Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 7.6.21

Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 7.6.21


Happy Tuesday. We’re back!

We hope you had a nice long weekend and were among the many who made up for skipping out on the Fourth of July festivities last year by celebrating doubly hard in 2021. Fives and zeros are what really matter anyway.

Americans rang in the country’s 245th year with celebrations unseen since 2019. The White House hosted the biggest bash of the Joe Biden era, Will Smith brought fireworks back to the Big Easy, and NYC welcomed back some sorely missed traditions — a special congrats to Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, who downed 76 hot dogs to win another Nathan’s Famous July Fourth hot dog eating contest.

Joe and Jill Biden host the biggest White House July Fourth bash since 2019. Image via AP.

Many in South Florida, unfortunately, were not in a celebratory mood on the Fourth of July. It has been 12 days since the Champlain Towers collapse in Surfside, killing at least 27 people. There are 118 still missing, scores more who are now without homes, and countless others mourning a friend, family member, or acquaintance. As one article put it: “everybody in Miami knows somebody from that building.”

The collapse was the biggest story out of Florida last week and the week before, but not due to a lack of other headline-worthy news. The end of June saw Gov. Ron DeSantis work through the last batch of bills passed in the 2021 Legislative Session.

There were some snoozers, sure, but the no-fault repeal wasn’t one of them. Floridians had been waiting to see whether the Governor would sign or veto the bill (SB 54), which — depending on who you believe — could have saved motorists a few bucks or raked them over the coals. The result was a veto, much to the delight of insurers and drivers alike.

The biggest bill to earn the Governor’s approval: the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act.

The bill will pump $400 million into the Department of Environmental Protection for land buys in the Florida Ecological Greenways Network. For those not in the know, the corridor spans from the Panhandle to the Everglades and is home to a bevy of native species, including the Florida panther. It’s something every Floridian can celebrate.

Last week was also Florida’s first-ever “Freedom Week.” It’ll take a bit for state economists to deliver hard data on how much the new sales tax holiday saved Floridians, but the early reviews, if you will, indicate it was a success.

Hopefully, Florida’s teachers saved a lot of cash on concert tickets and camping gear because their highly anticipated bonus checks are in limbo.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the fine print on the federal COVID-19 relief package could allow for teacher bonuses, but Florida’s plan doesn’t match the intended goal of addressing the learning loss. Hopefully, some Hollywood accounting can make it work, otherwise, teacher’s bank accounts will get a COVID-19 slide all their own.

Four-figure checks are getting the shaft all around, it seems.

On the first of the month, a federal judge sided with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida in a lawsuit to block a new law to cap contributions to committees backing proposed constitutional amendments. Opponents argued the $3,000 cap would make it virtually impossible to get them on the ballot; lawmakers kinda argued the same thing when they pushed it through the Legislature, albeit with a positive spin.

The DeSantis-backed social media crackdown is also in hot water. A federal judge blocked the law — or the would-be law, since it never went into effect — on the grounds that it would be found unconstitutional. The fight isn’t over, and it likely won’t be for quite a while, but Wednesday’s ruling was a win for Silicon Valley and a gut punch to one of DeSantis’ top priorities last Session. 

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Personnel note: Jasmyne Henderson to lead Pittman Law Group Orlando office — Tallahassee-based law and lobbying firm Pittman Law Group is expanding into the Orlando market with a new office headed by Henderson. The attorney and FSU law alumna will be leaving Tallahassee to open and manage the law firm’s new office. Founder and managing partner Sean Pittman said she is “ready and prepared to lead” and has proved “invaluable to the firm” during her tenure as director of the firm’s governmental affairs team in Tallahassee. “I’m honored to lead this next era of expansion to the Pittman Law Group. The I-4 corridor is the heartbeat of Florida, so it is a logical next step for me personally and the Pittman Law Group to establish a strong presence in Orlando,” she said.

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Welcome to the world — Over the break, Abigail Lily Cohn was born to Sachs Media Vice President Ryan Cohn and his wife, Tallahassee attorney Diana Cohn. Abigail weighs in at 6 lbs., 3 oz, and measures 19.5”. Congratulations to the newly grown family!

Happy birthday to Abigail Lily Cohn!

 — SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@JimmyPatronis: There are no words that can express the grief felt in #Surfside. Katie & I send our deepest condolences to the loved ones of those lost in this terrible tragedy. Together, we reach for the love that poured into this community and pray for those working to make miracles happen

@MayorDaniella: This unthinkable tragedy has shown us how deeply connected we are as one community. Thank you to all the journalists & storytellers for the care & attention you’ve given to sharing these stories — to making sure the world knows about the lives lived & lost.

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

@BiancaJoanie: An effort that has not gotten enough attention is the dozens of stories my colleagues at @MiamiHerald have collected about the victims & missing people from the Champlain Towers collapse. We are aiming to do every single one. If you can help us, reach out.

Tweet, tweet:

@BMcNoldy: Just how extraordinary is it to have a hurricane in the eastern Caribbean before mid-July? Well, do 1933 and 2005 mean anything to you? Those are the only two years it happened before. Not cool, 2021, not cool. #Elsa

@ZachCoveyTV: 113 hours ago, 2500 miles ago, the NHC issued their first cone on #Elsa. They placed the storm right off the coast of Cuba around this time. Elsa is just 46 miles off from where they forecast it to be LAST WEDNESDAY. They’re the best in the biz for a reason.

Tweet, tweet:

@arin_twit: Dogs: tonight we’re gathering at the fireworks sellers’ house to bark all night long. Don’t tell anyone.

— DAYS UNTIL —

‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 3; MLB All-Star Game — 7; Jeff Bezos travels into space on Blue Origin’s first passenger flight — 14; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 17; second season of ‘Ted Lasso’ premieres on Apple+ — 17; the NBA Draft — 17; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 29; ‘The Suicide Squad’ premieres — 35; Florida Behavioral Health Association’s Annual Conference (BHCon) begins — 43; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 49; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 58; NFL regular season begins — 65; Broadway’s full-capacity reopening — 70; 2022 Legislative Session interim committee meetings begin — 76; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 80; ‘Dune’ premieres — 87; Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary party starts — 87; MLB regular season ends — 89; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 94; World Series Game 1 — 113; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 119; Florida’s 20th Congressional District primary — 119; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 121; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 135; San Diego Comic-Con begins — 143; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 157; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 167; NFL season ends — 187; 2022 Legislative Session starts — 189; Florida’s 20th Congressional District election — 189; NFL playoffs begin — 193; Super Bowl LVI — 222; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 262; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 304; ‘Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 331; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 367; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 458; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 493.

— LATEST ON ELSA —

The conditions in southern Florida have begun to deteriorate as Tropical Storm Elsa took aim at the Florida Keys early Tuesday, prompting a hurricane watch for portions of the west coast of state, according to the National Hurricane Center.

In addition to damaging winds and heavy rains, the Miami-based center said the peninsula was in danger of life-threatening storm surges, flooding and isolated tornadoes. A hurricane watch was issued for the west-central and Big Bend coast of Florida from Egmont Key to the Steinhatchee River.

Three to 5 inches of rainfall with localized maximum totals of up to 8 inches of rain are expected through Wednesday across the Keys and into southwest and western portions of the Florida Peninsula. A few tornadoes are possible across south Florida Tuesday morning and across the Florida Peninsula later in the day, the center forecasted.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday expanded an existing state of emergency to cover a dozen counties that span an area of Florida where Elsa is expected to make a swift passage on Wednesday and President Joe Biden approved an Emergency Declaration for the state ahead of the storm.

Tropical Storm Elsa gets attention in the Keys — with some preparation but no panic” via Gwen Filosa of the Miami Herald — The Lower Keys could(‘ve) started to feel Elsa’s winds as early as Monday night, but more likely early Tuesday morning. The National Weather Service shows Key West could see maximum sustained winds in the low-40s with gusts as high as 57 mph around 7 a.m. Tuesday. Monroe County officials have not issued mandatory evacuation orders. But they recommend people in mobile homes, travel trailers, RVs and boats either leave the Keys by sunset Monday or ride out the storm in safer housing. The forecast also calls for limited coastal flooding, isolated tornadoes, and flooding with rain totals of two to four inches.

Assignment editors — DeSantis will join FDEM Director Kevin Guthrie for a news conference on Tropical Storm Elsa, 8:15 a.m., State Emergency Operations Center, 2555 Shumard Oak Boulevard, Tallahassee. RSVP to [email protected]

The cone:

— LATEST ON SURFSIDE —

Death toll rises to 27 in Surfside collapse as demolition opens new areas to search teams” via Douglas Hanks, Bianca Padró Ocasio and David Ovalle of the Miami Herald — The successful implosion of the Champlain Towers South paved the way for rescue workers early Monday to begin scouring a previously inaccessible portion of the building. The demolition provided hope, however slim, that survivors might be hidden in voids in the massive pile of twisted concrete, metal and debris. But it also signaled that firefighters will likely begin finding more victims at an accelerated pace. Indeed, by Monday afternoon, county officials announced that three more bodies had been discovered in the hours after the implosion, raising the death toll to 27, with 118 still missing in what could become one of the deadliest building failures in U.S. history.

Workers imploded the Champlain Towers South condo building to safely continue recovery efforts. Image via AP.

Beloved parents of seven children killed in the Surfside condo collapse” via C. Isaiah Smalls II of the Miami Herald — In April 2020, Chana Wasserman penned a blog post about her mom, Ingrid “Itty” Ainsworth. Entitled “A Mother Like No Other,” Wasserman described Ainsworth, 66, as someone who was not only extremely neat and passionate about life but also extremely personable. “Every person she encountered, ever in her life, became her friend,” Wasserman wrote. “Everyone was treated as equals.” Ainsworth’s ability to leave every interaction with a friend likely will be missed most as she and her husband, Tzvi, 68, were found Monday among the wreckage where Champlain Towers South once stood, according to Miami-Dade police. The news comes a dozen days after search and rescue efforts began.

“‘Everybody in Miami knows somebody from that building’” via Linda Robertson of the Miami Herald — Inside the “condo of the abuelas,” a walk down any hallway was a feast for the senses. The smells of frying plantains, baking challah bread, and roasting brisket mingled with the sounds of Willy Chirino’s salsa hits and telenovela actors’ operatic dialogue. The remarkable mosaic of people at Champlain South is a reflection of Miami and its demographic evolution. “Everybody in Miami knows somebody from that building or knows somebody who knows somebody,” said Charles Danger, Miami’s retired building chief and member of the Belen Jesuit Preparatory School alumni association. A Belen graduate is among the missing. “It’s like six degrees of separation, or less.”

—”’They were just starting their lives.’ Newlyweds still missing in the Surfside collapse” via Ariana Aspuru

Where are the pets? Mayor says crews searched Surfside condo units before demolition” via David J. Neal and Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — In defending the efforts to save family pets left behind in Surfside’s Champlain Towers South, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava says rescue workers went into condos Sunday looking for animals before the building was demolished. “They were, at great risk to themselves, searching inside those units that had been indicated that might have pets and searching very thoroughly,” she said Monday. On Saturday, Levine Cava had said any pet search before the demolition wouldn’t involve going into units because “it is not safe for anyone to go beyond the first floor.”

Lax enforcement let South Florida towers skirt inspections for years” via Michael LaForgia, Adam Playford and Lazaro Gamio of The New York Times — Florida’s high-rise building regulations have long been among the strictest in the nation. But after parts of Champlain Towers South tumbled down on June 24, evidence has mounted that those rules have been enforced unevenly by local governments, and sometimes not at all. Miami-Dade County officials said last week that they prioritized reviews of 24 multistory buildings that either had failed major structural or electrical inspections required after 40 years or had not submitted the reports in the first place. But the county’s own records show that 17 of those cases had been open for a year or more. Two cases were against properties owned by the county itself. The oldest case had sat unresolved since 2008.

After Surfside, changes proposed in Miami-Dade building regulations” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — The Surfside condominium collapse could lead to a string of changes in Miami-Dade County’s building code, high-rise regulations and the local approach to guarding against structural damage from sea-level rise. A previously confidential list of pending legislation filed by Miami-Dade commissioners after the June 24 catastrophe shows more than two dozen proposals in the pipeline. These include legislation to speed up the current requirement for building recertifications every 40 years and rules to bolster maintenance funds for condominiums and affordable housing projects. There also are studies on how to prevent the structural damage that comes with flooded garages, an issue that appeared to be a chronic problem at the collapsed Champlain Towers South complex.

Area lawmakers say Surfside collapse will bring proposals for state-level changes” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — Two state lawmakers representing coastal communities of Northeast Florida say they expect the Surfside condo tower collapse will bring proposed changes in regulations, but they want to see what an investigation determines caused the building to come down. “It was devastating,” said state Rep. Cord Byrd. He said he wants to learn more about what led up to the building falling. State Sen. Aaron Bean said, “there will be intense scrutiny,” he said, adding there might be several bills dealing with regulations. Jacksonville Beach resident Jon McGowan, who lives in the seven-story Vanilla Manila condo building, said he thinks the Florida Building Code should take a fresh round of inspections 20 to 25 years after a building gets its original certificate of occupancy, or even sooner for buildings along the ocean where salt air causes corrosion.

Ron DeSantis can’t let a Surfside inquiry become the usual political cover job” via Bennett Levin of The Washington Post — When disaster strikes in the United States, two responses tend to follow: some kind of commission to unearth the truth of what happened, and new laws to prevent it from happening again. Days after the Champlain Towers South condominium complex collapse in Surfside, we already hear calls for both. Unfortunately, experience has taught me that these investigations are often little more than political charades. Inquests prioritized protecting the powerful over enforcing accountability for those most at fault. The Surfside victims should not be subjected to a similar farce. Any investigation must deliver true accountability by getting to the bottom of who knew what (and when) and refusing to give anyone who abdicated their professional responsibilities a pass.

Some are imploring Ron DeSantis to keep politics out of an investigation of the Surfside tragedy.

New Miami-Dade Mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, in global spotlight after Surfside collapse” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — It was Levine Cava’s seventh day delivering grim news from the Surfside operation when she took a deep breath at the cluster of microphones where she had already announced 16 deaths. “Since our last briefing, I am very pained to tell you that we found two additional bodies in the rubble,” Levine Cava said at a media briefing aired around the world on June 30. The county’s police department would follow up with a news release including official identification of the collapse’s youngest known victim to date, Emma Guara, 4, and sister Lucia Guara, 11. The early word from Levine Cava reflected her self-assigned role in the ongoing Surfside catastrophe: the public face of a response that hasn’t found a survivor since the early hours of the collapse.

Lauren Book courts cards for Surfside emergency crews” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Book is collecting cards thanking crew members for their work on search and rescue efforts following the Surfside condo collapse. “As our neighbors in the town of Surfside deal with unthinkable tragedy, many of us are looking for ways to help — including children,” Book wrote in an email to constituents, before noting that she and her children had decided to make support cards for the first responders. Book is asking community members to send cards to her office at 967 Nob Hill Road, Plantation, FL 33324. Those looking to send support can also mail cards to Sen. Jason Pizzo’s office at 5582 NE 4th Court, Suite 7B, Miami, FL 33137. Senate District 38, which Pizzo represents, covers Surfside.

—”First responders at the Surfside collapse are getting homemade cards from kids: ‘It stopped me in my tracks’” via The Washington Post

Is your building in danger of collapse? Look for these warning signs” via Ron Hurtibise of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Around the globe, the rare and tragic collapse of a 40-year-old condo tower in Surfside has motivated residents to scrutinize their buildings with fresh eyes. We’re checking out every crack, chip and rust stain and asking whether they might portend a catastrophe. It’s a challenging task. Unless you have an engineering degree, real-world experience and sophisticated testing equipment, it’s difficult to discern the difference between cracks caused by normal settling and others warning of shifts in the earth below that could result in serious damage if left unrepaired. But the increase in attention — around the world — might be the only good thing to come out of such a grim event, according to construction restoration engineers.

Surfside tragedy rattles Florida’s condo insurance industry” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times — Within days of the partial collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, insurance companies sent letters to owners of condominiums 40 years and older in South Florida, asking for proof that their buildings have passed all inspections, or they will lose their coverage. Now, if a building can’t comply with the insurance requests, the insurer can cancel the policy with a 45-day notice or choose not to renew the policy. Miami-Dade and Broward are the only Florida counties that require aging high-rises to go through a reinspection after they reach 40 years of age. But the action letters could have a ripple effect across the state if they result in policies being dropped and a tightening of the insurance market.

— 2022 —

‘Make America Florida.’ DeSantis goes national with an eye toward the White House” via Skyler Swisher of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — DeSantis stood at a lectern with a sign that proclaimed, “Secure our border. Secure our states.” Then he unleashed as the cameras rolled. While he offered few concrete specifics, DeSantis said he would be dispatching Florida police officers to Arizona and Texas to help fix the problem. The political message beamed out not just to Florida but nationwide: DeSantis, the heir apparent to former President Donald Trump, was doing the job Biden wouldn’t do. It was one of the recent signs that DeSantis is gearing up not just for his reelection campaign next year but for a possible run for the White House in 2024.

Ron DeSantis is raising his national profile as he eyes Joe Biden’s job. Image via AP.

Eric Lynn rakes in $368K in first finance report for CD 13 campaign” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Lynn raised more than $368,000 in the second quarter finance period, his first finance report since launching his campaign for Florida’s 13th Congressional District in mid-May. This fundraising period gives Lynn north of $500,000 cash on hand, a good starting point for what is expected to be one of the most hotly contested races this upcoming election season. Lynn’s campaign provided the latest finance update. Lynn, who previously worked as a national security adviser in former President Barack Obama’s administration, was the first Democrat to enter the race. He faces state Reps. Ben Diamond and Michele Rayner-Goolsby in the Democratic Primary. Diamond has more than $250,000 for his congressional bid in four weeks, his campaign announced at the start of June.

Bobby DuBose nabs $225K, picks up congressional endorsement in CD 20” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — DuBose, the Florida House Democratic Leader, has raised $225,000 in the first six weeks of his campaign to succeed the late U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings. DuBose is a co-leader of the minority party in the House and part of a crowded field of candidates in the race for Florida’s 20th Congressional District. The Special Election is set for Jan. 11. “The support we’ve received in the past six weeks has been incredible,” DuBose said. The end of the fundraising period also coincides with an endorsement from U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams. That makes him the first in the race to announce an endorsement from a sitting member of Congress.

Adam Anderson raises $84K in HD 65 race” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Anderson has raised $84,000 in his bid to succeed House Speaker Chris Sprowls in House District 65. The Republican, a local businessman from North Pinellas, entered the race last month, taking on Democrat Kelly Lynn Johnson in the red district. Sprowls endorsed Anderson days after he launched his campaign. “It’s been an incredible first month, and the outpouring of support and encouragement from leaders throughout our community, and state, is truly humbling,” Anderson said. Anderson was born in New York but moved to Pinellas County as a child. He attended Admiral Farragut Academy and served on the school’s National Junior ROTC and Naval Science programs. He earned degrees in real estate and finance from Florida State University’s College of Business.

— DATELINE TALLY —

Magic City Casino owners sue to invalidate Seminole Tribe’s sports betting deal” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — One of Florida’s oldest pari-mutuel companies, owner of Miami’s Magic City Casino and the Bonita Springs Poker Room, has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Florida gaming compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, alleging that the sports betting component is a based on “legal fiction” that violates federal law. The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida by the Havenick family’s West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corporation, argues that the agreement authorizing sports betting outside of tribal lands in Florida is in violation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and asks the court to enjoin implementation of sports betting.

ICYMI — “Jeff Brandes out as chair of Senate Judiciary Committee” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — After finding himself at odds with several GOP priorities during the 2021 Legislative Session, Pinellas state Sen. Brandes was removed Friday as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate President Wilton Simpson reassigned the seat to Republican Sen. Danny Burgess for the upcoming Legislative Session. Brandes will instead lead the Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability. “Throughout his time in the Senate, Sen. Brandes has showed a great interest in the operations of state government,” Simpson said in a statement to Florida Politics. The reassignment marks the latest political dust-up between Brandes and his party.

In another dust-up with the Republican Party, Jeff Brandes gets shuffled around. Image via Colin Hackley.

Shevrin Jones plans tour of public colleges to talk education, COVID-19 response” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Jones is planning in-person visits to Florida’s 12 public universities over the next several weeks to address education leaders ahead of the upcoming fall semester. The COVID-19 pandemic upended education administration last year throughout the nation. While Florida was among the first states to push schools to open, many universities continued to enforce some form of social distancing rules. Jones, a former educator before his time in the Legislature, will tour the state’s dozen public colleges starting on July 13. Jones’ first stop will take him to Florida Gulf Coast University on Tuesday, July 13.

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Jim Boxold, Andrew Ketchel, Capital City Consulting: Advanced Drainage Systems

Whitney Doyle: Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology

George Hagerty, Richard Killion: Beacon College

James McFaddin, The Southern Group: CBC Holdings

Darrick McGhee, Johnson & Blanton: US Meltblown

Ron Pierce, Kaitlyn Bailey, Edward Briggs, Natalie King, RSA Consulting Group: High 5, Livingstone Schools

Joshua Spagnola: AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals

— STATEWIDE —

Florida’s new Parents’ Bill of Rights brings big changes to medical care for children” via Cindy Krischer Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — On Tuesday night, DeSantis signed the Parents Bill of Rights, effective July 1. On the face of it, the Parents’ Bill of Rights, a bill sponsored by state Rep. Erin Grall seems self-explanatory: parents, not government or schools or doctors, have the right to direct the upbringing, education, health care, and mental health of their minor child. However, for parents and children, the law greatly affects how medical emergencies at places like youth sporting events, playgrounds, or public pools are handled. Doctors say they can no longer rush in as a volunteer to treat a child with an allergic reaction, a sprained ankle, a broken bone, a concussion, or any type of injury in emergencies without first getting a parent’s written consent, under the new Parents’ Bill of Rights.

Ron DeSantis ushers in big changes in parental rights in health care. Image via AP.

Florida National Guard troops go months without state education benefits” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Soldiers and airmen of the Florida National Guard went months without state education benefits this year despite serving amid the busiest activation period since World War II. The Educational Dollars for Duty program stopped approving the applications of service members in April after funding for the state program ran out. The program, a flagship benefit and recruitment tool covers tuition and fees for eligible troops. In all, roughly 250 guard members were denied the benefit, according to the Florida National Guard. Moreover, the entire force remained without it until Thursday, when the new budget kicked in.

Getting public records from a Florida government agency just became easier” via Michael Moline of Florida Phoenix — Your government can’t drag you into court anymore if you file a request for a public document. The legislation now signed by DeSantis has put an end to these “declaratory judgment” lawsuits. Essentially, agencies ask a judge to rule on whether the requested information represents a true public record that it is obliged to hand over. But they can seriously run up costs of seeking public records and drag out the process. Patricia Marsh, executive director of the Florida First Amendment Foundation, praised the Governor, who signed the legislation on June 29. “We are thrilled that Gov. DeSantis saw the wisdom and necessity of SB 400 and signed it into law,” she said.

A wave of foreclosures is coming. Floridians need protection from predatory lenders” via Ricardo M. Corona of the Miami Herald — The moratorium on foreclosures of government-backed mortgage loans ended June 30, and those of us who see the foreclosure system up close are worried. Why? We see day in and day out how easy it is for mortgage lenders and servicers to wrongly toss people from their homes and sometimes illegally. A decade after major banks paid a $25 billion settlement for predatory mortgage practices, many of the same practices are still taking place. We’re talking about neighbors, family members, and friends trying to do the right thing and keep a roof over their heads after running into financial trouble, especially during the pandemic shutdown. An estimated 10 million Americans are behind in their mortgage payments, and 1.8 million are 90 days past due, four times as many as before the pandemic.

Florida’s freshwater springs are in jeopardy, a new documentary suggests” via Patrick Connolly of the Orlando Sentinel — A two-part documentary series, “The Fellowship of the Springs,” shines a light on the Sunshine State’s unique artesian springs, the threats to their livelihood and the efforts to save them. Both parts of the documentary will air 4-6 p.m. July 8 on WUCF in Central Florida. In the documentary, scenes show families and friends enjoying pristine blue waters at Rock Springs, Wekiwa Springs, Devil’s Den, Weeki Wachee Springs and Blue Spring. These “magic waters” are known as tourism destinations, as well as habitats for manatees, turtles and alligators. In addition, the Floridan Aquifer, the source of the springs, provides drinking water for a wide swath of Florida and parts of Georgia.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

COVID-19 in June: Caution urged as vaccinations and testing slows, variants rise” via Bailey Gallion of Florida Today — Throughout Florida in June, COVID-19 case counts held steady, vaccination and testing rates dropped, and the more contagious Delta strain of the virus spread in the Sunshine State and elsewhere. U.S. experts now warn that the emergence of the Delta variant and other strains could slow the “return to normal” many Americans hoped to see in 2021. On June 4, the Florida Department of Health, or FDOH, ceased releasing daily reports in favor of a weekly format that contained significantly less information. Jay Wolfson, a professor of public health at the University of South Florida, said that doesn’t mean the agency is no longer tracking the virus. “I am reasonably convinced that the State Department of Health is continuing its internal monitoring and surveillance cases, but we’re testing less,” Wolfson said.

The latest variant is especially worrisome in Florida. Image via Bloomberg.

COVID-19 infections rising again in Central Florida” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — COVID-19 infections are going in the wrong directions throughout Central Florida, while vaccination rates slow down. The latest reports from the Florida Department of Health show the number of COVID-19 cases for last week was the highest seen for each of greater Orlando’s six counties for the week ending last Thursday since the department switched from daily reports to weekly at the start of June. At the same time, the number of people receiving at least their first vaccination also was down across the region, compared with previous weeks’ tallies. The weekly reports show a steady rise in new cases and positive test rates across Central Florida.

South Florida COVID-19 cases are rising, but remain among lowest levels of the pandemic” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — COVID-19 cases have been steadily rising in all three major South Florida counties since mid-June. Though cases are trending upward, they remain among the lowest levels seen since testing began in March 2020. Still, those upward trends could cause concern among officials as vaccinations appear to be dropping. The newest weekly report from the Department of Health relays data from June 25 through July 1. That report shows Palm Beach County at a 4.3% case positivity rate, which measures the share of COVID-19 tests that come back positive. That number is 3.9% for Broward and 3.6% for Miami-Dade. Health experts say that number should remain below 5% to ensure the virus’s spread remains under control, and all three counties meet that criteria.

Hillsborough County lags Tampa Bay region in COVID-19 vaccination rate” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Hillsborough County is lagging behind neighboring counties in vaccination efforts. Hillsborough vaccinated 684,860 residents as of July 1. While that’s more than any county in the Tampa Bay region, it’s a smaller portion of the overall population, just 53% of those eligible to receive a vaccine. By comparison, Pinellas County vaccinated 57% of those age 12 and older, and Pasco County vaccinated 54%. A total of 23 counties statewide have a higher vaccination rate than Hillsborough County. The Florida Department of Health now only reports COVID-19 data weekly. The next report will begin to show whether the Fourth of July holiday and associated gatherings and travel had any impact on rising incidences of COVID-19.

Jacksonville Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman in ICU battling COVID-19” via First Coast News — Pittman is reportedly in the hospital struggling with COVID-19. Several sources close to the councilwoman confirmed to First Coast News that she’s in the intensive care unit and hospitalized in the last few days. However, nobody knows where Pittman could have contracted COVID-19. Pittman represents District 8 and has served the Jacksonville community in leadership roles for more than 30 years. At this time, it’s not clear what her current health status is.

Prayers for Ju’Coby Pittman, currently in intensive care for COVID-19.

UNF team surveys 3,000 Florida health care workers to learn from the pandemic” via Matt Soergel of The Florida Times-Union — University of North Florida researchers polled about 3,000 Florida health care professionals during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic about how their work lives were being affected. A big takeaway was that many were not fully equipped to deal with telehealth conferences, which became much more common in 2020. That shows the need for more training in virtual consultations with patients, which was proved during the pandemic to be an effective health care tool, said Kristen Hicks-Roof, a nutrition and dietetics assistant professor who was one of the survey’s authors. “If we can train this next generation of providers, we’ll be OK, and they’ll be more satisfied with telehealth, compared to those who were just thrust into that environment,” she said.

— CORONA NATION —

At the start of the pandemic, kids made up 2% of new COVID-19 infections. Now, they make up 24%. What happened?” via Adriana Rodriguez of USA Today — Children make up a growing share of new coronavirus cases each week as overall infections decline with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, but infection and hospitalization rates among children remain stable. In March 2020, children accounted for only about 2% of new infections. By the end of May, children made up more than 24% of new weekly infections even though they account for only 16% of the population, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics data. Health experts say it’s a sign more adults and adolescents need to get vaccinated to avoid bringing the virus home and spreading it to children who aren’t yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

COVID-19 is rising among children. Why?

Will the U.S.-Canada border reopen this summer? Tourists, business travelers and families anxiously await news” via The Associated Press — With increasing vaccination rates and dropping infection rates, many are annoyed the two governments haven’t laid out detailed plans to reopen the border fully. Canada is easing its restrictions. Starting Monday, fully vaccinated Canadians or permanent legal residents may return to Canada without quarantining. But among the requirements are a negative test for the virus before returning and another once they get back. The Canadian and U.S. governments aren’t expected to reevaluate the border closure until July 21. Commercial traffic has gone back and forth normally between the two countries since the start of the pandemic. Canadians can fly into the United States with a negative COVID-19 test, and Americans can visit Canada to see relatives or close friends as outlined by a strict set of guidelines.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

$99 million in rental assistance for Floridians returned” via Caroline Glenn of the Orlando Sentinel — About $99 million in unspent rental assistance meant to help Floridians living in affordable housing was returned to the state after the agency overseeing the program struggled to disburse the money. The Florida Housing Finance Corporation, which was established by the Florida Legislature to help develop and support affordable housing, received $120 million in federal funding for rental assistance last year as part of the CARES Act. Florida used the money to set up a Coronavirus Relief Fund, intended to help tenants catch up on rent. Taylore Maxey, press secretary for the nonprofit, said it handed out about $13.2 million to help tenants at 373 multifamily developments across the state. In total, FHFC said it received 786 applications for assistance, but only 521 were approved.

Southwest, American delays hint at hard summer for travelers” via David Koenig of The Associated Press — This summer is already shaping up to be a difficult one for air travelers. Southwest Airlines customers have struggled with thousands of delays and hundreds of canceled flights in the past three weeks because of computer problems, staffing shortages and bad weather. American Airlines is also grappling with a surge in delays, and it has trimmed its schedule through mid-July at least partly because it doesn’t have enough pilots, according to the pilots’ union. At the same time, the number of Americans getting on planes is at a pandemic-era high. Just under 2.2 million travelers were screened at U.S. airports on Friday, the highest number since early March 2020. Travelers are posting photos of long airport lines and describing painful flights.

Airline delays do not bode well for summer traveling. Image via AP.

— MORE CORONA —

Japan could face vaccine crunch as it nears Olympics start” via Lisa Du and Isabel Reynolds of Bloomberg — Some Japanese municipalities have stopped taking vaccination reservations due to short supplies from the central government, possibly slowing inoculations nationwide just weeks before Tokyo hosts the Olympics. Osaka City will suspend reservations for first-time vaccinations on July 12 because of a lack of clarity on supply from the government, Mayor Ichiro Matsui said Friday in Tokyo after meeting Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. The city of Chiba, just east of Tokyo, said it would suspend new appointments starting Friday, while a handful of other areas have stopped taking new reservations or pushed back plans to open access to people below 65. Japan’s vaccination drive has picked up speed after getting off to a slow start but will be nowhere reaching the bulk of the population before the country hosts the Olympics.

Is Japan’s vaccination push too little too late? Image via AP.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Joe Biden administration formally launches effort to return deported veterans to U.S.” via Maria Sacchetti of The Washington Post — The Biden administration unveiled plans to bring hundreds, possibly thousands, of deported veterans and their immediate family members back to the United States, saying their removal “failed to live up to our highest values.” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas ordered his department’s immigration agencies to “immediately” take steps to ensure that military families may return to the United States. He said the department would also halt pending deportation proceedings against veterans or their immediate relatives in the United States and clear the way for those eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. Officials said they would also work with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Defense Department to ensure that veterans can access their health benefits.

Deported U.S. veterans may be coming home. Image via Washington Post.

— EPILOGUE TRUMP — 

Five takeaways from Donald Trump’s rally in Sarasota” via Ryan McKinnon of The Sarasota Herald-Tribune — There aren’t many, if any, political leaders who could entice thousands of people to a Florida fairground in July, where they bake in a field for hours before standing in the pouring rain, waiting to hear a defeated politician give a 90-minute speech. But Trump‘s popularity was on full display Saturday, as his supporters stood in an off-and-on downpour for nearly two hours, at times cheering louder as the rain intensified. “You sat and got drenched. Is everybody drenched?” Trump said. “You don’t have to worry about taking a shower tonight; that water is so clean and nice.” Trump gear was ubiquitous at the rally, much of it echoing the former president’s combative persona.

Donald Trump’s popularity was in full force Saturday. Image via AP.

In ramp-up to 2022 midterms, Republican candidates center pitches on Trump’s false election claims” via Amy Gardner of The Washington Post — Republican candidates for state and federal offices are increasingly focused on the last election, running on the falsehood that the 2020 race was stolen from Trump. While most of these campaigns are in their early stages, the embrace of Trump’s claims is already widespread on the trail and in candidates’ messages to voters. The trend provides fresh evidence of Trump’s continued grip on the GOP, reflecting how a movement inspired by his claims and centered on overturning a democratic election has gained currency in the party. Dozens of candidates promoting the baseless notion that the election was rigged are seeking powerful statewide offices in several of the decisive states where Trump and his allies sought to overturn the outcome and engineer his return to the White House.

— CRISIS —

6 months after Capitol assault, corporate pledges fall flat” via David Klepper of The Associated Press — As shock waves spread across the country from the Jan. 6 insurrection, corporate America took a stand against the lies that powered the mob. Or so it seemed. Dozens of big companies pledged to avoid donating money to the 147 lawmakers who objected to Congress’ certification of Biden’s victory. It was a striking gesture by some of the most familiar names in business, but, as it turns out, it was largely an empty one. Six months later, many of those companies have resumed funneling cash to political action committees that benefit the election efforts of lawmakers. Companies contend that donating directly to a candidate is not the same as giving to a PAC that supports them. Given America’s porous campaign finance laws, that’s a distinction without a difference to campaign finance experts.

Corporate threats to cut off donations for Republican lawmakers were mainly empty. Image via AP.

Stephanie Murphy of Florida to serve on Jan. 6 committee” via The News Service of Florida — Murphy will be one of eight members of Congress who will probe the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former Trump. Nancy Pelosi named the Central Florida congresswoman to the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. The panel was named Thursday and will be chaired by Rep. Bennie Thompson.

Why Republicans condemn Marjorie Taylor Greene, but not Paul Gosar” via Ben Jacobs of New York Magazine — First, the far-right Republican from Arizona was the much-touted surprise guest at a counter-CPAC event in February hosted by Nick Fuentes, a White nationalist who marched at the infamous neo-Nazi Charlottesville rally in 2017 where a neo-Nazi murdered a counterprotester. Then last week, Gosar was revealed to be planning a campaign fundraiser with Fuentes, who has engaged in Holocaust denialism, praised segregation, and repeatedly made anti-Semitic comments. Gosar initially appeared to defend the fundraiser in a tweet. Almost as befuddling is that House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy has yet to chastise Gosar for his repeated associations with the extreme fringes.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Supreme Court sends a serious signal on voting” via Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat — That long-feared split between conservatives and liberals on the U.S. Supreme Court finally erupted last week, with ominous implications for Democrats in next year’s elections. A 6-3 vote upheld two provisions of Arizona election law, restricting “ballot harvesting” and disallowing votes cast in the wrong precinct. Aside from what the law does, the case precisely illustrated what Democrats feared so much last year. They didn’t even take up a challenge to the 2020 election results, which Trump wanted them to. But the worst fears of the worriers were realized on Thursday. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas joined Amy Cohen Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh to uphold the Arizona statute. 

The Supreme Court further erodes voting rights in the U.S. Image via AP.

With trillions at stake, Democrats hurtle toward key decisions on Biden’s agenda” via Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post — Democrats have a chance to pass President Biden’s sweeping infrastructure, tax, climate and social policy measures that would transform American life; but doing so requires them pulling off an incredibly difficult legislative high-wire act over the next few weeks. The House and Senate are out of session for a holiday break, but discussions continue among Democrats about the parameters of potentially monumental legislation that represents Biden’s best chance to deliver on many of his campaign promises. This legislation, which is set to be passed without Republican support separately from a parallel, bipartisan infrastructure measure, may not be ultimately passed until fall or later.

Matt Gaetz invites Britney Spears to testify about her conservatorship before Congress” via Annie Blanks of the Pensacola News Journal — Gaetz is inviting Spears to testify about her controversial conservatorship before Congress. In a news release issued by Gaetz’s office Thursday morning, the congressman said he led a letter sponsored by Reps. Andy Biggs, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Burgess Owens, encouraging Spears to testify before Congress about her “alleged abusive conservatorship, which gives her father full control of her multimillion-dollar assets and life decisions, despite Ms. Spears’ ability to competently control her actions and estate.” Gaetz announced his letter in an interview Wednesday evening on One America News. Overnight Wednesday, a California judge denied Spears’ request to have her father, Jamie, removed as her conservator. 

— LOCAL NOTES —

Evacuated North Miami Beach condo deemed safe in engineer’s report, attorney says” via Devoun Cetoute and David Neal of the Miami Herald — Two days after dozens of North Miami Beach residents were evacuated from their homes in Crestview Towers, an engineer’s inspection has deemed the building safe again, the condo association’s attorney says. On Saturday, the inspection was done by ASD Consulting Engineers and two city inspectors, said Attorney Mariel Tollinchi, who represents Crestview Towers. Online state records show ASD Consulting Engineers first registered to do business in Florida in 2007. First reported by WPLG Local 10, the engineer’s report hasn’t been officially released yet or shown to the North Miami Beach City Commission, but Tollinchi says the condominium is deemed safe for living in it.

After evacuating residents, engineers deem Crestview Towers to be safe for occupants.

Residents of Kissimmee apartments may be forced to vacate within month, city says” via Katie Rice of the Orlando Sentinel — Residents of the Caribbean Isle apartment complex have faced the threat of a water shut-off, piles of uncollected garbage, electricity cut to the complex’s common areas and eviction warnings. A letter to residents from the City of Kissimmee dated June 29 said if the complex did not fix its malfunctioning fire alarm systems within 30 days, the Fire Department would mark the structures unsafe and require residents to vacate the complex. Though some residents have already made plans to move elsewhere, many more say they do not have the money to leave. Residents say they have tried to raise their concerns with Caribbean Isle’s local management and escalate them to the property’s owners, but their complaints fall on full voicemail boxes and disconnected emails.

Clock is ticking: Washington Square developer facing code violations, requests more time” via TaMaryn Waters of the Tallahassee Democrat — The city of Tallahassee put Washington Square’s developer on notice for violating its building permit and has outlined critical steps to address the stalled job site’s apparent decline. Located on Calhoun Street behind the county courthouse, construction came to a screeching halt and ended Dec. 31, 2019. But surrounding streets and sidewalks still are partly blocked off for construction despite months of inactivity. Records obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat show Fairmont Tallahassee LLC, the site’s property owner, received a May 1 letter from Growth Management Director Karen Jumonville. The three-page letter spells out serious concerns with the site that promised to host a 19-story, mixed-use office, and commercial tower, anchored by a Lowes Hotel. 

Holland & Knight to merge with Dallas-based practice this summer” via Richard Bilbao of the Orlando Business Journal — Holland & Knight LLP and Thompson & Knight of Dallas have reached an agreement to merge on or about Aug. 1, said a joint statement from the firms. The new firm, which would operate under the Holland & Knight name, will have almost 1,600 attorneys working in 30 offices. The firms said further information would be released at a later date “upon completion of the merger.” When pressed for additional details, a spokeswoman for the company said more information would be made available in August, following the merger. News of a potential merger first broke in April when the two firms issued a joint statement saying they were in talks to combine.

— TOP OPINION —

Most Florida counties don’t require condo inspections. After Surfside, how sick is that?” via the Miami Herald editorial board — Coastal high-rise condos are a way of life for many Floridians. Who’s making sure their associations and local governments are doing what it takes to keep them safe after the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South Condo in Surfside? This is where the state Legislature needs to step in. Lawmakers will have a better idea of what reforms are needed once an investigation into the causes of the collapse is done, but that could take months. One thing seems clear so far: Florida’s building inspection requirements need strengthening. Miami-Dade and Broward are the only counties in Florida that require building re-inspections; both mandate buildings go through the process 40 years after construction, then every 10 years after.

— OPINIONS —

DeSantis panders to right-wing hysteria and flunks Civics 101” via Steve Bousquet of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Every single Republican and Democrat present in Tallahassee voted for a program of “citizen scholars” to teach high school students how government works and to encourage them to get more involved in their own communities. Sponsoring the bill (SB 146) were Republican Sen. Brandes and Democratic Rep. Diamond. The Governor’s staff assured Diamond that he would sign it and asked the lawmaker for a canned quote to put in a self-congratulatory news release. Diamond said a DeSantis aide, Cory Dowd, texted him to invite him to a bill-signing event in Fort Myers, which never happened. Instead, DeSantis caved to a pressure campaign by conservative pundit Stanley Kurtz who said DeSantis “needs to veto SB 146.”

A dangerous moment for academic freedom” via Jill Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The state of Florida just passed a law that — to put it mildly — grossly violates academic freedom. Under the new bill, students and faculty will be surveyed about their political views to ensure “intellectual freedom and ideological diversity.” The real intent appears to be the opposite. The bill doesn’t specify what will happen with this data once it’s collected. But DeSantis and the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ray Rodrigues, have suggested the responses could be used to target schools for budget cuts if politicians find student and faculty views objectionable. This is a gross violation of academic freedom, which is supposed to protect students and faculty and pave the way for producing knowledge.

Universal broadband access is within Florida’s grasp” via Brewster Bevis for the Tallahassee Democrat — The Florida legislative session was busy for lawmakers, who oversaw the passage of 3,095 bills and a $101.5 billion budget. One of the most promising developments included a new law designed to expand broadband access in the Sunshine State. Signed by DeSantis on May 7, the Broadband Deployment Act, or HB 1239, takes significant strides toward addressing barriers that hinder the expansion of high-speed internet service. HB 1239 establishes a more equitable division of costs for replacing utility pole infrastructure. It also provides a temporary reduction in the annual rate paid by broadband providers to attach their networks to poles owned by municipal electric companies in unserved areas.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Florida’s Emergency Operations Center is on alert as Elsa makes a run at the Sunshine State. The Governor says your best advice is NOT to bug out.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— Elsa didn’t do much in Miami-Dade, but the threat of high winds and excess water was enough to convince officials to order the demolition of the remains of the Surfside Condo before the storm made things worse.

— They found more bodies after the demolition, but more than 100 people are still missing.

— Another lawsuit has been filed against the state’s new gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe. The company that owns Miami’s Magic City Casino and the Bonita Springs Poker Room claims it violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

— Part-time Florida Man Trump got an early start on Independence Day when he held a rally in Sarasota Saturday night. It was his first rally in Florida since losing the election — which he still won’t admit.

— Trump spent most of his time spinning the big lie about a rigged election; he also suggested lynching might be appropriate for The Capitol cop who shot and killed a MAGA rioter on Insurrection Day.

— And finally, stories of two Florida Men, with one accused of illegal dumping in a residential neighborhood, including 3,700 pounds of wet concrete.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

Carnival Cruise Line launches first ship from U.S. port since onset of COVID-19 pandemic” via Bailey Schultz of USA Today — Carnival Cruise Line is once again launching ships with paying passengers from U.S. ports. Carnival Vista departed the Port of Galveston in Texas Saturday afternoon, the first ship from the cruise line to sail from a U.S. port in more than 15 months. “Having our guests onboard again is something we’ve been looking forward to for a very long time,” Carnival Vista Captain Andrea Catalani said. Additional Carnival ships will resume service in August. To bypass test cruises and move straight into sailings with paying passengers, 95% of passengers and 95% of the crew must be vaccinated. The rules do not apply in Florida, which has a state law banning businesses from requiring proof of vaccination.

Tweet, tweet:

Disney World fireworks are back at Magic Kingdom and Epcot after 16-month hiatus” via Britt Kennedy of Florida Today — Forget the damp and drizzle and look skyward for the Disney dazzle. That seemed the fired-up-for-fun mood across a crowd of thousands Thursday night at Magic Kingdom, where fireworks lit up the dark sky over Cinderella Castle for the first time in almost 16 months. The return of “Happily Ever After” at Magic Kingdom and “Epcot Forever” at Epcot drew Disney lovers from points near and far. The last fireworks at Walt Disney World came on March 15, 2020, when the four WDW parks closed for almost four months due to the coronavirus, reopening in mid-July without the heavily attended nightly shows.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Celebrating today are Sen. Joe Gruters and Rep. MaryLynn Magar, as well as Susanne Dudley. Belated best wishes to Rep. Michelle Salzman.

___

Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter SchorschPhil AmmannRenzo Downey and Drew Wilson.


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