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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















Zika mosquito sites in Miami Beach identified near schools, tourist site

@joeflech and @dchangmiami



The dispute between state and local officials over the locations of mosquito traps that captured Zika-positive instects in Miami Beach -- a disagreement sparked by a Miami Herald lawsuit seeking the release these locations -- resulted in the release of these addresses Wednesday morning.  

Miami-Dade County released the four previously undisclosed addresses. All were residential, although one was near Miami Beach Senior High School and Hebrew Academy’s Rabbi Alexander Gross High School and another trap was just south of Lincoln Road.

Read more here.


How Florida lawmakers voted on Obama veto override

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- The House voted 348-77 to override President Obama's veto of the 9/11 bill. Here's how it went among the Florida delegation.

One Republican voted in the minority: Rep. David Jolly.

Six Democrats voted in the majority: Reps. Corrine Brown, Ted Deutch, Gwen Graham, Alcee Hastings, Patrick Murphy and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

All others voted party line, except Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who voted "present."

Here is Jolly's explanation:

Continue reading "How Florida lawmakers voted on Obama veto override" »

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

Adam Putnam offers candid critique of Florida's future at Florida Chamber forum

Adam PutnamAgricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is positioning himself to run for governor in 2018, issued a critical assessment of the future of Florida at a gathering of business leaders Wednesday, suggesting that the state has veered off course with education reform and economic development and must do better at protecting water, land and business diversity.

Pointing to a series of charts produced by the Florida Chamber of Commerce that showed grim statistics, Putnam joked: "I think we need to order up a round of shots" to "get our head around this."

Among the data presented at the chamber's Future of Florida Forum: 57 percent of the Florida elementary school kids are on free and reduced lunch, 11 percent are obese, that 70,000 students are homeless, 16 percent of the state is in poverty, and per capita income is only $42,733.

The difference between the areas that are improving and those declining "is leadership,'' Putnam said. "It's up to us to chart the course of this state."

Putnam urged the audience of business leaders to remember that "water is Florida's golden goose" and to
"think about water infrastructure the way we think about other infrastructure in our state."

"You couldn't print enough money to recruit a company to Flint, Michigan" he warned, "because they failed at the most basic function local government has."

But to sustain Florida's economic recovery, the state must focus on education. He noted that the state faces a future budget deficit because spending on Medicaid outpaces growth but "if the state were educating its young and preparing them for careers they're not going to be on Medicaid."

"We have begun to lose the support of the most important shareholders in the education system and that's the parents, in many cases the most involved parents,'' he said, "...because we got wrapped around the axle of reform for reform's sake instead of explaining to parents why their kids need to learn more" in the third grade today than the previous generation."

He also said that economic development must be less focused on "shiny objects" and more focused on nurturing and encouraging small businesses.

"We need an economic development approach that is respectful to a small business mindset," he said. He noted that Publix started as a small business in Lakeland. Bealls began as a small business in Bradenton. Lilly Pulitzer, Tropicana were also homegrown Florida companies.

"If we're job snobs we're going to miss the opportunity to support those small business leaders who are going to create something big. I want it to begin in Florida,'' he said to applause.

He suggested that Florida should embrace its talented military veterans in the midpoint of their lives by encouraging them to return to service in the classroom, where they can instill discipline and be a valuable example.

"We know that some of the most talented people in the world are going to end up here at some point in our life. those,'' he said. "We want them three decades sooner. I want Florida to be more than the prize of a life well-lived and the success accumulated someplace else. We can be the jumping off point for the American Dream. The place where those dreams incumbate, grow, develop and explode."

Putnam also emphasized to the chamber, which is funded by the largest corporations in Florida, that their job is "not to protect that we have" because that is short-sighted.

"Think of all the giant companies that would have been the platinum sponsor of this event that aren't in existence anymore,'' he said. "Our job is not to lock our businesses in place, because we would have picked unwisely a decade ago with banks, law firms, airlines, aerospace companies that have been wiped off the map.

"Our job is to create an economy that is agile and welcoming, perceptive, dynamic and ready for whatever may walk thorugh that door with the quality of our people and the reception of our state government."

Feds declare Hurricane Hermine a major disaster


President Barack Obama on Wednesday declared a major disaster in Florida following Hurricane Hermine, making federal relief money available in the North Florida and Tampa Bay areas hardest hit by the storm.

The president's declaration allows temporary housing and home repair grants, low-cost loans to cover uninsured losses and "other programs to help individuals and business owners recover," according to the White House. Included in the declaration are Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, Citrus, Dixie, Leon and Levy counties.

It spans the period of Aug. 31 to Sept. 11.

Hermine, which struck the Big Bend on Sept. 2 and caused flooding throughout Tampa Bay, was the first hurricane to hit landfall in Florida in 11 years. It caused property damage in coastal communities and led to weeklong power outages in Tallahassee.

Gov. Rick Scott officially requested the disaster declaration on Sept. 20, saying the state sustained more than $36 million in damages.

“Hurricane Hermine was the first hurricane to hit our state in over a decade and following the storm, I met with many businesses and families who were severely impacted," he said in a statement Wednesday. "While the state immediately stepped in to provide resources and assistance to families, this funding will help our local communities rebuild.”

Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio submitted letters to Obama urging he agree to Scott's request.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is continuing to survey other parts of the state not included in the declaration, and more counties could be added, according to the White House.

People and businesses who sustained losses in the storm can apply for federal aid Thursday on FEMA's website,, or via phone at 1-800-621-3362.

Kaine on Latin America: 'We're all Americans'


Asked about Latin America in a recent Miami Spanish-language TV interview, Tim Kaine made a simple observation: "We're all Americans."

Kaine, who spent a year as a Jesuit missionary in Honduras, seemed aware of a pet peeve of many South and Central Americans, who sometimes resent that English speakers in the Western Hemisphere often use "American" to refer only to people from the U.S. In Latin America, "estadounidense" -- rather than "americano" -- is the word that specifically refers to being from the United States.

Hillary Clinton's VP pick didn't get into detail about that distinction in his Sunday interview with Mega TV's Oscar Haza. He said Latin America represents "a big opportunity" for the U.S. and promised that a Clinton White House wouldn't only look west to Asia or east to Europe in its foreign policy. He insisted Clinton's policies wouldn't be identical to President Obama's, though he didn't elaborate. Clinton was Obama's secretary of state.

"I want to work especially with Latin American countries and with Latinos who live here," Kaine said.

He gave the interview on Sunday, when he campaigned at Miami Dade College's Kendall campus.

Photo credit: Matias Ocner, Miami Herald

Rubio demands federal investigation of jetty off Miami Beach where Marlins star died


Senator Marco Rubio requested an investigation Wednesday into the jetty where Marlins superstar José Fernández and two friends were killed in a weekend boat crash.

Rubio, a Florida Republican, made the request to the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the two federal agencies responsible for navigational aids designed to keep boaters away from the dangerous rocks of Miami Beach’s Government Cut inlet. The Corps is responsible for maintaining the pair of jetties off the inlet. Fernández, Emilio Macias and Eduardo Rivero died Sunday from a crash on the baseball star’s powerboat, which landed upside down on the northern jetty.

The unlit spit of rocks has a reputation for marine accidents, though the Coast Guard said after the crash that flashing channel markers should be adequate to guide boaters around the rocks.

In his letter, Rubio, a boat owner who lives in West Miami and faces reelection in November, suggested he personally has had concerns about navigating the jetty where Fernández died.

“As a boater myself, I have experienced firsthand the challenges this particular jetty can present to others trying to navigate around it,” he wrote. “I respectfully request your agencies coordinate to produce a comprehensive assessment of the jetty near the Government Cut channel as well as offer any pertinent recommendations to enhance safety for boaters to navigate around and through them.”

His letter cited a Miami Herald article about the jetty’s potential hazards and said it was not enough to rely on good seamanship to avoid hazards. “Responsibility falls on each individual to follow safety standards, as well as our governments and agencies to maintain navigational beacons and permitted structures that may be potential safety threats.”

No lights illuminate the jetties, and the northern one in particular has spots underwater during high tides. Fernández 32-foot powerboat, the Kaught Looking, was found crashed on the jetty around 3:30 a.m., about 45 minutes before high tide.

Read the story here

Hillary Clinton ad features former Broward Republican chair


A new radio ad for Hillary Clinton in the Miami area features a former Broward Republican chair who has endorsed the Democrat.

Cindy Guerra, a Cuban American, told the Miami Herald earlier this year that she would back Clinton.

Here is the script of the radio ad:

"My name is Cindy Guerra. I am the daughter of Cuban refugees raised right here in Miami. My first campaign I stuffed envelopes for Ronald Reagan. I served two Republican attorney generals and even chaired the Broward County Republican Party. But this year with Donald Trump I just can't. I can't trust someone who takes counsel from no one," she said, as the ad plays a clip of Trump saying "I know more abut ISIS than the generals do believe me"

Guerra continues: "We send our daughters to Catholic school for a reason: the values we want them to learn I don't see in Donald Trump. The insults, the name calling, the bullying," she says as the ad airs a clip of Trump saying "And you can tell them to go f--- themselves."

Guerra continues her critique of Trump: "He mocks people with disabilities. He picked a fight with a grieving mother who lost her son in a war -- who does that?  I can't teach my daughters one thing at home and then vote another way. I am voting for my daughters and that's why I am voting for Hillary Clinton." 

The Clinton campaign is also running a radio ad statewide that features Warren Chase, a Republican, former Naval office and Vietnam veteran from Palm Beach County. Chase volunteered for seven past Republican presidential campaigns but this year is backing Clinton.

"There are times when we all have to take a stand. For me,that time is now to say country first, party second and to say no to Donald Trump," Chase said.

Clinton to campaign Friday in Coral Springs

Campaign 2016 Clinton (4)

Hillary Clinton returns to South Florida on Friday, to campaign in Coral Springs.

She plans to rally supporters at 5:15 p.m. at the Coral Springs Gymnasium, 2501 Coral Springs Dr., according to a link posted on Clinton's campaign site. Attendees can request tickets online.

Later Friday, Clinton is scheduled to attend a high-dollar fundraiser at the Miami Beach home of Sprint chief executive Marcelo Claure and his wife, Jordan.

Last time Clinton came to South Florida in any sort of public way was in August, when she visited a Miami clinic to see how Miami was handling the Zika virus outbreak. She also endorsed Weston Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz ahead of her Aug. 30 primary race, which the congresswoman won.

Photo credit: Andrew Harnik, Associated Press