As Zika cases soar, pressure mounts on Congress – WTSP.com

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WASHINGTON — The number of Zika cases in Florida and across the nation shot up Friday, adding to pressure on congressional lawmakers to settle their differences and move quickly on an emergency spending plan to combat the disease.

The new cases are due mainly to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s reclassification of which pregnant women should be included in the count. The disease has been linked to devastating birth defects.

The new numbers for the first time count women who have tested positive for Zika even if they haven’t shown symptoms. Those cases aren’t comparable to ones previously reported.

The CDC said Friday that 157 pregnant women in the continental United States — and 122 in U.S. territories — have tested positive for the virus. Previously, just 47 pregnant women in the continental United States and 65 in the territories were reported to have Zika symptoms.

Less than a half-dozen of those women have reported adverse outcomes, but most are still pregnant and it’s not yet known if such outcomes will increase over time, said Dr. Margaret Honein, chief of the CDC’s Birth Defects Branch.

In Florida’s case, the reclassification means the number of pregnant woman considered to have Zika rose from nine Thursday to 36 Friday.

Overall, the Florida Department of Health reported 152 cases as of Friday, including three new cases (one each in Miami-Dade,  Osceola and Pinellas counties) involving someone who contracted the disease outside the mainland United States. Florida has reported far more cases than any other state.

The increase in registered cases comes amid a fight over Zika funding in Congress.

President Obama has asked for $1.9 billion for vaccine development, mosquito control and test kits, based on advice from his health advisers.

This week, the Senate approved $1.1 billion. The House approved a more modest $622 million with the idea money would be added to funds the administration has shifted from its anti-Ebola efforts to fight Zika.

The White House has threatened to veto the House bill.

House and Senate negotiators will work on a compromise before Congress goes on break later this month. Obama wants them to move quickly.

“Here’s the upshot: This is something that is solvable,” he said. “This is not something we need to panic about. But this is something we have to take seriously. Congress needs to get me a bill. They should not be going off on recess before this is done.”

White-collar workers set for a raise

About 330,000 Floridians are in for a raise and they don’t have to lift a finger to get it.

The Obama administration says they and other employees across the country have been working too hard without proper compensation.

A new rule from the Labor Department finalized this week and scheduled to take effect Dec. 1 will make more than 4.2 million white-collar salaried workers nationwide eligible for overtime pay from $455 a week ($23,660 a year) to $913 a week ($47,476 a year). Nearly 8 percent of the employees who stand to benefit are in Florida.

“We’re making more workers eligible for the overtime that you’ve earned,” President Obama said last year when the rule was being drawn up. “And it’s one of the single most important steps we can take to help grow middle-class wages.”

Republicans aren’t so hot on the idea.

Sen. Marco Rubio said he’s worried service organizations will have to cut back operations due to the increased costs the rule would impose.

“The rule as currently anticipated would be deeply disruptive to work schedules and the ability to provide services, at least that’s been the testimony we’ve gotten from multiple non-profits throughout Florida,” he said during a recent Senate hearing on the issue.

Immortalize Tebow?

Sen. Marco Rubio believes a fellow Gator should grace the marbled halls of the U.S. Capitol: Tim Tebow.

Now that Florida officials have agreed to replace the bronze statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, names of suitable replacements are being put forward.

Rubio, who graduated in 1993 from the University of Florida, floated Tebow’s name in a tweet Wednesday:

“Here’s suggestion for #Florida which looking 4 help replacing state statue in U.S. Capitol”

It included a photo of the Heisman Award-winning quarterback running through the defense of rival Florida State and a link to a story in The Palm Beach Post on the discussion to replace Smith, whose statue sits in a quiet atrium at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.

The Legislature this year voted to make the change following a national debate about Confederate symbols. The renewed debate was sparked by last year’s shooting of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. by a white gunman who used the Confederate battle flag to promote racist views.

Florida donated the statue in 1922. Its marble base bears the inscription: “Florida’s Memorial to her most distinguished soldier.”

Under an 1864 law, each state is allowed to donate two statues for permanent display on Capitol Hill. Florida’s other statue is of John Gorrie, “a physician, scientist, inventor and humanitarian (who) is considered the father of refrigeration and air-conditioning,” according to the Architect of the Capitol’s office.

As Zika cases soar, pressure mounts on Congress – WTSP.com

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