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Stephanie Murphy leads effort to get $1.2B to help schools accept Puerto Rican migrants

School districts and colleges in Florida and other states may be in line for some of $1.24 billion in federal support for taking in Puerto Rican children displaced by Hurricane Maria, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy announced Friday.

Murphy, a Democrat from Winter Park, has been leading the charge, which has included several other Florida Congress members and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, to get education dollars included in a $44 billion emergency funding request that the White House Office of Management and Budget submitted to Congress. The money was in there.

It will be available to school districts, colleges and universities to support their efforts to provide refugee schooling to the children among the estimated 160,000 Puerto Ricans who’ve fled to Florida and countless more to other states since Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September.

In Florida alone, more than 6,300 Puerto Rican children had enrolled in Florida schools by the end of last week. More than 1,300 enrolled in Osceola County and 2,400 in Orange County, leading to immediate crunches in many of those schools. More are on the way. State and local officials have projected as many as 300,000 Puerto Ricans may move to Florida before the end of the year.

“When disaster strikes anywhere in our nation, Congress has a duty to act swiftly to help those families affected,” Murphy said in a news release issued by her office. “I have been working with members of both parties to ensure that Florida and Puerto Rico receive the federal funding they need to recover and rebuild in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria. In particular, I’ve led the bipartisan effort to ensure schools in Florida who enroll students from Puerto Rico have sufficient resources to provide a great education to both their new and current students. Although I am concerned that the overall request of $44 billion is insufficient and I do not support OMB’s proposed offsets, I am pleased that the request includes this critical funding for students and families in central Florida.”

On Oct. 5, Murphy authored a letter to the House Appropriations Committee and OMB urging the to allocate school and college funding for the displaced students. The letter was co-signed by U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Darren Soto, Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, and Frederica Wilson from Florida and several more members of Congress from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. Nelson sent his own letter making a similar request on Tuesday, signed by five other senators. Murphy, Soto, Wilson, and Nelson are Democrats, Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen are Republicans.

The signatories all come from states with large Puerto Rican populations that will likely be destinations for island families moving to the mainland in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

Since the letter, Murphy has worked closely with OMB, her colleagues on the Appropriations Committee, and school districts in Florida in support of her bipartisan effort, her office said in the release.

Nelson was less enamored than Murphy with the OMB proposal.

“This request by the administration doesn’t come close to providing what is needed. People are hurting and they desperately need our help, yet this request has no money to provide housing for evacuees and barely any money for Florida’s citrus growers,” Nelson said in a news release from his office. “That’s unacceptable. Congress needs to pass a more robust disaster bill that actually provides the funding needed to help people recover.”

On Monday, Puerto Rico’s Gov. Ricardo Rosselló requested $94.4 billion for Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts alone. Likewise, earlier this month, Texas officials requested $61 billion for its recovery in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Florida has not yet requested a specific amount of additional funding, Nelson stated.

The next step is for Congress to consider OMB’s request, and Congress can—and likely will—provide funding beyond that requested by OMB, Murphy’s office said. This will be the third emergency appropriations bill that Congress approves, having already approved two bills in September and October. OMB has made clear there will be a fourth request for funding, intended to meet the significant long-term needs of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Defense budget bill includes much for Florida, Cape Canaveral, Bill Nelson says

The U.S. Senate’s $692.2 billion defense budget includes includes provisions that would allow far more frequent private rocket launches from Cape Canaveral and other provisions that should help Florida, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson declared.

The bill, approved by the U.S. Senate late Thursday and by the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, includes provisions to upgrade the launch infrastructure at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which could lead to as many as two launches a day from the Cape, a boon to the rapidly-growing commercial space industry, Nelson, a senior member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, stated in a news release. The bill heads for President Donald Trump‘s desk.

The bill also includes funding to support automated launch safety systems and reusable launch vehicles.

The bill also includes $299 million for improvements to Florida’s military bases, including a special operations simulation center at Elgin Air Force Base near Pensacola, a special operations simulator and fuselage training center at Hurlburt Field, also near Pensacola, a fire station at  Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, a “Guardian Angel” facility at Patrick Air Force Base near Cape Canaveral, and a wastewater treatment plant at Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville.

It also includes improvements to testing and training ranges, including at the Eastern Gulf Test and Training Range off Elgin AFB.

There also is a provision that should make Mayport a more desirable port for the Navy. A news release from Nelson’s office said a provision would require the Navy to consider a port’s ability to mitigate risks associated with natural disasters and improve fleet response times when deciding where to homeport future ships. These considerations, the release offered, would help make Mayport a natural choice for future home-porting of a nuclear aircraft carrier and additional amphibious ships.

Al Franken ‘no longer available’ for Bill Nelson fundraiser

How do you solve a problem like Al Franken? Tell him to stay away. Far, far away.

The boob-groping (not “allegedly,” by the way, because there’s – yipes – a photo) Democratic senator from Minnesota was set to headline a fundraiser this Saturday for Florida’s Bill Nelson at the Thonotosassa home of former state CFO Alex Sink.

But – awkward – Leeann Tweeden, a news anchor for a Los Angeles radio station, says Franken kissed and groped her without her consent in 2006.

The Franken-Nelson Show is off, a spokesman now says.  

“Sexual harassment is never acceptable. The Senate Ethics committee will fully investigate this troubling incident, as I believe they should,” Nelson said in a statement.

Nelson spokesman Ryan Brown added: “As for the events this weekend, Sen. Franken is no longer available. The campaign events will continue as scheduled.”

Here’s the skinny from Axios: “Tweeden says she met Franken, who was a comedian at the time, on a trip abroad to entertain the troops. Tweeden says Franken wrote a special part for her in his script, in which the two were meant to kiss. While rehearing their lines one last time before the show, Tweeden wrote that Franken repeatedly insisted they practice the kissing scene, to which she objected.”

There’s also a picture of Tweeden asleep while Franken jokingly appears to fondle her breasts.

Franken, who shot to fame on Saturday Night Live starting in the 1970s, has since issued a lengthy response:

Sink told one of our reporters she had not been following the story and offered no immediate comment.

But Katie Martin, comm’s director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, soon issued this statement: “After today’s shocking revelations regarding Senator Al Franken’s behavior towards women, Bill Nelson must denounce his Democrat colleague and return campaign donations he has received from him.

“Franken has been a longtime supporter of Nelson, donating $20,000 to his campaigns. If Nelson won’t immediately denounce Franken and return his donations, it will be clear he puts partisan politics over basic decency.”

Rick Scott spent more than $1.2M on advertising last month

Gov. Rick Scott’s political committee, Let’s Get to Work, spent over $1.2 million last month on advertising, a blitz that foreshadows his likely 2018 bid for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Bill Nelson.

Of the committee’s $1,281,290 in expenditures last month, $1,229,813 went towards ads. The main beneficiary was Maryland-based OnMessage, which has been Scott’s favored firm for advertising for quite some time.

The rest of the spending was for odds and ends, such as a database from Tallahassee-based Contribution Link, and a handful of political and financial consulting contracts.

The October payments to OnMessage account for nearly half of the $2.5 million Scott has paid the company since he started his political committee in 2014.

All that spending was balanced out by a single contribution last month – a $500 check from former Democratic lawmaker Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda.

Through the end of October, the committee had about $1.5 million on hand, though that number is likely to boom once Scott makes his 2018 plans known.

Keeping Nelson in office is a major priority for Democrats as he is one of a handful of Democratic senators facing re-election next year in a state carried by President Donald Trump in 2016.

At the end of the third quarter, Nelson’s campaign finance report showed him with about $6.3 million in the bank. He raised $1.8 million from June through September and spent about $600,000, leaving him with a net gain of about $1.17 million.

The big-picture numbers show $1.43 million of the Q3 money came in from individuals, while $243,550 came from political committees.

Rick Scott refuses to play pundit over GOP’s bad night

If Rick Scott runs for the U.S. Senate next year (as nearly everyone in Florida politics expects), he will have to deal with Donald Trump and his sagging poll numbers.

But less than 48 hours after Democrats posted big wins across the country Tuesday, the Republican governor shows no appetite to analyze the results of the off-year elections.

“I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of pundits that are going to talk about things like that,” Scott said during an appearance at Weather Tite Windows, a West Tampa window and door replacement company. “I’ve got 424 days to go on my job.”

He then launched a litany of talking points, which could very well transfer to a stump speech next year: “My focus is to make this the number one place for jobs, the number one place for education, and a place where people are safe. We’re at forty-six year low in our crime rate. Our higher education system just got ranked the best in the entire country.”

That last comment referred to U.S. News and World Report ranking Florida as the best state in the nation for higher education, with its relatively low tuition rate for colleges and universities and how more than half of students who seek a two-year degree either graduated on time or within three years.

Another Republican aspiring to a statewide ballot next year is Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. This week, the Republican gubernatorial candidate showed no reluctance to weigh in on the election.

“We are at a crossroads. Make no mistake. Look what happened in Virginia and New Jersey” Putnam said Wednesday in Winter Park. “There should be a sense of urgency about this election. Not complacency,

Scott’s main purpose for visiting Tampa was to tout his proposed $180 million in cuts to taxes and fees for 2018, his last year in office. His plan includes a mixture of license fee reductions, reducing traffic fines for drivers who attend a basic driver-improvement school after getting a ticket and a 10-day tax holiday on school supplies and clothes.

Many expect Scott will challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in his re-election bid next year. On hand to observe the event was Ryan Patmintra, who earlier in the week was named Florida political director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Florida Hospital Association lauds Stephanie Murphy’s ‘Disaster Displacement Act’

The Florida Hospital Association is expressing strong support and “deep appreciation” for a bill by U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy that would make Puerto Rican evacuees almost immediately eligible for full Medicaid coverage by the federal government if they have to evacuate to Florida.

The hospital association praised Murphy’s “Disaster Displacement Act of 2017,” House Resolution 4249, introduced last Friday by Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat, and co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat, and which is an identical companion to legislation introduced in the Senate by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat.

The bills are in response to the influx of Hurricane Maria victims evacuating the island because their homes and communities remain unlivable, and in many cases their jobs are gone. Estimates run as high as 120,000 who already have arrived in Florida, and estimates go as high as 300,000 who might eventually arrive. Many are arriving with little documentation and no insurance, relying on Medicaid for health care issues that include cancer treatment and chronic illnesses.

Murphy’s and Nelson’s bills would enroll evacuees arriving in Florida in Medicaid through an expedited process, and have federal government cover the full costs of their care for at least 24 months. In the absence of this legislation, the state of Florida would be required to pay nearly 40 percent of the cost of care, straining the state’s budget.

Nelson’s Senate Bill 2066, which, like Murphy’s was filed late last week, has already received endorsements from several local officials, including: Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Osceola County Commissioner Fred Hawkins and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava. The measure now heads to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.

Murphy’s bill has been assigned to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the House Financial Services Committee.

“On behalf of the Florida Hospital Association’s over 200 organizational members, I am writing to express our strong support and deep appreciation,” FHA President Bruce Rueben wrote.

“In all cases, Florida’s hospitals will help everyone and anyone in need. The displaced residents of Puerto Rico are not exceptions. Our mission is to care for everyone and we will gladly meet this new challenge just as we stepped up to help our own communities during and after Hurricane Irma. This vital legislation will go far to help ensure that Florida’s hospitals continue to have the necessary funding to fulfill our mission to care.”

Murphy said the bill is modeled after a similar law passed to assist states such as Texas that took huge influxes of migrants displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Her and Nelson’s bills also would allow local housing authorities to access additional federal funding to help provide housing for Puerto Rico evacuees.

“Florida is doing the right thing by taking in thousands of our fellow American citizens whose lives were uprooted as a result of Hurricane Maria, and the federal government should have our state’s back,” Murphy stated in a news release . “Just as we did after Hurricane Katrina, we should give states who receive hurricane victims the resources they need to provide for their current and new residents. Central Florida has received a significant percentage of the Americans leaving Puerto Rico, creating greater demand for health care services and quality, affordable housing

Bill Nelson, state tangle over disaster jobless benefits

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson wants the federal Department of Labor to provide help to the state as he’s heard “multiple accounts” of Floridians put out of work by Hurricane Irma unable to apply for disaster assistance.

The state Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees Florida’s unemployment system, disputes the claim.

In a letter Monday to U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, Nelson said constituents have been unable to use a Department of Economic Opportunity website to apply for disaster unemployment assistance, despite the extension of an application deadline to Nov. 14.

“They are getting kicked out of the online application system because they are not eligible for traditional unemployment insurance, despite being eligible for DUA (disaster unemployment assistance),” Nelson wrote. “When they call a representative for help, it can take hours on the phone to properly complete the application. An extension is pointless if the current process is not corrected to facilitate the proper management of the program.”

Nelson said applicants are being disqualified as answers allowed for disaster unemployment benefits are being rejected under criteria for regular unemployment benefits.

Department of Economic Opportunity spokeswoman Tiffany Vause called Nelson’s claim “not true.”

“The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is committed to offering assistance to those impacted by Hurricane Irma,” Vause said in an email Monday night. “Nearly 34,000 Floridians have applied for Disaster Unemployment Assistance, and the application process is fully functioning.”

Vause said the agency has extended call-center hours, waived weekly work search and registration requirements for September and established a contact line for claimants so applications can be filled out over the phone.

“It should also be noted that the agency developed a tailored communication to claimants who didn’t finalize their applications to encourage them to come back into the system to finish filing their applications and notified these claimants of the deadline extension,” Vause said.

The program provides assistance to businesses and residents whose employment was lost or interrupted as a result of Hurricane Irma.

Several categories of people are eligible for disaster benefits. They include:

— People who are self-employed.

— People who experienced a week of unemployment after Irma due to the storm.

— People who were unable to get to work because of the storm.

— People who were injured because of the storm and were unable to work.

Nelson, a Democrat, is running for re-election next year and is widely expected to face a challenge from Republican Gov. Rick Scott, whose administration includes the Department of Economic Opportunity. Scott has not announced his candidacy.

Bill Nelson: ‘Rick Scott is raising unlimited corporate money’

The hottest U.S. Senate race in the country will be in the Sunshine State over the next twelve months, pitting two politicians who don’t lose against each other.

One will go to Washington for the next six years. The other, very likely, will have lost his last campaign.

The two combatants: Sen. Bill Nelson in his toughest electoral battle yet, posed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Nelson is fundraising in North Florida today — a midday stopover in Jacksonville found him at a local state House candidate’s home, followed by an afternoon jaunt to Tallahassee.

The campaign has definitely begun: Scott’s political committee put $2 million into ads, and Nelson — when asked Friday before that Jacksonville fundraiser — was candid about the challenges ahead.

“He is now raising unlimited corporate money,” Nelson said. “The minute he becomes a candidate, he cannot.”

“Right now, it’s two different systems that are operating,” Nelson added, noting that hard money contributions are limited by federal law, whereas Scott is piling up corporate donations.

Also discussed: an October University of North Florida poll that made the shock assertion that 49 percent of likely voters in 2018 didn’t know what they thought about the three-term Senator.

Nelson asserted that poll was an “outlier.”

“UNF poll is an outlier. Generally,” Nelson said, “what you will find is that I am not known by about 20 percent in the state of Florida.”

That, Nelson added, is “not unusual” in light of people coming into Florida, “at a rate of a thousand a day,” which means that it “takes them a while to know who their Senator is.”

Nelson also said that the more relevant metric is the spread between his favorable and unfavorable numbers, which he asserts show a “huge surge of favorable over unfavorable … that means that people seem to be think I’m doing a pretty good job.”

The UNF poll had Nelson at 35 percent approval and 15 percent disapproval, which puts him at + 20.

Meanwhile, Scott sat at 59 percent approval and 28 percent disapproval — + 31, with just 11 percent not knowing their position on the incumbent Governor.

Bill Nelson seeks to modernize 911 systems

This week, Sen. Bill Nelson filed legislation that would modernize and upgrade the nation’s aging 911 systems, which technology and operability have left behind.

Hurricane Irma illustrated the system’s flaws in Florida. A press release from Nelson’s office noted that 29 of Florida’s emergency 911 call centers had “impaired service” after the storm, with 14 offline altogether.

Nelson’s bill seeks to expand an extant federal grant to help with local 911 system development, including technological upgrades — such as the ability to text or send media files during an emergency.

The current analog technology is a relic of a past decade.

“Upgrading the nation’s 911 system is literally a life and death matter that must become more of a national priority,” Nelson said in a press release Thursday. “In this digital world, Americans must have more than one way to access the 911 assistance they need and expect when emergencies occur.”

In Jacksonville Friday for a press avail, Florida Politics asked Nelson to expand on his comments.

“911 is still operated under analog when we’re in a digital age,” the senator said.

“What we want is 911 modernized,” Nelson said, noting that with a modernized system, a caller could “send a text or send a video, or a picture using up-to-date technology.”

“Today,” Nelson said, “they can’t. They can just make a call.”

The funding piece is still being worked out, but Nelson said that if local governments are compelled to upgrade, there has to be “some financial assistance” from the Feds.

Bill Nelson wants ‘tremendous revisions’ of GOP tax reform bill

On Friday in Jacksonville, Sen. Bill Nelson distilled his case against the latest Republican tax bill, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA)

While “it’s a start,” Nelson doesn’t see it as a finished product, and promises to file amendments in the Senate Finance Committee.

“It’s way out of kilter right now. It’s too much increase in the national debt and too many cuts to corporations and few cuts to hardworking families,” Nelson said.

“It’s a start, but it’s only a start,” Nelson said. “What it does is it triples the amount of cuts going to corporations [over] individuals.

“I don’t like that. I want to see balance … most of the tax cuts going to middle income folks,” Nelson said. “There’s going to have to be some tremendous revisions.”

The bill “gives over a trillion dollars of cuts to corporations,” Nelson said, and “increases the national debt by trillions of dollars.”

Per the analysis of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the bill would increase the federal deficit by almost $1.5 trillion over the next decade.

“We should be making it revenue-neutral,” Nelson said, “so that the tax cuts are offset by eliminating the tax loopholes so it doesn’t increase the national debt.”

“This thing’s got a long way to go,” Nelson added, “but this is the start. The question is how do you get it back to balance.”

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