A Coronavirus. (Image: CDC)
March 13, 2020 by David Silverberg
The coronavirus crisis has elicited different responses from Southwest Florida’s elected officials and candidates—but they’ve also been busy on a variety of other fronts.
The most important measure taken in Congress regarding Coronavirus was passage of the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 (House Resolution (HR) 6074) providing $8.3 billion in funding to fight the disease.
The bill passed the House by a whopping 415 to 2 vote on Wednesday, March 4. Among the Southwest Florida delegation, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) did not vote on the measure. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) voted in favor. (The two “nay” votes were Reps. Andrew Biggs (R-5-Ariz.) and Ken Buck (R-4-Colo.)).
The bill was rushed over to the Senate where it passed the next day by an overwhelming margin of 96 to 1, with both Florida’s senators voting for it. (The lone opponent was Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)). Immediately thereafter, President Donald Trump signed it and it became Public Law 116-123.
Other than that major action, Southwest Florida reactions have varied.
Rep. Rooney: On March 3, Rooney posted a generic Coronavirus information page on his website but did not explain the reasons for his absence from the appropriations vote and all other votes since Feb. 26.
In other matters, on March 4, Rooney’s Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act (House Resolution (HR) 3297) was unanimously passed by the environmental subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. The legislation exempts the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science from government shutdowns, an issue that arose during the 2019 government shutdown.
Interestingly, the bill now has 14 co-sponsors, 10 Democrats and 4 Republicans, with heavy support from the Florida delegation. It next needs to be passed by the full committee and sent on to the full House.
But Rooney’s mind was also on other matters. On March 9 Rooney’s op-ed, “The Electoral College is the Bedrock of Federalism,” was published by the conservative media platform, The Daily Caller.
Rep. Diaz-Balart: Diaz-Balart’s seat on the House Appropriations Committee affords him an active role in considering Coronavirus funding and he made the most of publicizing his vote for HR 6074. He also took credit when the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention announced its allocation of $27 million for Florida to fight the virus out of $560 million nationwide, part of the initial Coronavirus appropriation.
Rep. Steube: Steube tweeted out a list of links to get more information about the Coronavirus and let constituents know that the Capitol and House office buildings are closed due to Coronavirus. He voted for HR 6074.
Otherwise, his attention went from life-saving to life-taking. On March 5 Steube introduced a bill to speed approval of applications for gun silencers (technically known as suppressors) by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATFE). The ENDS Act (End the Normalized Delay of Suppressors Act) (HR 6126) would amend the tax code to give the ATFE a deadline of 90 days to decide whether to approve a suppressor application.
Steube argues that the ATFE is deliberately too slow in processing civilian applications for suppressors, which are used for silent killing. His bill would speed up the process and impose a deadline, getting more gun silencers into more hands more quickly.
“I have personally experienced the unnecessary delay of a suppressor application and as a member of Congress, I have met with many Floridians who have also experienced similar delays,” Steube complained in a press release. “A policy of delay, delay, delay is unacceptable and frankly violates the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners.”
In other activities, Steube proposed ensuring that veterans have access to state-approved marijuana and introduced an amendment to Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2020 (HR 5602) to include Antifa, the Black Hebrew Israelite movement and a group called Anti-Police to the list of white supremacist groups to be monitored for terrorist activities. The amendment was approved and passed by the Judiciary Committee.
Coronavirus has made normal political activities like rallies, meetings and town halls nearly impossible—and canvassing and petition collecting are especially hard hit.
Cindy Banyai, Democratic congressional candidate, issued a call Wednesday, March 11 to delay the deadlines for petition submissions due to the Coronavirus, which is making face-to-face petition collection nearly impossible. Deadline to turn in the petitions is noon, March 23 for verification and April 20 to 24 is the general qualifying period.
To get on the federal ballot for Congress a candidate has to either pay $10,440 to the state of Florida or submit signatures equal to 1 percent of the district’s registered voters, which in the case of the 19th District comes to 5,052 signatures.
“By not waiving or extending the deadline for candidates to reach their petition numbers, you are effectively disenfranchising many grassroots-funded candidates who are unable to pay for the filings fees,” Banyai stated, directly addressing the Florida Department of State’s Election Division. “Governor DeSantis has already declared a state of emergency amid the spread of the coronavirus and he needs to step up to allow enough time for candidates to strategize about the next steps for their campaigns and ways to keep their communities safe.”
According to her statement, she is being funded by over 450 donors contributing about $50 each and she is refusing corporate or political action committee contributions. Since entering the race she intended to get on the ballot through petition signatures.
Among Republicans, State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral) on March 6 tweeted that there was no need to panic over the virus and urged caution: “Unfortunately we have confirmed that a Lee County resident who tested positive for COVID-19 has died. This is the 6th confirmed case in Florida & 1st in Lee County. While there is no need to panic, it is extremely important that all take the necessary precautions to reduce risk.”
He was also at pains to defend Trump from accusations that he was responsible for a virus-related stock market crash that has been called the “Trump slump,” tweeting yesterday, March 12:
“For those that are blaming @realDonaldTrump for the stock market dip, just ask yourselves this: Did Trump sell out our manufacturing jobs to China? The answer is no. Establishment Republicans & Democrats like Joe Biden did. This would be much worse if Biden was President.”
The lone medical doctor among the candidates seeking the 19th Congressional District seat, Republican Dr. William Figlesthaler, issued a statement on his Facebook page urging calm and praising Trump for his measures shutting off travel to Europe.
Liberty lives in light
© 2020 by David Silverberg