Gary Fineout, Author at Florida Politics

Gary Fineout

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.

New deal: Florida and Seminoles settle blackjack dispute

Ed. Note: The settlement can be viewed here.


The Seminole Tribe of Florida and the administration of Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday ended a legal tussle over the tribe’s estimated $2 billion a year gambling operation in the state.

The two sides agreed to drop an ongoing lawsuit over whether the tribe can keep blackjack tables at its well-known casinos in the state, including the Hard Rock casinos in Hollywood and Tampa.

Under the terms of the settlement, the tribe will get to keep blackjack tables until 2030, while the state will continue to receive payments from the Seminoles. The deal brings with it an immediate payment of $220 million to the state – and as much as an additional $120 million over the next year.

“There’s no loser to this,” said Barry Richard, an attorney representing the Seminoles. “It gives the tribe finality and the security of knowing the games will continue. The state will continue to get a few hundred million.”

But it may not be a done deal.

The settlement states that it can be carried out without approval by the Florida Legislature. Plus it calls for state regulators to take “aggressive enforcement action” against a type of card game that the state had previously allowed rival dog and horse tracks to put in place. There’s a chance track owners could challenge that effort.

Jonathan Zachem, secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, said his agency was pleased that an agreement had been reached. He said it “ensures the continuity of the current Seminole compact and does not allow for any expansion of gaming.”

The tribe and the state signed an initial deal in 2010 that permitted the tribe to have blackjack at its casinos as well as slot machines at most of its locations. But the blackjack provision expired in 2015 and triggered a lawsuit between the state and the Seminoles.

While the lawsuit was still pending, Scott and the tribe negotiated a new, larger deal that also would have allowed the tribe to offer craps and roulette, but legislators rejected it last year. Legislators then tried on their own to come up with a comprehensive gambling bill but it collapsed during this year’s session amid battling between rival factions in the gambling industry and the state’s business community.

Last November, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that regulators under Scott allowed dog and horse tracks to put in card games that mimicked ones that were supposed to be exclusive to tribe-owned casinos during a five-year period.

As part of his decision, Hinkle ruled the tribe could keep blackjack tables in place for another 14 years. The state appealed that ruling, but the two sides have now asked that the appeal be dismissed.

Gov. Rick Scott worth nearly $150 million

Gov. Rick Scott, a multi-millionaire who turns down the $130,000 annual salary that goes with his job, saw his personal wealth rise in the past year.

Scott on Friday filed financial information with the state that listed his net worth at nearly $149 million, or a jump of nearly 25 percent from 2015.

The Republican governor is a former health care executive who relies on income earned from a blind trust that is controlled by a long-time business associate. Scott, who does not break out the individual assets or stocks contained within the trust, stated it was worth more than $130 million at the end of last year.

Scott’s latest financial disclosure form shows that the governor received $4.35 million from his trust as income during 2016. Scott also owns two homes: A beachside mansion in Naples worth $15 million and a vacation home in Montana worth nearly $1.5 million.

Scott’s has drawn from his considerable personal wealth to help finance his two runs for office. Between the two races, Scott and his wife, Ann Scott, spent more than $80 million of their own money on the campaigns.

But the governor’s finances have come under fire. Scott has defended the use of a blind trust as a way to make sure he does not run afoul of conflict-of-interest laws, but critics have contended that the law has allowed the governor to shield much of his wealth from public view. They have also asserted he has not fully reported all of his assets.

Don Hinkle, a Tallahassee attorney, filed an ethics complaint in April that alleged Scott was not fully disclosing all his holdings because Securities and Exchange Commission records show that he controlled a family partnership set up by the governor and his wife.

Hinkle’s complaint contended Scott could have conflicts that have been shielded from the public.

Records show that the Florida Commission on Ethics dismissed the complaint during a closed-door meeting earlier this month. The ethics panel maintained that Scott has followed a state law that permits the use of a blind trust and that he had followed the disclosure requirements.

During his first run in 2010, Scott released his tax returns and a lengthy list of business holdings. But shortly after he took office, he received permission from the ethics commission to set up a blind trust. Amid a lawsuit over whether the blind trust complied with state law, Scott in 2014 briefly dissolved it and released information about his individual holdings.

That same year Scott released his joint tax returns with his wife that showed the Scott family earned millions more than the governor reported he earned individually.

Federal authorities launch probe into city of Tallahassee

In a move that could shake-up next year’s race for Florida governor, the FBI has launched an investigation into redevelopment deals involving prominent business owners and developers in the state capital.

Federal grand jury subpoenas this month seek five years of records from the city of Tallahassee and a local redevelopment agency that involve high profile projects and developers including an ally of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

Gillum, one of several Democrats in the 2018 governor’s race, is not named in the subpoenas to the city and agency, which were provided Thursday to The Associated Press in response to a public records request.

“We expect the city to respond fully and completely to the subpoena and we hope the situation is resolved quickly,” Geoff Burgan, a spokesman for Gillum’s campaign, told the AP.

The subpoenas ask for any documents and communications between the redevelopment agency, the city, their officials, and a list of people and corporations. The material is to be turned over to the grand jury in July.

The companies cited have developed the Edison, an upscale restaurant frequented by lawmakers and lobbyists in a city-owned building; and Hotel Duval, which features a steakhouse and a rooftop bar blocks from the Capitol.

The Edison received financial assistance from both the city and the local Community Redevelopment Agency. Gillum sits on the agency board and one of the owners of the restaurant is a lobbyist who once served as his campaign treasurer.

The list of individuals, corporations and entities in both subpoenas include donors to Gillum and a political committee backing his run for governor. One of them is the chief executive of a company that has been setting up medical marijuana dispensaries in the state.

Amy Alexander, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida, said she had no public information about the investigation.

Lewis Shelley, the Tallahassee city attorney, said by email that the FBI has requested records and “that other than the request for information by subpoena, the City has no further information on this matter. City staff is fully cooperating and has begun gathering the requested records.”

Gillum has been viewed as a rising star for Florida Democrats and had a speaking slot at last year’s Democratic National Convention. He was just 23 and still a student at Florida A&M when he became the youngest person elected to the Tallahassee city commission in 2003. He was elected mayor in 2014.

But he has already weathered controversy during his bid for governor. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Gillum used $5,000 in city money to buy software from a Democratic Party vendor to aid in sending out campaign emails. He paid the city back and apologized after the report.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida residents who lost citrus trees challenge Gov. Scott

Homeowners whose healthy citrus trees were torn down by the state of Florida are taking Gov. Rick Scott to court.

A group of homeowners and their attorneys asked the Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday to undo Scott’s veto of more than $37 million.

The Republican-controlled Legislature agreed to pay homeowners in both Broward and Lee counties whose trees were torn down in a failed attempt to eradicate citrus canker. The money was to pay off judgments that had been won against the state.

In court filings, attorneys for the homeowners argue Scott lacked legal authority to veto the money because a court had already ruled the state violated the private property rights of homeowners.

Scott said in his veto message that he vetoed the money because there are other citrus canker lawsuits still ongoing.

Updated 2 p.m. — The court has asked the governor to file a response on or before noon of next Monday. The petitioners can file a reply on or before noon of the following day.

Citing water losses, Florida insurer approves rate hikes

Florida’s state-created property insurer, contending that it is dealing with a flood of suspicious water-related claims and lawsuits, is asking state regulators to raise rates for thousands of homeowners next year, including those in the most heavily-populated areas.

The board that oversees Citizens Property Insurance voted unanimously Tuesday to raise homeowner rates an average 5.3 percent and commercial accounts by an 8.4 percent average.

Citizens has more than 451,000 customers, many of them living near the coast or in South Florida. The corporation was created by state legislators to act as the state’s insurer of last resort when Floridians cannot get coverage from private companies.

The proposed rate hikes vary by the type of policy purchased and location, but the rate hikes will fall hardest of homeowners in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties who will pay as much as 10 percent more a year. Residents in other coastal counties such as Collier, Santa Rosa and Pinellas, however, will see their rates go down.

Citizens officials assert they have to raise the rates to cover rising costs associated with water damage claims that are not connected to weather events such as hurricanes or tropical storms. Florida has avoided major damage from hurricanes for more than a decade.

Citizens is also putting in place other programs, including putting a limit on how many water damage claims homeowners can file over a three year period and a $10,000 cap on how much the company it will reimburse homeowners for water-damage repairs. A homeowner, however, can avoid the cap if they agree to participate in a new Citizens-run program that links them to specific contractors.

“These proposed rate increases and product changes are critical for Citizens’ efforts to bring some relief to a market that is being made increasingly expensive by unnecessary litigation and out-of-control water loss claims,” said Chris Gardner, chairman of the Citizens board. “Unfortunately, we are making it more expensive for many of our customers to own a home.”

Citizens and others in the insurance industry have pushed for legislators to change state law regarding the ability of homeowners to sign over insurance benefits to contractors who do home repairs. They say this practice results in lawsuits and that the work is sometimes done before adjusters can inspect the damage.

While some in Florida’s business community have suggested these rising claims are fraudulent, Citizens officials and top regulators have stopped short of backing up those accusations.

The Florida Legislature wrapped up its session this year without passing the bill to deal with these “assignment of benefits” that was being pushed by the insurance industry. Some senators including Sen. Gary Farmer, an attorney from Fort Lauderdale, have said the water-damage related lawsuits have been driven by Citizens practice of refusing to pay legitimate claims quickly.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

With school funding in jeopardy, Florida GOP at odds again

An effort by Florida’s Republican leaders to put aside recent acrimony and reach a new budget deal was falling apart on the eve of a three-day special session.

If legislators can’t reach an accord, Florida’s public schools could be in danger of losing billions for the upcoming school year.

Legislators are scheduled to return to the state Capitol on Wednesday. They plan to pass a new budget for the state’s public schools and set aside money for top priorities of Gov. Rick Scott, including spending more money on tourism marketing.

Scott last Friday vetoed nearly $12 billion from the state budget that takes effect on July 1. Most of the money was tied to the main account used to pay for school operations. Scott zeroed out the money with the expectation that legislators would return this week and increase the money that goes to each student by $100 over this year.

But Senate President Joe Negron warned Tuesday in a memo to senators that he has “made no agreement that would dictate an outcome for this special session.”

He also said that the Senate may try to override some of Scott’s other budget vetoes that were aimed at state universities and higher education. The governor last Friday vetoed more than $400 million in projects from the budget, a quarter of which were tied to the state’s 12 public universities. It would take a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate to override any vetoes.

Negron added that the Senate would also seek to dip into reserves to offset $100 million in cuts that legislators had made to hospitals during the session that wrapped up in early May. And he said that the Senate wants to use a rise in local property taxes – all of it coming from new construction – to help boost public school funding.

The Senate leader’s comments drew a scathing rebuke from House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who called the Senate school proposal a tax hike and said House Republicans would not support tapping into reserves to “pay for corporate giveaways.”

“Without question the House will not allow funding for our schoolchildren to be held hostage to pork barrel spending and special interest demands,” Corcoran said in a statement.

The new drama unfolding with the Legislature came after it seemed that Scott had brokered a deal with legislative leaders to resolve a long-running feud.

For weeks, Scott had harshly criticized GOP legislators for cutting money to the VISIT Florida tourism-marketing program and greatly scaling back the state’s economic development agency. The governor had repeatedly warned he could veto the entire budget.

But last Friday at a hastily arranged news conference at Miami International Airport, Scott announced a deal under which he said legislators had agreed to boost school funding, while also setting aside nearly $140 million that would eliminate cuts to VISIT Florida and pay for a new grant program that would help businesses. Both Negron and Corcoran stood by the governor while he announced the agreement and the special session.

But other senators said that Negron was not involved in the negotiations, and a spokeswoman for him said he joined the news conference because he was invited to it.

McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for Scott, said that the governor was “very clear” about what he wants legislators to do this week and that he would not support legislators passing any other items that were not part of last week’s budget agreement.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Rick Scott defends record-setting budget vetoes

Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Monday defended his latest round of budget vetoes, which set a modern-day record for a governor but came from a long list of spending projects, including money intended for public universities and compensation for homeowners whose trees were torn down by the state.

Scott late last week vetoed nearly $11.9 billion from the state budget as part of a private deal he worked out with legislative leaders.

Legislators will return to the state Capitol for a three-day special session where they are expected to pass a new budget for public schools that will be higher than the one they adopted in early May.

Scott’s veto total – which was about 14 percent of the entire $82.4 billion budget – included the main state account that goes to public schools. But the governor also vetoed roughly 400 projects worth nearly $410 million that were placed in the budget by Republicans and Democrats.

For weeks, Scott had feuded with legislators because they refused to set aside money for his top priorities, and he had threatened to veto the entire budget. But under the deal, legislators will use money vetoed by Scott to pay for tourism marketing, a new fund aimed at attracting businesses to the state, and to increase school funding by $100 for each student.

But Scott’s vetoes hit hard, especially for the state’s public universities, which lost more than $108 million. Scott also eliminated $37.4 million that was going to go to homeowners in Broward and Lee counties whose healthy citrus trees were torn down in a failed attempt to eradicate citrus canker.

Some counties that are home to top Republican legislators – including Miami-Dade, Pasco and Pinellas counties – had a long list of budget vetoes. Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, who had several projects vetoed, tweeted out that “we won’t stop fighting for the worthy projects Floridians need, want and deserve.”

During a stop in Panama City, Scott maintained that his vetoes did not target any legislators who had upset him this year.

“We look at every line to see whether it’s good for Florida families,” Scott said.

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami Republican who had pushed for the canker payments, downplayed the vetoes and said that a lot of other things he pushed escaped Scott’s veto pen.

“I’m an optimist,” said Diaz, who lost nearly $54 million to budget vetoes. “There were a lot of important things for my community that did not get vetoed.”

Republished with the permission of The Associated Press.

There’s a real “He-Man” on Florida ballot

Voters in Florida are going to get a chance to pick a real “He-Man.”

State election officials on Tuesday agreed to let Christian “He-Man” Schlaerth qualify for a special election.

Schlaerth is joining a crowded field of candidates seeking to replace a state senator who resigned earlier this year after using a racial slur and vulgar language in a conversation with two African-American colleagues.

The special election in Miami-Dade County will be held Sept. 26.

State rules allow nicknames to be placed on the ballot if it can be shown that the candidate is known by the nickname.

Schlaerth turned into state officials an affidavit that contends he did not create the nickname to “mislead voters.” He also included an affidavit of a friend who says he was introduced to Schlaerth as “He-Man” last year.

Fate of program for disabled children rests with Rick Scott

Debby Dawson, who lives in southwest Florida, has a simple message to Gov. Rick Scott: The state’s existing scholarship program for disabled children is “life changing” and has helped her 7-year-old autistic son “develop by leaps and bounds.”

Dawson is part of a chorus of parents from around the state who have mounted a campaign through letters, emails and phone calls urging the Republican governor to sign a sweeping education bill that will soon come to his desk.

But that same bill has sparked an outpouring of an even larger negative reaction to Scott both directly and on social media.

School superintendents, the state’s teacher union, parent-teacher groups and Democrats have called on the governor to veto the bill. Even Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the leading Republican candidate for governor in 2018, called the legislation a “train wreck” on Tuesday and said Scott should take a “hard look” at vetoing the bill.

That’s because GOP legislators crafted the 300-page bill largely in secret, and included in it portions that would steer more state and local money to privately-run charter schools. The legislation (HB 7069) also mandates recess in elementary schools, expands virtual education courses to private and home schooled students, and tweaks Florida’s testing system.

Scott, who supported the creation of the scholarship program, has not yet said what he plans to do.

But if he vetoes the bill, however, he will wipe out an extra $30 million for the Gardiner Scholarship program that provides tuition, therapy and other services to roughly 8,000 disabled students. Legislators included $73 million in the state budget for scholarships, but those who operate the program say it is growing and they may not have enough money to serve everyone without the extra money. Additionally, legislators passed a separate bill that would expand those eligible for the program.

That’s why Dawson wrote Scott asking him to sign the bill. She said without the extra money her other son – who is about to turn 3-years-old – may not get a scholarship in the coming year.

“As a parent who has seen how life changing this grant is, and knowing my second child may not have the same opportunities as my oldest, it is heartbreaking, to say the least,” Dawson wrote in an email to a reporter. “This grant opens up doors for our children where the doors were once shut and locked tight.”

Legislative leaders have not given a detailed explanation on why they put the extra money for the scholarship program in the bill, which was not released publicly until two days before a final vote. Initially, the state Senate had more than $100 million in its budget for the program but then agreed to lower it during budget negotiations.

Sen. Jack Latvala, the budget chairman, said the decision to include the money in the bill and not the budget was at the urging of House Speaker Richard Corcoran. When asked Corcoran called it a “compromise” since the House did not include the higher amount in its initial budget.

Sen. Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat opposed to the bill, argued that legislative leaders crafted the legislation this way in order to make it harder for Scott to veto the bill.

“I was deeply disturbed that (the families of disabled children) were hijacked and used as pawns to mollify opposition to an otherwise bad bill,” Farmer said.

School choice advocates, including former Gov. Jeb Bush, are asking Scott to sign the bill. Former Senate President Andy Gardiner, who has a son with Down syndrome and helped create the program, said he hopes the “governor is mindful” that the bill isn’t just about charter schools and that many families will be affected by his decision.

Barbara Beasley, whose 9-year-old daughter receives a Gardiner scholarship, says it has dramatically improved her daughter’s life, but she said that “lawmakers sold us down the river with their backroom dealing on the education bill.” She said other parts of the legislation are detrimental to public schools and should be stopped.

“I beg Governor Scott to order lawmakers back to session to fix their mistakes, separate these items from the bad and push them through,” Beasley said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons