Only one lawmaker voted against the measure last year, but DeSantis was forced to veto it.
Senators last year voted unanimously to stow away $1 billion for the Governor to spend on emergencies, but making the fund a reality is proving more controversial.
After Gov. Ron DeSantis was forced to veto the Emergency Preparedness and Response Fund and an accompanying $1 billion installment for it, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 9-7 Wednesday to again set aside the amount. However, Democrats and some Republicans criticized the new plan (SB 96 and SB 98) for not placing guardrails around how the Governor could spend those dollars.
“I am unsure of what’s changed since last year, but the money’s going to the same place it would’ve gone last year when it went through the Florida Senate,” said Sen. Danny Burgess, the Zephyrhills Republican who is sponsoring the bill.
DeSantis had said creating the Emergency Preparedness and Response Fund was a priority last year and recommended the state use funds from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan to fill the pot. However, after the Legislature had approved it near-unanimously — the lone ‘no’ vote coming from Boynton Beach Democratic Sen. Joe Casello — the state received federal guidance that the fund would be an inappropriate use of the federal relief dollars.
“We were going to run into the risk of having the feds come after us for it,” DeSantis said after announcing his budget veto.
During Wednesday’s Appropriations Committee meeting, several senators — mostly Democrats — raised concerns the bill doesn’t detail what the fund could be used for. The bill’s only limitation is that the Governor spend the funds in response to declared disasters or emergencies.
Miami-Dade Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo feared $1 billion is an irresponsible amount to set aside. The bill came from someone who doesn’t understand economics, he suggested.
“I realize I’m a Democrat, but man, you guys are not fiscally conservative at all,” Pizzo said.
Approving $1 billion for an unspecified purpose, he continued, breaches lawmakers’ duty to be responsible with taxpayer dollars. He requested benchmarks, metrics or some plan outlining what emergencies the fund could cover.
“I just need like a one-pager and I would be a yes, but it’s not fiscally responsible (to not) have that,” Pizzo said.
Complicating Pizzo’s stance has been DeSantis’ recent suggestion that immigration is also an emergency situation.
St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, who has not been a stranger to bucking Republican leadership, suggested $200 million as a more appropriate amount to set aside for the Governor before coming back to request more funds from the Legislature. Brandes said members of the Senate should want oversight responsibility to make sure the funds are spent appropriately.
“It’s one thing when you say it’s this Governor, but these things can be extended and they go beyond this Governor. So you have to look at the long term,” Brandes said.
Governors and executive officers can request additional spending from the Joint Legislative Budget Commission, a panel of lawmakers from both chambers. In the last few years, the commission has been generous regarding pandemic spending.
Florida has a significant surplus, currently expected to be more than $7 billion by the next fiscal year. Lawmakers mostly agreed that now would be the time to set aside spending for future emergencies.
Burgess stressed that the measure would dedicate just a portion of the rainy-day fund.
“We don’t know what we’re going to see in the future. We know what we’ve seen in the past and we know what we’re living through today,” Burgess said. “I think that what we’re doing is addressing all of those. And I believe that a billion dollars is certainly a large number. We’re a large state.”
Sen. Kelli Stargel, the Appropriations Committee Chair, told reporters she believes it’s OK to give the Governor authority to make quick decisions.
“It’s giving him some flexibility to be able to use those funds in an emergency without having to call up the Legislature, without having to do the (Legislative Budget Commission). You can make those responses much more quickly,” Stargel said.
Past major emergencies have cost the state well more than $1 billion. In response to hurricanes Irma and Michael, the state spent $3 billion each, Burgess said, relaying data from the Division of Emergency Management. So far, Florida has spent $2 billion on COVID-19 response.
“I just think this is about as responsible, as forward-thinking as it gets,” Burgess said.
Joe Biden Website Promises to Ship Four Free Coronavirus Tests to Residents Within 7-12 Days
The White House announced Tuesday President Joe Biden’s website for Americans to request free coronavirus tests was now live.
Officials said the website, covidtests.gov, was live but still remained in the beta phase of the programming and testing process.
The president expects to officially launch the website on Wednesday as he also plans to hold an official press conference at the White House to mark his upcoming one-year anniversary as president.
Families can request four free coronavirus tests on the website after putting in their name and address.
The government will begin shipping the test within 7-12 days, according to a notice on the website.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged during the daily briefing that the website was live, but only operating in a limited capacity.
“We can’t guarantee there won’t be a bug or two,” she said.
Biden is struggling to catch up on testing, despite being in charge of the pandemic for a year as president.
Joe Biden replaces the mask he wears. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Many Americans trying to travel and gather with family over the Christmas holiday were unable to get access to tests or faced long waits in line for several hours at testing centers.
Biden was initially defensive about his administration’s performance, scoffing at questions from reporters during a December event on fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
“What took so long is it didn’t take long at all,” he said, complaining the omicron variant of the virus caught everyone off guard.
Despite Biden’s efforts to ramp up and increase testing capacity, state governors have called out the federal government for making it harder to get tests for their residents.
“You know, so now it’s sort of hijacking the tests that we already had plans for, and we’re now getting some of those providers to tell us they no longer have the rapid tests,” Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said in an interview on CBS on Sunday.
Survey: Global Majority Feel Misled by Media, Business, Political Leaders
The majority of people across the globe feel that are being misled by journalists, government leaders, and business executives, according to Edelman’s 2022 global “Trust Barometer.”
The survey found that 67 percent of people globally are “convinced” they are being “purposely” misled by journalists and reporters, which is up eight percent from 2021.
Additionally, 66 percent think their country’s government leaders “purposely” mislead them, which has risen nine percent from 2021, while 63 percent said business leaders “purposely” mislead them, which has increased seven percent from 2021.
When respondents were asked about trust, 46 percent said they do not trust journalists, which has risen one percent from last year.
Additionally, 42 percent said they do not trust the county’s government leaders, which has risen one percent from last year. 49 percent said they do not trust CEOs, which has grown one percent from last year.
WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 08: U.S. President Joe Biden stops to talk to reporters. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
However, 66 percent of the respondents said they trust their own CEO, which has risen three percent since 2021.
The survey also found that 76 percent “worry about false information or fake news being used as a weapon,” which has risen four percent since last year.
Edelman’s survey had 31,050 respondents globally, spanning 27 countries. The survey was taken between November 1 and 24 of last year and had a margin of error plus or minus 0.6 percent points.
Jacob Bliss is a reporter for Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter.
Israeli Vaccine Advisor Says Vax Passports Should End, Government ‘Made Mistakes’ During COVID
A top Israeli vaccine advisor argued their vaccine passport scheme should be ended, and that the government made serious mistakes with lockdown policies.
Professor Cyrille Cohen, the head of Immunology at Bar Ilan University and a senior vaccine advisor to the Israeli government, spoke to Unherd’s Freddie Sayers in a long form interview about his country’s response to the virus, and what the future was likely to hold.
Despite being a proponent of the COVID-19 vaccines, Cohen noted that “their effectiveness against contamination is reduced” from their original release, adding that he and his fellow scientists were “surprised to discover at the end of the day that the vaccines are not protecting us, are not causing what we call sterilising immunity.”
Recent studies in Israel have confirmed that even a fourth COVID shot is nowhere near as effective against the Omicron variant. “We see many infected with Omicron who received the fourth dose. Granted, a bit less than in the control group, but still a lot of infections,” said Professor Gili Regev-Yochay, a lead researcher in the experiment at Sheba Medical Centre, on Monday.
With Cohen highlighting that natural immunity gives people much better protection “than the vaccine,” and because “there is a very narrow gap between people vaccinated and non-vaccinated, both can get infected with a virus, more or less at the same pace,” the Israeli government’s vaccine passport plan, known as the Green Pass, should be phased out.
Cohen told Sayers that while a Green Pass is not the best way to prevent transmissions, the “political aspects” were clear to begin with, in that it would “encourage” people to get the vaccine. The comments from vaccine advisor echoed that of Israeli ministers caught on a hot mic in September last year, admitting the scheme was not “epidemiologically justified.”
“If you mix politics and immunology or health sciences, at the end of the day you get politics,” Cohen continued, arguing that when discussing and applying policies from the government, “you need to have as many possible voices around you and then make the right decision.”
Reflecting on his role in the Israeli government’s response as one of a number of vaccine advisors, Cohen said that the government made a “few mistakes,” but that the most crucial one was closing down the schools, to which he said he was “extremely” sorry. “Education was the thing we shouldn’t have touched. Never, never,” he added, saying the decision to shut down schools will likely have “some repercussions in the future.”
Looking to the future, Cohen predicted that with the spread of the Omicron variant, COVID-19 would not be eliminated from society, but would become more of a flu-like disease in terms of commonality and spread.
“I think there is going to be bad waves and better waves, with a better immunity at the level of the population, with better vaccines with better treatment,” he said. “In that sense, and I’m extremely cautious, there is a possibility that Omicron will accelerate that transition.”
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