Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 5.6.21

Sunburn Orange Tally (2)
Here's your morning briefing of what you need to know in Florida politics.

Let’s start the morning with some great news about two really good people:

Aly is a vice president of Accounts with On3PR, while Omar is deputy chief of staff to Speaker Chris Sprowls.

 — SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@NickConfessore: The fact that this private corporate administrative decision is being covered as something akin to a Supreme Court ruling — rightly so, I think — is the best illustration I can imagine of the sheer power Facebook has achieved over the public square

@BostonJoan: Imagine spending millions to offload blame only to have it returned like a bill lost in the mail, which is now overdue.

@JakeTapper: Plenty of arguments to make about Facebook’s decisions, but this now-common response of “I don’t like what this private company did, so our public officials should use their government powers to punish them” is an interesting philosophical development

@FrankPallone: Donald Trump has played a big role in helping Facebook spread disinformation, but whether he’s on the platform or not, Facebook and other social media platforms with the same business model will find ways to highlight divisive content to drive advertising revenues.

@KimberlyEAtkins: Florida man who incited an insurrection gets banned from social media and then starts a blog which is endlessly quoted by others on social media.

@DaveJorgenson: Whatever happens, this is definitely going to be the climactic moment in ‘The Social Network 2’

@SenPizzo: Everybody keeps saying it was a bad Legislative Session, and it was … but just think, we all could’ve driven home on Donald J. Trump Highway.

@ChipLaMarca: This is so disappointing. To think that there is a “teacher” who would treat a servant of the public, and a first responder like this is just sad. It goes without saying that without men/women who wear the uniform, and protect and serve, we are in grave danger as a country.

— DAYS UNTIL —

Mother’s Day — 3; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 4; Gambling Compact Special Session begins — 11; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 22; ‘Tax Freedom Holiday’ begins — 22; Memorial Day — 25; Florida TaxWatch Spring Meeting and PLA Awards — 28; ‘Loki’ premieres on Disney+ — 36; Father’s Day — 45; F9 premieres in the U.S. — 50; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 57; 4th of July — 59; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 64; MLB All-Star Game — 68; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 78; second season of ‘Ted Lasso’ premieres on Apple+ — 78; The NBA Draft — 84; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 86; ‘The Suicide Squad’ premieres — 92; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 110; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 120; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 141; ‘Dune’ premieres — 148; MLB regular season ends — 150; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 156; World Series Game 1 — 173; Florida’s 20th Congressional District primary — 180; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 180; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 183; San Diego Comic-Con begins — 204; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 218; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 225; Florida’s 20th Congressional District election — 250; Super Bowl LVI — 283; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 323; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 365; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 428; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 519; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 554.

— TOP STORIES —

Florida police find no evidence of voter fraud in Mike Bloomberg plan to pay court debts” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — State police have dropped their investigation into a program by former New York City Mayor Bloomberg to pay off court debts for Floridians with felony convictions so they could vote in last year’s presidential election. After devoting more than 700 man-hours to the case, which included reviewing 7,600 records and trying to interview more than 100 people, agents found no evidence that anyone was told to vote for a specific political party as a condition of having their outstanding court fees and fines paid off, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Wednesday. Agents didn’t find any evidence that Bloomberg had donated to the effort, either. Two months before the presidential election, an article cited an internal memo claiming Bloomberg raised more than $16 million to help 32,000 Black and Hispanic voters with felony convictions vote in Florida.

Mike Bloomberg’s plan to pay the fines of ex-felons was above board.

Ron DeSantis to sign elections bill Thursday before West Palm Beach rally” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — DeSantis is expected to sign this year’s controversial elections bill Thursday during an exclusive signing ceremony ahead of a rally in support of the Governor. The event, hosted at the Hilton at Palm Beach International Airport, will take place one week after the Republican-led Legislature passed the elections bill (SB 90). That measure, which will take effect upon the Governor’s signature, incorporates much of DeSantis’ plan to erect what one lawmaker called “guardrails” around mail-in ballots and election administration law. Doors will open for the event at 7 a.m., and the ceremony will begin sometime after 7:45 a.m. The event is billed as a rally for “The Best Governor in the USA.” The rally is expected to center around the bill signing.

Spotted: Desantis’ strategist Phil Cox and Jason Miller flying back to D.C. together from Palm Beach. H/t to POLITICO Playbook.

— 2022 —

‘2014 was on me’: Charlie Crist wants to get it right in North Florida this time” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — Crist’s first campaign stop during his third bid for Governor seemed like any other. He met teachers, union members and local Democratic Party leaders in a local Pensacola restaurant. But the location, North Florida, appeared to be an acknowledgment of mistakes made in 2014, the last time the former Governor ran for, and lost, the office. Crist is such a fixture in Florida politics, a star-struck woman who was at the Five Sisters Blues Café Wednesday called him a “celebrity” when she shook his hand and asked for a photo. Lessons from his 2014 loss seem to be guiding this latest 2022 bid to be Florida’s Governor. Crist has admitted he did not spend enough time in North Florida during that campaign.

Charlie Crist takes the show on the road to North Florida. Image via Twitter.

—“Crist speaks in Pensacola one day after announcing 2022 run for Governor” via Jake Newby of the Pensacola News Journal 

—“Day One of Florida Governor race exceeds expectations” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics

—”Once more unto the breach, Crist, once more” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics

Assignment editors — Crist will take part in the following North Florida events: Breakfast hosted by Councilor Reggie Gaffney, 9 a.m., RSVP to receive location; 11:30 a.m., roundtable with union leaders, RSVP to receive location; 12:30 p.m., lunch with Black elected officials, faith leaders, and business owners, RSVP to receive location; 5 p.m., visit with Lake County Democrats, RSVP to receive location. Contact: [email protected].

Nikki Fried outlines attack strategy against DeSantis ahead of likely challenge” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO — Fried has a message ahead of her likely challenge to DeSantis: It’s all about “Ron’s regime.” Fried, in recent days, has been previewing her forthcoming attack strategy to voters, a pitch that will paint DeSantis as a dictator in the Governor’s Mansion. For fuel, Fried will focus largely on DeSantis’ push for legislation that cracks down on rioters as well as his signing an election overhaul bill that Republicans call safeguarding state elections; but Democrats have decried as voter suppression. She’ll also criticize DeSantis for overruling local governments on pandemic restrictions. She made comments during a news conference where she called on DeSantis to veto a lengthy list of bills.

Eric Lynn officially in to succeed Crist in CD 13” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Lynn will run for Florida’s 13th Congressional District. He made the announcement Wednesday, just one day after Crist officially jumped into the 2022 gubernatorial contest, creating an open seat. Lynn formerly served as a national security adviser to former President Barack Obama. “Now, more than ever, we need public servants who put politics aside to get things done for working people,” Lynn said in a statement. Lynn’s statement teases his campaign’s tone. CD 13 is currently a fairly purple district. Heading into last year’s presidential election, Republicans, through a massive voter registration effort that will continue into the 2022 midterms, chipped away at the Democratic advantage in the Pinellas County district from 5.2 percentage points to just 4.6.

Anna Paulina Luna suing FEC over inaction on complaint against Twitter, says blue check of ‘value’ in campaigns” via Tyler Olson of Fox News — Luna, the former 2020 GOP nominee for Democrat Crist’s House seat, filed suit against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) over alleged inaction on a complaint about Twitter never verifying her account. According to a copy of her lawsuit first obtained by Fox News, Luna tried for months to get her Twitter account verified, even as other candidates in her primary race already had blue check marks on their profiles. She continued not to have a blue check on her Twitter profile as she competed against Crist in the 2020 General Election. Luna’s suit says that this is despite the fact she met “all the requirements in Twitter’s rules” to be verified.

Rebekah Jones hints at potential congressional run in CD 13” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — In a series of tweets posted this week, former Florida Department of Health data analyst Jones hints at a potential run for Florida’s 13th Congressional District. “Florida’s 13th. What do you think?” Jones wrote. “Ok. So I have two more conversations I need to have with some friends in Florida politics, then I’ll be able to state — some — of that news I’m holding onto. Hah.” Jones told Florida Politics she has no comment regarding a congressional run, but confirmed she is not eyeing a gubernatorial campaign. “I’m focusing my future on finding ways to help progressive candidates with commitments to making science-based policy decisions win elections,” Jones wrote in an email to Florida Politics.

Rebekah Jones drops a hint about her political future. Image via CNN.

‘Problematic and uncalled for’: Broward Supervisor urges DeSantis to reconsider CD 20 Special Election dates” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Broward County Supervisor of Elections Joe Scott says DeSantis is ignoring multiple issues with the dates he announced Tuesday — and shirking the opinion of his own Division of Elections. Scott said he attempted to reach out to DeSantis about his concerns with the proposed dates. “I called the Governor’s office yesterday. I have not heard back,” Scott told Florida Politics Wednesday. “The dates are extremely problematic and uncalled for. The dates that we are planning for would work so much better, and there’s just no good reason not to go along with them other than politics.”

— “By delaying a special election, DeSantis owns the libs one more time” via Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent of The Washington Post

‘Fighter’ Perry Thurston releases first digital ad in CD 20 race” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — State Sen. Thurston is releasing his first ad in the Special Election campaign for the seat in Florida’s 20th Congressional District. Thurston is releasing the ad only one day after DeSantis announced the Special Primary Election would take place on Nov. 2, followed by a Jan. 11 General Election. “Injustice, suppression, division,” the ad’s narrator begins. “Republicans are trying to tear us down, and our community is fighting back.” Thurston then steps in, explaining why he jumped into the race to replace the late U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, who passed away in early April following a cancer battle. Thurston is stepping away from a future leadership role in the state Senate to seek Hastings’ seat.

To watch the ad, click on the image below:

Nick DiCeglie to kickoff Senate run May 25” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Rep. DiCeglie will host a campaign kickoff in his home district in late May to get the wheels rolling on his Senate bid. The Pinellas County Republican is running for Senate District 24, a seat currently held by incumbent Sen. Jeff Brandes, who will be vacating the seat due to term limits. DiCeglie announced his Senate run on March 1. DiCeglie, who currently serves in House District 66, is hosting his campaign launch on May 25 at the Belleair County Club starting at 5:30 p.m. The representative was the first candidate to officially jump into the race, which is expected to be one of the most competitive legislative races of the 2022 campaign cycle. 

If you read one thing — “Professionals in the art and theater community accused Brian Clowdus of racism. Now he’s running for the Florida House” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A playhouse in Atlanta fired its entire team last year amid accusations of overt racism dating back to founder Clowdus’ leadership. Clowdus has since redefined himself as a prominent voice in the MAGA movement, including volunteering with Gays for Trump. Clowdus lives in Panama City and announced his candidacy for HD 6. Serenbe Playhouse, located outside Atlanta, developed a reputation for shows not contained by actual housing. The buzz and attention around the theater turned negative in 2020, as a number of theater professionals came forward with accusations against Clowdus and his team. Black actors came forward with concerns White wardrobing staff inappropriately dressed their characters like slaves. Stories emerged of actors adding extra n-words to the script of Ragtime.

Anna Eskamani passes on statewide campaign” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Eskamani will forgo a bid for Governor and will instead run for reelection in House District 47. The progressive Orlando Democrat had reportedly been considering challenging DeSantis. However, she is passing on a statewide campaign. “Florida needs strong Democrats in the State Legislature to fight for the needs of everyday people, and I’m damn proud to be one of them. That’s why after a lot of community conversations and self-reflection, I’m running for reelection to continue serving my hometown in the Florida House,” Eskamani said in a statement.

LGBTQ rights advocate Todd Delmay enters race for HD 100” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Delmay, one of the pioneers in suing to overturn Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage, says he’s jumping into the political realm and declaring his candidacy in the House District 100 race. “The Florida Legislature has made clear this Session that their priorities are to tear down opportunities for Florida families,” Delmay said in a statement announcing his run. “We say enough, which is why I am proud to announce my campaign for state Representative. It’s time we had more voices like mine in the Florida Legislature, and I am excited for the journey ahead because I believe that by listening, working together, and fighting for justice, our future will be bright once again.”

Todd Delmay throws his hat in the ring for HD 100. Image via Facebook.

Bryan Avila seat draws another candidate” via The News Service of Florida — Hialeah Republican Vivian Casals-Munoz opened an account to try to succeed Avila in what is now Miami-Dade’s House District 111. Miami Springs Republican Orlando Lamas opened an account in March for the race. St. Augustine Democrat Ed Slavin opened an account to challenge Rep. Cyndi Stevenson next year in St. Johns County’s House District 17.

— DATELINE TALLY —

Requests for DeSantis vetoes roll in” via The News Service of Florida — Veto season, or at least the annual rite of asking DeSantis to reject bills, has arrived after the 2021 Legislative Session. Groups and individuals are sending emails to the Governor’s office urging DeSantis to veto or sign bills, regardless of whether the measures were overwhelmingly backed by the Legislature or eked through. Some of the loudest calls have come against measures that would impose new election rules (SB 90); impose a ban on transgender females playing on girls’ and women’s sports teams (SB 1028), and overturn a referendum in Key West that restricted cruise ships (SB 1194). Bills limiting the authority of local governments on energy-related issues and other topics have also drawn numerous calls for vetoes.

It’s veto season!

DeSantis touts first responder bonuses with law and order message” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — DeSantis hasn’t signed the bonus into law yet, but the Governor is touring the state to tout $1,000 bonus checks on the way to first responders. DeSantis named those bonus checks one of his priorities for federal relief spending under the American Rescue Plan. On Friday, lawmakers passed a spending plan through the end of the next fiscal year, including $208 million to make those bonus checks possible. Eligible first responders include law enforcement officers, emergency medical technicians, firefighters, paramedics, institutional security officers and certain state agency officials. “Some want to defund the police,” DeSantis said. “We’re funding the police and then some.”

Floridians still want say in gambling expansion to mobile sports betting, poll says” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — In what may be a warning shot to DeSantis and the Legislature in their pursuit of a gambling deal that will legalize mobile sports betting in Florida, a new poll commissioned by No Casinos shows 76% of Floridians surveyed say voters should have to approve. Under the compact, signed by the governor and the Seminole Tribe on April 23, anyone who is over 21, and located within the state of Florida and has a sports betting app on their mobile device, could place a bet on any sport. All bets would be routed through servers located on tribal land, and the Seminole Tribe would be the exclusive operator of the digital sportsbooks in Florida for the next 30 years. In return, the Tribe agrees to pay the state a minimum of $500 million annually.

‘It’s to protect the industry; it’s not to protect public health’: Health groups urge DeSantis to block vaping bill” via Isaac Morgan of the Florida Phoenix — Tackling the youth tobacco epidemic is a top priority for health groups hoping to prevent addiction and diseases associated with tobacco use among young people. That issue was addressed, in part, when lawmakers in Florida voted during the recent legislative session to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco or nicotine products, including vaping devices, from 18 to 21. The move mirrors an action taken in December 2019 by the Trump administration. However, the bill (SB 1080) would do little to curb the trend of young adults engaging in the use of e-cigarettes or other products containing nicotine, health advocates warn.

Randolph Bracy touts state’s scholarships, recognition for Oceee massacre” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — With the 2021 budget, the state of Florida is officially acknowledging and making amends for the 1920 racist massacre and rout of Blacks in Ocoee, Sen. Bracy declared Tuesday. Bracy, whose Orange County district includes Ocoee, hailed as historic and profound the inclusion in the budget of $305,000 annually to provide for college or trade school scholarships for descendants of the Ocoee massacre victims and survivors, or for current African American students in Ocoee. The Ocoee compensation comes in the form of up to 50 annual scholarships of up to $6,100 a year, which could start going out to eligible students after the budget year begins on July 1.

Dan Daley said focus was ‘art of the possible’ in passing eight local, policy bills” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The 2021 Legislative Session was a difficult one to swallow for Democrats, given a series of highly-contested proposals pushed through by the GOP. But while Rep. Daley joined his Democratic colleagues in decrying measures restricting transgender athletes and changing the state’s election laws, he also found room to push through several policies important to his community, including families affected by the 2018 Parkland shooting. One of Daley’s biggest legislative wins was a provision attached to a larger school safety bill (HB 7035) which aims to ensure parents receive timely notification when a school threat emerges or has been dealt with. Daley proposed a bill to increase parental notification rights in February.

Dan Daley practices the art of the possible. Image via Colin Hackley.

First on #FlaPol — NewDEAL names Christine Hunschofsky to list of rising elected leaders — The NewDEAL, an organization seeking out rising progressive elected officials nationwide, is naming Democratic Rep. Hunschofsky of Parkland to its newest class of top leaders. Hunschofsky joins a shortlist of just 19 elected officials nationwide in this year’s class. Hunschofsky won the House District 96 in 2020 after serving four years as Parkland Mayor. “We are in a unique moment for state and local leaders as we must find solutions for the urgent challenges created by COVID-19 while not losing focus on longer-term issues that will also affect Florida’s economic security for decades to come,” Hunschofsky said in a Thursday statement on the selection.

Legislature’s mixed record on criminal justice reform” via Giulia Heyward of POLITICO — The Florida Legislature ended last week with the vast majority of criminal justice reform bills dead, leaving some lawmakers lamenting the failures of the two-month session that left, in the words of one state senator, “a prison system in crisis.” The Florida Legislative Black Caucus introduced more than 24 police reform bills this session — and the vast majority of those measures were never heard in either the state House or Senate. Left on the table were items that would have prohibited non-knock search warrants for misdemeanor offenses and prohibitions on law enforcement from acquiring surplus military equipment, among others.

Report on local government efficiency headed to state leadership” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The Legislature’s task force on local government efficiency has effectively finalized its recommendations to streamline government processes. The Local Government Efficiency Task Force, established by the Legislature last year, is set to hand its final report to DeSantis, Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Sprowls by June 1. The report includes recommendations on elections, public meetings, reporting, pension plans, unfunded mandates and business taxes. “The Local Government Efficiency Task Force finds that the status quo for several issues is a source of inefficiency for local governments,” according to the report.

— LOBBY REGS —

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Gregory Black, Brian Jogerst, Waypoint Strategies: Horizon Therapeutics

Kristin Davis: Hillsborough County Public Schools

Dean Izzo, Capital City Consulting: Canopy Management Consulting Group

— STATEWIDE —

Desantis pushes coastal ‘resilience’ while doing little to tackle climate change” via Amy Green and James Bruggers of WMFE — Brick by brick, the stucco shell of a new flood-resilient public works building is taking shape blocks from the beach, the most visible sign yet of a small community’s enormous task staving off the rising sea. “This is actually the highest point in the city,” Satellite Beach City Manager Courtney Barker said, adding that right next door to the new public works building will be a new fire station. It’s a close-knit community established by rocket scientists south of Kennedy Space Center, on a low-slung barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and Indian River Lagoon.

Fried: Feds should ‘come to a decision’ on Matt Gaetz probe or move on” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO — Ahead of a likely bid to try and unseat DeSantis, a new spotlight is focused on Fried’s friendship with embattled Rep. Gaetz and their role lobbying for the state’s marijuana industry. Before running for Agriculture Commission in 2018, Fried was a prominent marijuana lobbyist who helped boost Florida’s nascent marijuana industry. It was a policy issue that created a longtime bipartisan relationship with Gaetz. Fried called the allegations against Gaetz “shocking,” but also said the Department of Justice should make public the evidence against Gaetz after more than a month of high-profile speculation.

Nikki Fried tells the feds to do something about Matt Gaetz or move on. Image via AP.

Florida program to help brain-damaged kids embraces reforms it once opposed. Promises more” via Carol Marbin Miller and Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald — The day after the Florida Legislature passed a bill to reform a state program for brain-damaged children, its executive director rolled out a host of additional changes that went beyond those mandated by lawmakers. In doing so, Kenney Shipley, executive director of NICA, the Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association, embraced some of the same changes she had opposed in past years. Shipley said the program would be “improving and expediting” its reimbursement process, which some parents said is slow, cumbersome, and sometimes left them responsible for out-of-pocket expenses. Shipley said the program also will implement a new process by which families will be told in writing which requests for benefits have been denied and why.

Is Florida’s Baker Act being using too often to commit mentally ill kids?” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — In the 50 years since Florida’s Baker Act was passed, the law has saved countless people in mental health crises. It’s also clear the Baker Act and how it’s enforced need updating, yet there is disagreement about whether that would best be accomplished by expanding the law or rolling it back. It’s an important debate to have and worth taking time to study the data and impacts on Florida’s most vulnerable before changing this key pillar of mental health policy. The Baker Act allows the temporary, involuntary commitment of someone who poses an immediate danger to themselves or others due to mental illness. It touches thousands of families every year.

Lawsuit settled in which 15 women alleged sexual abuse at Florida prison” via Romy Ellenbogen of the Tampa Bay Times — The United States has settled a lawsuit with 15 women who said correctional officers at a federal prison in Florida repeatedly sexually abused them. The lawsuit contended that Bureau of Prisons officers at Federal Correctional Complex Coleman in Sumter County sexually abused female inmates for years and threatened them if they didn’t comply. According to a July document filed by the United States, six of the eight accused officers admitted to having sexual contact with inmates in response to the complaint. But no officers were prosecuted. They instead retired or resigned, and some still receive benefits from their federal employment.

Think twice before you whip out your phone and record a cop. You could be arrested.” via Marc Freeman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel — Taking smartphone videos of cops in public could shine a light on police misconduct — but it also could land you behind bars. A divided Florida appeals court ruling upheld the arrest of a woman who filmed officers outside a movie theater. The decision in a Boynton Beach case comes amid the nation’s racial justice awakening, after deadly police encounters with Black citizens were caught on camera. And it leaves open the question of whether a person recording George Floyd’s murder could have been arrested in Florida.

James ‘Hammer’ Hartsell tapped to lead Veterans’ Affairs” via News Service of Florida — Retired Marine Corps Major Gen. Hartsell was promoted Tuesday to executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs after a brief interview with DeSantis and the state Cabinet. Hartsell, a Lake Wales native, has been the acting director since former Executive Director Danny Burgess stepped down last year to run for a state Senate seat successfully. “My goal is to make Florida the most sought-after veteran state in the nation,” Hartsell said. Hartsell joined the state agency as deputy executive director in April 2019. Hartsell enlisted in the Marine reserves in 1981 and was commissioned as an officer in 1983. He mobilized for Operation Iraqi Freedom I, Iraqi Freedom II and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Agreement on FPL Dorian costs approved” via News Service of Florida — State regulators Tuesday approved a settlement on about $240 million in costs that Florida Power & Light racked up as it prepared for Hurricane Dorian in 2019 and restored electricity in some areas. Dorian veered away before making landfall in Florida. But FPL said it spent about $240 million mobilizing crews to prepare for possible landfall. Utilities often have received approval from the commission to add surcharges to customers’ bills to cover hurricane-related costs. FPL did not ask the commission to allow it to recoup the Dorian costs through such a surcharge. Instead, it moved forward with a financing mechanism that involves using what is known as a “depreciation reserve surplus” to cover the storm costs.

Personnel note: Jessie Werner heads to Coastal Cloud — Florida Ports Council Vice President Werner will leave her current position at the end of the week to take a new job at Coastal Cloud, a consulting firm focused on the integration of software platforms for cloud solutions in business, nonprofits, and government. In her new role, Werner will manage corporate brand strategy, communication and public relations. “It’s a big job with a growing company and I’m very excited to lend my expertise to an organization on the verge of major expansion,” Werner said in an email. Werner has worked for the Florida Ports Council since early 2018. Previously, the University of Kentucky alumna worked as director of programs and communications at the Coalition for College Cost Savings.

Personnel note: Natalie King promoted to partner at RSA Consulting” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — King has 17 years experience in The Process, the past 10 of which were spent at the Tampa-based lobbying firm. During her decade at RSA, she has held the titles of vice president, chief operations officer, and now partner. King joined RSA Consulting not long after it launched, and founder and CEO Ron Pierce says she has been integral to its success. “As I was starting RSA Consulting, Natalie was right there each step of the way as a friend and adviser,” he said. “She joked with me one day that I’d have to grow the company big enough to bring her onto the team. After hearing that, I thought it would be a great idea. So, I asked. I’m just grateful she said yes.”

Congrats to Natalie King, who has been bumped up to partner at RSA Consulting.

Joseph Hatchett to lie in state at Supreme Court” via News Service of Florida — Former Justice Hatchett, who died last week at age 88, will lie in state Friday in the Florida Supreme Court rotunda. Hatchett was the first Black Florida Supreme Court justice, serving from 1975 to 1979. He then served two decades as a federal appeals court judge. Hatchett will lie in state from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady will open the event. Former Supreme Court Justice Robert Luck, now a judge on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, will also speak. He will represent the Atlanta-based appeals court, where Hatchett’s tenure included serving as a chief judge. A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida reports 4,394 new COVID-19 cases, 79 more deaths” via David Fleshler of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida reported 4,394 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday and another 79 new resident deaths linked to COVID-19. The state has now reported 2,253,929 cases since the pandemic began. The daily positivity rate was 5.16% on Wednesday, down from 6.11% the day before. The state’s pandemic data report shows a total of 35,478 Floridians have died from COVID-19. In addition, 706 nonresidents have died after contracting the virus. Most of the fatalities reported Wednesday happened over several weeks but were just confirmed in the past day. Out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Florida ranks No. 23 for deaths per 100K residents and No. 16 for cases per 100K residents.

DeSantis touts Florida’s economic recovery over ‘lockdown’ states” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — DeSantis highlighted Florida’s economic recovery and touted it over states that took a “lockdown” approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking at a news conference in Fort Myers, DeSantis took a moment to praise the state’s growing revenue stream and fortified ‘rainy day’ fund. The recovery, the Republican Governor suggested, are fruits of his cavalier approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. “None of that would’ve been possible had we done lockdown policies, had we blocked kids out of school, had we done a lot of the things a lot of these other states have done,” DeSantis told reporters. Indeed, Florida’s revenue is trending upward. In April, state revenue exceeded expectations by roughly $750 million.

Ron DeSantis blasts the economic struggles of ‘lockdown states.’

Crist says DeSantis’ COVID-19 ‘victory tour’ is ‘weird’” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — At a campaign event in Pensacola Wednesday, Crist took direct aim at DeSantis. It marks the second consecutive day, Crist only announced his campaign Tuesday, that Crist has used rhetoric that bypasses potential Democratic primary challengers and pits himself directly against Florida’s current Governor. Crist, speaking to reporters, criticized DeSantis for going on a coronavirus “victory tour” to tout the state’s pandemic recovery. “It’s weird for me to watch a man go around and say what a great job we’ve done, and so many of our fellow Floridians have been infected, have gotten sick, and sadly over 36,000 (died) — 93 died yesterday. Those numbers aren’t a joke. That’s not a success,” Crist said.

Anthony Sabatini calls on DeSantis to end ‘cruel’ school mask mandates” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Rep. Sabatini wants mask mandates lifted in Florida school districts immediately. Calling masks for students a “cruel and misguided policy,” he pushed Gov. DeSantis to order all school districts to lift such requirements. “A student and their parents should have the choice whether to wear a mask or not — not government,” the Howey-in-the-Hills Republican wrote in a letter to DeSantis. In his capacity as an attorney, Sabatini represented several businesses that sued local governments last year. He regularly challenged the constitutionality of lockdowns and mask mandates intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Judges consistently ruled against him, with one circuit judge even admonishing Sabatini for bringing frivolous suits.

Florida Supreme Court may soon relax COVID-19 protocol for courts” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady is considering a move to relax the High Court’s administrative orders that implement COVID-19 health protocols in courthouses across the state. Speaking to Florida Politics, Florida Supreme Court spokesperson Paul Flemming said that Canady will “act in short order” and “likely lessen requirements” such as mask mandates. Guided by a COVID-19 work group, Canady, since the onset of the pandemic, has issued numerous health orders to courts that are independent of state and local guidance — underscoring the branch’s separation of powers. The group, known as the Workgroup on the Continuity of Court Operations and Proceedings During and After COVID-19, was created to develop and recommend COVID-19 health guidance for courts.

Universities to return to ‘pre-COVID-19 operations’” via The News Service of Florida — Florida’s state universities are expected to return to pre-coronavirus operations during the upcoming school year, including at athletic and social events, top system officials said. An early evening news release signed by Syd Kitson, chairman of the university system’s Board of Governors, and Marshall Criser, chancellor of the system, said the 12 public universities “expect to increase classroom occupancy to pre-COVID-19 capacity by the 2021-22 academic year and return to pre-COVID-19 operations. Further, we anticipate returning to full in-person participation in athletic and social activities on our campuses, including fan participation in stadiums and arenas.” Campuses reopened this school year, though universities used various measures to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

— CORONA LOCAL —

Disney ending temperature screenings later this month” via WESH — Disney announced Wednesday that it will stop taking the temperatures of its employees and guests later this month. “Following the advice of the CDC and our local health officials, we will phase out on-site temperature screenings at Walt Disney World Resort for Cast Members beginning May 8 and Guests on May 16,” a statement on Disney’s website said. Anyone with a 100.4-degree temperature or above would not be allowed inside the park. Since it reopened last year after being closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Disney has been conducting temperature screenings. Disney said it is making the change based on evolving guidance from public health authorities, government agencies and its own team of health and safety experts.

Disney is dropping the temperature checks.

FEMA vaccine site at Tampa Greyhound Track will close by end of May” via Megan Gannon of WFLA — The federally-supported vaccine site at the Tampa Greyhound Track will close at the end of May. The site was originally supposed to close at the end of April but was extended for an additional four weeks to continue serving people. Last month, this site would vaccinate thousands in one day. Now over the last few weeks, those who operate the site have seen a decrease in the number of people who show up to get vaccinated. As the site moves toward closing on May 26, the site will focus the remaining three weeks on giving out only second doses of the Pfizer vaccine and the one dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

Miami Beach suspends COVID-19 orders, announces return of in-person Commission meetings” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — Two days after DeSantis ordered all local COVID-19 restrictions suspended, Miami Beach announced Wednesday it had canceled its remaining emergency measures, including mask requirements at businesses, a ban on retail alcohol sales after 10 p.m. and room occupancy limits for short-term rentals. In a memo, City Manager Alina T. Hudak wrote that she does not plan to impose any new emergency measures, but would retain the city’s declaration of a state of emergency to preserve its eligibility for federal reimbursements. Hudak also wrote in the memo that the City Commission would return to in-person meetings after more than a year of Zoom-based, virtual meetings.

Centner Academy rejected COVID-19 guidelines, but had no issue taking taxpayer-backed loans” via the Miami Herald editorial board — The story of Centner Academy in Miami’s Design District just keeps getting more absurd: from the school’s owners telling teachers not to get vaccinated, to their adherence to internet conspiracy theories that women’s menstrual cycles could be disrupted by being in contact with a vaccinated person, to the “shielding blockers” installed in the school windows as a protection against 5G tower radiation. We can only lament that those kids may be fed lies about vaccines. A fifth grade math and science teacher told students they shouldn’t hug their parents for more than five minutes if they’ve been vaccinated.

Monroe County will not enforce mask mandate — but businesses can have their own rules” via David Goodhue and Gwen Filosa of the Miami Herald — Monroe County will no longer enforce its mask mandate following DeSantis’ executive order that invalidates local COVID-19 rules. Key West had already stopped enforcing its facial covering mandate in early March after DeSantis canceled fines for violating COVID-19 emergency orders. Monroe issued a statement Monday night that the county also would no longer enforce its rule, which was put in place last summer as the pandemic heated up. However, spokeswoman Kristen Livengood said the decision does not prevent businesses from requiring customers and workers to wear masks. “While Monroe County Code Compliance will no longer respond to COVID-19 facial covering-related complaints, individual businesses may still have facial covering requirements in place if they choose,” Livengood said.

Okaloosa County continues to lag behind state, nation in percentage of COVID-19 vaccinations” via Tom McLaughlin of the Northwest Florida Daily News — The percentage of Okaloosa County residents who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 continues to creep upward, but still lags well behind state and national averages. Since mid-April, the number of seniors aged 65 and above who have received at least one vaccination climbed by 1.5% to reach just under 80% of the total population, while totals for the other three age groups, 16-24, 25-44, 45-64, all increased by 3% for the same period. Okaloosa County Health Department Director Dr. Karen Chapman reported 42% of those 45-64 have now received at least one shot, while 18% of those 25-44 and 12% of those 16-24 had been vaccinated.

On or off? Tallahasseeans react after county mask mandate lifted” via Alicia Devine and Tori Lynn Schneider of the Tallahassee Democrat — In the hours after DeSantis suspended local COVID-19 orders and, in effect, canceled Leon County’s mask mandate, Tallahasseeans shared mixed reactions. “Praise Gov. DeSantis,” a 65-year-old woman named Melanie said after she and her friend Claudia, 74, had lunch at Chick-fil-A inside the Governor’s Square Mall Tuesday. Melanie said she’s worn one as infrequently as possible but does so when a business requires it. “I’ll put it on if I have to go in there,” she said. But Kyle Coston, a 59-year-old local Costco member, believes the community isn’t ready to be maskless. DeSantis’ order does not affect whether a business chooses to require that masks be worn and that customers practice social distancing while inside their buildings.

Mask mandate changes in Tallahassee are confusing residents. Image via AP.

NSU backs off on requiring vaccinations, now that Florida outlawed it” via Brooke Baitinger of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Nova Southeastern University will no longer require all staff and students to be vaccinated against COVID-19, reversing a policy established last month that would violate Florida’s new ban on vaccine passports. Florida lawmakers finalized DeSantis’ ban last week, permanently banning COVID-19 vaccine passports. The Governor’s ban stymied the private nonprofit university’s plans, which were the first in the nation to require all students and staff to be vaccinated, NSU spokesman Joe Donzelli said. “Nova Southeastern University was hoping for the ability to require COVID-19 vaccinations where possible to further protect the NSU Florida community,” the school’s President George Hanbury wrote in a statement. “However, due to a new Florida law, the university is unable to maintain such a policy.”

— CORONA NATION —

COVID-19’s U.S. toll projected to drop sharply by the end of July” via Mike Stobbe of The Associated Press — Teams of experts are projecting COVID-19′s toll on the U.S. will fall sharply by the end of July. But they also warn that a “substantial increase” in hospitalizations and deaths is possible if unvaccinated people do not follow basic precautions such as wearing a mask and keeping their distance from others. The CDC paper included projections from six research groups. Their assignment was to predict the course of the U.S. epidemic between now and September under different scenarios, depending on how the vaccination drive proceeds and how people behave. Mainly, it’s good news. Even under scenarios involving disappointing vaccination rates, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are expected to drop dramatically.

Experts say the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. will soon plummet.

Americans will increasingly have to make their own judgments about COVID-19 risks” via Joseph G. Allen of The Washington Post — If you want to continue to wear a mask outdoors, by all means, you should. If you’re unvaccinated, standing a few extra feet from someone is still a good idea. Medical science says that if you’re vaccinated, you don’t need to wear a mask indoors. The risk to yourself and others is low. To be clear, the risk is still high for unvaccinated adults, so they should continue to wear a mask indoors even after July 4. As for kids, they don’t need to wear a mask outside starting right now, and after this school year is over, they shouldn’t have to wear masks inside either. Why? Their risks of getting infected are lower than adults, and it will get even lower as the vast majority of adults are vaccinated.

White House will make unordered vaccine supply available to other states” via Isaac Stanley-Becker of The Washington Post — The White House on Tuesday told states that coronavirus vaccine doses they choose not to order will become available to other states, the most significant shift in domestic vaccine distribution since President Joe Biden took office, and part of an effort to account for flagging demand in parts of the country. The changes were unveiled to Governors as Biden set a goal of providing at least one shot to 70% of adults by July 4, an increase that would account for about 40 million more people in the next two months. That level of coverage could drive down cases sharply, as it did in Britain and Israel. But achieving it, experts said, depends on efficiently delivering shots to places where people are still rolling up their sleeves or can be persuaded to do so.

The coronavirus vaccine skeptics who changed their minds” via Dan Diamond of The Washington Post — Almost half of all adults have yet to receive the first shot although they are now eligible, and the rolling rate of new shots has dropped to its lowest level since mid-March. The emergence of anti-vaccine mind-changers suggests that at least some vaccine-wary Americans are willing to reconsider when their concerns are addressed by those they regard as credible. Their conversions have drawn intense interest from White House officials and public health experts, hoping to re-create those moments for the tens of millions of Americans who remain in the “no” camp. Experts fear that failing to achieve high immunity levels could prolong the pandemic in the United States, particularly if unvaccinated people continue to be infected and the virus continues to mutate as it spreads.

Officials grapple with coronavirus vaccine hesitancy among Latino evangelicals” via Tibisay Zea and Frances Stead Sellers of The Washington Post — Public health officials as they grapple with vaccine hesitancy among Latinos, including the growing number who identify as evangelical. Long-standing distrust of government among many Latinos is combined with widespread misinformation online and religious worries that the vaccine represents loyalty to God’s enemies. The reluctance, which threatens communities that have already been devastated by COVID-19, prompts responses from the White House on down, where the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships has held regular calls with faith leaders to discuss strategies for combating hesitancy.

Vaccine hesitancy is particularly difficult in the Latino evangelical community. Image via AP.

FDA appears poised to authorize Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for adolescents by next week” via Carolyn Y. Johnson of The Washington Post — The FDA is expected by next week to grant expanded emergency use authorization to allow children as young as 12 to receive the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and German firm BioNTech, according to three federal officials familiar with the situation. The agency is still working on the authorization. Shortly after the FDA decision, a CDC advisory committee is expected to meet to recommend how the vaccine should be used. Families and pediatricians have been eager for a vaccine to become available for children, particularly in advance of the next school year. At the end of March, Pfizer announced that it had submitted data from a trial of nearly 2,300 adolescents between 12 and 15 years old.

U.S. birthrate falls to its lowest rate in decades in wake of the pandemic” via William Wan of The Washington Post — The birthrate in America fell 4% last year, marking the biggest annual decrease in almost half a century, suggesting the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated an already existing trend. New provisional data released Wednesday by the CDC shows the birthrate in 2020 dropped for the sixth consecutive year to its lowest point since the U.S. government began tracking it. While some jokingly predicted a baby boom when the pandemic first struck, as couples were stuck at home in isolation, many experts suggested the reverse might happen as anxiety about coronavirus, massive job loss, and the disruption to society caused Americans to postpone or think twice about having a child amid the chaos.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

People getting unemployment benefits will soon have to prove they’re looking for work” via Jim Turner of The News Service of Florida — DeSantis expects late this month to reinstate a requirement that people in the unemployment system submit weekly “work search” updates. Referring to some businesses saying they cannot find new employees as they regroup from the COVID-19 pandemic, DeSantis said Wednesday unemployment claimants will likely have to start showing how they looked for work once an executive order waiving a work-search requirement ends May 29. “We suspended that last year at this time because, quite frankly, there weren’t jobs,” DeSantis said during an appearance at the Satellite Beach Police Department.

In Florida, you will have to actively look for work to receive unemployment benefits.

Federal judge overturns CDC’s eviction moratorium” via Orion Rummler of Axios — The Justice Department is appealing a federal judge’s decision to vacate the CDC’s temporary federal eviction moratorium, which had been extended multiple times since being enacted by the Donald Trump administration last fall. The nationwide halt on most evictions due to the pandemic was seen as a temporary fix for millions of renters put at risk of losing their homes during the coronavirus pandemic. The CDC, under the Biden administration, had sought to extend the eviction moratorium through June 30. Housing and Urban Development secretary Marcia Fudge said the Biden administration had targeted billions of dollars of vouchers for those at risk and cities to invest in housing.

Treasury warns of need to deal with national debt limit” via Martin Crutsinger of The Associated Press — The Treasury Department says it will employ measures to avoid an unprecedented default on the national debt this summer, but officials say those measures could be exhausted “much more quickly” than normal given the unusual circumstances of the pandemic. Treasury officials on Wednesday urged Congress to pass either a new borrowing limit or another suspension of the debt before a July 31 deadline. The Treasury will continue to initiate the types of bookkeeping maneuvers it has used in the past to keep the government from breaching a level that would trigger a default on the massive national debt.

Cruise lines can apply to sail with volunteer passengers after new CDC guidelines” via Richard Tribou of the Orlando Sentinel — The CDC released the final guidelines for cruise ships to perform trial voyages with volunteer passengers that would demonstrate their COVID-19 safety protocols. At the same time, the CDC gave cruise lines a workaround to simulated voyages if they committed to requiring vaccinations from most of its crew and passengers. The CDC would allow cruise lines to simply attest that 98% of the crew are fully vaccinated and submit a plan that would limit cruise ship sailings, so its passengers are 95% verified as fully vaccinated. The first possible test sailing can’t happen until at least 30 days after a cruise line notifies the CDC, so it won’t be until June at least.

— MORE CORONA —

This new COVID-19 vaccine could bring hope to the unvaccinated world” via Carl Zimmer of The New York Times — Vaccines experts are particularly curious to see CureVac’s results, because its shot has an important advantage over the other RNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. While those two vaccines have to be kept in a deep freezer, CureVac’s vaccine stays stable in a refrigerator, meaning it could more easily deliver the newly discovered power of RNA vaccines to hard-hit parts of the world. CureVac’s RNA vaccine can stay stable for at least three months at 41 degrees Fahrenheit, and it can sit for 24 hours at room temperature before it is used.

A new vaccine gives hope to much of the unvaccinated world. Image via Reuters.

Moderna says COVID-19 booster shot generates promising immune response against variants found in South Africa, Brazil” via Berkeley Lovelace Jr. of CNBC — A booster shot of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine generated a promising immune response against the coronavirus variants first identified in South Africa and Brazil, the company announced Wednesday, citing early data from an ongoing clinical trial. Moderna found the booster dose increased neutralizing antibody responses against the original virus as well as the variants. The preliminary results, which Moderna says will be published online, have not yet been peer-reviewed. “As we seek to defeat the ongoing pandemic, we remain committed to being proactive as the virus evolves,” Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in a news release. “We are encouraged by these new data, which reinforce our confidence that our booster strategy should be protective against these newly detected variants.”

Don’t pitch your mask just yet. You’ll still need it most places” via Lisa J. Huriash and Wells Dusenbury of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Supermarkets, schools, big-box stores, malls and stadiums all will require people to wear masks even though the Governor has declared that Florida no longer faces a coronavirus emergency. DeSantis this week wiped away COVID-19 orders that cities and counties had put in place for safety, but many businesses say they won’t bend their policies. They’re still able to require masks, just like they require shirts and shoes. Here’s what they plan to do.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

The Joe Biden administration starts to unwind Donald Trump’s border legacy” via Ishaan Tharoor of The Washington Post — Biden began fulfilling a campaign promise as U.S. authorities began to help to reunite several migrant families forcibly separated by the previous administration. For the Biden administration, the symbolism of the moment is part of a larger unwinding of Trump’s legacy on immigration. Biden has tasked Vice President Kamala Harris with leading the administration’s efforts to reckon with migration from Central America. “Rather than viewing borders solely as the lines that mark national borders and divide us … we should see them as a point of connection,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said.

Joe Biden is starting to roll back Donald Trump’s immigration plans.

Strongmen who got cozy with Trump get the cold shoulder from Biden” via Anne Gearan of The Washington Post — The Biden administration has zinged Russia and China over human rights and alleged thuggery against their neighbors, cut off some arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and stiff-armed Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian leader. Biden has also snubbed some of Trump’s favorite global leaders altogether. Trump bantered with Polish President Andrzej Duda about building a “Fort Trump” to house American forces yanked from ally Germany and showered North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with flowery flattery, a summit invite, and a public handshake. Biden hasn’t so much as spoken to them on the phone. The cold shoulder is part of a strategy in keeping with Biden’s promise as a candidate that he would not coddle dictators or mistreat U.S. allies.

— EPILOGUE: TRUMP — 

Facebook’s Oversight Board upholds ban on Trump. At least for now.” via Elizabeth Dwoskin, Cat Zakrzewski and Heather Kelly of The Washington Post — Facebook’s Oversight Board on Wednesday upheld the social network’s ban on Trump for encouraging violence following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, a decision that holds major implications for how the speech of political leaders should be policed online. But the 20-member Oversight Board, which is largely independent and funded by the social network, also left open the door for Trump’s return. The expert panel took issue with Facebook’s “indefinite” suspension of Trump, calling it “vague and uncertain.” It sent the decision back to Facebook and said it had six months to clarify Trump’s punishment and come up with a response that fits its known rules.

Donald Trump is Zucked for at least six more months. Image via AP.

Trump copes with Facebook, Twitter ban by relying on email, media interviews” via Alex Leary of The Wall Street Journal — In the heat of the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump said, “I’m just not a believer in email.” Since he was banned from social media earlier this year, it has been his go-to communication tool. Unable since January to tweet, put videos on YouTube or post to Facebook, the former President has been blasting emailing statements to comment on daily news developments, endorse candidates and target critics. He continues to claim in emailed statements and in private gatherings with supporters that the election was rigged. There is no evidence there was widespread fraud in the election, and Trump’s campaign and his allies failed in dozens of court challenges to the results.

Trump and legal team approached about Rudy Giuliani legal costs” via Gabby Orr and Paula Reid of CNN — Allies of Giuliani continue to call on Trump and Republicans to pay for his efforts around the election and, in turn, subsidize the mounting legal bills facing the former New York City Mayor. Trump was recently informed directly by Giuliani associates of the increasing debts incurred by his onetime personal lawyer, one source told CNN. Giuliani’s attorney, Robert Costello, also raised the issue in recent days with lawyers for Trump. Trump’s team has not decided whether to get involved in the search warrant review conducted to ensure privileged information seized in the recent raid of Giuliani’s apartment and office is kept from investigators.

The effort to dump Liz Cheney is the consequence of a party that lost its way” via Dan Balz of The Washington Post — The growing effort to remove Rep. Cheney from the third-ranking Republican leadership position in the House further accelerates her party’s full capitulation to Trump’s big lie about the 2020 election. The move against Cheney is a sign of political cowardice. While shocking, it is not surprising for a party that has lost its way. The majority of Republican lawmakers appear to have stopped believing in truth or lack the courage to speak the truth. Cheney is not among them. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has begun to cut her loose. He said others in the party are “concerned” about her; she cannot “carry out the message” for the party heading into the 2022 midterms. On a hot mic, he said, “I’ve had it” with her.

— CRISIS —

The Pentagon wants to take a harder line on domestic extremism. How far can it go?” via Missy Ryan of The Washington Post — Pentagon officials are considering new restrictions on service members’ interactions with far-right groups, part of the military’s reckoning with extremism, but the measures could trigger legal challenges from critics who say they would violate First Amendment rights. Under a review launched by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Defense Department officials are reexamining rules governing troops’ affiliations with anti-government and White supremacist movements, ties that currently are permissible in limited circumstances. Austin, who has pledged zero tolerance for extremism, ordered the review after the events of Jan. 6, when rioters, including a few dozen veterans, stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the presidential election results.

Huh? —Proud Boys saw wave of contributions from Chinese diaspora before Capitol attack” via Will Carless of USA TODAY — The donations started coming in around 10 p.m. on Dec. 17. A donor named Li Zhang gave $100. A few minutes later, someone named Jun Li donated $100. Then Hao Xu gave $20, followed shortly by $25 from a Ying Pei. In all, almost 1,000 people with Chinese surnames gave about $86,000 to a fundraiser on the crowdfunding platform GiveSendGo for members of the extremist street gang, the Proud Boys. Their gifts made up more than 80% of the $106,107 raised for medical costs for members of the Proud Boys who were stabbed during violent clashes in Washington in mid-December.

Before The Capitol riot, Proud Boys enjoyed a river of Chinese cash.

Daniel Baker tells jury he was ‘joking’ in Capitol threats trial; jurors deliberate his fate” via Karl Etters of the Tallahassee Democrat — Baker told jurors he was “exaggerating,” “joking” and holding a mirror to right-wing viewpoints when he posted what federal prosecutors say were social media threats to violently attack armed protesters he thought would diverge on the Florida Capitol earlier this year. Baker said the alleged threats followed years of badgering from locally-based, far-right groups like the Republic of Florida. “After being harassed continuously for the past five years, if I create this presence of the far-left boogeyman that the far-right believes is an antifa supersoldier,” Baker told jurors, “they’d be less likely to do a drive-by and shoot at me.” Baker said he legitimately believed there was a possibility a similar attempt to Jan. 6 could happen in Tallahassee.

— LOCAL NOTES —

11 months after Jacksonville’s Mayor pledged to remove Confederate memorials, why are some still standing?” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — The removal of a large bronze statue of a Confederate soldier in downtown Jacksonville last year happened so fast that onlookers were stunned to find it gone in the morning light. But 11 months after that historic move, Jacksonville still hasn’t decided what to do with the rest of that memorial or another big Confederate monument in Springfield. Grassroots organizations that have pushed for years to remove the monuments rallied Tuesday on the City Hall steps. A report by a group of historians and arts professionals convened by the Mayor’s office said the Civil War monuments “must no longer stand as they have in celebration of the Confederacy” but could remain as historic structures.

Lenny Curry vowed to remove Jacksonville’s Confederate statues. Years later, some are still standing.

Jacksonville City Council, den of weasels, tries to back out of gas tax question” via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union — At this late hour, the city has a Mayor, Lenny Curry, who is, yes, flawed, and who has, yes, generated some well-earned skepticism of his administration along the way. But he is also a Mayor interested in pumping $1 billion back into the city, most of which will go toward long-needed road projects. Some of those basic investments in water and sewer access the city have long failed to make. He, a Republican, wants to do this by doubling the gas tax. The latest idea to gain some traction on the council is to throw the gas tax question on the ballot for voters to decide, one of the oldest cop-outs in the City Council playbook. Throwing the gas tax proposal on the ballot is a mealy-mouthed way of opposing it.

The Times gets results —Pasco school resource officers will no longer access student data” via Romy Ellenbogen of the Tampa Bay Times — Pasco County’s school resource officers will no longer have access to student data, including children’s grades and discipline histories, after the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and School Board revised their data-sharing agreement Tuesday. According to the Sheriff’s Office, the officers will also no longer have access to the school district’s early warning system, which designates students as on-track, off-track or at-risk. The changes come after the Tampa Bay Times reported that the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office used the information to create a secret list of children who could “fall into a life of crime,” according to an internal manual.

Sarasota Police are implementing body cameras after years of delays” via Timothy Fanning of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — In 2014, Sarasota city commissioners announced a new policy aimed at bringing greater accountability to the Sarasota Police Department. After significant delays and widespread calls for police reform, seven years later, training has begun to equip uniformed officers with body-worn cameras. By June, officials expect all of the 154 cameras to hit the streets. Last October, the City Commission unanimously agreed to purchase the cameras for the program, ending a yearslong wait-and-see approach by Sarasota leaders. “This is a technological journey our agency is beginning,” said Chief Jim Rieser. As officers complete a six-hour training class on body-worn cameras, they will begin to wear them as part of their uniforms.

Orlando’s tourist count tumbled by half during 2020 pandemic, report finds” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — The coronavirus pandemic took a massive swipe at Orlando’s economy as the number of visitors last year plummeted by more than half to 35.3 million, a vast reversal from the community’s once record-breaking years of tourism, according to Visit Orlando. The year 2020 brought “unimaginable lows,” with tourism numbers falling 53% compared with 2019′s roughly 76 million visitors coming to Orlando, Visit Orlando’s CEO Cassandra Matej said. It was the fewest number of visitors since 1995, according to Visit Orlando. “These numbers represent a devastating impact to our local economy, local businesses, to our friends, to our neighbors and colleagues,” Matej said. “That is why the main focus for Visit Orlando is all about recovery, recovery, recovery.”

Miami-Dade ready for toll wars with Tallahassee over who controls Dolphin Expressway” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — The power struggle over Miami-Dade’s busiest toll roads looks ready for another court battle as County Commissioners try to prevent a new agency from taking over State Road 836 and other expressways. On Tuesday, Commissioners voted 12 to 1 to approve a finding that Florida’s new Greater Miami Expressway Agency, or GMX, violates the state constitution. That clears the way for a suit between Miami-Dade and the administration of DeSantis to block the agency from taking over the 836, best known as the Dolphin Expressway, and four other toll roads currently run by the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, also known as MDX.

Hillsborough County Commissioners outline plan, timeline to revive transportation surtax” via Veronica Brezina-Smith of the Tampa Bay Business Journal — Hillsborough County Commissioners want to get the ball rolling on a transportation surtax to replace the All For Transportation tax, struck down by the Florida Supreme Court earlier this year. County Commissioners unanimously voted to ask the county administration to plan four workshops throughout the districts this year and modify them so the public can provide input on a county-led transportation surtax. Commissioners have voiced support for creating a surtax as the county faces millions of needed work in road and safety improvements. “We do need to begin thinking about how this is going to work. It’s a big undertaking and we need to involve citizens throughout the county,” Commissioner Mariela Smith said.

USF to resume in-person graduation ceremonies Saturday” via Mark Bergin in Florida Politics — The University of South Florida is set to hold in-person graduation ceremonies this weekend for the first time since December 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the university to hold virtual ceremonies in spring, summer and fall of 2020. “We really did the best we could to honor those graduates under very unique circumstances, but we know that nothing can quite replicate the in-person experience, and so that’s what we’re trying to provide,” USF spokesperson Adam Freeman said. USF is set to award 7,198 degrees in the spring 2021 class during the Saturday ceremonies at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

Scoop —Ashley Bauman exiting Tampa Mayor Jane Castor’s administration” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Bauman is stepping down from her role as Director of Communications for Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. Bauman has served in the Castor administration since she was elected in 2019. She served in the same capacity under former Mayor Bob Buckhorn during the final years of his administration. Bauman leaves the role after an extended leave and is departing for wellness reasons. “In my time here, I’ve seen our city grow into one of the most exciting destinations and competitive markets in the country, none of which could have been accomplished without the incredible team that works around the clock to ensure Tampa’s success,” Bauman said in a statement first provided to Florida Politics.

Ashley Bauman is stepping down from her longtime position as City of Tampa spokesperson.

24-hour booze is now legal in unincorporated Brevard. But will bars take advantage?” via Eric Rogers and Suzy Fleming Leonard of Florida Today — Round-the-clock liquor sales could be a boon for some bars in unincorporated Brevard County. For others, not so much. The County Commission approved a closely watched ordinance eliminating restrictions on the hours that alcoholic beverages can be sold at licensed establishments in unincorporated parts of the county. The change does not impact Brevard’s cities and towns, which regulate their own alcohol sales. Local bar owners’ reactions were mixed, with some planning to take advantage of the new hours. Others said they don’t have the staff or the customers to make the most of the new ordinance, which repeals limitations on alcohol sales between 2 and 7 a.m.

— TOP OPINION —

Florida takes strides on climate change, but more can be done” via Dawn Shirreffs for Florida Politics — During Florida’s 60-day Legislative Session, policymakers took important steps to safeguard Florida from lost property tax revenue from flooding linked to sea level rise — revenue that is sorely needed to fund schools, police departments and other services. Such positive news on combating climate change impacts is worth celebrating. Yet, much work remains to be done to protect residents from rising electric costs and safeguard Florida’s energy security. As things heat up from global warming, paying for air conditioning will become more challenging for Florida families. At a minimum, Florida should enhance opportunities for residents of all income levels to invest in energy efficiency measures that will decrease their electric bills, while also reducing climate pollution.

— OPINIONS —

Trump stays banned on Facebook. Keep it that way.” via Timothy L. O’Brien of Bloomberg — Trump remains banned from Facebook Inc.’s global echo chamber, and that’s a good thing. After the social media company banned him in January for inciting a deadly insurrection at the Capitol, its Oversight Board said Wednesday that his history of violence disqualified him for the time being. The board also took Facebook itself to task, saying that “it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension.” The board told Facebook it had six months to “reexamine the arbitrary penalty it imposed” on Trump and craft a new one commensurate with “the gravity of the violation and the prospect of future harm.” I hope when the time comes, Trump’s ban becomes permanent.

Elected Republicans are lying with open eyes. Their excuses are disgraceful.” via Michael Gerson of The Washington Post — For the activist base of the Republican Party, affirming that Trump won the 2020 presidential contest has become a qualification for membership in good standing. For the party’s elected leaders, accepting the clear result of a fair election is to be a rogue Republican like the indomitable Rep. Cheney, a target for Trump’s anger, public censure and primary threats. Nothing about this is normal. The GOP is increasingly defined not by its shared beliefs, but by its shared delusions. To be a loyal Republican, one must be either a sucker or a liar. And because this defining falsehood is so obviously and laughably false, we can safely assume that most Republican leaders who embrace it fall into the second category. Knowingly repeating a lie is now the evidence of Republican fidelity.

It’s not just going to go away” via Philip Bump of The Washington Post — Over Trump’s four years in office, there was an obvious effort to continue the same pattern that the Tea Party movement fostered. Establishment Republicans viewed many of the President’s actions and comments with skepticism or disdain but decided the safest thing to do was just to wait the whole thing out. No point in incurring the wrath of the base; all of this would end soon. Some, like much of the base, probably convinced themselves that Trump’s positives were worth his negatives. With Trump out of office but still commanding control of the party, the thinking seems to be that, well, the party can ride it out. It can throw out enough culture-war distractions to somehow regain control of the base. Maybe everything will just fly back into Pandora’s box.

Time has only weakened the argument that the Russia probe was a victory for Trump” via Philip Bump of The Washington Post — Trump was dismissing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election as a “witch hunt” even before he became President. When the Robert Mueller investigation ended, Trump got what seemed to be a final, authoritative declaration that nothing untoward had occurred. It was always likely to be the case that time would erode Trump’s defenses surrounding the Russia probe. Mueller’s investigation had holes and, as years passed, those holes would be filled. But, of course, the effort to offset the implications of those new discoveries had already been set in concrete, firmly by William Barr at the time Mueller completed his work and loosely by Trump as far back as January 2017.

The strongman in the suit is DeSantis” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — DeSantis is on a right-wing rampage, despite his skin-of-his-teeth victory. He runs Florida as if he were appointed Governor for life and his 21 million-plus subjects are all like-minded Trump supporters who want to live under an authoritarian regime. DeSantis decides everything — and with as little advance notice as possible. The dictator in the Governor’s office is also a shrewd politician. To consolidate their power, autocrats restrict the free flow of information, which DeSantis does with a frightening level of efficiency. He slow-walks or ignores lawful requests for public information. He releases his daily schedule long after he has already held events. Under DeSantis, one leader calls all the shots. The rest of us are expected to fall in line.

Crist was a fine Republican Governor. He shouldn’t run again as a Democrat.” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — I like Charlie. He seems to be a genuinely nice guy. You can’t say that about a lot of politicians. But Charlie is also a human weather vane. Pick a topic: offshore oil drilling, school choice. Charlie has probably been on both sides. I respect enlightenment. But Charlie’s stances look less like evolutions and more like political convenience. I’m not sure he could even win next year’s Democratic primary. He might just muck it up, prompting Democrats to spend a lot of money they don’t have. But if Charlie does make it to the general election, DeSantis will probably eat him for lunch. DeSantis seems like the favorite no matter which Dem takes him on.

Jeb Bush likes a money-back guarantee on workforce training in Florida” via Jeb Bush for the Tampa Bay Times — In the latest Legislative Session, lawmakers turned their focus to an area that needed bold action: Ensuring that we help high school graduates and other adults gain the skills they need for good-paying careers. This is an area where many public education and workforce training programs consistently under-deliver. Perhaps the greatest reform is the one that is the most revolutionary: A money-back guarantee to students who enroll in public programs focused on certain higher-skill, higher-wage and in-demand occupations. If a student completes the program and is unable to find a job in that field within six months, their tuition will be refunded. Florida’s legislators should be congratulated for delivering for their citizens and the state’s economy.

Disney changes aren’t wokeness; they’re part of parks’ legacy” via Shannon McHugh of the Orlando Sentinel — A recent op-ed in the Orlando Sentinel complained about “wokeness” ruining the parks. Now a professor of gender history and participatory fan culture, I was once a devoted cast member. I can tell you that historical evidence demonstrates that there is no dismantlement of Disney values afoot. In short, there is no parks “canon” under fire. What these naysayers imagine themselves to be preserving never existed. Splash Mountain only opened in 1989, when it replaced the mostly-forgotten America Sings. These parks are built on progress. Guests arriving at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom pass beneath a plaque inviting them to “enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.” The spirit has never been to stand still.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

If you’re getting unemployment benefits, it’s about to get more difficult. The Governor will be reinstating a requirement that people in the unemployment system send weekly “work search” updates.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— DeSantis steps up his attacks on the CDC, accusing scientists of playing politics.

— One of DeSantis’s biggest gripes is that the CDC wants cruise ships to require most passengers to be vaccinated for COVID-19. The cruise industry is OK with the idea, but not the Governor.

— On the Sunrise interview is Crist, the former Governor who wants to replace our current Governor.

— DeSantis hits the road to promote those $1,000 COVID-19 bonus checks for first responders.

— DeSantis presented a ceremonial “BIG CHECK” at a police station in Satellite Beach, a fire station in Temple Terrace and the Sheriff’s Office in Fort Myers.

— And finally, the state Supreme Court hears an appeal from a Florida Man who claims he attacked his boss because he was standing his ground — with a hammer. And the story of a Florida Man busted in Nebraska with a van full of ATMs stuffed with marijuana.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

Will $8 million more save the manatees this year? The state is hoping” via Jim Waymer of Florida Today — Florida wildlife officials are set to get another $8 million this year to help sea cows rebound from a year that’s on pace to be the deadliest on record for the threatened species. The manatees appear to be starving across the state from a shortage of sea grass decades in the making. The extra money would only be for one year, and state biologists aren’t sure yet how they’d spend the extra cash or what difference it might make. Already, at least 695 manatees have died this year. The idea for this year’s $8 million in additional funding is to improve Florida’s springs and other manatee hotspot habitats. But the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission won’t say yet how they’d use the money.

Disney World at 50: What would Orlando be like if The Mouse had gone somewhere else?” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — Close your eyes and pretend Disney World was never built in Orlando. Without Disney, “Orlando would not have become a tourist town in the way that it did. And that’s because Orlando is too far away from the coast,” said Richard Foglesong, author of “Married to the Mouse,” a book that explores Disney World’s early history. So what would Orlando have become in a theme park-free alternate reality? Former Orange County Commission Chair Linda Chapin has a ready-to-go quip when asked the question. From Chapin’s perspective, Disney put Orlando on the map. Without it, most people around the country would likely have never heard of Orlando. It would be just another small city in Florida.

Tweet, tweet:

Uber puts $100K into tech scholarships for Florida drivers” via Florida Politics — Uber on Wednesday announced a $100,000 scholarship program for its Florida drivers, delivery people and their families. The program is a partnership with Ironhack, a globally ranked tech school that offers intensive courses in web development, UX/UI design and data analytics. The partnership will see Uber fund 50 scholarships to Ironhack’s tech boot camp, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 apiece. The goal, Uber said, is to enable its employees and their families to start a career in tech. As Florida becomes the next tech hub, Uber said, affordable and accessible tech education is key to future workforce development.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to Reps. Tracie Davis and Toby Overdorf, Kathryn Ballard, McKinley Lewis, and Jon Zachem,

___

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.



#FlaPol

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