Scott on the road to learn more about Zika fight

Gov. Rick Scott
Gov. Rick Scott

With Congress stepping up efforts to reach agreement on dollars to combat the spreading Zika virus, Florida Gov. Rick Scott is spending much of Thursday getting updates from local officials in the fight.

Scott met with Hillsborough County health officials this morning and is slated to huddle this afternoon with their counterparts in Miami-Dade County, which has the state’s largest outbreak with 51 travel-related cases.

Scott’s also scheduled to end his day with a call to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Syvlia Burwell and Centers for Disease Control Director Tom Frieden.

Palm Beach County has eight cases, all involving people who came to the county after contracting the virus outside the continental U.S.

All told, Florida has 172 cases of the Zika virus, including 38 involving pregnant women. The virus is linked to severe birth defects.

In Washington, Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson filed legislation Thursday aimed at steering an additional $130 million annually to local mosquito control boards to eliminate the the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry the virus.

The mosquitoes are common in Florida.

“Until we find a cure, the best way to curb the spread of this virus is to eliminate the insects known to carry it,” Nelson said. “As we head into these warmer summer months, Florida’s mosquito population is going to rise, and we need to make sure local mosquito-control units have the resources they need to protect their communities.”

House and Senate negotiators, including U.S. Reps. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, began work this week on settling differences between the two chambers on Zika funding.

The House agreed to $622 million and the Senate $1.1 billion, still short of the $1.9 billion sought in February by the Obama administration.

But the two sides now seem intent on working off the Senate’s funding figure.

The more than 600 Zika cases reported in the continental U.S. are believed all to have been contracted in Central and South American and the Caribbean. Experts, though, have said mosquito transmission in the U.S. is expected to occur at least in southern states this summer.



Poll shows Clinton edging Trump in Florida and warns adding Scott “toxic” to GOP ticket

Hillary Clinton edges Donald Trump in Florida, Mason-Dixon poll shows
Hillary Clinton edging Donald Trump in Florida, Mason-Dixon poll shows

Hillary Clinton is holding a narrow lead over Donald Trump in Florida, powered by strong support from Hispanic voters, a poll released Friday shows.

The telephone survey of 625 Florida registered voters was conducted May 31-June 2 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research. The poll has a margin-of-error of plus-or-minus 4 percent.

Statewide, 45% support Clinton, 42% back Trump and 6% say they will vote for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. Another 7% are undecided.

Clinton is powered by some defections from Trump to Johnson, the Libertarian contender, among white Republican and independent voters. But she also has strong support among Hispanics (68%), according to Mason-Dixon.

A Florida Atlantic University poll released Thursday showed Clinton leading Trump by 23 percent among Hispanic voters. But Clinton was the favorite of only 50 percent of Hispanics, FAU found, compared with Obama carrying 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in winning re-election in 2012.

Mason-Dixon also surveyed voters on whether Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson’s addition as Clinton’s running mate would help the nominee in Florida.

The conclusion: “He certainly would do no damage and could make the difference in a one or two-point race,” Mason-Dixon managing director Brad Coker wrote.

Adding Gov. Rick Scott to Trump’s ticket, however, “could be toxic” Coker added.

“A whopping 40% of Florida voters say they would be “less likely” to vote for Trump with Scott on the ticket,” Coker wrote.

Nelson says Zika virus fight should force recess delay

Sen. Nelson says recess may have to wait
Sen. Nelson says recess may have to wait

With the U.S. House and Senate deadlocked over the amount of money needed to combat the Zika virus, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said Wednesday that next week’s recess should be delayed to work on an agreement.

Nelson wrote Majority Leader Mitch McConnell voicing his frustration at the stalled effort — with the Senate approving $1.1 billion compared to $622 million from the House. The Obama administration in February called for $1.9 billion for Zika.

“While we are just beginning to understand the virus, there is one thing that Congress knows for sure: time is of the essence,” Nelson told McConnell.

Nelson and fellow Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, have pushed for the $1.9 billion funding level, a rare moment that Rubio is siding with the White House.

But Florida has the biggest outbreak of the virus in the continental U.S., with 158 cases, including 36 pregnant women. On Tuesday, Rubio took to the Senate floor to criticize House members and call on voters to push for more funding over the Memorial Day recess.


Nelson joins Senate Democrats in asking Olympic committee about Zika

Nelson wants Olympic answers on Zika
Nelson wants Olympic answers on Zika

Florida Democrat Bill Nelson was among 11 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus seeking answers Monday from the U.S. Olympic Committee about dealing with the Zika virus at this summer’s games in Brazil.

Nelson told USOC, “we stand ready to work with you on this important issue.”

Brazil has had more than 91,000 cases of the virus reported in this year. Nelson’s home state of Florida has had 112 cases, most in the continental U.S.

Florida’s total includes 36 pregnant women, according to the state Department of Health.

USA Swimming just last week told coaches and athletes that it was relocating its pre-Olympic training camp from Puerto Rico to Atlanta because of “the current situation with the Zika virus.” Major League Baseball also has cancelled games planned for the island.

Puerto Rico is leading the U.S. in cases, with health officials there reporting more than 1,100 confirmed cases.

Officials say 139 of the Puerto Rican cases involve pregnant women. The virus can cause severe birth defects and babies being born with abnormally small heads.

Congress has been battling over funding for Zika, with the House providing only about half as much as the $1.1 billion approved by the Senate — both short of the $1.9 billion sought by the White House.

Scott Blackmun, chief executive officer of USOC, responded to the senators Monday, assuring that a doctor-led panel is already developing “best practices regarding the mitigation, assessment and management of infectious disease in general, and regarding the Zika virus specifically” if advance of this summer’s Olympics.

In a letter Monday, Blackmun detailed wide-ranging efforts designed to reduce the Zika risk for athletes and staff, including long-sleeved uniforms and the distribution of Off! brand insect repellant.


Rubio, Nelson side with White House on Zika money

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson

Florida U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio unveiled Thursday what they call the first bipartisan approach to fighting the dangerous Zika virus.

With 112 cases, the two senators’ home state has the most instances of Zika virus reported in the continental U.S.

With the Obama administration and many Republicans in Congress divided over the level of spending needed to combat the mosquito-borne illness, Nelson, a Democrat, and Rubio, a Republican, side with the White House’s approach for more dollars.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio

The two senators described their action as the first bipartisan measure backing President Obama’s proposed $1.9 billion in emergency funding to address the virus, which is believed to cause serious birth defects.

“The administration has been clear from the start: it’s going to take $1.9 billion to stop the spread of this virus, not $1.1 (billion),” Nelson said.

Rubio added, “I’ve said repeatedly that Congress should not allow politics to delay action on Zika, and I’m hopeful‎ we’ll begin to see some meaningful action on this public health emergency very soon.”

Scott’s chief-of-staff, general counsel leaving April 1

Melissa Sellers
Melissa Sellers

Gov. Rick Scott‘s chief-of-staff, Melissa Sellers, and general counsel, Tim Cerio, will be leaving April 1, the governor’s office announced Thursday.

Sellers won’t be going far, with plans to do consulting work for Scott’s political spending committee, Let’s Get To Work. The governor is widely expected to be gearing up to run for U.S. Senate in 2018 against three-term incumbent Bill Nelson, Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat.

Sellers, who formerly worked for ex-Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, joined Scott’s office initially as communications director. She was Scott’s fourth chief-of-staff, taking on the job in December 2014 after running the governor’s re-election campaign.

Scott said that he and his wife, Ann, appreciate the work by Sellers, who also is getting married next month.

“She has been an invaluable member of my team since the fall of 2012 and Ann and I look forward to watching her triumph in her next endeavor,” Scott said.

Cerio has been general counsel since January 2015. He plans to return to private practice.

Nelson sweeps through Capitol, promising state Democrats that better days are coming

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson huddling with Florida Senate Democrats
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson huddling with Florida Senate Democrats

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson swept Wednesday through Florida’s Capitol, huddling with fellow Democrats and allied organizations and promising that better days are coming for the outnumbered caucus.

Taking a break from Washington’s partisan wars, Nelson’s visit to Tallahassee comes at a time when redistricted Senate boundaries appear to be playing a factor in slowing the advance of arch-conservative legislation from the House.

Nelson cited gun bills, and measures that would open the state to hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” as signs that Republican leaders are willing to enact policies that appeal to narrow voting bases or contributors.

“At some point, this nonsense has got to stop,” Nelson told Senate Democrats.

But Senate Republican leaders have put the brakes on the gun measures and anti-immigration proposals, along with showing little appetite for some of the House’s other right-leaning measures. With senators running in districts where a majority supported President Obama in 2012, Nelson hinted that redistricting is already playing a role.

“Things are getting better, and reapportionment is part of it,” Nelson said. “Over the next couple of election cycles, you’re got see, you’re going to be in the majority.”