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Senate panel postpones vote on Surgeon General John Armstrong

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The Senate Ethics and Elections committee has once again postponed a confirmation vote on Surgeon General John Armstrong.

The committee was scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing on Tuesday, one week after postponing a confirmation vote on the state’s top health official. Sen. Garrett Richter, the chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, told the panel the vote was being postponed because members still had some unanswered questions.

“We continue to get some responses to some questions on (Armstrong) that are still unanswered, so at this point I’m going to temporarily postpone,” he told members

After the meeting, Richter said that he postponed the vote because he wanted Armstrong to have “a complete opportunity to respond to various concerns and issues” from members.

The vote was postponed last week for a similar reason. At the time, Richter said several members wanted to have one-on-one meetings with Armstrong, who serves as the surgeon general and the head of the Department of Health, to get some additional questions answered.

On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott’s office and the Department of Health sent out more than a dozen emails with individuals and groups backing Armstrong.

“Dr. John Armstrong is a fighter. Not only is he currently fighting against colon cancer, but he has continued to fight for the well-being of everyone in our state — whether it is against epidemics like Ebola and Zika, or illnesses like cancer or AIDS that are still affecting far too many in our state,” said Scott in a statement on Monday.

Scott went on to say Armstrong is a “clearly the best person to lead Florida’s Department of Health.”

Despite the support from Scott and several health organizations, the decision to postpone a vote means Armstrong’s fate is uncertain. The hearing came on the final day committees can meet under Senate rules.

Richter said he plans to talk to Senate President Andy Gardiner’s office to try to schedule another committee meeting.

“We have another week and a half until session is over, and I’m hoping he’ll have the opportunity for an up or down vote in the Senate,” said Richter. “With Zika and everything else, I believe it’s pretty important to have continuity of leadership.”

If Armstrong isn’t confirmed this year, he’s out of a job. Senators didn’t confirm him last year after he refused to answer questions about Medicaid expansion.

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