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April 11, 2017

No state of emergency, but Rick Scott announces workshops to address opioid crisis



Gov. Rick Scott is directing state health and law enforcement agencies to travel the state in search of solutions to the opioid epidemic, but the governor has not taken the extra step to declare a statewide public health emergency.

Florida's Department of Health, Department of Children and Families and Department of Law Enforcement will in the coming weeks begin workshops in Palm Beach, Manatee, Duval and Orange counties. Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi announced the initiative, a deal with drug companies to provide Narcan spray and their support for legislation related to the opioid crisis at an event in the state Capitol on Tuesday.

During previous public health crises, including the Zika virus outbreak last year and the 2014 ebola epidemic in West Africa, Scott declared public health emergencies in Florida. He declared one earlier Tuesday to address wildfires in the state.

An emergency declaration allows the governor to direct immediate spending to combat problems and allows public health officials to move quickly in response to a crisis.

"We're working through the Legislature, we're doing the workshops," Scott said Tuesday when asked why he hadn't done the same for the opioid crisis. "We're going to have these workshops and we're going to see if there's ideas that we can put forth that might have an impact. We're going to see what we can learn, but all of us have to understand that we all have to be involved with this."

The workshops are a "starting point," Scott said, and spokeswoman Jackie Schutz later made it clear that the governor is "not ruling out any options at this point."

Bondi, who was appointed to a presidential Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission by President Donald Trump, said emergency declarations are a good way to deal with short-term problems like Zika or a hurricane but that they don't make sense for large-scale, long-term, national crises like the opioid epidemic.

In 2015, the last year for which data is available, opioids were the direct cause of death of 2,538 Floridians and contributed to an additional 1,358 deaths, according to FDLE data compiled by the Florida Behavioral Health Association.

Democrats, who in February asked the governor to declare a state of emergency, say they're confused by Scott's reluctance to declare a state of emergency. They note that it took just nine confirmed travel-related cases of Zika before Scott declared it a disaster in early 2016.

"This is a much more serious problem that requires immediate solutions," state Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. "The state of emergency coalesces everybody behind the problem. I'm a little perplexed as to why we have thousands of deaths in the state of Florida and we're not creating a state of emergency but we have some wildfires that have caused zero deaths and yet that's a bigger issue."

Photo: Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi announce statewide workshops and a new deal with drug companies to combat the opioid epidemic Tuesday in the Florida Capitol. (Michael Auslen | Times/Herald)

99 apply to run Florida's DEP


The application process still has two weeks to go, but the resumes are piling up from candidates wanting to be Florida’s next leader of the Department of Environmental Protection.

Already 99 people have applied to replace Jon Steverson, the head of DEP who resigned suddenly in January, according to the Florida Cabinet which has posted the names of all 99.

Currently the agency is being led by Ryan Matthews, who had been the deputy secretary for regulatory programs before he was appointed as interim secretary back in February. Matthews is not among the people to have applied so far for the permanent job.

The Cabinet has set a goal of having a final vote on a new DEP leader by May 23.

Tepid 2017 fundraising so far for Florida Republican and Democratic parties

via @adamsmithtimes

The latest quarterly campaign finance reports highlight the weakened state of both the Republican Party of Florida and the Florida Democratic Party in the era of super PACs and other political committees.

This is nothing new for the long-struggling Democrats, but the party had hoped newly elected Florida Democratic Chairman Stephen Bittel would prove to be a champion fundraiser. No sign of that yet. Even with Bittel personally stroking a $100,000 check to the party at the very end of the fundraising quarter, Democrats raised just $844,000. In the same quarter following the last presidential election cycle, the party raised more than $1.1 million.

The Republican Party of Florida, which Gov. Rick Scott has more or less abandoned to focus on his own "Let's Get to Work" political committee, reported raising $2.46-million in the first three months of the year. In that same quarter four years ago the state GOP raised $5.37 million.

The biggest check-writers to the state Republican Party included the Republican State Leadership Committee, which helps elect conservatives to state offices and donated $125,000 and the "Florida Roundtable" political committee of Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who is the only top Florida politician helping bankroll the state party.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the all but announced candidate for governor in 2018 -- facing a possible primary challenge from Corcoran -- is focused on his own "Florida Grown" political committee, which has about $7.7 million on hand. Republican state senators also have their own committee separate from the state GOP and raised $1.43 million in the first three months of 2017.

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

Pro-Obamacare group says it's airing TV ads against Curbelo


A political group that wants to keep the Affordable Care Act said it's airing television ads against seven Republican members of Congress -- including Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo -- while they're in their home districts for the next two weeks. 

Save My Care, a pro-Obamacare organization funded by labor and other liberal groups, said Monday it is spending seven figures on the campaign, which tells viewers to call their lawmakers and urge them to "stop trying to repeal our health care."

Besides Curbelo, the other targets are Reps. Mike Coffman of Colorado, Darrell Issa of California, Tom MacArthur of New Jersey, Brian Mast of Florida, Martha McSally of Arizona and David Valadao of California.



In Trump era, Democrats suddenly have potty mouths

via @Alex_Roarty

An old political maxim holds that politicians campaign in poetry but govern in prose.

But after voters rewarded Donald Trump despite – or perhaps because of – his plain, often expletive-prone rhetoric, Democrats are suddenly quite eager to adopt the language of America’s president.

From the party’s new chairman to a senator many believe will run for the White House in 2020, Democrats are letting loose four-letter words in public speeches and interviews, causing a small stir, at least in political circles, where swearing in public is usually off limits.

“Republicans don’t give a s--- about people,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said last month, drawing criticism from GOP officials not only for the sentiment but also for the words he employed to convey it.

“If we’re not helping people, we should go the f--- home,” said Kirsten Gillibrand, a senator from New York who more than a few Democrats hope will challenge Trump for the presidency. Her uncensored declaration appeared in New York Magazine, which quoted her twice more using a curse word.

Swear words are hardly the stuff to get worked up about in a country grappling with serious, complicated problems at home and abroad. But behind the rhetoric is a real struggle for a party still trying to find its way in the aftermath of last year’s electoral catastrophe. In the age of Trump, party strategists wonder, do Democrats need to start talking in bolder, blunter terms to connect with voters – even if that means occasionally contributing to the swear jar?

“It’s always been interesting to have a private conversation where a politician cusses like a sailor, and then you get out in the real world and they’re using words like ‘sugar’ and ‘gee golly,’ ” said John Morgan, a longtime Democratic donor from Florida who is considering entering next year’s governor’s race.

More here.

Democrats buy ads against Scott on Obamacare replacement

via @learyreports

A fresh sign of the creeping showdown between Rick Scott and Sen. Bill Nelson: a Democratic group is paying for Google search ads attacking the governor's support for the “toxic GOP health care plan.”

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said the ads will show up when anyone in Florida searches for Scott’s position on the issue. A link directs viewers to a page attacking Scott and the failed Obamacare replacement.

The ad is somewhat misleading, implying it was Scott's plan.

Still, Scott talked up that he was helping craft the proposal, which he then waved on before calling it "way better" than the status quo.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Nelson calls for end on attacks to climate science

North miami sea rise
via @jenstaletovich

Three years after he held a field hearing in Miami Beach to draw attention to a region at ground zero for climate change, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson convened a second hearing in West Palm Beach on Monday with a new target: the Trump administration’s attack on climate science.

Held just across the Intracoastal Waterway from Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s vulnerable island retreat, the hearing highlighted worsening conditions — and the need to free science from politics.

“There are people trying to muzzle scientists. I’ve seen it in Washington. I’ve seen it here in the state of Florida,” said Nelson, a Democrat and the state’s former insurance commissioner.

Southeast Florida is often considered a model for planning for climate change as it grapples with sea rise that has increased five to eight inches over the last 40 years. Four counties, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach, formed a compact eight years ago, vowing to work together to make the region more resilient for what could be a nearly three-foot rise by 2060.

But progress has been slow, in part because South Florida has often been at odds with a Republican-led state and the administration of Gov. Rick Scott, who reportedly banned the term climate change.

Now comes the Trump administration. In recent weeks, Nelson said he has met with supervisors in federal agencies who say the administration has issued the same ban. Worse, he said, the administration has proposed scaling back agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Environmental Protection Agency, that provide critical research and enforce regulations that deal with climate-related problems.

More here.

Photo credit: Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Poll: Scott is America's 34th most-popular governor -- but he should still worry Nelson

via @adamsmithtimes

Morning Consult is out today with its latest 50-state survey on the approval ratings of every senator and governor. The January to March survey of 8,793 Florida voters offers good news and bad for Sen. Bill Nelson as Florida's top Democrat heads toward an expected challenge from Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Nelson's good news: 53 percent of FL voters approve of Nelson's performance and 26 percent disapprove, giving him a higher net favorability (net +27) than either Scott (+21) or Sen. Marco Rubio (+14).

The bad news: More than one in five voters don't know enough about their three-term senator to have an opinion on Nelson. It's safe to assume that Scott will have considerably more money to spend defining Nelson than the incumbent's last two challengers, Connie Mack IV and Katherine Harris.

"Both Senator Nelson and Governor Scott have relatively strong approval ratings," said Morning Consult’s Chief Research Officer Kyle Dropp. "However, if Scott enters the race he will immediately have a valuable leg-up in terms of name ID. More than a fifth (21%) of Florida voters aren't familiar with Nelson, compared to just 7% for Scott."

More bad news for Nelson: Scott's popularity is growing. Morning Consult's last survey in September found 49 percent approving of Florida's governor and 41 percent disapproving. 

That doesn't exactly make him a national star, however. He had the 34th-best net favorability rating in the country. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, came in on top with +58 net approval and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, also Republican, was dead last with a -46 net approval.

Among the U.S. senators, the independent gentleman representing the People's Republic of Vermont, Bernie Sanders, came out on top, with net approvals of +54, while Kentucky's Mitch McConnell was at the bottom with a -3 net approval.

From Morning Consult:

Politician            Approve         Disapprove          DK/NO                Net

Marco Rubio          52                     38                  10              +14

Bill Nelson              53                     26                  21              +27

Rick Scott               57                     36                  7               +21

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

April 10, 2017

Ron Book: Trump's HUD cuts would hurt hundreds of women and children



The chairman of Miami-Dade's Homeless Trust has warned members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives that HUD cuts in President Donald Trump's proposed budget would harm hundreds of women and children who rely on the county's continuum of care for help.

Ron Book, a prominent lobbyist and registered NPA, wrote in an April 6 letter that the proposed elimination of HOME grants would cut funding for a rental assistance program run by Lotus House in Overtown that helps more than 100 women and 170 children pay for housing. Another 50 households, he said, are assisted through the Citrus Health Network.

Proposed cuts to Community Development Block Grants would hurt employment training for homeless women, renovations to the only 24-hour emergency shelter in Miami-Dade County, and affordable housing projects, he wrote.

Book said the Trust supports a request by Democratic Senators Jeff Merkley and Kristen Gillibrand for $2.6 billion for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants in fiscal year 2018.

Download Book letter

Miami Herald wins 2 Pulitzer Prizes



Staff coverage of the Panama Papers, the international investigation that exposed how crooks and millionaires use the secret world of offshore companies, and the mordant political commentary of editorial cartoonist Jim Morin in a year rife with material won the Miami Herald two Pulitzer Prizes on Monday.

The 2017 prize for explanatory reporting was awarded to the Herald, its parent company McClatchy and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists for their dive into a massive cache of leaked documents that revealed a financial system of tax havens preferred by tax dodgers, corrupt politicians and drug dealers whose money often wound up in Miami real estate.

The 2017 prize for editorial cartooning went to Morin, whose unmistakable quill-pen drawings and piercing captions have anchored the Herald’s editorial pages since 1978. Morin became a two-time Pulitzer winner, having previously earned the coveted prize in 1996.

“In your late career, you don’t expect this kind of thing,” Morin, 64, said. “I just work hard at what I do, and I’m never satisfied with it. I always want to make it better.”

Monday’s prizes, journalism’s most prestigious, were the 21st and 22nd bestowed to the Herald since 1951, when the newspaper won its first Pulitzer medal for public service. The Herald has more Pulitzers to its name than any other newspaper in the Southeast.

The Herald’s last Pulitzer had come in 2009, when Patrick Farrell won for breaking news photography after calamitous flooding caused by Hurricane Ike in Haiti. The newspaper had been a finalist in various categories several times since. The last time the Herald nabbed two Pulitzers was in 1993, for its staff coverage of Hurricane Andrew and for then-columnist Liz Balmaseda.

On Monday, reporters and editors huddled in the newsroom — cell phones and cameras in hand — around Morin and Panama Papers reporter Nicholas Nehamas. Another Panama Papers reporter, South America correspondent Jim Wyss, was patched in on video via Skype from Bogota. Everyone broke into cheers after each announcement, just after 3 p.m.

More here.