October 07, 2016

Democratic lawmakers ask Florida governor to reconsider moving voter-registration deadline


Eleven Democratic members of Congress from Florida asked Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Friday to reconsider pushing back the state's voter-registration deadline because of Hurricane Matthew.

In the letter, spearheaded by Weston Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the lawmakers thank Scott for his handling of the powerful storm -- and then urge him to change his mind on the deadline.

"We respectfully request an extension of the voter registration deadline so that we may ensure the franchise, the integrity of our democracy, and the rights we as Americans hold dear, are fully protected," they wrote.

Scott said Thursday he planned to keep the Tuesday deadline, after Hillary Clinton's campaign urged for an extension. The storm canceled plans from Democratic-leaning groups to sign people up at the last minute; there's typically a surge of interest right before the deadline. An attorney for a firm that does work for the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party suggested on Twitter late Thursday that the campaign could sue Florida if Scott doesn't budge.

White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz told reporters who asked about the dispute Friday that "generally speaking, the president thinks we should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder."

"Any steps that impede on citizens' ability to exercise that right to vote is a step in the wrong direction," Schultz said.

Two liberal organizations, Project Vote and People For The American Way, also released statements Friday imploring Scott to delay the deadline.

Among the lawmakers who signed the congressional letter were U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, whom Scott is considering challenging in 2018. The others who signed -- several of whom are on the Nov. 8 ballot themselves -- were U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, Kathy Castor of Tampa, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Alan Grayson of Orlando, Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach and Patrick Murphy of Jupiter.

U.S. Rep. Robert Brady of Pennsylvania, the ranking Democrat on the Committee on House Administration, also wrote Scott, making the same deadline-extension request. So did the ACLU of Florida.

Read the full letter below:

Continue reading "Democratic lawmakers ask Florida governor to reconsider moving voter-registration deadline" »

September 28, 2016

Zika funding inches forward in DC, but obstacles remain




Overcoming its earlier divisions on Zika funding, the Senate on Wednesday approved $1.1 billion in research and prevention aid as it passed a bigger appropriations bill to fund the federal government into December.

Sen. Bill Nelson, aware of a looming potentially divisive House vote later in the day or this week, greeted the Senate's 72-26 vote with guarded optimism.

"We had a small victory today in our ongoing fight against the Zika virus," Nelson said.

Sen. Marco Rubio, who's made Zika funding his top priority as he runs for re-election against Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, criticized the "political games" that had held it up for seven months.

"This anti-Zika package rightfully prioritizes Americans in Florida and Puerto Rico," Rubio said. "I'm encouraged that my calls for action have been answered, and that real assistance from the federal government is finally on its way."

The Zika money tucked inside a 10-week stopgap funding measure, the larger $1.1 trillion appropriations package went to the House, with a potentially divisive vote looming in the wake of Friday's end of the current fiscal year.

A large chunk of the $1.1 billion for Zika, less than the $1.9 billion President Barack Obama requested in February, would go to Florida, New York and Puerto Rico, which the virus ravaged during the summer.

The National Institutes for Health would receive more than $160 million of the Zika funds to continue its recently launched first clinical trial for a vaccine and to conduct other research.

The virus is carried primarily by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, but it can also be transmitted through sexual intercourse with an infected partner.

Florida had 904 Zika cases as of Tuesday, 109 of them locally transmitted through mosquitos.

Ninety-one of Florida's Zika infections involved pregnant women, an especially vulnerable group because of the birth defects the virus can cause in newborns.

Microcephaly, which causes infants to be born with abnormally small brains and heads, is the worst known defect.

The Senate vote Wednesday represented a turnaround for Zika funds in the higher chamber. In three earlier summertime votes, Senate Democrats joined by some Republicans rejected stand-alone Zika bills because of extraneous provisions.

The most contentious provision sought to deny any of the new Zika money from going to Planned Parenthood partner clinics in Puerto Rico.

The island has almost 19,500 cases of Zika, some 84 percent of all cases in the United States and far more than any other state or territory.

The divisive Planned Parenthood clause is no longer part of the Zika funding measure in the overall spending bill. The Puerto Rico clinics will be allowed to seek reimbursement for Zika treatment except for abortions, for which federal money has been banned from paying for four decades.

While Nelson, an Orlando Democrat, and Rubio voted for the $1.1 trillion bill, about 1 percent of it for Zika, 11 Republican senators and 10 Democratic senators voted against it.

That bipartisan split among opponents foreshadowed potential pitfalls in the House, which was expected to take up the appropriations measure later Wednesday.

About $400 million of the $1.1 billion in Zika funds is offset in spending cuts to a range of other programs supported by Democratic lawmakers.

Some conservative Republicans, by contrast, want all the new $1.1 trillion in spending offset by cuts elsewhere in the federal budget, which is not achieved.

Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Michigan voted against the larger measure because it did not include $500 million they'd requested to clean contaminated water and replace lead pipes in Flint.

Negotiators promised to provide $170 million to Flint in a separate water bill moving through Congress, but that didn't satisfy Stabenow and Peters.

Image credit: Marco Ruiz, Miami Herald















Senate approves budget deal that includes $1.1B for Zika

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate passed a short-term budget deal today that includes $1.1 billion to fight the Zika virus, ending months of wrangling over the issue. The House is expected to approve the deal.

Zika funding had been held up as Democrats objected to a GOP provision that prevented money from going to a Planned Parenthood affiliate in Puerto Rico.

"We had a small victory today in our ongoing fight against the Zika virus,” said Sen. Bill Nelson. "The emergency spending approved today will help increase local mosquito-control efforts to contain the spread of the virus and allow federal researchers to continue their search for a vaccine. The threat we face from Zika is a true public health emergency and we need our local, state and federal agencies working together to put this money to use as quickly as possible."

Said Sen. Marco Rubio:

"This anti-Zika package rightfully prioritizes Americans in Florida and Puerto Rico, and I’m encouraged my calls for action have been answered, and that real assistance from the federal government is finally on its way. It's shameful it took so long and that this public health crisis was made worse by people playing political games in Washington. But I'm glad these critical resources are now moving forward so we can help the thousands of Americans suffering from this virus, step up our mosquito eradication efforts, and develop a vaccine to eradicate Zika for good.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

September 27, 2016

Nelson breaks with Democrats to back budget deal

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson broke with his party this afternoon to support a stop-gap budget deal that contains $1.1 billion to fight Zika.

The measure did not include funding for Flint, Mich., which drew Democratic opposition. But Nelson and three other Democrats voted to advance the bill, which failed.

"While I support the people of Flint, my priority is the people of Florida. This bill provides a clean $1.1 billion to help stop the spread of Zika virus with no political riders, and I will support it," Nelson said last week.

Sen. Marco Rubio also supported the bill.

"Today's vote proves some Senate Democrats are looking for any excuse to shut down the government‎ because they think it will help them in the upcoming election," Rubio said. "Bill Nelson and I came together to support this bill to fund the government and the fight against Zika, and Senate Democrats should follow our lead and quit playing political games."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Rubio, Nelson honor José Fernández with Senate resolution

203 Marlins Braves DS

via @learyreports

Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson today introduced a Senate resolution honoring Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernández, who died Sunday in a boating accident with two friends.

“José Fernández was the embodiment of the American Dream,” said Rubio. “He risked his life escaping tyranny in Cuba to seek liberty and opportunity in America. José was thrown in jail by the Castro regime for attempting to flee, and when his mother fell overboard into choppy waters during their journey, José risked his life to save her so they could arrive in America together. It is a testament to the kind of person he was. This resolution honors José’s life, legacy and contributions to the people and state of Florida."

Neson said, “José Fernández was a remarkable young man whose talent and passion for the game of baseball brought joy to so many in South Florida. He will certainly be missed both on and off the field, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this difficult time.”

Read the resolution here.

Photo credit: José Fernández pitching in 2015. David Santiago / Miami Herald

September 23, 2016

Can Zika aid bill overcome its DC partisan past?



WASHINGTON Senate Republican leaders revealed what they called a breakthrough in Zika funding Thursday under renewed pressure from Florida lawmakers and mayors to break a seven-month political impasse.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/latest-news/article103560742.html#storylink=cpy

Democrats, however, said disputes over funding other urgent needs could still block any final deal, with the Zika money now part of a larger appropriations measure meant to fund the federal government through Dec. 9.

Just a few hours after Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine met with South Florida members of Congress and visited the White House to push for the stalled Zika money, the Senate Republicans disclosed the new Zika effort.

For more, read here:

Photo credit: C. M. Guerrero, El Nuevo Herald


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/latest-news/article103560742.html#storylink=cpy


September 15, 2016

Rubio defends Nelson after Scott Zika attack

via @learyreports

Gov. Rick Scott’s attack on Sen. Bill Nelson didn’t go over so well in Washington. First Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen rebuked Scott for partisanship then Sen. Marco Rubio defended Nelson, though without naming Scott.

“I would remind everyone that the Senate did act on this issue back in May in a bipartisan way,” Rubio said Wednesday afternoon in a floor speech about Zika. “And I would like to take this moment to point out that my colleague, Senator Bill Nelson from Florida, has been great to work with on this and multiple issues but on this one in particular and I thank him for his partnership and hard work in this regard.

"I enjoy our partnership on many issues involving the state of Florida including a water bill before the Senate. But on this issue of Zika in particular.”

Scott did not back down Wednesday, a day after saying Nelson turned his "back" on Florida by voting against a Zika funding bill that included provisions Democrats say attacks Planned Parenthood. Rubio voted for that bill but also supports a so-called clean funding bill.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

September 14, 2016

Competing demands crowd Zika money



WASHINGTON Turns out, Zika isn’t the only urgent problem that needs federal funds fast.

Florida lawmakers pushing to get $1.1 billion for Zika prevention and research into a rapidly evolving broader appropriations bill are competing with members of Congress from across the country who want their needs addressed.

On his second day in Washington to push for Zika funding, Gov. Rick Scott met with members of Congress from the state who briefed him on the rapidly evolving negotiations over federal spending.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said he’s jousting with other panel members seeking vital funding for their districts and states.

Lawmakers from Louisiana want billions for flood relief. Congressmen from Michigan want millions to clean contaminated drinking water. Others are pushing for more money for veterans’ healthcare.

“Florida’s not the only state with urgent needs,” Diaz-Balart told reporters after he and other Florida lawmakers met with Scott.

The governor said that Florida can’t wait any longer to receive federal aid to help with treating the almost 800 people in the state infected with the virus and preventing it from spreading further.

“We need help, and we need help now,” Scott said.

Scott criticized Sen. Bill Nelson for joining other Democrats in having voted down earlier Zika bills because they contained extraneous provisions related to abortion, Planned Parenthood and the federal health insurance law.

Scott’s criticism drew a rebuke from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a fellow Republican from Miami.

“We don’t need to be calling people out,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Sen. Nelson has been trying to help get Zika funding.”

Beyond the competition among different funding needs, there was disagreement on Capitol Hill over how much time the omnibus spending bill, called a Continuing Resolution, should cover going forward.

Appropriators sought a short-term measure that would keep the government operating into December. Some conservatives wanted it to be funded until March. President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress were pushing for a bill to cover the entire next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1 and lasting through Sept. 30, 2017.

Video credit: Ken Cedeno, McClatchy



September 13, 2016

Perhaps eyeing 2018, Scott slams Nelson over Zika funding vote

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Less than a minute into his news conference this afternoon calling for an end to politics over Zika funding, Gov. Rick Scott swung hard at Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson for voting against a funding bill last week that Democrats say is an attack on Planned Parenthood.

“He turned the back on Floridians,” Scott charged, a striking accusation lobbed the second floor of the Hart Senate Office Building.

Moments earlier Scott declared: "I'm here because the time for politics is over. The time for political debate has passed."

Scott on Tuesday began a two day tour of Capitol Hill to press for funding. He did not reach out to Nelson, whom could see Scott challenge him for re-election in 2018.

"In a health care crisis, there is no excuse for partisanship," Nelson said in interview earlier Tuesday. "That's all I can say." In a statement after Scott spoke, Nelson added: “Just as we’re about to reach a deal to pass a clean emergency Zika funding bill, the governor chooses to fly up here and stir things up politically. He should know better. This is a serious situation, not a time for partisan politics.”

Democrats have objected to a GOP bill that included policy riders, including one they say is designed to prevent money to Planned Parenthood in Puerto Rico. The Zika virus can be transmitted sexually.

Nelson has joined in that criticism but has been a vocal advocate on the Zika issue and has worked with Sen. Marco Rubio, who agrees a "clean" bill should be taken up, even though he's voted for the measure Scott knocked Nelson over. On Tuesday, Nelson joined a bipartisan group of House members in calling for more urgent action.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times