September 14, 2016

Competing demands crowd Zika money



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

The cost to renovate Gov. Rick Scott's office: $153K

From the Associated Press:

Florida taxpayers paid nearly $153,000 for renovations to the reception area outside of Gov. Rick Scott's office.

State officials say the changes, which include placing bulletproof material in the reception desk, were prompted by security concerns.

But the changes also included putting in new carpet in the waiting area. And they included placing Scott's Office of Open Government behind a locked door that is accessible by employees only. That's the office that is supposed to respond to public records requests.

Maggie Mickler, a spokeswoman for the Department of Management Services, said the renovations were ordered after the head of DMS requested a security review by law enforcement. She said one of the biggest changes was moving a desk to improve visibility and the line of sight.

September 12, 2016

Justice Perry announces retirement, sets in motion plan for Scott to pick replacement

James E.C. Perry@MaryEllenKlas

Florida Supreme Court Justice James E.C. Perry notified Gov. Rick Scott on Monday that he will retire from the Florida Supreme Court on Dec. 30, 2016, as required by law, formally setting in motion the opportunity for the governor to make a coveted pick to the state's highest court.

Perry, who was appointed to the bench in March 2009 by former Gov. Charlie Crist, must retire because of a state law requiring justices to retire on their 70th birthday or the end of their six-year term if they are half-way through the term. Perry turned 70 in January 2015 but his term ends Jan. 3, 2017.

Scott will choose from a list of three to six candidates from the region that encompasses the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Central Florida. Under Florida's judicial appointment system, the governor appoints new justices from a list of three to six names submitted to him by the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission, a nine-member panel controlled by the governor’s appointees. Last week, Scott reappointed three members of the commission, including his former general counsel, Jess Panuccio.

The likely candidates are expected to be Daniel J. Gerber, of the Orlando office of the law firm Rumberger, Kirk and Caldwell, Fifth DCA Judges Alan Lawson and Wendy Berger. Gerber also applied when Perry was nominated and Berger was named to the trial court bench by Scott.

Perry’s retirement is the first opportunity Scott will have to name a justice to the moderate court that has vexed Republicans during his term on issues ranging from redistricting, abortion and workers compensation to declaring that the Republican-controlled Florida House violated state law when it adjourned early in protest over a budget dispute over the Affordable Care Act.

Continue reading "Justice Perry announces retirement, sets in motion plan for Scott to pick replacement" »

September 10, 2016

There are problems with how Florida is reporting Zika cases

via @dchangmiami

For months, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and state agencies have reported almost daily on the public health crisis posed by the spread of Zika.

From the first three travel-related cases identified in January, to the emergence of local Zika infections in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood in July, followed by the discovery of mosquitoes infected with the virus in Miami Beach in September, the governor and state officials have vowed to keep Floridians informed so they can prepare.

“We're going to put out accurate and timely information,” Scott told a group of reporters following a Zika roundtable with civic leaders in Miami Beach in August. “We want everybody to be prepared. We all have to take this seriously.”

But the information issued by the governor and state agencies has not been timely or accurate — cases announced as “new” are often several weeks old, due to a time lag in diagnosis — and excludes details that public health experts say would allow people to make informed decisions and provide a complete picture of Zika’s foothold in Florida.

“I don’t think the message has been strong enough, in terms of ‘We have a problem’,” said Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics for New York University Langone Medical Center. “It makes no sense — unless you see it through the eyes of the impact on tourism. I think that’s money driving reporting rather than public health.”

Over the past month, as local Zika infections have spread beyond Miami-Dade, with cases cropping up in Broward, Palm Beach and Pinellas counties, Florida officials have:

▪ Stopped providing detailed information on epidemiological investigations into local Zika infections;

▪ Refused to identify all the locations where Zika-positive mosquitoes were trapped in Miami Beach;

▪ And under-reported the number of local Zika infections in Florida by excluding anyone who is not a state resident.

More here.

September 09, 2016

Scott reschedules trip to D.C. to lobby for Zika funding


Florida Gov. Rick Scott will travel to Washington on Tuesday to ask Congress to set aside money to fight the Zika virus, his office said Friday.

The governor was supposed to go to Capitol Hill this week, when lawmakers returned from their summer recess, but he stayed behind in Tallahassee to deal with Hurricane Hermine cleanup.

Scott will remain in D.C. through Wednesday.

Hermine blew through Tallahassee and exposed tensions, flaws and agendas

Tallahassee Utility trucksWhen Hurricane Hermine blew through Florida’s capital Sept. 1, it was accompanied by a string of firsts: the first hurricane in Tallahassee in more than 30 years and in the state in 11 years; the first big storm to test the skills of Gov. Rick Scott and the city’s new mayor,
, and the first recovery effort staged in the age of social media.

The combination proved to be a volatile mix that unleashed a torrent of complaints that the seat of government in the third most populous state was unprepared to handle a widespread power outage. It launched a public spat between the Republican governor and the Democratic mayor over whose approach was the most responsible, and it spewed partisan politics into disaster recovery.

With winds of 65 mph and the center of the Category 1 storm just miles from the heart of downtown Tallahassee, Hermine severed power for two days to a week to more than 75,000 customers of the city’s municipally owned electric system and 20,000 customers of the neighboring cooperative electric company, Talquin Electric. The primary cause of the damage: downed limbs and trees from Tallahassee’s famed canopy.

Scott, who has become accustomed to crisis responses this year, quickly positioned himself as facilitator-in-chief. Beginning the first night after Hermine hit, he staged a series of public meetings with state and local officials and representatives of the state’s largest utilities to discuss maximizing resources to get power restoration and debris removed. Story here. 

September 06, 2016

September 01, 2016

State offices closed in 37 counties on Friday due to Hermine


State offices will remain closed in 37 counties on Friday -- including those in the Tallahassee, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville areas, Gov. Rick Scott's office announced this evening.

The threat of what's now Hurricane Hermine forced the closure of state offices in 51 counties and some judicial offices starting noon Thursday.

Scott had earlier said in an afternoon briefing that he hadn't decided yet whether he'd also close state offices Friday. Hermine is expected to make landfall overnight in Florida's Big Bend region along the Gulf of Mexico, with potentially severe flooding and wind damage expected.

Judicial officials at the Florida Supreme Court and First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee made the call Thursday morning to keep those courts closed through Friday.

Those counties included in the Friday closure of state offices are: