October 09, 2016

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

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@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 07, 2016

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

@PatriciaMazzei

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" »

October 06, 2016

Gov. Scott says no to extending Florida voter-registration deadline

via @ByKristenMClark

Florida rejected a request Thursday from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief to extend the state’s voter-registration deadline due to Hurricane Matthew.

“I’m not going to extend it,” Gov. Rick Scott told reporters in Tallahassee. “Everybody has had a lot of time to register. On top of that, we have lots of opportunities to vote: early voting, absentee voting, Election Day. So I don’t intend to make any changes.”

Clinton’s team had asked for more days earlier, after Democratic-leaning political groups said they had to cancel planned registration drives in the last frenzied days ahead of the deadline because of the storm. Tuesday is the last day for new voters to sign up ahead of the Nov. 8 presidential election.

“The one thing that we are hoping and expecting is that officials in Florida will adapt deadlines to account for the storm,” campaign manager Robby Mook told reporters. “Our hope would be that a little bit more time would be given for people that were expecting to get registered before the election.”

Elections supervisors typically see a surge in voter interest immediately before the registration closes. About 50,000 people registered during the final five days in 2012, according to University of Florida professor Daniel A. Smith, who studies Florida voting trends.

More here.

 

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

@ByKristenMClark

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

@ByKristenMClark

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.”

President Obama signs Florida emergency declaration for Hurricane Matthew

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@PatriciaMazzei @ByKristenMClark

President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration for Florida on Thursday afternoon, anticipating extensive damage from the approaching Hurricane Matthew.

Gov. Rick Scott had requested the federal designation Wednesday. He and Obama spoke by phone early Thursday afternoon, according to Scott’s office, and the White House announced the emergency declaration shortly after.

Federal agencies will now be authorized to coordinate disaster relief efforts and use federal aid to assist state and local governments in dealing with the storm. The emergency designation applies to 28 counties all along Florida’s coast, from Monroe in the Florida Keys to Nassau on the Georgia border.

Scott had criticized Obama for not signing an emergency declaration as quickly as the governor would have liked after Hurricane Hermine hit Florida last month. The president eventually approved the designation for six counties.

On Thursday ahead of Matthew, Scott and Obama spoke for a few minutes just after 12:30 p.m., Scott’s spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said.

More here.

Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch, Bloomberg

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

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@ByKristenMClark

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

Trump telephones Florida Gov. Scott ahead of Hurricane Matthew

via @learyreports

Donald Trump called Gov. Rick Scott Wednesday evening to check in as Hurricane Matthew approaches.

Scott's office described the call as a courtesy.

The pending storm has put the election on hold, with a Wednesday visit by President Obama put off as well as an appearance in Miami by Ivanka Trump that was to be followed by a "Women for Trump" bus tour.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Governor asks for 'pre-landfall' emergency declaration in anticipation of Matthew's arrival

Gov. Rick Scott late Wednesday asked President Obama to declare a "pre-landfall" emergency in 26 counties along the east coast, from Monroe to Duval, to accelerate the federal assistance needed in anticipation of the arrival of the hurricane force winds as early as Thursday afternoon.

The governor also activated another 1,000 members of the Florida National Guard to begin assisting evacuation. Earlier Wednesday, Scott suspended tolls along the Florida Turnpike, Alligator Alley, Central Florida Expressway Authority and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority to ease the evacuation process. Read Scott's letter to Obama here. 

“Based on the most recent forecast I received from the National Hurricane Center, the eye of Hurricane Matthew is going to be much closer to Florida,'' Scott said in the statement. "There are hurricane watches and warnings along Florida’s entire east coast and we now have Tropical Storm warnings on Florida’s Gulf Coast. This storm is serious and protecting life remains our number one priority."

Scott's formal request allows the state to start receiving federal assistance for food, water and tarps if Obama approves the request. The governor's action also positions 1,500 National Guard members throughout the state. “Storm impacts will begin tomorrow morning in our state,'' he said in a statement.

"There is still time to evacuate. Get out now if you are in an area with evacuations. If you make a decision not to leave before the storm, we cannot send someone to save you because you made a bad decision. Don’t wait until you lose power. You need to leave before it is too late.”

The Hurricane Warning remains in in effect for: North of Golden Beach to the Flagler/Volusia County line Lake Okeechobee, the state said.

 A Hurricane Watch is in effect for: North of the Flagler/Volusia county line to Savannah River. A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for: Chokoloskee in Collier County to Golden Beach Florida Keys from Seven Mile Bridge eastward Florida Bay.  A Tropical Storm Watch is in effect for: North of Chokoloskee in Collier County to the Suwannee River in Dixie County.

The National Hurricane Center reports that Hurricane Matthew is a major Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 120 miles per hour. Matthew is currently moving Northwest at 12 miles per hour.

Based on the current forecast, the state’s entire east coast from Monroe to Nassau County will experience tropical storm or hurricane force winds, beach erosion, rip currents and heavy rain. On Monday, Governor Scott signed an Executive Order declaring a State of Emergency in every Florida county to ensure resources for evacuations, sheltering and other logistical needs across our state are readily available.

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

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@ByKristenMClark

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