Expect a major announcement from Sen. Tom Lee sometime today. Lee is likely to leave his Senate seat to run for Hillsborough County Clerk of Court.
As Florida Politics first reported Thursday, a longtime Lee confidant and Hillsborough-based lobbyist said Lee is “about 75% there.”
His candidacy would cause a ripple in state politics. Because of Florida’s resign to run law, Lee would have to leave his seat in the Senate this year regardless of whether he won the Clerk’s race.
The timing of his decision would determine when he’d leave office. Under the law, lawmakers running for individual offices, including county constitutional offices, must resign at least 10 days before qualifying begins for the office they seek. If Lee waits beyond Friday, he will miss that window. He could still run, but it would force him to resign immediately rather than being able to tenure his resignation in November.
Sources say Lee is concerned about leaving his Senate seat vacant during the coronavirus crisis. It’s likely the Legislature will be called into Special Session to deal with budget concerns. If he resigns early, it will leave his constituents unrepresented in that process, a conundrum the Senator wants to avoid.
Not surprisingly, most Floridians are more worried than usual about the 2020 hurricane season as it bears down on Florida amid a global pandemic and economic crisis.
Nearly all Floridians expressed at least one significant concern, according to a Get Ready, Florida! survey.
The issues of most significant concerns include the strain on first responders, more business closures, and damaging hits on the economy. Respondents also showed significant worry over shelter capacity, evacuation, elderly or special needs support, and the ability to afford supplies.
“COVID-19 has created a very real, sustained sense of anxiety, and that’s even before the wild card of a major hurricane,” said Jay Neal, president and CEO of the FAIR Foundation and a Get Ready, Florida! partner. “Add hurricane season to the uncertainty of the pandemic, and you introduce another set of serious issues to worry about.”
More than half of Floridians surveyed said they are more concerned about hurricanes this year than they were last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 90% of respondents said they were worried about at least one problem that could be exacerbated during hurricane season because of the pandemic.
The results suggest more Floridians might choose not to evacuate even if they’re in a zone where doing so is recommended. Nearly half of the respondents reported they had stayed home in the past despite evacuation orders. With additional concerns about the pandemic, more may do so this year.
“Social distancing will change the way we shelter people in a hurricane, without a doubt,” said Craig Fugate, former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “For instance, everyone should add masks to their family hurricane kit. But if you’re told to evacuate, you still need to heed those orders and get out to a safer place.”
Another 25% of respondents said they might put off necessary home repairs due to the virus, a move that could leave homes more vulnerable to damage.
“Florida’s hurricane sales tax holiday returns this weekend” via Christie Zizo of Bay News 9 — Hurricane season starts June 1, and beginning Friday, Floridians can replenish their hurricane supplies, sales tax-free. From May 29 through Thursday, June 4, Floridians can buy items ranging from flashlights and tarps to generators, without paying state or county sales tax. The sales tax holiday applies to both brick and mortar businesses, along with internet and mail-order businesses that collect sales taxes in Florida. It does not include sales at theme parks, entertainment complexes, hotels, or airports.
— TOP STORIES —
“Donald Trump signs order to limit social media companies’ protections” via Maggie Haberman and Kate Conger of The New York Times — Trump signed an executive order intended to curtail the legal protections that shield social media companies from liability for what gets posted on their platforms. Such an order, which officials said was still being drafted and was subject to change, would make it easier for federal regulators to argue that companies like Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Twitter are suppressing free speech when they move to suspend users or delete posts, among other examples.
“Defying Trump, Twitter doubles down on labeling tweets” via Kate Conger and Mike Isaac of The New York Times — Twitter continued to add new fact-checking labels to hundreds of tweets, even as the Trump administration issued an executive order to curtail the legal protections that shield social media companies from liability for the content posted on their platforms. Twitter’s move escalated the confrontation between the company and Trump, who has fulminated this week over actions taken by his favorite social media service. Twitter had appended fact-checking labels for the first time to two of Trump’s tweets about mail-in ballots, rebutting their accuracy.
“Ron DeSantis, Florida Cabinet ignore Nikki Fried and barely talk about coronavirus in first meeting since February” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — Ignoring the pleas of the only Democrat, DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet met Thursday for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began but largely avoided discussing the crisis. Emergency management officials spoke of the difficulty of developing a plan for shelters during hurricane season while still practicing social distancing. Still, the DeSantis administration’s response to the pandemic, the public health issues related to the disease, and the ongoing problems with the unemployment system wasn’t on the agenda, something Agriculture Commissioner Fried had requested. DeSantis mostly ignored Fried’s comments, but he held a 15-second moment of silence for the 100,000 victims of the coronavirus in the U.S. at the beginning of the meeting at Fried’s request.
“Fried seizes opportunity, swipes at DeSantis during Cabinet meeting” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Fried seized an opportunity to cut loose on DeSantis during the state’s first Cabinet meeting in roughly four months. Fried has earned herself a share of the national spotlight in recent months by casting stones at DeSantis regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Fried, who was the only Cabinet member physically in the room during the meeting, doubled down on the Cabinet’s lack of involvement since the onset of the pandemic and described it as being “left in the dark.” Fried also voiced frustrations that her agenda requests, which included several officials and a discussion on Florida’s recent wildfires, went unaddressed.
“Fried: Florida failed the unemployed now ‘giving up’ on receiving owed benefits” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The state failed jobless Floridians who are now giving up securing unemployment benefits missed because of the faulty state unemployment portal, Fried said. Fried was the lone Cabinet member in the room for a cabinet meeting, the first in months. “They’re going back to work and putting their lives at risk because they can’t wait for not only the state’s unemployment system but also getting their federal dollars,” Fried said.
“Jimmy Patronis takes action to identify Chinese government-owned businesses in Florida” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Patronis announced that his office will now work to identify vendors in Florida who are owned or controlled by the Communist Party of China after a warning letter sent to the Chinese Ambassador to the United States fell on deaf ears. Patronis warned the Chinese Ambassador that his office would identify Chinese owned or controlled businesses that are owed money from the state and warned they might withhold payments to offset the costs incurred to the state by the COVID-19 pandemic.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@realDonaldTrump: I’m excited to commit $100M to @MiamiDadeCounty, FL in @USDOT funding to connect fast-growing communities through state-of-the-art transit service! Fast, safe, and beautiful infrastructure!
—@doug_hanks: This was assumed, but presidential confirmation that Miami-Dade is getting $100M for its South Dade rapid-transit bus system. County already seeking bidders for project.
—@WhiteHouse: President @realDonaldTrump just took executive action to fight online censorship by tech corporations, including social media platforms.
—@ericgeller: Just so we’re clear, the president and his advisers are falsely denouncing nonexistent social media censorship to justify a legally baseless executive order at a time when everyone else is talking about the fact that the coronavirus has killed more than 100,000 Americans.
—@michellelprice: Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada out of the veepstakes as potential running mate for Joe Biden: “It is an honor to be considered as a potential running mate, but I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration.”
The national media seems to only report negative news on the program.
But fortunately local media has reported on its far greater number of successes pic.twitter.com/81u6aNN9DZ
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) May 13, 2020
—@SenRickScott: While many are suffering, Cuba is managing to profit off this pandemic. Cuba uses their own people for obscene profits. The int’ l community must speak up against this injustice & expose the Cuban “medical missions” program for what it truly is — a human trafficking operation.’
Judge John Cooper holds up what he calls “worlds largest spreadsheet”.
Attorneys Marie Mattox and Gautier Kitchen say it’s a list of 20K+ Floridians having trouble with state’s unemployment system — many not paid a dime.
— Greg Angel (@NewsGuyGreg) May 28, 2020
—@Scott_Maxwell: State says it’s “not aware” of any technical problems w/website during regular business hours. (I’ve received two complaints in past 30 minutes.) After being pressed, state admits it hasn’t even tried to use the system today to know. So state defense is basically: ¯_(ツ)_/¯
—@ChrisSprowls: Many thanks to the men and women @FBITampa for their work along with State and Federal agencies to arrest a terror suspect before he had the opportunity to injure people in our community. We are grateful for their vigilance.
— DAYS UNTIL —
English Premier League soccer to restart — 3; Universal Orlando begins phased reopening — 7; PGA Tour resumes with Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth — 13; Last day of state candidate qualifying — 14; “Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre” by Max Brooks release — 18; Belmont Stakes rescheduled — 22; Father’s Day — 23; Apple to hold Developer Conference — 24; “The Outpost” with Orlando Bloom and Scott Eastwood premieres — 35; Disney World Magic Kingdom & Animal Kingdom to reopen — 43; Disney World Epcot and Hollywood Studios to reopen — 47; Federal taxes due — 47; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premieres — 49; “Mulan” premieres — 56; TED conference rescheduled — 48; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 80; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 84; Indy 500 rescheduled — 94; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 87; “A Quiet Place Part II” premieres — 98; Rescheduled running of the Kentucky Derby — 99; Rescheduled date for French Open — 113; First presidential debate in Indiana — 124; Preakness Stakes rescheduled — 127; First vice presidential debate at the University of Utah — 134; Second presidential debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 139; Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” premieres — 140; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 147; 2020 General Election — 158; “Black Widow” premieres — 161; Florida Automated Vehicles Summit — 172; “No Time to Die” premieres — 179; “Top Gun: Maverick” premieres — 228; Super Bowl LV in Tampa — 254; New start date for 2021 Olympics — 420; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 429; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 525; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 623; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 655; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 708; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 861.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“Statewide emergency hurricane shelter plan to consider COVID-19 complications” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — DeSantis and his Cabinet approved the 2020 statewide emergency shelter plan Thursday, weeks ahead of Florida’s hurricane season. Submitted Jan. 31, the plan serves as a guide to determine new public school, college and university campuses that can be used as hurricane evacuation shelters. “COVID-19 is going to present additional challenges for sheltering. We’ve been working in consultation with the CDC, FEMA and the American Red Cross,” said Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz.
“Unemployment claims fall 23% as layoffs ease in Florida” via David Lyons of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida’s unemployment claims declined to 173,731 for the week ended May 23 in a sign that the pace of layoffs is easing as the state struggles to reopen its economy during the coronavirus pandemic. Claims filed by newly laid off and furloughed workers dropped by 51,673 from 225,404 in the week ended May 16. Nationally, the number of claims also fell to 2.1 million, a decline of 323,000 from the previous week. The total of U.S. claims filed since the virus started to slam the economy in mid-March now stands at 40 million. And the month of May still appears destined to mirror the job declines in April.
Judge says he lacks authority to force unemployment fixes — Circuit Judge John Cooper said he didn’t have the authority to order the state to fix the beleaguered CONNECT unemployment system, Gary Fineout of POLITICO Florida reports. Cooper’s ruling comes after two days of hearings where attorneys representing jobless Floridians argued the state’s unemployment system was operating too slowly, leaving many unable to make ends meet as they awaited payments. The decision was related to an injunction request and is not the final ruling in the suit. “This is not the end, it’s absolutely the beginning,” plaintiff’s attorney Marie Mattox said.
“South Florida state Senator wants coronavirus data investigation” via Skylar Swisher of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A South Florida senator wants the Florida Legislature to investigate allegations made by an ousted data curator that state health officials manipulated COVID-19 statistics to paint a rosier picture. State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, requested that Republican Senate President Bill Galvano appoint a bipartisan panel of legislators empowered to seek information and communications related to Florida’s data collection during the coronavirus pandemic. Rodriguez cited other examples of why he thinks an investigation is needed. The state refused to release aggregate data on COVID-19 testing and surveillance in February before Florida’s first case of coronavirus was detected.
“Twelfth prisoner dies of COVID-19” via News Service of Florida — A twelfth Florida inmate has died from complications related to COVID-19 as the number of cases among state prisoners continues to climb, the Florida Department of Corrections reported. The Florida Department of Health also updated a list that identifies the prisons where inmates have died during the pandemic. Seven of the inmates were at Blackwater Correctional Facility, three were at Sumter Correctional Institution, one was at Dade Correctional Institution, and one was at Union Correctional Institution. The number of state prisoners who have tested positive for COVID-19 climbed to 1,473, corrections officials reported.
“After weeks of antibody testing, Florida to report results for the first time Friday” via Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald — Florida will release numbers Friday of COVID-19 antibody tests performed at drive-thru sites in Miami Gardens, West Palm Beach, Orlando and Jacksonville, the governor’s office said, data that could offer one indicator of how widespread the disease has become. Doctors and researchers say they do not know for sure if a past COVID-19 infection, and the antibodies to the disease that develops afterward, provide any protective immunity. The World Health Organization and many public health groups have warned against the idea, saying there is still no proof that antibodies in the blood mean a person is immune to a second infection.
“Telehealth likely here to stay after coronavirus pandemic becomes memory” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — Health care providers from large hospital systems to small doctor’s offices have dramatically increased the use of telehealth, essentially conducting doctor’s visits virtually using video call software, since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent emergency public health orders urging people to stay home. Telehealth is not new, but regulatory hurdles, mainly how much health care providers can be paid for telehealth visits versus in-person visits, deterred widespread use.
“Coronavirus causes detours in getting driver’s licenses” via the News Service of Florida — Florida’s newest drivers still need to take behind-the-wheel tests to get licenses. However, they should expect some changes in the way tests are conducted, at least while the coronavirus is still around. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles said that as state offices reopen to the public in counties such as Miami-Dade and Broward, road tests will be conducted with examiners outside of the vehicles. Drivers will need to be accompanied by co-pilots who are licensed in the country and are 21 or older.
“Fort Lauderdale seeks more hotel rooms for the homeless” via Susannah Bryan of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Fort Lauderdale has lined up a third hotel willing to take in a new kind of guest in the middle of a pandemic: the homeless. There’s just one problem: The city doesn’t have the money to pay for the rooms. Fort Lauderdale began handing out vouchers to homeless people a month ago to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus. So far, they’ve put up 104 people at a hotel in Fort Lauderdale and another in Dania Beach. The hotel stay was to last 30 days but can be extended if needed to help curtail a potential spike in cases. Now city officials say they’d like to line up 100 more rooms, but they need another $500,000 to pay for the rooms, meals and case management workers overseeing the hotel voucher program.
Florida lags in applying for school CARES funding — Florida is the only state that has not applied for K-12 school funding made available through the federal coronavirus relief package, Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida reports. The U.S. Department of Education confirmed it had not yet received an application from the state. Local officials have urged the Governor’s office to get the application in. “In this time of economic uncertainty, it is incumbent upon the State of Florida to take advantage of every avenue open to us,” the Polk County School Board said in a letter to DeSantis. The state Department of Education said the application is completed but is waiting on an OK from the Governor. The application window is open through July 1.
“University System leaders approve blueprint for opening” via Ana Ceballos of News Service of Florida — State University System Chancellor Marshall Criser told the Board of Governors that each university would have the flexibility to determine crucial details, including which individuals will need to be tested for COVID-19, rules for the use of face masks, and alternatives for students and faculty who may be at high risk of getting sick. The guidelines approved acknowledge that an uptick of COVID-19 in the fall could force classes back online or prompt other changes to the plans universities submit to the Board of Governors for approval, which are due June 12. “What we know from COVID-19 today is that things change, and what we know about COVID-19 going forward is that things are likely to change,” Criser said.
“Reopening Florida universities will take ‘shared responsibility,’ education leaders say” via Megan Reeves of the Tampa Bay Times — Shared responsibility will be critical as Florida reopens its public universities to about 500,000 students and faculty this fall. Students, faculty, staff, and even vendors and visitors at the State University System’s 12 schools should expect to undergo health safety training, COVID-19 testing, and contact-tracing as needed. State guidelines call for universities to train students and employees on health safety protocols, like social-distancing, face coverings, and hand-washing. All guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must be adopted as policy at each university, and the schools must share in their plans how compliance will be enforced on campus.
“College children be prepared: ‘The traditional campus experience for students will be different from past years’” via Issac Morgan of Florida Phoenix — Florida public universities are moving to reopen campuses during a public health crisis by coming up with plans to keep students and staff safe. Classes may need to be “hybrids, ” meaning both online and in-person instruction. Students and college employees may need to be screened and/or tested for COVID-19. And students could be quarantined. The Florida Board of Governors released safety guidelines in the draft, calling the document, “State University System of Florida Blueprint for Reopening Campuses.” The document will be considered for approval at Thursday’s board meeting.
Happening today — The Florida Education Association and the United Faculty of Florida will continue online committee meetings to examine reopening public schools, colleges and universities in the fall. Public school committee meeting begins at 10 a.m. Register at floridaea.zoom.us/webinar. Colleges and universities committee meeting starts at 1 p.m. Register at floridaea.zoom.us/webinar.
“Florida’s health care reboot has been slow going” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Florida’s medical providers are ramping back up after nearly two months of only offering essential services to keep space and supplies available for treating coronavirus patients. But while elective procedures are OK again, industry groups are advising hospitals, doctors offices, dentists and other medical providers to proceed cautiously and keep patient and provider safety at the forefront, even as they emphasize that health care facilities are safe. There are concerns that patients have been forgoing care that may not have to be essential but is still important, and that medical providers have been shedding jobs as revenues plummet.
“Federal grand jurors return to North Florida courthouses after three-month coronavirus break” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — Federal grand jurors who have been home during the coronavirus crisis are returning to work at courthouses across North Florida, presiding over some of the area’s biggest criminal investigations under strict safety protocols. The grand jurors, whose important duties include issuing subpoenas for records and witnesses and returning indictments against accused criminals, last met March 3. U.S. Attorney Larry Keefe and others weren’t sure they’d be able to get a quorum of grand jurors to return to their volunteer and highly secretive posts, even with COVID-19 cases on the decline in Florida and elsewhere.
“Lessons and questions as Gainesville reopens” via Douglas Ray of the Gainesville Sun — As Gainesville moves into the familiar summer routine of afternoon thunderstorms, day trips to the beach, or the springs, quiet streets and easy access to restaurants, it is anything but an average season. This is the time when apartment managers should be gathering leases, when we should be able to look forward to fall football and a new season of performances on our several stages. But this year? The start of hurricane season brings less anxiety than the pandemic. Still, we are beginning to emerge from our homebound isolation. Civic and cultural life is reawakening. Much depends on the institution that accounts for a large percentage of dollars flowing into the local economy — the University of Florida. So much remains unclear.
“Reopening Jacksonville: Youth sports make plans to play ball again” via Clayton Freeman of The Florida Times-Union — Noah Prudencio has been waiting to play ball. Last Friday, the 13-year-old learned his wait for baseball was over, and by Wednesday, he was back on the fields — at a safe distance — with his Fort Caroline Athletic Association teammates. “It was really fun,” he said. “The first thing I thought was I get to see my friends again.” Now Fort Caroline and dozens of other youth sports organizations across Northeast Florida can prepare to return to play after DeSantis lifted state rules last week that kept children out of athletic competition during the coronavirus pandemic. “Five minutes into that press conference,” said Ray Riker, president of the Fort Caroline Athletic Association, “my phone lit up like a Christmas tree.”
“Reopening Jacksonville: Hospital execs urge use of masks, other precautions” via Anna Savo-Matthews of The Florida Times-Union — Jacksonville-area hospital executives took issue this week with deadly public misconceptions about COVID-19 and urged residents to continue taking precautions, even as communities begin to reopen. In news conferences Wednesday in Clay County and Thursday in Jacksonville, they encouraged residents to wear masks in public and continue social distancing and frequent hand-washing. Leon Haley, CEO of UF Health Jacksonville, said there is little uncertainty on the importance of wearing face coverings to help prevent the spread of the disease. “Here’s what we do know: The masks matter. If you and I don’t have a mask on, the risk of transmission is high,” said Haley, who wore a UF Gator-themed mask at the Thursday news conference at the coronavirus testing site at TIAA Bank Field.
“Restaurants face new reality of fewer customers, food shortages and rising costs” via Teresa Stepzinski of The Florida Times-Union — Reopening their dining rooms, Jacksonville restaurant owners say, is only half the battle. They’re scrambling to win back customers amid a “new normal” of food supply disruptions, higher product prices, and overall rising operating costs. Florida restaurants, bars and retail stores were hard hit by a mandatory, monthlong shutdown triggered by COVID-19. The new reality for restaurants demands more flexibility, efficiency and innovation along with a supply of face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfectant, owners say. The Bearded Pig — a Northeast Florida favorite since its founding four years ago — reopened May 7, only to temporarily close again 10 days later. Well-known for its pulled pork, the barbecue was among the first Jacksonville restaurants to run into a food supply shortage.
“Miami-Dade beaches open Monday, and you can sunbathe.” via David Selig of Local10.com — Miami-Dade County’s beaches can open Monday, and you’ll be allowed to sunbathe — something that hasn’t been permitted at Broward’s recently reopened beaches. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez signed an amendment to the county’s emergency order late Wednesday, detailing the guidelines for beaches and hotels to reopen on Monday morning. He had previously announced that as the target date. If you visit the beach, you must have a face covering, though they can be removed for swimming and exercise. Social distancing of 6 feet is required, except for family members who live together. Group sizes are limited to 10 or fewer people.
“Raglan Road plans staged reopening at Disney Springs” via Amy Drew Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel — More phased reopening is on track for Disney Springs as Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant announced today that it’s quick-service Cooke’s of Dublin restaurant will be back in business June 3. Hours are set from noon-10 p.m. daily. The larger, table-service Raglan Road will reopen a week later — with hours from 4-10 p.m. Guests will enjoy the same live Irish music and dance entertainment they’ve come to expect from the venue, along with a more compact version of Raglan’s modern Irish menu. Reservations are recommended. “We’ve had the most amazing support and encouragement from Raglan fans in weeks past,” Raglan co-owner Paul Nolan said in a news release. “We look forward to welcoming everyone back to enjoy our award-winning fare and vibrant pub atmosphere.”
“MLS allows teams to start small-group training, a step toward resuming play” via Julia Poe the Orlando Sentinel — Major League Soccer will allow clubs to begin small group training, another step toward resuming play. This is the first time players from Orlando City and the 25 other teams in the league have been allowed to train together since the league suspended play March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The announcement comes amid reported negotiations for the league to hold a return-to-play tournament at ESPN Wide World of Sports on Disney World property in Orlando. Clubs will be required to submit a detailed training plan that fits within the league’s health and safety protocol before hosting any small group training sessions. Additionally, these sessions will be voluntary for all players.
“Collier schools are asking parents for feedback about school reopening plans, preferences” via Rachel Fradette of the Naples Daily News — Collier County’s school district is gathering thoughts from parents about what choice they would take as the district develops a reopening plan for next school year. In a survey sent out via email, the district asks parents about their preference for their child’s learning if all options are on the table at the district’s school start in August. The first question asks parents to pick one of three options for their child: attending school on campus following health and safety guidelines; a hybrid model split between school on campus and virtual learning part-time; full-time virtual learning.
“Education will look different when students return, but no one is yet sure what will change” via Commer Brugal of TCPalm — How will schools look when they reopen after this pandemic? Even the people directing the sweeping changes aren’t sure. Virtual learning may still be in place; schools could implement staggered class schedules; desks may be situated 6 feet apart; students could be required to wear masks. Students and teachers since March have been learning and teaching virtually because of the pandemic. Annual end-of-year events such a prom, award ceremonies, and graduations were either held virtually or postponed.
“When Palm Beach County schools reopen, how open will they be?” via Andrew Marra of The Palm Beach Post — With summer approaching and coronavirus still rippling through the region, officials say it’s increasingly likely that campuses will not fully reopen when the new academic year starts in August. To the extent that they do, families should expect them to be very different. Classes could be smaller, officials say, and hallways emptier. Individual students might go to campus every other day, submit to regular temperature checks and be separated from classmates by extra space or partitions. Superintendent Donald Fennoy has said he doesn’t expect online teaching to go away entirely in August, and school officials nationwide are considering ways to bring students onto the campus in shifts to cut down on crowds.
“The school year wraps up Wednesday in Miami. Do students need a grading curve?” via Colleen Wright of the Miami Herald — The school year will come to an unceremonious close Wednesday for students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. But report cards may be on hold for just a little longer. The school district is taking a close look at how students’ grades fared through the fourth academic quarter, held entirely online since the coronavirus outbreak shuttered schools March 13. Based on the results, there may or may not be a grading curve or other stopgaps to help out students. Some in the community worry that distance learning may have been a struggle for some students.
“COVID-19: Melbourne cancels Fourth of July fireworks show, citing social distancing” via Rick Neale of Florida Today — Melbourne’s annual Fourth of July fireworks celebration has been canceled because of coronavirus-related issues. Front Street Park is not large enough to accommodate thousands of fireworks spectators under social-distancing guidelines, a Thursday afternoon news release said. Also, the COVID-19 economic crisis spurred the cancellation of the city’s fireworks show fundraising campaign, which kicks off in early spring. Fundraising target was $25,000 — but no money was donated, said Cheryl Mall, city spokeswoman. “Though we are deeply disappointed that we cannot hold our traditional fireworks event on the Fourth of July, we are looking into possibly hosting an alternative celebratory event later this year,” Mayor Kathy Meehan said in the news release.
“Johns Hopkins professor to discuss the heart, COVID-19 for Florida Tech” via the staff of Florida Today — A medical doctor and researcher at Johns Hopkins University who leads human cardiovascular studies at the Laboratory of Cardiovascular Science at National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging will explore the intersection of aging, heart disease and COVID-19 during a free virtual workshop from 1-2:30 p.m. Monday, June 1, organized and hosted by Florida Tech. Dr. Majd AlGhatrif will discuss why older adults with underlying cardiovascular disease are experiencing increased disease severity and higher mortality rates from COVID-19. In addition to AlGhatrif’s presentation and question-and-answer segment, the event will feature short presentations about several efforts undertaken at Florida Tech in response to the pandemic.
“Coronavirus crooks victimize South Florida woman in stimulus check scam” via Jeff Weinsier of Local10.com — A South Florida woman is claiming to be the victim of a scam that cost her all of her savings. She said that coronavirus crooks tricked her out of $10,000. It is the latest case of COVID criminals targeting the unemployed, who are waiting for help. It was last week when her phone rang, the man on the other end saying he was with the Social Security Administration. Reyes said it appeared they were returning a recent call, which didn’t help the situation. The man on the other end of the phone convinced the lady her Social Security number had been used in a money-laundering scam in Texas, and she was the focus of an investigation.
“Good news for job seekers: Employment agency reopens” via Christine Stapleton of The Palm Beach Post — CareerSource Palm Beach County, the state-chartered program that assists businesses in finding workers and job seekers find work, will reopen its West Palm Beach center with limited services and hours Monday. Customers are required to wear masks or face coverings while on-site, submit to touchless temperature monitoring and answer screening questions before entering the center, sanitize their hands upon entry into the center, and maintain proper social distancing at all times. No children or non-service visitors will be allowed due to health and safety reasons.
“Shopping in Stuart, Vero Beach, Fort Pierce could change permanently after coronavirus” via Laurie K. Blandford of TCPalm — Fewer shoppers. Limited in-store hours. Fitting room changes. These are few ways the coronavirus has affected shopping, possibly permanently, according to the owners of retail stores in historic downtowns across the Treasure Coast. Retail businesses in Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties were permitted to reopen at the beginning of May by operating at 25% occupancy, practicing social distancing and implementing sanitation measures. That allowance was later expanded to 50% occupancy. The capacity mandate means fewer customers in a store at the same time, at least for now.
“Farmers markets innovate centuries-old traditions in crusade to outlast coronavirus” via Lindey Leake TCPalm — Downtown Fort Pierce Farmers’ Market first transitioned to a drive-thru market April 18. Other local bazaars, including the Stuart Green Market and Farmers Market Oceanside Vero Beach, have also veered from their weekend rituals to keep business afloat. Agricultural and public health experts are wary of markets returning to normal anytime soon. Other markets may have to rotate vendors, limit the number of patrons, alter their hours or offer a hybrid of drive-thru and walk-up shopping. Continued use of face masks is essential.
“Free walk-up COVID-19 testing is back in Key West. You need an appointment” via Gwen Filosa of the Miami Herald — Community Health of South Florida Inc. will again offer free walk-up testing in Key West, by appointment only, for the novel coronavirus. The testing is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 30 and June 6 outside the Frederick Douglass Gym. Those who want to be tested must be residents of Monroe County and have identification. CHI also offers drive-thru testing by appointment only in Marathon every Saturday. As of Thursday afternoon, the Keys have 107 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 and four deaths.
“You’ve heard of graduation parades. In Key West, a graduation just happened on Jet Skis” via Gwen Filosa of the Miami Herald — Students at a charter school in Key West picked up their diplomas this week on personal watercraft. Somerset Island Prep charter high school held its inaugural graduation Tuesday evening on the ocean, at the Atlantic end of Duval Street that’s home to the Southernmost House mansion. Dressed in caps, gowns and face coverings, 12 seniors jetted out one at a time on a personal watercraft to an anchored boat, where principal Tom Rompella handed each a diploma.
— MORE LOCAL —
“New normal in Northeast Florida full of uncertainty” via Mark Woods of The Florida Times-Union — Look at a newspaper from this time a year ago. As May turned to June, there were headlines about the first day of hurricane season and the last day of The Jacksonville Landing. Nick Foles stepped onto a practice field and, according to one story, “looked like the franchise quarterback” for the Jaguars. All of that now seems like eons ago. Here we are heading into another hurricane season. And yet that uncertainty feels routine compared to a pandemic. We know how to prepare for storms, how to watch the models, how to recover. And, perhaps most significantly, we know that this season will end in six months. We don’t know what will happen with COVID-19 in the rest of 2020.
“Santa Rosa revisits vacation rentals, aids wildfire victims & seeks $12M in COVID relief” via Kevin Robinson of the Pensacola News Journal — Santa Rosa County will join other counties around the state in requesting the immediate release of about $1.275 billion in federal funding meant to help Florida with its COVID-19 recovery. Congress approved the CARES Act to help state and local governments mitigate unexpected costs and revenue shortfalls associated with managing the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the county’s overall rate of positives among those tested is about 2.67%. Santa Rosa County will seek state approval to modify its vacation rental plan to allow visitors on a county-by-county basis rather than on a by-state basis.
“Northwood Centre drive-thru coronavirus testing site closing, TMH says” via Casey Chapter of the Tallahassee Democrat — The drive-thru coronavirus testing site at the Northwood Centre for more than two months is closing after Friday. Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare officials announced that they were packing up the site, that has tested thousands in the community for the virus, because of the availability of other resources locally. Since opening in March as a partnership between the city, county and local hospitals, more than 4,000 samples have been collected that the site. Many primary care providers are testing for the virus at their offices. Leon County has 379 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.
“Coronavirus: CVS expands to 9 testing locations in Jacksonville” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — CVS Health announced Thursday it is adding three more stores in Jacksonville that will offer a drive-thru, self-swab COVID-19 testing, which brings the total number of CVS sites to nine in Jacksonville. The newly added sites are at 5407 Blanding Blvd, 6005 St. Augustine Road, and 9100 Atlantic Boulevard. CVS also announced the addition of a St. Augustine store at 2703 Ponce de Leon Boulevard. An Orange Park CVS store at 906 Blanding Boulevard has been offering the test since May 22. CVS and two Walmart stores have brought retail-sponsored coronavirus testing to Jacksonville, giving residents the option of sites closer to where they live, providing people are willing to do the swabbing themselves.
“Two months after Norwegian cruise ships docked in Jacksonville, company won’t answer questions” via Andrew Pantazi of The Florida Times-Union — More than two months after three Norwegian cruise ships docked in Jacksonville, Norwegian Cruise Lines refuses to answer any questions about the status of the crew on board, even as one of the ships has seen a cruise doctor die in the last month. The CDC has maintained a no-sail order for all cruise lines, which has forced crew members to remain on board the ship unless they get specific approval. The Norwegian Gem, the Norwegian Sky and the Norwegian Pearl docked in Jacksonville in March. During that time, the CDC has approved one crew member to disembark and return to his native Greece. It’s unclear how many crew remain aboard the other ships or what health condition they’re in.
“UF Health offers coronavirus test to city workers” via the News Service of Florida — University of Florida Health is offering access to its novel coronavirus test to asymptomatic employees of the city of Gainesville. Developed by UF Health researchers, the test has not received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and offered to city employees at no cost. Employees should receive results within two days. “We think it is important to expand the availability of this testing to city employees, those front-line individuals who are out there every day serving the community and keeping the city running,” said Lisa Merck, an associate professor who is vice-chair of research in the UF College of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine.
“Asymptomatic Orlando police officer tests positive for COVID-19” via Tess Sheets of the Orlando Sentinel — An Orlando Police Department officer who had no symptoms tested positive recently for COVID-19, a spokeswoman for the agency said. The officer is now quarantining for the CDC-recommended 14-day period. OPD spokeswoman Autumn Jones said seven other officers who may have been exposed were tested and are also quarantining themselves. None of those officers have experienced symptoms associated with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, Jones said. Though the officers had been responding to calls before the positive test result, Jones said the likelihood that a resident was exposed to the virus remains low because officers wear personal protective equipment when interacting with the public.
“Dr. Phillips Center cuts execs, furloughs staff in coronavirus fallout” via Matthew J. Palm of the Orlando Sentinel — The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts will furlough half its full-time staff and all part-time employees beginning June 1. The downtown arts center confirmed the news with a statement to the Orlando Sentinel. Also, a spokeswoman said, two executive-level positions have been eliminated as money-saving efforts in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown. “It was an incredibly difficult decision, because our colleagues are more than co-workers; they are our friends and people we care about deeply,” said spokeswoman Lorri Shaban. “We are providing additional resources, and doing all we can to help them as they navigate the transition.”
“Orlando Pride offers incentives for season-ticket holders if team can’t play home matches” via Julia Poe of the Orlando Sentinel — Orlando Pride executive vice president Amanda Duffy sent an email to season-ticket holders outlining options for the supporters as the NWSL prepares to stage a 25-game tournament in Utah. While the NWSL has not officially canceled all home games, it remains a possibility as the league grapples with how to stage matches around the country during the coronavirus pandemic safely. If any of Orlando’s 12 home games during the 2020 season are canceled, moved to a different site, or played without fans, Duffy stated the Pride would automatically roll the value of that match over to the ticket holder’s account for 2021 season. The club also is creating a season-ticket holder rewards package if home matches are called off.
“Blake Shelton’s Ole Red restaurant now set to open this summer” via Austin Fuller of the Orlando Sentinel — The restaurant and music venue inspired by country music star Shelton is preparing to open an Orlando location in early summer after it was delayed by coronavirus. Ole Red Orlando is hiring a mix of positions from servers to line cooks for the 17,289-square-foot venue at International Drive’s Icon Park, according to a news release. The hiring will take place through June 8, according to its website. Owned and operated by Ryman Hospitality Properties, the restaurant named after Shelton’s 2002 song “Ol’ Red” was scheduled to open April 14 — a date that ended up being in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Controversial Split Oak Forest toll road construction likely delayed until 2034” via Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel — A controversial plan to extend the Osceola Parkway across Split Oak Forest would be delayed until 2034 as part of coronavirus budget cuts proposed Thursday by the region’s toll-road agency. The Central Florida Expressway Authority is crafting a budget that emphasizes the upkeep of exiting roads and significantly postpones the Split Oak project that many environmentalists and east Orange County residents have sought for years to kill. Authority staff stressed that if the economy improves and toll revenues rebound more quickly than expected, the Osceola Parkway extension could be moved up. “We are hopeful the project will be added back” to a timeline sooner than 2034, authority spokesman Brian Hutchings said.
“Hillsborough tallies more than 2,000 coronavirus cases as Manatee passes 1,000” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — It puts the two counties on a leader board nobody wants to occupy. Hillsborough is only the fourth county in Florida to surpass 2,000 cases. A Department of Health dashboard shows 2,019 cases through Thursday morning, including 1,960 residents and 59 nonresidents visiting at the time of diagnosis. Some 410 of those cases were severe enough to require hospitalization, and 76 of the residents ultimately died from COVID-19. Meanwhile, Manatee County became the ninth Florida County to surpass 1,000 cases.
“Raging against coronavirus” via Ashley Gurbal Kritzer of the Tampa Bay Business Journal — Ferrell Alvarez, chef and partner in Proper House Group, was preparing to reopen Rooster & the Till. Its dining room had closed since March 17, three days before the state ordered restaurants to operate on a takeout- and delivery-only basis. Rooster & the Till reopened May 19. Alvarez and his partners decided to reopen at just 25% capacity. “This is a very scary time. There’s no downplaying it — I’m very nervous,” Alvarez said. “It’s a double-edged sword. We’re at half the capacity they’re allowing, but we need the revenue. With our operating capital right now, we might be able to stick out the year, but it would be solely for ego’s sake. Not because it was the best business decision.”
“HCA Healthcare nurses protest working conditions” via Carlos Munoz of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — A Manatee County nurse protesting staffing cuts and shortages of personal protective equipment outside Blake Medical Center said some nurses have had to buy N95 masks from shady dealers because the hospital is not providing them. Kim Brooks, who was one of a group of nurses participating in protests outside 15 HCA hospitals in six states, said nurses had met mask sellers in fast-food parking lots. The nurses protested Thursday and will protest Friday again to highlight layoffs and pay cuts they say put patients in danger.
“Sarasota Memorial’s COVID-19 patient count at two-month low” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s COVID-19 patient count dropped to the lowest level in more than two months, and less than half what it was at the high point just more than two weeks ago. The 18 COVID-19 patients at Sarasota Memorial is the fewest number since the hospital had 16 patients March 24. This was also the first time since March 24 that the hospital’s COVID-19 patient count was below 20. There were 43 COVID-19 patients at Sarasota Memorial on May 10 and May 11. That’s the most there have been on any single day. Since then, the hospital’s COVID-19 patient count has been steadily trending down for the first time since the outbreak began.
“Couple attacked for face masks?” via Scott Lawson of the Venice Gondolier — A Venice woman taking her husband out for the first time in months felt the backlash of wearing masks in public. They had been to a Sarasota business where Eliz Turk said she politely asked a man to adhere to six-feet of social distancing. He started screaming at her, telling her COVID-19 is a hoax. Turk had previously been to Mad Moe’s in Osprey, appreciating its standards on social distancing and cleanliness in the year of COVID-19. Her husband, George, has medical conditions that kept him away from public places in months.
“Haircuts Lee County Sheriff’s personnel received during shutdown were legal” via Devan Patel of the Naples Daily News — The Lee County Sheriff’s Office headquarters hosted complimentary haircuts for its personnel last month, seemingly in defiance of social distancing guidelines and while barbershops and hair salons were shut down as part of DeSantis’ safer-at-home order. But while the optics of receiving professional haircuts during the shutdown may not be the best, they were legal because the stylists who provided the free haircuts were considered volunteers of law enforcement.
“Immokalee sees spike in COVID-19 cases; advocates say more help is needed” via Liz Freeman of the Naples Daily News — The novel coronavirus is spreading rapidly in Immokalee and raising concerns of the potential outfall to farmworkers as the backbone of the agricultural industry in Southwest Florida. The number of positive cases jumped from just 44 at the beginning of May to 488. The Florida National Guard conducted three days of free testing in early May that may have signaled the start of the spike when 73 people were positive for COVID-19 out of 1,212 tested.
“COVID-19 forces senior living communities to adapt to an uncertain future” via Andrew Atkins and Frank Gluck of the Naples Daily News — COVID-19 has forced senior living communities across Southwest Florida to adapt to a rapidly changing social and economic landscape to keep members of the vulnerable population healthy setting up a workstation for independent living residents where staff assisted residents in placing online orders for delivery, reassigning staff to personal shopper roles and switching management meetings to virtual platforms. Many facilities are setting up a workstation for independent living residents where staff assisted residents in placing online orders for delivery, reassigning staff to personal shopper roles and switching management meetings to virtual platforms.
— CORONA NATION —
“What if Trump’s record on the pandemic is better than we think?” via John F. Harris of POLITICO — Melinda Gates was asked to assign a grade to Trump on his handling so far of the coronavirus crisis. Gates’ answer: “D minus.” For the sake of argument, let’s very generously assume she was too harsh by two full grades. That still leaves him with a B minus. That is not a grade that would cause an employer to move Trump’s application to the top of the pile. Trump does work for all of us, of course, and his response to the cataclysmic events of 2020 presumably will be the preoccupying question. In politics, the exams are always graded on a curve — i.e., in comparison to others.
“For a numbers-obsessed Trump, there’s one he has tried to ignore: 100,000 dead” via Ashley Parker of The Washington Post — As the nation reached a grim milestone this week, 100,000 Americans died from the novel coronavirus, Trump has been uncharacteristically quiet. His public schedule this week contains no special commemoration, no moment of silence, no collective sharing of grief. Finally, Thursday morning, Trump tweeted about “a very sad milestone with the coronavirus pandemic deaths reaching 100,000. To all of the families & friends of those who have passed, I want to extend my heartfelt sympathy & love for everything that these great people stood for & represent. God be with you!”
“Trump extends National Guard’s coronavirus deployment following outcry” via Alice Miranda Ollstein of POLITICO — The federal government will now keep funding National Guard troops in nearly the entire country through mid-August, Trump tweeted. The administration was previously planning to terminate the deployment June 24 — one day before thousands of Guard members would have qualified for key retirement and education benefits. Trump emergency management officials were aware that the earlier termination would have deprived many Guard members the opportunity for those benefits. On a May 12 interagency call, they also acknowledged that cutting off federal support would be a blow to nearly all the states and territories that currently depend on the Guard to help contain new virus hot spots as their economies reopen.
“CNN historian Douglas Brinkley indicts ‘pathetic figure’ Trump for failed pandemic response: ‘he basically went AWOL’” via Reed Richardson of Mediaite — Brinkley offered up a damning indictment of Trump’s failed response to the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s not just the bungled policies, bad decision-making, but it’s a president who doesn’t seem ever to be able to express love to people unless they’re ardent Trump supporters and it makes him sort of a pathetic figure,” Brinkley said.
“Thousands of immigrants were on the verge of becoming U.S. citizens. Then the pandemic struck” via Lautaro Grinspan of the Miami Herald — When the coronavirus pandemic struck, the offices of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency that administers the country’s lawful immigration system, shuttered. Citizenship interviews, as well as all other in-person services at USCIS, including naturalization oath ceremonies, were deferred until further notice. Immigration lawyers and nonprofit service providers say that the suspension of in-person naturalization services, which is set to last at least until June 4, has meant more instability for immigrant families during a time of crisis.
“Researchers ponder why COVID appears more deadly in the U.S. and Europe than in Asia” via Simon Denyer and Joel Achenbach of The Washington Post — Parts of Asia reacted quickly to the threat and mostly started social distancing earlier on. But researchers are also examining other factors, including differences in genetics and immune system responses, separate virus strains and regional contrasts in obesity levels and general health. Scientists at Japan’s Chiba University plotted the trajectory of the virus across the world and said they noticed stark regional disparities. “That means we need to take into consideration regional differences first, before analyzing what policies and other factors are affecting the spread of infection in any given country,” said Akihiro Hisaka of the university’s Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
“Small towns won’t know they’re infected until it’s too late” via Mark Bowden of The Atlantic — Here in the plague, we are living a story that is global and yet intensely local. While all of us get reams of reporting about national and international COVID-19 trends, most of us get little or no reporting about what’s happening in the communities where we actually live. Local news has mostly disappeared, the phenomenon of news deserts is by now well known. And yet never has the need for local information been greater. The crucial virus data is hyperlocal. Most small communities see a large increase in infections before they realize the coronavirus has arrived.
“‘Vaccine nationalism’: A new dynamic in the race to quash coronavirus” via Peter Loftus and Drew Hinshaw of The Wall Street Journal — Pharmaceutical companies are bracing for export bans on future coronavirus vaccines and spreading production across different continents, on early signs of a high-stakes geopolitical scramble to secure supplies for a scientific breakthrough that could confer enormous economic and political power. The resulting picture is what public-health experts call “vaccine nationalism,” as the international pursuit for a desperately needed shot shifts into a contest of which world power can immunize its population first. A coronavirus vaccine would be a monumental prize for the first country able to manufacture it at scale, a civilizational triumph comparable to the moon landing.
“Coronavirus may never go away, even with a vaccine” via William Wan and Carolyn Y. Johnson of The Washington Post — There’s a good chance the coronavirus will never go away. Even after a vaccine is discovered and deployed, the coronavirus will likely remain for decades to come, circulating among the world’s population. Experts call such diseases endemic — stubbornly resisting efforts to stamp them out. Think measles, HIV, chickenpox. The long-term nature of COVID-19, they say, should serve as a call to arms for the public, a road map for the trillions of dollars Congress is spending, and a fixed navigational point for the nation’s current, chaotic state-by-state patchwork strategy.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“Breaking precedent, White House won’t release formal economic projections this summer that would forecast extent of downturn” via Jeff Stein and Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post — The White House is supposed to unveil a federal budget proposal every February and then typically provides a “mid-session review” in July or August with updated projections on economic trends such as unemployment, inflation and economic growth. Budget experts said they were not aware of any previous White House opting against providing forecasts in this “mid-session review” document in any other year since at least the 1970s. Two White House officials confirmed the decision had been made not to include the economic projections as part of the mid-session release. The officials said that the novel coronavirus is causing extreme volatility in the U.S. economy, making it difficult to model economic trends.
“Easing unemployment claims shows slower pace of coronavirus-related layoffs” via Eric Morath of The Wall Street Journal — Initial claims for unemployment benefits declined to a seasonally adjusted 2.1 million last week from 2.4 million the prior week, the Labor Department said. The level of claims is still 10 times pre-pandemic levels, but has fallen for eight straight weeks. Meanwhile, the number of workers receiving jobless payments for the week ended May 16 was 21.1 million, down 3.9 million from the prior week. The level remains well above the record before this year — 6.5 million in 2009 — and underscores that tens of millions remain jobless. Fewer workers on unemployment rolls adds to evidence that while layoffs have been steep and are continuing, some Americans are getting back to work.
“Boeing details plans for mass job cuts” via Doug Cameron of The Wall Street Journal — Boeing Co. intends to shed more than 13,000 employees, the planemaker said, including the first round of compulsory cuts as part of previously announced plans triggered by the coronavirus-driven collapse in global air travel. Boeing announced roughly 6,770 involuntary layoffs among U.S. employees, while a further 5,520 had been approved for voluntary severance packages and will leave over the next few weeks. The planemaker has about 18,000 international employees and is cutting about 700 jobs in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
“American Airlines to cut 30% of management and administrative staff” via Alison Sider of The Wall Street Journal — American Airlines Group Inc. will cut its management and administrative staff by 30% as the airline prepares to shrink with demand decimated by the coronavirus pandemic. American is among the airlines that have said they are starting to see signs that demand is picking up after government travel bans, stay-at-home orders, and fears of infection brought travel to a near halt in March and April. The reduction amounts to more than 5,000 of American’s roughly 17,000 management and support workers.
“COVID-19 has likely quickened the end of malls as we knew them” via Sara DiNatale of the Tampa Bay Times — International Plaza grew into a shopping and dining destination even as suburban malls withered in competition with Amazon. The mall reveled in luxury, attracting designer brands, like Gucci and Louis Vuitton selling $4,000 handbags. Even top-shelf shopping centers are struggling as retailers experience record sales drops amid the coronavirus shutdown. International Plaza is facing the possibility of its anchor stores going dark forever. Shoppers were walking International Plaza last week, but there was no trouble social distancing. Just over half of its stores have reopened so far.
“Restaurants say socially distant dining rooms could wipe out business” via Heather Haddon of The Wall Street Journal — “This business model is fundamentally altered,” said John Cywinski, president of Applebee’s, which was on the path to opening new stores for the first time in years before the crisis hit. Across the restaurant industry, he said, “There will be a likely contraction as a result of this.” Even as restaurants reopen, many Americans say they don’t feel comfortable going out to eat yet. A survey of 2,500 U.S. consumers this month found that three-quarters planned to avoid restaurants or dine out less frequently, according to Wall Street firm Cowen. Independent restaurants face even more significant challenges than sit-down chains because they tend to have less room to cordon off customers and fewer seats to remove.
“Hershey says mint, gum sales hit as lockdowns restrict social gatherings” via Reuters — Hershey Co said sales of gums and mints had taken a hit as social distancing protocols spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic discouraged people from participating in gatherings. The company said its second quarter performance would also be impacted due to a decline in its foodservice business and stunted candy sales at airports and stores. Hershey has for long been betting on its nutritious and on-the-go snack portfolio, a hit with health-conscious consumers who would pick up protein bars before heading to work. The company said it expects many of the changed shopping behaviors since the outbreak of the virus to continue.
“Rebuilding America: Touchless options the new norm in grocery industry” via Kevin Bouffard of the Gainesville Sun — The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t so much alter the future of the supermarket industry as much as hasten it. Trends that had already begun — including online shopping, drive-by pickup, robotics and artificial intelligence — got a boost during the COVID-19 economic shutdown because they offered alternatives to shoppers wary of crowded supermarkets, increasing the threat of coronavirus infection, two industry analysts said. “Online sales have gone up exponentially,” said Brian Choi, the chief executive officer at the Food Institute, an industry research organization. “We’ve seen sales up 100% and 200% in some cases.” Even before COVID-19, grocery industry analysts saw online shopping as a future trend. That became clear in 2017, when online retail behemoth Amazon purchased the Whole Foods supermarket chain for $13.7 billion.
— MORE CORONA —
“He was part of Amazon’s coronavirus hiring spree. Two weeks later he was dead” via Sam Dean of the Los Angeles Times — When Harry Sentoso got called back to work at an Amazon delivery center in Irvine in late March, he was excited. He had been working in Amazon warehouses on and off for two years, always hoping to get a full-time position but always laid off after seasonal demand died down. Two weeks later, in the early morning hours of April 12, his 27th wedding anniversary, Sentoso died. The same week that Sentoso was called back into work, new cases of COVID-19 were reported at six warehouses across Southern California.
“Most CNN employees will not return to office this year, Jeff Zucker says” via Jeremy Barr of the Hollywood Reporter — “The majority” of CNN employees won’t return to the network’s office this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, network president Zucker said. In April, Zucker told staffers that the majority would not return to the office “in any significant way before the end of the summer.” In his memo on staffing, Zucker said that CNN is targeting “an end of summer, early September timeline for another phase of returning employees.” 15% of the company’s employees are currently working from the office, with “a few more” returning to the office in the next few weeks.
“Is that Stefon Diggs and Antonio Brown at my local park? NFL stars get in workouts where they can” via Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — There’s no set day, time or place and very little warning. The texts get sent out to various NFL players interested in attending South Florida’s guerrilla workouts the night before with a location and time, and that gets circulated around by past, present and hopeful professional football players. These guerrilla workouts, organized by a couple of players, have been taking place in South Florida for years, but usually not this time of year, because this is when the NFL would have organized team activities and minicamps. Now, these workouts are football players’ only outlets for on-field work this spring.
“Our nest is best: Home improvement projects leave us calmer, cozier in stressful times” via Britt Kennerly of Florida Today — If you’re like countless millions worldwide, you’ve noticed every proverbial nook, cranny and carpet snag in your residence over these past few safe-at-home weeks. And as we work, teach, cook and sleep in those surroundings, we’ve learned a lot about ourselves, too. Like, that some of us just aren’t cut out to, well, cut out pieces of wood to exact measurements and put them together in ways that magically shape desks or decks. However you lean when it comes to taking on or hiring out for home improvement ventures, undertakings big or small truly make a house a home. And in trying times, they can work as a stress-buster, too, leaving us crowing like a $1 plaque from Dollar Tree that states, “Our Nest is Best.”
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Trump Twitter tirades undermine U.S. efforts to democratize countries like Venezuela” via Tim Padget of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — It’s hard to say whose anti-media rants this week are more absurd: Trump’s, over Twitter’s decision to add fact-check notices to his factless tweets. Or socialist Venezuela’s, over DirecTV’s understandable decision to pull out of the country. Translate Trump’s tirades into Spanish and, well, they could stand in almost verbatim for the Venezuelan regime’s tirades against DirecTV and its bullying of independent media.
Florida Republicans intensify condemnations of China — U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott have been increasingly critical of China the past few weeks, and now state-level Republicans are joining them in hammering the communist nation in public comments. As reported by Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida, Attorney General Ashley Moody and CFO Patronis both highlighted efforts to curb Chinese influence during a Thursday Cabinet meeting. Moody asked whether the state had investments in Chinese companies. “I wanted to know if we have any direct holdings in these companies, and if so, how we would evaluate the credibility of their financial statements they are putting out and access risk to us on these holdings,” Moody asked.
“Sen. Tim Kaine and his wife test positive for coronavirus antibodies” via Felicia Sonmez of The Washington Post — Kaine said he and his wife, Anne, tested positive for coronavirus antibodies earlier this month, making the Virginia Democrat the second member of the Senate to have recovered from the novel coronavirus. Because of the national shortage of coronavirus tests, Kaine said, he and his wife did not get tested for the virus but remained at home in Richmond, “working remotely and isolated from others” and were symptom-free by mid-April. Kaine noted that he still plans to wear a mask because it remains unclear whether those who have recovered from the coronavirus can pass it to others.
“Democrats say Trump’s COVID-19 testing guidance for nursing homes is too little, too late” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Nearly half of Florida’s COVID-19 deaths are linked to residents and staff at long-term care facilities. The Florida Democratic Party argued the Trump administration bears the brunt of the blame. The federal government advised that all residents and staff at nursing homes nationwide should be tested if those facilities are to begin a transition back to normalcy. U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala argued that guidance is coming too late. Trump has repeatedly falsely claimed that anyone who wants a test could get one.
— STATEWIDE —
“Governor, Cabinet approve purchase of last private tract in Topsail Hill Preserve State Park” via Jim Thompson of the NWF Daily News — DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet have approved the purchase of the only remaining privately held tract within Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, a 4.5-acre tract within the 1,637-acre preserve purchased by the state in 1992. The 4.5-acre private tract was acquired for $882,500 using funds from Florida Forever, a program under which the state Legislature appropriates funding to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection specifically for the purchase of public lands in the form of parks, trails, forests, wildlife management areas, and other land classifications.
“Sprouting future continues for Florida Forever” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The Florida Cabinet approved Florida Forever’s priorities, building off the Legislature tripling the program’s budget in the recent Legislative Session. On the docket for the state’s land acquisition and conservation program was its priority list, a five-year plan, five land acquisitions, and two conservation easements. Before the Great Recession, the program enjoyed $300 million-per-year levels of support from the Legislature. The $100 million budget, at the request of DeSantis, is three times that of the $33 million approved for the fiscal year about to run its course.
“Former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel lied on FDLE application” via Javier Manjarres of The Floridian — On a 2004 FDLE application, Israel responded “NO” to the question “Ever been a plaintiff or defendant in a court action (include any liens, lawsuits, bankruptcy, domestic violence injunctions, etc.)?” Scott signed the application and acknowledged the truth and accuracy of all his responses. Scott, however, did indeed have prior liens against him. In 1990, Israel was subject to a claim of lien of $975 paced by The Tree Garden Condominium Association for an unpaid assessment. More substantially, in 1993, a $48,295 lien was levied against Israel by Glendale Federal Bank in a Foreclosure Judgment. In addition to the liens, Scott was listed as a defendant in six additional cases.
“All the gorgeous beaches that belong to Florida’s taxpayers face a great threat: climate change” via Craig Pittman of Florida Phoenix — All the gorgeous beaches that belong to Florida’s taxpayers face an even greater threat that neither Scott nor DeSantis have done anything to alleviate: climate change. Most of the state is a low-lying peninsula with water on three sides, so scientists have classified Florida as extremely vulnerable to climate change. Because our landscape is so flat, even a small increase in sea level can cause big problems with our beaches.
“Senators ask DeSantis to accept judge’s ruling covering return of felons’ voting rights” via Michael Moline of Florida Phoenix — Two Democratic state senators have urged DeSantis to give up his defense of a state law pinning former felon’s voting rights under Amendment 4 on their ability to pay “legal financial obligations” even if they don’t have enough money. “This is the type of system we would expect to read about in the darkest chapters of our nation’s history, not in our morning newspapers,” Sen. Janet Cruz of Tampa and Sen. Lori Berman of Palm Beach County wrote in a letter. A federal judge ruled Sunday that the law violates the U.S. Constitution on several points, including the 25th Amendment’s proscription against conditioning the vote upon payment of “poll and other taxes.”
“State defends constitutionality of pot law” via the News Service of Florida — The Supreme Court heard arguments in the battle about whether the law properly carried out a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana. Florigrown, a Tampa-based firm that has unsuccessfully sought a medical-marijuana license, has challenged the law. But a day after hearing arguments, the Supreme Court ordered attorneys to file briefs about an issue that was not a focus of the hearing. The order said the issue is whether Florigrown has a “substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their challenge to (a section of the 2017 law) as a special law granting a privilege to a private corporation.”
“Reprimand set for North Florida judge” via News Service of Florida — The state Supreme Court on Sept. 8 will issue a public reprimand to a North Florida judge after an investigation found that he had repeated contact with family members of people who were arrested and held bond hearings by telephone. The Supreme Court issued an order Thursday accepting an agreement reached by Hamilton County Judge Kenneth “Sonny” Scaff Jr. and the state Judicial Qualifications Commission. Scaff, the only full-time judge in the rural county, acknowledged he was involved in what is known as “ex-parte communications” with relatives of people who had been arrested. Scaff also admitted that he held telephonic bond hearings without providing notice.
“Councilmember wants more vetting for Streamline Boats lease at Port of Pensacola” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — Councilwoman Sherri Myers believes more time is needed for the council and the public to evaluate a lease proposal to build custom fiberglass fishing boats at the Port of Pensacola. Myers said she found out the details of the proposal last week, and doesn’t believe a week is enough time to evaluate a 10-year lease proposal. The proposal is up for a vote at the City Council meeting on Thursday for a lease to a company out of Hialeah, Florida, called Streamline Boats to lease two of the port’s warehouses with the potential for additional five-year renewals for up to 40 years.
“JAX Chamber voices support for Duval Schools sales tax referendum” via Emily Bloch of The Florida Times-Union — The JAX Chamber will support a half-cent sales tax to fund building upgrades and security enhancements for Duval County Public Schools. In a news release Thursday, the local business organization announced its board of directors voted to support the schools referendum that will hit ballots this November. If Jacksonville residents vote yes, the sales tax would fund a $1.9 billion maintenance plan. Now, the chamber’s board is asking residents to do just that. “This is an important investment in our public school system and our community,” said Henry Brown, JAX Chamber chairman. “The referendum would pay for needed upgrades and comes at a time where the influx of construction jobs will be critical for our local economy.”
“Tampa sees alarming surge in violent crime; leaders discuss guns, gangs, solutions” via Dan Sullivan of the Tampa Bay Times — The city of Tampa has seen a 36% rise in violent crimes involving guns in the first five months of this year compared with the same period in 2019. Violent crime overall has surged by 10%. And there have been 15 homicides in the city so far, compared with 12 in the first five months of last year. What’s driving the rise? The answer is complicated. One word stands out: gangs. “We have a gang violence problem in Tampa and Hillsborough County,” County Commissioner Les Miller said in a virtual meeting.
“Hillsborough County teacher resigns after racist comments surfaced in ‘Right Wing Death Squad’ Facebook group” via Ray Roa of Creative Loafing — Vernon “Chuck” Henderson, a Gaither High School social studies teacher who’s come under fire for posts in a white supremacist Facebook group, has resigned. Henderson (pictured) has been the subject of scrutiny from activists who shed light on his activity as a member of the pro-Nazi “Right Wing Death Squad” Facebook Group, which routinely posted pro-Nazi propaganda. Henderson has since defended himself, saying his account was recently compromised, but screenshots show a habit of racist and anti-Semitic remarks going back for over a month.
“Statewide grand jury to get more time” via the News Service of Florida — A statewide grand jury that has investigated the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County will get more time to conduct its work after a suspension of activities because of the coronavirus. The Florida Supreme Court issued an order that said additional “days equal to the number of days for which proceedings are suspended shall be restored to the term of the statewide grand jury.” Statewide Prosecutor Nicholas Cox filed an emergency petition at the Supreme Court seeking clarification about the panel’s term. The petition said the term was scheduled to end June 5, but Cox sought clarification that the period would be extended because of the coronavirus-caused suspension of proceedings.
“Progress Florida crowns 27 ‘champions’ on the left with 2020 ‘People First’ scorecard” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Progress Florida issued its annual “People First” scorecard, grading lawmakers on their floor votes during the recent Legislative Session. Twenty-seven lawmakers received “People’s Champion” awards for perfect left-leaning voting records on issues from parental consent for abortion to Medicaid expansion for children. Lawmakers were scored favorably for votes against the parental consent bill, the E-Verify bill, the sunscreen ban preemption bill, the bill reworking citizen initiatives, and more. On other bills, including the Holocaust and Ocoee Massacre curriculum bill and bear poaching crackdown, lawmakers earned high marks for voting for the measures.
“State audit questions how Lee schools spent $5.5 million in property taxes” via Pamela McCabe of the Fort Myers News-Press — The county school system was flagged five times in a recently published operational audit by the state, which, once again, questioned how the district spent taxpayer money. The first finding focused on the district’s use of $5.5 million in ad valorem, or property, taxes. The audit found that in the 2018-19 fiscal year, a transfer of $4.1 million to cover lease-to-own payments on school buses wasn’t pulled from the right account. The money should have come from the fund containing the remaining 2016-17 property taxes because that’s when the expenditure was advertised to the public.
“While a Coral Springs cop, Sheriff Gregory Tony used city email to obtain records, build his private training business” via Dan Christensen of Florida Bulldog — In his final year as a police sergeant in Coral Springs in 2016, Broward Sheriff Tony used his city email account to forward various law enforcement records, including a sensitive FBI report, to himself at his private safety training business. Tony sent numerous emails from his city email box looking to drum up business for both his company, Blue Spear Solutions, and North American Rescue, the South Carolina “casualty care” company where Tony would soon go to work as a salaried executive.
“Brightline may bring commuter rail to the eastern edges of South Florida” via David Lyons of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Brightline’s new plans in Miami-Dade County would, for the first time, bring a commuter rail line to the eastern parts of South Florida. The company is seeking to build a five-stop commuter service between Aventura, where a Brightline station is in the early stages of construction, and its Virgin MiamiCentral station in Miami. The $425 million project would entail a dedicated line separate and apart from its high-speed operation that has served the downtowns of Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Miami since 2018. The proposal could put an end to Tri-Rail’s long-held ambition to set up a three-county “Coastal Link” along the Florida East Coast line, which is controlled by Brightline.
— 2020 —
“’This is what I want’: Why Trump needs a packed convention” via Michael Kruse of POLITICO — Trump adores old-fashioned pageantry. He has waxed enthusiastic about military parades and reveled in royal red-carpet treatment overseas. And little has captivated him as much as the lively quadrennial jamborees. The public affirmation is what piqued his interest in the presidency in the first place. Trump’s history with political conventions reveals a lot about the way he has used politics to get what he wants. In 1980, along with Louise Sunshine, Trump was a co-host of the Texas delegation during the Democratic National Convention in New York. Trump, in that cycle, gave money to Jimmy Carter, while also helping to raise money for Ronald Reagan, the challenging Republican. “Donald,” Sunshine once told me, “liked to be around all power.”
“Trump retweets a video saying ‘the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat’” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post — If there was ever a tweet tailor-made for promotion by Trump, it might be this one: A video by an account called “Cowboys for Trump” in which the speaker begins by saying, “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.” The speaker quickly qualifies that he’s not speaking literally. The President retweeted this. People are rightly pointing out that a president just promoted the idea of dead Democrats. The video’s speaker has also made clear he wasn’t being entirely figurative.
“Climate change and virus crises meet in new ads attacking Trump” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The climate change crisis, particularly its increased threat of dangerous hurricanes, and the coronavirus crisis are about to be simultaneous risks in Florida with the opening of hurricane season Monday. That point is being driven home with a new round of digital and direct-mail ads being launched in Florida to attack Trump on those issues, under a jointly-financed political campaign. Florida’s ads will run in English and Spanish to a target cohort of more than 365,000 total swing voters.
“Vote by mail helps Florida Republicans. So why is Trump bashing it?” via Allison Ross of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida Republicans have long embraced vote by mail as a reliable method to turn out their base. And the Republican Party of Florida says it doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. Trump, who is a Florida resident and has himself voted by mail, has repeatedly attacked expanded use of mail-in ballots in recent weeks. Trump has also made comments that appear to signal a concern that greater access to voting by mail could increase turnout and aid Democrats, who have historically been less likely to vote by mail in Florida and some other states.
“Donald, Joe Biden still in statistical tie in Florida, but Trump’s favorability is dipping” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Florida’s electorate remains tightly divided on the race for President, according to new survey results. But feelings on Trump’s performance are on the decline. Biden continues to hold a slight but statistically insignificant lead in Florida over Trump. The 1.2% margin is almost identical to the margin found by the same pollsters last month. Then, the survey found Biden leading Trump 48.3% to Trump’s 47.5%. A more significant finding may be that Florida voters feel less supportive of the President now than five weeks ago.
“Biden says he’ll pick running mate by Aug. 1” via Colby Itkowitz of The Washington Post — Biden told supporters night that his campaign has interviewed every candidate on his shortlist to be his running mate and hoped to name the woman by Aug. 1. To fill the job he last held, Biden said he’s looking for someone whose views align with his, but who also brings different qualities to the ticket. “I want to have people around me that have strengths and capacities I don’t,” Biden said. He added that he wants someone who isn’t afraid to be “completely candid” with him.
“Val Demings latest Vice President prospect to address Everytown forum” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Demings will join a national internet-based forum on gun violence, hosted by Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund and Moms Demand Action, two affiliated gun law reform groups strongly supported by Michael Bloomberg. Demings will be the sixth guest speaker in this “Demanding Women” conversation series billed as a discussion of gun violence in the time of a pandemic. The previous five: California U.S., Sen. Kamala Harris, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Georgia politician Stacey Abrams.
“Famed Democratic pollster: Elizabeth Warren as VP would lead to Biden victory” via Alex Thompson of POLITICO — Stan Greenberg, one of the Democratic Party’s longtime leading pollsters, urged Hillary Clinton in 2016 to pick Warren as her vice president. He thinks Clinton would be President had she listened. Now Greenberg is urging Biden’s team to heed the same advice. Biden’s biggest problem, Greenberg said, is that the Democratic Party has not unified behind him. Biden is now behind where Clinton was with Bernie Sanders voters in 2016, with more than 20% of the democratic socialist’s backers saying they would not vote for him, even as 87% of them pledge to vote for a Democrat for Congress.
“Florida betting favorite if Republican convention moved, bookie says” via A.G. Gancarski Florida Politics — With the location of the 2020 Republican National Convention at least temporarily in doubt, one bookmaker says Florida has the best odds should it move. U.S. Bookies has Florida’s odds at 2-1, ahead of Georgia and its 5-2 odds. Odds that the convention stays in Charlotte are the best bet, at 1-2. “While Florida and Georgia are the current top picks, Texas and Nevada are also among bookies’ top states to hold the event, with odds of 4/1 and 9/2, respectively,” betting industry analyst Alex Donohue said.
“Could GOP convention come to Florida? Joe Gruters says it’s a real possibility” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Trump’s threat to move the Republican National Convention out of North Carolina has kept Gruters busy in recent days as he scrambles to position his state as an alternative convention location. “I would say it’s been pretty consuming over the last couple of days,” Gruters said. There has been speculation that Trump was just bluffing to try and get North Carolina’s Democratic governor to allow a full convention that isn’t circumscribed by coronavirus restrictions.
“‘It would be irresponsible’ — Tampa Bay Mayors say no way to hosting RNC” via Josh Solomon of the Tampa Bay Times — Some Florida Republicans have suggested that Tampa could host the party’s national convention this summer if North Carolina doesn’t loosen its restrictions on large gatherings, put in place to thwart the spread of the coronavirus. Local leaders have offered pointed criticisms of the idea, noting both the undertaking of preparing for an event that size and the public health concerns. The colossal task of preparing for a national political convention that draws tens of thousands from across the country makes it nearly impossible to throw together starting in late May, even in the best of times.
— MORE FROM THE TRAIL —
“Minimum wage hike boasts broad support; top-two primary faces prohibitive opposition” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Enough Florida voters support a minimum wage hike to pass a proposed constitutional amendment. But another measure creating a top-two open primary hasn’t fared so well. A new survey of registered voters shows nearly 64% support a constitutional amendment lifting the minimum wage to $10 and then raising it $1 a year for the next five years. Only a little more than 24% of voters plan to vote ‘No’ while 12% remain undecided.
Kathy Castor taps Canaan McCaslin for campaign manager — U.S. Rep. Castor on Thursday announced Tampa native McCaslin as her campaign manager for the 2020 election cycle. McCaslin most recently served as a regional organizing director for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign. He has worked in the private sector and for both the Pinellas County Government and Lutheran Services Florida, where he managed grassroots and intergovernmental outreach efforts. He also has ties to Castor, having served as her staff assistant in Washington in 2010. “I am proud to have Canaan back on Team Castor. His management and campaign experience and deep Florida roots will help us engage our Tampa neighbors,” Castor said.
“Doug Broxson, Melony Bell draw Democratic opponents” via News Service of Florida — Gulf Breeze Sen. Broxson and Fort Meade Rep. Bell won’t have clear paths to reelection this year. Mary Esther Democrat Karen Butler opened a campaign account this week to challenge Broxson in Senate District 1, which is made up of Escambia, Santa Rosa and part of Okaloosa counties, according to the state Division of Elections website. Meanwhile, Bartow Democrat James Davis opened an account to challenge Bell in House District 56, which is made up of DeSoto, Hardee and part of Polk counties.
“Darryl Rouson picks up cache of Hillsborough endorsers” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Rouson picked up endorsements from almost all of Tampa City Council and several constitutional officers in Hillsborough County. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and seven City Council members, including Luis Viera, Joe Citro, Charlie Miranda, John Dingfelder, Bill Carlson, Orlando Gudes and Guido Maniscalco endorsed him for reelection. Rouson does not face a primary challenger, but two Republicans are vying for the chance to take him on in November. None of his challengers have raised significant funds.
“Danika Fornear challenges Spencer Roach on sunscreen, environmental record” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Fornear, a Lehigh Acres Democrat, became the latest to challenge an incumbent Republican, running against Rep. Spencer Roach in House District 79. A single mother and community organizer, she will challenge the freshman lawmaker on a signature sunscreen bill, among other matters. “He sponsored HB 113, a bill that would prohibit local governments from passing ordinances to ban the sale of cosmetics, which could include things like makeup, shampoos, deodorants or skin moisturizers,” she said. Roach said the Key West ban posed a public health risk, exposing beachgoers to a higher chance of skin cancer without the science to prove sunblock contributes to reef decline.
“Florida Realtors PAC backs Lauren Melo in HD 80 contest “via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Florida Realtors look eager for one of their more active members to move into the Florida House. The Florida Realtors PAC on endorsed Melo, President of the Naples Area Board of Realtors. The Naples Republican has held board positions both with the state organization and with the National Association of Realtors. As the political arm for the state’s largest professional trade association, Florida Realtors PAC remains one of the most powerful lobbies in Florida politics.
“Organizers of PAC to oust 3 Sebastian council members say they’ve collected enough petition signatures” via Janet Begley with TC Palm — Organizers of a political action committee looking to oust three freshman City Council members from office say they garnered more than 7,400 signatures on recall petitions in less than 48 hours. “We were given 30 days to get approximately 6,000 (signatures), and in 47 hours, we got 7,400,” said Tracey Cole, who displayed boxes of signed petitions during the public input portion of the council meeting. “This is the voice of Sebastian.” By state law, elected officials cannot be recalled until they have served one-fourth of their term. To force a recall of any council member, organizers must collect petitions signatures equaling at least 10% of Sebastian’s registered voters.
“Lee County Commission candidate Sonny Haas used racial slurs in email to voter” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Haas’ email became public after being forwarded to county commission offices. In it, he describes how county policy tried to turn Lehigh Acres into a “colored quarters.” Haas apologized after NBC-2 first reported Haas’ use of the language in his email. Haas’ crude recounting of history touches on Lee County’s troubled past with race relations. Federal courts ruled as late as 1998 the county had failed to integrate its schools to comply with the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case from 1954. Haas appears to be attempting to explain planning policies that pushed financially marginalized communities further east and away from the coastal communities in the Southwest Florida county.
“Esteban Bovo campaign fires fundraiser who took Venezuelan oil cash from former congressman” via David Smiley and Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — Bovo has fired the fundraiser for his county mayoral campaign after it was reported that she was paid millions from the proceeds of a massive contract between a former Miami Congressman and a subsidiary of a state-run Venezuelan oil company. “… Communications [sic] Solutions, Inc. is terminated effective immediately as my fundraising consultant. Any sort of financial engagement with the source of so much pain for so many is completely unacceptable, and I condemn it,” Bovo said.
— TOP OPINION —
“Fried: Florida Man’s problem with transparency” via Florida Politics — At all times, Floridians expect their state leaders to govern together. But we can’t do that without all the facts. Since we took office in 2019, there has been a tendency by DeSantis to leave the Cabinet — and Floridians — in the dark. And since the COVID-19 outbreak, that tendency has become a disturbing pattern of deception and withholding critical information. Time after time, we’ve seen the Governor’s office (and his agencies) refuse to answer questions or release cases, data and other public information, until forced to by the media or public pressure. Were it just one incident, it might be understandable. But it’s been one issue after another on which this Governor has lacked transparency.
— OPINIONS —
“Twitter plays into Trump’s hands” via The Wall Street Journal editorial board — Where would Trump be if his critics didn’t so often help him? The latest case is Twitter’s attempt Tuesday for the first time to fact-check Trump’s tweet logorrhea. Some of Trump’s tweets are now appended with a hazard symbol urging users to get the, er, truth according to some anonymous Twitter editor. Now that the precedent has been set, Democrats will no doubt demand that Twitter flag Trump’s every other missive. When Republicans demand the same, they’ll have a point.
“We need relief — not reopening — DeSantis” via Andrea Mercado and Jonel Edwards of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — As COVID-19 cases in Florida continue to rise every day, DeSantis is moving ahead with his plans to prematurely lift public safety measures put in place to mitigate the spread of the lethal disease. With logic like that, it’s easy to see why the Governor’s response to the coronavirus has been criticized across the country. Meanwhile, nearly 2 million Floridians are out of work, while rent, mortgages, and bills keep piling up. Florida needs relief from the insurmountable financial burden of rent and mortgage payments that promise to bury families in debt or cast them out onto the streets.
“A tidal wave of higher property insurance rates is about to hit Florida” via Adrian Moore and Jeff Brandes of the Tampa Bay Times — Like the worrying economic and unemployment data emerging as Florida and the world fight the coronavirus pandemic, the emerging picture for homelessness, bankruptcies, and insurance rate increases are raising fears of a property insurance crisis impacting Florida’s real estate market. Last year, several insurance companies failed financially, forcing thousands of homeowners to scramble for insurance coverage. When claims costs go up, insurance rates do too. Some insurance companies are requesting rate hikes ranging from 20% to 60%, and analysts say nearly all customers should expect at least a 20% increase in homeowners’ insurance costs this year.
“Telemedicine saved my life” via Tre’ Evers for the Orlando Sentinel — A year ago, I went to a cardiologist and had an echocardiogram and nuclear stress test, both of which I passed. In light of recent curve-flattening measures, my follow-up was rescheduled to telemedicine the very next day in mid-April. Tuesday night, I felt a slight twinge in my chest. Wednesday morning, I woke up feeling fine, called in for my telemedicine meeting and told my cardiologist what had happened the previous night. He told me to go to the ER. My blood work came back and showed high levels of Troponin — an enzyme our bodies produce that indicates a heart attack. I had a 100% blockage in the Left Anterior Descending Artery, also known as the “widow-maker.”
“Scott Shalley: Stock up! Disaster Preparedness Tax-Free Holiday is here” via Florida Politics — Save on flashlights, radios, batteries, coolers, and generators — everything you need for hurricane season! The Florida Legislature passed this tax-saving measure, and the Governor signed into law the Disaster Preparedness Tax-Free Holiday. If forecasts are accurate, it’s going to be a very active season here in Florida. Are you prepared? Do you have your plan? Have you stocked up on the supplies you need? Now is the time, because you can stock up on tons of supplies from May 29 through June 4 and pay no taxes on all your eligible purchases. And I guarantee you that Florida retail stores are ready to help you get what you need. They are stocked up on supplies and staffed up to support.
“Execute the mentally disabled? What is Florida Supreme Court thinking?” via the Miami Herald editorial board — The Florida Supreme Court shredded precedent recently in a case called Harry Franklin Phillips v. State. Anyone who loves someone with intellectual disabilities must pay attention. The case ignores clear and data-driven direction from the U.S. Supreme Court forbidding the death penalty for people who, because of intellectual disability, are not fully culpable for their actions and who, therefore, should not be subjected to society’s ultimate punishment. Case-by-case, the Charlie Crist-Scott-DeSantis appointees are dismantling the hard-won reputation of a court that rose from the ashes of scandals exposed in the 1970s.
— TODAY’S SUNRISE —
Agriculture Commissioner Fried finally gets the chance at a Florida Cabinet meeting to air her grievances about the way the state is responding to COVID-19. She claims DeSantis is keeping them in the dark; DeSantis’s only response was: “Anyone else?” Fried will talk with Sunrise about the experience.
Also, on today’s Sunrise:
— Oddly enough, coronavirus wasn’t really addressed during the Cabinet meeting, but the state’s chief executives did find time to bash the Chinese. Attorney General Moody and the Chief Financial Officer Patronis want some answers about Chinese owned businesses.
— A Tallahassee circuit judge refuses to issue an injunction ordering the state to fix its unemployment compensation program. Judge Cooper sympathizes with people caught in a horrible system but believes he doesn’t have the authority to tell the unemployment agency how to do its job. And Cooper says no one seems to know how to fix it.
— State University System Chancellor Criser lays out guidelines to reopen campuses for the fall semester. That means healthier colleges, COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and giving students the option to continue remote learning if they don’t feel safe returning to school.
— And the latest from Florida Man, who has an odd habit of wagging his weenie in all the wrong places.
To listen, click on the image below:
— LISTEN UP —
Inside Florida Politics from GateHouse Florida: Trump visited Florida to bask in the glory of America’s return to human-crewed space flight but had to take a rain check, DeSantis appointed two new state Supreme Court justices, and the state budget could be trimmed after tax revenues took a big hit in April.
podcastED: Step Up For Students President Doug Tuthill talks with Eric Hall, who joined the Florida Department of Education in February 2019 to deal with some of the state’s most high-profile initiatives, including the expansion of school choice. A little more than a year into Hall’s tenure as head of innovation, COVID-19 began roiling education, and it looks like those disruptions will continue into the fall. A firm believer in the power of Florida Virtual School, he is convinced the state’s investment in online learning leaves the Sunshine State well-positioned to educate students. He discusses with Tuthill FLVS’ capacity to ramp up to serve nearly 4 million children, how to prevent rising achievement gaps in a distance-learning environment, and his belief that great teachers drive technology.
REGULATED from hosts Christian Bax and Tony Glover: Bradley Tusk is the CEO and founder of Tusk Ventures, the world’s first venture capital fund to invest solely in high growth startups facing political and regulatory challenges. This week, he shares his perspective on regulatory opportunities during these uncertain times and other insights gained during his career in government, politics, and business. Tusk writes a column for Fast Company, hosts a podcast called “Firewall,” and wrote a book called “The Fixer: My Adventures Saving Startups From Death By Politics.” He previously served as campaign manager for Bloomberg, as Deputy Governor of Illinois, and as Communications Director for U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.
The New Abnormal from host Rick Wilson and Molly Jong-Fast: Former presidential candidate Julian Castro talks with Jong-Fast and Wilson about Trump’s chances to take Texas in 2020 (not great!), Biden’s “you ain’t black” comment (also not great!), and sycophantic Sen. Ted Cruz (even worse!). The hosts then discuss Trump’s amazing workout regimen, the chlamydia vs. COVID smackdown in the Ozarks, and golf’s new turn as the dumbest of MAGA signifiers. Plus! Welcome to the resistance, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions and Ann Coulter!
The Yard Sign with host Jonathan Torres: Anibal David Cabrera, Chris Chambers and Torres welcome special guest Christian Zeigler, Vice Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. Topics include Biden’s Breakfast Club Flub, Trump reopening churches, Gov. DeSantis’ blow up with the media in the coronavirus response from Democratic and Republican states.
— WEEKEND TV —
Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede on CBS 4 in Miami: The Sunday show provides viewers with an in-depth look at politics in South Florida, along with other issues affecting the region.
Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Moderator Rob Lorei hosts a roundtable featuring Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee correspondent Lawrence Mower, Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch and Families for Better Care Executive Director Brian Lee.
In Focus with Allison Walker-Torres on Bay News 9: Remains on hiatus due to coronavirus.
Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando and Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: A look at the President’s executive order regarding social media and the situation with mail-in ballots. Host Holly Gregory talks with Moskowitz, directorof the Florida Division of Emergency Management about hurricane season and the coronavirus.
The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Host Gary Yordon talks with Pam Marsh of The First Amendment Foundation and Dr. Ed Moore.
This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Former Jacksonville Mayor and City Council President-Designate Tommy Hazouri.
This Week in South Florida on WPLG-Local10 News (ABC): Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber and Broward County Sheriff candidates Scott Israel and Al Pollock.
— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —
— ALOE —
“Florida weather messed up the SpaceX launch to look cool” via Stephanie Hayes of the Tampa Bay Times — A historic space launch was supposed to happen Wednesday. Still, Florida weather swooped in to do what Florida weather does best. Mess with plans. The whole day was very Florida. It’s like how it can be raining on one side of U.S. 19 and not the other if U.S. 19 was a pathway to the galaxy and not to Aldi. The Falcon 9 will try Saturday again to leave Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. There is another rain date Sunday. NASA’s shuttle program, once a beacon of our country’s shared purpose, ended in 2011.
“Weather still iffy for SpaceX and NASA’s next attempt to launch astronauts” via Emre Kelly of Florida Today — The weather forecast for this weekend’s second attempt at launching NASA astronauts from Kennedy Space Center remains dicey, the Space Force said Thursday. SpaceX and NASA teams are targeting 3:22 p.m. Saturday for the liftoff of astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley in a Crew Dragon capsule, the second of three opportunities, after weather forced teams to scrub a Wednesday attempt. As it stands, the Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron said conditions are only 40% “go” for Saturday. Another backup window at pad 39A is also available at 3 p.m. Sunday, but that too is 40% “go.” “The primary concerns are flight through precipitation, as well as the anvil and cumulus cloud rules associated with the afternoon convection,” or the vertical movement of heat and moisture in the atmosphere, forecasters said.
“After launch scrub, Elon Musk charges Tesla & gets a burger at Five Guys in West Melbourne” via J.D. Gallop of Florida Today — It was supposed to be the dawn of a new chapter for American spaceflight. Instead, Musk had to settle for a cheeseburger and a charge in West Melbourne. The surprise visit took place at Hammock Landing Mall in West Melbourne, where a Tesla Supercharger Station is also located. “My husband saw it was him,” said Sara Curry, who sat in the nearby Five Guys Restaurant after leaving Cape Canaveral to watch what would have been a historic launch. “I mentioned that I wanted to get a picture for our son, who is at the University of Oregon since he is a big fan. He walked over, and Musk was talking to the people about putting gaming systems in their cars.”
“Photo of crowd on bridge for SpaceX launch captured our attention — for real” via Mara Bellaby of Florida Today — Yikes. That was my first reaction when I saw our photographer Tim Shortt’s photo of the crowds descending off A. Max Brewer Bridge in Titusville after the historic SpaceX Demo-2 flight scrubbed Wednesday. It looked like too many people, too close together and too soon, as we’re still navigating the coronavirus pandemic. What never occurred to me was that Tim, who has been shooting rocket launch crowds for FLORIDA TODAY since 1986, would need to spend his evening countering charges on social media that he’d faked the photo. “The idea that I’d ever do that sickens me,” Tim said as he drove out to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to take photographs of their reopening.
“‘The Lord of the Rings’ cast will reunite in lockdown this weekend” via Dorany Pineda of the Los Angeles Times — It’s true: Josh Gad is bringing together the Fellowship from Middle-earth. The cast of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy will reunite Sunday for “Reunited Apart,” Gad’s quarantine-friendly chat series on YouTube. In a trailer, the “Frozen” actor released Wednesday, the reunion special promises appearances from Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Orlando Bloom and yes, even the great wizard himself — Ian McKellen. “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Peter Jackson’s acclaimed film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novel, were released between 2001 and 2003. The “Reunited Apart” trailer doesn’t feature an appearance by Andy Serkis, who played the cave-dwelling Gollum in the films, but the actor and director read all of Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” for charity earlier this month.
“Apple lands Martin Scorsese movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro” via Joe Flint and R.T. Watson of The Wall Street Journal — Apple Inc. has nabbed Scorsese’s next film, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” starring DiCaprio and De Niro, according to people familiar with the matter. The project will be Apple’s most significant foray into film yet as it beat out other interested companies, including Netflix Inc. Paramount Pictures, a unit of ViacomCBS Inc., had both creative and financial issues with the movie, whose budget ballooned to more than $200 million, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Scorsese’s last film, “The Irishman,” also starring De Niro, ended up changing producers during development as well because of soaring costs.
“Joe Exotic writes letter to Navarre liquor store, says he’ll film movie in Pensacola” via Jake Newby of the Pensacola News Journal — Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, surprised the staff at Navarre Liquors earlier this week when the “Tiger King” himself replied to the staff members that sent the infamous prison inmate a greeting card in March. In Exotic’s handwritten letter, he said that if and when he gets out of prison, Pensacola could be the backdrop of a future Joe Exotic movie one day. The eccentric Exotic, who was arrested in Gulf Breeze in 2018, added in the letter that he has four movies in the works. He asked the local liquor store staff to “be his voice” as he pursues a presidential pardon from his prison sentence.
“Edgewater’s Kenneth Brown, others hindered by NCAA extension of recruiting dead period” via Chris Hays of the Orlando Sentinel — Brown was stunned when he first heard about the NCAA’s decision. The Edgewater High defensive lineman had worked all day, so he first learned the NCAA extended its recruiting “dead period” through the end of July at about 9 p.m. Wednesday. The decision meant college recruiters could not hit the road or host camps to help identify potential recruits. Many players are now faced with a dilemma. If an athlete was already on the recruiting radar before the coronavirus shutdown, then the isolation measures have given them more time with recruiters who aren’t busy traveling. But if a player was relying on the spring and summer recruiting season to get attention, those opportunities are gone.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Friends who are celebrating today include the awesome Sarah Proctor Demont of Bascom Communications and Consulting, the tailor to the political stars, Arron Gober, and Golden Rotunda winner Helen Levine of the University of South Florida. Happy birthday to Jenna Callena Gordon and Alex Setzer.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.