According to a new national survey, voters are sharply divided on whether U.S. elections are fair and mail ballots are safe.
The poll, conducted by researchers at the University of South Florida in collaboration with Florida International University, found that 50% of voters believe voting by mail is less secure than voting in person, while 44% said mail ballots were just as secure as in-person ones.
Though a majority (54%) of respondents said they were either “very confident” or “somewhat confident” that national elections are conducted in a “fair and free” manner, 46% told pollsters that they weren’t they were “not very confident” or “not at all confident” that’s the case.
Even more so than ballot preferences, views on election integrity displayed a pronounced partisan split. Five out of six Democrats said they were confident that elections are conducted fairly compared to just over a quarter of Republicans. Independents erred on the side of fairness, but only barely, with 52% saying they were either “very confident” or “somewhat confident.”
Despite those views, voters largely support reforms included in the “Freedom to Vote Act” — the stalled out voting rights package put forward by congressional Democrats.
Nearly three-quarters (74%), for example, say that they would either “strongly” or “somewhat” support requiring states to allow early voting for at least two weeks before Election Day. The same number said they want Election Day to become a federal holiday.
Other changes with supermajority support include same-day voter registration, a right to vote by mail, online voter registration and automatic voter registration.
Meanwhile, 52% of those polled said they favor ditching the Electoral College for a national popular vote. Nearly seven in 10 said they thought such a change would significantly shift the outcome of American elections.
The USF-FIU was conducted Jan. 6-10, 2022. It has a sample size of 1,000 eligible voters and a margin of error of plus or minus 3%.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@FLCaseyDeSantis: Thank you for being by my side from the beginning, but especially yesterday as we celebrated my FINAL Chemo Treatment together. I’m grateful, very humbled and blessed.
—@valdemings: I am so glad to hear that Florida’s First Lady @CaseyDeSantis has completed her last round of chemotherapy. Wishing her continued good health and praying for the DeSantis family.
—@WiltonSimpson: Great news! We continue to pray for many happy and healthy years ahead!
—@loriberman: The Florida House is moving to ban LGBTQ history and inclusive conversations in the classroom. They’re targeting the identities of CHILDREN. We need to show students that they belong and that there is power in loving yourself. Republicans are taking us down a dark, dark road.
—@SShawFL: Manatees dying, insurance rates soaring, and no affordable housing…and you wonder why all the Gov talks about is race and the press?
A huge thank you to @ChrisSprowls, @WiltonSimpson, and every legislator that joined us at @USouthFlorida’s Day at the Capitol. It was a fantastic day for our university and we are grateful for your support. Go Bulls! 🤘🏼💚 pic.twitter.com/2CujS0a8Bf
— USF Bulls Advocates (@BullsAdvocates) January 20, 2022
—@stevenmazie: BREAKING: Supreme Court DENIES abortion providers’ petition to reignite litigation against Texas abortion ban by ordering 5th Circuit to return it to the district court. Apparent vote is 6-3.
—@mjs_DC: (Sonia) Sotomayor‘s dissent — stunning. She writes: “This case is a disaster for the rule of law and a grave disservice to women in Texas, who have a right to control their own bodies. I will not stand by silently as a State continues to nullify this constitutional guarantee. I dissent.”
Congresswoman @Sheila4Congress. 🙌🏼 pic.twitter.com/xnyfMc0R2F
— Tanbir Chowdhury (@ItsTanbirC) January 19, 2022
‘Billions’ begins — 2; Red Dog Blue Dog charity event — 4; James Madison Institute’s Stanley Marshall Day Celebration in Jacksonville — 7; XXIV Olympic Winter Games begins — 14; Super Bowl LVI — 23; Will Smith’s ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ reboot premieres — 23; Discover Boating Miami International Boat Show begins — 26; season four of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ begins — 26; Synapse Florida tech summit begins — 27; ‘The Walking Dead’ final season part two begins — 30; Daytona 500 — 30; Special Election for Jacksonville City Council At-Large Group 3 — 33; CPAC begins — 34; St. Pete Grand Prix — 35; Joe Biden to give State of the Union — 39; ‘The Batman’ premieres — 42; the third season of ‘Atlanta’ begins — 61; season two of ‘Bridgerton’ begins — 63; The Oscars — 65; Macbeth with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga begin performances on Broadway — 67; Grammys rescheduled in Las Vegas — 72; federal student loan payments will resume — 100;’ Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 105;’ Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 126;’ Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 132;’ Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 169; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 180; Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner novel ‘Heat 2’ publishes — 200; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 224;’ Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 259; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 294; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 297; ‘Avatar 2′ premieres — 329;’ Captain Marvel 2′ premieres — 392;’ John Wick: Chapter 4′ premieres — 427; ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 553;’ Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 637; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 917.
— TOP STORY —
“State opens investigation into dark-money group key to ‘ghost’ candidate scandal” via Jason Garcia and Annie Martin of the Orlando Sentinel — Nikki Fried, the Commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, said her department is probing whether the organization, known as “Let’s Preserve the American Dream,” has fully complied with state laws governing nonprofits that solicit funding in Florida. The development comes as the Tallahassee-based nonprofit, closely associated with one of Florida’s biggest business-lobbying groups, faces a criminal investigation by prosecutors in Miami. A “social welfare” nonprofit that was established “to educate citizens on the societal benefits of sound economic, regulatory and legal policies,” Let’s Preserve the American Dream has grown into a financial powerhouse. Tax records show it has raised and spent roughly $20 million in just the past three years. The organization is closely linked to the lobbying group Associated Industries of Florida and was run out of AIF’s Tallahassee headquarters by a former AIF vice president. Let’s Preserve the American Dream has come under heightened scrutiny as more has emerged about its role in Florida’s 2020 ghost candidate scandal, which involved independent candidates who ran in three battleground Senate races in Central and South Florida.
“How much darker can political money get? New GOP bill tries to further shield donors” via Ana Ceballos and Samantha J. Gross of the Miami Herald — Florida Republicans are pushing legislation that would enact broad new layers of secrecy around nonprofit organizations’ corporate and individual donors, a move that would allow some political groups to shield sources of funding from local and state government scrutiny. There are two versions of the so-called “Personal Privacy Protection Act” in the Florida Legislature, and records and interviews show the bill language was provided by a lobbyist who says he was working on behalf of two nonprofit organizations whose tax-exempt status allows them to engage in a restricted level of political activity and does not require them to disclose their donors. Such groups have come under increased scrutiny in the last year due to a Miami-Dade County “ghost” candidate investigation marked by dark money spending.
—DATELINE TALLY —
“Florida Senate approves redistricting map for 28 U.S. House districts” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — With a 31-4 vote, the plan (S 8060) became the first map approved by a chamber of the Florida Legislature during the once-a-decade redistricting process. Liberal advocacy groups like Latino Justice have promised lawsuits over a failure to increase Florida’s number of minority access districts. Meanwhile, Ron DeSantis’ office has criticized at least one district as an “unconstitutional gerrymander,” and online activists have called on the Florida House to ignore the Senate map or for DeSantis to veto it. Senate Reapportionment Committee Chair Ray Rodrigues has prioritized working within the boundaries of the law. “Let me be clear; I am not saying today that this is the only map that can be drawn to be compliant,” Rodrigues said.
“Florida GOP-led Senate sets up clash with Ron DeSantis over congressional maps” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO — The Florida Senate overwhelmingly passed its draft congressional map Thursday, a move that sets the Republican-led chamber up with a rare clash with DeSantis. DeSantis surprised many last weekend by presenting his own congressional maps that were more aggressively favorable for Republicans. Florida picked up one new congressional seat in 2022 due to population growth, bringing its total to 28. The Senate approved a plan that gives Republicans 16 seats former President Donald Trump would have won in 2020, while the Governor proposes a map with 18 Trump seats. The Senate is largely unified across party lines behind its version of the map. Democrats, even those with lingering concerns, praised the map drawn by Republican majorities as well as Senate redistricting Chair Rodrigues’ handling of the process.
“Senate bill would make local governments pay businesses if an ordinance hurts profits” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 11-7 for SB 620, which would allow businesses from pill mills to puppy mills to sue local governments if they lose up to 15% of their profits or revenues because of a local ordinance attempting to regulate them. Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg was the only Republican to vote against the measure. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Travis Hutson, but is the brainchild of Senate President Wilton Simpson, a 2022 candidate for state Agriculture Commissioner. He has let Senators know that because the measure is his priority, he expects them to be in lockstep in support or face the consequences.
“In the dark: Florida lawmakers creating new ways to keep public records private” via Jeffrey Schweers of USA Today Network — The annual assault on Florida’s popular open government laws continues this Legislative Session, even as the public clamors for greater transparency and access to their elected officials and government as the COVID-19 pandemic enters its third year. Lawmakers have filed more than 50 bills, either adding new exemptions to the state’s public records law or sparking what are known as open government sunset reviews, which make previously public information secret. During the first week of Session, no less than 20 of those bills cleared their first review committees, including a highly contentious proposal to shield the names of people applying to be state university presidents until finalists are selected.
“House moves bill letting DeSantis appoint DEP head despite Senate delay” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics —The measure has implications for the upcoming election. The proposal (HB 1295), carried by Sarasota Republican Rep. Tommy Gregory, would reset the appointments structure for the heads of several agencies, including the Department of Environmental Protection. Members of the House State Affairs Committee voted 15-5 to advance the bill. Recent controversy surrounding the measure originates from the summer, when DeSantis appointed Shawn Hamilton as interim DEP Secretary. DeSantis then moved to make the appointment permanent. Fried contends the Governor lacks the legal authority to appoint Hamilton without the Cabinet’s unanimous support and without a public interview.
“Measure offering protection for independent contractors ready for Senate floor” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics —The Senate Rules Committee OK’d the measure (SB 542) unanimously and without debate. Republican Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez is the bill sponsor. Under the proposal, businesses can support independent contractors during a state of emergency — such as a pandemic or a hurricane — without fear of litigation that alleges an improper employee-employer relationship. “You are unable to give them anything because of the way that the employment structure is set up,” Rodriguez told the committee. In the event of a lawsuit, the bill would prohibit several transactions from being used as evidence in court.
“‘Berry good bill’ to make strawberry shortcake Florida’s official state dessert clears final Senate committee” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — A proposal to change Florida’s official state dessert moved closer to reality Thursday when it cruised smoothly through its final Senate committee with nary a jam. The Senate Rules Committee unanimously approved SB 1006, establishing strawberry shortcake as the state’s primo post-dinner delicacy. The bill previously cleared the Senate Agriculture Committee with identical support. Its sponsor, Sen. Danny Burgess, spoke briefly on behalf of his “berry good” bill, a companion to one Reps. Lawrence McClure and Demi Busatta Cabrera filed in November. While it’s easily the sweetest piece of legislation to move through Tallahassee this Session, Burgess wasn’t juicing up how fruitful strawberries are to the state economy. Hillsborough County produces roughly 15% of the nation’s strawberries.
—TALLY 2 —
“Bill that would eliminate school board salaries advances” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — A proposal that would turn all the state’s school board members into volunteers and require all library materials to get publicly reviewed and listed online received approval at its first stop in front of the Education & Employment Committee Thursday. The measure (HB 1467) passed largely along party lines with Democrats opposed and is one of a few bills taking aim at school policies this Session. It comes on the heels of some school boards’ dramatic rebellion against DeSantis’ edict last fall that students cannot be required to wear face masks at school to stop the spread of COVID-19. Another proposal (SJR 244) would make school board races partisan. Rep. Sam Garrison said he’s trying to get the politics out of school board service and increase parental involvement.
“House panel approves bill to create ombudsman, appeals process for HOA disputes” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Floridians who tussle with homeowners associations (HOAs) could soon see a few more layers of process before anyone gets fined or goes to court under a bill approved by the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee. That panel unanimously advanced HB 1033, seeking to create a state ombudsman’s office to offer non-binding arbitration in HOA disputes and an appeals process for HOA fines. The bill would bring HOA governance more in line with condominium associations, which already have a state ombudsman’s office to provide arbitration. The measure would exceed what’s universally available for condo owners with the proposed new appeals board for homeowners’ associations.
“Former judge lobbying restrictions bill passes last House committee” via Tristan Wood of Florida Politics — HB 7003, sponsored by Tampa Republican Rep. Traci Koster, passed the House Judiciary Committee with unanimous support. The legislation would extend, from two years to six years, the time which judges and justices must wait after leaving the bench before lobbying legislators and other statewide elected officials. The change also would prohibit them from lobbying government agencies for compensation or lobbying the Legislature on such things as policies, appropriations and contracts. Penalties under the measures would include fines up to $10,000 and forfeiting money earned from illegally lobbying. Violators also could receive public censure or reprimand. A bill (HB 7001) that places similar restrictions on Florida lawmakers also is working its way through committees.
“House panel OKs bill giving first responders with PTSD more time to file workers’ comp claims” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — Law enforcement officers and firefighters will have additional time to file workers’ compensation claims for work-related post-traumatic stress under a bill that passed a House committee with no opposition. Some House Government Operations Committee members wonder if the proposal goes far enough. The bill builds off a 2018 law that modified the state’s workers’ compensation laws to allow first responders who have job-induced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to tap into indemnity benefits which compensate injured workers for a portion of their lost wages while out of work with an injury. First responders would have 90 days after getting diagnosed with PTSD to file a notice of claim with their employer. Any claim not filed within 52 weeks of the PTSD diagnosis would be barred.
“Bill expanding employee parental leave days passes first hurdle” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — House lawmakers advanced a measure requiring agencies to provide paid parental leave from the sick leave pool for state employees. The bill (HB 1053), sponsored by Rep. Vance Aloupis, would require state departments and agencies to let employees opt into the sick leave pool, opening themselves up to 12 weeks of leave. Employees could use up to four of those weeks for parental leave. The four weeks would be consecutive and could be accessed after the birth or adoption of a child. It would also come on top of accrued sick and vacation leave, which parents can also use for parental leave. The House Government Operations Subcommittee approved the measure unanimously Thursday.
House Republicans push to limit LGBTQ discussion in schools — The House Education and Employment Committee approved a bill by Republican Rep. Joe Harding (HB 1557) that would tighten rules on the discussion of LGBTQ issues in schools. Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida reported that the bill would allow parents to sue schools if they withhold information about their child’s sexual orientation. The proposal was met with criticism by LGBTQ advocates, which labeled it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Republicans, however, pitch it as strengthening Florida’s “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” which is meant to increase parents’ involvement in their child’s education but has in practice been used to force districts to back off policies such as mask mandates.
“Committee bill adding 6th District Court of Appeal passes first committee” via Tristan Wood of Florida Politics — A House Judiciary Committee bill adding a 6th District Court of Appeal (DCA) to Florida’s appellate system passed the committee unanimously Thursday. The legislation (PCB JDC 22-01) would create the 6th DCA headquartered in Pinellas County. It would be composed of Florida’s 6th, 12th and 13th Judicial circuits. The decision also would realign and change the number of appellate judges in each of the other five districts. If the legislation is passed, it will be the first time Florida has added a new DCA since 1979. The bill was created in response to a 6-1 Florida Supreme Court recommendation to add the new DCA in November. The court agreed with the recommendation from the District Court of Appeal Workload and Jurisdiction Assessment Committee that adding a new DCA would boost citizen trust in the judicial system.
“Bills would help consultants make a killing off of killing off Florida’s sea grass” via Craig Pittman of Florida Phoenix — You may have heard that Florida’s sea grass beds are in big trouble right now. We’ve lost tens of thousands of acres of them. Manatees are starving to death as a result. More than 1,000 died in 2021, many from malnutrition because they have no sea grass to eat. We may see more of them starve this winter. House Bill 349 and Senate Bill 198 both would deal with this dire situation by creating sea grass mitigation banks, because hey, mitigation is great, right? At least on paper. The sea grass banks would be run by private corporations that could sell mitigation credits to developers whose latest project destroys sea grass beds. To get the credits, the corporations would have to work on growing new sea grass in places it does not already grow.
“Mickey Mouse delivers art painted by legislators and others to Capital Regional Medical Center” via Alicia Devine of the Tallahassee Democrat — Mickey Mouse made a special visit to Capital Regional Medical Center Wednesday morning to deliver a hand-painted piece of art to be displayed in the hallways of the hospital. The art was painted by Walt Disney World cast members, Florida lawmakers and visitors to the Florida Capitol during Disney Day there Tuesday. The piece is made up of six canvases with notable Disney characters, including Mickey, Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck. Disney Cast Members partnered with the Foundation for Hospital Art to present the colorful artwork to colleagues at CRMC.
Assignment editors — Citizens from Miami-Dade will protest in front of the office of Sen. Ileana Garcia, who, in an interview with CBS4’s Jim DeFede, said she supports forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy even if she’s a survivor of rape, incest, or human trafficking, 9:30 a.m., 2828 Coral Way, Miami.
— SKED —
— The Joint Select Committee on Collective Bargaining meets, 8 a.m., Room 412 of the Knott Building.
— The Revenue Estimating Conference meets for an updated forecast on general revenue, 9 a.m., Room 117 of the Knott Building.
— House State Legislative Redistricting Subcommittee meets, 10:30 a.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.
Happening today — The Florida Conference of Black State Legislators Foundation holds its annual Kershaw-Cherry Legislative Luncheon, with keynote speaker Bishop Frank M. Reid III of the 11th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, noon, Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, 505 West Pensacola St., Tallahassee.
— STATEWIDE —
“Special prosecutor tapped for Ben Frazier trespassing case” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — It appears that prosecution of a man accused of trespassing at a DeSantis news conference may move forward after all. The Governor’s Office denied the request of 4th Circuit State Attorney Melissa Nelson to recuse her office from the case of Frazier, so a compromise was reached. DeSantis General Counsel Ryan Newman wrote Nelson on Jan. 14, denying the request for executive assignment because members of DeSantis’ Office were “directly involved” in the circumstances of the case. Newman contended that the “ends of justice would not be served” if the Governor’s Office exercised such discretion. However, 7th Circuit State Attorney R.J. Larizza worked with Nelson’s office to identify a special prosecutor, David Ray Smith, who has “full authority” to decide whether there is a case to be prosecuted.
“Florida’s Environmental Regulation Commission hasn’t met in five years” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida is poised to spend $2.2 billion on the environment next year. This state and nation are already spending $23 billion cleaning up the Everglades. If you could solve problems simply by throwing money at them, we would be fine. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. A much better way — cheaper and more effective — is to stop people from damaging our natural resources in the first place. And on that front, Florida is pretty pathetic. Environmental enforcement is a fraction of what it was two decades ago. Florida’s Environmental Regulation Commission hasn’t met a single time in the past five years.
“Suspect in Haiti President’s assassination extradited to Miami” via The Associated Press — A businessperson accused in the July 7 killing of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was extradited to face criminal charges in Miami after he was detained in the Dominican Republic. “We can confirm Rodolphe Jaar is in U.S. custody in the Southern District of Florida,” said Nicole Navas, the Department of Justice spokesperson. “He will be presented with criminal charges tomorrow at his initial appearance” at the federal court, she said. Jaar, who was convicted of drug-trafficking charges a decade ago and once served as an informant for the U.S. government, was extradited from the Dominican Republic, where he was detained earlier this month. Jaar is the second foreigner extradited to the United States to face charges related to the assassination of the Haitian President.
“A lethal scourge is infecting Florida’s favorite grass, and there’s nothing to stop it” via Kimberly Miller of the Palm Beach Post — A marauding killer is increasingly souring Florida lawns, turning beloved St. Augustine to a yellowing bruise and plunging communities into pricy despair. The so-called lethal viral necrosis, an incurable scourge, was first diagnosed in 2014 in Palm Beach County. It has since spread into the Treasure Coast and around the toe of the state through the Keys and into Lee County. This week, about 275 people tuned into a Zoom webinar held by professors and horticulturists from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences to learn more about the virus that attacks the much-favored, emerald-colored cultivar of St. Augustine Floratam. “It’s an emotional issue,” said Laurie Albrecht, a Palm Beach County environmental horticulture extension agent.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“Florida reports 45,668 new cases and adds 111 deaths to total” via David Schutz of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida reported 45,668 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, dropping the state’s seven-day average to 44,124, its lowest level since Dec. 30, according to data from the CDC. After being in the top five among states earlier in the year for case rates per capita, Florida now ranks 29th with 212 new cases a day per 100,000 population over the past seven days. Rhode Island has the highest rate with 404 cases per 100,00 and Maine has the lowest with 68. For deaths per capita, Florida ranks 31st with 0.43 deaths per 10,000. With dropping cases and stabilizing hospitalizations signaling a decline in the omicron surge, vaccinations have slowed down in Florida. The average daily vaccination rate dropped for the sixth consecutive day to its lowest level since the last week of October. About 64.4% of Floridians are fully vaccinated and 35.8% have received booster shots.
“Black pastors: Florida’s COVID-19 response ‘neglected’ their communities” via Margo Snipe of the Tampa Bay Times — A group of Black pastors are urging DeSantis to deliver adequate COVID-19 resources, such as state-run testing and vaccination sites, to communities disproportionately impacted by the virus. The pastors are part of the Florida State Network of African American Clergy Alliances, a group that says it reaches 15 counties, 1,200 churches and almost 60,000 Floridians. They’re pointing to low vaccination rates among Black residents as an indicator of the need to provide state resources, outreach and assistance to the community, which has been disproportionately burdened by COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations throughout the pandemic.
“COVID-19 shortages give Miami nursing students a unique opportunity” via Christina Vazquez of Local 10 — Hospitals are getting creative to fill chronic nursing shortages in a range of units, partnering with the University of Miami to create a pipeline to opportunity. “We have had a lot of people come through the field of nursing simply because they want to make a change with COVID,” said Nichole Crenshaw, associate dean for undergraduate nursing programs at the UM’s School of Nursing & Health Studies. University of Miami nursing students now have a new opportunity to get hands-on experience, a partnership with Steward Health Care’s five South Florida hospitals that places students on clinical rotations. Industry analysts say the pandemic exacerbated nursing shortages nationwide. Some quit. Some retired. Others left hospitals for lucrative gigs with traveling-nurse agencies. This local partnership now creates a pipeline to education and employment.
— CORONA LOCAL —
“Flagler Hospital reports 64 COVID-19 patients on Thursday” via The St. Augustine Record — The number of coronavirus patients at Flagler Hospital went from 67 on Wednesday to 64 on Thursday, according to the facility’s COVID-19 dashboard. The hospital’s peak was 133 patients on Aug. 12 during the delta surge. Eight COVID-19 patients were admitted and 11 were discharged between Wednesday and Thursday. It’s unclear how many patients are dying each day since Flagler Hospital doesn’t include the COVID-19 deaths in its daily update. Also, six patients were in the intensive care unit, and four were on a ventilator. Flagler Hospital reported Wednesday that 48.4% of its COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.
“Bay County COVID-19 cases up 80%; continues monthlong spiking trend” via Mike Stucka of The Panama City News-Herald — Bay County reported an 80% spike in new COVID-19 cases last week, continuing a monthlong surge in infections. The county reported 2,667 new cases last week ending Sunday. A week earlier, the county reported 1,482 new cases. Three weeks ago, the county reported 702 new cases. Throughout the pandemic, the county has reported a total of 37,964 cases. Ascension Sacred Heart Bay has reported a continued rise in new hospitalized COVID-19 patients over the past month. The health care organization announced Tuesday that there were 47 COVID-19 patients in its hospitals in Bay, Walton and Gulf counties. The three hospitals had a total of 30 COVID-19 patients a week earlier.
“Alachua County soars past 50,000 cumulative COVID-19 cases” via Danielle Ivanov of The Gainesville Sun — According to Friday’s COVID-19 Weekly Situation Report from the Florida Department of Health, Alachua County had 6,524 new COVID-19 cases between Jan. 7-13, almost 3,000 more than the previous week’s 3,789. They brought the county’s cumulative case total to 53,586. Meanwhile, Alachua County’s new case positivity rate also rose from 27.7% to 28.9%. FDOH does not publicly report COVID-19 deaths by county. However, a federal document called the COVID-19 Community Profile Report published Wednesday showed that Alachua County had 539 cumulative COVID-19 deaths.
“Sick teachers, shortage of subs straining Leon County Schools amid COVID-19 surge” via Ana Goñi-Lessan of the Tallahassee Democrat — As COVID-19 cases increase in Leon County, so does the school district’s need for substitute teachers. There have been 222 requests for substitute teachers in Leon County Schools in the past three days. As of 1 p.m. Thursday, there were 229 requests for substitute teachers for Friday alone. This makes up about 10% of the 2,241 teachers employed by the district. “We have not reached critical mass yet on the possibility of closing due to staffing issues,” said Chris Petley, a spokesperson for the district. Scott Mazur, President of the Leon Classroom Teachers Association, said he was contacted last week by teachers concerned about the lack of substitutes. Classes were split and students were sent to other classes while teachers were losing their planning time to cover other classes.
“St. Johns County school district reports 551 student COVID-19 cases Wednesday” via Colleen Michele Jones of The St. Augustine Record — COVID-19 numbers continue to climb day by day, week by week, but the St. Johns County School District says it hasn’t received any guidance from the Florida Department of Health to change its pandemic protocols. As of Tuesday, the district reported 551 students positive for COVID-19 and another 124 under quarantine. That’s up from 515 positive and 161 quarantined on Jan. 14; 467 positive and 151 quarantined on Jan. 13; 426 positive and 155 quarantined on Jan. 12, and 329 positive and 121 quarantined on Jan. 11. There are a total of 5,298 employees and 45,643 students districtwide.
“Volusia, Flagler schools report 1,364 COVID-19 positive students, staff this week” via Nikki Ross of The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Volusia and Flagler county schools reported 1,364 students and staff members tested positive for COVID-19 from Jan. 13 to 19. Volusia County Schools reported 929 students and 274 staff members with the virus during the past week, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, which was updated Wednesday evening. That’s the district’s highest weekly case increase so far this academic year. A total of 494 staff members and 1,292 students have contracted the virus so far in 2022. Since the beginning of the school year, 3,293 students and 989 staff members in Volusia County schools have tested positive.
“A London-bound American Airlines flight returns to Miami after woman refuses to wear mask” via Michelle Marchante of the Miami Herald — A London-bound American Airlines flight that left Miami had to turn back more than an hour into its trip after a passenger refused to wear a mask and became “disruptive,” the airline said. The mask drama happened Wednesday night while the American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER was about 34,000 feet over the Atlantic, just off the coast of the Carolinas on the way to London’s Heathrow Airport, according to FlightAware, an online flight tracker. American Airlines didn’t specify the “disruptive” behavior, but it was enough to have the flight return to Miami International Airport, where police were waiting at the gate. The plane was about an hour and a half into its flight before changing course.
— 2022 —
“Donald Trump-DeSantis barbs amount to small talk, but the Governor is playing his cards skillfully” via Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat — Right now, reports of a burgeoning feud between Trump and DeSantis are just time-fillers for the chattering faces on cable TV talk shows every night. A few of the national newspapers, online sites and networks have been looking for clues in things the former President says about our Governor, and what DeSantis alludes to in response. The men are at the stage of not mentioning the other guy’s name, while making small digs at each other. DeSantis has no need to poke his party’s most prominent leader, considering Trump’s reputation for accepting even the mildest criticism with the calm, contemplative mood of a Malaysian pit viper. Polls indicate DeSantis is the GOP front-runner if Trump doesn’t run, so his best bet, for now, is to remain at least outwardly cordial to Trump, win big for a second term as Governor, and see what 2024 brings.
“Trump calls split with DeSantis ‘totally fake news’” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Trump said he had a “very good relationship” with DeSantis, and continued propagating that narrative on the Fox News hit. “I get along great with Ron. Ron was very good on the (Robert) Mueller hoax. He was right in front along with Jim Jordan and all of the rest of them, they were fantastic. Republicans really stuck together. It was a great thing and Ron was one of them. It’s totally fake news. I think Ron said it last week, he said it very publicly, the press is never going to get in the middle of my friendship with Donald Trump. We’re not going to do that stuff. And he said it very strongly, which I thought was really interesting, actually, and very nice. And he said that, and I agree with him 100%.”
“Election supervisors cite fraudulent signatures on Las Vegas Sands’ casino petitions” via Lawrence Mower and Mary Ellen Klas of The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald — Florida could be in the midst of one of the largest cases of election-related fraud in recent history. Across the state, elections supervisors say they have been sent thousands of fraudulent petition forms supporting a constitutional amendment to expand casino gaming in the state. Although the forms are supposed to reflect real Floridians voicing support for a change to the state’s Constitution, many include the names of dead people or the forged signatures of real voters.
“Dennis Baxley, Keith Perry plan to avoid primary showdown in proposed SD 9” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Sens. Baxley and Perry have reached a deal to avoid a primary showdown over the Senate’s re-imagined Senate District 9 seat. With Senate district maps all but settled, some incumbent Senators have held conversations on where to seek re-election. Baxley and Perry, who both live in the planned SD 9, are among several sitting Senators who will have to make a tough decision for re-election. Perry, whose current district consists of Alachua and Putnam counties and the northern half of Marion County, will remain in Gainesville and run in the proposed SD 9. The new district would consist of Marion and Levy counties and the southern half of Alachua County.
“Early voting in runoff for Gainesville City Commission seat starts Friday” via The Gainesville Sun — Gainesville voters will begin heading to the polls Friday to choose between Cynthia Moore Chestnut and Matt Howland for who will next occupy the at-large B seat on the Gainesville City Commission. Early voting will be held from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday through Sunday at the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office. The runoff is being held because none of the five candidates could get more than 50% of the vote in the first special election on Nov. 16 to fill the open seat vacated last year by Gail Johnson. Howland is a newcomer to local politics, and Chestnut has decades of experience in elected offices.
“Clearwater council candidate caused bar altercations, reports say” via Tracey McManus of the Tampa Bay Times — Twice over the last two years, law enforcement officers have been called to local bars to quell altercations involving Aaron Smith-Levin, now a candidate for Clearwater City Council. Smith-Levin was accused of behaving belligerently and provoking both incidents with vulgar insults, but neither resulted in charges. Smith-Levin issued a statement blaming the “hell” and “unbelievable stress” of leaving the Church of Scientology, where he spent his early life as a staffer before defecting about seven years ago. He is basing his council campaign on a pledge to stand up against the church’s dominating presence in downtown and challenge its tax-exempt status. In the March 15 election, he faces two opponents for Seat 5 on the City Council.
— CORONA NATION —
“Omicron pushes COVID-19 deaths toward 2,000 per day” via Sam Baker and Kavya Beheraj of Axios — The U.S. omicron wave may be peaking, but now COVID-19 deaths are climbing as cases continue to soar in most of the country. omicron’s stranglehold in the U.S. started about a month ago. Its death toll is only now starting to take hold, and deaths will likely continue to rise for several weeks. The U.S. is now averaging just under 1,900 deaths per day, a 42% increase over the past two weeks. But it hasn’t yet run its course in the rest of the country. While cases are declining on the East Coast, they’ve continued to climb just about everywhere else. This phase of the pandemic will probably end relatively soon. The omicron wave swept through South Africa and the U.K. quickly, and now appears to be following a similar trajectory in the U.S.
“COVID-19 deaths and cases are rising again at U.S. nursing homes” via Meg Kinnard and Bryan Gallion of The Associated Press — Nursing homes reported a near-record of about 32,000 COVID-19 cases among residents in the week ending Jan. 9, an almost sevenfold increase from a month earlier, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A total of 645 COVID-19-related deaths among residents were recorded during the same week, a 47% increase from the earlier period. And there are fears that deaths could go much higher before omicron is through. Despite the rising numbers, the situation is not as dire as it was in December 2020, when nursing home deaths per week topped out at about 6,200. Experts credit the high vaccination rates now among nursing home residents: About 87% are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.
“Some U.S. hospitals see COVID-19 patient counts decline as omicron retreats” via Jon Kamp of The Wall Street Journal — Hospitals in early omicron hot spots like New York and Washington, D.C., say the pressure is starting to ease, with many reporting fewer COVID-19 patients filling beds and smaller numbers of staff sidelined by infections. While these improvements follow declines in new COVID-19 case counts in parts of the U.S., health authorities have warned omicron has yet to peak nationally, and hospitals around the country remain under significant strain from COVID-19 patient counts still at record levels. But there is also growing evidence omicron’s surges, while explosive, can be short-lived. Some hospitals say they also have fewer sick staff members now, relieving pressure that mounted quickly when omicron burned through their ranks.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“Program would allow certain teens to become truck drivers amid supply chain crisis” via Caitlin O’Kane of CBS News — The lack of truck drivers in the U.S. has contributed to supply chain issues that have arisen globally during the pandemic. To address the shortage, officials are considering allowing teenagers to become truckers. A pilot program, first proposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in 2020, would allow drivers aged 18 to 20 to operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce after completing probationary hours. However, they would not drive passengers, hazardous materials or special configuration vehicles. Currently, most states allow people 18 or older to become truck drivers, but they cannot drive between states until they are 21.
“‘A game changer’: Alachua County School Board asks state to release $61.5 million” via Gershon Harrell of The Gainesville Sun — Anticipating the largest amount of discretionary funding the district has ever seen, the Alachua County Public School Board voted to send an application to the state Department of Education for a lump sum of federal COVID-19 relief funds. If approved, Alachua County Public Schools will be allocated $61.5 million in Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief funds (ESSER).
— MORE CORONA —
“Free rapid tests are about to roll out in the U.S. In other countries, they’re already part of daily life.” via Karla Adam and Niha Masih of The Washington Post — The U.S. government is just beginning to roll out free antigen home tests. This week, a website for ordering launched with the first batches, four per household, scheduled for delivery later this month. But while up until now, home tests have been expensive and hard to find in much of America, in other countries — Britain, Singapore and India among them — rapid self-tests have been widely accessible for some time. And people have incorporated them into their everyday lives. Britain’s National Health Service has already distributed 1.7 billion free home tests (in a country of 67 million) over the past nine months.
“Africa sees cases ‘drop significantly’; experts say Australia’s omicron wave ‘likely’ peaked” via Samantha Lock of The Guardian — The omicron outbreak of COVID-19 cases appears to have peaked in New South Wales, Victoria and other parts of Australia, epidemiologists believe. Professor Adrian Esterman, an epidemiologist and biostatistician at the University of South Australia, said the omicron wave had “absolutely certainly” peaked in NSW and Victoria. The Reff, the effective reproduction number, which measures how many other people someone with COVID-19 will infect, on average, had dropped below 1 in both states, Esterman said. “We know that the peak has been reached when the Reff gets below 1.” On Thursday, Esterman calculated the Reff to be 0.83 in NSW and 0.8 in Victoria.
“China’s zero-COVID-19 policy has some asking how Winter Games can go on during omicron surge” via Nancy Armour of USA Today — Athletes who have recovered from COVID-19 could wind up stuck in quarantine rather than standing atop the medals podium. And Chinese officials are petrified of piercing the very strict bubble the country has been under for the past two years. The omicron wave that is still surging across the globe presents a direct conflict to China’s zero-tolerance policy for COVID-19, leaving many to ask the question: Why are the Beijing Olympics still going ahead? “Sure, they can happen. Japan has proved you can do it successfully. But I think it depends on what are the expectations,” said Tara Kirk Sell, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and a 2004 Olympic silver medalist in swimming. Building off protocols used at the Tokyo Olympics last summer, the IOC and Beijing organizers insist that the Winter Games can be held safely.
“Hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses risk going to waste” via James Paton of Bloomberg — Hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses purchased by wealthy countries are at risk of going to waste, a new analysis shows, while large parts of the world remain unprotected amid the spread of the omicron variant. About 240 million doses purchased by the U.S., U.K., Japan, Canada and the European Union are expected to go unused and expire by March. The number of potentially wasted doses could climb to 500 million by that point if other countries receiving donated doses don’t have enough time to administer them, it said. Squandering doses of precious COVID-19 vaccine threatens to exacerbate shortfalls, especially in Africa and other parts of the developing world. Donated supplies often arrive with little notice and short shelf lives, making it even harder for stretched health systems in poorer countries to turn them into inoculations.
— PRESIDENTIAL —
“Calling civilian casualties a ‘failure,’ Democrats urge Joe Biden to do better” via Catie Edmondson of The New York Times — Congressional Democrats urged Biden to overhaul his counterterrorism strategy and targeting criteria for drone strikes, citing grave concerns about “repeated civilian casualties arising from secretive and unaccountable lethal operations.” The letter came a day after The New York Times published newly declassified surveillance footage providing additional details about the final minutes and aftermath of a botched drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, which killed 10 innocent civilians, including seven children in August. Eleven Senators and 39 members of the House cited that strike as “emblematic of this systemic failure that has persisted across decades and administrations.”
“Biden strengthens words on Ukraine after flustering European partners” via Michael Crowley and Steven Erlanger of The New York Times — President Biden strengthened his warning to Russia about a potential attack on Ukraine, saying that any movement of Russian units across the Ukrainian border would be taken as an invasion, a day after the President triggered alarm in European capitals with his suggestion of divisions among allies. Biden insisted that he had been “absolutely clear” with President Vladimir Putin that a new incursion in Ukraine would be met by a “severe and coordinated economic response.” Biden said that Russia’s “minor incursion” into Ukraine could mean “we end up having a fight” with European allies about the appropriate response.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Supreme Court refuses to require prompt action on Texas abortion law” via Adam Liptak of The New York Times — The Supreme Court rejected a request from abortion providers in Texas that a federal judge be allowed to take prompt action on their challenge to a state law that bans most abortions after six weeks. The practical effect of the order, the three liberal justices wrote in dissent, was to let the law stay in place indefinitely. The majority gave no reasons for its ruling, which followed a decision last month allowing the providers to sue at least some state officials to try to block or limit the law. That victory was an empty one, the dissenting justices wrote, because the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, in New Orleans, refused to return the case to the trial judge and instead sent it on a legal detour to a state court.
“Federal government will appeal Florida Gaming Compact ruling” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has notified a federal court that she and the Department of Interior intend to appeal the November court decision that struck down internet sports betting and Florida’s 2022 Gaming Compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Haaland filed her notice to appeal the decision in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The actual appeal is set to be filed by Saturday. The federal government’s argument would have to convince the Appeals Court that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act gives the Interior Department authority to approve Florida’s Gaming Compact even if the Compact allows bets to be placed outside tribal lands.
“‘I will not sit quietly’: 3 Black Senators in spotlight on voting rights” via Jonathan Weisman and Annie Karni of The New York Times — The Senate has only three Black members, a paltry number that is woefully unrepresentative of the country, so when the chamber took up a voting rights bill this week aimed at preventing the disenfranchisement of voters of color, Senators Cory Booker, Tim Scott and Raphael Warnock played an outsized role in the debate. The protracted proceedings underscored how heavily the white leaders of both parties lean on the few Black members of their rank-and-file when issues of race arise. The moral force that the three Senators could marshal to their causes was clear. Scott used the elections of all three Black men to back up his case that America is a nation of expanding democratic opportunity, not voter suppression and inequity. The groundbreaking positions of the men, no doubt, are at least part of the reason they were thrust onto center stage.
“Why Democrats spent a year on a failed voting rights push” via Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post — Months before the decisive Senate votes that put a stake in Democrats’ yearlong push to pass federal voting rights legislation, two key Senators set out firm positions. “I have said it before and will say it again to remove any shred of doubt: There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster,” Sen. Joe Manchin wrote in April as the Senate started to take up voting rights. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema was similarly direct in affirming her support of the Senate’s 60-vote requirement as the chamber geared up in June for an initial vote on the issue. “If anyone expected me to reverse my position because my party now controls the Senate, they should know that my approach to legislating in Congress is the same whether in the minority or majority,” she wrote. Yet Democratic leaders continued their push for action for another six months.
— CRISIS —
“House Jan. 6 Committee subpoenas White nationalist figures” via Luke Broadwater and Alan Feuer of The New York Times — The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol issued two subpoenas for the leaders of a White nationalist movement that helped bring a crowd to Washington ahead of the riot. The committee issued subpoenas to Nicholas J. Fuentes and Patrick Casey, whom the panel described as leaders of the “America First” or “Groyper” movement and who were on the Capitol grounds last Jan. 6. Fuentes, a White nationalist, online provocateur and activist, has allied with Rep. Paul Gosar, a far-right Republican from Arizona who helped lead objections in Congress to the certification of Biden’s victory.
“Palm Harbor messianic rabbi gets house arrest, probation in Jan. 6 Capitol breach” via Dan Sullivan of the Tampa Bay Times — A federal judge in Washington, D.C., sentenced a Palm Harbor messianic rabbi Thursday to two months of home confinement plus a year of probation for strolling into the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot. Michael Stepakoff, was also ordered to pay a $742 fine to reimburse the government for the cost to monitor him throughout the past year. “Entering the Capitol was a terrible mistake on my part,” Stepakoff said in court. While prosecutors had requested two weeks of imprisonment, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras concluded incarceration was unnecessary. But the judge didn’t buy arguments from Stepakoff’s lawyer that he wasn’t aware of the seriousness of his actions when he entered the Capitol with the mob.
— EPILOGUE TRUMP —
“Trump campaign officials, led by Rudy Giuliani, oversaw fake electors plot in 7 states” via Marshall Cohen, Zachary Cohen and Dan Merica of CNN — Trump campaign officials, led by Giuliani, oversaw efforts in December 2020 to put forward illegitimate electors from seven states that Trump lost. Members of former President Trump’s campaign team were far more involved than previously known in the plan, a core tenet of the broader plot to overturn Biden‘s victory when Congress counted the electoral votes on Jan. 6. Giuliani and his allies coordinated the nuts and bolts of the process on a state-by-state level. One source said there were multiple planning calls between Trump campaign officials and GOP state operatives, and that Giuliani participated in at least one call. The source also said the Trump campaign lined up supporters to fill elector slots, secured meeting rooms in statehouses for the fake electors to meet on Dec. 14, 2020, and circulated drafts of fake certificates that were ultimately sent to the National Archives.
“Miami wanted to charge millions for public records requested by fired police chief” via Joey Flechas of the Miami Herald — Days after former Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo was fired in October, his lawyers submitted a lengthy public records request for emails, phone records, and other internal City Hall communications. Months later, Miami’s public records office delivered a hefty price tag: $2.3 million. On Jan. 14, city administrators drafted an email to Acevedo’s attorneys explaining that producing the roughly 10 million emails that match their proposed search criteria could cost Acevedo’s team $2,387,820.11, and half would be needed as a deposit to begin the work of reviewing each email for any information that should be redacted under state law.
“Fired police chief sues Miami, claims Commissioners tried to ‘weaponize’ cops against enemies” via Jay Weaver, Nicholas Nehamas, Joey Flechas and Charles Rabin of the Miami Herald — If Miami Commissioners hoped they had heard the last from former police chief Acevedo when they fired him, they were wrong. On Wednesday, Acevedo filed a lawsuit in federal court against Miami, City Manager Art Noriega and Commissioners Joe Carollo, Alex Díaz de la Portilla and Manolo Reyes. In the court filing, Acevedo claims that the City Manager and three Commissioners violated his First Amendment rights and illegally retaliated against him for blowing the whistle on what he describes as a toxic stew of corruption and wrongdoing at City Hall. Acevedo says his firing was retribution for trying to maintain his independence as police chief.
“Surfside condo collapse drives Fannie Mae to toughen loan standards on older buildings” via David Lyons of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Buying a condo in an older South Florida high-rise? For people who want to finance their deal, it’ll be getting tougher to take out a loan backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored enterprises that make mortgages available to low- to moderate-income borrowers. Reacting to last year’s tragic collapse of the Champlain Tower South in Surfside, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two companies that back a majority of residential mortgages in the U.S., are scrutinizing deferred condo maintenance issues before approving loans generated by banks and other lenders. Generally, they will not back loans for condo and co-op units if their buildings have put off major repairs, industry experts say.
“Pembroke Pines hit by ransomware attack, city says” via WPLG Local 10 News — Pembroke Pines was the victim of a ransomware attack last month that impacted their ability to access certain city computer systems, the city confirmed Thursday to Local 10 News. There is an active investigation into the attack, a city spokeswoman said. The city said so far, it appears that no personal information was compromised. They also stressed that services like police and fire remain operational. But because the investigation is ongoing, they cannot provide specific details into the attack, but they will continue to give operational updates, the spokeswoman said.
“‘They’re going to fail’: Here’s why canal systems need fixes to prevent floods in South Florida” via Lisa J. Huriash of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — More than two dozen canals across South Florida face a mounting risk of spilling over during heavy rains as sea level rise looms in the coming years. Now, officials are renewing calls to improve canal systems to help reduce the threat of flooded homes and streets as state legislators push for millions of dollars in state funding, and local officials spend millions more on studies. The improvements would entail adding new pumps as well as widening and deepening canals. In Broward County, seven canals of concern run through parts of Oakland Park, Davie, Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, Lauderhill and unincorporated Broward. In Miami-Dade, 18 canals of extra concern are in places such as Coral Gables, Miami and Hialeah.
“Hollywood to crack down on negligent pet owners after spike in animal abuse cases” via Susannah Bryan of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — In a sad series of photos, forlorn puppy eyes peer out of cages that are small, hot and filthy. Dogs are left alone, tethered to trees with no access to food or water. The photos, presented to Hollywood Commissioners Wednesday, were taken by code officers investigating animal cruelty complaints. Code officers say that cases of animal abuse and neglect have been on the rise in Hollywood, nearly doubling in the past few years. That alarming spike is spurring Hollywood to crack down on negligent pet owners. “A lot of times these animals are being kept outside and tethered for long periods of time,” Code Compliance Supervisor Roy Robinson said as photos of caged animals flicked across the screen.
“11th Circuit denies J.T. Burnette motion to remain free pending appeal in corruption case” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a request by Burnette to stay out of federal prison while he appeals his conviction on corruption charges. The appellate court issued a one-page order Wednesday denying a motion filed earlier this month by Burnette’s appellate lawyers. Jill Pryor, U.S. circuit judge in the 11th Circuit, signed the order. In August, a jury convicted Burnette on federal extortion and other charges for his involvement in a bribery scheme involving former Tallahassee Mayor and City Commissioner Scott Maddox and his longtime partner Paige Carter-Smith. Judge Pryor did not elaborate on why the request was denied but said no more motions on the matter would be taken up as time-sensitive.
“Judge orders home of ex-Jacksonville City Council member seized for fraud restitution” via Steve Patterson of the Florida Times-Union — A federal judge ordered former Jacksonville City Council member Reggie Brown’s home seized and sold Wednesday, apparently days after he completed a prison sentence for fraud. U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard granted a request from prosecutors to seize the home to help settle a $411,000 forfeiture order she imposed in October 2020, when Brown was sentenced with fellow ex-Council member Katrina Brown on dozens of fraud counts involving billing for a failed barbecue sauce factory. Prosecutors said no payments had been made when they asked last month for permission to take the house on Ray Road, off Cleveland Road near Edgewood Avenue in Northwest Jacksonville. Duval County Property Appraiser’s Office records estimate the home’s market value at $93,500.
“An I-295 project would make big changes to Southside Jacksonville road” via Dan Scanlan of the Florida Times-Union — Some major changes are being pondered for a 6-mile stretch of Interstate 295 on Jacksonville’s Southside and Arlington area that includes its busiest interchanges. The Florida Department of Transportation wants to make those changes between Butler Boulevard and the Southside Connector to ease projected traffic jams that face those who live, work and commute along that busy piece of highway. The project is being designed to improve safety, capacity and traffic operations on I-295 from just south of the Dames Point bridge to its interchange with Butler Boulevard. It is not funded yet and remains under design, with no start date either. There is $18.9 million set aside for right of way procurement that could start in 2023, the FDOT said.
“Judge rules in favor of city of Tallahassee in discrimination lawsuit” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — A judge ruled in favor of the city of Tallahassee in a lawsuit brought by a long-serving employee who claimed she was passed over as communications director because of age and race discrimination. Leon Circuit Judge John Cooper granted a city motion for summary judgment during a pretrial hearing via Zoom on Thursday. The decision means a trial set for next month will not proceed. Sandra Manning, who joined the city in 1995 and once oversaw WCOT, sued in 2019, claiming the city hired a less experienced person as communications director after she was promised the job. Manning, who is Black and in her early 60s, also alleged the city retaliated against her after she complained of racism.
“Florida appeals court dismisses wife’s ‘confession letter,’ upholds father’s conviction for starving baby to death” via Fresh Take Florida — A father convicted of starving a 22-day-old daughter to death will remain behind bars for life after a Florida appeals court rejected his arguments that his young wife confessed responsibility. He portrayed himself as a caring father who was unaware the infant had gone more than a day without nursing. Roy A. Stephens had hoped for a new trial, citing what he said was newly discovered evidence after his 2017 conviction in Polk County, east of Tampa: a letter found in his wife’s cell after his trial that he characterized as a confession she was responsible and testimony from her cellmate that he said exonerated him. In a 23-page decision, a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee last week unanimously shot down every one of Stephens’ arguments.
“Scott Carnahan refutes Georgia residency” via the Citrus County Chronicle — County Commissioner Carnahan and his spouse had filed and qualified for a homestead exemption in Georgia from March 19, 2021, until the pair requested the exemption be removed because they were moving to Florida, according to the records obtained from the Grady County, Georgia, Board of Tax Assessors Office, and verified through a spokeswoman with its office. Carnahan, whose term expires in November, announced Tuesday, Jan. 18, during the County Commission meeting he will not seek re-election in 2022. He owns property in Georgia but was unsure whether it is homesteaded because his wife took care of it. But he believes it is possible to have a homestead in another state.
“Ever wonder where those emergency sirens are heading? Escambia EMS dashboard has answers.” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — Escambia County Emergency Medical Services has launched an online dashboard that gives the public a view of the operations of the county’s ambulance service. The new dashboard launched this week with daily numbers from EMS and the county’s Emergency Communications divisions detailing how many calls EMS has been dispatched to, the number of transports to local hospitals, the number of on-scene cardiac arrests, and the number of on-scene overdoses, among other data points. Escambia County EMS Chief David Torsell proposed the idea of the dashboard to give the public a better insight into what happens at EMS.
“Winter weather prompts schools, Escambia County office closures as freezing rain predicted” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — Schools and offices across Escambia County have begun to prepare for the potential of inclement winter weather arriving in the area overnight into Friday morning. The National Weather Service in Mobile, Alabama, has issued a Winter Weather Advisory for all of Escambia County effective until noon on Friday. The weather service forecasts freezing temperatures and rain between approximately 3-9 a.m., with the possibility of icy adversely affecting area road conditions throughout Friday. In an abundance of caution, all Escambia County schools, district offices, and after-school activities, including indoor and outdoor athletics, have been canceled for Friday.
“Frigid nights bring challenges to Okaloosa County homeless shelters. Here’s how to help” via the Northwest Florida Daily News — The recent string of severely cold nights and more chilly weather on the way represent additional challenges for the two nonprofit homeless shelters in Okaloosa County. One Hopeful Place (OHP), at 1564 Percy L. Coleman Road in Fort Walton Beach, serves the south part of the county while the Crestview Area Shelter for the Homeless (CASH), at 120 Duggan Ave. in Crestview, serves the north. Both facilities provide temporary shelter for people who need it during inclement winter weather, defined as 40 degrees or below. More volunteers and supplies are needed at each facility to help provide services. The cold night shelter at OHP was open on Monday, and based on the weather forecast it likely will be open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights as well, shelter manager Donna Morgan said.
“‘It’s getting bad’: Okaloosa parents are sending Ubers to pick up kids from school. But drivers must refuse” via Savannah Evanoff of the Northwest Florida Daily News — Uber’s Community Guidelines prohibit drivers from giving rides to people younger than 18. Refusing or canceling trips because of that policy does not impact the driver’s rating or account status. In her four years of driving for Uber, Paula Johnson has been requested numerous times to pick up minors, mostly from schools in Okaloosa County. Johnson never knows who she is picking up; all she has is a name. She thinks picking up students younger than 18 is not only unsafe but also impractical.
“Panama City child abuse investigation leads to 34K lethal doses of fentanyl found in crib, police say” via The Panama City News-Herald — A Panama City woman faces multiple drug charges after a child abuse investigation recently led to the discovery of a large cache of drugs hidden in a baby crib. According to a Panama City Police Department news release, Rebecca Turner has been charged with trafficking in fentanyl, trafficking in methamphetamine, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and possession of narcotic equipment. The investigation began when PCPD detectives were notified by the Florida Department of Children and Families of possible abuse of a child being cared for by the suspect. Following their investigation, detectives charged Turner with two counts of child abuse and violation of probation, the release said.
“Orlando City Council to consider extending outdoor-speaker ban” via Ryan Gillespie of the Orlando Sentinel — City staff is asking Orlando Commissioners to extend its moratorium permitting outdoor speakers another six months, while also bringing forward an incentive program in hopes of spurring nightlife establishments and apartment buildings to purchase security upgrades. The two votes expected at Monday’s city council meeting are part of continued scrutiny of safety downtown, following a spate of shootings and a homicide last summer. At the time, city officials concluded crowded streets and the party-like atmosphere may have played a role. Quieting the music proved controversial to some business owners at the time, and remains so. At the same time, the city ramped up enforcement of its noise ordinance, which also added to the confusion. Extending the speaker moratorium through Aug. 31 will allow for permanent regulations to be drafted.
“Disney, Universal visitors suffered heart issues, seizures after rides, report shows” via Katie Rice of the Orlando Sentinel — Visitors at Walt Disney World and Universal experienced cardiac issues, seizures and other conditions after riding attractions at the parks over the past three months, the state’s latest theme park injury report reveals. The report, made publicly available Thursday, lists all guest injuries between October and Dec. that required at least 24 hours of hospitalization, as reported by the theme park companies themselves. The parks avoid state inspections by self-reporting injuries through the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, but descriptions of these injuries can be vague and omit important details. Thursday’s report shows visitors experienced a couple of heart-related issues after riding Disney attractions, and guests at Disney and Universal had seizures after various rides.
“Mayor suggests allowing short-term vacation rentals on Daytona’s beachside” via Eileen Zaffiro-Kean of The Daytona Beach News-Journal — For decades, property owners who have wanted to use their Daytona Beach houses and condominiums for short-term vacation rentals have run into a brick wall of opposition at City Hall. Now Mayor Derrick Henry is proposing that the city make an exception to its ban on residential rentals for less than six months in just one part of the city: The beachside’s core tourist area. Henry wants to allow the rentals for a few days, weeks or months. At Wednesday night’s City Commission meeting, Henry said it’s “a perfect place for Daytona Beach to offer vacation rentals.” A majority of City Commissioners said they’re interested in talking more about Henry’s idea and considering a formal proposal that would allow just that portion of the beachside to have short-term rentals.
Cross-Bay Ferry releases Children’s Gasparilla schedule — The Cross-Bay Ferry said will run throughout the Children’s Gasparilla and parade on Saturday, but will skip the 2022 Gasparilla Pirate Fest on Jan. 29 because of U.S. Coast Guard restrictions. The Children’s Gasparilla schedule includes departures from St. Petersburg at 10 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 4:45 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. and departures from Tampa at 11:30 a.m., 3 p.m., 6:15 p.m. and 11 p.m. “The Cross-Bay Ferry will offer a fun and convenient transportation option for Children’s Gasparilla,” said Matt Miller, the President of HMS Ferries, which operates the Cross-Bay Ferry. “People in and around St. Pete who want to travel to the main event site in Tampa as well as people in Tampa who want to go to St. Pete after the festivities can make use of the most convenient, affordable, and scenic way to travel between the two cities.”
“‘World’s largest surfing park’: Fort Pierce OKs early stages of $595 million Wavegarden” via Olivia McKelvey of Treasure Coast Newspapers — Work could be underway here by the end of the year on one of the city’s most anticipated projects, the world’s largest surfing park. The City Commission Tuesday gave unanimous first approval for the first phase of the Wavegarden, part of the 200-acre Willow Lakes Resort Village community, 10050 W. Midway Road. A final vote is expected next month, according to city officials. “This is just a pivotal project in the city of Fort Pierce,” said Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson. ” … There’s going to be a tourism component that’s going to be an immediate, positive impact within the entire Treasure Coast.”
“Literacy Coalition raises $150K as Read Together campaign gets underway” via Kari Barnett of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Literacy programs throughout Palm Beach County gained over $150,000 from supporters during the 30th annual Love of Literacy Luncheon. Author Michael Connelly headlined the event to benefit the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, with about 450 guests in attendance and others tuning in virtually. During Connelly’s appearance, which came just after releasing his new novel “The Dark Hours,” he talked about becoming a bestselling author. Literacy Coalition board members Bernadette O’Grady and Debra Ghostine were the luncheon’s co-chairs.
— TOP OPINION —
“No wonder Trump came to COVID-19-ridden Arizona” via Fernanda Santos of The Washington Post — I passed up the chance to attend a weekend rally in Florence, Arizona, featuring Trump and several extremist Republicans who are running for statewide office this year. Earlier this week, Arizona had the nation’s eighth-highest percentage increase in COVID-19 cases over the previous 14 days. The legislature reconvened this month without any mask or social distancing requirements. Last week, state Rep. Walt Blackman introduced legislation to prevent schools from requiring students to be vaccinated against the coronavirus and, for female students, the human papillomavirus, or HPV, even though the vaccine has been shown to significantly reduce a woman’s risk to develop cervical cancer. State Rep. Neal Carter proposed amending Arizona law to make it illegal to discriminate against anyone based on vaccination status.
— OPINIONS —
“Biden’s first year was full of failed policies” via Rep. Michael Waltz for the Orlando Sentinel — We’ve now reached the anniversary of Biden taking office, and a major question that should linger among Floridians’ minds: are we better off than we were a year ago under Biden? Florida was particularly snubbed by the infrastructure bill that passed last year. The bill did not fix a serious inequity in clean-water funding that allocates Florida the second-lowest amount in the country and half that of New York. Cargo ships remain logjammed off the California coast, and the backlog of cargo ships are still moving further out from California’s coastline. But the healthy economy of Florida is yielding no backlogs at Florida’s ports. Under DeSantis, Florida has cemented itself as a bulwark against federally influenced directives that have been adopted by a number of left-leaning states to impose vaccine mandates on employers.
“Miami-Dade School Board should take a lesson from Broward Superintendent search” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — In October, the Broward County School Board decided to take more time in its search for a Superintendent. After recent events nearby, that decision looks even better. The Miami-Dade School Board must replace Alberto Carvalho, who is leaving after 14 years to run the schools in Los Angeles. By all accounts, he has raised standards and test scores. In 2014, he was National Superintendent of the Year. Replacing him will be more than challenging. Yet the school board voted against conducting a national search. Board members allowed just one week for applications. The only requirements were experience as a classroom teacher, principal, administrator and a master’s degree.
“New bill to eliminate Florida’s prescribed burn program poses great harm to our state” via Alan Shelby and Jim Karels for the Tallahassee Democrat — A new bill from activists in the Florida Legislature would handicap Florida’s prescribed burning program, putting our state, our homes, and our people at great risk. Sen. Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, proposed SB 1102 and HB 6085 to strip protections from last year’s Right to Farm Act. Their proposal could weaken or eliminate one of the state’s most successful land management programs when it comes to protecting our people and environment.
— TODAY’S SUNRISE —
The Florida Senate has approved redistricting maps for the Senate and congressional districts. A few Senators questioned whether the congressional map really addresses the state’s growing Hispanic population.
Also on today’s Sunrise:
— We dig deeper into the redistricting situation with someone who crunches data to help draw redistricting maps.
— The Governor had some good news today about the First Lady’s cancer treatments.
— And efforts to change the Florida state bird and song failed in the Senate.
To listen, click on the image below:
— WEEKEND TV —
Battleground Florida with Evan Donovan on News Channel 8 WFLA (NBC): Florida Politics Publisher Peter Schorsch, Colin Wolf of Creative Loafing, and Emily Mahoney of Tampa Bay Times.
Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede on CBS 4 in Miami: The Sunday show provides viewers with an in-depth look at South Florida politics and other issues affecting the region.
Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU with moderator Rob Lorei: Former Florida CFO Alex Sink; Bull Horn Communications President and CEO Travis Horn; League of Women Voters of Florida President Cecile Scoon; Tom Krasniqi, co-host of Ronnie & T Kras for WDAE AM & FM and a Spectrum Bay News 9 contributor; and former Buccaneer Michael Clayton, pre/ postgame host for WDAE AM & FM.
In Focus with Allison Walker on Bay News 9/CF 13: A discussion of the importance of mentoring teens and how Florida lawmakers are devoting resources to help those kids who would benefit from mentoring. Joining Walker are Rep. Chris Latvala; Kamaya Bennett, President of Crown to Crown; and Jalem Robinson, founder of Brothers United Building Brothers Alliance, Inc.
Political Connections Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete and Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis will discuss Florida’s growth, the implications to the state’s infrastructure, and his take on this year’s Legislative Session.
The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Host Gary Yordon talks with pollster Steve Vancore and Melissa Walker of the Florida Association of Rehab Facilities.
This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Clay County Board of Commissioners Chair Wayne Bolla and Dr. Robert Cowie, Mercy Support Services Board of Directors chair.
— ALOE —
“Disney On Ice returns to the Pensacola Bay Center in April” via the Pensacola News Journal — Disney fans can rejoice as Disney On Ice returns to the Pensacola Bay Center to present Let’s Celebrate for five performances from April 15 to 17. For the performances, Mickey Mouse will lead a parade of more than 50 characters starring Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and an ensemble of Disney princesses that include Cinderella, Rapunzel, Ariel, Snow White and Tiana. The wintry wonderland of Disney’s Frozen also comes to life with Anna, Elsa and Olaf, as they discover that true love is the greatest magic of all. Exciting moments from Disney•Pixar’s Finding Dory, Disney’s Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast will leave the whole family with lasting memories.
“Where do travelers want to go in 2022? Key West and Miami Beach, TripAdvisor reports” via Connie Ogle of the Miami Herald — The travelers have spoken, and we are not surprised by what they have to say: Everybody wants to come to Key West and Miami Beach. TripAdvisor has just released its 2022 Travelers’ Choice Awards for Destinations, and as you might expect, Key West and Miami Beach are two of the most popular destinations in the U.S. Key West ranks No. 4, with Miami Beach a little behind it at No. 8. Despite ongoing interference from COVID-19, travelers are ready to roll this year. In a recent survey, 71% of Americans said they are likely to travel for leisure in 2022. And a lot of them are looking south.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Best wishes to former Sen. Tom Lee, as well as Jon Costello, and former House candidate Bruno Portigliatti.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel Dean, Renzo Downey, Jacob Ogles, and Drew Wilson.