With the state government firmly in Republican control since the last century, Florida policymakers have been extremely friendly to free-market principles.
At the same time, local governments decry the trend of state lawmakers passing so-called preemption bills, which the locals believe step on cherished home-rule principles of local democracy.
That’s why it’s particularly shocking that some local governments in the Panhandle are sticking it to local builders — and, ultimately, to the homeowners, these governments are supposed to serve.
In 2017, lawmakers recognized that the locals still weren‘t able to keep up with the demand, so they incentivized the use of private providers by requiring governments to reduce permit fees when builders and homeowners used private inspectors instead of public employees.
The reasoning was simple: The backlog was costing builders and homeowners time and money, and if government resources aren’t being spent to do the inspections, builders shouldn’t have to pay as much for the permitting process. It wasn’t just a suggestion — the Legislature made the fee reduction mandatory.
But that hasn’t seemed to matter to some local governments in the Panhandle, which have refused to lower the permit fees the way the law requires.
Government officials there are thumbing their nose at the Legislature and flipping off the clear language of the statute and the small mom-and-pop businesses working hard to rebuild these communities.
Is it any wonder elected officials seem to grow increasingly comfortable stepping on local authority?
If local government officials want the Legislature to stop intruding on their home rule powers — and they most certainly do — then they’d all better stop acting like outlaws who can pick and choose which legal mandates to abide by and which to ignore flagrantly.
Floridians 50-and-up now eligible for vaccine — On Monday, the state will begin allowing all Floridians who are 50 years old or older to get COVID-19 vaccines. The Governor announced the updated eligibility guidelines on Friday, just one week after the state lowered the minimum age from 65 to 60. In announcing the second age drop, Gov. Ron DeSantis said demand had started to taper off among seniors. “It’s really slowed down in terms of demand. There was a critical mass of seniors who wanted to get it,” he said. Heading into the weekend, nearly 7.2 million vaccine doses had been administered in Florida, and about 2.6 million residents had completed their vaccination regimen.
In other notes:
— State of political parties in Florida: Join an all-star panel Thursday at Suncoast Tiger Bay, where political parties will be on the agenda. Former Republican and never-Trumper David Jolly, Democratic consultant Steve Schale and Director of House Campaigns for the Florida GOP Frank Terraferma are likely to provide a lively dialogue about what’s going right and what needs to be improved. The virtual forum is at noon on the Suncoast Tiger Bay website and its Facebook page.
🏛 — Florida Man strikes again: A Florida resident and member of the controversial Proud Boys group was among those who organized the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, according to federal prosecutors. Joseph Biggs, of Ormond Beach, is charged with obstruction of an official proceeding, entering a restricted building or grounds and violent and disorderly conduct.
🏖 — Tunnel to the beach: Elon Musk’s The Boring Company is talking with Fort Lauderdale to build a two-mile tunnel from downtown to the beach. Miami is considering a similar project, which could be completed in just six months for about $30 million. The Fort Lauderdale project would provide Tesla rides to the beach for $5-8. Surf’s up!
🦎 — No iguanas for you: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission voted in late February to ban the sale of pet iguanas, Burmese Pythons and 14 other invasive species plaguing Florida. On Saturday, The Washington Post spotlighted the ban, which will be phased in over three years to allow businesses to rid their stock. Already have one as a pet, don’t worry. You can keep it. You just can’t replace it when it dies.
🐡 — Speaking of invasive species: Florida has a new one — a monster river fish called the arapaima. One washed up in Cape Coral’s Jaycee Park along the Caloosahatchee River this week. The arapaima is native to the Amazon River in South America and is one of the world’s largest predatory fish. Its scales are said to be as impenetrable as armor. Read more about it here.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
How it started/how it's going, Florida spring break edition: pic.twitter.com/yALT0QyVtT
— Benjy Renton (@bhrenton) March 21, 2021
—@ShannonRWoods: Florida Gov. DeSantis has proposed legislation to penalize Black Lives Matter protesters, saying “we will not allow our cities to burn and lawlessness to rule the streets.” Sounds like the Spring Breakers he invited to the state during a pandemic are doing just that.
—@NateMonroe: So DeSantis and his allies spout off some crazy bullshit about “lockdowns” and masks. Meanwhile, he leaves the state’s major cities the much harder work of doing actual mitigation (mask mandates, etc.). Florida *is* the state of lockdowns. In part because of Gov. Grievance.
—@Conarck: Looks like the Inky got the data on demographic breakdowns of FEMA site vaccinations that @HealthyFla @FLSERT refuse to provide to the public. But @MeredithMBeat assures us that Florida is the most transparent when it comes to releasing this stuff, so I guess nothing to see here.
—@TUMarkWoods: Winston Scott majored in music at @floridastate. He became an astronaut. He says music and science go hand-in-hand. Will the Florida legislature tell future Winston Scotts that if they want full #BrightFutures, they better pick a different major?
—@KirbyWTweets: if I were a legislator, my first initiative would be a resolution stating that ‘Better Call Saul’ is a perfect show. I would do my best to grind all other legislative business to a halt until this resolution was heard and passed
— Janine Stanwood (@JanineStanwood) March 20, 2021
—@Carlos_Frias: You know when The Clevelander closes its bar, that’s like Waffle House closing when a hurricane approaches.
— DAYS UNTIL —
‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ premieres — 4; 2021 Florida Virtual Hemp Conference — 5; 2021 Florida Derby — 5; California theme parks begin to reopen — 10; MLB Opening Day — 10; Easter — 13; RNC spring donor summit — 18; 2021 WWE WrestleMania 37 begins — 19; Disneyland to open — 39; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 46; Mother’s Day — 48; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 49; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 67; Memorial Day — 70; Father’s Day — 90; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 102; 4th of July — 104; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 111; MLB All-Star Game in Atlanta — 113; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 123; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 131; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 155; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 186; ‘Dune’ premieres — 193; MLB regular season ends — 195; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 201; World Series Game 1 — 218; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 225; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 228; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 263; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 270; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 368; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 410; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 564.
— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —
Spotted: Gov. DeSantis at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday night.
It would appear @GovRonDeSantis was raising money for his re-election campaign last night at the partially-closed Mar-a-Lago.
Here’s an instagram caption from someone pictured with him and the First Lady. pic.twitter.com/j2OsDTkmPm
— Peter Schorsch (@PeterSchorschFL) March 21, 2021
“Florida took an aggressive approach to unemployment fraud. Was it worth it?” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — During the height of the state’s unemployment crisis last year, Florida’s jobless agency enforced anti-fraud efforts that added months of delays and frustrations for those waiting for benefits. Pregnant women, Floridians sick with COVID-19 and those caring for children at home were denied benefits because they weren’t “able and available” for work under state law. Jobless Floridians with simple discrepancies on applications saw their claims locked, delaying payments by weeks or months. Former call center workers hired to help claimants say that stopping fraud was prioritized over providing benefits.
>>>Response from former Gov. Charlie Crist: “In all my time in public service, I can’t think of a worse action by a Florida Governor than denying unemployment benefits to a pregnant woman during this historic pandemic.”
“Amid allegations of spoiler candidate scheme, Florida Democrats call for GOP Senator to resign” via Samantha J. Gross and Ana Ceballos of the Miami Herald — Florida Democrats on Friday called for Republican Sen. Ileana Garcia’s resignation and for a special election to be held in Miami-Dade Senate District 37, a day after state prosecutors accused a Miami GOP operative of planting a no-party candidate to sway the outcome of the race in November. Garcia’s 2020 victory strengthened Senate Republicans’ decadeslong control of the Florida Senate. But Democrats are calling into question the integrity of the election after a 25-page arrest affidavit laid bare an alleged scheme by former Republican state Sen. Frank Artiles that involved him paying an auto-parts dealer more than $40,000 to run and influence the race.
“State Attorney Executive Director Graham Fountain refutes POLITICO story alleging he fibbed” via Tom McLaughlin of the Northwest Florida Daily News — A reporter for POLITICO Florida claims to have caught Fountain, a local politician turned State Attorney’s Office bigwig, in a series of little white lies. Fountain, State Attorney Ginger Bowden Madden‘s executive director, says the reporter was skulking about the state Capitol cafeteria when he caught pieces of a conversation he wasn’t entitled to be tuning in to and that he didn’t hear all he says he heard. The resulting story, penned by reporter Matt Dixon, “isn’t news,” according to Fountain. “They turned it around to make it sound like something it wasn’t,” he said.
Beyond the bizarreness of wanting to keep the story about him lying alive, I'm genuinely surprised Graham Fountain would openly go against @GovRonDeSantis, whose office refuted his story about how he was appointed and backed that up with records pic.twitter.com/4C65KY32Wj
— Matt Dixon (@Mdixon55) March 19, 2021
“Scott Plakon among nine seeking vacant Public Service Commission seat” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Rep. Plakon is among nine applicants vying for a seat on Florida’s Public Service Commission. Plakon, along with eight others, is applying for a seat left vacant in February when DeSantis appointed former Commissioner Julie Brown to lead the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Plakon, who has served HD 29, must leave office in 2022 because of term limits. His wife, Rachel Plakon, has filed to run as a Republican candidate in 2022 in hopes of succeeding him. Plakon is joined by two applicants currently working with the PSC, Ana Cristina Ortega, a chief policy adviser at the PSC, and Gabriella A. Passidomo, a PSC attorney.
— SPROWLS SPEAK —
House Speaker Chris Sprowls wants to demand a high level of accountability from universities and research institutions to combat foreign interference.
Speaking with NBC Miami’s Jackie Nespral on Sunday, the House Speaker said the state’s plan to require groups to disclose funding from China and other adversarial countries is the most aggressive plan at the state level to curb foreign interference and theft.
“This is not something that’s in the newspaper every day or on the news, but it is a pervasive problem throughout the country and here in Florida,” Sprowls said.
Republicans’ plan has so far drawn unanimous support, including from Democrats. And Sprowls expects support to jump the state line and to extend to other states.
“I think it’s going to catch fire,” he said.
Half the plan (SB 2010/HB 7017) would force state agencies, local governments, colleges, and universities to disclose donations and grants worth $50,000 or more from a list of seven countries or agents of those countries. Research and education institutions with budgets worth at least $10 million would have to screen applicants for research positions who aren’t permanent residents of the United States.
“We’re going to make them report their vetting process,” Sprowls said.
The second half of the plan (SB 1378/HB 1523) would increase corporate espionage penalties, including creating a second-degree felony for trafficking in trade secrets. Knowingly selling intellectual property to foreign adversaries would carry increased penalties.
Sprowls pointed to several foreign influence and intellectual property theft cases by China and Chinese agents, including at the Moffitt Cancer Center.
Under some contracts, Sprowls said some researchers travel to China to do work in undisclosed “shadow laboratories.”
“That was to the benefit, not of our people and of [the] American economy, but of the Chinese economy,” he added. “That ends under this bill.”
Lawmakers are scheduled to hear both the House and Senate versions of the foreign influence half of that package this week.
— TALLY 2 —
“John Dailey: HB 1 is bad for Tallahassee & Florida” for Florida Politics — We all agree that more needs to be done to combat extremism, White supremacy, and domestic terrorism in our country and in our communities, but the anti-protest legislation making its way through the Florida Legislature now does none of those things. It was proposed last summer in the wake of the global protests against racial injustice after the killing of George Floyd and directed at Black Lives Matter protests. We already have all the tools we need to address acts of violence in our city. This bill is attempting to solve a problem we don’t have, and it will have the effect — intended or not — of stifling constitutionally-protected speech.
“House committee weighs new rules for voting by mail” via The Associated Press — A measure scheduled to be heard by the House Public Integrity and Elections Committee on Monday would require 24-hour monitoring of ballot drop boxes — either by guards, elections officials during work hours or by surveillance cameras during off-hours — and require voters to provide identification, such as their Social Security numbers, to update registration information. The Senate is considering its own changes to how vote-by-mail ballots are handled, including banning drop boxes. Both versions would also narrow the time period covered by a single application for an absentee ballot from two general elections cycles to just one — and wipe out the advantage Democrats now have over Republicans in the number of absentee voters.
“Off-roading: Amended toll roads repeal bill gets mostly favorable review” via Jeffrey Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — A massive, expensive and controversial toll roads project is heading for a dead-end, a prognosis hastened by economic reversals in the state caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. A proposal by state Sen. Gayle Harrell to repeal the 2019 statute that created M-CORES, or Multi-Use Corridors of Regional and Economic Significance, cleared its second and final committee by a 17-2 vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday. Now ready for the Senate floor, an amendment to the bill included recommendations made during the bill’s first hearing before the Transportation Committee.
“Senate votes to close sex offender loophole” via The Associated Press — A loophole in Florida’s sexual offender registration law would be closed under a Senate bill unanimously passed in response to a child molester who didn’t have to register because he didn’t pay a court-ordered fine. A judge ruled last year that Ray La Vel James of Tampa, who spent 12 years in prison after being convicted of molesting two girls at a public pool, didn’t have to register as a sex offender because the law states registration isn’t required until a sentence is completed and he hadn’t paid off a $10,000 fine that was part of his sentence. SB 234 was approved 39-0 on the Senate floor Thursday.
“PACE septic-to-sewer expansion gets name change as it clears second Senate committee” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — A bill aimed at speeding up septic-to-sewer conversions cleared another Senate committee and took on a new name. SB 1208 by Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez would expand property assessed clean energy, or PACE, financing to cover wastewater treatment improvements and septic-to-sewer conversion, in addition to the suite of projects currently in the program. An amendment adopted in the Senate Finance and Tax Committee would also chuck the PACE acronym in favor of REEF, which is short for Resiliency Energy Environment Florida. The new name is intended to reflect the expanded scope of the program.
“Lawmakers look to crack down on misuse of DAVID system” via Jake Stofan of Capitol News Service — Law Enforcement and others like state employees and 911 operators with access to the Driver Vehicle Information Database will face stiffer penalties for misusing the system to acquire personal information of members of the public under legislation passed by its final Senate committee Thursday morning. Current misuse of the system results in a $500 fine, but the legislation would raise financial penalties as high as $2,000. Sponsor Sen. Ed Hooper said it wasn’t one but many incidents that inspired the change.
— LOBBY REGS —
New and renewed lobbying registrations:
Matt Bryan, David Daniel, Thomas Griffin, Jeff Hartley, Lisa Hurley, Teye Reeves, Smith Bryan & Myers: National Animal Supplement Council
Alfreda Coward, Converge Government Affairs of Florida: City of West Miami, Florida Swimming Pool Association, Town of Cutler Bay
Taylor Ferguson: Parallel
Mathew Forrest, Ballard Partners: American Hotel and Lodging Association
Fred Karlinsky, Greenberg Traurig: Banzai Capital Partners
Larry Williams, Larry Williams Consulting: First Love Brewing
— LEG. SKED —
The House Public Integrity & Elections Committee meets to consider PCB PIE 21-05, which seeks to make broad changes to state’s election laws, including drop boxes for mail-in ballots and requiring Floridians to request such ballots more often, 9:15 a.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
House Minority Co-leader Evan Jenne and Rep. Fentrice Driskell host a virtual media availability, 10 a.m. Zoom link here.
The House Appropriations Committee meets to consider HB 7017, from Rep. Erin Grall, to curb foreign influence in Florida colleges and universities and other agencies, 12:30 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.
The House Ways & Means Committee meets to consider HB 219, from Rep. Jason Fischer, to give the state control of regulation of vacation rentals, preempting local restrictions, 12:30 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.
The Senate Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response will hear an update from the National Federation of Independent Business, the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, the Florida Retail Federation, and the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, 1 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.
The House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee meets to consider HB 1049, from Rep. Mike Giallombardo, to allow law enforcement to use drones for traffic control and collecting crime-scene evidence, 3 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
The House Tourism, Infrastructure & Energy Subcommittee meets to consider HB 1239, from Rep. Josie Tomkow, to make broadband infrastructure changes. In part, it would require municipal utilities to make available utility poles to broadband providers, 3 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.
The Senate Special Order Calendar Group meets to set the special-order calendar, 3 p.m., Room 401, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee meets to consider confirming Dane Eagle as executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, 3:30 p.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee meets to consider SPB 7062, which address issues of the Central Florida Water Initiative, which involves the Department of Environmental Protection; the St. Johns River, South Florida and Southwest Florida Water Management Districts; the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and regional public water supply utilities, 3:30 p.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Judiciary Committee meets to consider SB 1922, from Sen. Joe Gruters, to revamp the state’s alimony laws, 3:30 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.
The House Post-Secondary Education and Lifelong Learning Subcommittee meets to consider HB 99, from Reps. Mike Gottlieb and Rep. Angie Nixon, to expand access to epinephrine auto-injectors, which are used to combat severe allergic reactions, 4 p.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.
Happening today — Representatives of the League of Women Voters of Florida, the NAACP, Common Cause, All Voting is Local and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida will hold a virtual news conference call to condemn elections bills in the Legislature, 2 p.m. Reporters can register online here.
— TALLY MADNESS —
The first round of TallyMadness is over.
The online competition started Thursday afternoon, pitting 64 in-house lobbyists against each other in a March Madness-style competition to decide who is the “best” lobbyist in Florida.
Among the Round 1 standouts: Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants lobbyist Justin Thames, who made it all the way to the championship game last year before losing out to Corinne Mixon of Rutledge Ecenia. This year he started off by knocking out Comcast lobbyist Brian Musselwhite.
In the match between John Holley of Florida Power & Light Company and Anthony DiMarco of the Florida Bankers Association, it was Holley who prevailed. And Florida School Boards Association lobbyist BillieAnn Gay defeated Anheuser-Busch lobbyist Jonathan Rees as she seeks to match — and possibly improve upon — her Final Four run in 2020.
To nobody’s surprise, Anthem Lobbyist Stephanie Smith dispatched Edward Labrador. Again, sorry, Edward, maybe next year you’ll get a better slot in the opening round.
Some other highlights from Round 1: AFP state director Skylar Zander lost to Danielle Scroggins in a close one; Stephanie Kopelousos of the Governor’s Office defeated David Pizzi of Florida Blue; the Florida Trucking Association’s Alix Miller sent the Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers’ Jason Harrell packing, and Albie Kaminsky of Charter Communications dunked on Jamie Ross of the League of Southeastern Credit Unions.
Round 2 starts today and runs through 11:59 p.m. Thursday. Florida Politics readers will decide who makes it to the Sweet 16 by voting online — the winners will be announced in Friday’s Sunburn.
— SUITS FOR SESSION —
Simply Healthcare is helping Volunteer Florida put on “Suits for Session” for the sixth year running. The service project engages legislators and staff, state agency employees, and others to collect new or gently-worn business attire to help job-seekers land their next gig.
“Simply Healthcare is honored to partner with Volunteer Florida to support this year’s Suits for Session initiative,” said Holly Prince, Simply Healthcare Medicaid Plan president.
“As COVID-19 vaccines become more readily available and Floridians have the opportunity to safely return to the workforce, the Suits for Session program will help to ensure that members of the community have access to the resources, including suits and clothing, needed to secure employment.”
Since the project’s inception in 2016, Volunteer Florida and its partners have been able to donate over 21,000 items of professional wear to organizations across the Sunshine State.
This year’s edition will be held Wednesday on the corner of S Adams Street and W Pensacola Street, in front of Tallahassee City Hall. If you don’t have a spare suit, consider donating a blazer, jacket, blouse, shirt, pants, dress, skirt, tie, belt, shoes or a handbag — all are accepted.
For more information about Suits for Session, visit Volunteer Florida’s website.
— STATEWIDE —
“Miles of Florida roads face ‘major problem’ from sea rise. Is state moving fast enough?” via Mario Ariza and Alex Harris of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — After years of ignoring or denying climate change, Florida has begun assessing the threat that sea rise poses to a sprawling transportation network essential to the state’s economy. But the risks, like the water, are rising fast. One 2018 Department of Transportation study already has found that a 2-foot rise, expected by midcentury, would imperil a little more than 5%, 250-plus miles, of the state’s most high-traffic highways. That may not sound like a lot, but protecting those highways alone could easily cost several billion dollars.
“Data: Florida’s texting-while-driving law rarely enforced” via Christopher Cann of Fresh Take Florida — With a flourish, Gov. DeSantis signed a new law in 2019 making texting while driving a primary traffic offense in Florida, with a $30 fine for a first offense that routinely climbs to over $100. “It’ll make our roads safer,” DeSantis said. But the new law against texting is rarely enforced, according to official state figures. Florida also has failed its requirements under the law to track comprehensively how many drivers are ticketed statewide – and whether police are targeting minorities. Those in charge of writing tickets also complained that the young law has too many loopholes.
“Florida Supreme Court holds North Florida ex-State Attorney Jeff Siegmeister in contempt” via USA Today Network — The Florida Supreme Court has held Lake City’s former top prosecutor in contempt and ordered his law license suspended indefinitely. The court also told Siegmeister to pay The Florida Bar $1,250 “for recovery of administrative costs,” according to its Friday order. Siegmeister never replied to the court’s Dec. 22 demand to explain why he shouldn’t be held in contempt for his earlier “failure to respond to an official bar inquiry,” records show. He was indicted on charges of conspiracy, extortion, bribery, fraud and tax crimes involving deals to settle court cases in Florida’s 3rd Judicial Circuit.
“Suit: Water belongs to residents of Florida” via Cindy Swirko of The Gainesville Sun — A showdown over a proposed permit that would enable Nestle Water to expand its Ginnie Springs bottling operation is coming Tuesday to the Suwannee River Water Management District. The district Governing Board in Live Oak will hear public comments and possibly vote on a pumping permit. “The District has received over 20,000 public comments on this item,” SRWMD spokeswoman Lindsey Covington said. “Of the comments, approximately 1% are in support of the item, and approximately 99% are opposed.” Under Florida law, water flowing in rivers, streams or channels above or below ground is considered owned by the people. Landowners have a “riparian” right to use the banks and water for activities such as boating, swimming and fishing.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“Florida tops 2 million COVID-19 cases in just over 1 year” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — A little more than a year after the novel coronavirus showed up in the state, Florida has topped 2 million cases of COVID-19. According to the Florida Department of Health, with the addition of 5,105 reported cases Saturday, the total hit 2,004,362 confirmed cases since the pandemic started. The milestone was another reminder of the toll that COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, has taken on the state, killing at least 32,713 Floridians and sickening countless others. Another 624 nonresidents have died in the state.
“Florida adds 3,987 coronavirus cases, 32 deaths Sunday” via Romy Ellenbogen of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida recorded 3,987 coronavirus cases Sunday, bringing the statewide total to 2,008,349.vThe weekly case average increased to about 4,506 cases announced per day. The Florida Department of Health also announced 32 deaths from the virus. In Florida, 33,369 people have died from the coronavirus. The weekly average is about 73 deaths announced per day. About 76,000 coronavirus tests were processed Saturday, resulting in a single-day positivity rate of 6.23 percent. As of Sunday, 4,911,786 people in Florida are vaccinated against the coronavirus, an increase of 92,357 from the day prior.
“A rapid COVID-19 vaccine rollout backfired in some U.S. states, including Florida” via The Associated Press — Despite the clamor to speed up the U.S. vaccination drive against COVID-19 and get the country back to normal, the first three months of the rollout suggest faster is not necessarily better. A surprising new analysis found that states such as Florida, that raced ahead of others to offer the vaccine to ever-larger groups of people, have vaccinated smaller shares of their population than those that moved more slowly and methodically. The explanation is that the rapid expansion of eligibility caused a surge in demand too big for some states to handle and led to serious disarray. Vaccine supplies proved insufficient or unpredictable, websites crashed and phone lines became jammed, spreading confusion, frustration and resignation among many people.
Choose your news — “COVID vaccination sites brace for surge in demand for appointments as age drops to 50 on Monday” via Jane Musgrave of The Palm Beach Post — DeSantis said Friday that a tepid response from those between the ages of 60 and 64 prompted him to lower the age of eligibility to 50. Contrary to the Governor’s view, local officials said, they have been inundated with requests for appointments since those age 60 and up were allowed to get shots last week. They predicted demand would intensify on Monday when 195,000 county residents between the ages of 50 and 59 are allowed to get vaccinated. Retailers also said they expect demand will increase when an additional 2.83 million state residents between the ages of 50 and 59 are allowed to get shots.
Or there is this — “Vaccine demand cools as leaders expand eligibility” via Katie Santich and Ryan Gillespie of the Orlando Sentinel — When COVID-19 vaccinations began in earnest late last year, it was a little like Black Friday at Walmart. People camped out overnight. They slept in their cars. They stood in the sun for hours. They spent entire days on their computers and phones trying to find a single unclaimed opening at one of the region’s handful of vaccination sites. But as winter has turned to spring, demand has cooled. Even as vaccine eligibility expanded from residents 65 and older to younger teachers, school employees and public safety officials, the Orange County Convention Center vaccine site only reached its capacity of 3,000 shots a day once in the first two weeks of March. It averaged about 2,600 shots a day.
“Charlie Crist blasts DeSantis’ vaccine rollout, proposes ‘Successful Shots’ plan” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics —The initiative proposes a system counter to that currently being implemented by Gov. DeSantis. Under the Governor’s current plan, an individual is eligible to receive a vaccine if they are 60 years old or older, have a doctor’s note, are a health care worker or are a school teacher, firefighter or law enforcement officer 50 years old or older. The plan brought by Crist seeks to address site underutilization by giving all Floridians the chance to wait in the general line for a vaccine, while creating a Fast Pass line so seniors and vulnerable groups get priority access.
“COVID-19 vaccine supply will remain flat through March, followed by a surge” via Michael Wilner, Ben Conarck and Hannah Wiley of the Miami Herald — Flat supply over the course of March is due to widely anticipated shortfalls from Johnson & Johnson, one of three authorized vaccine manufacturers. The supply of the one-shot J&J vaccines will increase in roughly two weeks. Public health officials can see their projected vaccine supply up to three weeks in advance through a federal vaccine tracking system called Tiberius, and what they are seeing is a flat line through the end of March. The administration has increased the supply of vaccines from 900,000 vaccines administered per day to nearly 3 million since President Joe Biden took office. But demand remains so high that Governors, Mayors and public health officials say it is still not enough.
“Some Florida seniors are worried the coronavirus vaccine isn’t free” via Bailey LeFever of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida’s most sought-after ticket this year isn’t for a concert. It’s for a vaccine appointment. But a small percentage of older Floridians are hesitating, because they think they have to pay for the shot, according to a recent report. In fact, coronavirus vaccines are available at no cost to Americans. A report released by MedicareAdvantage.com on March 9 found that 34,126 people aged 65 and older in Florida, of the 4.5 million surveyed, said they will decline the vaccine for that reason.
“Florida releases COVID-19 variant data day after Orlando Sentinel sues for it” via Kate Santich of the Orlando Sentinel — Mutated strains of COVID-19 have reached 41 of Florida’s 67 counties, infecting hundreds of residents, including a 97-year-old woman and a 2-year-old boy, according to data released to the Orlando Sentinel late Friday by the state Department of Health. The disclosure came one day after the newspaper filed a lawsuit against the agency for allegedly violating Florida’s public records law and the state’s constitution. For 57 days, the state withheld information on the variant cases, despite numerous requests from Orlando Sentinel reporters and attorneys. The data shows infection rates appear to have spiked on February 7, when 124 cases were reported by laboratories examining selected samples’ genetic makeup.
— CORONA LOCAL —
“COVID-19 long-haulers pin hope on South Florida drug trial” via Cindy Krischer Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The drug, called leronlimab, is used to ease the suffering of people who can’t shake COVID-19 symptoms. This group, also known as long-haulers, makes up about 10% of people who get the virus. They have become increasingly desperate as scientists are unable to explain the baffling syndrome. Dr. Norman Gaylis, with Arthritis & Rheumatic Disease Specialties in Aventura, is leading the FDA-approved trial. He anticipates the drug, given through injections into the belly, will help alleviate some or all of the long-term symptoms. The trial is double-blinded, which means half the participants will get a placebo, half will get the drug. None of the participants or Gaylis will know who got which until the trial is over.
“At Disney World, Spring Break crowds are here, along with coronavirus fears, too” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — It’s noon, and you can tell by the ever-growing margarita line at the Epcot stand that it’s Spring Break time. Among the people at the park Friday was a local teacher off for the week, a Chicago family appreciative of Orlando’s warm weather and a businessman in town for a work conference at a Disney hotel. In Central Florida, there are signs the tourists are returning during the first Spring Break since the coronavirus pandemic canceled the annual celebration last year. Yet the crowds are coming during a complex juggle of balancing the region’s economic recovery with the threat of COVID-19 and as national news shows paint Florida as a superspreader state.
“Hundreds turned away after hearing they could get vaccine at Tampa church” via Anastasia Dawson of the Tampa Bay Times — The last thing health authorities wanted to see was more long waits like those that plagued the early days of the coronavirus vaccine rollout in the Tampa Bay area. But that’s just what happened Sunday as some 400 people from as far away as Orlando arrived as early as 4 a.m. for the promise of a shot when the doors opened at 9 outside Clair-Mel’s Keeney Chapel United Methodist Church. Word was that these vaccines were available to people younger than 60, the minimum age at the time for vaccine recipients who aren’t in front-line jobs or have medical notes. It turns out the word was wrong. Most of those in line were sent home unvaccinated and angry.
“Despite optimism for one-dose vaccine, Johnson & Johnson slow to reach Sarasota-Manatee” via Louis Llovio of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — When Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine was approved this month, it was seen as a way to ease the burden of vaccinating hundreds of thousands twice and, for those getting vaccinated, a way to get one shot and be done with it. But despite promises from Washington and early optimism, the Florida Department of Health Sarasota County and Manatee County don’t have any doses of the vaccine and aren’t sure when they’ll get them. When asked if he’d heard when Sarasota may see the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a county spokesman emailed a single-word answer: “Crickets.”
“What happens if you don’t wear a mask in Key West? There’s been a change” via Gwen Filosa of the Miami Herald — Despite packed streets and Spring Break crowds, Key West has stopped enforcing a strict law that requires people to wear masks in public. Miami-Dade made a similar decision several days ago but reversed itself on Thursday. The county’s police department now says it will resume enforcing a mask and curfew law despite an executive order from the Governor that cancels fines. Key West has been drawing thicker crowds of tourists for months despite the pandemic. The island is now in peak season with an extra layer of Spring Break visitors.
“Married 66 years, Florida couple dies of virus minutes apart” via The Associated Press — Bill and Esther Ilnisky spent nearly seven decades together as Christian ministers and missionaries, including stints in the Caribbean and Middle East before preaching for 40 years in Florida. They complemented each other, he the bookworm, she outgoing and charismatic. One without the other seemed unthinkable. So when they died minutes apart of COVID-19 this month at a Palm Beach County hospice, it may have been a hidden blessing, their only child, Sarah Milewski, said, even if it was a devastating double loss for her. Her father was 88, her mom 92. Their 67th wedding anniversary would have been this weekend. “It is so precious, so wonderful, such a heartwarming feeling to know they went together,” Milewski said, then adding, “I miss them.”
— CORONA NATION —
“The clearest sign the pandemic could get worse” by The COVID Tracking Project for The Atlantic — The number of people hospitalized with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States has been plummeting since early January. Until about three weeks ago, hospitalizations in Michigan were following the same pattern. But in the past few weeks, data from the CDC and the HHS have shown that hospitalizations have risen by 45% from the state’s recent low on February 25. As a spring surge takes hold in Michigan, two new factors — variants of concern and rising vaccination levels — mean that we don’t yet know how this new rise in cases and hospitalizations will play out. In addition to the indisputable surge in Michigan, there are troubling signs in other parts of the country.
“Don’t be surprised when vaccinated people get infected” via Katherine J. Wu of The Atlantic — It’s hard to know when exactly the first cases appeared. But certainly, by January’s end, a slow trickle of post-vaccination infections had begun in the United States. They arose in the West, making headlines in Oregon; they sprouted in the Midwest and the South. Some of the latest reports have come out of Florida, Texas, and Hawaii. These breakthrough cases, discovered in people more than two weeks after receiving their final COVID-19 shot, will continue to grow in number, everywhere. And that’s absolutely no cause for concern.
“Yes, vaccine skepticism exists among health care workers — but far less so among top medical professionals” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post — As the United States ramps up its vaccine process and hits 100 million doses, the biggest remaining hurdle is skepticism. How do you get enough people vaccinated to achieve herd immunity when polls show 3 in 10 Americans say they won’t get one and as some continue to question the vaccines that health officials in both the Donald Trump and Biden administrations have said is safe and effective? A new poll shows just how deep that skepticism runs. In fact, it’s very real even among health care workers. 35 percent of health care workers aren’t too confident or aren’t confident that the vaccines have been properly tested.
“Religious buildings reopen in Southwestern U.S. at a faster pace” via Alexandre Tanzi of Bloomberg — Places of worship are slowly reopening across the U.S., but generally more quickly in southwestern states. Large cities that were hit hard by the virus and stay-at-home orders show more tepid religious-property usage in early March, according to data from Brivo, which records the time and location of tens of millions of commercial-building access events from doors connected to its platform. Data for New York City show fewer than one-third, and in San Francisco, less than half religious buildings have reopened. Meanwhile, more than 83% in Salt Lake City are open.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“Millions headed to local campuses from COVID-19 stimulus package” via Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat — Florida State and Florida A&M universities and Tallahassee Community College collectively will receive nearly $143 million from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, also known as the COVID-19 Stimulus Package. As stipulated in the $1.9 trillion relief package, half the money earmarked for universities and colleges must be given to students as emergency grants to help pay for course materials, housing, food, health care, child care, and other personal expenses. Institutions can use the balance to offset costs associated with COVID-19-related expenses such as testing, technology and equipment purchases, ongoing building sanitation efforts and other costs associated with returning to campus.
What Adam Babington is reading — “Disney U.S. employees can begin phased return to offices this summer” via Anthony D’Alessandro of Deadline — We hear on good authority that Disney’s stateside employees can begin returning to their offices after July 4. It’s just another great sign that with COVID-19 vaccinations underway and cases falling in most states, the entertainment industry is beginning to readjust to some normalcy. We told you last week that WarnerMedia employees were provided notification that they could return in early September. Disney employees were notified this morning via an emailed internal company video.
What Michelle Schorsch is reading — “CEO says Disney cruises not likely to return until ‘maybe’ this fall” via Dave Berman of Florida Today — Disney Cruise Line continues to publicly hold out hope that its sailings out of Port Canaveral and elsewhere can resume as early as June. But Bob Chapek, CEO of The Walt Disney Co., last week indicated to stockholders that this timeline probably is unrealistic. He said that “with some luck,” Disney may be able to resume limited sailings in the fall. Disney and other major cruise lines have not sailed out of U.S. ports since March 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic that triggered a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention no-sail order. Cruise lines are working on restart plans that will meet the CDC’s extensive “framework for conditional sailing” announced in October that replaced the no-sail order.
— MORE CORONA —
“How Europe injected more doubt Into a vaccine the world needs“ via Stephanie Baker, Ania Nussbaum, Arne Delfs and Suzi Ring of Bloomberg — Germany suspended use of the AstraZeneca PLC shot over concerns it was linked to blood clots. With no warning or consultation, the President of the European Council was blindsided. The decision quickly set off a chain reaction that not only laid bare the mess of the vaccine program but undermined the very institutions that preside over it. Other countries felt compelled to follow Germany’s lead and stop administering the vaccine, going against the advice of the European Medicines Agency. The week of drama ended with most countries reinstating Astra doses after the EMA, the EU’s regulator, reiterated on Thursday the benefits far outweighed any risks.
“In poor districts, pandemic overwhelms school counselors” via Michael Melia of The Associated Press — School counselors everywhere have played important roles in guiding students through the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic, but the burden has been especially heavy in urban, high-needs districts like Bridgeport, Connecticut, where they have been consumed with issues related to attendance and engagement. In a nation where poor districts typically have fewer counselors per student, those demands highlight one way the pandemic is likely to worsen inequities in the American education system as those with the most on their plates have the least amount of time to help students plan for the future.
“Your unvaccinated kid is like a vaccinated grandma” via Emily Oster of The Atlantic — We still have a ways to go, but the speed of the vaccination process in recent days makes quasi-normalcy by July seem not completely out of reach. At least one group feels left adrift, however, and potentially behind: parents. Vaccines for children under 16 are not yet available. Trials have begun, but realistically, children won’t receive a shot in the arm until the fall or winter. But the best available research indicates that families with young children don’t, in fact, have to live like it’s 2020 until 2022. Parents can go ahead and plan on barbecues and even vacations. The explanation for why lies in the resilience of kids to COVID-19, and herd immunity.
“Vaccinated mothers pass COVID-19 antibodies to babies in utero and through breastmilk, early studies show” via Lindsey Bever of The Washington Post — Several preliminary studies suggest that women who received an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) during pregnancy had COVID-19 antibodies in their umbilical cord blood. Another study also detected antibodies in their breastmilk, indicating that at least some immunity could be transferred to babies before and after birth. Researchers have already seen that pregnant women who recover from COVID-19 can pass along their natural immunity to their babies. But the observation that vaccine-induced antibodies may reach a fetus through cord blood and a newborn through breast milk, is a discovery that may have broader implications in the fight against the virus.
“There’s a pandemic power crisis. But how big is it?” via Sarah Holder of Bloomberg — U.S. utility companies have shut off natural gas and electricity service to more than three-quarters of a million households across just 10 states during the pandemic, according to a report released Tuesday by the Center for Biological Diversity. That number may be big, but it’s also incomplete: It didn’t account for commercial customers who are also having trouble paying their bills, or the 14% of U.S. residents using public power, instead focusing on households served by private utility companies. And it omits the 30 states with utility commissions that don’t require companies to disclose how many households they disconnect, or that failed to provide easily searchable data.
“What we lose when we don’t see our work acquaintances” via Jeffrey A. Hall of The Wall Street Journal — As companies start reopening offices, and perhaps give employees a choice as to whether to return, both companies and employees should consider that without a shared physical space, we will lose a kind of relationship we’re rarely aware of, and that barely has a word to describe it. Somewhere between strangers and friends, these are people with whom we share moments of chats and check-ins. It’s easy to dismiss them as superficial. But the relationships we develop with such workplace acquaintances are much more important to our sense of connection and community than many of us realize. It perhaps goes without saying that spending time with people we love makes us less lonely and brings us greater life satisfaction.
— PRESIDENTIAL —
“‘No end in sight’: Inside the Joe Biden administration’s failure to contain the border surge” via Ashley Parker, Nick Miroff, Sean Sullivan and Tyler Pager of The Washington Post — The Biden administration is scrambling to control the biggest surge in 20 years, with the nation on pace for as many as 2 million migrants at the southern border this year, the outcome Biden said he wanted to avoid. Along with the existing struggle to combat the coronavirus, immigration has emerged as one of the administration’s most urgent challenges, seized on by Republicans as a political cudgel, posing risks to Democrats in the 2022 midterms and potentially undermining Biden’s governing agenda.
“ICE securing hotel rooms to hold growing number of migrant families” via Stef W. Kight of Axios — The Biden administration has awarded an $86 million contract for hotel rooms near the border to hold around 1,200 migrant family members who cross the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s a sign of growing numbers of migrant families trying to come to the U.S., in addition to already overwhelming numbers of kids crossing the border without their parents or legal guardians. Both trends appear to be straining government resources. Through Endeavors, a Texas-based nonprofit, the contract is for six months but could be extended and expanded. The hotels will be near border areas, including in Arizona and Texas.
“Biden administration considers flying migrants to states near the Canadian border for processing” via Nick Miroff of The Washington Post — A new spike in the number of families and children crossing the Rio Grande into South Texas over the past several hours is forcing U.S. Customs and Border Protection to request airplanes that will allow the Biden administration to transport migrants to states near the Canadian border for processing. Border officials requested air support from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement because 1,000 members of families and unaccompanied minors crossed the Rio Grande on Friday morning, and border agents have another 1,000 migrants they have been unable to process since last night, the communications show.
“Biden administration scrambles to avert COVID-19 outbreaks at the southern border” via Erin Banco and Sabrina Rodriguez of POLITICO — The federal government does not have a centralized system for tracking or responding to COVID-19 cases among the surge of migrants crossing the United States’ southern border, according to interviews with senior administration officials and those responding to the influx. The administration has outsourced most COVID-19 testing and quarantining for migrants to local health agencies and nongovernmental organizations. But it’s unclear how many have been tested for the virus, how many have tested positive and where infected people are being isolated along the border. The scramble to track COVID-19 cases at the border also shows that a year into the pandemic, the U.S. still doesn’t have the monitoring and communications systems needed to aggressively combat outbreaks of infectious disease.
“Biden’s top aides unlikely to qualify for relief payments” via Jonathan Lemire, Josh Boak, and Richard Lardner of The Associated Press — At least one group in America is unlikely to get any money from Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic rescue plan, his own top aides. Most of Biden’s senior West Wing advisers made far more than the threshold that would qualify them for direct payments from the President’s COVID-19 relief bill, according to White House financial disclosure forms released Saturday. The disclosure period runs through 2020. The documents paint a portrait of advisers whose wealth is dwarfed by those that surrounded Trump but do not quite line up with Biden’s image of “Middle-Class Joe.”
“Biden White House sandbags staffers, sidelines dozens for pot use” via Scott Bixby, Asawin Suebsaeng and Adam Rawnsley of The Daily Beast — Dozens of young White House staffers have been suspended, asked to resign, or placed in a remote work program due to past marijuana use, frustrating staffers who were pleased by initial indications from the Biden administration that recreational use of cannabis would not be immediately disqualifying for would-be personnel. The policy has even affected staffers whose marijuana use was exclusive to one of the 14 states and the District of Columbia, where cannabis is legal.
— EPILOGUE TRUMP —
“Access, influence and pardons: How a set of allies shaped Donald Trump’s choices” via Kenneth P. Vogel and Nicholas Confessore of The New York Times — One hacked the computers of business rivals. One bribed doctors to win referrals for his nursing homes. Another fled the country while he was on trial for his role in a fraud that siphoned $450 million from an insurance company, leading to its collapse. Still another ran a Ponzi scheme that plunged a synagogue into foreclosure. Each won clemency from Trump. They also had something else in common. The efforts to seek clemency for these wealthy or well-connected people benefited from their social, political, or financial ties to a loose collection of lawyers, lobbyists, activists and Orthodox Jewish leaders who had worked with Trump administration officials on criminal justice legislation championed by Jared Kushner.
“Trump’s chief of staff could face scrutiny in Georgia criminal probe” via Linda So of Reuters — In late December, as then-U.S. President Trump falsely alleged that rampant voter fraud caused his Georgia election loss, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows made an unexpected visit to an Atlanta suburb, hoping to observe an audit of thousands of voter signatures. The Georgia secretary of state’s office said it had just 45 minutes notice of Meadows’ arrival in Cobb County, and it barred him from the room where state investigators were examining the absentee ballot signatures. A day earlier, Trump had publicly complained that the audit was moving too slowly after making baseless claims that Georgia’s signature verification system is rife with fraud.
—“Steve Bannon battling prosecutors who won’t dismiss his case after Trump’s pardon” via Shayna Jacobs of The Washington Post
“Trump looks to take down Brad Raffensperger in Georgia,” via Alex Isenstadt and Zach Montellaro of POLITICO — Former President Trump is expected to endorse Rep. Jody Hice in a campaign to unseat Georgia’s Secretary of State in next year’s Republican primary, according to three people familiar with Trump’s decision. Trump publicly seethed about Raffensperger after the November election, when the secretary of state refused to support Trump’s false claims that Georgia’s 16 electoral votes were stolen from him. Top Raffensperger aides had publicly rebuked the president’s conspiracy theories, warning in early December that it would lead to potential violence.
“Professor who’s predicted presidential winners since ’80s says Trump won’t be a candidate in 2024. He’s probably right” via Andre Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald — Allan Lichtman, the American University political historian who has accurately predicted the outcome of almost all of our presidential elections in more than three decades, told me in an interview that it is “very unlikely” that Trump will be the Republican nominee in 2024 or that he will return to the White House as a candidate of a third party. He said that it’s way too early to forecast which party will win in 2024, but that Trump is unlikely to become the Republican candidate because “he has too many other challenges facing him.” Granted, Trump will go on the attack and will make it look as if he’s running, but his resources will be greatly diminished, Lichtman says.
“GOP hopefuls crank up the ‘if-Donald-Trump-doesn’t-run’ primary” via David Siders of POLITICO — Mike Pompeo and Rick Scott are headed to Iowa this week and next, followed by Tim Scott in mid-April. Mike Pence plans to visit the early primary state of South Carolina, while Ron DeSantis appears to be conducting a soft launch in his home state of Florida. Jeff Kaufmann, chair of the Iowa Republican Party, said he’s never seen so much interest so early in a presidential election cycle. But what’s truly unique about the Republicans’ pre-presidential primary is the contingent framework that is unfolding around it. It’s a primary — but a wholly conditional one.
“Trump will use ‘his own platform’ to return to social media after Twitter ban” via Martin Pengelly of The Guardian — Trump will soon use “his own platform” to return to social media, an adviser said on Sunday, months after the former President was banned from Twitter for inciting the Capitol riot. Trump has chafed in relative silence at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida since losing his Twitter account and the protections and powers of office. Recently he has released short statements which many have likened to his tweets of old. Speculation has been rife Trump might seek to create his own TV network in an attempt to prise viewers from Fox News.
“Trump’s Mar-a-Lago partly closed after positive COVID-19 tests” via Antonio Fins and Christine Stapleton of The Palm Beach Post — Mar-a-Lago on Friday said it closed the Beach Club and the a la carte dining room after an undisclosed number of employees tested positive for the COVID-19. Banquet and event services remain open, the club said. “We will update you when service resumes,” the statement said. The statement also said that following federal public health guidelines “a thorough sanitizing and cleaning of any affected areas and club facilities” has been conducted. The club also said it will “continue our heightened environmental cleaning regimen.”
— CRISIS —
“Evidence in Capitol attack most likely supports sedition charges, prosecutor says” via Katie Benner of The New York Times —Evidence the government obtained in the investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol most likely meets the bar necessary to charge some of the suspects with sedition, Michael R. Sherwin, the federal prosecutor who had been leading the Justice Department’s inquiry, said in an interview with “60 Minutes”. The department has rarely brought charges of sedition, the crime of conspiring to overthrow the government. The last time was 2010, when they accused members of a Michigan militia of plotting to provoke an armed conflict with the government. They were ultimately acquitted.
“When the Capitol riot came home” via Shawn McCreesh of New York Magazine — The trouble in Troy started hundreds of miles away that day, when David Ellis talked to a reporter. I quoted him in a short article published by this magazine on January 6 saying that the break-in “was not going to solve a thing, and then to see the police get treated the way they were treated, it’s ridiculous.” His few words to me would soon upend the little town that he has looked after for three decades, snowball into the statehouse, and roil New Hampshire politics. A clash over one unexpected question and raised others about the viciousness of our politics and how much the Trump years have warped us.
“Congressional fundraisers lobby corporations that suspended political donations following Capitol riot” via Brian Schwartz of CNBC — Fundraisers for congressional candidates and Party campaign groups are lobbying corporations to resume political donations after many suspended their contributions, according to people familiar with the matter. Dozens of corporations paused, at least temporarily, donations from their political action committees after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot that led to at least five deaths. Most companies have since said they are reviewing their PACs’ policies on whom they will give money to in the future. Some companies decided to pause contributions indefinitely to GOP lawmakers who challenged the election results. Other businesses opted to suspend donations to candidates across the political spectrum.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Supreme Court justices meet in person for first time in a year” via Greg Stohr of Bloomberg — Most U.S. Supreme Court justices met in person for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, returning to their private conference room in Washington Friday after a year of holding their meetings remotely. The in-person conference represents a step toward normalcy at an institution that reveres its traditions. All nine justices have been fully vaccinated, Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said. The changes don’t yet extend to the courtroom. The court also said Friday it would hold its April argument session by phone, as it has throughout the 2020-21 term.
Frightening — “Federal judge pens dissent slamming decades-old press protections” via Josh Gerstein of POLITICO — A federal appeals court judge issued an extraordinary opinion Friday attacking partisan bias in the news media, lamenting the treatment of conservatives in American society and calling for the Supreme Court to overturn a landmark legal precedent that protects news outlets from lawsuits over reports about public figures. D.C. Circuit Senior Judge Laurence Silberman’s diatribe, contained in his dissent in a libel case, amounted to a withering, frontal assault on the 1964 Supreme Court decision that set the framework for modern defamation law: New York Times v. Sullivan. Silberman said the decision, requiring public figures to show “actual malice” to recover against a news organization for libel, was a “policy-driven” result that the justices simply invented out of whole cloth.
—“Trump’s attacks on the press were bad. What this federal judge did was worse.” via Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post
“‘Unacceptable and dangerous’: Rick Scott visits Southern border with Arizona Governor” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Scott joined Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey Friday at the Southern border, amid the current humanitarian crisis occurring as waves of migrants flow in. During his visit, Scott received a briefing from state and federal law enforcement officers in Arizona on the situation along the Southern border. Scott also toured the border with Ducey. “There’s a crisis at the border and it’s 100% President Joe Biden’s fault,” Scott said in a statement. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday called the wave of migrants a difficult challenge but nothing new. Scott, however, joins critics of the Biden administration, saying the surge is “being fueled by President Biden’s disastrous policies of amnesty and open borders.”
“Florida physician group blasts Scott, Marco Rubio for voting against Xavier Becerra” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Sens. Rubio and Scott are facing scrutiny from a group of Florida physicians for voting no in the confirmation hearing of Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra. Becerra, who was confirmed by the Senate in a near party-line vote Thursday, will be the first Latino to head HHS. Rubio and Scott joined most other Senate Republicans voting against him — leading to criticism from physician groups, including Dr. Bernard Ashby, Miami cardiologist and Florida State Lead for the Committee to Protect Medicare. According to The Associated Press, Senate Republicans dismissed Becerra as unfit for the position, but the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association supported his nomination.
“Frontline workers, teachers gather to criticize Rubio’s vote against virus relief package” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — A group of health care advocates, front-line workers and teachers met Friday at Rubio’s Miami office to oppose his vote against the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. The coalition of Floridians delivered 33 black roses to Rubio’s office during the meeting, representing the more than 33,000 lives lost in Florida from COVID-19. Rubio joined 48 other Republican Senators in a party-line vote against the ultimately approved pandemic relief package, which Biden signed into law a little over a week ago. The group also shared disapproval over Rubio’s vote against confirming Biden’s nominee for HHS Secretary. He also faced scrutiny from Florida physicians for this move.
“Charlie Crist’s push to expand veteran vaccine access headed to Biden’s desk” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Legislation pushed by U.S. Rep. Crist to expand coronavirus vaccine eligibility to all veterans is now on its way to Biden’s desk to be signed into law after passing in a unanimous Senate vote. The proposal (H.R. 1276), called the Veteran Affairs Vaccine Act of 2021, will expand VA COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all veterans who want one. Currently, only veterans who receive care at the VA can get a vaccine there, either because they have a service-connected disability or they make below a certain income threshold, leaving out millions of veterans, including seniors and those who are at higher risk.
— 2022 —
“In restricting early voting, the right sees a new ‘center of gravity’” via Jeremy W. Peters of The New York Times — For more than a decade, the Susan B. Anthony List and the American Principles Project have pursued cultural and policy priorities from the social conservative playbook, one backing laws to ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat could be detected and the other opposing civil rights protections for LGBTQ people. From their shared offices in suburban Virginia, they and their affiliated committees spent more than $20 million on elections last year. But after Trump lost his bid for a second term and convinced millions of Americans that nonexistent fraud was to blame, the two groups found that many of their donors were thinking of throwing in the towel. Why, donors argued, should they give any money if Democrats were going to game the system to their advantage, recalled Frank Cannon, the senior strategist for both groups.
“‘An all-hands moment’: GOP rallies behind voting limits” via Nicholas Riccardi and Michael Biesecker of The Associated Press — On an invitation-only call last week, Sen. Ted Cruz huddled with Republican state lawmakers to call them to battle on the issue of voting rights. Democrats are trying to expand voting rights to “illegal aliens” and “child molesters,” he claimed, and Republicans must do all they can to stop them. If they push through far-reaching election legislation now before the Senate, the GOP won’t win elections again for generations, he said. Asked if there was room to compromise, Cruz was blunt: “No.”
— LOCAL NOTES —
“South Beach curfew and causeway closures extended for the rest of Spring Break” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — Curfews and causeway closures to control unruly Spring Break crowds in South Beach will be extended through April 12, the Miami Beach City Commission unanimously decided Sunday during an emergency meeting. An 8 p.m. curfew in South Beach’s entertainment district and a 10 p.m. shutdown of the eastbound lanes of the MacArthur, Julia Tuttle and Venetian causeways will remain in effect Thursday through Sunday for the remainder of Spring Break. Residents, hotel guests and local business employees are exempt from causeway closures on the MacArthur and Tuttle. The Venetian is resident-only during the causeway shutdown hours, which were initially set at 9 p.m.
“Miami Beach residents and guests got caught on the causeways during Ocean Drive curfew chaos” via David J. Neal and Bianca Padró Ocasio of the Miami Herald — Pedestrians returned to Ocean Drive and traffic flowed on the causeways to Miami Beach again Sunday morning after Saturday night’s State of Emergency enforcement (eventually) emptied Ocean Drive and constipated the causeways. That second part brought more than a little fury from Beach residents and hotel guests, two groups were allowed to enter the city via the Julia Tuttle Causeway and the MacArthur Causeway. By Sunday noon, hundreds of brunch-starved tourists paraded through Ocean Drive, packing the beach-side restaurants. The iconic afternoon drag show was underway at Palace Bar. Though Miami Beach police were stationed throughout the beach on their ATVs, the presence of cops was minor. But there also was evidence of tourist damage of Saturday night’s causeway clogs.
“Black leaders react to South Beach Spring Break curfew, crackdown: ‘unnecessary force’” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — After weeks of uninhibited partying on South Beach by Spring Breakers, police turned away throngs of people — many of them Black — from Ocean Drive Saturday night using a SWAT truck, pepper balls and sound cannons. The tactics were intended to enforce an 8 p.m. curfew announced only hours earlier as a means to rid the city of unruly late-night crowds. But the use of force to clear out people of color from South Beach alarmed some Black leaders. And if Miami Beach has openly recoiled at the behavior of at-times chaotic crowds filling the city’s entertainment district, some in South Florida are having a similar reaction to the way police have handled the presence of thousands of people of color.
“Fort Lauderdale hoping to avoid Spring Break madness hitting Miami Beach” via Susannah Bryan of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The chaos on the streets of Miami Beach that led to a Spring Break curfew and three causeway closures has leaders in Fort Lauderdale asking whether the same unruly crowds might head this way. Hundreds of college kids have already swarmed Fort Lauderdale’s beachfront bars over the past few weeks, but they’ve not created the kind of mob scene unfolding in South Beach that’s led to hundreds of arrests and a state of emergency, local officials say. Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis says he has been keeping an eye on how things are going in Miami Beach. So has Broward Mayor Steve Geller. But neither Geller nor Trantalis think the chaos will come here.
— MORE LOCAL —
“From leasing cars to renting politicians: How father-son developers wielded influence in Broward” via Rafael Olmeda of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — By their own admission, developers Bruce and Shawn Chait made public corruption a family business. They bragged about how they paid off politicians and expected favors in return: “In my business, if you get somebody elected, the person who gets you elected is the person who tells you what to do,” Bruce Chait once said. Described as gruff, profane and vindictive, Bruce and his son Shawn went from obscurity to notoriety more than a decade ago as a corruption scandal unfolded in Tamarac. Their cooperation with prosecutors kept them out of prison while sending one politician to prison and putting a half-dozen others under a cloud of suspicion for years to come.
“He watched an offensive video, then hit send: How Ibis’ longtime golf GM spurred controversy and conversation in this upscale community” via Tony Doris of The Palm Beach Post — Steve LoGiudice, longtime general manager at the Club at Ibis, thought the video funny and forwarded it to members of his board. It was a comedian’s parody of a golf news conference. It related to a controversy in January in which professional golfer Justin Thomas was caught on mic uttering a homophobic slur to himself over a missed putt. The bit by Bob Menery jabbed at exaggerated political correctness but came off as insensitive, homophobic and misogynistic to many. As word of the email spread beyond the Ibis board room and into the 1,800-home, fairway-lined community, The Friends of Ibis Facebook page filled with comment and criticism. Some called for LoGiudice’s firing, others voiced support.
“Four lawyers vie to replace Pat Keon in Coral Gables Group Three commission race” via Samantha J. Gross of the Miami Herald — More than 12,000 mail ballots have been sent to Coral Gables voters, and people are starting to make their choices on who they think should be the next Mayor and who should fill two Commission seats in the city’s April 13 election. In the Group Three race to replace Commissioner Patricia Keon, voters will choose from among four candidates: Javier Baños, Alex Bucelo, Kirk Menendez and Phillip “P.J.” Mitchell. All four candidates are lawyers who promise to stand up against overdevelopment and ensure a more transparent government for residents of Coral Gables. Already, the race has attracted a host of political attacks, barbs, and even a cameo by former Republican Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
“Latest Jacksonville mayoral candidate a peculiar long-shot, but don’t discount him” via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union — Jacksonville City Councilman Al Ferraro, who announced his long-shot 2023 candidacy for Mayor last week at a Northside shooting range, would arguably be the most conservative chief executive to serve in the half-century since the formation of the city’s modern government, and his revenge-of-the-suburbs political style would likely usher in a dramatic reshuffling of the priorities business and civic leaders have long fought to keep front-and-center at City Hall. Ferraro is akin to Mike Hogan 2.0. Hogan’s deeply conservative views and his opposition to focusing more on downtown redevelopment scared off many of the reliably Republican but more moderate and business-aligned donors. Still, it was the closest race in Jacksonville’s modern history. Hogan was 1,600 votes away from victory.
“Home surveillance camera shows officer lied on report when charging man with major crimes” via Adam Walser of ABC Action News — A Lake Wales man, who could have been sent to prison for years based on the claims in a police report, was saved by a home surveillance camera. It showed he didn’t attack an officer, as claimed in the report. Officer Colt Black’s report said: “[Chris] Cordero immediately exited the driver door and began to charge toward my patrol vehicle.” It also indicated Cordero approached the officer with closed fists. “That’s absolutely not true,” Cordero said. Cordero said he complied with all of Officer Black’s commands.
— NEW COLLEGE —
U.S. News & World Report named New College — the only dedicated liberal arts school in Florida’s State University System — as one of the top 100 liberal arts colleges in the country and the No. 6 public college in the nation.
That puts the Sarasota-based school in rarefied company, behind the three U.S. military academies, the Virginia Military Institute and St. Mary’s College in Maryland.
New College has fewer than 1,000 undergraduate students (for now), providing an environment small enough that it brims with students’ opportunities to form organizations, whether it’s a crew team or a student publication.
Students also enjoy a greater opportunity to work with advisers and tailor an education curriculum that best suits them.
“It’s why people who work here are really committed to being a public institution,” said New College President Dr. Donal O’Shea. “I can’t overstate how important I feel it is that this is not an elite thing.”
It’s an experience closer to what students find on private college campuses. New College’s average class size is 12, the student-to-faculty ratio at the school 7 to 1. Alumni and supporters of the school say it’s a treasure within the university system, proving the equivalent of an Ivy League education for a fraction of the price, especially to Florida students.
Rep. Fiona McFarland, a Sarasota Republican, said: “It’s a great school and we are tremendously proud to have it here. It’s one of the jewels in the crown of Sarasota’s diverse education offerings.”
O’Shea, an internationally regarded mathematician in charge on New College since the summer of 2012, will retire in June. Mary Ruiz, chair of the Board of Trustees, said the college is still in the throes of an expansive search for a new president.
“People will ask me all the time, aren’t you just an arts and sciences college? Yes, we are,” she said. “And we believe in results.”
— TOP OPINION —
“Nope, DeSantis’ record on COVID-19 isn’t a success, but a failure” via Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times — We’re not talking about his purported skill at fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re talking about his ability to snow the press into taking at face value the claim that his refusal to impose stringent antivirus rules and regulations has been an unalloyed success The latest publication to fall into line is Politico, which on Thursday posted an article headlined, “How DeSantis won the pandemic.” A companion piece observed that he has “survived the pandemic,” and that “Florida has fared no worse, and in some ways better, than many other states — including its big-state peers.” Leaving aside that this sort of coverage treats the coronavirus battle as if it’s a sporting contest deserving of up-to-the-minute color commentary, the best that could be said about these judgments is that they’re premature.
— OPINIONS —
“Old pol, new tricks” via Maureen Dowd of The New York Times — Biden is being hailed as a transformational, once-in-a-generation progressive champion, with comparisons to L.B.J. and F.D.R. aplenty, while Barack Obama has become a cautionary tale about what happens when Democrats get the keys to the car but don’t put their foot on the gas. The collective smirk was wiped off the face of Obamaworld this past week, as former aides expressed their irritation at the retrospective dissing, and while Biden’s inner circle enjoyed an unfamiliar sensation: schadenfreude. Now the friendly fire once aimed at Biden is coming toward Obama.
“When local voters make their voices heard, Florida lawmakers seek to muzzle them” via the Miami Herald editorial board — When Key West put three referendums on the ballot last year to limit cruise ships at the city’s port, the cruise industry funded a dark-money disinformation campaign to convince voters to reject the proposals. Despite stoking fears that the referendums would “devastate” city services like police and fire rescue, the industry lost that battle. That made sense to Key West voters trying to preserve their way of life. But opponents of the measure weren’t having it, so they did what moneyed special interests usually do when they can’t get their way locally: They turned to the Legislature. The problem is when lawmakers are squeezed between economic interests and the environment — well, we don’t need to tell you who wins.
“The fight for our rights means defeating House Bill 1” via Andrew Learned for the Tampa Bay Times — We all want the same things: safe streets, peaceful expressions of our First Amendment liberties and the preservation of our constitutional rights. If passed, House Bill 1 in the Florida Legislature would take us in a different direction, one that criminalizes free speech and severely weakens our right to free assembly. I joined the U.S. military not long after 9/11. I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. That includes the right to free speech and peaceful protest, which is why I cannot support House Bill 1. This bill simply goes too far in reining in our freedom of speech and expression.
“2021 is starting to remind one young Democrat of the voting challenges of 1971” via Dick Batchelor of the Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis and the Republican legislative leadership want to take us back in time with voting restrictions reminiscent of the Jim Crow era of racial segregation. Like so many efforts in Republican legislatures across the country, the Florida measures would make it very difficult for Black people to vote. Without shame, these obvious voter discrimination measures around the nation would outlaw drop boxes, radically restrict weekend voting and tighten the application process for absentee ballots. One such radical proposal eliminates the “Souls to the Polls” program in which Black churches encourage voting on the weekend before elections.
“We’d like to see Florida lawmakers survive on $275 a week in unemployment benefits” via the Miami Herald editorial board — We can’t say lawmakers are doing nothing to fix Florida’s inefficient-by-design, anti-worker unemployment system. The delays, system crashes and the desperation of laid-off workers who couldn’t get their applications through last year were too egregious to ignore. The proposals gaining traction in the Legislature are what Tallahassee likes to call a “step in the right direction.” It’s what allows lawmakers to say they fixed the issue, until the next crisis occurs. Luckily, they have time to pass more substantive before the legislative session concludes at the end of April.
“Former Florida state Sen. Frank Artiles is finally getting his due: criminal charges” via Fabiola Santiago of the Miami Herald — Confirmed: There was voter fraud in Florida in the 2020 election after all. And the alleged perpetrator, foul-mouthed Artiles, is getting his due. The disgraced former lawmaker and GOP operative is charged with making a mockery of democracy: rigging a 2020 state Senate race in Miami-Dade by planting and paying $44,708 to a bogus, no-party candidate. His masterful strategy to win for the GOP was to siphon off votes from the Democrat. Idiot that he has always been underneath the bravado, Artiles didn’t think the money and paper trail would lead to him — or that three reporters, the Miami Herald’s Samantha Gross and Ana Ceballos, and WPLG TV’s Glenna Milberg, would tirelessly pursue the truth.
— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —
Turns out Republicans who complained about voter fraud in last year’s election were right … but it was one of their own behind it. Democrats call for a do-over after a GOP operative and former state lawmaker was charged with financing a sham candidate in Senate District 37 to siphon votes away from the Democrat.
Also, on today’s Sunrise:
— The House Public Integrity and Elections Committee takes up a bill that’s being sold as a fraud-prevention measure but doesn’t do a thing about sham candidates. All it does is make it harder to vote by mail, the method often preferred by Democrats.
— Gov. DeSantis says more than 70% of Florida seniors have now been vaccinated for COVID-19, so he’s lowering the age to get a shot. As of today, anyone 50 and over can sign up.
— Florida reached another milestone in the COVID-19 crisis over the weekend as the number of cases passed the 2 million mark, one of every 10 Floridians.
— House and Senate leaders agreed on a bill to provide businesses and health care entities with protection from COVID-19 liability lawsuits, and the bill could be on its way to the Governor by the end of the week. But there’s another group asking for legal protection for an entirely different reason: Urban Search and Rescue Structures Specialists who volunteer to enter collapsed or partially collapsed buildings first to help clear a path to help first responders get to victims.
— The problem is liability lawsuits; Allen Douglas, head of the Florida Engineering Society, says these volunteer engineers deserve the same sort of protection enjoyed by good Samaritans.
— And finally, two Florida Couples who ran afoul of the law. One is accused of letting students smoke weed at their home; the other pair was caught with lamb and seafood stuffed in their pants at Costco.
To listen, click on the image below:
— ALOE —
“Canadian Snowbirds find refuge in their mythical Miami” via Dan Bilefsky of The New York Times — In a retirement community north of Quebec City, 30-foot plastic palm trees overlook Miami, Orlando and Cocoa Avenues, cookie-cutter streets where residents glide by some days on snowshoes. The pool area evokes countless oceanside condos in Florida. Except for the snow, and temperatures that dipped this month to minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit. This is Domaine de la Florida, a Canadian make-believe Miami, whose 520 residents are so in love with the Sunshine State that they have recreated it here. In the summer, golf carts whisk silver-haired retirees to games of beach volleyball, shuffleboard and bingo.
“The Oscars reveal 2021 show details. Social distance? Yes. Zoom? No” via Sonaiya Kelly of the Los Angeles Times — In the wake of a virtual Golden Globes ceremony that was marred with technical difficulties and spotty Zoom feeds, the Oscars will be held live at LA’s Union Station, where only nominees, their guests and presenters will be in attendance. There will not be an option to Zoom in. The producers promise an on-site COVID-19 safety team with PCR testing and different protocols for people already in L.A. and those traveling here. Additional show elements will be taped live from Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre.
“Will ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ finally bring us a Black Captain America on-screen?” via David Betancourt of The Washington Post — During the final moments of the 2019 blockbuster “Avengers: Endgame,” the possibility of a Black Captain America became a likely Hollywood reality. An elderly, time-traveling Captain America (Chris Evans) hands over his shield to the loyal partner who was always on his left, the highflying Falcon (Anthony Mackie). It signified that a torch was being passed and that Marvel Studios’ next decade could be a more inclusive one. The time to see what will grow from that planted super-seed is now. “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” the next Marvel Studios event for Disney Plus, debuted the first of six episodes on Friday.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Best wishes to top fundraiser Gretchen Picotte and great guys Sean Daly, Ash Mason, Paul Mitchell of The Southern Group, Jason Unger of GrayRobinson, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, and former Rep. Alan Williams. Also celebrating today is author and former journalist Julie Hauserman.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.