Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.20.22
Good Thursday morning.
Jacksonville-based logistics juggernaut Crowley announced that it’s bringing Marcus Jadotte on board as senior vice president of Government Relations.
In his new role, he will helm Crowley’s legislative and regulatory advocacy efforts and boost awareness of its growing defense and civilian government services offerings among federal, state and local officials. He will be based in Washington, D.C.
“I am pleased to join Crowley and look forward to advancing the company’s best-in-class solutions for the U.S. maritime industry and beyond, including the company’s burgeoning energy, transportation and technology services,” Jadotte said.
Jadotte most recently worked as vice president of federal government relations at Raytheon Technologies, one of the largest aerospace and defense contractors in the U.S. He has also worked in the C-suite at aviation services provider AAR and NASCAR.
He also served as assistant secretary for industry and analysis for the International Trade Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce during the Barack Obama administration and the U.S. Department of Labor during the Bill Clinton administration.
Jadotte’s Florida connections include stints as chief of staff to U.S. Reps. Peter Deutsch and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, as well as an economics degree earned at Florida State University.
“Through his extensive experience bridging the public and private sectors, Marcus will further strengthen Crowley’s engagement with policymakers through leadership and outreach that builds trust, innovative policies and effective advocacy across our services for commercial and government customers,” said Parker Harrison, Crowley’s senior vice president and general counsel.
Florida Politics’ roster is expanding next week, with the addition of Gray Rohrer.
Rohrer comes to Florida Politics from the Orlando Sentinel, where he has worked as the Tallahassee Bureau reporter covering a wide range of news beats, including the Legislature.
At Florida Politics, he will use his expertise to provide Florida Politics’ readers with timely, insightful coverage on economic development and budget issues in a Legislative Session where lawmakers are poised to OK another $100 billion-plus budget.
Rohrer is a graduate of the University of Central Florida, where he earned a degree in political science. He has written for numerous publications throughout his 15-year career covering politics in the Sunshine State.
He launched his career covering local politics for the Beaches Leader Newspapers and the Cape Coral Daily Breeze before focusing jumping up to statehouse coverage, first for Sunshine State News and later at LobbyTools, where he anchored their coverage of property insurance, gambling, economy, labor, real estate, transportation, technology and budget issues.
In 2015, after working as a freelancer covering the special redistricting Session for The Associated Press, he joined the Orlando Sentinel.
Look for his first Florida Politics byline next week.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@PBump: [guy on Twitter] “i am certain about this thing that I am wrong about”
—@SamStein: Some folks will be surprised that (Joe) Biden said he was surprised by how stalwart Republican opposition to him would be.
—@GovRonDeSantis: Protecting life does not end with the unborn. This Session, I called on the Legislature to promote adoption & foster care, so all Floridians have a fair chance in life. Florida has 4,000 more licensed caregivers than in 2019 & I am proposing additional funds for foster parents.
—@NikkiFried: As Governor, I’ll protect a woman’s freedom to decide.
Honored to meet with stakeholders from all over the state today to hear about the issues important to you and your families. FL is special because of the engagement of our citizens and I’m so lucky to work with each and every one of you to move our state forward! #FlaPol pic.twitter.com/Uv0lhg1VVn
— Jimmy Patronis (@JimmyPatronis) January 19, 2022
—@JasmenRogers: Rep. Erin Grall (the bill sponsor) mentions that her sister had an abortion … says she’s pushing this bill to honor her sister. HOW can you honor your sister’s autonomy and decision to do what’s best … by restricting that choice?!?
—@HeatherGBarwick: She honors me because that was the biggest mistake I made in my entire life. And more than honoring me, she honors my lost child.
—@RepJoseOliva: @ A government-enforced mandate requiring private business to engage in displays of allegiance for the purpose of advancing freedom is the antithesis of freedom. Let’s rethink that one.
—@NateMonroeTU: the capitolist is just fulfilling every journalist’s ideal: comfort the comforted and afflict the afflicted.
—@MDixon55: As I just heard it put: “Broward days, the one day of year the Capitol is full of Democrats”
The beatings will continue until morale improves. Kudos to Chairman @GovGoneWild for recognizing that UCF is superior to the Gators. @alevine014 #Chargeon @UCF_Football @GasparillaBowl pic.twitter.com/adgqz7rPrQ
— Chris Latvala (@ChrisLatvala) January 19, 2022
—@MattNorlander: Simply incredible. Florida State wins a 13th straight overtime game. Never been done before. FSU 79, Duke 78. Never get involved in a land war in Asia, and never get involved in an overtime game against Leonard Hamilton.
—@BChesky: Starting today, I’m living on Airbnb. I’ll be staying in a different town or city every couple weeks
‘Ozark’ final season begins — 1; ‘Billions’ begins — 3; Red Dog Blue Dog charity event — 5; James Madison Institute’s Stanley Marshall Day Celebration in Jacksonville — 8; XXIV Olympic Winter Games begins — 15; Super Bowl LVI — 24; Will Smith’s ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ reboot premieres — 24; Discover Boating Miami International Boat Show begins — 27; season four of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ begins — 27; Synapse Florida tech summit begins — 28; ‘The Walking Dead’ final season part two begins — 31; Daytona 500 — 31; Special Election for Jacksonville City Council At-Large Group 3 — 34; CPAC begins — 35; St. Pete Grand Prix — 36; Joe Biden to give State of the Union — 40; ‘The Batman’ premieres — 43; the third season of ‘Atlanta’ begins — 62; season two of ‘Bridgerton’ begins — 64; The Oscars — 66; Macbeth with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga begin performances on Broadway — 68; Grammys rescheduled in Las Vegas — 73; federal student loan payments will resume — 101;’ Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 106;’ Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 127;’ Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 133;’ Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 170; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 181; Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner novel ‘Heat 2’ publishes — 201; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 225;’ Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 260; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 295; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 298; ‘Avatar 2′ premieres — 330;’ Captain Marvel 2′ premieres — 393;’ John Wick: Chapter 4′ premieres — 428; ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 554;’ Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 638; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 918.
— TOP STORY —
“Donald Trump spent weekend stewing that ‘wiseguy’ Ron DeSantis won’t kiss his ring“ via Asawin Suebsaeng and Adam Rawnsley of Yahoo News — In recent weeks, if you’ve run in the ex-President’s inner circle or floated in and out of his social or political orbits, chances are high that you’ve heard Trump casually insulting DeSantis, even in conversations that initially had absolutely nothing to do with DeSantis. Ever eager to protect his turf and with an eye on 2024, Trump has gossiped with certain confidants and advisers about DeSantis’ political vulnerabilities and “weaknesses.” On several occasions, the twice-impeached former President has lately told associates that if they’re asked about the DeSantis-Trump tensions on TV, they should decline to confirm or deny the existence of a simmering cold war between the two conservative icons.
—“Looks like DeSantis could turn into Trump’s personal nightmare” via Charlotte Klein of Vanity Fair
“Lincoln Project teases ‘divorce’ between Trump and DeSantis” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — The ex-Republican operatives at the Lincoln Project are gleefully exploiting the latest GOP crackup, with an ad buy promoting the so-called “divorce” between Trump and DeSantis. The spot is a rerun. “Sad!” was first launched in September. But the context is fresher, with Trump and DeSantis seemingly engaged in a rhetorical Cold War that could heat up on little notice. The placements are deliberate and provocative, with ad buys in Palm Beach, where Trump could see it, and Tallahassee, where the Governor might view it. A co-founder of the group contextualizes the most recent buy.
To watch the ad, click on the image below:
“Roger Stone slams DeSantis for ‘disloyalty’ to Trump” via Lisa J. Huriash of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Notorious provocateur Stone warned DeSantis to step aside for Trump in 2024, slamming DeSantis’s “disloyalty” to Trump and implying the former President could pull his support. His warning came after reports that a rift was growing between Trump and DeSantis over COVID-19 vaccines and their shared aspirations for the 2024 Republican nomination. “Gov. Ron DeSantis refuses to put his own presidential ambitions on hold until President Donald Trump has decided to whether he wants to run again,” Stone said in a YouTube video posted Wednesday. “I consider that to be an incredible act of disloyalty and ingratitude.” Stone called DeSantis “an unknown congressman with a bad haircut, an ill-fitting suit and an undistinguished record in Congress until President Donald Trump’s endorsement lifted him to the Republican nomination” in 2018.
“Lara Trump says DeSantis needs ‘another opportunity’ to endorse Trump in 2024” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — On Wednesday, Lara Trump discounted rumors of “bad blood” between Trump and DeSantis while suggesting Florida’s Governor may just need “another opportunity” to demonstrate his support for Trump ahead of the 2024 election. Lara Trump was on Varney & Company on the Fox Business Network, where she was asked to respond to a report that it was “too much to ask” for DeSantis to preemptively endorse another Trump term in 2024.
—DATELINE TALLY —
“15-week abortion ban passes first test in Legislature” via Skyler Swisher of the Orlando Sentinel — A House committee advanced a 15-week ban on most abortions on a 12-6 party-line vote in the first legislative debate on the controversial bill. Abortion is presently legal up to the 24th week of pregnancy in Florida. Rep. Grall, the bill’s sponsor, said abortion needs to be limited because medicine and science have changed since the 1973 Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. “This is not an abortion ban,” she said. “This is about 15 weeks. This is about having all your available options at the ready for you for 15 weeks.” But Democrats said it would interfere with what should be a private medical decision and particularly hurt low-income women and people of color who lack access to health care.
—“Democrats swarm abortion bill at first committee stop” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics
“Florida abortion bill will affect access across the South, advocates say” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — The ban on abortion after 15 weeks proposed by Florida Republicans won’t just affect Florida if it becomes law. For years, as nearby states have passed laws to limit abortion access, Southerners have made their way to the Sunshine State to take advantage of Florida’s relatively strong abortion protections. If a 15-week ban passes, access to abortion for people from out of state could be curtailed, advocates on both sides of the issue say. “If you look at Texas, they haven’t had access to abortion care beyond six weeks for four months,” said Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates. “You can imagine if access were eliminated in Florida, what it would look like in the South.”
Senate approves Governor’s emergency fund, but slashes price tag — The full Senate voted in favor of establishing a pot of money for the Governor to use during states of emergency. As Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida reports, the chamber’s plan sets the account balance at $500 million, which is just half of $1 billion DeSantis requested in his budget proposal. The proposal was pitched last year but fell through after it was determined that the state could not seed the account with federal money. The Senate’s 2022 plan (SB 96/SB 98) would fill the pot of money with general revenue dollars. The House version of the bill, introduced Tuesday, would provide the full $1 billion.
“Wilton Simpson says he’d vote for constitutional carry bill” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Simpson says he would support removing laws requiring a concealed-weapons permit to carry a gun if it comes to a vote. Simpson made the comment to reporters Wednesday after conservatives at the Republican Liberty Caucus said they met with the Senate President. The group has been among a cohort of pro-gun rights organizations pushing for “constitutional carry.” However, Simpson said he would not get involved in constitutional carry legislation until it gets to the Senate floor. That differed from comments one gun rights organization said Simpson made during the meeting. “Simpson told the group he ‘would support, vote yes, and challenge senators to bring a constitutional carry bill,’” according to an email.
“Senate passes health care liability protections as providers look to House to do the same” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — A must-pass bill for Florida’s nursing homes, doctors and hospitals cleared the Florida Senate Wednesday by a mostly partisan 22-13 vote. Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart was the only member of her party in the chamber to support the bill. Sponsored by Sen. Danny Burgess, the bill (SB 7014) extends through June 1, 2023, the protections health care providers currently have from COVID-19 related lawsuits. Senate Democrats all voted against the measure. Four senators have excused absences and did not vote. The current law that shields businesses and health care providers from COVID-19-related lawsuits was one of the first measures passed by the Legislature during the 2021 Session. The law clarifies that to successfully sue a health care provider for COVID-19, the plaintiff must prove gross negligence or intentional misconduct.
“Senate presidential search exemption proposal diverges from House version as it approaches final committee” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Legislation that would provide a public records exemption on information about applicants seeking a state university or college presidential position is headed to its final committee stop after clearing the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee. However, the Senate bill looks a little different from the House version, which is on to its second committee after garnering approval at its first stop Tuesday. The measure (SB 520), filed by Sen. Jeff Brandes, cleared its second committee with one amendment that provided the bill be effective upon becoming law. The Senate legislation approaches its third committee without a key amendment tacked on in a House meeting Tuesday, an alteration that changed guidelines in the bill.
“Senate ignores DeSantis’ redistricting map, moves forward with plan less friendly to GOP” via Skyler Swisher and Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — The Florida Senate moved forward with a congressional redistricting map that carves out fewer Republican-friendly districts than a surprise proposal put forth by DeSantis earlier this week. The Senate map is seen as the plan to keep much of the status quo in place, reinforcing the 16-11 Republican advantage over Democrats in congressional seats and even giving Democrats a good shot at a new seat being created. The House must still vote on its version of the map, one draft that would radically reshape many districts. The final map must also be signed into law by DeSantis, or he could veto it. The Senate discussed the maps without mentioning DeSantis’ plan. Sen. Ray Rodrigues, who is leading the Senate’s redistricting efforts, said he only learned of the Governor’s plan this week, and senators are following the legislative process.
“DeSantis’ office disses Al Lawson district as ‘unconstitutional gerrymander’” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The Governor’s Office labeled Florida’s 5th Congressional District an “unconstitutional gerrymander.” The harsh assessment comes as draft congressional maps moving through the Florida Legislature all include a similar configuration. Ryan Newman, General Counsel for DeSantis’ office, surprised lawmakers by submitting a draft congressional map on Sunday. Lawson condemned the Governor’s proposal Tuesday. “It is evident that DeSantis is trying to restrict minority representation, specifically African American voters,” the Congressman said. But Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ press secretary, said CD 5 as it exists now should not stand. Asked if the Florida Supreme Court five years ago put an unconstitutional district into play, Pushaw asserted it had.
“Senate debates legislative map that will shape its 2022 political environment” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A draft map (S 8058) reached the Senate floor six days after the Senate Reapportionment Committee cleared it for full debate. While the Florida House must also sign off on the map, the chambers traditionally have allowed one another to craft their own district boundaries for legislative maps. The maps will ultimately become law without any involvement of the Governor’s Office. This map holds significant political consequences for chamber members, and under its current configuration, places several incumbent Senators seeking re-election into shared districts. Sens. Dennis Baxley and Keith Perry both live in the proposed Senate District 9. Neither to date has said how they will deal with that situation.
“Shevrin Jones proposes change to the Senate’s draft congressional map” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Sen. Jones has offered changes to a proposed congressional map before the Florida Senate votes on it. The Democrat wants to see Miami Gardens, a community he represents in the state Senate, kept wholly within one congressional district. Under his draft map (S 8060), it would sit within Florida’s 24th Congressional District. The Senator took issue with a draft map advanced by the Senate Reapportionment Committee (S 8040) set for floor discussion Wednesday afternoon. That map splits Miami Gardens between CD 24 and Florida’s 25th Congressional District. “The latest maps are a severe disservice to the voters of Miami Gardens, a predominantly African American city, with important local challenges that deserve focused representation in Congress,” Jones said.
—TALLY 2 —
“Critics fear legislative proposal to fix nursing home staffing shortages may affect care” via Verónica Zaragovia of WLRN — A survey from the Florida Health Care Association published in August found 92% of long-term care facilities in the state faced significant staffing challenges, with more than half saying they have had to reduce admissions as a result. One proposal, filed by Sen. Ben Albritton, would slash the hours licensed nurses have to spend with patients and allow time spent with therapists or activities directors to count toward the requirement. But some in the industry say there could be problems if licensed nurses provide less care. Amy Runkle, a CNA in Venice, says the idea of replacing licensed nursing assistants with other staff is dangerous. “You need to be certified; you need to be properly trained,” said Runkle, who has worked as a CNA for 31 years and is also a member of 1199 SEIU.
“Senate Health Policy Committee says yes to inpatient hospital care at home, hotel” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — The Senate Health Policy Committee on Wednesday approved legislation (SB 1222) which amends existing state health care laws to allow hospitals, physicians and emergency medical transportation providers to partner together to provide nonemergency services to patients. Mayo Clinic Jacksonville Hospital has been offering inpatient services to its patients for more than a year under a pair of waivers granted by federal and state governments. But the waivers will expire, and Sen. Aaron Bean said his bill establishes the necessary framework for facilities interested in providing inpatient care outside of a hospital setting. Before passing the bill, the Senate Health Policy Committee agreed to tag on an amendment that reworded the proposal to prevent what Bean called a “scope creep.”
—“Senate Health Policy Committee passes three bills, defers action on three others” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics
“Out with COVID-19, Darryl Rouson’s peers move peer counseling bill through committee” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — Republican and Democratic senators said they are all behind an effort by Sen. Rouson to make it easier for former addicts to serve as counselors for those dealing with substance abuse problems. Rouson is sponsoring a bill designed to boost the number of “peer specialists” who can provide help to those being treated for drug and alcohol addiction as well as those who are struggling with mental illness. SB 282 cleared its second Senate committee Wednesday and has only one more stop before it reaches the full Senate. Rouson is a recovering addict and has pushed similar legislation in years past. That includes the 2021 Legislative Session when a similar bill sailed through the chamber, passing unanimously.
— MORE TALLY —
“Charter school bill unanimously passes second House committee” via Tristan Wood of Florida Politics — A House bill putting guardrails on how charter schools are renewed unanimously passed its second committee stop Wednesday. The measure (HB 225), sponsored by Rep. Fred Hawkins, would require school boards to renew charter schools at least 90 days before the school year ends. Otherwise, the charter would renew automatically. The bill passed its second committee stop, the House Secondary Education and Career Development Subcommittee, with unanimous bipartisan support. Hawkins noted that public schools start working toward the next school year well in advance. If there is a problem with a charter school, districts should start addressing it with “plenty of time,” he argued.
“Bill raising claims cap before state intervention to $1 million advances in the House” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A proposal to raise the cap on claims against local governments before the Legislature must intervene passed its first committee hurdle on Wednesday. The measure (HB 985), carried by Rep. Mike Beltran, would raise the value of claims from $200,000 to $1 million before sovereign immunity applies. The bill passed the House Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee by a 16-1 vote. Sovereign immunity is a principle stating that the government, including a local government, cannot be sued without its consent. The principle dates back to British common law. Proponents hope it would reduce the number of times Floridians would have to come to lawmakers to plead their case to receive reparations for transgressions committed against them by the government.
“State official gushes over influx of federal early childhood funding in House committee talk” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Matt Mears, the state’s Chancellor of Early Learning, was elated Wednesday afternoon when explaining that early childhood instructors received $166 million from Florida’s share of the federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA). Mears spoke to the House Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee, discussing how the Florida Division of Early Learning distributed the $635 million in CRRSA funding, which the Legislature allocated. He was happy to share that 26% of the funding went to instructor disaster relief payments, which came in two $1,000 checks written directly to child care instructors. In 2021, 76,005 Florida instructors received emergency payments.
“AFP-FL urges lawmakers to let the sun set on VISIT FLORIDA” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — VISIT FLORIDA will cease to exist on Oct. 1, 2023, under current law, but bills moving through the Legislature (SB 434/HB 489) would extend its authorization by five years to Oct. 1, 2028. Americans for Prosperity-Florida urges lawmakers to pump the brakes, deriding the tourism marketing agency as a form of corporate welfare. “AFP-FL works hard to protect Floridians’ hard-earned dollars by opposing public funding for unwarranted purposes,” AFP-FL State Director Skylar Zander said in a news release. “We should not allow our legislators to pick and choose what they want to see succeed in our economy — it should be our choice. After all, we know that the best way to actually promote economic growth is by ensuring that everyone is competing fairly.”
“Bill to protect farmers’ tax benefits amid growing agritourism clears makes way in Senate, House” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — The Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously approved legislation Wednesday morning that seeks to ensure the state’s growing agritourism industry doesn’t interfere with farmers’ preferential tax benefits. The Senate legislation (SB 1186), filed by Albritton, follows the House version of the bill, with both heading to their second committee. The House Environment, Agriculture and Flooding Subcommittee unanimously approved HB 717 on Tuesday. Filed by Rep. Josie Tomkow, the bill clarifies that farms can still be taxed at a lower rate even when parts of the land are being used for agritourism. The bill has garnered bipartisan support, clearing its first House and first Senate committee unanimously.
“Huge bottles, kegs, and 5-liter boxes: bill mulls repeal of wine container size limits” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Imagine your party guests’ faces when you cart out a $5,625, six-liter, Methuselah bottle of Château d’Yquem wine or when you lug out a $15.99, five-liter box of Franzia Cabernet Sauvignon. Then imagine their faces when the cops arrive. Why does Florida law limit wine sales to containers no larger than 1 gallon, except for reusable kegs or shipping logistics between manufacturers and distributors? “It serves no good policy basis to criminalize the sale of wine based on container size,” argued Rep. Chip LaMarca as he pushed a bill (HB 6031) through the House Commerce Committee Wednesday. HB 6031 flew through the Commerce Committee Wednesday with no opposition or debate and little discussion.
“Bill requiring Florida governments to use American-made iron and steel clears first hurdle” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — A bill that would require state and local governmental organizations in Florida to use American-made iron and steel products cleared its first hurdle Wednesday after facing some scrutiny and one argument against it. The House Local Administration and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee unanimously OK’d a bill (HB 619) by Rep. Anthony Rodriguez. The measure would require taxpayer-funded public works to domestically source iron and steel products. If passed and signed by DeSantis, the rule would also cover various other governmental entities, including school districts, taxing districts, colleges and universities. Sen. Jim Boyd has filed similar legislation in the Senate.
K9s For Warriors says lawmakers deserve a treat — K9s For Warriors, the nation’s largest provider of trained Service Dogs to military veterans, on Wednesday praised the lawmakers working to help it secure funding for a new facility. The organization singled out Senate President Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, as well as Sen. Travis Hutson, Rep. Sam Garrison, Sen. Cord Byrd and Sen. Jennifer Bradley for backing a bill (HB 9049) that would fund the facility’s completion. “We are extremely grateful to our state leaders and representatives for their support in our mission to continue saving veteran lives by building the world’s largest rescue-to-Service Dog facility,” said Rory Diamond, CEO of K9s For Warriors. Diamond said that once completed, the facility will halve the wait time for veterans to receive a service dog.
— SKED —
— The Senate Rules Committee meets to consider SB 280, from Sen. Travis Hutson, to preempt new ordinances when challenges arise over the anticipated impacts to businesses, 9:30 a.m., Room 412 of the Knott Building.
— The Senate Appropriations Committee meets to consider SB 620, also from Hutson, to permit businesses to sue local governments if ordinances cause at least 15% losses of revenues or profits, 11:30 a.m., Room 412 of the Knott Building.
— The Florida Senate is scheduled for a floor session, 2:30 p.m., Senate chamber.
— House Education & Employment Committee meets, 9 a.m., Morris Hall of the House Office Building.
— House Judiciary Committee meets, 9 a.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.
— House State Affairs Committee meets, 9 a.m., Room 212 of the Knott Building.
— House Finance & Facilities Subcommittee meets, 1 p.m., Morris Hall of the House Office Building.
— House Government Operations Subcommittee meets, 1 p.m., Room 404 of the House Office Building.
— House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee meets, 1 p.m., Reed Hall of the House Office Building.
— House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee meets, 1 p.m., Room 212 of the Knott Building.
— STATEWIDE —
“Florida DOT Secretary Kevin Thibault picked to run Orlando airport” via Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis’ five appointees to Orlando’s aviation authority voted Wednesday to hire Thibault to run Orlando International Airport. “I stayed up late last night thinking and praying on this,” said Carson Good, chair of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority and a Governor’s appointee. “I did not get any direction on who to pick, by the way.” Of the remaining two members of the authority, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings voted to hire the director of Seattle’s airport, and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said the Seattle airport director was his top pick, but he would vote along with the majority as a show of unanimity.
Jimmy Patronis deploys anti-fraud strike team to Southwest Florida — CFO Patronis sent a squad of anti-fraud experts to Southwest Florida on Wednesday to ensure residents impacted by recent storms and tornadoes do not become fraud victims. “Following a natural disaster, scam artists work overtime to defraud individuals in their time of need, and that is why I have deployed my Disaster Fraud Action Strike Team to Southwest Florida to be on the lookout for bad actors trying to make a buck off the damage caused by the devastating tornadoes that took place over the weekend,” Patronis said. The DFAST deployment consists of eight insurance fraud and workers’ compensation investigators who work for the Department of Financial Services Division of Investigative and Forensic Services. They will be on the lookout for common post-storm scams such as contractors or restoration professionals who offer to waive insurance deductibles or fail to perform work after they’ve been paid.
“Florida’s Environmental Regulation Commission hasn’t met in 5 years” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida is poised to spend $2.2 billion on the environment next year. This state and nation are already spending $23 billion cleaning up the Everglades. If you could solve problems simply by throwing money at them, we would be fine. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. A much better way — cheaper and more effective — is to stop people from damaging our natural resources in the first place. And on that front, Florida is pretty pathetic. Environmental enforcement is a fraction of what it was two decades ago. Florida’s Environmental Regulation Commission hasn’t met a single time in the past five years.
“‘That’s a problem’: Florida state agencies challenged with lack of job applicants, struggle to retain low-wage workers” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — State agencies are struggling to attract job applicants amid employee vacancies. Sen. Jeff Brandes, who chairs the committee, called for the presentation to learn about the current employment challenges faced by state agencies. Speakers from various public sectors made one thing clear: state agencies are struggling to attract and keep employees. “Not only are we seeing elevated turnover, we aren’t seeing the same degree of interest in people applying for these positions,” said Heather DiGiacomo, chief of staff at the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. Over the past three years, the state has seen a 34.7% decline in the number of applicants to state positions. That’s despite a three-year, 7.2% increase in job advertisements.
“Florida has a unique potion for executing prisoners. It wants to keep the details secret” via Ben Conarck and Ana Ceballos of the Miami Herald — Florida’s prison officials are asking legislators to enact more layers of secrecy around the state’s method of executing Death Row inmates, floating a bill that would make confidential any records that “could reasonably lead to the identification of any person or entity participating in an execution.” The measures would allow the Florida Department of Corrections to obscure the supply chain behind the unique cocktail of drugs used in its lethal injections. The department says doing so would prevent social activists from pressuring drug manufacturers into blacklisting the state from purchasing their products, but death penalty opponents say that it’s the manufacturers themselves that have sought to prevent their drugs from being used to kill people.
“Consulate nursing homes are changing names. Are they changing ownership?” via Hannah Critchfield of the Tampa Bay Times — The largest nursing home chain in Florida is rebranding. On its website, Consulate Health Care Services no longer lists any long-term care facilities in the state. In the wake of a bankruptcy filing and a slew of bad press over the last few years, the privately-held chain, the sixth-largest nursing home company in the nation, has quietly divided its Florida facilities into three separate companies. All three appear to be still affiliated with Consulate. Many of Consulate’s Florida nursing homes have begun to change their individual names as well, erasing any affiliation with the chain. Such reorganization leaves consumers in the dark, critics say.
“Florida Power & Light class action opens door to subrogation, future storm claims” via William Rabb of Insurance Journal — A Miami judge’s certification of a lawsuit against Florida’s largest utility company as a $10 billion class action, with damage claims from more than 4 million people who lost power in Hurricane Irma, could have significant repercussions for self-insurers and insurance companies in the years ahead. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge David Miller issued the order last month, noting that the plaintiffs had shown that the case meets all requirements for a class action. The plaintiffs allege that Florida Power & Light was negligent and breached its contract with customers by failing to fully prepare for the storm or to “harden the system” despite collecting a surcharge for that purpose.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“Joe Biden says nation weary from COVID-19, but U.S. in a better place” via Zeke Miller and Josh Boak of The Associated Press — Biden acknowledged Wednesday that the pandemic has left Americans exhausted and demoralized but insisted at a news conference marking his first year in office that he has “outperformed” expectations in dealing with it. He said he would likely have to settle for “big chunks” of his signature economic package to break an impasse in Congress and further attack inflation and the pandemic. Biden said he believes important parts of his agenda will be passed before the 2022 midterm elections and voters will back Democrats if they are fully informed, an assignment he said he will pursue by traveling the country.
“CDC data shows significant drop in new COVID-19 cases in Florida” via Brenda Argueta of Click Orlando — The CDC released several days of data after the holiday weekend that shows Florida may be turning the corner when it comes to the omicron wave. New data released Tuesday from the CDC shows there has been a large decline in new infections, and the state’s seven-day average of new cases has dropped nearly 25% in less than a week. The seven-day average of cases on Jan. 11, when the state recorded its fourth-highest set of numbers since the pandemic began, was 65,759. In the latest data reported one week later, the seven-day average was 49,690, a drop of 24.43%. Hospitalizations dropped by more than 300 over the weekend, though about half these hospitalizations are people with COVID-19 who are being treated for something else.
“COVID-19 update: Florida reports 43,179 new cases, steady hospitalizations as omicron surge continues to ease” via David Schutz of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida’s omicron surge continued to ease as the state’s seven-day average for new cases declined for the eighth consecutive day, and the number of patients in the hospital with COVID-19 remained stable, federal data shows. The state reported 43,179 new cases on Wednesday, an increase Tuesday. But the seven-day average fell to 45,456 — its lowest level since Dec. 30, according to data from the CDC. There were 11,839 patients with the virus in Florida hospitals on Tuesday and 1,613 adult COVID-19 patients in intensive care, data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows. On Wednesday, the state added three deaths to its total count, bringing the seven-day rolling average to 91.
“Orange County Mayor: ‘It is my fervent hope that Dr. Paul Pino returns to work … soon.’” via Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — Demings, isolated at home because of a COVID-19 infection, offered his support Wednesday for Dr. Pino, who was placed on administrative leave from his post as the state’s chief health officer in the county. “Dr. Raul Pino has been our trusted partner and friend throughout the pandemic,” the Mayor said in a statement emailed from his communications team. Pino faces a state investigation related to a staff-wide email he sent on Jan. 4. The email revealed that fewer than 14% of the 568 employees in the County Health Department had been fully vaccinated with a complete series and booster shot.
— CORONA LOCAL —
“Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings tests positive for COVID -19, Val Demings negative” via Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — Orange County Mayor Demings, who has led the county’s push for vaccination, testing and safety protocols, has tested positive for COVID-19, a spokesperson announced Wednesday in an email. The news release said the Mayor will be working from home this week. Congresswoman Demings, the Mayor’s spouse, said by email that she is “Negative and grateful. Will continue to test on a regular basis.” She added, “As always, we would also encourage all Floridians to sign up for the free tests now available through the USPS at https://special.usps.com/testkits, and to get vaccinated.” The Mayor is fully vaccinated and boosted and is experiencing mild symptoms, spokesperson Despina McLaughlin said. He received confirmation of a positive test Tuesday evening.
“Duval Schools reports more COVID-19 cases in first nine days of third quarter than the first two months of school combined” via Emily Bloch of The Florida Times-Union — In the nine days Duval Schools students have been back in school, the district has reported more cases of COVID-19 than it did in the first two months of the 2021-22 school year combined. Tuesday evening, the district reported 529 new cases, an all-time high for new cases reported within 24 hours. It’s worth noting that a bump in reported cases after a holiday break is to be expected. Still, an increase in new cases this high hasn’t occurred all school year. In fact, data shows that so far this month, the district has reported more COVID-19 cases than it did between all of September through December combined.
“School arts performance postponed by record-high COVID-19 positivity rate in Manatee County, athletics unaffected” via Allyson Henning of WFLA — The highly-contagious omicron variant of coronavirus is impacting the school system in Manatee County. The district is implementing additional proactive mitigation measures to slow the spread. Before students were dismissed for winter break, the county’s positivity rate was 6.9%. Performing arts students at Parrish Community High School found out their much-anticipated winter performance would not take place. It was scheduled for less than 12 hours later and has not yet been rescheduled. When the Parrish Community High School performance was supposed to be taking place Tuesday evening, the school’s basketball and soccer teams were playing games as scheduled. Students felt it wasn’t fair.
— 2022 —
“Election supervisors cite fraudulent signatures on Las Vegas Sands’ casino petitions” via Lawrence Mower and Mary Ellen Klas of The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald — Florida could be in the midst of one of the largest cases of election-related fraud in recent history. Across the state, elections supervisors say they have been sent thousands of fraudulent petition forms supporting a constitutional amendment to expand casino gaming in the state. Although the forms are supposed to reflect real Floridians voicing support for a change to the state’s Constitution, many include the names of dead people or the forged signatures of real voters.
“Attorney Kevin Hayslett joins Republican race for Florida’s 13th District” via Romy Ellenbogen of the Tampa Bay Times — Hayslett, a Clearwater attorney and former prosecutor, announced his plan on Wednesday to run for Florida’s 13th Congressional District. Hayslett, a Republican, said he’s already been endorsed by Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and former Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats. Hayslett is positioning himself as a “law and order” candidate who is a Trump Republican and political outsider. “I care about our community, and I have deep roots here, but like many others, I’m concerned with how Washington politicians are trying to dictate how we live our lives,” Hayslett said in his announcement.
— CORONA NATION —
“Omicron is in retreat” via David Leonhardt of The New York Times — Since early last week, new cases in Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey and New York have fallen by more than 30%. They’re down by more than 10% in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. In California, cases may have peaked. For now, the available evidence suggests that omicron is less threatening to a vaccinated person than ordinary flu. The final major piece of encouraging news involves booster shots: They are highly effective at preventing severe illness from omicron.
Choose your news … “America’s second pandemic winter: More virus, less death” via Philip Bump of The Washington Post — Two critically important things changed with the coronavirus pandemic between one year ago and now. The first was that vaccines became widely available, and most American adults availed themselves of the protections the vaccines offered. The second is that the most common variant of the virus to spread in the United States in the past month was omicron, which is far more contagious but, the data suggest, also less dangerous. What has emerged is a different sort of pandemic, one in which far more people are getting infected but, so far, fewer are dying. Yet there’s a caveat: There have been nearly as many total hospitalizations in the past month as a year ago, largely a function of multiplying the reduced hospitalization rate times a far larger number of infected people. Despite the common description of the omicron variant as “mild,” the sheer scale of infections has pushed the number of hospitalizations higher.
Or … “U.S. faces wave of omicron deaths in coming weeks, models say” via Carla K. Johnson of The Associated Press — The fast-moving omicron variant may cause less severe disease on average, but COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are climbing, and modelers forecast 50,000 to 300,000 more Americans could die by the time the wave subsides in mid-March. The seven-day rolling average for daily new COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. has been trending upward since mid-November, reaching nearly 1,700 on Jan. 17, still below the peak of 3,300 in January 2021. COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents started rising slightly two weeks ago, although still at a rate 10 times less than last year before most residents were vaccinated. If the higher end of projections comes to pass, that would push total U.S. deaths from COVID-19 over 1 million by early spring.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“Florida man gets five years for COVID-19 relief, tax fraud” via The Associated Press — A Florida man convicted of fraudulently collecting more than $1.3 million in COVID-19 relief funds has been sentenced to five years in prison. Johnson Eustache was sentenced Tuesday in Orlando federal court. He pleaded guilty in August to wire fraud and aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns. He must also forfeit approximately $700,000 seized from several bank accounts, as well as real properties in Palm Bay and Poinciana. Eustache submitted 13 different fraudulent Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Paycheck Protection Program applications to the Small Business Administration and other lenders from March 2020 to April 2021. In total, he sought more than $2.1 million in pandemic-related emergency benefits. Prosecutors said that Eustache included false statements in the applications regarding criminal history, the number of employees, and total payroll.