Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 4.23.21

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Who's up, down, in and out — your morning tipsheet on Florida politics.

President Joe Biden and Gov. Ron DeSantis may not like each other, but they have one thing in common: Solid approval among Florida voters.

A new poll from bipartisan firm RABA Research found the state’s top elected official and the Commander in Chief both have approval ratings in the positive by double-digits.

DeSantis, midway through his first term, has the approval of 56% of voters compared to 42% who disapprove, giving him a plus-14 favorability rating. Biden, who’s wrapping up his first 100 days, is above water 54%-42%, or plus-12.

Joe Biden and Ron DeSantis have one thing in common — their popularity in Florida.

Biden’s policies are even more popular than the man himself.

Just shy of two-thirds of voters said they were fans of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan the President signed into law earlier this month.

And his next major proposal — a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure package funded by tax hikes on the rich — has the support of 59% of Florida voters while 36% are against it.

RABA did find something voters don’t like, however.

Asked their views on proposed legislation to close off the state pension program to future hires, a whopping 71% said the Legislature should keep its hands off FRS.

Nearly as many (68%) said that now is not the time for lawmakers to consider any legislation that would weaken employment protections for health care workers or teachers.

The RABA Research poll was conducted on April 19 via telephone interviews. It has a sample size of 575 and a margin of error of plus or minus 4.09 percentage points.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@AGGancarski: Not sure if the Make It Legal Florida could have cleared 60% given the corporate cannabis nature of the amendment, but what this does is effectively decouples the cannabis issue from the 2022 race for Governor in a way impossible if there had been a citizen initiative.

@BruceRitchie: Sorry, I may have a difficult time covering your Earth Day event because I have to cover bills in both the FL House and Senate blocking local environmental initiatives.

@RenzoDowney: COVID is to the 2020 Session as weddings are to the 2021 Session

@Fineout: So no budget conference meeting tonight. Budget chairs have met just once in public since Monday. Tick, tick, tick. Budget must be done by next Tuesday in order for Session to end on time. Decisions on billions made behind closed doors.

@ShevrinJones: Of all the bills that passed today, good or bad, THIS is the most important piece of legislation we passed. Thankful that the Senate see this as a priority for Floridians. It’s unfortunate that the Governor and the House are opposed to increasing weekly unemployment payments.

@AnaCeballos_: Can I just say how thankful I am for the new @floridachannel pause button during livestreams?

@OJCorral: Why don’t more people in South Florida know about Florida’s amazing springs? My theory: few families make it past the gravitational pull of Disney and Universal when driving north, a tourism black hole at the heart of Florida

— DAYS UNTIL —

NFL Draft begins — 6; Disney Wish announcement — 6; Disneyland to open — 7; Orthodox Easter 2021 — 9; Mother’s Day — 16; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 17; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 35; Memorial Day — 38; Florida TaxWatch Spring Meeting and PLA Awards — 41; ‘Loki’ premieres on Disney+ — 49; Father’s Day — 58; F9 premieres in the U.S. — 63; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 70; 4th of July — 72; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 76; MLB All-Star Game — 81; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 91; second season of ‘Ted Lasso’ premieres on Apple+ — 91; The NBA Draft — 97; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 99; ‘The Suicide Squad’ premieres — 105; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 123; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 133; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 154; ‘Dune’ premieres — 161; MLB regular season ends — 163; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 169; World Series Game 1 — 186; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 193; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 196; San Diego Comic-Con begins — 217; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 228; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 235; Super Bowl LVI — 296; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 336; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 378; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 441; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 532; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 567.

— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —

Sports betting appears headed to Florida in deal agreed to by Governor, Seminole Tribe” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — More than half of all states now allow some form of legal sports betting, and if a proposal which has been agreed to in principle between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the state gets approved by the Legislature in the next week, Florida could be added to that list and at least $500 million in annual revenue could be added to the budget. Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. said in a statement the deal negotiated this week with DeSantis was a “historic agreement that cements our partnership with the state for decades to come,” and thanked the Governor, Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls for working with the Tribe.

Coming soon to Florida?

Non-Compact gaming legislation stalls; could be pushed to Special Session” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — A trio of gaming bills that had been flying through the Senate committee process has stalled on the Senate floor. The interruption came as murmurs swirl of a new gaming deal with the Seminole Tribe. Two of the bills would establish a gaming commission, and the third removes the live racing requirement for certain gaming permit holders. House companion legislation is slightly behind the Senate bills in the process, but Sprowls said a compact agreement with the Tribe could affect the gaming bills. “Should the Governor sign a Compact in the next several days, I think one of the discussion points that the Chambers need to have is, well, does it really make sense to deal with these issues now,” Sprowls said.

Parents’ Bill of Rights on its way to becoming law; concerns of LGBTQ advocates remain” via Joshua Solomon of the Northwest Florida Daily News — Parents are set to become a protected class in Florida schools, solidifying the power dynamic between parents and schools, following the passage of the Parents’ Bill of Rights in the Senate Wednesday. The bill has faced staunch opposition from LGBTQ advocates concerned it could lead to the outing of a student’s sexual or gender identity. It also raised public health concerns from the advocacy groups because it explicitly allows parents to exempt their children from sex education. The bill now goes to DeSantis, who has seven days to sign or veto it during the Session. If signed, it would go into effect on July 1. 

Legislature’s voting reform bills are more tweaks than big changes. Are they needed?” via Lawrence Mower of the Miami Herald — Florida lawmakers continued to water down an elections bill in the state Senate on Thursday, stripping out some of the more controversial measures that provoked outrage by Democrats and voting rights groups. Gone is a proposal that could have caused headaches for millions of voters by requiring them to update their signatures on file with their county elections supervisor. Senators also eased up on some concerns by election supervisors. The result, Republicans said, is evidence that they listened to concerns by elections officials and voting rights groups over the last several weeks, after corporations and MLB protested a similar bill passed by Georgia lawmakers.

House passes school safety legislation” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The House has voted unanimously to approve this year’s measure to improve safety in Florida’s schools. The legislation aims to strengthen mental health services in schools. In addition, the bill requires school districts and charter governing boards to assemble a plan for reunification during an emergency. School districts would need to coordinate with local governments and law enforcement agencies when formulating those reunification plans. Rep. Chip LaMarca is fronting this year’s bill (HB 7035), with Rep. Christine Hunschofsky serving as a prime co-sponsor. Hunschofsky served as Parkland Mayor during the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Several members recalled the moment they heard the news and the debates held in committee meetings and on the floor.

Bill cracking down on social media de-platforming ready for Senate vote” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Senators will soon vote on a measure to crack down on social media companies that block users and content from their platform. DeSantis named that proposal (SB 7072) a priority ahead of the 2021 Legislative Session. Conservatives argue they have been disproportionately targeted with bans, censoring, shadow bans and other restrictions. The bill, carried by Sen. Ray Rodrigues, would require social media companies to post their terms of service and apply them equally. It would prohibit social media platforms from banning a qualified political candidate for more than 60 days and lay out consequences for companies who do not comply.

Senate pushes for jobless benefits boost — defying Ron DeSantis and House” via John Kennedy of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Months after Floridians saw unemployment soar to a 50-year high because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state Senate unanimously approved Thursday a $100 increase in the state’s maximum jobless pay; now among the lowest in the nation. The Senate’s 40-0 vote was a rare moment of bipartisanship in a divided chamber. But the Senate’s Republican majority also is defying the GOP-led House and DeSantis, who both recently rejected calls to increase the $275 top weekly pay. The Florida Senate is looking to increase maximum unemployment benefits to $375 weekly, defying DeSantis and the House.

After Fox News twisted his words, Shevrin Jones gets his say” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — The West Park Democrat, whose news conference quote on the anti-riot measure (HB 1) was chopped up on The Ingraham Angle, appeared unabridged on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show. “The Governor has created a piece of legislation that no one has asked for.” Jones’ de-contextualized criticisms were dismissed as “wild accusations” by the Governor. But DeSantis and Laura Ingraham were nowhere to be found as Jones amped up his critique of the legislation. “The bill also hinders local government from having the ability to alter any of their public safety budget, which definitely ties their hand,” Jones said. Jones also noted that “anyone who is against the legislation, he said they are the same individuals who want to defund the police.”

To watch the segment, click on the image below:

— BUDGET NOTES —

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 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 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.

A $12 billion question: Florida’s education budget hinges on COVID-19 relief” via Ana Ceballos of the Tampa Bay Times — 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. Senate leaders, meanwhile, have said little about how they want to use any of the money as they say they are still figuring out how they can and cannot use the federal funds on education.

COVID-19 relief and Florida education funding are linked, says Chris Sprowls. Image via Colin Hackley.

Lawmakers reach agreement on $200M school choice expansion” via Ana Ceballos of the Miami Herald — Florida lawmakers on Thursday reached a deal on a sweeping $200 million school-choice proposal that would combine and significantly expand the state’s voucher programs that help families pay for private schooling. After months of negotiations, House and Senate leaders agreed on legislation that would pave the way for about 61,000 new students to qualify for taxpayer-funded vouchers, a push that Democrats fought as they advocated for more oversight and accountability for private schools that will be getting state-funded vouchers. Republican leaders in both chambers have been steadfast on their decadeslong push to expand school choice in Florida and agreed on legislation that would make a series of changes to the state’s school-choice infrastructure.

Steve Bahmer: Florida values its seniors. Don’t cripple nursing homes with budget cuts” for Florida Politics — This year, 237 — or 36% — of Florida’s nursing homes will see their Medicaid rates reduced due to the ongoing implementation of the Medicaid PPS, a system that largely cuts funding from high-performing nursing homes. Not only does the new payment system pose a threat to the viability of many high-quality providers, but the implementation timeline also comes on the heels of a once-in-a-century pandemic that dramatically increased costs and reduced revenues and will take 12 to 24 months to recover from. We have heard from many nursing homes across the state that not only would further cuts in elder care be crippling to them, but such cuts would force some facilities to permanently close their doors, displacing Florida’s most frail elders.


— TALLY 2 

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) to 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.

Senate passes seaport preemption bill” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — After dredging up committee testimony all Session long, a seaport preemption bill passed the Senate Thursday with no debate. The preemption legislation (SB 426) is seemingly a direct counter to the will of Key West voters who, last November, voted to block large cruise ships from docking at the city’s port. The bill passed in a 25-14 vote not quite along party lines Thursday. Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez broke from her party and voted against the measure. Sen. Jeff Brandes, also a Republican, abstained from voting. Throughout the committee process, Sen. Jim Boyd, who sponsors the bill, has maintained the bill is not about Key West. Instead, Boyd said, the bill protects the “vulnerability of our state’s maritime commerce to the vagaries of local politics to the detriment of the state and our citizens.”

Jim Boyd’s seaport preemption bill has a few GOP detractors. Image via Colin Hackley.

Gas station preemption bill ready for Senate floor” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — A bill to preempt energy regulations was watered down in committee meetings, but it still faced questions from Democrats on the Senate floor during a second reading Tuesday. The Senate is considering the House version of a bill (HB 839) dealing with local regulations of gas stations. The bill was on its second reading Thursday. “I don’t want any government in the state of Florida to effectively just wipe gas stations off, and then you have tourists come down trying to figure out how to refuel their rental car,” Sen. Travis Hutson, the bill’s sponsor, said. At this point, the bill would shield gas stations and their related infrastructure from being outlawed by local governments that want to encourage clean energy.

‘It does nothing’: Jeff Brandes voices frustration with TBARTA on Senate floor” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Sen. Ed Hooper’s transportation package received unanimous approval from the Senate, but a series of amendments addressing the Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority sparked frustration among Sen. Brandes. The bill (SB 1194) altered several provisions related to transportation, like upping the maximum weight for personal delivery devices. While the bill appeared to be unobjectionable, the floor got heated when discussing several amendments related to TBARTA, which oversees regional transit planning in the Tampa Bay region. Sen. Darryl Rouson presented one amendment that mirrored the legislation he filed earlier this year (SB 422). That measure would give Mayors more flexibility as members of TBARTA by allowing them to send a designated alternate to serve as a member of the governing board, with the ability to act as a voting member.


— TALLY 3 —

Human trafficking bill awaits House consideration” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — A bill that would empower human trafficking victims and establish a confidentiality privilege between them and victim advocates now awaits a full House vote. Sponsored by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., the bill (SB 1826) contains a slew of provisions addressing human trafficking in Florida. Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo moved to adopt the Senate bill in place of her companion proposal. “Human trafficking is not just the Hollywood projection of international vacationers who get abducted for ransom,” Toledo said. “It can be a child who is coerced by a pair or a stranger on Snapchat or TikTok.”

Manny Diaz’s human trafficking bill has a slew of protections for victims.

Legislature approves moment of silence to start public school day” via Ryan Dailey of News Service of Florida — Florida public-school students might soon have a required moment of silence at the start of each day, under a measure passed Thursday by the Senate and headed to DeSantis’ desk. The Senate voted 32-6 to pass the bill (HB 529) approved by the House last month in a 94-24 vote. Under the measure, school principals would be required to direct first-period teachers to institute a one- to two-minute moment of silence at the beginning of each day. Under the bill, teachers would not be able to “make suggestions as to the nature of any reflection that a student may engage in during the moment of silence,” and students “may not interfere with other students’ participation.

‘Disability abortion’ bill has some critics in the disability community” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — Most abortion bills are controversial. A bill making its way through the Florida House that would ban “disability abortions” is no exception, particularly for the disability community. But it’s less the “abortion” part of the bill that’s an issue for some in that community. It’s more the “disability” part. The bill, House Bill 1221, would ban a doctor from performing an abortion in an instance where they know, or “should know,” a woman is seeking the procedure ”solely on the basis of” a disability or potential disability found in the fetus. At least nine states have laws banning abortion in similar circumstances; most of those laws have been legally challenged.

Expanded ‘Right to Farm’ protections pass” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The House has passed a bill to protect farming operations from nuisance lawsuits, preparing that legislation for the Governor’s signature. By a 110-7 vote, with only a handful of Democrats in opposition, members have passed an update (SB 88) to Florida’s Right to Farm Act, a priority of the Senate to moderate lawsuits against farmers. The law is meant to protect farmers from people who move into rural communities and then file complaints against farmers. Rep. Jayer Williamson said shepherding Sen. Jason Brodeur‘s bill through the House was a learning experience for him since he’s not a farmer. “I might talk like one, and I might walk like one,” he added. “You can look at me and tell I definitely enjoy partaking in the fruits of their labor, but I’m not a farmer.”

—“’Right to farm’ bill goes to DeSantis” via The News Service of Florida

Senate approves Little Wekiva, wildlife corridors bill” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The Senate unanimously approved a bill Thursday that requires officials to look into what is wrecking the Little Wekiva River in Central Florida, and expand initiatives to protect wildlife corridors throughout the state, aiding migratory routes for animals such as black bears and panthers. The Senate took up the House version (HB 727), which awaits a second reading on the House Floor, and then passed that measure by a 40-0 vote. Brodeur had pushed the Senate version (SB 976). He initially filed it to authorize the state to address the alarming siltation and overgrowth of the Little Wekiva in Seminole County. In its last committee stop, Brodeur’s bill had been amended to resemble Republican Rep. Keith Truenow‘s HB 727, which focuses on protecting and promoting wildlife habitat corridors.

Senate passes bill to add lawmakers to Space Florida board” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — A bill that would give the Legislature two nonvoting seats on the Space Florida Board of Directors was approved Thursday by the Senate. By a 38-0 vote, the chamber approved Republican Sen. Tom Wright‘s SB 1512. It would create two new seats on the board to be reserved for a member of the Senate and a member of the House of Representatives, attending board meetings in an ex officio capacity. They could deliberate, but they couldn’t vote. Wright’s bill, and the companion measure, Republican Rep. Thad Altman‘s HB 1201, would return the Legislature’s presence on the Space Florida board. They had seats on the board until 2010. Wright and Altman have argued that the lawmakers’ presence on the board would be good for oversight, cooperation, and dialogue.

A proposal from Thad Altman would return a legislative presence to the Space Florida board. Image via Colin Hackley.

House OK’s memorial to ‘resist’ Joe Biden’s gun control effort” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Florida Republicans rallied without Democrats around a House Memorial on Thursday that formally rejects Biden’s gun control efforts. The proposal (HM 1301) is intended to express the Legislature’s stance against Biden’s gun control proposals, calling the measures “unconstitutional.” Further, it declares the Legislature intends to use “all lawful means necessary to resist and overturn any federal gun-control measures that violate the right of Floridians to keep and bear arms.” While directed at Biden, the memorial does not list any specific gun control measures. The memorial instead rejects any proposals “forthcoming at the federal level to restrict the right to keep and bear arms.” Democrats repeatedly asked the bill sponsor, Rep. Jason Shoaf, to cite a specific measure.

Why Florida? Why now? Transgender bill part of nationwide Republican push” via Gary white of The Florida Times-Union — The Florida Senate is running out of time to pass a proposed controversial transgender athletic bill this session, but advocates fear rising national sentiment against the LGBTQ community will make a repeat attempt likely. The state Legislature has aligned itself with Republicans nationwide and mirrors other states in pushing for a ban on transgender girls and women from sports teams. The House passed a bill last week that would require transgender high school and college students to compete in sports based on their birth gender. A companion bill by Sen. Kelli Stargel stalled because the differences between the two were insurmountable, she said. 

— LOBBY REGS —

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Brady Benford, Ballard Partners: Mosaic Fertilizer

Bill Rubin, Erica Chanti, Christopher Finkbeiner, Rubin Turnbull & Associates: Orchid Cove Health Group

— LEG. SKED —

The House will hold a floor session, 10 a.m., House Chamber.

Also:

The House Rules Committee meets, 6:15 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The Revenue Estimating Conference meets to analyze potential costs of legislation, 9 a.m., Room 216.


— 2022 —

Val Demings exploring options for 2022 gubernatorial bid” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Responding to increasing scuttlebutt that Rep. Demings is talking to people about a possible gubernatorial run in 2022, a spokesperson confirmed Thursday that the Orlando Democrat is exploring options. “She’s thankful for all of the encouragement and continuing to explore all of her options,” a campaign spokesperson told Florida Politics. That statement follows reports that Demings has been talking lately with donors, a potential campaign manager, a potential campaign finance director, digital campaign firms, and state lawmakers, about a possible gubernatorial campaign to challenge DeSantis. Demings also has been mentioned as a possible U.S. Senate candidate to challenge Marco Rubio in 2022, but that path seems to be taken right now by her Winter Park colleague, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy.

—“Demings for U.S. Senate? Former Senator wants to make it so” via Joe Henderson of Florida Politics

Is Val Demings headed for bigger things? Image via AP.

Pot guru attorney Michael Minardi running for HD 59” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Minardi, a well-known attorney representing clients on cannabis-related issues, is running for the House District 59 seat currently held by Rep. Andrew Learned. So far, Minardi is the only Republican in the race to challenge Learned, a moderate Democrat. Minardi has made a name for himself in Florida as a major proponent for legalized cannabis and intends to run on a pro-pot agenda. He’s the man behind the Sensible Florida ballot initiative that failed to make the ballot in 2020. The Tampa lawyer also participates in “expungement clinics,” recently partnering with the medical marijuana giant Trulieve to help patients have marijuana-related charges expunged or sealed from their records. Minardi filed paperwork to run for the east Hillsborough district on April 6. This week, he sent a fundraising email to voters seeking contributions.

HD 86 candidate Katherine Waldron announces slew of endorsements — Waldron is the first Democrat to file for the seat, currently held by Democratic state Rep. Matt Willhite. Willhite is opting against another run and is instead seeking a Palm Beach County Commission seat. Now, a wide range of politicians is backing Waldron’s bid to succeed Willhite. Included in that list are U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, state Rep. Emily Slosberg, Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon, Palm Beach County Port Commissioner Wayne Richards, former Palm Beach County Mayors Jeff Koons and Shelley Vana, Haverhill Vice Mayor Lawrence Gordon, West Palm Beach Commissioner Joe Peduzzi, former West Palm Beach Commissioner Paula Ryan and former Riviera Beach Councilman Bruce Guyton.


— STATEWIDE —

DeSantis vs. DeSantis: 4 times the Florida Governor changed his tune lately” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — DeSantis certainly isn’t afraid to speak his mind. Most days, if he’s not on Fox News, he’s in front of local media cameras somewhere in the Sunshine State. DeSantis last year was surprised that Florida’s unemployment benefit was $275. Fast forward to 2021, and DeSantis has no interest in raising weekly benefits. DeSantis last year said he was outraged after the death of George Floyd. But this week, DeSantis said he thought Derek Chauvin’s conviction might have come because “the jury is scared of what a mob may do.” During the pandemic, he made the call to give local election offices more time to count mail-in and early ballots. Not long after making that statement, DeSantis ordered a crackdown on voting-by-mail.

DeSantis v. DeSantis? Sometimes, he’s all over the map.

DeSantis, Army Corps reach deal on major Everglades project.” via Curt Anderson of The Associated Press — DeSantis signed an agreement Thursday with the Army Corps of Engineers that will continue work on a key reservoir in Everglades restoration. Work on the reservoir is to be shared between the state and federal governments. DeSantis said Thursday’s agreement will accelerate the Army Corps portion of the project. According to the South Florida Water Management District, the reservoir will have a water storage component and a wetland with vegetation that can cleanse water from Lake Okeechobee. The plan is to sharply reduce the Lake Okeechobee discharges down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers to estuaries where the water is blamed for blue-green algae blooms and other environmental problems.

Orlando ‘anti-riot’ lawsuit lawyer was listed as ineligible to practice, but The Bar changed it to member in good standing” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — The Orlando attorney who filed a federal lawsuit against DeSantis over the state’s new anti-riot law had been listed as being barred from practicing law in Florida, according to the Florida Bar, but he’s back to being a member in good standing. Aaron Carter Bates was listed as having failed to complete the continuing legal education courses required by the Florida Bar, Bar spokesman Leslie Smith said Thursday. Bates’ status was updated as a member in good standing on the Bar’s website Thursday morning. Shortly after, a story on his eligibility was published on Orlando Sentinel’s website.

Duke Energy case and legislative bills could bring more secrecy” via Malena Carollo of the Tampa Bay Times — A legal case that paved the way for unprecedented secrecy around utility regulation now sits before the Supreme Court. As power companies head into a particularly high-stakes year for rate changes, a pair of bills could bring that secrecy to routine regulation. Last year, an administrative law judge ordered Duke Energy Florida to return $16.1 million it charged customers for replacement power after its Bartow natural gas plant was damaged in 2012. That decision was upheld by the Florida Public Service Commission. Duke, which was “disappointed” in the decisions at the time, opted to appeal the case.

Miami’s sea level rise bill is $4 billion by 2060. It won’t keep every neighborhood dry.” via Alex Harris of the Miami Herald — Miami has to spend at least $3.8 billion in the next 40 years to keep the city dry from rising seas, according to a draft of the city’s long-awaited and newly released stormwater master plan. That will buy a hundred new mega stormwater pumps, miles of 6-foot-tall sea walls, thousands of injection wells, and a network of underground pipes so big and wide even the tallest NBA player could stroll through them without bumping his head. Even then, it won’t be enough to save every neighborhood. And it’s not because it’s too expensive, although that’s part of it.

Mayors launch ‘Race to Zero’ campaign at Florida Climate Week” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The Mayors of Miami, Orlando, St. Pete, and Tampa Bay are teaming up on a new initiative, the Florida Race to Zero, to put cities at the forefront of combating climate change by achieving zero carbon emissions by 2050. At the Florida Climate Week kickoff event Thursday, Nic Glover of the Tampa Bay Chamber announced the launch of the friendly competition, stressing that the race to carbon neutrality is critical to the state’s long-term economic competitiveness, as companies are increasingly focused on minimizing their own carbon footprints. Participants also discussed the prospect of creating new clean energy jobs and positioning Florida as a leader in the booming clean energy sector. The cities were represented at the event by their sustainability and resilience officers.

Climate change is spurring Nic Glover and the Tampa Bay area to ‘Race to Zero.’

Appeal scuttled in charter school case” via The News Service of Florida — The Florida Supreme Court refused to take up an appeal by the Volusia County School Board in a battle over approval of a charter school. The school board went to the Supreme Court last month after the 5th District Court of Appeal in January upheld a decision by the State Board of Education that cleared the way for Florida East Coast Charter School. The Volusia board denied the application of Florida East Coast Charter School, which took the dispute to the state Charter School Appeal Commission. The commission sided with the charter school, and the State Board of Education subsequently reversed the denial of the school’s application. That led the school board to go to the 5th District Court of Appeal.

Court orders another look at judge’s conduct” via The News Service of Florida — The Florida Supreme Court rejected proposed sanctions against a Miami-Dade County circuit judge accused of wrongdoing such as falsifying work attendance records and using judicial assistants to perform personal tasks. This month, an investigative panel of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission recommended a $30,000 fine, a 60-day suspension without pay, written letters of apology, and attendance at a judicial college for Judge Martin Zilber. But in a unanimous order, the Supreme Court rejected the proposed sanctions. “We remand for further proceedings to include a full hearing before the Judicial Qualifications Commission in order to fully develop the facts regarding any misconduct that occurred.”

What’s in the anti-riot law and how will it play out? Brevard could be first to know” via Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon of Florida Today — With rallies planned by activists in Brevard on Friday and Orlando on Saturday in response to the deaths of Black men and teens in Florida at the hands of law enforcement, the state’s new “anti-riot” law could be facing its first test since being signed into statute Monday by DeSantis. The law has been assailed by critics as an assault on civil liberties and praised by defenders as a badly needed measure to protect law enforcement and public order. Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said he plans to make no changes to his policing philosophy but is also waiting for his agency’s lawyers to draft legal bulletins for how deputies should apply provisions.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida reports 6,684 coronavirus cases and 80 more deaths” via Cindy Krischer Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Even as more than 8 million Floridians are vaccinated with at least one dose, new COVID-19 cases per day continue to creep upward. Florida reported 6,684 new coronavirus cases on Thursday and another 80 new resident deaths linked to COVID-19. The state has now reported 2,191,038 cases since the pandemic began. In early January, the seven-day average was 17,991. It was 6,085 on Thursday. South Florida counties reported 2,428 new cases Thursday. July 2020 was the worst month for cases in South Florida. Public health experts say the virus is considered under control when the COVID-19 test positivity rate is under 5%. But since Oct. 29, Florida has exceeded 5% in its positivity rate.

COVID-19 in Florida: ‘We have a small window’ to get coronavirus under control” via Cindy Krischer Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Demand for COVID-19 vaccinations is slipping in Florida, just as public health officials are noticing a worrisome trend: hospitalizations and case numbers are ticking up while a variant is spreading rapidly. The concern: Florida is missing its window to shut down the virus. Softening demand for vaccinations in Florida leaves vials unused at vaccination sites while less than half of all eligible Floridians have had one dose. Even though every American adult is now eligible for the shots, health experts estimate that the U. S. will reach a tipping point on vaccine enthusiasm in the next two to four weeks.

Vaccine demand is dropping in Florida, and the window is closing to get COVID-19 under control.

To beat coronavirus, herd immunity is the goal. Can Florida get there?” via Allison Ross and Megan Reeves of the Tampa Bay Times — The rollout of coronavirus vaccines in Florida was heralded as a light at the end of the tunnel for a pandemic that has upended normalcy and killed 35,000 people in the Sunshine State alone. Now comes the question of just how long the tunnel is. Across Tampa Bay, officials see slowdowns in the number of people lining up for doses. One site in Plant City averaged 200 to 300 shots a day during the first full week of April, though managers there had planned for a daily average of 1,000. “We have a lot of vaccines out there all over the place, but people aren’t getting it,” said Kevin Watler, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County. 

The ‘heretical’ claims about wearing masks in Florida schools” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — Richard Corcoran wrote to local school superintendents April 14 complaining that mandatory mask policies “inhibit peer-to-peer learning” and suggesting they may actually dissuade some students “who would otherwise choose in-person instruction” from returning to the classroom. He said a review of “all districts relevant health data” and other information shows that “face-covering policies do not impact the spread of the virus.” Corcoran called masks “a personal decision” for individuals and families, and said mandatory policies in the schools “serve no remaining good at this point.”

— CORONA LOCAL —

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.

Miami-Dade, Broward partner up to combat vaccine inequities in Black and Brown communities” via Devoun Cetoute of the Miami Herald — Black and Hispanic communities aren’t strangers to being marginalized in South Florida, and the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated that cultural stigma. A majority of Black residents have yet to receive any dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, even while Miami-Dade County recently surpassed 1 million partially or fully vaccinated residents and Broward County is close behind at more than 750,000 inoculations. Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and Broward Mayor Steve Geller now have metaphorically eradicated county lines, along with several commissioners and community members, to resolve this issue.

Okaloosa County residents less likely than most of U.S. to seek COVID-19 vaccine” via Tom McLaughlin of the Northwest Florida Daily News — Okaloosa County trails the bulk of the nation in the percentage of people vaccinated for COVID-19 in almost every age category, and Health Department Director Dr. Karen Chapman expressed worries this week about the number of local men receiving shots. “I remain concerned that men are much less likely to come out for the vaccine than women. For age 16 years and older, males (29.5%) lag females (39.5%) for getting any vaccine dose,” Chapman said in her most recent memorandum to county officials. “The gap has widened to a 10% difference in uptake of vaccine by gender alone.” 

Orange County Convention Center vaccine site sees decreased demand” via Matt Fernandez of Spectrum News 13 — When the COVID-19 vaccine became available to all adults on April 5, sites across Florida saw a huge demand. As the end of April approaches, that isn’t the case. Michael Fowler was at the Orange County Convention Center to receive his second dose of the vaccine Thursday. “I am excited, hoping I won’t have any symptoms but looking forward to being fully vaccinated,” Fowler said. Fowler said the line was a lot shorter. “The first time I came, it was about an hour through the line,” he said. “And this was 8 minutes through the line. But I am concerned it’s tapering off. The people who really want to get it now seem to have it is what I felt like when I went through the line just now and saw how much less demand there was today.”

With vaccine demand low, Orange County ponders more local locations” via Ryan Gillespie of the Orlando Sentinel — Health officials have more vaccines available than appointments booked at the Orange County Convention Center, a signal that it may be time to alter local strategies to bring shots closer to people, a health official said Thursday. The county, which opened appointments last Friday for this week, still has open appointments for Friday and Saturday, when in weeks prior, all appointments were scooped up in minutes. Dr. Raul Pino, the local state health officer, said the county hasn’t opened up appointments for next week yet, as it’s considering taking its clinic on the road to get within walking distance of people who either can’t, or don’t want to, travel to the convention center.

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 test results for the coronavirus in Hillsborough County 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 increase of approximately 500 cases is 60% higher than four weeks ago.

Virus fatigue is helping push infections in Hillsborough County.

St. Petersburg businesses fighting city over mask fines” via Christine McLarty of WFLA — The city of St. Petersburg wants to punish businesses that officials said repeatedly ignored COVID-19 safety guidelines. But a lawyer for one of those businesses said the city doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on. The owner of Jack’s London Grill said the community has shown amazing support through the pandemic, buying gift cards, and getting to-go orders. But now, they’re one of many businesses feeling attacked by the city. “Instead of putting their forces into explaining, they seem they just sent people out to penalize,” said Peter Leonavicius, owner of Jacks London Grill. Leonavicius said with masks, social distancing, and sanitizing, they have and continue to take precautions against COVID-19 extremely seriously. Leonavicius claims he was surprised to be one of about a dozen businesses facing fines from the city.

— CORONA NATION —

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 its eligible population with at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. We recently crossed another important threshold: More than 40% 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% of the population had gotten sick.

The pandemic was bad, but it could have been worse. Image via Reuters.

Michigan’s spring COVID-19 surge is close to previous pandemic high” via Talal Ansari of The Wall Street Journal — Michigan’s latest rise in new COVID-19 cases rivals highs reached during the prolonged fall surge. The state’s seven-day case average of newly reported cases remained above 7,000 for nearly two weeks before falling slightly to 6,891 on Tuesday. At the end of November, when Michigan was at the center of a fresh rise in infections that would eventually encompass the entire nation, the state averaged more than 7,000 cases a day for 10 days. Cases then dropped before briefly peaking again in early December and then fell for the next two months, to the low 1,000s. Since then, cases have been on the rise and remained near previous highs.

California’s coronavirus case rate now the lowest in the continental U.S.” via Luke Money of the Los Angeles Times — California’s coronavirus case rate is now the lowest in the continental U.S., an achievement that reflects months of hard-won progress against the pandemic in the aftermath of the state’s devastating fall and winter surge. The state’s latest seven-day rate of new cases, 40.3 per 100,000 people, is dramatically lower than the nationwide rate of 135.3 and edged only by Hawaii, 39.1, over the same time period. At the other end of the spectrum is Michigan, which has far and away the highest seven-day case rate in the nation, at 483 per 100,000 people. Others topping that distressing leader board are New Jersey, 269.7; Delaware, 264.1; Pennsylvania, 248.5; and Minnesota, 238.4.

Shot — “Health officials lean toward resuming Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine” via Laurie McGinley and Lena H. Sun of The Washington Post — Federal health authorities are leaning toward recommending that use of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine resume, possibly as soon as this weekend, a move that would include a new warning about a rare complication involving blood clots but probably not call for age restrictions. The position would be similar to one taken by Europe’s drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency, which said this week the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should carry a warning but placed no restrictions on its use. The European agency said the shot’s benefits continue to outweigh the risks.

Chaser — “Biden officials lose faith in Johnson & Johnson after repeated vaccine stumbles” via Erin Banco, Adam Cancryn and Sarah Owermohle of POLITICO — The Biden administration has stood by Johnson & Johnson as the vaccine maker struggled to deliver promised doses of its COVID-19 vaccine — but privately, frustrated senior health officials have largely written off the shot, according to seven people with knowledge of the matter. Johnson & Johnson, which has a long history of successful vaccine development, was one of the government’s first and biggest bets in the coronavirus vaccine race. But the company has faced an unrelenting series of setbacks, including production problems at its vaccine plant in the Netherlands, a contractor mix-up that ruined 15 million doses and revealed serious safety and hygiene lapses, and concerns that the vaccine may be linked to recent reports of rare, severe blood clots.

U.S. sees unprecedented drop in vaccinations over past week” via The Washington Post — Daily coronavirus vaccinations have slowed significantly for the first time since February, a sign that demand is slipping even though every American adult is now eligible for the shots. About 3 million Americans are getting vaccinated daily, an 11% decrease in the seven-day average of daily shots administered over the past week. The unprecedented drop is rivaled only by a brief falloff that occurred in February when winter storms forced the closure of vaccination sites and delayed shipments nationwide. The downturn hits as half all eligible Americans have received at least one vaccine dose.

Bidenworld fears many vaccine skeptics may be unreachable. They’re trying anyway.” via Eugene Daniels of POLITICO — The Biden administration is launching a renewed, more nuanced push to tackle a resistance problem of its own; it has more COVID-19 vaccines than people willing or able to take them. In recent days, officials have leveraged community groups, attempted to lower financial hurdles, and utilized top health care officials all in the service of one objective: convincing reluctant folks to get the jab. The effort comes as local leaders ask for more help from the administration and as questions mount about whether federal regulators have been too cautious in their approach to vaccine safety.

Vaccine skeptics are a tough nut to crack. Joe Biden is still going to try.

Many older teens only have access to one vaccine: The hardest one to roll out in rural America” via Katheryn Houghton of Kaiser Health News — As states expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to allow shots for 16- and 17-year-olds, teens in rural America may have trouble getting them. Of the three vaccines authorized in the U.S., currently only one can go to that age group: the Pfizer-BioNTech shot. That vaccine comes in 1,170-dose packages at a minimum and expires after five days in a fridge, meaning too many doses on too tight a deadline for many rural communities to manage. “We’re still trying to get people to accept the vaccine,” said Aurelia Jones-Taylor, CEO of Aaron E. Henry Community Health Services Center. “If we have to race to give out 1,100 doses in five days, that’s untenable.”

About a third of service members have taken the COVID-19 vaccine” via Meghann Myers of the Military Times — The vast majority of those doses have gone to service members in phase 1, including those working in clinics and hospitals, as first responders, deploying to or redeploying from overseas and those with preexisting conditions. As of April 19, along with the rest of the United States, all DoD personnel and beneficiaries are eligible to receive a vaccine. “We are encouraging everyone to get vaccinated because these vaccines are effective and safe and are a critical part of us getting back to normal,” Dr. Terry Adirim, the acting defense secretary for health affairs, told reporters Wednesday. As of Tuesday, 459,921 troops are fully vaccinated, and an additional 280,667 have received the first dose. They represent 28% of 2,603,081 doses DoD has administered, out of 3,226,290 delivered to 350 sites worldwide.

Patients with long COVID-19 face lingering worrisome health risks, study finds” via Pam Belluck of The New York Times — The health effects of COVID-19 not only can stretch for months but appear to increase the risk of death and chronic medical conditions, even in people who were never sick enough to be hospitalized, a large new study finds. In the study, researchers looked at the medical records of more than 73,000 people across the United States whose coronavirus infections did not require hospitalization. Between one and six months after becoming infected, those patients had a significantly greater risk of death, 60% higher, than people who had not been infected with the virus.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

U.S. jobless claims fall to 547,000, another pandemic low” via The Associated Press — The number of Americans applying for unemployment aid fell last week to 547,000, the lowest point since the pandemic struck and an encouraging sign that layoffs are slowing on the strength of an improving job market. The Labor Department said that applications declined 39,000 from a revised 586,000 a week earlier. Weekly jobless claims are down sharply from a peak of 900,000 in early January. At the same time, they’re still far above the roughly 230,000 level that prevailed before the viral outbreak ripped through the economy in March of last year. About 17.4 million people were continuing to collect unemployment benefits in the week that ended April 3, up from 16.9 million in the previous week.

Jobs seem to be coming back. Image via AP.

More than 16,000 jobless claims filed last week” via The News Service of Florida — The state has averaged more than 18,000 weekly claims since early February. The U.S. Department of Labor’s estimate for the week that ended April 17 was down from a revised 24,402 claims the prior week. The revised number for the week that ended April 10 was the highest since the end of January when 69,140 applications came in. Nationally, 547,000 new claims were filed last week, down 39,000 from the prior week.

Burned out by the pandemic, 3 in 10 health care workers consider leaving the profession” via William Wan of The Washington Post — A year into the pandemic, many health care professionals are headed out the door, an exodus fueled by burnout, trauma and disillusionment. Roughly 3 in 10 health care workers have weighed leaving their profession. And about 6 in 10 say stress from the pandemic has harmed their mental health. Nurses, doctors, technicians, and even administrative staff and dental hygienists explained the impulse to quit and the emotional wreckage the pandemic has left in their lives. Many talked about the betrayal and hypocrisy they feel from the public they have sacrificed so much to save; their clapping and hero-worship one day, then refusal to wear masks and take basic precautions the next.

— MORE CORONA —

What do you do when the kids are still unvaccinated?” via David Leonhardt of The New York Times — Many families will soon face a complicated choice about how quickly to resume their pre-pandemic activities. While the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may be authorized for children ages 12 to 15 as early as next month, younger children appear to remain months away from being eligible for any vaccine. Some parents will choose to keep their children largely away from indoor social situations until vaccines are available for them. But other parents will be more willing to resume many parts of normal life before all of their children have been vaccinated. And those parents will be making a decision that is as scientifically grounded as the more cautious approach. Unfortunately, there is no risk-free option available to parents in the coming months.

Pope announces ‘marathon’ month of prayer throughout May to end COVID-19 pandemic” via Rachael Bunyan of The Daily Mail — Pope Francis has announced a ‘marathon’ month of prayer throughout May intending to end the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pope has encouraged Catholics worldwide to dedicate next month to pray for the end of the virus, which has seen more than three million people die. The month will involve 30 Marian shrines, which are dedicated to the Virgin Mary, across the globe which will encourage worshippers to pray, reports the official Vatican News website. The Pope, who has faced criticism over his reluctance to wear a face mask, will open the month of prayer on May 1 with a Holy Rosary online broadcast.

Pope Francis calls for a month of prayer to end the pandemic. Couldn’t hurt. Image via AP.

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine 97.6% effective in real-world study” via Reuters — Russian scientists have found the Sputnik V vaccine 97.6% effective against COVID-19 in a “real-world” assessment based on data from 3.8 million people, Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute and the Russian Direct Investment Fund said on Monday. The new claimed effectiveness rate is higher than the 91.6% rate outlined in results from a large-scale trial of Sputnik V published in The Lancet medical journal earlier this year and compares favorably with data on the effectiveness of other COVID-19 vaccines. The new data was based on 3.8 million Russians who received both a first shot and a booster shot as part of the national rollout of Sputnik V.

No evidence that Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are unsafe during pregnancy, a preliminary study says” via Emily Anthes of The New York Times — In an early analysis of coronavirus vaccine safety data, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found no evidence that the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines pose serious risks during pregnancy. The findings are preliminary and cover just the first 11 weeks of the U.S. vaccination program. But the study, which included self-reported data on more than 35,000 people who received one of the vaccines during or shortly before pregnancy, is the largest yet on the safety of the coronavirus vaccines in pregnant people.

The flu vanished during COVID-19. What will its return look like?” via Keith Collins of The New York Times — There have been fewer influenza cases in the United States this flu season than in any on record. About 2,000 cases have been recorded since late September, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In recent years, the average number of cases over the same period was about 206,000. As measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus were implemented around the country in March 2020, influenza quickly disappeared, and it still has not returned. The latest flu season, which normally would have run until next month, essentially never happened.

Cruise ships are moving out of the U.S. due to CDC restrictions: Will they return?” via Morgan Hines of USA Today — Typically, Americans represent nearly half cruisers on an annual basis, and nearly half cruises worldwide depart from U.S. ports. The CDC’s “conditional sailing order” keeps ships from sailing stateside without a clear timeline for resumption, though the CDC has said that midsummer cruising could be feasible if cruise lines adhere to the agency’s order and meet its requirements. Major cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Virgin Voyages, have announced sailings in other parts of the world, including the Caribbean, the United Kingdom and Israel. Carnival Cruise Line has threatened the same.

Cruises are sailing away from the U.S. But will they ever return?

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 the second half 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.

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 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 underway 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.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

As economy spikes, Republicans are still waiting for the ‘Biden depression’ that Donald Trump predicted” via David J. Lynch of The Washington Post — Throughout last year’s campaign, Trump issued a series of increasingly dark predictions about what would happen if Biden were elected. “If he gets in, you will have a depression the likes of which you’ve never seen. Your 401(k)s will go to hell, and it’ll be a very, very sad day for this country,” Trump said in the Oct. 22 candidate debate. By Trump’s preferred metric — the stock market — Biden is outperforming his predecessor at this stage of his presidency. Through Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up nearly 16% since Nov. 7, when the Democrat was declared the apparent election winner, compared with a 10.5% gain over a similar period following Trump’s election.

Donald Trump said a Joe Biden presidency will lead to economic depression. Not quite. Image via AP.

Biden says he wants unity. He can prove it by supporting Tim Scott on police reform.” via Marc A. Thiessen of The Washington Post — The guilty verdicts in the Chauvin trial give Biden a once-in-a-presidency opportunity to deliver on his promise of unity and bipartisanship. To seize it, he should immediately call Sen. Scott and offer to work with him to pass bipartisan police reform legislation. After the murder of Floyd last spring, Scott wanted to bring Republicans and Democrats together to get something done on police reform. As a Black man who had experienced police discrimination, he did not want to let the moment pass without bipartisan action. Rather than work with Scott, Democratic leaders attacked him.

Biden eyeing tax rate as high as 43.4% in next economic package” via Allyson Wersprille and Laura Davison of Bloomberg — Biden will propose almost doubling the capital gains tax rate for wealthy individuals to 39.6% to help pay for a raft of social spending that addresses long-standing inequality, according to people familiar with the proposal. For those earning $1 million or more, the new top rate, coupled with an existing surtax on investment income, means that federal tax rates for wealthy investors could be as high as 43.4%. The new marginal 39.6% rate would increase from the current base rate of 20%, the people said on the condition of anonymity because the plan is not yet public.

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 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’s top scientist met Jeffrey Epstein twice. It’s now complicating his confirmation.” via Alex Thompson, Theodoric Meyer, and Marianne Levine of POLITICO — Biden’s nomination of Eric Lander to be his top science adviser has been delayed in part because a Democratic Senator was concerned about meetings Lander and his colleagues had with Epstein, the late financier who was charged with sex trafficking in 2019 before his apparent suicide. Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, has wanted more clarity on the extent of Lander’s associations with Epstein. Asked Wednesday about her concerns about Lander and Epstein, Cantwell said: “We’re having a hearing on him next week, and we’ll see what happens with that.”

— EPILOGUE TRUMP — 

Investigation suppressed by Trump administration reveals obstacles to hurricane aid for Puerto Rico” via Tracy Jan and Lisa Rein of The Washington Post — The Trump administration put up bureaucratic obstacles that stalled approximately $20 billion in hurricane relief for Puerto Rico and then obstructed an investigation into the holdup. Congress requested the investigation into the delays to recovery aid for Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 left residents of the U.S. territory without power and clean water for months. But, the report said, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and another former HUD official declined to be interviewed by investigators during the course of the examination that began in 2019. Access to HUD information was delayed or denied on several occasions.

Donald Trump was a bit more active than first thought in blocking hurricane aid to Puerto Rico.

Kevin McCarthy’s strategy to rein in GOP extremists: Don’t” via Sam Brodey of the Daily Beast — When House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer began criticizing Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene during House debate on Tuesday, the QAnon-curious lawmaker quickly sought out a nearby ally on the floor: McCarthy. Instead of ruling with an iron fist, McCarthy has preferred a softer touch. He has kept his party’s most controversial lawmakers in the fold, largely choosing to turn the focus around on Democrats instead of dwelling on the troubling views springing forth from his own ranks. McCarthy has issued condemnations of Greene’s rhetoric and behavior, but he’s also defended her over and over again. Where former top Republicans in the House would have kept their distance from the fringiest elements of the GOP conference, McCarthy has kept them close. Literally.

— CRISIS —

Zoe Lofgren: Capitol Police official being investigated for directions to pursue only ‘anti-Trump’ protesters Jan. 6” via Kyle Cheney of POLITICO — A Capitol Police official radioed units outside of the building on the morning of Jan. 6 and told them only to scout for anti-Trump troublemakers, not pro-Trump protesters, according to Rep. Lofgren, who described what she said were details of an internal investigation conducted in the aftermath of the mob attack. Lofgren revealed the finding while she questioned Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton, who appeared before the House Administration Committee Wednesday to testify about security failures that precipitated the Jan. 6 attack. Lofgren, who chairs the panel, described the findings as she asked him whether he had read the internal investigation reports.

Were Capitol Police ordered to only go after anti-Trumpers? Zoe Lofgren thinks so. Image via AP.

Rick Scott vows ‘day of reckoning’ against corporations, urges them to lobby up” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — U.S. Sen. Scott continued to get traction for his hits on “woke” corporations, with a showcase A-Block spot on Fox News Primetime Thursday. Cued up with a sympathetic intro from host Ben Domenech, the first-term Senator railed against corporate cave-ins to the left and not so implicit threats for revenge on corporations, vowing a “day of reckoning” for private sector companies that boycott states like Georgia in the wake of voting law changes earlier this year. The Senator said, “there’s a backlash coming up against these CEOs.” He predicted tough sledding for corporations once Republicans take over Washington. “They’re going to have to hire a lot more lobbyists than what they’ve got now,” Scott quipped.

— D.C. MATTERS —

For Florida Woman Shannon Estenoz, just appointed to U.S. Dept. of Interior job: Here’s a to-do list” via Craig Pittman of the Florida Phoenix — First of all, congratulations! As a fellow Florida native — albeit one from the Panhandle, not from the Keys — I am always happy to see a Floridian get the opportunity to influence the course of history. Of course, such an opportunity comes with certain risks. We saw this with Katherine Harris’ blundering in overseeing the 2000 election recount, and with the crew from Miami became the bungling Watergate burglars. That’s naming just a couple of times when Florida’s contribution to the nation’s destiny was to play the fool. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that you can avoid those missteps and maybe even achieve something great.

Kathy Castor says Tallahassee is holding up federal aid money for schools” via Kerry Sheridan of WUSF — Florida is getting more than $7 billion for K-12 schools as part of a massive aid package called the American Rescue Plan, which President Joe Biden signed in March. But Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor said in an online town hall the state hasn’t released the money to any Florida school districts. “They’ve (been) slow walking it to an extent that I had to write a letter to the Governor to say release our funds. We need them in Hillsborough County,” Castor said.

Roger Stone spent weeks publicly defending Matt Gaetz after being paid by his campaign” via Matt Gertz of Media Matters — Since cashing a check from the reelection campaign of Rep. Gaetz in March, Stone has furiously defended the congressman amid a firestorm surrounding a federal investigation into his activities. On his social media accounts and in an interview with Infowars’ Alex Jones, Stone attacked the story as a conspiracy between the media and the “deep state” intended to derail a future Gaetz run for president. The Daily Beast reported that federal campaign finance disclosures reveal Gaetz’s campaign paid Stone’s Drake Ventures $5,000 for “strategic political consulting” fees on March 24. It was the first time the campaign had ever made a payment to the firm. Six days later, The New York Times reported that Gaetz has been under federal investigation for alleged sex trafficking.

Thick as thieves.

Gaetz’s complaints about Iran hostage scheme will not distract FBI probe” via Mark Hosenball of Yahoo! News — A federal investigation into whether Gaetz trafficked a minor for sex will not be derailed by his assertion that a veteran asked his father for money to pay for the release of an American held by Iran, a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation said. Investigators believe the purported scheme to free Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007, lacked credibility, the source said. Another U.S. official familiar with the case noted that Levinson’s family in March 2020 publicly accepted U.S. government assessments that he died in Iranian custody.

Gaetz pleads for money, and you can guess how people are responding” via Ed Mazza of the Huffington Post — Gaetz is pleading for money from his supporters as he launches a media attack on CNN amid reports he’s under investigation in connection with a sex scandal. Gaetz denies the allegations, but investigators are reportedly examining evidence to see whether he and an associate paid for sex, including with a person who was 17 years old at the time. According to reports, that evidence is said to include receipts from online payments made via Venmo, Apple Pay and Cash App. Gaetz tweeted his ad, in which he basically takes some of the text from a right-wing meme about Trump and makes it about himself instead

— LOCAL NOTES —

State threatens ‘emergency action’ on Hillsborough school finances” via Marlene Sokol and Jeffrey S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — Weeks after the Hillsborough County School District cut more than 1,000 jobs from its workforce, the Florida Department of Education is warning it might place the system in financial receivership. Under that scenario, the state would assume control of finances in the nation’s seventh-largest school district. “Make no mistake about it,” Commissioner of Education Corcoran wrote in a letter Thursday to the School Board and superintendent Addison Davis. State law requires districts to maintain a reserve that is equivalent to 2% of anticipated revenues. District leaders have warned for months that, absent deep cuts in spending or a new source of revenue, they would run out of money in June.

Addison Davis has been warned, Hillsborough schools may be in deep financial trouble.

—“Is the Hillsborough school board about to make its financial crisis worse?” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board

Hillsborough OKs water rate increases through 2025” via C.T. Bowen of the Tampa Bay Times — The price of a gallon of tap water is going up in Hillsborough County. And it will keep going up for each of the next four years. Annual 4% rate increases are intended to improve and expand the county’s water utility system. Hillsborough Commissioners approved the four-year rate increases by a 5-1 vote Wednesday. Commissioner Ken Hagan, who didn’t say anything during the debate, dissented and Commissioner Stacy White didn’t vote. A customer using 6,000 gallons of water monthly currently pays $85.04. That will increase to $89.14 on Oct. 1 and go up annually each of the following three years. On Oct. 1, 2024, that same usage will cost nearly $20 more than it does now at $103.51.

Lenny Curry files bills for gas tax increase, septic tank removal” via Mike Mendenhall of the Jacksonville Daily Record — Curry filed legislation with City Council to partner with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority to extend and double Duval County’s local option gas tax to pay for nearly $1 billion in infrastructure projects. During a Council workshop on April 21, President Tommy Hazouri said he and the Curry administration will file a bill concurrently that would use money freed by added gas tax revenue to spend about $100 million over two years to remove aging septic tanks and connect underserved neighborhoods to city sewers. JTA would spend nearly $372 million in gas tax money to fund its $415.96 million Downtown Skyway conversion and extension using automated vehicles. That plan has met with public and Council criticism.

Dude’s having a tough week — 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.

Timeline: How a grand jury indicted school chief Robert Runcie and other leaders” via Marc Freeman and Scott Travis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The surprise arrests of Broward schools chief Runcie and lead attorney Barbara Myrick this week can be traced to the fallout from the Feb. 14, 2018, Parkland school shooting. One year after the massacre, DeSantis called for a statewide grand jury to review safety and corruption issues in Broward and other school districts. A final report is expected soon. The superintendent is accused of making a still-unspecified false statement to these grand jurors three weeks ago. According to an indictment, the general counsel disclosed unspecified information from the grand jury proceedings sometime between March 31 and April 14.

No swift firing likely for Superintendent Runcie and attorney Barbara Myrick” via Scott Travis and Rafael Olmeda of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The arrests of Broward County’s school superintendent and the district’s chief lawyer may not be enough to get them fired, at least not without a big payout. A majority of the School Board could fire Superintendent Runcie and Chief Counsel Myrick under their contracts. But if board members want to avoid paying hefty severance packages, they’d have to fire them for good cause, which would require more than an arrest.

Despite his arrest, Robert Runcie will be tough to fire. Image via AP.

A red wave followed George Floyd protests in Miami. But activists want to revive the movement” via Bianca Padró Ocasio of the Miami Herald — Hours after a Minnesota jury convicted police officer Chauvin in the murder of Floyd, a group of Miami organizers and activists who advocate against police brutality and anti-Blackness gathered at their monthly general meeting, where they’d planned to discuss Florida’s new “anti-riot” legislation. But once the verdict came down, local organizers with the Dream Defenders turned their attention to the historic decision, saying that Chauvin’s conviction is reason to double down on the movement to shift resources away from police departments and pressure politicians who stand in their way.

Hialeah motorcycle cops charged with issuing bogus tickets to drivers they never pulled over” via David Ovalle of the Miami Herald — Prosecutors charged Ernesto Arias-Martinez and Armando Perez with multiple felony counts of official misconduct and falsifying public records. They were being jailed early Wednesday and are expected to post bond later in the day. Perez had been with Hialeah for five years; Arias-Martinez, for less than four. The scheme began to unravel thanks in part to a defense law firm chasing business. The office asked the motorist, Reicel Sosa Polo, if he needed legal help with the 10 traffic tickets that could wreck his driving record. Sosa was stunned because he’d never gotten pulled over.

Miami Beach selects Alina Tejeda Hudak as next city manager; first woman to run city” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — The Miami Beach City Commission voted Wednesday unanimously to select Hudak as the city’s top administrator. Hudak is the first woman appointed city manager in Miami Beach. Hudak, a former county deputy mayor who joined Miami Beach last year as an assistant city manager, will begin her new job as city manager immediately. By Wednesday afternoon, she had already started posting tweets from the city manager’s Twitter page, and the city’s website has been updated to reflect her appointment as the head of City Hall. Hudak came out of retirement to work for the city after a 35-year career in Miami-Dade County government, where in 2011, she also became the first woman to serve as County Manager.

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 to get enough votes to pass the restrictions.

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.

New autism center in Cape Coral is first for Southwest Florida” via Craig Handle for the Fort Myers News-Press — The 3,900-square-foot support center, officially named the Family Initiative Lizbeth Benacquisto Autism Support Center after the former Florida Senate member, is Southwest Florida’s first facility dedicated to championing individuals with the Autism Spectrum Disorder as well as their families. Joining Family Initiative vice president Anjali Van Drie, Family Initiative president David Brown and Benacquisto, were Cape Coral officials and more than 200 community members. The global pandemic delayed construction by about six months. “It feels amazing to have this finished,” Brown said. “This has been a particularly challenging time for our families. To have a space open for families is phenomenal.

A new Southwest Florida autism center bears the name of Lizbeth Benacquisto.

City of Tallahassee to resume utility disconnects for newly delinquent bills” via Karl Etters of the Tallahassee Democrat — City officials plan to resume disconnecting utility accounts that have gone past due since February. At the same time, they continue to reach out to customers who faced economic hardships during the past year and were offered leeway in making payments. Of the roughly 9,000 customers whose accounts were delinquent while the city paused utility disconnects last year in response to the coronavirus pandemic, more than 5,000 have made payments. Another 3,500 have made applications to access Leon County CARES Act funding to help pay 12 months back due bills and three months in advance, said James Barnes, chief customer officer with the city of Tallahassee.

Dana White welcomes full crowd for UFC 261 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena ” via Clayton Freeman of The Florida Times-Union — UFC President White stepped to the podium, saw the fans in the front, and knew more were to come. For White, that sight represented one big step toward mission accomplished. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” he said. Jacksonville rolled out the red carpet for the fight world Thursday, welcoming fighters, organizers, and fans into VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena for a news conference ahead of Saturday night’s UFC 261 pay-per-view feature, the nation’s first major indoor sporting event with a full crowd since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Come Saturday night, the arena is expected to open to a full-capacity 15,000 for a pay-per-view slugfest on the multibillion-dollar global mixed martial arts circuit.

Benjamin Crump to visit Viera, calls for Justice Department investigation into ‘justifiable’ shootings” via J.D. Gallop of Florida Today — Civil rights attorney Crump said he’ll be visiting Brevard on Friday for a news conference aimed at asking the U.S. Justice Department to review the deputy-involved shootings of two Cocoa teens. “It’s very significant because I have a lot of family in Brevard County,” Crump told FLORIDA TODAY. “It’s coming back to your base to fight a battle we’re fighting all over the country, in different states.” Crump and his counselor Steven Hart, along with attorney Natalie Jackson, represent the families of the Cocoa teens. The news conference, expected to draw a consortium of civil rights leaders, family members of the slain teens, elected officials and others, will take place at 10 a.m. at the Moore Justice Center in Viera.

Okaloosa County eyes major public safety communications system upgrades” via Tony Judnich of the Northwest Florida Daily News — By mid-to-late 2023, first responders from dozens of local, state and federal agencies should be able to start using a single Okaloosa County-wide emergency public safety radio communications system that’s expected to be a vast improvement over the four different and faulty systems now in place. The County Commission unanimously approved spending more than $27 million for the project. The bulk of the funding will be $19.65 million in borrowed money, which the county plans to pay off in seven years with local option half-cent sales tax funds.

— TOP OPINION —

A never-Trump Republican comes to grips with his new democratic allies” via Mac Stipanovich for the Tampa Bay Times — I fancy myself a wild goose, together with my unyielding and unrepentant Never Trump brothers and sisters who were formerly stalwarts in the Republican Party, all of us self-exiled from the Trump GOP and fighting at the side of people we do not know and for whom we often do not particularly care. These are the vicissitudes of Never Trump exile. But as long as the likes of DeSantis, Ashley Moody, Scott and Rubio endure and Trumpism remains an existential threat to American representative democracy, then we, too, must endure. Having come so far after leaving so much behind, there is nothing for it but to fight to the finish.

— OPINIONS —

How pandemics wreak havoc — and open minds” via Lawrence Wright of The New Yorker — The consequences of wars and economic depressions have been amply studied; the consequences of pandemics, less so. This spring, in order to understand our possible future, I decided to look at the past through the eyes of Gianna Pomata, a retired professor at the Institute of the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. When we first talked on Skype, she immediately compared COVID-19 to the bubonic plague that struck Europe in the fourteenth century — “not in the number of dead but in terms of shaking up the way people think.” She went on, “The Black Death really marks the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of something else.” That something else was the Renaissance.

Democrats feign surprise, outrage at DeSantis being DeSantis” via Bill Cottrell of the Tallahassee Democrat — DeSantis signed two of the 2021 legislative session’s most important pieces of legislation this week, and Florida Democrats quickly capitalized on the political implications of both acts. First, he went to Polk County to sign his new “combating Public Disorder” law, the infamous House Bill 1 that Democrats and various civil libertarians call an unconstitutional abridgment of First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. It was informally dubbed the “anti-riot” act because DeSantis proposed it following the summer of violent disturbances, and he said it would give local authorities in Florida the tools needed to prevent what we saw in Portland, Seattle and some other cities.

The Florida Legislature actually did something right” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — Amid so much that’s wrong with this year’s session of the Florida Legislature, three particular bills are relief from its far-right radicalism and urgently deserve the public’s attention and strong support. Senate Bill 100 would repeal the worst of the toll road boondoggle that was the Legislature’s going-away gift to then-Senate President Bill Galvano two years ago. House Bill 7051 is a late-arriving response to the public’s righteous demand for police training and practice reforms. Senate Bill 1156, by Sen. Brandes, would prohibit the execution of murderers who are seriously mentally ill when they committed their crimes, substituting life in prison without parole.

Florida 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 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, anti-democratic 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.

Bob Hunter, Bill Newton: Act now! There’s still time to stop bad property bills ramrodded through Session” via Florida Politics — Call your legislators immediately and tell them not to give in to the insurance companies just as our economy is coming back. Tell them you oppose Senate Bill 76 and House Bill 305. These bills would increase Citizens’ rates and forbid them from ever lowering rates. It is designed to allow private insurers to raise rates to much higher levels than they’ve currently proposed. These bills also include a huge gift of depreciating your roof if it is damaged. That’s right. It’s sneaky. Although you need 100% of your roof 100% of the time, our Legislators think they can let your insurance company replace only a percentage of your roof based on age. You pay the rest.

Finally reclaiming the Florida Everglades is within reach” via The Palm Beach Post editorial board — Last month, every single Florida member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Republican and Democrat, wrote to Biden urging him to seek “robust funding” for the sporadically stalled environmental repair project that aims to redirect the flow of water south, as the Everglades used to do naturally. In other words, even politicians who normally recoil at large, activist government projects are enthusiasts for correcting the 20th-century canal-building and swamp-draining that, while opening South Florida to agriculture, houses, malls and golf courses, have meant ecological disaster for the once-healthy “River of Grass.”

Help local Tallahassee businesses lead the post-COVID-19 recovery” via Sally Bradshaw for the Tallahassee Democrat — Five years ago, I took a foolish risk. After three decades in the trenches running political campaigns, I was ready to walk away from the endless partisan trolling and build something of value in Tallahassee. Today, Midtown Reader is proud to support over 16,000 customers with a carefully curated inventory of books and author events that add a rich new dimension to Tallahassee’s cultural scene. We’ve thrived despite COVID-19 thanks to local support and by quickly pivoting to an expanded online presence that allows customers to search over 9 million titles through our website. We added home delivery and private browsing by appointment. We can deliver the most popular titles to your home in hours, not days, and in so doing, we’ve taken the fight directly to Amazon.   

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

A bill to strengthen Florida’s Right to Farm law heads for the Governor’s desk after final passage in the House. The debate had its moments.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— Everyone loves their local farmers, but critics say this bill also protects Florida’s sugar farmers from legal fallout over the burning of cane fields in South Florida.

— A revamp of the state’s election law hits the Senate floor, its final stop. Among other things, it bands people from handing out treats and drinks at polling places if they have any campaign stickers — but you can always BYOB.

— The Florida Supreme Court says an amendment to legalize recreational marijuana cannot go on the ballot because it misleads the voters. Glenn Burhans discusses that decision.

— The House approves a bill that would make it easier to exclude the only Democrat elected to the state cabinet.

— Don’t look now, but Otter Cat has resurfaced in the Senate.

— And finally, a Florida couple invited their friends to a lavish wedding at what they thought was a vacant mansion. It was not.

To listen, click on the image below:

— WEEKEND TV —

Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede on CBS 4 in Miami: The Sunday show provides viewers with an in-depth look at politics in South Florida, along with other issues affecting the region.

Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Moderator Rob Lorei hosts a roundtable featuring 13th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Andrew Warren; Deborah Tamargo, president of the Florida Federation of Republican Women; South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist-reporter Steve Bousquet; and Rick Edmond, media business analyst, leader of News Transformation for the Poynter Institute.

In Focus with Allison Walker on Bay News 9/CF 13: A discussion on the prevention of maternal mortality, especially among women of color. Joining Walker are Reps. Kamia Brown and Vance Aloupis; Jennie Joseph, CEO of Commonsense Childbirth in Orlando; and Dr. Haywood Brown, USF Health OBGYN, Maternal and Fetal Medicine.

Political Connections Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: An overview of what’s left for the Legislative Session, including the state budget; a look at how Florida Democrats are preparing to fight the newly passed “anti-riot” bill; and a look at Biden and the Climate Change Summit.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo will discuss Biden’s infrastructure plan; and one-on-one with Sen. Scott about legislation designed to revive the cruise ship industry.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Host Gary Yordon talks with Dr. Ed Moore.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Ben Frazier, president of the Northside Coalition; Steve Zona, Fraternal Order of Police 5-30 president, Jacksonville; Jacksonville Transit Authority CEO Nat Ford; former Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney; and Rick Mullaney, founder and director of the Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute.

This Week in South Florida on WPLG-Local10 News (ABC): U.S. Rep. Carlos Giménez; Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz; and Broward County School Board Member Debra Hixon.

— ALOE —

Palm Beach County Food Bank celebrates new $1.6M donation from Steve and Christine Schwarzman” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The Palm Beach County Food Bank is on its way to expanding a program offering free food over the weekend for elementary school students in need. Jim Greco, vice-chair of the food bank, thanked philanthropists Steve and Christine Schwarzman Thursday for a $1.6 million seed donation aimed at helping court additional donors to help make that program permanent. “The ‘Food 4 Kids’ program is designed to help children who receive free school meals by providing them with food to bring home for the weekend,” Greco explained. Steve Schwarzman serves as chairman and CEO of The Blackstone Group, a private equity firm.

Palm Beach County Food Bank gets a $1.6M boost, to make permanent a program to feed elementary school children. Image via Facebook.

Miami women surprise homeless teen with magical quinceanera” via Kelli Kennedy of The Associated Press — Entering her magical quinceanera on by her father’s arm, her tiara sparkling and her fuchsia ballgown trimmed with ruffles to perfectly match her cake, Adriana Palma scanned the crowd for familiar faces. Most of the guests were strangers. Without them, this Parisian pink fairy tale of a 15th birthday party would never have come to life. Alone and impoverished, she and her family spent four months living in their SUV. But now, she danced with her father, swaying under the palm trees to Ed Sheeran’s “Photograph” as many of her new godmothers wept with joy. As the party was about to end, Adriana tucked handwritten notes into each hand; in her halting English, she thanked her godmothers for the magical memories.

Disney adapts program to bring art and animals to children’s hospitals” via Kathleen Christiansen of the Orlando Sentinel — Walt Disney World has adapted a long-standing children’s hospital program to virtually bring the theme parks’ animals and Animal Kingdom’s Animation Experience to children at AdventHealth for Children, Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Nemours Children’s Hospital. Previously, the program consisted of monthly visits in which Disney cast members brought handheld animals, including rabbits, hedgehogs, birds and lizards, and medical equipment to the hospitals to teach and entertain young patients. “We were able to talk about the animals and, most importantly, talk about how we care for the animals from a medical perspective,” said Scott Terrell, director of animal and science operations for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts. 

Who let the dogs out? Therapy pets return to Moffitt Cancer Center” via Erin Murray of Bay News 9 — The miracles of modern medicine come in all forms and sometimes on all fours. After a year away because of COVID-19 restrictions, Pet Therapy is back and helping everyone smile at Moffitt Cancer Center. “I come every other day for whether it’s a blood transfusion or just to get my labs, and then chemo treatments as well,” said Donna Rossi, patient. “But I have never had such a great day here; this is wonderful.” Rossi is battling acute myeloid leukemia. Fighting cancer is not easy, but when a pack of pups is on your side, it helps make patients feel stronger.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to our man, Drew Wilson, Sen. Randolph Bracy, Katie Crofoot of Strategic Digital Services, Laura Lenhart of Frontier Communications, and Kenneth Pratt of the Florida Bankers Association.

___

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, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Jesse Scheckner, Scott Powers, Andrew Wilson, and Kelly Hayes.

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