Good Monday morning.
As Session comes to a close, here are some thoughts on who had a nice weekend — and who didn’t.
SpaceX had an astronomical weekend. Not only is it celebrating another successful blast off from the Sunshine State, but it also wasn’t the capsule’s first rodeo. The four-person SpaceX crew that docked with the International Space Station on Saturday were strapped into a … let’s say “lightly used” … Dragon. We’re not sure whether we’d rather be on the maiden voyage or fly in a proven pod, but at least the space junk bill is starting to make sense.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Four astronauts will fly on the SpaceX Crew-2 mission to the International Space Station, in one of the first flights using a reused rocket. Image via AP.
There were some good weekends on terra firma, too. Many of them in Delray Beach, where Gov. Ron DeSantis stopped in for the ribbon cutting on a 150,000-square-foot food hall. The Delray Beach Market even boosted buzz on the Governor’s presidential aspirations. Well, not really, but it did give him a chance to do some X-TREME pizza eating. You know what they say: “If people care how you look eating pizza, you’ve arrived.” And by “they,” we mean “nobody.”
About 300 miles up I-95, Jacksonville was having a weekend befitting of The Bold City. The city was hosting what News4Jax called “its biggest night of combat sports since 1996, and perhaps ever.” It’s a record we didn’t know existed and one that we didn’t know needed breaking, but many a celebrity was on hand to watch it happen. It was a veritable creatine convention, with Tim Tebow, Gardner Minshew, Tom Brady and Myles Jack in attendance.
Even if you had a bad weekend, here’s an opportunity to pretend it was great: If you’re one of the 530K or so Floridians who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, federal officials lifted the pause, which we’re taking as a confirmation that it is indeed not styptic powder in liquid form.
On a more serious note, FSU’s weekend was bittersweet — President John Thrasher presided over the last law school commencement before hanging up his hat. We’re happy for the years he was there, and we’re happy he’s about to enjoy his retirement. No, those aren’t tears; shut up.
And now for the bad.
Japan is apparently as bad at containing the coronavirus as they’ve been at making TV’s for the past decade. For the third time since the pandemic began, the country has declared a third state of emergency in the Tokyo area. Something tells us the Olympics would have been better off coming to Florida after all.
Stateside, more than 1,000 people headed to Bradenton to humor an old man named Mike Flynn who rambled on about a second great awakening in the United States. Apparently, he spent one-and-a-half Scaramucci’s working for a frozen steak salesman and 10 times as long in prison, so it makes sense he’d get the royal treatment down there.
A major Democrat eyeing a run for Governor next year is close to making it official.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist has opened a political committee named Friends of Charlie Crist, which would allow him to start raising money for a state-level election.
According to people close to Crist, the former Republican Governor-turned-Democratic congressman has made dozens of calls to Florida leaders — activists, donors, and local elected officials — to gauge their support for another Crist for Governor campaign.
They say the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
Up to now, Crist has kept his options open.
He raised a decent amount of money for his congressional account in the first quarter and already has decent bankroll, should he decide to run for reelection — assuming the district he lands in is still favorable for Democrats, that is.
But Crist has also openly toyed with the idea of running for Governor a third time.
Charlie Crist inches closer to a third run for Governor.
A couple of months ago, he appeared on CBS Miami’s “Facing South Florida” and told Jim DeFede he started to open his mind to a run.
“But if you ask me, have some people suggested that I should contemplate potentially running for Governor next year? Yes, they have. While it doesn’t get much of my attention in my brain right now, it is something that I would be open to,” he said.
He’s only ramped up the rhetoric since, slamming Republican Gov. DeSantis over his vaccine rollout strategy and even calling for a federal investigation into the alleged “pay for play” partnership with Publix.
If Crist does take the plunge, he’d be the first major Democratic candidate in the race, but certainly not the last.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is widely expected to run for the job, and she, too, has been upping her attacks on the incumbent over everything from vaccines to pot.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
Vice President Harris says she was the last person in the room with President Biden when he made the decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan: “I have seen him over and over again make decisions based exactly on what he believes is right” #CNNSOTU https://t.co/dcOKYcUCX0 pic.twitter.com/0vs8BNmKU1
— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) April 25, 2021
Great morning at the ribbon cutting of Florida’s largest Food Hall — the Delray Beach Market. @market_beach has dozens of vendors and over 150,000 square feet to explore and enjoy. #DelrayBeachMarket pic.twitter.com/7h3SUFY1CL
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) April 24, 2021
—@AngieNixon: It’s 2021 and my 13 yr old daughter just asked me whether or not we were in a sundown town because she wanted to make sure it was safe to use the restroom. This is our reality. #AhmaudArbery
We had an amazing time in the Everglades this afternoon. The Everglades’ beauty and importance to our community cannot be quantified. pic.twitter.com/xZumGHDATR
— Rep. Bryan Ávila (@BryanAvilaFL) April 24, 2021
Graduation weekend in Tallahassee for FSU law school grads. It’s FSU President John Thrasher’s final law school commencement. pic.twitter.com/jDoN4pLgD8
— Steve Bousquet (@stevebousquet) April 25, 2021
— DAYS UNTIL —
NFL Draft begins — 3; Disney Wish announcement — 3; Disneyland to open — 4; Orthodox Easter 2021 — 6; Mother’s Day — 13; Florida Chamber Safety Council’s inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety, Health and Sustainability — 14; Gambling Compact Special Session begins — 21; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 32; Memorial Day — 35; Florida TaxWatch Spring Meeting and PLA Awards — 38; ‘Loki’ premieres on Disney+ — 46; Father’s Day — 55; F9 premieres in the U.S. — 60; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 67; 4th of July — 69; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 73; MLB All-Star Game — 78; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 88; second season of ‘Ted Lasso’ premieres on Apple+ — 88; The NBA Draft — 94; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 96; ‘The Suicide Squad’ premieres — 102; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 120; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 130; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 151; ‘Dune’ premieres — 158; MLB regular season ends — 160; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 166; World Series Game 1 — 183; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 190; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 193; San Diego Comic-Con begins — 214; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 225; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 232; Super Bowl LVI — 293; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 333; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 375; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 438; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 529; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 564.
— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —
“Budget deal avoids health cuts, gives boost to Florida teachers” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — After a week of largely out-of-sight budget negotiations, Florida lawmakers have ironed out many major spending differences and are on track to wrap up the 2021 regular Legislative Session on time. House and Senate budget chiefs on Friday night publicly accepted compromises on spending on health care, education and prisons. Some of the key decisions included backing off hundreds of millions of dollars in proposed Medicaid cuts for hospitals and nursing homes that have spent the past year dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Legislative leaders also reached an agreement on more than $22 billion in school spending.
Kelli Stargel supports a Senate Appropriations plan to bonus teachers and staff in the 2021-22 budget. Image via the News Service of Florida.
“House signs off on tax ‘holidays’” via The News Service of Florida — The House voted 109-3 to approve the package (HB 7061), which include a seven-day back-to-school tax holiday in August, with shoppers able to avoid paying sales taxes on clothes costing $60 or less, school supplies costing $15 or less and personal computers costing less than $1,000. During a disaster-preparedness holiday over seven days around the June 1 start of hurricane season, shoppers would be able to avoid paying sales taxes on items ranging from tarpaulins and small batteries to portable generators costing up to $750. The “freedom week” holiday, which would be held the first week of July, would provide a sales-tax exemption on tickets purchased for such things as live music, athletic contests and in-theater movies.
“Senate moves closer to approving elections bill” via Bobby Caina Calvan of The Associated Press — The Florida Senate marched toward approval of a nationally watched elections bill Thursday after hours of debate over the mundane, but high stakes, process of casting a ballot, including who can collect vote-by-mail ballots, when those ballots can be put in drop boxes and whether voters can be given water while waiting to vote. Florida Republicans have pushed to rewrite election laws despite touting the state as a national model. Democrats and voter rights advocates have raised suspicions that the changes were politically motivated to make it more inconvenient for some voters to cast ballots, an assertion disputed by Republicans.
“Police reform bill gains momentum in Legislature, days after Derek Chauvin verdict/” via Ana Ceballos of the Miami Herald — Days after a jury convicted former Minneapolis police officer Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd, lawmakers are racing to push through a police reform package that has gained renewed momentum in the final days of the Legislative Session. The House is expected to vote on a bill Monday that would set minimum statewide use-of-force standards for Florida law enforcement officers. The bill, negotiated with the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, would target the use of chokeholds, add more oversight on investigations into deaths caused by police and require officers to be trained on “de-escalation” techniques.
Derek Chauvin’s conviction spurs Florida to hurry up with police reforms. Image via AP.
“Bill to bar arrests of children under 7 in Florida caught in police reform standoff” via Gray Rohrer of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A plan in the Legislature to prohibit the arrest of children younger than 7 in most instances, inspired by an incident involving an Orlando 6-year-old in 2019, is once again caught up in a larger bill in the last days of the legislative session. The measure died last year in the final days of the session because it was part of a school safety bill that tanked amid disagreements between House and Senate leaders. This year, the provision is contained in a comprehensive police reform bill that Black lawmakers especially have been pushing for as a response to the murder of Floyd. Sen. Randolph Bracy has pushed for the ban on arresting children since late 2019.
“House OKs bill to ban abortions based on disability” via Brendan Farrington of The Associated Press — Florida doctors would be banned from performing abortions if they know, or should have known, the woman was ending her pregnancy because of a test or diagnosis that the fetus will be born with a disability, under a bill passed by the House on Friday. Doctors who end a pregnancy based solely on a physical or mental disability would be guilty of a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. The issue sparked passionate, sometimes tearful, debate before the bill passed on a 74-44 vote, with nearly all Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.
— BUDGET NOTES —
“House, Senate get closer on health budget” via The News Service of Florida — The House made a health care budget offer that would bring its spending plan closer to the Senate, but differences remained. The House stepped back from a proposal to slash hospital inpatient and outpatient Medicaid payment rates by $288 million and a proposal to reduce money in a hospital “critical care fund” by $226 million. Money in the critical-care fund is used to enhance Medicaid payments for 28 hospitals that provide the largest amounts of charity care. The House proposal would not make reductions to hospitals for the upcoming fiscal year. But it would eliminate the critical-care fund in the 2022-2023 fiscal year. The Senate had already backed off deep hospital cuts during a weekend budget conference.
“Lawmakers agree to fund $1,000 direct payments to teachers” via Haley Brown of Florida Politics — The House and Senate agreed to $1,000 one-time bonuses for teachers during the state’s budget conference. The money for the direct payments will come from COVID-19 relief funding earmarked for education in the American Rescue Plan (ARP). While some negotiations over the state’s nearly $100 billion budget for the next fiscal year are still ongoing, an agreement was reached on the state’s education budget during a meeting Friday. Sen. Kelli Stargel and Rep. Jay Trumbull are leading the budget conference negotiations for their respective chambers. Both budget chiefs said teacher pay was a priority. The agreed-upon education budget allocates $216 million for direct payments to early childhood learning and K-12 teachers and principals at district and charter schools.
“Lawmakers agree to 2nd DCA building in Pinellas in honor of Bernie McCabe” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — The House and Senate came to an agreement Friday night on the contested placement of the 2nd District Court of Appeal. Lawmakers moved to place the new courthouse in Pinellas County, and name it after the late McCabe. This decision came amid budget deliberations between the two chambers. While both the House and Senate approved $50 million for a new 2nd District Court of Appeal building, the facility’s location was left undecided until the House’s latest budget bump offer, which the Senate OK’d Friday. The new site’s location may come as a blow to Senate Appropriations Chair Sen. Stargel, who set the framework for a new facility in Polk County.
Lawmakers OKed money for a new 2nd DCA building named after the late Bernie McCabe.
“Lawmakers agree to fund judgeships authorized during previous Session” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The Legislature authorized 10 new judgeships last year, but the pandemic put funding for them on the back burner. Now, lawmakers have made room in the budget to staff those new positions. During the 2020 Legislative Session, lawmakers approved 10 new judgeships and funding for those positions. But amid DeSantis‘ more than $1 billion in vetoes because of the economic slowdown, the Governor stripped that funding from the budget. In December, the Florida Supreme Court reaffirmed the need for those positions and asked for three more judgeships. Courts’ workloads have been light throughout the pandemic, with few in-person trials moving forward.
“House and Senate agree on coral reef restoration spending, other coastal projects” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The House and Senate continue to haggle over environmental protection matters but agreed on more than $2 million for reef restoration. Both chambers have also agreed to an assortment of other environmental expenditures, including a Longboat Key sea level rise program and some spending on local parks. But there remain points of disagreement over which green efforts will receive green from the state. The $2,001,563 budgeted by both chambers for coral reef restoration marked a substantial overlap. As part of a coastal resiliency effort, the effort will be funded with nonrecurring general revenue. Both budgets eliminate the same dollar amount for redundant resilient planning grants in recurring funding.
“Budget chiefs reach agreement on Ocoee Massacre scholarships” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The House and Senate agreed Friday night to provide scholarships to the descendants of what is widely considered one of the bloodiest massacres in American political history. According to the latest budget agreement, the state will provide $305,000 worth of scholarships to Ocoee Massacre descendants. Up to 50 scholarships will be provided to students, amounting to $6,100 per scholarship recipient. To qualify, a student must be a direct descendant of an Ocoee Massacre victim or a current African American resident of Ocoee. They must also be enrolled as degree-seeking or certificate-seeking students at a state university, college or career center.
“Private college tuition assistance cuts draws rare public plea” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Lawmakers have agreed to cut a tuition assistance program for private schools, but lobbyists representing those schools are still publicly appealing to get that money added back. The House and Senate have both advocated for eliminating the Access to Better Learning and Education (ABLE) tuition assistance program, which received $5 million last year. And while that program is as good as dead for the coming year, one lobbyist made the rare move of pleading his case in the public testimony portion of budget talks Friday evening. ABLE provides scholarships for students attending for-profit colleges and universities in Florida, and non-profit colleges and universities chartered out-of-state. A dozen colleges currently qualify, but Anderson says only one is a for-profit institution.
— FOOD FIGHTS —
“Property insurance bill clears final House committee despite homeowner complaints” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Legislation overhauling Florida’s property insurance regulations advanced in the state House Friday despite extensive testimony that the bill would make it more difficult for homeowners to get claims paid. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Bob Rommel, said the legislation is needed to reduce unnecessary litigation driving up insurance rates across the state. “If we want to know where the problem is, we can see it: The money’s not going to the clients, it’s going to attorneys,” Rommel said. The House bill is now ready for a final vote, but there are significant differences between the bills that must be resolved before the legislation reaches the desk of DeSantis.
Bob Rommel’s insurance reform bill moves through its final committee, despite pushback from homeowners. Image via Colin Hackley.
“House nears no-fault repeal vote” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The House is expected to vote next week on a bill to repeal Florida’s no-fault auto insurance system. The bill (SB 54), carried by Sen. Danny Burgess, would end the requirement that Floridians purchase $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) coverage and would instead require mandatory bodily injury (MBI) coverage that would payout up to $25,000 for a crash-related injury or death. The measure already passed the Senate last week 38-1. However, amendments added by the House sponsor, Rep. Erin Grall, means the measure would have to go back to the Senate after the House vote. Those backing PIP repeal say the system is rife with fraud and that the $10,000 coverage limit, set in the 1970s, is woefully inadequate five decades later.
“Florida drivers send 12K letters to lawmakers opposing PIP repeal” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Nearly 12,000 Floridians have sent letters to lawmakers this month urging them to preserve Florida’s existing personal injury protection and “no-fault” auto insurance system. The bills, which are awaiting a floor vote in the House and already cleared in the Senate, would repeal current personal injury protection requirements and replace them with required bodily injury coverage. Critics of the proposal worry the legislation would increase costs to insured drivers, particularly those who currently carry minimum coverage, leading to more uninsured drivers on Florida roads. Critics also contend the change could increase litigation over insurance claims.
— TALLY 2 —
Big energy choice bills to hit Senate floor — HB 919 will prevent local governments from banning natural gas, which more than 20 cities nationwide have already done. If municipalities in Florida were to ban natural gas, supporters say Floridians would pay more for energy, leading homeowners to retrofit homes to replace natural gas-powered appliances. The other, SB 896, will help Florida grow its natural gas industry by adding natural gas to the list of renewable energy sources. It also allows local governments to permit solar farms on agricultural lands, becoming a new revenue source for Florida’s financially struggling farms. Supporters expect the Sierra Club to try to kill the measure before passage since the group opposed it in its final committee stop.
“House prepped for vote to limit citizen initiative campaign donations” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The House could soon vote to limit donations to citizen initiatives. An affirmative vote would send the measure to the Governor’s desk. The measure (SB 1890) would cap donations to political committees backing proposed constitutional amendments at $3,000 during the signature-gathering process. That’s the same restriction placed on donations to statewide candidates. Sen. Ray Rodrigues, who filed the bill, has said wealthy donors contributing to campaigns to amend the Florida Constitution is a new phenomenon. Rep. Bobby Payne, who sponsored the House version (HB 699), shared those sentiments.
Ray Rodrigues wants to curb big money behind changes to the Florida Constitution.
“House backs changes in agency head appointments” via The News Service of Florida — Florida’s Governor would have more sway in appointing four state agency heads under a bill that awaits action in the Senate. The House on Thursday voted 78-36 to approve a proposal (HB 1537) that would alter the Cabinet’s role in appointing the secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, the commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the executive directors of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Under the bill, for example, the appointment of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner would require a majority vote of the Cabinet, with the Governor and Attorney General on the prevailing side. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith called the proposal “a nakedly political power grab” intended to diminish the power of Fried.
“Purple Star School legislation clears House” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — The House has unanimously passed legislation seeking to help military families across the state navigate schooling. The bill (HB 429), sponsored by Rep. Andrew Learned and Rep. Patt Maney, establishes the Purple Star Program, which helps schools respond to educational and social-emotional challenges military-connected children face during transitions to a new school. The proposal, which garnered 33 co-sponsors, received unanimous approval in the House Friday. Currently, military families transitioning to a new base in Florida have no way to identify schools with additional support programs for their students. This program hopes to change that.
“Senate adds Juneteenth and Emancipation Day to bill creating holiday for victims of Communism” via Joe Byrnes of WLRN — The Florida Senate has added two legal holidays marking the end of slavery to a House bill recognizing the victims of Communism. Now the House must decide whether to officially acknowledge Juneteenth and Emancipation Day. Juneteenth, on June 19, celebrates the end of slavery in America, when, in 1865, federal troops brought the Emancipation Proclamation to Galveston, Texas. Emancipation Day, May 20, marks the day, also in 1865, that enslaved Blacks in Tallahassee learned of their freedom. Victims of Communism Day, Nov. 7, remembers the human toll of regimes in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Vietnam and Venezuela.
— TALLY 3 —
Rule check — There are five days left in the 2021 Legislative Session, and it’s time to whip out the rule book. Monday is Day 56 of 60. House rules dictate no bills on the second reading may be taken up and considered by the House after Day 55 — that means a lot of bills died over the weekend. From here on out, there’s one House calendar, and only bills that make the calendar can be heard. Also, after Day 55, House floor amendments must be approved for filing with the Clerk at least 2 hours before a floor session is scheduled to begin on the day a bill appears on the Special Order Calendar. Amendments to amendments have to be in an hour before the floor session starts.
“Omari Hardy has brought his combative politics to Tallahassee from Lake Worth Beach” via Jorge Milian of The Palm Beach Post — Hardy has been in Tallahassee serving as a state Representative for only a few months, but that’s been plenty long enough for the former Lake Worth Beach city commissioner to get the attention of DeSantis. “Who’s that?” DeSantis said mockingly, pointing to Hardy in a Palm Beach Post photograph, during an April 7 news conference in which the Governor attacked the CBS news program “60 Minutes.” Hardy appeared on the segment and criticized DeSantis’ pandemic response for shortchanging minorities and low-income people. “Is that the guy that said we weren’t doing anything with the African American community?” DeSantis wondered. DeSantis isn’t the only Republican to quickly grow annoyed with Hardy, a progressive Democrat whose Twitter profile includes the description “Troublemaker Extraordinaire.”
Omari Hardy is getting under Ron DeSantis’ skin. Image via Colin Hackley.
“Norma Schwartz: Parents need VPK accountability to know kids are ready for kindergarten — before school begins” via Florida Politics — On the assessment check the Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener, more than 40% of kindergarten students weren’t performing at grade level. The number of kindergarten students assessed as “ready” for kindergarten is growing from 53% the previous year to 57%, but it’s still not where we want to be. How can 2 in 5 students fail to meet the mark nearly 20 years after the state committed to providing high-quality voluntary prekindergarten (VPK) services for every 4-year-old child in the state? That’s around 175,000 children yearly who attend $400 million in taxpayer-funded VPK programs. Legislation sponsored by Sen. Gayle Harrell (SB 1282) and Rep. Grall (CS/CS/HB 419) would make common-sense reforms to improve accountability of the state’s VPK programs.
“Parents’ Bill of Rights on its way to becoming law; concerns of LGBTQ advocates remain” via Joshua Solomon of TCPalm — Parents are set to become a protected class in Florida schools following the passage of the Parents’ Bill of Rights in the Senate. The bill has faced staunch opposition from LGBTQ advocates concerned it could lead to the outing of a student’s sexual or gender identity. It also raised public health concerns from the advocacy groups because it explicitly allows parents to exempt their children from sex education. The bill’s philosophy stands in contrast to how Florida courts have ruled during the pandemic in cases on the legality of mask mandates in school that public health outweighs a parent’s rights to decide what’s best for their children.
“House backs ban on ‘disability’ abortions” via The News Service of Florida — The House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would prevent doctors from performing abortions that women seek because of tests showing that fetuses will have disabilities. The Republican-controlled House voted 74-44, largely along party lines, to approve the bill (HB 1221), sponsored by Rep. Grall. The bill addresses what it describes as “disability abortions,” which would involve situations where physicians know pregnant women are seeking abortions because fetuses will have disabilities. Such disabilities could include such things as physical disabilities, intellectual or mental disabilities or Down syndrome.
“Bill to reform Florida program to aid brain-damaged babies, their families passes key test” via Carol Marbin Miller in Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald — Parents of severely brain-damaged children covered by a state program accused of “nickel-and-diming” struggling families would receive an extra $150,000 — and an array of additional benefits — under reform legislation preliminarily approved by the Senate. The bill is intended to offer better protections and more financial relief for the roughly 215 clients whose medical care and in-home nursing is managed by the Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association, an obscure state program created by the Legislature in 1988. The bill awaits another vote in the chamber — and a companion version has yet to be taken up on the floor of the House — before differences between chambers can be ironed out, and it is sent to DeSantis for his signature.
“A family affair: Lawmakers move families to Tallahassee for 60-day legislative Session” via Tori Lynn Schneider of the Tallahassee Democrat — Each year, Session separates many lawmakers from their families as they commute back and forth from their districts to the capital city. While the House said they do not keep track of how many members have children, the Senate said they estimate that at least 11 Senators out of 40 have at least one child under 18. But as the number of young mothers and fathers in the legislature has increased, so has the number who have brought their families along: renting apartments, homes and even a spot in an RV park to house them.
Session in Tally is becoming more family-centered.
FHA praises latest budget proposal — Florida Hospital Association President and CEO Mary Mayhew today praised DeSantis and the Legislature for maintaining hospital funding in the latest budget proposal. “On behalf of Florida’s doctors, nurses, and hospital staff, we thank Gov. Ron DeSantis, Senate President Wilton Simpson, and House Speaker Chris Sprowls for their commitment to the health of our state’s residents. The legislature’s latest budget proposal fully funds Florida’s hospitals and the health care heroes who have risked their lives through the pandemic. Florida’s historic investment in health care would not have been possible without steadfast state leadership powering our strong economic recovery and growth,” she said.
— LEG. SKED —
The Senate Special Order Calendar Group meets to list bills to be heard on the Senate floor, 8:30 a.m., Room 401, Senate Office Building.
The Senate Democratic caucus meeting advance of a floor Session, 9 a.m., Room 22, 8 Senate Office Building. Public access link here. Meeting ID: 9165394846. Passcode: 410275.
The Senate meets for a floor Session; on the agenda is SB 90, from Sen. Dennis Baxley, to change the state’s elections system. Also, HB 7045, from Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., would expand eligibility for school vouchers, 10 a.m., Senate Chamber.
The House meets for a floor Session; on the agenda is SB 100, to end a controversial 2019 toll-road plan that was a priority of then-Senate President Bill Galvano. Also, SJR 204 would abolish the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, 1 p.m., House Chamber.
The House Rules Committee meets to list bills to be heard on the House floor, 15 minutes after floor Session, Room 404, House Office Building.
The Senate Special Order Calendar Group meets to list bills to be heard on the Senate floor, 15 minutes after the floor Session, Room 301, Senate Office Building.
— 2022 —
“Ron DeSantis in demand: Florida Governor to meet with Pennsylvania GOP group, report says” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — DeSantis will address a local Republican Party group in Pennsylvania next month, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, in the latest sign of his growing national brand among GOP voters. Citing three unnamed sources, the Inquirer reported that DeSantis’ visit is scheduled for May 20 with the Republican Party in Allegheny County, home to Pittsburgh. The trip will put DeSantis in the second-most populous county in what has become one of the nation’s most important political battlegrounds, a fact that is sure to fuel more speculation about the Republican leader’s prospects as a future presidential contender in 2024. The out-of-state visit would be the second of the year for DeSantis.
“Bobby Powell ‘strongly considering’ running for Congress to succeed Alcee Hastings, sees ‘pathway to victory’” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — State Sen. Powell of West Palm Beach said Friday he is “strongly considering” running to succeed the late Congressman Hastings. Powell, who is in Tallahassee for the home stretch of the annual legislative session, said he doesn’t plan to decide before the session’s scheduled April 30 adjournment. Nine people, including five current or former elected officials, already have declared themselves candidates in the 20th Congressional District, which includes most of the African American and Caribbean American communities in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Others are considering running.
Bobby Powell is the latest to consider a run for CD 20. Image via Colin Hackley.
“Rumors about front-runner Dale Holness is really about opposition to Black political power” via Buddy Nevins of BrowardBeat.com — The overarching theme of these rumors: Holness is bent. So far, I’ve never seen any proof of these allegations. No proof at all. It’s just 11 years of whispers. To date, it is really just rumors. Rumors spread by political insiders, and the subtext is clear. It’s the Good ‘Ol Boys versus the Good New Boys. Holness is representative of the new Broward. Broward’s new politics is largely Black. There is a largely White business community that has benefited from government spending for a generation. Holness has insisted these insiders share the spoils with people who look like him. White insiders don’t like it.
“The redistricting cycle is about to begin” via Ally Mutnick of POLITICO — The U.S. Census Bureau will release the first data from the 2020 census next week, setting in motion the process of redistricting: the scramble to draw new congressional maps in the 43 states with more than one district. And with the House more closely divided than it’s been in two decades, each individual state’s new map could have huge implications on the majority fight. Strategists in both parties agree Republicans have the advantage. This reapportionment data normally arrives in late December at the end of every decade, but the pandemic and the Donald Trump administration’s attempt to block undocumented immigrants from being counted in the census have mired the process in delays.
— STATEWIDE —
“Florida’s sports betting agreement with Seminole Tribe faces obstacles” via Howard Stutz of CDC Gaming Reports — Gaming attorney Daniel Wallach said the sports betting agreement might not survive various legal challenges. Even if the Interior Secretary off on the compact, Wallach said there would still be lawsuits. “Placing a mobile server on tribal property and allowing off-reservation gaming at racetracks, in pari-mutuel facilities, ballparks and the like; that is an un-approvable gaming Compact,” Wallach said. “Under federal case law, you can challenge a U.S. Secretary of the Interior determination on a gaming Compact as being contrary to law arbitrary and capricious, and it runs smack into a long line of cases that said Compacts can’t include mobile wagering.”
“Gov. DeSantis makes surprise appearance at grand opening of Delray Beach Market” via T.A. Walker of WPTV — Delray Beach Market held its grand opening celebration Saturday and DeSantis made a surprise appearance. The 150,000 square foot facility, Florida’s largest food hall, is just a few blocks south of Atlantic Avenue’s dining district. It showcases over 25 unique culinary vendors. DeSantis and Palm Beach Mayor Dave Kerner took part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “He was so cool. You know, it’s really exciting to bring all this business to town, all these job opportunities, and really just bringing life back,” said Keith Sanz, director of bands at Atlantic Community High School. DeSantis sampled some pizza and ice cream.
Ron DeSantis grabs a slice during a surprise visit to Delray Beach. Image via Twitter.
“What’s in the anti-riot law and how will it play out?” via Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon of Florida Today — The law covers a lot of ground. It amends existing statutes, changing definitions and increasing penalties. It also creates an unelected and unaccountable bureaucracy that can overrule law enforcement budget decisions made locally. It changes civil liability for damages and creates several new crimes: mob intimidation, cyber-intimidation by publication, rioting and aggravated rioting. It also defines the destruction of historical markers, memorials or statues as distinct crimes. It also sets a mandatory minimum jail time of six months for the assault or battery of a law enforcement officer “in the furtherance of a riot.” Kara Gross, the Legislative Director and Senior Policy Counsel for the ACLU of Florida, likened it to “a house of cards.”
“Nikki Fried says taxpayers shouldn’t pay Piney Point bill” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Earth Day had special resonance in Southwest Florida this year in the wake of the environmental disaster at Piney Point. Speaking to a crowd of about 50 people, Fried slammed state leaders for allowing the problems at the old Piney Point fertilizer plant property to fester for years. What happened at Piney Point is “because we’ve had deregulation over the last 20 years of our environment. We’ve had nobody who had eyes on this,” Fried said. Fried blamed Republican Governors and Florida Department of Environmental Protection leaders for the recent dumping of polluted water from Piney Point into Tampa Bay, saying they “were told this was a ticking time bomb and they ignored it.”
Nikki Fried says taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for Piney Point.
“Duke Energy case and legislative bills could bring more secrecy” via Malena Carollo of the Tampa Bay Times — A legal case that paved the way for unprecedented secrecy around utility regulation now sits before the Supreme Court. As power companies head into a particularly high-stakes year for rate changes, a pair of bills could bring that secrecy to routine regulation. Last year, an administrative law judge ordered Duke Energy Florida to return $16.1 million it charged customers for replacement power after its Bartow natural gas plant was damaged in 2012. The Florida Public Service Commission upheld that decision. Duke, which was “disappointed” in the decisions at the time, opted to appeal the case.
“Workshop held on extra $46.9M for mitigation” via Deborah Buckhalter of the Jackson County Floridian — The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity sent a team to Marianna to chat with local officials about the extra $46.9 million that will be available to this region of the country — with no dollar match required — to fund long-term efforts aimed at making community assets more resilient in the future against storms and other natural-disaster risks. To access the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) money for its communities, DEO must create, and have approved by HUD, a substantial amendment to the state’s Action Plan for Mitigation. More than $630 million for Florida was initially placed in the fund that the $46 million will now join, HUDS’s Community Development Block Grant-Mitigation Allocation.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“Where are the millions who aren’t getting vaccinated? Florida won’t say.” via Megan Reeves and Allison Ross of the Tampa Bay Times — The Florida Department of Health has said it would keep track of that information by ZIP code. But in response to records requests, it has released just a sliver of the data to the public. The state handed over documents from 12 of Florida’s 67 counties, responding to a request for data showing ZIP codes of people who have received COVID-19 shots so far. The documents are scattered and incomplete, coming in various formats, containing varying levels of detail and, in some cases, months old. They appear to be analyses done by local officials in each of those counties. The state said it had no responsive records for the other 55 counties in the state.
“Digital COVID-19 vaccine records could be on way from Walmart, Winn-Dixie, Publix, Walgreens” via Austin Fuller of the Orlando Sentinel — Patients getting vaccinated for coronavirus already receive a card with the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention logos on it. Walmart revealed it would make records available through the Health Pass in the CLEAR app and The Commons Project Foundation’s CommonHealth and CommonPass apps. Customers will need to download one of the apps and then agree to share their vaccination history with the app they downloaded. “Our goal is to give customers vaccinated at Walmart free and secure digital access to their vaccine record and enable them to share that information with third parties seeking to confirm their vaccination status,” Walmart U.S. CEO John Furner said in a release.
— CORONA LOCAL —
“Duval County’s push for COVID-19 vaccines continues as fully vaccinated hits 220,000 milestone” via Clayton Freeman of the Florida Times-Union — To date, Duval County has recorded 224,654 residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19, along with 90,153 who have received the first dose only of a two-dose series with the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. That ranks seventh in Florida for fully-vaccinated residents: Miami-Dade County leads with 749,125, followed by Broward, Palm Beach, Orange, Hillsborough and Pinellas. While the pace of new vaccinations in Duval County has slowed somewhat since the pause in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the county still added more than 20,000 fully vaccinated residents during the past week. Despite those efforts, however, the pandemic remains very much active in Florida.
“Palm Beach County officials ready to deliver J&J vaccine” via Jane Musgrave of The Palm Beach Post — Thousands of coronavirus vaccines relegated to refrigerators throughout Florida could be headed into people’s arms after a federal advisory committee on Friday agreed that inoculations could resume with warnings that they could cause blood clots. While a final decision will be up to CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, local doctors celebrated an advisory committee’s recommendation to reauthorize the use of the one-shot vaccine. Dr. Alina Alonso, director of Palm Beach County’s state-run health department, said the 3,170 one-shot vaccines she was forced to put into cold storage would be a boon to efforts to reach underserved communities.
Alina Alonso says Palm Beach County is ready to distribute the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“Don’t blame DeSantis for Spring Break COVID-19 surge, SWFL public officials say” via Chris Persaud and Dan DeLuca of the Fort Myers News-Press — In the four weeks between March 13 and April 13, coronavirus infections surged more in Florida’s Spring Break hot spots, including in Lee and Collier counties, than elsewhere in the state. There were especially large swells of infections in Miami-Dade, Broward and Volusia counties and smaller COVID-19 spikes following Spring Break in Orange (Orlando) and Sarasota. Some public officials in these locales said DeSantis shares some blame for the surge because he removed cities’ and counties’ ability to enforce their own anti-coronavirus rules. But Southwest Florida’s political leaders don’t share those sentiments.
“COVID-19 vaccination rates for Black residents of SWFL are dramatically lower; churches and other groups are filling the gap” via Liz Freeman the Naples Daily News — The outreach is critical to overcoming residents’ reluctance to getting vaccinated out of mistrust of the health care system and misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine, Black civic leaders say. The challenge was made even harder when the federal government, on April 13, paused the use of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was seen as the best way to reach people who are reluctant to get immunized, especially those in diverse and underserved communities. Offering COVID-19 vaccines near where Black residents live goes a long way toward making them feel more comfortable about the shots, said Theresa Shaw, executive director of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Naples.
“Spring was a hit for Treasure Coast hotels, despite COVID-19 precautions, restrictions” via Lamaur Stancil of TCPalm — Hotel occupancy in each of the three counties increased by 9% to 14% in each of the last two months, according to STR, a private data company that tracks activity in the hospitality industry, based on a census of about 7,200 Treasure Coast hotel rooms. The Treasure Coast outperformed the state’s overall occupancy for those months as well. Florida topped out at 71.2% occupancy in March. The local bookings were also competitive with the results from early 2019, the last spring not affected by the pandemic. “We’re very happy to see the trend go up,” said Charlotte Bireley, director of tourism and marketing for St. Lucie County. “There’s a pent-up travel demand in the Northeast, and summer looks strong.”
— CORONA NATION —
“U.S. ends pause on J&J’s vaccine after concern about clots” via Angelica LaVito and Riley Griffin of Bloomberg — U.S. health agencies lifted the pause on Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, 10 days after urging providers to hold off on using the shot while they reviewed serious and rare cases of blood clots among several people who received it. The FDA and the CDC said in a statement that they have determined that the pause that was put in place on April 13 should end and that use of the vaccine should resume. Inoculations can begin immediately, CDC Director Walensky said in a briefing. The agencies said that they found the shot was safe and effective at preventing COVID-19. They added that the chance of developing the rare blood-clot syndrome is very low, but that they will continue to investigate.
“Some states are turning down vaccine doses via Kaanita Iyer of USA Today — With over 40% of the U.S. population at least partially vaccinated, many of those most at-risk or most eager to get vaccinated have already done so. Now the U.S. faces a tough road ahead to protect hard-to-reach populations. Some states have already turned down or scaled back vaccine shipments as supply outpaces demand. Louisiana has stopped asking the federal government for its full allotment of the vaccine while Mississippi asked for the vials to be shipped in smaller packages, so they don’t go to waste. About three-quarters of Kansas counties have turned down new vaccine shipments at least once over the past month.
Due to a lack of demand, many sites are pulling out the stops to get people vaccinated, such as offering free drinks.
“Millions are skipping their second doses of COVID-19 vaccines” via Rebecca Robbins of The New York Times — Millions of Americans are not getting the second doses of their COVID-19 vaccines, and their ranks are growing. According to the most recent data from the CDC, more than five million people, or nearly 8% of those who got a first shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, have missed their second doses. That is more than double the rate among people who got inoculated in the first several weeks of the nationwide vaccine campaign. Even as the country wrestles with the problem of millions of people who are wary about getting vaccinated at all, local health authorities are confronting an emerging challenge of ensuring that those who do get inoculated are doing so fully.
“Fact check: Study falsely claiming face masks are harmful, ineffective is not linked to Stanford” via Rick Rouan of USA Today — Debunked claims about the danger of masks and their effectiveness in preventing the spread of COVID-19 again are circulating after a journal published an article from an author allegedly affiliated with Stanford University. Stanford has denied any current connection to the author, but the article gives voice to claims that face masks are ineffective at reducing transmission of the virus and cause harmful oxygen deprivation. The study, “Face masks in the COVID-19 era: A health hypothesis,” was published in the January issue of the journal Medical Hypotheses, but it picked up steam on social media in early April. It was shared hundreds of times on Facebook and Twitter.
— MORE CORONA —
“The years we’ve lost to COVID-19” via Kat Eschner of The New York Times — Health statisticians are increasingly using a calculation called years of life lost, which counts how much time the victims could have lived if they hadn’t died. They say it can help us determine which communities have lost the most and prioritize how to recover. Looking at lost years shifts the focus from death to life and reveals the depth of this pandemic’s impact crater: In 2020, the United States lost around 4 million years of potential life. Many public health researchers have pushed agencies to use lost years as well as deaths to create a fuller picture of the toll on communities and allow policymakers and the public to see the effectiveness of safety measures like social distancing and mask-wearing.
“Those who got COVID-19 between vaccine doses urge caution: ‘We were so close’” via Fenit Nirappil and Dan Keating of The Washington Post — The Post estimates about 21,000 of 470,000 people who tested positive for coronavirus for the week ended Sunday already had their first dose. Michigan, where cases have been rising sharply with the rise of highly transmissible variants, accounts for about a tenth of that estimate. Experts warn these cases should not be interpreted as evidence vaccines don’t work. The immune system needs several weeks to provide robust protection as the body learns the blueprint for stopping the virus before it can cause serious disease.
One vaccination could still leave people vulnerable.
“The TSA’s mask mandate expires soon. Airline industry leaders and politicians are calling for an extension.” via Hannah Sampson of The Washington Post — When the Transportation Security Administration announced in January that it would require people to wear a mask at airports and on planes, trains and other forms of public transportation, the announcement included a sunset date: May 11. With that deadline rapidly approaching and the pandemic still not under control, airline industry leaders urge the agency to continue enforcing mask rules in the air and on the ground. The TSA’s announcement was tied to an executive order by President Joe Biden and an emergency order from the CDC. The TSA is not saying what it will do.
“NFL modifies COVID-19 protocols for vaccinated people” via The Associated Press — The NFL is modifying COVID-19 protocols for all personnel who have been fully vaccinated. In a memo sent by Commissioner Roger Goodell to the 32 clubs Friday and obtained by The Associated Press, he cited the “advice of our medical and scientific experts” for the agreement to modify protocols to ”reflect the reduced risk of infection and transmission for fully vaccinated individuals.” Effective immediately, fully vaccinated individuals in the NFL (players, coaches, staff and executives) are no longer required to be tested each day for the novel coronavirus. Instead, they must be tested weekly on a monitoring basis.
— PRESIDENTIAL —
“Americans give Joe Biden mostly positive marks for first 100 days” via Dan Balz, Scott Clement and Emily Guskin of The Washington Post — President Biden nears the end of his first 100 days in office with a slight majority of Americans approving of his performance and supporting his major policy initiatives, but his approval rating is lower than any recent past Presidents except Trump, with potential warning signs ahead about his governing strategy. Overall, 52% of adults say they approve of Biden’s job, compared with 42% who disapprove. At this point in his presidency four years ago, Trump’s rating was nearly the reverse, with approval at 42% and disapproval at 53%. Overall, 34% of Americans say they strongly approve of Biden’s performance, compared with 35% who strongly disapprove.
Joe Biden gets good marks for his performance so far. Image via AP.
“Biden will close the first chapter of his presidency before a sparse crowd — and with a historic backdrop” via Matt Viser of The Washington Post — As one of the nation’s longest-serving politicians, he has witnessed more speeches to a joint session of Congress than just about anyone. Next week, he will give one. He will have a historic backdrop: Two women, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris, for the first time, will be in the immediate frame of the President, something Biden is planning to note at the beginning of his speech. In a different historic marker, both will be wearing masks as part of the coronavirus protocols in the chamber. He is expected to press the need for expanding access to health care and outline additional economic relief for American families.
“Chocolate chip diplomacy: Biden courts Congress with gusto” via Lisa Mascaro of The Associated Press — The pictures always make it look so presidential: Biden sitting in a tall-back chair, surrounded by the arrayed members of Congress invited for a meeting at the White House. But inside the Oval Office, lawmakers tell a different story, of a President so warm, so engaged, so animated, standing up, sitting down, calling on lawmakers by name, swapping stories about their hometowns, and so determined to make them get to work and get things done. On their way out the door, they are offered a chocolate chip cookie, that most American of snacks, a to-go boost for the potential partnership between this White House and the Congress.
“White House’s new $1.8 trillion ‘families plan’ reflects ambitions — and limits — of Biden presidency” via Jeff Stein of The Washington Post — The White House is preparing to unveil a roughly $1.8 trillion spending and tax plan this coming week that includes many of Biden’s campaign promises but also reflects the daunting challenges facing the administration as it tries to transform the U.S. economy. The “American Families Plan,” set to be released ahead of the President’s joint address to Congress on Wednesday, calls for devoting hundreds of billions of dollars to national child care, prekindergarten, paid family leave and tuition-free community college, among other domestic priorities. It will be at least partially funded by about a half-dozen tax hikes on high-income Americans and investors.
— EPILOGUE TRUMP —
“Donald Trump, preferring New Jersey, reportedly plans to escape Florida’s summer heat” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Trump has often proclaimed his love for Florida, but that doesn’t mean he loves summer and hurricane season in the Sunshine State. It’s been universally expected that Trump would decamp from his Mar-a-Lago Club for the summer, most likely taking up residence at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, one of several golf properties with the “Trump National” brand name. Traditionally Mar-a-Lago closes for the summer after Memorial Day. The high season is traditionally from Thanksgiving to Easter.
Donald Trump is thinking of ditching the Florida heat for New Jersey. Image via AP.
“‘It’s not over,’ Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, other conservatives tell America First Rally in Indian River County” via Joshua Solomon of TC Palm — The local Republican Party rolled out a litany of speakers Saturday pushing conspiracy theories and election denial, headlined by U.S. Rep. Greene, before at least 300 people at an America First Rally. The Indian River County Democratic Party condemned the controversial event at the Indian River County Fairgrounds & Expo Center. It drew an excited crowd of conservatives wearing Trump paraphernalia. They often stood to applaud charges that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. “No matter how upset you are about the presidential election and no matter what you’re seeing in the news,” Greene said, “it’s not over. You want to know why? I’m there. And guess what else? This is bigger. All of you are here.”
“‘Start of an awakening process.’ Former Gen. Mike Flynn headlines Bradenton rally” via Mark Young of the Bradenton Herald — More than 1,000 people gathered early Saturday in the Desoto Square mall parking lot, well before former National Security Adviser and Gen. Flynn was due to speak, and they just kept coming. American flags and flags featuring Trump clapped in the morning breeze as the first of more than a dozen speakers took the stage at the “Save America Rally,” sponsored by Trump Train Manatee. Behind the scenes, Flynn arrived to a small VIP crowd. Former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone was already mingling.
Michael Flynn wows a Bradenton crowd of supporters. Image via Zac Anderson/Twitter.
Hmmm … “Minutes before Trump left office, millions of the Pentagon’s dormant IP addresses sprang to life” via Craig Timberg and Paul Sonne of The Washington Post — While the world was distracted with Trump leaving office on Jan. 20, an obscure Florida company discreetly announced to the world’s computer networks a startling development: It now was managing a huge unused swath of the Internet that, for several decades, had been owned by the U.S. military. The company, Global Resource Systems LLC, kept adding to its zone of control. Soon it had claimed 56 million IP addresses owned by the Pentagon. A person familiar with the pilot effort said it is important for the Defense Department to have “visibility and transparency” into its various cyber resources, including IP addresses, and manage the addresses properly so they will be available if and when the Pentagon wants to use them.
— CRISIS —
“Capitol Police denies Zoe Lofgren claim they were focused only on anti-Trump forces on Jan. 6” via Kyle Cheney of POLITICO — The Capitol Police pushed back forcefully against a top lawmaker’s claim that a commanding official directed officers on Jan. 6 to pursue only agitators against Trump and ignore potential pro-Trump troublemakers. Rep. Lofgren described the allegation in comments at a public hearing Wednesday, suggesting that the directive, issued in a radio communication on the morning of Jan. 6, was being reviewed by internal Capitol Police investigators. “The radio call has been misquoted and is lacking full and necessary context,” the department said in an unsigned statement.
Capitol Police deny Zoe Lofgren’s claim that they were ordered to only go after anti-Trumpers. Image via AP.
“Florida man arrested in Capitol riot said he was breaking into White House, feds say” via David Harris of the Orlando Sentinel — A family member turned in an Ocala man who went to Washington D.C. “knowing full well they were going to break in” to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Kenneth Kelly also sent text messages saying he entered the Capitol by breaking windows, an affidavit said. He turned himself in Friday at the Middle District of Florida U.S. Attorney’s Office in Ocala. He’s facing charges including disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. Pictures from surveillance video and text messages provided to the FBI show Kelly inside The Capitol, which he kept referring to as the White House.
— GAETZGATE —
“Matt Gaetz probe includes scrutiny of potential public corruption tied to medical marijuana industry” via Evan Perez, Paula Reid, Scott Glover and David Shortell of CNN — Federal authorities are looking into whether a 2018 trip to the Bahamas involving Congressman Gaetz and several young women was part of an orchestrated effort to illegally influence Gaetz in the area of medical marijuana. Prosecutors with the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section are examining whether Gaetz took gifts, including travel and paid escorts, in exchange for political favors. Investigators are also scrutinizing Gaetz’s connections to medical marijuana, both in terms of legislation he’s sponsored and his connections to people involved in the industry, searching for so-called pay-to-play arrangements.
Matt Gaetz’s troubles extend deep into the medical marijuana industry. Image via AP.
“Pot, planes and politics: How medical marijuana links players in Gaetz sex trafficking probe” via Jeffrey Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — Gaetz, Halsey Beshears and Dr. Jason Pirozzolo have more in common than a plane trip to the Bahamas that led to the Department of Justice launching an investigation of Gaetz and sex trafficking allegations. Gaetz sponsored the first legislation to legalize medical marijuana in Florida; Beshears’ family would profit off the law through their nursery and Pirozzolo and a partner would create a consulting firm that would lead to a stake in a major medical marijuana company. Through that tight bond, they rose through the ranks of the GOP apparatus.
“Chris Dorworth, Joel Greenberg maneuvered behind the scenes on behalf of controversial housing development” via Martin E. Comas and Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel — In October 2018, about a week after Dorworth sued Seminole County for rejecting his proposed River Cross housing development, then-Tax Collector Greenberg sent a letter to county commissioners blasting them for fighting back against Dorworth’s lawsuit. Dorworth’s suit had claimed that strict development limits in Seminole County’s rural areas had contributed to racial segregation. Greenberg warned commissioners that they were, by opposing the suit, worsening Seminole County’s “painful recent history” of racial injustice. Though Greenberg never mentioned his friend Dorworth by name, the lobbyist helped craft the letter, according to the document’s digital editing history. Greenberg blind copied Dorworth when he sent it.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Rick Scott wants action to get cruise ships back and would support vaccine requirements” via Wendy Rhodes of The Palm Beach Post — U.S. Senate Democrats sank Scott‘s legislation aimed at restarting the dry-docked cruise industry, but the Republican Senator from Florida still insists federal health officials must move quickly to provide detailed guidelines to get the industry sailing again. To that end, Scott said, if cruise lines, as private businesses, decide to require proof of vaccinations is in the best interest of their crews and passengers, he would support that. It is a position that puts him at odds with DeSantis, a fellow Republican who issued an executive order banning the use of vaccination passports in Florida, even for private businesses.
Rick Scott is OK with vaccine passports if it will get cruise ships running again.
— LOCAL NOTES —
“Broward Sheriff’s Office backs away from anti-riot law, worried that people’s civil rights could be violated.” via Eileen Kelley of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Broward sheriff’s deputies are being told not to enforce Florida’s new anti-rioting law unless absolutely necessary. In those cases, they must run it up the chain of command before taking action. Col. David R. Holmes, the agency’s executive director of law enforcement, emailed roughly 30 district captains Wednesday to say the anti-rioting law threatened to diminish the Sheriff’s Office’s attempts to connect with the community. The Sheriff’s Office doesn’t need “any overzealous deputies utilizing the new law to conduct enforcement that could violate people’s civil liberties,” Holmes wrote.
“Ben Crump calls for probe into Brevard Sheriff’s Office” via The Associated Press — Crump has called on the Justice Department to investigate a Florida sheriff’s office after a deputy fatally shot two Black teenagers last year. He also asked the Justice Department to review a local prosecutor’s decision not to bring any charges. Crump, and another attorney for the teens’ families, called for the investigation Friday into the office of Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey, saying problems go beyond the shooting deaths of Sincere Pierce and Angelo “A.J.” Crooms by Deputy Jafet Santiago-Miranda. “You will see the allegations we have are not only against the officers, because the officer is born of a culture that Wayne Ivey has provided for his officers in Brevard County,” said Natalie Jackson, one of the attorneys for the teenagers’ families.
Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump is calling for an investigation of the Brevard Sheriff’s Office. Image via AP.
“Manatee leaders rushed to resolve Piney Point before leak. Time wasn’t on their side” via Ryan Callihan of the Bradenton Herald — Piney Point has been described as a ticking time bomb for decade, but a recent push from Manatee County leaders to resolve the problem couldn’t beat the clock. The leak came the week after a group of Commissioners met with state officials in Tallahassee. Those leaders vowed to take Piney Point seriously; the time was not on their side. “The do board made Piney Point our top priority this calendar year, and we were making very good headway with (the Florida Department of Environmental Protection) and the landowner, so it’s very frustrating that we didn’t come on the scene in time to stop everyone’s greatest fear,” said Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge.
“Michelle Salzman, Doug Broxson right to urge DeSantis action against Skanska” via the Pensacola News Journal editorial board — State Rep. Salzman is done waiting for Skanska to do the right thing, so she has gone directly to DeSantis to seek Florida’s help on behalf of thousands of local citizens and businesses who have been hurt by the devastating damages and repair delays to the Gen. Chappie James Bridge over Pensacola Bay. Salzman sent a letter to DeSantis last week asking that the Governor and Attorney General use the state’s leverage to push the multinational construction company to respond to local citizens. Salzman credits state Sen. Broxson for working tirelessly to provide oversight to the bridge repairs. Broxson has been the point person between FDOT and Skanska on behalf of taxpayers.
“Jeff Siegmeister pleads not guilty” via the Lake City Reporter — The Third Judicial Circuit’s former state attorney pled not guilty in federal court. During an initial appearance and arraignment hearing at the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Siegmeister entered a not guilty plea to the charges he was indicted on in February: conspiracy to commit extortion, aiding and abetting extortion, federal program bribery, conspiracy to commit federal program bribery, conspiracy to use a facility of commerce for unlawful activity, wire fraud and filing false tax returns, which combine for a maximum sentence of 129 years.
“For cutting-edge health care, Tampa General partners with renowned Israeli hospital” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — To provide cutting-edge health care, Florida’s foremost hospital is teaming up with an Israeli-based health care and medical innovation leader. Tampa General Hospital and Sheba Medical Center, located outside of Tel Aviv, announced a partnership this week to boost their shared commitment to fast-tracking medical innovation and developing best practices. The collaboration is part of a three-year agreement between TGH and Sheba Medical, where the two hospitals intend to focus on education, training, innovation and research. Other plans include sending delegations of health care professionals and researchers to share information and expertise.
Tampa General Hospital is teaming with Sheba Medical Center in Israel to develop cutting-edge care and best practices.
“What’s in the anti-riot law and how will it play out? Brevard could be first to know” via Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon of Florida Today — The law covers a lot of ground. It amends existing statutes, changing definitions and increasing penalties. It also creates an unelected and unaccountable bureaucracy that can overrule law enforcement budget decisions made locally. It changes civil liability for damages and creates several new crimes: mob intimidation, cyber-intimidation by publication, rioting and aggravated rioting. It also defines the destruction of historical markers, memorials or statues as distinct crimes. It also sets a mandatory minimum jail time of six months for the assault or battery of a law enforcement officer “in the furtherance of a riot.” Kara Gross, the Legislative Director and Senior Policy Counsel for the ACLU of Florida, likened it to “a house of cards.”
— TOP OPINION —
“The rise of DeSantis” via David Frum of The Atlantic — DeSantis’ rise is partly a story about him. But perhaps above all, it’s a story about his state. When the coronavirus pandemic struck, DeSantis followed the wishes of the Trump administration. He delayed closing bars and restaurants until after the end of the 2020 spring break. He ended restrictions early, allowing all Florida businesses to reopen in September. DeSantis can point to two big wins for his state attributable to his policies. The first is that the unemployment rate in Florida never spiked as high as it did in some other states. The second, and probably even more important for the long term, is that Florida opened its schools to in-person learning in August, putting students back in classrooms, even as instruction in many other states remained remote.
— OPINIONS —
“Florida Supreme Court disrespects the voters and the Constitution” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — The worst of the present-day Florida Supreme Court was on display Thursday in its 5-2 decision effectively denying the people the opportunity to vote next year on legalizing recreational use of marijuana by adults. It was a political decision by a radically politicized court with scant respect for its own precedents and none at all for the intelligence of the voters or their right under Florida’s Constitution to make tough decisions for themselves when the Legislature won’t. By saying that the amendment would “permit” pot use in Florida, the majority said, the ballot title failed to inform voters that it would remain illegal under federal laws. Those, however, are very rarely enforced against individuals. One of the dissenters accurately called the decision paternalistic.
“Kudos to gambling Guv for landmark sports betting breakthrough” via Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel — In case you missed it, DeSantis signed a landmark gambling deal Friday with the Seminole Tribe of Florida that could and should bring legalized sports betting to Florida and generate countless billions of dollars in revenue for our state. Of course, the deal still needs to be passed by the Florida Legislature, which will take up the issue in a special session that starts May 17. I realize our state politicians historically do stupid stuff (see Cross Florida Barge Canal), but not even they would be ignorant enough to vote against this legislation. As far as bets go, DeSantis’s gambling deal is the biggest sure thing this side of Greenberg getting jail time.
“Voter suppression starts with free speech suppression” via Steve Bousquet of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The Republican overhaul of state election laws shows the Legislature at its worst. It has become a rush job, driven by partisanship and marked by obfuscation, non-answers and a shocking lack of openness, even by Tallahassee’s lax standards. The public was flat-out denied the chance to testify at a hearing this week. Republicans got plenty of time to talk, but Democrats were limited to 30 seconds each debating arguably the most far-reaching bill of the Session. The denial of basic access to the lawmaking process alone should trigger a lawsuit after the session. But if you’re suppressing votes, suppressing free speech is a piece of cake.
“Scott Matiyow, Michael Carlson: Auto insurance bills will create even bigger problems for Florida motorists” via Florida Politics — The Legislature is speeding toward repeal of Florida’s motor vehicle no-fault law and its personal injury protection (PIP) insurance requirement. On this course, rates will rise for Florida motorists, particularly those who buy the minimum required insurance and those who buy bodily injury coverage at amounts below what the proposed law requires. These drivers can least afford an increase, and it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of additional Floridians will drive illegally without insurance because of this increase. Forcing Floridians to buy more insurance — and in the case of medical payments coverage, to buy insurance that they may not need — is the wrong thing to do.
— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —
This is supposed to be the final week of Session, and they will indeed wrap things up by the Friday deadline. But lawmakers will return next month for a one-week Special Session on gambling.
Also, on today’s Sunrise:
— The Special Session was announced shortly after the Governor signed a new 30-year gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe, which would serve as the state’s electronic hub for online sports betting.
— The Seminoles would also be allowed to offer craps, roulette, and other Vegas-style games not allowed in Florida today. But there are legal issues that could spike the deal.
— After hours of debate emotional debate, the Florida House approves a bill banning what the sponsors call “disability abortions.” Backers of the bill say they’re trying to prevent eugenics … opponents say it IS eugenics.
— HB 1221 says any doctor who performs an abortion because the parents don’t want a disabled child is committing a felony.
— And finally, a Florida Woman is on probation for DUI manslaughter who was clocked doing 111 miles per hour on I-4 in Hillsborough County.
To listen, click on the image below:
— ALOE —
“Disney Cruise Line shares new details of Disney Wish design” via Ashley Carter of Bay News 9 — Disney Cruise Line has shared more details about its newest cruise ship, Disney Wish. The cruise ship is set to debut in summer 2022 and will be the fifth ship in Disney Cruise Line’s fleet. On Friday, Disney shared a behind-the-scenes look at the ship and the ideas that went into its design. Disney Wish will feature theming inspired by Cinderella, and a motif of “enchantment” will be found through the ship, including the Grand Hall, which will feature a castle-inspired design with touches of Gothic, Baroque and French Rococo influences. A rendering of the Grand Hall shows a grand chandelier at the center with swirling patterns of crystal gems. And keeping with the Cinderella theme, a bronze statue of the character will be located at the base of the staircase.
Disney Wish will bring even more enchantment.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Celebrating today are Rep. Wyman Duggan and our mentor, Gary Fineout of POLITICO Florida.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.
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