The weekend brought some good news on the pandemic front. It now seems likely that we’ll be able to spend Independence Day with friends and family — safely. New coronavirus cases are now at their lowest levels since June 2020. Whether you had a good weekend or a bad one, enjoy a share of the victory — assuming you’ve been vaccinated and done your part.
The Haitian community also has a good reason to celebrate. After many tough weekends in a row, the Joe Biden administration announced it is extending temporary protected status to the 54,000 Haitian immigrants who are living in the country, and potentially thousands more, sparing them from having to head back to their home country amid continuing civil unrest and human rights abuses. “Relieving weekend” may be a more apt description, but it was a good one nonetheless.
Now for something a little less somber: festivals are back!
This weekend saw more than 3,000 Floridians and tourists head to South Beach for the city’s annual Wine & Food Festival, and Tampa Pride 2021 drew a crowd 10 times as large — sure, it wasn’t the 70,000 that turned out in 2019, but it was infinitely more than the canceled 2020 edition. If you were one of the many to make the trip, chances are you had an amazing weekend — and a long-overdue one at that.
However, the mood is a bit iffy in North Florida as the days of dialing seven digits are over. Starting Saturday, those living in the 850 area code had to start dialing all 10 digits to reach anyone. It’s been more than two decades since Northwest Florida split from Jacksonville and was assigned the 850 code, which covers Tallahassee and everything west of it. According to the North American Numbering Plan Administrator — the organization that plans out area codes — 850 will run out of numbers in about six months. But they aren’t waiting for it to be fully exhausted to make the switch. The new area code, by the way, is 448. Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?
Down in Parkland, Marjory Stoneman Douglas landed the Florida state baseball championship. The Eagles defeated Spruce Creek High to win the Class 7A state title. The 2020-21 team went 28-2 on the season to capture the school’s second-ever title. Some of the players on the roster were present during the 2018 shooting at the school — the freshmen that year are seniors today. It doesn’t erase what happened, but at least there will be a happy memory from their high school days to look back on years down the line.
Speaking of baseball titles … actually, let’s not jinx it … the Tampa Bay Rays are on a hot streak. The club beat the Blue Jays 3-1 on Saturday to notch their third nine-game win streak in franchise history. The Rays now sit at 28-19, putting them one game behind the Red Sox for the No. 1 spot in the American League. Across the bay, the Tampa Bay Lightning bounced back from a tough loss Thursday night and managed a dominant win over the Florida Panthers. They’re now just one game away from advancing to the second round of the NHL playoffs. Once again, don’t start the Champa Bay chants yet, but definitely keep your fingers crossed and wear your lucky socks.
Whether you spent the weekend sipping wine in South Florida, jumping up and down in the bleachers in Tampa Bay, or staring at your phone in bewilderment in North Florida, hopefully, you enjoyed this weekend because there may be a cruddy one on the way.
The first tropical storm of the year, Ana, formed about 200 miles off the coast of Bermuda, marking another year where the storms aren’t waiting for the official start of hurricane season on June 1. Luckily, Ana isn’t going to swing through Florida, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says we may make it all the way to “S” names this year. The annual disaster preparedness sales tax holiday starts Friday, which is as good an opportunity as any to build your kit and make your storm plans. Don’t forget.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@Fineout: What has to sting a bit here: (Chris) Sununu‘s shot at (Ron) DeSantis echoes that of @nikkifried — who also criticized the Governor for signing (in the middle of the night) the bill that required online retailers to start collecting Fla’s sales tax
—@AGGancarkski: Latest drop of @ schedule yet: 11:36 p.m. on a Saturday night. What intern got stuck with sending that one out?
— Rep. Brian Mast (@RepBrianMast) May 23, 2021
—@FarmerforFLSen: With the real press I am a winner for fighting for what is just and right.
—@tomaskenn: Years in the making, but we finally got rid of the weighted vote, the archaic & undemocratic system that concentrated decision-making power in the hands of a few at @FlaDems. The new system is not perfect, but it allows for much more grassroots participation. We are now stronger.
TAMPA PRIDE 🌈 what a celebration — and the first in the country this year!! pic.twitter.com/VvAQUfaK8L
— Charlie Crist (@CharlieCrist) May 23, 2021
— Christine Hunschofsky (@CHunschofsky) May 22, 2021
— DAYS UNTIL —
‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 4; Disaster Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday begins — 4; Memorial Day — 7; Florida TaxWatch Spring Meeting and PLA Awards — 10; ‘Loki’ premieres on Disney+ — 18; Father’s Day — 27; F9 premieres in the U.S. — 32; ‘Tax Freedom Holiday’ begins — 38; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 39; 4th of July — 41; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 46; MLB All-Star Game — 50; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 60; second season of ‘Ted Lasso’ premieres on Apple+ — 60; the NBA Draft — 66; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 68; ‘The Suicide Squad’ premieres — 74; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 92; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 102; NFL regular season begins — 108; Broadway’s full-capacity reopening — 113; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 123; ‘Dune’ premieres — 130; MLB regular season ends — 132; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 138; World Series Game 1 — 155; Florida’s 20th Congressional District primary — 162; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 162; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 165; San Diego Comic-Con begins — 186; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 200; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 207; NFL season ends — 230; Florida’s 20th Congressional District election — 232; NFL playoffs begin — 236; Super Bowl LVI — 265; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 305; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 347; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 410; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 501; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 536.
“How Joe Biden’s cash paid for Florida GOP’s pet education projects” via Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO — Florida Republicans reject Biden’s policies but sure like to spend his money. The GOP-led Legislature was facing an education budget crisis at the start of the 2021 Legislative Session, with lawmakers seriously considering slashing K-12 budgets and increasing tuition at Florida’s public universities. In all, Florida had a nearly $3 billion budget shortfall. But the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package changed Florida’s dire budget situation and helped the state’s biggest-name Republicans achieve their personal policy goals. Although GOP lawmakers claimed the federal relief wasn’t needed, legislators allocated at least $7.4 billion from Biden’s rescue plan to K-12 schools next year and beyond.
— DATELINE TALLY —
Happening today — Florida TaxWatch announces its annual report on “turkeys” — wasteful spending — in the 2021-2022 state budget, 11 a.m., Florida TaxWatch, 106 North Bronough St., Tallahassee. Zoom link here.
“Florida consumers get back-to-school, hurricane and ‘freedom’ sales-tax holidays” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida consumers will save on hurricane and school supplies as well as concert tickets and outdoor gear under a $200 million bill signed by DeSantis. HB 7061 includes sales tax holidays on back-to-school and hurricane preparedness items that Floridians are used to, but it also has a sales tax holiday for outdoor recreation goods and tickets to sports and cultural events. DeSantis and lawmakers who pushed the new measure through the Legislature last month call it “Freedom Week,” which will last from July 1-7.
Florida is free and open, and @GovRonDeSantis signed sales tax "Freedom Week" holiday into law so we can enjoy the great outdoors. Congrats to @bobbypaynefl for getting this done. This July 4th, let's celebrate how far we've come and enjoy the sunshine! #FlaPol pic.twitter.com/2MoawKfabh
— Chris Sprowls (@ChrisSprowls) May 21, 2021
“‘I wish I could feel better about our progress’: Panel recaps Legislative Session’s harm to minority communities” via Danielle J. Brown of the Florida Phoenix — Nearing the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by former police officer Derek Chauvin in Minnesota, a Florida lawmaker and local officials and community members gathered via Zoom in Palm Beach County to reflect about Florida’s 2021 legislative session’s implications for racial and LGBTQ equity. Progressive efforts to quash bills penalizing transgender athletes and restricting voting access were thwarted in the Republican-majority Florida Legislature. However, other efforts were more successful, including legislation that creates protocols limiting use of force by law enforcement.
“Florida Senate staff receiving $1,000 bonuses for pandemic service” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — Many front-line workers will be getting $1,000 bonuses from the state this year thanking them for their dutiful service during the COVID-19 pandemic. First responders like firefighters, police and paramedics are getting checks and teachers too. Thanks to Senate President Wilton Simpson, all 117 Senate district staff will also be receiving $1,000 bonuses for their service, which continued through the summer last year. In letters sent to district staff, Simpson thanked them for their hard work and dedication.
“’Harassment on Twitter is inevitable’: Ron DeSantis’ press secretary unlocks account” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Christina Pushaw, DeSantis‘ newly minted press secretary, unlocked her Twitter account on Saturday after privatizing the account following a series of online threats. “Unlocked my account because I concluded that, unfortunately, harassment on Twitter is inevitable for a conservative in public life,” Pushaw tweeted. “I’ll still block & report — but only actual threats. This isn’t my official work account, but I will use it to debunk misinformation & spread truth.” Pushaw, a conservative journalist turned press secretary, locked her Twitter account on Thursday after “waves” of “disgusting” and “deranged” harassments and threats, she explained on Twitter.
Happening today — The Florida Transportation Commission meets, 10 a.m. Call-in: 850-739-5589. Meeting ID: 36550122.
— STATEWIDE —
Happening today — Attorney General Ashley Moody discusses hurricane preparedness at a news conference, 10:15 a.m., Attorney General Tampa office, 3507 East Frontage Road, Tampa.
🏼🏼 — Special Session winners and losers: In only three days, the 2021 Special Session was a big bet, with both winners … and losers. The Special Session gaveled in midday Monday, and a little over 48 hours later, both chambers had signed off on a new 30-year Gaming Compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. There are some obvious winners … and some obscure losers. It’s an extensive list, so be sure not to miss it.
“Brian Ballard: Long-term gaming stability may be in partnerships between Seminole Tribe, pari-mutuels” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Ballard, whose Ballard Partners lobbying firm represents several interests in the gambling package the Legislature approved in last week’s Special Session — including three pari-mutuel companies in Florida — pointed out that for the first time the Seminole Tribe of Florida and its Florida gambling competition, the pari-mutuels, can become partners. Those partnerships — should they actually materialize — could arise from the new sports betting deal. Under the Compact, the Tribe will control sports betting in Florida. But the Tribe could license sports betting operations to the pari-mutuels, allowing them to open their own sports betting lounges. The two would split the net winnings. So now, one side’s winnings could help the other side prosper.
“Bestbet can add sports betting in Jacksonville and Orange Park, but slots remain off table” via David Bauerlein of the Florida Times-Union — The state Legislature has just approved a gambling bill with huge financial stakes for the future of gambling in Florida. The legislation opens the door for Bestbet to get into the sports betting business, but when it comes to slots, that’s no closer to happening in Jacksonville. Bestbet would be able to add a new line of gambling by offering customers the ability to place wagers on sports. However, that expansion is not a sure thing because opponents of the gambling legislation have vowed to sue the state over the sports betting provision.
“Shifting politics of gambling could benefit Sarasota card room” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Much has changed in his family’s business since 1944 when Jack Collins Jr.’s grandfather purchased a greyhound racing track in Sarasota for $5,005 in back taxes. The track had burned down. Collins’ grandfather revived it. Collins grew up in the business, witnessing the decline of greyhound racing and the rise of other forms of gambling. The biggest change came after Florida legalized poker rooms at pari-mutuel gambling facilities. The Sarasota Kennel Club’s card room opened in late 2006. Now the One-Eyed Jack’s card room is the entire business.
“Is a Donald Trump South Florida casino in the works? Gambling deal makes it easier — and raises eyebrows” via Skyler Swisher of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida legislators didn’t deliver a casino to Trump during their Special Session on gambling, but they cleared at least one hurdle from his path if he has those ambitions. In a deal approved this week, the Seminole Tribe of Florida agreed not to object to new gambling operations farther than 15 miles away from its Hollywood casinos. Trump Doral falls just outside that 15-mile zone, as does the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, which has also been mentioned as a possible casino site. Rep. Mike Grieco doesn’t think it’s a coincidence DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe’s agreement landed on a 15-mile buffer for the Seminole Tribe’s casinos instead of a larger one.
“Matt Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend to cooperate with federal authorities in sex trafficking investigation” via Paula Reid, David Shortell and Gloria Borger of CNN — Federal authorities investigating alleged sex trafficking by GOP Rep. Gaetz have secured the cooperation of the Congressman’s ex-girlfriend, according to people familiar with the matter. The woman, a former Capitol Hill staffer, is seen as a critical witness, as she has been linked to Gaetz as far back as the summer of 2017, a period of time that has emerged as a key window of scrutiny for investigators. She can also help investigators understand the relevance of hundreds of transactions they have obtained records of, including those involving alleged payments for sex, the sources said.
“Joel Greenberg kept committing crimes well after he learned feds were investigating him” via Martin E. Comas of the Orlando Sentinel — On an April morning in 2019, federal agents walked into the Tax Collector’s Office in Lake Mary and handed an employee a grand jury subpoena that revealed for the first time that the U.S. Department of Justice was investigating whether Greenberg had used public money to benefit himself. That initial request for records related to Greenberg’s spending and investments was revealed in a plea agreement Greenberg struck with prosecutors. The deal showed that federal investigators had been interested in Greenberg far earlier than had previously been confirmed. But perhaps more stunning is that it also showed Greenberg continued breaking the law for months after he first knew there was a federal investigation targeting him.
“‘Ghost’ candidate in key state Senate race had help from controversial political consultant” via Annie Martin and Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel — About four months after Orlando political strategist Eric Foglesong pleaded guilty to stealing money from a campaign and was ordered to pay $20,000 in restitution, he waded back into local elections, contributing nearly $900 to a pair of little-known independent candidates who filed to run in two hotly contested legislative races. According to three handwriting experts who compared a photocopy of that check, Foglesong, who would soon begin falling behind on his home rent payments, also likely wrote the $1,187 check that paid the qualifying fee for one of those candidates to writing on documents Foglesong filed in court.
“FSU presidential candidates picked in secret, search committee member says” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — A member of Florida State University’s presidential search committee doesn’t think the candidate interview and selection process was above board. In an email sent to State University System Chancellor Marshall M. Criser III, Committee member Craig Mateer said multiple committee votes were held by secret ballot, and he believes the candidate interviews were coordinated theater. “We were told we could not talk to the candidates. I asked specifically to do that before the formal interviews and was told that couldn’t occur. In addition, the questions we were to ask the interviewees were drafted in advance and given to us without our input (and we weren’t allowed to keep the questions, and they were collected on Saturday from us),” he wrote.
Happening today — The Florida State University Board of Trustees meets to consider three candidates for the next FSU president to succeed the retiring John Thrasher: Richard McCullough, vice provost for research at Harvard University; Robert Blouin, executive vice chancellor and provost of the University of North Carolina; and Giovanni Piedimonte, vice president for research at Tulane University, 9 a.m., Augustus B. Turnbull Florida State Conference Center, 555 West Pensacola St., Tallahassee. Online link here.
“Insurers are dropping homeowners left and right. Many will be forced to accept less coverage” via Ron Hurtibise of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — All but a handful of insurers, repelled by high rates of fraud and litigation, refuse to write new business in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. The remaining few will cover only new homes or existing homes with new roofs. You have options, but you probably won’t like them. One is Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which will leave you vulnerable to a surcharge of 45% of your annual premium if the company runs out of money paying claims after a catastrophic hurricane season. Another option is to buy a policy that will pay you only the depreciated value of your roof if it must be replaced, leaving you on the hook for the difference — thousands of dollars.
— 2022 —
“Panhandle Republicans endorse each other, move to thwart heated primaries” via Jason Delgado via Florida Politics — Republican Reps. Alex Andrade and Michelle Salzman publicly endorsed one another ahead of the 2022 election cycle, a move that may help stave off the trend of heated primaries within their districts. The endorsements come after Greg Litton, a former major league baseball player, opened an account Monday to run in the 2022 Republican primary for Andrade’s seat in House District 2. Both lawmakers praised each other’s track records and supported their reelection efforts. Salzman, a freshman, represents House District 1, a neighboring district that also encompasses Escambia County.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“Florida vaccination total tops 10 million people” via Jim Saunders of The News Service of Florida — The Department of Health report showed that 7,965,477 people who had received shots — or nearly 80% of the 10,005,987 total — were considered fully vaccinated, as they had received two doses of vaccines produced by the drug companies Pfizer or Moderna or the one-dose vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson. But while vaccinations helped restore more of a sense of normalcy, many of Florida’s nearly 22 million residents have not received shots. Data tracked by Johns Hopkins University indicated that Florida trailed 30 other states and the District of Columbia in the percentage of its population that is fully vaccinated, though underlying numbers posted online by Johns Hopkins differ from those in the DOH report.
“Florida nursing homes: A real-time test ground for COVID-19 vaccine immunity” via Cindy Krischer-Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — When COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Florida in December, seniors in elder-care facilities were among the first to get the lifesaving treatment. The strategy has paid off: COVID-19 cases in residents of Florida nursing homes and assisted living facilities fell 90% since January. Now senior advocate organizations are closely watching the new case numbers and hospitalizations. No one — even vaccine manufacturers — knows for certain how long immunity will last, particularly in the elderly. Both Pfizer and Moderna CEOs have said it’s likely there will be a need for a third dose, somewhere between six and 12 months.
— CORONA LOCAL —
“Welcome to public-comments hell: COVID-19 mask critics abuse county school board” via Frank Cerabino of The Palm Beach Post — When you give COVID-19 mask protesters a kvetching opportunity, you soon discover that for many, it’s really not about the mask. Complaining about wearing a mask is just an opportunity for them to put on their “patriot” attire, dust off their Nazi references and imagine themselves as God-anointed, heroic figures in American history. The Palm Beach County School Board activated this underwhelming stew of humanity again this past week while discussing the school’s mask-wearing policy for this summer and the upcoming fall term.
— CORONA NATION —
“Coronavirus infections drop below 30,000 daily in continuing sign of recovery” via Lenny Bernstein and Joel Achenbach of The Washington Post — For the first time in 11 months, the daily average of new coronavirus infections in the United States has fallen below 30,000 amid continuing signs that most communities across the nation are emerging from the worst of the pandemic. The seven-day average dipped to 27,815 on Friday, the lowest since June 22 and less than a tenth of the infection rate during the winter surge. The pandemic map remains speckled with hot spots, including parts of the Deep South, the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest. At the local level, progress against contagion has not been uniform as some communities struggle with inequities in vaccine distribution and the virus’s health impacts.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“Florida jobless rate at 4.8% in April” via Jim Turner of The News Service of Florida — The state Department of Economic Opportunity said the April rate was up from 4.7% in March. An estimated 487,000 Floridians were reported as jobless out of a workforce of 10.24 million. The number of people employed increased by 59,000 from March to April, while the workforce grew by 73,000 at the same time. Adrienne Johnston, the department’s chief economist, called the workforce increase “a positive sign.” “You want to see the labor force increasing. That may result in either a steady or a slight increase in the unemployment rate. That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Johnston said. Johnston acknowledged that the return of workers to the leisure and hospitality sectors continues to be slower than in some other industries.
“Florida says it is researching whether to continue federal jobless benefits” via Rob Wile of the Miami Herald — Currently, a Florida worker filing for unemployment can earn up to $575 a week — or about $14.38 an hour — from $300 in supplemental assistance from Washington on top of the state’s $275 maximum credit. Before the pandemic, the state’s minimum wage was $8.65 an hour. “The Department continues to research and monitor whether the state should continue participating in all federal unemployment programs that were implemented to provide additional relief from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Florida Department of Economic Opportunity press secretary Andrew G. Nixon said.
“Florida’s rigged economy is responsible for a working-class eviction crisis” via the Orlando Sentinel editorial board — If you work in the low-wage service economy, as many Floridians do, it’s unlikely you can afford to buy a home. Which means you have to rent. But if you fall behind on your rent payments, as many service workers did during the pandemic, you have just five days after getting a legal summons to pay the landlord what’s owed. Five days to come up with possibly thousands of dollars. Otherwise, you’re automatically in default and facing eviction. Contrast that with homeowners, who have far more time to make good on what they owe before losing their homes. Florida was one of just seven states where, with inflation factored in, the median hourly wage actually fell during the nine-year period from 2007-2016.
— MORE CORONA —
“Intelligence on sick staff at Wuhan lab fuels debate on COVID-19 origin” via The Wall Street Journal — Three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report that could add weight to growing calls for a fuller probe of whether the COVID-19 virus may have escaped from the laboratory. The details of the reporting go beyond a State Department fact sheet, issued during the final days of the Donald Trump administration, which said that several researchers at the lab, a center for the study of coronaviruses and other pathogens, became sick in autumn 2019 “with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illness.”
“CDC is investigating a heart problem in a few young vaccine recipients” via Apoorva Mandavilli of The New York Times — The CDC is looking into reports that a very small number of teenagers and young adults vaccinated against the coronavirus may have experienced heart problems. The group’s statement was sparse in details, saying only that there were “relatively few” cases and that they may be entirely unrelated to vaccination. The condition, called myocarditis, is an inflammation of the heart muscle and can occur following certain infections. The CDC’s review of the reports is in the early stages, and the agency has yet to determine whether there is any evidence that the vaccines caused the heart condition. The agency has posted guidance on its website urging doctors and clinicians to be alert to unusual heart symptoms among young people who had just received their shots.
“For colleges, vaccine mandates often depend on which party is in power” via Rukmini Callimachi of The New York Times — With many colleges facing falling enrollments and financial pressure, the decision whether to require vaccinations can have huge consequences. Particularly in Republican-controlled states, college presidents are weighing a delicate equation, part safety, part politics, part peer pressure, and part economic self-interest. Many universities have added a caveat to try to protect themselves from liability. Their mandates are contingent on one of the vaccines obtaining final regulatory approval, but they would allow students to return to campus after receiving any of them.
— PRESIDENTIAL —
“A changed Democratic Party continues to influence the Biden presidency” via Joe Dan Balz of The Washington Post — The President maintains he has not really gone far left since taking office. “The progressives don’t like me because I’m not prepared to take on what I would say and they would say is a socialist agenda,” he said. What he means is he won’t support a Medicare-for-all plan that Sanders favors. Nor will he embrace calls to defund the police, as some in the Black Lives Matter movement advocate. Biden will have to make some difficult choices about the unfinished parts of his economic and domestic agenda. He will continue to feel pressure from the left on voting rights, immigration, racial injustice, guns and the filibuster. So far, he has maneuvered through this with relative confidence, but circumstances have forced him to adapt to the changes within his party and govern accordingly.
“U.S. again extending temporary protected status for Haitians” via The Associated Press — The Biden administration is allowing eligible Haitian nationals residing in the U.S. to apply for a new 18-month designation for temporary protected status, reversing a Trump administration effort that had sought to end the special consideration. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas cited security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty and other problems in Haiti for the decision. “After careful consideration, we determined that we must do what we can to support Haitian nationals in the United States until conditions in Haiti improve so they may safely return home,” Mayorkas said.
“Could Florida get another chance at high-speed rail under Joe Biden?” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — Eleven years have passed since President Barack Obama landed in Tampa with the promise of a gift that could transform Central Florida: a federally funded high-speed rail line to Orlando. Not a single track was laid between the two cities. In Florida and across the country, the tea party wave brought in a new class of Republican leaders wanting to slash government spending. Among the programs they killed was Obama’s $8-billion vision for a national network of fast-moving trains. Enter President Biden, whose well-established love for train travel earned him the moniker “Amtrak Joe.”
— EPILOGUE TRUMP —
“Trump is sliding toward online irrelevance. His new blog isn’t helping.” via Drew Harwell and Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post — On the internet, Trump is sliding toward something he has fought his entire life: irrelevance. Online talk about him has plunged to a five-year low. He’s banned or ignored on pretty much every major social media venue. In the last week, Trump’s website, including his new blog, fundraising page and online storefront, attracted fewer estimated visitors than the pet-adoption service Petfinder and the recipe site Delish. Trump is still by far the Republican Party’s biggest star, and conservative lawmakers and provocateurs are now loudly sparring over the importance of loyalty to him ahead of the 2022 midterm elections or a potential second Trump presidential run.
“Since leaving office, Trump has charged the Secret Service more than $40,000 to use space at Mar-a-Lago” via David A. Fahrenthold and Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post — Trump charged the Secret Service more than $40,000 this spring for rooms that Trump’s own protective detail used while guarding him at his Mar-a-Lago Club, according to federal spending records. The records show that Trump’s club charged the Secret Service $396.15 every night starting Jan. 20, the day he left the White House and moved full-time into his Palm Beach, Florida, club. Ultimately paid by taxpayers, those charges continued until at least April 30, the spending records show, for a total of $40,011.15. The charges were for a single room used as a workspace by Secret Service agents.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Could congressional committees thoroughly investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack? There are … doubts” via Paul Kane of The Washington Post — Lawmakers are confronting a new challenge in probing the ugly Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, debating whether congressional committees are truly capable of conducting investigations that will provide a full accounting and also be accepted by a bitterly divided public. Despite a bipartisan House vote Wednesday to create an independent commission, Senate Republicans signaled they would not go along with the proposal as it is currently drafted, preferring that their committees continue conducting reviews. Yet none of the existing probes is focused on the last central question of that fateful day what actions did Trump take inside the White House, if any, to help quell the rebellion led by his supporters.
“Filibuster brawl amps up with GOP opposition to Jan. 6 panel” via Burgess Everett of POLITICO — The filibuster has been on hiatus since Biden took over. Senate Republicans are about to change that — over a bipartisan commission to probe the Capitol riot. After more than four months of letting their power to obstruct lie unused in the Senate, the 50-member Senate GOP is ready to mount a filibuster of House-passed legislation creating an independent cross-aisle panel to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection. If Republicans follow through and block the bill, they will spark a long-building fight over the filibuster’s very existence.
“A Florida Republican on election integrity and Trump’s fraud claims” via Astead W. Herndon of The New York Times — In Florida, a state Trump won easily, Republicans enacted a more targeted overhaul of elections law in lockstep with Trump’s allegations. Rep Byron Donalds believes the reaction to the new law is misguided and overblown. In an interview, he sought to explain Republican actions as distinct from Trump’s false claims, and in line with voter concerns. He argues that his state’s new law, and similar ones across the country, would inspire renewed confidence in the election process.
“Electric buses, asphalt and bridges: Politicians jostle for federal transportation cash” via Laura Olson of the Florida Phoenix — Rep. Daniel Webster sits on the House committee crafting the transportation portion of President Joe Biden’s proposed $2.3 trillion infrastructure package, but he’s not pushing any pet projects for inclusion. Instead, Webster sent a letter to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s chairman and ranking Republican, asking any funds designated for his district be sent to the Florida Department of Transportation, because he felt the timeline for submitting projects was rushed. “Rep. Webster is very careful when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars,” a spokesperson from his office said. “Thus, he decided not to submit projects for Fiscal Year 2022.”
Assignment editors — U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor joins Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Hillsborough County Commissioner Gwen Myers for a news conference to outline American Rescue Plan aid for the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County, 12 p.m., Lee Davis Neighborhood Services Center, 3402 N 22nd St, Tampa. RSVP at [email protected]
— LOCAL NOTES —
“Palm Beach State Attorney Dave Aronberg steps aside as candidate for top federal prosecutor” via Jay Weaver of the Miami Herald — In a letter to a handful of South Florida politicians, Aronberg said he was “honored by reports” that he was being considered for the U.S. Attorney’s position, but he did not apply because of his “love” for his current job, which he has held since 2013. Aronberg, a white Democrat who has been a high-profile commentator on MSNBC, CNN and other cable networks, also said that he believes “our current national climate calls for a history-making appointment of the first Black U.S. Attorney from Florida.” Matthew Dates and Markenzy Lapointe are the only Black candidates, and both are former federal prosecutors in South Florida.
“How did a man die of a fentanyl overdose in the Palm Beach County Jail?” via Hannah Winston of The Palm Beach Post — In the year since Travis Fletcher died of a fentanyl overdose at the Palm Beach County Jail, investigators with the sheriff’s office have interviewed men who slept in the same dormitory, corrections deputies who worked the area where he was being held, medical staff and family members. Investigators know he was being treated for withdrawal symptoms for alcohol. Fletcher’s bunkmates said he had been sick recently. And one conversation during a monitored telephone call revealed that those in the jail knew he had died of an overdose before a toxicology report came back in the months after his death. On Thursday, the sheriff’s office confirmed no deputies ever were put on administrative leave or under investigation for Fletcher’s death.
“ACLU alarmed, seeks to overturn ruling on Boynton mom filming police” via Jane Musgrave of The Palm Beach Post — Journalism organizations and civil rights groups are joining forces to overturn a West Palm Beach appeals court decision that they claim could block the press and the public from videotaping police. Raising the specter of cellphone footage that captured George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police, ACLU attorneys urged the 4th District Court of Appeal to reconsider its decision to uphold the arrest of a Boynton Beach woman who turned her video camera on cops. “It’s a profoundly disturbing decision and contrary to a long line of federal court rulings,” said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Jim Green.
“‘The connection of oppression’: Jacksonville schools named after colonizers still debated” via Emily Bloch of the Florida Times-Union — In a region of the state that the Timucuan Tribe lived in and helped establish, debate continues regarding the legacy of colonizers like Andrew Jackson and Jean Ribault. This week Duval County Public Schools released the voting results surrounding the debate to rename nine local schools — six with ties to the Confederacy and three with ties to the marginalization of Indigenous people. Voting results: Duval County schools stakeholders vote to rename 6 schools named for Confederate leaders. Results showed that the community overwhelmingly wanted to change the Confederate-tied school names, but keep Andrew Jackson High School, Jean Ribault Middle School and Jean Ribault High School’s names.
“Tom Mullins the fifth candidate to enter St. Pete City Council District 4 race” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — A fifth candidate is entering the race to replace Darden Rice on St. Pete City Council. Mullins announced Monday he is jumping into the District 4 race. Mullins has been an executive with Raymond James since the late 1980s, leading the firm’s investment banking practice for the transport and Infrastructure industries, where he has developed particular expertise in the environmental service and transport sectors. “St. Petersburg is a thriving city, and with responsible leadership there is more opportunity on the horizon than ever for every resident in every neighborhood,” Mullins said.
“Moffitt Cancer Center reaches construction milestone for $400M hospital” via Veronica Brezina-Smith of the Tampa Bay Business Journal — On Wednesday, Moffitt leaders and local officials celebrated the ceremonial topping out for the new $400 million hospital on the McKinley East campus, marking the completion of the internal framework. The hospital will be a 10-story, 498,000 square-foot facility located on 20 acres across from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation Outpatient Center. The construction for the new hospital started this year and is planned to open in July 2023. The hospital is key to Moffitt’s growing patient pool. The cancer center serves patients from 130 countries and locally serves every county in Florida. Over the next 10 years, Moffitt anticipates a 65% increase in patient volumes and a 33% increase in cancer surgeries.
“Mandatory 10-digit dialing began Saturday throughout Panhandle, new 448 area code added” via the Pensacola News Journal — Mandatory 10-digit dialing began Saturday as a new 448 area code is rolled out in the Panhandle to new customers, joining the 850 area code. The Florida Public Service Commission approved the 850/448 area code overlay in November 2019. The 850/448 area code region consists of 18 counties in the Panhandle, including the cities of Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach, Panama City and Tallahassee. Starting May 22, all calls, including local calls, must use all 10 digits when making a call, rather than seven digits. Existing and new phone numbers served by the 850 and 448 area codes will be affected.
“South Walton, ‘Birthplace of New Urbanism,’ seeks to keep unique aesthetics intact” via Jim Thompson of the Northwest Florida Daily News — Walton County Commissioners have taken steps to make it more difficult to attempt to change a critical component of a long-standing development design aesthetic in the south end of the county. With a unanimous vote earlier this month, Commissioners established a requirement for a “supermajority” vote on the Commission before any changes can be made to a provision of the land development code limiting building heights to 50 feet in the area south of Choctawhatchee Bay and the Intracoastal Waterway from the Okaloosa County line to the Bay County line.
“Quint Studer is ‘home and recovering’ after hit-and-run crash; PPD searching for black Altima” via Annie Blanks of the Pensacola News Journal — Studer, a local philanthropist and businessman, is “home and recovering” after being injured in a hit-and-run car crash in Pensacola on Saturday night. In a statement provided to The News Journal on Sunday, Studer said he was riding his bike home from the Blue Wahoos baseball game on Saturday night and was wearing a helmet, vest and lights when he was struck by a car. Studer praised the Pensacola Police Department, Ascension Sacred Heart, and medics who arrived on the scene to help, as well as attendees of the Gulf Coast Short Film Festival, who witnessed the accident firsthand. According to the Pensacola Police Department, Studer may have been struck by a black Nissan Altima. Police are still looking for the vehicle as of Sunday afternoon, which will likely have passenger-side damage and a missing side mirror.
“City anti-bias official leaves position” via John Henderson of the Gainesville Sun — Teneeshia Marshall, a Black woman, said she’s resigning because she has been treated with a lack of respect in her job. “I have experienced some things that for me were deal breakers, professionally,” she said in a recent interview. “Disrespect was one of them. Interference with my work was another.” The City Commission approved of an amendment to Marshall’s contract that says she will resign from her office on May 28 and then work as a “time-limited” employee to assist with the transition in the office until June 30. But the Commission did not grant her the 20 weeks’ severance pay she had requested after she refused to sign an agreement promising not to sue the city.
“Bartram Trail sparks outcry after female students’ yearbook photos are digitally altered” via Sheldon Gardner of the St. Augustine Record — Bartram Trail High School, which made headlines earlier this year regarding its dress code, is under fire once again after 80 female students had their yearbook photos edited without their consent. The reason? To add more clothing. The controversy comes as the school is already embroiled in a debate over its handling of the district’s dress code, which some say is sexist and unfairly targets girls. Critics said the yearbook editing sends yet another harmful message to female students.
— TOP OPINION —
“John Legg: Something beautiful during the pandemic” via Florida Politics — This past school year, educators at all levels have overcome their fear, worked without a road map, shed tears, and relearned how to teach using new technology with little to no training. Educators quickly adapted and moved forward in the best interest of their students. Early on, it was clear Florida’s leadership was committed to putting students first. The vision came from DeSantis and Commissioner Richard Corcoran: students’ educational and social needs must take precedence. Yes, schools looked different — masks, social distancing, PPE, temperature checks, mobile hand-washing stations, and new systems and processes — but students were welcomed back. A vast majority of families chose to return to school in person.
“A year after George Floyd’s murder, Florida lawmakers inch toward police reform. Do more” via the Miami Herald editorial board — No argument. American policing has changed since George Floyd’s murder a year ago this week in the hands of Minneapolis police. Not nearly enough, of course. But the tragedy got attention in high places, where it had been missing. In Florida, departments from Miami and Miami-Dade to Jacksonville to the Panhandle have faced calls of defunding the police, of the firing of the bad apples, or heightened accountability. That’s good. But now we need better.
— OPINIONS —
“‘Isn’t it time we moved on?’” via Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Tampa Bay Times — You didn’t see what you thought you saw. You got it wrong; you misunderstood. Your memory is playing tricks. But who can blame you? It was so long ago. We’re talking way back on Jan 6. That’s four whole months. Weren’t the so-called insurrectionists really just tourists filing peaceably through the halls of government, occasionally pausing to take pictures and admire the statuary? Sure they were. If you don’t believe it, ask Rep. Andrew Clyde. “If you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th,” he said recently, “you’d actually think it was a normal tourist visit.” And he’s not the only one.
“Biden’s Iran deal will weaken U.S. national security” via Mike Waltz for the National Interest — For weeks, the Biden administration and the Iranian regime have been negotiating the terms of their mutual return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani proclaimed, “almost all the main sanctions have been removed.” If that’s true, it would be epic negotiating malpractice and an indefensible surrender of national security. The Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign has brought the regime in Tehran to the weakest point since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. More than twenty countries that were once regular oil customers of Iran have zeroed out their imports. More than one hundred corporations have exited the Iranian market, taking with them billions of dollars in investment.
“Shame on secretive Senators for hiding gambling intentions” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — The new gambling deal between Florida and the Seminole Tribe is for 30 years. But it was done too hurriedly and rushed to passage in a three-day special session tarnished by a lack of transparency over something as basic as Senators’ own words. But Senators refused to allow their discussion of the implications of more gambling to be made part of the official proceedings in the Senate journal. Pretending it never happened, Republicans voted down a Democratic request that questions and answers about the Compact be transcribed and added to the Senate record. The shameful secrecy suggests that Republicans know they’re on shaky legal ground. Such utter disregard for transparency is an insult to Floridians and more proof of the arrogance that permeates one-party control in Tallahassee.
“The Legislature creates a direct path for more political cronyism” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — Originally, the Seminole Compact contained a provision that legislators could not serve on the Gaming Commission for two years after they left the Legislature, a smart move to cut down on obvious political patronage. So, of course, the Legislature took out that part. Sen. Jeff Brandes voted against the Gambling Compact and rightly acknowledged the obvious appearance problem with allowing lawmakers to so quickly join the Gaming Control Commission. “Shouldn’t we have a little distance between the last PAC check and your next vote on the Commission?” Yes, they should. But now they won’t.
“Michael A. McRobbie, John Thrasher: Time is now to boldly invest in America’s scientific enterprise” via Florida Politics — The “Endless Frontier Act” would authorize $110 billion in federal investment in scientific programs and emerging technologies critical to our economic competitiveness and national security. The Act would also expand the National Science Foundation through a new “directorate” within the organization to advance research and development in several key technological fields, including artificial intelligence, semiconductors, quantum computing, advanced communications, biotechnology and advanced energy sources. Such dramatic new investment in research, education and training, entrepreneurship, and technology transfer promises to spread the bounty of big tech beyond Silicon Valley to the other key regions of the U.S., where skilled workforces and first-rate research institutions like Florida State University and Indiana University are poised to build the industries of the future.
— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —
Florida TaxWatch is releasing its annual list of legislative projects that somehow made their way into the new budget without following the usual procedure. It’s called the “Turkey List” and TaxWatch will be recommending that the Governor use his line-item veto power to hunt them down.
Also, on today’s Sunrise:
— Gov. DeSantis signs the bill creating three sales tax holidays over the next two months. Along with the usual tax breaks for hurricane supplies and back-to-school supplies, there’s something new this year.
— “Freedom Week” includes the Fourth of July. The hurricane preparedness tax break starts Friday and just in time because there’s already a storm out there before the official start of the season. Florida’s new emergency management boss says this is becoming the rule rather than the exception.
— Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis says if you don’t stock up during the tax holiday, you might regret it. We can always count on the CFO to get to the bottom line.
— Despite all the help wanted signs across the state, Florida’s unemployment rate increased slightly in April to 4.8%. Florida added almost 17,000 new jobs in April, but the workforce grew by 73,000 as more people went looking for work … so the jobless rate went up.
— The rise of social media and the decline of traditional media has created an entirely new world. Orlando Public Relations expert Alex Armentano calls this the age of misinformation and he says we don’t seem to trust anyone anymore.
— Armentano shares three simple rules for countering misinformation and disinformation in the modern era.
— And finally, a Florida Man found more than a million dollars of cocaine floating in the Keys and a Florida Woman led deputies and troopers on a high-speed chase in a stolen Caddy — while naked.
To listen, click on the image below:
— ALOE —
“South Beach Wine & Food Festival helps hurting restaurants” via Kelli Kennedy of The Associated Press — Some of the biggest celebrity chefs are in Miami this weekend for the annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival, including Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis and Martha Stewart. But behind the glamour and private dinners that can sell for as much as $500 a ticket, the festival has been quietly working behind the scenes to help restaurants struggling during the pandemic. As restaurants laid off staff and closed up shop, festival creator Lee Brian Schrager jumped into action to help his cooks and servers. The festival partnered with Florida International University’s Chaplin School Hospitality to create a relief fundraising $1.6 million that went directly to unemployed cooks, servers, dishwashers and other staff at over 500 restaurants and bars across South Florida.
“Gold Coast Eagle hosts job fair for restaurant, hospitality industry” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Even in a rebounding post-pandemic economy, Florida restaurants are facing staffing shortages. But a Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association event in the Sarasota area aimed to change that. Hosted by Gold Coast Eagle Distributing in Sarasota, the May 18 event intended to connect those looking for work with employers in desperate need of workers. Gold Coast Coast Owner and CEO John Saputo said that it’s important to get a critical industry hit hard by the pandemic back on its feet. “Right now, tourism is booming at this particular point,” Saputo said, “but they can’t find enough people.” The shortage of restaurant and retail workers has caused alarm, with some businesses offering signing bonuses and even stipends just to show up for interviews.
“Theme parks aim to keep visitors safe — and screaming” via Andrea Sachs of The Washington Post — As luck would have it, the COVID-19 risk level at theme parks is fairly low, especially if most attendees are vaccinated. The bulk of attractions are outside and in constant motion, so air is always flowing. Most high-adrenaline rides last mere minutes, which limits exposure to strangers. Plus, the likelihood of engaging in a long conversation while upside down is low. Though queues can be lengthy, most boarding areas are open to the elements. To stay safe, Sean O’Leary, vice-chair of the committee on infectious diseases for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said unvaccinated thrill-seekers should limit their time indoors. Visitors should also check the positive case rate and prevalence of variants in the park’s region. But otherwise, he said, “We should start doing things we didn’t do last summer, and a theme park is a reasonable idea.”
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Belated happy birthday wishes to our friends, Dane Eagle and Eileen Stuart, as well as Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, Sam Ard, Jordan Raynor, Kevin Reilly, and Caleb Spencer. Celebrating today is the Chris Bosh of the Florida lobbying corps, Rob Johnson of The Mayernick Group. He runs with two all-stars, Tracy and Frank Mayernick, who may be bigger names, but even they will tell you the team would not be the same without their third star. So happy birthday to Rob, a great dad, husband, and friend — and an all-star in his own right. Top Democratic political consultant Michael Worley is 31. Also celebrating today is Zach Colletti and Jillian Lane Wyant.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.