Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 4.22.21

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Don't miss your first look at stories driving today's agenda in Florida politics.

If it’s time for a pickle pizza, that must mean it’s time for the Florida State Fair.

Yes, that 11-day celebration of crafts, displays, agriculture exhibits, thrill rides, and really weird food begins today at the state fairgrounds in Tampa.

Normally by now, the Fair would be long gone, but as we all know, there is nothing normal about this time. Originally scheduled to open on Feb. 11, organizers deferred to COVID-19 and moved the Fair back more than two months.

It concludes on May 2.

Loosen your belt, folks. It’s Florida Fair food time!

Social distancing and other safety measures will be in force.

Traditionally, the Fair’s opening day is highlighted by the Governor’s Luncheon, but there won’t be one this year. Gov. Ron DeSantis is not expected to attend, but his chief nemesis in the Florida Cabinet — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried — is scheduled to show up and officially open the event by flipping the switch on the midway.

Fried, along with some other VIPs, also will take a ride down the giant three-story slide to help kick things off.

The opening of the Fair is traditionally called Governor’s Day, but not this year. With DeSantis not planning to attend, the opening now is called Hero’s Day. There will be free admission for law enforcement, first responders, active or retired military, veterans, doctors, nurses, hospital & emergency clinic staff with valid ID.

However, one thing that won’t change is the variety of food available, most of which you probably never figured you would (or should) eat.

We mentioned the Pickle Pizza, but there’s more.

Fairgoers can sample Gelato Nachos, or the Pig Rig, described as grilled cheese stuffed with BBQ pulled pork and mac n cheese and BBQ sauce.

There’s something called the Deep Fried Caramel Apple Sundae, along with Deep Fried Molten Lava Cake.

If that doesn’t whet your appetite, try the Loaded Tater Burger.

It’s said to be a hamburger topped with shredded toasted cheese, stuffed with cottage fries and bacon, then topped with a ranch dressing, chives and your choice of lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onion.

Bring your own Rolaids.

Assignment editors — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried will join local officials, first responders, and health care professionals to “flip the switch,” kicking off the 2021 Florida State Fair, 6 a.m., Florida State Fairgrounds, Midway Sky Eye, 4800 US Highway 301 North, Tampa. Use the Orient Road entrance (5111 Orient Road) and present media credentials for access to the Fairgrounds.

___

As we snarkily forecast Tuesday night, Sen. Lauren Book earned the votes needed to succeed Sen. Gary Farmer as Democratic Leader.

Good for her and good for the Senate Democrats.

Since coming to the upper chamber, few Democrats have learned to work the system as well as Book. She is smart, hardworking, and very — very — strategic. Since her freshman term, she has collegially worked her way into a chairmanship each Session while also managing to protect her left flank by voting with or by leading her party on caucus positions.

She has done this while remaining laser-focused on her legislative priorities and keeping her wits about her enough to pass bill after bill after bill — with two babies, now toddlers, in tow.

All hail the new Senate Democratic Leader.

Standing in opposition to GOP initiatives with grace and sincerity, Book often challenges the opposition party without making enemies in The Process.

With all due respect (or not), this is a statement that simply cannot be said about the current Democratic leader. This Legislative Session alone, Farmer has trucked harsh tones with GOP leaders on contentious issues ranging from the now-signed protest bill (HB 1) to the now-dead transgender athletes’ bill (SB 2012).

“This bill is nothing more than a piece of political red meat,” Farmer said of the transgender proposal. “It’s been forced upon these chambers by the Governor. This Trumpian disciple who seeks to stamp out and thwart the voices of the people.”

But Book strikes a different tone, and, as a result, Florida’s victims’ rights have been strengthened, our schools and communities are safer, our environment is better protected, and our child welfare system has been reshaped in meaningful ways.

Book has a backbone of steel and is never one to back down from a challenge — just ask former Sen. Jack Latvala. At a time when many were afraid to come forward, Book wasted no time filing a complaint against Latvala accusing him of trying to intimidate accusers — one of whom worked for Book — during the sexual harassment investigation against him that eventually led to Latvala’s resignation from the Senate.

She has also been one of the most effective fundraisers in the Senate? Somewhere, Jimmy Patronis is breathing a sigh of relief that she likely won’t be mounting a challenge against him for CFO.

In short, Book has been a tour de force. And she’s done it her way — without caving to outside pressure for what or how she “ought to” legislate.

Now Book’s signature strength, determination, and strategic prowess will be turned to help her fellow Democrats hold onto critical seats in what promises to be a chaotic and challenging post-reapportionment midterm election. Though Florida Democrats face an uphill battle, their best chance for success undoubtedly lies with a powerhouse duo of Leader Book and FDP Chair Manny Diaz leading the charge.

And one final note: When Book becomes the Democratic leader, it will be the first time in state history where both Senate party leaders are women. Also good for Florida.

When asked, Book said her goal is to help elevate the Senate, organize the caucus to be an effective opposition voice, and find opportunities to work across the aisle and identify common ground to move an agenda that benefits all Floridians.

“There will be a time for campaigning and making our case to voters, and a time to fight vigorously for Democratic values. Then there will be a time to lay down arms and reach across the aisle to find common-ground solutions that benefit everyday people,” Book told Florida Politics.

“I believe Floridians are tired of nonstop, unproductive fighting like they see in Washington. I have a deep respect for Leader (Kathleen) Passidomo and her work to make Florida a better place for all Floridians. I know that we will work together above the fray of partisan sniping, because the people of Florida deserve that much from their elected leaders.”

Here are a couple of hot takes this morning:

🤦🏻‍♂️ — Berny Jacques might want to rethink his friends: Jacques, who is running for Nick DiCeglie’s HD 66 seat, is proudly displaying his alliance with Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R-Black Face) all over Twitter. But with a competitive Primary lined up to replace DiCeglie, it may not be the strategic alliance he wants, or needs. Read more of my analysis here.

🙅🏻‍♂️ — Speaking of Sabatini …: It’s time for House Speaker Chris Sprowls to publicly admonish him. Let’s be clear, it should have already happened, but now it really, really needs to happen. That’s after Sabatini tweeted, in response to Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdicts, that the outcome was “mob justice.” No, it wasn’t. Just stop. And Sprowls, please speak up.

 — SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@EspuelasVox: Just 3 months ago, we were worried that Donald Trump would refuse to vacate the White House. Now, (Joe) Biden has delivered 200 million vaccine dosages and a $1.9 trillion rescue plan. This was the most consequential election since 1933.

@WalshFreedom: Eight years ago, when I was in Congress and @BarackObama was President, I would have reflexively railed against him for saying this. Now I agree with him. And thank him for saying it. Because now I understand it. Barack Obama has always gotten it. He hasn’t changed. I have.

@ProjectLincoln: We need a 1/6 Commission

@AngieNixon: It seems the notion of self-defense goes out the window if you’re Black. We get killed when we defend ourselves. I don’t know what I was expecting because we get killed when we don’t even have weapons. Seems to be open season on Black Folx in America. My bad … it’s always been.

@Colleen_Wright: In a presentation about @MDCPS summer school offerings, “mandatory mask-wearing” is required on buses and in classrooms. Several School Board members and district staff at today’s board meeting are not wearing masks.

@Book4Senate: @Kathleen4SWFL & I surely don’t always see eye-to-eye, but we know how to work together when it counts. Looking forward to fighting vociferously for our respective ideals while also knowing when to lay down swords & work cooperatively to create policy for betterment of all of FL.

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— DAYS UNTIL —

NFL Draft begins — 7; Disneyland to open — 8; Orthodox Easter 2021 — 10; Mother’s Day — 17; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 18; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 36; Memorial Day — 39; Florida TaxWatch Spring Meeting and PLA Awards — 42; ‘Loki’ premieres on Disney+ — 50; Father’s Day — 59; F9 premieres in the U.S. — 64; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 71; 4th of July — 73; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 77; MLB All-Star Game — 82; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 92; second season of ‘Ted Lasso’ premieres on Apple+ — 92; The NBA Draft — 98; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 100; ‘The Suicide Squad’ premieres — 106; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 124; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 134; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 155; ‘Dune’ premieres — 162; MLB regular season ends — 164; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 170; World Series Game 1 — 187; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 194; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 197; San Diego Comic-Con begins — 218; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 229; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 236; Super Bowl LVI — 297; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 337; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 379; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 442; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 533; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 568.

— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —

Florida may be an ‘oasis of freedom’ in COVID reopenings — but the Capitol is still locked down” via Skyler Swisher of the South Florida Sun Sentinel  —  Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Republican allies have promoted Florida as an “oasis of freedom,” touting a COVID-19 response that favored reopening businesses over continuing public health restrictions. It’s a different story, though, in the building where Florida’s politicians work. The state Capitol complex is still effectively locked down — months after DeSantis lifted remaining restrictions on bars and restaurants. A sign at the Capitol’s entrance informs visitors that the building is “temporarily closed” to protect the public and employees.

Lauren Book wins backing as Senate Democratic leader, will forgo statewide run in 2022” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO — Book will lead Senate Democrats as they head into a potentially bumpy election season that could be complicated by redistricting. Senate Democrats on Wednesday held a closed-door caucus meeting in the Senate chamber, where they selected Book to take over as the Democratic leader in November 2022. After the short vote, both Republican and Democratic legislators could be seen hugging the South Florida Democrat. The decision takes Book out of the running for any statewide campaigns, including a potential challenge to incumbent Chief Financial Officer Patronis. In a tweet, Book said she was “honored and humbled by the vote of confidence.”

Legislature is so used to budget cutting it’s struggling to spend relief aid” via Mary Ellen Klas, Lawrence Mower and Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald — After a decade of honing their skills as budget cutters, Florida’s Republican legislative leaders are having a hard time deciding how to spend. The $10.23 billion pot of one-time federal money arriving in the next year from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act has created a bit of budget trauma as legislators try to wrap up the annual budget that this year is expected to exceed $100 billion. The rescue plan funds are intended to address unmet needs and ease financial losses suffered by hundreds of thousands of Florida residents who have lost jobs, encountered health problems or saw their businesses face deep financial declines.

Senate earmarks just $3.3 billion of $10 billion coronavirus relief funds” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — The Senate budget chief hinted that a portion of $10 billion of federal Coronavirus Relief funds could be banked rather than spent. The Senate released its first offer of how to spend federal coronavirus relief funds headed to Florida from the American Rescue Plan signed by Biden in March. But the offer released Wednesday during a budget conference meeting only totaled $3.3. billion out of an expected $10.2 billion. Sen. Kelli Stargel, who leads the budget negotiations for the upper chamber, said discussions are ongoing. “It’s not really off,” Stargel said. “Things aren’t settled.”

A chunk of the federal relief money could go into the bank, says budget chief Kelly Stargel. Image via Colin Hackley.

Billions in federal aid a ‘monkey wrench’ in Legislature’s education budget process” via Ana Ceballos of the Miami Herald — A dispute over how to use $12 billion in federal COVID-19 stimulus funds earmarked for education has led to an impasse in budget negotiations as Florida lawmakers work to piece together a near-$100 billion fiscal plan for 2021-22. House leaders have appropriated some of the funds in their initial education budget offers, and House Speaker Sprowls said in an interview Tuesday that the Legislature’s role should be to give the Florida Department of Education spending authority over $7 billion in federal funds to give directly to K-12 school districts.

Lawmakers grapple over jobless system, benefits as Session nears end” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — A year after Florida’s unemployment system ground to a halt, delaying claims for millions laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers remain at odds whether to increase the state’s maximum weekly benefit of $275, one of the lowest in the nation. The House on Wednesday approved a bill, HB 1463, to update the system to a cloud-based system designed to efficiently process claims and to impose more accountability and reporting by the Department of Economic Opportunity, the state agency in charge of the unemployment program.

Senate agrees to modernize unemployment system, Chris Sprowls’ workforce vision” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The Senate has agreed to the House’s plan to modernize the state’s unemployment system. Through budget negotiations so far, the two chambers had disagreed on how to spend $36 million for the state Reemployment Assistance program. The House wanted those funds for the modernization, but the Senate wanted those funds to clear the backlog in cases. Of the agreed-upon funds, $19.3 million will increase the maintenance and operations of CONNECT, the Department of Economic Opportunity’s unemployment portal. More than $15.5 million would go to system modernization. The remaining $1.2 million would go for a private contractor to conduct independent verification and validation services.

College COVID-19 legal protections approved” via Ryan Dailey of News Service of Florida — The House on Wednesday passed a wide-ranging higher education bill that, in part, would protect colleges and universities from coronavirus-related lawsuits. Sponsor Jackie Toledo said the bill (HB 1261), passed in a 92-22 vote, “prioritizes students and families.” Some House Democrats who opposed the bill, however, expressed concerns about offering the legal protections. Under the proposal, public and private colleges and universities would be shielded from lawsuits stemming from campuses being shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic and students being forced to learn online. Class-action lawsuits have been filed seeking to recover money that students paid with the expectation of on-campus learning. Campuses were shut down across the state last year to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

— BUDGET NOTES —

Senate wants $300 million for Florida Forever funded through coronavirus relief” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The Senate wants to devote $300 million from the American Rescue Plan allocation toward the Florida Forever trust. That’s an amount unseen in a decade for the trust, but the level many conservation activists say should be a minimum annual contribution. The budget line topped the first proposal from the chamber on spending around $10 billion in federal spending approved by Congress. The Senate plan includes plans on spending nearly $3.2 million of that, including cleaning up the Piney Point industrial site. But it also devotes significant cash toward trusts, including the frequently swept Florida Forever account.

Florida’s environment could benefit from COVID-19 relief money.

Senate budget outlines $100M for Piney Point” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — In its latest budget offer, the Senate includes $100 million for cleanup at the Piney Point industrial site. The funding comes from revenue contingent on receipt of federal coronavirus recovery funds. Florida expects around $10 billion from the American Rescue Plan. The Senate, on Wednesday morning for the first time, included a proposal on how that money will be spent. The House previously released a broad summary but has not outlined specific spending. Directing such a major chunk of funding toward an abandoned phosphorus mine in Manatee comes after a disaster that drew state attention during the middle Session.

—“Senate pitches money for cleanup, Florida Forever” via The News Service of Florida 

Senate accepts House plan to put VISIT FLORIDA on nonrecurring funding” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — VISIT FLORIDA’s annual battle for another year of life will continue. On Wednesday, Senate budget negotiators accepted a House proposal that includes refusing the state’s tourism marketing agency an annual portion of recurring funds. The House had proposed, and on Wednesday, the Senate accepted, a plan that has VISIT FLORIDA receiving the $50 million it wants for taxpayer-supported operating subsidies, but only as taken from state trust funds as a one-year appropriation. Despite Dana Young’s plea that the agency is needed now more than ever coming out of the coronavirus crisis, the Senate’s acceptance of the House’s budget proposal means that VISIT FLORIA will be back next year looking for a source of operating money.

Budget provides money for new Brevard, Mount Dora emergency operations centers” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Money to help fund new emergency operations centers in Brevard County and Mount Dora has made it into the state budget, now that the Senate has signed off on key provisions of the House proposals. The proposed state budget, which House and Senate negotiators are still settling, includes $1 million to help Brevard County with its new emergency operations center, to replace one in Rockledge that has become overcrowded. “We’re very appreciative of Sen. Debbie Mayfield and state Rep. Tyler Sirois for continuing to fight for our new EOC,” said Brevard County spokesman Don Walker. Mount Dora is slotted to receive $500,000 for its new EOC.

Debbie Mayfield is pushing for Brevard and Mount Dora emergency centers.

Hillsborough Co. affordable housing program secures $1M in Senate budget” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — A Hillsborough County affordable housing community could receive $1 million to continue development following Senate approval Wednesday. Tampa Bay area lawmakers Sen. Danny Burgess and Rep. Jackie Toledo filed the appropriations bills (SF 1861, HB 2189) seeking $1 million to fund a development project for New Life Village, an affordable housing community. While included in the House’s initial budget, the funding request was left out in the Senate. However, the Senate accepted the allocation Wednesday after the project was listed in the House’s bump offer. The nonprofit plans to use the funding to build two new residential buildings to house larger sibling groups of families in the foster care system, according to the request.

—”House OKs $250K for Ruth Eckerd Hall outdoor venue space” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics

—“Senate approves $500K for Jackson House restoration” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics

—“Santa Rosa County could nab $1M for aviation technician academy” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics

—“Smooth sailing for St. Augustine Lighthouse funding” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics

—”Lawmakers settle on $250K for Harry S. Truman Little White House in Key West” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics


— TALLY 2 

House passes school voucher expansion; families making nearly $100K could qualify” via Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel — The Florida House voted to expand the state’s school voucher programs Wednesday, opening up scholarships created to help children living in poverty to youngsters from families earning nearly $100,000 a year. Republicans in the GOP-controlled House said the sweeping bill (HB 7045) represented the “largest expansion of school choice programs in our nation’s history” and would give more Florida parents educational options outside public schools. The House estimates it could cost up to $200 million. “This bill fights for children. This bill fights for parents,” said Rep. Randy Fine, a Brevard County Republican, its sponsor. But Democrats criticized the legislation as a vehicle for sending more taxpayer money to unregulated private schools.

Randy Fine says expanding the state’s school voucher program is a win for students and families.

Reading initiative backed in House” via News Service of Florida — With sponsor Dana Trabulsy saying the bill will “change children’s lives,” the Florida House on Wednesday unanimously passed a proposal that would deliver free books to elementary-school students who read below grade level. The measure (HB 3), which would create what is dubbed the “New Worlds Reading Initiative,” is a priority of House Speaker Chris Sprowls. A House staff analysis estimated that a minimum of 557,344 students would be eligible for the program, which would be funded by offering tax credits to businesses that contribute money to the initiative. The Senate version of the bill (SB 1372) has been unanimously approved by three committees and awaits action by the full Senate.

House signs off on school board term limits” via News Service of Florida — The House on Wednesday passed a measure that would ask voters in 2022 to impose eight-year term limits on county school board members. The House voted 87-30 to approve the proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 1461). If ultimately passed by voters, the measure would prevent school board members from seeking reelection if “by the end of his or her current term of office, the person will have served, or but for resignation would have served, in that office for eight consecutive years.” House sponsor Sam Garrison said that term limits would bring a “culture of accountability” to school boards. Several Democrats argued, however, that the decision to impose term limits should be made at the local level, not through a constitutional amendment.

Tobacco 21 advocates say Florida’s bills fall short” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — An organization leading the charge to modernize tobacco laws nationwide says Florida’s proposed legislation to raise the legal sales age is confusing, soft on retailers, and hard on youth. Additionally, companion bills SB 1080 and HB 987 preempt local lawmakers from passing protections that are stricter than state law, leaving kids vulnerable to tobacco and nicotine addiction while protecting the industry that caused the youth vaping epidemic. With the preemption language, the bills also may prevent the state from following CDC best practices, which was mandated by Amendment 4 in 2007.

Lawmakers target minority maternal health” via News Service of Florida — Florida lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to a bill (HB 1381) that would establish pilot programs in Duval and Orange counties aimed at improving maternal health outcomes for minority women. The programs would be required to use telehealth to coordinate with prenatal home-visiting programs to provide services and education to pregnant women and provide training to health care professionals. The House and Senate both unanimously passed the bill Wednesday, sending it to DeSantis. Sponsored by Ocoee Democratic Rep. Kamia Brown, the bill would add maternal health care programs to a list of programs eligible for “Closing the Gap” funding from the Department of Health. Closing the Gap funds are directed at reducing racial and ethnic health care disparities.

Senate clears substance abuse recovery legislation” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Legislation to boost recovery from mental illness and substance abuse disorders cleared the Senate Tuesday. One proposal (SB 130) by Pinellas County Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson would promote the use of peer specialists to aid in recovery from such conditions. Peer specialists are individuals who have recovered from a substance use disorder or mental illness who support a person currently encountering such difficulties. The Senate approved the legislation in a unanimous vote. “The key in this bill, and for peer specialists, is shared life experiences, and the therapeutic value of that in recovery and in behavioral health care is without parallel,” Rouson, who himself identifies as a recovering addict, said to the Senate.

—“Sexual assault bill ready for Senate floor with ‘victim-centered’ approach” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics

—“House embraces mental health commission proposal” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics

—“Senate bill to expand physician assistant scope of practice clears final committee stop” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics

Pharmacy benefit manager bill passes final panel without side effects” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Legislation to regulate pharmacy benefit managers is on its way to the Senate floor. The Senate Appropriations Committee gave its unanimous support on Wednesday to a bill (SB 390) that would clarify that the Office of Insurance Regulation can audit PBMs. Lawmakers have attempted to add that oversight in the past, but OIR said the statute wasn’t clear enough. PBMs are middlemen between health care plans and pharmacies that are often blamed for rising prescription drug prices. They help determine which drugs insurance plans will cover and negotiate on behalf of insurers to secure discounts from drug manufacturers. When a claim is filed, PBMs collect money from those plans, then pass money to pharmacies through different methods.


— TALLY 3 —

House to take up no-fault repeal” via News Service of Florida — The Florida House is slated Friday to take up a proposal that would repeal the state’s no-fault auto insurance system. The Senate last week voted 38-1 to pass its version of the repeal (SB 54), a priority of Senate President Wilton Simpson. The House has scheduled its version (HB 719) to be considered Friday on the House floor. House sponsor Erin Grall, a Vero Beach Republican, said this week that costs should decrease for the majority of motorists who currently have PIP and bodily injury coverage. But insurance-industry lobbyists contend the bill would lead to rate increases for motorists who, for example, only have PIP coverage.

More insurers warn no-fault repeal will be costly” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Another insurer is warning that repealing the state’s no-fault insurance system could produce massive rate increases for low-income drivers. Don Moser, president of Amwins Specialty Auto of Florida, said the no-fault repeal would result in substantial cost increases for drivers in the “nonstandard” market who do not currently purchase bodily injury coverage. He added, “This will be most pronounced in the segment of our population with limited income, including a disproportionate impact on minorities. … Making these people buy 25/50 bodily injury limits will add $600 to $1,000 per year to the costs for these people.” Other insurance groups, including APCIA, have also warned of an increase in uninsured drivers.

Data privacy bill easily clears House” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The House rallied around a bill Wednesday that would empower Floridians to have more control over their data. The Chamber approved the measure (HB 969) nearly unanimously. Republican Rep. Sabatini stood alone Wednesday as the sole lawmaker to vote against it. Sponsored by Republican Rep. Fiona McFarland, the bill contains a bevy of provisions. It would allow consumers to control how their personal data is shared and sold. It would also allow individuals to take legal action against businesses that violate a consumer’s date preferences. In many cases, businesses farm the data to learn more about consumers and tailor their marketing.

—“Proposal to allow drones for natural disaster response soars through Senate” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics

House OK’s gas station preemption bill” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Local governments would be prohibited from regulating and banning certain aspects of “energy infrastructure” under a bill approved Wednesday by the House. The House passed the bill (HB 839) with a 79-38 vote. Republican Rep. Tom Fabricio is the bill sponsor. “This is a critical issue because we need to keep our Florida economy strong,” Fabricio said. Among other provisions, the bill would bar local governments from outlawing gas stations as a pathway way toward clean energy. It would also prohibit a local government from requiring a gas station to include electric vehicle charging stations.

Florida engineers cheer liability protections bill — The American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida and the Florida Engineering Society lauded the Senate for passing a bill that would protect engineers from liability suits in the wake of natural disasters. Engineers say the lack of protections caused the state to lose “60% of the professional engineers that volunteer side-by-side with first responders.” The bill was also backed by CFO Patronis, who said, “Search & Rescue Teams must have every resource to aid Floridians during disasters. That’s why I support SB 1060 and HB 891 that gives engineers the protections needed to help first responders save lives.” The House companion bill is ready for a vote in the House.

Randolph Bracy compromises with historians, adds second Emancipation Day to bill” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — Rather than rearrange years of Florida tradition already in place, or be out of alignment with the 47 other states who celebrate emancipation in June, Sen. Bracy has opted to create two new legal holidays to celebrate emancipation in the state of Florida. Bracy filed an amendment to roll his Juneteenth Day bill onto another bill that creates a Victims of Communism day. The bill passed the Senate 39-0 Wednesday. What is notable about the amendment is that, in addition to establishing Juneteenth Day on June 19, the amendment also establishes another legal holiday on May 20 called Emancipation Day.

House passes African American cemetery task force bill” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — The House passed a bill years in the making to establish a task force to preserve Florida’s African American cemeteries. The bill, sponsored by Tampa Rep. Fentrice Driskell, passed in the House 117-0. Attempts in past Sessions to pass similar legislation were not successful. Driskell spoke on the floor while surrounded by members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus. “This truly is a bill that transcends party because we’re talking about history,” Driskell said. The hidden history of Florida’s African American cemeteries was brought to light in Driskell’s district by reporting from Paul Guzzo for the Tampa Bay Times.

—”Purple Alert bill passes in unanimous Senate vote” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics

Biscayne Bay Commission proposal now heading to Senate floor” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — A Senate bill setting up a commission to help oversee Biscayne Bay improvement projects is heading to the floor after the Appropriations Committee signed off on the measure. GOP Sen. Ileana Garcia is sponsoring the legislation (SB 1482). The House approved its version of the bill (HB 1177) backed by Republican Rep. Bryan Avila, during a floor vote last week. But a Wednesday amendment to the Senate bill shows there are still differences between the two versions. Under the measure, the nine-member Biscayne Bay Commission would help coordinate public projects in the area and work to secure funding for those efforts. The body will be established within the Department of Environmental Protection.

— LOBBY REGS —

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Slater Bayliss, Stephen Shiver, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: Rising Phoenix Holdings Company

Courtney Coppola: Executive Office of the Governor

Michael Corcoran, Jacqueline Corcoran, Matt Blair, Ralph Criss, Andrea Tovar, Corcoran Partners: UCFB Global Institute of Sport

Reggie Dixon: Department of Lottery

Towson Fraser, Fraser Solutions: Freedom for All Americans

Michael Kesti, Government Relations Group: ShieldFive

Derek Silver, Becker & Poliakoff: National Health Transport

Robert Stuart, GrayRobinson: Management & Training Corporation

Heather Turnbull, Rubin Turnbull & Associates: Hatzalah of South Florida

— LEG. SKED —

The Senate holds a floor Session, 10 a.m., Senate Chamber.

The House holds a floor Session, 10 a.m., House Chamber.

The Senate Special Order Calendar Group will set the calendar of bills that will be heard on the Senate floor, 15 minutes after the floor Session, Room 301, Senate Office Building.

Also:

The House Appropriations Committee meets, 8 a.m., Room 212, Knott Building.

Assignment editors — Sens. Randolph Bracy and Darryl Rouson hold a joint news conference on the Senate’s proposed $30 million in grant funding for projects highlighting the contributions, culture, and history of African Americans, 9:30 a.m., 4th Floor Rotunda.


— 2022 —

Val Demings for U.S. Senate? Former Senator wants to make it so” via Joe Henderson of Florida Politics — Demings was on the list of people Joe Biden, then-Democratic nominee for President, considered for his running mate. She wasn’t chosen, but she hasn’t been forgotten, either. That much became clear Wednesday on the “Morning Joe” talk show on MSNBC. Demings, a former Police Chief in Orlando, gave her opinion about the murder conviction of disgraced ex-cop Derek Chauvin of Minneapolis. She called it “a step in the right direction.” The real topic, though, was the shouting match she had on the House floor the day before with Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, who is from Ohio and consistently embarrasses the state where I grew up.

— STATEWIDE —

Ron DeSantis suggests Derek Chauvin guilty verdict happened because jury was ‘scared of what a mob may do’” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis implied that the guilty verdict in the Chauvin trial could have happened because “the jury is scared of what a mob may do.” DeSantis, a lawyer and former Judge Advocate General in the U.S. Navy, was asked by Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Tuesday night if fear of violence caused the jury to convict the former Minneapolis police officer of the murder of George Floyd. “That’s really, really troubling, Laura, because if that’s what a lot of people think, and I don’t know what happened with this verdict, but if that’s something that can potentially happen, where you basically have justice made meted out because the jury is scared of what a mob may do?” DeSantis said.

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Assignment editors Fried will join St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman for a Mayors Climate Forum, discussing local approaches to addressing climate change. Joining virtually are Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Lauderhill Mayor Ken Thurston and Cutler Bay Mayor Tim Meerbott, along with Sarasota Mayor Hagen Brody, Dunedin Vice Mayor Jeff Gow, Clearwater Council Member Kathleen Beckman and others, 1 p.m., Manhattan Casino, 642 22nd Street South, St. Petersburg. Credentialed media should RSVP to [email protected].

Court rules against transgender woman in rights case” via Jim Saunders of News Service of Florida — A sharply divided appeals court rejected a lawsuit alleging that a transgender woman faced illegal discrimination when she was asked to change seats at a Black Chippendales show because performers objected to her presence. A panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision, ruled against Nevaeh Love, who alleged that her rights were violated under the Florida Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination in places of “public accommodation” based on factors such as race, sex and religion. Judge Susan Kelsey upheld the ruling, which at least in part cited concerns of the performers about “unwanted touching.” Judge Lori Rowe, meanwhile, ruled that the venue was not a place of public accommodation.

ACLU lawyers took a legal hit in a discrimination lawsuit filed by Naveah Love, a transgendered woman.

Florida agency says no to potent pesticide aldicarb for use on state’s ailing citrus crop” via Karl Schneider and Amy Bennett Williams of the Fort Myers News-Press — Environmental advocates are cheering a decision by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Wednesday to block the use of aldicarb on 100,000 acres of the state’s struggling citrus crop. A systemic insecticide that’s also a potent neurotoxin, it had been banned for citrus use for a decade. Then earlier this year, the EPA approved bringing it back, a move that came as an alarming surprise to environmental advocates, who’d believed it was safely off the table. Fried said in a news release that “aldicarb poses an unacceptable risk to human, animal, and environmental health in Florida.”

Blue-green algae causes health officials to close recreational area in Caloosahatchee River” via Chad Gillis of the Fort Myers News-Press — State health officials released a public advisory Wednesday for the upper portion of the Caloosahatchee River estuary, saying the public should not swim there or touch the water. The Florida Department of Health in Lee County says it found blue-green algae toxins in the waters surrounding W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam in Alva. “DOH recommends individuals avoid contact with the water,” the advisory says. “Blue-green algae can cause gastrointestinal effects if swallowed. Children and pets are especially vulnerable, so keeping them away from the water during a bloom is especially important.” Businesses related to the fishing industry in that area say they are worried the bloom will get worse and larger this summer.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida reports 5,571 new cases and 83 more deaths” via Cindy Krischer Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — As COVID-19 vaccines roll out in the state, about 38% of Floridians have received at least one dose. Yet, the number of new cases per day isn’t changing much. Florida reported 5,571 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday and another 83 new resident deaths linked to COVID-19. The state has now reported 2,184,354 cases since the pandemic began. In early January, the seven-day average for new cases had climbed as high as 17,991. It was 6,095 on Wednesday, a big jump from the seven-day average of 4,506 only a month ago.

Florida health officials agree to release variant data, pay attorney fees in Sentinel lawsuit” via Kate Santich of the Orlando Sentinel — A judge on Wednesday ordered the Florida Department of Health to release information on COVID-19 variant cases to the Orlando Sentinel and pay the newspaper’s legal fees, settling a lawsuit over the state’s withholding of critical public health data. The agreement calls for the department to release future information on variant infections within one business day — barring “unanticipated circumstances,” in which case the department must provide the information “as expeditiously as possible,” according to the settlement. The case marked the second time in four months the newspaper has prevailed in its legal attempts to obtain public health information from state officials.

Citing low demand, Jackson Health will stop vaccinations after April 30” via Alexi C. Cardona and Joshua Ceballos of the Miami New Times — Jackson Health System announced today that it is ending its COVID-19 vaccination efforts, five months after it began administering the shots to some of the most vulnerable members of the community. Jackson, Miami-Dade’s public hospital system, cited decreasing demand for the vaccine. To date, the hospital system has vaccinated more than 167,000 people. The hospital says it has enough supplies to administer the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine through April 30. Anyone who receives a shot at one of Jackson’s three vaccination sites by April 30 is guaranteed a second dose by May 21.

Miami’s Jackson Health will stop vaccinating as of April 30. Image via AP.

Hillsborough COVID-19 spike caused by variants, virus ‘fatigue’” via C.T. Bowen of the Tampa Bay Times — The rise in Hillsborough County’s COVID-19 cases likely is attributable to variants of the coronavirus combined with a relaxed public attitude toward face masks and social distancing, a public health expert said Wednesday. Some Hillsborough County commissioners admitted concern at the recent rise. The percentage of positive tests results for the coronavirus in Hillsborough County’s is 10.7, above the statewide average of 8. That percentage makes Hillsborough one of nine counties with a double-digit positivity rate. The county added more than 6,600 cases over the past two weeks. The daily increases of approximately 500 cases is 60 percent higher than four weeks ago.

— VAX STATS —

As of this week, more than 8.14 million people in Florida had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccines. Here is a breakdown, via the News Service of Florida, by age groups:

—Ages 16 to 24: 395,449 people

—Ages 25 to 34: 612, 238 people

—Ages 35 to 44: 811,815 people

—Ages 45 to 54: 1,098,485 people

—Ages 55 to 64: 1,622,525 people

—Ages 65 to 74: 2,031,098 people

—Ages 75 to 84: 1,169,703 people

—Age 85 or older: 402,286 people

— CORONA NATION —

‘We did it’: Joe Biden celebrates U.S. hitting 200-million-dose milestone in his first 100 days” via Shannon Pettypiece and Rebecca Shabad of NBC News — Biden announced a new tax credit Wednesday to reimburse small businesses that give workers paid time off to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as he touted reaching his goal of administering 200 million shots in his first 100 days. The tax credit, which will be funded by the COVID-19 relief bill passed last month, will be available to businesses with fewer than 500 employees, allowing up to $511 a day for each employee. Biden will call on all companies to offer paid time off, regardless of size, and offer other incentives, like gift cards or bonuses, to encourage employees to get vaccinated.

Joe Biden hits a major milestone.

Nation faces ‘hand-to-hand combat’ to get reluctant Americans vaccinated” via Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Annie Karni of The New York Times — Now that Biden has met his goal to have all adults eligible for the coronavirus vaccine, health officials around the country are hitting what appears to be a soft ceiling: More than half the nation’s adults have received at least one dose, but it is going to take hard work to convince the rest. State health officials, business leaders, policymakers and politicians are struggling to figure out how to tailor their messages and their tactics, to persuade not only the vaccine-hesitant but also the indifferent. Officials in many states are looking past mass vaccination sites and toward having patients get vaccinated by their own doctors, where people are most at ease, a shift that will require the Biden administration to ship vaccine in much smaller quantities.

We are turning COVID-19 into a young person’s disease” via Sarah Zhang of The Atlantic — In America, adults are racing headlong into a post-vaccination summer while kids are being left in vaccine limbo. Pfizer’s shot is likely to be authorized for ages 12 to 15 in several weeks’ time, but younger kids may have to wait until the fall or even early 2022 as clinical trials run their course. This “age de-escalation” strategy is typical for clinical trials, but it means this confusing period of vaccinated adults and unvaccinated kids will not be over soon. Vaccination is already changing the landscape of COVID-19 risk by age. In the U.S., hospital admissions have fallen dramatically for adults over 70, but they have remained steady — or have even risen slightly — in younger groups.

Biden presses employers to provide paid time off for vaccine shots, recovery” via Sean Sullivan and Isaac Stanley-Becker of The Washington Post — Biden on Wednesday sought to jump-start suddenly slowing vaccinations of Americans against the coronavirus, pressing businesses and nonprofits to give employees paid time off for the shots and touting government funding to underwrite some of the costs of that time. The initiative, designed to encourage millions of unvaccinated people to get immunized, sends one of the strongest signals yet that vaccine demand is emerging as a bigger challenge than supply. It marks a shift from months of long waiting lists and limited opportunities for Americans to get vaccinated.

Baltimore plant with contaminated Johnson & Johnson vaccines had multiple failures, unsanitary conditions, FDA says” via Christopher Rowland of The Washington Post — The FDA on Wednesday released a scathing inspection report that notes unsanitary conditions and other serious failures at the Emergent BioSolutions manufacturing plant in Baltimore that ruined 15 million doses worth of raw Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine. The 12 pages of findings portray a plant with systemic problems, some of which echo concerns cited in a 2020 inspection report, including poor training of workers. In the latest check, which began last week after the contamination, inspectors found that medical waste was improperly handled. Sensitive work areas had peeling paint and black and brown residue on walls. Through a review of security camera footage, the FDA documented workers repeatedly failing to follow procedures to prevent cross-contamination of various vaccines being manufactured there.

The COVID-19 vaccines are an extraordinary success story. The media should tell it that way.” via Leana S. Wen of The Washington Post — Recent news coverage is fueling a pernicious narrative: What’s the point of getting a COVID-19 vaccine if the vaccinated might still get infected, if protection doesn’t last that long and if the vaccine itself could lead to dangerous outcomes such as blood clots? Clinicians need to address each concern head-on, and we need the media’s help to do it. The science is squarely on our side. Last week, the CDC released data on breakthrough coronavirus infections; meaning instances of fully vaccinated people testing positive. The data highlighted how effective vaccination is, but you might not have drawn that conclusion from news reports.

States have a new COVID-19 problem: Too much vaccine” via Dan Goldberg and Rachel Roubein of POLITICO — The supply of COVID-19 vaccines is now exceeding demand in rural areas and big cities, even as states lift remaining eligibility restrictions, open walk-in clinics and even offer shots to out-of-state residents. It’s a jarring twist after months during which vaccine-seekers crashed appointment websites seeking shots and stalked pharmacy counters hoping to snag leftover doses. And it’s a problem that state and federal officials are rushing to address with only limited success. Governors say they need more help from the Biden administration to reach the vaccine-hesitant. But in most cases, state officials aren’t waiting.

The U.S. has too much of a good thing. Image via AP.

Hawaii will ease restrictions for vaccinated travelers, starting with inter-island visitors” via Hannah Sampson of The Washington Post — Starting May 11, state residents who were vaccinated in Hawaii will be able to bypass coronavirus testing requirements when they travel between islands, as long as at least 14 days have passed since their final shot. For vaccinated citizens of Hawaii who previously had to get tested to travel to other parts of the state, this means doing business or seeing family will be much easier. The vaccine exception to the state’s “Safe Travels” program will go into effect for visitors from the continental United States later in the summer; a date has not yet been announced. International travel will follow eventually. Officials in Hawaii announced the plan at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

An unvaccinated worker set off an outbreak at a U.S. nursing home where most residents were immunized.” via Roni Caryn Rabin of The New York Times — An unvaccinated health care worker set off a COVID-19 outbreak at a nursing home in Kentucky where the vast majority of residents had been vaccinated, leading to dozens of infections, including 22 cases among residents and employees who were already fully vaccinated. Most of those who were infected with the coronavirus despite being vaccinated did not develop symptoms or require hospitalization, but one vaccinated individual, who was a resident of the nursing home, died, according to the study released by the CDC. Altogether, 26 facility residents were infected, including 18 who had been vaccinated, and 20 health care personnel were infected, including four who had been vaccinated. Two unvaccinated residents also died.

The pandemic has been awful. It could have been so much worse.” via Megan McArdle of The Washington Post — Already, the United States has vaccinated half of its eligible population with at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. We recently crossed another important threshold: More than 40 percent of all Americans are vaccinated. That’s the inflection point at which some studies suggest it’s reasonable to hope that caseloads will start to flatten or decline. Imagine what might have happened if COVID-19 had hit in 2000 instead of 2020. The virus could have traveled as quickly down those economic superhighways. We might well have had to make do with less effective vaccines, like the dead-virus vaccine from Sinovac, or simply wait until at least 70 percent of the population had gotten sick.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

Senate Republicans plot their COVID-19 aid payback” via Burgess Everett and Caitlin Emma of POLITICO — After getting steamrolled by Democrats on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid plan, Republicans are planning to fight back. And it could mean an autumn of stalemates over raising the debt ceiling, spending cuts and unemployment benefits. Despite overseeing trillions of dollars of red ink during Trump’s presidency, the GOP is rediscovering its past embrace of fiscal discipline. Senate Democrats’ 50-member majority will need at least 10 GOP votes to fund the government, prevent major Medicare cuts and perhaps most importantly, raise the debt ceiling this year — and Republicans say they don’t intend to make things easy. Unless Democrats somehow manage to scrap the filibuster, the 50-vote Senate Republican minority will find itself wielding impressive leverage.

Republicans are seeking revenge for Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief package. Image via AP.

U.S. Education Dept. issues stimulus spending rules — U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona issued standards states must meet to receive federal aid available through the American Rescue Plan, Juan Perez Jr. of POLITICO reports. DOE will require states to consult with students, families, teachers, unions and others and would also be required to submit spending plans to the state that detail how the funds would be used to comply with health guidelines and make up for missed classroom time. DOE estimates about one in three school systems nationwide will have to revise their spending plans to receive funding under the new rules.

Florida’s labor force has decreased since the pandemic” via Josslyn Howard of First Coast News — Florida’s unemployment rate is dropping, but there are still some job openings that cannot be filled. Florida’s unemployment rate dropped from its pandemic high of 14.2% in May 2020, to 4.7% in March 2021. That current rate falls below the national average of 6%. There are some different reasons the unemployment rate is dropping, but some jobs are struggling to be filled. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, hundreds of thousands of people have left the labor force entirely since the pandemic. Florida’s labor force included about 10,169,969 people in March of this year. At the same time last year, the labor force included about 10,629,624 people. That is about a 4.3% decrease, or almost 500,000 people no longer looking for jobs.

— MORE CORONA —

Handshakes? Hugs? How to navigate the new COVID-19 etiquette after vaccines” via Anne Marie Chaker of The Wall Street Journal — After playing a softball game earlier this month, Kevin Carlson, a Washington, D.C., real estate agent, was introduced to a teammate’s friend as they walked off the field. Moments after some introductory chitchat, the unthinkable happened: “The guy reaches his hand out and says, ‘I’m John.’ ’’ In a matter of seconds, Mr. Carlson, who hadn’t shaken anyone’s hand in over a year, says he weighed everything from health risks to rudeness. Even though he had gotten his second Moderna shot last month, “all sorts of calculations went flowing through my head,” he recalls. “Minimum contact? Maximum contact? Firm handshake?” In the end, he decided on a “light, halfhearted handshake,” he says. “Totally awkward.”

What will come of the handshake after COVID-19?

Demand may exceed supply as CEO of one of the world’s biggest hotel groups sees ‘surge’ in bookings” via Rupert Steiner of Marketwatch — Travel and tourism will begin to bounce back by second half of 2021, according to data seen by Keith Barr, chief executive of Holiday Inn owner Intercontinental Hotels. But the boss of one of the world’s largest hotel groups warns about capacity constraints across the industry, in an interview with MarketWatch, and says the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines is behind a “surge” in bookings at hotels, airlines and tour operators. “If a market is open for travel we are seeing surges in leisure demand,” he says.

Uber shares mask enforcement tips for drivers, passengers” via FOX 13 Tampa Bay — Uber is reminding all drivers and passengers that masks are still required to ride in an Uber. The ride-share company says that it is keeping its mask policy in place to follow the federal CDC mandate requiring travelers to wear a mask. Drivers will be expected to do the following in accordance with this policy: Keep doors locked until they have verified that the riders are wearing a mask; do not start the trip until the rider(s) have a mask on, as riders can’t rate trips that have not been started; and use “No face cover or mask” cancellation if any riders are not wearing a mask.

With most adults now vaccinated, Israelis are busting loose” via Steve Hendrix and Shira Rubin of The Washington Post — Israel is partying like it’s 2019. With most adults now vaccinated against the coronavirus and restrictions falling away, Israelis are joyously resuming routines that were disrupted more than a year ago and providing a glimpse of what the future could hold for other countries. Restaurants are booming outside and in. Concerts, bars and hotels are open to those who can flash their vaccine certificates. Classrooms are back to pre-COVID-19 capacity. The rate of new infections has plummeted, and the number of serious coronavirus cases in many hospitals is down to single digits. The emergency COVID-19 ward at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv resumed duty as a parking garage, and waiting rooms are suddenly flooded with non-COVID-19 patients coming for long-deferred treatments.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Biden’s open to doing immigration through reconciliation, Hispanic lawmakers say” via Laura Barrón-López and Nicholas Wu of POLITICO — Biden promised Hispanic lawmakers on Tuesday that he would make a more proactive case for the economic benefits of immigration. In the process, he left the impression that it would not just be a portion of his upcoming address to a joint Session of Congress but that he’d support moving immigration measures through budget rules allowing a simple majority vote in the Senate. “We can expect the President to be talking about the economic benefits of the immigration bill” in the future, said Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez.

Biden’s climate all-stars: ‘The ambition is breathtaking’ — but so are the expectations” via Michael Grunwald of POLITICO — Jigar Shah was a green finance legend, the founder of the pioneering solar firm SunEdison and then the billion-dollar green infrastructure firm Generate Capital. But Shah agreed to take over the Department of Energy’s long-dormant loan office because he believed that Biden was deeply committed to the clean-energy revolution and that the growing urgency of climate change had created an all-hands-on-deck emergency. Biden’s climate all-stars will help him as well as pressure him to keep his climate pledges, including a zero-emissions electric grid by 2035 and a carbon-neutral nation by 2050.

Joe Biden is assembling a team of ‘climate all-stars.’

Biden’s mammoth education agenda would expand the federal role from cradle to college” via Laura Meckler and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel of The Washington Post — The federal government has long been a bit player in education. Under an expansive vision being rolled out this spring by President Biden, that would change. Biden has proposed a half dozen education programs that would constitute the largest federal investment in education in at least a half century. Any one of them would be significant on its own. Taken together, if approved by Congress, they form a cradle-to-college plan that aims to reduce inequities that course through American schools by infusing hundreds of billions of dollars into virtually every level of the system.

Biden administration moves to unwind Trump auto-emissions policy” via Timothy Puko and Andrew Restuccia of The Wall Street Journal — The Biden administration is moving to end a legal battle with California over the state’s authority to regulate motor-vehicle emissions, setting the stage for stricter regulations on the auto industry, according to people briefed on those plans. It would be the latest in a series of efforts to unwind Trump administration policies that eased environmental rules. California, the nation’s biggest car market, has long set emissions standards that exceed requirements set by the federal government, an exception that was allowed under a waiver to the Clean Air Act. As a result, California’s standards became the de facto national standard.

Bill Nelson receives strong bi-partisan support during NASA Administrator confirmation hearing” via Rachel Joy of Florida Today — It’s safe to say Nelson has strong bi-partisan support to be confirmed as the next NASA administrator. During his Senate confirmation hearing, Republican and Democratic senators repeatedly called Nelson a friend and praised his decades-long experience supporting NASA and space exploration. “I can’t think of a better American alive to serve in this role,” Sen. Marco Rubio said when he introduced Nelson, a Democrat who served 18 years in the Senate before losing a re-election bid in 2018. The sentiment was shared by several other Republicans. Sen. Rick Scott, who beat Nelson in 2018 for the Senate seat, said it was nice to see a fellow Floridian nominated and asked Nelson how NASA can help continue the growth in Florida.

— “Nelson says he’ll try to stick to Trump’s schedule for return to the moon” via Christian Davenport and Cat Zakrzewski of The Washington Post 

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— EPILOGUE TRUMP — 

Liz Cheney on Trump going to GOP retreat in Florida: ‘I haven’t invited him’” via Scott Wong of The Hill — GOP Conference Chair Cheney offered a dry remark when asked if Trump would make an appearance at House Republicans’ policy retreat in Florida next week: “I haven’t invited him.” The quip elicited laughter from reporters and highlighted the ongoing tensions between the former President and the highest-ranking GOP woman in Congress, who was one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. Trump said he would “soon” endorse a pro-Trump primary challenger to “Crazy Liz Cheney.”

Lincoln Project taunts Trump as has-been — A new ad from the Lincoln Project addresses Trump directly, telling him the GOP plans to use his legacy to raise money — and nothing more. “McConnell’s right-hand man, Josh Holmes, plans to cancel you. He acts like you’re a nobody and laughs about how Mitch ignores you. And he’s going to build a new party with Trump voters, but without you,” the narrator says. “They’ll come to Mar-a-Lago and praise you, tricking you with cheap gifts like a Dollar Store silver bowl. But in Washington, Mitch runs the party. You made the MAGA movement, Donald. They’re taking it all away from you.” The ad closes by challenging Trump to call out McConnell, stoking the animosity between the two top Republicans.

To watch, click on the image below:

Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn buys property in Englewood” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — With a presidential pardon in his back pocket, Trump‘s first national security adviser Flynn is starting a new chapter that includes a new home in Florida. A deed filed with the Sarasota County Clerk of Courts shows that Flynn and his wife Lori Jean Flynn purchased a home on April 9 in the upscale Boca Royale Golf & Country Club in Englewood, a low-key coastal community between Sarasota and Fort Myers popular with Midwest retirees and vacationers. The Flynns paid $3,185 in documentary stamp taxes on the Boca Royale property transaction, according to the deed. Using a state formula for calculating the tax, that means they paid $545,000 for the 2,236-square-foot home, which has three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a pool.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Latest Rick Scott video targets court-packing, ‘the most aggressive naked power grab of our lifetime.’” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — In a new video from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, underneath a graphic describing “the supreme thuggery of Democrat’s (sic) court-packing,” Scott blasted Democratic proposals to expand the panel. “They plan to cancel out judges appointed by Donald Trump and pack the Supreme Court with radical liberals,” Scott contended. “It’s the kind of thing you’d expect in Cuba and China.” Scott then posed a leading question: “Why do Democrats want a kangaroo court?” “It’s simple,” Scott answered. “Because their radical plans are unconstitutional, and they know it.” Scott vows that the NRSC is going to “put an end to the madness,” specifically by defeating Democrats in 2022.

To watch the video, click on the image below:

New docs show Matt Gaetz campaign in full damage control mode” via Roger Sollenberger of The Daily Beast — the Florida Republican’s latest campaign finance report reflects a public relations scramble that began even before he acknowledged being the focus of a federal investigation. The filing shows that Gaetz has incurred unprecedented fundraising during a typically quiet period. In that time, Gaetz dropped six figures on a direct mail blitz, shelling out more for fundraising services than he did in all of 2020. Gaetz also paid $5,000 in “strategic consulting” fees to notorious political operative Roger Stone, and he gave money to a number of GOP Florida state lawmakers that he’s never supported before.

Nashua GOP vice chair doubles down on Matt Gaetz invitation to summer fundraiser” via John DiStaso of WMUR — The Nashua Republican City Committee will not disinvite Gaetz from its annual summer fundraiser, the committee’s vice chair says in a statement shared first with WMUR on Monday. Di Lothrop, who organizes events for the city GOP, said that after conferring with Gaetz’s top aide on Sunday, “We will not be disinviting him based on unfounded and anonymous allegations, or by political attacks.” Lothrop said she also has the support of Nashua GOP Chair Chris Buda and many other members of the city committee after updating the committee last week. She said Republicans across the state have also expressed support. The annual “Steak Out” is scheduled for Aug. 27 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Nashua.

— LOCAL NOTES —

Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie charged with perjury; his lawyer says he doesn’t know why” via Scott Travis, Lisa J. Huriash, and Rafael Olmeda of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Runcie and General Counsel Barbara Myrick were arrested Wednesday as part of a statewide grand jury probe into the district’s operations. Runcie was arrested on a charge of perjury in an official proceeding, a third-degree felony. Myrick was arrested on a charge of unlawful disclosure of statewide grand jury proceedings, also a third-degree felony. Agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested Runcie and Myrick for their testimony before the grand jury, which was impaneled to investigate possible failures in following school-related safety laws and mismanaging funds solicited for school safety initiatives.

DeSantis signed ‘anti-riot’ bill flanked by sheriffs. Where was Chad Chronister?” via Tony Marrero of the Tampa Bay Times — When DeSantis set up his photo op to sign an “anti-rioting” bill in Polk County this week, he had a phalanx of Florida sheriffs behind him. Noticeably absent from the event in Winter Haven: Chronister, the Republican sheriff from the county right next door. “I fully support the efforts to enhance penalties for those who turn to actions that damage neighborhoods and businesses and acts of violence toward those who serve our community,” Chronister said. He didn’t address the many other parts of the bill, HB 1, that met with opposition from Democratic lawmakers and others. Instead, Chronister’s statement focused on actions his office has taken.

Where’s Chad Chronister?

George Floyd’s killing spurred revival of Miami-Dade police board. Why hasn’t it met?” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — Eight months later, inaction by Miami-Dade commissioners continues to leave the county without a police oversight board as most seats on the new panel remain empty. According to the county’s Office of Community Advocacy, commissioners must fill the 13 seats, and only five have made appointments. Part of the issue is a complex nominating system designed to give commissioners candidates from a committee created by boards representing different constituencies, such as the Hispanic Affairs Advisory Board. But the legislation passed in August allows commissioners to bypass a stalled nominating process and fill seats on their own for the newly authorized Independent Civilian Panel, which can review complaints against any county employee.

West Palm Mayor renews commitment to racial equity work after Derek Chauvin conviction” via Wayne Washington of The Palm Beach Post — West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James reaffirmed his commitment Wednesday to the racial equity work of a task force he formed last year in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, which set off waves of protests and demands for change. Through an executive order he issued in July, James established the Mayor’s Taskforce on Racial and Ethnic Equity to address those disparities. The task force has several subcommittees, and the chairs of those committees gave brief updates on their work. James said the plan is for the task force to come up with recommendations that he and the city commission would take up for consideration. There is no specific timeline for when those recommendations would be made.

Michelle Oyola McGovern enters Palm Beach County Commission race with a bevy of endorsements — McGovern announced her bid this week for the District 6 seat, which is being vacated by term-limited Commission Melissa McKinlay. McKinlay is backing McGovern’s candidacy — in a race including Rep. Matt Willhite — alongside a slate of other current and former officials. The list includes Sen. Tina Polsky, Rabbi Amy Rader and former Sen. Kevin Rader, Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon, Palm Beach County School Board Members Marcia Andrews and Erica Whitfield, Royal Palm Beach Mayor Fred Pinto, West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James, Palm Beach Gardens Mayor Rachelle Litt, Greenacres Mayor Joel Flores, former Wellington Mayor Kathy Foster, Westlake Vice Mayor Katrina Long Robinson, Wellington Vice Mayor John McGovern, Wellington Councilmembers Michael Drahos, Michael Napoleone and Tanya Siskind, and West Palm Beach City Commissioners Christy Fox and Christina Lambert.

‘The sky’s the limit’: Is Gables mayor the top for Vince Lago? Or is he still climbing?” via Samantha J. Gross of the Miami Herald — Vince Lago’s 20-point win over a two-term commissioner in a bruising, high-turnout election wasn’t just a validation of his 20-month campaign. For the polished, 43-year-old construction executive, it was an affirmation of years of work building to this moment and perhaps beyond as his clique emerges as the next iteration of leaders in the Miami GOP. Nelson Diaz, the former chair of the Miami-Dade County Republican Party said Lago has a bright future, mentioning that Lago’s conservative stances but pro-environment views echo those of GOP Sen. Ileana Garcia and even DeSantis. He added that winning an election with 60% in Democrat-leaning Coral Gables signals a broad base of support.

Nope! Bay County voters soundly reject proposed tax hike for teachers’ salaries” via Tony Mixon of the Panama City News Herald — Bay District School’s Superintendent Bill Husfelt put the ball in the residents of Bay County’s court to raise salaries for teachers and support staffs with a property tax hike. Voters gave a resounding no. In a lopsided decision, voters decided they did not want to increase taxes with the additional one mill by voting 74.77% against the proposal. Even with 21 other counties having this same additional millage, the voters made their voices heard loudly in the Tuesday election.

Sarasota County Commission looks to redistrict again and repeal voter-approved initiative” via Timothy Fanning of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Emboldened by the last time it tinkered with county commissioner district boundaries, Sarasota County elected leaders are now citing a new schedule for updated U.S. Census Bureau estimates for considering whether they should take two bold actions in the coming months — steps that could have a huge impact on voting and political representation in the county. County commissioners on Tuesday agreed to ask a special review panel to look at and potentially move to repeal the new single-member-districts method of electing commissioners.

Seminole commissioners reject Chris Dorworth’s latest River Cross proposal after closed-door meeting” via Martin E. Comas of the Orlando Sentinel — Following a closed-door meeting, Seminole County commissioners unanimously agreed to reject a proposal from Dorworth, the developer of the controversial River Cross project, to settle a pair of lawsuits he filed against the county in October 2018 after his development application was denied. Dorworth had offered to drop the lawsuits if Seminole agreed to carve the 669 acres proposed for his River Cross development out of the county’s rural boundary. Dorworth and his River Cross Land Co. could have then submitted new development plans for the old pastureland just north of the Orange County line and east of the Econolockhatchee River.

Will the Piney Point spill affect tourism this summer?” via Natalie Weber of the Tampa Bay Times — After the wastewater leak, which led to evacuations and a state of emergency, some feared busy tourist spots could be impacted. But local leaders said Manatee County’s popular destinations had seen little impact from the spill, which mainly affected the area around Port Manatee, far from the county’s most popular beaches. So far, the spill hasn’t led to a decline in visitors either, officials said. Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce President Terri Kinder said the island saw a slight drop in visitors last week, but business remains steady and in a normal pattern of tourism season. The destination usually sees a decrease in visitors after Easter, followed by an increase in June and July.

New College unanimously selects Patricia Okker as new university president” via Ryan McKinnon of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — The New College of Florida Board of Trustees has selected a new leader for the school. Okker, a dean of the College of Arts and Science at the University of Missouri since 2017, was the board’s unanimous selection on Tuesday to take over as president when New College President Donal O’Shea retires effective July 1. Okker said New College, Florida’s smallest public university, combined her two strongest academic passions with its affordable tuition and the emphasis on arts and sciences. Okker will take over as the school is in the midst of a struggling growth campaign, with enrollment falling from 861 students when the plan began in 2016 to 714 students this year.

Pat Okker is the newly named president of New College. Image via MU College of Arts and Science.

Plan to temporarily stop South Beach alcohol sales at 2 a.m. receives initial approval” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — Four years after Miami Beach voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to end late-night drinking in the famous tourist city, commissioners on Wednesday voted to temporarily restrict alcohol sales in the South Beach entertainment district. A final vote is still needed to approve the pilot program, which does not yet include specific details about a starting date or duration. If approved during the second vote on May 12 the legislation would institute a temporary 2 a.m. cutoff along Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue from Fifth to 16th streets. Mayor Dan Gelber was forced to broker a deal with Commissioner Micky Steinberg to make his proposal a pilot program in order to get enough votes to pass the restrictions.

— FOR YOUR RADAR —

Gopher Resource sent a letter to the Hillsborough County Commission on Wednesday outlining the steps it has taken to ensure worker safety and keep its environmental impact to a minimum.

The letter comes after the Tampa Bay Times published a series that alleges the company, one of a handful of companies nationwide that recycles lead batteries, exposed workers and residents in the surrounding area to toxic levels of lead.

In the letter, Gopher Resource President and CEO Brian Leen said his company had spent $230 million on improvements to mitigate the environmental impact in the years since it bought the Tampa smelting facility.

Gopher Resource is proactive about cleaning up its act.

Leen also noted the role Gopher Resource plays in overall environmental health through its core business of recycling lead batteries.

“This service is essential to our environment and our modern economy. Our society uses so many of these lead batteries that Gopher’s facility in Tampa recycles about 13 million batteries every year. Gopher is part of a success story for the lead battery industry, which can claim a stunning 99% recycling rate in the U.S., keeping them out of landfills,” he said.

He also said the company has — and will continue to — prioritize worker safety. It spends $3 million a year providing personal protective equipment, training, testing, and monitoring for employees. And it isn’t resting on its laurels, safety-wise.

“We also developed and implemented a hygiene program and tools that we believe are industry-leading and, if rigorously followed, enables continued reduction of employee lead levels and will prevent lead from leaving the plant with the employee,” he said, providing commissioners with an outline of the program.

— TOP OPINION —

Florida Legislature’s Medicaid folly” via Joan Alker of Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute — The Legislature is about to make final decisions about the state’s budget in the next few weeks with reckless options on the table that would weaken the state’s health care system and lead to more uninsured Floridians if finalized. During what we all hope are the final throes of a dire pandemic, legislators are gambling with Floridian’s current and future health — and one must assume that they are doing so for purely political reasons. And, of course, what has not been included in the Legislature’s work: Medicaid expansion. The state is refusing to accept increased federal funds available to non-expansion states like Florida to expand Medicaid, which would result in a net gain to the state of $1.8 billion over two years, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

— OPINIONS —

House’s election bill is unnecessary, confusing and antidemocratic” via Dan Daley of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Overall, Florida’s 2020 election was one for the history books: smoothly run, and timely reported. So why is the GOP pushing “much needed voting reform?” From the rank-and-file to Ron DeSantis himself, who called our election “the smoothest and most successful of any state,” the conclusion has been the same across the board. House Bill 7041 makes them worse. It creates a byzantine system for casting absentee or vote-by-mail ballots. HB 7041 is a confusing, antidemocratic step in the wrong direction under the guise of “fixing” something. I am opposed to the bill and ask others to voice their opposition as well. Republican lawmakers have alleged that their proposals crack down on voter fraud, a largely make-believe problem.

Lee Hinkle: It’s your data, so why should Big Tech have so much control of it?” via Florida Politics — There is nothing more valuable to most people than their personal identity. It belongs to you, and you should be the one to control what happens with your personal information. However, actions we routinely take as consumers allow multinational corporations to compile mountains of data about us and doing who knows what. The Florida Legislature has a chance to shift power back to the people, where the state constitution says it belongs. The Florida Privacy Protection Act (CS/SB 1734/HB 969) would grant Florida’s consumers the ability to share their personal information as they choose, in a way that is safe and that they understand and control. The bill is strongly supported by DeSantis, but it’s not a partisan issue.

If Joel Greenberg stole from taxpayers, Seminole County should get the money back” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Last week, the Orlando Sentinel detailed all the ways auditors say Greenberg stiffed Seminole County taxpayers by spending public money on everything from unneeded contracts to his personal legal bills. Yet, we haven’t heard a word about local officials trying to recoup the taxpayers’ money in this case. No one has even filed a claim. County officials acknowledged they had not done so yet but vowed they would. I’d argue something should have been done by now. Greenberg claimed a net worth of $5.8 million on financial disclosure papers filed two years ago. In his most recent disclosure, he claimed his net worth was down to $322,000.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Bills are passing fast and furious as the 2021 Session clock winds down.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— As expected, the Florida House approved a bill to expand the private school voucher program.

— Vouchers started as a way to help low-income families send their kids to private schools. Under this bill, vouchers would be available to any family with an annual income below $100,000.

— The House also passes Rep. Chip LaMarca’s bill to try to fix the state’s unemployment compensation system. The vast majority of that money came from the feds, not the state. And the House bill does nothing to improve the actual unemployment benefits.

— Another bill from the House will mean free books for students who are not reading at their grade level. One more proposal could change children’s lives by having health care professionals’ licenses suspended if charged with certain sex crimes.

— Sen. Book filed the bill after her family pediatrician was charged with child porn.

— The Senate also dove into an odd issue: The Otter Cat. It’s not another invasive species … it was freshman hazing.

— And finally, two Florida Women: One claims to be a witch; the other was hit in the head by a turtle that crashed through her windshield on the interstate.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

A long-awaited return trip to Puerto Rico” via Robert P. Walzer of The Wall Street Journal — I moved to San Juan in 1990 and stayed five years, working first in film production and later as a journalist with the now-defunct San Juan Star. Now, 26 years after leaving, I returned with a close friend from those days, Larry Luxner. The sad spectacle mirrors the island’s slow economic decline, spurred by its loss of a special industrial tax status, a U.S. Navy base closure and a series of hurricanes, earthquakes and other calamities including a debt crisis. In recent years, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans have moved to the mainland U.S. A cultural reawakening is under way in Loíza however, a former slave enclave outside San Juan. One manifestation: the Bomba, a drum, song and dance tradition rooted in West Africa that has become an expression of Puerto Rican identity.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Celebrating today is Florida Politics’ Janelle Irwin Taylor, prisoner 24601, err, former Sen. Frank Artiles, St. Pete City Council Member Brandi Gabbard Kunard, Bert Ralston, World Partnerships’ Mary Ellen Upton, and the outgoing CEO of the Florida Ports Council Doug Wheeler.

___

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.

Email: [email protected]
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