October 09, 2016

President Obama signs new disaster declaration for Hurricane Matthew's impact in Florida


@ByKristenMClark & @JeremySWallace

President Barack Obama signed a new disaster declaration for Florida on Saturday, freeing up additional federal funding and resources to help with clean-up and recovery efforts after Hurricane Matthew.

The White House announced Obama's act early Sunday morning.

While Obama already granted a preliminary disaster declaration before the storm, a second one after the storm is required to trigger post-storm recovery funding.

The new declaration makes available federal funding to state and eligible local governments and certain non-profits on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work in eight Florida counties. Those counties span the east coast from the Treasure Coast to northeast Florida -- areas which felt the brunt of Matthew in the state: Brevard, Duval, Flagler, Indian River, Nassau, St. Johns, St. Lucie and Volusia.

More here.


Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch, Bloomberg

October 06, 2016

Gov. Scott's office talking with FSU, U-F about Saturday football games


As Hurricane Matthew bears down on Florida with the potential for catastrophic damage to coastal areas, state and university officials are potentially re-evaluating a couple major college football games still scheduled for Saturday.

Rick Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said the governor spoke directly today with Florida State University President John Thrasher about the status of the Seminoles' game against the University of Miami Hurricanes, where kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. in Miami Gardens.

Schutz said the governor did not express an opinion about whether the game should continue as planned, be cancelled or be relocated, rather Scott was "reaching out to learn more about the university's process" for making such a decision.

Schutz said staff in Scott's office have also been in touch with University of Miami officials, as well as officials at the University of Florida -- which is scheduled to play Louisiana State University at home in Gainesville at noon Saturday.

University leaders told Scott's office they would let the governor know soon about how they'll move forward with Saturday's games, Schutz said.

Earlier Thursday, Louisiana U.S. Sen. David Vitter tweeted that Scott should move the Florida-LSU game out of Gainesville, using the hashtags #CmonMan, #GeauxTigers and #StaySafe.

Gov. Scott: Half of available Florida National Guard activated for Hurricane Matthew


Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday activated another 2,000 National Guard members — making for 3,500 members activated as of the afternoon, about half of what is available for deployment, Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said.

Activated members include both soldiers and airmen, with search and rescue teams awaiting Hurricane Matthew in West Palm Beach and Orlando, said Air Force Maj. Caitlin Brown of the Florida National Guard. Other troops were at Camp Blanding near Starke, Fla.

Scott has authorized the mobilization of up to 6,600 Guard, if need be, Schutz said. Brown said the Guard has nearly 2,500 “high water vehicles,” eight helicopters, 17 boats and more than 700 generators that could be used in emergency operations, she added. The Guard also evacuated its “F-15 fleet out of the path of the storm.”

"Protecting lives remains our No. 1 priority and that is why I have now activated over half of the National Guard who will play a big role in important life-saving missions," Scott said in a statement Thursday afternoon. "I have directed them to focus on prepositioning resources, assist with helping people evacuate safely and our sheltering operations.  In the immediate aftermath of the storm, they will be involved in recovery efforts including search and rescue missions.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also has high-water vehicles prepositioned across the state to help with these efforts."

"While the federal government has just approved our request for a pre-landfall emergency declaration for food, water and tarps, I am asking the President for additional generators and pumps to help with power outages and flooding once the storm hits," Scott added. "Following the most recent weather briefing from the National Hurricane Center, we can expect to have a lot of flooding, especially in Northeast Florida, and we will need additional pumping equipment from the federal government.”

Gov. Rick Scott on Hurricane Matthew: 'Unfortunately, this is going to kill people'

State at eoc 1006


As South Florida began to see squalls from the outer bands of Hurricane Matthew on Thursday morning, Florida Gov. Rick Scott didn’t sugarcoat the danger that awaits coastal residents who don’t evacuate.

“This storm will kill you,” Scott said during a morning briefing at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee. If “you’re in an evacuation area, get out. Don’t take a chance.”

“Do not surf. Do not go to the beach. This will kill you,” he added.

More here.

October 05, 2016

Hurricane Matthew: Gov. Scott suspends tolls in mandatory evacuation zones



Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday afternoon that he's directed the Florida Department of Transportation to suspend traffic tolls in counties where there are evacuations for Hurricane Matthew.

"This includes all toll roads in counties with mandatory evacuations," Scott spokeswoman Taryn Fenske clarified to the Herald/Times. "Obviously this is fluid and will continue to change as counties issue evacuation orders."

As of 2 p.m., the only county that had declared a mandatory evacuation was Brevard County -- where a mandatory evacuation for the county's barrier islands takes effect at 3 p.m.

Scott tweeted that tolls on State Road 528 in Brevard County had been suspended, but his office hasn't mentioned any other affected roadways.

Voluntary evacuations have begun in St. Lucie, Flagler and Duval counties, Scott's office said in a noon update.

MORE: The latest on Hurricane Matthew

Hurricane warnings now cover almost the entire east coast of Florida, from the Miami-Dade and Broward County line north to Flagler County, just south of Jacksonville. Scott said this morning that the suspension of traffic tolls would depend on county evacuation plans. 

"Evacuations have started to be ordered this morning and I expect more counties to order evacuations soon," Scott said in his statement this afternoon. "Protecting life and moving people to safety remains our top priority and today I directed the Florida Department of Transportation to suspend tolls as needed to keep traffic flowing. If there is an evacuation order in a county, all tolls will be suspended in that county."

Photo credit: El Nuevo Herald file photo

Gov. Scott, state emergency officials stress 'calm and urgency' ahead of Hurricane Matthew

State at eoc5


As Hurricane Matthew prepared to lash the Bahamas and inched closer to Florida on Wednesday morning, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he is worried there haven’t been enough evacuations yet in advance of the strong storm.

“My biggest concern is people don’t take it seriously enough,” Scott said told emergency management officials during a morning briefing at the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee. “This could turn, and are we going to be ready?”

In a news conference afterward, Scott repeatedly used words like “devastating” and “catastrophic” to stress the seriousness of the damage Matthew could do to Florida’s eastern coast.

MORE ON MIAMIHERALD.COM: The latest on Hurricane Matthew

He said residents in coastal low-lying areas or on barrier islands should leave immediately.

“This is a dangerous storm and it is never too early to evacuate,” Scott said. “You must leave before it’s too late. We cannot put first-responders’ lives at risk during the storm.”

Full story here.

September 30, 2016

FBI talks ballot security with Florida election officials; 'we’ve not been hacked,' one says

Florida Primary

@ByKristenMClark @MichaelAuslen & @stevebousquet

Officials with the Federal Bureau of Investigation held a secret conference call with all 67 county supervisors of elections in Florida on Friday afternoon to discuss the security of voters’ ballots ahead of the November election.

One elections supervisor told the Herald/Times that the FBI informed supervisors of “a malicious act found in a jurisdiction” in Florida, but he stressed “we’ve not been hacked” and nothing was found to have happened at the state level, such as with Florida’s voter registration system.

“It was a good call in that they were proactive, and we need to have federal and state authorities working together,” Leon County Elections Supervisor Ian Sancho said. “I would warn people against jumping to any conclusions. ... The positive and aggressive discussion we had is exactly what we need to do to be secure for Nov. 8.” 

Florida Department of State spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice acknowledged the department “participated in an informational call related to elections security” that the FBI convened.

More here.

Photo credit: Alan Diaz / AP

September 29, 2016

President Obama to give health care speech Wednesday in Tampa

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama will deliver a speech on the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday at University of South Florida in Tampa, the White House said.


"Located in Hillsborough County, which has a strong health care system, USF offers a diverse set of training programs for health professions and has led efforts to sign up people for health insurance," the White House said. "Further details about the President's travel to Florida will be made available in the coming days."

It's unclear whether Obama will do another event for Hillary Clinton, though he is expected to hit the road on her behalf in October.

Zika funds finally approved in late-night vote



Lawmakers had to stay late to get it done, but House passage of $1.1 billion in Zika prevention and research funds after a more than seven-month delay finally sends the bill to President Barack Obama's desk.

Despite having originally sought $1.9 billion in emergency Zika aid in February, Obama was expected to sign the broader $1.1 trillion stopgap appropriations measure that included the revamped Zika in a bid to break the partisan impasse over the money to combat the virus.

Just before 10 p.m. Wednesday, the House voted 242-85 to pass the larger spending measure funding the federal government through Dec. 9. Seventy-five Republicans and 10 Democrats voted against it, none from Florida.

The House vote came hours after the Senate approved the spending packing with Zika funds by a 72-26 vote. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Orlando both voted for the measure.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was still not ready to forgive completely GOP lawmakers who'd targeted Planned Parenthood partner clinics in Puerto Rico and added extraneous provisions to the original Zika bill, moves that contributed to its delay.

"After more than 900 confirmed cases of the Zika virus in Florida, House Republicans finally allowed us to pass most of the emergency funding we need to curb this public health crisis," the former Democratic National Committee chairwoman said.

While she called the Wednesday-night vote "a welcome start for Florida's pregnant women, business owners and families affected by the Zika virus," Wasserman Schultz added: "It has come many months later than it should have."

Dr. Andrew W. Gurman, head of the American Medical Association, praised the new Zika aid.

"It has been clear over the past several months that the U.S. has needed additional resources to combat the Zika virus," Gurman said. "With the threat of the virus continuing to loom this funding will help protect more people -- particularly pregnant women and their children -- from the virus' lasting negative health effects."

Pregnant women are especially vulnerable to Zika because it can cause birth defects such as microcephaly, which causes abnormally small brains and heads in newborns.

A large chunk of the $1.1 billion for Zika would go to Florida, New York and Puerto Rico, which combined have far more infections of the virus than any other states or territories.

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.

Florida had 921 Zika cases as of Wednesday, including 92 involving pregnant women. One-hundred fifteen of the state's infections were transmitted directly by mosquitos.

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

Sen. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, praised bipartisan efforts of South Florida lawmakers to push the Zika funding.

"This is a tremendous victory for the South Florida delegation who has tirelessly worked together, from both sides of the aisle and both chambers, to raise the importance of this issue and help resolve it," he said.

In a floor speech late Wednesday, Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, also from Miami, acknowledged that "the process of getting this funding across the finish line has been frustrating at times and bogged down in unnecessary political gamesmanship."

Saying that Zika represented "an ongoing threat to the health of residents and to the economic vitality of businesses in South Florida," Curbelo praised final passage.

Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Palm Beach Democrat running for the Senate against incumbent Republican Marco Rubio, said the Zika funds "could not be more urgent as Florida quickly approaches 1,000 cases."

Republican Reps. David Jolly and Vern Buchanan, who had pushed their House Republican colleagues to approve Zika funding for months, also hailed the successful vote.




Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article104729131.html#storylink=cpy


Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article104729131.html#storylink=cpy




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