Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 5.3.21

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Ready for post-Session? Here's your AM rundown of people, politics and policy in the Sunshine State.

Good Monday morning.

Judging by today’s edition of Sunburn, the Special Session PR blitz has begun.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida is out with a new 60-second ad, aiming to rally support for a new gaming Compact with the state. The ad drops around two weeks before a Special Legislative Session will convene to finalize that agreement.

The new minute long-spot, titled “The Seminole Story,” highlights existing economic benefits from the current gaming structure and argues the new compact will expand those benefits.

“Amid a storm of challenge and loss, this Florida story gave rise to hope and our spirit to persevere,” the ad’s narrator begins.

“The Seminole Tribe of Florida and Hard Rock. One — a global icon for hospitality and entertainment. The other — ‘unconquered’ resilience — surviving extinction and poverty, only to create tens of thousands of jobs, billions in economic impact, and billions more for vital government services. But quietly, without fanfare, the Seminoles and Hard Rock came through big for others: fighting hunger and disease, natural disasters, all to help and serve others. Today the Seminoles, Hard Rock, and the people of Florida are prepared to do something even bigger, for the future they share and the state they love.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis has estimated that the 75-page agreement would help raise $2.5 billion in new revenue over the next five years and $6 billion through 2030. The arrangement would run for the next 30 years.

Under the deal, sports betting would be allowed on Seminole properties, including digitally through the Hard Rock Digital app. Craps and roulette options would also be available on Seminole properties.

Legal questions are surrounding the proposal. State officials, however, believe the compact fits within existing legal structures and are set to move forward with a Special Session on the compact beginning May 17.

To watch the new ad, click on the image below.

 — SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@Jonfavs: 1. Every media outlet should follow the lead of @WITF and refuse to book election deniers 2. Good for @jaketapper and @DanaBashCNN for being the only Sunday show that refuses to book election deniers. @CNNSotu is always a step above its competitors.

@JoJoFromJerz: If you’re willing to believe that President (Joe) Biden is trying to cancel your meat but not willing to believe that he was the legitimate winner of the 2020 Presidential election … you’re an idiot.

@SolNataMD: A year ago, I went to NYC to help out in a COVID unit as our local COVID numbers went down at the time. If the political message was right back then, probably I wouldn’t be admitting new COVID patients to ICU now. This really angers me. Wear a mask & get a vaccine.

Tweet, tweet:

@FloridaState: Thank you @WiltonSimpson and @ChrisSprowls for the incredible support during the Legislative Session! @FSUResearch benefiting all Floridians will happen in the Interdisciplinary Research and Commercialization Building and students will learn in a cutting-edge @FSUBiz Building!

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

@JosephBHarding: Florida has an infrastructure crisis in the heart of the state. Complicated problems sometimes require simple answers. Alternative routes needed, I know, I live this.

Tweet, tweet:

— DAYS UNTIL —

Mother’s Day — 6; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 7; Gambling Compact Special Session begins — 14; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 25; ‘Tax Freedom Holiday’ begins — 25; Memorial Day — 28; Florida TaxWatch Spring Meeting and PLA Awards — 31; ‘Loki’ premieres on Disney+ — 39; Father’s Day — 48; F9 premieres in the U.S. — 53; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 60; 4th of July — 62; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 67; MLB All-Star Game — 71; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 81; second season of ‘Ted Lasso’ premieres on Apple+ — 81; The NBA Draft — 87; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 89; ‘The Suicide Squad’ premieres — 95; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 113; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 123; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 144; ‘Dune’ premieres — 151; MLB regular season ends — 153; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 159; World Series Game 1 — 176; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 183; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 186; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 186; San Diego Comic-Con begins — 207; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 221; Super Bowl LVI — 286; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 326; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 368; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 431; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 522; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 557.

— TOP STORY —

Lawmakers pass $101.5B budget, adjourn Session where Ron DeSantis got a lot of what he sought” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida lawmakers passed a $101.5 billion budget laden with federal COVID-19 relief cash. They ended the 60-day Legislative Session Friday after sealing several political wins for Gov. DeSantis by passing nearly all of his agenda. They also passed a tax-cut bill, HB 7061, that includes a 10-day sales tax holiday for back-to-school items starting July 31 and a 10-day sales tax holiday on hurricane preparedness items starting May 28. New this year is a “freedom week” sales tax holiday July 1-7 on tickets to live music, sports, or theater events, entry to a museum or state park or festival.

On-time and on budget.: Lawmakers gave Ron DeSantis nearly everything he asked for in the 2021-2022 budget.

‘Ron’s regime’: Florida Republicans give DeSantis what he wants” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO — Florida’s Republican-led Legislature is handing Gov. DeSantis a series of culture war victories that are leaving Democrats increasingly worried he might be unstoppable heading into a 2022 reelection and possible presidential run. The Legislature … passed “anti-riot” legislation that DeSantis called for in the aftermath of last summer’s nationwide racial justice demonstrations. It approved a bill targeting Big Tech companies for “censoring” GOP voices. State lawmakers also passed a bill that bans so-called vaccine passports, an issue DeSantis has used to highlight his hands-off pandemic response that’s endeared him to Republicans across the country.

DeSantis scores Session wins, but court battles could loom” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — Some of DeSantis’ top priorities this year — an anti-riot bill, legislation to punish Big Tech censorship and banning private companies from requiring “vaccine passports” from customers — have all been labeled unconstitutional by critics. Democrats claim HB 1, the anti-riot bill, infringes on the First Amendment right to protest; SB 7072, the Big Tech crackdown, violates the tech giants’ free speech rights, and SB 2006, the vaccine passports measure, is government overreach in a private company’s business.

Controversial bills, a closed Capitol: How COVID-19 defined Florida’s 2021 Legislative Session” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — Racing to get out of town by Friday, lawmakers spent the final week of their Legislative Session putting the finishing touches on proposals to restrict voting, overrule local laws, and regulate how social media companies operate their platforms. While lawmakers decided the fate of a slew of contentious bills to bring a pandemic-curtailed Legislative Session to a close, lobbyists, activists and watchdog groups mourned not only the death of bills, but also of “sunshine.” Pandemic protocols restricted people wanting to testify when bills were considered to increase penalties for crimes during protests, provide tax cuts and shield businesses from liability, among other things.

—”It’s over. Who won? Who lost? A look back at the 2021 Florida Legislative Session” via James Call of The Palm Beach Post

— EPILOGUE 1 —

DeSantis says he will sign transgender sports bill” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — Gov. DeSantis said during an appearance on Fox News that he will sign a bill banning transgender females from women’s and girls’ sports. His announcement came the day after Florida Republicans rushed the measure through the Legislature by attaching it to a charter school bill. Most Democratic lawmakers, equal rights advocates and transgender Floridians oppose the ban, calling it discriminatory and unnecessary. “We’re going to protect our girls,” DeSantis said at a town hall of red-state Governors hosted by Fox’s Laura Ingraham. “I have a four-year-old daughter and a one-year-old daughter. They’re both very athletic. We want to have opportunities for our girls. They deserve an even playing field, and that’s what we’re doing.”

On Fox News, Ron DeSantis promises to sign the transgender athlete ban.

DeSantis urged to veto vaping bill” via News Service of Florida — The American Heart Association is asking DeSantis to veto a bill (SB 1080) that would preempt local regulations aimed at ensuring vaping and tobacco products aren’t sold to underage smokers. “This bill would give the tobacco industry free (rein) to market and advertise these harmful products to our youth,” American Heart Association Florida Government Relations Director Tiffany McCaskill Henderson wrote in a letter to DeSantis. The bill also would the state’s age for legal use of tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21. However, the state would deviate from the federal law by exempting people in the military and, therefore, violate federal law, Henderson wrote.

Florida elections supervisors: New voting law makes it harder to request and return ballots” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer, a Democrat, criticized the “initial and unnecessary call for election reform” that led to the changes. He pledged to adhere to the new law but lamented that the Legislature didn’t make it easier to use secure drop boxes for Floridians voting by mail. Drop boxes can only be used during early voting hours, and they must be manned by an election office employee, which could prove costly. Dropbox locations also can’t be changed within 30 days of an election. The bill also limits the amount of time Floridians can request a vote-by-mail ballot. Instead of requesting a ballot for the next two general elections, requests can only be made for the next general election.

Consumer data privacy bill dies, business lobbyists rejoice” via the News Service of Florida — Business lobbyists claimed victory Friday after the demise of a bill that would have given consumers more control over personal data collected by companies. The bill (HB 969), backed by House Speaker Chris Sprowls, drew heavy opposition from businesses, at least in part because it would have allowed civil lawsuits if companies collected and sold personal data after being told not to do so. Lawmakers did not pass the bill before Friday’s end of the 60-day Legislative Session. Lobbyists representing companies such as Apple, AT&T, Target, Capital One Services, Quicken Loans and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts were among 343 lobbyists registered to work on the issue.

Bill would fine social media platforms for banning politicians — with exemption for Disney” via Kim Lyons of The Verge — The bill also contains a very Florida-specific exemption for any “information service, system, internet search engine, or access software provider operated by a company that owns and operates” a theme park or large entertainment complex. Republican Rep. Blaise Ingoglia said that exemption was included so that the Disney Plus streaming service “isn’t caught up in this.” The Disney World park in Orlando brings in significant tax revenue for the state of Florida, which relies heavily on tourism dollars.

Florida leaders try to tame soaring property-insurance premiums with reform bill” via Jim Saunders of The News Service of Florida — Grappling with problems in the property insurance market, Florida lawmakers have passed a plan that could lead to larger rate increases for customers of the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and steps to curb roof damage claims and lawsuits. But the bill approved on the last day of the Regular Session on Friday was not as far-reaching as a Senate proposal that would have effectively shifted more costs to many homeowners when they suffer roof damage. The Senate voted 35-5 to approve the measure, and the House followed with a 75-41 vote. The bill now goes to DeSantis. Senate Banking and Insurance Chairman Jim Boyd said everybody “had to give a little bit” in negotiations over the bill (SB 76).

To move the property insurance reform bill, Jim Boyd said everyone had to ‘give a bit.’ Image via Colin Hackley.

Lawmakers put brakes on ‘No Fault’ auto insurance” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — Florida motorists are one step closer to no longer having “no-fault” auto insurance, after lawmakers Friday approved ditching the decades-old system and its requirement of carrying personal-injury protection coverage. The House and Senate signed off on a heavily negotiated bill (SB 54) in the closing hours of the 2021 Legislative Session. If DeSantis sign the bill, the requirement for carrying so-called PIP coverage will end and motorists would need to have bodily injury coverage. “You may not like every bit of this bill, but, you know, Florida’s got to do something about their car insurance,” Rep. Matt Willhite, a Wellington Democrat, said in backing the legislation.


— EPILOGUE 2 —

Gambling deal faces legal questions” via Dara Kam of The News Service of Florida — DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe have nailed down a gambling agreement to bring sports betting to the state and rake at least $2.5 billion into state coffers within five years. But the complicated 30-year “compact” faces significant hurdles. The U.S. Department of the Interior has to authorize the deal. Experts are divided about whether the Florida Constitution requires statewide voter approval to legalize sports betting. Other lawyers believe that the proposed compact could run afoul of federal law. “Florida is a legal land mine,” said lawyer Daniel Wallach, who specializes in sports betting. Wallach warned that the compact could result in a legal quagmire because of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which governs what activities tribes can engage in.

The new Seminole Compact will most likely face a wave of legal problems.

Preemption parade continues as legislators strip local government of energy options” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — Despite warnings from opponents that the state is asking for more than it can handle, Florida legislators sent bills to the governor this week that preempted local government regulation of utilities and clean energy regulation. Each of the efforts was opposed by local governments and environmental organizations, especially those in major urban areas, which have been more aggressive than the Florida Legislature in advancing policies with sustainable energy practices. They say that local communities are better suited to make those decisions. “Clearly, the theme of the 2021 Florida Legislative Session is taking power away from Floridians and consolidating it within the Legislature,’’ said Michelle Allen of Food and Water Watch, an environmental advocacy group, on Thursday.

Legislators strip local governments of ability to regulate home-based businesses” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — A bill that sent one of the strongest shudders through city and county governments because it prevents them from imposing new regulations on home-based businesses was passed Friday after the Florida Senate narrowly approved it on a botched vote on the final day of the Legislative Session. A priority of Sprowls, SB 403 requires local governments to regulate home-based businesses the same way they approach other commercial enterprises. Critics warn that it will dismantle local zoning laws and leave neighborhoods unprotected against unwanted commercial activity unless they have a homeowners association.

Assignment editors — House Democratic Co-Leader Evan Jenne and Policy Chair Rep. Fentrice Driskell will hold their weekly media availability, noon. This event will be livestreamed on The Florida Channel and available in their archives afterward. Zoom link here.

Legislative wrap-up: What did Treasure Coast lawmakers accomplish during a ‘culture-war’ Session?” Via Joshua Solomon of TCPalm — While staunchly advancing the GOP’s initiatives, Treasure Coast lawmakers may have brought about $9 million home to their districts, about one-third of what they initially sought during what was billed as a cash-strapped year but accounted for the largest budget in Florida history, $101.5 billion. For now, some local septic-to-sewer and water-quality projects are to be funded, and money is coming from Tallahassee for autism, mental health and children of the incarcerated. Culture-war bills such as restrictions on voting and protesting were passed and supported by local lawmakers. Similarly, they supported bills such as the anti-vaccine passport bill, which prohibits private businesses from deciding whether to restrict their businesses only to people who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

— 2022 —

Charlie Crist’s bid for Governor faces early threats” via Marc Caputo and Matt Dixon of POLITICO — Former Gov. Crist officially launches his comeback campaign for his old job early next week — his third bid for the office but the first as a likely underdog in what could be a crowded field. Now a Democratic congressman, Crist is the biggest name to announce his candidacy but by no means the most talked-about. Democratic insiders are buzzing more about Rep. Val Demings running, and some former Crist loyalists are planning to work for her or for Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only state-level elected Democrat, who has been preparing for months to challenge Republican Gov. DeSantis.

Crist sets May 4 for ‘major announcement’” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics

Charlie Crist’s gubernatorial campaign faces an uphill battle before it even begins. Image via AP.

First in Sunburn — Nikki Fried hires finance pro Stefanie Sass for political committeeSass will serve as Finance Director for Fried’s committee Florida Consumers First. Previously, Sass served as Southern finance director for Kamala Harris and Deputy Southeast Finance Director for Biden during the 2020 cycle, and as Sen. Bill Nelson’s finance director in 2018. She was recently senior finance adviser to the Florida Democratic Party and deputy Southeast finance director for the Presidential Inaugural Committee. She has over eight years of experience in political fundraising in Florida and throughout the South.

Democrats express optimism at Tampa fundraiser despite GOP victories” via Margo Snipe of the Tampa Bay Times — Crist and other prominent state Democrats delivered a message of optimism about the future of the Florida Democratic Party at a fundraiser Saturday. Crist spoke just days before he is set to make a big announcement — possibly declaring for the 2022 Governor’s race — and hours after Republicans wrapped up this year’s Legislative Session by handing DeSantis a string of conservative victories. Speakers at the seventh annual Spring Fling fundraiser — an in-person and virtual event hosted by the Hillsborough County Democratic Party at The Sail Plaza, an outdoor venue — pointed toward the county party’s success electing Democrats across public office, including in several legislature seats.

Lawsuit seeks to force DeSantis to set election to fill Alcee Hastings seat” via Antonio Fins and Wendy Rhodes of The Palm Beach Post — Claiming DeSantis‘ plan is to “obfuscate, delay and deny,” a congressional aspirant filed a lawsuit Friday to force the governor to set a date to fill the vacancy left by the April 6 death of U.S. Rep. Hastings. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in West Palm Beach by Elvin Dowling, who is in a crowded field of Democrats and Republicans seeking to fill the District 20 seat that straddles Palm Beach and Broward counties. “Mr. DeSantis, call the election,” said Dowling. Pressure to fill the District 20 seat has been building, especially as Democrats hold a slim majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. The last time Florida had a congressional vacancy because of death was 32 years ago, and it was filled within three months in a special election.

Perry Thurston kicks off congressional campaign in heart of Fort Lauderdale’s Black community” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — State Sen. Thurston showed off his longtime, deep roots in Broward County on Saturday as he formally kicked off the biggest campaign of his political career — a race for Congress. “With your help, we’re going to move into a new era, a new era that’s going to lead to Broward County being that beacon shining across the nation, saying that it is a new day, a new day in Congress and a new day in Broward County,” he said. If elected to fill the vacancy created by the April 6 death of Congressman Hastings, Thurston promised to advocate for Democratic goals in Washington, D.C.

Perry Thurston kicks off his congressional run by appealing to African Americans in Fort Lauderdale. Image via Colin Hackley.

Democrats fear DeSantis is planning a ‘power grab’ in Broward politics” via Skyler Swisher of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Broward County Democrats are fearful that DeSantis is planning to orchestrate a power play in local politics through a change in election law. The Legislature approved a contentious voting bill Thursday night, but one item, in particular, caught the attention of Broward County’s delegation. The legislation expands the Governor’s power to fill openings on local boards when elected officials resign to run for another office. That applies to all of Florida’s counties, but it is of particular interest to Broward because of the political dominoes falling in the scramble to fill the congressional seat that the late U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings held.

Vern Buchanan, Kevin McCarthy raise $750K in Longboat Key for NRCC” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A fundraiser in Longboat Key on Thursday brought in $750,000 for national Republicans’ efforts to retake the U.S. House. House Minority Leader McCarthy headlined the event, hosted by Rep.Buchanan in his Sarasota County home. All money raised will go to the National Republican Congressional Committee. “The huge success of this event shows the enormous support for retiring Speaker Nancy Pelosi and returning control of Congress to Republicans,” Buchanan said. “The left’s radical policies, from opening the borders to defunding police to expanding the Supreme Court with liberal justices, are turning off voters across America.”


— STATEWIDE —

DeSantis denies systemic racism exists. Critics say his state’s new voting law is a clear example.” via Summer Meza of Yahoo News — While speaking to Ingraham, DeSantis was asked about systemic racism. DeSantis’ position in the debate is obviously clear, as he called the notion of systemic racism “a bunch of horse manure.” But the timing of his comments was conspicuous, as earlier that same day, Florida’s Republican-led legislature passed new rules on voting that Black lawmakers said would make it harder for millions of voters, especially people of color, to cast ballots. DeSantis said, “of course,” he’ll sign the bill into law. “Give me a break,” DeSantis said, arguing that because “we’ve had people that have been able to succeed,” the system must be fine.

Ron DeSantis insists there is no systemic racism, but some say Florida’s new voter bill proves otherwise.

DeSantis-Seminole gambling deal is likely to face legal pushback” via Mark Harper of The Daytona Beach News-Journal — While state lawmakers and pari-mutuel operators were praising DeSantis’ announcement late last week, lawsuits challenging the gaming compact appear inevitable, and an attorney who specializes in the industry said federal law is clear: Sports betting is not legal under the structure of the deal. Daniel Wallach, a Hallandale Beach attorney whose firm specializes in sports betting issues, said in an interview with The News-Journal this week that no other state has been approved for sports betting in the way conceived in Florida. The compact between DeSantis and the Seminole tribe allows wagers beyond the bounds of the reservations. “This part is going down, either now or later,” Wallach said.

Florida has a new Emergency Management Director. He wants you to start preparing for hurricane season” via Caitie Switalski Muñoz of WLRN — Florida’s got a new Director of Emergency Management. Kevin Guthrie joined a Greater Hollywood Chamber of Commerce panel geared toward business owners on Friday — his first day on the job. Guthrie said he personally sits down with his insurance provider every year and encouraged business leaders that disaster preparedness starts with a conversation about insurance coverage at their home or business. “Do I have enough insurance to cover what it is that’s going on? And do I need to make some changes? You know, what’s going on with my flood insurance and so on and so forth,” he said. “It all starts with personal preparedness.”

‘He opened opportunity.’ First Black Florida Supreme Court Judge Joseph Hatchett dies at 88” via Howard Cohen of the Miami Herald — When a young Hatchett took the Florida Bar exam in 1960, he could not stay in the Miami hotel in which the test was given because of Jim Crow regulations. Within 15 years, Hatchett would become the first African American to serve on the Florida Supreme Court. Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Hatchett died in Tallahassee on Friday, April 30, Florida Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters said in a post Saturday morning. Hatchett was 88 and Florida’s 65th justice since statehood was granted in 1845. Hatchett was appointed to Florida’s highest court by Gov. Reubin Askew in 1975.

RIP: Joseph Hatchett was the first African American on the Florida Supreme Court, appointed by Reubin Askew in 1975.

Benjamin Crump, ‘Black America’s attorney general’ seems to be everywhere” via The Associated Press — In less than a decade, the Florida-based attorney has become the voice for the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd — Black people whose deaths at the hands of police and vigilantes sparked a movement. He has won multimillion-dollar settlements in police brutality cases. He’s pushed cities to ban no-knock warrants. He has told a congressional committee that reform is needed because “it’s become painfully obvious we have two systems of justice; one for white Americans and one for Black Americans.” And he’s stood with Black farmers taking on an agribusiness giant, and families exposed to lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida reports 3,841 new infections, 29 more fatalities” via Nelly Ontiveros of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida added 3,841 positive COVID-19 cases to bring the total to 2,242,778. With 29 more fatalities, the number of resident deaths now totals 35,268. With a population of about 21.5 million, about one in 10 people in the state have now been infected. That number is closer to one in 10 nationally and one in 51 worldwide. Florida’s positivity rate for April 25 to May 1 was 6.5%, lower than last week’s 7%. With 700 non-Florida resident deaths, including 2 new reported Sunday, the state’s combined total stands at 35,968. Each report includes deaths from several previous days, as it can take weeks and sometimes several months for reports to appear.

COVID-19’s grip on Florida is loosening, numbers show” via Clayton Freeman of the Florida Times-Union — Florida showed continued signs of progress in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic as April turned into May, with vaccinations continuing and the pace of new COVID-19 cases slowing. So far, the Florida Department of Health has recorded 8.8 million residents vaccinated against COVID-19, of which more than 6.2 million have completed their vaccine series — either a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or both doses of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna version. Though vaccinations are continuing, their pace has slowed despite the Centers for Disease Control’s reinstatement of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the end of last week.

Mass COVID-19 vaccine sites are closing. Demand is dropping. What does that mean for herd immunity?” via Kate Santich and Ryan Gillespie of the Orlando Sentinel — Three weeks ago, Janelle Dunn was counting down the hours to the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines that her nonprofit health clinic had been pleading for since January. Now she’s struggling to literally give them away. “Demand is extremely low,” said Dunn, CEO of Sanford-based True Health, a community health center with seven Central Florida locations. “And for Johnson & Johnson, it’s basically nonexistent. I think the [vaccine’s] pause really stifled people’s desire to get it.” It has been much the same throughout Central Florida in recent days — and not only for the relaunched Johnson & Johnson vaccine, halted for 11 days over reports of rare blood clots.

COVID-19 vaccine sites are closing due to a lack of demand.

Vaccinated Floridians don’t need to wear masks, state health advisory says” via Josh Fiallo of the Tampa Bay Times — Fully vaccinated Floridians no longer need to wear masks in public, according to a new statewide health advisory issued on Thursday. Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees announced the change in a public health advisory Thursday. The order states that vaccinated Floridians, who have received all necessary immunizations, no longer need to avoid social and recreational gatherings except in “limited circumstances.” The order also said some people who aren’t Florida residents but live in the state are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. It opens the door for vaccination sites to administer COVID-19 vaccines to non-Florida residents who provide “goods and services” in the state.

New Florida, CDC mask tips overlap but aren’t identical. Who should you look to?” via Jack Evans of the Tampa Bay Times — Federal and state agencies released new guidance on mask-wearing this week, and they broadly have the same message in common: With vaccination rates climbing, people can — if they desire — relax their usage of face coverings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines first on Tuesday, citing the full or partial vaccination of more than half U.S. adults and declines in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Then, Thursday night, Rivkees issued a public health advisory that de-emphasized masks in almost all public settings for vaccinated people. But differences in the announcements leave Floridians to puzzle out when they should wear masks and when they can go without.

About 800,000 Florida seniors still aren’t vaccinated” via Bailey LeFever of the Tampa Bay Times — The start of Florida’s vaccine rollout was rocky, but seniors now can walk into their local Walgreens or Publix and get a shot or book an appointment for one. The state also had vaccinated 20,800 homebound residents as of Wednesday, many of them seniors. According to the Florida Department of Health, about 81% of Floridians 65 and older — about 3.6 million people — had received at least one dose of the vaccine by Wednesday. More than 3 million seniors were fully vaccinated. Local advocates and officials blame barriers to access and vaccine hesitancy for the less-than-full vaccination rate among Florida seniors.

DeSantis to act on COVID-19 ‘passport’ ban” via the News Service of Florida — Gov. DeSantis on Friday formally received a bill from the Legislature that would make permanent a ban on COVID-19 vaccine “passports” and grant him the power to override local orders during health crises. The measure (SB 2006), approved by the Legislature on Thursday, would also require local emergency orders to be narrowly tailored and extended in seven-day increments for a maximum duration of 42 days. Currently, such orders can be issued initially for seven days and extended indefinitely in seven-day increments. The bill would give the Governor power to override local orders if they are determined to “unnecessarily restrict individual rights or liberties.”

CDR Health and Coastal Cloud tout 2 million COVID-19 vaccines administered statewide” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — CDR Health has announced the administration of 2 million COVID-19 vaccines across the state through its vaccination data management system, CDR HealthPro. In partnership with Coastal Cloud, CDR Health has supported the Florida Department of Health and FEMA in 53 counties across the state since the start of the pandemic. “We are thrilled to have reached this incredible milestone, having spent the first 90 days ramping up our capacity to vaccinate Floridians before we reached our first one million doses,” Tina Vidal-Duart, CDR Health’s CEO, said in a statement. The venture between CDR Health and Coastal Cloud has been used at FEMA sites, state-operated sites, and vaccine locations run by county or regional officials.

— CORONA LOCAL —

How a Miami school became a beacon for anti-vaxxers” via Patricia Mazzei of The New York Times — A fifth-grade math and science teacher peddled a bogus conspiracy theory on Wednesday to students at Centner Academy, a private school in Miami, warning them that they should not hug parents who had been vaccinated against the coronavirus for more than five seconds because they might be exposed to harmful vaccine shedding. “Hola Mami,” one student wrote in an email to her parents from school, saying that the teacher was “telling us to stay away from you guys.” Nearly a week before, the school had threatened teachers’ employment if they got a coronavirus vaccine before the end of the school year.

Miami’s Center Academy is ground zero for Florida anti-vaxxers.

Broward schools will begin on-campus COVID-19 vaccinations Tuesday with eight-day tour” via Wells Dusenbury and Scott Travis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Broward County students will soon have the opportunity to get vaccinated without leaving campus. Beginning on Tuesday, the Broward County School District will offer the COVID-19 vaccine at six schools, with all of the county schools visited over an eight-day span from Tuesday through May 13. All students 16 and older are eligible to receive the vaccine, which will be administered by staff members from the state department of health in Broward County. The shots will be provided on a walk-up basis, so no appointments are necessary. Students under 18 must be accompanied by a parent to receive the Pfizer vaccine. Family members and school faculty will also be eligible to receive the vaccine.

Palm Beach County eases COVID-19 mask mandate” via Chris Persaud of the Palm Beach Post — Palm Beach County updated its mask mandate Friday to reflect updated federal guidelines saying fully vaccinated people need not wear masks outdoors except in crowds. The order now exempts vaccinated people from having to wear a mask when outdoors “except in certain crowded settings and venues where there is a decreased ability to maintain physical distance.” The county’s move came a day after Florida dropped measures criticized for hindering undocumented people’s ability to get coronavirus vaccinations. Vaccine-seekers no longer have to prove they live in Florida to get shots after Rivkees on Thursday eliminated that requirement, which he imposed on Jan. 21 at DeSantis behest.

Vaccinations delivered to you! Health officials bring COVID-19 vaccine to workplaces” via Tom McLaughlin of the Northwest Florida Daily News — If Okaloosa County residents won’t go to the Department of Health to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the Department of Health will come to them. Agency officials announced this week that they are partnering with Health Hero Florida to provide vaccinations at individual worksites. Okaloosa County trails most of the nation in the percentage of people vaccinated for COVID-19 in almost every age category. One year later, Okaloosa tops 19,200 COVID-19 cases; CDC advises people to continue precautions. The initiative, which will be implemented across the state, was scheduled to kick off in Okaloosa County on Friday morning. The kickoff event had to be postponed. However, businesses can still begin scheduling vaccination visits immediately.

— CORONA NATION —

Reaching ‘herd immunity’ is unlikely in the U.S., experts now believe” via Apoorva Mandavilli of The New York TimesEarly in the pandemic, when vaccines for the coronavirus were still just a glimmer on the horizon, the term “herd immunity” came to signify the endgame: the point when enough Americans would be protected from the virus so we could be rid of the pathogen and reclaim our lives. Now, more than half of adults in the United States have been inoculated with at least one dose of a vaccine. But daily vaccination rates are slipping, and there is widespread consensus among scientists and public health experts that the herd immunity threshold is not attainable.

White House is split over how to vaccinate the world” via Dan Diamond and Jeff Stein of The Washington Post — A high-stakes fight over drug companies’ response to the coronavirus pandemic has split the Biden administration, with activists and progressives urging the White House to back an international petition to waive the companies’ patents and some senior officials privately signaling they’re open to the idea. The debate has reignited decades-old tensions in global health, pitting such influential figures as Pope Francis, who backs the patent-waiver proposal, against philanthropist Bill Gates, who’s opposed. It has also challenged U.S. officials who have prioritized this nation’s coronavirus response but know that the virus’s continued spread and mutation overseas will eventually pose risks to Americans.

Pope Francis has inserted himself in the vaccine patent-waiver fight. Image via AP.

TSA extends mask requirement for planes, buses and trains through mid-September” via Leslie Josephs of CNBC — Traveling this summer? Don’t forget your mask. On Friday, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) extended a federal requirement that travelers on buses, trains, commercial flights, and at airports wear face masks. The requirement was set to expire on May 11 and will now be in effect through Sept. 13. The agency started requiring that people over the age of 2 wear masks during flights, on buses, trains and public transportation in February following an order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are exemptions for some disabilities, the TSA said. Fines for refusing to follow the rules start at $250 and go up to $1,500 for repeated violations.

Many police officers spurn coronavirus vaccines as departments hold off on mandates” via Isaac Stanley-Becker of The Washington Post — Police officers were among the first front-line workers to gain priority access to coronavirus vaccines. But their vaccination rates are lower than or about the same as those of the general public, according to data made available by some of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies. The reluctance of police to get the shots threatens not just their own health, but also the safety of people they’re responsible for guarding, monitoring and patrolling. At the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, just 39% of employees have gotten at least one dose, officials said, compared to more than 505 of eligible adults nationwide.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

How the U.S. won the economic recovery” via Dylan Matthews of Vox — For millions of Americans, the pandemic has been a nightmare. But many have also found that the country’s safety net actually caught them. In March 2020, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law the CARES Act, which sent out no-strings-attached checks to the vast majority of Americans for the first time. The bill also dramatically increased the generosity of unemployment insurance, making many workers whole and, for some months, leaving most workers (including Holloway) with more money than they would have earned at their employer. It paused evictions and created a new near-universal child tax credit reaching the poorest families with children. Then lawmakers did it again in Dec. 2020.

Economic moves helped the U.S. succeed in the pandemic recovery.

Pandemic Inspector General warns of oversight breakdown” via Alan Rappeport of The New York Times — A breakdown in the oversight of trillions of dollars of economic relief money spilled into public view on Friday night when the Treasury Department’s special inspector general for pandemic recovery said in a report that his powers to scrutinize funds had been curtailed this week after a decision by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The inspector general, Brian D. Miller, said in his quarterly report to Congress that he had been engaged in a monthslong dispute with another inspector general in the Treasury Department over who had access to information about and oversight of the Payroll Support Program and the Coronavirus Relief Fund.

— MORE CORONA —

Optimism grows that cruising will return this summer at Port Canaveral, other U.S. ports” via Morgan Hines and Dave Berman of Florida Today — Cruising could restart in midsummer in American waters, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said late Wednesday in a letter to the cruise industry that USA Today obtained. That would be a long-awaited boost for Port Canaveral and the Space Coast tourism industry as a whole. “We acknowledge that cruising will never be a zero-risk activity and that the goal of the (conditional sailing order’s) phased approach is to resume passenger operations in a way that mitigates the risk of COVID-19 transmission onboard cruise ships and across port communities,” Aimee Treffiletti, head of the Maritime Unit for CDC’s COVID-19 response within its Global Mitigation Task Force for COVID-19, said in the letter.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Choose your news …

With 100 days behind him, Joe Biden’s challenges mount and expectations rise as COVID-19 concerns ease” via Joey Garrison of USA TODAY — From the moment he took office, Biden made combating a raging pandemic the central focus of his presidency, deploying a wartime effort to distribute vaccines and laying out attainable goals to assure the public of progress. More than 100 days later, other challenges have moved to the forefront. Eased concerns in the USA about the pandemic have led to heightened demands from key constituencies — particularly among liberals — for major action on gun control, policing changes to curb racial discrimination, overhauling Trump’s hard-line immigration policies and more. Biden is pushing the most dramatic expansion of the federal government’s social safety net in decades.

… or …

Country optimistic after Biden’s 1st 100 days” via Kendall Karson of ABC News — President Biden completes his first hundred days in office with a country that is more optimistic about the coming year, according to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (64%) are optimistic about the country’s direction in the poll, which Ipsos conducted in partnership with ABC News using Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel. According to previous ABC News/Washington Post polls, the last time the country came close to that level of optimism about the coming year was in Dec. 2006, when 61% said they were optimistic about where the country was headed, according to previous ABC News/Washington Post polls. Shortly before the 2016 election catapulted Trump to the Oval Office, only 42% of Americans were optimistic about the future.

How’s Joe Biden doing? Depends on who you ask. Image via Getty/Pool.

Stranded on Donald Trump Island, the GOP lets Biden play the long game” via E.J. Dionne Jr. of The Washington Post — Political realignments don’t happen easily. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, gifted politicians in their different ways, plausibly hoped they could create coalitions that would outlast them. The achievement eluded both. Trump never had a popular majority behind him, but he was the Great Disrupter. By shattering old assumptions, he clarified the battlefield for the future. Trump sped up two trends that began gathering steam in the 1990s: the steady shift of well-educated and professional voters toward the Democratic Party, and the move of White, working-class voters to the GOP. Democrats hold the initiative, and not just because they control the presidency and narrow congressional majorities.

Biden terminating border wall construction contracts” via Nick Niedzwaidek of POLITICO — Biden is canceling further construction of the wall along the U.S. and Mexico border, the Department of Defense announced Friday. “DoD has begun taking all necessary actions to cancel border barrier projects and to coordinate with interagency partners,” Pentagon spokesperson Jamal Brown said in a statement. In one of his first acts in office, Biden halted progress on the border wall, a signature policy of Trump, by freezing money for border wall construction projects and terminating Trump’s national emergency declaration along the border. Friday’s action is another step toward ensuring those projects do not move forward and free up that money to go to other construction projects within the military’s purview.

Biden stocks his White House with Ivy Leaguers” via Daniel Lippman of POLITICO — Biden, a proud graduate of the University of Delaware and Syracuse Law School who has bragged about going to a “state school,” has stocked his top White House staff with nearly twice as many Ivy League graduates as the first iteration of the Trump White House, according to a POLITICO analysis. Forty-one percent of senior- or midlevel Biden White House staffers — or 82 people out of 201 aides analyzed — have Ivy League degrees. By contrast, only 21% of the comparable White House staff had such credentials under Trump, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School who boasted about his academic pedigree and often looked for Ivy Leaguers when hiring Cabinet officials.

— EPILOGUE: TRUMP — 

For Republicans, fealty to Trump’s election falsehood becomes defining loyalty test” via Ashley Parker and Marianna Sotomayor of The Washington Post — Nearly six months after Trump lost to Biden, rejection of the 2020 election results has increasingly become an unofficial litmus test for acceptance in the Republican Party. In January, 147 GOP lawmakers voted in support of objections to the election results, and since then, Republicans from Congress to statehouses to local party organizations have fervently embraced the falsehood. In Washington, normally chatty senators scramble to skirt the question, and internal feuding over who is to blame for the Jan. 6 insurrection has riven the House Republican leadership, with tensions between House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, spilling into public view.

Loyalty to Donald Trump’s ‘big lie’ is a litmus test for the GOP. Image via Washington Post.

Did Trump’s actions as President cost Florida a seat in Congress and an electoral vote?” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The hundreds of people who streamed into Florida every day for a decade brought with them, along with traffic and everything else, an increase in the state’s political clout — greater representation in Congress and in electoral votes that decide the presidency. But not as big an increase as expected. When official numbers came out from the Census Bureau on Monday, Florida was awarded one more congressional district, for a total of 28, and one more electoral vote for 30. For years, Democrats, Republicans and independent analysts were practically certain that Florida is in line for two more of each.

Latino Republican support for Trump is still going strong in Florida” via Carmen Sesin of NBC News — Three months into Biden’s presidency, enthusiasm for his predecessor is still going strong among Latino Republicans in Florida. The South Florida-based Patriotas con Trump, or Patriots with Trump, has held multiple rallies outside Mar-a-Lago, members send messages all day in their WhatsApp group, and a smaller group of 10 meet regularly to brainstorm ways to recruit more members — and help get Republicans elected in 2022. They’re also looking ahead to 2024. “We are Republican, but what we really like is what Trump promotes,” Laureano Chileuitt, the group’s leader, said. A physician, Chileuitt practiced neurosurgery in his native Colombia until he came to the U.S. in 2001.

First in Sunburn — New Lincoln Project ad taunts Trump for ‘getting played’ by GOP ‘swamp’ creatures — The group is continuing its effort to prod Trump post-presidency, releasing a new ad goading Trump into a 2024 presidential run. The new ad, titled “Swamp Thing,” runs just over one minute long and highlights one of Trump’s major promises during his one-term presidency. “We are going to drain the swamp,” the ad begins, running a quote oft-repeated from Trump beginning with his 2016 campaign. But the video then transitions into mocking Trump, arguing some insufficiently supportive members of the GOP have regained control in Washington, D.C. “The swamp won, Donald. Mitch McConnell’s Washington consultants are making big money using your name. We don’t know if Mitch gets a cut, but what do you think, Donald?” the narrator asks.

To watch the ad, click on the image below:

Elections Commission rules Wisconsin’s presidential results were properly certified for Biden” via Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — The state Elections Commission determined Friday that Gov. Tony Evers and the Commission’s director acted properly last year when they finalized results showing Biden won the presidential election in Wisconsin. The pair of decisions rejected complaints brought by a Republican commissioner who maintained the state’s tally was improperly certified. At least one Republican on the commission sided with the commission’s three Democrats in finding the election results were handled properly.

Rudy Giuliani search warrant resolved Justice Department dispute” via Eric Tucker and Michael Balsamo of The Associated Press — The question of whether to serve a search warrant for Giuliani’s records simmered inside the Justice Department in the waning months of the Trump administration, dividing officials in New York and Washington and remaining unresolved for a new leadership team to sort out. The new crowd dramatically resolved it this week. On Wednesday, federal agents raided the home and office of Trump’s personal attorney, collecting phones and computers as part of their probe into whether he broke U.S. lobbying laws by failing to register as a foreign agent related to his work.

— CRISIS —

The miracle and tragedy of the 2020 U.S. election” via Nathaniel Persily and Charles Stewart III of the Journal of Democracy — The 2020 U.S. election was both a miracle and a tragedy. It was a miracle in that election administrators, facing unprecedented challenges from a pandemic, were able to pull off a safe, secure, and professional election in which a record number of Americans turned out to vote. It was also a tragedy, though, because, despite these heroic efforts, lies about vote fraud and the performance of the system have cemented a perception among tens of millions of Americans that the election was “rigged.” This manufactured distrust has deeply damaged our democracy; the path to repairing it is not at all clear. The Capitol Insurrection of 6 January 2021 will forever constitute the image of the 2020 election.

Capitol Police official who said to watch for ‘anti-Trump’ forces on Jan. 6 was deputy chief” via Kyle Cheney of POLITICO — The Capitol Police’s highest-ranking commander on the ground during the Jan. 6 insurrection, Eric Waldow, is the official who urged officers to watch out for anti-Trump protesters in the massive pro-Trump crowd, according to congressional and Capitol Police sources. That directive, delivered on the morning of Jan. 6 via a Capitol Police radio transmission, has alarmed lawmakers who were already worried that the leadership of the Capitol Police had failed to appreciate the gravity of the threat pro-Trump extremists posed to Congress that day. Waldow, a deputy chief and the sixth-ranking official in the Capitol Police Department, was a Jan. 6 “incident commander,” meaning he was responsible for directing officers’ movements amid the chaos.

We were warned this would happen.

Newsmax apologizes to Dominion employee for falsely alleging he manipulated votes against Trump” via Amy B. Wang of The Washington Post — The conservative news network Newsmax has apologized to an employee of Dominion Voting Systems for baselessly alleging he had rigged the company’s voting machines and vote counts against Trump in the 2020 presidential election. In a statement Friday, Newsmax said it wanted to “clarify” its coverage of Eric Coomer, the director of product strategy and security at Dominion, who filed a defamation lawsuit against the right-wing network in December. After the election, misinformation about Coomer’s supposed role in manipulating the vote proliferated on right-wing sites, including Newsmax. Coomer said he had been forced into hiding after receiving death threats from Trump supporters, who believed Trump’s false assertion that the election had been stolen from him.

There’s a Sabatini in every Legislature — “GOP lawmaker charged with ‘knowingly’ letting rioters breach the Oregon Capitol” via Lateshia Beachum of The Washington Post — As far-right demonstrators gathered outside the Oregon Capitol in December in the hope of ending coronavirus restrictions, state Rep. Mike Nearman appeared to deliberately allow entry to two men trying to breach the building as he was leaving. Without hesitation, two rioters on Dec. 21 rushed inside the state Capitol in Salem, Oregon, held doors open, and signaled for others to come in before police arrived to cut off the security breach, according to surveillance video obtained by the Oregonian and Oregon Public Broadcasting. Prosecutors say Nearman “unlawfully and knowingly” opened the door for the far-right group “with intent to obtain a benefit or to harm another.”

From memes to race war: How extremists use popular culture to lure recruits” via Marc Fisher of The Washington Post — The first images of “The Last Battle” seem designed to rile people on the conservative side of the culture wars: public nudity, strippers, children dressed in drag, symbols of a society supposedly in a moral free fall. Then the online video pivots to more extreme material: quick-cut scenes of attacks on White people, bogus allegations of election fraud, and a parade of pictures purporting to show “the Jewish Communist takeover.” The six-minute video, distributed on gaming platforms and social media, rapidly reveals itself as a visually arresting propaganda piece, a recruiting tool for far-right extremists that draws viewers in with “They’re coming for your guns” and “They’re opening your borders.”

— D.C. MATTERS —

Magic 8-ball says “Yes” —Will DeSantis, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott torch each other to vault from Florida to the White House?” via Douglas Mackinnon of The Hill — No matter how you slice it, only one candidate can survive the potential “Steel Cage” political death-match brewing in Florida between three Republicans: Gov. DeSantis and Sens. Rubio and Scott. It’s a highly anticipated WWE-like event of epic proportions that assumes current Florida resident Trump will not run for President in 2024. Of course, one never truly knows when it comes to Trump. There was the bizarre recent news report by Business Insider in which a Trump “adviser” declared that the former President “has lost 15 pounds since he left the White House.” One “veteran Republican strategist” told the publication: “I think there’s an extra 10% to 15% chance he runs if he lost 20 pounds.”

A steel cage match is brewing between Florida Republicans looking toward the White House.

Rubio urges federal action for problems at two Jacksonville apartment complexes” via David Bauerlein of the Florida Times-Union — Sen. Rubio called on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to correct problems at two Jacksonville apartment complexes where he said mold, pests and “chronic disrepair” create unacceptable living conditions for residents. Rubio said his staff went to Eastside Terrace Apartments on April 21 and Eastside Gardens Apartments on April 22. “During these visits, my staff met with tenants of both properties, where they found systemic evidence of black mold, pest infestations, crumbling staircases, and a general state of chronic disrepair,” Rubio wrote in his letter to HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge. Rubio’s letter, which his office released Friday, also cites reports by WJXT-TV Channel 4 news about deplorable conditions at the apartments.

Will GOP stand in Florida’s way?” via Antonio Fins, Wendy Rhodes and John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post — Infrastructure dollars could help dredge Florida ports, complete meaningful pieces of Everglades restoration, repair worn asphalt on highways and even assist with the elder-care conundrum facing Florida families and their aging loved ones. That is if the White House and Capitol Hill Democrats can convince Republicans to get on board — which politically seems a herculean task. “Nothing’s been approved yet, so I wouldn’t count my chickens before they’ve broken out of their eggs,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com. “But even if Biden doesn’t get everything enacted that he has put out there, he is putting down markers to say these are the programs that we believe are important, and now we are on record advocating for them.”

Matt Gaetz says he’s not going anywhere. Florida Republicans aren’t saying anything.” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — Gaetz hasn’t missed a floor vote in Congress since late March, when The New York Times reported that federal authorities were investigating whether the Panhandle Republican had a sexual encounter with a 17-year-old girl. He remains active on his committees, where he recently plugged an environmental bill and questioned military leaders about African conflicts. Earlier this month, he introduced legislation to rename a Niceville post office. He is tweeting. He is fundraising. And despite the questions swirling around him, he has made it clear: He isn’t going anywhere. In the meantime, a hush has fallen over Tallahassee, where Gaetz spent six years as a bombastic and outspoken lawmaker.

Matt Gaetz vows he isn’t going anywhere. Image via AP.

How the Gaetz probe grew from sex trafficking to medical pot” via The Associated Press — When Gaetz vacationed in the Bahamas in 2018, he was joined by a doctor who donated to his campaign and a former colleague in the Florida Legislature. The Republican Congressman, Dr. Jason Pirozzolo and Halsey Beshears were united in their enjoyment of politics, fancy travel and the company of beautiful women. What began as an inquiry into sex trafficking has grown into a larger review of public corruption. Pressure on the Congressman could build in the coming weeks as Joel Greenberg faces a May 15 deadline to strike a plea deal with prosecutors. If he does, Greenberg may be pressed to cooperate with federal investigators and deliver damaging information against Gaetz. None of the people on the trip to the Bahamas has been charged with a crime.

Israel ambassador likely to be named this week, with shortlist narrowed to two” via Jacob Kornbluh of Forward — Biden has narrowed down his list of candidates for ambassador to Israel to two candidates who have strong ties to the pro-Israel community. Robert Wexler, a former congressman from Florida, is on the shortlist for one of the high-profile diplomatic posts of the administration. The other is Tom Nides, a former official in the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama administrations. In a recent interview, Wexler said the Abraham Accords, the normalization agreements signed between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and the kingmaker role Knesset Member Mansur Abbas from the United Arab List is playing in Israeli politics is a “tremendous opportunity” for the Biden administration’s envoy to play to a role. “These are fundamental game-changers that will change the dynamic of Israel for generations,” he said.


— LOCAL NOTES —

Miami-Dade’s Mayor was ready for a contracting fight at MIA. Then she backed off” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — Two weeks after setting up a showdown over a contracting fight, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava on Friday backed off an effort to reject all bids for a $33 million construction agreement at Miami International Airport and give the losing firms a fresh shot under new criteria. Levine Cava set up a high-stakes contest on April 12 when she surprised county commissioners with a memo recommending a third competition for the stalled contract, first opened to bidders in 2016 under then-mayor Carlos Giménez. This time, Levine Cava wrote, she wanted more focus on resiliency, diversity and workplace safety.

Daniella Levine Cava stands down from a major MIA contractor battle. Image via Miami-Dade County.

Hospital fought family of brain-damaged baby for years. The girl died. The fight raged on” via Carol Marbin Miller and Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald — Lylyauhnie Williams died on Jan. 2, 2016, the day before her fourth birthday. That would be a tragedy for any family. But for Lylyauhnie and her parents, Desiree and Robert Williams, those treasures of childhood were all but lost four years earlier, on Jan. 3, 2012, the day she was born with profound brain damage. Her birth triggered years of litigation between Lylyauhnie’s parents and the hospital where the little girl was born. The end of Lylyauhnie’s life brought one last bitter realization. In the antiseptic calculus by which courts assign a monetary value to human suffering, the death of a frail, brain-damaged child often reduces the amount in damages paid by a hospital or doctor.

Half-cent sales-tax paying for new schools and major overhauls throughout Polk County” via Kimberly C. Moore of The Lakeland Ledger — The Polk County School Board, along with district staff, have a message for voters: “Thank you for renewing the half-cent sales tax in November 2018!” Without the 15-year tax, they say the school district could not afford to build new schools, modernize old ones and do much-needed improvements on others. The initiative passed 68% to 32%. As part of the district’s plan to keep people apprised of what the tax is paying for, on Tuesday, Assistant Superintendent for Facilities and Operations Angela Usher, along with Robert Kincart, founder and president of A-C-T Environmental & Infrastructure and a member of the Sales Tax citizens oversight committee, told the School Board what they have been able to accomplish in the past two years. 

Wetlands in peril? Requests to fill swamps jump in 5 months since state took over permitting” via Chad Gillis of the Fort Myers News-Press — More than 1,000 permits to change wetlands have been submitted to a state agency since it took over Clean Water Act powers from the federal government in December. Collier County leads the state with 161 permits to dredge and fill wetlands pending with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection through April 23. Lee County is second, with 84 permits in the same period. An analysis shows that dredge-and-fill applications are coming in at a faster rate than they were when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had that authority, causing some to worry that more wetlands in Florida will be lost sooner. The permit data is a good measure of how wetlands are faring since the switch.

Pahokee’s toxic blue-green algae bloom offers unique vacuum cleanup effort” via Kimberly Miller of the Palm Beach Post — In the beginning, septic tank suckers arrived to vacuum up Pahokee Marina’s cakes of toxic algae in slow tugs like sipping hot fudge through a straw. It’s a crude method to rid water of cyanobacteria blooms — a catchall mechanism that shipped toxin-laced liquid and solids together to a plot of unused earth deep in the Everglades Agricultural Area after West Palm Beach’s wastewater treatment plant could take no more. In the days that followed the blue-green algae outbreak in Pahokee, the tenacity of a Loxahatchee fish farmer, the brawn of a dredging company, the tech of a slurry purification firm, and the might of the largest water management district in Florida would team to try to tackle the poisonous bloom.

— TOP OPINION —

How did the pandemic begin? It’s time for a new WHO investigation.” via The Washington Post editorial board — Almost nothing is known about how the pandemic began, and the first attempt to discover the origins went nowhere. In the next few weeks, the WHO and member nations must rally anew to launch a credible investigation into how and where the pandemic got started. No one should underestimate the difficulty; it might take years. But understanding the origins of this pandemic will help immensely in preparing for another one. The recent joint WHO-China investigation found the most likely source of the coronavirus was a direct or indirect zoonotic spillover to humans.

— OPINIONS —

Heaven help us if court upholds DeSantis’ assault on free speech in Florida” via the Miami Herald editorial board — Of all the bills rammed through by the Florida Legislature this Session — sometimes revived late at night and then quickly passed by GOP lawmakers — the most egregious remains House Bill 1. It’s Gov. DeSantis’ baby, and he has already signed it into law. The Session is about to end, but HB 1 set the stage for this year’s legislative theme: Strip power from local governments, and trample Floridians’ constitutional rights underfoot. Civil rights attorneys from a nonprofit called the Lawyers Matter Task Force, and additional plaintiffs, have already filed a lawsuit challenging the Governor’s new law, concocted to have a chilling effect on those who take to the streets to protest.

If DeSantis truly believes in law and order, he’ll sign Florida’s hard-won police-reform bill” via the Miami Herald editorial board — Halfway through Florida’s 60-day Legislative Session, this editorial board declared lawmakers were pushing an anti-people agenda. We’re not here to retract that statement. Lawmakers did, after all, wrap up their work on Friday after passing an unnecessary “anti-riot” bill that will have a chilling effect on people’s right to protest; reversing the will of Key West voters who limited cruises at the city’s port; and banning transgender athletes from women’s sports. But a late-Session police-reform package turned out to be this Session’s biggest, and most encouraging, surprise. Remarkably, a Legislature that has taken a sharp turn to the ideological right passed anything that will increase police accountability.

Florida’s transgender athletes’ bill, reprehensible and unnecessary, now await DeSantis’ signature” via Doug Fernandes of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Those wanting transparency from their Florida elected officials struck the mother lode on Wednesday night. The transparency wasn’t in the way House and Senate Republicans in the Florida Legislature rammed home a ban on transgender females from competing in girls’ and women’s sports. When you’re invited to a party, you confidently enter through the front door, in view of everyone else. But when you’re not, you crash it by slithering through a back entrance. That’s the tactic Republican lawmakers used to approve a bill before Friday’s end of the Legislative Session, fast-tracking it to the desk of DeSantis. Earlier in the Session, a stand-alone Senate transgender bill, SB 2012, seemed dead when the Senate failed to advance it to the chamber’s floor.

A close call this time, but lawmakers have a bad attitude on openness” via Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat — We in the news media tend to treat every proposed exemption from Florida’s open-meetings and public-records laws with a skepticism bordering on hostility, even contempt. So it was good to see the failure of a bill that would have allowed executive search committees to hide the names of people applying for the presidency of state colleges and universities. The House passed the exemption by 101-16 vote, but it failed 25-14 in the Senate — just one vote short of the two-thirds majority it needed. At least 14 new exemptions were enacted in the past Session, and eight old ones were renewed. Maybe some were worse than others, but the won-loss bottom line shows what legislators think of open government.

Emerging from lockdown: First indoor dining brings memories — of dogs” via Gary Yordon of the Tallahassee Democrat — I attended the ribbon-cutting for Leon County’s first dog park in 1998. It was a glorious day. An endless parade of pooches, turned loose to run freely to their heart’s content. All those years forced to have their outdoor adventures be tethered to a human. But all that changed when the gate swung open at Tom Brown Park. It was clear the ceremonial trappings of speeches and a cut ribbon were nothing more than teasing to the pack of hounds. Tugging at their bonds and ready to explode, the whining and barking grew louder. They could see the open space, and they knew it was theirs.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

The Regular Legislative Session is over, but lawmakers will be back in The Capitol in a couple of weeks for a Special Session on gambling. And the Seminole Tribe of Florida launched a new PR campaign to try to build support for the new gaming Compact between the Tribe and Florida.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— There are going to be some substantial changes in the Session’s aftermath. It’s going to be harder to vote by mail because the Governor will sign SB 90 … what critics call the “voter suppression” bill.

— DeSantis got what he wanted this year: the voting bill, the crackdown on protesters, and a bill to punish social media for de-platforming Trump. To Democrats like Rep. Bobby DuBose, this is the session where Florida issues took a back seat while Republicans focused on national politics.

— One of the more despicable things the Legislature did this year was to abolish the Lawton Chiles Endowment fund. We can only wonder what the late Governor would have to say about that slap in the face.

— Today on Sunrise, an audio tribute to the man we called Walkin’ Lawton … in his own words.

— And finally, a Florida Man is facing a $30,000 fine for an overgrown lawn.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

What David Johnson is reading — “The strange bipartisan appeal of Ted Lasso” via Joanna Weiss of POLITICO — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker delivered his annual State of the Commonwealth address at a supremely difficult moment. It was late January; the state was emerging from a surge in COVID-19 cases; the vaccine rollout was hitting early stumbles; the populace was tense. Alone in his office, barred from the usual pomp and circumstance, Baker spoke for 20 minutes about challenges and progress, safety and statistics. Then he wrapped it up by talking about television. Or, rather, one television show, Apple TV+’s “Ted Lasso.” The half-hour sports comedy, whose second season is coming in July, has become both a word-of-mouth hit and a quirky metaphor for the political world.

Ted Lasso is a bipartisan hit.

Disney: The people have spoken on PeopleMover” via Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — I like the PeopleMover. Honest. But after the Magic Kingdom ride returned to service after a long absence at Walt Disney World last weekend, I see that a lot of people love them some PeopleMover. They love it with a white-hot, White Castle level of intensity. The Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover is an elevated tram ride, propelled magnetically, that glides in and out of attractions, most notably Space Mountain. I mean, I’ll get back on the ride next time I’m at the theme park … if the line is manageable. (I’ve seen waits passing the 45-minute mark since the reopening). But the attraction to this slow-moving attraction must go beyond absence, making hearts grow fonder.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Belated best wishes to Adam Giery of The Strategos Group, as well as Keaton AlexanderJustin Caporale, John Finotti of Tucker/Hall, and Steve Seibert. Celebrating today is Donovan Brown, as well as Samantha Ferrin of Greenberg Traurig, William Lewis, former Rep. Ritch Workman, and the great Tom Scherberger.

___

Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter SchorschPhil AmmannRenzo Downey and Drew Wilson.

Peter Schorsch

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


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#FlaPol

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

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

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

Email: [email protected]
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704