Nikki Fried’s Flawed Mask Mandate Defense – POLITICO – Politico

Hello and welcome to Friday.

The opposition — Agriculture Commissioner — and Democratic candidate for governor — Nikki Fried has been fairly constant in her criticism of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ handling of the Covid-19 crisis. But her latest effort didn’t appear to go as planned.

Pre-emptive move — Hours before the State Board of Education was set to impose sanctions on school districts that have imposed strict mask mandates in defiance of the governor and his administration, Fried held a press conference touting information she said showed that there were far fewer Covid-19 cases in school districts with mask mandates. She maintained the data proved DeSantis was “lying about masks in schools.”

Uh oh — But it turned out there were problems with the data Fried’s team at the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services put together. One outlet — the left-leaning Florida Phoenix — found a “significant error” that Fried’s office had used data from a medium-sized school district and incorrectly labeled it as a rural district on Florida’s Gulf Coast. This forced Fried’s office to recalculate the data and send out a second press release on the information.

Also weighing in — The Department of Health — which yes, is run by the DeSantis administration — also railed at Fried’s analysis and contended that the entire presentation was misleading because it relied on data from 33 districts that have public dashboards listing Covid-19 case information. “This immediately skews data,” DOH asserted because 42 percent of students from counties without strict mask mandates were excluded from the analysis. DOH also noted that the numbers were based on different timelines since school districts reopened at different times.

Important to note — Over the course of the pandemic, the DeSantis administration has been sued multiple times now over its refusal to turn over certain information and data related to Covid-19. Fried noted that her office asked for detailed reports from DOH back in August and have yet to receive them. And DeSantis himself initially defended his anti-mask mandate stance by citing a study that did not deal with the Delta variant.

— WHERE’S RON? — Nothing official announced for Gov. DeSantis.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Florida Playbook will not publish on Monday, Oct. 11. We will back on our normal schedule on Tuesday, Oct. 12. Please continue to follow POLITICO Florida.

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TRYING TO FIGURE IT OUT — “Thousands of students tested positive for COVID since August but info is still scare, imperfect,” by Florida Phoenix’s Danielle J. Brown: “Since the start of the 2021-22 school year, at least 9,210 public school students tested positive for COVID-19 in Hillsborough County schools in the Tampa Bay area — the highest number of student cases from an analysis of about half the districts in Florida. Orange County School District followed, with 5,529 student cases since the week of Aug 9. Pasco had 5,320 cases, Palm Beach, 4,934, and Pinellas, 4,297, according to an analysis by Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. In all, 65,397 public school students contracted COVID-19 through late September. The analysis had holes and a significant error — which Fried’s office later corrected — the Florida Phoenix found, but Fried presented the data to inform the public about school COVID cases.”

The daily rundown — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that there were 3,841 Covid-19 infections on Wednesday. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 4,409 beds were being used in the state for Covid-19 patients. The Florida Hospital Association reported Thursday that 17.8 percent of adult patients in intensive care units are infected with Covid-19.

MASK WARS — “Florida increases funding cuts on schools over masking feud to get around Biden administration,” by POLITICO’s Arek Sarkissian: The Florida Board of Education on Thursday approved withholding funds from school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis’ masking policies — with the amount equal to the Biden administration’s financial help to those districts. Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran also wants to further cut the state salaries of school board officials for eight county school districts — Alachua, Brevard, Broward, Duval, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange and Palm Beach — that still require face masks in the classroom.

Corcoran’s law — He said efforts by President Joe Biden to offset the state’s enforcement of law with federal grant funding has undermined the state board’s power and require a swift response. “If the federal government can simply backfill or [bypass] all school districts with grants, then this board’s enforcement authority is in essence neutralized, nullified, and abolished,” Corcoran said at a Board of Education meeting.

THE TOLL — “‘An insane amount of money’: Florida’s demand for travel nurses raises concerns of price gouging,” by Naples Daily News’ Liz Freeman: “Florida’s hospital association declined to say whether price gouging is occurring or if a statewide investigation is warranted, but ‘we are closely watching what is going on in California and other states,’ said Mary Mayhew, the group’s president and chief executive officer. Hospitals in Florida have responded to staffing shortages differently, but nearly every hospital is using travel nurses to combat the shortage and handle surging patient volumes due to the pandemic, Mayhew said. The cost hospitals are paying for travel nurses is a huge concern.”

— “Florida judge hears testimony on ‘vaccine passport’ ban,” by News Service of Florida

FACEBOOK INQUIRY IS… WELL — Secretary of State Laurel Lee on Thursday didn’t have a lot of answers about what Florida is going to do about Facebook. Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis directed Lee to launch an investigation into whether the tech giant had broken any state election laws. DeSantis based his directive on recent reports in The Wall Street Journal where some users — including political candidates — may have been exempt from certain rules regarding content.

Where is this going? — What was unclear is exactly what Florida election law Facebook could have violated. The other problem is that Lee’s office does not handle investigations internally and usually hands any complaints off to law enforcement or other regulatory bodies. Lee, who answered questions following an online voter registration workshop, said her agency was “working to review all provisions” of election law and “assess the scope of our authority.” Lee added that “we share the governor’s concerns and want to ensure that we understand how their practices and policies may have affected Florida voters.” She went on to say that “any effort to manipulate or withhold important information to voters” is something they are aware of and “working to combat.”

NEW EFFORT — “Haley, Scott, Rubio advising group pushing for GOP diversity,” by The Associated Press’s Meg Kinnard: “The Republican State Leadership Committee launched its ‘Right Leaders Network’ on Thursday, according to information it shared with The Associated Press. Its goal is ‘prioritizing electing more women, as well as candidates from communities of color and diverse backgrounds.’ The effort aims to use former state-level politicians who ascended to higher office to serve as mentors for up-and-coming GOP leaders. That, the organization told the AP, is part of the reason for its advisory council, whose leadership includes Sens. Marco Rubio and Tim Scott, as well as former U.N. Ambassador and ex-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.”

Not impressed — “Gabrielle Chew, spokeswoman for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, expressed skepticism at the effort, arguing that 40% of Democratic state legislators are people of color, compared to 2% on the Republican side. ‘This effort is laughable coming from a group who supports Republican lawmakers that have passed voter suppression laws targeting communities of color, employed radical racial gerrymandering to win majorities, and banned abortions after 6 weeks,’ Chew wrote to the AP in an email.”

NOT ME — “Legislators dispute claim that they are intentionally shielding restricting data,” by Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas: “Two University of Florida political science professors who were involved in helping uncover the Florida Legislature’s redistricting scandal a decade ago are accusing Republican leaders this time of using outside contracts to intentionally shield redistricting data and mapping details from the public. Daniel A. Smith, chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Florida, and Michael McDonald, a redistricting expert who is also a professor in the department, detailed their allegations in an op-ed published in the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday.”

Response — “The Florida Senate and House deny the allegations and asked that the column be retracted because it ‘contains inaccurate and misleading information,’ said Senate spokesperson Katie Betta and House spokesperson Jenna Sarkissian.”

FEC QUESTIONS RICK SCOTT — The Federal Elections Commission this week asked whether Florida Sen. Rick Scott was accepting contributions from foreign nationals. The FEC noted that Scott’s campaign account earlier this year had accepted two donations totaling $4,900 from a donor with a London address. It turns out the two checks were from Riaz Valani, one of the initial investors in Juul, the e-cigarette company that is wrapped up in a big legal battle. Scott’s campaign treasurer quickly responded to the FEC one day later and assured them that Valani’s contribution was from personal funds and Valani’s representative was a U.S. citizen living in London.

— “Broward elected officials turn out for Charlie Crist, argue he’s Democrats’ best hope against DeSantis,” by Sun Sentinel’s Anthony Man

— “Bovo ‘honored’ to score Trump endorsement in Hialeah’s mayoral race,” by Miami Herald’s Bianca Padró Ocasio and Aaron Leibowitz

LAST STATE TO APPLY — “Florida submits plan for final $2.3 billion in school relief,” by The Associated Press’ Brendan Farrington: “Florida submitted its plan to draw down its remaining $2.3 billion in federal school relief money late Wednesday, proposing to boost reading and math programs and help students who want to learn a trade. The plan also acknowledges the challenges of the pandemic, encouraging mask use and devoting money for online learning. The 342-page plan was submitted two days after the U.S. Department of Education asked why Florida was the only state in the nation that hadn’t submitted its proposal for the third phase of coronavirus relief money.”

— “Tallahassee may join in legal challenge to Florida’s ‘anti-riot’ law,” by Tallahassee Democrat’s Karl Etters

LITTLE TURBULENCE — “Miami politician asked to lead federal unemployment programs faces Senate questioning,” by Miami Herald’s Alex Daugherty: “The two-hour hearing featured few tough questions, though one Republican asked [José Javier] Rodríguez what he would do to limit fraudulent unemployment claims and another insisted that another unemployment crisis is looming as employers begin to mandate COVID-19 vaccines. ‘If confirmed I hope to serve the many Americans who need and deserve a responsible, modernized workforce system,’ Rodríguez said at the hearing. ‘Federal resources must deliver equitable outcomes from communities most affected by income inequality and poverty.’”

‘YOU’RE NOT DROWING ANYMORE’ — “Disney World workers celebrate new $15 wage: ‘I can do the things that I’ve always wanted to do,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Katie Rice: “Disney workers reached the full $15 minimum wage Sunday, during the same weekend the resort began celebrating its 50th anniversary. For many employees, the increased income over the past three years has been life-changing: they’ve been able to pay off debt, buy houses and start planning for the future.”

A new start? — “‘I kind of feel more like myself, or a human being, if you would, because I can do the things that I’ve always wanted to do,’ [Diego] Henry [Jr.] said. With Disney and Universal now paying employees $15 an hour — and the state minimum wage rising to the same level by 2026 — many workers are experiencing new economic mobility, potentially signaling a positive shift in Central Florida’s low-wage, tourism-dependent economy.”

TO COURT — “Fired president of South Florida company accuses German bosses of antisemitism and age discrimination,” by Sun Sentinel’s Ron Hurtibise: “After spending a decade turning the company’s North American division into a multimillion-dollar operation with products in more than 30,000 stores, [David] Kronrad was fired and replaced by a ‘less qualified’ non-Jewish German woman in her 30s, his lawsuit states. The suit includes a lengthy list of accusations of antisemitic comments and behavior by executives over Kronrad’s tenure, including insinuations that Jewish people are ‘cheap,’ that executives were proud of the company’s support of the Nazis in World War II, and that Jewish employees were singled out for criticism.”

— “100-plus Afghan refugees expected to resettle in Tallahassee over the next year,” by Tallahassee Democrat’s Jeff Burlew

— “Council members express support for removing Confederate monument from Springfield Park,” by Florida Times-Union’s David Bauerlein

— “Marvel actor Dave Bautista unleashes frustrations with Tampa ‘bureaucrats,’” by Tampa Bay Times’ Sharon Kennedy Wynne: “Marvel actor and former WWE star Dave Bautista has taken to social media over the last few days, blasting the city of Tampa for what he says is a frustrating process of getting power hooked up for additions to his Port Tampa-area home. City inspectors say there are specific technical and safety issues at stake, like a generator Bautista’s contractor installed in a flood zone. ‘Our permitting process is designed to protect the public,’ said city spokesman Adam Smith.”

— “Florida man guilty of Chauvin lawyer threat in Floyd case,” by The Associated Press: “A Florida man has pleaded guilty to threatening to kill a lawyer who represented the former Minneapolis police officer convicted in the death of George Floyd. William John Hartnett made the threat in a phone call from Miami on April 6, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a news release Thursday. Hartnett, 42, faces a maximum of five years in prison at his sentencing Dec. 15. He pleaded guilty to one count of transmitting a threat through interstate communications.”

BIRTHDAYS: Former state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen … Vivian Myrtetus, head of partnerships and policy at Helbiz … Curtis Richardson, Tallahassee city commissioner and former state representative.

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