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Janet Cruz: Hurricane prep should be bipartisan

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Much has been said about how the intensity of emotions regarding Hurricane Irma brought with it a spirit of togetherness among Floridians who got through the storm, but can that spirit pervade the state Legislature?

There’s certainly a sense of bipartisanship after House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced that he was forming the Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness.

“It is my sincere hope that the Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness will be a good-faith, bipartisan effort at improving Florida’s readiness for future storms,” House Minority Leader Janet Cruz said in a statement.

“As our oceans continue to rise and become warmer, being prepared to confront larger and more frequent storms is essential to protecting the health and safety of all Floridians,” she added, while warning that Democrats will not roll over if the committee intends to weaken existing regulations.

“If Irma has taught us anything, it is that we need to modernize and strengthen regulations that protect every Floridian in times of natural disasters,” Cruz said. “Emergency preparedness and recovery should never be a partisan issue. For that reason, I look forward to these proposals being given a fair hearing on behalf of the people of Florida.”

Cruz also mentioned how Democrats have already filed bills that would offer better protections for assisted living facilities, lessen the financial burden on those preparing for or evacuating from a storm, and guarantee workers aren’t penalized by their employers for heeding emergency orders.

Better protections for assisted living facilities are a clear reference to perhaps the biggest tragedy of Irma’s descent upon Florida last week: The death of eight nursing home residents in Hollywood because of a lack of air conditioning after the power went out at the facility.

A report from CBS Miami last week said nursing home administrators called Gov. Rick Scott’s cell phone three times asking for immediate assistance, with those calls going unanswered.

The Scott administration refuted that report, saying that all calls were directed to the Agency for Healthcare Administration and the Department of Health and quickly returned. Health Dept. officials also said that nursing home officials could have easily walked across the street to Memorial Regional Hospital and sought help.

That prompted a not-so-bipartisan statement from the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) already concerned about Scott’s likely candidacy for the U.S. Senate next year against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson.

“The revelations about Governor Scott’s failure to respond to the urgent requests from the nursing home—as well as his long record of weakening oversight of this industry—are deeply disturbing,” DSCC spokesman David Bernstein said.

“The reports raise a multitude of questions and concerns about Scott’s response to this tragic event and his overall record, and both of these areas deserve careful scrutiny in the weeks ahead.”

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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