Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.12.22

Sunburn Orange Tally (5)
Florida politics — and more — you can read in as much time as your first cuppa joe.

Good Wednesday morning.

The latest edition of INFLUENCE Magazine, featuring the Rising Stars of Florida politics, is live and can be viewed here.

Who is on the way up? Check it out here.

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Toast tonight to the late Jim King on Wonderful Wednesday — The annual Jim King Happy Hour will once again be hosted virtually tonight, according to longtime former spokesperson Sarah Bascom, who, along with many other close friends of the former Senate President, has hosted a happy hour gathering during the opening week of Session since his death in 2009. Organizers are encouraging people to raise a glass and tell their favorite King story in honor of one of his favorite nights — “Wonderful Wednesday.” King, who died from pancreatic cancer in 2009, was a fixture around the Capitol for 23 years. King, a Jacksonville Republican, was first elected to the House in 1986 and became one of the most powerful politicians in the state, serving as Senate President 2003-04.

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Florida’s Historic Capitol lit blue for Human Trafficking awareness Attorney General Ashley Moody lit Florida’s Historic Capitol blue to mark National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, which aims to raise awareness of the crime and how to combat it. “One way we stop human trafficking is by shining a light on these atrocities. By illuminating the state Capitol blue in recognition of Human Trafficking Prevention Month and working with our government and community partners to increase awareness, we can encourage more Floridians to join our fight to end this horrific crime.” Moody said the color choice also reinforces the Blue Campaign — an initiative created to educate law enforcement, the public and other industry partners on how to spot and report cases of human trafficking. Information on how to spot and report human trafficking is available at YouCanStopHT.com.

Ashley Moody lights the Historic Capitol to raise awareness of sex trafficking.

Assignment editors — Moody will be joined by Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez; Florida Alliance to End Human Trafficking Chair Ellyn Bogdanoff; Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association Vice President of Government Relations & General Counsel Samantha Padgett; Florida Chamber of Commerce President of the Florida Chamber Safety Council Katie Yeutter; Associated Industries of Florida President and CEO Brewster Bevis; Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro; James Madison Institute President and CEO Dr. Bob McClure and others for an event to recognize Human Trafficking Awareness Month and announce a new initiative, 10 a.m., AG Office on Plaza Level.

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The LIBRE Initiative — Florida announced its legislative agenda for 2022, with their top priorities being expansions of school choice and the easing of regulations on independent contractors.

The organization, which focuses on policy to empower the Hispanic community, pointed to polling that shows broad support for education freedom among Hispanic Floridians. LIBRE said they will call on lawmakers to expand educational freedom in all forms — including virtual education- to ensure that Latino families can customize education plans that work for every child.

LIBRE also wants lawmakers to enact legislation allowing individuals to request agencies create a public and searchable list of their current and ongoing rule creations so that interested groups can see intent on rule creation. LIBRE also wants lawmakers to slash regulations that make it harder for independent contractors to work in Florida.

“This year, we are committed to making Florida an even better place to live, work, start a business and raise a family. And we can do this by supporting pro-growth and pro-freedom policies, regardless of whether they are being championed by Republicans, Democrats, or Independents,” said Alian Collazo, LIBRE-Florida’s deputy director of Grasses Operations.

Finally, the organization said it will LIBRE “champion policies expanded access to quality, affordable health care, including pushing for audio-only telehealth and the expansion of pharmacist scope of practice, just to name a few.”

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Good read about a good personOne-time ballerina takes unlikely path to lead the Florida Trucking Association” via Amy Martinez of the Tampa Bay Times — Four years ago, when Alix Miller interviewed for a job as vice president of the Florida Trucking Association, the trade group that advocates for the trucking industry in Tallahassee, she faced questions about whether she could handle the sharp-elbowed male-dominated world of Florida trucking. From her earliest days with the trucking association, Miller says, she felt like she was in the center of the action. In August, Miller became president and CEO of the association. As the chief advocate for Florida trucking, she now must help steer the industry through several challenges, from a shortage of drivers to rising insurance costs and traffic congestion.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@JustinSayfie: Describing the 2024 election as a “coup” more than two years before it happens is a conspiracy theory that delegitimizes that election. Since 2001, it seems that it has become a norm to delegitimize election results

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet

Tweet, tweet:

: Florida is about to become the next front in the abortion wars.

@KIrbyWTweets: The Governor just shouted out a guy who caught 41 invasive Burmese pythons in the Everglades this year. Florida, baybee

Tweet, tweet:

@GusCorbella: Time once again for those sweet, sweet @floridachannel tunes. Happy Session, everyone.

Tweet, tweet:

@DjTweets: Be kind to others. The person you are rude to online today. Might be friends with the recruiter you reached out to yesterday

@MattBrownCFB: Number of teams from the state of Utah in the final AP Top 25: 3 Number of teams from the state of Florida in the final AP Top 25: 0

— DAYS UNTIL —

Joel Coen’s ’The Tragedy of Macbeth’ on Apple TV+ — 2; NFL playoffs begin — 3; ‘Ozark’ final season begins — 9; ‘Billions’ begins — 11; Red Dog Blue Dog charity event — 13; James Madison Institute’s Stanley Marshall Day Celebration in Jacksonville — 16; XXIV Olympic Winter Games begins — 23; Super Bowl LVI — 32; Will Smith’s ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ reboot premieres — 32; season four of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ begins — 35; ‘The Walking Dead’ final season part two begins — 39; Daytona 500 — 39; Special Election for Jacksonville City Council At-Large Group 3 — 42; CPAC begins — 44; St. Pete Grand Prix — 44; Joe Biden to give State of the Union — 48; ‘The Batman’ premieres — 51; the third season of ‘Atlanta’ begins — 70; season two of ‘Bridgerton’ begins — 72; The Oscars — 74; Macbeth with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga begin performances on Broadway — 76; federal student loan payments will resume — 109; ’Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 114; ’Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 135; ’Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 141; ’Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 178; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 189; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 233; ’Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 268; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 303; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 306; ‘Avatar 2’ premieres — 338; ’Captain Marvel 2’ premieres — 401; ’John Wick: Chapter 4’ premieres — 436; ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 562; ’Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 646; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 926.

— TOP STORY —

Ron DeSantis draws contrast with federal government and Democratic-led states in State of the State address” via Steve Contorno of CNN — Painting himself and his state as the antidote to closed schools, government mandates, and Big Tech overreach, DeSantis delivered an election-year State of the State speech that emphasized the deepening divide between Republican and Democratic leadership during the pandemic. DeSantis opened his remarks by declaring Florida “the freest state in these United States.” He then laid out a legislative agenda ready-made for the culture wars that have lately dominated the political arena, touching on critical race theory in schools, vaccine mandates, voting laws, abortion and police funding. DeSantis invited comparisons between Florida and states run by Democrats, and he levied sharp criticisms at the federal government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis without mentioning Biden by name.

Ron DeSantis hits the feds hard in his State of the State speech. Image via AP.

DeSantis calls Florida ‘the freest state,’ attacks federal government in address” via Steven Lemongello and Skylar Swisher of the Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis called Florida “the freest state in the United States” in his 2022 State of the State address Thursday, making his opposition to COVID-19 restrictions his centerpiece as he opened the 2022 Legislative Session. He also repeatedly slammed the federal government and bashed Democratic-run states, as he prepares for his re-election campaign this year and potentially a 2024 run for President. The Session opened at the Florida Capitol without any COVID-19 protocols, the day after the state set another record with more than 125,000 new cases amid the omicron wave. Total COVID-19 hospitalizations were down slightly but still at more than 9,000 statewide. Only a few legislators and spectators wore masks. One exception was Nikki Fried.

DeSantis vows to stand with police, blasts ‘soft on crime’ policies in State of the State” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — DeSantis declared Florida as a state of “law and order” during his State of the State address Tuesday, further vowing to support law enforcement and push back against proponents of progressive criminal justice reform. “We will not allow law enforcement to be defunded, bail to be eliminated, criminals to be prematurely released from prison, or prosecutors to ignore the law,” DeSantis told lawmakers during the more than 30-minute address. An outspoken supporter of police, DeSantis touted several pro-law enforcement proposals lawmakers will consider in the 2022 Session, which began Tuesday. He highlighted plans to raise pay for state law enforcement officers by 25% and emphasized his intent to provide $5,000 bonuses for new police officers. Out-of-state officers who transfer to Florida will also qualify for the bonus.

Read the full text of DeSantis’ State of the State speech

‘Performative political theater’: Nikki Fried pans DeSantis’ State of the State” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Agriculture Commissioner Fried disparaged the Governor’s remarks as “performative political theater” Tuesday, issuing both a statement from her Cabinet office and a pitch from her campaign to supporters just moments after DeSantis wrapped his speech. “This Governor couldn’t lead Florida out of a paper bag — let alone a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic — and it shows in the so-called priorities he outlined today, going on an ideological hit parade of fake conservatism purely to benefit his presidential ambitions,” Fried fulminated. Fried often posits that DeSantis would begin running for President as soon as he is re-elected as Governor, but those statements are normally made during friendly partisan interviews and not from her Cabinet position.

Charlie Crist slams DeSantis in State of the State prebuttal — U.S. Rep. Crist released a video ahead of DeSantis’ address criticizing the Governor’s leadership during the pandemic and “turning his back on Floridians struggling to make ends meet.” Crist, a Democrat running to unseat DeSantis this year, accused the Republican incumbent of “pushing a partisan agenda that is making Floridians poorer, sicker, and more divided than ever.” He added, “Gov. DeSantis’s donors are thriving, but working Floridians are being squeezed — with prices for housing, electricity, and health care all going up. And this Governor isn’t there to help … unless, of course, you cut him a check.”

Legislative leaders won’t endorse DeSantis’ elections package, but offer nods” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — DeSantis wants Florida to have a law enforcement office dedicated to enforcing election laws, and the state’s legislative leaders say the Governor has a point. But while the measure remains a top priority for the Gov., Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls stopped short of fully endorsing DeSantis’ elections proposal. The measure calls for a statewide law enforcement office to investigate and prosecute election crimes and fraud, including “ballot harvesting” claims. The proposal also aims to add guardrails to ballot drop box laws and to increase how often elections supervisors clear voter rolls. Some activists and Democrats, including Biden, labeled similar election measures across the nation last year as “Jim Crow 2.0,” arguing they were affronts to voting rights.

Wilton Simpson kicks off Session” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Simpson ushered the 2022 Legislative Session into motion Tuesday, marking Day One of the Republican leader’s final term in Tallahassee. A farmer and entrepreneur, Simpson shared his priorities to the Republican-dominated Senate. He opened with an introduction of his grandchildren, saying the body’s decisions will ripple beyond his generation into the next. “Every Legislature every year has another chance to make choices about what kind of government Florida is going to have,” Simpson said. “This Session, we have another chance to sow the seeds that will grow our tomorrow.” Simpson’s priority list included many of DeSantis’ high-profile desires. He touted efforts to provide bonuses and pay increases to first responders, school staff and state employees.

Wilton Simpson drops the hammer on the 2022 Session.

‘What are you willing to risk?’: Chris Sprowls says dream big for Session” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — During his speech Tuesday, Sprowls’ implored lawmakers to ask themselves what they are willing to risk to improve the lives of Floridians and said they would be rewarded for thinking grander. Encapsulating his message about dealing with risk is the COVID-19 pandemic. Conversations around the pandemic have at times been dominated by extremes, Sprowls added. Some believe the virus is a conspiracy theory to “microchip the masses” while others want to lock everyone at home, he continued. “We have the power to make this state a better, safer, more prosperous place for all Floridians,” Sprowls said. “The only question that remains is, to make that happen, what are you willing to risk?”

On first day of Session, Democrats say DeSantis, Republicans ‘running train off the tracks’” via James Call of USA Today Network — Republican lawmakers showered DeSantis with standing ovations as he outlined a state budget and policy proposals in a 2022 State of the State address during the ceremonial start Tuesday of a 60-day Legislative Session. Standing before a joint Session of the Florida House and Senate, DeSantis declared while pandemic policies in other states have sent people’s rights “to the graveyard,” Florida has stood as solid as a rock for freedom. However, his Democratic opponents in Tallahassee said DeSantis’ campaign-style rhetoric offers little for working Floridians, children, and the environment.

— STATEWIDE —

Everyone’s roasting DeSantis over his insanely dumb ‘think about it’ tweet” via Colin Wolf of Creative Loafing — DeSantis opened his word hole and wondered out loud if people were ever screened for an illness before the COVID-19 pandemic. “Now think about it,” said DeSantis. “Before COVID-19, did anyone go out and seek testing to determine if they were sick? It’s usually you feel like you’re sick, and you get tested to determine what you maybe have come down with.” Every single public-health expert has stated that regular COVID-19 testing helps stem the spread of COVID-19, especially from asymptomatic carriers. As many Twitter users pointed out, the Governor’s wife, Casey DeSantis, has advocated for preventive cancer testing and has publicly spoken about her own breast cancer diagnosis.

A ‘he tweeted, she tweeted’ situation.

Florida officials tried to steer education contract to former lawmaker’s company” via Lawrence Mower and Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics — DeSantis’ Education Department is under fire for trying to steer a multimillion-dollar contract to a company whose CEO has ties to the state’s Education Commissioner. Records and interviews show that, before the Florida Department of Education asked for bids, it was already in advanced talks with the company to do the work, subverting a process designed to eliminate favoritism. The company is MGT Consulting, led by former Republican lawmaker Trey Traviesa, a longtime colleague of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. During a bidding process open for one week, MGT was the only preapproved vendor to submit a proposal, pitched at nearly $2.5 million a year to help the struggling Jefferson County School District with its academic and financial needs.

With 324 on death row, Florida is among small number of states still executing people” via Scott Maxwell of Florida Politics — With 324 people on death row, more than all but one other state, Florida’s execution machine could stay busy for years. Yet here’s something many people don’t know: Most states don’t run those killing machines anymore. While about half the states still have the death penalty on the books, only five states actually executed anyone last year. And over the last three years, only nine states have done so. Florida was one of them. This state has a passion for killing people. Not so much for getting it right. Florida has incorrectly sentenced more people to death than any other state in America, at least 30 times.

State prison staffing shortage costing counties millions” via Adam Walser of WFTS — Convicted inmates often wait for months to be transferred, leading to jail overcrowding. Vans drop off new inmates at the Pinellas County Jail multiple times a day. It’s the entry point to the criminal justice system, where someone charged with a crime is booked into jail, posts bond or awaits trial. But Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the normal process. “The system stopped. It just came to a grinding halt. Nothing moved. It definitely created a backlog,” Gualtieri said. County jail populations in Florida climbed 12.5% during the 12 months ending Sept. 30th. One reason … after a defendant stood trial, was convicted and was ready to go to state prison; the state didn’t have room for them. “They couldn’t go. Because of the shutdown of intake from the Florida Department of Corrections,” Gualtieri said.

Bob Gualtieri says COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on the state’s corrections system.

Florida high school athletes sue for right to commercial deals” via Rafael Olmeda of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Student-athletes should be free to get paid to endorse local and national businesses that are willing to pay for it, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in Miami. Taking the national debate about outside compensation for college athletes to a new level, Miami lawyer John H. Ruiz is suing on behalf of two Miami students who say they’ve had to turn down endorsement deals because the rules of the Florida High School Athletic Association prohibit them. Sal Stewart, a senior at Westminster Christian High School in Miami who has caught the eye of Major League Baseball scouts from across the country, and University of Miami football standout Gilbert Frierson are identified in the lawsuit as plaintiffs, but Ruiz has his sights set on making this a class action.



—DATELINE TALLY —

House, Senate leaders to mull teacher pay raises — Legislative leaders are considering raising the pay of certain school employees, including bus drivers and cafeteria workers, this Session as school districts struggle to retain staff. As Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida reported, Simpson floated raising the minimum wage for some school staff to $15 an hour. “I think it’s important while we have the resources available to make sure that we honor those folks who work every day very hard taking care of us and get them to $15 an hour,” Simpson said. House Speaker Sprowls indicated he was in favor of the proposal as well.

GOP bill in Florida would ban abortions after 15 weeks” via The Associated Press — Most abortions would be banned in Florida after 15 weeks of pregnancy under bills filed Tuesday by Republicans on the first day of the state’s annual Legislative Session. The measures (SB 146 & HB 5) by Sen. Kelli Stargel and Rep. Erin Grall are similar to a Mississippi law currently under challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court. However, it does not go as far as a Texas law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, with enforcement provisions allowing citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone who assists in abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. The Florida legislation drew a quick endorsement from Speaker Sprowls, who said in a statement that House Republicans are “steadfast in our commitment to Florida’s children, both born and unborn.”

It didn’t take long for Erin Grall and Kelly Stargel to craft abortion bills similar to Mississippi’s.

Simpson wants cities to cover losses from local laws — In his address, Simpson said he wants to put cities on the hook for any business losses stemming from local ordinances. As reported by Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida, the Senate President signaled support for a measure (SB 280) that would require local governments to draft “business impact statements” outlining how an ordinance could impact businesses. Another bill, SB 620, would allow businesses to sue local governments if an ordinance results in a 15% loss of income or profits. Simpson said he supports requiring cities to pay “legitimate businesses that are impacted by (their) takings.”

Ray Rodrigues picks preferred maps for Senate Reapportionment Committee to consider” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Sen. Rodrigues, the Senate Reapportionment Committee chair, selected the base maps his committee will consider at a critical Thursday meeting. Rodrigues filed two shell bills ahead of Session that will ultimately hold the final Senate and congressional maps crafted by the Senate. Amendments on Thursday will reflect the result of weeks of pre-Session work. For the congressional map, Rodrigues chose draft map S 8040. He selected S 8046 as a base Senate map. Both come from the third round of draft maps produced by committee staff. On Monday, the Senate Congressional Reapportionment Subcommittee and Senate Legislative Reapportionment Subcommittee narrowed proposals down to two recommended choices for Rodrigues to choose from.

Sprowls says Medicaid managed care needs updating” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — Noting that the Medicaid mandatory managed care program was borne in the Florida House of Representatives, House Speaker Sprowls said Tuesday his chamber wants to change how the program provides that care to more than 4 million residents. Sprowls told reporters the program had done a good job of controlling costs and providing health care to the poor, elderly, and disabled residents who rely on Medicaid. “While no system is perfect — and clearly managed care is not perfect — it has done a good job of trying to treat the patient holistically,” Sprowls said. The Speaker’s remarks came one day after SB 1950, a 36-page bill that updates the mandatory Medicaid managed care system, was filed. The legislative interest in the program comes as the state prepares to begin work on a Medicaid procurement scheduled for 2023.

Medicaid managed care bill drops on eve of 2022 Legislative Session” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — Sen. Jason Brodeur filed SB 1950, a 36-page proposal to reduce Florida’s number of Medicaid managed care regions, from 11 to eight, and require managed care plans to contract with two of the state’s cancer hospitals. Filed Monday, the bill, in an attempt to blunt potential legal challenges to the nine-figure Medicaid procurement, contains language that would preclude any managed care plan from providing care to any of its enrollees until all administrative challenges to the procurement are settled. Brodeur’s proposal would reconfigure the current 11 Medicaid-managed care regions. The bill consolidates Medicaid Regions 1 and 2 into a Medicaid Region A. Medicaid Regions 3 and 4 will roll into the new Medicaid Region B. And Medicaid Regions 5 and 6 are rolled together into Region C. The rest of the Medicaid regions remain the same, with letters replacing numbers.

Lauren Book’s child welfare bill advances in committee” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — Sen. Book’s bill that would guarantee an attorney is appointed for children in the state’s care advanced in committee Tuesday, but not before the bill drew heartbreaking testimony both for and against. The Senate Democratic Leader’s legislation (SB 948) would create the Office of Child Representation to provide an attorney to represent a minor involved in abuse or neglect, going through delinquency proceedings, or the subject of parental termination of rights. Rep. Randy Maggard has filed an identical bill (HB 1549) in the House. Currently, an attorney is appointed to represent a child only if the Statewide Guardian Ad Litem Office recommends it. Some who came before the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee wanted to make sure it did not undermine the role of the guardian ad litem.

Lauren Book hits Session running with her child welfare bill.

Lawmakers want state economists to examine costs, need for Medicaid developmental disability programs” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — Florida’s top economists could be taking a closer look at the number of people with developmental and intellectual disabilities in Florida who require home and community-based services. A pair of lawmakers have filed bills that require state economists from the Florida Legislature, the Governor’s Office and the state’s Medicaid program to provide lawmakers with information about projected enrollment and costs. However, the economists’ estimates do not give the lawmakers enrollment and cost projections for the Medicaid iBudget. In addition to requiring the Social Services Estimating Conference to develop iBudget enrollment and cost projections, the bill also requires conference members to provide projections on the number of people on the waitlist for iBudget services.

On first day of Session, Jay Trumbull’s nursing home ‘transparency’ bill clears final House committee” via Christine Jordan Sexton — A House spending panel on Tuesday approved a bill that requires nursing homes and their home officers to submit their audited financial data to state health care regulators. HB 539, sponsored by House Appropriations Committee ChairTrumbull, has now cleared its final committee and is ready for consideration by the full House. It is the only bill Trumbull has sponsored for the 2022 Session. The House Appropriations Committee approved the bill without fanfare. House documents show 45 lobbyists have registered for the bill. While hospitals have been required to submit their audited financials to the state, nursing homes have not been required to do the same.

Go big or go home: FHCA releases ambitious legislative wish list” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — The Florida Health Care Association’s legislative agenda includes requests for hundreds of millions in additional funding, lawsuit protections, and changes to mandatory nursing home staffing requirements. FHCA spokesperson Kristen Knapp said the agenda reflects the industry’s current state. “We are operating in the midst of a pandemic still,” Knapp said, noting that the fast-spreading omicron variant has caused infection increases among nursing home staff and residents. FHCA, which represents the majority of the 690 skilled nursing facilities in the state, did not disclose how much money it wants the Legislature to direct to the industry. However, the association has previously released budget documents that show it wants lawmakers to pump an additional $469 million to boost the Medicaid rates in the 2022-2023 budget.

Anesthesiologists launch ad campaign for Session The Florida Society of Anesthesiologists on Tuesday announced it had launched a Session-long digital ad campaign in the Tallahassee market touting the benefits of physician-led anesthesia care. “As lawmakers arrive in Tallahassee, we feel it is vital to share a positive message that the physician-led team model for anesthesia medicine — currently in place in Florida — is not only the safest, but the most cost-effective, model as well,” said Dr. Leo Rodriguez, FSA’s president. The ads will air as pre-rolls before content on social media platforms, video sharing sites and major search engines.

To watch the ad, click on the image below:

— MORE TALLY —

Net metering bill passes first panel, but tweaks could come” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A Senate panel meeting gave a glimpse at the first food fight of the 2022 Session Tuesday, as the Senate Regulated Industries Committee gave its timid approval to legislation addressing solar panels. Despite apprehension from senators on both sides of the aisle, the committee voted 6-2 to advance a bill (SB 1024) that would lower the utility savings for Floridians using rooftop solar panels. The measure, carried by Sen. Jennifer Bradley, would reduce how much utility companies pay consumers when they produce more electricity than they use. Despite the successful vote, public opposition to the measure has pushed some lawmakers to take a wait-and-see approach to the bill.

Jennifer Bradley gives a glimpse of the first big food fight of 2022.

Senate committee advances bill to recognize U.S. Space Force in Florida laws” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Florida took its first step Tuesday toward recognizing the United States Space Force, which already has two major installations in Florida, when a Senate committee unanimously supported legislation to rewrite state statutes to reflect the change in the nation’s military structure. The Senate Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security quickly and enthusiastically approved Senate Bill 438, which combs through Florida’s statutes to add references to the Space Force wherever Florida law addresses the military or veterans. How many references are there? “I think I stopped counting at 47,” said Sen. Janet Cruz. “There were a lot,” said Republican Sen. Danny Burgess of Zephyrhills, the bill’s sponsor, though he wasn’t sure of the precise count.

Legislature to again consider shielding university president searches from public” via Jeffrey Schweers of USA Today Network — With University of Florida President Kent Fuchs‘ recent announcement he will step down in a year once a replacement is selected, will the flagship university’s next presidential search be conducted in the sunshine or behind closed doors? Identical bills introduced for the 2022 Legislative Session would shield the names of candidates for a state university or college presidency until the finalists are chosen. The legislation also would close any meeting held to identify or vet candidates for president, “including any portion of a meeting which would disclose personal identifying information of such applicants.” The way the proposed legislation is written, the list of finalists doesn’t have to be released until three weeks before a vote on who to hire is scheduled.

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.

— LEG. SKED —

— The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee meets to consider SB 498, from Sen. Dennis Baxley, to require health insurers to provide coverage for hearing aids for people under age 21, 9:30 a.m., Room 412 of the Knott Building.

— The Senate Community Affairs Committee meets to consider SB 510, from Sen. Jason Brodeur, to require city officials (Mayors, City Commissioners, etc.) to file full financial-disclosure forms, 9:30 a.m., Room 37 of the Senate Office Building.

— The Senate Transportation Committee meets to consider SB 876, from Sen. Jason Pizzo, to restrict “stunt driving” like doughnuts and popping wheelies, 9:30 a.m., Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.

— The Senate Appropriations Committee will hear an update on DeSantis’ proposed 2022-2023 budget, 12:30 p.m., Room 412 of the Knott Building.

Abortion rights advocates head to Florida Capitol — The Floridians for Reproductive Freedom coalition, which advocates for abortion rights, will hold a news conference in the Capitol courtyard at 1 p.m. to urge legislative leaders to keep access to abortion safe and legal in Florida. “Every person should have the freedom to make their own decisions about their health and their bodies — including whether to get an abortion,” said Aurelie Colon Larrauri of the Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice Florida. “No one should have their most personal medical decisions controlled by politicians.” Reps. Felicia Robinson, Anna Eskamani and Michele Rayner, as well as Sen. Shevrin Jones, are expected to attend alongside leaders from numerous abortion rights groups.

— The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee meets for budget updates from the Agency for Health Care Administration, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Elder Affairs, the Department of Health and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, 2:30 p.m., Room 412 of the Knott Building.

— The Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee meets for an update from the Department of Economic Opportunity on broadband expansion, 2:30 p.m., Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.

— The Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee meets for a budget update for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of Citrus, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, among others, 4:30 p.m., Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.

— The Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee meets for budget updates from the Department of Corrections, the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 4:30 p.m., Room 37 of the Senate Office Building.

Happening today — Florida TaxWatch’s annual “State of the Taxpayer” dinner, with Moody; Fried; Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis; Senate Minority Leader Book; Sens. Jeff Brandes, Jason Brodeur, Ana Maria Rodriguez; Reps. Paul Renner, Chuck Clemons and Randy Fine, 6 p.m., AC Hotel Tallahassee Universities, 850 South Gadsden St., Tallahassee.

— House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee, 9 a.m., Reed Hall of the House Office Building.

— House Environment, Agriculture and Flooding Subcommittee, 9 a.m., Room 212 of the Knott Building.

— House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, 9 a.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.

— House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, 9 a.m., Morris Hall of the House Office Building.

— House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, 11:30 a.m., Morris Hall of the House Office Building.

— House Public Integrity and Elections Committee, 11:30 a.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.

— House Finance and Facilities Subcommittee, 2 p.m., Morris Hall of the House Office Building.

— House Government Operations Subcommittee, 2 p.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.

— House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, 2 p.m., Reed Hall of the House Office Building.

— House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee, 2 p.m., Room 212 of the Knott Building.

— House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee, 4:30 p.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.

— House Post-Secondary Education and Lifelong Learning Subcommittee, 4:30 p.m., Morris Hall of the House Office Building.

— House State Administration and Technology Appropriations Subcommittee, 4:30 p.m., Room 212 of the Knott Building.

— House Tourism, Infrastructure and Energy Subcommittee, 4:30 p.m., Reed Hall of the House Office Building.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida reports 47,709 new cases; number of hospital patients with virus passes 11,000” via David Shutz of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida reported 47,709 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday as hospitalizations. Hospital patients with COVID-19 also increased over the weekend, nearing 10,000 for the first time since mid-September. On Monday, Miami-Dade County still had the highest per capita rate of daily COVID-19 cases of any county in the U.S., with 4,581 cases per 100,000 population. On Monday, Broward County’s rate per 100,000 was 2,573, and Palm Beach County’s was 1,947. Overall, Florida ranks seventh-highest among other states for average daily per capita cases. The state’s average for daily cases declined for the first time in more than six weeks, falling to 63,896.

Researchers: Florida’s omicron cases may peak soon but not before infecting majority of state” via Caroline Catherman of the Orlando Sentinel — Omicron cases in Florida will likely peak this week if they haven’t already. After the peak, cases will rapidly decline, and the wave could be over around the end of February, according to the mathematical model made by Tom Hladish, a research scientist in UF’s Department of Biology; biostatistics professor Ira Longini and Alexander Pillai, a research assistant. “Right now, we’re expecting it to die down dramatically because when you have such a big epidemic wave sweep through a population, you’re kind of depleting the susceptible fuel for the virus,” Hladish said. UF researchers previously predicted omicron would peak in February, assuming it would behave more like delta.

About those expired COVID-19 test kits: Florida gets another extension to use them” via Kirby Wilson of Florida Politics — At the Capitol on Tuesday, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie ran into Fried. He had news for her. Guthrie said that the federal government has agreed to give Florida another three-month extension to use the nearly 1 million rapid COVID-19 test kits that expired in a state warehouse at the end of December. Fried, Florida’s lone statewide elected Democrat and a candidate for Governor, had sharply criticized the DeSantis administration for letting the kits expire as the omicron coronavirus wave left thousands of Floridians scrambling for a test. In a statement last week, she called the Governor’s actions a “disgrace” and accused his team of having “lied and covered up the massive failure of a million unused tests.”

Kevin Guthrie delivers Nikki Fried some good news.

A new COVID-19 therapy is in high demand, challenging Florida to balance access and need” via Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald — To manage a scarce COVID-19 therapy, Florida’s health department said the state distributes a drug, called Evusheld, to medical providers who request supply, based on the population density of their service area and in a way that ensures the treatment is no more than a two-hour drive from any resident who needs it. A spokesman, responding to reporting that Florida had delivered more Evusheld in December to a small Broward County clinic than the state sent to the region’s public hospitals, said the agency chose that provider based on a track record of quickly administering other COVID-19 therapies to patients. “Realistically, the main goal behind this whole thing was to get it within two hours of everybody and to providers who can get treatments in arms as efficiently as possible,” said Jeremy Redfern, press secretary for the Florida Department of Health.

House Speaker advises on safety measures: ‘Don’t come’ if you test positive” via Issac Morgan of Florida Phoenix — As the more transmissible omicron variant continues to circulate across the state, Sprowls appeared unconcerned about potential COVID-19 outbreaks during the Legislative Session that frequently brings large crowds into the Florida Capitol. At a press briefing Tuesday afternoon, Sprowls was asked about any specific safety measures the Florida House will take following members testing positive for COVID-19. Sprowls, a Republican representing part of Pinellas County, told reporters that if lawmakers feel sick, “don’t come” to the House but didn’t offer specific details about protocols to combat any potential outbreaks.

Florida has no limit on price gouging COVID-19 tests” via Kylie McGivern of ABC Action News — With hourslong wait times for COVID-19 tests continuing, at-home tests are nearly impossible to find. Now, as reports of price gouging are cropping up, ABC Action News discovered a state decision contributing to what could be a free-for-all when it comes to pricing at-home tests. The search for answers began when viewers contacted the I-Team with concerns that a local pharmacy was selling at-home COVID-19 tests for about $50, double the going rate. Under Florida law, price gouging can only be reported and enforced during a state of emergency. So really, nothing is stopping the sale of at-home COVID-19 tests at any price.

— CORONA LOCAL —

South Florida COVID-19 cases rise again, but rate of increase slows, signaling possible peak is near” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — COVID-19 case totals in South Florida rose again last week, but that rate of increase is slowing down significantly, which could be a sign case counts in the region are peaking. The omicron variant has proved far more contagious, but also less deadly, than previous strains. While Florida has set records for case counts in recent weeks, hospitalizations have thankfully not reached the levels seen during the 2020 and 2021 summer surges. Still, the large number of people getting sick has impacted workflow and businesses in South Florida and elsewhere. Though cases are still rising, the newest set of Department of Health (DOH) data shows cases could soon begin falling for the first time since late November. The DOH report from two weeks ago saw case totals rising week-to-week by 349% in Miami-Dade County, 394% in Broward County and 385% in Palm Beach County.

Jacksonville will put $2.5 million into more high-demand COVID-19 testing” via David Bauerlein of the Florida Times-Union — The city will chip in another $2.5 million for city-run sites offering COVID-19 testing such as the popular drive-up location in Neptune Beach that has regularly hit capacity and turned people away within hours of opening. “It’s crucial citizens have the opportunity to access testing to help fight the spread of COVID-19,” Mayor Lenny Curry said in announcing more funding. The omicron variant appears to cause milder symptoms than the delta variant that overloaded hospitals the past summer. But omicron is a highly contagious mutation that has left people hunting for tests that can let them know whether they should seek treatment and take steps that limit spreading the virus to others.

Lenny Curry gets ready to cut a big check for COVID-19 testing.

Hillsborough school superintendent Addison Davis has COVID-19” via Marlene Sokol of the Tampa Bay Times — Davis, superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools, has COVID-19, the school district said Tuesday. District spokesperson Tanya Arja confirmed Davis’ diagnosis after he appeared via video camera at Tuesday’s School Board meeting. “He tested positive this morning,” Arja said. “He is isolating and following CDC guidelines.” As in the community at large, the school district’s COVID-19 statistics have been extraordinarily high since schools reopened on Jan. 3. Since that day, the district has reported 4,667 cases. On Tuesday alone, 41 staff cases were reported in the district’s central offices. Since Jan. 3, there have been 79.

COVID-19 in Lake, Sumter: Cases rising in schools, community amid omicron surge” via Katie Sartoris of the Daily Commercial — Amid a nationwide surge of the omicron variant, Lake County Schools saw a massive jump in COVID-19 cases after students returned from winter break, according to the district’s coronavirus dashboard. Experts say this variant produces milder symptoms but is more contagious. Cases continue to rise locally; both Lake and Sumter counties recorded more cases than the week before, Florida Department of Health data shows. Meanwhile, vaccination efforts continue locally. Between Dec. 31 and Jan. 6, a total of 4,108 people tested positive for the coronavirus in Lake County. The week before, that number was 2,831. The positivity rate rose, too. Between Dec. 24 and 30, Lake County’s rate sat at 23%. Last week, 29.6% of people tested for the virus received a positive result.

— SOFL SPECIAL ELEX —

Breaking overnight — Two South Florida seats were filled Tuesday night — and likely favorites have emerged in two other races — after four Special Election contests in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Democratic candidate Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick won the seat in Florida’s 20th Congressional District, formerly held by U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings. Hastings died last April following a cancer battle, and his seat has sat open since.

After winning the Democratic nomination by just five votes, Cherfilus-McCormick coasted in the General Election in the deep-blue district, securing 78% of the vote according to Tuesday’s unofficial results.

In the end, it wasn’t even close. Image via Facebook.

Democrat Daryl Campbell, a former aide to outgoing state Rep. Bobby DuBosee, will succeed DuBose in the House District 94 seat after winning a four-way Special Democratic Primary Election.

Campbell won 40% of the vote, with Josephus Eggelletion III at 29%, Elijah Manley at 25%, and Rod Kemp at 6%. Campbell wins the seat automatically, as no other parties fielded candidates in the race. But it’s unclear as of yet if Sprowls will seat Campbell this Session given that the Special General Election — which again, is no longer needed — was scheduled for March 8.

In the Senate District 33 and House District 88 contests Tuesday, a pair of Democratic winners emerged. Each will move on to a Special Election against a Republican, though the Democrat in each race will be favored due to the blue lean in both districts.

Former Broward County Public Schools Chair Rosalind Osgood secured 74% of the vote Tuesday, compared to just 26% for Terri Ann Williams Edden, who works in the office of the Broward State Attorney. Osgood wins the Democratic nomination and will face Republican candidate Joseph Carter in the March 8 Special General Election.

In the HD 88 Democratic Primary, Jervonte “Tae” Edmonds defeated Clarence “Chief” Williams 65% to 35%. Edmonds is the founder of the mentoring program Suits For Seniors. He’ll face Republican candidate Guarina Torres in the March 8 Special General Election.

— 2022 —

With less than a lap to go, both 2022 gambling petitions appear to be trailing the pace” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Reaching the final stretch run, leaders of both ballot petition drives for new gaming initiatives say they are where they need to be to win. The window already has closed; however, on assurances they’ll have enough signatures to qualify for the 2022 General Election ballot. Neither Florida Voters In Charge, a Las Vegas Sands-backed group seeking voter approval for a North Florida casino, nor Florida Education Champions, a FanDuel and DraftKings-backed group seeking voter approval for open sports betting, has come close to reaching the 891,589 verified petition signatures needed to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. They have until Feb. 1, but now they’re gambling with any new petitions they may turn in. The state’s 67 county supervisors of elections are allowed up to 30 days to process petitions. So, any signatures turned in after Jan. 2 are a gamble: maybe they’ll get counted; maybe they won’t.

Gayle Harrell raises $32K for Senate bid that could move her into another district” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — A liquor retailer, a road builder’s political committee and a smattering of other interests lifted Sen. Harrell’s December campaign fundraising to a total of $32,316. The Republican Senator is currently raising money for an unopposed bid for re-election to Senate District 25, her current district. But shifting lines caused by the decennial redistricting process may mean she’s moving to Senate District 29. The Senate’s proposed maps aren’t final, and things can still change before the final districts are determined for the 2022 election. “Whatever district I am in, I will run in. It doesn’t matter what the number is,” Harrell said in November. Harrell’s December campaign reports show her largest contributors last month covered a variety of sectors. Her biggest donations came through her political committee, Friends of Gayle Harrell.

Despite what district she falls in, Gayle Harrell has a lot of friends.

Nick DiCeglie collects $70K in December, crosses $700K benchmark” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Rep. DiCeglie raised more than $70,000 in December for his run to succeed Sen. Jeff Brandes in Senate District 24, a substantial haul ahead of the upcoming Legislative Session, which will temporarily halt election fundraising efforts by lawmakers. DiCeglie raised $70,790 between his campaign and his affiliated political committee, Economic Freedom Committee, last month. That brings his total fundraising haul to $735,880 since launching his campaign. “I am beyond thankful that our campaign continues to receive strong support of true patriots from every corner of Pinellas County,” DiCeglie said. DiCeglie’s campaign spent $10,759 in December, with most going to fundraising consulting and about $2,000 going to social media and communications consulting.

Michael Grieco funds soar with $153K raised in December for Senate bid” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Rep. Grieco enjoyed a smashing round of fundraising in December, as he amassed more than $153,000 toward his bid for Senate District 37. That’s roughly seven times what Republican Sen. Ileana Garcia and fellow Democrat Janelle Perez raised over the same period. With that impressive haul, Grieco held nearly $220,000 between his campaign and political committee, Strong Leadership for South Florida, as of Dec. 31. That still places him third in the current three-way race, but he’ll fast close the gap if he can continue a strong fundraising pace. SD 37 now contains a large portion of Miami-Dade County’s coastline from Cutler Bay to Miami. District reapportionment would largely swap SD 40 and SD 37’s coverage areas while shrinking SD 37 to cover only a portion of the county’s coast.

Vance Aloupis crosses $200K to defend HD 115 seat with gains from charter schools, trade groups” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Rep. Aloupis raised more than $33,000 last month to defend his seat representing House District 115. More than half of his gains came from charter schools, trade groups and the legal, lobbying and government affairs sector. With that haul, the Miami Republican now holds close to $207,000 between his campaign account and political committee, The Right Future for Florida. And he’s still unopposed. Aloupis received several individual donations, some as low as $25. Aloupis spent more than $14,000 in December. Roughly half went to consulting companies.

Jacksonville’s redistricting plan risks racial gerrymandering claims, experts say” via Andrew Pantazi of The Tributary — Jacksonville City Council members used race as a decisive factor in drawing new district lines — but did so without ever determining their actions were necessary to protect Black voters. Last February, city lawyers drafted a memo that warned council members they would violate the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause if race were a “predominant factor” in redistricting. Experts say race can be a predominant factor, but only if a detailed analysis shows that a racial minority would be disenfranchised if race wasn’t considered. That analysis was never done in Jacksonville, and the City Council never ruled that Black voters needed protections. Yet council members continued to demand districts that maintained or increased the Black population in four of the 14 districts.

— CORONA NATION —

U.S. breaks record with more than 145,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations” via Fenit Nirappil, Brittany Shammas, Dan Keating and Lenny Bernstein of The Washington Post — Tuesday’s total of 145,982 people in U.S. hospitals with COVID-19, which includes 4,462 children, passed the record of 142,273 set on Jan. 14, 2021, during the previous peak of the pandemic in this country. But the highly transmissible omicron variant threatens to obliterate that benchmark. If models of omicron’s spread prove accurate, current numbers may seem small in just a few weeks. Disease modelers are predicting total hospitalizations in the 275,000 to 300,000 range when the peak is reached, probably later this month. As of Monday, Colorado, Oregon, Louisiana, Maryland and Virginia had declared public health emergencies or authorized crisis standards of care, which allow hospitals and ambulances to restrict treatment when they cannot meet demand.

But … Omicron may be headed for a rapid drop in U.S. and Britain” via Maria Cheng and Carla K. Johnson of the Orlando Sentinel — Scientists are seeing signals that COVID-19′s alarming omicron wave may have peaked in Britain and is about to do the same in the U.S., at which point cases may start dropping off dramatically. The reason: The variant has proved so wildly contagious that it may already be running out of people to infect, just a month and a half after it was first detected in South Africa. At the same time, experts warn that much is still uncertain about how the next phase of the pandemic might unfold. The plateauing or ebbing in the two countries is not happening everywhere simultaneously or at the same pace. And weeks or months of misery still lie ahead for patients and overwhelmed hospitals even if the drop-off comes to pass.

Omicron: Easy come, easy go? Image via AP.

CDC weighs recommending better masks against omicron variant” via Lena H. Sun and Rachel Roubein of The Washington Post — The CDC is considering updating its mask guidance to recommend that people opt for the highly protective N95 or KN95 masks worn by health care personnel, if they can do so consistently, said an official close to the deliberations who was not authorized to speak publicly. With the highly transmissible omicron variant spurring record levels of infections and hospitalizations, experts have repeatedly urged the Biden administration to recommend better-quality masks rather than cloth coverings to protect against an airborne virus and to underscore the importance of masking. “The agency is currently actively looking to update its recommendations for KN95 and N95 in light of omicron,” the official said. “We know these masks provide better filtration.”

Are we testing wrong for omicron?” via Sumathi Reddy of The Wall Street Journal — Most people in the U.S. have been doing COVID-19 rapid tests with nasal swabs. That is what the FDA endorses and what rapid tests sold in the U.S. instruct. But some scientists say a throat swab may be more effective at detecting omicron. Some are calling on the FDA and test manufacturers to better study throat swabs, saying that the reliance on nasal swabs may be one reason why rapid tests seem to be less sensitive in detecting omicron than previous variants. Many consumers also are agitating, sometimes after finding that a throat swab yielded a positive test result when a nasal swab didn’t. The FDA said it doesn’t have any data to indicate that throat swabs are an accurate or appropriate way to do home tests.

— CORONA ECONOMICS —

The World Bank warns that the pandemic will slow economic growth in 2022.” via Alan Rappeport of The New York Times — The World Bank said that the pace of global economic growth was expected to slow in 2022, as new waves of the pandemic collide with rising prices and snarled supply chains, blunting the momentum of last year’s recovery. This projection underscores the stubborn nature of the public health crisis, widening inequality around the world. The pandemic is especially brutal on developing countries, largely owing to rickety health care infrastructure and low vaccination rates. Growth in the world’s two largest economies, the United States and China, is poised to moderate considerably. The World Bank is recommending stronger debt relief initiatives to help poor countries as well as urging support for policies that will strengthen their financial systems and improve local infrastructure in ways that will spur growth.

The World Bank does not expect economic growth in 2022.

What happened to the eviction tsunami?” via Yuliya Panfil and David Spievack of FiveThirtyEight — Since the pandemic began, housing experts have been predicting that the pandemic’s economic fallout would produce an eviction “tsunami” that could put as many as 40 million people out of their homes. The experts are still waiting. When the pandemic first surged in the U.S., the dire predictions prompted federal, state, and city governments to temporarily enact emergency policies to ban evictions. When the national moratorium lifted, housing experts, renter advocates, and policymakers braced for a surge of evictions. Now, four months later, evictions have increased, but data suggests that a tsunami has yet to materialize. Some still think one is coming as courts begin working through a backlog of eviction filings.

Four reasons you’re seeing empty grocery store shelves” via Laura Reiley of The Washington Post — It’s barely 2022 and already social media is swamped with pictures of empty grocery shelves, from cream cheese to paper towels, children’s juice boxes and cat food. Some of the culprits for this round of shortfalls are the same as in the early days of the pandemic, and some can be chalked up to new problems bumping up against old ones. The omicron variant surge has meant more work for stores, just as more employees can’t work and are calling out due to illness or quarantine. Access to rapid coronavirus tests makes it challenging to get employees back to work swiftly. Sweeping winter weather systems have made road conditions difficult in many parts of the country in the past two weeks. In China and the United Kingdom, some municipalities have once again shut down factories and thus slowed orders for specific ingredients and food products for U.S. imports.

— MORE CORONA —

CDC lifting cruise ship restrictions despite 30-fold increase of omicron cases” via Alex Daugherty of POLITICO Pro — CDC director Rochelle Walensky confirmed that the agency plans to let its no-sail order for cruise ships expire on Jan. 15, despite a dramatic increase of COVID-19 cases reported on cruise ships in the last two weeks. Walensky, in response to questions from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, said the industry has “stepped up” and is mainly adhering to CDC guidelines on its own, making the additional government regulations unnecessary. Walensky also said, “in just over the last two weeks with omicron, we’ve seen a 30-fold increase in cases on ships.”

Rochelle Walensky recommends lifting restrictions on cruises, despite omicron. Image via AP.

A popular at-home test detects most infectious omicron cases, a study suggests.” via Emily Anthes of The New York Times — The Abbott BinaxNOW, a widely used at-home coronavirus test, can detect the vast majority of people who are infected with the new omicron variant and are carrying high levels of the virus. The BinaxNOW is a rapid antigen test, which is designed to detect proteins on the outside of the coronavirus. Like all rapid antigen tests, it is less sensitive than P.C.R. tests, which can find even very small traces of the virus. But rapid antigen tests have generally been good at catching people who have high viral loads and are most likely to be infectious, although federal health officials have recently sent mixed messages about their usefulness. The new study found that overall, the BinaxNOW detected 65% of the infections identified via P.C.R. testing, but 95% of people had the highest viral loads.

Wondering when the pandemic will end? On TV, it already has.” via James Poniewozik of The New York Times — In the real world, the omicron variant may be driving case counts into the stratosphere, but on TV, the pandemic is playing dead. In the Season 11 premiere of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Larry David’s HBO comedy of ill manners, chaos breaks out during a party at Albert Brooks’s House when Larry finds a closet stuffed with Purell, toilet paper, and KN95 masks, exposing the “Lost in America” director as having been a “Covid hoarder.” You know — during the pandemic. The one that is definitely over. For nearly two years now, representing (or avoiding) COVID-19 on TV has been a choice among bad options. Most shows ignored it altogether. A few made the pandemic a direct subject, earnestly if clunkily. Maybe most awkward have been the series that acknowledged COVID-19 existed but declared or implied it was over long before COVID-19 decided it was over.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

‘We have no option’: Joe Biden calls for changing Senate rules to pass voting rights laws.” via Katie Rogers of The New York Times — Biden endorsed changing Senate rules to pass new voting rights legislation during a speech in Atlanta, warning of a grave threat to American democracy if lawmakers did not act to “protect the heart and soul” of the country. Biden did not go so far as to call for full-scale elimination of the filibuster, a Senate tradition that allows the minority party to block legislation that fails to garner 60 votes, but said he supported “getting rid of” it in the case of voting rights legislation. Such a change in Senate procedures has only the slimmest of chances of winning the support of all 50 Senate Democrats, which is needed to overcome universal Republican opposition. Biden, a former senator and an institutionalist who had long been leery of whittling away at the filibuster, said such Senate traditions had been “abused.”

Joe Biden is done playing nice about voter rights. Image via Twitter.

In pivot to voting rights, Biden risks falling short on a second big goal” via Seung Min Kim of The Washington Post — Biden delivered a hard-hitting speech in Atlanta on voting rights, saying the issue is fundamental to America, calling for passage of sweeping legislation and denouncing in detail the impact of voting restrictions in states like Georgia. But in pivoting so fully to voting rights from his recent efforts to pass a major social spending bill, Biden risks opening the new year with a second legislative setback, given the daunting obstacles, including the near-unified opposition of Republicans and the reluctance of some Democrats to ease filibuster rules. The President will throw his support behind changing the legislative filibuster to ease the passage of voting measures and to ensure that “this basic right is defended,” said a White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the speech.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Justice Dept. forms domestic terrorism unit” via Katie Benner of The New York Times — The number of FBI investigations of suspects accused of domestic extremism has more than doubled since the spring of 2020, the head of the department’s national security division, Matthew Olsen, said in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. A group of lawyers will now be dedicated to the domestic threat and ensure that cases will be “handled properly and effectively coordinated” across the agency and federal law enforcement. The move is in keeping with Attorney General Merrick Garland’s vow to prioritize combating domestic extremism. It comes as the Justice Department investigates the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, an assault that underscores the resurgence of domestic extremism driven in part by the baseless perception that the 2020 election was marred by election fraud.

Merrick Garland is taking a harder line on domestic terrorism. Image via AP.

— CRISIS —

Mike Pence and Jan. 6 committee engage in high-stakes dance over testimony” via Michael S. Schmidt and Alan Feuer of The New York Times — As the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol rushes to gather evidence and conduct interviews, how far it will be able to go in holding former President Donald Trump accountable increasingly appears to hinge on one possible witness: former Vice-President Pence. Since the committee was formed last summer, Pence’s lawyer and the panel have been talking informally about whether he would be willing to speak to investigators, people briefed on the discussions said. But as Pence began sorting through a complex calculation about his cooperation, he indicated to the committee that he was undecided, they said. Pence is said by people familiar with his thinking to have grown increasingly disillusioned with the idea of voluntary cooperation. He has told aides that the committee has taken a sharp partisan turn by openly considering the potential for criminal referrals to the Justice Department.

Mike Pence is doing the tango with the Jan. 6 committee. Image via AP.


— LOCAL NOTES —

‘Backroom deal’: Rush to fill Miami-Dade superintendent’s job angers constituents” via Sommer Regal of the Miami Herald — The effort to find the next superintendent of Miami-Dade Public Schools has been underway for about one week, but the process already has sparked rumors that the board has a top candidate in mind and has prompted sharp criticism about the district’s tight timeline. T. Willard Fair, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Miami, for one, raised an issue of lack of transparency and the board’s decision to forgo a robust national search. “We can’t have a national search because it takes too long?” Fair asked. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho was successful, in part, because of his “first-rate backup team”; someone in his cabinet should be qualified to take over for a few months, he argued.

Man sprayed ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ and racist graffiti on Madeira Beach home and car, deputies say” via Nathaniel Rodriguez of WFLA — An affidavit stated that 32-year-old Geoffrey Pearson Holtman used spray paint to write “Let’s Go, Brandon,” “Trump,” and other things including a swastika and racial slurs on the front of a woman’s House, her garage door and her decorations. Additional documents said Holtman also sprayed racist graffiti on another man’s car and RV and shattered the car’s window. Deputies said that while trying to transfer Holtman from a patrol car to the transport van, the suspect refused to speak, move or open his eyes, prompting the deputies to take Holtman to a hospital to be medically cleared. An affidavit said after Holtman was cleared and wheeled out on a stretcher, he gave deputies more trouble by kicking and screaming when they tried to get him back into the cruiser. Deputies said they had to pick the man up and put him in the cruiser before securing his feet.

Glitter attack on man leads to charges for two Clearwater women” via Heather Monahan of WFLA — Two women are facing a felony charge after police said they went to a man’s apartment in Clearwater and started throwing glitter at him during an argument. According to arrest affidavits from Pinellas County, 27-year-old Kaitlin O’Donovan and 29-year-old Sarah Franks went to the man’s apartment on Fairwood Avenue just before 3 a.m. on Monday and started arguing with him as he stood on his fenced balcony. Both women threw a container of glitter at the victim during the argument. The arrest affidavits stated that the man was hit in the head and torso. Officers said Franks then climbed over the balcony fence, went into the man’s apartment and threw more containers of glitter at him. She then unlocked the front door to let O’Donovan inside as well, the affidavit said.

A glitter bomb went a little too far.

State audit blisters Port Richey’s redevelopment agency” via Barbara Behrendt of the Tampa Bay Times — A state audit has confirmed mismanagement allegations stretching back years within the city’s community redevelopment agency. The scathing report issued last month by the Florida auditor general found that the agency used money dedicated to fixing blight in the city to pay for other things, such as the salaries of City Council members, police and fire officials. And it put an undue share of the cost of fixing city problems on the Pasco County government for two years. The audit also found the geographic boundaries of the area served by the agency are overly broad, taking in the entire city, including neighborhoods where values have risen sharply. The result is that tax money meant to encourage redevelopment of neglected areas subsidizes city services in parts of the community that don’t need the extra attention.

The Southern Group moving to historic Orlando office” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The Southern Group has purchased a 96-year-old downtown Orlando office building that was once home to Baseball Hall of Fame ballplayer Joe Tinker’s real estate business, and the lobbying firm plans to set up its Orlando shop there. The Southern Group announced Tuesday it had purchased the Tinker Building from Euclid Media Group, the parent company of Orlando Weekly. The sales price was not immediately disclosed or publicly posted, but the property’s market value is listed at just under $1.2 million by Orange County Property Appraiser Amy Mercado. Orlando Weekly reported Monday that its staff mostly has dispersed to work from home due to the COVID-19 crisis. The paper no longer needs the full space and will, once the pandemic settles down, seek other office space downtown.

Sheriff’s Office: No charges filed ‘for now’ in Tallahassee road rage death” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — The Leon County Sheriff’s Office said that a person involved in a road rage incident that led to the death of a state agency spokesman has been released from custody. “For now, no charges have been filed in this case,” the Sheriff’s Office said. The Sheriff’s Office also confirmed the deceased’s identity as John Kuczwanski, who served as director of external affairs for Florida’s State Board of Administration. Deputies responded to a report of a shooting Thursday afternoon to the Circle K at Thomasville and Bannerman roads. When they arrived, they attempted lifesaving measures on Kuczwanski, who was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead. The Sheriff’s Office has not said whether the person who survived the confrontation has asserted that he shot in self-defense.

David Bellamy keeps money lead over Jeremy Matlow, who claims largest number of donations” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — Tallahassee City Commissioner Matlow may not be winning the dollar race in his re-election campaign, but he says he’s pulling way ahead in the number of individual donors supporting him. As the latest campaign finance reports showed him trailing his opponent, Bellamy, in money raised, Matlow took the opportunity to boast about the number of people backing him. He noted he has received 784 individual donations and touted his average donation amount of $91, which he said was much lower than Bellamy’s. A review of records show that Matlow’s base of individual donors is significantly lower than his number of donations because many of his contributors gave multiple times. His reports show he has closer to 500 unique individual donors.

Escambia County settles its part of a lawsuit involving Doug Underhill’s Facebook accounts” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — Escambia County Commissioners agreed to settle Pensacola businessman David Bear‘s lawsuit involving a public records request made to Commissioner Underhill, leaving Underhill alone to defend the lawsuit and putting the county at odds as to whether it will reimburse Underhill’s legal fees. The settlement agreement removes the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners from any further litigation over the records request, though the lawsuit will continue against Underhill in both his official and individual capacities. As part of the agreement, the county and Bear agreed to waive Bear’s $190,000 in legal fees that he was asking the county to reimburse. However, the county will have to pay Bear the $190,000 if it ever pays or reimburses Underhill’s legal costs in the lawsuit.

Doug Underhill is left alone to make his way through a social media minefield.

Tampa General, USF Health innovates to lead in academic medical care” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — Announced by TGH and USF Health, the new USF Tampa General Physicians Group is one of the largest academic medical groups in the state. The academic medical center will help drive growth, improve quality and increase access to world-class, academic medical care across the community. “Tampa General Hospital is on a path to become the safest and most innovative academic health system in the country and our affiliation with USF Health gets us closer to achieving that vision,” stated TGH President and CEO John Couris. At USF Tampa General Physicians, Floridians can find cutting-edge specialized care for the most complex and challenging illnesses and conditions. In addition, patients will have access to innovative research and clinical trials.

— TOP OPINION —

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in Florida’s future” via George LeMieux and Dominic M. Calabro of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida is in an enviable fiscal position. The state’s current budget is record in size, as are our budget reserves. Revenue collections are back above pre-pandemic levels, and this Legislature will have even more money available for the next budget cycle, made possible by both strong economic performance and billions in unappropriated federal funds. For sure, 2021 had its share of disruptions, but thankfully the Legislature provided numerous wins for Florida’s taxpayers with the passage of a number of TaxWatch priorities, including COVID-19 liability protections; adoption of E-Fairness provisions; replenishment of the pandemic-decimated Re-employment Trust Fund; and a reduction in the Business Rent Tax (the only such state tax in the nation), including a glide path for its complete elimination.

— OPINIONS —

Florida got an extension on those expired COVID-19 tests. This time, can we actually use them?” via the Miami Herald editorial board — The state of Florida has another three months to do the right thing on those expired COVID-19 tests. Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie told Fred the state has gotten a three-month extension from the federal government to use a million or so rapid COVID-19 tests that the state had allowed to expire, unused, in a state government warehouse, while the omicron variant surged in places like Miami-Dade County. That’s great. We hope Guthrie and Ron DeSantis have a plan to put those tests to good use in the next three months. But given the administration’s push to reduce testing, we’re not so sure.

A new Session opens with the same old DeSantis divisions” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — The opening day of the annual Florida Legislative Session used to be a fleeting moment of hope, renewal and bipartisan cooperation, before the inevitable two months of partisan rumbling. But 2022 is an election year, and DeSantis has his sights set there and beyond, as in 2024 and the White House. That was clearer than ever as his State of the State speech to the Legislature was a culture wars playbook of divisive rhetoric. He dished out enough red meat to stock a butcher shop with enough left over for a Trump rally. As for COVID-19, DeSantis decried “hysterical media (and) unions and the politicians they control,” and said he was right to keep schools open when other states closed theirs.

Will DeSantis stop pandering on race? Dream on” via Randy Schultz of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — Last month, DeSantis announced the “Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (STOP W.O.K.E.) Act.” It’s the leader in the clubhouse for most hackneyed acronym of the 2022 election season. Behold DeSantis’ latest attack on a phantom enemy, critical race theory, or CRT. No Florida school district teaches it. DeSantis offered no examples of private-sector employees having to, as he claimed, “endure CRT-inspired ‘training’ and indoctrination.” Yet as he manufactures these grievances in the divisive, demagogic style of 1950s segregationists, DeSantis casts his critics as the racists. With typical hypocrisy, he used the assassinated civil rights leader to do so. DeSantis signed legislation that makes it harder for poorer Floridians to vote. His “anti-riot” law fed the myth that Black Lives Matter protesters rampaged through Florida after the murder of George Floyd.

Reckless bill could further endanger manatees by destroying local sea grass” via Rep. Randy Fine for Florida Today — I remain incredibly troubled by the staggering loss of sea grass in our estuary. It has had real consequences. Since 2009, we’ve lost around 46,000 acres of natural sea grass. As a result, the Indian River Lagoon has been ground zero in the deaths of hundreds of manatees who starved because they could not find enough sea grass. House Bill 349 would create a program to allow developers to pay money so that they can dig up and destroy the remaining natural sea grass in Brevard with the hope that it can be regrown someplace else, possibly the Panhandle or the Gulf Coast. Scientists have explained that there is a very low success rate for transplanting sea grass.

The Dolphins didn’t fire Brian Flores because of his coaching” via Ben Solak of The Ringer — NFL teams, and coaches especially, don’t play the game; they play the Game. The Game is one of politics, of connections and networks, of knowing the right guy, and of knowing the guy who knows the right guy, and wondering how his son’s college baseball career is going. Flores lost his because of the relationships he struggled to make and maintain. ESPN’s Jeff Darlington said Flores’s “relationship with [Dolphins GM Chris] Grier and Tua [Tagovailoa] had deteriorated to a pretty bad place.” And Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said “an organization can only function if it’s collaborative and works well together.” If anyone would know why Flores got fired, it’s that guy. He did it.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Now we know the State of The State … and it’s Freedom.

We’ve got highlights from the opening of the state Senate and House and, of course, the Governor’s State of The State Speech … which included the Python King.

Also on today’s Sunrise:

— House Democrats release their own freedom video in rebuttal to the State of the State speech.

— Bill to ban abortions in Florida was introduced on the opening day of the Legislative Session. Democrats promise a fight.

— And dueling National Anthems in the Senate and House; one featured no singing and was pretty saxxy.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

How a Key West bartender and his boss helped solve the burning of a beloved landmark” via Gwen Filosa of the Miami Herald — Who cracked the case of the burned buoy? Key West police got some help tracking down two men they said vandalized the beloved landmark at the Southernmost Point of the U.S. Credit the detective work at a Duval Street bar. After going through receipts and security camera footage, a bartender with a good memory and his boss with a curious mind figured out the suspects’ names. Cameron Briody, who tends bar at Irish Kevin’s on Key West’s most famous street, awoke New Year’s Day to learn that the giant buoy landmark had been scarred by a fire two people set next to it with a burning pine tree. Briody recognized one face from a Southernmost Point webcam video circulating online. He said he served the man on New Year’s Eve that police later identified as a suspect, Skylar Jacobson.

Of course: Bartenders cracked the case of who defaced the Key West Buoy.

What Dana Young is reading — “Biggest Gasparilla ever? Organizers say people are eager after a year off.” via Josh Fiallo of the Tampa Bay Times — The wait between Gasparilla parades disappointed many in the Tampa Bay area, but last year’s pandemic-forced cancellation may have hit Pete Lackman the hardest. To Lackman’s surprise, he wasn’t by himself: At least 20 other boats had the same idea. “Everybody already realizes how much they missed the parade last year,” Lackman said at a news conference Tuesday kicking off the Gasparilla season. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this year isn’t the biggest yet.” They’ll have more company this Jan. 29 when the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates returns to Hillsborough Bay, Bayshore Boulevard, and downtown Tampa. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said preparations are being made to accommodate some 300,000 people.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Happy birthday belatedly to Rep. Tommy Gregory. Celebrating today are Rep. Charlie Stone, Deputy Chief Financial Officer Frank Collins, Barbara Petersen, and Jeff Woodburn.

___

Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel Dean, Renzo Downey, Jacob Ogles, 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. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.



#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 @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Kelly Hayes, Joe Henderson, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Andrew Wilson, Wes Wolfe, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
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