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Fried Wants Cabinet To Address COVID-19 Issues

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried on Tuesday reiterated a call for Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state Cabinet to jointly address issues related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Fried, who has complained about a lack of communication between the statewide elected officials, said she’s been requesting weekly briefings from the governor’s office since before an April 7 Cabinet meeting was canceled.

“It’s important that we do meet so we can have these conversations and discuss it,” Fried told The News Service of Florida from her home. “A lot of the stuff that we may not have to vote on could be one-on-one conversations at the very least, to give us up-to-date information of what is happening in our state.”

DeSantis and the Cabinet --- Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Fried --- haven’t held a meeting since Feb. 4, more than a month before the governor declared a state of emergency as Florida tried to slow the spread of COVID-19, the deadly respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

“Since even before the (April) Cabinet meeting was canceled, I had requested different briefings on a weekly basis to keep us up to speed on what is happening and what our response is across the state,” Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, said. “Where can we kind of work together?”

DeSantis’s daily schedule on Monday included a phone call with Moody to address COVID-19, with a Moody spokeswoman saying the conversation did not involve other issues.

“The attorney general and governor do not discuss Cabinet issues outside of public meetings,” Moody spokeswoman Lauren Cassedy said in an email.

The governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to questions about the call with Moody or the future of Cabinet discussions.

The call was the first contact DeSantis is listed on his schedule as having with any of the Cabinet members since he started issuing emergency orders related to the virus on March 1. He issued the state of emergency March 9.

Patronis has been pushing DeSantis and legislative leaders to convene budget experts to determine the possible impacts of the coronavirus on the state’s finances.

On March 24, Patronis tweeted that officials would benefit from a public briefing on economic models before DeSantis takes final action on a $93.2 billion budget that lawmakers approved last month.

“Would be happy to see the Cabinet meet to hear from SBA & Bond Finance,” Patronis tweeted at the time, referring to the State Board of Administration, which oversees state investments, and the Division of Bond Finance.

Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, informed Patronis on April 7 that “credible estimates” may not be possible until May at the earliest.

“At this point, what we do know is far outweighed by the assumptions we would need to make,” Baker said in the letter released by Patronis’ office on Monday. “There are still too many key questions for which there are no current answers. This would make any attempt to begin revising the estimates earlier than mid-May speculative, at best.”

Fried isn’t the only Democrat calling for more communications from the governor’s office.

Democratic members of Congress, representing some areas of Florida hit hardest by COVID-19, have argued they’ve been left out of the loop on state efforts to slow the spread of the deadly disease.

Also, state Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, has been pushing for public airing of the issues.

"Now more than ever, the governor and Cabinet need to be meeting in the sunshine to coordinate the state’s response to COVID-19,” Diamond said in a statement Monday. “The governor should not use this state of emergency to put off Cabinet meetings. The governor and Cabinet should come together and work collaboratively and publicly to help all Floridians during this crisis.”

The News Service of Florida is a wire service to which WUFT News subscribes.