By CBSMiami.com Team

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Gov. Ron DeSantis believes Florida’s economic recovery from COVID-19 could be better if the federal government would let cruise ship passengers decide if they want to take their chances on the open seas.

After giving his State of the State address on Tuesday, DeSantis predicted Florida’s unemployment rate will dip below 6 percent when January numbers are released on March 15 and he said the economy would get a further boost if cruise ships were again operating at state ports.

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“Our tourism is still handicapped,” DeSantis told reporters. “They’re not letting the cruise ships sail. We don’t have the flights from Brazil and Europe like we normally would. So there’s a whole host of things that can happen very quickly, that will help the state do even better.”

DeSantis said he worked with the Trump administration to get cruise ships sailing again. But he was unable to alter federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for cruise operations.

“My view would be we have all these different tools now, vaccines, testing, antibody treatments. Let people make decisions for themselves about what they want to do,” DeSantis said. “If you want to go on a cruise, do it. If you don’t, that’s fine. No one’s saying you have to do it. But to just not let these folks work for all these months. We need to get them back to work.”

Under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, cruise lines must meet COVID-19 safety standards that include running test cruises before passengers can be allowed on board.

Michael Rubin, Florida Ports Council vice president of governmental affairs, has called the list of requirements “onerous” and said the pandemic has impacted about 170,000 jobs tied to the state’s ports.

Carnival Cruise Line cruises are expected to be canceled at least through the end of May. In a video last week, Carnival President Christine Duffy said the company has 16 ships in U.S. waters “so that we can get back to cruising just as soon as we are able.”

CHARTING A COURSE FOR REPUBLICANS

U.S. Census Bureau data Florida lawmakers need to redraw legislative and congressional boundaries won’t be delivered until September.

But Dave Wasserman. U.S. House editor for the Cook Political Report, already can see things turning very “red” for Republicans across Florida when district lines are reset.

Wasserman, an admitted map nerd with the Twitter handle @Redstrict, in a series of posts Wednesday projected the GOP gaining seats in Florida’s congressional delegation, which is currently made up of 16 Republicans and 11 Democrats.

“At the extreme end, Rs could attempt a 21R-8D gerrymander, which could cost Dems almost their entire House majority,” Wasserman wrote.

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Wasserman anticipates two new seats Florida will pick up because of its growing population to lean Republican and that the GOP-dominated Legislature will target seats held by Democratic U.S. House members Charlie Crist and Stephanie Murphy.

Crist and Murphy have recently made overtures about running for statewide offices.

A North Florida district held by Democratic Congressman Al Lawson could also be targeted, but Wasserman believes the Legislature might hold off, as “breaking up Tallahassee/Jacksonville could trigger a racial gerrymandering lawsuit.” Lawson is Black, and his sprawling district links areas that include large Black populations.

Florida voters in 2010 approved constitutional amendments aimed at curbing gerrymandering. Wasserman isn’t dismissing the standards included in the amendments, but he is taking into account the makeup of the state Supreme Court, which has become dominated by conservative justices appointed by Republican governors.

“Because the FL Sup Ct has turned sharply right since 2015, Rs could be even more aggressive — in defiance of FL’s Fair Districts amendments,” Wasserman wrote.

LOW MARKS

DeSantis didn’t get good grades from the Sierra Club for his work in 2020, and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a potential Democratic challenger to DeSantis, didn’t do much better with the environmental group.

As part of annual grades that many business and environmental groups give to politicians, the Sierra Club handed DeSantis a “D minus” for his work last year and Fried a “C minus.”

The Sierra Club criticized Fried on issues such as not addressing pre-harvest sugar field burning in western Palm Beach County and allowing antibiotic pesticides to combat citrus greening.

“Commissioner Fried continues to ignore the needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens by supporting agricultural practices that impact public health,” Diana Umpierre, a Sierra Club organizing representative, said in a prepared statement. “Her calls for racial equity ring hollow when citrus trees are more important than farmworker health and the primarily black communities in western Palm Beach County are not afforded the same protections from sugar burning as the wealthier communities in eastern Palm Beach County.”

DeSantis saw his mark slip from a D grade in 2019 due to issues such as continued support for three toll-road projects in rural areas, signing legislation critics say further weakens growth management and using Land Acquisition Trust Fund money for purposes other than land acquisition.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: “So proud to have support from @TomBrady for our new resiliency initiative. We all face challenges in life. With resiliency and hope you can persevere through anything. But don’t just take it from me, take it from one of the NFL’s Greatest of All Time.” — Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis (@FLCaseyDeSantis).

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CBSMiami.com Team