Good Monday morning, and welcome to a monster edition of Sunburn for the final day before the 2022 Legislative Session.
Let’s begin with some significant personnel moves, all of them first in Sunburn.
Former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is now a partner at Shumaker Advisors Florida.
Buckhorn will focus on economic and urban development while working with clients to improve the overall quality of life in the Tampa Bay region and statewide.
“There is an art to building cities and communities that thrive. It takes deliberate planning and vigorous leadership,” he said. “I am excited to work with the talented Shumaker Advisors team and their clients to grow our communities strategically, equitably, and with purpose. These are unprecedented times for the Tampa Bay region, and our potential remains limitless.”
Buckhorn served as Tampa Mayor from 2011 to 2019, entering office on the heels of the Great Recession. Facing a $30 million deficit upon taking office, he annually balanced Tampa’s billion-dollar budget eight years in a row.
He also spearheaded the development of the Invision Plan, a blueprint for the city’s urban core, and worked with the Obama administration to secure a grant to complete the Tampa Riverwalk.
“We could not be more honored to have Bob join Shumaker Advisors. His exceptional leadership and depth of experience is unparalleled,” said Shumaker Advisors President and CEO Ron Christaldi. “His confidence in us as his new team is a testament to all we have achieved together over the past several years and we look forward for many successes to come.”
Shumaker Advisors, which has offices across the Southeast and Midwest, expanded to Florida a few years ago and has rapidly expanded since. Before bringing on Buckhorn, the firm merged with Suskey Consulting and tapped Alan Suskey to serve as the managing principal of state affairs and lead the firm’s Tallahassee practice.
Gunster’s lobbying team is heading into the Legislative Session with a new member: Tim Stapleton.
Stapleton comes aboard as a government affairs consultant and will work out of the firm’s Tallahassee and West Palm Beach offices.
As the former longtime CEO of the Florida Medical Association, a job he held through early September, Stapleton brings solid expertise in advising health care industry clients on an array of public policy issues. Before rising to CEO, Stapleton led FMA’s public affairs operations.
As such, he is well-versed in spearheading governmental affairs and political operations for large, statewide professional associations, as well as counseling clients in identifying priorities, developing strategic plans, and building key relationships to advance their business goals.
U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, a medical doctor, said Stapleton “has that rare combination of political savvy, strategic thinking and a deep understanding of public policy issues that make him a tremendous asset to any organization that he works with. His deep background and understanding of health care policy and operations is difficult to duplicate.”
Gunster also announced Monday that Tom Sawyer is joining its Real Estate and Environment & Land Use practices as an of-counsel attorney. He will work out of the firm’s Stuart and West Palm Beach offices.
“Sawyer and Stapleton are both true experts in their field and immensely passionate about tackling the most complex matters for our clients,” said Bill Perry, Gunster’s managing shareholder.
“Having individuals with specialized skills in governmental policy across multiple industries is a valuable addition to our firm’s growing talent arsenal, and brings a unique, competitive edge to our firm’s services and capabilities. We look forward to seeing what they accomplish in the new year and beyond.”
Seasoned congressional staffer and veteran journalist Dave Karvelas is the newest addition to the Ballard Partners lobbying team.
Karvelas has spent more than three decades working in various capacities on Capitol Hill, with nearly half it spent in U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan’s office.
He started at the Congressman’s office in 2006 and served as Chief of Staff from the start of 2007 to the end of 2020. He then served as a senior adviser to Buchanan from January through June of last year.
Karvelas’ lengthy tenure in Buchanan’s office is of particular value to the lobbying firm, as he comes on as a lobbyist at a moment when Buchanan appears poised to chair the House Ways & Means Committee if Republicans win the majority in November.
“Dave’s experience as one of the most seasoned veterans of Capitol Hill brings an exponential dimension to our firm’s bipartisan advocacy in the halls of Congress and the Ways and Means Committee,” said Brian Ballard, president and founder of Ballard Partners. “We are honored that Dave is joining our top-tier team of Washington professionals.”
Buchanan is not the only Ways & Means Committee member Karvelas has served. He also worked as Chief of Staff to former Reps. Nancy Johnson, a Connecticut Republican, and Rep. Dick Zimmer, a New Jersey Republican.
Now he moves to the lobbying corps after lengthy tenures as House staff and before that in the press galleys. “I am delighted to join Brian and the bipartisan team at Ballard Partners,” Karvelas said.
Baptist Health in Northeast Florida has brought on Dane Bennett as Director of Government Relations.
Bennett comes to Baptist Health from the Florida Home Builders Association, where he has worked as Director of Government Affairs since 2019. Before that, he worked in government affairs and public policy at Well Care Health Plans. He also served as a legislative aide to former Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto from 2013-2017.
In his new role, Bennett will work alongside top Baptist Health executives and serve as a strategic liaison with public officials at the local, state, and federal levels to advance the hospital system’s legislative, policy and program goals. He will report directly to Baptist Health President and CEO Michael Mayo.
“With his extensive experience in government affairs and public policy, Dane is a real asset to our team,” Mayo said. “His strategic mindset, collaborative style, and demonstrated ability to cultivate relationships make him an excellent fit for our organization.”
Bennett is a double alum of Florida State University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and his master’s degree in public administration. He is also a military veteran, having served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves as a Captain and Amphibious Assault Vehicle Officer.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
Just in time for Session, Florida Politics has updated its lists of the Twitter accounts of the Florida House and Senate members.
—@JohnAnzo: Stat of the Day: 6.4 million. The U.S. ended 2021 with 6.4 million more jobs than at the end of 2020 — a record increase for any year on record since at least 1940 (81 years).
—@KThomasDC: @POTUS: “The stock market, the last guy’s measure of everything, is about 20% higher than it was when my predecessor was there. It has hit record after record after record on my watch while making things more equitable for working-class people.”
—@BuckSexton: The CDC has managed to take the title of most inept, useless, corrupt 3 letter agency in the federal government, which is a pretty damn impressive achievement
—@MarcoRubio: Omicron is far less deadly & for the vaccinated generally causes mild symptoms & at worst illness comparable to the flu If workers aren’t forced to isolate at all for the flu, why are they forced to isolate for 5 days for omicron even if they are vaccinated & have no symptoms?
—@ChristinaPushaw: People should be told the truth, nothing more, nothing less.
—@ChrisSprowls: Every day, but especially today, the Florida House honors and expresses our deep appreciation for the brave men and women of law enforcement across our state and nation. Thank you for your commitment to keeping our communities safe
—@JeffreyBrandes: As we prepare to go into Legislative Session, let’s spend a few minutes talking about what’s going on in the Florida Doc and how the state is managing the collapse of the department. Currently, almost 70% of our state-run correction facilities are in emergency staffing. (Be sure to click here to read the entire thread.)
—@ShevrinJones: Pastors message was a great pep rally before the FL legislative session kicks off on Tuesday. Pastor reminded us that “whatever you, however you do it, LEAD with the light of love, and you can’t go wrong.” This will be my mantra!
—@MicheleforFL: As I’m packing for Session, I decided this was the time to FINALLY organize and clean my closet. This has made this process so much longer.
— Josh Hammer (@josh_hammer) January 7, 2022
—@NateMonroeTU: Halftime. Time to put a crib together.
— DAYS UNTIL —
2022 Legislative Session starts — 1; Florida’s 20th Congressional District Election — 1; Special Elections in Senate District 33, House District 88 & 94 — 1; Florida Chamber’s 2022 Legislative Fly-In and Reception — 1; Florida TaxWatch’s 2022 State of the Taxpayer Day — 2; Joel Coen’s ’The Tragedy of Macbeth’ on Apple TV+ — 4; NFL playoffs begin — 5; ‘Ozark’ final season begins — 11; ‘Billions’ begins — 13; Red Dog Blue Dog charity event — 15; XXIV Olympic Winter Games begins — 25; Super Bowl LVI — 34; Will Smith’s ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ reboot premieres — 34; season four of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ begins — 39; ‘The Walking Dead’ final season part two begins — 41; Daytona 500 — 41; Special Election for Jacksonville City Council At-Large Group 3 — 44; CPAC begins — 46; St. Pete Grand Prix — 46; Joe Biden to give State of the Union — 50; ‘The Batman’ premieres — 53; the third season of ‘Atlanta’ begins — 72; season two of ‘Bridgerton’ begins — 74; The Oscars — 76; Macbeth with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga begin performances on Broadway — 78; federal student loan payments will resume — 111; ’Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 116; ’Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 137; ’Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 143; ’Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 180; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 191; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 235; ’Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 270; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 305; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 308; ‘Avatar 2’ premieres — 340; ’Captain Marvel 2’ premieres — 403; ’John Wick: Chapter 4’ premieres — 438; ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 564; ’Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 648; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 928.
— TOP STORY —
“2022 Legislative Session largely driven by Ron DeSantis agenda” via Brendan Farrington of The Associated Press — DeSantis, who is up for re-election and is considered a potential presidential candidate in 2024, hasn’t been quiet about his agenda, which is a mix of feeding his conservative base and proposals with widespread appeal. Much of what he’s proposing looks similar to Donald Trump’s agenda: preventing undocumented immigrants from being located in Florida, setting up an agency to investigate voting fraud despite little evidence it’s a widespread problem, and trying to squash the ideas behind critical race theory. “I definitely believe there’s more of a DeSantis agenda that I have seen and heard more than an agenda coming from the leaders of the two chambers, which worries me,” said Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones. “It’s strictly Ron DeSantis’ agenda, and not Florida’s agenda.” While Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls may not be talking much about what they want out of the Session, the Republican leaders have incentive to help carry out DeSantis’ goals to help his re-election.
— STATEWIDE —
“‘This is like a divorce.’ Shelters housing migrant kids caught between DeSantis, Joe Biden” via Ana Ceballos and Bianca Padró Ocasio of the Miami Herald — Florida shelters that house migrant children on behalf of the federal government say they’re increasingly worried that a feud between DeSantis’ administration and Biden over his immigration policies will force them to relocate hundreds of children outside the state. That’s because, in mid-December, DeSantis directed Florida child care regulators to stop issuing or renewing the licenses of facilities that contract with the federal government to house migrant children and teenagers who are waiting to be reunited with their families or vetted sponsors. The order will not revoke existing licenses but will not allow Florida shelters to house more migrant children than they already do. The policy change could impact the resettlement of hundreds of migrant children in Florida, where more than 11,000 unaccompanied minors were released to sponsors between October 2020 and September 2021.
“Casey DeSantis expects to be ‘cancer-free’ in 2022, Governor says” via Emily L. Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida First Lady DeSantis, who has breast cancer, is not “out of the woods” yet, DeSantis said Friday, but he offered a hopeful prediction for this year. “Our view is that 2022 will be the year where we can say that she is cancer-free, and that’ll be something that’ll be really important,” he said to applause at a news conference. Ron DeSantis also talked about early discussions he had with his wife about how much information they should provide publicly about her fight. He occasionally provides updates when reporters ask but has not gone into details.
—“A DeSantis master class in rope-a-dope” via Dan McLaughlin of National Review
Happening tonight — DeSantis Chief of Staff James Uthmeier will speak at the Capital Young Republican event, 6:30 p.m., La Florida Coffee & Wine, 300 W Pensacola St, Tallahassee.
“Federal judge hears arguments in UF academic freedom case, no decision yet” via Jeffrey Schweers of USA Today Network — A lawsuit challenging the University of Florida’s conflict of interest policy as unconstitutional made it through the first round of questions Friday from a federal judge who denied the university’s request to have the case thrown out. Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker spent more than two hours quizzing the attorneys for both the university and the faculty. UF’s lawyers argued that the request for an injunction is moot since the policy has been modified to establish a “presumption” that requests to participate in trials as expert witnesses or submit friends of the court brief. David A. O’Neil, a D.C. lawyer representing the six faculty, said the injunction is needed because the university still retains broad discretion to deny requests deemed to conflict with university interests.
ICYMI — “Personnel note: Tiffany Vause leaves Agency for Health Care Administration” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — Vause, Deputy Chief of Staff at the Agency for Health Care Administration, resigned her post last week for a position at Florida Ready to Work a job readiness program under the auspices of the Department of Economic Opportunity. Taryn Fenske, Communications Director for DeSantis, said Vause’s last day at the agency was Dec. 14. Vause is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at WIN Learning which provides web-based career-driven education and training resources to help people get jobs. Vause will work with the Florida Departments of Economic Opportunity and Education in her new capacity, and Fenske called it a great opportunity. While not reflected in her job title at AHCA, Vause took a leading role in handling the agency’s communications efforts.
—DATELINE TALLY —
“Public policy or culture war: Will Legislature address Florida’s critical needs?” via Mary Ellen Klas and Ana Ceballos of the Miami Herald — While previous Governors have had to cajole and muscle lawmakers to influence the 60-day Legislative Session, DeSantis’ national profile and the rare convergence of so many elections for state office happening this year have Republican lawmakers taking their cue from him more than ever. Not only is 2022 a midterm election year, it is also a redistricting year. “Most legislators are just planning to draft behind the top of the ticket,” Sen. Jeff Brandes said. So, if lawmakers can help DeSantis achieve his goals, they expect him to “help them win their primary, especially as redistricting approaches and they may be drawn into districts against one another.” Brandes predicts legislators won’t tackle the complex housing crisis this Session because “it’s not a vote-driving issue — yet.”
“Legislature 2022: Teacher and police pay raises, redistricting to dominate Session” via Gray Rohrer, Skyler Swisher and Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida lawmakers return to the Capitol on Tuesday for a 60-day Session likely to be dominated by redistricting, DeSantis’ agenda and the COVID-19 pandemic. His election-year agenda includes pay raises for teachers, law enforcement, and state workers; a gas tax cut; and creating a law enforcement division to investigate election fraud. DeSantis’ plan is largely underwritten with federal funds, mostly from Florida’s $3.4 billion portion of the American Rescue Plan, a law he slammed as reckless spending. Lawmakers must craft new congressional, state House and Senate maps, setting the stage for Florida politics for the next 10 years. DeSantis will have no sway in that process.
—“In Focus: Previewing the upcoming Legislative Session” via Allison Walker of Spectrum News
“8 bipartisan bills to watch in the 2022 Session” via Kirby Wilson and Ana Ceballos of the Tampa Bay Times & Miami Herald — Election fraud, transgender athletes, rioting, vaccine mandates. Those wedge issues engulfed hours of debate in Florida’s Legislature last year, generating scores of national headlines. Republicans, who hold the Governor’s Mansion and daunting majorities in the state House and Senate, got their way on each issue. Sen. Manny Diaz is sponsoring a measure to reverse the ban on telemedicine over the phone. A measure that would allow tens of thousands of juveniles to clear their criminal records after completing a behavioral program is already gaining bipartisan support. A proposal sponsored by Jay Trumbull would require nursing homes and their home offices to submit audited financials to the state annually. For the third year in a row, DeSantis seeks $1,000 bonuses for classroom teachers and principals.
—”These are the lawmakers who set the agenda for the Legislature in 2022” via the Miami Herald
—”Ben Albritton wants water quantity taken into account along with quality” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics
—”With flood of federal dollars, broadband and child care earn spotlight for Loranne Ausley’s Session” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics
—”Jim Boyd to seek solutions on homeowners’ insurance, opioid overdoses” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics
—”Ileana Garcia unveils ambitious, community-focused proposals for 2022 Legislative Session” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics
—”Joe Gruters will lean in on school boards this Session” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics
—”Ana Maria Rodriguez proposes Surfside-inspired condo laws, paid parental leave in 2022 Session” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics
—”Vance Aloupis eyes Everglades, Bitcoin, parental leave, evictions, reckless motorists in 2022 Session” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics
—”Randy Fine is ready to slam the book shut on ‘leftist’ ideology in public schools” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics
—”Sam Garrison brings ‘old-fashioned conservative’ approach to 2022 Session” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics
—”Christine Hunschofsky highlights mental health, violence, military assistance in 2022 Session” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics
—”Chip LaMarca’s Session priorities include increasing KidCare eligibility” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics
—”Fiona McFarland to make privacy a priority in second Legislative Session” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics
—”Angie Nixon says Democrats have ‘not many hopes’ in 2022 Session” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics
—”Daniel Perez targets jobs skills funding, condo safety in 2022 Session” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics
—”Rene Plasencia puts his teacher hat back on for his last Session” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics
—”Linda Stewart continues her fight to protect children, women, environment” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics
—”Jason Shoaf targets innovative solutions to North Florida problems” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics
—”Allison Tant focuses on disability issues with 2022 legislation” via Tristan Wood of Florida Politics
—”Marie Woodson takes aim at housing affordability, Florida’s nursing shortage in 2022 Session” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics
— MORE TALLY —
“With 3 vacant South Florida seats, Democrats start 2022 Session in even weaker posture” via Bianca Padró Ocasio of the Miami Herald — Rick Hoye, Broward County’s newly elected Democratic Party chair, knows he’s running against the clock. In the past months, he helped lead voter outreach for a congressional Special Election Primary in an overwhelmingly blue seat. Now, he has two more special elections in his county to mobilize voters for, a task that will prove difficult in elections with historically low turnout. “It’s not an easy task, but it’s our task,” said Hoye. For a party that has for years struggled to counter Republican-led bills and priorities, Florida Democrats are facing an added hurdle in this year’s Legislative Session. Three safely Democratic districts in Broward and Palm Beach counties are likely to go unfilled during most of the Legislative Session that starts on Jan. 11. The unfilled positions would possibly leave more than 700,000 residents without representation in one or both chambers.
— “Florida Democratic lawmakers want quick turnaround on filling legislative vacancies” via Jeffrey Schweers of USA Today Network
“Proposed law would create scholarships, business loans in honor of the Groveland Four” via Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — State Rep. Geraldine Thompson, who in November witnessed the long-awaited exoneration of the Groveland Four, wants Florida to create scholarships and priority business loans as recognition of the injustices suffered by the young Black men wrongly accused of raping a white teenager over 70 years ago. “It is a means in a very limited way to try to make these families whole,” said Thompson, who pushed legislators in 2017 to issue a formal apology on behalf of the state to the families of the four. Thompson’s bill, HB 1133, would create 50 college scholarships worth up to $6,100 a year toward tuition and fees for descendants of the four or current Black residents of Groveland.
“Dave Bautista backs bill in Tallahassee to end unattended tethering of a dog or cat” via Kevin Derby of Florida Daily — State Sen. Annette Taddeo and state Rep. Emily Slosberg-King are teaming up with a former professional wrestler turned Marvel Cinematic Universe actor on an animal welfare bill. The two legislators brought back the “Penny Bautista Act,” which makes “it illegal to tether an unattended domestic cat or dog.” They showcased the proposal this week. “With the passage of HB 1075/SB 1508, the owner of an unattended tethered dog or cat would get a warning for the first offense, a $250 fine for the second offense, and a $500 fine for every offense after that,” said the legislators’ offices.
APCIA outlines Session priorities — The American Property Casualty Insurance Association on Monday released its 2022 legislative agenda. The organization’s top goal is following up on the property insurance reform package passed last year. “As APCIA works with lawmakers this Session on a variety of policy issues, a key focus area is on the long-term health and sustainability of Florida’s property insurance market and protecting consumers from rising costs,” said Logan McFaddin, assistant vice president of state government relations for APCIA. “Lawsuit abuse is a major cost driver in the home and auto insurance market, and more reforms are needed to rein in frivolous litigation.” APCIA will also be keeping tabs on legislation to repeal the state’s no-fault auto insurance system and working with the business community to address data security and privacy issues.
“‘Crime Survivors’ back protections for murder victim family, reforms for probation violations” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Few advocates elicit the sympathy of lawmakers like the victims of serious crimes. So, expect lawmakers to take notice as Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice outline three policy priorities for the 2022 Session. The organization this year wants to see workforce protections passed for family members of those killed in homicides. But the group also wants to see reductions in recidivism and will pursue both probation reforms and a reduction in obstacles to those convicted of crime returning to employment. On the family protection front, the survivor network will support legislation championed by Sen. Shevrin Jones and Rep. Kevin Chambliss. The bill (SB 1306, HB 949) would guarantee an amount of time families of murder victims can take off work.
“Associated Industries of Florida revives pre-Session party with smaller, intimate homecoming” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — After a year off because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Associated Industries of Florida’s Legislative Reception is making a triumphant return Monday evening. However, with new leadership and the pandemic still looming over Tallahassee, the business advocates are scaling back the party. For years, AIF’s reception has been a pre-Session tradition held on the eve of the 60-day sprint through Legislative Session, and that’s not changing. However, invites this time will be limited to AIF members, the group’s sponsors, and lawmakers. AIF’s new President and CEO, Brewster Bevis, told Florida Politics the change was likely coming regardless, even if the pandemic helped make the decision a little easier.
—LEG SKED —
Get your checkbooks ready — here’s a rundown of the fundraisers for legislative candidates planned for today, the last day lawmakers can raise money ahead of Session.
Happening today — House Minority Leader Evan Jenne and Reps. Ramon Alexander and Fentrice Driskell will hold a media availability, 10 a.m. Zoom link here. It will also be livestreamed by The Florida Channel.
Happening today — Reps. Tracie Davis, Anna Eskamani, Angie Nixon, Carlos Guillermo Smith and Marie Woodson will participate in an online rally to call for “people-centered policies,” noon. Zoom link here.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“Florida’s COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are surging, but the state has the second-lowest death rate in the nation. What’s going on?” via David Schutz of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Even as record COVID-19 cases in the U.S. were reported last week, deaths dipped slightly, and still, Florida’s death rate is distinctly low, particularly in a state with a large, vulnerable elderly population. Experts say several factors could explain the currently low rate: Florida’s horrific toll from delta and its acquired resistance and vaccination rates may be buffering the state at a time when other states are contending with two variants. One possible reason is the vaccination rate in Florida picked up much later than other parts of the country, and Floridians also got the disease later than people in other states, meaning they acquired resistance more recently, which would make it stronger. Also, Florida’s high death rate in the delta wave could be holding down the death rate now.
“Sunday Florida COVID-19 update: Hospitalizations reverse trend and fall by 317” via David J. Neal of the Miami Herald — New COVID-19 case and death numbers don’t drop on Sundays, but there was a literal drop in hospitalizations, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Sunday report. There were 9,099 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Florida in data reported to HHS from 264 hospitals. That’s the same number of hospitals as in Saturday’s report, but the number of people hospitalized across the state is 317 fewer, a reversal of a weekslong upward trend. Patients with COVID-19 take up 15.76% of all inpatient beds in the latest report, compared to 16.25% among Saturday’s reporting hospitals. Florida hospitalizations in this wave pushed by the omicron variant were rising toward records set during delta’s wave from July through September.
—“Florida COVID-19 update: State breaks seven-day case average record as 69,914 cases added” via Devoun Cetoute of the Miami Herald
“DeSantis defends allowing stockpiled COVID-19 tests to expire” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO — DeSantis on Friday defended his administration’s decision to allow up to 1 million COVID-19 rapid test kits to expire, a move that comes as he is facing increasing criticism from Democrats over his handling of the Omicron surge. Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie admitted that the tests expired, and DeSantis sought to explain why the state didn’t distribute them. DeSantis has argued that the stockpile resulted from a lack of demand in the latter part of 2021 and blamed the Biden administration for not granting extensions to keep the tests eligible, something it did in September for three months.
“Attorney General warns Floridians to be wary of potential COVID-19 testing scams” via Anne Snabes of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is warning residents about COVID-19 testing scams as coronavirus cases surge in the state. Moody’s office said that there are recent reports in Florida and nationwide of potentially fake COVID-19 testing sites, impostor health care workers at legitimate sites, and at-home testing scams. In a news release, the office mentioned an incident last week in Sarasota, where law enforcement received a report about suspicious activity at a testing site. Moody advised Floridians to remain cautious when requesting a COVID-19 test, whether at a testing site or for use at home.
— CORONA LOCAL —
“Mayo Clinic expert: Unvaccinated people are ‘playing Russian roulette’ with COVID-19” via Beth Reese Cravey of The Florida Times-Union — The day after Christmas, as cases of the COVID-19 variant omicron exploded across the country, so did the phone calls at Dr. Greg Poland’s House an infectious disease expert and physician for Mayo Clinic, which is based in Rochester, Minnesota, and has a hospital in Jacksonville. Poland, who heads Mayo’s Vaccine Research Group, is one of many experts across the country who are sounding the alarm about the need for more people to be vaccinated against COVID-19. “The hair almost stands up on my neck when I hear people say, oh omicron … is mild. Well, it is if you’re fully vaccinated and bolstered,” he said. “It might be if you’re not. But odds are you’re playing Russian roulette. You may not be that lucky. I’ve seen it over and over again.”
“Hillsborough County adding 3rd COVID-19 testing site starting Monday” via Spectrum News — The Hillsborough Community College Brandon campus, located at 10451 Nancy Watkins Dr., will open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily for residents who want to receive free COVID-19 testing. It will be a drive-thru site, and no appointments are needed. The Hillsborough Community College Brandon campus COVID-19 testing site entrance is off East Columbus Drive. Visitors will not access the testing site by using Nancy Watkins Drive. Only the East Columbus Drive entrance offers access to the testing site. The location is one of three sites that Hillsborough County has opened that offers COVID-19 testing. The Hillsborough County Office of Emergency Management asks the public not to arrive at the county COVID-19 testing sites before the sites open at 9 a.m.
“COVID-19 positivity rate in Polk County reaches record high” via Gary White of The Lakeland Ledger — COVID-19 is inundating Polk County at a rate not seen since the last major wave of July through September. The county’s new infections soared 66.6% in Friday’s weekly update from the Florida Department of Health. The positivity rate for COVID-19 testing vaulted to 33.8%, the highest it has ever been during the pandemic. The positivity rate rose from 26.1% in the previous weekly update. The county’s rate never reached 30% during the worst of the delta surge in late summer. The CDC’s COVID-19 Tracker on Friday showed Polk County’s positivity rate at 31.81%. Department of Health officials has said that any positivity rate over 10% signals a dangerous level of community spread.
“Collier County officials scouting sites for monoclonal antibody clinic as omicron variant continues to spread” via Liz Freeman of the Naples Daily News — Collier County officials plan to open a monoclonal antibody clinic in central Naples to treat people infected with COVID-19. One potential location is Neighborhood Health Clinic near downtown Naples, but no decision has been made and other sites are being considered, said Dan Summers, director of the county’s emergency services. “Our efforts right now are very preliminary,” he said Thursday. Collier doesn’t presently have a clinic offering the therapy but did have one in Immokalee in late summer as the delta variant was surging. It closed in late September when demand dipped. DeSantis said a monoclonal antibody clinic in Collier could be ready to go in 24 hours if the federal government would release more supply, part of a broader plan to open clinics around the state as infections from the omicron variant skyrocket.
“With COVID-19 cases rising, Naples, Fort Myers restaurants face some struggles, see big business” via Andrew Atkins of the Naples Daily News — Despite COVID-19 cases surging across Southwest Florida, some restaurants reported stronger business than ever. Geoff Luebkemann, senior vice president of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, pointed to strong holiday patronage. “We had very strong demand through the Christmas season and certainly into the big holiday week between Christmas and New Year’s. That seems to be universal statewide for restaurants,” he said. “So far, we have not seen major disruptions like we did from previous spikes.” As of Jan. 3, cases more than doubled in Collier County, up to 2,866 from 1,130 the previous week, and rose to 6,019 cases from 1,815 in Lee County from the previous week.
“Here is what three Florida universities are doing to limit COVID-19 spread this spring” via Danielle Ivanoff of The Gainesville Sun — Students returning to Florida’s public universities this month are coming face-to-face not just with classes, peers and teachers but the now repeated scenario of pursuing a college degree under the threat of a novel COVID-19 variant and surging cases. There are no vaccination, masking, or universal testing requirements at the University of Florida, which started spring classes Wednesday. Florida State students are not required to test or fill out a symptom survey routinely, nor is a negative test needed to return to campus. Michael D. Johnson, interim Provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Central Florida, asked UCF faculty on Wednesday not to require attendance during the first few weeks of the spring semester “so ill students don’t feel compelled to come to class.”
— 2022 —
Charlie Crist campaign tops $670K in December — U.S. Rep. Crist raised more than $670,000 for his gubernatorial campaign last month and entered 2022 with more than $3.8 million in the bank. “As the election year begins, I am grateful for all the support we have received since launching our campaign,” he said. “In that time, folks from the Panhandle to Homestead have made clear they want a Governor that actually puts Floridians first. 2022 will mark the year we take back the Governor’s Mansion and build a Florida that works for all Floridians.” Since entering the race, Crist has raised $6 million across 20,000 donors. The campaign also noted that Crist had led the Democratic field in fundraising every month since he entered the race in May.
“James Carville says ‘real deal’ Nikki Fried offers ‘something new’ for Governor” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — National star power surfaced in the Democratic Primary race for Florida Governor, with Carville signing off on a fundraising plea for Fried. “Nikki Fried is the real deal, folks,” wrote the 77-year-old “Ragin’ Cajun,” who cheekily reminds readers that he’s the “as seen on TV” version of James Carville. Carville came to national prominence with the rise of neoliberal Bill Clinton to the presidency decades ago, with the then-youthful former Governor of Arkansas representing moderation as an alternative to 1980s liberalism. From neoliberal to “Something New,” Carville’s pitch is practiced. He trained his rhetorical fusillade on DeSantis, “a right-wing, authoritarian dictator who will stop at nothing to carry on Trump’s legacy, first in Florida and then in the White House.”
Navy SEAL Veterans Group endorses Amanda Makki for CD 13 — Republican Makki picked up an endorsement from SEAL PAC in the race for Florida’s 13th Congressional District. SEAL PAC is chaired by Ryan Zinke, a U.S. Navy SEAL veteran who served as U.S. Secretary of the Interior in the Trump administration. “Amanda’s experience, impeccable character, and proven good judgment are exactly what we need in Congress,” he said. “Amanda’s dedication to our country in the weeks after 9/11 when she served in the U.S. Army General Counsel’s Office is a testament to her resolve to put her country first. We know she’ll bring the same level of dedication to the people of Pinellas County.” Makki faces Anna Paulina Luna and nonprofit head Audrey Henson in the Republican Primary for the seat.
Save the date:
“Mariya Calkins seeks House District 3 seat” via the South Santa Rosa News — Calkins, a former state legislative aide, has announced her intention to seek the Republican nomination for the Florida House. Calkins said that she decided to run for the Florida House in these challenging times because she knows firsthand that the safeguarding of constitutional rights and Second Amendment rights, protecting life and limited government are key terms of freedom. “As your next State Representative, I pledge my every effort to fight against mandates, to protect and defend the interest of our military, disabled and seniors, to protect parental rights and to limit the government,” Calkins said.
First on #FlaPol — “Vanessa Baugh likely to run for state House under proposed maps” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Depending on the outcome of the House redistricting process, Manatee County Commissioner Baugh plans to run for a House seat. The Lakewood Ranch Republican said it all depends on where political lines fall. Today, Lakewood Ranch sits in House District 73, represented by Sarasota Republican Rep. Tommy Gregory. But under both draft maps published so far by House Redistricting Committee staff, that would change. The Ranch, at least the northern portion of it, would fall into the new House District 72 under both H 8005 and H 8007. Both proposals imagine a district entirely within Manatee County, clinging to almost the entire south and east borders and a northern border defined by State Road 62 and U.S. 301, while a CSX railroad track primarily shapes the western boundary.
“Democrat Adam Benna launches HD 114 campaign” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Benna, a South Miami lawyer, is launching a campaign for the Democratic nomination in House District 114. Over the past few months, Benna has been raising money through a political committee; he formally filed paperwork to run earlier this week. According to his campaign team, Benna has amassed nearly $50,000 as of Dec. 31. With the House redistricting plans seemingly setting up HD 114 to be a tossup district, Benna says he’ll look to win the seat for Democrats in 2022. “When I talk to residents and neighbors, they are concerned with very local issues,” Benna said in a statement announcing his run. Benna’s team says several Democrats already plan to support Benna’s bid, including former U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala and former Pinecrest Mayor and state Rep. Cindy Lerner.
“Tuesday is unusual January Election Day in Broward and Palm Beach counties” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Voters will decide who to send to Washington, D.C., as the region’s next member of Congress. The winner will fill the remainder of the late U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings term, serving until early January 2023. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, Republican Jason Mariner, Libertarian Mike ter Maat, and two no party affiliation/independent candidates, Jim Flynn and Leonard Serratore, are on the ballot. Three state legislative seats are open because those who held them resigned to run in the Democratic Primary for the congressional seat, which they lost. It’s all part of the political ripple effect of Hastings’ April 6 death. The state requires lawmakers to submit irrevocable resignations to run for another office.
— CORONA NATION —
“Disruption, dismay, dissent: Americans grapple with omicron’s rise” via Julie Bosman of The New York Times — With infection rates mounting, the omicron variant ushered in a disorienting phase of the pandemic, leaving Americans frustrated and dismayed that the basic elements they thought they understood are shifting faster than ever. Omicron is more transmissible than previous variants, yet it appears to cause milder symptoms in many people. Hospitalizations soared to new highs in some states, but “incidental patients” — people who test positive for COVID-19 after being admitted for another reason — make up close to half of their cases in some hospitals. Public health officials, in response to the new variant, halved the recommended isolation period.
“A surge in hospitalized young children infected with the coronavirus” via Apoorva Mandavilli of The New York Times — The number of hospitalized young children infected with the coronavirus rose precipitously last week to the highest levels since the beginning of the pandemic. The increase was observed in children who were 4 and younger, who are not eligible for vaccination, and the data included children who were admitted to hospitals for reasons other than COVID-19. The rise may be partly explained by the surge of Omicron cases, which affects all populations, and the spread of other respiratory infections. But the data do not show a similarly steep rise in coronavirus infections among hospitalized children of other ages, and federal health officials were considering the possibility that omicron may not be as mild in young children as in older children.
“Labs limit COVID-19 test access as demand soars” via Brianna Abbott of The Wall Street Journal — Escalating demand for tests is prompting some laboratories to ration access, giving priority to people with symptoms or other health concerns as the omicron variant quickly spreads. Triaging who is eligible for COVID-19 tests can help ensure that patients who need a test the most get results fast enough to isolate or get treatment, pathologists and public-health experts say. The strategy, however, risks perpetuating the virus’s spread if some people get turned away from testing altogether.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“Expert predicts up to 5 million could skip work next week with COVID-19” via Keith Griffith of the Daily Mail — The United States has posted its second-highest daily total for new COVID-19 cases, as one expert predicts some 5 million Americans could call in sick in the coming week in a major disruption to the economy and essential services. The U.S. recorded 900,832 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, second only to the more than 1 million cases recorded on Monday. The nation’s four highest caseload days since the start of the pandemic were all recorded in the past week. Over the past seven days, the average daily case increase has been 664,732, a 64% increase from a week ago. On Friday, deaths ticked up to 2,615, a 22% increase from week-ago levels on a rolling-average basis, but still well below the peak a year ago.
“I’m barely clinging onto work’: Exhausted parents face another wave of school shutdowns” via Abha Bhattarai of The Washington Post — The latest surge in coronavirus cases prompting school and day care closures has thrust parents back into familiar terrain, trying to navigate work obligations with a changing patchwork of testing protocols, quarantines and a possible return to virtual schooling. At least 5,225 schools were disrupted for at least part of this past week because of the pandemic, easily a record for the current school year, according to the data firm Burbio. Public schools in Atlanta and Detroit went completely virtual, while others, including in the D.C. suburbs of Montgomery County, Maryland and Philadelphia, are making decisions on a school-by-school or class-by-class basis.
— MORE CORONA —
OFFS — “Cyprus reportedly discovers a COVID-19 variant that combines omicron and delta” via Jessica Bursztynsky of CNBC — A researcher in Cyprus has discovered a strain of the coronavirus that combines the delta and omicron variant. Leondios Kostrikis, professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus, called the strain “deltacron” because of its omicron-like genetic signatures within the delta genomes. So far, Kostrikis and his team have found 25 cases of the virus. It’s still too early to tell whether there are more cases of the strain or what impacts it could have. The deltacron variant comes as omicron continues its rapid spread across the globe, causing a surge in COVID-19 cases.
“Royal Caribbean follows NCL canceling cruises amid COVID-19 outbreak” via Richard Tribou of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Citing “ongoing COVID-19-related circumstances around the world, and in an abundance of caution,” the line on its travel advisory site said it was either postponing or outright canceling sailings on Vision of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas, Jewel of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas. Symphony of the Seas, the current world record holder for the world’s largest cruise ship, had been sailing out of Miami. The line is removing three planned seven-night voyages that were to depart on Jan. 8, Jan. 15, and Jan. 22. The announcement comes after Norwegian Cruise Line shortened one sailing from Miami on Norwegian Pearl and canceled one sailing from Miami aboard Norwegian Getaway while also delaying the debuts of six other ships in the U.S. and worldwide.
“Meat and egg shortages fears after stores report ‘bare shelves’ amid Omicron cases” via Jacob Bentley-York of The U.S. Sun — Food chains have been one of the first to be disrupted by the new super strain as workers fall ill and productivity drops. The Grand Rapids, Michigan-based grocery distributor and store operator SpartanNash Co. claim they have seen a tripling of cases among their staff, leading to delays and workers who feel stretched thin. And with reports of “bare shelves,” Bindiya Vakil, chief executive of supply-chain consultant Resilinc Corp, warns that “Labor shortages due to Omicron are only going to exacerbate the issue.” During 2020, major outbreaks at plants led to shortages and spikes and a temporary shutdown of businesses. And although the situation is considered less severe than two years ago, meat companies have again seen the number of hogs and cattle slaughter decline by as much as 6% in the past week.
“Why was there less lightning during COVID-19 lockdowns?” via Will Sullivan of ABC News — Researchers think they have found another impact of the lockdowns, less lightning in the spring of 2020. Scientists believe that tiny particles in the atmosphere called aerosols contribute to lightning, and human activities such as burning fossil fuels release aerosols. A study published last year showed that since humans released fewer aerosols during lockdowns, the concentration of aerosols in the atmosphere decreased. Last month, researchers presented findings showing that this drop in atmospheric aerosols coincided with a drop in lightning. When there’s less pollution and clouds form larger and warmer rain droplets, “you starve the cloud of the ice particles that it needs for charge separation, and you have reduced lightning activity,” said Earle Williams, a physical meteorologist.
— PRESIDENTIAL —
“‘We are going right to the belly of the beast’: Biden takes on Georgia” via Laura Barrón-Lopez and Christopher Cadelago of POLITICO — Fresh off a high-profile speech in which he warned that a dagger had been placed at the throat of American democracy, Biden will travel to the state that White House officials view as “ground zero” for Republican-led election suppression efforts. Biden will speak in Georgia on Tuesday. In his remarks, he is expected to not only echo the themes of his address on the anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection but to expand on his endorsement of a filibuster carveout to pass voting rights legislation in the Senate. The speeches and related meetings are part of the administration’s offensive to beat back GOP efforts to both restrict voting access and seed skepticism of America’s electoral system.
Always a Florida angle — “Tampa-based lawyer turned in missing diary of Biden’s daughter” via William March of the Tampa Bay Times — A Tampa-based criminal defense lawyer and Republican Party activist turned up at a key moment last month in a mysterious case involving the possible theft and sale of a diary belonging to Biden’s daughter. The lawyer, Adam Bantner, a former Tampa Tiger Bay Club President and judicial candidate, cited client confidentiality and declined to answer most questions about the case in a recent interview. Late in the 2020 presidential campaign, the diary ended up in the hands of Project Veritas, a conservative, self-styled investigative organization. It’s known for attempting to hoax mainstream journalists and liberal groups into controversial statements or actions and has been accused of altering undercover videotapes and recordings to make its subjects seem nefarious.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“How a simple twist of fate could end Democrats’ control of the Senate” via Jeff Greenfield of POLITICO — The tension between West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and the more progressive elements of his party carries with it the possibility of his defection from the ranks, even as he dismisses such a move. A random act of fate could turn the Senate over to the Republicans, not next January, but next summer, or next month, or next week. An illness or death could well trigger a political earthquake, by almost instantly switching control of the nation’s top legislative body. States have a range of laws about replacing a departed Senator, but the large majority, 37, calls on the Governor to pick a successor. There are 30 states where the Governor can pick whatever new Senator he or she wants.
Happening today — The U.S. Supreme Court will take up a dispute about recouping Florida’s Medicaid program money after settling with Gianinna Gallardo, a Lee County girl who suffered catastrophic injuries when struck by a truck after getting off a school bus in 2008, 10 a.m., U.S. Supreme Court, Washington, D.C.
— CRISIS —
“At small Lakeland vigil, relatives of Jan. 6 defendants decry prosecutions” via Gary White of The Lakeland Ledger — Fourteen people huddled in darkness Thursday night, holding candles that illuminated their faces on the anniversary of what many Americans consider one of the nation’s darkest days. Hours after Biden spoke in scorching terms about the U.S. Capitol attack of Jan. 6, 2021, those assembled in Lakeland’s Veterans Memorial Park instead expressed solidarity with the roughly 725 Americans charged for alleged participation in the riot. “Thank you, guys, for being brave enough to come out here,” said Mary Belyew, aunt of Olivia and Jonathan Pollock, both charged with felonies related to the insurrection.
— EPILOGUE TRUMP —
“How the Donald Trump social-media ban paid off for Trump, platforms” via Michael C. Bender and Georgia Wells of The Wall Street Journal — From the business side, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube have all been able to say they took action against one of the most powerful voices on their platforms, after years of criticism that they failed to aggressively apply their rules to their highest-profile users. Banning his accounts hasn’t appeared to dent their traffic. Facebook and YouTube don’t report engagement for their specific units, but Twitter’s number of users has continued to climb. Since his social-media ban, just days before he left the White House, mentions of Trump on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have decreased 88%. The ban has been a rallying point among the former President’s supporters. Current and former aides to Trump said the shift in popularity was largely attributable to the former President’s diminished social-media presence.
“GOP Senator says Trump’s election allegations are unfounded” via David Cohen of POLITICO — Sen. Mike Rounds on Sunday made it clear that he didn’t subscribe to Trump’s conspiracy theories about the 2020 election being stolen from him. “As a part of our due diligence, we looked at over 60 different accusations made in multiple states,” Rounds, a South Dakota Republican, said. “While there were some irregularities, there were none of the irregularities which would have risen to the point where they would have changed the vote outcome in a single state. “Rounds said Republicans must move past unfounded allegations that Trump was cheated out of a victory if they wish to prevail. He also said Trump, now that he is no longer President, is not exempt from prosecution if the Justice Department had a reason to do so.
— LOCAL NOTES —
Appointed — Jason Nimeth to the 5th Judicial Circuit, Brian Gnage to the 6th Judicial Circuit, Kathryn Speicher to the 18th Judicial Circuit and Jonathan “Jack” Schlechter to the Okaloosa County courts.
“State zeros in on CareerSource Pinellas head for high turnover, toxic workplace” via Mark Puente of Florida Politics — On Friday, a top official of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity demanded that CareerSource CEO Jennifer Brackney explain how she plans to run the troubled agency with high staff turnover amid a recent investigation that called the job center a toxic workplace. Brackney has 15 days to reply to the state. The letter comes days after Florida Politics detailed a host of new allegations about an agency that has been under an FBI investigation since 2018. At the time, Brackney was a top aide to then CEO Edward Peachey. He was fired and fell under state, FBI, and U.S. Department of Labor investigations. The federal investigations are ongoing, records show.
—@ChrisLatvala: It is amazing that the hometown paper has ignored this story so far. To their great credit, they were the ones the uncovered the scandal a few years ago that led to the passage of legislation last year. Thank you for this important work
“Orlando airport CEO search whittles down to 3 outsiders, FDOT boss” via Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel — The parent agency of Orlando International Airport pared down a list of candidates for chief executive officer Friday, agreeing on three applicants from other airports and Kevin Thibault, the head of Florida’s transportation department. Falling out of contention was Don Fisher, Osceola County’s government manager, and an executive from another airport. The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority will hold a special meeting on Jan. 19 to publicly interview the four finalists individually and then vote on a preferred candidate to replace Phil Brown, who has been the airport’s leader for more than a decade and is set to retire this month. The three airport chiefs still in the mix are Lance Lyttle of Seattle, Mark Thorpe of Ontario, California and Jacqueline Yaft of Austin, Texas.
“Jared Moskowitz’s swearing-in to Broward Commission is moved up for ailing dad” via Brittany Wallman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The County Commission swearing-in of Moskowitz has been moved up to next week, to accommodate his ailing father, a Broward Democratic power broker who has cancer. Moskowitz, 41, appointed to the southwest Broward seat by DeSantis, will be sworn in on Jan. 12 at 2:30 p.m. in Parkland City Hall so that his father can attend. Mike Moskowitz, a lobbyist, lawyer, and powerful presence in Broward politics for decades, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and his health is declining. He is eager to see his son seated on the County Commission, Jared Moskowitz said, and if possible, wanted to personally swear him in. The swearing-in was scheduled for the next County Commission meeting, Jan. 25, and would have been held in downtown Fort Lauderdale. But Moskowitz said his father couldn’t make it downtown, and the timing is too far off.
“A lesson from Surfside? Underground assault from sea-level rise puts coastal structures at risk” via The Palm Beach Post — Subterranean assaults by rising seas on the ill-fated Champlain Towers South more than doubled over 26 years, according to a study that measured how often water levels rose higher than the building’s basement floor. The often-invisible incursions may or may not have played a role in the horrifying collapse of the Surfside condominium on June 24, said FIU geologist and research professor Randall Parkinson, who conducted the study. It showed an accelerated rise of sea levels since 1981 that caused the number of hourly water level elevations above the condominium’s basement floor to reach an average of 244 per year between 1994 and 2006. That increased to an average of 636 per year from 2007 to 2020.
“‘You can knock anything down’: A rash of landmark home demolitions riles Miami Beach” via Andres Viglucci and Rebecca San Juan of the Miami Herald — Even as the city’s elected officials established a series of strictly regulated historic districts that stretch along the Atlantic Ocean from South to North Beach starting in the mid-1980s, they shied away from extending the same protections against demolition and alteration to its residential islands and single-family neighborhoods to the west. Now, as speculative developers and high-profile multimillionaires and billionaires snap up choice residential properties along the bay amid a buying spree, a trickle of demolitions of older homes has turned into a cascade. And a largely toothless system designed to encourage, but not require, the preservation of significant homes built before 1942 has proved singularly ineffective in stemming the tide.
“Sentencing hearing postponed for former Lynn Haven commissioner in federal corruption case” via Tom McLaughlin of The Panama City News-Herald — A sentencing hearing scheduled for Friday in the case of former Lynn Haven City Commissioner Antonius Barnes has been pushed back to a date following the federal criminal trial of former Mayor Margo Anderson and prominent businessman James Finch. “The trial may produce information that is relevant for this court to consider at Barnes’ sentencing,” the motion to continue the hearing said. Barnes is now scheduled to be sentenced on April 29 for making false statements to a federally insured institution. The trial of Anderson and Finch, both of whom face multiple charges related to a conspiracy to deprive the citizens of Lynn Haven of honest services, is scheduled to start on Feb. 28.
“Texas oil company abandons plans to drill in Apalachicola River basin” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — Another oil company has packed up and gone home after abandoning long-drawn-out and controversial plans to drill in the environmentally fragile Apalachicola River basin in Northwest Florida. Cholla Petroleum, a Dallas company, abruptly exited rural Calhoun County with all of its equipment several months ago just before it was set to begin exploratory drilling operations, said former County Commissioner Gene Bailey. “They were supposed to drill,” Bailey said. “And two days before they were going to drill, we were told they … pulled out and decided not to drill.” Cholla is the latest oil company to walk away from drilling operations at sites in Northwest Florida. Spooner Petroleum permanently plugged its Bear Creek well in Gulf County last year after finding no viable oil or gas there.
“Reflecting on a ‘challenging’ job: Former FSU AD David Coburn eases into retirement” via Jim Henry of the Tallahassee Democrat — Florida State University was closed for the holidays, and the athletics department was barely stirring. That allowed Coburn to quietly ease into retirement last week after serving as the Seminoles’ athletics director since 2018. Yet Coburn, whose tenure coincided with arguably the most challenging period in college sports history, also exited satisfied and proud of his alma mater. “It has been a challenging experience, it has been a learning experience, and it has been an absolutely wonderful experience,” Coburn said in a joint interview. Coburn had no prior experience managing athletics before he moved into the Moore Athletics Center from the Westcott Building at President John Thrasher’s request.
— TOP OPINION —
“The rise of a pro-democracy media” via Perry Bacon Jr. of The Washington Post — The media has long had a problematic “both sides” approach to covering politics. After Trump became President, the media couldn’t avoid covering him very negatively. So, the press essentially adopted a modified version of both sides, implying that Trump was an outlier, but the two parties were otherwise fairly similar. As a result, over the past year, an emboldened media has not only extensively covered the new radicalism of the GOP, but increasingly described long-standing Republican tactics such as aggressive gerrymandering and support for voting restrictions as the dangers to democracy that they are.
— OPINIONS —
“No, the pandemic’ goal posts’ aren’t being moved” via Jerome Adams for The Washington Post — With recent calls for a return to mask mandates, third (and fourth) shots, and changes in isolation and quarantine guidance, people have been asking whether public health officials are “moving the goal posts” in the COVID-19 pandemic. The short answer is: No, they’re not. The end goal remains the same: a reopening of society that reasonably and equitably balances the risks of clinical versus societal harm from the novel coronavirus. Much as the virus has changed form and presented new challenges, our fight against it has also needed to evolve. Since the coronavirus broke out in 2020, however, our team has barely managed to move the ball past midfield. Our vaccination rate sits at a dismal 62%, far from even the most optimistic estimates of herd immunity. And variants such as delta and omicron push the threshold up further still, forcing scientists to amend the definition of “fully vaccinated.”
“Legislative Session promises little drama amid election-year spending spree” via The Palm Beach Post — On Tuesday, the Florida Legislature will start its annual Session with an upbeat speech by DeSantis and the promise of big boosts in state government spending, thanks to the billions in “Biden-bucks” from federal COVID-19 relief and infrastructure initiatives. No, money isn’t the issue; this year’s spending spree should be. Florida’s state Capitol may be awash with cash, but don’t count on DeSantis or the Republican-controlled Legislature to think long term in addressing some of the state’s more pressing and ongoing needs. It’s an election year, and with DeSantis and most state lawmakers seeking re-election, generosity is simply good politics. The Legislature that once took pride in reigning in government spending, won’t do so this year. What the Governor wants, the Governor most likely will get.
“Another Legislative Session brings us another pile of terrible ideas” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — The Florida Legislature returns to Tallahassee to begin churning a slew of pre-filed bills. So many are abhorrent as to bring to mind a popular jest from long ago when the Legislature met for only 60 days every two years: “Better it should be for two days every 60 years.” There are bills to erode home rule and make local government more partisan, restrict abortion rights, create new loopholes in public records laws, enforce right-wing dogma on schools, restrict the people’s constitutional right to amend their Constitution, shield police from scrutiny and place nursing home patients and the public at greater health risk. These are some of the worst. There will be more. Even good legislation can turn bad as swiftly as a lobbyist’s amendment finds welcoming hands.
“While lawmakers try to handcuff cities, some serious challenges go unaddressed” via the Miami Herald editorial board — When the GOP-controlled Legislature returns to Tallahassee, the culture wars will be sucking up most of the oxygen in the room. Even in this increasingly far-right, social-issues landscape, territory that DeSantis is mining on his way to a re-election bid and a likely presidential run, that last one, the attack on home rule, stands out for its potentially crippling effect on local governments. And because it’s a flat-out terrible idea. The bill, which some in Tallahassee have called “the mother of all preemption bills,” would essentially give businesses free rein to sue local governments over regulations they don’t like. Local governments don’t have the resources to litigate lots of lawsuits at once. So, the practical result of this proposal would be lots of out-of-court settlements. And who would pay for those? You would, of course, with your taxes.
“Power companies, theme parks, gambling interests funnel cash to Florida pols” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — The Legislature convenes again next week, and Tallahassee will be filled with more manure than a pasture full of cows with irritable bowel syndrome. Still, to give off an appearance of ethical behavior, legislators will abide by a rule that forbids them from collecting campaign checks once the Session begins on Jan. 11. Naturally, both parties have scheduled big-money grubfests for Jan. 10. The biggest checks cut to either party came from the Seminole Tribe. Disney gave Florida Dems $99,000 worth of theme park freebies for a fundraising weekend and another $25,000 in cash. Republicans got $100,000 from Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy and TECO. Duke Energy tossed $40,000 to Democrats.
“Dismissing parents’ role in their children’s education is not a politically savvy move” via Edward J. Pozzuoli of the Miami Herald — One lesson that was certainly reinforced in 2021, amid political upsets and COVID-19 wreckage, is that parents will engage to protect their children’s health and education against dictates from out-of-touch politicians and bureaucrats with records of vacillation and failure. The battle has become parental freedom versus the self-interest of the teachers’ unions. Research correlates increased parental engagement with improved student academic achievement; better behavioral outcomes, emotional functioning, and self-control within the classroom; increased attendance; lower dropout rates; and higher college enrollment. The parental uprising in Virginia intensified when Virginia’s Democratic candidate for Governor, Terry McAuliffe, insisted during a debate, “I’m not going to let parents come into schools and make their own decision. … I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
— ALOE —
“How did a giant buoy become a Key West tourist attraction?” via Jeff Kleinman of the Orlando Sentinel — A 20-ton concrete buoy, which marks the Southernmost Point and 90 miles to Cuba, is one of Key West’s famous landmarks. Tourists flock to the marker every day to take photos, snap selfies, buy a souvenir or two. But how did such a magnet arrive in 1983 on an otherwise quiet street that leads to the water? Thieves kept on snatching the former signs that marked the Southernmost Point. So, city leaders decided to put something there to mark the spot that no one could move. And the marine-themed monument was born.
“A glimpse into Disneyland’s future? Disney may one day project 3D images for individual guests” via Hugo Martin of the Los Angeles Times — The Walt Disney Co. has been approved for a patent to project moving 3D images on real-world objects to interact with theme park visitors, making it easier to create interactive attractions throughout its theme parks, a technology described as a “Virtual World Simulator.” Disney officials say they have no immediate plans to use the technology. The Burbank media giant already uses 3D projectors to cast moving images on sprays of water in the light shows dubbed “World of Color” at Disney California Adventure and “Fantasmic” in Disneyland, as well as on buildings and rides during the nightly firework displays on Main Street USA. The technology described in the patent would not be geared for large audiences but would instead track individual visitors around the parks and project images specifically for them on nearby objects, buildings and walls. Imagine walking by a wall and having Mickey Mouse appear to wave and dance in front of you.
“Walt Disney World Marathon weekend finishes strong with record-breaking performances” via WFTV — Disney fans from all over the world showed up in Orlando this weekend, proving they can go the distance! Thousands of runners and even more spectators descended on the theme park for this year’s Walt Disney World Marathon. This year’s race was extra special as the theme park celebrates 50 years in Central Florida. Brittany Charboneau, a runner from Denver, made history as the first person to win all four races. Among the men, Vanilson Neves crossed the finish line in just 2 hours and 30 minutes. The Brazilian ran at an average speed of 5 minutes and 45 seconds per mile.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Celebrating today are Rep. James Buchanan and Albert Balido of Anfield Consulting. Belated happy birthday wishes to Rep. Rene Plasencia, Ron Bilbao, Julia Canady, Mike Fasano’s right-hand-man Greg Giordano, Makenzi Mahler, and Evan Ross.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.