Kathy Castor Archives - Page 5 of 27 - Florida Politics

Marco Rubio latest lawmaker to call for the EPA to investigate St. Petersburg sewage issue

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio is the most latest Florida lawmaker calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate St. Petersburg’s sewage crisis.

“It is important that residents know if their City leadership turned a blind eye towards the inevitability of a sewage spill at the cost of the local waterways and beaches,” Rubio writes in a letter penned to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “I welcome the EPA’s immediate assistance into this matter, and stand ready to work with you to fix these problems.”

The aftermath of the result of more than 150 million gallons of partially treated sewage and wastewater that was discharged into Boca Ceiga Bay and Tampa Bay from Hurricane Hermine has become a huge political issue for Mayor Rick Kriseman and his administration in the past week. Rubio’s entreaty to the EPA is following similar requests made by Tampa Bay area Congress members David Jolly and Kathy Castor. On Wednesday, Governor Rick Scott  ordered the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to investigate.

In his letter, Rubio references the comments made last week by Craven R. Askew, the chief plant operator at St. Petersburg’s Northeast wastewater treatment facility, who told city officials that a consultant’s report from 2014 stated that that sewage dumps and spills were possible if the city shut down the Albert Whitted sewer plant, which happened in 2015.

Kriseman says he never saw the report, and has called for an investigation to determine why.

On Wednesday, the mayor put two top city wastewater officials who were involved in the closure of the Albert Whitted plant on unpaid leave. One of them, engineering director Tom Gibson, signed the task order for that consultant’s report, the Tampa Bay Times reported on Thursday.

Rubio, a Republican running for re-election to the U.S. Senate this November against Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy, also questions the transparency of the Kriseman administration in his letter.

“It is troubling that the City itself cannot agree on what was contained in the sewage released, and this begs the question of whether this was a factor in City officials’ decision not to tell the public about the release until five days after it occurred,” Rubio writes. In fact, a whistleblower, Mr. Craven Askew, claims the City was aware a sewage spill could happen and did nothing to halt the release.  It is my understanding that previous spills in 2015 and 2016 were conveyed by consultants to the City as early as 2014, and that City leadership chose not to act and instead moved forward with closing the Albert Whitted Water Reclamation Facility even after being advised against it.  It is important that residents know if their City leadership turned a blind eye towards the inevitability of a sewage spill at the cost of the local waterways and beaches.”

The full text of Rubio’s letter can be read below:

The Honorable Gina McCarthy

Administrator

Environmental Protection Agency

1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, DC 20460

September 21, 2016

Dear Administrator McCarthy,

As Hurricane Hermine moved through the Tampa Bay region, it left in its wake an environmental issue that appears to have been wholly preventable and, as recently reported in a whistleblower complaint, should have been foreseen and dealt with a number of years ago.  Although the State of Florida is currently investigating the situation, I request the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assist the State of Florida in assessing this spill brought on by the City of St. Petersburg.

According to recent reports, the City of St. Petersburg released about 151 million gallons of raw and partially-treated sewage into Tampa and Boca Ciega Bays.  The exact amount of the release is actually unknown due to a broken flow meter out of the wastewater treatment plant.  The sewage release occurred after the City’s wastewater treatment plants were overwhelmed during Hurricane Hermine, a result of the City’s decision to close one of its plants in 2015.  I believe the residents of Pinellas County deserve to know what, and how much, was released into their waterways and how it may affect the water quality in the area.

It is troubling that the City itself cannot agree on what was contained in the sewage released, and this begs the question of whether this was a factor in City officials’ decision not to tell the public about the release until five days after it occurred.  In fact, a whistleblower, Mr. Craven Askew, claims the City was aware a sewage spill could happen and did nothing to halt the release.  It is my understanding that previous spills in 2015 and 2016 were conveyed by consultants to the City as early as 2014, and that City leadership chose not to act and instead moved forward with closing the Albert Whitted Water Reclamation Facility even after being advised against it.  It is important that residents know if their City leadership turned a blind eye towards the inevitability of a sewage spill at the cost of the local waterways and beaches.

Tampa Bay’s waters are a cherished and economically fruitful ecosystem.  I am concerned its rebounded sea grasses will suffer now and into the future, especially because we are not yet done with the current hurricane season and another storm could yield another disturbing spillage.  For these reasons, I welcome the EPA’s immediate assistance into this matter, and stand ready to work with you to fix these problems.

Respectfully,

Marco Rubio

U.S. Senator

 

Mitch Perry Report for 9.22.16 – The fire down below

In Charlotte last night, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory called for a state of emergency a night after violence escalated as residents continued to protest the fatal shooting of a black man by a police officer a day prior.

While in Tulsa, the Dept. of Justice is investigating officer Betty Shelby’s use of force in the shooting death of  40-year-old unarmed black man Terence Crutcher on Friday night.

Meanwhile, what about the shooting death of that unarmed black man in our neck of the woods that caused more than a week’s worth of civic unrest?

To remind you, Hillsborough County SWAT Deputy Caleb Johnson shot and killed 22-year-old Levonia Riggins while helping serve a search warrant on his home. Johnson has said that he thought that Riggins was motioning towards his waistband when he was apprehended in his bedroom, and fearing that Riggins was reaching for a weapon, shot him dead.

Like a similar incident that occurred in Seminole Heights a couple of years ago with the Tampa Police Dept., a lot of people have been wondering why law enforcement would send in a SWAT team to apprehend a low-level drug dealer (Riggins had reportedly sold pot on two occasions to from undercover Hillsborough sheriff’s detectives).

Well, presumably we have our reason now, as the Tampa Bay Times Dan Sullivan reported earlier this week that when detectives drafted an application for a search warrant of Riggins’ home last month, they learned of a 2015 incident in which guns were found on Riggins property.

I still don’t get how that justified bringing a SWAT team in to bust a man who had twice sold undercover deputies marijuana. Obviously I’m missing something, because I don’t get that at all. Wondering if that happens in other parts of town where law enforcement is aware of someone selling pot?

Of course, when it comes to pot, Hillsborough County law enforcement seems to be behind the curve in addressing the issue. After months of criticism for not following in Tampa’s path when it comes to decriminalizing those arrested with marijuana , the Sheriffs Department announced last month that they’ve begun a year-long pilot program with other local agencies that will offer an alternative to arrest for first-time offenders caught with marijuana between the ages of 8 to 17.

Meanwhile, the Riggins shooting is being investigated by  Sarasota State Attorney Ed Brodsky.

In other news..

We’ve got specific dates when the “Cross-Bay Ferry” running from Tampa to St. Pete will begin their daily runs.

Kathy Castor signs on to bipartisan legislation calling for drug price transparency.

Gwen Graham wants to know when the Florida DEP began contacting local residents about that Mosaic toxic sinkhole spill last month.

And an environmental group is trying to tie Mosaic’s issues with Representative Dana Young, the Tampa Republican running for the state Senate District 18 seat this November.

Vern Buchanan’s bill to Florida orange farms contending with citrus greening has passed the House of Representatives. 

Kathy Castor signs on to bipartisan legislation calling for drug price transparency

Tampa Bay-area Congresswoman Kathy Castor is the latest Democrat to sign on to bipartisan legislation that addresses skyrocketing prescription drug price increases.

On Tuesday, the Tampa Representative announced she was co-sponsoring the FAIR Drug Pricing Actwould require manufacturers who increase the price of a drug by more than ten percent a year to disclose the information behind that decision to taxpayers, including their spending on research and development, as well as advertising and marketing.

“We must work to ensure that lifesaving treatments are never out of reach for all of our neighbors and especially our most vulnerable,” Castor said. “U.S. prescription drug spending has already reached a record high of $425 billion in 2015, with expectations that such spending will surpass $600 billion by 2020. The ‘hands off’ approach in the Republican-led Congress has allowed pharmaceutical corporations to stick it to consumers, and that must stop. ”

How bad his the problem become? Thirty-two percent of adults over 50 fail to renew a prescription primarily because of cost, according to a survey by the AARP. A recent study of about 3,000 brand-name prescription drugs found that prices more than doubled for 60 and at least quadrupled for 20 since December 2014, Bloomberg News reported in February.

The legislation would also require drug manufacturers to notify the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and submit a transparency and justification report 30 days before they increase the price of certain drug products by more than 10 percent.

Last week, Castor called for a hearing on the rising cost of EpiPen, calling the hike from $100 in 2007 to today’s price of more than $600 “unconscionable” and a “prime example of unseemly profiteering.” She also stated, “We must bring transparency and accountability to the issue by holding a hearing in our committee and working to ensure that all Americans have access to this lifesaving treatment at an affordable cost.” ‎

The Senate Homeland Security subcommittee on investigations announced last week that it opened an inquiry into the pricing of the EpiPen, which stops allergic reactions by injecting epinephrine into the body. Heather Bresch, the CEO of Mylan, which makes the EpiPen, is scheduled to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday at a hearing called by Republicans and Democrats on the panel.

“Like many Americans, far too many Arizonans have been unfairly burdened by the rising costs of prescription medication,” said Senator John McCain last week in announcing his sponsorship of the bill in the Senate, alongside Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin. “The American people should not be forced to choose between filling a prescription or making their monthly mortgage payment. This legislation would bring much-needed transparency to prescription drug prices — a policy that 8 in 10 Americans support, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Transparency leads to accountability, and it is past time that mantra applied to the skyrocketing cost of prescription medication.

Supporting the legislation is The Medicare Rights Center, Consumers Union, Doctors for America: Drug Price, Value, and Affordability Campaign, Families USA and the Center for Medicare Advocacy, Inc. and Public Citizen.

Mitch Perry Report for 9.20.16 — Rick Kriseman works on turning it around

David Jolly seemed to take particular relish in last night’s debate, after Charlie Crist attacked him for being unresponsive to asking for federal help for St. Petersburg’s sewage problems post-Hurricane Hermine.

“Because the mayor who’s endorsed you who oversaw this catastrophe did not ask for it,” Jolly responded, which received a loud cheer from the crowd, which seemed evenly split among Jolly and Crist supporters.

It’s undoubtedly true the recent issues with sewage have become Mayor Rick Kriseman’s biggest challenge to date since he was elected 34 months ago to become the leader of St. Petersburg. Although many of the infrastructure issues preceded him into office, his failure to publicly disclose the fact that 58 million gallons of mostly treated wastewater out of the Northwest sewage plant has been his worse offense. And now he vows to do better.

“While we provided notification, future notification will be more robust without creating unnecessary alarm,” the mayor writes in an op-ed in Tuesday’s Tampa Bay Times.

“Another short-term goal is to give our residents ample opportunity to learn about our system and plans for the future,” Kriseman adds. “In the coming weeks and months, our public works administration will literally and figuratively open their doors. A public information session will be held so that residents are as aware of our infrastructure upgrades as they are about other, more flashy, endeavors. We also intend to welcome the community into our facilities to meet our team members, take a tour, and learn more about our operations. It may be a little smelly, but it’s a fascinating process and, along with public safety, a top priority.”

Kriseman is doing the right thing now. He’s also called for an investigation to determine why he wasn’t shown a consultant’s report warning that closing down the Albert Whitted Water treatment plant was the wrong way to go. Kriseman ordered the investigation immediately after the consultant, Craven Askew, came forward late last week.

There’s no doubt the mayor’s critics have exploited his miscues in handling this crisis, but that’s politics in the big city — especially when it comes to weather events. Or aren’t you familiar with how Ed Koch, Michael Bloomberg, and Bill deBlasio have had to do with how they handled the act of shoveling snow?

No doubt the mayor may be raked over the coals as both the local legislative delegation and the city council address the issue this week, but it need not be a fatal blow. It’s just time for that much-vaunted government term “transparency” to be employed “robustly” at 175 Fifth Street North.

In other news …

As mentioned above, David Jolly and Charlie Crist had at each other in a live, one-hour televised CD 13 debate Monday night at the Palladium Theatre in St. Pete.

Patrick Murphy came to West Tampa Monday, where he hoped to continue to build up his name ID with the Latino vote.

Kathy Castor is taking Dr. Samuel Wright to be her guest at the opening of the  National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. this weekend.

HART board member Kathleen Shanahan is calling for the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission to be abolished.

Kathy Castor warns of ‘Alt-Right’ surge in hailing opening of African-American history museum this week

This coming Saturday morning, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. will open to the world, and Tampa area Congresswoman Kathy Castor said Monday that Dr. Samuel Wright will be her special guest at the opening ceremonies. Until he retired in 2013 after 27 years, Wright served as associate dean of student and parent relations, director of multicultural affairs, and student ombudsman at the University of South Florida, where he also taught as an adjunct professor in its Department of Africana Studies.

“This is going to be a remarkable moment,” Castor said at a news conference Monday morning at the Robert W. Saunders, Sr. Public Library in Tampa. The library, which opened last year, contains a historical archive of the black Central Avenue district in Tampa before integration took hold.

Carrie Hurst, principal librarian and branch manager of the library, said that in association with the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the Saunders Library will host a live watch party of the opening of the museum this Saturday morning at 10 a.m.

The Smithsonian’s new museum — the last to be built on the National Mall — follows the African-American experience through slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights era. Castor said its opening comes at a unique time in our country’s history, specifically mentioning the “alt-right,” the political movement that has become increasingly tied to the Donald Trump campaign.

“There is a kind of a new wave of racism in this country,” the Tampa Democrat told reporters, as she was flanked by Wright and Hurst. “Something is going on that has made it acceptable to lash out at your neighbors who are different than you are, whether it’s how they look, or their religion, or where they come from.”

The congresswoman went on to say that while Americans have much more in common that in what divides them, something is happening this year to disrupt racial relations.

“The rise of the alt-right movement — which is really a term of white supremacy — and we’ve all got to work together to battle back and say,’that’s not OK, it’s not acceptable to condemn your neighbor because they’re different than you,'” Castor said.

The 63-year-old Wright says there’s been tremendous progress in civil rights, but thinks it’s been stalled in recent years, citing what he said was the lack of respect that Barack Obama has received as president. “Is that because of color? I think those are the things that we have to give consideration to,” he said.

And Wright said the opening of the new Smithsonian is important for everyone, but especially for our youth. “It’s important for our young people to understand, many people had to pay a great price for the freedom in America, and you have to understand the importance of voting,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to understand your history, to be able to appreciate all these things.”

Although admission to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture will be free, Castor said that members of the public are asked to register with the museum in advance so they can be given a specific time to visit. She advises those considering visiting the museum in its first few months to contact her office if they need help in getting that scheduled time.

“There are going to be displays inside that are going to be uncomfortable,” she warned. “A KKK robe, shackles from the era of slavery. Some of this is going to be very difficult, and I understand there’s signage that warns people about how harsh it can be. But this is an important chapter of American history, it explains in a lot of ways why we still must focus on fighting for equal rights all across this country.”

Bob Buesing says he’s a better fit for Senate District 18

Bob Buesing says, based on the issues, he’s a better fit for those who reside in the newly created state Senate District 18 in Hillsborough County.

Senate District 18 is considered a swing district that leans Democratic, and was created out of the Supreme Court-mandated redistricting of all Senate districts last year.

“Let’s have conversations in a general election in front of all the electorate, instead of just the closed primaries in gerrymandered districts. That’s healthier for the state,” Buesing said in praising the 2010 Fair Districts Amendments, which ultimately led to the newly drawn up Senate districts in 2015.

In an appearance at the weekly “Cafe Con Tampa” series at Hugo’s Restaurant in South Tampa, Buesing laid out his ideological differences with Republican Dana Young, and said her views are out of the mainstream of the district.

“I believe I represent the commonsense, moderate values of this district,” he said. “My opponent, I believe, represents extreme values that are not consistent with this district.”

To back up his point, he mentioned Young’s support for the two major gun bills that were thwarted in the Senate last session — one allowing guns on Florida colleges and universities, the other allowing for the open carry of firearms.

Like most Florida Democrats, Buesing supports expanding Medicaid, and chastised Young for opposing that proposal in recent years. Buesing mentioned how the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Medical Association and various other advocacy groups also support Medicaid expansion.

“So everybody’s in favor of it, you’d think, but not my opponent. And that decision alone is part of the motivation of me running,” he said.

Buesing also chided Young for supporting a bill (HB 191) in the Florida House that authorized hydraulic fracking, and also prevented local governments from banning the controversial practice (the bill failed in the Senate). “I think that’s dead wrong,” Buesing said. “My opponent and I have a complete disagreement on that. I think local control of that type of decision … we should get to judge this.”

The 61-year-old Buesing has been an attorney and advocate of early childhood learning for a long time in Tampa, but he said it was only after local Democrats asked him to consider running for the newly created Senate District 18 seat that he thought of becoming a lawmaker in Tallahassee.

Former state Sen. Sam Bell was the first to ask him, he said, followed by Betty Castor, Kathy Castor, Jim Davis, and Alex Sink. “I surrender,” he joked about succumbing to the world of politics.

To the casual observer, Young would seem to be the favorite in the race, with her considerable financial resources and her higher name recognition factor, since she’s been on the ballot in HD 60 (whose lines are similar to SD 18 in South Tampa and western Hillsborough County) three previous times. But Buesing says, actually, her name recognition is not that formidable, saying an internal poll his campaign conducted early on gave her only 11 percent name recognition, versus his nine percent.

Buesing attributed that low number to the fact that after Young defeated the late Stacy Frank in 2010, the Democrats haven’t fielded a candidate against her in the past two election cycles, generating less news about her.

“The way a less-funded candidate beats a better-funded candidate is grassroots, walking, by presenting something different … and in my case, emphasizing the clear differences that we have on some of these critical issues. I think I’m a better match for the district.”

The Young campaign did not return our request for comment.

Officials with “Cafe Con Tampa” say they are working on having Young speak before the group sometime before the Nov. 8 election.

 

Mitch Perry Report for 9.9.16 — Will we see more NFL protests on 9/11?

Good morning, and welcome to the upcoming 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, which will be observed in America at the same time the National Football League kicks off its regular season on Sunday.

Technically the season began last night, with a rematch of Super Bowl 50 in Denver, where the Broncos defeated Cam Newton‘s Carolina Panthers, 21-20.

Incidentally, Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall knelt in protest during the national anthem, following the lead of his college teammate Colin Kaepernick, whose refusal to stand for the anthem triggered a national controversy and discussion (you can hear The Nation magazine’s Dave Zirin‘s take on my radio show by listening here).

So, who do you like this year? We’re writing here in the Cigar City, where there are actually high expectations that the Buccaneers, under new coach Dirk Koetter and second-year star quarterback Jameis Winston, can get a winning season under their belt. The team was 6-6 last year in Winston’s outstanding rookie season, before completely collapsing in December, finishing 6-10.

Some people think Jacksonville will be improved, but like my Oakland Raiders (another sexy pick to be a surprise team), until it happens, be skeptical. Very skeptical.

And then you have the Miami Dolphins, who were hailed last summer as the next up-and-coming team, before they crapped out at 6-10.

By the way, one of the negative things as a football fan living in Tampa is how many unattractive Dolphin and Jaguar games are televised in this market by CBS, though actually it is nice that the Dolphin-Seattle Seahawk game will be shown locally here at 4:05 p.m. on Sunday.

And what about the Seahawks, who some experts believe are poised for a return to the Super Bowl? Several Seahawk players say they may “do a Kaepernick” and refuse to stand during the anthem on Sunday — again on the anniversary of 9/11.

Then again, the Hawks are coached by Pete Carroll, who has been called a “9-11 truther.”

In other news …

A Quinnipiac poll released Thursday shows a dead heat between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in Florida. 

Clinton endorsed Patrick Murphy for Senate, which shouldn’t be news, but was.

David Jolly goes up on the air with a bit of an unconventional television ad featuring himself with his dog.

Jolly is accusing Charlie Crist of making another misstatement regarding his congressional record.

Tampa Firefighters are backing Eric Seidel for Hillsborough clerk of the courts.

Florida Conservation Voters is backing Bob Buesing in the Senate District 18 race.

Kathy Castor files a bill to address the FDA regulation preventing Tampa companies from sending cigars overseas to U.S. troops.

David Jolly accuses Charlie Crist of lying about his stance on student debt

For the second time in a little over a week, the David Jolly campaign is accusing Charlie Crist of lying about Jolly’s record.

At issue on Thursday was a tweet by Crist, in which he said Jolly opposed the refinancing of student debt.

Not true, countered the Jolly campaign. They responded by providing a link to a videotape of Jolly’s debate against Alan Grayson April 25, where he said, “There are some simple things we can do right now by allowing student loans to be refinanced, by making them eligible for reorganization in bankruptcy cases — those are two initiatives I have supported …”

Jolly added he would also like to create additional flexibility for accelerating and expanding Pell Grants, and would also like to tie the performance of longterm student loans to what the universities receive in federal funding.

Jolly is also one of just two Republican co-sponsors on a bill (H.R. 449) that would make student loan debt eligible for reorganization in bankruptcy and other relief provisions. Congresswoman Kathy Castor is a co-sponsor of the same bill.

Jolly does not support the “Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act” (SB 2432) first introduced in the Senate by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2014. The bill has more than 170 co-sponsors, including Castor.

“Then why hasn’t he co-sponsored the bill?” Crist spokesman Kevin Cate responded. “Actions speak louder than words.” The Crist camp also says they’d like to know any other examples in which Jolly has come out in support of refinancing student debt.

According to the Jolly campaign, this is Crist’s second misstatement, or lie, of the campaign. On Election Night last week, Crist said Jolly was supporting Donald Trump‘s agenda. The Jolly camp took offense to that, saying the GOP congressman has not endorsed Trump for president.

The Crist campaign responds their candidate never said Jolly had endorsed Trump, but that he supported Trump’s agenda.

“This Republican primary season has been pretty frightening,” Crist said in that statement. “It saddens me to think that anyone who supports Donald Trump’s agenda could ever represent Pinellas County. And I look forward to sharing our vision for seniors, veterans, women, students, and our environment in the weeks ahead.”

 

Kathy Castor files bill to restore charitable contributions of premium cigars to U.S. troops

Hillsborough County Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor has filed legislation to reinstate the tradition of donating cigars to U.S. military members who are deployed overseas.

The bill, titled “Restore Charitable Contributions of Premium Cigars to the Troops Act,” is a response to regulations on cigars, e-cigarettes and other products that took effect Aug. 8. Those regulations also include what has been understood to be a ban on the charitable donation of tobacco products.

Two weeks ago, the Tampa Bay Times reported the new regulations had prompted Tampa cigar retailers like J.C. Newman and Thompson Cigar to stop donating their products to U.S. troops based overseas, which led Castor to promise to take action when she returned to Washington after the congressional summer break.

“Charitable contributions of traditional, premium cigars to members of the U.S. Armed Forces — a time-honored tradition that dates back to World War I — were recently swept up and disallowed in the Food and Drug Administration’s regulation of a broad range of tobacco products that took effect Aug. 8,” Castor said in a statement Thursday.

“I strongly disagree with the FDA’s ban on premium cigars as charitable gifts to our troops and as donations to nonprofit organizations that in turn use these donations to support our troops.”

Castor also says she supports the Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act, which would exempt individually rolled, premium cigars from regulation by FDA because, unlike other tobacco products brought under the jurisdiction of FDA by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, premium cigars are not marketed to children.

One of those affected by the new regulations was Mark Van Trees of Support the Troops, a Wesley Chapel-based organization that sends items like toiletries and snacks to troops overseas.

“We are the Cigar Capital and cigars are the second-most-requested item by our deployed troops,” said Van Trees, who now only has about a two-month supply to fulfill the 40-pound care packages the organization sends out every day to troops located where they can’t otherwise obtain cigars. “It’s a small way we can show our troops that we’re still thinking about them.

“It’s a nice release, and we receive thank-you letters and pictures.”

Patrick Murphy and David Jolly ask Congressional leaders to pass Zika funding bill now

After an eight-week break, Congress has returned to Washington this week, and the matter mostly on the minds of Florida’s delegation is to somehow finding a way to break the logjam regarding funding for the Zika virus.

On Wednesday, Jupiter Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy and Pinellas County Republican Congressman David Jolly penned a letter to the leaders in the House and Senate — Speaker Paul Ryan, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid — calling on them to take immediate action to pass emergency funding to combat the Zika virus.

“Seven months have passed since the administration submitted its $1.9 billion request for Zika response efforts, and nearly four months since initial legislative action in the House. Emergency funding is needed now for vital vaccine research and diagnostic development, mosquito surveillance and control efforts, and education initiatives to warn of the serious risk the virus poses, particularly for fetal development in pregnant women,” the authors wrote in the letter, which also was signed by Democrats Kathy Castor, Gwen Graham, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch as well as Republicans Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, Carlos Curbelo, and Dennis Ross.  

“With federal funding for Zika response set to expire at the end of the fiscal year, Congress’ continued failure to act will halt federally funded vaccine research, mosquito control, testing, and surveillance.”

The inability of Congress to come up with funding plan that pleases both sides of the aisle is clearly becoming a problem here in Florida. Eight days ago, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned that federal funds to fight the Zika virus were nearly exhausted, and that if Congress did not replenish them soon, there would be no money to fight a new outbreak. Frieden said that the CDC had spent $194 million of the $222 million it was allocated to fight the virus.

“As Floridians we are proud of our beautiful tropical community, but Zika has the potential to pose a public health crisis that could threaten our tourism industry and impact the well-being of our friends, families and neighbors,” said Jolly. “It is time to pass a comprehensive bipartisan funding package that will give health officials what they need to protect Floridians and others from the spread of Zika before this threat becomes a crisis.”

“It is clear to us in Florida that Zika is not a partisan issue — it’s about protecting our families and our children,” Murphy said in a statement. “As the number of Zika cases across the nation continues to grow, including more than 50 local transmissions in Florida alone, this prolonged inaction is unacceptable. We hope Congress will come together to take immediate action on a clean funding bill to provide the critical resources needed for this fight.”

But it certainly seemed partisan when it comes to Murphy arguing with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio about Zika funding. On Tuesday, the two U.S. Senate candidates feuded about who was more culpable for the fact that a legislation package hasn’t been funded. Murphy said Rubio should be working harder to convince his party’s leadership to put reasonable legislation before lawmakers. Rubio says Murphy should have voted for previous bills that included Zika funding.

Here’s the letter in full:

September 8, 2016

Dear Speaker Ryan, Leader Pelosi, Leader McConnell, and Leader Reid:

As Members of the Florida delegation, it is our hope that Congress take immediate action to pass emergency funding to combat the Zika virus.

Seven months have passed since the Administration submitted its $1.9 billion request for Zika response efforts, and nearly four months since initial legislative action in the House.  Emergency funding is needed now for vital vaccine research and diagnostic development, mosquito surveillance and control efforts, and education initiatives to warn of the serious risk the virus poses, particularly for fetal development in pregnant women.

In that time, the virus has taken hold in the continental United States, hitting our home state of Florida especially hard.  To date, more than 16,000 Americans have been infected with the Zika virus, of which more than 1,600 are pregnant women.   The spread of this disease has now resulted in 17 babies being born in the U.S. with Zika-related birth defects.

With federal funding for Zika response set to expire at the end of the Fiscal Year, Congress’ continued failure to act will halt federally funded vaccine research, mosquito control, testing, and surveillance.

Our most fundamental responsibility is protecting the health and safety of Americans.  Please present a clean funding package to fight the Zika virus as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

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