Hello and welcome to Tuesday.
It’s all about the stimulus, stupid — Democrats have already hammered Gov. Ron DeSantis for failing to note how the money he’s relying on this summer to hand out $1,000 bonuses to police officers, firefighters and teachers came from the federal government (amid unanimous Republican opposition).
Taking part? — Will Florida Sen. Rick Scott join the criticism?
Florida getting a bit less than expected — The U.S. Department of Treasury on Monday announced it was ready to release $350 billion to state and local governments that was part of the $1.9 tillion American Rescue Plan. Of that total, $8.81 billion is headed to the state of Florida (but it will be split in two payments, according to information posted by Treasury) — a sum less than what the DeSantis administration had previously estimated. Remember, DeSantis criticized the formula that wound up in the final bill.
Rick’s rant — Scott, who has previously railed against the coronavirus relief measure, blasted the spending package again on Monday after the Treasury Department’s announcement. “We knew then that state and local governments didn’t need more federal money, but Democrats in Washington insisted on moving forward with their radical and wasteful plan to give $350 billion in taxpayer money to these states that have been irresponsibly spending for decades.”
And there’s more — “Now that they are seeing fiscal good fortune on the back of the taxpayers, do you think they are going to be responsible? Do you think they’ll stop raising taxes? Of course not. This bailout was nothing more than a liberal payback to governors who helped elect them. We need to get serious about how we’re spending taxpayer money. This madness has to stop, and I continue to urge local and state governments to be responsible and reject and return any money in excess of Covid-related expenses.”
Red state relief — Of course Scott, who has made faulting Democratic-run states such as California and New York a cottage industry even since his days as governor, was framing this as another chapter in his derision of “blue state bailouts.” But if Scott says the entire $350 billion going to state and local governments is wasteful, that includes the bonus checks going to first responders and teachers, the money being used for House Speaker Chris Sprowls’ reading initiative, as well as for roads and the Resilient Florida grant program proposed by DeSantis.
Waiting — DeSantis earlier this year rejected Scott’s call to return unneeded money back to the federal government. The question is whether Scott — whose criticisms about debts and spending have been a constant during his time in office — is willing to call out a fellow Republican who is doing a victory march across the state touting all the spending he’s got approved thanks to federal money. (And yes, the question was asked to Scott’s office. We’ll let you know if they answer.)
— WHERE’S RON? — Nothing official announced for Gov. DeSantis.
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BIG PROMOTION — “PSC lawyer Gabriella Passidomo, senator’s daughter, fills vacant seat,” by POLITICO’s Bruce Ritchie: Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday appointed Public Service Commission lawyer Gabriella Passidomo to fill a vacant seat on the five-member panel. He picked Passidomo, daughter of state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples), the Senate president-elect in 2022, over state Rep. Scott Plakon (R-Lake Mary). The PSC Nominating Council in April also recommended for consideration commission aide Ana Ortega and Rocket Ship Consultants founder Rosanna Catalano of Tallahassee. Passidomo replaces Julie Brown, who the governor in February appointed to lead the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Brown was the only female on the commission when she left it.
‘SEND A MESSAGE’ — “DeSantis broadens ban on local governments for gun regulations,” by News Service of Florida’s Jim Saunders: “Amid a legal battle that could be decided by the Florida Supreme Court, Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a measure that will ratchet up a ban on local gun regulations. DeSantis signed the bill (SB 1884) on Friday after the Republican-controlled Legislature passed it in party-line votes late last month. The bill, which will take effect July 1, will broaden a 2011 law that can make local governments pay as much as $100,000 in damages if they are sued for imposing gun regulations.”
‘COMFORTABLE WITH THE STATUS QUO’— “A tale of two election laws: While Georgia saw a corporate backlash, response is muted in Florida,” by Tallahassee Democrat’s Jeffrey Schweers and Florida Times-Union’s David Bauerlein: “While several voting rights groups immediately filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the new Florida law, there’s been no outcry to boycott Florida’s tourism industry, for instance, or stop eating Publix chicken tender subs. The muted reaction from corporations in Florida is probably because the changes in election law are viewed as less restrictive compared to Georgia, said Michael Binder, faculty director of the Public Opinion Research Laboratory at the University of North Florida. ‘This one isn’t as blatant as the one up in Georgia,’ he said. Florida is just ‘tweaking things.’”
THE V WORD — “Rep. Kathy Castor joins enviros in calling for DeSantis to veto local energy preemption bill,” by POLITICO’s Bruce Ritchie: Rep. Kathy Castor on Monday joined justice and environmental groups calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto a bill that preempts local government decisions involving energy fuels and supplies. Castor (D-Fla.) said FL HB919 (21R), which passed the Florida House and Senate mostly along party lines, was a “power play” by utilities and the fossil fuel industry at the expense of solar and other clean energy sources.
— “Brogan, Coburn, Corcoran and more: Names of applicants for FSU presidency released,” by Tallahassee Democrat’s Byron Dobson
— “Restricting abortion access fizzled in the 2021 Legislature; reproductive rights advocates expect future battles,” by Florida Phoenix’s Danielle J. Brown
— “Ramon Alexander of Tallahassee aims to lead Florida House Democrats,” by Tallahassee Democrat’s James Call
PROBE ORDERED BY DESANTIS — “Palm Beach County’s handling of Jeffrey Epstein wasn’t corrupt, Florida investigation finds,” by Miami Herald’s Julie Brown: “The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has cleared Palm Beach state prosecutors and the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office of any wrongdoing in connection with the lenient criminal prosecution and liberal jail privileges received by sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. FDLE investigators found no evidence that Barry Krischer, who was the Palm Beach state attorney when the case was investigated in 2005-2006, or his assistant state attorney on the case, Lanna Belohlavek, committed any crimes, accepted any bribes or gifts, or did anything improper in their handling of the case, according to a 24-page summary of the state probe into their actions obtained Monday by the Miami Herald.”
Hmm — “While conceding that it ‘appears that Epstein received differential treatment’ while in the custody of the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office (PBSO), state investigators nevertheless concluded that Epstein met all the criteria for work release that were set by the county sheriff. Notably, [Palm Beach Sheriff Ric] Bradshaw’s name is not mentioned in FDLE’s summary report, even though he had oversight of the program that allowed Epstein to leave his jail cell almost daily and go to and from his office and his home up to 16 hours a day, seven days a week.”
MUCK — “Red tide, blue-green algae prompt environmental groups to ask DeSantis for a state of emergency,” by Fort Myers News-Press’ Chad Gillis: “Several environmental groups have asked Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency for communities impacted by what appears to be a growing toxic blue-green algae outbreak in the Lake Okeechobee system and a red tide in the Gulf of Mexico. Groups like the Calusa Waterkeeper, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Everglades and about a dozen others signed on to a May 8 letter that was delivered to the governor’s office Monday. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, satellite imagery recently showed a bloom of about 300 square miles on Okeechobee.”
MEANWHILE — “DeSantis, Mast call for measures to reduce Lake Okeechobee discharges,” by POLITICO’s Bruce Ritchie: Gov. Ron DeSantis and Rep. Brian Mast on Monday criticized a federal agency for water discharges from Lake Okeechobee that are contributing to algae spreading along waterways in South Florida. DeSantis and Mast (R-Fla.) held a press conference at Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Hobe Sound after the governor took a helicopter tour of the lake and waterways that carry the lake discharges to coast. They said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers kept the lake too high heading into the late spring and summer rainy season, leading to the need for discharges.
— “Removing Confederate flag from Pensacola police badges will cost $290,000,” by Pensacola News Journal’s Jim Little
— “Maitland’s Holocaust Center targeted by antisemitic protesters,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Monivette Cordeiro
— “Superintendent Robert Runcie could get $743,052 settlement – less than he wanted,” by Sun Sentinel’s Scott Travis
— “Miami’s mayor leaving Greenspoon Marder to join another firm. It’s new to Miami,” by Miami Herald’s Joey Flechas and Rob Wile
GREEN RUSH — Trulieve Cannabis Corp. announced on Monday that it is acquiring Harvest Health & Recreation in a $2.1 billion all-stock deal that will create the largest U.S. cannabis company. Tallahassee-based Trulieve said in a statement that after the completion of the transaction the combined businesses will be operating in 11 states, comprised of 22 cultivation and processing facilities and 126 dispensaries serving both the medical and adult-use recreational cannabis markets.
Already big in Florida — Trulieve already has a substantial foothold in Florida’s medical marijuana market and is likely poised for future growth if Florida ever decides to approve recreational marijuana. But when is that’s going to happen? That’s unclear. The state Supreme Court stopped a proposed citizen initiative from putting legalization on the 2022 ballot after the court found the wording misleading. Then the Florida Legislature threw up another hurdle by passing a measure that puts a $3,000 cap on contribution to committees pushing citizen initiatives that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last Friday (that law has already drawn a legal challenge). But even if the law is struck down, time is ticking for legalization proponents. They would have to draw up a new amendment and gather close to 900,000 signatures by February.
Growing — So while the future of full marijuana legalization in Florida remains unclear, Trulieve now has West Coast reach through its purchase of Harvest Health & Recreation, an Arizona-based company. “This combination offers us the opportunity to leverage our respective strong foundations and propel us forward with an unparalleled platform for future growth,” Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers said in a statement. “Harvest provides us with an immediate and significant presence in new and established markets and accelerates our entry into the adult use space in Arizona.”
ANOTHER ONE — “‘You know I was there, right?’: Another Capitol riot suspect arrested in Central Florida, feds say,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Lisa Maria Garza and David Harris: “A Chuluota man who bragged on social media about being inside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot was arrested Monday, adding to the growing list of Central Florida residents involved in the deadly ordeal, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida. John Maron Nassif, 55, also was captured on surveillance footage inside the Capitol rotunda, an arrest affidavit said. ‘You know I was there, right?’ Nassif wrote on Jan. 8, the affidavit said. ‘You don’t find it odd that police officer is welcoming everybody in? Considering the narrative that’s being pushed?’”
The daily rundown — Between Sunday and Monday, the number of Florida coronavirus cases increased by 2,296 (0.1 percent) to 2,272,102; active hospitalizations increased by 42 (nearly 1.6 percent) to 2,732; deaths of Florida residents rose by 52 to 35,783; 9,311,399 Floridians have received at least one dose of a vaccine.
How it’s going — The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that only about a third of Florida’s population — 33.2 percent — is fully vaccinated for Covid-19. Florida vaccination rate puts it at 32nd in the nation tied with New Hampshire. Florida is ahead of many Southeastern states but trails states such as California, Illinois and New York.
‘AN INCREDIBLY BROAD NET’ — “At least 3 nursing homes in Polk County face lawsuits over COVID-19 deaths,” by The Ledger’s Gary White: The four have something else in common: “Each contracted COVID-19 as a resident at a nursing home in Polk County, family members say. Those relatives are now suing the nursing homes, claiming that negligence allowed their loved ones to become infected with the virus that caused their deaths. But a recently enacted Florida law shielding long-term care facilities from liability makes it nearly impossible for such lawsuits to succeed, some legal experts and elder advocates say.”
— “50,000 Floridians have died from COVID-19, health institute estimates,” by Florida Politics’ Renzo Downey
— “Lawsuit seeks at least half a million from state in fight over gopher tortoises,” by The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Frank Fernandez: “An Edgewater company that relocates gopher tortoises has sued the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, seeking at least $500,000 in damages because it claims the state wrongfully revoked its permit to move tortoises. Kaiser Consulting Group LLC, Drew Kaiser and John Wilson filed the lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and one of its employees, Claire Sunquist Blunden, two weeks ago in Leon County Circuit Court.”
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