Gov. Rick Scott Archives - Florida Politics

It’s official: Pete Antonacci hired as Enterprise Florida CEO

Without surprise or intrigue, the full board of Enterprise Florida (EFI) on Monday hired lawyer and Gov. Rick Scott loyalist Pete Antonacci to be its next leader.

The former lobbyist had been recommended as the new CEO by the jobs-recruiting agency’s executive committee during a conference call last week. Scott chairs the EFI board of directors as governor.

In another 15-minute conference call, plagued by static and audio distortions, the board voted unanimously to hire Antonacci, who will be paid $165,000 a year (all in private funds) and will start Aug. 2. State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, also appointed by Scott, made the motion to hire Antonacci.

Antonacci was formerly Scott’s general counsel and was most recently head of the South Florida Water Management District, where he “advised scientists to stay in their lane rather than criticize his water agency’s work on Everglades restoration,” the Tampa Bay Times reported last week.

He was also Scott’s personal pick to run the water district after his predecessor was forced out.

Antonacci, 68, “has no prior experience at recruiting businesses, just as he had no prior experience at running a water agency overseeing flood control and the Everglades restoration project before Scott tapped him for that job,” the Times added.

But EFI vice chair Stan Connally, president and CEO of Gulf Power Co., said Antonacci’s work experience has caused him to “touch virtually every corner of the state,” making him a “fantastic candidate.”

“He’s a quick study and knows our state and how to sell our state,” he said. “He has an energy and passion to move quickly.”

Scott praised Antonacci, saying he “builds good relationships” and did a “really good job” at the water district.

He replaces Chris Hart IV, a former state representative and head of CareerSource Florida, who stepped down this March after less than three months as Enterprise Florida CEO, citing a lack of “common vision” with Scott. Hart is now Executive Vice President of Florida TaxWatch.

Mike Grissom has been interim CEO. The agency’s head also carries the title of Florida’s Secretary of Commerce.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran tried to scuttle the organization and a multitude of its business incentives this Legislative Session, saying EFI was little more than a dispenser of “corporate welfare.” Though a public-private partnership, it doles out mostly public dollars.

Scott supports EFI, saying it helps bring companies and their jobs to the state. Scott and lawmakers eventually worked out a deal to save the agency this year by creating an $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, focused on promoting public infrastructure and job training. 

Bill Johnson, the agency’s leader before Hart, had taken hits over his people skills as a proposed $250 million incentives fund crashed and burned during the 2016 Legislative Session. Johnson also was questioned over his hiring and office expenses.

Antonacci has been in a plethora of government jobs, including as an assistant prosecutor in Tallahassee, a special assistant federal prosecutor, Florida’s statewide prosecutor and the chief deputy to former Attorney General Bob Butterworth.

Butterworth did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

In 2012, Scott made Antonacci acting state attorney in Palm Beach County for the rest of the term of Michael McAuliffe, who quit for a job in private practice. Antonacci also was a member of the state ethics commission in 2001-05.

docs vs. Glocks

Florida will pay $1M in legal fees over ‘docs vs. Glocks’

Gov. Rick Scott approved a deal to pay $1.1 million in legal fees to groups that “successfully challenged an NRA-backed Florida law that prevented doctors from talking to their patients about the risks of guns in the home,” according to a Sunday news release from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

One of the law firms, Ropes & Gray, “announced it would donate $100,000 of its fee award to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, enabling the center to expand its initiatives to protect children from the risks posed by guns,” the release said.

Florida officials last month declined to appeal a federal ruling striking down the so-called “docs versus Glocks” law. In 2011, Florida lawmakers passed a bill which prevents doctors from asking patients about guns. Since then, a federal court invalidated several parts of the law.

The National Rifle Association supported the “gag law,” which put several restrictions on doctors and other health care professionals.

Florida had to pay the attorneys’ fees because “the law was found to violate constitutional rights,” the release said.

“Florida taxpayers just paid $1.1 million because of the gun industry’s unconstitutional, anti-truth agenda designed to increase gun sales at any cost — including children’s lives,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Center, in a statement.

“Physicians have a critical role to play in preventing these deaths by talking to patients about the true dangers of guns in the home, and we will not allow their voices to be silenced by the gun industry,” he added. “This award is a message to states to think twice before enacting or defending laws that put lives at risk just to boost the gun industry’s bottom line.”

Gwen Graham vows to help more Floridians receive care after free clinic ‘workday’

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Congresswoman Gwen Graham did one of her campaign “work days” at a Seminole County free clinic Wednesday and came away pledging to “help more Floridians receive care” if elected.

Graham volunteered as a health care navigator for at Shepherd’s Hope and spent her shift helping patients determine if they were eligible for clinic services. She also shadowed a patient from through the entire clinic experience, from intake to discharge.

“Working at Shepherd’s Hope was an eye-opening experience. I am heartbroken by how many Floridians depend on the clinic as a safety net for care, but inspired by the doctors and volunteers who give their time to help those in need. They provide care to people from all walks of life, from veterans to working families, and provide an invaluable service to our state,” Graham said in a news release.

After the work day — a campaign staple for both her and her father, Bob Graham — she also condemned Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature for not expanding Medicaid, which she said: “literally cost Floridians their lives.”

“I don’t know how you could visit a clinic like Shepherd’s Hope and not want to expand coverage,” Graham said. “As governor, I will help more Floridians receive care.”

Shepherd’s Hope serves uninsured patients with an income at or below 200% of the poverty level. In 2016, the clinic saw more than 17,000 patients.

After thanking Graham for her visit, Shepherd’s Hope CEO Marni F. Stahlman also blamed Florida’s lack of Medicaid expansion for many “preventable and predictable” deaths and extended an invitation to all Florida elected officials to visit the clinic.

Medical marijuana grower wants in on challenge to pot law

A medical marijuana nursery is asking a Tallahassee judge to allow it to step in on a case over the state’s new law governing the drug.

Canadian-based DFMMJ Investments, which inked a deal to take over operations of Chestnut Hill Tree Farm, filed a “motion to intervene” earlier this week with Circuit Judge Karen Gievers.

Sarasota’s TropiFlora is asking the courts to delay the issuance of one of 10 “medical marijuana treatment center” (MMTC) licenses. The nursery has said the department “wrongfully refused” to consider its license application.

When the state’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use in the Department of Health approves the transfer of Chestnut Hill’s growing and operating license to DFMMJ, it will then “take over full ownership,” its filing explains.

DFMMJ is partly owned by Aphria, a Canadian “producer of medical cannabis products,” according to its website.

The company, represented by Tallahassee’s Lockwood Law Firm, is concerned that “any proposed stay, however limited, may interfere with the pending transfer” of the license.

Dockets show Gievers has not yet acted on the motion or the requested stay.

Tropiflora’s attorney, Brian O. Finnerty of Tallahassee, said in an email that “entities such as TropiFlora, that previously applied for but were denied a medical marijuana license, take precedence over new entities that are applying for a MMTC license for the first time.”

Further, he said it’s clear “that the Department of Health has not taken any steps to effectuate the new law as it relates to implementing an application process for the new MMTC licenses. (That) further supports the fact that TropiFlora’s request for a stay of only one MMTC license can in no way act to delay enforcement of part of the new implementing law.”

The new state law grandfathers in seven existing providers, renames them “medical marijuana treatment centers” (MMTCs) and requires the Department of Health to license 10 new providers by October. The bill also allows four new MMTCs for every increase of 100,000 patients prescribed marijuana.

It limits the number of retail locations each MMTC can open to 25 across the state, and divides that cap by region. As the patient count goes up, five more locations can be opened per provider for every new 100,000 patients in the state’s Medical Marijuana Use Registry. The limits expire in 2020.

In late 2015, Tropiflora was one of the first three nurseries to move against the state over the licensing of growers of medical marijuana. San Felasco Nurseries of Gainesville and Perkins Nursery of LaBelle also filed protests.

At that time, only five licenses were awarded to grow medicinal pot, to Chestnut Hill  for the state’s northeast region, Hackney Nursery Co. (northwest region),  Knox Nursery (central), Alpha Foliage (southwest), and Costa Nursery Farms (southeast).

TropiFlora objected because four of the five licenses went to nurseries that also sat on the department’s “negotiated rulemaking” committee.

In 2014, lawmakers passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a measure legalizing low-THC, or “non-euphoric,” marijuana to help children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. THC is the chemical that causes the high from pot.

A three-member panel of state officials in DOH was tasked with selecting five approved pot providers out of 28 nurseries that turned in applications.

Since then, state voters approved a constitutional amendment on medicinal cannabis last year. Lawmakers approved and Scott also signed an implementing bill, passed during a recent Special Session. It gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

Rick Scott asks Supreme Court to toss out lawsuit over justices

Gov. Rick Scott is asking the state’s top court to throw out a lawsuit that aims to stop the Republican governor from appointing three Supreme Court justices on his last day in office.

Attorneys for Scott on Wednesday filed a response to a lawsuit filed last month by the League of Women Voters of Florida and government watchdog Common Cause.

The filing with the Supreme Court of Florida asserts the lawsuit should be rejected because it deals with something that may or may not happen in 2019.

Age limits could force three justices to retire on the day Scott leaves office in January 2019. Scott has said he plans to name their replacements that same morning.

The decision could change the ideological balance of the court for decades.

The governor’s filing is here. Previous coverage is here.

(Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press.)

Tom Goodson, others apply for Public Service Commission

State Rep. Tom Goodson, a Brevard County Republican, is among 14 applicants so far for vacancies on the state’s Public Service Commission, according to a preliminary list released Monday.

The terms of Commissioners Art Graham and Ronald Brisé are up at the end of the year, but both men have reapplied for their positions. They were last reappointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2013.

Applications for those two spots are due by 5 p.m. Tuesday. Applications for a third PSC opening, created when Commissioner Jimmy Patronis stepped down to replace Jeff Atwater as the state’s CFO, aren’t due till July 28.

The commission regulates the state’s biggest investor-owned electric utilities, including Tampa Electric Co., as well as natural gas, water and sewer utilities, and reviews and approves proposed rate increases.

Goodson, first elected to the House in 2010, chairs the Agriculture and Property Rights subcommittee. He’s a “road contractor” by trade, according to his House member page

Other applicants include:

— Former state Rep. Kenneth Littlefield, a Pasco County Republican who once chaired the House Utilities & Telecommunications Committee. Littlefield is a former PSC member, having been put on the commission by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2006. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist replaced him the following year.

— Associate Public Counsel Erik Sayler. The Office of Public Counsel represents the interests of ratepayers before the commission.

Steven Petty, an adjunct economics professor at Flagler College and former chief economist for Florida TaxWatch.

Bill Veach, deputy county manager of Lake County.

Clay Lindstrom, who until recently was director of the Fort Pierce Utilities Authority. Lindstrom was fired last week after a controversy over businesses not paying utility deposits.

Jim Overton, former Jacksonville City Council member and Duval County Property Appraiser.

— Bill Conrad, former mayor of Newberry in Alachua County.

The applications go to the Public Service Commission Nominating Council, which is responsible for “screening and nominating applicants.” Commissioners are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Florida Senate. The pay is $131,036 per year.

CFO’s office largely loses fight to get info from insurance companies

A Tallahassee judge sided with life insurance companies Monday, restricting preliminary information-gathering by the state in defense of a new law requiring insurers to track down beneficiaries.

The outside lawyer for the Department of Financial Services, which advocated for the measure, said he plans to appeal the decision that allows only limited discovery.

Judge Terry Lewis. Photo: Steve Cannon/AP.

“We believe, respectfully, that what you’ve done has gutted the case,” said GrayRobinson attorney George Meros, representing CFO Jimmy Patronis, to Circuit Judge Terry Lewis. “You’ve absolved them of their responsibility.”

A group of companies sued the state over the law, passed last year, that makes them check annually which policyholders have died, then track down any beneficiaries.

If beneficiaries can’t be found, the insurance proceeds must be turned over to the state as unclaimed property.

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

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’re challenging the law’s retroactivity as unfair, saying having to track down millions of old death records to find beneficiaries is too burdensome, especially when the law prohibits them from passing along their costs to insureds or beneficiaries.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys Carol Lynn Thompson and Barry Richard suggested the law was “facially unconstitutional” because it wrongfully imposes a duty on insurers that they didn’t have in the past.

Meros countered that was exactly the point, that the law requires insurance companies to do something they should have been doing all along: Making sure people entitled to life insurance proceeds get paid.

Whether insurance companies had such a duty under previous law remains to be decided.

Still, Meros told Lewis the law’s aim is “remedy prior wrongs.”

“There were obligations that existed and were not fulfilled,” he said.

But the judge—a 28-year veteran of the bench—wasn’t buying the department’s need for depositions of company employees to prove the law’s constitutionality on its face: “I just don’t see it … It just doesn’t make logical sense to me.”

CFO’s office back in court over insurance benefits case

Life insurers will be in court Monday in their lawsuit against the Department of Financial Services over a law requiring them to track down insurance beneficiaries.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis is set to hear argument in the Leon County Courthouse about their request to cancel planned depositions of their employees, which they call “burdensome, harassing and irrelevant.”

The department has countered it needs the testimony to show that the statute in question “responds to serious and widespread wrongs” because the companies “ignored their obligations under prior law.”

The law, which is retroactive, requires life insurance companies to check every year on which policyholders have died, then they must track down the beneficiaries. The measure, passed last year, was a priority of former Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and was featured on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

If beneficiaries can’t be found, the insurance proceeds must be turned over to the state as unclaimed property. The bill passed both chambers of the Legislature unanimously and was signed by Gov. Rick Scott. 

The plaintiffs — United Insurance Co. of America, Reliable Life Insurance Co., Mutual Savings Life Insurance Co. and Reserve National Insurance Co. — say the law’s retroactivity is unfair. They write policies in Florida.

Having to annually track down millions of death records to find beneficiaries is too burdensome, they have said in court filings, especially when the law prohibits them from passing along their costs to insureds or beneficiaries.

The plaintiffs are represented by Tallahassee attorney Barry Richard of the Greenberg Traurig law firm; George Meros of GrayRobinson is on the case as outside counsel for the department, now led by new CFO Jimmy Patronis.


Constitutional review panel announces committee assignments

The state’s Constitution Revision Commission announced committee assignments, consisting of “10 standing substantive committees and two standing procedural committees,” it said in a Friday news release.

“Establishing committees for the CRC means we can move forward on developing proposals that will benefit Florida families, businesses and students,” Chairman Carlos Beruff said in a statement.

“Each commissioner brings a unique set of talents and experience to this process,” he added. “Committee assignments are based on preferences expressed by individual commissioners while also ensuring each committee consists of a group with diverse backgrounds and complementary strengths.”

The commission, which already has held several public hearings, is empaneled every 20 years to go over the state constitution and suggest amendments that go directly on a statewide ballot. Voters still must OK any changes with 60 percent approval.

Here are the standing substantive committees:

Bonding and Investments (Article VII): Chair, Chris Smith, Vice Chair, Jose “Pepe” Armas; Don Gaetz, Frank Kruppenbacher, Rich Newsome, Darryl Rouson, Bob Solari. 

Declaration of Rights (Article I): Chair, Lisa Carlton, Vice Chair, John Stemberger; Erika Donalds, Emery Gainey, Marva Johnson, Arthenia Joyner, Gary Lester. 

Education (Article IX): Chair, Marva Johnson, Vice Chair, Nicole Washington; Erika Donalds, Tom Grady, Darlene Jordan, Belinda Keiser, Patricia Levesque, Chris Sprowls, Pam Stewart.

Ethics and Elections (Article VI, part of Article II): Chair, Hank Coxe, Vice Chair, Frank Kruppenbacher; Don Gaetz, Brecht Heuchan, Arthenia Joyner, Rich Newsome, Sherry Plymale, Bill Schifino, Chris Smith.

Executive (Article IV): Chair, Darlene Jordan, Vice Chair, Chris Sprowls; Pam Bondi, Jose Felix Diaz, Don Gaetz, Belinda Keiser, Chris Nocco, Pam Stewart, Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch.

Finance and Taxation (Article VII): Chair, Fred Karlinsky, Vice Chair, Tom Grady; Jose “Pepe” Armas, Jeanette Nuñez, Darryl Rouson, Chris Smith, Nicole Washington.

General Provisions (Articles II, X, XI, and XII): Chair, Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, Vice Chair, Emery Gainey; Brecht Heuchan, Fred Karlinsky, Gary Lester, Jeanette Nuñez, Sherry Plymale.

Judicial (Article V): Chair, Bill Schifino, Vice Chair, Anna Marie Hernandez Gamez; Pam Bondi, Tim Cerio, Hank Coxe, Arthenia Joyner, Tom Lee, Roberto Martinez, Carolyn Timmann.

Legislative (Article III): Chair, Jose Felix Diaz, Vice Chair, Belinda Keiser; Jose “Pepe” Armas, Lisa Carlton, Tom Lee, Patricia Levesque, Darryl Rouson.

Local Government (Article VIII): Chair, Erika Donalds, Vice Chair, Chris Nocco; Emery Gainey, Bob Solari, John Stemberger, Carolyn Timmann, Nicole Washington.

Here are the standing procedural committees:

Rules and Administration: Chair, Tim Cerio, Vice Chair, Sherry Plymale; Lisa Carlton, Hank Coxe, Jose Felix Diaz, Erika Donalds, Marva Johnson, Fred Karlinsky, Carolyn Timmann.

Style and Drafting: Chair, Brecht Heuchan, Vice Chair, Carolyn Timmann; Tim Cerio, Anna Marie Hernandez Gamez, Tom Grady, Darlene Jordan, Frank Kruppenbacher, Gary Lester, Roberto Martinez, Jeanette Nuñez, Chris Sprowls.

Grady, an attorney and former state representative, was named Thursday by Gov. Rick Scott to take the place of Jimmy Patronis on the commission. Patronis stepped down from his seat there and on the Public Service Commission to become the state’s new Chief Financial Officer.

Rick Scott: DC needs to start rewarding efficiency, not inefficiency

Ed. Note: Gov. Rick Scott‘s office sent the following op-ed regarding “the national healthcare debate.”

I recently traveled to D.C. to fight for Florida as the U.S. Senate debated repealing and replacing Obamacare. For far too long, D.C. politicians have focused only on the grand bargain of repealing and replacing Obamacare, ignoring the opportunity to make incremental changes to get rid of the taxes and mandates and roll back the federal welfare state. 

For decades, the federal government has been willing to spend more than it takes in. We all know this is not sustainable, leaving debt for our children and grandchildren – more than $19 trillion in debt and counting. The inaction we’ve seen on repealing Obamacare shows that hasn’t changed.

Throughout this healthcare debate, a lot of people have been advocating for bigger government, and not a lot of people have been advocating for taxpayers. I will always advocate for Florida’s hardworking taxpayers.

While a new bill has been introduced this week, it has taken far too long to get rid of the disaster of Obamacare, and I fear the politicians in Washington will never find common ground on this critical topic. There is absolutely no question that Obamacare must be repealed immediately so Americans can actually afford to purchase health insurance.

To lower costs, fundamental reform to the Medicaid program is needed. Obamacare encouraged a massive expansion of Medicaid to cover able-bodied, working-aged adults, even as 600,000 elderly Americans and individuals with disabilities nationwide sit on waiting lists to access services through this program.  

States like Florida that have run increasingly efficient Medicaid programs, and have not expanded Medicaid, must be rewarded and treated fairly under any bill. What’s concerning is that under the most recently proposed Senate bill, tax and spend states like New York will continue to be rewarded for running an inefficient Medicaid program.

Long before the Obamacare debate, New York ran a terribly inefficient Medicaid program for decades which ran up their state’s deficit and hindered their economy. Florida is the exact opposite. We have been efficient with our dollars while providing quality care to those who truly need Medicaid. 

As a reward for its fiscal irresponsibility, for every dollar New York pays in federal income taxes, they receive a quarter back from the federal government for Medicaid. In comparison, Florida only receives 16 cents for every tax dollar that is sent to Washington. Current Congressional bills lock in past federal spending, which would make this inequity permanent.

That makes absolutely no sense. If Florida is going to get a smaller rate of return on its federal taxes, shouldn’t our federal taxes be cut? New York, with fewer residents than Florida, receives more than $33 billion per year for Medicaid while Florida receives less than $15 billion.

How is permanently locking in these spending levels fair to Floridians when New York has been terribly inefficient with their taxpayers’ dollars? The federal government should cut income taxes for Floridians by 30 percent. This would put our share of federal Medicaid funding as a percentage of taxes paid on par with New York. This reduction would save Floridians thousands each year.

The federal government must start rewarding efficient states like Florida and stop rewarding inefficient states. Our taxpayers deserve nothing less. 

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