Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 4.8.21

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Coffee is for closers. So is Sunburn, your morning rundown of Florida politics.

Good Thursday morning.

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As the vaccine rollout continues and state case numbers hover near pandemic-era lows, businesses are reporting improved confidence they’ll be able to keep their doors open.

Nearly seven in 10 Florida small businesses now believe they’ll be able to stay open for at least the next six months, according to Facebook’s latest “Global State of Small Business Report.”

The newest edition, released Thursday, breaks out data by state for the first time. The side-by-side put a positive light on the Sunshine State, with near-term small business confidence outpacing the national average.

Florida is also beating the baseline in several other metrics.

Five out of six (84%) Florida small businesses are operational or engaged in revenue-generating activities. The share is six points ahead of the national average. Likewise, 81% of minority-owned businesses and 85% of women-owned businesses are operating — the U.S. average is 73% and 75%, respectively.

Still, the economy is not firing on all cylinders.

About a third (32%) of small businesses, including half those owned by women, have seen a sales slump. In both cases, Florida trails the nation by 5 points.

Florida does fare well when pitted against rival large state New York — a frequent punching bag for Gov. Ron DeSantis. Notably, 84% of Florida’s male-owned small businesses are up and running compared to just 62% of the Empire State’s.

The new report comes as Facebook continues spearheading initiatives to support small businesses amid the shaky pandemic economy. Efforts include grant programs to help business owners reopen and hosting online training on how the social media platform can boost businesses’ consumer reach.

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EDF Florida on Thursday issued a “Halftime Report” updating supporters on where things stand with key environmental legislation related to electric vehicles and sea level rise.

The football-themed report, part of EDF’s ongoing “Let’s Tackle Climate Change” campaign that kicked off with billboards around Raymond James Stadium during Super Bowl LV, will be advertised in major newspapers along with a digital campaign on social media.

“It’s been a promising start to the Legislative Session — with several important bills introduced on clean energy and climate issues — but we don’t know yet if legislators will take action on this threat to the state’s economy,” EDF Florida Director Dawn Shirreffs said.

EDF Florida launches a campaign to raise awareness of climate change and its effects on the Sunshine State.

“Legislative leadership’s next steps will determine if they recognize these issues as a top priority for Florida families and businesses who are already experiencing sunny day flooding events, increasingly severe hurricanes, and record heat waves.”

Bills in the starting lineup include (HB 315/SB 514), which would set up an independent Office of Resiliency and task the state with studying expected sea level rise projections. Also of concern are bills (HB 817/SB 138) that would fund the installation of electric vehicle charging stations through a new electrical vehicle fee.

The report also identifies “Keys to the Game” for passage of the resiliency and EV bills and identifies multiple lawmakers in the running for Session MVP, including House and Senate leadership, bill sponsors, and key committee chairs.

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Organizations looking to bring in a motivational speaker, or even book a keynote speaker for that conference they’ve put off planning off have a new ally: the Keynote Speakers Bureau.

Launched Thursday, Keynote Speakers Bureau is a one-stop-shop that caters to event professionals’ booking needs.

The bureau has an all-star cast of motivational speakers from Florida, Georgia and North Carolina who can ace talks on subjects ranging from leadership and corporate culture to government and political issues, COVID-19, energy, safety, education and more.

Keynote Speakers Bureau was founded by Edie Ousley, president of Yellow Finch Strategies, and Ed H. Moore Ph.D., the president emeritus of Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida.

Edie Ousley wants to get the best professional speakers in front of your microphone. Image via Colin Hackley.

Whether an event is in-person or virtual, Ousley and Moore’s new venture aims to get the best for the job in front of the microphone.

Among the available headliners are Al Cardenas, Ted Abernathy, Whitney Doyle, Bentina Terry, Jason Gonzalez, Charlie Strickland, Emmett Reed and more.

A complete list of talent, featured topics and more are available at KeynoteSB.com.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

—@josh_wingrove: [Joe] Biden’s administration will announce today that vaccines are now available to all Community Health Centers nationwide. It pushes the total to 1,470 CHCs, from 950. Patients are largely racial and ethnic minorities; the program is aimed at closing the vaccine race gap.

Tweet, tweet:

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@MDixon55: Legitimately surprised Noah Valenstein has not mentioned @60Minutes. In my day, we had administration-wide messaging efforts

@MDixon55: “Clear and transparent” and “conference committee” are not terms that go together in any super serious way

@Will_Robinsonjr: With @tommygregoryFL and @micheleforfl at the Pandemics and Public Emergencies Comm’te. The crisis at Piney Point is the sole topic; DEP Sec testifying. Important ?s-What environmental impacts have occurred? How do we hold a company responsible that is in bankruptcy/foreclosure?

@AGAshleyMoody: Frustrating to see more Florida cruises canceled due to @JoeBiden’s outdated and misguided No Sail Order. Cruises can safely get back sailing again in the U.S.— as other countries have already demonstrated.

— DAYS UNTIL —

RNC spring donor summit — 1; 2021 WWE WrestleMania 37 begins — 2; Disneyland to open — 22; Orthodox Easter 2021 — 24; Mother’s Day — 31; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 32; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 50; Memorial Day — 53; ‘Loki’ premieres on Disney+ — 64; Father’s Day — 73; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 85; 4th of July — 87; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 91; MLB All-Star Game — 96; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 106; The NBA Draft — 112; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 114; The Suicide Squad premieres — 120; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 138; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 148; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 169; ‘Dune’ premieres — 176; MLB regular season ends — 178; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 184; World Series Game 1 — 201; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 208; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 211; San Diego Comic-Con begins — 232; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 246; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 253; Super Bowl LVI — 311; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 351; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 393; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 456; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 547; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 582.

— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —

Ron DeSantis wants $4 million for medical marijuana quality control testing” via Arek Sarkissian of POLITICO — Florida’s medical marijuana industry could soon get a big payday. DeSantis has asked the Legislature to beef up the Florida Office of Medical Marijuana Use with more than $4 million in next year’s state budget, which includes funding to finally start lab testing medical marijuana for the first time in years. The bulk of DeSantis’ $4 million request would go toward new rules by the Florida Department of Health for quality control testing for all types of marijuana products, including raw flower, concentrates and edibles. DOH currently only currently calls on pot companies, known as medical marijuana treatment centers, to submit the products they sell for testing by three state-certified private labs.

Ron DeSantis wants to beef up the state’s medical-marijuana program.

Wilton Simpson takes aim at COVID-19 ‘passports’” via Christine Sexton of News Service of Florida — Senate President Simpson made clear Wednesday he supports banning COVID-19 “passports” that would prove people have been vaccinated, despite calls from the cruise industry to allow their use after ships have been docked for more than a year because of the pandemic. “It would be completely ridiculous,” Simpson told reporters when asked about the passports, which have become a hot-button political issue for Republicans. Many cruise lines already have instituted policies in hopes of sailing again soon, with such policies requiring staff members and passengers to be vaccinated. The policies run afoul of an executive order DeSantis issued last week banning the use of COVID-19 passports.

Senate approves $3 million for Piney Point cleanup” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — State Senators on Wednesday assigned $3 million to clean up the Piney Point phosphate plant, the first phase of a potential $200 million effort to permanently close the site that prompted evacuations in Manatee County over the weekend. “We cannot stand idly by while this environmental hazard is dealt with,” said Sen. Darryl Rouson. “The funds that we’re appropriating will start us on a pathway to cleaning up what has been recognized as a true mess.” Wednesday’s appropriation was a fraction of what could be a $200 million effort to accomplish the “complete cleanup and closure” of the site. That’s how much Simpson said this week he wants to spend, using federal pandemic relief dollars.

House gives initial approval to its $97B budget plan” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The House is set to pass its $97 billion spending plan for the coming fiscal year. Members gave their initial OK to their budget proposal, coming hours after the Senate passed their $95 billion plan. If the House passes its budget on Thursday as planned, that will set the table for conferences; budget deliberations between the chambers. “The House budget shows our members’ commitment to our environment, our families and our communities,” Trumbull said. Included in the House budget is a plan to use a portion of federal COVID-19 relief funds to help locate students that haven’t been showing up to school during the pandemic. That isn’t included in the Senate budget.

Senate scales back prison closure plan” via Dara Kam of The News Service of Florida — The Florida Senate is easing back on a plan to shutter and demolish four state prisons, agreeing Wednesday to a proposal that would close a single, 1,500-bed correctional institution by Dec. 31. The prison consolidation and closure plans are included in the Senate’s $95 billion state budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Leaders in small counties where many prisons are located have pushed back against possible closures, saying that the institutions are economic drivers in financially strapped regions. Sen. Loranne Ausley said lawmakers should be “absolutely certain that we’re really, really thinking about the impact this will have” on small counties if prisons are mothballed.

Loranne Ausley urges lawmakers to make very sure consolidating prisons is the right thing.

‘Intellectual diversity’ on college campuses measure heads to Governor’s desk” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The Legislature has passed a bill calling for a survey of the ideological beliefs of Florida’s university and college professors and is now heading to DeSantis‘ desk. The Republican-led Senate voted 23-15 Wednesday to pass the measure after minimal discussion. The chamber had given the bill its initial approval Thursday after a lengthy debate. That followed the House’s 77-42 vote last month. The bill (HB 233), filed by Republican Rep. Spencer Roach, would require the State Board of Education to conduct an annual assessment on the viewpoints of college professors in order “to assess the status of intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity.”

— TALLY 2

House set to back online sales tax plan” via Jim Turner of News Service of Florida — A plan that would use taxes on sales by out-of-state online retailers to help Florida businesses is ready for a vote in the House. SB 50 would require out-of-state retailers to collect sales tax, producing an estimated $1 billion a year that would be used to replenish the state’s Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund and, eventually, offset a cut in a tax on commercial rent. The House put it in position for a vote Thursday. It would then be ready to go to the Senate for final approval. Without the bill or some other way to replenish the fund, businesses would face increased unemployment taxes. Democrats argued the proposal would raise taxes on shoppers and assist businesses without directly helping Floridians.

Business tax cut makes Florida online sales tax OK, activist Grover Norquist says” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel

Grover Norquist is OK with Florida’s trade-off to collect online sales taxes. Image via AP.

Bright Futures proposal teed up for Senate vote” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — After a turbulent committee process, Sen. Dennis Baxley’s Bright Futures proposal underwent a first reading Wednesday and now awaits a full Senate vote. The bill (SB 86) is a shell of its former self. Initially, Baxley aimed to steer students toward degrees with more promising job prospects by denying or reducing scholarships for degree programs deemed less fruitful. But amid strong backlash from Democrats and students, Baxley removed the provision, no longer requiring the Board of Governors and State Board of Education to create and publish a list of ineligible majors.

Senate passes infrastructure spending deal with housing boost” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Senators have formalized the Legislature’s revised plan to provide $200 million for affordable housing. The revised deal (SB 2512) would add about $60 million to what lawmakers initially agreed to allocate for affordable housing for the coming fiscal year. That’s part of the Senate’s $95 billion budget proposal. Senators passed the negotiated bill on a party-line 25-14 vote Wednesday. The bill now heads to the House, which is expected to take up the legislation later in the afternoon. Legislative leadership had originally agreed to split a portion of documentary stamp tax revenue between affordable housing, combating sea level rise and providing wastewater grants.

Senate set to vote to rewrite state’s retirement system” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Legislation to wean state employees off the Florida Retirement System is ready for a vote in the Senate. Republican Sen. Ray Rodrigues‘ bill (SB 84) would require most new government employees, beginning July 1, 2022, to enroll in an investment-style plan rather than the standard FRS. Instead, they would be directed into an FRS investment plan. That’s a “generational change” to ensure the pension’s long-term stability. Notably, labor unions and Democratic lawmakers are pushing back against the proposal. And critics contend the FRS helps attract new employees and fear changes may thwart recruitment.

Senate passes bill to alter property insurance — especially roof damage claims” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — With lawmakers taking widely different stances on what would be best for consumers, the Florida Senate on Wednesday passed a major property-insurance bill that targets roof-damage claims and litigation against insurance companies. Supporters of the bill (SB 76) said lawmakers need to approve it to curb soaring insurance rates for homeowners. They said private insurers are grappling with large financial losses that have led to rate increases and customers shifting to the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. for coverage. “This is not easy; I understand that,” Senate Banking and Insurance Chairman Jim Boyd, a Bradenton Republican sponsoring the bill, said. “This is important, and it’s necessary.”

Jim Boyd’s insurance reform targets lucrative roof repair claims.

Senate approves plan to expedite reservoir construction north of Lake Okeechobee” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The Senate gave its unanimous approval Wednesday to a measure further implementing the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP) north of Lake Okeechobee. Simpson has made the reservoir construction project a priority. On Wednesday, the Senate approved a measure (SB 2516) aiming to expedite the process. That bill was approved as a conforming bill linked to the overall budget bill (SB 2500). “In recent years, Florida’s Legislature has appropriated unprecedented funding to address environmental restoration,” Simpson said in a statement following the Senate’s approval.

— TALLY 3 —

Legislature gives final approval for renaming conservation area after Kristin Jacobs” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The Legislature has signed off on a new measure honoring the late Rep. Jacobs. The Senate passed a bill Wednesday which would rename a conservation area after Jacobs. The Senate took up the House version Wednesday (HB 217), which was already approved last month. Senators approved the measure unanimously via a 40-0 vote. That means the legislation will next head to DeSantis for his signature. Democratic Sen. Lauren Book sponsored the Senate companion version (SB 588). Wednesday, Sen. Annette Taddeo also motioned to allow other Senators to join as co-sponsors. All 40 members of the Senate agreed to do so.

Lauren Book and Annette Taddeo ushered in a tribute to the late Kristin Jacobs.

Juvenile arrest expunction bill soars on Senate floor” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Without questions or debate, the Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that would broaden a juvenile’s ability to expunge their arrest record. Currently, Florida allows minors to expunge first-time misdemeanors if they complete a diversion program. The Senate proposal (SB 274), however, would expand juvenile expunction laws to include felonies and other arrests beyond a minor’s first offense. Moreover, a juvenile who completes a diversion program may omit or deny the expunction as well as their participation in a diversion program. The bill’s passage marks a triumph for Sen. Keith Perry, who’s carried the legislation for three consecutive Sessions. The proposal struggled to gain traction in 2019. And in 2020, the bill died in the Session’s final week.

Senate blesses crackdown on online mug shot companies” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The Senate unanimously passed a bill that would tighten regulations on companies that publish mug shots online, marking the Legislature’s latest and strongest swing against the controversial industry. Under a Senate proposal (SB 1046) sponsored by Sen. Aaron Bean, mug shot publishers would be required to remove booking photos if requested by the person featured in the image. The bill also creates noncompliance penalties. The publisher must remove the photo within 10 days of written notice or face a daily $1,000 penalty. Lawmakers advanced the legislation without questions or debate. The bill, which takes exception for media, now awaits House consideration. Notably, this isn’t the Legislature’s first swipe at mug shot websites.

Senate passes bill allowing to-go alcoholic drink orders” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — The bill passed the Florida Senate at about 4:50 p.m., just in time for happy hour. Lawmakers on Wednesday approved Senate Bill 148, which would allow Floridians to buy alcoholic drinks in to-go orders and delivery from restaurants with some restrictions. Sen. Jennifer Bradley, the bill’s sponsor, said that in crafting the bill, she hoped to continue a Coronavirus pandemic-era policy that was first enacted by a state emergency order last March. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 38-2. A similar measure, HB 329, could be taken up in the Florida House any day.

House panel approves utility pole regulation bill” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — If a power company and an internet or cable TV provider bicker over using the same utility poles, or just planting a second set, Florida could have something to say under a bill that cleared a House panel Wednesday. By a 12-2 vote, the House State Administration & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee approved Republican Rep. Nick DiCeglie‘s HB 1567. It would transfer authority over those utility pole connections and the companies’ occasional disputes from the feds to Florida. Such disputes only come about when power companies and telecommunications companies working in the same communities can’t work out contracts to use the same poles. That results in either some communities being “double poled” or legal fights that wind up being decided by the Federal Communications Commission.

Nick DiCeglie thinks Florida should step in during cable TV disputes over poles. Image via Colin Hackley.

House ready to vote on Lawton Chiles Endowment elimination” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — A bill to eliminate a health care fund by shifting its contents to the state’s general fund reserves piqued Democrats during a House floor Session Wednesday. The Legislature established the Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund (LCEF) in 1999 to fund health programs in the state. The fund, named after former Gov. Chiles, is valued at $958 million. It was started with $1.7 billion using money from the state’s settlement agreement with tobacco companies. The bill (HB 5011) eliminates the LCEF and redirects the funds to the Budget Stabilization Fund and unallocated general revenue. Under the bill, the LCEF would be liquidated by the end of June 2022.

Tobacco 21 bill clears House despite preemption objections” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — This Session’s attempt to bring tobacco vaping products sales under much of the state regulatory control for cigarettes and raise the state minimum tobacco purchase age to 21 cleared a House committee Wednesday. The House State Administration & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee’s 10-5 approval of Rep. Jackie Toledo‘s HB 987 came with emerging opposition, primarily from Democrats, over the bill’s preemptions of local governments’ efforts to regulate vaping product shops. A similar, though less restrictive, bill cleared the Legislature last year, only to be vetoed by DeSantis.


— TALLY 4 —

Jimmy Patronis applauds House committee passage DFS bill — CFO Patronis lauded the House State Administration and Technology Appropriations Subcommittee after it OK’d a bill (HB 1209) to bolster the Department of Financial Services’ efforts to support firefighters, better protect sexual harassment victims, and protect Floridians from fraud. “As your CFO, I’m always fighting for Floridians and working to further serve our communities. Our agency bill aims to enhance our vital fraud-fighting efforts, looks to further protect Florida’s firefighters in their battle against cancer, and shields victims of sexual harassment,” Patronis said. “No doubt, 2020 brought significant challenges to the state of Florida, but by working together on these measures and others, we can ensure we are building a better, stronger Florida.”

Ben Diamond’s amendments to help support essential workers, small businesses fall short — Democratic Rep. Diamond filed two amendments to the House budget proposal that would have created programs to send one-time $1000 payments to Florida’s essential workers and provide grants of up to $25,000 to small businesses. Both failed. “Across Florida, our families and businesses are still struggling to cope with the financial fallout from the greatest public health crisis in more than a century. As legislators, we could have done so much more to help Floridians at a time when they desperately need it. … We must adjust our priorities and spend the federal relief money for its intended purpose: To help Florida’s families and businesses survive a pandemic that already has cost us so much,” he said.

Ben Diamond has two strikes in amendments to the House budget. Image via Colin Hackley.

Geraldine Thompson warns of Instagram scam using her name — Rep. Thompson is warning fellow lawmakers and other individuals not to reply to a fake Instagram account using her name and likeness and offering government money. “I have reported this fraud to the State Attorney General and Orange County Sheriff,” Thompson said in a late Wednesday statement. “I urge everyone who receives any message like this, from any account, to be very suspicious and not fall victim to these dishonest crimes. It takes a particularly heinous criminal to take advantage of people struggling during a pandemic, and I am outraged they would use my likeness in their deception.” The fake account is offering government money in exchange for $10,000, according to Thompson’s office.

Would getting rid of Florida school board member salaries be sexist, targeting female elected officials?” via Danielle J. Brown of the Florida Phoenix — In Orange County Public Schools, the eight-member school board is all female. Likewise, the nine-member school board in Broward County has all women. And in Miami-Dade schools, the school board has nine members. Eight are women. One is a man. Those samples, gleaned from school district websites, illustrate the gender makeup of Florida school boards. A state lawmaker is now pushing legislation that proposes a Constitutional amendment to prohibit compensation for school board members, even though legislators, county commissioners, and other elected officials wouldn’t be targeted. They’d get their salaries. But school board members wouldn’t, potentially a way of undervaluing work performed in female-associated careers such as education.

Addressing hearing loss is a hot topic” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — To ensure safety and protect individuals from harm, Florida law has since 1995 required professional assistance for hearing aid testing and fitting and has also prohibited sending hearing aids to patients through the mail. A bill (HB 957) introduced this Legislative Session would nix the professional assistance requirements and allow hearing aids to be mailed directly to patients. On the surface, this might seem reasonable until you understand the intricacies of hearing health. Florida is a national leader in patient safety for individuals living with hearing loss, and passing this legislation will change that. DeSantis put seniors first in his vaccination efforts, and defeating this legislation will be another important step in protecting the state’s most vulnerable.

APCIA cheers Senate for passing property insurance overhaul — The American Property Casualty Insurance Association praised the Senate for passing a bill that would substantially rework the state’s property insurance laws. “APCIA applauds the Florida Senate for supporting the property insurance reforms in SB 76,” said Logan McFaddin, APCIA’s head of state government relations. “Many homeowners in Florida are facing a steep rise in insurance costs as property insurers face billions in recent losses from natural disasters and out-of-control litigation costs. SB 76 will help alleviate some key pressure points in the insurance market by significantly reducing excessive attorney fee awards, adjusting the claims filing deadline to within two years of a loss, and addressing widespread abuses in the roofing industry.”

Rubin Turnbull & Associates lands lobbying deal with Qatar” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — The Qatari government has hired lobbying firm Rubin Turnbull & Associates, according to documents filed with the U.S. Justice Department last week. According to the disclosure, the firm “has been engaged to provide advice and assistance to (Qatar) in government relations, public affairs, and communications in Florida to promote commercial, philanthropic, academic, cultural and other exchanges to advance the mutual interests of Florida and the State of Qatar.” The paperwork was filed on April 1 and covers named partners Bill Rubin and Heather Turnbull as well as lobbyists Jacqueline Carmona, Erica Chanti and Jodi Davidson.


— LOBBY REGS —

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Brian Bautista, Laura Boehmer, Rachel Cone, Chris Dudley, Nicole Kelly, Michelle Grimsley, James McFaddin, Seth McKeel, Paul Mitchell, Sydney Ridley, Erin Rock, David Shepp, Clark Smith, The Southern Group: Easterseals Northeast Central Florida, Gopher Resource, Pier B Development, VIPKid International

Derek Whitis, Whitis Consulting: Florida Design Drilling Corporation

— LEG. SKED —

The House will hold a floor Session, 9 a.m., House Chamber.

The Senate will hold a floor Session, 2:30 p.m., Senate Chamber.

Also:

The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee meets, 9 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee meets, 9 a.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee meets, 11:30 a.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee meets, 11:30 a.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee meets, 11:30 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee meets, 2:30 p.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.

The House Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee meets, 2:30 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

The House Local Administration and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee meets, 2:30 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The House Professions and Public Health Subcommittee meets, 2:30 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.

The House Rules Committee meets, 4:30 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The House Appropriations Committee meets, 5:30 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.

The House Ways and Means Committee meets, 5:30 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

— 2022 —

Ron DeSantis to play key role in filling Alcee Hastings’ seat” via Alex Daugherty for the Tampa Bay Times — The death of Congressman Hastings on Tuesday will touch off a competitive Democratic primary for a seat in a majority Black district that hasn’t been open since 1992. But DeSantis ultimately has the power to determine when the special election to replace Hastings will happen, and leaving a deep blue seat unfilled for months will help Republicans in Washington as they attempt to stop Biden’s legislative agenda. DeSantis hasn’t announced plans for a special primary and general election, and Hastings’ seat is the first vacancy in the state’s U.S. House delegation since DeSantis assumed office.

Ron DeSantis dragging his feet could become a speed bump for Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.

Republican Greg Musselwhite says he’ll run in Special Election to replace Hastings” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Musselwhite says he’ll seek the seat formerly held by U.S. Rep. Hastings, who passed away Tuesday following a battle with cancer. A Special Election will be held to determine Hastings’ successor. DeSantis will determine the date of that election, though past precedent would show a summer date for the Special Election is likely. Musselwhite will join the Special Election after competing against Hastings in the 2020 General Election for Florida’s 20th Congressional District. The district leans heavily Democratic, and Hastings secured nearly 79% of the vote against Musselwhite. Democrat Biden won 77% of the vote in CD 20 last cycle. In 2016, then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won just under 80%.

First on #FlaPol — “House Democrats announce key staff hires for 2022 cycle” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Rep. Diamond announced personnel hires at House Victory as Democrats aim to expand their numbers in the House. Allahandro Bradford will take over as caucus director. Meanwhile, Gretchell Trochez-Triguero will remain as finance director, and Neal Spencer will stay on as operations director. Dan Newman and Jena Kingery will serve as senior advisers. “The future is bright for Florida House Democrats with this talented team in place at House Victory,” said Diamond, Democratic Leader-Designate in the House. He praised the array of skills each hire brings to the job. Florida Democrats head into 2022 waiting for the results of redistricting. The critical elections come after a disappointing 2020 cycle that wiped away the party’s gains in the 2018 cycle.

— STATEWIDE —

Jeanette Núñez says corporate media uses DeSantis as ‘punching bag’” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Lt. Gov. Núñez expressed outrage Wednesday over recent unfavorable treatment of DeSantis on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” During her appearance on the Fox Business Network, Núñez said the Governor is a favorite “punching bag” of the “corporate media.” Regarding the Sunday story specifically, Núñez told host Dagen McDowell that it was “evident that 60 Minutes is going to stand by their smear attack.” The Lieutenant Governor’s stance mirrors that of DeSantis, who has not been shy about contending liberal media forces are bent on destroying him.

Jeanette Núñez has Ron DeSantis’ back. Image via Colin Hackley.

Assignment editors — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried will testify virtually before the U.S. International Trade Commission on their investigations into imports and unfair trade practices harming Southeastern seasonal produce growers of American-grown cucumbers and squash, 9:30 a.m. WebEx at this link, no login required.

Molly McKinstry moves to Chief of Staff at DCF” via News Service of Florida — McKinstry, who served as a deputy secretary at the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration for the past decade, has been named chief of staff at the state Department of Children and Families. At the Department of Children and Families, McKinstry will be chief of staff to Secretary Shevaun Harris, a former AHCA interim secretary. AHCA did not immediately answer questions about who would replace McKinstry or her last day at the agency. But a review of lobbying records shows that McKinstry withdrew her lobbyist registration for AHCA on March 29 and registered to lobby for the Department of Children and Families two days later.

A rising number of children are being Baker Acted in Florida. That’s a problem” via the Miami Herald editorial board — The images of a police officer in Miami-Dade County taking a 7-year-old boy — in handcuffs — for a psychiatric exam after he hit a teacher sparked outrage in 2018. That’s not what the Florida Mental Health Act of 1971, known as the “Baker Act,” was intended to do. It allows law enforcement, courts or health professionals to commit a person, with or without their consent, for psychiatric evaluation if they present a danger of bodily harm to themselves or others or are likely to suffer neglect because of mental illness. But it’s become common for similar cases to pop up in the news every so often.

Florida tops nation in Obamacare enrollment” via News Service of Florida — Florida continues to lead the nation in the number of people taking advantage of a special enrollment period for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, with 146,250 people obtaining health insurance between Feb. 15 and March 31. Nationwide, more than 500,000 people obtained so-called Obamacare coverage during that period, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Jodi Ray, director of Florida Covering Kids & Families, attributed the success to increased awareness of coverage options. “Having to deal with the challenges of more than a year of a pandemic has necessarily helped educate more people who have an ongoing need to find out what resources and assistance are out there,” Ray said.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

COVID-19 in Florida: 5,885 new infections, 42 more residents dead” via Tiffini Theisen of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida added 5,885 coronavirus cases Wednesday to bring the cumulative total to 2,096,747. With 42 more fatalities, 33,822 Florida residents are now dead. COVID-19 infections across the state are rising, but deaths are declining. As of Wednesday’s report, the latest seven-day case count is 39,012, compared to the seven days before that, which was 36,079. For deaths, it’s 397 in the past seven days, compared with 575 for the seven days before that. Each report includes deaths from several previous days, as it can take two weeks or more for fatalities to be logged.

DeSantis complains again about ’60 Minutes’ story, gets vaccinated off-camera” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — For the second day in a row, Gov. DeSantis took to the podium to attack CBS News and “60 Minutes” over its Sunday story on vaccine favoritism in Florida, this time for an entire news conference held without taking questions. Shortly afterward, a DeSantis spokeswoman said the Governor had privately received his vaccination shot, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. She did not say which vaccine he received or where he got it. Many public officials have gotten inoculated on camera to promote the vaccines to their constituents, including state CFO Patronis, Agriculture Commissioner Fried, then-Vice President Mike Pence, Biden and all the living former Presidents except for Donald Trump.

Tweet, tweet:

Johnson & Johnson vaccine shortage cuts Florida supply next week, down nearly 270k doses” via Richard Tribou of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida’s weekly allotment of vaccines for COVID-19 from the federal government will take a big hit from this week’s record numbers after a major reduction in the one-dose Johnson & Johnson supply, but the state will still be getting more than 500,000 initial doses from either Moderna and Pfizer. After getting more than 300,000 doses of the J&J vaccine this week, Florida is only in line to receive 37,000 the week of April 12. The drugmaker relied on a supply buildup to satisfy the federal government’s order from a U.S. manufacturing plant run by Emergent BioSolutions, but a mix-up at the plant forced Johnson & Johnson to throw out 15 million doses.

As theme parks hit capacity and add festivals, a return to normal predicted” Sharon Kennedy Wynne of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida’s theme parks appear to be slowly returning to the normal state of long lines, new rides and food festivals meant to entice visitors back. At the height of spring break, Universal Orlando reached its still-limited capacity by midday the last few weeks, and Disney’s parks pass availability calendar is showing one or more of its theme parks “sold out” for almost the entire month of April and May. Legoland Florida also reached capacity on Saturday. And Busch Gardens announced on Twitter that it reached its limit for park capacity over Easter weekend.

SeaWorld’s board chairman helped the company navigate the pandemic, interim CEO says” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — SeaWorld’s interim CEO said having a large investor serving on its board helped the business navigate the pandemic and ultimately emerge stronger out of it. Marc Swanson, the veteran SeaWorld chief financial officer who was promoted to its interim leader in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, gave his remarks Wednesday at a virtual event held by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. IAAPA declined to allow news media access to its two-day conference featuring several industry experts speaking how they dealt with the pandemic, but SeaWorld provided a copy of Swanson’s speech to the Orlando Sentinel.

— CORONA LOCAL —

Lots of people aren’t following the COVID-19 rules, but Broward still will try to do something about it” via Lisa J. Huriash of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Some Broward County leaders acknowledge trying to enforce COVID-19 restrictions may be an unrealistic exercise in futility, but the county still is forging ahead with a plan to “reopen” the county by loosening its rules. DeSantis has wiped away any COVID-19-related fines against people and businesses over the past year across the state, calling such penalties “out of control” and “heavy-handed.” In response, many counties complained the Governor had prevented counties from enforcing their own requirements, such as wearing masks. Broward commissioners have backed a plan for reopening the county.

Coroner: Florida doctor who died after receiving COVID-19 vaccine died of natural cause” via The Associated Press — A South Florida doctor who died about two weeks after he got Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine died in a manner that has been categorized as natural. An official with a medical examiner’s office says Dr. Gregory Michael died from a condition that can cause internal bleeding and there is no medical certainty that the shot caused the disorder. Michael’s death in January was investigated by the Florida Department of Health and the federal CDC. Samples from an autopsy were sent to the CDC. The investigative team concluded that Michael died from complications of immune thrombocytopenia, otherwise known as ITP, a disorder that can prevent blood from clotting and cause internal bleeding.

Hillsborough vaccinations surge, but so do COVID-19 cases” via C.T. Bowen of the Tampa Bay Times — Hillsborough County’s COVID-19 vaccination surge is being accompanied by an increasing number of cases of the coronavirus infection. The dichotomy came with little explanation Wednesday. But, Dr. Douglas Holt, director of the state Health Department for Hillsborough County, told county commissioners variants of the coronavirus were not tied to the increased caseload. The county’s two-week average of positive test results is beyond 9%, and the number of cases grew by more than 3,000 between March 31 and April 6. Holt, giving his first briefing to commissioners since early March, noted the number of cases is up 15% compared to a month ago.

In Hillsborough, there are more vaccinations, as well as more COVID-19 cases.

Hillsborough jail inmates start receiving COVID-19 vaccine” via Justin Schecker of WFLA — The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, with the assistance of the Florida Department of Health, has launched its COVID-19 vaccination program for inmates at the Falkenberg and Orient Road Jails. Critics say the state should have started this process sooner, but now HCSO said it expects to receive up to 500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine each week to give inmates voluntarily. “The sooner we can get the vast majority of people vaccinated, the better for both those within our jails and those within our communities,” Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said. The sheriff’s office is having nurses from a company that provides medical services in the detention facilities administer the shots. As part of the booking process, deputies will now ask new arrestees if they’d like to be vaccinated, and they’ll go on a waitlist.

Collier’s reported COVID-19 cases, deaths drop in March as vaccines surge” via Dan DeLuca of Naples Daily News — Reported COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Collier County declined during March as the number of residents who received vaccinations nearly doubled. However, a University of Florida epidemiologist said a rise in cases in the final two weeks of the month could be the initial sign of a surge fueled by Spring Break vacations and the continued rise of infections by coronavirus variant strains. Overall, however, cases showed a marked decline in March as compared to February’s numbers. According to a Naples Daily News analysis of data compiled by the Florida Department of Health, Collier averaged 72 new COVID-19 cases per day in March, 18% fewer than February’s average of 88.

FEMA pop-ups moving to Liberty City and Cutler Bay again — this time for second doses” via Michelle Marchante of the Miami Herald — The federally supported vaccination pop-ups in North Miami Beach and Miami Springs are moving again to Liberty City and Cutler Bay to administer second doses in the final stretch of their run. The FEMA pop-up sites are at Allen Park Community Center at 1770 NE 162nd St. in North Miami Beach and the Miami Springs Community Center at 1401 Westward Dr. through 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 7. Then on Thursday, April 8, the “satellite” sites will open at Charles Hadley Park, 1350 NW 50th St. in Liberty City, and at South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 SW 211th St. in Cutler Bay. Both sites will administer the second dose Pfizer shots only.

Okaloosa to drop mask mandate at Destin-Fort Walton Beach Convention Center” via Tony Judnich of Northwest Florida Daily News — Starting May 15, Okaloosa County officials no longer will require visitors to the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Convention Center to wear a mask. That change was suggested Tuesday by County Commission Chairwoman Carolyn Ketchel and supported by her four fellow commissioners. The Convention Center is on Okaloosa Island, which is within Ketchel’s District 2. In response to a question from commissioners, county Public Safety Director Pat Maddox said more than 70% of residents age 65 and older in Okaloosa County had been fully vaccinated.

Destin-Fort Walton Beach Convention Center is going mask-free.

Disney World opens a vaccine site for its employees” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — Disney World confirmed Wednesday that a limited number of employees signed up for appointments and received the Pfizer vaccine this week at its health services clinic near Epcot. The clinic is not open to the general public and is for Disney employees only. Disney did not say how many cast members have been vaccinated so far but added that the site is hoping to get more vaccine shipments. Employees working or furloughed were notified by email about making appointments on a first-come, first-serve basis. Disney said Osceola County approached it to help with vaccines. The theme park giant is located in Osceola and Orange counties.

— CORONA NATION —

‘A moment of peril’: Joe Biden’s coronavirus response collides with case spikes” via Dan Diamond and Fenit Nirappil of The Washington Post — The Biden White House sees new infections climb on its own watch, a potential crisis that could erase many of the hard-won gains of the President’s first 75 days, should the numbers keep rising. After railing for a year about the last administration’s response and vowing a more muscular strategy, Biden is encountering the limits of his own authority. The President can help secure and distribute supplies and medicines, issue guidance, and urge caution. But like Trump before him, he has few tools when Governors decide to lift coronavirus protections at the wrong moment, manufacturers botch vaccine production, or Americans refuse to wear masks or get vaccinated. Public health experts say the President has benefited from good policy, as well as good luck thus far in his presidency.

Joe Biden’s COVID-19 response is at odds with rising cases. Image via AP.

Most U.S. infections are now caused by a contagious new virus variant, the C.D.C. says.” via Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times — A highly infectious variant of the coronavirus that was first identified in Britain has now become the most common source of new infections in the United States, the director of the CDC said Wednesday, a worrisome development that comes as officials and scientists warn of a possible fourth virus surge. Further progress in reducing new cases has stalled, hospitalizations have leveled off, and deaths remain near an average of about 800 a day. Until recently, the variant’s rise was somewhat camouflaged by falling rates of infection over all, lulling Americans into a false sense of security.

Senior Donald Trump and Biden officials knew for months about problems at vaccine plant” via Erin Banco and Sarah Owermohle of POLITICO — Senior officials in the Trump and Biden administrations knew of oversight and quality assurance problems at Emergent BioSolutions’ Baltimore plant months before the company accidentally contaminated 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter and an internal report. Officials with the Trump administration’s vaccine program, Operation Warp Speed, and the Department of Health and Human Services were sent a report in June 2020 on Emergent’s inner workings. Written by a government official, the document concluded that the company’s plan for manufacturing urgently needed COVID-19 vaccines was inadequate. Emergent’s problems hiring and retaining skilled workers meant that it could not guarantee success in producing the shots.

Biden administration to launch massive funeral assistance program for COVID-19 victims” via Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan of The Washington Post — The Biden administration next week will launch a funeral assistance program that will provide up to $9,000 to cover the burial costs of each American who died of COVID-19 — the largest program of its type ever offered by the federal government. The program is open to families regardless of their income, as long as they show documentation and have not already received similar benefits through another program. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has reimbursed burial costs before, but it has never offered as large a payment to so many people. In 2017, for example, FEMA paid $2.6 million to 976 people for funeral costs of victims of three hurricanes — an average of $2,664 per applicant.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

Stop calling them ‘vaccine passports’” via Leana S. Wen of The Washington Post — We need to stop using the phrase “vaccine passport.” The term is inflammatory and divisive, and runs the real risk of triggering a lasting backlash against vaccinations. It’s also inaccurate. A passport is generally understood as a government-issued document that provides proof of the carrier’s identity and citizenship. Israel’s “Green Pass” is a version of a vaccine passport; it is required for entry into gyms, theaters and other designated areas, and forgery of a pass is a crime. While it has some fans, almost no one is proposing this kind of national ID for coronavirus vaccination in the United States.

‘Vaccine passports’ have become a divisive term. Image via Reuters.

FEMA will offer more financial aid for COVID-19 funeral expenses starting next week.” via Michael D. Shear of The New York Times — People who paid for the funeral and burial expenses of someone who died from COVID-19 will be offered expanded federal financial support starting on Monday, according to an announcement by FEMA. The coronavirus has claimed the lives of more than 556,000 Americans. Under the expanded assistance program, their survivors can apply for up to $9,000 in reimbursement to purchase a plot, burial, a headstone, clergy services, the transfer of remains, cremation or other services associated with a funeral. Congress approved billions of dollars in funding for funeral benefits in two COVID-19 relief measures.

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon sees post-pandemic boom for U.S. economy” via Jessica Menton of USA Today — Dimon said the U.S. economy is headed for a boom that could run well into 2023. In his annual letter to shareholders, Dimon said robust consumer savings, a successful vaccine rollout and the Biden administration’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure plan could lead to an economic “Goldilocks scenario” of fast and sustained growth, tame inflation and a measured rise in interest rates. Dimon said the economic boom’s long-term effects wouldn’t be known for years because it will likely take time to see how government spending, including Biden’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure bill, will boost economic growth.

‘There are still several unknowns’: WHO’s Caribbean arm urges caution for cruise restart” via Jacqueline Charles and Taylor Dolven of the Miami Herald — The regional public health authority for the World Health Organization is urging cruise companies and countries to use caution as they plan to restart cruises in the Caribbean more than a year after halting operations due to the coronavirus pandemic. At least four cruise companies have announced plans to allow people to once again board cruise ships in Caribbean ports as early as June. Some passengers will need to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination; for others, a negative COVID-19 test will suffice.

U.K. carriers push air bridge to U.S. amid vaccination success” via Benjamin Katz of The Wall Street Journal — British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways are pushing for the establishment of a travel corridor between the U.K. and U.S. without requirements for expensive COVID-19 tests and quarantines on both sides of the Atlantic, as carriers here try to capitalize on a robust vaccination drive and falling coronavirus cases. Contrasting that optimism, Air France-KLM Group said it won approval for another large government-financed lifeline as it faces months of reduced traffic amid soaring infections and slow vaccination efforts across continental Europe. The diverging tacks highlight how a resumption of air travel is moving at significantly different speeds worldwide.

The U.S. and U.K. are considering an air travel corridor that is safe from COVID-19. Image via Wall Street Journal.

Uber putting $250M toward boosting driver incentives, enticing new recruits” via Catherine Park of FOX 13 — Uber announced Wednesday that it will dedicate $250 million in stimulus funds to the ride-hailing company’s most valuable employees: drivers. Amid a year of crippling losses, the ride-hailing company said drivers who already had high earnings will benefit from the new multimillion-dollar boost. Uber said it also hopes to entice new driver recruits with the money. “We want drivers to take advantage of higher earnings now because this is likely a temporary situation. As the recovery continues, we expect more drivers will be hitting the road, which means that over time, earnings will come back to pre-COVID levels,” according to an Uber news release.

— MORE CORONA —

Viral thoughts: Why COVID-19 conspiracy theories persist” via The Associated Press — As the world struggles to break the grip of COVID-19, psychologists and misinformation experts are studying why the pandemic spawned so many conspiracy theories, which have led people to eschew masks, social distancing and vaccines. They see links between beliefs in COVID-19 falsehoods and social media reliance as a source of news and information. And they’re concluding COVID-19 conspiracy theories persist by providing a false sense of empowerment. By offering hidden or secretive explanations, they give the believer a feeling of control in a situation that otherwise seems random or frightening.

COVID-19 conspiracy theories are persistent. Image via AP.

America is about to go Botox wild” via Amanda Mull of The Atlantic — Slowly, the things that have felt so trivial over the past year are beginning to seem more possible — and a bit less trivial. As millions of Americans are vaccinated each day, the beauty industry is poised for an unprecedented summer boom. People are already filling up the appointment books at salons and spas, preparing for a world in which being seen is once again a regular part of the human experience. Americans are ready to look hot again. They’re ready to go out. And along with sparkly nails and plump lips, beauty services seem to be offering exactly what so many people have been craving: the first taste of post-pandemic comfort and a modicum of control over how they enter the future.

Your pandemic haircut is a hot mess. Your barber is thrilled.” via Rachel Louise Ensign of The Wall Street Journal — At least once a day, a masked man with shaggy hair walks into Mike Moriello’s Saugus, Massachusetts, barbershop. At first, the fifth-generation barber thinks he’s a stranger. Then he realizes another longtime customer is returning for his first cut in more than a year. “The guy might have a baseball cap on and a mask on and long hair coming down to his shoulders. I’ll be like, ‘Joe; I can’t believe it’s you!’ ” Mr. Moriello said. Some Americans worried about contracting COVID-19 indoors skipped routine haircuts and other personal-care services after the pandemic began. With vaccine distribution picking up and people venturing out, these customers are excitedly returning for cuts, manicures, waxes and facials.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Biden’s tax plan aims to raise $2.5 trillion and end profit-shifting” via Jim Tankersley and Alan Rappeport of The New York Times — Large companies like Apple and Bristol Myers Squibb have long employed complicated maneuvers to reduce or eliminate their tax bills by shifting income on paper between countries. The strategy has enriched accountants and shareholders, while driving down corporate tax receipts for the federal government. Biden sees ending that practice as central to his $2 trillion infrastructure package, pushing changes to the tax code that his administration says will ensure American companies are contributing tax dollars to help invest in the country’s roads, bridges, water pipes, and in other parts of his economic agenda. The plan aims to impose a 15% tax on the profits corporations report to investors.

Biden says he’s open to compromise with Republicans on $2 trillion infrastructure plan” via Jeff Stein and Tony Romm of The Washington Post — Biden said he was open to compromise with Republicans on how to pay for his approximately $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure package, but insisted that inaction was unacceptable. His comments, delivered at the White House, reflect how he quickly recalibrates his political strategy after passing a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill into law without any GOP support. The infrastructure package marks another of his top campaign promises, but it has been met with a torrent of criticism from Republicans, and even some Democrats have appeared squeamish.

Joe Biden is open to compromise on infrastructure. Image via AP.

Biden to unveil long-awaited executive action on guns” via Anita Kumar of POLITICO — Biden is expected to unveil a long-awaited package of executive actions to curb gun violence Thursday at the White House. The announcement comes nearly three months into Biden’s term, a delay that had frustrated activists who wanted the President to fulfill a campaign pledge to take action on gun violence on his first day in office. That frustration only grew after a slate of mass shootings in Colorado, Georgia and California. Biden will direct the administration to begin the process of requiring buyers of so-called ghost guns, firearms that lack serial numbers, to undergo background checks.

Biden to nominate official from gun-control group to head ATF” via Seung Min Kim and Tyler Pager of The Washington Post — Biden will announce a top official from a leading gun-control group as his nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a key agency in combating gun violence that has gone without a permanent director for years. Two people familiar with the matter said Biden plans to nominate David Chipman, a veteran ATF special agent who currently serves as a senior policy adviser at Giffords, as his ATF director nominee. Chipman was a special agent at ATF for more than two decades with a focus on firearms programs.

— EPILOGUE: TRUMP —

John Boehner lays blame for ‘that bloody insurrection’ at Donald Trump’s feet” via Chandelis Duster of CNN — Former House Speaker Boehner said former President Trump “incited that bloody insurrection” at the US Capitol and blamed his false election claims for the GOP losing control of Congress, according to a copy of his forthcoming book. Republicans have wobbled over whether to embrace the 45th President’s legacy as an electoral strategy, and Boehner’s scathing rebuke amounts to the latest plea by the former de facto head of the GOP to resist Trump’s influence as it defines itself in the Biden era. Trump’s “refusal to accept the result of the election not only cost Republicans the Senate but led to mob violence,” the former speaker writes in his forthcoming book, “On the House: A Washington Memoir,” adding, “It was painful to watch.”

What a photo of Trump’s new office reveals about how he wants to be remembered” via Daniel Lippman of POLITICO — Americans got a glimpse of Trump’s post-presidential office when former White House aide Stephen Miller tweeted out a picture of himself with Trump. The photo comes out as Trump tries to remain the kingmaker of the Republican party and has been meeting politicians down at Mar-a-Lago seeking his endorsement or hosting fundraisers at the resort. The office is above the ballroom at the exclusive Palm Beach club. The image rocketed around social media, with amateur online sleuths analyzing everything from the collection of tchotchkes populating the room to the bottle hiding behind Trump’s phone.

Donald Trump’s new office offers lots of clues. Image via Twitter.

Corporate America isn’t welcoming former Trump Cabinet officials with open arms, headhunters say” via Tory Newmyer of The Washington Post — While the small numbers make comparisons difficult, corporations don’t seem to have an immediate interest in top Trump administration alums. Roughly half the S&P 500 companies have filed their 2021 investor disclosure reports, listing a total of 108 new or prospective board members. No Trump Cabinet officials who served in the final quarter of his term are among those nominated. By this point in 2009, four major companies had lined up alums of George W. Bush’s Cabinet to serve as directors: global power company AES, oil and gas company Hess, chemical maker FMC, and United Technologies, the industrial conglomerate that has since merged with Raytheon.

Mike Pence returns to MAGA world with Trump-backed political group” via Rob Crilly of the Washington Examiner — Pence will take a step back into public life and a possible 2024 run with the launch Wednesday of the Advancing American Freedom advocacy group, designed to merge traditional conservative thinking with Trumpism. It will seek to defend the Trump-Pence administration’s record while building what aides said would be a “winning formula for a broader coalition.” The makeup of its advisory board reflects that mission, including figures from the Trump White House, such as Kellyanne Conway and Larry Kudlow, alongside key players from the broader conservative movement such as David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth.

Stephen Miller’s next act finds a stage in the courts” via Brent Kendall of The Wall Street Journal — Miller has come to admire the effectiveness — and aggressiveness — of the legal campaign Democrats and their supporters mounted against the Trump administration’s agenda. Now, the former senior White House adviser during Trump’s presidency hopes to return fire. Mr. Miller, an architect of the last administration’s restrictive immigration policies and a leading backer of its socially conservative initiatives, is launching this week a new organization, America First Legal, to challenge Biden administration initiatives at odds with Trump-era priorities. “Anything the President does that we believe to be illegal is fair game,” he said.


— GAETZGATE —

Matt Gaetz trip to Bahamas is part of federal probe into sex trafficking, sources say” via Major Garrett, Michael Kaplan, Clare Hymes, and Jessica Kegu of CBS News — Federal investigators are looking into a Bahamas trip Gaetz allegedly took in late 2018 or early 2019 as part of an inquiry into whether the Florida representative violated sex trafficking laws. Gaetz was on that trip with a marijuana entrepreneur and hand surgeon named Jason Pirozzolo, who allegedly paid for the travel expenses, accommodations, and female escorts, the sources said. Investigators are trying to determine if the escorts were illegally trafficked across state or international lines for the purpose of sex with the Congressman.

Matt Gaetz remains in the spotlight, and not in a good way. Image via AP.

Trump claims Gaetz ‘never asked me for a pardon’” via Ben Leonard of POLITICO — Trump said embattled Rep. Gaetz “has never asked me for a pardon,” disputing a New York Times report that Gaetz asked the former President for a blanket pardon as Trump’s term in office was coming to a close. The Times’ story did not say that Gaetz directly asked Trump himself for a pardon, reporting it was “unclear” whether Gaetz actually spoke with the then-President about the request for himself and “unidentified congressional allies.” It’s unclear whether Trump’s White House or Gaetz knew of the sex-trafficking inquiry when Gaetz made the reported pardon request.

When did Gaetz know?” via Philip Bump of The Washington Post — Hours after The New York Times first reported that Gaetz was under investigation by the Justice Department, he appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program to defend himself. That defense itself came as a surprise. Then Carlson asked when Gaetz knew about the investigation. Gaetz’s response did provide an answer to some extent: pretty clearly before March 16. But when? Another story published by The Times on Tuesday suggests that it may have been in January when Gaetz reportedly asked Trump for a pardon. It’s easy to look backward and pick out signals that suggest that Gaetz may have known more about the legal risk he was facing than the public knew.

—”The Congressman and his wingman” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO

Stephen Alford says he was questioned by FBI regarding Gaetz extortion charge” via Tom McLaughlin of Northwest Florida Daily News — When his probation officer called unexpectedly late last week, Alford thought for sure he was going to end up behind bars. After politically connected former state Senate President Don Gaetz publicly accused him of conspiring to extort money from his family, he expected the worst. “I thought the Gaetzes had trumped up some kind of probation violation against me,” he said. Instead, he arrived at the probation office to find an FBI agent waiting to give him an opportunity to tell his side of the extortion story that U.S. Rep. Gaetz floated in response to allegations he traveled with and had sex with a 17-year-old girl.

Latest Lincoln Project spot targets Gaetz” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — America’s most renowned group of Never Trump Republicans may have encountered some membership changes, but the anti-MAGA mission continues for the Lincoln Project. The group waded into the current controversy regarding a pro-Trump Congressman in the Panhandle who is currently facing a very serious controversy at the least, and legal peril at the worst. In a new video, the Lincoln Project took aim at Rep. Gaetz, contending the Republican Party created the congressman and now must deal with the consequences. The video also hones in on the connection between Gaetz and former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, who, unlike Gaetz, has actually been charged for similar crimes.

To watch the spot, click on the image below:

— THE FIGHT —

Yet again, Mitch McConnell digs in against campaign law changes” via Carl Hulse of The New York Times — Sen. McConnell has long been a preeminent defender of a role in politics for corporate America, welcoming its participation and, most importantly, its money. So it astounded many this week when he cried foul over Major League Baseball and companies like Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines jumping into the fray against Georgia’s new voting restrictions. “If I were running a major corporation, I’d stay out of politics,” McConnell said while warning of “consequences” for the private sector if it sided with Democrats and “far-left mobs” opposing new limits to ballot access. Democrats quickly roasted McConnell, noting that he has personally flourished by virtue of undisclosed, unlimited corporate donations to Republican political efforts.

Mitch McConnell jumps in the fray over Georgia’s voter laws. Image via AP.

The fallout in Georgia shows what endless political war gets you” via Jonah Goldberg in the Los Angeles Times — The Georgia debacle is a perfect example of the rolling collective action problem of our democracy. A collective action problem, simply put, is when there is a goal that would benefit everyone — in this case, confidence in our machinery of democracy — but the incentive structure for the individual players makes it impossible to cooperate to reach the goal. This political situation is the opposite of the “bootleggers and the Baptists” incentive model at work. In the early 20th century, bootleggers supported Baptist prohibitions against selling booze on Sundays because that policy drove up demand and prices for their product. Though the two groups had divergent moral views, they had parallel pragmatic interests.

— CRISIS —

Pro-Trump whites afraid of being replaced attacked The Capitol. That’s a race riot.” via Hayes Brown of MSNBC — It’s been three months exactly since we watched — on live television — as Trump supporters climbed past barricades, shattered windows and besieged the U.S. Capitol. Since then, we’ve come to learn a lot about the mob that ripped through the building that day. And, vitally, a new study shows that this wasn’t just a group of people primed to believe the election had been stolen. These weren’t just people wracked with economic anxiety, as previously assumed. It wasn’t even mostly made up of members of the far-right’s front-line groups. What we witnessed was a race riot.

Some say to call The Capitol riot exactly what it was — a race riot. Image via AP.

After The Capitol riot, Democrats are torn over working with the GOP” via Catie Edmondson and Luke Broadwater of The New York Times — In the immediate aftermath of the assault on the Capitol that left five dead, irate Democrats vowed to punish Republicans for their roles in perpetuating or indulging Trump’s fiction of a stolen election that motivated the mob that attacked the building. There was talk of cutting off certain Republicans entirely from the legislative process, denying them the basic courtesies and customs that allow the House to function even in polarized times. Democrats introduced a series of measures to censure, investigate and potentially expel members who, in the words of one resolution, “attempted to overturn the results of the election and incited a White supremacist attempted coup.”

Capitol rioters face the consequences of their selfie sabotage” via Elizabeth Williamson of The New York Times — On Jan. 6, Joe Biggs, a former Army staff sergeant turned Proud Boys lieutenant, led the far-right group to the Capitol from the Washington Monument, charged over the wreckage of police barricades, pulled down another barrier, faced off with the police and then filmed himself. “We’ve just taken the Capitol!” Biggs shouted to the world. All that was laid out in court documents, but it was also in plain view. Biggs, indicted last month on charges that included conspiracy and destruction of government property, potentially faces decades in prison for his role in the Capitol riot. He has himself to blame. Like other Proud Boys, he helped document the prosecution’s case.

Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio to speak at Boca Raton Republican club event” via John Pacenti of the Palm Beach Post — Tarrio, the leader of the controversial right-wing group the Proud Boys, was slated to speak in May at a $45-a-plate dinner sponsored by the Boca Raton Regional Republican Club. But the public venue backed out once it learned Tarrio was speaking. A director with The Pavilion Grille on Yamato Road told The Palm Beach Post on Wednesday that the venue, after speaking with its landlord, asked the club to move the May 3 event. Washington D.C. police arrested Tarrio in early January, two days before the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. He was charged with possessing two high-capacity rifle magazines.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Hastings didn’t want a funeral, so there won’t be one” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Hastings, who died Tuesday at 84, was adamant: He did not want a service. So there won’t be one, his chief of staff, Lale Morrison, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on Wednesday. Morrison said many people have been asking about arrangements, and she’s informed them of his edict. “Those were his wishes,” she said. “His wishes were not to have a funeral service.” There will be a congressional memorial in Washington, D.C., and the Congressional Black Caucus will have its own event in honor of one of its longtime members. Arrangements haven’t been made yet. At some point, well into the future, there may be a celebration of life in South Florida.

—“MSNBC apologizes for showing wrong video of Congressman” via The Associated Press

Oops. One Congressman is the late Alcee Hastings. The other is not.

Ex-Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell takes new role” via Carmen Sesin of NBC News — Seeing her father’s body with gunshot wounds was one of the most traumatic moments for former Florida Congresswoman Mucarsel-Powell as she grappled with the shock and grief of losing him to gun violence in 1996. The former Democratic lawmaker, who was the first South American-born member of Congress, will now be working on what she calls her “life mission” by joining Giffords, a gun-control advocacy group, as a senior adviser. The group is named after former Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was severely wounded during a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona.

— LOCAL NOTES —

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez tries to build a tech mecca, one tweet at a time” via Jonathan Levin and Michael Smith of Bloomberg — The chisel-jawed Suarez has found a way to stay in the limelight. He tweets relentlessly and throughout the night about Miami’s merits as a hub for industry; answers inquiries from seemingly everybody; and latches onto ideas, like the Elon Musk tunnel, that generate headlines, even if the odds of their coming to fruition are long. Tech and crypto leaders are listening. Sam Bankman-Fried, chief executive officer of FTX Crypto Derivatives Exchange and one of the world’s largest crypto traders, says Suarez’s efforts helped persuade him to pursue the pending $135 million branding rights deal for the Miami Heat basketball stadium.

Francis Suarez found a way to stay in the limelight.

A made-in-Miami money-laundering saga develops even deeper Ukraine roots” via Shirsho Dasgupta of the Miami Herald — Take a couple of Ukrainian oligarchs sanctioned for alleged money laundering. Add a mix of Florida-based businessmen who employed the husband of a prominent Democratic politician. Throw in some political connections tracing back to Rudy Giuliani, former Ukrainian Presidents and even the Kremlin. What you get is a tangled story about money and power, one that demonstrates the magnetic pull of Miami when money laundering is alleged. A lawsuit, Oleg Zhukovskiy v. National Bank of Ukraine, adds an extra layer onto an already complicated saga about alleged dirty money flowing through South Florida.

Hillsborough Commission ponders legal remedies for Piney Point spill” via C.T. Bowen of the Tampa Bay Times — The commission is considering legal remedies because the closed Piney Point phosphate plant in Manatee County is near the Hillsborough border. The plant is close to the Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve, where Hillsborough County, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and Tampa Port Authority spent 20 years restoring 500 acres of damaged wetlands, uplands and coastal habitats to improve the health of sea life and Tampa Bay. But the concern extended beyond wetlands to include wallets.

Orange County gets $5.5 million from feds for Hurricane Irma cleanup” via Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — Hurricane Irma battered Central Florida about four years ago, but the federal government continues to slowly reimburse Orange County for the cleanup. The latest payment, a check for about $5.5 million, repaid the county for picking up and disposing of 470,000 cubic yards of storm debris from roads and public rights of way, enough to fill Spaceship Earth at Walt Disney World’s EPCOT five times. Irma plowed through the Caribbean islands and Puerto Rico before it made landfall in Florida in September 2017 as a Category 4 storm. It left an estimated $77 billion in damage in its wake, making it the fourth-costliest tropical cyclone on record behind hurricanes Katrina, Harvey and Maria.

— TOP OPINION —

Gaetz and Joel Greenberg: Don’t act indignant. You knew who they were.” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — The past week has been like watching an atomic bomb detonate in slow motion across Florida’s political landscape. One sordid detail and accusation after another involving Gaetz and Greenberg. Suddenly, politicians who had been happy to cozy up with these guys for years are eager to spill the beans. CNN reports that members of Congress now say Gaetz was known for showing nude images of women on his phone. Fox News is suddenly interested in year-old reports of a legislator who described a sex game Gaetz created. Just stop it — all of you. You don’t get to snuggle up to two guys who made one ugly headline after another when it served your political interests — and then start clutching your pearls when they become liabilities.

— OPINIONS —

Joe Henderson: 60 Minutes gave DeSantis a gift and he seized the moment” via Florida Politics — Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner’s statement about the 60 Minutes piece about COVID-19 vaccine distribution could be the most significant moment in DeSantis’ political career. Kerner, a Democrat, blasted the story that said Publix received preferential treatment in distributing the drug because it gave lots of money to DeSantis’ campaign, through his affiliated political committee. It also kneecaps a prime point of attack by Fried, assuming she’ll be the Democratic nominee to oppose DeSantis in 2022. Fried can raise a bazillion dollars and run all the spots she wants, accusing DeSantis of pandering to big donors at the expense of little guys. But every time she does, DeSantis has the statement by Kerner — a Democrat, remember — as a rebuttal.

Election law flip-flops in the Legislature” via Monica Elliott of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — After a nearly perfect election cycle in 2020, Florida voters are now being informed by certain factions of the Florida Legislature that they, the Legislature, made a colossal mistake two years ago. In 2019, the Legislature passed an election law that allowed election supervisors to place drop boxes for vote-by-mail ballots at early voting sites. This law was a lifesaver, literally in some cases, as we voted in three elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. Drop boxes also provided reassurance to those voters who loved the idea of vote-by-mail but had worried that using the U.S. Postal Service would mean that their ballot would not reach their election office and be counted.

Bill requiring ‘quiet reflection’ new religious assault on public schools” via Frank Cerabino of the Palm Beach Post — Florida’s lawmakers never grow tired of trying to shoehorn religion into public schools. You’d think they’d run out of ways to violate the spirit of the separation of church and state. But they have a knack for dreaming up new things. This year, there’s a bill that has already cleared the Florida House. It requires first-period teachers in all public schools from kindergarten through high school to enforce a “moment of silence” no shorter than one minute and no longer than two minutes before starting the day’s lesson. I thought moments were more fleeting than that. Two minutes is way too much time to be called a “moment.” Let’s hope those first-period classes aren’t English classes.

Raids of housing trust fund must stop” via Cliff Long of the Orlando Sentinel — Legislation recently unveiled by Simpson and Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls, SPB 2512 and HB 5401, seeks to permanently redirect two-thirds of the housing trust funds each year to sea-level rise and wastewater infrastructure projects. It’s time to put the trust back in trust funds. It’s time for our lawmakers to reconsider this dangerous proposition. The future of Florida’s families is at stake. Raiding the housing trust fund means significantly less money available to teachers, firefighters, nurses and many other hardworking Central Floridians for housing assistance.

Equal timesharing can harm children of divorce” via Deborah Day for the Orlando Sentinel — There is no single optimal formula for deciding how much time children need with each parent; in fact, it is the opposite. Just like each divorce is unique and deserves to be treated that way, timesharing decisions for children are the same. By taking each case individually, you have a better chance of an outcome that best fits that family, and more importantly, the children involved. This change to a presumption of 50-50 timesharing could force families into litigation, further damaging the child as they are the subject of lawsuits. I strongly urge lawmakers to reject House Bill 1559 and Senate Bill 1922, which would harm Florida’s children by etching a 50-50 timesharing presumption into Florida law.

Sarah Wellik: When it comes to eye surgery, let’s put patient safety first” for Florida Politics — Improperly cutting or injecting a cancerous lesion can be tremendously harmful to the patient and result in a threat of cancer spreading to other parts of the body. Imagine having that “minor procedure” performed by someone who never went to medical school and lacks the necessary clinical experience because they never went through extensive surgical residency training. That is what the Florida legislature is proposing with SB 876 and HB 631. This dangerous legislation would greatly expand the scope of practice for optometrists — who are not medical doctors or trained surgeons — and would allow them to perform this type of surgery. Ophthalmologists attend four years of medical school, a one-year hospital internship, and a three-year surgical residency in ophthalmology.

I want to look damn good when the world sees me again” via Saahil Desai of The Atlantic — Every year, there’s a frenzy to get that svelte summer beach bod, but ahead of this summer, something special might be happening. “People are legit getting ready for the end,” says Taryn Stewart, a personal trainer in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Since the start of February, attendance at her virtual classes has doubled, and many of her in-person clients who used to come to see her monthly are now showing up once a week or more. Despite fearmongering about the “quarantine 15,” putting on some pounds from experimenting in the kitchen during a tough year is absolutely not something most people need to fret over, says Lindo Bacon, a nutritionist at UC Davis. Focusing on weight as an exercise goal can get dangerous.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

DeSantis steps up his attack on CBS over their report on “60 Minutes,” which accused him of setting up a pay-for-play system for vaccine distribution.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— DeSantis spent almost 30 minutes trashing corporate media and “the left” without taking any questions. He had to get back to the Governor’s Mansion to present the first Florida Medal of Freedom to legendary FSU football coach Bobby Bowden.

— Bowden was forced out in 2009, and the Seminoles have yet to find a better coach — or a better person.

— The Senate approves an insurance reform bill. Supporters claim it’s the only way to slow the skyrocketing cost of property insurance … opponents say it’s a crisis created by the insurance industry.

— Wednesday was budget day in Tallahassee as the House and Senate took their respective spending plans to the floor. This is just one step in the budget process. Think of this as a dance between two partners who both want to lead.

— The House and Senate paused for a moment of silence to honor Congressman Hastings, who passed away Tuesday.

— And finally, a Florida Man went for a joy ride in a stolen ambulance.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

FSU legend Bobby Bowden receives Florida Medal of Freedom” via Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel — Bowden now has his own day in the state of Florida, along with its first Medal of Freedom. DeSantis made Bowden the inaugural recipient of the medal during a Wednesday afternoon at the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee. DeSantis also proclaimed April 7 “Bobby Bowden Day” in honor of the FSU Seminoles icon. Bowden has a statue outside the Doak Campbell Stadium, a field inside named for him, and a bust in the College Football Hall of Fame following a career with 377 wins, including national championships with the 1993 and 1999 Seminoles. Bowden, using a cane, stepped to the podium and joked about the award, “What took you so long?”

Ron DeSantis honors the legendary FSU coach Bobby Bowden.

Hurricane ‘cone of uncertainty’ gets everyone’s attention; so will it change again this year?” via Kimberly Miller of the Palm Beach Post — The European weather model — a favorite of cellphone meteorologists — bullishly tugged Hurricane Laura west as the Category 4 heartbreak zeroed in on the tender Gulf Coast last August. Texas was the target, according to the stalwart euro. National Hurricane Center experts disagreed, keeping a focus on Louisiana that ultimately proved correct when Laura hit Aug. 27 with 150-mph winds — a wallop that tied an 1856 storm for strongest landfall in Louisiana. “We did really well for many of the ones that counted,” said NHC senior hurricane specialist John Cangialosi about predicting the track of the most damaging storms of the workaholic 2020 hurricane season.

Best Buy starts $200-a-year membership to rival Amazon, Walmart” via Matthew Boyle of Bloomberg — Best Buy unveiled a new membership program that offers benefits including free installation and unlimited technical support as it looks to expand beyond just selling products and keep pace with Amazon.com Inc. The electronics retailer said the pilot, dubbed Best Buy Beta and available in about 60 stores by the end of the month, will also include exclusive pricing, up to two years of protection on most purchases, free deliveries, and a concierge service that’s available to answer questions 24 hours a day. It will cost $199.99 a year, or $179.99 for those who hold the retailer’s branded credit card.

— THE MASTERS —

Augusta National plays through debate over Georgia voting law” via Paul Newberry of The Associated Press — While a tempest brews outside Magnolia Lane over Georgia’s voting rights law, Augusta National would prefer to keep the focus on blooming azaleas, pimento cheese sandwiches and tricky greens. That strategy has served the home of the Masters well in previous debates over efforts to keep out Black and female members. So, it was no surprise when Chairman Fred Ridley played through any attempt Wednesday to ensnare his club in another contentious issue. There was never any doubt Augusta National would take a different path than Major League Baseball, which yanked this summer’s All-Star Game from Atlanta to show its displeasure with new voting restrictions that were signed into law two weeks ago by Gov. Brian Kemp.

Pressure lands on Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley as Georgia’s voting law scrutinized” via Christine Brennan of USA TODAY — Eleven days ago, Kemp signed into law a sweeping Republican-sponsored voter suppression bill. Kemp signed the law on March 25 with six white men by his side and a painting of a former slave plantation behind him. Little more than a week later, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that the 2021 All-Star Game was being moved out of Atlanta. The reason? The new Georgia law. His momentous decision and timing right before the next big sports event in the state immediately put Augusta National Chairman Ridley on the clock. (In a plot twist few probably saw coming, Manfred also happens to be an Augusta National member.) So what will Ridley do?

Fred Ridley is feeling the heat over Georgia’s voter law scrum.

In firm conditions, Masters in November a distant memory” via Doug Ferguson of The Associated Press — No one needed to see the colorful blooms at Augusta National to realize this will be a much different Masters than the last one. It was the color of the greens. They were yellow. On Wednesday. The excitement of the golf season’s first major was mixed with no small measure of trepidation about the test Augusta National might present this week without intervention and a little precipitation. Fred Couples, who played his first Masters in 1983 and is competing for the 36th time, played a practice round Wednesday with Rory McIlroy. A score like that would have meant getting lapped in November, when the Masters had to take an autumn date after it was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Augusta National Golf Club announces Masters Fantasy Game for 2021 Tournament” via News Channel 6 WJBF — For the first time, Masters Tournament fans have a stake in the results of the Tournament with the creation this year of the Masters Fantasy Game. Bragging rights and possible Masters merchandise will be on the line. Masters Fantasy is a free-to-play fantasy game that allows users to casually compete against friends, family or the world. Users will earn or lose points based on how well their chosen players perform. You can create an account at any time but can only pick players who have not yet teed off for the day. In addition to bragging rights, there will also be daily prizes for the best round and first-, second- and third-place prizes for the Tournament as a whole

This Masters is about a champion who is missing and what is ever-so-slowly returning” via Wright Thompson of ESPN — The absence of Tiger Woods is felt in a more visceral way than the presence of many of this year’s contenders for the green jacket. On Tuesday, fans were taking pictures of the spot on No. 16 where he hit that famous chip shot in 2005, like people visiting a religious shrine or a battlefield monument, and, with apologies, nobody gets that kind of sense of place buzz from following around Patrick Reed or Jon Rahm. This generation of golfers have the strange experience of both idolizing Tiger and of being his friend.

Tiger Woods ‘in decent spirits,’ his closest golf buddies say” via Bill Pennington of The New York Times — McIlroy and Justin Thomas, two of Woods’ closest friends on the PGA Tour, said Tuesday that they had recently visited Woods at his Florida home and were encouraged by how he was handling the recovery from his serious car crash in February. “When you hear of these things, and you look at the car, and you see the crash, you think he’s going to be in a hospital bed for six months,” McIlroy said after practicing for the Masters tournament, which begins Thursday. “But he was actually doing better than that. I spent a couple hours with him, which was nice. It was good to see him in decent spirits.”

Revisiting Jack Nicklaus’ 1986 Masters win, through the eyes of those he beat” via Elizabeth Nelson of The Ringer — Even more so than physical ability, perhaps the attribute that most distinguishes elite athletes from the rest of us is the pathological desire to win at practically any cost. It’s a relentless drive that we as viewers can both admire, and concede shades into madness. It’s been 35 years since the 1986 Masters when a diminished 46-year-old Nicklaus roared past a leader board full of marquee names to win his 18th and final major championship. This late-career masterpiece — which concluded with a credulity-straining back-nine 30 — cemented Nicklaus’s status as the then-finest player of all time. It also humanized him.

You’ll never guess what the Masters’ most sought-after merchandise item is” via James Colgan of Golf — The gnomes, officially the “Masters Patron Gnome,” are the most sought-after item at the golf’s most sought-after event. Sure, the polos and hats are traditional staples, and the cashmere sweaters sell for a big number. But the gnomes? Goodness, through two days at the Masters, it’s hard to walk more than 10 feet in any direction without spotting a patron carrying his or her own limited-edition figure. So beloved are these tiny casts of clay, they are the only product in the Masters’ cavernous merchandise center with a purchase limit.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

The best of birthday wishes to former Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. Also celebrating today is Miami Man and “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck ToddJim Cordero of the Asphalt Contractors Association of Florida and Elizabeth Hirst.

___

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

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