Gov. Rick Scott Archives - Florida Politics

Transportation chief points to ‘effective’ job on debris removal

Florida’s transportation secretary is giving his agency a passing mark for debris removal after Hurricane Irma.

But with debris still along some roads, particularly in pockets of the Florida Keys, Department of Transportation Secretary Michael Dew said officials will look at how they can improve before the next storm.

“I think we did an effective job, but I think we can always do better,” Dew said Thursday during a meeting of the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness.

The pace and cost of debris collection has been a point of contention in the government’s response to Hurricane Irma, which made landfall Sept. 10 in Monroe and Collier counties and then barreled up the state.

The Department of Transportation has spent $15 million on debris removal from state highways, with Dew expecting reimbursement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Some of that money related to getting called in to help after local governments complained that debris haulers failed to honor pre-storm contracts as subcontractors went in pursuit of better deals in areas harder hit by the storm.

Dew, whose department will conduct a storm-response review next month, said he wants to see if language about penalties and liabilities can be strengthened in contracts with disaster relief companies.

“We had a couple of incidents in areas around the state where we were promised 25 cut-and-toss crews but maybe only 15 showed up,” Dew said. “I’d like to see some more teeth in the contracts so that we can rely on the numbers that are in there, because a lot of our critical planning relies on having those crews available to us.”

Committee Chairwoman Jeanette Nunez, a Miami Republican whose panel is expected next month to make a series of recommendations that could lead to legislation, said debris removal might be one of those topics.

“I don’t necessarily believe that that is a state’s role to manage county-by-county contracts, but I think the state needs to take a long hard look at it and see what we can do at the state level to develop perhaps reciprocal agreements with other states,” Nunez said. “I believe there is a role to play. How much, that’s yet to be determined.”

Other topics the committee has looked at include health-care facilities, evacuations, petroleum supplies, electric utilities, housing, agriculture, shelter management, education and beaches.

“Obviously, there will be short-term things that need to be taken care of in the immediate, upcoming session,” Nunez said. “And then, as we saw back in (Hurricane) Andrew, or during the ’04-’05 season, legislatures will deal with this issue for years to come.”

A Florida Atlantic University poll released last week found that 70 percent of Floridians rated the handling of the storm as good or better. Meanwhile, delays in debris cleanup resulted in 44 percent of the same people rating debris removal as fair or poor.

Last month, questions were raised about emergency debris-removal contracts issued by the Department of Transportation to two firms and whether the state was paying high rates — three to 10 times in some cases — for the work. Meanwhile, Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office has looked into claims that three other debris-removal companies hadn’t fulfilled post-Hurricane Irma contracts.

After Democrats from Florida’s congressional delegation last month asked questions about the emergency-debris contracting, Gov. Rick Scott‘s office said local communities had reported that haulers were not providing agreed-to services.

“After the storm, the governor heard from many local communities, including Monroe County, that many of these companies were not providing the agreed-upon service and were demanding higher prices. This is unacceptable,” Scott’s office said at the time. “Monroe County asked for additional help to pick up debris following the storm. FDOT went above and beyond the requirements of Florida law

Personnel note: Chris Hart IV to head Court Clerks group

Chris Hart IV, who last was with Florida TaxWatch, will be the next CEO of the statewide Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers association, according to a Friday press release. He starts Dec. 4.

Hart “will provide strong leadership to our association,” said Marcia M. Johnson, Franklin County Clerk and Comptroller and 2017-18 Board President, in a statement.

“He brings extensive knowledge of the legislative process, which will be critical as we work together with lawmakers to establish sustainable funding for our offices,” she said.

Hart served in the Florida House of Representatives for Hillsborough County’s District 57 in 1998-2002. He later was president and CEO of CareerSource Florida, the state’s employment services operation, from 2007-17.

He left that position to become CEO of Enterprise Florida (EFI), but stepped down after less than three months on the job.

“I’ve come to realize that Gov. (RickScott and I do not share a common vision or understanding for how Enterprise Florida can best provide value within his administration,” he wrote in his resignation letter. “This difference of opinion is of such a critical nature that I no longer believe I can be effective in my position.”

He then joined TaxWatch as the organization’s executive vice president.

Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers represents the interests of Florida’s 67 elected Clerks of the Circuit Court and one independently elected County Comptroller.

“Clerks are independently elected as their duties provide a system of checks and balances, ensuring transparency, access and accountability in local government,” the release said. “While the Constitution Revision Commission convenes this year, Hart and the association will support preserving the roles of constitutional officers as elected, not appointed, positions.”

“Our association can achieve great things with a sharpened focus on our vision and mission,” Hart said in a statement.

“This is a pivotal point in time for the Clerks and Comptrollers, and I look forward to supporting them in their shared commitment to excellence as they seek to effectively and efficiently serve the citizens of Florida.”

He also has been interim director of the now-defunct Governor’s Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development under both Scott and Gov. Charlie Crist.

Hart was appointed by Crist in 2010 to chair the Governor’s Gulf Oil Spill Economic Recovery Task Force, responsible for coordinating state efforts in response to the Deepwater Horizon spill.

He received an MBA from the University of South Florida and an undergraduate degree in political science from Florida State University. Hart and his wife Amy reside in Tallahassee and have two adult children.

Tom Lee defends dog racing ban; Pam Bondi noncommittal

State Sen. Tom Lee fired off a tweetstorm Wednesday in support of his proposed constitutional amendment to ban greyhound racing in Florida.

Lee—a Thonotosassa Republican, previous Senate president and current candidate for Chief Financial Officer—called dog racing “cruel and inhumane,” and added the “greyhound industry opposes any real reform.” (His tweets are at bottom.)

He filed the proposal as a member of the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), which convenes every 20 years to review and propose changes to the state’s governing document.

Meantime, Attorney General Pam Bondi—a Tampa Republican who regularly brings shelter dogs to state Cabinet meetings to get them adopted—declined to say whether she would support the amendment. Bondi also sits on the 37-member CRC.

“As a member of the commission, I look forward to reviewing the more than one hundred proposals that have been filed,” Bondi said in a one-sentence statement to Florida Politics.

Lee’s amendment would phase out live racing over three years, mandating a one-third reduction in race days in 2019-20 and a two-thirds reduction in 2020-21.

“All dog racing in connection with any wager for money or any other thing of value is prohibited on and after July 1, 2021,” the proposal says.

Lawmakers have long failed to pass legislation that would remove the requirement that tracks offer live racing to offer other kinds of gambling, known as “decoupling.”

Efforts to ban the use of steroids in dogs also have died; in fact, a draft bill circulating this month would ensure that trainers could give dogs steroids and allow trace amounts of cocaine in their system.  The 2018 Legislative Session begins in January.

Jack Cory, spokesman for the Florida Greyhound Association, has said Lee’s proposal “is bad for Florida and it is bad for the greyhounds.”

“It would cost over 3,000 Florida jobs, put over 8,000 beautiful greyhounds at risk and create 19 mini-casinos throughout Florida,” Cory said, referring to other gambling, such as cards, that would continue at pari-mutuel facilities.

Lee’s tweets are below:

Legal challenges bog down medical cannabis process

A litany of lawsuits continues to jam up the state’s medical marijuana licensure process, the state’s top marijuana official told House lawmakers Wednesday.

Christian Bax, executive director of the state Health Department’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use, gave the House Health Quality Subcommittee an overview of his work, including the latest tally of legal challenges.

“(Our) position is, we need to see whether a judge will stop this process prior to accepting applications,” Bax said. “We want to start accepting applications and move forward.”

To name just a couple, Tropiflora of Sarasota recently sued the state over its preference in granting medical marijuana licenses to companies with underused or shuttered citrus factories.

Tropiflora calls that an “unconstitutional special advantage” that “adversely impacts” its chance of getting one of 10 more available licenses to be a “medical marijuana treatment center.”

There’s also a constitutional challenge pending from attorney John Morgan over lawmakers’ ban on smoking medicinal cannabis. Morgan was the main backer of the state constitutional amendment authorizing marijuana as medicine and approved by voters last year.

Morgan’s suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the smoking ban runs counter to the amendment’s intent. Lawmakers recently approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law an implementing bill (SB 8-A) for the amendment that does not allow medicinal marijuana to be smoked.

House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues, for example, has said “we don’t believe you smoke medicine.” Edibles and “vaping” are permitted, however. Bax told the committee his office is still developing rules on edible marijuana products.

There also are administrative challenges, such as a bid protest over the contract for producing the marijuana patient ID cards.

Rep. Ralph Massullo, a Lecanto Republican and dermatologist, likened Health Department officials working on marijuana to the proverbial Dutch boy who plugs a dike with his finger: “They can only hold it for so long.”

At the same time, he said, department officials must “work hard to enforce the law that we worked hard to pass.”

Right-leaning watchdog now wants judicial emails after ‘hot mic’

A conservative watchdog says it’s filed a public records request for emails from Justice Barbara Pariente and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga after what it calls “the justices’ overt political bias.”

The D.C.-based Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) late Monday released a copy of its request to the Florida Supreme Court.

It asks for copies of emails to or from Pariente and Labarga “that contain the phrases ‘Judicial Nominating Commission’ or ‘JNC,’ or any names” of members of the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission.

The two jurists had been caught on a ‘hot mic‘ immediately after a Nov. 1 oral argument in a case over Gov. Rick Scott’s judicial appointment power.

Progressive groups claim Scott doesn’t have authority to appoint three new Supreme Court justices on the last day of his term. The openings are caused by the mandatory retirements for the court’s liberal-leaning trio of Justices R. Fred Lewis, Pariente and Peggy A. Quince.

Moments after the argument ended, Labarga can first be heard on a recording from the courtroom saying what sounds like, “…anything on there, Panuccio.” Jesse Panuccio, once Scott’s general counsel and a former head of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, is a member of the Supreme Court JNC.

Pariente then can be heard saying what sounds like “crazy.” That’s followed by Labarga: “Izzy Reyes is on there, he’ll listen to me.”

JNC member Israel U. Reyes is founder of The Reyes Law Firm in Coral Gables and a former circuit judge. He’s also one of four members nominated to the nine-member commission by The Florida Bar; the others are appointed by the governor.

Kendra Arnold, FACT’s executive director, used the 14 words that could be made out in the conversation to assign “political bias” to the two justices. Pariente has served almost 20 years on the high court; Labarga has served nearly nine years.

“Judicial temperament that includes threatening lawyers short and long-term as Justice Labarga has done, attacking other public officials in the midst of a political campaign as Justice Pariente has done, and now attacking members of the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission, destroys public faith in the courts,” Arnold said in a statement.

The organization was formed “in 2014 as a conservative counterweight to watchdog groups viewed as more left-of-center, such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington,” according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Governor’s Office also filed a records request for a piece of paper on the bench to which Pariente and Labarga were ostensibly referring during their exchange. That document turned out to be the current membership list of the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission.

When asked if he might pursue recusals of Labarga and Pariente from his case, Scott has said, “I think we have to find out. Let’s put the facts on the table. Then we can make a decision of how we should go forward.”

In her statement, Arnold was less circumspect: “Both justices should immediately recuse themselves from this case as they have demonstrated a bias against the governor.”

Central Florida officials ask Rick Scott for more coordination for Puerto Rico evacuees

The influx of Puerto Ricans evacuating their devastated homes in Puerto Rico are beginning to test the capacities of Central Florida and in particular Osceola County, and more state coordination is needed, a group of local officials told Gov. Rick Scott Monday.

Those officials, including Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez, Osceola County Schools Superintendent Debra Pace, and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, told Scott during a roundtable meeting in Kissimmee Monday morning that they want to do all they can to help Puerto Ricans displace by Hurricane Maria but they expect to reach their limits, as Central Florida appears to be the first-choice of most of the more than 143,000 who’ve come to Florida already.

The problem is that evacuating people seek first to live with or near family they have stateside, and that means concentrated communities in South Florida, the Tampa Bay area, and the State Road 417 corridor through Seminole Orange and Osceola counties of Central Florida. While so far the vast majority of evacuees appear to be finding places to stay, mostly with families, officials are expecting an already-existant housing shortage to become a crisis. And certain schools already are crowding.

More than 6,300 children from Puerto Rico have enrolled in Florida schools since Hurricane Maria, following the pattern of their evacuee parents into communities that already have large Puerto Rican populations.

“We have 1,352 new students from Puerto Rico specifically from Hurricane Maria, and an additional 100 from the other storms,” Pace said.

That’s the equivalent of two full elementary schools of new students who arrived in a few weeks. And more are on the way, as some projections exceed 300,000 for the number of Puerto Ricans likely to relocate to Florida. Osceola schools already were peaking beyond projections before Hurricane Maria, Pace said.

“We’re welcoming them and doing all we can to serve them. But capacity is becoming a true issue: teacher needs, staffing to help support them,” Pace said. “And as you notice the conditions down there are not good, so the children are stressed. The families are stressed. It is really taking an emotional toll as well to educate them as well as to love them.”

The dilemma is created because the existing large communities of Puerto Ricans in Florida are where the evacuees are most likely to have family and friends who can offer them spare bedrooms, couches, and a few hot meals. But if they want to stay, and indications are most are expecting to stay, that’s a temporary situation that would last only a few months, and then the housing shortage and jobs pool will become bigger factors.

Housing is the next big challenge, Alvarez predicted. He made a couple of suggestions, including the placement of FEMA trailers, and the possibility of converting closed motels in the U.S. Highway 192 corridor into FEMA housing.

“We need to look at how we are going to get that resolved before that becomes a problem,” he said.

And the schools already are experiencing the imbalances, as Pace described.

“If they want to stay in Central Florida, which is a logical thing for them to want to do, even if we brought in housing, our schools may not be able to handle it,” Jacobs said. “So that’s why we’ve been looking to see if FEMA has a broader approach if we need it.”

Jacobs had written to Scott, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Florida Division of Emergency Management two weeks ago, along with the chairs of Osceola and Seminole counties, urging a meeting such as the one Monday be set up to examine how the federal, state and local authorities could plan long term and coordinate more closely to try avoid service capacity issues by overwhelmed areas, while other areas of the state might have plenty of housing, school capacity and jobs going untapped.

In addition to providing relief resources to the island of Puerto Rico, Scott has coordinated a number of efforts in Florida to assist evacuees, starting with the creation and opening of welcome centers at the Miami and Orlando international airports which have helped direct more than 26,000 evacuees and their families toward housing, food, transpiration, education, job placement, and other services, and, last week, directing the Florida Division of Emergency Management to activate the State Emergency Operations Center to Level 2, to better coordinate transitional housing.

“The biggest thing is to figure out how we go forward,” Scott said. “We’re going to continue to have housing, education, jobs, we’ll have all these issues.”

Jacobs said she heard what she hoped to hear.

“This addresses the need for a meeting, absolutely,” Jacobs said. “We were very pleased.”

Rick Scott wants millions for active-duty military, vets

Gov. Rick Scott announced that he will propose $178 million to support active military, veterans and their families in Florida as part of his 2018-2019 recommended budget, according to a Monday press release.

“He also announced his support for a proposal being considered by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) to provide free tuition to the families of fallen first responders, state law enforcement officers and military members who have lost their lives in the line of duty,” it said.

If passed by the CRC, the proposal will be on the ballot in 2018 and would require approval of 60 percent of Florida voters.

The proposal was filed by Commissioner Emery Gainey, a 25-year veteran of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office and now Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s Director of Law Enforcement Relations, Victim Services & Criminal Justice Programs.

Scott said, “We will never be able to repay our fallen officers or service members who have bravely given their lives, but it is our duty to ensure that their families are supported as if they were our own.”

His $178 million investment for Florida’s active military, veterans and their families includes:

— $200,000 for search and rescue vessels and protective equipment for our National Guardsmen to use during deployment;

— Nearly $8 million to begin operations at the Lake Baldwin State Veteran Nursing Home, which will allow this facility to serve more than 110 veterans in the coming year;

— $2 million for Building Homes for Heroes to build and modify homes for veterans who were severely injured while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan;

— $2 million for the Florida Defense Support Task Force, which helps support our military and defense communities and the many families who rely on them; and

— $2.7 million to support veterans looking to obtain employment, start their own businesses and make Florida their home, including $1 million for Veterans Florida to continue their mission of helping veterans find great jobs at Florida businesses.

For the full press release, click here. The governor is expected to release his proposed 2018-19 state budget in Jacksonville on Tuesday morning.

Nursing home group denounces proposed residents’ ‘bill of rights’

In an acutely personal attack, the head of a nursing-home advocacy group slammed a proposed constitutional amendment that would create a “nursing home and assisted living facility residents’ bill of rights.”

The Florida Health Care Association’s Emmett Reed, this week called the amendment, filed by Constitution Revision Commissioner Brecht Heuchan, “glaringly bad.”

Reed’s organization advocates for nursing homes, assisted living facilities and others who care for the elderly and people with disabilities, especially regarding getting paid by Medicaid, the joint federal-state program. It pays for nursing home care that Medicare does not.

Heuchan’s proposal comes after a South Florida nursing home lost air conditioning during Hurricane Irma. Up to 14 residents later died, though not all those deaths have been conclusively linked to the lack of the building’s climate control.

The proposed bill of rights would “wipe out more than 30 years of meaningful and thoughtful progress designed to ensure that nursing home residents have the right to quality care and the services they need,” said Reed, the association’s executive director, in a statement.

He then focused on Heuchan, saying he had “lost sight of the fact that the select members of this august body have a profound duty not just to those in their workday lives, but indeed to all Floridians.”

The proposal would create a “right to access courts and a jury system that allows for a speedy trial and relief and remedies, without limitations, for loss, injury, and damages caused to residents and their families by the abuse, negligence, neglect, exploitation, or violation of residents’ rights by the facilities’ owners, operators, employees, professionals, and others who care for residents at such facilities.”

“A professional lobbyist representing trial attorneys has ignored his broader obligations in order to serve the narrow interest of his clients,” Reed said. “The proposed amendment is an egregious governmental overstep, one that overreaches to a monumental extent.”

Heuchan, an appointee and ally of Gov. Rick Scott, is a political consultant and lobbyist, and founder of Contribution Link, a political data analytics firm.

“I am focused on the welfare of residents in long-term care facilities,” he said in an email. “Given recent events, it’s obvious Florida can do more to safeguard them.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues, resident advocates and the industry to find ways to accomplish that objective.”

The amendment has not yet been assigned to any committees for consideration.

The Constitution Revision Commission is formed every 20 years to review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document. Any amendments it places directly on the 2018 statewide ballot still must be OK’d by 60 percent of voters to be added to the constitution.

Rick Scott won’t say if he’ll seek recusals over Supreme Court ‘hot mic’ incident

An attorney for Gov. Rick Scott has filed a public records request with the state Supreme Court over last week’s ambiguous “hot mic” conversation between Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justice Barbara Pariente.

Scott

But Scott stopped short Tuesday of saying whether he will ask the two justices to recuse themselves from further involvement in a case over his judicial appointment power.

The request, filed Monday, seeks “any and all documents reviewed or discussed” by the two jurists after Wednesday’s oral argument and “raw, native, uncompressed audio” of the conversation.

With a microphone cutting in and out, the justices had seemed to be referring to a piece of paper and discussing membership of the Supreme Court’s Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC), which vets and recommends appointees for Supreme Court justice to the governor.

This week’s record request was signed by Scott’s general counsel Dan Nordby, who also argued the case on Wednesday.

“Let’s find out what was going on,” Scott said, speaking with reporters after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting. “We expect judges to be impartial. We expect them to simply do their job.

“What document were they talking about? What were they talking about?” he added. “It’s incumbent on everybody to understand what was being discussed.”

Labarga

When asked if he were interested in pursuing recusals of Labarga and Pariente from his case, the governor said, “I think we have to find out. Let’s put the facts on the table. Then we can make a decision of how we should go forward.”

The case in question was brought by the League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF) and Common Cause, claiming Scott doesn’t have authority to appoint three new Supreme Court justices on the last day of his term.

Scott, a Naples Republican, has said he plans to name the replacements for the court’s liberal-leaning trio of Justices R. Fred Lewis, Pariente and Peggy A. Quince. They face mandatory retirement on the same day—Jan. 8, 2019—that is Scott’s last in office as governor. He’s term limited next year.

Moments after the argument ended, Labarga can first be heard on a recording from the courtroom saying what sounds like, “…anything on there, Panuccio.” Jesse Panuccio, once Gov. Rick Scott‘s general counsel and a former head of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, is a member of the Supreme Court JNC.

Pariente

Pariente then can be heard saying what sounds like, “…crazy…” That’s followed by Labarga: “Izzy Reyes is on there, he’ll listen to me.”

JNC member Israel U. Reyes is founder of The Reyes Law Firm in Coral Gables and a former circuit judge. Pariente responds, but what she says isn’t clear.

Requests for comment have been left with League President Pamela Goodman, its attorney John S. Mills, and Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters. Reyes has not responded to a previous request for comment.

Updated Tuesday night: Waters wrote in an email to Florida Politics, “We have responded to the Governor’s public record request. Attached is that response.”

The piece of paper on the bench that Pariente and Labarga were ostensibly referring to was a current membership list of the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Committee. That document was not “in the record” for the judicial appointments case being argued.

A video of the exchange is now posted on YouTube here.

State will file federal suit against Valeant Pharmaceuticals

The state will file a federal lawsuit against Valeant Pharmaceuticals International over the $62 million it lost when it purchased company shares while Valeant allegedly ran a scheme that shielded it from competition and aggressively increased drug prices.

The Cabinet voted to pursue direct action against the drug company on Tuesday.

The State Board of Administration (SBA), which oversees the state’s investments, is looking to recover millions of dollars from the company that were lost in trading.

If the state opted to join a class action suit, instead of filing its own lawsuit, the estimate recovery would have been much less — about $390,000, according to staff analysis.

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