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Is domestic terrorism here to stay? Votes put lawmakers on defensive, and vaccine distribution remains rocky.




It's Monday, Jan. 18. Florida legislators returned to the Capitol last week. Pro-Trump protesters did not. As a bitterly divided nation inaugurates a new president this week, and the former president now makes South Florida his permanent home, Florida will also remain home to much of the nation's story.

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING

Security at the nation's capital is now so formidable one federal law enforcement official told the Miami Herald: "This place is like Fort Knox." So with Washington, D.C. on lockdown, could state capitals become a softer target for domestic terrorists?

Show of force: Law enforcement from around the state worked hard on Sunday to discourage that possibility. The FBI coordinated with state and local officials to demonstrate a show of force that included officers on the roofs of the buildings, a law enforcement helicopter hovering, bomb-sniffing dogs and a cadre of police waiting in the Capitol with riot gear at the ready.

Despite the FBI warning, few protesters showed. However, a Tallahassee man was arrested Friday on federal charges related to what prosecutors say was "a call to arms" to confront protesters at the Florida Capitol.

Floridians arrested: With a rare cache of digital evidence to work with, the FBI continues to make arrests of the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol. The list of Floridians now facing federal criminal charges keeps growing. It includes a first responder for the Sanford Fire Department, the zip-tie guy who now lives in Tennessee but used to work as a bartender in Fort Myers Beach (and his mother,) and a stay-at-home father of five from Parrish.

How long? Will domestic terrorism now become a focus for state and local law enforcement in addition to the feds? How long will armed forces have to patrol American streets? And will leaders emerge to pull their followers back into reality from the brink of debunked allegations of elections fraud?

One thing is certain: When it's over, it won't be over. Experts see little reason to believe that deeply rooted domestic extremism will fade away after President Joe Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration. On alternative social media, self-styled militia, patriot websites and hate-group platforms like that of the Proud Boys, the message is the same: There are no plans to fade away.

Proud Boys role: Washington, D.C. police arrested the Miami-based leader of the far-right Proud Boys days before the deadly riot because they had developed information showing he was among those planning to incite violence as Congress voted to certify the presidential election, officials said.

Radio rebuke: Latino leaders from more than 20 local advocacy groups denounced the spread of misinformation in South Florida Spanish-language media, warning in an open letter that "hateful rhetoric can have deadly consequences."

WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT

Cuba and Venezuela litmus test: Florida Reps. Michael Waltz, Maria Salazar and Carlos Gimenez sent letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee asking members to reject President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, unless he agrees to take a tough stance on Cuba and Venezuela. The hearing is set for Tuesday.

Scott under fire: U.S. Sen. Rick Scott quickly felt the heat for his role as one of eight Senate Republicans to vote against certifying state votes in the Electoral College. Before he'd officially begun as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee last week, Democratic groups and some anti-Trump Republicans began calling for him to step down. The high profile role could be complicated as an increasing number of donors are shunning senators who supported decertifying the 2020 election. Scott was the only member of Senate Republican leadership to join in the controversial vote just hours after the riot that resulted in five deaths.

Gimenez defends vote: In an interview Sunday with WPLG in Miami, newly elected Congressman Carlos Gimenez defended his decision to vote to decertify the Arizona and Pennsylvania elections just hours after protesters marched on the Capitol.

Gimenez offered a window into the inconsistent thinking of many when he said the Arizona and Pennsylvania governors violated the federal constitution by modifying their voting rules to accommodate the surge in mail-in ballots because of the pandemic, instead of having the change made by lawmakers. Federal law gives authority to state legislatures to modify voting laws and, he argued, the states violated it by sidestepping legislators.

The rationale is rather leaky, however. As Herald political reporter David Smiley notes, if that principle was true, then Florida's electors could be decertified as well as those from other states. In 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis unilaterally allowed election workers to begin processing mail ballots earlier than allowed by state law, and in previous years, Govs. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist both extended polling hours and locations in the wake of hurricanes without asking for legislative approval.

Moody scrubs website: A day after the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, Attorney General Ashley Moody's office scrubbed from her online biography references to her role on the board of directors of the Rule of Law Defense fund. The organization funded robocalls encouraging people to "march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal."

'Selective censorship': After the nation's most powerful social media platforms banned Trump's Twitter and Facebook accounts following the mob violence on the nation's Capitol, two Florida legislators announced they are drafting legislation to retaliate against the companies for engaging in what they call "selective censorship" of conservative opinions.

Rep. Randy Fine, a Brevard County Republican, wants the governor and Cabinet to divest the state's billion-dollar pension fund of any stock it holds in the social media platforms. State Sen. Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican, wants social media websites to give 30-day notice to a user whose account has been disabled or suspended. He next wants to amend the bill to also prohibit social media censorship.

1/17/21--Joyce Coffman, an 84-year-old resident of the Woodlands Village retirement community in Bradenton, receives the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
1/17/21--Joyce Coffman, an 84-year-old resident of the Woodlands Village retirement community in Bradenton, receives the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.  

Will Florida run out of vaccine? Florida's ask-no-questions policy for thousands of seasonal residents who are being allowed to get vaccinated in the state has public health experts worried the supply may not meet the demand. So a bi-partisan group of Florida's congressional delegation is asking the federal government for extra doses.

After assisted living facilities were left behind in Florida's first batch of vaccines intended for long-term care facilities, they started getting their first shots last week but, even though they are on the state's priority list, their supply is also not guaranteed.

Meanwhile, the governor is reluctant to crack down when people jump in line to get vaccines outside of the approved distribution guidelines but, he said, it is not what the state wants to see.

Residency test? Federal cutbacks in vaccine supply is expected to halt vaccinations at some Miami sites this week and, even though federal regulations say there can be no residency requirements for vaccines, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez is proposing restrictions. He said he wants to keep vaccines for people who live inside city limits.

Galvano redraw: Miami city commissioners appear to have the votes to rescind a $120,000 contract with former Florida Senate President Bill Galvano to redraw municipal voting districts. The reason: they fear his history drawing voting districts could raise doubts.

Elected to the Senate under the 2012 map, Galvano chaired the Senate redistricting committee assigned to handle the legal challenge against the Republican maps. Galvano was a key player in the controversial efforts to redraw state Senate districts statewide between 2012 and 2016 after the court rejected them for violating state law.

He first defended the maps, then advanced a new map that the court said also violated state law because it was intended to protect Republicans and incumbents. The saga spanned years and cost taxpayers more than $11 million.

Domestic violence system do-over: The agency that misused millions in money intended for domestic violence victims by paying its director more than $7.5 million over three years has been dismantled and is ready for a new operator, according to Secretary of the Department of Children and Families Chad Poppell. He told a Senate committee that the Florida Coalition for Domestic Violence accomplished its accounting sleight of hand by leaving 40 percent of their openings vacant and then using the money intended for jobs "to move around,'' he said.

New abuse investigators: Of the 92 children who alleged they were sexually abused by foster parents in the last year, just six of the allegations were verified by the state. That's not good enough, said Chad Poppell, secretary of Florida's Department of Children and Families. He announced a new initiative to create investigative teams aimed at helping officials detect sexual abuse reported by Florida's most at-risk children.

20 year-old claims against Sen. Díaz: JennyLee Molina, a 2000 graduate of Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High, is now accusing Miami state Sen. Manny Díaz of inappropriate behavior toward students when he was a teacher at Hialeah-Miami Lakes High 20 years ago. Diaz, a Republican, denies the allegations, calls them politically motivated, and said he is considering legal action in response.

What are they waiting for? Florida Corrections Secretary Mark Inch told legislators that no action has been taken to remedy findings in a U.S. Department of Justice report last month that found female inmates at Lowell Correctional Institution have been subjected to "systemic" sexual abuse for years. He said he disagreed with the conclusions of the report.

COVID lawsuits limits: In response to businesses, schools, churches and healthcare providers that worry they could be sued for legal liability for exposing people to COVID-19, Florida legislators are fast-tracking a measure to limit lawsuits. But some wonder: Is this really the answer they need for their financial woes?

Stay well and we'd love to hear from you. Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas curated this newsletter. If you have any ideas or suggestions, please drop me a note at meklas@miamiherald.com.

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