In this post: Coronavirus update. Ex-felons win voting rights lawsuit; state appeals. State seeks to scuttle absentee-ballot case, resists efforts to make voting safer. For this and more Florida politics news, read on …
Why Florida Failed Those it Failed
Officials for years warned that Florida was ill-equipped to respond to outbreaks, citing their concerns in state reports in 2010 and 2011, in a 2019 study by top health officers and in multiple budget requests over the course of a decade. But the warnings did not make it to the Legislature where they could have been openly debated.
- Florida’s path to pandemic: Warnings ignored, labs slashed, expertise lost. Actions a decade ago crippled Florida’s response to COVID-19. USA Today Network via Naples Daily News, 5/1/20
Unlike other states, which mandated diagnostic coronavirus tests of all residents and staff at homes with frail elders because of evidence that staff without symptoms were becoming lethal carriers:
- DeSantis rejects recommendation for state to test all elder care residents. Tampa Bay Times, 5/13/20
After failing to promptly identify outbreaks in elder care facilities, the state had to scramble to stem the tide of cases and deaths:
- State missteps failed frail in Florida’s nursing homes. The Ledger, 5/25/20
About 85% of Florida’s COVID-19 deaths have been among those 65 and older, and nearly half have been connected with long-term care facilities.
- ‘Gargantuan effort’ to test all Florida nursing homes for COVID-19 slowed by logistical, communication challenges. Naples Daily News, 5/29/20
And as the month was coming to an end:
- DeSantis’ indecision on extending eviction ban leaves renters, real estate in limbo. Palm Beach Post via Tallahassee Democrat, 5/29/20
Reopening the State
For a summary of the Governor’s executive orders governing reopening the state, visit https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/plan-for-floridas-recovery/.
- As Florida starts to reopen, fewer than 2% of residents have been tested for COVID-19. Miami Herald, 5/2/20
- Florida issues transfer orders to long-term care facilities. NBC Miami, 5/6/20
- Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried announces opening of campsites at state forests across Florida. Florida Politics, 5/8/20
- K-12 school superintendents lay out their proposal for reopening Florida schools. The Center Square | Florida, 5/14/20
- Restaurants go to half capacity, gyms reopen under Florida’s ‘full phase one’ plan. The Center Square | Florida, 5/15/20
- Gyms in Florida have mandatory safety rules to follow when they open. Here they are. Sun Sentinel, 5/17/20
- Ron DeSantis opens door to return of vacation rentals. Florida Politics, 5/17/20
- DeSantis lifts all restrictions on summer camps, youth activities effective immediately. Orlando Sentinel, 5/22/20
- Reopening blueprint approved for Florida public universities. APnews.com, 5/28/20
Effects on Upcoming Elections
In early May, a Democratic super PAC sued Gov. DeSantis and other state officials, challenging voting laws it argues could limit voter turnout this fall. The lawsuit joins an ongoing legal battle over voting in a key swing state.
- Priorities USA challenges Florida voting in light of coronavirus. Politico Florida, 5/4/20
As of May 13, Florida was one of just four states that had yet to accept federal funds to help it prepare for elections during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Florida supervisors urge DeSantis to ‘act immediately’ to accept federal election funds. Miami Herald, 5/13/20
- Groups push for federal funding to help election supervisors during coronavirus pandemic. Florida Today, 5/21/20
Uncertainty over the health risks of voting in August and November led three citizens to sue to have every registered voter in Florida get a mail-in ballot and have the state pay the return postage. The suit has been assigned to a judge, but no hearing has been set.
- Lawsuit aims to make it easier for Floridians to mail in votes. USA Today Network-Florida Capital Bureau, 5/20/20
- GOP enters legal fray over Florida vote-by-mail. Politico Florida, 5/21/20
- Floridians support voting changes, but poll reveals partisan divide. Politico Florida, 5/19/20
And state officials are pushing back:
- State seeks to scuttle absentee-ballot case. News Service of Florida via Naples Daily News, 5/28/20
Meanwhile Florida elections supervisors are urging voters to request mail-in ballots.
- Despite President Trump’s criticisms, FL elections supervisors say mail-in ballots are safe. Florida Phoenix, 5/20/20
- Testing for coronavirus antibodies to increase as Florida starts reopening, Gov. Ron DeSantis says. Sun Sentinel, 5/3/20
- DeSantis OKs plan to allow retailers’ pharmacists to conduct COVID-19 tests. The Center Square | Florida, 5/6/20
- Related: Ashley Moody busts Sarasota pharmacy dealing unapproved at-home COVID-19 test kits. Florida Politics, 5/27/20
- New policy mandates daily COVID-19 testing for Florida nursing home employees. The Center Square | Florida, 5/12/20
- DeSantis touts new walk-up coronavirus test sites at Home Depot, Publix amid hurricane prep. Orlando Sentinel, 5/29/20
According to floridahealthcovid19.gov, you should call your health care provider or county health department if you think you need a COVID-19 test. Find state-supported drive-thru testing sites at https://floridadisaster.org/covid19/testing-sites/.
Can the Data be Trusted?
- Florida medical examiners were releasing COVID-19 death data. The state made them stop. Tampa Bay Times via The Ledger, 4/30/29
- After refusing for weeks, Florida releases nursing home records, showing flurry of deaths. Miami Herald, 5/1/20
- CDC, Florida report vastly different coronavirus testing numbers. Orlando Sentinel, 5/19/20
- DeSantis calls data manipulation charge a “nonissue”. Florida Times-Union, 5/19/20
- Florida Gov. DeSantis fires data critic for ‘insubordination’. Miami Herald, 5/19/20
- Ousted manager was told to manipulate COVID-19 data before state’s re-opening, she says. Tampa Bay Times, 5/22/20
Unemployment and the State’s Still-Troubled System
As of May 29, 82 percent of the state’s two million confirmed unique unemployment claims submitted had been processed, according to its Claims Dashboard. That shows a significant improvement in the system that processes the state’s unemployment claims from what I shared last month, when less than half of the almost one million confirmed unique claims had been paid. During the month:
- Governor to Inspector General: Investigate the unemployment system. Florida Politics, 5/5/20
- As Florida’s unemployment debacle continues, call hold times are the newest plague. Florida Politics, 5/20/20
- Data breach at Florida’s unemployment system exposed personal information. Orlando Sentinel, 5/21/20
A second federal relief fund has been rolled into Florida’s aid programs, giving the state two pots of money in addition to its own from which to provide unemployment insurance benefits for Floridians.
- Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) now tracking third source of relief. Florida Politics, 5/7/20
- DEO extends work search waiver, unemployed to re-certify every two weeks. Florida Politics, 5/9/20
Under a 2011 Florida law, the maximum duration of jobless benefits is tied to the unemployment rate. At least until the first possible adjustment in October, those getting benefits now will only receive 12 weeks of state-paid benefits at most, even as the jobless rate is expected to skyrocket before then.
- Florida’s next unemployment crisis: Jobless benefits could run dry before economy revives. Orlando Sentinel, 5/17/20
- Florida Republicans want to shield businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits. Lawyers are pushing back. Tampa Bay Times, 5/1/20
- Is surging unemployment just the first domino to threaten Florida’s economy? Tampa Bay Times, 5/2/20
- Florida governor: Coronavirus pandemic ‘should not be used to bail out state obligations’ that preceded outbreak. TheHill.com, 5/3/20
- Florida’s CFO: Sales tax loss from COVID-19 pandemic a ‘catastrophic hit’. CBS Miami, 5/4/20
- City governments in Florida forced to declare bankruptcy? Lawmakers saying it could happen. Spectrum News 13, 5/8/20
- Florida’s CFO welcomes Elon Musk and Tesla with open arms. 5/12/20
- Florida revenues fall by nearly $900 million amid pandemic. Associated Press, 5/27/20
IN OTHER NEWS
2020 Legislative Session (continued)
The legislative session officially ended on March 19, but Gov. DeSantis has until June 30 to sign the 2020-21 budget.
Legislative approval is needed to use any of the state’s $4 billion in reserves to make up for revenue losses or to make substantial cuts to the spending plan. To date:
- Bid for special coronavirus session fails as state records highest one day case total in May. USA Today Network – Florida Capital Bureau via Naples Daily News, 5/9/20
By month’s end, there were 165 regular session bills that have yet to be sent to the Governor’s desk, which he must act upon by July 1.
- Set of 25 bills reaches DeSantis’ desk; disaster preparedness holiday starts Friday. The Center Square | Florida, 5/27/20
Voter Registration for Former Felons
Nearly a year after the Florida Legislature passed the law that requires people with felony convictions to pay all outstanding court debts in order to be eligible to vote, and two years after voters approved Amendment 4 to the state constitution aiming to end the lifetime ban on voting for most ex-felons:
- Federal judge strikes down restrictions on Florida felon voting. Politico Florida, 5/24/20
The judge asserted that requiring people with felony convictions to pay off costs and fees, which are separate from restitution paid to victims or fines ordered by a court, violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on poll taxes. As a result, the vast majority of more than 770,000 Florida felons who have outstanding financial obligations will be eligible to vote without taking any action.
- Federal judge takes matters into his own hands and devises felon-voting method for Florida. Sun Sentinel, 5/28/20
But the legal battle is far from over.
- Florida governor asks court to stay felon voting ruling. Reuters.com, 5/29/20
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta could temporarily stop the judge’s order or overturn it entirely. Attorneys on both sides expect the case to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
- ’A game-changer’: Five takeaways from the ruling on felon voting. Tampa Bay Times, 5/25/20
Meanwhile, Florida elections officials are moving ahead to comply with the order:
- State moves ahead after felons voting decision. Florida Politics, 5/30/20
Environment & Growth
- Site work begins for Everglades water treatment project. Associated Press, 4/30/20
- Land purchase finalized to prevent Everglades oil drilling. Sun Sentinel, 5/5/20
- FDOT announces second phase of critical infrastructure project accelerations. News Release, 5/8/20
- Public tells state to slow down on controversial toll roads. The News-Press via Naples Daily News, 5/12/20
- Army Corp’s ‘new start’ designation could bring new delays to EAA Reservoir project. winknews.com, 5/18/20
- Ron DeSantis, Cabinet approve adding 17,000 acres under Florida Forever Program. Florida Daily, 5/29/20@
Health, Safety & Welfare
- Florida extends food stamp benefits for families as it deals with application backlog. Miami Herald, 5/1/20
- Florida makes plans for dealing with COVID-19 in a hurricane. Associated
- 2020 hurricane season begins June 1; sales tax holiday will help you save money as you prepare. USA Today Network-Florida, 5/11/20 website
- The number of religious exemptions for kids’ vaccinations in Florida is at an all-time high. News Service of Florida via Orlando Weekly, 5/19/20
Law, Justice & the Courts
- Florida prison operator with worst COVID-19 safety record is money tree for politicians. Miami Herald, 5/1/20
- Chief Justice issues emergency order expanding remote hearings and suspending jury trials into early July statewide. Florida Supreme Court, 5/4/20
- Case challenging Florida law on medical marijuana licenses may hinge on ‘and’ vs. ‘or’. Miami Herald, 5/6/20
- State seeks renewed death sentences as Florida high court backtracks on unanimous juries. Tampa Bay Times, 5/18/20
- Florida AG: Nursing homes can’t claim your loved one’s stimulus payments. news4jax.com, 5/18/20
- Judge unlocks $500K in Florida domestic violence nonprofit’s frozen assets to pay bills, help victims. The Center Square | Florida, 5/26/20
- Mental health facility can’t be held liable for Parkland massacre, appeals court rules. News Service of Florida via Sun Sentinel, 5/27/20
Gov. DeSantis’ Judicial Appointments
Two Floridians from minority communities, both members of an influential conservative legal group, are Ron DeSantis’s latest picks for the state Supreme Court
- DeSantis sends Jamaican- and Cuban-American to Supreme Court. Associated Press, 5/26/20
After appointing two Florida Supreme Court justices, Governor DeSantis will have the opportunity to fill two vacancies in the District Appellate Courts:
- Gov. DeSantis to continue filling appellate bench. News Service of Florida via Florida Politics, 5/27/20
- Scott, DeSantis disagree on federal COVID-19 aid for states, cities to replace lost revenue. The Center Square | Florida, 5/4/20
- Marco Rubio pleads for more time for paycheck protection loans. Florida Politics, 5/19/20
- Sen. Rubio: Planned Parenthood affiliates don’t ‘qualify’ for $80 million in small business stimulus funding. The Daily Caller, 5/20/20
- Sen. Scott on reopening economy: Americans know what to do, quit telling us how to lead our lives. FOXNews.com, 5/21/20
- Sen. Rick Scott urges DOJ investigation after Planned Parenthood receives PPP. ABC7 via mysuncoast.com, 5/21/20
- Marco Rubio, Florida delegation want VA immediately review veterans pension claims after major delays. Florida Daily, 5/5/20
- Rick Scott introduces bill to streamline federal agencies. Florida Daily, 5/14/20
- Marco Rubio to lead Senate Intelligence Committee after Burr resigns. Miami Herald, 5/18/20
- Rick Scott calls on Americans to boycott China. Florida Politics, 5/12/20Florida