July 12, 2016

Are Rubio and Nelson still working closely together on Zika?

via @learyreports

Partisan fighting over Zika continues on Capitol Hill and there’s little sign of a resolution before lawmakers take off on another recess.

On Tuesday, Sen. Bill Nelson called for consideration of a $1.1 billion funding bill that already passed the Senate. "We now have 13 more cases, bringing a total in our state to 276, which includes 43 pregnant women – and that’s just one of the 50 states in the union,” Nelson said on the Senate floor. “At what point does the majority and the majority leader decide to stop playing these games and simply do what is needed?”

Sen. Mitch McConnell objected to unanimous consent, shutting down Nelson.

Sen. Marco Rubio has also called for action and tomorrow will convene a Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing on Zika. But Democrats are trying to paint Rubio as part of the problem. On Tuesday, Senate candidate Patrick Murphy and Florida Democrats issued releases asserting that Rubio only began to care about the issue as prepared to announce he was running for re-election.

Rubio and Nelson had pushed for $1.9 billion in funding but don't appear to be working closely now. The Senate in May passed $1.1 billion in funding but the House added provisions Democrats say were designed to hurt Planned Parenthood. Nelson then joined Democrats in blocking the bill, which Rubio supported while calling it imperfect.

Rubio on the Senate floor last week: “I truly hope that in the hours and days leading up to our recess, we will find a rapid and quick way forward so we can address this and fix it and give our people the help they need in the short term and ultimately move towards the money we need to research for a vaccine so this issue can be prevented -- so this disease can be prevented from spreading in the future."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

June 29, 2016

Environmentalists question Nelson, Rubio move on Biscayne National Park

via @jenstaletovich

A marine preserve in Biscayne National Park — a key piece of a new management plan 15 years in the making and designed to protect Florida’s dwindling reef tract — may be derailed by a new bill proposed by Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio.

The bill, proposed Friday and fast-tracked through a committee hearing, would undo the preserve and require the National Park Service to consult with Florida wildlife managers, who opposed the preserve.

“This is a reasonable bill that will ensure the park consults with the state and uses the best available science moving forward,” Nelson said.

Rubio called the bill, dubbed the Access to Sportsfishing Act of 2016, a “model to address the proposed closure.”

But environmentalists say the rare move by Congress sets a dangerous precedent “that would block the National Park Service from doing its legal authority to protect America’s national park,” said Caroline McLaughlin, Biscayne program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.

More here.

Nelson wants feds to act on 'bright neon-green' beach waters

 

@jamesmartinrose

 

Sen. Bill Nelson fired off a letter Wednesday asking federal officials to release more water from Lake Okeechobee into the Everglades and take other steps to stem the green algae washing up on Treasure Coast beaches.

Nelson acted a day after Martin County commissioners asked the state and federal governments to declare an environmental disaster while urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to close the locks between Florida's largest freshwater lake and the St. Lucie River.

"To strongly prevent this environmental and economic crisis from spreading, I strongly urge the Army Corps of Engineers to take immediate action," Nelson wrote to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works.

Nelson added: "The water washing up on the beaches in Martin County, Florida, is bright neon-green. Officials there are concerned about potential health risks associated with the blue-green algae plume forming off their coast and have closed several South Florida beaches as a result, just days before the popular Fourth of July holiday."

The corps regularly releases water from the lake's western and eastern outlets into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers in order to keep its levels no higher than 15.5 feet above sea level, but heavy rainfall has kept the level at 15 feet.

Saying that business owners along the coast "could incur significant financial losses" if visitors avoid the algae-laden beaches and waterways, Nelson asked Darcy to raise the water level in the L-29 canal north of the Tamiani Trail between Miami and Tampa.

The rest of Nelson's letter is here.

 

 

Rubio, Nelson help push Puerto Rico rescue bill

via @learyreports

Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio this morning helped advance legislation to ease Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.

The bill (read the details here) would restructure territory’s finances and create an oversight board. The Senate could take a final vote later this week, just in time for a July 1 deadline on a $2 billion debt payment.

“This legislation that the House has crafted is certainly not the bill that I would have crafted, but it's the only bill that we have before us that could get by the Tea Party element in the House of Representatives,” Nelson said. “It's not ideal, particularly with regard to the labor provisions in the bill and the way the oversight board is organized. And you'll hear that bipartisan attacks against the bill in the Senate, well-meaning and well-felt, but this legislation is needed to get Puerto Rico out of this immediate crisis.”

Rubio was among opponents of Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

“While some form of debt restructuring may become necessary at some point, it should be a last resort with the onus first being on San Juan’s politicians to get their fiscal mess in order and adopt pro-growth policies,” Rubio wrote in opinion column that ran in Florida Today. “Only then will the conditions for long-term economic growth and prosperity in Puerto Rico exist.

“But Congress has a role to play too, given that our Constitution gives the House and Senate responsibility over all U.S. territories like Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rico Oversight Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) is an appropriate first step by Congress to deal with this calamity. The bill would create a fiscal oversight board to help fix the mess, ensure that bondholders’ rights are protected and make sure a taxpayer bailout does not happen. Iunderstand that federal oversight is a tough pill to swallow for some on the island – and it’s an option I don’t take lightly, given my belief that government usually works best when it is closest to the people, not dictated from Washington. But in Puerto Rico’s case, it has become a necessary condition to ensure that tough decisions are made now, so that an even bigger crisis can be avoided.

Carlos Beruff, Rubio’s GOP primary opponent, used it as another attack point.

“A bailout by any other name is still a bailout,” Beruff’s campaign said in a statement. “In true Washington fashion, they’ve tried to hide the bailout from the people of Florida in the latest version of the bill. But the Puerto Ricopackage supported by Marco Rubio and Barack Obama leaves the taxpayers of Florida on the hook for Puerto Rico’s fiscal insanity and no Washington spin can hide that fact. Carlos Beruff is committed to using his business experience to give Washington’s out of control spending a serious reality check. Marco Rubio, on the other hand, has done nothing to fix this country’s fiscal mess and now wants to leave the taxpayers on the hook for anotherbailout.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

June 28, 2016

PolitiFact: Sen. Bill Nelson's Half True claim about Zika bill, birth control and Puerto Rico

Emergency money to block the spread of the Zika virus won’t be coming any time real soon. A $1.1 billion funding measure failed to win enough support for an up or down vote in the Senate.

The major stumbling point wasn’t the money (though Democrats wanted additional funding). Rather, it was the strings that were attached to the measure as it relates to combatting the virus in Puerto Rico.

After the House passed the bill on a largely party line vote, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., berated it.

""The House Zika bill is a disaster," Nelson said June 24, 2016. "Not only does it take $500 million in health care funding away from Puerto Rico, it limits access to birth control services needed to help curb the spread of the virus and prevent terrible birth defects. This is not a serious solution."

We wondered about Nelson’s claim that the House Zika bill "limits access to birth control services needed to help curb the spread of the virus," in Puerto Rico.

Keep reading Jon Greenberg's fact-check from PolitiFact Florida.

June 23, 2016

Rubio votes against gun-control compromise, Nelson votes in favor

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio helped kill a compromise gun control measure today. Sen. Bill Nelson voted in favor of the amendment by Sen. Susan Collins, which would restrict people on the government no-fly list from buying guns.

Rubio, now a candidate for Senate, has drawn criticism from the left for opposing a number of gun measures that followed the Orlando tragedy. His office said he reviewed Collins' "no fly, no buy" plan but he was not expected to back it with the NRA coming out in opposition.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Rubio, Nelson split on House Zika funding bill

@PatriciaMazzei

Lost in the shuffle of Wednesday night's dramatic sit-in by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives was passage of legislation setting aside $1.1 billion to prevent the Zika virus.

That's less than the $1.9 billion President Barack Obama had requested, an amount that received bipartisan support in Florida, the state with the highest number of confirmed cases of the mosquito-borne illness.

The bill now heads to the Senate, and Florida's two senators had quite different reactions to the legislative package.

"The House Zika bill is a disaster," Democrat Bill Nelson said in a statement. "Not only does it take $500 million in health care funding away from Puerto Rico, it limits access to birth control services needed to help curb the spread of the virus and prevent terrible birth defects. This is not a serious solution."

Republican Marco Rubio said some money was better than nothing.

"At this point, I support getting something on Zika done," he said in a statement. "Congress has shamefully wasted too much time already, and with summer here, the price of inaction will be devastating. Although this does not fully fund the president's request, it is at least a significant improvement from what the House passed earlier this year."

All three Miami Republicans in the House voted for the legislation, which was sponsored by one of the local congressmen, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, as part of a broader budget bill.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo said the Zika funding is insufficient but a starting point.

"While this bipartisan compromise fell short, it is a step in the right direction," he said in a statement. "Importantly, it avoids a funding cliff at the end of the summer which was a major flaw in the original House-passed Zika bill I opposed. I will continue to call for as much funding as possible to ensure the residents of South Florida, and the nation, are no longer threatened by the Zika virus."

June 22, 2016

Grayson, Murphy join fellow House members in sit-in over gun bills

@ByKristenMClark

Several Florida Democrats -- including U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy, the two main contenders in the Democratic primary for Florida's U.S. Senate race -- are among the dozens of members of Congress participating in a sit-in protest this afternoon on the U.S. House floor to persuade Republican leaders to take up "no fly, no buy" legislation.

The protest began before noon, led by Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.

Both Grayson and Murphy support the "no fly, no buy" bill, which would prevent people on the FBI's terrorist watchlist from buying guns. A Senate vote on the issue failed earlier this week.

Just after 2 p.m., Murphy stepped away from the sit-in for about 15 minutes to speak with state and national reporters on a conference call arranged by his U.S. Senate campaign for Murphy to comment on Republican Marco Rubio's decision today to seek re-election. Murphy said gun control reform "is going to be one of the defining issues of this Senate race," and he blasted Rubio for voting against reform proposals.

Many members of Congress, including Grayson and Murphy, shared pictures of themselves on social media to capture the sit-in, since the official House cameras were turned off amid the disruption. (As an alternative, CSPAN was airing a live Periscope feed from U.S. Rep. Scott Peters of California.)

Continue reading "Grayson, Murphy join fellow House members in sit-in over gun bills" »

June 20, 2016

Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson voted on party lines on gun votes

Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio voted on party lines this evening on four gun bills that surfaced after the Orlando massacre. All four bills died.

“What am I going to tell 49 grieving families? What am I going to tell the families of those that are still in the hospital fighting for their lives?' Nelson said at a news conference after the votes. 'What am I going to tell the trauma surgeon whose blood-stained shoes have been shown in a picture on so many news programs and who said he didn’t know, in the midst of the screams and the cries, if they were black or white, or gay or straight, as they brought in over 40, all at one time, into that trauma operating room?  What am I going to tell the community of Orlando that is trying to come together in the healing?  Sadly, what I am going to have to tell them is that the NRA won again.”

Rubio issued a long explanation for his votes. “At the end of the day, we know that law-abiding Americans will abide by whatever laws are passed affecting their Second Amendments rights, and that criminals and terrorists will keep ignoring these laws. Senators Cornyn and Grassley have struck the proper balance between addressing gaps in the law that could be exploited by terrorists while taking care not to place new burdens on lawful gun owners who simply want to protect themselves and their families. We know that the impetus for today’s votes was the Orlando terrorist attack. We can’t say for sure if anything in our laws would have stopped this maniac from carrying out some form of attack, but I know that the proposals I supported today would specifically fill gaps that are evident after this attack and protect people who may one day find themselves needing firearms to protect themselves. The Democrat proposals are politically-motivated and driven by a larger ideological agenda to disarm Americans.”

Democratic measures:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein's proposal to allow the attorney general to deny firearms and explosives to suspected terrorists.

Nelson voted yes; Rubio voted no.

Sens. Chris Murphy, Cory Booker and Chuck Schumer plan to expand backgroud checks, including at a gun show.

Nelson voted yes; Rubio voted no.

Republican measures

> Sen, John Cornyn's plan to delay the sale of guns to terrorism suspect for three days or longer.

Nelson voted no; Rubio voted yes.

> Sen. Charles Grassley's plan to increase funding for background checks but not to expand them.

Nelson voted no; Rubio voted yes.

Full Rubio statement:

“I supported Senator Cornyn’s bipartisan proposal, because in the case of the Orlando terrorist, it would have left him on the national background check system for five years and triggered additional review when he attempted to purchase a gun. This reasonable proposal would protect law-abiding Americans by ensuring that their Second Amendment rights are not denied unless terrorism suspicions are adjudicated by a court, following actual notice and a hearing. After all, the standard for denying someone any constitutional right must be a high one; it cannot be ‘because the federal government says so.’

“I opposed Senator Feinstein’s proposal because it would not prevent terrorist attacks, but it would deny thousands of law-abiding Americans their constitutionally protected right to bear arms without any due process. Our terror watch lists are a mess that need to be fixed. We know there are thousands of innocent Americans who have been put on these lists without any justification, and getting their names cleared can be an arduous process. That is a fundamental violation of our constitutionally protected Second Amendment rights. Of course, no one supports terrorists getting any weapons, but we must also make sure that law-abiding Americans can own firearms to protect themselves.

“I opposed Senator Murphy’s proposal because it places too many burdens on law-abiding Americans exercising their Second Amendment rights, specifically as it relates to the transfer of firearms between friends and neighbors, and could criminalize many routine activities that occur between gun owners. This proposal places all the burdens on law-abiding Americans, who will grudgingly comply with everything, while criminals and terrorists ignore them. I instead supported Senator Grassley’s proposal, which makes improvements to the national background check system without infringing on the rights of honest, law-abiding Americans.

“The Orlando terrorist attack has left a major void in the hearts of all the impacted families, their friends and others like me who have been deeply moved by what we’ve learned over the last eight days about the 49 people who were killed. These were young people in the primes of their lives, sons and daughters, taken too soon. This terrorist attack reminds us of the high stakes in this war on terror and how we cannot continue to allow radical Islamic terror groups to plan and train for attacks against the United States and our allies abroad, or allow their efforts to inspire homegrown terrorist acts like this.  Even as we fight terrorists overseas and strengthen our abilities to prevent homegrown extremism, we cannot undermine the American people’s Second Amendment rights to protect themselves and their families.

“At the end of the day, we know that law-abiding Americans will abide by whatever laws are passed affecting their Second Amendments rights, and that criminals and terrorists will keep ignoring these laws. Senators Cornyn and Grassley have struck the proper balance between addressing gaps in the law that could be exploited by terrorists while taking care not to place new burdens on lawful gun owners who simply want to protect themselves and their families. We know that the impetus for today’s votes was the Orlando terrorist attack. We can’t say for sure if anything in our laws would have stopped this maniac from carrying out some form of attack, but I know that the proposals I supported today would specifically fill gaps that are evident after this attack and protect people who may one day find themselves needing firearms to protect themselves. The Democrat proposals are politically-motivated and driven by a larger ideological agenda to disarm Americans.”

Senator Cornyn amendment #4742:

·         This amendment provides law enforcement with appropriate tools to investigate and detain terrorists while preventing them from obtaining firearms and also protecting fundamental due process rights. After taking appropriate steps to confirm the identity of the prospective transferee and confirm or rule out their connection to terrorism, federal prosecutors will have the needed authority to arrest and detain terrorists immediately.

Senator Grassley amendment #4751:

·         This amendment addresses gun violence by improving federal and state law enforcement’s ability to share and access records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Additionally, the amendment provides better protections from gun violence by addressing mental illness in the criminal justice system and strengthening laws against trafficking of illegal firearms.

-- Alex Leary, Tampa Bay Times

June 13, 2016

After Orlando shooting, Sen. Bill Nelson pushes bill to prevent terror suspects from buying guns

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson on Monday joined fellow Democrats in pushing for a bill that would prevent terror suspects from obtaining guns and explosives.

The FBI, Nelson said, was "handicapped" in dealing with the Orlando shooter, who had been investigated before but the cases had closed. The "Denying Firearms And Explosives To Dangerous Terrorists Act" would ban people on a terrorist watch list from getting weapons.

Said Nelson: "If the FBI did not have to close those cases, could make a notation, then when that fellow went in last week to purchase an AR-15 and an automatic handgun, he would have come up on their radar."

<<< Politifact: "Terrorist watch list no obstacle to buying guns, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy says" >>>

The legislation, which Democrats noted began under President George W. Bush, came up last year and was defeated on a party-line vote. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the sponsor, said she hoped Florida Sen. Marco Rubio would support the legislation.

Nelson also said he was "disgusted" by some of the politics surrounding the shooting. "What we've got to do is come together as a country," he said. "That's the American spirit."

Democrats said it would be the first in a series of gun regulations they would push in light of Orlando.