October 05, 2016

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

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

State at eoc5

@ByKristenMClark

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.

Gov. Rick Scott: Hurricane Matthew 'won't have an impact' on election

While a major hurricane threatens Florida's east coast this week, many residents are already starting to vote in the November election.

County supervisors of election sent out 2.5 million mail-in ballots this week to Florida voters who requested them, but Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott told reporters Wednesday that Hurricane Matthew "won't have an impact" on voting.

"The nice thing about our state is you have a lot of opportunities to vote," Scott said. "You can vote by mail, you can vote early and then you still have the opportunity to vote on Election Day. It's not like we have just one day in our state."

Scott made the remarks during a morning press conference in Tallahassee about the status of Hurricane Matthew and the state’s preparation efforts. More here.

September 30, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott's false attack about Hillary Clinton's refugee plan

Scotttrumptamparally

Gov. Rick Scott backed up Donald Trump’s first presidential debate performance, praising the Republican nominee and lamenting that Hillary Clinton wasn’t pressed hard enough on her policy positions.

In a Sept. 27 Facebook post touting an ad from the pro-Trump Rebuilding America Now PAC, Scott declared the real estate mogul "the winner in last night’s debate because he is the candidate for change."

"The biggest loser was the American people," Scott wrote, "because we never got to hear a vigorous conversation about why Hillary set up an illegal email server for classified information or why she wants to bring in thousands of refugees to America from all around the world without any kind of security screening."

We’ll set aside the email controversy and focus on the assertion about vetting refugees. Does Clinton want to bring in thousands of foreigners with no background checks at all?

She does want to allow refugees into America, although the figures are up for debate — but the idea that there will be no security screening is wrong.

Keep reading Joshua Gillin's fact-check from PolitiFact Florida and here's a look at Scott's Truth-O-Meter record.

September 29, 2016

Rick Scott super PAC to question Clinton's honesty in new TV ad

via @learyreports

The Donald Trump super PAC chaired by Gov. Rick Scott is planning to go on air as early as Friday with a new ad questioning Hillary Clinton’s honesty.

The ad, which will air on cable, doesn’t cite a specific issue; rather it shows various clips of Clinton answering questions including whether she has “always” told the truth. “I’ve always tried to,” Clinton replied in an interview.

Rebuilding America Now PAC has spent more than $14 million so far in support of Trump. It recently signaled a shift in strategy to more positive ads, so the new one is a departure. “That remains the core of our PAC’s strategy,” Scott said in a release, adding positive ads will be soon announced. But, he added, “This is tackle football. We are going to put offense and defense on the field for Donald Trump and we are going to win.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Scott takes victory lap on $1.1B Zika funding but wants more federal help

@MichaelAuslen

It's not yet certain how Florida will benefit from the $1.1 billion Zika spending package Congress passed Wednesday, but on a call with reporters, Gov. Rick Scott made this clear: It's about time the federal government acted.

"What's frustrating is everybody said they were for funding," said Scott, who has traveled to Washington, D.C., twice to meet with congressional leaders and demand emergency money. "I'm frustrated it took so long. I think it shows the incompetence of the federal government, but I'm glad we got something passed."

Now, the governor is asking for the feds to refund the state for money it spent under an emergency declaration signed by Scott in February. To date, Florida has spent $36 million on fighting and preventing the spread of Zika and Scott last week promised another $25 million for a vaccine research grant program. That's on top of millions spent by local governments, particularly in Miami-Dade County, where the virus continues to spread in Miami Beach.

"My goal is the federal government will give the money out quickly," Scott said.

He also renewed demands for additional support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He wants the CDC to send an epidemiologist, match the grant funds for vaccine research and speed up test results for pregnant women.

But the federal government already has provided resources, including sending an epidemiologist. The CDC has to date spent well over $100 million on a vaccine research program.

As well, the CDC has granted $8 million in Zika-specific aid to Florida, as well as $27 million in federal emergency funds that could be used to combat Zika, in addition to other purposes. As of Friday, Florida had used less than $3 million, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Much of that money is allocated for other purposes, and the state has budgeted for -- even if it hasn't spent -- all of the Zika-specific money from the federal government, spokespeople for the state of Florida told the Miami Herald last week.

Pregnant women have reported waiting as long as five weeks to receive the results of Zika tests Scott made available in every county health department. The CDC has bought some lab resources to speed that up.

Under Scott, the state has cut staffing in the Florida Department of Health, reducing the agency from more than 17,000 positions when he took office in in 2011 to fewer than 14,000 full-time employees this year, according to state records.

This has not impacted Zika test results, Scott insists. Cuts are all tied to a change in the Medicaid program that farmed out work to private health insurers, he said.

"Any efficiencies made in years past did not impact the response to Zika," Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said.

Some of the testing has to be done by the CDC, and that's what the state is waiting on, according to Scott's office. 

"We are clearly doing our part," he said, "but the CDC needs to provide an epidemiologist, needs to provide lab support."

Rick Scott on Trump's Cuba troubles: It's a Clinton 'distraction'; Rubio says it's troubling

Gov. Rick Scott said he hasn't read the Newsweek story alleging that Donald Trump broke the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba by hiring a consulting firm in late 1998, but he did have an opinion on it: It's a distraction fueled rival Hillary Clinton.
 
"I haven't seen the article. I've not talked to Trump about it. I assume this is more of what Hillary Clinton keeps doing,'' Scott told reporters in Orlando Thursday.
 
"She doesn't want to talk about job creation because she didn't get it done. She doesn't want to talk about ISIS because she failed. She doesn't want to support law enforcement or the military, which she's failed at. This is another Clinton distraction because the election is going to be about jobs. It's going to be about -- Donald knows how to create jobs. He's done it. Clinton never has."

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida's most prominent Cuban-American lawmaker, called the Newsweek report “troubling.”

“The article makes some very serious and troubling allegations,” he said in a campaign statement. “I will reserve judgment until we know all the facts and Donald has been given the opportunity to respond.”

Newsweek reported that Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts paid at least $68,000 to a consulting firm in an attempt to give Trump’s business a head start in Cuba if the U.S. loosened or lifted trade sanctions, according to the front-page Newsweek report, titled “The Castro Connection.” Read more here. 
 
The consulting firm, Seven Arrows Investment and Development Corp., later instructed the casino company on how to make it look like legal spending for charity.

The following year, Trump flirted with a Reform Party presidential run, giving a November 1999 speech to the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami where he cast himself as a pro-embargo hardliner who refused to do potentially lucrative business on the communist island until Fidel Castro was gone.

September 28, 2016

Florida will let Miami-Dade publish Zika mosquito locations

via @joeflech

Miami-Dade County on Wednesday will release the locations of mosquito traps that captured Zika-positive insects in Miami Beach, the result of a public dispute between state and local officials after the Miami Herald filed a lawsuit seeking the information.

The word came Tuesday evening, an hour after Gov. Rick Scott and Surgeon General Celeste Philip agreed that Miami-Dade can release the trap locations.

“Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez will be releasing the locations [Wednesday] morning now that the Florida Department of Health has approved the dissemination of the information,” said Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernandez, adding that property owners at the locations will likely be notified Tuesday night or early Wednesday.

Earlier Tuesday, Gimenez sent a letter to the state health department saying he would release the locations of the traps unless state health officials prohibited the action — in writing — by Wednesday afternoon.

“This decision is one that is solely the county’s to make,” responded spokesman McKinley P. Lewis, a few hours later. “Gov. Scott encourages the county to disclose the locations of these traps immediately so that their residents may remain fully informed.”

More here.

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

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@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