Happy Monday, Dec. 6. We start this week’s newsletter with good news: More unvaccinated Floridians got their first COVID shots last week than in any other week since August.
That tidbit came out of the Florida Department of Health on Friday, as the coronavirus omicron variant spread across the globe. About 61.8% of the state’s population — 13,265,491 eligible people — have now completed the two-dose series of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or have completed Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, according to the CDC.
Hospitality industry woes: Vaccine hesitancy is playing a role in the staffing shortages now plaguing the hospitality industry, U.S. Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh said Friday in an intervew with the Miami Herald. “We have to make sure workers feel safe. A lot of people feel working with the public is unsafe,” he said.
Seminole Tribe’s bad bet: It was bad news for the Seminole Tribe last week, as a second court rejected a motion to allow the tribe to continue operating the Hard Rock Sportsbook as it appeals a federal court ruling that invalidated the gambling compact.
The tribe had taken a gamble — along with Gov. Ron DeSantis and a nearly-unanimous Florida Legislature — that they could persuade the court that because online bets placed anywhere in Florida went through the tribe’s server that would constitute gambling on tribal land.
But U.S. District court Judge Dabney Friedrich called that logic “a fiction” and threw out the tribe’s agreement with Florida. The appellate court rejected the request for a stay and, on Saturday, the Seminole Tribe suspended its sports book indefinitely, as it pursues an appeal of two lawsuits brought by West Flagler Associates and No Casinos. The app had been in operation one month.
Democrats daunted: Florida Democrats gathered to energize the base in Orlando last weekend, but after 2020 election defeats and 2022 voter registration efforts lagging, the challenging task ahead was palpable. The Florida Democratic Party’s annual Leadership Blue conference didn’t even get a full roster of Democratic legislators to help with the energizing. Only three of the 16 Senate Democrats attended.
Consultant snagged: Dan Newman, Florida Democrat consultant and longtime senior adviser to House Victory, resigned last week after reports revealed his ties to the alleged sham candidate scheme that contributed to the loss of three Democrats. Newman said he unwittingly communicated with consultants who helped orchestrate the scheme to siphon votes from Democrat candidates in three key Senate races in 2020, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Extortion attempt against Book: After keeping a low profile for the last three weeks during legislative meetings in Tallahassee, Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book acknowledged last week that she has been the victim of an alleged extortion and harassment plot. A 19-year-old Plantation man was charged with extortion and cyber stalking but, Book said, the investigation is ongoing.
Pandemic paid off for hospitals: Evidently, the coronavirus was good for hospital bottom lines. According to the Agency for Health Care Administration, Florida hospitals made nearly $6.3 billion in 2020 — amid the coronavirus pandemic. Some legislators aren’t too pleased.
House maps get bad grades: Florida House redistricting leaders faced a steady stream of questions last week from members of both parties as they unveiled details about two staff-drawn proposals that give an advantage to Republicans in the high-stakes reapportionment of congressional districts. Unlike the Senate redistricting maps, the proposed House maps would disadvantage more Democrats and advantage more Republicans.
Although outside analysts, such as the non-partisan, independent Princeton Gerrymandering Project and Five Thirty Eight, analyzed the House maps released on Monday and concluded they give Republicans a partisan advantage, Republican House leaders had no patience for critiques. The GOP subcommittee chairs, Reps. Tyler Sirois and Cord Byrd, blasted the analysis as “partisan narratives.”
Fact-checking the border price tag: Remember that trip DeSantis made over the summer to the Texas border — where he vowed to use Florida law enforcement officers and equipment to call attention to what he considered the failures of President Joe Biden over border security? The price tag for taxpayers keeps growing. The Miami Herald reported earlier in November that the trip had cost taxpayers $570,988, but additional records released to the First Amendment Foundation and obtained by the Miami Herald show the actual cost was at least $1.6 million. It’s a number that is expected to grow as other agency costs are tallied.
Fact-checking officer recruiting: New details are emerging about some of the police officers who are moving to Central Florida from New York City to escape what the governor described as low morale and a lack of support from Democratic politicians there. The new police hires include one fired as a Walmart security guard, one with only three years of experience who asked to double his salary, and others with gaps in résumés.
UF faculty tensions grow: As Florida Republican lawmakers rush to introduce bills that target the teaching of critical race theory in state institutions, a University of Florida professor is claiming university officials have already asked faculty members to not use the words “critical” and “race” in curriculum to avoid political backlash.
Policing curricula: UF College of Education Associate Professor Chris Busey claims in a grievance filed last week that in meetings, university officials warned faculty and administrators in the College of Education to steer clear of curricula that touch on race, anti-racism, or mention the words “critical’ and “race” together.
Trustees weigh in: For more than a month, the University of Florida has been buffeted by criticism for its handling of a dispute with three political science professors about whether they should be allowed to provide expert testimony in high profile a lawsuit over felons voting rights. On Friday, the university’s Board of Trustees unleashed a a strongly worded rebuke of the professors and UF Board of Trustees Chairman Mori Hosseini hinted at legislative retribution. “This will not stand. It must stop. And it will stop,’’ he said. “...Our legislators are not going to put up with the wasting of state money and resources, and neither is this board.”
Meanwhile, the three political science professors Sharon Austin, Michael McDonald and Daniel Smith and two others have filed a federal lawsuit alleging violations of First Amendment rights.
FSU quietly disciplines three profs: Florida State University quietly fired one professor, suspended another who resigned a few months later and allowed a third to remain on the job after it determined they committed sexual misconduct in separate incidents with students, according to disciplinary records.
One took a part-time job teaching at another Florida university. The formal investigations were all previously undisclosed. At least one ran until the summer of 2021. In each case, investigators concluded that the three faculty members violated the university’s sex discrimination and sexual misconduct policies. FSU made no announcements about the cases or outcomes.
This week, the gov’s budget: The governor has been dropping pieces of his budget for weeks and we expect the full launch this week. One of the biggest price tags will be his plan to ask legislators to spend $1 billion to lower the state’s gas tax by 25 cents per gallon. By temporarily canceling the state’s gas tax for about six months next year, the governor hopes to win kudos from drivers faced with rising fuel prices in an election year.
New agency heads: The governor used Thanksgiving week to shake up leadership in the administration. He appointed a new prison chief and a new point person on climate change.
Finally, a marijuana law update: After years of partisan squabbling over the fate of Florida’s medical marijuana program, Democrats and Republicans are pushing what they’re calling a major reform bill. It would regulate delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) products which are used in both smokable and edible products that have been part of a fast-growing market in Florida. Because of a loophole in the 2018 farm bill passed by Congress, hemp products containing lots of delta-8 aren’t regulated like marijuana products heavy in the psychoactive delta-9 THC compound — even though the compounds are extremely similar.
Goodbye Carrie: Former U.S. Congresswoman Carrie Pittman Meek, the first Black person to represent Florida in Congress since the post-Civil War Reconstruction and a fierce advocate for South Florida’s Black communities, Haitian immigrants and the working poor, died last week at her home in Miami after a long illness. She was 95.
Adam Johnson, the Florida man who posed for photos after stealing Nancy Pelosi’s lectern during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot pleaded guilty last week to illegally entering the Capitol. Johnson could get up to six months in prison, but prosecutors are recommending no jail time because he has taken responsibility for his actions.
Senior U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, who will sentence Johnson on Feb. 25, scolded him. “I don’t understand that mentality and to come to Washington D.C. and to destroy a monument of our democracy, I find very, very disturbing,” she said. “What concerns me is that you were gullible enough to come all the way up here from Florida based upon a lie.”
Moskowitz’ new gig: The governor tapped Jared Moskowitz, Florida’s former emergency chief, and Torey Alston, the Florida Department of Transportation’s chief of staff, to fill two positions on the Broward County Commission. They will replace Broward Commissioners Dale Holness and Barbara Sharief, who resigned to run for Congress earlier this year.
Stay well and we’d love to hear from you. Miami Herald Capitol Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas curates the Politics and Policy in the Sunshine State newsletter. If you have any ideas or suggestions, please drop me a note at email@example.com.
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