Delegation for 3.26.21: Gun reform — service animals — PPP limits — Guard pay — cruising

capitol (1) green
Gun safety is back at the forefront. Again.

Not throwing away their shot

Just three years after a Florida tragedy prompted thousands to march on Washington demanding gun reform, a pair of shootings within days once again brought the issue to the fore once again. After a gunman killed eight people in a series of Atlanta massage parlor attacks and another killed 10 at a Boulder, Colorado grocery store, several delegation members said America could wait no longer for change.

Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch led a news conference Wednesday, the third anniversary of the official March For Our Lives, on the matter. Joining the Congressman was fellow Florida members Lois Frankel and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, as well as Georgia Democrat Lucy McBath and Colorado Democrats Jason Crow and Joe Neguse. Also speaking were several family members of students lost in the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Deutch’s district.

The Congressman addressed the plague of gun violence and the political course forward for gun legislation. The House recently passed background check legislation (HR 8), and he wants Senate Democrats to move the legislation forward promptly in any way possible.

Indeed, some Democratic members of the delegation want to see a more robust ban on assault-style weapons and large ammunition clips reach President Joe Biden’s desk.

“This is a mainstream issue,” said Wasserman Schulz. “A majority don’t think weapons or war should be commonly and readily available.”

The Boulder mass shooting pushes gun control into the forefront. Again. Image via CNN.

It could take a great deal to get anything through the 50-50 Senate without getting rid of the filibuster. Notably, Florida’s Senate delegation since Parkland has shown a willingness to try other methods of reform. Sen. Marco Rubio, for three years running, has again filed red flag law legislation. The re-upped bill is similar in many respects to what Rick Scott, Florida’s junior Senator, signed into law in Florida after the Parkland shooting. Both Republicans want that reform at a federal level but seem skeptical about background checks.

If anything, Florida Republicans have shown less embrace for such measures recently than in prior years. Two GOP members of the delegation, Brian Mast and Mario Diaz-Balart, supported background checks last Congress but voted bills down this year.

“Changes to this legislation have subverted the original purpose of the bill and dramatically expanded the power of unelected D.C. bureaucrats to unilaterally implement new gun control measures,” Mast said at the time.

Still, among the eight Republicans to vote for the bill were three Florida members, Carlos Giménez, Maria Elvira Salazar and Vern Buchanan. The latter drew a primary challenge by Sarasota activist Martin Hyde, who openly cited that vote as his biggest reason for running.

But fear of criticism from political opponents shouldn’t drive anyone’s vote, Deutch said.

“We all have to make decisions based on what we think is the right thing to do and what we think are our core values,” he said. “Doing everything to save the lives of the people we represent should be the goal of every one of us.”

Release the hounds

Most people are familiar with the value service animals provide to the blind. But canine companions are increasingly used for a variety of conditions, and Rubio wants veterans to benefit.

The Miami Republican this week reintroduced the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act, to help soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

“We can never repay the debt we owe to our nation’s veterans, but we can ensure that they have access to the resources they need to help them live comfortable post-service lives,” Rubio said. “Service dogs have proven to be effective in managing post-traumatic stress disorder and can provide veterans with a sense of confidence, security and independence. I am proud to support this legislation that would ease the post-service lives of our nation’s veterans.”

Marco Rubio seeks more companions for veterans dealing with PTSD and other conditions.

He’s sponsoring the bill with Nebraska Republican Deb Fischer in the Senate. “For veterans suffering from the invisible wounds of war, service dogs have been shown to provide comfort, hope and companionship,” Fischer said. That’s all valuable, especially to those service members returning to civilian life.

This bill’s cuddly appeal also addresses a serious issue, the alarming suicide rate among U.S. service members, which in 2020 spiked to a six-year high. A Department of Veterans Affairs study showed service dogs can reduce many consequences of PTSD, including suicidal behaviors.

Rubio’s bill would establish a three-year program through the Veterans Affairs to provide $25,000 grants for service members to pay for the dogs and their care. Right now, the Veterans Affairs will provide the animals to veterans with physical disabilities, but not those suffering from stress-related conditions.

PPP safeguards

Many company owners credit the Paycheck Protection Program with keeping their businesses alive during the pandemic. Still, Scott said it’s essential the government make sure that emergency relief doesn’t get exploited by those who don’t deserve it.

In a letter to Small Business Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman, the Naples Republican requests details on SBA’s plans to prevent waste and abuse.

His concern rose last year among reports programs ineligible for PPP loans got them anyway, including 37 Planned Parenthood affiliates, the Florida Democratic Party, and a number of chain restaurants.

Rick Scott is cracking down on the PPP program. Image via AP.

“Too many in Washington believe that government waste is inevitable — it’s just the cost of doing business. I don’t accept that,” Scott wrote. “This is taxpayer money, and we can’t afford to waste it. We can’t allow a government bailout of huge corporations, and we can’t accept that taxpayer money is going to businesses that haven’t been hurt by this crisis. We have to step up and fight for the transparency, information, and reform necessary to make sure those individuals and small businesses hurt by the coronavirus are getting the help they need.”

He also asks the now-Democrat-headed SBA to maintain that Planned Parenthood cannot get a loan, and new loans funded in a relief bill this year only go out to those with a substantial reduction in revenue.

Delegation-wide demand

Florida’s entire House delegation sent a letter to the Department of Defense seeking greater equity in funding the Florida National Guard.

“Our troops have served dutifully over the last year, but our growing population calls for more manpower,” said Gainesville Republican Kat Cammack, who led the bipartisan letter.

The document makes the case the Sunshine State doesn’t receive proper attention in Guard funding.

Kat Cammack joins the entire delegation to call for better pay for the Florida National Guard. Image via Twitter.

“Florida is our nation’s third most populous state yet when compared among other states, our Guardsman to citizen ratio places Florida at 53 of 54,” the letter laments. “Florida’s population is expected to grow by 5 million in the next decade. Our state’s National Guard can no longer lag behind future population growth.”

The rare 27-signatory letter from the delegation to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin noted this state’s Guardsmen had been called upon with increasing frequency, including being stationed at the U.S. Capitol after the Jan. 6 riots. Since 9/11, over 22,000 National Guardsmen have been deployed, often for natural disasters. Proportional structuring should mean Florida have as many as 21,000 Guardsmen, but the Florida National Guard has far less, around 12,000.

Case for Medicaid

Congressional Democrats also came together to request a former Republican colleague, Gov. Ron DeSantis. This one centered on Florida’s yearslong resistance to federal assistance with health care.

A letter led by Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat, and co-signed by Darren Soto, Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Alcee Hastings, Deutch, Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson called for, among other things, Medicaid expansion.

“Florida was expected to have a budget shortfall because of increased Medicaid enrollment and additional unemployment claims. Since Florida’s fiscal outlook has improved, we request that you expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA),” the letter asserts.

Al Lawson is joining delegation Democrats to urge Ron DeSantis to expand Medicaid. Image via Facebook.

“Under Medicaid expansion, Florida would make significant ‘fiscal gains’ by replacing state spending with expansion funds. Given that Florida will be able to balance the state budget at the end of this legislative session, we believe expanding Medicaid not only makes sense from an economic perspective, but from a humanity perspective,” the Democrats wrote, contending that more than 850,000 Floridians could get coverage when expanding Medicaid.

In terms of Medicaid expansion, DeSantis followed his predecessor, Scott, who is invoked in the letter for his recommendation to return money not explicitly earmarked for relief. DeSantis spokesperson Meredith Beatrice says no changes are imminent in terms of policy.

However, DeSantis has been willing to program relief funds for educational initiatives outside the purview of virus relief, including a $116-million civics education initiative and a $75-million workforce education push. Both of those will be programmed from the CARES Act-funded Elementary and Secondary School Relief Fund.

Meanwhile, it looks like other states such as Tennessee feel happy to chance course on rejecting Medicaid in the wake of the pandemic.

Cruising

Most of the Republican portion of Florida’s delegation, led by Scott, demanded more action from the Biden administration in letting the cruise industry know how to proceed in recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

Sens. Scott and Rubio and House Republicans Gus Bilirakis, Diaz-Balart, Giménez, Bill Posey, John Rutherford, Salazar and Michael Waltz wrote to White House COVID-19 Coordinator Jeffrey Zients Thursday, saying the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has been less than forthcoming with guidelines necessary for reopening the cruise industry.

Gus Bilirakis wants Americans to start cruising again. Image via Twitter.

They requested answers to several questions related to the CDC’s promised multiple phases of guidelines for its “Framework for Conditional Sailing” protocols.

The Florida Republican lawmakers were joined by those from Alaska, another state hard-hit by the complete and continuing shutdown of the cruise industry that started in early March 2020.

“We are disappointed that the CDC has been neither transparent nor forthright with the cruise industry, leaving a sector that is a significant economic driver for our states at a standstill, and affecting jobs in all major ports and surrounding cities,” the letter states.

The industry, company by company, issued a series of delays in corporate plans to relaunch, with most now looking at mid- or late-summer.

“The cruise industry has faced unique challenges amid this pandemic and is one of the only industries that is completely precluded from resuming normal operations. This has created a dramatic negative ripple effect on the Florida and Alaskan families, businesses, ports and communities that rely on the cruise industry,” the letter declares. “If the CDC does not quickly commit to start communicating timely and effective guidance, as well as hold frequent and productive meetings with cruise industry stakeholders, it will have harmful impacts on another peak season for the cruise industry.”

Get the lead out

An investigation of poor working conditions at a Florida smelting plant drew the attention of Tampa Democrat Castor. Following a major report on the Tampa Bay Times, she said Congress needs to step in to stop human suffering and employee abuse.

“Workers and their families in Tampa appear to have been sacrificed for the corporate profits of the Gopher lead smelting plant. Lead poisoning and excessive lead exposure are very dangerous and cause severe health consequences,” she said. “The Tampa Bay Times story of unsafe working conditions and neurotoxin poisoning is disturbing and requires answers and accountability … It appears that regulators charged with ensuring that factories are safe for workers also failed dismally.”

‘Get the lead out’ of Tampa’s Gopher smelting plant, says Kathy Castor.

The newspaper report includes accounts of workers exposed to a steady stream of toxic fumes and suffocating heat. One worker said a company respirator there showed seven times the level of lead it was designed to handle. Castor said if federal regulators can’t stop these working conditions, it’s time to review the regulations.

“The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 has not been meaningfully updated since its original passage over 50 years ago, and the health conditions of Gopher Resource workers described in the Times underscore the urgency of updating a 1970s law for the 21st-century workplace,” she said. “I am working on doing just that, but the apparent failure to inspect and enforce current safeguards demands immediate answers.”

Grilling Big Tech

In a frequently contentious meeting between members of Congress and Big Tech executives, Florida got in on the controversy as members made a case for repealing sweeping legal protections. Bilirakis, a Clearwater Republican, pressed Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Bilirakis zeroed in on the intent of Section 230, which gives immunity to social media companies for the content shared on platforms. He said the companies allowed cyberbullying and various other offenses to proceed unfettered, hiding behind those protections.

Congress grills Mark Zuckerberg on disinformation through Facebook.

“To our witnesses today here lies the problem for you. You don’t want the federal government telling you what parts of your company you’re allowed to operate. Imagine things from our perspective when you pick and choose what parts of the law you want to follow,” Bilirakis said. “I really do admire your ingenuity. You have created something truly remarkable. But with that power, you must also be good Samaritans, and you have an obligation to be stewards of your platform. If your legal department doesn’t believe you are bound to the intent of the law, I would hope your souls and consciences will.”

Panhandle Republican Neal Dunn, meanwhile, found himself fact-checking Pichai, who initially said Google had no AI centers in China.

In fact, it has three.

It all seemed to amplify Bilirakis’ overriding concern that Americans no longer trust Big Tech.

“People want to use your services,” Bilirakis said, “but they suspect your coders are designing what they think we should see and hear, by keeping us online longer than ever, and all with the purpose to polarize and monetize us, disregarding any consequences for the assault on our inherent freedoms.”

Dear Merrick letter

Florida’s full Democratic delegation asks the Department of Justice to dig into the state’s election process. A letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland lays out the request for a search into whether mysterious third-party spoiler candidates violated election law.

The missive comes after authorities arrested former GOP state Sen. Frank Artiles last week. He’s facing state charges for allegedly breaking campaign finance law to prop up a sham candidate last November in the razor-thin Senate District 37 contest.

Florida Democrats Crist, Castor, Val Demings, Deutch, Frankel, Hastings, Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Soto, Wasserman Schultz and Wilson signed the letter.

Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist want answers on spoiler candidates.

“Several news outlets have reported that in at least three Florida Senate races, sham candidates were planted by political operatives and funded by dark money groups in order to sway the electoral outcome,” the lawmakers wrote, referring to the 2020 contests in Senate Districts 9, 37 and 39.

While the delegation members asked the DOJ to broaden the SD 37 investigation, they also want investigators to set their sights on other elections featuring third-party candidates.

“There are important unanswered questions regarding the original source of the money to fund this scheme (in SD 37), and whether the entity that provided the funding was in violation of any federal campaign finance laws or Internal Revenue Service codes,” the letter continues.

“It is also a pressing public concern as to whether any fraud occurred in furtherance of a federal criminal conspiracy designed to influence the outcome of one or more elections. We strongly encourage your office and others in the federal law enforcement community to probe further into the source operations of this scheme to identify potential federal criminal violations. Unlike the dangerous, baseless claims of voter fraud impacting the 2020 Election, in this case, evidence actually exists that a multistate fraud conspiracy was committed against Florida’s voters.”

Last week, Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny A. Diaz pitched a similar proposal. On Wednesday, former Congresswoman Donna Shalala also asked the feds to get involved in the Artiles probe.

Jordan visit

Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, one of the more prominent Freedom Caucus members, will be in Sarasota this May. “It will be a great update on what’s happening on the hill, in Congress, and the Biden Administration,” said Jack Brill, acting chair of the Republican Party of Sarasota.

Jordan will speak at the party’s spring luncheon May 24 at the Sarasota Yacht Club, in what will be the party’s first significant attendance event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Luncheon tickets run $65 a person, with a VIP reception costing $300 per person.

Greg Steube could supply Jim Jordan some backup for a Longboat Key fundraiser.

Jordan will also attend a fundraiser with his supporters the same weekend at the Longboat Key Club, and Brill suspects the confluence of events will bring more Congress members as well. At the least, it seems likely Sarasota Republican Greg Steube, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee with Jordan, the committee’s ranking member, will attend. Jordan backed Steube’s first election to the House in 2018 and has raised money for the conservative lawmaker before.

Boston to Ballard

The Washington, D.C. office for Ballard Partners just hired a well-known Boston advocate with close ties to Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh. The firm announced Eugene O’Flaherty, former corporation counsel for the City of Boston, joined the Florida-based firm.

“Gene’s leadership role with the City of Boston, his knowledge of the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation, and his outstanding service as a top legislator in the Massachusetts House of Representatives significantly expands our firm’s reach and capabilities,” said Brian Ballard, Ballard Partners’ president and founder. “We are honored to have Gene join our exceptional team of professionals and are eager to provide our clients with his wisdom and guidance.”

Big-time Boston politico Eugene O’Flaherty joins Ballard Partners.

O’Flaherty worked as Boston’s chief legal counsel while Walsh served as Mayor. His move to Ballard comes as the lobbying firm bolsters its roster of prominent Democrats.

Also working under the Ballard brand? Former South Florida Congressman Robert Wexler, former Lawson chief of staff Tola Thompson and former State Department Spokesman and diplomat Jamie Rubin.

“I am delighted,” O’Flaherty said, “to join Ballard Partners and to be working with the firm’s outstanding team in Washington.”

On this day

March 26, 1790 — “Congress passes first U.S. immigration law” via Americal Social History Production — The newly-formed Congress passed a law establishing the rules for becoming a citizen. Under the law, only “free white persons” who had been in the United States for at least two years were eligible for citizenship, thus excluding free and enslaved African Americans, indentured servants, Native Americans, and later Asian Americans. Citizenship was further limited to persons of good moral character who had to attest to their good character in front of a state court and take an oath of allegiance to support the United States Constitution.

March 26, 2020 — “U.S. now has most reported coronavirus cases in the world” via CNN — There are now at least 81,836 coronavirus cases reported in the United States. China is currently reporting 81,782 cases, according to numbers from Johns Hopkins University. Italy is third globally in total reported coronavirus cases with 80,589 cases. These numbers are constantly changing. Both the totals and the rank order of countries could change at any time. The U.S., Italy and China will vary on the per capita rate of cases due to their vast differences in population.

___

Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by A.G. Gancarski, Ryan Nicol and Scott Powers.

Staff Reports


One comment

  • President Elect Kidsniffer

    March 27, 2021 at 5:22 am

    There is no such thing as “gun violence”. A gun is a tool, an inanimate object. Violence is perpetrated by people, using all manner of tools. When have you ever heard the media discuss “hammer violence”? It is a ploy to cause an emotional reaction.
    Just stop with the “weapons of war” nonsense. No military on Earth uses an AR15.
    Finally, stop acting like there are no background checks. We already have background checks. What we do not want is an excuse for an overbearing government, which has already admitted it wishes to take away guns, from using “universal background checks” as a way to get a registry of firearms and their owners to be used in a later confiscation. We do not want to spend weeks and pay fees going through 2 background checks to lend a gun to a friend or brother-in-law, one when lending and one when reclaiming. Nor is it the government’s business what we do with our personally owned private property. Just try to buy a gun from a shop, or online, and you will quickly see that we do indeed have background checks, even IF the President’s crackhead son is able to get away with lying while undergoing his.
    We have sufficient laws already to deal with all criminal uses of firearms AND to remove firearms from dangerous individuals. Prosecutors rarely use them however. Use the laws we already have instead of passing new ones, which criminals will also ignore and which will only serve to make life harder for law abiding citizens.

    What happened to a free and fair press?

Comments are closed.


#FlaPol

Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jason Delgado, Drew Dixon, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Andrew Wilson, and Kelly Hayes.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704