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Floridians head to D.C. for Donald Trump inauguration

A hush has fallen on the state capital.

Sure, there’s plenty of work to do before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session. But some Florida politicos are using this week to flee Florida and head to Washington, D.C., for President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Gov. Rick Scott will be there. An ardent supporter of the New York Republican, Scott was the chairman of the super PAC that backed Trump’s presidential bid. He was expected to head to D.C. on Tuesday, one day before the Florida Sunshine Ball, hosted by Scott and his wife, First Lady Ann Scott.

But don’t think the Naples Republican (and possible 2018 U.S. Senate hopeful) spent the day in his tuxedo and dancing shoes. According to his official schedule, Scott was scheduled to meet with General John Kelly, the incoming Secretary of Homeland Security; Republican Reps. Francis Rooney and Neal Dunn; and Mauricio Claver-Carone, a Trump transition official.

Susie Wiles, the Jacksonville political guru who helped lead Trump’s Florida campaign, traveled to D.C. on Wednesday. She’ll be on hand for all of the festivities; as will uber lobbyist Brian Ballard, the chairman of Trump’s Florida finance committee.

And it should come as no surprise that state Rep. Joe Gruters and his wife, Sydney, will be in town for the event. Gruters was one of the first big name Floridians to back Trump, and never wavered in his support throughout the campaign. The couple plans to head up to D.C. on Thursday, and plan to attend the swearing in and go to the Liberty Ball.

Christian Ziegler, a Sarasota County GOP state committeeman, also has a full dance card. He planned to attend several events hosted by the governor, as well as an event hosted by Rep. Vern Buchanan.

“With Florida being Trump’s second home, Washington, D.C., feels like it’s been invaded by the Great State of Florida,” he said in an email. “Incredibly excited to experience this event as one of just 304 Electors to have cast the votes necessary for him to become our next President.”

Former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli — joined by fundraisers Trey McCarley and Kris Money —will be there too. Crisafulli was another top Trump supporter, and played a key role in getting him to the Space Coast for rallies throughout the campaign. His name was floated as one of several Floridians who could land a gig within the Trump administration.

He won’t be the only Florida Speaker in attendance. House Speaker Richard Corcoran is will be there, even though he was a slow to warm to Trump. (He backed former Gov. Jeb Bush, then Sen. Marco Rubio, and then Sen. Ted Cruz before somewhat reluctantly backing Trump.) And look for Senate President Joe Negron, who as Republican elector helped Trump officially clinch the presidency, in the crowd.

Reps. Jose Felix Diaz and Carlos Trujillo are expected to be in town; the Miami Herald reported they’re sharing a two-bedroom apartment they snagged on Airbnb. The paper also reported Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is making the trek north.

You’ll likely see Nick Iarossi and Scott Ross, along with their wives Debbie and Ashley, dancing the night away at one of the parties this week. Both supported Sen. Marco Rubio, but eventually joined Team Trump.

Jim Smith and Monte Stevens, both with Southern Strategy Group, are in D.C. for the inauguration. They’re in town with Ambrosia Treatment Centers, which provides care to people suffering from substance abuse, in hopes of raising awareness about the need to make top-notch care available to as many people who need it as possible.

Their trip isn’t just about business, though. Stevens is planning to tweet about all the action from the firm’s Twitter account, @SoStrategyFlorida.

Hayden Dempsey and Fred Karlinsky with Greenberg Traurig both have jam-packed schedules. Their calendar of events includes the Florida Sunshine Ball; the Republican National Lawyers Association Luncheon, which features a keynote address by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; and an inaugural reception hosted by the Greenberg Traurig Washington, D.C. office for clients and friends.

Meredith O’Rourke, one of the state’s go-to Republican fundraisers, plans to spend the week in D.C. with “fellow Republicans and strong supporters of our clients, while looking forward to a new day for our country.”

You might spot David and Melissa Ramba, Michael Fischer, Andy Gonzalez, Evan Power (and his wife), Bill Helmich, and Todd Lewis, Nick DiCeglie, Jay Beyrouti, Justin Bean, Bob Fisher, Travis Horn and Matt Lettelleir as you flip through the channels for inauguration coverage.

Robert Hawken is turning the trip into a learning experience for his daughters. They’re planning to take an overnight train from Jacksonville to D.C. for the inauguration. Once there, they planned to attend the Florida ball and check out the parade.

Lake County Property Appraiser (and former state representative and state senator) Carey Baker be in the nation’s capital; so will Richard DeNapoli, the former chairman of the Broward Republican Party.

Even Rep. Charlie Crist, the state’s former Republican governor, will be on hand. The St. Petersburg Democrat said he was looking forward to attending the event.

“I didn’t support Mr. Trump, but I respect the fact that he’s been elected the president of the U.S.” said Crist last week.

He won’t be the only Florida Democrat in the bunch: Democrats Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Bill Nelson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz are also planning to attend the inauguration.

Jack Latvala says he’ll support legislation banning fracking again in 2017 Session

State Sen. Jack Latvala opposed a bill to regulate the use of fracking in the 2016 Session, and in the upcoming Session, he’ll support legislation that would do so again.

“I’m where I was last year,” he said when asked about the controversial practice to extract natural gas and oil out of the ground.

“I helped beat it last year, so … I’m in the same place, and I’ll support a bill to ban it,” the Clearwater Republican said while exiting Sunlake High School in Land O’Lakes after a long afternoon hearing from the public at the Pasco County Legislative Delegation meeting.

Last year, Naples Republican Garett Richter‘s bill died in the Senate Appropriations Committee. It would have directed the Department of Environmental Protection to set up a regulatory scheme for onshore oil and gas drilling, provide $1 million to study the impact of fracking on Florida’s aquifer and unique limestone bedrock, as well as pre-empt local government ordinances seeking to ban the practice.

“We saw the issue of banning fracking come up in many races in the past election,” said Michelle Allen, the Florida organizer with Food and Water Watch. “And we believe it’s going to continue to come up until we pass a statewide ban on it.”

Allen addressed the issue Wednesday before the six-person body.

The issue was certainly hot last fall in the three-way Senate District 18 race in Hillsborough County between Republican Dana Young, Democrat Bob Buesing and independent Joe Redner.

Young was dogged by environmental groups (as well as her two opponents) of being pro-fracking by supporting the Richter bill; she insisted it was, in fact, a vote to ban the practice.

Immediately after winning the race, Young announced she would be proposing a bill in the 2017 Session to ban fracking.

The number of local governments in Florida that passed resolutions or ordinances denouncing fracking in Florida is now up to 89, Allen said.

“Floridians do not want fracking,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director with Environment Florida. “Over 75 percent of Floridians live in a city or county that has passed a resolution or an ordinance opposing fracking. That includes Dade City and Zephyrhills here in Pasco County, and Tampa, St. Pete and Pinellas County as a whole.”

Rubiello added that the Legislature shouldn’t vote for more studies. They were “a waste of time, money and energy, even when they’re attached to a true ban,” she said.

In a report released last month, the federal Environmental Protection Agency concluded that, in some circumstances, hydraulic fracturing has contaminated drinking water.

The report came just as President-elect Donald Trump vowed to expand fracking and roll back existing regulations on the process.

(An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that Latvala was chair of the Appropriations Committee last year. He did not take over those duties until this fall.)

 

Donald Trump wax figure debuts before inauguration

Madame Tussauds locations in Orlando, Washington, D.C., New York, and London unveiled wax figures of President-elect Donald Trump ahead of Friday’s inauguration.

A team of 20 artists worked around the clock for six months to create the wax figures. It took five weeks just to fashion Trump’s famous hairstyle with each individual hair inserted by hand.

This isn’t the first time Trump has been immortalized in wax. He’s actually the first president to already have a Madame Tussauds wax figure. Artists took hundreds of photos and measurements of Trump in 1997 for his first figure. After he won the 2016 election, the original was updated to match his current look.

“Mr. Trump was the most-searched person globally on Google in 2016 so the pressure was on to perfect his iconic features in time for inauguration,” said Therese Alvich, general manager of Madame Tussauds Washington, D.C. in a release.

Dressed in a patriotic dark blue suit, red tie and Made in America flag lapel pin, Trump will replace Barack Obama in a White House oval office set.

A Trump wax figure has been in the lobby of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not on International Drive for the past month.

Florida man charged with making online threat against Donald Trump

A South Florida man has been charged with threatening to kill President-elect Donald Trump in a video posted online.

A Miami Beach police report released Wednesday identified the suspect as 51-year-old Dominic Puopolo. Jail records show Puopolo is being held without bail on state charges of threatening harm against a public servant. Court records do not list a lawyer for him.

The police report says Puopolo on Monday posted a video on his Twitter account stating that he would “be at the review/inauguration and I will kill President Trump, President-elect Trump” while in Washington.

The report says he was arrested a short time later at a Miami Beach Subway restaurant and admitted to officers he had posted the threatening video. Police say Puopolo told them he is homeless.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Officials, others respond to school vouchers case

The Florida Supreme Court’s decision not to take up a contentious school vouchers lawsuit continued to garner reaction throughout Wednesday.

Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump‘s nominee for U.S. Education Secretary, tweeted, “Congrats to the Florida families who have a clear path toward more opportunity due to #SchoolChoice w/ today’s FL Supreme Court decision!”

Florida House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa, in a statement, called the move “a blow to our state’s Constitutional promise of  ‘a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools.’ ”

“We can all agree that the zip code of a child’s birth should not be a determining factor in their access to a high quality public education,” she said. “However, for almost 20 years now, since the passage of Gov. Jeb Bush’s original unconstitutional voucher system, Florida has diverted billions of taxpayer dollars away from our public schools in a misguided attempt at outsourcing our children’s education to for-profit corporations and fly-by-night profiteers.

“Instead, these resources should have been spent improving our neighborhood schools, focusing on options that we know have a proven success rate and a genuine benefit to the public they are meant to serve, such as the community schools model,” she added. “Unfortunately, some continue to view our children as a commodity from which every ounce of profit should be squeezed.

“Even with today’s setback, House Democrats will continue to fight on behalf of the thousands of parents and students who have been failed by legislative leaders more intent on serving an ideology of boundless privatization rather than a commitment to the educational well-being of our children.”

Bush, the president and chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd), the school reform group he founded, said the decision is “a powerful reminder to entrenched special interests that when policymakers work hand-in-hand with Florida’s families, students win.”

“It is my hope that opponents of Florida’s efforts to help our most vulnerable students will stop impeding successful reforms and join us in ensuring all students have access to excellent educational options,” he said.

Cruz’s counterpart, Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran, called the court’s order “a great victory for school children, parents, and classroom teachers who want the best for their students.”

“I thank the many organizations, pastors, parents, and children who advocated for fairness and justice in our education system and wish them all a great school year,” he said.

Attorney General Pam Bondi said she was “pleased that the lower court’s decision will stand, and that this important program will continue to provide educational opportunities for children of families that have limited financial resources.

“Today is a great victory for our children,” she said in a statement.

Americans for Prosperity-Florida (AFP-FL), the state’s pro-free market organization, called Wednesday “a day to celebrate.”

“Our childrens’ future looks brighter than ever,” AFP-FL state director Chris Hudson said in an email. “Last year, the legislature enacted several common sense reforms to improve access to a quality education. Today’s ruling furthers the initiative to ensure that parents can make the best decisions for their children.”

Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro said the program “provide(s) lower income families, most of whom are minorities, the opportunities to receive a high quality education and are funded through donations from businesses across the state.”

“Educating our children, particularly those who do not have the same opportunities as others, is crucial in ensuring that they can go on to college, earn a degree and begin a career that offers them prosperity and success,” Calabro said in a statement. “…With the lawsuit officially over, the state does not have to continue to spend taxpayer dollars on what could have been an expensive battle at the Supreme Court.”

Cesar Grajales, Florida Coalitions Director of The LIBRE Initiative, a project of Americans for Prosperity focused on the Hispanic community, said the court “was right to defend the needs of Florida students by dismissing the attacks from unions.”

“School choice is a powerful tool to ensure that our community has the best access to education possible,” Grajales said. “…I am looking forward to working with the Florida legislature to continue expanding reforms that ensure parents and students can achieve their educational goals.”

Debbie Wasserman Schultz accuses HHS nominee Tom Price as another of Donald Trump’s ‘swamp’

Tom Price, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary, is poised to be grilled by Senate Democrats when he appears Wednesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The six-term Georgia Republican congressman has been one of the leading opponents of the Affordable Care Act in Congress, and an advocate for the restructuring of the Medicaid and Medicare health entitlement programs. Democrats have vowed to fight the nomination of Price, an orthopedic surgeon.

Undoubtedly, Price will be asked about his stock holdings in more than three dozen companies, including health care related agencies like Aetna, Biogen and Zimmer Biomet Holdings.

It’s his purchase in that latter stock that may get him in some trouble with the committee.

CNN reported that in March, Price bought between $1,001 to $15,000 worth of shares in Zimmer Biomet, a medical device manufacturer, before introducing legislation that would have directly benefited the company. That news comes after The Wall Street Journal reported last month that he traded roughly $300,000 in shares over the past four years in health companies while pursuing legislation that could impact them.

Democrats pounced on that revelation.

“With what we have recently learned about his apparent conflicts of interest — including filing legislation to benefit a medical device company in which he recently bought stock — it’s clear that he’s also another swimmer in President-elect Donald Trump’s ‘swamp,'” declared South Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz Wednesday.

“No Member of Congress or Cabinet secretary — or president for that matter — should be creating the appearance of lining their own pockets on the taxpayers’ dime. Unfortunately, President-elect Trump, whose own record is rife with conflicts of interest, has tapped a number of Cabinet appointees that fit this alarming pattern. Congressman Price’s appalling record on health care policy should be reason enough to reject his nomination, but it should be withdrawn if these allegations prove to be accurate.”

Wasserman Schultz also is criticizing Price for his opposition to the ACA and repeatedly proposing “draconian legislation to restrict women’s access to reproductive health care.”

“He is committed to dragging American health care back several decades with his proposed cuts to Medicare, our social safety net, and would callously ensure that 129 million Americans who live with a pre-existing condition like me — a breast cancer survivor — will be denied coverage based on our medical history.”

Wednesday’s hearing is being called just a “warm up,” because, in fact, Price faces confirmation by another committee — the Senate Finance Committee, and not the group of senators he speaks to Thursday.

 

A look at Obama’s legacy, foolish hope of ‘post-racial’ America

(Part 1 of two. Part two will deal with Obama’s political legacy)

The 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama focused on the theme of change. Obama promised to “restore our moral standing” and “focus on nation-building here at home.”

Obama, as a candidate, told audiences that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.” “Yes, we can” and “change you can believe in” became the campaign themes.

Obama promised to “make government cool again.” This would be achieved by an activist, expanding federal government. Obama seemed to be contradicting the message of the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who argued that “the era of big government is over.”

Although Obama viewed himself as a transformative president, much of his first year in office was spent stabilizing America’s collapsing economy and avoiding another Great Depression.

America was losing 700,000 to 800,000 a month with no let up in sight. Major banks and Wall Street brokers were declaring bankruptcy, and the American auto industry was on the verge of collapse.

If nothing else, Obama deserves credit for stabilizing the economy. His action plan included an unpopular stimulus program, a bailout of the auto industry that some described as socialism, and shoring up the big banks that were responsible for much of the economic instability with their risky loans.

As a result of President Obama’s efforts, an economic catastrophe was avoided. We have had eight consecutive years of economic growth, although critics pointed out the less than 3 percent growth rate was low. The economic programs, in part, lead to an 88 percent increase in the national debt and the loss of the United States AAA bond rating.

“Obamacare,” or the Affordable Care Act (ACA), was the primary domestic accomplishment of the Obama presidency. Young individuals could remain on their parent’s insurance until age 26, preexisting conditions would not disqualify you from coverage and 20 million more Americans received health care coverage.

The ACA was not without its critics. The plan did not control health care costs as promised, and Obama’s promise to Americans that “if you like your doctors, you can keep them” and “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it” proved not to be true. In fact, Politics-Fact labeled those promises the “lie of the year.”

The ACA was narrowly passed without a single Republican vote. That does not bode well for its long-term success. Major public policy change in the United States, to succeed, needs to be comfortably passed with bipartisan support. Civil rights legislation and Medicare are just two examples of that.

Democrats contend that Republicans were not going to vote for the ACA and give Obama a major political victory. Republicans argued that the president made no attempt to reach out to them and find common ground. The president has many tools available to curry support, most importantly, the power of persuasion. For whatever reason, the goal seemed to pass the ACA with or without Republican votes.

The election of Donald Trump now jeopardizes the ACA. Republicans must realize that if they attempt to “repeal and replace” Obamacare without Democratic support, their plan will fail just as Obama’s plan is likely to fail.

Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, was supposed to lead to a “post-racial America.” That was a foolish and unrealistic expectation.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama gave a speech on race in Philadelphia in an attempt to counter the negative public reaction to statements from Jeremiah Wright, the president’s longtime friend and minister. Wright attacked racism in America in many of his talks. The most explosive comment found Wright stating: “Not God bless America. God damn America!”

In his address on race, Obama said Wright was correct in talking about racism but wrong in speaking “as if no progress had been made.”

Almost as soon as he assumed the presidency, Obama dealt with one racial issue after another. In 2009, Obama said a police officer “acted stupidly” when he arrested Henry Louis Gates, a prominent black Harvard professor when Gates entered his home through a window after forgetting his house key. Obama quickly held a “beer summit,” inviting both Gates and the police officer to talk through their dispute.

In 2012, the nation was divided when a white neighborhood watch volunteer shot and killed a young black male named Trayvon Martin. Obama told reporters that “if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin.” The white shooter was found not guilty.

A police shooting of another black teen in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 led to criticism of Obama by both whites and blacks. Whites attacked the president for criticizing the police in “using excessive force” against protestors who were “lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.” Blacks criticized the president for stating that there is “no excuse for violence against the police” or “those who would use this tragedy to cover for vandalism or looting.”

 In 2015, the nation was shocked by the brutal murder of nine black parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina by Dylann Roof, a young white male who had been invited to join the Bible study. The nation saw the moving acts of forgiveness as one relative after another of the victims said they forgave him. This act of grace led President Obama to conclude his remarks at the church by singing Amazing Grace.

Obama was widely criticized for his foreign policy actions or inactions. Critics blamed the early exit if American forces from Iraq as creating a vacuum which allowed ISIS to emerge. His nuclear pact with Iran was criticized by Republicans, the military, Israel and others who saw the act as creating a nuclear-armed Iran in the Middle East. The president’s failure to enforce his “red line” in Syria if chemical weapons were used by Bashar al-Assad, created an inroad for both ISIS and the Soviets to expand their role.

Like all presidents, Obama has a mixed bag of successes and failures as president. In his own analysis of his presidency, Obama praised his administration for stopping the economic crisis, saving the auto industry, creating the longest stretch of job creation, opening relations with Cuba, shutting down Iran’s nuclear program, passing national health insurance and securing marriage equality. “America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.”

During the 2016 campaign, Obama stated: “My legacy is on the line.” By that standard, the public decided they wanted to move in another direction.

___

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Dominic Calabro: Keeping cigars in the Cigar City

Politicians talk repeatedly about doing things to help create jobs. But, sometimes, doing nothing is the best option. We hope that newly-elected lawmakers understand that less government intrusion is often the key to keeping the American Dream alive.

A great example is the 2009 “Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.” This innocuously named effort actually increased federal regulation in ways that even many of its supporters now regret.

The act gave the Food and Drug Administration the right to regulate all tobacco products, not just cigarettes. But bureaucracies tend to expand whenever they can and the agency soon extended its reach to premium cigars — a move that even the most liberal members of Congress said they never intended.

The result is a possible loss of jobs, the death of family-owned businesses and an unnecessary impediment to the American Dream.

A great example is the J.C. Newman’s Cigar Co. It is a classic “only in America” success story. Founded in 1895 in Ohio by an immigrant from Hungary, it is the nation’s oldest manufacturer of premium cigars.

In the 1950s, the business moved to Tampa, also known as Cigar City. What autos are to Detroit and movies are to Hollywood, cigars are the signature item in Tampa. The business flourished in this natural new home.

Cigars made by the 121-year-old family-run business are not marketed toward youth, nor are they used by younger consumers.

But the FDA, empowered to expand its reach without limit, has recently ruled that all cigar manufacturers must pay exorbitant “user fees,” undergo costly scientific tests that could run into the millions of dollars, fulfill new loads of paperwork and are now essentially prohibited from introducing new sizes, brands and blends. Samples provided for charity auctions or soldiers overseas are no longer allowed. And in a cruelly concurrent move, the federal government recently ruled that Cuban cigars will not only be allowed for sale in the United States, but they won’t have to meet the new requirements for American-made cigars.

The overall result is not an increase in consumer safety, but a potential death knell for companies like J.C. Newman’s.

The company has more than 125 employees in the Tampa Bay area, hardworking families with mortgages to pay and children to feed. Strangling their livelihood with no increase in consumer safety is ludicrous.

Thankfully, led by Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate and Bill Posey and Kathy Castor in the U.S. House, there has been bipartisan support from Florida’s legislative delegation to eliminate the job-killing provisions for premium cigar manufacturers. The conservative House Freedom Caucus has also presented President-elect Donald Trump with more than 200 regulations that could be immediately eliminated to help working Americans, including the job-killing provisions on premium cigars.

We hope the new administration and the FDA find the proper balance and remove this requirement that benefits nobody. And we hope that this classic example of unnecessary regulations strangling businesses becomes a warning against well-meaning mandates that too often spiral out of control.

___

Dominic Calabro is the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

18M more Americans would be uninsured under 2016 GOP repeal

Insurance premiums would soar and some 18 million Americans would lose health coverage if Republicans partially repeal President Barack Obama‘s health care law without a replacement, Congress’ nonpartisan budget office estimated Tuesday.

The Congressional Budget Office analyzed a GOP 2016 repeal measure, which Republicans have cited as a starting point for their 2017 drive to dismantle and replace Obama’s health overhaul.

Premiums for policies bought from online marketplaces established by Obama’s law would rise up to 25 percent a year after enactment of repeal. They’d about double by 2026, the report estimated.

There’d also be 18 million more uninsured people a year after enactment and 32 million more by 2026, the report projected.

The numbers served as a flashing yellow light for this year’s effort by President-elect Donald Trump and congressional Republicans to annul Obama’s law and — in a more complex challenge — institute their own alternative. While Republicans have produced several outlines for how they’d recraft Obama’s 2010 statute, they’ve never united behind one plan despite years of trying and there are many unknowns about what will happen in insurance markets while the GOP effort is underway.

The report also became immediate political fodder for both sides in what is expected to be one of this year’s premier battles in Congress.

Trump seemed to complicate that fight over the weekend when he told The Washington Post that a forthcoming GOP plan would provide “insurance for everybody.” In contrast, some congressional Republicans have used a more modest description, saying the plan will offer “universal access.”

The 2016 bill that CBO analyzed did not replace Obama’s law with a GOP alternative, which Republicans have insisted will be an integral part of their health care drive this year.

Because of that omission, Donald Stewart, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the report “assumes a situation that simply doesn’t exist and that no one in Congress advocates.” AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called the estimates “meaningless” because they ignored plans for legislation and regulatory actions by the incoming Trump administration aimed at revamping how people could obtain coverage.

Even so, Republicans have cited last year’s bill — which Obama vetoed — as a starting point for their 2017 drive to erase his law. Finding unity among Trump and GOP lawmakers on what a new plan should look like is expected to be a challenging task

Democrats used the report as ammunition to assail the Republican health-care push.

“Nonpartisan statistics don’t lie: it’s crystal clear that the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act will increase health care costs for millions of Americans and kick millions more off of their health insurance,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a written statement that used the law’s formal name.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida scientists pen letter to Wilbur Ross — calling him to defend Florida’s coastline

A group of Florida scientists have an urgent message for Wilbur Ross: Support science and defend Florida’s coastline, as it could save your own home.

Ross, Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Commerce, has owned a $22 million, 15,500-square-foot Palm Beach mansion on the Intracoastal Waterway since 2008.

“In your new role as the Secretary of Commerce, you have a unique ability to influence multiple sectors of our economy,” goes the letter, signed by 13 officials, including 11 professors from Florida universities.

“You will direct scientific research both within government, and at universities through NOAA. You can also work with businesses, engineers, and industries to develop solutions to address climate and energy challenges.”

The letter is signed by some of the same 25 scientists who penned a similar letter to Trump October, shortly before his upset victory in November, urging him to act on climate change. They did not receive a response. Nor did they hear anything back from the president-elect after following up with a letter signed by approximately 10 university professors, as well as a physical oceanographer from NOAA in late December.

Another letter penned to Gov. Scott in 2014 resulted in a meeting with five climate scientists meeting during that (election) year, where they attempted to persuade the governor that human-induced climate change is very real, and a threat to Florida’s economy.

As the scientists note in their letter, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is housed in the Department of Commerce. That agency’s mission is “to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.”

Ross’ confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee takes place Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 10 a.m.

The scientists’ letter points out that if action is not taken, seas could rise by as much as 2 feet by 2060, and up to 6 feet or more by 2100.

“You have an incredible opportunity to be a steward who will help restructure America’s energy problems, and turn our climate crisis into another American success story,” the scientists write in their letter. “We want to emphasize the magnitude of the problem — the future of Florida hangs in the balance. The stakes could not be higher. You are in a critical position to support sound science and solutions that can help America solve this problem. We implore you to recognize the urgency of climate change, and take your new position with great humility and the same dedication and tenacity you have shown throughout your career.”

Read the letter below:

Jan. 17, 2017

Mr. Wilbur Ross

Invesco Global Headquarters

Two Peachtree Pointe
1555 Peachtree Street, N.E., Suite 1800
Atlanta, Georgia 30309

Dear Mr. Wilbur Ross,

Congratulations on your nomination. You have a distinguished career and now you are presented with the opportunity to become the next Secretary of Commerce — a position with enormous influence on American society.

We are a group of Florida scientists, many of whom work daily with data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); one of the agencies you will be in charge of at the Commerce Department.

Like you, we share an affinity for Florida. As a Florida resident, you know how precious the coastline is, and the fragile beauty of our state.

You are known for your problem-solving skills, and your ability to salvage distressed businesses. We were struck by a statement you made in your CNBC interview where you said, “the solutions are always more fun than identifying problems. We’re basically optimists even though we’re dealing with situations that have a lot of pessimism.”

Like you, climate scientists are facing a distressing situation as we study the projected impacts of sea level rise. However, we remain optimistic that our challenges can be solved with American ingenuity, entrepreneurship, strategy and new technologies.

We encourage you to use your exceptional problem-solving skills to look closely at the intersection between our changing climate, our economy, agriculture, industry, jobs and human health.

The Commerce Department defines part of its mission as “work[ing] with businesses, universities, communities, and the Nation’s workers to promote job creation, economic growth, sustainable development, and improved standards of living for Americans.”

In your new role as the Secretary of Commerce, you have a unique ability to influence multiple sectors of our economy. You will direct scientific research both within government, and at universities through NOAA. You can also work with businesses, engineers, and industries to develop solutions to address climate and energy challenges.

We call on you to:

Protect our coastline.

Florida has over 1,100 miles of coastline, a portion of which you are intimately familiar with, and surely appreciate. Current forecasts predict up to 6 feet of sea level rise in the next century. Under a worst-case scenario, we could see 2 feet of sea level rise by 2060. And while that may seem like a distant threat, right now with king tides there can be “sunny day flooding” in coastal states.

In order to protect our coastlines, it is crucial to continue the monitoring and projection of future environmental changes in the atmosphere and the ocean. None of this research can happen without adequate funding. We must prioritize research funding in the direction of climate change studies, especially in the context of sea level rise. Vital observations and research into phenomena affecting climate change impacts, such as variations in the ocean circulation that can, and already are, increasing sea level rise along our coastline must be maintained.

Support robust science.

The same way that you evaluate companies before you purchase them, scientists are learning about our climate, our weather, our oceans and our coast, so that policymakers can make informed decisions. We echo The Union of Concerned Scientists’ call for a strong and open culture of science and believe in adhering to high standards of scientific integrity and independence. You know from experience the role of in-depth research in executing a successful strategy, and so you should appreciate the value that scientists bring to the table to understand the impacts that change in our natural world will have on human systems — our ports, our coastal properties and our weather patterns.

Embrace clean technology.

As the Secretary of Commerce, you can help put America at the forefront of scientific research, and position us as leaders in the international competition for clean technology development.

We know many of your investments have been in traditional industries like coal and steel, but we encourage you to learn as much as you can about new energy technologies. Embrace clean energy solutions not only to address our energy needs but to create good paying jobs in our communities.

The Department of Commerce encompasses much more than just NOAA, but we want to make a heartfelt plea to you to understand how incredibly important NOAA’s contribution to society is. NOAA states on its website that it “enriches life through science.” NOAA’s mission is “Science, Service and Stewardship.”

You have an incredible opportunity to be a steward who will help restructure America’s energy problems, and turn our climate crisis into another American success story.

We want to emphasize the magnitude of the problem — the future of Florida hangs in the balance. The stakes could not be higher.

You are in a critical position to support sound science and solutions that can help America solve this problem. We implore you to recognize the urgency of climate change, and take your new position with great humility and the same dedication and tenacity you have shown throughout your career.

Thank you, and good luck on your nomination hearing.

Sincerely,

Senthold Asseng, Professor

Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

University of Florida

***

Keren Bolter, Research Affiliate

Center for Environmental Studies

Florida Atlantic University

***

Jeff Chanton, Professor

The John Widmer Winchester Professor of Oceanography

Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science

Florida State University

***

David B. Enfield (ret. 2015)

Dept. of Physical Oceanography

NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Laboratory

***

Pamela Hallock Muller, Ph.D., Professor

College of Marine Science

University of South Florida

***

David Hastings, Professor

Marine Science and Chemistry

Eckerd College

***

Barry Heimlich, Vice Chair

Climate Change Task Force

Broward County

***

Ben Kirtman, Professor

Department of Atmospheric Science

Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Sciences

University of Miami

***

John H. Parker, Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and Environmental Science

Department of Earth and Environment

Florida International University

***

Randall W. Parkinson, Ph.D., P.G., Research Faculty Affiliate

Institute for Water and Environment

Florida International University

***

Brad E. Rosenheim, Ph.D., Associate Professor

College of Marine Science

University of South Florida

***

Philip Stoddard, Professor

Department of Biological Sciences

Florida International University

Mayor of South Miami

***

Harold R. Wanless, Professor and Chair

Department of Geological Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences

University of Miami

***

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter are strictly those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of their respective organization.

 

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