AshBritt Environmental has hired former Rep. Holly Raschein as its new director of government relations.
AshBritt is one of the top rapid-response disaster recovery companies in the nation. In her new role, Raschein will direct the company’s policy objectives at the local, state, and federal levels.
“AshBritt Environmental is excited to welcome a leader of Holly’s caliber and expertise to the AshBritt team,” CEO Brittany Perkins Castillo said.
“Holly’s leadership, including during Hurricane Irma, commitment to community members, and her passion for protecting and preserving the environment aligns with our company’s mission to help communities recover after a disaster. With Holly’s knowledge and impressive government experience, tremendous opportunity lies ahead.”
Raschein was elected to the House in 2012, representing a district that covers the Florida Keys and parts of south Miami-Dade County. She served eight years in the Legislature before leaving due to term limits this year.
As a lawmaker, Raschein was made environmental issues a priority and championed legislation to protect Florida’s fragile ecosystem and precious natural resources. During her tenure, she served as Chair of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriation Subcommittee and Chair of the House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee.
In 2017, she coordinated state and local emergency response, cleanup, and restoration in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in her district as a Category 4 storm.
“I have long been a fan of the work AshBritt Environmental does in Florida and across the country,” Raschein said. “The company’s track record in environmental services and disaster recovery is unparalleled in the industry, and I look forward to working alongside this talented leadership team.”
Her first day on the job is Tuesday.
Former legislative assistant Mauricio ‘Monty’ Montiel is joining Marin & Sons as a lobbyist.
In his new role, Montiel will focus on the company’s Tallahassee practice, representing clients before the Florida Legislature. He will also be a part of the firm’s South Florida lobbying efforts.
Montiel previously served as a legislative assistant for then-Republican Rep. Carlos Trujillo. He went on to work for then-Republican Rep. Manny Diaz before Diaz left the House for a Senate bid. Diaz brought on Montiel to his Senate team after winning the Senate District 36 contest in 2018.
Montiel’s experience in the Legislature will undoubtedly assist him at the firm’s Tallahassee operation and representing clients in meetings with lawmakers. Montiel also has connections to South Florida. Both Trujillo and Diaz, whom Montiel has worked for, are based in Miami-Dade County.
Marin & Sons is a public relations and communications firm. In addition to its Miami office, the firm also has an office in Tallahassee. The firm’s footprint also stretches outside Florida, with offices in New Orleans, Louisiana, Columbia, South Carolina and Washington, D.C.
“Donald Trump science adviser Scott Atlas leaving White House job” via The Associated Press — A White House official confirmed that the Stanford University neuroradiologist, who had no formal experience in public health or infectious diseases, resigned at the end of his temporary government assignment. Atlas confirmed the news in a tweet. Atlas has broken with government experts and the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community to criticize efforts to encourage face covering to slow the spread of the virus. Just weeks ago, he responded on Twitter to Michigan’s latest virus restrictions by encouraging people to “rise up” against the state’s policies. His views also prompted Stanford to issue a statement distancing itself from the faculty member, saying Atlas “has expressed views that are inconsistent with the university’s approach in response to the pandemic.”
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
US coronavirus cases by month in 2020:
(As of 9 a.m. ET Nov. 30, 2020)
— NBC News (@NBCNews) November 30, 2020
—@SenRickScott: Communist China can no longer hide behind its lies. I’ve been saying it for months: China lied about Coronavirus from the start (with the help of the WHO). This isn’t about pointing fingers; it’s about accountability & taking responsibility for the damage this pandemic has done.
—@RepMichaelWaltz: The sculpting of the statue for hometown hero Mary McLeod Bethune has begun in Italy! Bethune’s statue will represent Florida in the U.S. Capitol, so all who see it will learn about her inspiring work for civil rights and education in our state and across the nation.
—@RepStephMurphy: There is responsible and effective leadership, and then there is this. The Governor is essentially waving the white flag of surrender as this invisible enemy ravages our health and our economy. If we do not contain the virus, Florida’s economy will never return to normal.
—@MaryEllenKlas: @GovRonDeSantis‘s sums up his COVID containment strategy. There is no call for collective duty and reads like a libertarian playbook. He says it’s ‘no lockdowns, no fines, no school closures’ and it’s up to individuals to decide if they want to prevent community spread.
—@DanDaley: Today, I refiled Jaime’s Law in honor of 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg, who tragically lost her life in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Jaime’s Law seeks to close the ammo loophole by requiring background checks on ammunition purchases.
—@jessicabakeman: So the Mayor of the City of Miami, the immediate past Mayor of Miami-Dade County, and the newly elected Mayor of Miami-Dade County have now all tested positive for COVID-19.
— @NateSilver538: A lot of this is underwhelming — 3,456 vs. 2,986 isn’t “the starkest [of] discrepancies” — and seems to fall into the category of things that many countries (not just China) were doing, especially early in the pandemic.
—@TripGabriel: AZ’s election was certified by its Governor and Attorney General, both Republicans. “We do elections well here in Arizona,” said Gov. Doug Ducey. Yet, driven by Trump‘s phony fraud, a stabbed-in-the-back narrative is in the making among elements of the party base.
—@KevinMKruse: ATLAS SHRUGGED
— DAYS UNTIL —
Florida Automated Vehicles Summit — 2; Florida Chamber Foundation’s virtual Transportation, Growth and Infrastructure Solution Summit begins — 7; the Electoral College votes — 13; “Death on the Nile” premieres — 16; NBA 2020-21 opening night — 21; “Wonder Woman 1984” rescheduled premiere — 24; Pixar’s “Soul” premiere (rescheduled for Disney+) — 24; Greyhound racing ends in Florida — 30; Georgia U.S. Senate runoff elections — 35; the 2021 Inauguration — 50; Super Bowl LV in Tampa — 68; Daytona 500 — 75; “A Quiet Place Part II” rescheduled premiere — 79; “Black Widow” rescheduled premiere — 93; “No Time to Die” premieres (rescheduled) — 122; Children’s Gasparilla — 130; Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest — 137; “Top Gun: Maverick” rescheduled premiere — 213; Disney’s “Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings” premieres — 220; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 234; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 242; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 266; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 336; Disney’s “Eternals” premieres — 339; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 342; Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” premieres — 374; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 438; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 491; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 672.
— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —
“Jeff Brandes’ bill would enshrine alcohol to-go into Florida law” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Sen. Brandes wants to enshrine into law an executive order allowing restaurants to sell mixed drinks, beer and wine to-go. Brandes filed a bill last week that would permit restaurants to sell mixed drinks in sealed containers, cans or bottles of beer, wine-based beverages, and bottles of wine as part of a to-go order as long as the order contained at least one food item. There is no limit on how many alcoholic beverages could be sold. The bill would not apply to bars or establishments whose revenue is derived by less than 51% of food and nonalcoholic drink sales. The bill is based primarily on DeSantis’ March executive order permitting the same.
“South Florida lawmaker again files ‘Jaime’s Law’ to require background checks for bullet sales” via Brooke Batinger and Lisa J. Huriash of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A state lawmaker filed a bill that would require background checks for ammunition buyers, after the same bill failed in committee in the 2020 Legislative Session. Known as “Jaime’s Law,” the proposal honors Jaime Guttenberg, one of the 17 people killed in the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre. Rep. Dan Daley, a Coral Springs Democrat, and a Stoneman Douglas graduate, first filed the bill in the 2020 Legislative Session. It never made it to the House floor. “Our hope this year is to get a hearing,” he said. “Last year, it never saw the light of day.”
“With pandemic economy in frame, Chuck Clemons refiles e-fairness legislation” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Lawmakers will again consider legislation ensuring the state collects sales tax from online purchases, an issue elevated this year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rep. Clemons filed a bill Monday requiring internet retailers and online marketplaces to collect state sales tax on items delivered within Florida, which the Newberry Republican says closes an online sales tax loophole. Whether businesses collect the taxes themselves, Floridians are expected to pay sales tax for those sales. However, the state misses out on millions of tax dollars annually from customers who don’t submit their required sales taxes.
“Anthony Sabatini pulls trigger on ‘campus carry’ legislation” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Rep. Sabatini filed a bill Monday that would allow people with a concealed firearm license to carry a weapon onto Florida colleges and universities. The measure, HB 6001, seeks to delete a provision that restricts permit holders from carrying a firearm on campus grounds. Florida’s current statute limits registered students and faculty to carrying stun guns and nonlethal electric weapons on campus. “The current prohibition of the concealed carry of a firearm makes campuses LESS safe and violates the spirit of the Second Amendment,” the Howey-in-the-Hills Republican tweeted. Notably, this is not Sabatini’s first crack at the proposal. He filed a similar campus carry bill in both the 2019 and 2020 Legislative Session.
“Bill filed to strip state of power to require residents to get vaccinated” via Jeffrey Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — With a COVID-19 vaccine potentially weeks away from national distribution, Sabatini filed a bill that would eliminate the state’s power to require mandatory vaccines during a pandemic. Known for several unsuccessful lawsuits challenging local government mask mandates, Sabatini filed the legislation (HB 6003) on the first day of bill filing for the 2021 Legislative Session that begins March 2. The bill, if passed and signed into law by DeSantis, would not take effect till July 1. The measure comes nearly nine months after the first cases of the coronavirus pandemic were announced in Florida, and as the state experiences a third wave of COVID-19 infections.
Happening today — On the agenda of the Public Service Commission meeting includes a Florida Power & Light proposal to add more vehicle-charging stations, part of a five-year pilot program for “fast charging” stations operated in some cases by the utility. FPL needs approval for “tariffs,” which involve pricing structures. If approved, the program begins on Jan. 1. The meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. and will be livestreamed on The Florida Channel or online. Participants by phone can contact the PSC Office of General Counsel at (850) 413-6199.
“Kristen Arrington, Melony Bell plan 2022 reelection bids” via The News Service of Florida — After winning a House seat in the August primary, freshman Democrat Arrington opened a campaign account to run again in Osceola County’s House District 43. Arrington topped five other candidates in the Democratic primary and did not face a general-election opponent. Meanwhile, Rep. Bell, a Fort Meade Republican, opened a campaign account to run again in House District 56 in DeSoto, Hardee and part of Polk counties. Bell, who was first elected to the House in 2018, captured 67.3% of the vote in this month’s election.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“Florida adds 6,659 coronavirus cases, 98 deaths Monday” via Anastasia Dawson of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida added 6,659 coronavirus infections and 98 deaths, continuing its steady climb toward logging one million cases since the start of the pandemic. The state’s total number of confirmed coronavirus cases has risen to 999,319, just below the nearly 1.16 million cases recorded in Texas and 1.2 million cases in California. In the past nine months, the Florida Department of Health has added 18,834 coronavirus-related deaths. With a population of 21.48 million, Monday’s report means that roughly 1 in every 21 Florida residents has now tested positive for COVID-19. About 27% of regular hospital beds statewide and 24% of adult beds in Florida’s intensive care units were available for new patients on Monday.
“Ron DeSantis says no new lockdowns, mask mandates, or any other anti-COVID-19 measure in Florida” via Steven Lemongello and Richard Tribou of the Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis ruled out imposing any further coronavirus restrictions or a mask mandate, despite rising case numbers across the state and nation. DeSantis said there would be “no lockdowns, no fines, no school closures. No one’s losing their job because of a government dictate. Nobody’s losing their livelihood or their business.” “That is totally off the table,” he said. Monday’s event at Boggy Creek Elementary was DeSantis’ first news conference in weeks, meant to highlight a new order allowing schools to stay open for the rest of the year.
“Where has the Governor been since his last press conference? Vaccine prep” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Before Monday, DeSantis had not fielded questions from reporters in more than a month despite making multiple promises to give answers. Following Monday’s announcement that schools will remain open for the spring semester, DeSantis’ first question, courtesy of WFTV’s Cierra Putman, was where has he been as COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Florida. “We’ve been doing a lot of work on preparing for the vaccine,” DeSantis said. Nearly 1 million people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Florida as cases surge across the country. The day after Election Day, DeSantis held a briefing in the Capitol touting Florida’s orderly election while the prolonged tallies in other key states were just beginning.
“Pointing to closing ‘blunder,’ DeSantis says schools should bring struggling students back in-person” via CD Davidson-Hiers of the Tallahassee Democrat — Florida public schools will remain open in 2021, and families will continue to have the option to keep students at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, DeSantis announced. The caveat is part of a new emergency order issued by Richard Corcoran, Florida’s education commissioner. In the order, which is dated Nov. 30, Corcoran writes that schools must provide written notification to parents about the students’ academic struggles. Parents must provide a written receipt of their intent to keep their students at home.
“Court refuses to revisit school reopening ruling” via Jim Saunders of The News Service of Florida — An appeals court Monday refused to reconsider a decision that backed DeSantis and Education Commissioner Corcoran in a legal battle about the state’s push this summer to reopen schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The 1st District Court of Appeal, with no explanation, issued two orders that denied motions by the Florida Education Association teachers union and other plaintiffs for a rehearing in the case. In October, the plaintiffs asked for a rehearing before a three-judge panel or by the full appeals court, a request known as seeking an “en banc” hearing.
—”Pinellas County COVID-19 positivity rate again flirts with 10%, but week-over rates are still lower” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics
“‘Grim Reaper’ says beach closure suit was not frivolous” via the News Service of Florida — Saying that a lower-court judge “plainly encouraged” an appeal, a Northwest Florida attorney is disputing that his decision to continue pursuing a case against DeSantis over COVID-19 beach closures was frivolous or in bad faith. Santa Rosa Beach attorney Daniel Uhlfelder, who filed the lawsuit this spring to try to force DeSantis to close beaches statewide to prevent the spread of the disease, responded Friday to an order by the 1st District Court of Appeal to show why he and his lawyers should not face sanctions for pursuing the appeal. A panel of the Tallahassee-based appeals court on Nov. 13 rejected the case and suggested that the appeal and other documents filed by Uhlfelder “appear to be frivolous and/or filed in bad faith.”
— CORONA LOCAL —
“All five First Coast counties blast past 10% COVID-19 positive test rates” via Drew Dixon of Florida Politics — The five-county First Coast region has cracked 66,000 cases of COVID-19 while every county in the region has exceeded a 10% positivity rate, according to Florida Department of Health data released Monday. There were a total of 66,055 people infected in the Northeast Florida region. Out of that figure, 937 people have died from coronavirus on the First Coast. All five counties recorded notable jumps in the rate for positive test results. Four out of the five counties in the region were below 10% on Saturday. Duval County, which had 43,978 infections and 604 deaths, went from 8.35% positivity to 10.59%.
“College football’s coronavirus issues are mounting. Just look at Miami’s schedule” via Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times — Although the complications that come with playing college football during a pandemic have been present all season long, the challenges are mounting. Consider everything that has happened with No. 9 Miami’s game this Saturday. Before the pandemic, the Hurricanes would have played this weekend only if they won the ACC’s Coastal Division. In August, the ACC’s updated schedule pushed back the season’s start and finish. Saturday became Miami’s regular-season finale against North Carolina. That changed two weeks ago because of positive coronavirus tests within the ‘Canes’ program. The ACC moved multiple games around. Miami’s home contest against the Tar Heels turned into a road trip to Wake Forest. Barely 28 hours later, the plan changed again.
“Southwest Florida house-buying numbers keep climbing in latest data, but will a vaccine kill the frenzy, along with COVID-19?” via Phil Fernandez of the Naples Daily News — I’ve been reporting for months now that some of our habits will have changed forever long after the pandemic goes along the wayside with polio and the other menaces of the day, hopefully. Cleaner hands. Well, that’s a good thing. Fewer hugs. Miss those. Buying Southwest Florida homes like literally there’s no tomorrow. Probably not. Not that the latest numbers suggest there will be a change any time soon. But around the corner is this vaccine that is supposed to cure all our ills but may have an undesired side effect on the local residential market, industry officials say.
“Keys Commissioner says he’s improving after being hospitalized with COVID-19” via Gwen Filosa of FL Keys News — Monroe County Commissioner Craig Cates says he is improving after being hospitalized with COVID-19. “We have a long road of recovery but won’t stop fighting,” Cates posted on his Facebook page. This month, Cates, his wife, Cheryl, and their daughter Crystal were airlifted from Lower Keys Medical Center to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, all ill with the novel coronavirus. “I’m out of ICU and in an intermediate recovery room working on my breathing strength,” Cates posted Sunday. Monroe County on Sunday reported 32 new cases of COVID-19 and no further deaths. The Keys have 3,353 cases and 27 deaths.
“Can masks save Lakeland from a second shutdown?” via Maya Lora and Sara-Megan Walsh of The Lakeland Ledger — Lakeland has been without a mask mandate since Oct 5. Polk County, as a whole, never had one. During the summer surge, Polk averaged 279.3 cases a day in July, dropping to about 100 cases per day in September. Now, its average daily cases stand at 141.6 and continue to rise, based on the Florida Department of Health’s daily reports. Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz said he would bring a mask mandate back to the table if Polk’s positivity rose above 10% for more than 14 days. Mutz said the city saw the greatest control over COVID-19’s spread when the mask mandate was in effect. The anti-mask movement remains strong in Polk. Without a mandate, Julie Townsend, executive director of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority, said she had seen mask use drop significantly.
— CORONA NATION —
“Moderna applied for emergency FDA vaccine authorization and says first injections could begin by Dec. 21.” via Denise Grady and Karen Zraick of The New York Times — As the drugmaker Moderna said it applied to the Food and Drug Administration on Monday to authorize its coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, health secretary Alex Azar reiterated that distribution would begin quickly after the expected approvals of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines vaccine. If approved, Moderna said that injections for Americans could begin as early as Dec. 21. The company also said complete data from a large study show its coronavirus vaccine to be 94.1% effective, a finding that confirms earlier estimates. Stéphane Bancel, the company’s chief executive, said in an interview that it was “on track” to produce 20 million doses by the end of December, and from 500 million to a billion in 2021.
“Federal system for tracking hospital beds and COVID-19 patients provides questionable data” via Charles Piller of Science Magazine — The central pandemic data tracking system run by the Department of Health and Human Services, dubbed HHS Protect, reported that on 16 November, 71% of the state’s hospital beds were filled. Wisconsin officials who rely on the data to support and advise their increasingly strained hospitals might have concluded they had some margin left. Yet a different federal COVID-19 data system painted a much more dire picture for the same day, reporting 91% of Wisconsin’s hospital beds were filled. An analysis suggests HHS Protect’s data do not correspond with alternative hospital data sources in many states.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“RESET Task Force shares policy recommendations for COVID-19 economic recovery” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — A coalition of pro-business groups released a report spotlighting strategies to help Florida’s COVID-19 battered economy rebound. The executive and legislative policy recommendations are a product of the coalition’s RESET task force, which focused on 10 subject areas ranging from health care and hospitality to legal reform and retail. The Associated Industries of Florida, Florida Retail Federation, National Federation of Independent Business, and Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association led the task force. The task force’s acronym, RESET, stands for “Restore Economic Strength through Employment and Tourism.” The group’s final report outlines several key recommendations.
“Pent-up demand drives October tax revenue” via News Service of Florida — Florida for the first time since spring beat a monthly revenue forecast that had been in place before the coronavirus pandemic slammed into the state, according to an October report released Monday by state economists. The Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research report indicated that general revenue taxes coming into the state during October were $35.4 million over a pre-pandemic forecast made in January. They also were $313.5 million above a prediction that was revised downward in August, giving the state three consecutive months of beating that lowered forecast.
— MORE CORONA —
“Virtual charter schools are booming, despite a checkered reputation” via Anya Kamenetz and Robby Korth of WJCT — Across the country, entirely virtual K-12 charter schools have experienced a pandemic-induced “surge,” as one sector observer put it. K12 Inc., one of the biggest in the business, has reported a 57% enrollment increase, taking it up to 195,000 students; Connections Academy, another heavy hitter, has reported a 41% jump, and the list goes on. Virtual charter schools have been around for a couple of decades. In that time, they’ve been both relatively niche and highly controversial. Free to families but paid for by taxpayers, they enrolled about 300,000 full-time students in the 2017-18 school year, according to the National Education Policy Center.
“Wisconsin becomes last contested state to confirm Joe Biden won” via Mark Niquette and Amanda Albright of Bloomberg — Wisconsin became the last contested battleground state to make Biden’s victory over Trump official, as the President and his allies failed to halt vote certifications to overturn the outcome of the election. Wisconsin Elections Commission Chair Ann Jacobs officially confirmed the election result on Monday, sending it to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to appoint the electors who will cast the state’s 10 Electoral College votes for Biden when they meet on Dec. 14, unless a court intervenes. Jacobs’s action also starts five days for the Trump campaign to appeal the outcome of a recount.
“Where Georgia Democrats succeeded, Florida Democrats failed. Why?” via Kirby Wilson of the Miami Herald — More than a week after Election Day, 150 miles north of the Florida border, cars packed into the parking lot of the local civic center. Progressives came to hear one of their U.S. Senate candidates, Jon Ossoff, speak. Everyone in that crowd who was asked why Georgia turned blue in 2020 started with the same two words: Stacey Abrams. At the same time, Orlando state Rep. Anna Eskamani hosted a Zoom town hall to unpack what went wrong for Florida Democrats in 2020. Florida Democrats don’t have a Stacey Abrams. Over the past decade, progressive politics in the Sunshine State has consisted of minor and fleeting victories scattered throughout long stretches of irrelevance and outright incompetence.
— TRANSITION —
“Biden, Kamala Harris form inaugural committee” via Quint Forgey of POLITICO — Biden and Harris announced the formation of a Presidential Inaugural Committee ahead of their swearing-in on Jan. 20. The senior leadership of the committee, which will be responsible for organizing inauguration-related activities, consists of CEO Tony Allen and executive director Maju Varghese. Allen is president of Delaware State University, and Varghese served as chief operating officer and senior adviser to the Biden-Harris campaign. Nevada state Sen. Yvanna Cancela and Erin Wilson, the Biden-Harris campaign’s national political director, will both serve as deputy executive directors on the inaugural committee.
“Biden bets on a diverse Cabinet and staff to handle the problems of a diverse nation” via Eugene Scott of The Washington Post — Throughout his campaign, Biden has promised that his administration would come into government ready to hit the ground running and that it would reflect the country it would lead. His initial picks seem to make good on that: He has showcased a team featuring prominent “firsts” of their gender or race in crucial positions, and with the experience that critics say the Trump administration lacked. So far, the former Vice President’s Cabinet and Cabinet-rank nominees include Harris as well as a Black woman, a Latino immigrant, a Jewish American, and other picks from underrepresented groups in American leadership. And the list of potential candidates for the remaining positions appears more diverse than any in history.
“It’s Major: Pets poised for a return to the White House” via Kevin Freking of The Associated Press — Major Biden is getting an early start in the spotlight as a presidential pet after a play date ended with his owner, Biden, suffering a broken foot. As if that weren’t enough for one weekend, it was also confirmed that Major will have to share the White House with, of all things, a cat. It’ll get better, Major. In a few weeks, Major, fellow German shepherd Champ and the TBD feline are expected to make the move to the White House. The arrival of the Biden pets will also mark the next chapter in a long history of pets residing at the White House after a four-year hiatus during the Trump administration.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“America the Beautiful’ is White House theme for Christmas” via The Associated Press — “America the Beautiful” is this year’s Christmas theme at the White House. First Lady Melania Trump says it pays tribute to and showcases the “majesty” of the United States. Ornaments on the official Christmas tree in the Blue Room were designed by students from across the country who were asked by the National Park Service to highlight the people, places, and things that make their states beautiful. First responders and front-line workers, coping with a pandemic that has killed more than 266,000 people in the United States and infected more than 13 million others, are recognized with a tree and other decorations in the Red Room.
“Debbie Wasserman Schultz making bid for one of the most powerful leadership jobs in Congress” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — U.S. Rep. Wasserman Schultz is nearing the end of an audacious, yearlong campaign to leapfrog colleagues with more seniority and land one of the most powerful jobs in Congress: chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. Even if she falls short — assuming Wasserman Schultz has a good showing — it would represent a comeback from the political turmoil of four years ago, when she resigned as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee after stolen internal emails showed party staffers weren’t neutral in the 2016 presidential primary. A dismal showing would be politically embarrassing. A vote by the 222 members of the House Democratic majority is likely in the first few days in December.
— STATEWIDE —
“State, companies wrangle over opioid profits” via Dara Kam of The News Service of Florida — Cardinal Health is fighting Florida’s attempt to glean how much profit the company made distributing pain medications. The wrangling comes in a lawsuit, filed more than two years ago by the Florida Attorney General’s office, seeking unspecified damages against drug manufacturers, retailers and distributors. The case is one of the myriad similar legal challenges throughout the country. The Florida litigation includes a tangle over records sought by Attorney General Ashley Moody in the state’s effort to collect information about pain pill distribution and prescriptions. Pasco County Circuit Judge Kimberly Sharpe last week gave Walgreen Co. 90 days to turn over dozens of categories of dispensing data from 1996 through the present from prescriptions for 39 different drugs.
“Court backs FDOT in toll dispute” via The News Service of Florida — An appeals court overturned a circuit judge’s ruling that ordered the Florida Department of Transportation to return more than $53,000 in toll charges to a company that leases trailers to trucking customers. Tropical Trailer Leasing argued that the state improperly charged tolls through its “toll by plate” system, which captures photographic images of license plates and bills owners for tolls. The company argued that the truck operators — not the trailer leasing company — should be responsible for paying tolls. Then-Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers sided with the argument, issuing an injunction and ordering the Department of Transportation to refund $53,628, according to Monday’s ruling by a panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush, ExcelInEd hosting ‘EdPalooza’ this week — Former Gov. Bush and the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelInEd) will host an education conference through Thursday. “EdPalooza” is billed as “an exciting, thought-provoking, action-inducing convening for anyone and everyone who wants to have an impact in education.” The event will be held via livestream from 11 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. each day. The agenda includes more than 100 Palooza sessions where attendees will be able to engage with policy experts on topics such as educational equity, early literacy, early college, and the future of assessments to education-to-workforce. Events also include several “EdVision” keynotes, including a conversation between former President George W. Bush and former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. A full schedule and registration are available online.
Happening today — The deadline for students who graduated from high school for the 2019-2020 academic year to meet SAT or ACT test-score requirements to qualify for Bright Futures scholarships. Gov. DeSantis announced the extension in September after the 2019-2020 academic year due to interruption by the coronavirus pandemic.
“2020’s ‘insane’ hurricane season is officially over. Is it a sign of things to come?” via Alex Harris of the Miami Herald — It was clear way back in mid-September when the National Hurricane Center had already exhausted its regular list of names and turned to the Greek alphabet, that 2020 would be a hurricane season for the record books. It definitely was that. The season, which formally ends every Nov. 30, produced a stunning 30 named storms — breaking the 2005 record of 28. The eyebrow-raising number of storms could even grow a bit after the season’s formal end. Two systems wandering around harmlessly in the open Atlantic may yet gain strength and potentially, names. It all raises the question: Is 2020 a harbinger of things to come? So far, scientists say, they don’t see enough change in historical patterns to think so.
“Florida gas prices stay flat through Thanksgiving weekend” via Malena Carollo of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida’s gas prices are holding flat after hitting the lowest Thanksgiving weekend average in 12 years. Prices at the pump were $2.03 across the state for a gallon of regular unleaded gas, even from the same time last week, AAA, the Auto Club Group said. That made Thanksgiving Day prices the lowest since 2008 when gas cost $1.91 per gallon on average. Tampa Bay prices dipped slightly to $1.98 per gallon Monday, 1 cent lower than last week. While prices have held over the past few days, AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins said, they could inch up slightly over the week. That’s because optimism over potential COVID-19 vaccines pushed up crude oil prices to their most expensive since before the pandemic.
“Dozens of skimmers found at Florida gas stations” via The News Service of Florida — A recent inspection of 1,148 pumps at 38 gas stations in Orange County turned up seven electronic “skimmers” used to steal credit-card or debit-card information, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said. The finds follow similar inspections this month that turned up three skimmers at 121 stations between Pensacola and Live Oak, six at 28 facilities in Sunrise, 15 at 34 stations in West Palm Beach, two at 56 stations in Hernando County, and eight at 31 stations in St. Lucie County. The department said motorists should not use open or unlocked pumps where tamper-evident security tape has been cut or removed or that otherwise appear unusual.
“UF receives donation of 27,000 acres of Osceola County land” via Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel — The University of Florida announced it has accepted one of the largest donations of land to a university in taking possession of an undeveloped tract in south Osceola County larger than any Central Florida city but Orlando. The 27,000-acre parcel spans grazing land, citrus groves and extensive forests of longleaf pine. The university said it would maintain the landscape as a living laboratory for teaching and research in land and forest management, water storage and conservation, and insect and wildlife ecology. The property was donated by Elisabeth DeLuca, whose deceased husband was a founder of Subway. A conservation easement for the property was transferred to Ducks Unlimited, a group dedicated to promoting hunting and wetlands conservation.
“Florida to feel ‘coldest temperatures of the season.’ Frozen iguanas possible” via Michelle Marchante of the Miami Herald — When you wake up early Tuesday, you can say goodbye to hurricane season and hello to December and chilly temperatures. A front is expected to bring the “coldest temperatures of the season” this week, according to the National Weather Service. You also “can’t rule out an isolated falling iguana or two,” the weather service said. In case you need a reminder, iguanas are coldblooded, which means they slow down or become immobile when temperatures drop into the 40s. If you happen to see a frozen iguana, don’t worry, they are still breathing and will go back to normal once it warms up outside.
— LOBBYING REGS —
New and renewed lobbying registrations:
Matt Bryan, David Daniel, Thomas Griffin, Jeff Hartley, Lisa Hurley, Teye Reeves, Smith Bryan & Myers: Palm Beach County Tax Collector
Natalie Kato, Lewis Longman & Walker: The Clorox Company (Nutranext)
Steven Marin, Marin and Sons: Atlantic Pacific Communities, The Corradino Group, Inter Miami CF, MASTEC, Neogenomics Laboratories, University of Miami
Ethan Perry: Department of Economic Opportunity
Orlando Pryor, Strategos Public Affairs: Humana Medical Plan
Lisa Saliba: Executive Office of the Governor
Jason Steele, Smith & Associates: White Water Farms
Ronald Watson, Watson Strategies: American Freedom Information Institute
— LOCAL NOTES —
“Miami-Dade’s new Mayor tests positive for COVID-19, starts quarantine” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday and is experiencing mild symptoms, according to a spokeswoman. The county’s new Mayor linked her diagnosis to her husband, a doctor, contracting the virus from exposure to a patient. Levine Cava, 65, revealed the test result on a Twitter post. She said she’s “quarantining at home” with her husband, Dr. Robert Cava. A spokeswoman, Rachel Johnson, said Levine Cava has not been in contact with county employees since Wednesday and plans to participate in Tuesday’s County Commission meeting by phone.
“Commission to consider oyster harvesting ban” via The News Service of Florida — Members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will be asked on Dec. 16 to finalize the suspension of wild-oyster harvesting in Apalachicola Bay for the next five years. The issue, which will be part of a two-day online Commission meeting, stems from efforts to improve the oyster population and revitalize the collapsed fishery. Commissioners on July 22 directed agency Executive Director Eric Sutton to issue the ban through executive order. However, on Oct. 7, commissioners agreed to hear more input from residents in the Northwest Florida area about the $20 million revitalization plan.
“Martin County resident tests positive for West Nile virus, the first case in 20 years” via Catie Wegman of TC Palm — The Florida Department of Health confirmed a positive human case of West Nile virus in Martin County on Monday, the first in two decades, FDOH data shows. It is unknown when the last time a Martin County resident would have tested positive for the illness, as readily available information only dated back to 2000. St. Lucie and Indian River counties also haven’t seen a human case since at least 2003. “It’s unusual in that aspect,” Martin County health department spokesperson Renay Rouse said of the positive human case. “However, it does happen, and pretty strange things have happened in 2020.” It is most commonly spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito, according to the CDC. There are no vaccines to prevent it or medications to treat it in people. Most people infected do not feel sick and it is rarely fatal.
“How climate change could spark the next home mortgage disaster” via Zack Colman of POLITICO — Hialeah has been the gateway to the American middle class for thousands of Cuban immigrants. Behind the vibrant life in Hialeah is a troubling reality: flooding. Heavy rains overran the streets this year, last year, almost every year. And the problem is projected to get worse: Some scientists fear the city could be underwater within the lifetimes of some current residents. Despite that grim prognosis, the federal government keeps pumping mortgage money into Hialeah, as it does in hundreds of other communities now facing grave dangers from climate change.
“This Giving Tuesday, Tampa Bay nonprofits hope for some relief” via Divya Kumar of the Tampa Bay Times — Giving Tuesday couldn’t come soon enough for a hurting nonprofit sector, Tampa Bay industry experts say. The Community Foundation of Tampa Bay launched a nonprofits needs list in March to directly connect donors with nonprofits. Since its creation, the list has raised more than $3.6 million for nonprofits. But it still has more than 276 requests pending for more than $19 million in unmet needs. “The needs have been greater this year,” said Wilma Norton, the foundation vice president. “Giving Tuesday every year is really a reason for nonprofits to get their message out a little more broadly. It taps into people who are not regular givers.”
“USF honors college named for Judy Genshaft will get new building soon“ via Divya Kumar of the Tampa Bay Times — Initial construction has begun on the new Genshaft Honors College at the University of South Florida. The five-story, 85,000-square-foot building soon will rise on USF Genshaft Drive, north of the Muma College of Business. It will feature classrooms, study areas, faculty and adviser offices, event spaces, a computer lab and performance spaces. A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for Tuesday. Construction is projected to be finished by late fall 2022. The college, which was created in 2002 and later named after Genshaft, the former USF president, has raised $43 million in private gifts for the building. Genshaft and her husband, Steven Greenbaum, announced an initial donation of $20 million in May 2019.
“Florida politicos join forces on downtown St. Pete condo tower” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — What do you get when politics meets real estate? An 18-story, 81-unit condo tower in downtown St. Petersburg. Nick Hansen, a former adviser to Sen. Brandes and, most recently, a former executive with the medical marijuana dispensary company MedMen, and Jim Rimes, a prominent Republican consultant, are part of the team planning the Reflection tower on Mirror Lake. The first six floors of the building will include parking and about 5,300 square feet of ground-floor retail. The residences will be located on floors seven through 17, with the top floor dedicated to rooftop amenities with a view.
— TOP OPINION —
“Trump’s disgraceful endgame” via National Review editorial board — Behind in almost all the major polls, Trump stormed within a hair’s breadth in the key battlegrounds of winning reelection, and his unexpectedly robust performance helped put Republicans in a strong position for the post-Trump-presidency era. This is not nothing. But the President can’t stand to admit that he lost and so has insisted since the wee hours of Election Night that he really won — and won “by a lot.” What America has long expected is that losing candidates swallow those feelings and at least pretend to be gracious. If Trump’s not capable of it, he should at least stop waging war on the outcome.
— OPINIONS —
“The long darkness before dawn” via Donald G. McNeil Jr. of The New York Times — This holiday season presents a grim reckoning. The United States has reached an appalling milestone: more than one million new coronavirus cases every week. Hospitals in some states are full to bursting. The number of deaths is rising and seems on track to easily surpass the 2,200-a-day average in the spring. Some epidemiologists predict that the death toll by March could be close to twice the 250,000 figure that the nation surpassed only last week. By late December, the first doses of vaccine may be available to Americans, federal officials have said. Priorities are still being set, but vaccinations are expected to go first to health care workers, nursing home residents, and others at the highest risk.
“The COVID-19 vaccine is a gift from science. Accept it.” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — In three separate announcements in recent weeks, three scientific teams at different pharmaceutical companies have given a weary, frightened world what it needs: a verifiable path to defeat the coronavirus pandemic. Imagine again going to work and school, to restaurants and concerts without significant risk of infection. We are likely to get there in 2021 because a safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine appears on pace for emergency regulatory approval. This gift of science will be ready — if we accept it. Wait, if we accept it? The big question about a COVID-19 vaccine has shifted from efficacy to whether enough Americans will agree to receive it. Skepticism of inoculations is frustratingly widespread, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that they work.
“It doesn’t matter if DeSantis doesn’t like Joe Gruters” via Peter Schorsch and Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — In 2010, Gruters was 1 of 67 county GOP chairs in Florida. Fast-forward 10 years and Gruters, while still not a household name, has built a helluva resume. Now Gruters wants another term as Florida GOP Chair. Everyone’s on board except for maybe one important person: DeSantis. But here’s the rub … does it matter who DeSantis likes? Because DeSantis doesn’t really like anyone. DeSantis doesn’t like Rick Scott or Susie Wiles. He didn’t like his congressional colleagues. Oh, and in case you missed it, DeSantis definitely doesn’t like the media. So let’s not hold it against Gruters that DeSantis doesn’t like him — that’s just the default position for DeSantis.
— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —
Gov. DeSantis has emerged from his postelection cocoon. The last time DeSantis spoke with reporters was the day after the election when he bragged about the smooth vote count in Florida, promising he would have more to say in a couple of days.
Also, on today’s Sunrise:
— But instead of waiting until the end of the week, we had to wait until the end of the month. The reason was the Governor announced the state would allow students to continue with virtual learning next semester and schools would not face financial penalties. And while the number of COVID-19 cases is rising in Florida, DeSantis says the schools will remain open.
— Florida is about to reach another grim milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic. With today’s casualty figures, Florida will have more than 1 million cases of coronavirus. Only Texas and California have more.
— If you’re listening to this podcast, it means you’ve also survived another hurricane season; 2020 was the most active season since we started keeping records. Florida avoided the worst of it … except for the Panhandle.
— An education reform group created by former Gov. Bush is holding a three-day virtual event. Patricia Levesque with the Foundation for Excellence in Education says it’s for everyone who believes now is the time to retool our schools — and wants to get it right. EdPaloosa 2020 and it starts today. Former President George W. Bush and his younger brother Jeb are both taking part.
— And finally, a Florida Man to be released after more than 30 years in jail for a nonviolent marijuana offense, and a Florida Woman shot at her son’s funeral.
To listen, click on the image below:
— ALOE —
“NORAD Santa Tracker launches Tuesday” via Lolita Tegna of The Associated Press — Santa doesn’t start his rounds for another 24 days, but the NORAD Santa Tracker is set to launch on Tuesday with information and games ahead of the big night. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the North American Aerospace Defense Command will track Santa just as it has done for 65 years. But there will be some changes: Not every child will be able to get through to a volunteer at NORAD’s call center to check on Santa’s whereabouts, as they have in years before. This year, due to safety restrictions forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of volunteers has been drastically cut to what NORAD expects will be fewer than 10 people per shift.
“Orlando company rolls out virtual visits with Santa, Mrs. Claus” via Kate Santich of the Orlando Sentinel — An Orlando marketing firm has introduced virtual one-on-one visits with Santa during this socially distanced holiday season, giving kids a chance to share their wishes with the jolly old elf via cellphone, tablet or computer. Chit-Chat With Santa costs $28 to $35 for a video call lasting up to 10 minutes, with options for Mrs. Claus or a personalized video message. Don’t tell the kiddos, but parental input is critical. The service was launched by 82 South, billed as an “experiential” marketing company based in Orlando’s Baldwin Park. It’s available without downloading an app.
“FGCU Athletics Turns 20: What does the future hold for Eagles after skyrocketing to success?” via Adam Fisher of the Naples Daily News — FGCU held its first sporting event 20 years ago this fall. Since then the school has gone from NAIA to NCAA Division I, won dozens of conference championships, and every team sport has qualified for the NCAA tournament multiple times and won at least one tournament game. “If you would have asked me at the beginning what the next 10 years would look like, I would have been completely wrong,” said women’s basketball coach Karl Smesko, whose team’s first season was 2002-03. “If you asked me 10 years ago what the next 10 years would be like, I would have been completely wrong again.”
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Happy birthday to Brian Bautista of The Southern Group, Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times, Mitch Wertheimer, and Amy Young.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.