Delegation for 8.3.21: Infrastructure (again) — ocean safe — buy American — education equity

capitol u.s. green 9.30.19
Is infrastructure week finally here?

Infrastructure road

A $1-trillion infrastructure plan appears on track to pass. On Sunday, final details were published regarding a bipartisan deal negotiated between a 17-Senator working group and the White House. But so far, Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott have not expressed support. With 2,700 pages of draft legislation in the public sphere, is there much in the bill to win over either Republican?

The legislation doesn’t designate spending by state, but there will almost certainly be money that makes its way to Florida. The White House says there will be $110 billion invested in roads and bridges, prioritizing mitigating climate change and boosting resiliency. That sure sounds like Miami will get a cut, and plenty of other Florida projects will likely land grants as well.

About $40 billion will go to bridge replacement and rehab, and the American Road & Transportation Builders Associations says Florida certainly has its share of bridges in need of attention. The association says 131 Florida bridges are structurally deficient. That includes the Pensacola Bay Bridge, one the association highlights among the nation’s five bridges most in need of attention.

The bill also calls for $39 billion to modernize public transit, well shy of the $85 billion President Joe Biden originally wanted. There’s $7.5 billion going to increase electric vehicles as school buses, trolleys and other transit.

A total of $17 billion has been earmarked for ports and $25 billion for airports, again focusing on electrification. Florida boasts 15 seaports and 131 public airports, and tourism plays a vital role in the state economy, so it’s likely funding from this silo also ends up in the Sunshine State.

But then, there’s plenty of money in the bill directed to other parts of the country, including $66 billion going toward improving Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. There are only three Amtrak routes in Florida, mainly focused on the state’s east coast and a dedicated auto train.

Neither of Florida’s Senators voted in favor of allowing debate to open up in the Senate on the legislation last week, but then neither was involved in negotiations. Rubio last week suggested the backroom nature of deal-making so far made it difficult to get on board.

“This coming week, the Senate is supposed to pass a $1 trillion/3,000-page infrastructure bill and separately on three major spending bills,” Rubio tweeted on July 31. “So far, almost no Senator has seen the text of any of these bills.”

That’s changed now. A 2,700-page bill can now be read and studied, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has encouraged any Senators in the Republican caucus to offer amendments to improve the bill.

But Scott still expressed skepticism. “There is no U.S. Congressional Budget Office score. We have no idea how much it will add to America’s nearly $30T debt,” Scott said. “We can’t consider this until we fully understand the cost to taxpayers.”

Reef safe

Rubio said it’s time to protect coral reefs from unsafe chemicals used in sunscreens. He introduced bipartisan legislation to require the Food and Drug Administration to establish standards for “Reef Safe” and “Ocean Safe” sunblocks. He introduced the bill with Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley.

“Florida’s coral reefs and coastal ecosystems are foundational to Florida’s economic, ecological, and cultural character, and protecting them is vital,” Rubio said. “Establishing science-based definitions for ‘reef safe’ and ‘ocean safe’ will protect consumers from false or misleading product claims and allow Americans to make informed decisions to help preserve critical marine habitats.”

Ocean safe: Marco Rubio says it’s past time to start protecting Florida’s coral reefs. Image via The Nature Conservancy South Florida.

Miami Republican Carlos Giménez filed a companion bill in the House with Hawaii Democrat Ed Case.

“Florida’s aquatic ecosystems are crucial to the well-being of our state. They serve an incredibly important part of our local economy in Florida’s 26th congressional district and play a vital role in the identity of South Florida’s communities,” Giménez said. “That is why I am teaming up with my colleagues to ensure that any and all preservation measures, including warning labels on consumer products that may have an impact on our aquatic ecosystems, are accurate and science-based.”

The potential impact of sunscreens on reefs has been controversial in recent years. Florida in 2020 banned local jurisdictions from putting in local regulations about chemicals in sunscreen, with state lawmakers noting the potential of an increase in skin cancer if beachgoers don’t use anything to block ultraviolet light or use chemicals without strong enough chemicals to protect skin from the sun.

Meanwhile, Hawaii has banned any sunblock containing oxybenzone or octinoxate. That came following one of the first studies on the effects of those key sunscreen ingredients of reefs around the island state.

The federal legislation aims to settle questions and require the FDA to consult with the Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to study the impacts of chemicals in sunscreen on fish, sea urchins, crustaceans, sea grasses, kelp, and, of course, coral reefs. A scientific reevaluation of criteria would be required every decade.

“The last thing any of us want is to accidentally harm that sea life by wearing toxic chemicals in our sunscreen,” Merkley said. “This simple bill will help us choose the best products both for our skin protection and for sea life protection.”

Made in America

If there’s one thing both parties can agree upon in the Senate, it’s that buying American is better. A year after the Senate passed Scott’s Buy American resolution, Made In America Week, which lasted from July 26 to 30, Florida’s junior Senator issued a new call for Americans to keep their spending onshore.

“As we celebrate this year’s Made In America Week, I encourage all Americans to support their local communities, our great small businesses, and American jobs by buying products made here in the USA,” Scott said.

Of note, the week is one bipartisan message born during former President Donald Trump’s presidency. The Republican executive originally unrolled the idea back in 2017. Of course, despite the bipartisan nature of the week, Scott still threw a jab at Democrats now in the White House.

“While I’m glad to see President Biden continue this tradition if he really cared about American families and jobs, he’d abandon his job-killing agenda and out-of-control tax and spend spree that’s bankrupting our nation and leading to inflation. President Biden and all Americans must also remember that every time we buy a product ‘Made in China,’ we are putting another dollar into the pockets of Communist China, bankrolling its oppressive government, which is actively committing genocide against the Uyghurs and attacking democracy in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The best way to grow and support American jobs is to cut taxes and regulations, pay down the debt and stop doing business with Communist China.”

Made in America Week did spark a fresh proclamation from President Biden. “By using Made in America policies as one tool of many to rebuild our industrial base and strengthen critical supply chains, we will help put the American dream within reach for our Nation’s families today and for generations to come,” the proclamation reads in part.

To watch Scott introduce the resolution, click on the image below:

Agent Orange 

A disproportionate number of Vietnam veterans came back from war and suffered from prostate cancer, the risk heightened by exposure to Agent Orange. Panama City Republican Neal Dunn says the Veterans Affairs Administration owes it to service members to research and provide better care for the ailment.

He and Michigan Democrat Elissa Slotkin reintroduced the Veteran’s Prostate Cancer Treatment and Research Act, which, if passed, will direct the VA Secretary to establish a clinical pathway for prostate cancer care and find ways to optimize treatment for patients.

Neal Dunn looks to take on prostate cancer in veterans caused by Agent Orange. Image via WJHG.

“After everything our veterans experience while serving, the last thing they should be faced with is yet another enemy — prostate cancer,” said Dunn, a medical doctor by trade. “The key to overcoming prostate cancer is early detection. Veterans deserve a system that streamlines the pathway from early detection to successful treatment. This bill is a solid first step forward to save fellow veterans’ lives and defeat this deadly adversary.”

The bill boasts the support of the American Urological Association, ZERO — The End of Prostate Cancer and Veterans Prostate Cancer Awareness.

“The development of a clinical pathway that will improve access to prostate cancer care from early diagnosis all the way through the patient’s cancer journey at the VA will save lives, lives that our nation’s protectors deserve to share with their loved ones,” said Jamie Bearse, president and CEO of ZERO.

Tardy trade reports

Two Democrats in the delegation, Kathy Castor and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, may have been delinquent in reporting stock trades in a timely fashion, according to Business Insider.

Recently filed financial disclosures showed Wasserman Schultz purchased up to $15,000 in Westell Technologies last October but only reported the trade last week. One of her children purchased up to $45,000 the same day.

Castor, meanwhile, bought as much as $45,000 in Berkshire Hathaway last summer that just showed up in records. The Tampa Congresswoman has been regularly buying stock in the company for more than a year.

Kathy Castor may not have been forthright with her finances. Image via Florida Daily.

In effect since 2012, the STOCK Act requires members of Congress to disclose market trades within 45 days of the transaction and within 30 days if the trade was made by the member individually.

Both members acknowledged the mistakes.

This was an oversight and corrected once it was recognized,” a spokesperson for Wasserman Schultz told Florida Politics.

“The filing was a few days late due to a simple oversight in reporting,” said a Castor spokesperson similarly.

Medicaid mandate

Since the arrival of Obamacare, Florida has resisted a Medicaid expansion. Now, Tampa Democrat Castor wants to force the issue. She led a letter to House leadership co-signed by Democrats in 12 “non-expansion” states demanding legislation that closes a coverage gap and requires coverage to Americans nationwide.

Advocates estimate about 2.2 million do not have insurance coverage before the dozen states who blocked a Medicaid expansion, with about 1 million living in Florida.

“Closing the coverage gap would positively impact coverage for children. Hispanic children in non-expansion states are 2.5 times more likely to be uninsured,” the letter reads. “We know that getting parents covered helps get kids covered. Low-wage workers in our states — many of whom have been on the front lines during the COVID pandemic — will be big winners if we close the coverage gap. In Florida, for example, the most common jobs for uninsured low-wage workers are cashiers, cooks, waiters, retail salespersons, and construction workers. We owe it to our hardworking, underserved and marginalized communities to fight for their health care, since so many ‘leaders’ in their states refuse.”

Kathy Castor pushes to close the health insurance gap. Image via Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

From Castor, that comment should be a barely indirect critique of Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. Of course, he’s followed in suit with his predecessor in the Governor’s mansion, Sen. Scott, who waffled in his support of an expansion but never saw one move forward during his two terms as Florida’s chief executive.

Castor isn’t limiting lobbying to Washington on the matter. This morning, Aug. 3, she led a rally in Tampa alongside state lawmakers and advocates who favor a Medicaid expansion. She cited an analysis by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that estimates the lack of coverage has cost Florida $66 billion since 2014.

Red tide ripples

As Florida’s 16th Congressional District deals with increased red tide issues, Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan hosted a roundtable to discuss solutions on Monday.

“On the Suncoast, we rely on clean water and white sandy beaches to support our economy and our way of life,” Buchanan said. “Red tide has wreaked havoc on marine life, our waters, and the many businesses that rely on Florida’s tourism-based economy. Today’s roundtable was a productive discussion on enhancing Southwest Florida’s natural resources to protect our economy and environment for generations to come. We must take immediate action to combat red tide.”

Clean water and sandy beaches are what fuels the Florida lifestyle, says Vern Buchanan. Image via Twitter.

Gathered together were state and federal officials and local experts knowledgeable about the long-term consequences of red tide exposure for constituents.

“Sarasota Bay is currently facing a series of challenges, but it’s also a waterbody where water quality and ecosystem restoration has been previously accomplished, which gives us confidence that the improvements we need to bring about can be accomplished,” said Dr. David Tomasko, executive director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program. “It won’t be easy, but it is possible, if we all do our part, from individual homeowners to business owners to local, regional, state and federal agencies.” 

Buchanan noted the most recent red tide bloom is hardly the worst the region experienced. Through much of 2018, Sarasota and most of Florida’s west coast suffered a historic red tide. Algal blooms, in this instance, appear to have started hitting populated areas around Tampa Bay last month and have started to spread out.

The impact of the environmental disaster, experts said, could be wrought on both the environment and the economy.

“As a beach destination that relies on tourism as its main economic driver, clean water is one of the most important issues for our community,” said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Year after year, the Bradenton Area attracts visitors seeking clean beaches, beautiful waterways, thriving wildlife, fresh seafood, and opportunities to take part in recreational activities that can only be enjoyed when our water quality is high. As Manatee County continues to grow into a top destination for visitors to Florida, the BACVB is dedicated to working with county, state and national agencies and organizations to continue to find ways to maintain water quality levels, educate visitors and ensure water remains ingrained in our destination’s unique and treasured culture for years to come. Together with Florida’s leadership and some of the world’s best marine biologists, I know we will come up with organic mitigation programs that will minimize Red Tide in the near future.”

Stopping the cops

The U.S. Capitol Police last month opened a field office in Tampa to investigate individuals connected to the Jan. 6 riot. Now, Sarasota Republican Greg Steube wants to shut it down.

The Congressman filed new legislation — entitled the Protect the Capitol Act — to forbid the Washington D.C.-based law enforcement agency from setting up offices outside the District of Columbia. The bill would also limit deployment of officers to outside jurisdictions to no more than 30 days and require any such deployment to be in response to a specific threat.

Greg Steube wants to close the Capitol Police’s Tampa office.

“Rather than sending officers to outside jurisdictions to waste time and resources on politicized investigations, USCP leadership should focus on their sole responsibility of protecting the U.S. Capitol in D.C.,” Steube said. “Operating field offices outside of their jurisdiction is an unnecessary overreach that would only add to the mismanagement of the USCP and leadership shortcomings that we’ve seen over the past year.”

It’s the latest episode of friction between Steube, the son of a former Manatee County Sheriff and longtime law-enforcement ally, and the Capitol Police in the unfolding aftermath of the Capitol riot. While Steube, who was in the Capitol when rioters broke through a security line, issued a strong statement at the time praising the police and slamming rioters, he later voted against awarding medals to the police for their actions that day.

CD 20 wide-open

Three months out from the Primary Election in Florida’s 20th Congressional District, a new survey shows that Democratic Primary voters are still on the fence.

The poll of likely Democratic voters shows that 29% are still undecided on replacing the late Alcee Hastings, the Fort Lauderdale Democrat who represented Florida’s 20th Congressional District before his death earlier this year.

Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness has the next-highest share of support at 17%. He’s followed by fellow Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief at 14% and state Rep. Omari Hardy at 10%.

Hardy, who represents parts of Palm Beach County in the state House, was boosted with 23% support from Palm Beach County voters. That’s the highest share of any candidate, though it’s less than the 40% of Palm Beach voters who are undecided. Holness and Sharief pulled the bulk of their support from Broward County.

Barbara Sharief is moving up in the crowded race for CD 20.

CD 20 stretches from Broward to Palm Beach County. It encompasses many majority-Black areas near major cities such as Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

Other candidates polled include state Sen. Perry Thurston at 8%, Trinity Health Care Services CEO Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick and former Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor at 6%, state Rep. Bobby DuBose at 5%, and Matt Boswell and Emmanuel Morel at essentially 0%.

The final 5% said they’d be supporting another Democratic candidate not listed in the survey. Natalia Allen, Elvin Dowling, Phil Jackson, Marlon Onias, Imran Siddiqui and Pradel Vilme have also filed paperwork to run for the Democratic nomination.

The results are good news for the top candidates, though the results come with plenty of caveats. The organization backing the poll, Data for Progress, is a left-leaning group that zeroed in on Hardy’s result. The polling memo said Hardy “has a path specifically through progressive consolidation along with his ability to win large percentages in Palm Beach County while staying competitive in Broward.”

The survey, which sampled 314 likely Primary Election voters, also carries a margin of error of 5 percentage points. With that applied to each candidate’s results, the candidates’ accurate respective rankings could be swapped significantly.

While the seat will ultimately be filled in the Jan. 11 Special General Election, the Nov. 2 Democratic Primary winner will be heavily favored in the left-leaning district.

Education equity 

Charter school advocates in Florida called on members of Congress representing the state to fund all public schools fully.

Foundation for Florida’s Future Executive Director Patricia Levesque said charter schools must receive funding equity.

“Today, a broad coalition of organizations and schools sent a letter to Florida’s Congressional delegation, urging they treat all public school students equally by restoring the education funding cut in the Charter School Program fund and eliminating language that could especially harm public school students with special needs and low-income students who attend charter schools,” Levesque said.

The pandemic makes it all the more critical that all schools receive federal funding.

Patricia Levesque demands equity for charter schools across the country.

“For the past 18 months, students across the country have had their learning disrupted, impacting every student differently, which is why Congress should not pass a budget that risks further disrupting learning by removing basic funding for public school students,” the letter reads.

“The current House Appropriations budget for the fiscal year 2022 cuts education funding to more than 3.3 million students across the country who choose a public charter school to fulfill their learning needs. More than 300,000 of those students, nearly 10%, attend charter schools in Florida. Each of those students is no less important than any other student.”

Notably, the letter praised the American Rescue Plan for providing $125 billion in funding for school districts, helping all institutions.

But the budget already approved by the House Appropriations Committee “moves the country backward” by cutting $40 million from the federal Charter Schools Program.

“This agenda-driven budget prioritizes politics over people and systems over students,” the letter states. “We urge our members of Congress to reject this language, restore the federal funding to the Charter School Program fund, and treat all public school students equally.”

Several state lawmakers signed the letter, including Sens. Aaron Bean, Manny Diaz, Ray Rodrigues and Reps. Alex Andrade, Wyman Duggan, Michael Grant, Chip LaMarca, Stan McLain, Paul Renner, Jason Shoaf and Kaylee Tuck.

Several charter school organizations, companies and individual institutions signed on, including the Florida Charter School Alliance, Charter Schools USA, Pinecrest Academy, Naples Classical Academy, Pepin Academies. So did several business groups, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Florida Council of 100.

“Every student is deserving of an education that enables them to succeed, and that is why we believe the language in this House Appropriations approved budget bill is particularly harmful — by defunding charter schools, it hurts all children,” the letter closes. “We urge you to reject legislation that cuts and restricts funding to the public charter sector and disrupts the education of charter students nationwide.”

Chamber move

A staffer for Lakeland Republican Scott Franklin will leave the House for a prominent post at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Michael Richards starts this month as the new policy director for the Chamber, according to Legistorm. That’s a big job, considering the organization retains roughly 80 lobbyists on staff advocating for business issues in Congress.

Scott Franklin loses a key staffer to the U.S. Chamber. Image via The Lakelander.

He will leave behind a post as Franklin’s deputy chief of staff and legislative director. Richards previously worked for Texas Republican Pete Olson in the House and started on the hill as an intern. He also worked on a Congressional campaign for Jeff Gorell, now the Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles.

On this day

Aug. 3, 1882 — “Congress passes Immigration Act” via the Immigration and Ethnic History Society — The 1882 Immigration Act adopted as federal law policies and practices already enacted by the states of New York and Massachusetts that targeted poor immigrants for exclusion and removal. As a commitment to restricting immigration hardened, the federal government assumed sole authority to set policy and administer immigration law. Nonetheless, early efforts in immigration restriction adopted priorities of various states and regions, as in the 1803 ban on “Negro” immigration, Chinese exclusion, and the 1882 prohibition against those “likely to become a public charge.”

Aug. 3, 1948 — “Whittaker Chambers accuses Alger Hiss of being a communist” via History.com — In hearings before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Chambers accused former State Department official Hiss of being a communist and a spy for the Soviet Union. The accusation set into motion a series of events that eventually resulted in the trial and conviction of Hiss for perjury. Chambers was a little-known figure before his appearance before HUAC. A self-professed former member of the Communist Party. Chambers also admitted to having served as a spy for the Soviet Union. He left the Communist Party in 1938 and offered his services to the FBI as an informant on communist activities in the United States. 

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Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Ryan Nicol.

Staff Reports



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