Good Friday morning.
The Senate and House passed their spending plans last week, and there’s a $3.3 billion gap between them that will need to be bridged during budget conference meetings between the chambers.
But those can wait until Monday, according to a joint memorandum issued Thursday.
“Senators and Representatives can expect budget conference meetings to begin next week and, therefore, should feel free to return to their districts this weekend upon the conclusion of their scheduled obligations in Tallahassee,” the memo reads.
Suppose you’re looking for someone to thank. In that case, the memo credits Senate Budget Chief Kelli Stargel and House Budget Chief Jay Trumbull and their “outstanding staff” for making “great progress toward finalizing joint allocations.”
It continues, “Worth noting, the Senate and House budgets were already aligned in many key areas.”
So, what does the memo mean for us onlookers? Enjoy your weekend — it’s likely your last chance to relax before Sine Die.
With 2021 in the books, it’s time to look at the … well, books of the top lobbying firms in the state.
Florida Politics parsed the reports submitted by firms that lobby the state government to compile a definitive list of the state’s top lobbying shops, at least in terms of revenues.
The list follows Florida Politics’ reporting on lobbying firms’ quarterly compensation numbers.
For those who need a refresher, the Top-5 firms in the fourth quarter were The Southern Group, Ballard Partners, Capital City Consulting, Ron Book and GrayRobinson. We also dived into Q4 earnings numbers for the mid-major firms.
All of those firms showed up in the year-end rankings. You can get all the details by reading the full Top-25 breakdown on Florida Politics, but here’s the short version:
— No. 1: The Southern Group ($22 million)
— No. 2: Ballard Partners ($18.8 million)
— No. 3: Capital City Consulting ($17.1 million)
— No. 4: Ronald L. Book PA ($10.3 million)
— No. 5: GrayRobinson ($9 million)
— No. 6: Greenberg Traurig ($8 million)
— No. 7: Rubin, Turnbull & Associates ($7.5 million)
— No. 8: Corcoran Partners ($5.9 million)
— No. 9: The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners ($5.9 million)
— No. 10: Metz Husband & Daughton ($5.5 million)
— No. 11: Smith Bryan & Myers ($5.4 million)
— No. 12: Johnson & Blanton ($4.5 million)
— No. 13: Floridian Partners ($4.3 million)
— No. 14: PooleMcKinley ($4 million)
— No. 15: The Mayernick Group ($2.9 million)
— No. 16: Dean Mead ($2.8 million)
— No. 17: Anfield Consulting ($2.8 million)
— No. 18: Johnston & Stewart Government Strategies ($2.7 million)
— No. 19: Rutledge Ecenia ($2.7 million)
— No. 20: Becker & Poliakoff ($2.6 million)
— No. 21: Foley & Lardner ($2.5 million)
— No. 22: The Fiorentino Group ($2.5 million)
— No. 23: Ramba Consulting Group ($2.2 million)
— No. 24: RSA Consulting Group ($2 million)
— No. 25: McGuireWoods Consulting ($1.9 million)
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@ZelenskyyUa: Russia treacherously attacked our state in the morning, as Nazi Germany did in #2WW years. As of today, our countries are on different sides of world history. 🇷🇺 has embarked on a path of evil, but 🇺🇦 is defending itself & won’t give up its freedom no matter what Moscow thinks.
Tweet, tweet (graphic material):
A child riding a bicycle, murdered by a Russian bomb
— Bruno Maçães (@MacaesBruno) February 24, 2022
—@TimWronka: Can we just have one year that doesn’t already suck by February? ONE YEAR.
—@MarcoRubio: One day, the world will be awed when it hears the stories of the bravery and heroism happening at this very moment in #Ukraine
—@BrianMastFL: I’ve lived war. I’ve left body parts on the battlefield. There is no redeeming value in it. We must return to peace through strength diplomacy.
—@Kasparov63: Cannot ignore the political 5th column of (Vladimir) Putin-ists, from the far-right & left in EU to the tankies & (Donald) Trump & his GOP followers in the U.S.. They may have the right to support a brutal dictator’s war in order to criticize (Joe) Biden, but it’s disgusting and anti-American. Do not forget.
—@EWErickson: Just want to know that times like this are why @CNN exists, and it is a good thing. The coverage with reporters on the ground across Ukraine and Russia is impressive.
—@NateSilver538: There are a lot of completely insane takes on here (Twitter) trying to graft various domestic policy grievances onto Ukraine. But it’s mostly people trying to cope with an uncertain and scary situation by groping for something familiar.
—@FabiolaSantiago: I’m just gonna put out there what’s on a lot of people’s minds in #Miami today re #RussiaInvadedUkraine: Now that Putin has helped himself to Ukraine, should Biden help himself to #Cuba? Asking for the 11 or so million humans on the island being crushed 90 miles south of #Florida … And apologies for the navel-gazing, commentary not meant to diminish the horror of what’s happening in #Ukraine #UkraineInvasion Just to point out the #Cuba horrors we ignore — 10, 20, 30-year prison sentences for young people expressing themselves — vs. the ones that outrage us.
Father saying goodbye to his daughter as he puts her on a bus to safety and he stays behind to fight for Ukraine #StandWithUkraine pic.twitter.com/MBRc2fH59j
— Wu-Tang Is For The Children (@WUTangKids) February 24, 2022
—@MarcACaputo: Lots of chatter about a Trump-(Ron) DeSantis feud, but it’s more rumor than fact at this point that some folks are trying to wish into existence. It’s highly unlikely DeSantis would challenge Trump for President in 24, assuming Trump’s poll numbers remain where they are in the GOP. … Caveat: there is some talk from knowledgeable insiders who could see DeSantis filing to run for President in mid/late 2023 if Trump hasn’t filed by then. So, he technically wouldn’t be challenging Trump, a la Rubio announcing for President prior to Jeb Bush in the 2016 cycle
—@AngieNixon: Some of my colleagues with law degrees don’t know the difference between nationality and ethnicity.
— DAYS UNTIL —
Biden to give the State of the Union address — 4; ‘The Batman’ premieres — 7; Miami Film Festival begins — 7; the 2022 Players begins — 11; Sarasota County votes to renew the special 1-mill property tax for the school district — 11; House GOP retreat in Ponte Vedra Beach — 26; the third season of ‘Atlanta’ begins — 26; season two of ‘Bridgerton’ begins — 28; The Oscars — 30; ‘Macbeth’ with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga begin performances on Broadway — 32; Florida Chamber’s 2nd Annual Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health + Sustainability begins — 33; Grammys rescheduled in Las Vegas — 37; ‘Better Call Saul’ final season begins — 52; Magic Johnson’s Apple TV+ docuseries ‘They Call Me Magic’ begins — 56; 2022 Florida Chamber Transportation, Growth & Infrastructure Solution Summit — 62; ‘The Godfather’ TV series ‘The Offer’ premieres — 62; 2nd half of ‘Ozark’ final season begins — 63; federal student loan payments will resume — 65; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 70; ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ starts on Disney+ — 89; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 91; ‘Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 97; California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota hold midterm Primaries — 102; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 134; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 147; Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner novel ‘Heat 2’ publishes — 165; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 189; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 224; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 260; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 263; ‘Avatar 2′ premieres — 295; ‘Captain Marvel 2′ premieres — 357; ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ premieres — 392; ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 518; ‘Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 602; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 882.
— FLORIDA REACTS TO RUSSIAN INVASION —
“Nikki Fried condemns Vladimir Putin’s ‘unprovoked invasion’ of Ukraine” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Fried, under the letterhead of her Democratic campaign for Governor, condemned the invasion. ”I’m calling on our leaders in Florida to send an unambiguous message to Putin that the democracy-loving people of Florida denounce this act of war. We do not respect him. We do not fear him. We oppose all aggression against democracy anywhere,” Fried said. Seemingly anticipating objections, she made the case that Florida had to take an official stand. “Some may not think this is important work for elected officials in Florida, but it is. Because if you respect or bow to Putin, then that sends a message to (Nicolás) Maduro, (Daniel) Ortega, or Castro and (Miguel) Díaz-Canel, and any other authoritarian government or dictator Floridians have fled,” Fried contended.
—“What Tampa Bay’s members of Congress are saying about Ukraine, Russia” via Romy Ellenbogen of the Tampa Bay Times
“As Joe Biden targets Russian assets over Ukraine, elite money remains parked on Florida shores” via Michael Wilner of the Miami Herald — South Florida’s coastal strip of Sunny Isles Beach and exclusive enclave of Fisher Island are among the most moneyed addresses in the United States. They are also playgrounds for the Russian elite that have drawn the attention of financial crimes enforcers for years. Residents have included Dmitry Rybolovlev, a billionaire who famously bought a mansion from Trump in 2008 for $60 million more than its asking price just a few years earlier, and Alexander Yuzvik, who has overseen the construction of Russian military and intelligence projects. These are some of the elites that the White House might wish to target to ratchet up pressure on Russian President Putin, whose invasion of Ukraine has prompted Biden to reach for sanctions that no President has deployed before against a major power.
“Scott Plakon taps Ukrainian heritage with Holodomor remembrance measure” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Rep. Plakon, who is of Ukrainian descent, has filed a resolution calling for a day of remembrance in Florida for the Holodomor, the famine-genocide inflicted by Soviet leaders in the 1930s, killing millions of Ukrainians. Plakon introduced his Holodomor Remembrance Day resolution (HR 8055) on Tuesday, the day after Russian President Putin said he would send troops into two Ukrainian provinces already largely controlled by Russian separatists, and two days before Putin launched Russia’s full assault against Ukraine. Plakon’s resolution calls Florida to recognize Nov. 26, 2022, as Holodomor Remembrance Day.
“Russian invasion leaves Ukrainians in Orlando in shock, fear” via Natalia Jaramillo of the Orlando Sentinel — Ukrainians living in Central Florida said Thursday that the invasion had left them in shock. Local community leaders spent the day coordinating plans for vigils and rallies to show support for their homeland as reports of explosions and fighting spread. Iryna Sytnyk, a fitness instructor who moved to Orlando seven months ago, said her younger sister and mother are still in Ukraine, just outside Kyiv. “My sister heard the bombs but got up to go to work. Then, when she was walking to work, her job texted her saying to stay home,” Sytnyk said. “They haven’t left the house since then other than to wait for two hours to get cash.”
— DATELINE TALLY —
“Ron DeSantis signs into law extended COVID-19 protections for health care providers” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — DeSantis signed into law nine bills, including a highly sought-after bill that extends protections from COVID-19 liability lawsuits for nursing homes, hospitals and doctors. SB 7014 was passed earlier this month, with many Democrats voting against the measure. The current law that shields businesses and health care providers from COVID-19-related lawsuits was one of the first measures passed by the Legislature during the 2021 Session. The law clarifies that to sue a health care provider regarding COVID-19 successfully, the plaintiff must prove gross negligence or intentional misconduct. While general businesses were provided indefinite protections, health care providers were afforded such protection only through March 2022. The bill signed by DeSantis extends protections for health care providers until June 1, 2023.
“House Redistricting publishes two draft Congressional maps hours ahead of meeting” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Hours ahead of what’s likely the last House Redistricting Committee meeting, cartographers for the chamber released two draft congressional maps. One map (H 8017) would effectively eliminate a north Florida district now represented Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson. Up until now, some configuration of that map has appeared on every redistricting draft produced by the Florida Legislature, where staff has maintained the Black performing seat must remain to avoid diminishing minority communities’ ability to elect a Representative of their choice. But it did not appear on two public submissions from DeSantis’ office, which has labeled the district an “unconstitutional gerrymander.”
“‘We are in distress’: House passes LGBTQ instruction bill despite pleas from Democrats” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — The House has passed controversial parental rights legislation governing schools, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents. House Democrats and Republicans went back and forth Thursday afternoon, debating legislation (HB 1557) sponsored by Rep. Joe Harding, that would limit instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill passed in a 69-47 near-partisan vote. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, wearing his rainbow pin upside-down in a sign of distress, opened debate Thursday with an impassioned testimony Thursday during debate. “I can’t not make it personal,” said Smith.
“Senate’s elections bill ready for Senate floor” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The Senate could soon vote to establish an election crimes investigations unit, ban ranked choice voting, change vote-by-mail forms and more. After more than two hours of discussion, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted nearly along party lines Thursday to send an elections bill (SB 524) that contains several of DeSantis’ “election integrity” priorities to the Senate floor. Despite the bipartisan agreement that the 2020 election was possibly the smoothest in Florida’s recent history, the bill is Republicans’ second follow-up measure to strengthen Florida’s voting laws. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Travis Hutson, proposes many changes to several areas of Florida election laws. Sen. Doug Broxson suggested the measure is insurance for the future rather than a reaction to the past.
“House votes to regulate talk of sexual orientation, gender identity in Florida schools” via James Call of USA Today Network — The Florida House boosted the Republican Party’s “culture war” election-year strategy Thursday with a party-line vote on a bill to regulate discussions about sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools. With a largely party-line vote of 69-47, the bill (HB 1557) is on its way to the Senate, where it will be heard Monday in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The proposal has drawn national attention, including a condemnation by Biden, and is backed by DeSantis. It comes as the Governor and Legislature seek re-election later this year, with DeSantis positioning himself as the champion of conservative cultural issues.
“Private prison investors love the Senate’s budget” via Jason Garcia from Seeking Rents — The Senate is pushing to spend $1.3 billion building a pair of 4,500-bed prisons – and GEO executives and investors appear thrilled. “In Florida, the state Legislature is considering the construction of two new, 4,500-bed correctional facilities as part of its correctional modernization program,” James Black, a GEO senior vice president, announced during a company earnings call. “Do you [know]…how big the opportunity in Florida is?” asked Kirk Ludtke, an analyst with Imperial Capital. “Well, the discussion presently is for 4,500-bed facilities,” responded GEO Executive Chair George Zoley. “Wow. OK. Sizable,” Ludtke said.
“In waning days of Session, lawmakers eye changes to home health care, emergency transportation laws” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — A Senate spending panel advanced a health care bill that amends laws regarding home health care, assisted living facilities, and medical transportation. But the bill is structured so that it could become a vehicle for any other health care issues in the final two weeks of Session. Filed by Sen. Jennifer Bradley, the bill (SB 718) cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee without debate or fanfare. It is similar to HB 469, filed by Rep. Dana Trabulsy. The House could hear that bill as early as Thursday. The measure ends the current home health care and assisted living facility statutes to establish a group of “other tasks” that certified nursing assistants and home health aides can help provide.
“Update to MSD Public Safety Act passes House unanimously to bipartisan applause” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — Updates to improve school safety, bolstering the law passed in the wake of the state’s worst school shooting, unanimously passed the full House Thursday, spurring the day’s first burst of bipartisan applause for a vote. The passage followed acknowledgment of the events in 2018 that prompted the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act. Survivors of the massacre at the Parkland high school of the same name were recognized, and the sponsor of the legislation (HB 1421) promised he would be following up on the issue every year. Rep. Fred Hawkins, the bill’s prime sponsor, said he felt he should get to know each victim to inspire him.
“House committee gives nod to surplus, citizens, fraud bills” via William Rabb of Insurance Journal — The House Commerce Committee passed no fewer than five bills Wednesday that could affect property and casualty insurance, from allowing surplus lines carriers to be based in Florida to encouraging more takeouts of Citizens Property Insurance policies. House Bill 951 would, for the first time, enable Florida-based surplus lines insurers to sell surplus policies in Florida. A similar bill has met with little opposition in the Senate, but HB 951 ran into some unexpected criticism in the House committee.
“‘United’ House unanimously passes mandatory anti-Communist high school lessons” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — With the bill’s sponsor saying polls show half of the upcoming generation would vote for a socialist, and one in five for a communist, the full House unanimously voted Thursday to require that students learn about victims of communism. Rep. David Borrero sponsored the bill (HB 395), creating a “Victims of Communism Day,” which would have the Governor declare a special observance on Nov. 7 every year. The bill also calls for students in high school government class to get 45 minutes of instruction about history’s totalitarian dictators who have killed millions and oppressed billions “through false promises of equality and liberation or through coercion, brutality and fear.”
— TALLY 2 —
“‘House of the rising sun’: Floating solar proposal clears one Legislature chamber” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Legislation triggering work on plans to open many water bodies throughout the state to floating solar energy arrays has cleared the House and now is on its way to the Senate. On Thursday, the House approved a bill (HB 1411) by Rep. Bryan Ávila that would direct the state Office of Energy to develop and submit to the Legislature recommendations for a regulatory framework for the development and operation of floating solar-power facilities. The bill passed 112-0 with no discussion. Provided the measure passes in the Senate, those plans would be due Dec. 31.
“Florida’s growing marijuana industry praises Ben Albritton’s agritourism bill as it passes Senate panel” via Daniel Figueroa of Florida Politics — Florida’s burgeoning marijuana industry was alight with joy as Sen. Albritton‘s agritourism bill cleared its final committee meeting before a full Senate vote. The bill (SB 1186) clears up language regarding how lands used for agritourism are taxed. Currently, agricultural lands used for a “bona fide” purpose are taxed at a lower “assessed” value than other properties, which are taxed based on their “just” value, the land’s highest value. The lower tax rate serves as an incentive for farmers to keep agricultural land instead of making a profit by selling the same land for a different use, like retail or building condos.
“House passes drug overdose law as members break party lines” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The House has passed a bill that could open more drug dealers to the death penalty. The bill (HB 95), sponsored by Plakon, would broaden a prosecutor’s ability to pursue a first-degree murder charge if a drug overdose leads to a person’s death. The House voted 75-38, mostly along party lines, to send the bill to the Senate Thursday. Under current law, a drug dealer may face the death penalty, if they sell a controlled substance that verifiably caused the death of a consumer. But prosecutors often struggle to convict in cases involving multiple controlled substances or alcohol.
“Bill promoting certified peer specialists for substance abuse disorders passes Legislature” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — A bill that would establish standards for certified peer specialists and allow them to be part of the state’s alcohol and drug abuse delivery system is on its way to the Governor after the House passed the bill 114-0 Thursday. SB 282 had previously passed the Florida Senate earlier this month unanimously. The bill amends state law to label certified peer specialists as an essential part of a coordinated system of care to treat substance use disorder. The measure has been a long-standing priority for Sen. Darryl Rouson. Rouson, who has in the past battled alcohol and cocaine addictions, has been sober for more than 20 years. Peer specialists are persons who have recovered from substance use disorder (SUD) or mental illness who support a person with a current substance use disorder or mental illness.
“House passes ‘Markel’ grandparent visitation bill” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — Today, the Florida House passed a bill with profound meaning for Florida children and grandparents who become estranged from one another after a tragedy. The bill passed with a vote of 112-3. The conditions are narrow but powerful, applying to families where a child has lost one parent due to the intentional wrongdoing of the other parent and then suffered another loss by being cut off from their deceased parent’s family. In such cases, under HB 1119 and its companion SB 1408, courts will have the authority to hear petitions for visitation with grandparents. The bill was inspired in part by the 2014 murder of FSU law professor Dan Markel, who was hunted down and shot in the head by a hitman shortly after dropping his two sons off at preschool.
“House votes to tighten penalties on tampering with capital felony evidence” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — On Thursday, the House approved legislation by a 111-1 vote that would ramp up penalties for evidence tampering in certain felony cases. HB 287, introduced by Rep. Sam Garrison of Clay County, would make tampering with or fabricating evidence a second-degree felony if done in a criminal trial, proceeding, or investigation relating to capital felonies. Currently, it’s a third-degree felony to tamper with evidence in all cases, and the law does not distinguish between tampering with evidence in murder and other capital felony cases and lesser offenses, such as possession of marijuana. Only Democratic Rep. Michele Rayner of St. Petersburg voted against the measure. If the bill is signed into law, it takes effect on Oct. 1.
“House passes ballot measure for extra property tax break for teachers, first responders” via Gray Rohrer of Florida Politics — Florida teachers, police officers, firefighters, military members and child welfare professionals are a step closer to receiving another break on homestead property taxes. The House voted Thursday unanimously to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to exempt another $50,000 in property value from taxes for workers in those fields. One measure (HJR 1) would put the issue on the ballot. Another bill (HB 1563) would implement the policy in law if more than 60% of voters approve, and it would take effect on Jan. 1, 2023. Both measures are scheduled for a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday, the last hearing in that chamber before heading to a floor vote.
“Juvenile expunction bill soars through House” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The House unanimously passed a bill Thursday that would broaden a juvenile’s ability to expunge their arrest record in Florida. State law limits expungement opportunities to minors who complete a diversion program after a first-time misdemeanor arrest. However, the bill (HB 195) would broaden expunction eligibility to include most felonies. Rep. David Smith is the bill sponsor. “I think we would all probably agree that justice reform in Florida is a marathon,” Smith said. “This bill is a good first step.” While the bill is indeed the first step, Smith took a marathon effort to get it signed into law.
School seizure action plans poised for passage — The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a bill, SB 340 by Sen. Ileana Garcia, that would require public schools to create seizure action plans for students who deal with seizures. The approval sets the bill up for a floor vote in the upper chamber. The House companion, HB 173 by Rep. Nick Duran, has also passed through all of its committee stops and is set to be considered by the full House. “Both Sen. Garcia and Rep. Duran have been tireless advocates this year for students with epilepsy,” said Steve Schale, Board Member of Epilepsy Florida. “When I was a student, I dealt with the fear of having a seizure in school — and this bill will demystify seizures in schools, making it easier for students to have a normal experience.”
“Bill creating medical fund for Florida’s retired law enforcement dogs moves to full Senate” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — Retired corrections and law enforcement dogs could have health care provided by state funds, according to a bill that received its third and final Senate committee approval Thursday. Sen. Bobby Powell introduced the legislation (SB 226) that creates the Care for Retired Law Enforcement Dogs Program within the Department of Law Enforcement. The legislation will set aside $300,000 in recurring funds from the General Revenue Fund, allowing FDLE to contract with a nonprofit corporation to manage the veterinary care. The Senate Appropriations Committee OK’d the bill Thursday. Powell, from West Palm Beach, said these law enforcement dogs are unique partners in crime-fighting.
“House passes bill to ban cigarette butts from beaches” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The House, for the first time, passed a bill that would allow local governments to bar smoking on beaches. The bill (HB 105) would allow cities and counties to regulate cigarettes in parks the governments own. Rep. Thad Altman said the loss of that power was a byproduct of an anti-smoking constitutional amendment passed by voters. The amendment restricted smoking in most indoor public spaces, but resulted in making regulation of outdoor smoking a power held only by the state government. In years since, Altman has pushed to change that. “We found at a lot of public parks and beaches, you would go to a Little League game and see smoke going into the dugout with children, and there was no way to enforce that,” he said.
“‘Fool’s gold’: Lifeline for specialty license plates runs into criticism in last Senate committee stop” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — A measure meant to reduce the number of pledges necessary to start printing specialty license plates and add more such tags passed its final Senate committee Thursday. The bill (SB 364) is now on its way to a full floor vote after encountering criticism in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Sen. Aaron Bean, the bill’s sponsor, had framed the legislation as a way to provide a lifeline to more than 30 specialty license plates state lawmakers approved just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Those plates have yet to cross a 3,000-per-order threshold necessary to be manufactured. The bill aims to lower that threshold for in- and out-of-state specialty plates to 2,500 and reset the 24-month clock on how long organizations have to record presales with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV).
— MORE TALLY —
“Florida Hospital Association: Budget cuts could worsen nursing shortage” via Caden DeLisa of The Capitolist — It’s no secret that Florida is suffering from a significant nursing shortage, with an estimated 17,000 vacant positions across the state, worsened by a booming population and demand for adequate health care. Florida Hospital Association (FHA) CEO Mary Mayhew explained how recent health care budget cuts passed by the Florida House and Senate could exacerbate the worker shortage. FHA recently conducted a survey of its member institutions, finding an alarming registered nurse turnover rate of 25%, also noting turnover of over a third of its total critical care unit workforce. FHA projects a deficit of 59,100 nurses in Florida by 2035. Job growth for nurses in Florida expects to grow by 21%, while 40% of nurses will approach retirement age in the next decade.
“Florida’s 15-week abortion ban will affect women in the Caribbean and Latin America, too” via Cindy Krischer Goodman and Brooke Baitinger of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida’s controversial bill that would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy will affect women well beyond the state’s borders. Women’s health clinics report that patients come to Florida from the Caribbean Islands and Latin America to get abortions, mainly because the procedures are not legal in their countries. In the Caribbean, home to a patchwork of regulatory jurisdictions, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and the British Virgin Islands consider abortion a felony. “We get a lot of women from the islands … this group of women the abortion law affects, it’s not a small percent,” said Joan Weinstein, director of East Cypress Women’s Center in Fort Lauderdale. “They come here because they have family here; they have a place to stay.”
“Faith leaders’ opposition to immigration policies grows as GOP fast-tracks legislation” via Ana Ceballos of the Miami Herald — Opposition to DeSantis’ immigration platform is not hard to see or hear. The hallways of Florida’s Capitol are bustling with advocates who oppose his proposals; their messages carried on children’s postcards to lawmakers and in coordinated campaigns led by faith leaders from South Florida and across the state. The proposed measures, a key component of DeSantis’ immigration wish list as he seeks re-election, are being fast-tracked in the final weeks of the legislative Session. Senate President Wilton Simpson on Wednesday told reporters he approved a procedural maneuver that now allows the bill to skip its last committee stop and head straight to the floor for final passage.
“Will Florida fully fund housing programs? Lawmakers diverted billions in the past” via Phil Prazan of NBC Miami — South Florida has become unaffordable for many as rent prices go up 30% in some communities. It comes down to supply and demand. There’s not enough supply of affordable apartments and homes at a time when new people are rushing to move to South Florida. Advocates said thousands of units in the past two decades could have been built if state lawmakers did not divert billions for affordable housing projects. Starting in 2002, the Florida legislature began to divert one-third of the collected money, around $2.3 billion and moved it to the general revenue fund to pay for other items in the budget. In the 2021 Legislative Session, state lawmakers officially changed the state law to move half the stamp tax increase into funds for sea-level rise and water management projects.
New and renewed lobbying registrations:
Amy Bisceglia, Adams St. Advocates: Opal Senior Living
Elizabeth Dudek, Greenberg Traurig: Alzheimer’s Association
David Hagan, The Southern Group: Florida State College at Jacksonville Foundation
Andrew Ketchel, Capital City Consulting: Wheelabrator Technologies Holdings
Ryan Matthews, GrayRobinson: Orlando Utilities Commission
Crystal Stickle, Magnolia Advocacy: City of Deltona, Elite Continuing Education
Thomas Susman: American Bar Association
— FOR YOUR RADAR —
Nearly nine in 10 Floridians say they should be able to sell or give away their event tickets wherever and however they choose.
The poll, conducted on behalf of Protect Ticket Rights, comes as lawmakers are considering a proposal that would require ticket-selling platforms to provide consumers the option of purchasing a ticket “with no limit on transferability” — meaning it can be given from one person to another or even sold on a third-party platform.
SB 1316 and HB 969 would not ban the sale of non-transferable tickets; it would just mandate that buyers have the option to purchase a version of them without any strings attached.
The proposal aims to loosen major platforms’ grip on the primary and resale ticket markets. Ticketmaster, for instance, owns an estimated 80% of all tickets sold in the U.S. The company also has its resale marketplace and, under current law, is allowed to limit the resale of any tickets it sells to its platform.
According to the poll, 87.4% of Floridians believe they should have the right to do what they want with tickets purchased, and 84% say it is unfair to lock digital tickets into a single proprietary system or app.
Further, 84% say venues should not be able to deny entry by canceling or invalidating tickets purchased from a seller other than the venue’s box office or the event’s contracted ticketing company. When given a pitch similar to the bills under consideration this Session, 82% said they would support it becoming law.
The Protect Tickets Rights poll was conducted Jan. 30-Feb. 17 via Google Surveys. It has a sample size of 500 Florida residents.
— The House convenes for a floor Session, 9 a.m., House Chamber.
— The Revenue Estimating Conference meets to examine the estimated costs of legislation, 9 a.m., Room 117 of the Knott Building.
— STATEWIDE —
“Don’t dismiss DeSantis’ blows against immigrant children as rhetoric. It’s who he is” via Fabiola Santiago of the Miami Herald — DeSantis, leader of a state heavily dependent on the labor of immigrants and dotted from one end of the peninsula to the other with their success stories, is hellbent on vilifying us. Worst of all, DeSantis has chosen to make the target of his wrath unaccompanied minor children, who, whether the Governor likes it or not, might end up living the rest of their lives as Americans. DeSantis is so obsessed with keeping new immigrants out of the state that he has tasked the state agency responsible for keeping children safe in Florida, the Department of Children and Families (DCF), with taking a political stance. Child advocates say this shouldn’t be the agency’s role, and they’re right.
Jimmy Patronis honors US&R team for post-Surfside response — Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Patronis on Thursday honored members of Florida’s Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 5 during a ceremony in Jacksonville as a part of his “Year of the US&R” statewide tour. In recognition of the task force’s efforts after the Surfside condo collapse, Patronis presented members with Surfside Memorial Challenge Coins. “It was an honor to be in Jacksonville today and recognize the brave men and women of Florida’s US&R Task Force 5. I saw the work of God when hundreds of Florida’s Urban Search & Rescue Team members fought, and kept fighting, for any hopes of life,” he said. Patronis also reiterated his budget priority to secure $10 million in funding for US&R training and equipment.
Florida port officials to highlight cargo capacity during California swing — Port leaders from the Florida Ports Council, JAXPORT, Port Everglades, PortMiami, Port Tampa Bay and Port Manatee will attend TPM22 in Long Beach, California, where they will highlight Florida’s seaport vessel capabilities, equipment capacity and 24/7 supply chain efficiencies. “We’re going to put ourselves front and center into the battleground,” said Jonathan Daniels, Florida Ports Council Chair and Port Everglades CEO. “As shippers look to avoid congestion, Florida has developed the efficiencies to serve as a long-term solution to move cargo, and this is the message we look forward to sharing with shipping lines.” The Florida Ports Council credited seaport investments by the DeSantis administration, the Legislature and the Florida Department of Transportation in helping position the state as a major player in connecting commerce.
“Jacksonville-based Wounded Warrior Project finds high rates of suicidal thoughts, pain in veterans” via Katherine Lewin of the Florida Times-Union — Veterans and service members who sought help from The Wounded Warrior Project often face sleep problems, anxiety, PTSD and depression. Many have physical injuries or hearing loss, and have experienced sexual trauma, especially women. And most experience severe physical pain. Those were some of the findings of the 2021 survey of The Wounded Warrior Project, the nonprofit based out of Jacksonville. The survey results were released this week with findings that included high rates of reports of toxic exposure, suicidal ideation, and sexual assault among veterans. The nonprofit focuses on veterans and service members who have a physical or mental injury or illness while serving in the military on or after Sept. 11, 2001.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“State sees 598 newly reported deaths, as hospital patients decline” via Devoun Cetoute of the Miami Herald — Florida on Thursday reported 3,401 COVID-19 cases and 598 new deaths to the CDC. The CDC backlogs cases and deaths for Florida on Mondays and Thursdays, when multiple days in the past have their totals changed. In August, Florida began reporting cases and deaths by the “case date” and “death date” rather than when they were logged in to the system. Of the deaths added, about 76% occurred in the past 28 days and about 54% in the last two weeks. In the past seven days, the state has added 140 deaths and 3,963 cases per day, on average. Florida has recorded at least 5,797,657 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 69,553 deaths.
“Omicron wave all but over as seven-day average for new cases hits 10-week low” via David Schutz of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The average for new COVID-19 cases in Florida dropped below 4,000 on Friday to its lowest point in 70 days. In addition to reporting 3,401 new cases Friday, the state added 598 further deaths to its pandemic total. Over the past week, Florida has added 981 deaths, down from the 1,250 reported in the previous seven-day period. There were 3,592 patients infected with COVID-19 in hospitals across the state on Wednesday, the lowest number since Dec. 27. The number of infected patients in intensive care units was 599 on Wednesday, the first time this year, the number has been below 600.
“No more masks at work? DeSantis issues new nonbinding COVID-19 guidelines” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — DeSantis and Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo unveiled a series of updated COVID-19 guidelines on Thursday in an announcement that touted the move as bucking the CDC. The state’s Department of Health, which Ladapo leads, is now recommending that businesses should stop requiring employees to wear masks. They’re giving doctors a way to complain to state regulators if health care facilities push back on aggressive treatment plans for COVID-19 patients. And they’re advising that Floridians can stop isolating five days after testing positive for the virus as long as they have no fever, and their symptoms are improving.
To watch the video, click on the image below:
— CPAC —
“DeSantis urges CPAC supporters to don ‘armor of God’ against wokeness” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — In a roughly 20-minute speech, DeSantis blasted the media, academia, and corporations in jarring terms. He asserted that they and others are infected with a “new religion” of wokeness and rank conservatives as “second-class citizens.” DeSantis said that the belief is tearing at the “fabric” of society. It, he added, is a form of “cultural Marxism.” With conservatives cheering him on, DeSantis urged them to don the “armor of God” and the “shield of faith” as they fight to reclaim the nation in 2024. The stakes, he suggested, are high. “Their goal is not to make our country great,” DeSantis decried of “the left,” marking his closest reference to Trump, who coined the phrase “Make America Great Again.”
“DeSantis fuels U.S. Presidential run speculation with CPAC speech” via David Smith of The Guardian — DeSantis, the right-wing Republican Governor of Florida, has fueled speculation about a future US Presidential run with a high profile speech lambasting Biden, the media and what he termed “wokeism.” DeSantis, an ally and possible rival to Trump, delivered the attack at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the biggest annual gathering of grassroots conservatives in the US. DeSantis spoke in Orlando in his home state, but the broad and national sweep of his address, which did not mention Trump by name, was consistent with eyeing a potential White House run in 2024 or 2028.
“DNC uses Donald Trump’s words to drag ‘gutless’ DeSantis” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — The Democratic National Committee’s “War Room” welcomed DeSantis to the Conservative Political Action Conference with a new video recalling the time Trump implied DeSantis was “gutless.” The juxtaposition of DeSantis and Trump’s comments some weeks back about COVID-19 booster vaccines stands as a potent reminder of the simmering conflict between the former President and his understudy-turned-rival. The DNC ad focused instead on comments from a DeSantis news conference. “That’s something that, you know, I think people should just make their own decisions on,” DeSantis responded. “I’m not going to let that be a weapon for people to be able to use. I think it’s a private matter.”
To watch the ad, click on the image below:
“DeSantisland” and “Trump 2024” here at #CPAC2022 pic.twitter.com/cSKKBULLS0
— Christopher Heath (@CHeathWFTV) February 24, 2022
“Charlie Kirk barely out-duels Ted Cruz for worst CPAC Ukraine take” via Peter Wade of Rolling Stone — It takes real trolling talent to best Cruz when it comes to bad Ukraine takes, but somehow Kirk managed to accomplish just that during his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Kirk urged his fellow speakers “to call what’s happening on the southern border an invasion,” rather than showing concern about Ukraine, where Russian President Putin has been raining down missiles on major cities as Ukraine’s citizens worry about what the future holds and if they’ll survive to see it. “The Southern border matters a lot more than the Ukrainian border,” Kirk said on Thursday.
“Seminole County Sheriff wants murder charges if drug dealers cause overdoses” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Drug dealers in Florida should face murder charges if their product leads to the overdose death of another individual, said Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma on Thursday. Lemma’s remarks came during a CPAC discussion about the opioid crisis in Florida. “It is incredibly important to get people clean and the help they need, but it’s equally important to charge the drug dealers with murder when they’re dealing deadly doses of narcotics on the street,” Lemma said to an applauding crowd. He warned the crisis isn’t an isolated issue, but a problem impacting Floridians across all walks of life — rich, poor and everything in between. While pill mills and doctors were the original culprits of the crisis, Lemma said the cartels and fentanyl are now to blame.
— 2022 —
Assignment editors — U.S. Sen. Rick Scott hosts a “Coffee and Conversation” roundtable to highlight his new Rescue America plan, 11 a.m., Beat Culture Brewery & Kitchen, 7250 NW 11th St, Miami. RSVP to [email protected]
“Charlie Crist shrugs off weak numbers in poll versus DeSantis” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — A leading Democratic candidate for Governor attempted Thursday to take the air out of polling that showed him down more than 20 points to DeSantis. New polling showed DeSantis with a 21-point lead over Crist, 55% to 34%. Even Democratic respondents seemed to like DeSantis. One in four Democrats polled chose him over Crist, a former Republican seeking a return to the Governor’s Mansion under his current party label. Crist said he hadn’t seen the poll before he shot it down. Even with 34% support, Crist was two points ahead of Fried in polling against DeSantis, who had 55% support against Fried head-to-head.
“Crist blasts DeSantis for infusing education with ‘politics and bias’” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Crist framed the “Parents for Crist” meeting as “a fight to get politics out of our schools and focus on what truly is best for Florida’s children.” “Right now, unfortunately, parents and children are suffering because of leadership in our state,” Crist said. “Gov. DeSantis and his Republican Legislature are continually politically motivating attacks on our schools, LGBTQ children, and frankly, those don’t agree with, or who won’t fall in line with, a right-wing agenda.” “Make no mistake,” Crist continued, “this Governor is taking away the right of folks like you to send your kids to a school and get a good education that is free of politics and bias.” Participants on the call offered details backing Crist’s claims.
“More than 20 lawmakers back Michael Grieco for Senate” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — More than 20 Florida lawmakers have thrown their support behind Rep. Grieco’s bid to switch chambers and capture the Senate District 36 seat in November. After years on the Miami Beach City Commission, Grieco, who first won state office in 2018, welcomed the endorsements in a Thursday press note. “This show of support from my valued colleagues and friends is an honor; there’s no group of public servants with whom I’d rather be fighting the good fight,” he said in a statement. Grieco earned nods from both House and Senate members, all Democrats. His Senate endorsers include Lori Berman, Shevrin Jones, Jason Pizzo and Tina Polsky.
— CORONA NATION —
“Omicron subvariant sparks reopening jitters” via Tina Reed of Axios — The fear of new COVID-19 variants is adding a sense of trepidation to America’s latest great reopening. While cases and hospitalizations are plummeting worldwide after massive omicron-fueled surges, the spread of an even more transmissible omicron subvariant is making some experts nervous as states lift mask mandates and other restrictions. “The bottom line is we’re relatively optimistic that things will continue to improve through the spring and the summer under omicron,” said Matt Craven, a partner at McKinsey who specializes in public health and infectious disease. But this new subvariant “serves as that reminder we very well may not be done here and there may be others coming,” he said.
—“Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest map and case count” via The New York Times
“The CDC advises some people wait longer between the first and second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.” via Sabrina Imbler of The New York Times — Some people getting their initial shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus vaccines should consider waiting longer for their second dose. The agency now suggests an eight-week interval between the first and second shots of those vaccines for some older than 12, especially boys and men between 12 and 39 years. The new change, which does not affect those already vaccinated, applies to about 33 million unvaccinated people. And the C.D.C. still recommends the original intervals, three weeks for Pfizer-BioNTech and four for Moderna, for certain people, including those whose immune systems are moderately to severely immunocompromised, are 65 years or older, or are at risk of severe COVID-19.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“Inflation threatens to erode impact of $1 trillion infrastructure law” via Andrew Duehren of The Wall Street Journal — Rising prices and snarled supply chains are poised to blunt the impact of the $1 trillion infrastructure law Congress passed with bipartisan support last year. How many roads, bridges, railways, fiber optic lines, and other types of infrastructure the U.S. can build or fix under the law will largely hinge on the extent of increases in everything from the cost of diesel fuel to workers’ wages. Elevated costs for materials and labor are already pushing contractors to charge more for construction projects, increases that economists and industry officials say could reduce the number of infrastructure projects the new federal money can finance.
“Moderna expects at least $19 billion in COVID-19 vaccine sales in 2022, reports big fourth quarter earnings beat” via Spencer Kimball of CNBC — Moderna said it expects to sell at least $19 billion of its COVID-19 vaccine this year, after reporting fourth quarter earnings that blew out analysts’ earnings and revenue estimates. Moderna stock rose 11.4% in morning trading. The company’s 2022 forecast for vaccine sales was $2 billion higher than its previous expectation. Moderna previously said it expected $17 billion in vaccine sales this year. Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel told analysts on an earnings call Thursday morning that the $19 billion only reflects signed purchase agreements and doesn’t count its potential U.S. sales yet since the federal government hasn’t signed advanced purchase agreements for 2022.
— MORE CORONA —
“Say hello again to the office, fingers crossed” via Emma Goldberg of The New York Times — The two-year mark since many American businesses sent their office workers home is approaching, and some antsy executives have delivered a long-delayed message: Return-to-office plans are real this time (fingers crossed). Managers are hanging up welcome balloons and dusting off monitors with a sense of confidence. Coronavirus tests are widely available, including some provided by employers. Many businesses know the majority of their employees are vaccinated. Many workers have recovered from omicron and are resuming indoor social activities. Executives are entering the next zone of return-to-office planning with what psychologists call “stress-related growth.” They have endured a sustained period of tumult.
— MORE ON UKRAINE —
“Ukraine crisis kicks off new superpower struggle among U.S., Russia and China” via Michael R. Gordon of The Wall Street Journal — Russia’s audacious military assault on Ukraine is the first major clash marking a new order in international politics, with three major powers jostling for position in ways that threaten America’s primacy. This emerging order leaves the U.S. contending with two adversaries at once in geographically disparate parts of the world where America has close partners and deep economic and political interests. The Biden administration now faces big decisions on whether to regear its priorities, step up military spending, demand allies contribute more, station additional forces abroad, and develop more diverse energy sources to reduce Europe’s dependence on Moscow.
“Russian forces seize control of Chernobyl nuclear plant, Ukrainian official says” via Gul Tuysuz, Anastasia Graham-Yooll, Tamara Qiblawi and Roman Tymotsko of CNN — Russian forces have seized control of the Chernobyl power plant in northern Ukraine, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster. Troops overran the plant on the first day of Russia’s multipronged invasion of Ukraine, a spokesperson for the State Agency of Ukraine on Exclusion Zone Management, Yevgeniya Kuznetsovа, told CNN. “When I came to the office today in the morning (in Kyiv), it turned out that the (Chernobyl nuclear power plant) management had left. So, there was no one to give instructions or defend,” she said. Earlier Thursday, Ukrainian President Zelenskiy warned that Russian forces were attempting to wrest control of the nuclear plant.
—“Russian forces have captured the world’s biggest cargo jet in Ukraine” via Brett Tingley of The Drive
—”Putin’s troops raise Russian flag in Ukraine as ‘Z’ tanks lead second wave ground invasion after aerial blitz” via Nick Parker, Jerome Starkey and Henry Holloway of The Sun
“‘We do not expect anyone to fight for us,’ Ukraine’s defiant ambassador says from Washington.” via Michael Crowley of The New York Times — Ukraine’s ambassador to Washington pleaded for help from the world, saying that at least 40 Ukrainian troops have already been killed by Russia, along with “dozens” of Ukrainian civilians, and that the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was under attack. During a news conference at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, D.C., Ambassador Oksana Markarova also said that Russian attacks struck hospitals. Ticking off a list of several cities that she said have experienced attacks and heavy fighting, Markarova noted that Russia’s invasion goes far beyond the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. “It’s a war against Ukraine,” she said.
“Pentagon sending 7,000 more troops to Germany as fighting rages in Ukraine” via Paul McLeary and Bryan Bender of POLITICO — Biden approved the deployment of 7,000 additional U.S. troops to Germany on Thursday, bringing the total of U.S.-based forces sent to Europe to 12,000 this month. According to a Defense Department statement, the 7,000 troops will deploy to Germany and include an armored brigade combat team with “associated capabilities and enablers.” They will leave “in the coming days,” the statement said. The announcement came shortly after Biden told reporters at the White House that he planned to send additional troops. Biden added that troops wouldn’t be going to Ukraine and “be engaged in the conflict,” but instead sent to reassure NATO allies.
“Biden hits Russia with new sanctions, says Putin ‘chose’ war” via The Associated Press — The sanctions target Russian banks, oligarchs, and high-tech sectors, Biden said. The United States and its allies will block assets of four large Russian banks, impose export controls, and sanction oligarchs. Biden also said the U.S. would be deploying additional forces to Germany to bolster NATO after the invasion of Ukraine, which is not a member of the defense organization. “Putin is the aggressor,” Biden said. “Putin chose this war, and now he and his country will bear the consequences.” Biden, for now, held off imposing some of the most severe sanctions, including cutting Russia out of the SWIFT payment system, which allows for the transfers of money from bank to bank around the globe, or Russia’s energy sector.
“Biden has been presented with options for massive cyberattacks against Russia” via Ken Dilanian and Courtney Kube of NBC News — Two U.S. intelligence officials, one Western intelligence official and another person briefed on the matter say no final decisions have been made, but they say U.S. intelligence and military cyber warriors are proposing the use of American cyberweapons on a scale never before contemplated. Among the options: disrupting internet connectivity across Russia, shutting off electric power, and tampering with railroad switches to hamper Russia’s ability to resupply its forces, three of the sources said. “You could do everything from slow the trains down to have them fall off the tracks,” one person briefed on the matter said.
“5,000 miles away but hitting home: How Russia’s advance on Ukraine is rattling Americans” via Marc Fisher of The Washington Post — The prospect of ground warfare and a brutal assault on a sovereign nation at the edge of America’s European alliance is raising worries about whether the U.S. pivoted too sharply to Asia and the Middle East in recent decades; whether America’s historical bonds with Europe remain strong enough to protect U.S. interests now; and whether U.S. strategists focused too heavily on the new forms of warfare that have dominated recent international clashes, including cyberwar, drone assaults and targeted assassination. But Russia’s invasion threatens to hit Americans where they live — in the form of possible surges in energy prices, rattled financial markets and the prospect of cyberattacks on American institutions in response to U.S. economic sanctions against Russia.
“U.S. spies made right call on Russia invasion, buying Biden time” via Alberto Nardelli, Jennifer Jacobs, and Kitty Donaldson of Bloomberg — It failed to prevent a war, but almost everything the U.S. said Russia would do in Ukraine has come to pass. The intelligence that Biden made public in a highly unusual step gave the world a preview of Putin’s true intentions, robbing him of the element of surprise. It also gave the U.S. time to rally support from its allies on sanctions that, in normal circumstances, would have taken months to hash out. Given the intelligence failures of the past, most damagingly in 2003 with Iraq, the U.S. couldn’t afford to get this wrong. Sending Americans to fight was out of the question, so the White House had to drive public opinion — and unlike in Russia’s previous invasion of Ukraine in 2014, it decided to go public with what it knew.
“A deadly, devious intelligence war unfolds in Ukraine” via David Ignatius of The Washington Post — The Ukraine spy wars, so far, have taken place mostly in what Russians like to call the “information space” — and the performance by the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies has been dazzling. Heads must be spinning in the Kremlin — and perhaps rolling, too. But Russia plays a very long and devious game in intelligence, and there’s no better example than Ukraine during the Cold War’s first years. What makes this spy history relevant now is that support for a Ukrainian insurgency is a little-discussed part of the Biden administration’s plan for combating an all-out Russian invasion. The aim is to make Ukraine an indigestible “porcupine” for Russian occupiers. But this strategy has some significant weaknesses that need a frank examination now before it’s too late.
“Ukraine’s military is badly outgunned by Russia despite the West’s support.” via Michael Schwirtz of The New York Times — Back in December, the commander of Ukraine’s military intelligence service, Gen. Kyrylo O. Budanov, outlined a scenario in which a Russian invasion would begin with airstrikes and rocket attacks aimed at ammunition depots and trench-bound troops — foreshadowing the attack that came early Thursday morning. The Russian force includes 120 to 125 battalion tactical groups, up from the mid-80s earlier in the month. Some of the troops are Russian reservists who would make up an occupation force after an invasion. According to the Ministry of Defense, Ukraine has only slightly more enlisted soldiers and officers in its entire military. The roughly 200 aircraft that comprise Ukraine’s full air force are fewer than the number of fighter planes that Russia has deployed already to the Ukrainian border.
“America could have done so much more to protect Ukraine” via Alexander Vindman of The Atlantic — For two decades, the U.S. entertained illusions about what might be accomplished with Russia, a reluctant partner, while remaining oblivious to opportunities in Ukraine, a far more willing one. In its relationship with Russia, the U.S. had limited prospects of achieving any objectives outside of arms control, whereas Ukraine might have successfully influenced regional development. Nevertheless, U.S. leaders cannot absolve themselves of guilt by claiming they did all they could to prevent another invasion; they offered a necessary response, not a sufficient one. Like every administration since the end of the Cold War, Biden fell victim to wishful thinking about the Kremlin’s ambitions in Ukraine and Putin’s fundamental commitment to international norms.
“Nord Stream 2’s lobbyists dump the account after Russia invasion” via Hailey Fuchs of POLITICO — The two lobbying firms representing the company behind Europe’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline have severed ties with the Russian business as that country launched an invasion of its neighbor, Ukraine. A spokesperson for the firm Roberti Global said it would end the contract given the new sanctions. BGR Government Affairs, which also has lobbied on the company’s behalf, announced it was ending the contract, too. The terminations come in the wake of Biden’s announcement of new sanctions against Russian individuals and business interests before the military invasion. Among those sanctioned include Nord Stream 2’s parent company, Nord Stream 2 AG, and its chief executive officer.
“U.S. expels Russia’s No. 2 diplomat at Washington embassy” via Matthew Lee of The Associated Press — A senior State Department official said the State Department had informed the Russian Embassy on Wednesday that it is expelling Minister-Counselor Sergey Trepelkov, who is currently the No. 2 at the mission under Ambassador Anatoly Antonov. The expulsion is unrelated to the unfolding Russian invasion of Ukraine and is part of a long-running dispute between Washington and Moscow over embassy staffing. However, it comes as tensions between the two capitals have hit a post-Cold War high. Russia expelled U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Bart Gorman from Moscow in mid-February. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the expulsion, said the step was taken “as a direct response to the unprovoked Russian expulsion of our deputy chief of mission.”
“Russians now see a new side to Putin: Dragging them into war” via Anton Troianovski of The New York Times — Russians thought they knew their President. They were wrong. And by Thursday, it appeared too late to do anything about it. For most of his 22-year rule, Putin presented an aura of calm determination at home — of an ability to astutely manage risk to navigate the world’s biggest country through treacherous shoals. His attack on Ukraine negated that image and revealed him as an altogether different leader: one dragging the nuclear superpower he helms into a war with no foreseeable conclusion, one that by all appearances will end Russia’s attempts over its three post-Soviet decades to find a place in the peaceful world order.
“Over 1,700 Russians detained during anti-war demonstrations” via Jacob Knutson of Axios — Russian police detained more than 1,700 people participating in protests on Thursday against Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, according to OVD-Info, a Russia-based human rights organization that monitors political persecution in the country. According to OVD-Info, demonstrators in more than 50 cities were detained. The anti-war demonstrations are the largest organized protests against the Russian government since the Kremlin arrested Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny last year.
“I woke up to explosions in Kyiv. It wasn’t the first time Russian aggression upended my life.” via Anna Myroniuk of The Washington Post — My family and I have lived with Russian aggression for years. It has divided us and destroyed our sense of safety, and now it has brought us together in anger and fear. After World War II, people were paid for every person they recruited to rebuild Donetsk. According to my grandmother, Donetsk welcomed people from every corner of Ukraine at the time, and she heard plenty of dialects of both the Ukrainian and Russian languages on the streets. I have similar memories from growing up in Donetsk. This is why Putin’s claims make no sense to me. Right now, all I feel toward Putin’s Russia is fury. Putin will not stop until he torments and destroys all of Ukraine.
—“‘Wake up, the war has started’: In Ukraine, a night of terror and a scramble for gas” via The Washington Post
“Ukraine’s Jews hunker down as long-feared Russian invasion becomes reality” via Cnaan Liphshiz of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — For members of Ukraine’s sizable Jewish minority of at least 50,000 people, this development carries special complications. Many have family and friends who have emigrated recently, leaving them in relative isolation. They also have unique fears rooted in the tragic 20th-century history of their communities. The incursion is the culmination of a slow escalation that began in November. During that time, many Ukrainian Jews felt torn between their desire to stay put in connection with their patriotic sentiment toward Ukraine and an inclination to leave for safety in Israel under its Law of Return for Jews and their relatives or elsewhere — a course of action unavailable to most non-Jewish Ukrainians.
“China, seemingly surprised by sudden Ukraine incursion, denies backing Russian attacks” via Christian Shepherd of The Washington Post — China on Thursday denied backing Russia’s military assault in Ukraine as it trod a cautious line in response to a conflict that many Chinese analysts just days before were predicting wouldn’t happen. At a regular briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying downplayed the suggestion that Beijing supported Moscow behind the scenes. “As for American hints that Russia had China backing it up, I’m sure Russia would be pleased to hear it,” Hua said. “We won’t be like America and provide Ukraine a large amount of military equipment. Russia as a powerful nation also does not need China or other countries to provide [military assistance].” Hua added that “China did not wish to see what happened in Ukraine today.”
“How Germany helped blaze Putin’s path into Ukraine” via Matthew Karnitchnig of POLITICO — There are many fathers of the disaster unfolding in Ukraine. The U.S. refused for years to believe that Putin was as dangerous as he has turned out to be. The United Kingdom was more interested in attracting oligarchs’ wealth than asking where it came from. But make no mistake: No country has done more to downplay and forgive Russia’s transgressions than Germany. In popular mythology, loyalty (like much else in modern Germany) is tangled up in war guilt. If that were really the reason, though, Germany would owe an even greater debt to Ukraine and Belarus, countries that lost even more of their people in the war at the hands of the Germans but who barely even feature in the country’s collective remembrance culture.
—“Ukraine crisis prompts Germany to rethink Russian gas addiction” via Hans Von Der Burchard of POLITICO
“Sean Penn filming documentary about Russian invasion in Ukraine” via Mia Galuppo of The Hollywood Reporter — Penn is on the ground in Ukraine for a documentary with Vice Studios about Russia’s ongoing invasion of the country. The Office of the President of Ukraine released a statement on Facebook Thursday about Penn’s presence in Ukraine and praised the actor for his work. “The director specially came to Kyiv to record all the events that are currently happening in Ukraine and to tell the world the truth about Russia’s invasion of our country. Sean Penn is among those who support Ukraine in Ukraine today. Our country is grateful to him for such a show of courage and honesty,” reads the statement.
— PRESIDENTIAL —
“Biden faces another global crisis. This one resonates differently at home.” via Christopher Cadelago of POLITICO — Russia’s attacks come as he is preparing to deliver his first State of the Union address next week, as well as unveil the first Black woman nominee to the Supreme Court in the coming days. But before he can turn to either of those set pieces, Biden must first figure out how he’s going to manage a crisis halfway across the globe that is unfolding in real time. Inside the White House and among close outside political allies, there is a sense that Biden — unlike during the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer — has some political space to maneuver. Democrats have been heartened by the bipartisan acclamation for the President’s approach so far, including from unusual suspects.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Rick Scott promotes 11-point plan to ‘rescue America’ in national TV spot” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Scott released a television ad promoting an 11-point Republican agenda for the midterms. The chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he’s pushed the plan on the Rescue America website. The ad starts with footage of crime in America’s streets, including riots during Black Lives Matter protests last summer as well as street crimes. It also mixes in a film of gas pumps and crowds of migrants at the southern U.S. border with Mexico. “Our borders are being invaded, inflation is raging, and our shelves are empty,” Scott says in narration. “Crime is rampant. Police are being killed, and God-fearing people are being silenced.” Scott then appears in a trademark Navy cap and says, “We’ve put together a plan to rescue America.”
to watch the video, click on the image below:
“The question Gus Bilirakis refused to take” via Rosemary O’Hara of The Invading Sea — I tried my best to ask U.S. Rep. Bilirakis a question about climate change during his Tuesday telephone town hall, but I flunked the screening test. “Might Rep. Bilirakis join the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus?” The caucus was formed four years ago by former Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Rep. Ted Deutch. Like Bilirakis, both Curbelo and Deutch live in coastal Florida districts that face the impacts of rising sea levels caused by a warming planet. A carbon tax faces rough sledding in Washington because Republicans believe it would be detrimental to the economy. Meanwhile, despite all efforts to decarbonize, carbon emissions are rapidly increasing.
— CRISIS —
“Capitol Police haven’t done enough to improve security after Jan. 6, watchdogs say” via Joe Davidson of The Washington Post — Two new government watchdog reports on the U.S. Capitol Police department’s response to the Jan. 6 violent assault on democracy by supporters of Trump found a variety of serious law enforcement weaknesses that persist more than a year later. Michael A. Bolton, the Capitol Police inspector general, told a House Administration Committee hearing that although the force has “made security improvements throughout the Capitol complex, much work still needs to be addressed concerning training, intelligence, cultural change and operational planning.” GAO’s report highlighted several deficiencies within the police force and its oversight board, both about Jan. 6 and its general planning for security at the Capitol.
— EPILOGUE TRUMP —
“Trump calls Putin’s invasion of Ukraine smart, blames Biden for not doing enough” via Andrew Restuccia of The Wall Street Journal — Trump called Putin smart and criticized the U.S. response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “I mean, he’s taking over a country for $2 worth of sanctions. I’d say that’s pretty smart,” Trump said during a fundraiser at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Wednesday night, according to a recording of the event posted online, contending that Putin wouldn’t have invaded if he were still President. In a telephone interview with Fox News late Wednesday night, as Russia launched its invasion, Trump called the unfolding events a “very sad thing for the world and the country.” He said Biden hadn’t done enough to dissuade Putin from invading. It is the second time Trump has called Putin smart in recent days.
“How Ukraine invasion connects to Trump’s first impeachment — and where the players are now” via Kyle Cheney of POLITICO — Trump was acquitted in February 2020 after the House impeached him, alleging he held hostage hundreds of millions of dollars in security aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. The support was eventually provided, but not before a crisis that rattled two continents and desperate pleas by Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government for help fending off the very Russian aggression that now threatens to topple him from power in Ukraine. Then-President Trump’s treatment of Ukraine alarmed some of his top advisers at the time, particularly when coupled with his relatively warm praise of Putin — which continues today.
— LOCAL NOTES —
“Miami-Dade Mayor says city is moving from crisis to COVID-19 ‘safety mode’” via Stephany Matat of POLITICO — Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said on Thursday that her city is “moving out of crisis and into safety mode.” Speaking at POLITICO’s The Fifty: America’s Mayors summit, Levine Cava recounted that Miami-Dade had the highest vaccination rates in the state and managed 70,000 testing at the height of omicron surge over the fall and winter. She added that her city also provided the latest treatments, including monoclonal antibody treatments. “We’re going to continue to have the infrastructure we need to be ready. We’re really good at dealing with challenges here in South Florida in Miami-Dade County,” Levine Cava said. “People are ready to get on, but they also can do it safely.”
“Higher-speed train safety on agenda of officials” via Terry Spencer of The Associated Press — Representatives of South Florida’s higher-speed railroad, other train lines, and local governments met with federal safety officials Wednesday to begin working out plans that they hope will decrease the number of fatal collisions between locomotives, cars and pedestrians. The Federal Railroad Administration called the meeting as Brightline, the region’s new higher-speed passenger service, and other Florida railroads have seen a rash of fatal accidents over the past four years. Brightline has had 58 deaths since it began operations in 2017, including three in the past 10 days, giving it the nation’s worst fatality rate per mile. Other Florida railroads are not far behind.
“‘I’m very excited for this journey,’ Broward’s new schools Superintendent says as her contract is approved” via Scott Travis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Vickie Cartwright will start her tenure off as Broward’s permanent school Superintendent with a salary of $350,000. That’s a big boost from the $275,000 she’s been making as interim Superintendent but below the $356,000 salary of her predecessor, Robert Runcie, who stepped down last year. The School Board, which agreed Feb. 9 to keep Cartwright on the job following a national search, approved the contract at a special meeting Thursday. “I’m very excited for this journey, as we continue to build upon the great things that happen here in our school district and to pave new pathways of excellence in our school district for the benefit of our students and community,” Cartwright said after the vote.
“Pensacola man at center of SWAT search plans to sue police, EMS. Here’s what he says happened” via Colin Warren-Hicks of the Pensacola News-Journal — A team of lawyers representing Corey Marioneaux Jr., a Pensacola man who fired a bullet at a Pensacola Police Department SWAT team earlier this month, and his family announced their intentions Thursday to pursue civil actions against the PPD, Escambia County EMS and Navy Federal Credit Union. The attorneys also stated they are asking the State Attorney’s Office to drop any and all criminal charges against Marioneaux. Marioneaux, 23, was charged by police with the attempted murder of a law enforcement officer in connection to the Feb. 3 SWAT team incident in which PPD officers executed a search warrant at his home in the 2500 block of North Seventh Avenue.
“A PAC opposing single-member districts has ties to an influential Republican consulting firm” via Anne Snabes of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — A Tallahassee-based organization with connections to one of Florida’s top political consulting firms is running an expensive campaign to overturn single-member districts in Sarasota County. But it’s not clear who’s behind this campaign. The organization, known as Sun Coast Alliance, appears to be able to obscure the names of its donors. Sarasota County commissioners voted in December to hold a referendum on single districts on March 8. Commissioners want the county to switch from single-member districts.
“Tallahassee’s Washington Square Hotel project completion deadline extended 24 months” via Tristan Wood of Florida Politics — The Tallahassee Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) board voted unanimously to extend the project completion deadline for the long-delayed Washington Square Hotel project by another 24 months if certain conditions are met. The CRA, whose board consists of Tallahassee’s city commissioners, had previously entered into an agreement with Fairmont Development LLC that would have given the 270-room hotel project $9.6 million in returned taxes if it were completed by March 8, 2022. The project deadline has now been moved to 2024 if several stipulations are met in the next six months. There has been no activity on the project since December 2019, amassing $29,537 in city fines for environmental permit violations.
— TOP OPINION —
“CPAC: A bacchanal of right-wing pageantry, passion and grievance” via Michelle Cottle of The New York Times — While U.S. leaders are dealing with war in Europe and disruption of the global order, the leading lights of MAGA America are in central Florida this week for that annual bacchanal of right-wing pageantry and passion known as the Conservative Political Action Conference. Now seems like a perfect moment for serious conservative thinkers and activists to come together to pursue serious solutions. That, alas, is not what happens at CPAC. The confab may once have been about ideology or actual policy. But for years, the gathering has been better known as a multiday fringe fest featuring some of the most outrageous players on the political right. This time, it promises to be primarily a celebration of Trump and his angry MAGA vision for the nation.
— OPINIONS —
“Under Biden, inflation is too damn high” via Jimmy Patronis — Over the past 12 months, the consumer price index on all items increased 7.5%. Energy alone increased 27%, which affects everyone. Also, foods, both processed and non-processed, were up 25%. While wages across the country may be up, average hourly earnings decreased by 1.7% when factoring in inflation. Unlike the White House, DeSantis thinks inflation is a problem and tries to do something about it. His budget has proposed a $1 billion cut in gas taxes. That’s direct tax relief to the consumer. According to our analysis, the Governor’s proposed tax cut would provide around $200 in relief to the average Florida household.
“Scott’s plan isn’t about ‘rescuing’ America. It’s much more mercenary than that” via the Miami Herald editorial board — Sen. Scott has an 11-point plan to “rescue” America. For the “Too Long; Didn’t Read” crowd, we’ll summarize: He’s trying to scare people silly. Scott published his proposal, complete with a visual of the Declaration of Independence in flames, a day or two before the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando this week. That’s a proving ground for many GOP hopefuls and, no doubt, his loyal audience for this document, especially if he’s thinking of a Presidential run. He wants to declare men and women biologically different officially. He wants to raise taxes on low-income earners without regard to the financial difficulties many faced during the pandemic. He wants to stop asking questions about racial demographic categories on government forms, vowing that “no government policy will be based on race.”
“Bob Rommel, Sal Nuzzo: Schooling teachers’ unions on workplace freedom” via Florida Politics — The 2022 Legislative Session offers state leaders a chance to make those updates — and to stand up for the next generation of some of our most vital public employees: teachers. Three specific reforms are under consideration. First, state leaders can require most government unions to verify public employee membership annually and report it to the school district. Lack of accountability and oversight underscores the need for the second reform under consideration. State leaders would require government unions to maintain membership records for the state and local districts to review when required. Finally, as a third step, state leaders can require government unions to begin collecting dues directly from members rather than using taxpayer-funded resources to have the government collect those dues.
—TODAY’S SUNRISE —
The House passed the so-called “Stop Woke” bill and “Don’t Say Gay” bills, but not before Democrats took their last shots at what they call “Culture War legislation.”
Also, on today’s Sunrise:
— DeSantis aims the “Woke” movement and the media in a CPAC speech.
— Crist says the only poll that counts is the one on Nov. 8.
— A Dunedin TV chef finds out a recipe for trouble is breaking into the nation’s Capitol building.
To listen, click on the image below:
— WEEKEND TV —
ABC Action News Full Circle with Paul LaGrone on Channel 10 WFTS: A focus on Ukraine with ABC News Deputy Political Director Averi Harper; the politics of inflation and how you can take control of your finances with financial expert Mac Gardner, founder of FinLit Tech; a look at Tampa Bay’s rising rent prices and the options renters have; Florida’s controversial guardianship laws and a bill on the table that would give the state even more power to over assets from unsuspecting out of state visitors.
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 discussion of the overall costs of child care and how the pandemic has shaped and shifted how parents approach making those costs more affordable. Joining Allison are Reps. Kamia Brown and Jackie Toledo, and Early Learning Coalition of Orange County CEO Karen Willis.
Political Connections Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: A look at legislation targeting what is or isn’t taught in schools that’s taking center stage in Tallahassee, and at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando.
Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: A one-on-one interview with Sen. Jason Brodeur about the current Legislative Session and the bills he’s filed that are advancing in the last few weeks of Session.
The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Host Steve Vancore talks with FEA President Andrew Spar.
This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Government law attorney Chris Hand, co-author of “America, the Owner’s Manual” and former press secretary of U.S. Sen. Bob Graham (1996-2000); Capt. Matt Tuohy, U.S. Navy (ret.), co-chair, Jacksonville Military Veterans Coalition.
This Week in South Florida on WPLG-Local10 News (ABC): Sen. Scott and Surgeon General Dr. Ladapo.
— ALOE —
“SeaWorld reports splashy revenue record in 2021 as attendance recovers” via Katie Rice of the Orlando Sentinel — SeaWorld Entertainment on Thursday reported record-setting revenue in the Fiscal Year 2021 and the quarter ending the year, continuing an upward trend in the company’s earnings and attendance as its parks rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic. Executives said the Orlando-based company’s total 2021 revenue reached $1.5 billion, more than $105 million higher than in 2019. Its fourth-quarter revenue was nearly $371 million, almost $73 million higher than 2019′s figures. Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Castro Gulacsy said higher visitor spending was due to price increases and enhanced park offerings. SeaWorld’s parks saw a total of 20.2 million guests in 2021, an increase of 13.8 million from 2020 but still 2.4 million below 2019′s numbers.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Celebrating today are U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, former state Rep. Mike LaRosa, former Ambassador Carlos Trujillo, Joel Brown, and POLITICO Florida’s Matt Dixon. Celebrating this weekend are the First Lady of Tampa, Ana Cruz, as well as our friend and fellow DMB’er Ryan Duffy, Ron Greenstein, Logan McFaddin, Jerry Paul, Mitch Perry, former Rep. and Pinellas Co. Commissioner Kathleen Mick Peters, and Kathleen Haughney Rohrer.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel Dean, Renzo Downey, Jacob Ogles, and Drew Wilson.