It’s Monday, May 31, Memorial Day, and time to commemorate the men and women whose profound sacrifices allow us to gather freely today.
Let’s think of our fathers, mothers, uncles and aunts, cousins, brothers and sisters whose service to this country preserved our fragile freedoms.
As we struggle in this era of deep national distrust and polarization, remember those who served were protecting Republicans and Democrats. They didn’t care if people watched “corporate media” or believed conspiracy theories. They didn’t measure their commitment by the color of their skin or their ethnic heritage. They were devoted to all of America’s people, and fought to protect the cacophony of its diverse and conflicting voices. As a gesture of gratitude, perhaps be kind to someone you disagree with today.
WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT
Violence in Miami: Two people were killed and 20 wounded early Sunday morning in a shootout that began when three showww.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article251783868.html?utm_source=pushly&intcid=pushly_1047647oters wearing ski masks and hoodies sprayed bullets at a crowd gathered for a rap album release concert in Northwest Miami-Dade. Police said it was the worst mass shooting in the county in recent memory and punctuated a year of increasing alarm over a rise in shootings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Three of those injured are in critical condition, according to police.
Targeting gun violence: Miami-Dade County elected leaders plan to spend millions of dollars this summer targeting gun violence. The money will come from a naming-rights deal the county secured at the Miami Heat’s county-owned arena. On Sunday, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said her “Peace and Prosperity” plan was still being updated as the administration awaits a commission vote. She said to expect more funding for police analysts to monitor social media and an expansion of the county’s existing surveillance camera program.
Unemployment payments end: Florida’s unemployment agency announced last week that it would stop jobless Floridians from receiving an additional $300 in weekly benefits starting the week of June 27. The federal program, which was set to end in September, has been giving jobless Floridians an additional $300 in weekly benefits on top of eligible state benefits, which top out at $275 per week, one of the lowest rates in the nation. But the Department of Economic Opportunity announced it would end the program early because companies have been experiencing labor shortages in the wake of the pandemic.
Reprimand over COVID transparency: A national accrediting organization slapped the Florida Department of Health for its data transparency. The reprimand came May 17, eight months after a Broward parent complained in October that DOH was not providing “accurate records regarding COVID-19 infection rates in schools” and issued incomplete data. During the course of the investigation, the accrediting board noted an improvement in the public reporting of school-related case data. (See our transparency timeline for context.) By the conclusion of the investigation, the board issued its gentlest reprimand, saying that while the health department was generally in line with accreditation standards, it should have done a better job sharing the data it had with the public.
Jones granted whistleblower status: The Department of Health’s Chief Inspector General Michael J. Bennett has granted whistleblower status to Rebekah Jones who was fired from the agency a year ago after raising concerns about “misleading data” being presented to the public.
Jones’ complaint demonstrates “reasonable cause to suspect that an employee or agent of an agency or independent contractor has violated any federal, state or local law, rule or regulation,’’ Bennett wrote. But Taryn Fenske, the DeSantis administration’s communications director noted: “Whistleblower status doesn’t substantiate any claims. It simply provides confidentiality, and means someone made a complaint.”
Salemi trusts DOH data: Meanwhile, University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi who publishes a COVID dashboard released a video last week, explaining that he doesn’t have access to the raw data at the Department of Health, but he vets DOH data and trusts it. “I don’t really know the truth,’’ he says but he vets what he uses. He notes how Florida’s pediatric hospitalizations as presented by DOH initially didn’t make sense and asked the agency to correct it and they did. He uses data from several sources on his dashboard, including DOH, and tries to present it in a meaningful way. “If I really thought there was a problem, I would immediately not present that data.” Just as important, he said, is putting the data in its proper context.
No masks outdoors: Miami-Dade County Public Schools students will no longer need to wear masks while doing outside activities for the rest of the school year, which ends in two weeks, the school district announced in a tweet on Saturday. The change in policy follows an agreement reached with the United Teachers of Dade.
Marijuana law withstands challenge: The Florida Supreme Court issued a long-awaited ruling that found Florida’s regulation of the fledgling medical marijuana industry are constitutional. Florigrown, the Tampa company which was denied a license to become a medical marijuana treatment center, argued that the barriers to entry violating the 2016 constitutional amendment authorizing marijuana in Florida for medical use.
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
Welcome cryptophiles: This week Miami will host what may be the largest cryptocurrency conference the world has ever seen. Organizers are expecting as many as 50,000 to descend on the county for Bitcoin 2021. Headliners include Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, legendary pro skater Tony Hawk and a cavalcade of crypto gurus. Kicking off Thursday, the event is already sold out.
Big Tech crackdown: Florida became the first state to make it harder for social media companies to punish users who spread misinformation or remove political candidates that violate their rules. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the legislation last week which also makes it easier for Florida’s attorney general and individuals to sue “big tech.”
A problem with enforcement: DeSantis is attracting national attention with the new law, including the part that requires the Florida Elections Commission to impose fines of $250,000 for any platform that kicks off a candidate for violating its rules, as they did the former president. But, it turns out, the 9-member elections commission won’t be able to do that. There are five vacancies on the board because the governor has failed to appoint members. By law, the elections commission is supposed to have five Republicans and four Democrats. Right now, it is comprised of three Democrats and one Republican, with four of the five empty seats belonging to the GOP.
Apparently this is not a new problem. “This administration is much, much slower in making appointments,” Ed Tellechea, an assistant attorney general who provides legal advice to the elections commission, told the Sun-Sentinel. He said vacancies are also a problem with the Department of Health and boards that regulate professions.
Condoning excessive force: Video proof emerged this week that an inmate being transferred to the Charlotte Correctional Institution was repeatedly slammed onto the pavement and gang-tackled by five Department of Corrections officers while he was restrained in leg shackles and handcuffs. The leaked video obtained by the Miami Herald was reviewed by the agency’s Inspector General who concluded no rules were violated. It is the latest evidence that the Florida Department of Corrections condones excessive force against inmates and appears to allow the inaccurate reporting of those incidents by prison staff. The agency never allows the footage to be seen by the public or reviewed by independent watchdogs.
Legislators speak out: In response to the report, South Florida state Sens. Jason Pizzo and Shevrin Jones joined Orlando House Rep. Dianne Hart and called for structural changes and an end to abusive behavior in the state’s prison system. As in most states, Florida’s prison officials investigate much of their own alleged misconduct.
Cruises clash: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the green light to Royal Caribbean Group to operate the first passenger cruise from Fort Lauderdale in June. But the decision is moving headlong into a conflict with the governor. The CDC recommends all cruise passengers be vaccinated, but doesn’t require it. The agency has given cruise companies two options: meet vaccination thresholds of 98% of crew and 95% of passengers on the ship and start revenue cruises immediately, or forego the thresholds and first perform test cruises to ensure COVID protocols are working. The governor has signed into law legislation that prevents cruise companies from asking passengers for proof of vaccination. The law takes effect July 1.
Get vaccinated in your bathing suit: In the race to vaccinate as many Americans as possible, it has come to this: You can now get a COVID-19 shot while wearing your Speedo. In an effort to boost the number of Florida residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine, counties have turned to enticing people by offering vaccines at sites like Heat basketball games and Memorial Day beach events.
Another reason to get vaccinated: A new study out of the University of Michigan indicates that 45% of COVID-19 patients hospitalized during the first months of the pandemic experienced “significant functional decline” upon returning home. The team reviewed nearly 300 charts of adult patients from 20 to 95 years old hospitalized for COVID-19 at the University of Michigan Hospital between March and April 2020. The analysis included discharge locations and therapy needs at the time of release. Patients that experienced physical loss required medical equipment such as canes, wheelchairs or shower seats, outpatient therapy, caregiver assistance and diet changes, according to the analysis. The bottom line: although new coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths are on the decline, there is still much we don’t know about the virus, including brain fog, kidney damage and scarred lungs and physical decline.
Patronis won’t be charged: Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis will not face charges for releasing an employee’s sexual harassment complaint, a possible violation of state law, the Leon County state attorney’s office said.
Artiles’ lawyers want records sealed: Former state Sen. Frank Artiles’ defense team is asking a Miami District Court judge to hold back releasing a “voluminous” amount of potential evidence — including cellphone records, photographs, emails and other documentation — to the public because it would interfere with Artiles’ right to a fair trial and “infringe on the privacy rights of nonparties.”
UM’s self-inflicted wound: The University of Miami has gave itself a black eye for the way it handled the removal of UM Law School Dean Anthony Varona. UM President Julio Frenk made the announcement without warning in an email on Tuesday, sparking an outcry among faculty, students, alumni and other law professionals. Although he didn’t provide specific reasons for the termination, Frenk alluded to problems with fundraising, a decline in national rankings and low UM passage rates for the Florida Bar exam. By Friday, about about 60 University of Miami law school alumni sent a letter to top university administrators strongly critical of the decision and requested a meeting.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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