Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Members of Florida Delegation Help End Funds for VA Testing on Dogs

dog in crate in dark room

Two members of the Florida delegation led efforts to prevent the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from experimenting on dogs which continue to pay off with a new federal appropriations bill ending funds for those projects.

At the start of last year, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., who sits on the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee and lost both his legs during his service in Afghanistan, teamed up with U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., to unveil the “Preventing Unkind and Painful Procedures and Experiments on Respected Species (PUPPERS) Act” which “will put an end to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ practice of performing painful and distressing experiments on dogs, including drilling into dogs’ skulls, inducing heart attacks, and collapsing their lungs.”

Mast had a key ally in Lara Trump who helped ensure last year’s appropriations bills included a proposal phasing out animal testing at the VA.

“I am proud to see that there is real progress being made to close the chapter on VA dog testing. Thanks to President Trump just signing historic, bipartisan legislation to restrict VA dog testing and phase out all unnecessary VA dog and cat experiments by 2025, there is great opportunity afoot to protect veterans’ health all while encouraging the VA to allocate funds and resources towards important programs that will truly benefit our veterans,” said Lara Trump before praising Mast and cosponsor U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. “I’m encouraged by the advocacy of lawmakers like Congressmen Brian Mast and Matt Gaetz, for leading on this issue and in particular introducing the PUPPERS Act to end this program.”

“It’s unacceptable for the Department of Veterans Affairs to use taxpayer dollars to fund cruel, unnecessary experiments on animals at the VA. These painful – often deadly – tests have gone on long enough, and it’s about time we worked together to defund them for good. Protecting cats and dogs is common sense, and I’m glad we were able to come together to get this done,” Mast said after the appropriations bills were signed last year.

Back in February 2019, Mast weighed in on why he had introduced the proposal.

“While I was recovering from my injuries, I saw firsthand the important role that dogs play in helping veterans recover from war’s physical and psychological tolls,” Mast said. “For too long, the VA has gotten away with conducting these harmful—sometimes fatal—experiments on dogs. These tests are abusive, waste taxpayer dollars and must be stopped.”

“It’s time to end dog testing at the VA once and for all,” Titus said. “There are proven alternatives to this unnecessary testing that inflicts severe pain on puppies and dogs while producing no discernible medical advances. I’m grateful for the support of Congressman Mast and the many animal welfare and veterans’ organizations that are helping advance this legislation to put an end to this barbaric practice.”

The bill “prohibits the Department of Veterans Affairs from purchasing, breeding, transporting, housing, feeding, maintaining, disposing of or experimenting on dogs as part of the conduct of any study that causes significant pain or distress.”

Mast and Titus reeled in the support of a number of different groups including AMVETS, American Military Retirees Association, DisabledVeterans.org, American Humane Society and the White Coat Waste Project.

Mast and other members of Congress wrote the VA on the matter back in August 2018. In September 2018, VA Sec. Robert Wilkie noted there were almost 10 experiments continuing which former VA Sec. David Shulkin approved before Trump fired him in March 2018.

“VA only conducts such research when absolutely necessary and already makes every effort to reduce it, when possible,” the VA informed Florida Daily. “VA will continue conducting research with animals, as it is absolutely necessary to better treat life-threatening health conditions in our veterans. In fact, research with animals in Cleveland involving researchers from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently led to the development of a device that allows Veterans with spinal cord injuries to cough on their own and communicate with a stronger voice, leading to increased independence and significantly reducing respiratory infections and deaths. This important advancement would not have been possible using computer simulations, test tube techniques, ‘organ on a chip’ technology or smaller animal species.

“VA has very few animal studies active at any one time, but some problems like this one can be addressed only with animal research, underscoring the importance of this kind of research in helping veterans who have been severely injured on the battlefield,” the VA added. “This latest medical breakthrough is another addition to 30 important VA canine studies that have benefited veterans.”

This week, the U.S. House Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., voted to cut funding for VA dog tests which more than 50 members of the House advocated for.

Justin Goodman, the vice president of advocacy and public policy at White Coat Waste Project, weighed in on the matter this week.

“Congress has just made clear that taxpayers should not be forced to foot the bill for heart attack tests on puppies and other wasteful, cruel and secretive VA dog tests that are opposed by veterans, scientists and a majority of other Americans. Thanks to our lobbying and grassroots efforts, and outstanding leadership from Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz  and PUPPERS Act co-leads Reps. Dina Titus and Brian Mast, the VA’s use of dogs in painful experiments is now at its lowest point in recent memory. Hopefully, this bipartisan legislation cutting tax dollars for VA’s dog testing will be the final nail in the coffin of this repugnant and wasteful program,” Goodman said.

“I’ve long said that painful dog testing at the Department of Veterans Affairs is cruel and unnecessary. There are several high-quality, innovative alternatives available to conduct this research. I’m proud that the Appropriations Committee passed the proposal I wrote with Army veteran Rep. Brian Mast to eliminate taxpayer funding for this horrendous practice by the VA,” Titus said this week.

“These painful experiments on dogs are cruel and an unnecessary waste of taxpayer dollars.  We’ve worked hard to put a stop to them, and this is another great milestone in our fight. It’s 2020, and there should be no more dog testing by the federal government, period,” Mast said.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

 

Rick Scott: Feds Should Take a Page From Florida’s Playbook on Cutting Regulations

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U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., is touting a proposal on Capitol Hill to cut federal regulations

Last week, Scott unveiled the “Unnecessary Agency Regulations Reduction Act” which he showcased on Wednesday. The senator’s office insisted the proposal will “reduce burdensome government regulations and create more efficiency by modifying, consolidating, or repealing outdated, duplicative or unnecessary agency regulations.”

Weighing in on the bill, Scott pointed to his record in Tallahassee where he served eight years as governor as a model for his proposal.”

“Throughout my time as governor of Florida, we cut more than 5,200 burdensome regulations to get government out of the way so businesses could succeed,” Scott said. “Our focus on reducing taxes and cutting regulations meant more than 1.7 million new jobs were created in our state. The Unnecessary Regulations Reduction Act helps bring Florida’s success to Washington by creating more efficiency in the federal government. We have to do everything we can to protect taxpayer dollars and rein in wasteful spending, and eliminating unnecessary regulations is an easy way to do that.”

According to Scott’s office the bill “creates a process to eliminate multiple regulations originating from any and all agencies in a joint resolution” and “will require the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), on an annual basis, to submit a list of outdated, duplicative or burdensome agency regulations to modify, consolidate or repeal.” The list would then be brought into the White House’s Unified Agenda and then forwarded over to Congress.

Scott has reeled in the support of fellow U.S. Senate Republicans Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Steve Daines of Montana, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue of Georgia and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

The bill was sent to the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last week. So far, there is no companion measure over in the U.S. House.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

 

 

Rick Scott Backs Donald Trump’s Plans to Take America Out of the WHO

Rick Scott

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said this week that he backs President Donald Trump’s plans to take the U.S. out of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Back in March, Scott called on Congress to investigate the WHO, insisting it helped the Chinese regime “cover up information regarding the threat of the coronavirus.”

Back in the middle of February, Scott sent a letter to the Director-General of the WHO urging it to do its own in-depth analysis on the extent of the coronavirus.

Scott heard back from the WHO and took aim at it on Wednesday, insisting it was too closely connected to the Chinese regime.

“Throughout this pandemic, the WHO has served as a puppet for the Chinese Communist Party. Instead of exposing Communist China’s deceit to the global community, the World Health Organization praised their response and was complicit in China’s cover-up. Our request for information gave the WHO an opportunity to admit their failures, and present a path forward. They chose instead to peddle their false narrative with more misinformation and lies. My colleagues and I requested detailed records of the WHO’s dealings with Communist China, as well as if any members of their leadership received outside compensation, and the WHO refused to provide this information,” Scott said.

“I’ve long called for accountability for the WHO, which is clearly not qualified to handle a global health crisis. The president was right to withdraw the U.S. from the WHO, which has proven to be a dangerous organization that doesn’t have America’s best interest in mind,” Scott added.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

 

Jimmy Patronis Warns Floridians About Google Android Apps Stealing User Data

jimmy patronis

After recent reports of more than two dozen Android apps caught stealing data, on Wednesday, state Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis warned Floridians who use Google Android devices to monitor their private accounts and to know the warning signs of identity theft, fraud and scams.

“While technology has improved and enhanced our everyday lives, far too often we hear of hacks or data breaches leaving us vulnerable to fraud and scams. The Federal Trade Commission ranks Florida second in the nation for fraud and ID theft reports and estimates that Florida fraud losses totaled nearly $90 million in 2019. Identity theft and imposter scams are the top two forms of fraud reported. It is vital that Florida consumers and businesses remain informed about data breaches and protect and monitor their accounts for fraudulent activity. If you feel you’ve fallen victim to fraud, report it immediately at FraudFreeFlorida.com,” Patronis said on Wednesday.

The CFO’s office offered the following tips to protect personal financial information:

  1. Check your credit card activity often. Reviewing your recent account activity is fundamental to credit card safety. Most companies allow you to review transactions online or by phone. If your credit card company offers email or text alerts regarding unusual activity, consider signing up now.

 

  1. Monitor credit reports. Periodically review your credit report for any accounts that scam artists may have opened in your name. Credit reports are available free of charge from each of the three national credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) every 12 months.

 

  1. Be extra careful about emails and attachments. Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments from suspicious emails, especially emails claiming to be connected to a data breach.

 

  1. Consider a credit freeze. If you believe you’ve been the victim of identity theft or as an additional precaution, consider placing a free credit freeze on your credit file with each of the three credit reporting agencies to further prevent unauthorized activity.

 

 

Florida Democrats Urge HHS to Expedite Supply of Remdesivir for the Sunshine State

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This week, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., led a dozen other Democrats in the Florida delegation in sending a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Sec. Alex Azar calling for the expedited resupply of Remdesivir be sent to Florida as the state emerges as the new global epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Florida Department of Health recently informed hospitals that the state has exhausted its supply of Remdesivir, the drug used to treat COVID-19 patients and shorten hospital stays. Florida hospitals are out of the medication and under current plans could go six days without treatments if swift and immediate action is not taken.

In the letter, the representatives urge Azar to expedite the state’s current request for more treatments and get Florida the supply they need before it’s too late and more lives are lost.

“The reality is dire. As cases in Florida continue to reach unsustainable levels, Florida is emerging as the global epicenter of coronavirus,” said Crist on Tuesday. “Now is not the time to leave Floridians without the treatment that our patients need.”

Other Democrats in the Florida delegation who signed the letter include U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Stephanie Murphy, Donna Shalala, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.

The letter is below:

As Members of Congress from the State of Florida, the global epicenter of new coronavirus cases, we write to bring your attention to an urgent and deteriorating situation in our state.  With new cases and the state’s positivity rate running dangerously high, hospitalizations – a lagging indicator of the virus’ spread – are trending precariously higher.  Staff capacity is strained; the number of available ICU beds are dwindling; and we are running out of Remdesivir, a drug used by hospitals to shorten the duration of COVID-19 and decrease the amount of coronavirus in patients.

The Florida Department of Health, which allocates Remdesivir to hospitals, recently informed hospital pharmacies that the agency had temporarily exhausted all stock of the drug.  According to health professionals we are hearing from, people will die without replenished stock of treatment.  Recently, the State of Florida requested additional, emergency supplies of Remdesivir from HHS, and we strongly urge you to expedite consideration of this request.

Further complicating the situation, we were informed by the State of Florida that effective July 13, HHS will implement a new model for the distribution of Remdesivir.  With the State allocation exhausted, this seems to leave a gap of at least 6 days that Florida patients will go without access to the treatment.  Please provide specific details regarding the operation of the new model so Floridians can be confident that they will have access to treatment should they get sick with COVID-19.  A clear and transparent process is in the best interest of patients.  With time of the essence, we appreciate your immediate consideration of these urgent matters.

 

Vern Buchanan Wants More Funds for Drug Treatment in Next Coronavirus Stimulus Bill

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Pointing to “a shocking surge of drug overdose deaths” in his district, this week, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., said he will fight for more funds for drug treatment in the next coronavirus stimulus bill.

Buchanan pointed to numbers from the Sarasota County Sheriff’s office showing 29 deaths due to opioids so far in 2020, up from 13 for all of 2019. Non-fatal overdoses in the county have also increased from 88 in all of 2019 to 121 in the first six months of 2020.

The congressman also cited more opioid abuse in Manatee County.

“Manatee County also reported an increase in fatal and non-fatal overdoses but at a much smaller pace. Deaths in Manatee County have increased to 49 in the first six months of this year from 46 over the comparable time period last year. Non-fatal overdoses have also increased in Manatee County in the first six months of 2019 from 258 last year to 388 this year,” Buchanan’s office noted.

These trends are also mirrored at the national level.

“Nationally overdoses in the United States jumped 18 percent in March, 29 percent in April and 42 percent in May according to the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program, a federal initiative that collects data from ambulance teams, hospitals and police,” Buchana’s office noted.

Buchanan said on Tuesday that he was reaching out to leaders on both sides of the aisle on the matter.

“The spike in drug overdoses in our region during the coronavirus pandemic is tragic and alarming,” Buchanan said. “We have to get treatment to those in need both in Southwest Florida and across the country. As we continue to combat the coronavirus we need to make sure we are addressing other health impacts exacerbated by this pandemic.

“The opioid crisis has destroyed too many families and lives. We cannot forget about this crisis even during the coronavirus pandemic. I will continue my work in Congress to make sure Florida has the resources it needs to help save lives and fight this epidemic,” Buchanan added.

Last year, Buchanan teamed up with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., to bring out the “Fentanyl Sanctions Act” which will “provide the U.S. government with tools and resources to punish illicit fentanyl traffickers in China, Mexico, and other countries, and to hold accountable the Chinese government and other nations who fail to stop these trafficking networks.” The measure was included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

HHS Opens COVID-19 Surge Testing Locations in Jacksonville

With rising numbers of new cases and hospitalizations in Jacksonville due to COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will facilitate testing.

The following Surge Testing locations will begin operations on Wednesday:

First Coast High School
590 Duval Station Road
Jacksonville, FL 32218

Regency Mall (Sears building)
9501 Arlington Expressway
Jacksonville FL 32225

Frank A Peterson Academy (Target Area)
7450 Wilson Blvd
Jacksonville, FL 32210

Individuals seeking COVID-19 testing at these sites should pre-register for testing in advance at: www.DoINeedaCOVID19test.com.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., weighed in on the testing on Tuesday.

“The uptick of COVID-19 cases in our state is certainly unsettling,” Rubio said. “I am committed to making sure that Florida is equipped with widespread and accessible testing sites, which are critical to our ongoing efforts to mitigate this public health emergency. ”

 

Shaquille O’Neal Endorses Orange County Sheriff John Mina

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Orange County Sheriff John Mina picked up an endorsement in his reelection bid from a big-time celebrity that knows Orange County and its Sheriff’s Office quite well.

NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal threw his support behind Mina. The former Orlando Magic star owned a home in Orange County for decades before selling it recently. O’Neal has also been involved with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office over the years, supporting its programs and even doing some training under multiple sheriffs.

In a message posted on YouTube, O’Neal talked about Mina’s commitment to youth programs, something the NBA Hall of Famer has touted as a way to help young men avoid a life of crime.

“He’s proven himself in times of crisis, and he has shown that he can keep our community safe,” O’Neal said about Mina.

O’Neal has known Mina, who also served as Orlando’s police chief, for many years. For his part, Mina reacted to the endorsement with obvious joy.

“Shaq called Orange County home for many years and has witnessed firsthand the impact strong leadership in law enforcement can have on our community,” Mina said.

Mina also touted the work he has done since taking office in 2018.

“As a result of our hard work, community partnerships and new policies, Orange County saw a decrease in the overall crime rate and a sharp reduction in juvenile arrests last year. We continue to work hard every day to help ensure these downward trends continue,” Mina said.

This will be the first time Mina will appear on the ballot as a Democrat. Democrats hold a heavy voter registration advantage in Orange County, just short of two-to-one over Republicans. During his first run back in 2018, Mina did not change his voter registration far enough in advance of the election to qualify as a Democrat so he ran the last race as an independent. In that race, Darryl Sheppard, who has been arrested 13 times in the state of Florida, was the only Democrat in the race and garnered more than 180,000 votes.

Sheppard is back to challenge Mina again. Mina is also facing Democrats Andrew Darling, Joe Lopez and Eric McIntyre. Republicans are not putting up a candidate for sheriff this time. Tim Adams and Winston Johnson are qualified as write-in candidates.

The sheriff’s office is normally up for election during presidential election years but an election was held in 2018 because then-Sheriff Jerry Demings resigned and was elected mayor of Orange County.

 

Reach Mike Synan at mike.synan@floridadaily.com.

 

Ashley Moody Urges Floridians to Take Advantage of Free Credit Reports During Pandemic

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On Tuesday, state Attorney General Ashley Moody urged Floridians to take advantage of the free weekly access to credit reports currently being offered by the three national credit reporting agencies.

In response to the widespread economic challenges emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, Equifax, Experian and Transunion are offering this free weekly access through April 2021.

“Credit reports are vital tools in tracking consumers’ financial health and credit status. With so many Americans now facing financial hardship, it is more important than ever that Floridians monitor and protect their credit. Consumers who are unable to make payments due to the current pandemic should immediately consult with their lenders to determine if any assistance is available. Many businesses are suspending or delaying payment due dates for consumers in financial distress. Being proactive and taking quick action to work with lenders can help consumers protect their credit ratings during this crisis,” Moody said on Tuesday.

A consumer credit report is a record of the consumer’s credit activity and payment history used by lenders, creditors, service providers and other businesses to extend financial opportunities and other offers to people. Reviewing credit reports frequently better enables consumers to understand the information that is being reported about personal payment history.

To receive free weekly credit reports, visit AnnualCreditReport.com.

  • Moody offered the following tips for consumers to help maintain healthy credit during the coronavirus pandemic:
  • Contact any companies where money is owed and ask if there is a payment plan or option to postpone payments;
  • Regularly examine credit reports to confirm accuracy and ensure no fraudulent accounts were established; and
  • Alert the credit reporting agencies directly to file a dispute if fraudulent accounts, inaccuracies or oversights are spotted on a credit report. Additionally, contact each credit reporting bureau to institute a free security freeze to prevent additional fraudulent accounts from being opened.

 

Debbie Wasserman Schultz Wants to Rename Military Bases Named After Confederate Leaders

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A Florida congresswoman intends to use a key subcommittee assignment to rename military bases named after Confederate leaders.

This week, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., the chairwoman of the U.S. Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, unveiled the FY 2021 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill.

“This legislation supports our military personnel, bolsters resources for military families, and provides robust funding for veterans’ benefits, healthcare, and other programs. The bill also blocks President Trump from stealing appropriated funds from servicemembers to build an ineffective, nativist border wall, and presses to initiate changes to Confederate-named military installations,” Wasserman Schultz’s office insisted.

The congresswoman weighed in on the bill on Monday.

“Our brave servicemembers should not have to live and train on bases named for traitors to the cause of creating a more perfect union,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Betraying the United States is not an act that should be honored, and it’s beyond time for change at those military bases that do that with their namesake. Along with other Democrats and Republicans who favor these changes, I will use all the tools in our legislative toolbox to rectify these misguided historical monikers.”

According to the congresswoman’s office, the bill also “provides $250.9 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding, an increase of $15.2 billion above the fiscal year 2020 enacted level” which “includes robust funding to expand access and provide better care for veterans, including $10.3 billion in mental health care services, including $313 million in suicide prevention outreach; $1.9 billion for homeless assistance programs; $661 million for gender-specific care for women; and $504 million for opioid abuse prevention.”

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.