August 30, 2016

With tropical depression in Gulf, Rick Scott goes to Tampa for storm prep



Rick Scott's office announced the Republican governor is traveling to Tampa this afternoon for briefings on storm preparation, while a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to strengthen and make landfall along Florida's west coast in the next 48 hours.

Scott will monitor the storm from the Emergency Operations Center in Tampa and hold a press conference at 5 p.m.

"Florida families on the Gulf Coast and in the Tampa Bay area need to prepare for five to 10 inches of heavy rainfall as well as potential tornadoes," Scott said said in a statement. "Floridians should always remember to never drive on flooded roadways, seek shelter in the event of severe weather and always have a plan in place to keep your family safe."

To reduce the chance of Zika virus spreading, Scott also advises homeowners to dump standing water, which can be breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Officials elevated the status of the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee to Level Two this morning in preparation for the storm, currently called Tropical Depression 9. Level Two means the activation of mission-specific emergency support and planning functions.

The National Hurricane Center predicts the storm will strengthen to tropical storm status today -- with the potential to produce coastal and inland flooding, storm surge, rip currents and strong winds. It's expected to reach Florida's coast by Thursday.

"Whether this is your first tropical storm or you’re a seasoned veteran of past hurricanes, you need to take this storm seriously and be prepared for the very real threats it could produce," advised Bryan Koon, director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management.

Photo credit: AP

August 25, 2016

Rubio raps FEMA over algae blooms

Senate 2016 Rubio_Ordo (1)-082516


Sen. Marco Rubio criticized the Obama administration for again declining to issue a federal disaster declaration in response to toxic algae in Florida's waterways.

"Even though the end to this disaster is not in sight, the President is telling our state we are on our own," the Miami Republican said Thursday in a statement.

Barack Obama did not appear to be involved in the decision. In a brief letter earlier Thursday, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate rejected Gov. Rick Scott's appeal of his agency's earlier denial of extra money to help fight the algae blooms from Lake Okeechobee discharges intended to protect its aging dike.

"After a thorough review of all information contained in your initial request and appeal, we reaffirm our original findings that supplemental federal assistance under the Stafford Act is not appropriate for this event," Fugate wrote to Scott. "Therefore, I must inform you that your appeal for an emergency declaration is denied."

The thick algae blooms look like guacamole and smell bad. The algae has fouled Treasure Coast waterways fed by Lake Okeechobee.

"The Administration has chosen yet again to turn a blind eye to the livelihoods of Floridians who are affected by this toxic algae," Rubio said.

For more on Rubio's response:

Photo credit: Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press


Read more here:


Florida Gov. Rick Scott plans another DC trip to ask for Zika money


Florida Gov. Rick Scott plans to return to Washington when Congress convenes after Labor Day to again press lawmakers for emergency funds to combat the Zika virus.

"I will travel to Washington D.C. to meet with members of Congress on the day they return to work to make sure they immediately get something done on this urgent issue," Scott said in a statement Thursday. "During Congress's vacation, we have identified 43 cases of locally acquired Zika in four Florida counties. The Zika virus demands immediate federal action and I will impress upon our congressional members the urgency to protect our residents and visitors."

The Republican governor has already lobbied the GOP-controlled Congress for help, to no avail. Federal Zika dollars are scheduled to start drying up at the end of September.

Scott has blamed Democratic President Barack Obama for also failing to find money to deal with the virus outbreak. The president has requested a $1.9 billion allocation from Congress. Scott hasn't committed to any number.

Locally transmitted Zika has been identified in Wynwood and Miami Beach, and there are two cases under investigation in Pinellas and Palm Beach counties.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald staff

August 22, 2016

Miami Beach mayor blames Florida governor for slow Zika response


Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine on Monday blamed Florida Gov. Rick Scott for the confusing way in which his city conveyed information about the Zika virus outbreak.

"The governor made, I believe, a big mistake by not believing the folks that are on the ground -- myself, [Miami-Dade County] Mayor [Carlos] Gimenez -- informing us, telling us what he knows," Levine told reporters at a news conference.

"This issue is serious," Levine continued. "To play politics with people's lives is wrong, and there's no place for that. Information must be timely. It must be coming out."

Levine, a Democrat who wants Scott's job, had insisted to reporters Thursday night that Miami Beach had no confirmed Zika cases -- even after the Miami Herald and later other news media reported otherwise, citing sources inside the Florida Department of Health.

The next day, Republican Gov. Scott traveled to Miami to announce the new Zika cases on the Beach, making Levine look like he was either uninformed or more interested in protecting the city's tourism business.

Continue reading "Miami Beach mayor blames Florida governor for slow Zika response" »

August 20, 2016

Miami Beach mayor accuses Rick Scott of "playing politics" with Zika information



Amid the public health concerns and worries about impacts on tourism, the news of Zika spreading to Miami Beach has set off a political quarrel between Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine — rumored to be eying a gubernatorial run in 2018 — and Gov. Rick Scott.

He's taken to cable news channels to accuse Scott of withholding information from him about the presence of Zika in the popular resort city, which is a crucial economic engine for the region's tourism industry.

Fourteen hours after Levine told reporters late Thursday that there was "no outbreak, no epidemic of Zika on Miami Beach," Scott held his own press conference in Miami to announce that five cases were confirmed and Zika was being transmitted locally in South Beach. 

On Friday, Levine blamed Scott for a lack of communication that left the mayor unaware of what was going on in his own city. On Friday night and Saturday afternoon, the mayor took to cable news networks to blast the governor. 

"On Friday, the governor played politics with this horrible issue," Levine told CNN's Martin Savidge on a live segment aired just after 1 p.m. Saturday.

That's after a Friday night appearance on MSNBC.


"It is so sad that this governor is withholding life-saving information and playing politics with it," he said.

When the Herald asked Scott's office for a comment Friday, a spokesperson seemed to say, in the same breath, that Scott has been in contact with local officials, but he didn't tell them about the new local cases until after his press conference.

"Governor Scott has been in contact with mayors, local officials and community leaders for weeks and will continue to keep them informed," a spokesperson wrote. "Friday afternoon, the Governor hosted a call with all of the local officials in Miami-Dade to give them updates on what is going on."

Meanwhile, Levine himself could benefit politically by throwing darts at Scott.

This isn't the first time the millionaire mayor has taken on Scott. Earlier this year, Levine bought a radio ad in California touting his proposal to create a citywide minimum wage, and the ad ran while Scott was in California. During that trip, Scott criticized the state's high taxes and labor costs.

He's also promoted Beach issues on a national level, putting the oceanside city in the spotlight when it comes to sea-level rise and U.S.-Cuba relations. And he is now a regular contributor on cable news shows talking about the presidential election (he's a Hillary Clinton surrogate and personal friend of the candidate).

Levine has said he wants to run for a third term as mayor, but he has not ruled out a run for the top spot in Tallahassee. 

August 16, 2016

Rick Scott biggest donors? It's all business



It’s unmistakable who Gov. Rick Scott’s biggest fans are if you look at his political fundraising over the last two years.

The latest campaign finance records show Scott’s Let’s Get to Work Committee this month has received another $100,000 combined from a pair of political action committees affiliated with Associated Industries of Florida, one of the most influential business groups in the state. Now three groups with ties to AIF have combined to give Scott’s committee $740,000 since the start of 2015.

But they are still not his top donor. The Florida Chamber of Commerce and a political committee tied to it, hold that spot. They have combined to donate more than $925,000 to Let’s Get to Work.

It’s a big drop off after that. Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts gave Scott more than $252,000 last year. And U.S. Sugar Corporation, and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik are next in line, both donating $200,000 to Scott’s committee.

Scott continues to raise money in Let’s Get to Work, despite facing term limits and being unable to run for another term as governor because of term limits. Scott has used the fund over the last two years to run television ads and fuel bus tours around the state to promote his agenda. He has raised $6.8 million for the fund since the start of 2015.

August 15, 2016

Four people control who is disenfranchised in Florida; three say it's time for reform

Restrictions on felons voting is one of the two ways Florida legally disenfranchises voters.

One way, the write-in law, which allows a write-in candidate to close a primary to all voters, is intended to undercut the constitutional provision that allows all voters to vote in a primary election.

The other is the law that permanently requires felons who have completed their sentences to apply and petition for their voting rights to be restored. But unlike the write-in laws, which the Florida Legislature can revise to make less restrictive, the laws regulating ex-felons voting is controlled by the governor and Cabinet and the state Constitution. Any change in the rules requires the governor to be on the prevailing side.

In interviews with the Herald/Times, everyone but Gov. Rick Scott said they are open to changes in the system they installed five years ago.

“If someone does an analysis, we have been granting civil rights to those who were waiting who would have automatically had their rights restored [under the previous system] and it’s probably time for us to revisit,” said Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

“Having had some time and experience on the Clemency Board, I’ve come to believe that there are opportunities for improvement,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Attorney General Pam Bondi said she was open to some reforms before an application may begin.

"I wouldn't mind reevaluating the time frame of how long we wait,'' she said. "I would reconsider reevaluating the time frame to three years." But she does not support automatic restoration for non-violent felons.

“Serving your time meant that you lost your rights,” she said. “If you’re going to have your rights restored, I want you to ask for them.”

Scott, however, said through a spokesperson he does not support any changes. 

Florida leads the nation in the number of felons who have served their time who are disenfranchised with an estimated 1.5 million Floridians barred from voting. According to the Sentencing Project, Florida holds nearly one-fourth of all disenfranchised former felons in the nation. Read more on that here. 

The practice is a vestige of post Civil War white supremacy and now disenfranchises more whites than blacks. There once was a time when more blacks were registered to vote in Florida than whites. Our story on the history of disenfranchising black voters here.

August 09, 2016

PolitiFact: Debbie Wasserman Schultz claim about Rick Scott and mosquito money stings, but it's misleading


U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz pointed blame at Republicans -- namely Gov. Rick Scott -- for not doing more to dish out dollars to prevent the spread of the Zika virus.

"While he seems to be saying out loud that he wants Congress and the president to provide more funding, he conveniently leaves out that he cut nearly $1 million dollars from mosquito control and closed down the state’s mosquito research lab a few years ago," Wasserman Schultz said at a town hall in Broward County on Aug. 8.

Wasserman Schultz is running for re-election in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary against first-time candidate Tim Canova.

Did Scott cut funding and close the state’s mosquito research lab? There’s a lot more nuance to this story than Wasserman Schultz lets on.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Photo by the Sun Sentinel

August 07, 2016

Pro-Trump super PAC chaired by Rick Scott targets Clinton finances, foundation


On "Meet the Press," Florida Gov. Rick Scott unveiled a new TV ad by Rebuilding America, the super PAC he chairs that backs Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

The spot, set to air in Florida, Ohio and North Carolina, goes after Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's wealth. (Trump has yet to release his tax returns, something Scott didn't defend when host Chuck Todd pressed him on it.) 

It's the second TV ad released by Rebuilding America in a week.

On 'Meet the Press,' Rick Scott defends Zika funding, Trump

via @learyreports

Gov. Rick Scott, appearing on "Meet the Press," did not defend Donald Trump's decision on releasing his tax returns. "My view is give everybody all the information," Scott said. "Every candidate does things differently.”

Trump says he's being audited and will not release the returns until that is over.

Scott also talked about Zika.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times