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PolitiFact Florida On Jolly's Oil Drilling Stance; Puerto Rico Zika Funding

Drilling for the truth?

Does Pinellas Congressman David Jolly favor offshore drilling? PolitiFact Florida digs deep into that charge made by his rival for Congress, former Governor Charlie Crist. And WUSF's Steve Newborn looks at the politics of funding to fight the Zika virus, with PolitiFact's Katie Sanders.

Florida's political scene went upside down recently, when Sen. Marco Rubio not-so-surprisingly announced he's running for another six years in the post. That sent his main Republican rival for the job, David Jolly of Pinellas County, scrambling to announce he's running for re-election to the House. Just hours after that announcement, his new rival for Congress, former Gov. Charlie Crist, launched the first of what promises to be many attacks.

Crist claimed in a fundraising email that, "This is a man who has used money and power to try to take away women’s rights, drill off our beaches and block common sense gun control."

Is Crist correct in saying Jolly worked to promote oil drilling off Florida's coast? Here's what PolitiFact Florida has to say:

As a congressman, Jolly voiced opposition in July 2014 to expanded exploration off Florida’s Atlantic coast using sound waves, out of concern for the same process being used in the Gulf of Mexico. He signed a bipartisan letter to President Barack Obama opposing so-called seismic testing. (The Atlantic drilling was later called off.) He introduced legislation in June 2015 that was co-sponsored by Democratic Reps. Gwen Graham and Patrick Murphy to extend the ban on drilling in the eastern Gulf another five years, until 2027. The following month, he introduced an amendment heading off a Senate plan that would have potentially expanded drilling off Florida’s Gulf coast.   This is not to say that Jolly is against drilling for oil as a practice. In an editorial that coincided with his bipartisan bill, he said Florida didn’t need to risk its beaches simply to increase oil production. "In the eastern region off Florida's coast, there are zero producing leases, and none are needed," he wrote in a Tampa Bay Times op-ed on June 3, 2015. "Gulf drilling activities in the western and central Gulf meet today's energy demands and are capable of meeting tomorrow's." Jolly makes no secret his strategy is based on keeping Florida waters free of oil platforms while relying on drilling elsewhere. "I've been pretty clear I support the current administration plan for continued drilling in the western and central Gulf, while strengthening the ban in the eastern Gulf," Jolly told us in an email statement through his spokesman. So where is Crist getting the idea that Jolly worked to open up more drilling? His campaign’s single piece of evidence was one of our own fact-checks from 2014. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee accused the then-candidate of working to expand the practice in the Gulf, but Jolly claimed he "never lobbied for offshore oil drilling." We rated Jolly’s statement Mostly False. While at his firm Three Bridges Advisors, Jolly had listed on a March 3, 2011, lobbying disclosure form that he had discussed H.R. 909, an energy independence proposal known as the Roadmap for America’s Energy Future. The bill in part called for expanded offshore drilling and was supported by Jolly’s client, an anti-regulation advocacy group called Free Enterprise Nation. Jolly admitted he had listed the bill on the form because he was at a meeting in which his client discussed it, but he "did not lobby on its behalf." Lobbying experts we spoke to at the time said it was unlikely Jolly would have listed the bill if he hadn’t discussed it, although there was no way to verify that. More importantly, according to the Lobbying Disclosure Act, even being in a meeting in which it was discussed was technically a form of lobbying. We decided that Jolly couldn’t claim to having never lobbied on the subject, because he said he had. But we think a single instance of lobbying on a broad energy plan years ago is very different than implying Jolly did (and still) wants to expand drilling entirely.

Moving a little further offshore, the situation in Puerto Rico was a big stumbling block in the failure by Congress to pass a billion dollars in funding to block the Zika virus. The sticking point was strings attached to the measure regarding health facilities on the island. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson recently emailed:

 "Not only does it take $500 million in health care funding away from Puerto Rico, it limits access to birth control services needed to help curb the spread of the virus and prevent terrible birth defects."

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling:

The conference report (the bill that emerged from negotiations between top Senate and House Republicans) included two pots of money of particular importance for Puerto Rico. There was $80 million through the Social Services Block Grant program, and $40 million for community health centers. By and large, these dollars were targeted toward Puerto Rico, where the Zika virus has been transmitted widely by mosquitoes. The words that limited how this money could be spent applied to the block grant program. Those dollars were "for health services provided by public health departments, hospitals, or reimbursed through public health plans." Helen Hare, spokeswoman for the Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, told us this language cut out Profamilias, the Puerto Rican branch of Planned Parenthood. "They are a key provider of women’s health care in Puerto Rico, and women would not be able to get the kind of care they need to protect themselves," Hare told us. This is about more than abortion services, Democrats say. Zika can be transmitted through sex. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, "Condoms can reduce the chance of getting Zika from sex if used correctly from start to finish." Hare said Profamilias served 8,000 people in 2015. Republicans counter that the bill would have funded many health clinics and women would not be denied care. Jennifer Hing, spokeswoman for Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee, told us that even though Profamilias would be ineligible, the money could go to clinics across the island. There’s no debate that the limits applied to Profamilias. So the central question is, would that restriction make much of a difference? One expert we spoke with said that while Puerto Ricans may have had access to another clinic, Profamilias serves a specific type of client. "The Planned Parenthood-style clinic tends to serve very young, very poor women," said Peter Shin, an associate professor in public health at George Washington University. Shin has studied health services in Puerto Rico. "It takes a different set of tactics to reach the teenage or young adult women," Shin said. Shin said these clinics generally do better at connecting with women who are more at risk at having unprotected sex. In addition, because poverty and Zika often go hand in hand, these women are more at risk because they are poor. Our ruling Nelson, along with many other Democrats, said the Zika funding bill would limit access to family planning and contraceptives that would help stop the spread of the Zika virus. The legislation would have blocked the flow of money to one organization, Profamilias, the Planned Parenthood chapter in Puerto Rico. However, the bill also provided funds that would potentially help clinics and hospitals in nearly every municipality on the island. There would be some pockets without services, but it is unclear that Profamilias would be positioned to fill those gaps. At the same time, Profamilias serves women who might be more at risk of infection because they tend to be young and poor. The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details. We rate this claim Half True.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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