Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.19.22

Sunburn Orange Tally (7)
Coffee is for closers. So is Sunburn, your morning rundown of Florida politics.

Good Wednesday morning.

The fundraising arm for Democratic Senate campaigns has pulled in nearly $3 million since Sen. Lauren Book took over as Senate Democratic Leader.

Senate Victory said the fundraising total puts it in its “strongest position to date,” surpassing the previous high watermark of $2.1 million raised by then-Democratic Leader-designate Oscar Braynon during the same period in the 2016 election cycle.

The $2.9 million total includes money raised this year ahead of the Legislative Session fundraising blackout and benefited two funds: The official Florida Democratic Party committee account and the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

Lauren Book makes a fundraising splash as Senate Democratic Leader.

Finance reports show FDLCC pulled down $839,750 last year, with $568,250 coming in after Book was named Democratic Leader in late April. The committee started 2022 with $622,820 in the bank. The Florida Democratic Party raised about $6 million last year, including money not raised by Book. It had $13.6 million on hand on Jan. 31.

“This level of fundraising strength is truly unprecedented and speaks to Leader Book’s commitment to a successful election cycle that protects the 16-seats held by Senate Democrats today,” Senate Victory said in a memo outlining its fundraising efforts.

Senate Victory said the money will fund new hires in the “critical seats” currently held by Tallahassee Sen. Loranne Ausley and Tampa Sen. Janet Cruz. Additionally, Senate Victory has worked with filed candidates in likely competitive seats and plans to share more details once new district lines are finalized.


@Redistrict: Raise your hand if you expected the ultimate fate of 2022 redistricting to come down to Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) vs. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D).

@ChristinaPushaw: If you genuinely believe that Florida is the Third Reich, you are *free to leave any time*. Jews and others who were forced into concentration camps by Nazis, were not free to leave. That fact alone shows how absurd, offensive, and sick this entire comparison is.

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@EvanAxelbank: Glad to see cases dropping in FL Not that the numbers are pretty, but to see 7-day avg go from 72k to 50k in a week is welcome Feel free to keep falling, and never come back!

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@MinaKimes: Trying to dunk on NICK FREAKIN SABAN for not winning enough is like saying the weather sucks in California when it rains once a year. Galaxy brain stuff.

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‘Ozark’ final season begins — 2; ‘Billions’ begins — 4; Red Dog Blue Dog charity event — 6; James Madison Institute’s Stanley Marshall Day Celebration in Jacksonville — 9; XXIV Olympic Winter Games begins — 16; Super Bowl LVI — 25; Will Smith’s ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ reboot premieres — 25; season four of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ begins — 28; ‘The Walking Dead’ final season part two begins — 32; Daytona 500 — 32; Special Election for Jacksonville City Council At-Large Group 3 — 35; CPAC begins — 37; St. Pete Grand Prix — 37; Joe Biden to give State of the Union — 41; ‘The Batman’ premieres — 44; the third season of ‘Atlanta’ begins — 63; season two of ‘Bridgerton’ begins — 65; The Oscars — 67; Macbeth with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga begin performances on Broadway — 69; Grammys rescheduled in Las Vegas — 74; federal student loan payments will resume — 102;’ Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 107;’ Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 128;’ Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 134;’ Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 171; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 182; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 226;’ Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 261; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 296; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 299; ‘Avatar 2′ premieres — 331;’ Captain Marvel 2′ premieres — 394;’ John Wick: Chapter 4′ premieres — 429; ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 555;’ Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 639; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 919.


Ron DeSantis proposes special police agency to monitor elections” via Lori Rozsa and Beth Reinhard of The Washington Post — plan by DeSantis would establish a special police force to oversee state elections, the first of its kind in the nation, and while his fellow Republicans have reacted tepidly, voting rights advocates fear that it will become law and be used to intimidate voters. The proposed Office of Election Crimes and Security would be part of the Department of State, answering the Governor. DeSantis asks the GOP-controlled Legislature to allocate nearly $6 million to hire 52 people to “investigate, detect, apprehend, and arrest anyone for an alleged violation” of election laws. They would be stationed at unspecified “field offices throughout the state” and act on tips from “government officials or any other person.”

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DeSantis shakes up Florida redistricting as veto concerns grow” via Matt Dixon of Florida Politics — DeSantis upended Florida’s redistricting process over the weekend, submitting his own proposed congressional map that carves out more Republican-friendly districts and is already sparking threats of lawsuits. DeSantis’ general counsel, Ryan Newman, formally filed the proposed map Sunday night in a move that surprised leaders in the GOP-led Florida House and Senate. The lawmakers see the highly unusual proposal as the most direct signal yet that DeSantis would veto the congressional map already awaiting a yet-to-be-scheduled floor vote in the Senate. Florida gained one seat in Congress in 2022 for a total of 28. The state Senate’s proposal includes 16 seats Donald Trump would have won in 2020 compared to 12 for Biden. DeSantis’ map consists of 18 seats Trump would have won that year.

Al Lawson blasts congressional redistricting proposal from DeSantis” via James Call of USA Today Network — DeSantis’ entry into congressional redistricting landed with a thud among Democrats, minorities and data experts. A proposal released Sunday night wipes out a seat that includes half of Tallahassee and is currently occupied by the dean of Leon County politics, Lawson, who served nearly three decades in the Florida Legislature before his election to Congress in 2016. A quick review of the plan shows it benefits Republicans at the expense of Black and Hispanic voters. Two decades ago, the Legislature created six minority-access districts, three for each group of historically underrepresented residents.


Carlos Guillermo Smith tests positive for COVID-19; several Senators absent from Capitol” via Skylar Swisher of the Orlando Sentinel — An Orlando legislator has COVID-19, and the absence of several state Senators prompted a legislative committee to cancel a meeting Tuesday. State Rep. Smith announced he tested positive for COVID-19 Tuesday morning after experiencing moderate symptoms over the weekend. “I’m fully vaxxed, boosted, and now as a result — nearly 100% better!” he wrote in a tweet. Smith wrote he is in isolation away from the Capitol but will continue to work remotely. The Florida Capitol has no COVID-19 protocols in place. Smith has been wearing a mask, but most lawmakers haven’t.

—”Will omicron be a wrecking ball during the 2022 Session?” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics

Florida could shield whites from ‘discomfort’ of racist past” via Brendan Farrington of The Associated Press — A bill pushed by DeSantis that would prohibit public schools and private businesses from making white people feel “discomfort” when they teach students or train employees about discrimination in the nation’s past received its first approval Tuesday. The Senate Education Committee approved the bill that takes aim at critical race theory on party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. Democrats argued the bill isn’t needed, would lead to frivolous lawsuits, and said it would amount to censorship in schools. They asked, without success, for real-life examples of teachers or businesses telling students or employees that they are racist because of their race.

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Senate wants to boost benefits for foster families but can Wilton Simpson get the money he needs?” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — The Florida Senate is pushing ahead with the second round of changes to the state’s foster care system, a top priority this Session for Simpson. The question is: Can Simpson get the funding he needs in the state budget to make it happen? A Senate committee Tuesday unanimously agreed to introduce a bill that would boost the amount of money paid monthly to relatives and non-relatives who take in children, as well as provide a $200 monthly subsidy to foster parents and other caregivers who bring in preschool children to help cover the cost of child care or early learning programs. The measure is supported by the Florida Coalition for Children, the Children’s Home Society of Florida and the Florida Foster and Adoptive Parent Association.

Florida’s ‘dire’ insurance market could get boost under Danny Burgess bill” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — One way Florida may try to bolster the state’s rickety property insurance market is by pushing ahead with a bill that would allow domestic insurers already in the state to start selling what is known as surplus lines insurance, a type of coverage that is less regulated than traditional policies. The measure unanimously cleared the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee on Tuesday. Sen. Burgess, the sponsor of SB 1402, said Florida was following the lead of 21 other states. While committee member Sen. Annette Taddeo voted for the bill, she asked Burgess to explain what happens if a surplus lines carrier becomes insolvent. He admitted that “there’s inherent risks in doing this. That is made abundantly clear to consumers when they are electing this coverage.” The bill comes when Florida’s property insurance market is in “dire” shape.

Travis Hutson files amendment addressing home rule concerns with preemption bill” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Sen. Hutson has filed an amendment to a controversial preemption bill (SB 280) that could soften the blow to home rule. The legislation would still require counties and municipalities to provide a business impact estimate before passing local ordinances, but the amendment makes clear governments can outsource estimation to outside groups. Hutson also added to a list of exemptions for the estimate requirement. The law also allows a legal avenue for businesses to sue governments to stop ordinances from going into effect. But Hutson’s amendment empowers local governments to lift any stay on enforcement if they win in court, even if they are waiting on an appeal.

Measure to prevent citizen initiatives from ‘diluting’ constitution advances” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The proposed measure (HJR 1127), carried by Lithia Republican Rep. Mike Beltran, would limit the subject of citizen initiatives to procedural matters or the structure of government or the constitution. While the measure passed the House Public Integrity and Elections Committee, the proposed constitutional amendment received pushback from Democrats and activist groups. Lawmakers in recent years have imposed a variety of restrictions on the citizen initiative process to limit paid signature gathering and shorten the time for acquiring signatures. Proponents say that work is part of a broader effort to reserve the constitution for functional matters, not policy matters. Democrats contend proposed limitations to the amendment process are a response to the public passing constitutional amendments after the Legislature failed to act on popular policies.

Corrections over counties: Jason Pizzo says Florida must prioritize DOC mission in addressing struggling prison system” via Daniel Figueroa of Florida Politics — Chris Doolin started, as he said, by putting a flag on the beach. “We know that (the Department of Corrections) is struggling. We know that the Legislature has to deal with the challenges they have,” he told the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice. He spoke to the committee following a presentation from Department of Corrections Secretary Ricky Dixon. Dixon runs the country’s third-largest prison system. But the infrastructure used to house and rehabilitate Florida’s 80,000 incarcerated inmates and 144,000 supervised offenders is crumbling. The state prison system needs to fall at or below a 3% vacancy rate among officers to operate at safe and adequate levels. The department is currently sitting at a nearly 32% vacancy rate.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse appear for Disney Day at the Capitol, featuring Disney World Ambassadors and Cast Members with displays and activities celebrating the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World. Attendees were able to sign up for the new Disney specialty license plate, as the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles accepted applications on-site.

$5K bonuses for police recruits, part of pro-cop agenda, advance in Legislature” via Michael Moline of Florida Phoenix — A key plank in DeSantis pro-cop, election-year agenda sailed through its first committee test in the Florida House on Tuesday, when only a single Democrat voted no. The measure (HB 3) calls for $5,000 signing bonuses for people who join state or local law enforcement agencies, whether transferring from police jobs in other states or entering the profession for the first time, plus additional bonuses and benefits for cops. When DeSantis first suggested the idea in October, some critics warned he wanted to reward cops fleeing workplace vaccine mandates in other states. He’s up for re-election this year and possibly eyeing a run for President in 2024. DeSantis disavowed that intent at the time, insisting the idea was to succor officers who feel they are being “mistreated” in their existing jobs.

Florida resiliency plan scrutinized for failure to address prevention, aid smaller communities” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — The Florida Department of Environmental Protection presented its first Resilient Florida plan on Tuesday evening. The plan provided a preliminary outline for the Resilient Florida Grant Program, the state’s new annual $100 million commitment to tackle issues around sea level rise and mitigation efforts. The program was established under SB 1954, a 2021 legislative priority of House Speaker Chris Sprowls signed into law by DeSantis last summer. Adam Blalock, the DEP Deputy Secretary for Ecosystems Restoration, presented the proposal to the committee. Pinellas County Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond criticized the framework of the grant program, saying it focused too heavily on the inevitability of sea-level rise rather than addressing the root issues that cause it.

— TALLY 2 —

—”Which incumbents could be forced to face off under the Senate map headed for a floor vote?” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics

League of Women Voters slams Senate’s proposed redistricting maps” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The League of Women Voters of Florida President blasted the Senate’s two redistricting plans as unconstitutional. Their missive argued the maps “violate the U.S. Constitution, the Voting Rights Act and Florida’s Constitution because the new district maps don’t adequately reflect the growth of minorities in the state since the 2010 Census and they unfairly favor one party over another.” That’s especially noteworthy as the League served as a high-profile plaintiff in a successful challenge of maps produced by the Legislature a decade ago. The criticism from the League this year could portend more litigation.

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New Florida House map settles disputes in old drafts” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Unlike a prior effort in November, when the House drafted two maps, only one map hit the state website. That could be an indication the House Redistricting Committee now wants to work off a single document. The map dropped less than a week after a chief House Redistricting Committee workshop. The map (H 8009) seems in many places to settle draft disputes in regions where two choices had been laid out before. For example, prior drafts disagreed about drafting House Districts 1 and 2. One map (H 8005) stacked HD 1 to cover the northwestern-most portion of Florida, with HD 2 located almost entirely to its south until hitting the coast. But the other (H 8007) Imagined an HD 1 that included all the low-density areas of the westernmost district in the Panhandle but encompassed a denser HD 2.

House Democrats criticize previous lawmakers, DeSantis over affordable housing” via Tristan Wood of Florida Politics — House Democratic leadership is criticizing previous lawmakers and the current Governor for their inaction addressing affordable housing issues. Minority Leader Evan Jenne said legislators who are no longer in office failed to take affordable housing issues seriously, which has made it difficult to deal with the problem now that it is in every corner of the state. Rep. Fentrice Driskell criticized a process called sweeping, where the money allocated to affordable housing gets diverted to the General Revenue Fund for other things. The Legislature has swept more than $2 billion from affordable housing in the state since 2007.

Lawmaker wants to remove three state holidays honoring the Confederacy” via WFLA — As celebrations pour in for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today, some Floridians are preparing for another birthday later this week. Wednesday, Jan. 19, is Robert E. Lee’s birthday, the general who commanded the Confederate Army. Lee’s birthday is one of three legal holidays in Florida celebrating the confederacy, along with Jefferson Davis’s birthday and Confederate Memorial Day. Democratic State Senator and Minority Leader Book filed a bill for the third time in five years to remove them from state law. “With all of the hate and divisiveness we see today, it’s more important than ever to condemn racism,” Book said in February of last year about her bill. But Book will face an uphill battle. Her previous bills failed in committee, and opposition has been vocal.

Bill to create alternative to security deposit for Florida renters clears first hurdle” via Jeffrey Schweers of USA Today Network — A Republican lawmaker says his bill to allow landlords to charge tenants a nonrefundable fee in place of an upfront security deposit would help ease the state’s current affordable housing crunch. But some of his Democratic colleagues in the state Senate say the bill needs a lot more work to protect tenants’ rights before they can support the measure. “I know you are trying to do a good thing, but it needs a little more … parameters,” Sen. Audrey Gibson told bill sponsor Jim Boyd at the bill’s first hearing Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Gibson is the panel’s vice-chair. Sen. Tina Polsky said her biggest concern was that the bill didn’t require landlords to deposit the fees in an escrow account or return the fees to the tenants at the end of their lease, as required with security deposits.

College president search exemption bill advances, but with shorter open record time frame” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Legislation that would provide a public records exemption for information about applicants seeking a state university or college presidential position cleared its first House committee stop Tuesday in a 14-4 vote, but it did not make it through unscathed. The measure (HB 703), filed by Rep. Sam Garrison, is known all too well by state lawmakers. This will be the proposal’s eighth time trying to cross the finish line in Florida’s Legislature, with Garrison introducing the bill as “further proof it’s hard to keep a good bill down.” “House Bill 703 seeks to ensure the Florida law does not disincentivize our state university system for college institutions attracting the deepest, most qualified diverse group of applicants,” Garrison said.

Jason Brodeur proposal requiring city officials to file full financial disclosures advances” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — The Senate Community Affairs Committee unanimously OK’d a bill (SB 510) by Sen. Brodeur that would add mayors, commissioners and other local elected officials, as well as municipal managers, to the list of those required to file a Form 6 financial disclosure with the Florida Commission on Ethics. The bill, to which Rep. Spencer Roach of Fort Myers filed a House companion, would apply the financial transparency strictures outlined in Article II, Section 8 of the Florida Constitution to elected municipal officials. State officials are already required to follow those rules. Such an update is long overdue, according to Sen. Travis Hutson, who spoke on behalf of the bill.

Bill extending life of VISIT FLORIDA breezes through House tourism committee” via Daniel Figueroa of Florida Politics — A bill to extend the sunset date of VISIT FLORIDA, the state-funded nonprofit tourism marketing corporation, breezed through the House Tourism, Infrastructure & Energy Subcommittee Tuesday. VISIT FLORIDA would cease to exist after Oct. 1, 2023, under current law. HB 489, sponsored by Rep. Linda Chaney, would extend its scheduled repeal date to Oct. 1, 2028. Chaney said VISIT FLORIDA uses a targeted approach to attract visitors to Florida. The bill received some pushback. Critics have accused the organization of being a form of corporate welfare and misusing taxpayer money.

Linda Chaney doesn’t want the sun to set on VISIT FLORIDA.

Play ball!: Joe Gruters’ national anthem bill clears first Senate committee” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee voted in favor of legislation (SB 1298) that would require a sports team to cue up the U.S. national anthem at the start of each team sporting event. “Florida is the freedom state,” said Sen. Gruters, the bill sponsor, “and if you want taxpayer dollars for your stadium, you will have to play the national anthem. It is reasonable and appropriate to think we would continue to play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at tax-funded stadiums.” The requirement would fall on any team entering into an agreement with a government entity in Florida. That includes every sports franchise playing in a government-owned or subsidized sporting venue. The presentation of the amendment sparked some curious questions.

Bill boosting AAPI history education advances — The Senate Education Committee approved a measure Tuesday requiring schools to teach Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) history. “The passage of this bill serves as an important first step in combating misinformation and discrimination around Asian cultures,” said Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart, the bill’s sponsor. “Education is key to creating a more inclusive and understanding society where we all can appreciate one another.” Schools are already required to teach African American and Hispanic history. The bill will next head to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani is sponsoring the House version.


Evidence tampering ‘loophole’ bill clears House committee” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Hiding evidence after a murder or any other capital offense may soon carry stiffer penalties under a proposal OK’d Tuesday by a House panel. Those who tamper, hide or destroy physical evidence related to a criminal case currently face a third-degree felony. Under the proposal, however, a person would face a second-degree felony, a stricter penalty, if they tampered with evidence in a capital felony case. Examples of capital offenses include first-degree murder, rape and even some drug trafficking offenses. The House Justice Appropriation Subcommittee approved the measure (HB 287) with a 12-1 vote. Republican Garrison is the bill sponsor.

Bill to curb identity theft from crash reports narrowly avoids committee bump” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Legislation to prevent the personal information of people involved in car crashes from going public narrowly passed its first committee. The measure (SB 1614), carried by Rep. Gayle Harrell, would make indefinite the current 60-day public records exemption for the personal information of people involved in car crashes and who receive traffic tickets. Protecting that information is one way to cut down on identity theft, Harrell told the Senate Transportation Committee before the measure passed on a 4-3 vote. The hearing also featured pushback from press freedom advocates. Personal identifying information from crashes and traffic tickets are currently exempt for 60 days, except in cases that meet exemptions outlined in the 1994 federal Driver Privacy Protection Act.

Gayle Harrell narrowly misses a roadblock on her identity theft bill.

Legislature considers crackdown on kratom, a controversial herbal supplement” via Kirby Wilson of the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times — A Florida Senate committee on Tuesday advanced a proposal that could have major implications for the state’s kratom industry. The measure (SB 1076) would ban the sale of kratom to Floridians younger than 21 and put in place a series of quality-control regulations around kratom products. It would also require kratom sellers to affix a label to any product with directions for suggested use. Violators would be subject to a $500 fine for a first offense, then $1,000 fines for subsequent infractions. Sen. Joe Gruters, the bill’s sponsor, said his measure would help the state crackdown on unscrupulous businesses selling contaminated kratom products to customers.

House committee advances boating safety bill dubbed ‘Ethan’s Law‘” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Mindy Isaacs thought little of it when she dropped off her son Ethan Isaacs at a boating event. The Sarasota Youth Sailing club would take care of him. Instead, he died in the water after a boat operator coming to help his capsized boat fell overboard and his foot hit the throttle. The motorboat then lost control and went into what boating experts call the “spiral of death.” In this case, Ethan’s life was lost. Mindy and Greg Isaacs have turned their grief into action in the year-and-a-half since their son’s death. They worked with Rep. Fiona McFarland on legislation to better educate boaters on the need to wear a cutoff device, so engines stop when an operator goes overboard. It would also require instructors of water sports, including sailing, to wear such a kill switch. On Tuesday, the House Tourism, Infrastructure and Energy Subcommittee advanced the bill (HB 701) in a unanimous vote.

FRF praises bill targeting stolen merchandise listings — The Florida Retail Federation lauded the Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism for advancing a bill (SB 944) to curb the online sale of stolen and fraudulent goods. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Baxley, would require marketplaces to encourage customers to report suspicious activity and provide mechanisms for them to do so. “Online marketplace transparency will not only inform and protect Florida consumers, it will also support Florida businesses,” FRF President and CEO Scott Shalley said. “Local retailers who have suffered at the hands of organized retail crime rings will be protected through this good legislation. We are grateful to Sen. Baxley for spearheading this bill.”

School bus camera bill passes first committee stop” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — School buses could soon carry cameras to monitor drivers around them in an attempt to prevent people from passing buses when they are stopped. The measure (SB 702), carried by Burgess, would allow school districts to install cameras on school buses to catch drivers who illegally pass buses as students are exiting. Sen. Keith Perry presented the bill to the Senate Transportation Committee Tuesday, receiving unanimous support. Perry called the issue of drivers illegally passing stopped buses a “pervasive” problem. Lawmakers upped the fines for passing stopped school buses in 2019, raising the penalty for usual incidents to $200. That increased to $400 for drivers passing a bus on the same side the children get out.

Demi Busatta Cabrera named ‘Legislative Champion’ by Greater Miami Chamber — Rep. Busatta Cabrera has earned the “2022 Legislative Champion Award” from the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. “Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera has been key to our state government’s focus on one of the most important issues to businesses: sea level rise,” said Greater Miami Chamber President and CEO Alfred Sanchez. “Having a comprehensive statewide plan and annual, dedicated funding was a significant accomplishment that will certainly open the door to creative, innovative solutions and business opportunities. It’s a win-win, and Representative Busatta Cabrera got it across the goal line!” The award will be presented to the Coral Gables Republican during a reception held as part of the Greater Miami Chamber’s annual Tallahassee fly-in this week.

Demi Busatta Cabrera gets props for her work to prepare Miami-Dade for sea level rise.

— SKED —

Happening today — Trucking Day at the Capitol, sponsored by the Florida Trucking Association, features trucks from Walmart, Oakley, and the Florida Highway Patrol. Begins at 8 a.m. in the Capitol Courtyard.

Happening today — Sheriff’s Day at the Capitol, where Florida Sheriff’s Association members have displays and discussions with lawmakers about legislative priorities. Begins at 8:30 a.m. on the 3rd Floor Rotunda.

— The Senate Agriculture Committee meets to consider SB 732, from Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, to require employers in industries such as agriculture, construction and landscaping to take steps to prevent heat illness among workers, 8:30 a.m., Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.

— The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee meets to consider SB 520, from Chair Jeff Brandes, to extend public-records exemptions for information about applicants to become presidents of state universities and colleges, 8:30 a.m., Room 37 of the Senate Office Building.

— The Senate Health Policy Committee meets to consider SB 498, from Sen. Dennis Baxley, requiring health insurers to provide children through age 18 coverage for hearing aids, 9 a.m., Room 412 of the Knott Building.

— The House Pandemics and Public Emergencies Committee meets to consider HB 215, from Rep. Nick DiCeglie, to bar closures of religious institutions during declared emergencies, 9 a.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.

— The House Commerce Committee meets to consider HB 6031, from Rep. Chip LaMarca, repealing the limits on the sizes of wine containers, 9:30 a.m., Room 212 of the Knott Building.

— The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider SB 544, from Sen. Jim Boyd, to help develop the availability of opioid antagonists, used to prevent drug overdose deaths, 10:30 a.m., Room 412 of the Knott Building.

— The Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider SB 596, from Baxley, to update rules for offices of criminal conflict and civil regional counsels, 1 p.m., Room 37 of the Senate Office Building.

— The House Professions and Public Health Subcommittee meets to consider HB 5, from Rep. Erin Grall, to prevent doctors from performing abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, 1 p.m., Room 212 of the Knott Building.

—The House Local Administration and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee meets to consider HB 619, from Rep. Anthony Rodriguez, requiring U.S.-made iron and steel used in public-works projects, 1 p.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.

— The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee meets for an update from the Department of Environmental Protection on flooding and sea level rise resilience plan, 1 p.m., Morris Hall of the House Office Building.

— The House Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee will receive an update on the implementation of early learning initiatives, 1 p.m., Reed Hall of the House Office Building.

Assignment editors — Sen. Travis Hutson, Garrison and the group K9s for Warriors will hold a news conference about a program that trains rescue dogs as service animals for veterans, 2:45 p.m., Fourth Floor.

— The Senate convenes a floor session to consider numerous issues, including proposed redistricting plans SB 102 and SJR 100, from Reapportionment Chair Ray Rodrigues, for congressional and Senate districts. Also, it will consider SB 7014, from Burgess, to extend COVID-19 legal protections for health care providers and SB 96 and SB 98, also from Burgess, to create a $1 billion fund that DeSantis could use during declared states of emergency, 3 p.m., Senate chamber.

— The House Civil Justice and Property Rights Subcommittee meets to consider HB 985, from Rep. Mike Beltran, to update the state’s sovereign immunity laws, including increasing a limit on payments by government agencies in lawsuits, 3:30 p.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.

— The House Infrastructure and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider requests for money to fund local projects or programs, 3:30 p.m., Reed Hall of the House Office Building.

— The House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee meets to consider HB 557, from Rep. Michelle Salzman, to extend eligibility for certain cancer-treatment benefits to fire investigators, the same that are available to firefighters, 3:30 p.m., Morris Hall of the House Office Building.

— The House Secondary Education and Career Development Subcommittee meets to consider HB 573, from Rep. John Snyder, to help military members get certification as educators in Florida, 3:30 p.m., 212 of the Knott Building.

Stop on by:


DeSantis gripes that Joe Biden shorted Florida on bridge repair funds” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — DeSantis’ remarks dissed the “inadequate allotment” as another “disservice to the state and its nearly 22 million residents.” He called it further evidence that Democrats in Washington just don’t want Florida to succeed. “Last week, the Biden administration announced it would continue to harm Florida for its success through the distribution of less than $245 million to Florida for bridge repairs out of the almost $27 billion in bridge investments that states will be receiving through the Bridge Formula Program within the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA),” the media release read. “Despite obstacles created by the Biden administration, the State of Florida continues to thrive and foster an environment that draws new residents and tourists every single day.”

Ron DeSantis is hammering the Joe Biden administration. Again. Image via AP.

Big business-linked group funded ‘ghost’ candidate ads, records show” via Jason Garcia and Annie Martin of the Orlando Sentinel — The advertising campaign promoting spoiler “ghost” candidates in key Senate races in 2020 was paid for by money from a nonprofit associated with some of Florida’s biggest businesses, according to records released Tuesday from a criminal investigation in Miami. The records show that the nonprofit, “Let’s Preserve the American Dream,” wired $600,000 on Sept. 29, 2020, to another nonprofit, “Grow United Inc.” Grow United then used that money to send $550,000 to a pair of political committees that paid for mailers touting independent candidates in three important Senate races, in what authorities say was a ploy to confuse voters and tilt the races to Republicans.

Nikki Fried wants partisan politics out of UF presidential search” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Fried warned the University of Florida Board of Trustees against letting partisan politics cloud the school’s presidential search. Fried noted her deep involvement in the institution as a three-time University of Florida alum, a past Board of Trustees member, a current Board of Trustees member of the Levin College of Law’s Law Center Association, a past student body president, and a past presidential search committee member. She urged the board to look past the Governor’s desires in filling the position. “Allow me to express in the clearest terms: it is absolutely necessary that the search for the university’s next president be fully ethical, transparent, and nonpartisan, free from all political influence,” Fried wrote.

— The State Board of Education meets to discuss amendments to the 2022-2023 budget request, 9 a.m. 888-378-4398. Call-in code: 613479.

Study: ICUF schools create 100,900 jobs, have $15.7B economic impact” via Florida Politics — A new economic impact study released this week that Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida institutions create 100,900 jobs and contribute $15.7 billion to the state’s economy. The study, conducted by The Regional Economic Consulting Group, also found that ICUF schools generate $1.1 billion in state and local tax revenues. Additionally, ICUF students pump $891 million into Florida communities and businesses during their time in school and every class of ICUF students adds $21 billion to Florida’s economy during the 30 years that follow graduation based on lifetime earnings for graduates who remain in Florida.

New campaign aimed at preventing overdose deaths in Florida” via Dave McDaniel of WESH — A new initiative was announced Tuesday to prevent overdose deaths in Florida. Project Opioid named it the “Everyone Campaign,” and said the focus will be the dangers of synthetic opioids like the drug Fentanyl and urge those struggling to get help during the most recent spike in COVID-19 cases. Fentanyl is the leading driver of the massive spike in overdose deaths and was the cause of death on over 86% of the drug overdose deaths in Central Florida. The campaign will feature billboards, social media, and in-person events over the next 100 days. Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma said the pandemic has made those struggling with addiction feel even more isolated. Lemma also said drug dealers are pressing pills to look like legitimate prescription drugs, but they’re pure fentanyl.

Opioid deaths are getting out of hand in Central Florida. Project Opioid hopes to correct that.

Personnel note: Samantha J. Gross is Boston bound — Reporter Samantha J. Gross announced Tuesday that she has taken a job at The Boston Globe and will leave the Miami Herald at the end of the week. “I’m incredibly honored and excited to be joining the esteemed Boston Globe politics team next month, and moving to Boston in the spring,” she tweeted. “I can’t wait for what’s to come in Massachusetts, where the political landscape is on the precipice of major change.” It’s a homecoming for Gross, who worked as a breaking news reporter at the Globe and The Dallas Morning News before joining the Miami Herald.


Weeks into Florida’s omicron wave, surge of COVID-19 deaths begins” via Chris Persaud of The Palm Beach Post — Florida on Friday reported its biggest COVID-19 death spike since the Thanksgiving holiday. Florida logged 470 more viral fatalities among residents statewide in the past week, health officials reported Friday, the biggest seven-day increase since Nov. 26. Deaths can take weeks to be processed and make their way into state statistics. The state’s death toll stands at 63,158 residents. Florida’s Health Department in June stopped publishing the number of nonresidents who died after testing positive here. Tourist season is in full swing.

Florida to prioritize transplant hospitals, cancer centers for scarce COVID-19 therapeutic” via Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald — A scarce monoclonal antibody for people who cannot build immunity from COVID-19 vaccines will be prioritized for distribution to Florida hospitals with large numbers of organ transplant and cancer patients. Florida’s health department said that as of Jan. 14, “every registered provider that requested Evusheld received an allocation” and that the agency had identified 11 hospitals in the state with transplant and cancer patients and prioritized them to receive the drug, called Evusheld. “Evusheld is an important tool for providers to help protect these very high-risk patients,” Weesam Khoury, a health department spokeswoman, said. “To efficiently distribute this vital therapy, the Department prioritizes and ensures that transplant and oncology centers receive allocations of AstraZeneca for their patients.”

Cancer patients and organ transplant recipients are first in line for monoclonal antibody treatments.

Orange health officer Dr. Raul Pino on leave, under state inquiry involving vaccines” via Christie Zizo of Click Orlando — Dr. Pino, the director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange who has been so visible during the pandemic, is on administrative leave pending an inquiry. “As the decision to get vaccinated is a personal medical choice that should be made free from coercion and mandates from employers, the employee in question (Pino) has been placed on administrative leave, and the Florida Department of Health is conducting an inquiry to determine if any laws were broken in this case,” said FDOH press secretary Jeremy Redfern in a statement. “The Department is committed to upholding all laws, including the ban on vaccine mandates for government employees and will take appropriate action once additional information is known,” the statement added.


New monoclonal antibody treatment sites open in South Florida” via Wells Dusenbury of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The three new sites are spread throughout Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties at the West Boynton Recreation Center at 6000 Northtree Blvd. in Lake Worth; Markham Park at 16001 W. State Road 84 Sunrise; and Miami Dade College North Campus at 11380 NW 27th Ave. in Miami. Monoclonal antibodies are created in laboratories and administered to patients to prevent COVID-19 from becoming severe. They block the COVID-19 virus from entering the body’s cells, making the patient more likely to experience a mild case.

COVID-19 levels in northern Palm Beach County sewage skyrocket as local groups try to fill testing gap” via Katherine Kokal of The Palm Beach Post — As residents recover from holiday gatherings and COVID-19 testing lines run long, results from sewage tests by the Loxahatchee River District show levels of coronavirus prevalence are five times higher than the previous record. Samples from Jan. 3 had 5.3 million virus copies per liter of sewage, compared to 1.18 million on Dec. 20. Bud Howard, the district’s director of information services, called the numbers from the Jan. 3 test “eye-watering.” Since May 2020, the Loxahatchee River District has contracted with a Massachusetts lab to test for virus prevalence in sewage from the Jupiter-Tequesta area that it serves. Those tests have accurately predicted clinical cases because wastewater carries virus fragments that appear before someone with COVID-19 even is symptomatic.

Sewage is where it’s at.

Schools Superintendent Mike Burke recovering from COVID-19, credits vaccine for mild symptoms” via Sonja Isger of The Palm Beach Post — Palm Beach County schools Superintendent Burke confirmed Tuesday that he is days into recovery from COVID-19. Burke said his symptoms were mild, beginning with a scratchy throat that surfaced in the days after his return from a trip to see state lawmakers in Tallahassee last week. He said the symptoms kept him home Thursday and Friday despite negative at-home tests each day. Then Saturday, a third test came back positive, he said. “I have no idea where I got it,” Burke said. “I’m vaccinated. I’m boosted. But I guess it wasn’t enough for omicron. The good news is that’s probably why it was so mild.”

Cocoa Beach sewage shows early January coronavirus spike” via Jim Waymer of Florida Today — The virus that causes COVID-19 bumped up to record levels in Cocoa Beach sewage at the same time it was plummeting in neighboring Cape Canaveral. City officials aren’t sure why but say they need more data before drawing any conclusions. The virus has been dropping significantly during the first few weeks of January in the sewage samples in Cape Canaveral and other municipalities that have been testing for more than a year, such as in Orange County and Boston. But the most recent data available shows that’s not quite the case yet in Cocoa Beach, which began sampling sewage in the second half of 2020. The values from early January were much higher than what the city experienced over a year ago, said Brad Kalsow, director of Cocoa Beach’s water reclamation department.

Monoclonal clinics to fight COVID-19 open in Seminole County, statewide” via Caroline Catherman of the Orlando Sentinel — A former Walgreens on West State Road 436 will serve as a monoclonal antibody treatment center starting Tuesday. It is one of five treatment centers opened statewide to treat individuals who have contracted or been exposed to COVID-19. The clinics opened following an announcement that DeSantis had secured 15,000 doses of Regeneron for statewide distribution. There are four other monoclonal antibody sites near Orlando: An Orange County site at Clarcona Elementary, located at 3340 Damon Road; a site in The Villages’ Barnstorm Theater, at 2720 Brownwood Blvd; the St. Cloud Civic Center, at 3101 17th Street; and the Rockledge City Center, 920 Barton Blvd., in Rockledge.

Health department again reports record-high COVID-19 cases for Sarasota, Manatee” via Anne Snabes and Mike Stucka of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Sarasota and Manatee counties once again broke records for the number of COVID-19 cases reported by the state health department in a week. The Florida Department of Health reported 6,089 new cases in Sarasota County and 5,423 in Manatee County the week of Jan. 7-13. These numbers surpass the previous records for weekly case numbers, which were set the previous week. The Department of Health reported 5,010 cases in Sarasota County and 4,567 cases in Manatee the week of Dec. 31 to Jan. 6. Sarasota County’s positivity rate was 25.9%, and Manatee’s was 27.2% for the week ending Thursday.

USF Health leader Charles Lockwood gets top citizen award from Chamber” via Divya Kumar of the Tampa Bay Times — Lockwood, dean of Morsani College of Medicine at the University of South Florida, senior vice president for USF Health, and executive vice president at Tampa General Hospital, has been named the 2022 Citizen of the Year by the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce. In a statement this week, Chris Bentley, chair of the Chamber’s board, said that Lockwood was selected for his leadership through the pandemic.

Charles Lockwood is recognized for his outstanding work during the pandemic.

Tampa General offers new drug to protect vulnerable from COVID-19” via Christopher O’Donnell of the Tampa Bay Times — While the omicron variant is believed to be less deadly than delta, it’s far more contagious. So, it’s still a deadly threat to those at high risk from COVID-19: The elderly, immune-compromised and those with preexisting conditions. That makes COVID-19 an even greater concern at Tampa General Hospital. The hospital performs about 1,000 transplants a year, and the recipients are immunocompromised. Evusheld is an injection of long-acting antibodies that boosts the body’s ability to fight off COVID-19. The drug should lower the risk of catching or developing severe COVID-19 symptoms for at-risk individuals, including transplant patients who, even when vaccinated, have low levels of antibodies, said Tampa General chief medical officer Peggy Duggan.

— 2022 —

Assignment editors Charlie Crist will join a group of parents from across Florida for a virtual news conference unveiling the “Parents for Crist” coalition, 9:30 a.m. Livestreaming here on Facebook. Media RSVP to [email protected] to ask questions of the attendees.

—”Anti-Defamation League rebukes Fried’s comparison of DeSantis to Adolf Hitler” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics

Nikki Fried is getting it from all sides over her Hitler reference.

“America’s shift to the right in 2021 is worse news for Democrats than it seems” via Philip Bump of The Washington Post — So when Gallup released updated data on partisan identification on Monday showing a big swing to Republicans in 2021, my initial response was to recall that this metric in particular moves around a lot. There are two reasons that the shift measured by Gallup is important. The first affects the short-term: this year’s midterm elections. The second is about the argument that Democrats are making about their opponents, which appears not to be landing. Over the past 15 years or so, most of the movement has been among independents, a group mostly made up of voters who align with one party or the other. There were shifts in actual party identification as Republicans gained a bit and Democrats lost a bit. The shifts among leaning independents were bigger.

Latino Dems warn about midterm falloff” via Sabrina Rodriguez of POLITICO — Democrats admit they’re losing ground with Latino voters. But Latino Democratic leaders and operatives are increasingly worried that time is running out to do anything that would make a significant difference ahead of the 2022 midterms, when the party needs a robust Latino turnout to preserve its slim majorities in Congress. For years, those leaders have warned that the party needs to invest earlier in outreach, hire more Latinos for decision-making positions and talk to Latino voters about more issues than just immigration.

Who will challenge Carlos Giménez, Maria Salazar for seats in Congress? Don’t ask Florida Democrats” via Bianca Padró Ocasio — Evidence is piling up that Democrats in Florida have no clear bench of candidates willing to challenge Republican incumbents in South Florida, in what’s expected to be a daunting and expensive 2022 cycle for their party. Two first-time candidates who made early announcements they would run for South Florida House seats have both since dropped their bids to pursue runs for state office. Party leaders have repeatedly pointed to redistricting as the cause, but there’s growing suspicion among some Democrats that the wait-and-see approach from two former members of Congress on whether to announce runs for the seats is running out the clock for newer candidates to step up to run and appeal to donors.

Mariya Calkins becomes first candidate for Jayer Williamson’s seat, earns Matt Gaetz endorsement” via Alex Miller of the Pensacola News Journal — Earlier this month, state Rep. Williamson announced he would not run for re-election in 2022, and by the end of that week, Calkins, wife of Santa Rosa County District 3 Commissioner James Calkins, became the first candidate to file for the seat. “My main intention to be in politics, (is) I believe I could be an asset for the conservative movement,” Mariya Calkins said. Williamson represents the 3rd District in the Florida House, which covers most of Santa Rosa County and northern parts of Okaloosa County. As of Tuesday, there were no other active candidates for the seat, according to the Florida Department of State.

HD 34 field attracting plenty of takers in Citrus County” via Mike Wright of Florida Politics — When then-Rep. Jimmie T. Smith gave up his House seat six years ago, political novice Ralph Massullo was elected without opposition. His name didn’t even need to appear on the ballot. That won’t be the case for whoever succeeds Massullo. An Inverness man has become the sixth candidate in the House District 34 race. J.J. Grow joins a former Citrus County Commissioner, retired highway patrol trooper, and a lawyer among the five Republicans and one Democrat competing in the contest. Grow, an agribusiness owner, informed friends and supporters by text Tuesday morning of his candidacy. “My family and I are prepared to work hard for you and our community,” he wrote. “I look forward to talking with each of you face to face over the next few weeks and months.”

James Buchanan raised $50K in run-up to Session” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Rep. Buchanan raised more than $50,000 in the lead-up to the 2022 Legislative Session. His campaign reports that in the first 10 days of January, the Venice Republican’s re-election campaign pulled in $26,300 in new donations. Those checks arrived before a moratorium on fundraising during Session kicked in on Jan. 11. That brings the two-term lawmaker’s total to $78,150 raised as he prepares to run again. His political committee, Buchanan For Florida, collected another $26,500. The associated committee has tallied $134,500 in contributions to support the lawmaker’s political goals. Subtract expenses, and it leaves Buchanan with $118,309 in cash on hand between the campaign account and committee coffers.

James Buchanan makes some solid bank.

Ricky Tsay enters HD 118 race, matches Daniel Sotelo war chest in two weeks” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — For months, Sotelo has been the sole candidate for House District 118. But as Sotelo’s fundraising slowed in December, hotelier Ricky Tsay entered the race on Dec. 13 and over the next two weeks put together a war chest of $155,000, roughly the same amount of money it took Sotelo seven months to amass. A spokesman said he has committed to financing his campaign with up to $500,000. While it remains to be seen whether the two Republicans will face one another in a Primary post-redistricting, which could pit Tsay against incumbent Rep. Alex Rizo in House District 110, they remain on a collision course for now.


A year ago, Biden unveiled a 200-page plan to defeat COVID-19. He has struggled to deliver on some key promises.” via Dan Diamond of The Washington Post — Biden entered office a year ago this week, staking his presidency on defeating the coronavirus pandemic with a battle plan hailed for its scope and specificity. “Our nation continues to experience the darkest days of the pandemic,” the White House declared in its national pandemic strategy, released Jan. 21, 2021, Biden’s first full day as President. “Businesses are closing, hospitals are full, and families are saying goodbye to their loved ones remotely.” Yet after a period when Biden’s vaccination focus appeared to be paying off, many of those problems have roared back as the delta variant, and then omicron tore across the country. Once again, doctors and nurses are pleading for relief, as hospitalizations set new daily records and more facilities move to ration care.

White House soft-launches COVID-19 test request website” via The Associated Press — The Biden administration quietly launched its website for Americans to request free at-home COVID-19 tests, a day before the site was scheduled to officially go online. The website,, now includes a link for Americans to access an order form run by the U.S. Postal Service. People can order four at-home tests per residential address, to be delivered by the Postal Service. It marks the latest step by Biden to address criticism of low inventory and long lines for testing during a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant.

Free COVID-19 tests get a soft launch. Image via AP.

School closures were a catastrophic error. Progressives still haven’t reckoned with it.” via Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine — Recently, Nate Silver found himself in the unenviable role of the main character of the day on Twitter because he proposed that school closures were a “disastrous, invasion-of-Iraq magnitude policy decision.” The comparison generated overwhelming anger and mockery, and it is not an easy one to defend: A fiasco that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and rearranged the regional power structure is a very high bar to clear. But these complications do not fully explain the sheer rage generated by Silver. The furnace-hot backlash seemed to be triggered by Silver’s assumption that school closings were not only a mistake but an error of judgment. The failed experiment finally came to an end in the fall of 2021. Many districts have shut down during the Omicron wave, but this is mainly a temporary response to staff shortages rather than another effort to stop community spread.

People are hiding that their unvaccinated loved ones died of COVID-19via Andrea Stanley of The Atlantic — In 2020, dying of COVID-19 was widely seen as an unqualified tragedy. But that was before the vaccines. Before COVID-19 deaths got caught up in a culture war. Now the majority of COVID-19 deaths are occurring among the unvaccinated, and many deaths are likely preventable. The compassion extended to the virus’s victims is no longer universal. Sometimes, in place of condolences, loved ones receive scorn. Vitriol doesn’t come just from familiar names, but also from strangers. Websites, message boards, and social media accounts have cropped up as forums to insult the unvaccinated dead. One Reddit page even gives out “awards” to those who refused the vaccine and then died.

The real reason Americans aren’t isolating” via Olga Khazan of The Atlantic — Realistically, many Americans were never able to take a full 10, or even five, days off to recover from the coronavirus. Like the hotel worker, many people who think they might have COVID-19 can’t immediately find tests. The federal government offers no services for or payments to people in isolation, and has no one checking in with the sick. Most importantly, millions of Americans still don’t have paid sick leave, so taking any time off work can be financially ruinous. About a fifth of all U.S. workers don’t get paid sick leave, and the lowest-paid workers are least likely to have it. The emergency paid-sick-leave law passed by Congress in 2020 prevented about 400 COVID-19 cases per state per day. That provision has since expired, as has a second one granting tax credits to employers that offered paid leave voluntarily.


Omicron is making America’s bad jobs even worse” via Amanda Mull of The Atlantic — Even on a good day, service jobs are pretty hard. Your schedule is constantly changing, you’re on your feet, you’re at the mercy of the general public, and the pace of your shifts swings between crushing boredom and frenetic activity. In workplaces with Omicron outbreaks, there may not be enough available workers to continue operating the business for days or weeks at a time, which means everyone loses their shifts. For businesses that remain open, understaffing and supply shortages make workers’ interactions with customers even more tense and dangerous. One of the most obvious issues is service workers’ widespread lack of access to paid sick leave.

Service workers already had it bad. Omicron is making it worse.

Florida gasoline prices head higher” via the News Service of Florida — Gasoline prices in Florida increased 3 cents a gallon during the past week and are expected to continue rising because of higher oil prices. The average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gas was $3.22, up from $3.19 a week earlier. That was slightly below the $3.24 a gallon a month ago but far higher than the $2.31 a gallon last year. Mark Jenkins, a AAA spokesman, cited increased oil prices, which were up 6% last week. “Based on last week’s oil price hikes, drivers could soon see another round of rising prices,” Jenkins said in a statement. “It’s unclear how much of an increase to expect, but the last time oil prices were this high, the state average was above $3.30 per gallon.”


Pfizer’s new COVID-19 pill works against Omicron in lab” via Jared S. Hopkins of The Wall Street Journal — Pfizer Inc.’s new COVID-19 pill, Paxlovid, was effective against the Omicron variant in laboratory tests, an encouraging early sign the drug will be an important tool while the strain spreads. Pfizer said Tuesday the drug’s main component, nirmatrelvir, worked in three separate laboratory studies. Patients take two tablets of nirmatrelvir with one tablet of another antiviral called ritonavir twice a day for five days. The research hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. Health authorities, doctors and patients say the pill is a valuable addition to the COVID-19 medicine chest because, unlike other available therapies, newly infected people can easily take it at home to avoid becoming hospitalized.

COVID-19 infected lions prompt variant warning in South Africa” via Antony Sguazzin and Renee Bonorchis of Bloomberg — Lions and pumas at a zoo in the South African capital of Pretoria got severe COVID-19 from asymptomatic zoo handlers, raising concerns that new variants could emerge from animal reservoirs of the disease, studies carried out by a local university showed.

Infected lions could be bad news for South Africa. Image via Bloomberg.

NHL to stop testing asymptomatic players post-All-Star break” via The Associated Press — The NHL will stop testing asymptomatic players, coaches and staff who are fully vaccinated following the All-Star break in early February, saying coronavirus cases continue to decline across the League. The League and Players’ Association announced the protocol changes Tuesday. The current policy will remain in place until the All-Star break begins on Feb. 3. Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour, who is expected to be behind the bench for the Metropolitan Division at All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas, called the change “common sense.” There will still be testing of asymptomatic individuals when it is needed for crossing the U.S.-Canada border.


GOP takes a potent but risky new path: Hitting Biden on COVID-19” via Olivia Beavers and Adam Cancryn of POLITICO — House Republicans are edging toward harder hits at Biden while he struggles to contain COVID-19’s omicron variant. Just don’t expect it to become a centerpiece of their midterm-election messaging. That’s in part because the GOP has to walk a fine line on the pandemic — thanks to Trump. After Biden and Democrats campaigned on a vow to help steer a virus-weary nation back to normalcy, arguing that the GOP failed to quickly respond when COVID-19 first descended, Republicans now say Biden has proved himself unprepared to deal with the omicron surge. It’s an argument that Republicans are eager to fling back at the White House after more than a year on the back foot.

Slamming Joe Biden on COVID-19 is a dicey prospect for Republicans. Image via AP.


“Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend granted immunity in sex trafficking probe” via Michael Kaplan of CBS News — Prosecutors granted immunity to an ex-girlfriend of Rep. Gaetz before she testified last week in front of a federal grand jury hearing evidence in the investigation of the congressman. She is viewed as a potential key witness. One of the sources said she has information related to the investigation of both the sex trafficking and obstruction allegations. Gaetz has been under investigation to determine if he violated sex trafficking laws and obstructed justice in that probe. Gaetz has previously denied all wrongdoing and has said he has never paid for sex nor had sex with an underage girl.

Is Matt Gaetz’s former girlfriend throwing him under the bus?

Brian Mast ends 2021 with second-best stock record in Congress, with help from ‘unusual’ trade” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Rep. Mast had the second-best rate of return on stock purchases in all of Congress in 2021. A report last highlighted congressional members’ propensity for outperforming the market. While many have focused attention on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s portfolio in recent weeks, Mast even outperformed Pelosi in terms of rate of return. He trailed only Rep. Austin Scott last year. There was a bipartisan level of success in outperforming the market in 2021. Pelosi has defended members’ ability to trade despite potentially being privy to information regarding policy and legislation ahead of time that could seriously affect the market.

Judge approves deal to resolve Puerto Rico bankruptcy” via Patricia Mazzei, Frances Robles and Coral Murphy Marcos of The New York Times — Puerto Rico received approval from a federal judge on Tuesday to leave bankruptcy under the largest public-sector debt restructuring deal in the history of the United States, nearly five years after the financially strapped territory declared it could not repay its creditors. Since Puerto Rico entered bankruptcy, its economic crisis has only been further deepened by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, a series of earthquakes and the coronavirus pandemic. The restructuring plan will reduce the largest portion of the Puerto Rico government’s debt, some $33 billion, by about 80%, to $7.4 billion. The deal will also save the government more than $50 billion in debt payments.

Could an NBA investor’s comments about the Uyghurs box in Florida Democrats?” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — NBA owner and hefty Democratic donor offered an out-of-bounds assessment of human rights violations in China. National Republicans responded with a full-court press on any politicians taking contributions from Golden State Warriors investor Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive That’s a roster that includes U.S. Reps. Crist, Val Demings and Darren Soto, as well as Agriculture Commissioner Fried. On his “All-In” podcast, the venture capitalist dismissed China’s alleged persecution of the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang province, as reported by NPR. “Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs, OK,” he said.


Jan. 6 committee subpoenas Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell” via Axios — The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot released its latest round of subpoenas on Tuesday evening, this time focusing on several of Trump’s lawyers, including Giuliani and Powell, and former adviser Boris Epshteyn. The panel said the four individuals subpoenaed were involved in efforts to publicly promote Trump’s unfounded claims of election fraud as well as efforts to “disrupt or delay” the certification of the election’s results. Committee chair Bennie Thompson said in a statement that he expects the four individuals to “join the nearly 400 witnesses who have spoken with the Select Committee.”

It’s Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell’s turn with the Jan. 6 panel.


A year after leaving office, Donald Trump looks to 2022 to rebrand his legacy” via Gabby Orr of CNN — A lot has changed in the year since Trump left Washington. Though his presidency ended in disgrace, his endorsement remains one of the most coveted prizes in Republican primaries. His political apparatus, after sending cease-and-desist letters to three of the largest GOP fundraising outfits last March, has now amassed more than $100 million in cash and convinced the Republican National Committee — one of the letter recipients — to partially cover some of his personal legal bills. And Trump’s once-dysfunctional operation, which nearly blew up the Ohio U.S. Senate primary with a premature and unvetted endorsement last spring, has become noticeably more organized in its assessment of candidates under the command of GOP campaign veteran Susie Wiles.

“Trump’s advisers point the finger at Mitch McConnell as reports of DeSantis feud swirl” via Marc Caputo, Jonathan Allen and Peter Nicholas of NBC News — When Florida Gov. panned COVID-19 lockdowns Trump encouraged early in the pandemic, the remarks made for irresistible headlines — the two GOP heavyweights and possible 2024 contenders were feuding. Days before, Trump appeared to take a swipe at DeSantis, calling politicians who refused to reveal their vaccination status “gutless.” Both camps denied any real friction and blamed “the media” for overhyping tensions, but Trump advisers say they see a hidden hand at play: that of Senate Minority Leader McConnell, who is in a pitched battle with Trump over the future of the Republican Party.

Is Mitch McConnell pulling the strings in the Donald Trump/Ron DeSantis feud? Image via AP

“‘Made-up animosity’: Jeanette Nuñez claims there’s no rift between DeSantis, Trump” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — During an appearance on the Fox Business Channel, Lt. Gov. Nuñez dismissed reports swirling that the former President and “America’s Governor” aren’t in sync anymore. Asked about the reported rift … Nuñez termed it a “media obsession” that distracts from real policy issues. “It’s a media obsession because they want to detract from what is really affecting individuals,” Nuñez told host Stuart Varney. “That made-up animosity is not what’s affecting individuals.” “So, I think it’s just a distraction to take away from the real issues,” Nuñez added.

“‘Fat, slow and dumb’: Trump ally Roger Stone ramps up attacks on DeSantis as feud escalates” via Brad Reed of Raw Story — Stone on Monday described DeSantis as “fat, slow, and dumb” in a diatribe against the man who could be Trump’s rival for the 2024 GOP nomination. Stone also said of DeSantis that “the Yale Harvard governor will never be president” because, among other reasons, he “opposes constitutional open carry.” Trump and DeSantis have now been trading barbs for weeks, with DeSantis slamming Trump for not firing Dr. Anthony Fauci at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Trump implying DeSantis was “gutless” for refusing to say that he received a booster shot against COVID-19. Trump has also reportedly called DeSantis “dull” and is angry that the Florida governor is not giving him more deference and gratitude for helping him launch his political career.

Former Trump administration officials hold call to strategize against former boss’ efforts in 2022 and 2024” via Jake Tapper of CNN — Around three dozen former Trump administration officials, disillusioned with their former boss and concerned about his impact on the GOP and the nation, held a conference call last Monday to discuss efforts to fend off his efforts to, in their view, erode the democratic process. The only items the group seemed to agree upon in its first meeting, however, were that they’re not sure what their way forward should be and that they are way behind the efforts of Trump and his allies to set the stage for 2022, 2024, and beyond. The highest-ranking participant was former White House chief of staff and retired Marine Gen. John Kelly.

Trump blows a hole in 2024 Presidential debates” via David Siders of POLITICO — Trump thumbed his nose at traditional retail politics, preferring large rallies and appearances on conservative TV. In defeat, he refused to deliver the familiar concession speech and falsely claimed that his Republican or Democratic opponents stole elections. Now it’s the presidential debates that are about to get a Trump makeover. They may never be the same again. With last week’s Trump-inspired threat to boycott 2024 debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, the Republican National Committee began priming the electorate for a race in which the GOP nominee might not debate at all. The RNC’s war on the debate commission will serve as yet another reminder of how expansive the former President’s influence remains.


After Miami-Dade prosecutors recuse themselves, Broward will probe Miami corruption claim” via Nicholas Nehemas of the Miami Herald — Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle recused her office from investigating claims of corruption made by former Miami police chief Art Acevedo against City Commissioners, according to unsealed documents obtained by the Miami Herald. DeSantis ordered Broward State Attorney Harold Pryor to take over the case on Dec. 17, the documents show. Shortly before being fired last year, Acevedo wrote a memo accusing Miami Commissioners Joe Carollo, Alex Díaz de la Portilla and Manolo Reyes of corruption and improperly interfering in police matters. He passed his accusations on to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami and the FBI, which have expressed little interest in pursuing them. He also alerted Fernández Rundle’s office.

Katherine Fernandez Rundle stepped away from an investigation of Art Acevedo. Investigators want to know why.

UF will take over Jupiter Scripps campus, 70 acres nearby. Check out the price tag.” via Katherine Kokal of The Palm Beach Post — The University of Florida has purchased The Scripps Research Institute’s three buildings in Jupiter and 70 empty acres once reserved for Scripps nearby in Palm Beach Gardens. Also included in the sale are the research institute’s staff, equipment, $102 million in cash and investments, use of the Scripps name and — potentially the most valuable — all royalties from future discoveries or research projects at the campus. The selling price? $100. Scripps’ sale closed at midnight, according to an asset transfer agreement provided to The Palm Beach Post by the University of Florida on Jan. 14. The move continues the complicated history between Palm Beach County and Scripps, one of the world’s leading bioscience research organizations, and expands UF’s footprint in the state’s third-largest county.

To build a village of cargo containers in Homestead, developers want no-bid land deal” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — Developers with plans to create an open-air entertainment venue made with cargo containers are chasing 47 acres of government land outside of Homestead currently slated to become a maintenance yard for Miami-Dade County’s new fleet of electric buses. The developers out of St. Petersburg have the backing of Commissioner Kionne McGhee, who has been fighting the new rapid-transit route that will use electric buses. McGhee wants Miami-Dade to hold out for the extension of rail to South Miami-Dade and has legislation up for a vote Wednesday instructing the county to sell the bus-depot land to the team behind the container project instead.


True ‘COVID-19 relief’ demands a new economic consensus” via Marco Rubio for Real Clear Politics — The United States is experiencing an economic crisis. Nobody could’ve predicted COVID-19 and the strain it would place on the global market, but the pandemic is only partly to blame. The current crisis is also the result of incompetent leadership and failed economic policy. First and foremost, on working families’ minds today is that inflation is through the roof. From the moment he assumed office, Biden decided to pump free money into our economy under the pretense of “COVID-19 relief.” Supply chains were unnecessarily vulnerable from the beginning. The first step toward halting inflation is to stop doing the very thing that’s causing it. The government can directly incentivize innovation and development in key industries.


Kimberly Jackson: It’s time to restore civility in American politics, life” via Florida Politics — For our communities to thrive, we have to find commonality. Commonality does not mean agreement. There are many ways to connect that do not negate our individuality or ideological principles. In fact, our differences should make us stronger. Our ideologies are viewed through geographic lenses, economic mobility, and overall access to generational growth. At the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions (ISPS), we know where the battle lines are in politics. But we also know there can and must be civility. We invite spirited but civil dialogue on a range of issues with leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors — all in a nonpartisan way. That creates a space and time to unpack differing perspectives without packing punches that pollute any conversation.

Florida shouldn’t ignore racism’s toll” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — DeSantis has a dream. It’s a dream in which Florida lives in a post-racial world — not because he’s dedicated to righting the myriad disadvantages and inequities that beset racial minorities in this state, but because the official policy is that they must be ignored. We reject this feverish dream for Florida. It is a cruel and suppressive vision, one that pours acid on the still-festering wounds of the Jim Crow era and blocks paths to healing and reconciliation. We call upon members of the Legislature to reject it as well, quashing DeSantis’ proposed law that would enshrine policies of official fiction in statute books.

Rosemary McCoy, Sheila Singleton: The fight for voting rights marches on” via Florida Politics — Months after Amendment 4 passed, the Florida Legislature enacted S.B. 7066, which requires citizens to pay all financial obligations related to their criminal sentence before being eligible to vote. Returning citizens can be fined for many reasons, and often face steep interest rates and no payment plan options. Those fines can run into tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is a poll tax that discriminates against lower-income people, and especially women of color, who face the stigma of former convictions while searching for the jobs we desperately need to financially support ourselves and our families. And although significant progress has been made since 1965, when the Voting Rights Act passed, women — especially Black women — still face laws like S.B. 7066 that make it more difficult for us to vote than our male counterparts.

Fried’s comparison of DeSantis to Hitler was absurd” via Joe Henderson of Florida Politics — Fried loves to portray herself as a fighter, and as the lone Democrat elected to a statewide office, it seems like she’s always involved in some kind of controversy. Republicans love to kneecap her at every opportunity. That’s still no excuse for what she said on NPR’s Florida Roundup. We know politics often is best played with shoulder pads and a helmet. However, even by that standard, Fried went way, way, way over the line when she compared DeSantis to Hitler. There should have been a siren going off in her head at that point. She should have heard that warning when asked if she was comparing a Governor she detests and wants to unseat to a monster who orchestrated the murder of 6 million Jews.

Sal Nuzzo: Protecting public safety in 2022” via Florida Politics — While hyperpartisan conversations pushing to “defund the police,” shifts in public attitude toward law enforcement in 2021 reveal a need to support officers in their mission to protect and serve the community. As a means of freeing up resources appropriated for public safety, policymakers ought to consider proposals from Rep. Toby Overdorf and Sen. Keith Perry. By modifying delayed arraignment policy, their reform would make significant strides toward reallocating Florida’s police time, resources and dollars to focus on the most serious crimes and most serious criminals behind the spike in homicides. As a result, this bill prioritizes and promotes public safety.

Restrictions on domestic energy production leave consumers vulnerable” via Kevin Doyle for the Fort Myers News-Press — The United States needs good energy policy that will ensure families and businesses can access the energy they need while protecting America’s most vulnerable populations. But instead, the federal government continues to put up roadblocks that make affordable and reliable energy more difficult and more expensive. Inflation is on the rise, and energy prices are soaring. Future forecasts are bleak. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Winter Fuels Outlook projects a colder winter this year that will lead to a 30% increase in natural gas prices, a 54% increase for propane, and a 43% increase in heating oil prices from October through March. American consumers will pay at least $13.6 billion more for energy this winter as prices for gasoline, natural gas and propane surge.

Fight to keep starving manatees alive” via the Orlando Sentinel editorial board — Tuesday morning’s frigid snap had many Floridians worried about the fate of cold-stressed and starving manatees that are already dying in record numbers. The concern is justified. Last year, more than 1,100 manatees died, more than double the toll of the next-worst year on record, with many showing clear signs of starvation. Scientists are pulling more emaciated and possibly doomed manatees from the water on a daily basis. And there’s more at stake than the survival of one beloved species: Throughout the Indian River Lagoon system, sea grass beds are vanishing, and those same beds that feed manatees also provide critical spawning grounds for fish, shrimp and other marine species that contribute to the lagoon’s reputation as one of the most biologically diverse estuaries in the United States.


COVID-19 absences at the 2022 Session have begun. We have a conversation about how bad it could get and what might be done to prevent the Session from becoming a spreader event.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— Debate has begun on legislation to keep critical race theory out of schools, and in the case of one bill … businesses. Democratic opponents predict a lot of fallout.

— Democratic leadership doesn’t think much of DeSantis’ map drawing skills.

— And a bill to protect the national anthem at pro sports events advances.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

Personnel note: Fried appoints Titus O’Neil to Florida State Fair Authority Board” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Fried announced the appointment of Thaddeus Bullard, better known by his stage name as O’Neil, to the Florida State Fair Authority’s board of directors. Bullard, a Florida native, is noted for his philanthropy work in addition to his professional wrestling career. Through his Bullard Family Foundation and in partnership with Hillsborough County Public Schools, he established the Thaddeus M. Bullard Academy at Sligh Middle Magnet School. There, Bullard has implemented programs focused on community, mentorship, technology, arts and sports, as well as opportunities for parents to receive workforce development training and support services. He was named a finalist for the ESPN Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award in 2020 and 2021.

Titus O’Neil gets a gig on the Florida Fair board. Image via Titus O’Neil Facebook.

“‘Betty White Challenge’ brings big boost to Central Florida animal rescue groups” via Kate Santich of the Orlando Sentinel — It should have been a slow Monday morning in January, but at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, the donations started rolling in early. By 9:45 a.m., Central Floridians had already chipped in nearly $9,000 in support of the “Betty White Challenge,” a social-media appeal to contribute to animal welfare groups on what would have been the beloved actress’s 100th birthday. By day’s end, it was a stunning $50,500. And that was just a drop in what turned out to be an international outpouring of generosity for dogs, cats, horses and other critters, all a nod to White’s lifelong advocacy for animals.


Happy birthday to Rep. Jayer Williamson, Dan Holler, and Rick Porter.


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, 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.


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, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

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