September 29, 2016

Zika funds finally approved in late-night vote

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@jamesmartinrose

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

 

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@jamesmartinrose

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

September 27, 2016

Rubio, Nelson honor José Fernández with Senate resolution

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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

Rubio remembers Marlins ace on Senate floor

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@jamesmartinrose

Sen. Marco Rubio delivered a moving tribute to Jose Fernandez in the Senate on Tuesday, growing emotional in recalling their shared opposition to the Cuban government.

In a poignant speech on the Senate floor, Rubio said the ace pitcher was on his way to a Hall of Fame career and to leading the Miami Marlins to "a couple pennants" before he died Sunday when his 32-foot fishing boat struck a jetty near Government Cut channel.

Miami residents Emilio Macias, 27, and Eduardo Rivero, 25, close friends of the 24-year-old Fernandez, were also on board the vessel and died with him.

"I never met Jose Fernandez, yet I feel like I knew him," Rubio said in his tribute. "And that's how millions of people feel. They feel like they know him. It is, in the end, our story -- as Cuban-Americans, as Americans."

The Miami Republican and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson introduced a resolution honoring Fernandez.

Among the personal qualities and professional accomplishments cited in the measure, it says that Fernandez "came to embody the American dream and was a great source of pride for the Cuban exile community of the United States."

Fernandez's grandfather,  Rubio said, tried and failed to defect from Cuba 13 times before succeeding and settling in Tampa 

As great a pitcher as he was, the former presidential candidate said, "off the field -- as a human being, as a son, as a grandson, as a teammate, as a neighbor -- he was even better."

Fernandez's grandfather, Rubio recounted, tried and failed to defect from Cuba 13 times before succeeding and settling in Tampa.

Rubio then told the by-now familiar story of how Fernandez rescued his mother after she fell overboard in 2007 during the family's fourth attempt to leave Cuba while taking a more perilous, longer route to Mexico instead of Florida.

"Jose was 15 years old," Rubio said. "Before America ever met Jose Fernandez, before his fastball earned him millions of dollars, this young man was revealing himself."

Rubio quoted from a 2012 scouting report on the fellow Cuban-American, then 20, that said he "exudes confidence" and had a "no-fear approach" to pitching.

"This was not arrogance," the senator said. "This was the peaceful self-assurance of a kid who had known life and death."

Rubio said he was touched by Fernandez saying that his proudest accomplishment in life was having become a U.S. citizen last year.

"'I consider myself now to be free,'" Rubio quoted the pitcher as having said.

Rubio added: "Jose knew how special and fortunate and blessed he was and we are," Rubio said. "He went from a Cuban prison to a Major League clubhouse. Jose's story was our story. He reminds so many in my community of someone they knew -- of a brother or a son or a nephew."

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, El Nuevo Herald

 

 

 

 

September 26, 2016

Tim Kaine says Donald Trump's comment on Gennifer Flowers shows he views debate as 'part of the entertainment industry'

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@amysherman1

CBS4's Jim DeFede asked Tim Kaine about his thoughts on Donald Trump suggesting he would invite Gennifer Flowers, who claimed to have an affair with Bill Clinton in the 1990s, to the first presidential debate.

"What it said to me about Donald Trump was 'I'm viewing this as kind of part of the entertainment industry.' This is deadly serious. This is deadly serious," Kaine told DeFede on Sunday, the day he also spoke at Miami Dade College. "We've got all of these challenges at home and abroad, the good thing is America can always solve our challenges if we just let everybody around the table together -- don't divide against one and other. So the fact that he was doing that to me was par for the course. This was like it was a reality TV show. No, this is not that. This is trying to be commander in chief, the president of the most important nation on earth."

Trump's comment about Flowers began after Mark Cuban, a Trump critic and owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, tweeted that he had been invited to the debate by Hillary Clinton's campaign. Trump responded by bashing Cuban's TV show the "Benefactor" and said:

"If dopey Mark Cuban of failed Benefactor fame wants to sit in the front row, perhaps I will put Gennifer Flowers right alongside of him!"

Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, speaking on CNN’s "State of the Union" Sunday, said "we have not invited (Flowers) formally and we don't expect her to there as a guest of the Trump campaign."

Bill Clinton initially denied rumors of an affair with Flowers but admitted under oath in 1998 to having a sexual encounter with her.

Image credit: CB4 Miami

Bill Clinton to visit North Florida on bus tour

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Bill Clinton will be visiting parts of North Florida later this week on a "Stronger Together" bus tour for his wife's presidential campaign.

The Hillary Clinton campaign says the former president will hold public events in Panama City, Tallahassee and Jacksonville on Friday and Saturday, "with additional stops along the way."

"President Clinton will talk to Floridians about Hillary Clinton's plans to build an economy that works for all, not just those at the top," the campaign said.

Further details about the public events haven't yet been released.

Bill Clinton was last in Tallahassee in March, when he attended a private fundraiser and spoke to students at Florida A&M University.

September 15, 2016

Everglades restoration plan passes senate

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by @jenstaletovich

Everglades restoration took a step forward Thursday when the U.S. Senate passed a massive waterworks bill that includes a plan aimed at fixing the overlooked heart of the vast wetlands.

In 94-3 vote, senators approved the Water Resources Development Act, which includes about $2 billion for the Central Everglades Planning Project. The project, launched in 2011 to speed up restoration and focus efforts on central wetlands critical to moving fresh water south into Florida Bay, got a big assist in the spring when Sen. Jim Inhofe vowed to throw his weight behind it. The powerful chairman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee, remembered for being the only no vote opposing the original comprehensive restoration plan in 2000, said he changed his mind after Sen. Marco Rubio convinced the work was necessary.

The vote comes after a brutal winter for the region. Record rain forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to repeatedly release dirty water from Lake Okeechobee into coastal estuaries, triggering a massive algae bloom along the Treasure Coast.

The WRDA still has to pass the House, no small hurdle, which has not yet scheduled a vote. However, including $220 million in emergency funding to address the water crisis in Flint is drawing support that may help push it through.

"It addresses a lot of big ticket items that have gotten a ton of attention this year," said Julie Hill-Gabriel, deputy director of policy for Audubon Florida.

Hill-Gabriel was hopeful the House schedules a vote this year on the plan. Two years ago, the plan stalled when the Corps, which oversees work, balked at approving it in time for that year's WRDA bill.

 

 

"We’re hopeful it will happen this year," Hill-Gabriel said. "Whether it’s next week or the lame duck session, we hope the House steps up and gets it done."

 

 

September 14, 2016

New FL study further shows benefits of juvenile civil citations over arrests

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@ByKristenMClark

Miami-Dade County led the state last year in sending child offenders to diversion programs rather than arresting them for misdemeanor crimes, according to a new independent study released Wednesday.

But while Miami-Dade — like Florida, on the whole — is doing better to favor juvenile civil citations, the nonpartisan “Stepping Up 2016” study found other counties, including Hillsborough, have a long way to go in making better use of the alternative, which experts praise as a more effective and beneficial option to arrest.

Across Miami-Dade, 91 percent of eligible youth were given civil citations instead of arrests, the highest in the state for 2014-15, according to the study. Miami-Dade Police had a 99 percent usage rate for citations, and the school district had a 92 percent rate.

By comparison, in countywide numbers, Monroe used civil citations over arrests 80 percent of the time in eligible cases, Broward used them 68 percent of the time and Palm Beach used them almost 59 percent of the time, the study found.

In the Tampa Bay area, Pinellas County was second-best statewide with a usage rate of 82 percent — compared to 53 percent for Pasco and Hernando counties, 32 percent for Hillsborough and 24 percent for Citrus, the study found.

The report — the second annual study of its kind by The Children’s Campaign and several other state and national advocacy groups — builds upon previous findings that juvenile civil citations are preferable because youth are less likely to re-offend and because citation programs increase public safety and save potentially millions in taxpayer money.

Read more here.

Photo credit: Carl Juste / Miami Herald

August 26, 2016

Tim Kaine urges voter registration, tours small business hub in Tallahassee

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@ByKristenMClark

After a day of raising money, touring a local business hub and speaking at a get-out-the-vote rally with university students, Hillary Clinton's vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine made the most of a short visit to Florida's capital city on Friday.

It was his third trip to the Sunshine State -- but first to Tallahassee -- since joining Clinton's ticket last month, he said.

As the Democratic U.S. senator from Virginia took the stage at Florida A&M University this afternoon, he donned a Rattlers hat and somewhat sheepishly hissed a few times while imitating two fangs with his fingers -- an attempt at the university's "Rattler Strike," which charmed a cheering crowd.

During a 15-minute address, Kaine urged FAMU students to not be mere bystanders in this year's election. He encouraged them to volunteer, vote and make sure they and their friends are registered to vote.

"You have a superb reputation -- of any university  -- of student activism and of getting people to understand the critical importance of voting," Kaine told the few hundred students gathered in the blazing summer heat outside FAMU's student union as part of their weekly "Set Friday" event.

Kaine said Clinton's campaign is launching a nationwide initiative with historically black colleges and universities, like FAMU, to encourage voter registration.

"We want FAMU to lead the way," Kaine said to more applause from the crowd.

Continue reading "Tim Kaine urges voter registration, tours small business hub in Tallahassee" »

August 22, 2016

Florida Supreme Court chief justice wants to bolster courthouse security

From the News Service of Florida:

Pointing to a need to "move ahead quickly on this issue," Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga on Monday announced the creation of a panel to study local courthouse security.

The Trial Courthouse Security Workgroup will look at issues such as evaluating security practices at courthouses, reviewing national courthouse security procedures and developing standards for training, according to the announcement.

"Every day in Florida's courthouses, people are living through heartbreaking dilemmas in both criminal and civil cases," Labarga said in a prepared statement. "We must do everything in our power to make sure that these buildings remain safe and secure and that the troubles we hope to resolve are not compounded by acts of violence in the very place reserved for justice. It is key to our freedoms as Americans."

The panel will be chaired by Margaret Steinbeck, a judge in Southwest Florida's 20th Judicial Circuit. It also will include the chief judges from eight judicial circuits, two attorneys and a staff member from the Office of State Courts Administrator.