Gov. Rick Scott Archives - Florida Politics

Jim Boxold to step down as DOT head for lobbying job

In the second of two surprise departures from the Gov. Rick Scott administration, the secretary of the state’s Department of Transportation is expected to step down to pursue a career in the private sector.

Jim Boxold, who was appointed in December 2014 to succeed Ananth Prasad, is leavinf to join the governmental affairs firm Capital City Consulting, multiple sources have confirmed.

An announcement about Boxold’s joining the firm could come as soon as Monday.

Boxold is the second department head to leave the Scott Administration this month; DEP Secretary Jon Steverson turned in his resignation on Friday.

The Governor’s Office late Friday night said Boxold had not submitted a letter of resignation, but sources who have spoken to Boxold and those inside CCC say the former DOT chief of staff – who was elevated to lead the agency – is headed to the Adams Street firm.

Capital City Consulting is considered one of the “Big 4” lobbying firms, earning more than $1 million per quarter in compensation to represent clients before the Legislature.

The firm was established in 2003 by Nick IarossiRon LaFace, and Gerald Wester.

Prior to his time at FDOT, Boxold served a decade as Director of Cabinet Affairs for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs.

Before that, he was Deputy Director of Cabinet Affairs for Gov. Jeb Bush. He also served as legislative affairs director for U.S. Rep. Porter J. Goss in 1995-2001.

Jon Steverson resigns as DEP secretary

Jon Steverson, the Secretary of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection under Gov. Rick Scott, has resigned.

His departure was confirmed Friday night by McKinley Lewis, Scott’s deputy communications director, who provided a copy of the resignation letter.

Steverson is set to join the legal-lobbying firm Foley & Lardner, sources tell FloridaPolitics.com. Herschel Vineyard, who also served as a DEP Secretary, is a part of Foley’s governmental relations team.

Steverson, whose last day will be Feb. 3, did not mention reasons for his leaving in the letter.

“I want to thank Jon Steverson for his hard work,” Scott said in a statement. “Jon has devoted his career to protecting Florida’s pristine environment and I am proud of the tremendous and historic strides we have made toward safeguarding Florida’s natural resources during his time at DEP.

“Under his leadership, we have invested in Florida’s natural lands and completed projects which will ensure protection of our springs, restoration of the Everglades and the continued enhancement of our award-winning state parks for years to come.”

Lewis said the Governor’s Office will have “further announcements on this next week.”

Among the leading candidates to replace Steverson are Karl Rasmussen, a Deputy Chief of Staff in the Governor’s Office, and Ryan Matthews, the Deputy Secretary of Regulatory Programs at DEP.

Steverson raised hackles for, among other things, suggesting that the state allow timber harvesting and cattle grazing to help state parks boost their income.

More recently, his department did not immediately notify the public that a huge sinkhole formed under a fertilizer plant and sent contaminated water and fertilizer into Florida’s main drinking water aquifer.

He began as interim DEP Secretary in December 2014. The Florida Senate declined to confirm him and other agency heads in 2015, though he finally won confirmation January of last year.

Steverson was previously executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District. Before that, he was DEP’s Special Counsel on Policy and Legislative Affairs and an acting Deputy Secretary for Water Policy and Ecosystem Restoration, according to his bio.

Steverson also served in the Executive Office of the Governor in 2005-09 in several positions, including Environmental Policy Coordinator.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this post.

Rick Scott orders flags at half-staff for Austin J. Ruiz

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered flags at half-staff in honor of a Marine who died during a training exercise.

Lance Cpl. Austin J. Ruiz of Naples died last Friday.

Scott, who has a home in Naples, ordered that the U.S. and state flags be flown at half-staff at City Hall in Naples, the Collier County Courthouse and at the Capitol in Tallahassee from sunrise to sunset this Sunday. 

“Ann and I are heartbroken to hear of the loss of Floridian and U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Austin Ruiz,” the governor said in a statement. “Like all of our incredible servicemen and women, Austin put his life on the line in order to defend our families and our freedom, and we will do all we can to honor his sacrifice.”

Ruiz was killed and another Marine was injured during a live-fire exercise at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California.

“We join all Floridians in mourning for this fallen hero and praying for his many loved ones during this unimaginably difficult time,” Scott added.”We hope that they may find comfort in remembering Austin’s bravery and dedication to selflessly serving our country.”

Alimony reform bill filed for 2017

Update: State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, on Friday filed the Senate companion to the House bill, which she says is identical save for  “a few punctuation differences.”


State Rep. Colleen Burton will try again to overhaul the state’s alimony law, filing a bill on Wednesday.

The Lakeland Republican still aims to toughen the standards by which alimony is granted and changed, after last year’s measure was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.

“I believe it is the right thing to do,” Burton said in a phone interview. “It costs families a lot of money to go through a process that has no starting point. This gives judges a starting point, the same in Miami as in Pensacola, and gives predictability to former spouses who are trying to determine alimony.

“I have nothing personal invested in this,” she added. “This is just worth trying again.”

The latest bill (HB 283), however, does not contain child custody provisions that garnered Scott’s disfavor in 2016.

He disapproved of that legislation because it had the potential to put the “wants of a parent before the child’s best interest by creating a premise of equal time-sharing,” his veto letter said.

Family-law related bills have had trouble getting Scott’s signature even as lawmakers have tried for years to change the way Florida’s courts award alimony.

In 2013, Scott vetoed a previous attempt to modify alimony law because, he said, “it applies retroactively and thus tampers with the settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce.”

He added that the “retroactive adjustment of alimony could result in unfair, unanticipated results.”

On one side, former spouses who wrote the checks have said permanent alimony in particular, or “forever alimony,” wasn’t fair to them.

Their exes shot back that they shouldn’t be penalized, for example, after staying home to raise the children and then having trouble re-entering the workplace.

But Burton’s 26-page bill, among other things, contains a guideline that says judges should consider an ex-spouse’s “services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party” when calculating an award.

A judge can go outside the suggested alimony amount under the bill “only if the court considers all of the factors … and makes specific written findings concerning the relevant factors that justify” the deviation.

A message for Burton seeking comment was left at her Lakeland district office.

But her Senate counterpart last year, Republican Kelli Stargel also of Lakeland, said in a text message she will not file a companion measure.

“I don’t know that I’m willing to take this on again next year,” she told FloridaPolitics.com in April. “Then again, a lot can happen between now and the next legislative session. But we need to discuss the merits of a bill and not get into heated rhetoric.”

The legislation eventually caused “a hollering battle” between about 100 advocates and opponents of the bill outside Scott’s office days before the veto.

State appeals federal ruling on Seminole Tribe blackjack

The state of Florida has filed an appeal to a federal judge’s ruling allowing the Seminole Tribe to keep offering blackjack at its casinos.

The 7-page “notice of appeal” to the 11th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals was filed Thursday by Jason Maine, general counsel to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates gambling.

The filing did not preview any arguments the state intends to make to get the decision reversed.

Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in November had ruled that regulators working under Gov. Rick Scott allowed select Florida dog and horse tracks to offer card games that were too similar to ones that were supposed to be exclusive to Tribe-owned casinos for a five-year period.

The judge decided the Tribe could keep its blackjack tables till 2030. The state wanted Hinkle to instead order the tribe to remove the games because a blackjack provision in an agreement between the state and tribe expired in 2015.

Scott’s office did not immediately comment on the appeal.

Barry Richard, the Tribe’s Tallahassee-based attorney, suggested that the state was working against its own financial interest: Without blackjack, there’s no money from it to share with the state.

The previous agreement generated well over $1 billion in blackjack revenue share. The Seminoles offer blackjack at five of their seven casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa.

“As I told the lawyer for the state, I don’t recall in my career an opposing party working so hard to keep my client from paying it hundreds of million of dollars – and it still is,” Richard said.

But the tribe is still paying, most recently putting nearly $20 million into state coffers as a show of good faith. A state economist last week said that money is being held effectively in reserve in the General Revenue fund.

And the tribe still wants a new blackjack deal worth $3 billion over seven years in revenue share to the state, but it failed to gain approval from lawmakers last year.

Also this year, lawmakers will begin considering an omnibus gambling bill that includes that deal but also would allow for more slot machines across the state, legalize fantasy sports and even open up lottery ticket sales at gas pumps.

In addition, the bill would expand blackjack from just the state’s Seminole casinos to South Florida’s pari-mutuels, including Pompano Park.

“In a sense, the Tribe has been fighting to pay the state and the state has been fighting to stop it,” said Richard, with the Greenberg Traurig law firm. “As far as the issue of whether the Tribe still has to pay, it’s not an issue because the Tribe has chosen not to make it an issue.”

planned parenthood

State won’t have to pay Planned Parenthood’s legal tab

The state won’t end up on the hook for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida‘s legal fees, according to an appellate court decision released Thursday.

The health care organization had sought to punish the Agency for Health Care Administration by making it pay the group’s attorney fees after filing “administrative complaints … alleging violations of (its) license to perform abortions.”

The state eventually “voluntarily dismissed the complaints,” according to the opinion. But an administrative law judge still ordered an evidentiary hearing on the fees question.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal said that judge overstepped his bounds, “depart(ing) from the essential requirements of the law.”

Citing case law, Judges Brad ThomasT. Kent Wetherell II and M. Kemmerly Thomas said he didn’t have authority to order a hearing “because the case was voluntarily dismissed” and thus Planned Parenthood can’t be considered a “prevailing party.”

The case began last year after the agency, under Gov. Rick Scott, said Planned Parenthood clinics in St. Petersburg, Naples and Fort Myers were wrongfully providing second-trimester abortions.

Planned Parenthood lawyers had argued AHCA was incorrectly defining the beginning and end of trimesters and that the organization was innocent of any wrongdoing.

data center

Audit slams security, other lapses at state tech agency

I hate to overstate the findings of any report, but my first thought while reading the latest audit of the Agency for State Technology was:

“Jeez, is this joint as potentially ‘leaky’ as I think it is?”

The report by Florida Auditor General Sherrill F. Norman’s office, which I got a copy of on Thursday, lays out a laundry list of security and other problems at the relatively new agency.

And the best defense that state Chief Information Officer Jason Allison, appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, can muster is to deflect blame and point fingers.

Among the many audit findings are that “access privileges for some AST users … did not restrict (them) to only those functions appropriate and necessary for assigned job duties or functions.”

Gee, no security problem there.

Also, some “accounts remained active when no longer needed and some … inappropriately allowed interactive logon, increasing the risk that the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of AST data and IT resources may be compromised.”

I’m no expert, but that sounds downright dangerous.  

The AST also failed to “review user access privileges for the mainframe, open systems environments, and the network domains,” kept an inaccurate “inventory of IT resources at the State Data Center,” and “State Data Center backup tape records were not up-to-date and some backup tapes could not be located and identified.”

The agency, created by the Legislature in 2014, was aimed at avoiding all the problems of its predecessor, the Agency for Enterprise Information Technology, effectively abolished in 2012.

Mission not accomplished.

Allison, in a weak-beer response included in the audit report, says he just inherited problems from the Northwood and Southwood Shared Resource Centers, which his agency took over.

“It is important to note that AST has combined two separate data centers into a new state agency with a single, cohesive team,” he said.

Yes, a team that apparently doesn’t know when to tell people to change their freaking passwords.

David Wilkins consulting at struggling VISIT FLORIDA

David Wilkins, who led the state’s perennially troubled child welfare agency, is now helping new CEO Ken Lawson right the ship at VISIT FLORIDA.

An internal email sent Wednesday and shared with FloridaPolitics.com says Wilkins, secretary of the Department of Children and Families under Gov. Rick Scott in 2011-13, is “assisting VISIT FLORIDA in the review of some of our contracts, processes and procedures.”

The email was sent to staff by Meredith DaSilva, the state tourism agency’s director of executive operations. Wilkins couldn’t be immediately reached Thursday.

Scott also used Wilkins earlier this year to review the budget of Enterprise Florida, the public-private economic development organization, to suggest cuts and savings.

Wilkins resigned from DCF “amid an escalating scandal over the deaths of four small children who had a history of involvement with child-abuse investigators,” the Miami Herald’s Carol Marbin Miller reported in 2013.

Lawson, most recently secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, was brought over after Scott had called on former VISIT FLORIDA CEO Will Seccombe to quit, continuing a shake-up at the organization that saw two other top executives shown the door.

That was from the fallout over how it handled a secret marketing contract worth up to $1 million with Miami rapper superstar Pitbull that was vehemently criticized by House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Scott then called for an overhaul of how VISIT FLORIDA does business.

Rick Scott orders flags at half-staff for Central Florida officers

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered flags at half-staff to honor two first responders killed in Central Florida.

The governor issued the directive Thursday.

“My wife Ann and I join Floridians across the state in praying for these officers and their families during this unimaginable time,” he said. “We ask that God provide them with much needed healing, comfort and hope.”

The U.S. and Florida flags will be flown at half-staff at the County Courthouse in Orange County, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in Orlando, and at Orlando City Hall from sunrise to sunset this Friday and Saturday.

Authorities said Master Sergeant Debra Clayton of the Orlando Police Department died Monday in a shootout with Markeith Loyd, who is wanted on a murder charge related to the death of his pregnant girlfriend in December.

An Orange County sheriff’s deputy, Norman Lewis, later died from a car crash while he was traveling to the scene on a motorcycle.

“Any act of violence against our heroes is cowardly and shameful and our state will not stand for it,” Scott said. “I know the entire Orlando Police Department, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement are working diligently to bring justice and ensure the Orlando community is safe and secure.”

In the past year, “our officers have faced challenges like never before,” he added. “But even after the terrorist attack at Pulse nightclub last summer and the attack at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport last week, our law enforcement officers still wake up each day and choose to put their lives on the line in order to protect our state.”

The deaths of Clayton and Lewis serve “as a sobering reminder of how important it is for each one of us to take every opportunity to thank these heroes for their service and sacrifice,” Scott said.

 

 

Florida Chamber head still bullish on incentives (with an explanation)

The head of the Florida Chamber of Commerce Thursday defended the state’s handout of economic incentives, but said they were only ever meant to stoke job creation in a targeted way.

“In very, very limited cases, incentives are in play,” said Mark Wilson, the organization’s president and CEO. “We shouldn’t be using incentives for every job we create. In fact, they should rarely be used.”

Wilson and others, including dozens of former and current lawmakers, spoke at a press conference in the Capitol.

The organization rolled out its 2017 Competitiveness Agenda, “a blueprint of legislative priorities built on jobs, growth and opportunity for Florida families and small businesses.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Americans for Prosperity-Florida, a free market advocacy organization, have inveighed against them as “corporate welfare.”

In questions and answers after the press conference, Wilson explained incentives are best used for targeted industries, such as advanced manufacturing and life sciences.

“When we can compete for those kinds of high-skill, high-wage jobs … in those very limited cases, incentives make sense,” he said. “Incentives and marketing dollars are incredibly important and when they’re used, they’re the difference maker.”

Corcoran has said, however, he expects requests for taxpayer-financed economic incentives to move through his chamber despite his personal objections to them.

This year, Gov. Rick Scott is requesting $85 million in incentives for a broad range of business deals to attract businesses to Florida.

The governor had last year proposed a “Florida Enterprise Fund” of $250 million for business incentives, a proposal that didn’t get funded in the 2016-17 state budget.

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