Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 3.30.21

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Rise 'n' shine. Wake up to the best blurbs on politics and policy in Florida.

It’s no wonder Gov. Ron DeSantis frequently takes victory laps, parsed with disdain dripping from his digs on the ever-critical media.

No matter how controversial the stance DeSantis takes, he seems to come out on the right side. Opening schools turned out to not be the superspreader move critics anticipated. Opening businesses fully and swiftly might have increased COVID-19 numbers, but not to the point of catapulting Florida beyond states that didn’t, and the economy is showing favor regardless.

And now, could DeSantis have done it again?

Ron DeSantis always seems to land on the right side. Image via Colin Hackley.

We’re (hopefully) entering the final stage of the pandemic. We might continue to debate whether to let Florida cruise ships sail and whether there should be vaccine passports (DeSantis says absolutely not). And DeSantis will no doubt continue to position himself opposite the feds, media, and, even, health experts, sometimes bombastically so.

But darn it, it looks like he’s rounding up another win or two, much to the chagrin of his haters.

Early on in the vaccination distribution push, DeSantis began scooping up partnerships with retail pharmacies, beginning first with Publix and then later expanding to retailers CVS, Walgreens and Walmart, as well as Winn Dixie.

After President Joe Biden took office, DeSantis sternly rejected the notion of “FEMA camps” to administer vaccines at federally-run sites. He was immediately blasted for dismissing help before he even knew what that help entailed. Fast forward to now, and, by golly, he was right anyway.

The federal government has spent $4 billion on a system set up to help with vaccine efforts, including mass vaccination hubs, including four in Florida. Yet those sites are administering a fraction of the vaccine doses retail pharmacies are managing, according to a story today in POLITICO.

The bottom line, according to that report, Americans would rather walk to their local pharmacy for a shot than travel to a federal site.

Sure, partnering first with a major donor isn’t a good look, but the general idea was, it seems, the right one.

On top of that, DeSantis faced blowback for saying, again early in the vaccine push, that one dose of a two-dose vaccine was better than nothing. At the time, it seemed like he was being cavalier. But it turns out, one shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine is indeed, not too shabby.

In December, DeSantis cited an article in The Wall Street Journal — it was an opinion piece written by neuroscientist Michael Segal — about the efficacy of the one-dose approach. DeSantis referred to the second dose as a “booster” shot, echoing Segal’s choice of words. The media said DeSantis was ‘bucking’ the science.

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of health care workers, one dose of those two-dose regimens was found to be 80% effective in preventing COVID-19.

Maybe DeSantis doesn’t deserve a cookie for getting right in hindsight. After all, a broken clock is right twice a day. But the clock, whether broken or not, has been right more than twice, and the hate continues to pile on.

We’re not sure if anyone is going to line up for an apology. In fact, we’re pretty certain they won’t, but at the very least, DeSantis should get some acknowledgment that his frustration with critics is warranted.

In other notes:

🌿 Biden save the Everglades: A $7.8 billion project launched at the Clinton administration’s tail end has functioned in fits and starts. And now, as the new Biden administration eyes sweeping environmental policy, and funding to go along with it, the project has the opportunity to do what it set out — to improve water flow to and from the Everglades and restore the treasure of South Florida. But first, the administration has to find the money to do it. Read how Biden can be the savior, while being bipartisan, here.

✊🏻 — American Insurrection: The latest Frontline, ProPublica production, American Insurrection, follows the rise of political extremism and far-right groups often tied to White supremacy and anti-government sentiments. The full episode airs on April 13, but a feature trailer shows clips of the violent insurrection on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol, as well as interviews with Proud Boys and other militia and experts following their actions. Watch it here.

🗳Kevin Cate is all about Nikki Fried: The same consultant who wrote about former gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum‘s eventual surge is now going all-in for Fried, Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat and the first to hold such a position since 2011. Cate notes that Republicans are acting like she could win in a hypothetical matchup against Gov. DeSantis, and Democrats should too. Read more here.

📘Don’t judge a book by its cover?: The New York Times created what is probably its most entertaining interactive exercise ever, and one that is telling about our individual biases. The feature shows images of various neighborhoods asking whether the viewer can guess how that neighborhood voted in the 2020 presidential election just by taking a look around. Can you successfully judge a book by its cover? Find out here.

🙏🏻 — As a man of faith, this is disappointing: Fewer than half of Americans say religion is very important to them, according to a 2020 Gallup Poll. That’s old news, but it’s relevant in the context of Lil Nas X‘s latest gimmick — selling Satan-themed sneakers. Despite Americans’ relative apathy toward religion, the stunt drew quite a lot of ire, as documented here.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

Tweet, tweet:

@VernBuchanan: I’m closely monitoring the situation at Piney Point in Manatee County, where a leak of contaminated wastewater is threatening the region. My office has been in touch with state environmental officials who are on-site and working to contain the problem

@RepStephMurphy: For anyone who has ever had to stand in line in Florida’s heat — particularly in the August primaries — this latest move by Tallahassee Republicans is just cruel & unusual.

@AndrewLearned: Note to self, if I’m ever on the side of not giving thirsty people water, I’m wrong …

@MarcEElias: It appears that Florida Republicans have looked at the outrage aimed at Georgia’s suppression law with envy rather than disgust. I have sued Florida before over their suppressive voting laws and will not hesitate to do so again.

@AnaCeballos_: One provision in Florida’s anti-rioting bill — prioritized by ⁦@GovRonDeSantis⁩ — that hasn’t gotten much ink would not allow a person arrested of any type of theft to bail out of jail if their county is under a state of emergency. They don’t have to be tied to a riot.

Tweet, tweet:

@SteveSchale: Gen X was trained since youth to stay home, keep to ourselves, entertain ourselves for free, and live cheaply off Lunchables & Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza. No generation in history was better prepared for pandemic living

@MacStipanovich: I wonder on what theory an alleged conservative and presumed defender of property rights like DeSantis thinks a private business that can ban people carrying weapons protected by the 2A cannot ban people without a vaccination passport. More performative BS.

@Fineout: Now adding to this: The band’s Facebook page says they got a “very cool phone call” asking them to do it. They also said on FB, “when The Governor calls and wants Highway 85, they get Highway 85!”

@RenzoDowney: Will people still be able to get their free Krispy Kreme donut if Gov. Ron DeSantis bans vaccine passports?

@JoeGruters: My motivation was to create a level playing field between Florida- based, brick-and-mortar businesses and their out-of-state and foreign competition. Along with that, I have always advocated for a reduction in the business rent tax, Great job @ChrisSprowls & @WiltonSimpson!

@GNewburn: Tomorrow morning, the dumbest bill filed this session, #HB325, will be heard in its *second* Florida House committee. This bill’s central premise is that Florida’s drug sentencing laws work so poorly, and have failed so thoroughly, we need to double down on them.

— DAYS UNTIL —

‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ premieres — 1; California theme parks begin to reopen — 2; MLB Opening Day — 2; Easter — 5; RNC spring donor summit — 10; 2021 WWE WrestleMania 37 begins — 11; Disneyland to open — 31; Mother’s Day — 40; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 41; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 59; Memorial Day — 62; Father’s Day — 82; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 94; 4th of July — 96; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 100; MLB All-Star Game in Atlanta — 104; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 115; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 123; The Suicide Squad premieres — 129; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 147; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 157; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 178; ‘Dune’ premieres — 185; MLB regular season ends — 187; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 193; World Series Game 1 — 210; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 217; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 220; San Diego Comic-Con begins — 241; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 255; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 262; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 360; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 402; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 465; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 556; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 591.

— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —

Ron DeSantis targets COVID-19 ‘passports,’ signs liability bill” via Christine Sexton of News Service of Florida — Pointing to privacy concerns, DeSantis said Monday he will issue emergency rules this week that prevent businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccinations through COVID-19 “passports” and will ask the Legislature to pass a permanent ban. DeSantis said he thought vaccine passports would create “huge” privacy issues that could result in people handing over medical information to a “big corporation.” DeSantis’s remarks came as he signed a bill that would shield businesses and health care providers from COVID-19 liability lawsuits. They also followed reports that the Biden administration is considering pushing federal agencies and private companies to develop a program that would allow people to show they have been vaccinated.

Ron DeSantis signs the COVID-19 liability protection bill while scoffing at the idea of ‘vaccination passports.’ Image via Twitter.

—“DeSantis signs COVID-19 liability bill, enlists rock band to perform at bill signing” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics

—“DeSantis denounces vaccine ‘passport.’ Heat plans special seats for fans who have one.” via the Miami Herald

Florida Chamber welcomes liability protections — The Florida Chamber of Commerce, one of the biggest advocates for the liability shield, was quick to celebrate the measure’s ultimate victory. “The Florida Chamber thanks Gov. DeSantis for his leadership in protecting Florida’s business community and appreciates the priority that has been placed on these protections for Florida’s job creators,” Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson said. “COVID-19 liability protections for Florida’s job creators has been a top priority for the Florida Chamber since day one of the global pandemic. With today’s signing of SB 72 by Gov. DeSantis, Florida’s businesses and health care facilities that continue to do their best to keep employees, customers and patients safe will no longer have to fear frivolous lawsuits as they continue relaunching Florida’s economy.”

APCIA applauds DeSantis for signing COVID-19 liability bill — The American Property Casualty Insurance Association praised the Governor for signing the COVID-19 liability protections bill. today APCIA Assistant Vice President of State Government Relations Logan McFaddin said DeSantis has “shown tremendous leadership on this issue and has been a strong advocate on the need for legislation to protect Florida businesses and health care providers from frivolous COVID-related litigation.” McFaddin also praised legislative leadership and bill sponsors Sen. Jeff Brandes, Rep. Lawrence McClure and Rep. Colleen Burton “for their leadership in bringing this legislation forward and shepherding it through the legislative process.”

Florida Council of 100 cheers COVID-19 shield signing — Florida Council of 100 Chair Syd Kitson and the Economic Competitiveness Committee Chair Rhea Law heaped praise on DeSantis for signing SB 72 and said the national business community is taking notice. “By signing this COVID-19 Liability Protections bill into law, Gov. DeSantis, along with leaders in the Florida House and Senate are continuing to demonstrate leadership and rise above the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kitson said. Law added, “By signing this bill into law, Florida has once again acted decisively, and demonstrated to the rest of the nation that states can protect consumers and allow the economy to continue to prosper. As a result, Florida is attracting entrepreneurs and companies from other states.”

The counter-argument:

AndNo amount of rock music can cover it up. DeSantis dodged the question, again” via the Miami Herald editorial board — DeSantis’ news conference had all the elements of a Florida spectacle: a live rock band playing “With a Little Help from My Friends,” a maskless group of people and a grouchy governor who doesn’t like tough questions intruding on his chosen narrative. The event at the Capitol in Tallahassee was supposed to showcase DeSantis’ signing of a bill to protect businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits. The band was there, DeSantis said, to remind us of what we’re missing when businesses are afraid of the liability of hosting such events. What better way to demonstrate that than by gathering a handful of Republicans without masks and broadcasting it on social media?

Meanwhile …Senate looks to shield colleges from COVID-19 lawsuits” via News Service of Florida — A Senate committee Tuesday will take up a bill that would shield colleges and universities from lawsuits over decisions to shut campuses because of the pandemic. The bill (SPB 7070), which will be considered by the Senate Education Committee, focuses in part on lawsuits that have been filed in Florida and other parts of the country against colleges and universities that had sought tuition reimbursements because students were forced to take online classes when campuses closed last year to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The bill also would prevent using performance on standardized assessments this year to determine whether to retain third grade students. Also, it would allow parents to request that their students be retained in third grade.

— TALLY 2 —

Deal reached to lower business rent tax” via Jim Turner of The News Service of Florida — The House Commerce Committee backed a measure (HB 15) on Monday that would require out-of-state retailers to collect and remit the sales taxes, with the anticipated $1 billion a year in revenue now proposed to go toward replenishing the state’s Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund. The Senate on Thursday voted 30-10 on its version of the sales-tax proposal (SB 50), which was linked to an earlier agreement to use the money to replenish the unemployment trust fund. As the House committee voted Monday to advance its version of the bill, Simpson and Sprowls announced the additional sales-tax money also would bring down the commercial rent tax from 5.5% to 2% after the unemployment trust fund is replenished.

E-fairness bill, now with business rent tax update, heads to House floor” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics

Florida health care groups rail against Legislature’s proposed budgets” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing lawmakers to make stiff budget cuts, and health care advocates are bemoaning cuts to Florida’s front line caregivers. With the beginning of the Legislature’s budget rollout last week, the House and Senate unveiled their health care spending plans for the 2021-22 fiscal year, both coming in around $42 billion. That’s above the $39.4 billion the Legislature approved for the current fiscal year. But that doesn’t mean health care providers won’t be seeing cuts. The Senate’s plan proposes a $251.2 million reduction to inpatient and outpatient base Medicaid rates, a cut that would affect all hospitals. Additionally, it would eliminate $77.3 million directed to hospitals that treat large numbers of Medicaid patients.

Spending plans point to ‘lean year’ in higher ed” via Ryan Dailey of The News Service of Florida — A Senate budget proposal calls for a nearly $217 million reduction in spending on the state university system. But as the Senate considers a controversial separate bill (SB 86) that would tie Bright Futures scholarship awards to amounts set aside in the budget, Senate Education Appropriations Chair Doug Broxson said the proposed spending plan would fully fund the program at more than $651 million. Currently, the program uses a tiered structure of providing Bright Futures aid at either 75% or 100% of tuition and fees. “I want to say this so that everyone can hear this; the proposal maintains Bright Futures student awards at levels that are consistent with current law,” Broxson told the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

It’s going to be a lean year for higher ed, says Doug Broxson. Image via Colin Hackley.

Florida prison funding crisis could become public safety issue” via Joe Henderson of Florida Politics — Any reasonable person will agree that Florida is tough on crime. The state has the third-largest prison population in the country, with nearly 100,000 inmates. That’s thanks, in part, to mandatory minimum sentencing laws that led to an incarceration rate 21% higher than the national average. That lock-them-up-no-matter-what approach to law enforcement comes at a high cost, particularly for those on the front lines. Lawmakers seem to consider that collateral damage and have shown little interest in addressing it. Combine that with the Legislature’s unwillingness to shoulder these policies’ full cost, and you get what we have today, an unholy mess that could become a public safety issue.

Senate wants agency reports on minimum wage amendment” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The Senate budget asks state agencies to report how the minimum wage amendment is impacting their bottom line. Voters last year approved an amendment that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026. The first uptick — from $8.65 an hour to $10 an hour — will take effect on Sept. 30. The wage then increases by a dollar every year until it hits $15, after which increases will come based on inflation. The Senate budget includes funding to put the state ahead of the curve by ratcheting the minimum wage to $13 an hour. The increase is a priority of Simpson.

Senate budget puts land acquisition money toward northern storage — The Senate’s budget would use $70 million in land acquisition funds to build water injection wells north of Lake Okeechobee, Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida reports. The redirection is included in an implementing bill, SB 2416, filed on Friday. The bill would also direct $50 million from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund for other water storage efforts in the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project. Lindsay Cross, government relations director of Florida Conservation Voters, said the wells are “far from proven as a scientifically effective or reliable approach for conservation.” The House’s budget proposal does not include spending for the project.

Senate budget could nix troubled SLERS contract” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System has been due for an update for years. The main holdup has been a treacherous procurement process. By mid-2020, contract winner Motorola and DMS went their separate ways. The Senate, however, directed DMS to resolve the tower troubles and gave them the option to renew the Motorola contract so the project could avoid another reboot. Now, the SLERS project may be dead. At least the Senate has shown it’s willing to take that step. The current year budget set aside about $21.6 million for SLERS contract payments. The line item has been scratched out in the Senate budget. Simpson said the move shows the chamber is willing to play hardball.

— TALLY 3 —

DeSantis isn’t backing THC caps but says today’s marijuana may be too strong” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Monday in Tallahassee, during a media availability with CFO Jimmy Patronis and legislative leaders, DeSantis told reporters that today’s cannabis hits differently than the more innocent variants of bygone times. Despite those concerns, DeSantis said he is not backing a THC cap. “I have not endorsed that. That is not something I’m pushing,” he said. The Governor’s statement may not change the proposal’s trajectory. It is moving in the House but stalled in the Senate. Judiciary Committee Chair Brandes says THC caps are a non-starter, and he has not scheduled the bill for a hearing.

Ron DeSantis thinks pot today is too potent but stops short of calling for THC caps.

House committee advances 2/3rds requirement to approve citizen amendments” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A bill raising the threshold for amending Florida’s Constitution cleared the House Public Integrity and Elections Committee Monday. Members voted 11-6 on a largely party-line vote. The legislation (HJR 61) would put a question to voters whether there should be a two-thirds majority requirement for proposed constitutional amendments to pass. Right now, it takes a 60% majority to approve an amendment. Rep. Rick Roth noted the Legislature must have a two-thirds majority vote to raise taxes in Florida. It’s not right that a smaller majority of voters can impose major policy changes in Florida when the representative government elected by the people must meet a stricter requirement. “We understand as elected representatives of the people, now is the time to protect our freedoms and constitutional rights,” he said.

Senate committee eyes contribution caps for citizen-led ballot initiatives” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — A Senate committee Tuesday will consider a bill seeking to limit contributions to political committees sponsoring citizen-led constitutional amendments. The Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections, which is meeting at 12:30 p.m., will hear Sen. Ray Rodrigues’ bill (SB 1890), which would cap contributions at $1,000 for “a political committee that is the sponsor of a constitutional amendment proposed by initiative.” Currently, no statewide limit exists on the amount that can be contributed to a political committee. However, Rodrigues plans to offer an amendment that would set the contribution limits at $3,000. The proposal would put the specified political committees in line with the same contribution limitations on state legislative candidates and county office candidates.

Senate-passed bill prioritizing permanent homes for foster kids clears House panel” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Legislation to prioritize finding permanent homes for Florida’s foster children is nearly through the committee process after clearing its penultimate House panel Monday. The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee gave its unanimous approval to Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera‘s bill (HB 1473), aiming to reduce trauma in foster children by reducing moves and requiring a thought-out process to transition children from one home to another. The measure is a Simpson priority. His chamber passed Sen. Jason Brodeur’s version (SB 80) earlier this month. Both Simpson and Brodeur were adopted as children.

Alimony bill clears first Senate committee despite pushback” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — Efforts to abolish Florida’s permanent alimony law are a frequent endeavor in the Legislature, and this year Republican lawmakers are keeping with tradition. Sen. Joe Gruters is carrying legislation (SB 1922) to eliminate permanent alimony, instead favoring “bridge-the-gap” or temporary alimony. Another major part of the bill affects child custody. Under the bill, child custody would start at the presumption of a 50-50 split between both parents. Monday’s Judiciary meeting drew scores of divorcees to speak on either side of the matter. Many of the speakers spoke for the second time because the bill was temporarily postponed last week. This meeting, the bill made it to a vote, passing 6-4 along party lines.

Senate panel to hold workshop on grandparent visitation laws — The Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee will discuss grandparent visitation laws in Florida when it meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday. The laws have been a focus in the years since the murder of FSU law professor Dan Markel. Markel was murdered by hit men who were allegedly working on behalf of his ex-wife or her family. Since Markel’s death, his parents have been blocked from seeing their grandchildren. “In these unthinkable situations, Florida law doesn’t give children or their grandparents a chance to be heard. We hope to find a path forward to change that,” committee Chair Lauren Book said. Workshop participants will include representatives for the Markel family, lawyers, and psychologists.

Tweet, tweet:

Bill would ban seclusion of students with disabilities as punishment” via Albert Pefley of CBS 12 — Book says she’s fighting to prevent schools from using seclusion on students with disabilities as punishment. Her bill (SB 192) would also limit the use of restraints on students with disabilities. Restraints could only be used as a last resort or to avoid imminent harm. Sen. Book says she has been working on this bill for several years. The bill also includes a pilot program for Broward County Schools that would require a video camera to be placed in specified classrooms at the parent’s request.

Anonymous code enforcement tips targeted” via The News Service of Florida — The House Public Integrity & Elections Committee on Monday backed a bill (HB 883) by Rep. Toby Overdorf that would change county and municipal code-enforcement rules so that inspectors and enforcement officers would be blocked from initiating investigations unless people reporting alleged code violations provide their names and addresses. Code enforcement officers could still take action on anonymous tips if they have reason to believe the violations present imminent threats to public health, safety, or welfare or may result in the imminent destruction of habitat or sensitive resources. The Senate version of the bill (SB 60), sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Bradley, was approved in a 27-11 vote last week. All of the opposition came from Democrats.

— TALLY 4 —

Presidential search exemption goes to full House” via The News Service of Florida — A House panel approved a proposal that would provide a public-records exemption for information about people applying to become state college and university presidents. The measure (HB 997) would shield from the public “personal identifying information” about applicants. The information would be released about finalists for the positions. The House Education & Employment Committee advanced the measure on a 15-4 vote. Meetings that would expose identifying information about candidates could be closed to the public under the proposal, but a “complete recording” would have to be made. The bill says that many applicants to become college or university president are employed “and could jeopardize their current positions if it were to become known that they were seeking employment elsewhere.”

But we’re cutting the higher ed budget? — “Out-of-state students with Florida grandparents could get in-state tuition” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — Republican leaders in the Legislature want to provide in-state tuition to the out-of-state grandchildren of Florida residents. Proposals are moving in both the House and Senate to provide the lower rate, a savings of $490 per credit hour. To qualify, students would need to score in the 89th percentile or higher on standardized tests and have a grandparent who is a Florida resident. State Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who has eight grandchildren, sponsored the bill (SB 1728) because, he explained, many Florida grandparents pay state taxes but have no children in the public education system. Rep. Ramon Alexander, a Tallahassee Democrat, found fault with giving a financial break to out-of-state students at the expense of Florida residents.

If your grandparents live in Florida, Dennis Baxley wants you to be eligible for in-state tuition.

Moment of silence bill clears second Senate committee” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — A moment of silence bill that already passed in the House is picking up speed in the Senate. The bill (SB 282) passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday, its second committee stop, with unanimous support among committee members. The bill would require a one- to two-minute moment of silence at the start of the school day in public K-12 classrooms. “I actually do think that a moment of silence can change the day. It’s a noisy world, a noisy place,” bill sponsor Baxley said. Current law allows, but does not require, schools to set aside up to two minutes each day or each week to give students the opportunity for prayer or meditation.

Timeshare bill could cost Florida counties, cities and schools $170 million in property taxes” via Caroline Glenn of the Orlando Sentinel — After the Osceola County property appraiser won a major case against Wyndham timeshares upholding the way it values the company’s resorts, some Florida lawmakers want appraisers to use a different method. The proposal (HB 1007/SB 1358) would cut taxes for some of the largest corporations in the timeshare business. In Orange County, timeshares account for more than $9 billion in taxable property value and about $175 million in annual property taxes. If the bill passes, Orange County Tax Collector Amy Mercado estimated the taxable value of her county’s timeshares — and thus the amount of property taxes they must pay — could plummet between 50% and 70%. It’ll be discussed for the first time Tuesday in the Senate Regulated Industries committee.

Bryan Avila bill setting up Biscayne Bay Commission heads to House floor” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Newly-amended legislation setting up a commission to oversee public projects in the Biscayne Bay is now moving to the House floor. The House State Affairs Committee unanimously approved the measure Monday via a 22-0 vote. The bill from Republican Rep. Bryan Avila (HB 1177) has now cleared all three committee stops. “Last August, my community was horrified to see thousands of fish and marine life turn up dead in Biscayne Bay,” Avila said to lawmakers in explaining the need for the bill. Avila blamed “excess nutrients, sewage contamination, pollution and littering” as leading factors creating those environmental issues. By setting up the commission, Avila says he’s hoping to overcome intra-agency finger-pointing that’s existed in cleaning up the bay in the past.

Tourist taxes for flood control clears final House committee” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Despite stern opposition from the tourism sector, a bill that would allow local governments to spend tourist taxes to combat climate change flooding cleared its final House committee Monday and is now set for the floor. This time HB 1429 from Avila lost a couple of votes when two Republicans on the State Affairs Committee opposed diverting tourist development tax revenue from its original purpose, direct marketing of Florida’s tourism industry. It didn’t help the bill’s cause that Speaker Sprowls’ latest proposal would redirect money from the Sadowski Fund for Affordable Housing to fight sea level rise flooding and other effects of climate change.

Senate to take up property insurance revamp” via The News Service of Florida — The Senate will take up a potentially far-reaching plan that would make changes, including allowing insurers to limit amounts paid for many homeowners’ roof damage. The insurance measure (SB 76), sponsored by Senate Banking and Insurance Chair Jim Boyd, is on a list of bills slated for consideration Thursday during a floor Session. Supporters of the bill say it is needed to address financial problems in the property-insurance industry, as many customers face large rate increases and others turn to the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. for coverage. The bill also would place new limits on attorney fees in lawsuits filed by property owners against insurers.

Jim Boyd is behind a series of broad insurance reforms. Image via Colin Hackley.

Scott Plakon lands PSC interview — The PSC Nominating Council voted to interview Rep. Plakon and four others to fill the seat previously held by newly appointed DBPR Secretary Julie Brown, Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida reports. Plakon, who is term-limited, was one of nine applicants for the job. Also getting an interview are Rocket Ship Consultants founder Rosanna Catalano, former Livable Florida director Jeanne Curtin and PSC employees Ana Cristina Ortega and Gabriella Passidomo, the daughter of Sen. Kathleen Passidomo. The nominating council will interview the candidates and vote on who to recommend to the Governor on April 12.


— LOBBY REGS —

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Mike Corcoran, Jacqueline Corcoran, Matt Blair, Ralph Criss, Andrea Tovar, Corcoran Partners: Florida Clubhouse Coalition

Jerry Haag: Florida Baptist Children’s Homes

Harold Kim: U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Mauricio Montiel, Marin and Sons: Town of Bay Harbor Islands

Tiffany McCaskill Henderson: American Heart Association

Timothy Stanfield, Greenberg Traurig: Guy Carpenter & Company

— LEG. SKED —

Assignment editors — Sen. Book‘s Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee is holding a public workshop on the ‘Dan Markel‘ grandparent visitation issue, 9 a.m., Mallory Horne Committee Room, Room 37, Senate Building.

The Senate Education Committee meets to consider SB 2010, from Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., setting up steps to curb foreign influence in Florida colleges and universities and other agencies., 8:30 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee meets to consider confirmation of all that as secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families., 9 a.m., Room 37 Senate Office Building.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee meets to consider SB 1156, from Brandes, to prevent execution of people who had “serious mental illness” at the time of their crimes., 9 a.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.

The House Environment, Agriculture and Flooding Subcommittee meets to consider HB 1601, from Rep. Jayer Williamson, to shield farmers from lawsuits., 9 a.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

The House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider HB 523, from Rep. Jackie Toledo, to help victims of human trafficking., 9 a.m., Room 212, Knott Building.

The House Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee meets to consider HB 1071, from Rep. Rick Roth, to help former foster children enroll in the Medicaid program., 10 a.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The House Civil Justice and Property Rights Subcommittee meets to consider HB 1355, from Reps. Kristen Arrington and Amber Mariano, to provide a public-records exemption for personal information about county attorneys, assistant county attorneys and family members., 12:30 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The House Infrastructure and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider HB 1113, from Rep. Randy Fine, to make changes related to pedestrian crosswalks., 12:30 p.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.

The House Secondary Education and Career Development Subcommittee meets to consider HB 157, from Reps. Fred Hawkins and Demi Busatta Cabrera, requiring high school students to receive training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation., 12:30 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee meets to consider SB 1890, from Rodrigues, to restrict contributions to political committees working to place proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot, 12:30 p.m., Room 110 Senate Office Building.

The Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee meets to consider SB 1924, also from Diaz, to place restrictions on local emergency orders., 12:30 p.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Regulated Industries meets to consider SB 902, also from Rodrigues, to restrict regulation for pools serving condominium, cooperative or homeowners’ associations., 12:30 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee meets to consider HB 609, from Rep. Ben Diamond, to make several changes related to estates and trusts., 1 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee meets to consider SB 360, from Sen. Ed Hooper, to make changes related to radio systems used by fire departments., 3:30 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The Senate Community Affairs Committee meets to consider SB 2008, from Diaz, to allow counties to spend tourist-development tax — commonly known as “bed tax” — money to combat flooding., 3:30 p.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Transportation Committee meets to consider SB 566, from Sen. Keith Perry, to address insurance and tax issues related to peer-to-peer car sharing., 3:30 p.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.

The House Finance & Facilities Subcommittee meets to consider HB 1155, also from Rep. Toledo, to make several changes related to pharmacy benefit managers., 4 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The House Government Operations Subcommittee meets to consider HB 1395, from Rep. Tracie Davis, to provide a public-records exemption for the names of people who win more than $250,000 in the lottery., 4 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

The House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider HB 559, from Hawkins, to require elementary schools to teach certain computer science skills, 4 p.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.

The House Regulatory Reform Committee meets to consider HB 1645 and HB 1647, from Reps. Brad Drake and Rene Plasencia, respectively, which involve alcoholic-beverage licenses in Freeport and Orlando., 4 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.

— TALLY MADNESS —

And then there were four.

Upsets, blowouts, Cinderella stomping and record voting numbers. Round 4 of TallyMadness had all that and more.

The head-to-head between Duke Energy lobbyist Chris Flack vs. FSU lobbyist Clay Ingram delivered a stunning blow to Seminole fans as Ingram went down like the Noles did vs. the Wolverines. It was a stunner, considering Ingram was fresh off a double-digit win in the Sweet 16. There’s a silver lining, however. As an FSU alum, Flack keeps the Noles in contention for the title.

Charter Communications lobbyist Albie Kaminsky has put on quite the show in his TallyMadness debut, but Joe Anne Hart of the Florida Dental Association snuffed out the Cinderella story in what could only be described as a rout. To her fans, it was no surprise — she’s made it look easy all tournament, notching 60% or more in each of the first three rounds.

The TallyMadness Final Four. Who will win? Cast your vote NOW!

Florida Health Care Association lobbyist Toby Philpot is headed to the Final Four after a convincing win over Danielle Scoggins of the Florida Realtors. While the victory is reason enough to celebrate, the Governor’s signature on the COVID-19 liability bill meant he was already due for a Gatorade bath.

While those matches were exciting, the bout between Florida School Boards Association lobbyist BillieAnne Gay and Justin Thames of the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants was the highlight of the Elite Eight.

It was an absolute barn burner and, if the bracket were just a bit different, this could have been an epic championship game.

Both recorded insane vote totals — more than 12,000 between them — and were only separated by a handful at the final whistle. If games had five quarters (quinters?), Thames might’ve won a spot in the semifinals and a chance to win the title he came within inches of securing a year ago.

But they don’t, and it’s Gay who gets the Final Four repeat.

The semifinals are on. Cast your votes to decide who heads to the title game before midnight Tuesday.

— STATEWIDE —

First in Sunburn —Nikki Fried leans on White House over hiring policies on weed use” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Agriculture Commissioner Fried penned a letter asking the White House to stop allowing prior marijuana use to influence hiring decisions. “There are recent concerns regarding Administration policies on the use of marijuana, concerns which I share as an advocate for modernized cannabis policy,” Fried wrote. “Reports have indicated that dozens of current and potential White House staffers have been adversely affected through the personnel process for prior use of marijuana, despite assurances that such use would not be disqualifying for employment.” The letter, sent to Presidential Personnel Director Catherine Russell, comes days after reports of dozens of staffers asked to resign.

Nikki Fried takes her pot stance to the White House. Image via Colin Hackley.

More than 20% of Florida drivers are uninsured, new study says” via Trevor Fraser of The Orlando Sentinel — More than one in five Florida drivers are on the roads without insurance, according to a new study by the Insurance Research Council. Florida was the sixth-worst state in the nation for uninsured motorists, with a rate of 20.4% driving unprotected. Mississippi was first with a rate of 29.4%. New Jersey had the fewest uninsured drivers at 3.1%. The national average was 12.9%. The study did not address what caused the disparity in rates among the states. Florida requires proof of Personal Injury Protection and Property Damage Liability auto insurance to register a vehicle.

Stimulus could give bump to lottery sales” via The News Service of Florida — Federal stimulus checks could provide a short-term boost to Florida’s lottery, while play is expected to slow later amid widespread vaccination against COVID-19. A state panel known as the Revenue Estimating Conference noted lottery games, particularly scratch-off tickets, saw increases when Floridians received earlier federal coronavirus relief checks. The panel expects the trend to continue as a new round of checks arrives through Biden’s stimulus package signed into law this month. REC expects sales to dip by 7.3% early in the 2021-22 fiscal year, which begins July 1, due to the widespread distribution of vaccines.

Gas prices dip in Florida, but ship blocking Suez Canal could cause future increase” via Cathleigh Winningham of Click Orlando — There’s some good news for drivers in Florida. According to new numbers released by AAA, gas prices have slipped 2 cents per gallon in the past week. The agency says the average price for a gallon of regular in Florida is now $2.88, down from $2.90 a gallon last week. Experts say the drop is due to a decrease in crude oil prices as refineries along the Gulf of Mexico rebound after February’s winter weather, leading to widespread power outages.

The Ever Given blocking the Suez Canal could lead to higher gas prices in Florida.

Two Florida businessmen interested in buying Orlando Sentinel to prevent sale to Alden hedge fund” via Caroline Glenn of the Orlando Sentinel — In an attempt to prevent the Orlando Sentinel from being sold to hedge fund Alden Global Capital, two Florida businessmen have said they’re interested in buying the 145-year-old Orlando newspaper to keep it in local hands. One of them, Mason Slaine, a former CEO of Thomson Financial, has expressed interest in buying both the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The other, Craig Mateer, founder and former owner of Orlando-based baggage-handling company Bags Inc., said he was primarily interested in the Orlando Sentinel — a newspaper with which his father worked in its very early years. Alden’s bid has worried many inside and outside Tribune newsrooms since the hedge fund has a history of downsizing at newspapers it acquires.

— 2022 —

Redistricting disarray nudges House Democrats toward statewide bids” via POLITICO — The House’s most vulnerable Democrats won’t know for several months if their seats will be winnable next year. For some, a once-daunting statewide run just got a lot more appealing. In Florida, Rep. Stephanie Murphy is seriously weighing a Senate bid as her seat in the Orlando suburbs remains a major question mark next year. Murphy is among two Democrats who won their seats thanks to a court-mandated redistricting in 2015 and might be most at risk thanks to a shift in the partisan lean of the state’s judges. The second, Rep. Charlie Crist, is openly mulling a return to the governorship, which he held for one term as a Republican.

Democrats Charlie Crist and Stephanie Murphy are considering statewide seats

First on #FlaPol — “Alan Grayson exploring run for U.S. Senate” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Democratic former Rep. Grayson has filed to run for the U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Marco Rubio in 2022. Grayson said Monday he filed federal paperwork strictly to open up an exploratory effort for a possible run. He said he is not committing yet to actually running. On Saturday, he filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission for Florida’s Senate seat in the 2022 election. Grayson ran for the Senate in 2016, hoping to take on Rubio that year. However, Grayson lost the 2018 Democratic primary to then fellow Rep. Patrick Murphy. Rubio then handily beat Murphy.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

How Florida left farmworkers out of its COVID-19 pandemic response” via Janine Zeitlin of the Naples Daily News — The sting of the needle dulled the fear of death that compelled Armando Izaguirre to the strip mall vaccination clinic. “I lost a nephew,” Izaguirre said, “and that’s really scary. … When you lose somebody close to you, it’s like, uh oh, wake-up call.” His nephew died of COVID-19 and worked in agriculture, as does Izaguirre. A month earlier, the 68-year-old farmer had pulled into the same Winn-Dixie lot in Immokalee and, to his shock, found a mass of well-heeled coastal retirees on a vaccination pilgrimage to the small inland town. But no spot for him.

New Hampshire teen thanks DeSantis for grandparents’ vaccinations, urges presidential run” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — DeSantis started his Monday morning with friends, specifically Fox and Friends, who presented a special guest expressing gratitude to the Governor ahead of his segment. Anthony Henry, a 13-year-old from New Hampshire, wrote DeSantis lauding him for getting his grandparents the vaccine, and was spotlighted in a segment toward the end of the Monday morning program. “I felt like he has been doing a great job the whole time and he’s always kind of painted as the bad guy, which is sort of unfair,” Henry said. Henry had not seen his grandparents since 2019, he lamented. But he will see them during the last week of April.

Ron DeSantis returns thanks to Anthony Henry on a Fox and Friends spot. Image via Twitter.

 

— CORONA LOCAL —

COVID-19 infections are rising once again in some South Florida counties” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Both Broward and Palm Beach counties are showing signs that the coronavirus could be spreading more rapidly after a weekslong lull. Cases have largely fallen throughout South Florida following the most recent post-holiday season spike. In the past week or two, the region’s death toll has finally followed suit. But reports from the past few days show that cases could be on the rise again. Through the first three weeks of March, Broward’s case positivity rate hovered around 6%. The most recent seven-day span, from March 22-28, shows that number up to 6.7%. And that trend is even more evident in the previous four days. Broward saw daily positivity rates of 6.8%, 7.1%, 7.3%, and 8% in that window.

COVID-19 variants triple in two weeks in Palm Beach County” via Jane Musgrave of The Palm Beach Post — The number of people with a variant version of the coronavirus more than tripled in Palm Beach County in the past two weeks as infections exploded across the state. The 217 county residents tested positive for one of the more contagious versions of the virus pales compared with the nearly 131,000 people diagnosed with the dominant strain. But experts worry that vaccines may no longer be effective if the virus continues to mutate and spread. With only 18.2% of the state’s 1.72 million residents over 18 vaccinated, public health experts said they are in a race to get as many people inoculated as possible before a resistant version of the virus surfaces.

Florida leads the nation in COVID-19 variants. Image via AP.

The vaccination site at MDC North expanded to 3,000 first doses, but they’re going quick” via Ben Conarck and Michelle Marchante of the Miami Herald — Miami-Dade County’s federally supported vaccination site at Miami Dade College’s North Campus upped its first-dose capacity to 3,000 on Monday, a major expansion on the first day that anyone 40 and over is eligible for a shot in the state of Florida. The expansion at MDC North, which previously had a capacity of 1,200 first doses, was announced on Monday morning by spokesperson Mike Jachles. It follows a similar expansion at all four federally supported hubs in the state, Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville, in addition to Miami. It will be the daily capacity through April 7, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

Bealls COVID-19 vaccine site in Milton vaccinating thousands each week. Here’s how they’re doing it.” via Annie Blanks of the Pensacola News Journal — Santa Rosa County’s clinic is unique in that it’s one central location where the county can administer its vaccines, as opposed to more fractured systems in other counties where people have to choose between community centers, hospitals, pop-up church clinics and other places to get the vaccine. While Santa Rosa has offered satellite clinics at places in the south end of the county — and people can still go to retailers like Publix, CVS and Winn-Dixie to get the shot — the old Bealls location is the central, massive vaccine destination where the majority of the 36,000-plus shots the county has administered so far have been given.

UF joins study on COVID-19 spread among vaccinated young people” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — UF announced it will vaccinate more than 1,000 students as part of a study into whether vaccinated young people can still spread the virus. Two groups of 500 to 700 students each will be given the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Clinical trials of the vaccines were designed to assess whether they prevented the vaccinated person from having the symptomatic disease and prevent serious illness and death. The new study, known as “Prevent COVID U,” will shed further light on whether the vaccine prevents people from spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. In addition to the students, people who are considered “close contacts” of study participants can choose to be enrolled and monitored to track virus spread.

John Carioscia, ex-Cape Council member, dies of COVID-19 complications” via Bill Smith of the Fort Myers News-Press — Former Cape Coral City Councilmember Carioscia died Sunday of complications from COVID-19. He served as a member of the Cape City Council from 2011 until his second term expired last year. In his last months in office, Carioscia was a strong supporter of an unsuccessful effort to make wearing a mask in public mandatory in Cape Coral. Mayor John Gunter said it was “with profound sadness” that he learned of Carioscia’s death. “He cared deeply about our city, and we are grateful for his dedication, leadership, and many contributions to our Cape Coral community,” Gunter said. “I extend my deepest condolences to the Carioscia family and ask our community to pray for John’s family during this very difficult time.”

— STRESSED OUT —

A new survey by the Florida Association of Managing Entities confirms what most already know: The pandemic has launched stress levels through the roof.

FAME asked 600 Florida voters how the pandemic has impacted their mental health, and 56% said they’ve been more stressed over the past year. Also, 39% say they’ve experienced new or increased anxiety or another mental health concern.

Unsurprisingly, the stress in Florida is on the rise.

Despite the large number of Floridians who acknowledge experiencing a mental health concern since the start of the pandemic, fewer than half (44%) say they have reached out to a professional for help. 

To FAME, that’s the key data point.

April is Stress Awareness Month, and the organization says there’s no better time to spread the word about the resources available to Floridians who are going through a tough time.

FAME, which represents Florida’s seven Managing Entities, encourages Floridians to take a selfie with 2-1-1 written on their hand and post it on social media using the hashtag #MindYourMentalHealthFL. Alternatively, they can also download this sign to print or use for their social media photo.

“That first call to 2-1-1 can be the call that changes the rest of your life,” said Natalie K. Kelly, the association’s CEO and President. “If you’re living with mental health or substance use issues, you’re not alone, and help is available.”

Once that first contact is made, professionals will help direct the person to the services and resources available.

Florida’s seven local Managing Entities work with a network of over 300 behavioral health care providers who deliver services to over 300,000 of Florida’s most vulnerable residents, including children, expectant mothers, veterans, and the chronically homeless.

Providers meet patients’ diverse needs with “wraparound services” that address mental health issues and substance abuse and assist with housing, transportation, and employment. Managing Entity community boards administer, manage, and ensure accountability of state and federal funds for behavioral health services, keeping oversight and accountability closest to the people they serve.

— CORONA NATION —

Joe Biden, CDC director warn of virus rebound if nation lets up” via Zeke Miller of The Associated Press — Biden and a top health official warned Monday that too many Americans are declaring virus victory too quickly, appealing for mask requirements and other restrictions to be maintained or restored to stave off a “fourth surge” of COVID-19. The head of the CDC said she had a feeling of “impending doom” if people keep easing off. The double dose of warnings came even as Biden laid out hopeful new steps to expand coronavirus vaccinations, with all adults to become eligible over the next 5 weeks. Biden announced plans to expand the number of retail pharmacies that are administering vaccines, and investments to help Americans get to vaccination sites. But the optimism was tempered by stark warnings about the potential for another wave of cases.

Now is not the time to let up on COVID-19 safety, Joe Biden says. Image via AP.

—“COVID-19 hospital cases rise in 25 states as CDC sees fourth wave” via Jonathan Levin of Bloomberg

Biden admin remakes vaccine strategy after mass vaccination sites fizzle” via Erin Banco of POLITICO — The Biden administration is rethinking a costly system of government-run mass vaccination sites after data revealed the program is lagging well behind a much cheaper federal effort to distribute doses via retail pharmacies. The government has shipped millions of doses to the 21 mass vaccination hubs, or “pilot” community centers, in California, Florida, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts and Texas. The hubs are part of a $4 billion federal system that funds more than 1,000 smaller vaccination locations across the country and provides other vaccination support.

U.S. vaccine doses head for 3 million a day as supply loosens” via Drew Armstrong of Bloomberg — The U.S. is on pace to soon administer 3 million doses a day of COVID-19 vaccine, as the supply increases and states widen eligibility. After stalling at about 2.5 million doses a day, the rate of shots administered in the U.S. has started to climb again. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the U.S. reported a total of more than 10 million shots in arms, a record three-day stretch that helped push up the average rate. On Monday, the U.S. reported 2.4 million doses administered.

Mitch McConnell makes pointed vaccine appeal to male conservatives: I ‘encourage all Republican men’ to take it” via Josh Feldman of Mediaite — McConnell said “there’s no good argument” not to get vaccinated. During an event in Kentucky at the Appalachian Regional Healthcare Hazard Clinic promoting vaccines, McConnell was specifically asked about vaccine hesitancy among Republican men. Polling earlier this month showed almost half of Republican men saying they wouldn’t get the vaccine. McConnell responded, “As a Republican man, as soon as it was my turn, I took the vaccine. I would encourage all Republican men to do that.”

What’s behind the Hispanic vaccination gap?” via Amy Schoenfeld Walker, Lauren Leatherby and Yuriria Avila of The New York Times — The Hispanic share of the vaccinated population is less than the Hispanic general population in all states with large Hispanic communities. Barriers to vaccine access faced in many Hispanic communities stand in the way of higher vaccination rates, even as the vaccine becomes more widely available. There is limited access to the digital tools needed to secure an appointment, especially among those who are older and live in immigrant communities. And often, information about vaccine eligibility and registration is only readily available in English. While the Biden administration has stated getting a vaccine will not affect a person’s immigration status, community health workers say this is still a major concern for immigrant families.

Pfizer, Moderna vaccines are 90% effective after two doses in study of real-life conditions, CDC confirms” via Lena Sun of The Washington Post — The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines being deployed to fight the coronavirus pandemic are robustly effective in preventing infections in real-life conditions, according to a federal study released Monday that provides reassurance of protection for front-line workers in the United States. In a study of about 4,000 health care personnel, police, firefighters and other essential workers, the CDC found that the vaccines reduced the risk of infection by 80% after one shot. Protection increased to 90% following the second dose.

Even a single shot of the two-dose vaccine is beneficial. Image via AP.

Care for dying with human touch an enduring casualty of pandemic” via David Baker and Dina Bass of Bloomberg — Never has there been a greater need for hospice care than during the deadly pandemic that has killed more than half a million Americans. But COVID-19 has disrupted almost every aspect of comforting the terminally ill at the end. Even as vaccinations roll out across the country, the system remains under unprecedented strain. As infection rates and hospitalizations plateau and, in some regions, rise after months of improvements, pressures on hospice care are unlikely to ease anytime soon. “We’re preparing for another wave,” said Melinda Gruber, president of the Caring Circle hospice provider in Michigan, where COVID-19 hospitalizations are climbing again.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

Biden administration extends ban on renter evictions through end of June” via Tony Romm of The Washington Post — The Biden administration on Monday announced it is extending a federal policy that prohibits landlords from evicting tenants who are behind on their rent. The new protections cover Americans until the end of June, extending an eviction moratorium that had been set to expire before the end of the week. The extension comes as the Biden administration races to dole out nearly $50 billion in housing aid to renters who are out of work or otherwise facing economic hardships caused by the coronavirus. Most of the federal funds, which Congress first approved in December, have not yet been distributed because of stimulus implementation delays.

— MORE CORONA —

WHO report: COVID-19 likely 1st jumped into humans from animals” via Jamey Keaten and Ken Moritsugo of The Associated Press — A joint World Health Organization-China study on the origins of COVID-19 says that transmission of the virus from bats to humans through another animal is the most likely scenario and that a lab leak is “extremely unlikely.” The findings offer little new insight into how the virus first emerged and leave many questions unanswered. But the report does provide more detail on the reasoning behind the researchers’ conclusions. The team proposed further research in every area except the lab leak hypothesis, a speculative theory promoted by former U.S. President Donald Trump, among others.

In Wuhan, the WHO discovers that COVID-19 likely was transmitted from animals to humans. Image via AP.

COVID-19: Mexico revises coronavirus death toll up by 60%” via BBC — More than 321,000 people are now believed to have died from COVID-19 in Mexico. The revised toll places Mexico with the second-highest number of COVID-19-related deaths in the world after the U.S. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has faced widespread criticism over his handling of the crisis. The opposition has accused him of downplaying the pandemic’s severity and blamed him for delays in the vaccination program. Experts have long warned that Mexico’s true death toll is probably much higher due to a lack of testing. It is also believed that a shortage of intensive care beds in many states has led to many people dying at home.

Against the odds, Cuba could become a coronavirus vaccine powerhouse” via Anthony Faiola and Ana Vanessa Herrero of The Washington Post — Five vaccine candidates are in development, two in late-stage trials with the goal of a broader rollout by May. Should they prove successful, the vaccines would be an against-the-odds feat of medical prowess for an isolated country of 11 million that was added back to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism in the final days of the Trump administration. Cuban officials say they’re developing cheap and easy-to-store serums. They can last at room temperature for weeks and long-term storage as high as 46.4 degrees, potentially making them a viable option for low-income, tropical countries.

Why people keep asking which vaccine you got” via Ian Bogost of The Atlantic — Of course, people are talking about inoculation: It’s the most recent news to process. But the liveliness of vaccine talk makes clear how fitful all previous pandemic conversation has been. Looking back, that void issued a constant, if unseen, stressor on daily life. Now vaccine discourse shows how badly people — Americans especially — want and need small talk. Despite its name, small talk plays an outsize role in socialization. Social scientists refer to this type of speech as phatic communication. Altogether, phatic speech is the linguistic glue that holds our interactions together. And the pandemic has utterly broken it, making social interactions even more exhausting. Suddenly, asking “How are you?” involved really and truly asking the question, whether you meant to or not.

Apple encourages staff to get vaccinated, offers paid time off” via Mark Gurman of Bloomberg — Apple is encouraging employees to get COVID-19 vaccines by offering paid time off for appointments and paid sick leave for those experiencing side effects, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The technology giant also told staff in recent weeks that it does not have access to vaccines and is not providing shots to workers, the people said. They asked not to be identified discussing private matters. Since the pandemic began to spread last year, Apple has offered paid time off to those with COVID-19 symptoms. Many corporate employees are still working from home, but the company has gradually brought back retail staff as Apple stores across the U.S. have reopened.

Apple is generous with sick time for employees who may have COVID-19.

High-tech face masks aim to step up the fight against COVID-19” via Suzanne Oliver of The Wall Street Journal — The face mask is getting a high-tech upgrade. Models now in testing do more than provide a physical barrier between the wearer and potential viruses. Materials scientists, chemists, biologists and engineers have created working prototypes of masks that include diagnostics, sensors and even the ability to kill viruses. In the near future, if you’re on a plane and the person next to you sneezes, you could be wearing a mask that sterilizes the air before you breathe it in. Some of these new masks are designed for health care workers, while others will be marketed to both health care workers and consumers.

School districts tackle ‘learning loss,’ school safety with COVID-19 aid” via Jennifer Calfas and Kristina Peterson of The Wall Street Journal — The new federal COVID-19 relief law will inject billions of dollars into K-12 schools to expand in-person learning and help students get their education back on track, but districts still face uncertainties over when they will return to full-time traditional instruction. Superintendents and budget officers in the nation’s more than 13,000 districts are now determining how to use the $122 billion in funding to pay for mitigation measures, make up for students’ lost school time, hire tutors and counselors, overhaul buildings and fill any budget gaps. “This is an opportunity for us to really think big,” said Mark Sullivan, superintendent of Birmingham City Schools in Alabama, which currently offers in-person and remote instruction.

— THE DEFINING FIGHT —

Republicans’ blunder on voting rights” via Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post — Republicans apparently were not concerned as to why voters, especially in African American neighborhoods, would be forced to wait hours in line to exercise the right to vote. After all, in White neighborhoods, waiting times are considerably less. No, what galled them is that anyone should try to make their wait less torturous by offering them water. That they could not tolerate. It was a political error born of Republicans’ own arrogance and inhumanity. And it may cost them greatly in the battle over voting rights. Biden picked up on it immediately.

We’re better than this — “Florida bill would join Georgia in banning giving water to people in line to vote” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — A provision in Florida’s controversial elections bill echoes one of the most controversial measures in Georgia’s new law restricting voting rights: a ban on giving anything, including food and water, to people in line to vote. Florida House bill 7041 would increase the distance from a polling site in which voters couldn’t be “solicited” to 150 feet from the current 100 feet. “Solicit” has been defined to include distributing campaign materials, selling items, or conducting polls. But a new provision has been added in the bill that would add “giving or attempting to give any item” to the list of banned solicitations. Anyone violating the provision, if passed and signed into law, would be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Brian Kemp leaves the Georgia state Capitol after enacting sweeping (and unpopular with many) overhauls of state elections. Image via AP.

Georgia’s new GOP election law draws criticism, lawsuits” via Ben Nadler and Jeff Amy of The Associated Press — In a letter to more than 90,000 parishioners, Bishop Reginald Jackson said Georgia’s new Republican-backed election law is “racist and seeks to return us to the days of Jim Crow.” Jackson calls for corporate leaders at companies like Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines to speak out in opposition or face a boycott. A lawsuit filed Sunday by organizations, including the Georgia NAACP, against Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and other State Election Board members, asks a judge to find that the law violates the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. A separate lawsuit filed by the New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter, and Rise Inc. seeks to block the law on similar grounds.

Calling for Masters to be taken out of Augusta fair but not feasible, but MLB All-Star Game easily could be moved” via Tom D’Angelo of The Palm Beach Post — The most iconic names in golf will start gathering at Augusta National Golf Club in less than a week. But the Masters once again finds itself at the center of a brewing social justice controversy brought on by a controversial election bill signed into law by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) called on the PGA Tour and Masters to pull the tournament unless the bill is repealed. Although a fair request, The Masters is not moving. That we know. The tournament has been held in Augusta since its inaugural year in 1934 and Augusta National, a golf club that had a deplorable history of racism and sexism runs the tournament, not the PGA Tour.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Why Biden is embracing his age” via Michael Kruse of POLITICO — He talked about the “coffin ship in the Irish Sea” in which his great-great-grandfather came to this country in the 1800s. He talked about the filibuster in part by offering up dusty pieces of his personal past. And he talked about “a Fourth Industrial Revolution,” inviting thoughts of the first three and their scope and scale. On Thursday, in his long-awaited, much-anticipated initial news conference as President, Biden attempted to traffic not in the twitches of news cycles but in sweeping arcs of history, inserting everything from economic dislocation to the recalcitrant actions of Congress to the current surge of migrants at the Mexican border into the broader context of presidential and even epochal ebbs and flows.

Age is not an issue with Joe Biden. Image via AP.

White House dramatically increased tax proposal as it sought to address tensions over next big spending plan” via Jeff Stein of The Washington Post — When Biden’s team began putting together his infrastructure and jobs package this February, the White House National Economic Council circulated an internal proposal calling for about $3 trillion in new spending and $1 trillion in new tax hikes, according to three people with knowledge of the matter. Soon enough, some economic team members second-guessed themselves, concerned that the plan could jeopardize the nation’s long-term financial stability.

Biden to release his first wave of judicial nominees” via POLITICO —President Biden plans to tap 11 nominees for the federal bench, including three Black women, sources said. At least two of those women will be named to the appeals courts, according to allies of his administration briefed on the selections. The list of nominees will offer the first glimpse of Biden’s plans to shape the federal judiciary after promising during the 2020 campaign to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court should he get the chance. The appointments will also provide a test for Senate Democrats who must lead the often-contentious judicial confirmation process in a chamber divided 50-50, with little room for political error.

The Biden administration will investigate Donald Trump-era attacks on science.” via Lisa Friedman of The New York Times — The Biden administration will investigate Trump-era political interference in science across the government. Trump’s disregard for science was regularly on display in his various efforts to belittle masks, dismiss the need for social distancing and declare cold snaps to be evidence against global warming. Behind the scenes, federal scientists said Trump and his top political officials also routinely sidelined researchers who worked on issues the administration disliked, like climate change; disregarded studies that identified serious health risks from certain chemicals; and meddled in scientific decision making, particularly around the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

— EPILOGUE TRUMP —

The unlikely team of prosecutors hunting Trump in Georgia” via Jose Pagliery of The Daily Beast — A sheriff’s deputy who went to law school but remained a cop for another two decades. A prosecutor best-known for tackling juvenile offenders. And the guy who literally wrote the book on racketeering cases against mafia goons. This is the team Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is assembling to investigate Trump — to go after his advisers and their attempts to manipulate election results in Georgia. In interviews with Willis, her staff, five former members of the team, and several people who interacted with them, The Daily Beast has learned there are now two grand juries underway in Fulton County.

Trump is losing the war over his legacy” via Philip Bump of The Washington Post — CNN aired a special featuring interviews with the senior officials involved in the early coronavirus pandemic response under Trump. No longer operating under the Trump political umbrella, they offered assessments of the past year that lacked any soothing veneer. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House response under Trump, expressed her belief that the deaths that occurred after the first wave of infections last spring were largely preventable.

Twitter-less, Trump finds it’s harder to get message out” via Antonio Fins of The Palm Beach Post — Since leaving the presidency in January, Trump has resorted to old-school news releases, now numbering in the dozens, as his go-to form of messaging. The content of those communications has varied. Some have signaled endorsements of candidates. Others have ripped fellow Republicans for being critical of him. Others have aimed at policies, such as immigration, promulgated by his successor. Speaking to Newsmax on March 22, Trump said the news releases are more effective than his tweets because people are waiting for them, Twitter can get you in “trouble,” and the news releases are “really much more elegant,” he said. Communications professionals disagree.

Trump lashes out at Anthony Fauci, Deborah Birx after CNN documentary” via Benjamin Din of POLITICO — Former President Trump attacked his administration’s top coronavirus advisers, in a highly personal — and at times inaccurate — statement released after the two criticized the administration for its response to the pandemic. “I felt it was time to speak up about Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx, two self-promoters trying to reinvent history to cover for their bad instincts and faulty recommendations, which I fortunately almost always overturned,” Trump said. “They had bad policy decisions that would have left our country open to China and others, closed to reopening our economy, and years away from an approved vaccine — putting millions of lives at risk.”

Tweet, tweet:

— CRISIS —

Most Capitol rioters unlikely to serve jail time” via Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney of POLITICO — Americans outraged by the storming of Capitol Hill are in for a jarring reality check: Many of those who invaded the halls of Congress on Jan. 6 are likely to get little or no jail time. While public and media attention in recent weeks has been focused on high-profile conspiracy cases against right-wing, paramilitary groups like the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, the most urgent decisions for prosecutors involve resolving scores of lower-level cases that have clogged D.C.’s federal district court. Almost a quarter of the more than 230 defendants formally and publicly charged so far face only misdemeanors.

Insurrection fundraiser: Capitol riot extremists, Trump supporters raise money for lawyer bills online” via Brenna Smith, Jessica Guynn and Will Carless of USA Today — Defendants accused in the Capitol riot Jan. 6 crowdfund their legal fees online, using popular payment processors and an expanding network of fundraising platforms, despite a crackdown by tech companies. The Capitol riot extremists and others are engaging these companies in a cat-and-mouse game as they spring from one fundraising tool to another, utilizing new sites, usernames and accounts. In one case, a crowdfunding website set up in late 2020 has been adopted by a defendant charged with storming the Capitol, who used it to raise almost $180,000. His was one of eight fundraisers on the site as of last week, and his donations accounted for 84% of the money raised on the platform.

The Capitol riot has become a fundraising tool. Image via AP.

Parler explains ‘free speech’ to angry users after sharing Capitol riot posts with the FBI” via Matt Binder of Mashable — Parler tried to throw Facebook under the bus. Now the right-wing social network’s users are angry. Just as Congress was finishing up grilling the CEOs of Facebook, Google, and Twitter at a hearing on Thursday, Parler published its response to a separate Congressional inquiry into the company’s ties and finances. In its letter, Parler accused the Big Tech companies of trying to scapegoat the right-wing social network to avoid accountability for their own roles in what transpired on Jan. 6 when Trump supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol building. Parler also called for an investigation into collusion between the Big Tech companies and alleged anti-competitive practices.

— D.C. MATTERS —

RAP campaign targets Matt Gaetz over ‘Big Lie’ — The Republican Accountability Project (RAP) launched a $1 million ad campaign targeting U.S. Rep. Gaetz and other GOP lawmakers who spread misinformation questioning the results of the 2020 presidential election and ultimately leading to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The campaign urges voters to take a pledge: “If our leaders won’t support democracy, we won’t support them.” The ads highlight members’ own words questioning the election. “Since the night of Jan. 6, most Republicans in Congress have been trying to make us forget what happened or rewrite the story,” RAP executive director Sarah Longwell said. “We won’t allow them to get away with helping incite an insurrection. They can’t be trusted with power, and we won’t forget it.”

To watch the ad, click on the image below:

Environmentalist Lois Frankel eyes oil” via Business Insider — Frankel made a flurry of stock trades during late February and early March, including some that appear to conflict with her clean-and-green policy positions. Her purchases all in the $1,001 to $15,000 range included Alliant Energy Corporation, industrial materials maker Hexcel Corporation, insurer Progressive Corporation and Xcel Energy Inc. Her stock sales include the American Express Company, Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corporation, consumer credit reporting agency Equifax Inc., and oil company Hess Corporation. All were also in the $1,001 to $15,000 range. Frankel is a staunch environmentalist who receives high marks from the League of Conservation Voters. This makes notable her trades in a petroleum company and utilities that burn fossil fuels.

Assignment editors — U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor will hold a media availability after visiting the vaccine drive-thru site at the University of South Florida, 10:30 a.m., USF Yuengling Center, 12499 USF Bull Run Dr., Tampa.

— LOCAL NOTES —

Miami, Fort Lauderdale … and North Miami Beach? Another city looks to woo Elon Musk” via Rob Wile Aaron Liebowitz of the Miami Herald — A North Miami Beach official is trying to capitalize on the Musk-backed Boring Company’s newfound interest in South Florida by throwing his city’s name into the mix for one of its futuristic transit systems. In a series of documents obtained by the Miami Herald through an information request, Vice Mayor Michael Joseph and his staff lay out a plan for bringing a tunnel transit route underneath State Road 826 between the Golden Glades exchange and the city of Sunny Isles Beach, with a proposed additional leg north and south along Biscayne Boulevard.

Another sewer break hits Fort Lauderdale. Is it the vintage pipes or all those tourists flushing?” via Susannah Bryan of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — After months with no nasty sewer pipe breaks, Fort Lauderdale has been hit with two a week apart. Both happened on a Sunday, triggering no-swim advisories warning people to stay out of the water. Both warnings have since been lifted. Thanks to the tourist season and all that extra waste flowing through the pipes? City officials say it has more to do with the age of the long-neglected pipes, which are now being replaced in an ambitious plan designed to keep the river of sludge contained in the city’s network of underground pipes where it belongs.

U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan resigns after more than two years of prosecutions in South Florida” via Wayne K. Roustan of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — First Assistant U.S. Attorney Juan Antonio “Tony” Gonzalez will lead the office as Acting U.S. Attorney effective Sunday. The change is commonplace when a new President enters the White House, as Fajardo Orshan explained in a statement released Friday. “Serving as your United States Attorney has been the privilege and honor of my lifetime. As the first Senate-confirmed woman to lead the office, I find it moving that my tenure ends in March, the month during which we celebrate women’s contributions to society.” She was nominated by Trump and was sworn into office on Sept. 18, 2018, during the longest federal government shutdown in history, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019.

With a new administration, Ariana Fajardo Orshan makes a hasty exit.

Should Tampa bill developers or residents to pay for fire and police services?” via Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times — Last week, a firefighter union official made an emotional plea: for more fire stations to reduce response times and new computer software to help fire trucks, worn down by overuse, to arrive at emergencies. It’s an old tune at City Hall. The belt tightened during the Great Recession for city services and never loosened as the city’s economic pulse quickened, prompting increasing calls for more investment in the nuts and bolts of emergency response: stations, vehicles and personnel. Amid a discussion of fire and police needs last week, City Council member John Dingfelder offered a potentially explosive solution: make developers help pay for police and fire capital needs.

Swastika, and other Nazi symbols spray-painted over SHINE mural at Rays Tunnel” via Colin Wolf of Creative Loafing — A St. Petersburg mural located inside the Ray’s Tunnel between Ferg’s Sports Bar and Tropicana Field was vandalized with swastikas and the other Nazi symbols. Investigators believe the incident happened sometime between March 20 and when the graffiti was first discovered on March 21. Besides a giant swastika and the phrase “Heil Hitler,” photos requested from SPPD show a variety of Nazi symbols spray-painted on the walls, including “NSDAP,” which is the acronym for the German Nazi Party, the Nazi Secret Service symbol “SS,” and the Sturmabteilung emblem, a symbol that originated from Adolf Hitler’s “brownshirts” paramilitary group.

Controversial Orange Crush Festival planning to come to Jacksonville Beach” via Tom Szaroleta of the Florida Times-Union — A controversial beach festival is planned for Jacksonville Beach in June after apparently wearing out its welcome in the Savannah area. The Orange Crush Festival is planned for the beach on June 18-20. It has been on the Tybee Island beach near Savannah for several years, but organizers say they relocated due to “civil rights violations and political injustices.” The festival is a loosely organized beach weekend that draws a largely Black college-age crowd. The event’s Facebook page promotes it as the “biggest beach festival weekend in the country,” with a festival, pool party, block party, car and bike show and photography expo.

FDOT: Pensacola Bay Bridge to reopen on Memorial Day week, damaged trophy needs replacing” via Emma Kennedy of the Pensacola News-Journal — The Florida Department of Transportation said in a statement that an entire trophy piece will need to be demolished and replaced after additional damage was found earlier this month. The Pensacola Bay Bridge has been out of service since Hurricane Sally in September when loose Skanska barges hit several spans and caused significant damage. Officials said in February that Skanska would complete enough work by the week of March 22 to reopen the bridge in a limited capacity, but recanted that timeline in early March, citing the additional trophy piece damage found.

— TOP OPINION —

Biden’s chance to save the Everglades” via The New York Times editorial board — With passage of the COVID-19 relief bill behind it, the Biden administration will soon offer its encore, one or more big proposals reflecting Biden’s multitrillion-dollar Build Back Better, which will enlarge government’s role in the American economy. There is, however, one environmentally important project that boasts remarkable bipartisan agreement and has important climate implications. It may be the most ambitious ecosystem recovery project ever, not just in the United States but anywhere, and it has the added virtue of being an act of atonement for past government failures. The project is essentially a vast re-plumbing scheme aimed at replicating as nearly as possible the historical flows of freshwater from Lake Okeechobee.

— OPINIONS —

UFO comments are clear sign there may be life on Planet Rubio” via Frank Cerabino of The Palm Beach Post — Rubio is talking about UFOs. This is a big development and potential evidence of life — for Rubio. Florida’s senior U.S. Senator has been in a virtual coma for more than four years now. So, the fact that he’s verbal about anything, even if it’s just talking to TMZ about potential space alien fly-bys, is big news. “Stuff is flying over our facilities, and we don’t know what they are,” Rubio said. “Maybe it’s got a logical explanation to it, but people want to know,” Rubio said. “I want to know what it is.” Good for you, Marco. We’re so happy that you want to know something about anything. You’ve been willfully wanting to know nothing about everything these past four years.

Shame on Deborah Birx” via Jonathan Last of The Bulwark — I understand the idea that, in an imperfect world, sometimes you have to compromise yourself. Sometimes you find that you can do more good working within the system. That’s the impulse that motivated Jim Mattis, H.R. McMaster and a bunch of other people who took high-level jobs in the Trump administration. I might suggest, say, that in the summer of 2020, Anthony Fauci could have done more good for the country by either resigning or forcing Trump to fire him and then blowing the whistle, every hour of every day. But I can understand the argument that Fauci was taking a wise course of action. But whatever Birx was doing, she was also aiding and abetting Trump.

Think every citizen has the right to vote? Not around here” via Diane Roberts of the Florida Phoenix — Voting: It’s not for everyone. The Founding Fathers only wanted some of us to vote, not all of us, and who are we to question rich, white, slaveholding gents from the 18th century? To that end, the Republican Party is working overtime to make it much, much harder for the wrong sort to go around thinking they have any part in this great democratic republic. This is complicated, so pay attention. You might recall that ballot access experts praised Florida for running an efficient, clean election in 2020, causing the nation to collapse onto the nearest fainting couch in disbelief.

Jeff Johnson: Unthinkable — lawmakers give nursing homes a free pass, now look to cut quality of care” via Florida Politics — Just as nursing home residents were victimized by the invisible coronavirus during the lockdown, so they are being victimized by the heavy-hitting industry lobbyists for nursing homes and health care executives in the locked-down Capitol. Not only have lawmakers fast-tracked bills that give nursing homes immunity from COVID-19-related lawsuits (SB 72), now they’re fast-tracking cuts to the quality of care. Letting these facilities off the hook by making it nearly impossible for residents and families to seek resolution through the court system is shameful. Piling on proposals that cut the quality of care for nursing home residents is unthinkable — proof that the push for less accountability and more profit is being fulfilled at the expense of resident safety.

Sarah Wellik: When it comes to eye surgery, let’s put patient safety first” via Florida Politics — Imagine having a “minor procedure” performed by someone who never went to medical school and lacks the necessary clinical experience because they never went through extensive surgical residency training. That is exactly what the Florida legislature is proposing with SB 876 and HB 631. This dangerous legislation would greatly expand the scope of practice for optometrists — who are not medical doctors or trained surgeons — and would allow them to perform this type of surgery. Additionally, it would allow optometrists to perform laser surgery on and inside the globe of the eye itself. Anytime a surgical instrument is used to operate on human tissue — especially inside the eye — it is invasive, serious and should never be taken lightly.

Lynn Haven violating legislative efforts to help consumers” via Lee Hinkle for the Panama City News-Herald — Lynn Haven hasn’t grasped the importance of rebuilding after Hurricane Michael. And it isn’t responsive to residents and taxpayers. The Legislature passed three different laws trying to make it easier for private-sector inspectors to do the same work as government inspectors — making sure homes and businesses are properly permitted. Private inspectors can often do the job more quickly than public sector counterparts. The current law is unambiguous — if a builder chooses a private inspector, his permit bill should be reduced by the inspection cost. City Commissioners created a convoluted formula to determine the fee charged to builders. At least one Commissioner made it clear he wanted to ignore the law, which amounts to breaking it.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

 Gov. DeSantis has found yet another way to avoid uncomfortable questions from reporters.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— Reporters asked the Governor why the state didn’t extend unemployment payments to pregnant women, workers sick with COVID-19, and parents who were forced to stay home to care for their children. Still waiting on an answer.

— Three days after it cleared the Legislature, DeSantis signs a bill protecting businesses from COVID-19 liability lawsuits. Simpson says it’s payback for companies that never closed during the crisis.

— After signing the law, the Governor announced he would sign an executive order that forbids businesses from requiring proof of vaccination to enter their stores.

— DeSantis is also asking the Legislature to pass a new law banning vaccination passports. So much for the government not imposing mandates on the private sector.

— The Florida Legislature has a new whipping boy … or girl. Conservatives in the Legislature are targeting transgender children, and not in a good way.

— Captain Will Benson, a lifelong fishing guide in the Florida Keys, talks about trying to keep the Legislature from overruling the citizens of Key West who voted to limit the size of cruise ships at their harbor.

— And finally, a Florida Man hid a camera in the girls’ locker room at Clay High School. He’ll be staying at “club fed” for the next 20 years.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

Universal: Taking in fresh views of VelociCoaster” via Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — The Jurassic World VelociCoaster continues to roll toward its grand opening at Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park. Visitors who have been circling the site to watch the testing of ride vehicles and get new glimpses of the attraction recently have had the chance to see it from a fresh angle: the bridge behind Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The structure first appeared when the original Wizarding World was under construction on a portion of the park’s Lost Continent land. Since then, it has been used sporadically to alleviate Hogsmeade foot traffic jams. The bridge connects from near the Fire Eaters Grill to the lower levels of Jurassic Park. Now it runs beneath the under-construction coaster track multiple times.

Universal visitors get a closer look at the Jurassic Park VelociCoaster.

‘Justice League’ leads HBO Max to top gain in streaming sessions” via John J. Edwards III of Bloomberg — AT&T Inc.’s HBO Max had the biggest increase in video streaming last week, as viewers flocked to its recut version of the superhero epic “Justice League.” The WarnerMedia streaming platform recorded an 8.9% jump in users launching its mobile app. Sports streaming service DAZN had the biggest decline in streaming among top U.S. providers. Director Zack Snyder crafted a re-imagined, four-hour version of “Justice League,” whose original 2017 cut, completed by a different director, disappointed some fans. The Snyder cut premiered March 18 on HBO Max.

Lego announces its biggest and most detailed Space Shuttle set yet” via Kait Sanchez of The Verge — In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the first Space Shuttle launch, Lego is releasing a new Space Shuttle Discovery set in collaboration with NASA. Discovery was not the first shuttle to take flight; that would be Columbia, which likely stirs up too many sad feelings for a Lego set; but it was the shuttle that launched the Hubble Space Telescope, also included in the set. Available April 1 for $200, the set has 2,354 pieces, including three newly designed pieces for the windscreen and payload bay. It also includes 108 drum-lacquered silver pieces, the most of any Lego set yet.

Major League Baseball relaxing COVID-19 protocols for fully vaccinated players, staff” via Bob Nightengale of USA Today — Major League Baseball is getting back to normal. Players can now travel with their families. They can go to restaurants. They can play cards and move around on planes and buses. They can use whirlpools and saunas in the clubhouse. And they no longer are required to wear a mask on the bench or in the bullpen. However, teams are first required to have at least 85% of their tier 1 players and staff fully vaccinated, with a two-week delay after the final vaccination, according to a memo obtained by USA TODAY Sports sent to teams Monday.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Happy birthday to former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, Democratic activist Susan McGrath, Tony Perfetti, and Trent Phillips.

___

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

Peter Schorsch

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


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#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.

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