Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 12.2.21

Sunburn Orange Tally (1)
Here’s the day that was — and will be — in Florida politics.

Good Thursday morning.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce’s 14th Insurance Summit kicks off today, bringing together insurance policy experts from across the nation and a handful of other countries in Tampa to discuss ways to “insure Florida’s future” — pun intended.

The Summit begins with a table-setter talk from Florida Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson titled “Planning for Florida’s Insurance Future,” followed by Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who will detail the current state of Florida’s insurance industry.

Jimmy Patronis will again serve as lead speaker at the 2021 Florida Chamber Insurance Summit.

A slew of speakers will follow, delivering presentations and participating in panel discussions on all aspects of the broad insurance market.

One particularly timely segment will delve into how insurers and other stakeholders have responded to events such as the Surfside condo collapse.

It will feature Joy Ryan, a shareholder at top insurance lobbying firm Meenan PA, moderating a panel including Florida Building Commission Chair James Schock, Citizens Property Insurance COO Kelly Booten, Carlton Fields Of Counsel Bill Sklar, USI Insurance Services Senior Vice President Adam Lopatin.

Property insurance, in particular, has been a pressing issue in Florida. Rates are rising year after year, and lawmakers have attempted to steady them with bills to curb litigation. Citizens Communications Chief Christine Ashburn will expound on how the litigation landscape impacts the state in a conversation with the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida President Michael Carlson.

On Friday, attendees will get a historical perspective on how the Legislature has responded to challenges facing the market from a set of former lawmakers who chaired the major insurance policy committees — former Sen. Garrett Richter and former Reps. Dennis Ross and Bryan Nelson.

Former Insurance Commissioners Kevin McCarty and Tom Gallagher will join them on a panel moderated by lobbyist Tim Meenan.

A full agenda for the Insurance Summit is available online.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@ShearM: Hours after he received the call from (Mark) Meadows informing him of a positive test, (Donald) Trump came to the back of AF1 without a mask and talked with reporters for about 10 minutes. I was wearing a mask, but still got COVID, testing positive several days later.

@DonWinslow: Seeing some people tweeting today about how awful the Mississippi/Roe v. Wade situation is who in 2015/16 and 2018/2020 were tweeting “stop being an alarmist,” “Stop being a defeatist,” “he’s just too negative” You think this is bad. Real horror is Nov. 22.

@ProfMMurray: Y’all. Justice (Sonia) Sotomayor can count votes. She knows where this is headed … either viability is gone or Roe is gone. Her questions are for the public … to let us know that abortion isn’t the end. It’s just beginning of the unraveling of these other rights of intimate life.

@LoriBerman: While the Supreme Court is being asked to overturn a watershed decision and 50 years of court precedent, Representative @BenDiamondFL and I are fighting to protect women and codify reproductive health care in Florida.

@DrTomFrieden: Freedom includes the freedom not to be harmed avoidably by others’ choices. Vaccine mandates for health care workers and others, indoor mask mandates where COVID is spreading, and better protection of health care workers are ethically required.

@DaveWeigel: Inflation is real, gas prices are up, but there’s definitely been a lot of hyperventilating warnings about problems that don’t materialize. (I did Black Friday shopping as usual, in Delaware, and not an empty shelf in sight)

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

— DAYS UNTIL —

Jacksonville special election to fill seat vacated by Tommy Hazouri’s death — 5; ‘Sex and the City’ revival premieres — 7; Steven Spielberg’s ’West Side Story’ premieres — 8; ’Spider-Man: No Way Home’ premieres — 8; ’The Matrix: Resurrections’ released — 20; ’The Book of Boba Fett’ premieres on Disney+ — 27; Private sector employees must be fully vaccinated or tested weekly — 33; final season of ‘This Is Us’ begins — 33; CES 2022 begins — 34; Ken Welch’s inauguration as St. Petersburg Mayor — 35; NFL season ends — 38; 2022 Legislative Session starts — 40; Florida’s 20th Congressional District Election — 40; Special Elections in Senate District 33, House District 88 & 94 — 40; Florida Chamber’s 2022 Legislative Fly-In and Reception — 40; Florida TaxWatch’s 2022 State of the Taxpayer Day — 41; Joel Coen’s ’The Tragedy of Macbeth’ on Apple TV+ — 43; NFL playoffs begin — 44; ‘Ozark’ final season begins — 50; ‘Billions’ begins — 52; XXIV Olympic Winter Games begins — 64; Super Bowl LVI — 73; ‘The Walking Dead’ final season part two begins — 80; Daytona 500 — 80; CPAC begins — 84; St. Pete Grand Prix — 85; ‘The Batman’ premieres — 91; The Oscars — 117; ’Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 160; ’Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 179; ’Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 182; ’Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 219; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 230; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 274; ’Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 309; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 344; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 347; ‘Avatar 2’ premieres — 379; ‘Captain Marvel 2’ premieres — 442; ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 603. ‘Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 687; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 967.

— TOP STORY —

Critical race theory becomes flashpoint for GOP, UF heading into Legislative Session” via Ana Ceballos of the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times — As Florida Republican lawmakers rush to introduce bills that target the teaching of critical race theory in state institutions, a University of Florida professor is claiming university officials have already asked faculty members not to use the words “critical” and “race” in the curriculum to avoid political backlash. The claims underscore widening allegations by faculty members that the politics of the day is influencing the state’s flagship university, even as university leaders have declared UF “free from undue influence.” UF College of Education associate professor Chris Busey claims that in meetings, university officials warned faculty and administrators in the College of Education to steer clear of curricula that touch on race, anti-racism or mention the words “critical’ and “race” together.

University of Florida professors have been instructed not to say any combination of ‘critical,’ ‘race’ or ‘theory.’ Image via Fresh Take Florida.


— STATEWIDE —

>>>Gov. Ron DeSantis will hold a press conference at the Pensacola National Guard Armory. Major General James O. Eifert will also be in attendance. 9:30 a.m. Central Time.

DeSantis seeks election fraud crackdown but ignores dark money-backed sham candidates” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis wants a new law enforcement division to investigate and punish election crimes, but he’s said little about the ongoing criminal case involving “ghost” candidates that helped swing one South Florida state Senate race in the GOP’s favor and influenced two others. That’s led Democrats to suspect his motives in pushing the election crimes crackdown, a legislative proposal that includes increasing the penalty for ballot harvesting, requiring more frequent cleanup of voter rolls and eliminating the use of unsecure drop boxes. “It seems completely politically motivated,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani. “Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to set himself up to be President in 2024, and part of that means going along with some of this extreme rhetoric around election fraud that isn’t accurate.”

Ron DeSantis wants to investigate election fraud. Dark money? Not so much.

‘Bold goals’: Nikki Fried, Dems outline sustainable agricultural legislative priorities” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Agriculture Commissioner Fried, Sen. Gary Farmer and Rep. Kelly Skidmore presented legislative priorities Wednesday tackling sustainable agricultural and environmental policy ahead of the 2022 Session. The group introduced two bills, including one major package to set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals and statewide emissions standards. That legislation, sponsored by Sen. Tina Polsky and Skidmore, would establish a tax credit to incentivize farmers to set up solar panels on land not being used for agriculture. “The farmers are the stewards of the land. They have been for centuries, and they continue to be, and they are great partners in this initiative,” Skidmore said.

Is the future of Florida’s $1.8B Medicaid hospital financing plan at risk?” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Aaron Bean told Florida Politics he is worried about the future of a $1.8 billion Medicaid hospital financing program after the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently shot down a similar funding proposal in Texas. The loss of all this money could complicate an upcoming Legislative Session where state lawmakers are expected to be awash in cash and pressed to set aside appropriations for long-standing needs. Created in 2021, the Hospital Direct Payment Program, or DPP, provides qualifying hospitals with supplemental payments designed to bridge the gap between the Medicaid rates hospitals are paid to deliver health care to the poor, elderly and disabled and the actual costs of the care.

Cost of CONNECT fixes could hit $73M — Modernizing the state’s unemployment system is expected to take two years and cost more than $73 million, Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida reports. After the system, known as CONNECT, failed in the early days of the pandemic, lawmakers set aside $17 million to begin the modernization process. The federal government has provided another $57 million for the project. The Department of Economic Opportunity Division of Workforce Services Director Adrienne Johnston told the House Infrastructure and Tourism Subcommittee that the project started July 1, but the department has not yet calculated how much it has spent on it to date.

Police, state agencies await approved drone list as deadline looms” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Under a recently passed bill (SB 44), DMS must create a list of approved drones and publish it online by Jan. 1, 2022. The agency, however, has yet to do so, and inquiries from Florida Politics into the selection process remain unanswered. The ongoing radio silence comes as state agencies and police await further guidance. Under the new law, drone operators must ground drones not featured on the list by 2023 — a requirement that may cost operators thousands. The list calls for DMS to select drone manufacturers with “safeguards to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data collected, transmitted or stored by a drone.” That job, however, is no small task with growing national security concerns around several drone distributors.

— DATELINE TALLY —

Chris Sprowls snags award from Healthy Start Coalition — Florida Association of Healthy Start Coalition CEO Cathy Timuta presented House Speaker Sprowls with an award this week to recognize his push to extend Medicaid benefits for pregnant women from two months to one year. The issue was one of Sprowls’ top priorities in the 2021 Legislative Session. “Every baby should have the opportunity to be born — healthy. And every mother should have the maternal health care she needs to set up herself, her family, and her child to thrive,” Sprowls said after receiving the award. “The Florida House is proud to stand together in support of moms and babies across our state, and we are thankful for the work that groups like Healthy Start have done and will do with our investment to bring vital health care services within the reach of more mothers.”

Chris Sprowls is recognized for his commitment to protecting Florida children.

‘We cannot sit idly by’: Democrats rebuke abortion restriction efforts” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The High Court heard oral arguments on a Mississippi law banning abortion procedures beyond 15 weeks. An impending ruling by the conservative-leaning court threatens to weaken abortion rights, Democrats fear, paving the way for states to implement more restrictive laws. Democratic lawmakers in Tallahassee, meanwhile, are vowing to take a stand. “We need to unite and fight,” said Fried. Sen. Lori Berman and Rep. Ben Diamond propose measures (HB 709 and SB 1036) dubbed the Reproductive Health Care Protections Act; the proposals bar an individual or government from restricting a woman’s access to abortion. The identical measures also feature a mechanism allowing legal action against those who stand in the way.

Michael Grieco files ‘Greyson’s Law’ to add protections for children at risk of parental harm” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Inspired by the tragic murder-suicide involving a young South Florida boy, Rep. Grieco of Miami Beach filed a bill Tuesday to make it harder for a parent to gain — or maintain — custody of a child if they have threatened, abused or stalked the other parent. The bill is called “Greyson’s Law,” named after 4-year-old Greyson Kessler, whose father, John Stacey, shot and killed him in May before turning the gun on himself. Greyson’s mother, Alison Kessler, had previously sought a restraining order for domestic violence against Stacey, but a judge denied her, citing a lack of evidence.

Charter school bill draws rare bipartisanship in House panel” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The House Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee unanimously approved a measure (HB 225) sponsored by Republican Rep. Fred Hawkins that would require school boards to renew charter schools at least 90 days before the school year ends, or the charter would renew automatically. The bill comes after the Hillsborough County School Board initially voted against renewing four charter schools’ charters this summer, just 56 days before the charters were set to expire. “Teachers were trying to find jobs. Parents are trying to find new schools for their children,” Hawkins said. “We want to prevent that.” Public schools start working toward the next school year well in advance, Hawkins noted. If there’s a problem with a charter school, districts should start addressing it with “plenty of time.”

Juvenile expungement bill passes second committee, awaits House consideration” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee voted unanimously, for the second time in two years, to advance a bill (SB 342) that would expand opportunities to expunge first-time arrests from juvenile records to felony charges. Lawmakers unanimously approved a similar bill last Session, but DeSantis vetoed the measure, citing concerns that forcible felonies were among the charges that could be expunged. Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry and Winter Springs Republican Rep. David Smith, who is carrying the House version (HB 195), removed forcible felonies from the list in the updated bill. The proposal passed the entire legislative and committee process unanimously during the 2021 Session before receiving DeSantis’ veto after the Florida Police Chiefs Association raised concerns.

Transportation omnibus starts rolling — A bill (SB 398) that is expected to become this year’s transportation omnibus cleared its first committee on Wednesday, Dixon of POLITICO Florida reports. Among the bill’s provisions is a limit on how much the Florida Department of Transportation can spend on specific transportation projects. It would also repeal a public records exemption shielding documents identifying the names of people or companies that requested bid packages for DOT projects. Clearwater Sen. Ed Hooper, the bill sponsor, joked that the bill had already grown from two pages to eight pages since it was filed, adding “we are on our way to 80.” The House has not yet unveiled its transportation train.

Ed Hooper is on a (transportation) roll.

House panel doubles down on cryptocurrency regulation” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — House lawmakers remain bullish on cryptocurrency, taking a second stab at undoing how courts say Florida should regulate virtual currencies. The House unanimously approved a similar bill last Session, though the bill later died in the Senate. On Wednesday, the House Banking and Insurance Subcommittee approved the measure (HB 273), carried by Miami Republican Rep. Vance Aloupis, unanimously for the second time in two years. Florida has stayed quiet on cryptocurrency, Aloupis told the committee. He expressed the need for the state to set up a regulatory structure as the industry grows. “I think the question around virtual currency, whether you believe in it or not, it’s a reality,” Aloupis said.

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Sebastian Aleksander, The Aleksander Group: Jonathan Frantz

Brian Ballard, Jordan Elsbury, Adrian Lukis, Ballard Partners: The Florida Theatre, K9s for Warriors, Pulse Clinical Alliance

Matt Bryan, David Daniel, Thomas Griffin, Jeff Hartley, Lisa Hurley, Teye Reeves, Smith Bryan & Myers: Florida Association of Nurse Anesthesiology

Matthew Herndon, Natalie King, RSA Consulting Group: United Way of Broward County

Von Johnson: Teach For America Florida Regions

Lauren Lange: Executive Office of the Governor

Michael Monroe: Florida Education Association

Desinda Wood-Carper, DC Strategies: DEPA Service Partners

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida COVID-19 cases fell Thanksgiving week, but so did vaccinations” via Ian Hodgson of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida’s COVID-19 cases continued to fall during Thanksgiving week. But vaccinations are also trending downward, and the effort to inoculate children ages 5-11 stalled as experts fear the spread of the newly-detected omicron variant. That’s according to the weekly report the state released on Tuesday, covering the seven days of Nov. 19-25. The report, usually released late Friday afternoon, was delayed last week because of the holiday. New infections fell to 9,663 over the week, bringing the state’s total infection count to 3,686,860. It’s the lowest weekly infection rate since mid-June 2020. Florida’s case positivity was also down, dropping to 2.4% from 2.5% the week before.

COVID-19 cases drop during Thanksgiving, but so did vaccinations. Image via AP.

Florida COVID-19 update: 2,096 new cases added to state tally” via Devoun Cetoute of the Miami Herald — Florida reported 2,096 COVID-19 cases and no new deaths on Tuesday, according to Wednesday’s report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In all, Florida has recorded at least 3,693,516 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 61,539 deaths. There were 1,247 people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Florida, according to a Wednesday report by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, which compiled data from 234 Florida hospitals. Hospitalized COVID-19 patients increased by 19 from Tuesday’s report, when 227 hospitals submitted data. Of the people hospitalized in Florida, 234 people were in intensive care unit beds, a decrease of 40. That represents about 4.20% of the state’s ICU hospital beds, compared to 4.47% the previous day.

Is Florida really the safest state in the U.S. for COVID-19? Don’t trust this CDC map that went viral online” via Cindy Krischer Goodman and David Schutz of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A federal map shows Florida having COVID-19 transmission rates lower than all other 49 states. But even though many are touting it as good news and proof that Florida’s pandemic policies are working, the map is misleading. Data that shows community transmission levels by county have not been updated for the state of Florida on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention portal since Thanksgiving. The resulting map shows a sunny picture of COVID-19 in Florida, the only state with a low transmission rate. But without new case numbers updated since Nov. 25, the seven-day average for Florida is skewed downward while much of the rest of the country is red, illustrating high COVID-19 transmission rates.

Decoding the data behind state Surgeon General’s policies” via Jeffrey Schweers of the USA TODAY Capital Bureau — When he was first introduced as DeSantis’ nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. Joseph Ladapo promised that the Department of Health would distinguish science and opinion. The next day he signed an emergency order that strengthened bans on school mask mandates and stripped schools of the authority to quarantine students who had come in contact with the COVID-19 virus for up to four days. So, where’s the science? Asked for the scientific basis for Ladapo’s statements, DeSantis’ press secretary offered three studies to back up his claims about vaccines and masks. While selected parts of the studies back up the claims that vaccines are losing their effectiveness or that masks don’t work, other data in those studies contradict their assertions.

Police: Stepdad lied, staged photos about school-masking ‘abuse.’ Now where’s the outrage?” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Back in October, a story out of Brevard County made national headlines. The stepfather of a 7-year-old girl with Down syndrome claimed he had photographic evidence that school officials had used a nylon cord to forcibly strap a face mask around his daughter’s head against her will. He said it impeded her ability to breathe and put her life at risk. Some media lapped it up, particularly the New York Post, London’s Daily Mail and Fox News. The stepfather even scored airtime with Fox host Tucker Carlson, who concluded school officials “tortured” the little girl. Everyone was outraged. Except it turns out the photos were staged. The stepdad lied about them — in a sworn statement to a police detective.

Apparently, it was all made up. Oops.

Catholic Archdiocese of Miami making face masks optional in its schools — for now” via Devoun Cetoute of the Miami Herald — Masks will now be optional indoors for students at the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami’s elementary and high school, if parents sign all the necessary papers. The Archdiocese announced Tuesday that it will allow parents and legal guardians to sign forms allowing unvaccinated and partially vaccinated students to opt out of having to wear a mask indoors in schools, effective immediately. The form can be found on the Archdiocese’s website, along with the new mask policy. Masks were already optional indoors for fully vaccinated students and teachers who provided the Department of Health vaccination cards to the school or confirmed through the FL SHOTS database.

— 2022 —

Draft House maps: Five Southwest Florida incumbents share districts with colleagues” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Sarasota-Manatee: HD 70; neither of the House maps shows the district reaching south of Hillsborough County. A newly envisioned HD 62 in both drafts covers portions of St. Petersburg, Tampa, and Gibsonton. The most consequence is to Rep. Fiona McFarland, representing the region’s one true swing district. Much of her HD 72 falls now within HD 73 in both maps. Lee-Collier: Both show a House district holding most of Cape Coral, though it can longer be contained in a single district as existing HD 77. Florida Heartland: Rep. Kaylee Tuck lives under both draft maps in a new HD 83; Rep. Melony Bell loses any Southwest Florida constituency. DeSoto County becomes part of HD 76 now also encompasses east Charlotte County.

Melony Bell and Kaylee Tuck are just two of the potential political casualties of redistricting.

Florida House proposes carving Tallahassee seat into three separate districts” via James Call of the USA TODAY Capital Bureau — For the first time, Tallahassee could be split into three state House districts, lumping Democratic-leaning precincts around FSU and northeast Tallahassee with coastal Republican counties of Gulf, Franklin and Wakulla. That’s according to the Florida House of Representatives first redistricting proposals released this week. HD 9, represented by Democrat Allison Tant, currently is contained within Tallahassee and Leon County. Tant would go from representing voters who supported Joe Biden by nearly two-thirds to competing in counties that backed Trump by a similar margin. HD 8, held by Democrat Ramon Alexander, would stay mostly the same. It’s a minority-access seat rooted in Gadsden County and Tallahassee’s west and south sides, including the Florida A&M University campus.

Joe Gruters endorses Griff Griffitts for HD 6 — Republican Party of Florida Chair and Sarasota Sen. Gruters endorsed Bay County Commissioner Griffitts to succeed Rep. Jay Trumbull in House District 6. “Griff Griffitts has proven himself to be a strong conservative and a powerful advocate for our constitutional rights and economic freedom,” Gruters said. “He strongly supports President Trump’s America First agenda and will be a trusted leader in Florida’s Legislature. It is my pleasure to endorse him for state Representative.” Griffitts faces Brian Clowdus in the Republican Primary for the Northwest Florida seat. He has previously picked up endorsements from CFO Patronis, U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn and state Sen. George Gainer, among others.

A.J. D’Amico launches campaign for HD 113 — Democrat D’Amico has opened a campaign account to run for House District 113, which currently covers a portion of coastal Miami-Dade County, including Miami Beach. “I seek this office as much to prove the place of civic-minded, hopeful young people in government as I do to represent the best people and places HD 113 and the State of Florida have to offer,” he said in a prepared statement. He said his campaign will “present a platform of dignified dissent to a political status quo that has left behind those with the most to lose and to advocate for policies such as accessible and affordable health care, the protection of our environment from the existential threat of climate change, and sustainable and abundant economic opportunities for all.”


— CORONA NATION —

First known U.S. case of omicron variant identified in California” via Yacob Reyes and Erin Doherty of Axios — The first known U.S. case of the Omicron variant was detected in California, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Wednesday. The confirmed case was detected in a traveler returning from South Africa who was fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms. The person, who California Gov. Gavin Newsom said is a resident of San Francisco and tested positive on Nov. 28, is self-quarantining. All close contacts have been notified and tested negative. The individual had not yet received a booster shot, NIAID director Anthony Fauci said in a White House press briefing. Since the variant was first identified by scientists in South Africa earlier last month, Omicron cases have been confirmed across Europe, Canada, Israel, Hong Kong and Australia, among other countries.

Welcome to America, omicron. Image via AP.

‘It was just a matter of time.’ Anthony Fauci urges familiar COVID-19 protections with omicron arrival” via Michael Wilner of McClatchy — Fauci said the first omicron case discovered in California was an individual who was tested for COVID-19 on Nov. 29 after traveling to the U.S. from South Africa on Nov. 22. “We knew that it was just a matter of time before the first case,” Fauci said. “We know what we need to do to protect people.” He advised Americans to resume wearing masks in indoor group settings, including at restaurants when not eating or drinking, and get boosted as soon as possible for adults six months out from their last vaccine dose. White House officials declined to provide more details on the individual, only to say the person had mild symptoms that seemed to be improving.

A federal judge blocks Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for U.S. health workers.” via Azi Paybarah and Reed Abelson of The New York Times — A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction to halt the start of Biden’s national vaccine mandate for health care workers, which had been set to begin next week. The injunction, written by Judge Terry Doughty, effectively expanded a separate order issued on Monday by a federal court in Missouri. “There is no question that mandating a vaccine to 10.3 million health care workers is something that should be done by Congress, not a government agency,” Doughty wrote. The judge, who was nominated to the court by Trump, also wrote that the plaintiffs had an “interest in protecting its citizens from being required to submit to vaccinations” and prevent the loss of jobs and tax revenue that may result from the mandate.

How Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ edict delayed the global COVID-19 fight” via Erin Banco of POLITICO — Decisions by top officials responding to President Trump’s edict to protect “America First” contributed to a global delay in COVID-19 vaccine donations and a lack of effort to assist low- and middle-income countries, according to five current and former U.S. officials who worked under Trump on the federal pandemic response. The officials said that the failure to view the COVID-19 threat in global terms left some nations — including those where the omicron variant emerged in recent weeks — lacking inoculation and much more vulnerable to mutations. They described a White House and its health agencies fixated on one goal: obtaining enough drugs and protective gear to shield the American people from COVID-19.

— CORONA ECONOMICS —

Biden promised relief for long COVID-19 patients, but many struggle to get benefits” via Breanne Deppisch and Samantha-Jo Roth of Spectrum News — The Biden administration announced in July that some people with long-term symptoms of COVID-19 could qualify as disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act — extending the landmark federal civil rights law to sufferers of so-called “long COVID” and affording them protection against discrimination. But six months after Biden’s announcement, many COVID-19 “long haulers” have described the process of applying for such benefits as an uphill battle, made all the more challenging by a dearth of specialized doctors and a brand-new illness that often presents as a complex combination of symptoms, each as unique as the patients themselves. Even before the start of the pandemic, the ADA application process was notoriously difficult. But for “long haulers,” the process is even more rigorous.

Long COVID-19 patients find an uphill battle for disability benefits. Image via Mount Sinai Health.

— MORE CORONA —

Study: Severe COVID-19 infections impact survivors’ mortality rates” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — The mortality risk for patients who recovered from severe COVID-19 infections is twice as high the year following their illness as those who haven’t been infected, a new UF study shows. Researchers’ findings appear in the journal Frontiers in Medicine. “These findings reinforce that the internal trauma of being sick enough to be hospitalized with COVID-19 has a big consequence for people’s health. This is a huge complication of COVID-19 that has not been shown before,” said Arch G. Mainous III, the study’s lead investigator and a professor in the department of health services research, management and policy at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions.

Great. Even surviving COVID-19 can shorten your life expectancy. Image via AP.

‘Needle Nazis,’ ‘medical brown shirts,’ Josef Mengele and Stars of David: How Nazi-coronavirus comparisons have proliferated on the right” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, has generally taken a hands-off approach to Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. But for a fleeting moment in May, it seemed, Greene had gone too far. After she made two comparisons between coronavirus restrictions and Nazi Germany, McCarthy issued an uncharacteristically stern rebuke: “Marjorie is wrong, and her intentional decision to compare the horrors of the Holocaust with wearing masks is appalling.” A few weeks later, Greene visited the Holocaust Museum and apologized. But just a few weeks after that, she was back to comparing coronavirus vaccination efforts to the Nazis — citing “medical brown shirts” — this time with virtually no pushback from GOP leaders.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Biden’s young voter problem” via Steven Shepard of POLITICO — Younger Americans are a key part of Democrats’ base, but they have soured on Biden. Polling shows — despite winning roughly three-in-five voters under age 30 — Biden’s approval rating slipping below 50% among the youngest segment of the electorate. That includes a new Harvard Youth Poll released Wednesday that pegs Biden at 46% approval among Americans aged 18 to 29, compared to 51% who disapprove. It’s a 13-point drop for Biden from March when 59% of young Americans approved of the job Biden was doing. The slippage is consistent with other polling, which portrays an across-the-board polling rut for the President.

Joe Biden is just not hip with the kids. Image via AP.

— D.C. MATTERS —

The Supreme Court seems poised to uphold Mississippi’s abortion law.” via Adam Liptak of The New York Times — The Supreme Court seemed poised on Wednesday to uphold a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, based on sometimes tense and heated questioning at a momentous argument in the most important abortion case in decades. Such a ruling would be flatly at odds with what the court has said was the central holding of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion and prohibited states from banning the procedure before fetal viability, or around 23 weeks. But the court’s six-member conservative majority seemed divided about whether to stop at 15 weeks, for now at least, or whether to overrule Roe entirely, allowing states to ban abortions at any time or entirely.

Looks like Roe v. Wade is going down. Image via AP.

— CRISIS —

Jan. 6 panel to vote on contempt against former DOJ official” via Mary Clare Jalonick of The Associated Press — The House panel investigating the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection will vote on pursuing contempt charges against a former Justice Department official Wednesday as the committee aggressively seeks to gain answers about the violent attack by Trump supporters. The vote to pursue charges against Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department lawyer who aligned with Trump as he tried to overturn his election defeat, comes as Trump’s top aide at the time, chief of staff Meadows, has agreed to cooperate with the panel on a limited basis. Last month, Clark appeared for a deposition but refused to answer any questions based on Trump’s legal efforts to block the committee’s investigation.

Jeffrey Clark is in it deep. Image via AP.

— EPILOGUE: TRUMP —

Trump tested positive for virus days before debate, two ex-officials say” via Maggie Haberman of The New York Times — Trump tested positive for coronavirus three days before his first debate with Biden. in 2020, two former administration officials said Wednesday. The White House did not announce the positive test at the time, and the President received a negative result shortly afterward and carried on with a campaign rally and the debate, the officials said. The Guardian first reported the account, which cited a forthcoming book by Trump’s chief of staff Meadows. The two former officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, confirmed the timeline on Trump’s test results contained in “The Chief’s Chief” by Meadows.

Superspreader: Donald Trump had COVID-19 much sooner than first thought.

How Trump-backed secretary of state candidates would change elections in the United States” via Amber Phillips of The Washington Post — Former President Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election are evolving into a movement that may be a more potent threat to democracy: one that places his supporters in elected roles with oversight of elections at the local and state levels. That would give him and his allies more say over who wins elections. The ultimate win for them would be to put in place Secretaries of State, who oversee how elections are conducted in most states and sign off on the results. More than any other category of elected official, secretaries of state could be instrumental in overturning the popular vote in their state — an unprecedented move in American history.

Trump in Southwest Florida for fundraiser inspired by Melania’s White House holiday décor” via Phil Fernandez of the Naples Daily News — Former First Lady Melania Trump famously questioned a top aide in a recorded conversation on whether she had to come up with a holiday look for the White House. “I have to do it, right?” Trump said, using an F word in describing her enthusiasm. “Who gives a (expletive) about Christmas stuff and decoration?” Her widely panned blood-red trees, compared to car wash drive-thrus, scenes from “The Shining,” and other terrifying experiences, are an inspiration for a private Friday fundraiser the former President is hosting in Naples. With a re-creation of her Yuletide handy work as a backdrop, attendees and three family members are paying up to $30,000 to pose for one photo only with the happy couple and access to a 7 p.m. party.


— LOCAL NOTES —

Keys politician arrested in Hialeah on domestic violence charge, says he has drug problem” via Gwen Filosa of the Miami Herald — A Florida Keys elected official was arrested Tuesday in Hialeah on a charge of domestic violence battery after his wife told police he struck her in the face with an empty pill bottle he threw during a rage. Monroe County Commissioner Eddie Martinez was jailed at the Miami-Dade Detention and Rehabilitation Center. His bond was set at $1,500. His arrest and picture remained on the detention center’s website Wednesday. It was unclear whether he had an attorney in this case or was released from jail. Martinez denied hitting his wife, Maria, and said he struggles with prescription pain medication, police said.

Eddie Martinez has a laundry list of problems.

Summer lawsuit trial seen in deadly Surfside condo collapse” via Curt Anderson of The Associated Press — The time frame for a trial to begin would be July or August, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman said at a Wednesday hearing. He added that he won’t look with favor on delays. “I’m not granting extensions or continuances. Not in this case,” Hanzman said. “Come next summer, we’re going to be picking a jury in this case. It’s not going to go beyond that.” The lawsuits filed in the aftermath of the 12-story Champlain Towers South collapse on June 24 in Surfside seek to affix blame and collect money for the victims, family members and property owners. One potential class-action case that could resolve the entire legal matter was filed last month, contending that excavation and construction of a luxury building next door worsened serious structural defects.

Amid ‘fraudulent’ use of disabled parking permits in South Beach, city considers action” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — It can be hard to find street parking in tourist-packed South Beach, even for those who pay for residential parking access. But resident activists and city officials say there is something more suspicious at play than a simple supply-and-demand issue: the fraudulent use of disabled parking permits. Videos taken in the city’s South of Fifth neighborhood and shared to social media purport to show restaurant workers parking in resident-only spots using disabled parking hang tags that bear the recognizable blue-and-white wheelchair symbol. Resident-activist David Suarez, who leads the neighborhood group Save SOFI, said workers abuse a city policy that allows those with disabled parking permits to park their cars for free in resident-only parking spots.

A small town plans to leave the Broward Sheriff’s Office. Will it conquer the obstacles to start its own police force?” via Lisa J. Huriash of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Although a tiny town was supposed to have created its own police department by now, the project is stalled, cost estimates have gone up and it’s unclear exactly when officers will have a force of their own. The town of Pembroke Park — a 1.6-mile-long community nestled near Hollywood — blames much of the delay on red tape that comes from getting computer software and linking it to Broward County’s regional 911 system. Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony, whose agency will lose its contract when the new department starts running, has publicly listed some of the town’s troubles, saying “basic elements of good policing” aren’t close to being ready.

SFWMD head says construction north of Lake O is ‘critical’ for lake’s health” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The South Florida Water Management District Executive Director (SFWMD) lauded a new surge in funding for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP), calling the work “critical for the health of Lake Okeechobee.” Drew Bartlett spoke before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee Wednesday as lawmakers prepare for the 2022 Legislative Session. Earlier this year, the Legislature approved $50 million in annual funding for LOWRP, which includes money to move forward with construction on water storage facilities north of Lake Okeechobee. “Northern storage is so critical,” Bartlett told lawmakers Wednesday. “It is important for the health of the lake. It is important for the health of the estuaries.”

Embattled Jacksonville inspector general sues City Hall” via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union — Jacksonville’s embattled inspector general, Lisa Green, filed a lawsuit against City Hall this week accusing an oversight committee of engaging in “unfettered manipulation” of her office and “grossly” depriving her of due process by placing her on administrative leave after employees in her own office filed multiple whistleblower complaints against her. The city’s Office of Inspector General is in crisis. Some of the most serious issues revolve around an alleged romantic relationship Green had with a former director of investigations in the office, something mentioned in a complaint filed by her No. 2, Andrew MacFarlane, as well as at least one other whistleblower complaint that remains confidential. Green’s lawsuit argues that city and law-enforcement officials lack the power to place her on administrative leave.

Osceola Schools blast consultant’s ‘greed’ in health plan choice” via Gabrielle Russon of Florida Politics — The Osceola School District hired a consultant to help the district pick which health insurance company to hire. But instead of helping the school district spend its money wisely, the district is accusing the consultant of choosing an insurance company that rang up health care costs for the district while the consultant secretively collected nearly $4 million from insurance carriers, the school district said in a new federal lawsuit. In the lawsuit, the school district said it paid a capped annual fee of up to $195,650 to Gallagher Benefit Services for the consultant to analyze different insurance companies and help the district hire providers for employee benefits. Gallagher recommended hiring Cigna, which the district called “an unmitigated disaster.”

Replacing Eckerd Connects won’t fix systemic failures in foster care, watchdogs say” via Daniel Figueroa IV of Florida Politics — While mismanagement and some shady business practices led to the you’re-fired-you-can’t-fire-me-I-quit scenario that played out between Eckerd and DCF last month, watchdogs say an unbalanced and overburdened system fueled by excessive family separations will lead to the new agency experiencing similar issues. “No matter who takes over, if they don’t deal with wrongful removals, it will be Eckerd all over again,” said Richard Wexler, Executive Director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. “It is infuriating when the Sheriff in Pinellas only points a finger at Eckerd and doesn’t stop to think he’s the one dropping all these children on Eckerd.” According to analysis from the NCCPR, Pinellas County removes children at a rate 2.5 times greater than the state average.

Joe Gruters, Fiona McFarland to host town hall on Siesta Key incorporation” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Lawmakers representing Siesta Key will hold a town hall meeting about the prospects of incorporating as a city. Sen. Gruters and Rep. McFarland, both Sarasota Republicans, will host the public forum Dec. 8 at 6 p.m. at the Siesta Key Chapel. The entire Sarasota County Legislative Delegation is advertised to attend. “Members of the community have made a request for the Legislature to allow the voters of Siesta Key to incorporate so that they can control their own destiny,” Gruters said. “This is a significant request being made and after meeting with numerous constituents, I feel it is worthy of a discussion and possible vote.”

New K-9 cop sniffs out SIM cards, other hidden electronics to fight computer crime” via the Tallahassee Democrat — A dog that can find hidden electronic storage devices (ESD) is now working for the Tallahassee office of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement — the first such K-9 cop locally. Rocket, handled by FDLE-Tallahassee Special Agent Aida Limongi, was introduced at a media availability Wednesday. The 1-year-old black Lab can “sniff out anything that can digitally store information, like USB drives, hidden cameras, computers, tablets, thumb drives, cellphones, micro-SD cards and SIM cards,” the department said in a release. Here’s how: The dogs can detect the compounds used in the circuit boards in storage devices. Criminals use such devices to hide evidence, such as child pornography images.

Trulieve to open new Tampa cannabis dispensary Thursday” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Trulieve Cannabis will open its 110th Florida store this Thursday at its newest location on North Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa. The cannabis dispensary company will host a ribbon-cutting and begin serving patients at this location at 9 a.m. on Thursday and will continue the celebration with all-day festivities and deals. The location will become the store’s sixth Tampa-based store, and its 157th location nationwide. “We are thrilled to open our newest dispensary in Tampa, a city and community that has been an integral part of the Trulieve growth story,” Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers said in a statement.

Noah Valenstein elected to BTT Board — Former DEP Secretary Valenstein was elected to the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust Board of Directors this week. BTT operates across the Southeastern U.S. and is dedicated to conserving the bonefish, tarpon and permit as well as their habitats and fisheries. “It is an honor to serve alongside such a dedicated board and focus on protecting Florida’s fishing legacy,” Valenstein said. “The restoration of Florida’s water resources requires a science-based and collaborative approach, and Bonefish & Tarpon Trust has shown its commitment to both.” BTT President and CEO Jim McDuffie added, “The leadership, knowledge, and commitment he brings to the BTT Board of Directors will ensure that we make the most of our opportunities to improve water quality, conserve coastal habitats, and strengthen fisheries management.”

Noah Valenstein will take up the banner for Florida’s fishing legacy. Image via FGCU.

David Coburn’s tenure coming to an end? FSU reportedly contacting candidates about athletic director’s job” via Jim Henry of the Tallahassee Democrat — Florida State’s senior leadership has been in transition the past 16 months. And now it appears Director of Athletics Coburn, who originally was hired in an interim role before assuming the position full-time in May 2019, is nearing the end of his tenure with the Seminoles. On Wednesday, Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports reported that FSU is “exploring options” and contacting “potential candidates” for the Seminoles’ A.D. position. In an interview with the Democrat in September, Coburn said he had not decided his future. Coburn was placed in the interim athletic director’s role by former FSU President John Thrasher in 2018 to lead the department through financial challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic and other university issues led Thrasher to extend Coburn’s tenure.

— TOP OPINION —

The court cannot fool itself: Eviscerating ‘Roe’ would upend lives” via The Washington Post editorial board — SCOTUS should strike Mississippi’s law, first, because a person should have a right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term. But the court must also consider the severe practical consequences of overruling its precedents. Mississippi’s lawyers hit peak absurdity when they argue that women no longer have a compelling practical interest in abortion access. They have cited advances in contraception, access to health care, laws that allow mothers to turn over their newborns to safe facilities, even female enrollment in law and medical schools to claim that abortion is no longer a necessary backstop to enable “women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation.” If the court accepts these arguments, it will amount to an act of willful blindness.

— OPINIONS —

There’s another COVID-19-related ‘virus’ out there. This time, doctors are at risk” via the Miami Herald editorial board — There’s another worrisome, COVID-19-related health care scare infecting politically connected doctors who have a bullhorn and a bully pulpit. Unlike the coronavirus that emanated from China, or omicron, just discovered in South Africa, this virus comes from the land of MAGA. “Here comes the MEV — the Midterm Election Variant! They NEED a reason to push unsolicited nationwide mail-in ballots. Democrats will do anything to CHEAT during an election — but we’re not going to let them!” That’s Texas Republican U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson on Twitter, claiming that omicron is just a Democratic hoax in that party’s quest to win elections at all costs — even subverting democracy. (Hmm, where would they get an idea like that?)

With tax break, Legislature again picks winners (Full Sail) and losers (Orange County)” via the Orlando Sentinel editorial board — The next time you hear a politician deny there’s a quid pro quo in campaign contributions, consider responding with these three words: Full Sail University. Top executives at the for-profit Winter Park college are generous donors to Republicans who run the state Legislature and occupy the Governor’s Mansion. And now, Full Sail stands to benefit from a tasty property tax break courtesy of the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature this past spring. We’ve said it before, but this is yet another instance of government picking winners and losers, which the GOP denounces publicly but practices regularly.

Another appeals court district is another Florida boondoggle” via South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — With five district courts of appeal that appear to be efficient, Florida does not need another at considerable burden to the taxpayers. But that’s what the Florida Supreme Court is proposing to the Legislature on the questionable premise that it would increase public confidence in those appeals courts. It’s a boondoggle entailing another $50 million courthouse and ongoing salary and staff expenses of at least $1 million a year, plus endless complications for lawyers and an invitation to Gov. DeSantis to put six more conservative allies on the appellate bench. If public confidence is indeed flagging, as the court supposes, it’s because of blatantly political appointments by DeSantis and his predecessor, Rick Scott.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

The United States Supreme Court’s conservative majority is signaling that they will allow states to ban abortion much earlier than it has been before; Florida Democrats vow they won’t sit idly by.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— Lawmakers are tackling the affordable housing crisis, noting that it appears to be an ever-present crisis.

— And the state Surgeon General pledged his commitment to addressing the AIDS crisis while speaking at an event on World AIDS Day.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

Email I didn’t open — “Florida named #4 state for tiny homes, according to new study” from Digital Third Coast

The Florida Retail Federation says shoppers are buying holiday gifts earlier this year” via Robbie Gaffney of WUSF — Florida Retail Federation spokesperson Amanda Bevis says shopping early for holiday gifts has been a growing trend for years. This year, she says retailers are seeing shoppers even earlier than before. “Part of that may be that people are just ready for the holiday season and want to start marking gifts off their list. Another reason for that may be the supply chain disruptions,” Bevis says. Bevis says extended Black Friday deals could also be spurring the rise in early holiday shopping. “61% of shoppers surveyed this month said they’ve already started browsing and buying holiday gifts, and that represents a 10% increase from a decade ago,” Bevis says.

Tampa Bay’s Festival of Lights kicks off with a million lights, Santa’s village” via Brianda Villegas of WFLA — For the first time, the Hillsborough County Fair has produced the two-mile driving tour — known as Tampa Bay’s Festival of Lights — on their own. According to festival organizers, the drive-thru attraction is filled with more than 150 displays and a million lights from entrance to exit. “We have dazzling, sparkling lights that you can experience together in the car with your family, all snuggled up nice and warm,” Hillsborough County Fair Manager Suzanne Holcomb said. Some of the displays that feature LED technology throughout the festival include a gingerbread house, elves wrestling alligators and even Santa and his reindeer riding on an airboat.

Be prepared to get lit in Hillsborough County. Image via Facebook.

Wakulla’s Surf Dog, a survivor and free spirit, named Grand Marshal of Panacea Christmas parade” via Ana Goni-Lessan of the Tallahassee Democrat — Years ago, when a thunderstorm rolled into Ochlockonee Bay at night, locals used to wake up, think of Surf Dog and hope he was OK. Surf Dog, now known as Buddy, captivated the hearts of Panacea residents who would watch him run throughout Wakulla County, especially around Surf Road. People tried to catch him. But Surf Dog’s free spirit couldn’t be tamed. Surf Dog got so popular, his name is even on the water tower. “Home of Surf Dog” is painted above Ochlockonee Bay in big blue letters. Local businesses sell Surf Dog merchandise, and there’s even a book about him. This week, Surf Dog will be representing his hometown as Grand Marshal of the 17th annual Christmas in the Panacea parade.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to Sen. Debbie Mayfield, former Rep. Larry Crow, Sarah Criser Elwell, and Joey Redner.

___

Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of FloridaPolitics.com, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as 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

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