Surgeon general's confirmation again postponed, with a rehearing uncertain
Dr. John Armstrong's confirmation as state surgeon general was again postponed Tuesday after the Gov. Rick Scott appointee didn't have enough support in a Senate panel.
But this may have been his last shot. There are no more scheduled meetings of the Ethics and Elections Committee during the legislative session.
That committee has already postponed a hearing and vote on Armstrong's confirmation twice. If the surgeon general isn't confirmed by the full Senate during this session, scheduled to end March 11, he'll lose his $141,000 job running the Department of Health.
Senate President Andy Gardiner's spokesman, Katherine Betta, said "it's possible" that Ethics and Elections could meet again, but that decision has not been made.
Betta said the critical factor is whether there are enough votes to confirm Armstrong.
"If Senator Richter feels the votes are there, he (Gardiner) will take that into consideration in deciding whether to hold another meeting," Betta said.
Armstrong has been under fire for DOH's handling of a number of issues, including the removal of about 9,000 kids from the Children's Medical Services program and repeal of pediatric heart surgery standards.
But Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, says a failure by the department to curb the spread of HIV, particularly in South Florida is a major problem. The state has more new infections than any other.
"Now all of a sudden after the Herald does an article on AIDS and you don't have the votes and people are starting to question you in your confirmation, now you're talking about AIDS?" Braynon said, referencing reporting by the Times/Herald highlighting the disease's growth, particularly in South Florida, while DOH was cutting back personnel at county health clinics.
Armstrong needs one of the five people opposing him on the Ethics and Elections Committee to change his or her vote. Four of them, including Braynon, are Democrats. The fifth is Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who has been critical of the reductions in health clinics.
Tuesday's vote was postponed to allow senators more time to have questions answered, Richter said. Getting more answers to questions has been the rationale for postponing Armstrong's hearings three times -- twice in Ethics and Elections and once in the Health Policy Committee, which approved the surgeon general on a 5-4 vote, with Flores and three Democrats opposed.
Armstrong said Monday that he has been meeting with senators to have their questions answered.
"I think those conversations, they’ve been rich, I think they’ve been productive, and I remain committed to working with the Legislature to continue to move health forward in the state of Florida," he said. "We want to be the healthiest state in the nation. We’ve made a lot of progress in the last three years, and I’m hopeful to continue."
Richter says he remains supportive of Armstrong and that it's still possible votes might swing.
"We've got two more weeks to session," he said. "I'm sure there have been stranger things to turn on a dime in the Florida Legislature."