Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 4.20.21

Sunburn Orange Tally (4)
Rise 'n' shine. Wake up to the best blurbs on politics and policy in Florida.

Good Tuesday morning.

Breaking overnightGov. DeSantis signs online sales tax plan” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — DeSantis has signed the online sales tax bill into law, answering the question of whether he would act on the bill or let it roll into law without his John Hancock. An estimated $1 billion in revenue would come from the new enforcement of sales taxes technically already owed on purchases Floridians make from out-of-state sellers, but which few Floridians pay. DeSantis had until midnight to sign or veto the bill into law or else it would have gone into effect without his signature. Lawmakers sent him the bill on April 12. He waited until one hour left in the day Monday to send the alert that he had signed the measure. DeSantis never signaled his support for the plan. If anything, he voiced his opposition.

First in Sunburn — Florida voters want the Governor and Legislature to expand Medicaid, according to a new poll.

The Public Policy Polling survey, conducted on behalf of Protect Our Care Florida, found that 54% of Florida voters favor Medicaid expansion while only 29% are against it, with the balance undecided.

The plus-25 approval rating comes as the recently passed American Rescue Plan offers major incentives for the few Medicaid expansion holdout states, including Florida.

Ron DeSantis and Marco Rubio turn off a substantial number of Florida voters due to their opposition to Medicaid expansion.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, if Florida were to expand Medicaid, it would make affordable health care available to an estimated 1.1 million Floridians while saving the state an estimated $1.8 billion.

“There’s simply no reason to not expand Medicaid in Florida,” Protect Our Care Florida Director William Miller said. “On top of the benefits both to the health of millions of Floridians and the economic benefits to the state, it is also consistently a broadly popular policy that most Floridians support.”

Despite the benefits, the Legislature is considering making cuts to Medicaid this year. The poll found signs that could backfire next election.

Nearly half of voters (46%) said they would be less likely to vote for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, while 42% said they would be less likely to vote for Gov. Ron DeSantis due to their opposition to Medicaid expansion. Both men are Republicans who are up for reelection in 2022.

Voters also told PPP that they’d rather DeSantis and the Legislature focus on protecting health care and expanding Medicaid than protecting Dr. Seuss books by a 36-point margin (57%-21%).

The PPP poll was conducted April 5-6 and has a sample size of 634 Florida voters, half of whom responded by phone and half by text message. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

___

Just off embargo — “Democrats release Miami ad hailing Joe Biden’s first three months” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Two hundred million vaccine doses, 150 million stimulus checks, one million jobs added, an infrastructure package projected for two million more jobs paid for by corporate taxes. That’s a pretty good start for President Biden, the Democratic National Committee is saying in a new digital commercial being released through social media and on TV in Miami starting Tuesday. The ad, “Back on Track,” is the latest round in the DNC’s campaign to promote Biden as he continues through his first term. It’s a widely mastered strategy by the Republican National Committee throughout the Trump administration but not much seen before that.

To watch the video, click on the image below:

First in SunburnProgress Florida survey shows bipartisan support for education spending, end to corporate tax loopholes” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — Progress Florida, a St. Petersburg-based coalition that advocates for progressive policies, released its “People’s Budget” Tuesday, highlighting budget priorities from 11,300 respondents “across the political spectrum.” Increased spending on education received bipartisan support, with 74% of respondents saying they wanted a budget boost in that arena. That included support from 61% of Republicans, 88% of Democrats and 74% of no-party voters. Increased spending on health care and affordable housing were popular among respondents, too. Only 15% of survey respondents indicated support for decreased affordable housing spending. Criminal justice was the only service area polled that did not enjoy broad support for increased spending, with only 28% backing more spending, 31% favoring maintained spending levels and 40% supporting cuts.

Welcome to the world — Harrison Michael Bautista, born Friday, April 16 to Savanna and Brian Bautista (of The Southern Group). I’m told baby and mom are doing great.

Look at that sweet face!

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@AmyEWalter: I know that the “defund police” and “socialism” gets most of the credit for GOP wins in the House last year, but I don’t think that we give enough credit to the fact that R’s recruited women/and people of color who didn’t look like or have the same style as Trump.

@Titus: Dude, we get it, it was drugs, it was exhaust, it was the heart, it was the air, it was the panic, it was time of day, it was people on the street, it was the fentanyl, it was the meth, it was the fake 20, it was everything but a grown man kneeling on

@ShevrinJones: As we wait on the verdict of #DerekChauvin, while also dealing with the signing of #HB1 in Florida, I must say that it is not easy being Black in America.

@rucaradio: Florida is different different. I moved to FL from Philly one February. House set up, kids in school tried to acclimate. Couldn’t. Packed the house in June & flew back. Uhauled it all home A few months later & never looked back.

@NormOrnstein: Remove Sheriff [Grady] Judd. He is a disgrace to law enforcement.

@Fineout: So just another day at Fla. Legislature. Budgets blowing up in part bc of the unclear way they plan to handle billions in federal aid. Committees shutting down debate/public testimony in order to muscle through bills sought by leaderships

@PatriciaMazzei: Is Florida the only state Capitol where a member of the opposition party, standing on the steps for a news conference, utters “coño?”

Tweet, tweet:

@MDixon55: Listen, @justice2jesus is a lot of things, but he is not in the same camp as Greg Pound, or Sex and Buds, or the David What’s his Name guy A little respect when comparing Capitol gadflies

— DAYS UNTIL —

Disneyland to open — 10; Orthodox Easter 2021 — 12; Mother’s Day — 19; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 20; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 38; Memorial Day — 41; Florida TaxWatch Spring Meeting and PLA Awards — 44; ‘Loki’ premieres on Disney+ — 52; Father’s Day — 61; F9 premieres in the U.S. — 66; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 73; 4th of July — 75; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 79; MLB All-Star Game — 84; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 94; The NBA Draft — 100; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 102; ‘The Suicide Squad’ premieres — 108; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 126; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 136; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 157; ‘Dune’ premieres — 164; MLB regular season ends — 166; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 172; World Series Game 1 — 189; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 196; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 199; San Diego Comic-Con begins — 220; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 231; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 238; Super Bowl LVI — 299; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 339; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 381; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 444; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 535; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 570.

— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —

Ron DeSantis signs controversial anti-riot bill as nation awaits verdict in George Floyd case” via Kimberly C. Moore and John Kennedy of the USA Today — DeSantis signed into law on Monday a sweeping bill that he says will increase punishment for people who violently riot, loot and destroy property and punish cities that don’t protect lives and property and attempt to redirect funding for law enforcement. But detractors say the law violates residents’ first-amendment rights to free speech and targets Black communities. DeSantis signed the bill on the day the jury in the trial of one of those officers was expected to receive the case. “It is the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country, and there’s just nothing even close,” DeSantis said.

Ron DeSantis signs the contentious ‘anti-protest’ bill, the most restrictive riot punishment law in the nation.

—“DeSantis: Defunding the police is effectively ‘off the table’ in Florida” via Hannah Bleau of Breitbart 

—“DeSantis ‘anti-riot’ plan does more than crack down on mob violence. Here’s what it would change.” via Skyler Swisher of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel

— “A harsh reality: DeSantis’ anti-protest law means protesters of all kinds must be careful or land in jail” via Laura Cassels of the Florida Phoenix 

—”Nikki Fried, Democrats respond to DeSantis signing ‘anti-riot’ bill” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics 

—“‘Hate Bill One’: Democrats decry anti-riot bill” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics

—”Florida’s Donald Trump-loving Governor just made it OK to hit protesters with your car” via Bess Levin of Vanity Fair

—”DeSantis is a steaming turd” via Colin Wolf of Creative Loafing

Joe Henderson: Florida’s new anti-riot law is loaded with legal land mines” via Florida Politics — DeSantis made a calculated political decision to criminalize outrage. It’s directed primarily at Black Lives Matter activists, and we all know that. This law includes something called a “mob intimidation” rule. It’s now a first-degree misdemeanor for a group of three or more to attempt to change someone’s viewpoint through violence or, hmm, the threat of violence. Violators face a sentence of up to one year if convicted of threatening violence. What constitutes a threat, though? A knee on the neck for more than nine minutes? Is it a threat when someone enters a clinic for a legal abortion while bystanders yell that they’re going to burn in hell for eternity? Under this law, it might be.

As anti-riot law takes effect, will the cops really jail rioters in Florida? “ via Eileen Kelley of the South Florida Sun Sentinel — Law enforcement agencies across South Florida began figuring out how to enforce Florida’s new anti-riot law while trying not to restrict people’s right to demonstrate. The law has been touted as the strongest anti-riot, pro-law enforcement legislation in the country. It was signed into law in Florida as an on-edge nation awaits the verdict in the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Dean Trantalis, Mayor of Fort Lauderdale, said the city has no intention of stifling free speech and freedom of assembly — something that critics of the measure believe the law will do.

New ‘anti-riot’ law divides prominent Tampa Bay area law enforcement officials” via Staci DaSilva of WFLA — Florida’s new “anti-riot” bill has prominent, local law enforcement officials divided on its benefits and constitutionality. State Attorney Andrew Warren calls the law “disappointing” and “unconstitutional.” Warren said he would not prosecute cases any differently with this law in the books. However, he is concerned others will. It’s a concern shared by activists, including Black Lives Matter Restoration Polk’s Carl Soto. Soto interprets the law to say if a couple of bad actors act unlawfully at an otherwise peaceful protest, it could lead to mass arrests.

Gov. DeSantis may get more appointment powers — A provision added to an already contentious elections bill could allow DeSantis to appoint replacements when an elected official resigns to run for higher office, Gary Fineout of POLITICO Florida reports. Currently, a special election is required to fill seats if someone resigns to run for another office. The move comes ahead of a yet-to-be-scheduled special election to replace U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, who died earlier this month. Several Democratic politicians have indicated they plan to run for the seat, including Sen. Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale.

Gov. DeSantis’ proposal to punish social media sites moves in Senate” via John Kennedy of USA TODAY — DeSantis’ call for punishing social media sites that de-platformed Trump narrowly cleared a Senate committee Monday and will soon be ready for a full vote in the Legislature. Sen. Jeff Brandes was the lone Republican who argued against the proposal by fellow Republican Sen. Ray Rodrigues of Naples. Brandes labeled it a “big government bill.” … “This Senate is currently filled with small-government Republicans who do believe that government shouldn’t be in the lives of businesses,” Brandes said. He added: “This is the exact opposite of the things that we stand for.” The bill (SB 7072) orders social media companies to publish standards with detailed definitions of when someone would be censored or blocked and levies fines for de-platforming candidates.

Jeff Brandes was the lone Republican voting against the social media punishment bill, calling it ‘big government.’

Controversial ballot law heads to House floor” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The Florida House could soon vote on a measure Republicans say would increase election security, particularly around drop boxes. By a 16-8 vote, the House State Affairs Committee gave the final preliminary approval before the full House could consider the controversial bill (HB 7041). Democrats contend the stricter voting laws would make it harder for voters to use drop boxes. Similar to a new election law that has come under fire in Georgia, the bill would prevent people from attempting to influence a person’s vote within 150 feet of a dropbox or polling place entrance. That would include a candidate handing out food or water to voters standing in line.

—“Republicans all ‘wet’ on latest ballot signature scheme” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board 

Controversial medical marijuana bill ‘effectively dead’” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — A controversial measure being contemplated by Florida lawmakers to cap the potency of medical marijuana will apparently not become law this year. For weeks, House Bill 1455 seemed to have some momentum in the Republican-led Florida Legislature. In March, Republican lawmakers in two House committees voted to advance the bill, which, among other things, would have capped the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the marijuana offered to patients. The measure would have had to clear just one more committee until it could be heard on the House floor: Health and Human Services. But the health committee met Monday for the last scheduled time without hearing the THC bill.


— BUDGET NOTES —

Senate moves forward on tax ‘holidays’” via News Service of Florida — The Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday approved a package that includes holding tax “holidays” that would give breaks to back-to-school shoppers and people stocking up on supplies for hurricane season. The bill (SB 7068), sponsored by Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez would allow shoppers to avoid paying sales taxes from July 31 through Aug. 7 on clothes costing $60 or less, school supplies costing $15 or less and the first $1,000 of the price of personal computers. The bill also would allow shoppers to avoid paying sales taxes from May 28 through June 6 on disaster supplies such as tarps costing $50 or less, batteries costing $30 or less and portable generators costing $750 or less.

Ana Maria Rodriguez puts sales tax holidays back on the table.

Lawmakers poised to reject Donald Trump administrations’ pandemic tax cuts — Florida Republicans look likely to reject a bill that would bring the state tax code in line with federal changes approved under the Trump administration. As reported by Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida, the snub puts Republicans on the opposite side of business interests and on the same side as Democrats. Some of the cuts have been widely panned by Democrats, including the so-called “three-martini lunch” write-off, which would make 100% of business lunch expenses tax-deductible. That provision alone would cost the state $31.6 million in revenues next year.

Money moves forward to upgrade jobless system” via News Service of Florida — House and Senate budget negotiators agreed to put $56.6 million into the 2021-2022 spending plan for the state’s troubled unemployment system. Meanwhile, the House offered — with conditions — to meet the Senate on spending another $36 million to overhaul the CONNECT online unemployment system, which became overwhelmed last spring as the coronavirus pandemic caused massive job losses. The proposed House funding is contingent on the hiring of a vendor and approval of a detailed work plan. Dane Eagle, executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity, has said retaining the CONNECT system, which cost $81 million to set up a decade ago, is “not an option.”

—”House, Senate hold firm on structure of VISIT FLORIDA funding” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics

House, Senate at odds over higher education cut plan” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — House and Senate conferees are tossing the towel on higher education budget talks after failing to find common ground. After a brief intermission to review offers during a budget meeting late Monday, Senate budget chief Doug Broxson and House budget chief Rene Plasencia opted to waive the white flag. Broxson characterized their positions as “considerably away.” Among the many loose ends, the budget chiefs largely disagreed on methodology. “Though I do not believe it was the Senate’s intent, your reduction methodology disproportionately impacts low income students at minority serving institutions,” Plasencia said.

House, Senate bump agriculture spending — Agriculture and environmental budget leaders bumped the remaining disagreements to between the two chambers to the House and Senate budget chiefs. As reported by Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida, the biggest differences between the two chambers’ proposals was additional spending on springs restoration and money to build water storage north of Lake Okeechobee. There is also a $12.5 million difference between the chambers on a new citrus industry “recovery” advertising campaign. Also on the bump list is using $50 million from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to pay for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project.

House approves $50M for 2nd DCA, but location is still up in the air” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — The House has joined the Senate in approving $50 million for a new 2nd District Court of Appeal facility after the chamber left it out of its initial budget proposal. But, the location of the new facility is still up in the air. The House added the item in its first offer, and it was accepted in the Senate’s second offer, released Monday night. The proposed allocation is more than double the amount approved last year. Although the budgets back the funding, the Senate’s second offer notes that the facility’s location is to be determined — a change from the Senate’s original budget proposal, in which Senate Appropriations Chair Sen. Kelli Stargel set the framework for a new facility in Polk County.

$30 million cybersecurity line item pops up in state admin budget” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — The item popped up in the Senate’s second offer of a state administration budget during budget conferencing. The line item was not in other offers for that budget committee. A House and Senate budget committee dealing with state administration and technology agreed on their budget Monday, bumping several budget and proviso issues. Outstanding issues are primarily related to outsourcing the state data center including the Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System, funding the CIO office and deferred maintenance of state facilities.

Senate proviso would gift SLERS contract to L3Harris” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The House and Senate are now aligned on funding for the Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System, and new proviso language indicates the Senate is intent on sticking with the current vendor. Overall, the Senate is pitching $36.5 million for SLERS in the upcoming budget year, which is $15 million more than the current year budget. Senate proviso language would require the Department of Management Services to use $19 million set aside for contract payments and $12.5 million for tower lease payments to contract with the “current operator of the Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System,” which is L3Harris. The language has been bumped up to the budget chiefs, House Appropriations Chair Jay Trumbull and Senate Appropriations Chair Kelli Stargel.

Senate, House agree on Florida National Guard education funding” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The Senate on Monday embraced a House budget position that will provide more funds for education benefits for Florida National Guard troops. The tuition benefit, Educational Dollars for Duty, covers tuition expenses for qualified soldiers and airmen pursuing postsecondary education. The program operates on a $3.1 million annual recurring appropriation. In 2020, it received an additional $1.1 million nonrecurring appropriation, raising the total to $4.2 million. However, this year, the Senate and House negotiated over the additional $1 million appropriation, ultimately deciding to go ahead with the additional funds. “It was something I wanted to hold the line on,” said Rep. Jayer Williamson, House budget chief over the Infrastructure and Tourism Appropriations committee.

Jayer Williamson seeks a boost to education benefits for Florida National Guard troops.

Juvenile justice residential facilities face $21M cut in House budget” via Florida Politics — The House budget would cut $21 million in funding for Department of Juvenile Justice residential facilities, well beyond the $5.9 million cuts proposed by the Senate. The cuts, outlined in the House criminal justice budget offer, include a $16.5 million reduction in nonsecure residential facilities funding and a $4.8 million cut to secure residential facilities funding. Both types of facilities are used to house children who are arrested and charged with crimes. The proposed cuts come as criminal cases have started moving again after courts paused during the pandemic. An uptick in transfers to residential DJJ facilities from detention facilities is expected to follow, and juvenile justice advocates warn that a major cut could clog up the system.

Legislature eyes funds for Feeding South Florida senior food delivery program” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The House and Senate are negotiating a funding package that could help South Florida seniors in need receive groceries right at their front door. With South Florida’s tri-county area at the heart of the state’s COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers are now looking to fund a food delivery program for seniors run by Feeding South Florida. The organization serves as a food bank for Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. Feeding South Florida also works to pair needy individuals or families with assistance programs and job training to help them escape food insecurity. The elderly population has been eligible for vaccines for months, with more than 60% of South Florida seniors now fully vaccinated.


— TALLY 2 

House moves closer on plan to repeal no-fault” via Jim Turner of News Service of Florida — While insurance-industry lobbyists contend the change could increase rates for many Florida motorists, the House Judiciary Committee in an 18-2 vote backed an amended bill (HB 719) that would eliminate the no-fault system — and the requirement that motorists carry personal-injury protection, or PIP, coverage. Under the proposal, motorists would be required to purchase bodily injury coverage, which many already have in their policies. But while House members approved the proposal, some expressed concern about a lack of updated information about the bill’s financial impact. After the Judiciary Committee’s vote, the repeal bill is ready to go to the full House. If it passes, the issue is expected to bounce back to the Senate over a difference in medical payment coverage.

House property insurance bill put on hold” via News Service of Florida — A House committee Monday postponed consideration of a bill that would make changes in Florida’s property-insurance system after the Senate passed a significantly different measure this month. House Commerce Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said the House bill (HB 305) likely will come up Friday during a Commerce Committee meeting. The House bill, in part, would gradually allow higher annual rate increases for customers of the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp., as state officials have become alarmed about an influx of policies to Citizens during the past year. The bills have come amid a backdrop of private insurers seeking double-digit rate increases and further restricting coverage they write, which has had the effect of driving up the number of policies in Citizens.

Blaise Ingoglia kicks property insurance reform down the road a bit.

Reforms to mitigate Florida’s property insurance ‘crisis’ still alive in Tallahassee” via Mitch Perry of Bay News 9 — A measure that aims to reform Florida’s property insurance industry was scheduled to get its last committee stop in the Florida House on Monday, but that vote in the Commerce Committee will now take place on Friday. Bob Rommel says the legislation (HB 305) is vital to deal with the “crisis” in the home property insurance industry, with rates going up 15%-30% annually for insurance companies in the state with “no end in sight.” Florida domestic property insurers posted a $1.6 billion operating loss in 2020 and have had net underwriting losses every year since 2015. And Citizen’s Insurance, the insurer of last resort in the Sunshine State, has added more than 100,000 policies in the past year.

Lawmakers endorse wide-ranging reforms in program to aid brain-damaged babies” via Carol Marbin Miller, Daniel Chang and Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — Lawmakers backed a series of sweeping reforms to a state program that protects doctors from medical malpractice lawsuits by limiting compensation for children born with catastrophic brain damage. Legislation to overhaul the program was approved unanimously Monday afternoon by the Senate Appropriations Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. From there, the bills head to the floor of the Senate and the full House. NICA, as the program is called, came under fire earlier this month when the Miami Herald, in partnership with the investigative reporting non-profit ProPublica, began publishing a series of stories, called “Birth and Betrayal,” detailing the plight of families in the program, some of whom say they are forced to plead for medical care their children need.

Minority health care bill clears final Senate committee” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — A bill to improve inequities in the state’s health care system, which were revealed during the pandemic, is ready for the Senate floor. The bill’s goal is to improve access and quality of health care for minority populations. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the bill Monday. That was the bill’s last assigned committee. The bill would require the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity (OMHHE) to gather and analyze data to improve health education information coming from the office. OMHHE would also have to update the information on its website at least once a year. The bill connects the effort from the local level up to the national level by requiring county health departments to appoint a designated liaison with the state’s OMHHE and by requiring the state’s OMHHE to appoint a designated liaison with the federal OMHHE.

Bill that would raise legal age to use tobacco, vaping products to 21 heads to House floor” via The News Service of Florida — Despite opposition from prominent health groups, a Florida House committee Monday approved a bill that would regulate the sale of electronic cigarettes and raise the state’s legal age to use tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21. The vote by the House Commerce Committee sends the bill (HB 987) to the full House. The Senate version of the bill (SB 1080) is ready for consideration by the full Senate after being approved Friday by the Rules Committee. The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Jackie Toledo, would raise the age to smoke and vape to 21, a threshold already established in federal law, and create a state regulatory framework for the sale of electronic cigarettes. Toledo said the bill would help with the enforcement of tobacco and vaping laws.

In a bill from Jackie Toledo, Florida smokers must be over 21.

House to take up scholarship bill, but changes worry parents of students with disabilities” via Leslie Postal of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The Florida House is poised to “dramatically” expand the state’s school voucher programs so that more students qualify for scholarships designed to help those with disabilities and those living in low-income families pay for education outside public schools. But the measure, slated to be discussed on the House floor Tuesday, faces unusual opposition. It comes from families now using the existing scholarship earmarked for children with significant disabilities. Those opposed to the changes include the family of former Senate President Andy Gardiner, the lawmaker from Orlando for whom the Gardiner Scholarship is named. The House bill (HB 7045) could mean more than 61,000 new students qualify for the scholarship programs at a cost to the state of up to $200 million.

Victims of Communism observance raises questions of inequity from Black caucus” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A bill to create Victims of Communism Day (SB 1606) received its first no vote in the committee process Monday after opposition from members of the Black caucus. West Palm Beach Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell said he had voted for the bill in past committees but never noticed another provision requiring the Legislature to observe a moment of silence for victims of communism. He wasn’t sure if he would ultimately vote yes. “I just have a problem when we recognize certain issues and not others, and it seems like issues that affect Black people are always on the back burner,” Bracy said. Jacksonville Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson, who voted against the bill, added, “What day is Victims of Slavery Day?”

— THE FOOD FIGHTS —

Data privacy a rare issue uniting liberals and conservatives in Legislature” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Florida’s business lobby is getting much of what it wants this Legislative Session, from COVID-19 lawsuit protections to a big unemployment tax break. One area, though, where GOP lawmakers who control the Legislature are clashing with big business is on the issue of data privacy. Privacy bills that have drawn the ire of the business community are ready for final votes in the Florida House and Senate, with the House expected to vote on the legislation Wednesday. The data privacy debate is a rare high-profile issue that has advocates among the most conservative and liberal members of the Legislature, showing that misgivings about how businesses handle sensitive consumer data span the partisan divide.

House cruise ship bill narrowed to Key West” via News Service of Florida — The House Commerce Committee on Monday voted 17-5 to approve an amended bill (HB 267) that would prohibit local governments from restricting maritime commerce within areas of “critical state concern.” Key West is the only seaport community within a designated “area of critical state concern.” Key West voters in November approved limiting the size of ships and the number of passengers who can visit the city daily. Bill sponsor Spencer Roach contended that the intent was to attract a different class of tourists to the community. But Josh Aubuchon, a lobbyist for the group Florida Ports for Economic Independence, said the referendum placed “reasonable” limits on cruise ships to protect the natural environment and conserve the community character of the Keys.

The cruise ship preemption bill now only covers Key West.

Senate cap on FDOT design, engineering contracts sets up legislative food fight” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — One sentence buried deep within the Senate Implementing bill has all the makings of a good ol’ fashioned legislative food fight. The Senate is proposing to cap all contracts for design, engineering and inspection services made by the Department of Transportation to 5% of the total project cost. For decades, engineers and road builders have battled over the cost of construction engineering costs. A study from 2000 created a measure to ensure that construction engineering costs were kept to 15% or less of the overall project cost. At the time, the inspectors and engineers assigned to projects through a consulting contract routinely outnumbered their counterparts within FDOT.

Utility pole bills ready for floor vote in House, Senate — Bills to allow the Public Service Commission to regulate how much utilities charge telecom companies to use utility poles are ready for floor votes in the House and Senate. As reported by Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida, the bills aim to resolve disputes between utilities and telecom companies over how poles are used. It stems from an ongoing federal court battle between Florida Power & Light Co. and AT&T. FPL says the bill could cost as much as $1 million to implement in the first year.

Vaping regulation bill headed to House floor” via News Service of Florida — A House committee Monday approved a bill (HB 987) that would regulate the sale of electronic cigarettes and raise the state’s legal age to use tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21. Sponsored by Rep. Jackie Toledo, the bill would raise the age to smoke and vape to 21, a threshold already established in federal law, and create a state regulatory framework for the sale of electronic cigarettes. Toledo said the bill would help with the enforcement of tobacco and vaping laws. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the American Lung Association oppose the bill, in part because it would prevent local governments from regulating such things as the marketing and sale of tobacco and vaping products.

— MORE FROM TALLY — 

House, Senate not far apart on Baker Act — The House and Senate are close to an agreement on changes to involuntary student mental health examinations under the state’s Baker Act. As reported by Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida, the Senate Appropriations Committee advanced its Baker Act bill (SB 590) after amending it to bring it closer in line with the House plan, allowing it to be considered on the chamber floor. The bill, however, keeps a provision requiring schools to attempt de-escalation measures before asking authorities to intervene. “The goal is not to Baker Act,” said Sen. Gayle Harrell, who is sponsoring the Senate bill. “The goal is to get the services and the treatment to the child before we ever use a Baker Act.”

Gayle Harrell says the goal of her Baker Act bill is to lessen the need for the Baker Act.

Surrendered newborn bill clears final Senate committee — without baby box” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — A proposal initially coined the “baby box” bill passed through the Senate Appropriations Committee; but, without the box part. The committee approved Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley’s bill (SB 122) in a unanimous vote Monday. But, after encountering turbulence and party-line votes in its first two hearings, the bill became a shell of itself following a late-filed, strike-all amendment that passed in its final committee. Now, the bill only extends the age at which an infant may be lawfully relinquished, adjusting it from seven days old to 30 days old. “We’ve had some intense discussions,” Baxley said at Monday’s committee meeting.

Rocket parts ownership bill heads to Senate floor” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill Monday clarifying that rocket parts that fall to Earth belong to the rocket companies, launching the measure to the Senate floor. Republican Sen. Tom Wright‘s SB 936 defines “spaceflight assets” as parts of spacecraft that are returned to Earth, either intentionally so that they might be reused or after some sort of in-flight accident that scatters pieces. The bill and its counterpart, Republican Rep. Tyler Sirois‘ HB 221, which was approved by the full House Thursday, aims to bring Florida law in line with rocket industry trends. Commercial rocket companies now drop, recover, and reuse components from both rockets and reentry vehicles, ranging from rocket boosters to parachutes.

Little Wekiva study proposal heads to Senate floor” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Sen. Jason Brodeur‘s quest to find out what is choking the Little Wekiva River in Seminole County cleared the Appropriations Committee Monday and is headed to the Senate floor. SB 976 took on a second function Monday as Brodeur used a strike-all amendment to bring it into line with a House bill that’s now on the House floor. The Senate bill still maintains its original purpose: authorizing a multiagency study to figure out what has caused the Little Wekiva, a beloved Central Florida waterway, to silt up so badly that it has stopped flowing in some places and has flooded out to create new channels in others, and to figure out what to do about it.

— CAP REAX —

APCIA urges House panel to vote down no-fault repeal — The American Property Casualty Insurance Association implored the House Judiciary Committee to vote against a bill that would replace Florida’s no-fault auto insurance and replace it with a mandatory bodily injury system. “APCIA urges the House Judiciary Committee to protect Florida drivers, especially those who can least afford it, from higher auto insurance costs by voting no on HB 719,” said Logan McFaddin, APCIA’s assistant vice president of state government relations. “Florida drivers already pay the highest premiums in the country for full auto insurance coverage, and HB 719 is likely to raise costs even more. This could result in more uninsured motorists on Florida’s roads.” Approximately 40% of drivers carry minimum limits that are below the proposed requirement.

PIFF says no-fault repeal ‘causes more harm than good’ — After the no-fault repeal cleared its final committee, Personal Insurance Federation of Florida urged lawmakers to vote against HB 719 on the House floor. “On this course, rates will rise for Florida motorists, particularly those who buy the minimum required insurance and those who buy bodily injury coverage at amounts below what the proposed law requires,” said Michael Carlson, president and CEO of PIFF. “These drivers cannot afford an increase. As a result, Florida could see more uninsured motorists on the road, and in turn, uninsured motorist claims. Forcing Floridians to buy more insurance — and in the case of medical payments coverage, to buy insurance that they may not need — is the wrong thing to do.”

American Lung Association asks lawmakers to vote against T21 bills — The American Lung Association wants Florida lawmakers to vote “no” on Tobacco 21 bills (HB 987/SB 1080), saying they don’t go far enough. “If these bills become law, they will leave numerous tobacco products unregulated, maintain harsh penalties for youth who purchase, use or possess tobacco products, go against federal law by providing exemption to military officials under the age of 21, and take away the right of local communities to pass stronger laws on tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, that address marketing, sale and delivery. This legislation is a win for Big Tobacco and a loss for communities that want to protect their children and youth from the harm of tobacco and nicotine products,” the group said.

Key West businesses push back on cruise preemption bill in new ad — Key West business owners launched a new ad campaign to fight back against lawmakers’ plan to preempt local ordinances regulating the size of cruise ships that dock at the island. The 15- and 30-second digital ads, titled “Don’t Wreck the Reef,” call on lawmakers and DeSantis to stand up for the ecosystem of the Keys by protecting their great barrier reef and not allowing SB 426/HB 267 to preempt the referendums passed by Key West voters last year. The voter referendums were passed to prevent mega cruise ships from hurting the Keys’ reef, as documented by a recent FIU study.

To watch the video, click on the image below:

— LEG. SKED —

The Senate Rules Committee meets to consider dozens of bills, including SB 522, to set up a statewide framework for vacation rentals, and SB 7070, to shield colleges and universities from lawsuits over shutting campuses because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 8:30 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The House meets for a floor Session to consider HB 7045, from PreK-12 Appropriations Chair Randy Fine, to expand eligibility for vouchers and combine current voucher programs. Other bills include HJR 1461, a constitutional amendment from Rep. Sam Garrison, to impose eight-year term limits on county school board members, and HB 1559, from Rep. Anthony Rodriguez, to overhaul the state’s alimony laws, 10 a.m., House Chamber.

Also:

The Senate Special Order Calendar Group meets, 15 minutes after the Senate Rules Committee adjourns, Room 401, Senate Office Building.

The House Rules Committee meets, 6 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

Assignment editors — Republican union members of Florida AFL-CIO affiliates, including the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), Communications Workers of America (CWA), Florida Education Association (FEA), International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Teamsters, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and other unions will hold a news conference in opposition to Senate Bill 1014, noon Eastern time, outside the west side (facing the main parking lot) of the Tucker Civic Center, 500 W. Pensacola St., Tallahassee.


— 2022 —

Matt Gaetz raked in $1.8 million during first quarter of 2021” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Before the first reports emerged that he was being investigated for sex trafficking and possibly other federal crimes, Republican U.S. Rep. Gaetz was riding high on campaign fundraising, picking up $1.8 million in the first quarter of 2021. Gaetz collected more than twice as much campaign money as any other Florida member of Congress in the three-month reporting period of January, February, and March. In fact, it was one of the most impressive first quarter hauls in all of Congress. Republican Rep. Brian Mast of Stuart collected $749,000, Republican Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar of Miami drew $525,000, and five others, three Democrats and two Republicans, managed more than $300,000.

Despite his troubles, Matt Gaetz makes some solid Q1 bank. Image via AP.

Charlie Crist banks $347K in Q1 as he mulls next political step” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — U.S. Rep. Crist is sitting on more than $646,000 in his federal campaign account for reelection to Florida’s 13th Congressional District in 2022. In the first quarter of 2021, covering Jan. 1 through March 31, Crist raised $347,188. After accounting for $120,000 in expenditures during that period, Crist grew his federal account by about $227,000. Crist is so far unopposed for reelection next year, but that’s almost certain to change, especially with reapportionment after the 2020 census expected to alter district boundaries, potentially skewing Crist’s existing district more to the right. Crist first won election to the seat in 2016 against then-incumbent and then-Republican David Jolly.

Vern Buchanan sits on about $332K at the end of first quarter” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — After the first full quarter of the 2022 cycle, Rep. Buchanan is sitting on $332,000. The Longboat Key Republican, fresh off a decisive but expensive victory against Democrat Margaret Good, has been rebuilding his war chest. In the first quarter of 2021, he raised $364,842. After expenses, he closed the quarter with $331,590 cash on hand. That notably rolled in, for the most part, before Buchanan faced an opponent worth mention. But it has become clear this year he will face a primary challenge from the right. Martin Hyde, a former Sarasota City Commission candidate, said in March he would run against Buchanan for the Republican nomination. Buchanan could be facing the most serious challenge in a primary he has ever seen.

Crist, Ted Deutch to help raise money for gun safety group — Democratic U.S. Reps. Crist and Deutch are taking part Tuesday in a virtual fundraising reception for Ban Assault Weapons Now, the group which tried to back an assault weapon ban amendment in Florida last cycle. That effort failed, and the group turned its focus to supporting candidates who support gun safety measures. Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan will join Crist and Deutch. BAWN Chair Gail Schwartz, who lost her nephew in the Parkland shooting, will also attend. Pulse survivor and BAWN Board Member Brandon Wolf will also speak. Those interested in attending can secure a spot on the Zoom conference by contributing at least $100. The event runs Tuesday evening from 5-6 p.m.

Charlie Crist and Ted Deutch are raising money to help ban ‘assault weapons.’

Taylor Yarkosky adds more endorsements in HD 32 race” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Another set of local elected officials endorsed Yarkosky in the race for Lake County-based House District 32. Kent Adcock, Michael Holland and Lori Pfister join several other Lake County politicians backing Yarkosky in the race. Prior endorsements have come in from Lake County Sheriff Peyton Grinnell, Tax Collector David Jordan, and County Commissioners Sean Parks, Doug Shields and Kirby Smith. He has also been endorsed by Groveland Police Chief Shawn Ramsey, Clermont Police Chief Chuck Broadway, and Montverde Mayor Joe Wynkoop.

— STATEWIDE —

Private prison contracts spur challenges” via News Service of Florida — GEO Secure Services has filed legal challenges after the Florida Department of Management Services decided to award private prison contracts to Management & Training Corp. The bid protests are for the operation of Bay Correctional Facility, Graceville Correctional Facility and Moore Haven Correctional Facility. GEO has operated each of the facilities since 2014. “GEO is a responsible bidder seeking to continue to operate (Moore Haven Correctional Facility),” the Moore Haven protest said, in wording that was mirrored in the other protests. “GEO submitted a proposal that is fully responsive to the (request for proposal) and offers the best solution to the state, and is the firm most qualified to be awarded the contract.”

GEO Group files suit against Florida over the award of a prison contract to a rival company.

Scientists tracking environmental impacts from Piney Point wastewater release” via Jesse Mendoza of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Wastewater released from the former Piney Point fertilizer plant property has made its way to the uplands, back bays, estuaries and marshes along the eastern shores of Tampa Bay, putting a substantial amount of nitrogen in the water that could have detrimental effects on some of the region’s most sensitive and unique habitats. Environmental advocates say Tampa Bay is an environmental success story in many ways, having recovered significantly from decades of pollution. Now they worry the Piney Point disaster could set back the bay’s recovery. Teams of scientists are keeping a close watch on the bay as they work to understand the impacts of so much polluted water flowing into the ecosystem.

How the internet turned “Florida Man” into a figure of indulgence, decadence, and bad decision making” via Tyler Gillespie of Literary Hub — An associate editor at GQ noticed the Florida attention and created the @_FloridaMan Twitter account to make his colleagues laugh. The account received nearly 64,000 followers in its first month. The account used a mug shot of a man with a black marker all over his face. This man was not an actual Florida Man, but a man arrested in Indiana for trying to “attack his roommate with a sword.” The account’s headlines contained an element of wildness, hopelessness, and physicality. Florida Man may have been out of control, but he had a certain ingenuity, often fueled by drugs and/or alcohol. The internet loved these headlines and their accompanying mug shots.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

With J&J vaccine paused, officials resume getting doses to the underserved” via Jane Musgrave of The Palm Beach Post — Less than a week after reports of blood clots prompted a nationwide pause in the distribution of Johnson & Johnson vaccines, state officials jump-started stalled efforts to inoculate those who are hard to reach. Over the weekend, two coronavirus vaccination clinics were held for farmworkers at the aptly named J&J Family of Farms in Loxahatchee. Further, vaccination clinics, paired with grocery giveaways, resumed at sites operated by Feeding South Florida, such as one Monday at the Palm Beach Outlets Mall. The state also announced that vaccinations will resume at federal sites on Tuesday, including one in Miami-Dade County, where as many as 3,000 shots can be administered daily.

Younger people in Florida, Republicans delaying day of herd immunity” via John Pacenti of the Palm Beach Post — The light at the end of the tunnel got a little dimmer this past week on the COVID-19 front. With the one-and-done Johnson & Johnson vaccine put on hold, new studies show other impediments to getting to the Holy Grail of normalcy, which is herd immunity to the coronavirus. The two groups that are often the most vocal about breaking free from the shackles of the COVID-19 pandemic are now part of the cause for its lingering malaise in the U.S.: young adults and Republicans, new data shows. According to a new study from a researcher at Florida Atlantic University, the Sunshine State ranked among the states with the highest COVID-19 infection rates for younger residents in 2020.

Younger people in Florida are making herd immunity difficult. Image via Reuters.

Vaccine passport ban clears committee along party lines” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — Businesses or schools that require proof of a COVID-19 vaccination could get slapped with a $5,000 fine for each customer or student, under a revised proposal (HB 7047) intended to “minimize the negative effects of extended emergencies.” Legislation originating from the House Pandemic and Public Emergencies Committee has changed from its original version. The bill makes changes to the state’s Emergency Management Act to “better address the threat posed by pandemics or other public health emergencies,” according to the bill’s analysis. The new version of the bill accommodates a request from DeSantis to ban vaccine passports.

In-person graduations are back for most Florida colleges. There are restrictions, of course” via Howard Cohen of the Miami Herald — Many graduating college students will get the chance to celebrate at in-person events this year. Last year, the rising pandemic canceled the pomp and circumstances. The 2021 graduation season began Saturday, April 17, at Florida State University in Tallahassee. In South Florida, on Saturday, April 24, Florida International University honors its students. The season runs through May. Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic that upended last year’s ceremonies remains. But nearly five million Floridians are fully vaccinated as several schools began finalizing their graduation ceremony plans this week.

— CORONA LOCAL —

Following weekend push, South Florida eclipses 1.5M completed COVID-19 vaccinations” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — South Florida’s tri-county area surpassed 1.5 million completed COVID-19 vaccinations over the weekend, as the region continues the fight to get case counts back on a downward trend. More than 3.75 million doses of the vaccine have been administered across Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Miami-Dade and Broward have each eclipsed 1 million shots in arms, while Palm Beach sits at 930,000. Those vaccination benchmarks notwithstanding, the case positivity rate is slightly up week-to-week in all three counties. Those case numbers began shooting up weeks ago, but that surge has since slowed. The slowdown could signal cases are near a plateau, but cases have not yet started falling consistently.

Why are new ventilators being trashed in a Miami-Dade landfill?” via Glenna Milberg of Local10.com — The video is from a resident who was taking some garbage to the South Dade Landfill last week. He was stunned to see pallets full of brand-new, wrapped medical ventilators dumped as bulky trash among mattresses, tires and other waste. His video shows hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ventilators sitting on trash mountain. What’s dumped is usually plowed under within a day, so those ventilators are probably gone now. The FDA says that any medical device without approval may not be used, so the options are either taking it out of the country or taking it to be destroyed.

Unapproved ventilators must be shipped out or destroyed. Image via Local 10.

Tampa Greyhound Track vaccine site to resume offering first-dose shots” via Allison Ross of the Tampa Bay Times — The federally supported COVID-19 vaccine site at the Tampa Greyhound Track will resume offering first-dose Pfizer-BioNtech shots Tuesday to people 16 and older, following a temporary break last week in offering first doses. The track and three other federally supported vaccine sites throughout the state had transitioned earlier this month to exclusively offering Johnson & Johnson to people looking for initial doses. Audrey Clarke, a spokeswoman for the site, said it will have 3,000 first-dose Pfizer vaccines available a day, as well as 2,000 doses available for second shots. That’s the same amount as before the pause.

USF to open new vaccine sites for students, faculty, staff” via Divya Kumar of the Tampa Bay Times — The University of South Florida will expand its vaccination operations to students, faculty and staff this week after receiving about 2,000 additional doses from Hillsborough County. On Monday, the university opened a site at the Sarasota campus. From Tuesday to Thursday, a site on the Tampa campus will be open to those eligible. And on Friday a site at the St. Petersburg campus will be open. The university began administering vaccines in January with an initial supply of 2,300 doses. The effort was discontinued after supplies ran out, but restarted as more doses were made available.

As COVID-19 cases rise again, Lee Health urges vaccinations despite pause on Johnson & Johnson shots” via Frank Gluck of the Fort Myers News-Press — With COVID-19-related hospitalizations rising in Southwest Florida, Lee Health officials on Friday urged people to get vaccinated as soon as possible and continue adhering to mask and social distancing guidelines. They also sought to ease concerns about vaccine safety after federal regulators this week paused using a one-dose vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson. Two-dose vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech were not affected by the decision and are considered safe and effective. Hospitalized patients with COVID-19 have crept up in recent weeks in Lee and Collier. About three weeks ago, Lee Health counted 55 such patients at its four acute-care hospitals. On Thursday, the number was 109. As of Friday morning, it was 106.

35% of St. Johns County adults fully vaccinated against COVID-19” via Ty Hinton of the St. Augustine Record — St. Johns County recorded an additional 226 fully vaccinated residents on Sunday, according to the Florida Department of Health, bringing the county’s total to 83,213. The county has vaccinated 35.33% of the total population and ranks second in the state. Sumter County has a fully vaccinated rate of 54.06% (65,411 complete). These residents were completely vaccinated, either with a single Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the second in a series of two-shot vaccines. St. Johns County has 118,254 residents who have at least one shot, or 50.21% of residents 16 and older. The county ranks fourth for residents vaccinated behind Sumter (80,604, 66.62%), Charlotte (98,026, 55.4%) and Sarasota (224,070, 54.37%). Indian River (74,230, 49.16%) is fifth.

Sarasota tax preparation business charged with CARES Act fraud” via Timothy Fanning of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office has arrested eight people associated with a local tax preparation business on fraud charges for allegedly attempting to receive more than $319,000 in coronavirus relief funds after concocting false or misleading applications. Authorities say Sarasota’s SRQ Financial Solutions, LLC, submitted 114 applications that included several suspicious profit and loss statements and fictitious bank statements. They say the fabrication of the financial statements was done entirely by employees of SRQ Financial Solutions. Through a search warrant, detectives seized 1,500 files, including small business loan applications, fictitious tax documents, computers and other evidence. Several of the business’s clients told detectives they were never asked for financial information about their business until after the application was submitted.

— CORONA NATION —

America reaches milestone with COVID-19 vaccine widely available to those who want it, but hesitancy still casts a shadow” via Karen Weintraub and Elizabeth Weise of USA Today — COVID-19 vaccines are available to every American over 16 who wants a shot, but a panel of experts remains deeply concerned about the people who say vaccines aren’t needed. Several panelists said anxiety about getting a shot is normal, expected, and can be resolved with education and role models. “People who have questions deserve to have those questions answered. That’s fair, and that’s on us,” said Dr. Gregory Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group. He and others worry about those who deny the importance of vaccination and try to convince others to forgo it.

COVID-19 cases rise in parts of U.S. even as vaccinations pick up” via Melanie Grayce West of The Wall Street Journal — Although half of all U.S. adults have had at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to the CDC, a constellation of factors are complicating the country’s fight against the virus. States are scrambling to reorganize vaccination efforts after pausing the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while U.S. health officials investigate rare but severe cases of blood clots. The seven-day average number of new COVID-19 infections eclipses the 14-day average in about half the country, with 40 states hitting that benchmark last Wednesday. And the age distribution of COVID-19 cases showing up in hospitals has shifted to a younger population, as younger people, who haven’t been vaccinated, are helping drive a rise in cases.

COVID-19 vaccinations are on the rise, but so are infections. Image via Reuters.

Biden administration to provide $150 million to boost COVID-19 response in underserved and vulnerable areas” via Kaitlan Collins and Kate Sullivan of CNN — The Biden administration on Monday will allocate $150 million from the American Rescue Plan to community-based health care providers across the nation to help boost their coronavirus response for underserved communities and vulnerable populations, senior White House COVID-19 response adviser Andy Slavitt said Monday. CNN previously reported Slavitt was expected to announce that the federal government would provide tens of millions of dollars to walk-in-style clinics that aren’t in the federal government’s health center program. These are facilities that often welcome people without appointments or insurance and typically serve low-income communities.

Extending the Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause for a week was a deadly mistake” via Govind Persad and William Parker for The Washington Post — The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) this week made no recommendation on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, meaning the CDC’s initial decision to pause administration of the vaccine will likely remain in place until at least next Friday. As infections and hospitalizations rise in many states, slowing down vaccinations was a deadly mistake. There is no evidence the vaccine’s risks universally, or even typically, outweigh its benefits in preventing a pandemic disease with serious and unknown consequences. The agencies should end the pause, keep sharing information and let patients decide.

They get taxed, but not vaxxed” via Yasmeen Serhan of The Atlantic — More than 5 million Americans residing outside the United States face a similar predicament, watching the country’s successful inoculation drive, some from places where vaccination has scarcely begun. With all stateside American adults being eligible to receive a vaccine as early as this week, some ex-pats have already opted to travel home for the jab. Others call on the government to direct some of the hundreds of millions of doses it’s projected to have leftover to its overseas citizens, wherever they happen to live. The answer to that question is more than just a logistical matter. It comes down to what responsibility, if any, the U.S. government has to its overseas citizens.

Federal turf wars over coronavirus rescues created ‘health and safety issues,’ watchdog concludes” via Dan Diamond of The Washington Post — A chaotic effort to return hundreds of Americans to the United States in the earliest days of the coronavirus outbreak put the evacuees, federal officials and even U.S. communities at risk, a government watchdog concluded. The U.S. government-led missions, which included an operation to evacuate Americans from a virus-stricken cruise ship off the coast of Japan in February 2020, were plagued by “serious fundamental coordination challenges,” the Government Accountability Office concluded in a report requested by Congress and released Monday.

State Department to designate most countries with ‘Do Not Travel’ advisory” via Hannah Sampson of The Washington Post — The State Department said it would start updating its travel advisories to drastically increase the number of countries that get the “Level 4: Do Not Travel” designation. The department said roughly 80% of countries worldwide would soon be marked at the highest warning level. As of Monday afternoon, about 16% of countries had that label. “This alignment better reflects the current, unpredictable, and ever-evolving threat posed by COVID-19,” the department said in an email. “We continue to strongly recommend U.S. citizens reconsider all travel abroad, and postpone their trips if possible.”

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

Glitches derail SBA pandemic-relief program for live music and theater venues” via Hamza Shaban of The Washington Post — An online application portal meant to help the nation’s music and arts venues get federal pandemic relief after a year-plus of dark stages and a hard-fought lobbying campaign has yet to get off the ground nearly two weeks after technical problems scuttled its scheduled launch. The $16 billion program’s delayed rollout is the latest stumble by a government agency tasked with delivering emergency aid during the pandemic. The problems highlight the limits of bureaucratic competence and underscore the daunting task of running massive rescue programs during a public health crisis. The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, which would top out at $10 million apiece, is designed to help arts and entertainment businesses cover payroll, rent, utilities and other operating expenses.

The SBA Shuttered Venue Operators Grant fails to get off the ground.

‘Ripe for fraud’: Coronavirus vaccination cards support burgeoning scams” via Dan Diamond of The Washington Post — One listing offered eBay customers an “Authentic CDC Vaccination Record Card” for $10.99. Another promised the same but for $9.49. The listings are a “perfect example” of burgeoning scams involving coronavirus vaccination cards that could undermine people’s safety, as well as the success of the nation’s largest mass vaccination effort, said North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein. Individuals might use them to misrepresent their vaccination status at school, work or in various living and travel situations, potentially exposing others to risk.

$400 signing bonus for restaurant workers? It’s happening in Florida.” via The Associated Press — South Florida restaurants are so desperate to fill critical jobs they are taking a page from the playbook of Silicon Valley headhunters: signing bonuses. Social media users might’ve spotted restaurants’ recent all-caps advertisements on Facebook and Instagram. Hospitality experts argue the drought in employees can be explained with three theories: fear of returning to closed spaces during a pandemic, ex-employees leaving the restaurant world for good, and the ease of collecting unemployment benefits.

— MORE CORONA —

The race to untangle the secrets of rare, severe blood clots after Johnson & Johnson vaccination” via Carolyn Y. Johnson of The Washington Post — Making sense of rare, possibly related adverse events after vaccination can be notoriously tricky, but in this case, U.S. health officials have a blueprint. European scientists’ detective work on similar cases in March has given them a probable mechanism, just weeks after the cases began to be detected. Scientific questions remain about what component of the vaccines might be triggering the reaction, and who is at risk. The syndrome is similar to the rare heparin-related reactions that scientists have given the vaccine-triggered reaction a similar name, established a probable link, and identified a widely available diagnostic test.

Are outdoor mask mandates still necessary?” via Derek Thompson of The Atlantic — Last week, I covered my nose and mouth with closefitting fabric like a good citizen and walked to a restaurant in Washington, D.C., where I de-masked at a patio table to greet a friend. Person after person who’d dutifully worn a mask on the uncrowded street took it off to sit still, close to friends, and frequently inside. Outdoor masking is mostly mandatory and limited indoor dining is permitted, leading to masks in the streets and bare faces in the bar seats. As more and more of the population is vaccinated, governments need to give Americans an off-ramp to the post-pandemic world. Ending outdoor mask mandates is a good place to start, for a few reasons.

The debate over outdoor mask mandates rage on. Image via Reuters.

NFL draft process adapts with the pandemic” via Emmanuel Morgan of The New York Times — Over 100 Division I players have opted out of the 2020 college football season because of coronavirus concerns, leaving NFL talent evaluators precious little current information to go on in a year further hindered by the absence of a traditional scouting combine. Prospects and NFL teams are adapting to having to rely on university-hosted workouts, teleconference interviews and video analysis. College-hosted workouts, or pro days, took on added importance after the NFL canceled the in-person workout portion of its draft scouting combine, typically hosted in Indianapolis every spring. That decision meant players would conduct their 40-yard dashes, bench presses and vertical jumps at their college facilities, rather than at a neutral site with standardized measures.

United Air bets on three summer European spots open to Americans” via Justin Bachman of MSN News — The carrier said Monday it would begin flights in July from Newark, New Jersey, to Dubrovnik, Croatia; Washington to Athens; and Chicago to Reykjavik, Iceland. The flights to Greece and Iceland will be daily, while the Croatia flight will operate three times weekly. All three will end on Oct. 3. United selected the three destinations because they allow U.S. travelers who comply with local pandemic restrictions to enter. The carrier has never flown those routes before. Last month Delta Air Lines Inc. announced new flights to Reykjavik starting in May after the island nation said it would allow visitors who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer traveled to Florida before expressing ‘concern’ about traveling to Florida” via Ryan Saavedra of The Daily Wire — Whitmer traveled to Florida last month for a “personal trip” only to later express “concern” about people traveling there for spring break. In early April, Whitmer expressed concern about people traveling to Florida for spring break because of a variant of the coronavirus spreading there. Whitmer’s comments were made before two of her staffers were then caught going on personal trips outside the state, including one that went to Florida. On Sunday, Whitmer suggested that Florida was part of why coronavirus cases have exploded in her state.



— PRESIDENTIAL —

Kamala Harris set to showcase policy chops by touting Joe Biden infrastructure plan” via Jacqueline Alemany of The Washington Post — Vice President Harris will deliver her first major speech on the economy on Monday in North Carolina as she continues her push to tout the Biden administration’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan. In doing so, she is highlighting at least one piece of the proposal stemming directly from a 2019 bill she introduced as a California senator to electrify the nation’s school buses, which make up 90% of the nation’s total bus fleet, according to three senior administration officials. EPA Administrator Michael Regan, the former head of North Carolina’s environmental agency, will be accompanying Harris in the state. Along with the Department of Energy, the EPA will be key to the administration’s broader $174 billion electric vehicle push.

Tweet, tweet:

ICE, CBP to stop using ‘illegal alien’ and ‘assimilation’ under new Biden administration order” via Maria Sacchetti of The Washington Post — The Biden administration has ordered U.S. immigration enforcement agencies to stop using terms such as “alien,” “illegal alien” and “assimilation” when referring to immigrants in the United States, a rebuke of terms widely used under the Trump administration. The change is detailed in memos sent Monday to department heads at Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection. It is part of an ongoing effort to reverse Trump’s hard-line policies and advance Biden’s efforts to build a more “humane” immigration system. Among the changes: “Alien” will become “noncitizen or migrant,” “illegal” will become “undocumented,” and “assimilation” will change to “integration.”

Biden administration releases billions in relief for Puerto Rico, removes ‘onerous’ restrictions” via Alex Roarty and Syra Ortiz-Blanes of the Miami Herald — Puerto Rico will receive more than $8 billion in Hurricane Maria recovery money withheld during former Trump’s tenure and have “onerous” restrictions removed over how it can access and spend a larger pool of disaster relief money. The combined moves are the latest actions from Biden’s administration to broadly reset the federal government’s relationship with the territory, releasing billions of dollars of financial aid years after Congress had approved it. Of the roughly $67 billion in aid Congress assigned in response to the 2017 storm, about $17.8 billion, or less than a third of the amount, has been disbursed.

Everglades restoration boss from the Keys named to top wildlife and national parks role” via Adriana Brasileiro of the Miami Herald — Shannon Estenoz, a fifth-generation Key West native known as a fierce and pragmatic Everglades restoration advocate, will lead the Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service. Estenoz, who oversaw Everglades restoration at the department under President Barack Obama’s administration, was named principal deputy assistant secretary on Wednesday, according to a statement. She was already part of Biden’s Interior transition team since early December. Estenoz had been serving as chief operating officer and vice president of policy at the influential Everglades Foundation since April 2018.

Everglades Foundation advocate Shannon Estenoz has a new gig in the Interior Department.

White House removes scientist picked by Trump official to lead key climate report” via Jason Samenow of The Washington Post — White House officials have removed Betsy Weatherhead, an experienced atmospheric scientist tapped by a Trump appointee to oversee the U.S. government’s definitive report on the effects of climate change, from her position. According to two officials, she has been reassigned to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Interior Department’s scientific arm. Officials at the White House Office of Science Technology Policy, which oversees the research program, decided to reassign Weatherhead, these people said. Jane Lubchenco, who headed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration during Obama’s first term, leads climate matters at the OSTP.

— EPILOGUE TRUMP — 

Donald Trump has pushed vaccines, not vaccinations. Ex-aides wish he’d done both.” Via JoAnne Kenan and Meridith McGraw of POLITICO — With more than half of adults in the country having received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, Trump voters remain stubbornly resistant to vaccination — and it’s sparking a new round of questions over what role, if any, the former President could play to move those efforts along. Trump’s unwillingness to pitch his voters on getting the jab has become the source of frustration for former aides, who lament the political benefits that would have come had he done so.

Supreme Court rejects Pennsylvania’s lingering 2020 election challenge as moot” via The Associated Press — The Supreme Court said it will not hear a case out of Pennsylvania related to the 2020 election, a case that had lingered while similar election challenges had already been rejected by the justices. The high court directed a lower court to dismiss the case as moot. In February, the justices had rejected a handful of cases related to the 2020 election after Biden’s inauguration. The case involved a federal court challenge to a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision requiring election officials to receive and count mailed-in ballots that arrived up to three days after the election. More broadly, however, the case concerned whether state lawmakers or state courts get the last word about how federal elections are carried out.

— CRISIS —

Merrick Garland: Domestic terror is ‘still with us’” via Shawna Chen of Axios — In his first major speech, Attorney General Garland warned the nation Monday to remain vigilant against the rising threat of domestic extremism. Domestic terrorism poses an “elevated threat” to the nation this year, according to U.S. intelligence. Garland has already pledged to crack down on violence linked to White supremacists and right-wing militia groups. Addressing a memorial service in Oklahoma City for victims of the U.S.’s most deadly act of domestic terrorism, Garland said the FBI warned of “ongoing and heightened threat posed by domestic violent extremists” just last month, POLITICO reports. Garland told lawmakers in February that “we are facing a more dangerous period than we faced in Oklahoma City.”

Merrick Garland warns that domestic terrorism is still prevalent in the U.S. Image via AP.

Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who engaged rioters, suffered two strokes and died of natural causes, officials say” via Peter Hermann and Spencer S. Hsu of The Washington Post — Capitol Police officer Sicknick suffered two strokes and died of natural causes a day after he confronted rioters at the Jan. 6 insurrection, the District’s chief medical examiner has ruled. The ruling, released Monday, will make it difficult for prosecutors to pursue homicide charges in the officer’s death. Two men are accused of assaulting Sicknick by spraying a powerful chemical irritant at him during the siege, but prosecutors have not tied that exposure to Sicknick’s death. In an interview, Francisco J. Diaz, the medical examiner, said the autopsy found no evidence the 42-year-old officer suffered an allergic reaction to chemical irritants.

Apple reinstates Parler app, stands by initial ban” via Ben Collins of NBC News — Parler, the conservative-oriented social media website that was banned from Apple’s App Store and several other internet hosting services after the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, has been reinstated. Timothy Powderly, Apple’s senior director of government affairs, wrote a letter that said that Parler had been allowed back into the company’s app store as of April 14. The letter, obtained by NBC News, also said Parler’s “moderation practices were clearly inadequate to protect users from this harmful and dangerous content.” Despite the repeal of Parler’s ban, Apple’s letter stated that the company “stands by its decision” and that it was “an independent decision to remove Parler for noncompliance with the Guidelines.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Food fight: Marco Rubio targets House Sodexo contract over voting rights support” via Katherine Tully-McManus of Roll Call — Rubio might be out for a bicameral food fight. The Florida Republican called on House leaders to reconsider their contract with food services vendor Sodexo because the company signed on to a statement opposing restrictive new voting laws being proposed or enacted in states across the country. Rubio wrote to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy outlining an array of allegations of labor suppression and racial discrimination against Sodexo and questioning the House’s contract with the international corporation.

Supreme Court justices push back on allowing temporary immigrants to apply for green cards” via John Fritze of USA Today — The Supreme Court’s conservatives voiced skepticism Monday over whether immigrants living in the country with temporary protection from deportation should be permitted to apply for green cards and make their stay permanent. At issue is whether some 400,000 foreign nationals from countries enduring natural disasters or armed conflict who have been granted temporary legal status in the USA meet the requirements for green cards if they initially entered the country illegally. The case centers on Jose Sanchez and Sonia Gonzalez, who have lived in the United States legally for two decades under a federal program called Temporary Protected Status. TPS is granted for certain immigrants who the government determines cannot safely return to their home country.

South Florida Republicans: Jump-start Cuban reunification program from Guantánamo Bay” via Bianca Padró Ocasio of the Miami Herald — South Florida Republicans announced Monday they’re introducing a bill in Congress that would jump-start a federal program that helps reunite Cuban families by resuming consular services on the island from Guantánamo Bay amid a growing backlog of applications. U.S. Reps. Salazar, Carlos Giménez, Mario Díaz-Balart and Stephanie Murphy are co-sponsoring the Cuban Family Reunification Modernization Act of 2021, which would restart processing claims under the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, known as CFRP. The humanitarian program allows eligible citizens and permanent residents in the U.S. to apply for their relatives on the island to join them in the U.S. while they wait for their immigration visas to be issued.

Mario Díaz-Balart and María Salazar are pushing for reunification of Cuban families.

Vern Buchanan joins effort to maintain monitoring of Florida red tide during government shutdowns” via Timothy Fanning of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — When the last major outbreak of a red tide algae bloom popped up near the beaches of Sarasota and Manatee counties several years ago, a federal government shutdown made it harder for scientists to analyze data and produce forecasts and other reports on where the algae was and where it was going. U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan hopes to change that, announcing Monday that he is joining bipartisan legislation that would require continued monitoring of red tide blooms even when the federal government reduces services during a shutdown. The announcement comes as red tide has reemerged in small amounts off the coast of Sarasota County. During the 2018-19 shutdown, which lasted 35 days, the longest in history, federal satellites were unable to monitor blooms.

Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene flaunt new paths to power, testing GOP leaders” via Alan Fram and Brian Slodysko of The Associated Press — Congressional leaders have always faced rebels in their ranks. But Reps. Gaetz and Greene are presenting top House Republicans with a test of how to handle a new breed ofDonald Trump-era, social media-savvy firebrands. Gaetz, a third-term Floridian, and Greene, a Georgia freshman, have attracted more public attention lately than most junior members of Congress. Much of it hasn’t been positive. That’s confronting House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy with questions about whether the two hard-right provocateurs might hurt the GOP’s goal of capturing House control in next year’s elections.

Another anti-Gaetz billboard might be going up, this one in Pensacola” via Chris Perkins and Brooke Baitinger of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The political action committee behind a billboard in Florida that slams Rep. Gaetz over the sexual misconduct allegations against him is planning a second billboard in Pensacola. Plans for the second eye-catching billboard were posted to a social media account that claims to belong to Claude Taylor, chairman of the left-leaning Mad Dog PAC. Gaetz, a Republican who represents Florida’s 1st Congressional District, which includes a section of northwest Florida, is under investigation by the Department of Justice and the House Committee on Ethics for, among other things, an alleged sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl. Gaetz denies all allegations and hasn’t been charged.

Dems’ Senate campaign arm raises $9.3M in March” via Lachlan Markay of Axios — The Democrats’ Senate campaign arm raised nearly $9.3 million in March and will report more than $13 million in the bank when it files its monthly financial report Tuesday. The haul for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee topped its Republican counterpart for the second straight month. But its total for the first quarter trailed slightly, and the DSCC still has a sizable chunk of debt to pay off. The DSCC’s March fundraising brought its total quarterly haul to roughly $22.7 million. A DSCC aide said last month was the committee’s best-ever showing in March of an election cycle off-year, and its best-ever off-year month for grassroots fundraising.

Inside the GOP’s tense fallout with the big business lobby” via Michael Warren, Manu Raju, and Alex Rogers of CNN — What started as a polite discussion about small business soon turned into a heated confrontation between unusual opponents; Republican members of the House and their party’s old friends at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Republican lawmakers were blunt with the Chamber’s lobbyist, Tom Sullivan, calling him on the carpet about the organization’s decision to endorse so many Democrats in the 2020 election, including 23 House freshmen in competitive districts. As some Republicans embrace populism and economic paternalism typified by former President Donald Trump, groups like the Chamber are finding their member companies are less eager to follow the GOP’s trajectory.

Ballard Partners to help Naomi Campbell secure new visa” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — Ballard Partners has picked up Campbell as a client. Federal lobbying disclosures show the firm added the supermodel, actor and businesswoman to its client sheet on April 13. The disclosure form says the firm will be providing Campbell “guidance with visa process.” Firm founder Brian Ballard is the lone lobbyist listed on the disclosure. Campbell is a British citizen who has often faced trouble obtaining a visa to work in the United States because of assault convictions and allegations worldwide, including in the U.S. She has been convicted four times and accused of at least a half-dozen more assaults. The first conviction came in 2000 when she pleaded guilty to throwing a phone at her assistant in Toronto.

Brian Ballard goes to bat for Naomi Campbell.

— LOCAL NOTES —

Feds investigating Pasco schools giving student data to sheriff” via Kathleen McGrory and Natalie Weber of the Tampa Bay Times — The U.S. Department of Education has opened an investigation into whether the Pasco School District broke federal law by sharing private student information with the Pasco Sheriff’s Office. In November, the Tampa Bay Times reported that the school district shared information on student grades, discipline, and attendance with the Sheriff’s Office, which used the data to compile a secret list of schoolchildren it believed could “fall into a life of crime.” The investigation follows calls for a review by U.S. Rep. Robert Scott, who leads the House Committee on Education and Labor. In a statement, Scott said he was “encouraged” that the education department had accepted his request. He called the Pasco program “disturbing.”

It appears Chris Nocco’s office has some shady dealings with the Pasco County School District.

Jackson Hospital union members speak out against state retirement changes” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Health care workers at Miami’s Jackson Hospital are urging House lawmakers to halt changes to the state’s retirement program after the Senate approved an overhaul earlier this month. The Senate voted on party lines to approve legislation from GOP Sen. Rodrigues (SB 84) that would stop new employees from joining the state’s pension plan and direct them to the state’s existing investment plan instead. Republicans say the shift is needed to help save the state money long term. But Democrats and union members say the lack of a pension plan makes those jobs less appealing and could hurt hiring efforts.

Hillsborough School Board member: Can we fire superintendent Addison Davis?” via Marlene Sokol of the Tampa Bay Times — Hillsborough County superintendent Addison Davis survived what could have been a call for his dismissal on Monday, but not without incurring criticism from his School Board, which will now draft a document laying out their expectations for him. The professional development plan, as some are calling it, will be worked on Tuesday at a 9:30 a.m. workshop. It follows an outpouring of criticism over how the district notified nearly 100 teachers that their jobs would not exist after the end of this school year. Teachers learned the news Friday in a batch email. Some said their principals did not know they were being dismissed. They thought their jobs were safe after April 9, when 1,000 other job cuts were announced.

St. Augustine sees lowest crime rate for certain crimes in 25 years” via Sheldon Gardner of the St. Augustine Record — Police Chief Barry Fox recently shared the annual crime report for 2020 with city leaders. It shows the lowest crime rate for “index crimes” ― murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft ― and the lowest total number of index crimes in at least 25 years. While the drop in tourism from COVID-19 had an influence on reduced crime in 2020, it wasn’t the determining factor, Fox said. He credited the change with having the right officers in the right positions, community outreach, and other factors. According to a spreadsheet shared by Fox, the St. Augustine Police Department reported 533 total index crimes in 2020. That’s the lowest since at least 1995 when there were 763 index crimes.

Judge keeps supervision of union for Disney performers” via Mike Schneider of The Associated Press — Until there’s an election, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters can keep control of a local affiliate whose leader was removed because of complaints of mismanagement from the Disney performers, a federal judge has ruled. U.S. District Judge Carlos Mendoza refused last week to end a trusteeship for Orlando-based Local 385. Gary Brown, a former officer of Local 385′s previous leadership, filed the lawsuit in February, claiming the takeover had lasted too long. But the judge said the International Brotherhood of Teamsters had agreed to hold an election this summer. The judge said he wouldn’t dismiss the case since he wanted to make sure elections for new officers were held by the end of August.

Conservatives and liberals clash after dismissal of Miami show host on Radio Caracol” via Mario J. Penton and Lautaro Grinspan of the Miami Herald — A group of Democrats in Congress is threatening to block the purchase of Radio Caracol by America CV, which owns America TeVé, after the dismissal of Raúl Martínez, a former Hialeah Mayor and powerful liberal voice on South Florida radio. Martínez’s dismissal poured fresh fuel on an old clash between Republicans and Democrats over Spanish-language programming in South Florida. Democrats have complained for years, and especially during the last presidential election, that they are not represented in Hispanic media dominated by conservative and Republican voices. This week, several Democratic members of Congress reviewed the certification of the purchase of Radio Caracol, now pending before the FCC. Members of the Hispanic Caucus will press the agency to reject the deal.

The firing of Hialeah Mayor and radio host Raúl Martínez is setting off a battle in Congress.

‘Finally.’ Crews begin razing Jeffrey Epstein’s former Palm Beach house” via Darrell Hofheinz of The Palm Beach Post — “Finally.” That’s the one-word comment developer Todd Michael Glaser offered as crews on Monday began knocking down the infamous Palm Beach mansion that was home to the late sex offender and disgraced financier Epstein — a place where he sexually assaulted underage girls and young women in what prosecutors said was a multiyear sex-trafficking scheme. At 358 El Brillo Way, the lakeside mansion is being razed to make room for a new house to be developed on speculation by Glaser, who paid a recorded $18.5 million for the property in March. Glaser previously said that it would be personally satisfying to him to knock down and replace the house.

Michelle Salzman urges Gov. DeSantis to blacklist Skanska until bridge repaired, community ‘whole’” via Emma Kennedy of the Pensacola News Journal — Rep. Salzman will meet with Gov. DeSantis this week, urging him to blacklist Skanska from any future state projects until the construction giant has made the region “whole” after Hurricane Sally. The Pensacola and Gulf Breeze communities have been disconnected since September when loose Skanska barges significantly damaged the Pensacola Bay Bridge, knocking out a portion of the bridge and rendering it impassable. Salzman said it’s been frustrating to see every entity — the community, local representatives, the Florida Department of Transportation — doing everything they can to make the situation work without any remediation effort from Skanska.

— TOP OPINION —

Florida’s anti-mob bill, and DeSantis’ terrible inheritance” via Nate Monroe of the Florida Times-Union — Polk County was among the “particularly terrifying places for African Americans” and had some of the most lynchings (20) the Montgomery, Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative could find in its sweeping study of racial terror across the American South. And it was in that flatland crucible of racial terror that DeSantis, flanked by a posse of white law-enforcement officials, signed a so-called “anti-mob” bill into law, giving police broad new powers to apply subjective standards to arrest protesters in the name of “law and order.” The law goes out of its way to protect Confederate monuments by making it a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison  —  15 years —  to tear down any memorial.

— OPINIONS —

Rick Scott loved corporations. Until they became ‘woke’ after Georgia vote-suppression law” via the Miami Herald editorial board — We must have fallen off our beds and hit our heads this morning because we woke up in a parallel universe in which the party of free markets, that saw nothing wrong with corporate influence in U.S. politics through unlimited cash flowing into elections now is rallying against, of all things, corporate meddling in politics? You might remember Scott, the former “jobs, jobs, jobs” governor who toured the state touting Florida’s friendly low-tax corporate environment. Corporate friend no more. Scott wrote an open letter to corporate America posted on Fox Business that threatens the “backlash is coming.”

Sal Nuzzo, Steve Delie: Lawmakers work to protect public employee rights” via Florida Politics — Lawmakers are currently considering two measures that, if passed, would significantly strengthen union democracy and protect the First Amendment rights of Florida’s public employees. The proposals from Sen.Baxley and Rep. Cord Byrd would expand union democracy rights for teachers and other public employees and would also ensure that public employees will have a fresh opportunity to vote on union representation if their current union lacks majority support. The measures also protect the First Amendment rights of public employees by ensuring that before unions can collect dues, employees are informed of their right not to pay and their right to leave the union at any time. Florida would become one of the leading states in workplace freedom.

Miami Herald focused on the negative. My injured son thrives in NICA program” via Rock Pollock, Sr. for the Bradenton Herald — My wife and I spoke at length with Herald reporters about our largely positive experiences with Florida’s NICA program, but they instead chose to include far less of our story than from parents who criticized the program. They ignored much of what we shared, instead focusing on decade-old legal pleadings that fit their negative narrative better. After Rock Pollock Jr. suffered a birth-related neurological injury, it took five years to be accepted into Florida’s Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association, or NICA, program. A flaw in the system is with the attorneys who represent injured families with potential NICA claims. Once we received and read the NICA claims manual and benefits handbook, we were able to understand the benefits for our son and our family, and only then were we able to see NICA in a new light.

Howard University’s removal of classics is a spiritual catastrophe” via Cornel West and Jeremy Tate of The Washington Post — Amid a move for educational “prioritization,” Howard University is dissolving its classics department. Tenured faculty will be dispersed to other departments, where their courses can still be taught. But the university has sent a disturbing message by abolishing the department. Academia’s continual campaign to disregard or neglect the classics signifies spiritual decay, moral decline, and a deep intellectual narrowness running amok in American culture. Those who commit this terrible act treat Western civilization as either irrelevant and not worthy of prioritization or as harmful and worthy only of condemnation. Sadly, in our culture’s conception, the crimes of the West have become so central that it’s hard to keep track of the best of the West.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

The Governor signs House Bill 1, calling it the “anti-riot bill.” Democrats call it the “anti-protest bill” … and an assault on the First Amendment.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— The Senate Appropriations Committee passes a bill to crack down on social media platforms that censor hate speech. So much for Republicans being champions of business and small government.

— The House State Affairs Committee passes an election reform bill that is loved by Republicans and despised by Democrats. 

— The sponsor of the bill limiting the THC content in smokable medical marijuana says his bill appears to be dead — but strange things have been known to happen on the final day of the Legislative Session.

— And finally, a Florida Man was beaten by bystanders at a carnival … for good reason.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

What David Johnson is reading — “The New York power lunch is back, with new rules” via Charles Passy of The Wall Street Journal — The New York power lunch is back, with new rituals for the see-and-be-seen set: Make sure you’re there on the right day, try out a new wardrobe and Midtown is no longer a must. Business people say they embrace the opportunity to meet with clients and colleagues over a meal once again. Gatherings are more likely to occur on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, since many employees haven’t gone back to the office full time and are still likely to work Mondays and Fridays from home. Diners are lingering over their food, almost as if the period coming out of the pandemic has prompted them to appreciate the business lunch as a social occasion as much as an opportunity to talk shop.

‘Shang-Chi’: Marvel drops trailer for first Asian superhero movie, starring Simu Liu” via Jordan Moreau of Variety — The first trailer for Marvel’s upcoming movie “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” has been revealed on Liu’s birthday. On Monday morning, Liu gifted Marvel fans the first look at the “Shang-Chi” poster and his superhero costume. “Whoever said that you could only RECEIVE presents on your birthday? Today, I’m giving you your FIRST LOOK at the teaser poster for ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,’” Liu wrote on Twitter Monday morning, which was also his birthday. “Shang-Chi” will make history as the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to center on an Asian lead and with an Asian filmmaking team.

To watch the trailer, click on the image below:

They’re back! Regal Cinemas to reopen theaters in Southwest Florida, starting Friday at Bell Tower” via Charles Runnells of the Fort Myers News-Press — Regal Cinemas is reopening all its Southwest Florida movie theaters over the next month, starting Friday with Regal Belltower and ScreenX in south Fort Myers. The theater chain has announced the news on the websites for its five local movie theaters. “Regal is thrilled to welcome our guests back to movies!” the websites say. “Select theaters are now open and showing larger-than-life movies like ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ and “Mortal Kombat.” Additional theaters will be opening in the weeks to follow. “We are excited to open our doors and begin sharing our love of movies with our fans.” Regal Belltower reopens Friday at Bell Tower Shops, followed by three more theaters on May 7.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to state Rep. Randy Fine, former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, our friend Bill Rufty, and TallyMadness contender Justin Thames.

___

Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter SchorschPhil AmmannA.G. GancarskiRenzo Downey and Drew Wilson.

Peter Schorsch

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



#FlaPol

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

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

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

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