Gov. Rick Scott Archives - Florida Politics

Voting rights proposal advanced by constitutional review board

A proposal to allow the automatic restoration of non-violent ex-felons’ voting rights cleared a Constitution Revision Commission  (CRC) committee on Thursday.

The CRC’s Ethics and Elections Committee OK’d the measure (P7) by a 6-2 vote. 

“If successful, Smith and Joyner’s proposal would bring Florida in line with most of the states in the nation that already allow for automatic restoration of rights following completion of felons’ sentences and repayments of any outstanding fines,” a press release from the Florida Senate Democratic Office said. 

The proposal is backed by commission members Arthenia Joyner of Tampa and Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, both former Senate Democratic Leaders.

“Currently, anyone convicted of a felony is required to wait at least five years, and then appeal to the governor and Cabinet to regain their rights, a cumbersome process that was begun shortly after Gov. Rick Scott began his first term of office,” it added. “His predecessor, former Gov. Charlie Crist had been the first governor to allow automatic restoration of ex-felons’ rights, with the exception of violent offenders, ending a practice many saw as a continuation of the Jim Crow era.

“Since ending Crist’s automatic restoration of rights, the waiting list of Floridians seeking restoration of their rights has reportedly grown to more than 20,000. That number is part of the more than 1.6 million residents of the Sunshine State disenfranchised as a result of prior convictions, more than a quarter of the total nationwide. Only Iowa and Kentucky join Florida in banning former felons from voting.

“If the full CRC signs off on the measure, the proposal next moves to the voters for approval on the November 2018 ballot, and 60 percent are required to add automatic restoration to the state Constitution.” It has one more committee stop before it comes before the full commission for consideration.

A separate but similar constitutional amendment, backed by a citizen initiative, is called the “The Voting Restoration Amendment.” It now has 750,723 valid signatures toward the required 766,200 needed for ballot placement. 

Judge could give early win to companies over insurance law

A Tallahassee judge now will consider whether life insurance companies are in the right over a 2016 law requiring them to track down beneficiaries.

After hearing argument Wednesday, Circuit Judge Terry Lewis said he would rule on the companies’ motion for summary judgment “fairly soon.” Such motions allow parties to win a case without a trial.

The plaintiffs — United Insurance Co. of America, Reliable Life Insurance Co., Mutual Savings Life Insurance Co. and Reserve National Insurance Co. — write policies in Florida.

They sued the state over the law, which makes them check which policyholders have died back to 1992, then track down any beneficiaries. If beneficiaries can’t be found, insurance proceeds must be turned over to the state as unclaimed property.

The bill was a priority of former Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and featured on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” It passed both chambers of the Legislature unanimously and was signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

The companies say the law’s retroactivity is unfair, making them have to sift through potentially millions of old death records to find beneficiaries. That’s too burdensome, they’ve said, especially when the law prohibits them from passing along their search costs to insureds or beneficiaries.

Insurance companies’ attorney Carol Lynn Thompson argued the law is unconstitutional because it imposed a “substantive new duty,” with Lewis at least agreeing it was “onerous.”

But Andy Bardos, a GrayRobinson lawyer representing Atwater’s successor, state CFO Jimmy Patronis, noted that searching for beneficiaries was something companies were always supposed to do: “People should be paid.”

At a previous hearing, however, whether insurance companies had that duty under previous law was undecided. Still, Bardos—a former special counsel to the Florida Senate—added that unpaid life insurance policies are by nature “uncompleted transactions.”

The law itself says its changes are “remedial in nature and apply retroactively.” It adds that “fines, penalties, or additional interest” related to non-payment of any unclaimed policies are waived till May 1, 2021.

New Philip Levine TV ad focuses on off-shore drilling threat

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine is launching a new television commercial throughout Florida today accusing Gov. Rick Scott of denying climate change and vowing that any threat of oil drilling off Florida’s coast  “is going to stop” if Levine is elected governor.

The 30-second ad “Denial” is backed by a $375,000 broadcast and cable TV ad buy for the next two weeks in all ten Florida media markets. It’s the third television commercial launched by the Levine campaign, the first to go statewide, and the first to be explicitly about a public policy issue. His first ads were introductory.

It’s also the first statewide television commercial by any 2018 candidate.

In Denial, Levine seeks to lump President Donald Trump, Scott, the oil industry, climate change denial, and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon/BP Oil disaster all into one issue. It begins with scenes of the Deepwater Horizon/BP Oil spill off the coast of Louisiana which brought oil onto Florida Panhandle beaches, and dragged down Florida’s entire tourism economy for a year.

The ad implicitly builds on the announcement two weeks ago by the Trump administration that it intends to open up off-shore oil exploration throughout the country, including off Florida’s coast, when current federal moratoriums end. It does not explicitly address the announcement by Scott that he talked U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke into leaving out Florida, though the Levine campaign argues in a news release that assurance has very little practical value. The ad also does not address that Levine’s Democratic gubernatorial primary opponents, Chris King, Gwen Graham, and Andrew Gillum, all are as adamant as he about preventing any future drilling off Florida’s coast.

Nor does it explicitly claim that Scott, or leading Republican gubernatorial candidates Adam Putnam or Ron DeSantis, ever supported off-shore drilling along Florida. Yet it paints a picture bringing together environmental disaster with the denials of climate change by leading Republicans, starting with Trump and Scott.

In announcing the ad Wednesday morning, the Levine campaign cited a POLITICO story that reported that many members of Congress, including the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Utah Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, “acknowledge that there are no ‘long-term assurances’ [from Secretary Zinke] that plans to drill off the coast would not return.” Others have said the same thing.

“The BP oil spill was one of the worst environmental disasters in history,” the ad begins.

“Now we have a governor who denies climate change, a president who denies everything, and a Congress that may start allowing drilling,” Levine declares as he walks along a beach. “When I’m governor, the threat of drilling is gonna stop.”

Six finalists picked for open Tallahassee judgeship

Two veteran prosecutors are among the six finalists that Gov. Rick Scott will choose from to fill an open judicial seat for the Tallahassee region.

The Second Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC), after interviewing 12 applicants Tuesday, now sends their list to Scott. He has 60 days to make a decision.

The finalists, according to JNC chair Christi Gray, are:

Georgia Cappleman, an assistant state attorney in Tallahassee.

Eddie Evans, an assistant state attorney in Tallahassee.

Cedell Garland, a senior assistant attorney general.

Joseph Jones, a partner in Berger Singerman’s Tallahassee office.

James Marsh, chief of corrections litigation for the Attorney General’s Office.

Amanda Wall, administrative magistrate for the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

Among those not making the cut are Alan Abramowitz, executive director of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Office. This was his third application for a judgeship.

The other unsuccessful applicants are Russell Kent, special counsel for litigation at the Attorney General’s Office; Acelo “Ace” Pedroso, magistrate for the 2nd Judicial Circuit; Jacqueline Smith, child support hearing officer for the 2nd Judicial Circuit; Donna Christine Thurman, a family law attorney in Tallahassee; and Zachary R. White, an attorney in private practice in Tallahassee.

The opening was created by the retirement of Circuit Judge Charles Francis. Francis, first appointed to the bench in 1999, will step down from judicial office on March 31.

The 2nd Judicial Circuit, headquartered in Tallahassee, covers Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties in north Florida.

Gwen Graham charges that receiving phone calls means Rick Scott should have acted on Hollywood Hills

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham alleged Friday that Gov. Rick Scott and his office could be partly to blame for the 14 heat deaths at a Hollywood Hills nursing home following Hurricane Irma after the Associated Press reported the facility called him three times seeking help.

The Governor’s Office quickly shot back, insisting that nursing home officials never advised that there were any dangerous conditions there, and that, nonetheless, state officials advised them that they should call 911 if any concern for the residents’ health did arise. And that never happened until later, when people started dying.

“Today’s report from the Associated Press makes it clear that 14 Floridians may have died and nursing home patients across the state were put at risk because of the Scott administration’s complete incompetence and neglect,” Graham stated in a written statement issued Friday afternoon by her campaign.

“There is no question the Hollywood Hills nursing home should have evacuated their residents as soon as the temperatures began to rise — but there is also no doubt the Governor’s Office or Rick Scott himself should have called 911 or ordered a wellness check as soon as concerns were raised,” she added. “He promised to take action and failed to follow through. The buck stops at the governor’s desk.”

Scott, the Republican whose final term ends this year and who is contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate, was in no way to blame for fatal neglect in the South Florida nursing home when not even the administrators in the home seemed all that concerned, his office replied.

“At no point in time did this facility report that lives were in jeopardy or that conditions had become dangerous,” Scott’s press secretary Lauren Schenone replied in a written statement later Friday. “State officials told this facility to dial 911 if they had any reason to believe their patients were in danger, something every healthcare professional knows to do. The governor looks forward to the findings of this homicide investigation and continues to demand answers as to why this facility didn’t take the necessary steps to keep their patients safe.”

Hollywood city police are investigating the deaths as homicides cases.

Graham, a former congresswoman from Tallahassee, faces former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Winter Park businessman Chris King in the quest for the Democratic primary nomination to run seek to succeed Scott. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis are the leading Republican candidates.

The exchange between Graham’s campaign and Scott’s office was keyed by this week’s release of public records.

Prior to Irma’s Sept. 10-11 assault on Florida, Scott had given out his cell phone number to nursing home administrators and urged them to call him directly if they needed his help. In the days following the hurricane, The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, like much of Florida had lost power and air conditioning, and heat increased inside. Fourteen residents died, apparently the result of hyperthermia.

Did Scott and his administration have any cause to think something was going very wrong there? Graham’s campaign in particular pursued that question with records requests, and on Monday the governor’s office released records of Scott’s cell phone.

The Associated Press, which received copies of those records, reported Scott’s cell phone got 120 calls from nursing homes and assisted living facilities, including three from The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills. The AP reported that Scott’s office said it responded to those calls. The AP also reported that Geoffrey D. Smith, an attorney for the center, suggested the the center’s administrators there may have been given false hope.

In a written statement, Smith told the Associated Press that the nursing home administrators who called Scott’s cell phone “felt assured that he would take decisive action to be sure that power was promptly restored for the AC when this was reported. It is difficult to know in hindsight what may have occurred differently if the governor had advised that he would not take any action. But the facility administrators would not have been instilled with the false hope that help was on the way.”

Schenone contended there was never any point when Hollywood Hills administrators suggested to state officials there was any danger. Nor did the home’s administrators show they felt anything was perilously by calling 911 themselves, or send anyone to the hospital right across the street, until the first deaths occurred on  Sept. 13. The others died after they were taken to the hospital.

Schenone told the AP that each Hollywood Hills call was returned and administrators said they had enough portable fans and coolers.

“No amount of finger pointing… will hide the fact that this health care facility failed to do their basic duty to protect life,” Schenone wrote in an email to the AP. “This facility is failing to take responsibility for the fact that they delayed calling 911 and made the decision to not evacuate their patients.”

The AP reported that most of the phone calls to Scott’s cell phone went to voice mail, and that Scott’s office responded later. There were no cell phone voice mails released. Graham’s campaign said they were told the voice mails had been deleted, though the campaign is seeking to see if they can be recovered.

Graham’s campaign contended that Scott’s office appeared to be hiding something, because it fought to keep the cell phone records secret, and that the campaign “had to fight tooth and nail” to obtain them, an effort that ended Monday with Graham signing a $1,200 check to pay for public record research expenses by the governor’s office.

“They have exposed how the governor’s office botched the response — but we still do not have the actual voicemails that were left and I will continue fighting for them until they are made public,” Graham stated in the news release.

Florida Chamber poll puts Adam Putnam, Gwen Graham out front, with lots undecided

A new statewide poll conducted by the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Florida Chamber Political Institute finds Floridians comfortable that the state is headed in the right direction and give Gov. Rick Scott some of his highest approval ratings, with usual splits on those opinions between Republicans and Democrats.

The poll finds Republican Adam Putnam and Democrat Gwen Graham are leading their parties’ gubernatorial races, though half or more of the likely voters surveyed in each party have not made up their minds.

The Florida Chamber Political Institute also found voters are most concerned about education, followed by the economy and health care, but really aren’t all that concerned about issues involving guns, terrorism, or marijuana.

The poll sets the table for 2018 elections, which also will likely include numerous proposed constitutional amendments. The first two teed up, involving homestead exemptions and property taxes, already are over or close to the 60 percent approval thresholds needed to be approved, the poll found.

“Voters will elect a new governor, all new members of the Florida Cabinet and 140 members to the Florida House and Senate. It’s still very early in what will be a busy 2018 election cycle. In the coming months, voters will begin to take a much closer look at the candidates for office,” Marian Johnson, senior vice president for political operations for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, stated in a news release.

In the institute’s first statewide poll of the new year:

– 56 percent of likely voters believe Florida is headed in the right direction. Republicans are especially optimistic at 76 percent, while more than half of voters with no party affiliations [56 percent] believe Florida is moving in the right direction. Less than half of Democrats [34 percent] believe Florida is headed in the right direction.

– 57 percent of all registered voters approve of Scott’s job performance. Republicans approve by 82 percent, while 30 percent of Democrats, and 56 percent of NPA voters approve.

– Among Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Graham leads with 14 percent, however 64 percent of voters remain undecided. Philip Levine garners 7 percent; Andrew Gillum, 6 percent; and Chris King, just 1 percent.

– On the Republican side, Putnam gets 23 percent and Ron DeSantis 18 percent, with 50 percent undecided.

Among issues that matter most to voters, education ahead with 17 percent; jobs and economy drew 13 percent; health care, 12 percent; immigration, 5 percent; and global warming, 5 percent. Guns, terrorism and marijuana barely registered, the institute reported.

Amendment 1, calling for increasing the homestead exemption, got 61 percent overall, with the spread from Democrats, NPA voters and Republicans fairly tight, from 52 to 69 percent. Amendment 2, making permanent a cap annual non-homeastead property tax increases, has 54 percent overall support, with the party spread ranging from 60 to 58 percent.

The poll also found trends showing the greater potency of independent voters: 42 percent of all new voters in the past year registered without a party affiliation, while Democrats and Republicans each captured 27 percent of new voters. Among new Hispanic voters, 54 percent signed up without a party, 32 percent registered as Democrats, and 14 percent as Republicans.

Regulate this: Panel moves on filling open PSC seat

A state nominating panel has set Jan. 18 for picking the “most qualified” applicants to fill a vacancy on the Florida Public Service Commission

Then, on Jan. 25, the Public Service Commission Nominating Council will do interviews, and make a final selection.

Gov. Rick Scott had picked former Rep. Ritch Workman to replace Ronald Brisé on the panel, which regulates investor-owned utilities.

But Workman, a Melbourne Republican, bowed out after a sexual misconduct allegation.

The initial applicants were Rich Glorioso, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who served in the House 2004-12, and Baldwyn English, who had been Brisé’s chief advisor for the last seven years.

Applications received this week by the council are from:

— Robert Bennett of Pensacola, a former “green energy” executive;

— Erik Sayler of Tallahassee, the state’s associate public counsel;

— Eric Saidel, a Tampa-based plaintiffs’ attorney and consumer advocate; and

— David Walsh of Winter Springs, an investment advisor and University of Central Florida trustee.

The full-time PSC position, based in Tallahassee, pays $132,036 a year. Scott’s pick must get Senate approval. The deadline to apply is this Friday, Jan. 12.

Interviews set for open Tallahassee judgeship

A panel that vets applicants for judgeships has set interviews to fill a vacancy on the 2nd Judicial Circuit in north Florida.

The circuit’s Judicial Nominating Commission will meet at 9 a.m. on Jan. 16, at the Leon County Court House Annex, 1920 Thomasville Road, Room 213, Tallahassee.

Commissioners will interview the following applicants for the opening, created by the retirement of Circuit Judge Charles Francis:

9:00 a.m. – Alan Abramowitz, executive director of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Office.

9:20 a.m. – Georgia Cappleman, an assistant state attorney in Tallahassee.

9:40 a.m. – Eddie Evans, an assistant state attorney in Tallahassee.

10:00 a.m. – Cedell Garland, a senior assistant attorney general.

10:20 a.m. – Joseph Jones, a partner in Berger Singerman’s Tallahassee office.

10:40 a.m. – Russell Kent, special counsel for litigation at the Attorney General’s Office.

11:20 a.m. – James Marsh, chief of corrections litigation for the Attorney General’s Office.

11:40 a.m. – Acelo “Ace” Pedroso, magistrate for the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

12 noon – Jacqueline Smith, child support hearing officer for the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

12:20 – Donna Christine Thurman, a family law attorney in Tallahassee.

12:40 – Amanda Wall, administrative magistrate for the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

1 p.m. – Zachary R. White, an attorney in private practice in Tallahassee.

The 2nd Judicial Circuit, headquartered in Tallahassee, covers Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties in north Florida.

Francis, first appointed to the bench in 1999, will step down from judicial office on March 31. The JNC will recommend 3-6 names to Gov. Rick Scott, who makes the final selection.

Richard Corcoran: ‘Reasonably-sized’ flowers only, please

It’s not uncommon for the House floor to look like a veritable florist’s shop on the first day of a legislative session.

But now, Speaker Richard Corcoran is telling members to cool it on displays of blooms and topiary. The 2018 Legislative Session begins next Tuesday.

Corcoran

“Only reasonably-sized floral arrangements and live plants will be approved for distribution in the House Chamber for Opening Session,” the Land O’ Lakes Republican said in a recent memo.

“All Member-to-Member gifts other than floral arrangements and plants should be delivered to Members’ offices,” he added.  “These policies are in place to protect the security and decorum of the House.”

Violating floor decorum is a peeve of the Speaker’s.

During the 2017 Session, he reminded members of the House’s “unwritten rule”: No taking smartphone videos of fellow members on the floor.

“It wasn’t aimed at anybody” in particular, he said at a media availability, “but over the last five or six times on the floor, I’ve just noticed (it) … Until you have a member’s permission, videoing them or taking a picture of them on the floor with a cellphone is not appropriate … You can have issues of civility if those things aren’t watched.”

Oliva

A month before that, Rules Chair Jose Oliva told Women’s Legislative Caucus members wearing purple Tshirts with the slogan, “A Woman’s Place is in the House and the Senate,” to take the Tshirts off or turn them inside out.

The reason: They violated House decorum.

The Legislature will convene in joint session at 11 a.m. Jan. 9 to hear Gov. Rick Scott deliver his final State of the State Address. The Naples Republican, who may challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for his seat, is term-limited this year.

Before the State of the State, the House hosts a “Members & Families Breakfast” 7:30-9:30 a.m. in the House Dining Room in the Capitol. 

Flags at half-staff for Broward County deputy

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered flags at half-staff this Sunday in honor of Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael David Ryan.

The Governor’s Office made the announcement Friday evening.

Ryan, 58, died on New Year’s Eve after almost 14 years of service with the sheriff’s office, a news release said.

He had “collapsed during an encounter with a jail visitor” on Dec. 15, according to a Sun-Sentinel story. There was no physical contact between them, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman told the paper, but he never recovered.

Scott directed U.S. and state flags to be flown at half-staff at the Broward County Courthouse, Davie City Hall and the Central Broward Sheriff’s District Office in Fort Lauderdale, sunrise to sunset on Sunday, Jan. 7.

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