Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 7.30.21

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Your day is better when you start it with a first read on what's happening in Florida politics.

Good Friday morning.

Let’s start with some good news about great people — The Florida Alliance to End Human Trafficking recently welcomed Sen. Ileana Garcia and Stephanie Smith to its board of directors.

The Florida Alliance to End Human Trafficking is a nonprofit direct-support organization created by the Legislature to boost the state’s effort to end human trafficking by providing funding and other assistance.

Garcia was appointed earlier this month by Senate President Wilton Simpson, who commended her sponsorship of two anti-human trafficking bills — now laws — during the 2021 Legislative Session. He said she is a “passionate advocate for victims of these horrific crimes and will be a strong voice in the search for solutions.”

Smith, meanwhile, has an extensive government affairs resume. She is currently the director of government affairs at health care giant Anthem and previously worked at top ride-share company Uber as their senior public policy manager for Florida.

Both industries are integral in rooting out human traffickers — health care workers and drivers are often the people who recognize victims and report suspects.

The appointments come as the Florida Alliance gears up to recognize the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on Friday. The UN-backed day, held every July 30 since 2013, is aimed at helping people worldwide reflect on what they can do to curb human trafficking.

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More good news — A top-of-Sunburn shoutout to Rep. Fiona McFarland, who welcomed her second child, Robert Michael Melton, born at 7:15 a.m. Monday at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. McFarland and her husband, Matt Melton, announced the birth on Facebook: “We are safely home from the hospital blessed with this healthy and beautiful baby boy. Thank you to Sarasota Memorial Hospital for taking wonderful care of me and my family.” Their first child, Graham Melton, was born in March 2020.

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The Republican Governors Association is in disarray. At least that’s what the Democratic Governors Association is saying after Donald Trump put RGA Chair and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on blast during a recent rally.

DGA says it’s just another example of how Republican Governors are “stuck in the middle of an ongoing GOP civil war.” The intraparty fight, centered on the spurious Arizona election audit, has provided enough material for a stand-alone website, so DGA pounced on an apt domain: RGAInDisarray.com.

In the middle of the site’s JibJab-esque banner is Gov. Ron DeSantis. DGA says Florida’s top elected official is also stuck in the middle of the Trump-Ducey beef.

The organization says DeSantis and other ride-or-die Trump supporters face something of Sophie’s choice — stick with 45 and kill their reelection odds, or side with Ducey and shank their conservative cred.

Donald Trump once praised Doug Ducey, today he has a beef with the Governor. Image via AP.

The clocking is ticking, they assert, noting that RGA is under fire from the American Accountability Foundation for accepting contributions from so-called “woke corporations.”

The website asks: “Do these Governors stand with the RGA or with the pro-Trump group bashing Ducey?”

DGA pigeonholed DeSantis, linking to his assertion that people “can’t be cowed by these organizations, or particularly woke corporations, from doing the right thing.”

Then there’s the big, red elephant in the room.

Ducey is one of a handful of major GOP electeds to directly refute the ex-President’s “big lie” on the 2020 election. DeSantis hasn’t, and for a spell, he was reticent even to speak the words “President Biden.”

The Trump-Ducey feud has spawned other infighting, too, DGA said. They point to South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem’s recent statement that “we’ve got Republican Governors across this country pretending they didn’t shut down their states; that they didn’t close their regions; that they didn’t mandate masks.”

The quote could be interpreted as a thinly veiled barb directed at DeSantis, who has been largely successful in branding himself as the nation’s foremost anti-lockdown Governor.

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First on #FlaPol — Max Flugrath joins Anti-Defamation League” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The Anti-Defamation League is bringing on Flugrath as its new Southern Division Director of Communications Strategy. Flugrath, who is currently the Communications Director for Nikki Fried’s gubernatorial campaign, will lead communications for the ADL in 11 states across the South, including Florida, to elevate the organization’s mission of fighting antisemitism, hate speech, and extremism. He will work out of the organization’s Atlanta office. Before joining Fried’s campaign, Flugrath served as her press secretary at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and as communications director for Fried’s successful 2018 election and transition team. “Max will be greatly missed on Team Nikki; he’s been in the trenches with us since 2018, working every day to deliver for Floridians and break the state’s rigged system,” Fried said.

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RIP — Please join Florida Politics in sending best wishes to our good friend and Sunrise host Rick Flagg, whose mother passed away last week. Sunrise will take a short sabbatical while Rick attends to his family. Our thoughts and prayers are with him.

 — SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@JeffZeleny: “It’s such a shame to squander that blessing,” President (Joe) Biden says, reminding Americans that many people across the globe would do anything to get vaccinated.

@AmandaCarpenter: If you got vaccinated and have to wear a mask, it’s not because you got vaccinated. It’s because your neighbors didn’t.

@AOC: Good luck tanking your own party’s investment on childcare, climate action, and infrastructure while presuming you’ll survive a 3 vote House margin — especially after choosing to exclude members of color from negotiations and calling that a “bipartisan accomplishment.”

@TarynFenske: … @HealthyFla has been running vaccine PSAs for weeks. More than 11,000 total air spots, on hundreds of channels, in every media market in Florida. 301 of those spots were on Fox News alone … but what a creative & innovative idea!

@SenPizzo: If we’re having a Special Session, I’m inviting Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees, to be Doctor of the Day.

@LeaderBookFL: If the Gov wants to talk about freedom & liberty, first on the agenda should be a woman’s right to control what happens to her own body.

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@evamckend: Spotted on the Hill outside of Dirksen! It’s [Carole Baskin] from Tiger King. She says she can’t tell me [who] she’s meeting with. She says to a staffer, “When you called me up, I thought this guy can’t really work for the Senate.”

— DAYS UNTIL —

‘The Suicide Squad’ premieres — 7; Canada will open its border to fully vaccinated Americans — 10; ‘Marvel’s What If …?’ premieres on Disney+ — 12; Florida Behavioral Health Association’s Annual Conference (BHCon) begins — 19; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 25; Boise vs. UCF — 34; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 35; Notre Dame at FSU — 37; NFL regular season begins — 41; Bucs home opener — 41; California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recall election — 46; Broadway’s full-capacity reopening — 46; Alabama at UF — 50; Dolphins home opener — 51; Jaguars home opener — 51; 2022 Legislative Session interim committee meetings begin — 52; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 56; ‘Dune’ premieres — 63; Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary party starts — 63; MLB regular season ends — 65; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 70; Florida Chamber Future of Florida Forum begins — 88; World Series Game 1 — 89; Florida TaxWatch’s Annual Meeting begins — 89; Georgia at UF — 92; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 95; Florida’s 20th Congressional District primary — 95; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 99; ‘Disney Very Merriest After Hours’ will debut — 101; Miami at FSU — 106; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 112; FSU vs. UF — 120; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 133; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 140; NFL season ends — 163; 2022 Legislative Session starts — 165; Florida’s 20th Congressional District election — 165; NFL playoffs begin — 169; Super Bowl LVI — 198; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 238; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 280; ‘Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 307; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 343; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 355; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 434; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 469.

— TOP STORY —

Florida virus cases soar, hospitals near last summer’s peak” via Adriana Gomez Licon of The Associated Press — Florida hospitals reported more than 8,900 patients with COVID-19 on Thursday. The Florida Hospital Association said the state peaked at 10,179 cases last July. The patient number on Thursday was five times higher than a month ago, and it quickly climbed from a little less than 5,500 in just one week. “What’s extraordinary is the speed at which we are currently seeing new cases,” said Dr. Vincent Hsu, executive director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiologist at AdventHealth in Orlando. “The slope is pretty steep, and we haven’t seen the end of it. This is still coming.” AdventHealth reached a new high on Thursday since the pandemic began with about 1,000 COVID-19 hospitalized patients across its system in central Florida.

COVID-19 testing numbers explode in Orlando as a new wave of delta variant tears through Central Florida. Image via AP.

Another coronavirus variant has reached Florida. Here’s what you need to know.” via Lateshia Beachum of The Washington Post — A coronavirus variant discovered in Colombia is showing up among patients in South Florida, increasing infections and putting health officials on alert as calls grow louder for unvaccinated individuals to get inoculated. Carlos Migoya, CEO of Jackson Health System, told WPLG in Miami earlier this week that the B.1.621 variant has accounted for about 10% of coronavirus patients, trailing behind delta. Public Health England noted last week that there is currently no evidence to indicate that the variant causes more severe disease or evades the efficacy of vaccines. 

— CORONA FLORIDA —

‘This surge is real:’ Nikki Fried provides first independent COVID-19 update” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Lamenting a “void” of COVID-19 data in Florida, Fried hosted an independent pandemic briefing in the Capitol on Thursday. Fried reported 16,038 new cases of COVID-19 and 92 additional deaths in Florida since Wednesday. Those numbers are based on data shared by the Florida Department of Health with the CDC and the White House, Fried said. The pandemic-oriented briefing marks the first since DeSantis suspended daily updates in early June. Speaking to reporters, Fried criticized DeSantis for making Floridians “jump through hoops” to access timely data. As Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat, Fried has remained a staunch critic of DeSantis’ pandemic response since its onset. 

Nikki Fried says the current wave of COVID-19 is no joke. Image via Jason Delgado.

Florida Democrats want daily COVID-19 reports to return” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — With coronavirus cases skyrocketing in the state, Democrats are calling for Florida to return to releasing daily COVID-19 reports instead of the weekly report the DeSantis administration put in place since June. “FL is the U.S. epicenter of resurgence, yet @GovRonDeSantis refuses to reinstate daily COVID reporting,” state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith wrote on Twitter. “So last week, I officially requested public records for local data so residents can make informed decisions to protect their families before school reopens. Still waiting.” With reports restricted to being released weekly, residents and lawmakers have to wait until Friday afternoons to learn how many new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19 have been reported.

Miami doctor to Ron DeSantis: Three things you need to do now to help us fight COVID-19” via Bernard Ashby for the Miami Herald — As a doctor and a physician in Miami, I’m distressed to see hospitals in Florida are starting to fill up with COVID-19 cases, again. One in Jacksonville reported the most COVID-19 patients ever, and more children are being hospitalized. So far, nearly 39,000 Floridians have died in 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic. And yet is throwing a ticker-tape parade for himself while COVID-19 cases are spiking, again. Specifically, DeSantis has declared victory against a deadly pathogen at least three times. DeSantis needs to stop patting himself on the back and tell every Floridian to get real about COVID-19. Until he does that, he’s making my job as a physician more difficult.

Florida’s pediatricians want masks in schools” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — With a new school year about to begin and multiple variants of COVID-19 surging at once, pediatricians have a prescription for Florida schools: Universal masking. The Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics issued an unambiguous argument for face coverings and distancing. Primary to the pediatricians’ case is that vaccines aren’t available for many children attending K-12 schools. The plea for mandatory masks comes the same week after DeSantis held a roundtable in which all panelists made the case against masking in schools. This should absolutely not be proposed,” DeSantis said, noting a Special Session might be necessary to “protect these kids who just want to be able to breathe freely.”

Orange County is back under state of emergency as coronavirus infections skyrocket” via Stephen Hudak and Ryan Gillespie of the Orlando Sentinel — Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings has declared a state of emergency as new infections of COVID-19 skyrocketed to a single-day high, and wastewater surveillance hints at further increases coming soon. The new state of emergency comes nearly two months after he ended the previous order, which had been in place since March 2020. He also said county employees have until Aug. 31 to get their first shot of vaccine protection or face discipline that could include termination. He is requiring employees and visitors to wear masks in county facilities and pleaded with private businesses to require employees to get vaccinated and wear masks indoors.

All Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital employees will now be required to get COVID-19 vaccine” via Dania Kalaji of the Pensacola News Journal

Mask mandates returning in South Florida public buildings as COVID-19 cases rise” via Chris Perkins and Lisa J. Huriash of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — You’ll need to start wearing masks again in many public buildings as a result of new recommendations from federal health experts. Broward County and several cities — Coral Springs, Lauderhill, Weston and Boynton Beach — all have reimposed mask requirements, with Broward’s set to take effect Friday. Palm Beach County is expected to follow. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that all people, vaccinated or not, should wear masks indoors in areas where COVID-19 is surging, including Florida. The recommendation set off a cascade of mask rules across the nation as cities, states, schools and businesses raced to restore mandates and others pushed back against the guidelines.

Broward schools keep mask mandate in place, defying the Governor” via Scott Travis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Broward could become the first school district in Florida to require masks this fall, setting up a potential battle with DeSantis, a staunch opponent of mask mandates. School Board members unanimously agreed Wednesday to keep the existing mask policy through at least the start of the fall, citing rising COVID-19 rates and new federal guidance encouraging masks in schools, even for the vaccinated. They plan to reconsider the issue shortly after Labor Day. Several School Board members said they were prepared to make masks optional, but that changed Tuesday after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it recommended masks for everyone in school.

COVID-19 rules at Miami-Dade Schools are changing. Entire classes won’t need to quarantine” via Michelle Marchante of the Miami Herald — Miami-Dade County Public Schools on Thursday announced some of its expected COVID-19 rules for the 2021-22 school year. One of the big changes: Entire classrooms won’t have to quarantine if a student, teacher, or staff member tests positive for COVID-19. Instead, the district said its quarantine process will “focus on individuals directly impacted by a potential exposure.” Additional details about the new quarantine process weren’t immediately available. Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the day before that under the more relaxed quarantine procedure, “only those within the immediate vicinity” of the student who fell ill, for example, would have to quarantine.

New Palm Beach County Schools chief says he’s considering campus mask requirement when classes resume” via Andrew Marra of the Palm Beach Post — Palm Beach County’s new Superintendent said Thursday he is considering whether to require students to wear masks when the school year starts Aug. 10, saying he is “very concerned” about the recent explosion in COVID-19 infections. The potential reversal comes after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed their guidelines this week to recommend all K-12 students wear masks on campus. The school district has required masks inside school facilities since the pandemic began, but, like many public schools across the state, it had said masks would be optional beginning next month.

South Florida student test scores fall dramatically during pandemic” via Scott Travis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Academic performance for South Florida students plummeted during the pandemic, as schools struggled to educate students learning on campus and at home simultaneously. The declines on the Florida Standards Assessment were especially dramatic in math, with the proficiency rates for third to eighth graders falling in Broward County from 63% in 2019 to 45% this year. That 18-point plunge is the second-largest drop in the state, just below a 19-point plunge in Gadsden County, in the Panhandle. Other South Florida counties didn’t fare much better, with math passing rates falling from 64% to 49% in Palm Beach County and from 63% to 48% in Miami-Dade.

New state testing scores give better look at ‘COVID-19 slide’ in Duval Schools” via Emily Bloch of The Florida Times-Union — New state testing scores from the 2021 school year give educators and parents a better idea of how much learning ground may have been lost during the pandemic. On Thursday, the Florida Department of Education quietly released all of its Florida Standards Assessments and End of Course exam scores from last school year. Unlike last month, when a preview of statewide third grade reading scores came with fanfare and a news release touting the benefits of in-person schooling, the department made no public announcement this time. Overall, the test scores show achievement dips statewide and Duval County is no exception.

—“With COVID-19 setbacks, Treasure Coast schools see scores decline in reading, math, science” via Sommer Brugal of Treasure Coast Newspapers 

Palm Beach tourism chief: Get vaccine before travel boom gets derailed, again” via Antonio Fins and Alexandra Clough of the Palm Beach Post — Palm Beach County’s chief tourism promoter this week urged unvaccinated people to get inoculated as the fast-spreading COVID-19 delta variant may not just create a public health crisis, but also undermine the ongoing recovery of what is arguably Florida’s top economic engine, tourism. “I cannot begin to tell you how frustrating and disappointing it is to see this variant take hold of so many communities around the country and here in Florida,” said Jorge Pesquera, CEO of Discover the Palm Beaches, the county’s official tourism marketing organization. The variant is rifling through the United States and Florida, the epicenter of the latest national surge.

Jorge Pesquera wants tourists to get the shot before visiting Palm Beaches.

Caught on camera: 5 men arrested after disturbance over mask mandate at Fort Lauderdale airport” via Michelle Solomon of WPLG Local 10 News — Five people were told to leave a Spirit Airlines flight out of Fort Lauderdale Friday night after they refused to wear masks inside the plane, according to the Broward Sheriff’s Office. After they left the plane, the disruption continued to spill over inside Terminal 4 when BSO deputies arrived. That’s when two of the men were arrested after reportedly shoving deputies, and the other three were also taken into custody. Spirit Airlines personnel had reportedly asked the men identified as William J. Lloyd, 53, Drake William Lloyd, 24, Michael A. Lloyd, 23, John Anthony Bruce, 24, and Matthew L. Novak, 24, to leave the plane over what the airline described as a “mask violation” inside the aircraft.

Mask mandate coming back to Walt Disney World” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — With Orange County and neighboring Osceola and Lake counties seeing a summer surge of COVID-19 toward new worst-ever levels, Walt Disney World is reinstating its mask mandate on Friday. The Disney resort updated its guidances for visitors stating that starting Friday, face coverings are required for all visitors ages 2 and older while indoors and in Disney buses, Monorail and Disney Skyliner, regardless of vaccination status. This includes upon entering and throughout all attractions. Face coverings remain optional for all visitors in outdoor common areas. 

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Patrons must now be vaccinated to dine at this Sarasota-Manatee destination” via Wade Tatangelo of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — One of the most famous waterfront restaurants in Florida is now requiring its patrons to have received the COVID-19 vaccine. Beach Bistro, an Anna Maria Island icon on Holmes Beach that opened in 1985, emailed a newsletter to customers last week noting that its staff had reached a vaccination rate of 100% and asked that guests do the same. On Thursday, the restaurant’s owners issued a news release regarding the new stipulation, which, to the best of our knowledge, is the first of its kind in Sarasota-Manatee. “Beach Bistro will now require its patrons to be vaccinated, given the dangerous surging of delta coronavirus and the Beach Bistro’s deep commitment to safety for both staff and guests,” reads their statement.

— CORONA NATION —

The CDC’s decision on masks rests on new data showing the delta variant thrives in the nose and throat.” via Apoorva Mandavilli of The New York Times — The recommendation that vaccinated people in some parts of the country dust off their masks was based largely on one troublesome finding, according to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC. New research showed that vaccinated people infected with the delta variant carry tremendous amounts of the virus in the nose and throat, she said in an email responding to questions from The New York Times. The finding contradicts what scientists had observed in vaccinated people infected with previous versions of the virus, who mostly seemed incapable of infecting others.

Parts of the body where the delta variant thrives makes it particularly nasty. Image via AP.

Unraveling the mysterious mutations that make Delta the most transmissible COVID-19 virus yet” via Liz Szabo of KHN — Delta has kept some of the most successful mutations found in earlier variants but also contains new genetic changes that enable it to spread twice as fast. Delta is more dangerous in many ways. It has an incubation period of four days rather than six, making people contagious sooner. When the pandemic began, people spread the original coronavirus to an average of two or three people. Today, people infected with delta infect six people, on average. As of this week, the delta variant had caused at least 92% of the new infections in the United States. 

The COVID-19 vaccine still doesn’t have full authorization. Why? An FDA official explains.” via Elizabeth Weise of USA Today — The first COVID-19 vaccine was distributed under an emergency use authorization on Dec. 11. More than seven months later, full approval hasn’t been granted to that vaccine or the two others that have also received emergency authorization. Dr. Peter Marks of the FDA discussed why the process takes time. Emergency use was developed to be a relatively flexible process that would allow us to adapt to various types of natural emergencies. We are somewhat unique in the United States in that we review every last page of what comes into us, every patient; every table is reviewed, accuracy is reviewed. It takes time to do the high-quality review that people have come to depend on FDA for. An application is hundreds of thousands of electronic pages of data. 

American workers are facing increasing pressure to get vaccinated against COVID-19” via Jason Hanna and Madeline Holcombe of CNN — Employers’ emerging vaccine policies take many forms, including those requiring shots for being on-site and those that provide alternatives such as strict testing and masking rules. Biden announced that all federal employees, except for the military, must attest to being vaccinated against COVID-19 or face strict protocols including testing once or twice a week, masking, and other mitigation measures. Corporate America is increasingly jumping on board. On Wednesday, Google and Facebook became the first two Silicon Valley giants to require employees to be vaccinated when they return to company campuses. Some are tying vaccinations to employment outright. A major New York City restaurant group will make vaccinations “a condition of the job” by Sept. 7, its leader said Thursday.

The CDC now says fully vaccinated people should get tested after exposure even if they don’t show symptoms.” via Emily Anthes of The New York Times — In addition to revising its mask guidance on Tuesday, the CDC also quietly updated its testing recommendations for people who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. The agency now advises that vaccinated people be tested for the virus if they come into contact with someone with COVID-19, even if they have no symptoms. Previously, the health agency had said that fully vaccinated people did not need to be tested after exposure to the virus unless they were experiencing symptoms. The new testing recommendation came on the same day that the agency recommended that fully vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors under some circumstances.

More metropolitan areas order indoor masking as delta variant spreads” via Derek Hawkins, Erin Cunningham, Bryan Pietsch and Adela Suliman of The Washington Post — Sacramento County and Washington, D.C., joined a growing list of major metropolitan areas ordering all residents to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, as the delta variant of the coronavirus sweeps across the country. The moves come after federal health officials this week called for people to resume indoor masking in virus hot spots. The highly transmissible variant is causing infections to spike in all 50 states, some of which are now reporting daily case numbers not seen since the worst months of the pandemic. “The continued increase in cases is concerning,” Sacramento County public health officer Olivia Kasirye said in a statement. 

Indoor mask mandates make a return. Image via AP.

U.S. expected to keep border expulsions policy as Delta variant cases surge” via Ted Hesson of Reuters — The United States is expected to delay a partial rollback of a controversial migrant expulsion policy, according to three people familiar with the matter, citing fears related to the fast-spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus. The Biden administration had planned to exempt migrant families arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border from the expulsion policy by July 31 while continuing to keep it for individuals, sources familiar with the discussions told Reuters earlier this month. The partial rollback of the Title 42 policy was delayed because the Biden administration “put the brakes on it” due to concerns over the highly transmissible delta variant and the rising number of infections in Mexico, one of the people said.

— STATEWIDE —

DeSantis’ calls with legislators fuel speculation about Special Session on mask mandates via Ana Ceballos of the Miami Herald — DeSantis on Thursday morning had separate phone calls with Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, fueling speculation that the Legislature may convene a special session to consider outlawing mask mandates in school districts. The phone calls come as DeSantis increases talk about calling a Special Session on the issue if the federal government or Florida school districts move to implement mask mandates for students. Some districts, including Broward County Public Schools, voted this week to reinstate or keep mask mandates in schools as kids prepare to return to in-person learning in August.

Is a Special Session in the cards? Image via Colin Hackley.

Governor’s Office is unforthcoming about his whereabouts again; DeSantis ducking reporters” via Michael Moline of Florida Phoenix — Anyone in Miami who’d have liked to have known in advance that DeSantis would be in town Tuesday morning to visit the Surfside condo disaster site and meet with survivors would have been disappointed. Aides didn’t release the schedule until 6:27 p.m., hours following his appearances, which began at about 9 a.m. The same thing happened on Monday when the Governor planned a 12:30 p.m. roundtable discussion about mask mandates in Florida schools. DeSantis’ office didn’t release his daily schedule until 9:20 p.m. and didn’t invite news reporters who might have reported about the mask event. The Phoenix could find no news coverage of the Surfside visit, but that was the plan, according to DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw.

How much does it cost to give bonuses to cops, teachers? In Florida it’s $3.6 million” via Lawrence Mower, Ana Ceballos and Jeffrey S. Solochek of the Miami Herald — Florida is paying a private contractor $3.6 million to help issue $1,000 bonus checks bearing the Governor’s logo to teachers, principals and first responders. Two state agencies signed contracts with Fidelity Information Services last month to collect information on police officers, firefighters, paramedics, teachers and principals to determine which ones are eligible for the $1,000 bonuses and send them checks. At DeSantis ‘ urging, the bipartisan decision by the Florida Legislature to assign more than $400 million in pandemic relief dollars to one-time bonuses for teachers and first responders has turned surprisingly contentious, with accusations of political gamesmanship and negotiations with unions about who would be eligible for the checks.

Fried sends more firefighters to Montana Agriculture Commissioner Fried is sending another 20 Florida Forest Service firefighters to Montana, her office announced Thursday. The move comes two weeks after Fried sent a separate firefighter deployment to help contain the wildfires ravaging Western states. More than 100 Florida Forest Service firefighters are currently deployed in the west. “As the devastating wildfires continue to threaten our fellow Americans across the West, I am incredibly proud of our well-trained wildland firefighters and personnel who are choosing to leave their homes and families to help their fellow firefighters,” Fried said in a news release “We continue to pray for the safety of all those on the front lines in this fight.”

Board chairman of Florida program accused of denying aid to disabled children quits” via Carol Marbin Miller and Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald — The leader of the governing body of Florida’s birth injury compensation fund resigned Wednesday, part of an exodus of board members that brought a near-complete overhaul of the board’s governance. In an email to Florida’s top financial watchdog, Charlie Lydecker, chairman of the Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association, wrote his departure from the board of directors was prompted by recent legislation that limited the service of board members to six years. Lydecker had served for nearly 13. “I remain committed to the purpose and mission of NICA, and offer my support [to] you and the incoming board through this transition,” Lydecker wrote to the state’s Chief Financial Officer, Jimmy Patronis.

Former FLVS general counsel accused of ethics violation — The Florida Ethics Commission said it found probable cause that former Florida Virtual School general counsel Frank Kruppenbacher used his position to benefit himself. As reported by Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida, the ethics complaints accuse Kruppenbacher of using his title to coerce FLVS employees to perform work that benefited himself or his family and not the school. One complaint states he directed an FLVS employee to work on matters related to his private legal practice. She said she spent as much as 70% of her time on non-FLVS duties.

Did Frank Kruppenbacher profit off his position? An Ethics Commission wants to know.

DeSantis names new member of Supreme Court Judicial Nomination Commission” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — DeSantis appointed Timothy Cerio to the Supreme Court Judicial Nomination Commission. Cerio is the current general counsel to Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, a former general counsel to former Gov. Rick Scott, and former chief of staff and general counsel at the Florida Department of Health from 2005 through 2007. In the gaps, he worked at GrayRobinson. He first started at the top law and lobbying practice in 2001 and rejoined the firm as a shareholder after leaving the Scott administration. The Florida Bar nominated Cerio. He will serve until July 1, 2024.

Florida Wildlife Corridor subverted by a gold-medal Tallahassee Switcheroo” via Craig Pittman of Florida Phoenix — I watched some of the opening Olympic ceremonies last week for one simple reason: I had read that Florida has more athletes in Tokyo right now than any state besides California. If there’s any sport at which Floridians would consistently win gold, though, it’s got to be the Tallahassee Switcheroo. The Tampa Bay Times unearthed a prime example of the Tallahassee Switcheroo with the widely acclaimed Florida Wildlife Corridor Act. Landowners can now collect big bucks from the state for promising not to develop their land, then turn around and create a new business on that land that involves collecting big bucks for helping developers with the filling of swamps, bogs, and marshes nearby. 

— 2022 —

GOP could retake the House in 2022 just by gerrymandering four southern states” via Ari Berman of Mother Jones — Republicans could pick up anywhere from six to 13 seats in the House of Representatives, enough to retake the House in 2022, through its control of the redistricting process in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, and Texas alone. Republicans need to gain just five seats to regain control of the House. The Republican redistricting advantage goes far beyond those four states: They’ll be able to draw 187 congressional districts, compared to 75 for Democrats. But those states are at the highest risk of extreme gerrymandering. 

DeSantis PAC fundraises off Anthony Fauci hate, again” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Fauci was blasted yet again in the punnily-titled “Gain of Fauci” email, a play on the Gain of Function research at a lab in Wuhan. The timing is notable, with the CDC pushing for masks even for the vaccinated. The email says it’s been “known for some time that the most likely explanation for the start of the pandemic is that the COVID-19 virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China.” “We’ve suspected for some time that Fauci and his bureaucratic brethren may have been involved in funding the Wuhan lab’s work to experiment on viruses in ways that made them more deadly to human beings,” the communication continues, before lauding Sen. Rand Paul for irking Fauci.

Ron DeSantis uses Anthony Fauci as his punching bag, again. Image via AP.

First in #FlaPol Four House Democrats back Charlie Crist for Governor — Reps. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, Tracie Davis, Felicia Robinson and Dianne Hart endorsed U.S. Rep. Crist in the Democratic Primary for Governor. The lawmakers cited Crist’s commitment to job creation, education funding and “building a Florida for all Floridians.” Davis said Crist “has a long record of standing up for working Floridians. Electing public servants that will empower and reflect the will of the people of Florida is my top priority in 2022, and that’s why I’m supporting Charlie for Governor. Charlie is who we need to unite our state, build anew, and ensure a Florida for all.” The new backers join 10 other elected officials in endorsing Crist, including U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor and Al Lawson, state Sen. Audrey Gibson and a half-dozen other state Representatives.

Five elected officials resign to run in CD 20 Special Election” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Five elected officials have formally resigned their positions to run in the upcoming Special Election in Florida’s 20th Congressional District. That decision is final but doesn’t kick in until the Jan. 11 Special General Election contest. That means state Sen. Perry Thurston, state Reps. Bobby DuBose and Omari Hardy, and Broward County Commissioners Dale Holness and Barbara Sharief will all be out of their current positions by early next year. One of them could succeed the late Rep. Alcee Hastings in CD 20. Hastings passed away in early April after a cancer battle. Florida law requires elected officials seeking another office to first resign their original position to run in another contest.

First on #FlaPol — “Senate leadership backs Clay Yarborough in crowded SD 4 primary” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Senate President Simpson and incoming President Kathleen Passidomo endorsed Rep. Yarborough, endorsing the third-term legislator from Jacksonville’s Arlington area over Reps. Cord Byrd and Jason Fischer. The endorsements are timely for Yarborough, who found himself repudiated by police union leaders earlier this week for what was claimed to move toward “defunding the police.” In some cases, these unions, reacting to votes over a decade old, had endorsed Yarborough as recently as last year. POLITICO Florida’s Matt Dixon reported that Fischer’s lead consultant, Tim Baker, is now off the campaign. Baker has worked with Fischer since his 2016 bid for the House. Baker also works as a consultant for Simpson. “Leadership made their pick,” Baker said, confirming his exit.

PACs behind ‘ghost’ candidates in key Senate races were run out of business lobbying group’s HQ, records show” via Annie Martin and Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel — Two political committees that spent more than half a million dollars promoting so-called “ghost” candidates in three important state Senate races last year were based out of the Tallahassee headquarters of a big-business lobbying group, according to records obtained in a criminal investigation. Tax and bank records for the now-defunct political committees used the same street address as Associated Industries of Florida, a lobbying group representing corporate giants such as Florida Power & Light, U.S. Sugar Corp. and Walt Disney World.

— MORE CORONA —

The European Union pulls ahead of the United States in vaccinations.” via Elian Peltier of The New York Times — EU countries had administered 102.66 doses per 100 people as of Tuesday, while the United States had administered 102.44, according to the latest vaccination figures compiled by Our World in Data. This month, the European Union also overtook the United States in first injections; currently, 58% of people across the bloc have received a dose, compared with 56.5% in the United States. The latest figures provide a stark contrast with the early stages of the vaccination campaigns this year, when E.U countries, facing a shortage of doses and delayed deliveries, looked in envy at the initially more successful efforts in the United States, Britain and Israel.

For the first time, the U.S. is lagging behind Europe in vaccinations. Image via AP.

Breakthrough COVID-19 infections after vaccination can lead to long-haul symptoms, Israeli study shows” via Karen Weintraub of USA Today — Nearly 3% of medical workers in a new Israeli study contracted COVID-19 even though they were vaccinated, and 19% of them still had symptoms six weeks later. Although the vaccines were never expected to be perfect, the findings raise questions about their protection and suggest that even vaccinated people could experience long-term symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog and shortness of breath. Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said he finds it concerning that people had lingering symptoms weeks after getting sick. “There really may be a risk here, but we don’t know how big a risk and how much of a problem it is,” he said.

—“Israeli Health Ministry approves COVID-19 booster shot for older population” via Shira Rubin of The Washington Post 

Patrick Soon-Shiong sees his shot as a universal booster” via Janice Kew and Antony Sguazzin of Bloomberg — U.S. biotech billionaire Soon-Shiong is backing a COVID-19 vaccine candidate that he sees as having potential as a universal booster of other pandemic shots. ImmunityBio Inc., of which the 68-year-old holds about 82%, is developing a vaccine called hAd5 intended to specifically activate T-cells that scientists believe are a key part of the immune response against COVID-19. This quarter, the South African-born biotech tycoon will begin trials in the country, the scene of what he calls a COVID-19 “firestorm” as the delta variant drives the third wave of infections, the peak of which has surpassed two earlier waves.

—”Twitter closes San Francisco and New York offices as delta coronavirus cases surge” via Jessica Guynn of USA Today

Officials in Tokyo alarmed as virus cases hit record highs” via Mari Yamaguchi of The Associated Press — Tokyo reported 3,865 new cases Thursday, up from 3,177 on Wednesday and double the numbers a week ago. “We have never experienced the expansion of the infections of this magnitude,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters. Nationwide, Japan reported more than 9,500 confirmed cases on Wednesday, also a record, for a total of about 892,000 infections and about 15,000 deaths since the pandemic began. Japan has kept its cases and deaths lower than many other countries, but its seven-day rolling average is growing and now stands at 28 per 100,000 people nationwide and 88 per 100,000 in Tokyo. This compares to 18.5 in the U.S., 48 in Britain, and 2.8 in India.

‘We have never experienced the expansion of the infections of this magnitude.’

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

U.S. economy surpasses pre-pandemic size with 6.5% Q2 growth” via Martin Crutsinger of The Associated Press — Thursday’s report from the Commerce Department estimated that the nation’s gross domestic product — its total output of goods and services — accelerated in the April-June quarter from an already robust 6.3% annual growth rate in the first quarter. The latest figure fell well below the 8%-plus annual growth rate that many economists had predicted for the second quarter. But the miss was due mainly to clogged supply chains. Consumer spending — the main fuel of the U.S. economy — surged for a second straight quarter, advancing at an 11.8% annual rate. Spending on goods grew at an 11.6% rate, and spending on services, from restaurant meals to airline tickets, expanded at a 12% pace as vaccinations encouraged more Americans to shop, travel and eat out.

The U.S. shows solid growth. Image via AP.

Growth is strong, but the obstacles to full recovery are big” via Neil Irwin of The New York Times — Most of the time, a 6.5% rate of economic growth would warrant celebrations in the streets. Only in the weird economy of 2021 can it be a bit of a disappointment. It’s not simply that forecasters had expected a GDP growth number that was a couple of percentage points higher, though they did. And it’s not even that America’s output remains below its pre-pandemic growth path in inflation-adjusted terms, though it is. What makes the new GDP numbers on Thursday feel less than buoyant is the degree to which they reflect a nation still struggling to complete a huge economic readjustment. The report offers some sunny signs, certainly. Growth for the first half of the year easily outpaced the rates mainstream forecasters envisioned late last year, and strong growth in business equipment investment bodes well for the future.

The U.S. economy’s prospects looked bright, until the delta variant surged” via Sarah Chaney Cambon of The Wall Street Journal — The U.S. economy grew rapidly in the second quarter and exceeded its pre-pandemic size, but the outlook has suddenly turned cloudier due to the fast-spreading delta coronavirus variant. All of this has raised uncertainty about whether consumers and workers will retreat again, as they did last year. For now, forecasters generally don’t expect the spread of delta to make a major dent in the U.S. economy, in part because businesses and consumers have learned to adapt to each wave of the pandemic. “What you worry about is how many disruptions are we going to continually have to deal with?” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton.

U.S. jobless claims down 24,000 to 400,000 as economy recovers” via Paul Wiseman of The Associated Press — The number of Americans collecting unemployment benefits slid last week, another sign that the job market continues to recover rapidly from the coronavirus recession. Jobless claims dropped by 24,000 to 400,000 last week. The weekly applications have fallen more or less steadily this year, from a p-19 struck the United States in March 2020, claims were coming in at about 220,000 a week. The job market and overall economy have been recovering from the collapse of the spring of 2020. The rollout of vaccines this year has encouraged businesses to reopen or expand their hours and sent cooped-up consumers back out to visit restaurants, bars and shops.

IRS sending out another 1.5 million tax refunds to people who overpaid on unemployment benefits” via Irina Ivanova of CBS News — The government is issuing another batch of refunds to taxpayers who received jobless aid last year and overpaid on taxes. The IRS will issue 1.5 million tax refunds, with the typical refund around $1,600. According to the agency, direct deposit payments will go out starting July 28, while paper checks will be mailed out starting Friday, July 30. This is the fourth round of refunds related to unemployment aid that the IRS has issued since Congress changed the tax law this spring to allow formerly unemployed people to keep more of their benefits. Normally, unemployment benefits are subject to federal income tax. However, the American Rescue Plan, passed in March, decreed that up to $10,200 in jobless benefits would not be taxable.

Universal profitable again as theme parks face new uncertainty” via Gabrielle Russon of Florida Politics — Comcast’s theme park division generated nearly $1.1 billion in quarterly revenue — a meteoric rise compared to only $136 million a year ago, the company reported in its second-quarter earnings released Thursday. CEO Brian Roberts said the rebound “somewhat faster than I thought it would happen.” One big attendance draw is the VelociCoaster, the thrill ride that officially opened last month at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The theme parks’ rebound comes when concerns still linger over the pandemic, especially as delta variant cases spread in Central Florida and the country. Comcast executives didn’t say if they plan to amend their safety precautions at their theme parks.

Universal turns a profit, for the first time in a year. Image via Universal.

Port Canaveral gets biggest chunk of $250 million coronavirus relief for Florida seaports” via Richard Tribou of Florida Politics — Florida’s seaports have been reeling from the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, and have not had much in the way of a bailout until now. The state on Thursday began distributing $250 million to its 14 seaports from federal funds provided by the American Rescue Plan Act, with the largest chunk going to Port Canaveral. The Central Florida port, with about 80% of its income tied to the cruise industry, received more than $72 million, while PortMiami got nearly $67 million and Port Everglades more than $58 million. Previous federal bailout packages have excluded ports for the most part, mainly because the cruise lines that support the ports are not American-flagged vessels.

U.S. chickens can’t hatch enough eggs to supply sandwich craze” via Michael Hirtzer of Bloomberg — America’s chickens aren’t multiplying fast enough to keep pace with soaring demand. Bird breeds used by some of the biggest chicken companies are “producing less eggs,” according to Fabio Sandri, CEO of Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., the No. 2 U.S. poultry producer. That’s inflaming already rising food inflation, with strong chicken sales at grocery stores and restaurants such as Popeyes and McDonald’s embroiled in chicken-sandwich wars. In addition to breeding woes, the American chicken industry concentrated largely in the South contended with a severe winter storm in February that killed hundreds of thousands of birds. All told, farmers may struggle to reach the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s forecast for a 1% increase in production for the year.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Joe Biden presses federal workers to get coronavirus vaccine, announcing new testing, masking and distancing rules for those who refuse” via John Wagner and Tyler Pager of The Washington Post — Biden announced that all federal employees will be required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or face new testing, masking and distancing rules, as the White House takes a more aggressive approach to address the spread of the highly contagious delta variant. “After months and months of cases going down, we’re seeing a spike in COVID cases. … Why? Because of this new form, this new variant called the delta variant,” Biden said in remarks at the White House in which he described the new restrictions. Biden’s directive will affect more than 4 million Americans, including over 2 million in the federal civilian workforce. On-site contractors also would be required to attest to their vaccination status.

Your choice — vax or restrict, Joe Biden tells federal employees. Image via Reuters.

Biden’s shift on masking creates new political difficulties, policy challenges” via Annie Linskey of The New York Times — Standing maskless in the White House Rose Garden on a sunny May afternoon, Biden heralded some happy news. “If you’ve been fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask,” the president declared. “It’s vaxxed or masked.” Less than three months later, amid rising cases driven by the delta variant and more breakthrough coronavirus infections, Biden was forced this week to back away from that proclamation. The administration issued new guidance Tuesday that encourages fully vaccinated Americans to wear masks indoors in places with substantial infection levels, encompassing more than 60% of the nation’s counties.

Biden administration wants states and cities to pay people $100 to get vaccinated.” via Alan Rappeport of The Washington Post — The Biden administration is calling on states, territories and local governments to pay $100 to Americans who remain unvaccinated against the coronavirus to get their shots. The Treasury Department said Thursday that the money to pay for the vaccine incentive payments could come from the $350 billion of relief funds given to states and cities as part of the economic rescue package that Congress approved in March. Also, the Treasury Department and IRS said that employers could claim tax credits to cover wages paid to workers who take family members to get vaccinated or care for members of their households who are recovering from the vaccination. Self-employed workers are also eligible to receive tax credits.

Vaccinated prisoners, unvaccinated guards illustrate Biden’s tricky road” via Sarah N. Lynch of Reuters — A federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, grabbed national headlines in March 2020 after a COVID-19 outbreak killed at least eight inmates and sickened more than 100 people. Sixteen months later, about 70% of its inmates have been vaccinated against the coronavirus — a rate more than double the 34% of Bureau of Prisons staffers there who have taken the shot. The fact that so few Oakdale employees have agreed to get vaccinated underscores the challenges Biden’s administration will face as he tries to order federal employees to either get vaccinated. Of all the Justice Department’s more than 100,000 employees, the BOP staff are among the most high-risk for coronavirus infection.

Kamala Harris’s bad polls trigger Democratic worries” via Hanna Trudo and Amie Parnes of The Hill — Vice President Harris has some ground to make up to be perceived more favorably by the public, a complicating factor for the Biden administration as it maps out its midterm strategy. Six months into office, polls indicate Harris is viewed less favorably than Biden. She has also made some tactical missteps outside of the White House that Democrats say show she hasn’t quite yet found her bearings. Vice presidents historically do not outperform the leader at the top of the ticket. But her lower ratings haven’t gone unnoticed. Harris earned a combined unfavorable rating of 46%. That number is 3 points below Biden’s 43% in the same category. 

Joe Biden polls well; Kamala Harris, not so much.

Biden nominates Cuban American FIU professor Frank Mora as OAS ambassador” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — Biden picked Mora as his nominee for U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States on Thursday, putting a prominent South Florida campaign surrogate into a key Latin America diplomatic post at a crucial time for the region. Mora, a Cuban American Democrat who previously served as a deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Western Hemisphere under President Barack Obama, would be the second consecutive Miami resident to hold the post. Former Republican state Rep. Carlos Trujillo served as Trump’s OAS ambassador from 2018 to 2021.

— EPILOGUE: TRUMP — 

Would Donald Trump leave Florida to make DeSantis his running mate? He might have to.” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — If Trump wants DeSantis on the ticket in 2024, he might have to give up his Florida address, thanks to a rarely invoked provision in the U.S. Constitution that frowns on a party nominating a President and Vice President from the same state. The 12th Amendment to the nation’s guiding document sends a straightforward message to the Electoral College on choosing the country’s next leaders. It states: “The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves.” In layman’s terms, it means that Florida cannot vote for both a President and Vice President who are Floridians.

One of them has to leave Florida if they want to run on the same ticket. Image via AP.

As Trump pushed for probes of 2020 election, he called acting AG Jeffrey Rosen almost daily” via Josh Dawsey and Devlin Barrett of The Washington Post — Trump called his acting Attorney General nearly every day at the end of last year to alert him to claims of voter fraud or alleged improper vote counts in the 2020 election. The personal pressure campaign, which has not been previously reported, involved repeated phone calls to Rosen in which Trump raised various allegations he had heard about and asked what the Justice Department was doing about the issue. The people familiar with the conversations spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive legal and political issues that are not yet public.

Officials struggled with Trump’s Ukraine aid freeze, emails show” via Charlie Savage of The New York Times — After Trump ordered a freeze in 2019 on security assistance to Ukraine, puzzled national security officials asked whether he was trying to “gain leverage” over its leaders in his dealings with the country, according to internal emails the Trump administration successfully fought to keep secret during his first impeachment. The newly available documents dovetail with the basic narrative of the Ukraine affair that emerged from Trump’s first impeachment. They also provided additional details. Officials at the Pentagon, the State Department and the National Security Council wanted to know whether the freeze was limited to lethal support or applied to all security assistance and they began questioning its rationale.

Jared Kushner to leave politics, launch investment firm” via Steve Holland of Reuters — Kushner, a top adviser to Trump, plans to launch an investment firm in coming months, a move that will take him away from politics for the foreseeable future. Kushner, the former chief executive of Kushner Companies, who served as the Republican president’s senior adviser in the White House, is in the final stages of launching an investment firm called Affinity Partners that will be headquartered in Miami. Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, is also looking to open an office in Israel to pursue regional investments to connect Israel’s economy and India, North Africa and the Gulf said two people briefed on the plan, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

— CRISIS —

House passes Capitol security bill, sending to Biden’s desk” via Nicholas Wu of POLITICO — Both the House and Senate on Thursday easily passed a bill addressing Capitol security concerns exacerbated by the Jan. 6 insurrection, following weeks of deadlock. The $2.1 billion compromise bill plugs security shortfalls around the Capitol complex, fully reimburses the National Guard and Capitol Police for increased staffing needs, provides $1.125 billion in relief for Afghan nationals who assisted the U.S. war effort and increases the number of visas set aside for the Afghans by 8,000. No Senators voted against it, and the House passed it 416-11. “We have to make a strong statement of support for those officers who defended the building and all that it stands for on that terrible day,” said Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy

Security for The Capitol could soon get a big cash influx. Image via AP.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Bipartisan infrastructure pact clears key Senate vote after breakthrough in talks” via Tony Romm of The Washington Post — Senate Democrats and Republicans banded together on Wednesday to advance a roughly $1 trillion proposal to improve the country’s aging infrastructure, overcoming months of political deadlock on one of Biden’s signature economic policy priorities. The day of breakthroughs began with news of a deal, as a bipartisan bloc of 10 negotiators coalesced around a package to upgrade the nation’s roads, bridges, pipes, ports and internet connections. The announcement from some of the group’s leaders, including Sens. Rob Portman and Kyrsten Sinema, capped off a series of frenetic talks that nearly collapsed amid behind-the-scenes battles about the new spending and how to pay for it.

House Republicans refuse to follow new mask mandate, leading Nancy Pelosi to call Kevin McCarthy a ‘moron’ for his comments” via Marianna Sotomayor and John Wagner of The Washington Post — House Republicans on Wednesday angrily criticized a new order from the Capitol Hill physician to wear masks inside the Capitol due to the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus, leading Pelosi to call McCarthy a “moron” over his argument that the decision was not based on science. Many House Republicans refused to wear masks on the House floor during a series of morning votes, before they called for the chamber to adjourn as GOP members rebuffed attempts by staff to get them to put on a mask. “This is some serious nanny-state stuff that will only breed resentment. No kidding,” Rep. Chip Roy said on the floor.

Is Kevin McCarthy a ‘moron?’ Nancy Pelosi believes so. Image via AP.

—“D.C. reinstates indoor mask mandate as virus coronavirus cases rise” via Julie Zauzmer and Karina Elwood of The Washington Post 

Rep. Kathy Castor pitches cuts, more oversight for charter schools” via Marlene Sokol of the Tampa Bay Times — A Tampa Democrat’s effort to increase federal oversight of charter schools is meeting opposition from charter groups who say proposed legislation could make it difficult for the schools to get the goods and services their students need. U.S. Rep. Castor introduced an amendment to the House of Representatives’ education appropriation bill that would slightly reduce the federal grant money available for charter schools, which are publicly funded but operate independently of government. It also would support oversight of these schools by agencies such as the Government Accountability Office. But the wording in the bill, supported by Castor although not part of her amendment, would also block federal funds from being awarded to charter schools run by for-profit entities.

Carlos Giménez mocks renewed House Chamber mask mandate: ‘That’s the craziness of Washington’” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — U.S. Rep. Giménez of South Florida mocked the resumption of a mask mandate in the House of Representatives this week in a video posted to his official Twitter account. In the video, the former Miami-Dade Mayor and Miami City Manager crosses the rotunda between the House and Senate chambers in the U.S. Capitol. After looking up to confirm he’s walked far enough to be closer to the Senate Chamber than the House Chamber, he removes his mask, approaches the camera, smiles, and says, “Yeah, that’s right. Over there, I have to wear a mask. Over here, I don’t have to wear a mask. That’s the craziness of Washington.” Giménez’s mention of House Speaker Pelosi will surely stir up the GOP base.

Tweet, tweet:

Census won’t release key annual survey because of pandemic’s impact on data” via Michael Macagnone of Roll Call — The Census Bureau announced Thursday that it will not produce its annual American Community Survey, which provides detailed demographic data widely used for research and billions of dollars in federal funding decisions, because of how the coronavirus pandemic skewed survey results. The data for the 2020 ACS did not meet agency standards, Census officials said. Instead, the agency will release an “experimental” data set that includes less information than the normal release. Census publications have cited ACS data as influencing more than $600 billion in federal spending each year. However, it’s not certain yet how much the Census Bureau’s pullback of ACS results will impact federal programs.

— LOCAL NOTES —

‘That’s my mom’s building.’ Daughter mourns Surfside victim Magaly Delgado” via Victoria Villanueva-Marquez of the Palm Beach Post — As Magaly Ramsey put on her makeup for a business conference in Orlando on the morning of June 24, she turned on the television in her hotel room and peeked at the news. The story that drew the Jupiter woman’s attention from the mirror was about the overnight collapse of a high-rise condo building in Surfside, a small seaside town near Miami Beach. “What did they say?” asked her husband, Bill, who had accompanied Magaly to the conference. “Something about a building collapse,” she answered. “Call your mom,” he replied. “See if she knows anything.”

Victims of the Surfside collapse are mourned by families from all over the world. Image via AP.

Surfside investigated ex-building official after tower records went missing, emails show” via Aaron Leibowitz, Ben Conarck and Sarah Blaskey of the Miami Herald — Surfside police opened an investigation after building records potentially holding clues about the Champlain Towers South collapse appeared to go missing from the town’s rented storage facility, according to a police report obtained by the Miami Herald. Police focused their inquiry on former building official Ross Prieto, who was criticized in the wake of the collapse after records showed he told residents the building was in good shape in 2018, despite reviewing an engineering report detailing major structural damage. Prieto “may have recently entered the storage facility where the town stores building records,” investigators wrote in the report.

One month after Surfside collapse, survivors face new challenge: Where to live?” via Anna Jean Kaiser of the Miami Herald — A month after Champlain Towers South in Surfside collapsed on June 24, survivors who have been living in hotels and temporary apartments are now facing a pressing question: Where will they live after their homes were leveled? Oren Cytrynbaum, a self-employed real estate investor, was a resident of Champlain Towers South. He’d left his apartment at around 10 p.m. on June 23 and was not in the building when it collapsed shortly after 1 a.m. In the last month, he’s suffered from anxiety and survivor’s guilt. While residents expect compensation from insurance and lawsuits, those can take months or years to settle. Surfside survivors, however, need housing now.

Surfside Mayor: Why did Miami-Dade delay hiring engineer for probe of condo collapse?” via Douglas Hanks and Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — More than a month after the Champlain Towers South fell, Miami-Dade County police are advertising for an engineer to study the Surfside condominium collapse. Surfside’s Mayor has a question: What took so long? In the latest escalation of the town’s rift with Miami-Dade over access to the site of the June 24 condo collapse, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett is calling it “inexplicable” that the county is still looking for a structural expert while denying Surfside’s hired engineer the ability to study building materials and soil from Champlain Towers South.

West Palm Beach officials meet with state investigators, insist they followed rules on water problem” via Wayne Washington of the Palm Beach Post — After meeting with state investigators, West Palm Beach officials maintain they followed notification protocols in May when they learned an algal toxin had contaminated the city’s water supply. The state Department of Health (DOH) said the city failed to notify it or the public quickly enough about the results of samples that showed cylindrospermopsin, a dangerous toxin caused by blue-green algae, was present in the city’s water at levels above federal health advisory limits. DOH launched an investigation and warned the city in a letter that the agency could impose fines if it determines the city violated state notification protocols. City and DOH officials met on Wednesday, with future meetings expected.

Could local lawsuit factor in Riviera Beach garbage contract decision?” via Wayne Washington of the Palm Beach Post — A local lawsuit against The Goode Companies, a Black-owned firm vying for Riviera Beach’s $65 million garbage contract, could hurt its chances of winning the bid. Riviera Beach’s City Council is holding a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday to pick between Goode and its competitor, Waste Management, which has provided solid waste services to the city since 1995. In a lawsuit filed in Palm Beach County in April, A&A Associates Staffing alleged that Goode formed a partnership with it to win a $28 million garbage hauling contract from the Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County. Then, once Goode won the bid, it failed to honor the partnership agreement, the suit alleges.

Broward chief toxicologist under criminal investigation; 100 cases could be affected” via Rafael Olmeda of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The chief toxicologist at the Broward Medical Examiner’s Office is under criminal investigation by the Broward Sheriff’s Office, which could affect at least 100 cases in which he is listed as a witness, prosecutors confirmed Thursday. Gary Kunsman, who has been with the Medical Examiner’s Office since 2013, is suspected of “theft of a controlled substance and tampering with evidence,” both considered “crimes of dishonesty” that can be used against him if he tries to testify against other defendants. While Kunsman has not been charged with or convicted of any crime, prosecutors are legally obligated to disclose the investigation to attorneys representing defendants in cases where Kunsman might be called as a witness.

Broward, Palm Beach counties move forward with interim superintendents” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — School districts in Broward and Palm Beach counties are moving forward with new interim superintendents after the former leaders in each county recently resigned. Palm Beach Interim Superintendent Mike Burke was sworn in Wednesday, replacing outgoing Superintendent Donald Fennoy. In Broward, the School Board has OK’d a $275,000 per year contract for Vickie Cartwright, who will serve as interim leader after Ronald Runcie stepped down following his arrest on perjury charges. Cartwright will officially take over in her new interim role beginning Monday, Aug. 2, while Burke is installed just weeks before school begins on Aug. 10.

Mike Burke’s first job: deciding a new mask mandate.

Florida Keys Sheriff’s Office accuses detective of stealing lobsters” via David Goodhue of the Miami Herald — A veteran Florida Keys detective was charged with misdemeanor theft after an internal investigation revealed he stole six spiny lobsters from a boat he pulled over last year, according to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. The Monroe County State Attorney’s Office issued a summons Thursday morning for Detective Sgt. Scott Ward to appear in court to answer the charge. “I am disappointed to have to announce this case, but the public will always hear the good news and the bad news from me first,” Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay said in a statement. Ward, who could not be reached for comment, is scheduled to appear in front of Judge Sharon Hamilton at the Plantation Key Courthouse on Aug. 18.

— TOP OPINION —

Data proves that masks help protect against COVID-19” via Joe Henderson of Florida Politics — DeSantis loves to remind people that he bases his decisions on data and facts. That is, except for those times when the data and facts are inconvenient for his narrative. That’s me talking, by the way. DeSantis would never admit that he might be wrong about something. Circumspect, he ain’t. Like Tom Petty, he won’t back down, even when pushing an absurd narrative that masks don’t protect much against COVID-19. DeSantis essentially declared victory over COVID-19, but the virus didn’t get the memo. The highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 has taken root in Florida. Hospitals report surges in infected patients, most of whom chose not to take the vaccine. That’s another story, sigh.

— OPINIONS —

Why COVID-19 makes it harder for Florida to fight the HIV crisis” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — COVID-19 isn’t the only potentially deadly disease on the rise in Florida. The Sunshine State leads the nation in new HIV cases and ranks third in overall infection rates. Like the coronavirus, HIV is preventable with ongoing public education and the use of well-established precautions. The CDC reported that Florida saw 4,400 new HIV infections in 2019, the most recent year of data. Seven Florida counties are among 48 federally designated “areas of concern” in the nation based on infection rates, including Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Statewide, the infection rate averages out to 23.7 cases per 100,000 people, well above the national average rate of 13. Florida also led the nation in new infections in 2018. And 2016. And 2015. This is not a new problem; it just keeps not getting solved.

Dear fellow conservatives: Have you not noticed that people are still dying?” via Michael Ryan for the Miami Herald — Why in the world won’t some of my conservative friends mask up and vax up? Although my political and social views span the breadth of the ideological spectrum, I’m considered conservative because of my devotion to tried-and-true conservative principles. But I part ways with my conservative friends who flatly oppose the COVID-19 vaccine, masks or mask mandates. Certainly, the march of Big Brother and Big Tech are two of the great threats of our time. But masks and vaccines, which seek only to control the virus and not you, aren’t in any way part of that big-government problem. They’re part of the solution to this hundred-year pandemic.

Unions shouldn’t stand in the way of vaccine mandates” via Catherine Rampell of The Washington Post — Unions have enjoyed a substantial rise in public support in recent years — but especially last year. But now, some unions seem keen on frittering away that goodwill by opposing coronavirus vaccination mandates. In so doing, they’re jeopardizing public health, the safety of their members, and, ultimately, their own political influence. Labor leaders advocated admirably last year on behalf of workers whom regulators and companies had failed to protect. Today, public officials and (some) corporations are finally stepping up and mandating measures to make workplaces safer and enable the economy to recover faster. If “Big Labor” obstructs this effort, it will fail not only its own members but also the many admirers and political allies it worked so hard to win over.

Stop complaining about the CDC’s new mask rules” via Timothy L. O’Brien of Bloomberg — The CDC, the federal agency charged with safeguarding public health, did just that on Tuesday. It recommended that vaccinated people in regions where the risk of COVID-19 infections has surged should wear masks indoors. This was advice, not an order. Nevertheless, some politicians, reporters, and social media mavens rebelled against the news — reminding everyone that COVID-19 has brought, along with illness and death, much adolescent griping and unrealistic demands for clarity amid a complex and often inscrutable pandemic. All of this in a privileged country rescued by the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines. It was as if the CDC had told people to wear handcuffs. It’s up to the rest of us to stay calm and let public health officials do their job.

— WEEKEND TV —

Battleground Florida with Evan Donovan on News Channel 8 WFLA (NBC): Preempted this weekend by the Tokyo Olympics on NBC.

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 Consultant Yvonne Fry, Arc Capital CEO and founder Rita Ferrandino and Dr. Seetha Lakshmi, MD, Medical Director of the Tampa General Hospital Global Emerging Diseases Institute.

In Focus with Allison Walker on Bay News 9/CF 13: A discussion about the state and local response to the red tide resurgence on the Gulf Coast with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Kelli Levy, the Director of Public Works for Pinellas County.

Political Connections Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: A closer look at the CDC’s latest mask recommendations amid the rise in COVID-19 cases and recaps the first hearing of the House Committee on the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: Ybeth Bruzual speaks with prominent Cuban Americans former Sen. Mel Martinez, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez and Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz to discuss the ongoing political protests affecting the island nation.

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

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Jeanne Miller, president and CEO of the Jacksonville Civic Council; Ascension Florida and Gulf Coast President and CEO Tom VanOsdol; Aundra Wallace, president of the JaxUSA Partnership and Darnell Smith, market president of the North Florida Region for Florida Blue.

— OLYMPICS — 

How Katie Ledecky ‘turned the page’ from two huge losses to win Olympic gold” via Saphora Smith of NBC News — An epic rivalry, two heartbreaking losses, and eventually a huge win in a grueling, brand-new event — legendary American swimmer Ledecky has already had an extraordinary Tokyo Olympics. Australia’s rising star Ariarne Titmus bested her elder rival in the Tokyo Aquatics Centre by beating her twice. Titmus, nicknamed “The Terminator” for her clinical, unrelenting drive, looked to have dethroned Ledecky, considered the greatest female swimmer of all. But Ledecky bounced back to claim the first gold medal in the women’s 1,500-meter freestyle Wednesday, gaining the redemption she and her fans craved. It is her sixth Olympics gold medal.

‘OK not to be OK’: Mental health takes top role at Olympics” via Jenna Fryer of The Associated Press — By pulling on her white sweatsuit in the middle of Tuesday night’s Olympic gymnastics meet, and by doing it with a gold medal hanging in the balance, Simone Biles might very well have redefined the mental health discussion that’s been coursing through sports for the past year. Michael Phelps, winner of a record 23 gold medals and now retired has long been open about his own mental health struggles. Now an analyst for NBC’s swimming coverage, he said watching Biles struggle “broke my heart.” Biles joins some other high-profile athletes in the Olympic space — overwhelmingly females — who have been talking openly about a topic that had been taboo in sports for seemingly forever.

Simone Biles puts mental health in the spotlight.

Female athletes grab spotlight at Olympics with political and social demonstrations” via Antonio Plana of NBC News — Female athletes have attracted the spotlight on the international stage by championing racial equality and taking ownership of what they wear during competitions. Several women’s soccer teams — including the U.S. team before its opening match against Sweden — began their matches by taking knees in a gesture to end racism. The protests and demonstrations by female athletes in Tokyo are extensions of social movements that have fueled activism on U.S. soil and abroad, said Akilah Carter-Francique, executive director of the Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change at San Jose State University. “The Black Lives Matter Movement, Me Too before that, served as catalysts for groups that have been historically marginalized and silenced to speak up,” she said.

Tick, tick, tick: athletes’ grueling wait for an Olympic moment” via John Branch of The New York Times — The Olympics, like all sports events, create more losers than winners. Sergey Bubka broke the world record in the pole vault 35 times but won only one gold medal. The 2004 U.S. men’s basketball team had a roster of NBA stars and future Hall of Famers and still left Athens with the bronze. It is happening in Tokyo, too. “People maybe feel bad for me not winning everything, but I want people to be more concerned about other things going on in the world,” swimmer Ledecky said. “The most pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself.” That is what athletes often say. But it is becoming apparent that it may not be what they feel.

Was the Olympic skateboarding really as unimpressive as it seemed?” via Christina Cauterucci of Slate — Skateboarding made its Olympic debut this year. One of my colleagues summed up our feelings thusly: “It seemed like some guys plodding around at half speed and falling on their butts a lot.” All of us, the underwhelmed, felt that we too would be capable of falling on our butts. But Nathan Sick, who’s been skateboarding since his early teens, said viewers can expect to “see something a bit more familiar when park skating debuts August 3.” … “With street skating, it’s about progression to some extent. So people are going for it; they’re trying to push the limits of what they can do. And somebody is going to land four really hard tricks and win.”

— ALOE —

Spiny lobster season kicks off amid an unexplained population drop” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — Annual harvests for the Caribbean spiny lobster commercial fishery in Florida average more than 5 million pounds per year, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Valued at more than $40 million, the spiny lobster fishery is the second most lucrative commercial fishery in the state, behind shrimp. But that revenue stream could dwindle if the spiny lobster population keeps dwindling as well. Since the 1990s, the population of the Caribbean spiny lobster has decreased 20%, which matters but also to the entire food chain of Florida’s waters.

What’s causing the spiny lobster population to drop? Image via FWC.

“‘Lord of the Rings’ stars say Peter Jackson resisted pressure to kill a hobbit” via of The Hollywood Reporter — Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd, the actors behind Merry and Pippin, respectively, said that at one point, Jackson was facing pressure “from above” to kill off one of the film’s four leading Hobbits — Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry. This would have marked a significant pivot from what Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in his own series, in which all four Hobbits survive. While discussing the possibility of which Hobbit might have been axed had Jackson actually agreed to the request, Monaghan said it would have “definitely” been him.

Rare Harry Potter book sells for $110K at Leyburn auction” via BBC — A rare first edition of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in “exceptional condition” has sold for a magic £80,000 ($110,000) at auction. The book was one of 500 hardback copies printed in its first run in 1997 and bought from a Nottingham bookshop. On the book’s copyright page, the world-famous author is credited simply as “Joanne Rowling.” Auctioneers Tennants of Leyburn, North Yorkshire, had estimated the volume would sell for about £20,000-£30,000. Tennants said 300 original books were sent to libraries, and many had a “high rate of loss and damage.”

Legoland Florida announces Peppa Pig Theme Park rides” via Dewayne Bevil of The Orlando Sentinel — Six rides have been unveiled for Peppa Pig Theme Park, the kiddie attraction set to open near Legoland Florida in 2022. Among the rides will be Daddy Pig’s Roller Coaster, Peppa Pig’s Balloon Ride, Granddad Dog’s Pirate Boat Ride, Grampy Rabbit’s Dinosaur Adventure, Mr. Bull’s High Striker and Peppa’s Pedal Bike Tour, and George’s Tricycle Trail. Six play areas for Peppa Pig Theme Park were also announced. Visitors will encounter Fun Fair, George’s Fort, Grandpa Pig’s Greenhouse, Peppa Pig’s Treehouse, Rebecca Rabbit’s Playground and Madame Gazelle’s Nature Trail. The attraction will also feature Muddy Puddles Splash Pad, live shows, and a cinema.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to Buzz Jacobs, David Kochel, and our friend Rhett O’Doski of McGuireWoods. Belated birthday wishes to good friends Tre Evers, Debbie Ressler, Crystal Stickle, and Sarah Busk Suskey.

___

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

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

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

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

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