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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.14.22

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Your day is better when you start it with a first read on what’s happening in Florida politics.

Good Friday morning.

Lewis Longman & Walker has bolstered its environmental law practice with the addition of attorneys Lauren Brooks in Tallahassee and Paul Joseph Polito in West Palm Beach.

Brooks brings nine years of experience in federal and state environmental and land use regulation and litigation, a strong understanding of local government law, business litigation and the appellate process.

Lauren Brooks brings nearly a decade of experience to Lewis Longman & Walker.

While earning her law degree from the University of Florida, Brooks served as a Judicial Intern for U.S. District Judge Roy Dalton. After law school, she served as Senior Judicial law clerk for 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Scott Makar. She has represented corporate, individual and local government clients across the state in private practice.

“We are thrilled that Lauren has joined LLW. Her experience will be integral to the solutions that we offer our clients. We know that she will serve the firm’s clients well with her deep knowledge and experience dealing with complex environmental and land use matters,” LLW President Michelle Diffenderfer said.

Polito comes to the firm from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, where he worked as a litigator representing the department in environmental permitting and enforcement matters. He had served as lead counsel in almost two dozen administrative proceedings before the Division of Administrative Hearings and argued before 1DCA.

Paul Joseph Polito has a solid resume from the Florida DEP.

Before joining DEP, Polito clerked for Chief Environmental Administrative Law Judge Bram Canter, drafting Recommended and Final Orders. He earned his law degree from Florida State University.

“Paul has already hit the ground running and will be an asset to our firm and the clients we serve as they navigate through complex development and environmental matters. His deep knowledge as a litigator and understanding of Florida’s environmental laws, and a strong grasp of complex policy issues makes him a perfect fit,” Diffenderfer said.

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The Associated Industries of Florida published its wishlist for the 2022 Legislative Session on Thursday, outlining the agenda it will pursue on behalf of its members.

“As we kick off the 2022 Legislative Session this week, I could not be prouder to start my tenure at the helm of AIF in a state that has been laser-focused on remaining open for business and recruiting new employers to our state,” said AIF President & CEO Brewster Bevis.

“With 60 days of policy discussions now underway, we look forward to advocating for our members to be able to live, work and flourish in a state that truly believes in free enterprise. We are proud of our long history of legislative advocacy and success on behalf of Florida’s businesses and are ready to continue to work to generate a strong economic engine for our great state.”

AIF’s “2022 Session Priorities” publication includes support for a full slate of economic development programs — funding the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, VISIT FLORIDA, and Enterprise Florida. The business group also supported Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan to use federal dollars to offset gas taxes.

“The budget Gov. DeSantis has put forth, which includes a significant gas tax holiday that will save hardworking Florida families and businesses over $1 billion,” said Bevis. “We commend Gov. DeSantis and the Legislature for ensuring Florida’s economy continues to thrive and for creating a brighter future for all Floridians.”

AIF’s agenda also includes priorities in a range of policy silos, including education, energy, the environment, health care, insurance, IT governance and more.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@AGAshleyMoody: Extremely happy #SCOTUS ruled in our favor and stayed the offensive and overreaching @JoeBiden OSHA vaccine mandate.

@LeaderBookFL: Heartbroken to learn of tragic loss of Jorge Diaz-Johnston — esp under these circumstances. Jorge & his husband Don helped pave the way for marriage equality in FL; his courage will never be forgotten. Prayers to @Manny_A_Diaz, Don, & all who loved Jorge❤️ May Justice be served.

Tweet, tweet:

During Reapportionment Committee Meeting: Drawing new senate district numbers.#odd #even pic.twitter.com/FVfQFgzo01

— Linda Stewart (@LindaStewartFL) January 13, 2022

Tweet, tweet:

I’m heading to the Agriculture Committee to present SB 1006 – designating the strawberry shortcake the official state dessert. My team and I dressed “berry” appropriately for the occasion! 🍓 pic.twitter.com/KgUfZU8Yqv

— Danny Burgess (@DannyBurgessFL) January 13, 2022

Tweet, tweet:

Happy Founders Day!#DSTSTRONG pic.twitter.com/mQ0V4kv2Zc

— Audrey Gibson (@SenAudrey2eet) January 13, 2022

@LoranneAusley: Exciting day — today is my first meeting as a member of the National Precision Ag Connectivity Task Force. I’m honored to have been selected by the FCC to serve on this Task Force, which is working on broadband expansion in rural areas to promote precision agriculture practices.

Tweet, tweet:

You don’t want to know how many cookies I ate… pic.twitter.com/xtpMeVv3z7

— Rep. Andrew Learned (@AndrewLearned) January 13, 2022

Tweet, tweet:

I am so grateful to have worked for and with Paul Tash, whose rock solid values, news judgement, and commitment to excellence made Tampa Bay a better place and countless men and women better journalists. https://t.co/QjaFbM8tT9

— Adam Smith (@adamsmithtimes) January 13, 2022

— DAYS UNTIL —

NFL playoffs begin — 1; ‘Ozark’ final season begins — 7; ‘Billions’ begins — 9; Red Dog Blue Dog charity event — 11; James Madison Institute’s Stanley Marshall Day Celebration in Jacksonville — 14; XXIV Olympic Winter Games begins — 21; Super Bowl LVI — 30; Will Smith’s ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ reboot premieres — 30; season four of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ begins — 33; ‘The Walking Dead’ final season part two begins — 37; Daytona 500 — 37; Special Election for Jacksonville City Council At-Large Group 3 — 40; CPAC begins — 42; St. Pete Grand Prix — 42; Biden to give State of the Union — 46; ‘The Batman’ premieres — 49; the third season of ‘Atlanta’ begins — 68; season two of ‘Bridgerton’ begins — 70; The Oscars — 72; Macbeth with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga begin performances on Broadway — 74; federal student loan payments will resume — 107; ’Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 112; ’Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 133; ’Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 139; ’Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 176; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 187; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 231; ’Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 266; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 301; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 304; ‘Avatar 2’ premieres — 336; ’Captain Marvel 2’ premieres — 399; ’John Wick: Chapter 4’ premieres — 434; ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 560; ’Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 644; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 924.

— TOP STORY —

Supreme Court halts COVID-19 vaccine rule for U.S. businesses” via Mark Sherman and Jessica Gresko of The Associated Press — The Supreme Court has stopped the Biden administration from enforcing a requirement that employees at large businesses be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing and wear a mask on the job. The court allows the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S. The court’s conservative majority concluded the administration overstepped its authority by seeking to impose the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccine-or-test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees. “OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Nor has Congress. Indeed, although Congress has enacted significant legislation addressing the COVID–19 pandemic, it has declined to enact any measure similar to what OSHA has promulgated here,” the conservatives wrote in an unsigned opinion.

SCOTUS ruling puts Florida health care providers in a bind” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — The Court ruling creates an immediate conflict in Florida where the GOP-controlled Legislature in November passed a law pushed by DeSantis to ban vaccine mandates in the state unless employers offered up a broad range of exemptions. DeSantis has loudly decried the vaccine mandates and said the federal government widely exceeded its power when putting them in place. He repeatedly said that no one deserves to lose their job if they refused to get a “jab.” Press secretary Christina Pushaw exulted in the Supreme Court ruling, saying on Twitter that it was a “huge win for workers’ rights; huge blow to the tyranny of the administrative state. The regime was wrong. (DeSantis) was right.”

Florida reax:

I came up in the restaurant industry. I know how tight margins can be and how hard it is to hire and retain employees. The Biden vaccine mandate hurt small businesses and I’m glad the Supreme Court dealt him a big loss today. It’s a win for our state, country and FREEDOM!

— Jimmy Patronis (@JimmyPatronis) January 13, 2022

AG Ashley Moody: “Extremely happy #SCOTUS ruled in our favor and stayed the offensive and overreaching @JoeBiden OSHA vaccine mandate.”

—DATELINE TALLY —

Ron DeSantis’ office responds to Nikki Fried test leak allegation” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — The Governor’s Office has commented on allegations that someone working for the administration leaked information about undistributed COVID-19 tests to one of DeSantis’ chief political rivals. Fried contended during a radio hit that a DeSantis staffer leaked information about 1 million expired-but-unused rapid COVID-19 tests because he felt it was important to get the information out. “It was a very high-profile individual in the DeSantis administration,” Fried said. DeSantis’ press secretary Christine Pushaw responded: “After receiving an initial extension in September, the administration was actively working to extend the December expiration date of the Binax tests, while still distributing nearly 375,000 tests in December. This was common knowledge as it was well communicated with county health departments and county emergency management agencies by the Department of Health (DOH) and the Division of Emergency Management (DEM).”

Ron DeSantis fires back at Nikki Fried. Images via Colin Hackley.

Florida is poised to approve a 15-week abortion ban. Here’s why.” via Skylar Swisher of the Orlando Sentinel — After years of trying, Florida lawmakers are on the verge of significantly restricting access to abortion, with DeSantis signaling his support and conservatives in control of both state and federal high courts. Abortion bans have failed in the Florida Legislature in recent years, but signs point to a different outcome this Session, which convened Tuesday. Abortion likely will be at the forefront when legislators face elections, with the U.S. Supreme Court expected to deliver a decision over the summer on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. That law served as the model for Florida’s proposal.

Senate Bill deeming houses of worship essential during lockdowns rises out of committee” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Legislation giving houses of worship the right to keep their doors open during a state of emergency is ready for the full Senate’s consideration. The bill (SB 254) passed out of its second and final Senate committee nearly unanimously, as most lawmakers agreed religious institutions should be considered “essential services.” Sen. Jason Brodeur explained to the Senate Rules Committee that the importance of houses of worship was one takeaway from the COVID-19 pandemic. “Basically, if Target and Publix are open, so too should be the religious institution,” Brodeur said. Florida was one of a dozen states to deem houses of worship essential during the state’s stay-at-home order in the early months of the pandemic.

Senate Rules Committee OK’s bill to extend health care COVID-19 liability protections” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — The Senate Rules Committee moved a bill that would extend COVID-19 liability protections for hospitals, physicians, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities through June 1 2023,. The bill (SB 7014) has not been referred to any other Senate committees. On Friday, the House will consider HHS 1, its version of the proposal, in the House Health & Human Services Committee. The House and Senate bills are identical. “The two chambers are working great together,” said Senate bill sponsor Sen. Danny Burgess. Under the 2021 law, health care providers were afforded such protection only through March 2022.

Senate, House panels move similar telehealth bills” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — House and Senate panels moved bills to change Florida’s telehealth laws and make it easier for providers to treat their patients. The bills are similar, but not identical. The difference comes down to whether registered telehealth providers can use telephones to treat their patients. The Senate version of the bill (SB 312) strikes the prohibition in current law that bans the use of “audio-only” devices for telehealth. It cleared the Senate Rules Committee. The House’s version of the measure (HB 17) keeps the ban on telephones intact. The House Professions & Public Health Subcommittee approved its version Thursday morning.

House committee OKs bill targeting drug dealers, overdose deaths” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The House Judiciary Committee OK’d a sweeping bill Thursday to broaden a law that allows prosecutors to pursue stiffer penalties against drug dealers whose product results in the death of a consumer. Under state law, a drug dealer in Florida faces the possibility of death or life in prison if they sell a controlled substance that is deemed the “proximate cause” of overdose death. Prosecutors, however, often struggle with cases involving multiple controlled substances or alcohol.

Lobbying restrictions inch forward in House process” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The House is one step closer to further restricting public officials from lobbying in the years they leave public service. The House State Affairs Committee gave its unanimous OK to two bills (HB 7001 and HB 7003) to implement 2018’s Amendment 12, which places business and lobbying restrictions on former lawmakers. Penalties under the measures would include fines up to $10,000 and forfeiting money earned from illegally lobbying. Violators could also receive public censure or reprimand. Rep. Traci Koster is carrying the legislation.

House subcommittee OKs ‘Victims of Communism Day’ bill” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Students in Florida could soon observe a “Victims of Communism Day” under a measure OK’d Thursday by a House subcommittee. Under the proposal (HB 395), government and public schools would begin observing “Victims of Communism Day” Nov. 7 2023,. The measure would require public school students to receive 45 minutes of instruction on communist leaders and the suffering of victims under their rule. The House Secondary Education and Career Development Subcommittee unanimously passed the proposal. Rep. David Borrero is the bill sponsor.

Democratic lawmakers call for recreational marijuana legalization” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Democratic lawmakers want to legalize marijuana, and they’re urging Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature to do it now. Thus far, Democrats have proposed at least 10 marijuana-related bills in the 2022 Legislative Session. At least one measure would outright legalize marijuana (HB 467), while another would decriminalize the drug and other addictive substances. A 2019 bipartisan poll by the University of North Florida shows 64% of Florida voters support legalizing marijuana for adult consumption.

Florida lawmakers look to limit restraints on special needs students — The House is again considering legislation that would prevent school employees from using handcuffs, zip ties, or other restraints on students with disabilities. As reported by Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida, the House Early Learning & Elementary Education Subcommittee OK’d a bill (HB 235) on Thursday that would restrict the use of “mechanical” restraints by school employees who are not safety or security officers. The potential limits on restraints come a year after lawmakers approved legislation that outlawed the use of seclusion for special needs students, among other things.

Numbers align for lotto winner anonymity in House committee” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The House State Affairs Committee voted in support of a bill (HB 159) to protect winners from the wealth of unintended consequences for hitting the jackpot. The bill, carried by Rep. Tracie Davis, is now ready for the full House to consider. Florida law already makes the address and phone number of winners confidential. The proposal would allow those who win $250,000 or more to keep their names confidential for 90 days, though they would also be allowed to waive that right. Lottery winners are currently made public for transparency, to show legitimate winners. And for the lottery, there is also the added benefit of publicity.

Tracie Davis is working to give some lottery winners a bit of privacy.

Bill calling on Joe Biden, Congress to act against Cuba regime earns preliminary OK” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — A bill calling on Biden and Congress to take substantive action against human rights violations by the Cuban government cleared the first of two Florida House committees Thursday. Members of the House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the bill (HM 43) with little discussion and no debate. The nonbinding measure would ask the U.S. government to request help from the U.N. in issuing sanctions targeted against the Cuban regime. The bill, which has no Senate analog, still awaits a hearing before the House Rules Committee. Some 600 Cubans remain jailed for participating in the protests last year. Some have since gone to trial for sedition.



— REDISTRICTING —

A proposed Senate map (S 8058) advanced from committee on Thursday and now heads to the chamber floor, where it could come up for a vote as soon as next week.

The Senate Reapportionment Committee passed the plan with amendments introduced by Committee Chair Ray Rodrigues that ensure fewer cities are split into multiple districts.

The cities that had been split but were made whole with the amendment include Laurel Hill, Holly Hill, Titusville, Winter Haven, and Pembroke Pines. That means the committee actually approved a map submitted by Rodrigues.

Ray Rodrigues hopes to keep city splits to a minimum. Image via Colin Hackley.

“The result is a map that would yield only 22 cities in which the entire population is not contained in one district, outside of Tier 1 requirements,” Rodrigues said. The Tier 1 requirements require minority access districts not to diminish in the redistricting process.

The Senate also held a card-drawing procedure to determine which proposed districts end up with even or odd numbers. The numbering is significant since it can determine how long a Senator may serve.

Senate district draw finalized, will determine who gets a four-year term in 2022” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A random process has determined which Senate districts will be numbered with odd and even numbers. Seemingly a matter of only clerical importance, that actually could determine how long a political career will last for some Senators. It could even impact the tenures of Senators not yet elected to the Senate. For those in the know, the important part is this. The following districts on the draft map will now have odd numbers: 1, 3, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 20, 25, 26, 27, 29, 32, 36 and 38. The following will have even numbers: 2, 4, 5, 9, 14, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 28, 30, 31, 33, 34, 35, 37, 39 and 40.

Tweet, tweet:

Just signed up! FWIW, we’ve updated Redistricting & You with the Senate and Congressional plans approved by the committee: https://t.co/iHHxx5ryZO

— Steven Romalewski (@SR_spatial) January 13, 2022

Tweet, tweet:

Awkward end to redistricting committee meeting

After Senator Rouson’s amendment was just considered, he changed his vote on the final congressional plan from YES to NO

I frankly am glad his amendment failed #flapol https://t.co/dSmW3yqF6G

— Florida Data Geek (@MappingFL) January 13, 2022

Fair Districts Coalition questions if redistricting drafts undercut minority access districts” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The Fair Districts Coalition issued a letter to Florida Senators questioning if enough research into minority protection has gone into mapmaking. The letter also questions if research is being done to help the Legislature draw lines to protect Black and Hispanic access. “We have not heard you say a word in public about whether you have performed a Racially Polarized Voting (RPV) analysis or hired any expert to do such a study,” the letter states. The letter arrived hours before the Senate Reapportionment Committee meets for potentially the last time.

— SKED —

— House Commerce Committee, 9 a.m., Room 212 of the Knott Building.

— House Health and Human Services Committee, 9 a.m., Morris Hall of the House Office Building.

— House Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee, 9 a.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.

— The Revenue Estimating Conference meets for an “impact” conference, discussing potential legislation costs, 1:30 p.m., Room 117 of the Knott Building.

— STATEWIDE —

Casey DeSantis, Joe Ladapo take anti-drug message on the road” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — In a roundtable “mini-assembly” event in Pinellas County, they spoke about a campaign that may do something to stop them. So-called “assembly tool kits” will be available from the state for schools that are interested in having help from Tallahassee in explaining the many pitfalls possible when someone succumbs to addiction. DeSantis spoke about her anti-drug campaign, “The facts. Our future.” DeSantis started it in 2019 and described it as ongoing and essential in a time of increased overdose deaths and influxes of fentanyl from Mexico. “This is really, ‘Just say no, but here’s why,’” DeSantis said, linking her initiative in spirit to the “Just Say No” approach of former First Lady Nancy Reagan.

‘Just say no’: Casey DeSantis channels Nancy Reagan.

Florida Supreme Court overturns conviction of defiant death row inmate in Wilton Manors murder” via Rafael Olmeda of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Peter Avsenew, the convicted killer who defiantly told a jury that he had no regrets, raised a middle finger to the victims’ families, and warned a judge he would kill again, is entitled to a new trial because he didn’t get to confront a key witness for the prosecution — his own mother. The Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling Thursday granting Avsenew, 37, a new trial in the Christmas 2010 murders of Stephen Adams and Kevin Powell, a Wilton Manors couple who took him in after he posted a sexually suggestive classified ad on Craigslist. The Supreme Court took issue with how the Broward Circuit Judge Ilona Holmes handled the inability of Avsenew’s mother to testify in person.

Surge of manatee deaths is feared with coming cold front” via Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel — Authorities who are bracing for a wave of dead manatees and are attempting to feed those starving in Brevard County’s Indian River said unseasonably warm weather so far has lessened the pace of the die-off. Authorities are worried that a cold front in the coming week will force manatees to seek warm-water refuge at a Florida Power & Light Co. where there is nearly no food of any sort. Manatees are in acute and chronic distress because of the Indian River’s pollution-driven ecosystem collapse that has eradicated nearly all sea grass, the primary food for manatees.

Florida regains the title for lightning capital of the U.S.” via Mike Clay and Nick Merianos of Spectrum News — Florida regains its title as the lightning capital of the United States when it comes to strikes per square mile. Vaisala, the company that owns the National Lightning Data Network, has issued its report on lightning strikes in 2021 for the U.S. and the world. In 2020, Oklahoma stole Florida’s title as lightning capital regarding the number of strikes per square kilometer. In 2021, Florida stole the title back. The Sunshine State averaged 223 lightning events per square mile for the whole year. Just east of Orlando, Geneve is the new lightning capital of the state. The Big Econlockhatchee Wildlife Management area had 857 lightning strikes per square mile in 2021.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida COVID-19 update: State surpasses 63,000 deaths as cases near 5 million” via Devoun Cetoute of the Miami Herald — Florida on Thursday reported 54,994 additional COVID-19 cases and 262 more deaths to the CDC. In August, Florida began reporting cases and deaths by the “case date” and “death date” rather than the date they were logged in to the system. All but 31 of the newly reported deaths, about 88%, occurred since Dec. 16. About 66% of the newly reported have died in the past two weeks. This is the most significant multiday increase of deaths since Nov. 29, when 391 were reported. In all, Florida has recorded at least 4,933,518 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 63,081 deaths.

Florida hits a new COVID-19 milestone.

Has Florida reached the peak of omicron infections? Here is what to expect over the next two weeks” via Cindy Krischer Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — It’s going to be a rough next two weeks in Florida: At least a million more Floridians likely will get infected with the highly contagious omicron variant by the end of January. Some of those infections will add to the spike in hospitalizations as well as work and school disruptions. But almost as fast as omicron took off in Florida, the surge of new infections will plummet, say disease modelers with the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute. By February, the omicron wave should stop infecting Floridians as aggressively, and new cases will lighten. However, by then, UF’s scientists said more than 80% of people in the state would have been infected.

— CORONA LOCAL —

COVID-19 virus suddenly drops by half in Cape Canaveral sewage after record highs” via Jim Waymer of Florida Today — The virus that causes COVID-19 had dipped down in Cape Canaveral’s sewage by almost half what it was when it spiked last month at the highest level seen since the city began testing for the novel coronavirus in the city’s wastewater more than a year ago. The drop in the virus’ genetic material found in the sewage in the latest report could signify at least a temporary lull in the omicron variant’s surge around Florida and the globe, according to health officials monitoring the disease. But it’s not clear yet, they say, whether the latest surge has peaked or not. While omicron has been dominating all other SARS-Cov2 variants elsewhere, Cape Canaveral officials said they do not have the breakdown of variants in its sewage at this time.

COVID-19 testing company under scrutiny pauses operations in Jacksonville, other cities” via Anne Maxwell of News4Jax — A COVID-19 testing company with a location in downtown Jacksonville has suspended operations. The Center for COVID-19 Control says it has more than 300 testing sites across the country. The company said it’s pausing operations Friday with plans to reopen next Saturday. It noted increased demand had affected its service. Complaints against the Center for COVID-19 Control have poured into Better Business Bureaus across the country. People have complained about not receiving test results from the pop-up testing sites. In Southwest Florida, people complained about having their test results emailed to them while still in line to take the test.

A Jacksonville COVID-19 testing company buckles under the weight of demand.

Ascension Sacred Heart pausing drive-thru COVID-19 testing due to urgent care demand” via Emma Kennedy of the Pensacola News Journal — Ascension Sacred Heart is closing its drive-thru COVID testing as of next week as the latest surge has increased the need for those workers to be in urgent care centers. Ascension Sacred Heart reopened its drive-thru testing site on Jan. 4 because there was a growing demand for testing immediately following the holidays. But in an Escambia County news release Thursday, officials said Ascension would be pausing the test site at the hospital on Bayou Boulevard as of 1 p.m. Friday. “The latest surge of COVID-19 has fueled an increased demand for medical services provided at (Ascension Medical Group) offices and urgent care centers,” the release states. “As a result, staff that have worked at the drive-thru testing site have been reassigned back to their normal duties.”

Central Florida deputy stuck in Jamaica after testing positive for COVID-19” via Megan Medallo of WESH — After their New Year’s Eve wedding in St. Augustine, Spenser Williams and his wife made their way to Jamaica for their honeymoon. On the fourth day of their getaway, they took their COVID-19 tests required to return home. “Definitely not what we thought would happen on our honeymoon at all. It did start beautifully. The first three days were great … And then Friday, my wife was able to leave because of her negative test, but I was moved to a different room from our honeymoon suite and got stuck here,” Williams said. After five days, the resort retested him, but the odds weren’t in his favor. He tested positive again, which meant another five days in quarantine. Williams hasn’t felt any symptoms and is fully vaccinated.

— 2022 —

Florida is now a MAGA megachurch” via Jim Swift of The Bulwark — Florida has always emitted a siren song drawing snowbirds to it. The combination of beaches, golf, warm weather, and no state income tax attracts olds from the Northeast and the southern Midwest, a lot of times permanently. But recently, DeSantis’ Don’t Call It a Presidential Campaign has convinced many other people to performatively move to the Sunshine State. Viewed a certain way, Florida now resembles something of a MAGA megachurch, with Donald Trump as God and DeSantis as the smiling, well-heeled pastor. Even as Florida’s COVID-19 cases skyrocketed and DeSantis’ Surgeon General tried to “unwind” the psychology of testing for COVID-19, people from the MAGA world have upended their lives and moved to Florida to own the libs.

Fried isn’t worried that Charlie Crist is winning the fundraising battle” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Fried has focused most of her messaging on DeSantis. Yet Crist may be the more significant impediment given the Primary in August. He has raised more money than Fried for six straight months and has collected the lion’s share of the endorsements. “First of all, fundraising metrics aren’t the metrics that I believe a campaign is geared on. But we certainly are meeting all of our goals every single month,” Fried said, after a month in which she raised a little more than $325,000 between her campaign account and her political committee, Florida Consumers First. That number was less than half what Crist raised in December. Crist also had a cash-on-hand advantage as 2021 ended a roughly half-million-dollar advantage.

Nikki Fried has no worries about Charlie Crist. Or so she says.

Fried brings tailored message to Florida TaxWatch, shares stage with GOP firebrands” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Fried faced a decidedly skeptical crowd on Wednesday night during a speech at a Florida TaxWatch event. Supporters of TaxWatch gathered in Tallahassee for the annual State of the Taxpayer Dinner, a raucous rally where cheers erupted each time a speaker praised incumbent DeSantis as the “greatest Governor in America.” Fried, challenging DeSantis’ re-election, appeared as the only elected Democrat on the program. She did her best to tout her achievements over a single term on the Florida Cabinet through terms of business success. She helped usher in the birth of the Florida hemp industry, marketed local crops through Fresh From Florida, and elevated the citrus industry, an agricultural institution that gives Florida myriad flavorful identities: from the orange on state license plates to naming stadiums after citrus legends.

Jason Pizzo banks $50K for SD 38 defense with help from agriculture, unions, insurance” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Sen. Pizzo had his second-best fundraising month of 2021 in December when he collected more than $50,000 to defend his Senate District 38 seat. More than half that cash came from the agriculture sector, trade groups and unions, and insurance companies. At the end of 2021, Pizzo had nearly $700,000 between his campaign and political committee, New Opportunity Florida, a healthy chunk of change on hold with no one yet challenging him. His biggest single gain was a $10,000 check from Clewiston-based U.S. Sugar Corp., which operates across roughly 245,000 acres of farmland in Hendry, Glades, Martin and Palm Beach counties.

Ana Maria Rodriguez gains $30K for re-election bid with help from health care, unions, charter schools” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Sen. Rodriguez collected $30,000 in her last full month of fundraising before the 2022 Legislative Session. Nearly half her gains came from health care and pharmaceutical companies, trade groups and unions, and charter schools. Between her campaign and political committee, Ethics and Honesty in Government, Rodriguez held about $582,000 to defend her seat representing Senate District 39, a healthy sum, considering no one has yet filed to challenge her in November. Of the more than $24,000 Rodriguez spent last month, 70% went to consulting.

Republican Vennia Francois tops $100K in HD 44 bid” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Francois has topped the $100,000 mark in fundraising for her campaign to win the seat opening in House District 44 in western Orange County. Francois reported raising $26,350 in December for her official campaign fund, bringing it to a total raised of $74,350. Her independent political committee, Families for Freedom, did not report any new money in December but ended the year having collected $32,845. Combined, the two funds came into 2022 with just over $101,000 left in the bank.

Toby Overdorf hits a personal high, raises $22K to defend House seat” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — Rep. Overdorf doesn’t have a challenger to stop him from winning a third term in the House, but he did have his best fundraising month on record in December to defend his seat should one emerge. Overdorf raised $22,200 last month, the most he’s ever raised since opening his current campaign account in November 2020. He won’t be able to raise much money in the next two months, though. Lawmakers are not supposed to collect cash while the Legislature is in Session. Overdorf, an environmental consultant, spent little in December, $400 in bookkeeping services with Renee Rizzuti in Palm City and $375 with GLC Consulting in Stuart for event planning and fundraising.

Toby Overdorf hits a personal best.

Dan Daley adds $21K in December donations” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Rep. Daley followed up a strong month of fundraising in November by collecting another $21,000 in December. That’s according to the newest fundraising reports filed with the Division of Elections. Daley added nearly $26,000 in November, leaving him a few thousand dollars short of raising $50,000 in the last two months combined. Daley raised $9,000 via his campaign account in December and another $12,000 through his political committee, Friends of Dan Daley. Daley spent heavily during December, dropping just under $19,000 in expenditures. His PC sent $7,500 to the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) and another $500 to the burgeoning Senate bid of his now-House colleague, Democratic Rep. Mike Grieco.

Nevada candidate seeks Donald Trump’s favor with Florida TV spot” via Sam Metz of The Associated Press — In a campaign ad, Nevada gubernatorial candidate Michele Fiore steps out of a Ford F-150 with a handgun holstered on her hip and tells viewers she was one of the first elected officials to endorse Trump in the lead-up to the 2016 election. “You better believe I was attacked for it,” Fiore says, affirming her commitment to the former President as a country rock-style guitar riff plays in the background. She hopes Trump is watching. In addition to purchasing ads in Nevada media markets like her competitors, Fiore is investing campaign funds to air her 60-second segment in Palm Beach, Florida, where the former President spends winters at his Mar-a-Lago club. Her campaign spent $6,270 to broadcast 62 television spots on Fox News in the West Palm Beach-Fort Pierce media market during the final week of November, Federal Communications Commission filings show.

— CORONA NATION —

COVID-19-hospitalization numbers are as bad as they look” via Ed Yong of The Atlantic — “With COVID-19” hospitalization numbers are more complicated than they first seem. Many people on that side of the ledger are still in the hospital because of the coronavirus, which has both caused and exacerbated chronic conditions. And more important, these nuances don’t alter the real, urgent, and enormous crisis unfolding in American hospitals. Whether patients are admitted with or for COVID-19, they’re still being admitted in record volumes that hospitals are struggling to care for. “The truth is, we’re still in the emergency phase of the pandemic, and everyone who is downplaying that should probably take a tour of a hospital before they do,” Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Massachusetts, told me.

Biden sending medical teams to 6 states to help hospitals overwhelmed by COVID-19” via Maureen Groppe and Donovan Slack of USA Today — The federal government is sending medical teams to six states, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Michigan and New Mexico, to help hospitals overburdened by COVID-19. Biden is expected to announce the deployments when discussing the administration’s steps to address a surge in infections driven by the omicron variant. His remarks come as hospitalizations for COVID-19 are setting records. Some hospitals are delaying elective surgeries as states deploy National Guard members to health care facilities. Facing pressure from even members of his own Party to do more to get the pandemic under control, Biden’s new actions are expected to center on additional manpower.

Joe Biden is sending medical troops to help with COVID-19. Image via AP.

The White House says it is considering offering ‘high-quality’ masks to Americans.” via Sharon LaFraniere and Noah Weiland of The New York Times — The White House on Wednesday said it was considering a program to offer “high-quality” masks to Americans as the highly transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus spreads through the nation Jeffrey D. Zients, the COVID-19 response coordinator, said at a news conference that the Biden administration was “strongly considering options to make more high-quality masks available to all Americans,” though he offered no details about what type of masks might be distributed, how many or when. Officials have not yet settled on what the program will look like. One option would be making the masks available at community sites, one person familiar with the planning said. Dr. Luciana Borio, a former adviser to Biden during the transition who has called for a revamped pandemic strategy, said a program to distribute high-quality masks would be “better late than never.”

The mood in the Capitol was already dark. Then came omicron.” via Jonathan Weisman of The New York Times — At the U.S. Capitol, where all manner of people are thrown together in an unhappy stew, the moment was crystallized this week in a hot-mic episode. In an audible whisper, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, summed up his feelings for another physician, Sen. Roger Marshall. “What a moron,” Dr. Fauci said on Tuesday after a testy exchange with the Senator over the infectious disease expert’s financial disclosures. Democrats cackled about what Dr. Fauci called Marshall; Republicans countered by invoking Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, spotted maskless and outdoors in Miami Beach late last month. In the back of the chamber, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Andrew Clyde, both Republicans, held court seemingly without a care, sure to get fined for their rule-breaking but confident their fortunes could handle it.

— CORONA ECONOMICS —

U.S. homebuilders predict a booming 2023, with Orlando along for the party” via Trevor Fraser of the Orlando Sentinel — The year looks bright for homebuilders, according to a new national survey, and experts agree a lot of work is coming to metro Orlando. Out of more than 1,000 national construction firms, 74% say they have enough projects ahead that they’ll need to hire more this year, with 27% saying they’ll increase their labor force by more than 10%, according to a survey by Associated General Contractors of America released Wednesday. Central Florida will be a part of that trend, said Karl Pischke, vice president at real estate analysts RCLCO in Orlando. “Orlando can expect to see a very positive year in terms of demand for new homes,” Pischke said. “Florida continues to be an in-demand location, but we’re also seeing a lot of growth in Orlando specifically.”

Homebuilders have high hopes for 2023.

It doesn’t matter the industry’: Pensacola labor shortage taking toll across the board” via Colin Warren-Hicks of the Pensacola News Journal — It’s hard to miss the multitude of “now hiring” and “help wanted” signs posted at local restaurants, fast-food joints and retail stores. It’s easier to miss the fact that it’s not just service industries suffering from a shortage of local and available-to-hire employees. Pensacola’s business experts say that the worker shortage affects almost all employers in Escambia County, from the service industries to retailers, construction firms, manufacturers, auto repair shops, and hospitals. The State Attorney’s Office is even having a hard time retaining an optimal number of prosecutors. “I literally hear about it every day. It doesn’t matter the industry; business owners need workers,” said Todd Thompson, president of the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce.

Businesses seeking to hire as many Jacksonville workers start year hunting for new jobs” via Steve Patterson of The Florida Times-Union — What’s the job market like around Jacksonville? One recent afternoon, dozens of employers staffed terminals for a joint online hiring fair organized by a state-sponsored employment agency, while another firm set up its own fair to fill 200 sales and customer-service jobs, and another invited people to a Southside hotel to try to find hires for 500 vacant positions. “There are a lot of job opportunities,” said Rebecca Livingston, executive vice president for CareerSource Northeast Florida. Luckily for employers, the number of job-hunters goes up this time of year, too, said Livingston, whose agency works with Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity to keep First Coast businesses staffed.

— MORE CORONA —

It’s time to acknowledge reality. Many schools will likely have to close because of omicron.” via Michael T. Osterholm and Cory Anderson of The Washington Post — No one wants to take kids out of school. At this point in the pandemic, the benefits of in-person education are evident. As the omicron variant rages across the country, we must prepare for the possibility that some schools may have to close. This isn’t a political statement; it’s a simple reality. For the next three to five weeks, the sheer number of cases will pose significant challenges to U.S. health care systems, public safety operations, critical infrastructure capacities, food distribution and services, and educational programs. Each could temporarily lose 25 to 40% of their workforce because of isolation and quarantine.

Expect a lot of school closures. Image via AP.

5 reasons why you should not deliberately try to get omicron” via Scott Sutton of WPTV — The latest strain of COVID-19 has spread through the nation faster than any previous variant of the coronavirus. White House medical adviser Dr. Fauci even said Tuesday that just about everyone in the U.S. will likely be exposed to the omicron variant at some point in the near future. Despite most health experts agreeing that the omicron strain not being as lethal as the delta variant, it is still a life-threatening disease. People have experienced a debilitating array of symptoms long after contracting the virus that includes a loss of taste, smell, brain fog, dizziness, fever, and trouble sleeping. Hospitalizations are nearing record levels across the country. Fauci said that while omicron more than likely causes less severe disease than past strains, the number of cases it’s causing is leading some health systems to be overrun.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Biden was forged in the Senate. Now he’s burning political capital to change it.” via Burgess Everett and Laura Barrón-López of POLITICO — Biden is yet again sticking his neck out on Capitol Hill to save his agenda with slim prospects for success. Biden is wading directly into a protracted battle within his own Party over weakening the Senate filibuster. After edging from defender to critic of the chamber’s 60-vote requirement to pass most bills, Biden will visit Senate Democrats to emphatically argue for changing the Senate rules to pass a party-line election reform bill. Biden’s appearance before the caucus comes less than a month after Joe Manchin rejected his entreaties on his $1.7 trillion climate and social spending bill. Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer responded to that setback by reorienting their agenda toward federal election standards and beefing up the Voting Rights Act, only to see Manchin get in the way again, along with Kyrsten Sinema.

Joe Biden is pushing to change Senate filibuster rules that have stalled voting rights legislation. Image via AP.

Biden all but concedes defeat on voting, election bills” via Brian Slodysko and Alexandra Jaffe of The Associated Press — Biden said Thursday he’s “not sure” his elections and voting rights legislation can pass Congress this year. He spoke at the Capitol after a key fellow Democrat, Sen. Sinema of Arizona, dramatically announced her refusal to go along with changing Senate rules to muscle past a Republican filibuster blockade. Biden had ridden to the Capitol to prod Democratic Senators in a closed-door meeting, but he was downbeat when he emerged. He vowed to keep fighting but was talking about next year for the sweeping legislation advocates say is vital to protecting elections. Sinema all but dashed the bill’s chances moments earlier, declaring just before Biden arrived on Capitol Hill that she could not support “shortsighted” rules change.

— D.C. MATTERS —

The Supreme Court’s right turn goes way beyond guns and abortion” via Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux of FiveThirtyEight — The term isn’t over yet, but it’s already looking like this year could be a bonanza for conservatives — and not just because of the high-profile cases that have snapped up most of the attention. It seems very likely, for instance, that the justices will continue to erode the barrier between church and state by requiring states to fund religious schools in programs where they already support nonreligious private schools. The conservative justices could also impede government agencies’ ability to act independently of Congress by giving more power over their decisions to the conservative-leaning federal judiciary. “This term is a gift basket to the conservatives who wanted to elect Trump so he could appoint Supreme Court justices,” said Leah Litman, a law professor at the University of Michigan.

Democrats ask feds to review if DeSantis’ election proposal hinders voting” via Bryan Lowry of McClatchy Washington Bureau — Florida’s congressional Democrats Thursday asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to launch a review into whether there is a pattern of voter suppression in the state, based largely on a proposal floated by DeSantis late last year. The letter to Garland was led by Rep. Val Demings, a candidate for U.S. Senate, and comes amid a broader push by Biden to pass national voting rights legislation, which has stalled in the Senate since last year. The letter, signed by all 10 Democrats currently in office, cites DeSantis’ proposal to establish a state office to investigate election crimes and make ballot harvesting a third-degree felony.

Val Demings wants the DOJ to give Ron DeSantis the once over on voting rights.

Marco Rubio says COVID-19 is China’s Chernobyl” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — “The Chinese authorities probably know that by now, but they’re never going to admit that to the world. Totalitarian regimes don’t admit mistakes. That’s how you got your Chernobyl, and that’s how you have this, I think,” Rubio said during a segment on Orlando’s WDBO radio. Rubio was touting a new bill he introduced that a host of other Republicans, including Rick Scott, are sponsoring. The bill will sanction China if the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t allow a “credible and comprehensive” international probe into the origins of the disease within 90 days of enactment. Given the lack of Democratic support for such a measure, it appears unlikely the bill will pass.

Assignment editors — U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and Hillsborough County Commission Chair Kimberly Overman will host a virtual roundtable with community leaders and housing experts on rising costs in rent, the housing market in Tampa Bay, and federal emergency aid, 10 a.m., RSVP to [email protected] for the link to join. Members of the press can listen and record only.

— CRISIS —

Oath Keepers leader indicted on charges related to Jan. 6” via Oriana Gonzalez of Axios — Stewart Rhodes, a founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, has been arrested and charged in connection with events leading up to and including the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, the Justice Department announced Thursday. Rhodes is the most prominent figure arrested on charges related to the Capitol insurrection. Rhodes, along with 10 other defendants, was charged with seditious conspiracy. The indictment alleges that following the 2020 presidential election, Rhodes “conspired with his co-defendants and others to oppose by force the execution of the laws governing the transfer of presidential power by Jan. 20, 2021.”

Stewart Rhodes is in deep. Image via AP.

Central Florida members of Oath Keepers charged with seditious conspiracy ” via Jeff Weiner and Monivette Cordeiro of the Orlando Sentinel — Central Florida members of the Oath Keepers have been indicted on charges of seditious conspiracy in connection with the 2021 U.S. Capitol insurrection, along with the far-right group’s Texas-based founder, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday. Kenneth Harrelson, a 41-year-old resident of Titusville, and 52-year-old Kelly Meggs of Dunnellon, both already arrested on charges related to the riot, were among 11 Oath Keepers members charged in the newly unsealed sedition indictment.



— LOCAL NOTES —

Parents of Stanley Davis III to file wrongful death lawsuit against Boynton Beach police” via Jorge Milian of the Palm Beach Post — The parents of Stanley Davis III, the 13-year-old dirt bike rider killed in Boynton Beach on Dec. 26, said Thursday they intend to file a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city police department in federal court. The announcement was made during a Zoom news conference held by nationally known civil rights attorney Ben Crump, representing the boy’s family. Crump said the officer that followed Davis III before he crashed violated the city’s pursuit policy. The officer, who has not been named after he invoked his right to privacy, has been involved in two other police chases that led to the deaths of two people, according to Crump.

Miami Beach Commissioners divided on 2 a.m. alcohol cutoff but push proposals forward” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — A divided Miami Beach Commission could not reach consensus Wednesday about how to impose new citywide alcohol restrictions that voters supported in a November referendum, but did get the ball rolling on proposed legislation. Mayor Dan Gelber, who called the special meeting to discuss rolling back alcohol sales from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. citywide, directed city staff to draft ordinances that would either exempt a large swath of businesses from the proposed restrictions or exempt certain geographical areas of the city instead. City Planning Director Tom Mooney presented commissioners with five exemptions to consider — including for enclosed hotels, bars and clubs, restaurants and businesses in certain parts of the city.

Dan Gelber tried to get the ball rolling on alcohol sales. It didn’t work.

Miami schools attract 16 candidates for Superintendent post being vacated by Alberto Carvalho” via Sommer Brugal of the Miami Herald — Sixteen candidates met Wednesday’s application deadline to become Miami-Dade Schools’ next Superintendent and the list included some familiar names, including a district executive who left last year to become a leader of the Naples-area school district, according to a list obtained by the Herald. The deadline to apply was 5 p.m. Wednesday, a seven-day application window that miffed many in the community, who felt the district needed to hire an interim leader and conduct a deeper search to run the nation’s fourth-largest school district with a $7 billion budget, nearly 400 schools and 335,000 students.

LGBTQ advocate Jorge Diaz-Johnston, brother of ex-Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, found dead” via Bianca Padró Ocasio of the Miami Herald — Diaz-Johnston, the brother of Florida Democratic Party Chair Diaz and a plaintiff in the landmark Miami-Dade County same-sex marriage lawsuit, was found dead on Saturday. Diaz-Johnston, 54, had been missing since Jan. 3. His body was found in a trash pile at a landfill in Jackson County on Saturday around 9:30 a.m. He was last seen in the 2800 block of Remington Green Circle in Tallahassee, where Diaz-Johnston lived with his husband, Don Johnston. His death, which the Tallahassee Democrat first reported, has been ruled a homicide by Tallahassee Police. Authorities have not yet released details from his autopsy regarding the manner of death.

Crash involving Miami Commissioner and police driver leads to call to City Attorney” via Joey Flechas of the Miami Herald — A Jan. 5 car crash involving a vehicle driven by a Miami police officer chauffeuring a City Commissioner prompted another Commissioner to stop by and reportedly led to a phone call from the police to Miami’s City Attorney about how to handle the collision. The incident, which occurred late in the evening near the intersection of Southwest Seventh Street and Beacon Boulevard, near Miami-Dade College’s Eduardo J. Padrón Campus, damaged a city SUV carrying Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla and, he says, an aide. Díaz de la Portilla was being chauffeured at the time by a police officer, known as a sergeant-at-arms, an option afforded to all Miami’s elected officials.

A Brightline train smashed into a car in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, police say” via David J. Neal and Rob Wile of the Miami Herald — A car on the railroad tracks was struck by a Brightline train on the southeast edge of Miami’s Wynwood area on Thursday morning. Miami police say the crash happened around 8:30 a.m. at North Miami Avenue and 20th Street and one person in the car got out before the crash. Miami Fire Rescue said two others were taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center in stable condition. The intersection has reopened. This is at least the fourth time a motor vehicle has been struck by a Brightline train since the high-speed train returned to service in November.

Lauderhill police cruiser set on fire in synagogue parking lot; arson suspected” via Robin Webb, Joe Cavaretta and Chris Perkins of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Lauderhill police responded to a synagogue in the predawn hours Thursday after a report of a car on fire in its parking lot. The fire was set shortly before midnight Wednesday at the Synagogue of Inverrary-Chabad, at 6700 NW 44th St., according to Lauderhill police. The burned car was a marked Lauderhill police cruiser that was placed there to deter potential crimes. Police said the cruiser was fully engulfed in flames when they arrived. Lauderhill Fire Rescue extinguished the fire. Police said a man wearing a dark hoodie, dark pants and light sneakers poured a substance on the cruiser and set it on fire. The cruiser is a total loss.

The Lauderdale police cruiser was there to deter crime. How’s that working out?

Fort Lauderdale police sergeant charged with grand theft and scheme to defraud” via David J. Neal of the Miami Herald — A Fort Lauderdale police sergeant who has been with the department since 2007 has been charged with three counts of grand theft and one count of organized scheme to defraud, the department announced Thursday. Sgt. James McDowell turned himself in at the Broward County Main Jail Thursday, the department said. Online jail records say his bond is set at $13,000. The department says a preliminary investigation shows McDowell double dipped, signing on for off-duty details while still on-duty with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. “This resulted in several hundred fraudulently billed hours and the loss of thousands of dollars,” the department said.

Job-seekers called the shots in Palm Beach County in 2021: Looks like the same in 2022” via Antonio Fins of the Palm Beach Post — As our economy continues to chug along amid a viral pandemic, whether Palm Beach County’s unemployment rate can drop below 3% this year is yet to be seen. What’s clear is 2022 has begun as a historically good job seekers’ market. The number of available jobs in the county far outpaced the pool of job applicants by the end of 2021. Employers are reacting by offering a plethora of perks, from signing bonuses to retirement plans, even for low-skilled, low-wage jobs. And those low-wage jobs aren’t so low anymore — the de facto minimum wage in the county is up near $16 an hour.

Tenant’s bill of rights, income anti-discrimination pass first step with Tampa City Council” via Daniel Figueroa of Florida Politics — The Tampa City Council Thursday took the first step in approving a Tenant’s Bill of Rights and income anti-discrimination ordinance. The ordinance mirrors a Hillsborough County ordinance passed last March. Deputy City Attorney Morris Massey said the city’s version is “virtually identical” to the county’s ordinance. Council members voted 6-1 to approve the ordinance on first reading, with Council Member Charlie Miranda the sole no vote. The ordinance would mandate that landlords provide tenants with a “Notice of Rights” related to housing. It would also mandate landlords accept Section 8 vouchers and other government assistance as part of a prospective tenant’s income.

Ken Welch works first day in City Hall following COVID-19 recovery” via Daniel Figueroa of Florida Politics — St. Petersburg Mayor Welch worked his first day in City Hall Thursday, one week after being virtually sworn in. Days before his scheduled inauguration, Welch tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the virtual ceremony. He was sworn in from the lawn of his Lakewood Estates home in a ceremony broadcast to the city. One of his first official acts in City Hall was presenting Tom Greene to the City Council for confirmation as interim City Administrator. Greene has been an assistant city administrator since 2018 and was the city’s budget director before that. Despite the COVID-19 diagnoses, Welch had been performing the duties of Mayor virtually. And he’s set an ambitious agenda for the start of his administration.

Ken Welch goes to the office. Image via the City of St. Pete.

Duval Schools passes gun-safety resolution, applauded by local advocacy groups” via Emily Bloch of The Florida Times-Union — Duval County Public Schools officials want to get the word out about firearm safety after a record year of gunfire on school grounds nationwide. This week, the School Board passed a resolution voicing support for gun safety and security. The resolution is tasking Superintendent Diana Greene to communicate with local parents and guardians the importance of securing guns safely annually. Exact details on the type of communication Greene will send were not immediately available. “Time and time again, we’ve seen the tragedy that can ensue when kids get their hands on unsecured weapons,” said Moms Demand Action Florida chapter volunteer Katie Hathaway. “Promoting secure storage is critical to keeping children safe from gun violence in and out of school, and we encourage leaders across Florida to follow suit.”

Retired Navy ship USS Orleck could boost Jacksonville military tourism as part of riverfront park” via Tom Szaroleta of The Florida Times-Union — Downtown Jacksonville is about to get a new riverfront museum, this one focusing on the role of the U.S. Navy in the Vietnam War era. The USS Orleck, a retired U.S. Navy destroyer, is now the property of the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association, which acquired it Tuesday and plans to have the ship towed to a berth on the St. Johns River following repairs. If all goes according to plan, the Orleck will arrive in Jacksonville sometime in March and should be ready for tours shortly after settling in at its new home, near the proposed new site of Jacksonville’s Museum of Science and History.

Jacksonville ready to pay $1.2 million to finally take down Berkman II eyesore in downtown” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — After repeated delays in demolishing the half-built Berkman Plaza II building, the city of Jacksonville is moving to take matters into its own hands at a cost of $1.2 million, despite the owner’s insistence that with more time it can finish the job at its own expense. City Council voted 15-1 for Mayor Lenny Curry‘s requested emergency funding for the demolition, saying there’s an urgent need to take down the increasingly unstable building that has marred the downtown skyline for 14 years. “Man, the day is here, the time has come, let’s get this thing done,” City Council member Rory Diamond said. The Berkman II has stood partly built since 2007 when construction ground to a halt after an adjoining parking garage collapsed and killed a construction worker.

City Commission tackles dueling performing arts centers, dangerous pop-up parties at retreat” via Karl Etters of the Tallahassee Democrat — Their focus was on a proposal by local philanthropists to incorporate one into the redevelopment of the Northwood Centre, which will include the new home for the Tallahassee Police Department, but commissioners instead learned that one being developed by TLH Arts may be falling behind. Commissioners heard from Assistant City Manager Wayne Tedder about troubles securing final details about TLH Arts’ plans to transform a building in Railroad Square into a performing arts center. Tedder said communication with Jake Kiker with the TLH Arts Foundation had not produced enough information to finalize negotiations within the last three months. “Either we need to move forward, or we need to stop the negotiations,” Tedder told commissioners.

Tallahassee Starbucks becomes first location in Florida to organize, file for union election” via Christopher Cann of the Tallahassee Democrat — Workers at a Tallahassee Starbucks filed for a union election, making it the first location in the Sunshine State to begin the process of formally organizing. Hourly workers at the giant coffee chain’s 2264-1 N. Monroe St. store announced they petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for union representation Wednesday. A Starbucks spokesperson told the Democrat Thursday that the company intends to honor and abide by the unionization process laid out by the NLRB to ensure all employees can vote. Calum Johnson, a barista and union committee member, said more than 75% of employees, which Starbucks calls “partners,” signed union authorization cards over the weekend. Johnson added that the 24 signees are made up of both baristas and shift supervisors.

Capt. Terrence ‘Village’ Shashaty takes over command of NAS Pensacola” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — U.S. Navy Capt. Terrence Shashaty officially took command of NAS Pensacola on Thursday in a two-hour, formal change-of-command ceremony that doubled as a send-off for now-retired Capt. Tim Kinsella. Speaking under the display of the Blue Angels at the National Naval Aviation Museum, Shashaty said it was a dream come true to be selected as commander of NAS Pensacola, where he first learned to fly as a naval aviator. Now that he’s back, he has come to some new realizations about the base. Shashaty is coming to Pensacola after serving in the Joint Chiefs of Staff Office in the Pentagon. Before that, he was a squadron commander of an EA-18G Growler squadron at NAS Whidbey Island in Washington state.

Terrence ‘Village’ Shashaty takes charge.

Judge: No counsel change needed for corruption trial involving ex-Lake City prosecutor” via Steve Patterson of The Florida Times-Union — Links between a defense lawyer and a prosecution witness in a corruption trial involving former Lake City-area State Attorney Jeffrey Siegmeister shouldn’t force a change in lawyers, a judge has decided. U.S. Magistrate Joel Toomey’s ruling this week means preparations for a trial currently scheduled for February won’t be delayed by searching for a new attorney to represent Siegmeister’s co-defendant, attorney Marion Michael O’Steen of Dixie County. Jacksonville defense lawyer Mitch Stone had represented O’Steen since before he and Siegmeister, who was state attorney for the 3rd Judicial Circuit from 2013 to 2019, were indicted 11 months ago. But a prosecutor asked last month to have Stone disqualified.

Did that loud boom shake your House Thursday morning? Here’s what it was” via Thomas Weber of Treasure Coast Newspapers — No, there wasn’t a meltdown at the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant. Residents of Indian River County — and some people farther south — had their mornings interrupted by a sonic boom, which shook windows and spooked pets around 10:30 a.m. Dozens took to social media to ask their neighbors what the noise was. “What the heck was that big boom a few minutes ago? Shook my windows!! All the birds took off!” wrote one person. A handful of people expressed similar shock, but others were quick to reassure: the boom came from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launch in Cape Canaveral. The rocket launched at 10:25 a.m., sending 105 government and commercial satellites into space.

— TOP OPINION —

There’s nothing ‘mild’ about the disruptions caused by omicron” via The Washington Post editorial board — Let’s not call the omicron variant of the coronavirus “mild.” Though it appears those who get infected with it have so far experienced less severe symptoms than earlier variants, the virus is transmitting at hyperspeed, creating a record-smashing surge of cases that is causing disruption and absenteeism throughout the United States. The number of new daily cases in the United States has soared beyond 700,000, more than triple the peak of last winter. However, deaths are running at half the rate of last winter’s surge, and probably are still being propelled by delta, while rising in some hot spots. Every two days, the United States suffers the equivalent of one 9/11 death toll.

— OPINIONS —

Biden’s operation snail speed on COVID-19 therapies” via The Wall Street Journal editorial board — The Biden administration ordered another 600,000 doses of GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology’s monoclonal antibody. Last week it increased its order of Pfizer’s antiviral Paxlovid by 10 million. Great, but these treatments will probably arrive after the omicron COVID-19 variant crests. Why didn’t it order more treatments sooner? That’s an especially good question given that the stated purpose of Democrats’ $1.9 trillion spending bill last March was COVID-19 relief. Yet less than 1% of the spending was allocated for therapies. About as much money was given last year to New York’s financially ailing transit system as the administration spent procuring COVID-19 therapies. The result: A persistent treatment shortage and countless preventable deaths.

The GOP celebration of COVID-19 ignorance is an invitation to death” via Michael Gerson of The Washington Post — When the future judges our political present, it will stand in appalled, slack-jawed amazement at the willingness of GOP leaders to endanger the lives of their constituents in pursuit of personal power and ideological fantasies. We are seeing at least three varieties of GOP political necromania. The first, practiced most vigorously by DeSantis, uses an ongoing pandemic as a stage for the display of ideological zeal. In the name of freedom, politicians such as the Florida Governor employ the power of their office to prevent other social institutions from taking responsible, lifesaving steps in the midst of a pandemic. This is an effort by populists to prove that their MAGA commitments outweigh all common sense, public responsibility and basic humanity.

The IOC and human rights” via Rick Scott for The Washington Post — In March 2020, the International Olympic Committee report included a recommendation that the IOC work with trade unions to identify and address human rights risks associated with the Olympic Games. In 2017, the IOC added a human rights clause to host city contracts, requiring governments to “protect and respect human rights” in the host country. But why did the IOC exempt China from signing the human rights clause? The answer is simple: The IOC would rather stay in the good graces of a genocidal regime than stand up for human rights or protect the athletes who are entrusted to their care during competition.

These ideas are the worst. Of course, DeSantis, Florida Republicans want to put them into law” via the Miami Herald editorial board — Call 2022 the year of red-meat politics. The Florida Legislature started its two-month Legislative Session Tuesday and is poised to pass bills to inflame racial anxieties, election lies and partisan anger. If 2021 was full of “What are they thinking?” moments for those watching the Legislature pass bills to curtail access to mail voting and more, get ready for 2022. This is an election year for an emboldened Gov. DeSantis, and lawmakers are likely to be in lockstep with his wishes. They will go after cities and counties’ ability to govern themselves with a bill that would allow businesses to sue over any local rule they don’t like if they can show it cut into their bottom line.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Making religious organizations essential businesses and extending COVID-19 liability protection to medical facilities both moving through the Legislature.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— An in-depth look at the tragic death of the Legislative Affairs Director of the State Board of Administration, John Kuczwanski.

— A partial collection of the dad jokes flying around the Strawberry Shortcake debate.

— A candidate for Governor of Nevada is running TV ads in Palm Beach. Guess who she hopes will see them.

To listen, click on the image below:

— WEEKEND TV —

Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede on CBS 4 in Miami: The Sunday show provides viewers with an in-depth look at South Florida politics and other issues affecting the region.

In Focus with Allison Walker on Bay News 9/CF 13: A reaction to DeSantis’ State of the State address from Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Fried in Tallahassee.

Political Connections Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: A preview of the 2022 Legislative Session, including the top items on the Governor’s agenda, and a one-on-one interview with CEO of VISIT FLORIDA Dana Young on how this Session could determine the organization’s fate.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: Ybeth Bruzual will be joined by political analysts Wes Hodge, chair of the Orange County Democrats, and Eddie Fernandez, Republican and former Orange County Clerk, for analysis of DeSantis’ State of the State address.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Host Gary Yordon talks with Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Dr. Pamela Chally, UNF interim president, and Daniel Bean, president of the Jacksonville Naval Ship Association.

This Week in South Florida on WPLG-Local10 News (ABC): U.S. Rep.-elect Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick.

— ALOE —

Cigar City Brewing parent sold to Monster Beverage for $330 million” via Jay Cridlin of the Tampa Bay Times — The parent company of Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing, a foundational part of Tampa Bay’s craft beer landscape, has reached a deal to sell to Monster Beverage Corporation for $330 million in cash. The agreement covers all brewery and seltzer companies operating as CANarchy Craft Brewery Collective — Cigar City, Colorado’s Oskar Blues Brewery, Texas’ Deep Ellum Brewing Co., Michigan’s Perrin Brewing Co., and Utah’s Squatters Brewery and Wasatch Brewery. It does not include CANarchy’s stand-alone restaurants. The deal gives Monster, whose beverage portfolio includes an array of energy drinks led by Monster Energy, a significant stake in the North American craft beer market. CANarchy is expected to retain its existing institutional structure and operate as an independent arm.

Cigar City makes a Monster deal.

Tampa’s first PGA Tour Superstore opening soon” via Bernadette Berdychowski of the Tampa Bay Times — A PGA Tour Superstore is coming to Tampa Bay. According to a statement, the golf retailer is debuting in Tampa this winter. With 51 total locations, PGA Tour Superstore is expanding across the U.S. as outdoor activities boomed during the pandemic, the release said. According to the National Golf Foundation, about 3 million people played golf for the first time in 2020, an industry record. The PGA Tour Superstore on 13210 North Dale Mabry Highway will be 40,000 square feet and house nine simulators and practice bays, where shoppers can play on virtual golf courses, the statement said. There will also be more than 2,000 square feet of putting green space.

Ibram X. Kendi writing children’s story ‘Goodnight Racism’” via The Associated Press — The next book in Kendi’s prolific and award-winning publishing career is a picture story with a hopeful message. Penguin Young Readers announced Wednesday that in Kendi’s “Goodnight Racism,” the author seeks to connect with children’s capacity to imagine a better world. The book is illustrated by Cbabi Bayoc and is scheduled to come out on June 14. “‘Goodnight Racism’ is not about what is; it is about what can be,” Kendi said in a statement. “It is about the good morning of an equitable and just world after wishing racism good-night.” Kendi won the National Book Award in 2016 for “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.” He has since published three books, including “How to Be An Antiracist” and collaboration with Jason Reynolds, “STAMPED: Racism, Antiracism, and You.” He also helped edit “Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619–2019.”

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Celebrating today are Erin Ballas of Public Affairs Consultants, Mr. Gwen Graham, Steve Hurm, and Claire VanSusteren.

___

Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel Dean, Renzo Downey, Jacob Ogles, and Drew Wilson.


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Hollywood Producer Ryan Kavanaugh Fleeing L.A. over Crime, Homelessness, High Taxes: ‘It’s Not the Pandemic, It’s Policy’

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Hollywood producer Ryan Kavanaugh is fleeing Los Angeles, California, amid rising crime, homelessness, and higher taxes. Flight from the Democrat-run city is trending as “a growing chorus of Hollywood executives are talking about leaving the city,” one entertainment industry insider told The Wrap.

Ryan Kavanaugh, American film financier and founder and CEO of the video-sharing app Triller — who grew up in Los Angeles and has called it home for 47 years — is now getting ready to pick up and move his family and business headquarters to Florida.

Kavanaugh — who’s backed over 200 films, including Limitless, Hancock, Mamma Mia!, and The Social Network — told TheWrap that the main reason why he’s looking to flee L.A. is due to the city’s rising crime, homelessness, and California’s anti-business policies.

“I grew up here, I grew up in Brentwood, and I was allowed to be on the streets,” he said. “I would never let my kids walk (alone) in Brentwood — how many times do you have to be out in Los Angeles and see feces in the streets before you just don’t want to be here anymore?”

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – (David McNew/Getty Images)

A LAPD police officer stands at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Sunset Boulevard where a body covered in a white sheet lies on the pavement in Los Angeles. (VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)

Kavanaugh added that he doesn’t blame the Chinese coronavirus pandemic for what he sees transpiring throughout L.A., bur rather, city and state government regulations that he says have made it more difficult to prosecute criminals, and local leaders who have failed to address a homelessness crisis.

“It’s not the pandemic, it’s policy,” he said.

(Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Relativity Studios/AP Images)

Moreover, the murder of Jacqueline Avant — wife of famed music executive Clarence Avant and mother-in-law of Netflix’s Ted Sarandos — who was killed by an intruder in her Beverly Hills home last month, is contributing to a feeling of insecurity as crime hits closer to home for the elite, experts told The Wrap.

“A new tipping point emerged late last year with the murder of philanthropist Jacqueline Avant in her Beverly Hills home,” Gene Del Vecchio, adjunct professor of marketing at USC’s Marshall School of Business, said.

“It so shocked the protected community that even the liberal Beverly Hills city council voted to recall the liberal Los Angeles district attorney George Gascón,” Del Vecchio added. “When crime hits home, it becomes personal, and people act by either fighting, as with the Gascón recall, or by leaving.”

And Kavanaugh is not the only one among Hollywood’s wealthy residents who have recently decided to leave the city.

Veteran network TV executive Ted Harbert — most recently chairman of NBC Broadcasting — not only fled Los Angeles, but the United States altogether, telling The Wrap that he has moved to Portugal, where he is building a house because, “#americatoocrazy.”

UFC commentator and podcaster Joe Rogan also moved from California to Texas last year.

California has seen a surge in homicides in recent years as the state continues to buckle under high crime that has been allowed to fester under Democrat rule. In 2020, the state saw 2,202 homicides, up a colossal 31 percent from 2019, making it the deadliest year in the state since 2007, according to the California Department of Justice.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Facebook and Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.

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EXCLUSIVE: Syrian, Russian Migrants Apprehended at West Texas Border

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EAGLE PASS, Texas — Border Patrol agents arrested two significant interest aliens at one of the busiest migrant crossing points on the southwest border Wednesday, along with hundreds of mostly Central and South American family units.

According to a source within Customs and Border Protection, the Syrian and Russian migrants are single adult males and their purpose for entering is still under investigation. The source says the Syrian adds to the nearly 50 special interest aliens apprehended in the area since October 2021.

Although not a country on the Department of Homeland Security’s list of special interest countries, Russia is designated as a Country of Particular Concern by the Department of State. Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998,  the President is required to annually review the status of religious freedom in every country and designate those engaged in or tolerating “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”

The law defines particularly severe violations as “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom,” including violations such as: torture, prolonged detention without charges, forced disappearance, or other flagrant denial of life, liberty, or security of persons.

Russia was designated by the State Department in November 2021. The source says the increase in apprehension of Special Interest Aliens (SIA) and those from CPC countries is cause for concern. The intent of such migrants, according to the source, is more difficult to determine than those who enter for mostly economic reasons.

The designation of SIA is related to the travel pattern and conditions within the home country, rather than specific threats. According to DHS, the designation of SIA is different than the designation of an individual migrant known or suspected of terrorism. The terms “Special Interest Alien” and “Known or Suspected Terrorist” (KST) are not interchangeable.

This fiscal year, the source says migrants from Eritrea, Uzbekistan, Iran, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Syria, and Russia have been encountered crossing the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass. The source says the migrants within this grouping usually attempt to elude apprehension as the Border Patrol contends with processing, transportation, and caring for nearly a thousand migrants who chose to surrender daily within the sector.

As reported by Breitbart Texas, the Del Rio Sector has led the eight other southwest sectors in migrant apprehensions in January.

Until recently, the Rio Grande Valley Sector held the top position in migrant apprehensions since 2013.

Randy Clark is a 32-year veteran of the United States Border Patrol.  Prior to his retirement, he served as the Division Chief for Law Enforcement Operations, directing operations for nine Border Patrol Stations within the Del Rio, Texas, Sector. Follow him on Twitter @RandyClarkBBTX.

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Poll: Just 33.7 Percent of Georgians Approve of Joe Biden 

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Just 33.7 percent of Georgians approved of Joe Biden, a Thursday Atlanta Journal-Constitution/University poll revealed.

As 33.7 percent approved and 61.5 percent disapproved of Biden, in May, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll showed Biden with a 51 percent approval rating among Georgians, a 17.3 drop in eight months.

In 2020, Biden won the state of Georgia by less than one percent or 12,670 votes.

Broken down demographically, only 28 percent of men approved of Biden, and 66 percent disapproved. Among women, 38 percent approved, while 58 percent disapproved.

(AJC – Georgia) Do you approve/disapprove of Biden?

Overall: 34/62

Men: 28/66

Women: 38/58

White: 20/76

Black: 59/36

Other: 33/51

18-29 yrs old: 36/56

65+ yrs old: 40/57

GOP: 2/96

Dems: 74/21

Indies: 33/60

— Ryan James Girdusky (@RyanGirdusky) January 27, 2022

Black individuals also gave Biden poor marks.

Just 59 percent approved of Biden and 36 percent disapproved. Only eight percent of black voters in May disapproved of Biden, a 28 point increase. Historically, Democrat presidents after Lyndon Johnson have polled significantly better.

Among independents, 33 percent approved of Biden. Sixty percent disapproved.

Georgians’ opinion of Biden is similar to nationwide polling. In mid-January, Biden’s overall approval rating was pegged at 33 percent, while 53 percent disapproved.

President Joe Biden speaks to a crowd at the Atlanta University Center Consortium, part of both Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University on January 11, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Megan Varner/Getty Images)

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution/University poll, a majority of Georgians also believe Biden’s 40 year high inflation and sagging economy are issues resulting from “government policies and won’t change until we change the political leadership.”

Biden’s term ends in 2024 and has stated he intends to campaign for reelection.

The polling for Biden comes as radical activist and failed gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams did not attend Biden’s visit to Georgia in January due to a “scheduling mix up.”

According to a new AJC poll, only 33.7% of Georgians approve of Biden while 61.5% disapprove.

No wonder Stacey Abrams had a “scheduling mix up” when Biden went to Atlanta.

— Tommy Pigott (@TommyPigott) January 27, 2022

When Biden was asked if he was insulted by Abrams’ absence, Biden told reporters he was “insulted that you asked the question.”

Follow Wendell Husebø on Twitter and Gettr @WendellHusebø

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