Fabiola Santiago of the Miami Herald — In Florida, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between a Republican leader and a fascist. Or, more to the point, to tell the difference between a GOP lawmaker and something we know all too well in Miami: a freedom-stifling representative of the Cuban government. Nothing highlights the comparison better than state Republicans’ latest bid to ideologically manipulate education by steering students away from a liberal-arts education that might teach them to think critically. Alarm bells should be going off for every parent in the state, given that Senate Bill 86 would force students to choose only state-sanctioned subjects of study in college or risk losing their Bright Futures Scholarships.

This wasn’t a good week for a couple of Florida’s pretend-soldiers” via Frank Cerabino of The Palm Beach Post — There was a time in my life when I pretended to be a battle-hardened infantry soldier, decked out in fatigues, ducking behind trees and firing a toy machine gun at imaginary enemy combatants. But I have a good excuse for my behavior. I was 8 years old. Lucky for me, I didn’t turn out to be one of those grown men who still play soldier. Because some of them get so carried away by their make-believe valor that they get themselves in trouble. We’ve seen two examples of this in Florida this week.

Flexibility in education will help families like mine” via Patrice Whitfield for redefinED — As a mother of six, I’ve seen my share of struggles, especially when it comes to raising and educating my children. Thankfully, I received help through several state scholarship programs for low-income students and children with special needs. I can say the flexibility the Gardiner Scholarship offers makes it my favorite. Gardiner gives me flexibility to teach things I want Christian (third grade) to learn, like focusing more on Black history as well as math and science. The funds help me afford curriculum and materials for science and math lessons. I know that flexibility would have a big impact on many other families, too. I’d love to see the Legislature make all state scholarship programs as awesome as Gardiner.


Gov. DeSantis is excited about the progress made by lawmakers during the first two weeks of the Legislative Session. Democrats do not share this enthusiasm.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— Democrats haven’t had any luck stopping the Governor or thwarting his agenda, but there is a way to derail DeSantis. A train stopped the Governor from talking for less than a minute.

— It’s a big day for Floridians between the ages of 60 and 64. They can now get vaccinated for COVID-19.

— Getting a dose in Leon County was surprisingly easy.

— It’s been a year since Florida went into a brief lockdown, and the schools went virtual. Most teachers are back in the classroom, but they paid a price.

— When they wrapped up last year’s Session, the Governor and his legislative allies declared 2020 was the “Year of the Teacher.” Teachers say it didn’t work out that way.

— And finally, a Florida Man named “Babycakes” was chillin’ in his birthday suit … at 71-years-old.

To listen, click on the image below:


Justin Thomas lives on edge and rallies to win Players Championship” via Doug Ferguson of The Associated Press — The resilience it takes to get through a nerve-jangling Sunday at Sawgrass was nothing compared with what Thomas had been through already this year. His career on and off the course came under scrutiny in January with a slip of the tongue when he muttered an anti-gay slur under his breath that cost him one sponsor and led another to publicly reprimand him. Tougher still was the death last month of his grandfather, Paul. He found the right time to deliver a gem. Thomas took on every shot in The Players Championship, right down to the 5-wood that rode the edge of the lake down the left side of the 18th fairway, and closed with a 4-under 68 for a one-shot victory over Lee Westwood.

A rocky year pays off nicely for Justin Thomas. Image via AP.

The Players honors Tiger Woods and the ‘better than most’ putt 20 years later” via Nick Pietruszkiewicz of — In 2001, on Saturday at TPC Sawgrass, eventual champion Woods stood on the very back edge of the famous island green, staring at a 60-footer to the front-left hole at the par-3 17th. Two putts and a par was the goal. Halfway there it was clear, as NBC announcer Gary Koch would describe, the putt was “better than most.” Though Woods was not at TPC Sawgrass this week, the Players decided to commemorate the moment and honor him. So, tournament organizers put the pin in the same spot as it was in 2001. And the flag, instead of the standard one used on the other holes, had the words “Better Than Most” and “TW” and the date of the putt “March 24, 2001.”

The Players honors Tiger Woods and the 20-year-old putt that was ‘better than most.’ Image via Twitter.

Players executive director Jared Rice gives fans kudos for complying with COVID-19 protocols” via Garry Smits of The Florida Times-Union — Rice has given golf fans from the First Coast and from out-of-town high marks for their compliance with the COVID-19 protocols the Players and the PGA Tour put into place for this week’s tournament, the fifth in which the Tour has admitted fans since last November. Despite a large percentage of the fans congregating at the 17th hole area of the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, practice areas, and following feature groups such as Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa the first two days, Rice said he and his staff had heard few complaints from fans and fewer incidents still of anyone resisting the edicts to wear masks and practice social distancing.

— ALOE —

Call of the wild: Great outdoors is great escape in pandemic” via Pat Graham and Tales Azzoni of The Associated Press — Hiking trails, parks and other open spaces were packed in 2020 with a cooped-up population searching for fresh air during the coronavirus pandemic. Locked down, shut-in, or just fearful of crowds, people took up hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, camping, tennis and golf in significant numbers. Outdoor enthusiasts are certainly stepping outside to play in whatever environment, when pandemic restrictions permit it, of course, and in accordance with stay-at-home guidelines. But the numbers illustrate that many are heeding the call to the wild.

Chicago River dyed green in surprise move by city’s Mayor” via The Associated Press — The Chicago River was dyed a bright shade of green Saturday after Mayor Lori Lightfoot reversed an earlier decision not to tint the waterway for the second year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Crews on boats began dumping green dye into the riverfront about 7 a.m. after Lightfoot authorized the dyeing ahead of St. Patrick’s Day, delighting pedestrians with the vivid scene. Chicago residents Lori Jones and Mike Smith surveyed the green waters, saying they were glad the tradition that dates to 1962 was resumed this year. “We’re happy that Mayor Lightfoot decided to continue with this tradition because we truly missed it last year, as a lot of other things in 2020,” Jones told the Chicago Tribune.

Surprise! Image via AP.

Everglades poised for a ‘phenomenal’ wading bird season with right water balance” via Adriana Brasileiro of the Miami Herald — South Florida is in for a “phenomenal” wading bird year after a record-breaking rainy season increased the amount of fish in historical nesting grounds while a dry winter has created the perfect conditions for nesting. As the water dries up in the northern marshes of water conservation areas and Western marl prairies, large colonies of great and snowy egrets and wood storks that have already started nesting have been spotted during surveillance flights by the South Florida Water Management District. Last month, the birds were still using the southwestern part of the Everglades near Florida Bay because the north was still wet from drenching rains that filled up water conservation areas to the brim.


Best wishes, belatedly, to Sen. Audrey Gibson, state Rep. Scott Plakon, Bob Asztalos, Wilbur Brewton, Ryan Cohn of Sachs Media, Austin Durrer, Chief of Staff to Charlie CristDrew Heffley, Kevin MunozChris Mitchell, Pasco Commissioner Mike Moore, Seth Platt, Jeremy Susac, and Jennifer Wilson. Celebrating today are former Sen. Mike Haridopolos, Marti Coley Eubanks, and Kristen Grissom of Bascom Communications and Consulting,


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

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.


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

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

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