Florida’s top health official appeared briefly before a House subcommittee on Tuesday and took no questions, a move that drew the ire of several lawmakers.
Surgeon General Scott Rivkees briefed the Florida House Professions & Public Health subcommittee for fewer than 10 minutes before signing off.
Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith immediately voiced his frustration to Chairman Will Robinson.
Smith noted that House lawmakers have not heard from Rivkees since the legislative body last convened nearly 11 months ago.
“I’m disappointed that he can’t answer questions publicly and I think that it just contributes to the assumption that this process is a sham if we can not be able to ask legitimate questions to the top public health officer in the state,” Smith said.
Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani, who also sits on the subcommittee, expressed displeasure shortly afterward on Twitter.
“We just had the State Surgeon General of @HealthyFl zoom into our committee meeting but we couldn’t actually ask him any questions,” Eskamani tweeted. “He’s been MIA for a LOT of #COVID19 – disappointing that we couldn’t ask him some basic questions about #COVID19 and public health.”
Robinson, a Republican, explained the subcommittee was too short on time for questions.
“We have a robust agenda, and we did not plan for questions to the Surgeon General this meeting,” Robinson said before later extending the meeting by 10 minutes.
Rivkees’ brief showing was without substance. He summarized the state’s COVID-19 case numbers, vaccine efforts and touched on other health issues emerging in Florida.
Notably, the meeting packet described Rivkees’ appearance as an “introduction.”
“Could you imagine Dr. [Anthony] Fauci being hauled in front of a Congressional Committee on Healthcare for an introduction?” Smith implored to reporters afterward. “It’s absurd. This is no different. It’s an insult to our constituents.”
Appearing alongside Smith, Rep. Michele Rayner said she had received numerous COVID-19 related questions from constituents ahead of the meeting.
She hoped to present those questions in the public sphere.
“I don’t know when he’s going to come back in front of us,” the St. Pete Democrat said. “I don’t want to have to schedule a meeting when this really needs to be in the sunshine. Everybody needs to hear all of these answers because people are dying.”
In a statement provided to Florida Politics, Florida Department of Health Communications Director Jason Mahon said the introduction is common during early committee weeks when new members join a committee.
“In the prior committee week, he took questions in two Senate committees and spoke to multiple reporters,” Mahon said. “He also dialogues with representatives regularly.”
Mahon added that Rivkees welcomes lawmakers’ questions.
“We look forward to continuing to present throughout the legislative session, especially when more time is available,” Mahon said.
The Florida Legislative Session begins March 2.