Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 2.18.22

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Coffee is for closers. So is Sunburn, your morning rundown of Florida politics.

Good Friday morning.

As we head into a holiday weekend, let’s talk about something other than politics — sort of.

This was the week when Spring Training was supposed to open at all 15 Major League Baseball sites throughout Florida.

It is annually celebrated as a time to enjoy the sun, mild afternoons and perhaps a trip through a time portal to when you were a kid. While some of that may be true, it’s also big business in Florida and Arizona, the other major site for Spring Training.

No joy in Mudville: The MLB lockout stalls Spring Training, a big economic driver in Florida Image via AP.

The Florida Sports Foundation claims that in 2018, Spring Training generated $687 million for the state. In 2019, the last year before the pandemic struck, about 1.5 million fans attended spring games throughout Florida.

Many of those people came from out of state, which meant more money for hotels, restaurants, bars and theme parks. It was the best of times.

Ah, but MLB owners and players routinely show a disconnect to life in the real world. So instead of the sound of baseballs landing in leather gloves and that crisp, unmistakable TWACK when bat meets the ball, owners declared a lockout while they argued with players over how best to split up a massive money pot.

Yep, fans are again left to sing, “Take me out to the ballgame,” as feuding millionaires and billionaires cry that the other side is unreasonable.

At best, the lockout could lead to a drastically shortened Spring Training and perhaps a delayed regular-season start.

A list on MLB Trade Rumors showed 24 of the 30 franchise owners are worth more than $1 billion. Tampa Bay’s Stuart Sternberg is a relative pauper in that club, with an estimated net worth of “only” $800 million.

Owners and players have gone down this path before. It’s the ninth work stoppage in MLB history, although it is the first one since the players’ strike in 1994-95 that led to the cancellation of the World Series.

Four of those stoppages directly impacted Florida and Spring Training.

Both players and owners say they’re talking, but we could soon be out of time for a full Spring Training in Florida.

While the rest of the country might celebrate the thought of salvaging Opening Day, scheduled for March 31, even the loss of a couple of weeks in the spring puts a serious crimp on local businesses here struggling to recover from the pandemic.

They counted on recouping some losses this year as sun-starved Northern baseball fans headed south with money to spend. No one outside of Florida thinks about that, however.

Fans want their baseball.

Networks need the games for programming.

There isn’t as much concern for the mom-and-pop restaurants, bars, and hotel workers who put a lot of money in their pockets this time of year. Yes, the latest report shows a solid uptick in Florida tourism dating to last October. An active Spring Training, however, would push those numbers higher.

Meanwhile, both owners and players should consider this.

The 2020 season was a disaster because of pandemic-related attendance restrictions. Last season wasn’t much better.

Attendance declined 33.9% from 2019 through 2021. Critics say sports like hockey and soccer offer a much faster pace than a plodding baseball game. NFL games last about the same amount of time as baseball, but with more on-field action.

Bottom line: If this lockout goes on much longer, fans will find other things to do. It might just remind them they don’t miss the game as much owners and players believe they do.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

@MikeBloomberg: The SF school board recall should be a wake-up call to elected officials — especially Democrats — across the nation: Parents are fed up with the status quo that puts adults ahead of kids and ideology ahead of results.

@KirbyWTweets: The normally unflappable @FentriceForFL is near tears as she discusses the so-called “don’t say gay” bill in a House committee. Between this measure and the 15-week abortion ban that passed late last night, it’s been a long, emotional week in the House. People are fried.

@MDixon55: If you plan on being brief in testimony, saying you’re going to “be brief” before your testimony starts is self-defeating

@WhereisSabatini: If only Rep #Absentini loved coming to Tallahassee and working for his constituents as much as Chair @ChrisLatvala loves #UCF

@BSFarrington: Just learned this from the Capitol Police website: Chainsaws are not permitted in the Florida Capitol.

Tweet, tweet:

— DAYS UNTIL —

‘The Walking Dead’ final season part two begins — 2; Daytona 500 — 2; Special Election for Jacksonville City Council At-Large Group 3 — 4; Suits For Session — 5; St. Pete Grand Prix — 7; CPAC begins — 9; Joe Biden to give the State of the Union address — 11; ‘The Batman’ premieres — 14; Miami Film Festival begins — 14; the 2022 Players begins — 18; Sarasota County votes to renew the special 1-mill property tax for the school district — 18; House GOP retreat in Ponte Vedra Beach — 33; the third season of ‘Atlanta’ begins — 33; season two of ‘Bridgerton’ begins — 35; The Oscars — 37; ‘Macbeth’ with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga begin performances on Broadway — 39; Florida Chamber’s 2nd Annual Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health + Sustainability begins — 40; Grammys rescheduled in Las Vegas — 44; ‘Better Call Saul’ final season begins — 59; Magic Johnson’s Apple TV+ docuseries ‘They Call Me Magic’ begins — 63; 2022 Florida Chamber Transportation, Growth & Infrastructure Solution Summit — 69; ‘The Godfather’ TV series ‘The Offer’ premieres — 69; federal student loan payments will resume — 72; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 77; ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ starts on Disney+ — 96; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 98; ‘Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 104; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 141; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 154; Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner novel ‘Heat 2’ publishes — 172; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 196; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 231; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 267; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 270; ‘Avatar 2′ premieres — 302; ‘Captain Marvel 2′ premieres — 364; ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ premieres — 399; ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 525; ‘Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 609; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 889.

—TOP STORY —

Report: Florida children at greater risk of losing health coverage after public health emergency expires” via Christine Sexton Jordan of Florida Politics — Researchers at the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families said 2.9 million children may re-enroll in public health programs after initially losing coverage, but about 3.8 million children will have to find other insurance coverage or will fall into the ranks of the uninsured. The report offers steps states can take: Boosting the number of staff at eligibility and call centers; increasing funding for community-based outreach and application assistance; expanding the ways enrollees can submit needed information, and working with Medicaid managed care organizations and health care providers to update contact information and remind their members that the state will be resuming eligibility redeterminations. It’s not clear whether Florida is following any of the suggested recommendations in the report. As of Jan. 31, there were 5 million people enrolled in Florida’s Medicaid program, most of them receiving care through managed care plans. In February 2020, before the pandemic, there were 3.77 million people enrolled in Florida’s Medicaid program.

Unhealthy: Millions of children are facing the loss of health coverage. Image via AP.

— DATELINE TALLY —

Al Lawson says Ron DeSantis’ 2024 ambitions are root of redistricting fight” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — U.S. Rep. Lawson wants to iron out a debate with DeSantis over redistricting, a dispute the Congressman says is a move by DeSantis to angle for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. In a rare move, DeSantis’ office has proposed congressional maps, specifically calling the current 5th Congressional District, held by Lawson, an “unconstitutional gerrymander.” Although the Florida Supreme Court last week declined to issue an opinion on the constitutionality of CD 5, DeSantis’ office has doubled down with a new proposed map that would still split Lawson’s district. “I’m just saying, you know, what’s going on? I served with you for two years; let’s have lunch and iron out your problem,” Lawson said. “What is your problem with minority access seats?”

Agenda: It’s all fun and games until someone’s congressional district gets rubbed out.

DeSantis signs emergency rainy day fund into law” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — DeSantis signed the first bills of the 2022 Legislative Session on Thursday, two proposals creating a $500 million rainy day fund in the Governor’s name. Under the bills (SB 96 and SB 98), lawmakers empower the Governor with what they dub the Emergency Preparedness and Response Fund. The fund will provide DeSantis and subsequent Governors with a designated pot of money to use during a state of emergency. Rep. Danny Burgess is the bill sponsor. Rep. Dana Trabulsy carried the companion bill.

Senate backs down from fight with DeSantis over Lake Okeechobee” via David Fleshler of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The Senate removed controversial provisions Thursday from a bill on the distribution of water from Lake Okeechobee, backing down from a fight with environmentalists and DeSantis. The original bill (SB 2508) would have helped sugar growers and city water utilities at the expense of the Everglades and coastal communities by requiring state water managers to take steps to hold the lake’s water level higher. It’s unclear whether the change will satisfy DeSantis. In a statement Thursday, his office said “no deal” has been made. “We received the bill late last night and are reviewing,” the statement said. “The Governor remains committed to protecting the Everglades.”

Senate approves $109 billion budget that doesn’t punish mask mandate schools” via Brendan Farrington of The Associated Press — The Florida Senate unanimously passed a nearly $109 billion spending plan Thursday with virtually no debate, the day after the House passed a $105 billion plan after two hours of contentious discussion over whether to punish schools that had mask mandates last summer. The two sides now have until March 8 to agree on a budget to send to DeSantis if they want to finish the annual 60-day Session on time. One big difference between the spending proposals: The House, with support from DeSantis, wants to divert $200 million from 12 school districts, including Orange, which disobeyed the Governor’s order not to impose mask mandates. The Senate budget wouldn’t punish the districts.

Senate approves $24B K-12 budget — The Senate voted unanimously in favor of a $24 billion budget for K-12 education. Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida reported that the plan includes a minimum wage hike for non-classroom personnel such as bus drivers. The raise for support staff is a top priority for Senate President Wilton Simpson. The top-line figure is a $1.5 billion increase over the current-year budget, which equates to a $239 increase in per-pupil funding; unlike the House proposal, it would not shift $200 million in funding from school districts that implemented mask mandates to those that did not.

House tax package includes ‘skilled trades’ tax break holiday, longer school and disaster holidays” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The list of Florida’s tax holidays could grow for a second year in a row as Florida’s budget writers continue to work with a significant surplus. The House Ways and Means Committee unanimously approved the chamber’s proposed tax package (WMC 22-01) Thursday. Last Session’s tax package created an estimated $196.3 million in relief for Floridians, and the new package could save Floridians more. The tax package routinely includes tax holidays for school and disaster readiness. This year and last year, under House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Ways and Means Committee Chair Bobby Payne, the House has experimented with other holidays.

House proposes tax exemption for toddler clothes, shoes, diapers” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Parents of young children could catch a break this year thanks to a proposal that would create a one-year sales tax exemption for toddler clothes, shoes and diapers. The Florida House Ways and Means Committee unanimously OK’d a massive package of proposed tax cuts for everything from Formula One ticket sales to a $2.3 million break for Florida Power & Light to build a “green hydrogen” plant in Okeechobee County. The package would also put an additional hold on surcharges for goods vital to children. Some products for infants are already tax-free, including baby food, formulas and teething lotion. Diapers, which cost parents roughly $1,000 a year, aren’t on that list.

A $3.3 billion gulf: Here are the budget fault lines dividing the House and Senate” via John Kennedy of the USA Today Network — The House does less for Florida’s 2.9 million schoolchildren. It boosts per-student spending by almost $323, a 4% increase, compared to a roughly $352 increase in the Senate. Both sides top an average of $8,000 per child for the first time. The House goes hard at hospitals, taking $252 million away in Medicaid reimbursement rates, with leaders arguing that Florida hospitals’ profit levels have soared during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is spending in both the House and Senate to bring teachers up to a minimum salary of $47,500. Both sides mostly agree on pay increases for law enforcement, correctional officers, state firefighters, and juvenile justice officers. But for state workers, there’s a divide.

Sarasota legislators vote to cut $12 million from Sarasota schools” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — The four Republicans representing Sarasota County in the Florida House voted Wednesday for a state budget that cuts $12 million from Sarasota schools because the district approved a mask mandate in defiance of DeSantis. State. Reps. Fiona McFarland, Tommy Gregory, Will Robinson and James Buchanan voted for the $105.3 billion House budget. The spending plan includes $200 million in cuts to 12 school districts with mask mandates. Gregory, McFarland and Buchanan live in Sarasota, while Robinson lives in Bradenton and represents a district that includes a portion of northern Sarasota County. Michele Rayner, whose district also includes a part of Sarasota County, did not vote on the budget.

Republicans made changes to ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. LGBTQ advocates aren’t buying it.” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — One of the most controversial bills of the 2022 Legislative Session looked a little different on Thursday. But critics, who call the measure the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, still aren’t on board. Far from it. When it was first filed, the bill said school districts may not “encourage classroom discussion” about gender identity or sexuality in a way that is not “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.” The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Harding, said he understood how some might find the word “encourage” to be vague. So, on Thursday, a House committee took up, and passed, a new version of House Bill 1557 he hoped would be more specific.

Tweak: Joe Harding’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill gets an amendment but is still unpopular with many.

25 abortion-rights protesters banned from Florida Capitol for one year” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — Around midnight Thursday, as Rep. Erin Grall closed six hours of emotional debate over the abortion bill she was sponsoring, chants began to ring out from the Florida House gallery. “My body! My choice!” protesters shouted, causing House Speaker Sprowls to gavel the meeting to a temporary recess. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which oversees the Capitol Police, said Thursday that 25 activists had been given trespass notices related to the overnight protest. They will be prohibited from the Florida House for one year.

House passes police recruitment package” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The House has passed legislation DeSantis and lawmakers hope will enshrine Florida as the most “law enforcement friendly state,” bolstering officer recruitment and retention. The bill (HB 3), passed 108-4, would provide recruits with a bundle of perks. Among them is a one-time $5,000 bonus for first-time officers and a $1,000 reimbursement program for out-of-state officers who relocate to Florida. It would also bump the base pay for the sheriff by $5,000. The bill sponsor, Rep. Tom Leek, noted a vocal few had vilified law enforcement officers. He listed several incidents that occurred in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.


— TALLY 2 —

With gambling expansion in disarray, Senate moves ahead with new gaming commission” via Laura Cassels of Florida Politics — Although Florida’s 2021 compact to expand gambling statewide was struck down in federal court, the Florida Senate Thursday forged ahead with the development of a Florida Gaming Commission created alongside the compact to regulate expanded gambling. The Nov. 22 ruling is being appealed, with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Department of Justice trying to resurrect the compact. Compacts can be negotiated between the state and the tribe to allow additional gaming beyond tribal property in exchange for payments to the state.

Senate approves construction defect law changes to combat frivolous claims” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The Senate has voted to consolidate the period homeowners could sue over construction defects, an effort to cut down on frivolous claims against builders. Currently, homeowners have four years to file a claim over a clear “patent” defect and 10 years for claims involving a hidden “latent” defect. The Senate’s proposal (SB 736), passed 26-13 Thursday over the opposition of most Democrats, would give homeowners seven years to file claims over all defects, except when fraud is involved. The seven-year period emerged last week after the bill’s sponsor and Sen. Travis Hutson negotiated the new limits.

One size fits all: Travis Hutson negotiated a single window for homeowners to file defect claims.

Roof provisions could scuttle property insurance reform — Proposals aimed at shoring up the state’s property insurance market could be doomed due to a disagreement between the House and Senate on roofing policies, Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida reports. The Senate plan would allow insurers to write policies that cover the current value of roofs rather than their replacement cost. The House — and Senate Democrats — argue that the change would do little more than water down coverage and potentially harm low- and fixed-income Floridians if they make a roof damage claim. The House, meanwhile, is focusing on reforms for state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which has seen policy counts balloon as property insurance rates rise.

Retail theft crackdown proposal sails through Senate” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The Senate passed a bill Thursday cracking down on organized retail theft in Florida. The bill (HB 1511) stiffens penalties against thieves who steal multiple items from multiple stores in a short period. The Senate passed the bill unanimously after a brief debate. Sen. Jim Boyd and Rep. Chuck Clemons sponsored the proposal. Under the measure, theft of 10 or more items from at least two different locations is deemed a third-degree felony if committed within 30 days. Meanwhile, the theft of 20 or more items would be a second-degree felony.

House panel advances illegal immigration crackdown bill” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The House State Affairs Committee advanced a priority bill of DeSantis on Thursday, despite Democratic lawmakers decrying the measure as politically motivated against immigrants who’ve entered the country unlawfully. The bill (HB 1355) intensifies Florida’s crackdown on illegal immigration. It would require law enforcement to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It would also prohibit the state and municipalities from contracting with companies that transport immigrants who’ve entered the country unlawfully. Rep. John Snyder is the bill sponsor. The bill passed along a party-line vote.

Bill allowing pharmacy techs to give shots moves forward — The House Health & Human Services Committee voted 18-1 in favor of a bill that would enable pharmacy technicians to administer certain vaccines. Pharmacy techs are currently authorized to administer vaccines under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act, but the bill (HB 1209) would make the authorization permanent. It requires techs to receive six hours of immunization-related training before giving shots. “This bill for the purpose of what it was brought for is access to health care. As a rural representative, I see this every day in my backyard and hometown,” said Rep. Kaylee Tuck, the bill’s sponsor. The Florida Retail Federation is also backing the bill.

Committees ghost bills requiring social media literacy lessons in public schools” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — With no movement in the House and none for months in the Senate, the future is grim for bipartisan legislation requiring Florida public schools to teach lessons on social media literacy alongside other mandatory curricula. That leaves little runway for twin bills (SB 480 and HB 361) to safeguard Florida students from the dangers of social media to clear their respective chambers. The bills would compel local school boards to design social media literacy lesson plans, make the related instructional materials available online and notify parents of their availability.

Military spouses support bill sails through House committee” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The House Health and Human Services Committee advanced a bill Thursday that would expedite temporary work licenses to military spouses who hold an out-of-state certification. The committee unanimously moved the bill (HB 559), leaving the measure with one remaining panel stop. Rep. Christine Hunschofsky is the bill sponsor. “Their fees are waived, and the licenses will be issued as soon as their specific application information has been verified,” Hunschofsky explained. The proposal comes as lawmakers and DeSantis, a Navy veteran, pioneer a bipartisan effort to distinguish Florida as the most military-friendly state in the nation.

Final House committee advances Ethan’s Law to improve boating safety” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The death of a Sarasota boy in a boating accident could soon result in a new requirement for youth instructors. The House Commerce Committee on Thursday unanimously advanced Ethan’s Law (HB 701), a bill named for Ethan Isaacs. The sixth grader in 2020 was sailing with a youth group on Sarasota Bay when he was killed after a motorboat lost control. Rep. Fiona McFarland said it’s a tragedy that should not have occurred. McFarland’s bill would require anyone operating a vehicle as part of a watersport activity to wear an engine kill switch, a device attached to the operator, so the motor cuts off in the event they fall overboard.

Park smoking restrictions bill headed to the House floor” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Legislation allowing local governments to regulate smoking at city and county parks and beaches will head to the House floor. The House Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday unanimously advanced a bill (HB 105) granting local governments the right to restrict smoking and vaping on public parks they own. The legislation also would allow regulation of smoking within 25 feet of most business entrances. Rep. Thad Altman, an Indialantic Republican and one of the bill’s prime sponsors, said the protection of children from secondhand smoke gives governments compelling reasons to limit smoking.

Good point: Thad Altman says secondhand smoke is a compelling argument to ban smoking on the beach.

Final committee approval sends “Victims of Communism” observance bill to House floor” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — A bill that proposes public school students observe “Victims of Communism Day” and learn about the suffering inflicted by communism is now heading to the House floor after getting through its final committee Thursday. The House Education & Employment Committee approved the bill (HB 395). Rep. David Borrero is the bill sponsor. Similar legislation (SB 268) is making its way through the Senate. “It is my greatest honor to be able to represent so many victims of communism from our district and from the state of Florida,” Borrero said. “So many have suffered. Many of them we know. Many of them have specifically fled to Florida as a safe haven.”

—MORE TALLY —

Speaker’s Office assures that Cord Byrd dust-up in House is ‘resolved’” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — “The Speaker talked privately with both members, Rep. Byrd and Rep. Travaris McCurdy. I understand after an apology was made by Rep. Byrd last night, the issue was resolved,” said Jenna Sarkissian, the Communications Director for Sprowls. Rep. Angie Nixon, who has called for Byrd’s censure in the House, tweeted that an “unhinged” Byrd blamed Black Democratic legislators for protesters opposing the bill restricting the right to abortion after the 15th week of pregnancy. “He turned around and began antagonizing and cussing at Black Caucus members during the HB 5 protest in the gallery. I’m disgusted. We can debate our values but to cuss Black Members out on the House floor illustrates he’s unfit to be in office,” Nixon asserted. “We are NOT f***ing jokes as he professed on the House floor.”

Can’t we all just get along?

Florida politicians behind ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill backed by corporations that claim to support LGBTQ rights” via Judd Legum, Tesnim Zekeria, and Rebecca Crosby of Popular Information — The chief sponsor of the bill in the Florida Senate, Dennis Baxley and top supporters of his “Don’t Say Gay” bill received financial support from corporations that claim to be champions of LGBTQ rights. Comcast/NBC Universal, for example, donated $1,000 to Baxley on Oct. 15, 2021, and a total of $28,000 to the top supporters of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill since 2020. For the third year in a row, UnitedHealth Group earned a perfect score in the 2022 Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index. But since 2020, UnitedHealth Group has given DeSantis at least $200,000. Duke Energy was given a “perfect score for the fifth year in a row” in the HRC 2022 Corporate Equality Index. Since 2020 Duke Energy has donated $34,000 to legislators who support the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, including $25,000 to DeSantis and $1,000 to Baxley.

St. Petersburg company pushing for bill that would prohibit higher local wages” via Romy Ellenbogen of the Tampa Bay Times — A St. Petersburg company that paid millions to settle a wage theft case is pushing a controversial bill that would prohibit local governments from setting a minimum wage higher than the state’s current $10 an hour for employees and contractors. Power Design has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the political committees of key legislators, including the bill’s sponsors. And the company is tied to a mysterious group lobbying on behalf of the bill. A Power Design spokesperson said the company didn’t write the bill but cared about its goal.

We Are Florida denounces immigration enforcement bill — A group made up of faith leaders, business owners, refugees and educators railed against a bill expanding on a 2019 law that banned “sanctuary cities.” SB 1808 will prevent transportation companies from doing business with state and local governments if they participate in programs transporting undocumented immigrants to Florida. We Are Florida said the bill shows that the “Governor and Republican legislators continue to prioritize their political aspirations over the well-being of all Floridians.” Rev. Frank J. Corbishley, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Southeast Florida, said, “Looking out for the marginalized people of society, whether they be refugees, LGBTQ folks, or Black people, is at the heart of the Gospel’s demands. Gov. DeSantis and the Florida Legislature seem hellbent on further marginalizing the marginalized.”

Tax-free Formula One tickets included in proposed state package” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — The first Formula One Grand Prix event to be held outside of Texas in years is coming to the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens this May, and legislation is now advancing to allow attendees to skip paying taxes on tickets. The Florida House Ways and Means Committee unanimously OK’d a massive package of proposed tax cuts for everything from diapers to a $2.3 million break for Florida Power & Light to build a “green hydrogen” plant in Okeechobee County. The package would also exempt those purchasing tickets for all future Formula One races in Florida from paying the 6% tax on admission sales.

—SKED —

— The House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee meets, 8 a.m., Morris Hall of the House Office Building.

— The Senate is scheduled to convene a floor Session, 9 a.m., Senate chamber.

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

—LOBBY REGS —

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Robert Asztalos, James Hartsell: Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Cassi Baker: Jazz Pharmaceuticals

Al Balido, Anfield Consulting: The Alliance to Protect People With Serious Mental Illness

Courtney Coppola, Adrian Lukis, Ballard Partners: FarmaceuticalRX

Mary DeLoach, Monte Stevens, The Southern Group: 1211 Overseas

Nick Iarossi, Ron LaFace, Andrew Ketchel, Jared Rosenstein, Christopher Schoonover, Capital City Consulting: Delta Air Lines

Ron Pierce, Melody Arnold, Natalie King, RSA Consulting Group: Space Coast Health Foundation

Adam Potts, Liberty Partners of Tallahassee: Expedia

Will Rodriguez, Corcoran Partners: Feeding Tampa Bay

— STATEWIDE —

Florida will distribute $676 million in homeowner mortgage assistance, but state isn’t yet saying how you can get it” via Ron Hurtibise of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — There’s good news and bad news for Florida homeowners who fell behind on their mortgage payments because of the pandemic. The not-so-good news: Florida’s program is being administered by the Department of Economic Opportunity — the same agency that runs the state’s troubled unemployment system — and the agency has not yet announced when or how it will begin accepting applications. Based on the information provided so far and included in the distribution proposal submitted to the Treasury Department, the state plans to rely heavily on third parties, as it did during a pilot program launched on Nov. 8, to notify eligible homeowners about the available assistance. So far, the pilot program has distributed more than $1 million to 135 homeowners.

In Florida, home of the 97-year-old inmate, prison health care costs spiraling” via Allie Pitchon of the Miami Herald — Like a lot of 60-year-olds, James Langdon experiences pain: migraines, eye, knee and hip pain, as well as persistent mobility impairments. Unlike most 60-year-olds, Langdon gets his health care and pain management from the state, courtesy of Florida taxpayers. Langdon is a prisoner. Currently, prison officials said that Florida is presently incarcerating inmates as old as 97. They would not identify the 97-year-old. Overall spending per capita on Florida prison health care is actually much lower than in some other large systems, but it is rising.

Graybar Hotel: James Langdon enjoys free health care, courtesy of taxpayers.

Florida plan has fed manatees 25 tons of lettuce” via The Associated Press — The unprecedented human effort to feed starving Florida manatees has so far provided the lovable marine mammals with more than 25 tons of lettuce, officials said. The round-tailed, snout-nosed animals popular with locals and tourists have suffered a major die-off because their preferred seagrass food source is disappearing because of water pollution from agricultural, urban, septic tanks, and other sources. Officials say the feeding program involving donated romaine lettuce at a Florida Power & Light plant on the east coast attracts about 300 to 350 manatees per day. “We’re making a difference,” said Ron Mezich of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Jimmy Patronis wants cell carriers to block spam calls for free — CFO Patronis on Thursday sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission urging cellphone carriers to provide free spam blocking services to their customers. “Nearly 4 billion robocalls were received by consumers every month in 2020. What is even more alarming is the nefarious nature of these calls,” the letter reads, noting that scam calls were at the root of $436 million in fraud in 2020. While some carriers block spam calls for free, he wrote, many charge for the service or offer a higher tier of call blocking as a paid service. “I believe that all spam blocking services should be free to every customer because of how important it is to eliminate scams and protect consumers,” he concluded.

10 years after Trayvon Martin’s killing: How Benjamin Crump became America’s civil rights lawyer” via Desiree Stennett of the Orlando Sentinel — If Crump is asked to take a case, it’s likely that another Black person has been killed. One of the first families who took on the fight with Crump was that of 17-year-old Martin. For Crump, the case provided the “blueprint” for working with grieving families to expose injustice. In the decade since, Crump has had his conversation with dozens of families whose loved ones became household names in death. Many of them died at the hands of law enforcement officers, others in scuffles with violent vigilantes or due to negligence.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida COVID-19 update: State reaches 68,000 deaths, hospitalizations continue to go down” via Devoun Cetoute of the Miami Herald — Florida on Thursday reported 6,336 COVID-19 cases and 658 new deaths to the CDC, according to Miami Herald calculations of CDC data. The CDC backlogs cases and deaths for Florida on Mondays and Thursdays, when multiple days in the past have their totals changed. Of the deaths added, about 92% occurred in the past 28 days and about 59% in the last two weeks. In the past seven days, the state has added 179 deaths and 6,693 cases per day, on average. Florida has recorded at least 5,769,916 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 68,572 deaths.

Not out of the woods yet: Hospitalizations are dropping in Florida; a good sign. Image via AP.

Testing positivity rates fall into single digits in much of South Florida” via David Schutz of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida reported 6,336 new coronavirus cases on Thursday as the testing positivity rate fell below 10% in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, according to CDC data. The testing positivity rate dropped to 9.7% in Broward County and 8.6% in Miami-Dade County. Wednesday was the first time the rate was below 10% in Broward County since Dec. 19. Palm Beach County’s rate was 10.4%. Vaccinations in Florida have been declining steadily for more than a month, with just 22,449 shots given per day on average, a 65% decrease from last month. About 65.6% of Floridians are fully vaccinated, and 37.9% have booster shots.


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—2022 —

Latino officials’ group predicts 1.4 million Florida Latino voters this fall” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Florida’s Latino voters could turn out in record numbers for this autumn’s election, a national group of Hispanic elected leaders is projecting. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund’s 2022 voter projection analysis found Florida can expect 1.43 million Latino voters to go to the polls for the November General Election. That compares with 1.39 million Latino voters who turned out in 2018, a record in Florida. The increase is within the association’s research margin of error. So, the group is saying Florida Latinos likely will “mirror” their turnout from 2018. That year, Florida Latino voters smashed 2014 turnout levels, which NALEO Educational Fund said was about 890,000 voters statewide.

What Kevin Cate is readingCharlie Crist is leading the Democratic pack. Taking on DeSantis is a different story.” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO — Rep. Crist has emerged as the front-runner in the Democratic primary to be Florida’s next Governor, but faces huge obstacles in his attempt to unseat DeSantis. With six months to go before the primary election, Crist has outraised his Democratic opponents, picked up the backing of many of Florida’s most influential Black politicians and has significantly outperformed in recent polls, including one out Tuesday that has him besting primary challengers by double-digits.

Rough road: Charlie Crist leads, but is it good enough to beat Ron DeSantis?

Brian Ballard to host fundraiser for Vern Buchanan Ballard will host a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Buchanan’s re-election campaign on March 1. The host committee also includes Ballard Partners lobbyists Sylvester Lukis, Pam Bondi, Dan McFaul, Justin Sayfie, Rebecca Benn and Jose Felix Diaz. The fundraiser invitation lists a suggested minimum contribution of $500 for individuals and $2,000 for PACs to attend, with contributions. Individuals who donate $1,500 and PACs that contribute $3,000 will be listed as co-hosts for the event. Buchanan expects to become chair of the House Ways and Means Committee if Republicans win control of the House.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell makes decision about congressional rematch with Carlos Giménez” via Bryan Lowry of the Miami Herald — Former Democratic Rep. Mucarsel-Powell has ruled out a 2022 election rematch with Republican Rep. Giménez in a key South Florida swing district. Instead, the former Miami-Dade representative will be taking on a role advising Future Majority, a Democratic-aligned advocacy group, and overseeing its new Hispanic outreach program designed to combat Spanish-language disinformation campaigns. Mucarsel-Powell’s decision to forgo another run for the seat underscores the difficulty Florida Democrats have had recruiting a candidate in the critical swing district in a year that the national party will be defending its narrow majority in the U.S. House. As of Feb. 17, no Democrat has registered a campaign committee with the Federal Election Commission for the seat. Florida has a June 17 candidate filing deadline.

For your radar — “Herschel Walker plans Ponte Vedra fundraiser” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Walker is headed back to Northeast Florida for another fundraiser event. On March 1, Janet and Dale Westling will host a lunch event in Ponte Vedra for the former Heisman winner. Host committee membership is $10,000 per person, and for that, the attendee gets a private lunch, a photograph with the candidate, and a free “Team Herschel” hat. Meanwhile, $1,000 is the baseline contribution, including the hat and the lunch, but no photograph with Walker, the current Republican front-runner. Not available at any price: autographs from Walker. “Thank you for understanding,” reads the invite from the Team Herschel People’s Champion Committee.


— CORONA NATION —

Estimated 73% of U.S. now immune to omicron: Is that enough?” via Carla K. Johnson of The Associated Press — The omicron wave that assaulted the United States this winter also bolstered its defenses, leaving enough protection against the coronavirus that future spikes will likely require much less, if any, dramatic disruption to society. Millions of individual Americans’ immune systems now recognize the virus and are primed to fight it off if they encounter omicron or even another variant. About half of eligible Americans have received booster shots, there have been nearly 80 million confirmed infections overall, and many more infections have never been reported. One influential model uses those factors and others to estimate that 73% of Americans are, for now, immune to omicron, the dominant variant, and that could rise to 80% by mid-March.

Immunity? America is getting a handle on omicron. What’s next? Image via AP.

Joe Biden’s new global vaccine push is running out of funds” via Erin Banco of POLITICO — The Biden administration is turbocharging its effort to boost inoculations in low- and middle-income countries to prevent new, more-transmissible variants from emerging, an effort that would also protect Americans at home, according to three senior administration officials working on the effort. But the Biden team is facing a major obstacle: It is running out of money to support the global vaccination push, and negotiations with Congress on securing new funding have stalled. Without additional cash, the Biden administration could fall behind in its 2022 COVID-19 goal of getting shots into arms.

— CORONA ECONOMICS —

‘Immense fraud’ creates immense task for Washington as it tries to tighten scrutiny of $6 trillion in emergency coronavirus spending” via Tony Romm of The Washington Post — Roughly two years after lawmakers approved their first tranche of rescue funds, the U.S. government is grappling with an unprecedented challenge: how to oversee its historic stimulus effort. Totaling nearly $6 trillion, the loans, grants, direct checks, and other emergency assistance summed to more than the entire federal budget in the fiscal year before the coronavirus arrived, creating a unique and long-term strain on the nation’s policymakers to ensure the funds have been put to good use. There are lingering questions as to whether it benefited those who needed it the most. And the aid continues to be a ripe target for criminals nationwide, the full extent of which is only beginning to come to light.

Waste, fraud and abuse: Washington has a huge challenge to clean up the rescue relief mess.

Weekly U.S. jobless claims up, but remain historically low” via Matt Ott of The Associated Press — Applications for U.S. unemployment benefits rose last week but remain near historically low levels, reflecting relatively few layoffs across the economy. Jobless claims rose by 23,000 to 248,000 for the week ending Feb. 12, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Claims were revised upward to 225,000 the previous week. Yet the four-week average for claims, which compensates for weekly volatility, fell by 10,500 to 243,250. It was the second straight week of declines after rising for five straight weeks as the omicron variant of the coronavirus spread, disrupting business in many parts of the U.S. In total, fewer than 1.6 million Americans were collecting jobless aid the week that ended Feb. 5, a decrease of about 26,000 from the previous week.

— MORE CORONA —

Global cases are dropping, but the WHO is watching an omicron subvariant.” via Alyssa Lukpat of The New York Times — The omicron surge seems to be slowing in much of the world, but a subvariant that scientists believe is even more contagious is on the rise, and a decline in testing has muddled the global picture, the WHO said. New cases worldwide dropped 19% from Feb. 7 to Feb. 13, compared with the week before. The WHO also said that the subvariant of omicron, BA.2, appeared to be “steadily increasing” in prevalence and that BA.2 had now become dominant in several Asian countries. “This will not be the last variant, and the future of the pandemic is still extremely uncertain,” said Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, the director of the WHO’s Pan American Health Organization, adding that “a new variant could emerge at any time.”

Will adults need a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine? It’s too soon to know.” via Sharon LaFraniere of The New York Times — Although new federal data suggest that the effectiveness of booster shots wanes after about four months, the Biden administration is not planning to recommend fourth doses of the coronavirus vaccine anytime soon. “We simply don’t have enough data to know that it’s a good thing to do,” Dr. Peter Marks, who heads the division of the FDA that regulates vaccines, said in an interview this week. In a separate interview, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to the White House, said the vaccines are still a firm bulwark against severe illness. The study showed the level of protection against hospitalization fell from 91% in the two months after a third shot to 78% after four to five months.

Fourth time’s the charm? Image via AP.

The return of ‘revenge travel’: As omicron wanes, Americans eagerly book vacations” via Abha Bhattarai of The Washington Post — Americans are preparing to spend big as omicron cases subside and states across the country loosen COVID-19 restrictions. Travel agents, hotel operators and restaurateurs say they’ve seen dramatic spikes in demand in the past week, following a drop of more than 40% in daily U.S. coronavirus cases and spates of warmer weather in some parts of the country. People are booking Spring Break trips and summer vacations. They’re splurging on Disney vacations, private tours of Hawaii and cruises to Antarctica. Pandemic patterns show that consumers rush out after each coronavirus wave, eager to splurge on flights, hotels, amusement parks and other services they had forgone.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

First Lady Jill Biden arrives in Tampa ahead of Moffitt Cancer Center visit Friday” via Claire Farrow of Tampa Bay 10 — First Lady Dr. Biden has officially touched down in Tampa ahead of her Friday visit at Moffitt Cancer Center. Tampa’s Mayor Jane Castor greeted the First Lady upon her arrival at Tampa International airport. The two talked on the tarmac before Biden left in a Secret Service vehicle. It’s unclear if the first lady has any additional engagements in the Tampa Bay area Thursday evening. But come Friday, the White House says Biden will be joined by National Cancer Institute Director Dr. Ned Sharpless during her visit to Moffitt Cancer Center. The visit, set for around 1:15 p.m., is part of the Biden-(Kamala) Harris administration’s “Cancer Moonshot” initiative. Later Friday, the first lady will travel to Miami to visit the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Miami.

Going South: Jill Biden visits Tampa to speak about the cancer moonshot.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Senate passes short-term funding bill, averting partial government shutdown through March 11” via Dylan Wells of USA Today — The Senate voted Thursday to fund the government through March 11, narrowly avoiding a partial government shutdown set to begin on Friday, and giving lawmakers more time to pass a full-year funding bill. The Senate voted 65-27 to pass the measure. The House passed the short-term funding package last week, 272-162. The bill now heads to Biden for his signature. Thursday marked the second time in the fiscal year that lawmakers voted to keep government agencies fully operational. Funding was extended into February by a package passed by Congress in December.

Rick Scott says he will ‘absolutely’ vote for Mitch McConnell to be leader” via Adam Brewster of NBC News — On this question, he differs from Trump, who frequently bashes McConnell — earlier this month, he said McConnell “does not speak for the Republican Party, and does not represent the views of the vast majority of its voters.” Scott, who has to balance a relationship with Trump and McConnell in his role as chair of the Republican Senate campaign arm, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in an interview on CBS News that he would “absolutely” vote for McConnell to be leader again in November.

Team Mitch: Rick Scott is all-in for Mitch McConnell as Senate President.

Marco Rubio, Giménez seek boost in federal funding for South Florida environmental projects” via Bryan Lowry of the Miami Herald — Sen. Rubio and Rep. Giménez introduced legislation Thursday to exponentially increase federal grant funding for environmental projects in South Florida. The pair’s South Florida Ecosystem Enhancement Act would allocate $50 million every year for the Environmental Protection Agency’s South Florida Geographic Program, starting in the current fiscal year and through 2026. The grant program provides funding to improve water quality and restore wetlands in South Florida. For comparison, the program received $6 million in the 2021 fiscal year, which itself was an increase from past years. From 2016 through 2021, the program received roughly $19 million cumulatively, a fraction of what Rubio and Gimenez propose as the annual funding level.

Crist calls for federal investigation of Florida’s Medicaid mismanagement” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Crist is urging the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to open an investigation into reports that Florida has mismanaged the Medicaid program for children with disabilities. In a letter addressed to CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, Crist requested the agency look into allegations that Florida failed for nearly three months to pay tens of thousands of health care claims for the state’s sickest and neediest children. Officials with the Florida agency blamed the failure on software glitches caused by a recent corporate merger of its two largest payment vendors.

Crist responds to Britney Spears’ public thanks for recognizing conservatorship abuse” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Crist has shared words of support after Spears thanked the Congressman for acknowledging her harrowing conservatorship battle in a public post to her Instagram page. “I’m so happy for her and glad that her conservatorship resolved. God bless her,” Crist said in response to Spears. Spears’ post thanking Crist and Rep. Eric Swalwell came after the Congressmen sent the pop star a letter congratulating Spears and her attorney on their “historic victories.” In the letter, sent in December, the two also invited Spears to speak in Washington about her experience and her advocacy work.

What does $1 billion of cocaine and marijuana look like? The Coast Guard shows you” via David Goodhue of the Miami Herald — The Coast Guard and other federal officials showed off more than a billion dollars’ worth of cocaine and marijuana Thursday that was confiscated from smugglers during several recent operations in the Pacific Ocean and more nearby in the Caribbean Sea. The agency seized 54,500 pounds of cocaine and 15,800 pounds of marijuana, officials said Thursday at a briefing at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. The total street value is estimated to be $1.06 billion, the Coast Guard said. A haul that large means “a lot of sad walks to doors that will never have to occur,” said South Florida Democrat Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, referring to overdose deaths that might be prevented with the drugs off the street.

— CRISIS —

Judge: DOJ’s low-level charges ‘fostering confusion’ about Jan. 6” via Fadel Allassan of Yahoo News — The chief judge presiding over D.C.’s federal court chastised the Republican Party Thursday for describing the Jan. 6 Capitol attack as “legitimate political discourse,” and appeared to lay some blame at the feet of prosecutors for perceptions surrounding the riot. “A major political party has described what happened on Jan. 6 as legitimate political discourse,” Judge Beryl Howell said during a hearing Thursday, per Law.com. “So, it bears repeating, again and again, this was not legitimate political discourse. This was not a protest.” Howell said the low-level charges that the Justice Department has pursued for some of the Jan. 6 rioters, along with decisions to arrange plea deals for some defendants, could be “fostering confusion” about the gravity of the insurrection.

Low stakes: A judge wonders if the punishment fits the crime.

Sidney Powell sues Verizon in effort to prevent Jan. 6 committee from seeing her phone records” via Kipp Jones of Mediaite — Powell is reportedly suing Verizon to protect her phone records from being viewed by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. The lawsuit filed in Dallas, Texas, states, “Ms. Powell had no involvement in the events of Jan. 6, yet the DOJ is seeking records that contain attorney-client privileges held by numerous clients,” reported The Daily Beast. Powell, an election attorney for Trump, was subpoenaed by the committee last month, along with three other Trump allies. The committee wishes to speak to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Boris Epshteyn, and former Trump attorney Jenna Ellis. After she vowed to prove it was fixed through an elaborate conspiracy, Powell made headlines following the election.

— EPILOGUE TRUMP —

Trump and two of his children must be deposed by New York attorney general, judge rules” via Shayna Jacobs and Jonathan O’Connell of The Washington Post — Trump and two of his adult children must give depositions in a long-running civil investigation into the family’s business practices. Attorneys for Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump tried to get subpoenas for their testimony and related documents thrown out. They accused New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) of attempting to circumvent the legal process by seeking evidence for the civil matter that she could also use to build a criminal case against the former President and his business. New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron denied a request by the family to quash the subpoenas in the civil case or delay enforcing them until the conclusion of the criminal probe.

Family affair: Time for the Trump clan to take the stand.

For Trump, a perilous exclamation point to years of wealth inflation” via Mike McIntire of The New York Times — On Tuesday evening, Trump, rattled by news that his longtime accountants had declared that years of his financial statements were not reliable, issued a statement of self-defense with new claims about his wealth. These, too, did not add up. In a rambling emailed message, Trump referred to a “June 30, 2014, Statement of Financial Condition” prepared by the accounting firm, Mazars USA, showing that his net worth had been $5.8 billion the year before his first Presidential run. But that is not what he said back then. When he declared his candidacy in 2015, he produced his “Summary of Net Worth as of June 30, 2014” with a very different number: $8.7 billion. A month later, he upped the ante, releasing a statement pronouncing that his “net worth is in excess of TEN BILLION DOLLARS.”

GOP tensions boil over Trump’s fundraising tactics” via Lachlan Markay and Jonathan Swan of Axios — Trump’s spamming of Republican donors could kneecap party efforts to build a steady funding stream for future elections and compete with Democratic fundraising, top GOP officials are privately warning. The former President’s decision to bombard donors with numerous daily emails and texts is sucking up record sums. Four top GOP digital strategists say it’s also imperiling efforts to build a sustainable, grassroots base of financial support for anyone not named Trump. Trump is raking in donations. His political vehicles, led by the group Save America, raised more than $51 million during the second half of 2021.

Trump moves to close off Liz Cheney’s political escape hatch” via Meridith McGraw of POLITICO — Trump and his allies have been privately lobbying Wyoming lawmakers to change the state’s election laws as part of an effort to unseat Rep. Cheney. On Thursday, Trump endorsed Wyoming legislation that would prevent crossover voting in a primary election. Were the law to pass, Democrats, Republicans, or independents would no longer be able to switch party affiliation on the day of the state’s primary to vote for a candidate in another party. The bill, introduced by state Sen. Bo Biteman, is part of a push by some Republicans in the state to oust Cheney by blocking Democrats from switching parties to support her in her upcoming election against Trump-endorsed congressional candidate

—LOCAL NOTES —

‘A city in chaos’: Tampa City Council at odds with Mayor over new Police Chief” via Daniel Figueroa of Florida Politics — Tampa City Council Chair Orlando Gudes said he wasn’t going to play politics or pull any punches when discussing Mayor Castor’s newly appointed police chief. “We can’t sugarcoat what it is,” Gudes, a former Tampa police officer, said. “We have a city in chaos right now.” Nearly all of the city’s seven council members have expressed concern over the selection of Mary O’Connor as chief. Council Member Joe Citro has gone so far as to say he won’t vote to confirm O’Connor. The 22-year Tampa Police veteran has spent the last five years as a law enforcement consultant and received accolades during her second stint with TPD. But her first stint nearly landed her in prison. In her first year with TPD, O’Connor was arrested for battering a law enforcement officer in the same city where she is now the top cop.

Chaos: Tampa City Council members are no fans of Jane Castor’s police chief pick. Image via YouTube.

Investigation: Broward schools took extraordinary steps to hide key details of massive data breach” via Scott Travis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — When the Broward School District learned that hackers may have accessed the personal data of thousands of people from district servers, its response was to hide and delay. The district took extraordinary steps to keep the public, including 50,000 potential victims, from learning about ransomware attacks that took place from November 2020 to March 2021, a South Florida Sun-Sentinel investigation has found. The ransomware attack and the issues it posed spanned two schools superintendents. Robert Runcie was in charge when the breach happened, and hackers posted 26,000 district files online after failed ransom negotiations.

As lawmakers push to limit LGBTQ discussions in schools, Orlando vows to keep teaching its history” via Tim Craig of The Washington Post — After a gunman killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in 2016, breaking the heart of this city, Orlando created some of the most LGBTQ-friendly public schools in the country. The Orange County district began hosting an annual gay pride month. Students were supported if they wanted to use the pronouns that matched their gender identity. Orlando-area educators find themselves in a pitched battle with GOP leaders and emboldened conservative activists over teaching and supporting LGBTQ students. Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature is considering a measure that would ban discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity with elementary students in public schools. Parents would also be able to sue districts that expose their children to lessons that are “not age-appropriate.”

Lake School Board member resigns, cites ‘divisiveness’” via Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel — A Lake County School Board member resigned this week with two years left in her term, saying “the general political discourse and divisiveness is just too much for me to continue in my seat at this point.” In the middle of her second four-year term, Kristi Burns said she is stepping down effective May 1. Other candidates now can run for her seat in August, when school board elections are held across the state. Several veteran board members likely will not run for re-election this year because, like Burns, they are upset about the loss of “civil discourse,” said Andrea Messina, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association.

Jacksonville clergy and communities ask Sheriff to institute an adult citation program” via Dan Scanlan of The Florida Times-Union — A local group of ministers and faith leaders who have tried since August to meet with Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams to discuss an adult civil citation program for lesser, non-violent offenses tried the personal touch this week. But ICARE, the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment made up of hundreds of members of the city’s faith community, got no further than the Sheriff’s Office’s front door at 501 E. Bay St. Twenty-seven leaders and members of ICARE, a nonprofit group working to address citywide concerns on issues of justice and fairness, took their request to the Sheriff’s Office public entrance at 3 p.m. Monday. The Rev. Tan Moss, ICARE co-President, asked security officers at the entrance if he could give 200 letters of support for adult civil citations to the sheriff and was told he was not in.

Tossing a ‘hand grenade’: Commission may do away with Pensacola ‘strong Mayor’” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — Pensacola’s Charter Review Commission got to work last week and is tackling one of the most politically fraught issues it will face as its first order of business: whether to do away with the strong-mayor form of government. “Y’all get ready for this hand grenade,” Commission Chair Sam Horton said during the first business meeting on Feb. 9. ” … If we need to go back to first base and start over again, if that’s what we think, we have the ability to do that.” Pensacola’s City Charter went into effect in 2010 after being approved by voters and is the document that lays out how the city government operates.

Square one? Pensacola mulls some significant changes to its charter.

Republicans love single-member districts for other parts of Florida, just not Sarasota” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — The Republican Party of Sarasota County has declared war on single-member districts and is going all-out to repeal the new system of electing County Commissioners, which 60% of voters approved in 2018. With single-member districts, only voters who live in a Commission district — instead of every county voter — can cast a ballot in that race. Last week the Sarasota GOP sent an email describing single-member districts as “Chicago-style, parochial, backroom trading.” Having Commissioners elected by voters countywide “is simply good government that creates the greatest accountability to the highest number of voters,” the Party email states. The assault on single-member districts includes text messages and mailers sent to voters.

— TOP OPINION —

Biden is winning the war against COVID-19. Is anyone noticing?” via Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post — The CDC’s glacial pace in recognizing improved conditions and adjusting its mask guidelines has delayed recognition of a remarkable scientific and political triumph: It’s possible that “normal” is just over the horizon. The administration, burned twice by the emergence of the delta and omicron variants, is cautiously preparing for victory. In 13 months, the Biden administration has managed to fully vaccinate three-quarters of American adults. There are inklings that the economy is ahead of schedule in returning to normal. Nevertheless, Biden should be able to claim credit for a public health triumph.

— OPINIONS —

Florida praises Canada truck protests after penalizing Florida protests” via Frank Cerabino for The Palm Beach Post — So the leaders of Florida are far from the champions of “personal freedom” when it comes to street-level civil protests by its own citizens. But they’re happy to be cheerleaders for the Canadian blockades over a mostly contrived issue, considering that 90% of Canadian truckers are vaccinated. It’s the kind of cartoonish leadership we’ve come to expect here. I can only imagine what the reaction of DeSantis, Patronis, and company would have been if Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had issued a proclamation supporting Black protesters in Florida last year.

Proposed crackdown on race education is bad for business, education and people like me” via Anthony Abbate of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — House Bill 7, introduced by state Rep. Bryan Ávila and Senate Bill 148, sponsored by state Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., which would restrict how teachers can discuss race in the classroom and how employers can do so in workforce training, are currently moving rapidly through the Florida Legislature. These bills are bad for business and bad for education. This legislation would create an environment where institutions and businesses, fearful of frivolous litigation, would eliminate training on implicit bias, diversity and equity. Imagine anyone doing businesses in Florida being thrust into a situation where they will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, as they will face legal liability if “someone feels uncomfortable” or a “sense of guilt.”

Susan Harbin: Mary Brogan Program helps ensure health equity and saves lives” via Florida Politics — There’s a program that provides lifesaving cancer screenings to those who need it most: the Mary Brogan Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. For over 20 years, the program has actively saved Florida women by providing early detection and a path to treatment. That’s why we are asking Florida legislators to help save lives by increasing the program’s funding this year. At current levels, the Mary Brogan Program only reaches about 8% of the eligible population in Florida. A boost in funding could help detect more breast and cervical cancers early when they are more successfully treated. It also means helping many more women who don’t know they have cancer and lack the means to even find out.

Dawn Shirreffs: Net metering rewrite hurts small businesses, homeowners” via Florida Politics — Current net metering policy was designed to help reduce energy costs by ensuring those who invest in solar for their homes and businesses are paid fairly for excess electricity they send to the grid. Solar customers already pay their share toward maintaining the grid through minimum monthly fees. Yet, proposed legislation SB 1024/HB 741 would allow utilities to charge new grid access fees and reduce the rate homeowners are paid — thereby creating new barriers to accessing solar for millions of Florida families and businesses while undermining growth of the solar industry. Lawmakers aiming to lower energy costs should be focused on energy efficiency reform, not mandating families and businesses sell their excess power at about 20% of the rate utilities charge their neighbors.

SUFS president Doug Tuthill interviews Jeb Bush on the future of education choice” via ReimaginED — On this episode, Tuthill and Bush look back at the 20-year history of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program and the education revolution that was launched with Bush’s A+ Plan, signed into law in June 1999 with the goal of toughening standards for teachers, students, and schools. The most controversial provision of Bush’s plan allowed students in failing public schools to obtain vouchers that would pay tuition and fees at participating private schools, including non-sectarian and religious institutions, which set off a firestorm of controversy. Fast-forwarding to 2022, when education choice has become normalized in Florida, Tuthill and Bush discuss their shared belief that the future of education choice lies in expanding choice options for families.

No-fly list could prove problematic” via the Orlando Sentinel editorial board — Airlines want to create a “no-fly” list for passengers who have seriously misbehaved on flights. It sounds simple. Unfortunately, it’s not. Many will argue that the most disruptive passengers deserve nothing less and that while Americans should have the liberty to travel without onerous restrictions, there’s no specific right to do so quickly via commercial air carriers. That ignores the realities of modern life. Declaring any group of people to be permanently earthbound is a far harsher punishment than many realize. If administration officials believe that expanding the no-fly list is the only option, they need to shape that policy in the sunshine of public scrutiny. There should also be a high bar for those who end up on the list after a reality-based accusation of misbehavior.

—TODAY’S SUNRISE —

The action didn’t stop when the debate was over on the 15-week abortion ban. There was a dust-up of sorts between a Republican House member and members of the House Black Caucus. The Speaker got involved.

Also on today’s Sunrise:

— Agriculture Secretary and gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried gives DeSantis some driving lessons when it comes to redistricting.

— A measure to allow cities to ban smoking in parks and on beaches is on its way to the House floor.

— And the tale of mutual admiration between Crist … and Britney Spears.

To listen, click on the image below:

— WEEKEND TV —

Battleground Florida with Evan Donovan on News Channel 8 WFLA (NBC): Highlights from the floor debate on the HB 5 15-week abortion ban. Every Tampa Bay lawmaker who spoke on the bill will be featured, as well as some other passionate speeches.

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.

In Focus with Allison Walker on Bay News 9/CF 13: A roundtable discussion during Black History Month about the advancements and achievements made by students of color over the last two decades and how school choice has influenced those changes.

Political Connections Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: A look at gubernatorial candidate Annette Taddeo’s call for an investigation into voter registration issues; and DeSantis’ support for a proposal that could cost the Hillsborough County School District millions.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: Rep. Stephanie Murphy will discuss her decision not to run for re-election to Congress in 2022.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Host Steve Vancore will talk with Sen. Tina Polsky.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Jacksonville City Council member Matt Carlucci and Rick Mullaney, Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute director.

— OLYMPICS —

A Russian star falls and another rises in a blur of jumps, tumbles and tears” via Juliet Macur of The New York Times — Kamila Valieva, the Russian figure skating star at the center of a doping scandal, showed up at the Olympic rink facing a single, heavy expectation, especially heavy for a 15-year-old who has soared to the top of her sport in a quick four months, only to fall from it while the world was watching. Her job was to win for Russia. Continuing the country’s streak of two consecutive Olympic gold medals in the women’s event was at stake. Instead of ending the night in first place, she finished it by skating off the ice in tears. Her coach, Eteri Tutberidze, greeted her not with a hug but with a stern look.

Falling star: Kamila Valieva stumbles out of the medal race. Image via AP.

Mikaela Shiffrin’s Olympics end as they began, with a sudden fall and a frank review” via Matthew Futterman of The New York Times — For Shiffrin, the most unexpected of Olympic journeys culminated just as it began: with one more crash, one more disqualification, one more frank assessment of a race she had lost instead of one she had won. “Right now,” said Shiffrin, one of the most decorated skiers in history, “I just feel like a joke.” Her comment, tinged with the emotional honesty that has marked so many of her self-reviews over the past two weeks, came after yet another mangled run, this time in the Alpine combined, that ended with Shiffrin sliding out of a course on her hip.

— ALOE —

Nikole Hannah-Jones to speak at St. Petersburg gala hosted by The Woodson” via Gabrielle Calisem of the Tampa Bay Times — Hannah-Jones, who won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary after creating The New York Times’ The 1619 Project, is coming to St. Petersburg. The journalist will be speaking at the Coliseum on March 27 at a gala fundraiser hosted by the Woodson African American Museum of Florida. The gala benefits the Woodson Warriors Scholarship Fund, which is now in its fourth year and currently supports 30 African American undergraduate college students from St. Petersburg. Ten more scholars will be added this spring. Several scholars will speak at the gala.

Welcome: Nikole Hannah-Jones heads to St. Pete for a fundraiser gala.

Disney Cruise Line announces new offerings coming to Disney Wish” via Richard Tribou of the Orlando Sentinel — While the big guns coming to Disney Wish have already been announced, Disney Cruise Line is filling in the blanks with more entertainment offerings and some new venues coming to the ship when it begins sailing from Port Canaveral this summer. The ship’s headliners include a new top-deck attraction that’s half dark ride, half water coaster, plus interactive dining experiences tied around Marvel and “Frozen” and the first-ever Star Wars bar at sea. But as Disney is a fan of details, the line announced a new theater venue, candy and ice cream shop, sports arena, and new shows planned in previously announced spaces.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to the First Lady of Education, Anne Corcoran; WFSU’s Lynn Hatter; WPLG’s Glenna Milberg and Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka. Best wishes this weekend to Brian McManus, a veteran of The Process. How old is he anyway?

___

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. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.



#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, Renzo Downey, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Kelly Hayes, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Andrew Wilson, Wes Wolfe, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704




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