Kathy Castor Archives - SaintPetersBlog

Stop using divisive term ‘sanctuary city’ Kathy Castor tells immigration advocates

In only the past few weeks, U.S. immigration officers arrested 367 undocumented immigrants.

But Newsweek reports they weren’t just the“bad hombres” President Donald Trump said were the priority for removing from the country. In some cases, individuals were arrested for offenses such as driving under the influence or possessing marijuana.

“It appears that some of the mean-spirited rhetoric out of the Trump administration has emboldened certain immigration agents to act outside of their typical powers, and we really need to hear that if you of these cases locally,” Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor told several dozen activists and citizens who jammed into the Blind Tiger Cafe on Ybor City’s 7th Avenue Wednesday morning.

When an audience member talked about a local detention that lacked specifics, Castor said she would need more information before acting.

“That’s the only way that I’m empowered to ask Secretary Kelly and say,’ they’ve overstepped their bounds,'” she said, referring to John Kelly, who heads the Department of Homeland Security. 

Castor added that while she’s heard about DHS taking a harder line against undocumented immigrants, she was not aware of any such actions taking place in her District, which encompasses Hillsborough County.

“That’s why it’s really important to let me know if you hear those kinds of things happening,” she said.

Regarding the issue of sanctuary cities and/or counties, Castor told the crowd they should stop using that phrase, as it was intentionally divisive. The loosely defined term is best described as local government limiting cooperation with the federal government to help undocumented immigrants avoid deportation.

“There’s a lot of confusion and emotion around the term,” Castor said. “I think it’s a trap. I think it was a term that was created to divide people and to demonize diverse areas.”

The Tampa Democrat said the real question to ask is what are the responsibilities of the local law enforcement compared to federal officers.

“Their responsibility is not to enforce federal immigration law, and we wouldn’t want our tax dollars to be spent on that. We want our local law enforcement officials focused on local crime,” she said of both Tampa Police and Hillsborough County Sheriff Deputies.

Castor said she strongly disagreed with the Trump administration’s potential plan to withhold federal grants to cities saying they will not detain undocumented immigrants using requests called detainers.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri agrees. He recently told WTSP-10 News that courts have said that his department can’t legally keep an inmate beyond their court-ordered incarceration.

“That’s not something I get to decide, is that, yes, people who are in this country illegally do have constitutional rights. Like it or not. That’s a fact. And that’s the law,” Gualtieri said. “If somebody walks in front of me right now and tells me that they are here in this country is illegally, there’s nothing I can do about it. We have no authority, we have no laws, we have no jurisdiction, and there’s nothing we can do.”

“There is a dichotomy between the responsibilities of local law enforcement and the responsibilities of our federal authorities,” Castor said.

Regarding the issue of skilled “merit-based” immigration, Castor decried the fact that our universities recruit talented students from overseas, and yet the law doesn’t allow them to get on a path to citizenship after graduating. Our current legal immigration system favors family-based migration. Concurrently, the visa lottery system allows 55,000 immigrants into the country annually.

Krishna Kalyan Thatavarthy, an engagement lead at Citi Bank, asked Castor to support a bill sponsored by Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz to eliminate the per-country numerical limitation for employment-based immigrants. Thatavarthy is from India and says he’s been waiting for 17 years to get a green card.

“The average wait time for a skilled immigrant from India is 20 to 70 years,” Thatavarthy said, stunning the audience. “When you are hired based off your skill, why do you differentiate based off your country of birth?” he asked, adding that a high-skilled immigrant from the Philippines with the same skill set as himself could get a green card in a year-and-a-half.

“Does this make any sense?” Castor asked rhetorically after hearing from Thatavarthy. One reason that particular piece of legislation may be stalled, she added, is the fear that if it’s removed from a greater comprehensive immigration package, there would be even less incentive from some lawmakers to support a more encompassing bill.

Meanwhile, a memo issued Tuesday by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions calls for federal attorneys to consider prosecution of anyone harboring undocumented immigrants, with priority given to violent cases and those that involve transporting or shielding three or more undocumented immigrants. Sessions also instructed the Justice Department to pursue felony charges when applicable for immigrants trying to enter the U.S. illegally on multiple occasions.

And about the much-hyped border wall along the Mexican border, which the president said on the campaign trail would be paid for by the Mexican government?

The Trump administration said they will request immediate funding to build the wall in the upcoming appropriations bill, which needs approval by April 28.

Castor predicted a “very good chance” that Democrats will block that funding, but expects it to be requested again in another appropriations bill later this summer.

Only 7 members of Florida’s congressional delegation hosting town halls during Easter break

(Updated) Gainesville Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho held a raucous town hall meeting Monday night, as he was jeered by members of the audience before he finished his opening statement.

“I really, really expected them to be a little more civil,” Yoho to the Gainesville Sun after the event.“This was the rowdiest crowd.”

Similar statements have been made by congressional Republicans around the country in 2017, as angry Democrats have crowded town halls in some of the most conservative parts of the country, expressing their unhappiness about GOP plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, issues with the Trump administration, or other events since the election.

Yoho is scheduled to go back out on the road Tuesday night, where he’ll host another town hall meeting in Palatka.

However, most members of Florida’s congressional delegation don’t have any town halls scheduled over their two week break which began on Monday. According to the website townhallproject.com, only seven of Florida’s 27 Representatives have such events planned in April.

However, that doesn’t mean their staying idle during their Easter recess.

“The Congressman is in the district throughout the break,” said Gus Bilirakis spokesperson Elena Hernandez. “He’s spending a majority of the next couple of weeks meeting with constituents, holding open office hours, visiting local businesses, hosting a student government roundtable. Also he’s meeting with Pasco County officials, local doctors, touring a substance abuse center, and hosting a Veterans Resource Fair next week.”

Polk County Republican Dennis Ross was scheduled to return on Tuesday from an official congressional delegation trip to Kuwait and Iraq, where he met with members of the Florida National Guard stationed in Kuwait, as well as with the U.S. Ambassadors to Kuwait and Iraq and other government officials.

Ross spokesperson Joni Schockley adds that Ross has “multiple meetings scheduled throughout the district during the next two weeks.

Tampa Representative Kathy Castor  appeared at the USF College of Medicine on Monday, where she met with scientists to denounce President Trump’s proposed 18 percent cut to the National Institutes of Health. She also held a town hall at the University Area Community Center last Friday, according to her district director, Marcia Mejia.

Charlie Crist will be holding a veterans roundtable, walking in the march for science, and speaking at the rededication of the Jordan Park complex in St. Petersburg, according to spokesperson Erin Moffet.

Florida District 11 Republican Dan Webster is one of the seven Florida congressional members who is holding a town hall this week.  He held two on Monday.

The other members holding town halls this week include Ron DeSantis, Matt Gaetz, Darren Soto, Brian Mast, Al Lawson and Yoho.

Representatives for Vern Buchanan did not respond to our requests for comment.

Kathy Castor agrees with Hillary Clinton; misogyny played a role in her loss

In her first interview since she lost the race for president in November, Hillary Clinton said last week that “Certainly, misogyny played a role.”

“I mean, that just has to be admitted,” she told New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff last Thursday night. “And why and what the underlying reasons were is what I’m trying to parse out myself.”

Congresswoman Kathy Castor agrees.

“What struck me is some interviews on TV during the campaign folks out in Pennsylvania where young people would say, ‘I don’t believe in having a female president.’ I was taken aback,” the Tampa Democrat said Monday “I don’t hear a lot of young women saying that ever.”

Castor believes “there is something that permeates this opposition to female as executives. You see it especially in corporate boardrooms.”

Castor has served in Congress for 10 years. Before that, she served on the Hillsborough County of Commission for one four-year term. When asked if she herself has had to deal with sexism in Washington or Tampa, she says, “a little bit.”

Castor serves on the Energy and Power Subcommittee in Congress, the only female on the thirty-three member large board. When she was recently called upon to ask a question, she says was addressed as “Mr. Castor.”

Meanwhile, as with most congressional Democrats, Castor came out last Friday in support of the President’s cruise missile attacks on Syria, two days after President Bashar al-Assad unleashed chemical weapons on his own people. In a statement, Castor added that she wants the president to confer with Congress on any other possible military action.

When asked what she would like to happen on dealing with Assad, Castor said a plan of action with our allies would be a good start.

“The Obama administration did a pretty good job of building that coalition to squeeze ISIS and now the pressure has to be brought to bear against Russia and Iran, who are supporting this brutal dictator in Assad,” she said. “It’s not our place to promote regime change on our own, but working with our allies in the Middle East and all across the world, really bringing pressure to bear on Assad and Iran and Russia.”

Charlie Crist, Kathy Castor want Congress consulted on military force in Syria

The two Tampa Bay-area Democratic members of Congress — Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist — say they support President Donald Trump‘s military action in Syria Thursday night. both say that the House of Representatives should immediately reconvene so that members can debate the use of military force there.

But both say the House of Representatives should reconvene immediately so members can debate the use of military force there.

That seems doubtful, perhaps, as the House is breaking Thursday for a two-week Easter recess.

“The Tomahawk missile strike on the Syrian air base was an important and targeted response to Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons,” Castor said. “Russia and Iran should be held accountable as well for their support of Assad and his war on the Syrian people.”

“The continued atrocities committed by Bashar al-Assad against innocent men, women, and most horrifyingly, children and infants, are an assault on humanity and must be stopped,” said Crist. “Last night’s targeted airstrikes were a proportional and appropriate response, making clear that these war crimes will not go unanswered.”

Both Democratic lawmakers say that the Constitution puts the responsibility to declare war with the Congress, and that the President should make his case before them if he is prepared to engage further in Syria.

‎”Congressional leaders, the Trump Administration and Obama Administration have been derelict in following the requirements of the Constitution and law for a formal Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF),” said Castor. “The military strike on Syria and ongoing war on ISIS should prod policymakers to return to Washington and adopt a new AUMF.”

“Congress must also do its part and return immediately from recess to debate an Authorization for Use of Military Force to determine a comprehensive strategy for the United States and our allies,” said Crist. “We need clear objectives to end this crisis to protect our troops and the Syrian people.”

Castor has previously criticized Barack Obama for not getting an Authorization for Use of Military Force in engaging in battle with the Islamic State, criticism that some other Democrats made as well, none more loudly than Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.

Congressional Democrats as a whole seem to be parroting a consistent line Friday, praising Trump for the cruise missile attacks on a Syrian military base, but insisting he go before the Congress to get authorization before any further action.

Citing rising poll numbers, Florida congressional Dems urge Rick Scott to expand Medicaid

When Congressional Republicans last month attempted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, they heard from several GOP governors, who warned them not to go ahead with a plan to cut more than $800 billion from Medicaid, saying it would have a deleterious effect on voters.

Now, with new polling indicating that Medicaid has never been more popular, Florida Congressional Democrats are finding the inspiration to ask Gov. Rick Scott to again consider expanding Medicaid.

“A number of states that had not previously expanded Medicaid are now considering expansion and we strongly urge you and the Florida Legislature to do so too,” begins the letter penned by Sen. Bill Nelson, and Congress members Charlie Crist, Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Lois Frankel, Fredericka Wilson, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto.

The letter comes on the same that a new poll conducted by the University of Miami shows that two-thirds of Floridians, or 67 percent, say they favor Medicaid expansion.

Infamously, Scott said in 2013 that he initially supported expanding Medicaid in Florida, but then quickly reversed course and every year since has steadfastly maintained his opposition, despite the business community rallying behind such a move.

In 2015, the Florida Senate approved a hybrid version of Medicaid expansion; the House overwhelmingly rejected the proposal.

State officials said that plan would have covered as many as 650,000 residents.

Here’s the text of the letter sent to Scott:

Dear Governor Scott:

A number of states that had not previously expanded Medicaid are now considering expansion and we strongly urge you and the Florida Legislature to do so too. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia already have expanded Medicaid to provide affordable health care to working families and students. Floridians should not be placed at a disadvantage compared to other states. Indeed, a survey published today by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation found that 67 percent of Floridians support moving forward with expansion to bring $66 billion in federal funding between the years of 2013-2022 to our state. Medicaid expansion will boost jobs and enable Florida to move to a more efficient health care delivery model. In fact, it is estimated that the state would have seen $8.9 billion in increased economic activity and more than 71,000 new jobs in 2016 alone. It not too late to chart a better course for the State of Florida.

Now that Speaker Ryan has declared, “[the Affordable Care Act] is the law of the land,” we should all be doing our part to expand coverage to the uninsured, improve the quality of health plans, and lower costs for everyone. Expanding eligibility to all Floridians with annual income below 138 percent of the federal poverty level–less than $30,000 per year for a family of three–is the fiscally-responsible thing to do not only for a huge number of Floridians, but also for consumers who use Healthcare.gov, for businesses who provide coverage to their employees, and for hospitals who are charged with providing care without regard to a patient’s coverage status. Insurance premiums for Americans who have private insurance are generally lower in states that have expanded Medicaid. Private insurance costs are higher in states that did not expand Medicaid because of costs of sick and uninsured are transferred to the private insurance pool according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Coverage is key, rather than costly and inefficient emergency room care and delayed treatment.

With years of Medicaid expansion already underway in other parts of the country, we have seen that other hard working Americans have benefited from improvements in health care quality and affordability through expansion. Medicaid expansion in Florida would provide over 800,000 of our fellow Floridians with access to primary care. Preventive services like screening for HIV, cancer, and heart disease will save lives, help keep our state’s residents healthier, and improve management of their chronic conditions. Providing access to Medicaid will also improve risk pools in the private market, a shift that has saved consumers in expansion states seven percent on their monthly premiums. Floridians deserve these benefits just like any other American.

Medicaid expansion also will reduce the unpaid medical bills owed to hospitals that put pressure on the state budget and our safety net hospitals funded with taxpayer dollars. Refusing to cover working Floridians through Medicaid expansion does not reduce our state’s health care costs, it just passes them on through rising premiums and tax hikes. With a third of our state’s resources already devoted to health care, the influx of $50 billion in federal funding would safeguard services from the draconian cuts currently under consideration by the state legislature. Medicaid expansion would help the state avoid the rising costs brought by Zika, the opioid crisis and mental health needs.

Throughout your time as the chief executive of our state, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has shown a willingness to work with you to find a path forward that will expand coverage to hard-working, able-bodied adults in our state. States with conservative governors around the nation have arrived at solutions that expanded Medicaid while upholding their conservative principles. If you miss this opportunity, you will chart a fiscally-irresponsible path that will cost our state billions, cost our state jobs and sacrifice the health and well-being of all Floridians.

Thankfully, Republicans in Congress abandoned their recent proposal to rip coverage away from millions of Americans including children, the disabled, and our neighbors with Alzheimer’s in skilled nursing. Like most Floridians, we realized that this was not an honest attempt at improving health care in America. Rather than continuing political games over the Affordable Care Act, we ask that you move to develop a plan for Medicaid expansion in our state to benefit the health, financial security, and well-being of all Floridians.



Hillsborough moves forward on ferry project that may use BP settlement funds

While the Cross-Bay Ferry reportedly carries nearly 8,000 passengers in March as the six-month pilot project ends later this month, Hillsborough County Commissioners approved a proposal Wednesday to move ahead on a public-private partnership plan to take passengers from South County to MacDill Air Force Base, then to St. Petersburg.

The plan would include using the $22 million settlement money the county received from the BP oil spill while building a marina that could be used to service the ferry in southeastern Hillsborough County.

Commissioner Ken Hagan said he’s wanted to present the plan since the country received the $22.8 million in BP funds in the summer of 2015.

“I want to stress that this agenda item does not lock us into a marina or a ferry agreement,” he told his colleagues. “It is simply considering a different model or approach in an attempt to achieve a long-term operating and capital agreement.”

The plan would also include hiring a consultant who works on ferry projects to study where the public marina should be located.

It’s been nearly four years since attorney and public transportation advocate Ed Turanchik held a news conference with officials from Seattle-based HMS Ferries and South Swell Development Group to discuss a public-private partnership that would initiate Tampa Bay’s first commuter, recreational and tourist passenger ferry service.

The original idea came from county studies showing that thousands of commuters who live in South Hillsborough County and drive to MacDill Air Force Base on a daily basis would take a ferry service if it were an option.

Initial costs for the project were estimated between $11.5-$16 million, with more recent projections doubling that amount. In 2014, Tampa U.S. Representative Kathy Castor procured a $4.8 million Federal Transit Administration grant, bringing momentum to the plan.

But the project bogged down when Turanchik’s originally proposed site for the terminal in Southeastern Hillsborough County – the Fred and Idah Schultz Preserve just north of Apollo Beach – drew opposition from some environmental groups.

County Administrator Mike Merrill said that the original interim agreement with HMS & South Swell “was created with a different approach,” but said that it was time now to look at a different model “for a lot of reasons.”

The proposals (the board separated the vote into three separate motions) were all approved unanimously, 6-0 (Commissioner Al Higginbotham was absent).

“We’re getting to a point where we can make hard and fast decisions,” said Commissioner Sandy Murman, who has been a strong advocate for the ferry going back to 2013.  She also extolled the success of the Cross-Bay Ferry, which sold a record 7,990 tickets in March, a 31-percent over February, which was the previous high water mark since the six-month pilot project running from Tampa to St. Petersburg began in November.

Commissioner Victor Crist said he and his constituents in Northern Hillsborough County like the idea of a municipal marina. “It could be a very lucrative venture where we could very easily double of triple our investment,” he said.

The board also approved an amendment from Commission Chair Stacy White to direct staff to incorporate federal funds in the funding mechanism.

Commissioners had already said they were willing to drop the $4.8 million FTA grant because of the excessive bureaucracy required to accept those funds, causing a delay in the project.

Murman said it was worth the request because she believes the Trump administration is going to introduce a federal infrastructure plan “without strings.”

“If he does that and this does qualify, we may want to go that route,” she said, admitting that she didn’t know for certain.

On Equal Pay Day, Kathy Castor reaffirms support for Paycheck Fairness Act

Tuesday is Equal Pay Day, a date symbolizing how far into the year women must work to earn what men have in the previous year.

And it’s prompted calls by Democrats to call Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

“Equal pay is vital to women, their families and the broader economy. Paychecks for women continue to lag, and it is past time to fix the inequity — that is why I am co-sponsoring the Paycheck Fairness Act,” said Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor.

“Women who work full-time, year-round on average still earn only 80 cents for every $1 earned by men, even 54 years after the enactment of the Equal Pay Act,” Castor said. “This gap means less money for women over their lifetimes, as the ripple effects of unequal pay impact Social Security benefits and retirement plans based on average salary. The Paycheck Fairness Act strengthens and closes loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963.”

“This gap means less money for women over their lifetimes, as the ripple effects of unequal pay impact Social Security benefits and retirement plans based on average salary. The Paycheck Fairness Act strengthens and closes loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963.”

First daughter Ivanka Trump posted an Instagram graphic from USA Today with equal pay statistics, reading: “Women earn 82 percent the full-time weekly paycheck of a man. Black women earn 68 percent and Latina women earn 62 percent of the full-time weekly pay of a white man.”

The Paycheck Fairness Act would ban employers from retaliating against employees who share salary information with each other, impose harsher penalties for pay discrimination and require employers to be able to show that wage gaps between men and women are based on factors other than gender.

The proposal has come up for a vote nine different times in recent years in Congress, and led by GOP opposition, has gone down to defeat every single time. Republicans have called it a “desperate political ploy,” claiming that it’s already illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender since the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

In response to the charge that women still only make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, the Republican National Committee said in a 2014 statement that the statistic is “misleading,” because that number “comes from the average earnings of women in all positions and contrasts it with the average earning of men in all position.”

Castor calls it “unconscionable that House Republicans have voted nine times since 2013 to block the legislation from being considered on the House Floor.”


At Tampa steel factory, Kathy Castor champions solar panel tax credits

When Congress extended solar panel tax credits in late 2015, environmentalists and solar power advocates gave a big sigh of relief.

But with the credits due to expire again in the next few years, Kathy Castor believes it’s crucial they are maintained for years to come.

The Tampa Democratic congresswoman appeared Monday morning at Tampa Tank Inc. — Florida Structural Steel, which in February installed the largest industrial photovoltaic system of its kind in Hillsborough County.

“They’re talking about a major tax reform package in the Congress, and this is an open question — will this (credit) be extended?” she told reporters after taking a tour of the facility, which included being strapped into a crane for a perspective of rooftop solar panels at Tampa Tank on East Tampa’s Adamo Drive.

Castor also noted the Trump administration’s so-called “skinny budget” includes significant cuts to the Department of Energy, including funding cuts to applied research and development to knock down high-risk energy technology challenges, something that would be eliminated.

Applied technology programs in renewables, efficiency, fossil energy, nuclear energy, and grid-related research and development would also be cut by an aggregate 45 percent, to allow them to focus on early stage technology research.

Tampa Tank Board Member David Reed said the half-megawatt installation project cost about $1 million, with a return of $300,000 in tax credits this year, as well as an ability to depreciate half the expenses in the first year.

Overall, Reed said it will take four-and-a-half years for the company to get a total payback, and then use the energy over the course of the next twenty-five years.

Another way many states provide to make solar panels more affordable is setting up net metering arrangements, allowing companies (like Tampa Tank) to sell excess electricity back to the energy grid.

However, Florida currently bans such third-party leasing.

To make panels affordable, many rooftop solar users rely on leases and net metering arrangements that let them sell excess electricity back onto the grid. But not all states — including the so-called Sunshine State — allow third-party leasing.

“The state of Florida makes it very difficult,” complained Castor. “They don’t let you sell excess power, and they put all of the power into the utilities. They need to allow greater incentives for alternative energy.”

Meanwhile, the cost of solar continues to decrease, and the efficiency increases. Some industry experts believe solar energy can and should stand on its own in the energy market, arguing that it has become commercially viable, but Castor disagrees, saying that it makes “all the sense in the world” to incentivize clean solar power.

“It’s so cheap compared to building a large nuclear power plant or building a new gas plant,” she said. “The cost of the solar panels are getting less expensive, and right now we have more jobs being created in renewable and solar power than in old fossil fuels.”

Joe Henderson: Concern for the environment really depends on which party is in charge

The words “green space” can have a different meaning depending on the person involved.

Democrats generally believe green space to mean protected grasslands, pristine parks, waterways, and regulations to keep companies from belching pollutants into the atmosphere.

Republicans generally appear to believe green space is a metaphor for money that can be made by paving over any empty spot of land they see.

I know that’s a generalization. There are plenty of conservatives who will argue strongly for environmental protection. I put my old friend and former Tampa Tribune editorial chief Joe Guidry at the top of that list.

It is true, though, that Republican administrations often roll back environmental regulations in the name of cutting red tape that they say strangles business.

We saw it in Florida when Gov. Rick Scott gutted many environmental protections (remember the Great Algae Bloom of 2016). The GOP-controlled Legislature scoffed when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2014 requiring the state set aside millions of acres for conservation.

We’re seeing it again in what Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor from Tampa called “President Trump’s attack on the environment and U.S. economy through his executive order” that eliminated many of the Obama-era environment rules.

“By signing the latest in a line of dangerous executive orders, Trump is trying to dismantle America’s commitment to avert climate catastrophe and to stifle America’s clean energy future,” Castor said in a statement.

Trump’s executive order will cost Floridians a lot.  Unless we can slow the damage caused by climate change, Floridians will pay more for property insurance, flood insurance, beach re-nourishment and local taxes as the costs of water infrastructure and coastal resource protection rise.”

Castor, in her sixth term in Congress, is the vice ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. She has a long track record of supporting environmental causes, including the introduction of the Florida Coastal Protection Act that established a 235-mile drilling ban in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida’s west coast.

So yeah, this is personal.

It’s also expected.

You don’t hear many Democrats scoff about the science of climate change. And you haven’t heard many Republicans question Trump’s attempt to jump-start coal mining in the name of job creation.

The problem it, all someone needs is a long memory or access to a computer to see what environmental disregard can do to cities in this country. Have we really forgotten what happened in Cleveland when the Cuyahoga River caught fire from all the pollution?

Have we forgotten how urban smog was threatening the nation’s health? It’s still not great, but it’s better than it was.

When I was a kid growing up in southern Ohio, I remember the Armco steel mill in Middletown turning the night sky orange when workers fired up the coke plant.

We were breathing that stuff. Residents there used to apologize for the foul-tasting sulfur water that smelled like rotten eggs. These things changed because Congress decided things had to change or we were all going down the tubes.

Those laws aren’t designed to strangle business. They’re designed to protect us. People like Kathy Castor still believe that. President Trump apparently does not.

Joe Henderson: Gus Bilirakis keeps up fight to get medical drugs to market faster, easier

Anyone facing a dreaded disease themselves or watching a loved one go through it knows the frustration of seeking treatment. They want to know the system is on their side, but often it seems rigged against them.

I think it’s safe to conclude U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, who represents Florida’s 12th District, is on their side. He has been a champion for increasing medical options.

In 2014, along with Democrat Kathy Castor, he was part of the congressional bipartisan 21st Century Cures initiative that sought to speed up the process for getting new life-saving drugs to market.

And while all the focus has been on the fate of the Affordable Care Act, Bilirakis took the opportunity of a hearing about the over-abundance of regulations at the Food and Drug Administration to push for a measure that would provide incentives for drug companies to develop treatments for rare diseases affecting a small portion of the population.

It’s called the Open Act.

“Today, it takes 10 to 12 to even 15 years and upwards of $2 billion to move a drug or biological product from a good idea to an approved product,” Kay Holcombe, Senior Vice President, Science Policy, Biotechnology Innovation Organization, said in a statement to the committee.

“During that lengthy period, unmet medical needs remain unmet and patients wait.”

And patients die.

Bilirakis asked, “There are about 500 approved rare disease drugs, but 7,000 rare diseases affecting some 30 million Americans.  They’re taking medication off-label, not knowing if their drugs are safe and effective for their conditions, or if it’s the proper dosage, and fighting with their insurance companies on coverage of their medications.

“Does it make sense to incentivize development for a targeted population when there are clearly defined needs?”

Holcombe answered simply: “Yes.”

Bilirakis has long argued that the lengthy development requirements hurt patient care and increase costs.

“This isn’t political at all,” Bilirakis told me during an interview about the 21st Century Cures initiative. “I want to take the politics out of it.”

Well, this is Washington, where politics is the milk on morning cereal. Diseases aren’t political, though, and there has to be a way to make it easier to develop these treatments and get them to market at prices people can afford. At least Bilirakis is trying.

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