From the desk of Helen Miller…
On September 12, Senator Nelson spoke on the Senate floor in support of a bipartisan effort to provide emergency funding to fight the Zika virus. He also spoke about a September 10 Miami Herald article highlighting the dangers of undercounting the extent of virus’ spread. According to the article, “the information issued by the governor and state agencies has not been timely or accurate — cases announced as ‘new’ are often several weeks old, due to a time lag in diagnosis — and excludes details that public health experts say would allow people to make informed decisions and provide a complete picture of Zika’s foothold in Florida.” As of September 14, 2016, there were more than 800 cases of Zika in Florida, including 71 cases of local transmission and 86 cases involving pregnant women. To view the speech visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfLIYN6dGw8.
On September 7, Senator Nelson spoke on the Senate floor, urging his colleagues to “stop playing games” with funding to fight Zika, and urged Senate Majority Leader McConnell to take up and pass the same $1.1 billion Zika-funding bill that the Senate overwhelmingly passed in May. Since then, Leader McConnell has only allowed votes on Zika-funding bills that contain additional controversial issues such as a proposal to cut family planning services for low-income families in Puerto Rico, where over 15,000 Zika cases have been identified, and also proposals that take funding from efforts to control the Ebola virus, as well as other healthcare funding under the Affordable Care Act. Senator Nelson’s speech can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5N3jvnqv7YE.
On August 10, Senator Nelson joined seven Florida Democratic House Members in sending a letter urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary to ensure a sustainable funding stream for the development of a Zika vaccine. The letter states, “We recognize that any option that involve moving resources from other parts of your budget require raiding other vital work that is being done at your Department. And, for this reason, we would only recommend this type of extraordinary step if there were no other choice. Unfortunately, the Republican Congress has left you no other options.”
On August 4, Senator Nelson joined 40 Democratic Senators in writing to the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader urging them to immediately cancel the remainder of the congressional recess and get back to work to protect the American public from the Zika virus. The letter states, “Congress left for the August recess after House Republicans killed a bipartisan compromise bill that received 89 votes in the Senate. Republican leadership acquiesced to their extreme right-wing Members, who demanded poison pill special-interest priorities…”
On August 2, Senator Nelson wrote to Senate Majority Leader McConnell to use a pro forma session during recess to pass Zika funding without having to reconvene the Senate body. The letter reads, “If you feel it would be too difficult to immediately reconvene the entire Senate, you and Sen. Reid could, under Senate rules, simply agree during one of the remaining nine pro forma sessions to allow a senator by unanimous consent to take up and pass the same $1.1 billion Zika-funding bill that the Senate overwhelmingly passed back in May….”
On July 29, Senator Nelson wrote to Senator McConnell urging him to exercise his power as Senate Majority Leader to immediately reconvene the Senate so the Senate could pass an emergency spending bill that would have provided our health officials with the resources they need to contain the spread of the Zika virus. Senator Nelson sent the letter following the Florida Department of Health’s announcement that mosquitoes in South Florida infected at least four people in the Wynwood neighborhood.
Passing Water Resources Legislation
On September 15, Senator Nelson voted for S. 2848, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2016, which passed the Senate by a vote of 95-3. Senator Nelson voted for passage of the bipartisan bill, which includes authorization for the Central Everglades Planning Project, also known as CEPP. The bill also authorizes the Port Everglades dredging project, the Flagler County Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project, a post-authorization change report for the Picayune Strand Restoration Project, and a feasibility study for the Daytona Beach Flood Protection project. The bill also directs the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a plan for restoring oyster beds in the Gulf of Mexico. The WRDA bill also includes assistance for Flint, Michigan, as well as other communities affected by contaminated drinking water.
Asking for Better Public Engagement from the EPA
On August 30, Senator Nelson wrote to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy regarding the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) proposed changes to chemical limits allowed in Florida’s surface waters. The letter requests that the EPA hold public meetings in Florida to allow residents to comment on the proposal. DEP only offered a 30-day public comment period on the proposal.
Calling for Action on Citrus Greening
On July 21, Senator Nelson and Senator Rubio wrote to Senate Leaders urging passage of S. 2346, the Emergency Citrus Disease Response Act, a bill Senator Nelson introduced in 2015 to make it easier for citrus growers to deduct the cost of replanting trees affected by citrus greening. Since 2005, Florida citrus growers have been fighting citrus greening, a bacterial disease that has decimated the nation’s citrus industry. In Florida alone, an estimated 80 percent of the state’s citrus trees are infected. Senator Nelson’s bill provides needed tax relief to help the industry recover and build back capacity. Rep. Buchanan sponsored the House companion bill, which passed in the House of Representatives on September 21, by a vote of 400-20.
Caring for Disabled Veterans
On September 19, the Senate passed H.R. 5985, the VA Expiring Authorities Act, by a vote of 89-0. Senator Nelson voted in favor of the bill, which extends through the end of fiscal year (FY) 2017 certain Department of Veterans Affairs authorities to provide nursing home care to disabled veterans, counseling services, and rehabilitation and vocational benefits.
Ensuring the Stability of NASA
On September 21, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, unanimously passed S. 3346, the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2016 as amended. The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Senator Cruz and cosponsored by Senators Nelson, Rubio, and four others, authorizes the agency for fiscal year 2017 and directs that NASA continue to develop major programs, including the Space Launch System (SLS), Orion, commercial crew and cargo, and the James Webb Space Telescope. At the mark-up Senator Nelson discussed the progress NASA has made in recent years in its exploration programs and science missions. He also discussed the stability for NASA through the presidential transitions, increasing funding for the agency, and working next year on a comprehensive, multi-year NASA authorization bill. To view the markup visit: http://bit.ly/2cVlIS6
Supporting Transparency in Corporate Political Spending
On September 15, Senator Nelson joined 40 Senators in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, asking them to reject any efforts to prohibit the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from finalizing a rule requiring public companies to disclose their political spending to shareholders. The SEC has long had broad authority to decide what information public companies have to disclose to their investors. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, the SEC started to consider establishing new rules requiring more transparency for public corporations spending money to influence elections. Senator Nelson has long supported making campaign financing more transparent.
Addressing the Opioid Crisis
On July 22, President Obama signed into law the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (P.L. 114-198). Senator Nelson was a cosponsor of this legislation that confronts substance abuse, particularly from opioids, by authorizing funding for education and prevention programs, creating best practices for prescribing pain medication, expanding treatment, and supporting disposal sites for prescription drugs. In 2014, an estimated 1,400 people in Florida died from opioid overdose.
Supporting Minorities in Health Professions and Health-Related Sciences
On August 25, Senator Nelson sent a letter with Senator Hirono to the National Institutes of Health asking the agency to continue the Research Centers in Minority Institutions Program (RCMI) in its current form to support research for underrepresented minorities in the health professions and health-related sciences. Florida A&M University (FAMU) receives RCMI funding for its training and research programs for African American graduate students. For 2016, FAMU received $2.66 million to support research infrastructure, such as lab costs. Sixty percent of African American doctoral researchers in the pharmaceutical sciences and 25 percent of African American pharmacists in the nation are trained at FAMU.
Working to Ensure a Healthy Marketplace for Health Insurance
On September 8, Senator Nelson sent a letter with four of his colleagues to Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini expressing concern that Aetna’s decision to exit 11 of the 15 Affordable Care Act (ACA) Exchanges, including Florida, is in response to the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) decision to challenge Aetna’s merger with Humana. Aetna insures between 220,000 – 230,000 Floridians through the ACA Marketplace in eleven counties in Florida.
Protecting Medicare Coverage of Home Health Services
On September 1, Senators Nelson and Rubio sent a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) urging the agency to delay expansion of the Pre-Claim Review Demonstration (PCRD) for home health services into the state of Florida. The PCRD is being implemented in five states, including Florida. The letter states, “The potential October 1, 2016 start date in Florida should be delayed to allow for sufficient time to monitor and evaluate the demonstration’s effects in Illinois.” In response, on September 20, CMS announced it will not move forward with the demonstration in Florida in October as CMS believes additional education efforts are needed before expansion to the other four States.
Protecting Access to Diagnostic Tests for Seniors with Complex Health Conditions
On September 15, Senator Nelson joined 12 of his Senate colleagues in sending a bipartisan letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) regarding proposed Medicare reimbursement cuts for certain advanced diagnostic tests. CMS proposed cuts of 30 to 90 percent for Multianalyte Assays with Algorithmic Analyses (MAAA) and Genomic Sequencing Procedures (GSP), which provide physicians with specific information for managing the care of patients with complex and serious conditions, like cancer, heart transplants, cardiovascular disease and rheumatoid arthritis. The letter also expresses concern that the payment rates reported by Medicare Administrative Contractors, which determined the proposed reimbursement rate resulting in cuts, are not transparent and may not meet certain regulatory reporting criteria as required.
Assisting Students After Closure of ITT Technical Institute
On September 6, Senator Nelson sent a letter to U.S. Department of Education Secretary John King regarding the ITT Technical Institute (ITT Tech), who announced that same day that it would close the doors of all of its campuses across the country, including nine campuses in Florida. The letter requested that the Department hold ITT Tech accountable by ensuring they assist affected students transcript procurement and potential reimbursement of tuition. The closure will displace 40,000 students nationwide leaving them in limbo as they determine if they can transfer to another school or need to request their student loans be discharged.
Supporting ITT Tech Students
On September 15, Senator Nelson joined Senator Murray and 21 other Senators in a letter to John King, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education in support of ITT Tech students. The letter asks for the Department of Education to continue to reach out to affected students and ensure students who choose to transfer their credits go to an institution that is not facing state or federal investigations. The letter also urges the agency to use its legal authority to increase the total debt relief to former students, extend the 120-day window that allows students who withdrew before the school’s closure to still receive a loan discharge, and ensure all students receive their documents and files from ITT Tech.
Protecting Consumers from Scalpers’ “Ticket Bots”
On September 13, Senator Nelson joined a bipartisan effort to prohibit scalpers from using automated software to snatch-up huge quantities of tickets for entertainment and sporting events, forcing consumers to pay sky-high prices for tickets on reseller sites like StubHub. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, where Senator Nelson serves as Ranking Member, held a hearing on the growing use of these software programs, known as “ticket bots,” as well as on the Better Online Ticket Sales Act of 2016, a bipartisan bill, cosponsored by Senator Nelson, that would outlaw the use of bots to evade security measures and other controls on ticket selling websites. To view the hearing visit: http://bit.ly/2cg1c2i.
Criticizing the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
On September 15, Senators Nelson and Thune, leaders of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, released a joint statement criticizing the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) shortcomings as found in the Inspector General’s recent risk assessment. The report found that the TSA “lacks an intelligence-driven, risk-based security strategy that informs security and resource decisions across all transportation modes.” To view the statement visit: http://bit.ly/2cU0NhP.
Questioning Pentagon Officials about Cybersecurity
On September 13, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Senator Nelson pressed Pentagon and U.S. Cyber Command leaders on U.S. strategy to deter cyberattacks and whether technology companies were cooperating with the U.S. Government to address the proliferation of strong encryption technology and its effect on our national security. To view the hearing visit: http://bit.ly/2cLSmcM.
Questioning Commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
On September 15, Senator Nelson, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation questioned all five commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) during an FCC oversight hearing. At the hearing, Senator Nelson underscored the importance of reforming the set-top box rules and freeing consumers from costly rental fees while protecting copyright. Senator Nelson also stated his plan to introduce legislation to advance the deployment of Next Generation 9-1-1 capabilities. Senator Nelson reiterated his past call for the Senate to consider Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel’s renomination for another term on the Commission. To view the hearing visit: http://bit.ly/2cFRxAj
Designating October 9 – 15, 2016, as Earth Science Week
On September 15, Senator Nelson joined Senator Murkowski and others to introduce a bipartisan resolution designating the week of October 9 -15, 2016, as Earth Science Week. The resolution marks the 19th annual international Earth Science Week, designated by the American Geosciences Institute to help the public gain better understanding of and appreciation for the Earth sciences.
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson
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