Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 4.6.21

Sunburn Orange Tally (7)
Here's your AM rundown of people, politics and policy in the Sunshine State.

Alex Kelly, chief of staff to Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, is headed to the Plaza Level to work inside the Governor’s Office, multiple sources tell Florida Politics.

Kelly could start as early as this week, probably as a Deputy Chief of Staff, and is expected to take on education policy and some economic development issues as part of his portfolio.

Alex Kelly be heading to the Plaza Level?

Kelly was one of a handful of names floated for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Chief of Staff last month. The Governor ultimately selected Adrian Lukis, formerly a Deputy Chief of Staff, to take over the position from Shane Strum.

Regarded as one of the most capable staffers in state government, Kelly served as vice president for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a school choice advocacy group founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush, before Corcoran tapped him for Chief of Staff in late 2018. 

He had held the VP position at ExcelInEd for four years.

Before joining ExcelinEd, Kelly worked as the Chief of Staff in the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@Timodc: So the patriot party is in the midst of boycotting multiple major professional sports and most of America’s most successful companies, don’t like its movies or music, and participated in an attempt to overthrow our democracy. It’s unclear what parts of America they still like.

@NasaWatch: Sources report that the confirmation hearing for @SenBillNelson‘s nomination to become the next @NASA Administrator will be held on 28 April.

@Aronberg: A defendant doesn’t need to engage in a sex act to commit the crime of child sex trafficking. Enticing, transporting, recruiting or harboring a minor for the purpose of commercial sex is enough.

@Rob_Bradley: This @60Minutes debacle is going to give @GovRonDeSantis more positive earned media this week and beyond than anything that will happen in Tallahassee for the rest of this Session (and probably next). This is resonating with my Republican friends like nothing I’ve seen

@ErinBrockovich: When you hear an official say “it’s been going on for a long time” like they did in Manatee County Florida today that’s code for “it’s not my fault.” There are lives at stake here and in situations like this around the country yet it’s amazing how no one is ever at fault.

@GNewburn: When a crisis looms for many years, pinpointing responsibility for a preventable catastrophe can be difficult in retrospect. So, let’s make this plain now so there’s no confusion later. When Florida’s prisons collapse into chaos, it will be *this* Legislature’s fault.

@BradHerold: As a general rule of thumb, if the reporter sets up two different camera angles on themselves, they’re not asking serious questions, they’re performing.

@BaseballCrank: One of the silver linings of the [Donald] Trump era has been revealing how many Republican political consultants never understood or believed in any of the things they were selling. Which explains much of their failure.

— DAYS UNTIL —

RNC spring donor summit — 3; 2021 WWE WrestleMania 37 begins — 4; Disneyland to open — 24; Orthodox Easter 2021 — 26; Mother’s Day — 33; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 34; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 52; Memorial Day — 55; Father’s Day — 75; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 87; 4th of July — 89; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 93; MLB All-Star Game — 97; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 108; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 116; The Suicide Squad premieres — 122; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 140; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 150; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 171; ‘Dune’ premieres — 178; MLB regular season ends — 180; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 186; World Series Game 1 — 203; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 210; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 213; San Diego Comic-Con begins — 234; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 248; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 255; Super Bowl LVI — 313; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 353; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 395; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 458; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 549; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 584.

— THE CRISIS AT PINEY POINT — 

Feds moved in on a growing environmental disaster-in-the-making in Manatee County. As state Department of Environmental Protection officials confirmed a second breach in a pond at the Piney Point industrial site, both the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers deployed greater infrastructure to the site.

To catch up after a long weekend at Piney Point, officials late last week sounded alarms over water coming out of one of three water stacks at the abandoned phosphorous mine. On Saturday, county officials announced the evacuation of more than 300 homes out of concern a collapse of the mine would bring flash floods with 20-foot water walls. DeSantis declared a state of emergency on Saturday as DEP officials pumped water from the stack directly into Tampa Bay.

Piney Point has been a disaster-in-the-making for some time.

Officials pushed back on concerns the water could have excessive radiation but said it indeed contains high levels of phosphorous and nitrogen and high pH levels. All that could mean algal blooms in the Bay and beyond, and U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan reported after an aerial flight above the site Monday he worried he could already see algae gathering.

“After flying over the area threatened by the leak of contaminated wastewater at Piney Point, it’s clear that a breach of the reservoir would have catastrophic consequences,” Buchanan said. “The path of floodwaters resulting from a rupture would affect homes, businesses, farmland, Tampa Bay and Bishop Harbor.”

Meanwhile, state Sen. Jim Boyd on Monday filed a budget amendment to fund the complete cleanup and closure of phosphogypsum stacks on site. Senate President Wilton Simpson expressed his support for funding after visiting the site. “We don’t want to be talking about this problem again in 5, 10, or 20 years,” Simpson said. “This is exactly the kind of long-standing infrastructure issue we need to address with the nonrecurring federal funds our state will receive from the American Rescue Plan.”

Tweet, tweet:

Assignment editors — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried will hold a media availability about the crisis at the former Piney Point phosphate plant, 12:45 p.m., Manatee County Public Safety Building, 2101 47th Terrace East, Bradenton. RSVP to [email protected]

Will a deep well put an end to Piney Point? State officials say funds are available” via Ryan Callihan of the Bradenton Herald — Could a deep well be Piney Point’s grave? Florida officials say they’re ready to use emergency funds to resolve the longstanding issue of contaminated water at the former phosphate plant whose breached pond threatens to flood nearby homes with contaminated water. Manatee Parks Director Charlie Hunsicker, in a memo to Acting Manatee Administrator Scott Hopes, said Florida had authorized the use of emergency funds. That would allow Manatee County to pay for the planning and construction of a deep well, according to the memo. It’s not clear yet much a well would cost.

Senate proposes $200 million for Piney Point cleanup and closure” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — The leader of Florida’s Senate wants to spend $200 million on the “complete cleanup and closure” of the former Piney Point phosphate plant … Senate President Simpson announced that he wants to spend federal pandemic relief dollars on the site before the Legislature finalizes its budget this month. Senators will have a chance to vote on the funding as soon as Wednesday, Simpson said.

—“Stephen King: Piney Point could be the ‘disaster Florida has been courting for a long, long time’” via Jason Lemon of Newsweek 

Business owners, residents want permanent solution to ‘reoccurring nightmare’ at Piney Point” via Elizabeth Fry of Fox 13 — Residents and business owners in Piney Point say they’ve dealt with this problem for long enough. They now want a more permanent solution. “It needs to be handled, and the water needs to be removed, and unfortunately, it’s just a bad situation all around,” said Jennifer Amares, owner of Popi’s Place III along US 41. On Sunday, DeSantis made his way to Manatee County to give an update on what’s been done to stop the leak. He said their first priority is to mitigate the situation at hand. After the threat of danger has passed, their focus will shift to find a more permanent fix to ensure something like this does not happen again.

— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —

Before controversial policy push, Gov. DeSantis first reshaped Florida’s highest court” via John Kennedy of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — The biggest items on DeSantis’ wish list are being roundly attacked as unconstitutional — although his tough penalties for protesters, new demands on social media platforms and voting overhaul look certain to clear the Republican-led Legislature. A long legal siege will likely follow, with opponents already outlining lawsuit strategies. But DeSantis has reshaped the state’s highest court, where his hand-picked jurists from the conservative Federalist Society are expected to side with him. Or will they?

Ron DeSantis shaped the Florida Supreme Court to tilt further right. Image via Palm Beach Post.

First on #FlaPol — “Lawmakers boost Sadowski fund after affordable housing advocates decry funding deal” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The Florida House and Senate have reworked their infrastructure funding plan to leave a greater share of affordable housing funds following pushback from advocates. After negotiations between the Governor’s Office, the Speaker, and the Senate President, the plan came together, sources familiar with the discussions told Florida Politics. An amendment filed Monday afternoon to the Senate’s version of the deal (SB 2512) would add about $60 million to what lawmakers initially agreed to allocate for affordable housing for the coming fiscal year.

Lawmakers consider budget, await revenue data” via The Associated Press — Both chambers of the Florida Legislature will take up their respective budget proposals during floor sessions this week, as they now begin racing the clock to deliver a balanced budget for the Governor’s consideration. Just four weeks remain before lawmakers end their two-month session, and much of the work ahead will depend on the latest state revenue projections, which are expected to be released Tuesday. Last summer, state economists projected a revenue downturn of $5.4 billion over two years, but rosier December data prompted the shortfall to be adjusted downward to $3.3 billion. State officials are hopeful that the newest numbers will help relieve some of the anxiety over the state’s finances.

House budget would roll back virtual school choice” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — A budget bill in the House has the potential to end many virtual school options and funnel students into Florida Virtual School. Current law requires school districts to offer at least three virtual school options to students within their district, though the statute also allows out-of-district students to enroll with no limit on the number of out-of-district students who could enroll. Essentially, the law allows a county school district to set up a statewide virtual school. Only a handful of school districts have done so, and most of them are large districts, such as Duval and Hillsborough. But a couple of small school districts have entered the field. The most notable is Hendry County.

House to take up online tax plan” via News Service of Florida — After House and Senate leaders reached agreement on the issue, the House next week could pass a plan that would require out-of-state online retailers to collect sales taxes on items sold to Floridians. The House is scheduled Wednesday to take up the proposal (HB 15), which comes after years of Florida businesses lobbying to require out-of-state retailers to collect and remit the taxes. Under an agreement reached by Sprowls and Simpson, additional revenue initially would be used to replenish the state’s unemployment compensation trust fund and eventually would be used to offset a cut in a commercial rent tax. If the House approves the plan next week, it would have to go back to the Senate for a final vote.

— TALLY 2 —

Florida election bills won’t bow to ‘cancel culture’” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — A proposed change to Florida voting laws, still winding its way through the legislative process, mirrors some of the provisions in new voting law passed in Georgia. The Georgia voting laws have been rife up critics, starting with Democrats and voting rights groups and, most recently, large corporations who have waded into the matter. The similarities raise questions about whether Florida’s proposals could hurt the state’s economy, as has been seen as a potential unintended consequence in Georgia. After saying the 2020 election went smoothly, Florida’s Republican-led legislature has been moving forward with a measure supporters say will tighten election security.

GOP House Speaker, Ocoee Democrat join together to extend Medicaid coverage for new moms” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — Women who get Medicaid coverage during their pregnancy in Florida lose it two months after delivery if they don’t otherwise qualify for Medicaid. Ocoee Democratic Rep. Kamia Brown has sought to change that since taking office in 2016, and this year she’s gained a powerful ally: House Speaker Chris Sprowls. “If it wasn’t for the hard work that (Brown) has done to pave the path for this, the work that we have been able to do here today … would not be possible,” said Sprowls. Sprowls, along with Brown and a bipartisan group of House members, unveiled a plan to extend Medicaid coverage for pregnant women by 10 months, from the current two months after a child is born to a full year of coverage.

In extending Medicaid to pregnant women, Kamia Brown has found a powerful ally. Image via Florida House.

Private early learning providers say reforms could tank industry — Private schools are against proposed early learning reforms, claiming they could damage the industry. As reported by Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida, the private schools are pushing back against a bill (HB 419) containing a slate of accountability standards and a move to close the Office of Early Learning and replace it with a Division of Early Learning within the state Department of Education. “I know it’s important that we ensure that state and federal dollars are being spent wisely, but this amount of regulation and oversight puts a strain on small providers to stay in business,” Lori Thieme, associate superintendent of Early Childhood Education with the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, told the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee last week.

Police, firefighters could be exempted from union dues bill” via News Service of Florida — Unions representing law-enforcement officers and firefighters could be exempted from a controversial Senate proposal that would place new requirements on union dues paid by government employees. The Senate Rules Committee is slated Tuesday to take up the proposal (SB 78), which has drawn fierce opposition from unions. But a proposed amendment filed by bill sponsor Ray Rodrigues, an Estero Republican, would exempt unions representing law enforcement officers and firefighters from the requirements. If the amendment is approved Tuesday, the bill will continue to apply to unions, such as the Florida Education Association teachers union, that have long been major supporters of Democratic political candidates.

A power grab Or freedom? Florida home businesses bill divides state and local officials” via Daniel Rivero of WLRN — Every time the Florida Legislature goes into Session, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Joe Martinez says he has to prepare himself mentally. It’s something he says half-jokingly, but also half-seriously. “I crawl into a bathtub in the fetal position and wait for the Legislature to end and come out and see the aftermath of what’s the collateral damage that they have done,” he told WLRN. His frustration with the Legislature is because every year, he said, Tallahassee chips away at the rights of local government. That frustration recently bubbled over into two resolutions Martinez sponsored in the Miami-Dade Commission, opposing bills that have been introduced in the Florida Senate.

‘Moment of silence’ bill moves through Legislature” via Hope Dean of Fresh Take Florida news service — Florida’s Legislature is on the verge of requiring public schools across the state to set aside one to two minutes of silence every morning, adding to the mix of school announcements, the Pledge of Allegiance and roll calls. The House passed HB 529 last month on a 94-24 vote, and a similar bill is making its way through the Senate. In the House, the 24 opponents included 23 Democrats plus Republican Rep. Linda Chaney of St. Petersburg. Under the proposal, which would cover all K-12 public school classrooms, teachers cannot recommend what students do with that time but should encourage parents to have that conversation with their children.

Linda Chaney was the sole Republican to oppose the ‘moment of silence’ bill. Image via Florida House.

Legislature advances claims bill costing Hillsborough Co. $2.45 million for paramedic negligence” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — The Legislature is close to approving a relief bill that would require Hillsborough County to pay $2.45 million to the estate of a 30-year-old woman who died from negligence by paramedics. The House unanimously passed the bill (HB 6511) Thursday, bringing the family of Crystle Marie Galloway one step closer to full relief from a 2019 lawsuit. The legislation is sponsored by Indian Rocks Beach Republican Rep. Nick DiCeglie. The Senate Rules Committee will take up its version of the bill (SB 26), sponsored by Tampa Democratic Sen. Janet Cruz, Tuesday. The bill stems from a lawsuit filed by Galloway’s mother, Nicole Black. The suit alleges negligence by county paramedics, who appeared to deny Galloway proper medical action, causing her death.

— TALLY 3 —

Meet the young, Black legislators fighting to protect democracy In Florida and Georgia” via Anoa Changa of NewsOne — In Florida, a new trifecta is making its voice heard in the statehouse. Reps. Angie Nixon, Travaris McCurdy, and Michele K. Rayner-Goolsby left it all on the House floor last week during the debate on HB 1. The House debated the anti-protest bill backed by DeSantis for close to five hours before its passage. All newly elected representatives, the “trifecta” did not mince words on the harmful impact on communities traditionally seeking justice. “Some of our greatest moments in this nation are rooted in protest,” Nixon exclaimed. “This bill is designed to keep us fearful. To keep us in check.”

Travaris McCurdy, Michele K. Rayner-Goolsby and Angie Nixon are making their voices heard in the House.

Halfway into Session, Palm Beach County lawmakers push bills in desolate Capitol” via Christine Stapleton of The Palm Beach Post — Halfway through the Florida Legislature’s annual 60-day session, Palm Beach County lawmakers have come to terms with doing the routine business of getting their bills passed and crafting a state budget amid desolate hallways that should be teeming with lobbyists, aides, journalists and staff. “It’s weird, eerie,” said state Rep. Matt Willhite. Still, Willhite, who has sponsored or co-sponsored 76 bills, has seen some success. Four of his bills have already passed through committee in the Republican-dominated Legislature and are on the House floor awaiting a final vote.

Florida Education Association ad campaign targets teacher ‘paycheck protection’ bill” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The Florida Education Association is launching a digital ad campaign to stir opposition to legislation teachers say would weaken their unions. With four 30-second ads released Monday, FEA targets that legislation (SB 1014/HB 835), carried by Sen. Dennis Baxley in the Senate. The Ocala Republican calls the bill a “paycheck protection” effort. The Senate bill, named directly in the ads, would prevent unions from deducting dues from teachers’ paychecks and require teachers to reaffirm each year that they aren’t required to be union members. The ads feature three teachers arguing the proposal would take away teachers’ personal freedoms and their ability to advocate for their students.

Realtors stake new PAC with $3M — The Florida Realtors has placed $3 million into a new political committee as lawmakers consider changes to the state’s affordable housing trust fund, Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida reports. The trade group is against the proposed changes, which would send two-thirds of affordable housing dollars to other programs, but says the new committee, Floridians for Housing, is not an explicit response to the proposal. “We are just keeping our options open at this time,” said Tom Butler, the group’s spokesperson. Reports filed with the state Division of Elections show the committee’s lone contribution is from the Florida Realtors. It has not yet reported any spending.

Bucs’ wideout backs anti-tethering bill — Tampa Bay wide receiver Chris Godwin sent a letter to Rep. Wyman Duggan on Monday expressing support for a bill that would prohibit leaving dogs tethered outdoors alone, including during severe weather such as hurricanes. Godwin sent the pro-HB 177 letter on behalf of PETA. “This vital piece of legislation would save the lives of countless vulnerable animals and reduce the need for kind, caring people to risk their own lives rescuing animals in dangerous weather conditions,” writes Godwin, who is the proud guardian of two dogs and founded an organization with his fiancee to help at-risk dogs. He concludes by asking Duggan to schedule HB 177 for a hearing in the Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee he chairs.


— LEG. SKED —

The House Education and Employment Committee meets to consider HB 1475, from Rep. Kaylee Tuck, to prevent transgender females from participating in girls’ or women’s high school and college athletics, 9 a.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

The House Judiciary Committee meets to consider HB 1559, from Reps. Anthony Rodriguez and Alex Andrade, to revamp the state’s alimony laws, such as ending permanent alimony, 9 a.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The House State Affairs Committee meets to consider HB 7017, from Rep. Erin Grall, to curb foreign influence in Florida colleges and universities and other agencies, 9 a.m., Room 212, Knott Building.

The Senate Rules Committee meets to consider nearly 30 bills, including SB 90, from Ethics and Elections Chairman Baxley, to make a series of restrictions to voting by mail. Another is SB 1890, from Sen. Ray Rodrigues, to set a $3,000 cap on contributions to political committees trying to put proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot, 9:30 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The House Commerce Committee meets to consider HB 539, from Reps. Cord Byrd and Rick Roth, to expand the definition of renewable energy to include “renewable natural gas,” 12:30 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.

The House Health and Human Services Committee meets to consider HB 1221, also from Grall, to ban abortions for women with fetuses showing physical, intellectual or mental disabilities or Down syndrome, 12:30 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

The House Civil Justice and Property Rights Subcommittee meets to consider HB 305, from Rep. Bob Rommel, to change Florida’s property insurance system, 3:15 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The House Infrastructure and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider HB 1463, from Rep. Chip LaMarca to revamp Florida’s online CONNECT system, the unemployment website that crashed last spring during the COVID-19 pandemic, 3:15 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee meets to consider SPB 7072 designed to crack down on social-media companies that block users from their platforms, 4 p.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.

— LOBBY REGS —

Brian Ballard, Ballard Partners: LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton

Slater Bayliss, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: Neptune Wellness Solutions

Amy Bisceglia, AB Governmental Affairs: Seminole Animal Hospital Services

Kevin Cabrera, Mercury Public Affairs: Redesign Health, VIPKid International

David Caserta, David T. Caserta Government Relations: Herzing University

Scott Eckel: Charles Schwab & Co.

Natalie Kato: Alliance for Safety and Justice, Tobacco 21

Richard Pinsky, Akerman: Emergency Communications Industry of Florida

Lisa Rawlins, VTC Enterprise: Centralis Health

Tyler Sununu: Florida Association of Rehabilitation Facilities

Robert Tornillo: Department of Revenue

Matthew Ubben, Confianza Consulting: CAP Government

— STATEWIDE —

DeSantis rejects plea to drop charges in voter-hacking case” via Stephany Matat of Fresh Take Florida — DeSantis is refusing to agree to have criminal charges dropped against a 20-year-old Naples man accused of hacking the Governor’s voter registration file, and a plea offer by the prosecutor in the felony case was set to expire this week, according to messages between the state attorney’s office and defense lawyers. DeSantis, who has been subpoenaed in the case to testify at a possible trial, would not consent to a so-called “diversion offer,” Collier County prosecutor Deborah Cunningham wrote in an email. The defendant wrote a letter of apology to the Governor, his defense lawyer said. Such diversion programs generally free courts to focus on more serious crimes, and allow less serious offenders to avoid prosecution and a criminal conviction.

Ron DeSantis is showing no mercy to the guy who hacked his voter file. Image via AP.

Florida’s social justice activists hope for more than guilty verdict in Derek Chauvin trial” via Samantha Gholar Weires of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Social justice organizers, allies and activists are feeling anxious as the start of the second week of the Chauvin trial looms, but around the state of Florida there is also a sense of hope in terms of what the trial could bring for their movements and society as a whole. Tharina Oris, an 18-year-old UCF student who inspired her peers in Naples last May when she became one of the youngest organizers in the community following the death of George Floyd, says she is trying not to get too hung up on the verdict of the Chauvin trial. For me, it’s not just about the verdict; it’s about the bigger goal of getting people talking and reconciliation,” Oris said.

Rural leaders worry about ‘devastating’ prison closures” via Dara Kam of News Service of Florida — A plan to shutter up to four state prisons is alarming officials in Florida’s rural regions where correctional institutions have played an outsized role in providing jobs and supporting businesses for decades. Simpson’s proposal to consolidate prisons and demolish four facilities drew bipartisan pushback when it was released recently. Simpson has defended consolidation and closures, saying the plan is designed to resuscitate a prison system in crisis. But local officials say the closures could have a devastating impact in rural counties. “You could literally kill a community overnight by closing a prison if it’s in the right location. You’re talking about generational changes that would affect our citizens,” said Levy County Commissioner John Meeks, chairman of the Small County Coalition.

As families migrate from the Northeast to South Florida, private schools report spiking enrollments” via Amber Randall of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A migration of families from the Northeast and other states to South Florida — a shift that’s sending real estate prices to historic highs — is beginning to reflect in a surge in enrollment in the area’s private schools. Although enrollment numbers are mostly not yet available, private schools confirm an increase in new students that they attribute to new arrivals, especially from New York and other states in the Northeast. The draw, many say, is the opportunity for in-person classes at high-quality schools. For Palm Beach Day Academy, 47% of all new students in the 2020-21 school year came from New York City and surrounding suburbs, representing a surge not seen in the past two years.

Feds roll out new flood insurance rates. 1 million in Florida will pay more” via Alex Harris of the Bradenton Herald — The good news is, most will see increases of less than $120 a year. The bad news is that homeowners will likely see annual rate hikes like that for the foreseeable future. The National Flood Insurance Program, which underwrites most flood insurance policies in the U.S., is changing the way it calculates what each property has to pay. The new strategy, called Risk Rating 2.0, is meant to help pull the program out of its $20 billion debt and encourage people to live in safer, less flood-prone homes.

Supreme Court to hear challenge to insurance law” via Jim Saunders of News Service of Florida — The Florida Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a constitutional challenge to a 2016 state law that put new requirements on life-insurance companies to determine whether policyholders have died and to contact beneficiaries. Four insurers went to the Supreme Court last year after a divided 1st District Court of Appeal upheld the law. The Supreme Court issued an order Monday saying it would take up the dispute, though it did not set a date for oral arguments. The case centers on a law that requires insurers to search what is known as the “Death Master File” or another comparable database annually to determine whether policyholders have died. The Death Master File is a database run by the federal Social Security Administration.

Florida Chamber Safety Council offers scholarships to safety conference” via Florida Politics staff reports — The Florida Chamber Safety Council announced Monday that it offers scholarships for safety professionals to attend the Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability. Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability will see individuals who have a passion for safety, health and sustainability come together to hear from the brightest minds in the industry and help move Florida’s culture to become the safest, healthiest and most sustainable state in the country, setting the national example. The conference will be held May 10-12 at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort.

Personnel note: Brian Crumbaker joins Greenberg Traurig — Global law firm Greenberg Traurig is expanding its Tallahassee office’s Public Finance & Infrastructure Practice with Crumbaker. The former Hopping Green & Sams attorney joins GTLaw as a shareholder. He brings extensive experience representing bondholders and corporate trust companies concerning distressed and defaulted high-yield tax-exempt bonds. “Brian brings unique skills that will complement our firm’s already strong team of public finance attorneys,” said David C. Ashburn, managing shareholder of the firm’s Tallahassee office. Crumbaker is a Florida native and graduate of the University of Miami School of Law and Florida State University. Crumbaker’s previous representations include numerous land-based, housing, health care, and hotel transactions throughout the country.

Brian Crumbaker is hopping over to Greenberg Traurig.

— 2022 —

First in Sunburn — Florida Chamber launches statewide political committee — The Florida Chamber of Commerce launched a new committee to unite its political efforts under one roof. The Florida Free Enterprise Fund was formed in February. The Florida Chamber has operated several political committees, though most were directed toward regional efforts. The new committee is aimed at advancing the interests of all businesses at the state level and will unite businesses behind one fund rather than splitting them across several regional funds.

Chris Sprowls committee tops $328,000” via News Service of Florida Shortly before starting this year’s Legislative Session, a political committee chaired by Sprowls raised $328,500, according to a newly filed finance report. The report shows a March 1 date for the contributions to the committee Floridians for Economic Freedom. The Legislative Session started March 2, and lawmakers are barred from accepting contributions during the Session. Large contributions to the Palm Harbor Republican’s committee included $50,000 from Centene Management Co., a major player in Florida’s Medicaid managed-care system; $25,000 from Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, an alcoholic beverage distributor; and $25,000 from Charter Communications, Inc., according to the report posted on the Florida Division of Elections website.

Chris Sprowls makes bank. Image via Colin Hackley.

Shane Abbott reels in another $24K for HD 5 campaign” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Defuniak Springs Republican Shane Abbott’s fundraising operation kept rolling last month, reporting another $24,000 raised for his bid to represent House District 5. Abbott’s March fundraising numbers follow a $50,000 report for the last two weeks of February, shortly after filing to succeed term-limited Rep. Brad Drake. “We continue to work hard to build support and address the important issues facing our community,” Abbott said Monday. “I’m honored that so many local leaders support my vision of protecting the conservative principles that make Florida great. Working together, we can improve our education system, fight for the America First Agenda and ensure our state remains open for business.” Abbott is one of three Republicans running for the North Florida seat.

Third Republican files for HD 36 — Holiday Republican Douglas Alexander has opened a campaign account to run for House District 36. The Pasco County seat is currently held by Rep. Amber Mariano, a Hudson Republican seeking reelection. Port Richey Republican Jayden Pryce Cocuzza has also opened a campaign account for HD 36. District boundaries — and potentially numbers — will change before the 2022 elections due to redistricting. HD 36 leans Republican though former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy held it for about three years before Mariano was elected in November 2016. As of early April, no Democrat had filed for the seat.

Alen Tomczak raises more than $33K during first month of campaign to succeed Nick DiCeglie” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Tomczak collected more than $33,000 in his first campaign finance report. Tomczak, who is running to succeed Rep. DiCeglie, launched his campaign at the start of March, making this haul his first. Tomczak, an Army Veteran and current member of the Army National Guard, received contributions from prominent Pinellas County leaders. This first report puts Tomczak, who currently works as a technical lead at Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base, in a good starting position. Some of his donors also appeared in DiCiglie’s finance reports for his Senate race.

Berny Jacques files to succeed DiCeglie” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Jacques, a former prosecutor and former conservative analyst for Bay News 9, will again seek the House District 66 seat after losing a race in 2018 by 20 points. Jacques is currently the director of development for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay. He ran for HD 66 in 2018, losing the GOP primary to DiCeglie who went on to clinch the seat that year. With DiCeglie now running to succeed Sen. Jeff Brandes in the upper chamber, the HD 66 race will be open. 

Hillary Cassel adds $100K in donations during first full month of HD 99 campaign — Cassel has collected more than $100,000 in her first full month since filing for the House District 99 contest in 2022. According to the latest filings with the Division of Elections, Cassel added $102,000 in outside cash during March. She entered the race in late February — on Feb. 22 — but didn’t do any outside fundraising during those final few days of the month. Cassel did add a $50,000 self-loan in February, however. She has nearly $142,000 in cash on hand as of March 31. Nova Southeastern University administrator Jeremy Katzman is competing with Cassel for the Democratic nomination in HD 99. House Democratic Co-Leader Evan Jenne currently holds the seat, but is term-limited.

Orlando Lamas touts $80K haul in first month of HD 111 bid — Lamas says his campaign added more than $80,000 in less than a month after declaring for the House District 111 seat next cycle. Lamas is running as a Republican to replace incumbent GOP Rep. Bryan Avila, who is term-limited. He’s the only candidate declared in the contest so far. In a Monday statement, Lamas looked to flex his fundraising numbers as potential Republican challengers weigh an entry into the contest. “We believed we would do well in our first month, and these numbers speak for themselves,” Lamas said. “The outpouring of support from within the district demonstrates a strong endorsement from the community.”

Orlando Lamas so far raked in $80K for his campaign.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida reports 3,480 new COVID cases, 36 more deaths” via David Fleshler of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida reported 3,480 new coronavirus cases on Monday and another 36 new resident deaths linked to COVID-19. The state has now reported 2,085,306 cases since the pandemic began. Public health experts say the virus is considered under control when the COVID-19 test positivity rate is under 5%. But since Oct. 29, Florida has exceeded 5% in its widely publicized calculation for assessing the rate for testing of residents. The state reported a daily positivity rate of 7.37% on Monday, up from 7.02% the day before.

‘Hunger Games’ or ‘malarkey’? Social media reacts after ’60 Minutes’ criticizes DeSantis’ vaccine rollout” via Austen Erblat of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — “The Hunger Games” is how “60 Minutes” reporter Sharyn Alfonsi characterized DeSantis’ vaccine rollout in Palm Beach County on a Sunday segment on the CBS news program. Several conservative officials and media figures came to the Governor’s defense online and through an advertisement shown later on “60 Minutes.” That ad, paid for by the Republican Governors Association, hailed DeSantis and other Republican-led states’ COVID-19 response. DeSantis’ communications director has not commented on the show’s segment herself but retweeted Jared Moskowitz, outgoing Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, a Democrat, who also called the show’s framing as “malarkey.” Fried, the sole Democrat in the Florida cabinet, said the segment exposed DeSantis’ “failings and corruption.”

Ron DeSantis is not thrilled with 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi.

Melissa McKinlay says her concern with Palm Beach-Publix vaccine arrangement dealt with rural access” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Palm Beach County Commissioner McKinlay is speaking out after a 60 Minutes segment Sunday seemingly misrepresented her comments regarding vaccine distribution in her county. In January, DeSantis turned over much of that operation to Publix. The 60 Minutes segment analyzed that decision, implying the Governor was involved in a pay-to-play scheme following a Publix donation. Multiple officials have pushed back against that framing. McKinlay is standing by her concerns raised at the time, but emphasized Monday that her problem with the plan related to issues surrounding rural access to the vaccines, not a purported pay-to-play arrangement.

‘Callous, cruel and compassionless’: Charlie Crist blasts DeSantis for ‘pay for play’ Publix partnership” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — U.S. Rep. Crist is hitting back against DeSantis after a 60 Minutes report highlighting the Governor’s decision to offer vaccines in wealthy neighborhoods and Publix supermarkets across the state. “Tonight’s report on 60 Minutes on DeSantis’ failure to put the people of Florida first in the vaccine rollout is appalling. In Gov. DeSantis’s Florida, money and power rule and everyone else is at the back of the line,” Crist wrote in a statement. The 60 Minutes report features a back and forth between DeSantis and Alfonsi in which she asks about a $100,000 contribution to his campaign from Publix, which she said the Governor then “rewarded” them with exclusive vaccine distribution rights in Palm Beach County.

Tweet, tweet:


Home health agencies not tasked to vaccinate homebound, so who is doing the shots?” via Liz Freeman of the Naples Daily News — The state in mid-March launched an email system for the homebound or their caregivers to get them signed up to receive the shots in their homes using state strike force teams. Estimates vary on the number of homebound people, and the state has not asked home health agencies with skilled nursing staff to help vaccinate this population, said Kyle Simon, spokesman for the Home Care Association of Florida. He knew BrightStar took the initiative to enroll in the state’s vaccination program, but the association does not know how many other home health agencies vaccinate the homebound. The state also is not providing data on how many homebound have been vaccinated, Simon said.

— CORONA LOCAL —

South Florida records 11 new COVID-19 deaths for lowest daily mark in two weeks” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — South Florida’s tri-county area saw just 11 newly-reported COVID-19 deaths Monday. That’s the lowest single-day number in two weeks for the region. Overall, 11,290 COVID-19 patients have now died across Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties since the pandemic’s start. And deaths are still up week-to-week in both Miami-Dade and Broward. But Monday’s low number provides some relief to the region as case trends still show worrying signs. The region added just 1,499 new cases Monday, a relatively low mark. But the positivity rates were still fairly high. South Florida’s vaccination effort is continuing, as the region is nearing 1.1 million completed vaccinations.

As supply increases, are South Florida jail inmates getting COVID-19 vaccines?” via Skyler Swisher of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — South Florida jail inmates are starting to get access to the COVID-19 vaccine, but the lack of a statewide plan means availability varies widely. For several weeks, Broward County has been offering COVID-19 shots to eligible inmates. Forty-two inmates had received the vaccine as of March 26, said Gerdy St. Louis, a spokeswoman for the Broward Sheriff’s Office. Meanwhile, in Palm Beach County, no inmates have been vaccinated. Alexander Shaw, a spokesman for Palm Beach County’s health department, said a state strike team would vaccinate jail inmates, but officials haven’t offered additional details or a timetable about when that will occur.

South Florida inmates are starting to get COVID-19 vaccines. Image via WUSF.

NSU will require staff and students to get vaccinated, despite Governor’s order against it” via Scott Travis, Brooke Baitinger and Cindy Krischer Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Nova Southeastern University will require all staff and students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 when they return to in-person classes in the fall. The move makes NSU, a private nonprofit university, the first school in the country to require both staff and students to be vaccinated, spokesman Joe Donzelli said. But it appears to conflict with DeSantis’ order on Friday that prohibits businesses from requiring that customers prove they have been vaccinated. During a news conference Friday, Dr. Harry Moon, a physician who serves as executive vice president for NSU, declined to respond to DeSantis’ action other than to say he believes the university’s move is the best for students and employees.

UF hosts mass vaccination event at stadium” via Danielle Ivanov of The Gainesville Sun — Dozens of students stood in line outside the University of Florida Ben Hill Griffin Stadium around midday Monday, each waiting for the same thing: a COVID-19 vaccine. Many sat looking at their phones. Some hastily filled out last-minute medical consent forms. Others grabbed their own free blue T-shirt printed with “BEAT COVID” in big block letters. Since the site opened at 9 a.m., about 1,100 shots had been given by noon. Another 3,900 waited as the remaining appointment times rolled around, reaching a maximum of 5,000 inoculations expected by 9 p.m. It was Florida’s first day allowing anyone 16 and up to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and UF hosted its largest mass vaccination event yet to meet student demand.

Lawson Center bustles as COVID-19 vaccine eligibility opens to 16+ in Florida’” via Tori Lynn Schneider of the Tallahassee Democrat — The Lawson Center was bustling all day, with a line forming outside an hour before it opened. Monday was the first day Floridians aged 16 and above became eligible for vaccinations. FAMU Student Health Services Director Tanya Tatum said the site usually sees between 100 and 165 people per day, but by around 12:30 p.m. Monday, they hit the 200 mark. Jomarie Santiago, who was initially nervous about getting the shot because of her fear of needles, said her Moderna inoculation went smoothly. “People here were nice and quick and easy,” the fifth-year architecture student said. “They knew what they were doing.”

Pasco County ends its mask order” via Barbara Behrendt of the Tampa Bay Times — With the number of vaccinations rising and hospital admissions related to COVID-19 declining, Pasco county administrator Dan Biles on Monday ended the county’s mask mandate. Pasco officials still recommend that citizens use masks in indoor spaces where social distancing isn’t possible, but the county will no longer require them. Face coverings are still required on all Pasco County Public Transportation buses per TSA requirements. Additionally, the lifting of the order does not apply to entities outside the Pasco County Commission’s control, including schools and courthouses. The mask mandate had been the topic of much public comment at recent Pasco commission meetings, but a majority of Commissioners have refused to vote the requirement down.

City of Sarasota votes to resurrect mask mandate” via Timothy Fanning of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — After failing twice to resurrect the city’s emergency mask ordinance since Commissioners allowed it to sunset on Feb. 25, a majority of Commissioners voted 3-2 to begin the process of reinstating it. The decision comes as City Manager Marlon Brown said he will not enforce the mask mandate. The motion was to ask the city attorney to craft the ordinance. In order for it to become law, Commissioners need to approve an ordinance two more times.

Jerry Demings hopes to lift Orange County’s mask mandate by June” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Demings said he hopes to be able to lift his mask mandate for businesses within a month or two, but that’s contingent on COVID-19 spread. Demings suggested he might consider lifting the mask mandate once more than 50% of the county’s population is vaccinated, provided there are no new surges. But he noted the South African variant’s arrival in the county as another potential complication for returning to normal soon. Both Demings and Alvina Chu pushed for continued pandemic precautions, including mask-wearing, social distancing, and avoidance of crowds, until more progress is made toward widespread vaccinations.

Jerry Demings is considering removing Orange County’s mask mandate in the next few months.

Anti-mask West Melbourne bar owner charged with hosting illegal all-male strip show” via Tyler Vazquez of Florida Today — West Melbourne police say a host of city ordinances regulating adult entertainment were violated Thursday night during an all-male revue they raided at Westside Sports Bar & Grill. Undercover agents with body cameras attended the male strip show at 3026 W. New Haven Drive on Thursday night. The bar’s owner, 31-year-old Gary Kirby, is accused of knowingly and illegally operating the strip show after being cautioned by police in the past. Flyers advertising the show on Facebook invited attendees to come to the male revue featuring the “Men of Utopia” and touted glamour shots of muscular-looking performers who were expected to be dancing at the venue. During the performance, the dancers reportedly violated various city rules against giving lap dances.

— CORONA NATION —

A record 4 million people in U.S. received a vaccine on Saturday” via Erin Cunningham, Joanna Slater, Brittany Shammas and Karin Brulliard of The Washington Post — More than four million people in the United States received a coronavirus vaccine on Saturday, the nation’s highest one-day total since the shots began rolling out in December, amid a rising caseload and increase in hospitalizations. An average of 3.1 million shots were administered each day over the past seven days, and nearly 1 in 4 adults is now fully vaccinated, said Andy Slavitt, the White House’s senior adviser for COVID-19 response, speaking at a news briefing.

Are we entering a ‘fourth wave’ of the pandemic? Experts disagree.” via Reis Thebault of The Washington Post — After weeks of decline, the average number of new coronavirus infections reported each day is higher than it’s been in a month. The number of people in hospitals with COVID-19 has been stubbornly stagnant since mid-March. And even as highly contagious virus variants spread, state leaders are relaxing safety precautions. By now, this is a familiar script. But this time around, the country’s leading epidemiologists disagree about what to call this latest phase of the pandemic. Is the United States on the cusp of a “fourth wave?” Or are we instead seeing the last gasps of a crisis in its 14th month?

CDC head Rochelle Walensky and Joe Biden urge Americans to not let their guard down. Image via AP.

How close are states to herd immunity?” via Philip Bump of The Washington Post — The United States will at some point achieve herd immunity, the point at which enough people are immune to the coronavirus that it can’t easily spread from person to person. That eventuality will happen in one of two ways: Enough people will be vaccinated against the virus that it won’t be able to find a new host when traveling around with an infected person, or enough people will be immune to that particular iteration of the virus after having already been infected with it that the virus is similarly stymied. The “that particular iteration” qualifier is important, of course: The more the virus spreads, the more it might mutate into a form against which previously infected individuals don’t have any protection. But we’re not yet terribly close.

United States spent $162 million on remdesivir development but holds no patents, review finds” via Christopher Rowland of The Washington Post — A new government report says the United States spent $162 million getting Gilead’s COVID-19 drug remdesivir to market but opted against seeking government patents because Gilead invented the experimental medicine years earlier. The drug sells for $3,120 for a five-day course of treatment for COVID-19. It brought in $2.8 billion in revenue for Gilead last year, and the company expects to make a similar amount in 2020. The largest share of the $162 million was for clinical trials after the coronavirus outbreak began last year. remdesivir does not significantly prevent COVID-19 deaths, but it has shortened hospital stays to 11 days from 15.

Efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic didn’t have the death toll Donald Trump seemed to predict” via Philip Bump of The Washington Post — At a White House coronavirus briefing in late March 2020, a reporter asked Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious-disease expert, to evaluate warnings by Trump about the toll of closing businesses to halt the spread of the virus. “Dr. Fauci, could you speak to that — the idea that there might be mental health and suicide related to this?” the reporter asked. Instead of deferring to Fauci, Trump handled the question himself. Much of Trump’s rhetoric at the time was centered on the idea that the restrictions on economic activity that he’d briefly endorsed could and should be set aside.

Anthony Fauci pushes back on GOP criticisms, calling claims ‘bizarre’” via Paulina Villegas of The Washington Post — Facing criticism from several high-profile Republicans in recent weeks, Fauci pushed back on some of the claims, calling the remarks “bizarre.” The most recent slight came Friday from Sen. Lindsey Graham. Graham claimed thousands of Central American migrants are spreading the virus while being detained in overcrowded facilities. Homeland Security officials have said all migrants brought into Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody are tested and, when needed, isolated or quarantined.

Anthony Fauci: Federal government won’t require COVID vaccine passports” via Ivana Saric of Axios — The federal government will not mandate the use of vaccine passports for travelers or businesses post-pandemic, Fauci said Monday. “I doubt that the federal government will be the main mover of a vaccine passport concept,” said Fauci. “They may be involved in making sure things are done fairly and equitably, but I doubt if the federal government is going to be the leading element of that.” Passports showing proof of vaccination could speed up international travel re-openings, but the idea of requiring immunization credentials has become a point of contention, particularly among Republican officials. DeSantis banned the use of vaccine passports in Florida on Friday.

The feds are not going to require vaccine passports. Image via AP.

Joe Biden team to help AstraZeneca find U.S. plant after mix-up” via Josh Wingrove and Jordan Fabian of Bloomberg — Biden’s administration is working with AstraZeneca PLC to find new manufacturing capacity in the U.S. after the company agreed to abandon a Baltimore COVID-19 vaccine plant that will focus exclusively on making doses for Johnson & Johnson. After an error at the Emergent BioSolutions Inc. facility, the talks are the latest development that led to a batch of 15 million doses worth of drug substance being spoiled. J&J announced Saturday that it took over the production of its vaccine at the Emergent facility, manufacturing J&J and AstraZeneca doses.

Walgreens not following U.S. guidance on Pfizer vaccine spacing” via Rebecca Robbins of The New York Times — Walgreens has not been following guidance from federal health officials about the timing of second doses. People are supposed to get two doses three weeks apart. Walgreens, however, separated them by four weeks because that made it faster and simpler for the company to schedule appointments. There is no evidence that separating the doses by an extra week decreases the vaccine’s effectiveness. Now Walgreens is changing its system. Starting as soon as the end of the week, the pharmacy will automatically schedule people for Pfizer doses three weeks apart.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

Norwegian Cruise Line pitches plan to CDC with required vaccinations to restart sailing” via Richard Tribou of the Orlando Sentinel — Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings announced Monday it plans to require vaccinations for all guests and crew in a letter to the CDC in which it looks to have the CDC’s conditional sail order lifted and allow the line to start starting in July. The letter follows updated guidance released Friday from the CDC to cruise lines on how to move forward to resume business under its current conditional sail order that has been in place since fall, an order that features 74 points that the lines will have to satisfy before being allowed to sail from U.S. ports with paying customers. That order is in effect until Nov. 1, 2021.

Norwegian Cruise Line is planning to resume sailing as long as all guests and crew are vaccinated.

Port Canaveral CEO ‘disappointed’ by what he says is vague CDC guidance for cruise return” via Dave Berman of Florida Today — The CDC late Friday issued its next phase of technical guidance under its framework for conditional sailing order for cruise lines. But it remains unclear when cruises actually will be able to resume. Port Canaveral CEO John Murray said he is “disappointed that this guidance for the cruise industry appears to be nothing more than an incremental step in a far-reaching process to resume passenger sailings in the U.S., with no definitive or target start date.” The latest phase of the order requires cruise lines to establish agreements at ports where they intend to operate; implement routine testing of the crew, and develop plans incorporating vaccination strategies to reduce the risk of introduction and spread of COVID-19 by crew and passengers

During a turbulent COVID-pandemic year, outdoor recreation surged like never before” via Patrick Connolly of the Orlando Sentinel — “I need to put in another order for life jackets, ‘cause I’m almost wiped out,” said Mike Chadwick, the owner of Ski World Orlando, to the person on the other end of the phone. He lamented the life jackets might not even show up until July, if he’s lucky — a story all too common since the pandemic set in. Like other shops selling outdoor recreation gear, Chadwick has been short on inventory, with manufacturers facing supply chain disruptions, while his shop has experienced a huge wave of demand. “My sales have basically doubled [since the pandemic began],” he said. “The boat thing was off the charts; it was even higher. If we had inventory, it was gone.”

— MORE CORONA —

End the hygiene theater, CDC says” via Alexander Nazaryan of Yahoo News — It’s time to unplug the sanitizing robots and put away the bottles of Clorox that seem to line the entrances to every school, restaurant and supermarket wanting to advertise its safety protocols. While such protocols may be reassuring to an anxious populace, they are not necessary, says revised guidance issued on Monday by the CDC. “It is possible for people to be infected through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects (fomites), but the risk is generally considered to be low,” the new CDC guidance says, estimating that the chance of contracting the coronavirus through surface transmission is lower than 1 in 10,000. The coronavirus is spread almost exclusively by airborne and aerosolized particles, as scientists have known for months.

‘Get back to what you love’: Google COVID-19 vaccine ad garners 6.3 million views, emotional response” via Morgan Hines of USA Today — The minute-long video chronicles search terms throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and illustrates how those terms may be changing as a result of vaccinations, allowing the world to transition from virtual events to in-person gatherings. The ad begins with a litany of search terms from earlier in the pandemic, such as “quarantine,” “social distancing,” “lockdown,” and “restrictions de voyage” (travel restrictions) in a French search. Then “sweatpants” transforms to simply “pants,” and a scheduled “virtual happy hour” shifts to a real “happy hour” calendar notice. The music becomes increasingly upbeat before landing on a final set of keystrokes to spell out: “COVID vaccine near me.”

To watch the video, click on the image below:

Six years old, six feet apart: Kindergarten in the time of COVID-19” via Bailey Gallion of Florida Today — A sunny March morning at Meadowlane Primary School looks much like a normal recess, with a few telltale signs the COVID-19 pandemic is still afoot. Kindergartners in Jannell Jones’ class climb monkey bars and examine spiders in the mulch with masks on their faces or clutched in their hands (masks aren’t mandatory for kindergarten through second grade). The school has painted horseshoes on the pavement to mark every six feet on the sidewalk, nodding to both social distancing requirements and the school’s mustang mascot. Bouncing around the playground in the open air, the children tend to stand a little closer than that. It hasn’t been easy keeping them from touching, Jones said.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Biden’s next big bill could revive or bury his bipartisan brand” via Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine of POLITICO — Biden’s campaign promise to work with the GOP is crashing into his political reality: It’s easier to just go around the Republican Party and pass his agenda with Democratic votes. As Biden presses a fresh multitrillion-dollar proposal to spend new tax revenue on manufacturing, infrastructure and health care, the president and his party are poised once again to completely sidestep Senate Republicans who Biden long argued he could work with. Sure, his White House says it would prefer to work with the GOP; but more importantly, Biden has indicated he’s not going to let the Republican Party stand in his way.

In video, Biden thanks new U.S. citizens for ‘choosing us’” via Zeke Miller of The Associated Press — Biden is thanking naturalized Americans for “choosing us” in his official video message to the nation’s newest citizens. In the brief remarks, Biden references the “courage” of immigrants coming to the U.S. and his own heritage as a descendant of Irish immigrants. He also praises the contribution they will make to American society. “First and foremost, I want to thank you for choosing us and believing that America is worthy of your aspirations,” Biden says in the video, calling the U.S. “this great nation of immigrants.”

To watch the video, click on the image below:

Here’s what Biden infrastructure plan could mean for expansion of Florida rail, Amtrak system” via Karl Etters of the Tallahassee Democrat — The White House’s latest attention to the nation’s infrastructure needs could mean more rail lines expanding out from Central and South Florida’s metro areas. But the renewed focus on investing in passenger rail service also has spawned optimism that a suspended train route through the Panhandle may soon roll again. Amtrak this week released a proposed map of new and expanded service if it can land the $80 billion proposed by Biden as part of his American Jobs Plan. What that could mean for the Sunshine State — a broad peninsula that simultaneously encompasses some of the most distant and isolated places and the country’s most vibrant cities — is more connectivity and an affordable travel option.

— EPILOGUE TRUMP —

‘The 45th’: Why Donald Trump is abandoning his iconic brand for a number” via Alex Seitz-Wald of NBC News — Trump spent a lifetime putting his name on everything from steaks to skyscrapers to stimulus checks, but now, the former president appears to be replacing the gold-plated surname with a number: 45. Last week, the 45th president launched his new official website, 45Office.com, a URL unlike those of his predecessors, who used their names for their web addresses. Several supporters have even submitted trademark applications to the U.S. Patent Office for “45”-branded apparel, although Trump hasn’t been one of them — yet. People who think a lot about corporate and political branding say it’s unlikely that he made the decision lightly.

How Trump steered supporters into unwitting donations” via Shane Goldmacher of The New York Times — Contributors had to wade through a fine-print disclaimer and manually uncheck a box to opt-out of recurring donations. As the election neared, the Trump team made that disclaimer increasingly opaque. It introduced a second prechecked box, known internally as a “money bomb,” that doubled a person’s contribution. Eventually, its solicitations featured lines of text in bold and capital letters that overwhelmed the opt-out language. The tactic ensnared scores of unsuspecting Trump loyalists. Soon, banks and credit card companies were inundated with fraud complaints from the president’s own supporters.

Donald Trump supporters learned the hard way to read the fine print.

Supreme Court dismisses case over Trump and Twitter critics” via Mark Sherman of The Associated Press — The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a case over Trump’s efforts to block critics from his personal Twitter account. The court said there was nothing left to the case after Trump was permanently suspended from Twitter and ended his presidential term in January. Twitter banned Trump two days after the deadly attack on The Capitol by Trump supporters on Jan. 6. The company said its decision was “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” The court also formally threw out an appeals court ruling that found Trump violated the First Amendment whenever he blocked a critic to silence a viewpoint.

Like Cameo app, Trump offering to make greetings for your special event” via Frank Cerabino of The Palm Beach Post — Trump must have noticed how so many of his former suck-ups are cashing in on Cameo. Sean Spicer is going for a shockingly high $199, dancing not included. Also for sale are Corey Lewandowski ($70), Anthony Scaramucci ($55), Fox News bot Jeanine Pirro ($249) and Omarosa ($49). Now there’s a way you can get Trump to unload on a video message just to you. It’s all outlined on his new site, 45office.com. It allows people to “request a greeting” from Trump for “your special occasion.” There’s a drop-down menu of occasions. There are no prices listed for a Trump greeting.

Talk of a Trump presidential library has some open records watchdogs wary” via Christine Stapleton and Antonio Fins of The Palm Beach Post — A new question has been added to the who, what, where and when already raised about a presidential library for former President Trump. Should Trump be entrusted with a presidential library? And if so, who should be in charge of telling the story of the Trump presidency? Trump tore up or destroyed documents while at his Mar-a-Lago club. Trump also took measures to restrict records of his historic, private discussions with world leaders. “I think the risk that he would use that kind of institution to perpetuate lies and untruths is so harmful to our democracy,” said Anne Weismann, who litigated Freedom of Information Act and presidential records laws.

Conservatives try to commandeer ‘The Big Lie’” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post — In the weeks after the 2016 election, we were all trying to explain how Trump had, somehow, narrowly won the presidency. And one phrase that had cropped up just before the election was suddenly on the lips of many analysts: “fake news.” Deliberate election disinformation from dubious websites had infected social media platforms. Some studies even suggested it might have swung the election. Given that last narrative, Trump and his supporters quickly sprung into action. They commandeered the term, twisting it to refer to something else entirely. Suddenly, it was used to describe media reports and media figures with who they disagreed.

Ex-Trump spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany selling Tampa house” via Emily L. Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times — McEnany, the former White House press secretary, listed the house she owns with husband and ex-Tampa Bay Rays reliever Sean Gilmartin on the market Monday. The asking price for the Davis Islands home is $1.1 million. The Tampa couple purchased the home in 2017 for $650,000, property appraiser records show. Since then, they’ve undertaken significant renovations, said Realtor Becky Slocum, who works for Smith & Associates Real Estate. “They did such a great job making this house their own in their renovations since they purchased it,” she said, including changes to the floor plan.

— GAETZGATE —

What’s a more Matt Gaetz way to respond to scandal than to double down? Facing growing accusations he may have traded cash or gifts for sex with a 17-year-old girl, the Panhandle Republican vowed not to resign his seat in Congress and continued to deny allegations.

In an op-ed published by the conservative Washington Examiner, Gaetz wrote, “the swamp is out to drown me.” But he vowed not to give up the fight. “To this point, there are exactly zero credible (or even noncredible) accusers willing to come forward by name and state on the public record that I behaved improperly toward them, in the manner by which Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has 10 accusers.”

Matt Gaetz is doubling down, to the surprise of no one. Image via Reuters.

Yet sources in the Justice Department have confirmed to multiple outlets that investigators are looking whether he committed sex trafficking. That stems from an investigation of former Seminole County Tax Collector (and Gaetz ally) Joel Greenberg, who faces a similar charge among many others. Last week in The New York Times, a report said Gaetz and Greenberg had sex with the same underage girl, who also reportedly had sex with a third still-unnamed person involved in Florida GOP politics. The Daily Mail quoted a source close to the investigation that said Greenberg was “singing to the feds” and that the girl in question testified in front of a grand jury already about sleeping with the Republican Congressman.

Meanwhile, politicos in the Panhandle won’t wait for a resignation to prep for a special election. There’s already speculation such figures as state Rep. Alex Andrade, former state Rep. Frank White or Gaetz adversary Chris Dosev will mound GOP bids in a hypothetical race to replace Gaetz.

Florida’s Trump country stands with Gaetz” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO — Most well-known Republicans are doing their best to avoid Gaetz, but not conservatives in his ruby-red district in Florida’s Panhandle. “I believe this is nothing more than fake news,” said Larry Hetu, a Gulf Breeze activist who is part of a group trying to get a local bridge renamed after Trump. John Roberts, the Escambia County Republican Party’s chair, said he would never condone anyone having sex with someone underage. But he added that “so far, I haven’t heard anything concrete.”

Trump and his allies abandon Gaetz” via POLITICO — Gaetz built a public profile as an unapologetic, unambiguous, omnipresent booster of President Donald Trump. But as his own political career skids toward disaster amid allegations that he had sex with a minor and paid for sex with women of legal age, neither Trump nor anyone in the ex-president’s orbit is rushing to Gaetz’s defense. A group that often instinctively decries any such charge as part of some nefarious, coordinated witch hunt from deep-state operators has, instead, said virtually nothing at all. “Not a lot of people are surprised,” said one person involved in Trump’s post-presidential operations.

Gaetz’s accused extorter confirms, denies $25 million shakedown” via William Bredderman and Justin Baragona of the Daily Beast — Bob Kent, the man Rep. Gaetz has accused of trying to extort millions from his family admitted in a bizarre interview Monday to asking the Florida Republican’s dad to finance an international plot to “rescue” an American citizen widely believed to be dead in Iran. Kent said he was aware at the time that Gaetz might have “legal issues” and that he suggested that assisting in the mission would create “good will” toward the congressman. Kent maintained he had not sought to extort the Gaetz clan.

Former lawmaker says Gaetz fought ‘revenge porn’ law: ‘He thought that any picture was his to use as he wanted’” via Jason Garia of the Orlando Sentinel — While serving in the Florida Legislature, U.S. Rep. Gaetz opposed a bill meant to stop people from sharing sexually explicit images of their ex-lovers because Gaetz believed that recipients of those images had a right to share them, according to the sponsor of the legislation. Former state Rep. Tom Goodson, a Republican from Brevard County, spent three years sponsoring legislation to outlaw nonconsensual pornography, sometimes called “revenge porn.” Goodson said Monday that Gaetz was the chief opponent to that legislation.

Former Rep. Katie Hill says Gaetz should resign ‘if there is even a fraction of truth’ to allegations” via Nick Niedzwiadek of POLITICO — In recent days, Gaetz has faced reports that the Department of Justice is looking into him over an alleged sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and potential violations of sex trafficking laws, as part of a broader investigation. Gaetz has also reportedly shown off naked photos and videos of women in his life to other Congress members and was reminded by former House Speaker Paul Ryan‘s office about the need for professional behavior. “If there is even a fraction of truth to these reports, he should resign immediately,” Hill wrote in Vanity Fair. Gaetz has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and been vocal in his own defense.

—“Gaetz’s national fan base awaits probe developments” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics 

This should not happen more than once” via Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post — There are several details of the Gaetz story that keep sticking in my head, but the one that sticks in it most is the report that he used to wander around and show his colleagues nude photos of people he had slept with. To me, this is something you do, ideally, zero times. You never experience the impulse to do it. But we can probably suppose that this is not what happened. The moments when people make up their secret minds about what is normal and what is acceptable are never big. They are always in private, when no one can see that you have failed the test, when all you were doing was trying to avoid any discomfort, be cool, play along. But there is a price.

— CRISIS —

Half of Republicans believe false accounts of deadly U.S. Capitol riot” via James Oliphant and Chris Kahn of Reuters — Since the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Trump and his Republican allies have pushed false and misleading accounts to downplay the event that left five dead and scores of others wounded. His supporters appear to have listened. About half of Republicans believe the siege was largely a nonviolent protest or was the handiwork of left-wing activists “trying to make Trump look bad,” a new Reuters/Ipsos poll has found. Six in 10 Republicans also believe the false claim put out by Trump that November’s presidential election “was stolen” from him due to widespread voter fraud, and the same proportion of Republicans think he should run again in 2024, the March 30-31 poll showed.

Half of Republicans believe The Capitol protest was mostly peaceful. Image via AP.

Ex-officer texted ‘We stormed The Capitol’ during Jan. 6 riot, feds say, and tipsters turned him in” via Derek Hawkins of The Washington Post — A former Salt Lake City police officer was arrested Friday for allegedly taking part in the mob that breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, joining a growing list of current and former law enforcement officers charged in the riot. Federal authorities said Michael Lee Hardin entered the building with hundreds of other pro-Trump rioters and posed for a picture in The Capitol Crypt, then bragged about his actions in text messages with friends and family. Hardin, who served on the police force for nearly two decades before retiring in 2017, is charged with knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building, disorderly conduct, and parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.

Does the FBI have the right culture to fight domestic terrorism?” via Chuck Rosenberg for The Washington Post — After the Jan. 6 riots, FBI director Christopher Wray proclaimed that a “situational information report” produced in the FBI’s Norfolk field office warning of possible “violence” was transmitted to The Capitol Police on Jan. 5, one day before the riot. The FBI also posted it to a “law enforcement Web portal” and briefed it to partners. Though the FBI suggests this is good and timely intelligence sharing, I disagree. If smoke were coming from a neighbor’s house, I would bang on their front door and call 911. They would be properly dismayed if I emailed them a “situational information report” and posted my concerns on a neighborhood blog. I would have failed them, their house reduced to cinders.

— D.C. MATTERS —

DNC billboard thanks Biden for COVID-19 relief, slams Marco Rubio and Rick Scott — The Democratic National Committee unveiled a new billboard in Orlando that praises Biden for spearheading another round of COVID-19 relief funds and slams U.S. Sens. Rubio and Scott for voting against it. “Folks in Orlando and Senators traveling home won’t be able to miss this message: Help is here thanks to President Biden and congressional Democrats — but if it were up to Sens. Rubio and Scott, Floridians wouldn’t be seeing any of the much-needed relief the American Rescue Plan is delivering,” said DNC Chair Jaime Harrison. The billboard is on State Road 528 and reaches residents driving toward the airport from Orlando on I-4. It will be up for one month.

A new DNC billboard will be greeting Floridians in Orlando.

Rubio asks MLB commissioner if he’ll give up Augusta golf club membership” via Alexander Bolton of The Hill — Rubio on Monday sent a letter to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred asking if Manfred would give up his membership at the exclusive Augusta National Golf Club in the wake of the league’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s controversial new voting law. Rubio took a personal shot at the head of MLB after Manfred said the decision to pull the All-Star Game and the MLB Draft from Georgia was “the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport.” Augusta National didn’t invite a Black player to compete at the Masters until 1975, and the club itself didn’t admit its first Black member until 1990.

Kathy Castor advocates for Medicaid expansion amid continued reluctance from state leadership” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Castor met with state health care leaders Monday to discuss the impact of the American Rescue Plan on the state’s budget, specifically, health care and Medicaid expansion. Castor was joined by members of the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans (FLARA), Florida Voices for Health and Lower Drug Prices Now (LDPN), to talk about the budget adjustments brought on by the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package. The Tampa Democrat highlighted that Florida would receive $10 billion in aid from the package, and that the state could also receive billions of dollars through Medicaid expansion; a move that would impact the state’s nearly $1.4 billion pandemic shortfall.

Assignment editors — U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist, Ted Deutch, Judy Chu and Scott Peters, the lead sponsors of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, will hold a virtual news conference on the reintroduction of the climate change proposal, 11 a.m. Register here; more background information on the legislation is here.

Supreme Court ruling could make it easier for Americans to receive more robocalls, watchdog group says” via Chauncey Alcorn of CNN — Americans can expect to receive more cellphone robocalls and texts because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision. In a unanimous ruling that could have a major impact on telemarketing, the Supreme Court ruled that Facebook (FB) cannot be sued for repeatedly texting customers security alerts because its texts didn’t come from an auto-dialer. The ruling comes six years after a Montana man sued Facebook to get the company to stop texting his cellphone, telling him that an unauthorized person was accessing his Facebook account, court records show. Noah Duguid did not have a Facebook account and had never given the company his cellphone number, yet somehow it was in its database.

— LOCAL NOTES —

Miami-Dade’s midnight curfew will be lifted next week, county Mayor announces” via Aaron Liebowitz and Joey Flechas of the Miami Herald — Miami-Dade County’s midnight curfew will be lifted next week, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced Monday, marking the imminent end of a measure to curb the spread of COVID-19 that has survived legal challenges and rankled business owners since its implementation last summer. At a news conference, Levine Cava said that beginning the evening of April 12, businesses will be able to operate past midnight in Miami-Dade, the only county in Florida that continues to impose a COVID-19-related curfew.

Miami-Dade’s curfew may be over soon. Image via Miami Beach Police.

A Memorial Day curfew? Miami Beach Mayor floats idea after Miami-Dade curfew lifted” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — After spring break crowds overwhelmed Miami Beach last month, the city is preparing for another tourist wave during Memorial Day Weekend by considering a series of events and, if the Mayor gets his way, another curfew. The plan, which has not yet been finalized, would include the annual Hyundai Air & Sea Show military demonstration in South Beach and at least one public concert. Mayor Dan Gelber also wants the City Commission to consider a COVID-19-related curfew ahead of the May 31 holiday.

Colorful and controversial, new police chief says we’re going to be the ‘Miami Love Boat’” via Charles Rabin of the Miami Herald — Standing next to his wife and young son, Art Acevedo raised his right hand for the swearing-in ceremony Monday that made him the city of Miami’s sixth police chief in the past 11 years. Acevedo, who took the Miami job after a four-year stint in Houston, one of the nation’s largest police forces, brought in an old friend from Texas, Judge Cliff Brown, to administer the oath of office. That formality dispensed with, Acevedo grabbed a microphone and delivered some typically colorful, off-the-cuff remarks to the relatively sparse crowd that had gathered Monday morning in an auditorium next to downtown Miami police headquarters.

LGBTQ group revokes Coral Gables mayoral endorsement after Carrollton letter surfaces” via Samantha J. Gross of the Miami Herald — Coral Gables mayoral candidate Vince Lago lost an endorsement and faced new political attacks over the weekend after the Miami Herald reported that Lago was among dozens of parents who signed a letter that denounced a Miami Catholic school’s effort to address racism. Lago, who sends his two daughters to Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart, was among more than 150 parents and alumni who signed an 11-page October letter stating that the school’s efforts to address discrimination were incompatible with its Catholic foundation. The school had adopted an inclusion policy last fall after complaints about its culture.

State Attorney blocked criminal investigation into Delray Beach police lieutenant” via John Pacenti of the Palm Beach Post — State Attorney Dave Aronberg‘s office short-circuited an outside investigation looking into whether a Delray Beach police lieutenant defrauded taxpayers through a bogus domestic partnership and committed perjury. It’s the latest action taken by the State Attorney’s office to benefit Lt. Nicole Guerriero. The office prosecuted her ex-wife for cyberstalking despite no specific threat of violence and a police investigation dripping in conflict. Then his public corruption unit refused a police department’s request to investigate Guerriero over the domestic partnership.

Hotel exec and Swiss billionaire make fully financed $680 million bid for Sun Sentinel’s parent company” via Robert Channick of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Maryland hotel executive Stewart Bainum and Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss have made a fully financed $680 million bid for Tribune Publishing, owners of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The new bid was received and verified by the Tribune Publishing board, beginning a due diligence process that could lead to a firm deal within weeks. If that happens, the long-term plan is for Bainum to own the Baltimore Sun and Wyss to own the Chicago Tribune and sell off the rest of the Tribune Publishing newspapers to individual or group owners.

Politicians in Tamarac need to stop ripping off city taxpayers” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — The official motto of the City of Tamarac is “the city for your life.” But if you live there and you care how your tax money is spent, you should run for your life. Welcome to the land of fiscal irresponsibility, where the people who run City Hall care more about enriching themselves than being responsible stewards of the public purse. In this northwest Broward suburb of fewer than 70,000 people, politicians already draw nice salaries and benefits. City Commissioners make $50,240 a year, and the Mayor earns $60,240 in these part-time positions. Tamarac politicians also get $700 monthly car allowances and $50 monthly cellphone stipends, and there’s lots of money for out-of-town conferences.

Being a politician in Tamarac is nice work if you can get it.

Former administrator sues UCF, says co-worker called him a racial slur” via Annie Martin of the Orlando Sentinel — A former administrator is suing UCF, saying he was subjected to a “racially hostile” work environment where a white co-worker called him the n-word and his supervisor told him she would ensure his career would be “ruined” if he complained. Briant Coleman, the university’s former associate vice president for strategic initiatives, said in the suit that another administrator “manufactured” a report based on anonymous tips and accusations that ultimately was used as a basis for terminating him. Coleman seeks compensation of more than $100,000 from the university, plus the payment of his attorney fees.

— TOP OPINION —

Georgia’s racist voting law, not Coke or Delta, is the problem, Rubio — so are you” via the Miami Herald editorial board — Rubio lashed out at Delta and Coca-Cola for daring, finally, to speak out against the restrictive Georgia law that makes it harder for people to vote, especially African Americans. In a Twitter video, he criticized the two high-profile Georgia companies for ties to China and tried to get a “woke corporate hypocrites” hashtag trending. The law recently approved by the Georgia Legislature is a Republican power grab in a state that voted blue in the presidential and Senate elections, the first such Democratic victories there in a generation.

— OPINIONS —

What Sen. Scott is reading — “Do companies really want to sponsor the Genocide Olympics?” via Fred Hiatt of The Washington Post — As Western businesses prepare to salute China at the Beijing Winter Olympics next February, the chairman of the China-Britain Business Council offered an all-purpose explanation of why it’s OK to do business with the Communists who are committing genocide 1,600 miles west of the ski slopes and skating rinks. If companies trade beyond Scandinavia and a few other countries, they will have to operate where human rights conditions are “less than ideal.” Let’s not be naive, in other words. The world’s a nasty place. Who are we to insist on perfection?

Sponsors might find a few surprises in their ‘anti-riot’ bill” via Joe Henderson of Florida Politics — Florida Politics colleague Janelle Irwin is the host of a call-in show on WMNF radio in Tampa. Last Friday, she invited me to join her and one of our topics was the controversial “anti-riot bill,” HB 1. A caller from Sarasota identified herself as an escort at Planned Parenthood. She wondered if the anti-riot safety measures applied to her and the clinic. She told of routine harassment from protesters and verbal intimidation from anti-abortion activists. A provision under the mob intimidation heading seems to answer the caller’s question. Violation of this is a first-degree misdemeanor. I’m going to take a wild guess here. I’ll bet the bills’ sponsors didn’t consider abortion clinics when they crafted this bill.

Targeting transgender students hurts everyone” via Heather Brinkworth for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A bill is currently being fast-tracked through the Florida Legislature that is, in my opinion, politicizing an issue that, for the last decade, has been a nonissue. As a former Broward County School Board member, I remember the arguments we heard against a policy allowing students to use the restroom that aligned with their sexual identity. Comments similar in nature, about all the horrible outcomes, were bandied about as reasons why we should not support LGBTQ+ students, comments that were not at all based in reality.

James Baiardi: It’s time to finally fix staffing crisis in Florida’s prison system” via Florida Politics — The staffing crisis at the Florida Department of Corrections has created enormous challenges for every Correctional Officer providing care, custody, and control for individuals in our custody. To mitigate this crisis, the Senate and House are proposing prison consolidation plans. These plans call for the redeployment of officers from facilities in close proximity to each other by closing one prison and properly staffing the other. By shifting the staff, the plan provides optimal staffing levels and significantly improves both the quality of life for our officers and the safety and security of these facilities. Both plans redirect the savings from consolidating prisons and reinvests that money back into the prison system for salary and institutional improvements.

Get a glimpse of K-12 education’s future on Airbnb app” via Matthew Ladner of RedefinED — Airbnb is best known for connecting vacationing renters with people who make their property available for rent. A more recent feature on Airbnb allows viewers to purchase “experiences.” You can click on the link above and enter “San Diego” in the “experiences” bar to give this new feature a test drive. You can choose to go on a beach walk with a marine biologist, walk shelter dogs on the beach and take a whale watching tour. The universe of choices is far broader than this, offering a huge variety of tours on land, sea and air, art activities, physical activities, culinary experiences and much more. Your interest and ability to pay determine the experiences you select rather than your ZIP code. Needless to say, those who participate can learn a lot and have a lot of fun.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

— Rep. Evan Jenne says Republican leaders have bent over backward to bail out business; he only wishes they cared as much about unincorporated people.

— The state reported 36 more fatalities Monday from COVID-19, with almost 3,500 new infections. Florida’s vaccination program expanded and is now open to any adult regardless of age.

— COVID-19 is not the only crisis in Florida. DeSantis declared a state of emergency at the former Piney Point phosphate mine in Manatee County, and they’re pumping as much water out of the reservoir as possible.

— The House Pandemics and Public Emergencies Committee will launch a formal investigation into the Piney Point breach.

— On Sunrise in Depth, a town hall meeting on marijuana … and not just the medicinal type. Brandes filed a bill to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, but it won’t be passing this year. Brandes and House sponsor Carlos Guillermo Smith have NOT been able to get a hearing on their bills this Session.

— We’ll also have your calendar of events and the story of a Florida Man and Woman who face a combined total of 80 years — for allegedly defrauding the Paycheck Protection Program.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

Palm Beach County mansions scooped up in hot pandemic market” via Alex Wittenberg of Bloomberg — Palm Beach County hasn’t lost its luster with wealthy homebuyers. Purchase contracts for single-family houses priced at $10 million or more surged 306% in March from a year earlier, the biggest gain since the pandemic started, appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. and brokerage Douglas Elliman Real Estate said in a report. For condos priced at $5 million or more, deals jumped 392%. Across all price ranges, single-family contracts were up 202% last month to 1,263. Signed deals for condos totaled 1,608 — a 406% gain. According to Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel, demand for homes in the posh county has persisted, pointing to a potential long-standing migration trend.

The Palm Beach high-end real estate market has been hot, hot, hot.

March saw highest hotel/motel taxes collected in the Keys since April 2019” via David Goodhue and Gwen Filosa of the Miami Herald — The 5% tourist development tax the county receives from hotel and motel transactions is a strong gauge of the health of the Keys’ visitor-supported economy. Additionally, the nearly $6.8 million collected in March is further evidence the island chain has recovered from the battering it took in the beginning and middle of the COVID-19 pandemic amid business shutdowns. The tourist development tax collection hadn’t neared that amount since April 2019, when the county received more than $6.9 million in revenue from Keys lodgings, county Tax Collector Sam Steele said.

Super Bowl bounty: Tom Brady goes to Disney World, gets his ‘Star Wars’ on” via DeWayne Bevil of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Brady, Super Bowl MVP and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback, made good on his “I’m going to Disney World” promise by visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park, including Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, on Monday. He batted about Batuu, constructing his own lightsaber at Savi’s Workshop, drinking blue milk and green milk, interacting with “Star Wars” characters and taking spins on the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance rides, Walt Disney World says.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Happy birthday to two wonderful women in The Process, Carolyn Johnson and Chelsea Murphy, as well as Democratic activist Alan Clendenin, Rosemary Curtiss, and ace photographer Colin Hackley. Happy birthday belatedly to three solid Tampa Bay politicos, former Tampa Councilman Harry Cohen, Largo Commissioner Michael Smith, and Pinellas Property Appraiser Mike Twitty, as well as former Secretary of State Katherine Harris, Dave DeCamp, Dan PollockVictoria Price, our dear friend Beth Sweeny, Mike Synan, Dave Vasquez, and Mike Watkins. 

___

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

Peter Schorsch

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


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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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