Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 3.22.22

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

Good Tuesday morning.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek is trying to avoid a public wrestling match over what critics call Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. But because of his initial silence on the matter, LGBTQ+ staff and their allies are walking out Tuesday.

As scheduled last week, cast members and employees will walk out at 8 a.m. despite Chapek’s attempt Monday to patch over employee outrage with a virtual town hall.

Company discontent began two weeks ago, when Chapek sent a memo to employees explaining why he chose not to issue any public statements against parental rights in the education bill (HB 1557), targeting the bill behind the scenes instead. Following outrage from employees who called the memo tone-deaf, Disney said it would pause donations to all Florida politicians as it reviews its political donations.

Although the move drew consternation from Gov. Ron DeSantis, critics argued Chapek and the company didn’t take a public stance against the bill early enough.

Bob Chapek struggles to find a stable footing after Disney’s response to the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. Image via AP.

“We want action and not just continued lip service saying, ‘We love you. We stand with you,’” one employee told WESH Channel 2 in Orlando.

The group planning Tuesday’s walkouts say on its website that a “temporary pause is not enough — we require a commitment,” and it demands that Disney “immediately and indefinitely cease all campaign donations” to those responsible for helping create or pass the bill.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the company said it would be aggressive in opposing an effort by Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas to have the state investigate parents for possible child-abuse charges if their transgender children receive hormone blockers or other medical treatments. Disney also said it was creating a companywide task force to develop strategies and action plans to collaborate with employees, creators, and Disney partners to be a more positive force for the LGBT community.

According to MSNBC’s Zach Stafford, it’s becoming increasingly clear that companies can no longer sit on the sides of any social issue. As a company with a major Florida footprint in the face of a statewide issue that’s gone national, it holds especially true for Disney.

—”Disney postpones management retreat as CEO Bob Chapek continues to account for company’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill response” via Dade Hayes and Anthony D’Alessandro of Deadline

—”‘They call their fellow employees bigots’: conservatives at Disney issue open statement detailing hostile work environment” via Megan Basham of The Daily Wire

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@ClayTravis: Congrats, it’s the first day of spring. And if you are reading this right now, you have officially survived Joe Biden’s winter of death.

@SenRickScott on the death of a 96-year-old Holocaust survivor killed in Russian shelling of Kharkiv: A heartbreaking and horrifying loss. What (Vladimir) Putin & his thugs are doing is genocide. The United States must IMMEDIATELY give Ukraine all the resources & access to the planes they need to win this violent war.

@SenatorDurbin: You, Judge (Ketanji Brown) Jackson, are one of Mr. (Abraham) Lincoln’s living witnesses of an America that is unafraid of challenge, willing to risk change, confident of the basic goodness of our citizens. And you are a living witness to the fact that, in America, all is possible.

Tweet, tweet:

@DWUhlfelderLaw: All of these Senators falsely accusing Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of being soft on crime twice voted to acquit a criminal President.

@TheDailyShow: JUST IN: Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has already said “is this guy serious?” to herself more than most people will in a lifetime

@CarlosGSmith: #DeSantis was too busy stopping “wokeness” to have time to stop rising property insurance rates. He wins while Floridians lose.

@HollyBullardFL: Did Florida lawmakers just l̷e̷t̷ ̷t̷a̷x̷e̷s̷ ̷g̷o̷ ̷u̷p̷ ̷̷ reject a huge corporate tax cut? fixed it for you @fineout

Tweet, tweet:

@fineout: Judge (Mark) Walker issued an order today asking for a supplemental briefing on how SB 524 — this year’s elections bill — affects the litigation over last year’s bill. He didn’t sound too happy about it …

@JDawsey1: (Donald) Trump has more money in his PAC than the parties combined.

@steveschale: VEEP isn’t a TV Show; it’s a documentary.

@debbie_mayfield: Congratulations to @EFSCWomensBB for making it all of the way to the National Tournament in Lubbock, Texas. We are so proud of our #Titans for making it to the quarterfinals of the tournament!

@LindaStewartFL: Bunny invasion: Residents in east Orange County say they are overrun by rabbits. Orlando Rabbit Care and Adoptions said domestic rabbits are living wild in the Azalea Park area. Additional volunteers and foster homes are needed.

— DAYS UNTIL —

House GOP retreat in Ponte Vedra Beach — 1; the third season of ‘Atlanta’ begins — 1; season two of ‘Bridgerton’ begins — 3; The Oscars — 5; ‘Macbeth’ with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga preview performances on Broadway — 7; Florida Chamber’s 2nd Annual Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health + Sustainability begins — 7; Grammys rescheduled in Las Vegas — 12; John Dingfelder to be replaced on Tampa City Council 一 15; MLB Opening Day — 16; ‘Better Call Saul’ final season begins — 27; Magic Johnson’s Apple TV+ docuseries ‘They Call Me Magic’ begins — 31; 2022 Florida Chamber Transportation, Growth & Infrastructure Solution Summit — 37; ‘The Godfather’ TV series ‘The Offer’ premieres — 38; 2nd half of ‘Ozark’ final season begins — 38; federal student loan payments will resume — 40; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 45; Florida TaxWatch’s Spring Meeting — 50; ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ starts on Disney+ — 64; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 66; ‘Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 72; California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota hold midterm Primaries — 77; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 109; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 122; Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner novel ‘Heat 2’ publishes — 140; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 164; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 198; Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Passenger’ releases — 216; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 235; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 238; McCarthy’s ‘Stella Maris’ releases — 245; ‘Avatar 2′ premieres — 270; ‘Captain Marvel 2′ premieres — 334; 2023 Legislative Session convenes — 350; ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ premieres — 367; 2023 Session Sine Die — 410; ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 493; ‘Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 577; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 857.



— TOP STORY —

As farewell tour continues, Ron DeSantis and Richard Corcoran offer mutual praise” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — After three years at DeSantis’ side, including on the national stage during the COVID-19 pandemic, Corcoran is tagging along with DeSantis for a final farewell tour before he leaves the administration. As DeSantis fielded questions from reporters in Orange Park while touting teacher pay raises on Monday, one reporter asked Corcoran if he had any advice for his successor. “If I thought we were going to be driving at about 45 miles an hour down the highway, we’re driving like 100. The new Commissioner, whoever it may be, you know, buckle your seat belt,” Corcoran said. “He’s got a lot of visions and a lot of things he wants to do.”

Buckle your seat belts: The farewell tour continues. Image via Northwest Florida Daily News.

— STATEWIDE —

Gas prices roll back downward 20 cents” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — An average price of $4.17 per gallon still would have been a gasoline record were it not for the past couple of weeks — yet Monday morning, that price point might look like a bargain for Florida drivers. The average price of gasoline had fallen 20 cents in nine days by the time it hit $4.18 on Sunday. The price had fallen another penny on AAA’s price tracking website by Monday morning. Friday’s closing price still is $19 per barrel less than the 2022 high. Nineteen dollars is the equivalent to a 45-cent swing at the pump.

Migrant surge continues in Florida Keys. More than 50 land over last four days” via Omar Rodríguez Ortiz of the Miami Herald — The surge of migrants braving the sea for a shot at freedom in South Florida continues, with 56 people landing in the Florida Keys alone over the last four days. Three groups of Cuban migrants — 15 total — were detained in the Keys in less than 24 hours, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Division Chief Adam Hoffner said Sunday night in an email. Eight Cubans, including two accompanied minors, were taken into federal custody Saturday after U.S. Border Patrol agents responded to a maritime smuggling event making landfall at about 10:45 p.m. in Key West, he said.

Haitian migration to Key West is outpacing the 2021 numbers. Image via AP.

Florida isn’t a sunny place for physicians to practice” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — Florida isn’t offering the healthiest work environment for physicians to practice. Overall, the state ranks 31st best place to practice in the nation, based on the WalletHub study 2022’s Best & Worst Place for Doctors. South Dakota ranked as the best place for physicians to practice. Conversely, Rhode Island ranked last. In compiling the rankings, researchers garnered information on 19 different key metrics. These include the average annual wage, number of hospitals per capita, percentage of physicians per capita, and average population age. Each metric was assigned a score and weighted. Researchers used the weighted average across all metrics to determine a state’s overall rank. Florida earned top scores in the metric tracking the population aged 65 and older.

DeSantis announces two judicial appointments” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — DeSantis announced two judicial appointments on Monday. James Kallaher of Fleming Island will serve as a 4th Judicial Circuit Judge. He fills a vacancy left by the resignation of Judge Daniel F. Wilensky. Kristie Healis will serve as a 5th Judicial Circuit Judge. She fills the judicial vacancy created by the retirement of Judge William H. “Bud” Hallman III. Kallaher has served as a partner and shareholder at Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin since 2021. He is a Navy veteran and law graduate of Florida Coastal School of Law. Healis has served as a Judge on the Hernando County Court since January 2017. A Rutgers School of Law graduate, she served previously as a solo practitioner for 11 years. Healis holds a bachelor’s degree from Plymouth State University.

Sea level rise may gentrify Florida’s inland regions” via Jessica Meszaros of WUSF — A recent report on climate change examines how sea level rise could cause gentrification, as wealthy residents along Florida’s coast move inland. Researchers have highlighted the need for clear policies to address the looming issue. The LeRoy Collins Institute at Florida State University funded the study specifically at Pinellas, Miami-Dade and Duval counties. It’s expected that over the next 50 to 100 years, many residents will not be able to stay along some of Florida’s highly populated coasts. Four areas in Pinellas were identified as being at high risk of displacement. The coastal areas include Clearwater and Largo. Lealman and South St. Pete are further inland, which the study notes are primarily comprised of an African American population.

— DATELINE TALLY —

DeSantis open to Special Session if legislators can work out deals” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO — DeSantis is open to calling a Special Session dealing with property insurance or changes to laws involving condominiums if the Republican-controlled Legislature can reach a deal on either issue. Legislators ended their annual Session last week but were unable to reach a consensus on how to deal with Florida’s rapidly deteriorating property insurance market that has seen some companies fold and a surge in the number of homeowners flocking to Citizens Property Insurance, the state-created insurer of last resort. Legislators also failed to pass a bill dealing with the aftermath of the collapse of a Surfside condominium tower in Miami that killed 98 people. DeSantis said he would “welcome” a Special Session but pressure legislators to work out their policy differences.

A Special Session on the horizon?

DeSantis confirms he’ll sign off on continued teacher pay raises” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — DeSantis, school officials, and teachers are celebrating $800 million in teacher pay raises that lawmakers included in their recent budget proposal. That’s $250 million more than the state’s increase for the current fiscal year. The spending aligns with DeSantis’ plan to get all public and charter school districts to pay teachers a minimum salary of $47,500 per year. Backed Monday by outgoing Corcoran, local lawmakers, and Renaissance Charter School staff members at Wellington, DeSantis told reporters he was “officially” approving the spending.

DeSantis boosts teacher pay, but Florida’s average teacher salary lags well behind other states” via Danielle J. Brown of Florida Phoenix — DeSantis on Monday touted big raises for starting and veteran teachers for 2022-23, but Florida’s average teacher salary still lags well behind other states, national data show. Over the last three budget years, DeSantis has pushed for increasing starting teacher salaries, with a goal for starting pay for teachers at $47,500 across Florida’s school districts. But at two news conferences on Monday, DeSantis did not mention that goal, even as he highlighted a significant increase in funding proposed in the 2022-23 budget, which he has not yet signed. Instead, he focused on a different measure related to school districts with a starting pay of more than $40,000. DeSantis claimed that most of Florida’s school districts have a starting pay of more than $40,000.

Appeals court accuses Gov. DeSantis’ legal team of not understanding its own position on HB 1” via Daniel Figueroa IV of Florida Politics — A panel of judges for the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeal Thursday accused DeSantis’ legal team of not understanding its own arguments after the Governor asked the court to lift an order blocking his anti-riot law from being enforced. Judge Edward Carnes, a George H.W. Bush appointee, asked Jason Hillborn to give a “real world example” of how the new definition of a riot changes the Supreme Court of Florida’s common-law definition. Hillborn struggled to respond. “Doesn’t the fact that you’re having a problem telling me what the statute does, that the common law it amends didn’t do, indicate to you that there’s a problem with your theory?” Carnes asked Hillborn.

Senate sends financial literacy, tech advisory panel bills to DeSantis” via Gray Rohrer of Florida Politics — The Senate on Monday formally sent two bills to DeSantis’ desk which would make changes to a panel overseeing technology designed to assist persons with disabilities and add a new requirement for K-12 schools to create financial literacy standards. The financial literacy bill (SB 1054) is named the “Dorothy L. Hukill Financial Literacy Act” in honor of the late senator from Volusia County who championed the issue during her time in office. Schools would be required to “establish specific curricular content for, at a minimum, personal financial literacy, and money management,” starting with students entering 9th grade in the 2023-24 school year. Financial literacy will be a required elective class for those entering high school that year.

The late Dorothy Hukill is honored with a financial literacy bill that bears her name.

Now what? Lawmakers’ failure to pass condo safety bill leaves residents, buyers in limbo” via David Lyons of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Hours after the catastrophic partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, stunned members of condo communities along the South Florida coast predicted the disaster would trigger a massive ripple effect of residents scrambling for ways to ensure that tragedy would not strike their homes. But the seriousness of the episode was not compelling enough for a majority of lawmakers in Tallahassee to act. The Legislature disagreed on a package of safety reforms that would have required inspections of older buildings, mandated financial reserves for condo associations, and provided more public transparency for maintenance and inspection reports.

Polk teachers’ union applauds DeSantis for announcing $800 million boost to teacher pay” via Kimberly C. Moore of The Lakeland Ledger — Polk County teachers’ union officials are declaring a victory for their members after DeSantis announced on Monday $800 million for an increase in teachers’ salaries, including half that sum for veteran teachers. “As a collective, the Polk Education Association and our union statewide have fought for a ‘Decade of Progress’ and called on the Florida Legislature to ‘Fund Our Future,’” said PEA President Stephanie Yocum. “This year, we are seeing the largest investment in public education like none we’ve witnessed in the past two decades.” Yocum also pointed to two other wins for teachers and support staff.

NFIB calls on DeSantis to veto tax bill” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The Florida arm of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) is calling on DeSantis to veto a ‘heavy handed’ tax. The bill (SB 1382) ushers in a slew of tax law changes, many of which the NFIB contends will place small businesses at a disadvantage. “Basically, it stacks the deck against a small-business owner the minute the tax auditor walks in the door,” said Bill Herrle, the Florida executive director for the NFIB. Among other changes, the bill would require taxpayers to produce in a timely fashion all documents requested by the Department of Revenue during an audit. A staff analysis notes some taxpayers will “selectively” provide records during an audit rather than hand over all the paperwork, forcing the Department to make estimates.

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Brian Ballard, Courtney Coppola, Ballard Partners: Nomi Health Inc.

Slater Bayliss, Stephen Shiver, Sarah Busk Suskey, Jeffrey Woodburn, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners LLC: Jabil Inc.

Dave Garrison: Florida Association of Realtors

Thomas McCullion, NorthPointe LLC: ServiceNow

— 2022 —

Poll: Hispanics aren’t flocking to the GOP, but Democrats still have problems” via Marc Caputo of NBC News — Heading into the 2022 midterm elections, Republicans have been riding a wave of positive press about their gains among Hispanic voters as Democrats fret about hemorrhaging support from the fast-growing demographic. But while Democrats clearly have a problem, the GOP’s growing support among Latinos is less dramatic than some headlines suggest. The poll found that about 48% of Hispanics nationwide consider themselves Democrats, and only 23% identify as Republican. Hispanic voters give Biden a positive job-approval rating, 48% to 29%, in contrast to the disapproval of 54% to 44% among registered voters overall in the most recent NBC News poll.

—“Donald Trump hoards his war chest and Dem donors unleash millions: 5 takeaways from the latest campaign money disclosures” via Brittany Gibson and Zach Montellaro of POLITICO

Donald Trump is hoarding cash. Care to guess why?

Charlie Crist nabs major union endorsement — The Lakeland, Florida-based United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Local 1625, is endorsing Crist for Governor. UFCW 1625 represents over 15,000 workers, including over 6,000 health care and 5,000 local Disney employees. In the announcement, the union cites Crist’s long history of fighting for working Floridians and his support for union workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. “From fighting for a $15 minimum wage in Washington to his long-standing support of union workers across Florida, particularly during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, Charlie Crist has always put our workers first, not last,” said UFCW Union Local 1625 President Ed Chambers. “Charlie is a leader who knows how to deliver results for working families. He’s a name Floridians know and trust to get to work for us on Day One.”

Nikki Fried discusses women in politics, DeSantis-Trump relationship in North Florida Democratic Club talk” via Tristan Wood of Florida Politics — Fried spoke during a meeting of the Democratic Club of North Florida Monday evening in a conversation framed around Women’s History Month. Fried gave a prepared statement touching on her experience as a woman in politics. She then fielded questions from club members ranging from her work on environmental issues to her thoughts on the relationship between DeSantis and Donald Trump. She said she knows Florida is ready for its first female Governor. “Running in politics and being involved in politics is hard. Being a female in politics is even harder,” Fried said. “No offense to you men, but it’s time for us women to lead. We do it with grace. We don’t care about our egos. We want to lift everybody up. We want everybody to have a seat at the table.”

Adam Hattersley, Ryan Morales step in to rally Nassau Dems” via Wes Wolfe of Florida Politics — An expected visit by the Florida Democratic Party chair to Nassau County’s small but hopeful Democratic contingent didn’t happen as planned, thanks to a surprise trip to South Florida by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But the show must go on, so with Manny Diaz out, Chief Financial Officer candidate Hattersley and Agriculture Commissioner candidate Morales were in. “Especially for these statewide races, it doesn’t matter if they’re not used to local candidates winning,” Hattersley said. “They can be a part of and have to be a part of the statewide elections.”

Happening tonight — Former Senate President Bill Galvano hosts a fundraiser supporting U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan’s re-election effort, 5 p.m., 1023 Manatee Ave. W, Bradenton. RSVP to Gina at [email protected].

Happening tonight:

‘Get moving’: LeAnna Cumber stresses infrastructure, personal narrative in Jax mayoral rollout” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Cumber kicked off her campaign for Mayor Monday afternoon with a speech tying together infrastructure, a rapidly changing city, and her personal narrative as an introduction to voters beyond her Southside district. Cumber, a first-term Republican member of the City Council, hit on reformer themes, saying her goal was to make Jacksonville “the greatest Southern city in the country.” “Leadership matters, and we can and must do better,” she said Monday, exactly one year before the March 2023 First Election in the mayoral race.

Danielle Cohen Higgins further outpaces challenger with $13K toward Miami-Dade District 8 defense” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Cohen Higgins raised about $13,000 last month to help retain her seat representing District 8, adding further distance between herself and her sole remaining opponent. As of Feb. 28, Cohen Higgins held more than $515,000 between her campaign account and political committee, Fight for Our Future. Much of those gains came from real estate and development businesses. Community activist and Hammocks Citizens Advisory Committee Vice-Chair Alicia Arellano, who is running “to put an end to irresponsible development without the proper infrastructure in place,” has outlasted three other candidates. But she hasn’t raised a cent since September 2020, and with just $361 left in her campaign account, she’s close to running out of financial runway.

Nick Maddox leads fundraising in Leon County Commission at-large race” via Tristan Wood of Florida Politics — Maddox is the top fundraiser in his race for re-election, almost doubling his closest opponent in overall money collected. Maddox’s total has topped $22,000, most of which came in during February. His only two opponents that have raised money combined raised less than Maddox. Most of Maddox’s February donations came after the Tallahassee Democrat uncovered that Maddox left his job as executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of the Big Bend after he was the subject of sexual harassment allegations. Every donation in Maddox’s February haul of more than $18,000 came after the story was published on Feb. 7.

Nick Maddox is riding high in fundraising. Image via the Tallahassee Democrat.

Palm Beach County runoff Tuesday: Mayoral races, Commission and Council seats up for grabs in six cities” via Jorge Milian of the Palm Beach Post — Election Day has come and gone, but races in six Palm Beach County cities have not been decided. Voters in those cities — Boynton Beach, Lake Worth Beach, and Riviera Beach and the towns of Lantana, Jupiter, and Jupiter Inlet Colony — will go back to the polls Tuesday for runoffs. Jupiter and Riviera Beach will choose Mayors. All but Jupiter will decide on Commission or Council members. The runoffs were prompted after no candidate in the March 8 election won more than 50% of the vote. After months of campaigning for the first election, candidates in the runoffs have a truncated two-week schedule to motivate residents to cast another ballot.

Dean Trantalis to stay put as Fort Lauderdale Mayor, declines run for Ted Deutch’s seat” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — Fort Lauderdale Mayor Trantalis, whose name was among those bandied about as a possible successor to U.S. Rep. Deutch, said Monday he’s not running. Trantalis, who was elected to a second mayoral term in 2020, said he’s got plenty to do leading Fort Lauderdale. “I feel strongly that the vision and initiatives that I have put forth need to be seen through and expanded further, and this requires me to continue to lead this great city,” Trantalis said in a statement he released Monday.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida COVID-19 spread continues slow, steady pace — The latest COVID-19 data out of Florida shows just 708 new cases confirmed Sunday. According to the CDC, only 8,456 cases have been confirmed in the last seven days, and only 33 people have died. That’s a slight decrease from the seven days prior when the state reported 8,772 cases and 222 deaths. Over the last week, Florida was in the bottom 17 states in new cases per capita and was the state with the fifth-lowest deaths per capita. The Sunshine State ranks 22nd in vaccine doses administered per resident, with 36.4 million shots.

Federal COVID-19 data shows indoor masking not needed in Florida, but virus may again be on rise” via Chris Persaud of the Palm Beach Post — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) effectively lifted indoor masking recommendations this week for all of Florida’s counties even as parts of the state are detecting spikes of coronavirus levels in their sewage. Until Thursday, CDC officials classified 10 of Florida’s 67 counties as places where COVID-19 poses a high threat to hospitals and therefore recommended residents wear masks indoors. Now that those counties — clustered near Alachua County and bordering Georgia — have been downgraded to medium-risk areas, no Floridians live in a county where federal health experts recommend indoor masking. But some sewage systems in Florida detected an increase of the coronavirus’ genetic fragments in their wastewater systems between Feb. 28 and March 14, the CDC reports.

Healthy children don’t need COVID-19 vaccines” via Allysia Finley of The Wall Street Journal — The Sunshine State is bucking the public-health consensus again. “The Florida Department of Health is going to be the first state to officially recommend against the COVID-19 vaccines for healthy children,” Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo announced on March 7. Cue the outrage. White House press secretary Jen Psaki jabbed: “It’s deeply disturbing that there are politicians peddling conspiracy theories out there and casting doubt on vaccinations.” Dr. Ladapo is doing no such thing. He merely acknowledges the abundant scientific evidence that COVID-19 poses a negligible risk to healthy children, making it impossible to know if the benefit of vaccination outweighs the risk.

Joseph Ladapo bucks the medical establishment. Again.

Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies weigh how to classify coronavirus deaths” via Natalie Weber of the Tampa Bay Times — The No. 1 killer of law enforcement officers in 2020 and 2021 wasn’t a weapon. It wasn’t car crashes or heart attacks, either. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, a nonprofit organization that tracks and memorializes fallen officers in the United States, COVID-19 accounted for the highest number of law enforcement deaths in 2020, and it continued to be the leading cause of death in 2021. Yet, despite the virus’ status as the leading cause of death for law enforcement officers over the past two years, Florida agencies do not have a uniform approach to how these fatalities are classified — and whether officers’ surviving relatives will receive line-of-duty death benefits.

COVID-19 isn’t over, but these Palm Beach County testing and vaccine sites are closing” via Chris Persaud of The Palm Beach Post — As signs of another increase in COVID-19 infections crop up across the world, the nation and Florida, testing and inoculation sites across the state and in Palm Beach County are closing. Miami-based CDR Maguire announced Friday that the company has paused coronavirus testing across Florida and will end vaccinations on April 1 because of an impending cut in federal funding. The company said that CDR does testing and vaccination for uninsured people and relies on federal money to reimburse it. But those payments will run out by the end of this month after Congress failed to approve enough money to cover them.

How this Miami pizza pop-up handled hype, COVID-19 and fickle diners to open a restaurant” via Carlos Frías of the Miami Herald — Pizzas are finally sliding steadily out of the ovens at Old Greg’s new pizza shop. Greg Tetzner is no longer baking them in a rigged oven, lined with pizza stones, out of his childhood home. He’s not having to borrow the kitchen at a friend’s shuttered restaurant. And most important to Tetzner, hungry pizza lovers can simply walk into his restaurant at the edge of the Design District, order one of his delicate, chewy round pies, pay a reasonable sum and eat it right at the counter, rather than enter an online lottery to pre-order a pizza a month out.

— MORE CORONA —

Vulnerable Democrats eye GOP transit mask repeal” via Andrew Solender of Axios — The chair of the House Democrats’ campaign arm and some of the vulnerable members he’s charged with re-electing are voicing support for a Republican-led mask mandate repeal bill. This would set up a potential showdown with the White House, which recently issued a one-month extension on the federal mask mandate for public transit and airplanes. The backing also illustrates how Democrats — especially those facing tough re-election fights — are trying to distance themselves from the pro-mask policies that defined their party for the past two years. “I’m completely over mask mandates,” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told Axios. “I don’t think they make any sense anymore. I’m for whatever gets rid of mask mandates as quickly as possible.”

Doctors find hurdles to treating COVID-19 with antiviral pills” via The Associated Press — High-risk COVID-19 patients now have new treatments they can take at home to stay out of the hospital if doctors get the pills to them fast enough. Health systems around the country are rushing out same-day prescription deliveries. Some clinics have started testing and treating patients in one visit, an initiative that the Biden administration recently touted. The goal is to get patients started on either Pfizer’s Paxlovid tablets or Merck’s molnupiravir capsules within five days of symptoms. That can prevent people with big health risks from growing sicker and filling up hospitals if another surge develops.

Treatment for COVID-19 is out there; the challenge is getting it to people in time. Image via AP.

It’s suddenly harder to find the COVID-19 therapy Evusheld” via Hannah Recht of Kaiser Health News — As immunocompromised people across the country work to get Evusheld, a potentially lifesaving COVID-19 therapy, several hundred providers of the injections were removed from a federal dataset the night of March 16, making the therapy even harder to locate. White House officials had announced on March 15 that a planned purchase of more doses would have to be scaled back without new federal funding. And federal and state health departments aren’t making it easy to find, leaving patients whose hospitals say they don’t have enough of the drug to write desperate tweets and Facebook posts seeking the shots while unused vials sit in the refrigerators of other providers.

Shanghai’s Disney resort shut amid record daily local COVID-19 infections” via Reuters — China’s financial hub of Shanghai reported a record daily surge in local COVID-19 infections as authorities scrambled to test residents and rein in the omicron variant, while closing its Disney resort until further notice. Until recent weeks relatively unscathed by coronavirus, Shanghai reported 24 new domestically transmitted COVID-19 cases with confirmed symptoms for Sunday and 734 local asymptomatic infections. Shanghai’s local asymptomatic infections have increased on the fourth consecutive day. Although the tally of infections is tiny by global standards, Shanghai has quickly followed China’s “dynamic clearance” policies, shutting schools and testing residential compounds to limit the spread of the virus.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Biden sees risk of Russian cyberattack on U.S. as sanctions bite” via Katrina Manson and Justin Sink of Bloomberg — Biden warned Monday about new indications of possible Russian cyberattacks, pumping up the volume on weeks of growing concern about a possible Kremlin-ordered response to crushing sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine. On Monday, Biden himself reiterated those warnings, prompted by “evolving intelligence that the Russian government is exploring options for potential cyberattacks.” He urged the U.S. private sector: “Harden your cyber defense immediately.” Cyberattacks have played a smaller role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine than many experts predicted, supplanted by a grinding and bloody ground campaign.

Russian embargoes are taking hold; will Joe Biden feel the bite of cyberattacks?

Video shows teacher leading preschoolers in anti-Joe Biden chant” via The Associated Press — A Southern California private school apologized to parents after a teacher shared a video last month of her leading preschool students in a chant denouncing Biden. The video shows the unnamed teacher at Turning Point Christian School in Norco asking the 4- and 5-year-olds, “Who’s our President?” When they answer in unison, “Biden,” the teacher then asks, “What do we want to do with him?” The students shout back, “We want him out!” Parent Christina McFadden said the video from the Presidents Day lesson was shared through the school’s messaging app, before it was taken down. Turning Point officials said in a statement to parents that the school was “sorry for any misunderstanding” caused by the video.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Brett Kavanaugh tensions simmer behind low-key opening to Ketanji Brown Jackson hearings” via Josh Gerstein and Marianne Levine of POLITICO — Senate Republicans offered a preview Monday of their questions for Jackson as her confirmation hearings kicked off, including her sentencing record, her representation of Guantánamo detainees and her views on the size of the Supreme Court. While Biden’s first high court pick seems to be on a glide path to confirmation — and doesn’t need GOP votes to get there — the stakes are still high for her hearings, among Democrats and Republicans alike. Senate Republicans repeated their vows Monday to treat Jackson respectfully and won’t lob personal attacks, referring to Kavanaugh’s acrimonious 2018 confirmation hearings. But past judicial fights hung over Jackson’s first day.

The wraith of Brett Kavanaugh hangs over the Ketanji Brown Jackson hearings. Image via AP.

Supreme Court nominee from Miami-Dade acknowledges Palmetto teacher during opening statement” via Andrea Torres of WPLG Local 10 News — The Senate Judiciary Committee opened the hearings Monday for Jackson, a Harvard-trained lawyer who grew up in Miami-Dade County and who Biden wants to see become the country’s first Black woman to serve as Supreme Court justice. During her opening statement, Jackson said she was born in Washington, where her parents, Johnny and Ellery Brown of Miami, worked as public-school teachers. She said her family moved back to Miami-Dade County when she was four, so her father could go to law school at the University of Miami. Jackson became a member of Miami Palmetto Senior High School’s Class of 1998.

What we know about Justice Clarence Thomas’ hospitalization” via Jessica Gresko and Mark Sherman of The Associated Press — Justice Thomas remains hospitalized in Washington after being diagnosed with an infection but does not have COVID-19, the Supreme Court said Monday. The high court announced Sunday evening that the 73-year-old justice had entered the hospital Friday after experiencing “flu-like symptoms” and testing. The court said that Thomas was diagnosed with an infection and treated with intravenous antibiotics. The court said at the time that “his symptoms are abating,” but it did not say that Thomas had tested negative for the virus. At arguments at the court Monday, Thomas’ chair to the right of Chief Justice John Roberts was empty and Roberts took note of Thomas’ absence without explaining why.

Jerome Powell Is ready to back half-point hike in May if it’s necessary” via Craig Torres of Bloomberg — Federal Reserve Chair Powell said the central bank is prepared to raise interest rates by a half percentage point at its next meeting if needed, deploying a more aggressive tone toward curbing inflation than he used just a few days earlier. Policymakers raised the benchmark lending rate by a quarter-point at their meeting last week — ending two years of near-zero borrowing costs — and signaled six more hikes of that magnitude this year, based on the median projection. Powell indicated that half-point hikes might be on the table when policymakers next gather May 3-4 and subsequent sessions.

Rep. John Rutherford bought Raytheon stock the same day Russia invaded Ukraine” via Kimberly Leonard of Business Insider — According to a financial disclosure, Rutherford purchased between $1,000 and $15,000 worth of stock in Raytheon corporation on February 24. The stock purchase happened the same day that Rutherford tweeted the U.S. should “leave nothing off the table” in countering Russia. Rutherford joins at least 18 other members of Congress who since 2020 have either held shares in Raytheon or Lockheed Martin — or both — or recently traded stock in these companies. The lawmakers stand to personally profit from the Russia-launched war at a time when Biden just signed into law a spending bill with $6.5 billion in military assistance to help Ukraine during the crisis.   Rutherford sits on the Appropriations Committee that’s in charge of federal government spending.

Kathy Castor highlights more than $10 million from federal budget for Tampa projects” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Rep. Castor said she helped secure more than $10 million for local appropriation projects in the federal budget. Castor received approval for the nine funding requests she filed to help Florida’s 14th Congressional District, from affordable housing to cancer research and mental health services. All in all, Tampa Bay delegation members directed $35 million in funding from the federal budget for specific community projects, an announcement that comes as Representatives were able to submit local appropriations requests for the first time in more than a decade.

Kathy Castor brings home the bacon.

Vern Buchanan pushes for more drilling, investment in solar and nuclear power” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Rep. Buchanan called for expanding oil drilling on federal lands. But he said that should be coupled with investment in alternative energy. It’s part of an eight-point plan the Longboat Key Republican unveiled Tuesday that he believes will establish greater domestic energy independence. More than just a re-election platform, Buchanan’s proposal could offer a glimpse into the energy agenda for a Republican Congress should the GOP retake a majority and Buchanan ascend to chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.


— LOCAL NOTES —

Miami Beach to declare ‘state of emergency’ and announce crowd control measures” via Charles Rabin and Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — Three weeks into Spring Break, Miami Beach announced it will declare a “state of emergency” and impose new crowd-control restrictions after two shootings on Ocean Drive shattered the relative calm in South Beach during the monthlong party period. The details were not released Monday, but city leaders and police officials will address the public at an afternoon news conference. The announcement comes as Miami Beach’s new approach in dealing with the massive and at-times rowdy crowds seemed to be achieving its desired effect: The street corner fights and confrontations with geared-up cops that lit up social media and embarrassed city leaders in past recent years have mostly been absent.

Gunfire on Ocean Drive: A normal Miami Spring Break?

Miami jail officer posted images of ex, faces rare prosecution under ‘revenge porn’ law” via David Ovalle of the Miami Herald — A Miami-Dade corrections officer has been relieved of duty after being arrested for allegedly posting explicit images of his ex-wife on Twitter. Last week, Teddy Joseph, 39, was charged under Florida’s “revenge porn” law, making cyber sexual harassment a first-degree misdemeanor. The law was first passed in 2015 to combat the proliferation of people posting sexual photos and videos of their ex-partners. The law, however, has been used sparingly across Florida. This month, lawmakers passed a law criminalizing “deepfakes,” images doctored to appear as pornographic ones, and making the theft of explicit images a felony.

Investors are gobbling up homes in South Florida like never before. What does that mean for average homebuyers?” via Amber Randall of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Investor purchases of single-family homes shot up this year, bringing more competition for the average homebuyer in an already tense housing market. Redfin data shows that investors bought anywhere between 16% to 27% of homes sold in South Florida during the fourth quarter of 2021. On a national level, they accounted for 18.4% of homes bought in that same period, which is a record high. According to Redfin, investors might be individuals, others are registered under LLCs, and some are larger multinational private firms. “The local homebuyer is really in a pinch,” said Sheharyar Bokhari, an economist at Redfin.

Ultra Music Festival is coming to Miami this weekend. Here’s what you need to know” via Connie Ogle of the Miami Herald — After a two-year absence, the Ultra Music Festival is finally returning to Miami. The international festival, which was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, returns March 25-27 to Bayfront Park, thrilling fans of electronic dance music and inducing migraines in nearby residents of a certain age and drivers attempting to venture through or into downtown. The festival draws between 150,000 and 165,000 music lovers, but despite its popularity, Ultra has made its share of enemies in Miami over the years, particularly the not-necessarily-youthful owners of Biscayne Bay condos assailed by thumping bass for three straight days. It has also had other problems in the past.

— MORE LOCAL —

Palm Beach County School Board eyes hiring of 20 sheriff’s deputies through May 2023” via Giuseppe Sabella of the Palm Beach Post — Nearly two dozen sheriff’s deputies will soon be available to guard Palm Beach County schools if the school board approves a million-dollar agreement Wednesday. While the district continues to recruit and fill vacancies within its own police force, the pending agreement with Sheriff Ric Bradshaw would provide 20 deputies and two sergeants at the cost of $100 per hour and $136 per hour, respectively. “With the constant flux of retirements, resignations, injuries and new applications, in the interest of ensuring continued full compliance with the law and in the interest of expediency, the proposed contract being brought to the School Board may require further negotiations to accommodate changes prior to final approval,” the agenda for the meeting states.

Ric Bradshaw will provide a fresh wave of backup for Palm Beach County schools. Image via The Palm Beach Post.

Federal judge sentences ‘prolific drug dealer’ from Boynton Beach to more than 30 years in prison” via Jane Musgrave of the Palm Beach Post — A 40-year-old Boynton Beach man Friday was sentenced to 31½ years in prison after a federal jury convicted him of charges of conspiring to sell fentanyl and crystal meth he received in deliveries from FedEx. Antony Harris, who federal prosecutors described as “a prolific drug dealer,” had previously served 38 months in prison on drug trafficking charges. He was on probation when police burst into his apartment in July 2020 and discovered his stash of illegal drugs. A Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy discovered his illicit operation while inspecting packages at the FedEx sorting facility in West Palm Beach, court records show.

Nassau’s interim county attorney takes on permanent role” via Wes Wolfe of Florida Politics — One part of Nassau County’s ongoing county attorney saga concluded Monday afternoon with the unanimous appointment of Interim County Attorney Denise May as the permanent replacement for former County Attorney Mike Mullin. Mullin resigned last week amid allegations of illegal behavior regarding public records. “I apologize — I went out of town with my children for spring break, and it was an eventful week,” said Aaron Bell, chair of the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners. Bell recounted May’s qualifications and the process that brought her to the assistant county attorney job last year.

Federal government refiles $2.8M lien against Tampa Bay Times after seizing control of paper’s pension fund” via Daniel Figueroa IV of Florida Politics — The Tampa Bay Times has once again found itself in financial trouble as the federal government last week refiled a $2.8 million lien against its parent organization, Times Publishing Company. The Times Publishing Company Pension Plan covers about 3,300 former and retired employees of the paper and the Poynter Institute. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, or PBGC, refiled the liens against the Times Thursday. The PBGC announced in November it had seized control of the Times’ pension fund after the paper racked up more than $100 million in debt in its own fund.

Former Vero Beach Mayor Craig Fletcher dead at 79 of self-inflicted gunshot, police say” via Corey Atwood of Treasure Coast Newspapers — A two-time Vero Beach Mayor died from what police said was a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home Sunday evening. Paramedics and police officers were called to the Avalon Avenue residence around 6:30 p.m. by a woman who said she found her husband with a gunshot wound in a bedroom. Master Police Officer Darrell Rivers said Fletcher was pronounced dead at 6:39 p.m. from a head wound. Fletcher was Mayor of Vero Beach twice from 2002 to 2003 and 2012 to 2013 and held four terms on the City Council between 2000 and 2014. He served as Mayor 20 years after his father, Alfred Fletcher.

— TOP OPINION —

China is complicit in Russia’s war on Ukraine” via Sen. Marco Rubio for The Washington Post — The Chinese Communist Party has a long list of sins, including the systematic repression of basic human rights, industrial espionage, the use of slave labor and genocide. Now, the CCP’s complicity in the atrocities Russia is committing in Ukraine can be added to that list. Twenty-one years ago, China signed a “Treaty of Friendship” with Russia. It might have started as a marriage of convenience, but that relationship has grown only stronger over time, through cooperation at the United Nations, energy deals and military exercises. Over the past few weeks, Beijing has enabled Putin’s war of aggression. CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping has once again made his strategic objective clear: dismantle democracies and replace them with authoritarian regimes to undermine, and eventually supplant, the U.S.-led world order.

— OPINIONS —

Republicans promised ‘no circus’ at Jackson’s hearing. Then the clown car rolled in.” via Dana Milbank of The Washington Post — The demagogue doubled down. Sen. Josh Hawley, the insurrectionist lawmaker who voted to overturn the 2020 election results and pumped a fist in solidarity with those rallying outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, launched a scurrilous attack against Supreme Court nominee Jackson. “I’ve noticed an alarming pattern when it comes to Judge Jackson’s treatment of sex offenders, especially those preying on children,” he said of the mother of two daughters, accusing her of “a pattern of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes.”

Jeff Brandes is right to push for Special Session on insurance rates” via Joe Henderson of Florida Politics — Brandes’ time as a Senator is ending, but he remains a voice of reason on how Tallahassee should work. He gave his usual good advice about what lawmakers should do to fix a problem they should have dealt with in the recently concluded Legislative Session. The Clearwater Republican told WFLA that DeSantis should finally call a Special Session to address the state’s property insurance crisis. “If I were advising the Governor, I would say, ‘Listen if you don’t call a Special Session on this, you’re going to begin to own some of these rate increases,’” Brandes said. On Monday, DeSantis told reporters he is “very receptive” to that idea.

Confederate monuments are here to stay” via A.G. Gancarski for Jax Today — The Jacksonville City Council is set for yet another of its masochistic explorations of what would, in a 21st-century city, be a simple question: Should a Confederate monument be maintained for all to see? By all accounts, it is another fine tarp job by the city, which has managed to tarp its way past every imaginable equity issue since Consolidation almost 55 years ago. It could stay tarped indefinitely. A phrase often used when trying to appeal to conscience is “you don’t want to be on the wrong side of history.” In this case, Republicans don’t want to be on the wrong side of their voters. And those voters see these statues as History, real American Heritage. Not sentimentalist agitprop claptrap designed to reel in the suckers of yesteryear and reinforce the structures of a discredited socioeconomic model for social control.

— ALOE —

Disney’s ‘Frozen’ will ‘Let it Go’ in Tampa through April 3” via Kelly A. Stefani of the Tampa Bay Times — With 12 new songs, more than 300 over-the-top costumes, and highly physical puppetry, Disney brings the North American tour of Frozen to Tampa. The Tony-nominated musical, which delivers a story of love and sisterhood, opens at 7:30 p.m. March 23 at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts and runs through April 3. “It’s a lot more than the Frozen everybody knows and loves. You get to know the characters deeper,” said Caroline Bowman, who portrays Queen Elsa.

‘Frozen’ will soon blow into Tampa.

Oscar predictions: Will ‘Power of the Dog’ reign supreme?” via Lindsey Bahr and Jake Coyle of The Associated Press — It’s always a bit of a snooze when categories are locked for months, but it would be a major surprise if Will Smith didn’t get his first Oscar win for “King Richard.” After a period of giving some possibly TMI interviews, Smith stepped back from the spotlight, let the race play out, and still emerged triumphant. Smith might have already won best actor for “Ali” if not for Denzel’s titanic performance that year in “Training Day.” This time, it’s Smith’s turn.

Maury Povich’s show ending after more than 30 years” via Lisa Respers France of CNN — “Maury” will be ending after 31 seasons. The popular daytime talk show comes to a close with the 2021-2022 season, reps for NBCUniversal confirmed to CNN. “Six years ago, when I was ready to retire, my NBCUniversal family asked me to continue the show,” Povich said in a statement. The show, well known for its paternity tests and guests with scandalous secrets, is in its 24th season with NBCUniversal. Povich is the longest-running daytime talk show host in TV history.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to top fundraiser Gretchen Picotte and great guys Sean Daly, Ash Mason, Paul Mitchell of The Southern Group, Jason Unger of GrayRobinson, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, and former Rep. Alan Williams.

___

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

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