Rooney votes against bill preventing oil drilling in the Everglades

Seismic trucks in Big Cypress 10-3-17Seismic trucks explore for oil deposits in Big Cypress National Preserve.    (Photo: Conservancy of Southwest Florida)

483 days (1 year, 3 months, 29 days) since Rep. Francis Rooney has met constituents in an open, public town hall forum.

June 20, 2019 by David Silverberg

Yesterday, June 19, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) voted against House Resolution 2740, a spending bill that includes prohibitions against oil drilling in the Everglades.

Also opposing the bill was Rep. Mario Diaz Balart (R-25-19).

The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 226 to 203. It will now be considered by the Senate.

The massive, nearly $1 trillion spending bill, which primarily funds the federal departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, has an amendment that puts a one-year moratorium on the issuance of wetland permits by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The moratorium covers the 2020 fiscal year, from Oct. 1, 2019 to Sept. 30, 2020.

“We must do all we possibly can to protect our sensitive River of Grass,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-23-Fla.), declared in a statement following the vote. “Drilling within the Everglades Protection Area is reckless, rapacious and symbolizes just how much those who advocate for the senseless pursuit of fossil fuels will risk, even if it destroys our most treasured ecosystems. It’s absurd it even has to be said, but we must fight any drilling in the Everglades.” A company has applied to do exploratory drilling in western Broward County, part of Wasserman Schultz’s district.

“This appropriations package contains nearly $1 trillion in discretionary spending and is $176 billion above current spending caps,” complained Rooney in a statement. “Even with all this excessive spending, Democrats inserted language to explicitly prohibit any funding for securing our southern border – which seems to be the only area where they have found a passion for spending constraints. Congress has a responsibility to address its spending addiction in a serious manner, not by playing politics with border security. Equally as bad, the legislation is openly hostile to those of us that believe in the sanctity of life.”

Rooney also opposed provisions in the bill that support a woman’s right to choose. Those included providing grants to Planned Parenthood and the bill’s opposition to what is known as the “Mexico City policy,” a Trump administration policy that prohibits federal funding for humanitarian organizations that provide abortion counseling or referrals. He also objected to funding in the bill for Affordable Care Act “navigators,” people who help others apply for health insurance.

Liberty lives in light

© 2019 by David Silverberg

Editorial: Fiscal responsibility for all

06-06-19 Trump golfing amidst disaster(Photo illustration)

Reps. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) have taken a principled stand against providing relief to all the Americans suffering from natural disasters by voting against a $19.1 billion disaster relief appropriation bill.

The bill has passed both the House and Senate and now awaits President Donald Trump’s signature.

Rooney opposed the measure because he called it “completely fiscally irresponsible.” Steube opposed it because he “could not in good conscience” vote for a bill he called “filled with outrageous spending.”

The commitment of these gentlemen to principle and fiscal responsibility is admirable. In that spirit one presumes we can expect to see a measure from them curtailing President Donald Trump’s golf excursions, which to date have cost the American people at least $102 million. Talk about being “fiscally irresponsible” and “outrageous spending!”

We look forward to Rooney and Steube’s efforts. In the meantime, the people of the Florida panhandle, the homeless and destitute victims of storms, floods, wildfires, volcanoes and hurricanes—indeed, all Americans—will be watching and waiting.

Liberty lives in light

© 2019 by David Silverberg

Rooney votes against disaster relief

06-04-19-Hurricane_Michael_damageDamage from last year’s Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle.   (Photo: Bret Bostock, Wikimedia Commons)

467 days (1 year, 3 months, 13 days) since Rep. Francis Rooney has met constituents in an open, public, town hall forum

June 4, 2019 by David Silverberg

Updated June 5 with Steube, Gaetz votes and Patronis statement. 

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) joined 57 Republican colleagues yesterday, June 3, in rejecting federal aid for areas hard-hit by last year’s disasters, including the Florida panhandle devastated by Hurricane Michael.

The bill, Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act, 2019 (House Resolution 2157) passed by a vote of 354-58.

By contrast, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), joined the 354-member bipartisan majority in passing the $19.1 billion measure. He was joined by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-1-Fla.), a normally staunch, pro-Trump conservative, whose district covers the most affected areas of the panhandle.

The bill provides assistance to people and jurisdictions pounded by Hurricanes Michael and Florence, other storms, floods, tornadoes, typhoons, volcanic activity, snowstorms, and wildfires during 2018 and 2019 by providing funding to virtually all the agencies of the federal government.

In a statement on his vote, Rooney explained that he opposed the measure because the bill exceeded the administration’s initial funding request:

“It has become all too common for Congress to use disaster funding to break through spending caps that are in place,” declared the statement. “There are legitimate needs for funding to assist with recovery from horrific natural disasters that affected Florida and other states around the country, however I could not support a bill that is completely fiscally irresponsible.”

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), whose district includes a large portion of south-central Florida, also voted against the bill for similar reasons. “While I’m glad the panhandle received the funding it desperately needed, I could not in good conscience vote for the Supplemental Appropriation which was filled with outrageous spending and no plan to pay for it,” Steube said in a statement. “I ran for Congress refusing to add to the national debt, and this bill had a high price tag with no offset.”

Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s Republican chief financial officer and a native of Panama City, which was hard-hit by Hurricane Michael, was outraged by the nay votes.

“If I was in their district, I’d vote ‘em out,” Patronis told reporters in Tallahassee. “Those individuals that do not realize the harm and suffering that’s happening in Northwest Florida and the recovery that we’re trying to endure right now, for them to put themselves over the better good of the recovery of other citizens in the United States is shameful. Unfortunately, it’s a round world and they’ll probably get what’s coming to them somewhere, somehow.”

The Senate approved the measure by an 85 to 8 vote on May 22, with both of Florida’s Republican senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, voting in favor of it. The bill passed by the House yesterday has now gone to the president for signature. However, in a since-deleted tweet yesterday, Trump erroneously stated that the bill would be going to the Senate.

Trump initially opposed the bill for providing money for Puerto Rico disaster relief and pushed for $4.5 billion for his wall on the southwestern border. However, while he publicly relented on his opposition, during the congressional Memorial Day recess, as lawmakers in the House tried to expedite the measure with a “unanimous consent” agreement, three Republican lawmakers: Reps. Chip Roy (R-21-Texas), Thomas Massie (R-4-Ky.) and John Rose (R-6-Tenn.), refused their consent, meaning that the bill—and the people it would benefit—had to await yesterday’s formal vote.

The bill will provide a wide variety of assistance across federal agencies to aid those harmed by the disasters.

While Southwest Florida is not specifically mentioned in the legislation, the bill appropriates money to combat flood and storm damage, which will likely benefit the region. The US Army Corps of Engineers is appropriated $1 billion “for necessary expenses to prepare for flood, hurricane and other natural disasters and support emergency operations, repairs, and other activities in response to such disasters,” as well as $35 million to investigate means of reducing future flood and storm damage.

Liberty lives in light

©2019 by David Silverberg

Closed Rooney Roundtable proceeds despite protests from public and press

439 days (1 year, 2 months, 15 days) since Rep. Francis Rooney has met constituents in an open, public forum

May 7, 2019 by David Silverberg

Updated with WGCU/Twitter reporting, May 8, 2019

Despite anguished protests from Floridians affected by impure or polluted water and outraged demands for public and press access, federal, state and local officials held a secret, closed meeting today at Florida Gulf Coast University’s Emergent Technologies Institute to discuss harmful algal blooms.

The roundtable was attended by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) as well as a variety of officials from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. State officials from a variety of agencies attended as well as officials at the county and municipal levels.

Although DeSantis and Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) held a press conference after the very brief meeting, the public was kept at a sufficient distance from the lectern and speakers so that they couldn’t be heard. No transcript is expected.

A second, public, streamed event on the topic of harmful algal blooms is scheduled to be held Friday, which will be more of a public airing and include local activist organizations.  However, the press and public will likely never know what decisions were reached at the closed roundtable held today.

Some live clips from the meeting courtesy of WGCU via Twitter:

On the impropriety of closing the meeting:

On the threat to democracy from improper secrecy:

05-07-19 Panorama of FGCU-ETI, site of Rooney RoundtableA panoramic view of the site where the Rooney Roundtable was held. The orange cones mark the closest distance that the public was allowed to get to the building.    (All photos by the author.)
05-07-19 Protesters at Rooney roundtableA small but vigorous group of people tried to make their concerns about Southwest Florida water quality heard but were ignored by the officials at the Roundtable. A number were protesting the mining activities of the Mosaic Co., which they say is polluting waters in central Florida.
05-07-19 Protester with taped mouth at Rooney roundtableA protester demands clean water and the chance to speak to government officials and lawmakers.
05-07-19 Darlene Lucas and Jan Fennessy, protesters at Rooney RoundtableDarlene Lucas, a retired nurse, and Jan Fennessy drove to Fort Myers from Venice to try to learn about the health effects of algal blooms. Lucas said she had seen severe impacts from impure water in her practice.
05-07-19 Eric Larson, student at FGCU-ETIEric Larson, a student at the Emergent Technologies Institute. Larson had hoped to show Gov. DeSantis the facility and some of his work but wasn’t permitted in the building and was kept outside on the lawn with other members of the public.
05-07-19 DeSantis press conferenceThe closest the public was allowed to get to the outdoor press conference by DeSantis and Rooney.

The secrecy of the Rooney Roundtable was a violation of the spirit and intent of Florida’s Sunshine Law, which holds that decisions affecting the public should be made in public, WINK-TV lawyer Karen Kammer stated in a May 3 letter to Rooney.


Rooney and DeSantis’ ability to exclude the press and public from a forum making decisions critical to Floridians’ health and wellbeing sets a dangerous precedent and is a blow to the rule of law in a state with one of the most comprehensive government transparency laws in the nation.

The secret decisions taken at this meeting will now likely trickle down to the county and municipal levels but in what forms and to what ends the press and public may never know.

Liberty lives in light

© 2019 by David Silverberg

Activists show up early at Rooney Roundtable

05-07-19 Tim Ritchie and activists at FGCU ETI

Tim Ritchie (left) and fellow activists Samuel Tarpening and Frank Coz, show up early at Florida Gulf Coast University’s Emergent Technologies Institute to press their case for clean water after a drive from Punta Gorda. Ritchie is founder and organizer of March Against Mosaic, which seeks to ban phosphate mining in Florida. The trio was on hand for the opening of a “private” roundtable organized by Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) to show their concern to officials discussing harmful algal blooms. Rooney closed the meeting to press and public in possible violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law. Nonetheless, public activists will seek to make their voices heard throughout the day.   (Photo: David Silverberg)

WINK-TV lawyer to Rooney: Closed roundtable violates Sunshine Law

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Florida Gulf Coast University’s Emergent Technologies Institute where a closed discussion on harmful algae blooms is scheduled to take place on May 7.  (Photo: FGCU)

437 days (1 year, 2 months, 13 days) since Rep. Francis Rooney has met constituents in an open, public forum

May 5, 2019 by David Silverberg

The Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) roundtable scheduled for Tuesday, May 7, will violate Florida’s Sunshine Law if it is closed to the press and public, argues an attorney for WINK-TV, based in Fort Myers, Fla.

“However well-intentioned the notion of closing the HAB Meeting to the press and public may have been, such closure in our view violates Florida’s Sunshine Law,” writes Karen Kammer, a lawyer with the firm Mitrani, Raynor, Adamsky and Toland, Miami, Fla., and counsel to WINK-TV.

Kammer delivered the opinion in a strongly-worded May 3 letter to Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), who organized the meeting (referred to here as the Rooney Roundtable). After publicly announcing the meeting of federal, state and local officials in April, Rooney subsequently declared that the meeting was “private” and press and public would be excluded.

“Respectfully, on behalf of my clients and the public we must object strenuously to closure as a violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law, Section 286.011, Florida Statutes,” argued Kammer.

Kammer noted that the Sunshine Law only allows very narrow exceptions to opening meetings to the public and these exceptions must be made by the legislature, not individuals.

Kammer cited five objections to Rooney’s closure of his roundtable:

  1. He has no legal standing to close a meeting of state and local officials;
  2. The reasons he cited for closure (privacy, personal relationships and unrestricted discussion) don’t exist in Florida law;
  3. Action and decisions based on the roundtable may be taken by public boards and commissions and so it must be open to press and public;
  4. It appears that invitees were chosen specifically to evade the Sunshine Law’s requirements;
  5. Any concerns that Rooney might have about decorum or order during the course of the meeting is not a basis for closure.

“The devastating effect of the algal blooms on the health and welfare of Florida’s citizens, as well as on the state’s economy, is worthy of continued discussion to devise efforts to combat it. Nonetheless, such efforts must be conducted in the sunshine as Florida law requires,” wrote Kammer. “Accordingly, we urge each of you to honor our objections and insist the Meeting be made open to the press and public in the manner described above.”

There is no response to the letter or any other comment on the Roundtable on Rep. Rooney’s website. A query has been sent to Rooney’s office.

This report will be updated as circumstances warrant.

Liberty lives in light
© 2019 by David Silverberg

“You’re not invited”—How the Rooney Roundtable went from success to mess, an analysis

04-30-19 Emergent Technologies Institute

Florida Gulf Coast University’s Emergent Technologies Institute where a closed discussion on harmful algae blooms is scheduled to take place on May 7.  (Photo: FGCU)

436 days (1 year, 2 months, 12 days) since Rep. Francis Rooney has met constituents in an open, public forum

May 4, 2019 by David Silverberg

It takes special effort to transform an impending success to an ongoing mess.

At the end of April, by all conventional measures, the roundtable discussion of harmful algal blooms organized by Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) was looking to be a great success.

He had pulled together all the key players, federal, state and local, who could actually do something about Southwest Florida’s water crisis. They were going to meet each other in the flesh and have a substantive discussion and perhaps reach some decisions. He had commitments that they would show up—no small feat! He had arranged a time and a venue in Southwest Florida. He was burnishing his credentials as a green Republican who cared about his local environment and getting kudos for it. He had the local media playing it up, simply accepting his press release.

But when that media started scheduling their actual coverage of the event, they discovered something startling: they weren’t invited. Neither was the public. For all the promotion, all the preliminary publicity they’d given this event, they were excluded.

Not only that but all the participants were public officials on the public payroll and they were going to conduct public business on vital matters. In a state with perhaps the most sweeping sunshine law in the country, Rooney had simply decided to lock the doors and keep the press and public out—and it seemed that his attendees, all public servants and many in publicly elected offices, were in on the game.

Now coverage of what we’ll call the Rooney Roundtable is a matter of intense public interest and an important point of contention—because if Rooney gets away with closing this matter of vital public importance, it means that the Florida Sunshine Law is a sham and doors will start slamming on the press and public in Southwest Florida and throughout the state in the future. When matters of vital public importance are discussed, no longer will the public know what’s being decided or done in their name or to them. The media, their eyes and ears, will be unconstitutionally blinded and muted.

This comes at a time of heightened awareness of government secretiveness at the national level over topics like the Robert Mueller report, the president’s tax returns and Russian election meddling. Rooney’s promise to hold a press conference after his roundtable smacks suspiciously of what will likely be a local replay of Attorney General William Barr’s deceptive summaries of Mueller’s findings. Rooney may summarize what was said at the roundtable but the public, who pays every attendee’s salary, will not know who said what or which agency each speaker represented. Overall, Rooney is appearing to be cut from the same secretive cloth as his hero and mentor, Donald Trump.

From a political perspective, Rooney’s insistence on secrecy has turned his roundtable from a triumph to a debacle. He now seems to be doing something illicit to the public rather than on their behalf. He has turned what was previously a largely supportive, supine and somnolent local media establishment against himself and the bitterness from this is likely to linger. Whether it will still be remembered next November is questionable. But if Rooney faces a primary challenge, which is likely, it will add fuel to his adversary’s fire.

Rookie mistakes

The most revealing thing about Rooney’s thinking was a statement he made that was quoted by NBC-2’s Dave Elias: “to obtain the participants we have, the forum must be private and technically oriented.”

The statement reveals that Rooney has still not made the mental transition from private businessman to public servant, nor does he understand the nature of public business.

In inviting public officials to his roundtable, Rooney assured some potential attendees—probably all—that their comments would be off the record and shielded from public scrutiny.

First, he did not have the power or authority to do that. There are no “private” government meetings. They’re either open or closed, public or classified. In private life and business he could do whatever he wanted. But every listed participant in Rooney’s Roundtable is a public official doing the public’s business on the public payroll dealing with a matter of vital public interest. As a congressman and public servant, Rooney had no authority to move this off the record and out of public sight. If he was going to do it behind closed doors he needed to declare it a classified meeting and meet all the standards and requirements for classification, which would mean that all participants would be sworn to secrecy and revealing the roundtable’s contents would become a federal crime.

Secondly, Rooney has argued that the roundtable does not violate Florida’s Sunshine Law because no two participating officials are from the same agency. It’s a nice bit of Jesuitical hair-splitting but the intent of the Sunshine Law is to open proceedings affecting the public to public scrutiny and this meeting more than meets the standard. Further, if Rooney is wrong, his attendees from Florida jurisdictions could be guilty of a crime and face a fine. If they’re elected officials they will be giving potential opponents ammunition in their next elections.

As for the contents of the roundtable being too technical for the press and public to understand, that’s just plain arrogance. Every Southwest Floridian has been living with the consequences of harmful algal blooms for over a year. There’s excellent, deep and widespread understanding of the issue, the forces surrounding it and the government mechanisms for dealing with it. If Rooney is saying the press and public are too stupid to understand this topic then he’s also saying they’re too stupid to understand any public issue and ultimately, that they’re too stupid to vote. This is an argument that has no merit whatsoever.

Rooney is accustomed to being the head of a major corporation, to holding board and operational meetings where his word is law and his decisions are final. Like another inexperienced businessman thrust into a high-profile public role, he’s unaccustomed to constitutional and legal restraints on his actions and to meeting public requirements. He’s accustomed to being a ruler, not a servant so he finds the role of serving the public uncomfortable and unfamiliar.

With his roundtable, Rooney is trying to have it both ways. He wants publicity and public credit for organizing it but doesn’t want it to be publicly open and he wants a crisp, decisive meeting that reaches firm decisions without the kind of public sunshine required by law.

What is more, he’s not terribly reflective. As he said in his remarks at The Alamo gun range and store in May 2018, “we need a nation of do-ers, not philosophers.” Well, he didn’t philosophize much or think this through and what he’s doing is putting his foot into a quagmire very, very deeply.

The options

So what can Rooney do now? Options include:

  • The right and best option: Declare the meeting open. Tell his attendees that he made a mistake and that press and public will be in attendance and the meeting is on the record. Those who can’t handle it will simply drop out. Then release an official text of the proceedings.
  • Cancel the whole thing permanently.
  • Cancel this session but regroup and try to do the same thing again, only the right way, perhaps under the auspices of Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) or the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, with those institutions setting the groundrules and guidelines and handling invitations. Another alternative is to hold a formal field hearing or a hearing in Washington, DC, following the rules of the House of Representatives. And, of course, keeping everything open to the press and public.
  • Plow ahead as planned and just hold the roundtable as a “private” gathering excluding the press and public. But remember—this is like plowing a field sowed with landmines. You never know which one is going to blow up. Rooney may get his roundtable as originally conceived but he jeopardizes the wellbeing of his participants, whether civil service or elected. Moreover, this course may work to Rooney’s own detriment in unforeseeable ways.

The aim of the Rooney Roundtable is commendable but the process of putting it together as currently planned was ignorant and inept from both procedural and political standpoints. Its execution may actually be illegal.

So far as this author knows the roundtable is still scheduled for Tuesday, May 7 at the Emergent Technologies Institute of FGCU, 16301 Innovation Lane, in Fort Myers, Fla., which is just off Alico Road, east of Route 75. It’s a good guess that invitees will start showing up between 8:00 am and 9:00 am. Whether anyone else gets in will be up to Francis Rooney.

The press and public should be there. Let’s see if there’s still sunshine in the Sunshine State.

Liberty lives in light

© 2019 by David Silverberg



Pressure ramps up on Rooney to open government roundtable to press and public

04-30-19 Emergent Technologies InstituteFlorida Gulf Coast University’s Emergent Technologies Institute where a closed discussion on harmful algae blooms is scheduled to take place on May 7.  (Photo: FGCU)

435 days (1 year, 2 months, 11 days) since Rep. Francis Rooney has met constituents in an open, public forum

May 3, 2019 by David Silverberg

Pressure ramped up this week on Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) to open a scheduled roundtable on harmful algal blooms to the press and public.

The roundtable discussion on harmful algal blooms (HABs) is scheduled to take place Tuesday, May 7 at the Emergent Technologies Institute of Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) at 16301 Innovation Lane, in Fort Myers, Fla. It is closed to the press and public.

On April 30, NBC-2 News reporter Dave Elias filed a report on the meeting, in which he quoted Southwest Floridians complaining about being shut out. “There’s something that government officials don’t want us to hear, that’s what I get out of it,” said Emanuel Dimare, a Fort Myers realtor quoted by Elias.

On Wednesday, May 2, the Naples Daily News called for Rooney to open the discussion in an editorial, “Congressman Rooney should let public in on toxic algae discussion at FGCU,” written by Brent Batten for both that newspaper and the Fort Myers News-Press.

On Thursday, May 3, in an investigative report, “Officials schedule private meeting for SWFL water crisis,” WINK-TV reporter Lauren Sweeney attempted to contact all the announced attendees.

“Federal, state and local legislators are coming together in Southwest Florida to fight the water crisis, but you’re not invited,” Sweeney reported. She reported that WINK is considering legal action to open the meeting. (Sweeney’s report also contains a complete list of scheduled attendees.)

Also on Thursday the Naples Press Club, a non-profit, non-partisan organization of active and retired journalists and communications professionals, passed a resolution calling on Rooney to open the meeting. “…Organizers of this meeting should immediately open it to full, live coverage by the press and attendance by the public throughout its duration,” stated the resolution, adding “that no future meeting of this sort attended by public officials and of vital interest to the press and public should be closed to the press and public.”

Rooney press secretary Christopher Berardi had stated that a press conference would follow the meeting but has not yet announced a time.

Closing the meeting may violate Florida’s Sunshine Law (Florida Statute 286.011(1)), which states that any government meeting where decisions are made must be open to press and public in its entirety.

According to Sweeney of WINK-TV, in a statement Rooney maintained that since no two officials at the conference were from the same agency, the law did not apply. Elias of NBC-2 quoted a Rooney statement that declared “to obtain the participants we have, the forum must be private and technically oriented.”

The roundtable is intended to compare notes on the kinds of HABs that plagued Southwest Florida last summer. Officials will examine best practices and discuss preventive measures.

The attendees represent a cross section of federal, state and local officials.

Announced attendees include key federal officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Key state officials will come from the Florida departments of Environmental Protection, Economic Opportunity and Emergency Management. Local officials will come from Lee and Collier counties, the cities of Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, Bonita Springs and the Village of Estero, as well as representatives of the Lee Health system and FGCU.

Liberty lives in light

© 2019 by David Silverberg

Public, press, excluded from Rooney roundtable on harmful algae blooms

04-30-19 Emergent Technologies InstituteFlorida Gulf Coast University’s Emergent Technologies Institute where a closed discussion on harmful algae blooms is scheduled to take place on May 7.  (Photo: FGCU)

433 days (1 year, 2 months, 9 days) since Rep. Francis Rooney has met constituents in an open, public forum

May 1, 2019 by David Silverberg

The public and press will be excluded next Tuesday, May 7, when Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) is scheduled to host a roundtable discussion on harmful algae blooms with officials from key federal agencies and local jurisdictions.

The public’s exclusion is in possible violation of the Florida Sunshine Law (Florida Statute 286.011(1)), which requires that all official meetings where action might be taken must be open to the public at all times.

According to Christopher Berardi, Rooney’s press secretary, a press conference will be held after its conclusion. This was the procedure followed after a similar meeting last year, Berardi stated.

The roundtable will take place at the Emergent Technologies Institute of Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), 16301 Innovation Lane, in Fort Myers, Fla. The time of the event has not been announced.

The roundtable was prompted by last year’s blue/green algae blooms and red tide, when state and congressional officials were late to respond to the environmental crisis. Officials will be discussing best practices and procedures to deal with future algae blooms.

The discussion scheduled for May 7 is intended to improve coordination between federal, state and local officials in the event of future blooms.

According to a press release issued by Rooney’s office, attendees will include:

  • Lorraine Backer, senior scientist and environmental epidemiologist at the National Center for Environmental Health in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;
  • Mary Walker, acting regional administrator for Region 4 of the Environmental Protection Agency;
  • Quay Dortch, program manager of the Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms Program and the Prevention, Control, and Mitigation of Harmful Algal Blooms Program at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration;
  • Noah Valenstein, secretary at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection;
  • Ken Lawson, director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Other officials are expected from the Florida Department of Emergency Management, Lee and Collier counties, the cities of Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, Bonita Springs and the Village of Estero, as well as representatives of the Lee Health system and FGCU.

According to the press release, the roundtable is intended to discuss such matters as the short and long-term health effects of harmful algae blooms and possible evacuations if necessary. Additionally, local municipalities may discuss their funding needs. Last year local governments spent over $2 million to remove 400,000 gallons of blue-green algae and were not reimbursed by the federal government.

Public interest groups that have been active on the region’s environmental crises include the Calusa Waterkeepers, Captains for Clean Water and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.

Liberty lives in light
© 2019 by David Silverberg




Mueller report reaction, immigration and more: The Rooney Roundup and Mario Monitor

01-13-19 us capitol cropped

The Rooney Roundup – and introducing the Mario Monitor

421 days (1 year, 1 month, 28 days) since Rep. Francis Rooney has met constituents in an open, public forum

With this article we add monitoring of Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), the western side of whose district includes large portions of Collier and Lee counties, including Golden Gate Estates, Immokalee and a major portion of Lehigh Acres.

April 19, 2019 by David Silverberg

It has been a momentous seven weeks since our last Rooney Roundup. In that time Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report was released and the president initiated a purge of the top leadership of the Department of Homeland Security. Congress recessed for two weeks on Friday, April 12 and will reconvene on Monday, April 29.

While Southwest Florida has hardly been the center of national attention, its representatives—Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.)—were active on other issues.

According to WINK-TV, yesterday Rooney issued a statement saying that with release of the Mueller Report the nation should move on. However, as of this writing, such a statement has not appeared on his official website or on his Twitter page. Diaz-Balart has not issued a statement. A query about their positions was sent to both offices by The Paradise Progressive and this report will be updated if an answer is received.

 Cutting legal immigration

On April 10, Rooney introduced the House version of the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act (RAISE Act), a bill intended to cut legal immigration to the United States by at least half.

The bill was introduced in the Senate the same day by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) as Senate bill 1103. Cotton introduced it in 2017 in the previous Congress where it was endorsed by President Donald Trump. White House advisor Stephen Miller praised it as “what President Trump campaigned on.” However, it never made it out of committee.

On its first introduction 1,400 economists—including six Nobel laureates—were inspired to write an open letter to Trump and the congressional leadership favoring immigration and opposing the bill’s measures.

“Among us are Republicans and Democrats alike,” stated the letter. “Some of us favor free markets while others have championed for a larger role for government in the economy. But on some issues there is near universal agreement. One such issue concerns the broad economic benefit that immigrants to this country bring.”

The 2019 bill introduced by Cotton and Rooney:

  • Would ensure that family members of legal immigrants to the United States would not be automatically admitted to the country, which was done in the past to ensure family cohesion but which critics call “chain migration;”
  • It would end the Diversity Visa Lottery program, which provides green cards to applicants from underrepresented countries on a lottery basis to strengthen diversity;
  • It would limit the number of refugees offered permanent residency to 50,000 per year, reducing legal immigration by half.

According to Cotton and Rooney, the current immigration system does not favor merit or skill-based immigration, either in allowing the immigration of family members or in the lottery.

This is not Rooney’s first swipe at reducing immigration this year, particularly for asylum-seekers. On Jan. 10, he introduced the Asylum Protection Act of 2019 (House Resolution 481), which reduced the time during which an asylum seeker could apply for asylum, from one year to just 30 days. Furthermore, asylum applications would have to be made at official ports of entry; so a migrant could not ask for asylum at any other point along the border. With only three co-sponsors, the bill remains in committee.

Letter writing campaign

Rooney has still been unable to make the moratorium on offshore oil drilling in the Gulf permanent. In his most recent effort, he and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-1-Fla.) on April 17 sent a letter to Trump requesting an Oval Office meeting on the topic.

Rooney also sent a letter to the commander of the US Army Corps of Engineers asking that the Corps monitor the use of glyphosate-based herbicides in coordination with state agencies. The herbicides can contribute to blue-green algae growth of the sort experienced in Southwest Florida last summer.

Major votes

While the House of Representatives took votes on major issues over the past seven weeks, Rooney was absent and Diaz-Balart opposed the measures. By missing these votes, Rooney avoided offending both constituents and President Trump. The bills in question were:

  • Save the Internet Act of 2019 (House Resolution 1644) restoring net neutrality, which passed 232 to 190 on April 10. Rooney missed this vote, Diaz-Balart voted against it.
  • HR 271, which condemned the Trump administration for trying to invalidate the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in court. This bill passed the House by a vote of 240 to 186 on April 3. Rooney missed this vote, Diaz-Balart voted against it.
  • HR 1585, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019, which passed the House on April 4 by 263 to 158. Rooney missed this vote, Diaz-Balart voted against it.
  • Senate Joint Resolution 7 to remove US forces from the war in Yemen if their activities were not explicitly authorized by Congress. This bill passed the House by 247 to 175 on April 4. Rooney missed this vote, Diaz-Balart voted against it. The bill passed both chambers and was vetoed by Trump.
Liberty lives in light
© 2019 by David Silverberg