Monday, April 6, 2020

Florida Delegation Weighs in on Ron DeSantis Issuing Statewide Stay-at-Home Order

coronavirus

Members of the Florida delegation on Capitol Hill reacted to Gov. Ron DeSantis issuing a statewide stay-at-home order as the Sunshine State continues to confront the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., like most Democrats in the Florida delegation, had been urging DeSantis to issue the order and she weighed in after he did so on Wednesday.

“While there are still some dangerous loopholes, the governor’s statewide stay-at-home order will save lives and lessen the impact on our healthcare system. I urge the public to take this seriously. Stay home and save lives,” Frankel said.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., was far more critical of the governor.

“Governor Ron DeSantis finally issued a statewide stay-at-home order, but it took entirely too long,” she said. “His order still does not close all public beaches and contains needless loopholes for groups to gather at religious institutions and does not include Miami-Dade’s order to close community and recreational sites, where people all across Florida still gather in large groups. In a pandemic, days of delay and mixed messages mean more viral spread, more risks to health workers, and more deaths. The governor’s order is welcome, but it is overdue, riddled with too many loopholes and will leave many open to contracting the COVID-19 virus.”

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., was more focused on explaining the order.

“Governor DeSantis has announced that he will be issuing a statewide ‘Safer At Home’ Order for all Florida residents. The order will be in effect starting at 12:01am on April 3rd and will remain in place until April 30th,” Mast posted on Twitter.

“Under this policy, senior citizens and those with underlying medical conditions must stay at home. Everyone else must limit their movements to only those necessary to obtain or provide essential services, such as food or medication,” Mast added.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., told WWSB that he backed the governor’s order.

“I’ve been getting a lot of calls from people throughout our region hoping the governor would take such action,” Buchanan told WWSB. “We need to do everything possible to beat this virus and keep people safe.”

 

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

Florida TaxWatch Looks at BRIDG, State’s Manufacturing Industry

Florida TaxWatch (FTW) released a report looking at “the impact of advanced manufacturing in the Sunshine State and highlighting the importance of continued public investment in high-tech initiatives such as BRIDG, which diversify the economy, create jobs, boost wages, and increase local and state tax revenues.”

FTW unveiled “BRIDG: Growing Florida’s Advanced Manufacturing Sector” on Thursday.

BRIDG (which stands for Bridging the Innovation Development Gap) offers a definition of itself on its website.

“BRIDG is a versatile boutique microelectronics fabrication facility with 200mm (8-inch) wafer fab capabilities,” the group noted. “Established in Florida as a not-for-profit, industry-friendly public-private partnership through support of visionary partners, BRIDG accelerates technology commercialization by providing solutions to bridge technology and capability gaps across multiple fields.”

“Even through our nation’s most trying times, we’ve seen that American innovation and ingenuity perseveres through manufacturing. Today, as we all fight through the coronavirus pandemic, we know that it will again be manufacturers that pull our state and nation forward and the report we’ve released today shows just how important this industry truly is in Florida. Our research shows that BRIDG will improve the competitive positioning of the state of Florida for advanced manufacturing and continue to produce a great return on investment for our taxpayers. Florida TaxWatch was pleased to see funding for BRIDG included in the FY 2020-21 budget recently passed by the Florida Legislature, and strongly supports continued public investment in BRIDG,” said Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of FTW.

BRIDG Interim CEO Brian Sapp also weighed in on the report.

“BRIDG is poised to emerge as Florida’s technical and economic engine for fostering innovation in microelectronics, increasing high-tech employment and regional wage growth, and developing a skilled microelectronics workforce to ensure global competitiveness. Diversifying Central Florida’s economy through the creation of high skill and high wage jobs in the fields of microelectronics and advanced manufacturing is a key factor in the effort to secure the economic vitality of our state and nation,” said Sapp.

“Manufacturing is a major driver of Florida’s economy and according to the latest data from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, more than 20,000 manufacturing companies provide over 381,000 Floridians with high-wage jobs. BRIDG plays an essential leadership role in this economic transformation as a not-for-profit public-private partnership for microelectronics R&D and production.  Located at NeoCity – a 500-acre master-planned technology district in Osceola County – BRIDG has the potential to establish Central Florida as a major global hub for advanced manufacturing, serving as a catalyst for continued growth throughout the state,” FTW noted.

FTW also showcased its “Manufacturing in Florida” video, which was first released at the end of October, on Thursday.

FDOT Will Accelerate the Start of Several Infrastructure Projects Across Florida

Florida State Road 405

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) announced this week that, at Gov. Ron DeSantis’ direction, it will speed up the start several infrastructure projects, which are valued at $2.1 billion.

“Due to a reduction in traffic throughout Florida during the fight against COVID-19, FDOT will expedite crucial improvements to the state’s transportation system and provide much needed jobs,” the FDOT announced on Wednesday.

Florida Department of Transportation Sec. Kevin Thibault said that his team was ready to help keep workers safe during the coronaviurs crisis.

“The governor understands that Florida’s transportation system is the backbone of our economy and FDOT is proud to accelerate projects, which will help expedite goods to market and provide much needed jobs throughout the state,” said Thibault, “Safety is our top priority, so we will continue to ensure that employees have the sanitation supplies needed to follow the guidance from the CDC and work with our industry partners to implement these same precautions to keep workers safe and healthy.”

The FDOT announced it will move up the timetables of the following projects:

The $864M Howard Frankland Bridge project in the Tampa Bay area will be accelerated by almost four weeks.

The widening of Southern Boulevard (SR 80) in western Palm Beach County will be accelerated by almost three months.

In Miami-Dade, the I-395/SR 836/I-95 Design Build Project is an $802 million reconstruction project being done in coordination with the local expressway authority that will be accelerated by four weeks.

The project at Sand Lake Road (SR 482) near the heavy tourist area of International Drive and Universal Boulevard in Orlando will be accelerated by four to six weeks.

Several other projects, by region, include:

Southeast Florida

Phase one of construction on the US-1 Cow Key Bridge in Monroe County will be accelerated by a week.

Southwest Florida

Paving along I-75 at the SR 70 Interchange in Manatee County will be accelerated by two weeks.

Paving, widening and signal upgrades along State Road 951 in southern Collier County will be accelerated by four weeks.

Northwest Florida

The 23rd Street Flyover project at the intersection of US 98 and 23rd Street in Bay County will be accelerated by a week.

Northeast Florida

The Diverging Diamond Interchange on SR 200 (A1A) at Interstate 95 in Nassau County, the first of its kind in Northeast Florida, will be accelerated by two months.

 

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

Rick Scott: States Need to Do More to Help Americans, Small Businesses Hurt During the Coronavirus Crisis

At the start of a new month on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., called for states to offer help to Americans and small businesses hurt during the coronavirus crisis.

Scott called for the states to launch moratoriums on a host of financial transactions including mortgage and credit card payments.

“Today is April 1, and so many across our nation are struggling to pay their rent, mortgage and other financial obligations,” Scott said on Tuesday. “Congress passed a moratorium on evictions, which will provide much-needed relief and peace of mind for many Americans.

Having served as governor of Florida for eight years, Scott called on states to follow Congress’ lead.

“Today, I’m calling on all governors in the nation to do everything they can to implement moratoriums on financial payments, including rent, mortgages, credit card payments, taxes, and utilities,” Scott said. “I thank the many governors that have taken action to prevent evictions and foreclosures in their states. But we have to go even further to provide much-needed relief for Americans – and we have to do it today.”

Scott’s office weighed in on the limitations of the $2.2 federal stimulus Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law last week. While offering some criticisms of the stimulus package, Scott voted for it.

“The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act just passed by Congress includes a nationwide moratorium on evictions, but doesn’t go far enough. As part of his 30-day plan for Americans to get back to their daily lives, Senator Scott called for a moratorium on financial payments, including rent, mortgages, credit card payments, taxes, and utilities,” Scott’s office noted.

 

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

Ashley Moody Warns that Scammers Exploit 2020 Census and Coronavirus to Rip Off Floridians

Ashley Moody

With Wednesday being Census Day, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody issued a Consumer Alert to warn Floridians about scammers using COVID-19 and the mandatory count to steal personal information.

An emerging scam involves a false claim that Floridians must respond to the 2020 Census in order to receive a coronavirus stimulus payment. The scam message usually includes a link that directs anyone who clicks on it to a fake website with prompts to provide sensitive personal information. While participating in the Census is mandatory, there is no connection between completing the Census and receiving a stimulus check.

“Scammers will try anything to steal from consumers, and with the stimulus payments on the way and a mandatory Census count underway, there is a perfect storm of fraud opportunities,” Moody said on Wednesday. “Floridians need to stay informed about the Census count and educate themselves about the coronavirus stimulus package, so they will not be easily tricked by scammers trying use the news to make a dishonest dollar.”

To avoid Census and COVID-19 related scams, remember that the Census count and stimulus payment are not connected in any way. Know that the Census Bureau will not send unsolicited emails, or ask for Social Security numbers, bank account or credit card information, or money. Never click on links on any unsolicited messages about the Census or stimulus payments, and confirm that the return address on mail from the Census Bureau is Jeffersonville, Indiana.

The Bureau does ask for some personal information, such as the full names and dates of birth for every household member. However, the Bureau will not ask questions about how much money is in a bank account, passwords, Social Security numbers, mother’s maiden name, work times or other questions that produce answers that might prove useful to identity thieves or cybercriminals.

Another type of scam to be aware of involves criminals who impersonate U.S. Census workers going door-to-door. The ultimate aim is to break into victims’ houses to steal money, property or commit violent acts. Official Census Bureau employees will have badges and ID numbers that can be confirmed by calling 1(800) 923-8282.

This tactic has also been reported in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several South Florida law enforcement agencies issued alerts about people dressed in white lab coats and masks impersonating Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) workers. The imposters reportedly knocked on doors to offer free COVID-19 tests. The CDC is not sending people door-to-door to test for COVID-19. If a CDC impersonator shows up at your door, do not let them in. Close the door and call 911.

Earlier this week, Moody issued a Consumer Alert warning Floridians about scammers using the new coronavirus stimulus package to target Floridians. The $2 trillion federal stimulus package includes individual payments, expanded unemployment coverage, student loan changes and much more. News of the historic stimulus is providing ammo for scammers already trying to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to rip off Floridians.

Anyone who encounters a coronavirus stimulus package scam or any other type of COVID-19 fraud should contact the Florida Attorney General’s Office at 1-(866)-9NO-SCAM or MyFloridaLegal.com.

 

Florida Delegation Can Play a Major Role on $2 Trillion Infrastructure Stimulus to Help During Coronavirus Crisis

minimum wage

Having passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package to help the economy weather the coronavirus crisis last week, the White House and Congress are now abuzz about a potential $2 trillion infrastructure stimulus proposal.

President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to support sending $2 trillion to infrastructure projects. During his presidential campaign in 2016, Trump called for investing $1 trillion in infrastructure over ten years. Despite GOP control of both chamber of Congress in his first two years and having U.S. Transportation Sec. Elaine Chao, the wife of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the Cabinet, Trump has not been able to fulfill that campaign promise.

“With interest rates for the United States being at zero, this is the time to do our decades long awaited infrastructure bill,” Trump posted on Twitter. “It should be very big and bold, two trillion dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our country! Phase 4.”

Trump could find some support in the U.S. House despite it being controlled by the Democrats. This week, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., offered some support for a fourth stimulus package in response to the coronavirus crisis. On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., one of Pelosi’s top lieutenants and the chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, opened the door to focusing on infrastructure in the fourth stimulus bill though he warned that McConnell and Senate Republicans could be an obstacle.

There’s a long way to go of course but, if the infrastructure stimulus package comes together, the Florida delegation can play a major role in shaping it. Over in the Senate, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sits on the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee and could help craft the final product. So could U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who serves on the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and its Transportation and Safety Subcommittee.

Over in the U.S. House, the Sunshine State could also loom large. U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., leads Republicans, including U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., on the U.S. House Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations Subcommittee, giving Florida two of the 11 seats on that key body. Those two Republicans along with Florida Democrats U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist, Lois Frankel and Debbie Wasserman Schultz also sit on the full House Appropriations Committee where they should be able to help shape the infrastructure package.

Florida is also well represented on the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee with U.S. Reps. Brian Mast, R-Fla., Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., Ross Spano, R-Fla., Dan Webster, R-Fla., and Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., on it. With those members of the Florida delegation sitting on the U.S. House Aviation; the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation; the Water Resources and Environment; the Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management; and the Highways and Transit Subcommittees, the Sunshine State should be in a good position to benefit from the bill. While Mucarsel-Powell and Spano are both in their first terms–and both can be expected to be targeted in November–they have shown the ability to bring funds to their districts for infrastructure and transportation projects.

The $2 trillion infrastructure stimulus proposal is nowhere near the finish line and a lot can happen, especially in an election year like 2020. But, if that package comes together, Florida–still the largest electoral swing state–can expect its share of federal dollars.

 

Kevin Derby wrote this analysis. He can be reached at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

Ron DeSantis Issues Stay-at-Home Order for Florida

Ron DeSantis at Desk

On Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he will issue a stay-at-home order for the Sunshine State as the number of Floridians testing positive for coronavirus continue to rise.

The executive order will start at the end of Thursday and will extend through all of April and will be all non-essential activities outside the home.

Saying he spoke with President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning, DeSantis said he had been “working with the president’s task force.” The governor said he was making the decision after the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) extended social distance guidelines throughout all of April. DeSantis called that extension a “national pause.”

“We’re going to be in this for another 30 days,” DeSantis said. “That’s just the reality we find ourselves in.”

DeSantis said he will follow essential service guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and used in Miami Dade County.

“At this point….it makes sense to make this move now,” DeSantis said, adding that he and Trump were in agreement on issuing the executive order.

DeSantis had drawn fire on the matter in recent days with Democrats in the Florida delegation urging him to issue a stay-at-home order.

On Wednesday, before DeSantis issued the order, state Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Ft. Lauderdale, pushed the governor to issue the order and not wait on guidance from the White House.

“Governor DeSantis, your marching orders do not come from President Trump. They come from the people of Florida,” said Thurston. “And the people are demanding that you protect their health and welfare by issuing a statewide stay-at-home order.

“While our own governor sits, hat in hand, patiently waiting for instructions from the White House, Florida has seen the number of positive cases exceed 6,000, and the death toll is approaching 100,” Thurston added. “Governors in other states have not hesitated to act decisively and immediately as the crisis demanded, many of them issuing statewide stay-at-home orders to halt the virus’ transmission. Governor DeSantis needs to step up and do the same.”

 

Rick Scott Wants Plan From Airlines to Protect Workers and Keep Americans Safe

airplane window view

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott sent a letter to Nicholas Calio, the president and CEO of Airlines for America, and to George Novak, the president of the National Air Carrier Association, requesting information on how the airlines plan to protect workers and the steps they are taking to keep Americans safe throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Scott also urged airlines to use taxpayer dollars they receive from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act wisely. His office promised Scott “will be vigilant in making sure any federal funds received from the CARES Act are not abused.”

Scott’s letter is below.

To Whom It May Concern:

We are facing unprecedented times as a nation. The rapid spread of the Coronavirus has significantly altered the lives of every American. The challenge to end the virus and rebuild our economy is great – but we will succeed together. Working together, we can secure America’s economic success and create more opportunities for American families. Right now, we must not forget that the best economic stimulus is to get a handle on the crisis itself so we can get the American people back to work.

I supported the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act because it was the only option to get immediate help to small businesses and unemployed workers. I was very clear about my reservations regarding many provisions in the CARES Act that are antithetical to everything I believe in. My concern remains on the workers who have lost their jobs, had their hours cut or are getting lower tips, and small businesses that have been forced to close or have lost significant revenue.

I want to make sure the people that need help the most can get the help they need, but we still need to be responsible with taxpayer money. $2 trillion in new spending means a $2 trillion tax increase somewhere down the road. Even in a crisis, we need to be smart about how we spend taxpayer dollars.

The CARES Act contains very generous government assistance in the form of loans and grants. I fear this assistance could be used to provide relief to companies that can restructure their business, without government interference. I am glad the CARES Act requires a return on investment for the taxpayers, includes significant oversight of how the funds are disbursed and restricts recipients of these funds from buying back their stock. I will be vigilant in making sure that companies don’t abuse this process and are responsible to the taxpayers. I understand that your member companies may be requesting and accepting such government assistance. To that end, I ask that your member companies address the following questions:

Constituents have shared with me that they were traveling during the onset of U.S. travel restrictions, only to see return ticket prices skyrocket as they attempted to get home.

Has your company increased any airline ticket prices during this time, as a result of Coronavirus-related travel restrictions?

Has your company waived all fees related to changing or canceling flights?

Has your company suspended any other fees, such as baggage and seat change fees?

The safety and security of passengers should always be our first concern. The recent report about a passenger who knowingly traveled by plane with Coronavirus symptoms into West Palm Beach was alarming and dangerous. I’ve long called for increased screening at all airports, including requiring every individual to have their temperature taken before boarding. While the federal government must take the lead on many of these issues, the private sector has an important role to play as well.

What steps are you taking to increase screening of passengers?

What steps are you taking to increase sanitization efforts on your airplanes?

What steps do you think the airports need to take to assist in these efforts?

In times of crisis, Americans come together to innovatively adapt and solve problems. The private sector has to make changes to meet the challenge while protecting our economy and our families.

The airline industry is critical to the success of our economy, and I thank you for your commitment to the safety of Americans. I appreciate your efforts to be as transparent as possible when it comes to taxpayer money, and I look forward to your responses and continuing to work together to ensure that taxpayers get the best possible return on their investment.  Please respond with your answers by Monday, April 6th.

 

Florida Delegation Reacts to State Department’s New Framework to Bring Democracy to Venezuela

Venezuelan flag

Members of the Florida delegation weighed in on the U.S. State Department’s new effort to help Venezuela transition to democracy and remove the Maduro regime.

On Tuesday, the State Department unveiled its framework which includes the “establishment of broadly acceptable transitional government to administer free and fair presidential elections and a pathway to lifting Venezuela-related U.S. sanctions.” Many of the proposals come from the interim government of Venezuela led by Juan Guaido which the U.S. recognizes as the legitimate government instead of the Maduro regime.

“The United States has long been committed to finding a solution to the man-made crisis in Venezuela.  The urgency for this has become all the more serious in light of the Maduro regime’s failure to adequately prepare for and address the global COVID-19 pandemic.  This framework demonstrates our commitment to helping Venezuela fully recover and ensures that the voice of the Venezuelan people is respected and included. We call on all Venezuelans, whether military or civilian, young or old, of all ideological tendencies and party affiliations, to consider this framework carefully and seriously,” the State Department insisted.

“We believe this framework protects the interests and equities of all Venezuelan people who desperately seek a resolution to their dire political, economic, and humanitarian crisis, and who know Venezuelans can have something better.  This framework can provide a path that ends the suffering and opens the path to a brighter future for Venezuela,” the State Department added.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a supporter of the Guaido government and the chairman of the U.S. Senate Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, applauded the new framework.

“The current crisis in Venezuela isn’t a conflict between two legitimate political factions,” Rubio said on Tuesday. “It is a struggle between an organized crime ring run by Nicolas Maduro and a legitimate and democratically elected National Assembly led by Interim President Juan Guaido.

“Secretary Pompeo is right to recognize a peaceful return to democracy led by a broadly acceptable transitional government as the ideal path forward,” Rubio continued. “And such an effort would require the support and participation of the military and key leaders representing a cross-section of political views. But it will fail if it sidelines Juan Guaido and the legitimately elected National Assembly he leads. Or if it includes Nicolas Maduro and certain members of the mafia he controls.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., also weighed in on the framework and she took a few shots at the Trump administration’s handling of Venezuela.

“Helping Venezuela peacefully return to democracy has always been a top priority for me and for our nation. But the current administration’s inconsistent strategy is problematic and will not bring us closer to freeing the Venezuelan people from the continuous and immeasurable harm inflicted on them by the authoritarian Maduro regime,” she said.

“Today, Trump offered Maduro sanctions relief if Maduro agrees to participate in a transitional government. But less than a week ago, Trump indicted Maduro on charges of narco-terrorism. This haphazard strategy is clumsy and seemingly contradictory. With the coronavirus pandemic growing in Venezuela, Maduro’s authoritarian regime has been exposed as completely ill-equipped to take care of the people. We must develop a coherent strategy towards Venezuela so that we can find a pathway towards real relief for the Venezuelans who are overwhelmingly suffering in this troubling time,” Wasserman Schultz added.

“First, that must include TPS for Venezuelans here in the U.S. The United States should not be sending Venezuelan refugees back to Venezuela, certainly not during a pandemic, on top of the already burgeoning crisis that predates it,” she said in conclusion.

 

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

Nikki Fried Calls on Sonny Perdue to Use Coronavirus Stimulus to Help Distribute Florida Crops

Nikki Fried

With coronavirus weakening the economy, on Tuesday, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Sec.  Sonny Perdue, calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help quickly distribute perishable crops from the Sunshine State through federal food programs.

Fried urged Perdue to use crops from Florida for “food banks, school meal programs and other federal food purchase programs” to distribute.

“With many restaurants and food service establishments closed, Florida agricultural producers are facing a sudden market decline for fresh commodities ready to be harvested such as tomatoes, green beans, and peppers, in which Florida leads the nation in production,” Fried’s office noted.

Fried noted that Congress recently passed a $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package which includes $9 billion for federal feeding programs, including the USDA’s Food Purchase Program. Fried also pointed out that the package contains $9.5 billion to help agriculture and urged Perdue to send some of those funds to the Sunshine State.

“I applaud our farmers and producers who have shown unbelievable resilience as they continue to work day in and day out to feed our communities during this trying time. Now, we must make sure our farmers, who are also struggling in the current market even as they continue to provide for others, are not left behind and food is not left to waste,” Fried wrote Perdue.

Fried also sent the letter to members of the Florida congressional delegation.

 

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