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Bob Sparks: The unconstitutional burden of voter registration deadlines

Floridians now have an extra week to register to vote. The State of Florida, according to a federal judge, has set up “unconstitutional” firm deadlines for voter registration, which must be remedied.

The offending statute is 97.055 Florida Statutes that says voter registration “must be closed on the 29th day before each election and must remain closed until after that election.” (emphasis added)

In this matter, the 29th day was Oct. 11. In a shrewd move, the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) sought an injunction to suspend the provisions of Florida law due to violations of the federal “Voting Rights Act and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.”

As most anyone paying the slightest bit of attention now knows, the FDP prevailed. The defendants, Gov. Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner, did not contest the lawsuit.

Scott played it by the letter of the law and refused to extend the deadline, prompting the lawsuit. Even in ruling Florida law erects “unconstitutional obstacles” to voting, U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker opined “it appears Defendant Scott lacked the authority to extend the deadline.”

In other words, despite having two years to register, the Florida Legislature created unnecessary barriers to voting by having firm deadlines. Walker pointed out some states allow registration to take place on Election Day.

Walker put forth a confusing statement on page 11 of his order. He states that “In no way, can Defendants argue that there is some sort of limitation that requires them to burden the constitutional rights of aspiring voters.”

Did he not say within the same order that Scott “lacked authority to extend the deadline?” Detzner is an appointee of Scott, meaning he would have even less authority.

Had the FDP included the Florida Legislature as defendants, Walker’s statement would make more sense.

The purpose here is not to criticize Walker. Indeed, last year I praised this Barack Obama appointee’s restraint and deference to the Legislature in a case involving the Florida Education Association and teacher evaluations.

It is at this point that everyone should pause to remember those who have lost homes, livelihoods, perhaps even a loved one to Hurricane Matthew. To some of those, getting their lives back together is their highest priority right now. Others genuinely want to cast a ballot.

Matthew notwithstanding, the letter of the law reflects the peril of waiting too long to register. The law was passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor in good faith to help maintain some order, not keep anyone from voting.

To be fair, there were some silly steps taken in the past such as limiting the mechanism for early voting.

Judge Walker’s passion for going the extra mile for potential voters is noteworthy, but all too often the passion of judges far exceeds that of such “voters” themselves. There are those of us who believe judges should give due deference to state laws passed in good faith.

But thanks to Judge Walker, there is another week to register voters. Republicans have the same opportunity to add supporters as do Democrats.

That being said, voter registration should have ended on Oct. 11 as the duly-enacted law stipulated. Natural disaster clauses could have been implemented for future elections.

Now that all of this has been settled for this year, it is time to get back to attack ads and poll tracking.

Water rate hike approved for Pasco community, but with big string attached

State regulators approved a 5.5 percent increase in water rates Tuesday for residents of a Pasco County retirement community.

But Utilities Inc. of Florida can apply the new rates only after it switches from its own discolored, malodorous and nasty-tasting supply to cleaner county water.

The new rates will amount to $48,235 per year — an average $2 per customer per month — once the Florida Department of Environmental Protection finds that the water supply meets state and federal standards.

“We want to make sure they have clean water by Christmas,” Flip Mellinger, a utility administrator for Pasco County, said after the Public Service Commission voted for the rate increase.

The money will pay to connect the Summertree community to county water and retire utility company wells blamed for the substandard water. Residents said the problems have existed for decades — and that they pay a combined $1.5 million per year for water filtration and treatment and bottled water.

You can find the docket with background material here.

The transition faces hurdles — not least the condition of Utilities Inc.’s pipes, which may be significantly deteriorated and contaminated, Mellinger said. They still might carry contaminants into customers’ homes, and may not withstand the county’s higher water pressure.

Utility representatives wanted to begin charging the higher rate as soon as the connection is made, without regard to water quality. Attorney Martin Friedman saw “no need to delay implementation of the entire rate increase because of the water quality issue.”

But commission chairwoman Julie Immanuel Brown suggested the water-quality contingency “would be a sign of good faith,” and the board unanimously agreed.

Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, proposed an amendment this year to make it easier for public utilities to take over private monopolies through eminent domain, but ultimately withdrew it. Pasco County last year offered $2 million for the Summertree system.

Simpson told the commissioners he plans fresh legislation revamping regulation of private utilities, including the return on investment to which they are legally entitled. Utilities Inc. has secured multiple rate increases over the years, but the water quality remains poor, he said.

“That should not be legal in any state, for any monopoly or for any utility. You have to deliver what you promised,” Simpson said.

“Your hands are tied, but the Legislature’s are not. We are going to deal with this next year.”

Meanwhile, Utilities Inc. wants the commission to let it consolidate its Florida holdings under a single rate structure. Simpson was dubious of that proposition.

“You put all these organizations together, and they get so complex and so complicated that no one can every unravel them to deal with a certain unit. I don’t want to tell them how to run their business, but it has to protect the consumer,” he said.

“Private industry can do some things better than the government,” Simpson said. “This may not be one of them.”

FAIR names Jeff Atwater Florida’s ‘Consumer Champion’

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is the state’s “Consumer Champion” for 2016, an insurance industry watchdog organization announced this week, citing his support for legislative crackdowns on health and life insurers.

The Florida Association for Insurance Reform bestowed the accolade Thursday night during its annual awards ceremony.

The awards “recognize insurance and policy leaders whose work has made a meaningful difference in the lives of Floridians,” the group said.

“I believe that Floridians need strong representation when insurance issues are discussed, and it’s my privilege to go to bat for the people I’ve been elected to represent,” said Atwater, whose Department of Financial Services oversees the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

“I am honored to receive this award, and I thank the FAIR team for the work that they do on behalf of Florida’s more than 20 million residents,” he said.

FAIR cited Atwater’s successful push last year for legislation banning “balance” or “surprise” billing of patients by medical providers for out-of-network medical costs not covered by insurance.

Separate legislation addressed what FAIR called a “disturbing industrywide business practice that drastically reduced the number of life insurance policies that were paid out properly and in a timely manner.”

That last bill passed without a single dissenting vote.

FAIR bestowed its Outstanding Legislator Awards upon state Sens. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, and Maria Sachs, a Democrat from Delray Beach; and State Rep. Holly Raschein, a Republican from Key Largo.

Citizens Insurance fears being left in lurch during workers’ comp fight

Will next year’s legislative battle over workers’ compensation rates prove so all-consuming that other state priorities starve for attention?

Fears that it might emerged during the quarterly board meeting this week of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which wants the Legislature to clamp down on the assignment of benefits agreements blamed for driving up its own premiums.

“Workers compensation is such a huge issue, it’s going to take up a lot of the agenda,” said Barry Gilway, president of the state-owned property insurer of last resort.

“It’s going to chew up a lot of legislative focus. It’s going to be harder to get our issues acted upon in an environment where we can take the economy down.”

Gilway referred to the potential for job losses as businesses absorb the 14.5 percent workers compensation premium increase approved Tuesday by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. The increase applies to new and renewal policies; existing policies would absorb the shock as they come up for renewal during the next year.

The pain will extend throughout Florida’s economy.

“Everybody who earns a wage in this state has an employer who’s paying this,” Bill Herrle, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business in Florida, said Tuesday.

House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran said Citizens need not worry. “No one in the Legislature fails to fully comprehend the issues facing Citizens,” he said via email.

“We will address all issues facing Florida with equal vigor and thought,” Corcoran said. “Citizens’ issues with the Legislature in the past have been driven by their failure to comprehend the operation and need for robust free markets as well as failing to fully appreciate the needs of customers and the exposure of taxpayers.”

Business interests chiefly blame two Florida Supreme Court rulings that lifted both the cap on attorney fees in workers’ compensation cases and a 104-week statutory limit on temporary permanent disability benefits. That disappearing fee cap accounted for fully 10 percent of the 14.5 percent increase, according to state regulators.

Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce are leading efforts to undo the Supreme Court rulings when the Legislature next meets, setting up a conflict with the trial bar. Plaintiffs’ lawyers, in turn, insist attorney fees won’t add much to insurance costs in practice and prefer to see insurers dip into their surpluses.

Corcoran, too, blamed “judicial activism.”

“The premium increase announced yesterday clearly demonstrates that Florida has a serious problem,” he said “Namely, judges who don’t respect the separation of powers and the prerogative of elected bodies to set policy. I can say that there is a deep and broad appetite for reform in the House.”

Citizens has its own gripe with the trial bar, and it involves those assignment of benefits agreements, or AOBs, particularly involving non-weather-related water damage, such as from burst pipes.

These represent a way for homeowners to secure quicker repairs by assigning their insurance claims to third parties — chiefly, contractors.

But they drive litigation, according to Citizens. Nearly 88 percent of the AOB claims the insurer received this year have gone into litigation. That increased costs of resolving claims by 300 percent.

The problem is particularly acute in South Florida, where increased costs and decreased availability of private coverage is driving customers to Citizens, despite its efforts to shift policyholders into the private market.

Miami-Dade County alone accounts for 65 percent of the lawsuits filed against Citizens; add suits from Broward and Palm Beach counties, and the region accounted for 95 percent of Citizens’ caseload during the first seven months of this year. Look here for details.

Citizens losses from water-damage policies are projected to increase from $377 dollars per claim in 2011 to a projected $2,083 by this time next year.

Florida insurance regulators cited such data Sept. 18 in approving a 6.4 percent statewide average increase for Citizens policies next year.

“Were it not for water loss, more than two out of three Citizens homeowners’ policyholders would have seen a rate reduction in 2017,” the insurer said in a written statement Wednesday. “In contrast, Citizens’ 2017 approved rates will provide decreases to only 23,000 out of 142,000 homeowners’ multiperil policies.”

Citizens staff said 10 attorneys account for 57 percent of the litigation against it, mostly in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties.

And the plaintiffs’ side is not interested in working out amicable solutions.

“The contractors that are associated with these AOB claims are non-responsive — they’re not interested in settling claims,” chief of claims Jay Adams said. “They just want to move straight into litigation. When we try to negotiate and settle those claims pre-litigation, a lot of times, they don’t even return phone calls.”

Last year, he said, Citizens drew 650 lawsuits per month. This year, the number was 790 per month through July, 1, 153 in August, and 826 thus far in September.

“We’ve been waiting throughout 2016 to see whether we are seeing an anomaly in this increase in suit volume, or if this is a new trend,” Adams said. “Where we sit today, we believe it obviously to be a new trend.”

Citizens has been encouraging policyholders to call it first, before undertaking repairs. Additionally, the company wants the Legislature to impose new limits on these agreements.

Board member Don Glisson Jr. urged Citizens’ executives to recruit consumer organizations to the lobbying push. “They’ve got to wake up and realize they’re paying for this,” he said.

Gilway said his team is doing just that. He also noted support by South Florida newspapers for AOB reform. “It’s going to take a combination of all these groups to be heard sufficient to make changes in the Legislature,” he said.

Board member Gary Aubuchon agreed. Policyholders who signed AOBs frequently are “appalled by the absurd expenditures of the remission companies doing work beyond what’s needed to rectify the problem,” he said.

“If we can get some of these policyholders to the committee meetings in Tallahassee, that presumably would have a greater effect than the rest of us in suits making presentations.”

The insurer might even find support among the trial bar, board member James Holton suggested.

“I’m hearing from a lot of lawyers in Miami-Dade that the courts are being clogged up as a result of all the AOB litigation there,” Holton said.

“There is a division in their ranks, and a lot of people in the legal community perceive this cottage industry of the AOB lawyers as being really outliers,” he said. “The stars are aligning to take them on in the next session.”

Rick Scott, Legislature scolded over cuts to Enterprise Florida

One of Florida’s best-respected business leaders read Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature the riot act Tuesday over insufficient support for business development.

Charles Cobb Jr. was polite about it — courtly even — during an address to the Economic Club of Florida in Tallahassee.

But he was clear that the state’s leaders need to invest more in building Florida’s economy.

“For the Legislature to totally gut Rick Scott’s recommendation of $250 million for Enterprise Florida, I think, is not wise,” Cobb said.

“Many of these large incentives are questionable. I think we do not have a good enough read on investment analysis to know whether some of these incentives are good. But not funding Enterprise Florida is really wrong.”

Scaling back or eliminating the organization “would be very, very unwise,” he said.

Cobb is senior managing director and chief executive officer of Cobb Partners, an investment company. Previously, he occupied top posts at some of Florida’s most prestigious companies — including Disney Development Co. and Arvida Corp. He has served on the boards of directors of nine of the country’s largest corporations and as ambassador to Iceland under George H.W. Bush.

He’s been active in Florida’s economic development for decades, and during his speech recounted the somewhat bumpy history of those efforts. In biotech, for example, “a new industry has been created. New jobs have been created,” Cobb said.

A legislative initiative during the Charlie Christ administration, allowing the Florida pension fund to invest 1.5 percent of its assets in venture capital, Cobb deemed “a roaring success.” Florida has reaped an 11 percent compounded return, he said, plus 15,000 jobs paying an average $85,000.

“Florida is one of the leaders in biotech because of that initiative. In my judgment, it has to be expanded,” Cobb said.

“Florida has been blessed,” he said. “We’ve had really good governors — Republican and Democrat. We’ve had really good legislatures — Republican and Democrat. We’ve had really enlightened business leadership.”

Yet the state no long leads in economic development, Cobb said.

Scott’s No. 1 priority in office has been job creation. Cobb criticized the governor for vetoing a $100,000 appropriation that would have allowed Enterprise Florida to lobby foreign governments.

“There is going to be [business] consolidation in the Americas,” Cobb said. “And, right now, Panama City is ahead of Florida. Some other regions in this country — Atlanta and Houston — are more aggressive in that area than Florida.”

Enterprise Florida is the state’s public-private development agency and has become something of a political football of late. The Legislature this year quashed Scott’s push to secure $250 million for the organization; opponents called the effort corporate welfare.

Bill Johnson, the organization’s director, stepped down shortly after the end of Session, and Enterprise Florida slashed its budget. A search committee plans to select from among five finalists to replace him at the end of this month.

Cobb doubts whether Enterprise Florida can attract top talent given its resources and the salary on offer — in the low six digits, he said.

“In my judgment, we’re not going to get a superstar to really drive Florida forward with the budget that has been created,” he said.

Cobb was asked what he thought of Donald Trump’s pledge to impose punitive tariffs if elected president. “I think it’s a disaster. It’s just a disaster,” he said. “As is his policy on trying to punish our NATO allies.”

The United States is a trading power that has done well through trade agreements including NAFTA and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership — which Trump and Hillary Clinton both now oppose, he said.

“My judgment is that it’s bravado. Whenever President Trump or President Clinton gets into office, they’re going to recognize the reality,” Cobb said.

“I’ll bet anybody in the room whatever you want to bet: The Trans-Pacific Partnership will be approved, even though we have both presidents saying they’re against it. It’s so important.”

Florida universities may push for summer scholarships

Florida’s state university system may ask legislators to expand the state’s popular Bright Futures scholarship program to cover summer courses.

The Board of Governors plans to discuss this week whether to ask the Florida Legislature to set aside nearly $50 million so eligible students can use the scholarship for classes taken during the summer terms. Currently, Bright Futures scholarships can only be used during the fall and spring semesters.

Gov. Rick Scott has previously advocated for expanding the program to summer classes but legislators have been unwilling to go along with the idea.

A presentation prepared by state university system officials says that expanding the scholarships could help students graduate faster and improve the state’s overall college graduation rate.

The Board of Governors is meeting Wednesday and Thursday in Sarasota.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Lawmakers get grim budget news for next year

Florida is likely to basically break even next year in terms of its state budget, lawmakers heard Monday.

The Joint Legislative Budget Commission met in the Capitol to hear the latest financial outlook for 2017-18: Present income and outgo estimates leave Florida with a relatively scant $7.5 million left over out of about $32.2 billion in available revenue.

The current year’s budget is roughly $82 billion, for example, after Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a total of $256 million in spending. Roughly two-thirds of the yearly budget goes toward health care and education.

After the meeting, Republican lawmakers stressed the state didn’t have a revenue shortage, it had a spending problem, painting a picture of government profligacy.

But, since the GOP has controlled the Legislature for nearly two decades, it’s a picture they’re prominently featured in.

House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran said education and health care spending won’t be immune to cuts next year.

“If you’re asking me, do I think we are misspending or wasting money, or not getting an efficient return from money that’s spent on 70 percent of our budget, the answer is yes,” he said. “Every single government person comes up here and spends money like a teenager in the mall for the first time with a credit card. We’ve got to start cutting up the credit card.”

But first on the chopping block, Corcoran suggested, was Enterprise Florida (EFI), the state’s public-private economic development organization. It got $23.5 million for operations, marketing and other initiatives in the 2016-17 state budget.

“Spending money on economic development is a bad idea,” the Land O’ Lakes Republican said. Lawmakers this year did reject Scott’s request for a $250 million incentives fund to be administered by Enterprise Florida.

When asked whether the organization needed to be dissolved, he said: “I think that’s definitely a discussion that’s going to take place this coming session.

“But you have to understand, over the last umpteen (years), EFI has been in the acquisition of power,” he quickly added. “There’s lots that has been put into EFI that doesn’t belong in EFI that probably still has a function that the state would want to keep.”

“Enterprise Florida is committed to ensuring every Floridian has access to a quality job,” spokesman Mike Grissom said in an email. “We will continue to work until we have accomplished that goal.”

Corcoran, who was House Appropriations chair the last two sessions, said “unequivocally, there are tons of things in the budget that need to be cut, should be cut, and will be cut.” He didn’t offer specific proposals.

State Sen. Tom Lee, the Brandon Republican who chaired the Senate Appropriations committee, cautioned that the numbers were preliminary and could change.

Chief legislative economist Amy Baker, however, earlier told the panel the current forecast “could be the good news” and later outlooks “may not be this good.”

“It’s very clear … spending levels in this Legislature are just not sustainable,” said Lee, who will be succeeded as Senate budget chief by Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican.

“We are, by every economic metric, growing and growing very well … unemployment is down, there’s wage growth, sales tax is up … we’re just struggling to balance our spending with those revenue streams,” Lee said.

Expert witness standard takes center stage at Florida Supreme Court

The Florida Bar squared off Thursday against a coalition of corporate and criminal defense lawyers over a change to the state’s expert witness standard.

The Florida Supreme Court heard more than an hour of argument on whether to adopt a change to evidence law that lawmakers passed in 2013. The Bar is against it; defense counsel supports it.

The switch would align Florida’s courts with the federal system. The federal courts now follow a stricter standard of allowing certain scientific expert testimony, known as the Daubert standard.

It usually requires a sort of “mini-trial” before a judge decides whether an expert can appear in front of jurors. Most other states also use Daubert.

Florida, however, historically has used the less restrictive Frye standard, which gauges whether expert testimony is “generally accepted” in a particular scientific community. Both standards are named after court cases.

It’s generally considered easier for plaintiffs to get damaging expert testimony before a jury under Frye, and much harder to do so under Daubert, which is seen as more defense-friendly. Republican Gov. Rick Scott and conservative lawmakers favor the move to Daubert.

But Thursday’s argument added the wrinkle of criminal cases, where Daubert might help defendants’ lawyers hold police crime labs more accountable, in cases involving drug-sniffing dogs and testing for arson, for example.

Overall, “the idea is to keep expert testimony that is not based in knowledge out of courts,” said attorney Stephen Mahle, arguing for Daubert. “Jurors are wonderful contributions to our system of justice, but you’ve got experts that make millions of dollars a year convincing jurors of things that may or may not be true.”

He used the example of jurors interviewed after the O.J. Simpson murder trial who said Dr. Henry Lee, a renowned forensic scientist, came off as credible because he “looked over and smiled at us every day.”

But John W. Hogan, representing the Bar, told the justices the question was whether they “should not trust jurors to be able to distinguish between the testimony of a variety of experts that over the years (have been) permitted” to testify. The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors voted to recommend against the change. 

Those pushing the Daubert standard want to try “to keep juries from doing what juries are, by Constitution, supposed to do,” that is, evaluate any witness testimony for themselves, and instead are “suggesting that individual trial judges … are better able to make that kind of determination. They don’t have the time and they don’t have the resources.”

The court heard the case in part because of a question over whether changing the expert testimony rule is substantive or procedural.

The Supreme Court may periodically consider “whether to adopt, to the extent they are procedural, the Legislature’s changes to the Evidence Code,” according to the state Constitution, It gives lawmakers sway over substance and the Florida Supreme Court authority over procedure.

State Rep. Larry Metz, who sponsored the law that included the Frye-to-Daubert swap, told the court the change “gets to the fundamental purpose of courts,” having “a greater standard of reliability so we can get to the truth in cases.”

The Yalaha Republican, who chairs the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, said that includes criminal cases in which defendants need to challenge flawed scientific evidence that could otherwise result in wrongful convictions.

Plaintiff’s attorney Howard C. Coker said Daubert hearings are burdening federal judges — “they’re breaking at the seams” — and causing extra attorney’s bills to clients.

Justice Barbara Pariente asked if Daubert was being misused to keep out, for instance, ordinary medical testimony in a personal injury case.

Coker suggested it was, saying it’s being used as “a tactical tool … used to challenge causation in the simplest of cases,” though he didn’t mention specific cases.

But Pariente also said it was up to trial judges to call balls and strikes on lawyers’ invoking the use of the Daubert standard. And when lawyers abuse the process, judges can and should sanction them, she added.

As usual, the court did not set a timeframe on when they would rule.

Greyhound racing reform group endorses in Florida primaries

A group trying to reform — and eventually end — greyhound racing in Florida has announced several endorsements in the upcoming Aug. 30 Florida Legislature primary, including five Republicans and four Democrats.

Grey2K USA Worldwide helped fund and promote efforts to get a greyhound protection measure on the Seminole County ballot and has been trying for years to get similar measures through the Florida Legislature.

“We need lawmakers who care about this issue and understand this issue in Tallahassee,” Grey2K USA Executive Director Carey Theil said.

The group’s endorsements include Republicans state Rep. Marlene O’Toole, who is running for the Senate District 12 seat in The Villages; state Rep. Dana Young, who is running in SD 18 in Tampa; state Rep. Matt Hudson, who is running in SD 28 in Naples; state Rep. Paul Renner, who is running for re-election in House District 24; and Randy Fine, who is running HD 53 in Palm Bay.

Democrats endorsed are state Rep. Darryl Rouson, who is running for re-election in HD 19 in St. Petersburg; Alex Barrio, who is running in HD 48 in Orlando; Carlos Guillermo Smith, who is running in HD 49 in Orlando; and David Silver, who is running in HD 87 in West Palm Beach.

“When I was a legislative analyst I followed this issue closely, including the injury reporting bill and decoupling legislation. Injury reporting passed but decoupling legislation still has not. I am staunchly opposed to expanded gambling and would love to see it pulled back, especially if it meant saving the lives of dogs,” Barrio stated. “Dog racing is a cruel, inhumane practice and I want to to see it end. Grey2K knows that I can be and want to be a champion for their issues.”

Rick Scott updates lawmakers on Zika outbreak

Gov. Rick Scott told state lawmakers Friday he will continue to take steps to protect its residents and visitors from the Zika virus, but said he was unsure whether their federal counterparts would step up to the plate.

The Naples Republican updated lawmakers on the Zika crisis during a conference call Friday. During the 20-minute call, Scott told lawmakers what the state is doing to combat the spread of the virus and what they can do to help.

The call comes one week after Scott announced the first cases of locally acquired Zika virus were discovered in Florida. The virus is believed to have been transmitted in the Wynwood neighborhood, a trendy arts district in Miami.

Scott visited the area Thursday, and said the state was able to clear a 10-block area in the northwest corner of the zone. The state Department of Health, he said, determined there was no local transmission occurring in the area.

In June, the governor used his executive authority to allocate $26.2 million in state funds for Zika preparedness, prevention and response. The money was to be used for mosquito surveillance and abatement, training mosquito control technicians, and purchasing more prevention kits from the CDC.

But that isn’t enough, and Scott said President Barack Obama and Congress must provide more money to Florida. The president has said he would send $5.6 million to Florida to help combat the spread.

The Senate failed to act on a $1.1 billion Zika spending plan before they left for their summer recess. Senate Democrats blocked the House-approved bill, which, among other things, included provisions to defund Planned Parenthood in Puerto Rico.

“We don’t know if the federal government will be our partner and provide the resources they should,” said Scott. “We’re going to do everything we can to keep (residents and visitors) safe.”

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