DeSantis accused of creating 'chaos and confusion' in Florida over youngest kids’ COVID vaccines

As controversy over COVID-19 vaccines for young children in Florida continues, the state Department of Health said Monday that children under 5 will be getting the doses soon.

“Shipments to providers from the federal government should arrive within the coming days,” Jeremy Redfern, press secretary for the state’s health department, said in an email Monday to the Florida Phoenix.

That said, Redfern was clear that the health department will not be distributing the vaccines for kids ages 6 months to 5 years. “We do not recommend the COVID-19 vaccine for most children, and we advise parents to speak with their children’s pediatrician.”

According to The New York Times report on Saturday, “scientific advisers” to the CDC “unanimously decided the benefits outweigh the risks for children under 5 despite some reservations about thin data on efficacy, and the agency’s director signed off on the shots.”

Meanwhile, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said parents will soon have access to the doses through pediatricians and other providers but not through the state – an issue that has sparked criticism from the Biden administration over Gov. Ron DeSantis’ refusal to order the doses.

“They can order vaccines directly from the federal government,” she said during a press conference Monday in Tallahassee. But because the governor has made the decision to not order the vaccines, “your local health department will not have vaccines,” Fried said.

Fried, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2022, urged the state to make vaccines available at county health departments across Florida.

“Last week’s harmful decision by Governor (Ron) DeSantis and his health department to not pre-order COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 and under created chaos and confusion,” Fried said.

She added that state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo and DeSantis “are playing politics with the health of our kids once again.”

‘We recommend against it’

As previously reported by the Phoenix, the DeSantis had “reversed course and is now ordering vaccines,” according to White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. That had ignited reaction from the DeSantis administration, arguing that White House officials are spreading disinformation.

That said, DeSantis addressed the issue with White House officials’ comments at a Monday press conference. He also stated that health “practitioners and hospitals” are authorized to order doses for children directly from the federal government.

“So, the White House is lying about it,” DeSantis claimed, bashing the “legacy media.”

“Not surprised the White House would lie, definitely not surprised that legacy media would amplify the lie because that’s what they do. The state of Florida, they came out with an article saying, the state of Florida has not ordered, its department of health has not ordered mRNA jabs for the babies.”

“Yes, we didn’t. We recommend against it. We are not going to have any programs where we are trying to jab 6-month-old babies with mRNA. That’s just the reality. I think what had happened was they thought somehow, we would like be embarrassed by that. No, we’re following the data.”

Fried warned that “Florida will likely see some delays in receiving doses as the federal government is once again having to step up to fill the governor’s leadership void,” due to the DeSantis’ lack of guidance.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

White House says Gov. DeSantis has reversed course, now ordering COVID vaccines for kids under 5

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday was still refusing to order COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government, for the country’s youngest children. But by Friday, the governor had “reversed course and is now ordering vaccines,” according to White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

“We are encouraged that after repeated failures by Governor DeSantis to order COVID-19 vaccines even after every other state had ordered, the State of Florida is now permitting health care providers to order COVID-19 vaccines for our youngest children. We believe it is critical to allow parents everywhere to have the choice to get their kids vaccinated and have a conversation with their pediatrician or health care provider,” Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

She added: “Even though Governor DeSantis reversed course and is now ordering vaccines, we will pull every lever to get pediatricians across Florida vaccines as quickly as possible. This is an encouraging first step, and we urge the state to order vaccines for its state and local health departments, so that all Florida parents have the opportunity to get their children vaccinated.”

Meanwhile, Florida Press Secretary Christina Pushaw claimed in a tweet that both the White House press secretary and the McClatchy news outlet in Washington, D.C., “are both spreading disinformation. NOTHING has “reversed” or changed. The State of Florida is not placing any orders of covid shots for 0-5 year old babies & kids.”

White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Ashish Jha said Friday afternoon that Florida officials’ decision to refuse pre-ordering would likely lead to a days-long delay in vaccine distribution to certain locations in the state.

He also rebuked DeSantis and the state health department for declining to participate in vaccine distribution.

“State and local public health departments have always played a very large role in helping children get vaccinated, especially kids who don’t have a regular source of care, especially kids who don’t have a regular pediatrician or family physician,” Jha said on a call with reporters. “By refusing to allow state public health departments to offer these vaccines and vaccinate these children, this will specifically leave the most vulnerable, underserved children of Florida behind.”

Allowing pediatricians and hospitals to order the vaccines, Jha said, would increase the number of locations where parents will have access to the COVID-19 vaccine beyond the federal pharmacy partners like CVS and Walmart as well as the community health centers.

Jha strongly cautioned against a proposal from some in Florida that health care providers could measure out lower doses of the adult Moderna or Pfizer vaccines to the lower amount authorized for kids under 5.

“If you have a little kid, you want the vaccine that is specifically formulated, packaged and ready for your child. You don’t want somebody pulling up a big bottle and trying to get the dosing right. That’s how you get dosing errors,” he said. “That’s why the FDA manages these things very specifically and carefully to make sure that these things are done safely.”

Jha declined to say specifically if the state of Florida had reversed course overnight, something the governor’s press secretary disputes. But he did note that “yesterday, pediatricians in every state in the country could order vaccines or had the opportunity to order vaccines for their offices, except for pediatricians of Florida.”

“As of today, pediatricians of Florida now have that choice,” he continued. “Whether that’s a reversal or not, I will leave up to you to decide. But something clearly changed between yesterday and today in the state of Florida.”

In what had become a standoff over vaccines for the youngest children in Florida, DeSantis on Thursday said that state government would not participate in vaccinating kids under 5 and claimed parents could get access to vaccines for young children through doctor offices and hospitals.

That claim was disputed by the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In a press release on Friday, FCAAP wrote:

“The COVID-19 vaccine distribution system is state-based and not designed to allow individual doctors or institutions to order directly from the manufacturer. As a result, if a state fails to pre-order an allotment of vaccines, as is the case in Florida, the vaccines will be available only to federally qualified health centers and certain pharmacies, not to hospitals, private practice pediatricians, or family practice physicians. Further, clinicians cannot administer vaccines formulated for older populations to younger children.”

Federally Qualified Health Centers are “community-based health care providers that receive funds…to provide primary care services in underserved areas. They must meet a stringent set of requirements, including providing care on a sliding fee scale based on ability to pay and operating under a governing board that includes patients,” according to the federal Health Resources & Services Administration.

“The centers may be Community Health Centers, Migrant Health Centers, Health Care for the Homeless” according to the website. People can go on the agency’s website, to “Find a Health Center.”

For example, there are hundreds of centers sprinkled across Florida.

As to pharmacies, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried mentioned several potential locations to get vaccines for young children and infants, including Costco, CVS, Publix, Harvey’s, Walmart and Walgreen.

For example, CVS confirmed to the Florida Phoenix that it has a partnership with the federal government enabling it to order vaccines regardless of state government. However, it has a finite number of outlets.

Michael Jackson, pharmacist and executive vice president of the Florida Pharmacy Association, said national chain pharmacies likely will be able to secure doses for Floridians but that independent pharmacies likely will not be able to supply them. That is because pharmacies are no longer being reimbursed with COVID federal funds for providing the shots to people who are underinsured or uninsured.

As a press conference Friday morning, Fried had called on DeSantis and the state health department to “to put politics aside” and place orders for the children vaccines.

Pfizer has asked the FDA to authorize a three-dose vaccine for children ages 6 months through 4 years, while Moderna is seeking authorization for a two-dose vaccine for kids ages 6 months through 5 years.

“We are anticipating that tomorrow the CDC will approve the shots following FDA’s approval,” Fried said. “Which means these shots will be ready for families across the country early next week. However, here in Florida unfortunately we are going to be a little delayed.”

Fried, who also is a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said the DeSantis administration continues to push “anti-science and dangerous COVID” messages that are “putting our kids at risk once again.”

“Not only is the [Florida] Department of Health not recommending COVID vaccines for kids, against mainstream public health guidance, they’re taking away parents rights to protect those young children.”

She added, “In the last 24 hours, the amount of parents who reached out to me were confused, frustrated, not knowing how to get vaccines for their kids because of the governor’s lack of empathy, lack of willingness to put aside politics.”

She said her agency has been in communication with White House officials.

The McClatchy news outlets “first reported on Wednesday that Florida was the only U.S. state that had not ordered COVID-19 vaccines for children under 5, missing a deadline for preorders set by the federal government. Public health officials and the Biden administration warn that parents across the state will struggle to find vaccines for their kids as a result. The news sparked a public outcry from doctors in the state. On Friday morning, a congressional panel established to oversee the federal coronavirus response demanded an explanation from the governor unless he reversed course.”

McClatchy also reported that: “State health facilities will still not be placing orders for vaccine doses, a Biden administration official said.”

Meanwhile, the Kaiser Family Foundation said in a recent survey that:

“The latest KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor survey finds that about one in five parents of children under age 5 (18%) are eager to get their child vaccinated right away, while a larger share (38%) say they plan to wait a while to see how the vaccine is working for others.”

Washington, D.C. reporter Jacob Fischler contributed to this report.

Phoenix editor Diane Rado contributed to this report.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

‘Stay Woke Go Vote’: FL Black Caucus launches campaign to empower voters

The Black delegation in the Florida Legislature and community activists are doubling down on efforts to empower Floridians to vote during the upcoming elections, with the launch of a campaign that pushes back against Republican lawmakers’ policies.

Members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus on Monday announced that they will host a “Stay Woke Go Vote” event on May 21 to launch the campaign.

They’ve also started an online petition and text campaign to encourage Florida voters to make their voices heard by participating in the election process.

“I’m proud to stand alongside my colleagues and supporters across the state as we launch ‘Stay Woke Go Vote,’ ” state Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat representing parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, said in a written statement.

“It’s imperative, now more than ever, that we keep our foot on the gas to ensure that no stone is left unturned and that all voices are given the opportunity to be heard,” Jones said. “This effort is another powerful tool in our tool belt as we look towards November and beyond. We can’t do it alone.”

Among several issues, the Black Caucus is raising awareness about what they call an attack on Black representation in the new congressional redistricting map and recently signed legislation by Gov. Ron DeSantis that creates a special group to investigate reports of alleged voting fraud “under the fake cover of election integrity,” according to a press release.

Meanwhile, the petition states that “while voting alone will not deliver our community the relief, justice and equality we deserve, it is one tool that allows us an opportunity to have a voice in our democratic process as we endeavor to create transformational and sustainable change in our communities.”

The campaign comes after Black caucus members in the Legislature last month protested in the House chamber. They loudly chanted, wore t-shirts that read “Stop the Black Attack,” and staged a sit-in protest that shut down debate over African-American representation in the redistricting process.

“When Black votes are under attack, we stand up and fight back,” the crowd of Black lawmakers yelled on the House floor.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

'I’ve had enough of being kicked around': Black delegation in FL House is on the offense

In an extraordinary display this week in the state House chamber, Black Democrats loudly chanted, wore t-shirts that read “Stop the Black Attack,” and staged a sit-in protest that shut down debate over African-American representation in the redistricting process.

“When Black votes are under attack, we stand up and fight back,” the crowd of Black lawmakers yelled on the House floor.

For years now, that’s not always been the case in the GOP-controlled Legislature, where Black lawmakers and Democrats often get rolled over as Republican legislators approve their conservative agendas.

But this week, Black lawmakers demanded to be heard. They’d had enough. They’re now on the offensive. And they’re going to stay there.

A passionate group of Black Caucus members took action on the House floor Thursday, alarmed about a congressional map that cuts Black seats to only two in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ congressional redistricting plan.

“Hello Black Floridians at home today that’s watching this: the Florida House is about to cut your representation by 50 percent before lunch time,” state Rep. Travaris McCurdy, who represents part of Orange County, said during Thursday’s House session.

“We shouldn’t be here begging for representation in 2022,” he said. “I’ve had enough of being kicked around in this building, in this chamber and still being expected to smile and shake your hands and engage in conversation with the same people who are trying to oppress my people,” McCurdy said.

The protest had been previously planned by McCurdy and state Rep. Angela Nixon, McCurdy told the Florida Phoenix during an interview in the state Capitol. That came after the Florida Senate had cleared DeSantis’ congressional map and two bills that strip Disney from self-government powers and an exemption from last year’s law cracking down on social media.

Just Wednesday, state Sen. Bobby Powell had delivered emotional remarks in the Senate, expressing how he felt as a Black man and lawmaker in a Republican-led state Legislature that has oftentimes pushed initiatives through the legislative process that could threaten minority populations.

Powell, of Palm Beach County and a leader of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, told his colleagues, “I wake up, knowing in this process, that we have to continue to fight. And sometimes you get tired, right?

“Tired of the book bans, tired of the “Don’t Say Gay,” tired of the maps being changed, tired of the CRT (Critical Race Theory)… tired of wondering when I wake up in the morning, am I Black today, am I colored, am I a Negro?”

“What is my battle today?”

Those words seemed to be foreshadowing what would come on Thursday in the state House. (Powell told the Phoenix he was not aware of a House protest prior to Thursday.)

“Myself and Rep. Nixon, we kind of strategized together,” McCurdy told the Phoenix in the Capitol. “We knew that the Senate went home yesterday and it was up to us. This was the final shot.”

McCurdy continued: “We knew we had a certain time allotted for us to debate on before the clock ran out. So we wanted to make sure our members got on record but we also knew that we’re going to disrupt this process that’s been disrupting so many lives across the state,” said, McCurdy, who was wearing one of the t-shirts while sitting in protest on the floor of the House.

The spark of a protest started when Black lawmaker Yvonne Hinson was speaking.

She had recalled her experience as a young Black activist who joined the fight for Black voting rights.

“I’ve been kicked, I’ve been talked about, and I have been called names that you don’t even put in the dictionary anymore,” said Hinson, a Democrat representing parts of Alachua and Marion counties.

She wanted to keep talking but her time was cut off under the House debate rules. That’s when Nixon, of Duval County, and McCurdy, stormed to the well of the chamber, and the proceedings were halted.

“The demonstration was really for the people at home,” McCurdy told the Phoenix. “We have an election coming up in November and if this guy [DeSantis] gets reelected, he’s already showing up now in his first term the type of dictatorship, the type of bullying that he’s seeking to do and it’s intentional.”

State Rep. Patricia Williams, of Broward County, told the Phoenix that members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus were infuriated by Republicans attacking Black representation in the state, with the congressional map.

“When Black voters are under attack, what do we do stand up and fight back,” she said.

During a conversation in the state Capitol, state Rep. Michele Rayner told the Phoenix that “we sang, we sat on the floor, and the Republicans vacated the room.” A Democrat, she represents parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.

When GOP lawmakers came back to the chamber, House Speaker Chris Sprowls appeared partly angry and partly astonished. Black lawmakers refused to stop loudly chanting and disrupting Sprowls, who continued to push through the congressional map legislation and the other two Disney-related bills.

Republicans in the chamber applauded when they voted to say yes to those bills, though some Democrats booed.

“They were clapping as democracy was dying,” said Rayner.

After the House session ended, Black lawmakers held a news conference to discuss what happened and what comes next.

State Rep. Ramon Alexander, representing Gadsden County and parts of Leon in the state capital, said, “We’re going to be revved up… and we’re going on offense and we’re going to stop playing on defense.”

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

Florida Senate moves quickly to secure DeSantis' Congressional map; Black representation would be cut

The Florida Senate has set up a final floor vote for Wednesday on a redistricting plan that awards the lion’s share of the state’s seats in Congress to Republicans and cuts representation by Black people in half.

The state House is following closely behind, running the governor’s map through its Redistricting Committee vote and preparing for initial floor debate on Wednesday, according to a schedule announced by Speaker Chris Sprowls.

Committees in both chambers advanced legislation, also sought by DeSantis, that would punish The Walt Disney Co. for opposing legislation passed during the recent regular session forbidding classroom instruction involving sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3 or in upper grades if parents deem the material not age-appropriate.

Critics call it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and argue it discriminates against LGBT people.

Special session

Tuesday’s developments came during a special session, scheduled to last no later than noon Friday, called by DeSantis to force the Legislature to accept his version of a congressional map written to account for population growth documented in the 2020 U.S. Census.

He’d vetoed the Legislature’s version, which would have given Republicans 18 of the 28 seats in Congress and 10 to Democrats, with four Black-access districts and the same number for Hispanics.

DeSantis’ plan contains those four Hispanic seats but only two for Blacks and gives the GOP 20 seats.

Reapportionment Chairman Ray Rodrigues of Lee County conceded that the Legislature had attempted to preserve two protected-Black districts because they’d been created by the Florida Supreme Court in 2015, following years of litigation against the redistricting that followed the 2010 Census.

But DeSantis has raised valid concerns that the districts might not qualify for protection under U.S. Supreme Court rulings, Rodrigues said.

‘Inherent conflict’

“There’s an inherent conflict between our state Constitution and Supreme Court decisions that have occurred since the Fair Districts amendment was adopted to our state Constitution,” he said.

That was in 2010, by a supermajority vote by Floridians. The amendment forbids the Legislature from drawing political boundaries to benefit any political party or incumbent or disadvantage minorities’ ability to elect representatives of their choice.

Democrat Randolph Bracy of Orange County asked whether Rodrigues considered it fair to slash Black representation in half.

Rodrigues rejected the premise that Blacks can’t win heavily white districts. He said he lives in CD 19 in southwest Florida, with a 3 percent minority population, represented in Congress by Byron Donalds, a Black Republican.

“”I don’t think color makes the determination of whether a person gets elected or not. I think it really comes down to whether that person connects with the voters or not,” he said.

DeSantis sent Alex Kelly, his deputy chief of staff and architect of his map, to brief the House and Senate committees. In testimony on the Senate side, he said he’d consulted with no one but had based his product on an amalgamation of earlier maps produced by the Legislature and the governor.

‘Racial gerrymander’

DeSantis’ adamant refusal to broach a “racial gerrymander” meant the demise of the Legislature’s proposed CD 5, modeled on the district now held by Democrat Al Lawson, and CD 10 in Central Florida, now held by Democrat Val Demings.

CD 5 would stretch for 200 miles from Jacksonville to Tallahassee and majority-Black Gadsden County. The DeSantis team argues that’s too far to qualify as a compact district under Fair Districts and recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

As for CD 10, the black voting-age population has been slipping and is no longer sufficient to qualify as a Black-accessible district, Kelly argued.

The DeSantis map splits black communities in the Tampa Bay region by drawing a line through St. Petersburg, and through Jacksonville by using the St. Johns River as a dividing line between the governor’s preferred versions CD 4 and CD 5, which wind up majority Republican.

Black people living in Florida’s old plantation belt would be left without the chance to elect another Black person to Congress, given voting trends.

The Senate rushed the plan (SB 2-C) through a three-hour hearing committee meeting, where it passed on a party-line vote. The bill landed on the Senate floor a little after 5 p.m.

Home venue

Senators immediately attached an amendment requiring any legal challenges brought under state law to be tried in a state trial court in Leon County, site of the Capitol. That may be an attempt to restrict federal court review of claims under Fair Districts, although the amendment would allow U.S. constitutional or statutory claims in federal court.

Backers argued the state deserves the ability to litigate in its home venue — as usual in lawsuits involving the state.

Voting rights groups are already in federal court in Tallahassee asking for a judge-drawn map on the ground that the map the Legislature is likely to pass violated Fair Districts, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the U.S. Voting Rights Act.

Of course, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida also maintains a courthouse in Tallahassee.

“This is not just forum shopping. This is avoid Judge Walker shopping,” said Democrat Gary Farmer of Broward County. He referred to Chief Judge Mark Walker of the Northern District, who on March 31 struck down key provisions of Florida’s 2021 voting restrictions law as unconstitutionally targeting Blacks.

Another Senate amendment specifies that if a court deems any of the new districts invalid, that won’t necessarily undo districts elsewhere in the state that are valid. It provides $1 million for litigation costs.

During a House Judiciary Committee hearing earlier in the day, Ramon Alexander, a Democrat representing Gadsden and part of Leon counties, criticized HB 5-C, sponsored by Republican Alex Andrade, which would repeal an exemption for Disney connected to last year’s law cracking down on social media over their alleged deplatforming of conservatives.

Also pending is legislation (HB 3-C) to sunset any special district created before the adoption of the Florida Constitution of 1968 effective on June 1, 2023, unless the Legislature has reauthorized them since then. The Legislature could reestablish them after that date, however.

Alexander complained the governor was bullying the company.

‘Lipstick on a pig’

“We talk about checks and balances and the core essence of what that is. And I’ve had my fair share of debates but, for the first time in this process here in Florida, I am deeply concerned about absolute power,” he said.

“If you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig,” Alexander said. “And this is a classic example when one person has absolute power, this is the outcome of our democracy.”

Andrade, a Republican representing parts of Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, replied that his legislation removes from state law “the exemption from consumer protections on social media platforms for companies that happened to own theme parks in Florida.”

State Rep. Ben Diamond expressed frustration with the special session, saying the Legislature should be focused on addressing their constituents’ real problems.

“They don’t want us up here talking about Disney World, they want us here doing our jobs,” said Diamond, a Democrat representing part of Pinellas County. “I am so frustrated because I don’t see us doing that, I see it as political theater.”

He added: “We shouldn’t be up here fighting Mickey Mouse; we should be up here fighting for our constituents.”

There were moves in both the House and Senate committees Tuesday to require Kelly to testify under oath. Chairmen in both chambers quashed that kind of talk.

“That procedure would be different from any of the testimony that we received in our committee thus far,” said House chairman Tyler Sirois, who represents part of Brevard County.

The request from Skidmore “would be an extraordinary step that I don’t feel is necessary and frankly I find absurd,” Sirois said. “This is a state house, not a courthouse.”

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

Ron DeSantis on the defensive after NYC mayor launches ad campaign against FL’s 'Don’t Say Gay' law

In response to New York City mayor Eric Adams’ criticism of a new Florida law, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday derided the entire state of New York for its policies concerning COVID-19.

But Adams had opened the door for criticism on Monday, when he launched a series of digital billboards in support of LGBTQ communities and pushed back on the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida that DeSantis signed last week.

Adams, a Democrat, invited Floridians to move to New York if they are in opposition to the recently signed legislation that critics say threatens LGBTQ people by prohibiting discussions on gender identity and sexual orientation in public school classrooms.

“This political showmanship of attempting to demonize a particular group or community is unacceptable and we are going to loudly show our support and say to those who are living in Florida, ‘listen, we want you here in New York,’ “ Adams said in a video Tuesday posted on Twitter.

But DeSantis, a Republican, defended Florida’s bill, originally called “Parental Rights in Education,” and criticized New York for making kids wear masks in classrooms as a safety measure to combat COVID-19. DeSantis made those remarks at two press conferences Tuesday, while announcing job growth grant funds in Hamilton and Jefferson counties in rural North Florida.

CBS News New York reported this week that “Mayor Eric Adams is postponing his plan to discontinue the mask mandate for students in preschool under the age of 5 for at least a week. For all other students, masks will remain optional.”

Meanwhile, DeSantis responded that “New York is doing billboards telling people, come, come to New York from Florida. They are wasting taxpayer money on doing that.”

“I don’t know why they would do it. They are saying you can say whatever you want. But they are the ones that will force a mask on your face and muzzle you in public,” he said.

Meanwhile, DeSantis touted Florida as a “free state” where people want to live.

New York state is the “closest state to us population-wise,” DeSantis said.

“We have better services, roads…and all that stuff,” DeSantis said. “It just shows you they waste a lot of money; they tax people excessively. So, we’re in good shape.”

Condemning Florida’s controversial law, Adams also announced Monday that New York City’s digital billboard launch will run from April 4 to May 29, according to a press release.

One of the ads reads “New York City is alive. And so is free speech.”

Adams said in a written statement Monday:

“I am the mayor of New York City, but I have a message for Florida’s LGBTQ+ community — come to a city where you can say and be whoever you want. Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill is the latest shameful, extremist culture war targeting the LGBTQ+ community. Today, we say to the families living in fear of this state-sponsored discrimination that you will always have a home in New York City.”

DeSantis has dissed New York in the past during the pandemic and even dissuaded travelers flying into Florida from New York by issuing an executive order in 2020 requiring a 14-day quarantine for those entering Florida from COVID hotspots at the time, such as New Jersey and New York.

Meanwhile, DeSantis heavily criticized the Biden administration during both press conferences Tuesday, blaming the Biden administration for issues, such as rising inflation.

“We need some different policies out of Washington, said DeSantis, who is considered a potential presidential pick. “Some of the wounds that we see are self-inflicted with bad policies.”


This story was first published by Florida Phoenix, part of the States Newsroom network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jarvis DeBerry for questions: Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

Florida House has yet to take action on 'vile' social media posts from GOP lawmaker

In mid-August, an official complaint was filed in the Florida House of Representatives against a Republican lawmaker, for “hateful" and “atrocious" social media comments directed to Palestinians and Muslims.

Civil rights advocates filing the complaint say the House' Public Integrity and Elections Committee still hasn't addressed the issue involving state Rep. Randy Fine, a Republican representing part of Brevard County.

The Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Florida), a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, filed a sworn complaint alleging that Rep. Fine has “violated his duty as an elected official and has disgraced the seat which he holds in the Florida House."

“We are disappointed about the committee's failure to act," Taj Murphy, CAIR-Florida's lead attorney, said in a written statement Friday. “Their refusal to address Rep. Randy Fine's violent and bigoted rhetoric amounts to complicity."

The complaint calls for the committee to “act against this egregious behavior" from Fine. “It is hurtful and abominable enough coming from anyone, but to have an elected official spew this hate, and violence is disturbing and harmful to our state," the complaint says.

At the time of the original complaint in August, State Rep. Erin Grall was chair of the House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee. Currently, the chair is Daniel Perez, who represents part of Miami-Dade County.

The Florida Phoenix is awaiting a response from the Florida House communications staff regarding the allegations. The civil rights organization told the Phoenix that the complaint was received by the committee.

“We didn't receive an official response, but they (the committee) told us there is no priority," Wilfredo Amr Ruiz, the group's communications director, said in a phone conversation with the Florida Phoenix.

“They have failed to communicate any minimum intention to do it."

The group has called on the committee to open an investigation into Fine's conduct on Facebook and Instagram from posts starting in May. The complaint also includes examples of Fine's social media posts, showing he called Palestinians “animals" and referred to people of Muslim faith as “monsters" and “terrorists."

For instance, Fine said in a May 26 post on social media that “the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated terrorist group CAIR is trying to silence the one Republican Jew willing to stand up for Israel. Well I have two words for these monsters: Bring it."

The complaint also stated that: In response to a comment on the same post, Representative Fine called for the annihilation of the Palestinian people by responding, “#BlowThemUp."

Fine hasn't responded yet to a request for comment from the Florida Phoenix.

The grievance against Fine was only filed in the House. Ruiz said that he doesn't know when or if the committee will take action on the issue. House members have been in committee hearings from September to late November, so it's not clear why nothing has been done. The House also has committee hearings next week.

CAIR-Florida believes it's important to release Fine's allegations to the public to bring about “systemic change" in regard to holding politicians accountable for their actions, Ruiz added.

“It is possible for the politicians to go unchecked," he said.

Meanwhile, Fine is involved in an ongoing case connected to a restraining order filed against him by Brevard County School Board member Jennifer Jenkins, according to a report from Florida Today.

Jenkins filed a request for an injunction because of allegations in court documents of “cyberstalking" and “harassment" on social media, according to Florida Today.

The newspaper wrote: “Jenkins is asking the court to forbid Fine from publishing her name or 'any insinuation of person' on his social media accounts, and from coming within 500 feet of her Satellite Beach home or place of work at Brevard Public Schools."

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

Florida Dems blast GOP lawmakers for ‘inherent hypocrisy’ in new ad

Democratic lawmakers in Florida vow to fight for abortion access and block attempts to pass a law similar to Texas' extreme measure, with the help of ads that blast GOP lawmakers for alleged “inherent hypocrisy" when it comes to people's freedom to make decision about their health.

This week, the Florida Democratic Party released a YouTube video entitled “My Body, My Choice," featuring Florida Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book, who represents part of Broward County in the Senate. She said in the video that “any attempt to do what has been done in Texas is a complete, all out assault on women's rights."

“And we will do everything in our power to stop this from happening," said Book.

The Texas law targets abortions at the point when doctors detect a “fetal heartbeat" at roughly six weeks' gestational age. But that's a highly contested point. Under the new law, private citizens are also allowed to sue people involved in providing abortion access to women, offering $10,000 for a successful suit.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been vocal in the past about legislation that restricts abortions, had expressed interest in the Texas bill during a press conference but didn't necessarily pledge to support it.

Meanwhile, a DeSantis spokeswoman said the Republican governor has expressed concerns about the portion of the law dealing with lawsuits, according to a report from The Hill.

“Gov. DeSantis doesn't want to turn private citizens against each other," said spokeswoman Christina Pushaw, as reported by The Hill.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

Parents of disabled children in Florida: 'We need action right now' on mask mandates

Two Florida parents who filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates in public schools argued Monday that the governor's mask-optional policies put their kids, who have serious medical conditions already, at greater risk from COVID-19.

This article was originally published at Florida Phoenix

Plaintiffs' attorney Matthew Dietz said during a Zoom news conference that “schools are obligated to provide an environment in which kids with disabilities can safely be educated in an integrated environment."

Additional families in Hillsborough and Pasco counties have joined the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Miami, which focuses on education rights of students with disabilities. Trial opened Monday in a separate lawsuit filed in state court raising related claims.

“What this case is for these parents is what their rights are," said Dietz. “Their rights under the American Disability Act guarantee that their children are entitled to go to school, to be safe in school."

U.S. Rep Charlie Crist, a Democratic candidate for governor, appeared during the news conference to criticize DeSantis. “The governor doesn't care about anyone but himself and what's best for him," he said.

At least seven school districts have defied DeSantis' order by imposing mask mandates, which state officials insist violate Florida law. And the Florida Board of Education announced a plan to begin withholding funds from districts in Alachua and Broward counties over its mask mandates for schoolchildren.

Robyn McCarthy, who has a 6-year-old son with asthma, believes schools should offer online learning and hybrid models with both virtual and in-person classes to accommodate children with disabilities.

“We need action right now; we need mitigation measures," McCarthy said during the press conference. “I need virtual options on the table. I'm begging you to help us get this virtual option."

Another parent, Jamie Kinder, has a 9-year-old daughter who is immunocompromised.

“She just wants adults to help her access education and that means putting masks on everybody," Kinder said.

“This governor does not care or seem to understand that parents like the McCarthys and the Kinders with children with disabilities cannot afford to take any sort of risk when it comes to the health of their kids," Crist said.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.