Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 3.17.21

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Commentary and links on Florida politics as crisp as your morning bacon.

Good Wednesday morning.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

In honor of my family from the old country, as well as Kathy Mears, here are a few notes about this great Irish holiday.

🍀An oldie but goody on the history of St. Patty’s Day: Americans drink green beer and chug Irish Car Bombs, but in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day, celebrated on the anniversary of his death in the fifth century, it’s a religious holiday. We’re not saying not to dive into that bottle of Jameson, but (maybe) read the history of the holiday here.

Before you crack that bottle of Jamesons, learn a little about the real St. Patrick first.

💵Wear green, save green, eat green: Not only will many Americans see their stimulus checks Wednesday for a St. Patty’s Day treat, wearing green to show spirit for the famed Irish holiday can also save some cash. Krispy Kreme is offering free green doughnuts for patrons who show up wearing the token color. Read more about St. Patty’s deals and where to find green beer in this USA Today roundup.

🥧 — How to eat (and drink) like the Irish: From soda bread to Irish coffee, there are a lot of ways to celebrate the Emerald Isle at the dinner table. Check out recipes for the aforementioned treat as well as regional delicacies like Sheppard’s Pie and Beef and Stout Stew in this Washington Post roundup.

🍻 Celebrating alone doesn’t have to be lonely: NorthJersey.com compiled its own list of ways to celebrate St. Patty’s at home, too, including with livestreamed concerts. Artists providing St. Patty’s virtual entertainment include Flogging Molly, The Dropkick Murphys and others. The list also includes recommended craft brews in which to imbibe. And remember, on March 17, everyone’s Irish!

🏞Green rivers are a St. Patrick’s Day tradition: The city of Chicago has been dying its river green since the 60s to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and in the years since, other cities have followed suit, including in Texas, Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina and even here in Florida (though Tampa won’t be dying its Hillsborough River green this year … thanks COVID-19). The festive celebrations have become honored traditions, but it’s no easy feat to turn a river green. Read more about the festivities and how they’re undertaken in this Rocket Miner feature.

Green rivers are springing up all around the country. It’s not as easy as it looks. Image via AP.

🎶Rock out for St. Patty’s: Still observing a self-quarantine and planning to stay-in this St. Patrick’s Day? Make it a more festive affair with these rockin’ tunes with Irish themes or by Irish bands and artists. The list, compiled by Courier-Times, includes popular hits like Thin Lizzy‘s (formed in Dublin) “The Boys are Back in Town” and lesser-known ditties like “Finnegan’s Wake” by The Irish Rovers. So grab a pint (or a whiskey) and shout Sláinte like no one’s listening (because they won’t be).

If you must go out:

—”Here’s where to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Miami with drink specials (and pie)” via Amanda Mesa of the Miami Herald 

—”Pandemic impacts St. Patrick’s Day plans second year in a row: What to expect in downtown Orlando” via Cierra Putman and Sarah Wilson of WFTV 

—”St. Patrick’s Day 2021 events are back in St. Petersburg” via Skyla Luckey of Patch 

—”Where to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day 2021 in and around Boca Raton” via Christie Galeano-DeMott of Boca

—”St. Patrick’s Day 2021: Where to celebrate in Brevard” via Christina LaFortune of Florida Today

—”St. Patrick’s Day: How Lakeland celebrates amid pandemic” via Skyla Luckey of Patch —

—”Downtown Melbourne St. Patrick’s Day festivities return; Meg’s will, too, but not yet” via Rick Neal of Florida Today

—”2021 Panama City St. Patrick’s Day parties: Beer, shepherd’s pie and ax-throwing” via Tony Simmons of the Panama City News-Herald

Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day” via Ray Flynn for the Boston Herald — Back in the day, even if you didn’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at home, you couldn’t help getting caught up in the special feeling of pride that washed over many people, you didn’t have to be Irish or have any Irish roots at all. Obviously, growing up and living in South Boston made it virtually impossible to avoid getting swept up in the traditional St. Patrick’s Day rituals, like morning Mass, the parade, family parties and the political breakfast at Dorgan’s Restaurant, which brought together local, national and even international celebrities to share humorous stories which attracted a large television audience. Some politicians would even use the event and day to launch their campaign for political office, whether it be Governor, Senator or President.

Kamala Harris expected to meet Northern Ireland leaders on St. Patrick’s Day” via Suzanne Lynch of The Irish Times — Harris will meet virtually tomorrow with Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill The Irish Times understands, as Northern Ireland is set to top the agenda for the annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Washington. It is understood that a meeting between the three female leaders is being finalized on the eve of the St Patrick’s Day meetings. U.S. President Joe Biden may also attend some of the discussion, which will take place on Wednesday afternoon following Taoiseach Michael Martin’s meeting with the President.

CDC urges people to stay away for St. Patrick’s Day” via Nexstar Media Wire — Planning to get together to toast St. Patrick’s Day? The CDC says the best way to stay safe and protect others amid the coronavirus pandemic is to stay home. “Attending gatherings to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day increases your risk of getting and spreading COVID-19,” the CDC said. The holiday, which is on Wednesday, celebrates the patron saint of Ireland and is famous for its social gatherings and public parades and festivals. The CDC said the least risky way to gather is virtual, with people who live in your household or outside at least 6 feet apart from one another.

One last item — “Is it St. Patty’s Day or St. Paddy’s Day?” via Patrick Dehahn of the USA Today — Many insist that Paddy’s is the only acceptable choice. Why? It goes back to the the translation behind the original name. Patrick is an English-made version of the Irish Gaelic name Pádraig. Many Irish words, terms or names are translated into English or Americanized — and Padraig is one of the victims. The Patty/Paddy confusion arises from the fact that the Irish name Padraig is Anglicized Patrick, and that “Pat” or “Patty” is usually a shortened, familiar form for “Patricia” more often than for “Patrick” (though many Patricks are of course called “Pat,” adding to the confusion).

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@SenRickScott: The Democrats’ wasteful “COVID-19” spending bill shelled out $360B in unneeded bailouts to state & local gov’ts. Governors, mayors & state legislatures must protect taxpayer money & reject any federal funding in excess of their reimbursable COVID-19 expenses

@MDixon55: [email protected]GovRonDeSantis is proposing how he wants the Legislature to spend $4b of $10b Florida will get in federal COVID $ He won’t get everything, but it will guide lawmaker’s thinking. That leaves $6b to the Legislature. It’s a lobbyist’s dream, and y’all can’t get in the building

@CHeathWFTV: “The amendment is well-intentioned, but …” A nice way of saying nope.

@PaulCottiePhys: [email protected]dennisbaxley just missed the point on the AP credits. AP Physics 1 is not equivalent to the physics course required by accreditation for an engineering major. AP Physics 1 is the best possible preparation for the engineering physics course, but it is not a replacement … and no amount of jawboning will change that. And high school students who pass AP Physics 1 will have their Bright Futures scholarship reduced by four credit hours.

@Fineout: Sen. Baxley says Florida doesn’t guarantee 100 or 75 percent of tuition now as part of Bright Futures. ???? He voted for the bill that reinstated that guarantee in 2018.

@KevinCraigFL: The #BrightFutures program is what kept me in FL when choosing where to go to school. It’s what led me to @UCF, a place that gave me incredible opportunities that led to a career that I love. I hope the program stays unchanged for the future of FL students.

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

— DAYS UNTIL —

Zack Snyder’s ‘Justice League’ premieres on HBO Max — 1; ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ premieres on Disney+ — 2; ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ premieres — 9; 2021 Florida Virtual Hemp Conference — 10; 2021 Florida Derby — 10; Disneyland, other California theme parks begin to reopen — 15; MLB Opening Day — 15; RNC spring donor summit — 23; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 51; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 54; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 72; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 107; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 116; MLB All-Star Game in Atlanta — 118; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 128; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 136; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 160; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 191; ‘Dune’ premieres — 198; MLB regular season ends — 200; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 206; World Series Game 1 — 223; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 230; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 233; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 268; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 275; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 373; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 415; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 569.

— AWASH — 

A full year after the nation began the “15 Days to Slow the Spread,” DeSantis outlined $4.1 billion in recommendations Tuesday for how the state should spend the incoming federal stimulus dollars.

However, the $4.1 billion isn’t all Florida will receive. That’s just some of the first half of the approximately $10 billion the state is supposed to receive directly from the federal government. The first tranche is expected sometime in the next two months while more money will come later.

Burning a hole: Ron DeSantis is ready to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds. Image via Colin Hackley.

Questions remain on exactly how much Florida will receive. It all depends on whether the federal government uses previous unemployment estimates for December or the latest revisions. Based on the latest update, Florida could receive closer to $9 billion rather than slightly more than $10 billion.

Among the top priorities the Governor outlined was to give the state’s first responders at least $1,000 each as a thank you for their dedicated work during the pandemic, costing an estimated $208.4 million. That includes EMTs, law enforcement officers and firefighters.

“We know the pandemic put a lot of strain on our first responders — EMTs, sworn law enforcement, firefighters — so we believe we should recognize their sacrifice,” the Governor said.

He also encouraged lawmakers to allocate roughly $260 million in relief to Florida seaports that were hit hard when cruise lines stopped business last year.

“That is an amount equal to the losses they’ve accrued during the pandemic through February of 2021,” DeSantis said.

Several areas hope to patch continued unemployment, including the $185 million for workforce training and research initiatives. Additionally, $73.2 million would update the state’s CONNECT unemployment system portal, which failed spectacularly at the start of the pandemic.

Other major funding initiatives DeSantis recommends include $1 billion to the Resilient Florida Grant Program, offering state and local grants for resilience projects, another $1 billion to the Emergency Management Response Fund, and nearly $1 billion to the Transportation Work Program.

‘Doesn’t make any sense’: Ron DeSantis rejects Rick Scott’s call to return stimulus money” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO — DeSantis on Tuesday flatly rejected Florida GOP Sen. Scott’s call for Governors and Mayors to return money from the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, creating another fault line with his potential 2024 rival. DeSantis instead outlined his plans for spending $4 billion of the up to $10 billion that could be coming to the state as part of the “American Rescue Plan.” DeSantis has called for using the money on everything from $1,000 payments to law enforcement officers, paramedics and firefighters to boosting spending on tourism marketing and transportation projects.

— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —

Jeff Brandes hints at weak Senate support for anti-riot bill — Republican Sen. Brandes indicated that anti-riot legislation — one of DeSantis’ priorities — may not have enough support to move forward in the Senate, Giulia Heyward of POLITICO Florida reports. “I don’t think it has the votes to get out of committee,” Brandes said during a Tampa Bay Climate Alliance virtual town hall. The anti-riot proposal would increase penalties for crimes committed during protests. It has been speeding through the House but has yet to get a hearing in the upper chamber. Katie Betta, Senate President Wilton Simpson’s communication director, refuted the notion the Senate bill (SB 484) doesn’t have enough support to pass.

Senate GOP advances Bright Futures redesign” via Ana Ceballos and Jeffrey S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — Following a rewrite and uproar from dozens of students and parents, Senate Republicans on Tuesday advanced legislation that could reduce amounts covered under the state’s popular Bright Futures college scholarship program. The largely unpopular bill was pulled from the Senate Education Committee agenda a week ago to give its sponsor more time to adjust some of the more contentious items. Many of the key policy ideas in Senate Bill 86 were left untouched. But a new, longer version now requires state education officials to put together a list of degrees that don’t lead directly to jobs, and that list is tied to Bright Futures scholarship amounts.

Dennis Baxley’s contentious bill to make changes to Bright Futures scholarships is moving through the Senate. Image via Colin Haxley.

Watered-down bill to regulate prescription middlemen draws pushback” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A bill to add oversight to pharmacy benefit managers (PBM) cleared its first committee Tuesday, but changes made to the legislation left neither PBMs nor pharmacists completely satisfied. PBMs are middlemen between health care plans and pharmacies that are often blamed for rising prescription drug prices. They help determine which drugs insurance plans will cover and negotiate on behalf of insurers to secure discounts from drug manufacturers. When a claim is filed, PBMs collect money from those plans, then pass money to pharmacies through different methods. Sen. Tom Wright‘s bill (SB 390) would clarify that the Office of Insurance Regulation can examine PBMs, like other entities, to audit potential cost-cutting areas.

Who’s behind a thorny Florida property rights bill? A real estate empire” via Zachary T. Sampson of the Tampa Bay Times — A bill in the Florida Legislature that would bolster a state property rights law was written by representatives of a major development business that has donated to its Senate sponsor. Sen. Ray Rodrigues said he worked with a lobbyist for the Barron Collier Companies and Collier Enterprises Management to draft the proposal. An email shows a lobbyist passed along draft language from an executive at Barron Collier Companies, one branch of a real estate and investment empire that traces back to Collier County’s namesake.

Senate panel takes aim at local powers” via Jim Turner of News Service of Florida — Orders imposed by local officials after hurricanes, pandemic outbreaks or other emergencies could be overturned by the Governor or Legislature, under a measure (SB 1924) approved along party lines by Senate Community Affairs Committee. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., would limit to 10 days locally issued emergency orders, which could be invalidated by the Governor or the Legislature. The proposal would allow the orders to be extended but would require city or county elected officials’ support. Currently, local states of emergency can be ordered for seven days and extended indefinitely in seven-day increments as needed.

Gun control crackdown advances in Senate — The Senate Community Affairs Committee advanced a bill that would increase penalties for local governments that pass gun control ordinances. As reported by Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida, SB 1484 states that if a local gun law is repealed due to a lawsuit, the person who brought the suit would be considered the prevailing party. Since 2011, Florida law has blocked local governments from passing gun control ordinances laws that are stricter than the state’s. However, bill sponsor Rodrigues says that local governments are still attempting to enact restrictions that challenge the preemption. The Estero Republican said the problem is some courts agree with the locals while others shoot down the local laws.

— TALLY 2 —

Bill would help incarcerated mothers get out early — A bill filed by Sen. Jason Pizzo would allow pregnant women or mothers with children aged 3 or younger to get out of prison after serving 65% of their sentence. As reported by Giulia Heyward of POLITICO Florida, SB 1908 would shorten sentences via gain time earned through good behavior, drug rehabilitation or educational attainment. Before passing the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, the bill was amended to exclude women who terminated their pregnancy or are no longer a child’s legal parent. It now heads to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice.

Jason Pizzo seeks early release for pregnant inmates. Image via Colin Hackley.

—“Jackie Toledo’s human trafficking legislation clears first committee” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics

House gives boost to pharmacist vaccination power” via Christine Sexton of News Service of Florida — The House Professions & Public Health Subcommittee approved a proposal that would allow pharmacists to vaccinate children, but only after lawmakers narrowed the bill (HB 1063) to only allow pharmacists to administer influenza vaccines to children ages 7 and older. The initial version of the bill, filed by Rep. Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin, a Miami Republican, would have authorized pharmacists to provide various vaccines to children ages 3 and older. That would have included vaccines needed for school, unless parents seek exemptions, including measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, and meningococcal disease. Despite the change, the American Academy of Pediatrics continued to oppose the measure.

—“Senate panel advances pandemic scam crackdown” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics

—“PPE reserve bills advance in House, Senate” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics

Ana Maria Rodriguez’ ‘communist victims’ bill spurs sharp debate” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Definitions of communism, socialism, fascism, totalitarianism, economic theories and dictatorships were aired in debate Tuesday as Senators sorted what Sen. Rodriguez had in mind with her bill to create a holiday memorializing victims of communism. Is it a stand against places like Fidel Castro‘s Cuba or a red-meat bill for a Republican base that has reestablished communism as a front-line threat to American democracy? For Rodriguez, the definitions of various totalitarian ideologies bandied about in Tuesday’s meeting of the Senate Committee on Community Affairs clearly all referred to the same thing: the brutal results of communism that her parents fled when they escaped Cuba, and which have cost an estimated hundred million lives worldwide since the Bolsheviks first came to power in Russia in 1917.

Narrowed local energy preemption bill powers through Senate panel” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Narrowing his bill to be mainly a prohibition on cities banning gas stations, Sen. Travis Hutson was able to drive his once-controversial local energy regulation bill through a Senate committee Tuesday. SB 856 had become a bit of a partisan flashpoint, as one of several proposals that could have rolled back cities’ and counties’ authority to adopt clean-energy plans and ordinances. Cities and counties were prepared to fight the legislation. On Tuesday, however, Hutson pushed through a strike-all amendment that narrowed the bill’s concern to making sure cities don’t try to outlaw gas stations “and their related infrastructure.” With that, the Senate Community Affairs Committee approved the measure, 6-3.

Beach smoking restrictions clear first House committee” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Legislation allowing Florida cities and counties to outlaw smoking at public beaches and parks cleared its first House committee Tuesday. The House Professions and Public Health Subcommittee advanced a bill (HB 239) that would authorize local governments to regulate smoking at those locales. Right now, Florida law leaves the decision to regulate smoking only to the state government. Rep. Thad Altman, an Indiatlantic Republican, stressed the bill won’t ban all smoking but would give officials the ability to set local rules. That could include setting up areas where smoking is allowed while restricting it in most areas of a beach. “It doesn’t mean they will prohibit smoking, but it will give them the opportunity at least to address those conflicts,” Altman said.

Car sharing tax and insurance bill clears House committee” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — A bill that would require peer-to-peer car-sharing marketing platforms to collect and pay sales taxes and rental surcharges, as well as clarify insurance requirements, cleared a committee Tuesday. Republican Rep. Mike Caruso‘s HB 365 aims to bring the emerging peer-to-peer car sharing businesses such as Turo, GetAround, and Avail into tax, insurance, and regulatory parity with traditional rental car companies like Enterprise, Avis, and Hertz. The House Tourism, Infrastructure and Energy Subcommittee approved the measure by a 13-3 vote.

Senate bundles all specialty license plate legislation into one package” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — Senators are coming together over specialty license plates — quite literally. In a Tuesday committee meeting, lawmakers voted to package all specialty license plate legislation this Session into one bill. Sen. Dennis Baxley presented his bill (SB 676) to create a specialty plate to support Florida State Parks to Transportation Committee Chair Sen. Gayle Harrell, who rocks her own specialty plate supporting the Wildlife Foundation of Florida. Harrell proposed an amendment to Baxley’s bill to combine the license plate legislation, which all committee members supported. “We’re more than happy to be a vehicle for your other passengers,” Baxley quipped.

The Senate will bundle Gayle Harrell’s specialty license plate proposal into one big bill. Image via Colin Hackley.

Larger wine bottles inch closer to reality” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Floridians, your wineglass may soon runneth over. The House Commerce Committee on Tuesday unanimously OK’d a bill (HB 6073) that would repeal a state law prohibiting the sale of wine in containers larger than a gallon. Rep. Chip LaMarca, a Lighthouse Point Republican, is the bill sponsor. Currently, vendors who sell wine in a container larger than a gallon commit a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a $500 maximum fine and 60 days in prison. LaMarca’s proposal, however, would allow the sale of wine in a container of any size.

House moves forward on Bryan Avila bill setting up Biscayne Bay Commission” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Legislation to create a Biscayne Bay Commission to manage conservation projects in the area has just one more committee stop remaining before hitting the House floor after a committee advanced the measure Tuesday morning. The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee gave Rep. Avila‘s bill (HB 1177) a thumbs-up Tuesday, making it the second successful committee stop for Avila so far. The Biscayne Bay Commission would have three parts: a policy committee, a working group, and a chief officer to advise Miami-Dade County.

— TALLY 3 —

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 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.

Webster Barnaby is the sole Republican in the Florida Legislative Black Caucus. Image via Florida House.

Food fight alert — “Legislation transferring utility pole oversight to PSC moves in both chambers” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Legislation shifting utility pole oversight from the Federal Communications Commission to the Florida Public Service Commission passed its first panel on Tuesday. Two bills (SB 1944/HB 1567), sponsored by Wauchula Sen. Ben Albritton and Indian Rocks Beach Rep. Nick DiCeglie, both Republicans, would require the PSC to enforce rates, charges, terms and conditions for pole attachments and to resolve pole attachment disputes. The bill outlines new rules for settling disputes, boosting grid reliability and hardening, and redundant poles. The FCC currently oversees many of the operations surrounding utility poles. But if PSC takes complete control under the bill, it would stop preempting private contracts. However, PSC would have the authority to settle disputes regarding those rates.

Bill would speed up Everglades restoration north of Lake Okeechobee” via Amy Green of 90.7 WMFE — Florida lawmakers are considering legislation aimed at addressing toxic algae by speeding up Everglades restoration north of Lake Okeechobee, in the Kissimmee River basin. The project includes 80 wells designed to store water underground, using technology that has generated some concerns. The ASR wells are aimed at addressing one of the biggest problems of Everglades restoration: Where to store the vast amount of water needed to revive the river of grass. ASR wells allow water managers to store water underground and then pump it back to the surface as needed. But concerns about the technology have prompted a reduction in the number of wells. Beth Alvi of Audubon Florida says the number could change still as scientific studies continue.

Kelli Stargel public-records exemption bill clears first committee along party lines” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — A bill shielding legislator’s personal information from the public passed the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee Wednesday in a 5-4 vote along party lines. Despite the close vote tally, no one spoke for or against the legislation aside from the bill’s sponsor. The bill (SB 1488), filed by Lakeland Sen. Stargel, would create a public-records exemption for information about home addresses, telephone numbers and dates of birth of state lawmakers, Cabinet members and their spouses and children. The same exemption is currently extended to justices, judges, state attorneys, statewide prosecutors, and certain agency investigative personnel.

Committee advances bill prohibiting municipalities from restricting consumer energy options” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — A Senate committee OK’d legislation Tuesday that would prohibit cities, counties and subdivisions from restricting consumer energy options. The Senate Community Affairs Committee unanimously advanced the bill (SB 1128) with a 9-0 vote. Republican Sen. Travis Hutson is the bill sponsor. Under the bill, municipalities would be prohibited from enacting or enforcing rules against a consumer’s utility service of choice, such as gas or electric. The bill would also void any municipal rules enacted before the bill takes effect.

Occupational licensing bill cleared for House floor; Senate version passes first test” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The House Commerce Committee gave Rep. Joe Harding‘s version (HB 735) its final necessary approval before it hits the House floor. Meanwhile, the Senate Regulated Industries Committee got the ball rolling for Sen. Keith Perry‘s proposal (SB 268). Local governments could continue “journeyman” requirements. The legislation would also add alarm system specialists to the list of journeymen, including plumbers, pipe fitters, mechanical workers and electrical workers. The proposal would end new regulations, but local governments could keep existing occupational requirements until July 2023. Fees and licenses sometimes cost up to $200, Perry, a Gainesville Republican, told the Senate Regulated Industries Committee.

Joe Harding’s occupational license proposal is ready to hit the House floor.

Legislators want to let local government regulate smoking in parks but not mask-wearing” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times — Local government can ban a person sitting outside a Little League Baseball dugout from smoking, but they cannot make them wear a mask. That is the effect of two bills moving through the Legislature this week, one preempting local restrictions of more than a week in the face of a public health crisis and the other loosening the existing preemption law to let locals limit smoking in public beaches and parks. The issue highlights the tension between DeSantis, who has issued his own emergency orders prohibiting the enforcement of local mask mandates and curfews during the pandemic, and local officials who have used those measures to attempt to prevent the spread of the contagious virus.

Uber cheers House panel for advancing cocktails-to-go — Ride-sharing company Uber praised the House Commerce Committee after it voted in favor of a bill (HB 329) that would allow restaurants to continue selling to-go drinks after the pandemic ends. “Uber is grateful to State Rep. Josie Tomkow for spearheading HB 329 through the committee process. She and her colleagues clearly understand the significant economic value of alcohol delivery and recognize that Florida restaurant owners are depending on it to safely continue reaching their customers.” HB 329 is now ready for the House floor. The companion bill, SB 148 by Sen. Jennifer Bradley, goes before its final committee on Thursday.

— LOBBY REGS —

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Brett Bacot, Mike Grissom, Michael Harrell, Mark Kruse, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Habitat for Humanity of Florida, Waterline Renewal Technologies

Brian Bautista, David Browning, Chris Dudley, Mercer Fearington, Nicole Kelly, Paul Mitchell, Sydney Ridley, The Southern Group: Airbnb, American Integrity Insurance Company of Florida

Matt Bryan, David Daniel, Thomas Griffin, Jeff Hartley, Lisa Hurley, Teye Reeves, Smith Bryan & Myers: Epilepsy Foundation of America

Al Cardenas, Slater Bayliss, Christopher Chaney, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: Cano Health

Mike Corcoran, Jacqueline Corcoran, Matt Blair, Ralph Criss, Andrea Tovar, Corcoran Partners: Dutch Pet

Nick Iarossi, Christopher Schoonover, Capital City Consulting: PEAK Technical Staffing USA, Spokeo

Laura Lenhart, GrayRobinson: City of Clermont

Matthew McDonald, Peebles Smith & Matthews: Florida Stormwater Association, Orlando Utilities Commission

Foyt Ralston, Foyt Ralston & Associates: Dialysis Clinic

Bill Rubin, Heather Turnbull, Erica Chanti, Christopher Finkbeiner, Rubin Turnbull & Associates: Collection Quotient Consulting, Floridians for Safe Medical Cannabis Care

Nancy Stewart, Nancy Black Stewart PA: Florida Resident Owned Communities

Daniel Weber, Sachs Sax Caplan: Association of American Publishers

— LEG. SKED —

The Senate Agriculture Committee meets to consider SB 1370, from Sen. Rodriguez, to allow veterinarians to use telemedicine to treat animals, 9 a.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee meets to consider SB 490, from Sen. Randolph Bracy, to make Juneteenth Day (June 19) a paid holiday for state workers, 9 a.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Health Policy Committee meets to consider SB 614, from Sen. Rodriguez, to increase criminal penalties for committing assault or battery against hospital workers, 9 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee meets to confirm Simone Marstiller as secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, 12:30 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee meets to confirm Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Julie Brown and Lottery Secretary John Davis, 3 p.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider SB 1192, from Sen. Bobby Powell, to require the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to develop a mental illness component of training that law officers take as part of the recertification process, 3 p.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider SB 1450, from Sen. Rodriguez, to mandate a civic education curriculum for public schools, 3 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

Also:

The House Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee, 9:30 a.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The House Infrastructure & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee, 9:30 a.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.

The House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee, 9:30 a.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

The House Secondary Education & Career Development Subcommittee, 9:30 a.m., Room 212, Knott Building.

The House Finance & Facilities Subcommittee, 1 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The House Government Operations Subcommittee, 1 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

The House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, 1 p.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.

The House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee, 1 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.

The House Education & Employment Committee, 3:45 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

The House Judiciary Committee, 3:45 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The House State Affairs Committee, 3:45 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.

— TALLY MADNESS —

TallyMadness 2021 is ready to play … almost!

We have four “play-in” slots left to complete the field. For the final seed line, we will be taking last-minute nominations today for the big dance. Please email suggestions to [email protected].

Who will be the “best” lobbyist in #FlaPol? We’ll know soon!

Voting tips off Thursday morning.

TallyMadness is almost ready for tip off.

Here are 60 of the 64 slots; let the bracketology begin!

Leticia AdamsAdam Babington, Alex Barrera, Adam Basford, Brewster Bevis, Carol Bowen, Audrey Brown, Dale Calhoun, Chris Cantens, Gaston Cantens, Chris Clark, Tommy Culligan, Anthony DiMarco, BillieAnne Gay, Jake Farmer, Taylor Ferguson, Chris Flack, Andy Gonzalez, Jose Gonzalez, Marion Hammer, Craig Hansen, Jason Harrell, Joe Anne Hart, Sonya Deen Hartley, Mark Hendrickson, John Holley, Mary Ann Hooks, Clay Ingram, Carolyn Johnson, Albie Kaminsky, Mark Kaplan, Natalie Kelly, Allison Kinney, Edward Labrador, John Harris Maurer, John McReynolds, Cora Merritt, Dave Mica, Jr., Alix Miller, Holly Miller, Christian Minor, Brian Musselwhite, Tim Nungesser, Janet Owen, Fatima Perez, Toby Philpot, David Pizzi, Trey Price, Orlando Pryor, Casey Reed, Jonathan Rees, Jaimie Ross, Michael Rubin, Danielle Scroggins, Samantha Sexton, Stephanie Smith, Justin Thames, Frank Walker, Jason Welty, Michael Wickersheim, and Skylar Zander.


— STATEWIDE —

Florida could get a share of Perdue pharma money” via the News Service of Florida — Florida could get a share of a $7 billion bankruptcy plan to dissolve the company and steer its assets toward abating the nation’s opioid epidemic. Ashley Moody hailed the proposal, saying in a prepared statement Tuesday that it would secure additional funding “for Florida communities plagued by the national opioid crisis.” The company’s reorganization proposal, which has to be approved by a federal bankruptcy judge and a majority of the company’s creditors, requires members of the Sackler family to pay $4.275 billion to states, tribes and local governments. Members of the family founded and have owned the company. How the money will be allocated has not been finalized. If the plan is approved, Florida could get up to $280 million to $400 million over a 10-year period.

Ashley Moody is cheering Florida’s slice of the Perdue pharma money pie. Image via Colin Hackley.

Ashley Moody signs on to Google lawsuit” via News Service of Florida — In Florida’s latest effort to punish technology companies, Attorney General Moody on Tuesday signed on to a Texas lawsuit accusing Google of violating federal antitrust laws to boost its online advertising business. The lawsuit is one of several legal challenges against tech behemoths Google and Facebook. It alleges Google “sought to kill competition” through “an array of exclusionary tactics, including an unlawful agreement with Facebook, its largest potential competitive threat” to manipulate digital advertising sales. The lawsuit focuses on “ad exchanges,” which are centralized electronic trading venues where display ads are bought and sold. Companies rely on Google “as their respective middleman” for purchasing display ads from exchanges to market products to consumers, the lawsuit said.

Happening today — The State Board of Education meets, 9 a.m., Tallahassee Community College, student union ballroom, 444 Appleyard Dr., Tallahassee.

Assignment editors — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Sen. Tina Polsky, Rep. Kelly Skidmore and Florida Conservation Group Vice-Chair Jim Strickland, will hold a news conference to discuss energy and climate change legislation, 11:30 a.m. Office of the Agriculture Commissioner, Plaza Level, The Capitol. RSVP to [email protected]; it will also be livestreamed at Facebook.com/FDACS.

Assignment editors — Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar, Secretary-Treasurer Nandi Rileythan, and more than 80 teachers, education support staff, higher education faculty and graduate assistants from around the state will speak in opposition to Senate Bill 1014, 11:45 a.m. Eastern time, outside the west side (facing the main parking lot) of the Tucker Civic Center, 505 W. Pensacola St., Tallahassee.

Happening today — The Revenue Estimating Conference meets to discuss issues related to the Florida Lottery., 9 a.m., Room 117, Knott Building.

Happening today — The Florida Development Finance Corporation Board of Directors meets, 2 p.m., 156 Tuskawilla Road, Suite 2340, Winter Springs. Call-in number: 1-646-741-5292, Meeting ID: 1115290332.

Happening today — The Space Florida Board of Directors meets, 4 p.m. Call-in number: 1-866-528-2256. Code: 4875556.

MeanwhileLobbyist in $60 million Ohio bribery probe found dead in Florida” via The Associated Press — A longtime Ohio lobbyist who had pleaded not guilty in a sweeping federal bribery investigation has been found dead. In response to a request about information concerning Neil Clark’s death, the sheriff’s office in Collier County, where Clark had been living, provided a report describing a man’s body being found near a pond Monday morning by a bicyclist. The county medical examiner confirmed to AP it was Clark’s body and that a medical investigation and autopsy are underway. When officials reached out to the man’s wife, she said the couple was having financial issues and that she had not heard from her husband for a couple of hours, according to the report.

Neil Clark pleaded not guilty in August over an alleged role in a $60 million dark money scheme. Now he’s dead. Image via AP.

— MOVES — 

Personnel note: Caroline Adkins now media coordinator for City of JacksonvilleCaroline Adkins will take over as the City of Jacksonville’s media relations coordinator on Wednesday, the city’s Public Affairs Office announced. She replaces Marjorie Dennis, who has held this role the last three years and is leaving the office to take a position with the PGA Tour. Adkins is a graduate of the University of Georgia, where she earned an undergraduate degree in international relations and a master’s degree in public administration. She previously served as an outreach specialist in the City of Jacksonville’s Military and Veterans Affairs Department.

Caroline Adkins is taking the lead on Jacksonville’s media relations.

Personnel note: Miguel and Elinette Diaz de la Portilla join Gunster — Lobbying firm Gunster is expanding its Miami practice with former Sen. Miguel and Elinette Diaz de la Portilla, both of whom are joining as shareholders in the firm’s Environmental and Land Use Law practice. Miguel represents major developers and corporations in securing governmental approvals at the municipal and county levels. He has been named a “Top Lawyer” by the South Florida Legal Guide and “Attorney of the Year” by the Daily Business Review. Elinette offers more than 15 years of experience representing a wide range of clients, including builders, developers and landowners. Miguel earned his law and undergraduate degrees from the University of Miami. Elinette holds law and undergraduate degrees from St. Thomas University.

— 2022 —

DeSantis committee continues raking in cash” via News Service of Florida — After DeSantis’ political committee raised more than $3.2 million in February, money continued to pour in during early March. According to a list of contributions on the committee’s website, the committee Friends of Ron DeSantis raised $1,517,000 during the first 10 days of March. Among the large contributions were $250,000 from the St. Augustine-based Island Doctors, $100,000 from the auto-industry company JM Family Enterprises, and $50,000 from an Associated Industries of Florida PAC, according to the website. The committee raised $3.22 million in February and had more than $12.6 million on hand as of Feb. 28. It will file a full March report with the state Division of Elections by an April 12 deadline.

Strongest indication yet — “Charlie Crist ‘strongly considering’ another run for Governor” via Selene San Felice of Axios — U.S. Rep. Crist‘s hat sits teetering at the edge of the 2022 ring. The St. Petersburg Democrat told Axios he is “seriously considering running for Governor” while on a tour of local businesses on Monday. That’s a bit firmer than his response to the question just a month ago: “My mind is open to it.” The race against Gov. DeSantis will be decided 15 years after Crist was elected as a Republican Governor — and a decade since he switched parties. He went from “Chain Gang Charlie” to saying “God bless Joe Biden.” Other possible Democratic contenders from across the state are former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Agriculture Commissioner Fried and Reps. Val Demings and Stephanie Murphy.

Charlie Crist seems to be leaning closer to another gubernatorial run.

Group targets Stephanie Murphy, Crist districts with immigration robocalls” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A conservative group will target two Florida congressional districts with robocalls blasting Biden’s immigration policies. The American Action Network (AAN) launched a new advocacy campaign targeting 49 districts across the nation. That includes Florida’s 7th and 13th Congressional Districts, held now by Democrats Murphy and Crist, respectively. In 16 of the districts across the country, AAN will target voters with digital ads. In the bulk of districts, including both Florida seats, the same messaging will be delivered to phones. Republicans in recent weeks have hammered the new Democratic administration on the increase in border crossings and unaccompanied minors arriving.

Sarasota businessman Martin Hyde says he’s challenging Vern Buchanan for congressional seat” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Hyde has announced that he is challenging U.S. Rep. Buchanan in Florida’s 16th Congressional District. “I’m holding the yes button to confirm I’m moving forward to file the paperwork to challenge Vern’ Buchanan for the Republican party nomination for Fl District 16,” Hyde wrote Monday in a Facebook post that showed him holding a green yes button. One Democratic challenger has already come forward as well. Benjamin Miranda-Padilla of Gibsonton has filed paperwork with the FEC to run in District 16.

ICYMINew 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 Biden administration reengaging with the island dictatorship — and their brief drift toward Democrats has been totally reversed. During Barack Obama’s presidency, studies, exit polls, and voting patterns indicated that the exiled community’s hard-line 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.Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida reports 4,791 new COVID-19 cases, as total for pandemic nears 2 million” via David Fleshler of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida reported 4,791 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday and another 101 new resident deaths linked to COVID-19. The state has now reported 1,984,425 cases since the pandemic began. The seven-day average for new cases has been declining since January 8. Public health experts say the virus is considered under control when the COVID-19 test positivity rate is under 5%. But since Oct. 29, Florida has exceeded 5% in its widely publicized calculation for assessing the rate for testing of residents. The state reported a daily positivity rate of 5.95% on Tuesday, down from 6.13% the day before. The state’s pandemic data report shows a total of 32,449 Floridians have died from COVID-19.

Florida’s COVID-19 case count is nearing 2 million. Image via AP.

This is gonna bite — Baptist Health donors got early access to vaccine — Baptist Health of South Florida’s fundraising arm offered priority access to coronavirus vaccines to donors who could cut six-figure checks. As reported by Arek Sarkissian and Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida, Baptist Health foundation CEO Alexandra Villoch emailed the proposition to about 3,000 wealth donors on New Year’s Day, when vaccines were in short supply. The DeSantis administration was not involved in the announcement. “As Baptist Health continues the immunization program for its front-line workers, we will also be expanding immunization efforts to include broader community members related to Baptist Health, such as our Giving Society members who meet the designated criteria,” the email said.

Florida’s homebound residents have more shots on the way” via Bailey LeFever of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida will expand its program to vaccinate homebound residents over the coming weeks, rolling out doses to 2,000 more seniors and vulnerable individuals over the coming weeks, according to the state. The news follows Gov. DeSantis announcement via Twitter last week that the state had completed its pilot program to vaccinate 1,500 homebound Floridians, as he promised at a February news conference. As of Tuesday, the state had administered shots to 1,561 homebound people, wrote Samantha Bequer, spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, in an email. The state will expand the program as more vaccine becomes available, she wrote. The state had vaccinated more than 4 million people as of Sunday.

Help is on the way for Florida’s homebound seniors. Image via Spectrum News.

Turnout low for special clinics vaccinating school workers” via Jane Musgrave of the Palm Beach Post — When DeSantis ordered all schools in the state to offer in-person instruction, powerful teachers unions sued, claiming it wasn’t safe to force their members to return to the classroom during the pandemic. However, over the weekend, when given a chance to get vaccinated, only 1,873 of the estimated 9,000 eligible school employees in Palm Beach County lined up to get the 5,000 shots that had been set aside for them, school officials said. Justin Katz, president of the county’s Classroom Teachers Association, suggested that many workers didn’t have time to prepare. The announcement that one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines would be available at four schools on Saturday and Sunday wasn’t made until Friday morning.

Florida schools reopened without becoming COVID-19 superspreaders” via Arian Campo-Flores — As school districts around the U.S. continue to grapple with whether to reopen classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic, data shows Florida started in-person learning without turning schools into superspreaders. The state was one of the earliest to resume in-person instruction in August, following an executive order by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran that directed districts to provide families the option of classroom learning five days a week or risk losing funding. The mandate triggered outcry among some teachers and parents who considered it risky, and drew unsuccessful lawsuits aimed at blocking it.

Unmasked Spring Breakers are descending on Florida. Officials are begging them to behave.” via Hannah Sampson of The Washington Post — After the fledgling pandemic forced an early end to Florida’s annual Spring Break bacchanal in 2020, the state is wide-open this time around and irresistible. Walt Disney World’s four parks, operating at reduced capacity, have no more tickets available through March 25. Photos from popular beach destinations this month have shown large, occasionally raucous crowds of unmasked revelers. Over the weekend, Miami Beach police arrested 100 and pepper-sprayed “unruly” Spring Breakers. Flights are cheap. Travel restrictions are nonexistent, and the state reopened its economy months ago.

— 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.

In Broward, more people have now been fully vaccinated than have tested positive for COVID-19” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Vaccinations have now surpassed confirmed COVID-19 cases in Broward County, with nearly 209,000 people fully vaccinated in the region as of Tuesday. That’s greater than the nearly 205,000 people who have tested positive for the virus so far. That number is certainly an undercount of actual COVID-19 cases in the county, as testing was sparse early on in the pandemic, and a certain share of individuals who contracted the virus never sought a test. Still, the new milestone shows the progress of the COVID-19 vaccination effort in the region. Palm Beach County reached that same benchmark as of Feb. 19. Vaccinations have continued to outpace infections there, with more than 232,000 people fully vaccinated compared to 126,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Broward County reaches a tipping point with the number of vaccinated residents. Image via Local 10.

Miami-Dade police halt mask, curfew citations after DeSantis suspends fines” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — Miami-Dade County police have stopped issuing mask and curfew citations, calling the tickets pointless after Gov. DeSantis canceled fines for violating emergency COVID-19 orders. The county’s court system reported a sudden drop in emergency-order citations against businesses last weekend. During the weekend of March 5, courts reported 46 citations for violating emergency orders, all but one against businesses. During the weekend that ended Sunday, courts received zero emergency-order citations. “We’re no longer issuing emergency-order citations,” said Det. Alvaro Zabaleta, spokesperson for the Miami-Dade Police Department. “We’re no longer doing it because the Governor pardoned everything.” Last weekend was the first since DeSantis announced on March 10 that all fines for violating local COVID-19 orders were canceled.

Looking for Johnson & Johnson vaccine? South Florida FEMA sites will no longer have them” via Carli Teproff and Devoun Cetoute of the Miami Herald — The Miami Dade College North Campus site and the two federal satellite centers — which are currently in North Miami Beach and Miami Springs — will only offer the two-dose series Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, FEMA spokesperson Mike Jachles said. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine had been given at the federal sites before based on supply.

Liberty City, Cutler Bay to be temporary home of FEMA vaccine sites. How to get a dose?” via Devoun Cetoute of the Miami Herald — The two Miami-Dade federal vaccination satellite sites will be leaving their posts in North Miami Beach and Miami Springs and moving to Cutler Bay and Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood, federal officials said Tuesday. On Thursday, the two sites, operated by FEMA, will be set up in Charles Hadley Park, 1350 NW 50th St., and at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 SW 211th St., according to FEMA. The sites will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day until March 23. Each location can administer 500 doses a day. These are also walk-up sites that do not need an appointment.

Hillsborough Co. reports highest positivity rate since early February” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Hillsborough County reported its highest single-day positivity rate since early February. On Monday, the county’s positivity rate was notably higher than it has been in the past two weeks, which hovered around 7%. Monday’s rate was 9.17%, the closest to 10% in more than a month. Monday’s positivity rate was the highest the county saw since Feb. 2, when it reported a rate of 10.25%. It is unclear whether Monday’s positivity rate is an outlier or if it’s an indication of a coming spike as people grow restless to return to normal. The county also confirmed 403 new cases on Monday, a small increase from the county’s previous two weeks, in which the county has been reporting daily numbers around 300.

Can Tampa Bay restaurant owners require workers to get vaccinated?” via Helen Freund of the Tampa Bay Times — A few months ago, Tina Avila stopped going into work. Unlike people whose transition to working remotely required flipping open a laptop, Avila’s day-to-day hinged on being in and out of her restaurants. As the longtime owner of downtown Dunedin’s Casa Tina and Pan y Vino, attempting to do her job remotely was not ideal. But in January, Avila decided to stay home for a while. The reason? “My fear has always been to bring (coronavirus) home to my husband,” Avila, 53, said. Her husband, Javier, is 15 years her senior. Business has been busy the last couple of months, as returning snowbirds and tourists have flocked to Florida.

Can Tampa Bay restaurants mandate vaccines for employees? Image via Visit Tampa Bay/Facebook.

More than 20,000 in Sarasota/Manatee register for COVID vaccine in two days” via Louis Llovio of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — More than 20,000 people have registered for a chance at the COVID-19 vaccine in Manatee and Sarasota counties in the past two days. The jump comes a day after Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded the list of people eligible to get the vaccine. Sarasota reported Tuesday afternoon that 17,300 people had registered since noon Monday. In Manatee, 4,684 had registered since Monday morning. One reason for the difference between the counties is that Sarasota opened its list to all adults, even though only those over 60 will get an account number now.

Scores apply for rental, utilities help in Wellington in wake of COVID-19 financial hardships” via Wayne Washington of The Palm Beach Post — In a little more than a day, 162 households had applied for rental and utility assistance in Wellington, demonstrating the enduring financial hardships generated by a coronavirus pandemic now stretching into its second year. Palm Beach Gardens began accepting applications for a rental assistance program earlier this month. Using $71,000 in federal block grant money, Wellington opened an application portal at 8 a.m. Monday for individuals and families who need help paying for rent, water or sewer services. The Wellington Community Foundation has joined the village to help cover the water and sewer bills of successful applicants.

What Michelle Todd is reading — “UCF to host spring football game April 10 with 25% capacity, no tailgating” via Matt Murschel of the Orlando Sentinel — UCF will wrap up football camp by hosting its annual spring game April 10 at the Bounce House. The Knights kicked off Monday with the first of 15 practices that will take place over the next several weeks and culminate with the spring game between the offense and defense. Last year’s game was canceled due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. Kickoff is set for noon and attendance will be limited to 25% based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with state and local health officials. Social distancing and masks will be required except when fans are eating and drinking.

— CORONA NATION —

CDC says U.S. could face COVID-19 surge after 1.3 million traveled around spring break” via Catherine Schuster-Bruce of Business Insider — The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said she was “pleading for the sake of the nation’s health” after more than 1.3 million Americans traveled by air on Friday, the most during the coronavirus pandemic. “This is all in the context of still 50,000 cases per day,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said at a press briefing Monday. Some Americans enjoyed their spring break “maskless,” she said. Her comments came after the Transportation Security Administration recorded more than 1.3 million Americans going through airport security screening on Friday.

Vaccines drive optimism about containing COVID-19 pandemic” via Kabir Khanna, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus and Anthony Salvanto of CBS News — Overall, the percentage of people willing to get the vaccine, plus the number who report getting one, has been on the rise. But that optimism may meet the reality of vaccine hesitancy down the line, as many still say “no” or “maybe” to vaccines. This reluctance is connected to partisanship: Republicans, particularly younger ones, say they are less likely to get vaccinated when eligible. One important change we’ve seen behind the rise in willingness is that today Black and Hispanic Americans are as likely as White Americans to say they’ll get vaccinated if they haven’t been already. Some who previously said that they were waiting to see what happened to others are now getting off the fence.

Vaccinations are giving hope that the end is in sight. Image via AP.

Moderna coronavirus vaccine trial begins in children as young as six months old” via Carolyn Y. Johnson of The Washington Post — Biotechnology company Moderna announced the first children received shots in a trial that will test its coronavirus vaccine on minors ranging in age from 6 months to 12 years old. The trial, which will include 6,750 children, will start with older children. Researchers will first determine the vaccine’s safety and correct dose in children from age 6 to 12 years old, then step down gradually to the youngest participants. Once the correct dose is determined in each age group, a second phase of the trial will test the vaccine against a placebo to assess whether it is safe and triggers an immune response.

Extent of coronavirus vaccine waste remains largely unknown” via The Associated Press — As millions continue to wait their turn for the COVID-19 vaccine, small but steady amounts of the precious doses have gone to waste across the country. It’s a heartbreaking reality that experts acknowledged was always likely to occur. Thousands of shots have been wasted in Tennessee, Florida, Ohio and many other states. The reasons vary from shoddy record-keeping to accidentally trashing hundreds of shots. However, pinning down just how many of the lifesaving vials have been tossed remains largely unknown despite assurance from many local officials the number remains low. To be sure, waste is common in global inoculation campaigns, with millions of doses of flu shots trashed each year.

Death in the prime of life: COVID-19 proves especially lethal to younger Latinos” via Akilah Johnson of The Washington Post — Throughout the pandemic, the coronavirus has disproportionately carved a path through the nation’s Latino neighborhoods, as it has in African American, Native American and Pacific Islander communities. The death rate in those communities from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, is at least double that for Whites and Asian Americans, federal data shows. Even more stunning: the deadly efficiency with which the virus has targeted Latinos in their 30s and 40s. The staggering loss of life at younger ages, plus higher overall mortality rates, is projected to have caused Latinos’ life expectancy nationally to plummet by about three years during 2020.

After weeks of declining cases, echoes of hot spots emerge in Upper Midwest, New York City area” via Joel Achenbach, Ariana Eunjung Cha and Jacqueline Dupree of The Washington Post — After weeks of declining coronavirus deaths and hospitalizations, new hot spots of infection have emerged, and disease experts warn that the spread of a more dangerous variant and a too-rapid rush to return to normal life could prolong the historic health emergency. Caseloads are down nationally and tens of millions of people are fully loaded with antibodies to the virus, with more than 2 million people getting doses of vaccine every day. But the virus continues to pose a real and present threat, with about 55,000 new infections daily. Michigan has seen a rise in hospitalizations and positive test results.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

Norwegian Cruise Line cancels sailings through June amid coronavirus pandemic” via Tiffini Theisen of the Orlando Sentinel — The date any cruise line will return to service in the U.S. continues to push further into the calendar year, with Norwegian Cruise Line extending its voluntary suspension through June 2021. Those with reservations will automatically get refunds, the cruise line said, as well as a 10% off coupon added to their accounts, which is good for a year. The company’s three cruise lines amount to 28 ships, including Regent Seven Seas Splendor which debuted in 2020 and Norwegian Encore, which debuted in 2019. Norwegian Cruise Line is the third largest line globally and sails from Port Canaveral, PortMiami and the Port of Tampa.

Norwegian Cruise Lines are staying docked through at least June.

The federal government helped thousands of Uber drivers weather the pandemic” via Faiz Siddiqui and Andrew Van Dam of The Washington Post — Tens of thousands of Uber and Lyft drivers received at least $80 million in government assistance during the coronavirus pandemic, making them among the largest groups of beneficiaries of a little-known government grant and loan program established to help small businesses weather severe economic disruptions. The drivers benefited from the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program of the SBA, money intended to help struggling businesses, entrepreneurs and other workers stay afloat during the pandemic. Policy experts said it was unusual for such a vast pool of workers under the umbrella of multibillion-dollar corporations to tap into that money.

— MORE CORONA —

France finds COVID-19 variant that evades gold-standard tests” via Marthe Fourcade of Bloomberg — A new COVID-19 variant is spreading in the French region of Brittany, where several patients developed telltale symptoms but tested negative for the virus. Early analysis doesn’t suggest the mutated pathogen is more contagious or causes more severe disease than other versions, France’s health ministry said in a statement late Monday. Experiments are underway to determine the variant’s response to vaccination and antibodies from prior COVID-19 infection, the ministry said. A handful of patients whose infection was confirmed with samples from blood or deep in the respiratory system had tested negative at first with gold-standard tests, called PCR.

A French COVID-19 variant is particularly stealthy. Image via Bloomberg.

Some long-haul COVID-19 patients say their symptoms are subsiding after getting vaccines” via Lenny Bernstein and Ben Guarino of The Washington Post — Some people who have spent months suffering from long-haul COVID-19 are taking to social media to report their delight at seeing their symptoms disappear after their vaccinations, leaving experts chasing yet another puzzling clinical development surrounding the disease caused by the coronavirus. U.S. clinicians and researchers have yet to reach a consensus on even a definition for long-haul COVID-19. They do not know how many people have it, what all the symptoms may be, or who tends to develop problems that persist or begin after the virus is cleared.

Flyers refusing to wear masks face extended ‘zero-tolerance’ stance” via Alan Levin of Bloomberg — U.S. aviation regulators will continue what they call a “zero-tolerance” policy against passengers who refuse to wear face masks on airline flights. The Federal Aviation Administration in January announced it was being more aggressive about enforcing existing federal laws that require passengers to follow the crew’s safety instructions, but the policy expired at the end of March. “The policy directs our safety inspectors and attorneys to take strong enforcement action against any passenger who disrupts or threatens the safety of a flight, with penalties ranging from fines to jail time,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in an emailed statement.

‘Feels like I’m being punished’: College kids describe feelings of FOMO during Spring Break” via Jenna Ryu of USA Today — Many universities have taken measures to prevent social activities during the pandemic, with some shortening Spring Break to coincide with Easter and others canceling it altogether. Additionally, typical Spring Break hotspots, including Miami Beach, have enforced measures like a midnight curfew in anticipation of Spring Break. On Saturday, police in Miami Beach dispersed an “unruly” crowd of more than 200 people by shooting pepper balls. According to Johns Hopkins University data, the U.S. has had the highest number of COVID-19 cases over any country, with over 29 million cases and 500,000 deaths as of Monday.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Joe Biden and allies launch stimulus campaign focused on competitive battleground states” via Ashley Parker and Tyler Pager of The Washington Post — The Biden administration is launching a nationwide effort this week to sell the administration’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, a push that will take Biden, Harris and their spouses to seven states that Biden won in 2020, including two he flipped from Republicans and four that have competitive Senate races next year. The sales pitch will feature a host of top administration and Cabinet officials and is expected to encompass Republican-leaning states, too. Biden could visit Ohio, for instance, as early as next week, according to two people familiar with the plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss them publicly.

—“In Pennsylvania, Biden showcases aid to small businesses” via Josh Boak, Darlene Superville and Aamer Madhani of The Associated Press 

Joe Biden takes his sales pitch on the road. Image via AP.

Going after the ‘Achilles’ heel’: Biden charges into global anti-corruption fight” via Nahal Toosi of POLITICO — Earlier this month, amid a blizzard of news both domestic and foreign, Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the time to ban a powerful Ukrainian oligarch from setting foot in the United States. Ihor Kolomoyskyy, declared Blinken, was involved in “significant corruption,” having been accused of everything from looting billions from a bank to funding a private militia. Kolomoyskyy, a former Governor of a Ukrainian province, used his office for his personal benefit in ways that “undermined [the] rule of law and the Ukrainian public’s faith in their government’s democratic institutions,” Blinken alleged. Not only did Blinken bar Kolomoyskyy (who denies wrongdoing) from obtaining a U.S. visa, he barred the oligarch’s immediate family members, too.

Biden faces growing political threat from border upheaval” via Sean Sullivan and Nick Miroff of The Washington Post — Rep. Henry Cuellar, a moderate Texas Democrat whose district hugs the border with Mexico, isn’t happy with how Biden’s team has responded to the surge of migrants trying to enter the United States. “His people need to do a better job of listening to those of us who have done this before,” he said Monday. Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the top House Republican, who took a trip to the border Monday to slam Biden’s approach, was even more critical. “There’s no other way to claim it than a Biden border crisis,” McCarthy said during a visit to a migrant processing center in El Paso.

DeSantis slams Biden’s ‘disastrous’ border policy: ‘Donald Trump had it right’” via Brie Stimson of Fox News — DeSantis slammed Biden’s “disastrous” immigration policy on Saturday amid an influx of migrants coming to the border. “They’ve created this crisis,” the Governor said after maintaining that Trump had kept the border under control during his presidency. “But I think that this is intentional; I think it is ideological,” DeSantis continued. “I think they’re getting bit by this politically now,” but he said he thinks it’s something the administration anticipated. “It’s a disastrous way to start an administration,” DeSantis said of Biden. “I think most of the American people are going to be strongly opposed to this, and hopefully, they’ll reverse course.”

Homeland Security chief defends U.S. handling of border surge” via Ben Fox and Elliot Spagat of The Associated Press — U.S. authorities encountered nearly double the number of children traveling alone across the Mexican border on Monday than on an average day last month, an official said Tuesday. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas conceded the surge was a challenge. The Border Patrol came across 561 unaccompanied children at the border on Monday, including 280 in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the official said, offering a snapshot of how quickly events at the border have changed during the first two months of Biden’s presidency. By comparison, it encountered a daily average of 332 unaccompanied children in February, which itself was a 60% jump from January. The peak was 370 during a Trump-era surge in May 2019.

Surging numbers of unaccompanied minors at the Mexican border is posing a ‘challenge’ for the Joe Biden administration.

Advocates seek Biden push on gun bills, but prospects iffy” via Alexandra Jaffe of The Associated Press — After Biden’s giant COVID-19 relief bill passed Congress, he made a prime-time address to the nation and presided over a Rose Garden ceremony. But there wasn’t so much as a statement from the White House after the House passed legislation that would require background checks for gun purchases, a signature Democratic issue for decades. Biden’s views on gun regulation have evolved along with his party to a near-unanimous call to do something about gun violence after a spate of mass shootings. In the early months of Biden’s presidency, even popular proposals like background checks are lower on his list of priorities, and their prospects in the Senate cloudy.

— EPILOGUE: TRUMP —

Impeachment is over. But other efforts to reckon with Trump’s postelection chaos have just begun.” via Rosalind S. Helderman of The Washington Post — The state of Michigan and the city of Detroit have asked a federal judge to sanction attorneys who filed lawsuits that falsely alleged the presidential vote was fraudulent. An Atlanta-area prosecutor has launched a criminal investigation into whether the pressure that Trump and his allies put on state officials amounted to an illegal scheme to overturn the election. And defamation lawsuits have been filed against Trump’s allies. The goal, according to lawyers and others supportive of such efforts, is to mete out some form of punishment for those who helped undermine confidence in the election results and fueled the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Post-Donald Trump chaos is just beginning.

Trump’s costly, incomplete border wall is in pieces that could linger for decades” via Simon Romero and Zolan Kanno-Youngs of The New York Times — The incomplete border wall, already one of the costliest megaprojects in U.S. history, with an estimated eventual price tag of more than $15 billion, is igniting tensions again as critics urge Biden to tear down parts of the wall and Republican leaders call on him to finish it. The Biden administration suspended construction on the border wall on Jan. 20. Some stretches of the border, especially on federal lands that are relatively flat, now have long, continuous segments of 30-foot high steel barriers that could endure in the desert for decades to come. But in other areas, border-crossers can easily tiptoe around far-flung islands of wall, some of which look more like conceptual art pieces than imposing barriers to entry.

Trump doesn’t commit to stay out of Senate primaries despite prodding by Rick Scott” via Manu Raju of CNN — Scott, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, urged former President Trump to back the candidates who win Senate primaries next year rather than engage in intra-party fights that could harm the party’s chances at taking back the majority in the midterm elections. Asked Tuesday if Trump agreed with his suggestion, Scott said: “He didn’t respond.” Scott, who met with Trump last week at his Florida golf resort, said the former President’s intentions in primary season remain unclear.

Republicans flock to Mar-a-Lago for Trump fundraising, photo-ops” via ABC News — As 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.

MAGA voters discovered a new home online. But it isn’t what it seems.” via Mark Scott of POLITICO — As Trump supporters have flocked to alternative social media networks, many are turning to SafeChat, a fast-growing platform known for its tolerance of high-octane MAGA content. In the nine weeks since the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, SafeChat’s app has been downloaded more times than in all of 2020, quickly becoming a hotbed of conspiracy theories and disinformation that paints Biden’s new administration in the worst possible light. But the once-obscure social network, which touts its security protections and respect for free speech, is not just MAGA-friendly.

— CRISIS —

Russia, Iran acted to influence 2020 presidential election, report says” via Dustin Volz and Warren P. Strobel of The Wall Street Journal — Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized operations last year intended to hurt Biden’s presidential campaign and support Trump’s reelection while sowing discord to exacerbate tension in the U.S., a U.S. intelligence assessment released Tuesday said. In addition, Iran carried out a multipronged covert influence operation intended to undercut Trump’s reelection chances but didn’t directly promote his rivals. This effort was approved by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and involved Iran’s military and intelligence agencies, which used both overt and covert messaging and conducted cyber operations, it said. China didn’t undertake efforts to interfere in the election, considering but ultimately choosing not to go ahead, the report said.

Vladimir Putin was an active participant in trying to get Donald Trump reelected. Image via AP.

Army initially pushed to deny District’s request for National Guard before Jan. 6” via Paul Sonne, Peter Hermann, Ellen Nakashima and Matt Zapotosky of The Washington Post — The Army initially pushed to reject the D.C. government’s request for a modest National Guard presence ahead of the Jan. 6 rally that led to the Capitol riot, underscoring the deep reluctance of some higher-ups at the Pentagon to involve the military in security arrangements that day. In an internal draft memo obtained by The Washington Post, the Army said the U.S. military shouldn’t be needed to help police with traffic and crowd management, as city officials had requested, unless more than 100,000 demonstrators were expected. The draft memo also said the request should be denied because a federal agency hadn’t been identified to run the preparations and on-the-day operations.

Yet another Capitol riot suspect arrested in Central Florida, feds say” via Cristobal Reyes of the Orlando Sentinel — Federal investigators made yet another Central Florida arrest in connection to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol building, prosecutors announced Tuesday. Dillon Paul Homol, 22, was arrested for obstructing official proceedings, entering a restricted area, entering restricted grounds, violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, prosecutors said in an afternoon hearing before a U.S. Magistrate Judge. Homol was released on a $25,000 unsecured bond and was ordered to live with his mother, where he won’t have access to his guns. He’s also only allowed to travel between Florida and Washington, D.C., for court proceedings. If convicted, Homol faces more than 20 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

Capitol Police officer suspended after anti-Semitic document found at checkpoint” via Mike DeBonis and Tyler Pager of The Washington Post — U.S. Capitol Police suspended an officer Monday after a copy of an infamous anti-Semitic tract was found near a Capitol Hill security post Sunday, alarming a congressional aide who viewed the document in plain sight at the checkpoint. Photographs show a printed copy of the Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion on a table inside an entrance to the Longworth House Office Building. The Post provided the photographs to the Capitol Police on Monday morning and requested comment. The department said Monday evening that acting chief Yogananda D. Pittman had suspended an officer pending an investigation “after anti-Semitic reading material was discovered near his work area on Sunday.”

Federal courts look to expand security following Capitol riot, other threats to judges” via John Fritze of USA Today — Federal courts are beefing up security in response to the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol and other recent violence, court officials said Tuesday. The U.S. Marshals Service will replace outdated home intrusion detection systems used by some judges and has started to hire staff to monitor internet and dark web traffic for threats to courthouses and staff, U.S. District Court Judge Claire Eagan of Oklahoma told reporters. Threats against judges, civil unrest last summer in cities across the nation, and the recent attack on the Capitol “highlighted the need to make significant and urgent improvements to several aspects of judicial and court security,” she said.

Security of The Capitol is expanding to include federal judges, courthouses and staff. Image via AP.

HBO’s QAnon Docuseries ‘Q: Into the Storm’ believes it has discovered Q’s identity” via Nick Schager of Yahoo! News — A mishmash of abject nonsense about global elite cabals, deep state operatives, and pedophilic child-sex traffickers who consume babies’ fear for its rejuvenating power, QAnon’s belief system is so absurd that it would be laughable if it wasn’t so popular and thus so dangerous. Shot over the past three years, Cullen Hoback’s excellent Q: Into the Storm (March 21 on HBO) is a complex story about free speech, social media, anti-establishment fury, White nationalist intolerance, crackpot fantasy, and anarchist villainy, all of which contributed to the rise of the infamous conspiracy theory, which during Trump’s presidency took hold of factions of the GOP, and helped fuel the insurrectionist January 6 Capitol riots.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Senate centrists weigh brokering deals on immigration, minimum wage” via Burgess Everett of POLITICO — A bipartisan group of Senators who successfully pushed for a second coronavirus aid bill last year will meet on Wednesday as they weigh whether to wade into another thorny topic, such as immigration or the minimum wage. The group of 20, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, was formed to push Congress to pass a $900 billion pandemic stimulus bill late last year. Its meeting this week comes as the House prepares to pass immigration bills that will further reinforce the Senate’s gridlock on that issue without some bipartisan framework to break the impasse.

Senate centrists, like Susan Collins, could be the key to immigration and other reforms. Image via AP.

Dems pass on repealing Trump regulations — for now” via Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine of POLITICO — After taking full control of the government, Republicans and Trump wielded a little-used law to roll back more than a dozen Obama-era regulations. But Democrats are taking a different approach. Democrats have yet to use the Congressional Review Act to claw back any Trump-era regulations as of mid-March. The 25-year-old law allows the congressional majority party to essentially veto out regulations established during the waning days of an administration without facing a Senate filibuster. In the wake of their Senate takeover in early January, several Democrats spoke of plans to roll back Trump regulations they believed were hurting consumers and the environment.

Crist urges IRS to extend tax filing deadline to July 15” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Crist is calling on the Internal Revenue Service to extend the filing deadline for 2020 taxes. In a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, Crist urges the IRS to push back the original April 15 deadline for 2020 filing until July 15. The Pinellas County Congressman argues that taxpayers and preparers need more time to process the changes brought on by the recently signed American Rescue Plan. Crist provides Rettig several reasons why he is concerned about the upcoming deadline, including tax uncertainty for first and second-round Paycheck Protection Program loans, changes to the employee retention credit (ERC), IRS staffing shortfalls and resulting impacts and changes to tax law from Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

Green groups launch $10 million ad campaign pressuring Biden, Congress to spend huge on climate” via Josh Lederman of NBC News — A coalition of environmental groups backed by Democratic Governors is launching a $10 million-plus ad campaign pressuring the Biden administration and Congress to spend trillions on climate change and clean energy as Washington gears up for its next fight over President Biden’s infrastructure and jobs plan. Dubbed “The Great American Build,” the campaign aims to set an aggressive starting point for negotiations over the size and scope of the infrastructure package, which is coming into focus as Biden’s next major push after last week’s passage of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

Immigration overhaul bill may reform Florida farm working conditions” via Dalia Faheid of the Medill News Service — Working conditions for Florida’s undocumented farmworkers could drastically improve under recently proposed immigration reform legislation that would put them on a long-awaited path to citizenship while also providing labor protections. “It’s something that needs to happen. We’ve been relying on imported farm labor forever, and we need to do right by the people who pick our fruits and vegetables,” said Nezahualcoyotl Xiuhtecutli, general coordinator at the Farmworker Association of Florida. Nationwide, foreign-born workers make up 75% of the agricultural workforce, and about half of all farmworkers are undocumented immigrants. In Florida, the majority of farmworkers are immigrants who hail from South and Central America, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Florida immigrant farmworkers could soon see some dramatic improvements.

MeanwhileAlan Grayson’s Windermere house burns” via The Associated Press — The Windermere-area home owned by former Democratic Rep. Grayson was largely destroyed by fire early Tuesday morning. Grayson said by text that he and his family, including his wife, former congressional candidate Dena Grayson, escaped unharmed. The Orlando Sentinel reported Tuesday morning on its website that Orange County Fire Rescue responded to his home on Oak Park near Windermere at about 1 a.m., where crews battled the flames for more than an hour, according to the agency. “All occupants are reported out safely and no injuries have been noted. Unknown cause of the fire, at this time,” the fire department stated in a tweet Tuesday morning. Alan Grayson served three terms in Congress.

— LOCAL NOTES —

FBI focuses on Pasco commissioner’s role in dredging, golf cart community” via C.T. Bowen and Barbara Behrendt of the Tampa Bay Times — Thirteen months ago, the Pasco County Commission created a Hudson golf-cart community, designating 57 streets west of U.S. 19 and south of Hudson Beach as suitable for golf cart travel. That golf cart community designation is now part of an ongoing federal investigation that witnesses have said is focused on Mariano, the land purchase and a separate issue of disbursement of an anonymous $600,000 donation to complete a county-owned park. Pasco commissioners approved a $25,000 contract with the Carlton Fields law firm to represent the county’s interests in the investigation.

Miami Beach commissioner ‘lobbying’ for city attorney job. Did he break Sunshine law?” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — Commissioner Michael Góngora has spoken privately with other commissioners and Mayor Dan Gelber about his interest in being appointed the next city attorney, a possible violation of Florida’s open government laws because the city commission will ultimately vote to fill the position. Góngora, who is leaving office in November due to term limits, had private chats about the job opening in recent weeks with Gelber and commissioners Ricky Arriola and David Richardson, the officials told the Miami Herald. Arriola, who said Góngora called him about the job last week, said his colleague is “actively lobbying” for the job.

Coral Gables candidates trade barbs as first attack ads circulate ahead of April election” via Samantha J. Gross of the Miami Herald — Mail ballots for Coral Gables’ April 13 elections won’t go out to voters for another week, but already attack advertisements are hitting mailboxes. Two of the ads attack Vice Mayor Vince Lago, who is running for Mayor against fellow Commissioner Patricia Keon. One ad shows Lago’s face in developers’ literal pocket and shows construction bulldozers plowing piles of money. The second shows Lago’s face alongside piles of cash, alleging he is “bankrolled” by developers. Two other pieces of attack mail sent this week targeted Group Three candidate Kirk Menendez and Alex Bucelo.

Opponents are targeting Vince Lago in the Coral Gables mayoral race. Image via Gables Insider.

Bethune-Cookman president abruptly resigns without informing board” via Pat Rice and Eileen Zaffiro-Kean of The Daytona Beach News-Journal — E. LaBrent Chrite abruptly resigned as president on Tuesday morning, surprising the school’s board of trustees. A release gave no reason for Chrite’s sudden decision to resign, nor did it name an interim president. B-CU spokeswoman Sara Brady said the board of trustees planned to meet later Tuesday afternoon to discuss the path forward. While clearly surprised, the board wished Chrite well. Chrite took the helm at B-CU in 2019, as the school was steering through significant financial and academic challenges.

Tribe members owe taxes on casino income” via News Service of Florida — Siding with the Internal Revenue Service, a federal appeals court Tuesday ruled against members of the Miccosukee Tribe who did not pay taxes on income they received from a tribal casino in South Florida. A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the tribe distributed profits from the casino to members and encouraged them to hide the payments from the IRS. Tribe members James Clay and Audrey Osceola, a married couple, did not report income and were audited along with other members in 2010. Tuesday’s ruling said Clay and Osceola were found subject to “hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax deficiencies.”

Polarizing 87th Avenue bridge in South Dade heads to a crucial vote amid legal threats” via Samantha J. Gross of the Miami Herald — Three years after a Miami-Dade County transportation board shot down a proposal to build a bridge over Southwest 87th Avenue in Palmetto Bay, the polarizing pitch to unclog some of South Dade’s most congested roadways is heading for another vote. The Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization is expected to take up the $3.1 million plan on Thursday after county commissioners revived the project last month and put it on a fast track to approval. A yes vote would kick off the process of designing and constructing the bridge where a canal cuts 87th Avenue in two.

Lawyers step in after Florida City tells trailer park residents they will be evicted” via David Goodhue of the Miami Herald — Damian Nunez lost consciousness Monday afternoon after a representative from a homeless organization told him he and his trailer would have to be gone from a Florida City-owned community by midweek. “I’m scared,” said Nunez, 56, who has a history of heart disease. “I’m scared they’re going to take away my trailer.” Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue medics treated Nunez at the scene, but he declined to be taken to a hospital after regaining consciousness. Representatives from the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust and Camillus House arrived Monday morning at the Florida City Camp Site and RV Park to assist residents.

Leon County Schools website hacked with racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic remarks” via C.D. Davidson-Hiers of the Tallahassee Democrat — An administrative password for the website had been compromised, a district spokesman said. Various public school Twitter accounts also posted some of the same language, and parents reported receiving emails from the school district containing similar offensive content. Much of what was in the emails was familiar and deliberately provocative memes — images and jokes rapidly spread by Internet users — common on abusive online forums. Five minutes after a reporter called the district to inquire about the hack, the website was back to the regular LCS main page. It was later taken offline entirely.

Judge faces discipline over campaign involvement via News Service of Florida — Scott Cupp, a judge in the 20th Judicial Circuit, could face a public reprimand from the state Supreme Court after a probe into his support for a candidate in a Hendry County judicial election. Cupp reached an agreement with an investigative panel of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission in which he acknowledged that he acted improperly in supporting Richard Sullivan, who unsuccessfully tried to unseat Hendry County Judge Darrell Hill last year. The agreement, known as a stipulation, recommends that the Supreme Court issue a public reprimand to Cupp, who previously had served as a Hendry County judge and was succeeded by Hill.

Bay Area beaches, roadways packed during Spring Break” via Dan Matics of Fox 13 — Spring Break is well underway up and down the 35 mile stretch of Pinellas County beaches. Traffic backed up more than a mile Tuesday to get to Clearwater Beach. Police there say that they are glad at the beach is open, unlike a year ago for Spring Break. They want everyone to follow all of the precautions — they’ve stepped up patrols and are reminding everyone of no alcohol, glass bottles, or dogs. Officials say there haven’t been any issues as of Tuesday afternoon. St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport has been slammed with vacationers. Spokeswoman Michele Routh said so many people are traveling, the airport is bringing back dozens of jobs.

What virus?

U.S. Sugar helps dedicate new benches at Clewiston’s Harlem Community Tree Park” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — U.S. Sugar joined several community leaders this week to dedicate new benches at Harlem Community Tree Park. The park is located near U.S. Sugar’s Clewiston factory. The organization helped donate funds to commission the new benches designed by Clewiston High School’s Building Trades and Construction Design Technology class. “This project has brought together our students, our pastors and our community leaders to help enhance a local park with a place for our neighbors to gather,” said Brannan Thomas, U.S. Sugar’s community relations manager. “Building strong communities and promoting unity is part of who we are, and we were proud to work with our community partners to help make this project a reality.”

— TOP OPINION —

Why the popular COVID-19 relief bill may not pay off electorally for Democrats” via Harry Enten of CNN — A new CNN/SSRS poll finds that 61% of Americans favor Biden’s coronavirus relief package. Just 37% oppose. This fits with the average polling, which almost universally shows more than 60% of Americans approved of the package. You don’t need to do a lot of hoop-jumping to see how passing popular legislation could help the Democrats electorally. It also can’t hurt Democrats that Republican members of Congress universally opposed the bill. So what the heck is the GOP seeing to make them come out against such a popular bill? Sometimes electoral math isn’t straightforward. Something can be popular without having major ramifications.

— OPINIONS —

The blurry line between combating ‘fraud’ and just making voting harder” via Philip Bump of The Washington Post — In the weeks after the 2020 election, few members of the media were more ostentatiously willing to entertain Trump’s claims of election improprieties than Fox News’s Maria Bartiromo. Despite the lack of evidence then or now for any significant voter fraud, Bartiromo has continued to entertain the idea that something nebulously untoward occurred. On Sunday, she hosted Gov. Greg Abbott, a Texas Republican, to discuss the surge in migrants arriving at his state’s southern border. Toward the end of the interview, Bartiromo also asked Abbott to weigh in on federal legislation to protect voting access. Abbott claimed that Democrats were “trying to institutionalize voter fraud” with House Bill 1.

Republicans can’t win if all of us vote. So they’re trying hard to ‘fix’ that” via Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Miami Herald — On the issue of guns, John Kavanagh has a record unblemished by sanity. The man loves guns. The man thinks everybody should have access to guns. Your modern Republican, you see, considers ballots more dangerous than bullets. “There’s a fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans,” Kavanagh said last week. “Democrats value as many people as possible voting, and they’re willing to risk fraud. Republicans are more concerned about fraud, so we don’t mind putting security measures in that won’t let everybody vote — but everybody shouldn’t be voting …” You may read that over again if you wish, but it won’t become less ugly. And if you’re unclear on who the “everybody” is that shouldn’t be voting, well … welcome to America.

By design or incompetence, Florida’s unemployment system failed ‘countless people’” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — Comedian John Oliver largely dedicated last week’s episode of his HBO show to Florida’s deeply flawed unemployment system. Oliver’s show, which quoted the Sun-Sentinel’s work, was devastatingly on point. It could only get through a few findings from Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel’s damning report given its half-hour format. Until now, the chief villains of this story have been Scott, Deloitte, and the Florida Legislature. But Miguel’s report has brought new players to the forefront. Deloitte is one of what are known as the Big Four in the accounting industry, along with Ernst and Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers. According to her March 4 report, only PWC was not involved in creating the system.

Adrian Moore: Don’t buy the myths, Florida state retirement system is in deep trouble” via Florida Politics — Financial models and annual reports published by Florida Retirement System are clear — despite popular myth the pension plan in serious trouble. Unfortunately, some legislators and stakeholders mistakenly believe that FRS is in good shape. No one should believe these myths — they don’t stand up to the facts. The FRS pension plan has an “unfunded liability” of $36 billion as of last year. That means the state is short $36 billion of what it needs. The bulk of this pension debt — over $32 billion — is caused by a long history of underperforming investments and changes to actuarial assumptions. No professional actuarial organization considers less than 100% funding to be appropriate for a pension plan.

Provision about AP, IB, AICE and dual enrollment in Senate Bill 86 is a tax on excellence” via Paul Cottle of Bridge to Tomorrow — For years, Florida policy-makers bragged about the large number of students in the state’s public high schools who earn college credit through Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Advanced International Certificate of Education and dual enrollment opportunities. But now a bill (Senate Bill 86) working its way through the Florida Legislature would reduce the Bright Futures scholarships that these students receive. The more college credits these high school students earn, the more their Bright Futures scholarships would be reduced. In other words, Senate Bill 86 would impose an Excellence Tax on the state’s young people.

License dental therapists to widen access to care” via Cathy Cabanzon for The Palm Beach Post — When Floridians don’t have access to dental care, minor problems often grow to complications that are incredibly painful and very costly. Given the alarming shortage of dentists in Florida, many Floridians are suffering. But there’s something we can do to help. Licensing dental therapists to practice in Florida can increase access to dental care across the state, bringing relief to people in pain and preventing others from suffering. I know because this happened to me. I suffered from an agonizing toothache, but I didn’t have access to dental care. A friend referred me to a dentist who educated me on the importance of preventive care, proper hygiene and early cavity treatment to prevent pain and tooth loss. This visit not only relieved my pain but also inspired me to become a dental hygienist so I could help ensure others would not have to go through the pain I experienced.

Jim Karels: Florida’s Right to Farm is important to the future of Florida’s prescribed burn program — Current law does not go far enough to protect farms from frivolous, unjust lawsuits. SB 88 by Sen. Jason Brodeur and HB 1601 by Rep. Jayer Williamson is necessary to keep farmers farming. More than 17 million acres in Florida, or nearly one-half of our state’s landmass, is forestland. Foresters who own some of this land contribute to our environment by protecting the land from development, filtering water and replenishing our aquifer, and providing wildlife habitat to many endangered species. Prescribed burning is important for forester landowners to manage and care for the land. SB 88 and HB 1601, which strengthen Florida’s Right to Farm laws, will enable forest landowners to continue prescribed burning to manage and care for their land.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

The Senate Education Committee votes to reduce Bright Futures Scholarships for college students who insist on following their passions instead of going for the big bucks. Students are not amused.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— DeSantis still believes Florida is not getting its fair share from the new federal COVID-19 relief law … but he’s already figured out how he wants to spend it.

— Among other things, DeSantis wants to use “Biden Bucks” to fix the unemployment system, replenish the DOT road fund, give a thousand-dollar bonus to every first responder and bail out the seaports.

— Democrats launch a new campaign to thwart the Governor’s reelection next year — called “Ron Be Gone.”

— And finally, two Florida Women are charged with successfully hacking the election … of homecoming queen.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

Family of boy killed by alligator at Disney World urges organ donation” via The Associated Press — A Nebraska couple whose 2-year-old son died tragically at Walt Disney World nearly five years ago wants more families to consider donating their children’s organs if their child is ever facing death. Matt and Melissa Graves created the Lane Thomas Foundation after their son, Lane Thomas Graves, was killed by an alligator in 2016. The couple said they decided to focus on pediatric organ donation because they wanted to help other families fighting for their children’s lives, and they wanted to help kids because their son loved other children. “Because we know the pain of losing a child, we wanted to focus on an issue where we believe we can help prevent other parents from knowing our pain,” they said.

Tokyo Olympic torch relay: Masks, quiet cheering and caution” via Stephen Wade of The Associated Press — Organizers plan to exercise extreme caution when the Olympic torch relay starts next week, knowing any stumble could imperil the opening of the Tokyo Games in just over four months. The organizers spoke in detail on Tuesday about their plans for the relay, scheduled to begin on March 25 from northeastern Fukushima prefecture. The relay will crisscross Japan for the next four months with 10,000 runners carrying the torch. It’s also a symbolic curtain-raiser for the postponed Olympics, and there is no room for error. If the relay stumbles — if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 — it could pull down the Olympics with it.

The delayed Tokyo Olympic torch relay will be a more subdued affair. Image via AP.

Assistant principal accused in homecoming court vote fraud” via The Associated Press — An assistant principal at an elementary school is accused of accessing the school district’s internal system to cast fraudulent votes for her daughter who was elected homecoming queen at her high school, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said. On Monday, agents arrested Laura Rose Carroll and her 17-year-old daughter on multiple charges stemming from the October homecoming vote at Tate High School in Pensacola. According to a news release from the agency, the investigation began in November when the Escambia County School District reported unauthorized access into hundreds of student accounts.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Celebrating today is our dear friend Christian Minor, as well as Rep. David Smith, former Rep. Sean Shaw, Kelsey Frouge, former. Pete City Councilman Steve Kornell, and Rob Weissert.

___

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

Peter Schorsch

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



#FlaPol

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

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

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