Hello and welcome to Friday.

The daily rundown — Between Wednesday and Thursday, the number of Florida coronavirus cases increased by 7,939 (nearly 0.4 percent), to 2,104,686; active hospitalizations decreased 15 (nearly 0.5 percent), to 3,030; deaths of Florida residents rose by 84 (0.2 percent), to 33,906; 6,786,461 Floridians have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

Walking it back? — As Republicans nationally engage in a fierce war of words and talk of boycotts amid the fallout from Georgia’s elections overhaul (and Major League Baseball’s decision to yank the All-Star Game from Atlanta), the GOP-controlled Florida House is starting to pare back its election legislation.

Stricken — A House panel revamped a 51-page elections bill Thursday evening (don’t you love late-night meetings?). One key passage that was stricken from the bill? A blanket prohibition on handing out food and water to voters standing within 150-feet of polling places.

Changes — The initial Florida House proposal did not go as far as the language in the Georgia law, which bans anyone from coming within 25 feet of voters anywhere in line, that drew the ire of President Joe Biden and voting rights advocates. Still, Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, the former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and the bill’s sponsor, swapped in softer wording that says it would be illegal for someone to be in that zone with the intent of “influencing a voter.”

Violations could still occur — Ingoglia, however, warned that candidates could still violate the provision. “If Ron DeSantis started walking up and down the line, handing out stuff to voters in line within the 150 feet, I’d dare to say your nominee would say he was trying to influence the vote.”

Georgia on my mind? — He also told reporters after the meeting that he wasn’t making the change in response to Georgia. “I don’t care what people are saying in Georgia. What I care about is Florida and our election laws,” Ingoglia said.

P.O.V. — Ingoglia — who asserted that Florida already offers much more access to voting than Democratic-run states such as New York — also dared corporations to “say we are restricting access to the polls.” That said, Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee still voted against the legislation. The measure imposes restrictions on the use of drop boxes and who can pick up and deliver mail-in ballots.

Not a done deal — The House proposal, however, still has significant differences with a Senate version that need to be worked out over the remaining three weeks of session. The Senate bill bans drop boxes entirely and would force all voters to resubmit mail-in ballot requests for the upcoming 2022 election.

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

— WHERE’S JEANETTE? — Lt. Gov. Nunez is scheduled to be in Fernandina Beach where she will be the keynote speaker at a meeting of the Federated Republican Women of Nassau County.

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A message from Floridians for Affordable Rx:

For too many Floridians, prescription drugs are unaffordable, and that’s unacceptable. That’s why it’s time to take politics out of prescriptions and find real solutions to lower Rx costs for all Floridians. The key to lowering drug costs is through increased competition, not big government mandates on private-sector tools used to reduce costs. The independent pharmacy lobby’s special interest agenda undermines access to affordable prescription drugs. Learn more: Floridians for Affordable Rx

THE PLOT THICKENS — “Former senator Artiles, no-party candidate face new charges in spoiler election scheme,” by Miami Herald’s Ana Ceballos and Samantha J. Gross: “Prosecutors on Thursday filed new felony charges against Frank Artiles, a Republican operative and former state senator, and Alexis Rodriguez, an auto-parts dealer who authorities say was recruited and paid by Artiles to sway the outcome of a Miami-Dade state Senate race. The new charges — filed in the 11th Judicial Circuit in Miami-Dade County — expand on a criminal case that accuses Artiles of paying Rodriguez nearly $50,000 to run as an independent in Miami-Dade’s Senate District 37 race.”

— “Search warrant: Artiles had paperwork for NPA candidate in second Miami Senate race,” by Miami Herald’s Samantha J. Gross and Ana Ceballos

PALM BEACH STORY — Florida’s top three Republicans — Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Rick Scott — will among the long list of potential 2024 contenders who will parade through the Republican National Committee spring donor retreat being held primarily at the Four Seasons Hotel in Palm Beach. Rubio is scheduled to speak to donors late Friday, while Scott and DeSantis will talk on Saturday.

What they will be talking about — Scott, who is chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is expected to discuss the 2022 elections and efforts to win back the Senate. Rubio will discuss what the Republican Party stands for and the need to stand up to corporations and others who oppose their positions. He will also play up the success of the Paycheck Protection Program that he helped create.

REDISTRICTING BATTLE LOOMS — A coalition of groups, including those who helped push Florida’s Fair Districts constitutional amendment into law, are calling on state legislators to sign the Fair Districts pledge ahead of the next redistricting effort that will occur in early 2022. The Fair Districts law imposes standards on how to draw legislative and congressional districts that call for compact districts that do not favor one party over the other.

Ready to go to court — During the last go-round, lawsuits were filed that successfully asserted the Republican-controlled Legislature failed to follow those standards. On Thursday, the Fair Districts Coalition said it was prepared to go to court again even though the ideological makeup of the state Supreme Court has shifted to the right. “It’s way too early to know, but we have great hope and confidence that the Legislature is going to do the right thing this time,” said Ellen Friedin. Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said her group was “prepared to do everything we can” to have fair districts and make the process “transparent and open.”

Pushing back — But the League and the coalition’s efforts are already under attack. Carlos Trujillo, a former U.S. ambassador under Donald Trump and ex-state legislator, said he had “no doubt there will be a lawsuit” because the groups were unable last time “to achieve their desired outcome.” “It is unfortunate that groups like this will spread misinformation on our democratic process,” Trujillo said in a statement to Playbook. “They are sowing doubt and discord and blaming their misinformed narrative on legislatures who are working hard for the people of their district.”

FIGURING OUT THE ANGLES — “Alcee Hastings death could give DeSantis a chance to put Republicans on county commissions,” by Sun Sentinel’s Anthony Man: “The longstanding goal of two Broward County commissioners to succeed the late U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings will give Gov. Ron DeSantis the opportunity to place two Republicans on the county commission. Currently, all nine commissioners in the overwhelmingly Democratic county are Democrats.”

The process — “Under Florida’s resign to run law, the county commissioners would have to submit resignations to run for Congress, said Mark Herron, a Tallahassee attorney who practices election law. The resignations are irrevocable. And once the county commission offices are vacant, DeSantis gets to pick the replacements.”

HMM — “Key figure in Matt Gaetz probe likely cooperating with federal prosecutors,” by POLITICO’s Josh Gerstein: The legal peril Rep. Matt Gaetz is facing appeared to increase sharply Thursday after a court hearing indicated that one of Gaetz’s close friends, former Seminole County, Fla., tax collector Joel Greenberg, is likely cooperating with federal prosecutors. The potentially ominous development for the close ally of former President Donald Trump came as prosecutors and a defense attorney for Greenberg appeared before a judge here to discuss the next steps in a recently expanded criminal case charging Greenberg with sex trafficking of a minor, as well as stalking, bribery and defrauding the pandemic-related Paycheck Protection Program. “I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Greenberg’s defense attorney, Fritz Scheller, said after the hearing.

THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY — “Gaetz-tied group threatens to sue reporters writing on his Trump relationship,” by POLITICO’s Gabby Orr and Meridith McGraw: A boutique conservative consultancy group working on behalf of Rep. Matt Gaetz is threatening to sue journalists for their coverage of the embattled congressman. The entity, Logan Circle Group, is run by Harlan Hill, a former Democrat who became a top Trump surrogate during the 2016 presidential election. The official behind the recent legal threats is Erin Elmore, a colleague of Hill’s at the Washington-based consulting firm and a Season 3 contestant on “The Apprentice.”

CHEYENNE, WY – JANUARY 28: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) speaks to a crowd during a rally against Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) on January 28, 2021 in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Gaetz added his voice to a growing effort to vote Cheney out of office after she voted in favor of impeaching Donald Trump. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images) | Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

MORE DETAILS — “Gaetz paid accused sex trafficker, who then Venmod’s teen,” by The Daily Beast’s Jose Pagliery and Roger Sollenberger: “In two late-night Venmo transactions in May 2018, Rep. Matt Gaetz sent his friend, the accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, $900. The next morning, over the course of eight minutes, Greenberg used the same app to send three young women varying sums of money. In total, the transactions amounted to $900. The memo field for the first of Gaetz’s transactions to Greenberg was titled “Test.” In the second, the Florida GOP congressman wrote “hit up ___.” But instead of a blank, Gaetz wrote a nickname for one of the recipients.”

MORE NAMES DRAWN INTO PROBE — “Indicted Matt Gaetz associate is expected to plead guilty, lawyers say,” by The New York Times’ Patricia Mazzei, Katie Benner and Michael S. Schmidt: “Among the matters under scrutiny in the investigation is a trip that Mr. Gaetz took to the Bahamas with Republican allies including Jason Pirozzolo, an Orlando-based surgeon who has raised funds for Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, and a group of women, according to four people with knowledge of the inquiry… Immigration authorities stopped one of two planes taken by the group on its return to the United States, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., three of the people said. It is unclear why the plane was stopped, but two of the people said that among those aboard was Halsey Beshears, who served in Mr. DeSantis’s administration until he resigned in January, citing health reasons.”

And a state Senate race is drawn into the mix — “Investigators have also learned in recent months about a potential allegation involving a State Senate race in 2020, in which an associate of Mr. Gaetz’s, Jason T. Brodeur, ran for an open seat. Mr. Gaetz, a Republican who represents the Florida Panhandle, and an ally in Florida politics, the lobbyist Chris Dorworth, discussed the possibility of putting a third-party candidate on the ballot to help Mr. Brodeur, according to two people told of the conversation.”

— “Joel Greenberg paid $7,500 to Anthony Sabatini while Seminole Tax Collector,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Jason Garcia and Gray Rohrer

— “Another aide to Matt Gaetz is said to have quit amid an intensifying Justice Department investigation,” by The New York Times’ Nicholas Fandos and Catie Edmundson

— “Who is Jason Pirozzolo? Politically-connected Orlando hand surgeon reportedly tied to Gaetz probe,” by Orlando Sentinel’s David Harris

— “The case against Joel Greenberg: Records show how smear letters spurred sprawling prosecution,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Jeff Weiner and Martin E. Comas

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STAYING PUT — “Dozens of state employees remain on job past their retirement under DeSantis pandemic order,” by POLITICO’s Matt Dixon: More than 80 senior level state employees have stayed on the job past mandatory retirement dates, a move allowed under a legal interpretation of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Covid-19 executive order. DeSantis issued his first pandemic-related executive order in March 2020, a move that gave him “emergency powers” to combat the coronavirus. Under that order, the DeSantis administration has said “mission critical” employees enrolled in a deferred retirement program allows state employees to collect both a paycheck and pension to stay on the job past mandatory retirement dates.

EDGING CLOSER — “Florida protests to face limits as bill gets boost from Senate president,” by Miami Herald’s Ana Ceballos: “The Republican majority in the Florida Legislature appears to be on the verge of passing an anti-rioting bill — a top legislative priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis as he positions himself for re-election in 2022. But how the bill got to this point — in public view and behind the scenes — has been a bumpy ride. The fight over the proposed legislation (HB 1), which enhances penalties for a host of crimes committed during protests that turn violent, has driven a good part of the behind-the-scenes jockeying during the first half of the legislative session.”

CHARGED — “Florida Elections Commission general counsel arrested on child porn charges,” by Tallahassee Democrat’s Jeff Burlew: “The top lawyer for the Florida commission that investigates and prosecutes election law violations is facing charges of possession of child pornography. Eric M. Lipman, general counsel for the Florida Elections Commission, was arrested Wednesday on 11 counts of the crime. He was taken to the Leon County Detention Center and later released. The Leon County Sheriff’s Office announced his arrest Wednesday but did not mention his occupation and would not confirm it when asked, citing Sunshine Law exemptions. However, Tim Vaccaro, executive director of the commission, acknowledged the arrest Thursday morning in an email to the Tallahassee Democrat.”

ENDING THE PROMISE — “Bright Futures changes pass Senate, face uncertainty in House,” by POLITICO’s Andrew Atterbury: The Florida Senate on Thursday passed legislation that could rewrite the rules for the state’s popular Bright Futures college scholarship program. Senate Republicans argue that money for Bright Futures is not guaranteed every year and the changes are needed to ensure budget flexibility in the future. The program is projected to cost $651.7 million in 2021-22 and is funded primarily from state lottery money. Yet Democrats and other opponents contend that while the proposal doesn’t make any financial aid cuts this year, it’s setting the table for future budget reductions that would impact students.

Flip-flopped — Two Republicans — Sens. Keith Perry and Jennifer Bradley — voted against the leadership-backed bill. But 14 GOP state senators, including Senate President Wilton Simpson and bill sponsor Dennis Baxley, reversed their positions on Bright Futures. All 14 were either in the House or Senate three years ago and voted to guarantee scholarship funding levels at either 75 percent of 100 percent of tuition. Now they have agreed to repeal that guarantee and allow the funding level be set annually in the 500-page budget each year.

— “Legislation to fight sea level rise goes to Florida governor,” by The Associated Press’ Bobby Caina Calvan

— “Winners and losers emerging as state budget plans advance in Florida House and Senate,” by Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s John Kennedy

— “Florida House easily passes $97B budget over Democrats scorn,” by POLITICO’s Matt Dixon

— “Health care budget includes ‘ifs,’ by News Service of Florida’s Christine Sexton

— “Florida House OK’s bill to tax out-of-state online sales,” by The Associated Press’ Bobby Caina Calvan

— “Florida Senate approves changes to public retirement system,” by The Associated Press’ Bobby Caina Calvan

SAIL AWAY — “DeSantis sues CDC to get cruises restarted. Experts call it a ‘political stunt,’” by Miami Herald’s Taylor Dolven: “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday he is suing the federal government in a long-shot attempt to get the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to allow cruising to resume immediately. Cruise companies were caught off guard by DeSantis’ suit. No cruise lines attended a press conference Thursday at PortMiami at which DeSantis announced the litigation, which legal experts consider a political stunt.”

— “A doctor died weeks after getting a vaccine. Medical examiner can’t determine if vaccine played a role,” by Sun Sentinel’s Andrew Boryga

— “Florida considered, then rejected, Dollar General, for COVID vaccine distribution,” by Tallahassee Democrat’s James Call

THE MEAN SEASON — “Storm season 2021: Brace yourself, we may be in for another active hurricane season,” by Palm Beach Post’s Kimberly Miller: “The atmosphere is grooming the tropical Atlantic for another lively hurricane season as hopes for an El Niño shatter and ocean temperatures sizzle, according to two recent forecasts. Colorado State University and AccuWeather both predict above-normal tropical cyclone activity during the 2021 storm season that officially begins June 1. If the predictions hold true, it will be the sixth consecutive year storm amounts and magnitudes will exceed the climatological standard.”

READ. THIS. STORY. — “When births go terribly wrong, Florida protects doctors and forces parents to pay the price,” by Miami Herald’s Carol Marbin Miller and Daniel Chang: “Appeals and internal records show that Jasmine’s mother was one of many parents who spent years locked in frustrating fights with NICA after learning that $100,000 is woefully insufficient to care for a severely brain-damaged child. They say NICA doesn’t inform them about benefits to which they are entitled, while rejecting or slow-walking coverage for therapy, equipment, medical treatments, medication, in-home nursing care — even wheelchairs.”

Some of the details — “The investigation revealed: NICA administrators narrowly define what medical care is necessary in a way that is far stricter than private insurance — or even the federal Medicare program. The program’s definition of medical necessity ensures NICA spends less on care for children, causing friction and frustration. The Herald found instances of NICA questioning the medical necessity of wheelchairs, medication, physical therapy — and extra feeding bags for a child with a gastrostomy tube. “At some point, nickel-and-diming people has a diminishing return, if any return at all,” Jim DeBeaugrine, a former head of the Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities, said of NICA.”

LESSONS LEARNED — “Top Florida environmental regulator implies agency should have closed Piney Point years ago,” by Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Zac Anderson: “Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein said Wednesday that “the most important lesson” from the Piney Point environmental disaster is that the state should permanently close such sites when it gets the chance. Valenstein implied that his agency erred two decades ago when it took over operations at the old fertilizer plant in Manatee County after a previous owner went bankrupt, but then turned the property over to another private investor years later.”

— “Discharges of polluted wastewater from Piney Point into Tampa Bay reduced by 90%,” by Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Zac Anderson

A message from Floridians for Affordable Rx:

It’s time to stand up to special interest lobbies trying to increase prescription drug costs for Florida families. Florida’s independent pharmacies claim that they’re struggling, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, small businesses around the country were forced to close, while there were 20 more independent pharmacies in the state. In fact, there are 13 percent more independent pharmacies in Florida today than there were 10 years ago. In fact, there are 13 percent more independent pharmacies in Florida today than there were 10 years ago. Florida needs a competitive marketplace to reduce Rx costs, not special-interest-backed legislative mandates that restrict the tools used by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) to reduce Floridians’ prescription drug costs. It’s time for the independent pharmacies lobby to come to the table with real solutions to lower Rx costs in Florida.

Presented by Floridians for Affordable Rx. Learn More.

BIRTHDAYS: MSNBC host and former Rep. Joe Scarborough … Erik Kirk, senior vice president with Poole McKinley … Florida Phoenix’s Michael Moline

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