U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) today introduced a resolution in the Senate to honor the victims of the tragic shooting that took place at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando one year ago today. A copy of the resolution is available here.
Senator Bill Nelson
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) is leading a group of Senate Democrats in calling on the administration to hold public hearings and give the public more time to review and comment on NOAA’s proposal this week that would open the door to allowing seismic testing off the Atlantic Coast.
“On June 6, 2017, NOAA released a proposal to approve five applications submitted by companies seeking to conduct seismic airgun blasts along the Atlantic Coast,” Nelson and others wrote in a letter today to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. “This was done with little notice, an extremely short public comment period, and no scheduled public hearings.”
The lawmakers, after noting that these applications had been denied by NOAA just five months earlier, went on to say, “in the interest of transparency, government accountability, and meaningful public participation, we urge you to extend the comment period for these activities to at least 150 days, conduct public community meetings, and clarify key elements of the proposal.”
In addition to Nelson, the letter was also signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Ed Markey (D-MA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
Below is the full text of the senators’ letter, and a PDF copy is available here.
June 9, 2017
The Honorable Wilbur Ross
U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Ave NW
Washington, DC 20230
Dear Secretary Ross,
This week, we celebrated World Oceans Day. At a time when the global community should be discussing new ways to protect the marine environment, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) instead announced a proposal to issue five authorizations that could seriously affect coastal economies along the entire Atlantic seaboard. This was done with little notice, an extremely short public comment period, and no scheduled public hearings. And possibly most problematic, these applications were declined by NOAA just five months ago. In the interest of transparency, government accountability, and meaningful public participation, we urge you to extend the comment period for these activities to at least 150 days, conduct public community meetings, and clarify key elements of the proposal.
On June 6, 2017, NOAA released a proposal to approve five applications submitted by companies seeking to conduct seismic airgun blasts along the Atlantic Coast, authorizing the harassment of marine mammals during the course of their surveys for oil and gas deposits. The Federal Register notice allows for only 30 days of public comment on a complex 91-page document proposing to authorize five separate activities with the potential to harm marine mammals.
For context, in July 2015, when NOAA announced the receipt of seismic applications, it solicited 30 days of public comment on a 2-page document. During that time, 720 pages of unique public comments were submitted to NOAA—many with significant scientific and economic concerns and outright opposition to issuance of approval to harass marine mammals.
And as of today, 125 Atlantic Coast communities, over 1,200 elected officials, and an alliance representing over 41,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families have publicly opposed seismic airgun blasting and/or offshore drilling. The Mid- and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Defense, and the Florida Defense Support Task Force have also expressed concern about ongoing and future oil and gas operations.
Furthermore, the proposal itself is confusing and vague. We urge you to issue clarification on several important topics. For example, the Federal Register notice includes two applications that NOAA has not previously included in a public notice of receipt, and does not include a map showing each of the five applications proposed to be approved. Also, one of the applications has changed names since it was first filed. To allow for relevant, timely, and thorough public comment on the proposal, it is essential that NOAA publish clear maps for each application, and each application should be cited using a consistent name.
Finally, despite the potential to affect coastal resources along the entire East Coast, it does not appear that NOAA intends to conduct any public meetings. We find this lack of stakeholder outreach unacceptable. We would expect that NOAA would conduct public meetings in each of the states most likely to be impacted by this activity, including Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey.
The Marine Mammal Commission wrote in 2015 that in considering these kinds of surveys, NOAA should minimize duplication, address inconsistencies in the estimates of marine mammals that would be impacted, and fully evaluate and monitor whether proposed mitigation measures are likely to be successful. NOAA’s current proposed approvals do not address these recommendations.
The science suggests that airgun surveys themselves have the potential to cause significant harm, and could jeopardize the continued existence of the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale. Given the widespread and strong public interest in this issue, it is essential that NOAA provide thorough and transparent information, and a reasonable opportunity for the public to participate in the review process.
Following is a statement from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) on former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony today:
“The special counsel got a lot of material from Comey. The ultimate goal is to get to the truth. The American people deserve nothing less.”
Following is a statement from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) on the shooting in Orlando this morning:
“The city of Orlando, which is still healing from the Pulse massacre, has seen too much violence this past year. We must do more to address mental health issues in this country.”
Following is a statement from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) on news today that President Trump will likely withdraw from the Paris climate agreement in the coming days:
“Sea-level rise caused by the Earth heating up is a real threat to Florida. If the U.S. isn’t going to do its part to combat climate change, then the rest of the world won’t do theirs and millions of Floridians living along the coast will be at risk.”
Nelson and several other senators sent a letter to Trump last week urging him not to withdraw from the agreement. A copy of that letter is available here.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price today to express his concerns over the administration’s plan to cut funding to several federal programs aimed at curbing the spread of the Zika virus.
Nelson’s letter comes just one day after the Treasure Coast reported its first case of the Zika virus this year.
“I am concerned the Administration’s budget proposal would damage our country’s ability to adequately respond to the Zika virus,” Nelson wrote. “No state has been harder hit than Florida … Unfortunately, the Administration’s budget fails to continue our commitment to protect America’s public health, and instead slashes the very programs that have been effective in combatting the spread of the Zika virus.”
“Families in Florida and throughout the country deserve better,” Nelson continued. “I urge you to reconsider these cuts, and I stand ready to work with you to provide the resources our country needs to respond to the Zika virus.”
More than 1,300 cases of the Zika virus were reported in Florida last year. The Florida Department of Health has reported at least 50 new cases of the virus this year, including 19 in Miami-Dade, 12 in Broward, 3 in Orange, 3 in Hillsborough and 3 in Palm Beach.
Following is a statement from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) on the president’s budget proposal released today:
“This plan cuts some of our most critical programs including Medicaid and food stamps. It also cuts funding to agencies such as NIH, which is working to find cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s, and the EPA, which protects our environment. Slashing these vital programs will hurt millions of hardworking families. We should be focused on helping people, not hurting those who need our help the most.”
U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced legislation today aimed at reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs by making it easier for the VA Secretary to fire poorly-preforming employees.
The legislation aimed at holding VA employees more accountable would also create new protections for VA whistleblowers and ensure that employees who are terminated have an adequate opportunity to appeal their dismissal.
“This bill will help the VA provide better care to our veterans by removing the bad actors and protecting the good ones,” Nelson said. “The brave men and women who have served our country deserve nothing but the best, and this bill is another small step in ensuring that they receive the care they deserve.”
For years, the VA has been plagued by reports of inefficiency and long wait times. VA Secretary David Shulkin has repeatedly expressed support for legislation to hold VA employees more accountable.
The legislation filed today is the third bill Nelson has sponsored in as many years to hold VA employees more accountable. Nelson says that while he believes it’s important to hold poorly-performing employees accountable, he also believes it’s important to protect the rights of those employees who may have been wrongly terminated, especially at the lower levels, by giving theman opportunity to appeal a supervisor’s decision to fire them.
Specifically, the legislation filed today would:
- Authorize the secretary to reprimand, suspend, involuntarily reassign, demote, or remove a covered individual from a senior executive service position, including removal from civil service, if the secretary determines that their misconduct or performance warrants such an action, subject to a VA-internal grievance process established by the secretary that must be completed within 21 days.
- Authorize the secretary to remove, demote, or suspend for longer than 14 days without pay, subject to an appeal of their removal or demotion to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) for most non-senior executive service (SES) employees. The MSBP would then have 180 days to complete an expedited appeal and render a final decision, subject to judicial review by the U.S. Federal Circuit.
- Protect whistleblowers from retaliation by not allowing the secretary to use this authority to fire employees who have filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). The proposal would also establish an Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection for employees to bring to light major problems at the VA without losing their job or facing retaliation.
- Streamline authority for the secretary to rescind an employee’s bonus or relocation expense reimbursement if the secretary deems it appropriate, and allow reduction to an SES employee’s retirement pension upon their conviction of a felony related to work performance.
- Require the VA to provide periodic training to each supervisor on the rights of whistleblowers; how to address a report by an employee of a hostile work environment, reprisal, or harassment; how to effectively motivate, manage, and reward employees; and how to effectively manage employees who are performing at an unacceptable level.
- Authorize the secretary to directly appoint individuals to the positions of Medical Center Director and Director of Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) if they have demonstrated ability in the medical profession, health care administration, or health care fiscal management.
- Require the VA to provide reports to Congress on employee morale and the types of administrative action taken against employees and their effectiveness in disciplining employees.
Full text of the legislation is available here.
Following is a statement from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) on the firing of FBI Director James Comey:
“Now it is more clear than ever that we need an independent commission to get to the truth of Russia’s interference with our election.”
Sen. Bill Nelson took to the Senate floor today to urge his colleagues to think twice before supporting the “disastrous” Republican health care bill the House passed last week.
“We’re dealing with people’s lives here. We’re dealing with their health. The last thing in the world that we ought to be doing is cutting out the sources of funding to help people who are in such dire straits,” Nelson said. “I would urge our colleagues to think twice about supporting this disastrous Republican health care bill.”
Nelson specifically cited the more than $800 billion that the bill cuts from the federal Medicaid program and how those cuts would negatively affect Florida’s ability to combat the growing opioid epidemic.
“Last week, the Florida Medical Examiners Commission released new data showing that over 2,600 Floridians had died from opioids in just the first half of 2016 alone,” Nelson said. “In 2015 alone, 167 babies were born in opioid dependency in just one city, Jacksonville,” Nelson added, citing a recently published report.
As the single largest payer for substance abuse services, Medicaid plays a critical role in the fight against the opioid epidemic. Nelson sent a letter last week to the Acting Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy urging him to make treatment more available to those addicted to opioids.
A copy of Nelson’s letter is available here.
Following is a rush transcript and here is a link to watch video of Nelson’s remarks: https://youtu.be/ZMZgtUZ1ve8
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate Floor
May 8, 2017
Sen. Nelson: Mr. President, I want to talk as well about the Republican health care plan and point out why it is moving on very treacherous territory when it will affect the funding of Medicaid by lessening the amount of Medicaid money that will be spent in the states because so much of that Medicaid money is going to address the opioid crisis and the opioid crisis we found last year – you know, there was a lot of talk about it being in New Hampshire when the eyes of America were on New Hampshire in the New Hampshire primary, but the fact is it’s in every state now, and it is particularly so in my state of Florida.
There are something like 2,600 deaths that have occurred in Florida as a result of opioid overdose. So the seriousness with which we ought to be addressing this issue ought to be of extreme concern and doing something about it, and yet a bill just passes the House of Representatives that is doing exactly the opposite, that is going to cut Medicaid.
It’s a fancy term, cut Medicaid with a block grant. What that means is it’s going to be capped. And that means that a state is not going to get any more Medicaid once that cap has been hit unless the state responds. So, in essence, it’s going to cost the states more money.
I don’t think that you will find many states that are in such a fiscal condition that in fact they could do that. And so what are we doing? We’re harming poor people and disabled who get their health care from Medicare – Medicaid — but in fact we’re not only harming all of them. There is a crisis among us, and that is the opioid crisis. And this is going to particularly hurt addressing that.
So what I want to talk about today is the Republican health care plan that passed out of the House last week. This plan is going to increase costs for older Americans. Remember, it’s going to go on a ratio instead of one to three — you can charge older Americans three times as much in health insurance as younger Americans — it’s going to go up to a ratio of at least one to five and maybe more.
So it’s going to increase cost for older Americans. It’s going to cut Medicaid, and it’s going to take health care coverage away from tens of millions of people. Right now, as a result of the ACA, there are 24 million people that have health insurance coverage that did not have it before this law was passed in 2010. It’s going to reverse that.
Now, do we want to take away health care from people that can now have health care through Medicaid and/or health insurance because they can now afford the health insurance? Is that really a goal that the United States want to do, is to take away that health care through private health insurance? I don’t think that’s what we want to do.
And yet that’s what the House of Representatives’ Republican health care bill has done.
So if we just look at my state of Florida, there are almost eight million people who have a so-called preexisting condition. This includes something as common as asthma. That’s a preexisting condition.
As a former elected insurance commissioner of Florida, I can tell you that some insurance companies would use as an excuse as a preexisting condition something as simple as a rash and say, because you have a preexisting condition, we are not going to insure you. Under the existing law, the Affordable Care Act, an insurance company can’t deny you with a preexisting condition. And just in my state alone, there are almost eight million people who have a preexisting condition. Are we going to turn them out on the streets because their insurance company says we’re not going to carry you anymore? I don’t think that’s what we want to do.
The bill allows insurers to charge older Americans at least five times more than what they charge younger adults. Is that what we want to do?
What is the principle of insurance? The principle of insurance is that you spread the risk. You get as many people in the pool as you can — young, old, sick, healthy — and you spread that risk.
So if you get fire insurance on your home, you’re paying a premium every month, and the insurance company has calculated in an actuarial calculation what it is going to cost you to insure that you don’t get that, but you are part of hundreds of thousands of people in that pool that are also insuring against fire damaging their house. It’s the same principle with health insurance.
So you get young and old, sick and well, and some people with preexisting conditions, and you spread that risk over a lot of people.
This — one of the fallacies we hear is they talk about, well, we can replace this by creating a high-risk pool. In other words, we’re going to set up some money for people who have really sick conditions, and we’re going to take care of them. That’s the most inefficient way to do it because insurance is about spreading risk, not concentrating risk, which is what a high-risk pool exactly is. So the ones down at the House of Representatives who have concocted this thing called the Republican health care plan, they have come up with exactly the opposite idea of funding, instead of spreading the risk, concentrating the risk, and then saying they’re going out an getting $8 billion and that’s going to pay for it. It’s not going to even touch it. But, again, it’s the most inefficient way to approach the subject of spreading risk because they don’t spread the risk, they concentrate the risk.
And what this bill does is over ten years it cuts over $800 billion out of Medicaid. You start doing that and we’re going to lose what we know Medicaid is: a program primarily for the poor, to give them health care, and the disabled.
By the way, isn’t it interesting that they cut over $800 billion to save it out of Medicaid and, oh, by the way, what do they do in the same bill? They give upwards of $600 million in tax breaks to those who are at the highest income levels.
So let me get this right. It’s kind of reverse Robin Hood. I’m going to take from the poor by cutting $800 billion and I’m going to going to give to the rich by tax breaks for the highest income folks. Is that what we want to do? I don’t think so.
Medicaid is a program that guarantees health care for millions of Americans, including children, people with disabilities, pregnant women, and seniors on long-term care. Now, think about that. Seniors on long-term care. What am I talking about? How about seniors in nursing homes? How about seniors that don’t have enough resources, assets in order to pay for their care in the twilight years and, therefore, they’re being paid for by Medicaid, and that’s the only source of income to take care of them? Is that what we want to cut in order to give a tax break for the highest income group? It ought to be the reverse. That is upside down thinking.
So last week the Florida Medical Examiners Commission released new data showing that over 2,600 Floridians had died from opioids in just the first half of 2016 alone. Over the entire year before, 2015, fentanyl killed — and that’s an opioid — killed 705 Floridians. And just in the first half of the next year, 2016, almost the exact same number, 704, in one half of the year died.
You see, we’ve got a problem in the state of Florida, and there are a lot of other states that have the same.
Last month I went to a research institute down in Palm Beach County. They’re using NIH grant money to research new, non-addictive opioid drugs. If they can come up with this that is certainly all to the better to help people with pain and it not be an addictive drug. But we’re not there yet, and we’re using NIH money that is going to that research.
And also last month I sent a letter to the Republican leadership pushing for more funding for the opioid fight and for the National Institutes of Health, NIH and, Mr. President, I would like to enter that letter in the record.
The Presiding Officer: Without objection.
Sen. Nelson: And so, what we need to do is take a comprehensive approach to helping our states and local governments respond to this opioid epidemic.
I was very happy to be a part of an early part of putting together and sponsoring a bill called the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 and the funding included in the 21st Century Cures Act to start putting more resources into our states right away for this opioid epidemic. And those laws have resulted in Florida receiving more than $27 million to help our state respond to the opioid crisis.
Yet a lot more action is needed, as you can see by just the first half of last year alone, 704 people died from opioid overdoses. Last week in Florida a local paper reported about how the opioid epidemic is affecting our nation’s children. In 2015 alone, 167 babies were born in opioid dependency in just one city, Jacksonville, contributing to Duval County being tapped as having the second-highest number of babies born addicted to opioids in the state. Isn’t that sad that children come into this world and they’re already addicted?
And so, Mr. President, we’re dealing with people’s lives here. We’re dealing with their health. The last thing in the world that we are ought to be doing is cutting out the sources of funding to help people who are in such dire straits. And I would urge our colleagues to think twice about supporting this disastrous Republican health care bill.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.