Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 7.9.21 – Florida Politics

Your morning review of the issues and players behind Florida politics.

Good Friday morning.

Thank you for the incredible outpouring of support you have showered upon us in the last 48 hours. Your prayers certainly worked as Michelle, while still recovering in the hospital and dealing with a good deal of pain, is on the mend.

Thank you to my #FlaPol colleagues for stepping up and assembling another solid edition of Sunburn — PS.

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They said, “I do” — Congratulations to Pinellas County Commissioner and former Rep. Kathleen Peters and her fiancee Jack Kuntz, who tied the knot Thursday in Hawaii at Shipwreck Beach, Kauai. Mazel Tov and best wishes to the happy couple!

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The Florida Police Chiefs Association welcomed the state’s elected leaders at the FPCA 69th Annual Summer Conference at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, where it inducted its 2021-2022 leadership team and named the 2021 Legislators of the Year.

“FPCA was honored to welcome and hear from U.S. Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, and Agriculture & Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried, as we honored the service and sacrifices of the law enforcement profession,” said newly installed FPCA President Stephan Dembinsky, who serves as director of the Daytona Beach Shores Public Safety Department. “FPCA also stood with Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who could not join us as he led the State Fire Marshal Office’s response at the Surfside building collapse.”

Joining Dembinksy on the new executive committee is Chief Michael Kessie, New College of Florida PD, first vice president; Chief Keith Touchberry, Fellsmere PD, second vice president; Chief Charles “Chuck” Broadway, Clermont PD, third vice president; and Chief Melanie Bevan, Bradenton PD, as secretary-treasurer.

FPCA agave special recognition to DeSantis, Moody, and Patronis for their “consistent actions in support of law enforcement.”

“Whether working to protect officers against those who would disrupt the rule of law, honoring the heroism and nobility of the law enforcement profession, or helping first responders meet the challenges of post-traumatic stress disorder, their actions have helped protect and save lives, and the FPCA appreciates each of them coming and sharing their commitment to public safety in Florida,” Dembinsky said.

The FPCA also named Legislators of the Year: Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Sen. Danny Burgess and Rep. Juan Alphonso Fernandez-Barquin for sponsoring HB 1; Rep. Cord Byrd for HB 7051 and as chair of the House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee; Sen. Jim Boyd and Rep. Chuck Brannan for sponsoring HB 371.

“Every year, the Florida Police Chiefs Association honors those legislators who demonstrate leadership and a commitment to the betterment of law enforcement and public safety in Florida,” Dembinksy said. “FPCA’s recipients represent a true cross-section of Florida, from the most rural of jurisdictions to the largest metropolitan areas. We applaud each of these Senators and Representatives.”

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Sachs Media announced Friday that experienced marketing professional Lori Modafferi and longtime public affairs manager Sue Mullins are joining its account management team.

Modafferi will join the agency as an Account Manager specifically focusing on health care marketing services for clients, while Mullins will serve as Account Manager for several public relations clients.

They join the already impressive lineup of top communications professionals who offer a full suite of capabilities, including strategy, public relations, public affairs, crisis communications, research, digital and social media, creative, marketing, and video production.

“Lori and Sue are exceptionally talented and experienced professionals, and we’re extremely pleased to add their expertise to our firm,” said founder and CEO Ron Sachs. “With the addition of Lori and Sue, we believe the best team in the business just got even better, and we look forward to sharing and applying their talents with our growing roster of clients and special projects.”

Modafferi previously led the strategic marketing and communication efforts for HCA Healthcare’s North Florida Division. Before that, she served HCA Healthcare as a Marketing and Public Relations Director, where she directed media relations, branding, advertising, and website development.

She earned a master’s degree in business administration from Nova Southeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Central Florida.

Mullins came to Sachs Media from the Florida policy arena, where she has served for years as a registered lobbyist and policy adviser. Working in the nonprofit, corporate, and public sectors, Mullins has crafted major legislative initiatives, including the successful Florida Forever land conservation program.

Her work has taken her from The Nature Conservancy and the Florida Senate to Ramba Law Group and Duke Energy. For her work on the Sarasota County land preservation referendum, Mullins won a POLLIE award, the most sought-after prize awarded by the American Association of Political Consultants.

She earned her master’s degree in anthropology from Florida State University and her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Saint Leo College.

“We’re delighted to have Lori and Sue as part of the Sachs Media family, where I know they will embrace our commitment to achieving breakthrough successes for our clients,” said Sachs Media President and Partner Michelle Ubben. “Their skills and expertise will add to our already strong capabilities, which we devote to every client to help them achieve success.”

 — SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@POTUS: We will never forget those who gave the last full measure of devotion for our country in Afghanistan — nor those whose lives have been immeasurably altered by wounds sustained in service. We are ending America’s longest war, but we will always honor those who served in it.

@atrupar: President [Joe] Biden: “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation to achieve a different outcome. The United States cannot afford to remain tethered to policies created in response to a world as it was 20 years ago.”

@laraseligman: [Jen] Psaki stresses that “we are not going to have a mission accomplished moment” on Afghanistan. “It’s a 20-year war that has not been won militarily.” Adds that the Biden admin is “proud and grateful” of the service members who fought.

Tweet, tweet:

Today, I met w/ Surfside families, first responders & local officials to learn how Florida can continue to support & assist those impacted by the Champlain Towers South tragedy. Florida has united around Surfside & we’ll continue our work to ensure the community is taken care of. pic.twitter.com/BDcZqUgQas

— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) July 8, 2021

@MitchPerry18: Hours after it’s revealed that @marcorubio has raised $4 million over past 3 months in his bid for reelection for U.S. Senate, Dem. opponent @RepValDemings announces she’s raised $4.6 million since announcing her candidacy less than a month ago.

@TroyKinsey: Members of the @FLSenateDems today are writing @GovRonDeSantis to express concern about the #DeltaVariant & vaccine hesitancy among Rs: “Join with your fellow Republican Governors who are tapping the power of their office to strongly urge reluctant residents to get vaccinated.”

@DeFede: In an interview w/@CBSMiami, Haiti’s U.S. Ambassador, Bocchit Edmond, rejected calls by some in Congress to delay elections in Haiti, saying: “I believe the United States Congress supported elections in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the security situation is even worse than Haiti.”

@FoxReports: Speaker’s office refers to Donald Trump as “twice-impeached Florida retiree”

@ryanstruyk: The United States is now averaging 15,068 new coronavirus cases per day, according to data from @CNN and Johns Hopkins University, up nearly 50% from Walensky’s estimate of 10,350 just over two weeks ago.

@cwarzel: what living in this moment does for me, as a journalist, is make me feel constantly caught between the worry that I’m being overly alarmist and the fear that I am stating the obvious. It’s very disorienting.

Tweet, tweet:

We’re all vaxxed! Just in time for a Tubby hot summer ☀️ Who’s ready to come out & play pic.twitter.com/AtXTExaCMs

— Teletubbies (@TeletubbiesHQ) July 7, 2021

@AngieNixon: Make no mistake about it. There are certain groups of folks wools that don’t want working-class families educated because it’s more profitable to make money off people if they’re in prison. Limit their access to resources and opportunities and lead them on a path to jail.

@ChrisLatvala: Can we get @TomBrady to toss the Stanley Cup from a boat? Without him getting hurt, of course. 

— DAYS UNTIL —

MLB All-Star Game — 4; Jeff Bezos travels into space on Blue Origin’s first passenger flight — 11; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 14; second season of ‘Ted Lasso’ premieres on Apple+ — 14; the NBA Draft — 19; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 21; ‘The Suicide Squad’ premieres — 28; Marvel’s What If …? premieres on Disney+ — 33; Florida Behavioral Health Association’s Annual Conference (BHCon) begins — 40; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 46; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 56; NFL regular season begins — 62; Broadway’s full-capacity reopening — 67; 2022 Legislative Session interim committee meetings begin — 73; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres (rescheduled) — 77; ‘Dune’ premieres — 84; Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary party starts — 84; MLB regular season ends — 86; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 91; World Series Game 1 — 110; Florida TaxWatch’s Annual Meeting begins — 110; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 116; Florida’s 20th Congressional District primary — 116; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 120; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 133; San Diego Comic-Con begins — 140; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 154; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 161; NFL season ends — 184; 2022 Legislative Session starts — 186; Florida’s 20th Congressional District election — 186; NFL playoffs begin — 190; Super Bowl LVI — 219; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 259; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 301; ‘Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 328; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 364; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 455; “Captain Marvel 2” premieres — 490.

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— LATEST ON SURFSIDE —

Tears, prayer mark end to search for Surfside condo survivors” via The Associated Press — A somber moment of silence marked the end of the two-week search for survivors of a Florida condominium collapse, as rescue workers stood at solemn attention and clergy members hugged a line of local officials while many of them sobbed. The painstaking search for survivors shifted to a recovery effort at midnight Wednesday after authorities said they had come to the agonizing conclusion that there was “no chance of life” in the rubble of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside. “We have all asked God for a miracle, so the decision to transition from rescue to recovery is an extremely difficult one,” Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said. The death toll stood at 54 late Wednesday. Officials said 86 people were unaccounted for.

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A member of the Israeli search and rescue team, left, salutes in front of the rubble that once was Champlain Towers South during a prayer ceremony, Image via AP.

‘I’m still in search mode.’ Families, friends of Surfside victims react to news of recovery” via Marie-Rose Sheinerman, Martin Vassolo and Bianca Padró Ocasio of the Miami Herald — On the first official day of search and recovery at the site of the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South, family and friends of missing persons reacted with a mix of resignation and stubborn hope for the lives of their loved ones. Miami-Dade Mayor Levine Cava assured families during a press briefing on Thursday morning that first responders would not stop searching for residents in the rubble until every person was found. As of Thursday morning, 60 people had been found dead and 80 others were still missing. On Wednesday night, rescuers held a vigil to honor the lives lost during the tragedy before they continued the painstaking search for bodies.

Pastor reflects on funeral for Guara family, parents and 2 kids, who died in condo collapse” via Mark Woods of the Palm Beach Post — Father Juan Sosa, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church, located just two blocks inland from the condo collapse, performed two funeral services Tuesday. On Wednesday, he reflected on the service — and the tragedy that has claimed 60 lives with many more still missing. Tuesday’s service was for Marcus Guara, Anaely Rodriguez and their daughters at St. Joseph. Lucia, 10, and Emma, 4, shared a small white casket with two ribbons, one pink and one purple — the girls’ favorite colors. The bodies of the Guara family were among the earliest recovered from the Champlain Towers South rubble and identified.

3 generations of Cattarossi family die in condo collapse” via Cassidy Alexander of the Palm Beach Post — Four family members spanning three generations are among the victims identified in the Surfside condo collapse. Graciela Maria Cattarossi, 48, and her 7-year-old daughter Stella were identified last week. Graciela’s parents, Graciela and Gino Cattarossi, 86 and 89 years old, respectively, were identified Thursday. The family lived in Apartment 501 at Champlain Towers South. Betty Matz Gelsky knew Graciela Maria Cattarossi for close to 18 years. She knew her as someone who would do anything for her daughter, be it making sure she got into a good private school or buying all organic food. “She wants the best for her daughter, even if maybe she couldn’t afford it,” she said.

For Dr. Gary Cohen, it was all about his patients” via Michael Braun of the Palm Beach Post — Dr. Cohen wasn’t a doctor who looked at his profession as just a job, those who knew him say. He truly cared about people. Cohen and his orthopedic surgeon brother, Brad, were among those who lost their lives June 24 in the collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida. Gary Cohen was a physiatrist, practicing at the Tuscaloosa Veterans Administration Medical Center as well as other medical venues in Birmingham, Alabama, and living in nearby Mountain Brook, Alabama. Missing since the collapse of the towers, his body was found on Wednesday.

‘I want to truly say thank you’: Surfside community reflects as rescue mission ends” via Martin Vassolo and Samantha J. Gross of the Miami Herald — The mood in Surfside was somber Wednesday night, shortly after officials broke the news to family members and loved ones that the 14-day rescue mission to find living victims of the Champlain Towers South collapse would transition into a recovery effort, with no expectation of finding survivors. Rescuers, standing before a mountain of rubble from the controlled demolition of the upright portion of the 12-story building, said prayers as a ceremonial melody played softly behind them. A few steps away, at the memorial set up to honor the victims of the collapse, Miami-Dade firefighters set up a banner that read “Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Mourns With You.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis promises property tax aid after collapse” via Jim Turner of News Service of Florida — With rescue efforts for survivors ending at the site of the former 12-story building, DeSantis didn’t elaborate on his plan for tax assistance but said he would provide “as much relief to the families from the state perspective as we can.” … “I’ve ordered all our folks to suspend any type of property-tax enforcement,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Surfside. “My goal is to suspend, waive any law I can under the state of emergency to forestall that. And then we probably will just ask the Legislature to remit any of the property tax liability from Champlain Towers South.” The Governor’s office didn’t immediately reply to requests for clarification of DeSantis’ tax proposal. 

Video shows cracks, puddles in condo garage a year before it collapsed — but no red flag” via Sarah Blaskey and Ben Conarck of The Bradenton Herald — On July 17 last year, Fiorella Terenzi, an astrophysicist who has a condo in Champlain Towers East, went to the sister building Champlain Towers South to check out an apartment on the sixth floor, with an eye toward buying the unit. She had wanted to live in the South building and waited eagerly for a unit to come available. Then she saw the parking garage. There in the garage, Terenzi noticed corrosion and paint peeling on the ceiling, along with several puddles of standing water. “Reviewing the video, there are very obvious signs of above-average deterioration of the structure,” said Greg Batista, a South Florida engineer who works on old buildings.

surfside cracks
A video of the Surfside condo towers showed alarming signs a year before its collapse.

Boca Raton rethinking building inspection requirements” via Victoria Villanueva-Martinez of the Palm Beach Post — The tragic collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo complex in Surfside has pushed Boca Raton to weigh whether its older condo complexes should be inspected in fewer than 40 years. Broward and Miami-Dade counties both have 40-year recertification requirements, but there is no such requirement in Palm Beach County. As the first in the county to move in that direction, Boca Raton will depart somewhat from the norm and contemplate a shorter recertification timeline. “We saw that it wasn’t exactly the best timeline in the case of Surfside,” Councilman Andy Thomson said.

Florida condo laws under scrutiny by Florida Bar task force after Surfside collapse” via Ana Ceballos of the Miami Herald — The Florida Bar has assembled a collection of experts to conduct a thorough review of the state’s condominium laws and make policy recommendations to state lawmakers and Gov. DeSantis that could prevent future tragedies like the collapse of the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside. The task force, which is scheduled to meet for the first time Friday, will be reviewing state laws and regulations that govern, among many things, how condominium boards operate and manage reserves for maintenance and repair costs, as well as how often condominium buildings need to undergo inspections.

Florida engineers form group for safety ideas after Surfside” via Lawrence Mower of The Tampa Bay Times — Members of four major engineering associations in Florida have convened to come up with potential post-Surfside recommendations for the Legislature, including whether the state should require mandatory reinspections of tall buildings. Engineers are also considering who would be allowed to carry out those reinspections, and how they could be done without being prohibitively expensive for condominium associations. 

Undermining Florida’s condo laws: Politics, turf wars and human nature” via Kim Bellware of The Washington Post — Florida’s condominium laws will undergo a top-to-bottom review by a task force established by the Florida Bar Association after the deadly collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside. Members of the task force who confirmed its existence said their goal is to review state laws and regulations that govern condo developments, board operations and maintenance rules, and recommend potential changes to the Governor and the state legislature. Condo regulations in Florida have come under scrutiny since the tragedy in Surfside on June 24, with at least 46 people confirmed dead and 94 still unaccounted for as of midday Wednesday. 

No Florida agency for condo residents to file their complaints” via Jeffrey Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — DBPR’s Division of Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes only oversight now is over election and recall disputes and ensuring owners have access to the association’s financial records. The agency used to have more oversight authority than that, but the Legislature stripped the DBPR of its fiduciary and maintenance oversight of condo boards and mobile homeowners’ associations in 2008. That leaves residents with little option but to hire a lawyer and file their complaints in court, as several residents of Champlain Towers South have done following that building’s lethal collapse. During the 2019-20 fiscal year, the DBPR collected $13.7 million in fees from condos, timeshares and mobile homes, division budget records show. About $6.7 million was collected from condo owners.

surfside ap 7.8.21
There is currently no state agency where condo owners can turn to with structural concerns. Image via AP.

Dwyane Wade visits Surfside, meets with search team” via David Selig of WPLG — Wade is the latest Miami sports star to pay a visit to the site of the tragic Surfside condo collapse. The Heat legend spent time at the memorial fence Thursday morning across from the Champlain Towers South site. He also thanked first responders and addressed a team from the South Florida Urban Search and Rescue before they began their shift. Wade did not speak to reporters during his visit. He wrote on his Instagram page: “Today was about Uplifting, Praising and Showing up! Our first responders are the real MVPs.” Current Heat star Bam Adebayo made an emotional visit to the memorial on Friday afternoon.

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— 2022 —

—“‘There’s going to be a blowup’: Donald Trump and DeSantis are on a collision course” via Gabriel Sherman of Vanity Fair

Ashley Moody in crosshairs of watchdog ad campaign” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Moody ranks among the top targets of a digital campaign launched Tuesday by a government watchdog group. The campaign, Enemies of Progress, will highlight the “transgressions” of more than a dozen top law enforcement officials working to obstruct Biden’s administration and “prevent progress” on issues impacting Americans. The group, Accountable.US, is a self-described nonpartisan watchdog group. “Instead of fighting for their best interests, Attorney General Moody is spending Floridian’s taxpayer dollars on frivolous lawsuits against the Biden administration on behalf of (her) special interest donors,” said Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US.

FL IN FOCUS ASHLEY MOODY 3
An accountability group is targeting attorneys general, including Ashley Moody.

Val Demings raises $4.6 million for first fundraising report” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Demings raised $4.6 million in her first quarter of fundraising for a U.S. Senate bid, her campaign announced. That comes on the heels of reports that her likely 2022 General Election opponent, Rubio, raised about $4 million during the same three-month period of April, May, and June. Demings, the Orlando-based Democratic representative for Florida’s 10th Congressional District, did not formally enter the race until June 9. However, she had been signaling her intention to run for months, while officially fundraising for reelection to her House seat, until June. Demings’ campaign committee reported $1 million raised on the first day of her Senate campaign. The campaign raised more than $2.9 million in the 21 days of her Senate campaign, from more than 113,000 individual donors. 

Ben Diamond raises $380K in first 8 weeks of CD 13 campaign” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Diamond has raised over $380,000 in the eight weeks since launching his run for Florida’s 13th Congressional District in hopes of succeeding U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist. His second-quarter haul is slightly higher than that of primary opponent Eric Lynn, who reported raising more than $368,000 for the same period. However, Lynn holds north of $500,000 cash-on-hand from earlier fundraising. The St. Petersburg Democrat reports that most donors this period came from “grassroots contributors,” individuals who donated $100 or less. Diamond’s campaign provided the latest finance update. More information on expenditures and donors will be available when he releases his required campaign finance disclosure to the Federal Elections Commission.

Martin Hyde loans campaign $30K as Vern Buchanan raises $600K” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Sarasota activist Hyde lent $30,000 to his own campaign for Congress, according to his first federal finance reports. But fresh off the news incumbent Rep. Buchanan raised nearly $600,000 in the second quarter of 2021, it’s clear who holds the financial edge in this GOP race. That’s no surprise to Hyde, he says. “This is not a shock,” Hyde said. Especially knowing Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy headlined a fundraiser at Buchanan’s home, a successful quarter for the incumbent was a given. “It would almost be weird if someone gave me that much money,” Hyde said. That has Buchanan-world dismissing Hyde as hype.

Hyde Buchanan
Martin Hyde floats loans to his campaign as Vern Buchanan sails right along.

Robert Blackmon launches his first TV ad for St. Pete Mayor’s race” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Blackmon is launching his first television ad promoting his bid for Mayor. The ad, entitled “Fighting for You,” focuses on Blackmon’s work rehabilitating homes for affordable housing as a small-business owner, his efforts on City Council and touts the candidate as an outside option. “I’m not a career politician looking for a job. I’m an outsider with fresh ideas, ideas that come from you, the people,” Blackmon opens in the ad, which he narrates. The ad then pivots to footage of a City Council meeting in which he promises that he “will never apologize for fighting for the people of this city and what’s right.” Blackmon was first elected to the Council in 2019.

To watch the ad, click on the image below:

Penny Taylor announces reelection campaign for Collier County Commission in 2022” via Jake Allen of the Naples Daily News — Collier County Commissioner Taylor announced she is running for reelection for the District 4 seat. “I have a track record that shows I care about this community,” Taylor said. “I have leadership that shows I’m not afraid to stand alone on my beliefs and the importance of caring for this community. I promise to work and continue to work for this community.” The district encompasses the area west of Interstate 75 from Pine Ridge Road to south of the city of Naples. Taylor, the current chairwoman of the board and a Republican, will face at least two other candidates in the Primary Election in August of next year. The General Election will be held in Nov. 2022.

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— DATELINE TALLY —

Civics literacy bill sponsors still questioning DeSantis veto of their legislation” via Mitch Perry of Bay News 9 — Two St. Petersburg based state lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle are still unhappy and confused that DeSantis vetoed a bill last week that called for a civic literacy program that would be included in high school government classes. “Every member of the Legislature voted for this,” noted Diamond, the Pinellas County-based state Representative who sponsored the bill in the Florida House. But social conservatives called on DeSantis to veto the legislation, none more prominently than National Review columnist Stanley Kurtz. In his letter announcing his veto of SB 146, DeSantis wrote that the bill “seeks to further so-called ‘action civics’ but does so in a way that risks promoting the preferred orthodoxy of two particular institutions.”

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Ben Diamond wants answers from Ron DeSantis. Image via Colin Hackley.

State withholds spending records of Matt Gaetz associate Halsey Beshears” via Mike DeForest of Click Orlando — Florida’s business licensing agency has failed to produce financial documents related to its former secretary, Beshears, following a public records request submitted by News 6 nearly three months ago. Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation, or DBPR, has not explained why spending records have not yet been released. The agency previously indicated the request was undergoing a legal review, but it is unclear why it is necessary and whether it is complete. DeSantis appointed Beshears as DBPR secretary in January 2019, calling him a “champion for deregulation.” Beshears unexpectedly resigned from his position in January 2021, citing health issues.

Why is FL DOE behind on getting billions of federal dollars to schools recovering from COVID-19 pandemic?” via Danielle J. Brown of Florida Phoenix — Florida education officials are at least a month behind in getting a state plan, worth billions, to the U.S. Department of Education to help Florida schools recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Already, 40 states have submitted their plans, and Florida is still not one of them. And more federal funding for Florida is now on hold because the state has not yet sent in the state plan for approval. The plans were intended to show how states would use billions of dollars offered by the American Rescue Plan to help schools recover from COVID-19. They were due by June 7, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The ARP funds allocated for K-12 recovery are called the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds.

Duke gets OK to recoup storm costs” via News Service of Florida — The Public Service Commission on Thursday approved Duke Energy Florida’s request to recoup $16.7 million from customers stemming from the utility’s costs in responding to two tropical storms last year. Duke residential customers who use 1,000-kilowatt-hours of electricity a month will pay an additional 55 cents a month starting in August. The charge will remain in place for a year. Duke filed the request in May because of costs related to Tropical Storm Eta in November and Tropical Storm Isaias in late July. Duke, in its filings, noted that the costs to the utility reached $20.1 million, but the total was reduced by $3.4 million to offset “over-recovery” of costs from 2019’s Hurricane Dorian and Tropical Storm Nestor.

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— STATEWIDE —

Florida, Moody sue Google over antitrust laws … again” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — For the third time in less than a year, Moody is suing Google over antitrust laws, joining 36 other attorneys general in the suit. Filed Wednesday in a federal court based in San Francisco, the complaint accuses Google Play of being a monopoly as Android phones’ only app store. That manipulates the prices of apps, they argue, including through a 30% commission charge on in-app payments. Moody, a Republican, joins a bipartisan coalition led by Utah’s Attorney General’s Office. Other attorneys general in the lawsuit include the states of New York, Tennessee, California and the District of Columbia.

Two South Florida men were involved in President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination, investigators say” via Jacqueline Charles and Michael Wilner of the Miami Herald — Two South Florida men have been arrested in connection with the assassination of Haiti President Moïse, the Miami Herald has learned. James Solages, of Fort Lauderdale, was identified as one of the assailants by Mathias Pierre, a minister in charge of Haitian elections. Pierre did not say if Solages is a U.S. citizen or a permanent U.S. resident. In an undated video interview in Creole, Solages, who lived in Fort Lauderdale and is from Jacmel in southeast Haiti, called himself a philanthropist and child advocate who was involved in helping school children from the area where he grew up. A second man arrested in the assassination has been identified as Joseph Vincent, from the Miami area.

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Unsurprisingly, the assassination of Jovenel Moise has ties to South Florida. Image via AP.

Feds go after We Build the Wall founder again with tax charge” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — A federal grand jury has indicted Steve Bannon‘s west Florida partner Brian Kolfage on a new charge involving federal taxes related to the We Build the Wall organization that got them both charged with fraud last year. Bannon, a former campaign and White House adviser to Trump, was pardoned by Trump just before the 45th President left office in January. Kolfage, of Miramar Beach, was not pardoned. Now, Kolfage has a new charge involving his activities since the first indictments were revealed, the office of Acting U.S. Attorney Jason Coody of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida announced Thursday. The latest indictment, involving taxes, supersedes a previous tax law indictment brought against Kolfage in May.

Death sentence upheld in Clay County murder” via News Service of Florida — The Florida Supreme Court unanimously upheld the murder conviction and death sentence of a man who killed a Clay County woman in 2014 and sexually abused her 10-year-old daughter. Justices rejected arguments raised by attorneys for Donald Davidson Jr., who was convicted in the murder of Roseann Welsh, a friend who had invited Davidson into her home. Davidson’s attorneys raised a series of issues in the appeal, including that a circuit judge had not properly considered what is known as “mitigating” circumstances, including circumstances involving Davidson’s childhood, before imposing the death sentence. But the Supreme Court rejected the arguments.

Naval Air Station Jacksonville sailor dies when tree falls on car during Tropical Storm Elsa” via Kailey Tracy of First Coast News — A spokesperson for the Naval Air Force Atlantic Office confirmed Thursday a Navy sailor died after a tree fell on his car in Jacksonville Wednesday during Tropical Storm Elsa. According to a Naval Air Station Jacksonville spokesperson, the man was an airman who was stationed at NAS Jax. The Naval Air Force Atlantic Office said it couldn’t yet provide the airman’s name. The service member was assigned to the “War Eagles” of VP-16 at NAS Jacksonville. VP-16 flies and maintains the P-8A Poseidon aircraft, and its mission is to provide maritime patrol services to the fleet in support of national interests, according to the commander.

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Tropical Storm Elsa takes a single life in Florida.

Tornado spawned from Tropical Storm Elsa rips through Jacksonville, toppling trees and ripping off roofs” via Dan Scanlan of The Florida Times-Union — Trees were toppled across a block-long stretch of Powers as the tornado passed over and buckled light poles and damaged dugouts and a batting cage at Baker Skinner Park. The storm went across part of Philips Highway near Bowdendale Avenue southeast of University Boulevard, downing trees, and power lines as it ripped roofs off businesses, depositing debris on the road before moving northward into Georgia. Meeting with reporters near that debris field on Philips, Mayor Lenny Curry said city leaders had planned for possible tornadoes in the wake of Elsa. Curry said now is the time to remember that weather is unpredictable. “It looked calm this morning. It looked calm this afternoon,” Curry said.

Move over, Florida panthers! Refuge wants to let in more people” via Craig Pittman of Florida Phoenix — Sometimes, I think Florida should hold a regular competition for The Most Laughably Bad Idea of the Year. This year, so far, I think the leading entry comes from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is pushing a new “Visitor Use Plan” for the 26,000-acre Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, which lies about 20 miles east of Naples. It’s not as bad as building golf courses in state parks, but it’s close. Panthers, our official state animal, are notoriously shy. Wherever people are, that’s where panthers do not want to be. The federal wildlife agency has come up with a plan to open the refuge to allow off-road vehicles, mountain bikes, camping, fishing, and, for three weekends a year, turkey hunting.

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— CORONA FLORIDA —

As delta variant spreads, Florida Democrats urge DeSantis to promote vaccines” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — As the highly transmissible delta variant spreads across the United States, now accounting for more than half of new domestic COVID-19 cases, Democratic Senators in Florida are calling on DeSantis to urge reluctant state residents to get vaccinated. In a joint letter today, 14 Democrats from the Florida Senate exhorted DeSantis to put aside rhetoric that since March 2020 has turned a health issue into a political one and join his “fellow Republican Governors who are tapping the power of their office” to revitalize vaccination efforts. The delta variant of COVID-19 spreads roughly 225% faster than the original version of the virus, and as of this week, it comprised nearly 52% of new U.S. cases.

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Democrats are urging Ron DeSantis to prioritize vaccinations. Image via Manatee County/Flickr.

CDC asks appeals court to put cruise ruling on hold” via Jim Saunders of The News Service of Florida — In a flurry of legal activity, attorneys for the CDC have asked a federal appeals court to put on hold a U.S. district judge’s ruling that backed Florida in a fight about the cruise-ship industry. The request Wednesday for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to issue a stay came after U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday refused to hold his June 18 ruling that the CDC had overstepped its legal authority in placing restrictions on the cruise industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal-government attorneys on Tuesday appealed Merryday’s June 18 ruling to the Atlanta-based appeals court. 

As COVID-19 raged last year, crimes dropped in Bay County. Now, they’re rising again” via Tony Mixon of the Panama City News Herald — Even Bay County criminals were apparently no match for the COVID-19 pandemic last year. According to the latest statistics, Bay County had a total 19.8% drop in crime. Some agencies saw the crime rate drop as much as 44% last year, but all agencies saw double-digit percentage drops in their crime rates. Law enforcement agencies noted that crimes like robbery, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft all dropped last year compared to 2019. There wasn’t a definitive reason why such violent crimes as murder and aggravated assault were up last year compared to 2019.

Lakeland GOP’s James Ring contracts COVID-19, encourages people to wear a mask and get vaccinated” via Kimberly C. Moore of The Lakeland Ledger — Ring, president of the Republican Party of Lakeland, says he is blessed to be alive after being “certain I was dying” of COVID-19, saying he contracted it at a national volleyball tournament in which his twin daughters played nearly three weeks ago in Orlando. Ring is a former Lakeland Police sergeant and a U.S. Army Reserves Chief Warrant Officer who has guarded senior military officials during tours in Washington, D.C., and trips to Iraq and Afghanistan. He is known locally for his leadership skills, thoughtfulness, kind demeanor, and ability to bring people together.

Gulf gets approval on COVID-19 costs” via News Service of Florida — The Public Service Commission approved a settlement Thursday that will allow Gulf Power to recoup up to $13.2 million in costs tied to the coronavirus pandemic. The settlement covers safety-related measures undertaken through last month and “bad debt” expenses incurred between March 17, 2020, and mid-November, when the company did not disconnect customers who could not pay bills. Among the terms of the settlement, Gulf will be allowed to spread the recovery costs over three years, starting with Jan. 1, 2022, as part of its fuel costs set for the 2022 calendar year. Gulf initially sought more than $20 million, but the Office of Public Counsel, representing consumers, protested.

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— CORONA NATION —

Delta variant said to be far more widespread than federal estimates” via Erin Bianco, Dan Goldberg, and David Lim of POLITICO — The more-transmissible Delta coronavirus variant is believed to be significantly more widespread than the current federal projections, according to two senior Biden administration health officials with knowledge of the situation. CDC data released late Tuesday shows the Delta strain accounted for more than 51% of new COVID-19 cases from June 20 to July 3. But the reality on the ground is likely much higher because states and private labs are taking weeks to report testing results to the CDC, the officials said. “It is everywhere now,” one of the officials said, adding that recent data shows the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine works well against the Delta variant. COVID-19 hospitalizations are up more than 40% over the last two weeks in Arkansas, Iowa and Nevada. 

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Is the delta variant more widespread than we think? Image via AP.

Yes, the delta variant is taking over. But the vaccines still work.” via Monica Gandhi of The Washington Post — As something resembling normal life resumes in the United States, many Americans are wondering how concerned they should be about the delta variant of the coronavirus. The reason it has so quickly dominated is that it is more “fit” than other variants — outcompeting them when it comes to reaching and infecting unvaccinated people. Although delta is more easily transmitted than the other variants, there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness. How do we know that delta is not vaccine-resistant? All three vaccines authorized in the United States have been shown in clinical studies to produce strong neutralizing antibody responses against the variants.

Pfizer plans to request FDA nod for COVID-19 booster in August” via Robert Langreth of Bloomberg — Pfizer plans to request U.S. emergency authorization in August for a third booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine, based on early data showing that it can sharply increase immune protection against the coronavirus. The company has received initial data from an early human study showing that a third dose of its existing coronavirus vaccine is safe and can raise neutralizing antibody levels by 5 to 10 fold compared with the original vaccine, Pfizer research head Mikael Dolsten said in an interview. Once more data is in hand, Pfizer plans to ask the FDA to authorize a booster shot that could be given six to eight months after the original two doses, Dolsten said.

Whether Republicans get vaccinated has a lot to do with if they watch Fox News … or OANN” via Natalie Jackson of FiveThirtyEight — It’s no secret that Republicans really distrust the media. In fact, that distrust is increasingly an important part of their political identity. For a long time, understanding where Republicans primarily got their news was pretty straightforward, too. Unlike Democrats, Republicans, by and large, turn to just one source for all their news: Fox News. But with the advent of news networks even further to the right than Fox News, One America News Network and Newsmax, that’s changing. Republicans who got their news from OANN or Newsmax were generally more extreme in their beliefs around QAnon and their refusal to get vaccinated than those who got their news from Fox News.

Free samples are back, but with safety in mind” via Anne D’Innocenzio of The Associated Press — When the pandemic was declared in March 2020, retailers worried about the potential spread of the coronavirus so they cut off free sampling of everything from food to makeup to toys. But now, with vaccinations rolling out and the threat of COVID-19 easing in the U.S., stores like Costco are feeling confident enough to revive the long-standing tradition. But while sampling is back, it’s not clear if everyone is ready to bite. With that in mind, some retailers are putting various safety protocols to ease any safety concerns. At Costco, masked workers prepare the hot and cold samples behind plexiglass counters and distribute them to its members one at a time. Stew Leonard’s also brought back hot samples with similar safety measures.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

U.S. jobless claims tick up to 373,000 from a pandemic low” via The Associated Press — The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose slightly last week even while the economy and the job market appear to be rebounding from the coronavirus recession with sustained energy. Thursday’s report from the Labor Department showed that jobless claims increased by 2,000 from the previous week to 373,000. Weekly applications, which generally track the pace of layoffs, have fallen steadily this year from more than 900,000 at the start of the year. The four-week average of applications, which smooths out week-to-week volatility, is 394,500, the lowest such level since the pandemic erupted in March of last year. 

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Unemployment in the U.S. rises a bit as jobless benefits dry up Image via AP.

Unemployment claims continue to drop” via The News Service of Florida — Newly filed unemployment claims continue to slow in Florida, with the state recording its lowest weekly total since the COVID-19 pandemic crashed into the economy in March 2020. The U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday estimated 5,946 new claims were filed in Florida during the week that ended July 3, down from a revised count of 6,917 during the week that ended June 26. The department last week said the national unemployment rate in June was 5.9%, up from 5.8% in May. The state’s unemployment rate stood at 4.9% in May, reflecting 503,000 people qualifying as out of work from a workforce of 10.24 million. A June unemployment report will be issued on July 16.

The bond market is telling us to worry about growth, not inflation” via Neil Irwin of The New York Times — For months, the United States has been experiencing the growing pains of an economy rebooting itself — surging economic activity, yes, but also shortages, gummed-up supply networks and higher prices. Now, shifts in financial markets point to a reversal of that economic narrative. Specifically, the bond market has swung in ways that suggest that a period of slower growth and more subdued inflation could lie ahead. They are not the kind of jaw-dropping swings that markets show in moments of extreme turbulence. But the price swings show an economy in flux, and they undermine arguments that the United States is settling into a new, high-inflation reality for the indefinite future.

At many companies, changes from COVID-19 are now permanent” via Joyce M. Rosenberg of The Associated Press — Many business owners have made individual adaptations that not only make sense but may have permanently altered the way they do business and make money. Some owners who have made dramatic changes find they’re much happier running their companies now. Before COVID-19, psychotherapist and business coach Jonathan Alpert did almost all his work in his Manhattan office. The pandemic restricted him to the phone and video. But despite the fact therapy has traditionally been done in person, many clients aren’t interested in returning to his office for in-person sessions. “What started out as a real necessity is now a highly desirable option for people,” Alpert says. “It’s convenient; they don’t have to commute 10, 20, 30 minutes each way.”

‘People are ready to travel again’: Millions flew over July Fourth weekend as domestic travel rebounds” via David Koenig of USA Today — American Airlines says it carried nearly three times as many passengers over the July 4 weekend than it did over the holiday last year, the latest sign that travel, at least within the United States, is continuing to rebound from pandemic lows of 2020. American said Wednesday that it carried nearly 2.7 million passengers on more than 26,000 American and American Eagle flights between last Thursday and Monday. The airline did not provide comparisons with 2019, but the Transportation Security Administration screened 10.1 million travelers in the same five-day period, down 17% from the comparable period in 2019. Those figures have been improving every month.

— MORE CORONA —

How does the Delta variant dodge the immune system? Scientists find clues.” via Apoorva Mandavilli of The New York Times — The Delta variant of the coronavirus can evade antibodies that target certain parts of the virus. The findings explain the diminished effectiveness of the vaccines against Delta compared with other variants. The variant, first identified in India, is believed to be about 60% more contagious than Alpha, the version of the virus that thrashed Britain and much of Europe earlier this year and perhaps twice as contagious as the original coronavirus. The Delta variant is now driving outbreaks among unvaccinated populations in countries like Malaysia, Portugal, Indonesia and Australia. Delta is also now the dominant variant in the United States. Infections in the country had plateaued at their lowest levels since early in the pandemic, though the numbers may be rising. 

New study on delta variant reveals importance of receiving both vaccine shots, highlights challenges posed by mutations” via Joel Achenbach of The Washington Post —- New laboratory research on the swiftly spreading delta variant of the coronavirus is highlighting the threats posed by viral mutations, adding urgency to calls to accelerate vaccination efforts across the planet. A peer-reviewed report from scientists in France, found that the delta variant has mutations that allow it to evade some of the neutralizing antibodies produced by vaccines or by a natural infection. A single shot of a two-dose vaccine “barely” offers any protection. But the experiments found that fully vaccinated people should retain significant protection against the delta variant. 

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For any protection from the delta variant, two vaccine doses are mandatory. Image via AP.

The delta variant threatens to upend the politics of the coronavirus” via Philip Bump of The Washington Post — Less than a month ago, California Gov. Gavin Newsom made an announcement he had been waiting a long time to make: The state was ready to put its coronavirus restrictions behind it. Among the changes was a scaling back of the state’s mandate to allow those fully vaccinated against the virus to ditch mask-wearing. This constituted an unquestionable political win for Newsom, who faces a recall in September. The state’s coronavirus-related constraints were a central theme in the recall effort, so it was useful for Newsom to rescind them. But then cracks emerged. Over the past two weeks, the seven-day average of new cases has increased by 43% in the state.

Portugal orders COVID-19 test, vaccination proof at hotel check-in” via Catarina Demony and Victoria Waldersee of Reuters — Scrambling to bring under control a worrying COVID-19 surge, tourism-dependent Portugal imposed stricter rules on Thursday, requiring holidaymakers to show a negative test, a vaccination certificate or proof of recovery to stay in hotels. Portugal’s new daily case numbers have been rising steadily in recent weeks, returning to levels last seen in February when the country was under a strict lockdown to tackle what then was the world’s worst coronavirus surge. Negative tests, vaccination certificates, or proof of recovery will also be required to eat indoors at restaurants in 60 high-risk municipalities, including Lisbon and the city of Porto, on Friday evenings and at the weekend.

Phuket draws tourists despite rising Thailand virus cases” via David Rising and Chalida Ekvittayavechnukul of The Associated Press — A week into an ambitious but risky plan to open the Thai resort island of Phuket to vaccinated visitors, signs were encouraging that the gambit to resuscitate the decimated tourism industry was working. After seeing fewer than 5,000 foreign travelers over the first five months of the year, the island off Thailand’s southwest coast welcomed 2,399 visitors during the first week of July. The so-called Phuket sandbox plan relies on a strategy of vaccinations, testing and restrictions. In the week before the sandbox started, Phuket saw 17 new cases of the coronavirus. The numbers climbed to 27 new the next week. At the same time, Thailand has seen a spike in infections, with a record 7,058 cases reported Thursday with 75 deaths.

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COVID-19 cases creep up in Thailand, but that isn’t stopping tourists. Image via AP.

Olympics host city Tokyo bans spectators amid COVID-19 emergency” via Sakura Murakami, Ju-min Park and Antoni Slodkowski of Reuters — The Olympics will take place without spectators in host city Tokyo, organizers said on Thursday, as a resurgent coronavirus forced Japan to declare a state of emergency in the capital that will run throughout the Games. The move marked a sharp turnabout from as recently as last week when some officials were still insisting they could organize the Games safely with some fans. It all but strips the global sporting showpiece, which is due to start on July 23 and run until Aug. 8, of its last vestiges of pomp and public spectacle. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said it was essential to prevent Tokyo, where the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 variant spread, from becoming a flashpoint of new infections.

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— PRESIDENTIAL —

‘Overdue’: Joe Biden sets Aug. 31 for U.S. exit from Afghanistan” via Zeke Miller and Aamer Madhani of The Associated Press — Biden said Thursday the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan will end on Aug. 31. He pushed back against the notion that the U.S. mission has failed and noted that it remains unlikely the government would control all of Afghanistan after the U.S. leaves. He urged the Afghan government and Taliban, which he said remains as formidable as it did before the war, to come to a peace agreement. “We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build,” Biden said in a speech from the White House’s East Room. Biden, after taking office, announced U.S. troops would be out by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack, which al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden plotted from Afghanistan.

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Joe Biden sets a hard date for an Afghanistan exit. Image via AP.

Amid growing frustration, White House pushes voting rights” via Jonathan Lemire and Ashraf Khalil of The Associated Press — Biden met with civil rights leaders in the West Wing, while Vice President Kamala Harris announced $25 million in new spending by the Democratic National Committee to support efforts to protect voting access ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. Biden and his team have repeatedly promised a major push on voting rights after Senate Republicans blocked a sweeping election reform bill last month. The President last week told reporters that he planned on “speaking extensively” on voting rights and that he would be “going on the road on this issue.” So far, a major speech has not happened, and a trip has not occurred, leading to rising frustration among those in his own party.

Biden to target railroads, ocean shipping in executive order” via Ted Mann of The Wall Street Journal — The Biden administration will push regulators to confront consolidation and perceived anti-competitive pricing in the ocean shipping and railroad industries as part of a broad effort to blunt the power of big business to dominate industries, according to a person familiar with the situation. In a sweeping executive order expected this week, the administration will ask the Federal Maritime Commission and the Surface Transportation Board to combat what it calls a pattern of consolidation and aggressive pricing that has made it onerously expensive for American companies to transport goods to market. The administration says the relatively small number of major players in the ocean-shipping trade and the U.S. freight rail business has enabled companies to charge unreasonable fees.

— EPILOGUE TRUMP — 

Trump’s aides believed Rudy Giuliani was always buzzed, ‘in the mumble tank,’ and on the verge of becoming senile, new book says” via Sonam Sheth of Business Insider — Trump’s advisers believed that his personal lawyer Giuliani was usually drunk and on the verge of senility, according to “Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump presidency,” by Michael Wolff. The book said that Giuliani’s weight had “ballooned” and that “his popping eyes and poorly dyed hair made him seem like a pre-television age character, a past-his-time and gone-to-seed former official hanging around the courthouse steps regaling anyone who will listen with tall tales and wild theories of the shameful secrets and gothic underbelly of politics.” Giuliani’s longtime personal assistant did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and texts to multiple phone numbers associated with the former New York Mayor went unanswered.

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Rudy Giuliani was ‘drunk’ and ‘close to senile’ most of the time, Donald Trump staffers admit. Image via Getty.

Trump charged Secret Service nearly $10,200 in May for agents’ rooms” via David A. Fahrenthold of The Washington Post — Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, charged the Secret Service nearly $10,200 for guest rooms used by his protective detail during Trump’s first month at the club this summer, newly released spending records show. The records show that the ex-President has continued a habit he began in the first days of his presidency: charging rent to the agency that protects his life. Since Trump left office in January, U.S. taxpayers have paid Trump’s businesses more than $50,000 for rooms used by Secret Service agents, records show. The agency released another document showing that charges probably continued after that: It released an internal document called a “hotel request” form, covering the period from May 28 to July 1. 

Nancy Pelosi’s office knocks Trump in statement: ‘Twice-impeached Florida retiree’” via Olafimihan Oshin of The Hill — Pelosi‘s press office knocked Trump in a Thursday statement, calling him a “twice-impeached Florida retiree” while attacking him for defending the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol in January. The statement linked to a HuffPost article about Trump’s new lawsuit against Big Tech firms that quoted him from a Wednesday news conference referring to the Jan. 6 insurrection as “an unfortunate event” and saying the hundreds charged in its wake “are being treated unbelievably unfairly.” Pelosi’s press team sought to tie those remarks to GOP efforts to block Congress from investigating the Capitol breach. “Like Donald, House Republicans have shown time and time again that they stand with traitors — not with our law enforcement,” the Speaker’s office said.

How Trump’s own Supreme Court justice undercut his Facebook lawsuit” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post — Trump announced a lawsuit Wednesday against social media companies that have blocked his accounts. And in doing so, he advanced a rather novel legal argument: that these platforms are not private businesses but, in fact, state actors, i.e., de facto government entities. One must be a state actor, after all, to be sued for First Amendment violations. Ipso facto, Trump needs the courts to declare social media behemoths such as Facebook state actors. Brett Kavanaugh wrote an opinion in 2019 rejecting a somewhat similar effort to declare a platform to be a state actor. In that case, it was the operator of public access channels, Manhattan Neighborhood Network, that had suspended producers over their content.

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Donald Trump’s hand-picked Supreme Court justices could throw him under the bus. Image via AP

Gaetz doubles down on Trump-for-Speaker push” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Gaetz squabbled on Twitter Thursday with a Washington D.C. journalist who took issue with the Congressman’s contention that Trump wants to be the next Speaker of the House. Punchbowl News’ Jake Sherman tweeted about the Panhandle Republican fundraising on the “Speaker Trump” proposition, casting aspersions on the idea Trump even wants the gig. Sherman wrote that Gaetz “is now fundraising on nominating Trump to become Speaker. A reminder: only one person needed to nominate someone for Speaker. 218 votes to become Speaker. Trump world says he doesn’t want to be Speaker. (Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy) does want to become Speaker.” “Who is ‘Trump World?’” Gaetz blasted in response. “I talk to Trump directly, unlike Fruitpunch News.”

— CRISIS —

Brother and friend of arrested North Lakeland woman also charged with assaulting officers in Capitol riot” via Gary White of the Lakeland Ledger — A group of four North Lakeland residents, including a brother and sister, have been indicted on federal charges that include assaulting police officers during the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Court records unsealed Thursday expand on the reported arrests last week of Olivia Michele Pollock and Joshua Doolin after FBI raids at their homes. Pollock’s brother, Jonathan Daniel Pollock, also faces an array of federal charges, as does Joseph Daniel Hutchinson III, identified in court documents as a friend of the Pollocks. The four face charges of violent entry, presence in a restricted area, and disorderly conduct, as well as assault on officers. Jonathan Pollock also faces charges of theft of government property. All but Doolin face felony charges.

Tweet, tweet:

NEW VIDEO of Jan. 6 Capitol Riot defendants Joshua Doolin and Olivia Pollock of Polk County leaving federal court in Tampa after first appearance. Still waiting for criminal complaint to be unsealed. Neither had any comment for @WFLA. Watch the :25 mark. https://t.co/8cns3Q7eHD pic.twitter.com/Nb1P5Qrn5V

— Justin Schecker (@WFLAJustin) June 30, 2021

The KKK in Pensacola: What’s in the UWF Historic Trust T.T. Wentworth Jr. Ku Klux Klan report released today?” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — On the 100th anniversary of that infamous “warning out,” the University of West Florida Historic Trust has released today the first preliminary report detailing the history of the Pensacola KKK based on documents discovered in the personal files of Wentworth that were donated to the Historic Trust. Wentworth helped craft the popular narrative of Pensacola’s history as “Mr. History,” but a preliminary report shows that the first history Wentworth wrote was the Pensacola Ku Klux Klan. Wentworth in the 1920s served as the leader or “Exalted Cyclops” of the Pensacola chapter of the KKK from 1925 to 1928, and the documents he collected and kept over that time give an unprecedented window into the inner workings of the 1920s KKK.

— D.C. MATTERS —

A new push to make Puerto Rico a state, perhaps thanks to Florida’s pull” via Tim Padgett of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — One of the big stories in Washington D.C. right now is a tug-of-war between two Puerto Rican Democrats in Congress, one from Florida and one from New York, who champion different visions for the future of Puerto Rico itself. That is, whether or not the U.S. territorial island should finally become the 51st U.S. state. On the one hand, Orlando Congressman Darren Soto presented a bill on Capitol Hill last week to give Puerto Rico statehood. A majority of voters in Puerto Rico did say yes to statehood in November. Soto said the status change would help them tackle problems like their massive debt crisis, 40% unemployment, and the destruction left by Hurricane Maria four years ago.

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Darren Soto is spearheading one of two efforts to make Puerto Rico a state.

Frederica Wilson calls on Biden to appoint special envoy to Haiti following President’s assassination” via Annaliese Garcia and Amanda Batchelor of WPLG — A moment of silence for Haiti was held Thursday at the Miami-Dade County Commission meeting, a day after the country’s President was assassinated in his own home. Commissioner Jean Monestime asked for prayers in the wake of the assassination of Moïse. “In the midst of this heartbreaking situation, it is not time to turn our back on the long-suffering of the Haitian people, as a community and as a country,” Monestime said. Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Wilson held a news conference Thursday at the Little Haiti Cultural Center in Miami and called on the Biden administration to provide security to keep Haiti safe.

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— LOCAL NOTES —

What’s going on in Escambia County — “Escambia County HR director fired, manager of county ethics office resigns” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — Escambia County lost two senior-level staff members this week in the first staff shake-up since Interim County Administrator Wes Moreno took office. Moreno fired the county’s human resources director, Jana Still, on Wednesday. Escambia County spokeswoman Laura Coale said Moreno wanted “to go a different direction with HR” but could not provide any more information on the reason Still was terminated. Coale provided a copy of Still’s termination letter signed by Moreno. She still will receive 90 days of pay but was immediately relieved of her duties and had to leave her office that day. Meanwhile, Keith Morris, manager of the Office of Compliance and Ethics, submitted his resignation to Moreno on Tuesday, with his last day being July 16.

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Jana Still gets the boot in Escambia County.

‘It looks really bad’: Scott Maddox texts point to deal-making outside the Sunshine” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — Maddox played fast and loose with open government requirements during his years as a Tallahassee City Commissioner. His text messages show he communicated directly with fellow commissioners about city business outside of public view and used politically connected third parties to get intelligence about where they stood on various issues. Florida’s Sunshine Law prohibits two or more members of the same board from discussing public business outside of noticed meetings. Barbara Petersen, executive director of the Florida Center for Government Accountability, said the Maddox texts are questionable enough to warrant a criminal investigation into potential Sunshine Law violations, though she conceded that was unlikely given that the players are all out of office.

In 3-2 vote, Tallahassee Commission gives OK to sale of downtown properties for luxury hotels” via Karl Etters of the Tallahassee Democrat — City commissioners gave the OK in a split vote to sell $8 million in property downtown to accommodate plans to build two luxury hotels. The 3-2 vote Wednesday to sell the Chevron and Johns lots to Valencia Hotel Group out of Houston came after the company made an unsolicited offer to purchase the properties last month. City Commissioners Jack Porter and Jeremy Matlow voted against approving the sale. Matlow said approving the sale goes against city policy in which public land sales are competitively bid and require a second appraisal. The last time the properties were appraised was in 2015 but based on other sales in the Gaines Street corridor, the assumed value is as much as $7.8 million.

Judge overturns guilty verdict in first Operation Stolen Innocence trial” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — A Leon County circuit judge tossed out guilty verdicts against a man charged with felonies involving a young teenage girl at the center of a massive sex trafficking investigation. Daniel Mitchell was arrested last year on charges of lewd and lascivious battery on the girl and using a two-way communication device to carry out the crime. After a two-day trial in April, jurors convicted him on a lesser charge of attempted lewd and lascivious battery and use of the communication device. On Friday, Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll, who presided over the trial, ordered the guilty verdicts set aside. He adjudicated Harrison guilty of a far less serious offense, solicitation of prostitution, a second-degree misdemeanor.

‘Massive’ cleanup needed after tornado rips through Kings Bay sub base RV park, injuring 9” via Dan Scanlan of The Florida Times-Union — Nine people were taken to the hospital after the tornado ripped through parts of the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay. When it was over, 12 RVs were damaged or destroyed at the park on USS Daniel Webster Road; one apparently shoved into the nearby lake, base spokesman Chris Tucker said. “None of those injuries are life-threatening, which is certainly a blessing, and we are happy to know that,” Tucker said. Base officials said they issued a tornado warning to personnel and RV guests via text messages and over the public address system, telling everyone to take shelter immediately. Then the tornado hit the lakefront RV park and some military facilities as well on the south end of the base.

Harsher fines? No warnings? Bay County stiffens double-red flag violation penalties” via Tony Mixon of the Panama City News Herald — The Bay County Commission voted unanimously to approve stiffer penalties for double-red flag violations on Wednesday. The penalties include removing the verbal warning that the Bay County Sheriff’s Office had been providing when patrolling the beaches. The first violation carries a $500 fine, and multiple violations increase the fine and carry possible jail time not exceeding 60 days. The ordinance change will mirror that of Panama City Beach. This was something that Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford requested, thinking it was important to have consistent rules between the county and the Beach. A double-red flag warning means rip currents are so dangerous that the Gulf is closed to swimmers. The changes are effective immediately.

Judge dismisses racial discrimination case tied to F1 race in Miami Gardens” via C. Isaiah Smalls II of the Miami Herald — A federal judge has dismissed a civil rights lawsuit brought by a group of Miami Gardens residents in an attempt to stop Formula One from holding races at Hard Rock Stadium. In a Tuesday order, District Judge Robert Scola wrote that the suing residents provided no evidence that the county, Formula One and others conspired to intentionally discriminate against them by hosting the race at the stadium, where the Miami Dolphins play. Scola added that they failed to prove how hosting the race at the stadium was akin to hosting it in Downtown Miami, where Dolphins owner Stephen Ross originally wanted to hold the Miami Grand Prix before protests upended his efforts.

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A discrimination lawsuit against the planned Formula One race in Miami Gardens hits a legal speed bump.

Miami-Dade Commission adds spending guardrails to $135M FTX Arena naming rights deal” via Florida Politics — Miami-Dade Commissioners have quietly approved an additional layer of oversight to how the money will be spent from a $135 million deal to rebrand the home of the Miami Heat. Commissioners unanimously and without comment Tuesday OK’d a resolution by René García directing Mayor Levine Cava’s administration to “annually review, audit, analyze, and report to the Board on the use of all funds disbursed” from the county’s cut of an agreement to rename the Heat arena. The deal, sponsored by Keon Hardemon, marked the first arrangement under which a United States sports arena bears the name of a cryptocurrency exchange. By 2040, it’s expected to yield the county $90 million.

‘You picked the wrong neighborhood’: County denies Sand Bluff solar project outside Archer” via Emily Mavrakis of The Gainesville Sun — After a meeting that trailed into the early morning hours Wednesday, Alachua County commissioners voted not to allow an energy company to build a solar farm on about 640 acres outside Archer. Miami-based Origis Energy requested a special exception for the Sand Bluff solar array outside Archer city limits, north of County Road 346. Commissioners called it a very difficult decision, voting 3-2 against granting the exception. Chairman Ken Cornell and Commissioner Mary Alford voted for the project. Cornell said one of the main factors contributing to his vote involved the recently passed SB 896 in the Florida Legislature, which preempts local governments from blocking or restricting the construction of “energy infrastructure,” including the production and distribution of electricity.

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— TOP OPINION —

U.S. lost the war in Afghanistan 20 years ago” via Pankaj Mishra of Bloomberg Opinion — False assumptions and a lack of awareness fueled a ruinous undertaking that cost innumerable lives and hundreds of billions of dollars and arguably left Afghanistan worse off than before. Understanding why and how this happened is imperative for those who deal with international affairs for a living. The U.S. and its allies had to respond forcefully to a regime that enabled the terrorist atrocity of 9/11. But a military-intelligence operation aimed at the perpetrators and their colluders would have served the demands of both justice and vengeance while sending a message of deterrence to all political players in Afghanistan, better than a full-scale invasion. Instead, the George W. Bush administration opted for a colossal military and political re-engineering of an entire country.

— OPINIONS —

An Olympics without fans is the right call. But it illustrates the ongoing cost of COVID-19.” via Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post — The famous Olympic motto, translated from Latin, is “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” For the Tokyo Games, set to kick off at the July 23 Opening Ceremonies, we need to add a fourth exhortation: quieter. Much quieter. Organizers announced Thursday that all spectators will be barred from events held in and around the Japanese capital. It’s the right call, but it’s still a stark reminder of all we’ve lost and have yet to lose in this ongoing pandemic. It was thrilling to hear fans explode with joy and relief as Simone Biles nailed the elements that brought her four gold medals in Rio de Janeiro … and to hear the cheers as Michael Phelps knifed through the water. Imagine those moments 

Frank Artiles’ phone and the public’s right to know” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — The accused political dirty trickster Artiles challenged the public’s right to know in a Miami courtroom — and lost. That means the public won. It’s an encouraging sign for the future of democracy in Florida, but it’s also a valuable reminder that shining light in dark places doesn’t simply happen. It takes action by Florida news organizations and a judge’s sound interpretation of state law. Republican legislators defended this year’s changes to election laws as necessary to protect “election integrity” in Florida. If they really cared about election integrity, they would have intervened in this case on the side of the news outlets to support the release of the Artiles documents.

Stop forcing Hillsborough kids to attend failing schools” via Chris Latvala for the Tampa Bay Times — With 39 chronically low-performing public schools, Hillsborough County School Board owns the distinction of having more persistently failing schools than any other district in the state. Most of these schools serve predominantly economically disadvantaged, minority students. How does the school board deal with this unconscionable inequity? They have blamed the Legislature. They have blamed charter schools. A couple of months ago, they were on the verge of firing their new superintendent. Their latest target? Parents. Yes. You heard that right. Parents are now to blame for the district’s woes. Parents, who look around at the educational options offered by their district and choose to send their child to a public charter school, are the newest target.

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— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Two weeks after the condo collapse in Surfside, the search for survivors has become a search for remains. The focus is now on the survivors to help them deal with the trauma.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— The Governor is also promising survivors they won’t have to pay property taxes on the rubble that used to be their home.

— If you lost power after Elsa blew through, Public Service Commission Chairman Gary Clark says it should be restored today. He made the announcement Thursday.

— Storm damages were minimal, but there was one fatality: a sailor stationed in Jacksonville died when a tree branch fell to the street and tore the top off his car.

— Senate Democrats want DeSantis to do a better job convincing reluctant Floridians to get vaccinated.

— Two South Florida men are suspects in the assassination of the President of Haiti.

— The Florida Man who created a charity called “We Build the Wall,” accused of keeping the money for himself, has been indicted again.

— Florida Realtors bank big bucks for their constitutional amendment drive.

— And finally, a Florida Man sues a Florida Couple in a dispute over dogs, a stolen fence, peeping neighbors, high-intensity lights aimed next door, and signs accusing the neighbor of being a perv. In other words, just your average day in the land of Florida Man.

To listen, click on the image below:

— 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 former South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial page editor Rosemary Goudreau O’Hara, businessman Stanley Gray and Creative Loafing Tampa Bay digital content editor Colin Wolf.

In Focus with Allison Walker on Bay News 9/CF 13: Senate Bill 50’s establishment of online sales tax is the subject of a roundtable discussion featuring guests Sen. Joe Gruters, chair of the Republican Party of Florida; Sen. Darryl Rouson; and Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

Political Connections Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: A closer look at gun control laws at both the state and federal level, details the latest on fundraising in the 2022 Governor’s race, and goes inside the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando: Ybeth Bruzual speaks to Rep. Anna Eskamani about Florida’s $101 billion state budget, fixing the unemployment system, and new laws that are already facing challenges in court.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Host Gary Yordon talks pollster/consultant Steve Vancore and condo attorney Pete Dunbar.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, Sen. Audrey Gibson, and Caregivers for Compromise founder Mary Daniel.

This Week in South Florida on WPLG-Local10 News (ABC): Former Haiti Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe to discuss the Haitian President’s assassination. Also, continued Surfside condo collapse coverage.

— ALOE —

Space Florida preparing development of launch and landing facility” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Space Florida is turning one of the world’s longest and widest runways into the anchor for its next phase of development for Florida’s and America’s next era of space operations. Thursday is the 10th anniversary of the final space shuttle launch, the STS-135 mission of Space Shuttle Atlantis, the end of that era. The Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex commemorates the anniversary Thursday with a panel discussion open to all paying guests at the complex. The 2 p.m. event will feature STS-135 astronauts Chris Ferguson, Rex Walheim and Sandy Magnus, as well as space shuttle astronauts William Shepherd, Norman Thagard, and Nicole Stott

What the flock? Yup, FlockFest is floating back to Fort Lauderdale beach” via Rod Stafford Hagwood of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — FlockFest — a beach bash that’s equal parts inflatables flotilla and cocktail party — will once again turn the ocean into a fabulous sea of swan floats. After the pandemic sank much of the plans last year, the fundraiser is back for its seventh year. The LGTBQ+-friendly celebration will be Saturday, July 10, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. at 700 Seabreeze Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale Beach Park. Admission prices range from $110-$1,000 at FlockFest.org, but the passes have been sold out since the second week of June, save for the still-available Limited Late Bird tickets.

flockfest
FlockFest is migrating back to fort Lauderdale. Image via Facebook.

Busch Gardens visitors toasting Tampa Bay Lightning with free beer” via Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — Like a bolt out of the blue, free beer is back at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. The theme park celebrates the back-to-back NHL championships of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team with complimentary brews for its theme-park visitors. It’s a temporary deal that lasts through the end of July. Visitors can receive two 7-ounce beers during a visit to the theme park’s Garden Gate Cafe. The free beer will be available from 11:30 a.m. until one hour before the park closes daily. The Lightning secured the Stanley Cup for the second consecutive year with a 1-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens in Tampa.

Disney Cruise Line reveals Marvel restaurant, more dining details on Disney Wish” via Richard Tribou of the Orlando Sentinel — Disney Cruise Line is putting a tiny bit of effort into its Marvel-themed restaurant coming to Disney Wish when it debuts in Port Canaveral next summer. Tiny as in Ant-Man, who will star among other characters in a theatrical dining show called “Avengers: Quantum Encounter,” which Disney Imagineering senior creative director Daniel Handke calls the cruise line’s “most ambitious dining experience ever.” While guests dine from a menu inspired by real and fictitious Marvel Cinematic Universe locations, they will take part in an interactive story that involves Ant-Man and The Wasp, who at first are just taking part in a “speaking engagement on behalf of the Avengers.”

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to our good friend Bob Sparks. Also celebrating today are Patrick Berman of Cushman & Wakefield, Ken CashinTrip FarmerFarhood HoodiApril Salter, the name partner of Salter Mitchell, Jon Shebel, and Heather Turnbull of Rubin Turnbull.

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

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