‘Historic’ bill unites, divides
A recent bill passed in the House last week gives a clear indication of how the two parties are on other sides of the planet when it comes to election law. The House passed H.R. 1, also known as the For the People Act of 2019.
The 234-193 margin reflected a total party-line vote with not a single crossover by either party. There is no middle ground on this issue.
The bill centered on what Democrats described as elections reform with many expressing the desire to negate the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision, which opened the door for significant corporate funding, among other things. Republicans saw H.R. 1 as an assault on free speech and a welcome mat for voter fraud.
“Today, House Democrats stood united in support of sweeping reforms that will restore a government of, by and for the American people,” said Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton. He added that he would be fighting “to get money out of politics.”
Delegation Republicans had a far different take on the bill.
“In short, H.R. 1 welcomes voter fraud, sends taxpayer money to political campaigns, and severely restricts free speech,” said Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville. “Even the ACLU found the bill would “unconstitutionally impinge on the free speech rights of American citizens.”
A total of 54 amendments came from all directions as well as both parties. Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist added one to require Sunday balloting during early voting, while Democrat Kathy Castor and Republican Gus Bilirakis teamed to insert a crackdown on zombie campaigns.
Amendments were mostly added or rejected on party-line votes, but House leadership almost faced another embarrassment from moderate Democrats voting with Republicans.
An amendment by Maryland Democrat John Sarbanes forbidding corporate expenditures unless shareholders approve in advance was approved but only by 219-215 with 17 Democrats joining Republicans to vote “no.” As she did in a recent vote on a gun control measure, Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy voted with the GOP.
In praising the bill’s overall content, Rep. Alcee Hastings focused on voting rights.
“H.R. 1 will return the American political system to the people by ensuring every eligible American can cast a ballot while pushing back against the corrupting influence of big money in politics,” Hastings said in a statement.
Rep Greg Steube blasted a provision to allow voters to register on Election Day.
“Same-day voter registration is a threat to our democratic process,” the Sarasota Republican said. “When voters are allowed to register on the same day there is very little room to confirm identity and ensure they are voting in the correct election.”
Historic or not, the bill is destined to die in the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he will not bring it up for a vote in that chamber.
Tax relief for Puerto Rico
As Congress debated the 2017 tax cut bill, Sen. Marco Rubio joined with Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee to insert a provision to double the Child Tax Credit (CTC). Rubio is now working with Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey to ensure Puerto Rican families are enjoying the full benefits of the CTC he helped change.
They have launched the Child Tax Credit Equity for Puerto Rico Act of 2019. The bill would correct a long-standing discrepancy in the federal tax code that denies Puerto Rican families with one or two children access to a tax benefit they would otherwise be entitled to, had they lived on the U.S. mainland.
“Giving Puerto Rican families equal treatment for the Child Tax Credit is long overdue,” Rubio said in a joint news release. “I am proud to join this bipartisan effort for island families.”
If enacted, the bill would provide nearly $273 million to families living on the island, helping to reduce poverty and stimulate spending to support local businesses.
“There is zero justification for treating any American citizen as second class based solely on their ZIP code, let alone when we are talking about the ability for struggling families to care for their own children,” Menendez said.
According to Rubio and Menendez, Puerto Rico has the highest poverty rate of anywhere in the United States, according to census data, with the lowest household income, $19,518, and the majority of children on the island living near or under the poverty level, with 39 percent considered extremely poor.
Scott’s sincerity doubted
South Florida Democrats and Republicans, especially Rubio, have all called for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuelans fleeing the crisis in their home country.
Two weeks ago, Sen. Rick Scott joined the call, but Democrats are not impressed.
“Scott said that he would support TPS for Venezuelans, but when real actions are happening to make this a reality, he stays away and ignores the requests from the community,” Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo said last week. “Once again, Rick Scott is saying one thing in public for political gain, while refusing to take actual action,” Rizzo said.
Rizzo’s broadside at Scott came one day after a letter to Donald Trump seeking TPS protections did not include the signature of Scott. Twenty-three Democrats and Rubio signed the letter.
“We don’t sign on to every letter that comes around,” said Chris Hartline, Scott’s communications director. “In this case, we didn’t need to announce our support for TPS for Venezuelans by signing the letter, because we’d already been very public and aggressive about our support.”
The move by Democrats points to an apparent concern that Republicans have built an advantage on the Venezuelan issue.
Trump OK with permanent DST
Trump has given his blessing to an effort by Floridians to make daylight saving time (DST) permanent. In a Monday tweet, the President said: “Making daylight saving time permanent is O.K. with me!”
By weighing in, Trump brings national recognition to an effort led by Florida Republicans. It began last year when the Florida Legislature passed, and then-Gov. Scott signed, legislation to make DST the time zone for the entire state.
Any change must be approved by Congress, prompting Rubio to sponsor the required Senate bill in the last Congress, but it failed to pass. He relaunched the Sunshine Protection Act this year, with the support of Scott. Rep. Vern Buchanan is sponsoring the companion bill in the House as he did last year.
“Great to see President Trump indicate support for my Sunshine Protection Act,” Buchanan tweeted within minutes of Trump’s Twitter message.
A handful of other states also wish to move to 12-month clocks, either for DST or standard time.
To the moon
Trump‘s 2020 budget fully funds NASA’s newly redirected mission of heading to the moon and then to Mars as well as commercial space and earth science research, Administrator Jim Bridenstine declared in unveiling the proposals Monday.
Speaking at Kennedy Space Center, Bridenstine declared that the moon-to-support-Mars mission, which Trump ordered early on in his administration, will feature an “all-NASA” approach, defined as requiring that all NASA’s other missions, including study of the sun, the Earth, and outer space, will focus in ways to support lunar missions that would eventually lead to a Martian mission.
Overall, the President’s NASA budget proposal for the fiscal 2020 year is $21 billion, with scientific research programs taking most of the budget cuts. That’s down slightly from $21.5 million in the current fiscal year. The most significant cuts are in various science programs.
The NASA budget request does not detail any specific new construction programs at Kennedy Space Center. Yet the budget requests and Bridenstine’s emphases on the moon and Mars missions and development of a broad and robust commercial space industry all point to increased activity at KSC and Cape Canaveral, where the big launches will occur.
Venezuela goes dark
As if things could not get worse, Venezuela pitched into darkness through a countrywide power blackout, before some portions saw power restored. Floridians from both parties spoke out on behalf of Venezuelan people who are enduring almost unthinkable hardships.
According to Rubio, 17 deaths were reported by hospitals due to lack of power as of Sunday.
“Experts warned for months that years of #MaduroRegime negligence would lead to this collapse of electricity system,” Rubio posted on Twitter. “And regime does not have the expertise to fix it. “If massive amounts of aid isn’t delivered very soon, I fear we are headed for an unprecedented catastrophe.”
Meanwhile, two delegation Democrats visited Venezuela’s border with Colombia. Reps. Donna Shalala and Debbie Wasserman Schultz stood on the bridge marking Venezuela’s border with Colombia where dictator Nicolas Maduro blocked entry of humanitarian aid.
“There are only hungry people on the other side of this bridge,” Shalala said in a video posted with Wasserman Schultz. “Starving Children. Children who are dying.”
They concluded with “Viva Venezuela!”
Trump praises animal rescuers
Trump spent the weekend in Florida by retreating to his Mar-a-Lago mansion in Palm Beach. He got in a round of golf Saturday with Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) star Lexi Thompson, but finished the day dropping in on an event on behalf of rescue pets.
Trump dropped by the big fundraiser held at Mar-a-Lago for Big Dog Ranch Rescue, co-chaired by daughter-in-law Lara Trump. He dropped by still dressed in golf attire.
“We want to thank all of you, you’re very special people,” said Trump, wearing a red USA hat and dark sports jacket over a golf shirt, adding that he had to stop by Big Dog Ranch’s event despite his hair being messed. “What you are doing is so important.”
Trump arrived in Palm Beach on Friday after touring devastation from last week’s tornadoes in Alabama.
Each campaign season, a challenger to an incumbent will often describe his or her opponent as “ineffective.” The Center for Effective Lawmaking (CEL) can help fortify or debunk those charges based on their semiannual research on the effectiveness of each member.
The most recent numbers are out and a “legislative effectiveness score” is assigned to each Senator and Representative. Each score is based on several metrics and a “legislative effectiveness score” assigned to each member.
Unsurprisingly, Republicans, who set the agenda in both chambers, scored higher than Democrats in the 115th Congress. With Democrats now in charge of the House for the 116th Congress, those numbers are likely to change when the next rankings come out.
Former Sen. Bill Nelson ranked fifth in effectiveness among the 48 Senate Democrats, while Rubio was 10th among the 54 Republicans. The number of Senators exceeds 100 due to resignations and replacements.
In the House, Democratic Rep. Darren Soto as the 13th most effective House member among 204 in his party with Murphy’s ranking of 26 was second best. Among Republicans, Rep. Gus Bilirakis topped the list with a ranking of 39 among 244 while former Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was ranked 57th.
The delegation’s 2017-2018 freshman class showed a high level of effectiveness in the category of “exceeding expectations.” The CEL ranked the 76 Representatives and Senators comprising those serving their first term and listed five Floridians among the top 15.
Republican Rep. Neal Dunn was ranked third, followed by fellow Republican John Rutherford in fifth, while Soto was sixth. Murphy was ranked 12th followed Rep. Al Lawson in 15th.
Transition to civilian life
Four bipartisan members of the Florida delegation are joining to reintroduce a bill designed to help veterans and their families transition into the civilian workforce. Democrat Lawson teamed with Republican Reps. Ted Yoho, Michael Waltz and Rutherford (who originally introduced the bill) to submit the Veterans Armed for Success Act.
The legislation creates a matching grant for programs that display a commitment to ensuring veterans have the necessary skills to transition from warfighter to civilian. The same legislation passed the House last year but could not advance out of the Senate.
Waltz said, “Our country and our communities are better when our veterans find stable, meaningful employment to support themselves and their families,” while Rutherford added: “Congress has the responsibility to fight for those who fought for us.”
Lawson, an original co-sponsor of Rutherford’s 2017 bill said, “The Veterans Armed for Success Act equips local organizations with the support they need to train our veterans from serving to a professional career.”
Yoho added, “When their service is complete, it is essential that their country give them every tool to transition back into civilian life successfully.”
Budget plan blasted
The Trump administration participated in the annual exercise known as presenting a budget proposal while Democrats did what opposition parties do by treating it with complete disdain. The $4.7 trillion spending proposal features savings through cuts in discretionary programs other than defense, but $8.6 billion to builds hundreds of miles of border walls along the southern border.
The proposal also projects $7 trillion in additional deficit spending over the next decade but a balanced budget in 15 years. Democrats see catastrophe for entitlements and social programs.
Rep. Val Demings of Orlando captured the mood of many Democrats.
“Trump’s proposed budget cuts Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, health care, housing, education — nearly every program to help Americans grow, follow our dreams, and protect us from poverty at all ages,” tweeted Rep. Val Demings of Orlando.
“Budgets reflect our values. We can do better.”
Crist pitches flood insurance
Flood insurance has been an area of focus for Rep. Charlie Crist during his time in Congress. Last week, he joined with Republican Rep. Roger Williams of Texas to introduce the State Flood Mitigation Revolving Fund Act of 2019 to help drive down flood insurance premiums.
The bill creates a low-interest loan program to help homeowners flood-proof their homes and businesses. This would lead to more protection and a reduction in disaster claims and recovery costs.
“The need to bring down flood insurance premiums while helping folks better protect their homes from storm damage is as critical as ever,” the Democrat from St. Petersburg said. “Mitigation is key to reducing post-disaster costs, saving taxpayer dollars, and building more resilient communities in the face of more extreme weather and rising sea levels.
Crist pointed to broad support for the legislation which includes the Pew Charitable Trust, National Resources Defense Council, the Property Casualty Insurance Association of America, and several others.
“The devastating storms we’ve seen over the past several years speaks to the urgent need for federal action on flood mitigation programs, protecting public safety and our economy,” Crist said.
Soto touts women in office
Soto of Kissimmee recognized Women’s History Month by detailing the latest numbers of gender makeup in his office, where his staff includes 12 women, including nine women of color, out of 17 employees.
Four of the top five most senior leadership positions in his office are held by women, he noted. He also pointed out that his staff includes one of the six Latina communications directors and one of the seven Latina deputy chiefs of staff in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Diversity is vital for inclusive representation,” Soto said. “It’s always been important to me that our office staff reflects the rich diversity of our constituency and the vibrant Central Florida community.”
Mast bill protects cats
When it was revealed the Veterans Affairs was conducting fatal experiments on dogs, Rep. Brian Mast led a chorus of voices protesting the policy. Mast is now targeting the U.S. Department of Agriculture for their practice of conducting experiments on cats that leads to their euthanasia.
Mast has joined with California Democrat Jimmy Panetta to launch the Kittens in Traumatic Testing Ends Now (KITTEN) Act. The bill would direct the Secretary of Agriculture to end the practice of using cats for experiments that cause pain or stress.
The experiments involve giving cats parasite-infested raw meat, whereupon they would subsequently be killed. The experiments involved adult cats as well as kittens.
“The fact that we need a piece of legislation to tell the federal government to stop killing kittens is ridiculous on its face, but what’s even worse is when you hear the details that the government is actually breeding hundreds of these cats just to intentionally feed them parasite-ridden raw meat and then kill them even though they’re perfectly healthy,” Mast said.
“These tests are just awful, abusive and unnecessary, not to mention a serious misuse of millions of taxpayer dollars,” he added. This needs to stop now.”
Hastings is among the bill’s original co-sponsors.
The family of Robert Levinson sadly marked the 12th anniversary of his disappearance in Iran. While he is not the lone American in captivity, he has been gone the longest, prompting two Florida legislators to join with two other colleagues to file legislation to impose sanctions on hostage takers, among other provisions.
Deutch, who represents the area where the Levinsons reside, was joined by Republican Waltz of St. Augustine in filing the bill. The legislation comes following a hearing before the House Middle East, North Africa and International Terrorism Subcommittee, chaired by Deutch, that involved families of those held in Iran.
“Bringing Americans home must be a priority, and countries that engage in hostage-taking must know that the United States will continue to bring pressure on those who engage in this despicable practice,” Deutch said in a joint release. “We introduce this bill named in Bob’s honor to elevate our efforts to return American hostages and give the administration more tools to pressure countries to return Americans to their families.”
Besides authorizing the President, the bill would elevate the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs to the rank of Ambassador and mandate an interagency hostage recovery fusion cell and a hostage response group.
“With this legislation, we’re calling on our colleagues here in Congress, the Administration, and the American people to join us in putting these rogue regimes and terrorist hostage takers on notice,” said Waltz. “Until now, there’s not been a significant downside or cost to taking an American hostage. This bipartisan legislation would raise the costs and increase the pressure on those who dare take American citizens hostage.”
Frankel files bill on Women’s Day
Last week, Capitol Hill and several places around the country celebrated International Women’s Day. Rep. Lois Frankel and a bipartisan group of colleagues used the opportunity to propose legislation designed to leverage the roles of women toward improving counterterrorism and peacebuilding efforts.
The Women and Countering Violent Extremism Act would account for women’s diverse roles as victims, perpetrators and preventers of violent extremism. The new bill would build on the Women, Peace and Security Act.
“Women are often the first victims of violent extremism, and as mothers and wives, they are on the front lines of detecting radicalization and countering terrorism,” said Frankel, a recent co-chair of the Congressional Women’s Caucus. “This bipartisan bill encourages full participation of women in our efforts to defeat this global threat.”
Joining Frankel as co-sponsors are Democrats Bill Keating of Massachusetts and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, as well as Republicans Joe Wilson of South Carolina, Lee Zeldin of New York and Steve Chabot of Ohio.
On this day
March 12, 2009 — In what many called a stunning move, Gov. Crist appointed Circuit Judge James Perry to the Florida Supreme Court. Conservatives were outraged, but Democrats and civil rights leaders praised Crist’s appointment that placed the second African-American justice on the court.
Republicans and conservatives were stunned and predicted the appointment would damage Crist’s expected run for the U.S. Senate. Adam Goldman, legislative vice president of Florida Right to Life said “Gov. Crist really is taking a risk. I’m sure there’s going to be a primary for the Senate race and he’s not doing himself any favors.”
March 12, 2014 — Republican David Jolly survived a fierce and contentious campaign to capture Florida’s 13th Congressional District seat in Pinellas County, then vowed to work hard to build consensus. The lobbyist and former aide to the late Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, defeated former Florida CFO Alex Sink with 48.6 percent of the vote to Sink’s 46.6 percent and Libertarian Lucas Overby’s 4.8 percent.
Jolly’s campaign focused heavily on opposition to the Affordable Care Act, but his victory party remarks focused on representing his district. He said, “tonight is not about claiming victory, it is about committing to serve.”
Happy birthday (March 12) to Rep. Val Demings of Florida’s 10th Congressional District.