Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 5.14.21

Sunburn Orange Tally (8)
Good morning. ‘Sunburn’ has been waiting for you.

Another poll found Florida voters largely support the Gaming Compact recently signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr.

The poll, commissioned by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, found 68% of voters approve of the deal, which would give the Seminole Tribe exclusive rights to oversee sports betting in Florida, both on their own properties and through pari-mutuels operating under their supervision. Meanwhile, just 21% disapprove.

Support was strong across party lines, with 75% of Republicans, 66% of NPAs, and 62% of Democrats supporting the proposed compact with the Seminole Tribe.

The Chamber poll comes two days after a survey conducted by Republican pollster Ryan Tyson found equally strong support for Gaming Compact.

Most Floridians are enthusiastically behind the new Seminole Compact proposal. Image via NSF.

The survey released Tuesday showed 62% support, with only 17% opposed. Further, support grew once voters were informed about what the state would get out of a new compact — a minimum of $2.5 billion in payments to the state over the next five years.

Voters also were swayed after hearing the Gaming Compact would bring substantial economic investments and jobs to the state. Current estimates say the proposal would create about 2,200 jobs.

Lawmakers are heading to Tallahassee next week to take up the proposal, which requires legislative approval.

Further off, the Chamber poll also tested how voters feel about sending U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio back to Washington next year and found him in a good position to win reelection, whether he faces Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy or former State Attorney Aramis Ayala.

Eighteen months out from Election Day, Rubio leads Murphy by 10 points, 51%-41%, and Ayala by 13 points, 52%-39%. Neither Murphy nor Ayala have officially announced, but both have positioned themselves for a statewide campaign.

 — SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@JoeBiden: After a year of hard work and so much sacrifice, the rule is now simple: get vaccinated or wear a mask until you do.

@SlacktivistFred: So, for those of us in retail: The asshats who spent the past 15 months getting in your face yelling, I HAVE A HEALTH EXEMPTION HIPAA ADA! will now be getting in your face, yelling, and lying about having been vaccinated. This will be unpleasant.

@YukonGold1898: I agree with the CDC’s decision today and probably won’t be wearing a mask much from now on, but I also think that the people who get viscerally angry at other people continuing to wear masks have their priorities way off.

@OmarJimenez: Mask Off is going to end up the number one song in the country by the end of the day, isn’t it

@SpataTimes: The CDC says it’s safe to put ketchup on a hot dog.

Tweet, tweet:

@Chris_Minor10: Everyone in Tallahassee is worried about gas and ignoring the fact that late-night staple Gumby’s Pizza has atrociously renamed itself “Pizza Mouth.” Priorities …

— DAYS UNTIL —

Gambling Compact Special Session begins — 3; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 14; ‘Tax Freedom Holiday’ begins — 14; Memorial Day — 17; Florida TaxWatch Spring Meeting and PLA Awards — 20; ‘Loki’ premieres on Disney+ — 28; Father’s Day — 37; F9 premieres in the U.S. — 42; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 49; 4th of July — 51; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 56; MLB All-Star Game — 60; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 70; second season of ‘Ted Lasso’ premieres on Apple+ — 70; The NBA Draft — 76; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 78; ‘The Suicide Squad’ premieres — 84; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 102; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 112; NFL regular season begins — 118; Broadway’s full-capacity reopening — 123; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 133; ‘Dune’ premieres — 140; MLB regular season ends — 142; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 148; World Series Game 1 — 165; Florida’s 20th Congressional District primary — 172; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 172; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 175; San Diego Comic-Con begins — 196; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 210; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 217; NFL season ends — 240; Florida’s 20th Congressional District election — 242; NFL playoffs begin — 246; Super Bowl LVI — 275; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 315; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 357; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 420; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 511; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 546.

— TOP STORY —

Feds tighten grip in Matt Gaetz probe” via Josh Gerstein, Marc Caputo and Matt Dixon of POLITICO — Federal investigators are intensifying their sex-crimes probe of Gaetz as they discuss a potential immunity arrangement with his former girlfriend and have struck a tentative deal with his one-time “wingman” who will likely plead guilty, according to multiple people familiar with the situation. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section also continues to interview potential witnesses who could provide prosecutors with evidence against Gaetz. One witness told POLITICO that prosecutors spent two hours asking whether Gaetz or others in his circle had sex with a 17-year-old girl in 2017. Gaetz has denied he had sex with a minor. The likely plea by Joel Greenberg is a new development that signals Gaetz may be facing increasing legal peril.

Prosecutor: About the worst possible news for Gaetz. To watch, click on the image below:

— 2022 —

Rick Kriseman pondering congressional run in CD 13” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is tossing around the idea of a potential run for Florida’s 13th Congressional District — a seat being vacated by incumbent Charlie Crist, who jumped into the 2022 gubernatorial contest last week. Kriseman, who is leaving his current office because of term limits, said he is considering a run. “I have not ruled out the possibility of running,” he said. “My focus has been on the city and the issues we’re dealing with coming out of the pandemic, but, having said that, I know that the seat will be open, and I am terming out, and so it’s on my radar.”

Manny Diaz hits the ground running with reelection fundraiser at Trump Doral” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Fresh off the 2021 Legislative Session, Republican Sen. Diaz is announcing a major fundraiser hosted at Donald Trump’s Doral resort. The event will take place Thursday, June 10. The money raised will help fund Diaz’s political committee, Better Florida Education. Diaz and his team haven’t yet listed price points to enter the event. But he’s looking to jump-start his 2022 fundraising effort after being on the sidelines recently. Diaz is already sitting on nearly $460,000 heading into the 2022 contest, but Florida lawmakers are barred from raising cash for the campaign accounts during the Legislative Session. The Senator is looking for a second term representing Senate District 36. So far, no other candidates have filed for the seat.

Manny Diaz is not sitting still post-Session.

MDW Communications snags five Reed Awards for campaign work” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Political marketing firm MDW Communications picked up five Reed Awards from Campaigns & Elections, the leading publication for the political campaign industry. The accolades included two awards for “Best Website,” one for Sheriff John Mina and the other for former State Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez; two awards for direct mail, one for Cooper City Commissioner Ryan Shrouder and the other for a mailer from the 2020 Miami-Dade County Commission District 5 race; and one award for email fundraising for Daniella Levine Cava’s successful campaign for Miami-Dade Mayor. MDW Communications’ showing in the Reed Awards comes shortly after the firm picked up a half-dozen Pollie Awards from the American Association of Political Consultants.

— DATELINE TALLY —

Gov. Ron DeSantis: Incentivize work, not unemployment” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — DeSantis suggested Thursday that federal unemployment benefits would be better utilized as some sort of “back-end” benefit for Floridians who rejoin the workforce. The suggestion comes as Florida works to nudge unemployed Floridians into the state’s 400,000 plus job vacancies. Currently, unemployed Floridians earn a weekly maximum of $275 a week from the state and an extra $600 a week from the federal government. “I think that would change some of the incentive structure that we’re seeing and would still make it worth people’s while,” DeSantis told reporters in Ormond Beach of his idea to incentivize work, not unemployment. DeSantis and Republican colleagues contend the extra federal funds disincentivize the state’s re-employment effort and stifle Florida’s economic rebound.

Ron DeSantis bristles at the thought of paying people not to work.

Tax relief package with ‘Freedom Week,’ Moffitt boost heads to DeSantis’ desk” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — This year’s tax package awaits DeSantis‘ signature after lawmakers sent the bill to his desk Thursday. The package (HB 7061) is expected to create $196.3 million in relief for Floridians, including through a new “Freedom Week” tax holiday. That and two returning but elongated holidays are alone expected to make up $134.6 million of that relief. Freedom Week would be July 1-7 and would cover sporting and live music events, state park admission, gym dues and movie theater tickets for events. It would also waive taxes on products like tents, sleeping bags, or even sunscreen purchased that week. The back-to-school holiday would run from July 31-Aug. 9. The disaster preparedness holiday would run from May 28-June 6.

Pandemic fraud bill lands on Governor’s desk” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — DeSantis received a bill Thursday to protect consumers against fraud and scams during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sponsored by Republican Rep. Ardian Zika of Pasco County, the bill (HB 9) was the first measure to pass in the House during the 2021 Legislative Session and cleared both chambers with unanimous votes. “This is an important piece of legislation that protects our consumers against fraud during a pandemic,” Zika told House members. The proposal establishes criminal penalties and authorizes civil remedies from fraud as consumers seek vaccines or send personal protective equipment during a pandemic. It also stiffens penalties against fake websites and fraudulent COVID-19 ploys. 

Motorola Solutions urges Gov. DeSantis to veto no-bid SLERS contract” via Drew Dixon of Florida Politics — Motorola Solutions sent a letter to Gov. DeSantis on Thursday asking him to veto a budget item that grants Harris Corp. a contract to upgrade and maintain the state’s police radio network. The 2021-22 budget passed by lawmakers includes $165 million in in nonrecurring funding to upgrade the Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System and awards the company a 15-year contract at $31.5 million a year — $19 million to oversee the system and $12.5 million to lease radio towers controlled by the company.

Florida just raised the legal age to smoke and vape to 21 — so why are public health groups so unhappy?” via Mitch Perry of Bay News 9 — DeSantis signed a measure last week that raises the age to buy tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21. The bill received strong support from both sides of the political aisle in the Florida Legislature, yet public health groups remain strongly opposed. The main source for the fervent opposition by public health agencies is that the legislation takes the power to regulate youth smoking away from local municipalities and counties and gives it to the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which they say won’t be nearly as effective in calling out retailers who sell these products to those under 21.

Outspoken Joe Harding plans to bring back baby box bill” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — Rep. Harding says he’s not “your typical politician,” which is just what a politician would say. But in some ways, he might have a point. The small-town Republican comes to Tallahassee by way of Williston, a town in Levy County with around 3,000 people. Harding owns a landscape and construction business and describes his background as “very blue-collar.” Harding expects to have four of his sponsored bills from the 2021 Session signed into law. One preempts local occupational licensing regulations; another makes changes to the state’s workforce and postsecondary programs. A third bill updates fire sprinkler regulations, and the fourth is a local bill that makes changes to the Homosassa Special Water District.

Blue-collar Joe Harding is not your typical politician. Image via Colin Hackley.

Fiona McFarland on her forward-thinking legislation that passed — and some that didn’t” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — Republican Sarasota Rep. McFarland has a background many politicians would envy. McFarland graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2008 and spent eight years on active duty, serving on warships in the Western Pacific and at the Pentagon. McFarland also benefits from a politically connected mom, former Trump Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland. “I’ve seen through my own perspective and then my mom’s stories as well,” McFarland said in a post-Session interview with Florida Politics. What McFarland saw gave her a pessimistic view of politics. But she said her views changed after working in the Florida Legislature. “You know my view of politics was, frankly, not very great when I entered,” McFarland said.

— LOBBY REGS —

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Ken Granger, Capital City Consulting: Lexmark International

Daniel Martinez: Americans for Prosperity

Tara Reid-Cherry, Jared Willis, Strategos Public Affairs: Behavioral Health Center of Excellence

— GOT GAS? —

Gas stations await relief from panic buyers while Colonial Pipeline restores service” via Taylor Telford of The Washington Post — Despite warnings from government officials and experts, panicked drivers have drained more than 17,000 stations throughout the Southeast, including many that would not otherwise have been affected by the pipeline hack. Some signs of improvement surfaced overnight in Atlanta, Charlotte and Raleigh, among the hardest-hit metro areas. But as of Thursday morning, more than 70% of the stations in North Carolina remained dry, and states as far apart as Delaware and Kentucky were feeling the artificial crunch, according to Patrick De Haan, an oil analyst at GasBuddy. The panic has driven U.S. gas demand up more than 11% so far this week, De Haan tweeted.

Gas stations are urging relief as panicked customers flock to the pumps. Image via AP.

Amid pipeline hack fallout, Gary Farmer renews push to set up strategic fuel reserve” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Democratic Sen. Farmer is revisiting his calls for the state to set up a strategic fuel reserve after the Governor declared a state of emergency following the Colonial Pipeline hack. Colonial representatives have announced the company is resuming service, just under a week after a ransomware attack forced the company to shut the pipeline down. Word of that shutdown caused panic to spread across the south and in parts of Florida, particularly the Panhandle. “The Colonial Pipeline hacking exposed a major flaw in our state’s ability to be prepared for disaster to strike,” Farmer said in a Thursday statement.


— STATEWIDE —

State government open for business? Gradually” via Christine Sexton of Florida Politics — DeSantis has touted for months that Florida’s “open for business,” but it’s just now that state government is reopening offices, buildings and museums that interact directly with taxpayers. And the opening has seemingly come in fits and starts. Some agencies said their employees returned to work months ago after offices were initially closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the state Capitol just opened last week. Reopenings have come after an April 29 public-health advisory by Department of Health Secretary Scott Rivkees recommending that government offices resume in-person operations and services. The DeSantis administration won’t answer questions about which state employees have returned to their offices and how many continue working from home.

Scott Rivkees says the Florida state government can resume as normal — soon.

Florida’s first Chief Science Officer talks about the job — and the controversy” via Craig Pittman of the Florida Phoenix — Last week, I had coffee with a scientist named Tom Frazer. I was trying to nudge him to say some things about his former boss, but he was choosing his words verrrrry carefully. We sat at a sidewalk table in downtown St. Petersburg, both of us fully vaccinated but still maintaining our social distance because that’s what science says is safe. Frazer is all about following what science says. He’s dean of the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida but, before that job, he served as Florida’s very first Chief Science Officer. This was Frazer’s first long interview after leaving the job.

Conflict of interest questions raised in FSU search” via Ryan Dailey of News Service of Florida — The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, a key higher-education accrediting organization, is raising questions about a potential conflict of interest involving state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran as he seeks to become president of Florida State University. Corcoran is a member of the state university system’s Board of Governors, which ultimately will have to approve the candidate selected by FSU’s Board of Trustees. “I’m concerned that if he doesn’t step down from his position on the Board while he is a candidate for the position since it is the Board of Governors that will be hiring the President, the SACSCOC Board of Trustees will find the institution out of compliance” with the accrediting body’s rules, SACS President Belle Wheelan wrote.

Pinellas Sheriff Gualtieri backs challenge to Marsy’s Law ruling” via Jim Saunders of News Service of Florida — Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri this week said he plans to file friend-of-the-court briefs at the Florida Supreme Court in a dispute about whether a 2018 constitutional amendment known as “Marsy’s Law” can prevent the release of officers’ names. A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled last month that privacy protections in the constitutional amendment can apply to two Tallahassee police officers who argued they were victims because they were threatened in incidents that resulted in the use of force. A document filed by Gualtieri’s attorneys said a police officer “who shoots and kills another is not a ‘victim’ of that shooting and cannot invoke Marsy’s Law to shroud his shooting in secrecy.”


— CORONA FLORIDA —

4,064 new Florida coronavirus cases reported Thursday; 47 new deaths” via FOX 13 News — The Florida Department of Health says the number of known cases of COVID-19 in the state rose by 4,064 Thursday. According to the state’s daily update, the total number of cases in Florida since the pandemic began is now 2,282,613. The number of Florida resident deaths has reached 35,929, an increase of 47 since Wednesday’s update. In addition, a total of 719 non-Floridians have died in the state. The state is not reporting a total number of “recovered” coronavirus patients. As of Thursday, the number of Floridians currently hospitalized for a primary diagnosis of COVID-19 was 2,684, with the state reporting a total of 92,742 hospitalized for treatment at some point.

DeSantis will pardon those accused of violating COVID-19 restrictions” via Rafael Olmeda of the Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis is promising to pardon anyone in the state who is facing criminal penalties, including fines and jail time, for violating mask mandates and other efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. The Governor made the promise Wednesday night on The Ingraham Angle on Fox News. “We’ll issue pardons … for any Floridian that may have outstanding infractions for things like masks and social distancing,” he said. State Attorney Harold Pryor said he was still waiting for the Governor to make good on the promises he made on television. “The cases are pending, and we will continue to follow the law unless and until the Governor takes official action,” he said in an emailed statement.

Ron DeSantis issues a blanket pardon for all COVID-19 violations.

Gov. DeSantis: Florida will fill void if small cruise lines leave” via Brendan Farrington of The Associated Press — Calling Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings “not one of the bigger ones,” DeSantis said Thursday that if smaller cruise lines want to leave the state because of bans on vaccine requirements, their void will be filled. Miami-based Norwegian is the third-largest cruise line in the world and has three ports of departure in Florida — Miami, Port Canaveral and Tampa. It also makes stops in Key West. But it hasn’t operated in the U.S. since the federal government shut down all cruises last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The federal government is getting ready to let cruises sail again, but only if nearly all passengers and crew are vaccinated against the virus.

Rebekah Jones, the COVID-19 whistleblower who wasn’t” via Charles C.W. Cooke of National Review — This is a story about Jones, a former dashboard manager at the Florida Department of Health (FDOH), who has single-handedly managed to convince millions of Americans that DeSantis has been fudging the state’s COVID-19 data. When I write “single-handedly,” I mean it, for Jones is not one of the people who have advanced this conspiracy theory but rather is the person who has advanced this conspiracy theory. To understand that is to understand the whole game. This is about Jones and Jones alone. If she falls, it falls. And boy does it deserve to fall.

— CORONA LOCAL —

Low COVID-19 vaccination rates in Broward could be a threat as restrictions disappear” via Cindy Krischer Goodman and Aric Chokey of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — At a time when DeSantis is using sweeping authority to get rid of pandemic restrictions in the state, only about a third of the residents in pockets of Broward County are vaccinated. The low vaccination rates have local leaders fearful residents will be vulnerable should cases suddenly rise. Overall, more than half of Broward County is vaccinated with one or more doses. But in eight ZIP codes, only 33% to 39% of residents have received one or more doses. Those regions are along the southern edge of Broward County and encompass cities such as Miramar, Pembroke Pines and Hollywood. They also fall in the center of the county and include cities such as Fort Lauderdale, Lauderhill and Lauderdale Lakes.

The relatively low vaccination rates in Broward are troubling. Image via Reuters.

Masks will be optional in Palm Beach County schools next year” via Brooke Baitinger and Scott Travis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Palm Beach County’s school district announced the decision Thursday to make masks optional for students and staff starting next school year. The current school year ends June 18, and students and staff must wear masks until then, during next month’s high school graduation ceremonies, and during summer school, Superintendent Donald Fennoy wrote in a letter to parents. The school district won’t require masks next year because COVID-19 vaccines are widely available for adults and children, Palm Beach County’s positivity rate has been on a downward trend, and because DeSantis recommended against facial coverings in schools in the fall, Fennoy said.

— CORONA NATION —

‘Great day for America’: Vaccinated can largely ditch masks” via Zeke Miller and Michael Balsamo of The Associated Press — In a major step toward returning to pre-pandemic life, the CDC eased mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people on Thursday, allowing them to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and most indoor settings. “Today is a great day for America,” President Joe Biden said during a Rose Garden address heralding the new guidance. “If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask,” he said, summarizing the new guidance and encouraging more Americans to roll up their sleeves. “Get vaccinated — or wear a mask until you do.” The guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings, but it will help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools, and other venues.

Time to start ditching the masks, Joe Biden says. Image via AP.

New mask guidance is a huge gamble, experts say” via Justin Rohrlich of The Daily Beast — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday issued new guidelines that marked the beginning of the end of indoor mask use and social distancing for vaccinated people in America. Those who are two weeks past their final COVID-19 shot can now skip masks when inside virtually anywhere and also drop their masks outdoors in large crowds, a context in which the CDC continued to recommend mask use as of two weeks ago. But while experts canvassed by The Daily Beast broadly agreed with easing federal guidance, they warned the blanket nationwide approach failed to account for America’s vast problems with vaccine hesitancy and pandemic truthers.

National teachers union leader urges full reopening of schools in fall: ‘Conditions have changed’” via Collin Binkley of The Associated Press — The president of the American Federation of Teachers said Thursday there should be a full return to in-person learning in the fall and her union is “all in” on bringing students back to the classroom. In an address on social media, Randi Weingarten said the wide availability of vaccines and a new infusion of federal education money had removed many obstacles. If local unions heed her call, it would be seen as a major stride in the effort to reopen schools. Teachers’ unions have been blamed for slowing the process with demands for a variety of safety measures. Teachers in some districts have refused to return until ventilation systems are updated, virus tests are given, and all teachers are vaccinated.

School nurses, health service corps part of $7.4B virus plan” via Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Zeke Miller of The Associated Press — The government is providing $7.4 billion to expand the nation’s public health capacity, including hiring school nurses to vaccinate kids, setting up a health care service corps and bolstering traditional disease detection efforts, White House officials said Thursday. Biden administration coronavirus testing coordinator Carole Johnson said it’s part of a strategy to respond to immediate needs in the COVID-19 pandemic while investing to break the cycle of ‘boom and bust’ financing that traditionally has slowed the U.S. response to health emergencies. “We really see this as funding that can help end the pandemic and help us prevent the next one,” Johnson told The Associated Press. Congress approved the money in President Biden’s coronavirus response law.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

As trillions flow out the door, stimulus oversight faces challenges” via Alan Rappeport and Glenn Thrush of The New York Times — Lawmakers have unleashed more than $5 trillion in relief aid over the past year to help businesses and individuals through the pandemic downturn. But the scale of that effort is placing a serious strain on a patchwork oversight network created to ferret out waste and fraud. The Biden administration has taken steps to improve accountability and oversight safeguards spurned by the Trump administration, including more detailed and frequent reporting requirements for those receiving funds. But policing the money has been complicated by long-running turf battles; the lack of a centralized, fully functional system to track how funds are being spent; and the speed with which the government has tried to disburse aid.

As the pandemic has waned, so have the economic challenges Americans have faced” via Philip Bump of The Washington Post — Biden signed his most significant legislative accomplishment into law on March 11. Centered on ameliorating the economic damage done by the coronavirus pandemic, it included substantial stimulus checks, which began going out to Americans a few days later. Even as that rollout began, though, the shape of the pandemic had already shifted dramatically. By March 17 — when the government started distributing the stimulus payments — some 40 million Americans had already been vaccinated against the virus. Relative to the middle of January, when the number of new cases each day was at its peak, new case totals were down about 70% and deaths down 60%. By late April, nearly 100 million people were fully vaccinated.

As the pandemic slows, so do the economic challenges facing Americans.

Low pay, soaring rents, pro-landlord laws set up Florida renters for eviction once COVID-19 hit” via Caroline Glenn of the Orlando Sentinel — Housing experts argue Florida has some of the harshest eviction laws in the country, written so landlords can evict people as quickly as possible and without going to court. During the COVID-19 outbreak, those landlord-friendly laws, coupled with the state’s severe shortage of affordable homes, rising rents, and years of stagnant wages, left thousands of suddenly jobless renters exposed. Central Florida renters, many of them the same low-wage workers who power the region’s tourism economy, were particularly vulnerable. Even before the pandemic and mass layoffs upended their lives, they lived paycheck to paycheck in a town where rent keeps climbing and wages don’t budge.

Lots of jobs, few hires: Labor shortage puts Tampa Bay restaurants in a pinch” via Jay Cridlin, Helen Freund and Malena Carollo of the Tampa Bay Times — For all the economic progress made in America’s pandemic recovery, many businesses are struggling to hire new workers — or, in some cases, the workers they let go last year. A number of industries that rely on low-wage workers are feeling the pinch. The effect has been particularly pronounced in the food service industry, where cooks, dishwashers and bussers aren’t reentering the workforce as quickly as they left it. The result: customers eager to get out and spend are now seeing reduced store and restaurant hours, labor and construction backlogs, and a few shuttered businesses. “It really is depressing,” said Traci Bryant Ferguson, who runs the restaurants Caracara, Taco Baby, Jack Pallino’s and the Nest in downtown Dunedin.

— MORE CORONA —

Air travel is back, including all the things you hated” via Alison Sider of The Wall Street Journal — Passenger volumes at U.S. airports hit pandemic records over the weekend, with more than 1.7 million people passing through airport security Friday and again on Sunday. Frequent flyers like Tim Slabaugh aren’t thrilled. “We had this window in COVID-19 where business travel was just wonderful,” said the medical supply company representative, who kept up his travel pace throughout the pandemic. “The airports themselves were empty,” he said. “Now, it’s like somebody turned the light switch back on.” Many people traveling now are vacationers and “older folks, hopped up on vaccines,” he said, rather than travel pros. Fares are rising, middle seats are no longer empty, and everything from parking lots to security lines is getting more congested.

Air travel is back, baby — the good and bad. Image via WSJ.

A maskless airline passenger blew his nose into a blanket. He now faces a $10,500 fine.” via Hannah Sampson of The Washington Post — The Federal Aviation Administration announced this week that it had proposed a civil penalty of $10,500 against a JetBlue passenger whose disruptive behavior on a flight included coughing and blowing his nose into a blanket. “The FAA alleges the passenger repeatedly ignored, and was abusive to, flight attendants who instructed him to wear a face mask,” the agency said in a news release. “The passenger’s disruptive behavior diverted flight crew members from their duties.” It was just the latest such announcement from the FAA, which has been cracking down on passengers who refuse to wear masks and otherwise disrupt crew members. Airlines have reported about 1,300 cases of unruly passengers to the FAA since February.

RIP, all-you-can-eat buffets: A eulogy for a pre-COVID-19 pastime I’ll weirdly miss a lot” via Joe Berkowitz of Fast Company — The paradox of choice that can make dining out daunting simply does not exist at a hotel buffet. All-you-can-eat — or, for legal purposes, all-you-care-to-eat — buffets thrust hungry munchers into a three-dimensional Netflix menu of eminently attainable food options to binge simultaneously or stagger at your whim. In fact, the entire process is defined by your whim: from the order of courses to the sizes of portions and the number of rounds at-bat. Considering that the all-you-can-eat buffet is an ode to abundance, though, it’s ironic that the options for enjoying one in the COVID-19 era have dwindled down to nearly nothing.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Joe Biden says that fuel is ‘beginning to flow,’ as administration struggles to limit political damage from gas shortage” via Sean Sullivan of The Washington Post — Biden urged anxious Americans not to panic and rush to stockpile gasoline, seeking to reassure the country that a severe fuel shortage that has gripped the Southeast will likely be resolved in coming days. “Gasoline supply is coming back online and panic buying will only slow the process,” Biden warned. The restart is “not like flicking on a light switch,” Biden said, adding that he expects a “region-by-region return to normalcy beginning this weekend and continuing into next week.” Biden’s remarks came amid a fierce political showdown over his handling of the situation. White House officials — sensitive to how quickly concerns about gas can become full-blown political crises — have aggressively sought to showcase their efforts to ease the shortage.

Joe Biden urges Americans to stop hoarding gas. Image via AP.

— EPILOGUE TRUMP — 

If New York indicts Florida resident Donald Trump, could DeSantis save him from extradition?” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — There’s a new wrinkle, involving DeSantis, in the saga of Trump. A major obsession among Trump lovers and Trump haters is trying to figure out if the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office will secure an indictment against the former President. POLITICO Playbook, the insider Washington newsletter, pointed Thursday to a little-known provision of Florida law that gives the state’s Governor authority to order an investigation into “the situation and circumstances of the person” in question “and whether the person ought to be surrendered” to another state. DeSantis is one of the nation’s most outspoken supporters of Trump. It was Trump’s support of DeSantis that propelled him to the 2018 Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Will Ron DeSantis run interference on a Donald Trump indictment? Image via AP.

Prosecutors seek cooperation of Trump confidant, subpoena Manhattan private school” via Corinne Ramey of The Wall Street Journal — New York prosecutors have subpoenaed a Manhattan private school as they seek the cooperation of the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer in their investigation of former President Trump and his company, according to people familiar with the matter. The subpoena seeks information from Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School, where grandchildren of Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg are students, the people said. From 2012 to 2019, more than $500,000 of the children’s tuition was paid for with checks signed by either Weisselberg or Trump, the two children’s mother, Jennifer Weisselberg, told The Wall Street Journal. She is the former wife of Weisselberg’s son, Barry.

Company: Ex-Trump lawyer raiding nonprofit for personal use” via Michael Kunzelman of The Associated Press — Former Trump attorney and self-proclaimed “Kraken releaser” Sidney Powell has told prospective donors that her group, Defending the Republic, is a legal-defense fund to protect the integrity of U.S. elections. But the company suing Powell over her baseless claims of a rigged presidential election says the true beneficiary of her social welfare organization is Powell herself. Dominion Voting Systems claims Powell has raided Defending the Republic’s coffers to pay for personal legal expenses, citing her own remarks from a radio interview. The Denver-based voting technology vendor sued Powell and others who spread false claims that the company helped steal the 2020 election from Trump.

— CRISIS —

Kevin McCarthy largely brushes off questions about GOP colleagues who played down Jan. 6 attack on Capitol” via John Wagner of The Washington Post — House Minority Leader McCarthy, a California Republican, largely brushed off questions Thursday about comments made during a hearing Wednesday by fellow Republicans who played down the severity of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, suggesting the setting was not appropriate for a response. McCarthy briefly took questions at an event at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, which was a stop on a “Back the Blue Bike Tour” that included officers from the Capitol Police as part of National Police Week. McCarthy was asked about House Republicans who have continued to question last year’s presidential results and several who sought to recast the events of Jan. 6 during Wednesday’s hearing.

Kevin McCarthy downplays GOP comments about the Jan. 6 riots.

‘Normal tourist visit’: Republicans recast deadly Jan. 6 attack by pro-Trump mob” via Colby Itkowitz of The Washington Post — Several House Republicans on Wednesday tried to recast and downplay the events of Jan. 6, comparing the mob that breached the Capitol to tourists, railing against law enforcement for seeking to arrest them and questioning how anyone could be sure the rioters were supporters of former President Trump. The Republicans’ distortions about the most violent attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812 defy the well-documented reality of what occurred that day — 140 police officers were injured, some bludgeoned with flagpoles and baseball bats, with one officer’s eye gouged out; rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence” and erected a gallows on the Capitol grounds.

What we know so far about the Capitol riot suspects” via Devlin Barrett, Abigail Hauslohner, Spencer S. Hsu and Ashlyn Still of The Washington Post — As prosecutors build cases alleging prior planning and coordination, the majority of those facing criminal charges were not known members of self-styled militias or other organized extremist groups. “The bulk of people being charged is what law enforcement sometimes calls free agents, and that tells you we don’t really have a firm grasp on the radicalization process,” said Colin Clarke, director of policy and research at the Soufan Group, a security consulting firm. Some of the information points to the ongoing risk of politically motivated unrest. Privately, law enforcement officials acknowledge that it could take years to identify and apprehend some of the individuals they are hunting — if they ever do.

— D.C. MATTERS —

House GOP rebuffs Liz Cheney’s demands to call out Trump’s election lies” via Manu Raju of CNN — Cheney told House Republicans in private on Wednesday that it’s time to reject former Trump’s big lie that he won the election because failing to do so will “make us complicit in his efforts to unravel our democracy.” But GOP lawmakers don’t want to hear it. From the most conservative members to ones in swing districts, a wide range of Republicans either back Trump outright, endorse aspects of his claims, or hope the issue will simply go away so they won’t have to weigh in. Many argue more investigation is needed over mail-in voting even though Trump’s own Justice Department found no evidence of widespread fraud. And most blame Cheney — not Trump — for injecting the issue back into the spotlight.

Liz Cheney speaks her mind and ruffles GOP feathers. Image via AP.

— LOCAL NOTES —

More than two dozen AR-15 rifles from the Miami Police Department are ‘unaccounted for’” via Charles Rabin of the Miami Herald — More than two dozen semi-automatic rifles owned by the city of Miami Police Department are missing. The prime suspects: The city’s own officers. It’s not a matter of theft, however, but record-keeping — at least for now. A strongly worded internal memo sent out to 1,400 sworn police officers Wednesday morning listed the serial numbers of 25 missing AR-15 rifles and warned officers that if the firearms are not returned by Monday, it could land them in hot water. A department spokesperson said it’s just part of an inventory check in place since the city’s new police chief, Art Acevedo, came aboard just over a month ago. “It’s not that unusual; we do it with the cars,” said Miami Police spokesman Michael Vega.

Clerk in cash-strapped Opa-locka pocketed $266,784 in building fees, prosecutors say” via Charles Rabin and Aaron Leibowitz of the Miami Herald — Mary Brown, who spent almost six years as a clerk in Opa-locka’s Building and Licensing office, was jailed Thursday morning and charged with single counts of organized scheme to defraud, grand theft and official misconduct of a public servant. Her bond was set at $150,000, and she remained jailed Thursday. Investigators from the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Public Corruption Unit say that Brown stole $266,784 in licensing fees using a simple but effective method: She failed to record receipts for the purchased building licenses, issued the permits, and kept the cash payments. She stuffed some of the cash she stole in her bra, investigators claim.

Among municipal cash woes, an Opa-locka city employee is accused of stealing city funds.

With Rome Yard reporting, the Tampa Bay Times omits key details” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — Tampa Bay Times reporter Charlie Frago has for weeks been following a major real estate development deal on prime West River property known as Rome Yard. Most recently, his reporting, aided by Chris O’Donnell’s keen investigative skills, found Ballard Partners lobbyist Ana Cruz, the longtime partner of Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, had toured the city with the founder of the company that ultimately won the lucrative development bid. It was a bad look. But the latest story ignores a contractual provision Ballard includes in all of its work related to the city of Tampa, stating that Cruz will not conduct work with the city for Ballard and that she will not profit from any of the work other members of the firm do conduct.

Do LGBTQ protections apply to those fired over rumors? A Bradenton challenge could test case law.” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A former employee fired by a Bradenton church amid rumors about a lesbian affair has challenged her termination. Now the Time’s Up movement hopes her case clarifies job discrimination protections exist in Florida both for LGBTQ employees and those presumed to be. The case could also ensure religious groups don’t enjoy blanket exemptions regardless of the nature of a worker’s duties. Christie Leonard, a Parrish woman, worked 15 years at Gospel Crusade, starting as a video production volunteer and eventually working full time handling a mix of A/V and accounting duties. “I was employee of the year at one point,” she recalls.

FPL opens fifth solar energy facility in DeSoto County” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Florida Power & Light Company has brought another solar plant online in DeSoto County, the company announced Thursday. The new Rodeo Solar Energy Center is FPL’s fifth solar energy center in DeSoto County, making DeSoto the county with the most FPL solar energy centers in Florida. It is also the county’s second solar energy center built to support the nation’s largest community solar program, FPL SolarTogether. The Rodeo Solar Energy Center houses approximately 300,000 solar panels and brings an additional 74.5 megawatts of power to the grid. It is built on land that FPL originally purchased in the 1960s.

— TOP OPINION —

A once-in-a-lifetime chance to start over” via Arthur C. Brooks of The Atlantic — Americans might be entering the waning days of the year-plus coronavirus pandemic. In these last weeks and months before something resembling normality returns, we might ask ourselves, “What do I want ‘normal’ to look like?” When people talk about life before the virus, their recollections are often sentimental: about the “good old days”; about what we miss. I haven’t been able to find any surveys of what we most don’t miss from pre-pandemic times. But there is research that gives us clues. Studies have shown that spending time on people or activities that bring us down depresses our sense of meaning in life; unpleasant exchanges with bosses, customers, and co-workers lower our sense of well-being.

— OPINIONS —

Did you vote to oust Cheney, Miami lawmakers? Tell us, so we know who you really are” via the Miami Herald editorial board — If Miami’s congressional Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Giménez and Maria Elvira Salazar voted their consciences, they should tell us how they voted on ousting Cheney from leadership positions in the U.S. House If the three Republicans voted their true conservative values, they should tell us that. And if they voted with their hearts beating only for the good of this country, let’s hear that, too. So far, we don’t know a thing. We need to know that their consciences hew to the Constitution, that conservatives value the truth, that their hearts beat for the principles of democracy.

Seminole gaming compact benefits tribe, Floridians” via Carol Dover for the Orlando Sentinel — Floridians will be the big winners if the Florida Legislature votes to approve the new Gaming Compact next week. Not only does this compact mean significant revenue for the state, but it also means thousands of jobs for team members in the hospitality industry after a year of devastation from the COVID-19 pandemic. Pre-COVID-19, hospitality, and tourism was the largest employer in Florida and supported more than 1.5 million employees and their families. More than 934,000 of those employees were laid off at the beginning of COVID-19, and some of those jobs have yet to come back. The compact may also bring a much-needed boost in Florida tourism as both domestic and international visitors will come to enjoy the many entertainment and casino options offered.

Let voters decide on legalizing sports betting in Florida” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — It’s that time again. The moment every few years when the state considers how much more gambling to allow. DeSantis recently hammered out a new deal with the Seminole Tribe, and the Legislature meets in Special Session beginning Monday to consider the proposed compact. Sports betting is big business. And legal or not, it’s going on in the state already. DeSantis makes a solid point when he says that by formalizing a deal the state can regulate betting activities and share revenue. But sports betting doesn’t come free. A revolution of this magnitude cries out for more than lawmakers’ stamp of approval. Voters — through a statewide referendum — should ultimately decide the issue.

Daniel Martinez: Hispanic students have much to gain from Florida education bill” via Florida Politics — DeSantis has taken an important step to make this right by signing legislation to expand opportunities for our kids. And Hispanic families are among the biggest winners. To help make this possible for more families, the Governor has now signed HB 7045, sponsored by Rep. Randy Fine (with companion legislation in the Senate introduced by Sen. Diaz). This bill consolidates and streamlines existing K-12 education scholarship programs, making them available to a broader range of families. That’s particularly true in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic when many are struggling to make up lost income. DeSantis has shown that leaders in this state recognize the importance of giving them new ways to ensure their kids’ educational success.

Skylar Zander: Home-based businesses are the way to economic vitality” via Florida Politics — This Session, legislators passed measures to remove outdated and unnecessary barriers to conducting business from home and encourages entrepreneurs to start new businesses. This will go a long way toward giving Florida the economic boost we all need. Legislators removed the requirement for new or small businesses to establish traditional office space to operate in Florida. They recognized that this antiquated requirement increases the cost of doing business and stifles economic growth. Since it is now clear that many businesses and employees can thrive regardless of where they’re located, why force businesses to maintain traditional office space that merely increases their overhead? Cutting unnecessary, burdensome, and expensive red tape is the right thing to do.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Lawmakers return to Tallahassee Monday to ratify a new Seminole Compact on gaming in Florida, but John Sowinski says this goes way beyond the Seminole Tribe.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— Sowinski says the Compact will turn your smartphone into a mobile casino; even if you support more gambling, he says the state’s not getting a fair share.

— The Governor signs a bill that makes it legal to order booze with your takeout meal, another legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic. DeSantis and state lawmakers like it so much they decided to make the change permanent.

— The Governor says it’s no big deal if Norwegian Cruise Line steers clear of Florida because of a new state law that forbids them from requiring passengers to show proof of vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention imposed vaccination requirements on all the cruise ships, so DeSantis is suing the feds in federal court.

— And finally, a Florida Man bought so much gasoline that his Humvee went up in flames.

To listen, click on the image below:

— WEEKEND TV —

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

Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Moderator Rob Lorei hosts a roundtable featuring attorney and political consultant Mac Stipanovich, ACLU of Florida Executive Director Micah Kubic, journalist Joe Brown and Florida PTA President Jennifer Martinez.

In Focus with Allison Walker on Bay News 9/CF 13: Walker will discuss the more than yearlong recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and how federal resources will fuel the recovery. Guests include Tampa Mayor Castor and Clearwater Mayor Frank Hubbard.

Political Connections Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: “No Casinos” President Sowinski explains why the group is against the gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe ahead of the Legislature’s Special Session; and one-on-one with candidate Eric Lynn on his decision to run for Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: Former Republican Governor and Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist will discuss his entry into the 2022 gubernatorial race; a look at the Legislature’s Special Session on gambling compacts with Sowinski; and a deep dive on the influence of organized religion on politics and the separation of church vs. state.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Host Gary Yordon talks with First Amendment Foundation President Pamela Marsh.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Sen. Aaron Bean, Jacksonville City Council member LeAnna Cumber and Chris Hand, author, former City of Jax Chief of Staff (2011-15).

This Week in South Florida on WPLG-Local10 News (ABC): U.S. Sen Rick Scott, Broward County School Board Chair Dr. Rosalind Osgood, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and “No Casinos” President Sowinski.

— ALOE —

Disney World is raising capacity, and new mask guidance is ‘big news’ for a hot Orlando summer, CEO says” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — Walt Disney World has lifted its attendance capacity beyond its previous self-imposed 35% limit, although company CEO Bob Chapek didn’t disclose by how much, as the theme parks significantly loosen their COVID-19 safety rules. Chapek didn’t specify when people could stop wearing masks at the Orlando parks but called the new CDC guidelines — which says fully vaccinated people can go maskless in most places — “big news” for Disney, especially with summer coming. He appeared to be hinting changes could be coming soon. At Disney World, attendance is improving, and guests are spending more at the resort than at the same time last year, the company’s chief financial officer, Christine McCarthy, said without disclosing exact figures.

Disney is welcoming the ‘big news’ from the CDC. Image via Disney.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to Craig FugateAudrey HensonTodd Reid, and Susie Wiles.

___

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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