Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.28.22

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Good morning. ‘Sunburn’ has been waiting for you.

Good Friday morning.

Newspaper industry veteran Skip Foster has launched a new venture.

Hammerhead Communications, a name inspired by the eye-catching headlines found above the front-page fold of a newspaper, is a public relations and crisis communications show that will integrate other pursuits, such as lobbying and advocacy.

As the former publisher for the Tallahassee Democrat, Foster’s connections to media outlets throughout the state will provide his clients with a unique advantage, allowing him to best shape messages in a way that benefits his clients and helps achieve their ultimate goals.

Skip Foster’s Rolodex will be the heart of his new venture. Image via Tallahassee Democrat.

“It’s been three decades since I first got my start in this industry, and I’ve learned a lot along the way about how to best leverage an organization’s message to the media,” Foster said. “My team is ready to help anyone facing challenges with communicating to external and internal audiences, and we look forward to providing targeted help and fresh ideas to those looking for a unique communications strategy.”

At the Democrat, Foster presided over a newsroom that won an array of awards for statewide and national coverage. He also led the paper’s digital marketing team to Top-5 performance in all of Gannett for digital ad growth and earned Gannett’s annual company-wide leadership award in 2017.

Foster has also chaired the board of the United Way of the Big Bend, won multiple awards for his United Way service in Shelby, North Carolina, and served on the boards of the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Press Association and the First Amendment Foundation, among others.

Hammerhead is already serving clients in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. The firm will be announcing new hires in the coming days and is located at 106 E. Jefferson St. overlooking the Capitol building.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@GeoffRBennett: (Joe) Biden: “The person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity. And that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court. It’s long overdue in my opinion.”

@PoliticalElle: The President has stated he’s limiting selection for SCOTUS to 2% of the lawyer pool. Ilya Shapiro is getting lambasted for pointing out that this truncating of the pool makes it statistically and highly improbable that the best candidate can be selected. But hysteria > logic.

@DaveWeigel: The three judges at the center of Biden pick speculation ([Ketanji] Brown-Jackson, [Leondra] Kruger, [J. Michelle] Childs) all have more time on the bench than Coney Barrett did when she was nominated in 2020, and her experience wasn’t an issue, so unclear where this talking point is supposed to lead.

@AGAshleyMoody: In TX, headed to the border to meet w/LEOs about the uncontrolled flow of unvetted illegal immigrants into our nation. It’s becoming crystal clear, in addition to facilitating open borders, @JoeBiden is now using taxpayer money to implement mass organized illegal immigration.

@ChristinaPushaw: Evangeline Lilly is right. Everyone deserves the ability to make an informed choice — free of force, coercion or manipulation — about what goes into their body. This should not be controversial.

@MiddleAgeRiot: Why boycott Kid Rock‘s music for political reasons when you can boycott it for musical ones?

@JeopardAmy: Going into my first taping, one of the things I told myself was “Just be yourself, and then whatever happens as a result, you’ll be OK with it.” I’m so glad that seems to have come across for everyone!

Tweet, tweet:

— DAYS UNTIL —

XXIV Olympic Winter Games begins — 7; Super Bowl LVI — 16; Will Smith’s ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ reboot premieres — 16; Discover Boating Miami International Boat Show begins — 19; season four of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ begins — 19; Spring Training report dates begin — 20; Synapse Florida tech summit begins — 20; ‘The Walking Dead’ final season part two begins — 23; Daytona 500 — 23; Special Election for Jacksonville City Council At-Large Group 3 — 26; Suits For Session — 26; CPAC begins — 27; St. Pete Grand Prix — 28; Biden to give State of the Union — 32; ‘The Batman’ premieres — 35; the third season of ‘Atlanta’ begins — 54; season two of ‘Bridgerton’ begins — 56; The Oscars — 58; Macbeth with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga begin performances on Broadway — 60; Grammys rescheduled in Las Vegas — 65; federal student loan payments will resume — 93; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 98; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 119; ‘Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 125; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 162; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 175; Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner novel ‘Heat 2’ publishes — 193; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 217; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 252; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 287; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 290; ‘Avatar 2′ premieres — 322; ‘Captain Marvel 2′ premieres — 385; ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ premieres — 420; ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 546; ‘Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 630; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 910.

—TOP STORY —

With 2.7 million residents covered, Florida leads nation in 2022 ‘Obamacare’ enrollment” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — Florida once again led the nation in the number of residents who signed up for individual health insurance coverage during the 2022 open enrollment period. Data shows 2,723,094 Florida residents signed up for, or were re-enrolled in, health insurance through the federal health exchange for 2022. Nationally, about 14.5 million Americans signed up for individual health insurance policies during the open enrollment period, which ran from Nov. 1 through Jan. 15. Data shows that 2.98 million people were new customers. About 10.3 million people in 33 states, including Florida, used the federal exchange to secure coverage. Another 4.2 million people in 17 states used state-developed exchanges to secure individual health insurance coverage.

The Affordable Care Act continues to be popular in Florida.

— DATELINE TALLY —

Wilton Simpson pokes Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo over manners, promises Senate will vote on confirmation” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — Senate President Simpson sarcastically criticized the “manners” of Ladapo, but his comments suggested Republicans are unlikely to vote against his confirmation. Senate Democrats a day earlier walked out of Ladapo’s first confirmation hearing after the Harvard-trained doctor refused to directly answer a long line of questions, including whether or not vaccines are effective at stopping COVID-19. “You know, he went to Harvard, not the University of Florida,” Simpson said. “And had he went to the University of Florida; he probably would have had better manners. But since he didn’t, we give him a pass.” Simpson last fall criticized Ladapo as “unprofessional” after he refused to wear a mask during a meeting with Sen. Tina Polsky.

Joseph Ladapo needs a lesson in manners, says Wilton Simpson.

Businesses gain power to fight local governments under measures passed by Senate” via John Kennedy of USA Today Network — Businesses could more easily sue local governments, which also would be forced to put price tags on proposed ordinances, under measures approved Thursday by the Senate. Opponents, however, ridiculed them as a power grab. “It’s a devastating one-two punch to our local governments,” said Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer. Sen. Travis Hutson, the sponsor of the measures (SB 620, 280), defended the approach, saying that fortifying a company’s defense against local government regulations was important. But Hutson acknowledged he also has worked with representatives of Florida cities and counties to ease many of their concerns: “We have plenty of safeguards in there.” The lawsuit measure cleared the Senate on a 22-14 vote Thursday; the financial impact statement legislation was approved 28-8.

Florida immigration debate renews with bill that targets companies transporting migrants” via Syra Ortiz-Blanes and Ana Ceballos of the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times — Republicans in a Senate committee Monday pushed through a bill that would bar the state from doing business with companies that transport undocumented migrants into the state, giving a nod to a controversial but key part of DeSantis’ election-year agenda. The measure, approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote, would also expand the scope of a 2019 law that barred so-called sanctuary cities in the state, less than four months after a federal judge in Miami deemed portions of the law unconstitutional and tinged with “discriminatory motives.” It would also mandate Florida sheriffs to enroll in a partnership with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that trains and authorizes county-level officers to perform limited functions of federal immigration authorities.

Union dues bill returns to the House, renewing ‘union-busting’ accusations” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Legislation asking public employees to opt in to unions, which some critics call a “union-busting” measure, is back this Session and moving through the committee process. The bills (SB 1458, HB 1197) would require public employees to sign a member authorization form to join a union. Unions also couldn’t deduct union dues from their members’ salaries. Union members would have to attest the decision to join was voluntary and that they know they have the right to not join a union. Unions also couldn’t ask members to state a reason why they file to leave a union. Rep. Scott Plakon, who has repeatedly backed union reform bills, told the committee the effort was to modernize the state’s laws around unions and union dues. “If it sounds like a union-busting bill, if it acts like a union-busting bill, and if it union busts like a union-busting bill, it’s a union-busting bill,” said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith.

Is Scott Plakon a union-buster?

Industry-pushed bill helps big firms win tax auctions, potentially squeezes homeowners” via Skyler Swisher and David Lyons of the Orlando Sentinel — A bill moving through the Legislature would give financial heavyweights an edge in online government auctions at the expense of smaller investors. Tax collectors say the changes would reinstate a cartel for a little-known $1 billion market in Florida, letting a handful of large investors dominate the market and drive up costs for homeowners who fall behind on their taxes. The bill is aimed at the buying and selling of tax-lien certificates at auctions, which turn unpaid taxes into profits for investors who agree to settle the debt in exchange for interest from the property owner.

‘A recipe for corruption’: Professors slam presidential search exemption bill at final Senate committee” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Professors from Florida universities and colleges rallied at Thursday’s Senate Rules Committee, speaking against legislation that would provide a public records exemption on information about applicants seeking a state higher ed presidential position. But despite public protest from statewide faculty members, the measure (SB 520) cleared its final committee in a 12-5 party-line vote. It can now head to the Senate floor. Sen. Jeff Brandes is the sponsor of the bill, which would create a public records exemption applicable to the pool of public university and college presidential applicants. Information on selected finalists would be made available, however. Critics of the bill argue it will reduce transparency and the exemption violates Florida’s Sunshine Law.

Senate votes to protect churches from emergency lockdowns” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The Senate has passed legislation making churches among the last to close during a state of emergency. Senators approved the bill (SB 254), a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s ensuing response, by a 31-3 vote Thursday. Unlike on the House side, where the bill garnered opposition from most Democrats who have seen the legislation (HB 215) in the committee process, only three Democrats, Sens. Lori Berman, Polsky and Bobby Powell, voted against the bill. However, Democrats did prod the bill sponsor, Sen. Jason Brodeur, asking what constraints the bill places on state and local government emergency orders. Houses of worship would close if a lockdown order shuttered all entities.

—TALLY 2 —

Amid Session, Webster Barnaby out with undisclosed illness” via Gray Rohrer of Florida Politics — Because of an undisclosed illness, Rep. Barnaby has been absent from committee meetings since the start of the Legislative Session and is likely to miss meetings until at least Feb. 7. In a letter dated Jan. 17 to House Commerce Committee Chair Blaise Ingoglia, Barnaby requested to be excused from all committee meetings until Feb. 7 “due to medical reasons.” Some lawmakers have been absent in the early days of Session, which began Jan. 11, due to positive COVID-19 tests. But Barnaby has been out longer than his colleagues, who have since returned.

What’s wrong with Webster Barnaby? It’s a mystery.

‘Free kill’ bill OK’d by House subcommittee, Senate panel to consider issue next week” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — A House panel moved a bill that would allow, for the first time in 30 years, the parents of single, childless adult children to recover noneconomic damages in medical malpractice claims. Sponsored by Rep. Spencer Roach, HB 6011 cleared the House Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee by a 13-5 vote and over the objections of Florida’s medical community and insurance industry. House documents show 103 lobbyists have registered on the bill. Douglas R. Murphy Jr., president of the Florida Medical Association, said the bill would make wrongful death cases more attractive for trial attorneys but would not hold physicians accountable for negligence.

Senate passes telehealth bill that allows providers to use telephones to deliver care” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — A bill that updates Florida’s telehealth laws to allow the use of telephones cleared the Senate unanimously Thursday. Sponsored by Senate Health Policy Committee Chair Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., the measure (SB 312) strikes the prohibition in current law that bans the use of “audio-only” devices for telehealth. Moreover, the bill also would allow physicians to renew prescriptions for Schedule III, IV or V controlled substances via telehealth, which cannot be done under Florida’s current telehealth statutes. After years of debate, the Legislature in 2019 approved the use of telehealth for Florida-licensed physicians, practitioners licensed under a multi-state health care licensure compact of which Florida is a member, and out-of-state health care providers who register with the state.

Cryptocurrency dip doesn’t dampen Ron DeSantis’ push to embrace digital money” via Gray Rohrer of Florida Politics — A recent dip in cryptocurrency prices and their overall volatility haven’t led DeSantis to rethink his support for a pilot program to allow Florida businesses to pay state fees in crypto. “We always want Florida to be ahead of the curve, and we see the potential for cryptocurrency adoption, so it makes sense to offer the option to pay state fees in cryptocurrency — regardless of how much it fluctuates in an arbitrary time period,” DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw stated. In his budget recommendations to lawmakers, DeSantis requested $200,000 for the Department of Financial Services to allow businesses to use cryptocurrency for state fees.

House panel OKs watered-down ‘Miya’s Law,’ but supporters remain optimistic” via Skyler Swisher of the Orlando Sentinel — A House committee Thursday advanced a stripped-down version of a bill designed to make apartment complexes safer following the murder of Orlando college student Miya Marcano, deleting parts of a measure that her family thinks would help avoid a similar tragedy in the future. Even though legislators removed a requirement that landlords conduct a national background check on apartment employees, supporters are optimistic they will get that part restored. Rep. Bob Rommel, who chairs the Regulatory Reform Subcommittee, didn’t explain why the committee staff altered the bill. He would not take questions after the meeting. 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.

Bob Rommel would not explain why Miya’s Law is being diluted.

Pro-charter school bills advance through Legislature — Lawmakers are advancing a set of bills that would benefit charter schools, though detractors say they could undermine school district leaders. As reported by Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida, the measures include a bill that would create a statewide panel to consider charter school contracts which would allow prospective charter schools to bypass school board approval. Republican Rep. Alex Rizo, the sponsor of HB 865, said school districts could still “still revoke the charter if anything goes awry.” … “What this does is solidify that there must be good cause for it. In other words, it cannot be revoked because of say, politics or capriciousness.” The Charter School Review Commission created by the bill would be filled by Education Commissioner appointees. It would be imbued with the same authority to review charter schools as local school boards.

—MORE TALLY —

Student activists disrupt Florida 15-week abortion ban hearing” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — Activists with Students for a Democratic Society disrupted a Florida House committee meeting Thursday while lawmakers took up a controversial bill banning abortions after 15 weeks. After about a half-hour of public testimony, Rep. Bryan Ávila, chair of the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, said he would have to cut public feedback short in the interest of time. Chaos ensued. Students from around Florida, many of whom had already testified against the bill, were outraged. They began chanting, “Let her speak!” drowning Ávila out. With the committee unable to continue its business, the meeting was briefly paused while law enforcement escorted the students from the room. The students left without incident, chanting “All power to the people!” and “The people united will never be defeated!”

Bill on soil and water districts now would let only farmers, ranchers sit on boards” via Jeffrey Schweers of USA Today Network — Hutson wants to bring the focus of the state’s soil and water conservation districts back to agriculture, which would bring them back in line with their original intent when they were created by the Florida Legislature in 1937. But opponents of his bill (SB 1078), including current supervisors of those conservation districts, want him to realize that the districts and the state of Florida have radically changed since those Dust Bowl days and preserve the diversity of those boards. Hutson is pushing an amended measure that originally would have abolished them altogether but now creates a plan to reconfigure them into single-member districts and only let farmers and ranchers run for those seats.

Travis Hutson wants only farmers to sit on soil and water district boards.

Local tax referendum ballot bill advances, with timing solution expected” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A Senate panel has advanced legislation tying local tax referendums to General Election ballots, but at least one more change to the bill is expected. The goal of the measure (SB 1194) is to ask for voter input when turnout is highest, rather than during primary, local or special elections. Costs also would be contained within one election, Sen. Jim Boyd, the bill’s sponsor, told senators Thursday. The affected taxes include things like tourist development taxes, tourist impact taxes, children’s services independent special district taxes and school district millages. Senators on the Finance and Tax Committee voted unanimously to advance the bill.

Vacation rental preemption bill clears first House committee” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — A House bill representing the annual attempt to regulate vacation rental homes at the state level and preempt local controls cleared its first committee of the 2022 Legislative Session Thursday. The bill (HB 325) from Rep. Jason Fischer got through the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee on a 10-6 vote Thursday. The discussion and debate showed how the idea continues to draw strong opinions over whether local control of the burgeoning vacation rental home business is imperative or potentially overdone. Thursday’s hearing also showed continued legislative progress toward satisfying concerns, or at least closing gaps, with new language and amendments.

Bill to broaden cross-county burglary penalties clears final Senate committee” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — A bill that would expand law enforcement’s ability to bolster charges against criminals who cross county lines to commit a burglary cleared its final committee stop Thursday. State law currently allows authorities to enhance burglary charges if the offender crossed county lines to commit the crime. The same law, however, also requires authorities to prove a burglar moved across county lines to thwart law enforcement and counter property recovery efforts. Authorities would no longer need to prove motive as a prerequisite under the proposed measure. Sen. Gayle Harrell is the bill sponsor. Harrell suggested the motive to cross county lines is always to avoid detection. The Senate Rules Committee OK’d the bill (SB 360) in an 11-6 vote without questions or debate. The bill now awaits the full Senate’s consideration.

Republicans may prevent Broward’s new Democratic lawmaker from participating in annual Legislative Session after all” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Republicans who control most of state government aren’t prepared to let Broward’s newly elected Democratic Rep. Daryl Campbell take office during the current Legislative Session. Campbell’s Jan. 11 election was certified Tuesday by the state Elections Canvassing Commission. But Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee won’t send a letter to the House of Representatives declaring Campbell as the winner until at least March 8. The annual 60-day Legislative Session, which began Jan. 11 — coincidentally the same day as the Special Primary — ends March 11. If the letter from Lee goes to the House immediately, Campbell would at best be able to cast votes only during the last few days of 2022 lawmaking.

Paperwork issues: Daryl Campbell may not be voting in the 2022 Session after all. Image via Facebook.

“’A mystery wrapped in an enigma’: How Florida hospitals won (again),” via Alexandra Glorioso of Barred Owl Press — People sometimes ask me why I beat up so much on hospitals. It’s because they get everything they want, and more, from lawmakers. And then they complain they didn’t get enough. Look no further than the most recent Florida legislative session as an example: 1. Hospitals succeeded in largely prohibiting patients from suing them for COVID-19-related medical malpractice. 2. They successfully lobbied to repeal a new law that hadn’t even gone into effect yet that would have required them to report to the state their tax-deductible community benefits. 3. They preserved $300 million in Medicaid money, and they managed to increase payments to Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa by at least $10 million annually. Read more for your annual Florida legislative health roundup, this time from the patient’s perspective.

— SKED —

— The Senate is scheduled for a floor Session, 10 a.m., Senate Chamber.

— The Revenue Estimating Conference meets to discuss legislation costs, 9 a.m., Room 117 of the Knott Building.

— STATEWIDE —

Arctic chill to bring 30s for first time in 11 years to Miami” via Chris Oberholtz of Fox Weather — Floridians living in Miami will be grabbing the blankets this weekend, as the coldest temperatures in over 11 years arrive Sunday morning. The chill will sure be felt with a low bottoming out to 38 degrees. The last time temperatures dropped below 40 degrees in Miami was on Dec. 28, 2010. A 1966 record in Lakeland could be broken Sunday morning when temperatures reach a low of 27 degrees. Orlando, Fort Myers and Fort Lauderdale could also see record cold. Temperatures on Saturday are forecast to not get out of the 50s over most of the area, and even southern areas around Miami may struggle to reach 60 degrees under clearing skies and gusty northwesterly winds.

Baby, it’s cold outside (at least this weekend). Image via WFTV.

Responding to dark money controversy, NextEra did internal investigation into FPL” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — Recent revelations about Florida Power & Light’s involvement in a dark money scheme to siphon votes away from Senate Democratic candidates prompted its parent company to conduct an internal investigation, NextEra announced at an earnings call on Tuesday. NextEra Energy CEO James Robo responded to a question from a Banc of America Securities analyst and said the company had FPL CEO Eric Silagy turn over emails and text messages and concluded there was “no evidence … of illegality or wrongdoing on the part of FPL or any of its employees.” Internal documents show that Silagy used a pseudonym email “Theodore Hayes” to communicate with consultant Jeff Pitts, who controlled Grow United, with the memos noting that one goal was to “minimize all public reporting of entities and activities.”

Exclusive — “Dep’t of Education employee spent $90,000 in grant money for ‘personal benefit’” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — According to a report completed in December by DOE Inspector General Mike Blackburn, the employee — former program specialist Justin Feller — spent grant funds intended to support a statewide computer science training program to enrich himself and others. Feller was a member of the Department’s Innovation & Implementation (I & I) Team, a four-person team that provides tech training to students and helps educators prepare for computer science certifications. Using grant dollars that went unspent while the team was hosting remote training amid the pandemic, Feller bought items such as MacBooks, iPads, a laser engraver, Visa gift cards, a DSLR camera, and an Apple Pencil, among other things. The online training programs cost the team significantly less than the in-person training courses, resulting in a surplus of funds.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida has largest increase in deaths since Nov. 4; Orange falls below 30% positivity rate” via David Schutz of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida reported 27,533 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday and increased its death toll by 628, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows. The large number of newly reported deaths, which occurred over the past several days, pushed the seven-day average for deaths to its highest level since the end of October. The seven-day average for new cases fell below 30,000 for the first time since Christmas weekend, the CDC data shows. On Wednesday there were 10,275 patients in Florida hospitals with COVID-19, the smallest number since the first week of January, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. There were 1,463 adult patients in intensive care units, a number that’s fallen for the nine consecutive days.

Florida closes monoclonal antibody sites following Biden administration decision” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — The FDA on Monday essentially barred health care providers from using two monoclonal antibody therapies that have been central to Florida’s effort to fight COVID-19 — but that experts say have not been effective against the omicron variant. As a result, the federal government said it would not send more of those monoclonal therapies, which are manufactured by Regeneron and Eli Lilly, to the 50 states or territories this week. Florida officials were not happy. The state’s Department of Health announced it would shut down state-run monoclonal antibody sites “until further notice” as a result of the federal government’s decision, while DeSantis and others sent letters and statements condemning the decision.

Closed for business. Thanks, omicron.

Schools sow ‘confusion and chaos’ by stopping COVID-19 calls home, teens say” via Jeffrey S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — A group of Pasco County teens doesn’t like the school district’s approach to informing families about coronavirus cases at their schools. The system, which no longer includes phone call alerts about potential exposures to the virus, is “critically insufficient,” Sunlake High senior Emma Cohen told the School Board on Tuesday. Cohen, joined by students from two other county high schools, urged the board to resume daily calls to advise families when someone in their class or school reported a positive case. The district stopped that practice in the fall, instead referring people to its online dashboard to find out about the latest COVID-19 data in their schools. Last week’s count of nearly 7,100 cases in area public schools was the highest since the pandemic started. The Pasco teens said the lack of information about absent classmates fuels anxiety about their own health and safety.

— CORONA LOCAL —

Omicron surge declining in Jacksonville and state; what’s next is ‘tough to predict’” via Beth Reese Cravey of The Florida Times-Union — Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of Florida cases is once again declining after a surge. Statewide there were 289,204 new cases from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20, down from the apparent peak of 430,095 new cases the week of Jan. 7, according to the Florida Department of Health. Omicron did not generate as many hospitalizations or deaths as the typically more serious delta variant did last summer. But vigilance — with vaccinations leading the way — is still necessary because other variants may be on the horizon, hospital officials said. About 65% of the eligible Florida population — age 5 and up — is fully vaccinated, compared to almost 64% nationwide. About 63% of Duval County’s eligible population is fully vaccinated.

Omicron may have peaked in Jacksonville, but anything can happen. Image via AP.

—2022 —

The midterms could be a bloodbath for Democrats. And there may be little that candidates can do about it.” via Henry Olsen of The Washington Post — Democrats are right to be concerned that the upcoming midterm elections could be a disaster. A close look at the data from the 2021 elections in Virginia and New Jersey suggests it could become a bloodbath and there’s likely little individual candidates can do to avoid it. President Biden carried both states by large margins in 2020. Biden won the 2020 popular vote by 4.5 percentage points, but on Election Day 2021, his net job approval rating average was negative 8 points, a 12.5-point swing in about a year. Identical patterns arose in both states’ lower house races as well. Democrats lost every seat in those chambers that Biden carried by less than 11.75%.

Joe Biden leading Donald Trump, DeSantis by similar margins in new poll” via Mychael Schnell of The Hill — Biden is leading Trump and DeSantis in two hypothetical, head-to-head matchups for the 2024 presidential election, according to a new poll. The survey found that 43% of adults nationwide would support Biden if the 2024 presidential election were held today, while 33% would vote for Trump in a one-on-one matchup. Sixteen percent said they would choose a different candidate, while 6% said they would not vote. In a hypothetical race against DeSantis, however, Biden polls slightly worse: 41% of adults nationwide said they would throw their support behind Biden, while 33% would support DeSantis.

Joe Biden leads Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis by about the same numbers.

Florida group seeking to expand casino gambling is being investigated for fraud. How is NWFL involved?” via Tom McLaughlin of Northwest Florida Daily News — In Northwest Florida, the First Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office has received, or is soon to receive, what have been identified as likely falsified petitions from three of the four counties it serves collected by agents of a group called Florida Voters In Charge. “It’s not uncommon to find some suspicious signatures,” said Okaloosa Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux. “But this one is pretty blatant. On one page it looked like the same person had signed all the petitions. The newest person in our office was the one who found it.” Florida Voters in Charge is almost exclusively funded by Las Vegas Sands. Signatures are being gathered in support of a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow for the conversion of Florida card rooms to Las Vegas-style casinos.

Val Demings says she dealt with danger ‘while Marco Rubio was home in his bed sleeping’” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Demings, the former Orlando police chief whose law enforcement background is a centerpiece of her campaign for U.S. Senate, hit back hard Wednesday at Rubio. Earlier this week, Rubio suggested Demings isn’t really a supporter of law enforcement, said she should know better than to support progressive Democratic policies, and depicted himself as a more reliable ally of police. Demings is touting her police background to blunt Republican attempts to wrap her with the most progressive elements of the Democratic Party.

While Marco Rubio was sleeping, Val Demings says she was fighting crime.

Charlie Crist makes campaign stop in Gainesville to underscore housing plight” via John Henderson of The Gainesville Sun — Wahnda Roberts got a chance to explain the plight of her family being priced out of their apartment in Gainesville on Wednesday to a former Florida Governor who is trying to win back the seat. She told her story to Crist, who is among three Democratic candidates who have announced they are running against Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. Crist stopped by Marilyn Eisenberg’s home in northeast Gainesville to talk to Roberts about her situation, and what he would do to help her and other struggling Floridians if he is elected Governor again.

Christopher Benjamin will run in HD 107, even if it requires a move” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Rep. Benjamin will continue running in House District 107, regardless of where his home lies on draft redistricting maps. “No matter what happens, I will be running in 107,” the Miami Gardens Democrat said. “That is the community that I serve.” A proposed map approved by the House Redistricting Committee (H 8013) puts Benjamin in neighboring House District 104, along with fellow Rep. Felicia Simone Robinson and Rep. Tom Fabricio. Most of the land in that district is part of the existing House District 102, which Robinson now represents. She already told Florida Politics she intends to run in the proposed HD 104. “That’s where I live, and that’s where I will run.”

— CORONA NATION —

Yes, omicron is loosening its hold. But the pandemic has not ended.” via Apoorva Mandavilli of The New York Times — After a frenetic few weeks when the omicron variant of the coronavirus seemed to infect everyone, including the vaccinated and boosted, the United States is finally seeing encouraging signs. As cases decline in some parts of the country, many have begun to hope that this surge is the last big battle with the virus, that because of its unique characteristics, the omicron variant will usher Americans out of the pandemic. “Things are looking good,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Biden administration’s top adviser on the pandemic, said on Sunday. “We don’t want to get overconfident, but they look like they’re going in the right direction right now.”

Things are looking up, says Anthony Fauci. Don’t get too excited.

U.S. coronavirus hospitalizations slow, with the Northeast showing a steep decline” via Fenit Nirappil, Katie Shepherd and Dan Keating of The Washington Post — The winter surge of coronavirus hospitalizations that reached all-time highs in the United States is showing signs of slowing, reflecting sharp declines in states of the Northeast that were the first to be battered by the highly transmissible omicron variant. But in some corners of the nation, hospitals continue to reel from waves of omicron infections, creating chaos as droves of patients seek care during an already busy season, and front-line workers head to the sidelines in greater numbers than at any point in the pandemic. Some hospitals are finding valuable medical supplies harder to come by, even as the days of widespread shortages of personal protective equipment have passed. On Wednesday, U.S. hospitals reported treating about 150,000 coronavirus patients, down from a record 160,000 last week.

— CORONA ECONOMICS —

U.S. economy grew 5.7% in 2021, fastest full-year clip since 1984, despite ongoing pandemic” via Rachel Siegel and Andrew Van Dam of The Washington Post — The U.S. economy grew by 5.7% in 2021, the fastest full-year clip since 1984, roaring back in the pandemic’s second year despite two new virus variants that rocked the country. The growth came in fits and starts, with a burst of government spending helping propel a fast start, even as a surge in new cases and deaths in the second half of the year created additional pressures. The economy grew at a 6.9% annual rate from October to December, a sharp acceleration from 2.3% in the previous quarter.

Americans do what they know best — shopping. Image via Bloomberg.

Biden’s signature legislation expired. Recipients are wondering: WTF happened?” via Adam Cancryn of POLITICO — Madisen Williams drives a 2008 Hyundai with over 100,000 miles on it and a leaky hose. The car allows her to move around Los Angeles to teach private youth dance lessons after COVID-19 forced schools to go remote. As the car broke down in recent months, Williams leaned on the extra $500-a-month in her bank account that had come courtesy of Biden’s signature domestic policy to pay for repairs. The payments Williams and millions of other families leaned on ended in December, the victim of a legislative expiration date and a Democratic Party deadlocked over whether Biden’s agenda had gone too big, too fast. “I was thinking, this has helped so many people it would be political suicide to oppose something like this,” said Jessica Morrison, a Pennsylvania mother of two.

IRS backlog delayed emergency relief for businesses” via Aaron Lorenzo of POLITICO — Emergency tax refunds meant to help businesses weather pandemic woes were significantly delayed because their applications got ensnared in the IRS paperwork backlog. The holdup required the IRS to shell out tens of millions of dollars in interest on top of the refunds. Businesses could apply for refunds as part of the CARES Act and other COVID-19 relief laws Congress passed in 2020. The idea was to help them get cash fast when facing liquidity shortages during the pandemic. “IRS data show that the agency started to miss the 90-day statutory requirement for applications in September 2020 and missed it throughout 2021,” the report said.

— MORE CORONA —

Third shots reduce the risk of hospitalization in people with weak immune systems, CDC report says.” via Benjamin Mueller of The New York Times — Third shots of coronavirus vaccines significantly reduced the risk that people with weakened immune systems would be hospitalized with COVID-19, the CDC reported Thursday, reinforcing the case for additional doses in that group. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were roughly 88% effective against hospitalizations in immunocompromised people who had received the third dose, compared with 69% effective in immunocompromised people with only two doses.

A third shot is getting better all the time. Image via AP.

U.S., Britain and other ‘populist’ nations mishandled pandemic, study says” via Iain Rogers of Bloomberg — The U.S., Britain, Brazil and other nations with “populist” governments mishandled the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and caused unnecessary deaths with relatively lenient policies, according to an academic research paper. Excess mortality, the number of deaths beyond those that could be expected without the pandemic, was more than twice as high on average in populist-governed countries, Michael Bayerlein, a researcher, said. The main reason for the difference was that “citizen mobility” was higher in populist countries at similar infection rates. Excess mortality was 18% in populist-led countries and 8% in non-populist nations.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

How trash talk can save Biden’s presidency” via John F. Harris of POLITICO — As a political communicator, Biden’s most effective moments often come spontaneously, when he is overcome with feeling, or by accident, when words that are intended to be private instead become public. Biden’s bristling comment this week about Fox News reporter Peter Doocy was an entertaining example on both counts. “What a stupid son of a bitch,” the President muttered, as if to himself, even as a hot mic assured that this sulfurous thought bubble did not stay with himself. As it happens, Biden’s lapse of presidential decorum hints at a path toward restoring Presidential vitality. Let’s see if polls show that others enjoyed the Doocy exchange as much as I did. If so, perhaps it’s time for Biden to cancel the tired tradition of recognizing American heroes at the State of the Union in favor of a new approach.

Joe Biden’s dust-up with Peter Doocy may be a good thing.

Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement gives Biden a fresh opportunity for a badly needed victory” via Dan Balz of The Washington Post — The news that Breyer plans to retire comes as Biden is intently focused on a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine that is fully testing his foreign policy experience and strategic capabilities. The President is struggling against a pandemic that is still not tamed and whose recent spread has forced the administration to defend itself against criticism that it was ill-prepared for yet another variant. Inflation has hit a 40-year high. His major domestic priorities, the Build Back Better bill and voting rights legislation, have hit a wall in the Senate, deflating his base. His poor job approval ratings have rattled Democrats looking toward November’s midterm elections. Breyer’s retirement could provide a modest circuit breaker for a President who badly needs something to rally his Party, to draw clear contrasts with the Republicans.

Why Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema will probably vote for Biden’s Supreme Court pick” via Nathaniel Rakich of FiveThirtyEight — With Wednesday’s news that Breyer will retire from the Supreme Court at the end of its current term, Democrats have avoided their worst-case scenario for the nation’s highest court: that Republicans would take control of the Senate before Breyer retired, allowing Sen. Mitch McConnell to keep Breyer’s seat open to eventually replace the liberal justice with a more conservative one. The Senate has been remarkably efficient at passing Biden’s judicial nominees so far. Crucially, Democrats have been united behind those nominees. Manchin and Sinema have 100% track records of supporting Biden’s judicial nominees.

Leading Biden’s nominee through the Judiciary Committee will be a major test of its leader, Sen. Richard Durbin” via Luke Broadwater of The New York Times — Sen. Durbin is about to face his first major test as chair of the Judiciary Committee, as the person in charge of shepherding Biden’s first nominee to the Supreme Court through to confirmation. Durbin, the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat, could face unusual obstacles as he tries to guide the nominee to succeed Breyer through the committee of 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans, which, like the full Senate, is evenly divided and operates under a power-sharing agreement between the two parties. It is believed to be the first time a 50-50 Senate will try to confirm a Supreme Court justice.

‘Somebody in the Senate could die’: Biden pressed to move fast on SCOTUS” via Christopher Cadelago, Laura Barrón-López and Marianne Levine of the Miami Herald — Democrats are preparing a mad-dash confirmation for Biden’s Supreme Court pick, fearful that with an evenly divided Senate, the door to act could close at any moment. Now, they just need Biden to do something he’s historically struggled with: move fast and send them a name. Biden’s history of missing major deadlines is causing concern. And some Democrats concede they’re already worried that a single illness, death or retirement could throw it all into chaos. “You don’t know what the circumstances may bring, whether it’s the loss of a member or somebody crossing over to the other party,” said former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

Miami native foreshadows dreams of Supreme Court appointment in school yearbook” via Saira Anwer and Michelle Solomon of WPLG Local 10 News — In the 1988 yearbook for Miami Palmetto Senior High School, Brown-Jackson looks into the future. She writes: “I want to go into law and eventually have a judicial appointment.” She was Ketanji Brown then. In the last 24 hours since the announcement of the retirement of Breyer, there’s been a buzz around Biden’s promise to make good on naming a Black woman to the Court for the first time. One of the front-runners on that list is the 51-year-old Miami native and graduate of Miami Palmetto Senior High School.

Ketanji Brown Jackson has been dreaming of this moment. Image via Reuters.

Biden outpaces Trump in issuing drilling permits on public lands” via Anna Phillips of The Washington Post — After years of federal lease sales to oil, gas and coal companies, environmentalists had hopes that Biden would end the fossil fuel bonanza. But one year after announcing a halt to any new federal oil and gas leasing, Biden has outpaced Trump in issuing drilling permits on public lands. After setting a record for the largest offshore lease sale last year in the Gulf of Mexico, the Interior Department plans to auction off oil and gas drilling rights on more than 200,000 acres across Western states by the end of March. Although Biden supports a shift to cleaner sources of energy, he has failed to curb fossil fuel development in the United States.

— D.C. MATTERS —

The U.S. education secretary urges schools to use federal funds to help students catch up.” via Madeleine Ngo of The New York Times — Schools need to go beyond just ensuring they are open to help students during the pandemic and should use federal stimulus funds to increase access to tutoring and mental health counseling, Miguel Cardona, the education secretary, said. Cardona said the department has distributed all $122 billion in American Rescue Plan funding to states. The stimulus money was meant to help schools safely reopen during the pandemic. “Safely reopening schools is just the baseline. It’s not good enough,” Cardona said. “We must make up for lost time.”

Miguel Cardona wants school districts to spend more money. Image via AP.

— CRISIS —

Judge orders John Eastman to speed effort to get documents to Jan. 6 committee” via Kyle Cheney of POLITICO — A federal judge is ramping up pressure on Eastman, an attorney and central ally in Trump’s effort to subvert the election on Jan. 6, 2021, to begin producing thousands of pages of records to congressional investigators. Judge David Carter, who already sharply rejected Eastman’s attempt to block the Jan. 6 select committee’s subpoena for 19,000 pages of emails held by his former employer Chapman University, issued a detailed plan Wednesday to help speed the process along. Carter ordered Eastman to begin reviewing at least 1,500 pages per business day, starting Friday, and immediately transfer any unprivileged documents to the House committee.

A court tells John Eastman to pick up the pace. Image via MSNBC.

Palm Harbor messianic rabbi gets house arrest, probation in Jan. 6 Capitol breach” via Dan Sullivan of the Tampa Bay Times — A federal judge in Washington, D.C., sentenced a Palm Harbor messianic rabbi Thursday to two months of home confinement plus a year of probation for strolling into the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot. Michael Stepakoff was also ordered to pay a $742 fine to reimburse the government for the cost to monitor him throughout the past year. “Entering the Capitol was a terrible mistake on my part,” Stepakoff said in court. “I deeply regret it. I wish I could take it back, but I can’t. It was not done in defiance or as an act of civil disobedience, but because I failed to properly appreciate the situation.” While prosecutors had requested a two-week period of imprisonment, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras concluded incarceration was unnecessary.

— EPILOGUE TRUMP —

Trump faces MAGA revolt over endorsement” via Alex Isenstadt of POLITICO — Trump is facing serious backlash from die-hard loyalists over his decision to intervene in a Tennessee House race, with his supporters accusing him of spurning a staunch Republican ally who’s running. Trump on Tuesday evening endorsed Morgan Ortagus, who served as a State Department spokesperson during his administration. The announcement has caused a firestorm, with far-right, high-profile backers taking to social media to voice their support for Robby Starbuck, a rival candidate who’s been a mainstay of the pro-Trump movement. The gripes have included everything from Ortagus’ support of Jeb Bush in the 2016 GOP primaries to her being photographed with Biden and having her wedding officiated by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Donald Trump endorses Morgan Ortagus, to the dismay of the MAGA crowd. Image via AP.

—LOCAL NOTES —

Brevard woman arrested after voting on behalf of son in 2020 election, deputies say” via Finch Walker of Florida Today — A Brevard County mother was arrested late Monday, charged with voting on behalf of her son during the 2020 presidential election. Sheryle Jack faces a charge of “requesting to vote by mail ballot on behalf of an elector and designating choice on ballot of another person” following an investigation by the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office. Both charges are third-degree felonies. Her son, at the time, was in the United Kingdom. A third-degree felony in Florida is punishable by up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine and five years of probation.

An honest-to-goodness case of voter fraud.

Pasco sheriff cuts off social media comments, victim of his own success” via Anastasia Dawson of the Tampa Bay Times — Usually helpful, often snarky and sometimes controversial, posts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram helped rocket the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office to social media stardom. Now, the office has fallen victim to its own success. Too many people are reporting crimes on the agency’s social media pages rather than calling 911 or submitting a tip through the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office website. On Monday, fearing it might be missing life-or-death information, the office cut off all social media comments. It was an abrupt end to a social media engagement campaign that stretches back a decade and won fans across the world.

Tampa Bay saw its worst red tide in 50 years. How much blame does the Piney Point spill get?” via Daniel Figueroa of Florida Politics — Tampa Bay in July saw its worst red tide event in 50 years just months after failure at Manatee County’s Piney Point Phosphate Plant led to more than 200 million gallons of contaminated water being dumped into the bay. scientists and researchers have been studying how much of an effect the spill had on July’s red tide. During a presentation to the state’s Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Kate Hubbard said the answer is a complicated one. The Piney Point leak wasn’t the troubled site’s first. There were leaks in 2003 and 2011 that didn’t result in any harmful algal blooms. And it’s clear that the bloom wasn’t caused solely by Piney Point, but rather, may have been intensified by it.

Moment in video brings Tommy Hazouri legacy into special election campaign” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — Even in death, Hazouri looms large over the special election to fill the City Council seat left vacant after he died in September. Democratic Party leaders, seeking to win a seat that Hazouri held as a rare Democrat who succeeded in countywide elections, contend Republican candidate Nick Howland showed disrespect to Hazouri during a forum sponsored in November by the Republican Liberty Caucus of Northeast Florida. Howland rejects that characterization, saying he liked Hazouri and respected him as a “servant leader” for the city. “It’s unfortunate the way he had to leave the seat, but at least he left the seat,” moderator Karyn Morton said. “When you’ve got somebody who is trying to foster Marxist principles within our city, we need to get that replaced and we need to replace it with a Republican.”

Miami punts on gambling ban vote after Commission misdeal” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Miami residents and other interested parties will have to wait a while longer to know what the future of gambling in Miami will look like after City Commissioners punted on the issue Thursday. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and Manolo Reyes, the two Commissioners who voted against a proposed ordinance change banning new gambling facilities within Miami’s boundaries, no-showed Thursday’s meeting. That prompted Chair Christine King to move to defer the day’s entire agenda. Joe Carollo and Ken Russell, the ordinance’s sponsor, agreed to delay a vote until Feb. 10.

Hate group spread anti-Semitic fliers on Miami Beach. Vile, but it’s probably not criminal.” via David Ovalle of the Miami Herald — When virulent anti-Semitic fliers began showing up on lawns in Miami Beach earlier this month, the city’s police department tweeted about the hate campaign, urging residents to call detectives who were “actively investigating.” Media outlets chronicled the outrage from community groups and elected leaders. The FBI said it would investigate too, as did Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who touted her hate-crime prosecution unit and said, “we will not allow hate mongers, who are leaving garbage throughout our community, to divide and harm our community.” But if history is any lesson, criminal charges will be difficult to make against the fringe group.

Miami-Dade begins removing polluting septic tanks in race against sea level rise” via Alex Harris of the Miami Herald — Miami-Dade County’s plan to address one of the biggest sources of pollution in Biscayne Bay — and one of the grossest consequences of rising seas — kicked off with a ceremonial shovelful of dirt tossed in the air just north of Miami’s Shorecrest neighborhood Thursday morning. “This is the launch to a major overhaul,” Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told the crowd. “This is a big step toward mitigating the effect of climate change on our county.” Thousands of homes in Miami-Dade flush their toilets and showers into underground concrete boxes that filter that wastewater down into the dirt and aquifer below. But as sea levels rise, those septic tanks don’t have room to drain.

Palm Beach County schools land $1M grant to beef up mental health programs” via Sonja Isger of the Palm Beach Post — Two established programs aimed at helping Palm Beach County students recognize and address mental health concerns in themselves and their classmates will be getting a $1 million boost from a federal grant. The money will expand the programs exponentially, reaching thousands more students at more than a dozen additional campuses, the district’s Chief of Equity and Wellness Keith Oswald said Wednesday at a news conference with U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat. “This grant will do amazing work in Palm Beach County,” Oswald said. The district is among three in the state to land a chunk of the Department of Justice’s STOP School Violence money.

‘Disappointed’ suitor for PBAU land wrong to claim racketeering, theft, filing says” via Alexandra Clough of the Palm Beach Post — Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBAU) insists it did not engage in civil racketeering when it decided against a proposed deal by a Palm Beach developer wanting to buy the university’s prime waterfront land in West Palm Beach. Rather, the private Christian university simply liked a different Palm Beach developer, Frisbie Group, and its plan. That’s the response by PBAU and Frisbie Group to a blockbuster lawsuit filed against them last year by Two Roads Development, a company that once had eyes on a pair of coveted parcels of land owned by the university. PBAU and Frisbie called Two Roads “failed and disappointed bidders.”

FIU provost reverses himself, saying he will move on despite faculty asking him to stay” via Jimena Tavel of the Miami Herald — After saying Tuesday that he would stay on as Florida International University’s provost amid the chaos of Mark Rosenberg’s resignation, Provost Kenneth Furton reversed himself, sending a late-night letter Wednesday to FIU’s interim president confirming he will step down as the university’s chief academic officer come March 1. FIU’s Faculty Senate overwhelmingly approved a resolution asking Furton to continue serving as provost until the FIU Board of Trustees selects a permanent president. The president hires the provost, who is the second in command, overseeing all of the university’s academic affairs. Furton said his timeline to move on to his new role was flexible. Rosenberg appointed Furton, 59, as provost in 2014.

Kenneth Furton decides to leave after all.

Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony fires deputy union boss; criminal search warrant issued at agency’s office” via Eileen Kelley of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Investigators with the Broward Sheriff’s Office issued a criminal search warrant at the Sheriff’s Office’s deputies’ association Thursday not long after announcing that the union boss, a major critic of the sheriff, had been fired. Carey Codd, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, would not say what the criminal investigation pertained to, but did say it was not related to Jeff Bell’s termination. “I’m not authorized to make a comment at all. We’ve got a lot of stuff happening,” said Tony Hierrezuelo, an executive board member for the Broward deputy’s association of the International Union of Police Association when he was stopped outside the Broward union office after the search warrant was issued.

Local finalist pulls out of Broward Superintendent race as School Board plans redo vote” via Sonja Isger of the Palm Beach Post — Amid concerns about the process the Broward County School Board used to narrow its field of Superintendent candidates, the district has announced it will redo the vote next week. But one of two Palm Beach County administrators to make the now-moot final four, south area Superintendent Peter Licata, has withdrawn from consideration. In a brief note, Licata thanked the school board members for their consideration, adding, “However, at this time I am stepping away from the process.” He also congratulated the other would-be finalists, including Broward’s interim Superintendent Vicki Cartwright and Licata’s colleague, Chief of Equity and Wellness Keith Oswald. Licata declined to discuss what prompted his withdrawal.

Will Fort Lauderdale’s war with county doom joint government campus?” via Susannah Bryan of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The tug of war between Fort Lauderdale and Broward County over whether to build a bridge or tunnel for commuter rail might kill plans for a joint government center with a $600 million price tag. Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis made that clear Thursday, saying there’s no way he would ever agree to build a new City/County Hall in a spot that’s going to have an ugly train bridge built right nearby. “If they refuse to find a new spot and they refuse to assist us in constructing a tunnel for the train, then the city would have to back away from the joint government center,” Trantalis told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Opa-locka Manager says Mayor and Vice Mayor had phone call orchestrating his firing” via Aaron Leibowitz of the Miami Herald — Fired Opa-locka City Manager John Pate is alleging that the city’s Mayor and Vice Mayor spoke by phone, in violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law, to “discuss and plan” his firing earlier this month. In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, Pate said Vice Mayor John Taylor called Mayor Veronica Williams and other City Commissioners to “orchestrate the vote,” which was 4-1 in favor of terminating Pate’s contract “without cause” on Jan. 14. It wasn’t immediately clear from the court filing how Pate would have known about any phone calls between Taylor and other elected officials. Pate did not respond to a request for comment Thursday morning.

Lawyers for J.T. Burnette ask 11th Circuit to overturn conviction on corruption charges” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — Lawyers for Burnette are asking the 11th Circuit of Appeals to vacate his conviction on public corruption charges and remand the case back to the district court for a new trial or judgment of acquittal. Burnette’s attorneys filed their brief with the appellate court on Wednesday laying out their arguments for why the conviction should be overturned. The 80-page brief largely mirrored defense motions filed earlier with the lower court and the 11th Circuit alleging errors made by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, who presided over his trial. Jurors convicted Burnette, a wealthy businessman, developer and hotelier, on extortion and bribery charges for his role in a pay-to-play scheme involving former City Commissioner Scott Maddox and his longtime partner Paige Carter-Smith.

Pensacola inches closer to creating electric utility amid anger toward FPL rate increase” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — Pensacola may be close to taking its first real step toward creating a municipal electric utility as anger over Florida Power & Light’s rate increase boiled over at the City Council’s workshop Wednesday. City Council members appeared open to the idea of commissioning a feasibility study into the idea during the nearly four-hour workshop to discuss the idea. The workshop drew a large crowd of nearly 100 people who were angry over FPL’s rate increases that went into effect this month. FPL executives faced a hostile crowd at the workshop as they made their case to the city to sign a new 30-year franchise agreement with the investor-owned utility company. Shouts of “No!” and “You’re charging us double for using less electricity!” were shouted along with other expletives.

Fort Walton Beach Mayor Dick Rynearson hospitalized after being injured in car accident” via Sierra Rains of the Northwest Florida Daily News — Rynearson was injured in a car accident Wednesday night while traveling to a meeting in Orlando. Rynearson was hospitalized at a trauma center in Gainesville for injuries sustained during the crash.

Godspeed to Dick Rynearson.

Collier County Deputy Manager fired; double-dipping as secret lobbyist, documents reveal” via Rachel Heimann Mercader of the Naples Daily News — Sean Callahan, who served as acting County Manager while County Manager Mark Isackson recovered from COVID-19, has been employed by the lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck in Washington, D.C., for the past 10 months. Failing to disclose secondary employment is a violation of the county’s ethics and anti-fraud policy and outside employment policy. At least three County Commissioners support Isackson’s decision to fire Callahan, calling the extra work “distasteful” and lacking ethics. The lobbying work included a business that has ties to Bonita Springs and Cape Coral. A termination letter dated Jan. 20 shows that Callahan was fired after it came to Isackson’s attention that Callahan never informed the county that he was working a second job, before or after he became deputy manager last year.

Friends of Fred Robbins ask for help after ex-NFL star loses everything in fire” via Colin Warren-Hicks of the Pensacola News Journal — Robbins is both a well-known and well-respected member of the greater Pensacola community. Robbins — a former NFL defensive star who helped the New York Giants clinch a 2008 victory in Super Bowl XLII — is known for his days playing on the field. But work helping to instill values and wisdom into the minds of young men through the mentorship program he co-founded with his wife, Tia, called Mr. Robbins Neighborhood, earned him the respect of his community off the field as well. Now, friends and family of Fred and Tia Robbins are calling on the community to help in a time of need after the family’s house in Gulf Breeze was devastated by a fire early Tuesday morning.

— TOP OPINION —

John Grant: Reforming solar rules is about fairness” via Florida Politics — No one disputes solar is a wonderful renewable energy source. It will right play a growing role in energy moving forward and have positive environmental benefits. Changing Florida’s net metering regulations does not mean eliminating net metering, shutting off the power of the sun, putting people out of work, or making solar panels available only to the rich. Put simply, this is a fundamental issue of fairness. Homes without solar should not pay higher electric bills because of homes with solar. The proposed changes to net metering do not end net metering. Moving forward, new home solar systems will get reimbursed in a fairer way that accounts for the shared costs of using the electric grid.

— OPINIONS —

Florida DEP’s handling of wetland permits has become a colossal ‘Charlie Foxtrot’” via Craig Pittman of Florida Phoenix — You [DeSantis] need to do something about the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and how it’s handling wetlands permits. A revised Trumpian definition removed protections for more than half the nation’s wetlands and hundreds of thousands of miles of upland streams. It did this by changing the definition of what constitutes a “water of the United States.” A judge’s ruling meant the legal definition of wetlands broadened back out to include a lot more swamps, bogs, and marshes that the Trump-written definition did not. In defiance of what that federal court decreed, your state agency is continuing to crank out its Clean Water Act permits based on what is now an old, out-of-date definition of what constitutes a wetland.

There still are too many reasons we observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day” via the Miami Herald editorial board — Why are we observing International Holocaust Remembrance Day today? Because, as we have seen all too clearly, hateful people are intent on erasing history or repeating it. It’s amazing, eight decades after the horrors of Adolf Hitler’s concentration camps, that there are those who argue that Jews are the source of society’s ills. That accusation was made this month when Miami Beach residents awoke to find fliers on their lawns spewing virulent anti-Semitic rants, accusing Jews of being the ones behind COVID-19. Though so many haters no longer cower under white hoods, many still do their dirty work under the cloak of darkness.

— TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Real people tell their experience of getting, or not getting, the monoclonal antibody treatments the FDA had called to a halt. They came forward to back DeSantis’ criticism of the FDA for yanking the COVID-19 treatments emergency use authorization.

Also on today’s Sunrise:

— POLITICO Florida’s Gary Fineout talks about the Democratic walkout from a Surgeon General’s confirmation hearing and the Governor’s sense of smell when it comes to marijuana.

— The Red Dog/Blue Dog charity event raises five times as much money for animal welfare than last time.

— And Democrats score a rare win over Republicans … in the annual King of the Hill softball game. There were reportedly chants of “Stop the Steal.”

To listen, click on the image below:

— WEEKEND TV —

Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede on CBS 4 in Miami: The Sunday show provides viewers with an in-depth look at South Florida politics and other issues affecting the region.

Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU with moderator Rob Lorei: Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Florida consultant Susan Glickman; Tampa Bay Times environment reporter Zachary Sampson; Tampa Bay Times Data Editor Langston Taylor; and Florida Phoenix writer/FSU professor Diane Roberts.

In Focus with Allison Walker on Bay News 9/CF 13: A discussion on the realities of human trafficking in the state of Florida, including a conversation with Attorney General Ashley Moody. Joining Allison are Jill Bolander Cohen, founder and CEO of The Lifeboat Project; and Natasha Nascimento, founder and CEO of Redefining Refuge.

Political Connections Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: A look at the clash between DeSantis and Biden over the supply of COVID-19 treatment; and the latest on the major measures in the Legislative Session.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: Highlights from Ladapo’s Senate confirmation to be Florida Surgeon General; and a look at the proposed infant mortality bill currently in the Legislature.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Host Gary Yordon talks with pollster Steve Vancore.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams and Mary Daniel of Caregivers for Compromise.

This Week in South Florida on WPLG-Local10 News (ABC): U.S. Rep. Carlos Giménez; Miami-Dade School Superintendent Dr. Jose Dotres; and Jewish Federation of Broward County Security Director Mitchell Tapper.

— ALOE —

Universal Orlando says Epic Universe to open by summer 2025” via Katie Rice of the Orlando Sentinel — Universal’s newest Orlando theme park, Epic Universe, is expected to open by summer 2025, executives for parent company Comcast said Thursday, as the Orlando resort reported record-setting earnings last quarter. Epic Universe’s construction is “full steam ahead,” NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call. NBC Universal expects to invest about $1 billion on capital expenditures for the theme park this year, CFO Michael Cavanagh said.

SeaWorld’s new Ice Breaker coaster cool with airtime” via Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — The looks of Ice Breaker, SeaWorld Orlando’s soon-to-open roller coaster, may be deceiving. From the ground, the ride appears to be straightforward with its ups and downs and rounds with a dead-end spike on one end. But on board, riders experience dramatic surges courtesy of launch maneuvers, two of which go backward, and the ride’s amount of airtime rivals bigger coasters. Ice Breaker opens officially to the public Feb. 18, but annual passholders will be getting sneak peeks in phases beginning Sunday. “We talk about rider demographics when we design attractions,” Jonathan Smith, corporate vice president of rides and engineering, said Thursday. “We call this a ‘family thrill’ demographic. It’s the perfect balance of great dynamics, but fun for lower rider heights.”

Get ready to break some ice. Image via SeaWorld.

These Kansas City Chiefs fans stopped watching with 13 seconds left. Oops.” via Andrew Beaton of The Wall Street Journal — Sunday night’s game was an instant classic. Buffalo took the lead with 1:54 left on an improbable fourth-down touchdown pass from quarterback Josh Allen. Kansas City retook the lead 52 seconds later on a 64-yard Patrick Mahomes touchdown pass. Another 49 seconds later, Allen had thrown yet another touchdown to put the Bills back on top. That left 13 seconds. And that was 13 seconds too many for some Chiefs fans. Some headed for the exits at Arrowhead Stadium. Others turned off their televisions. Then they missed perhaps the most unbelievable 13 seconds in football history. Chiefs fans are conditioned to prematurely accept the reality of heartbreak.

Food & Wine names Tampa’s Jamison B. Breadhouse as best bread in Florida” via Ray Roa of Creative Loafing — It’s no secret that David Landsel loves Tampa Bay. The Food & Wine senior editor gushed over the region after taking a tour of it with James Beard-nominated Tampa chef Ferrell Alvarez and then named three local coffee shops in his 2019 list of The Best Coffee Shops in America. And this week, Landsel named “The Best Bread in Every State,” lauding Tampa’s very own Jamison B. Breadhouse as tops in Florida. In his piece, Landsel heaps praise on the 2021 Best of The Bay winner and lauds how owners Blue and Jason Laukhuf adapted to a pandemic that killed half of the business.

Jamison B. Breadhouse is among the best in America, not just Tampa Bay. Image via Facebook.

Royal Caribbean takes delivery of Florida-bound largest cruise ship in the world” via Richard Tribou of the Orlando Sentinel — And then there were five. Royal Caribbean took delivery of the latest of its fleet of the world’s largest cruise ships, Wonder of the Seas, which is set to debut at Port Everglades on March 4 and tapped to move to Port Canaveral this fall. The ship comes in at 1,188 feet long, 217 feet wide with 18 decks and 2,867 staterooms. Its gross tonnage is 236,857 with a 6,988-guest maximum capacity, the highest among all Oasis-class ships. The other four ships in the class each held the title of world’s largest cruise ship starting with Oasis of the Seas in 2008 followed by Allure of the Seas in 2009, Harmony of the Seas in 2016 and Symphony of the Seas in 2018. In reality, the first four ships have been only incrementally larger. The company originally planned to send Wonder of the Seas to China, but shifted strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Celebrating today are ace fundraiser Debbie Aleksander and Amy Lockhart.

___

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]
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St. Petersburg, Florida 33704




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