Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 3.26.21

Sunburn Orange Tally (4)
Florida politics and Sunburn — perfect together.

Florida voters think THC caps are a bad idea. They aren’t comfortable with the anti-riot bill. They don’t want anyone tooling around with Bright Futures, and they are highly skeptical of Republicans’ so-called election integrity bills.

In fact, according to a new St. Pete Polls survey, most voters think the state Legislature is doing a middling-to-poor job, and they don’t think much better of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

But there is one proposal that voters are keen on — reining-in Big Tech.

One thing Florida voters can agree upon, holding back Big Tech.

The survey of 1,923 voters across the state found nearly half think companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google have gone too far in censoring free speech and want lawmakers to clamp down on how they do business. About 34% disagree, while one in six voters are on the fence.

In this case, voter opinion lines up with lawmakers — and the Governor’s — priorities.

A proposal that would prevent social media platforms from removing candidates and journalistic enterprises and require them to publish and evenly apply their standards for censoring, “de-platforming,” and “shadow banning” users is moving through the House.

A second measure that would give Floridians the right to control how their personal data is shared and sold is also gaining traction.

Republicans are much more receptive to the plan. More than seven in 10 GOP voters say there should be a reckoning for tech companies, reflecting fears of so-called conservative censorship. Meanwhile, only 28% of Democrats want lawmakers to take action, while unaffiliated voters are split 46%-36%.

Majorities of White and Hispanic voters are also calling for change, though Black voters say there’s no problem. Somewhat surprisingly, women were more likely than men to put Big Tech in the crosshairs.

The St. Pete Polls survey was conducted March 22-24 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points at a 95% confidence level.

Check out the results of the rest of St. Pete Polls’ survey — including a preview of next year’s potential DeSantis vs. Nikki Fried matchup — on Florida Politics.

What will a Ron DeSantis/Nikki Fried matchup look like? Swing by Florida Politics to find out.

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How accurate is St. Pete Polls? Pretty accurate. — According to FiveThirtyEight, St. Pete Polls is one of the most accurate polling operations in the Sunshine State, or anywhere. FiveThirtyEight rates pollsters based on their historical accuracy and methodology. Based on an analysis of 21 St. Pete Polls surveys over the past five election cycles, FiveThirtyEight’s algorithm gives the pollster a ‘B+.’ The algorithm only includes nationally watched races, and of the few off-the-mark predictions on record, most were conducted in 2012. Read more about the rating methodology on FiveThirtyEight.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@GovRonDeSantis: I’m pleased to announce that beginning this Monday, March 29, all Floridians age 40 and older will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Beginning the following Monday, April 5, all Floridians age 18 and older will be eligible.

@CarlosGSmith: We all know what happened on Jan. 6th — an angry [Donald] Trump mob attacked the U.S. Capitol. If HB 1 is a response to that, as the GOP claims, why does it protect Confederate monuments from destruction and NOT the Florida House and Senate? It’s cuz HB 1 is about targeting BLM protesters.

@AnnaForFlorida: I thought #HB1 was supposed to help stop insurrections, and yet the bill doesn’t mention insurrections at all. Weird.

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

@RenzoDowney: The bill would prevent the Legislature from sweeping the affordable housing dollars, as is often done. But @DianneHartFL is asking whether this is effectively a permanent two-thirds sweep. Chair @JosieTomkow: “We’re not sweeping. We’re redirecting for critical issues.”

@GrayRohrer: So older millennials have one week to get the vaccine before it’s opened up to Gen Z? Fair warning: If any of you Tik-Tokkers get in my way, you’re going down.

Tweet, tweet:

@SheCarriesOn: Update: All amendments to Florida’s #HB1 by Democrats have failed, with the exception of one amendment by @AnnaForFlorida, which was “ruled out of order.”

— DAYS UNTIL —

2021 Florida Virtual Hemp Conference — 1; 2021 Florida Derby — 1; ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ premieres — 5; California theme parks begin to reopen — 6; MLB Opening Day — 6; Easter — 9; RNC spring donor summit — 14; 2021 WWE WrestleMania 37 begins — 15; Disneyland to open — 35; Mother’s Day — 44; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 45; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 63; Memorial Day — 66; Father’s Day — 86; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 98; 4th of July — 100; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 104; MLB All-Star Game in Atlanta — 108; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 119; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 127; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 151; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 161; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 182; ‘Dune’ premieres — 189; MLB regular season ends — 191; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 197; World Series Game 1 — 214; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 221; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 224; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 259; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 266; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 364; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 406; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 469; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 560; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 595.

— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —

Senate ditches controversial toll road plan” via Jim Turner of The News Service of Florida — The Florida Senate approved a proposal to scale back a controversial toll-road plan that was a priority of a former Senate President. Senators voted 39-1 to pass SB 100 that would do away with much of the plan — dubbed the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance, or M-CORES — pushed through in 2019 by then-President Bill Galvano. Senate Transportation Chair Gayle Harrell, who is sponsoring the bill, said the COVID-19 pandemic had required a reevaluation of state priorities and that her proposal draws upon the recommendations of task forces that looked at the road projects last year. The pandemic has really required that we reevaluate things,” Harrell said. “And one of the things that I really believe that is both a policy and a budget issue is M-CORES.”

Gayle Harrell is putting Bill Galvano’s priority project on the road to nowhere. Image via Colin Hackley.

Anti-riot bill gets first look, awaits full vote in House” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Democrats stood helpless Thursday as Republicans marched DeSantis’ anti-riot bill onto the House floor, tacking on several amendments that tighten the bill’s grip over demonstrators and municipalities. The bill (HB 1) is among the most contentious proposals of the 2021 Legislative Session. It contains a slew of provisions that aim to thwart public disorder. Among them, it would stiffen penalties against rioters and allow state leaders to overrule a municipality’s decision to slash police budgets. The proposal, which motored through the Legislature’s committee process, is a Republican priority. Throughout the process, Democrats have struggled to slow or otherwise reshape the legislation.

House takes up COVID-19 liability protections” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The House glanced at a Senate bill on Thursday that would establish COVID-19 liability protections for businesses and health care providers such as nursing homes. Lawmakers asked few questions before rolling the bill (SB 72) on the third reading. Sen. Jeff Brandes is the bill sponsor. Under the proposal, a plaintiff would need to prove with “clear and convincing evidence” that a defendant acted with “gross negligence” when filing a COVID-19 related lawsuit. The bill’s protections would become applicable if a defendant made a “good-faith effort” to substantially comply with government health guidelines.

Senate votes to abolish Constitution Revision Commission” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The Senate has voted to abolish the controversial Constitution Revision Commission, which both sides of the aisle agree needs reform. But Republicans and Democrats disagree on the approach. The Senate’s measure (SJR 204), by Brandes, would fully repeal the Commission. Some Democrats have argued in favor of restricting the commission’s ability to propose constitutional amendments but not fully dismantling it. By a 27-12 vote on Thursday, Republicans and Democratic Sens. Audrey Gibson, Jason Pizzo and Linda Stewart voted to pass the resolution. If the House approves it, the question would appear before voters on the 2022 ballot. The public would need to approve it by a 60% vote.

Agency cuts coming to light as House starts budget rollout” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — State agencies will see large cuts in the infrastructure and tourism section of the state budget. The House Infrastructure and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee, under the leadership of Chair Jayer Williamson, laid out its proposed $13.6 billion spending plan for the infrastructure and tourism silo, which included significant reductions to agency budgets. That followed the Senate Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee outlining its plan the day before. DeSantis called for state agencies to hold back 6% of their budgets from the current fiscal year, which continues through June. 

Plan to shift money draws affordable housing concerns” via Jim Turner of The News Service of Florida — Despite an outcry from environmentalists and Realtors, the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee voted 10-5 along party lines to support PCB ANR 21-01, which would redesignate portions of documentary-stamp taxes collected on real estate transactions. The money currently is for affordable-housing programs in the Sadowski Trust Fund. That trust fund is an annual target of lawmakers who divert — or “sweep” — money to help pay for programs not related to affordable housing. House Speaker Chris Sprowls has made addressing sea level rise a priority, and Senate President Wilton Simpson has prioritized wastewater upgrades. The plan would earmark one-third of the documentary-stamp money for sea-level rise projects, one-third for sewage projects, and one-third for housing.

Florida lawmakers want residents, and not companies, to foot bill for unemployment fund” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — The estimated $1 billion raised each year would then go to replenish the unemployment trust fund and spare businesses from paying more into that fund. Under the proposal, companies would keep paying the minimum $7 unemployment insurance rate per employee per year, among the lowest in the nation, until 2025. They would avoid an increase to a minimum of $87 per employee next year under an automatic schedule that changes with the unemployment rate. Not everybody is happy. Although Senators didn’t oppose requiring the collection of online sales taxes, Democrats opposed using the money for what they said was a “bailout” for the state’s largest corporations, which stand to benefit the most from the plan since they have the most employees.

Proposed House budget would fully fund Florida Forever while the Senate proposes 50% cut” Via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee unveiled its fiscal year budget for 2021-22, topping out around $4.1 billion. The budget is “slightly lower” than last year, according to Committee Chairwoman Rep. Josie Tomkow. Highlights of this year’s budget include Everglades restoration and protection of Florida’s water resources. Funding to improve water quality in the state was also a feature of DeSantis’ budget proposal.

Josie Tomkow wants to fund Florida Forever fully. The Senate disagrees. Image via Colin Hackley.

House eyes cuts for nursing homes, hospitals” via Christine Sexton of The News Service of Florida — The House rolled out a health care spending proposal that includes deep cuts, including slicing Medicaid reimbursements to nursing homes by 2%, or $80.4 million in state and federal funding. The proposal, unveiled by Health Care Appropriations Chair Bryan Avila, would spend less than what the Senate has proposed. Florida Health Care Association President Emmett Reed said the proposed Medicaid cuts to nursing homes would translate to about a $125,000 reduction in payments per facility per year. Similar to the Senate proposal, the House health care plan recommended reducing Medicaid payments for inpatient and outpatient hospital care by $288 million. The House plan proposes eliminating $226 million from what the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida calls the “critical care fund.”

Assignment editors — DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault will hold a roundtable, 10 a.m., Port Canaveral Cruise Terminal 3 (CT3), 40 George Kind Blvd., Port Canaveral. The media should turn left into the CT3 parking garage and proceed to level 3. Use the pedestrian bridge to enter the terminal building.

— TALLY 2 —

Jim Boyd’s insurance reform headed for full Senate vote” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The Senate Rules Committee advanced a major reform to Florida’s homeowner insurance laws aimed at keeping premiums from rising. Sen. Boyd, a Bradenton Republican, said lawsuits against insurance companies caused a massive loss for domestic insurance carriers in Florida. His bill (SB 76) would limit attorney multiplier fees, an uncertain cost for policy-writers to account for while setting rates. It also allows for roofing policies that allow a depreciated payout instead of a full replacement cost for roofs more than 10 years old. “We are in a crisis now for our homeowners market,” Boyd said. Boyd, an insurance agent by trade, said his own renewal rates on his policy leapt 40% this year. But Democrats argued the legislation aims at the wrong cause for litigation costs.

Jim Boyd’s insurance reform is hitting the Senate floor.

Guns in churches bill teed up for final House vote” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — The House is ready to vote on a measure allowing gun owners to carry a gun in church even if a school is on-premise. The bill (HB 259) originated in the Education and Employment Committee and is sponsored by Rep. Jayer Williamson. During the second reading Thursday, no amendments were offered. Questions took less than four minutes. Williamson said the bill simply would fix a glitch in current law, which effectively bans armed security guards at churches that have schools on their grounds. “While it will always be painted as a gun rights bill, this is a private property rights issue,” Williamson said.

Small Business Saturday tax break bill clears second committee” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — Small businesses could catch a break this holiday season in the form of a tax break. Sen. Annette Taddeo sponsored a bill (SB 302) to allow a “tax holiday” for small businesses. During a Saturday in late-November small businesses would not have to collect state and county sales taxes. The day would coincide with “Small Business Saturday,” which takes place the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The Senate Finance and Tax Committee voted unanimously to advance the legislation. It was the second Senate committee to do so. Taddeo said small businesses need the holiday because of COVID-19.

Bike seat bill ready for Senate floor — A bill that would scratch out an obscure rule prohibiting seatless bicycles is ready for a vote on the Senate floor. The bill, SB 738 by Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, is only a few lines long and would allow Floridians to ride seatless bikes if they were “designed by the manufacturer to be ridden without a seat.” Current law says people can only ride “upon or astride a permanent and regular seat.” California is the only other state that disallows seatless bike riding, and their statute has the “designed that way” carveout. The bill cleared the Senate Rules Committee, its final stop, on Thursday with a unanimous vote. The House companion, HB 353, is also awaiting a floor vote.

— TALLY 3 —

Procedural maneuvering sparks feud in the Senate — Senators publicly quarreled about procedural moves that could help controversial proposals dodge the committee process. As reported by Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida, Republican Brandes and Senate Democratic Leader Gary Farmer found themselves unlikely allies after a couple of precedent-breaking moves — the first to shutter four prisons through budget language and the second to take up a House bill in committee that had stalled out in the Senate. The latter strategy bypasses the required two-thirds floor vote for the chamber to pass a bill that has not moved through committee. It’s possible the same strategy could be used to advance the anti-riot bill (HB 1), which Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chair Jason Pizzo, a Democrat, has refused to hear. 

Procedural moves make strange bedfellows.

Do state legislators want to do your city’s job? Yes, often” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Tampa Bay Times — If Tallahassee gets its way, there would be no need for any candidate for local office to campaign to influence the following: police budgets, public health crises, vacation rentals, design and construction of new buildings, regulating home-based businesses, restricting crowds of cruise-ship tourists and local consumption of fossil fuels. All those decisions would be made by the GOP-led Florida Legislature if a growing list of bills aimed at preempting local control is passed this session. They are all part of an increasing trend by the Republican leaders of the 160-member Legislature to shift control of controversial issues to them from more than 400 cities and 67 counties. 

Florida’s mental health needs appear large, but Legislature’s actions seem small” via Kirby Wilson of the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times — Republicans, Democrats and experts agree the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on Floridians’ mental health. In a state that already ranks last in per capita mental health funding, experts and lawmakers fear an overwhelming post-pandemic demand for services. But if the talk coming from Tallahassee about mental health is dramatic, the solutions that are getting serious consideration this Legislative Session are not. Florida’s mental health and substance abuse treatment network is a patchwork of services spread across several state agencies. The Legislature is not looking to break down these structural barriers this session. Instead, lawmakers are advancing a series of more marginal reforms.

— TALLY 4 —

FRLA welcomes expanded vax eligibility — The Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association said the Governor’s announcement that Floridians 18-and-up will be able to get vaccinated on April 5 is a “huge victory.” FRLA President and CEO Carol Dover said the trade group has “advocated every single day for policies and practices that would help our restaurants, hotels, and suppliers survive this crisis and begin to rebuild.” Opening vaccinations up to all adults, she said, would build consumer confidence and help restaurants and hotels go from surviving to thriving. “Opening the vaccines to residents age 18 and older in the coming days is a huge victory for our hospitality industry, not just for our guests, but for our 1.5 million employees,” Dover said.

Floridians for Lawsuit Reform urges lawmakers to support property insurance reform — Following the Senate Rules Committee’s affirmative vote on a property insurance revamp bill (SB 76), Floridians for Lawsuit Reform executive director David Santiago implored the chamber to move it through its next stop — the Senate floor. “We thank the Florida Senate for acting urgently to protect Floridians from more billion-dollar rate increases by supporting reforms that stop frivolous litigation, out-of-control attorneys’ fees, and fraud. Without the help of the Legislature this year, Florida’s property insurance market will be on the verge of collapse, leaving ratepayers to foot the bill and putting their homeowners’ insurance policies at risk. We appreciate the tireless efforts of Sen. Boyd to stand up for ratepayers and hope to see SB 76 swiftly passed by the full Senate.”

David Santiago is urging the Senate to take up Jim Boyd’s insurance reform.

FBHA down on Senate’s behavioral health budget cut — The Florida Behavioral Health Association says the Senate’s slashed mental health and substance abuse spending plan could cost lives. “Across the state, the mental health of thousands of people has suffered due to this unprecedented pandemic we have lived through over the last year,” said Melanie Brown-Woofter, FBHA’s president and CEO. “The demand for mental health and substance use services has never been higher. The Senate’s budget reduction in funding for these services puts thousands of Floridians lives at risk.” The organization said the services provided by FBHA’s member clinics save lives, and adequate funding is critical to their continued success.

‘Shut out’: As lawmakers work, Florida Capitol COVID-19 restrictions leave some feeling excluded” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — The Florida House and Senate have put in place rules for public participation this session to curtail the spread of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, the potentially fatal disease that it causes. The Capitol is still closed to the general public. What those new restrictions also largely prevent is the chance to meet lawmakers, visit or drop off material at their offices, or even run into them in The Capitol halls. The House, for instance, requires people wanting to attend a hearing to register for limited seats with a deadline of three hours before the start time. And the Senate has secured meeting rooms in the Civic Center, also where the Florida State University basketball teams play so that people can speak on bills remotely.

Legislators bigfoot local government to benefit big-money developers” via Craig Pittman of the Florida Phoenix — Florida is an exceptional state in so many ways. We’re the only state where iguanas pop up in people’s toilets. We’re the only one where the list of state park jobs includes “mermaid.” And we can boast that we’ve got not one, not two, not three, but four Bigfoots (Bigfeet?). Other states have, at best, only one of the hairy yeti. But Central Florida is home to the elusive Bardin Booger, South Florida marks the stomping grounds of the odoriferous Skunk Ape, and Jackson County, in the Panhandle, has its Ocheesee Pond Wild Man. The fourth one? You can find that one in Tallahassee — it’s the Florida Legislature.

— LOBBY REGS —

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

David Browning, David Hagan, The Southern Group: TECO Energy, United States Sugar Corporation

Christopher Carmody, Carlecia Collins, George Levesque, Joseph Salzverg, Robert Stuart, GrayRobinson: CareerSource Pinellas

Marisa Carrozzo: The Conservancy of Southwest Florida

Alfreda Coward, Converge Government Affairs of Florida: Florida Chiropractic Society

Caroline DeBerry: Remote Area Medical

Robert Holroyd, Tripp Scott: AgEagle Aerial Systems, Florida House Experience, Florida Power & Light Company

Corinne Mixon, Rutledge Ecenia: Scholastic

Steve Schale, Stephen Shiver, Sarah Busk Suskey, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: Amplify Education

Crystal Stickle, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Strong Communities of Southwest Florida

— LEG. SKED —

The Revenue Estimating Conference will discuss fiscally constrained counties and analyze the fiscal impacts of proposed legislation. They will meet at 8:30 a.m. in Room 117 of the Knott Building. REC will also meet at 2 p.m. to discuss the state’s unemployment trust fund.

The House will hold a floor Session at 9:15 a.m.

The Department of Economic Opportunity is scheduled to release February unemployment numbers at 10 a.m.


— TALLY MADNESS —

TallyMadness entered Round 3 this morning.

The March Madness-style competition to decide who is the “best” lobbyist in Florida tipped off a week ago with 64 in-house lobbyists. After two rounds, just 16 remain.

Just like its NCAA cousin, the TallyMadness wouldn’t be TallyMadness without some major upsets.

Round 2 delivered one of those in the matchup between Stephanie Kopelousos of the Governor’s office and Stephanie Smith, who represents Anthem. It’s no secret we’re Smith fans, but if she had to go out, at least she took the L against Stephanie K — it’s what the SEC football crowd might call a “quality loss.”

Less shocking: Justin Thames victory over Disney lobbyist Leticia Adams. Thames, who represents the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants, made it all the way to the title game last year, and TallyMadness fans appear determined to make the 2020 runner-up the 2021 champ. Adams was a tough competitor — her employer hosted the NBA bubble, after all — but sometimes the iron is unkind.

TallyMadness Sweet 16 is now underway! Vote early, vote often!

Florida School Boards Association lobbyist BillieAnne Gay also has unfinished business. She was a Final Four contender last year, but a second-round match against AIF’s Brewster Bevis, the in-house lobbyist equivalent of a blue blood, had all the trappings of an upset. However, Bevis couldn’t break her stride, and she’s now one step closer to the title.

John Holley represents Florida Power & Light, and it appears he’s learned a thing or two about putting on an electric performance. Round 1 saw him score a double-digit win over the Florida Bankers Association’s Anthony DiMarco. Florida Dental Association lobbyist Jo Anne Hart didn’t slow him down. We said from the start — if we seeded lobbyists, Holley would have been a No. 1.

Danielle Scoggins of the Florida Association of Realtors is quickly becoming a fan favorite. After knocking out AFP-FL state director Skylar Zander in Round 1, she bounced Florida Hospital Association lobbyist David Mica Jr. out of contention in Round 2 to punch her ticket to the Sweet 16.

Round 3 voting is underway. Fill out your brackets before the clock hits triple zeros Sunday night at midnight. The Elite Eight set will be announced in Monday’s Sunburn.

— STATEWIDE —

Florida family to get $2 million after student choked to death on chicken nugget” via Scott Travis of the Orlando Sentinel — A year and a half after Kedar Williams, a 19-year-old student with autism, died at his high school while not being watched, the Palm Beach County School Board has agreed to pay his family $2 million. The settlement, approved Wednesday, also sets up a mandatory training program named in Williams’ honor for principals, teachers, and other employees who work with special needs students. “His parents are pleased not only with the settlement, but they are most proud of the fact they fought for their son and fought for a training program designed to address the deficiencies that led to Kedar’s death,” said Sia Baker-Barnes, a lawyer who represents his mother, Megan Williams, and estate.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

COVID-19 in Florida: 5,773 new infections, 107 more residents dead” via Tiffini Theisen of the Orlando Sentinel — As of Thursday’s report, the latest seven-day case count is 33,312, compared to the seven days before that, which was 31,466. For deaths, it’s 359 in the past seven days, compared with 558 for the seven days before that. Each report includes deaths from several previous days, as it can take two weeks or more for fatalities to be logged. Statewide, 5,346,471 people have received at least one vaccination shot, including 2,919,263 who have completed their shot regimen, whether it’s the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna option or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Ron DeSantis eliminates age restrictions for COVID-19 vaccine. 18+ eligible April 5” via Jeffrey Schweers of USA Today — DeSantis announced on Thursday he will eliminate the age restriction for the COVID vaccine as of April 5. Meanwhile, as of Monday, anyone 40 and older can make an appointment for the vaccine. And starting April 5, anyone 18 and older can apply for an appointment. “Florida’s Senior First vaccine strategy is paying off,” DeSantis said in a video announcing the decision. He said more than 3.2 million people 65 and older, or over 70% of the state’s seniors, have been vaccinated. 

Tweet, tweet:

Florida health experts blast DeSantis’ backers of ‘immunity through infection’” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — There has been no more controversial COVID-19 pandemic theory than herd immunity through “natural infection,” the idea that lifting all coronavirus restrictions and letting the virus run through the lower-risk under-60 population is the best way for people to become immune. DeSantis hasn’t openly espoused it, but almost all of his actions over the past year, including pushing for Florida to be “open” and dismissing local mask mandates, could be considered in alignment with it. On March 18, DeSantis held his second roundtable with some of its biggest proponents and touted their comments as proof he had deftly handled the pandemic.

Here’s how people 18 and older can get on a COVID-19 vaccine waitlist in Florida” via Michelle Marchante of the Miami Herald — All Floridians 18 and older will soon be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine. And you don’t have to wait until April 5 to sign up for a shot. Florida has a statewide preregistration system that allows you to sign up for a vaccination waitlist. Anyone who pre-registers for a vaccine appointment will be notified when slots become available. While proof of Florida residency is required, you don’t have to get the shot in the county you live in. Anyone who pre-registers through Florida’s statewide system will be put on a waitlist for state-run sites. The website is myvaccine.fl.gov. You can also preregister by phone. To find the designated number for a county, visit floridahealthcovid19.gov.

Publix seeks to muzzle parties in coronavirus wrongful death suit” via Natalie Weber of the Tampa Bay Times — Publix is asking a judge to silence a South Florida woman and her lawyer who claim the grocery chain is responsible for the death of a former deli worker at the start of the pandemic. The lawsuit brought by Ariane Gutierrez claims the company prohibited her 70-year-old father, Gerardo Gutierrez, from wearing a mask at a Miami Beach store. It claims the father, Gerardo Gutierrez, contracted COVID-19 from a co-worker and died. In its motion, Publix said the claim is “littered with inflammatory and wholly unsupported rhetoric.” It accused the daughter and her lawyer, Michael Levine, of leveraging the press to influence potential jurors and sway public opinion.

Publix tries to silence the family of Gerardo Gutierrez, who caught COVID-19 from a co-worker and died.

Young adults about COVID vaccines: We don’t want shots, we don’t need shots. Yet they make up majority of virus cases” via Cindy Krischer Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — While older Floridians clamor for the vaccines that could prevent them from becoming severely ill and dying from COVID-19, young adults are indifferent, unconvinced the vaccines are necessary. They dismiss the urgency of getting vaccinated, rely heavily on peers and social media for vaccination advice — and seem unaware their rejection of the vaccine could lengthen the course of the pandemic. Consider the role they play: Young adults 25-34 make up the largest percentage of COVID cases in Florida. With Florida reporting the highest number of the UK variant anywhere in the nation, people in this age group also make up most of those cases. In Florida’s beach towns, young adults crowd together unmasked, likely spreading the virus while not showing symptoms.

— CORONA LOCAL —

South Florida’s daily COVID-19 death toll spikes, pushes region past 11K lives lost” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — South Florida’s tri-county area recorded 44 new COVID-19 deaths Thursday, putting the area above 11,000 total deaths since the pandemic began. Thursday’s COVID-19 report from the Department of Health showed the region’s highest daily death toll in more than two weeks. Those reports only note when those deaths were registered, not necessarily when they occurred. Despite the weeks-high total Thursday, deaths are still down week-to-week in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. The massive overall death toll shows the devastating impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. But the last few weeks have shown good news, with deaths trending downward and the vaccine effort continuing to hit new milestones.

‘COVID’s over, baby!’ So who was the flag-waving Joker at Miami Beach for Spring Break?” via Madeleine Marr of the Miami Herald — The so-called Miami Joker managed to shock even the most jaded of locals accustomed to out-of-control partyers over the years. Images of the shirtless, green-haired man painted like the sinister Batman character standing on top of a car waving the American flag, screaming “COVID is over, baby!” splashed all over social media. So who is this guy, and what is his deal? Sleuths at The Daily Beast tracked down the individual: Kyle Mrzena, originally from Chicago. He said, “I am a content producer trying to be an influencer. I am documenting Spring Break for the American people so they can see that it is open down here and there is a place for you to lose yourself.”

‘COVID’s over?’ Some joker from Chicago visits Miami Beach for Spring Break.

Hillsborough Co. reaches 300K people vaccinated against COVID-19” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Hillsborough County has officially vaccinated 302,356 individuals. The county crossed the marker on Wednesday when it administered 5,466 new vaccinations. So far, 142,411 individuals have been fully vaccinated in the county, including 14,088 who have received the one-and-done Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The remaining 159,945 individuals are awaiting a second vaccine to complete the Pfizer or Moderna two-shot series. Pinellas County is a bit behind its neighbor in the number of individuals who have been inoculated, so far having vaccinated 268,005 people. However, it actually tops Hillsborough in the number of fully vaccinated individuals, with 146,051 people who have completed their vaccination series and only leaving 121,954 still awaiting a second dose.

— CORONA NATION —

Joe Biden commits $10 billion to close racial and other gaps in vaccine coverage” via Isaac Stanley-Becker of The Washington Post — The Biden administration is committing nearly $10 billion to address a problem that has bedeviled health officials overseeing the coronavirus immunization effort: inequities in vaccine coverage based on race, income and geography. Deploying funding largely from the pandemic aid plan that cleared Congress this month, the administration will invest more than $6 billion in community health centers and make front-line essential workers and all people 16 and older with high-risk medical conditions eligible for vaccination at such sites. 

Joe Biden commits billions to close the racial gap in vaccinations. Image via AP.

Will the U.S. follow Europe into another COVID-19 surge?” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — The COVID-19 numbers are trending in the right direction. Cases per 100,000 residents across the country are about one-fifth of what they were in January. Deaths have taken a similar nose dive in the last two months. While rocky and disjointed at times, the vaccination effort has picked up steam, with an increasing supply promised for the coming weeks. But the crisis isn’t over, and it’s no time to get complacent. There are still too many new COVID-19 cases and too many people dying. Just look at our European allies, many of which are experiencing another COVID-19 wave. The number of new cases in the 27 countries that make up the European Union peaked in November, fell into December, and bounced around in January. 

COVID-19 impact: Work from home more appealing than return to ‘business as usual,’ Harvard survey shows” via Terry Collins of USA Today — Despite potentially longer hours, most Americans enjoy working remotely and want the option to keep doing so after the pandemic, according to a new Harvard Business School Online survey. As COVID-19 forced companies to let employees work remotely and presented new challenges such as readjusting their home life and fighting Zoom fatigue from numerous virtual meetings, most of the 1,500 people surveyed say they excelled and even grew in their professions. “I think it’s a combination of factors, like a Jekyll and Hyde, so to speak,” said Patrick Mullane, the school’s executive director. 

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

Jobless claims dropped below 14K last week” via the News Service of Florida — New unemployment claims continue to slow in Florida, with an estimated 13,892 coming in last week, the lowest weekly figure since the coronavirus pandemic began more than a year ago. The U.S. Department of Labor’s estimate for Florida for the week ending March 20 was down from a revised count of 20,340 for the week ending March 13. The initial estimate for the week of March 13 was 16,709 applications. The Department of Labor posted 684,000 new claims nationally last week, down 97,000 from the prior week. Since the start of February, Florida has averaged 19,205 new claims a week, after topping 50,000 a week in January as layoffs occurred at places such as theme parks in Central Florida.

Darden Restaurants gives restaurant workers $17 million in bonuses and commits to $10 minimum wage” via Austin Fuller of the Orlando Sentinel — Orlando-based Darden Restaurants revealed Thursday it is paying $17 million in bonuses to hourly restaurant workers and planning to ensure that none of its staff make less than $10 per hour. The owner of Olive Garden and other chain restaurants also reported total sales were $1.73 billion in the quarter ending Feb. 28, down 26.1% compared with that time a year ago, shortly before the full onset across the United States of the coronavirus pandemic. Still, net earnings from continuing operations were $129 million. The bonuses are for nearly 90,000 employees. They will be paid on April 2 and are based on the average weekly hours worked over the quarter, with a minimum of 10 hours per week, Jeffers said.

Darden employees are getting a boost.

Left in the lurch by private loans from for-profit colleges” via Sarah Butrymowicz and Meredith Kolodner of The New York Times — Hundreds of thousands of students have borrowed directly from for-profit colleges. These direct-lending programs have proliferated in the last decade and almost never come with the safeguards guaranteed by federal loans. Many students are unable to make their monthly payments, leaving their credit ruined and their financial and professional futures in grave doubt. Direct lending by for-profit schools boomed during the Great Recession, in part because private lenders stopped or curtailed what they offered, and it has spread steadily since. Without government oversight, for-profit colleges have lent at least $4 billion, and potentially much more that has gone untracked. The colleges plan for many of these loans to go unpaid — a core feature of their business models.

— MORE CORONA —

Some people are lying to get vaccinated, and it’s testing their friendships” via Ashley Fetters of The Washington Post — Twitter users have been venting all month long about watching their friends and loved ones lie to get the coveted jab: “I’m out here trying to decide if my heart condition is condition enough; my best friend just lied about being pregnant to be eligible,” wrote one. “A healthy, 30[-year-old] friend of mine just told me that he lied & claimed a fake medical condition to get the vaccine early. I don’t know exactly what to think,” wrote another. Trevor Noah referred to the coronavirus vaccine on an episode of “The Daily Show” as “that thing you’re pretty sure your friend lied to get.” Even public health officials have acknowledged that the existing systems are easy to abuse.

COVID-19 vaccines, the one your friend lied to get. Image via Reuters.

Few facts, millions of clicks: Fearmongering vaccine stories go viral online” via Miles Parks of NPR — The odds of dying after getting a COVID-19 vaccine is virtually nonexistent. According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you’re three times more likely to get struck by lightning. But you might not know that from looking at your social media feed. A new NPR analysis finds that articles connecting vaccines and death have been among the most highly engaged-with content online this year, going viral in a way that could hinder people’s ability to judge the true risk of getting a shot. To date, the CDC’s reporting system has not received evidence linking any deaths directly to vaccines.

The case for vaccinating children for COVID-19” via Marty Makary and Nicole Saphier for The Washington Post — As COVID-19 vaccines become more accessible, the next big question will soon take center stage: Should kids be vaccinated? The answer is probably yes, assuming the virus will circulate for years to come and that vaccine trials for kids prove safe and effective. To understand why, here are some important data points to consider. Skeptics of vaccinating children are likely to point out that COVID-19 deaths among children are rare. But this is only part of the story. The severe illness and intensive care associated with some pediatric COVID-19 infections could lead to significant long-term problems. 

— PRESIDENTIAL —

In first press conference, Biden talks immigration, filibuster, China, vaccination goal” via Matthew Brown, Maureen Groppe, Joey Garrison, Michael Collins and Courtney Subramanian of USA Today — Biden held his first solo news conference as President Thursday afternoon as new challenges on gun control and an influx of migrants at the southern U.S. border add to an already busy agenda. Biden took longer than his predecessors, Trump and Barack Obama, to formally address the White House press corps, fueling extra intrigue and turning the outing into a highly anticipated event. The President made news on several issues, including insights into his legislative priorities, foreign policy, and the administration’s handling of unaccompanied migrant children at the border. Biden spoke for a little over an hour and fielded a range of issues. 

In his first official news conference, Joe Biden takes on a range of issues. Image via AP.

Biden meets the press, and the pandemic disappears” via Anita Kumar of POLITICO — During the first news conference of his presidency, Biden was never asked about the issue that likely got him elected and, in all likelihood, will be the defining crisis of his time in office. Over the course of 62 minutes on Thursday, the COVID-19 pandemic never arose, except for in the President’s remarks at the start of the event, touting the accomplishments his administration has made in the U.S.’s yearlong fight. The absence of the issue from the news conference illustrates the degree to which a host of other challenges have begun to dominate Biden’s time in office: a surge of migrants crossing the southern border, back-to-back mass shootings, and efforts to restrict voting in Republican statehouses.

Biden calls efforts to limit voting rights ‘un-American’ in his first formal news conference as President.” via Michael D. Shear and Zolan Kanno-Youngs of The New York Times — Biden called efforts to limit voting rights “sick” and “un-American,” saying that even Republican voters view actions that make it harder for people to cast ballots as “despicable” attempts to undermine democracy. Speaking to reporters in his first formal news conference, Biden said the filibuster was being “abused in a gigantic way” and signaled that he would be open to more aggressive steps to limit or abolish it, starting with a proposal that would require Senators to keep talking to block legislation.

U.S. on pace to clear Biden’s new goal of 200 million coronavirus shots in his first 100 days” via Isaac Stanley-Becker and Lena H. Sun of The Washington Post — Biden’s first vaccine promise — 100 million shots in his first 100 days — was met 42 days early. So on Thursday, he doubled it, saying 200 million doses will have been administered under his presidency by April 30. The nation is already poised to meet the revised target, as the seven-day average of daily vaccinations surpasses 2.5 million. Vaccine supply is also expected to expand in April, prompting numerous states to throw open eligibility to everyone 16 and older. The new goal, then, is similar to the original. The approach is consistent with the President’s under-promising and over-delivering strategy after the previous administration tied itself in knots with unrealistic vaccine availability estimates.

Biden promises to tackle the nation’s crises, but says some may wait” via Sean Sullivan and Seung Min Kim of The Washington Post — Biden on Thursday set a hierarchy for the country’s numerous crises, pledging to administer 200 million coronavirus vaccine shots by the end of April, repair the country’s infrastructure and move aggressively to expand voting rights — while presenting guns and immigration as secondary priorities. In his first presidential news conference, Biden outlined a sort of triage, signaling that his focus, for now, is chiefly on addressing the pandemic and embarking on a push to rebuild roads, bridges and technology. He said most middle and elementary schools are on pace to open in the next five weeks, that he “can’t picture” troops being in Afghanistan in a year, and that he expects to seek reelection in 2024.

Biden tries to stem border surge with diplomacy, more shelter space” via Michelle Hackman and Tarini Parti of The Wall Street Journal — Biden sees few short-term options to slow the surge of migrants at the border as a record number of unaccompanied minors cross each day illegally and the total number of border crossings this year is on pace to hit a two-decade high. The situation is creating a sharp political and policy challenge in Biden’s first months in office. Facing growing bipartisan pressure, the administration is ramping up its diplomatic efforts and racing to find more space to hold migrants as it tries to tackle the surge of asylum-seekers at the border without turning to the aggressive deterrence strategies of previous administrations. Biden hopes to stem the flow of migrants before they arrive at the U.S. border.

Biden wants to keep Donald Trump policy that boosted armed drone exports” via Mike Stone of Reuters — The Biden administration wants to keep a controversial Trump policy that jump-started sales of armed drones to countries whose human rights records are under scrutiny in the United States and elsewhere. When Trump’s administration reinterpreted the Cold War-era arms agreement between 35 nations known as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) to increase drone sales, arms control advocates, and some top Democratic lawmakers feared it would worsen global conflicts. While it’s too early to tell if that is the case, sales have risen.

Biden says it’s his ‘expectation’ to run for reelection in 2024” via Ursula Perano of Axios — Biden on Thursday said it’s his “expectation” to run for reelection in 2024, and that he “would fully expect” Vice President Kamala Harris to be his running mate again. There’s been widespread speculation that Biden may only serve one four-year term due to age or other reasons. The President has not yet set up a reelection campaign for a 2024 bid. Biden did leave room for doubt, stating, “I’m a great respecter of fate. I’ve never been able to plan four and a half, three and a half years ahead for certain.”

Joe Biden ‘expects’ to run again, but is a big believer in fate. Image via AP.

‘The art of the possible’: Biden lays out pragmatic vision for his presidency” via Matt Viser and Annie Linskey of The Washington Post — The arc of history, in Biden’s view, comes down to pragmatism. It explains how he has approached his opening months in office. It illustrates how he can describe some Republican policies as “sick” and “un-American” while not doing everything in his power to stop them immediately. He called the filibuster a racist relic of Jim Crow while also insisting that he wasn’t ready to remove it entirely. Amid questions of whether Biden will be transformational or transitional — whether he’s a strong-armed, deal making man of the Senate like Lyndon B. Johnson or a New Deal, government-spending President like Franklin D. Roosevelt — the hourlong session with reporters revealed how Biden is attempting to be a combination, with his own twists.

— EPILOGUE TRUMP —

Jimmy Patronis welcomes Trump to launch social media venture in Florida” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Patronis is rolling out the red carpet for Trump, encouraging the Republican real estate mogul to launch his new digital media venture in the Sunshine State. The CFO’s letter comes after a series of reports claiming Trump is planning to launch a social media platform in the near future. Florida, Patronis wrote, is waiting with open arms. “I want to do everything possible to ensure this new venture happens in Florida,” Patronis wrote. Trump’s social media presence all but vanished following the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Several died in the siege.

Jimmy Patronis welcomes Donald Trump’s social media venture with open arms.

Trump’s secret sit-down with Ohio candidates turns into ‘Hunger Games’” via Alex Isenstadt of POLITICO — Trump was headlining a fundraiser on Wednesday night at his golf club in West Palm Beach. But before the dinner began, the former President had some business to take care of. What ensued was a 15-minute backroom backbiting session reminiscent of Trump’s reality TV show. The scene illustrated what has become a central dynamic in the nascent 2022 race. In virtually every Republican primary, candidates are jockeying, auditioning, and fighting for the former President’s backing.

Trump-inspired Republican Senate candidates create early tensions over direction of the party” via Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post — More than a year ahead of the first state primaries, hard-edge pro-Trump conservatives are rushing into Republican Senate races that have been upended by the impending retirements of veteran lawmakers, heralding a long battle ahead over the direction of the GOP, with not only control of the Senate but the tenor of the nation’s politics at stake. Several GOP operatives, speaking on the condition of anonymity to candidly describe internal thinking, said the emerging field of Republican candidates is raising concerns.

Anti-Biden flags with profanity fly over some Floridians’ homes” via Tiffini Theisen of the Orlando Sentinel — In the place of some Trump 2020 flags, a new flag with an anti-Biden message is becoming popular in some Florida neighborhoods. John Strasburger of Cape Coral told Fox4Now that his “F*** Biden” flag is simply him “exercising my right of freedom of speech.” “I feel the election was stolen; I think the evidence was there to prove it,” he told the TV station. Strasburger’s neighbor Tony Paparone, who also has one of the flags, said a woman who lives nearby expressed concern over small children seeing the items.

— CRISIS —

Boulder and Atlanta shootings rekindle debate over red-flag gun laws” via Derek Hawkins of The Washington Post — Back-to-back mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder in less than a week have revived debate over red-flag laws that allow authorities to seize firearms from people considered dangerous to themselves or others. The laws are among the only firearm policies supported by both gun-control advocates and the gun rights community, largely because they work on a case-by-case basis. Whether the renewed efforts stemming from the Atlanta and Boulder attacks gain traction remains an open question. While red-flag laws received a surge of support three years ago, even the shock of two deadly shooting rampages in the span of a week may not be enough to jolt state legislatures into action this time.

The Boulder mass shooting pushes red-flag laws back into the spotlight. Image via CNN.

House chamber hardened with bulletproof doors” via Kadia Goba of Axios — The House chamber is being transformed into a massive safe room for members with the addition of bulletproof doors. One of the most dramatic images from the Jan. 6 attack was Capitol Police officers inside the chamber holding protesters at bay by pointing their guns at them after they broke windows in the doors. The new doors will provide fresh fortification. A reporter leaving The Capitol saw workers removing doors on one of the double-doored entrances to the gallery one level above the floor of the chamber. Some members huddled there on Jan. 6.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Rolling back a rollback: Pete Buttigieg deletes some Trump-era limits on regulation” via Michael Laris of The Washington Post — Buttigieg moved to undo key deregulatory actions by the Trump administration, an overhaul that department officials said was necessary to address challenges that include climate change, racial injustices, the coronavirus pandemic and the economy. In an obscure but potent bureaucratic step, Buttigieg formally deleted many internal departmental rules and policies put in place under his predecessor, Elaine Chao, that were part of the Trump administration’s push to pare back regulations, and in some cases, limit their enforcement. The changes at Transportation are an outgrowth of Biden’s broader effort to reverse Trump’s executive orders directing federal agencies to sharply limit their regulatory reach. 

Pete Buttigieg is deleting a lot of Donald Trump’s rules at the DOT. image via AP.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says only 0.1% of Trump administration’s COVID-19 farm relief went to Black farmers” via Laura Reiley of The Washington Post — A tiny fraction of the Trump administration’s coronavirus relief for American farmers, just 0.1 percent of the overall package, went to Black farmers, according to Secretary Vilsack, who was confirmed in February with strong bipartisan support for a second stint in the role. For the first time, Vilsack noted the extent to which the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated existing disparities across the American economy. The distribution of coronavirus relief increased those gaps, he said.

Asian Americans wield their political power for more representation in Washington via Eugene Scott of The Washington Post — The promise of representation was a hallmark of the Biden campaign, and many groups have gotten that in his historically diverse Cabinet. But some in the Asian American community felt they got short shrift at a moment when increased attention is on its plight. In the wake of last week’s shootings in Atlanta that left eight dead, including six women of Asian descent, that sentiment came to a head. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, the first Thai American woman elected to Congress, said she has repeatedly offered names to the White House of “many well-qualified” Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for Cabinet positions. But those individuals in the AAPI community “never even got a phone call.”

Lawmakers grill tech CEOs on Capitol riot, getting few direct answers” via David McCabe and Cecilia Kang of The New York Times — When a Democratic lawmaker asked the executives to answer with a “yes” or a “no” whether the platforms bore some responsibility for the misinformation that had contributed to The Capitol riot, Jack Dorsey of Twitter said “yes.” Neither Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook nor Sundar Pichai of Google would answer the question directly. The roughly five-hour hearing before a House committee marked the first time lawmakers directly questioned the chief executives regarding social media’s role in the January riot. The tech bosses were also peppered with questions about how their companies helped spread falsehoods around COVID-19 vaccines, enable racism and hurt children’s mental health.

Congress grills Mark Zuckerberg on disinformation through Facebook.

— LOCAL NOTES —

Federal grand jury hears from former JEA leaders” via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union — Three former JEA officials, including an ex-chief executive officer, appeared before a federal grand jury in Jacksonville on Thursday amid a criminal investigation into a botched effort in 2019 to privatize the city agency. It’s not clear if they were the first witnesses to speak to the grand jury, whose deliberations are secret, or how long ago federal prosecutors convened the body. But the appearance Thursday of witnesses came during a recent spate of activity during which prosecutors sent numerous subpoenas for witness testimony across the city, which suggests they are moving a case forward.

Aaron Zahn and other former JEA executives explain themselves in federal court.

St. Petersburg man charged with assault, potential hate crime after shooting at group of picnickers” via Florida Politics staff reports — Keandra Brown, Renita Skelton, and several other friends were enjoying a “Painting with a Twist” picnic at the coastal park in mid-February. The group of women, who are Black, became startled when Joshua Rousseau approached them, called them “b***ches” and “n***ers,” and then threatened to kill them. Rousseau, who is White, then left the group of women to board his sailboat, where he resides, and soon resumed the verbal assault — this time with a megaphone. Soon, he pulled out an air rifle and began firing shots at the picnickers, according to the criminal complaint. When police arrived, he reportedly continued to fire shots. Police eventually arrested Rousseau on multiple counts of aggravated assault and aggravated assault on a police officer.

— MORE LOCAL —

EVAC Movement leader Amy Donofrio removed from classroom for ‘several matters’” via Emily Bloch of The Florida Times-Union — A well-known Duval County Public Schools teacher who is recognized for her advocacy work with Black students and juvenile justice has been removed from the classroom temporarily, according to the school district. Donofrio, a Language Arts teacher at Lee High School who co-founded the EVAC Movement, is being investigated by the school district for a human resources matter. In the meantime, she is temporarily reassigned to Duval Schools’ warehouse operations center during the review, a spokeswoman said Thursday.

Amy Donofrio gets ejected for her BLM activism.

Large number of manatee deaths in Florida lagoon declared an ‘Unusual Mortality Event’” via Chris Perkins of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — There’s been an abnormally high number of manatee deaths in Florida this year, especially in the Indian River Lagoon, where the federal government has declared it an Unusual Mortality Event. Roughly 35% of Florida’s manatee deaths this year have occurred in the Indian River Lagoon. This is the second time in the last decade that a UME has been declared for the Florida manatee in that lagoon. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website lists 539 manatee deaths in the state through March 19. That’s more than twice the amount of manatee deaths statewide through the same period in any of the last five years.

— TOP OPINION —

Republicans have nothing to fear in early voting. Florida proves it.” via Ryan Tyson for The American Spectator — Year after year, Democrats are confident that some demographic anomaly is going to allow them to finally snap their losing streak in Florida. Everything that supposedly benefits Democrats is in the Sunshine State, yet Republicans continue to increase their margin of victory and expand their delegations in all levels of government. What Florida says loud and clear is that Republicans have no reason to restrict voter access, nor should they have any incentive to shy away from a good old-fashioned turnout war. 

— OPINIONS —

Florida’s big-government approach on tackling Big Tech” via Steve Pociask for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Last week, Florida reached new milestones in their initiative to punish big tech. DeSantis’ Transparency in Technology Act cleared its second committee meeting and Attorney General Moody signed onto another lawsuit aimed to regulate Big Tech. If technology companies are bogged down with red-tape, the ones who will reap the consequences will be small businesses in the form of higher costs for services, no longer being able to intercept content that violates their established terms and agreements properly. If content moderation is the concern, it should be the U.S. Congress that revisits the current law. Having 50 states develop their own Balkanized rules is counterproductive and grossly inefficient to the provision of national online services that consumers demand.

Gerard Scimeca: While Washington grills Big Tech, Florida takes action” via Florida Politics — Florida has the chance to set an example for Congress by enacting legislation that puts in place guardrails on Big Tech companies. House Bill 7013 will help regulate Big Tech and meet the commitments set out by DeSantis. The legislation can establish both transparency and accountability to protect from some of Big Tech’s worst practices. It will help shift the balance of power in the online marketplace back to Florida consumers. Prohibiting unlawful censorship is a first step in curbing Big Tech’s unfettered power and influence. Big Tech has clearly been taking liberties in scrubbing news and content for no other reason than it does not suit their ideological tastes. HB 7013 will stop this.

Why has it been so easy to send innocent people to Florida’s death row?” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — There were 97 people on Florida’s death row in June 1972, the most in any state, when the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily banned executions nationwide. The one-paragraph 5-4 decision in Furman v. Georgia, accompanied by five elaborate concurring opinions and four dissents, seemed to suggest that states could restore capital punishment if they could make death sentences less random and capricious. The long-anticipated decision came during an election campaign, the worst possible time for sober reflection on such an issue. Declining to call an immediate special session, Gov. Reubin Askew promised one after the election. 

Debbie Beutel: Small-business owners support energy preemption” via Florida Politics — A ban on natural gas would be catastrophic for businesses like mine. SB 1128 and HB 919 will effectively prevent local governments from banning natural gas. My husband Greg and I own Buffalo Chophouse, a restaurant in Port St. Lucie. Natural gas is the most important part of the kitchen. It is essential. There is no way to operate our business without natural gas. The state of Florida should not allow local governments to ban natural gas. More than 70,000 businesses and 700,000 homes across Florida depend on direct-to-consumer natural gas. If natural gas was banned by my local government, our restaurant’s utility bills would skyrocket. We’d be forced to retrofit the restaurant to comply with the law.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

If you’re still waiting for COVID-19 shots, get ready. The Governor plans to drop the age limits and open things up for anyone 18 and up.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— Florida’s Department of Health reported almost 5,800 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and 109 more fatalities.

— The Senate votes to close the loophole that allows you to avoid the sales tax when you buy from companies out of state.

— The House begins debating the bill to crack down on protests. Supporters say it’s about law and order … opponents say it violates your rights to free speech and public assembly. The “combating public disorder” bill is up for a final vote today.

— So is the bill that provides businesses with immunity from COVID-19 liability lawsuits.

— The Senate Rules Committee approves a property insurance bill, but even supporters admit it will NOT lower your premiums.

— A warning for Florida Man; the Rules Committee also approved a bill increasing the penalty for having sex with animals.

— And finally, a Florida Man ran afoul of the law because of a long-standing feud with ducks and geese; he gets a lesson on missing butt in the state Capitol.

To listen, click on the image below:

— LISTEN UP —

Inside Florida Politics from GateHouse Florida: DeSantis said anyone over 18 would be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Florida starting April 5. Journalists John Kennedy, Antonio Fins and Zac Anderson discuss what prompted the Governor to lift the vaccine age restriction, a Republican push to expand Medicaid coverage in Florida, a big fundraising haul by the Florida Democratic Party and legislation overhauling the state’s voting rules.

The New Abnormal with Rick Wilson and Molly Jong-Fast: When we think of presidential pets, we think of their cute moments and endless photo-ops on the White House lawn — but the reality is you sometimes need to acquire a pet to distract from a scandal. So, it was in the 1990s, CBS Sunday Morning correspondent Mo Rocca explains it when the Clintons adopted Buddy the dog. “The Clintons had Socks,” Rocca tells Jong-Fast. “And then in the depths of the Lewinsky affair, when Clinton was in real turmoil, Dick Morris advised him to get a dog. This is totally true. And because dogs were more popular, they got a chocolate lab, Buddy. Labrador retrievers were at that point the No. 1 breed in America for 17 years running. And so, the cat was given, I believe, to [Clinton personal secretary] Betty Currie. I mean the cat, it was like, ‘Exit, stage right.’”

The Yard Sign with Jonathan Torres: Topics include tensions with China and Russia, ‘Anibal’s Attic,’ Biden takes a fall, anti-Asian hate crimes, and the Spring Break crisis in Miami. 

— WEEKEND TV —

Battleground Florida with Evan Donovan on News Channel 8 WFLA (NBC): A one-on-one with Agriculture Commissioner Fried.

Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede on CBS 4 in Miami: The Sunday show provides viewers with an in-depth look at politics in South Florida, along with other issues affecting the region.

Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Moderator Rob Lorei hosts a roundtable featuring Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber and Tampa firefighter Rush Roberts.

In Focus with Allison Walker on Bay News 9: A discussion on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted women and how they have adapted. Joining Walker are Susan Marano, crisis travel nurse; Secretary Mary Mayhew, Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and president and CEO, Florida Hospital Association; Dr. Leandra Preston-Sidler, senior lecturer of Women’s and Gender Studies, UCF.

Political Connections Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: A one-on-one with Fried on COVID-19 vaccines, marijuana, future elections and other legislative items she will be tackling this Session.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: Sens. Baxley and Linda Stewart will discuss their legislative agendas currently moving through the Legislature.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Host Gary Yordon talks with House Speaker Sprowls and attorney Sean Pittman.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, Jacksonville City Council At-Large Member Terrance Freeman and Susan King, CEO of Feeding Northeast Florida.

This Week in South Florida on WPLG-Local10 News (ABC): Glendon Hall of the Miami Beach Black Affairs Advisory Committee; Stephen Johnson of the Miami-Dade Black Affairs Advisory Board; and community activist, rapper and producer Luther Campbell.

— ALOE —

Are Disney World guests happier at the parks during the pandemic? Company CEO says yes.” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — Disney CEO Bob Chapek made some bold statements. People are happier at Disney World parks now, when visitors must wear masks and can’t get the full experience, than before the pandemic, the company’s leader said. “Our guest satisfaction scores since we’ve reopened across the world have shown that, indeed, our guests are even more satisfied than they were before the pandemic,” Chapek said during March 17 interview. Disney World declined to release the guest satisfaction scores or provide more details on what the results said.

Is Disney World really the happiest place on earth? Some say yes.

Jessica Walter, tart-tongued matriarch of ‘Arrested Development,’ dies at 80” via Michael Levenson of The New York Times — Walter, whose six-decade acting career included roles ranging from an obsessed radio fan in Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut, “Play Misty for Me,” to the cutting, martini-swilling matriarch of the dysfunctional Bluth family on “Arrested Development,” died at her home in New York City on Wednesday. She was 80. Over a long and wide-ranging career, Walter found consistent work as a versatile performer with more than 150 credits that included tart-tongued turns in television comedy series and serious roles in dramatic Hollywood movies and New York stage productions. She was often cast as — and relished playing — off-center women capable of silencing men with a withering glance, a piercing remark, or the sharp point of a knife.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Happy birthday to Secretary of State Laurel LeeRalph ArzaBrittany DoverScott Dudley, and Charlie Gray.

___

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

Peter Schorsch

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



#FlaPol

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

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jason Delgado, Drew Dixon, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Andrew Wilson, and Kelly Hayes.

Email: [email protected]
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