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Monday's Daily Pulse

Florida's environment gets bipartisan love in an otherwise contentious legislative session

A number of environmental bills are getting bipartisan love from lawmakers. One would create a decade-long seagrass restoration plan through a partnership with Mote Marine Lab and the University of Florida. The measure comes after the state saw a dramatic rise in seagrass loss, tied to record manatee deaths. Earlier last week, multiple legislative committees cleared more than a dozen environmental bills, all of them with overwhelming bipartisan support. [Source: WUSF]

New COVID cases plunge to April 2020 levels as hospitalizations remain steady

After weeks of decline, COVID-19 hospitalizations remained flat this week across Florida. Here’s what the latest data show: 1,128 hospital patients Friday, on par with the average for last week. This comes after weeks of decline from a peak of almost 3,000 during the first week of January. (Source: Health and Human Services Department). 7,397 new infections this week, lower than the 11,100 infections recorded last week, and the fewest since the week ending April 9, 2020. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). [Source: Gainesville Sun]

Florida’s century-old Sunshine Laws under duress

Florida has earned a reputation for some of the broadest open records and public meeting laws in the nation. Known as Sunshine Laws, they were first approved by lawmakers in 1909, expanded in 1967 and added to the Florida Constitution by voters in 1992. Most governors bristle at having to turn over internal musing, emails and transactions to the public, but Gov. Ron DeSantis, who came to office with an aggressive approach to exercising executive authority, has been more combative than most of his predecessors. More from the Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald.

Can a drone deliver your groceries? What to know about Walmart’s service in Florida

Is that your grocery order flying over your home? What seemed so high-tech — ordering groceries online and a car driver rolling them to your front door — has reached higher-tech: Walmart is now using drones to deliver your selections. The mega-retailer is partnering with the DroneUp delivery network to provide service from 36 sites in seven states — including Florida — to deliver groceries to your house by drone. Walmart first announced the plans for Florida in December. [Source: Miami Herald]

Laurel wilt poses a threat to Florida-grown avocados

Systemic fungicides have been used in commercial avocado groves to provide prophylactic control of this disease; however, treatment is too costly for most homeowners and is not a feasible option. This disease would be devastating if it reaches the avocado-producing regions of California, Mexico or Central America. As Florida residents, we have an obligation to be good stewards of the land and do our best to ensure this disease does not move west. [Source: Gainesville Sun]

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› Time names Tampa on ‘World’s Greatest Places’ list. Here’s how people are reacting.
With its new development projects downtown and opportunities for “waterfront fun,” Tampa has caught the attention of travelers — and Time Magazine. The magazine on Thursday named the bay area’s largest city to its 2023 list of the World’s Greatest Places. The big draw is Water Street Tampa and the high-end hotels and restaurants it offers, according to Time. The $3.5 billion development has seen a long lineup of new eateries open in the area, the most recent being The Pearl, a nautical-themed gastropub.

› Laura DiBella: Northeast Florida is the right spot
Laura DiBella is positive about Jacksonville and its role in the economic growth of Northeast Florida. Florida’s secretary of commerce and president and CEO of Enterprise Florida said she saw the region’s potential when she first came here as a commercial real estate broker 16 years ago. “I used to say back in the day Jacksonville needs to decide what it wants to be when it grows up,” DiBella said. “And I think it has.”

› $17.50 an hour? Orlando companies say higher pay ensures quality staff
When Eddie Hamann heard his employees found it hard to make ends meet in Orlando, he saw an opportunity to help. Hamann, a managing member of Andretti Indoor Karting & Games, said a recent survey of the Orlando entertainment complex’s 350 employees discovered many of them were living with three or four people to afford rent. Inflation meant many were saving less making $16 an hour in December than they were with a $13 hourly wage pre-pandemic, he said. So Andretti raised its starting wage to $17.50 for entertainment workers and $19 for culinary staff this month, rates among the highest across Orlando’s tourism industry.

› Pinellas courts new ally in beach erosion battle: the White House
Pinellas County Commission Chairperson Janet Long, who has spent decades in state and local government, started reaching out to friends and acquaintances with White House connections. Last month, she met for a few minutes with President Joe Biden during his visit for Tampa and told him that Pinellas needed help saving its beaches. Soon, her connections yielded an offer for a video chat with a White House official.

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› Five years after fatal FIU bridge collapse, a cautious new design is almost ready
Five years after the catastrophic collapse of a pedestrian bridge with a novel design meant to punctuate Florida International University’s ascendancy as a public institution, state engineers are finally ready to give it another go. This time, though, cutting-edge is out. So is FIU, which conceived of the ambitious bridge project a decade ago and oversaw design and construction of the failed structure.  

› Dolphin deaths at aquarium prompt ‘expert’ examination
The sudden death of an 8-year-old dolphin on Monday made for a grim statistic at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Rex became the fourth dolphin to die in 16 months. In the previous 20 years, three dolphins died at the aquarium, which rescues sick and injured marine animals and exhibits those that cannot be released back to the wild. The spate of deaths occurred around a period of flux for the Clearwater landmark, with three CEO changes, staff turnover and declining visitor attendance.

› Apparent fight clubs hit Florida beaches during spring break
Spring break can get a little rowdy, but a fight club? It’s happening on one beach in Florida as thousands of vacationers flock to the state. NewsNation caught a much calmer version of college kids duking it out on the sand at Fort Lauderdale Beach. Joseph Lopez and a friend were engaging in a friendly spar with boxing gloves.

› Orlando pastors spread news of looming Medicaid loss to their communities
The Rev. Sharon Riley is part of a growing number of church leaders who believe their duty to congregants doesn’t stop when they leave the pulpit. Within the last 10 to 15 years, church leaders, particularly in minority communities, have increasingly used parts of their budgets to share health resources and even create dedicated health ministries after observing health inequities, Riley said. Most recently, Riley and other pastors have taken on the responsibility of preparing their congregants for a looming change in Medicaid coverage.