Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 3.18.21 – Florida Politics

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Your morning review of the issues and players behind Florida politics.

Sunburn is still recovering from a combination of too much green beer and the middle-of-the-night premiere of “Zach Snyder‘s Justice League,” so we’re gonna move quickly to the notes this morning, but not before a couple of scooplets that we first shared on Twitter.

First, as Matt Dixon was surprised to see yesterday, Shane Strum IS still Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ chief of staff, at least through Friday. As you may remember, Strum was supposed to begin his new job with Broward Health over a week ago, but DeSantis asked him to stay through last Friday. At least that’s what DeSantis said when he announced Adrian Lukis as his new chief of staff. But then Dixon and I both noticed that Strum was still listed as CoS on the Governor’s schedule. Turns out, the Governor asked Strum to remain through this Friday. At this point, we’ll believe Strum is leaving Tallahassee when we see him driving a U-Haul truck.

Shane Strum is not quite out as Ron DeSantis’ chief of staff.

And while Strum is soon leaving town, it turns out a VIP was just in Tallahassee. Miriam Adelson, the widow of Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson. LVS recently sold its interests in Las Vegas and is sitting on billions of dollars in cash to spend on new projects. Might one of them be a destination resort in Florida? According to our sources, Adelson met with the Governor, Senate President Wilton Simpson, House Speaker Chris Sprowls, and other key players. No doubt some of the meetings took place at the gorgeous new offices of Capital City Consulting.

There are more stories below about all of the behind-the-scenes plays being made to forge a gaming deal.

🦠 — What Richard Corcoran is (hopefully) reading: Open. The. Damn. Window. As schools in Florida continue face-to-face instruction, one simple act can limit the spread of COVID-19. The New York Times dedicated about half its front page Wednesday to infographics showing how opening a window in a classroom can improve airflow to limit the chance of an infected student or teacher from spreading the virus. Two airflow simulation graphics show how the air travels without an open window, and it’s a mess. Another, showing what happens when a window is open, paints a much cleaner (and safer) picture. Nearly 800,000 data points were used in the simulation.

💸Donald Trump’s ailing empire (and some really fun graphics): The former President’s net worth is down $700 million, from $3 billion when he became President to $2.3 billion after he left the White House, according to Bloomberg. As the publication notes, “the pandemic he promised would disappear is walloping his company, and the riot that got him impeached for a second time is wounding his brand.” The interactive piece features Trump’s debt, valuation, and depreciation for his assets. A tease: Trump’s commercial real estate valuation plummeted 26% from his inauguration to post-presidency.

👩🏻‍💻A Zoom plug-in everyone needs: After a year of incessant Zoom meetings, there is now a plug-in that makes your Zoom experience unbearable to everyone but you. Zoom Escaper allows users to pipe in noise, so no one wants them in the meeting, allowing the user to, as the name suggests, escape. Choose from simple distractions like an echo, feedback, or the token choppiness of a bad connection, or have a bit more fun by piping in the sound of a baby crying or a man weeping uncontrollably. Get it here, and don’t tell your boss we told you about it.

✈️ — Vaccinated? Here’s where you can now travel: Nine destinations are opening travel to visitors who have been vaccinated, according to The Washington Post. The locales include European nations and tropical islands. While many have argued against “vaccine passports,” the destinations allow travelers to bypass 14-day quarantine requirements. The countries include Greece, Belize, Seychelles, Georgia, Estonia, Romania, Iceland, Cyprus and Poland.

🧘 — Pandemic hobbies for sanity: This Wall Street Journal feature highlights everyday Americans and how they survived the pandemic with their sanity intact. There’s a Tampa flight attendant who trained for an ultramarathon, a Maryland couple who binged gritty murder shows, and this one’s impressive, a retired teacher in Colorado who built his own airplane. But the best one is the one that could have just as easily been written about me — a man who spent idle time constructing complex Lego sets. Read about their stories here.

 — Why are manatees dying?: In National Geographic, writer Rebecca Renner, who is also a contributor to The New York Times and our very own Influence Magazine reporter, penned a heartbreaking must-read in Nat Geo about the plight of Manatees in Florida. Algae from excess nutrients that make their way into waterways from fertilizer runoff are choking sea grass, causing many manatees to starve to death in the winter. But you know, lush green lawns.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@AmandaMarcotte: It says a lot about the ugliness in this country that it’s hard to tell if the likeliest motive is incel misogyny or racist conspiracy theory. (Or some combination.)

Tweet, tweet:

Stopped by @culhanes Irish Pub in Jacksonville to celebrate #StPatricksDay and visit with my friends the Culhane sisters — Lynda, Michelle, Mary Jane and Aine. Be sure to check out one of their two locations. Great food and great Irish cheer! https://t.co/PVJsPGo5AC pic.twitter.com/Sbqoyd3hvY

— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) March 17, 2021

@SteveLemongello: DeSantis laughs when he gets applause from first responders at his Palm Harbor news conference after mentioning the $1000 checks for first responders. “Maybe I’ll hand out the checks,” he jokes

Tweet, tweet:

180,340 shots done yesterday! Go get the vaccine!💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉 💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉 💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉 💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉💉😷

— Jared MASKowitz 😷 (@JaredEMoskowitz) March 17, 2021

@AGAshleyMoody: For far too long, @Google has used its size and position as one of the largest tech giants in the world to manipulate and unfairly monopolize the marketplace.

@Annette_Taddeo: Teaching factual history doesn’t create a hate for country, it allows for growth & improvement.

@SenPizzo: A lot of mayonnaise on some bills in the legislature, this year.

@MDixon55: If you call it “stimmy” your money should go to someone else

Tweet, tweet:

Thank you to everyone who came out for the St. Patrick’s Day Meeting of the Pancake Caucus. Now for a busy day in committee! #HappyStPatricksDay 🍀 pic.twitter.com/tI5eWQQVTD

— Janet Cruz (@SenJanetCruz) March 17, 2021

Tweet, tweet:

Seeing green throughout #Tampa tonight. Happy #StPatricksDay https://t.co/zuATxwcpTE pic.twitter.com/PLxWNocVaG

— Justin Schecker (@WFLAJustin) March 18, 2021

Tweet, tweet:

In case there were any doubts about this man’s 🍀 roots! pic.twitter.com/Ys9YRjzdij

— Tim Parson (@TLPres2032) March 17, 2021

Tweet, tweet:

Some photos taken after some all day rainstorms in Tallahassee, FL. pic.twitter.com/AK9YogfPSg

— E Mart (@erichm) March 17, 2021

— DAYS UNTIL —

‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ premieres on Disney+ — 1; ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ premieres — 8; 2021 Florida Virtual Hemp Conference — 9; 2021 Florida Derby — 9; Disneyland, other California theme parks begin to reopen — 14; MLB Opening Day — 14; Easter — 17; RNC spring donor summit — 22; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 50; Mother’s Day — 52; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 53; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 71; Memorial Day — 74; Father’s Day — 94; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 106; 4th of July — 108; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 115; MLB All-Star Game in Atlanta — 117; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 127; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 135; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 159; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 190; ‘Dune’ premieres — 197; MLB regular season ends — 199; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 205; World Series Game 1 — 222; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 229; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 232; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 267; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 274; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 372; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 414; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 568.

— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —

Ron DeSantis signals support for fully-funded Bright Futures” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — DeSantis on Wednesday seemingly distanced himself from a Republican proposal that would fundamentally change the Bright Futures Scholarship Program. Sponsored by Sen. Dennis Baxley, the bill (SB 86) seeks to limit Bright Futures scholarships to degrees with higher job prospects. Proponents of the measure argue the change will help guide students toward more promising career fields and benefit the state’s economy in the long run. Critics, including many Democrats, contend the bill would pull students away from their passions and possibly draw them away from higher education. Speaking at a news conference in Naples, DeSantis signaled his stance on the measure.

Ron DeSantis suggests he wants full funding for Bright Futures scholarships

DeSantis has found a new culture-war enemy: ‘critical race theory’” via Michael Moline of Florida Phoenix — DeSantis played another culture-war card Wednesday, vowing to expel from Florida’s public schools any study of “critical race theory,” which examines the way race has shaped American society and institutions, which he denounced as “ideological or faddish.” The remarks by the Governor, who’s two years from seeking reelection and perhaps four from a run for the presidency, fit into a broader conservative effort to delegitimize research into the extent to which racism in America is not just a matter of interpersonal bigotry but rather is enforced through laws and cultural mores.

DeSantis calls for $3,000 bonuses for Florida teachers who complete civics education training” via Steven Lemongello and Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis is proposing a $3,000 bonus for Florida teachers, but only if they complete training and certification for “the Florida civic seal of excellence,” a new civics education program. DeSantis also wants graduating high schoolers to pass a civics test similar to what aspiring U.S. citizens take, part of a $106 million proposal for this year’s budget. The proposal is the latest DeSantis initiative that appears aimed squarely at pleasing conservatives in advance of not only his 2022 reelection campaign but also a potential 2024 Republican bid for President.

DeSantis to meet with pari-mutuel owners DeSantis will meet with top brass at the state’s pari-mutuels tomorrow as part of a push to pass gaming legislation this Session. First reported by Gary Fineout of POLITICO Florida, the meeting comes shortly after the Governor met with representatives from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, who run the biggest gambling enterprise in Florida. DeSantis spokesperson Meredith Beatrice confirmed the meeting, saying it is important pari-mutuels “have a voice” in any potential gaming plan. The meeting also comes amid a push by Simpson to get a gaming deal done this year. The parameters aren’t known, but a new gaming compact or allowing sports betting is part of the discussion.

Republicans want to keep concealed carry permits open after Nikki Fried closed them” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A bill to force the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to keep a concealed carry permit available online is on its way through the committee process after passing its first House panel Wednesday. That’s in response to when FDACS, under Fried, took down its concealed carry permit application portal on March 23, soon after the COVID-19 pandemic reached Florida. That portal remained closed for nearly three months while FDACS faced lawsuits from gun rights groups over the closures. The move came after DeSantis recommended state offices temporarily close to the public beginning March 19.

Fried blasts concealed carry bill Fried said the bill aimed at keeping concealed carry permits available online is misguided. “This legislation is overreaching, unnecessary, and as wasteful as the failed lawsuit filed by fringe activists,” Fried said. She said record numbers of permits were approved in record time last year, and delayed applications stemmed from a dearth of fingerprinting services amid the pandemic. Since FDACS is not legally allowed to refund application fees, it stopped accepting applications to minimize the number of unhappy customers. She concluded, “If Rep. Ingoglia really wants to help improve concealed weapons licensing, he could start with legislation to help us refund applicant fees, instead of politically-motivated bills that are a nonsolution in search of a nonexistent problem.”

Senate panel advances Simone Marstiller confirmation — The Senate Health Policy Committee on Wednesday advanced Marstiller’s confirmation to lead the Agency for Health Care Administration with a unanimous vote. As reported by Arek Sarkissian of POLITICO Florida, the greenlight came after she said she would put a controversial Medicaid project contracted to Deloitte under her direct supervision. The contract, worth $135 million, received a torrent of criticism since it was awarded after the state’s unemployment system — which Deloitte built — crashed at the beginning of the pandemic. Marstiller previously headed up the Department of Juvenile Justice. DeSantis appointed her as AHCA Secretary in early February.

Simone Marstiller is one step closer to officially leading the Agency for Health Care Administration

Senate set to take up liability protections” via the News Service of Florida — The Senate on Thursday will take up a high-profile bill that would help shield businesses and health care providers from lawsuits related to COVID-19. The proposal (SB 72), sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, was one of 14 bills included Monday on what is known as a special order calendar to go to the Senate floor. Business groups and health care providers have lobbied heavily for liability protections since early in the COVID-19 pandemic. The House has passed a bill (HB 7) that would provide protections for non-health care businesses and is considering a separate bill (HB 7005) that would help shield health care providers. The Senate originally had separate bills on the issues, but Brandes combined them last week.

House backs ban for transgender female athletes” via Dara Kam of News Service of Florida — Despite impassioned pleas from LGBT advocates, a House panel on Wednesday approved a controversial proposal that would ban transgender girls and women from competing in women’s high school and college sports. The move by the House Secondary Education & Career Development Subcommittee put Florida among the ranks of at least two-dozen other Republican-dominated state legislatures that have considered or approved measures requiring student-athletes to compete according to their sex assigned at birth. Bill sponsor Kaylee Tuck, a Lake Placid Republican, said the transgender athletic ban is necessary to establish parity for biologically female athletes. But critics of measures targeting transgender student-athletes argue the proposals are rooted in fear, misunderstanding and politics.

— TALLY 2 —

Energy bill focused on natural gas could benefit TECO” via Malena Carollo of the Tampa Bay Times — A bill that would prevent local governments from banning natural gas could benefit Tampa Electric Co.’s sister company, Peoples Gas. SB 1128 would bar local governments from banning natural gas from new buildings. Much of Florida’s push for renewable energy sources has originated from municipalities on the front lines of responding to climate change’s effects. The bill would strip them of their ability to require monopoly utilities in their area to opt for carbon-neutral energy sources in new construction. Currently, if a municipality decided it did not want natural gas in new buildings, Peoples Gas could lose out on those potential customers. Under the bill, municipalities would not be allowed to veto the energy source, preserving those customers.

Parental Bill of Rights clears second House committee” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — Rep. Erin Grall’s bill (HB 241) seeks to safeguard “rights of parents” concerning their minor child for education, health care, and criminal justice, and prohibits the state or any other government entities from infringing on the rights established in the bill. Under the bill, if the state or other government entity should infringe on the parent’s rights, the infringement would be reviewed with “strict scrutiny.” Grall proposed identical legislation (HB 1059) last year, which passed in the House but did not make it through the Senate. This Session, Grall’s parental rights bill has made it through two of three committee stops. Wednesday, it was approved by the House Judiciary Committee along a party-line vote.

Erin Grall wants to cement parents’ rights and protect them from government intrusion. Image via Florida House.

House panel OKs bills to curb Chinese influence via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The House Education and Employment Committee voted unanimously to advance a bill by Vero Beach Republican Grall (HB 7017) that would require groups to disclose funding from China and other adversarial countries when seeking large grants from Florida. Besides China, that list of flagged countries includes Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela. The legislation would force state agencies, local governments, colleges and universities to disclose donations and grants from those countries worth $50,000 or more. Applicants for grants from or those proposing contracts with state agencies and local governments would also have to disclose financial connections to any of those countries.

Abolishing constitution panel backed in House” via News Service of Florida — The House Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee, in a 12-4 vote, backed a measure (HJR 1179) that would ask voters in 2022 to eliminate the state Constitution Revision Commission. “Bill sponsor Rep. Mike Beltran said the Commission has inappropriately dealt with issues that should have been left to the Legislature. The 37-member Commission, which voters set up as part of the 1968 Florida Constitution and meets every 20 years, has been targeted after putting seven amendments on the 2018 ballot that were approved. The Commission drew widespread criticism, at least in part because it bundled unrelated issues into single ballot proposals. For example, it tied together the bans on oil drilling and workplace vaping.

House, Senate differ on insurance fixes” via Jim Saunders of News Service of Florida — A House panel on Wednesday signed off on a bill (HB 305) that, in part, calls for changing part of state law that prevents Citizens Property Insurance Corp. from raising rates on individual customers by more than 10% a year. But the House proposal does not go along with two major parts of the Senate bill. Those parts deal with insurance industry complaints that questionable, if not fraudulent, roofing claims and plaintiffs’ attorney fees drive up costs in the insurance system. The Senate bill (SB 76) would allow insurers to use what is described as a “reimbursement schedule” in determining how much they would pay for roof damage. Also, the Senate bill also would place additional restrictions on plaintiffs’ attorney fees.

Randolph Bracy’s Juneteenth bill gets pushback from historians” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — After Sen. Bracy took steps to eliminate the fiscal controversy surrounding his Juneteenth Day bill, the legislation still resulted in a kerfuffle in Wednesday’s Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee meeting. But it was not committee members who took issue with the bill; instead, several exacting historians lined up to poke holes in the historical accuracy of the date selected. Ultimately committee members voted to move forward with the legislation to make Juneteenth Day a legal holiday. Juneteenth Day commemorates the end of slavery and is typically observed on June 19.

Randolph Bracy’s Juneteenth paid holiday proposal gets slammed by historians. Image via Colin Hackley.

Senate panel OK’s Lauren Book bill automatically suspending doctors arrested on child porn” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The Senate is advancing a measure that would automatically suspend a physician’s license after he or she is arrested on charges related to possession of child pornography, homicide or other serious charges. That suspension would remain in effect until the legal process concludes. The Senate Health Policy Committee approved the measure Wednesday by a unanimous 9-0 vote. Book filed the bill (SB 1934) after the arrest of Michael Mizrachy, a Plantation pediatrician who had previously treated Book’s own children. Mizrachy is facing child porn charges.

Senate advances measure clearing up ambiguity in last year’s pelvic exam consent bill” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The Senate Health Policy Committee OK’d a bill looking to clear up the language in last year’s legislation requiring affirmative consent for pelvic examination procedures. Last year’s bill and this year’s clarifying measure (SB 716) both come from Book. Before the 2020 Session, Book introduced a measure aiming to make sure female patients offer consent before those examinations. Book cited shocking reports showing medical students could perform pelvic checks on anesthetized patients who may agree to a general exam routine but don’t explicitly consent to those more invasive procedures. The bill, as approved by lawmakers and signed by the Governor, caused some confusion, however.

— TALLY 3 —

Communism history studies added to House ‘Victims of Communism’ bill” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Florida high school students would be taught about the horrors associated with communism in an amended House bill intended to create a “Victims of Communism Day.” Rep. David Borrero‘s measure (HB 1553) largely drew supportive debate and unanimous approval Wednesday from the House Government Operations Subcommittee, the day after a similar measure in the Senate sparked long, deep, and sometimes partisan debate in a Senate committee. The House version, revised Wednesday as a committee bill and then amended, drops a requirement that the Legislature would take a moment of silence on its final day in Session in remembrance of victims of communism.

David Borrero‘s proposal will recognize the fears of living under communism.

Legislation would let local election officials in Florida keep security breaches secret” via Jeffrey Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — Under legislation now under consideration by Florida lawmakers, county elections supervisors would be able to withhold information about the ever-present possibility of systems being hacked and voter records being altered. According to federal intelligence reports, those dangers came close to happening in at least four Florida counties in 2016. Voting rights groups, government watchdogs, and members of Florida’s congressional delegation have pushed for greater transparency in disclosing those security breaches, but a measure by Sen. Doug Broxson, a Gulf Breeze Republican, would go the opposite direction. “We’ve seen in past elections a real invasion from outside sources to try to intimidate and change certain information,” Broxson said Tuesday in introducing the bill (SB 1704). “It happened in my county.”

Opioid ‘antagonist’ changes get Senate support” via News Service of Florida — Pharmacists would be authorized to order and dispense emergency opioid antagonists without prescriptions to at-risk people and caregivers under a bill that received unanimous approval Wednesday from the Senate Health Policy Committee. The bill (SB 1442), sponsored by Sen. Jim Boyd, also would provide caregivers, law enforcement officers, paramedics, correctional probation officers and child protective investigators immunity from civil or criminal liability as a result of administering emergency opioid antagonists. It would make clear that caregivers or at-risk people are authorized to store and administer the emergency opioid antagonists. Additionally, the bill would require the Florida Department of Health to develop and implement a statewide campaign regarding opioid overdoses and how to respond to them.

Senate committee advances physician assistant changes — The Senate Health Policy Committee OK’d a bill by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr. that would change several rules related to physician assistants, including a scope-of-practice expansion. SB 894 would define “autonomous physician assistant,” and allow them to provide primary care services without a doctor’s supervision. To qualify, a PA must have 3,000 clinical practice hours within the past 5 years; complete courses in pharmacology and differential diagnosis, and acquire liability insurance.

Senate panel OK’s veterinary telemedicine bill — The Senate Agriculture Committee approved a bill (SB 1370) by Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez that would allow veterinary telemedicine. The bill defines veterinary telemedicine as “the practice of veterinary medicine in a remote setting, including through the use of telephone or audiovisual technology …” It would not allow veterinarians to prescribe controlled substances via telemedicine unless the animal is receiving hospice services. The bill now heads to the Rules Committee, its final stop before the Senate floor.

Pregame remarks get House support” via News Service of Florida — Amid a long-running legal battle about a pregame prayer, a House panel gave the go-ahead Wednesday to a proposal that would require the Florida High School Athletic Association to allow schools to offer opening remarks over the public-address system before high school championships. Under the proposal (HB 1027) approved by the House Secondary Education & Career Development Subcommittee, the FHSAA and other associations would be required to adopt bylaws permitting the remarks. The FHSAA currently has a policy requiring announcers to maintain neutrality in scripted remarks before championship games. The proposal also would require an announcement to be made before the opening remarks that the comments do not reflect the association’s views and opinions.

Pregame prayer has been an issue that draws passions on both sides.

Spencer Roach wants no stimulus going to cruise-hating Key West” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — As Florida considers directing stimulus to the cruise industry, one Representative wants Key West left out. Rep. Roach said the state should not offer any assistance to the port in Key West after it restricted access to large ships. On Wednesday morning, he pointedly directed his comments toward the Southernmost Point. “Gov asked us to send $260 million of fed stimulus to FL seaports hit hard by loss of cruise ship industry,” Roach tweeted. The comment came a day after DeSantis offered his recommendations to the Legislature on how to spend more than $4 billion in stimulus money tied to the COVID-19 relief package.

— TALLY 4 —

Former Sen. Frank Artiles’ house raided after he bragged about planting candidate in Senate race” via Ana Ceballos and Samantha J. Gross of the Miami Herald — Artiles bragged about planting a man named Alex Rodriguez, an auto-parts dealer, in Miami-Dade’s SD 37 race. Rodriguez was on the ballot as a no-party candidate, shared the same surname as the incumbent Democrat. Miami Republican Ileana Garcia beat Jose Javier Rodriguez by 32 votes in the 2020 election. Rodriguez had never been a political candidate and had been a registered Republican just days before filing. Questions over Artiles’ involvement in the race reached an all-time high as the public corruption task force for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office executed a morning search warrant, seizing box loads of items. Juan Carlos Planas, who represented the incumbent Senator during the SD 37 recount, suspects the case may come down to money.

Officials raid Frank Artiles’ home after he brags about fixing a Senate race. Image via CBS Miami.

Tom Brady and a superyacht: How a mogul pitched Florida leaders on Miami Beach casino” via Mary Ellen Klas, Sarah Blaskey and Nicholas Nehamas — Floating off the coast of Tampa on Feb. 7, Brady celebrated at an after-party with longtime friends and associates. One was Speaker Chris Sprowls. It wasn’t the first time Sprowls had met Brady on South Florida billionaire real estate mogul Jeffrey Soffer’s 311-foot Madsummer, a state-of-the-art vessel. Five months earlier, Soffer had hosted a fundraiser and dinner for Sprowls on the boat and introduced him to Brady. Soffer used that opportunity to make a pitch: Pass legislation to allow Soffer to move a gambling permit from his Hallandale Beach-based Big Easy Casino to the sumptuous Fontainebleau Resort in Miami Beach, which his family has owned since 2005. Now, Soffer may have his best chance in a decade.

Joe Gruters leaves Capitol for home after COVID-19 contact” via John Kennedy of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Gruters, chair of the Florida GOP, was quarantining at home after his wife contracted COVID-19. Gruters said he left the state Capitol on Tuesday after learning of Sydney Gruters’ diagnosis. Under guidelines followed by the state Senate, Gruters is expected to stay away from the Legislature until at least next week – if he continues to test negative for the virus. “I haven’t been hit with it yet,” Gruters said. “She wasn’t feeling well. I told her, ‘It’s doubtful,’ but I said ‘go get tested.’ You never know when you’re going to get hit with that stuff.”

AARP Florida says personal care attendant bill needs more work — AARP Florida said a bill increasing the role of personal care attendants in nursing homes is moving in the right direction, but it still needs work. “It’s clear that the amendment adopted today doubles the training received by Personal Care Attendants, from 8 hours to 16 total hours. Let’s not stop there. Further amendments are needed to ensure that Certified Nursing Assistants, who receive a higher level of training, are not supplanted by PCAs,” AARP Florida state director Jeff Johnson said. “AARP continues to believe that PCAs do not have sufficient training to replace or substitute for the level of care provided by CNAs.” Johnson said AARP provided amendment language that would fix the remaining issues in SB 1132.

AFP-FL praises Senate for advancing union dues bill — Americans for Prosperity on Wednesday lauded the Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability for advancing a bill (SB 1014) that would require government employers to confirm that an employee wants union dues removed from their paycheck. “Transparency must be the priority, and no employee should ever be forced to join or remain in a union without their clear consent. This legislation will benefit workers across the state by ensuring that they get to make the ultimate decisions about the money that comes out of their paycheck,” AFP Florida director Skylar Zander said. “We applaud Chairman Baxley and Chairman Rodrigues for prioritizing the needs of Floridians and working tirelessly to ensure that every union has meaningful buy-in and is ultimately accountable to their members.”

Gun control advocates promote assault weapons ban for Florida” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Gun control advocates just fired off a series of digital ads targeting Florida lawmakers during Session. The five-figure ad buy from Ban Assault Weapons NOW will press lawmakers to institute legislative weapons bans. “Our state and our children would be far safer if elected leaders passed legislation banning these weapons of war once and for all,” said BAWN chair Gail Schwartz. The organization specifically supports legislation filed in the Senate (SB 370) by Sen. Gary Farmer, a Broward Democrat, and in the House (HB 65) by Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith. The identical bills would prohibit the sales or transfer of assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines, and provide restrictions for continued ownership of such items.

Equal Ground Action Fund urges Senate to shelve election bill — A political committee tied to the Equal Ground Action Fund sent a letter signed by dozens of Florida pastors urging the Senate Rules Committee to vote against SB 90, which would make broad changes to election law. The letter says provisions in the bill, such as the elimination of ballot drop boxes and shortening mail ballot requests, “will serve as grave impediments to the voting process.” In the letter, the pastors go on to say that they find the bill will cause significant confusion and exacerbate a narrative of voter suppression for people in certain communities; especially given that 70% of Florida voters support and utilize drop boxes.

Florida Internet & Television webinar backs broadband bills — Florida Internet & Television (FIT) today hosted a virtual webinar that included Rep. Josie Tomkow, former Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, and others in a discussion of how to best provide internet access to Florida’s unserved and rural communities. Tomkow said bills filed by her and Sen. Danny Burgess (HB 1239/SB 1592) would “encourage more connectivity through private investment … While 95% of Floridians have access to broadband, over 750,000 Floridians do not have any access, or it is insufficient to meet today’s technological needs.”

Michael O’Rielly was a featured speaker at the Florida Internet & Television webinar on providing internet access to underserved communities.

FAFCC provided $188M in health care last year — The Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics said its member clinics provided nearly $188 million worth of health care services to Floridians last year. A new report on their efforts also shows nearly 195,000 Floridians received care. The results were made possible, in part, thanks to a $9.5 million appropriation in the 2020-21 state budget to fund the 98 volunteer-driven, nonprofit, faith, and community-based clinics throughout the state. “I’m so proud of how our free and charitable clinics are responding during this pandemic, serving as a critical partner for hospitals, saving countless lives,” said Rev. Michael Daily, board chair for FAFCC and CEO at Good News Care Center free clinic in Homestead.

Coronavirus changed Florida society. These bills make those changes permanent.” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — Last March, when the coronavirus arrived in Florida, state and local governments enacted policies that fundamentally changed how communities interact. Most of the changes restricted the movement of people with the hope of saving lives. But some concessions made things more convenient in a less personal society. As lawmakers gather in Tallahassee, some of those convenient policy changes could be here to stay. Bills making their way through the Legislature would allow Floridians to continue to get alcoholic drinks delivered from restaurants. 

— LOBBY REGS —

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Alex Alamo, Jose Fuentes, Becker & Poliakoff: Ygrene Energy Fund Florida

Jim Boxold, Capital City Consulting: 3M Company

James Card, Larry J. Overton & Associates: Devereux Foundation

Rachel Cone, Erin Rock, The Southern Group: Governmentjobs.com

Shawn Foster, Sunrise Consulting Group: Greenstein Group

Jonathan Genovese: FIS Global

Thomas Griffin, Smith Bryan & Myers: TMX Finance of Florida

Christopher Holley, H2 Solutions: City of Apalachicola

Fred Karlinsky, Timothy Stanfield, Greenberg Traurig: National Association of Settlement Purchasers

Brad Nelson: Gas South

Gerard O’Rourke, Converge Government Affairs of Florida: Nuro

Ashley Shew, American Association of Nurse Practitioners

— LEG. SKED —

On the House floor agenda is a bill to require daily moments of silence in public schools and a measure for state colleges and universities to conduct surveys about “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity.” Other bills include HB 217, from Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, to name part of Florida’s coral reef system after the late state Rep. Kristin Jacobs, who died last year of cancer, 2 p.m., House Chamber.

On the Senate floor agenda is SB 88, from Sen. Jason Brodeur, to shield farmers from lawsuits, and SB 46, from Sen. Travis Hutson, to update regulations for craft distilleries, 2 p.m., Senate Chamber.

Also:

The Senate Finance & Tax Committee, 9 a.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Rules Committee, 9 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, 9: 30 a.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The House Public Integrity & Elections Committee, 9: 30 a.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, 11: 30 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The House Health & Human Services Committee, noon, Room 212, Knott Building.

The House Rules Committee, 15 minutes after adjournment of floor Session, Room 404, House Office Building.




— STATEWIDE —

Happening today — The Florida Supreme Court is scheduled to release its weekly opinions, 11 a.m.

Florida unlikely to expand Medicaid for 800,000 residents, despite offer of more federal money” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis and Florida legislative leaders still aren’t interested in expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, despite the federal government’s offer to defray the cost to the state for two years as part of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package signed by Joe Biden last week. Democrats and advocates who’ve pushed for expansion say there’s no excuse not to offer coverage to 800,000 more Floridians now that the cost to the state would be less. Florida Policy Institute, a liberal think tank based in Orlando, estimates expanding Medicaid now would save the state $3.5 billion. But GOP leaders still have an eye on the 10% cost to the state in future years.

Even with billions of federal dollars, Florida will probably not expand Medicare. Image via AP.

Florida to seek waiver on student testing rules” via Jeffrey S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — With pressure mounting to cancel the consequences of spring academic testing, Florida state education officials on Wednesday announced their plan to request a waiver of the accountability rules set forth in federal law. If approved, a waiver wouldn’t stop the tests from taking place, as occurred a year ago. The Biden administration did not go that far in its flexibility offer. It would, however, allow the state to move away from such requirements as testing 95% of students and grading schools. Exactly how Florida might use the waiver is not yet clear. The state is opening a public input period on the proposed waiver. Comments will be accepted through March 31, after which more details should be available.

AppointedKerry Bartlett to the Indian River County Hospital District Board of Trustees.

Space Florida going after $300M spacecraft factory” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — An undisclosed space company code-named Kraken is looking at Space Florida’s properties to build a $300 million spacecraft factory that could create 2,000 mostly high-wage jobs in Brevard County. Space Florida’s board of directors gave approval Wednesday to staff to negotiate with the company to have a satellite factory located near the agency’s launch sites on Cape Canaveral. Those negotiations could involve creative financing, lease deals, and possibly matching-fund grants from the Florida Department of Transportation. Space Florida President Frank DiBello and EVP Howard Haug were intentionally vague in describing “Project Kraken.” The numbers given Wednesday suggest it certainly would be among the biggest deals.

— 2022 —

Suppression or security? Elections changes cause uproar” via the News Service of Florida — Four months ago, DeSantis bragged that other states should emulate voting procedures in Florida, where Trump’s solid Election Day victory over Biden was done and dusted long before midnight. But the Republican Governor, who will be on the ballot next year, and GOP legislative leaders are pushing changes to the state’s election process that Democrats are branding as “voter suppression,” county election officials “vehemently” oppose and experts say will “disproportionately” harm Black and Hispanic voters.

Just four months ago, Ron DeSantis was bragging about how great Florida’s voting system performed. Now he wants to change it.

Voter outreach led to big drop in rejected mail-in ballots” via The Associated Press — The coronavirus pandemic triggered an unprecedented surge in mailed ballots last year, raising concerns that a flood of first-time absentee voters would lead to another record: more ballots tossed out for missing deadlines, signatures or other reasons. Those fears never materialized. An analysis found that the rate of rejected ballots was actually lower in November than during last year’s primaries in several politically pivotal states despite an increase in the number of absentee ballots cast. In one of the most striking instances, Wisconsin saw both a decline in rejection rate and the overall number of ballots tossed out.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida reports 4,599 new COVID-19 cases and 55 additional deaths” via Cindy Krischer Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The number of new COVID-19 cases in Florida has stabilized, and the number of additional resident deaths from the virus has been on a steady decline for the last month. Florida reported 4,599 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday and another 55 new resident deaths linked to COVID-19. The state has now reported 1,989,024 cases since the pandemic began. The seven-day average for new cases has been declining since Jan. 8. On Wednesday, it had dropped to 4,491 new cases. The state reported a daily positivity rate of 5.57%, down from 5.95% the day before. This method of calculating positivity counts new infections only but also counts repeat negative tests, which skews the figure downward.

Johnson & Johnson vaccine shipments halted in Florida for several weeks, DeSantis says” via Cindy Krischer Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — If you are hunting for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Florida, you will be disappointed. At a news conference Wednesday in Palm Harbor, DeSantis said the state will not get a new shipment of the single-shot vaccine for several weeks. “As we get more allocated for Johnson & Johnson, we will let everyone know,” DeSantis said. “If you’ve been waiting and you have an opportunity to get Pfizer or Moderna, I’d recommend getting it because I can’t guarantee you J&J is going to be available in the next week or the week after. We are looking two or three weeks into the future where we don’t have J&J allocation.”

The pipeline for Johnson & Johnson vaccines is drying up in Florida.

With Florida requiring doctor’s note for many, pace of COVID-19 vaccination slows in Miami” via Ben Conarck and Devoun Cetoute of the Miami Herald — In Florida’s most populous county of Miami-Dade, the pace of COVID-19 vaccination has slowed, with state-run mega-sites following a strict rule book enforced by armed police or other security officers at the entrance. Throughout March, vaccine supply has increased, but strict age minimums issued by DeSantis have lingered, except for medically vulnerable people, who are required to have a physician to sign off to qualify for a shot. Other documentation requirements have posed their own challenges.

Vaccination age expected to drop to 55 ‘soon’” via News Service of Florida — DeSantis said Wednesday that he will soon lower the eligibility age to 55 for COVID-19 vaccinations, as demand appears slower for shots even with the eligibility age lowered Monday from 65 to 60. “I think that lowering that age is something that’s going to happen, hopefully, pretty soon,” he said. “We just want to make sure when we do the announcement that we don’t create a crush on the system.” DeSantis has focused heavily on vaccinating seniors but lowered the eligibility age to 60 as vaccines became more plentiful and as demand from people 65 and older began to slow.

Florida schools reopened without becoming COVID-19 superspreaders” via Arian Campo-Flores — As school districts around the U.S. continue to grapple with whether to reopen classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic, data shows Florida started in-person learning without turning schools into superspreaders. The state was one of the earliest to resume in-person instruction in August, following an executive order by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran that directed districts to provide families the option of classroom learning five days a week or risk losing funding. The mandate triggered an outcry among some teachers and parents who considered it risky and drew unsuccessful lawsuits aimed at blocking it.

As students throng Florida beaches during Spring Break, a national nurses’ union warns of the danger” via Isaac Morgan of Florida Phoenix — With new, more infectious COVID-19 variants continuing to spread across Florida and the nation, health care workers are warning of a surge in cases if people don’t adhere to safety protocols during Spring Break. Large crowds at beaches, bars, and restaurants could trigger a spike in cases in the state if people grow lax about safety measures such as wearing a mask and social distancing. “We still need the public’s help to protect our patients, our co-workers, and our families,” Marissa Lee, a registered nurse in Florida, said in a written statement Tuesday. Lee is part of the National Nurses United, a large union representing registered nurses, urging people to comply with federal health officials’ safety guidelines.

Despite the urging of nurse unions, Spring Breakers fill Florida beaches.

Florida nursing home visitors see slight changes under new federal guidelines” via Jacob Wentz of WUSF — For the first time since September, federal health officials are recommending that nursing home residents be allowed to see visitors in person. But in Florida, where visitation has been allowed for months. In October, an emergency order signed by DeSantis allowed long-term care facilities to open their doors for visitors under certain requirements, including temperature checks, social distancing, and appropriate personal protective equipment for all visitors. The federal guidelines, issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, call for similar coronavirus infection prevention protocols outlined in Florida’s visitation order. The new federal guidelines state that if a resident is fully vaccinated, they can choose to have close contact — including touch — with visitors.

‘I almost died in there’: As winter peak recedes, jails still struggle with COVID-19, lawsuits” via Rosmery Izaguirre of the Miami Herald — In a time of COVID-19, even as cases are falling and vaccines are being administered to some behind bars, complaints prompted a class-action lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has resulted in a settlement not quite finalized because of the multi-phased procedure for completing such litigation. Provisions, some of them already implemented, include expanded COVID-19 testing, rules barring COVID-negative detainees from being housed with positive detainees, and giving medically vulnerable detainees twice-daily temperature checks.

— THE STATS —

The state this week opened COVID-19 vaccinations to all people ages 60 and older, after earlier focusing on groups such as seniors and health care workers. Here is a breakdown, via The News Service of Florida, by age group of the people who had been vaccinated as of a Monday count:

— Ages 16 to 24: 66,473 people

— Ages 25 to 34: 183,684 people

— Ages 35 to 44: 247,000 people

— Ages 45 to 54: 334,713 people

— Ages 55 to 64: 538,269 people

— Ages 65 to 74: 1,652,834 people

— Ages 75 to 84: 976,034 people

— Ages 85 and older: 339,092 people

— CORONA LOCAL —

A South Florida baby was born with COVID-19 antibodies after mom vaccinated, doctors say” via Michelle Marchante of the Miami Herald — A South Florida baby was born with COVID-19 antibodies just weeks after her mother was vaccinated against the disease. Doctors believe she’s among the first babies with some protection thanks to the vaccine. The baby’s mother is a front-line health care worker who got her first dose of the Moderna vaccine in late December. Three weeks later, she delivered a healthy baby girl. During routine testing of the blood that comes from the child’s umbilical cord, Boca Raton pediatricians Dr. Chad Rudnick and Dr. Paul Gilbert had the sample tested for COVID-19 antibodies, too.

It’s not just the beach: Secret Spring Break bashes being held in South Florida neighborhoods” via Karen Hensel and Daniel Cohen of WSVN — Spring Break is in full swing in South Florida, and while the focus of the festivities has been on our beaches, we found they’re not the only parties in town. The Nightteam’s Karen Hensel uncovers the hidden bashes in tonight’s 7 Investigates. It has been a chair-throwing, hair pulling, body-slamming start to spring break on South Beach. Social media site Only In Dade sharing videos of the pandemic partying mixed with chaos, but far from Ocean Drive, 7 Investigates has discovered a drive to entice vacationing college students to buy tickets to big bashes held in South Florida homes.

Spring Break is in full swing, and not just on South Florida beaches. Image via Al Dia News.

Vaccinating theme park workers could give boost to Central Florida economy, experts say” via Lauren Seabrook and Adam Poulisse of WFTV — Many theme park employees think the Governor and Orange County’s Mayor should put them next in line to get vaccinated. DeSantis said he’s not doing vaccine changes by occupation anymore. However, Mayor Jerry Demings has been making some special requests to get certain jobs covered. While theme park employees wear masks all day, every day, many said they’d feel a lot more comfortable around tourists being vaccinated. “At the end of the day, DeSantis has said he’s not putting workers first, he’s putting seniors first,” said Eric Clinton with UNITE HERE Local 362, which represents thousands of hospitality workers in Central Florida. “And you know, at this point, I think it’s time to move on past that.”

New vaccine site opens in Palm Harbor, no appointments needed” via Megan Gannon of WFLA — A new vaccine site opened up in North Pinellas County. The Centre in Palm Harbor will now be a location for a walk-up vaccine site where no appointments are necessary. “This site will be offering 500 Pfizer vaccines a day, but we have also decided we are doing about 200 Johnson and Johnson vaccines a day,” said DeSantis. The vaccine site opened on Wednesday, March 17, and is looking to serve about 700 people a day. 8 On Your Side spoke with the CSA Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation Director, Erica Lynford, who the state is running this site.

University of Tampa students revolt to throw their own graduation” via Selene San Felice of Axios — University of Tampa students and parents upset with the private school’s decision to make its May commencement ceremony virtual have decided to throw one of their own. Virtual graduation ceremonies were to be expected over the last two semesters during the coronavirus pandemic. But now that more people are vaccinated and cities like Tampa have proved big events (the Super Bowl and its victory boat parade) can happen relatively safely, all eyes are on schools to see whether tassels will turn IRL.

— CORONA NATION —

CDC says U.S. could face COVID-19 surge after 1.3 million traveled around Spring Break” via Catherine Schuster-Bruce of Business Insider — The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said she was “pleading for the sake of the nation’s health” after more than 1.3 million Americans traveled by air on Friday, the most during the coronavirus pandemic. “This is all in the context of still 50,000 cases per day,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said at a press briefing Monday. Some Americans enjoyed their spring break “maskless,” she said. Her comments came after the Transportation Security Administration recorded more than 1.3 million Americans going through airport security screening on Friday.

Rochelle Walensky is pleading for Americans to stay vigilant against COVID-19. Image via AP.

How ‘Vaccine Day’ could boost inoculations” via Andrew Zaleski of Bloomberg — In the last week, the U.S. COVID-19 vaccination rate accelerated to 2.43 million doses per day, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker. More than 100 million Americans have received vaccine doses, and over 30 million people have fully vaccinated. Biden administration is aiming to ramp up vaccine distribution and expand eligibility to all adults by no later than May 1. ‘’ As the supply of shots grows, vaccine hesitancy has emerged as a serious impediment to conquering the pandemic. Polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that 55% of Americans intend to get a COVID-19 vaccine, but recent surveys show a stark partisan gap on the issue.

Joe Biden admin unveils $10B school testing plan for COVID-19” via David Lim of POLITICO — The Biden administration will spend $10 billion to screen schoolchildren for COVID-19 to help hasten their return to in-person learning. The CDC will administer the school-screening program, announced Wednesday. The agency is giving $10 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to states and certain cities to set up testing, with the aim of reopening schools in the final months of the school year. The CDC and state and local health departments will provide technical assistance to schools to help set up and implement the new screening programs in schools.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

Travel industry estimates final tally of 2020 losses at $1.1 trillion” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The coronavirus crisis gave a $1.1 trillion wallop to the travel and hospitality industry, according to a new report from the U.S. Travel Association. That economic impact includes $500 billion in direct revenue losses, with indirect losses accounting for the rest after the travel and hospitality industries collapsed in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down almost everything and convinced people not to travel. The slow, staggering recovery is long from complete. In its latest effort to raise alarm for the industry it represents, U.S. Travel on Wednesday released its latest economic estimates and the warning that there is a long way to go.

COVID-19 losses in the travel industry top more than $1 trillion for 2020. Image via Tampa Airport.

— MORE CORONA —

At long last, Wall Street sees path to return to the office” via Jennifer Suranne of Bloomberg — New York City is reopening, vaccinations are accelerating and spring brings with it an air of optimism. For Wall Street’s banks, that means a return to offices may finally be in sight. At JPMorgan Chase & Co., hundreds of interns are set to work in the lender’s New York and London offices in the coming months. Citigroup Inc. will begin inviting more workers back to its offices in July and expects 30% of its North America employees to return throughout the summer. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has also said it hopes to have more staffers back by summer.

Wall Street sees workers returning to the office soon. Image via Bloomberg.

Unraveling the mystery of Europe’s uneven COVID-19 surges” via Youjin Shin and Adam Taylor of The Washington Post — A year ago this week, the European Union banned nonessential travel from outside the bloc, as the first coronavirus wave caused increasing havoc on the continent. In Italy, Europe’s initial epicenter, cases had already begun to spiral, which other countries took as a grim portent. But the wave broke unevenly, smashing, pulling back, and surging again into different countries at different times, in a confounding sequence experts are still scrambling to untangle. More than a year into the pandemic, as some countries struggle yet again with surging cases, it still often seems there is little rhyme or reason as to which countries get hit hardest and when.

E.U. unveils vaccine passport plan to enable summer travel” via Rick Noack and Quentin Ariès of The Washington Post — The European Union on Wednesday launched a closely watched effort to create a joint vaccination passport for its more than 440 million citizens and residents, embarking on a tightrope walk between economic pressures, discrimination fears and concerns over Europe’s slow vaccination progress. Supporters hope the “digital green certificates” will be ready by June, which could help to salvage the European summer tourism season and even serve as a model that could be extended to the United States and other countries.

Vaccine passports pose ethical thicket for Biden administration” via Darius Tahir of POLITICO — States, airlines and tech companies are pressuring the Biden administration to develop a federal standard for vaccine passports, a policy that could speed the economic recovery but might also discriminate against disadvantaged groups and jeopardize privacy. Digital credentials showing proof of a person’s COVID-19 test results and vaccination status are rapidly being embraced as a tool to redesign workplaces and jump-start travel and tourism. New York state is trying out an “Excelsior Pass” to fast track reopening theaters and venues like Madison Square Garden. Hawaii is developing a version that would let visitors skip the state’s mandatory 10-day quarantine.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Poll: 72% approve of COVID-19 relief law” via Steven Shepard of POLITICO — More than seven in 10 voters, 72%, support the coronavirus relief and stimulus legislation signed into law by Biden last week, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll. Just 21% oppose it. Support is nearly universal among Democrats — 95% — and strong among independents at 69%. Despite the law’s earning no support from Republicans in Congress, GOP voters are split in the new poll: 44% support it, and 48% oppose it. In follow-up questions, majorities also expressed support for two of the law’s most prominent provisions: the stimulus checks that some Americans have already received, and the extension of unemployment insurance benefits.

Republicans on Biden’s COVID-19 bill: We bungled this one” via Gabby Orr, Christopher Cadelago, Meridith McGraw and Natasha Korecki of POLITICO — As Biden embarks on an ambitious plan to sell his massive coronavirus relief package to the public, conservatives are starting to ask: Did we botch this? The overwhelming sentiment within the Republican Party is that voters will turn on the $1.9 trillion bill over time. But that wait-and-see approach has baffled some GOP luminaries and Trump World figures who expected Republicans to seize their first opportunity to cast newly-in-charge Democrats as out of control. Instead, they fear the party did little to dent Biden’s major victory — a victory that could embolden the administration in forthcoming legislative fights and even the lead up to the midterm elections.

Joe Biden’s COVID-19 stimulus bill is spotlighting Republican failure to capture the political moment. Image via AP.

Republican Attorneys General threaten key element of the $1.9 trillion stimulus” via Tony Romm and Jeff Stein of Florida Politics — Twenty-one Republican state attorneys general on Tuesday threatened to take action against the Biden administration over its new $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus law, decrying it for imposing “unprecedented and unconstitutional” limits on their states’ ability to lower taxes. The letter marks one of the first major political and legal salvos against the relief package since Biden signed it last week, evincing the sustained Republican opposition that the White House faces as it implements the signature element of the president’s economic policy agenda.

A good boy again: Biden’s dog will return to the White House” via The Associated Press — Biden’s wayward pup is no longer in the doghouse. In an interview that aired Wednesday, Biden said that his dog Major, who had been involved in a biting incident at the White House, was “a sweet dog.” He explained the biting by saying that the dog had “turned a corner, there’s two people he doesn’t know at all, you know, and they move and moves to protect.” Biden added that “85% of the people there love him.” Major, a 3-year-old rescue dog, and Champ, who is 12, were moved to the Bidens’ Delaware home after the incident, but the president said they would return to the White House.

— EPILOGUE TRUMP —

Trump doesn’t commit to stay out of Senate primaries despite prodding by Rick Scott” via Manu Raju of CNN — Scott, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, urged Trump to back the candidates who win Senate primaries next year rather than engage in intraparty fights that could harm the party’s chances at taking back the majority in the midterm elections. Asked Tuesday if Trump agreed with his suggestion, Scott said: “He didn’t respond.” Scott, who met with Trump last week at his Florida golf resort, said the former President’s intentions in primary season remain unclear.

Rick Scott isn’t able to convince Donald Trump to stay out of GOP primaries. Image via Twitter.

House committee seeks financial records for Trump’s Washington hotel” via Jonathan O’Connell and David A. Fahrenthold of The Washington Post — A House committee on Tuesday asked the Biden administration to provide detailed financial records on Trump’s Washington hotel, which is located in a federally owned building and must give the government financial data as part of its lease. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which oversees public buildings, first asked for records on the hotel in early 2019. But for two years, the government refused to hand them over. Now, the committee has asked Biden’s administration to provide what Trump’s would not, including detailed records on the hotel’s revenue, expenses, profits and losses.

Trump set to do at least 12 book interviews in the coming weeks” via Meridith McGraw and Gabby Orr of POLITICO — Get ready for the Trump book barrage. The former president is scheduled to sit for a dozen interviews in the coming weeks with authors examining his presidency, some of whom are penning sequels to books they published during Trump’s time in office, according to four people familiar with his plans. The sheer number of book interviews is so massive that some in his orbit worry he may be doing too many and hurting his ability to monetize his own recollections for a book of his own, should he choose to write one.

Trump’s Florida resort touted as potential gambling destination” via Jonathan O’Connell and Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post — Trump’s son Eric Trump, who runs the family’s private company, touted the potential of transforming their Doral golf resort into a gambling destination amid a push among Florida Republicans to legalize casinos in areas of the state that have long opposed them. Although Republican legislative leaders have not yet submitted a bill, word of a proposal has spread widely enough that supporters and opponents already are gearing up for a fight that they say could be more intense than in previous years, due to Trump’s potential interest and his close relationship with DeSantis.

Trump on rumors Meghan Markle will run for President: ‘I hope that happens’” via Yael Halon of Fox News — Trump told Fox News on Tuesday that if the rumors surrounding Markle‘s potential 2024 presidential bid prove to be true, he’d have an “even stronger feeling toward running” in the next election. Trump was asked to weigh in on reports that Markle could be eyeing a run for president in an exclusive interview with “Fox News Primetime” host Maria Bartiromo. “Mr. President, what was your take on Meghan Markle now saying — meeting with Democratic operatives, she may want to run for President?” Bartiromo asked.

Meghan Markle for President? Donald Trump is OK with that. Image via AP.

Deborah Birx says Trump’s idea to inject disinfectant haunts her: ‘I still think about it every day’” via Paulina Villegas of The Washington Post — It will go down in history as one of the most dumbfounding moments of the Trump administration as America watched the president of the United States suggest the possibility of injecting disinfectant into people to “knock out” the coronavirus as the pandemic raged across the nation, taking hundreds of thousands of lives. The former coronavirus response coordinator in the Trump White House, Birx, who sat silently as the president made those remarks last year during a news conference, said in an interview with ABC News on Monday that the moment still haunts her.

— CRISIS — 

Momentum of Capitol riot inquiries stalls amid partisan flare-ups” via Karoun Demirjian of The Washington Post — Momentum is stalling amid congressional efforts to swiftly investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, threatened by logistical delays and deepening partisan disagreement about the scope of an independent inquiry advocated by Democrats. After initial House and Senate hearings that scrutinized law enforcement and intelligence failures leading up to the insurrection, the pace of such public sessions has slowed to a halt as lawmakers struggle to determine their next investigative steps. Meanwhile, a fight between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Republican counterparts over the scope of a Sept. 11-style commission has intensified this week after she announced her plan for how it should be structured.

The Capitol riots are fading in importance as Congress focuses more on partisan bickering. Image via Reuters.

Texas Three Percenters member charged in Jan. 6 riot set up security company to circumvent gun laws, obtain high-grade weapons, U.S. alleges” via Spencer S. Hsu of The Washington Post — A man charged in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot has been jailed pending trial after allegedly recruiting members to the Texas Three Percenters by telling them he had created a new security business to circumvent gun laws and obtain high-grade weapons and ammunition available to law enforcement. Guy Reffitt pleaded not guilty Tuesday to three charges of obstructing an official proceeding, trespassing and witness tampering after prosecutors say he was hit by police rubber bullets and chemical spray while allegedly rushing the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Prosecutors also say he threatened his teenage children not to turn him in after he returned from Washington.

Largo man accused in Capitol police attack” via Dan Sullivan of the Tampa Bay Times — A Largo man is the latest person to be accused of taking part in the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol. Robert Scott Palmer was arrested Wednesday and appeared in the afternoon in federal court in Tampa. According to federal court records, he faces charges of assaulting, resisting or impeding officers, civil disorder, and being in a restricted building or grounds. Documents describing the specific allegations against Palmer were not immediately available Wednesday. But the Huffington Post identified him in a March 5 story as a man who was recorded spraying and throwing a fire extinguisher at Capitol police officers amid a swelling mob outside the building.

White supremacist propaganda surged in 2020, report says” via Aaron Morrison of The Associated Press — White supremacist propaganda reached alarming levels across the U.S. in 2020, according to a new report that the Anti-Defamation League provided to The Associated Press. There were 5,125 cases of racist, anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ and other hateful messages spread through physical flyers, stickers, banners and posters, according to Wednesday’s report. That’s nearly double the 2,724 instances reported in 2019. Online propaganda is much harder to quantify, and it’s likely those cases reached into the millions, the anti-hate organization said.

— D.C. MATTERS —

‘This is unbelievably dangerous for those children’: Carlos Giménez calls for immigration overhaul after visit to Texas border” via CBS Miami — U.S. Rep. Giménez returned from Texas where he and several other Republican members of Congress visited the border to see the crisis situation firsthand. “We need to come up with a comprehensive policy of what to do with the children. They come unaccompanied; these children come by themselves, many of them have a number or addresses stuck on their clothes. For us, we need to de-incentive this because this is unbelievably dangerous for those children,” said Giménez. The Congressman said the Biden administration is to blame for the influx of migrants making their way to the U.S. Giménez said we need more border agents and to finish construction on key parts of the border wall.

House votes to reauthorize landmark Violence Against Women Act” via Colby Itkowitz and Marianna Sotomayor of The Washington Post — The U.S. House voted on Wednesday to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, legislation originally authored by then-Sen. Biden in 1994 that aims to strengthen protections for women from domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. The landmark law was reauthorized several times since, but lapsed in 2019 after the Democratic-controlled House voted to renew it, but it stalled in the Republican-led Senate. Democrats are hopeful it will find the support this time, although the latest version still faces potential obstacles in the evenly-divided Senate. The vote was 244-to-172, with 29 Republicans breaking ranks and joining Democrats in backing the reauthorization.

Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and the possibility of passing the Equal Rights Amendment gives women hope that, finally, they will get equal justice under the law. Image via Kathy Castor’s Office.

House GOP votes to embrace the return of earmarks” via Melanie Zanona and Caitlin Emma of POLITICO — House Republicans agreed on Wednesday to lift their decadelong ban on earmarks, a major reversal that will enable the GOP to take advantage of a once-controversial spending practice soon to be revived by Democrats. Republicans approved a resolution offered by Rep. Mike Rogers that would allow their members to request a congressional earmark as long as certain criteria are met. GOP lawmakers would need to disclose the earmark publicly, include a written justification for the project, and verify that they have no financial stake in it, among other requirements. The secret-ballot vote was 102-84, according to sources familiar with the count.

House Republicans hosting Orlando retreat — U.S. House Republicans are heading to Orlando next month for their annual legislative retreat. The event is not usually held in Orlando, though House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy has taken a liking to the state — his team recently held a retreat in the state, and Republicans recently met with Trump at his post-White House home, Mar-a-Lago. The state has also been a boon to GOP fundraising efforts. The retreat is scheduled for April 25-27.

— LOCAL NOTES —

Despite improvements, Sarasota-Manatee Black residents lag far behind in vaccinations” via Louis Llovio of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Community leaders say the number of Black people getting vaccinated for the coronavirus is growing, but state data shows there is a long way to go before there is equity. Vaccination figures released by the state on Tuesday show that just 3,191 of the 220,041 people in Sarasota and Manatee counties who have been vaccinated are Black. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 4.7% of Sarasota residents are Black, but they only account for 1% of the vaccinations performed so far. In Manatee, Black residents make up 9.3% of the population, and 2% of the vaccinations.

Lenny Curry set to roll out ‘Jobs for Jax’ program financed by gas tax” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — The Jacksonville Mayor’s plan uses the local gas tax to pay for nearly $1 billion in transportation and drainage projects in partnership with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, his office said. Curry and JTA have been meeting for weeks with City Council members about a proposed doubling of the local gas tax that would accelerate transportation work and create flexibility in the city’s budget to pay for construction of sewer service into neighborhoods that have relied for decades on septic tanks.

Miami Beach Commissioner ‘lobbying’ for city attorney job. Did he break Sunshine law?” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — Commissioner Michael Góngora has spoken privately with other Commissioners and Mayor Dan Gelber about his interest in being appointed the next city attorney, a possible violation of Florida’s open government laws because the City Commission will ultimately vote to fill the position. Góngora, who is leaving office in November due to term limits, had private chats about the job opening in recent weeks with Gelber and Commissioners Ricky Arriola and David Richardson, the officials told the Miami Herald. Arriola, who said Góngora called him about the job last week, said his colleague is “actively lobbying” for the job.

Michael Góngora’s private conversations about the Miami Beach city attorney job may have broken the law.

Term lengths could be longer, and staggered on the Islamorada Dais” via Jim McCarthy of Keys Weekly — Changes could be coming to the number of years an Islamorada council member serves in office. Seats could also be staggered to avoid a complete change on the dais. Discussion is set for the meeting Thursday, March 18 of Islamorada Village Council on an ordinance that proposes staggered four-year terms for those elected to office. As it stands now, candidates vying for seats who go on to win the election serve a two-year term. All seats were up for grabs in last year’s election, with former council members either running for other offices, terming out, or choosing not to seek reelection. As a result, five new faces were chosen in the Nov. 3 general election.

— MORE LOCAL —

Bethune-Cookman president abruptly resigns without informing board” via Pat Rice and Eileen Zaffiro-Kean of The Daytona Beach News-Journal — E. LaBrent Chrite abruptly resigned as president Tuesday morning, surprising the school’s board of trustees. A release gave no reason for Chrite’s sudden decision to resign, nor did it name an interim president. B-CU spokeswoman Sara Brady said the board of trustees planned to meet later Tuesday afternoon to discuss the path forward. While clearly surprised, the board wished Chrite well. Chrite took the helm at B-CU in 2019, as the school was steering through significant financial and academic challenges.

E. LaBrent Chrite makes a hasty exit from Bethune-Cookman University

FSU homecoming activities to include drive-thru parade, new name for ‘Pow Wow’” via Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat — The “Pow Wow” name is no more. Florida State University released plans for its Homecoming Week celebrations that include two notable changes in long-held traditions. This year’s homecoming theme is “Linked by Legacy,” and events run April 5-11. The popular student pep rally, known as “Pow Wow,” is now billed as “Homecoming Live.” Originated in 1948, since 1965, it’s featured top recording artists and comedians, including Stephen Colbert in 2006 and Jimmy Fallon two years later. “The FSU Homecoming Council wants to ensure that all members of the community feel welcome and valued. With this name change, we want to fully demonstrate our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” the FSU Homecoming Spring 2021 Executive Council said in a release.

From state Legislature to FSU, John Thrasher creates bright futures” via Mark Woods of The Florida Times-Union — Thrasher was in the Legislature in 1997, on his way to becoming House Speaker, when he and his peers created the Bright Futures program. In the nearly 25 years since more than 2.7 million Florida students have used Bright Futures scholarships at Florida colleges. With his political and academic background, I couldn’t help but wonder what Thrasher thinks about SB 86. When I talked to Thrasher, he was tactfully critical. He said this idea probably sounded good in theory. “I think Sen. Baxley is hearing from a lot of folks — a lot of students, a lot of families — and beginning to understand their concern,” Thrasher said.

Happening today — The University of Florida Board of Trustees will start a two-day meeting, 9 a.m., University of Florida, Emerson Alumni Hall, Gainesville. Online link here.

Happening today — The University of West Florida Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet, 9 a.m. Zoom link here. Passcode: 863671.

— TOP OPINION —

A lesson for DeSantis from Andrew Cuomo” via Randy Schultz of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Perhaps DeSantis hoped that Monday finally would bring the number to show that he has managed the COVID-19 pandemic better than any Governor. In January, Florida’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.8%. Nationwide, it’s 6.2%. Doesn’t that vindicate the economy-first DeSantis? Not so fast. Total jobs actually fell in January, by 800. The leisure and hospitality sector lost almost 10,000. DeSantis has tried to control the pandemic narrative as much as the pandemic itself — sometimes more so. He’s still trying, and he’s still dismissing proven science. He wants to demolish local resistance. He triumphed at the recent Conservative (Cultist) Political Action Conference. No Governor, though, should strut over COVID-19. Look at Cuomo, who once promoted himself as the top pandemic Governor.

— OPINIONS —

The border crisis plays well politically for GOP” via Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat — Big chunks of Attorney General Moody’s immigration lawsuit against the Biden administration would fit well into a Republican stump speech. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The migrant crisis is a mess Biden brought upon himself — through no fault of his own. Republicans in Congress are claiming that Biden has thrown open our borders. The GOP even came up with a memorable barb for it, calling the Biden policies “disorder at the border by executive order.” Moody argued that the new policies violate federal immigration law. As long as Trump dominates the GOP, as he will for a while, we can expect DeSantis, Moody and other Florida Republican leaders to keep immigration very much on the minds of voters.

Congress, protect the ‘Dreamers’ once and for all” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — For the past two decades, immigration policy has roiled American politics, generating far more passion than action. Getting members from both parties to agree on solutions has been an impossible task under both Republican and Democratic Presidents. Nowhere has that failure been more lamentable than in the case of the “Dreamers” — immigrants who were brought here by their parents as children. They have been educated in America, grown up in America, and come to regard themselves as Americans. Some reached maturity unaware they were noncitizens — and thus subject to deportation. Expelling people who knowingly violated our laws to come to the United States is defensible, but deporting people who never had a choice is not.

DeSantis wants a cookie, but Florida’s COVID-19 credit due elsewhere” via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union — Lockdowns (except for breweries and bars) don’t work (although they probably did in Florida, where virtually every populated area was, in fact, locked down or subject to measures like mask mandates DeSantis despises). Florida doesn’t need a bailout (ignore the $2.7 billion budget deficit) because it’s the land of opportunity (excuse the broken unemployment system) where New Yorkers and Californians are clamoring to get in (if you don’t count the roughly same number of people who are leaving). 

More tax dollars for VISIT FLORIDA. Less for Bright Futures. That’s a sorry economic model.” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida legislators spawn bad bills the way sea horses spawn babies — hundreds at a time. Let’s start by looking at two particularly bad ideas that, when viewed together, look even worse. The first is a plan to cut back on Bright Futures scholarships. The overall impact would be to offer fewer scholarships to the smartest kids graduating from Florida high schools. Another bill chugging along would put VISIT FLORIDA on steroids by authorizing taxpayer subsidies to continue flowing to the tourism-advertising agency forever. So let’s look at these two things together: The state wants to beef up its subsidies for low-wage jobs and cut back on funding meant to keep the smartest graduates in our state. That’s not a recipe for a strong economy.

Provision about AP, IB, AICE and dual enrollment in Senate Bill 86 is a tax on excellence” via Paul Cottle of Bridge to Tomorrow — For years, Florida policymakers bragged about a large number of students in the state’s public high schools who earn college credit through Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Advanced International Certificate of Education and dual enrollment opportunities. But now, a bill (Senate Bill 86) working its way through the Florida Legislature would reduce the Bright Futures scholarships that these students receive. The more college credits these high school students earn, the more their Bright Futures scholarships would be reduced. In other words, Senate Bill 86 would impose an Excellence Tax on the state’s young people.

Daniel Uhlfelder, Jane Moscowitz: Beware — Florida Republicans are coming for right to vote by mail this Session” via Daniel Uhlfelder and Jane Moscowitz for Florida Politics — Voters of Florida, beware. Florida Republicans are up to their old dirty tricks again. This time, they’re trying to make it harder to vote-by-mail, with a bill that will disproportionately affect the elderly, the poor and military voters, to the advantage of Republican candidates. If this seems strange to you too, you’re not alone. As a matter of fact, the very same Republicans championing the bill, SB 90, have been singing Florida’s elections praises since Trump’s decisive win in the Sunshine State last year.

Florida’s farms and environment go hand-in-hand” via Lynetta Usher Griner of The Gainesville Sun — My family and I are forestland owners and cattle ranchers in Chiefland and our commitment to environmental stewardship has earned us recognition from many statewide and regional organizations. As farmers, we play an important role in caring for our state’s natural resources, and that’s why I support SB 88, which will strengthen Florida’s Right to Farm laws. Agriculture and protecting the environment go hand-in-hand, and there are many intangible benefits that our farms, ranches and forests provide to our environment. More than 17 million acres in Florida, or nearly one-half of our state’s landmass, is forestland.

Conor Norris, Edward Timmons: It shouldn’t be illegal for Florida barbers to make house calls” via Florida Politics — Last year’s licensing reform bill contained a provision allowing cosmetology services to be performed outside of salons in Florida. Barbers, however, did not have that option. Sen. Linda Stewart and Rep. Daisy Morales have recognized this inconsistency and proposed a bill that allows barbers to make house calls. SB 1176 would give barbers the ability to offer haircuts outside of a traditional brick-and-mortar location. Eliminating this requirement will spur market innovation. Barbers will be permitted to open mobile barbershops, going straight to consumers in convenient locations. The current restriction is an example of regulations that go too far when trying to protect consumer safety. In an attempt to ensure consumers receive high-quality haircuts, it reduces the choices available to consumers.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

On Monday, DeSantis lowered the age limit for COVID-19 vaccinations to 60; he says it’s going to drop to 55 before the end of the month.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— The state reported Wednesday another 59 fatalities and 4,600 new cases of COVID-19.

— Telehealth came into its own during the pandemic, as doctors saw patients over Zoom or FaceTime; now there’s bill to do the same with VideoVets.

— A legislative committee approves Sen. Book‘s bill that suspends the medical license of any doctor arrested for child pornography … like her family’s pediatrician.

— DeSantis wants to spend more than $100 million federal COVID-19 relief money to keep up civics education in Florida schools.

— From the Governor’s description, it sounds like kids will be getting a sanitized version of American civics. For example, they won’t be allowed to discuss critical race theory.

— And finally, two Florida Men: One accused of rioting for Trump; the other accused of setting off a smoke bomb outside the former President’s home at Mar-a-Lago.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

Disneyland set to reopen April 30” via Ivana Saric Axios — After a more than yearlong closure, Disneyland’s two California theme parks will reopen their doors to the general public on April 30. As Axios’ Sara Fischer previously noted, Disney said in February that it did not expect to reopen its California parks until the end of Q2 2021. The April 30 reopening reflects growing confidence in safety due to dropping COVID-19 cases and increased vaccinations. The closure of the parks also resulted in profit losses for Disney. The gradual reopenings spell the road to recovery. CEO Bob Chapek said on CNBC the two parks would operate at only around 15% capacity at first.

Disneyland gets a firm reopening date.

What happened with Key West restaurants during the pandemic? New ones kept opening” via Gwen Filosa of the Miami Herald — The pandemic has not been kind to restaurants. Mandatory shutdowns. Struggles to pay bills and retain staff. Restrictions on diners. Add the roadblocks in the Keys that kept out visitors during the early weeks of the crisis, and the Monroe County hospitality industry has faced rough waters. Despite the challenges, new restaurants in Key West are opening, even as COVID-19 continues. The Pho King Awesome Sake and Noodle Bar opened in November 2020, with two chefs who had worked at Kojin Noodle Bar, which closed in 2020. The menu features house ramen with pork, Korean barbecue short ribs, oxtail pho and kimchi stew, along with curried lamb, dumplings and a banh mi sandwich.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Celebrating today is Andy Ford, formerly of the Florida Education Association, Chelsea LunnRon Matus of Step Up for Students, Orlando Pryor, and former Rep. Deborah Tamargo.

___

Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.


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