Bill Nelson Archives - Page 2 of 45 - Florida Politics

Bill Nelson fundraises off Irma again, Republicans say it’s ‘disgusting’

Bill Nelson just cannot help himself.

After Republicans blasted a “tone deaf” email last month that sought to raise funds off Hurricane Irma, Florida’s senior U.S. Senator is at it again.

Nelson writes: “There’s been a lot going on in Washington recently, from finding ways to fund these massive hurricane recovery efforts to prevent the passage of yet another disastrous GOP health care bill.”

The senator then proclaims his focus on “one thing,” which is doing everything he can to fight for constituents, adding that it is his job to “make sure your voice is heard in the Senate.”

Since Hurricane Irma happened over a month ago (supposedly past its disaster expiration date), Nelson seems to think now would be the right time to “survey” Floridians on how he’s doing.

Along with a money pitch, of course.

And once again, national Republicans are quick to this point out, saying it’s time he answers for his “disgusting” move.

Memories of Irma are still fresh in the minds of many Floridians, and Hurricane Maria continues to be an active disaster for the people of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and their families and loved ones in Florida. Republicans feel any extra money and resources should be used to help those suffering, not for a campaign more than a year away.

“Bill Nelson needs to explain why he continues to fundraise off Hurricane Irma,” said NRSC Communications Director Katie Martin in an email Thursday. “Floridians are still struggling to clean up from this devastating storm, yet all Bill Nelson cares about is filling his own campaign coffers.”

Politics can wait, says the GOP, calling for Nelson to resist the urge to raise money. There will always be time to fundraise later.

Rick Kriseman, Kerry Kriseman, GOTV Oct. 9, 2017

Rick Kriseman pounds the pavement as ballots hit the streets

Mail ballots have started to hit the streets in St. Pete cend incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman has started to pound the pavement again ahead of the second round of his re-election battle against former two-term Mayor Rick Baker.

Kriseman and his wife, Kerry, joined their corps of volunteers and staffers kicking off their get-out-the-vote efforts ahead of the Nov. 7 election.

Kriseman and co. knocked on doors across the city and talked one-on-one with voters to plead their case for another four years. The mayor also pitched in at the phone bank to give voters a heads up that the first mail ballots are on the way.

“We’ve come a long way in 4 years. Crime is down, big projects are moving forward, and our city is preparing for climate change,” Kriseman said in a Monday press release. “This November’s election is going to come down to conversations between neighbors in their front yards and living rooms. August turnout was record high, and we’re here to earn every vote to keep St. Pete moving forward.”

Despite polls showing him behind by as much as 7 points three days before the election, Kriseman edged out Baker by a hair in the August primary, which saw the field whittled from six candidates down to two. The slim win wasn’t lost on Kriseman, whose campaign acknowledged it was indeed a “come-from-behind” victory.

That doesn’t mean they see it as a meaningless win, either.

Even though both candidates had to turn around and fund raise their hearts out to reload for the what’s become the most expensive mayoral election in city history, the mayor’s campaign said Monday that the primary win brought forth “a surge in grassroots enthusiasm with volunteers from all over the bay area committing their time and energy to re-electing Mayor Kriseman.”

While the St. Petersburg mayor position is officially non-partisan, Kriseman was a Democrat in the Florida House before becoming mayor. He has picked up endorsements from top elected Dems, including U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Congressman Charlie Crist.

The Florida Democratic Party has also been in his corner and treated the city election as a bellwether for 2018, while multiple left-leaning groups such as the Sierra Club have also flocked to his side.

One of the deciders in the August election was undoubtedly the 11th hour endorsement he received from former President Barack Obama.

Kriseman is historically an underachiever with black voters, who make up 15 percent of the city’s electorate. Baker, on the other hand, is one of the rare Republicans who excells at making inroads with the community. The Obama nod put a thumb on the scales, though, and may have been what shunted Baker’s chances of winning it all in the primary.

The Kriseman camp also pointed out Monday that the mayor bested every pre-primary poll in his 69-vote August win, and he may have to do it again in the general election. A St. Pete Polls survey released last week showed Baker with a 1-point advantage over Kriseman, 46-45 with about 9 percent undecided.

All St. Petersburg voters will get a chance to pick one of the Ricks on Election Day, set for Nov. 7, but voters in City Council District 2 and District 6 will also pick the replacements for Jim Kennedy and Karl Nurse, respectively, while District 4 voters will decide whether to give Darden Rice another term.

Florida calls for $27 billion in hurricane recovery funding

In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, along with 26 U.S. representatives from Florida, submitted Friday a line-item list of budget requests totaling $26.945 billion worth of federal hurricane recovery funding.

In a letter penned to members of the House Committee on Appropriations, nearly the entire Florida delegation outlined specific recovery funding requests in addition to the $29 billion requested this week from the White House.

“Three hurricanes have hit U.S. soil in a short time, stretching our federal agencies, first responders, and community resources thin,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “With more than a month left in the 2017 hurricane season, and another storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, Americans need to know that the federal government is ready to respond.”

The letter stresses that additional funding will likely be needed once a more thorough damage assessment is complete, and the funding sought in the letter will likely cover only part of the state’s overall recovery costs.

“This supplemental package should serve as a down payment on hurricane recovery efforts while we await full assessment of needs later this month,” the lawmakers wrote.

The largest of the requests include $10 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers to help repair and sustain port and river functionality, along with repairing any damage to ongoing projects like the Herbert Hoover Dike; $7 billion for the Community Development Block Grant to fund any unmet needs, including seawall restoration in South Florida; and $5 billion for the Department of Agriculture to assist with crop and livestock losses from Hurricanes Maria and Irma.

Congressman Daniel Webster, a Republican from Florida’s 11th district, was the only Florida delegation signature absent from the letter Friday.

Florida scientists urge Senate to oppose Donald Trump’s NASA pick

Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson have already lobbed objections to Jim Bridenstine, President Donald Trump‘s pick to head NASA.

Now, more than 30 Florida scientists signed a letter to the state’s U.S. senators, urging them to outright reject Bridenstine when he comes up for confirmation.

Among the criticisms that scientists around the nation have voiced about Bridenstine is that he has said that he doesn’t believe humans are causing climate change.

“We find it troubling that Congressman Bridenstine has repeated misinformation in his quest to deny climate change, notably in 2013 when he suggested that global temperatures were not rising,” the scientists write to Rubio and Nelson. “Climate and weather are intertwined and while we know that Congressman Bridenstine has publicly expressed desire for better weather prediction capabilities, we cannot predict weather events if we ignore emerging trends.”

“The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician,” Nelson told POLITICO last month.

Rubio concurred, saying that he shared the same concerns of Nelson and thought his “political baggage” would be a drag on his confirmation.

“I just think it could be devastating for the space program. Obviously, being from Florida, I’m very sensitive to anything that slows up NASA and its mission,” Rubio told POLITICO.

The scientists say that they fear that Bridenstine will de-prioritize NASA’s Earth science research arm. Scientists also fear that climate satellites might lose funding and if so there could be a gap in the data that helps scientists understand the planet.

Bridenstine has been a congressman from Oklahoma since 2012. He was critical of Rubio during the Florida senator’s ill-fated run for the White House in 2015-2016, cutting two ads for Texas Senator Ted Cruz‘ campaign suggesting that Rubio was weak on terrorism. He also took a shot at Rubio for supporting comprehensive immigration reform

The signatories to the letter are many of the same Florida scientists who previously penned a letter to Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce, which they say generated a dialogue between Nelson and Ross on climate change and scientific integrity. Ross is on record as stating, “science should be left to scientists.”

Here’s the full letter, and the scientists who wrote it:

re: NASA Administrator Nominee Jim Bridenstine

October 6, 2017

Dear Senator Nelson and Senator Rubio,

We are writing to thank you both for your outspoken concerns regarding Congressman Jim Bridenstine’s nomination to serve as NASA Administrator. We share those concerns.

As scientists, we wholeheartedly agree that leading NASA requires someone with qualifications in science, administration, engineering and technology. NASA satellites produce data that helps keep America safe.  Scientists use these data to measure changes in our oceans, moisture in our soil, rising seas, forecast hurricane tracks, and monitor drinking water supplies.

At this critical time, we can ill afford to allow this vital agency be subject to political whims. There is too much at stake.

Of all of the scientific agencies worldwide, NASA does the best job of observing our planet from space. We must continue to be the leader in Earth observation systems. Cutting funding for satellites will rob us of our ability to safeguard our planet and resources.

One satellite in particular — Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment — known as GRACE, uses gravity to measure mass. Grace is at the end of its life and needs to be funded for continuity. While originally conceived to help guide ballistic missiles, data from Grace has facilitated multiple scientific discoveries, including the following:  

— Grace measured the rate of melting ice in Greenland and the Antarctic.  

— Grace kept track of diminishing groundwater supplies in California’s aquifers during the drought.  

— Grace helped scientists decipher how much sea level rise is caused by melting ice sheets and how much is caused by thermal expansion.

— Most recently, Grace allowed scientists to track flood patterns, soil moisture and power failures all over East Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.  

Importantly for Florida — just recently, Geophysical Research Letters reported that scientists are using data from Grace to determine the world’s most vulnerable coastal area by “fingerprinting” sea level rise, which will help researchers predict how climate change will affect storm surges in flood-prone coastal areas.  

The original Grace mission launched in 2002 and is nearing its end-of-life with fuel running out, https://grace.jpl.nasa.gov), and its important work must continue.   

Other important NASA Earth science missions include:  

— CLARREO Pathfinder Mission will set climate benchmarks critical for assessing changes in the Earth system to optimize strategies for mitigating and adapting to climate change.

— The Orbiting Carbon Observatory measures, with high precision and high resolution, carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.

— DISCOVR, the Deep Space Climate Observatory, supports the sophisticated EPIC camera monitoring Earth.

— The PACE mission studies harmful algal blooms and volcanic ash eruptions among other things. Their work helps safeguard our shellfish supply.

— The Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite 2 known as ICESat-2 is a laser altimeter to measure elevation and provide mass balance of ice sheets and sea ice, to be launched in Sep 2018, https://icesat-2.gsfc.nasa.gov

— Operation IceBridge deploys airborne missions over Arctic and Antarctic to measure sea ice, ice sheets and glaciers, and elevation. This work is ongoing since 2009 and is expected to continue into 2019 https://icebridge.gsfc.nasa.gov

— Soil Moisture Active/Passive (SMAP) is a microwave instrument to measure soil moisture and freeze/thaw state of ground (the main applicability to polar regions). It also has the potential to estimate thin sea ice. https://smap.jpl.nasa.gov

— Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (Suomi VIIRS) is a joint mission with NOAA to examine sea ice concentration, ice surface temperature, sea ice thickness, land snow extent, surface reflectivity/albedo with a visible/infrared sensor. It was launched in 2011. https://jointmission.gsfc.nasa.gov/viirs.html

— Joint Polar Satellite System Program (JPSS-1) is a joint mission with NOAA, to follow up on Suomi and examine sea ice concentration, ice surface temperature, sea ice thickness, land snow extent and surface reflectivity/albedo. Launch scheduled for November 2017. http://www.jpss.noaa.gov

— Aqua/Terra: NASA Earth Observing System (EOS) missions launched in 1999 (Terra) and 2002 (Aqua), a suite of several instruments to provide information on sea ice concentration, snow cover (on sea ice and land), reflectivity/albedo, sea surface temperature, clouds and radiative fluxes. https://eospso.nasa.gov

— Special Sensor Microwave Imager and Sounder (DMSP SSMIS) deploy DoD sensors for the sea ice time series developed by NASA and archived at NASA centers.

— Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR2) is a JAXA (Japanese) sensor which NASA uses to create data products on sea ice and snow.

— CryoSat-2: an ESA sensor, radar altimeter measures surface elevation, and NASA is creating data products from it, including on sea ice thickness.

The vital work of NASA’s Earth observation systems must continue without political interference.

We find it troubling that Congressman Bridenstine has repeated misinformation in his quest to deny climate change, notably in 2013 when he suggested that global temperatures were not rising.

Climate and weather are intertwined and while we know that Congressman Bridenstine has publicly expressed desire for better weather prediction capabilities, we cannot predict weather events if we ignore emerging trends.   

NASA must remain an independent scientific agency, and its critical Earth science missions must continue and expand. We agree as you have both said, that NASA should remain free of politics and partisanship.

We urge you to oppose Jim Bridenstine’s nomination. He has no scientific training and little administrative experience and he is not qualified to lead this prestigious agency.  

Make no mistake; our Earth is getting warmer. As humans continue to add heat-trapping gases to our atmosphere, we must keep a close eye on how our changing climate will impact society and our way of life. Florida, in particular is vulnerable to rising seas and more extreme weather events.  Sea level rise is an existential threat to our state.  

Thank you again for speaking your mind about the Jim Bridenstine nomination and we trust you and your colleagues in the U.S. Senate will do the right thing to protect Floridians and all Americans.

Sincerely,

Senthold Asseng, Professor

Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department

University of Florida

Leonard Berry, Ph.D.

Emeritus Professor of Geosciences

Florida Atlantic University

Henry O. Briceño, Professor

Southeast Environmental Research Center

& Department of Earth and Environment

Florida International University

Mya Breitbart, Professor

College of Marine Science

University of South Florida

Kristen Buck, Assistant Professor

College of Marine Science

University of South Florida

William S. Castle, Professor Emeritus [Horticulture]

Citrus Research & Education Center

University of Florida

Linda M. Callejas, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor

Department of Child & Family Studies

University of South Florida

Jeff Chanton, Professor

Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science,

Florida State University

Eric Chassignet, Professor and Director

Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies (COAPS)

Florida State University

Dr. Allan J. Clarke

The Adrian E. Gill Professor of Oceanography

Distinguished Research Professor

Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science

Florida State University

Dr. Amy Clement

Department of Atmospheric Science

University of Miami

Anne J Cox, Professor of Physics

Natural Sciences

Eckerd College

Jeffrey A Cunningham, Ph.D., Associate Professor,
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

University of South Florida

Kimberly Dobrinski, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Biology

University of Tampa

Robert G. Ellingson, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

Department of Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Science

Florida State University

Shannon Grogan, Master’s Candidate

Integrative Biology Department

The University of South Florida

Jude W. Grosser, Professor of Citrus Breeding and Genetics

Citrus Research and Education Center

University of Florida

David Hastings, Professor

Marine Science and Chemistry

Eckerd College

Nicole Hernandez Hammer

Biologist

Chuanmin Hu, Professor

College of Marine Science

University of South Florida

Daniel Huber, Associate Professor

Biology Department

The University of Tampa

Elizabeth Kiebel, M.S., doctoral student

Department of Psychology

University of South Florida

Ben Kirtman, Professor

Department of Atmospheric Science

Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences

University of Miami

Marguerite Koch, Professor

Department of Biological Sciences

Florida Atlantic University

Cory J. Krediet, Assistant Professor

Marine Science and Biology

Eckerd College

William M. Landing

Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science

Florida State University

Steve Leitman

Department of Urban and Regional Planning  

Florida State University

Juliana Leonard, Ph.D. Student
Environmental and Ecological Microbiology
Department of Integrative Biology
University of South Florida

Ken Lindeman, Professor

Sustainability Program Chair

Florida Institute of Technology

William Louda, Research Professor

Environmental Biogeochemistry Group

Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and The Environmental Sciences Program

Florida Atlantic University

Talea L. Mayo, Assistant Professor

Civil, Environmental, and Construction Engineering

University of Central Florida

David Mertens

Assistant Professor of Physics

Eckerd College

Karena Nguyen, Ph.D. Candidate

Department of Integrative Biology

University of South Florida

John H. Parker

Vern Buchanan indicates preliminary support for restricting ‘bump stocks’

In the wake of Sunday night’s massacre in Las Vegas where nearly 60 people died, Florida Republicans are indicating they will support a gun-control measure.

South Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo said he will introduce a measure to prohibit bump stocks, a device that modifies rifles to allow them to fire faster.

Several of the 23 guns used by Stephen Paddock in his shooting spree were equipped with bump stocks.

Sarasota area Republican Vern Buchanan indicated Thursday that he would support such legislation.

Automatic weapons — aka machine-guns — are tightly regulated. Since 1986, the transfer or possession of machine-guns has been prohibited. Exceptions were made for transfers of machine-guns to, or possession of machine-guns by, government agencies, and those lawfully possessed before May of 1986.

However, in 2010, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ruled bump stocks were considered a part and therefore would not be regulated as a weapon.

California Democrat Dianne Feinstein announced a Senate version that would prohibit bump stocks. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Bill Nelson sponsors bill to ban bump stocks for assault weapons

Saying, “they are for killing,” Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson sponsored a bill Wednesday to ban so-called “bump stocks” like the ones Las Vegas police say Stephen Paddock used in his deadly slaughter Sunday night in Las Vegas.

“I’m a hunter and have owned guns my whole life,” Nelson stated in a news release. “But these automatic weapons are not for hunting, they are for killing. And this common-sense bill would, at the very least, make it harder for someone to convert a semi-automatic rifle into what is essentially a fully-automatic machine gun.”

The move was one of many gun law reform efforts renewed by Democrats in the wake of Paddock’s massacre Sunday night of 58 concert goers with a fast, steady flow of long-range bullets that also wounded more than 500.

On Monday gubernatorial candidate Chris King vowed to push for gun reforms. In Orlando, state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith announced he had filed a state bill banning the sale of assault weapons and high-caliber magazines, a companion bill to the one state Sen. Linda Stewart, also of Orlando, filed more than a month ago. U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach called a press conference for Friday where she intends to introduce a federal bill outlawing those items and bump stocks.

Nelson’s bill also was sponsored by Democratic U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein of California, with 25 co-sponsors, including Democratic U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, plus independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

The legislation would ban the sale, transfer, importation, manufacture or possession of bump stocks, trigger cranks and similar accessories that accelerate a semi-automatic rifle’s rate of fire.

While a typical semi-automatic rifle can fire at a rate of between 45 and 60 rounds per minute, a fully-automatic weapon can fire at a rate of 400 to 800 rounds per minute, Nelson’s office stated in the release.

The bill makes clear that its intent is to target only those accessories that increase a semi-automatic rifle’s rate of fire. Legitimate accessories used by hunters would be exempt. The bill also contains exceptions for lawful possession of these devices by law enforcement and the government.

Rick Scott proposes legislation banning business with Venezuela

Gov. Rick Scott Monday announced proposed legislation to prohibit the state, including all agencies, from investing in any company that is doing business with Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro’s government.

The proposal comes six weeks after the state’s State Board of Administration, which maintains the Florida Retirement System and its $150 billion in assets, voted to reaffirm that they would not invest in any companies or securities controlled by the Venezuelan government.

“In Florida, we have been absolutely clear: The brutal government of Nicolas Maduro must end and the people of Venezuela must be given total freedom and democracy now,” Scott said while speaking at the 2017 Latin American Summit in Miami.

Scott said he also was calling on all local governments and businesses in the state to stop doing business with the Maduro government, if they currently are.

“Let me be clear: This proposal is aimed squarely at the Maduro regime, not businesses who provide much needed goods and services to the Venezuelan people,” Scott said.

Scott has been unrelenting of his criticism towards Maduro — a trait familiar in the Trump administration, the Vatican, and other governments around the world — accusing him of undermining Venezuela’s democracy and plunging the country’s 30 million people into suffering due to food and medicine shortage.

In the past few months, Maduro has arrested and detained opposition leaders, and cracked down on street protests with lethal force.

In July he oversaw a disputed election for a special legislative body that took over the country’s parliament, ignoring a citizens referendum held in Venezuela and across the country that opposed that move.

More than 100,000 Venezuelan-Americans live in Florida, and the troubles there have captured the focus of Scott and Florida’s two U.S. Senators, Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson.

Scott is expected to challenge Nelson’s bid for re-election to his Senate seat next year.

Nelson has gone as far as to call for cutting imports of Venezuela oil as a response to Maduro’s actions.

Maduro called on his nation’s military leaders last week to prepare for war against the U.S., days after the Trump administration banned Venezuelan officials from entering the nation.

Insurance chief pushes patient billing change

Nothing is going to slow down Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier from asking the Florida Legislature to prevent insured patients from being hit with high out-of-pocket costs for emergency medical transportation.

Not even pending recommendations from Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate Sha’Ron James, who a year ago assembled a working group on emergency medical transportation to study the problem and recommend solutions.

Altmaier this week shepherded through the Florida Health Insurance Advisory Board a recommendation to ban what is known as “balance billing” for emergency medical transportation, despite concerns from several board members. Altmaier chairs the advisory board, with seven of the board members agreeing to approve the legislative recommendation.

Four board members who had concerns about approving the recommendation were advised that they could abstain from voting instead of opposing the measure.

“I think the reason a special work group was put together to look at this is because it is a complex issue,” board member Molly McKinstry, a deputy secretary at the state Agency for Health Care Administration, said, referring to James’ group.

McKinstry stressed that she’s not opposed to the concept of balance-billing protections but said that it would be “premature” to vote on the Altmaier-backed recommendation without hearing from James’ panel first.

The Florida Health Insurance Advisory Board is a panel charged with making recommendations to the Legislature on how to improve the state’s health insurance market.

The balance-billing ban is the only legislative recommendation approved by the board for the 2018 session, which starts in January. But it’s a recommendation that could help give Altmaier’s boss – Gov. Rick Scott – a consumer-friendly health-care issue to use if he campaigns against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson next year.

Advisory board member and Florida Blue attorney Mark McGowan had concerns with the recommendation, but his problems were more substantive.

Lawmakers in 2016 approved a balance-billing law that prohibits out-of-network providers from balance billing customers of preferred-provider organizations (PPOs) or exclusive-provider organization (EPOs) for emergency services or for nonemergency services when the nonemergency services are provided in a network hospital and the patient had no ability and opportunity to choose a network provider.

The law also establishes standards for determining reimbursement to the providers and authorizes providers and insurers to settle disputed claims under a dispute-resolution program.

That situation isn’t ideal in a town where there only is one emergency air-transportation provider, McGowan said. He expressed concern that, in attempting to fix the problem of insured customers getting hit with high bills, the state could create a situation that essentially forces insurance companies to pay whatever providers bill.

“There needs to be some sort of customary and usual charges figured out,” he said.

When McGowan asked if the advisory board would have an opportunity to revisit the issue after the vote, Altmaier suggested that the chances were slim. He said he wanted to have the recommendations finalized and in the hands of lawmakers when they hold their first round of interim committee meetings in October.

James told The News Service of Florida on Friday that she created her working group in October 2016 and planned to wrap up its meetings by October 2017. Her office would then spend the rest of the year analyzing data it had been given and listening to the testimony that was presented before finalizing recommendations by the end of the year.

“There’s no question there should be protections, the challenge is how they are applied,” she said.

James said it was appropriate for Altmaier, the top insurance regulator, to be aggressive on the issue and didn’t fault him for making the recommendation without her group’s work.

But Jeff See, who serves on James’ working group, disagrees.

“Any separate legislative recommendation in advance of the forthcoming plan from the working group is preemptive and sidesteps the group’s work over the past year to ensure fair coverage for beneficiaries who find themselves in dire circumstances in unforeseen emergencies,” he said in an email to the News Service.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

State prepares for influx from Puerto Rico

From schools to shelters, Florida is readying for an influx of people struggling for food, water and power in hurricane-damaged Puerto Rico.

Gov. Rick Scott said Florida doesn’t know how many people will make the trip from Puerto Rico. Also, Scott said it is unknown how many will decide to remain permanently in Florida or return to the Caribbean island.

But Scott, who traveled Thursday to the U.S. territory to tour the damage left by Hurricane Maria and on Friday went to the White House, said Florida is getting prepared for the displaced Puerto Ricans and is in “a good financial position” to help.

“We’ll be able to figure this out. Florida’s a welcoming state. We’re a tourism state. We love people coming here,” Scott told reporters Thursday night at Orlando Sanford International Airport. “But I know talking to their Gov. (Ricardo Rossello) their goal long-term is they want to build their island. They don’t want everybody to come here and stay here. They want to build their island. They’re very proud of Puerto Rico. If they do have to come here, whether it is for medical reasons, or whatever it is, they want people to come back.”

After lunch Friday with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the White House, Scott told reporters in Washington that, “We’re going to do everything we can to help Puerto Rico.”

Trump is scheduled to visit Puerto Rico Tuesday.

Maria, a powerful Category 4 storm, pounded Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, two weeks after even stronger Hurricane Irma swept past the island of 3.4 million residents.

With power still out to a majority of the island, Florida’s U.S. senators have been calling for Trump to send the “cavalry” – in the form of the U.S. military – to help in Puerto Rico.

“There is a crisis in Puerto Rico where food, fuel, water and medicine is sitting at the docks and not getting out to the remote parts of the island,” Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said in a prepared statement Thursday. “The situation calls for an immediate response by the U.S. military to provide security and distribution to these remote areas. As was said after Hurricane Andrew: `Where the hell is the cavalry?’”

Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted: “Conditions in parts of #PuertoRico getting worse. The main problem is a logistical one, the distribution of aid beyond #SanJuan. Likely need the @DeptofDefense to address some `battlefield’ like logistical challenges in #PuertoRico. This will NOT improve on its own.”

Scott told reporters after the White House lunch that he advised Trump and Pence of a need for more people and vehicles to deliver supplies.

Scott also said while many of the issues confronting Puerto Rico are similar to those that faced Florida after Hurricane Irma, being an island and having a mountainous terrain work against the relief work.

Scott has worked with seaport directors on Florida’s East Coast about speeding materials to Puerto Rico. But he said debris and damaged roads and bridges have kept many supplies at the Port of San Juan.

He has also called on Florida colleges and universities to offer in-state tuition for Puerto Rican students. Florida International University said Friday that it would do so for students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam also announced that Puerto Rican students displaced by the hurricane can get free school meals through the National School Lunch Program.

“To any families fleeing Puerto Rico and coming to Florida, you will not have to worry about how you’re going to pay for your child’s school meals,” Putnam said in a prepared statement.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Bill Nelson: Puerto Rico response must ramp up now or drastic measures coming

The situation in Hurricane Maria-ravaged Puerto Rico is so bleak that the military response needs to shift from talk to all-out action today or “drastic measures” will have to be taken, Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson declared in Orlando Wednesday.

“This is a disaster of gargantuan proportions,” Nelson said.

Speaking at the Acacia Puerto Rican Center in Orlando, and surrounded by numerous local Central Florida Puerto Rican community and political leaders, Democrats, Republicans and independents, Nelson lashed out at President Donald Trump‘s response as far too slow, combined with “happy talk … it’s just not realistic.”

Military involvement in the relief efforts began ramping up Thursday with the appointment of Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan to take command of operations, and Trump also announced a temporary suspension of the Jones Act, a 1920 maritime law that limits shipments of goods to the island.

Nelson and several others speaking at Acacia Friday including Florida state Sen. Victor Torres, charged that Trump finally began acting due to strong, angry, and growing pressure. Now, Nelson said, the actual efforts must turn dramatically immediately, and he and others contended that only the military has the logistical experience, training, equipment, and manpower to tackle the problems of impassable roads, no power, no running water and no communication across mountainous terrain.

“If we do not see this changing in the next day, and today, then drastic measures are going to have to be taken,” Nelson said. “But I do believe there has been enough agitation expressed to the administration, and to the White House, and to the Defense Department, and to the National Security Council, and to the FAA, and to the Department of Homeland Security. I think there’s been enough agitation including from this senator and my colleague Sen. [Marco] Rubio that we will see action starting right now.”

Nelson repeatedly said that he and Rubio are of one mind on what is happening in Puerto Rico and what needs to be done.

The consequences are that people already are dying inland from lack of food, water and other essentials, others said.

Natalie Rossy and Michael Maldonado just evacuated from Puerto Rico and joined Nelson, Torres and the others Friday. Maldonado said he watched someone die while they waited overnight in an un-air-conditioned airport. Rossy said it’s happening elsewhere.

“Things are much worse than what you see on television,” Rossy said. “We cannot wait until government or military or FEMA takes a plan because people are dying. People are starving. We need food and water.

“Please, we need your help. People can’t wait. Right now we need to take action. We need help. We really need, Mr. President, your help. We are American citizens,” she added.

“The people in the mountains, they are dying. They need help,” Maldonado said.

Nelson suggested that Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló was reluctant to criticize the federal government’s response so far because he does not want to anger the administration.

Torres criticized Florida Gov. Rick Scott for doing a flyover of hard-hit areas in Puerto Rico Thursday and not visiting people affected, and then saying he awaited requests from Rosselló on how Florida can help.

A former Marine, Torres added, “I know what the Army, what the Armed Forces can do. I know the [Navy] Seabees can reconstruct roads, build bridges, do things that nobody can think of because they have the capability, the know-how.”

“No more talk. Things are getting worse by the day,” Torres said.

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