The House and Senate budgets are out, and we’ve spent the weekend going through it with a fine-toothed comb.
The House budget is quite a bit heftier because, unlike the Senate, it allocates $4.4 billion in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan. More money means more interesting line items.
The House budget in a single word: Infrastructure.
The 10-figure standout in the House budget is the $3.5 billion appropriations to pay for repairs and improvements at state buildings. The funding is essentially a Governor’s Office grant program. Agencies, courts, and universities would write out a list of maintenance, repair and renovation projects and turn it into EOG for approval.
Projects wouldn’t automatically get rubber-stamped — they would need to improve indoor air quality to prevent viral spread, improve water or sewer infrastructure, make buildings more handicap accessible, or bring aging buildings in line with modern building code.
A new look could be in store for the Capitol, too.
Both the Senate and House set aside about $17.5 million for Phase 3 of the Capitol Complex’s HVAC upgrade and Phase 1 of the Capitol Complex window replacement project. What’s that mean? Those famous horizontal bars and grates covering all four sides of the Capitol may be gone soon, replaced with windows that give the tower a fresh new look.
Another big chunk of change will head to road projects through a $2 billion infusion into the State Transportation Trust Fund.
The fund took a beating during the pandemic, but the House plan would largely make up for the revenue loss — the new funding represents a more than 20% increase. The only string attached: DOT has to use it to work on the projects it scrapped or shelved over the past year.
The House plan would also accelerate road projects by pumping another $2 billion into the State Transportation Trust Fund. The infusion represents a 20% increase to the fund, allowing the Department of Transportation to work on some of the projects it shelved during the pandemic.
The second buzzword of the 2021 Legislative Session: Resiliency.
Legislative leadership and the Governor have pitched programs that acknowledge sea-level rise is a reality and that the state needs to start doing something about it. The big-ticket policy item is the Resilient Florida program that would provide local governments grants to help combat rising waters.
But where to start? If only we knew which parts of the state face are at greater risk.
A map might help. And we might be getting one that will show all the ins, outs, inlets, and outflows of the state’s 1,350 miles of coastline.
The massive project would see a $100 million transfer from the general fund to the Department of Environmental Protection to procure “high-resolution coastal mapping services to provide seafloor data from the coast to the edge of the continental shelf or beyond.” DEP would be directed to seek out some matching funds from various federal programs, but no matter how much they kick in, we’ll be looking at one very expensive — and probably very cool — map.
Resiliency isn’t all about sea-level rise and climate change — it’s also digital. Lawmakers want to toss more than $31.6 million toward a raft of improvements to the state’s cybersecurity infrastructure.
The slate is more than a dozen projects long, with the biggest chunk heading toward a “Cybersecurity Assessments & Asset Inventory.” That’ll set the state back about $4.8 million. The best of the rest: a $3.2 million Cybersecurity Operations Center, $4 million for vulnerability management, and $2.4 million to snag and industrial control system and harden critical infrastructure. For the full list, flip to page 406 of the House PCB.
Infrastructure and resiliency aside, both chambers set aside cash for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to pay off the homeowners impacted by its aggressive campaign against citrus canker 20 years ago. If passed, the yearslong saga would be put to bed with a $44 million appropriation.
A smaller (but still noteworthy) item is a $2.2 million transfer from the Department of Health to Florida A&M University for an educational program covering medical cannabis and how illicit marijuana use affects minority communities.
Though no funding is attached currently, the Senate budget directs state agencies to draft reports on how the new minimum wage amendment will impact their bottom lines. Those reports would be due to the House, Senate and Governor by Dec. 1 of this year. Notably, the Senate plan would boost the minimum wage at state agencies to $13 an hour, which would deliver a raise to about 10,000 employees.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@JenniferJJacobs: Asked about (Donald) Trump saying he’s been asked by border patrol to go to the border, and when he might go: “I don’t care what the other guy does,” (Joe) Biden told us in Delaware. He said putting in place a plan “I feel very confident about.”
—@CarlBildt: Very stern message from Angela Merkel on the COVID-19 situation in . She says it’s practically a new pandemic one is facing with the so-called British variant now spreading fast.
a predicted how it started/how it’s going pic.twitter.com/2hpTeixUo8
— Meryl Kornfield (@MerylKornfield) March 28, 2021
—@IleanaGarcia: This view inspires me. It’s never work if you love what you do. Focus! Bring back from Tallahassee the successes that District 37 deserves; Biscayne Bay, resiliency, infrastructure, commerce; and the essentials for the hardworking families of this community. #
—@DWSTweets: [email protected] has served as a vigilant watchdog and compassionate conscience for our community and all of Florida. After 44 years of impeccable journalism, I wish her the happiest and healthiest of retirements.
— DAYS UNTIL —
‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ premieres — 2; California theme parks begin to reopen — 3; MLB Opening Day — 3; Easter — 6; RNC spring donor summit — 11; 2021 WWE WrestleMania 37 begins — 12; Disneyland to open — 32; Mother’s Day — 41; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 42; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 60; Memorial Day — 63; Father’s Day — 83; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 95; 4th of July — 97; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 101; MLB All-Star Game in Atlanta — 105; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 116; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 124; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 148; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 158; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 179; ‘Dune’ premieres — 186; MLB regular season ends — 188; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 194; World Series Game 1 — 211; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 218; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 221; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 256; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 263; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 361; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 403; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 466; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 557; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 592.
— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —
“Budget crunching begins, as Florida Senate offers $95B plan” via Bobby Caina Calvan of The Associated Press — The Florida Senate proposed a $95 billion budget on Friday, and the House is expected to release its own draft over the weekend as lawmakers begin reconciling their spending differences with a proposal already put forward by Ron DeSantis. The Republican Governor had initially proposed a $96.6 billion budget but later added another $4.1 billion in spending after Biden signed a $1.9 trillion stimulus package into law earlier this month. Despite the federal aid, Senate President Wilton Simpson said his chamber would take a cautious approach.
“House unveils $97 billion budget proposal“ via Jordan Kirkland of The Capitolist — Florida House unveiled a $97.1 state budget proposal for the 2021-2022 fiscal year. With state economists projecting a $2.7 billion shortfall for this fiscal year, the House released its initial budget on Friday, choosing to make major investments in the Sunshine State’s future. GOP leaders addressed several key areas, such as allocating money for disaster preparation, improving state infrastructure, college and university repair, boosting funding for K-12 students, and expanding postpartum Medicaid coverage. House Speaker Chris Sprowls, along with Chair Jay Trumbull, announced the proposed budget, saying they were putting Florida’s future first by strengthening the state’s reserves in preparation for “unexpected events.”
“Health care in proposed budget not pretty for Florida hospitals” via Christine Sexton of The News Service of Florida — Nursing homes, physicians and hospitals will have, for one year only, protections from COVID-19-related lawsuits under a bill that the Florida House passed Friday and is sure to be signed by the Governor in the very near future. Will the one-year reprieve be enough, or will the powerful lobbyists who represent the health care and business industries come back and ask for more? Also, the House and Senate released early iterations of health care spending plans, and the outlook wasn’t pretty for Florida hospitals. The Senate proposed about $328 million in reductions to hospitals, and the House proposed $514 million, including the near elimination of what is known as the “critical care fund.”
“‘Anti-riot’ bill faces uncertain fate in Senate” via The Associated Press — The Florida House on Friday approved a measure that would stiffen penalties against violent protesters, but momentum for the so-called ‘anti-riot’ bill could slow down considerably, maybe even come to a screeching halt, as lawmakers approach the midway point of their two-month Session. With the number of weeks left before the Legislature’s scheduled adjournment in the final week of April, lawmakers also are beginning to tackle the state budget with more urgency. Both the Senate and the House unveiled their spending plans in recent days, and budget writers from both chambers must now reconcile their versions with the requests put forward by DeSantis.
“Florida Senate gives DeSantis outline of $1 billion gaming plan” via Arek Sarkissian of POLITICO — The deal, which was detailed in a memo on which DeSantis’ staffers were briefed Thursday night, would generate more than $1 billion in recurring revenue for the state. It would also settle a seven-year beef between the tribe and Florida’s poker room operators over a rule allowing the operators to offer popular, fast-paced games. … Three sources close to the gaming negotiations who would only provide information on background said discussions also included the transfer of one South Florida casino license. It would also legalize sports betting by creating a statewide hub-and-spoke wagering network controlled by the tribe.
— TALLY 2 —
“Senate proposes lowering salary cap on higher education’s biggest earners” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The Senate’s budget plan for the 2021-22 fiscal year includes a proposal to drop the cap on the state’s portion of university and college employee salaries from $200,000 to $180,000. Senate leadership unveiled its $95 billion budget proposal Friday afternoon, which cuts $2.5 billion in spending in both the current fiscal year and the coming fiscal year. Simpson‘s spokeswomen Katie Betta said that was one of several difficult choices the budget team had to make. The university system has 1,150 employees making more than $200,000 from the state, while the college system has 44 employees in that category.
“The ‘anti-John Morgan bill’: Change to bill could limit donations to petition-gathering campaigns” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — One lobbyist is calling it the ‘anti-John Morgan bill.’ Originally a bill prohibiting donations of giving campaign surplus to a nonprofit where a candidate works, HB 699 now includes substitute language filed late Thursday would significantly change the scope to limit financing for petition-gathering campaigns. If HB 699 becomes law, it will create another significant barrier to Florida’s citizen initiative process. The bill, as it reads under the new language, would place a $3,000 contribution limit from a person or political committee to the group sponsoring a citizen initiative to change Florida’s Constitution.
“‘Shut out’: As lawmakers work, Florida Capitol COVID-19 restrictions leave some feeling excluded” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — A group of women who make up a sort of Florida Panhandle “first wives club” huddled in a Volkswagen Golf this week, in a parking lot within eyeshot of the state Capitol. They were watching a House committee meeting on a proposal they fear will end permanent alimony in Florida. They came from Pensacola, Gulf Breeze and Panama City to meet with lawmakers, attend committee meetings and testify about the threat they believe this year’s bills (HB 1559, SB 1922) pose to children and elderly women. But when they showed up in Tallahassee, the Senate shunted them to the Tucker Civic Center, where it had rented rooms for the public to watch meetings and to testify remotely.
WaPo takes a look at this food fight — “Rough waters in Key West as city, cruise industry and lawmakers tangle over its future” via Richard Morin of The Washington Post — By decisive, even overwhelming margins, the voters approved ballot measures to immediately slash the number of passengers who can disembark daily as well as ban the biggest ships. But several months later, in an end-around that has incensed locals, the cruise industry is fighting back. Two state lawmakers with broad industry backing are pushing bills to nullify the vote and prohibit Key West from regulating such activity in its own port. Yes, they can, say legislators now meeting in Tallahassee. And there’s a good chance they will soon succeed.
“Elections officials in Sarasota and Manatee concerned about bills restricting mail voting” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Elections officials in Sarasota and Manatee counties are concerned about bills advancing in the Florida Legislature that would put new restrictions on mail voting. A Senate bill would ban mail ballot drop boxes and force people to request ballots every election cycle, instead of having the request stand for two cycles. A House bill that advanced this week doesn’t include the dropbox ban but does require ballot requests every cycle starting in 2024. Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner said Florida’s current vote-by-mail system “works well,” and he doesn’t see the need for big changes.
— MOVES —
Amy Maguire elevated to executive vice president at Shumaker — Maguire has been promoted to executive vice president of state and local affairs for Shumaker Advisors, the company announced this week. Maguire previously served as principal of Shumaker Advisors Florida for two years. In her new role, she will lead Florida’s state lobbying and advocacy practice representing clients in the front end of the executive and legislative branches of state government. “Amy is a powerhouse, dedicated to serving our clients and making a positive impact in our community,” said Shumaker Advisors Florida President and CEO Ron Christaldi. “She is an extraordinary leader and we are pleased to elevate her to executive vice president of State and Local Affairs.” Maguire specializes in policy and budget matters and advises clients in several sectors, including health care, environment, technology, education, and economic and social impact, among others.
“Personnel note: GrayRobinson welcomes health care attorney Stephanie Carman” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Law and lobbying firm GrayRobinson has welcomed health care attorney Carman as a shareholder in the Miami and Washington offices. Carman will join the firm’s health care practice to provide strategic advice on regulatory issues, transactions, investigations and litigation. The new attorney is noted for her work with life sciences and health care industry clients, including academic medical centers, hospitals, home health agencies, hospices, laboratories, information technology and device companies.
— LEG. SKED —
The Florida Public Service Commission Nominating Council will meet online to consider nine candidates to fill an opening on the Public Service Commission to replace Julie Brown. Rep. Chuck Clemons and Sen. Ben Albritton are chair and vice-chair, respectively, of the Council, 10 a.m. Register for the Zoom meeting here.
The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider HB 7039, sponsored by Rep. Thad Altman, to make changes in the state’s child welfare system, 10:15 a.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.
The House Public Integrity and Elections Committee meets to consider HJR 61, from Rep. Rick Roth, to require approval from two-thirds of voters for constitutional amendments, 10:15 a.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
The House Education and Employment Committee meets to consider HB 997, from Rep. Sam Garrison, to create a public-records exemption for information about people applying to become presidents of state universities and colleges, 1 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.
The House Judiciary Committee meets to consider HJR 1179, from Rep. Mike Beltran, to abolish the Constitution Revision Commission, 1 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
The House State Affairs Committee meets to consider HB 1429, from Rep. Bryan Avila, to allow counties to spend tourist-development tax money to combat flooding and rising sea levels, 1 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.
The Senate Special Order Calendar Group meets to set the special-order calendar, 3 p.m., Room 401, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee meets to consider SB 1906, from Sen. Jason Brodeur, to raise maximum state unemployment benefits to $375 a week, 3:30 p.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee will receive an update from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission about manatees related to increased deaths, 3:30 p.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Judiciary Committee meets to consider SB 1922, from Sen. Joe Gruters, to reform Florida’s alimony laws, 3:30 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.
The House Commerce Committee meets to consider HB 15, from Reps. Chuck Clemons and Chip LaMarca, to expand the collection of sales taxes on goods sold online, 4:15 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.
The House Pandemics and Public Emergencies Committee will receive an update on risk management strategies, 4:15 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
— TALLY MADNESS —
It’s the end of TallyMadness Round 3 — the Sweet 16.
At midnight, an “Elite Eight” of lobbyists remained in our March Madness-style competition to decide the “best” in-house lobbyist in Florida.
There have been a few blowouts; there were also a few buzzer-beaters.
Winners of TallyMadness Sweet 16 include:
Florida Dental Association’s Jo Anne Hart, who comes one step closer to the title after defeating Allison Kinney with HCA Healthcare.
Justin Thames, who represents the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants, took the round from Carolyn Johnson of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
In a Florida college battle, Clay Ingram with Florida State University defeated Samantha Sexton from the University of Florida.
Toby Philpot, who reps the Florida Health Care Association, is advancing to Round 4 by knocking out Fatima Perez of Koch Industries.
— STATEWIDE —
Assignment editors — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried will hold a media availability, hosting a ceremonial tree planting, and present a Cabinet proclamation to Eagle Scout Clayton Didier, 11:30 a.m. Central time, the trailhead of Point Washington State Forest, 1137 County Road 395 South, Santa Rosa Beach.
“Insurers are dropping homeowners left and right. Many will be forced to accept less coverage” via Ron Hurtibise of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Recently, you might have opened your mailbox and found a letter stating that your insurer has decided not to renew your policy. Now, what are you going to do? Finding another company isn’t as easy as it used to be, as all but a handful of insurers, repelled by high rates of fraud and litigation, refuse to write new business in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. You have options, but you won’t like them. One is to sign on with state-owned Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the so-called “insurer of last resort,” which will leave you vulnerable to a surcharge of 45% of your annual premium if the company runs out of money paying claims after a catastrophic hurricane season.
“Jetliner roar over Florida cities poised for change and potentially rude awakenings” via Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel — Jetliners landing and taking off at Florida’s Central and South Florida airports will begin to follow new patterns next month that could bring frequent and louder aircraft noise to some neighborhoods. The Federal Aviation Administration is rolling out its controversial Next Generation Air Transportation System, phasing out air-traffic control based on radar and voice commands in favor of GPS and automated instructions. The new system is designed to bolster safety and save aircraft time and fuel. But doing so typically will concentrate aircraft in narrower pathways over cities near airports.
“Lake Okeechobee recedes, but not enough; Discharges continue” via The Associated Press — Lake Okeechobee discharges will be reduced to the Caloosahatchee River but will continue at the same rate to the St. Lucie River, indefinitely. The Caloosahatchee will get 969 million gallons per day, down from an average of 1.3 billion gallons a day since Feb. 13, Col. Andrew Kelly, Florida commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, announced in a news conference call Thursday. The St. Lucie will continue to get a weekly average rate of 323 million gallons per day, the same amount since discharges started March 6, Kelly said.
— 2022 —
“Florida Democrats lost the ground game in 2020. Training is on the way.” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida Republicans bested Democrats in the blocking and tackling of running campaigns last year, leading to victories up and down the ballot for the GOP. Now the state’s top Democrat is bringing in outside help to prevent a repeat in 2022. Fried and the National Democratic Training Committee are announcing a new initiative to train local county Democratic leaders in organization and strategizing. The goal is to strengthen the Democrats closest to the voters and activists on the ground. The training will take place over four sessions that will begin in April.
“For St. Pete’s Ben Diamond, challenge will be to recoup losses by Democrats” via William March of the Tampa Bay Times — In the 2020 election, Florida Democrats hoped to gain seats in the Legislature, but instead suffered substantial losses, including several Tampa Bay area House races. Now, Rep. Diamond, as the designated incoming House Democratic leader, will be directing the party’s 2022 House campaign efforts. In an interview, Diamond wouldn’t discuss strategy or specific goals for gaining seats, but said he hopes the fading pandemic will eliminate a handicap Democrats faced in 2020, lack of door-to-door and in-person campaigning. He also hopes the popularity of Biden’s pandemic rescue legislation will boost Democratic chances.
“Court fight over fate of digital ballot images looks to 2022 election” via Noreen Marcus of Florida Bulldog — A lawsuit aimed at making Florida voting more secure and transparent took a breather for last year’s elections but is active again, in time to figure into the 2022 Senate and Governor races, activists hope. The wonky focus of their concern is digital ballot imagery, an electronic footprint that’s automatically created with each vote cast on a scanner. The images provide a backstop for paper ballots, one that’s probably less susceptible to human error than, say, ballots dripping with hanging chads. Digital ballot images can come in handy for recounts. Therein lies the problem: state law requires generating, but not keeping, them for future reference. And it’s been a common practice to destroy the images after elections.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“Sunday to Sunday: Florida reports 35,656 new cases, 436 resident deaths” via Nelly Ontiveros of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida’s resident death toll from coronavirus rose to 33,178 with the addition of 36 more reported fatalities on Sunday while also adding 4,943 more positive COVID-19 cases to bring the total to 2,044,005. According to state health department data, Florida saw 35,656 new cases and 436 newly reported deaths from Sunday to Sunday. In comparison, the week ending March 21 saw 31,541 new cases and 487 newly reported resident deaths.
“Cases in Florida, a national COVID-19 bellwether, are rising — especially among younger people.” via Apoorva Mandavilli of The New York Times — Scientists view Florida, the state furthest along in lifting restrictions, reopening society and welcoming tourists, as a bellwether for the nation. If recent trends there are any indication, the rest of the country may be in trouble. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida has been steadily rising, though hospitalizations and deaths are still down. Over the past week, the state has averaged nearly 5,000 cases per day, an increase of 8% from its average two weeks earlier.
“After Spring Break, coronavirus cases appear to surge in young Floridians” via Chris Persaud of The Palm Beach Post — Only a week or two after widely shared videos showed crowds of teens and twentysomethings partying on South Florida’s beaches, health officials are finding a surge of coronavirus infections in younger people. Half the COVID-19 cases dated March 1 were found in people 39 or younger, but that median age has since dropped to 35. Florida remains the nation’s hot spot for the more infectious mutations of the viral pathogen, federal data shows. Health care workers have found 1,075 as of Friday. And that is an undercount, as many such cases go unreported because they go untested.
“All Florida adults are about to be eligible for vaccines. Are counties ready?” via Ryan Gillespie and Kate Santich of the Orlando Sentinel — Officials in Central Florida say they’ve worked out kinks in their platforms to book appointments — some of which crashed under initial crushes of users in December — and have deep freezers at the ready capable of storing an influx of doses if more become available. Some also have plans to expand their offerings, including new and expanded mobile units and ramped-up capacity at existing sites. Paired with a planned mobile site that he expects to reach 1,000 per day, the Orange County government could administer more than 40,000 vaccines per week. But that plan can only proceed if the state delivers enough doses, which has not been the case so far.
“Are you 16 or 17? You’ll soon be eligible for Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine.” via Megan Reeves of the Tampa Bay Times — DeSantis said Thursday that the state will lower the age for coronavirus vaccination to 18 on April 5. But that’s not quite right, a spokeswoman in his office later clarified. The state will also allow 16 and 17-year-olds to be vaccinated — but only with the drug produced by Pfizer-BioNTech, which has been approved for people of those ages. The vaccines produced by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have not been approved for anyone under 18, though both companies are conducting trials on coronavirus vaccines for children.
“In Florida: For seniors still waiting, age drop for vaccine ‘doesn’t make sense’ for anyone” via Jane Musgrave of The Palm Beach Post — For months, 64-year-old John Martino has tried desperately to get an appointment for a coronavirus vaccine. But, despite registering multiple times with the Palm Beach County Health Care District and spending hours online to get an appointment at Publix or other retailers, he has come up empty. Like other older residents, Martino said he shuddered on Thursday when he heard that DeSantis decided that beginning Monday, anyone age 40 and over can get a vaccine and, beginning April 5, everyone 18 and older is eligible.
“Florida residency rules for COVID-19 vaccine an obstacle for undocumented people” via Desiree Stennett of the Orlando Sentinel — In January, state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees issued an advisory requiring that anyone being vaccinated show a Florida identification card to prove that they live in the state. For those who don’t have Florida ID, certain official documents could be used instead. It created a hurdle for Florida’s approximately 775,000 undocumented immigrants who are unlikely to have a Florida ID and struggle to collect alternative documentation. Undocumented immigrants likely live in neighborhoods where COVID-19 outcomes are more severe and work in jobs that make social distancing difficult. When the residency requirement was created, there was no indication that undocumented immigrants, the homeless, the poor, and others who may not easily prove their Florida residency were considered.
“Florida to feds: Allow cruise ships to operate, or we’ll sue” via Terry Spencer of The Associated Press — DeSantis ripped into the federal government’s continued pandemic ban on cruise ships using U.S. ports, threatening Friday to file a lawsuit if one of the state’s biggest tourism sectors is not allowed to resume operations soon. Appearing at Port Canaveral with leaders from Carnival, Norwegian, Disney and Royal Caribbean cruise lines, DeSantis and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said they are exploring the state’s legal options if the CDC does not allow U.S.-based cruising to resume by summer.
— CORONA LOCAL —
🦠 — Inside a COVID-19 unit: The Miami Herald, in partnership with McClatchy, produced a five-part series documenting the front line of the pandemic in Miami. The first episode follows the head doctor and charge nurse at Jackson South Medical Center’s ICU showing harrowing scenes of attempts to resuscitate patients, heartbreaking calls to the family notifying them of a loved one’s death, and personal strife among nurses isolating from family to keep them safe from the emerging virus last spring. It’s a must-see showing the behind-the-scenes realities of a deadly virus and how, despite politicization outside the walls of the hospital, it was anything but on the inside.
“People 40 and older can get a COVID-19 vaccine at a new Hialeah pop-up. It opens Monday” via Michelle Marchante of the Miami Herald — Floridians age 40 and older will be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine Monday at a new pop-up site in Hialeah. The site will open at Babcock Park at 651 E. Fourth Ave. and will distribute about 200 vaccines a day through April 1, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernández said earlier this week. According to the city, gates open at 6:30 a.m., with vaccinations expected to begin at 9 a.m. until supplies run out. The site does not take appointments, so people can show up and stand in line.
“Walgreens COVID-19 vaccines coming to Miami-Dade, Broward. Appointments open in 40 stores” via Devoun Cetoute of the Miami Herald — South Florida will be getting new spots to get COVID-19 vaccines as Walgreens will expand its doses into Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The drugstore chain rolled out the program on Friday, with in-store vaccines available at 13 Walgreens in Miami-Dade, 27 in Broward and six in Palm Beach County, Walgreens said. Monroe County will not have any Walgreens stores offering vaccines at this time. The expansion is due to Walgreens opening up 400 more stores to administer Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
“‘If BSO had a Hall of Fame, he’d be in it.’ Another deputy dies from COVID-19, agency says” via Devoun Cetoute of the Miami Herald — Sgt. Shane Owens spent nearly 30 years serving the people of Broward County, and on Saturday, deputies say he died from the novel coronavirus. The Broward Sheriff’s Office tweeted the somber announcement of Owens’ death. He had been battling COVID-19. Owens, 48, served in BSO’s Department of Detention. “He was an asset to the organization who always put forth the extra effort,” the sheriff’s office said on Twitter. Owens started as a detention cadet, made deputy in about a year, and nearly eight years later was promoted to sergeant. The agency says Owens was highly respected and made a name for himself.
“New COVID-19 cases on the rise, but vaccines appear to be working” via Cindy Krischer Goodman and Adelaide Chen of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — As Spring Breakers have poured into South Florida, new COVID-19 cases have been on the rise. South Florida is in the Top 10% of metropolitan areas in the country for the number of new infections per 100,000. After what appeared to be a decline in new cases in early March, the state’s three populous counties reported a significant jump in just a week, an increase of 5.7% in new cases compared with the seven-day period a week earlier. The White House report says the community transmission level in the area over the last seven days has been high, putting it in the red zone. The increases appear to be driven by rising cases in people ages 15 to 34.
“Fearless or foolhardy? Clematis Street, Atlantic Avenue bars and restaurants refill to the brim as pre-COVID-19 crowds venture back into town” via Tony Doris of The Palm Beach Post — Even after a year of this plague, well over 2,000 people are still catching COVID-19 each week in Palm Beach County. More than 128,000 cases have been reported so far, with no end in sight. And more than 2,600 have died. But from Delray Beach to West Palm Beach, the living have grown impatient. Bars and restaurants brim with patrons who spill out onto the sidewalks, standing and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, masks askew or off altogether. During a recent drive around municipalities, County Administrator Verdenia Baker was alarmed at what she saw.
“Health care district swaps vaccine appointment system for user-friendly version” via Jane Musgrave of The Palm Beach Post — A cumbersome coronavirus appointment system that frustrated seniors and others is being abandoned and replaced with one that allows people to immediately pick when they want to get shots. The online scheduler, whose address leaked out and has been used by Facebook-fueled vaccine chasers for weeks, will officially launch at 10 a.m. Saturday. However, in an apparent attempt to give those who registered for shots one last chance, a flurry of emails was sent out Friday afternoon. The emails offered “priority scheduling access prior to opening the scheduler to the public.”
“Manatee-Sarasota COVID-19 vaccine registration lists shrinking. Cause for worry?” via Louis Llovio of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — The number of people registering with Manatee and Sarasota counties to get the COVID-19 vaccine has sharply dropped in recent weeks. Manatee has fewer than 3,400 people between 50 and 64 years of age registered in its system as of Friday morning and Sarasota went from 14,142 people registering on March 15 to 1,911 registering on Thursday. Both counties have significantly reduced the backlogs in their registration systems over the past few weeks. As of Friday morning, 9,968 people registered in Manatee’s appointment system had yet to be contacted about an appointment.
“Brevard contract allows vaccines through company with ties to hospital already providing them” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Brevard County this week entered into a controversial contract with a private health care provider to help with surplus vaccines. Among the stranger matters in the case, though, is that the company’s head has his own relationship with a hospital already contracted to give shots. At a meeting this week, County Commissioners approved a conditional contract with OMNI Health to help administer COVID-19 vaccines, as reported by Florida Today. The contract only applies in the event supplies of doses are higher than current infrastructure there, including a drive-through site run by the Department of Health can handle.
“Lenny Curry to end Jacksonville’s COVID-19 mask requirement” via Clayton Freeman of The Florida Times-Union — Reversing course after nine months, Jacksonville Mayor Curry declined Friday to renew the city’s mask mandate, which will be allowed to expire. Like others elsewhere around Florida and the nation, the requirement was designed to curb the spread of COVID-19. Businesses, however, may continue to require customers to wear masks. Curry had issued his initial mask requirement on June 29, 2020, part of the city’s plan to fight what was then a summer surge of the coronavirus pandemic. The initial mandate followed the guidance of the CDC.
“Collier, Naples mask mandates set to expire in April: Will they be extended?” via Brittany Carloni of the Naples Daily News — Expiration dates are approaching for the Collier County and Naples mask mandates, which are both scheduled to end April 13. Neither Collier Commissioners nor the Naples City Council are scheduled to consider extending the mandates, but leaders from both governments said they still would encourage safety practices related to fighting COVID-19 in the community. “We strongly recommend adhering to CDC guidelines,” Collier Commission Chairperson Penny Taylor said. Although the mandates are scheduled to expire, the Collier County Medical Society’s board of directors said in a statement Thursday to the Daily News that it recommends both mandates be extended.
“St. Petersburg City Council cancels Thursday’s meeting over COVID-19 exposure” via Josh Solomon of the Tampa Bay Times — City officials canceled this Thursday’s City Council meeting because of a coronavirus outbreak inside City Hall. It will be the first time a council meeting was canceled due to COVID-19 since that body resumed in-person meetings last fall. “We had a few cases on the second floor of City Hall (where council members and the mayoral administration have offices), and just in an abundance of caution, it made sense to go ahead and cancel next weeks’ meeting,” Council Chair Ed Montanari said Sunday. He said it was his call to cancel the meeting after officials received confirmation of three cases in the building.
“Deborah Birx tells CNN most U.S. COVID-19 deaths ‘could have been mitigated’ after first 100,000” via Amy B. Wang of The Washington Post — Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator under Trump, said most coronavirus deaths in the United States could have been prevented if the Trump administration had acted earlier and more decisively. Birx made her comments in the CNN documentary “Covid War: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out,” a clip from which the network released Saturday. The full documentary will air at 9 p.m. Sunday. Trump, who later admitted that he initially tried to downplay the seriousness of the virus, at first compared it to the flu and suggested the media was in “hysteria mode.”
“J&J on track to meet vaccine delivery goal, White House says” via Susannah Luthi of POLITICO — Johnson & Johnson is on track to meet its goal of delivering 20 million doses of its single-shot COVID vaccine by the end of March after facing scrutiny for a slow ramp-up of production, the Biden administration said. White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said Friday the company was due to send the government 11 million more doses next week. The administration on Tuesday said it had just 4 million doses to deliver to states and federal partners, which wouldn’t have gotten the company even halfway to its self-imposed target.
“For Joe Biden, a new virus dilemma: How to handle a looming glut of vaccine” via Sharon LaFraniere and Noah Weiland of The New York Times — Biden administration officials are anticipating the supply of coronavirus vaccine to outstrip U.S. demand by mid-May if not sooner, and are grappling with what to do with looming surpluses when vaccine scarcity turns to glut. Biden has promised enough doses by the end of May to immunize all of the nation’s roughly 260 million adults. But between then and the end of July, the government has locked in commitments from manufacturers for enough vaccine to cover 400 million people — about 70 million more than the nation’s entire population.
“Biden administration plans localized approach to promote COVID-19 vaccine” via Sabrina Siddiqui and Stephanie Armour of The Wall Street Journal — The Biden administration’s new campaign promoting COVID-19 vaccination will emphasize working with community groups and others to target specific populations that are skeptical of the vaccine, senior administration officials said. Much of the overall messaging budget will be spent on such localized outreach, with a lesser portion to be spent on ads for television, digital, print and radio. The White House didn’t provide a total budget for the campaign, but officials said it would largely be funded by money from the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that became law this month and will be made available beginning in April.
— Where those vaccines at?: The Washington Post compiled data from across the country to create a map showing where vaccines have been doled out en masse, and where they haven’t. The map shows Florida ahead of some states, but behind others, with missing data from some big ones like Texas, Virginia, Georgia and Colorado. See where your area fares here.
“Study will track COVID-19 transmission among vaccinated college students” via Marisa Fernandez of Axios — Scientists launched a National Institutes of Health-backed study with thousands of college students to determine whether Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine can prevent the asymptomatic spread of the virus. The results of the trial could provide vaccinated individuals insight into how careful they really need to be when in close contact with others. The study, which launched Thursday, is looking for 12,000 college students to volunteer across 21 campuses, including the University of Maryland, the University of North Carolina, Texas A&M and Indiana University.
“Merck’s little brown pill could transform the fight against COVID-19” via Cynthia Koons and Riley Griffin of Bloomberg Businessweek — Even as vaccines are rolling out worldwide, the coronavirus and its mutations still pose a major health threat. Not everyone who’s eligible for a shot will agree to get one. Drugmakers see an opportunity to add to the arsenal of potential therapies. There are 246 antivirals in development. Merck’s molnupiravir is among the furthest along. Its developers hope the pills can be prescribed widely to anyone who gets sick. Think Tamiflu for COVID-19. The hurdle, beyond ensuring the drug works, is making sure it’s safe.
“Texas’ COVID-19 numbers fall for the 17th consecutive day following Gov. Greg Abbott’s 100% reopening of the state and lifting of the mask mandate — a move that Biden infamously called ‘Neanderthal thinking’” via Karen Ruiz of the Daily Mail — Texas COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to see a downward trend more than two weeks after the state scrapped its mask mandate and allowed businesses to reopen at full capacity. On Saturday, Texas’s seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate reached an all-time low of 5.27%, while hospitalizations fell to their lowest since October. The state recorded 2,292 new coronavirus cases, about 500 fewer on average from last week, and 107 new deaths. The state also announced it will begin making all adults eligible for coronavirus vaccinations on Monday.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“Fourth stimulus check: Over 60 lawmakers now support further direct payments to Americans” via Christina Zhao of Newsweek — Americans have been wondering whether there will be the fourth round of stimulus checks, as the federal government continues to distribute the $1,400 provided in Biden‘s American Rescue Plan. So far, 64 congressional lawmakers have pushed for recurring direct payments until the pandemic ends. So far, Biden has not voiced support for recurring checks, and any prospective direct payments would face a legislative challenge. Democrats used a budget process called reconciliation to pass the latest stimulus bill without Republican support.
“The eviction moratorium is expiring. What will Biden do?” via Ashraf Khalil and Michael Casey of The Associated Press — Biden’s administration has less than a week to decide on extending the nationwide eviction moratorium, a measure that housing advocates say has helped keep most cash-strapped tenants across the country in their homes during the pandemic. Housing advocates are confident the ban, due to expire March 31, will be extended for several months and possibly even strengthened. Still, they argue the existing moratorium hasn’t been blanket protection and say thousands of families have been evicted for other reasons beyond nonpayment of rent.
“SBA flagged 190,000 PPP loans with ‘hold’ codes — and is deploying new tech to address them” via Andy Medici of the Tampa Bay Business Journal — The Small Business Administration has currently placed “hold codes” on 190,000 Paycheck Protection Program loans, the agency said at a congressional hearing Wednesday. According to agency officials, these so-called hold codes can stem from anything from typos in Social Security or taxpayer-identification numbers to more serious issues. And they can be placed upon both loans that have yet to be paid out and those in the forgiveness process. Industry and small business groups have pushed the agency in recent weeks to clear the holds so that small business owners can access crucial funding.
“Another remote-work year looms as office-reopening plans are delayed” via Chip Cutter of The Wall Street Journal — From Silicon Valley to Tennessee to Pennsylvania, high hopes that a rapid vaccine rollout in early 2021 would send millions of workers back into offices by spring have been scuttled. Many companies are pushing workplace return dates to September or refusing to commit to specific dates, telling employees it will be a wait-and-see remote-work year. Return-to-office dates have shifted so much in the past year that some companies aren’t sharing them with employees. Shipping giant United Parcel Service Inc., based in Atlanta, and financial-services firm Fidelity Investments Inc., based in Boston, haven’t announced return dates.
“‘Vaccine passports’ are on the way, but developing them won’t be easy” via Dan Diamond, Lena H. Sun and Isaac Stanley-Becker of The Washington Post — The Biden administration and private companies are working to develop a standard way of handling credentials that would allow Americans to prove they have been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus as businesses try to reopen. The effort has gained momentum amid President Biden’s pledge that the nation will start to regain normalcy this summer and with a growing number of companies saying they will require proof of vaccination before opening their doors again. The administration’s initiative has been driven largely by arms of the Department of Health and Human Services.
“Cruises will remain banned, CDC says, as industry pressure to restart heats up” via Taylor Dolven of the Miami Herald — Despite increasing pressure from the cruise industry and its allies in government, the CDC plans to prevent cruises from U.S. ports for the foreseeable future. DeSantis, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, and the cruise industry lobbying group CLIA are pressuring the CDC to allow U.S. cruises as soon as July 1. But the agency is not budging on its “conditional sail order,” which gives cruise companies a long list of requirements they must meet before being allowed to restart. The government officials say the conditional sail order, first issued by the CDC in October and in place until November 2021, is outdated and unnecessary now that several COVID-19 vaccines are available.
“Consumers filed 106 injury claims from COVID-19 vaccines, ventilators and hydroxychloroquine. Here’s why none have been paid.” via Ken Alltucker of the USA Today — A federal program charged with compensating people for serious side effects from COVID-19 drugs and vaccines did not pay or reject any claims during the first year of the pandemic. The 106 injury claims for vaccines, hydroxychloroquine and other COVID-19 treatments remained under medical review as of March 15, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
— MORE CORONA —
“COVID-19 is different now” via James Hamblin of The Atlantic — Trying to remember March 2020 feels like sticking your head into a parallel universe. This time last year, Americans were just going into lockdown to protect themselves from a mysterious but deadly virus. We disinfected mail but didn’t wear masks. Few of us knew that COVID-19 symptoms could last for months, that you might lose your sense of smell, or that your toes might break out in purple lesions. The possibility that millions would die was real but incomprehensible. The pandemic today is almost unrecognizably different. When, exactly, will we reach a point that could be considered a finish line? It’s a natural question, but I think it’s a counterproductive one.
“Unlocking the COVID-19 code” via Jon Gertner of The New York Times — In the sphere of public health, one of the first big breakthroughs enabled by faster genomic sequencing came in 2014, when a team at the Broad Institute of M.I.T. and Harvard began sequencing samples of the Ebola virus from infected victims during an outbreak in Africa. Edward Holmes posted the sequence on a website called Virological.org; then, he linked to it on Twitter. Holmes knew that researchers worldwide would instantly start unwinding the pathogen’s code to try to find ways to defeat it. Sequencing was put to use to track viral mutations, beginning with studies published in February 2020 demonstrating that the virus was spreading in the U.S.
“Former CDC director Robert Redfield believes the coronavirus escaped a lab in China. Scientists are dubious.” via Karen Weintraub of USA Today — Redfield, former director of the CDC, told CNN Friday he believes the virus that causes COVID-19 was accidentally released from a lab in Wuhan, China. He did not explain this idea other than to say as a virologist; he does not believe the virus could have been so contagious when it jumped directly from an animal to a person. Instead, he contends it was manipulated in a Wuhan research laboratory to become more contagious and then accidentally released by a worker in September or October 2019, a few months before coming to public attention. Several scientists said Redfield’s theory did not pass the scientific smell test.
“Remember how we segregated smokers? It could be a lot worse for the unvaccinated” via Scott Craven for USA Today — Anyone who is older than they care to admit remembers the time when smoking not only was expected but welcome outside the small designated areas designed to corral and shame those within. Smokers and nonsmokers mingled easily in offices, hospitals and bars, wherever people tended to gather in clumps large and small. That all changed when science determined the hazardous chemicals within smoke withered the lungs of all who inhaled it. Nonsmokers insisted on social distancing from smokers, the kind requiring physical barriers. For those too young to have ever boarded a plane divided into smoking and nonsmoking sections, you’ll soon experience what it was like as the vaccinated and non-vaccinated mix in greater numbers.
“Did COVID-19 stress, uncertainty stall anti-smoking push?” via Matthew Perrone of The Associated Press — A year after COVID-19 upended life for millions of Americans, there are troubling signs that the coronavirus may have also slowed progress against another deadly health threat: smoking. Fewer smokers called quit-smoking hotlines last year, and some smoked more, contributing to an unusual bump in cigarette sales, all in the middle of the stress, anxiety and uncertainty from the pandemic. “It’s hard for folks to quit using tobacco in the best of times, so what happens when life is suddenly turned upside down?” said Jen Cash, who oversees Minnesota’s anti-tobacco programs. Researchers are already concerned about COVID-19′s impact on cancer screenings and opioid overdoses as many Americans were cut off from routine care and examinations.
— PRESIDENTIAL —
“Biden is betting on bigger government. The pandemic may be helping him.” via Dan Balz of The Washington Post — The biggest expansion of the federal government in a generation is underway, a pandemic-inspired shift in resources and responsibilities that will challenge Biden and the Democrats to demonstrate that they can make government work. Over the course of the pandemic, Congress has authorized an astonishing amount of spending. Biden recently passed his American Rescue Plan, a nearly $2 trillion package of aid and assistance designed to soften the blows of the coronavirus pandemic on individuals and stimulate an economy that suffered major blows as the pandemic took hold.
“Biden promises new ‘paradigm’ in economic program next week” via Justin Sink and Nancy Cook of Bloomberg — Biden said he will unveil his long-term economic rejuvenation plan next week, promising increased support for the middle class and a major ramp-up in investment and infrastructure spending that will strengthen the U.S. position against China. “I want to change the paradigm — we start to reward work, not just wealth,” Biden said. The administration included a major expansion of the earned income tax credit for lower-income workers in the $1.9 trillion pandemic-relief plan Biden signed this month, along with an increase in the child tax credit. Democratic lawmakers are pushing for permanent extensions of those measures.
“Biden administration fires most Homeland Security Advisory Council members” via Maria Sacchetti and Nick Miroff of The Washington Post — Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas fired most members of the department’s independent advisory council on Friday, a purge that included several Trump allies and veteran officials who served under both parties. Former Department of Homeland Security officials and advisory board members who worked under Democratic and Republican administrations said they could not remember so many members being dismissed at once, as the general practice of past administrations was to allow appointees to serve out their terms before replacing them.
— EPILOGUE TRUMP —
“Donald Trump helped the GOP raise $2 billion. Now former aides and allies are jockeying to tap into his fundraising power.” via Josh Dawsey, Ashley Parker, Michael Scherer and Any Narayanswamy of The Washington Post — One day before the Republican Party’s elite donors are slated to gather for their April retreat in Palm Beach, a nonprofit group aligned with onetime aides to Trump is hosting an “investors meeting” a few miles away for major GOP contributors. The keynote speaker is Trump himself, and his gilded Mar-a-Lago Club is hosting the event. The group, the Conservative Partnership Institute, now has former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on its payroll and has partnered with other former Trump aides, such as Russ Vought and Stephen Miller. It has planned a slate of events that buttress Trump’s agenda, including a dinner titled “An America First Future” and a panel on “Fighting Big Tech.”
“‘Alex Azar anonymous’: Trump health officials start a club to counter former HHS chief” via Adam Cancryn of POLITICO — A small group of top Trump health officials recently held a series of discussions to coordinate their accounts of the administration’s troubled COVID-19 response, worried they will be scapegoated by old colleagues, including their onetime boss, former Health secretary Azar, according to six people with knowledge of their interactions. Much of the group had fraught relationships with Azar, whose own accounts of the administration’s pandemic efforts have often diverged from theirs.
— THE DEFINING FIGHT —
“Biden urges Congress to pass election reform in wake of Georgia voting restrictions” via Ben Leonard of POLITICO — Biden slammed Georgia’s new voting restrictions, calling them 21st-century “Jim Crow” and urging Congress to pass election reform bills. “This law, like so many others being pursued by Republicans in statehouses across the country, is a blatant attack on the Constitution and good conscience,” Biden said in a statement Friday afternoon. “This is Jim Crow in the 21st Century. It must end. We have a moral and Constitutional obligation to act.” Biden called on Congress to pass H.R. 1, or the “For the People Act,” which would reform ballot access and campaign finance. It would require states to offer same-day voting registration and two weeks of early voting, among other things.
“After Trump tried to intervene in the 2020 vote, state Republicans are moving to take more control of elections” via Amy Gardner of The Washington Post — State Republicans have taken steps this year that could give them more power to sway the certification of election results, efforts that voting advocates decried as a blatant attempt to circumvent the popular vote, as Trump tried to do after his defeat in November. Amid an avalanche of voting legislation proposed in dozens of states, the moves go beyond highly scrutinized proposals to tighten rules around how ballots are cast in the name of election security. Critics say some of the initiatives attempt to clear the way for partisan actors to take control of election administration, as Trump unsuccessfully urged Republicans to do in the fall.
“Georgia GOP fires opening shot in fight to limit voting” via Nick Corasaniti and Reid J. Epstein of The New York Times — The fight over voting rights is emerging as one of the defining conflicts of the Biden era, and Georgia fired the opening shot with a set of new restrictions underscoring the political, legal and financial clashes that will influence whether Republicans retake Congress and the White House. President Biden on Friday called Georgia’s new law an “attack on the Constitution” and said the Justice Department was “taking a look” at Republican voting efforts in the state, without offering any specifics. Civil rights groups immediately challenged the Georgia law in federal court, backed by prominent Democratic voting rights lawyers.
“Former Trump adviser takes prominent role in voting battle” via The Associated Press — A GOP lawyer who advised Trump on his campaign to overturn the 2020 election results is now playing a central role coordinating the Republican effort to tighten voting laws around the country. Cleta Mitchell, a longtime Republican lawyer and advocate for conservative causes, was among the Trump advisers on a January phone call in which Trump asked Georgia election officials to “find” enough votes to declare him, and not Biden, the winner of the battleground state. Now Mitchell has taken the helm of two separate efforts to push for tighter state voting laws and to fight Democratic efforts to expand access to the ballot at the federal level.
— CRISIS —
“Nancy Pelosi taps D.C. National Guard chief as top House security official” via Kyle Cheney of POLITICO — Pelosi has tapped the head of Washington, D.C.,’s National Guard, Maj. Gen. William Walker, as the House’s new top security official. Walker, a 39-year military veteran, will become the House’s permanent sergeant-at-arms, Pelosi announced Friday. He succeeds Timothy Blodgett, who took over the post temporarily in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. The previous permanent sergeant-at-arms, Paul Irving, was pushed out of the job after Jan. 6, amid recriminations over the security failures that allowed a mob of thousands of Trump‘s supporters to occupy the Capitol and delay Congress’ certification of the 2020 election results.
“‘Be aware’: The Pentagon’s target list for extremist infiltrators — right and left” via Betsy Woodruff Swan and Bryan Bender of POLITICO — Flags from the left-wing Antifa movement. Depictions of Pepe the Frog, the cartoon character that’s been misappropriated by racist groups. Iconography from the far-right Proud Boys, including the phrase “stand back and stand by” from Trump. They are all signs that extremists could be infiltrating the military, according to internal training materials that offer a more detailed view into the array of radical groups and ideologies the Pentagon is trying to keep out of the ranks. But the Pentagon says one is too many.
“‘Psychological burden’ of jail is too much, says Sarasota County man who stormed The Capitol” via Timothy Fanning of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — An Englewood man belonging to the Florida Chapter of the Oath Keepers organization who was charged with storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 says he is struggling to cope with jail and has asked a federal judge to reconsider a ruling that would keep him there until the start of his trial. Graydon Young has been in jail following his arrest on Feb. 15. Young “had been duped by an organization he didn’t fully understand,” defense attorney Robert Foley argued in court. Young’s attorney said his client should be released because of his “strong character” and the “psychological burdens” he has endured since jailed.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“9 bills from guns to George Floyd to the ERA wait in the Senate: Will any get enough Republican support to pass?” via Savannah Behrmann of USA Today — Pelosi lauded all the bills the Democratic-led House passed in the first few months of 2021 as “just wonderful” on Friday. “We were very pleased this week we were able to pass legislation,” Pelosi reiterated during a news conference. Since the new Congress started in January, the House has passed at least two dozen bills that now await Senate action. A number of these provisions address major Democratic aims on immigration, elections, women’s rights and gun control. But despite the celebratory feeling from some House Democrats, the bills face grim odds as they continue to accumulate at the Senate doors.
Assignment editors — U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist will hold a series of news conferences on vaccinating veterans and visit businesses to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic, news conference, 10:45 a.m., Bay Pines VA Medical Center, 1000 Bay Pines Blvd. Also, 12:15 p.m., Home Care for You, 13575 58th St. North, #180, Clearwater; 12:45 p.m., Kao Thai, 7199 66th St. North, Pinellas Park; 1:10 p.m., Tasty Pho, 7430 49th St. North, Pinellas Park.
— LOCAL NOTES —
“Curfew, what curfew? Massive crowds of Spring Breakers let loose in Miami despite 8 p.m. restriction before cops clear partygoers off the streets” via Matthew Wright for the Daily Mail — Spring Breakers partied into the weekend in Miami despite officials putting a curfew in place to stop crowds from gathering on the boardwalk. Worries about renewed COVID-19 outbreaks prompted Miami officials to enact a nighttime curfew following an infusion of rowdy ‘spring breakers’ that have frustrated locals. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said she was concerned the number of new positive cases were growing along with hospitalizations because it could be a sign of a surge approaching.
“As Spring Break crowds fade in South Beach, residents demand change” via Douglas Hanks, C. Isaiah Smalls II, and Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — As Spring Breakers gathered in South Beach on Saturday, about 80 residents held a rally outside Miami Beach City Hall with a broad complaint that the city’s nightlife industry has gotten out of hand and elected leaders need a better approach before the party crowds return for Memorial Day weekend. “We’ve had enough!” the crowd chanted as Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, a former city commissioner, began her remarks on a shared megaphone. She called for a city crackdown on hotels and bars along Ocean Drive, one of the city’s most popular nightlife destinations.
—“Fort Lauderdale changed its spring break scene in the ’80s. Can Miami Beach do the same?” via Taylor Dolven and C. Isaiah Smalls II of the Miami Herald
It ain’t just South Florida — “Hundreds of Spring Breakers arrested will return home with misdemeanors and $500 fines” via Sierra Rains of the Northwest Florida Daily News — Hundreds of Spring Breakers will return from vacation with hefty fines of up to $500 and second-degree misdemeanors on their record this year. More than 400 people have been arrested for underage drinking since the Spring Break season started in early March. Walton County sheriff’s Maj. Audie Rowell said his office has made 104 underage drinking arrests and responded to more than 400 calls for service thus far. Most arrests in Walton County have been occurring near the beaches on the east side of County Road 393, while sheriff’s deputies in Okaloosa County have had an equally high volume of activity between Okaloosa Island and Destin.
“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 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. Even though spying on her bosses was not in her job description, the commissioner said he asked her to serve as his “eyes and ears“ at the CRA.
The Times gets results — “Jane Castor ask feds to scrutinize Tampa lead smelter” via Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times — Castor called this week’s Tampa Bay Times investigation into unsafe work conditions at Gopher Resource concerning and has directed city staff to gather information from regulatory agencies that monitor the factory. In a statement late Thursday, the Mayor said she supported U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, in her efforts to update the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Kathy Castor wrote a letter to federal Environmental Protection Agency Director Michael Regan on Friday asking for the agency to review the factory’s operations, saying the “disturbing” findings in the Times report indicated that the company put corporate profits above worker and community members’ safety.
“Manatee County may force Scott Hopes to leave the school board for acting administrator job” via Ryan Callihan and Giuseppe Sabella of the Bradenton Herald — As the last man standing in Manatee County’s search for an interim administrator, Hopes would be willing to give up his seat on the school board to lead county government — as long as Commissioners require it. The Manatee Board of County Commissioners, which expects to make a final decision on April 1, has already expressed a desire to hire Hopes, but some members have voiced concerns about his ability to handle two demanding jobs. Five commissioners have already said that Hopes is their No. 1 pick for the job, but some members had planned to interview another finalist — Joseph Napoli, city manager of Cooper City. Napoli withdrew his name from consideration, clearing the way for Hopes to secure the spot.
“PBA billboard throws everyone under the PR bus together” via Gary Yordon for the Tallahassee Democrat — The Police Benevolent Association billboard suggests our community is so unsafe that sending children here for their higher education is too dangerous. It would be hard to imagine a message that threw more people and institutions under the bus than this one. Encouraging families and students to stay away from Tallahassee suggests we should stop investing in higher education, in our service industries, in producing future health care workers, in our economic development, in schools, and in building roads and parks. Just stay away from our horrible unsafe town and keep your economic impact in your pockets until our officers get more money and we can finally be secure again.
“Meth, parties and $100,000: How a decorated doctor ended up selling illegal drugs” via Andrew Boryga of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — As an ER doctor, Carlton Cash devoted his career toward helping others. But by 2019, he had a new profession: party-throwing drug dealer. Cash found himself spending large sums of money on crystal meth, using some to throw raucous bashes in his Fort Lauderdale home and selling large quantities to lower-level dealers. In one year alone, he estimates he spent about $100,000 on meth. Cash started spiraling down the wrong path ever since a near-deadly car crash got him hooked on painkillers and derailed his career in medicine, his friends say. Court documents and accounts from those who know him paint a nuanced portrait of a man whose life quickly unraveled.
“Fugitive sought in Destin hate crime arrested after standoff on fishing boat ‘Home Grown’” via Kevin Robinson of the Northwest Florida Daily News — A man accused of shouting racial slurs and likely permanently disfiguring an Asian man during a July 4, 2020, attack was arrested Thursday night following a 90-minute standoff at Destin Harbor Marina. Allan Chandler Muller III has been wanted since last year in connection with an aggravated battery hate crime, the news release said. A witness said the 33-year-old victim had been walking along Destin Harbor looking for his girlfriend when Muller allegedly began shouting slurs at the victim, who then turned to leave.
— MORE LOCAL —
“‘Like paying for a luxury car’: Child care costs in Miami are holding families back” via Yadira Lopez of Florida Politics — With the average cost of center-based care for a toddler in Florida at $8,618 annually, paying for care is the second-biggest income guzzler for Miami-Dade families with children, just behind housing. Infant care in the state is even more expensive, averaging around $9,600 a year, roughly 35% of a single parent’s median income. Childcare affordability has long been an issue locally. Even in the best of times, working parents become skilled jugglers, balancing child care with unforgiving work hours. The pandemic has only made matters worse.
“Lakeland may have three elections this year. Here’s how the 2021 special election happened” via Sara-Megan Walsh of The Lakeland Ledger — It’s a bit unusual for Lakeland to have a spring election. Unlike other Polk County municipalities, city residents usually cast their ballots in November. This year, there will be city elections in April, possibly May and again in November. Residents may feel like it’s nearly a yearlong campaign season as lawn signs, billboards, public debates and car wraps become frequent sightings.
“School board fires Brevard teacher for medical marijuana use” via Bailey Gallion of Florida Today — The Brevard County School Board voted Tuesday to terminate a teacher for using medical marijuana. Though medical marijuana has been legalized in Florida, it remains a “Schedule 1” narcotic at the federal level, placing it in the same category as heroin, LSD and methamphetamines. To receive certain federal grants, the district said it must be a drug-free workplace. To meet the federal definition, the district can’t allow teachers to use marijuana, School Board General Counsel Paul Gibbs said. The school district has had a policy since 2019 allowing students to use medical marijuana; the school board did not address the issue for teachers.
“West Palm employee learns the hard way: You can still get fired for smoking pot even if you have a medical marijuana card” via Tony Doris of The Palm Beach Post — At a time when marijuana restrictions are loosening across the country, when even President Biden has said he wants to end criminal penalties and expand medical research regarding marijuana and when a handful of marijuana or CBD dispensaries have opened within a block of West Palm Beach City Hall, Jason McCarty found out you can still get fired for smoking a joint, even if you have a Florida medical marijuana registration card, as he does, and your doctor recommends it. As he divulged before taking the urine test, he smoked at home the night before for anxiety and insomnia, rather than take a sedative that would leave him groggy the next day.
“New College of Florida kicks off presidential finalist interviews” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — New College of Florida will begin interviewing presidential finalists on Monday, marking the college’s latest step to replace outgoing President Donal O’Shea. The Sarasota-based liberal arts school will host five candidates over two weeks. The meetings kick off Monday with Alan Shao, College of Charleston’s College of Business Dean. A meeting schedule and livestream link are available online. The candidates’ resumes are also available online. The meetings come after the Presidential Search Committee narrowed their finalist list from 12 to five candidates earlier this month.
— TOP OPINION —
“We must start planning for a permanent pandemic” via Andreas Kluth of Bloomberg — For the past year, an assumption, sometimes explicit, often tacit, has informed almost all our thinking about the pandemic: At some point, it will be over, and then we’ll go “back to normal.” Most epidemics disappear once populations achieve herd immunity, and the pathogen has too few vulnerable bodies available as hosts for its self-propagation. In the case of SARS-CoV-2, however, recent developments suggest that we may never achieve herd immunity. Even the U.S., which leads most others.
— OPINIONS —
“Bills to ban transgender kids from sports try to solve a problem that doesn’t exist” via Megan Rapinoe for The Washington Post — There are efforts across the country to ban transgender kids from participating in school sports. Already this year, lawmakers in more than 25 states have introduced legislation to ban transgender young people from sports. These bills are some of the most intense political assaults on LGBTQ people in recent years. Sports have become another avenue to attack the rights of trans people. These bills are attempting to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Transgender kids want the opportunity to play sports for the same reasons other kids do.
“What Ron DeSantis should know about the whitewashing of American history” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — DeSantis went on a tear last week against allowing “critical race theory” in schools. He called it “teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other.” He’s wrong. What he makes sound terrible is simply an honest approach to American history. It’s about the whole truth, including slavery, rather than some sanitized version. This is a truth that can set an entire nation free. But if taught in proper context, those facts can help school children learn how even great people can do bad things and should be judged by the totality of their lives.
“The House looks like a GOP lock in 2022, but the Senate will be much harder” via Hugh Hewitt of The Washington Post — Redistricting will take place in almost every congressional district in the next 18 months. The Brennan Center has found that the GOP will enjoy complete control of drawing new boundaries for 181 congressional districts, compared with a maximum of 74 for Democrats, though the final numbers could fluctuate once the pandemic-delayed census is completed. Gerrymandering for political advantage has its critics, but both parties engage in it whenever they get the opportunity. The Democrats’ meager nine-seat House majority is likely to evaporate in the midterms. Rep. Kevin McCarthy is likely to be House speaker in 2023.
“Suddenly, the GOP cares about election cheating” via Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat — If partisan politicians could feel embarrassment, Republicans might blush a bit for what they’re doing under the guise of combating election fraud. Democrats are not exactly innocent bystanders or helpless victims. They’re trying to ram an election-reform package through Congress that, in its own way, is just as blatantly one-sided as the schemes GOP Governors and legislative are running in state capitals. The Democrats hope to bolster their razor-thin majority in the U.S. House with a big voting bill they call, straight-faced, the “For the People” Act. Well, it’s for the people who make the rules, like all election law changes.
“Controlling voters through legislation is a bad idea” via James C. Clark for the Orlando Sentinel — Republicans in the Florida Legislature are trying mightily to change the way Florida votes, and Democrats are fighting the proposed changes, calling them examples of voter suppression. But as history has shown, trying to control voters through legislation is a risky idea. Three years ago, Republicans in Georgia came up with a laundry list of ways to restrict voting, hoping to guarantee Republican supremacy. Last year Biden carried the state. The effort in Florida to change election laws is led by State Sen. Dennis Baxley, the Legislature’s go-to guy for strange legislation.
— “Georgia’s shameful new voting laws are a product of GOP desperation” via Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post
“A high likelihood that Florida will execute innocent people” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — The death penalty has never been shown to deter crime. A death case costs much more, from trial to execution, than one in which the maximum penalty is life in prison. It is so easy to put someone on Florida’s death row that 30 of the people who were sent there were later exonerated. The danger of executing the innocent, which almost surely has already happened, is high. Already rejected by much of the developed world, the death penalty lingers in Florida because of its political usefulness to politicians and their fear of being targeted if they oppose it.
“Plan to fix Florida’s Baker Act would make it more powerful, raising alarms” via Jack Evans of the Tampa Bay Times — A bipartisan group of legislators and reformers say they’ve found a way to fix it: They want to expand the Baker Act and make it even more powerful. Expanding the criteria for when the law can be invoked, reformers say, will allow those suffering from serious mental illnesses to be sent directly to treatment centers or hospitals. They say the existing law allows too many of those people to end up in jails or prisons. The legislation has alarmed advocates who fear that a more powerful Baker Act would wrongly ensnare people who aren’t mentally ill or don’t need such drastic action — especially vulnerable groups such as children, people with disabilities, and the homeless.
“Proposed changes to alimony and child time-sharing will hurt Florida families” via Douglas A. Greenbaum of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar, collectively and as individual family law attorneys, is committed to advocating for laws that protect strong, healthy families and, above all else, put children’s needs first. Unfortunately, nearly every Session, there are attempts to make changes to statutes governing alimony and time-sharing. This year, that threat has come in the form of Senate Bill 1922 and House Bill 1559, and we must stand firmly opposed to them, as we believe these bills ultimately hurt Florida families by instituting an automatic presumption of 50-50 time-sharing and drastically altering the current, effective system of alimony.
“Florida’s right to farm protects Florida’s food supply” via Gene Lollis for the Fort Myers News-Press — Florida’s farmers and ranchers do a great job of feeding our growing population. This small part of our population is not the enemy, rather the substance to our stable lives. These farmers and ranchers are working in very complex systems and strive to meet the challenges of our growing state with all the complexities growth brings with it. Florida’s Right to Farm Act recognizes the importance of agriculture to our state. However, it does not go far enough to protect Florida farmers from unjust, nuisance lawsuits. There’s a proposal moving through the Legislature this Session. SB 88 by Sen. Jason Brodeur and HB 1601 by Rep. Jayer Williamson will strengthen Florida’s Right to Farm.
“Dental therapists would help address Florida’s oral health crisis” via Frank Catalanotto for The Gainesville Sun — There is a severe shortage and maldistribution of dentists across the Sunshine State. One in four Florida residents live in areas where there’s a shortage of dental health professionals. High costs are a barrier for low-income and even middle-income patients. Access to dental care is also a problem for the elderly and those living in rural areas. Dental therapists can help. Licensing dental therapists in Florida would expand the dental care workforce. Proposed legislation would allow dental therapists to bring care to the very communities that need it the most. Write or call your local legislators and ask them to support SB 604 and HB 961 to authorize dental therapy in our state.
— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —
It’s the fifth week of the nine-week Session and Wednesday is the midpoint — the ultimate hump day for state lawmakers.
Also, on today’s Sunrise:
— This week’s big issue is the budget; both the House and Senate appropriation committees take up their respective spending plans. Right now, they’re about $2 billion apart.
— Another momentous change in vaccination policy. As of Monday, all Floridians aged 40 and up can get COVID-19 vaccinations. And one week from now, the age drops to 16 or 18 … depending on which vaccine.
— A bill limiting lawsuits over COVID-19 passes the House on its way to DeSantis for his signature.
— Representatives also passed HB-1 — the Governor’s bill making it easier to arrest protesters, a proposal inspired by the Black Lives Matter demonstrations last summer.
— Democrats in the Senate ask the Justice Department to investigate the case of a former state lawmaker accused of running a sham candidate in a South Florida Senate race to flip the seat for the GOP.
— Florida’s unemployment rate was down last month, but not by much.
— And finally, two Florida Men: one accused of shooting an air rifle at women picnicking at the beach, calling them the N-word with a bullhorn. The other was shot in the ass after breaking into a Motel 6 at 3 a.m.
To listen, click on the image below:
— ALOE —
“Apple’s move to block user tracking spawns new digital ad strategies” via Patience Haggin and Tim Higgins of The Wall Street Journal — As Apple Inc. moves ahead with long-promised plans to make it harder to target certain iPhone users with ads, advertising companies, and software developers are preparing for major disruptions to the $400 billion digital advertising industry. Facebook Inc., gaming companies and ad-tech providers are weighing a variety of responses, including updated payment models, new advertising techniques and notifications for users. In China, social-media apps have tested a potential workaround that would continue tracking users’ digital footprints. The changes to Apple’s iPhone software will let users decide whether to allow apps to track them for targeted ads.
“Vincent Viola’s Known Agenda prevails in Florida Derby at Gulfstream” via Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press — Known Agenda ran away from the field in the Florida Derby on Saturday, and might keep on going all the way to Churchill Downs to start the Triple Crown season. Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. guided Known Agenda to the win in the Grade 1, $750,000 race at Gulfstream Park, picking up 100 Kentucky Derby standings points, which will be more than enough to qualify him for that race in five weeks. Pletcher won the Florida Derby for a record sixth time, and Known Agenda covered the 1 1/8 miles on the dirt in 1 minute, 49.45 seconds. He returned $12.80 for the win, $6.60 to place and $3.20 to show.
“Classic Disney World character Orange Bird quietly gains popularity” via DeWayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — Orange Bird is red-hot. The cartoon character, created for Florida Citrus Growers as Walt Disney World prepared to open, maintains a legion of fans more than 50 years after his debut. Disney does not make it hard to show devotion to the little guy. The company sells many Orange Bird products. Back in the planning stages of Magic Kingdom, Florida Orange Growers wanted to be a corporate sponsor of an attraction, and it wanted a mascot to go with it. Disney designers dreamed up Orange Bird, which became the symbol of Tropical Serenade, the animatronic-bird show now known as Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Happy birthday to Chris Korge and our friend, Louis Betz. Belated best wishes to Attorney General Ashley Moody.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.