Gary Fineout, Author at Florida Politics

Gary Fineout

Rick Scott wants proof from Bill Nelson over hacking claim

Gov. Rick Scott, calling the allegations sensational, demanded on Friday that U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson provide proof to back up his statement that Russian operatives have penetrated some of his state’s election systems ahead of this year’s crucial election.

Scott, a Republican, is running against Nelson, a Democrat, in November’s midterm elections. During a campaign stop in Tampa, Scott said Nelson must provide “evidence for his claims.”

“This cannot be swept under the rug,” said Scott. “Bill Nelson must come clean and provide a thorough explanation. Elections are not something to try to scare people about.”

Nelson late Friday did not comply with Scott’s request and instead said he was trying to make sure officials in his home state are “aware of the ongoing Russian threat so they take the steps necessary to safeguard our elections. It’s unfortunate that some Florida officials would try to use this issue for personal, political gain.”

Nelson earlier in the week said that Russians were able to get inside the election systems of “certain counties” and “now have free rein to move about.” He added that “the threat is real and elections officials — at all levels — need to address the vulnerabilities.”

The senator, who is the ranking member of the cyber subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has not provided any more details, saying that additional information is classified.

Florida officials responded angrily to Nelson’s comments and said they had “zero information” to back up claims of Russian meddling. Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who himself has barely discussed the previous 2016 effort to hack Florida’s election systems, sent a letter to the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, asking for “immediate transparency and cooperation” in sharing any information about new hacking efforts.

But North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the chairman of that committee, declined to confirm or deny Nelson’s claims.

“While I understand your questions regarding Senator Nelson’s recent public comments, I respectfully advise you to continue engaging directly with those federal agencies responsible for notifying you of and mitigating any potential intrusions,” Burr wrote.

Sara Sendek, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, issued a statement Wednesday that said: “While we are aware of Senator Nelson’s recent statements, we have not seen any new compromises by Russian actors of election infrastructure. That said, we don’t need to wait for a specific threat to be ready.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, who is also on the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote a letter with Nelson last month to all 67 of the county election supervisors in their state warning them of potential threats.

Rubio on Friday put out a carefully worded statement where he also did not confirm or deny Nelson’s allegations.

“Given the importance of Florida in our national politics, our states election systems have been and will remain a potentially attractive target for attacks by foreign actors,” Rubio said.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, a Florida Republican and a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said, “I have seen no evidence that Russians penetrated Florida’s election system — but it definitely could happen.” Rooney is one of the House sponsors of a measure that would allow state and local governments to voluntarily apply for grants to replace outdated voting machines and modernize their elections systems.

Russian hackers targeted at least 21 states, including Florida, ahead of the 2016 election and are believed to have breached the voter registration system in at least one, Illinois, investigators say. An indictment released last month said that Russian operatives sent over 100 fake emails to elections offices and personnel in Florida as part of the hacking effort. State officials have never acknowledged how many counties were targeted by the Russians.

Scott in May ordered the hiring of special election security consultants after Florida legislators rejected his request for nearly $500,000 to create a stand-alone cybersecurity unit in the Department of State. Legislators, however, did agree to set aside $1.9 million to provide grants to local election officials to purchase a security monitoring service.

Ahead of this year’s election, Florida is also distributing more than $14 million in federal election security grants to local election officials.

Gov. Scott to roll out $1.7B in environmental spending recommendations

Gov. Rick Scott wants to spend more on the state’s beaches, springs and state parks.

Scott on Monday will roll out spending recommendations for 2018 that call for increasing money spent on environmental programs by more than $220 million.

The Republican governor will announce his $1.7 billion proposal during a visit to the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples.

Scott wants legislators to increase money set aside for Everglades restoration. He also wants them to spend $50 million on Florida Forever, the state’s land conservation program.

The budget recommendations also call for a nearly $40 million increase for state parks and a boost in spending on beach restoration programs to $100 million. Scott also wants $55 million for springs restoration.

Legislators will consider the requests in January.

Elderly deaths: Call for generators in Florida nursing homes

After 11 nursing home residents died in the sweltering heat of hurricane-induced power outages, Florida’s nursing home industry is now on a collision course with Gov. Rick Scott.

Days after Hurricane Irma ravaged the state, Scott used his emergency powers to put in place new rules that require nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have generators capable of providing backup power for four days. The Republican governor, who normally brags about eliminating regulations on businesses, gave nursing homes 60 days to comply.

Nursing home officials say they can’t.

They say it’s not just the multimillion-dollar price-tag that will come with acquiring large generators for hundreds, maybe thousands, of homes. During a daylong summit by the industry Friday, engineers and contractors and others who operate nursing homes said it will be practically impossible to purchase, install and get permits to put generators and supplies of fuel in place by the November deadline.

“Compliance with the rule is impossible and time is running out,” said Steve Bahmer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, an association that represents both nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

So far, the Scott administration isn’t backing down.

Justin Senior, the state’s top health care regulator, said the state will “aggressively” enforce the mandate, which calls for fines for those homes that fail to comply.

Senior showed up at the nursing home industry summit to explain the logic behind the rule. He said that Irma’s unpredictable path showed that is no longer acceptable for nursing homes to merely say they plan to evacuate patients when a storm is looming.

“Evacuation plans generally fell through,” said Senior, the secretary for the Agency for Health Care Administration. “There was no place to run; there was no place to hide.”

Police in Hollywood are currently investigating why the 11 patients died after Irma knocked out air-conditioning at a nursing home there, even though just across the street was a fully functioning and cooled hospital. The latest death reported is that of 94-year-old Alice Thomas, who died Thursday, and police said they are treating that as part of their criminal investigation of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills and its employees.

Eight patients died on Sept. 13, three days after Irma knocked out the home’s air conditioning. Three have died this week. Overall, 145 patients were taken from the home. The dead have ranged from 78 to 99 years old. No one has been charged.

The state has suspended the home’s license. The home has filed a lawsuit trying to overturn the state’s actions.

Senior, who called the deaths “painful” and “haunting,” said he was aware of some of the industry’s complaints, but he had a strong warning:

“We think very strongly of the cost of not complying with this rule is greater than the cost of compliance,” Senior said.

Senior did tell the nursing homes that the generators do not have to be large enough to cool their entire building. Instead, he said, they need to be large enough to keep patients safe in a cooled environment.

The tough stance that the Scott administration is taking with the nursing home industry runs counter to the governor’s usual attitude toward regulation, especially in the health care field. Scott, a multimillionaire who never ran for office before getting elected in 2010, once ran the nation’s largest chain of hospitals before he was forced out of his job as the head of Columbia/HCA.

The industry could challenge Scott’s decision to put the emergency rule in place since it is not currently a requirement under state law. Kristen Knapp, a spokeswoman for one nursing home trade group, the Florida Health Care Association, said the group was “exploring all of its options.”

Bahmer called a possible legal challenge “absolutely the last consideration.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Power is back on in Florida, but utilities still under fire

After a massive restoration effort, most of Florida has power 10 days after Hurricane Irma knocked out electricity to nearly two-thirds of the state, mostly because of improvements made to the power grid since Hurricane Wilma 12 years ago.

But that may do little to stem a growing backlash over the widespread outages that caused misery across the state and sparked sharp criticism from residents and elected officials. One top utility official apologized this week for how long it took to bring back electricity.

Adding to the furor: Nine people who were in a Florida nursing home died amid sweltering heat after the home lost power for its air conditioner.

In the immediate aftermath of Irma’s fury, some 6.7 million homes and businesses were without power. By Wednesday, that number had dropped to more than 75,000.

The pace of restoring power, however, did little to comfort those without it.

Chris Galardi, who lives in a beachside town a few miles north of Daytona Beach, said he hasn’t noticed any visible signs of improvement in Florida’s electrical grid, and it doesn’t seem to work any better than it used to.

Galardi, a software support technician who normally works from home, hasn’t seen any new utility equipment go up in his area since crews replaced poles knocked down by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Galardi said the results have been the same from Matthew and Irma: Five days without power.

“The proof is in the pudding,” he said. “It went down pretty quickly.”

Despite the frustrations, people are waiting less time after improvements since Wilma and Hurricane Charley in 2004. Utilities spent billions of dollars “hardening” the Florida power grid by replacing wooden poles for power lines with concrete or steel poles, elevating substations and taking other steps to prepare for hurricane-level winds and flooding.

Those changes helped Florida’s power grid withstand the destructive power of Hurricane Irma, utility experts said.

“Without the storm hardening, we would have seen much more prevalent structural damage,” said Eric Silagy, the CEO of Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest utility.

Wilma walloped the state’s power resources and splintered thousands of utility poles, keeping the lights off for weeks in some parts of the state. Only 25 percent of Florida Power & Light’s customers had their power restored within two days of that storm. Company officials said they restored power to more than 50 percent of their customers in the 48 hours following Irma.

The city of Coral Gables in Miami-Dade County sent a letter to Florida Power & Light last Friday, saying the utility was “inadequately prepared” to respond to the storm even though the utility said it brought in more than 22,000 utility workers from around the county. State legislators in central Florida took aim at Duke Energy, saying that customers in Seminole County were losing their patience with the company.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Sunday that some retirees resorted to hanging a sign outside their complex that read: “Help Still No Power.”

“It’s horrible, horrible,” Barbara Blumlo-Driham, 68, told the newspaper. “A nightmare.”

Harry Sideris, Duke Energy Florida president, earlier this week apologized for “not meeting our customers’ expectations.” The company came under fire for not meeting its initial restoration predictions.

“They expect and deserve better from us,” Sideris said. “Our customers are angry and frustrated that we could not provide them better information.”

Florida power companies may be victim of their own success in preparing for and responding to hurricanes, argued energy analyst Christi Tezak.

“Folks in Florida don’t have a full understanding of how badly they’ve been clocked. Everybody thinks their power should come on as soon the wind stops. It doesn’t work that way,” said Tezak, managing director of ClearView Energy Partners, a Washington-based research firm.

“You’re hot, you’re grouchy – no sleep – you want your air conditioning back,” Tezak added. “The truth is (power) came online much faster in this storm than in Wilma.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Metro Miami keeps wary eye on mammoth Hurricane Irma

Residents in parts of the Miami metro area are under mandatory orders to leave their homes Thursday morning as Hurricane Irma barrels toward the region with potentially catastrophic winds.

During several media appearances Wednesday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott strongly urged people to evacuate if asked to do so by local officials. The governor waived tolls on all Florida highways and told people if they were thinking about leaving to “get out now.”

Scott warned that Irma is “bigger, faster and stronger” than Hurricane Andrew, the last Category 5 storm to hit the state.

Mayors in Miami-Dade and Broward counties issued mandatory evacuation orders for barrier islands and low-lying mainland areas in the metro area of 6 million, where forecasters predict the hurricane with winds of 180 mph (290 kph) could strike by early Sunday.

The most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic caused deaths and injuries, destroyed homes and flooded streets Wednesday as it roared through islands in the northern Caribbean. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said it could rake the entire length of Florida’s east coast and push into Georgia and the Carolinas.

“This thing is a buzz saw,” warned Colorado State University meteorology professor Phil Klotzbach. “I don’t see any way out of it.”

As people rushed to buy up water and other supplies, board up their homes with plywood and fill up their cars, Scott declared a state of emergency and asked the governors of Alabama and Georgia to waive trucking regulations so gasoline tankers can get fuel into Florida quickly to ease shortages.

Scott said he expects the state’s stations to have fuel Thursday but urged people to take only “what they need” when they return to fuel up.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said more than 1,500 calls have come into the state’s price-gouging hotline in the past two days, most about prices being charged on water, food and gas.

An estimated 25,000 people or more left the Florida Keys after all visitors were ordered to clear out, causing bumper-to-bumper traffic on the single highway that links the chain of low-lying islands to the mainland.

But because of the uncertainty in any forecast this far out, state and local authorities in Miami and Fort Lauderdale held off for the time being on ordering any widespread evacuations there.

Amid the dire forecasts and the devastating damage done by Hurricane Harvey less than two weeks ago in Houston, some people who usually ride out storms in Florida seemed unwilling to risk it this time.

“Should we leave? A lot of people that I wouldn’t expect to leave are leaving. So, it’s like, ‘Oh, wow!'” said Martie McClain, 66, who lives in the South Florida town of Plantation. Still, she was undecided about going and worried about getting stuck in traffic and running out of gas.

It has been almost 25 years since Florida took a hit from a Category 5 storm. Hurricane Andrew struck just south of Miami in 1992 with winds topping 165 mph (265 kph), killing 65 people and inflicting $26 billion in damage. It was at the time the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history.

“We’ll see what happens,” President Donald Trump said in Washington. “It looks like it could be something that could be not good, believe me, not good.”

Trump’s exclusive Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach — the unofficial Southern White House — sits in the path of the storm.

This is only the second time on Earth since satellites started tracking storms about 40 years ago that maintained 185 mph winds for more than 24 hours, Colorado State’s Klotzbach said.

University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said Irma could easily prove the costliest storm in U.S. history.

As Irma drew closer, Georgia and South Carolina declared a state of emergency. North Carolina declared a state of emergency taking effect Thursday morning.

“It’s just scary, you know? We want to get to higher ground. Never had a Cat 5, never experienced it,” said Michelle Reynolds, who was leaving the Keys as people filled gas cans and workers covered fuel pumps with “out of service” sleeves.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Take it to court: Florida Senate sued over doomed website

Florida taxpayers have already spent $5 million on a state budget website that never went public. Now litigation over the failed project could cost another $200,000.

The Florida Senate hired a Tallahassee-based contractor six years ago to create the website to help the public understand the state budget. Legislative officials say it didn’t work as intended and never went online.

The company, Spider Data Services, asked for its final payment of $500,000 in 2013. But the Senate refused to pay, and instead questioned the no-bid contract to build the website that had been awarded by former Senate President Mike Haridopolos.

Spider Data Services’ lawyer, Kenneth Oertel, said they hoped Senate President Joe Negron would pay the final amount after taking his post last November. But he said “nothing has been paid, so we had no recourse but to file” suit for the $500,000, plus interest.

Now, Senate documents posted online show it has agreed to pay up to $200,000 on private attorneys to fight the lawsuit.

Negron’s spokeswoman, Katie Betta, declined to comment, pointing instead to court filings by these attorneys.

In a July court filing, the Senate contends the budget website known as “Transparency 2.0” never worked as promised, and that if anything, Spider Data Services should give the money back to the state.

The Senate also says the former legislative employee who runs the company “had intimate working knowledge” of how the budget is crafted and knew the software could not be created as promised.

Oertel disputes that the website did not work as intended, saying Senate employees reviewed it and “nobody complained” while parts of the website were being put in place.

A pair of open government and ethics advocacy groups reviewed the website and asserted that it made budget and contracting information easier to obtain and understand.

The result seems to fit a pattern over the last two decades, with the state spending millions on technology projects that either failed to materialize or were deeply flawed.

Florida spent roughly $100 million on a financial reporting and accounting system before shutting down the project for good in 2007. The state’s new system for unemployment benefits also had numerous problems when it went online in late 2013.

(Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press.)

Rick Scott wants tax measure on next year’s ballot

Following the lead of several other states, Gov. Rick Scott wants to make it harder for state legislators to raise taxes or fees.

Scott on Monday said he wants to put a constitutional amendment on next year’s ballot that would require any tax or fee hikes to be approved by a supermajority of the Florida Legislature.

Scott, who will be forced out of office by term limits before the amendment would take effect, said he’s pushing for the amendment to protect “future economic growth.” During his time as governor, Scott has pushed for a line of tax cuts, although he has also relied on property tax hikes to help pay for increased school funding.

Florida must prevent “unfair tax increases in the future so our progress is not undone,” Scott said in a statement announcing the proposal. “It is my goal to make it harder for politicians to raise taxes on Florida families and businesses – and that can be achieved with an amendment to our state’s constitution.”

It is not clear how much impact Scott’s proposal would actually have, especially since the governor did not outline many details, including what exactly would be considered a tax or fee hike.

Scott also did not say what type of supermajority would be required. More than a dozen states have similar restrictions according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, including California, but in some states the restriction is limited to a type of tax such as property taxes. The supermajority also varies from a two-thirds vote to a three-fourths vote.

Florida’s last major tax increases were enacted in 2009 when legislators were struggling to balance the budget due to the Great Recession. The GOP-controlled Legislature raised cigarette taxes as well as fees for motorist registration and drivers’ licenses, although lawmakers rolled back the fees a few years later.

The governor – who is expected to challenge incumbent U.S. Sen Bill Nelson next year – said he wants the Legislature to place the amendment on the 2018 ballot. That would require a supermajority vote in both the House and Senate. Top House Republicans, including House Speaker Richard Corcoran, said Monday they will back Scott.

“It’s anti-government waste, anti-politician, and anti-pork barrel spending,” said Corcoran, who is considering a run for governor next year. “I’m proud to offer my support to Governor Scott on this bold initiative and will do all I can to see that it is successful.”

Sen. Jack Latvala, a top Senate Republican who jumped into the race for governor last week, said he will look at Scott’s proposal when “specific language” is ready. Latvala said his top priorities right now are having the state respond to opioid overdose deaths and the lack of job growth in rural areas around the state.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat, said a supermajority vote should be required for all tax changes, including tax cuts.

“The governor should have the guts to structure his proposed amendment to affect all tax changes,” said Clemens. “Folks have had enough of his tax cuts for the wealthy and privileged. He should have to justify his corporate handouts disguised as tax relief.”

(Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press.)

Few Florida juvenile lifers resentenced despite U.S. mandate

Florida has roughly 600 inmates whose life sentences for homicide are potentially affected by court rulings mandating a second look at the punishment of juvenile offenders, but most still await a shot at resentencing.

Two U.S. Supreme Court rulings, the latest last year, concluded that it’s unconstitutional to impose mandatory life sentences without a chance for parole on juveniles convicted of homicide. The justices ruled that such sentences amount to cruel and unusual punishment and that courts must recognize teens’ incomplete brain development and potential for rehabilitation.

Florida court decisions have applied the ban more broadly, however, requiring a new look at any juvenile serving life – even if the sentence was optional or included the possibility of parole. A state law passed three years ago said those terms are to be automatically reviewed by a circuit court judge after 15, 20 or 25 years served, depending on the crime. The state Supreme Court ruled that the reviews should be extended to those former teen offenders who were already in prison before the law was changed.

But so far only about 85 of those inmates have been resentenced, said Roseanne Eckert, the coordinating attorney with the Florida Juvenile Resentencing and Review Project at Florida International University.

The slow pace stems from various factors. A lack of money has kept some prosecutors and public defenders from revisiting cases quickly. Some elected prosecutors have adapted more rapidly than others to the mandated reviews. And state courts have struggled to figure out which types of sentences comply with the rulings.

“We probably haven’t hit the tip of the iceberg of the amount of work that needs to be done,” said Nancy Daniels, who spent 26 years as a public defender for the judicial circuit that includes the state capital.

“We are still feeling our way through the process,” added Glenn Hess, the state attorney for five counties in northern Florida and president of the association that represents Florida’s prosecutors. “There’s a good justification for them to have a significant sentence. We have kids who were gang members when they committed a murder. They go off to prison and become worse gang members. They are in a downward slope for eternity; their behavior in prison shows they are not a good risk.”

Among those who have been resentenced is the triggerman in the 1993 killing of British tourist Gary Colley near Monticello.

Aundra Akins was 14 when he and three other teens robbed a highway rest stop, fatally shot Colley and wounded his fiance, Margaret Jagger. The incident came on the heels of other slayings involving tourists across the state and prompted a crackdown on juvenile criminals.

Two decades later, in 2013, Atkins’ sentence of life without parole was reduced to 40 years, meaning he could get released by 2025. Atkins and his attorney argued at the time that he was a changed person; Jagger, who attended the resentencing, was quoted saying that she hoped that he could stay out of trouble and have another life when he eventually got out of prison.

In addition to the 85 homicide offenders already resentenced, about 80 others imprisoned for life in nonhomicide cases have received new terms, Eckert said. Those new terms were prompted by a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a Florida case.

Then-16-year-old Terrance Graham had been ordered to spend the rest of his life behind bars for a 2004 armed home invasion. Graham was on probation at the time after participating in an attempted restaurant robbery a year earlier.

Graham had no option for freedom other than executive clemency. But the Supreme Court ruled that life without parole for a crime that doesn’t involve murder is unconstitutional. Graham was ultimately resentenced to 25 years in prison, making him eligible to leave jail by 2026.

Public defenders asked legislators this year for nearly $8 million to tackle all the case reviews, but the request was rejected.

State Sen. Aaron Bean, who oversees the criminal justice budget committee, said there is money set aside in this year’s budget to help out if caseloads become overwhelming.

“I don’t think anyone made a clear enough case that it is a ‘must fund’ or that we are in a big crisis,” Bean said.

Florida’s cost for losing lawsuits keeps growing

Florida’s price tag for losing legal battles – which has included courtroom fights over drug testing, voting rights and gay marriage – continues to grow under Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott recently agreed to pay $1.1 million to cover the legal bills of physicians and medical organizations in their successful challenge of a law that restricted doctors’ ability to talk to patients about guns. The law had been pushed through the Florida Legislature at the urging of the National Rifle Association.

In early July, the state also agreed to a $2 million payment that will go to lawyers who sued on behalf of disabled inmates.

A review of records by The Associated Press shows that since Scott took office in 2011 the state has paid at least $19 million to cover expenses and fees for lawyers who have sued the state. Many of those lawsuits took aim at policies put in place by Scott and the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The Scott administration has defended the legal expenses in the past, saying the governor will “vigorously defend” Florida’s laws.

In February a federal appeals court ruled that Florida doctors can talk to patients about gun safety, declaring a law aimed at restricting such discussions a violation of the First Amendment’s right to free speech. The state did not appeal the decision and in late June reached a settlement to pay $1.1 million for attorney fees and costs.

One of the firms involved in the lawsuit – Ropes & Gray – announced it would donate $100,000 of its fee award to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

“This award is a message to states to think twice before enacting or defending laws that put lives at risk just to boost the gun industry’s bottom line,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, in a statement.

John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, defended the state’s fight over the law. He said the governor was a “strong supporter” of the 2nd Amendment and that he signed the bill “after it was approved by a large, bipartisan majority in the Florida Legislature.”

Earlier this month, the state agreed to pay $2 million to cover the fees and costs for groups that sued the state in 2016 over its treatment of inmates with hearing, vision and mobility disabilities.

Randall Berg with the Florida Justice Institute said the money will go to reimbursing the institute, Disability Rights Florida, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and the well-known personal injury law firm Morgan & Morgan. John Morgan is a frequent Democratic donor and has been speculating about running for governor next year.

In the last six years, the state has agreed to pay attorney fees of lawyers who have sued the state over everything from employee discrimination to drug testing of welfare recipients.

The total includes $12 million paid to attorneys who represented pediatricians in a more than 10-year legal battle over whether Florida violated federal mandates by failing to deliver critical health services to 2 million children on Medicaid.

The state also paid more than $800,000 to lawyers working for the American Civil Liberties Union and nearly $513,000 to lawyers who defeated a state law targeting businesses doing business in Cuba.

An AP review found that between 2011 and early 2017 that Florida had spent more than $237 million on outside lawyers hired to defend the state.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida will hand over some voting information to commission

The administration of Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday that it would hand over some voter information being sought by President Donald Trump‘s commission investigating allegations of voter fraud in the 2016 election.

But Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who was appointed by the Republican governor, wrote a letter to the vice chair of the commission saying that the state will only hand over information that is already considered a public record. This would include the names of voters, as well as information on whether they had voted in recent elections.

Detzner said in his letter that Florida law prohibits the state from turning over driver license information or Social Security numbers. He also said they would not turn over the names of voters whose information is currently confidential, such as judges, prosecutors or police officers.

“We are glad to continue following Florida’s public records law by providing the requested information to you that is publicly available,” Detzner wrote to Kris Kobach, the current Secretary of State from Kansas who is on the commission.

Detzner did add, however, that “the responsibility for the accuracy and fairness of our election process in Florida lies on us, not with the federal government in Washington.”

The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity asked election officials across the country last week for voter information, including names, political party affiliation and voter history. The request included asking for the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers and any information on voters convicted of felony crimes.

The effort has triggered pushback across the country, including lawsuits, by critics who contend that the commission was created based on false claims of fraud. Trump, who created the commission through executive order in May, lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton but has alleged without evidence that up to 5 million people voted illegally.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia are refusing to comply, while many others plan to provide the limited information that is public under their laws.

Democratic politicians in Florida had called on Scott – who has been a strong supporter of fellow Republican Trump – to reject the request from the commission.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, the leader of the Senate Democrats, said in a letter to Scott that turning over the voter information was a “blatant invasion of privacy and federal overreach.”

“It also begs the question of why this data is being sought in the first place, and whether voter suppression may be the ultimate goal,” wrote Braynon, whose letter was signed by other Senate Democrats.

Florida maintains a statewide voter database where a good deal of information is already public such as the names and addresses of most voters and their voter history, which shows when they voted, but not who they voted for. News organizations, political consultants and political parties routinely make public records requests for the information.

Detzner said in his letter to Kobach that the public portion of the database does not capture information on felonies.

But the state does routinely search to see if someone who is registered to vote has been convicted of a crime. That information is sent to local election officials, who have the ultimate decision on whether to remove someone from the voter rolls. Florida is one of a handful of states that does not allow former convicts to vote unless their rights have been restored by the state.

During his first term as governor, Scott came under fire for his push to trim the voter rolls of non-U.S. citizens. An initial voter purge initiated ahead of the 2012 elections found some ineligible voters, but it also wrongly identified U.S. citizens.

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