Tuesday was one of those rare days in the Legislative Session where both sides of the aisle were happy and important things got done.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls announced legislation to extend Medicaid coverage for pregnant women for one year after they deliver their babies. Lawmakers from both parties flanked Sprowls as he made the announcement. There was legit joy in the room because of an important need.
Sprowls, a Republican, credited Orlando Democrat Rep. Kamia Brown for her work on the legislation.
“If we’re going to be truly committed to mothers and the health of their children in the long term, it needs to be signaled in both word and deed that this is a long-term commitment, and that’s what we’re going to do in the Medicaid Conforming Bill,” Sprowls said.
Mothers currently are covered for just two months after the birth.
But that wasn’t the only good news.
A Senate panel approved a revised Bright Futures plan after Sen. Dennis Baxley caved in the face of overwhelming opposition to his plan to tie the scholarships to majors that produce better job prospects.
Baxley backed off that push, but with some caveats. He wants to require freshmen to have career readiness training and acknowledge that they understand the financial implications of their chosen career after graduating.
Tampa Democratic Sen. Janet Cruz said “parents were losing their minds” over his original idea.
Democrats are wary that the original plan might return through the usual horse-trading later in the Session, but Baxley promised Cruz he would not do that.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has signaled strong support for Bright Futures, saying, “It’s something that I support. I fully funded it in my budget, and we hope the Legislature follows suit on that as well.”
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@DrTomFrieden: Winter is over, but COVID isn’t. A fourth surge is building in the U.S. It won’t be as large or deadly as previous surges but will still cause harm. Let’s continue to mask up, avoid indoor gatherings, limit travel, and get vaccinated when it’s our turn.
—@RepStephMurphy: Another 10 Americans, including a police officer, killed in senseless gun violence. I pray for their loved ones. We must keep fighting to pass legislation to keep the most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous people.
—@JohnWoodrowCox: Here’s the thing. We’re all talking about gun violence again because it felt like we’d gotten a break from it, but that never actually happened. Last year, 41,000 people — a record in modern American history — died in shootings.
—@AriBerman: 2 cases of voter fraud in 2020: let’s make it harder to vote 38,000 gun deaths a year in U.S.: let’s make it easier to buy guns
—@ALAtterbury: One parent came from out of state to oppose # Tourism is back baby!!
— Room Rater (@ratemyskyperoom) March 23, 2021
— DAYS UNTIL —
2021 Florida Virtual Hemp Conference — 3; 2021 Florida Derby — 3; ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ premieres — 7; California theme parks begin to reopen — 8; MLB Opening Day — 8; Easter — 11; RNC spring donor summit — 16; 2021 WWE WrestleMania 37 begins — 17; Disneyland to open — 37; Mother’s Day — 46; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 47; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 65; Memorial Day — 68; Father’s Day — 88; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 100; 4th of July — 102; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 107; MLB All-Star Game in Atlanta — 111; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 121; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 129; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 153; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 163; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 184; ‘Dune’ premieres — 191; MLB regular season ends — 193; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 199; World Series Game 1 — 216; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 223; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 226; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 261; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 268; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 366; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 408; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 471; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 562; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 597.
— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —
“Emergency fund pitched for Governor’s office” via Jim Turner of News Service of Florida — A new pool of money for emergencies, separate from the state’s traditional “rainy day” funds, would be created in the Governor’s office under a pandemic relief measure approved Tuesday by the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee. The bill, SB 1892 by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., would set up the “Emergency Preparedness and Response Fund.” Diaz said the Legislature, in its annual budget process, would have to set the initial amount going into the fund, with the anticipation that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would reimburse any money spent during an emergency. Diaz said the fund would follow the same transparency rules as any trust fund set up by the state.
“Medicaid boost would give a year of postpartum care to Florida moms” via Margo Snipe of the Tampa Bay Times — New Florida mothers covered under Medicaid would receive a year of health care benefits after delivery instead of the current allowance of 60 days, under legislation announced Tuesday by House Speaker Sprowls. “Today, the Florida House is making a meaningful commitment to address the disparities in health outcomes for our children and for their moms,” the Palm Harbor Republican said. “We believe that providing the access to postnatal coverage for up to one year after the birth can significantly boost health outcomes for moms and their babies, and we know that healthy moms are better positioned to raise healthy and thriving children.” The postnatal period can be especially vulnerable, exposing mothers to many potential health complications.
“Chris Sprowls and Wilton Simpson’s infrastructure plan pulls from affordable housing” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Sprowls and Simpson announced plans to fund key infrastructure programs by redirecting documentary stamp tax dollars that currently go to the affordable housing trust fund. The legislative leader’s plans involve splitting those dollars into thirds to fund some of their top projects. One-third of documentary stamp tax dollars will go toward the “Always Ready: Flooding and Sea Level Rise Agenda” Sprowls announced last month. Another portion would go toward the Wastewater Grant Program, which DeSantis signed into law last year, within the Department of Environmental Protection. The final third of the plan would keep funding in the affordable housing realm with an added provision that those funds cannot be swept into general revenue.
Cuts in initial budget could be lessened before final passage — The Senate will present its proposed budget Wednesday, followed by the House on Thursday. As reported by Matt Dixon, the initial plans will likely feature deep cuts. However, the first draft will likely be more austere than what lawmakers will eventually settle on for the fiscal year beginning July 1. “You can just call this week the red wedding,” said one veteran lobbyist familiar with budget talks. Additionally, reports indicate that when the House budget debuts, member projects will be at the lowest amount ever, both in terms of money allocated and the number of projects included.
“Corporate-backed Florida Republicans push perplexing new voting restrictions” via Judd Legum and Tesnim Zekeria of Popular Information — Republican elected officials in Florida do not claim that the 2020 presidential election was rigged or subject to significant fraud. “We did it right,” Gov. DeSantis said at a news conference last month. After all, unlike Georgia and Arizona, Donald Trump won Florida.
“$18 million in cash tied to Facebook founder went to Florida elections; lawmakers say no way” via Jeffrey Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — Just before the 2020 election, state elections officials and eleven county elections supervisors received close to $18 million from a nonprofit funded primarily by Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and spouse Priscilla Chan. “We went after it because we knew it would help,” Wakulla County Supervisor of Elections Joe Morgan says of the modest $69,564 he and his predecessor had applied for from the Center for Tech and Civic Life. Most of the money Wakulla received was used to recruit poll workers, training staff, and buying equipment. But a major elections reform bill that had its first hearing Monday before the House Public Integrity and Elections Committee would ban private funds for election-related expenses. It cleared on a party-line vote.
“Funding debate remains in Bright Futures bill” via Ryan Dailey of News Service of Florida — The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee panel on Tuesday scaled back a bill (SB 86) that would have reduced Bright Futures scholarships for students pursuing certain degrees, but opponents are now focusing criticism on whether the measure will jeopardize future funding for the program. Under Sen. Dennis Baxley’s amendment, the state university system’s Board of Governors, the State Board of Education and Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida would craft and publish lists of degrees they deem not likely to lead to employment. However, the lists would have no bearing on the awarding of Bright Futures scholarships and Benacquisto Scholarships. Some Democratic lawmakers took issue with creating such lists, and a proposed amendment to remove that provision from the bill failed.
Job attainment tied to school funds is still a goal.
‘It’s something we’ll look at maybe for next year.’ pic.twitter.com/NKIRXOH7Z2
— Jossie B (@jossiebarroso) March 23, 2021
“House committee advances bill to preempt local utility restrictions” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — A preemption bill was hemmed and hawed by the House Local Administration & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee until ultimately being passed Tuesday. The bill, HB 919 by Polk City Rep. Josie Tomkow, preempts local governments from restricting the fuel types utility companies can use for energy production. Under the bill, any previously passed actions from local municipalities would be void. Tomkow said the bill is needed to protect natural gas, but it does not limit municipalities from supporting or implementing clean energy. All Republicans voted in favor along with Democratic Reps. Christopher Benjamin and Rep. Dan Daley.
— TALLY 2 —
Alimony battle flares again in Legislature via Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida — The House Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee on Tuesday approved a bill (HB 1559) that would do away with permanent alimony but, unlike a version that prompted a veto from former Gov. Rick Scott, would not be retroactive to past alimony cases. However, the measure approved by a House panel Tuesday would apply to pending cases and those under appeal. The alimony overhaul proposals have led to emotional debates and have been hotly contested, resulting in near-fracas outside then-Gov. Scott’s office in 2016. The 2021 bill also includes a controversial child-sharing component that would require judges to begin with a “presumption” that children should split their time equally between parents.
—“House panel approves permanent alimony repeal despite pushback from law groups” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics
“‘Parents’ bill of rights’ wins Senate Education Committee seal of approval” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The Senate Education Committee signed off on a controversial bill letting parents opt their children out of a variety of programs. The “Parents’ Bill of Rights” (SB 582) made its way through a second committee vote, a year after dying in the upper chamber. The bill would make clear state and public schools cannot infringe on the “fundamental rights” of parents to direct their child’s upbringing, including any decisions about education, health care, and mental health. But some of the notification requirements concern many, including LGBTQ advocates. There’s fear the requirement to notify parents regarding mental health services could prematurely out children as gay or transgender before they’ve chosen to come out to their parents.
Democrats oppose ‘strong families’ tax credit for abortion provision — A proposal that would provide tax credits to nonprofits that perform work deemed as family-building is being opposed by Democrats. As reported by Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida, SB 908 would provide up to $5 million in tax credits a year to organizations that the Department of Children and Families certifies as eligible. The resistance to SB 908 is due to a provision that would exclude organizations that provide coverage for or financially supports abortions. It passed the Senate Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee on a party-line vote.
“Domestic violence anonymity bill clears second House committee” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — A House bill to keep domestic violence centers safe is garnering the same bipartisan support as its Senate companion. The House Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee voted Tuesday unanimously to advance legislation protecting the location of domestic violence centers. Sweetwater Rep. David Borrero is the bill (HB 689) sponsor. The bill would create a new first-degree misdemeanor for those who maliciously publish or disclose any information or image that identifies a domestic violence center. The offense would be punishable by up to one year in prison or a $1,000 fine. The bill also reclassifies the penalty to a third-degree felony for any subsequent violations.
“Human trafficking bill clears Senate committee” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The Senate Criminal Justice Committee advanced a bill (SB 1826) Tuesday that, among other pursuits, would establish confidentiality between human trafficking victims and victim advocates. The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Diaz, contains several provisions that aim to address human trafficking in Florida. The bill would also formalize training requirements for human trafficking victim advocates and trained volunteers. Not least, the proposal would expand the definition of “human trafficking” to include “purchasing, patronizing, (or) procuring” another person for the purpose of exploitation of that person, according to a staff analysis. Diaz’s bill comes as states reckon with the nationwide rise of human trafficking. Florida ranks third in the nation for reported human trafficking cases.
“Bill targeting transgender athletes moves in Senate despite LGBTQ pushback” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — As many states consider whether to restrict transgender women’s ability to play in women’s sports, a Senate panel gave its approval for its take on the controversial measure. Bill sponsor Sen. Kelli Stargel said her “Promoting Equality of Athletic Opportunity Act” (SB 2012) is meant to protect “the integrity of female sports.” Transgender women and girls would be able to play in female sports between the elementary and collegiate levels if they declare their gender as female and maintain low testosterone levels. But Democrats — particularly West Park Democratic Rep. Shevrin Jones, an openly gay Black man — said the proposal alone is hurtful, even if not intended to do harm. The bill passed in a 6-4 party-line vote.
“Out-of-state students with Florida grandparents could get in-state tuition” via Jeffrey S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — Attending a Florida public university soon might get more affordable to high-achieving nonresidents whose grandparents live in the state. But the offer of in-state tuition rates for those potential students would be available only if their home state offers a similar deal in return to Floridians under a bill moving through the Senate. Gruters presented the reciprocity idea as an amendment to a bill (SB 1728) that aimed only to provide the lower cost to out-of-state students with Florida grandparents and high SAT or comparable assessment scores. Bill sponsor Sen. Dennis Baxley contended that the grandparents pay taxes in Florida, yet demand little of the education system, so their grandchildren should be able to get some benefit.
—”Senate Education Committee moves bill directing Lawton Chiles fund toward heart research” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics
— TALLY 3 —
“Optometrist scope-of-practice bill moves forward in the House” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The House Professions and Public Health Subcommittee advanced a bill Tuesday that would allow optometrists to perform certain eye surgeries and prescribe an expanded list of medications. Among the many concerns with (HB 631) are what medications an optometrist could prescribe and what new procedures optometrists would be allowed to perform. The bill text paints an unclear picture. As amended, optometrists would be allowed to use lasers to perform surgeries but could not perform procedures that “burns, cuts, or incises the globe of the eye.” A string of practicing and retired ophthalmologists — as well as other medical doctors — said that the lasers required for eye surgeries, by their very nature, are designed to cut and burn.
Ophthalmologists say scope-of-practice bill ‘puts patients at risk’ — A bill that would allow optometrists to perform surgeries and prescribe more medications “waters down safety standards and puts patients at risk,” according to Florida Society of Ophthalmology president Dr. Sarah Wellik. “With word manipulation, HB 631 as amended would allow optometrists to perform laser surgery inside the globe of the eye, scalpel surgery on the eyelid surgery to cut and remove skin lesions which could be cancerous, and injections of potent medication into the eyelid with a needle, where a surgical error of just one millimeter could have drastic and sight-threatening consequences for the patient,” she said.
“Property insurance revamp clears first House committee” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — A House panel adopted a committee substitute for a bill (HB 305) revamping property insurance laws in the state, including changes to policies for Citizens state-run property insurance. The House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee voted 12-2 to advance the legislation. The bill’s sponsor, Naples Rep. Bob Rommel, laid out issues he sees with Florida’s property insurance market, saying rates are increasing for consumers. Citizens is growing “at an alarming rate,” and property owners don’t have enough options for insurance. “We cannot attract insurance carriers to the state of Florida,” Rommel said. Rommel admitted solving the hurricane-prone state’s property insurance issues is a difficult balance.
“Data privacy bill clears House committee with a slew of amendments” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — A bill to enhance protection for internet users’ data cleared the House Civil Justice and Property Rights Subcommittee accompanied by a bevy of amendments. The legislation (HB 969), filed by Sarasota Republican Rep. Fiona McFarland, passed unanimously. It would give consumers the right to control how their personal data is shared and sold. The legislation faced several amendments at the committee hearing, ranging from technical corrections to content additions — and including one that drew criticism in public testimony. That amendment would allow a consumer to bring forward civil action against and receive relief from a business for continuing to sell, share or keep personal information after opting out.
PIFF says data privacy measure is a potential ‘lawsuit mill’ — The Personal Insurance Federation of Florida said a House bill (HB 969) that would give Floridians the right to control how their personal data is shared and sold could incite lawsuits. “While consumer data privacy is an important issue, we are concerned that the creation of a broad and costly private right of action for any consumer who alleges a violation of the law goes too far,” said Michael Carlson, president and CEO of PIFF. “Protecting consumer data is a laudable policy goal, but it should not come with the creation of a new lawsuit mill that will enrich trial lawyers.” An amendment adopted Tuesday would allow consumers to sue for several violations of the law.
“Senate panel OKs Jeff Brandes bills to pave the way for electric vehicles” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Brandes‘ bills (SB 138 and SB 140) to fund the installation of electric vehicle charging stations through a new electrical vehicle fee is ready for its final committee stop. The first bill would create the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Grant Program, in part to help build fast-charging stations to facilitate hurricane evacuations. Brandes called that a “uniquely Florida challenge.” The second half adds annual registration fees to compensate for the fact that plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles pay less or no gas tax while still causing wear and tear to Florida’s roads. Those fees would fund Brandes’ proposed grant program.
“House panel approves sea grass mitigation bank measure” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Coastal developers could swap new marine projects for repairs to sea grass habitat in state-owned submerged lands under a bill approved Tuesday by a House panel Tuesday. Republican Rep. Tyler Sirois of Merritt Island pushed his measure (HB 1335) through the Environment, Agriculture and Flooding Subcommittee Tuesday with visions of improved sea grass estuaries up and down Florida’s coasts. This Legislative Session marks the first time the idea of a state-run sea grass mitigation bank has reemerged since former Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a similar measure in 2008. Since then, the comfort with state-controlled mitigation efforts and the imperative for sea grass restoration efforts have increased as a crisis of environmental health in Florida’s sea grass estuaries has mounted, Sirois told the panel.
“Bill would require all boats ‘on the hook’ in Keys to haul anchor every 90 days” via Nancy Klingener of WLRN — The bill says boats anchored in Monroe County — unless they’re in a city mooring field — would have to pull up anchor and move every 90 days. That’s purportedly to prevent derelict vessels: boats that get into such bad shape that they leak, sink and damage the environment. But it could also cause a big problem for people who live “on the hook,” one of the last forms of relatively affordable housing. The city of Key West mooring field has 139 spots, and they’re all taken. The city also provides pump-out service now for more than 200 boats that are at anchor off the island.
— TALLY 4 —
“Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey: ‘Anti-riot’ legislation ‘tramples’ home rule authority” via Tori Lynn Schneider of the Tallahassee Democrat — Outside Tallahassee City Hall Tuesday, Mayor Dailey spoke out against “anti-riot” legislation fast-tracked for the Governor’s desk and set for the House floor this week. The bills (HB 1, SB 484) would, among other things, create new or tougher penalties, including felonies, for aggravated rioting, inciting or encouraging a riot and other offenses. Joined by Carrie Boyd, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s policy director, Dailey said the capital is the setting for more protests, sit-ins and marches than any other city in the state. Tallahassee is prepared to handle any violence that comes along, he added. But the legislation is attempting to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, Dailey said.
—“Tallahassee Mayor decries anti-riot bill as ‘human rights issue’” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics
“Democrats lobby Florida Legislature to expand Medicaid, grab new federal dollars under COVID-19 relief bill” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Florida Democrats and health care advocates are pushing the GOP-controlled Legislature to take advantage of new federal incentives to expand Medicaid in Florida. Joined by Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch and state Sen. Annette Taddeo argued Florida should make the move more than a decade after the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law. The new American Rescue Plan offers multiple relief measures for families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as a $1,400 stimulus check and expanded unemployment benefits. But the COVID-19 relief package also contains several sections related to health care, and specifically the ACA.
“Progressive coalition calls preemption bills state power grab” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The flurry of preemption bills in the Legislature represents a power grab from local governments, a progressive coalition of local elected officials said Tuesday. The local leaders, organized by Local Progress Florida, decried the general trend in the Legislature to pursue preemption bills, with Hallandale Beach Commissioner Sabrina Javellana, Gainesville Commissioner Gail Johnson, Coral Springs Vice Mayor Joshua Simmons, and Broward County Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor Alissa Schafer calling the efforts overreach that hampered local officials’ jobs. They specifically warned against legislation that would tie local governments’ hands in dealing with predominantly progressive policies on calls for social justice, climate change, and more equitable local hiring.
AFP cheers committee win for telehealth — AFP-FL also welcomed the House Professions & Public Health Subcommittee’s approval of HB 247, which would allow many of the telehealth protocols adopted amid the pandemic to remain in place after the pandemic ends. AFP-FL lauded the committee and singled out sponsor Rep. Tom Fabricio “for bringing this great bill forward and for helping Floridians receive healthcare from the comfort of their home.”
AFP praises passage of physician assistant bill — A measure that would expand the scope of practice for physician assistants cleared the House Professions & Public Health Subcommittee on Tuesday with a 17-1 vote. The bill would authorize PAs to practice without supervision and give them more prescribing authority. Americans for Prosperity-Florida praised the committee and sponsor Rep. Bob Rommel, saying the bill would “remove barriers.” The bill now heads to the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, its second of three committee stops.
“Environmental groups appeal to Ron DeSantis to keep Key West cruise regulations in place” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Two dozen environmental groups are authoring a letter to DeSantis asking him to halt Republicans’ push to preempt local governments from regulating major aspects of the cruise ship industry. That legislation, backed by Republicans, was filed in response to three referendums approved by Key West voters last November. One bans large cruise ships from docking in Key West. Another measure limits the number of cruise passengers that can embark in Key West per day. A third allows cruise ships with better health and environmental records to gain priority in terms of docking. Republican lawmakers are now pushing to undo those changes and prevent local governments from taking similar action in the future.
— LOBBY REGS —
New and renewed lobbying registrations:
Richard Chait: Florida Workers’ Advocates
Jose Diaz, Robert M. Levy & Associates: United Way of Miami-Dade
JP Fraites: Florida Association of Realtors
Amanda Fraser, Colodny Fass: Arcimoto, Florida Auto Dismantlers and Recyclers Association
Nick Iarossi, Andrew Ketchel, Christopher Schoonover, Capital City Consulting: Driftwood Capital, Esper
Danny Jordan, Nicola Powell, Victoria Zepp, One Eighty Consulting: CrowdStrike
Natalie Kato: Secure Democracy, ZoomInfo
Lori Killinger, Kasey Lewis, Chris Lyon, Lewis Longman & Walker: Lehigh Acres Municipal Services Improvement District
Jonathan Kilman, Alfreda Coward, Cesar Fernandez, Converge Government Affairs of Florida: Goodwill Industries of South Florida, MedMen, Operation New Uniform
Thomas Koval: Builders Insurance Group
George Levesque, GrayRobinson: School Board of Broward County
Mark Musselman, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: Asphalt Contractors Association of Florida
William Rubin, Heather Turnbull, Melissa Akeson, Erica Chanti, Rubin Turnbull & Associates: Prenda
— LEG. SKED —
The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee meets to consider SB 786, from Sen. Cruz, to limit costs of insulin for people with health insurance, 8:30 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.
The Senate Community Affairs Committee will consider a proposal SB 426, from Sen. Jim Boyd, to preempt local governments from regulating commerce in seaports, 8:30 a.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Transportation Committee meets to consider SB 1412, from Sen. Keith Perry, to make several changes related to pedestrian crosswalks. 8:30 a.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee meets to consider SR 1074, from Sen. Shevrin Jones, to condemn White nationalism and White supremacy, 11:30 a.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Health Policy Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Simone Marstiller, who was recently appointed as secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration after serving as secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice. 11:30 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.
The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee meets to discuss the budgets of the Agency for Health Care Administration, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Elder Affairs, the Department of Health and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, 2:30 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.
The Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee meets to discuss the budgets for the Department of Transportation, the Department of Economic Opportunity, the Department of State, the Department of Military Affairs, the Division of Emergency Management and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, 2:30 p.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.
Assignment editors — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Reps. Jenna Person-Mulicka and Scott Plakon will speak at the “2021 LEAD Summit,” presented by the Florida Commission on the Status of Women, 3 p.m. Information online here.
The Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider SB 1024, from Sen. Jason Brodeur, to mandate a report from the Department of Financial Services on complaints from customers of health insurers and HMOs about mental health services, 4:30 p.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider SB 748, from Sen. Brandes, to reform the state’s court system, including allowing people to postpone jury service for a year during public health emergencies or states of emergency, 4:30 p.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider SB 1372, from Sen. Danny Burgess, to develop a program to deliver free books to elementary school students identified as struggling readers, 4:30 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.
The House Commerce Committee, 9:15 a.m., Room 212, Knott Building.
The House Health & Human Services Committee, 9:15 a.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.
The House Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee, 9:15 a.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
The House Education & Employment Committee, noon, Morris Hall, House Office Building.
The House Judiciary Committee, noon, Room 404, House Office Building.
The House State Affairs Committee, noon, Room 212, Knott Building.
The House Finance & Facilities Subcommittee, 3:45 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
The House Government Operations Subcommittee, 3:45 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.
The House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee, 3:45 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.
— 2022 —
“Randolph Bracy releases video amid hints at running for Governor” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — Orlando Democratic Sen. Bracy, who is considering a run for Governor in 2022, released a campaign-style video on his website Tuesday, another indicator that he’s inching closer to a bid for the Governor’s mansion. The nearly two-minute spot features Bracy talking about the pandemic’s toll on the state and the need for a Governor to work in a bipartisan way, although he doesn’t mention DeSantis by name. “Loved ones are dying; jobs have disappeared; people are scared and looking for answers,” Bracy says. “To solve these problems, we have to change course … we need a Governor who will work with Democrats and Republicans to get us through this crisis.”
Maybe more than a ‘hint’ — Bracy’s “campaign-style” ad and website offer more than a few clues as to what direction the Orlando Democrat will take. Behind the scenes of BracyForFlorida.com, embedded in the page’s code, are suggestions that Bracy may be closer to a run than he would admit (for now). The most prominent example is the title of the uploaded video: “Bracy for Florida | Vote Bracy for Governor.” It’s also the same page title visible in the browser’s recent history after visiting. As for the description of the video itself, a quote that sounds like it was taken directly from a stump speech, complete with a call for bipartisanship: “We are in pursuit of a stronger, more unified Florida. We should all want better for our children, ourselves, and our fellow Floridians. We need a Governor who will work with Democrats and Republicans to move issues forward.” Finally, for those who use the internet with multiple browser tabs, the tab itself says “Bracy for Governor.” Count all the pieces, and it might add up to a gubernatorial race.
To watch the video, click on the image below:
Assignment editors — Former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Coral Springs Vice Mayor Joshua Simmons, both are board members of the anti-DeSantis committee “Ron Be Gone,” will hold a virtual news conference, 1 p.m. Eastern time. Zoom link provided with RSVPs at [email protected].
“GOP and allies draft ‘best practices’ for restricting voting” via Nick Corasaniti and Reid Epstein of The New York Times — In late January, a small group of dedicated volunteers from the conservative Heritage Action for America met with Republican legislators in Georgia, delivering a letter containing detailed proposals for rolling back access to voting. Within days, bills to restrict voting access in Georgia began flooding the Legislature. Of the 68 bills pertaining to voting, at least 23 had similar language or were firmly rooted in the principles laid out in the Heritage group’s letter and in an extensive report it published two days later.
— PERSONNEL NOTE —
JR Kennelly joins i360 — Kennelly is now an account manager of campaigns at Koch Industries’ i360 in Washington. Kennelly, previously named one of Florida Politics’ 30 under 30 rising stars, comes to i360 with a long resume in Republican politics. He has served as a regional director for DeSantis’ campaign, an executive aide on the inaugural committee, as the director of scheduling at the Governor’s Office, and as a regional director for Trump Victory. Kennelly is a graduate of the University of Alabama, where he earned undergraduate degrees in economics and political science.
— STATEWIDE —
Scoop — “Gary Lesser elected Florida Bar President-elect” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — West Palm Beach personal injury attorney Lesser will be The Florida Bar’s next president-elect, the association announced Tuesday. Lesser will be sworn in at the Bar’s Annual Convention in June, when current President-elect Michael Tanner becomes Bar president, taking over for current President Dori Foster-Morales. Lesser will take over as the Bar’s president in June 2022, when Tanner’s term expires. Lesser defeated fellow Board of Governors member and Miami business lawyer Steven W. Davis by nearly 5,000 votes. Lesser received 11,817 votes to Davis’ 6,922. Lesser has been a member of the Palm Beach County Bar Association and has served on the Bar’s Board of Governors for 10 years.
“Florida’s new clemency process a ‘huge’ marker of progress, civil rights leader Desmond Meade says” via Daniel Rivero of WUSF — The Florida Cabinet voted this month to revamp the restrictive rules on restoring civil rights for people with a felony conviction that were put in place by former Gov. Scott 10 years ago. The move could affect the civil rights of hundreds of thousands of Floridians. Meade is the executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, or FRRC, a group that had been pushing for the changes for years. “It’s huge,” Meade told a statewide meeting of the group last week. “The process was archaic, it was arbitrary, it was so much that was wrong with it,” said Meade of the rules that were overturned.
“How Florida’s courts have been forever changed by COVID-19” via Carolina Bolado of Law360 — The technological revolution in Florida’s legal industry brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has improved efficiency and saved clients money, but the necessary shift to online interactions has made mentoring young attorneys a challenge, and delays in jury trials are expected to clog up courts in the coming years. Attorneys said the silver lining of the pandemic had been the forced adoption of time-saving technological tools that the legal industry, which can be slow to innovate, had previously been reluctant to employ. The shift to remote proceedings opened up opportunities for attorneys around the state, who could now handle matters in cities several hours away with ease. “It made the state of Florida smaller,” Luis Salazar of Salazar Law said.
“Insurance rate ‘glide path’ could get steeper” via Jim Saunders of The News Service of Florida — For the past decade, the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. has been prevented from raising individual customers’ premiums more than 10% a year to avoid soaring increases. But with a growing number of homeowners turning to Citizens, that glide path could get a little steeper. The House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee approved a wide-ranging property insurance bill that would gradually boost the cap on annual premium increases for Citizens customers to 15% in 2026. The bill (HB 305) will help shore up a troubled insurance market while trying to find ways to shift homeowners from Citizens to private carriers. Citizens officials have argued for higher rates, as the state-backed insurer often charges lower premiums than private companies.
“Study: More than half of Florida’s manatees have the herbicide glyphosate in their bodies” via Amy Bennett Williams of the Fort Myers News-Press — If you’ve seen a manatee lately, odds are the creature has herbicide coursing through its veins. Researchers found the weed-killer, the world’s most-used pesticide, in more than half of all Florida manatees the study sampled. Nearly ubiquitous in Florida waters, the controversial substance is one of the go-to weapons in land managers’ and homeowners’ arsenals for combatting weeds. “This is one more serious reason for concern that long-standing human-caused exposure of fertilizers, human waste, and other byproducts are endangering our aquatic ecosystems and the species that depend on them for their survival,” said Pat Rose, who directs the nonprofit Save the Manatee Club.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“Florida back over 5K new coronavirus cases with infections among younger age groups” via Richard Tribou of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida’s resident death toll from coronavirus rose to 32,820 with the addition of 41 more reported fatalities on Tuesday while also adding 5,302 more positive COVID-19 cases to bring the total to 2,016,513. Tuesday’s report showed infections topping 5,000 again after two days falling below. The state has not reported more than 10,000 cases, though, since Feb. 5. With a population of about 21.5 million, about one in 11 people in the state have now been infected. That number is also about one in 11 nationally and one in 63 worldwide. Tuesday also marked the seventh day in a row in which the state reported less than 100 resident deaths.
“Weeks into Spring Break, adults under 50 spur COVID-19 rise in Florida tourism hubs” via Ben Conarck of the Miami Herald — March has been defined by the dueling dynamics of a mass vaccination effort focused on older people and a tourism surge to the metro areas of Miami, Tampa and Orlando, among other locales. Those forces appear to have come to a head over the last week, with a rise in cases among people under 50 after months of decline, driving an uptick in the number of tests coming back positive and cementing transmission of the virus at a fairly high level, especially in Miami. The trends point to the continued exposure and lack of vaccine protection in working people under the age of 50, who have fueled the economy as DeSantis invites tourists from around the country to the state.
“The curious case of Florida’s pandemic response” via Derek Thompson of The Atlantic — I started reporting this essay with a clear thesis: Florida is having a moment. To the extent that winning a pandemic is possible, Florida seemed to be winning the pandemic. Despite criticism for its laissez-faire approach to COVID-19, Florida has been “booming,” according to CNN, and the state’s success is “a vindication for their policies.” DeSantis bragged that Florida drew a straight flush of pandemic outcomes: “open schools, comparatively low unemployment, and per capita COVID-19 mortality below the national average.” If you tracked the digital murmurings of Silicon Valley elites, no city in the United States seemed hotter than Miami for the billionaire set. But the closer I looked, the more holes I found in the simple pro-Florida narrative.
“DeSantis loses his grip on Florida’s vaccine plan: White House, rogue counties, overshadowing the Governor” via Michael Moline of the Florida Phoenix — DeSantis was quick to correct the record when asked during a news conference this week about a report that the state had administered COVID-19 vaccines to people as young as 18 during a jazz festival in Orlando over the weekend. “The state has not,” the Governor shot back, not waiting for the reporter to finish her question. He reiterated his policy of vaccinating older Floridians in advance of young people unlikely to suffer severe COVID-19 symptoms.
“DeSantis eyes open vaccine access as ‘Seniors First’ mission wraps” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — DeSantis went to the Zion Hope Primitive Baptist Church to highlight the Florida Division of Emergency Management’s vaccinations there through Thursday. The one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be available to Floridians 50 years of age or older, for a total of 2,000 one-shot doses over the next three days. DeSantis noted that more than 3 million shots have gone to seniors, to the tune of 70% of that cohort’s population. “We think that will go up a little more,” DeSantis said, but not too much more, as “not everyone has demand for it.” Rural counties still lag, DeSantis said, with a “demand issue” keeping them below the 70% to 75% threshold.
—”More than 5M in Florida have received at least one dose of vaccine” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics
“More Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines arrive in Florida” via Skyler Swisher of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida has received an unexpected delivery of 42,000 doses of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, boosting the state’s immunization efforts, DeSantis said Tuesday. The shots will be used to vaccinate homebound seniors and supply walk-up vaccine clinics, such as one held at an African American church in Pensacola. Officials closely monitor supply and demand and hope to open up eligibility to all adults well before Joe Biden’s target date of May 1, DeSantis said at a news conference in Pensacola. “We’re going to get to a point where this is just going to be available to everyone,” DeSantis said. “I think that is going to happen relatively soon.”
“DeSantis says contract tracing didn’t work. So why is Florida paying for this app?” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — Gov. DeSantis’ newest target in his ongoing clashes with public health experts is one of the bedrocks of their profession: contact tracing. It “has just not worked,” DeSantis flatly told reporters last week in Palm Harbor. A day later, DeSantis convened a panel of his go-to scientists, who took turns picking apart the disease control tool. Despite these criticisms, DeSantis’ administration continues to pay a hefty sum for a New York company to supply the state with a contact tracing mobile application. According to the state’s online contracts database, the developer of the app, Twenty Labs, has received $4 million from Florida so far.
“State rescinds nursing home visitation orders” via The News Service of Florida — DeSantis’ administration has swept away four emergency orders dealing with visitors to nursing homes, just days before the Legislature is poised to pass a bill that would help shield the facilities from lawsuits associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The administration has told the nursing-home industry to abide by recently issued federal guidelines that allow visitors to touch fully vaccinated residents. Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz issued an order rescinding the four orders issued last year. The state initially barred nursing-home visitors from trying to prevent the spread of the disease but later issued orders that loosened restrictions, including an October order that allowed residents to leave facilities to spend time with family and friends for the holidays.
— CORONA LOCAL —
“Hillsborough County reaches 400K vaccine doses” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Hillsborough County has administered 406,670 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine since the state launched its rollout, according to the latest Florida Department of Health vaccine report. Those doses amount to 283,969 vaccinated individuals, including 136,020 who have completed the series. On Monday, the county vaccinated 4,667 people. Pinellas County is not too far behind, having administered 384,585 doses of the vaccine to 251,830 individuals. Of those who have received vaccinations, 132,755 completed a two-dose series, and 6,491 received the one-and-done Johnson & Johnson vaccine. On Monday, 6,157 people were vaccinated in Pinellas County.
“FEMA-supported Haines City vaccine site wraps up, sites to now focus on second doses” via Staci DaSilva of News Channel 8 — State-run, FEMA-supported vaccine sites in Polk County will shift from administering first doses without an appointment to second doses beginning Wednesday. The Haines City site, at Oakland Neighborhood Center, wrapped up its first dose distribution Tuesday. The team will go back to Lake Maude in Winter Haven to begin giving out second doses. On Monday, the Haines City site administered 324 of its 500 doses, a state official said. Leftover doses are not opened and are put back into the inventory for the next event, the official added. “We’ve been working diligently with FEMA to make sure that every citizen in Haines City and beyond could get a vaccine, first and second dose,” Haines City Mayor Morris West said.
“FEMA pop-ups are moving to Sweetwater, Florida City again. Second doses only” via Michelle Marchante of the Miami Herald — The federally-supported vaccination pop-ups are on the move again and will be returning to Sweetwater and Florida City Wednesday to administer second doses. Tuesday is the last day you can get your first-dose Pfizer shot at Charles Hadley Park in Liberty City and the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center in Cutler Bay. The sites will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The FEMA pop-ups will then reopen at 9 a.m. Wednesday at Ronselli Park Youth Center, 250 SW 114th Ave. in Sweetwater, and Florida City Youth Activity Center, 650 NW Fifth Ave. Only second-dose Pfizer shots will be available at the two pop-ups.
“Palm Beach County isn’t ready to lower vaccine age to 40” via Wells Dusenbury of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Palm Beach County has no plans yet to make COVID-19 vaccines available to people under age 50, even if some other counties are taking that step, the county’s top health official said Tuesday. Miami-Dade and Orange counties have lowered the eligibility age to 40 at county sites, although it remains at 50 in the rest of the state. Two County Commissioners suggested Tuesday that the county should follow suit and drop the age requirement to 40. Dr. Alina Alonso, the state health department director for Palm Beach County, shot down that possibility, saying the county has to follow the state guidelines since they‘re relying on state vaccines and don’t have federal vaccination sites.
“Boca Raton could be the first in Florida to increase fines for littering masks” via Austen Erblat of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — If you’re caught throwing down your mask, gloves or other COVID-19 protective equipment in Boca Raton, you could get slapped with a $250 fine and ordered to pick up trash as punishment. The City Council is set to vote on the matter Tuesday. The ordinance would be the first of its kind in Florida. Los Angeles passed a similar ordinance last summer, and a few other cities across the U.S. and in Europe have followed. City Councilman Andy Thomson introduced the proposed ordinance at a commission meeting on Feb. 23, but the council did not discuss the matter. Thomson picks up trash as he runs and jogs the streets of Boca.
“No-shows for COVID-19 vaccine appointments in Sarasota County are on the rise” via Timothy Fanning of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — As more COVID-19 vaccine appointments open up daily around Sarasota County, public health officials say they’re encountering a recurring issue: no-shows. Those details emerged at a Sarasota County Commission meeting. Chuck Henry, a Florida Department of Health officer in Sarasota County, did not say how many people are not showing up to appointments. Henry also did not say what happens to unused vaccines after people fail to meet their appointments. The problem appears to be centered on a flaw in the county’s registration system that allowed people to book appointments for their spouses or people they care for.
“St. Johns County second in state with 23.75% fully vaccinated” via Ty Hinton of the St. Augustine Record — Nearly 56,000 St. Johns County residents are fully vaccinated from COVID-19, the Florida Department of Health reported Tuesday. With 55,936 residents fully vaccinated, St. Johns County has the second-highest completion percentage in Florida with 23.75% — behind Sumter County, which has 28.47%. That total includes those completely vaccinated, either with a single Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the second in a series of two-shot vaccines. St. Johns County administered 745 COVID-19 vaccinations Monday, for a total of 81,293 with at least one shot, or 34.52% of residents 16 and older. Among residents receiving at least one shot, the county ranks fifth in the state, behind Sumter, Charlotte, Sarasota and Indian River.
“Anti-mask Florida woman accused of coughing in cancer patient’s face may get jail time” via Tiffini Theisen of the Orlando Sentinel — A Florida woman who was accused of intentionally coughing in a fellow shopper’s face last summer pleaded guilty and could face jail time, according to news reports. In a June 25 video at Pier 1 in the Jacksonville Town Center, Debra Jo Hunter was shown walking up to a second woman and deliberately coughing in her face after making a lewd gesture toward the camera. Hunter pleaded guilty Monday and could get up to 60 days in jail, according to News4Jax. Hunter, of Fernandina Beach, was caught on video confronting the victim, a cancer patient, at the St. Johns Town Center on June 25, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said, according to First Coast News.
— CORONA NATION —
“White House teams with groups on vaccine-hesitancy campaign to sway conservatives” via Stephanie Armour and Sabrina Siddiqui of The Wall Street Journal — The Biden administration is enlisting the help of groups including the Christian Broadcasting Network and NASCAR to encourage more people to get the COVID-19 vaccine, particularly members of communities that have been the most skeptical. The administration aims to use such organizations to help persuade conservatives, one of the demographic groups that polls show have significant reluctance to get the coronavirus vaccine. The Ad Council and the COVID-19 Collaborative announced a campaign Tuesday that will run during time donated by media across TV and digital media platforms.
“Kamala Harris emerges from Florida visit with a leading role fighting COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy” via Michael Wilner and Francesca Chambers of the Miami Herald — When White House aides were deciding where in Florida Vice President Harris should travel this week to promote coronavirus vaccines, they looked at the numbers. The federal government set up four mass COVID-19 vaccination sites across the state last month. The Miami site has been mired in confusion, with rules frequently shifting for officials to fill capacity, but the site has managed to give out most of its doses. By contrast, Jacksonville’s site has been consistently underutilized, administering only 21,047 shots out of a capacity of 54,000 over the last two and a half weeks.
“Xavier Becerra says government must reach people where they are to surmount vaccine inequities” via Amy Goldstein of The Washington Post — Health and Human Services Secretary Becerra said the federal campaign to vaccinate Americans against the coronavirus must “reach people where they are,” bringing vaccine-filled syringes into farm fields and onto construction sites to ease profound racial and ethnic disparities in who has been receiving the protective shots. “We’re not going to say, ‘Now, just come get your vaccine,’ which is a very different model than we’ve done in the past,” Becerra said in his first interview since being sworn in as the nation’s top health official late last week. Too often, he said, Black and Latin Americans in low-wage jobs believe “their government thinks they are invisible.”
“Without a ride, many in need have no shot at coronavirus vaccine” via Jenni Bergal of The Washington Post — While state and local governments have been busy planning for and distributing vaccines, many have left out an important piece: How to provide transportation to people who cannot get to those sites. Millions of older adults and low-income people of color who are at higher risk of contracting the virus don’t have cars, don’t drive, or don’t live near public transit. Some are homebound. Some live in rural areas far from vaccination sites. Many also don’t have family or friends to drive them. “It’s incredibly complicated how the vaccine planning played out across the country. Transportation was overlooked,” said Denny Chan, a senior staff attorney at Justice in Aging, a national legal advocacy organization for low-income older adults.
“Texas and Georgia are making all adults eligible for COVID-19 vaccination.” via Eileen Sullivan and Christina Morales of The New York Times — Texas, Indiana and Georgia announced Tuesday that residents 16 years and older will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations starting Thursday for Georgia residents, Monday for Texans and on March 31 for Indianans. They are joining a growing list of states that plan to broaden vaccine eligibility to all adults ahead of a May 1 deadline set by Biden. Widening the eligibility for vaccines comes when federal health officials have warned of a possible fourth surge. Biden has said there would be enough vaccines available by the end of May for all adults and has suggested that Americans could see a return to normalcy by July 4 if they got vaccinated and kept following health precautions.
“AstraZeneca used ‘outdated and potentially misleading data’ that overstated the effectiveness of its vaccine, independent panel says” via Carolyn Y. Johnson, Laurie McGinley, William Booth and Erin Cunningham of The Washington Post — In an extraordinary turn of events, an independent panel that safeguards the integrity of clinical trials wrote to AstraZeneca and U.S. government officials late Monday expressing concern and disappointment that the drugmaker presented “outdated and potentially misleading” data on its coronavirus vaccine making the shots appear more effective than shown by fuller data. The letter, from 11 leading statisticians, infectious-disease physicians, and ethics experts appointed by the National Institutes of Health to review the trial data for all the major coronavirus vaccines supported by the federal government, says the company’s decision puts the vaccine in the most favorable light — a grave scientific misstep that could erode trust in the vaccine.
—“Anthony Fauci: AstraZeneca needs to ‘straighten out’ vaccine data” via Sarah Owermohle of POLITICO
“Pfizer begins human trials of new pill to treat coronavirus” via Robert Langreth of Bloomberg — Pfizer said it had begun human safety testing of a new pill to treat the coronavirus that could be used at the first sign of illness. If it succeeds in trials, the pill could be prescribed early in an infection to block viral replication before patients get very sick. The drug binds to an enzyme called a protease to keep the virus from replicating. Protease-inhibiting medicines have been successful in treating other types of viruses, include HIV and hepatitis C. The new protease inhibitor is the second such medicine Pfizer has brought into human trials to treat COVID-19. Pfizer is testing another given intravenously to hospitalized virus patients.
“Study results strengthen the case for using Regeneron’s antibody cocktail in high-risk COVID-19 patients.” via Rebecca Robbins of The New York Times — A monoclonal antibody treatment developed by the drugmaker Regeneron sharply cut the risk of hospitalization and death when given to high-risk COVID-19 patients in a large clinical trial, the company announced on Tuesday. The results are the latest in a growing flurry of evidence that the infused drugs can help infected patients avoid the worst outcomes if given early. The study found that patients who got the infused treatment within 10 days of developing symptoms or testing positive had a roughly 70% reduced risk of being hospitalized or dying than those infused with a placebo.
“Teachers union “not convinced” social distancing can safely be cut to 3 feet” via Bo Erickson of CBS News — The nation’s second-largest teachers union sent a two-page letter to the Biden administration on Tuesday questioning the decision to reduce the recommended social distancing in schools to three feet between students. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reduced its recommendation for social distancing within schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from six feet to three feet, citing studies of limited virus transmission and similar recommendations from the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics. “These updated recommendations provide the evidence-based roadmap to help schools reopen safely and remain open for in-person instruction,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement last week.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“Stimulus check access a challenge for some low-income Americans” via Kimberly Surana pf The Tampa Bay Times — The third round of pandemic assistance began hitting bank accounts last week — $1,400 meant to help Americans stay afloat by covering urgent expenses, like food, rent and utilities. But the neediest may face hurdles to access the money. Donna McGrath, the manager for St. Petersburg’s Goodwill Job Connection Center, has met people who missed the first and second rounds of stimulus payments. They fell through the cracks because they don’t have the internet at home or a bank account. They’ve moved around or don’t have a fixed home address. They might earn too little to have tax documents on file with the Internal Revenue Service.
“As a second batch of $1,400 stimulus payments arrives this week, some Social Security and other federal beneficiaries are left out” via Michelle Singletary of The Washington Post — The Treasury and the IRS say to start watching your bank accounts and the mail because the second batch of stimulus payments is due to start arriving this week. In this second distribution, many payments will also be mailed in the form of a check or prepaid debit card, which will be identified as an economic impact payment or EIP card. “We urge people to carefully watch their mail for a check or debit card in the coming weeks,” said IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig. The IRS is making approximately 17 million direct deposits with a payment date of March 24 and is beginning to mail about 20 million checks and debit cards.
“Pandemic worsens already-growing debt problem with many legal remedies on hold” via Meghann M. Cuniff of ABA Journal — As a business debt lawyer in New York City, Jocelyn Nager has seen an increase in not only the amount of money her clients are owed since the pandemic began but also the sometimes-ruinous consequences that stem from not being able to collect it. “They have become debtors themselves in many instances,” says Nager, president of Frank, Frank, Goldstein & Nager. “Suppliers are being hit very, very hard right now.” As COVID-19 continues to cripple the economy, Nager foresees more dire straits on the horizon. “There will be a stack of judgments against businesses that are no longer operating, and the creditors will never collect any moneys that are owed to them,” she says.
— MORE CORONA —
“As U.S. parties, Europe fights third coronavirus wave” via Antonia Noori Farzan, Erin Cunningham and Rick Noack of The Washington Post — In Miami Beach, Spring Breakers are gyrating on top of cars and packing the streets with few masks in sight, even as police try to impose some measure of order. Meanwhile, in England, vacationers seeking their share of fun and sun may soon face hefty fines. A new law imposing a penalty of 5,000 British pounds ($6,900) for those who attempt to travel abroad without a good reason is expected to pass later this week and could be in effect as soon as Monday, highlighting the glaring contrasts between Europe and the United States at a time when vaccination rates are rising, but the coronavirus pandemic is nowhere near over.
“What kind of reception can American travelers expect post-COVID-19?” via Christopher Elliott of The Washington Post — If you’re planning to travel abroad this year, prepare for a few surprises. Some customs have changed, and you’ll need to mind your manners more than ever. American visitors should expect a range of receptions when they travel abroad, from a cool welcome to an enthusiastic, if somewhat distant, greeting. A lot of the responses will depend on you and whether you respect a country’s fast-changing practices. How will people treat American visitors? That’s a theoretical question in many popular destinations. Generally, experts say people will welcome Americans again once the travel bans lift. But they’ll also be wary of tourists in general, even when there’s a testing or vaccine requirement.
“How the pandemic has forever changed the airport experience” via Victoria M. Walker of The Points Guy — Last week, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened the most people at airport security checkpoints since March 15, 2020. These numbers indicate that U.S. air travel is experiencing a resurgence. But the airports we departed from last March will look significantly different from the ones we’re pulling up to in 2021. Airports might never look or feel the same again — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Airports are now re-imagining every aspect of the overall experience, from check-in to how meals are served in food courts and lounges. From the moment they drop their bags to the minute they board the plane, passengers want as little contact with others as possible.
“Can COVID-19 make your ears ring? What we know about its possible connection to tinnitus.” via Allyson Chiu of The Washington Post — The recent death of Texas Roadhouse CEO Kent Taylor is bringing more attention to what experts say is another troublesome physical ailment that may be associated with the coronavirus pandemic: tinnitus, or the perception of a loud ringing or buzzing sound in the ears. Taylor, 65, died by suicide last week, and his family told news outlets, including The Washington Post, that he had been battling “post-COVID related symptoms, including severe tinnitus” at the time of his death. Though early research and anecdotal reports have documented tinnitus and sudden hearing loss in some COVID-19 patients, audiologists emphasized no conclusive evidence connecting the virus to the onset or worsening of tinnitus.
“Thanks to COVID-19, the age of biometric surveillance is here” via Michele L. Norris of The Washington Post — Imagine a world where you must agree to wear a small device to monitor your movements, sleep or heart rate before you can enroll in school, return to the workplace, attend a convention or book passage on a cruise ship. Thanks to COVID-19, the age of biometric surveillance is already here. Fast-tracked by the NFL, the NBA and colleges eager to bring back students, wearable technologies that help detect coronavirus and hinder its spread are being quickly embraced despite obvious questions about their impact on our privacy. Wearing a fitness band to monitor your steps is one thing. Wearing a mandatory bracelet so an employer or institution can access continuous data about your movement and health is something very different.
“Why we’re scared for the pandemic to end” via Alia Dastigir of the USA Today — It feels strange, the idea of being together in the world again. Public transit makes us sweat. The prospect of crowded restaurants and bars is thrilling but unfamiliar. People thirsting for daily interaction now worry they’ve lost the ease with which they once socialized. For so long, we’ve been looking toward a world that gathers and touches, a world where smiles are unobscured and conversations unmuffled, but the longer we’ve been denied it, the more stressful its return has become.
— PRESIDENTIAL —
“White House eyes tax increases on companies and the wealthy to fund infrastructure, setting up clash with GOP” via Jeff Stein and Tony Romm of The Washington Post — White House officials are exploring tax increases on businesses, investors and rich Americans to fund the President’s multitrillion-dollar infrastructure and jobs package, according to two people briefed on internal conversations. The centerpiece of the tax increases would probably be a higher corporate tax rate — reversing part of Trump’s steep corporate tax cut in 2017 — as well as higher levies on investment income and a higher top marginal tax rate. President Biden’s tax increases may prove among the most controversial elements of the administration’s coming “Build Back Better” agenda, setting up a major confrontation with business groups and congressional Republicans.
“Joe Biden has a long, frustrating history of pushing for gun control” via Glenn Thrush of The New York Times — As President, Biden finds himself in a position distressingly similar to the one he confronted eight years ago as Vice President: trying to figure out a way to stop mass shootings and meeting resistance from conservative gun owners and their political allies. In 2020, gun control was given a prominent place on Biden’s campaign website, but it had been a back-burner concern for a new administration single-mindedly determined to address the pandemic and its economic damage. That could change following the attacks in Atlanta and Boulder.
“Biden faces ‘moment of truth’ as he weighs key U.S. climate promise” via Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post — By April 22, when Biden convenes world leaders for an Earth Day summit, he is expected to unveil a new, aggressive plan to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2030. The moment aims to reestablish American leadership in the fight to limit the Earth’s warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial levels — a threshold beyond which scientists predict irreversible environmental damage. As he crafts the much-anticipated pledge, Biden is facing conflicting political pressures at home and abroad.
“White House yanks Interior nominee after Lisa Murkowski opposition” via Ben Lefebvre of POLITICO — The White House has withdrawn its nomination of Elizabeth Klein to become the Interior Department’s deputy secretary, as the Biden administration faced push back from Alaska Sen. Murkowski, sources familiar with the situation said Monday. Klein is a former Barack Obama administration official and deputy director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at the New York University School of Law who focused on renewable energy and climate change issues. The Biden administration pulled her nomination after hearing of opposition coming from Murkowski, a moderate Republican whose vote is crucial to Biden’s legislative agenda and who has sought to expand the oil and gas industry in her state, one of the sources familiar with the matter said.
“Shalanda Young is set to be confirmed as the Office of Management and Budget’s deputy director.” via Emily Cochrane of The New York Times — Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee to lead the budget agency, withdrew early this month after senators in both parties objected to negative posts she had made on social media and criticized her work at the Center for American Progress. The position of OMB Director is one of only two top-level vacancies remaining in the Biden administration, leaving Young to steer the agency in the absence of a director or acting director. Democrats on Capitol Hill have mounted a substantial campaign to elevate Young, the first Black woman to serve as a staff director on the House Appropriations Committee, to the director’s position.
“Biden Cabinet near complete but hundreds of jobs still open” via Alexandra Jaffe of The Associated Press — President Biden’s Cabinet is nearly complete with the confirmation of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. But the work of building his administration is just beginning, as Biden has hundreds of key presidential appointments to make to fill out the federal government. According to Paul Light, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, the process of building out a government is “nasty, brutish, and not at all short.” Biden has about 1,250 federal positions that require Senate confirmation, ranging from the head of the obscure Railroad Retirement Board to more urgent department positions such as assistant and deputy secretaries.
“Biden to nominate tech antitrust pioneer Lina Khan for FTC commissioner” via Makena Kelly of The Verge — President Biden has announced his intent to nominate Khan, a legal scholar and leading voice in the growing tech antitrust movement, to serve as a commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission. The pick signals that the Biden administration is preparing to take on some of the tech industry’s most powerful and influential companies. In 2017, Khan authored an article for the “Yale Law Journal” titled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” which exploded in popularity in progressive economic policy circles. Khan has also served as an aide to the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on antitrust throughout its yearslong investigation into anticompetitive behavior in the tech industry.
— EPILOGUE TRUMP —
“Donald Trump officials hindered at least nine key oversight probes, watchdogs said. Some may finally be released in coming months.” via The Washington Post — Four months after Trump’s defeat, Inspector General Rae Oliver Davis still hasn’t announced whether her investigators found that Trump inappropriately held up federal disaster aid from Puerto Rico, reeling from a brutal hurricane. It’s far from the only politically sensitive work by government watchdogs — mandated by Congress to monitor federal agencies for waste, fraud and misconduct — that faced roadblocks or otherwise were dragged out during the Trump era.
“Trump Hotels are dropped by the high-end travel group Virtuoso.” via Sarah Firshein and Ceylan Yeginsu of The New York Times — Virtuoso, a global network of luxury travel advisers, has dropped Trump Hotels from its list of hotel partners and will no longer offer the 10 hotels that operate under the Trump brand as an option to its high-end clients. Virtuoso is widely considered one of the luxury travel industry’s biggest players, with a global network of more than 1,100 agencies comprising 22,000 advisers in 50 countries. Virtuoso advisers typically work with wealthy clients looking for all the hallmarks of upscale trips, from luxury hotels to personalized tours and experiences.
— CRISIS —
“Justice Dept. said to be weighing sedition charges against Oath Keepers” via Katie Benner of The New York Times — Justice Department officials have reviewed potential sedition charges against members of the Oath Keepers militia group who attacked The Capitol on Jan. 6, and they have been weighing whether to file them for weeks, according to law enforcement officials briefed on the deliberations. The group members, including Thomas E. Caldwell, Jessica M. Watkins and Donovan Crowl, were indicted last month on conspiring to obstruct Congress’s ability to certify the Electoral College victory of Biden, then the President-elect. The Justice Department has rarely brought charges of sedition, the crime of conspiring to overthrow the government, and has not successfully prosecuted such a case in more than 20 years.
“Ormond Beach Proud Boys organizer pleads not guilty to new conspiracy charges in Capitol riot” via Grace Toohey of the Orlando Sentinel — The Ormond Beach man recently charged with helping plan and carry out the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol in coordination with other leaders of the Proud Boys, a far-right nationalist group, pleaded not guilty Tuesday afternoon to the new charges. Joe Biggs and fellow Proud Boys leader Ethan Nordean, known as “Rufio Panman,” both pleaded not guilty to the six new charges recently brought against them for what federal prosecutors say was a monthslong conspiracy to attack The Capitol and interfere with the certification of Biden’s victory in November’s election. Biggs and Nordean did not speak during the Tuesday hearing held virtually at the D.C. U.S. District Court, allowing their attorneys to enter their pleas formally.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Democrats vow call on gun bills, but lack votes” via The Associated Press — Democrats said Tuesday that they are pushing toward a vote on expanded gun control measures as the nation reels from its second mass shooting in a week. Biden said “we have to act,” but prospects for any major changes were dim, for now, in the closely divided Congress. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed Tuesday morning to bring to the Senate floor legislation passed by the House that would require background checks for most gun sales and transfers. He said the Senate “must confront a devastating truth” after a lack of congressional action on the issue for almost three decades. “This Senate will be different,” Schumer said a day after a shooting at a crowded Boulder, Colorado, supermarket.
“Scott suggests potential link between youth suicide and social media” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Youth suicide is up. And so is their social media use. Could the two be linked? U.S. Sen. Scott suggests that’s a question worth answering, even if “correlation does not always indicate causation.” … “A 2018 Pew Research survey found that nearly all U.S. teens ages 13-17 have access to a smartphone, and almost half of teens are online ‘almost constantly,’” Scott wrote in a letter to the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, Alphabet and Snap sent Monday. “Coinciding with this rise in social media usage, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has noted that the suicide rate among U.S. teenagers is significantly and tragically rising.”
“Feds to investigate manatee deaths, Stephanie Murphy says” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Why are Florida’s manatees dying off? The federal government has agreed to look into that, responding to a plea made earlier this month by Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, her office announced Tuesday. “Florida’s diverse animal life is deeply important to people in our state, and few creatures are more beloved than the manatee,” Murphy said. “I’m pleased that, in response to my request, the federal government has determined the spike in manatee deaths requires a swift and decisive response.” Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 26 of this year, the state recorded 403 manatee deaths, about triple the normal level. On March 11, Murphy asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to look into it.
“Vern Buchanan grills Army general over death of Bradenton soldier” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — At a congressional hearing on military mishaps, Rep. Vern Buchanan dressed down a general about a Florida soldier’s death. The U.S. House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness on Tuesday held a special hearing on “Learning From and Preventing Future Training Mishaps.” There, members spoke about military procedures with leaders from each branch of the service. Buchanan, who requested the hearing, focused his attention on the Army and the 2019 death of Spc. Nicholas Panipinto. The 20-year-old from Bradenton died in a training exercise at Camp Humphreys in South Korea. “A tragic series of failures and training errors contributed to Nick’s death,” Buchanan said.
“Ted Deutch renews call for gun reform following Boulder shooting that ‘hits really hard’” via CBS Miami — The shooting in Boulder comes a little more than three years since the tragedy in Parkland, and the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting before that. There have been calls for major gun reform each time. Yet, little has changed. Ten lives were claimed in the Boulder shooting, where a gunman opened fire at a supermarket. “And that’s why we need to act. And that’s why we can’t just shake our head and say that’s one more thing and move on and wait for the next one,” said Deutch. The chief whip on the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force echoed President Joe Biden’s thoughts.
“How a political boss could help NASA” via Miriam Kramer of Axios — Having a politician in the top spot at NASA signals the agency will be a priority for the Biden administration, some space industry experts tell Axios. Bill Nelson, a former Senator with Biden’s ear, is the administration’s nominee to lead the space agency and could help make NASA a priority for the President if he’s confirmed. Nelson’s nomination was announced last week and has already won support from both sides of the aisle. “This is a very personal relationship with the President, and that’s pretty special for NASA. It’s the kind of pick that I think you more typically think about with a high-level cabinet official versus historically with NASA,” said Mike French of the Aerospace Industries Association.
“Immigrants watch from around Tampa Bay as Congress debates their future” via Juan Carlos Chavez — Poliana Conte isn’t there in the U.S. Capitol as Congress debates a flurry of immigration bills. But she knows they’re about her. The 40-year-old mother of four has lived for two decades in the United States. She has never applied for legal residency because she knows she does not qualify. She’s hoping that will change soon. Meantime, she is grateful for the job she has, helping patients who are fatally ill. “It’s been a very stressful year for everyone,” Conte said. “In the midst of so much unemployment, it’s a blessing to have a job.”
“Thanks to Trump-era COVID-19 relief bill, a UFO report may soon be public — and it’ll be big, ex-official says” via Reis Thebault of The Washington Post — Last year’s gargantuan $2.3 trillion appropriations bill did a couple of very obvious things: it provided millions of Americans badly needed coronavirus relief aid, and it averted an impending government shutdown. It also dealt with … UFOs. The legislation, which Trump signed into law, was a bureaucratic nesting doll that ran over 5,500 pages and contained the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, which itself carried an unusual provision in its “committee comment” section, beneath the understated heading “Advanced Aerial Threats.” The stipulation mandates that the Director of National Intelligence work with the Secretary of Defense on a report detailing everything the government knows about unidentified flying objects.
— LOCAL NOTES —
“Quiet night in Miami Beach, but police say they’ve arrested over 1,000 since Spring Break” via Bianca Padró Ocasio, Colleen Wright and Charles Rabin of the Miami Herald — After a weekend of partying and mayhem that once again put Miami Beach in the national spotlight, police said they had made more than 1,000 arrests since Spring Break began in early February and have enlisted the help of five different law enforcement agencies to try and control the overflowing crowds. The agencies assisting Miami Beach until the end of Spring Break on April 12 will be Miami-Dade, Miami, Coral Gables, the Florida Highway Patrol and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Those agencies will supply more than 50 officers to assist Beach patrols. The majority of 1,050 arrests since Feb. 3 have been for minor crimes and misdemeanors.
“A pattern of abuse and bias’: A Miami cop’s history of bad policing detailed in report” via Matias J. Ocner of the Miami Herald — One spring afternoon, a young Black school teacher picked up her 1-year-old baby at her mother’s Liberty City home and was pulled over by a Miami police sergeant named Javier Ortiz. Ortiz toldOctavia Johnson he stopped her because he saw her buying drugs. When she denied it, he asked how she could afford her nearly new Dodge Charger and what she did for a living. “Get the f— outta here. Who would hire you with gold and tattoos?” Ortiz responded when she replied. The traffic stop fast turned uglier, leaving Johnson under arrest, her face pressed into pavement.
“Mayor’s aide under investigation after widow alleges fraud” via Mario Ariza of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Broward Sheriff’s Office detectives are looking into allegations that Bina Fink, an aide to the county mayor, gained the trust of the 60-year-old woman and persuaded her that her friends and family were out to get her. The case echoes a common refrain in Florida: people exploiting grieving seniors. But the allegations are unusual in that they involve a government employee who is widely known within the local Democratic Party and who is now suing her accuser, alleging defamation. The widow, Carol Porter, claims Fink persuaded her to hire a new money manager, a new accountant and an attorney Fink recommended. Detectives subpoenaed Fink’s bank accounts last March. The case remains open, according to police.
“Coral Gables commission stamps a final OK on controversial Miracle Mile rezoning” via Andres Viglucci and Samantha J. Gross of the Miami Herald — After a brief but politically tinged debate, Coral Gables commissioners gave their final stamp of approval Tuesday to a controversial measure designed to spur redevelopment on ailing Miracle Mile while capping the height of new buildings to protect the signature street’s modest scale. The 4-1 vote, the second required approval for the zoning change, follows an initial “yes” vote on March 9 by the same margin. The measure will lift on-site parking requirements for new construction on the Mile to promote expansion or redevelopment of the often-obsolete one- and two-story shops that dominate the shopping street, increasingly plagued by vacancies. The newly enacted four-story cap represents a reduction from the six stories allowed under current rules.
“Feds say they busted Cuban migrant smuggling ring operating out of the Keys” via David Goodhue of the Miami Herald — Federal agents arrested three men Sunday in the Florida Keys as a boat was being lowered by one of them down a ramp at a local marina in an alleged scheme to smuggle migrants out of Cuba. Agents with U.S. Homeland Security Investigations say the men ran the operation out of a house in Key Largo. Shortly after the arrest at the Harry Harris Park marina in the Upper Keys area of Tavernier, agents executed a search warrant at a Homestead house where another member of the alleged smuggling ring was arrested. Also, at the Homestead house, agents found a ledger containing a list of names and phone numbers of people in Cuba.
“Attorneys for fired JEA CEO Aaron Zahn and utility square off in appeal court arguments” via David Bauerlein of the Florida Times-Union — The 1st District Court of Appeal case centers on a civil matter as JEA tries to reverse a lower-court ruling that sided with Zahn in determining he can seek arbitration to challenge his January 2020 firing. The JEA board’s decision to fire Zahn with cause meant he did not get any post-employment benefits that would have totaled several hundred thousand dollars in severance pay and a consulting contract. At issue is whether Zahn can challenge that decision by going to an arbitrator as he wants, or whether he must pursue a case in the civil court system as JEA contends is the proper venue.
“Employee favored by City Commissioner is fired by Omni CRA amid questions about her job” via Joey Flechas and Nicholas Nehamas of the Miami Herald — When Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla wanted to hire someone to “keep an eye” on administrators managing $68 million in taxpayer funds at the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency, he turned to an old friend who had just gotten out of federal prison for mortgage fraud. Jenny Nillo, 54, had served time for taking what prosecutors called a “leading role” in a fraud scheme. Díaz de la Portilla said he asked the agency’s director, Jason Walker, to hire Nillo as a community liaison in April. He said he wanted to give Nillo a second chance.
“Tampa Bay nursing school loses accreditation; students lose credits, time and money” Adam Walser of ABC Action News — A Tampa Bay nursing school with a record of complaints that lost accreditation and is on probation with the state because of licensing test failure rates continues to recruit students for the $20,000 program. “It’s ruined my life, pretty much. I am out all that money. All that time,” Elizabeth Ford said. Ford enrolled in the Medical Prep Institute of Tampa Bay, called MPI, in November 2019, after the school offered her a $5,000 scholarship to offset some of the tuition.
“Roberto Clemente mural comes to life at Orlando school after Confederate name change” via Ingrid Cotto of the Orlando Sentinel — Roberto Clemente Middle School’s transformation reached a new milestone this week with the creation of a mural depicting historical scenes of the MLB Hall of Famer. The Puerto Rican sports figure, also known for his humanitarian legacy, came to life with the stroke of Neysa Millán’s brush. “I wanted to show the children, the community, that this is the type of person you should aspire to be,” said Millán, an artist and muralist of Puerto Rican heritage. Millán explained the selection of prints and photographs chosen for her design include Clemente’s 3,000th hit. Also included are when he was awarded the National League’s MVP Award in 1966 and a photo with his three sons, all wearing Pittsburgh Pirates uniforms.
“St. Johns County house with significant ties to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the market” via of the St. Augustine Record — A house famous for its place in civil rights history is now for sale in St. Johns County. In 1964, segregationists shot up the home at 5480 Atlantic View, believing that King was staying there. Before the shooting, The St. Augustine Record printed the address of the cottage after getting a tip that he was staying there. King wasn’t in the home at the time of the shooting; he arrived later. A photo showing him examining a bullet hole in a window of the house became “one of the iconic images of the civil rights movement,” according to a historical marker in front of the house from the ACCORD Freedom Trail. The asking price is $850,000.
“Motion to eliminate 2 a.m. ‘last call’ in bars gets initial support from Brevard County Commission” via Eric Rogers of Florida Today — The Brevard County Commission has given initial support to eliminating restrictions on when alcohol can be sold in unincorporated Brevard. Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously voted to schedule a public hearing on the proposal from District 3 Commissioner John Tobia. The board will take a final vote after the hearing, which likely will be sometime in April, Tobia said. If it passes, the revised ordinance would eliminate the 2 a.m. “last call” at bars and restaurants in unincorporated parts of the county and allow alcoholic beverages to be “sold, consumed (or) served” in licensed establishments “24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” The proposed change would not affect alcohol sale restrictions in Brevard’s cities and towns.
— TOP OPINION —
“More evidence that Florida’s unemployment system was designed to fail” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — It’s no secret that Florida’s unemployment system performed disastrously during the height of the pandemic. But now it’s clear this fiasco was a combination of both incompetence and callousness. It reflects a mean-spirited approach under the guise of combating fraud, and it caused needless pain to struggling families and businesses. Former call center workers hired to help claimants said they were trained to nitpick applications. They also said that stopping fraud was prioritized over providing benefits — a practice consistent with the state’s entire approach in operating a miserly benefits system. Florida has a legitimate interest in rooting fraud from the system. But fraud is being used as a harassment tool to keep legitimate beneficiaries from receiving the help they deserve.
— OPINIONS —
“Rick Scott has no idea ‘what Americans want’” via Randy Schultz of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Who knew that Scott could be so funny? Florida’s junior Senator and Republican presidential aspirant normally radiates all the humor of a TSA agent. This week, however, the Sun-Sentinel ran a commentary by Scott that had more howlers than a segment of Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update.” Scott can’t pitch himself as reopening Florida’s economy despite the pandemic. DeSantis has that ground. So Scott must take on Washington. Under Biden, Scott claimed, Democrats are “not doing what Americans want and deserve.” Instead, the party has made a “hard left turn.”
“Jimmy Patronis: Florida’s utility grid a result of hard work, forward thinking” via Florida Politics — As a former Commissioner of Florida’s Public Service Commission (PSC), I can say without a doubt that Florida is well-positioned to handle challenges to its electrical grid and I think it’s important that we recognize the hard work and forward thinking that made that possible. Many of Florida’s major utilities have maintained a 20% margin of power for years. Florida’s ability to get to a 20% reserved margin of power — above peak usage — was not easy. First, we can all be proud of the work that our PSC Commissioners and utilities. Second, energy policy shouldn’t be used for political football: building one of the most stable grids with low rates in the U.S. doesn’t happen by accident.
“Legislature needs to improve unemployment benefits” via Mike Fasano for the Tampa Bay Times — On the opening day of the Legislative Session, my friend and fellow Pasco County Republican Simpson told reporters he’s ready to support an increase in Florida’s absurdly low unemployment insurance benefits. Bravo. The Senate President gets it, and I hope he can quickly help more legislators understand the dire need to increase benefits. The most any unemployed Floridian can qualify for today is $275 a week. There has been a lot of publicity about Florida’s $81 million fiasco of an unemployment system known as CONNECT. Fixing that national embarrassment is critical, but just doing that would be a failure by our legislators. Florida’s hardworking families deserve better because nobody can get by on $275 a week.
“The future of Florida’s Bright Futures scholarships just got a little brighter” via the Miami Herald editorial board — Something unusual happened in Tallahassee this week: Lawmakers listened to young people and turned a bad bill into a not-so-bad bill. One of this year’s most controversial proposals is Senate Bill 86 to overhaul Florida’s Bright Futures Scholarships and other financial aid. In its original version, the bill would have cut scholarship dollars for students who pick college majors that “do not lead directly to employment,” as determined by the state. It also would have taken away scholarship funds for credits students earn through Advanced Placement courses, creating a disincentive for students to take those courses in high school. Dozens of students, educators and parents spoke against SB 86 in Tallahassee. It worked.
“John Wells: Legislation would not give state control of Key West port” for Florida Politics — As a native Key Wester and local ships’ agent, I want to share why Senate Bill 426 and House Bill 267 are a vital protection for Florida’s deep-water ports. During the last election, three local referendums were passed that significantly limit the size and capacity of cruise ships. These effectively exclude 94% of all cruise ship traffic already scheduled into the Port of Key West. SB 426 and HB 267 will effectively undo these ill-conceived referendums. The bill does not hand control of ports over to the state and it does not prevent port authorities from continuing to conduct their business operations. City governments and local referendums would no longer be able to alter international, waterborne commerce in Florida.
“Pensacola would lose control of port under Tallahassee bill” via Doug Wheeler for the Pensacola News Journal — Florida’s innovative and resilient seaports have been on the front lines of the pandemic, ensuring a steady flow of medical supplies, food and fuel to communities throughout the state. Unfortunately, the refined governance and smooth operations at these ports are facing uncertainty. Efforts in Tallahassee to take away local municipal governance at Florida seaports have made clear the goal of SB 426 and HB 267 is to overturn a decision by Key West voters last year that placed restrictions on cruise ships docking at the city’s port. Key West may be the target, but the unintended consequences of this bill will restrict Florida’s ability to recruit new business prospects and generate additional economic opportunities.
“Cops who show compassion instead of cruelty shouldn’t be news. They should be the norm.” via Leonard Pitts Jr. for the Miami Herald — We need to talk about what happened last week when police confronted a mentally disturbed man at a convenience store near Washington, D.C. They helped him. Yes, that was a bait-and-switch. But it wouldn’t have worked if you weren’t primed to expect something worse. The officer said that what happened is not out of the ordinary for him or his department, and maybe not. Yet a picture of him, seated cross-legged on the floor with the troubled man, struck such a chord that the story made first local, and then national, news. Faced with a distraught and abusive man, they resorted, not to force, but to compassion. We’ll be a better nation when that becomes the norm.
— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —
House Speaker Sprowls is announcing a major expansion of the Medicaid program for infant and maternal health. He says they’re not really “expanding” Medicaid coverage; they’re only “extending” it.
Also, on today’s Sunrise:
— Florida’s Department of Health reported more than 5,300 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, with 41 more fatalities. But the Governor says it won’t be long before the age limits are gone, and any adult can get vaccinated.
— More complaints from local officials about bills moving through the legislature that would preempt the authority of cities and counties.
— Republicans in the Florida House support a bill to impose new limits on THC, the active ingredient in medical marijuana. Ben Pollara is not surprised. He says some lawmakers will never accept the idea of marijuana as medicine.
— Pollara ran the campaign for John Morgan‘s amendment legalizing medical marijuana and is today’s Sunrise Interview guest.
— And finally, a federal jury is indicting a Florida Man who is accused of trying to obtain more than $1.5 million by defrauding the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
To listen, click on the image below:
— ALOE —
“Walt Disney World reveals design of Florida specialty license plate” via Landon McReynolds of Click Orlando — Fans of Walt Disney World can now take their love of the parks on the road. Disney on Tuesday unveiled the design of the new specialty license plate that Florida registered car-owners can pre-order. The plates celebrate Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary, which begins Oct. 1. “Inspired by the color scheme of Cinderella Castle, this magical plate is currently available for presale and will also help make even more dreams true, with 100% of the proceeds benefiting Make-A-Wish of Central and Northern Florida,” Disney leaders said in a blog posting. Car owners interested in purchasing a plate can purchase a $25 presale voucher at their local tax collector or department of motor vehicles office.
“New rocket on display at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex” via Rachel Joy of Florida Today — After being closed for months due to COVID-19, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center is fully open with a glistening new rocket on display in the rocket garden. “That’s a real rocket, it could have flown in space, but instead, it’s on its second career,” KSC Director Bob Cabana said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday morning. The modern addition to historic rockets’ garden is United Launch Alliance’s powerful Delta II rocket, which flew its last mission in 2018. The Delta II was a busy rocket over its nearly 30-year life flying 155 times. One of its biggest contributions to humanity was launching the Global Positioning System satellites for the Air Force.
“Palm Beach and Miami get ready to feed incoming Wall Street analysts” via Amanda L. Gordon and Kate Krader of Bloomberg — Raise your hand, New Yorkers, if you want to move to Florida. Dan Sundheim is opening a Miami office for his hedge fund, and Goldman Sachs Group is looking for volunteers to relocate from the Big Apple to West Palm Beach. For the finance types thinking about a jaunt to the Sunshine State, though, the news raises a question: Where would they eat? Fear not. The list of New York City establishments that have opened or will be opening in Miami or Palm Beach gets longer every day. Major Food Group, the team behind Carbone, is actively pursuing sites in Palm Beach. Likewise, Stephen Starr, whose restaurant empire includes Buddakan, is also scoping out Palm Beach.
“Royal Caribbean announces return to cruising this summer — from the Bahamas” via Ron Hurtibise of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — It’s the news cruise enthusiasts have been waiting for a year: Royal Caribbean International has announced it will again sail from North America this summer. Well, technically. Actually, the cruise line says it will be running a schedule of seven-day sailings aboard its Adventure of the Seas ship from Nassau, Bahamas. Travelers will have to fly or find a separate water service to Nassau. Onboard capacity will be reduced. Health protocols will be in place, including mask-wearing and social distancing, except when sitting in restaurants or beaches.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Celebrating today are Anthony Rodriguez, Brian Blanco, former state Rep. Adam Hattersley, our friend Glen Gilzean, Karen Giorno, Zach Hubbard, Jena Kingery, Fred Menachem, Giancarlo Sopo, and Kristin Crawford Whitaker.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.