September 22, 2016

Rick Scott directs $25M toward Zika vaccine research

@MichaelAuslen

In an unusual move, Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday he'll use his emergency powers to direct $25 million from the state for Zika research.

The Florida Department of Health will dole out the money through a competitive grant for speeding up the development of a Zika vaccine and "innovative, cost-effective" methods to test for the virus.

Scott has traveled to Washington, D.C., to urge congressional action and routinely called out the federal government on cable news for failing to pass a Zika funding bill. On Thursday, he did the same.

"Every minute that passes that Congress doesn’t approve funding means more time is lost from researching this virus," Scott said in a statement. "For the sake of our state’s future children, this is time we cannot afford to waste."

The first cases of Zika spread by mosquitoes in the continental United States began this July in Miami's Wynwood neighborhood.

To date, there have been 874 Florida cases of the virus, which is linked to birth defects, according to the Florida Department of Health. While most of those cases are connected to travel abroad, 92 have been linked to local infections spreading, most notably in Miami Beach and Wynwood, though additional locally-spread cases were found in Pinellas, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

As governor, Scott can allocate funds in emergencies without the Legislature's approval. In February, he declared a public health emergency to address the burgeoning threat Zika posed.

In July, Scott expanded the emergency declaration to authorize $26.2 million in spending for mosquito control, testing pregnant women and preventing Zika's spread. Last week, he announced another $10 million for that cause.

How Scott sidelined Lopez-Cantera during the GOP Senate race

IMG_IMG_Florida_Governor_5_1_NG4OEJ1D_L124420056
@PatriciaMazzei

Something unusual happened to Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera this month: Gov. Rick Scott started giving him things to do again.

None of it was heavy lifting. But the change to Lopez-Cantera’s public schedule was immediate and striking: The calendar hit September, and the Miami-based lieutenant was hitting the road, touring businesses, visiting schools and attending meetings after a summer of political exile.

For three months, Lopez-Cantera had hardly been visible in matters of state — while Scott had one of his busiest seasons in office. The Pulse gay nightclub shooting in Orlando. The Zika virus outbreak in Miami. The Hurricane Hermine aftermath in Tallahassee. Scott moved from crisis to crisis, seizing the chance to appear on camera as a hands-on chief executive.

Lopez-Cantera played little part. He could have served as a Spanish-speaking surrogate to the families of the Orlando victims, many of whom were Hispanic. He could have been a constant state presence in his hometown of Miami as Zika cases piled up.

Instead, his calendar usually listed him as having “no scheduled events.”

“Carlos hasn’t had anything to do, other than show up at a photo op,” said his predecessor, former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll. “Which is a discredit to him, because the people elected a governor and a lieutenant governor to work on their behalf.”

A Miami Herald review of the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s public schedules from June 12 (the day of the Pulse shooting) to Aug. 30 (the day of the Florida primary) found 254 events for Scott, compared to only 21 for Lopez-Cantera. On at least four occasions, Scott attended an event in Miami-Dade or Broward counties — within driving distance from Lopez-Cantera’s Coral Gables home — without the LG.

What changed in September? The primary was over. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio had crushed Republican challenger Carlos Beruff.

More here.

Photo credit: Mark Wallheiser, Associated Press

In op-ed, Gov. Scott blasts federal government over Zika

via @learyreports

Gov. Rick Scott uses a USA Today op/ed Thursday to lash out at the "incompetence" of the federal government to address Zika. He goes after Congress and the president, accusing Barack Obama of failing to show leadership. "It would be nice if he stopped taking vacations and focused all his energy on this," Scott says.

At the same time, Scott came home empty handed from a lobbying mission to Capitol Hill last week. He also took a partisan shot at Sen. Bill Nelson that drew rebukes from fellow Republicans.

"In all my meetings with both Republicans and Democrats, I couldn’t find anyone who opposes the federal government spending money to eradicate Zika," Scott writes. "But, what has happened? Nothing. It’s a perfect example of the complete dysfunction in Washington. Everyone is for funding to get rid of Zika — so of course nothing happens.

"This explains the problem with our entire federal government — incompetence.

"When you travel around and talk to voters all across the country today, they will tell you that Washington is broken. That’s not really true, it is much worse than broken. To call our federal government broken is far too complimentary. No, the truth is that Washington is completely incompetent. ...

"Meanwhile, the taxpayers of Florida have now spent over $26 million fighting Zika, and I just allocated another $10 million to ensure our counties and local mosquito boards continue to have all of the resources they need to combat Zika. We are doing our part in Florida, but we need the federal government to be a good partner, which includes both Congress and President Obama. Obama has not provided the leadership that is needed to get this done, and it would be nice if he stopped taking vacations and focused all his energy on this.

"Our broken federal government would never survive in the business world. If they were a company, they would fail. They would go under. They would be fired. Yet, members of Congress scratch their heads and wonder why the public is fed up with Washington."

Full piece here.

September 20, 2016

Will the governor and Cabinet hold FDLE accountable for investigating inmate deaths?

Prison deathsSix years after 27-year-old prison inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo died at Franklin Correctional Institution  after being gassed by corrections officers, an investigation has still not been complete and witnesses to the incident, who allege he was tortured and beaten by corrections officers, have still not been interviewed, according to a 33-page federal civil rights lawsuit filed Monday.

On Tuesday, the head of the agency charged with investigating the state's role in the death, Rick Swearingen, faces his six-month performance review before the governor and Cabinet today. The governor and Cabinet jointly are responsible for oversight of FDLE.

On Monday, the Herald/Times asked if the governor and Cabinet believed FDLE was sufficiently following up  on the abuse-related deaths at the Department of Corrections, as the agency had told legislators it would do. For the past three years, the Miami Herald has chronicled or revealed details about many of the deaths.

The question was not about the pending investigation but how the governor and members of the Cabinet is holding FDLE accountable regarding its performance about an inmate death nearly six years ago and other deaths the agency is charged with reviewing. 

Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater responded. No one chose to answer the question, or explain why they didn't want to answer it. We did not receive a response from Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Here is what we asked:

"We are writing today about a federal lawsuit being filed in connection with the death of inmate Randall Jordan Aparo in 2010. We understand the investigation was re-opened by FDLE, however, many of the witnesses in the case and others have not been interviewed, according to the lawsuit. 

"As you prepare the performance review of FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen on Tuesday, could the governor provide us with an answer to this question:

"Have you have been assured that Commissioner Swearingen and his staff are sufficiently following up on the abuse-related deaths at the Department of Corrections? If you are confident these investigations are underway, please explain how you reached that conclusion."

Here's how the governor's office answered the question at 9:47 p.m.

"Commissioner Swearingen has done a great job in his leadership role at FDLE. We look forward to his performance review tomorrow,'' said Lauren Schenone, the governor's press secretary. "Florida is now at a 45-year crime low because of the hard work of Florida’s law enforcement officers, and Commissioner Swearingen has dedicated his career to making sure Florida is the safest state in the nation.”

Here is how the office of CFO Atwater responded: "Our office has not had specific conversations about inmate investigations," said Ashley Carr, spokeswoman for Atwater.

Here is how Bondi's office responded: "It would not be appropriate to comment on a pending investigation,'' said Kylie Mason, Bondi press secretary. "Furthermore, any discussion relating to FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen's performance review must be addressed in the open at the public Cabinet meeting."

September 16, 2016

Scott picks Tampa water utilities veteran as the next PSC commissioner

Donald PolmannA water utilities veteran who has spent a career navigating the water wars of Tampa Bay was named Florida's next public service commissioner late Thursday by Gov. Rick Scott.

Donald Polmann, 59, who has twice been on the short list of nominees to come before the governor, will replace Lisa Edgar for the four-year term on the state utilities board beginning Jan. 2. Edgar, 53, is retiring after 12 years on the board.

Polmann is Scott's fourth appointment to the influential five-member panel that has the power to raise or lower customer utility bills. The four-year term pays $131,000 a year.

For the first time, the governor did not select a legislative insider or incumbent to the post, as he did when he reappointed Edgar in 2012 and subsequently reappointed PSC Commissioners Art Graham and Ron Brise to second terms, and named former state House Rep. Jimmy Patronis to an open seat. All were candidates preferred by the state's politically powerful utility giants which were among the largest contributors to Scott's re-election bid in 2014.

Polmann, was one of the finalists recommended in 2012 when Scott reappointed Edgar and again in 2013 when the governor reappointed Brise and Graham.

Polmann received his bachelor’s degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, his master’s degree from the University of Florida, and a doctorate in civil engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Polmann served as director of science and engineering at Tampa Bay Water, a regional water supply authority. He has spent most of his 30-year career focused on drinking water regulation and protection and is currently self-employed as a consultant in civil and environmental engineering.

Polmann, who is currently self-employed as a consultant in civil and environmental engineering, has the support of Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. In a letter of recommendation on Polmann's behalf, Latvala said he had known Polmann, a constituent, for 15 years and that Polmann "was a major player in the transformation of Tampa Bay Water from the previous agency, the West Coast Regional Water Authority."

Latvala was an outspoken critic of Edgar's, who was first appointed to the post by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2004, reappointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007 and by Scott four years later.

Scott choose Polmann over two other candidates, Gainesville City Commissioner Todd Chase and Florida SouthWestern State College professor Cynthia Wilson Orndoff. He must be confirmed by the Florida Senate for his term to be official.

In his interview before the PSC Nominating Council on Aug. 18, Polmann said his "family heritage in construction and blue collar work" as well as his experience as a water manager will inform his outlook.

"On one hand, I've witnessed the struggles of making ends meet, both at home and in the family business, in a tough economy,'' he said. "How can we possibly raise utility rates with those conditions prevalent in so many places in our communities? On the other hand, we find infrastructure in our cities and towns throughout our state sorely in need of repair, replacement, upgrade, and yes, expansion, as our state's economy grows."

"...We've been seeing more and water breaks, sewer plant overflows, power outages, etc. -- quality of service -- and reliability must be addressed,'' he said.

He added that his expertise in water and environmental resource management; operations research, risk and uncertainty; regulatory and policy compliance; quality assurance and strategic planning and the state's Sunshine law will serve him well to find the balance between competing issues.interests, including utility investors.

The five-member PSC is in the midst of a controversial $1.3 billion rate case with Florida Power & Light.

The PSC is an agency that reports to and is funded by the Legislature, but commissioners are appointed by the governor after receiving a list of recommendations from the PSC Nominating Council, which is dominated by legislators.

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

Scott leaves Washington positive but without Zika deal

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Gov. Rick Scott concluded a two-day visit to Capitol Hill without gaining assurances that lawmakers will act on funding to fight Zika. Still, he maintained a positive air.

“Everybody’s supportive,” Scott said in an interview outside the Capitol.

At the same time the Republican seemed frustrated that “everybody wants to explain the politics” why funding has not moved. “It hasn’t been accomplished yet,” Scott said, adding he was concerned about babies that could be affected by the virus.

Scott met with a range of officials over two days, including this afternoon with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who holds the keys to a deal to insert $1.1 billion in a stop-gap budget measure. That deal has yet to emerge.

Scott stood by criticism of Sen. Bill Nelson, who voted last week against a $1.1 billion measure because, as Democrats contend, it would block funding to a Planned Parenthood affiliate in Puerto Rico. Earlier Wednesday Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said Scott’s comments were not helpful.

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

 

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Competing demands crowd Zika money

  

@jamesmartinrose

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