Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.26.22

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Your day is better when you start it with a first read on what's happening in Florida politics.

Good Wednesday morning.

COVID-19 and pocketbook issues are top of mind among Florida voters, according to new polling released by the State Innovation Exchange.

According to SiX, 63% of voters want the state to put its financial muscle behind efforts that help families, businesses, schools and health care systems rather than pursue a path of austerity.

“With the Legislature back in Session, Floridians want policies that help them deal with the fallout from this pandemic,” said James Chan, SiX Florida State Director. “They want money spent where it matters; they want to be the priority and to have investments in our future — schools, paid leave, Medicaid expansion, not more tax breaks for the wealthy and well connected.”

Specifically, SiX found that 63% of voters want the Legislature to provide workers with benefits such as paid sick and family leave compared to 22% who would rather lawmakers cut regulations on business. More than four in five want lawmakers to act on a Homeowners Bill of Rights. And 62% said they favored Medicaid expansion compared to 23% who are opposed.

The poll also showed voters were open to the idea of new to cover the tab — 71% are OK with higher taxes on tobacco and vaping products, 68% want corporate tax loopholes closed, two-thirds are open to legalizing and taxing cannabis, and the same number said they support legalizing and taxing sports betting.

TargetSmart conducted the SiX poll Nov. 30-Dec. 9. It has a sample size of 1,238 self-identified Florida voters and a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6%.

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Doug Sessions Jr. has been named the 2022 recipient of the Chiles Advocacy Award, presented by Children’s Week Florida and administered by The Children’s Forum.

The award, named for former Gov. Lawton Chiles and his wife, Rhea, is presented each year to a Floridian who has dedicated extensive time, philanthropic effort and advocacy on statewide issues affecting the status and well-being of children, youth, and families.

Sessions has been a fierce advocate for Florida’s children and families for more than a quarter-century as president and CEO of The Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida, an organization that identifies, funds, supports, and tests programs aimed at improving children’s lives.

Congrats: Doug Sessions is honored as a dedicated advocate for Florida children and families.

“Doug Sessions has been relentless in his dedication to the vision of Lawton and Rhea Chiles, and has worked every day to create a better place for Florida’s less fortunate children and families, who have been hit so hard by the modern pandemic,” said Dr. Phyllis Kalifeh, president and CEO of The Children’s Forum. “Doug is the embodiment of the giving spirit of the late Governor and First Lady, and he is richly deserving of this recognition.”

Tennis legend and longtime Ounce board member Chris Evert added, “Doug Sessions has worked for decades establishing and nurturing child abuse prevention and family support programs in our great state. Because of his efforts, Florida’s children and their families will continue to benefit for years to come. He is more than deserving of the 2022 Chiles Advocacy Award.”

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@Meg_Cunn: Sad stats in this new Pew poll: 78% say they aren’t proud of the state of the country, 53% say they aren’t hopeful, and 62% say they are fearful about the state of the nation

@ChrisLHayes: The COVID discourse is weird and nasty because I think it just absolutely sucks to go through two years of a pandemic. But one thing that feels weird now is that the winning side in the “get back to normal” debate seems very angry about losing the debate even though they won?

@AGAshleyMoody: Glad to see OSHA withdraw its vaccine mandate today after our SCOTUS win, but surprised it’s pushing forward to finalize a similar rule. @JoeBiden doesn’t know when to quit. I’ll continue to fight to ensure American workers are not forced to receive the shot against their will.

@AShihpar: anyone who publishes an endemic COVID oped and says we have to live with it has to also write out a paragraph about how hospitals are going to deal with this going forwards. no more vibes, where are your plans buddy

@GovRonDeSantis: Without a shred of clinical data to support its decision, the Biden administration has revoked the emergency use authorization for lifesaving monoclonal antibody treatments.

@BlaiseIngoglia: It’s kind of fitting that the new Omicron variant is named BA.2 (blood alcohol level 0.2) because mandate-crazy lockdown Democrats are drunk with power.

@LMower3: Florida is great and we shouldn’t be writing stories about WalletHub surveys.

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

@ByJenAMiller: Disney really underestimated the popularity of Encanto, eh? One small table of merch in Disney Springs.

— DAYS UNTIL —

James Madison Institute’s Stanley Marshall Day Celebration in Jacksonville — 2; XXIV Olympic Winter Games begins — 9; Super Bowl LVI — 18; Will Smith’s ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ reboot premieres — 18; Discover Boating Miami International Boat Show begins — 21; season four of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ begins — 21; Spring Training report dates begin — 22; Synapse Florida tech summit begins — 22; ‘The Walking Dead’ final season part two begins — 25; Daytona 500 — 25; Special Election for Jacksonville City Council At-Large Group 3 — 28; Suits For Session — 28; CPAC begins — 29; St. Pete Grand Prix — 30; Biden to give State of the Union — 34; ‘The Batman’ premieres — 37; the third season of ‘Atlanta’ begins — 56; season two of ‘Bridgerton’ begins — 58; The Oscars — 60; Macbeth with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga begin performances on Broadway — 62; Grammys rescheduled in Las Vegas — 67; federal student loan payments will resume — 95; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 100; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 121; ‘Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 127; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 164; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 177; Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner novel ‘Heat 2’ publishes — 195; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 219; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 254; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 289; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 292; ‘Avatar 2′ premieres — 324; ‘Captain Marvel 2′ premieres — 387; ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ premieres — 422; ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 548; ‘Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 632; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 912.

—TOP STORY —

White House: Ron DeSantis ‘still advocating for treatments that don’t work’” via Alex Roarty of the Miami Herald — White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday criticized DeSantis’ demand that the federal government restart the distribution of two types of monoclonal antibodies, saying DeSantis is advocating for a treatment that public health officials say is ineffective against the omicron coronavirus variant. The FDA on Monday barred health care providers from using monoclonal treatments manufactured by Regeneron and Eli Lilly. “What the FDA is making clear is that these treatments, the ones that they are fighting over, that the Governor is fighting over, do not work against omicron, and they have side effects. That is what the scientists are saying.”

Tweet, tweet:

DeSantis says he will ‘fight back’ against Joe Biden’s monoclonal cutoff” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — DeSantis outlined his latest plan to “fight back” against the decision by the Biden administration to cut off access to monoclonal antibody treatments but was short on specifics as to how that battle would take place. “We’re going to fight back against this because this is just wrong. It’s not the way, you know, that you help people,” DeSantis said. Asked about the strategy for combating the federal pause, DeSantis replied, “We’ll see.” Part of the strategy will be to “expose what this actually means for people,” DeSantis said, though it’s uncertain what that entails beyond battling in the press. The Governor rejected the premise that the treatments don’t work against omicron.

—”DeSantis, conservatives erupt over FDA pulling monoclonal antibodies shown to be ineffective against omicron” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post

—”Florida monoclonal antibody sites shut down after FDA decision. What happens now?” via Michelle Marchante and Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald

DeSantis has a message for Dr. Anthony Fauci in a new ad: ‘Pound sand.’” via Punchbowl News — DeSantis’ reelection campaign purchased a 60-second ad buy that started airing on OANN seeking to discredit Fauci’s pandemic expertise. Team DeSantis released the ad on Twitter last week, but today marks the first time the clip is on television. The ad ends with a solicitation to buy Fauci-themed flip-flops.

To watch the ad, click on the image below:

— DATELINE TALLY —

First on #FlaPol — “Wilton Simpson to push for $15 minimum wage for state workers in budget” via Gray Rohrer of Florida Politics — Senate President Simpson, a Trilby Republican, led the charge last year to increase the minimum wage for state workers to $13 an hour. This year, he wants to boost it to $15 per hour starting Oct. 1 — four years before the minimum wage will reach $15 for all workers. The move would cost $1 billion in state funds and affect thousands of state workers and even more contractors. More exact estimates of how many workers would see a raise weren’t immediately available. “We have the cash this year to do it, so there’s no excuses,” he added. “If we don’t do it this year, it’s because we didn’t have the courage to do it.”

‘No excuses’: Wilton Simpson gets ahead on the fight for $15. Image via Colin Hackley.

Senate Democrats expect ‘fiery’ debate at Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo’s confirmation hearing” via Jeffrey Schweers of USA Today Network — Four months after DeSantis appointed his new controversial surgeon general, the Florida Senate will finally get to question Dr. Ladapo about his qualifications for handling a pandemic and running the state’s public health agency. Expect a “vigorous, even fiery debate” when Ladapo appears Wednesday morning before the Senate Health Policy Committee, Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book said. She and her colleagues plan to question him about his lack of experience dealing with pandemics and other public health crises, his controversial views that go against the mainstream medical community, and his lack of administrative experience.

Lauren Book’s cyber-terror bill clears first committee stop” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — A bill intended to criminalize the theft of sexually explicit pictures won strong backing Tuesday from the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. SB 1798 was pushed through the committee by Book, who in the past year was the victim of what she described as the “next frontier of intimate terror.” The measure also criminalizes the cyber trafficking of stolen or altered images to create sexually explicit terror. “When it comes to digital sex crimes, the law simply has not caught up with the technology,” Book told the committee Tuesday.

@LeaderBookFL: Many of you heard my story today … now, I want to hear YOURS. If you’ve been affected by deepfakes, cyber trafficking, or the like and would be willing to share your story, please email [email protected] or send me a Twitter DM

Dental care, workforce shortage and market monopolies targeted in House Medicaid proposal” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — Dental care, health care workforce shortages and managed care monopolies are targeted in a proposed rewrite of the state’s mandatory Medicaid managed care program the House released late Tuesday. The proposed 40-page bill that will be considered by the House Finance and Facilities Subcommittee Wednesday puts dental care back on the list of covered services that contracted Medicaid managed care plans would be required to provide, along with traditional health care services. The bill allows contracted health plans to include in their medical expenses money they spend on training nurses or students enrolled in other health care workforce training programs.

Senate advances Joe Gruters’ book banning bill” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The Senate Education Committee changed a bill about parents yelling at school board members to one about objecting to library books with LGBTQ characters. It advanced on a party-line vote. Much of the public comment in the committee meeting centered on a debate about instructional materials. If it becomes law, the legislation will mandate a review process overseen by a certified media professional, with a requirement school district superintendents must certify to the DOE by the end of March each year that all teaching materials align with state standards. Any review for instruction set up by districts must include parents of children within the public schools. “The purpose of this bill is about transparency,” Sen. Joe Gruters said, “not to censor anything.”

Joe Gruters’ book banning bill gets traction in the Senate.

Florida GOP bill would slash some school board members’ salaries” via Ana Ceballos of the Tampa Bay Times — As DeSantis and Florida Republicans amplify local school board politics in the lead-up to the 2022 midterms, GOP-backed measures that would slash the pay of the vast majority of elected school board members are gaining traction in the Florida Legislature. The Senate Education Committee approved a bill that would set the salary of school board members at $18,000 a year. The move would reduce school board members’ pay in 49 of Florida’s 67 school districts.

House panel advances bill withholding Superintendent salaries for schools that don’t meet safety standards” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — School superintendents would have their salaries withheld if the school districts they oversee or the charter schools under their jurisdiction are not complying with state school safety requirements. The bill (HB 1421) aims, broadly, to build on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act, passed in the wake of Florida’s worst school shooting. It looks to make the act’s procedures more transparent and more specific. The House Early Learning & Elementary Education Subcommittee approved the bill Tuesday, 12-3. A similar measure (SB 802) also is advancing with bipartisan support in the Senate. It’s due for a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.

Responding to Surfside tragedy, Senate moves bill to require statewide inspections” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — Florida legislators began work on updating the state’s condominium regulations in response to the Champlain Towers South collapse as a Senate committee advanced a bill Tuesday to impose inspection requirements statewide, including stricter standards for buildings near the coastline. The measure, SB 1702, was unanimously approved by the Senate Community Affairs Committee and is expected to serve as the vehicle to attach other condo-related reforms, such as new regulations on disclosure of condo conditions and new oversight related to condo boards. The bill would establish a mandatory structural inspection program for multi-family residential buildings that are greater than three stories and larger than 3,500 square feet, a requirement that could affect as many as 2 million residents in Florida.

—TALLY 2 —

Bill permitting smoking bans in beaches, public parks passes first House committee” via Tristan Wood of Florida Politics — HB 105 passed the House Professions and Public Health Subcommittee 17-1. The bill does not implement any statewide ban on public areas, but permits local governments to implement such bans if they choose, said its sponsor, Rep. Randy Fine. Under Florida law, regulating the tobacco industry only rests with the state. Fine told the committee local governments currently have no recourse to protect children from tobacco smoke at a park or beach property.

Randy Fine believes municipalities are the best judge for getting butts off the beach.

House lawmakers to consider gutting Miya’s Law, named for slain Orlando college student” via Skyler Swisher of the Orlando Sentinel — A Florida House committee will consider gutting a bill named in honor of slain Orlando college student Miya Marcano, removing almost all of its provisions aimed at making apartment complexes safer. State legislators filed Miya’s Law after the slaying of Marcano. Police say Marcano was killed by a maintenance worker who had a passkey to her apartment. The House’s version also omits language that would require apartment complexes to establish procedures for issuing and tracking master keys. It retains a provision increasing the notification period for entering a tenant’s apartment for non-emergency maintenance from 12 to 24 hours.

Organized retail theft bill steals Senate panel’s support” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A Senate panel Tuesday gave the first OK to a bill (SB 1534), carried by Bradenton Republican Sen. Jim Boyd. The measure would increase penalties for those who steal multiple items from multiple stores in a short period. Sen. Ed Hooper presented the measure before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, which advanced the bill unanimously. Individuals or groups would be subject to third-degree felonies for, within 30 days, committing five or more retail thefts and stealing 10 or more items from at least two different locations. Those who steal 20 or more items would see that bumped up to a second-degree felony. Businesses would have to tabulate the cost of the stolen items within those 30 days.

Juvenile expunction bill soars through House committee” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — A bill that would broaden a juvenile’s ability to expunge their arrest record in Florida inched one step closer Tuesday toward becoming law. State law limits expungement opportunities to minors who complete a diversion program after a first-time misdemeanor arrest. However, the bill (HB 195) would expand juvenile expunction laws to include felonies, except for forcible felonies, and arrests beyond a minor’s first offense. Forcible felonies include murder, rape and kidnapping, among others. The House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee OK’d the bill unanimously. Rep. David Smith is the bill sponsor.

Proposal mandating national anthem at sporting events clears first House committee” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Sports teams that accept public dollars would be required to play the national anthem before every game under a measure OK’d Tuesday by a House committee. The House Local Administration and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee approved the bill (HB 499) with a 12-4 vote, mostly along party lines. Rep. Tommy Gregory of Sarasota is the bill sponsor. Some Democratic lawmakers characterized the bill as a strong-arm against private companies.

House wetlands acquisition bill advances to final committee” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — A bill that seeks to help the state acquire critical wetlands is on to its final committee stop after the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously approved it Tuesday. The legislation (HB 761), filed by Rep. Keith Truenow, would require water management districts to develop a list of critical wetlands for acquisition using funds from the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF). The LATF is administered by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to finance the acquisition of land in the state for conservation. The state’s five regional water management districts would work with local governments to establish the list.

Bill proposing two-mile buffer zone to protect the Everglades advances” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — The House Environmental, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee fully endorsed a bill (HB 729) by Rep. Vance Aloupis that would create a protective review process under the Department of Environmental Protection for all proposed projects within 2 miles of the Everglades. The bill, a twin to legislation Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez filed with support from Sen. Annette Taddeo in November, has received endorsements from the Everglades Foundation, CLEO Institute and Sierra Club.

Floating solar arrays could come to some manmade waterways in Florida” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Solar energy arrays throughout Florida may expand to aquatic settings thanks to twin proposals now moving through the Legislature. On Tuesday, members of the House Tourism, Infrastructure & Energy Subcommittee unanimously OK’d one of the proposals (HB 1411) by Rep. Bryan Ávila. The bill, an identical companion to legislation Sen. Manny Díaz Jr. filed in December, would direct the state Office of Energy to develop and submit to the Legislature recommendations for a regulatory framework for private- and public-sector entities to develop and operate floating solar-power facilities. The recommendations and framework would be due by Dec. 31.

Bryan Ávila is promoting floating solar panel arrays.

Senate bill seeking to boost funds for waste-to-energy facilities heads to second committee” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — A Senate bill seeking to incentivize the use of solid waste-to-energy facilities unanimously cleared its first committee Tuesday afternoon. The proposal (SB 1764), filed by Sen. Ben Albritton, would create a program that encourages municipalities to establish solid waste-to-energy facilities. The bill appropriates $100 million in recurring funds for the program. The program would provide financial assistance via a grant program and an incentive grant program to municipal solid waste-to-energy facilities. What are solid waste-to-energy facilities? These industrial facilities convert non-recyclable waste materials into usable heat, electricity or fuel through processes like combustion, gasification, pyrolization, anaerobic digestion and landfill gas recovery.

Lawmakers quiet on bill forcing car dealers to transfer title within 30 days” via Shannon Behnken of WFLA News Channel 8 — If you buy a car, how long should you have to wait for the title? Current Florida law requires dealers to apply to transfer the title within 30 days. But if three lawmakers are successful, proposed legislation could change that, doing away with the deadline and the state’s ability to yank a dealer’s license if it fails to fork over titles in time. Republican Sen. Tom Wright and Republican Rep. David Smith filed the identical bills, SB 1346 and HB 1517. Now, Rep. Andrew Learned, a Hillsborough Democrat, signed on as a co-sponsor.

Senate panel votes to lower threshold to print specialty plates” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Senators are moving forward with a proposal to lower the number of pledges necessary to start printing specialty license plates. Lawmakers approved a fleet of specialty plates just before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. With the pandemic, lawmakers say several of those plates are on the chopping block because they haven’t garnered the necessary number of pre-purchases. Tuesday, the Senate Transportation Committee voted unanimously to advance a bill (SB 364), dropping the number of required pledges to 2,500 for all plates. The bill also resets the 24-month clock on how long organizations have to reach the threshold on presales. Sen. Aaron Bean, who is sponsoring the bill, said of the 60 recently approved plates, 33 haven’t met the threshold to go to print.

—MORE TALLY —

Chasten Buttigieg speaks out against Florida’s ‘Don’t say gay bill,’” via John Wagner of The Washington Post — The educator and husband of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is speaking out against legislation advancing in Florida that critics have dubbed the “Don’t say gay bill,” arguing it could lead to more suicides among LGBTQ youths. “You’re essentially pushing kids back into the closet,” Chasten Buttigieg said Tuesday. “You’re saying we can’t even talk about your families.” In a tweet last week, Buttigieg said the legislation “will kill kids,” pointing to a recent survey by the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth advocacy group.

Taking it to the streets: Democrats push GOP to allow voters to weigh in on Medicaid expansion” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — Florida Democrats are mounting yet another effort to expand Medicaid coverage to uninsured childless adults. Sens. Taddeo and Victor Torres, and Reps. Felicia Robinson and Geraldine Thompson pleaded with Republican legislative leaders Tuesday to schedule debate on two proposed joint resolutions (SJR 412 and HJR 239) to put Medicaid expansion on the 2022 ballot.

Annette Taddeo, Victor Torres, Felicia Robinson, and Geraldine Thompson want voters to have the last word on Medicaid expansion.

Faculty groups blast bill to make presidential searches more secret” via Divya Kumar of the Tampa Bay Times — A bill that would keep parts of the presidential selection process secret at Florida’s public colleges and universities is drawing harsh criticism from faculty leaders who call it an authoritarian move. With presidential searches underway at four state universities, faculty organizations in Florida and beyond, say the legislation threatens to blur the line between higher education and politics.

Environmental group says more manatees will die if Florida’s seagrass mitigation bill passes” via Daniel Figueroa of Florida Politics — Leaders of one of the country’s oldest marine conservation groups say a bill being considered by lawmakers would make it easier for developers to destroy seagrass that Florida’s manatees depend upon for survival. Ocean Conservancy is urging Florida lawmakers to oppose the legislation. The bills (SB 198 and HB 349) would establish seagrass mitigation banks. That would allow a developer seeking permits for a project that would destroy seagrass to buy credits in a mitigation bank to cover the cost of seagrass restoration somewhere else. Theoretically, 1 acre destroyed would mean 1 acre built in another location. Florida has more than 2 million acres of seagrass along its coast and in its estuaries. But those numbers have been shrinking.

Senate committee OK’s veteran suicide prevention training pilot program” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Florida could soon launch a Veteran Suicide Prevention Pilot Training Program under bill OK’d Tuesday by a Senate committee. The bill (SB 1712) calls on the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) to establish the program and provide suicide prevention training to veteran service organizations via a contractor. The training would emphasize crisis counseling tailored to the unique needs of veterans. Sen. Danny Burgess, an army reservist and former DVA Director, is the bill sponsor. He described the pilot as “unfinished business” from his time leading the department. The COVID-19 pandemic, he said, threw a wrench in the department’s effort. At the time, veteran nursing homes seized the department’s focus.

Danny Burgess steps up for veteran suicide prevention.

Happening tonight — Lawmakers take to the diamond for the 39th Annual Florida Professional Firefighters King of the Hill Softball Game. Legislators from both sides of the aisle will be taking the field with specially made uniforms to play in support of firefighters across the state. The first pitch is 6 p.m. at the James Messer Softball Complex, 2830 Jackson Bluff Rd., Tallahassee.

— SKED —

Happening today — 2022 Brevard County Day hosted by Rep. Tyler Sirois, 8 a.m., South Plaza.

Happening today — Polk County Day hosted by the Polk County delegation and Board of County Commissioners featuring its annual reception, 10 a.m., 22nd Floor.

— The Senate Agriculture Committee meets to consider SB 1832, from Sen. Jason Brodeur, to develop a program to provide incentives to agriculture businesses to contribute fresh fruit and vegetables to food-distribution organizations, 10 a.m., Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.

— The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee meets to consider SB 170), from Sen. Tina Polsky, to expand a public-records exemption for the names of people who win lottery prizes of $250,000 or more, 10 a.m., Room 37 of the Senate Office Building.

— The Senate Health Policy Committee meets to consider the confirmation of state Surgeon General Ladapo, 10 a.m., Room 412 of the Knott Building.

Happening today — Americans for Prosperity-Florida hosts a school choice rally as part of National School Choice Week, noon, Capitol Courtyard.

— The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee meets to discuss nursing shortages, with updates from Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, the state university system, the Florida College System, and the Florida Hospital Association, 1 p.m., Room 412 of the Knott Building.

— The Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee will consider a bill (SB 438), from Sen. Burgess, to update laws concerning the United States Space Force, 1 p.m., Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.

— The Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider SB 1400, also from Burgess, to allot $20 million a year to protect several waterways in Central Florida, 3:30 p.m., Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.

— The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider SB 1048, from Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., to replace the current standardized testing system for public schools with a “progress monitoring program,” 3:30 p.m., Room 412 of the Knott Building.

— House Judiciary Committee, 8 a.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.

— House Education & Employment Committee, 9 a.m., Morris Hall of the House Office Building.

— House State Affairs Committee, 9 a.m., Room 212 of the Knott Building.

— House Redistricting Committee, 1 p.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.

— STATEWIDE —

‘Sham’ or ‘opportunity’: What’s the state of state exams in Florida and what will lawmakers do?” via Danielle J. Brown of Florida Phoenix — Back in September, DeSantis announced a push to scrap Florida’s key state exams, claiming that a change to so-called “progress monitoring” would bring “less time for testing, which will mean more time for learning.” Legislation on the issue is now moving in the Florida Legislature. There would be three exams throughout the school year and then an “end-of-year comprehensive assessment of student progress administered in the spring of the school year.” Robert Schaeffer is the executive director of FairTest and doesn’t see how the proposed system equates to less testing.

Attorney for activist Ben Frazier says client’s trespassing charge was dropped” via News4Jax — An email sent Monday night by attorney John Phillips, representing Frazier, a Jacksonville community activist, states that a misdemeanor trespassing charge his client was facing has been dismissed. Frazier, of the Northside Coalition, was arrested following a confrontation with members of DeSantis’ staff before a news conference by the Governor in Jacksonville. Frazier was removed from the building in handcuffs and arrested on the misdemeanor trespassing charge.

Charges against Ben Frazier were quickly, and quietly, dropped. Image via Twitter.

Florida state archaeologist wins whistleblower status, reinstatement while she fights for job” via James Call of USA Today Network — A state archaeologist who said she was fired in a dispute over the use of grant money has won the first round in the fight to get her job back. Mary Glowacki filed suit in Leon County Circuit Civil court, alleging she was fired for disclosing the “gross mismanagement of public funds” by the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN). Some of the questions she raised involved why money to study rising sea levels was used for Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park in Tallahassee, 60 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Circuit Judge John Cooper granted whistleblower protection to Glowacki on Wednesday after a four-hour hearing.

AARP announces new round of Community Challenge grants” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — AARP announced Tuesday it is accepting applications for the 2022 Community Challenge grant program. The quick-action grants are part of AARP’s Livable Communities initiative and support upgrades that can lead to long-term community changes. An AARP panel of experts in aging and community design reviews the applications with an eye on submissions that, if approved, make immediate alterations that can lead to permanent long-term changes to help residents age in place. Applications will be prioritized if they support communities’ efforts to create vibrant spaces or deliver transportation and mobility options that promote walkability, bikeability, and access to transportation.

Film Florida says state has lost $1.5B in business since film program lapsed” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Florida has missed out on more than $1.5 billion in film, television and digital media business since the state’s program to attract production companies expired, according to Film Florida. The top-line figure comes from the statewide trade association’s “Lost Business Map,” which was recently updated with another batch of “known lost opportunities.” The Film Florida map lists nearly 100 projects that would have used more than 250,000 hotel room nights and provided more than 125,000 cast and crew roles for Floridians. The update from Film Florida comes as lawmakers once again consider launching a new, state-backed program to attract the media production industry to the Sunshine State.

FPL parent company NextEra names John Ketchum president and CEO, Jim Robo executive chair” via Florida Politics — Ketchum is taking over as president and CEO of NextEra Energy, Florida Power and Light’s parent company, in a succession plan announced by the organization. Robo, NextEra’s current chair and CEO, will become executive chair. And Eric Silagy, FPL president and CEO, will now serve as FPL’s chair as well. Ketchum is a former executive vice president of finance and CFO at FPL. As Robo moves on from the CEO position, he called it “an honor and a privilege” to serve in that role at NextEra.

Rest in peace — “‘He faithfully served’: Former Florida Comptroller Gerald Lewis dies at 87” via Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat — Lewis, a former state Comptroller who rose to prominence in an era when Florida government was changing but lost his Cabinet post when it swung back the other way, has died at age 87. Lewis was a Miami lawyer, forming a firm with the late U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. He was an Army paratrooper 1955-57 and served as a captain in the special forces in the Army Reserve and Florida National Guard 1960-69. During his tenure as comptroller, Lewis served a stint as chair of the National Conference of State Banking Supervisors and traveled internationally to encourage foreign banks to open offices in Florida. He also served as a state member of Miami’s Downtown Development Authority during his 20 years as Comptroller.

RIP: Gerald Lewis was a faithful public servant during changing political times. Image via Florida Park Service collection.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

COVID-19 update: Florida reports 35,266 new cases; daily average down by half from its omicron peak” via David Schutz of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida reported 35,266 new COVID-19 cases as the number of patients in the hospital with the virus fell for the fourth straight day. The seven-day average for new cases rose slightly to 32,794 but remains near its lowest level since Dec. 28. The average is down just over 50% from its peak of 65,660 on Jan. 11. The number of patients in Florida hospitals with COVID-19 has been dropping for several days. On Monday, there were 11,075 patients with COVID-19, down from 11,119 on Sunday. There were 203 patients 18 or under in the hospital with COVID-19, down from 209 Sunday. Many hospitalized patients were admitted to the hospital for other reasons and tested positive later.

—”Publix, CVS, Walgreens and Walmart are offering COVID-19 pills in Florida. What to know” via Michelle Marchante of the Miami Herald

The red pill: Merck’s antiviral pill molnupiravir will soon be at a pharmacy near you. Image via AP.

Florida’s pandemic rental assistance program sees massive spike in payouts after slow start” via Daniel Figueroa of Florida Politics — OUR Florida, the state-run program built to distribute federally funded emergency rental assistance, has seen a massive spike in payouts after getting off to a slow start, according to the latest numbers from the Department of Children and Families (DCF). DCF Communications Director Mallory McManus said the state has distributed nearly 97% of available funds. ERAP is a $25 billion federal program that began last January after the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. The funds are meant to help families pay rent and utility bills as the nation still reels from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why did state remove Orlando health director?” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — DeSantis’ campaign against vaccine mandates took a dark turn last week, as his administration removed Orange County’s public health chief for urging his employees to get the shot. Raul Pino, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, emailed employees on Jan. 4. bemoaning the agency’s low vaccination rate. The Department of Health would not say why Pino was placed on administrative leave or who ordered the move. But a spokesperson suggested that the decision revolved around the state’s newly-passed law outlawing vaccine mandates.

— CORONA LOCAL —

State Attorney backs police in ‘Sofia’ case, calls social media attacks ‘disturbing’” via Eric Rogers of Florida Today — State Attorney Phil Archer backed the results of a police investigation that cleared two Brevard County teachers of charges of child abuse in the case of Sofia Bezerra, a 7-year-old special needs student who came home from a school last October with a mask tied to her face. A review of the Indian Harbour Beach Police Department investigation was completed by Archer’s office with “no finding of criminal wrongdoing” against the two Brevard Public School employees, according to a news release posted to the state attorney’s website and social media accounts.

An investigation found nothing to back up Jeffrey Steel’s accusations of child abuse against Brevard teachers. Image via Florida Today.

Brevard County’s COVID-19 cases fall 31%; Florida cases down 30.9%” via Mike Stucka of USA Today Network — Florida reported far fewer coronavirus cases in the week ending Jan. 23, adding 282,520 new cases. That’s down 30.9% from the previous week’s tally of 408,841 new cases of the virus that causes COVID-19. Florida ranked 37th among the states where coronavirus was spreading the fastest on a per-person basis. In the latest week, coronavirus cases in the United States decreased 14.9% from the week before, with 4,770,122 cases reported. With 6.45% of the country’s population, Florida had 5.92% of the country’s cases in the last week. Across the country, 27 states had more cases in the latest week than they did the week before.

Sarasota public schools end individual student contact-tracing for COVID-19” via The Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Sarasota County Schools students will no longer be subject to an individual contact-tracing process for COVID-19, as of Monday, Jan. 24. The decision to make the change was made along with the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County. The school district and the DOH have agreed that elementary schools will notify families of a potential COVID-19 positive case related to their child based on the class schedule of the COVID-19 positive student.

Record 1,014 Ocala/Marion students/employees test positive in one week” via Joe Callahan of the Ocala Star-Banner — The number of weekly COVID-19 cases in area schools hit a record for the second straight week, with 1,014 students and employees testing positive during the week ending Jan. 21. That number is 16.6% higher than the previous record of 870 for the week ending Jan. 14. Monday’s school report showed that 1,014 people tested positive for COVID-19 during the week ending Jan. 21.

Five teachers booted from Jupiter school for refusing to wear masks” via Andrew Marra of The Palm Beach Post — Five teachers were sent home from Limestone Creek Elementary last week for refusing to wear masks on campus, a school district spokeswoman confirmed. The teachers were instructed to leave campus Thursday for violating the Palm Beach County School District’s mask policy, which requires all employees and visitors to wear facial coverings while indoors on campus. State law prohibits mask requirements for students. School district spokeswoman Claudia Shea said the teachers were sent home with pay on Thursday, the first day they refused to wear masks. The five teachers, who she declined to identify, are now the subject of a personnel investigation and could face disciplinary action.

—2022 —

With some voters ‘ready to move on,’ Democrats search for new message on virus” via Trip Gabriel, Lisa Lerer and Jennifer Medina of The New York Times — Despite the deadly wave fueled by the omicron variant, Democratic officials are largely skipping mask mandates and are fighting to keep schools open, sometimes in opposition to health care workers and their traditional allies in teachers’ unions. The shift reflects a potential change in the nature of the threat now that millions of Americans are vaccinated, and omicron appears to be causing less serious disease. Now that vaccines have been proven effective, Americans have a lower tolerance for restrictions, strategists and elected officials said.

Time to move on? Democrats are focusing on keeping schools open.

Spotted DeSantis on Axios’ list of politicians who generate the most likes, comments and shares on social media. The Governor ranked fifth with an average of 1,200 interactions per article.

Charlie Crist announces ‘Affordable Florida for All’ plan, targets Public Service Commission reform” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics —Crist’s campaign for Florida Governor unveiled the first part of a new policy plan to make living in the Sunshine State more affordable for Floridians. It’s appropriately called the “Affordable Florida for All” plan, and two additional parts of the proposal are set to be unveiled later this week.  The first part of the plan centers on the Public Service Commission, which Crist’s campaign said is now “in the pocket of big utilities and acting more like a lapdog than a watchdog” while “wages and the rate of wage growth in Florida are well below the national average.”

Nikki Fried calls for in-person summer camp funding Agriculture Commissioner and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fried urged DeSantis and lawmakers to send extra funding to school districts this year so they can hold free in-person summer learning camps to help children overcome learning loss. “We know our children learn best when they are in a classroom with their teachers. We know that many children have fallen behind in their academic achievements during this pandemic. And we also know that good ideas aren’t partisan,” Fried said. “That’s why I’m calling on Gov. DeSantis and the Florida Legislature to follow the lead of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and provide school districts with funding for similar free summer learning camp programs, allowing individual school districts and parents to decide what works best for their students.”

Polk County elections supervisor: 63% of casino petitions rejected” via Gary White of The Lakeland Ledger — Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards said her office has found problems with nearly two-thirds of the petitions so far submitted seeking to place the measure, titled Limited Authorization of Casino Gambling, on the ballot for November’s general election. Edwards said most of the petitions rejected by her staff have either contained names of voters not listed on the county’s rolls or have borne signatures not matching ones the office has on record for the listed voter. Election supervisors in several counties have reported a high volume of incorrect and potentially fraudulent submissions of petitions for the casino gambling initiative.

— CORONA NATION —

Two COVID-19 Americas” via David Leonhardt of The New York Times — It seems obvious that older Americans should be more fearful of COVID-19 than younger Americans. Yet they’re not. That’s one of the striking findings from a new poll, a survey firm, has conducted for this newsletter: Old and young people express similar concern about their personal risk from COVID-19. By some measures, young people are actually more worried. The most plausible explanation for this pattern is political ideology. Many Democrats say they feel unsafe in their communities; are worried about getting sick from COVID-19. Republicans are less worried.

Omicron infections lead to a smaller share of hospitalizations than delta, a CDC report finds.” via Benjamin Mueller of The New York Times — A smaller share of Americans with coronavirus cases have been admitted to hospitals during the surge of the omicron variant than during previous waves. The report added to heartening signs from other countries and certain health systems in the United States that omicron, while highly contagious, is causing less severe illness, a result of growing levels of immunity in the population, as well as omicron itself often triggering less serious symptoms. The CDC attributed the tendency of omicron cases to cause less severe illness to the virus itself, as well as growing levels of immunity from prior infections and the rollout of vaccinations.

Omicron does not automatically mean a hospital stay, says the CDC. Image via Reuters.

Omicron cases appear to peak in U.S., but deaths continue to rise” via Mitch Smith, Julie Bosman and Tracey Tully of The New York Times — New coronavirus cases have started to fall nationally, signaling that the omicron-fueled spike that has infected tens of millions of Americans, packed hospitals and shattered records has finally begun to relent. More and more states have passed a peak in new cases in recent days, as glimmers of progress have spread from a handful of eastern cities to much of the country. The country averaged about 720,000 new cases a day through Friday, down from about 807,000 last week. New coronavirus hospital admissions have leveled off.

Omicron optimism and shift from pandemic to endemic” via Alvin Powell of The Harvard Gazette — With omicron’s surge peaking in some U.S. states, experts this week sounded a wary note of optimism that better times are weeks to months away, but they warn that prospects of an “end” are murky, with the likeliest scenario being one in which the virus shifts from pandemic to a more manageable endemic mode. Several experts said it’s likely that omicron’s high infectivity, coupled with vaccination and past infection, will result in some type of immunity to the virus becoming common around the globe. That could lead to a transition from the pandemic’s seemingly unending state of emergency to what will likely be a long, uncomfortable coexistence with SARS-CoV-2.

Biden administration to withdraw COVID-19 vaccination and testing regulation aimed at large businesses” via Liz Stark of CNN — The Biden administration is withdrawing its COVID-19 vaccination and testing regulation aimed at large businesses, following the Supreme Court’s decision to block the rule earlier this month. OSHA said it will be withdrawing the vaccination and testing emergency temporary standards for businesses with 100 or more employees. “Although OSHA is withdrawing the vaccination and testing ETS as an enforceable emergency temporary standard, the agency is not withdrawing the ETS as a proposed rule. The agency is prioritizing its resources to focus on finalizing a permanent COVID-19 Healthcare Standard,” the statement read.

COVID-19 booster drive is faltering in the U.S.” via Mae Anderson of The Associated Press — The COVID-19 booster drive in the U.S. is losing steam, worrying health experts who have pleaded with Americans to get an extra shot to shore up their protection against the highly contagious omicron variant. Just 40% of fully vaccinated Americans have received a booster dose. And the average number of booster shots dispensed per day in the U.S. has plummeted from a peak of 1 million in early December to about 490,000 as of last week. Also, a new poll found that Americans are more likely to see the initial vaccinations, rather than a booster, as essential. More than 13 months after it began, just 63% of Americans, or 210 million people, are fully vaccinated with the initial rounds of shots.

The rate of boosters is waning in the U.S. Image via AP.

‘Tired, burned out, frustrated’: Omicron surge hits nursing homes as vaccine mandate looms” via Ken Alltucker of USA Today — Data from the CDC show 41,511 COVID-19 cases among nursing home residents through the week ending Jan. 16, far above any week during last winter’s surge. Cases among nurses and other staffers doubled the previous peak in December 2020, straining already depleted staffing levels. The agency that oversees Medicare said nursing homes in 25 states must be fully vaccinated or have a qualifying medical or religious exemption by Feb. 28. For homes that don’t comply, state inspectors who conduct surveys could assess penalties such as requiring a plan of correction, civil fines or denying Medicare or Medicaid payments.

Pfizer opens study of COVID-19 shots updated to match omicron” via The Associated Press — Pfizer has begun a study comparing its original COVID-19 vaccine with doses specially tweaked to match the hugely contagious omicron variant. COVID-19 vaccine makers have been updating their shots to better match omicron in case global health authorities decide the change is needed. The original vaccines still offer good protection against severe illness and death. Studies in the U.S. and elsewhere have made clear that adding a booster dose strengthens that protection and improves the chances of avoiding a milder infection.

— CORONA ECONOMICS —

Why Medicare doesn’t pay for rapid at-home COVID-19 tests” via Michelle Andrews of KHN — As of Jan. 15, private insurers will cover the cost of eight at-home rapid COVID-19 tests each month for their members for as long as the public health emergency lasts. Finding the tests will be hard enough, but Medicare beneficiaries face an even bigger hurdle: The administration’s new rule doesn’t apply to them. It turns out that the laws governing traditional Medicare don’t provide for coverage of self-administered diagnostic tests, which is precisely what the rapid antigen tests are and why they are an important tool for containing the pandemic.

Medicare isn’t covering rapid COVID-19 tests. Image via AP.

— MORE CORONA —

There’s a new version of omicron, but so far it doesn’t appear to be more dangerous” via Lenny Bernstein of The Washington Post — As a new version of the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus spreads in parts of Asia and Europe, the WHO recommended officials begin investigating its characteristics to determine whether it poses new challenges for pandemic-weary nations. Known as BA. 2, the new version of the virus is a descendant of the omicron variant responsible for huge surges of COVID-19 in the United States and elsewhere around the globe. Virologists are referring to the original omicron variant as BA. 1. Viruses constantly mutate, mostly in harmless ways. There is no current evidence that BA. 2 is more virulent, spreads faster, or escapes immunity better than BA. 1.

GOP say Democrats’ virus drug guidance is anti-White” via Alice Miranda Ollstein and Megan Messerly of POLITICO — Republicans are accusing the Biden administration of racism — against White people. The administration’s recommendation that race and ethnicity be considered when deciding who gets the limited supply of new COVID-19 drugs is the latest political cudgel with which Republicans are hammering Democrats, looking to energize their base ahead of the midterm elections. Democratic strategists say these attacks, while baseless, may prove effective, further hampering the party’s efforts to retain its slim congressional majorities. The issue is gaining steam in both the establishment and MAGA activist wings of the party.

Is the use of monoclonal antibodies favoring non-Whites? Image via AP.

This blurb is brought to you by Caymus Vineyards — “Red wine could reduce chances of COVID-19 infection, U.K. study suggests” via Catherine Stoddard of Fox News — A recent study from the United Kingdom found certain types of alcohol could impact how susceptible a person is to getting COVID-19. The study found that people who drank red wine, white wine and champagne were less likely to get COVID-19, while those who consumed beer, cider, and spirits in heavy amounts were more likely to become sick. “Our study suggests that subjects who usually consumed red wine and white wine and champagne above guidelines, and sometimes consumed 1—2 glasses/week fortified within the guidelines appear to have chances to reduce the risk of COVID-19,” the study said.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

The polling hits keep coming for Biden” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post — The latest Fox poll shows 47% of people continue to approve of Biden’s performance as President, but significantly fewer than that say they would either definitely or probably vote to re-elect him. Just 36% say that, while 6 in 10 say they at least lean against voting for him in 2024. To be sure, Biden’s low “re-elect” is in large part about Democrats; just 48% say they would “definitely” vote to re-elect him. The latest Fox News poll shows just 6% of independents say they would definitely re-elect Biden.

The hits keep coming. Image via AP.

On STEM, give Biden credit for his efforts to repair the national reputation that Donald Trump trashed” via Catherine Rampell of The Washington Post — Trump trashed this country’s reputation as a desirable destination for the world’s science, tech and entrepreneurial talent. Biden deserves credit for his recent attempts to repair it. Last week, the White House announced some initial steps to make it easier for STEM-trained immigrants to come to or stay in the United States. Some were basic “housekeeping”-type changes. Another new policy encourages more private-sector businesses to hire STEM researchers as exchange visitors.

Governors enjoy cash deluge right before they face the voters” via Liz Crampton of POLITICO — Governors across the country are sitting on mounds of cash just when they need it most: election season. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee wants to spend $500 million on expanding broadband access in underserved areas. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz hopes to send $350 payments to residents that he’s dubbing “Walz checks” — a move Republican leaders have attacked as a reelection ploy. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has actually embraced the Biden administration’s federal stimulus as he faces reelection. His nearly $100 billion spending plan includes at least $3.5 billion from the president’s American Rescue Plan.

— D.C. MATTERS —

South Florida Republicans propose new State Department position to combat communism” via Bryan Lowry of the Miami Herald — Three South Florida Republicans introduced legislation Tuesday to establish a new State Department position that would be tasked with combating communism and authoritarianism. The proposed “Special Envoy to Combat Global Rise of Authoritarian Socialism and Communism” would be modeled after a similar State Department ambassador-level position created in 2004 to combat global anti-Semitism. The legislation was led by Rep. Carlos Giménez, a former Miami-Dade Mayor born in Cuba and whose family immigrated to the U.S. in 1960 after the Cuban Revolution. Gimenez was joined by fellow Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Maria Elvira Salazar, both raised by parents who had fled Cuba.

Cuban Americans Mario Díaz-Balart, María Elvira Salazar and Carlos Giménez are pushing to fight communism.

Matt Gaetz says sex trafficking accusations are government ‘operation’ against him, GOP” via Daniel Villareal of Newsweek — Gaetz made his comment about the investigations while speaking on a recent installment of War Room, the show hosted by Steve Bannon, the former White House Chief Strategist under Trump. Gaetz told Bannon he was the target of a “cut-out,” a government-directed action taken against an individual or group. He said cut-outs had been taken against Trump in the form of investigations examining his alleged collusion with Russia in the 2016 elections, as well as the impeachment proceedings against Trump following his July 25, 2019, phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

— CRISIS —

What the Trump documents might tell the Jan. 6 committee” via Luke Broadwater, Alan Feuer, Nick Corasaniti and Michael S. Schmidt of The New York Times — The National Archives has turned over to the House select committee investigating the assault on the Capitol last Jan. 6 a large batch of documents that Trump had sought to keep out of the panel’s hands, citing executive privilege. It remains unclear how valuable the documents, at least 770 pages, will be to the investigation.

What will Donald Trump’s papers reveal about Jan. 6? Image via AP.

Judge presses ahead with April trial for several Oath Keepers” via Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney of POLITICO — Judge Amit Mehta set an April 19 court date for a subset of the 22 Oath Keepers charged with a sweeping conspiracy to obstruct the transfer of presidential power from Trump to Biden. Mehta said he expected the first trial to include defendants who haven’t been detained and are facing obstruction charges, rather than those who were recently charged with seditious conspiracy and might take more time to build their defenses. Although defense lawyers said they were facing a mountain of videos, smartphone downloads and other evidence that is challenging to review, Mehta said he believed that most of the evidence directly relevant to most of the Oath Keeper defendants had been turned over some time ago.

— EPILOGUE TRUMP —

Trump leads 2024 Republican field with DeSantis in distant second” via Max Greenwood of The Hill — DeSantis is an early favorite for the nomination in the event Trump doesn’t run again, according to a Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll. In a hypothetical eight-person GOP presidential primary, Trump holds a clear edge, garnering 57% support among Republican voters. DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence are nearly deadlocked at 12% and 11%, respectively. No other would-be candidate registers double-digit support. Should Trump forgo another campaign for the White House, however, DeSantis would supplant him as the front-runner. The Florida Governor scores 30% support in a field that doesn’t include Trump, while Pence takes second place at 24%.

If it weren’t for Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis would be the 2024 front-runner.

In Miami, Trump proposes luxury condos and hotels. This time, without his name” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — The new Doral real estate venture launched by Trump includes the traditional trappings of his promotional playbook. But as described in an application to the city’s planning department, the proposed “Doral International Towers” complex lacks one mainstay of the celebrity mogul’s real estate ventures: the use of “Trump” in the name. The proposed Doral project fronting Northwest 87th Avenue and 36th Street may offer a case study in Trump’s branding strategy after his first Presidential term.

—LOCAL NOTES —

Circuit judge rejects Chris Dorworth’s River Cross lawsuit against Seminole County” via Martin E. Comas of the Orlando Sentinel — In a setback to Dorworth’s plans to build his River Cross mega-development, a circuit court judge ruled Monday that Seminole’s charter amendment that established the county’s protected rural area is constitutional. Seminole Commissioners have the authority to reject a developer’s request to carve out property from the county’s voter-approved rural boundary for development beyond the current density of one home per 5 acres, according to Circuit Judge Randell Rowe’s ruling. Dorworth said he was disappointed by the ruling. And he said he plans to appeal.

Mark Rosenberg could return to classroom after resigning as FIU president. His pay? $377K” via Linda Robertson and Jimena Tavel of the Miami Herald — Despite his abrupt resignation as president of Florida International University under the cloud of a misconduct allegation, Rosenberg could eventually be back on campus and teaching classes for a $377,000 paycheck. Rosenberg forfeited his half-a-million-dollar salary as well as bonus and pension supplements when he stepped down Friday, but a close look at his contract revealed that he retained his job as a tenured faculty member.

Miami school district hires Jose Dotres as superintendent” via Sommer Brugal of the Miami Herald — The School Board voted 6-3 to appoint Dotres after a more than eight-hour meeting and interviewing the top three candidates. Dotres will replace Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who is leaving Miami on Feb. 3 to lead the Los Angeles Unified School District. “It truly is an honor,” Dotres told board members after the vote. “I get to come back to work with incredible professionals. My greatest desire is that we work closely together for the benefit of this entire school district.” Board members Marta Pérez, Christi Fraga, and Lubby Navarro voted for Jacob Oliva, the Florida Department of Education senior chancellor.

Jose Dotres will take the reins of Miami-Dade schools. Image via WPLG.

Ocean Drive reopens to cars, sparking concerns about bicycle and pedestrian safety” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — After being closed to cars for nearly two years, world-famous Ocean Drive in South Beach reopened to traffic on Monday, as the city ended a COVID-19-era pilot program that closed the road to give more space to pedestrians, bicyclists and expanded outdoor restaurant seating. Drivers can now travel along one southbound lane from 13th to Fifth streets, with valet parking set up on the west side of Ocean Drive. A new two-way bicycle lane, painted green, is on the east side. Pedestrians, who have officially been relegated to the sidewalk, can still walk freely on Ocean Drive between 13th Street and 14th Place.

Florida’s west coast cities top WSJ/Realtor.com’s housing index” via Nicole Friedman and Inti Pacheco of The Wall Street Journal — Cities on Florida’s west coast climbed to the top of The Wall Street Journal/Realtor.com Emerging Housing Markets Index, boosted by the growth of remote work and warm weather in the Sunshine State. Naples, Florida, was the top-ranked market for the quarter, followed by North Port, Florida; Kahului, Hawaii; San Luis Obispo, California; and San Jose, California. Three other Florida markets, Cape Coral, Punta Gorda, and Sebastian, a city on the state’s east coast, also made the Top 20.

Amazon announces a second site for Pasco, this one featuring robotic sorting” via Barbara Behrendt of the Tampa Bay Times — Online shopping giant Amazon will build a new distribution site in Pasco County that will feature a unique and extensive robotics system, Bill Cronin, president and CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council, announced to county commissioners. The company will soon begin construction on a $150 million, 517,220-square-foot facility on State Road 52 at Bellamy Brothers Boulevard. It will provide 500 new jobs. Construction is expected to take just less than a year. The center’s robotics features will bring high-quality jobs for people who can work with them because of their technical skills.

Hillsborough County Schools leaders request flexibility with the state amid COVID-19 challenges” via Tampa Bay 10 — In a letter to Florida’s education commissioner, Hillsborough County Public Schools leaders are requesting the state to once again allow schools to opt-in to “A to F” grades for the latest academic year. District leaders say there has been a more than 10% increase of students with 10 days or more missed during the 2021-22 school year compared to the previous year. ” … This year should not be about sanctioning schools according to the state accountability rules. Instead, it must center on using student performance information to support further building the capacity of all learnings through prescribed educational pathways,” the letter reads.

Moms for Liberty says chapter Facebook groups unfairly censored in letter to Mark Zuckerberg” via Bailey Gallion of Florida Today — Founders of conservative group Moms for Liberty accused Facebook of censoring some of the group’s social media pages in an open letter to Zuckerberg. Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice, co-founders of Moms for Liberty, wrote that 22 of Moms for Liberty’s chapter groups around the nation have had their Facebook pages disabled in recent weeks after receiving notifications of community violations. Justice is a former Indian River County School Board member and Descovich is a former Brevard County School Board member. Moms for Liberty has gained national attention for its members’ protests and remarks at school board meetings over topics such as COVID-19 restrictions, critical race theory and LGBTQ issues.

Moms for Liberty are crying foul against Facebook.

New executive editor named for Naples Daily News” via Laura Layden of the Naples Daily News — Wendy Fullerton Powell will take on a new role leading local journalism in Southwest Florida as executive editor of Gannett’s Naples Daily News. Her new title and responsibilities will begin after the departure of Penny Fisher, who has served as news director of the Daily News for the past 4½ years. Fisher, 40, will leave her post at the end of the month after deciding to explore new opportunities beyond the daily newspaper that brought her from the hills of southern Indiana to the beaches of Southwest Florida in 2007.

Ave Maria University names Catholic digital, print publisher Mark Middendorf as President” via Harriet Howard Heithaus of the Naples Daily News — Ave Maria University has named its fourth president. Mark Middendorf, who most recently served as executive vice president for mission expansion at the Augustine Institute in Colorado, joins the private liberal arts Catholic university in central Collier County on Feb. 1. The school’s board of trustees announced the move Friday. Board Chairman Patrick Rainey pointed to Middendorf’s strengths as a leader known for “his energetic and innovative leadership in Catholic lay apostolates.”

— TOP OPINION —

Give parents, students a ‘bill of rights’ to assure education access, quality and transparency” via Jeb Bush for the Miami Herald — No longer are we advancing the singular purpose of education: To give every child the skills and knowledge to unlock their potential. Governors and state policymakers should enact a student and parents “bill of rights” that secures their right to access, quality and transparency. The power over our public schools is held by a select few who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Little to no power is in the hands of the constituents themselves.

— OPINIONS —

Time to take budget surplus and do one-time dedication to infrastructure” via Henry Mayfield for the Fort Myers News-Press — Florida grew by nearly 330,000 residents in a one-year span between April 2020 and April 2021. This continued growth is due in large part to our state’s leadership, who have managed the pandemic in a way that has allowed our state to stay open and on a path of advancing and progressing. Investing in our infrastructure now with a one-time appropriation will allow us to catch up on investments and projects that were deferred and get ahead of the growth that we’re continuing to see. We need to continue to look ahead when it comes to our infrastructure. Florida is in a great position to make a one-time appropriation to state infrastructure, and we hope that Florida lawmakers act on it this Session.

Judge rightly slams UF for censoring professors’ speech” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — The University of Florida could not have deserved or suffered a greater embarrassment than the 74-page rebuke from U.S. District Judge Mark Walker over its attempts to bar professors from contradicting the ruling political party in this state. Walker compared that situation with how the University of Hong Kong, fearful of its new masters in Beijing, last month removed a statue, known as the Pillar of Shame, commemorating the pro-democracy demonstrators who were slain at China’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. His sharpest put-down was in a footnote. “If those in UF’s administration find this comparison upsetting, the solution is simple. Stop acting like your contemporaries in Hong Kong.

Florida shouldn’t turn its back on refugee children” via Thomas Wenski for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Sixty years ago, parents did the unthinkable, they sent their children alone and unaccompanied to the United States. They were desperate and 60 years later, their homeland, their beloved Cuba, is still not free; 60 years later we know that their fears were not misplaced. Today these young people are coming mainly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Now, DeSantis is trying to stop all federal programs in Florida that serve these unaccompanied kids as well as services to Cubans. DeSantis’s executive order 21-223 is wrong, and the Legislature would be wrong to compound his error with legislation (Senate Bill 1808 and House Bill 1355) proposed by state Sen. Bean and state Rep. John Snyder.

The surgical suite is no place for so-called ‘collaboration’” via Leopoldo Rodriguez for Florida Politics — There are times when a patient takes an immediate and unexpected turn for the worse in a matter of seconds, and it is during those critical moments that lifesaving decisions must be made in the blink of an eye. The good news is that current Florida law ensures that a physician must supervise all anesthesia services. Publicists for Florida’s nurse association are claiming Florida law should be changed to allow for “a collaboration model” and that the more highly trained physician anesthesiologist should be forced to “collaborate” with the nurse on duty — even to the point where there doesn’t even have to be a physician on-site. As it stands, Florida already has a good law that has been proven time and time again to be the safest, and the physician-led care model for anesthesia also saves our state precious health care dollars.

Now is the time to expand nursing education programs” via Dr. Tonjua Williams and Dr. Angela Falconetti for Florida Politics — Last summer the Florida Healthcare Association commissioned a report which painted a bleak picture, projecting that 14 years from now our state will lack 59,100 nurses. Our colleges must be able to recruit and retain qualified faculty by raising faculty salaries. Our facilities need students to be learning in the high-tech environment used in today’s health care environment. In partnership with hospitals and medical facilities, colleges are reimagining the clinical experience, structure, and locations to increase program enrollment. The Florida College System Council of Presidents is working with our state’s elected leaders and have requested $60 million in program funding this Legislative Session. The requested funding is only one step in the direction of responding to Florida’s need for health care workers and for essential workforce programs.

— TODAY’S SUNRISE —

DeSantis takes aim at the Biden administration and the FDA for yanking monoclonal antibody treatments. The White House says they don’t work against the omicron variant. DeSantis says that’s bad science.

Also on today’s Sunrise:

The House Speaker says based on how many people are telling him the redistricting process is going too slow or too fast, he figures it must be right on pace.

An immigrant organization says the “midnight” migrant flights are just routine.

And a legislator goes “old-school” with a handwritten amendment.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

University of Florida, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical tie for best online bachelor’s programs in U.S.” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — New rankings from U.S. News & World Report detailing the nation’s top online bachelor’s degree programs place the University of Florida (UF) and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in a tie atop the list. UF and Embry-Riddle are both based in Florida, with Embry-Riddle’s main campus sitting in Daytona Beach. Joe Glover, UF’s provost and senior vice president of academic affairs, released a statement Tuesday celebrating UF’s place atop the rankings. Taking classes online has, of course, been a staple for nearly two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In last year’s rankings of online bachelor’s programs, UF ranked third in the U.S.

U.S. protection sought for threatened Florida ghost orchid” via The Associated Press — The rare ghost orchid faces mounting threats in Florida from poaching, loss of habitat and climate change and needs federal protection, environmental groups said. A petition filed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asks that the orchid be placed under the Endangered Species Act and its habitat in southern Florida be officially designated as critical to its recovery. The petition was submitted by The Institute for Regional Conservation, the Center for Biological Diversity and the National Parks Conservation Association. The groups estimate about 1,500 ghost orchids in Florida, where they have declined by 30% to 50%.

Florida’s ghost orchid needs federal protection. Image via AP.

What Stephanie Cardozo and Amanda Taylor are reading — “Florida State Fair reveals lineup of weird and wild new foods” via Sharon Kennedy Wynne of the Tampa Bay Times — The Florida State Fair is famous (or maybe infamous) for introducing fair food ideas and mashups because it’s the first state fair in the country, thanks to Florida’s balmy weather. That lets vendors test out the audience for things like deep-fried butter and a Buffalo chicken sundae. It was the first to use a doughnut as a bun for a hamburger and feature the Flaming Hot Cheetos Funnel Cake. When the fair opens Feb. 10-21, expect a hot dog encased in a doughnut and a funnel cake that holds taco fixings.

Florida and the Bandit: Burt Reynolds legacy lives on at car restoration shop” via Jesse Mendoza of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — At 9 years old, Gene Kennedy went with his father to catch the new 1977 hit film Star Wars at the Century Mall Theater in St. Petersburg, but the line was too long, and they saw Smokey and the Bandit instead. Kennedy and Burt Reynolds met nearly 35 years later, and their friendship led to Bandit Movie Cars in Palmetto. Kennedy buys and restores Hollywood movie cars that have been on screen, or recreates them from like models, often for auction or independent clients. In 2014, Kennedy and the Bandit did track down the car used by Universal Pictures to promote the film, and in January 2016, they auctioned it off for a record-breaking $550,000 at the Barrett Jackson Scottsdale Auction. Kennedy also has the Blues Brothers 1974 Dodge Monaco and recently finished a rebuild of Cousin Eddie’s RV from Christmas Vacation.

Pegasus Day: America’s two best racehorses (and Ja Rule) share center stage at Gulfstream” via Mike Seely of the Miami New Times — It just so happens that a 6-year-old horse named Knicks Go is vying to defend his title in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park this Saturday, January 29. But Knicks Go, who established himself as the best racehorse in the land by virtue of his easy victory in November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar, is not what he seems. Those more inclined to the social element of Pegasus Day will be edified to note that Ja Rule will be performing alongside Lil Kim and Mase at Gulfstream’s Carousel Club on Saturday.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to classy lady Claudia Davant, owner of Adams Street Advocates. Also celebrating today are smart guy Mark Sharpe, as well as former Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, Jason Roth, Dave Royse, and Vinny Tafuro.

___

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

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of FloridaPolitics.com, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.



#FlaPol

Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jason Delgado, Renzo Downey, Daniel Figueroa, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Kelly Hayes, Joe Henderson, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Andrew Wilson, Mike Wright, and Tristan Wood.

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