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The Florida Roundup

Val Demings: 'Time Is Now' To Get Rid Of Senate Filibuster, Eviction Pause Expiring, And COVID Climbing

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Rep. Val Demings is running for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in the fall of 2022.

COVID cases and hospitalizations are climbing again. The national ban on evictions is due to come to an end soon. What could happen in Florida? And U.S. Rep. Val Demings on her run for the Senate.

U.S. Rep. Val Demings wants to be a senator from Florida, but she doesn’t want the filibuster – the practice of the Senate requiring 60 votes to end debate on certain legislative issues.

"I certainly believe we should get rid of it. The time is now. I think the time is right," she said.

Demings, an Orlando Democrat, is running to challenge Republican Sen. Marco Rubio during the 2022 midterm election. She was been in the U.S. House since 2017 and acted as a manager of the impeachment of former President Donald Trump.

"Floridians send me, (Sen.) Rubio and others to office to get some things done, not to use an antiquated political procedure to block pertinent legislation."

Demings is ready to make one piece of legislation that was not subject to the filibuster a campaign issue if she faces Rubio. The American Rescue Plan was OK'd by a 50-49 vote in the Senate in March. "If we look at the last year, it was a tough time for all of us. Some lost their lives, some lost their businesses, some lost their jobs," she said. "We had an opportunity to vote on a rescue plan that would help put money in the pockets of families, help to save our small businesses, and also help our first responders, our police officers, our teachers, our health-care workers. Marco Rubio voted against that. While he was making political calculations, I was doing what I've always done and that's to work to protect people, all of the people."

Demings has raised more than $4.6 million in her campaign for the U.S. Senate since announcing her run in early June. Rubio’s campaign said he has raised $4 million in the same time period.

"I do believe that Marco Rubio is afraid of a tough fight. I am not."

First, Demings will have to convince Democrats she is the candidate to take on the two-term Miami Republican, who first won his seat as part of the Tea Party movement in 2010. Former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Central Florida and Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell are among those also vying for the Democratic nod.

Eviction Pause Expiring

In three weeks, the federal pause on evictions will expire. It’s been in place for more than a year because of the pandemic. Tens of thousands of Floridians may face losing their rented homes or apartments next month. Thousands of eviction notices have already been filled across the state. The moratorium stopped them from being finalized.

Meanwhile, federal stimulus money that was supposed to help people pay the rent has gone mostly unused. Only 18 cents of every dollar in federal COVID rental assistance money has been handed out by the state to renters here.

"Some of the requirements that the programs placed on landlords," said Orlando Sentinel reporter Caroline Glynn, "they weren't exactly a fan of having to waive late fees or having to agree to not file another eviction for so many days or not let unpaid rent affect renewing a lease later down the line. Some landlords have been really good about participating in the programs, and even then, sometimes tenants still face hurdles."

The millions of dollars of federal rental assistance was made available in January by the federal government, according to Kody Glazer, legal director of the Florida Housing Coalition. "You did have a lot of understaffed local governments now having to spend millions of dollars in emergency rental assistance. I think it's a big infrastructure issue when we talk about our housing response," he said.

The assistance is designed to pay rent, which in turn is received by landlords for their expenses such as property taxes, mortgages and maintenance.

While the Centers for Disease Control moratorium on finalizing evictions is widely expected to expire on July 31, Glazer said local governments may enact their own pauses. Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties temporarily suspended carrying out evictions early in the pandemic. He was unaware of any similar local plans when the CDC order expires at the end of the month.

COVID-19 Cases

On Friday, the Florida Department of Health reported the highest number of weekly COVID-19 infections since late April. Almost 24,000 new cases were reported in the past week. The department only releases COVID-19 data weekly.

A month ago, the number of people in Florida hospitalized with COVID-19 hit a new low. But it’s climbing again. According to the CDC, more people are in hospitals fighting the virus, and infections are on the rise, especially among children who are too young to be vaccinated. The agency describes the virus at “substantial transmission" in Florida.

About one in seven cases in the state is the fast-spreading Delta variant of the virus.

Dr. Michelle Aquino at Baptist Health in Jacksonville said that system had 80 COVID-19 patients earlier this week when she began her work on the COVID ward. That was up from a pandemic low of 30 patients in prior weeks. And on Friday, she said the number was up to 109.

"This doesn't sound like big numbers when you're thinking of the state of Florida and the millions of people we have here. But when you think locally (about a) hospital and those numbers increasing that big — that is worrisome. That's absolutely worrisome because we don't want to be overwhelmed," she said.

Aquino said every one of the patients she's seen this week with COVID-19 has been unvaccinated. And they range in age from their 20s to their 40s.

The vaccination rates across Florida are uneven. Almost 70 percent of people 12 years old and older in Miami-Dade County have received at least one dose of vaccine. In smaller rural counties like Dixie, Liberty and Glades, only about one in four people eligible for a dose has received one.

In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.