Developer bids $120M for site of collapsed Florida condo

A billionaire real estate developer from the MIddle East is bidding $120 million for the two-acre oceanfront site where a Florida condo collapsed in the middle of the night in June, killing 98 people.

East Oceanside Development, owned by Dubai-based DAMAC Properties, a publicly traded company in the United Arab Emirates founded by wealthy businessman Hussain Sajwani, has agreed to bid $120 million for the Surfside property, The Miami Herald reported, citing a court document filed Friday.

The 12-story Champlain Towers South partially collapsed June 24. The rest of the 136-unit condominium complex was brought down July 4 as rescue workers combed through the rubble searching first for survivors, then for the remains of the victims.

A luxury high-rise condo is expected to eventually go up at the site.

The developer’s bid is considered a “stalking horse,” which sets a minimum price for the property.

Hussain Sajwani, has agreed to bid $120 million for the Surfside property.

The Real Deal reported other companies will be able to submit offers at an auction expected to occur in late February or March. Court papers show information about the site was given to more than 160 interested buyers, and the real estate agents handling the property continue to market it.

coast guard boats patrol in front of the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South condo building
The building partially collapsed, leaving 98 dead.

The judge handling the cases filed against the condo board and developers approved the sale of the site in July. Proceeds are expected to go to compensate the victims and their families. Legal claims could reach $1 billion, according to The Real Deal.

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Gunshots reported near Laundrie house lead cops on goose chase

Police in North Port, Fla., swarmed the neighborhood around Brian Laundrie’s parent’s home late Friday after a reportedly bogus 911 call about gunshots in the area.

Cops surrounded the Laundrie home just before 7 p.m. and one went inside after a call from an unknown number, local NBC affiliate WFLA reported.

Police found no evidence of shots fired after knocking on neighbors’ doors.

“Right now, there is no evidence any shots were actually fired in the area,” North Port police spokesman Josh Taylor told Fox News. There are also no reports from the large contingency of media who were standing outside the home, at the time.”

The search for Laundrie resumed Saturday morning in the Carlton Reserve, the 25,000- acre nature preserve where cops believe he slipped away last week. The 23-year-old, named a person of interest in the death of his girlfriend, Gabby Petito, left home on Sept. 21 without his cell phone or his wallet, his family’s lawyer said.

Police found no evidence of shots fired after knocking on neighbors’ doors.
Christopher Laundrie (L) and his fiancee Gabby Petito
Law enforcement is searching for Christopher Laundrie in Carlton Reserve, a 25,000- acre nature preserve.

Laundrie is now dodging an arrest warrant for using Petito’s debit card on Aug. 20 and Sept. 1, presumably as he drove her van from Wyoming, where her body was found last Sunday, to his parent’s home in Florida.

Additional reporting by Jack Morphet

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Florida Democrat caught falsely claiming to be Hispanic: ‘If you want to nail me to the cross go ahead. Make me look foolish’

A Florida Democrat gave a bizarre response after getting caught falsely claiming to be Hispanic while running for Miami Beach City Commission.

Kristen Rosen Gonzalez called herself “the most high-profile Hispanic Democrat in the City of Miami Beach” during a candidate interview with Democratic Party leaders. Gonzalez is running for the office after previously serving and unsuccessfully running for U.S. Congress.

While Gonzalez does have a Hispanic surname, she obtained it from a previous marriage to a Hispanic man that ended in divorce in 2009.

When confronted about her false assumption of a Hispanic identity, Gonzalez was dismissive of the criticism.

“Well, I’m perceived as being Hispanic,” Rosen Gonzalez said in an interview with Jim DeFede of CBS Miami.

“I’m perceived as being Hispanic by all of the Hispanics in my community. I’m their girl. My last name is Hispanic. I know I’m not Hispanic,” she added.

Here’s the report from CBS Miami:

Miami Beach Commission Candidate Kristen Rosen Gonzalez Plays ‘Hispanic’ Card, Only She’s Not

“I’m sorry I probably oversold myself,” Gonzalez continued. “If you want to nail me to the cross, go ahead. Make me look foolish.”

DeFede interviewed Maria-Elena Lopez, who was present at the interview and is an actual Hispanic woman, and she said that she believed Gonzalez was pretending to be Hispanic in order to gain support from Hispanics in the district.

“I honestly feel that is the purpose,” Lopez said. “By keeping a Hispanic name, you are trying to confuse voters.”

She also confirmed to CBS Miami that having an ex-spouse who was Hispanic “does not give you the right to say you are Hispanic.”

Robert Dempster, the chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, told CBS Miami that he didn’t realize at the time of the interview that Gonzalez was lying about her heritage.

“It is a particularly odd stance for her to take,” Dempster said. “Especially given that the interview was on the second day of Hispanic Heritage Month.”

Gonzalez previously made headlines when she proposed a tax on bullets in order to raise billions of dollars to fortify schools against mass shootings.

“You know what, most of these shooters are men, and they get this spike in testosterone, some emotional reaction, they cannot have availability, not to guns, not to these bullets, we have to make it harder,” she said on MSNBC.

Here’s Gonzalez on MSNBC on her bullet tax proposal:

Florida Democrat Kristen Rosen Gonzalez Proposes A Tax On Bullets | Kasie DC | MSNBC

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All bets are off on mobile sports wagering being legal in Florida on Oct. 15

Under the Florida-Seminole Tribe gaming compact signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and approved by lawmakers in May, mobile online sports wagering becomes officially legal in the Sunshine State on Oct. 15.

But after two Florida pari-mutuels filed a motion in federal court late Tuesday to block the sports wagering component of the 30-year gaming deal from being implemented, don’t bet on it.

Considering the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., has scheduled a Nov. 5 hearing on the 45-page motion, and the Seminole Tribe has acknowledged in court documents its digital platform won’t be ready until Nov. 15, odds are slim for an Oct. 15 rollout.

West Flagler Associates, which owns Miami’s Magic City Casino, and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp., operators of Bonita Springs Poker Room, in July filed a 67-page lawsuit in the U.S. Northern District Court of Florida, alleging the compact violates federal law and seeking an injunction to prevent sports gaming from being legal on Oct. 15.

After the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) approved the compact on Aug. 5, the plaintiffs filed a similar 43-page suit in D.C. District Court, claiming the “hub-and-spoke” system violates federal and state laws.

After two years of negotiations, the 75-page gambling compact was approved by lawmakers on May 19 and signed by DeSantis on May 25.

The compact makes Florida the 22nd state to legalize sports betting since the Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law banning commercial sports betting in 2018’s Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Under the pact, in addition to exclusive control of blackjack, craps, online fantasy gaming, the Seminoles also control all sports betting at its seven casinos and on non-tribal pari-mutuels via its Hard Rock Digital platform using a “hub and spoke” system in which gamblers anywhere in the state can place online bets via servers on tribal property.

Under the compact, bets made “using a mobile app or other electronic device, shall be deemed to be exclusively conducted by the Tribe.”

In exchange, the Seminoles will pay Florida at least $500 million annually, or a minimum of $2.5 billion, over the pact’s first five years.

The focus of contention is the “hub-and-spoke” system. Florida lawmakers and the BIA determined a server on tribal land meets stipulations in federal and state laws that gambling may only take place on tribal lands. Plaintiffs argue that is “legal fiction.”

West Flagler Associates and Bonita-Fort Myers Corp. want the compact tossed and a new deal crafted that doesn’t grant the Tribe a Florida sports gaming monopoly.

An anti-gaming coalition is also threatening to sue the state for violating Amendment 3, a 2018 constitutional amendment that requires voter approval of gambling expansions

“Only Florida voters, not politicians in Tallahassee or Washington, have the power to expand gambling in Florida,” No Casinos President John Sowinski said last month. “This issue will have its day in both state and federal courts, where we are confident this compact will be overturned.”

The American Gaming Association estimates Floridians already spend $7 billion a year on mobile sports bets.

DraftKings and FanDuel, two of the world’s largest online sportsbooks, believe they can convince Floridians to “capture” untaxed gaming revenues for the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund in compliance with Amendment 3.

The two have each invested $10 million to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2022 ballot to expand sports gambling beyond the Seminoles to “ensure Florida shares in the sports wagering revenue currently going entirely to the offshore, illegal market,’ FanDuel Vice President of Government Affairs Cory Fox said.

According to the Division of Elections (DOE), the petition Thursday had 18,363 of 891,589 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.

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Catholic radio program dropped from Florida station for anti-COVID vaccine stance 

STUART, Florida (LifeSiteNews) — A Catholic radio program “without compromise” has been dropped from a Florida radio station for speaking out against COVID-19 shots. 

Virgin Most Powerful Radio was informed on September 15 by Ron Crider that their programming would be “immediately” discontinued on Prince of Peace Radio, WJPP/WPBV, based in Stuart, Florida, because of their “inconsistent” views on the morality of the COVID-19 jabs. 

It is our understanding the church supports vaccinations,” Crider wrote in an email announcing his decision.

“The Pope has been vaccinated and the council of Bishops support vaccination. And yes we are 100% Pro Life and totally are against abortion!” 

Crider continued: “Your program is inconsistent with our station with respect to the ‘vaccination issue’.”

“Otherwise we very much like your daily program.” 

Terry Barber, the founder of several major Catholic media apostolates, including St. Joseph Communications, Lighthouse Catholic Media, and the Catholic Resource Center, formed the Virgin Most Powerful radio network after The Terry and Jesse Show, which he hosts together with Jesse Romero, was dropped from Relevant Radio, formerly known as Immaculate Heart Radio.  

Barber and Romero had been speaking out on moral and health issues of the COVID-19 jabs for months on The Terry and Jesse Show. Just prior to being dropped, on September 13, they had hosted a radio show entitled “Profile in Cowardice: How Catholic Leaders Botched Abortion-Linked COVID Vaccines.” 

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United Airlines is accused of not respecting the religious and medical COVID vaccine exemptions which the company offered to employees who cannot, in good conscience or health, take the vaccine.

2,000 employees of the industry giant are represented in two court cases which have been initiated to stop United from laying-off or indefinitely furloughing workers who have sought COVID vaccine exemptions.

Please SIGN this BOYCOTT of United and send the airline a stong message that you will not support the implementation of these draconian measures.

Many United Airlines employees have sincerely held religious objections to taking the COVID vaccines, while other employees have been told by their doctors not to take the vaccine due to health concerns.

The religious and medical rights of these employees must be respected, and, will hopefully be vindicated by the courts.

But, airlines are for-profit businesses, and apart from the legal incentives, there must also be financial incentives for them to respect their employees’ religious and medical rights, and, indeed, the same rights of all Americans.

And, that’s why we are calling for a boycott.

The CEO of United Airlines, Scott Kirby, and HR Manager, Kate Gebo, need to understand that the American public will not support businesses who force their employees or customers to violate their religious beliefs or their doctors’ recommendations.

Of course, this is totally unnecessary.

United could simply make reasonable accommodations for their employees who are claiming either a religious or medical exemption.

But, until United adopts that policy, we are asking you to consider boycotting the “unfriendly skies” and find another airline for your travel needs. By doing so, you will meaningfully stand shoulder-to-shoulder with these aggrieved United employees.

Thank you for SIGNING and SHARING this petition to boycott United Airlines over the company’s failure to respect religious and medical COVID vaccine exemptions for its employees.


‘Pilots seek restraining order against United Airlines’ ‘unlawful, life-threatening, vaccine-mandate’’ –

‘United Airlines will put employees with religious, medical COVID vaccine exemptions on unpaid leave’ –

**Photo Credit: EQRoy /

Barber’s wife, Mary, who co-hosts another radio show with him, “Bible with the Barbers,” responded by email to Crider’s notice, advising him to look up the article “The Morality of Receiving Abortion-Derived Vaccines” by Fr. Leon Pereira, O.P., a biologist, medical doctor, and moral theologian.  

Mary Barber highlighted several of Pereira’s key points, saying first that the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 “vaccines” had a connection to aborted fetal tissue in stages one and three of development of the shot for its design and testing. 

“In addition to that, he traces the fetal cell lines that were used and makes them personal,” she continued, alluding Pereira’s efforts to identify the babies from which the currently used fetal cell lines originated.

“We are dealing with a medical research method that uses the killing of human beings to develop/design, test or produce pharmaceuticals.”  

Mary Barber  then pointed to the document Dignitas Personae (2008), issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which states that only “morally proportionate” “grave reasons” may justify the use of such normally illicit biological material, such as danger to the health of children. And even then, as Barber noted, “pressure must be put on governments, pharmaceutical companies, researchers, etc., to find an ethically acceptable alternative!”  

In a follow-up response to Crider, Mary Barber quoted from the recent CDF “Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines,” which stated, “Practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.” 

She also noted that “It is only permitted to use the vaccine when there is no other means to stop or prevent the epidemic.”  

“Thousands of doctors have testified to treating patients successfully, even patients with comorbidities, without hospitalization or vaccines,” said Mary Barber, adding that The Church is not infallible in matters of medicine/science.” 

In light of Dignitas Personae’s admonition that vaccines developed from aborted fetal tissue are permissible only when the “danger” is real, Mary Barber wrote, “Why is a vaccine necessary for a virus that 99.5% of the people infected recover from? 

Crider’s only response to Mary Barber, in answer to her question about which two vaccines are considered “acceptable to the Catholic Church,” was the text of an article entitled, “Catholic Church encourages people to get Pfizer or Moderna vaccine over Johnson and Johnson.” 

However, Crider gave LifeSiteNews a fuller explanation of the reasons behind his decision. 

“Americans are prolonging the pandemic by not getting vaccinated. I think this is selfish on their part,” he told LifeSiteNews by email.  

“However, the unvaccinated ‘are the greater majority’ of people dying.  Their stubbornness is creating a huge problem for this country,” Crider continued. 

“Stop with the religious excuse. The Popes are vaccinated. Stop with the-side effects excuse. Do you want to drag this out 5 years to see what they are[?] Where is your ‘FAITH’?” 

Crider revealed that his “entire family,” including his children and grandchildren, are vaccinated, and that they are “proud to wear a vaccination bracelet.” He further defended his position by saying that “the majority of the Catholic Church is pro-vaccination.” 

“It is my personal opinion your position makes you part of the problem and not part of the solution,” he declared.  

Many people have made reasonable decision not to take the COVID-19 jabs because of the thousands of deaths and millions of other serious injuries that have been recorded following their use.  

One of the testimonies Mary Barber had shared with Crider was from a nurse who refuses the COVID-19 jab and was made to choose between keeping their job and getting the shot. 

It’s easier to paint us as uncaring, uneducated conspiracy theorists than acknowledge that we are humans just like you, with families, beliefs, doing what we feel in our hearts to be best,” the nurse wrote. 

She emphasized that her entire career was dedicated to putting the needs of her patients before her own, sacrificing time with her own family to serve others.

“I’ve patiently spoon-fed ice cream and one pill at a time for an hour to your confused grandpa, answered hundreds of questions, reassured till I’m blue in the face, rushed in to make sure he didn’t fall,” the nurse said.  

“We forgo bathroom breaks, go 12+ hours without eating, lay down food we’ve reheated 4 times when a call bell rings, even if all that’s needed is moving a drink cup 3 inches to the right,” she continued. 

“But what is a choice if one option leaves every fiber in your being screaming NO and the other steals your livelihood, your passion, and the career you’ve given your heart to for the past 7 years? I don’t call that a choice.”  

The Catholic hierarchy is not wholly united on the morality of the currently available COVID-19 shots. Several bishops and archbishops, including Bishop Joseph Strickland and Bishop Athanasius Schneider, signed a statement on December 12, 2020, declaring their moral opposition to the currently available abortion-tainted COVID-19 “vaccines.” 

“The crime of abortion is so monstrous that any kind of concatenation with this crime, even a very remote one, is immoral and cannot be accepted under any circumstances by a Catholic once he has become fully aware of it,” the prelates’ statement reads. 

“One who uses these vaccines must realize that his body is benefitting from the ‘fruits’ (although steps removed through a series of chemical processes) of one of mankind’s greatest crimes.” 

“God knows these souls by name,” Bishop Athanasius Schneider told John-Henry Westen, referring to the babies used to develop the current COVID-19 shots. 

All of the shows hosted by Virgin Most Powerful Radio, and their accompanying recordings, can be found on their website. Recordings from The Terry and Jesse Show can be found here. 

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DeSantis Secures 3,000 More Life-Saving COVID Treatments For Florida

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Thursday that he has secured additional monoclonal antibodies to fight COVID-19 in his state. The move comes after President Joe Biden cut back on federal distribution of the life-saving treatment to Florida and other southern, red states last week.

“We know there’s going to be a continuing need to make this early treatment available for folks. And so in some respects, it’s sad that I have to announce, but I am happy that we’re not just sitting on our rump — we’re making things happen,” said DeSantis. “So, the state of Florida has been able to acquire an additional 3,000 doses of the monoclonal antibody treatment, which is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline. It got emergency-use approval just a few months ago. The clinical data that they had was really, really strong.”

The governor later went on to slam the Biden administration, saying that the decision to cut antibody supplies to the state is “wrong” and would result in “negative” implications for Floridians going forward.

“We may have to close sites. The hospitals may not have all that they need,” DeSantis said. “There’s a whole host of things. So this is just fundamentally wrong. At the same time, you can’t just sit on the sidelines and carp about it, you’ve got to do something about it.”

“And so our announcement today that we have secured a shipment of the newest monoclonal antibody from GlaxoSmithKline, that’s showing that we’re going to leave no stone unturned and if there’s somebody that needs a monoclonal antibody treatment, we’re going to work hard to get it to them,” he added.

“We are proud that Florida’s success with these treatments has saved countless lives and inspired other states to open monoclonal antibody treatment sites like ours,” DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw told The Federalist. “But sadly, the Biden administration is now punishing Florida for this success. There is no evidence of a national shortage of monoclonal antibody treatment and no justification for the federal government to cut supplies to the states that need it most. Biden is playing politics as usual, and Americans are suffering because of it.”

Shawn Fleetwood is an intern at The Federalist and a student at the University of Mary Washington, where he plans to major in Political Science and minor in Journalism. He also serves as a state content writer for Convention of States Action. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnFleetwood

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Arrest Warrant Issued for Brian Laundrie – RedState

The search for Brian Laundrie is still ongoing, as reports have emerged detailing new developments in the case of the homicide of Gabrielle Petito.

A federal arrest warrant for Laundrie was issued on Thursday following the discovery of Petito’s remains on Sunday. However, the warrant is not related to her death; it was issued after a grand jury indicted him for “use of unauthorized devices.”


Laundrie used a debit card and PIN number for accounts that did not belong to him for charges totaling more than $1,000 between the dates of August 30 and September 1, according to the indictment.

Steve Bertolino, an attorney representing Laundrie’s family, released a statement explaining the warrant. He wrote:

It is my understanding that the arrest warrant for Brian Laundrie is related to activities occurring after the death of Gabby Petito and not related to her actual demise.

He also pointed out that the authorities are “focusing on locating Brian and when that occurs the specifics of the charges covered under the indictment will be addressed in the proper forum.”

Michael Schneider, FBI Special Agent in Charge, said:

“While this warrant allows law enforcement to arrest Mr. Laundrie, the FBI and our partners across the country continue to investigate the facts and circumstances of Ms. Petito’s homicide. We urge individuals with knowledge of Mr. Laundrie’s role in this matter or his current whereabouts to contact the FBI.”

Local and federal officials resumed the search for Laundrie in the Carlton Reserve on Friday. It is a 25,000-acre nature preserve located close to his parents’ Florida home. On Sept. 17, Laundrie left his parents’ home with a backpack, telling them he was headed to the reserve.

Steven Claytor, a survival instructor with North Florida Survival, told ABC7 that it would be unlikely that a person could hide out in the preserve for a long time. He explained that the heat and humidity would make it difficult for a person to survive without the right equipment. He said:

“He’s going to have to have a lot of stuff to be able to stay out in a humid, hot swampy wet area and be able to maintain that for awhile.”

Another survival expert told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that “if he’s down there in the Carlton Reserve, he’s living in hell.”

Another report suggested it is possible that Laundrie lied to his family about going to the preserve. Chris Boyer, executive director of the National Association for Search and Rescue, told Insider:

“People that are trying not to get caught for something sometimes use people, right? So he may have told his parents that’s where he’s going.”

He also noted that Laundrie’s parents might be telling the authorities that he went to the preserve “in all honesty,” but were deceived by their son.

A source close to the family told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that Laundrie left his cell phone and wallet behind on the last day they saw him. His parents were worried that he planned to harm himself.

Other reports revealed further evidence that tensions between Laundrie and Petito were intensifying. The details of an incident in which things became physical between the two surfaced earlier this week. The police report explains how the altercation arose.

“A couple from Louisiana vacationing in Jackson, Wyoming, says they saw an incident last month in a restaurant involving Petito and Laundrie,” according to CNN.

From CNN:

Nina Angelo and her boyfriend, Matt England, saw a “commotion” as Petito and Laundrie were leaving The Merry Piglets Tex-Mex restaurant, Angelo told CNN on Wednesday.

Petito was in tears and Laundrie was visibly angry, going into and out of the restaurant several times and continuing to show anger toward the staff around the hostess stand, Angelo said. The couples’ waitress was also visibly shaken by the incident, according to Angelo, who told CNN she did not see any violence or physical altercation between Petito and Laundrie.

Laundrie is still not officially considered a suspect in the death of Gabrielle Petito, but he is a person of interest. He is still at large, but at this point, the general consensus seems to be that he will not be missing for much longer.

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Florida extends mandate ban to include ‘institutionalized quarantining’ of K-12 students

The DeSantis administration has opened a new front in its campaign against public health mandates, expanding bans against universal mask and vaccine policies into a new prohibitory realm – “institutionalized quarantining.”

On his second day as Florida Department of Health (FDOH) Secretary and Surgeon General, Dr. Joe Lapado joined Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to announce new FDOH protocols applicable to school districts.

The new rules reiterate the previous policy that parents have sole discretion whether their children wear masks in school but also accords sole discretion to parents in choosing to quarantine their children after an exposure to COVID-19.

“Basically there is no high quality data about benefits” of quarantining students, Lapado said Wednesday. “We’re about 18 months into this pandemic and there is not a single high-quality study that shows that any child has ever benefited from that policy.”

While benefits of quarantining students are difficult to assess, “We actually do have good data about the costs,” he said. “There have been several studies that show that kids taken out of school, it’s extremely harmful. It’s too bad we needed a study to know that. But it’s great the studies agree with what I think most parents would have known without the study.”

“Quarantining healthy students is incredibly damaging for their educational advancement,” DeSantis said. “It’s also disruptive for families. We are going to be following a symptoms-based approach.”

The revised protocols eliminate a previous standard that required students quarantine for at least four days off campus if exposed to someone who tested positive.

Students who have been exposed, but are asymptomatic, can now go to school “without restrictions or disparate treatment” under the new guidelines.

The protocols retain previous guidelines for students who test positive. They still either quarantine for 10 days, receive a negative test and be asymptomatic before returning to campus.

The new protocols discard Rule 64DER21-12 , which authorized FDOH to issue rules governing “the control of preventable communicable diseases” in schools.

Under that rule, the state’s Department of Education was enforcing DeSantis’ executive order and Board of Education orders banning school boards from adopting universal mask mandates.

The Alachua, Broward, Leon and Miami-Dade and Orange county school districts sought an administrative hearing to challenge Rule 64DER21-12. But, because it was repealed, an administrative law judge Wednesday dismissed their case.

“Essentially, the state is responding to the legal challenges of its rules by repealing them and creating new ones, with limited public notice,” Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon said in a statement, calling the new protocols “disingenuous.”

The replacement rule retains the same policy — schools can require masks if parents can opt children out — but with revised language that stipulates compliance is “at the parent or legal guardian’s sole discretion.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), people who get infected can spread the virus starting from two days before they have any symptoms.

The CDC recommends students quarantine 14 days if unvaccinated. They can shorten the quarantine to seven days by testing negative, the CDC recommends.

That approach is too unwieldly, DeSantis said, touting the new “symptoms-based approach.”

“If someone is symptomatic, of course they stay at home,” he said. “If there is a close contact but someone has not developed any symptoms, you monitor them. You notify a parent. The parent always has the right to make their kids stay home, if they think that is in the best interest of the student and the family, 100% we would not want to intrude upon that.”

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Texas joins coalition supporting Florida ban on big tech censorship

Texas Attorney General Paxton led a 10-state coalition in filing an amicus brief with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Florida’s law that regulates censorship on Big Tech social media platforms.

The law, similar to one just passed by Texas, requires Big Tech platforms to consistently apply content-moderation practices and disclosures to affected users.

“The regulation of big tech censorship will inevitably suppress the ideas and beliefs of millions of Americans,” Paxton said. “I will defend the First Amendment and ensure that conservative voices have the right to be heard. Big Tech does not have the authority to police the expressions of people whose political viewpoint they simply disagree with.”

Joining Texas in the brief are the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana and South Carolina.

The Texas bill, HB 20, was signed into law Sept. 2 by Gov. Greg Abbott at a ceremony with the bill’s authors, state Sen. Bryan Hughes and Rep. Briscoe Cain, in addition to state Sens. Charles Perry, Dawn Buckingham and Angela Paxton.

Abbott added legislation to address social media censorship to the second special legislative session agenda in August.

The new law prevents social media companies with more than 50 million monthly users from banning users based on their political views. The law also requires social media outlets to implement several consumer protection disclosures and processes related to content management on applicable sites. The social media sites in question must under the new law disclose their content management and moderation policies and create a complaint and appeals process. The new law also prohibits email service providers from impeding the transmission of email messages based on content.

“We will always defend the freedom of speech in Texas,” Abbott said. “Social media websites have become our modern-day public square. They are a place for healthy public debate where information should be able to flow freely – but there is a dangerous movement by social media companies to silence conservative viewpoints and ideas. That is wrong, and we will not allow it in Texas. I thank Senator Bryan Hughes, Representative Briscoe Cain, and the Texas Legislature for ensuring that House Bill 20 reached my desk during the second special session.”

Florida’s SB 7072 – the law at issue in the appeal – contains similar provisions to Texas’ HB 20. Its neutrality provision requires social media platforms to “apply censorship, deplatforming, and shadow banning standards in a consistent manner among its users on the platform.”

In May, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB 7072 into law to protect free speech and allow Floridians being censored to sue two major social media companies: Facebook and Twitter. The law allows the state to fine the two platforms thousands of dollars every day they suspend or ban political candidates.

The bill only applied to large social media firms like Facebook and Twitter and contained an exemption for internet platforms “operated by a company that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex,” which critics have argued doesn’t apply to Disney or NBCUniversal because the companies are critical to the state’s tourism sector.

In June, District Judge Robert Hinkle issued a preliminary injunction blocking the state from enforcing nearly all parts of the law. He ruled, “Balancing the exchange of ideas among private speakers is not a legitimate governmental interest. [The law] discriminates on its face among otherwise-identical speakers: between social-media providers that do or do not meet the legislation’s size requirements and are or are not under common ownership with a theme park. The legislation does not survive strict scrutiny.”

But the coalition argues that Hinkle’s analysis is “riddled with errors. It veered off course from the outset by concluding that SB 7072 regulates speech, when that law instead regulates conduct that is unprotected by the First Amendment: social media platforms’ arbitrary application of their content moderation policies,” according to the brief.

The district court also mistook SB 7072 for a content-based law when it is content-neutral, they argue, and the court “completely ignored the States’ long-established compelling interest in ensuring that its citizens have access to the free flow of information and ideas.”

If the court’s “faulty analysis” is not corrected by the appeals court, the coalition argues, “the errant legal theories” the district court endorsed could be adopted by other courts around the country and jeopardize other states’ laws like HB 20.

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Education Department Reimburses Florida School Officials Penalized for Defying Mask-Mandate Ban

A student wearing a protective mask attends class on the first day of school amid the coronavirus pandemic at St. Lawrence Catholic School in North Miami Beach, Fla. August 18, 2021. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

The U.S. Department of Education has reimbursed several Florida school-board members who were financially penalized by the state government for defying the mask-mandate ban spearheaded by Republican governor Ron DeSantis.

School officials in Alachua County received $147,719 as compensation for the fines imposed by the Florida Department of Education, in a first instance of the Biden administration fulfilling its promise to help school districts counter DeSantis’s executive order with federal funds. Rather than prohibit masks, the governor’s directive leaves the decision to send children to school with masks at the discretion of parents, making the practice optional.

In addition to Alachua, ten other Florida school districts have required that students wear masks on campus, which the DeSantis administration has argued violates state law, therefore potentially warranting punishment.

DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw slammed the U.S. Department of Education’s intervention Thursday.

“Just a couple of months ago, the Biden Administration said that Florida would be violating federal requirements by providing $1,000 bonuses to teachers and principals. Therefore, it’s ironic that the federal government is now using taxpayer funding for education to pay the salaries of elected school board members, who made the decision to violate the law because they don’t believe parents have a right to choose what’s best for their children,” Pushaw told The News Service of Florida.

“We should be thanking districts for using proven strategies that will keep schools open and safe, not punishing them,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement.

In August, the Biden administration sent a letter to DeSantis suggesting that any school officials penalized over the state’s ban of mask mandates could be repaid with funds allocated through the American Rescue Plan.

“Any threat by Florida to withhold salaries from superintendents and school board members who are working to protect students and educators (or to levy other financial penalties) can be addressed using ESSER funds at the sole and complete discretion of Florida school districts,” it read.

The Biden administration appears to have followed through on its pledge. Alachua’s reimbursement was derived from the Support America’s Families and Educators, or Project SAFE grant program, kickstarted by the Education Department in the wake of Republican states’ resisting federal demands for COVID restrictions in schools and other venues. Only Alachua and Broward counties have had funding for salaries withheld by the state government so far, even though several others have disobeyed the order.

The governor’s mask-mandate prohibition has been entangled in legal disputes for many months. In a recent development, the First District Court of Appeals in Florida ended a pause on the ban, allowing the measure to temporarily go back into effect, likely for the remainder of the semester until the appellate court issues a final ruling.

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