Bill Nelson Archives - Page 7 of 30 - Florida Politics

Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson file Housing Accountability Act of 2016

A major issue in Florida has been the horrific conditions at HUD complexes in Jacksonville and Orlando. Thursday, Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson did something about it: the Housing Accountability Act of 2016.

The two lawmakers filed the legislation “to help thousands of low-income families living in federally subsidized housing such as Eureka Gardens in Jacksonville and Windsor Cove Apartments in Orlando,” according to a release from Nelson’s office.

Those apartments, owned by the nationally scandalized Global Ministries Foundation, have led to inquiries in the Senate, with Rubio particularly outspoken in demanding reform of HUD processes.

The proposed legislation would, among other things, require HUD to survey tenants living in subsidized housing twice a year about property conditions and management performance, and would also create new penalties for property owners who repeatedly fail the tenant surveys.

Government funding is contingent on those conditions being satisfied. Failure to comply would result in a penalty of not less than 1 percent of the annual government stipend, with money collected going to help the tenants suffering in unremediated squalor.

The bill also requires, within a year of passage, HUD to complete a report regarding the “adequacy of capital reserves” for each structure receiving Section 8 funds.

For Rubio, helping those suffering in substandard HUD housing has become a crusade that no one would have anticipated even a year ago.

“In addition to legislation I’ve passed to improve the HUD inspection process, hold slumlords accountable for endangering people, and grant tenants needed temporary relocation assistance, I’m proud to partner with Sen. Nelson on this effort to give a greater voice to tenants living in public housing and make sure they never feel too intimidated to speak out,” Rubio said.

“I’ve seen the unsafe and unhealthy living conditions forced on the tenants at Global Ministries properties in Jacksonville and Orlando,” Rubio added, “and I’ve talked with residents about the history of mismanagement and refusal to make even the most basic improvements and repairs. We have public housing in Florida and across the country being mismanaged by these slumlords who are stealing federal tax dollars, and this needs to end.”

Nelson added the bill “will help ensure that the owners of federally subsidized housing are held accountable for the condition of their properties, and it will give tenants the opportunity to file complaints directly with HUD, without fear of reprisal.”



State leaders, experts to discuss future of mobility at Better Transportation Summit

With the fatal crash of Tesla car on autopilot near Williston in May, Floridians already know the future of transportation is impacting the state’s highways.

Exploration of that future will be one of the themes when the 2016 Floridians for Better Transportation Summit meets Tuesday and Wednesday at the Loews Don CeSar Hotel on St. Pete Beach.

“Transportation is transformative. It has the power to fuel the economy, stimulate job creation and change the way we live,” said Floridians for Better Transportation President Matthew D. Ubben. “If Florida can get transportation right, the rest will follow.”

The keynote speaker will be Lawrence Burns, a former University of Michigan engineering professor who also has served as a vice president for research and development at General Motors.

Burns, the author of “Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st century,” has long been a champion of the “reinvention of the automobile,” including driverless cars, vehicle electrification, fuel cells, advanced batteries and other innovative vehicle concepts.

Other summit speakers include Sen. Jack Latvala, the incoming state Senate budget chair, and state Rep. Lake Ray, who will talk about local and statewide transportation issues.

Florida Department of Transportation Assistant Secretary Brian Blanchard will discuss developments in Tampa Bay’s transportation system.

Janet Zink, assistant vice president at Tampa International Airport and Jim Kuzma, chief operating officer at Space Florida, will provide updates on aviation and aerospace developments.

Port Tampa Bay Vice President Ram Kancharla will discuss the impact of the newly expanded Panama Canal.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, by video, will give an update on transportation developments in Washington, D.C. impacting Florida.

Other confirmed speakers include: FDOT District Secretary Paul Steinman, All Aboard Florida Vice President Rusty Roberts, Kenworth of Jacksonville President Denny Ross, BB&T Capital Markets Managing Director Kevin Sterling, and Jim Tymon, chief operating officer for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Ed Moore, president of the Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida, will talk about Florida’s political outlook.

Marco Rubio opens up a stunning 13-point lead over Patrick Murphy, according to latest Quinnipiac Poll

Marco Rubio’s return to running for his U.S. Senate seat is bad news for both Democrats trying to replace him.

A Quinnipiac poll released Thursday shows Rubio leading both Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson by double digits. Rubio tops Murphy 50 percent to 37 percent, and Grayson, 50 percent to 38 percent.

“Democrats made fun of Sen. Marco Rubio when he opted for a last-minute re-election bid in Florida, but he may be on the way to a last laugh, having quickly opened double-digit leads over both Democratic candidates,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

Although his numbers were poor a few months ago after getting blown out of the Florida Republican primary to Donald Trump, Rubio is surprisingly strong with independents, getting a 51-32 percent favorable rating. He leads Murphy 54-33 percent among men and 47-40 percent among women, with similar results in a Rubio-Grayson matchup.

Rubio has a divided 46-43 percent job approval rating. Voters approve of the way Bill Nelson is doing his job with a 42-29 percent rating, while Gov. Rick Scott is barely underwater at a 43-44 percent approval rating.

President Obama’s ranking in Florida has changed dramatically in a month — he’s now at 44/53 percent, down from a 54-42 percent approval rating in June.

The poll of 1,015 Florida voters was taken from June 30-July 11, and has a margin of error of +/-3.1 percent.

Rick Scott urges congressional delegation to take ‘immediate action’ to address algae problem

It’s time to take action.

That was the message Gov. Rick Scott sent to Florida’s congressional delegation in a letter Tuesday. The letter outlines what Florida has done to address the algae-bloom in South Florida, and calls on the delegation to take immediate action to make sure Florida received a federal emergency declaration.

“Florida is without a doubt the most beautiful state in the country, with some of the world’s most incredible natural treasures. We need your help in protecting these natural treasures and the millions of Florida families who are being impacted by potentially harmful algal blooms,” said Scott in the letter. “Please utilize your position in Congress to take immediate action by working to ensure Florida receives the federal emergency declaration and that the federal government fund the maintenance and repair to the federally operated Herbert Hoover Dike. These repairs would safely hold water to prevent unnatural Lake Okeechobee discharges that are leading to the increased formation of algae.”

The Naples Republican sent a letter July 6 to President Barack Obama and the regional FEMA administrator asking for an emergency declaration because of the “public health and safety threats associated with the unnatural discharges of nutrient-laden freshwater from Lake Okeechobee into the canals that flow east into the Indian River Lagoon and west into the Caloosahatchee River.”

The blue-green algae has clogged the waterways along the Treasure Coast, at times closing beaches. Many believe the ongoing discharges from Lake Okeechobee are to blame for the algae bloom, but the South Florida Water Management District has said the releases aren’t the sole cause.

Scott, who declared a state of emergency in Martin, St. Lucie, Lee and Palm Beach counties, said he hopes the state’s congressional delegation will “help convey the emergency our state is facing to help get it approved.”

He already has two allies in the Senate.

Sen. Bill Nelson on July 7 wrote a letter to the president in support of the state’s request for an emergency declaration, saying it is “important all federal resources are available to help address the cause and consequence of these toxic blue-green algae bloom.”

That same day, Sen. Marco Rubio also wrote a letter asking the president to grant the state’s request.

“I remain concerned for the health of residents and visitors, who have reported headaches, respiratory problems and rashes, among other ailments,” said Rubio in his letter. “Additionally, businesses that rely on these waters have also greatly suffered — not only from these harmful algal blooms but also what they have been experiencing all year as a result of the continued discharges from Lake Okeechobee.”


Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier has rare chance to bust Florida workers’ comp cartel

Florida’s new insurance commissioner has a rare, meaningful and high-stakes opportunity to earn his chops and establish his credibility for years to come.

He can demonstrate he has the mettle to stand up to the insurance industry to the benefit of both consumers and the business community.

How often does that happen?

Just three months into his tenure in one of the most consequential jobs in Florida, state Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier can flex his regulatory muscle and prove his determination to stand up for working Floridians and those who employ them.

The solution is simple, established by precedent and long overdue: Altmaier can bust up the insurance cartel that is the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), ensuring real price competition within Florida’s workers’ compensation system.

NCCI, the organization that proposes workers’ comp rates for Florida, recently filed a request for a 17.1 percent rate increase — then hiked it to nearly 20 percent, its second-largest rate increase request since 1999.

To quote the late baseball great Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Back in 1997, then-Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson pushed unsuccessfully to end Florida’s half-century relationship with NCCI to force down premiums, suggesting other companies be permitted to compete for its functions. Nelson was visionary.

In recent years, several other states, including South Carolina and New York, have opened up their workers’ compensation insurance markets to actual rate competition, and doing so realized significant savings.

Meanwhile, Florida still tolerates an antiquated system in which an NCCI board stacked with insurance executives sets a rate to serve as a floor for workers’ compensation insurers — in other words, they can’t charge less.

Documentation to validate the filing is largely protected from public scrutiny, with NCCI citing “trade secrets” as an excuse to shield the data. How could an entity that has no competition claim trade secrets and, even more, how could regulators accept that claim?

When New York opened up its workers’ comp system in 2013 to true rate competition, the state’s business community saw rates drop 30 percent over two years, saving employers more than $45 million.

In contrast, the proposed rate hike here would make Florida one of the costliest states for employers to buy workers’ comp insurance. That’s money that could otherwise be used for job creation.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce warns a nearly 20 percent rate hike would cause uncertainty among Florida job creators — the small businesses that create two out of every three jobs.

Altmaier should follow the example of the South Carolina Insurance Department, which challenged NCCI’s requested 23.7 percent rate hike in 2007 and ultimately settled on a much more reasonable 9.8 percent increase. That move saved South Carolina businesses approximately $130 million.

Here’s a no-brainer: What if Florida just says no?

How about taking NCCI out of the rate-making driver’s seat, opening up Florida to real rate competition as other states have done; calling NCCI’s bluff?

That would make Altmaier a hero to both injured workers who depend on a properly functioning workers’ compensation system and employers who need their labor force to get back to work.

It’s a rare moment when an insurance commissioner can satisfy both the lion and the lamb — all by getting the fox out of the henhouse.


Vern Buchanan urges Senate to pass Zika bill, blames Democrats

U.S. Rep Vern Buchanan this week added his voice to the chorus urging immediate passage of a $1.1 billion bill to fight the spread of the dreaded Zika virus, and the Sarasota Republican blamed Senate Democrats for the log jam.

vern buchanan

Democrats this week pointed fingers at the Republicans, saying partisan politics was the reason the bill was voted down in the Senate last month.

In the balance is public safety; while congressional leaders squabble over partisan politics, the virus is gaining ground, particularly in Florida, where it first appeared in the continental United States in January.

The funding bill would help pay for research, education and control of mosquitoes, which spread the disease that this week infected a record number of Floridians in one day. The virus, which had its beginnings in South America, has spread through Central America and the Caribbean and now is poised to invade the United States.

Its symptoms are not all that severe, some fever and aches, but it can result in tragic birth defects, including microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with small heads and incomplete brain development.

Leading congressional Democrats, including Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, called on Senate Republican leaders Thursday to bring back the $1.1 billion bill that failed just two weeks ago.

Democrats voted down the measure last month because, they say, Republicans tacked on provisions that would have eliminated funding for Planned Parenthood and limited Medicaid to some U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, where Zika infects about 50 people a day.

Nelson wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this week urging him to reintroduce the bill without all the “poison pills” tacked on by Senate Republicans.

Buchanan also urged the Senate to bring back the bill, but said it was Democrats who are to blame for the delayed response to the Zika threat.

The delay, he said, “jeopardizes public health.”

“It’s disgraceful that Zika funds have been stonewalled again by dysfunctional Washington politics,” Buchanan said in a statement. “The Senate Democrats have yet another opportunity to show they are serious about getting much-needed resources to our communities before more Americans are infected. Mosquitoes are out in full force during the summer so we need that funding now more than ever.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Senate Democrats “had no choice but to oppose the bill, in part because it taps money intended to prop up Obamacare in U.S. territories such as Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.”

The Florida Department of Health noted that on Wednesday, 11 cases of Zika were reported, the highest single-day tally since the virus washed ashore here in January. Zika has been confirmed in more than 260 people in Florida so far, not including more than 40 pregnant women. Last month, the first case of microcephaly in a newborn was reported in Florida.

In the United States, about 1,000 people have contracted the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So far, all of the cases have involved patients who contracted the virus outside the U.S.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous that we haven’t sufficiently funded the Zika fight yet,” Buchanan said. “With each day that the Senate delays due to partisan politics, more pregnant mothers are put at risk.”

Buchanan said he was the first Republican in the House to support President Barack Obama’s request for full funding — $1.9 billion — to fight the Zika virus. Federal funding would pay to expand education, prevention and mosquito control programs. It also would improve diagnostics and testing and pay for research into a vaccine.

Congressional Dems renew plea to get Zika funding passed

With 11 new cases of Zika reported in Florida Wednesday — the most yet in a single day — leading congressional Democrats renewed a plea to resurrect a bipartisan $1.1 billion spending bill to fight what they call a silent epidemic that is gaining a foothold in the United States.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson fired off a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Thursday urging him to bring back a $1.1 billion proposal that would help fight the spread of Zika. Nelson said this has to be done before July 15 when Congress begins its seven-week summer break. Summer, he said, is peak mosquito season.

“Just yesterday we had 11 new cases (of Zika) in Florida,” Nelson said in a conference call Thursday afternoon. “It’s been 136 days since the president requested just under $2 billion in emergency funding. It took just a few days for Ebola, 49 days to respond to swine flu in 2009.”

He said the House’s “so-called $1.1 billion deal … wasn’t a serious solution because it had all kinds of extraneous things in there, highly partisan provisions that were poison pills. This is how the Zika crisis is being treated, as part of partisan politics.”

Research is blunted without funding, he said. And measures to control mosquito populations are not being undertaken because there is no money.

“This is inexcusable, irresponsible partisan behavior,” said Nelson.

His letter to McConnell urges the Senate majority leader to bring back the $1.1 billion spending proposal without any riders, including the one tacked onto the bill that would have pulled Medicaid money from Puerto Rico, where Zika is infecting about 50 people a day.

“In the very place that needs Medicaid help,” he said, Republicans “were cutting that money out.”

Time is running short, Nelson said.

“We’re at the 11th hour and 59th minute,” he said. “We have to get something passed.”

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor also expressed urgency in getting federal money allocated to fight the insidious disease that leaves newborns with catastrophic birth defects including small heads and incomplete brain development; lifelong issues that could cost $10 million in treatment over the course of one child’s life.

Wednesday, she said, the state recorded 11 new cases of Zika infections, the most in a single day since the first one was reported in January. One of the new cases was in Hillsborough County, said the Tampa Democrat.

“We’ve got to have the funds to develop vaccines and diagnostics and make sure pregnant women have all the information necessary to make very difficult decisions in their lives,” Castor said. “We’ve got one week left if they are not able — Speaker (Paul) Ryan and Republican leaders — if we’re not able to get a bill to the president’s desk, that would be a colossal failure.”

Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Amy Pope said Thursday the president is hopeful he can get a bill to sign and he has spoken to McConnell and leading Democrats about hammering out a bipartisan approach before the summer break.

“We know the risk is growing every day and the longer we wait to pass legislation,” she said, “the greater the consequences.”

Wednesday, the Florida Health Department reported 11 new cases, including one in Hillsborough County, and some counties have been under a declaration of public health emergency.

Of the 220 cases in Florida, not including 43 pregnant women, 28 are still exhibiting symptoms, which can last between seven to 10 days.

Miami-Dade County leads the state with 72 cases, followed by Broward County with 37 cases and Orange County with 21.

In February, Gov. Rick Scott declared a public health emergency for the counties where the disease has cropped up. There were 26 counties named in the declaration including Hillsborough, Polk, Pasco and Pinellas counties, in which 22 cases of Zika have been reported since January.

In June, Scott used his emergency executive authority to allocate $26.2 million in state funds for Zika preparedness, prevention and response.

The rate at which Zika is spreading is “a silent epidemic,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden during the conference call Thursday. “Four out of five don’t have symptoms and those that do have mild symptoms. It has a devastating impact on pregnancy,” he said. “Hundreds and hundreds of women are dealing with this diagnosis throughout the country.”

He urged Congress to get the spending bill pushed through before next week.

“The mosquito and virus,” he said, “are not waiting.”

Bill Nelson urges Mitch McConnell to bring back Senate’s $1.1B Zika funding proposal

Sen. Bill Nelson is urging Senate leaders to bring back a $1.1 billion proposal that would help fight the spread of Zika.

The request comes just one day after the Florida Department of Health announced 11 new cases of Florida, bringing the total number of travel-related cases in the Sunshine State to 263.

In a letter Thursday, the Florida Democrat asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the bipartisan $1.1 billion bill the Senate passed back to the floor for a vote as a standalone bill. Last week, the Senate voted down a $1.1 billion House proposal.

Democrats blocked the GOP-drafted measure 52-48, short of the 60 votes required to advance it. The party faulted Republicans for packing the bill with provisions designed to deny new funding for Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico and ease rules on pesticide spraying.

Nelson reminded McConnell “both sides of the aisle came together on the Senate floor” to pass its version of the $1.1 billion funding proposal.

“I strongly urge you to advance a bipartisan bill that provides emergency funding, and is free of misguided policy riders,” said Nelson in his letter. “Time is of the essence.”

Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, said Nelson is asking Senate leaders to do something that already exists. The Senate already passed its proposal, and the House passed a much lower funding proposal. The $1.1 billion plan approved by the House was the result of negotiations and can’t be amended.

“What he’s asking to do today would not get the bill to the president’s desk,” said Stewart. “There’s only one bill that can go to the president right now, and you can’t amend it.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been more than 930 cases of travel-related cases of Zika reported in the United States. So far none of the cases have been locally transmitted.

Last week, the Florida Department of Health announced it had confirmed its first case of microcephaly in an infant born in Florida whose mother had a travel-related case of Zika. The mother contracted Zika while in Haiti.

In his letter, Nelson said lawmakers need to stop using funding as a vehicle to advance politics and take a bipartisan approach to funding.

“Funding our nation’s Zika response is something that simply cannot wait any longer and it cannot be used as a vehicle to advance partisan, ideological positions,” he said. “Surely, this is something that members of both parties can agree to.”

Sen. Marco Rubio announced Thursday he will convene a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues next week to discuss Zika. The hearing is scheduled for 2:30 p.m., Wednesday.

McConnell is expected to bring House-approved funding proposal for a vote next week before its August recess.


Rick Scott requests federal state of emergency declaration in response to algae blooms

One week after declaring a state of emergency in four Florida counties, Gov. Rick Scott is calling on President Barack Obama to do the same.

In a letter Wednesday, Scott requested Obama declare a federal emergency under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act because of the “public health and safety threats associated with the unnatural discharges of nutrient-laden freshwater from Lake Okeechobee into the canals that flow east into the Indian River Lagoon and west into the Caloosahatchee.”

“It is the federal government’s sole responsibility to maintain and repair the federally operated Herbert Hoover Dike,” said Scott in his letter. “Consequently, any damage caused by the unnecessary water releases due to the federal government’s lack of appropriate maintenance of the Dike is the federal government’s responsibility.”

Scott said the federal government has ignored proper maintenance and repair to this structure for more than a decade and “has put our state in this vulnerable position.”

Scott declared a state of emergency for Martin and St. Lucie counties, where algae blooms have been detected in local waterways, on June 29. One day later, Scott expanded the executive order to include Lee and Palm Beach counties.

The executive order allows state and local government to take action to mitigate the spread algae blooms in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

On Wednesday, Scott announced he plans to include additional funding in his 2017-18 budget to help clean up the Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee River. The proposal, the governor’s office said, would include new funding for a 50-50 matching grant program with local communities near the areas affected by the algae blooms.

Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio also on Wednesday called on Senate leaders to bring the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 up for a vote. Among other things, the bill authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with the Central Everglades Planning Project, which is designed to move water south.

Bill Nelson, Marco Rubio urge action on bill that could help move water south

Sen. Bill Nelson has called on Senate leaders to immediately pass a bill authorizing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with projects to send water south.

In a letter Wednesday, Nelson urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 up for a vote “as soon as possible.” Among other things, the bill authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with the Central Everglades Planning Project, which is designed to move water south.

“South Florida is facing a crisis. The water flowing in the St. Lucie River is covered with dark green and brown algae,” said Nelson. “Beaches and waterways that would normally have been crowded this past Fourth of July weekend were empty as families and vacationers heeded warnings to avoid the toxic blue-green and brown algae blooms that have formed along the waterways and even out into the Atlantic Ocean.”

Sen. Marco Rubio also called on McConnell to bring the bill to a vote, saying in a letter it is “clear that the federal government must do more.”

“While we allow this bill to sit idly, unknown damage is being done to Florida’s ecology, economy, and to the health of those who come into contact with the (harmful algal bloom),” said Rubio.

Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency last week in Martin, St. Lucie, Lee and Palm Beach counties to combat algae blooms. The state of emergency called on state agencies to take action to address the algae blooms, which have been clogging the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.

Many believe discharges flowing down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers are one of the causes of the algae blooms. Nelson said the algae blooms are the result of historic amounts of rain, which forced the Army Corps of Engineers to send discharges down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

South Florida Water Management District officials, however, have said the releases aren’t the only reason for the blooms. District officials said algae blooms happened in years past, like 2014, when there were no lake releases.

Nelson took a swipe at state lawmakers in his letter, saying since the state “refuses to acquire additional land south of the lake to help store and treat this water before sending it south — as Mother Nature intended — it’s imperative that Congress act now to help solve the problem.”

The call for action in the U.S. Senate came just hours after Scott announced he wanted to include money in the 2017-18 budget to help clean up the Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee River. In a statement Thursday, Scott said the proposal will include a 50-50 matching grant program with local communities near the areas affected by the algae blooms.

That money, Scott said, would be used to encourage residents to move from septic tanks to sewer systems to curb pollution. The proposed funding would also help local communities build wastewater systems to meet the increased demand for services.

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