The Week in Florida Politics: Omicron ebbs, red meat fights swell

·3 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, center, speaks at a news conference alongside Fla. Rep. Tom Fabricio, left, Fla. Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller, center rear, and Broward County, Fla., Mayor Michael Udine, right, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, at Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, center, speaks at a news conference alongside Fla. Rep. Tom Fabricio, left, Fla. Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller, center rear, and Broward County, Fla., Mayor Michael Udine, right, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, at Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The omicron wave ebbed big time this week as Florida fell out of the Top 10 and dropped 26 spots to 37th among states where COVID-19 was spreading fastest. Great news right? Not so much when it comes to the politics of coronavirus in the Sunshine State.

For starters, the gulf between the governor and Florida health care specialists widened again.

Three Florida physicians urged Gov. Ron DeSantis and state Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo to stop "playing politics" and focus their attention on "actions that would save lives and prevent suffering on a larger scale."

Another group of medical experts — doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville — touted vaccinations as the best defense against getting sick.

A network of Black Florida pastors, citing the “neglect” of Black communities and “preferential treatment to others” during the COVID-19 pandemic, called on DeSantis to work with them.

But you know who refuses to heartily champion inoculations? DeSantis, who again refused to say whether he has received a booster shot.

DeSantis and Ladapo instead ripped the FDA's decision to pull authorization of COVID treatments because the federal agency said the therapies are ineffective against the omicron variant.

Ladapo also steeled himself for grilling by legislative Democrats at his confirmation hearing this week. Senate Democrats on the Senate Health Policy Committee abstained on voting as Republicans ushered the nomination along.

Across Florida, everyday people, businesses and institutions continue to wrestle with COVID. At the University of Florida, COVID-19 quarantine policies drew debate and concern about the impact on students and the broader community.

All this, as the public health director in this South Florida county said Floridians will have to “learn how to live” with the pandemic because the disease continues to spread among the unvaccinated. And, in Florida, live with pandemic politicization, too.

Red meat legislation moves ahead in Tallahassee

The omicron surge was in retreat, but political jousting was on the rise in the state capital.

Advocates for school choice held a rally at the Capitol that drew support from Republican lawmakers vowing to expand school choice for every child in Florida, regardless of socioeconomic status. By contrast, opponents of abortion restrictions also held a protest against legislation being proposed in Tallahassee.

While the people spoke out, red meat legislation went full steam ahead in Tallahassee.

House Republicans pushed ahead a proposed bill limiting how various race-related concepts, popularly known as critical race theory, are discussed in classrooms and how they may be used in diversity training by Florida businesses.

The GOP-majority in the Senate also moved forward on a bill that would allow businesses to sue local governments over regulations. That measure has drawn concern that counties and cities would be overwhelmed by litigation.

Another bill would prevent cities and counties from imposing minimum wage mandates if pay exceeds $10 an hour.

But you can't have a red meat menu in Tallahassee without immigration being an entrée. So lawmakers have lined up behind DeSantis' call to broaden a ban on “sanctuary cities” by discouraging airlines, bus companies and organizations from assisting the federal government in relocating undocumented immigrants to Florida.

While the governor and his legislative allies were grandstanding, Florida got a reminder that immigration-related tragedies happen off our coast. A boat believed to be smuggling migrants to the state's shores capsized at sea and dozens of people were missing and presumed lost.

One other note of political ugliness. A 60-year-old Palm Beach Gardens man pleaded guilty to charges of making violent threats against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional Democrats. He faces up to 15 years in prison.

But we will end on a happy note. A belated happy birthday greeting Wally Neef of Nokomis, Fla. Neef, a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, turned 100 last month.

Want to hear more about the week in Florida politics? Listen to our Inside Florida Politics podcast by clicking here.

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This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Inside Florida Politics for Jan. 28, 2022

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