The giant campaign rally known as the Legislative Session begins today in Tallahassee, the capital of what Gov. Ron DeSantis calls the Free State of Florida.
Whether you believe DeSantis is America’s Governor or an abomination, you’ve got to admit his political instinct for knowing what connects with supporters is uncanny. While Democrats struggled to find their voice against DeSantis, the Governor scored big by keeping it simple. And when he does screw up, nothing seems to stick.
Yeah, we’re all sick — figuratively, of course — of masks, COVID-19 variations and other restrictions of the last two years.
DeSantis, however, turned virus fatigue into a campaign turbo booster. With a stroke of his pen, the man who rebels against edicts from Washington usurped the power of mayors in Florida to enact safety measures recommended by doctors.
Oh, what do those pointy-headed medical “experts” know anyway, right?
After that, it was a jailbreak for the Governor’s supporters. He gave them the green light to rebel against any restriction they didn’t believe was necessary.
You don’t want a vaccination? No problem.
If you don’t want to wear a mask, don’t.
Personally, I think he got lucky. As we know, Florida is one of the top hot spots for the omicron variant of COVID-19. In the last week of December, infection rates broke state records four times in seven days. Medical experts say that number will keep climbing here and throughout the country.
However, more than 74% of Floridians have received at least one vaccine dose, and 63% of the population is fully vaccinated. The virus can infect vaccinated people, but often with less severe symptoms. Everyone else chose to play Russian roulette with a deadly bug.
Either way, infection rates don’t register with people as much as body counts.
We’ve all seen reports of people waiting in long lines for tests, and that’s never good. And it turns out Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried correctly nailed the Florida Department of Health — and DeSantis — after about 1 million testing kits expired while sitting in a warehouse.
DeSantis, naturally, blamed President Joe Biden.
Anyway, the Session promises to be part victory lap and part campaign rally for Republicans. They’ve shaped the laws in this state for more than 20 years, so why stop now? They will be especially active in an election year where they passed voting restrictions in the name of (cough) security.
DeSantis also wants $6 million to create an election security force. Maybe they should be headquartered in The Villages. That seems to be the only spot in Florida where voter fraud is an issue. Four people from there face charges related to illegal voting.
We also can expect to hear about critical race theory on the legislative floors. It’s not taught in Florida schools, but it makes a great sound bite.
Abortion rights obviously will be a huge topic, and we can probably expect some restrictions to pass. It almost certainly won’t be as bizarre as the Texas law — well, maybe. That’s the one that outlaws abortions once the fetal heartbeat begins, usually at about six weeks.
We don’t think we’ll see bounty hunters stalking anyone getting an abortion or assisting in the process. We’ll see something pass, though, as pro-birth Republicans celebrate. Whether that galvanizes enough women to tip the statewide elections in November remains to be seen.
That might be the only thing that could slow the DeSantis juggernaut. As we know, though, elections often swing primarily on pocketbook issues, and Florida’s economy is in pretty good shape.
Florida Tax Watch predicts the state’s workforce will grow by about 379,500 additional jobs, reducing the state’s unemployment rate to 3.5%.
There are other important issues, especially redistricting and education. We can expect Republicans to have their way with those things, too.
But DeSantis scored big with his proposal to replace the end-of-year Florida Statewide Assessment test. Teachers have had issues with the Governor, but they will love this. They hate that test, and they’re not wrong.
His proposal should pass easily with support from both sides of the aisle.
The Governor will also get a lot of positive press for that move. In an election year, that will suck a lot of the air from his Democratic opponents. And isn’t that the point?
Now that Session has arrived, so have dozens of CEOs, executives, and government affairs leaders from across the state as part of the 2022 Florida Chamber Legislative Fly-In.
Today and Wednesday, business leaders will pack into the Augustus B. Turnbull Conference Center for a briefing on the top issues of Session and the economic challenges and opportunities Florida faces in the long-term.
Florida Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson will kick off the event with a “State of Florida Business” address at 2 p.m. with Florida Chamber Foundation Executive Vice President David Gillespie set to follow him up with a presentation on the state’s economic outlook for 2022 and beyond.
Day One also features panels on the 2022 election, the business tax climate, and what’s driving rapidly rising property insurance rates.
The final panel will see Florida Chamber Executive Vice President Frank Walker, Senior Director of Business, Economic Development, and Innovation Policy Carolyn Johnson and Director of Talent, Education, and Infrastructure Policy Anna Grace Lewis outline the Chamber’s 2022 Florida Business Agenda.
It caps off with a little fun — a “Bills, Beers, and Business” legislative reception at the Florida Health Care Association’s rooftop lounge.
A full agenda and registration details are available on the Florida Chamber’s website.
Capital City Consulting announced Tuesday that Maicel Green will be joining its government affairs practice as a partner.
Green comes to CCC with more than 20 years of experience in public relations, client management, coaching, recruiting and crisis communication. Most recently, she served as the media and external affairs coordinator at Talquin Electric Cooperative.
“Maicel’s recent experience as media and external affairs coordinator at Talquin Electric Cooperative will prove to be an exceptional benefit to CCC’s clients,” said CCC Founding Partner Nick Iarossi. “Her proven ability to navigate and sustain critical partnerships with the news media, key agencies, elected officials, businesses, policymakers and stakeholders makes Maicel a welcome addition to CCC’s expanding team.”
CCC Founding Partner Ron LaFace added, “With her broad knowledge, cross-sector experience and commitment to success, Maicel will thrive within the culture of CCC, and her dedication to furthering relationships and knowledge on key issues will work well alongside our team.”
Green received her bachelor’s degree in communications from Arizona State University and her master’s degree in physical education at Florida A&M University. She is an active board member for numerous civic, social and leadership organizations.
Green is also a highly decorated track and field athlete — she is a two-time Olympian, an Olympic Gold Medalist, a World Champion, a two-time USA National Champion and was recently inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame.
“I am pleased to join CCC and honored to have the opportunity to work together with accomplished professionals who offer unmatched government affairs services to their clients,” said Green.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@Twitter: may your Tweets prosper and you never be ratioed
—@Psythor: This is an incredibly obvious thing to say, but it’s just incredible that we had this really bad new disease emerge and we as a species managed to invent basically a magic miracle cure within the space of a year and have literally half the world’s population jabbed within two.
—@J_g_Allen: The hospitalization rate for vaccinated school-aged kids, during the peak of the Omicron surge in New York, is 2-3 per million. Source: NYS Dept of Health, January 7 report
—@AmandaLitman: The way to win national elections and save democracy is to fight for and win lots and lots of local elections.
— Desmond Meade (@desmondmeade) January 9, 2022
—@SFDB: You know how you can tell when a U.S. Congressman (Matt Gaetz) isn’t doing his job? When they have the time to snitch on music festivals trying to protect their participants and patrons during a pandemic.
—@RealJacobPerry: If you’re driving through downtown Tallahassee this evening, please drive carefully and keep an eye out for the lobbyists who are scurrying around delivering their last checks before Session starts.
—@MDixon55: Shoutout to the Florida House for scheduling their congressional and legislative redistricting subcommittee meetings at the same time tomorrow.
Go Armie! 9lbs 5oz on Jan 7th. Our hearts are full in the Waltz family. pic.twitter.com/MbeM1NxRBv
— Rep. Mike Waltz (@michaelgwaltz) January 10, 2022
—@ScottFeinberg: Terrible 10-day stretch: Betty White. Peter Bogdanovich. Sidney Poitier. Marilyn Bergman. Bob Saget.
Florida TaxWatch’s 2022 State of the Taxpayer Day — 1; Joel Coen’s ’The Tragedy of Macbeth’ on Apple TV+ — 3; NFL playoffs begin — 4; ‘Ozark’ final season begins — 10; ‘Billions’ begins — 12; Red Dog Blue Dog charity event — 14; James Madison Institute’s Stanley Marshall Day Celebration in Jacksonville — 17; XXIV Olympic Winter Games begins — 24; Super Bowl LVI — 33; Will Smith’s ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ reboot premieres — 33; season four of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ begins — 36; ‘The Walking Dead’ final season part two begins — 40; Daytona 500 — 40; Special Election for Jacksonville City Council At-Large Group 3 — 43; CPAC begins — 45; St. Pete Grand Prix — 45; Biden to give State of the Union — 49; ‘The Batman’ premieres — 52; the third season of ‘Atlanta’ begins — 71; season two of ‘Bridgerton’ begins — 73; The Oscars — 75; Macbeth with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga begin performances on Broadway — 77; federal student loan payments will resume — 110; ’Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 115; ’Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 136; ’Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 142; ’Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 179; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 190; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 234; ’Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 269; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 304; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 307; ‘Avatar 2’ premieres — 339; ’Captain Marvel 2’ premieres — 402; ’John Wick: Chapter 4’ premieres — 437; ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 563; ’Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 647; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 927.
— TOP STORY —
“The new politics of the new pandemic” via Philip Bump of The Washington Post — In recent days, DeSantis has shifted his rhetoric on how residents of his state should deal with suspected infections: ignore them unless they’re symptomatic. “When you have an endemic respiratory virus, the default has got to be, you live your life,” he said at a news conference last week. “Then, if you end up getting sick, test to see what it is.” The keyword in DeSantis’s comments, though, is “endemic.” At some point, hopefully, soon, COVID-19 may be akin to the flu: a thing that emerges but a thing that Americans generally can treat as background noise. There are short-term political benefits for DeSantis in cutting down on testing. Because of the number of breakthrough cases, there is now occasional crowing about the futility of being vaccinated, crowing that ignores the role of vaccination in decreasing worst-case scenarios.
— STATEWIDE —
“Ron DeSantis shares wild conspiracy theory about classroom ‘smugglers’” via Ja’han Jones of MSNBC — DeSantis is a fount of conspiracy theories. His latest? Public schools are plotting to smuggle “inappropriate content” to students to implant “leftist ideology” — and they must be stopped! There’s no evidence of this whatsoever, but that’s never prevented DeSantis from making absurd claims to rile up his right-wing base. This latest allegation came during an interview with Fox News host Mark Levin as DeSantis was selling the Stop WOKE Act, a new proposal that would allow parents to sue schools that teach “critical race theory,” the catchall term Republicans use to describe lessons about race, gender and social disparities. As someone with presumed presidential aspirations, DeSantis’ behavior here is a message to American conservatives far and wide: Roll with me and rest assured I’ll make legislation out of your right-wing hysteria.
“Jacksonville activist Ben Frazier, attorney speak out against arrest and demand sit-down with Governor” via Dan Scanlan of The Florida Times-Union — Frazier wants the trespass charge filed against him while trying to attend DeSantis’ Jan. 4 news conference dropped and a chance to meet with the Governor to discuss the “shoddy job” the state has done to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. If those requests are not granted, then legal action will be filed against the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, Governor and anyone else involved in violating his civil and constitutional rights, attorney John Phillips said during a Monday news conference with Frazier. The 71-year-old head of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville said he was exercising his right as a citizen to request time to talk with the Governor when he was handcuffed and escorted from his electric wheelchair out of the Duval County Health Department news conference site.
“Florida House Democrats feature Frazier at Legislative Session kickoff rally” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — House Democrats showed support Monday for a Jacksonville activist arrested for unauthorized attendance of a DeSantis news conference last week. Frazier, a former journalist and president of the Northside Coalition civil rights group, was one of the honored guests as Democrats vowed to stand in opposition to the Governor’s agenda in the 2022 Legislative Session. Frazier became internationally known for literally standing up to the Governor last week. The incident went viral when the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office walked him out of the room in handcuffs after staffers for both the Governor and the Duval County Office of the Florida Department of Health failed to persuade Frazier and those with him to leave.
“Dark-money group tied to ‘ghost’ scandal seeks to shield bank records that could reveal donors” via Annie Martin of the Orlando Sentinel — An organization that gave more than $1 million in 2020 to the dark-money nonprofit at the center of Florida’s “ghost” candidate scandal is seeking to block the public disclosure of bank records that would reveal its donors. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office obtained the bank records for “Let’s Preserve the American Dream,” a nonprofit with close ties to Associated Industries of Florida. The nonprofit was recently informed that it is being investigated for potential violations of elections and campaign finance laws, according to court records in the case against former state senator Frank Artiles, who is accused of bribing a friend to run as an independent candidate in a 2020 South Florida state Senate race.
— DATELINE TALLY —
“When lawmakers gather, watch for stories within the story” via John Kennedy of USA Today Network — DeSantis will open the two-month Florida Legislature with his State of the State address Tuesday, an annual tradition that’s a combination highlight reel and wish list for the state’s chief executive. With his re-election campaign underway, the Republican Governor will use his speech to look back on his term, before pivoting to what he wants this year from the GOP-dominated Legislature. After that, lawmakers mostly take over for the next 59 days. And while approving a state budget for 2022-23 is the only action they’re required to do by the Florida Constitution, don’t expect them to stop there. While legislators are barred from raising campaign funds during the weeks of Session, that doesn’t mean there will be no political action around the Florida Capitol.
“Education wedge issues loom large in upcoming Legislative Session” via Jeffrey S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — With redistricting on tap, and elections looming months away, many observers anticipate two months filled with political theater that plays to the culture wars that lately have infused public discourse. Issues related to education and schooling are expected to feature in the debate, with some prominent lawmakers such as the teaching of race in history and society. School boards also face pressure over their politics and procedures. On tap Tuesday is the revival of a more contentious measure to shield university presidential search records from the public eye (SB 520). Democrats and Republicans alike have signaled their support for a Governor’s Office proposal to scale back spring state testing.
—”Legislative preview — Rags to riches” via Amy Keller of Florida Trend
—”Chris Sprowls heads into his final Session already a victor. How will he build on that?” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics
—”With flood of federal dollars, broadband and child care earn spotlight for Loranne Ausley’s Session” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics
—”Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book wants caucus to be more ‘on offense’ this Session” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics
—”Jim Boyd to seek solutions on homeowners’ insurance, opioid overdoses” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics
—”‘People are dying’: Janet Cruz again hopes to combat high insulin prices” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics
—”Alex Andrade calls for bond, prescription medicine reform in Legislative Session” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics
—“Fentrice Driskell set to champion abandoned cemeteries legislation, education reform, while watching redistricting” via Daniel Figueroa of Florida Politics
—”Medicaid for developmentally disabled, nursing home transparency are tops for Carlos Guillermo Smith” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics
“AARP wants to ensure nursing homes aren’t Florida seniors’ only option for care” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — Already on AARP’s radar this year is SB 804, filed by Sen. Ben Albritton. Nursing homes currently are required to provide patients with 3.6 hours of licensed nursing care per day, of which certified nursing assistants can provide 2.5 hours. The proposed bill reduces the mandated hours of licensed nursing care to one hour. And in place of the 2.5 hours of care provided by a CNA, the bill would allow nursing home facilities to provide 2.5 hours of “direct care.” “Our hope is, one, that we turn away from the idea of lightening staff requirements for staffing quality and instead focus on making sure that every facility has the staff that it takes in order to provide good quality care,” AARP Florida state director Jeff Johnson said.
— LEG. SKED —
— The Senate will convene before DeSantis’ annual State of the State address, 9:30 a.m., Senate Chamber.
— The Florida House will convene before the State of the State address, 10 a.m., House Chamber.
— DeSantis will give the annual State of the State address usher in the 2022 Legislative Session, 11 a.m., House Chamber.
— Senate Democratic Leader Book and House Democratic Leader Evan Jenne will announce 2022 Session priorities, 12:45 p.m., Capitol Rotunda First Floor.
— House Speaker Sprowls will speak to the media, 1:30 p.m., House Chamber.
— The House Appropriations Committee will receive and update on DeSantis’ proposed budget for 2022-2023, 1:30 p.m., Room 212 of the Knott Building.
— The Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee meets to consider SB 948, from Minority Leader Book, to reform the Guardian Ad Litem program, 1:30 p.m., Room 37 of the Senate Office Building.
— The Senate Criminal Justice Committee meets to consider SB 284, from Sen. Tina Polsky, to make using false proof of vaccination “with the intent to defraud” a felony offense, 1:30 p.m., Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.
— The Senate Education Committee meets to consider SB 520, from Sen. Jeff Brandes, to create a public-records exemption for information about applicants to become presidents of state universities and colleges, 1:30 p.m., Room 412 of the Knott Building.
— Senate President Wilton Simpson will speak with the media, 2 p.m., Senate Chamber.
— The House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee holds a public meeting, 4 p.m., Morris Hall of the House Office Building.
— The House State Legislative Redistricting Subcommittee will also hold a public meeting, 4 p.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.
— The Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee meets to consider SB 438, from Sen. Danny Burgess, to update state laws to address the United States Space Force, 4 p.m., Room 37 of the Senate Office Building.
— The Senate Regulated Industries Committee meets to conder SB 512, also from Burgess, to preempt regulation of vacation rental properties, 4 p.m., Room 412 of the Knott Building.
Florida’s Professional Engineers holding ‘Legislative Days’ during opening week of Session — Florida’s professional engineers will gather in Tallahassee this week to encourage lawmakers to consider establishing stronger structural and building safety inspections, and to support legislation that enhances the engineering profession. “From the everyday to the extraordinary, engineering enhances our lives, delivers innovation and creates jobs,” said Allen Douglas, Executive Director of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida (ACEC-FL) and the Florida Engineering Society (FES). “Florida’s professional engineers are on the front lines in solving issues that impact Floridians, and we’re committed to helping advance Florida’s economic competitiveness.” In October, Florida professional engineers released the Surfside Working Group’s Florida Building Professionals Recommendations, which focus on preserving the long-term health of buildings by assessing environmental and other degradation of structures and their systems over the life of a building.
The ‘Biggest Loser’ competition opens to all — The “Biggest Loser” competition is back for the 2022 Legislative Session and, for the first time, it’s open to those who work outside the Capitol. The Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists and the Florida Retail Federation have joined efforts to host what Sen. Aaron Bean calls the sister competition to the popular “Biggest Loser” competition. Lobbyists, journalists and others in and around the legislative process can pony up $50, step on the scale, and enter the competition. The proceeds will benefit the PACE Center for Girls, Leon. Contestants must weigh in at FRF’s offices Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday between noon and 6 p.m. Prizes will be awarded to the contestants in both weight loss competitions who lose the most weight.
— MORE TALLY —
“Senate committee narrows proposed congressional districts map to two choices” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — State Senators scrapped plans to significantly reorient U.S. House districts represented by U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel and Ted Deutch. But a push to keep U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor’s district entirely in Hillsborough County seemed to falter Monday. The Senate Congressional Reapportionment Subcommittee effectively narrowed down staff proposals for Florida’s now-28 U.S. House seats to two choices. Sen. Jennifer Bradley, the subcommittee chair, recommended two draft maps, S 8038 and S 8040, for Sen. Ray Rodrigues to consider as he drafts a final bill. Those plans “most consistently adhere to directions given to staff,” the Fleming Island Republican said. The most significant impact of narrowing the plans is providing clarity regarding two South Florida jurisdictions, Florida’s 21st and 22nd Congressional Districts.
“Two maps recommended by Senate reapportionment subcommittee for Florida Senate districts” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The Senate Legislative Reapportionment Subcommittee recommended two draft maps for Florida Senate districts. But that didn’t signal complete agreement within the body. Sen. Burgess, the subcommittee chair, will recommend drafts that keep Gilchrist County entirely within Senate District 5. That leaves S 8046 and S 8050 as options for consideration. There remains a question about how to handle Senate Districts 33 and 35. The S 8050 plan would have a majority-minority district in place in South Florida, while the S 8046 plan would have an effective minority district.
“Action!: Joe Gruters’ film rebate proposal clears first Senate committee” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Could a revamped film rebate program finally come out of development? The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee gave the green light to legislation creating a new program to attract more crews to Florida. “We could have an all-you-can-eat buffet of film and television if we offer just a little bit of help,” said Sen. Joe Gruters, who has championed a film program for years. The Sarasota Republican said his film rebate program as proposed comes with greater accountability than one allowed to sunset in 2016. The program offers as much as $2 million in tax rebates, but only once a project is completed and meets certain criteria. Requirements include hiring 70% of cast and crew from Florida.
“Jeff Brandes, Ben Diamond file bipartisan bills to prevent another Piney Point disaster” via Daniel Figueroa of Florida Politics — As finger-pointing and blame continue to cloud cleanup and accountability efforts at the ticking time bomb that is Manatee County’s Piney Point phosphogypsum plant, two Florida legislators have filed bills aiming to prevent another similar tragedy. Sen. Brandes and Rep. Diamond announced legislation Monday to increase public transparency and agency accountability regarding the state’s numerous gyp stacks, filled with radioactive byproducts of phosphate mining. The House bill (HB 1339) and its Senate companion (SB 1744) would require the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to notify the State’s emergency management division as well as local entities within 24 hours of discovering possible hazards at gyp stacks.
“Senate Judiciary Committee backs bill strengthening drug distribution penalties” via Tristan Wood of Florida Politics — A Senate bill that strengthens drug distribution penalties passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with a 7-3 vote Monday. A similar bill has already gained traction in House committees. The bill (SB 190) would give drug dealers stiffer punishments if they’re caught selling a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of an abuse treatment center. The proposal also broadens a prosecutor’s ability to enhance penalties against a drug dealer if the sale of a narcotic leads to the fatal overdose of a consumer. A similar House version of the bill (HB 95) has already passed two committees with support largely remaining along party lines. The bill would change the prosecutorial standard to a “sufficient to cause death,” meaning if a victim has a lethal level of a controlled substance in their system, their distributor could be found guilty of murder regardless of what other substances are present.
“Senate committee OKs bill to support cross-county burglary penalties” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — A Senate committee OK’d a bill Monday that would broaden law enforcement’s ability to enhance charges against criminals who cross county lines to commit a burglary. Under current state law, authorities may enhance burglary charges if the offender crosses county lines to commit the crime. However, the same law requires a prosecutor to prove a burglar did so to thwart law enforcement and property recovery efforts. Sen. Gayle Harrell, the bill sponsor, contends criminals who travel to steal, do so with the intent of evading law enforcement. Authorities would no longer need to prove motive as a prerequisite to the criminal enhancement under the measure (SB 360). The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill without questions or debate on a 7-3 vote.
“Jackie Toledo unveils human trafficking crackdown proposal” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Rep. Toledo is spearheading a proposal to crack down on human trafficking in Florida. The bill (HB 1439) proposes a slew of provisions, including prohibiting hourly rate offerings at hotels and motels. It also seeks to raise Florida’s first-time penalty for those paying for sex, up from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. Toledo said those provisions, among others, aim to address the ongoing demand for forced labor. Dubbed the Human Trafficking Reduction Act, the bill would also require hotel operators to make guests show ID at the time of occupancy under the measure. Toledo said the proposal enjoys the blessing of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.
“Bill to save sea grass and manatees gets first blue-green light” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A bill to reduce algal blooms and hopefully save Florida’s declining manatee population, is inching forward in the Legislature. A Senate panel voted Monday unanimously to approve the proposal (SB 832), implementing the state Blue-Green Algae Task Force’s recommendations on prevention, clean up and mitigation. The legislation, filed by Sen. Linda Stewart, strives to help reduce nutrient pollution that fuels algal blooms. Clearing the waters of the harmful blue-green algae that kills the manatee’s sea grass food source could eventually help save the population. Monday’s vote was the second time the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved a version of the bill after committee members did so during the 2021 Session.
“Navigating red tide and blue-green algae, Florida considers fining farmers for water violations” via James Call of the USA TODAY Capital Bureau — The Sunshine State’s hospitable climate infuses springs, lakes and rivers with nutrients that spark blooms of algae, leaving the water unsafe for children to swim and air unfit for people with allergies to breathe. After a red tide outbreak tripped by a bloom last July, for instance, St. Petersburg scooped up more than 6 tons of dead fish in one week. Now, Orlando Democratic Sen. Stewart wants her fellow lawmakers to act on a recommendation from DeSantis‘ Blue-Green Algae Task Force. Stewart filed a bill (SB 832) to create a septic system inspection program to reduce pollution. Also, proposals (HB 807, SB 904) by two South Florida lawmakers aim to curb the flow of nutrients from farms.
“South Florida legislators file bills to keep harness racing running” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — The final harness racing contest at Florida’s last venue for the sport will take place this April, but Rep. Dan Daley wants to make sure that anyone else who wants to take up the sport in Florida can. The Democratic lawmaker from Coral Springs has filed legislation (HB 1269) to correct what he sees as a glitch in last year’s legislation that was part of a Gaming Compact between the state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Sen. Shevrin Jones has filed a companion bill (SB 1794). The bills call for anyone who has permits to run other kinds of wagering, greyhound racing, thoroughbred and quarter-horse racing, or jai alai games during the 2020-21 year, also to be able to get a permit to run two-wheeled chariots around a racetrack. Currently, if someone wanted to race sulkies around a racetrack for people to bet on, there’s no mechanism to get that permit, Daley said.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“‘What pandemic?’: Dems bash House for taking DeSantis’ COVID-19 cues” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Top House Republicans are taking their lead from DeSantis by ignoring the pandemic when it comes to health protocols, argues a top House Democrat. Rep. Driskell, the minority party’s policy chair in the House, believes the Republican Governor will double down on his approach to the pandemic during his State of the State address Tuesday. Despite the rising number of COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant, House leadership has scaled back their pandemic protocols for this year’s Legislative Session, which begins Tuesday. “It seems that Gov. DeSantis is leading on this, and his prevailing narrative in this election year is that there is no pandemic. ‘What pandemic?’” Driskell said. “I think what we’re seeing is that legislative leadership tends to be following that lead.”
“Florida COVID-19 update: State reports record cases, and number in hospital is up again” via Michelle Marchante of the Miami Herald — Florida reported 125,996 cases and 182 new deaths to the CDC. This is the largest multiday increase of newly reported cases since the pandemic began in March 2020. Of these cases, the ones that were reported Saturday (77,156) also break the previous single-day case record, which was reported Thursday with 76,887 cases. The CDC backlogs cases and deaths for Florida on Mondays and Thursdays, when multiple days in the past had their totals changed. In August, Florida began reporting cases and deaths by the “case date” and “death date” rather than the date or death the case was logged in to the system.
—“Florida reports 125,996 new cases from weekend, adds 182 new deaths to total” via David Schutz of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel
“Florida private schools can require masks, but public schools can’t. Why?” via Jeffrey S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — As Florida students prepared to return to schools from winter break, coronavirus omicron infection levels rose so rapidly that many parents wondered whether new mask mandates might emerge. But as the Broward County district noted on Twitter, “School districts are prohibited from requiring students to wear face coverings.” A new state law forbids it. That law doesn’t apply to private schools, though — even if they receive public funding. The stark difference between public and private schools hasn’t gone unnoticed. Some say the Governor and Legislature, which held a Special Session in November to declare their opposition to mask and vaccine mandates, have created a double standard.
— CORONA LOCAL —
“Florida sent scarce COVID-19 therapy to a private Broward clinic before Jackson Memorial” via Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald — In December, Florida’s health department shipped 264 doses of a drug called Evusheld to a limited liability company that was incorporated in March 2020 and advertises house calls and COVID-19 testing, vaccination and therapy on its website. But the state did not send a shipment to Jackson Memorial until January, when the hospital received a total of 192 doses, according to federal data. The private clinic, iCare Mobile Medicine, received more Evusheld in the state’s first shipment than any other hospital or medical provider in Florida. Evusheld is scarce, and the supply is controlled by the federal government, which has shipped more than 6,300 doses to Florida.
“Matt Gaetz asks for DeSantis’ help in fight against music festival vaccine rule” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — The Panhandle Republican asked DeSantis to respond to what Gaetz’s office called “the illegal implementation of vaccine passports at the 30A Songwriters Festival in the 1st Congressional District of Florida.” The festival starts Friday. But it appears that the state will take action before gates open. “The prohibition on vaccine passports is also a state law,” notes DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw. “Anyone who suspects a violation is encouraged to report it to the Florida Department of Health, the agency that investigates these complaints and, when warranted, takes enforcement action against entities found to be in violation of the law. The fine is $5000 per violation, per the law. It has been referred to FDOH for appropriate follow-up.”
“‘We found out while we were flying’: Last-minute cruise cancellations leave travelers scrambling” via Megan Hines of USA Today — Micah Cooper and her mother LaQuinta Spears were about to take Micah’s long-awaited high school graduation trip: A cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas. Their cruise, initially canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, was meant to set sail Saturday. But as they waited to check into their Airbnb, they received a text message update from Royal Caribbean at 3:04 p.m. “Yesterday around 3:00, we got a message from Royal saying the cruise had been canceled, and that was it,” Cooper said. The cruise line, they said, didn’t offer any help with arranging travel home or with finding a place to stay in Florida. “What are you going to do to help these people that are pretty much stuck?” Spears asked. “And it’s hundreds of us, not just a handful.”
“Demand for COVID-19 testing increases as COVID-19 surges in Hillsborough County” via Jeff Patterson of WFLA — Hillsborough County opened a third COVID-19 testing location Monday due to increasing demand but had to close the site early. The testing site on the Brandon Campus of Hillsborough Community College opened at 9 a.m., but demand was so high that it was shut down at 2:20 p.m. when the wait time exceeded three hours. As cases of COVID-19 have surged with the omicron variant, it has become increasingly difficult to get a testing appointment at many local pharmacies, and many people said it’s become virtually impossible to purchase an at-home test kit. Hillsborough County said they may open a fourth testing location if demand continues to surge.
“COVID-19 safety encouraged, not required as Tampa Bay college campuses reopen” via Divya Kumar of the Tampa Bay Times — As the spring semester begins this week amid another spike in COVID-19 cases, Tampa Bay area colleges and universities are mostly sticking with in-person classes and leaving safety measures up to individuals. Last week, interim USF president Rhea Law publicly encouraged vaccines, boosters and told people to stay home if they were ill. In contrast, the private University of Tampa has encouraged students and faculty to upload their vaccination cards so the university can get a better gauge of how much of their population is vaccinated and comply with federal workplace mandates. According to a message sent to the UT community, the school also requires “all UT community members and their guests to wear face masks while indoors on campus, regardless of vaccination status.”
“School resumes in Sarasota and Manatee in midst of omicron surge” via Ryan McKinnon of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Teachers in the Sarasota County School District returned to the classroom on Monday after being off since Dec. 23, and students are set to return on Tuesday. The resumption of classes coincides with Florida remaining a hot spot for new coronavirus cases, with a 40% increase in the week ending Sunday, as 423,150 cases were reported. The number of cases increased in 49 of 50 states last week as the virus is proving more resistant to vaccinations than previous strains. The School District of Manatee County resumed classes last Thursday. District spokesman Mike Barber said that on Thursday and Friday, a combined 206 students and staff were out with COVID-19, compared to just five students and staff reporting positive in the final days before winter break in December.
“Most seniors in Sun City Center are vaccinated, and they’re tired” via Hannah Critchfield of the Tampa Bay Times — Most — 93% — of the residents in Sun City Center’s ZIP code were partially vaccinated by June of last year, making the senior community a case study in the fatigue felt by older Floridians who followed public health guidance as it came and are nevertheless entering yet another wave of the pandemic. “It’s been going on for too long,” said Rabbi Carla Freedman, 77, who speaks to community members weekly in her role as a spiritual leader. Vaccinated and boosted people can still get infected but remain largely protected from severe illness. But older adults who are medically fragile remain the most vulnerable, and an influx of hospitalizations creates fewer beds for people needing treatment for other conditions, creating another risk factor that may disproportionately impact seniors.
—SPEC. ELEX DAY —
South Florida will feature four Special Election contests Tuesday, the result of a chain of events following U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings’ death last year following a cancer battle.
One of the four races on the ballot Tuesday will decide Hastings’ successor, more than nine months after his death. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick is the odds-on favorite in that race following her win in November’s Special Democratic Primary Election.
Cherfilus-McCormick is competing Tuesday against Republican Jason Mariner, Libertarian Mike ter Maat, and two candidates with no party affiliation: Jim Flynn and Leonard Serratore. Though five candidates are on the ballot, CD 20’s strong Democratic lean makes Cherfilus-McCormick the heavy favorite.
The three remaining contests will help fill state legislative seats, which became open after three state lawmakers resigned to run in CD 20’s Special Democratic Primary Election last year. Democratic Sen. Perry Thurston stepped down from his Senate District 33 seat, while Democratic Reps. Omari Hardy and Bobby DuBose vacated House District 88 and House District 94, respectively.
Former Broward County Public Schools Chair Rosalind Osgood is competing in the SD 33 contest against Terri Ann Williams Edden, who works in the office of the Broward State Attorney. The winner will face Republican candidate Joseph Carter in the March 8 Special General Election, though Tuesday’s Democratic Primary winner will be the big favorite in the deep-blue district.
The HD 88 race features a similar scenario. Jervonte “Tae” Edmonds, the founder of the mentoring program Suits For Seniors, and Clarence “Chief” Williams, a former Riviera Beach police chief, are battling for the Democratic nomination. The winner will face Republican candidate Guarina Torres in the March 8 Special General Election. Again, the Democrat will likely win that race.
In HD 94, Tuesday’s four-way Democratic Primary winner will claim the seat outright, as no Republicans or third-party candidates have filed. Daryl Campbell, Josephus Eggelletion III, Rod Kemp and Elijah Manley are facing off for the seat. Campbell worked as an aide to Rep. DuBose and is a behavioral therapist and social worker, while Eggelletion’s father was the first Black Mayor of Broward County. Kemp is an ex-felon who had his rights restored and now advocates for voting reforms. Manley is a former candidate for the Broward County School Board and unsuccessfully challenged DuBose in the HD 94 Democratic Primary in 2020
“On eve of Special Election, Congresswoman and Elections Supervisor scrutinize postal center that processes Broward’s mail ballots” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Concerned about the possibility of another election in which mail ballots arrive after the deadline and go uncounted, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Broward Elections Supervisor Joe Scott on Monday inspected the big mail processing center that handles Broward’s mail. In November, the issue burst into public attention when five votes decided the Broward-Palm Beach County Special Democratic Primary Election for Congress after almost 300 mail ballots arrived late and were disqualified. It wasn’t a surprise visit, however. The tour was arranged about a week in advance with the Postal Service, which has previously blocked both from getting inside the Royal Palm Processing and Distribution Center.
— 2022 —
“DeSantis campaign selling ‘Escape to Florida’ T-shirts as some top Democrats flock to Sunshine State” via Ronn Blitzer of Fox News — DeSantis’ re-election campaign is now selling new “Escape to Florida/The Lockdown Libs tour” T-shirts after some top Democratic politicians from states with stricter coronavirus restrictions were seen vacationing in the Sunshine State over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday. “We don’t blame you … we like freedom, too,” the back of the shirt says, underneath a list of Democrats — including the Governors of states such as Connecticut, Michigan and New Jersey — and where in Florida they stayed. The front bears the slogans “Escape to Florida” and “Lockdown Libs,” with an “Open” sign on an outline of the state. To promote the item, the DeSantis campaign on Monday put a video on social media that includes a shot of DeSantis putting on sunglasses and saying, “Welcome to Florida.”
First on #FlaPol — “Melissa McKinlay announces she won’t run for Agriculture Commissioner” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Outgoing Palm Beach County Commissioner McKinlay announced Monday she is not running to be the state’s next Agriculture Commissioner. McKinlay had been floated as a potential Democratic candidate to replace Fried, who is pursuing the Democratic nomination for Governor. Fried is the only Democrat to win a statewide election in Florida in recent cycles, and Democrats have been looking for a strong candidate to match up against outgoing Senate President Simpson, the likely GOP nominee in the Agriculture Commissioner contest. In the statement explaining her decision, McKinlay cited the workload in her final year on the Palm Beach County Commission, along with other roles she holds, as reasons to opt against running a statewide campaign.
“Anna Paulina Luna raises $500K in Q4, surpasses $1M total” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Luna raised over $500,000 in Q4 of 2021, her campaign announced Monday. That brings her total fundraising to just over $1 million since launching her campaign for Florida’s 13th Congressional District in May. Contributors to Luna’s campaign include CD 13 constituents and voters across the county. So far, CD 13 constituents have donated over $300,000 to her campaign, and Floridians, in general, account for over $750,000 worth of contributions total, according to Luna’s campaign. Luna’s campaign provided the latest fundraising update. More information will be available when Q4 finance reports are released at the end of January.
Poll: Eric Lynn has highest name ID among CD 13 Democrats — More voters have heard of former Obama Administration adviser Lynn than either of his opponents in the Democratic Primary for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, according to a new poll. Global Strategy Group’s IVR and SMS survey of 458 likely Democratic Primary voters found 35% had heard of Lynn compared to 28% familiar with state Rep. Diamond and 29% who knew of state Rep. Michelle Rayner. “This race is absolutely critical to protecting our Democratic majority in 2022,” Lynn said. “This poll shows that our message is connecting with Democrats across the district and that we are in the best position to motivate Democrats, get them out to vote, and keep this seat blue in 2022.”
First on #FlaPol — “‘Broward is in a pickle’: Patricia Hawkins-Williams files Senate run, citing need for bipartisanship” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Rep. Hawkins-Williams, a Pompano Beach Democrat, said Monday she has decided to forgo running for a fourth and final term in the Florida House to instead seek a seat in the state’s other legislative Chamber. She cited her experience, willingness to reach across the aisle, and knowledge of how the political process in Tallahassee works as boons to her candidacy, which will either be for Senate District 33 or Senate District 34, depending on redistricting now underway. Rather than enter a Special Election — like the ones being held Tuesday for SD 33, HD 88 and HD 99 — Hawkins-Williams intends to remain in the House until the end of her term in November.
“Manny Diaz Jr. adds $31K for SD 36 defense with support from health care, police” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Sen. Diaz collected $31,000 in December to help keep his seat representing Senate District 36. Nearly half that sum came from the health care sector, pharmaceutical companies and police unions. With less than a year to go before the 2022 General Election, Diaz is still unopposed. The Miami Republican now holds nearly $490,000 between his campaign and political committee, Better Florida Education. That’s a net increase of just under $4,600, thanks to an active round of spending in December.
Michael Grieco’s Senate campaign tops $150K in December — Democratic Rep. Grieco raised $153,395 for his Senate campaign last month, more than 10 times as much as incumbent Republican Sen. Ileana Garcia. Grieco’s total includes $57,495 raised through his official campaign account and another $95,900 raised through his political committee, Strong Leadership for South Florida. He has about $220,000 on hand between the two accounts. Garcia, meanwhile, raised just over $13,000 between her campaign and committee accounts. Redrawn maps have not been finalized, but the race for SD 37, which Garcia won by a few dozen votes in 2020, is likely to be among the most expensive and most competitive in the 2022 cycle.
Vicki Lopez launches campaign for SD 40 — Government and public affairs consultant Lopez, a longtime political insider who served for seven years on the board of Florida’s prison vocational training program, announced Monday that she will run for Senate District 40. Lopez, who now runs Miami-based VLL Consulting, will likely face Sen. Ileana Garcia in the Republican Primary and, if she wins, Democratic candidate Janelle Perez in the November General Election. “It is a very diverse area and one a moderate center-right candidate like me can win,” she wrote, adding she’s seen “a whirlwind of activity” while securing financial commitments and endorsements before officially announcing her candidacy.
HD 113 candidate A.J. D’Amico raises $35K in first month — Miami Democrat D’Amico reported raising just over $35,000 in his first month as a candidate for House District 113, the open seat currently held by Democratic Rep. Nick Duran. The Cuban American lawyer’s Christmas haul included a donation from Duran’s political, as well as one from former Rep. Javier Fernandez. D’Amico is the only Democrat who has filed to run for a seat expected to have a strong Democratic lean after redistricting. Republican Antonio Byrdsong is also vying for the seat but has raised just $1,035 since entering the race in early August.
— MORE FUNDRAISING NUMBERS —
Incumbent Senate Democrats and high-profile challengers entered the new year on solid financial footing after posting hefty fundraising reports to close out 2021.
Of note, four candidates running in districts on the Party’s priority list had pulled down a combined $1.15 million as of Dec. 31.
Loranne Ausley, a Tallahassee Democrat, has now raised more than $294,000 for her re-election bid in Senate District 3 and started the year with $264,703 on hand. Her tally includes $50,000 raised through her campaign account last month.
Tampa Democratic Sen. Janet Cruz, who represents Hillsborough-based Senate District 18, posted a $120,000 haul in December, bringing her cycle total to $370,000 with $400,000 cash on hand.
As mentioned above, Grieco raised $153,000 in December and reported $220,000 cash on hand for his campaign in Senate District 37.
And Janelle Perez, a Cuban American business owner running for Miami’s Senate District 40, finished the year with $314,000 cash on hand and $335,082 raised overall.
“As we work to defend our Senate Democratic Caucus and grow our numbers, our candidates are committed to raising funds needed to run effective and competitive races,” said Senate Democratic Leader Book, who runs Senate Victory — the political fundraising organization acting on behalf of Florida’s Senate Democratic Caucus.
“Our campaigns have built great momentum behind a strong, diverse slate of Democratic candidates across the state who are fighting for the values, causes, and issues that matter most to everyday Floridians, like the freedom to earn a fair living, access to affordable health care, a clean environment, and strong public schools.”
— CORONA NATION —
“Early data hints at omicron’s potential toll across America” via Lauren Leatherby and Eleanor Lutz of The New York Times — The extremely transmissible omicron variant is spreading quickly across the United States, making up a vast majority of U.S. cases after becoming dominant in the week before Christmas. The CDC has said that it is still too soon to predict the full impact omicron could have on deaths and illness across the country. But data in some of the earliest-hit cities is beginning to show what the future could hold. In New York City, Boston and Chicago, deaths have followed cases at a slightly reduced scale than in previous peaks. The number of COVID-19 patients who need intensive care or mechanical ventilation is approaching levels not seen since last winter. And the sheer number of patients is overwhelming to hospitals, where staffing shortages are putting health care workers under immense strain.
“Omicron is surging — and Democrats aren’t shutting things down this time” via Lisa Kashinsky and Susannah Luthi of POLITICO — Democrats went further than most Republicans in shutting down businesses, enforcing social distancing and requiring masks to tame the spread of the virus — and were initially rewarded politically for their caution. But as the nation trudges into a third pandemic year in the grips of another variant-fueled wave, blue-state leaders faced with exhausted and frustrated voters have lost the stomach for strict shutdowns. Those early-pandemic tactics, some argue, hurt people financially and fostered a mental health crisis among siloed school kids. Instead of facing anger from Republican voters, Democrats must now contend with critics on the left who accuse their own Party of selling out public health to keep the economy going.
“Some states are opening mass vaccination sites amid the omicron surge in the U.S.” via Vimal Patel of The New York Times — Mass-vaccination sites are returning as several states have started or will soon start pop-up clinics amid a surge in coronavirus cases. Driven by the fast-spreading omicron variant, coronavirus cases have soared over the last month in the United States, averaging about 677,000 new known cases a day. Although omicron appears to cause less severe illness, many local health care systems have been overwhelmed by the sheer numbers. About 63% of the country has been fully vaccinated. Concerns over the variant have prompted many vaccinated people to seek out booster shots but do not appear to be persuading large numbers of the unvaccinated to roll up their sleeves, some recent survey data have suggested.
“Some immunocompromised Americans may be eligible for a fourth shot in the coming days” via Jennifer Hassan of The Washington Post — Some immunocompromised Americans may be eligible for a fourth shot to protect them against the coronavirus as early as this week. Those with weakened immune systems, an estimated 7 million people in the United States, are more at risk of becoming severely ill after contracting the virus, which has claimed more than 837,000 lives across the country. On Aug. 13, the CDC recommended a third dose of two widely used vaccines for some people with weakened immune systems, including those with cancer, paving the way for millions of moderately or severely immunocompromised people to get additional shots.
“Why more Americans are saying they’re ‘vaxxed and done’” via Derek Thompson of The Atlantic — The messiness of omicron data, has deepened our COVID-19 Rashomon, in which different communities are telling themselves different stories about what’s going on, and coming to different conclusions about how to lead their lives. A virus that seems both pervasive and mild offers an opening to people who are, let’s call them, “vaxxed and done.” The risk of COVID-19 to vaccinated teachers and even unvaccinated students seems lower than we initially thought. In the past few weeks, several people have told me that they feel extremely safe personally but remain worried about passing along the virus to vulnerable people in their networks. Preliminary state data suggest that more than 90% of today’s deaths are still among unvaccinated people. This year, COVID-19 is on pace to kill more than 300,000 unvaccinated people who would, quite likely, avoid death by getting two or three shots.
“Health care workers are panicked as desperate hospitals ask infected staff to return” via Rachael Levy of POLITICO — Hospitals and long-term care facilities are so short-staffed that many are compelling COVID-19-positive doctors and nurses to return to work, arguing that bringing back asymptomatic or even symptomatic staff is the only way they can keep their doors open amid a spike in hospitalizations. The practice, allowed by the most recent federal guidance, underscores the dire situation in which many facilities find themselves. While most health workers are vaccinated, many are still falling sick, exacerbating a staff shortage as more Americans seek hospital care. Health care workers around the country have reported being called into work even if they suspect they are infectious. In cases where workforce shortages become extreme, hospitals can bring back staff without any isolation period.
“Hospitals cut beds as nurses call in sick with COVID-19” via Melanie Evans of The Wall Street Journal — Rising numbers of nurses and other critical health care workers are calling in sick across the U.S. due to COVID-19, forcing hospitals to cut capacity just as the omicron variant sends them more patients, industry officials say. The hospitals are leaving beds empty because the facilities don’t have enough staffers to care for the patients safely, and a tight labor market has made finding replacements difficult. Staff shortages prompted the Mass General Brigham hospital system in Boston to keep 83 beds empty on Friday. The University Hospitals system in Ohio has closed as many as 16% of its intensive-care beds recently, while Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas has shut 30 of 900 beds.
“Labs limit COVID-19 test access as demand soars” via Brianna Abbott of The Wall Street Journal — Escalating demand for COVID-19 tests is prompting some laboratories to ration access, giving priority to people with symptoms or other health concerns as the omicron variant quickly spreads. Triaging who is eligible for COVID-19 tests can help ensure that patients who need a test the most get results fast enough to isolate or get treatment, pathologists and public-health experts say. The strategy, however, risks perpetuating the virus’s spread if some people get turned away from testing altogether. Even before the omicron wave put many people out sick or into quarantine, laboratories were chronically understaffed and heading into their third year of pandemic operations.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“Treasury warns of ‘enormous challenges’ this tax-filing season that could delay refunds” via Jeff Stein of The Washington Post — Treasury Department officials on Monday said that the Internal Revenue Service will face “enormous challenges” during this year’s tax filing season, warning of delays to refunds and other taxpayer services. Treasury officials predicted a “frustrating season” for taxpayers and tax preparers due to delays caused by the pandemic, years of budget cuts to the IRS, and the federal stimulus measures that have added to the tax agency’s workload. Typically, IRS officials enter filing season with an unaddressed backlog of roughly 1 million returns. However, this year, the IRS will enter the filing season facing “several times” that.
“Americans’ finances got stronger in the pandemic — confounding early fears” via Rachel Louise Ensign of The Wall Street Journal — The COVID-19 pandemic threatened to ruin Americans’ finances. For many, the opposite happened. Though initial shutdowns caused unemployment to surge to levels not seen since the Great Depression, trillions of dollars in government stimulus and the economy’s swift, if turbulent, recovery helped many families reach a new level of financial security. The first two rounds of stimulus payments lifted 11.7 million people out of poverty. Americans built up $2.7 trillion in extra savings. Some expect that, combined with rising wages, to provide them with lasting stability despite the return to more normal spending patterns and rising inflation.
— MORE CORONA —
“T cells triggered by common cold also fend off COVID-19: Study” via Bloomberg — High levels of protective immune cells that fight some common colds also made people less likely to contract COVID-19 in a study. The findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, provide further evidence of the protective effects of T cells, an arm of the immune system that’s gaining attention as the pandemic stretches into its third year and new variants like omicron erode vaccine protection. Researchers found higher levels of T cells against certain colds in people who didn’t develop COVID-19 while living with someone who had the disease, according to a study released Monday by the U.K.’s Imperial College London. The prior illnesses were caused by other coronaviruses related to SARS-CoV-2.
“What COVID-19 vaccine did you get? You probably don’t know its name.” via Felicia Schwartz of The Wall Street Journal — Hundreds of millions of people have gotten the Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. COVID-19 vaccine shots. But how many know that the Pfizer vaccine is called Comirnaty? And Moderna’s? Spikevax. Despite a year of wall-to-wall media coverage and debate, the names of the world’s two biggest COVID-19 vaccines are nowhere close to the name recognition of such products as Tylenol, Kleenex, or the iPhone. One reason is that naming requirements set up by the FDA and international health regulators are so complex that settling on what to call a new prescription drug usually takes about two years. The regulatory goal is to make sure patients receive only the drugs prescribed to them. So a new brand name can’t be too similar to an existing one.
“When the pandemic began, some reconsidered getting pregnant. The result: 60,000 missing births” via Tara Bahrampour of The Washington Post — A recent study shows 60,000 fewer births than expected between October 2020 and February 2021 in the United States, corresponding with fewer conceptions earlier in 2020. The largest number of missing births was in January 2021, which roughly corresponds to conceptions in April 2020, when many Americans began to process the magnitude of the pandemic. “Uncertainty is not good for fertility,” said Phillip Levine, a professor of economics at Wellesley College and co-author of the report. The dip corresponds with declines in births during past recessions and public health crises, such as the Great Recession and the 1918 flu pandemic, which came in waves. By the summer of 2020, conceptions had returned to expected levels but did not rise enough to compensate for the missing births earlier in the year.
— PRESIDENTIAL —
“Joe Biden administration lays out rules for reimbursing at-home COVID-19 tests” via David Lim of POLITICO — The Biden administration on Monday issued guidance that will require private health insurers to reimburse people for up to eight over-the-counter COVID-19 tests every month beginning Jan. 15. Under the plan, private insurers can set up programs at preferred pharmacies or retailers where the upfront cost of home tests is covered for beneficiaries. A family of four would have 32 home tests covered by their health plan each month. The initiative is intended to ease the financial burden of utilizing at-home tests to detect and stop the further spread of COVID-19. Individuals who purchase home tests outside their insurers’ preferred network must be reimbursed up to $12 per test, but plans can “provide more generous reimbursement up to the actual price of” more pricy tests.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Chief Justice John Roberts’ jarring vaccine jurisprudence” via Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post — During the course of the pandemic, it has become a bureaucratic badge of honor to argue that authorities are taking a “whole of government” approach to tackling the virus. In one of the more jarring moments in oral arguments about the Biden administration’s efforts to mitigate COVID-19, Chief Justice Roberts seemed to be arguing that trying to use all the statutory tools available to it somehow undermined the government’s legal argument. Roberts showed his real hand: There’s just too much darned regulating going on here. “It sounds like the sort of thing that states will be responding to or should be and that Congress should be responding to,” he said. But states are responding, some responsibly, too many others in precisely the wrong way, preventing employers from taking steps to protect their workers.
Mike Waltz named ranking member of Armed Services Subcommittee — U.S. Rep. Waltz is now the top Republican on the Subcommittee on Readiness on the House Armed Services Committee. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over Department of Defense policy and programs and accounts related to training, logistics and maintenance, military construction, organic industrial base, the civilian and contract workforce, environment, military installations and property management, family housing, base realignments and closures, and energy. “At such a pivotal time for our military, I am grateful to Ranking Member (Mike) Rogers for the opportunity to lead the Subcommittee on Readiness to ensure America’s warfighters are trained and equipped at superior facilities in order to address the multitude of threats facing our country,” Waltz said.
— CRISIS —
“Judge mulls whether Donald Trump’s silence on Jan. 6 could amount to ‘agreement’ with rioters” via Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney of POLITICO — Trump’s hours of silence while a violent mob ransacked the Capitol, egged on by his own words and tweets, could be plausibly construed as agreement with rioters’ actions, a federal judge suggested Monday. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta made the analysis as he pressed Trump’s lawyers about their efforts to dismiss a series of lawsuits against the former president seeking to hold him financially liable for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection. Mehta’s questioning prompted Trump’s attorney, Jesse Binnall, to push back, forcefully arguing that Trump can’t conceivably face legal consequences for actions he did not take. The exchange was potentially the most significant in an explosive and lengthy hearing on three lawsuits filed against Trump.
“Mo Brooks urged a Jan. 6 crowd to ‘fight.’ Now his actions long before the insurrection face new scrutiny.” via Michael Kranish of The Washington Post — In early January 2021, as Trump summoned his supporters to Washington, Rep. Brooks says he received a dire warning from a fellow lawmaker: Antifa was planning to infiltrate the Jan. 6 rally “dressing like Trump supporters.” Brooks was so convinced that his life was in danger that he stopped going home and began sleeping on his office floor. He was there on Jan. 5 when, shortly before going to sleep, he tweeted that Trump had asked him “personally to speak & tell the American people about the election system weaknesses that the Socialist Democrats exploited to steal this election.” The next morning, Brooks slipped into body armor underneath a yellow-and-black jacket and then delivered an incendiary speech to a sea of Trump backers near the White House.
“Jim Jordan refuses to cooperate with Jan. 6 committee investigating Capitol attack” via Annabelle Timsit of The Washington Post — Rep. Jordan is refusing a request to be interviewed by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, calling it an “unprecedented and inappropriate demand.” In a letter dated Sunday and addressed to the committee’s chair, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, the Ohio Republican and close ally of Trump accused the panel, made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans, of playing politics. Jordan declined to comply with the Dec. 22 request to appear before the panel to discuss his communication with Trump on the day of the assault.
“Wisconsin judge lets GOP-led election review continue” via Zach Montellaro of POLITICO — A state judge in Wisconsin is allowing a GOP-led review of the 2020 election to proceed in the state, turning back, at least temporarily, a bid to stymie the probe led by the Democratic state attorney general. In Wisconsin, former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman is leading an investigation of the 2020 election with the blessing of state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Election experts have warned that postelection partisan reviews, like the one in the state, are harmful to the democratic system because they can serve as vehicles to legitimize, rather than allay, Trump‘s conspiracy theories about widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
— EPILOGUE TRUMP —
“Trump calls GOP Senator a ‘jerk’ after he rejects former President’s false claims of widespread election fraud” via Mariana Alfaro of The Washington Post — Trump lashed out Monday at Sen. Mike Rounds, calling him a “jerk,” a day after the GOP Senator said the 2020 election was “as fair as we have seen” and dismissed Trump’s widely debunked allegations of extensive voter fraud. Rounds said that Trump’s claims that fraud rigged the election for Biden are baseless and that conspiracy theories asserting that the 2020 election was stolen from the former president are unfounded. Trump doubled down on his false allegations of voter fraud, accused Rounds of being a RINO and said he would never endorse the South Dakota Republican again. Rounds doesn’t face a re-election race until 2026.
“A year into his social media exile, Trump is working to get back online” via Douglas MacMillan, Josh Dawsey and Elizabeth Dwoskin of The Washington Post — Trump’s upstart social network is probably months away from being fully operational, potentially limiting his ability to influence the midterm elections. The pace of development for Truth Social has at times frustrated Trump, who has discussed but ultimately turned down opportunities to work with other platforms in the fast-growing universe of right-wing social media sites, said three people familiar with the discussions, who like others in this article spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters. He is holding out for his own venture, which he believes will be more lucrative and gives him more control, advisers say.
“Despite string of mass shootings, Miami-Dade bucks national trend of rising murder rate” via Charles Rabin of the Miami Herald — The year 2021 started with two mass shootings just outside musical venues that left four people dead and 26 injured, a foreboding start that seemed to continue a troubling violent trend from the year before. Then something unexpected happened. Homicides in Miami-Dade County plummeted. Law enforcement leaders attributed it to stepped-up enforcement, a focused effort to get guns off the street and prosecutions. Others pointed to an array of social factors. Whatever the reason, murders throughout Miami-Dade County, with its 2.7 million residents, declined by more than 15% compared to the previous year, bucking a national trend in which more than a dozen cities across the U.S. set all-time high murder rates.
“Officials investigating possible migrant landing after makeshift boat found on Key Biscayne” via David Goodhue of the Miami Herald — The Border Patrol is investigating a possible migrant landing on Key Biscayne over the weekend. A makeshift boat with a hull made from honey barrels washed up on the beach sometime Saturday night. U.S. Customs and Border Protection Division Chief Adam Hoffner said the agency is investigating the vessel, but he thinks it could be from a prior migration. There has been a significant uptick in maritime migration from Cuba to South Florida over the past year due to deteriorating political and economic conditions within the island nation.
My sons found this migrant raft while walking the beach on Key Biscayne today. Hull is made from honey barrels. pic.twitter.com/yYiRFRoUAM
— David Goodhue (@DavidGoodhue) January 9, 2022
“After the Parkland tragedy, voters approved money for teacher raises and safety. Now, will they embrace a new round of taxes?” via Scott Travis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — South Florida voters will be asked to approve a property tax this year to avoid major cuts in teacher pay and safety initiatives enacted since the Parkland tragedy. In Broward County, this could mean an average tax increase of $150 for the average homeowner if voters say yes in the August primary. Palm Beach County voters will be asked during the November General Election to continue an existing tax. The tax would be a renewal or expansion of a property tax approved in 2018, during a time of heightened concern over school safety and teacher retention.
“Brightline will run empty trains along a 130-mile route. Here’s why.” via Katherine Kokal of The Palm Beach Post — Drivers will see Brightline trains running north of West Palm Beach for the first time next week as the high-speed railroad starts trial runs between West Palm and Cocoa. There won’t be passengers on the trains, but the 130-mile trial runs that start Jan. 17 will help familiarize Brightline’s conductors and staff with the new route, part of Brightline’s expansion to Orlando, which the company said is about 70% complete. Brightline plans to run once-daily trials runs of the new route throughout 2022. “Operating a train requires engineers and conductors to be intimately familiar with the rail corridor, including road crossings, signals, curves, and speed restrictions. During qualifying runs, Brightline train crews will work with a manager already qualified on the territory who will provide oversight and instruction,” the company said.
“Kevin Hyde named chair of Jacksonville Public Education Fund” via Max Marbut of the Jacksonville Daily Record — Hyde, a managing partner in the Jacksonville office of the Foley & Lardner law firm, is the new chair of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund board of directors. Lisa Cochran, chief information officer for VyStar Credit Union, and Terry Patrick Walton of Terry Patrick Walton Consulting also joined the board for four-year terms. Hyde also serves on the board of trustees of the University of North Florida, is a member of the Jacksonville Civic Council and a member of the board of directors of the Jacksonville Public Library Foundation and WJCT Public Broadcasting. Elected to City Council in 2003, Hyde was its president in 2005-06.
“3 Orlando incumbents sworn in to new terms” via Ryan Gillespie of the Orlando Sentinel — Three Orlando city commissioners were sworn in Monday to new four-year terms. Jim Gray, Robert Stuart and Regina Hill were each re-elected last year, representing crucial pockets of the city from downtown Orlando and neighborhoods west and north, to the fast-growing Lake Nona planned developments and established neighborhoods on the east side. For Hill and Gray, it marked the beginning of their third full terms on the commission, while Stuart was ushered into a fifth term. They’ll continue to cast critical votes on policies ranging from policing and affordable housing to homelessness, development and other issues.
“John Kuczwanski killed in Tallahassee road rage incident” via Tristan Wood of Florida Politics — Kuczwanski, the Legislative Affairs Director for the State Board of Administration, was killed in a road rage incident in Tallahassee last week. Around 5 p.m. on Jan. 6, an altercation between drivers led to a vehicle collision followed by shots being fired around the intersection of Thomasville Road and Bannerman Road. One driver, who sources have identified as Kuczwanski, 52, was fatally wounded. Another driver was taken into custody. The Leon County Sheriff’s Office has not released further information about the incident to the public since its original statement first announcing the shooting. Kuczwanski pleaded no contest to assault and disorderly conduct charges in 2014 related to a separate road rage incident.
— TOP OPINION —
“J. Robert McClure: Five words of encouragement for Florida policymakers” via Florida Politics — On Dec. 28, Biden did something that very few politicians do when confronted with a difficult reality. In this case, he was asked a question about his administration’s response to the latest wave of COVID-19 spread impacting the country. He uttered five words that made limited government conservatives practically giddy: “There is no federal response.” The more I thought about it, the more I felt something I haven’t felt in a while — encouraged. I was encouraged that a President or any politician, would utter something so aligned with my core philosophies that I would agree with him. As the 2022 Legislative Session begins, I would offer five words of encouragement to our policymakers … “there is no federal response.” Whether it involves the health of schoolchildren, the liberties of parents the care of the elderly, or the safety of the general public — you state legislators matter more than anyone in Washington, D.C.
— OPINIONS —
“Trump’s coup, part deux” via Maureen Dowd of The New York Times — Besides his dagger at the throat of democracy, Trump has his Party in a chokehold. Republicans may have held back Trump from giving a news conference Thursday, because they know that Nov. 3 and Jan. 6 are dates that make them look awful, but they are still in his vile grip, as evidenced by their shameful flight from the Capitol. Trump’s coup attempt is in its second stage. The MAGA crowd is working hard in states like Georgia and Arizona, which defied Trump in 2020, to institutionalize Trump’s big lie, with election-deniers running for offices that control the voting process. Biden must make good on his speech and make sure the Vandals who sacked the Capitol are not able to do it again. He must find a way to enact new voting rights laws to head off the Republican efforts to control election certification.
“For media, COVID-19 alarm is a hard habit to break” via Joe Ferrulo of The Hill — The coronavirus is a hard habit for the media to break — and that’s pushing other dangers offstage and out of sight. As the country marked one year since the attack on the Capitol, most mainstream news outlets last week still made their central focus COVID-19 and the omicron variant. Every twist and turn in the pandemic continues to gobble up resources and dominate headlines at the expense of stories that are just as urgent. Like threats to American democracy. The COVID-19 crisis has shifted, but the extent and tone of media coverage has not. Overheated language in print and on cable demands readers and viewers treat the epidemic as if it were 18 months ago, before vaccines, boosters and a new, less-deadly strain. Every new development is one more opportunity to make sure audiences don’t change the channel or Google some other topic. And those other topics are losing out because of it.
“DeSantis’ proposed budget moves Florida forward” via The Palm Beach Post — As Congress continues to contemplate ways to waste taxpayer dollars, Florida is focused on greater prosperity for all Floridians. DeSantis’ proposed Freedom First Budget would secure a brighter future in five critical ways. First, tax relief: As Americans continue to pay more on gas, groceries, and other living expenses, the proposed budget dedicates nearly $1.2 billion to tax cuts. This includes a 25 cent per gallon gas tax holiday, fee reductions and three separate sales tax holidays. Second, economic freedom and prosperity: Floridians prosper when the government breaks down barriers and makes strategic investments in the future. The Governor’s budget increases resources for the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, the Rural Infrastructure Fund, Florida’s tourism efforts, and others, which will lay the foundation for a stronger economy. Coupled with investments in housing, transportation, and more, it will further enhance Florida’s already stellar economic growth.
“When writing next state budget, put the neediest first” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — With all the red meat, culture war rhetoric sure to accompany Tuesday’s opening ceremonies of the Florida Legislature, it’s easy to forget that lawmakers really only have two jobs over the next 60 days. They must redraw congressional and legislative districts to reflect population changes over the past decade, and they must write the annual state budget. Money won’t be a problem this year, because of the infusion of billions in federal stimulus money. For that, Florida owes a debt of gratitude to Biden. There’s also bright economic news on the homefront. State economists predict that revenue in the coming budget year will be nearly $400 million higher than they had previously forecast.
“Florida should warn swimmers when there’s poop in the water” via Howard Simon for the Tampa Bay Times — The Legislature enacted the “Clean Waterways Act of 2020″ with great fanfare, but though penalties were increased, the law was light on enforceable regulations to curb pollution. But as it convenes for its 2022 Session, the Legislature will have another opportunity — thanks to Sen. Lori Berman of Delray Beach and Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson of Gainesville. The two Democratic legislators have introduced the “Safe Waterways Act” (SB 604/HB 393). The proposal’s most important feature would require (rather than simply authorize) the Florida Department of Health to issue health advisories and post and maintain warning notices at “public bathing places” where the water has been found to contain fecal bacteria, either fecal coliform, Escherichia coli or enterococci bacteria.
—ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —
It’s opening day of the 2022 Legislative Session. And the Florida Senate is moving fast on redistricting maps. It’s even giving Democrats an extra seat. Sunrise, with new host Craig Kopp, digs deep into what’s going on and where the House fits into this fast-paced, seeming fair, approach to redistricting.
Also on today’s Sunrise:
— House Democrats open up to the news media about the upcoming Legislative Session.
— Toledo is going after the buyers of what sex traffickers are selling.
— Outgoing Palm Beach County Commissioner McKinlay announced Monday she is not running to be the state’s next Agriculture Commissioner.
— And we’ll let you hear why holding a virtual political rally can be hard.
To listen, click on the image below:
— ALOE —
“Disney: Floridians can buy two-day tickets for $149” via Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — Walt Disney World is introducing its first ticket offer of 2022 for Florida residents. The Disney Weekday Magic Ticket goes on sale on Jan. 11 and includes two theme park days for $149. The ticket is valid Mondays through Fridays through April 7, although it carries blackout dates March 14-18. Among the events during the ticket-promotion window are the Epcot International Festival of the Arts (Jan. 14-Feb. 21) and the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival (March 2-July 4). WDW continues to celebrate its 50th anniversary in all four theme parks. Disney also is selling a three-day version for $179 and a four-day deal for $199.
“Florida restaurant requires all diners to tip 20%, stirs controversy” via Tiffini Theisen of the Orlando Sentinel — A Florida restaurant is stirring controversy with its solution to rising food costs and upcoming minimum-wage increases: requiring every diner to tip 20%, regardless of how customers feel about the service. Shades Bar & Grill, an Inlet Beach business in Walton County, put the new requirement in place on Dec. 27. For each table, the server keeps 17% of the tip, and the remaining 3% is split among support staff including the bar, hostess, and server assistants. Shades received many supportive comments about the change. Some customers oppose the new rule. Many people feel 15% is a fair tip for decent service, and that it’s appropriate to bump that up to 18% to 20% for outstanding service.
“New York Times names Sarasota one of the world’s 52 Places to Travel in 2022” via Bob Carskadon of ILoveTheBurg.com — Sarasota was named to The New York Times’s 2022 list of 52 Places to Travel, a distinction earned in large part for its modernist architecture and the work being done by Architecture Sarasota to preserve it. “Architecture Sarasota is a new organization founded to protect and promote the most spectacular concentration of modernist buildings east of the Mississippi,” the article noted. “In a booming city on Florida’s Gulf Coast, where there’s a constant tug of war between developers and preservationists, raising the profile of these modernist buildings is intended to give them greater value in the eyes of locals and attract design tourists. Sarasota is also home to The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the beautiful Siesta Key Beach and the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Best wishes to Adam Blalock, Rusty Branch, and Lauren Lange.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel Dean, Renzo Downey, Jacob Ogles, and Drew Wilson.