Rick Scott Archives - Page 2 of 217 - Florida Politics

Kathy Castor says Rick Scott is spreading misleading and inaccurate information about the ACA

U.S. Representative Kathy Castor says that a letter that Governor Rick Scott recently sent to House of Representatives Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy regarding the Affordable Care Act contains “misleading and inaccurate information.”

The two Florida politicians have always been on opposing sides regarding President Obama’s signature domestic achievement. As a former health care executive, Scott was criticizing what is often called “ObamaCare” before he ever ran for governor, while Castor has been a champion of the law since it was signed into law in 2010.

“For far too long, it has been fashionable in Washington to say Obamacare can only be tweaked,” Scott wrote to McCarthy. “The impact of Obamacare has been devastating in Florida and our nation. Obamacare was sold on a lie from the very start. Costs are skyrocketing, people have not been able to keep their doctors and many people have fewer doctors to choose from. The increases in health care costs are at a 32-year high and are expected to continue increasing in the coming months. Recent news of Obamacare rates rising 25 percent is absurd and families simply cannot afford it. We can do better and the families and businesses footing the bill deserve better.”

Scott also called for giving Florida the “flexibility to run our own Medicaid program that uses the states managed care model,” and that be given the ability to enact reforms such as charging Medicaid beneficiaries a fee for using the emergency room in “non-emergency room situations.” And he advocated for realigning the methodology for calculating Medicare Part B premium cost of living adjustments. The current methodology, he says, is resulting in a disproportionate on state Medicaid programs, including Florida, where he says it has an estimated $82 million inpact over the past two years.

On Tuesday, Castor rebutted Scott, writing her own letter to McCarthy.

In the letter, she says that Scott neglected to mention that 1.7 million Floridians now have health care coverage due to the ACA. She also says that the ACA’s consumer protections (such as banning insurance companies from discriminating against those with pre-existing conditions, removing lifetime caps on coverage and allowing people under 26 to stay on their parents plans) have benefited the nearly 9 million Floridians who have employer backed insurance.

Castor writes that Scott has also overlooked the fact that the rate of growth of private insurance plans “has been held in check” in recent years.

“Governor Scott failed to mention significant cost savings to Floridians in his letter,” writes Castor. “Florida families with employer coverage saw their premiums grow by only 1.3 percent per year from 2010 to 2015, compared with 8.2 percent over the previous decade. If premiums grow in line with the national average in 2016, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates that premiums in Florida will be $7,600 lower today than if grown matched the increase pre-ACA.”

Castor also says that plans to offer Medicaid block grants to the states “is a ruse to institute draconian cuts.”

The governor was in Tampa on Tuesday making an announcement about his proposals for higher education. When asked about his letter to McCarthy, he said, “I know it’s really important that everybody has access to high quality health care, but if you can’t afford it it doesn’t matter how good the quality is. That’s not something that we want for our society. What’s important to me is that we have a national plan that works, that controls costs….you have to focus on costs, you have to focus on quality,  you have to focus on service, and the ACA didn’t do those things.”

Rick Scott selects Matilde Miller to serve as interim DBPR secretary

Matilde Miller will take the helm of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation — at least temporarily.

Gov. Rick Scott announced Tuesday Miller was named the interim secretary of DBPR, replacing former Secretary Ken Lawson.

“Matilde has spent many years at DBPR serving in numerous leadership positions and understands how important it is to help businesses open and create jobs in our state,” said Scott in a statement. “Like Secretary Lawson, she will focus on reducing burdensome regulations and fees that make it harder for job creators to succeed in Florida. She has extensive legislative experience and relationships and I am confident she will be a great leader at DBPR.”

On Tuesday, Lawson was hired to serve as the president and CEO of Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency. The former federal prosecutor replaces Will Seccombe, the outgoing president and CEO, who resigned amid the fallout from a secret deal with rapper Pitbull.

Visit Florida refused to say how much it paid Pitbull or disclose any of the details of a contract with the Miami superstar, calling it a trade secret. House Speaker Richard Corcoran sued in December to release the contract, but withdrew the lawsuit after Pitbull used Twitter to release it.

Scott, who has praised Visit Florida in the past, responded to criticism by calling on Seccombe to resign. During a meeting in Orlando on Tuesday, the Visit Florida board of directors agreed to pay Seccombe $73,000 as severance. A spokeswoman for the governor said that sum is paid for using private funds.

Lawson will receive a salary of $175,000 a year and work without a contract. He has led the Department of Business and Professional Development since 2011.

“Ken understands the responsibility we have to be transparent with every tax dollar. He has tirelessly fought to make it easier for Florida businesses to create jobs, has helped cut millions of dollars in fees and has streamlined the agency to ensure the state reduced burdensome regulations,” said Scott in a statement. “A native Floridian and military veteran, Ken has an incredible appreciation and understanding for our great state. I know he will use his unmatched experience and love for Florida to promote tourism while bringing much needed reforms to VISIT FLORIDA so our state can break even more tourism records.”

A 16-year veteran of DBPR, Miller has served as chief of staff since 2014. Prior to becoming chief of staff, she served as the agency’s legislative coordinator, deputy legislative affairs director, and director of legislative director. She previously worked in the Florida House and as a high school English and Spanish teacher.

Her first day is Wednesday.

__The Associated Press contributed to this report, with permission.

 

Rick Scott introduces proposal to keep higher education affordable for Florida students

As everyone knows, Rick Scott has always been about adding jobs to the rolls since getting elected Governor of Florida in 2010. And since it helps to have a good education to get a good job, he’s been similarly focused in recent years on making it more affordable for Floridians to get a degree.

Continuing in that vein on Tuesday, Scott traveled to the New Tampa headquarters of USAA, the financial services company for the military community and their families, where he unveiled what his staff is calling his, “Finish in Four, Save More” legislative and budget proposals to encourage colleges and universities to make higher education more affordable for students and get them out of school within four years.

“I’ve not met one person to get out of a university or state college and said ‘I’m interested in not having a job,'” Scott said as the dozens of staffers and interns laughed as they observed the press conference. “No one’s interested in going on unemployment or public housing or anything like. They’re interested in living their dream.”

Scott cited statistics that show that only 44 percent of undergraduate students at Florida state universities graduate within four years and 71 percent of students are graduating with four year degrees within six years. “So we have to do better,” he said.

His legislative proposal includes a request for freezing for all state colleges and universities fees. Currently fees at universities average almost $100 per credit hour and colleges average more than $26 per credit hour.

He’s also calling on state colleges to freeze any tuition increases. That follows a 2014 legislative proposal that limited the state’s universities ability to establish or raise a tuition differential.

The plan allows would cut teaching assistant fees by 25 percent.  It would also expand the Bright Futures scholarship program to cover summer school classes (it currently only covers fall and spring semesters) and provide a sales tax exemption for students purchasing required textbooks, which Scott says will save students $48 million a year collectively.

“If you can’t afford your education, it doesn’t help if we have great universities and great state colleges,” the governor said later in meeting with reporters.

In the early part of the aughts, Florida’s university presidents bemoaned the low rate of statewide tuition, saying it hurt in recruiting esteemed professors from around the nation because of reduced funding available. That changed in 2007, when former Governor Charlie Crist signed legislation that approved a five percent tuition increase set by lawmakers. In 2008, the Legislature approved a six percent increase.

In 2009, Crist signed legislation allowing the Board of Governors to raise undergraduate tuition rates past whatever the Legislature approved. As long as the total increase didn’t exceed 15 percent per year, they were allowed to do this until tuition reached the national average, which was $8,893 in 2012-13.

Scott used that tuition rate hike against Crist when the two opposed each other for Governor in 2014.

The Legislature  passed and Scott signed into a law in 2014 a bill that eliminated automatic tuition increases, even for inflation.  The law did give the University of Florida and Florida State the ability to lobby the Board for a differential increase, up to a maximum of 6 percent.

The website 24/7 reported back in 2013 that Florida had the eight cheapest average tuition in the nation with an average instate tuition rate of $6,336.

Rick Scott is non-committal whether he would sign a bill allowing Floridians to carry guns in airport terminals

Rick Scott says he doesn’t have an opinion on whether or not he’d support a law that would allow licensed gun owners to carry guns in airport terminals.

The question came to him on Tuesday, four days after 26-year-old Army Veteran Esteban Santiago, who is accused of killing five people at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Friday after he recovered his gun that he had picked in his suitcase and then retrieved at the baggage claim area.

A proposal by Sarasota Republican Greg Steube that would allow a licensed gun owner to carry a gun in airports throughout the state is on the agenda for the Florida Legislature when they begin their session in March. The Steube bill (SB 140) does more than just allow for guns in airports – it would also allow the 1.7 million concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns on college campuses and in government meetings as well as carry openly in public.

“We’re in the middle of an investigation, and I’m looking forward to what happens at the end of that investigation,” Scott told reporters in New Tampa on Tuesday morning. “Right now my goal is to mourn with those who lost their lives, for those who are still in the hospital, and there will be time for politics once we finish this.”

Scott was asked twice more about the bill by reporters who wanted to get his general sense of the bill. He initially responded by again repeating the fact that there is an ongoing investigation into Santiago, as well as an ongoing manhunt for Markeith Lloyd, who Orlando Police say killed Master Sgt. Debra Clayton as she tried to confront him outside a Walmart.

“So my goal is to just finish these,” Scott said, referring to both cases.

But a television reporter asked again straight up – would he support the Steube bill if it landed on his desk?

“We have a legislative session that begins in the first part of March, so I know there will be a lot of legislation about a lot of different things. If it makes it to my desk I’ll review it,” he said.

Fort Lauderdale Democratic state Senator Gary Farmer was planning on announcing a gun control bill on Tuesday in response to the Fort Lauderdale killings.

Scott has had to contend with the killings in both Fort Lauderdale and Orlando in the past week.

“My heart goes out to the families impacted,” he said on Tuesday. “I went and visited many of them at the hospital at Broward Health and there was one family who just found out that they lost their mother and I talked to one who was active Air Force….Your heart goes out to them.”

Steube isn’t backing down from his bill in the wake of the airport shootings. If anything, he’s doubling down, telling the Orlando Sentinel that another armed person could have mowed down Santiago.”Had a licensed permit holder been one of those people standing right behind him, he’d have gotten one shot off and somebody would’ve pulled a gun out and shot him,” Steube said.

 

 

 

 

Seminole Compact, other gambling issues expected to be top priority in House Commerce committee

The House Commerce Committee is poised to tackle everything from assignment of benefits to economic incentives, but it’s the most narrowly defined subcommittee that could be the busiest in the months leading up to, and during, the 2017 Legislative Session.

The full House Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, met Tuesday morning to get an overview of topics expected to come up in the upcoming 60-day legislative session.

“So it begins,” said Diaz. “We’re going to be busy. We will be dealing with some of the weightiest issues of the state.”

While each of the subcommittees laid out what could be considered jam-packed agendas, Rep. Mike La Rosa, chairman of the Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee, outlined an aggressive schedule largely focused on gambling in Florida.

The subcommittee will spend the next few weeks tackling different aspects of the industry, looking first at the Seminole Compact. The subcommittee is scheduled to hold a two-hour panel discussion Thursday to discuss issues relating to the Seminole Compact.

A federal court judge in November sided with the Seminole Tribe saying the state broke its exclusivity deal with the tribe allowing it to keep blackjack tables until 2030.

“With everything we did last year, we thought we were going to be able to pass a bill, but it didn’t get across the finish line,” said Diaz. “We feel like the opportunity to negotiate (is still there). We’re having negotiations with the Senate, and we’ll pass a compact or bill that’s in the best interests of the citizens of Florida that invests money in the right places.”

Diaz said the Legislature is still “in the early stages of conversation,” but warned the end of session will be here before lawmakers know it.

“If you have concerns with the compact, if you want to make sure (issues are) addressed, now is the time to have the conversation,” he said.

The compact isn’t the only issue the Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee will tackle. La Rosa said he expects the committee to discuss slot machines, decoupling, and online fantasy sports. The committee might also take up destination resort casinos, a constitutional amendment restricting the expansion of gambling, and whether to establish a statewide gaming commission.

La Rosa said members will be tasked with addressing concerns about VISIT Florida, which falls under the committee’s responsibilities. The agency has recently faced criticism about the way it handled a secret marketing contract worth up to $1 million with Pitbull.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran filed suit to force the Miami superstar to disclose the contents of his contract. Pitbull released the details of his contract on Twitter one day later.

The controversy led to the firing of two top VISIT Florida officials, and Gov. Rick Scott called for former CEO Will Seccombe’s resignation. The organization’s board of directors on Tuesday agreed to pay Seccombe, $73,000 as part of a severance agreement.

On Tuesday, Scott announced Ken Lawson, the former Secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, would take the helm of agency.

“Ken understands the responsibility we have to be transparent with every tax dollar. He has tirelessly fought to make it easier for Florida businesses to create jobs, has helped cut millions of dollars in fees and has streamlined the agency to ensure the state reduced burdensome regulations,” said Scott in a statement. “A native Floridian and military veteran, Ken has an incredible appreciation and understanding for our great state. I know he will use his unmatched experience and love for Florida to promote tourism while bringing much needed reforms to VISIT FLORIDA so our state can break even more tourism records.”

The House Commerce Committee and its subcommittees are also expected to take up assignment of benefits, personal injury protection insurance, economic incentives, and deregulation during the 2017 Legislative Session.

_The Associated Press contributed to this report, with permission.

Alan Levy’s departs race for Florida GOP chair

Although he hasn’t received that much media coverage, Lafayette County state committeeman Alan Levy has been running over the past month to replace Blaise Ingoglia as chair of the Republican Party of Florida.

Make that “had” been running, as Levy announced on Monday that he was dropping out of the race, and now will be running for Vice Chairman.

In a letter to executive committee members, Levy said his candidacy was always centered on accomplishing four goals. Those included rebuilding party membership, recruiting and assembling an entirely new base of state party donors, utilizing state-of-the-art technology, and ending the battle between the House of Representatives against Senate leadership and Governor Rick Scott.

That last goal of bringing all of the Republicans back together under the same tent is also a central tenet in the platform that Sarasota County committeeman Christian Ziegler is basing much of his candidacy up. But Levy now says that Ingoglia has now “successfully led a reconciliation between leaders of the House and Senate,” and thus at least part of his reasons for running have already been accomplished.

“I congratulate Chairman Ingoglia on his efforts,” Levy says. “Now that Governor Scott intends to run in 2018 for the U.S. Senate, it’s reasonable to anticipate he’ll join our legislative leaders once again in working with the state party.”

That’s not known at this time, but ever since Ingoglia upset Leslie Dougher, Scott’s hand picked selection as RPOF chair two years ago, the governor has taken his money and gone his own way, creating Let’s Get to Work, his own political committee, where he’s raised more than $2.9 million in first 11 months of 2016.

“Over the last two months while talking with party members many expressed their concern that I might abandon my goals if unsuccessful in my race for Chairman,” Levy wrote. “I promised I would do my best to see my goals enacted. However, now that there’s renewed cooperation between our state leaders, I believe I can still achieve these goals without turning the race for State Chairman into a free-for-all.”

The election for RPOF Chairman takes place this Saturday in Orlando.

Rick Scott to US House Majority Leader: ‘repeal and replace Obamacare’

On Monday, Florida Governor Rick Scott sent a letter to the United States Congress majority leader calling for the body to “repeal and replace” Obamacare.

Scott’s position on what he calls the “excessive overreach” of Obamacare is not necessarily a surprise, given his historic opposition to the president’s approach to the Affordable Care Act.

However, it is newly salient in light of Republican control of the executive and legislative branches.

“For far too long, it has been fashionable in Washington to say Obamacare can only be tweaked. We have seen debate after debate in Washington about this bad law but nothing has been changed. It has to be completely overhauled and now is the time to do it. We cannot let the usual political games or partisan gridlock of Washington get in the way of immediately repealing and replacing Obamacare with a plan that actually works,” Scott noted.

“The impact of Obamacare has been devastating in Florida and our nation. Obamacare was sold on a lie from the very start. Costs are skyrocketing, people have not been able to keep their doctors and many people have fewer doctors to choose from. The increases in health care costs are at a 32-year high and are expected to continue increasing in the coming months. Recent news of Obamacare rates rising 25 percent is absurd and families simply cannot afford it. We can do better and the families and businesses footing the bill deserve better,” Scott added.

In the five-page letter, Scott advocated for “state flexibility,” rather than a “one size fits all” approach to the replacement.

“Specifically,” Scott wrote, “our state needs the greatest possible amount of flexibility from Washington … without creating a massive government program that makes promises to patients that we could never afford to keep.”

Scott’s letter laid out the governor’s suggestions for replacement.

One suggestion: to repeal the individual and employer mandates, allowing people to choose to deposit funds into a health savings account instead of giving the money to an insurance company.

Scott also urged the allowance of insurance companies to sell across state lines, which currently isn’t an option.

Scott also backs greater flexibility in packages sold, and allowing families to opt for a single plan for the entire family, rather than one plan for children and another for adults.

Regarding the state’s needs, Scott told the House Majority Leader that he’d like Florida to have “flexibility to run our own Medicaid program that uses the state’s successful managed care model.”

Scott would also like to see the elimination of “burdensome” Obama regulations, such as the Managed Care Rule, the Access Rule, and the Outpatient Drug Rule, examples of “intensive but often purposeless federal micromanagement” that privileges federal bureaucracy at the expense of the state process.

Kathy Castor calls on GOP not to repeal ACA without a viable replacement

When Christine Roeper was about to turn 26 last year and thus no longer be eligible to stay on her parents health care insurance plan under the Affordable Care Act, she says she contacted the navigators based at USF to help her find a plan.

“I definitely do need health insurance,” Roeper said on Monday at a news conference called by Tampa Democratic Representative Kathy Castor. “I have a heart condition called mitro valve regurgitation, so that requires even more doctor visits and different medications and different procedures. Without the ACA, I wouldn’t be able to afford insurance. It costs me a dollar to get medicine, a couple of dollars to see a doctor. It’s been phenomenal.”

Greg Robinson was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of blood cancer in October of 2015, and underwent extensive chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant to “essentially save my life” at Moffitt Cancer Center.He’s always been able to receive insurance through his employer,  but he says that the thought of his insurer no longer having to carry a patient with pre-existing conditions – a key tenet of the ACA- is something he calls “terrifying.”

The two Hillsborough County residents spoke at a news conference organized by Castor at Royal Sun Park, an assisted living facility located in North Tampa.

The Tampa Democrat has been a huge supporter of the ACA since Barack Obama signed it into law in 2010. With congressional Republicans poised to repeal parts of the ACA as early as this month, she says she’ll continue to hold press events bringing forth those who would be deleteriously affected if the plan goes away without a viable replacement. ‘We’re saying, Republican congress, don’t throw our families into chaos,” Castor said. “Don’t proceed on this ideological repeal plan without a replacement.”

While House and Senate Republicans remain relatively firm on repealing the ACA as soon as possible, no one has said how long it might take before a working alternative will replace it. There has been speculation that it could be as long as two to three more years before a completely new plan could be viable.

Although talk of repealing the ACA has been in the headlines for the past week, “enrollment again is off the charts” says Jodi Ray, principal investigator for the USF Navigator grant, which works towards signing the noninsured on to a health care plan.

“We’ve been busy,” Ray said, adding that the numbers of people signing up to get the ACA in 2017 has exceeded last year’s numbers. Ray said that there are at least 280,000 individuals from the Tampa Bay area on the ACA, with at least a third of them being Hispanic.

“We’re reaching women, students, folks who are in rural areas who are hard to get to,” Ray said. “We’re working nights and weekends and we are seeing consumers that are having their life changed … because they have access to health care now, and they didn’t have access to health care prior. Overall, 1.7 million Floridians are now on the ACA.

There is an immediate deadline of next Sunday, January 15, for people to begin getting coverage by February 1. The next deadline comes at the end of this month to begin qualifying for any type of health insurance this year.

Although there has been very little specific information about what a replacement health insurance program would look like, there has been renewed discussion of changing the way that the Medicaid funding formula works, with the money ultimately going to the states as a block grant.

“When you hear block grant, or per capita cap, or greater flexiblty, what that really means is you’re not going to have the same amount of money, your families are going to be left out in the cold, they’re not going to have a place to go for skilled nursing or assisted living care,” said Castor. “It’s something of a shell game that will leave our families out in the cold.”

Castor says she does believe she can work with Republicans on some improvements to the program without throwing it all out. She says working on controlling the costs of pharmaceuticals and working on bringing greater competition in those areas of the country that have seen exponentially large premium increases (because in some cases there is only one insurance company available) as two viable examples.

While Castor was making her case to save the ACA, Rick Scott was weighing in as well, applauding congressional Republicans for working immediately to dismantle the program.

“For far too long, it has been fashionable in Washington to say Obamacare can only be tweaked,” Scott wrote to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. “The impact of Obamacare has been devastating in Florida and our nation. Obamacare was sold on a lie from the very start. Costs are skyrocketing, people have not been able to keep their doctors and many people have fewer doctors to choose from. The increases in health care costs are at a 32-year high and are expected to continue increasing in the coming months. Recent news of Obamacare rates rising 25 percent is absurd and families simply cannot afford it. We can do better and the families and businesses footing the bill deserve better.”

Travelers lose 25,000 items in Florida airport rampage

Dan and Janice Kovacs and their two children were passing through airport security when the gunfire erupted. They were shoeless — with wallets, passports and carry-on items chugging along a conveyor belt — when they sprang into the mass of people running to safety.

Now they’re among stranded travelers at Fort Lauderdale trying to recover what the airport director says are 25,000 pieces of luggage, cellphones and other belongings separated from their owners during Friday’s shooting rampage.

“We have no IDs, we have no passports, no money,” Janice, 39, said Saturday afternoon, wearing sandals borrowed from a brother-in-law. “We just had to leave our stuff and run.”

“All our stuff is being processed. We might not even get that until Monday. I have an 11-year-old who is freaking out. This has been traumatic for her,” she said.

The shooting Friday afternoon, which killed five people and wounded six, also stranded about 12,000 outgoing and incoming travelers, many returning from cruises or arriving ahead of the usual Saturday departures of the massive ships based in the tourism hub’s Port Everglades terminal.

Some travelers were kept on planes for more than seven hours while police put the airport on lockdown; others scrambled to protected corners or were hustled out onto the tarmac. The Kovacs, on the way back from a Caribbean cruise, went out onto that rough surface barefoot.

The Florida Highway Patrol sent computer-equipped buses to the airport Saturday afternoon to issue temporary ID cards to help travelers get out of state and even abroad. “We are doing what we can to help,” Sgt. Mark Wysocki said.

Sydney Rivera, a 21-year-old Purdue University student, received a temporary Florida identification card that is nearly identical to the state’s driver’s license. On Friday, she had been about to board a flight home to Indianapolis in another terminal when people scattered over false fears of a second shooter.

“This will make it a lot easier to get through security,” Rivera said as she rushed to finally catch a flight.

Gov. Rick Scott said cruise ship companies were asked to accept travelers with provisional IDs. Once authorities began allowing travelers to depart the airport Friday evening, buses took thousands of them to the cruise terminal.

Airport spokesman Greg Meyer said most bags won’t be available until Monday. The airport hired an outside firm to collect discarded bags and sort them by where they were found so they can be identified by their owners. Those with lost luggage were told to call a toll-free number.

Richard Lanbry, his wife and 15-year-old daughter were about to board a plane home for Montreal when the shooting began. Amid the commotion, he was separated from the other two and frantically searched for them for about an hour.

“I was pushed down, my wife was pushed down too. It was violent … people screaming, people crying, old and young. It was very scary,” said the 61-year-old, who was vacationing in Pompano Beach.

On top of that, they now have no luggage, no keys to their home and no coats or sweaters to wear once they arrive in chilly Montreal, only the T-shirts they were wearing the day before.

Larry and Joy Edwards were about to board their flight home to Columbus, Ohio, after a Caribbean cruise. They ran out the skyway and down stairs onto the tarmac, where they were told to drop their carry-on bags and dash out to the runway. They eventually were taken to a hangar and bused to Port Everglades. That’s where they spent most of the night.

“The Red Cross came. They gave us food and blankets and pillows. Everybody did what they could,” Joy Edwards said.

At 4:30 a.m., they were bused to a Miami motel. They had come back to the airport in an unsuccessful attempt to retrieve their luggage, which contained their passports, medicine and other essentials.

Larry Edwards, a retired electric lineman, said they won’t be able to get home until Monday and pointed to the clothes they had put on Friday morning.

“All we have is this and our smelly selves,” he said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

US veteran arrested in Ft. Lauderdale airport shooting; 5 dead, 8 wounded

An Army veteran who complained that the government was controlling his mind drew a gun from his checked luggage on arrival at the Fort Lauderdale airport and opened fire in the baggage claim area Friday, killing five people and wounding eight, authorities said.

He was taken into custody after throwing his empty weapon down and lying spread-eagle on the ground, one witness said.

“People started kind of screaming and trying to get out of any door they could or hide under the chairs,” the witness, Mark Lea, told MSNBC. “He just kind of continued coming in, just randomly shooting at people, no rhyme or reason to it.”

The gunman was identified as 26-year-old Esteban Santiago of Anchorage, Alaska, who served in Iraq with the National Guard but was demoted and discharged last year for unsatisfactory performance. His brother said he had been receiving psychological treatment recently.

A law enforcement official told The Associated Press that Santiago had walked into the FBI office in Anchorage in November to say that the U.S. government was controlling his mind and making him watch Islamic State videos.

Agents questioned an agitated and disjointed-sounding Santiago and then called police, who took him for a mental health evaluation, according to the official, who was not authorized to discuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity. The official said Santiago did not appear intent on hurting anyone.

Authorities said the motive for the attack was under investigation. Shortly after the shooting, and before details of Santiago’s mental health became public, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said that it remained to be seen whether it was terrorism or the work of “someone who is mentally deranged.”

One witness said the attacker gunned down his victims without a word and kept shooting until he ran out of ammunition for his handgun, sending panicked travelers running out of the terminal and spilling onto the tarmac, baggage in hand.

Others hid in bathroom stalls or crouched behind cars or anything else they could find as police and paramedics rushed in to help the wounded and establish whether there were any other gunmen.

Bruce Hugon, who had flown in from Indianapolis for a vacation, was at the baggage carousel when he heard four or five pops and saw everyone drop down on the ground. He said a woman next to him tried to get up and was shot in the head.

“The guy must have been standing over me at one point. I could smell the gunpowder,” he said. “I thought I was about to feel a piercing pain or nothing at all because I would have been dead.”

It is legal for airline passengers to travel with guns and ammunition as long as the firearms are put in a checked bag – not a carry-on – and are unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container. Guns must be declared to the airline at check-in.

Santiago arrived in Fort Lauderdale after taking off from Anchorage aboard a Delta flight Thursday night, checking only one piece of luggage – his gun, said Jesse Davis, police chief at the Anchorage airport.

At Fort Lauderdale, “after he claimed his bag, he went into the bathroom and loaded the gun and started shooting. We don’t know why,” said Chip LaMarca, a Broward County commissioner who was briefed by investigators.

The bloodshed is likely to raise questions of whether aviation safety officials need to change the rules.

The attack also exposed another weak point in airport security: While travelers have to take off their shoes, put their carry-on luggage through X-ray machines and pass through metal detectors to reach the gates, many other sections of airports, such as ticket counters and baggage claim areas, are more lightly secured and more vulnerable to attack.

In 2013, a gunman with a grudge against the Transportation Security Administration shot and killed one of the agency’s screeners and wounded three others during a rampage at Los Angeles International Airport. Last November, an airline worker was shot and killed near an employee parking lot at Oklahoma City’s airport, and in 2015 a machete-wielding man was shot to death after he attacked federal security officers at the New Orleans airport.

“While we have authorized doubling the number of TSA canine teams to try to prevent tragedies like this, the fact is that wherever there are crowds, such as at our airports, we remain vulnerable to these types of attacks,” Nelson said.

The Fort Lauderdale gunman said nothing as he “went up and down the carousels of the baggage claim, shooting through luggage to get at people that were hiding,” according to Lea. The killer went through about three magazines before running out of ammunition, Lea said.

“He threw the gun down and laid spread-eagle on the ground until the officer came up to him,” Lea said.

The gunman was arrested unharmed, with no shots fired by law enforcement officers, and was being questioned by the FBI, Sheriff Scott Israel said.

The condition of the wounded was not disclosed. At least one of the victims was seen lying in a pool of blood with what appeared to be a head wound.

The airport was shut down, with incoming flights diverted and outgoing flights held on the ground.

President Barack Obama was briefed by his Homeland Security adviser, the White House said. President-elect Donald Trump said that it is a “disgraceful situation that’s happening in our country and throughout the world” and that it was too soon to say whether it was a terrorist attack.

Santiago’s brother, Bryan, told the AP that his brother had been receiving psychological treatment in Alaska. He said Santiago’s girlfriend alerted the family to the situation in recent months. Bryan Santiago said that he didn’t know what his brother was being treated for and that they never talked about it.

He said Esteban Santiago was born in New Jersey and moved to Puerto Rico when he was 2. He was sent to Iraq in 2010 and spent a year there with the 130th Engineer Battalion, according to Puerto Rico National Guard spokesman Maj. Paul Dahlen. He later joined the Alaska National Guard.

The Pentagon said Santiago had gone AWOL several times during his stint with the Alaska National Guard and was demoted – from specialist to private first class – and given a general discharge, which is lower than an honorable discharge.

John Schilcher told Fox News said he came up to the baggage claim and heard the first gunshot as he picked up his bag off a carousel.

“The person next to me fell to the ground and then I started hearing other pops. And as this happened, other people started falling and you could hear it and smell it, and people on either side of me were going down and I just dropped to the ground,” said Schilcher, who was there with his wife and mother-in-law. “The firing just went on and on.”

“I was down on the floor. When we finally looked up there was a policeman standing over me,” he said. “That’s when I assumed it was safe.”

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report, reprinted with permission.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons