Fresh polling shows support for medical marijuana has only grown since Florida voters approved its use five years ago. Meanwhile, interest in limiting access to cannabis seems to wither more each day.
A survey commissioned by Florida For Care finds 76% of voters in Florida favor the legal use of marijuana for medical purposes, and only 17% are opposed to it. That’s a higher percentage of support than the 71% who passed a constitutional amendment delivering medical use to Florida in 2016.
More relevant to this Session, pollsters with Public Policy Polling asked voters if they support THC caps under consideration in Tallahassee, and 58% were explicitly opposed, with just 24% want to see limits set.
“This confirms what anybody paying attention at all knows,” said Ben Pollara, executive director of Florida For Care. “Floridians across party lines and in huge numbers support medical marijuana, and by almost a 4-to-1 margin, people want more access to medical marijuana versus new restrictions like the THC caps the Legislature is proposing.”
And there’s a true distaste for politicians deciding how much dope is too much. 61% of respondents agreed that limiting THC is “just another way for Tallahassee politicians to try and ignore the will of Florida voters.” On top of that, 53% of those polled disagree with the notion the Legislature “cares about the well-being of medical marijuana patients.”
Notably, the distaste for anything happening in Tallahassee seems limited to lawmakers. About 40% of respondents believe Gov. Ron DeSantis, in fact, does care about medical marijuana users, compared to 36% who disagree.
Read more about the first-in-Sunburn poll here.
Here are a few other items worthy of your attention:
— News you can use: For months, Floridians, and others from around the nation, have complained about difficulties securing a COVID-19 vaccination appointment. Facebook wants to fix that. The social media giant is launching a vaccine finder tool that will show users when and where appointments are available and include links to schedule an appointment. So after getting into an argument with a COVID-denying uncle, you can have an easier go at protecting yourself from him.
— Wondering when everyone will get vaccinated?: Assuming the pace keeps up, which it might not as more people get vaccinated, 300 million Americans will have been vaccinated by Sept. 16. That’s according to an interactive tool from USA Today tracking shots in arms. As of Mar. 14, about 111 million Americans have already been vaccinated. The Joe Biden administration expects all Americans to be eligible for a vaccine by May.
— A heartbreaking tale of how COVID-19 robbed young parents of their newborn: The next time someone downplays the impact of COVID-19, tell them to read this emotional feature in the Tampa Bay Times. A 21-year-old expectant mother was careful. She wore masks. She worked from home. Yet she contracted COVID-19 anyway. The illness landed her in the ICU in a coma and on a respirator. Doctors had to perform an emergency C-section on her baby at just 30-weeks’ gestation. The outcome, the heartbreak, the horror, are unspeakable.
— Diane Roberts drops the mic on Anthony Sabatini: The Florida Phoenix author penned a brutal takedown of Rep. Sabatini, comparing him right out of the gate to an “overstimulated chihuahua.” The hit piece (that’s totally what it is, and we’re OK with that) notes Sabatini’s “completely useless” tenure in the Florida Legislature and his new ambition to run for Congress. Roberts mocks Sabatini for once donning Blackface and sponsoring bills to rename a road in honor of former President Donald Trump, to declare Nov. 7 “Victims of Communism Day” and for suing, unsuccessfully, several municipalities for mandatory mask-wearing orders. But fear not, she points out, to be elected to Congress, you need only “be all-in for capitalist Jesus,” “support the pre-born,” and “tell the post-born to get a damn job,” among a few other outlandish qualifications.
🏼 — Good news about a good person: The Republican National Committee tapped Danielle Alvarez as its new Communications Director, a new powerful bullet point on her already impressive resume. Alvarez, chosen as one of Florida Politics’ Top 30 under 30 Rising Stars in 2016, previously worked for former Gov. Rick Scott, former Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera, and as director of external affairs for Enterprise Florida. She also worked as a spokesperson for Trump Victory and was integral in helping the former President achieve notable gains in South Florida during the 2020 presidential election. Alvarez’s first gig in politics came working for Kathleen Passidomo, a Florida state Senator now in line to serve as Senate President.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@GGreenwald: A massive WPost correction on one of the most discussed stories of the last 6 months. Look at this thread to see how widespread it went in media. As was true of Russiagate: reporting errors are to be expected. But they should go 50/50, not always in the same political direction.
Get with the corporate media program, people.
Since Biden is president, these are no longer cages for kids. They’re now convex polyhedrons for the confinement of minors… pic.twitter.com/guNEghw5Vq
— Steve Cortes (@CortesSteve) February 23, 2021
—@KaitlinCollins: The Biden admin would welcome former President Trump publicly urging people to get the vaccine, @ says. Trump was vaccinated without telling anyone or issuing any kind of public statement, despite Republican hesitancy to get vaccinated.
The rate of vaccination is picking up across the U.S. but in Florida it's plateauing, at best, accounting for some backfill here with reporting lag the numbers still look awfully flat. pic.twitter.com/LGY527XCqw
— Ben Conarck (@conarck) March 15, 2021
— The Onion (@TheOnion) March 15, 2021
—@MaryEllenKlas: Far-right activist Laura Loomer, who calls herself a “proud Islamaphobe” and has been banned from Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, PayPal, Venmo, and Uber for violating rules, including anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim comments, speaks in favor of @bill to ban de-platforming.
—@BruceRitchie: FL Senate energy preemption bill would be narrowed by amendment. “I’m not aware of any city banning gas stations. I’m not even sure it would be legal for a city to do so under current law,” @Rebecca O’Hara said.
—@CarlosGSmith: The Vatican’s assertions that being gay is a sin + that gay people choose their orientation isn’t just wrong. It’s a harmful & dangerous message with serious consequences that often results in the breakup of families & violence against our community. The Catholic Church is wrong. Loving someone w/all of your heart + soul will NEVER be a sin. LGBTQ people will continue to do the work of strengthening relationships w/faith leaders of all denominations. Proudly living our lives out loud helps us change more hearts/minds.
—C_Benjaminesq: Going into my third week of Session, I am reminded of this great quote “Service is the rent we pay for the space we occupy in this world” — McCook Daily Gazette
—@AGlorios: Saw this am a national reporter I follow is taking a break. Idk why, but I firmly believe every reporter should take a break after the pandemic if they can. It’s been extraordinary and we must recognize that. You are the only person who will protect yourself from burnout
—@MerylKornfield: every court should have their most searched cases on their pacer homepage
—@RussellHFilm: THE GODFATHER was the first movie franchise to have its first and second films both nominated for Best Screenplay. The second movie franchise? BORAT.
— DAYS UNTIL —
Zack Snyder’s ‘Justice League’ premieres on HBO Max — 2; ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ premieres on Disney+ — 3; ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ premieres — 10; 2021 Florida Virtual Hemp Conference — 10; 2021 Florida Derby — 11; Disneyland, other California theme parks begin to reopen — 16; MLB Opening Day — 16; RNC spring donor summit — 24; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 52; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 55; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 73; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 108; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 117; MLB All-Star Game in Atlanta — 119; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 129; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 137; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 161; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 192; ‘Dune’ premieres — 199; MLB regular season ends — 201; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 207; World Series Game 1 — 224; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 231; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 234; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 269; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 276; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 374; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 416; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 570.
— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —
“Senate set to take up liability protections” via News Service of Florida — The Senate on Thursday will take up a high-profile bill that would help shield businesses and health care providers from lawsuits related to COVID-19. SB 72, sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, was one of 14 bills included Monday on what is known as a special order calendar to go to the Senate floor. The House has passed a bill (HB 7) that would provide protections for non-health care businesses and is considering a separate bill (HB 7005) that would help shield health care providers. The Senate originally had separate bills on the issues, but Brandes combined them last week.
“Bright Futures proposal to see changes” via the News Service of Florida — Under pressure that has included a student-led opposition campaign, lawmakers are expected to overhaul a controversial Senate proposal that would tie Bright Futures scholarships to a list of job-creating degrees. The measure (SB 86) was tabled last week before it was set to be considered by the Senate Education Committee. Sponsor Sen. Dennis Baxley told reporters at the time that he was receiving “a lot of different inputs” on the proposal, which he said left him wanting to “hit the brakes.” Under the bill as it was filed initially, state college and university students would not be eligible for Bright Futures scholarships if they enrolled in degree programs not on lists of “approved” programs. Students who had not chosen degree programs would be eligible to have 60 hours of coursework covered by the popular scholarship program.
“Anti-social media de-platforming bill checkmarked for final panel” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A bill to protect users’ speech on social media platforms, proposed in part because of conservative censorship on prominent platforms like Twitter and Facebook, is on to its final House committee stop. Bill sponsor Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, a Springhill Republican, told the House Appropriations Committee that addressing social media transparency is vitally important for the “modern, heavily tech-dependent” world. The committee voted 19-8 to advance the proposal with Democratic Reps. James Bush and Anika Omphroy joining the majority and Rep. Rene Plasencia breaking ranks from Republicans.
“Bills would stop transgender athletes from playing women’s sports” via Kirby Wilson and Ana Ceballos of the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times — Florida is among at least 25 states this year where conservative lawmakers are proposing restrictions on transgender athletes — athletes who do not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. The Republican lawmakers sponsoring the bills, Rep. Kaylee Tuck and Sen. Kelli Stargel, point to high-profile controversies over gender participation in sports. For instance, Stargel noted that the International Olympic Committee has rules that bar transgender women with high testosterone levels from competing in women’s sports. But neither Stargel nor Tuck could point to any instance where a transgender athlete unfairly impacted a middle school, high school or college athletic competition in Florida. Activists say there are none. The bills also apply to intramural competitions, including elementary schools.
— TALLY 2 —
“Revamp of unemployment system gets Senate support” via Jim Turner of News Service of Florida — A move has begun to revamp Florida’s less-than-decade-old online unemployment system, which crashed amid an influx at the start of the pandemic. The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee on Monday approved a measure (SB 1948) tied to a request by Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Dane Eagle for more than $73 million over the next two years to overhaul the CONNECT unemployment system. Sen. Aaron Bean’s proposal doesn’t say how much money would go to system changes this year, leaving that up to the legislative budget process. An amendment approved Monday would let state Chief Information Officer James Grant, the Department of Revenue, and the Department of Financial Services review any newly proposed system.
“Lawmakers agree on broadband access, differ on funding” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — Two Senators are spearheading an effort to ensure Florida’s rural areas are not left behind as society’s crucial functions like education, employment, and health care move increasingly online. Legislation from Sens. Loranne Ausley and Danny Burgess seeks to improve Florida’s broadband infrastructure by building on federal initiatives. “There’s a significant amount of attention and resources coming down from Washington. And this bill is an attempt to pull all of those pieces together and to make sure that we in Florida are in the best position to take advantage of the federal resources that we know are coming,” Ausley said. Both bills (SB 1590, SB 2004) were reported favorably in the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee meeting Monday.
“Bill to ban smoking at beaches, parks clears Senate committee” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Local governments may soon be able to decide whether cigarette smoking will be permitted at beaches and public parks within their jurisdiction. On Monday, the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee advanced a bill (SB 334) to empower municipalities to take the lead on smoking regulations with a 5-0 vote. “This will allow us to get the bad butts off the beach and get the good butts on,” said Republican Sen. Joe Gruters, the bill sponsor. Speaking to panel members, Gruters noted more than 180,000 cigarette butts were picked up during a single-day cleaning event last year. Those cigarette butts, he contended, threaten the national reputation of Florida’s beaches and parks.
“Ray Rodrigues bill ramping up flood, sea level rise planning sails through first committee” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee is advancing a measure from Republican Party Sen. Rodrigues setting up a grant program to help prepare for flooding and sea-level rise. The legislation (SB 1954) is a companion measure to a bill put forward by the House Environment, Agriculture and Flooding Subcommittee (HB 7019). Rodrigues said the location of Florida’s communities makes the issue particularly pressing. “We see relatively low elevations, a porous geology, and a state where many of our communities were built on former swampland,” Rodrigues explained Monday.
“Senate advances bill setting up Biscayne Bay Commission to oversee improvements” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — A Senate panel OK’d a measure Monday to establish the Biscayne Bay Commission, which would help manage and coordinate public projects in the area. Republican Sen. Ileana Garcia is sponsoring the bill (SB 1482). The Senate Environment and Natural Resources advanced the measure Monday. “When I was sworn into [the] Florida Senate last November, I made a promise to my constituents to be a champion for a precious and unique environment,” Garcia told Senators. “I want to see the beautiful Biscayne Bay protected and preserved for generations to come.” The county has designated Biscayne Bay as a conservation area, but the popular tourist spot has still dealt with serious pollution problems.
“Bill to provide tax breaks for homeowners who elevate properties clears first committee” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — A proposal by Treasure Island Rep. Linda Chaney that would provide tax breaks to homeowners who voluntarily elevate their properties has cleared its first committee hearing. The joint resolution (HJR 1377), along with the bill (HB 1379), received unanimous approval from the House Environment, Agriculture and Flooding Subcommittee Monday. If approved by voters, the joint resolution would amend the state constitution to prevent home improvements for flood mitigation from impacting the value of the property for tax purposes. The House bill is tied to the resolution passage; if the joint resolution passes and is approved by voters in the 2022 election, this bill would take effect Jan. 1, 2023.
“Moment of silence in schools proposal moves to House floor” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The House will consider a bill this week that would pave the way for daily moments of silence in K-12 classrooms. Sponsored by Republican Rep. Randy Fine, the bill (HB 529) would provide students a one- to two-minute window during the day’s first-period for a moment of silence. It would also prohibit teachers from influencing a student’s moment of silence and disallow other students from interfering. Critics of the legislation fear the bill is just another measure to blur the lines between church and state. Fine, however, argues the bill is intended to allow students to take some time ahead of the school day to reflect — regardless of religious affiliation.
School safety package includes failed provisions from last Session — The House’s school safety package includes several provisions that didn’t make the cut in last year’s edition. As reported by Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida, the bill would grant the Education Commissioner more power to withhold pay from school leaders who aren’t compliant with school safety laws. It would also empower the State Board of Education to suspend pay for superintendents and school board members in noncompliant districts. Additionally, it would require districts to send “timely” messages to parents on any emergencies or crimes committed on school grounds. The school safety package will be introduced Tuesday by the Early Learning & Elementary Education Subcommittee.
— TALLY 3 —
Christmas Day appointment tale is a hoax, DeSantis administration says — Former Okaloosa County Commission Chair Graham Fountain claims he got a call on Christmas Day that he had been appointed to the Northwest Florida State College Board of Trustees, even though he didn’t apply for the seat. As reported by Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida, the appointment may be real, but the story is not. “The fact is that the Governor did not, nor did anyone on his staff, call anyone about appointments on Christmas Day,” DeSantis spokesperson Meredith Beatrice said. Additionally, records show that Fountain applied for the position in November and vent through the routine vetting process.
“Capitol doors won’t swing open anytime soon” via the News Service of Florida — The Florida Capitol is expected to remain largely closed to the public for the rest of the legislative session because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as lawmakers get more comfortable meeting face to face. Despite new COVID-19 cases trending down from late fall and early winter and the federal government increasing vaccine supplies to the state, Senate President Wilton Simpson doesn’t anticipate lifting health precautions before the scheduled April 30 end of the session. “I don’t think everyone in this building will be vaccinated in the next seven weeks,” Simpson said last week. “We have a major concern for our Senators. But are equally as concerned for our staff.”
What Kevin Sweeny is reading — “City of St. Augustine backs Chris Sprowls ‘Resilient Florida’ play” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — St. Augustine Mayor Tracy Upchurch wrote Sprowls supporting his proposal to create a Resilient Florida Trust Fund. An official proclamation to this effect will follow, reflecting the backing of local Commissioners. The House is looking to budget $25 million next fiscal year and establish a program to help local governments cover costs of addressing flooding and sea-level rise. The plan, which would set up the fund within the Department of Environmental Protection, calls for funding to jump to $100 million annually starting in the 2022-2023 fiscal year. The legislation is live in both chambers, with the Senate version starting this week with its first of two committee stops.
“‘It’s just taking us backward’: Tampa Bay lawmakers talk home rule attacks and the effect on environmental policy” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — A handful of Tampa Bay lawmakers met Monday virtually to discuss priority environmental legislation for the 2021 Session. The Tampa Bay Climate Alliance hosted the lawmakers for the discussion, which included Sens. Janet Cruz and Brandes, as well as Reps. Susan Valdes, Andrew Learned and Ben Diamond. The group talked about preemptive measures that could impact the Tampa Bay area’s clean energy future, as well as efforts to promote renewable energy. The delegation tackled HB 919, which would take away local governments’ rights to choose how homes and businesses are powered, as well as prevent them from strengthening clean energy building codes, preempting those duties to the state.
“A freshman Black Republican joins Florida’s Legislative Black Caucus” via Isaac Morgan of the Florida Phoenix — Over the years, Black lawmakers in the Florida Legislature have tended toward the Democratic Party rather than the Republicans, but a small group of Black conservatives have served under the GOP banner. The most recent is Rep. Webster Barnaby, a freshman lawmaker, born in Birmingham, England, who was elected last year. He is a resident of Deltona and represents part of Volusia County. He is the House’s only Black Republican. Barnaby hasn’t responded to multiple requests for comment from the Florida Phoenix regarding his thoughts about his role and priorities. But he has joined the Legislative Black Caucus, an overwhelmingly Democratic institution.
— LOBBY REGS —
New and renewed lobbying registrations:
Mike Grissom, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Universal Orlando, University Medical Service Association
James Miller, People Who Think: Bay Park Conservancy
Bill Rubin, Heather Turnbull, Melissa Akeson, Jacqueline Carmona, Christopher Finkbeiner, Matthew Sacco, Rubin Turnbull & Associates: AFSCME Florida, Carnival Corporation
Corey Simon: Volunteer Florida Commission on Community Service
— LEG. SKED —
The Senate Community Affairs Committee meets to consider SB 1128, from Sen. Travis Hutson, to preempt local governments from restricting the types of fuel that utilities can use for energy production, 9 a.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.
House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider HB 1177, from Rep. Bryan Avila, to help improve water quality in Biscayne Bay, 9:30 a.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.
The House Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee meets to consider HB 51, from Rep. Stan McClain, to permit state universities and colleges to sponsor charter schools, 9:30 a.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.
The House Local Administration and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee meets to consider HB 337, from Rep. Nick DiCeglie, to put additional restrictions on local impact fees, 9:30 a.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
The House Professions and Public Health Subcommittee meets to consider HB 239, from Rep. Thad Altman, allowing local governments to restrict smoking at parks and beaches, 9:30 a.m., Room 212, Knott Building.
The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee meets to consider SB 1574, from Sen. Brandes, making changes related to the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp., 9:30 a.m., Room 412 Knott Building.
The Senate Transportation Committee meets to consider SB 676, from Baxley, creating a Florida state parks specialty license plate, 9:30 a.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee meets to consider SB 224, from Sen. Lori Berman, to provide a sales-tax exemption for certain items that help people live independently, 12:30 p.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee meets to consider SB 1608, from Sen. Aaron Bean, to crack down on scammers who provide fraudulent information about COVID-19 vaccines and personal protective equipment, 12:30 p.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Education Committee meets to consider SB 86, from Baxley, to change state student financial aid and scholarship, including the Bright Futures program, 12:30 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.
The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee meets to consider HB 523, from Rep. Jackie Toledo, to help victims of human trafficking, 1 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.
The House Post-Secondary Education and Lifelong Learning Subcommittee meets to consider HB 281, from Reps. Wyman Duggan and Ardian Zika, to reimburse colleges and universities for tuition and instructional material costs incurred by dual-enrolled high school students, 1 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.
The House Tourism, Infrastructure and Energy Subcommittee meets to consider HB 1311, from Rep. Bobby Payne, creating a public-meetings exemption for portions of meetings of the Public Service Commission for issues of proprietary, confidential business information, 1 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee meets to consider SB 1488, from Sen. Kelli Stargel, creating a public-records exemption for home addresses, telephone numbers, and dates of birth of state lawmakers, Cabinet members, their spouses, and children, 3:30 p.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee and the House Pandemics and Public Emergencies Committee meet to consider SB 1760 and HB 1353, from Sen. Ben Albritton and Rep. Clay Yarborough, to require the state Division of Emergency Management to have an adequate amount of personal-protective equipment available for purchase by health care providers during declared emergencies. Senate committee meets at 3:30 p.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building. House committee meets at 3:45 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
The Senate Regulated Industries Committee meets to consider SB 268, from Sen. Keith Perry, to preempt occupational licensing by local governments, 3:30 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.
The House Commerce Committee meets to consider HB 6073, from Rep. Chip LaMarca, to repeal a law limiting the sizes of wine containers sold in Florida, 3:45 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.
— TALLY MADNESS —
TallyMadness 2021 is making waves, and we are just getting started!
After fielding questions about the new twist for 2021 — particularly who qualifies as an “in-house” lobbyist — yes, our annual bracketology will include state agency and department legislative affairs directors.
So, don’t wait! Get your nominations in for the big dance of the “best” lobbyists in #FlaPol; we are extending the deadline for picks, suggestions, and requests to noon Tuesday.
To nominate those in-house lobbyists, legislative affairs directors, or to volunteer for the selection committee, please email [email protected].
Catch the Madness today!
— STATEWIDE —
“Florida jobless rate falls to 4.8%” via Jim Turner of News Service of Florida — The state Department of Economic Opportunity reported Monday that Florida’s unemployment rate decreased to 4.8% in January, down 0.3 percentage points from a revised December rate. Adrienne Johnston, the department’s chief economist, said even as people return to the overall labor force, the need to revitalize the vital leisure and hospitality industry continues to be a focus. As of January, the leisure and hospitality industry had lost 284,100 jobs, or 22.3% of jobs, over the past year. Retail jobs were off 3.9% from a year earlier, and transportation, warehouse and utility jobs were down 5%. Also, education positions were down 3.3%, health care and social assistance jobs were off 4.2%, construction jobs fell 1.7%, and manufacturing jobs were down 2.6%.
“Insurance, K9s and weed among Cabinet legislative priorities” via Brendan Farrington of The Associated Press — Jimmy Patronis wants to make navigating insurance claims more consumer-friendly and pass a bill to shield businesses from lawsuits related to COVID-19. Nikki Fried wants to fight hunger and Ashley Moody wants better protections for seniors who are exploited. Moody also wants a loophole closed in the state’s sexual offender registration law. While Florida’s three independently elected Cabinet members can’t sponsor or vote on bills, they hold important leadership roles in state government, and each is working with lawmakers to pass legislation.
—“Ashley Moody files lawsuit over Joe Biden’s immigration moves” via the News Service of Florida
“Regulators eye Citizens rate increases” via Jim Saunders of News Service of Florida — Florida regulators on Monday dug into a proposal to raise rates for customers of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. The state-backed insurer is seeking an overall rate increase of 7.3%, though hikes would vary widely based on factors such as types of policies and locations. Citizens President and CEO Barry Gilway told regulators that private insurers have been losing money in Florida and are taking steps such as not writing new policies or placing restrictions on the types of properties they will cover. “The reality is the marketplace in Florida is shutting down,” Gilway said. Gilway said Citizens’ rates are oftentimes lower than what private insurers charge.
“New survey: Floridians are more worried about climate change than most Americans” via Laura Cassels of Florida Phoenix — Floridians worry about climate change more than most Americans, and the level of concern among Republicans in weather-battered South Florida is higher than among Republicans elsewhere in the country. About 75% of the 1,500 respondents said they are concerned about climate change, and nearly 40% reported they are “very concerned.” The level of concern is distinctly higher among Democrats than Republicans and between young people (ages 18 to 35) and older people (at least age 56), according to the polling results announced Monday.
— 2022 —
“For voting rights advocates, a ‘once in a generation moment’ looms” via Nicholas Fandos and Michael Wines of The New York Times — State and national voting-rights advocates are waging the most consequential political struggle over access to the ballot since the civil rights era, a fight increasingly focused on a far-reaching federal overhaul of election rules in a last-ditch bid to offset a wave of voting restrictions sweeping Republican-controlled state legislatures. The federal voting bill, which passed in the House this month with only Democratic support, includes a landmark national expansion of voting rights, an end to partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts and new transparency requirements on the flood of dark money financing elections that would override the rash of new state laws.
New poll shows Cuban-American voters align with GOP” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO — A poll of Cuban-American voters in Florida shows that an overwhelming majority is solidly opposed to the Joe Biden administration reengaging with the island dictatorship — and their brief drift toward Democrats has been totally reversed. DuringBarack Obama’s presidency, studies, exit polls and voting patterns indicated that the exiled community’s hardline positions about Cuba had begun to soften, prompting Obama to make a historic visit to the island in early 2016 — a move that brought a torrent of criticism from Florida Republicans including then-Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio.
“‘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-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 signifies its arrival with the launch of a video that seeks to tie DeSantis to Trump, whom the narrator calls “his role model.”
To watch “Ron Be Gone,” click on the image below:
“Candidate yet? Stephanie Murphy’s campaign goes after Marco Rubio” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Murphy may not yet be officially running for the Senate, but she is campaigning for it. The Winter Park congresswoman’s political committee Monday launched internet attack ads against Sen. Rubio, the likely opponent for Murphy, or anyone else who might emerge from the Democrats’ current cast of credible candidates in 2022. Rubio has “repeatedly betrayed Florida by voting to take away health care, attacking immigrant communities, and standing with Donald Trump,” declares a social media ad from Murphy for Congress. “Do you think he should be reelected?” That ad links to a fundraising pitch from her campaign.
“Some compassion, please, for Anthony Sabatini, ‘the worst person in the Florida Legislature’” via Diane Roberts of the Florida Phoenix — Pity Rep. Sabatini. He’s like an overstimulated chihuahua at a crowded party, yapping for attention and never getting enough. Now he says he’s running for Congress to make America more greater again, again. Give him a Milk-bone, poor little fellow. Sabatini began his IED of a political career in 2016 as a member of the City Council of Eustis (motto: “Culture, Opportunity, Vitality”), inviting homeless Confederate monuments, cruelly ripped from plinths across the South, to relocate to the town, “where we will gladly accept and proudly display our nation’s history.” Can I get a Rebel Yell?
“Philip ‘Griff’ Griffitts launches HD 6 bid to succeed Jay Trumbull” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Bay County Commissioner Griffitts will vie to replace Trumbull, who is term-limited and can’t run again in 2022. But until this month, no one had jumped into the race to succeed him. “We’re excited to launch this campaign,” Griffitts said in a statement. “I believe my experience serving as a county commissioner will help me serve effectively in the Legislature.” Panama City business owner Grey Dodge is the other challenger in the race. However, he told Florida Politics on Friday that he would drop out of the race to endorse Griffitts after discussing the matter over coffee that morning.
“New districts for 2022 election might lead to more racially diverse Broward County Commission” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The mostly-white Broward County Commission could become more racially diverse after the 2022 elections. A confluence of factors could contribute to a change: an increasing Black and Hispanic population in the county, the once-a-decade redistricting to consider population shifts, and term limits. Matthew Isbell, a Florida-based Democratic data consultant who runs the MCI Maps firm, said redrawn districts could lead to a much more racially diverse County Commission. He developed a map showing potential boundaries for the commission’s nine districts. It wasn’t a detailed analysis; that would require more time and detailed 2020 population data the Census isn’t close to releasing.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“State reports 2,826 new cases, 93 new deaths” via WFLA staff reports — Florida’s health department added a total of 2,826 new coronavirus cases in Monday’s report, bringing the cumulative number of cases in the state to 1,979,634 since the pandemic began just more than a year ago. The Florida Department of Health’s latest report shows the state received 55,766 PCR or antigen lab results from across the state on Sunday. Of those tests, the state says 8.89% were positive. The percent positivity for new cases was 6.13% on Sunday. Percent positivity for new cases is the number of people who test PCR (nose swabs) or antigen-positive for the first time divided by all the people tested that day.
“Florida: Where vaccine distribution is gamified, everyone is confused, and we all must compete” via Jessica Lipscomb of the Miami New Times — Ever since mid-December when the first U.S. health care workers began to get vaccinated, many of us have been wondering: When will it be my turn? In Florida, there has been no clear answer for most. As recently as two weeks ago, Florida was the only state that hadn’t clearly articulated which residents would be prioritized next for the COVID vaccine. As of today, those eligible under the state’s official guidelines include people older than 60, school employees over 50, police over 50, firefighters over 50, health care workers, and medically vulnerable residents who can provide a doctor’s note.
“Are Black people getting COVID-19 vaccines at Florida’s federal sites? State won’t say” via Nicholas Nehamas and Ben Conarck of the Miami Herald — State officials hoped for a steady stream of Black residents at a federally supported COVID-19 vaccination site in North Miami Beach on Monday morning, the first day of Florida lowering its vaccine eligibility from anyone over 65 to anyone over 60. Instead, they seemed to get a trickle, a situation repeating itself across Miami-Dade County and Florida’s biggest cities for the last two weeks. At 11 a.m., there was virtually no line at North Miami Beach’s city-owned DeLeonardis Youth Center, which was turned into a vaccination site last week, when eligibility was still largely restricted to people over the age of 65, law enforcement officers, school staff and medically vulnerable people with the ability to secure a doctor’s note.
“First doses help nursing home residents” via News Service of Florida — Partial vaccination with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was 63% effective in preventing new infections in residents at two nursing facilities, according to a CDC report released Monday. The findings are similar to other first-dose effectiveness estimates for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the broader adult population in non-congregate settings. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses. The report was based on data from two Connecticut skilled nursing facilities with COVID-19 outbreaks in January after staff members and residents were first vaccinated on Dec. 18. During the investigation period, 97 cases of COVID-19 infection occurred. By the date of discharge or the last day of the investigation, nearly 66% of residents, or 304 people, had received the recommended two doses of the vaccine.
“‘I’m ready to cry’: Floridians rejoice as the vaccination age falls. Younger people could be eligible soon” via Andrew Boryga and Lisa J. Huriash of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — After months of waiting in limbo, Floridians age 60 and over fanned out to walk-up sites and booked appointments with CVS, Walgreens, Publix and the Department of Health for a coveted vaccine shot. Like the FEMA-supported site at Miami Dade College North, no appointment walk-up sites seemed to be the best bet, as a steady stream of people were in and out under 30 minutes in some cases. The loosened vaccine restrictions were announced last week by DeSantis. He said that by the end of March, those 55 and over will be eligible, but Broward officials said that rollback could happen even sooner.
“Are Black people getting COVID-19 vaccines at Florida’s federal sites? State won’t say” via Nicholas Nehamas and Ben Conarck of the Miami Herald — State officials hoped for a steady stream of Black residents at a federally supported COVID-19 vaccination site in North Miami Beach on Monday morning, the first day of Florida lowering its vaccine eligibility from anyone over 65 to anyone over 60. Instead, they seemed to get a trickle — a situation repeating itself across Miami-Dade County and Florida’s biggest cities for the last two weeks. At 11 a.m., there was virtually no line at North Miami Beach’s city-owned DeLeonardis Youth Center, which turned into a vaccination site last week, when eligibility was still largely restricted to people over the age of 65, law enforcement officers, school staff, and medically vulnerable people.
“Confusion and distrust: Nikki Fried renews attack on DeSantis’ vaccine distribution” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Fried, state’s sole elected Democrat, began the week attacking Republican DeSantis on cable news, another indication that national media is eyeing the Florida landscape heading into 2022. Fried vented vexation over the Governor’s vaccine distribution efforts in an MSNBC interview. Coronavirus response has offered perhaps the most glaring example of political difference between the Governor and her, with Fried offering sharp critiques that DeSantis rarely honors with a direct response. “A lot of confusion, a lot of distrust” was how the Commissioner summed up Florida’s vaccine distribution thus far. Fried discussed a “confusion about who is qualified” and said that was aggravated by the “additional aspect of favoritism” from DeSantis.
“Florida volunteers pitch in to help seniors get vaccination appointments” via Bailey LeFever of the Tampa Bay Times — Across Florida, good Samaritans have pooled information and time to help people 65 and older get vaccinated. Some have built Facebook groups to share tips and answer questions. Others wake up each morning and spend hours crunched over a computer screen, punching numbers into their cellphones. They’ve even driven people to vaccine appointments. Florida’s three-month vaccine rollout began chaotically, with registration site crashes and phone lines returning endless busy signals. The volunteers have helped those without internet access or hours to spend on the phone. The mission is integral, said Mary Doyle, a 70-year-old Safety Harbor resident. Most people don’t have someone who can help them work the system.
AARP Florida praises seniors ‘ongoing prioritization’ in vaccine rollout — As the state’s minimum vaccination age dropped to 60 on Monday, AARP Florida lauded the Governor for continuing to prioritize vaccine doses for older Floridians. “Today, thanks to Gov. DeSantis’ ongoing prioritization of our at-risk populations, Floridians 60+ become eligible to get vaccinated. It is encouraging to see this continued prioritization strategy in Florida’s vaccine rollout, and this is the natural next step to increasing vaccine availability without saturating the systems in place,” AARP Florida State Director Jeff Johnson said. “In addition to this welcome expansion, AARP applauds the state’s efforts to proactively register homebound individuals.”
— CORONA LOCAL —
“Jacksonville-area unemployment close to before pandemic” via Steve Patterson of The Florida Times Union — The Jacksonville area’s unemployment rate slipped to 4.4% in January, state officials said, although a refiguring of the previous month’s level concluded that had actually been far lower. Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity had previously estimated unemployment in Jacksonville’s metropolitan area to be at 4.8% for December – which would make January’s figures a healthy improvement. But the agency said Monday that the December rate had really only been 3.2%, a level Northeast Florida hadn’t seen since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“More than half of Palm Beach County seniors are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Palm Beach County surpassed a significant milestone Monday, with more than half of people aged 65 or over now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The county was the first in South Florida’s tri-county area to see a major surge in vaccine doses from the state. That’s due in part to Palm Beach having the largest share of seniors than Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Those latter counties will cross the 50% vaccination mark for seniors in the coming days and weeks. Broward sits at 44% among that demographic, while Miami-Dade County is at 39%. Miami-Dade has continued to see an explosion in the number of shots in arms recently, however.
“Omari Hardy calls on Ric Bradshaw to vaccinate all eligible detainees in Palm Beach County’s jails” via Florida Daily — On Friday, State Rep. Hardy called on Palm Beach County Sheriff Bradshaw to protect the health of the detainees in his jails. Hardy called on Bradshaw to regularly test detainees in Palm Beach County’s jails for COVID-19 and to work with local health agencies, as well the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners, to obtain COVID-19 vaccines for all eligible detainees. “Every eligible Palm Beach County resident has some access to the vaccine except for residents incarcerated in the sheriff’s jails. They have no access to the vaccine while they are incarcerated,” Hardy said.
“South Florida counties send united message to DeSantis: ‘Common-sense’ COVID measures still needed” via Skyler Swisher and Brooke Baitinger of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — As spring breakers jammed beaches, South Florida counties issued an “extremely rare” joint statement Monday expressing concerns that Gov. DeSantis’ decision to cancel COVID-19 fines sends a message that masks and other “common-sense” health measures are no longer needed. DeSantis wiped away COVID-19-related fines last week, part of his push to block local governments from enforcing mask mandates and other public health measures. Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties — the state’s most populous metro area and a popular destination for spring breakers — responded Monday.
“Some vaccination sites just lifted restrictions for school staff, cops and firefighters” via Michelle Marchante of the Miami Herald — Law enforcement and firefighters, regardless of age, can now register for a COVID-19 vaccination through Miami-Dade County’s online portal. So can pre-K-12 school personnel and child care workers. The move goes beyond DeSantis’ executive order, which restricts vaccinations to K-12 school staff, law enforcement, and firefighters ages 50 and older and excludes preschool and day care workers. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced the changes in a memo to county commissioners and wrote it was to “ensure we are distributing our existing supply as efficiently as possible to protect front-line education workers and first responders.” On Monday, the county’s vaccine website was updated to reflect the new changes.
“Are you vaccinated? South Beach food festival will require proof or test to attend” via Carlos Frías of the Miami Herald — South Florida is about to become a lab for the first big experiment in food festivals in the age of the coronavirus. Tickets for the 2021 South Beach Wine & Food Festival will go on sale on March 22 for a four-day event that expects to draw more than 20,000 people to South Beach — but will look much different from in the past in this, its 20th year. The website is active to browse events today. The festival, which was pushed back from February to May 20-23 as COVID-19 cases surged, bets on vaccines becoming more widespread.
“New COVID-19 cases in Escambia and Santa Rosa plummet to lowest rate in five months” via the Pensacola News Journal — New COVID-19 infections in both Escambia and Santa Rosa counties last week continued to plummet, dropping to their lowest rates in more than five months. According to the Florida Department of Health, Escambia County reported 246 new positive cases from March 8 to 14. That’s the lowest weekly infection rate since the week of Oct. 5 to 11. Meanwhile, Santa Rosa County reported 139 new infections last week to mark its lowest rate since that same week in October when the county recorded 129 new cases. The state verified 21 new coronavirus-related deaths last week in both counties, adding 14 to Escambia County’s death toll and seven to Santa Rosa County’s.
“USF announces in-person graduation ceremony, first since pandemic began” via Divya Kumar of the Tampa Bay Times — The University of South Florida announced Monday it will hold its spring graduation ceremonies in-person at Tropicana Field. The ceremonies, which are set to take place May 7-9, mark the first in-person graduation ceremonies at the university since December 2019, albeit with modifications. Participants and guests must wear face coverings, including those who have been vaccinated, according to a message from USF President Steve Currall. Students will not cross the stage or have their names read, and doctoral students will not be hooded during the ceremony. “In-person commencement is an honored and joyous occasion, and we have worked closely with our experts from USF Health to provide a safe environment for our spring ceremonies,” Currall said.
“COVID-19 vaccine for 60 and over in Southwest Florida: More than 85,000 people can now get it” via Dan DeLuca of the Naples Daily News — More than 85,000 additional Southwest Florida residents became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine Monday when DeSantis’ executive order lowering the qualifying age to 60 took effect. Nearly 263,000 people in Collier and Lee counties have received at least one vaccine dose. Statewide, more than 4.2 million people have been vaccinated. Based on census population estimates for age 65 and older residents, about 69% of Collier seniors and 59% of Lee’s have gotten at least one COVID-19 shot. These older Floridians will continue to be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine along with health care workers, law enforcement, firefighters and K-12 employees age 50 and older. FEMA and pharmacy sites following Biden’s protocols are providing shots to a wider array of recipients.
“Fans of Disney, Universal, other theme parks eager for post-pandemic comeback” via Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — Theme-park fans have navigated through new rules, procedures and health precautions in the year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ever since Disney, Universal and SeaWorld reopened their attractions last summer, devotees have donned masks, remembered to make reservations and waited in spread-out lines for rides, meals and temperature screenings. They didn’t get to hug princesses. While many folks powered through the obstacles, others questioned the wisdom of going at all. Fear of the spreading virus loomed and financial reasons factored in, too.
“South Florida man arrested for spitting at Disney World security guard over mask rules” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — A 51-year-old Palm Beach man was charged with a felony after he was accused of spitting at a Disney World security guard who asked him to put on his mask, according to an Orange County Sheriff’s arrest report released Monday. Kelly McKin was charged with battery on a security officer, court records show. McKin adamantly denied spitting on the guard last month at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the arrest report said. He did immediately not return a message for comment Monday. However, the security guard said she recognized McKin from his long gray beard and mustache. On Feb. 5, the guard said she had confronted him about not wearing a mask on Disney property as he was walking into the Contemporary’s convention center.
— CORONA NATION —
“CDC: 9 of 10 vaccinated in U.S. get 2nd shot” via The Associated Press — About nine out of 10 people who got the first shot of a coronavirus vaccine got the second in the two-dose series, according to the first federal study to look at how many are people are completing the series. The CDC on Monday released results of a study of 12.5 million people who received the first vaccine dose and for whom sufficient time elapsed to get the second. The study focused on the period from December 14 to February 14. The researchers found 88% completed the series, and another 9% did not but still had time to complete the series within the six weeks that CDC officials recommend as the maximum span between doses. About 3% did not complete the series within six weeks, the study found.
“The White House is set to unveil a wide-reaching, billion-dollar campaign aimed at convincing every American to get vaccinated” via Lev Facher of STAT — The White House will soon unveil a wide-reaching public relations campaign aimed at boosting vaccine confidence and uptake across the U.S., Biden administration aides told STAT. This television, radio, and digital advertising blitz, set to kick off within weeks, will focus on Americans outright skeptical of vaccines’ safety or effectiveness as well as those who are potentially more willing to seek a COVID-19 immunization but don’t yet know where, when, or how. Specifically, the campaign will target three groups in which access, apathy, or outright skepticism may pose a barrier to vaccinations: young people, people of color, and conservatives, according to a Biden aide.
“Concern about Republican vaccine hesitancy is growing” via Caitlin Owens of Axios — Polling and public officials are increasingly sounding the alarm about one group of Americans that remains stubbornly resistant to the idea of receiving a coronavirus vaccine: Republicans. Vaccine enthusiasm has increased over the last few months, but a giant partisan gap remains. According to a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey, nearly half of Republican men — 49% — say they won’t choose to be vaccinated if a vaccine is available to them. Among those who said they supported Trump in 2020, 47% said they wouldn’t choose to be vaccinated. In contrast, 6% of Democratic men and 10% of Biden supporters said they wouldn’t get the shot.
“‘We want to be educated, not indoctrinated,’ say Trump voters wary of COVID-19 shots” via Dan Diamond of The Washington Post — Be honest that scientists don’t have all the answers. Tout the number of people who got the vaccines in trials. And don’t show pro-vaccine ads with politicians, not even ones with Trump. That’s what a focus group of vaccine-hesitant Trump voters insisted to politicians and pollsters this weekend, as public health leaders rush to win over the tens of millions of Republicans who say they don’t plan to get a coronavirus shot. If those voters follow through, it will imperil efforts to achieve the high levels of immunity needed to stop the virus’s spread in the United States, experts fear.
“CDC identifies public-health guidance from the Donald Trump administration that downplayed pandemic severity” via Lena H. Sun of The Washington Post — Federal health officials have identified several controversial pandemic recommendations released during the Trump administration that they say were “not primarily authored” by staff and didn’t reflect the best scientific evidence, based on a review ordered by its new director. The review identified three documents that had already been removed from the agency’s website. The review was done “to ensure that all of CDC’s existing covid-19 guidance is evidence-based and free of politics,” according to a memo from the agency’s principal deputy director, Anne Schuchat.
“Regular booster vaccines are the future in battle with COVID-19 virus, top genome expert says” via Guy Faulconbridge of Reuters — Regular booster vaccines against the novel coronavirus will be needed because of mutations that make it more transmissible and better able to evade human immunity according to Sharon Peacock, the head of Britain’s effort to sequence the virus’ genomes. Peacock said international cooperation was needed in the “cat and mouse” battle with the virus. “We have to appreciate that we were always going to have to have booster doses; immunity to coronavirus doesn’t last forever,” Peacock said. “We already are tweaking the vaccines to deal with what the virus is doing in terms of evolution — so variants are arising that have a combination of increased transmissibility and an ability to partially evade our immune response,” she said.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“COVID-19 stimulus checks: Millions face tax refund delays as first batch of $1,400 relief payments roll out” via Jessica Menton of USA Today — Nearly 7 million tax filers who await their tax refunds face significant delays this tax season as the IRS rushes to send out stimulus checks to millions of struggling Americans who have faced economic hardship in the coronavirus pandemic. The agency is grappling with staffing and outdated IT systems when it’s also implementing sweeping tax code changes from the COVID-19 relief packages. Roughly 6.7 million returns haven’t been processed yet, citing data from the IRS.
— MORE CORONA —
“How the West lost COVID-19” via David Wallace-Wells of POLITICO — For decades, the richest nations of the world had told themselves a story in which wealth and medical superiority offered, if not total immunity from disease, then certainly a guarantee against pandemics, regarded as a premodern residue of the underdeveloped world. Invulnerability was a myth, of course, but what the pandemic revealed was much worse than just average levels of susceptibility and weakness. It was these countries that suffered most, died most, flailed most. Containing a novel disease we understand incompletely is not as simple as hitting the “Science” button. The mitigation measures on which the country has focused the most are curve-benders, not firewalls.
—“E.U countries suspend AstraZeneca vaccine as U.S. considers authorizing its use” via John Bacon, Elinor Aspegren and Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today
“How the pandemic is reshaping education” via Donna St. George, Valerie Strauss, Laura Meckler, Joe Heim and Hannah Natanson of The Washington Post — The coronavirus pandemic upended almost every aspect of school at once. It was not just the move from classrooms to computer screens. It tested basic ideas about instruction, attendance, testing, funding, the role of technology and the human connections that hold it all together. A year later, a rethinking is underway, with a growing sense that some changes may last. Others in education see a similar opening. The pandemic pointed anew to glaring inequities of race, disability and income. Learning loss is getting new attention. Schools with poor ventilation systems are being slotted for upgrades.
“Kids don’t need to keep six feet apart in schools. Three feet is just as safe.” via Westyn Branch-Elliman, Polly van den Berg and Elissa Schechter-Perkins of The Washington Post — A year ago, as a rapidly spreading and relatively unknown new coronavirus was declared a pandemic, schools across the country closed. Most of them stayed closed for the duration of the past academic year. The decision to close schools and keep children at home was based on various factors, including limited knowledge about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and how it transmits. National policy decisions were largely based on data adapted from influenza models, in which children, and schools, in particular, were major drivers of previous viral outbreaks.
— PRESIDENTIAL —
“Biden eyes first major tax hike since 1993 in next economic plan” via Nancy Cook and Laura Davison of Bloomberg — Unlike the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus act, the next initiative, which is expected to be even bigger, won’t rely just on government debt as a funding source. While it’s been increasingly clear that tax hikes will be a component — Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said at least part of the next bill will have to be paid for and pointed to higher rates — key advisers are now making preparations for a package of measures that could include an increase in both the corporate tax rate and the individual rate for high earners. With each tax break and credit having its own lobbying constituency to back it, tinkering with rates is fraught with political risk.
“Biden, pitching stimulus, promises milestones for vaccines and checks” via Jim Tankersley and Alan Rappeport of The New York Times — Biden said on Monday that his administration was on pace to achieve two key goals by March 25: 100 million shots of COVID-19 vaccines since his inauguration and 100 million direct payments under his economic relief bill. The announcement was the first in what promises to be a series of end-zone dances that Biden and administration officials are set to stage this week as they promote the $1.9 trillion package that the President signed into law last week. “Shots in arms and money in pockets. That’s important,” Biden said in a brief address from the White House. “The American Rescue Plan is already doing what it was designed to do: make a difference in people’s everyday lives.”
“Senate confirms Deb Haaland as Interior Secretary in historic first” via Axios staff reports — The Senate voted 51-40 on Monday to confirm Rep. Haaland as Biden’s Secretary of the Interior Department. Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, is the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency. Haaland, in 2018, became one of the first two Native American women to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, alongside Rep. Sharice Davids. The Interior Department oversees the federal government’s relationship with 567 federally recognized tribes and 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives.
“Biden eyes Gene Sperling to serve as COVID-19 rescue plan czar” via Laura Barrón-López and Ben White of POLITICO — Sperling, who served on the economic teams in both the Barack Obama and Bill Clinton administrations, was under consideration to serve as Biden’s director of the Office of Management and Budget after the President’s first pick, Neera Tanden, failed to secure enough support in the Senate. Instead of that post, he is expected to be named to a position within the White House where he will be tasked with overseeing the enactment of the recently signed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.
“Biden under pressure to tap fewer political ambassadors than Trump, Barack Obama” via Anita Kumar and Nahal Toosi of POLITICO — Trump named more of his political allies to serve as ambassadors than any President in modern history. Now the pressure is on Biden to reverse that trend and set a new standard. Biden still plans to dole out ambassadorships to major campaign donors, but some diplomats say slashing the number of fundraisers sent to overseas posts would send a message around the globe. Most Presidents in recent decades have given 30% of ambassadorships to political appointees, including major campaign donors. But Trump increased that number to roughly 44%, which included posts in some countries that usually went to career diplomats, such as Thailand and Kenya.
“Biden opposes reopening controversial child migrant shelter” via Stef W. Kight and Hans Nichols of Axios — Biden opposes reopening a controversial child migrant shelter in Florida that’s been run by a for-profit company, telling the federal agency overwhelmed with caring for migrant minors to find other options. The President’s personal intervention underscores the growing humanitarian crisis at the border, the facility’s scandal-plagued past and Biden’s own sensitivities around child detention practices. The temporary shelter in Homestead, Florida, is one of the largest overflow facilities and a political lightning rod. It was used during surges at the border in both the Obama and Trump administrations.
“Fact-checking Moody on Biden’s immigration detainer policy” via Miriam Valverde of PolitiFact — We took a closer look at AG Moody’s comment about detainers, which are a tool used by immigration authorities to take custody of people who are slated to be released from local or state law enforcement agencies. Moody’s office provided evidence that Immigration and Customs Enforcement did lift detainer requests for certain inmates in Florida, based on new enforcement priorities. But Moody’s claim about the effect of these moves needs more context. Lifting the detainers doesn’t mean ICE forced law enforcement agencies to release people. Law enforcement agencies are forced to release people because their sentences are complete. And law enforcement agencies aren’t required to comply with detainer requests.
“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 Biden and Vice President Kamala 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.
Um, no — “Is Biden to blame for rising gas prices?” via Ron Hurtibise of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Prices at the gas pump are significantly higher than last November — threatening to hit $3 a gallon by summer — triggering debate over whether Biden, less than two months into his presidency, bears the blame. Since the inauguration, Republicans and right-leaning commentators have wasted few opportunities to link the price increases to Biden’s policies and predict that the worse is yet to come. “Since President Biden took office, average gas prices are up more than 50 cents a gallon,” Florida Sen. Scott noted in a written statement this week criticizing the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package approved by Democrats in Congress.
“Why you should still pay attention to Biden’s approval rating” via Geoffrey Skelley of FiveThirtyEight — When it comes to presidential approval ratings, the days of big swings in opinion and sky-high ratings are gone. Consider that Trump’s approval rating mostly hovered between 40 and 45%, earning him the distinction of having the steadiest approval rating of any President since World War II. In fact, one way Trump embodied the nickname “Teflon Don” so early was by how little his approval numbers moved in response to the many controversies swirling around him. Obama also saw small fluctuations in his approval numbers.
— EPILOGUE: TRUMP —
“Officials located December recording of Trump call in a trash folder on Georgia investigator’s device” via Jason Morris of CNN — Officials in the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office located a recently released recording of Trump‘s call to a state investigator in a trash folder on her device. The call’s discovery comes after state officials originally told CNN that they did not think audio of the call existed. The call added to the examples of Trump’s extraordinary efforts to push false claims of widespread voter fraud and influence Georgia election officials as they certified the state’s election results. The audio file of the December 23 call between the former President and investigator Frances Watson was discovered as the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office responded to a public records request.
“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 back seat 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.
“Republicans flock to Mar-a-Lago for Donald Trump fundraising, photo-ops” via ABC News — As former President Trump plots his post-White House political life, his flashy country club private properties have emerged as destination spots for Republicans looking to raise money through events that are also sure to line the former President’s pockets. Republicans have been making the trip to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Resort in Palm Beach to meet with donors — despite running for office in other states. While it’s common for politicians to travel outside of their state to reach bigger donors, in the age of Trump, meet-and-greets with Trump at what was once deemed the “Winter White House” have become a particularly attractive option.
“Trump a surprise visitor at Sarah Huckabee Sanders campaign event” via David Aaro of Fox News — Trump made a surprise appearance at a campaign event this weekend for Sanders in her run for Arkansas Governor. Sanders posted a photo of the visit on social media late Sunday. “Another great weekend on the campaign trail featuring a surprise appearance at one of my events by President Trump!” she wrote on Twitter. Sanders served as Trump’s White House press secretary until June 2019. She joined the Fox News Channel as a paid, on-air contributor in September 2019. In January, a Fox News Media spokesperson confirmed that the network terminated her contributor agreement. Trump has supported Sanders in her run for Arkansas Governor.
“Shot chasers: How officials in Trump’s lame-duck White House scrambled to score COVID-19 vaccinations” via Katherine Eban of Vanity Fair — The quest to get on the White House list — which was closely guarded by Mark Meadows’ office and a small cadre of NSC officials, attracted an array of supplicants. They ranged from the representatives of Cabinet secretaries to young White House desk jockeys to those prepared to leverage their connections to Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Among this group were chiefs of staff of cabinet agencies, some of whose bosses had become notorious for publicly disregarding pandemic safeguards like mask-wearing.
— CRISIS —
“Two arrested in assault on police officer Brian Sicknick, who died after Jan. 6 Capitol riot” via Spencer S. Hsu and Peter Hermann of The Washington Post — Federal authorities have arrested and charged two men with assaulting Sicknick with an unknown chemical spray during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot but have not determined whether the exposure caused his death. Julian Elie Khater and George Pierre Tanios were arrested Sunday and were expected to appear in federal court Monday. Khater and Tanios are charged with nine counts, including assaulting three officers with a deadly weapon. Sicknick, another U.S. Capitol Police officer identified as C. Edwards, and a D.C. police officer identified as B. Chapman.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Rick Scott urges DeSantis to give back surplus COVID-19 relief funds” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — If the latest round of COVID-19 relief funds includes extra money for Florida, DeSantis‘ predecessor is urging him to give the surplus back to the federal government. Scott, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, offered the advisory comments Monday. Scott doubled down on a call made earlier this month to Mayors and Governors to reject and return money beyond what is needed specifically for COVID-19 relief, even when the question was framed as specific to Florida. Scott did not mention DeSantis’ name, but made it clear there was no special dispensation for the Sunshine State, offering his own term as Governor as an example of proper usage of federal funds.
“Carlos Giménez, María Elvira Salazar visit U.S.-Mexico border, criticize Biden’s immigration policy” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — Miami’s two first-year members of Congress visited the U.S.-Mexico border near El Paso on Monday as part of a Republican effort to criticize Biden’s immigration policy amid a rush of migrants that has overwhelmed existing federal resources. Reps. Salazar and Giménez joined House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California for a tour with the United States Border Patrol and a view of the wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. In recent weeks, Republicans in Washington have repeatedly called the uptick in illegal border crossing a “crisis” and said the Biden administration doesn’t have a concrete plan to deal with the issue.
“Democrats have Republicans on the back foot. Now they must keep pushing.” via James Downie of The Washington Post — The just-passed stimulus package is a rarity in today’s Washington: a major new law that’s a win in terms of both politics and policy. Poll after poll shows overwhelming support. As my colleague Greg Sargent notes, the bill is even popular with both lower-income Republicans and non-college Whites, two key components of the Trump-era GOP coalition. Millions of Americans are already receiving desperately needed payments to help the country get back on its feet from a once-in-a-century pandemic. Or, to hear Sen. John Barrasso — a Wyoming Republican — tell it on ABC’s “This Week”: “This is a Nancy Pelosi payoff to the liberal left.”
“‘What is happening is inhumane’: 100,000 Cubans in limbo as U.S. visa backlog grows” via Nora Gámez Torres of the Miami Herald — When María Sulay López arrived in the United States in 2014, she assumed her son in Cuba would quickly get a visa to join her. But almost seven years later, the breast cancer patient still doesn’t know when they will be together. As she gasped for breath from an oxygen tank, a result of a permanent tracheotomy, López said she could no longer work and just wants a solution. “I’ve been waiting a long time,” she said on a recent afternoon. “And look at the condition I’m in.” The case is among some 100,000 filed by Cubans and Cuban Americans in the U.S. hoping to reunite with family members on the island, which are on hold.
“Spring forward forever? Lawmakers consider keeping daylight saving time year-round.” via Justin Grieser of The Washington Post — After a long, dark winter, our noticeably sunnier evenings are about to turn even brighter. At 2 a.m. Sunday, the clocks will “spring forward” one hour as we return to daylight saving time (DST). The time shift means we lose an hour of sleep, but in exchange, we’ll enjoy more evening light for the next eight months until we “fall back” to standard time again in early November. But what if we advanced the clocks this weekend and never had to turn them back? The idea is gaining some traction after a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators this week reintroduced a bill that would eliminate standard time and keep daylight saving time year-round.
— LOCAL NOTES —
“Surprise pick: Houston Chief Art Acevedo, a national figure, will lead Miami police” via Joey Flechas and Charles Rabin — Miami’s next police chief is a surprise pick that few, if any, saw coming: Acevedo, leader of the fourth largest police department in the country and a man who forged a national profile the past year marching with police reform protesters after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Officials introduced Acevedo during a City Hall news conference Monday morning. He will take the department’s reins in about six weeks. He will be Miami’s fifth chief the past decade, an unusually high turnover for a large department of about 1,400 officers. He leaves Houston, a 5,400-person force with a more than $1 billion yearly budget, after a five-year stint.
“Orange County set to get nine-figure windfall from Biden’s stimulus” via Ryan Lynch of Orlando Business Journal — Orange County is set to get a large cash infusion from the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill that Biden signed into law March 11. A preliminary analysis shows the county will receive $272 million, 24.2% of the county’s $1.125 billion general fund budget for the fiscal year 2021. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said during a press briefing that county staff already has started discussing how to use the funds. Once the county gets guidelines from the U.S. Treasury on how it can use the funds, “We can then formalize that spending plan.”
“DeSantis orders flags lowered Tuesday for fallen Tampa police officer” via WFLA 8 — Gov. DeSantis ordered flags be flown at half-staff in four parts of the state in honor of the Tampa Police officer killed in the line of duty last week. Officer Jesse Madsen was killed in a crash after he purposely swerved into the path of a wrong-way driver on I-275. He is the 32nd Tampa Police Department Officer to be killed in the line of duty. DeSantis directed the U.S. flag and the Florida state flag to be flown at half-staff at the Pasco County Courthouse in new Port Richey, the Hillsborough County Courthouse in Tampa, the City Hall of Tampa, and at the State Capitol in Tallahassee on Tuesday.
“AdventHealth’s West Florida division will spend $400 million on expansion projects throughout Tampa Bay and beyond” via Ashley Gurbal Kritzer of the Tampa Bay Business Journal — The Altamonte Springs-based health system will begin construction on a new hospital in South Hillsborough County’s Riverview later this year — a full-service community hospital with 80 beds and the capacity to expand to 120 beds. The new hospital, which includes up to 100,000 square feet of medical office space, is a $220 million investment, West Florida CEO Mike Schultz said. While the groundbreaking timeline depends on the permitting process, the health system is aiming for August. AdventHealth paid $3.95 million for three parcels totaling just over 22 acres in mid-2020 — a site at U.S. 301 and Rivercrest Drive in the middle of a dense suburban corridor, surrounded by both residential and commercial development.
— MORE LOCAL —
“Jacksonville City Council Member Al Ferraro running for Mayor” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — Jacksonville Council Member Al Ferraro said Saturday he intends to run for Mayor in 2023, telling supporters he will follow through on providing essential services to residents, focus on public safety and govern the same way he promises to do on the campaign trail. Ferraro, 58, has served on City Council since 2015 representing District 2, which covers a large portion of the Northside and dips across the St. Johns River into a part of East Arlington, where he lives with his wife, Amy. He owns Ferraro Lawn Service Inc., a Jacksonville business he started 35 years ago. Ferraro, a Republican, joins City Councilmember Matt Carlucci, also a Republican, as the announced candidates for Mayor in the spring 2023 election.
“Hedge fund billionaire leads the way to give internet to 100,000 Miami-area households” via Rob Wile of the Miami Herald — As many as 100,000 Miami-Dade households will soon be getting free high-speed internet thanks to a $30 million effort led by hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin. In a partnership led by Levine Cava, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, organizers with the Miami Foundation and Achieve Miami, announced Monday the launch of Miami Connected. Working with wireless provider Comcast, the initiative will kick off by connecting households in Overtown, Little Haiti, Liberty City and Homestead, and continue over the next two years throughout the county on a school-by-school basis to serve all underserved communities where home internet access is limited or nonexistent.
“‘Never forget who put you on’: Text message may cost Westlake attorney Pam Booker her job” via Wayne Washington of The Palm Beach Post — A text message from the father of Booker‘s daughter has led to a call for the attorney’s resignation. Hours before Westlake’s City Council was set to discuss Booker’s contract last fall, Reginald Sheppard sent a text of support for Booker to Vice Mayor Katrina Long-Robinson, who deemed the timing and content of the message to be “offensive, inappropriate and disheartening.” The text message, provided to The Palm Beach Post along with other texts and emails, insinuated that Long-Robinson was being paid by a prominent developer and urged the vice mayor to remember that it was Booker’s recommendation that led to Long-Robinson being named to the council five years ago.
“Longtime FSU prof resigned in sexual misconduct case: ‘There is a huge sense of disgust over the allegations’” via Lucy Morgan of the Florida Phoenix — A longtime distinguished professor at Florida State University’s Askew School of Public Administration and Policy was allowed to quietly resign last year amid a sexual misconduct investigation sparked by the disclosure of a series of sexually explicit emails, photos and text messages exchanged between the professor and a foreign student. Dr. Richard Feiock was the subject of a voluminous report prepared by FSU Human Resources officials, but the university could not reach a final determination on the allegations because his departure ended the inquiry, officials said.
— TOP OPINION —
“What we learned from a dreadful pandemic year” via The Washington Post editorial board — The pandemic might go on for a year or more, with the public growing fatigued and the economy under severe stress, we told you a year ago. That much was correct. No one knew then COVID-19 would claim more than 2.6 million lives, and counting. Some lessons stand out from this dreadful pandemic year. We learned that leadership matters. When the coronavirus began spreading across the United States, Trump responded with denial and deception. His refusal or inability to squarely confront the crisis, to communicate honestly about it, and to marshal the power of government doomed the nation’s response to the gravest public health disaster in a century.
— OPINIONS —
“Justice Breyer should retire right now” via Paul F. Campos of The New York Times — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was widely and deservedly, criticized for her refusal to retire from the Supreme Court at a time when a Democratic President could have chosen her replacement. Justice Stephen Breyer is making a similar and arguably even more egregious mistake. Consider that because of the extremely thin nature of their Democratic Senate control, the shift of a single seat from the Democrats to the Republicans or even one vacancy in the 50 seats now controlled by the Democratic caucus would probably result in the swift reinstallation of Mitch McConnell as the majority leader.
“Legislative Session’s limited access, open government exemptions darken Sunshine Week” via The Palm Beach Post editorial board — During a normal Session of the Florida Legislature, the halls of the Capitol and the House and Senate office buildings are filled with advocates, constituents and lobbyists, all hoping to get face time to persuade their elected officials on any given issue. The constituents come from all walks of life, and they typically come to Tallahassee to have their issues heard. Not this year. This year’s session is anything but normal. The pandemic has become a rationale that has turned “open government” on its proverbial ear. For a state with a still iconic public-records and open-meetings law, the Legislature is on lockdown when it comes to conducting people’s business. At the moment, it is easier for coronavirus to get into the Capitol than constituents.
“A lawmaker’s recipe for fixing problems laid bare by COVID-19” via Anna Eskamani for the Orlando Sentinel — A year ago, our legislative office received the first calls from Floridians asking for assistance with the state’s broken unemployment system. Around that same time, I made an executive decision with my campaign manager that we would stop all field activities focused on the 2020 election cycle and would instead shift our entire volunteer program toward wellness checks; meaning that we started calling constituents not to ask for their vote but to ask how are you and what do you need? Unemployment immediately rose to the top of our priority list, as Floridians locally and from across the state looked toward our legislative office, desperate for help. Using social media, we began hosting online town halls to answer people’s questions.
First in Sunburn — “Dennis Baxley: Pass our pandemic ‘Safe #HOA’ bill” via Florida Politics — Especially during this pandemic, community associations are now playing a more pivotal role to the success of our state by keeping our housing costs low and home values increasing. It is imperative that we modernize our community association laws to include needed pandemic-related procedures and new technologies. And that’s why I introduced Senate Bill 630 with Sen. Travis Hutson and House Bill 867 by Rep. Jason Shoaf. This legislation will allow association boards to safely attend meetings telephonically or by video communication like Zoom during a state of emergency. It will also allow for emergency plans to mitigate any local outbreaks. The legislation will also increase transparency for everyone while improving the efficiency of association functions.
“Chris Lyon: In Florida special districts, small government delivers big benefits for citizens” via Florida Politics — In this year’s Session, Sprowls promised a close look at special districts to assess how well they are carrying out their responsibilities. Based on my experience over the last 17 years working closely with special districts in Florida, I believe this legislative scrutiny will reveal an important success story: that these generally small entities already meet or exceed the standards of efficiency, accountability and transparency expected of good government. Special districts are created for a narrow purpose within a limited geographic area. They do not have “home rule” authority like cities and counties and can only expend revenue on those services or infrastructure authorized by their enabling legislation. All special districts in Florida are fully accountable.
“Matt Gaetz has a great point about Pasco policing” via Joe Henderson of Florida Politics — The residents of Hell better brace for an ice storm because (I can’t believe I’m saying this) Gaetz has a great point. DeSantis should take a hard look at Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco and even consider removing him from office. It’s over Nocco’s stubborn use of a policy known by some as “predictive policing.” The intent, Nocco says, is to stop crime before it happens. However, the execution of that intent is straight out of Big Brother meets the KGB and eerily reminiscent of the early 2000s Tom Cruise hit Minority Report. The Tampa Bay Times first reported on the practice last September.
“GEO is part of state’s correctional solution” via Derrick Schofield for the News-Press — The GEO Group, Inc. (GEO), has had a public-private partnership with the State of Florida for close to three decades, operating secure correctional facilities as part of the state’s correctional system and providing needed rehabilitation programs to the justice-involved individuals entrusted to our care. We work with the state to provide innovative solutions to address Florida’s correctional challenges; and, as a partner with Florida, we are uniquely positioned to deliver enhanced programs designed to reduce recidivism and assist individuals with reentering society as productive and employable citizens. As a services provider for the state, we offer evidence-based programming that is proving to reduce recidivism.
— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —
Over the past 24 hours, the Florida Department of Health reported 99 fatalities and more than 2,800 new cases of COVID-19.
Also, on today’s Sunrise:
— The bill to crack down on social media platforms for banning Trump passes its first committee in the state Legislature.
— Lawmakers from both Parties have problems with social media, but they’re also wondering if they have any authority over the tech giants because that power has been preempted by the feds.
— Despite a decrease in the total number of jobs, Florida’s unemployment rate was down by three-tenths of a point in January.
— Florida’s unemployment compensation system melted down last year when the state went into lockdown; lawmakers are finally getting around to fixing it. The bill to try to revamp the unemployment system got such a friendly reception at its first hearing, the committee chair called it a “lovefest.”
— It’s been more than 30 years since the state created a special fund to compensate families when a baby suffers catastrophic injuries at birth. Lawmakers did that to try to solve a medical malpractice insurance crisis. Now Kenney Shipley, who runs the Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association, says it’s time to increase the payments to parents.
— And finally, a Florida Man is accused of spitting on a Disney guard when she asked him to follow the rules and wear a mask.
To listen, click on the image below:
— ALOE —
“A by-the-numbers look at a year of Oscar diversity, firsts” via Andrew Dalton of The Associated Press — The nominations for the 93rd Academy Awards include 11 first-time acting nominees, 10 nominations for “Mank,” an eighth career nomination for the thus-far winless Glenn Close, and nine nominations for actors of color, including Steven Yeun, whose nod for “Minari” makes him the first Asian American to be nominated for best actor, as well as six nominations for Black actors. The list includes Chadwick Boseman, who became the seventh actor in history to receive a posthumous nomination. That puts him in an elite company that includes James Dean, Spencer Tracy, Massimo Troisi, Peter Finch, Heath Ledger and Ralph Richardson.
—“Where to stream ‘Nomadland,’ ‘Minari’ and more 2021 Oscar nominees” via Scott Tobias of The New York Times
“March Madness usually soothes our worries. This NCAA tournament collides with them.” via Jerry Brewer of The Washington Post — So the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, back after the coronavirus canceled its 2020 show, will feel austere this time, more Big Gathering than Big Dance. Like all other sports trying to outlast the pandemic, the grand event will settle for doing the best it can: field of 68, one location, slightly altered schedule, replacement teams on standby in case of an outbreak, limited fans, and many supernova programs missing or relegated to bit roles. Nonetheless, the tournament’s return is welcome and a symbolic nudge toward the life we once knew. Just don’t expect it to be the sport’s typical elixir.
“How the NCAA hopes to pull off the tournament” via Alan Blinder of The New York Times — For the NCAA, the easy part ended on Sunday night. Now the association faces a weekslong test of its choice to play its signature event during the coronavirus pandemic. The decision to pull 68 teams from across the country into a tournament in Indiana will have enormous repercussions for college sports. A successful men’s tournament, as well as a smooth women’s tournament in Texas, would lift the morale and finances of an industry that the pandemic has left in a precarious position. The NCAA lost nearly $56 million in its most recent fiscal year, primarily because the 2020 men’s tournament was not held.
“Why is NCAA Tournament starting on Friday? A look at different schedule for 2021 March Madness” via Jordan Mendoza of USA Today — The first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, known for its day-to-night basketball, upsets and buzzer-beaters, will have a different schedule than year’s past. The 32 first-round games have always taken place on Thursday and Friday since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, but the games this year will be pushed back to start a day later on Friday. The First Four, which began in 2011, has been played on Tuesday and Wednesday since its inception. But with the entire tournament taking place in the Indianapolis area this year due to COVID-19, the tournament schedule has been moved around for logistical reasons, resulting in all First Four games being played on Thursday.
“Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure grand opening at EPCOT set for Oct. 1, 2021, in honor of Walt Disney World Resort’s 50th anniversary” via Jeremy Schoolfield of Disney Parks Blog — Everyone’s favorite “Little Chef” is cooking up something really big for Walt Disney World Resort’s 50th anniversary, because the grand opening of Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure at EPCOT is set for Oct. 1 of this year! That date may sound familiar, as it will also mark exactly 50 years since Walt Disney World officially opened for the first time. In this delicious new attraction, you’ll feel like you’ve shrunk to the size of Chef Remy as you scurry through Gusteau’s famous restaurant on a wild adventure for the whole family (no height requirement!).
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Best wishes to Rep. Chip LaMarca. Also celebrating today are former Rep. Carey Baker, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, John French, Eric Johnson, Jan Gorrie, Alexander Pantinakis, and Joseph Salzberg of GrayRobinson. A belated happy birthday to Austin Durrer, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, and Kevin Munoz.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.