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Bill Nelson relates his and Marco Rubio’s Irma trek, cites climate change

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson outlined to the U.S. Senate Monday his and U.S. Marco Rubio‘s post-Hurricane Irma tours of Florida describing destruction, tragedy and challenges from the Keys to Jacksonville, and called attention to climate change as a factor.

Nelson, a Democrat, on Monday also sent letters to the chief executives of 10 major U.S.-based airlines urging them to cap their airfares for people fleeing the path of Hurricane Maria, which is bearing down on the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, among other Caribbean islands.

Nelson’s speech on Hurricane Irma, given from the well of the U.S. Senate, was full of praise for federal agencies  such as FEMA, the Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the military for responding quickly and strongly, as “Floridians helping Floridians. Americans helping Americans.”

And Nelson also used the speech to push for the value of those agencies, and for legislation and language in legislation he intends to push, some of it jointly with Rubio.

At least for Nelson, that includes his push for language in a bill the Senate actually was taking up during his speech, climate-change readiness for the military, included in the Defense Programs Authorization bill (House Resolution 2810.)

Nelson cited the hurricanes, including Hurricane Harvey that struck Texas, hailstorms in Texas damaging military aircraft, coastal erosion in Florida and Alaska, threatening early-warning radar in Alaska, wildfires in the west, flooding of a logistics rail in Louisiana, and military warehouses in Virginia.

“And so, as we turn to this defense bill, this is an issue for national security. As Secretary of Defense James Mattis has said, and I quote, “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today,” Nelson said.

“And so that’s why in this version of the defense bill that we will pass today, there’s a provision in there that this senator had something to do with which calls for the defense department to conduct a comprehensive assessment of threats to the training and readiness of our armed forces and the military infrastructure caused by climate-related events.”

Nelson wrote that provision.

 

Florida Keys still closed; ‘different kind of lifestyle for a while’

The lower Florida Keys were hammered in special ways by Hurricane Irma and remain closed to residents, visitors and even more volunteer cleanup workers as authorities try to get them livable, officials said Friday.

An estimated 65 percent of the housing was damaged to the point of being uninhabitable, according to authorities, but residents will not be allowed to cross the bridges to get back in to find out for themselves for the time being.

Water, sewer, electricity and housing stock are in short supply throughout the Keys, particularly in the lower Keys, official said during a meeting with Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and other local, state and federal disaster response authorities in Marathon. The main port is closed, and numerous boats and other vessels are adrift, clogging channels.

The Florida Department of Transportation has finished its inspections of all 26 bridges leading into the Keys and found them sound and safe. But that’s no longer the overriding issue.

Teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Florida Division of Emergency Management, various other state and federal agencies, even the U.S. Navy, are on the scene. And they’ve pretty much filled every available hotel and motel room, said Martin Senterfitt, Monroe County’s director of emergency management.

That means authorities even are turning away some volunteer relief workers, because there’s no place to put them.

“As much as we want help, as much as we need help, we have to  moderate that,” Senterfitt said.

And, he added, the Keys will remain closed until there is confidence residents and others will not come in to find no where to stay, nothing to drink, and no other services.

“Do they have the ability to boil water? Do they have the ability to flush a toilet? It’s that basic,” he said.

Many of the damaged homes appear to have only roof damage, but enough to keep them from being occupied. Yet FEMA and the Florida Division of Emergency Management have challenges in setting up temporary housing, because there is so limited available open land.

The main waterline survived, but most of the feeder lines into the islands were damaged, and they’re being inspected and repaired, but the process is time consuming, officials said.

The sewer lines appear to be fine, but most operate with pumps and lift stations, and with no electricity, most are not operating.

“The biggest need after we get water, power and fuel back, for the Keys, is housing,” Scott said.

Once the gates are opened and everyone is allowed back, a second wave of crisis is expected as each resident and business owner discovers his or her challenges, Senterfitt said

“It’s going to be a little bit different lifestyle for a long time,” he said.

Scott and other state and federal officials assured all attention possible is being focused on recovery in the Keys, which the governor said presents unique challenges.

“I think everybody’s goal is to get everybody back in the Keys the first day we can,” Scott said. “The day everybody can come back and enjoy the Keys again will be a good day for the state.

“The people evacuated out of the Keys, they want to get back.  But the most important thing is to keep everybody safe,” Scott said.

 

After Irma, state politicians descend on Jacksonville

Hurricane Irma’s impact stopped being felt in Jacksonville Monday afternoon, and it was soon thereafter that Gov. Rick Scott was in town.

Scott, who added Duval County to his ask for a major disaster declaration post-Irma on Monday evening, visited a local hurricane shelter with New York Mets’ minor league prospect Tim Tebow, a legend in these parts for his tenure as Florida Gators’ quarterback a decade ago.

Duval will join St. Johns, Flagler, Clay, and Putnam as Counties benefiting from federal help, which includes reimbursement for debris removal and individual assistance for those whose properties were impacted by the storm.

Tuesday saw Scott surveying damage from the sky, with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry. The two reprised a role last seen in the wake of Hurricane Matthew 11 months prior, with Scott coming to town to assess damage after that storm.

After Gov. Scott’s visit, Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio made trips to the Duval Emergency Operations Center early in the afternoon.

Each arrived separately, and each had their own takes on the storm and the path forward afterward.

Nelson noted that, in addition to the 365 water rescues that were made in Duval County when the storm surge came in, there were 120 rescues in Clay and St. Johns.

Nelson described the hurricane as a “very unusual one, that covered the entire state,” one with “real surprises” for everyone.

Water was the big surprise for Jacksonville, of course, as the storm surge flooded the city for hours on end Monday.

“Water … surprised places like North Florida,” Nelson said.

The storm drew strength from turbocharged waters on each side of the peninsula, of course. Nelson noted that “measurements show that sea level has risen eight inches over the last40 years” off the Miami Beach coast, a rise that was accompanied by the heating of the ocean itself.

“That is expected to increase,” Nelson said.

Miami Beach, said Nelson. has had to spend “tens of millions of dollars on expensive pumps” to deal with a mean high tide — and floods are still part of life down there.

“If that’s happening when there’s not a storm, what happens when there is a storm? We’d better get ready for it, because it’s happening before our very eyes.”

Nelson also addressed post-Andrew building codes, noting that the Florida Legislature passed a law to relax those codes.

He’s not a fan of that move.

“Let’s keep these strong building codes,” Nelson said, noting that there was a vast difference in how new construction and older buildings fared during Irma on Florida’s Southwest coast when he toured it earlier this week.

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Rubio actually agreed with Nelson regarding the building codes.

“People may not like it, but you know when you’re in a house rated post-Andrew, you have a lot more security about what that means for you and your family, and I hope we don’t walk away from that,” Rubio said.

And he had a lot more to say besides.

Regarding the individual assistance authorized by President Donald Trump for individuals impacted by the storm, Rubio noted that time was of the essence regarding disbursement.

“How many people will not be able to go home for a long time … if you lost your home, you can’t go home tonight, we’ve got to get you that money quickly,” Rubio said, noting that local governments — such as Jacksonville, still owed $26M from the federal government for the last storm — are not able to shoulder that burden.

“There are communities waiting three or four years,” Rubio said in reference to Jacksonville’s cash crunch, citing a “backlog” that needs improvement.

“Small businesses” likewise need SBA help.

A “week or two without revenue,” Rubio said, may be the end for them.

Rubio also addressed Nelson’s contention that sea level rise contributed to this storm.

“Irrespective of the broader debate about its causes, you can measure sea level. And when you start to see flooding at high tide at many communities across Florida, when you start to see military installations critical to our economy and our state threatened by it, there are some things you need to do, and some things you can do.”

“There are some things you can do to mitigate,” Rubio said, though he called it a “whole other debate” when this reporter suggested that strategies are elusive to cool the water down that energizes these storms in the first place.

Flooding at high tide, Rubio said, is an “accelerating process.”

We asked Rubio if the Trump Administration was particularly equipped to handle the challenges created by what some call global warming.

“Again, we’re talking about mitigation. And when it comes to mitigation, it’s an infrastructure need,” Rubio said, a “critical” one.

National Republicans hire new Florida state director

Ahead of the 2018 midterms, the Republican National Committee has brought on a new political director for Florida.

Andrew Brey, who previously served on U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio‘s presidential campaign, has been in the post since July. Brey has also worked for the Republican Party of Florida as field director in support of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s campaign and was part of Gov. Rick Scott‘s re-election team.

After Rubio ended his presidential bid, Brey became political director for Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who defeated Democrat Russ Feingold despite his substantial lead in polling.

According to POLITICO, Brey’s appointment was formally announced in an RNC press release, along with the hire of state directors in 17 states across the country for the 2018 cycle.

Bill Nelson in Tampa: ‘This potentially could be the big one’

Earlier this summer, The Washington Post reported that the Tampa Bay area was due for a major hurricane and  that if a big one occured, “the damage would likely surpass Katrina.”

“This potentially could be the big one,” U.S. Senator Bill Nelson agreed when asked about his concerns about Hurricane Irma while visiting with reporters inside the Hillsborough County Emergency Operations Center Saturday morning.

The Democrat said that the storm should lessen in its intensity as it moves north because the east side of it would be over land which doesn’t have water for its fuel – but he said, that all depends on the eye of the storm.

“It’s the eastern wall of the eye that has the strongest winds, if that is going right up the west side of the peninsula of Florida, that means those winds are going north and northwest and that will drive the water into the bays and the big one, as indicated by that article, is exactly that scenario driving that water up into Tampa Bay,” he said.

On Friday, the House of Representatives approved a $15.25 billion disaster relief bill that also includes a three-month extension of both federal government funding and borrowing authority, a move that ends the threat of a partial government shutdown at the end of the month. Nelson and Marco Rubio were able to  get some of that funding available to handle what is expected to a major cleanup in Florida after Irma hits.

“We got the flexable language so that they can use some of those resources,” Nelson said. “But this is only going to last a few weeks. We’re going to have do an additional emergency appropriation, probably in the middle of October.”

Nelson also expressed concerns about how stretched the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is after dealing with Hurricane Harvey over the past few weeks.  “They’ve had to actually pull people from Texas here into Florida because of what’s about to happen here.”

Marco Rubio maligns ‘politically cynical’ disaster relief bill

The GOP controlled United States Senate passed a $15.25 relief bill for Hurricane Harvey relief on Thursday, lifting the debt ceiling in the process.

Sen. Marco Rubio, who missed the vote as he is preparing for Hurricane Irma, takes issue with the “politically cynical” package, essentially the product of a deal between President Donald Trump and Congressional Democrats.

“I consider the manner in which this measure was structured, linking emergency disaster relief for victims in need of immediate assistance with other controversial measures we still have time to debate through regular order, to be among the most politically cynical efforts I have ever witnessed,” Rubio said Thursday, adding that he would have voted for the bill “despite significant reservations” about certain elements.

Rubio’s qualms are myriad, and he lays them at the feet of President Trump.

“I strongly disagree with the decision made by the administration to agree to pair funding for FEMA and emergency disaster relief to short-term extensions to the continuing resolution, the debt ceiling and the National Flood Insurance Program unaccompanied by significant reforms,” Rubio asserted.

Short-term continuing resolutions, Rubio said, are “an incredibly inefficient way of spending taxpayer dollars and fails to provide the certainty required for effective planning.”

“Additionally, I am frustrated Congress has once again temporarily reauthorized the outdated National Flood Insurance Program without enacting a long-term solution that provides much-needed improvements for the people of Florida and places this vital program on a sustainable path for the future,” Rubio added. 

“It is shameful these necessary and important measures are not being considered separately. Linking them to funds needed to assist our fellow Americans recovering from a devastating natural disaster is an unfortunate effort to avoid subjecting these measures to the scrutiny and debate they merit,” Rubio continued.

Despite these philosophical qualms, Rubio would have voted for the bill.

“Today, I was informed by Administrator Long that FEMA has less than two days of emergency funds remaining. Given that Texas continues to recover from the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Harvey and that the state of Florida is facing the most powerful Atlantic storm ever recorded, I have no choice but to support this measure.”

Joe Henderson: Another tone deaf move by Donald Trump

Florida’s members of the United States Senate don’t agree on much, but with a Category 5 hurricane bearing down on Miami and the east coast, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio are standing shoulder-to-shoulder in advocating for their state.

Well done.

Yes, we expect leaders to put aside their differences and come together in times like this. But the trend of bipartisan agreement between those two actually started a few days ago, although current events shoved the news to the back pages.

They agree that President Trump offered up a lousy nominee to head NASA.

The choice of climate-denier U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma to lead the space agency was just the latest example of the president’s tone-deaf timing, given the devastation in Texas from Hurricane Harvey and the way Hurricane Irma just flattened Caribbean islands on its way to Florida.

The nomination came last week in what has become known as the “Friday news dump” – that time when leaders try to slip controversial items into a period where they don’t think people will be paying attention.

Nelson and Rubio were paying attention.

Bridenstine has shown a keen interest in the space program and has indicated he would fast-track the mission to send astronauts to Mars.

That is all good.

But weather research also is a key part of NASA’s mission, and Bridenstine has left no doubt where he stands on the issue that humans are contributing to climate change.

In a 2013 speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, he said, “And we also know that (President Obama) spends 30 times as much money on global warming research as he does on weather forecasting and warning. For this gross misallocation, the people of Oklahoma are ready to accept the president’s apology, and I intend to submit legislation to fix this.”

Politifact rated Bridenstine’s assertion as mostly false.

“The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician,” Nelson told Politico in a statement.

Rubio told Politico he agreed with Nelson, and added that because the Senate must approve the nominee, the “baggage” Bridenstine carries means his confirmation is no sure thing.

“I just think it could be devastating for the space program. Obviously, being from Florida, I’m very sensitive to anything that slows up NASA and its mission,” Rubio said.

What’s happening in this hurricane season is exactly what climate experts have been warning about for years.

They say because of human actions, storms would be stronger than anything we’ve seen and they would be more frequent. Coastal areas would be devastated and the economic damage would be in the trillions of dollars.

Well, it’s happening. Trump’s response is to turn a key agency involved in climate research over to someone who says it’s all fake news.

Bill Nelson, Marco Rubio want more FEMA cash in aid bill

U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio sent a joint letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer Wednesday asking for money for Florida to be added to the Hurricane Harvey aid package passed by the U.S. House earlier in the day.

“Hurricane Irma is now one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean and is currently on track to make landfall in South Florida as early as Sunday,” they wrote. “This massive category-5 storm has the potential to cause catastrophic destruction throughout the state, and we are deeply concerned that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will not have the resources it needs to respond if Congress doesn’t act soon.”

The senators noted that FEMA is set to run out of money by Friday, two days before Irma is expected to hit the state.

“As Floridians are preparing for one of the worst storms on record, they need to know that the federal government is both ready and willing to direct the necessary resources needed to help them in the recovery process. As such, we strongly urge you to include additional funding in the Hurricane Harvey aid package to account for the additional costs FEMA will likely incur responding to Hurricane Irma,” they wrote.

The package that passed the House includes $7.9 billion in aid specifically for Hurricane Harvey recovery and could not be shifted to Florida responders without leaving the victims of that storm out to dry.

Cheryl Elias: Addressing Florida’s opioid crisis must include helping the person with the addiction

Each day it becomes more and more apparent that opioid addiction and trafficking are plaguing Florida. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, five out of the nine types of drugs that caused the most deaths in 2015 were ones that fall within the category of opioids.

Two years later, we are seeing the effects of opioid addiction escalate and there does not seem to be a part of the state, rural or urban, that has not seen some impact.

Drug addiction and abuse is a major public health problem in the U.S. and associated costs go well beyond the standard medical bills. Costs related to drug addiction encompass those that result from developing other chronic health conditions, increasing crime rates, loss of work productivity and even unemployment.

In hospital costs alone, this epidemic cost Florida more than $1 billion in 2015. And let us not forget drug addiction’s impact on families and communities. The emotional hardships felt by those trying to help the person suffering from addiction are often unimaginable and the fact that their own lives are turned upside down cannot be ignored.

Understanding that addiction’s impacts reach far and wide, it becomes clear that to make any difference we need to address this issue in a comprehensive way.

Thankfully, our leaders in government are quickly realizing opioid addiction’s impacts and catastrophic effects and are taking action. Just this year, Sen. Marco Rubio was an original cosponsor of the Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act to help reduce the flow of illicit fentanyl into the country, and he is also working with U.S. Health and Human Services in bringing grant dollars into the state aimed at combatting opioid trafficking and abuse in Florida.

Sen. Rubio understands how pressing this issue is for Floridians, and the actions he has taken this year are commendable.

However, efforts to address this issue should not stop there. There is still a long road toward a Florida free of opioid abuse, and part of this strategy should include providing proper treatment to those who suffer from addiction.

Patients seeking help in their recovery should have adequate access to all FDA-approved treatment options, including those which are non-opioid based. People can react differently to the same medication. What works for some will not necessarily work for all, and treatment should ultimately depend on the patient and the health care professional overseeing their recovery.

The goal here is to reduce and even eradicate addiction in the state of Florida to provide a more safe and promising future for everyone. Every Floridian can benefit from a reduced incidence of opioid addiction and abuse, so why not do everything we can to help those who need it most?

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Cheryl Elias is Executive Director of the U.S. Rural Health Network, an organization dedicated to creating and maintaining a dialogue between national health care advocates and rural communities.

 

Rick Scott on Irma: We haven’t had a landfall like this since Andrew

Rick Scott said all Floridians need to prepare for Hurricane Irma’s arrival, stocking up with three days of water and three days of food, though folks in the Tampa Bay area (and others) are having a hard time finding bottled water at this stage.

“When you go to the grocery store, take what you need, don’t take too much,” he told reporters in East Tampa Tuesday afternoon. The governor was in town to celebrate an increase in jobs at the corporate headquarters of Cognizant Technology Solutions in East Tampa, but all eyes and ears were on the latest updates on Hurricane Irma, scheduled to hit Florida within the next week.

Scott heard this morning about shortages of water, noting: “We’re doing everything we can. We’re talking to retailers. We’re talking to the individuals who bring fuel in, to make sure that we have plenty of resources in here.”

“If you think you might need to go to a shelter, find out where the shelter is going to be,” he said. “Know where your evacuation routes are,” he added, telling people that they could go to FloridaDisaster.org and will inform people all the things that they need.

No one knows where the storm will hit, but one place where Scott is telling people to evacuate from is starting tomorrow is in Monroe County. “If you’re in the Keys, you’ve gotta get out,” he said.

Scott has already called up 100 members of the National Guard to prepare for the storm, with an additional 7,000 to be called up Friday to report for duty.  The emergency orders “also allows us, our semis, people doing deliveries to get the water and food into stores and everything,” he added.

The governor has not heard back from a request for President Donald Trump to declare a pre-landfall emergency for the state. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio seconded the call, writing a letter to Trump: “While the storm is not predicted to make landfall until later this week, the state and federal government must work together in order to help reduce the potential loss of life and destruction of property. As we recently witnessed with Hurricane Harvey, preparation and upfront resources are paramount.”

Florida sent approximately 130 members of Fish and Wildlife Commission to Houston to assist in the recovery effort for Hurricane Harvey last week, most of whom have returned to Florida. Scott said the information that state officials have taken from the aftermath of that epic event is that resources must be thrown at the situation from the get-go.

“One of the things that I talked with the acting director of FEMA today (Robert Fenton) is ‘don’t wait,'” he told reporters. “But we haven’t had a landfall like this since Andrew,” he said referring to the August 1992 storm, the last Category 5 rainmaker to hit the U.S. mainland.

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