Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.27.22

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Up and at 'em: Here's your scoops and other stories driving the day in Florida politics.

Good Thursday morning.

The first State of Emergency podcast of 2022 honors the passing of co-host Jared Moskowitz‘s father, Michael. Jared and Peter also talk with Speaker Chris Sprowls, who is in the middle of his final Legislative Session. In this exclusive conversation, the Pinellas lawmaker offers his insights on a range of priorities and issues.

P.S. Tom Leek, you’re on the clock!

Listen here.

Thanks to Speaker Chris Sprowls for giving us valuable time during Session.

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LSN Partners expansion is continuing into 2022, with the addition of three new employees at its offices in Broward and Miami-Dade.

The full-service consulting firm announced Thursday that it has hired Dr. Heidi Richards to work in its Ft. Lauderdale office and Lisa McClaskey and Veronica Pizzorni to work in its Miami Beach office.

“We are very proud to welcome Heidi, Lisa, and Veronica to the LSN Family,” LSN founder and managing partner Alex Heckler said. “We strive to continuously exceed clients’ expectations and employ individuals who represent our values and will be respected advisers to clients.”

Congrats: Veronica Pizzorni, Heidi Richards, and Lisa McClaskey represent another significant expansion for LSN Partners.

Richards is the former Chief of Staff to Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness and has experience building coalitions and creating client-focused campaigns. She also has expertise in policy areas including economic development, transportation, and housing and is adept at communicating and advancing complicated policy issues with political leaders, companies and other stakeholders.

McClaskey has more than 10 years of experience in developing strategic partnerships, managing event logistics, and enhancing global relations. She is the former director of economic and political affairs for the Consulate General of Israel in Miami. She has also served in the Advance Department for two presidential campaigns, interned in the Florida Governor’s Office, and worked in the Development Department for the Miami Art Museum, now known as the Perez Museum of Art.

Pizzorni previously worked as manager of operations for Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and has immense experience in the Miami-Dade County governmental and political environment. The University of Florida graduate also served as Levine Cava’s Deputy campaign manager and has worked on many high-profile campaigns across the state.

The new hires follow an explosive year of growth at LSN, which added 10 new members across its offices in Washington D.C. and South Florida.

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Leslie Reed is now a partner at Brightwater Strategies Group.

Brightwater Strategies Group is the consulting shop launched by owner Jennifer Valenstein last year. The firm also includes her husband, former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein, who serves as managing partner.

Reed bolsters Brightwater’s expertise in agricultural and environmental policy. She comes to the firm from DEP, where, as Chief of Staff, she served as second in command under Valenstein during his time leading the department.

More congrats: Leslie Reed moves up to partner at Brightwater Strategies Group.

At DEP, Reed oversaw the agency’s administrative, financial and legislative activities. She also managed the department’s information technology, legislative affairs, and intergovernmental affairs divisions.

Reed has also served as Florida’s representative on the RESTORE Council, which manages funds from the multistate settlement following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. She was originally appointed to the council by former Gov. Rick Scott and was reappointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Before DEP, Reed held positions at the Suwannee River Water Management District and the Florida Public Service Commission.

At SRWMD, she managed the agency’s strategic planning initiative and Surface Water Improvement and Management Plan. At the PSC, she assisted with need determinations for investor-owned electric companies, carrier-to-carrier telecom issues, and other matters.

Reed earned a law degree from Florida State University and a bachelor’s degree in environmental policy and planning from Virginia Tech.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@SahilKapur: 2022 is going to be a huge year for the Supreme Court. Major rulings to come on abortion, gun rights and affirmative action. A Senate confirmation battle for a new justice. A midterm election that’ll determine which party controls the process for potential future vacancies.

@BillKristol: Straightforward from here. June 30: Court overturns Roe. July 1: (Stephen) Breyer resigns, says Court “needs aggressive progressive justices.” July 4. (Joe) Biden picks (Kamala) Harris for Court. Harris resigns as VP. July 5. Biden picks (Mitt) Romney as VP, says national unity needed for the world crisis.

@RepJimBanks: Have we ever seen a President attack and malign the free press like Joe Biden has??

@BRhodes: What Fox News has done to this country is infinitely more offensive than anything Joe Biden said.

Tweet, tweet:

@Dabbs346: Ron Johnson tells Charlie Kirk that “all these athletes [are] dropping dead on the field” after the COVID vaccine. #wisen

@JacobRubashkin: Where the “DeSantis can beat (Donald) Trump in 2024″ talk falls short is, why would any other GOP hopeful step aside for DeSantis? If you believe a DeSantis candidacy makes Trump beatable, why let DeSantis be the only one who takes a shot? He doesn’t command the loyalty that Trump does.

@MarcACaputo: There’s certainly much to criticize DeSantis for — especially his de-emphasizing of the benefits of vaccines, which are so far the best tool to fight COVID But when it comes to school openings & masking, the criticisms of those policies have yet to match the reality

@AGAshleyMoody: It’s abundantly clear that there is a purposeful effort to undermine the success of FL by @JoeBiden. His reckless immigration policies, attacks on our #1 cruise industry & shutdown of @GovRonDeSantis‘s successful monoclonal program are just a few examples of the #FedWarOnFL.

@TedLieu: Rep Matt Gaetz is entitled to the presumption of innocence. He is not entitled to sit on the House Judiciary Committee that has oversight over the Department investigating him for sex crimes with a minor. @GOPLeader needs to remove Rep Gaetz from the Committee.

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

@Gehrig38: Every year the conversation revolves around who didn’t get in. Like all-star voting, who got cheated. I say it every year and especially this year, focus on who did get in. @davidortiz deserved a 1st ballot induction! Congratulations my friend you earned it! #bigpapiHoF

— DAYS UNTIL —

James Madison Institute’s Stanley Marshall Day Celebration in Jacksonville — 1; XXIV Olympic Winter Games begins — 8; Super Bowl LVI — 17; Will Smith’s ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ reboot premieres — 17; Discover Boating Miami International Boat Show begins — 20; season four of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ begins — 20; Spring Training report dates begin — 21; Synapse Florida tech summit begins — 21; ‘The Walking Dead’ final season part two begins — 24; Daytona 500 — 24; Special Election for Jacksonville City Council At-Large Group 3 — 27; Suits For Session — 27; CPAC begins — 28; St. Pete Grand Prix — 29; Biden to give State of the Union — 33; ‘The Batman’ premieres — 36; the third season of ‘Atlanta’ begins — 55; season two of ‘Bridgerton’ begins — 57; The Oscars — 59; Macbeth with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga begin performances on Broadway — 61; Grammys rescheduled in Las Vegas — 66; federal student loan payments will resume — 94; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 99; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 120; ‘Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 126; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 163; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 176; Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner novel ‘Heat 2’ publishes — 194; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 218; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 253; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 288; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 291; ‘Avatar 2′ premieres — 323; ‘Captain Marvel 2′ premieres — 386; ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ premieres — 421; ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 547; ‘Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 631; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 911.

—TOP STORY —

Senate Democrats walkout as Republicans on panel OK Joseph Ladapo as Florida Surgeon General” via Jeffrey Schweers of USA Today Network — After a lengthy grilling on his merits and qualifications, the Senate Health Policy Committee voted, without its Democratic members, to recommend that Ladapo be confirmed as Florida’s Surgeon General. Frustrated by what she and her colleagues called a lack of honest answers from Ladapo after more than an hour of questioning, Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book said Democrats on the panel would walk out of the room. “We have an extreme amount of respect for process, but we are not getting any answers,” Book said. After the four Democrats left the room, Sen. Aaron Bean called for a vote on recommending confirmation.

Democrats give Joseph Ladapo a mic drop. Image via AP.

Florida physicians call on Ron DeSantis, Ladapo to drop politics from public health” via Douglas Ray of The Gainesville Sun — Three prominent Florida physicians Wednesday called on DeSantis and Dr. Ladapo to focus on public health and stop politicizing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Frederick Southwick, a Gainesville infectious disease specialist, Dr. Bernard Ashby, a Miami cardiologist, and Dr. Michael Teng, a Tampa virologist, joined a Zoom conference call with news media as members of the Committee to Protect Health Care. “We are here today to set the record straight on the monoclonal antibody therapies that DeSantis has been making hay about,” Ashby said.

— DATELINE TALLY —

New Florida House boundaries approved, but draw fire over minority districts” via John Kennedy of the USA TODAY Network–Florida — A redrawing of Florida House districts that would position Republicans to maintain a sizable majority for the next decade is ready for a final vote in that chamber. Boundaries for the 120-member House would create 71 districts carried by Trump in the last election, compared to 49 that went for Biden, despite registered voters in Florida being close to equally divided among Democrats, Republicans and those with no party affiliation. The House currently has 78 Republicans. But Democrats on the Reapportionment Committee questioned why the new plan maintains 30 districts likely to elect a Black or Hispanic representative when these communities accounted for the bulk of the state’s population growth over the past decade. Many of these minority-heavy districts tend to vote Democratic.

Florida State Guard may increase ranks to 500 volunteers” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The Florida State Guard could scale up to a level of 500 troops and establish itself as a paramilitary haven for unvaccinated service members. DeSantis announced plans to resurrect the volunteer force in November. They would assist the National Guard with hurricanes, natural disasters and other state-specific emergencies. But unlike the National Guard, the Florida State Guard would answer solely to the Governor. No federal deployments. No federal missions. No federal dollars. DeSantis’ initial vision for the force included 200 volunteers at a price tag of $3.5 million. The Florida State Guard, however, may grow to reach 500 members, DeSantis said Wednesday.

The renewed Florida State Guard will grow from 200 to 500 volunteers. Image via WEAR.

Bill deeming churches essential during emergencies progresses despite possible flaws” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Lawmakers could be erring on the side of broader protections for religious services during states of emergency. Under the legislation (SB 254 and HB 215), state law would label houses of worship as an “essential service,” meaning religious events and activities may continue so long as any business is permitted to operate. In effect, church doors would be among the last to close during a state of emergency. The House State Affairs Committee advanced the House bill Wednesday with a 15-7, party-line vote, but not without bill sponsor and Rep. Nick DiCeglie acknowledging the opportunity to tweak the bill. DiCeglie said the legislation is a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s ensuing response.

Florida lawmakers consider banning cities, counties from setting local minimum wages” via James Call of USA Today Network-Florida — The state’s top business lobbying associations are putting their combined political might behind a bill that could cut the pay of thousands of Florida workers. The Florida Chamber, Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and the Florida Retail Federation are urging House and Senate committees to approve a proposed ban on local wage mandates that are higher than the state minimum of $10 an hour. Cities, counties and workers argue local governments should be free to include so-called “living wage” and benefits mandates in local contracts.

—TALLY 2 —

Americans for Prosperity flyers seek to block VISIT FLORIDA, film incentive funding — Calling them “corporate welfare,” Americans for Prosperity-Florida distributed mail pieces statewide on two legislative bills that they say will unnecessarily siphon taxpayer dollars to specific industries. Set to be heard in the Senate Thursday, SB 434/HB 489 seeks a five-year delay for the repeal of VISIT FLORIDA. AFP-FL argues the tourism agency “gobbled up an average of more than $65 million per year over the past five years.” If passed, the bill will head to its final stop in the House on Monday. AFP-FL also seeks to defeat SB 946/HB 217, which would reinstate film incentives for the first time since 2016. The organization argues that Florida taxpayers should not be forced to re-fund a film program that “flopped the first time” — bringing in 43 cents in return for every dollar spent.

AFP-FL’s twofer of ‘corporate welfare.’

A bunch of corporations defied the Legislature without consequence” via Jason Garcia of Seeking Rents — In 2019, the Florida Legislature passed an enormous tax cut for corporations despite not knowing how much it would cost. But this tax cut was temporary — and it came with a catch. The law required corporate taxpayers to provide the state with more detailed information about their income taxes. According to the Florida Department of Revenue, only about half Florida corporations complied. The 2019 law wasn’t optional; it required corporations to file these information returns. And it called for penalties for those that did not comply. But the Department of Revenue says it has decided not to impose penalties for incomplete returns because the Revenue Estimating Conference decided not to use the data — even though the REC decided not to use the data because the returns were incomplete.

Legislation to discount property tax bills for essential workers advances” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — Teachers, first responders, military members and others would all get another $50,000 property tax exemption under a proposal that drew unanimous committee support Tuesday. The Senate Community Affairs Committee gave a thumbs-up to the legislation (SJR 1746) that could mean voters would be asked in November to approve an amendment to the state constitution that would mean a lower tax bill for about half a million people or 4% of the state’s workforce. Identical legislation (HJR 1) has been filed in the House but has yet to see committee action. The bill affects teachers, law enforcement officers, correctional officers, firefighters, child welfare service professionals, active-duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces and members of the Florida National Guard. Local property tax collections would drop an estimated $80 million, Sen. Jason Brodeur said.

Senate committee OK’s bill to replace standardized tests with digitized progress monitoring” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Florida may soon replace the current standardized testing system in public schools with a “progress monitoring program” under a bill OK’d Wednesday by a Senate committee. The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee passed the proposal (SB 1048) unanimously. Sen. Manny Diaz Jr. is the bill sponsor. Under the measure, public schools must roll out a digitized progress monitor tool and a year-end assessment covering math and English within the year. The goal is to devote less time on testing and more time on learning, Diaz suggested.

Senate panel advances environmental funding bill despite opposition from advocates” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A Senate environmental committee has advanced legislation to set aside $20 million a year for projects to improve the water quality in rivers in Florida’s heartland. The bill (SB 1400) would hand $20 million annually to the Department of Environmental Protection for designing or constructing projects that protect, restore or enhance Central Florida’s headwaters. Water in the region affects 32 counties, about half the state, said bill sponsor Sen. Danny Burgess. The dollars would come from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF) and pay to implement the Heartland Headwaters Protection and Sustainability Act, which outlines the expenditures. But environmental organizations question whether the bill would be a proper use of the fund, as part of the continued fallout from a 2015 lawsuit over how the Legislature was spending the funds.

13-second bill that explained nothing — but all committee members approved it” via Issac Morgan of Florida Phoenix — Last week, state Rep. Ralph Massullo, a dermatologist, came before a public health-related subcommittee in the state House to present legislation connected to minors. The Committee chair asked Massullo to present his bill. “Thank you, Mr. Chair, committee. [HB] 817 simply enables physicians to provide emergency care to minors outside of a hospital or college health service system without parental consent,” Massullo told lawmakers. That was the bill — the whole 13 seconds. There were no questions, no debate. Lawmakers unanimously approved the bill, 16-0, with four missed votes. In all, the entire discussion lasted less than two minutes — and still — the public would have no idea about the details. What wasn’t mentioned that day was that the legislation would broaden the current law considerably.

Florida House Redistricting Committee sends new statehouse map to the floor” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The Florida House Redistricting Committee has voted to send a draft map of Florida’s 120 House districts to the floor. Through a near party-line vote, the committee advanced the fourth proposed map (H 8013) from House staff. Only Rep. Anika Omphroy crossed party lines to vote yes. Rep. Leek, an Ormond Beach Republican and the Committee’s chair, said the map was the product of months of work. Most importantly, he said, that product came out constitutionally compliant. “This is one of the most arduous tasks,” he said. Rep. Joe Geller, a Democrat and the committee’s ranking member, called for a vote to delay approval of maps until an upcoming meeting, unsatisfied with the time given to review the last draft.

Anika Omphroy was the sole Democrat to give the House maps a thumbs-up.

Civil war: Likely Florida House map pits 19 incumbents against House colleague” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A map advanced by the House Redistricting Committee should establish the boundaries of political battles over the next decade. More immediately, it could force a number of fights between incumbent members of the House seeking election this year. An investigation by Florida Politics finds the current cartography (H 8013) could pit at least 19 sitting representatives against one another, presuming all remain in their current home. That means more than 20% of House members who have filed to seek another term will see colleagues, often within their own party, become nemeses.

House ready for vote to increase penalties for evidence tampering” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — A bill that would increase penalties for evidence tampering in capital felony cases sailed through its final committee in the House Wednesday and is now ready for the House floor. The bill (HB 287), introduced by Rep. Sam Garrison of Clay County, would make tampering with or fabricating evidence a second-degree felony if done in a criminal trial, proceeding or investigation relating to felonies. Currently, it’s a third-degree felony to tamper with evidence in all cases, and the law does not distinguish between tampering with evidence in murder cases and lesser offenses. Garrison, a former prosecutor, told the Judiciary Committee the change would align the bill with the current perjury statute and close a long-standing loophole in the law.

Florida doctors are a step closer to prescribing controlled substances via telehealth” via Gina Jordan of WFSU — A bill is back that would enable doctors to prescribe certain controlled substances via telehealth, and it’s getting bipartisan support. Doctors use telehealth to deliver health care services remotely through technology like the Zoom platform. “We saw during the pandemic through the Governor’s executive order how well telehealth works,” said Rep. Tom Fabricio, telling a House committee his bill allows physicians to prescribe certain controlled substances via telehealth consultations. Controlled drugs have the potential to be highly addictive. Fabricio’s bill would allow physicians to remotely prescribe drugs like stimulants, sedatives, and anabolic steroids, which fall under schedules III through V.

— MORE TALLY —

Bill to define cryptocurrencies in law advances in Senate” via Gray Rohrer of Florida Politics — Legislation to define the term “virtual currency” and attempt to clarify state law regarding cryptocurrency and state financial regulations passed through the Senate Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government. The bill’s movement is an indication the bill has a greater chance at passing this year after failing to get through the Senate last year. “It’s largely uncontemplated in law since it’s so new,” said Sen. Jason Brodeur, sponsor of SB 486. “(The bill) lays some guardrails down for how we will deal with cryptocurrency.” The bill defines “virtual currency” as a “medium of exchange in electronic or digital format which is not currency.” Brodeur and the committee also amended the bill to ensure the term doesn’t apply to currencies solely used in online gaming platforms or a business’ exclusive rewards programs that can’t be converted into hard cash.

Jason Brodeur wants to define ‘cryptocurrency.’

Bill that would repeal state’s last remaining pit bull bans advances” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — Pit bulls, also known as American Staffordshire terriers, would no longer be discriminated against in ordinances and would only be judged by their behavior, according to legislation that advanced Tuesday. The Senate Community Affairs Committee unanimously voted for legislation (SB 614) that would prohibit public housing authorities and local ordinances from breed-specific rules on dogs. It repealed a previous line that allowed city rules that had passed before Oct. 1, 1990, the same year that Miami-Dade County’s ordinance prohibiting pit bulls was adopted. “There isn’t any scientific evidence that there is a particular breed that is dangerous,” said Sen. Ileana Garcia.

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.

They’re not quite flying cars, but Jason Fischer wants Florida to be ready” via Raymon Troncoso of WJCT News — Flying cars were the stuff of “Back to the Future” and “The Jetsons,” elements of a post-scarcity society where everyone got where they needed to go with no hassle. It’s not the way Rep. Fischer describes his legislation to prepare Florida for the advent of VTOL, or vertical takeoff and landing craft. But the intent of the technology is the same: more convenient, affordable air travel. Fischer’s bill, HB 1005, would create an “Advanced Air Mobility Study Task Force,” a board of at least 20 state, local and industry leaders that would position Florida for VTOL. The effort includes looking ahead at laws on the books and preparing or removing regulations depending on the needs of the burgeoning industry.

Odds improve for lottery winner anonymity as Senate bill nears floor vote” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Members of the Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee gave a unanimous thumbs-up Wednesday to a bill (SB 170) by Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky of Boca Raton that would create a public-records exemption for the names of people who win lottery prizes of $250,000 or more. Under the proposed change, big-pot lotto winners would be able to keep their names private for 90 days from the day they claim their winnings. If they choose to do so, they could still waive confidentiality. Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Tracie Davis, who is carrying the House twin of the bill (HB 159), said the $250,000 limit came at the recommendation of Florida Lottery Secretary John Davis.

House panel tops strawberry shortcake state dessert bill with whipped cream” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A measure naming strawberry shortcake the state dessert (HB 567) is ready to be served on the House Floor. Members of the House State Affairs Committee voted unanimously to approve the bill, prepared by Republican Rep. Lawrence McClure. While St. Johns Republican Rep. Cyndi Stevenson praised strawberry shortcake as “within most everybody’s culinary ability,” the committee added an extra step to the recipe. A change to the bill from Committee Chair Ralph Massullo specified “strawberry shortcake with natural Florida dairy topping” would be the state’s official post-dinner treat.

Florida GOP lawmakers vow to expand school choice at Capitol rally in Tallahassee” via Ana Goñi-Lessan of the Tallahassee Democrat — School choice advocates, most wearing yellow scarves stitched with the National School Choice Week logo, stood in the Capitol Courtyard Wednesday. On a stage in front of the old Capitol steps, children from Tallahassee’s Brownsville Preparatory Institute gestured and stomped while reciting the words of the poem “The Creation” by James Weldon Johnson. Republican lawmakers vowed to expand school choice for every child in Florida, regardless of socioeconomic status, at the rally. Lawmakers touted the success of last year’s Session when they changed the parameters for the Family Empowerment Scholarship.

Construction defect bill makes FJA, Disney unlikely allies — Legislation intended to keep disputes between homeowners and developers out of court has sparked fights between construction companies and some of the highest-profile special interest groups in the state, Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida reports. The fight stems from a provision in a Senate “construction defect” bill that would halve the time homeowners have to file a claim against a developer for major defects, such as foundation issues. The change is opposed by trial lawyers and major businesses such as Disney, which are almost exclusively on opposing sides of legislative fights. The House construction defect bill does not propose shortening the claims window.

Broward’s newest state Representative gets sworn in next week, allowing him to serve most of annual Legislative Session” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Rep.-elect Daryl Campbell was heading for Tallahassee on Wednesday and expects to be sworn into office next week. Campbell said he was told by House leaders that, following the certification, he’d be sworn in next week, when the full House will be in Session. Some Democrats had feared Republicans who controlled the House wouldn’t swear in the newly elected Democrat for two months, keeping his Broward district unrepresented for the entire Session. That happened with another Broward Democrat under a previous Republican House Speaker. Jenna Box Sarkissian, communications director for House Speaker Sprowls said last week that Campbell will be sworn in once certified. She didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday after the Canvassing Commission certified the results.

Daryl Campbell is ready to dive in with both feet. Image via Facebook.

Drinks and donations flow at Red Dog, Blue Dog fundraiser” via Roseanne Dunkelberger of Florida Politics — Although it’s only two weeks into the 2022 Session, there was a definite Sine Die vibe Tuesday night at the Township Bar for the seventh (almost) annual Red Dog, Blue Dog fundraising event. Sara Clements, one of the event organizers, was hoping the large crowd and increased sponsorship would double the nearly $10,000 take from 2020, the last time the event was held because of COVID-19 concerns. By the end of the evening, the 2022 event was on target to quintuple that number. Credit goes to Sen. Aaron Bean, a licensed professional auctioneer who suggested and offered his services to Red Dog, Blue Dog, as he has for other charitable events. Despite the worst system in the history of amplified sound, he was able to encourage participants to bid more than $35,000 for the chance to sit down and share a meal with Senators and Representatives.

Red Dog Blue Dog: A good time was had by all. Image via The Workmans.

— SKED —

Happening today — Florida Space Day to raise awareness and celebrate the state’s aerospace industry, promoting innovation and growing the economy, event begins at 7 a.m. Later, the Space Day Luncheon featuring Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, Kennedy Space Center Director Janet Petro, and Florida Space Day Chair Sen. Tom Wright, 11:30 a.m., Governors Club.

Happening today — Rural Counties Day featuring a Legislative Networking Reception, 8 a.m., Capitol Courtyard.

— The Senate convenes a floor Session, 2:30 p.m., Senate Chamber.

— House Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee, 8 a.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.

— Senate Finance & Tax Committee, 9 a.m., Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.

— Senate Rules Committee, 9 a.m., Room 412 of the Knott Building.

— House Infrastructure & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee, 9 a.m., Reed Hall of the House Office Building.

— House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee, 9 a.m., Morris Hall of the House Office Building.

— House Secondary Education & Career Development Subcommittee, 9 a.m., Room 212 Knott Building.

— Senate Appropriations Committee, 11:30 a.m., Room 412 of the Knott Building.

— House Finance & Facilities Subcommittee, 11:30 a.m., Morris Hall of the House Office Building.

— House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, 11:30 a.m., Reed Hall of the House Office Building.

— House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee, 11:30 a.m., Room 212 of the Knott Building.

— House Government Operations Subcommittee, 11:30 a.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.

— House Rules Committee, 2:30 p.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.

— House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, 4 p.m., Morris Hall of the House Office Building.

— House Public Integrity & Elections Committee, 4 p.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.

— The Revenue Estimating Conference meets to consider a tax-collection enforcement diversion program, 9 a.m., Room 117 of the Knott Building.

— The Revenue Estimating Conference meets to analyze monthly revenue, 9:30 a.m., Room 117 of the Knott Building.

Happening today — The Florida Supreme Court releases weekly opinions, 11 a.m.

—STATEWIDE —

DeSantis demurs on marijuana legalization but can’t stand the dank stank” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The “putrid” smell of marijuana is among the reasons DeSantis may remain opposed to legalization in Florida. DeSantis shied away from offering a definitive answer on the issue Wednesday when asked by the press at a campaign event in Tallahassee. He did, however, speak out against the smell of cannabis in public places. “What I don’t like about it is if you go to some of these places that have done it, the stench when you’re out there, I mean, it smells so putrid,” he told reporters. The Governor’s remarks come as Democratic gubernatorial contenders vow to legalize marijuana if elected to office. DeSantis, though, characterized those promises as dishonest. Such an effort requires the cooperation of the Legislature, he noted.

Ron DeSantis can’t stand that chronic stank. Image via AP.

Florida collected $45 million in Medicaid overpayments and criminal, civil penalties last year” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — Florida recovered more than $22 million in civil and criminal penalties stemming from Medicaid fraud and abuse in the Fiscal Year 2020-21. The state also clawed back $23 million in Medicaid overpayments to providers. The report was developed by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and the Office of the Attorney General, which work together to go after scammers trying to rip off the $34 billion health care program that provides services to the state’s poor, elderly and disabled. The AG’s office houses what’s called the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, which is charged with investigating and prosecuting Medicaid fraud and abuse cases. Meanwhile, Medicaid Program Integrity is housed at AHCA, as is the state’s Medicaid program.

Florida shock jock in Matt Gaetz circle pleads guilty” via Jose Pagliery and Roger Sollenberger of The Daily Beast — Joe Ellicott is the longtime best friend of corrupt Florida tax official Joel Greenberg, who was Gaetz’s wingman in the underage sex operation, according to several sources with direct knowledge of their relationship. Last year, The Daily Beast revealed that Ellicott knew intimate details about the teenage girl who was paid for sex by the group and actually texted what essentially amounted to a confession that they were scrambling to try and cover up details about their sex with a 17-year-old from the feds. Ellicott was particularly legally exposed through his involvement with Greenberg, who ran the small Central Florida tax agency like a fiefdom where he hired his friends for no-show jobs. That appears to be what took Ellicott down.

Conservative group trying to ban 16 books from Polk Schools, calling them pornographic” via Kimberly C. Moore of The Lakeland Ledger — Polk County Public Schools Regional Assistant Superintendent John Hill and several of his colleagues spent Tuesday morning going to area middle and high schools to gather 16 books out of media centers after County Citizens Defending Freedom, a conservative political group, complained to Superintendent Frederick Heid that the novels, graphic novels, autobiographies, and sex education books contain pornographic material harmful to children. Heid sent an email Monday evening to middle and high school principals and media center librarians, stating that a “stakeholder group” is alleging that the books may be in violation of Florida Statute 847.012, which deals with distributing obscene or harmful materials to children.

A surge at sea: Migrants seek entry to the U.S. aboard flimsy boats” via Frances Robles and Miriam Jordan of The New York Times — The maritime disaster that left rescuers still searching on Wednesday for 38 migrants lost at sea in the Florida Straits comes amid a surge in seaborne migration on both U.S. coasts as thousands of people board flimsy boats in a desperate attempt to reach the United States. Experts attributed the surge in sea smuggling to beefed-up land-border enforcement combined with shrinking opportunities in developing countries stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted a boat with 22 people onboard south of Key West. Image via Reuters.

The Indian River Lagoon has lost 89% of seagrass cover and restoring the waterway will cost $5B” via Daniel Figueroa of Florida Politics — Last year was the deadliest on record for Florida’s beloved manatees, with more than 1,000 dying. Most starved thanks to the disappearance of seagrass that lines coasts and estuaries providing nutrition for the aquatic mammals. Data shows those seagrass numbers are continuing to trend downward. “We’ve lost 58% of the acreage we had in 2009 and we’ve lost about 89% of the cover,” Chuck Jacoby of the St. Johns Water Management District said. Seagrass restoration is just one of the hefty challenges Florida faces as climate change, pollution, excess storm and wastewater runoff and coastal development erode the state’s waterways. A bill making its way through the Legislature this Session would actually make it easier for developers to destroy more seagrass with the promise that hypothetical mitigation funds would install new seagrass somewhere else.

Vickie Chachere succeeding Mark Howard as Florida Trend’s next Executive Editor” via Florida Trend — Florida Trend announced that Chachere will be its next Executive Editor. Chachere, who joined Florida Trend on Jan. 18, 2022, will be taking the reins from longtime Executive Editor Howard who will be retiring at the end of March after leading the publication’s editorial operations for nearly 26 years. Chachere joins Florida Trend from the University of South Florida where she has held numerous communications positions, most recently, Director of Strategic Communications for USF Research & Innovation.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

DeSantis calls removal of antibody treatments ‘rash decision’ by FDA” via Robert Pandolfino of WFLA — DeSantis continued to push for coronavirus patients to receive monoclonal antibody treatments that were pulled by the federal government after they were deemed ineffective against the omicron variant. DeSantis held a news conference at Miami Dade College’s North Campus Wednesday with Florida Department of Health Deputy Secretary Dr. Kenneth Scheppke and other medical experts to decry what he called a “rash decision” by the FDA. The FDA said it was revoking emergency authorization for Regeneron and Eli Lilly because they don’t work against the omicron variant that now accounts for nearly all U.S. infections. If the drugs prove effective against future variants, the FDA said it could reauthorize their use.

Ron DeSantis believes his medical opinion outweighs the FDA.

—“Jimmy Patronis blasts ‘heartless’ FDA decision to stop monoclonal therapy” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics

Will omicron end soon? Florida epidemiologist says endemic phase is near” via Marlei Martinez of WFLA — When it comes to pandemic trends, the proof is in the numbers. Florida’s latest COVID-19 status report shows improvement with the number of new cases plummeting last week compared to the week before. “We’re heading in the right direction,” said UCF epidemiologist Elena Cyrus. Cyrus added that Florida’s latest new case positivity rate of 26.8% is still significant. With omicron, Cyrus said the most notable consequence is the scale of the variant’s spread instead of its milder severity.

— CORONA LOCAL —

Ladapo won’t talk about why Orange health official Dr. Raul Pino was suspended” via Mark Skoneki of the Orlando Sentinel — Ladapo wouldn’t talk much Wednesday about why Pino has been suspended, but he did tell lawmakers the decision wasn’t because of politics. “I want to clarify that particular position was absolutely not placed on administrative leave for any reasons that were potentially political or related to anything other than the policies we have in the Department of Health,” Ladapo told a Senate committee considering his nomination for the job.

No one can give a straight answer to why Raul Pino was sidelined.

‘Grossly overcrowded’: Leon County jail nears capacity amid COVID-19 surge, inmates sent to neighboring counties” via Christopher Cann of the Tallahassee Democrat — The number of people detained inside the Leon County Detention Facility (LCDF) is so high, some have been transferred to neighboring jails in recent months to alleviate congestion, especially amid a surge of COVID-19 cases that’s caused a lockdown. As of late last week, there were 1,173 people in custody inside the detention facility, not counting those in other facilities who were already moved. Jefferson County has five juveniles and Wakulla County is holding 25 inmates for Leon County in their respective detention centers, as the Leon jail nears its maximum capacity of 1,200.

Breakthrough COVID-19 cases hit Jacksonville City Council members Michael Boylan, Matt Carlucci” via Beth Reese Cravey of The Florida Times-Union — Jacksonville City Council members Boylan and Carlucci became the latest council members to get the COVID-19 virus this month as both suffered breakthrough infections despite being vaccinated. Boylan learned Tuesday he had the virus and was quarantined at home. Carlucci went through a quarantine period after testing positive a couple of weeks ago and has resumed his duties at City Hall. Boylan said the test was prompted by him “feeling kind of weird.” He said he was vaccinated early last year and received a booster shot in November. “I would call it a moderate case. More than a bad cold,” he said. Boylan said he had a cough, body aches and congestion. Had he not been vaccinated, he feared his symptoms could have been worse.

Collier County manager announces retirement after his battle with COVID-19” via Rachel Heimann Mercader of the Naples Daily News — Battling COVID-19 and its aftereffects since September, Collier County Manager Mark Isackson announced his retirement after less than a year on the job. He plans to retire by July 1 to allow time for the Board of County Commissioners to figure out the best way to find the best candidates for the position. Isackson’s announcement comes on the heels of deputy manager Sean Callahan‘s departure from his government role. In his email to staff, Isackson said his ongoing struggle with post-COVID-19 conditions became the deciding factor for him to retire.

Sheriff’s office names new bloodhound ‘Miss Peggy’ after beloved employee who died from COVID-19” via Fresh Take Florida — A sheriff’s office in Florida’s Panhandle is naming its new bloodhound puppy “Miss Peggy” in a heartwarming tribute to a beloved, longtime office employee who died after battling COVID-19. Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford over the weekend asked for the blessing of the family of Margaret “Peggy” MacDonald. She worked as a staff assistant in Panama City for nearly 30 years under five sheriffs. She died in December 2020, less than two years away from retiring. Her daughter, Rachael Smith, 44, of Panama City Beach, loved the sheriff’s idea. Now MacDonald’s name and legacy will live on through a brown, floppy-eared bloodhound, now 13 weeks old. It will work at the county jail as a tracking dog. The training was expected to take another three months, and she will likely work for the sheriff’s office for at least seven years.

Rachael Smith, Peggy MacDonald’s oldest daughter, holds Miss Peggy, the newest canine recruit for the Bay County Sheriff’s Office. Image via Bay County Sheriff’s Office/Fresh Take Florida.

— 2022 —

Florida Police Chiefs Association endorses DeSantis” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — FPCA endorsed DeSantis’ re-election bid Wednesday at a campaign event in Tallahassee. The endorsement comes after a yearslong effort by DeSantis to appeal to Florida’s law enforcement community. “On behalf of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, we are honored to stand here today with Gov. DeSantis,” FPCA President and Daytona Beach Shores Public Safety Department Director Stephan Dembinsky said in a statement. ”From his commitment to safe communities and defending the rule of law, to his unwavering support for the profession of law enforcement through better pay and bonuses to help agencies recruit and retain the most capable, professional officers, Gov. DeSantis has always had our back. Now we have his.”

The blue backs Ron DeSantis. Image via Jason Delgado

Charlie Crist vows to fully fund Sadowski Fund, repeal cut” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Crist pledged to push for full funding of the Sadowski Fund for Affordable Housing and to seek repeal of the law passed last year that cuts the fund’s available bankroll in half. Crist spoke in Orlando alongside Chris King, a former Democratic Lieutenant Governor candidate who runs a housing company in Winter Park. Crist also pledged the creation of a statewide “housing czar” post to explore options to increase affordable housing. The announcement provided part two of Crist’s “Affordable Florida for All” Plan. He first began rolling out his housing proposals Tuesday in Miami, where he pledged to reform the Public Service Commission with the goal of lowering utility costs for residents. He’s planning to announce the third and final component Thursday in Tallahassee.

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 lap dog than a watchdog” while “wages and the rate of wage growth in Florida are well below the national average.”

Happening today — Crist will conclude a statewide tour announcing his Affordable Florida for All policy plan: Announcement of the final part of the plan, 9:30 a.m., Tallahassee; kitchen table conversation with local family on affordable internet access, 1 p.m., Quincy. RSVP to [email protected] for locations.

Senate candidate and former cop Val Demings says she dealt with danger ‘while Marco Rubio was home in his bed sleeping.’” via Anthony Man of the Orlando Sentinel —Demings, the former Orlando police chief whose law enforcement background is a centerpiece of her campaign for U.S. Senate, hit back hard at the man she’s trying to unseat, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. The Republican incumbent suggested Demings isn’t really a supporter of law enforcement, said she should know better than to support progressive Democratic polices, and depicted himself as a more reliable ally of police. She responded forcefully to Rubio after a Wednesday campaign appearance in Davie, dismissing him as a “lifelong politician” who is “desperate.”

Happening tonight:

In-person early voting begins for Naples City Council elections” via Karl Schneider of Naples Daily News — Naples began in-person early voting Wednesday for the Feb. 1 City Council election in which five candidates are running for three open seats. This is the first year since 2006 the city has held early in-person voting days. In 2006 only 20 city voters showed up to early voting sites, Collier Supervisor of Elections spokeswoman Trish Robertson wrote in an email. Nine voters were in line at the Norris Center across the street from City Hall before poll doors opened at 10 a.m. When city council elections fall on non-presidential voting years, voter turnout historically has fallen below a third of registered voters in the city.

— CORONA NATION —

Deaths months after COVID-19 point to pandemic’s grim aftermath” via Jason Gale of Bloomberg — COVID-19’s deadly effects manifest long after some patients leave the hospital. Hospitalized patients who survived at least a week after being discharged were more than twice as likely to die or be admitted again within months, scientists found. The COVID-19 survivors also had an almost five times greater risk of dying in the following 10 months than a sample taken from the general population. The findings add to evidence that the pandemic’s effects on health and well-being extend well beyond an initial infection. Compared with flu patients, those who had COVID-19 had a greater risk of hospital readmission or death resulting from their initial infection, from dementia, and more broadly from any cause.

COVID-19 may wane, but the deaths keep coming. Image via AP.

CDC study finds shorter hospital stays during omicron wave, even as infections and death toll mount” via Lena H. Sun of The Washington Post — Federal health officials reported Tuesday that the omicron variant caused less severe illness in hospitalized patients than earlier virus lineages, even though its explosive transmissibility has caused far more infections and led to more than 2,200 deaths a day on average, one of the highest tolls since early last year. Despite record infections and hospitalizations caused by omicron, the percentage of hospitalized patients with severe illness is lower compared with those in earlier pandemic waves. That lower disease severity is partly the result of immune protection from higher vaccination coverage among those 5 and older, booster use and previous infection, as well as the potential lower virulence of the virus itself. Other studies have suggested that the variant is less able to penetrate deep into the lungs.

Joe Biden administration’s rapid-test rollout doesn’t easily reach those who need it most” via Hannah Recht and Victoria Knight of KHN — In the past week, the Biden administration launched two programs that aim to get rapid covid tests into the hands of every American. But the design of both efforts disadvantages people who already face the greatest barriers to testing. From the limit placed on test orders to the languages available on websites, the programs stand to leave out many people who don’t speak English or don’t have internet access, as well as those who live in multifamily households. All these barriers are more common for non-White Americans, who have also been hit hardest by COVID-19. The White House told KHN it will address these problems but did not give specifics.

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 — 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 mutate constantly, mostly in harmless ways. There is no current evidence that BA. 2 is more virulent, spreads faster, or escapes immunity better than BA. 1. “Variants have come, variants have gone,” said Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane University School of Medicine. “I don’t think there’s any reason to think this one is a whole lot worse than the current version of omicron.”

— CORONA ECONOMICS —

CDC travel warning flags 5 Caribbean destinations as ‘very high’ risk for COVID-19” via Hannah Knowles of The Washington Post — In the Caribbean, the CDC urged people to “avoid travel” to Jamaica, Saint Barthelemy, the Dominican Republic, and two island territories of France: Guadeloupe and Saint Martin. The agency also issued its highest coronavirus warning for Peru, Colombia, Fiji, Kuwait, Mongolia, Niger, Romania and Tunisia. Monday’s alerts deal with some of the most popular beach destinations for Americans. According to federal travel data, more than 4.6 million U.S. citizens traveled to the Caribbean from January through September last year. That exceeds the number of U.S. visitors to any other overseas region, including all of Europe.

— MORE CORONA —

New research hints at 4 factors that may increase chances of long COVID-19” via Pam Belluck of The New York Times — It is one of many mysteries about long COVID-19: Who is more prone to developing it? Are some people more likely than others to experience physical, neurological, or cognitive symptoms that can emerge, or linger for, months after their coronavirus infections have cleared? A team of researchers who followed more than 200 patients for two to three months after their COVID-19 diagnoses report that they have identified biological factors that might help predict if a person will develop long COVID-19. The study found four factors that could be identified early in a person’s coronavirus infection that appeared to correlate with an increased risk of having lasting symptoms weeks later.

How Sesame Street is handling the pandemic” via Kate Cray of The Atlantic — Kids’ media have achieved a level of clarity and directness in their pandemic coverage that can be hard to find in outlets geared toward older audiences. Articles are straightforward because they have to be; it’s the only way kids will understand them. They’re also heavy on context, making few assumptions about what the audience already knows. Although the interviews tend to start with quite simple questions (one kid reporter at Time for Kids asked Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to explain the difference between himself and Anthony Fauci), they build to surprising levels of nuance. Time for Kids tackled the difference between the FDA’s and the CDC’s role in vaccine approval, for instance, while CNN and Sesame Street addressed the safety of having playdates with unvaccinated friends.

Sesame Street is doing its part to help with the stress of COVID-19. Image via Sesame Workshop/Zach Hyman.

Kids shouldn’t have to be ‘resilient’” via Mary Katharine Ham of The Atlantic — Children are the least at-risk population, but in many areas of the country they continue to face draconian mitigation policies — either in their name (low chance of serious COVID-19 complications doesn’t mean no chance) or in the name of protecting their elders. As David Leonhardt wrote in The New York Times, we’ve inflicted “more harm to children in exchange for less harm to adults.” You don’t have to be a psychologist to see something wrong with that exchange. In our focus on one threat, we’ve let a thousand others flourish. Most children are neither in grave danger nor do they pose a grave danger to others — especially now that vaccines are widely, freely available — but we routinely treat them as if they were.

Conservatives defend D.C. bar under investigation for violating vaccine rules” via Justin Wm. Moyer and William Wan of The Washington Post — The Big Board, a bar and restaurant in the District’s H Street corridor, received two $1,000 citations as well as written and verbal warnings for alleged unmasked employees and not checking customers’ vaccine status, according to a D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) list of citations posted Tuesday. As the Washingtonian first reported, conservatives have rallied to defend the Big Board. A crowdfunding campaign begun by Henry Rodgers, a reporter for the conservative Daily Caller, had raised nearly $13,000 for the bar by Tuesday afternoon. U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, who says he refuses to show a vaccine card to get restaurant service, also mentioned the Big Board on Fox News last week, decrying “bureaucrats” trying to “shut these places down.”

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Democrats have lost confidence that Biden can do what he promised — or much else” via Philip Bump of The Washington Post — Biden’s approval rating is at a remarkably low 41%. That’s in part because independents view him fairly negatively, as they have for a while. But it’s also because Democrats don’t love him as much as they used to. Biden has gone from 95% approval among Democrats last spring to 76% in January. Since September, the percentage of Democrats who say they strongly approve of the job he’s doing has fallen from 27 to 21%. The two biggest drops in confidence are on issues that he had repeatedly emphasized on the campaign trail and during his early days in office: managing the coronavirus pandemic and unifying the country.

Democrats continue to sour on Joe Biden. Image via AP.

Biden gets CEO support for economic agenda” via Josh Boak of The Associated Press — Biden on Wednesday secured the blessing of several business leaders on his economic agenda that has stalled in the Senate, part of an effort to restart some momentum for the nearly $2 trillion in spending and tax increases that he’s proposed. Biden met at the White House with top executives from General Motors, Ford, Microsoft, Etsy, Salesforce and other companies. The President emphasized the benefits from spending more on climate issues, manufacturing and child care. “A lot of folks refer to this as just social spending,” Biden said. “Well, I see it this way: The Build Back Better plan lowers prices for families and gets people working.” The President stressed the benefits of child care subsidies and universal prekindergarten when talking with Tom Linebarger, CEO of the engine-maker Cummins.

Biden picks 6 lawyers for U.S. prosecutor posts, diverse group” via Michael Balsamo of The Associated Press — Biden has nominated a diverse group of six lawyers to run U.S. attorney’s offices across the country, his latest picks for the top law enforcement positions. The nominees, announced by the White House on Wednesday, would run the federal prosecutors’ offices in Alaska, Connecticut, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Utah. They would include the first woman to serve as U.S. attorney in Utah and the first Black woman to serve as U.S. attorney in Connecticut. The Justice Department’s 93 U.S. attorneys, who are responsible for federal criminal prosecutions in their respective districts, are likely to be central to efforts to combat violent crime. Biden has now nominated 43 people to serve as U.S. attorneys, positions that have been filled for months by acting U.S. attorneys.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Justice Stephen Breyer to retire from Supreme Court, paving way for Biden appointment” via Pete Williams of NBC News — Justice Breyer will step down from the Supreme Court at the end of the current term, according to people familiar with his thinking. Breyer is one of the three remaining liberal justices, and his decision to retire after more than 27 years on the court allows Biden to appoint a successor who could serve for decades and, in the short-term, maintain the current 6-3 split between conservative and liberal justices. At 83, Breyer is the court’s oldest member. Liberal activists have urged him for months to retire while Democrats hold both the White House and the Senate. Biden promised on the campaign trail to nominate a Black woman to the court. In the wake of Breyer’s announcement, there was an outpouring of statements calling for him to follow through.

The race is on to find a replacement for Stephen Breyer.

Breyer’s retirement renews focus on the Black female jurists who could replace him” via Seung Min Kim and Ann E. Marimow of The Washington Post — The retirement of Breyer this year abruptly puts a renewed spotlight on a small circle of Black female jurists who are positioned to be chosen as Biden’s first pick to the Supreme Court, potentially marking a milestone in the country’s history. That shortlist, which could grow, is topped by Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was confirmed last year to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit as one of Biden’s first judicial nominees. Brown is a favorite of the Democrats’ liberal base, in part because of her history as a former public defender, an unusual background for a Supreme Court justice. Another strong candidate is Leondra Kruger, a California Supreme Court justice who has previously rebuffed offers from the White House to take a job in the administration.

—“A top Biden ally has a favored candidate to replace Breyer: Judge J. Michelle Childs.” via Michael S. Schmidt of The New York Times

—“How Republicans can block Stephen Breyer’s replacement” via Philip Elliott of Time magazine

New report finds 1 in 8 congressional staffers are not making a D.C. living wage” via Annie Grayer of CNN — One in eight congressional staffers in Washington, DC, are not paid a living wage, a new report from a nonprofit found. That’s nearly 1,200 staffers who cannot afford to live in the city that they work in based solely on their income from their job working in Congress. Issue One, a self-described cross-partisan group focused on political reform researched how junior congressional staffers are compensated and how that affects the talent pipeline on Capitol Hill. The report compares staff salaries in Congress to the living wage in Washington, DC, which according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is $42,610 for an adult with no children. The study finds that 70% of staff assistants, which is the most common entry-level job on Capitol Hill, earned less than a living wage in 2020.

— CRISIS —

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes pleads not guilty to seditious conspiracy in Jan. 6 attack on Capitol” via Spencer S. Hsu of The Washington Post — Rhodes and nine alleged co-conspirators with the extremist Oath Keepers group pleaded not guilty Tuesday to seditious conspiracy and other charges in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. An 11th defendant arrested with Rhodes on Jan. 13, Edward Vallejo, was not present during a court hearing in the case Tuesday and will be arraigned later. Rhodes and those charged with him are accused of plotting violence to prevent the confirmation of Biden’s election victory. Rhodes said he was communicating at the Capitol on Jan. 6 with members of his group, part of the far-right anti-government movement, in an effort to “keep them out of trouble.”

Stewart Rhodes pleaded not guilty. It didn’t help. Image via AP.

Rhodes ordered detained pending trial ” via Kevin Johnson and Bart Jansen of USA Today — Rhodes was charged with 10 other members of the paramilitary group in the alleged attempt to overthrow the government. “The weight of the evidence against Defendant is strong and reveals Defendant’s participation in a coordinated attack on government officials within the United States Capitol and that Defendant put in place and controlled armed groups to support and/or further escalate the planned attack,” Texas U.S. Magistrate Kimberly Priest Johnson wrote Wednesday. Prosecutors had argued that continuing detention was necessary because the former Army paratrooper represented a continuing danger to the public and a flight risk.

Man who wore ‘Camp Auschwitz’ sweatshirt during U.S. Capitol riot pleads guilty” via Hannah Rabinowitz of CNN — The man who was photographed inside the U.S. Capitol wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt on January 6, 2021, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor trespassing charge on Wednesday. Robert Packer, 57, could face up to six months in prison when he is sentenced in April. Prosecutors say that Packer traveled from Virginia to attend the pro-Trump rally on January 6. He entered the building despite seeing broken windows and the mob fighting police, according to the plea agreement read aloud during the hearing. And he was nearby when rioters broke House Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s office sign and when Ashli Babbitt was shot. Packer left the building after about 20 minutes.

— EPILOGUE TRUMP —

Federal prosecutors examine states that offered Donald Trump electoral votes in states Biden won in 2020” via Matt Zapotosky — Federal prosecutors are examining the decision by Republican electors in some states won by Biden in 2020 to send in signed statements purporting to affirm Trump as the victor of the election, a top Justice Department official said Tuesday. Their actions were criticized at the time as a political stunt meant to bolster Trump’s unfounded claims of election fraud. But they have drawn additional scrutiny in recent weeks, as the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol seeks to understand the origin of the Trump elector slates, and two Democratic attorneys general, in New Mexico and Michigan, have asked federal prosecutors to investigate whether the certifications could amount to a crime.

— LOCAL NOTES —

Exclusive — “Mold, radon in FSU building tied to eight cancer cases in faculty report” via Tristan Wood of Florida Politics — A new report compiled by four Florida State University faculty members detailed black mold and other health hazards in a university building. And eight people who worked on one of the building’s floors were diagnosed with cancer in the past 10 years. The report, which was obtained by Florida Politics from an anonymous university employee, was made by professors in FSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences and was sent to FSU President Richard McCullough on Jan. 21. Details in the report include complaints about air quality and “black specks” covering surfaces in the building dating back as far as the 2000s and continuing through this year. Included in the report was a Jan. 19 email from Health and Human Sciences Dean Michael Delp announcing the immediate cessation of teaching and research activities in the building until Feb. 1 pending further air testing.

The air that I breathe … may not be so good at the FSU College of Health and Human Sciences. Image via FSU.

Tallahassee local, state officials call out ‘predatory’ mobile home park owner” via Tristan Wood of Florida Politics — Local and state officials from Tallahassee are criticizing the actions of the new owner of a mobile home park in the city. Tallahassee City Commissioners Jeremy Matlow and Jack Porter and Leon County School Board Chair Darryl Jones held a news conference outside Florida Sun Estates Tuesday criticizing the rent increases, the failure of the owner to answer the residents and their contact requests, and other actions. Rep. Allison Tant has also spoken out against the owner’s actions. Florida Sun Estates, previously known as the Meadows, was purchased in August by Florida Sun Estates LLC. Since then, a gate that used to provide a safe pathway for students of Sabal Palm Elementary that lived on the property was blocked off by the owners, forcing the children to walk along a busy road to get home.

NextEra, would-be JEA buyer, says internal investigation finds no wrongdoing by company” via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union — The chief executive officer of NextEra said Tuesday the company has conducted a “thorough review” and concluded neither it nor its employees did anything wrong in connection with controversies Florida newspapers have uncovered in recent months that have ties to the utility giant. Speaking during the company’s quarterly earnings call, NextEra Chair and CEO Jim Robo said the company’s internal investigation included a review of financial records as well as personal emails and texts of employees. A statement from a spokesperson in response to follow-up questions referenced stories about a statewide “ghost candidate” controversy. That reporting showed spoiler candidates in three state Senate races in 2020 were propped up by money from dark-money groups in an effort to help Republicans control the chamber. Those groups were controlled by employees at a former consulting firm to Florida Power & Light, NextEra’s subsidiary.

Lawsuit claims Clay County Schools withheld information about child’s well-being” via Robert Grant of Action News Jax — A Clay County father said his rights as a parent were violated and now he’s taking the school district to court. The suit, filed by Child & Parental Rights Campaign, claims a school counselor held secret weekly meetings with an elementary student about a gender identity crisis for months without alerting the parents. “It is a serious mental health decision that school personnel are not qualified, not competent, and not authorized to make,” Vernadette Broyles, the organization’s president, said. “Parents must be involved in these important decisions.” The father, who we are not naming to protect the identity of the child, said he was alerted on Jan. 5 that his daughter attempted to commit suicide on campus.

Palm Beach County Clerk seeks to punish Post for pursuing Jeffrey Epstein records” via Jane Musgrave of The Palm Beach Post — Despite insisting he wants the public to know why serial molester Epstein escaped serious punishment 15 years ago, Palm Beach County Clerk of Courts Joe Abruzzo wants to punish The Palm Beach Post for trying to open secret records that could do just that. In a motion for sanctions filed last week, Abruzzo is asking Circuit Judge Donald Hafele to make The Post pay the Tampa law firm he hired to successfully fight the newspaper’s request to release transcripts of a 2006 grand jury hearing. While Abruzzo didn’t say how much he would be seeking, according to Abruzzo’s office, he used $32,794 in public money to pay attorney Shane Vogt’s law firm to fight The Post’s efforts to make the records public.

Winter Park Police Chief Michael Deal resigns after domestic violence charge, city says” via Lisa Maria Garza of the Orlando Sentinel — Deal resigned Wednesday, a week after he was arrested in Seminole County on a domestic violence charge. City Manager Randy Knight announced Deal’s resignation at Wednesday’s regular Commission meeting and said the city will immediately begin the hiring process for a new police chief. Division Chief Pam Marcum will continue to head the police department, which employs about 75 officers, until Deal’s replacement is named, Knight said. Three members of Deal’s family told Seminole County deputies that Deal battered one of them during an argument on Jan. 19 at their home in unincorporated Sanford.

Getting arrested was a bad deal for Michael Deal. Image via West Orange Times.

Marsy’s Law is meant to protect crime victims. So why is it being used to shield the name of a Boynton officer who chased a 13-year-old boy who died?” via Angie Dimechele of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — One month after a 13-year-old boy crashed his dirt bike and died while a police officer chased him, the public is left with a mystery: Who was the Boynton Beach Police officer? Boynton Beach Police have not released the officer’s name, saying the officer invoked his right to protect his name from the public under Marsy’s Law. The question of law enforcement officers who were acting in their official capacity invoking Marsy’s Law to shield their identities is one that has repeatedly surfaced since the amendment passed in 2018, and some experts have pointed out the ambiguities of the law that allow it to happen and say that it leaves room for what some consider a misuse of the law.

Skanska files appeal in Pensacola Bay Bridge case, which could again halt commuter cases” via Emma Kennedy of the Pensacola News Journal — Skanska has filed a federal court appeal aiming to overturn a local judge’s ruling that the company was negligent in its actions before Hurricane Sally, a move that could delay adjacent lawsuits filed by homeowners, commuters and businesses that are still suffering. When the storm hit in September 2020, 27 of 55 Skanska barges being used to construct the Pensacola Bay Bridge broke loose, causing significant damage to the bridge, as well as some shoreside property. U.S. District Judge Lacey Collier ruled in December that Skanska should have done more to prepare for the storm than to tie its barges to pilings in the Pensacola Bay and that its executives should have known based on weather reports that there was a chance the storm would directly impact Pensacola.

What’s next for ex-St. Petersburg City Council members Amy Foster and Darden Rice?” via Colleen Wright of the Tampa Bay Times — Foster and Rice may not be in public office anymore, but plan to remain in the public eye. Both former City Council members say they have found work, or expect to, that furthers the causes they championed on the council. They were forced to leave office due to term limits after serving two consecutive four-year terms. Foster, whom fellow City Council members pronounced their favorite when saying their goodbyes, focused on issues affecting vulnerable populations, particularly the homeless and housing affordability. Rice, known as a sharp and practical policy wonk, championed environmental causes.

— TOP OPINION —

What are Republicans for?” via Joseph Epstein of The Wall Street Journal — We all know what the Republicans are against, which includes the crime currently rampant on our big cities’ streets, the want of anything resembling order on our southern border, the mélange of progressive giveaway programs and more. But what is the party, what in general, are American conservatives actually for? The standard answer would include free enterprise, freedom from interference from big government … What, though, is the Republican, or conservative, message? In the mind of the general public, Republicans remain the party of the wealthy — the infamous 1%. That the bumptious billionaire Trump at the moment looks to be the party’s leader doesn’t help. Republicans, in this view, are anti-Democrat, little more, with no appealing positions of their own, no worldview, no philosophy beyond selfishness.

— OPINIONS —

PCR COVID-19 tests are not very useful. Focus on rapid antigen tests instead.” via Ezekiel Emanuel, David Michaels, Rick Bright and Luciana Borio for The Washington Post — For most of the pandemic, Americans have been told PCR testing is the gold standard. But in most situations, it is not. Ideally, coronavirus test results should guide actions related to isolation, travel, social interactions or even when to seek treatment options. PCR testing is less than useful to do any of these for two reasons. First, most PCR tests have a long lag between sample collection and test result. A result that takes longer than 18 hours is of little use for people trying to make decisions. Second, PCR tests can detect viral particles many days after infection, which might not indicate contagiousness. From an individual standpoint, there is no good reason to get a PCR test at this stage of a widespread pandemic.

Ladapo and his contrived evasiveness must go” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — He’s masterful at dodging questions, insulting the intelligence of Floridians and avoiding straight talk about the need to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Florida’s underqualified and overpaid public health officer faced a panel of Senators Wednesday in the first of several steps in his expected confirmation as surgeon general. But he never even mentioned COVID-19 or the more than 64,000 Floridians who have died from it, perpetuating the reckless strategy of denial executed daily by his boss, DeSantis. Ladapo was asked that question five times by Senate Democratic Leader Book. Ladapo did not express regret for refusing to wear a mask while visiting the Capitol office of Sen. Polsky. He would not give a straight answer as to why Dr. Pino was recently placed on administrative leave as Orange County’s health director.

If praying the gay away was bad, Florida Republicans’ new bigoted proposal is much worse” via the Miami Herald editorial board — Florida lawmakers are trying to push what’s been dubbed the “Don’t say gay” bill during this year’s Legislative Session, with zero regard for the emotional harm it will do to LGBTQ students, who are already more likely to commit suicide. The bill, among other things, “prohibits a school district from encouraging classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” It’s yet another fight in the GOP’s culture wars, lawmakers also want to ban lectures about race, sexism and homophobia that, they swear, make men and White and straight people feel “anguish” or “guilty.” Harding also promised with a straight face that the bill wouldn’t prevent the teaching of LGBTQ history, such as the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando that killed 49 people.

Here’s how the bad idea of the ‘business damages’ bill would harm Florida taxpayers” via Leslie Waters of the Tampa Bay Times — The Legislature is considering a bill that it hopes will create a more business-friendly environment in the state. Unfortunately, lawmakers’ misguided efforts will end up swamping municipalities with lawsuits. And as a result, it will have a disastrous impact on the taxpayers of smaller cities like Seminole. The “business damages” legislation, SB 620/HB 569, would, in effect, create a new tort in the state, allowing businesses to sue municipalities that may harm their profitability in any way. A tort is costly and creates a bad business climate for one simple reason, filing lawsuits is cheap and defending against them is costly. This sets up an incentive for unscrupulous actors to file as many claims as possible, fishing for quick settlements.

Staffing shortages at shelters could hurt at-risk youth” via Stacy Gromatski for Florida Politics — We are fortunate in Florida that the state Legislature funds a statewide network of youth shelters as a part of the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services. These programs serve about 15,000 children and families in crisis each year. Most of these children in crisis are ready to run away or engage in other risky behavior. Some are abused and neglected. Most have behavioral or mental health problems. Many are homeless. The Department of Juvenile Justice funds these programs as prevention for juvenile delinquency. This year, they have had to limit services due to staffing shortages. For these programs to stay whole we need an increase in funding to support an increase in wages. We commend DeSantis for including pay increases to shelter staff in his budget recommendations.

Florida’s rooftop solar industry creates jobs. Let’s keep them.” via George Riley for Florida Politics — The rooftop solar industry alone supports more than 40,000 jobs across the state. From installers and manufacturers to engineers and electricians, the solar industry is quite literally supercharging our economy — and those are careers that can’t be outsourced. That’s why it would be counterproductive to enact policies that would wipe out thousands of those solar jobs. Unfortunately, one current proposal would do just that by undermining Florida’s existing net metering laws and making it harder for families to choose solar to meet their energy needs. Regardless of why each family or business owner chooses to embrace solar, the key is that they have the choice. By eliminating net metering, the state would take that choice away from more than 90% of Floridians.

Florida to sports teams: Sing anthem if you want tax dollars. Me: Stop giving them tax dollars!” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — In their latest war on problems that don’t exist, Florida Republicans want to force pro sports teams, which already play the national anthem before games, to continue playing the anthem if they want to keep getting taxpayer subsidies for their arenas and stadiums. There’s still no good reason for taxpayers to subsidize the profit margins of these private businesses. The Legislature’s own analysts have said it’s a sorry waste of tax dollars with a negative return on investment. Lawmakers can’t find the money to properly pay teachers or address the 10-year-waiting list for children with disabilities.

—TODAY’S SUNRISE —

A mic drop from Democrats at the first confirmation hearing for Surgeon General Ladapo. After asking for yes-or-no answers to their questions, and getting nothing close to that, they walked out of the Senate Health Policy committee meeting … leaving the remaining Republicans to vote in favor of confirmation.

Also on today’s Sunrise:

— The Surgeon General tells the news media — post-confirmation — that he answered all questions accurately.

— Equality Florida talks with Sunrise about legislation moving through the Session they claim is part of a surveillance state push.

— And DeSantis says he thinks marijuana stinks. No, really, he says he finds the smell “putrid.”

To listen, click on the image below:

 

— ALOE —

A ‘The Batman’ controversy unsettles a portion of fandom” via Richard Newby of The Hollywood Reporter — “Remember we never kill with weapons of any kind!” Those words, uttered by the Caped Crusader to his partner, Robin, in Batman No. 4 (1940) marked the debut of Batman’s “no-kill rule,” an aspect of the hero that has become almost as fundamental a character trait as his cape and cowl … in the comics at least. The film adaptations, on the other hand, have played fast and loose with that rule, with it sometimes existing as a suggestion, other times a matter of semantics, and occasionally, not existing at all. Robert Pattinson said, “there is this rule with Batman: he must not kill.” Early reports from test screenings claim that this is a rule Pattinson’s Batman sticks to in the film and is highlighted by a specific plot point.

Batman sticks to the ‘don’t kill’ rule. Image via Warner Brothers.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Celebrating today is our dear friend Laura Boehmer of The Southern Group as well as smart guy Doug Bell of Metz Husband & Daughton, Bryan Eastman, Cory Guzzo of Floridian Partners, and Deno Hicks.

___

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.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
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St. Petersburg, Florida 33704




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