Anywhere Else? 8/10/16

Laura Finley

Laura Finley

Protecting Floridians: Zika, Poisonous Water, and Gun Violence

By Laura Finley

Is there anywhere else in the US that is experiencing anything like this?

For the past several days, there have been multiple full page articles on or near the front page of the Miami Herald warning about Zika. I get it. No one wants a nasty flu-like virus, and of course it is particularly dangerous for pregnant women or women who might get pregnant in the near future. Yet, while Governor Rick Scott is championing funding for Zika advocacy like he cares deeply about the welfare of Floridians, he has simultaneously pushed forward changes in regulations that critics believe will expose the public to more dangerous toxins in their water. Further, Governor Scott’s administration has done nothing to keep people safe from gun violence, a threat far more deadly than Zika. In fact, it almost seems as though the emphasis on Zika is meant to draw attention away from other problems with his administration.

In June, Governor Scott issued an executive order authorizing $26.2 million for the fight against the Zika. Scott has repeatedly criticized Washington for failing to adequately fund the anti-Zika efforts, although President Obama did offer to send $5.6 million to Florida while Congress was on recess. It’s always interesting when the “no big government” people beg desperately for the federal government for assistance. What Scott isn’t sharing is that in 2011, he cut funding for mosquito control programs, and that he was slow to call in the CDC for assistance. To date, Zika has infected just 16 people in Miami Dade County and 422 in the state. Again, not good, but it doesn’t really sound like a public health emergency of epic proportion. Maybe it’s a lot about Rick Scott making up for the previous cuts?

In July, Florida regulators voted to approve new water quality standards that critics say increase the amount of cancer-causing toxins allowed in Florida’s rivers and streams. Proponents, including Governor Scott, say the plan will protect more Floridians than do the current standards, with 39 new chemicals to be regulated. But the regulations on 43 other chemicals, mostly carcinogens, are being revised as well. Environmental groups caution that the new standard would allow polluters to dump dangerous chemicals in high concentrations into Florida waters before they trigger the limits of the new rule. They maintain that the new standards are weaker than federal guidelines. Naturally, the acceptable level increases involve chemicals that are released by oil and gas drilling companies, including fracking operations, dry cleaning companies, pulp and paper producers, nuclear plants, wastewater treatment plants and agricultural producers—some of Governor Scott’s best buddies. Thankfully, the rules do not take effect until the federal Environmental Protection Agency approves them, and environmentalists have vowed to put up a fight. Again, it’s possible that Rick Scott’s activity here is not in the best interest of the state, but in that of his toadies.

On a more deadly issue, Governor Scott has shown absolutely no political will to address gun violence. Some 2,000 people die from gun shots annually in Florida. This is the state in which George Zimmerman was allowed to murder Trayvon Martin. Where Michael Dunn was originally acquitted for opening fire on four teenagers because their music was too loud (he was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison, however). Where a Miami officer shot at an autistic man, wounding his caregiver, who, incidentally, was unarmed, had his hands in the air, and was announcing that the other man had a toy truck in his hands. Where the deadliest mass shooting was perpetrated by a single shooter at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, followed just weeks later by the killing of two and wounding of dozens more at a nightclub in Ft. Myers.

I say enough of paying lip service to “protecting” Floridians. Governor Scott’s actions, and inactions, speak volumes.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.