Hello and welcome to Tuesday.
The daily rundown — Between Sunday and Monday, the number of Florida coronavirus cases increased by 3,374 (nearly 0.2 percent), to 2,047,379; active hospitalizations rose 62 (nearly 2.2 percent) to 2,925; deaths of Florida residents rose by 69 (0.2 percent) to 33,247; 5,679,601 Floridians have received at least one dose of a vaccine.
Rock on — In the basement of the still-closed Florida Capitol, Gov. Ron DeSantis hosted a concert (sort of) on Monday, when he boasted yet again about his response to Covid-19 and roasted the recommendations and warnings coming out of Washington D.C. from the Biden administration.
Eds note: It was the Joe Cocker arrangement — It was a bit of a surreal scene to watch a band assemble for a bill signing ceremony and then belt out “With a Little Help from My Friends” and “Can’t You See.” (Oh, there were several “Ok Boomer” jokes on social media.) The bill that DeSantis signed shielded businesses from lawsuits associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, and the governor’s office apparently invited the band to emphasize a return-to-normalcy. (Did we mention that the state Capitol is still closed to the public?)
Meanwhile, somewhere up north — While this was all unfolding President Joe Biden and federal officials were warning that are signs building of another possible surge, and the president asked states to pause reopening efforts. Well, that of course drew pushback from DeSantis, who has rocketed into top-tier 2024 presidential status as the challenger of Covid-19 conventions. “When you start talking about doom, what you’re saying is the vaccines must not work,” said DeSantis.
More shots — The governor also drew another fault line with Washington by disparaging any talk about “vaccine passports” and announcing he would use his emergency powers to bar governments and businesses from requiring someone to show proof that they had a vaccine. “Totally unacceptable,” DeSantis said. (What about the idea that government should not tell business owners how to run their business, like say, whether to bake a cake … oh, nevermind.) The Miami Herald reported that the Miami Heat are planning to set up a special section at Thursday’s game for people show proof that they have been vaccinated.
Florida vs. the world — With DeSantis already announcing that Florida may soon file a lawsuit challenging federal restrictions on cruise ships, it’s clear that the governor wants to be at the forefront of a running battle with the Biden administration as he heads into his 2022 reelection. It’s an oldie, but a goodie (Former Gov. Rick Scott played this song over and over again during the Obama years) that seems to please the crowd (voters). Time for an encore.
— WHERE’S RON? — Nothing official announced for Gov. DeSantis.
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SUNSHINE SURGE — “As Florida’s tourism rebounds, CDC fears a travel-related COVID-19 surge,” by Sun Sentinel’s Skyler Swisher and Aric Chokey: “Florida’s COVID-19 cases are rising again as air traffic reaches numbers not seen in more than a year, sparking concerns that the nation’s wide-open Southern vacation playground could help fuel a fourth surge of infections. The White House and Centers for Disease Control Prevention called for vigilance on Monday, describing a feeling of “impending doom” with an alarming new uptick in cases nationwide and increased spring break travel.”
Doctor Doom? — “Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis continued on his course of fully reopening the state’s tourism sector and downplayed the federal government’s concerns. “When you start talking about doom, what you are saying is the vaccines must not work,” DeSantis said during a news conference in Tallahassee.”
THE DeSANTIS DOCTRINE — “DeSantis denounces vaccine ‘passport.’ Heat plans special seats for fans who have one,” by News Service of Florida’s Christine Sexton: “Pointing to privacy concerns, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday he will issue emergency rules this week that prevent businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccinations through COVID-19 “passports” and will ask the Legislature to pass a permanent ban. But on Thursday in Miami, the Heat will be the first team in the NBA to have sections of seats designated for fully vaccinated fans only.”
The governor’s rationale — “‘It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society,’ DeSantis said. ‘If you want to go to the movie theater, should you have to show that? No. If you want to go to a game, no. If you want to go to a theme park, no. … I think it’s something that people have certain freedoms and individual liberties to make decisions for themselves.’”
COURTHOUSE BLOCKED — “DeSantis signs bill expanding coronavirus liability protections for businesses,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Kirby Wilson: “Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the first major legislative response to the coronavirus pandemic into law Monday. Backed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, the measure would make it harder to sue health care providers, governments and other businesses in COVID-19 related lawsuits. Proponents of the legislation say it’s necessary to help businesses reopen with confidence. Opponents, including most Democrats in the Legislature, say it’s an unnecessary giveaway to well-heeled interests.”
— “Thousands of homebound seniors in South Florida sign up for door-to-door vaccine program,” by Sun Sentinel’s Wells Dusenbury
— “Florida says 16- and 17-years olds can get a COVID vaccine on the same day all adults can,” by Miami Herald’s Michelle Marchante
— “COVID variants triple in two weeks in Palm Beach County,” by Palm Beach Post’s Jane Musgrave
— “UF joins study on COVID-19 spread among vaccinated young people,” by Florida Politics’ Drew Wilson
THE NEXT ROUND — “Florida Senate seeks Covid-19 liability protections for schools,” by POLITICO’s Andrew Atterbury: The Florida Senate’s top education committee is recommending new Covid-19 legal protections for schools across the state — from universities that switched to online learning during the pandemic down to prekindergarten programs. The legislation, set to come up at Tuesday’s Senate Committee on Education meeting, aims to shield universities from lawsuits over tuition prices while also tackling school accountability. It would restrict how Florida’s statewide standardized test scores are applied, affecting graduation requirements and teacher evaluations in what appears to be a compromise of numerous education policies from this session.
NO WAY, BUD — “DeSantis opposes THC caps for Florida medical marijuana program,” by POLITICO’s Arek Sarkissian: Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Monday that he opposes a House plan to cap the amount of THC in medical cannabis, likely dooming the measure for the third consecutive legislative session. The House bill, FL HB1455 (21R), would limit raw, “flower” medical marijuana to a THC concentration of 10 percent. Products such as concentrates and oils would be limited to 60 percent THC. Speaking to reporters at the state Capitol, DeSantis said he already has told House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor) that he will not sign the bill. “I’ve talked with Chris about it and it’s not something I’m endorsing,” he said.
‘A GOOD STARTING POINT’ — “Senators move to raise Florida’s weekly unemployment benefits to $375,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Lawrence Mower: “A year after Florida’s unemployment system was wrecked by a crush of pandemic-related claims, lawmakers took the first step toward expanding benefits. Under a bill (Senate Bill 1906) that passed its first committee on Thursday, the state’s maximum weekly unemployment benefits would increase by $100, to $375. The minimum weekly benefits would increase from $32 to $100. And the state’s strict work search requirements to keep those benefits would be reduced from five different job applications per week to three. The bill doesn’t do much else — at least not yet.”
YOU GET A TAX CUT, AND YOU GET A TAX CUT — “Deal reached to lower business rent tax,” by News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner: “Florida businesses would get a second massive benefit as lawmakers move toward requiring out-of-state retailers to collect sales taxes on purchases made by Floridians, under a deal announced Monday by House and Senate leaders. The House Commerce Committee backed a measure (HB 15) on Monday that would require out-of-state retailers to collect and remit the sales taxes, with the anticipated $1 billion a year in revenue now proposed to go toward replenishing the state’s Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund and to subsequently make a major cut in a tax on commercial rent.”
TALLAHASSEE MAGIC — “Timeshare bill could cost Florida counties, cites and schools $170 million in property taxes,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Caroline Glenn: “After the Osceola County property appraiser won a major case against Wyndham timeshares upholding the way it values the company’s resorts, some Florida lawmakers want appraisers to use a different method — a change that could cost cities, counties and schools $170 million a year in property taxes. The proposal before the Florida Legislature is being pushed by a lobbyist who works for Grande Vista, a 900-unit timeshare in Orlando run by Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corp.”
GLIMMER OF HOPE? — “Florida manatee die-off may slow, wildlife official says. But it’s not over yet,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Zachary T. Sampson: “Florida officials hope a dramatic surge in manatee deaths is beginning to slow, a top wildlife director told state senators Monday, though the latest count shows more than 500 of the cherished creatures have died this year. That death toll, 539 as of March 19, is about three times more than the 5-year average over the same period. Senators wondered what they and the public could do immediately to help manatees, but Gil McRae, director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, made clear that the conditions contributing to the recent die-off may not be easily, or quickly, resolved.”
STILL CUT OFF — “Dan Markel’s parents hope to change state law to reunite with grandsons,” by WCTV’s Jacob Murphey: “Nearly seven years after Florida State Law Professor Dan Markel was murdered in his Tallahassee driveway, his parents are using his story to try to change Florida law on grandparent visitation rights. The Florida Senate Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs will hold a workshop on the issue Tuesday, using Markel’s case to see if, in certain cases, a grandparent can gain visitation access to grandkids even if the child’s parent says no. Two men are currently serving time in the killing of Markel, which shocked Tallahassee in July 2014. Markel’s family has accused his ex-wife’s family of involvement in the murder, but none of the Adelsons have been charged.”
— “Alimony bill clears first Senate committee despite pushback,” by Florida Politics’ Haley Brown
GEORGIA ON MY MIND — “Florida may restrict offering food and water to voters near polling places,” by POLITICO’s Gary Fineout: Florida may bar outside groups from giving food or water to voters standing within 150 feet of polling places, a provision that is drawing comparisons to a much broader prohibition included in a contentious election bill recently enacted in nearby Georgia. The top House Republican who is pushing the legislation FL HB7041 (21R) defended the measure on Monday, noting that state law already includes a “no-solicitation zone” near polling places that bar campaigns and political groups from approaching voters.
Zone defense? — “It’s influencing the vote and that’s what we are trying to stop because they are a captive audience,” said state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia (R-Spring Hill), the bill’s sponsor and former state GOP chair. “The 150 feet area is supposed to be a safe zone where they are not going to be bothered by a campaign.” Ingoglia also said that nothing in the proposal would prevent local election supervisors from handing out water to people in line if they wanted. “I just think it should be a function of the government,” he said.
Sounding off — The provision authored by Ingoglia (and which is not in the state Senate bill now moving) did get some national attention on Monday from NBC News and sparked some Democratic backlash, including from Rep. Stephanie Murphy, who tweeted out that “For anyone who has ever had to stand in line in Florida’s heat — particularly in the August primaries — this latest move by Tallahassee Republicans is just cruel & unusual.” Marc Elias told The Washington Post that “ It appears that Florida Republicans have looked at the outrage aimed at Georgia’s suppression law with envy rather than disgust.”
RULINGS? WHAT RULINGS? — “Florida Republicans seek cap on contributions to groups pushing ballot measures,” by POLITICO’s Gary Fineout: Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature on Monday pushed ahead with a measure that would impose a $3,000 campaign contribution limit on any group trying to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot, a proposal likely to draw a constitutional challenge if signed into law.
Rationale — State House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor) said the measure, which surfaced on Monday, would subject committees pushing for constitutional amendments to the same hard caps on candidates for statewide office. “You have one individual who can cut one check and essentially fund what is supposed to be a grassroots citizen initiative,” Sprowls said in an interview. “We are saying when there’s an initiative there should be rules of the game and bumpers as to how they can accept funds.”
Limits for some, but not others — [State Rep. Evan Jenne] added that if lawmakers were really serious about campaign finance reforms they would place caps on contributions to political committees maintained by legislators, which can currently accept unlimited donations. “That is a much more clear and present danger,” Jenne said. Sprowls brushed aside any consideration of capping donations to political committees run by elected officials, contending that committees are barred from directly advocating for the election of a candidate, although they can pay for ads that tout or disparage candidates.
FLORIDA MAN — “Proud Boys organizer charged in Capitol attack says he aided FBI ‘antifa’ inquiries,” by POLITICO’s Kyle Cheney: A leader of the Proud Boys charged in an alleged conspiracy to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6 claims he has a longstanding relationship with the FBI, which he said regularly sought him out for information about “antifa networks” in Florida and other parts of the United States. Joseph Biggs, one of four Proud Boys organizers charged in one of the Justice Department’s biggest cases stemming from the Capitol siege, said the bureau regularly turned to him for advice on antifa — a loosely affiliated collection of violent leftists that the bureau has described as adherents to an ideology rather than part of an organized group.
GET OUT OF JAIL FREE CARD — “Most Capitol rioters unlikely to serve jail time,” by POLITICO’s Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney: Americans outraged by the storming of Capitol Hill are in for a jarring reality check: Many of those who invaded the halls of Congress on Jan. 6 are likely to get little or no jail time. While public and media attention in recent weeks has been focused on high-profile conspiracy cases against right-wing, paramilitary groups like the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, the most urgent decisions for prosecutors involve resolving scores of lower-level cases that have clogged D.C.’s federal district court.
— “Trump launches website for ‘correspondence, scheduling requests,’” by Palm Beach Post’s Antonio Fins
POISONED, PART 2 — “Federal regulators have been missing in action at Florida’s only lead factory,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Rebecca Woolington, Corey G. Johnson and Eli Murray: “The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is supposed to ensure that companies provide safe work environments. But the regulatory agency has repeatedly bungled the job at Gopher, allowing hazardous conditions to persist for years, a Tampa Bay Times investigation has found. OSHA gave Gopher ample warning before site visits, which meant the company had time to deep-clean a factory coated with lead. The agency sent inspectors who missed evidence of dangerous levels of lead in the air, or who made other critical errors, including testing for the wrong chemical after workers complained about high gas exposure.”
RESCUE MISSION — “Boca investor Mason Slaine offers $100 million to purchase of Sun Sentinel’s parent company,” by Sun Sentinel’s David Lyons: “Boca Raton investor and philanthropist Mason Slaine says he is willing to put up $100 million toward buying Chicago-based Tribune Publishing, the parent company of the South Florida Sun Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel. Slaine, a technology entrepreneur and former media executive, is interested in joining a group of investors looking to derail a bid from the New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital Inc., known for buying up papers around the country and cutting them ruthlessly to boost profits.”
— “Florida’s black bear population growing at a time when more people are moving to the Sunshine State,” by Fort Myers News-Press Chad Gillis: “Florida’s black bear population is growing, bursting nearly at the seams in some areas as development encroaches farther and farther into their habitat. Black bears once ranged across most of the eastern United States, but populations have collapsed in many areas as hunting and habitat loss have taken their tolls. But the Florida population has been on the rebound the past 20 years, according to the volume of bear calls made by the public and by population estimates from biologists.”
BIRTHDAYS: Former Rep. Patrick Murphy