Delegation for 5.27.22: Solutions? — guns — EAGLEs — hard targets — red flags

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Will the Texas school shooting lead to action this time?

Searching for answers

Amid the gridlock of Washington, the partisanship of the Midterms, and grief of the 24-hour news cycle, this week saw statements aplenty expressing sympathy but fewer offering specific solutions. But a few members of the delegation, amid the finger-pointing and political posturing, suggest there may indeed be solutions to stop mass school shootings — or at least reduce them — on Capitol Hill.

The school shooting in Uvalde is prompting talk. But what about answers? Image via AP.

Senators and Representatives from Florida championed much of that legislation. Some bills pertain directly to gun control. Others focus on setting up better campus security.

And much of it bears distinct connections to a tragedy in recent years within the “Gunshine State.”

Background checks

For Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat serving his final term, solutions seem imperative. He knows the weight of tragedy in the district, with the shadow of Parkland cast over his career. He lost 17 constituents on Feb. 14, 2018, at a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. The dark day somehow just slipped to the fifth deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, with the death toll at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, currently at 21.

“And the sadness and broken hearts march from city to city across America,” Deutch posted Wednesday. “Only America.”

Ted Deutch is ‘sickened’ by the lack of congressional action on gun violence. Image via AP.

He also asserted in a lengthy thread that, despite conventional wisdom, Congress could do something to address the issue. And with each dream of a child’s future destroyed by a shooter’s gun, Deutch expressed fury and a desire for solutions.

“It sickened me that Congress never did anything after Newtown,” he wrote. “I’m ashamed that Congress did nothing after the gun violence that devastated Parkland and South Florida.”

He said the Senate could immediately pass a measure requiring universal background checks (HR 8). It cleared the House already on a largely party-line 227-203 vote. But it did win over several Republicans within the delegation, such as Reps. Vern Buchanan, Carlos Giménez and María Elvira Salazar. Deutch said the Senate needs to vote now and see how many Republicans in the upper chamber will cross over and support the bill. “Make them all vote. It won’t prevent every act of gun violence, but it will save lives,” he said.

But that’s just one bill supported by Deutch or other delegation members from either side of the aisle. Many more could create meaningful change, members said.

EAGLES

Deutch also introduced the EAGLES Act (HR 1229) with Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, a Miami Republican. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott were among the introducing sponsors for a Senate companion bill (S 391). The bill was crafted in cooperation with Stand with Parkland and Parkland parent Tony Montalto.

“The EAGLES Act, also introduced in the 116th Congress, is a bill named for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Eagles, which would expand the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) and create a program on targeted school violence prevention,” Díaz-Balart said.

Tony Montalto stands tall for the MSD Eagles. Image via AP.

If passed, the Florida Congressmen said the bill would supply critical information to communities on how best to respond to those potential threats.

“It will help prevent school shootings,” Deutch wrote. “And it’s bipartisan.”

But legislation over the past two Congresses has not made it to the House floor.

Harden up

This week, the most significant showdown over Florida-originated legislation came on the Senate floor, where Rubio and Scott pressed for a floor vote on the Luke and Alex School Safety Act (S 111), named for Parkland victims Luke Hoyer and Alex Schachter.

It would require the Department of Homeland Security to permanently support a federal clearinghouse on best practices for hardening schools and other institutions. That information would be shared nationally through the Education, Health and Human Services, and Justice Departments.

Chuck Schumer says there are several ways to address school safety. Image via AP.

But Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer objected to hearing the bill, deeming it an insufficient solution. “The truth: There were officers at the school in Texas. The shooter got past them,” Schumer tweeted. “We need real solutions — we will vote on gun legislation starting with the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act.”

But that didn’t sit well with Rubio. “The truth: Schumer blocked a bipartisan bill that makes the school safety clearinghouse schoolsafety.gov permanent because radical left-wing activists oppose it.”

Deutch, of note, advocated Wednesday for passage of the bill. Alex’s father, Max Schachter, issued a statement asking Schumer to meet with him on the bill.

“Senator, let’s meet so we can have an honest conversation and work together to prevent this from happening again,” he posted on social media. “For Uvalde and Parkland!”

Scott said Schumer should take that invitation up and accused the Democratic leader of lying about the legislation.

“Not surprising that the Democrat leader would lie about the bill he blocked that parents of Parkland victims have been trying to pass for years,” he said. “Democrats aren’t looking for solutions; they want wedge issues that they hope will keep them in power. Sick.”

Red flag

But while that bitter partisanship reached a pitch on the floor, Scott reportedly also worked this week on finally advancing red flag legislation in Congress.

In 2018, the former Florida Governor signed a controversial state law, best known as the Parkland bill, which upset the gun lobby in several ways. Most notably, the Florida statute allows police, without court approval, to temporarily seize weapons from those considered a risk to themselves or others. It drew lawsuits from the National Rifle Association, but withstood those, and has now been used more than 5,000 times by Florida law enforcement.

Rick Scott runs red flag laws up the flagpole. Image via AP.

Scott told Axios that while he prefers such issues be handled at the state level, he could support a federal red flag law. That’s a striking move considering Scott, this election cycle, chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, though not an entirely surprising one based on legislation he has filed since he arrived in the Senate.

It also comes as Senators, including Maine Republican Susan Collins and Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy, rally support for such a law on both sides of the aisle. Murphy’s state endured the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012.

Jaime’s Law

But even some Democratic initiatives haven’t moved in the House, including Jaime’s Law, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat, alongside Deutch. Named for Parkland victim Jaime Guttenberg and crafted with her father, gun safety advocate Fred Guttenberg, the bill would require instant background checks on ammunition purchases.

“Jaime’s Law is a crucial piece of the multifaceted approach needed to end the gun violence epidemic,” Wasserman Schultz said when reintroducing the bill last year. “Closing the ammunition loophole and requiring background checks for ammunition purchases can save lives.”

Fred Guttenberg’s federal ‘Jaime’s Law’ effort struggles to gain traction. Image via AP.

But that legislation hasn’t had a vote this Congress. Deutch hopes that changes. “It will make it harder for dangerous people to acquire ammunition to carry out these acts,” he tweeted on Wednesday.

He also voiced support for banning ghost guns, those with no serial numbers, and he wants a ban on high-capacity magazines that allow shooters to spray hundreds of bullets at victims without even taking the time to reload.

Deutch suggested, at this point, any step forward would be welcome.

“Can’t we at least do what should be easy?” he tweeted. “Can’t we, at the very least, do what is bipartisan and straightforward?”

Right time?

Gun control legislation gains attention after mass shootings, and school safety measures also go with tragedies like those in Uvalde or Parkland. But the spur in attention hasn’t always translated into support.

In 2016, the U.S. Senate voted down four separate gun control bills in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting. Those included popular measures like restricting the right of people on terrorist watch lists, like the shooter who killed 49 people at the Orlando club before being shot dead by police, to buy firearms.

Notably, not all advocates agree on the proper measures moving forward.

Parkland father Ryan Petty argued online against passing HR 8. This week, he stressed ways instead to fortify schools without compromising gun rights. He thinks little of the proposals now under consideration at the federal level.

Ryan Petty says that more info is needed about the Texas shooting before we act.

“We don’t know everything about the attack,” he told Fox News, “and based on the attacks I study, none of these proposals would stop anything.”

But others like Guttenberg say something must pass, especially when President Joe Biden called for action and said he would sign solutions from Congress into law.

“In the world of gun violence prevention, the American public needs to be clear where the opportunity is to get something done,” he told POLITICO. “The truth is Biden would sign legislation. He is passing executive actions. He’s nominated a tremendous person to lead the ATF. So, he’s not sitting on the sidelines. I think, though, that what we will see is fighting harder for more. Let’s go have that political fight in the Senate. If we lose, we lose, but we put people on the record.”

Tour de Tally

Amid tragedy, other business in Congress continued.

With Democrats’ attempt to pass the For the People Act (HR 1) this term, the House Elections Subcommittee has taken its show on the road for hearings on ballot access in America.

A Wednesday hearing took place in Tallahassee, ground zero for some of the nation’s most controversial election laws in recent years. The Florida Legislature passed major election legislation three times in the last four years, most recently a law creating a first-of-its-kind election Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Florida Department of State.

The Florida delegation doesn’t have any members on the congressional subcommittee, but the panel invited Giménez, Gainesville Republican Kat Cammack and Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson to comment and ask questions about the status of ballot access in the Sunshine State.

Kat Cammack says Florida elections are golden.

Cammack said recent changes to Florida’s voting laws made the Sunshine State the gold standard in election administration.

“This should not be a Republican versus Democrat issue. This is an American issue,” Cammack said. “I would hope that, instead of chasing political agendas, we can chase truth and … bolster electoral security so that everyone goes to the ballot box knowing that their vote is being counted as cast and intended.”

Questions about election integrity would be “put to bed” if the nation followed Florida’s election model, said Giménez, who served as Mayor of Miami-Dade County during the 2020 election.

“Frankly, much of the rhetoric about access and somehow, we’re restricting voting, it’s just that, it’s rhetoric. And actually, it runs counter to what this committee wants to do, which is to create confidence in our election system,” Giménez said. “I can tell you, with 100% accuracy, there is confidence in Florida state’s election system.”

Unlike his Republican colleagues, Lawson didn’t volunteer his opinion. However, he did ask pointed questions of witnesses testifying before the panel, including local elected officials.

“Can you speak on how election police units could give a partisan and state politician control of how elections are conducted and scrutinized, and do you think this approach of election security would open the door for voter intimidation and harassment of a nonpartisan election administration trying to do their job?” Lawson asked.

“The term ‘election police’ is intimidating in itself, because the citizens don’t know if they are going to be officers at the polling place,” Gadsden County Commissioner Brenda Holt replied. “There are several things they do not know about this process. To do that during an election year is intimidating.”

Trump philosophy

In a chat with reporters, Lawson said new Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd is bringing former President Donald Trump’s election lie philosophy to the Department of State.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis this month appointed Byrd to succeed Laurel Lee as Secretary of State. When asked by reporters Tuesday whether he believes Biden fairly won the 2020 election, Byrd would only answer that Biden was “certified” as the winner and he is the President. He also noted election “irregularities” in other states.

“What you hear from the rhetoric coming out of the Secretary of State’s Office with a new person over there, it’s just ridiculous,” said Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat. “It’s really ridiculous to be not wanting to admit that there were no problems in the state of Florida.”

Al Lawson is no fan of Cord Byrd.

Despite Lawson’s characterization, the Neptune Beach Republican did say Florida’s 2020 election was successful and accurate.

As Secretary of State, Byrd will oversee Florida elections. He also is tasked with establishing the state Office of Election Crimes and Security, an upcoming law enforcement office within the Department of State dedicated to investigating voter fraud and other election complaints.

Byrd faced criticism for defending his wife, Board of Education member Esther Byrd, for her past social media expressing support for the Jan. 6 Capitol rioters trying to stop Biden’s certification, Proud Boys, and other right-wing elements on the wrong side of the Big Lie. The Secretary of State defended his wife’s comments as recently as Sunday.

Lawson continues to criticize Byrd’s hire.

“You bring a Secretary of State, and he comes with that philosophy; he’s coming with the philosophy of Donald Trump,” Lawson said. “He’s not coming with the philosophy of the Supervisors and the people in the state of Florida who do this on a regular basis.”

Granted

Charlie Crist secured two grants worth over $13 million for Pinellas County health care and early learning programs.

One, worth $8,228,735, will go to Lutheran Services of Florida to aid its Head Start program. The funds will support early education programming for infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children from low-income families.

Charlie Crist brings the bacon home to Pinellas.

The second grant, totaling $5,308,568, will be awarded to Evara Health to help patient care and outreach to low-income and underserved Pinellas residents.

“Strengthening our health care and early education systems is key to improving quality of life for my neighbors in Pinellas — particularly those who are low-income and underserved,” the St Petersburg Democrat said in a statement. “I’m proud to announce that over $13 million is headed to Pinellas to improve educational outcomes for our children and make quality health care more accessible for all Pinellas families.”

Strawberry jam

A ban proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on using Thiram as a fungicide on crops could prove devastating to strawberry growers. Lakeland Republican Scott Franklin and Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto say the federal agency needs to reconsider a prohibition that could put much of Florida agriculture in a jam.

“The strawberry industry is an integral part of Florida’s economy,” Franklin said. “It is important that all scientific data is taken into consideration as we work to secure the safety of agricultural workers and the health of the strawberry industry. I urge the EPA to fully assess all scientific research into Thiram as we continue to encourage the prosperity of Florida’s agricultural sector.”

Is Florida’s strawberry crop in a jam?

The EPA announced a pesticide review in December that found Thiram’s skin absorption level to be dangerously high — around 15% — and said farmworkers should not be exposed. But Eastman Chemical, which produces the formula, said its studies show an absorption rate of just 1.2%, well within safety thresholds.

Soto said that the discrepancy should give the government pause before issuing a potentially industry-crippling regulation.

“Florida agriculture helps feed families in the state and across the country,” Soto said. “As the EPA considers bans, it is critical for them to take all scientific evidence into account and make the best-informed decisions. I hope they will reconsider the ban on the usage of Thiram and consider all data.”

The two sent a letter to Dr. Mary Elissa Reaves, director of the EPA’s Pesticide Re-Evaluation Division, arguing that 50 years of documented use of the chemical shows it can be used safely. Limiting its use would disrupt a crop important to Florida’s economy. The state produces more than 75% of the nation’s strawberries, with the tart fruit delivering a $1 billion positive economic impact to the state.

Twelve other delegation members co-signed Franklin and Soto’s letter. Including Republicans Cammack, Díaz-Balart, Brian Mast, Bill Posey and Salazar and Democrats Kathy Castor, Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, Val Demings, Lawson and Frederica Wilson.

Drained

Wasserman Schultz, a longtime champion of swimming pool safety, joined Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Texas Republican Rep. John Carter and safety advocates Thursday to unveil the reauthorization of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, signed in 2007 and took effect in 2008.

The original bill focused on replacing dangerous flat pool drain covers with drain covers designed to prevent people — too often young children — from getting sucked onto them, which led to scores of injuries and deaths.

The bill requires the installation of safe drain covers on all public pools and spas, and also leads the swimming pool industry to standardize safe drains for private pool construction. It also creates a grant program to incentivize state and local governments to implement water safety programs.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz continues her crusade for safer pools.

In the early 2000s, Wasserman Schultz pushed through similar legislation in the Florida Legislature before her first run for Congress in 2004 and sponsored the original federal law. Klobuchar was a co-sponsor of the Senate counterpart. Since the law was approved in 2007, Klobuchar said there had not been a single suction-drain fatality in America.

On Thursday, Wasserman Schultz introduced the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act Reauthorization (HR 7877), with Carter as lead co-sponsor. Klobuchar introduced the Senate companion (S 4296).

In addition to reauthorizing the original act, the new bill would expand the mission to include more funding for state and local grants to implement and promote the measures and expand the bill’s purpose to address drownings. The bill’s grants could be for swimming lessons for young children, among other things.

“In all my years of public service, one of my proudest moments was when we were able to pass this literally lifesaving legislation into law,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Go with the flow

In other water-related news involving Wasserman Schultz, the impact of the federal government’s commitment to Everglades restoration became a little more real this week.

Wasserman Schultz announced that $265 million in the current year’s federal budget would be going to build the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir.

It’s the linchpin of an overall restoration project, Wasserman Schultz said.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants the Everglades to go with the flow.

Once completed, a 23-foot deep, 16-square mile reservoir will hold polluted water coming from Lake Okeechobee. Plans are that the water that goes there can be pumped into a 10-square mile stormwater treatment area in batches to be cleaned instead of discharged as raw, polluted water into environmentally sensitive areas. These discharges have been blamed for helping create massive, foul-smelling, fish-killing algae blooms.

The project will mean more clean water to the thirsty Everglades and increase water security for the 8 million Floridians who depend on the Everglades for drinking water.

Restoring the Everglades became the largest environmental restoration project in U.S. history — at least in theory — when the Biden administration dedicated $1.1 billion to Florida’s famed “River of Grass.” That chunk of money was in the Infrastructure Law passed in November.

But Republican critics of the spending pointed out that there was no spending targeted explicitly for building the reservoir.

Stuart Republican Brian Mast credited “the outrage from Florida’s elected officials and representatives” with spurring the new timeline for the reservoir.

Bad advice?

A former member of the delegation has quickly become the target of criticism from colleagues for potential input on an upcoming international summit. The White House announced in April that former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a South Florida Democrat, would serve as a special adviser for the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles.

“Congresswoman Mucarsel-Powell was a leading voice in the charge to support Venezuelans fleeing their country through securing Temporary Protected Status in the United States and providing humanitarian and other aid to the Venezuelan people and neighboring countries,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

But amid rumors Cuba’s communist government may be invited to attend the event, some of South Florida’s current Representatives question if Biden is getting the right advice.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is giving ‘bad advice,’ Republicans say.

“How can you invite the Cuban Regime when your own State Department says they are a State Sponsor of Terror and engage in human trafficking?” wrote Salazar, a Miami Republican, directly to Biden. “It is clear you are relying on the bad advice of your Special Adviser for the Summit of the Americas, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, and Special Assistant Juan Gonzalez, instead of consulting with professionals.”

Mucarsel-Powell, for her part, said the Summit would not welcome leaders of non-democratic countries, including Cuba.

“(Cuban President Miguel) Diaz-Canel will NOT be invited to the Summit,” she told Florida Politics. “I’ve said this before in several public venues. Our commitment is to strengthen our ties with our allies and work on the most pressing challenges post-pandemic. It’s about democratic governance, economic opportunities, and confronting the climate crisis in the region.”

On this day

May 27, 2020 —Pompeo declares Hong Kong no longer autonomous from China, threatening trade with U.S.” via CNBC — Secretary of State Pompeo reported to Congress that Hong Kong was no longer autonomous from China, a move that could jeopardize the special administrative region’s favorable trade relationship with the U.S. and open up Chinese officials to sanctions. The State Department was required to issue a determination on Hong Kong’s autonomy under pro-democracy legislation passed late last year. The law also requires the president to impose sanctions on foreigners who undermine “fundamental freedoms and autonomy in Hong Kong.”

May 27, 1935 —Supreme Court invalidates key Franklin Roosevelt program” via Constitution Daily — The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States invalidated a vital part of the National Industrial Recovery Act, or NIRA, one of the projects passed during FDR’s 100-day program in 1933. The NIRA had two key components: an industrial recovery program that included a wave of regulations to foster “fair competition” and a vast public works program. The National Recovery Agency was created to implement the NIRA and established a series of codes and rules for businesses as part of the “fair competition” experiment. The administration asked businesses to display the blue eagle logo, an emblem signifying NRA participation, as an act of patriotism.

Happy birthday

Best wishes to Sen. Rubio, who turns 51 on Saturday, May 28.

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Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Renzo Downey, Anne Geggis, Kelly Hayes and Scott Powers.

Staff Reports



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