Gov. Rick Scott Archives - Page 2 of 70 - Florida Politics

Noah Valenstein set to become next DEP head

Updated May 17 — Valenstein was the only person selected to be interviewed for the job, according to remarks at Wednesday’s Cabinet aides meeting. That means he is a virtual lock for the position. Shut out by the decision is interim secretary Ryan Matthews. The interview will take place at next Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.

The original story is below.


Noah Valenstein, Gov. Rick Scott‘s former environmental policy coordinator, has the inside track to become the next secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, sources tell FloridaPolitics.com.

Valenstein, now the executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District, is the top pick over interim secretary Ryan Matthews.

Scott and the Cabinet in February OK’d Matthews to serve as interim department head to fill in for departing secretary Jon Steverson. He quit in January to join the legal-lobbying firm of Foley & Lardner.

Valenstein attended an August 2014 meeting in which Scott listened to a group of leading Florida scientists talk about climate change.

At the end of that meeting, Scott declined to say whether he had been convinced by scientific evidence that rising sea levels and warming temperatures merit government action.

Scott also later denied that his administration banned agencies under his control from using the terms “climate change” or “global warming” in public, in emails or in other official documents.

Valenstein, a Gainesville native, graduated with honors from the University of Florida’s School of Natural Resources and Environment and has a law degree from Florida State University.

He interned for both former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and past Senate President Toni Jennings in the late 1990s.

Valenstein has lobbied for the Department of Environmental Protection and worked for the Florida House of Representatives (including as deputy policy chief for environmental issues) before leaving for private legal practice.

He’s been a board member of the Everglades Trust, worked for the Everglades Foundation, briefly owned a polling and research company and consulted on policy for Scott’s re-election campaign, according to his resume.

The governor and Cabinet have agreed to aim on a DEP hire during the May 23 Cabinet meeting.

Despite lack of deal, Seminole Tribe still paying state millions

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has given the state of Florida another multi-million dollar payday.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation reported that the tribe paid $19.5 million in gambling revenue share on Monday. The department regulates gambling.

That money includes revenue share from banked card games, specifically blackjack. The tribe also offers slots.

It has Vegas-style and other gambling at seven casinos around the state, including Tampa’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, but has blackjack only in Tampa and Hollywood.

Monday’s deposit brings the total amount paid by the Seminoles this year to $97.5 million, DBPR spokesman Stephen Lawson said.

The cut of the money from blackjack, however, is being “administratively segregated” in the General Revenue Fund until the Tribe and state come to agreement on renewed rights to offer blackjack in Florida.

A blackjack provision in a prior agreement from 2010, known as the Seminole Compact, expired in 2015. In December of that year, Gov. Rick Scott had negotiated a new blackjack deal in return for $3 billion to state coffers over seven years. Lawmakers did not approve it.

The original 2010 deal actually wound up being worth more than $200 million per year in revenue share to state coffers. Blackjack and other gambling, including slots, has brought in billions for the tribe.

A year later, a federal judge ruled that the state—in allowing other card games that played too much like blackjack at pari-mutuel cardrooms—broke the original deal and let the Tribe have blackjack till 2030.

The tribe is no longer obligated to pay revenue share from blackjack games but has been doing so out of good faith in the hopes of brokering a deal. Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner declined comment when reached Tuesday.

This Legislative Session, lawmakers couldn’t pass a comprehensive gambling bill after failing to agree on whether to expand slot machines in the state. What also died, once again, was the renewed agreement with the Tribe, which had been rolled into the legislation.

Richard Corcoran joins calls for medical marijuana special session

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has added his voice to those calling for a special legislative session on medical marijuana.

Corcoran spoke Wednesday on “The Morning Show with Preston Scott” on WFLA-FM radio in Tallahassee.

Lawmakers failed to come to agreement this Legislative Session on a bill that would implement the medical cannabis constitutional amendment passed in 2016. Just over 71 percent of statewide voters approved the measure.

An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

“It absolutely needs to be dealt with,” Corcoran told Scott. “When you have 71 percent of the voters say, ‘we want legalized medical marijuana,’ and the fact we couldn’t get (an implementing bill) done, to just leave it to bureaucrats sitting at the Department of Health would be a gross injustice.

“I do believe and support the notion that we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana,” he added.

“Does that mean a special session?” Scott asked.

“It would, absolutely,” Corcoran said.

Senate President Joe Negron on Monday also signaled his inclination for a special session.

“I think that’s something that now that session is over and our budget passed that we’ll confer with the House and governor, and then make a decision on whether that’s something we should do,” he told reporters. “I think the Legislature does have a responsibility to be involved in that implementation, so that’s something we’ll look at.”

Others, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham and Orlando trial attorney John Morgan also called for a special session on medical marijuana, with Morgan doing so in a nearly nine-minute video on Twitter.

Morgan has been behind the amendment since it was first filed for 2014, when it failed to get enough votes.

Under the state constitution, a special session can be convened by proclamation of Gov. Rick Scott, or “by consent of two-thirds of the membership of each house.”

A state law also provides that the “President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, by joint proclamation duly filed with the Department of State, may convene the Legislature in special session.”

Another section of that statute allows 20 percent of state lawmakers to request a special session, after which the Florida Department of State must poll all members, who have to approve on a three-fifths vote.

Andrew Gillum

Andrew Gillum calls for ‘strengthening’ Obamacare in Florida

A day after the end of the 2017 Legislative Session, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum on Monday called on state lawmakers to pass a bill “strengthening insurance protections for those with pre-existing conditions.”

Gillum, the sitting mayor of Tallahassee, appeared at the Florida Press Center with two local women who told of their family members’ troubles getting coverage and treatment: One has a son with a chromosomal disorder and the other’s sister lives with Crohn’s disease, an incurable digestive malady.

Gillum’s proposal, a priority if he’s elected in 2018, has three goals: Prohibit insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions; charge them the same premiums as those without such conditions; and “end the discriminatory practice of charging women higher premiums than men.”

The first two already are part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare,” which President Donald Trump and GOP members of Congress have so far unsuccessfully tried to repeal. The federal law is the signature act of former President Barack Obama

Gillum’s proposal, light on specifics, may be more pipe dream than policy—at least for now—with a GOP-controlled Legislature and an insurance industry averse to change.

He said he had had “some behind-the-scenes conversations” with members of the industry, though he declined to say who, and couldn’t provide a financial impact of his proposal.

A request for comment was sent to Audrey S. Brown, the president and CEO of the Florida Association of Health Plans, which represents managed-care companies.

Gillum also dodged a question about whether he supported an “individual mandate,” insurance parlance for a legal requirement to buy health insurance. That’s also part of the ACA.

“We believe, and I certainly believe, that health care is a right,” he said. “We also know that it has a tremendous impact on this state’s economy. We unfortunately have a governor that did not allow the full benefits of the ACA to be felt. We would work toward a strengthening of the ACA.”

GOP Gov. Rick Scott, a former for-profit hospital chain executive who’s term-limited next year, has declined to expand Medicaid under the ACA to provide health coverage to more poor and working-poor Floridians. That decision was supported the Republican-controlled House.

Denise Wilson, a banking trainer, told of her young son’s struggle with Potocki-Shaffer syndrome, which affects bones and tissues. He’s needed surgery just to maintain his ability to move, she said.

She told of having “to go through hoops” to get him treatment: “And when you have a child with special needs, your life is hoops.”

And Avril Wood, a “state worker,” said her younger sister’s need for Crohn’s treatment has caused her family constant worries over paying for insurance and medications.

Crohn’s “causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

“My sister is loving and kind,” Wood said, verging on tears. “This has ravaged our family … My parents are wondering if they’re going to run out of money in their retirement. Given the choice between bankruptcy and keeping my sister alive, they will choose bankruptcy. And that thought is cruel.”

The 37-year-old Gillum was first elected to public office in 2003, when he became Tallahassee’s youngest city council member ever at 23. He was elected mayor in 2014.

He still faces an Leon County Sheriff’s Office investigation into whether he broke state ethics law by using a city-owned email program to send campaign-related and other political messages.

Other declared Democratic candidates for governor include former Tallahassee-area congresswoman Gwen Graham and Winter Park businessman Chris King. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is likely to be the the first Republican to declare; his announcement is expected Wednesday in Bartow.

Aramis Ayala argues that Rick Scott can only reassign cases with consent

In her new response to Gov. Rick Scott‘s argument in their Supreme Court battle over power, Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala contends that the Florida Constitution is clear that she has absolute power over all criminal cases in her jurisdiction, and that the governor can only override it with her permission.

The issue is whether Scott has the power to reassign first-degree murder cases from Ayala’s 9th Judicial Circuit to Ocala’s State Attorney Brad King‘s 5th Judicial Circuit after Ayala announced she would not seek the death penalty in any cases.

Scott argued in his April 26 brief that that the governor has the executive power to reassign cases from state attorneys if there is a good reason.

Yet Ayala argues, in a brief filed Monday, that all the key cases Scott cited, and Ayala’s previous record that Scott cited, all have something in common that the first-degree murder cases he reassigned do not share:

In all the other cases, the state attorney consented to or even requested that the governor reassign cases, while in the 23 cases at issue in Florida Supreme Court battle of Aramis Ayala versus Rick Scott, she gave no consent or made no such requests.

“As Ayala explained in her petition, ‘if a state attorney voluntarily cedes the power to prosecute, the state attorney has herself given the power to prosecute to another, so there is little concern of gubernatorial overreach’ and likewise, ‘if the person who ‘shall’ prosecute cases is unavailable, then the governor offends no constitutional power by naming a replacement.’ Ayala has only ever argued that the Constitution does not tolerate transfers of cases from a qualified state attorney who opposes transfer,” he brief states.

The difference is clear, and so is the reason why, Ayala’s response, filed by Tampa attorney Marcos E. Hasbun and Washington D.C. attorney Roy L. Austin, Jr. It cites the Florida Constitution which gives the state attorney full authority over all criminal cases in that circuit.

“Scott ignores the constitutional mandate that state attorneys “shall” prosecute local cases,” the response states.

And that means a key provision of state law, Section 27.14, that allows for the governor to reassign cases, flies in the face of the Florida Constitution, Hasbun and Austin argue.

“Because Florida’s Constitution is the supreme law of the State, the fact that it does not permit transfer here means that no state law—including Section 27.14—can change that. The Constitution is alone sufficient to resolve this case,” they state.

They also note that Scott has been inconsistent in his state opinions about the power, stating that on at least four occasions his office has advised private citizens that the governor did not have the power to reassign criminal cases without the consent or request of the state attorney who has jurisdiction.

“Either Scott was being less than honest with these citizens or his view has suddenly changed. In his Opposition, Scott now claims that he can reassign state attorneys against their will whenever he wants, and for whatever reason he wants, as long as doing so is not ‘without any reason whatsoever.’ How does that square with the Constitution’s directive that each state attorney ‘shall be the prosecuting officer of all trial courts in [her] circuit,’ or with the traditional notions of independent prosecutors? It doesn’t,” Ayala’s response argues.

The new brief also argues that Scott cannot claim that he has the power to reassign cases because he also has the power to suspend state attorneys  for “malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony,” and reassigning cases seems like a much lesser version of that action.

Scott has never accused Ayala of any of those things, her attorneys suggest, adding, “nor could he, particularly given that he concedes that Florida law never requires a prosecutor to seek the death penalty, even when all aggravating factors are met.”

GOP Rep. Eric Eisnaugle appointed state appeals judge

Eric Eisnaugle is leaving the House for the bench.

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday announced he had appointed Eisnaugle, currently a Republican state representative, to replace former Judge C. Alan Lawson on the 5th District Court of Appeal.

Lawson now is a Florida Supreme Court justice.

Eisnaugle, 40, of Windermere, has represented House District 44 since 2014.

He officially dropped his 2018 re-election bid this February. Eisnaugle also had lost the unofficial race for House Speaker in 2020-22 to Pinellas County representative Chris Sprowls.

His appointment means Florida’s House District 44 will now be open to a special election this summer, to serve west Orange County. Eisnaugle was not running for re-election, rolling his dice on what turned out to be a sure-thing appointment by the governor.

That means a Republican primary between former Winter Garden commissioner Bobby Olszewski and Dr. Usha Jain of Orlando will be moved up by more than a year, followed by a general election, more than a year earlier than expected. Only one Democrat is running so far, businessman Paul Chandler of Orlando.

Eisnaugle was not immediately available for comment Monday afternoon following the governor’s announcement; he was on the House floor for the chamber’s deliberations on the 2017-18 state budget.

He previously held House District 40 in 2008-12. In 2011, he was the point man on former House Speaker Dean Cannon‘s attempt to rein in the judiciary after the Florida Supreme Court rejected a trio of lawmakers’ proposed constitutional amendments for the ballot.

Measures pushed would have split the Supreme Court in two, with separate divisions for criminal and civil appeals, would have taken over the court system’s internal rulemaking process and opened misconduct investigations of judges to public view.

Eisnaugle has been with the Thorne and Storey, and Foley and Lardner law firms. He now is an “of counsel” commercial litigator for the law firm of Rumberger Kirk & Caldwell.

Eisnaugle received an undergraduate degree from Florida Southern College and a law degree from Vanderbilt University.

Orlando correspondent Scott Powers contributed to this post. 

House OKs VISIT FLORIDA, Enterprise Florida funding cuts

House members on Monday approved a measure dealing with VISIT FLORIDA and Enterprise Florida funding on a 74-34 vote.

If vetoed, however, the “conforming bill” would need 80 votes to overcome Gov. Rick Scott‘s red pen.

Both chambers have begun discussing the 2017-18 state budget, which wasn’t completed on time to finish the 2017 Legislative Session last Friday. That caused a rare extension to Monday, using the weekend to count toward the constitutionally required 72-hour “cooling off” period before lawmakers can vote.

The proposed budget gives $25 million—down from around $75 million—in recurring operating funds for VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing arm, and $16 million to Enterprise Florida, the economic development organization.

Both are public-private entities but have historically received far more public dollars than private. The budget also zeroes out Gov. Rick Scott‘s favored business incentive programs for next year. It remains to be seen whether Scott will veto some or all of the Legislature’s budget.

Rep. Wengay Newton, a St. Petersburg Democrat, asked Rep. Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican, whether VISIT FLORIDA would be “able to function” at such a reduced amount.

“I think the word ‘function’ is in the eye of the beholder,” Renner said, adding that the agency would not be able to create new programs but all “existing programs will continue.”

Lori Berman, a Lantana Democrat, also asked Renner how new accountability measures would have prevented a contentious deal the agency cut with South Florida rapper Pitbull to promote tourism.

Speaker Richard Corcoran went to war against VISIT FLORIDA, threatening to sue after it refused to reveal a secret deal with Pitbull, who later voluntarily disclosed he was set to be paid up to $1 million.

The House majority has imposed measures including limiting individual employee compensation to $130,000 (equal to the salary of the governor), requiring Senate confirmation of new agency CEOs, disallowing new direct-support organizations, and requiring new contracts to be posted on the state CFO’s transparency website.

In addition, Renner explained that lawmakers could have nipped the Pitbull deal in the bud under a proposed 14-day “legislative consultation” period that “would have prevented it from going forward.”

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz later argued in debate that she did not “believe $25 million is enough to sustain tourism at the level we’ve seen it in the state of Florida.”

“We’ve probably punished (them) a little too harshly” in this budget, she said.

Rep. Jay Fant, a Jacksonville Republican, has been the rare GOP House member who never bought into gutting the agencies, especially doing away with incentives. He suggested the proposed funding all but invited Scott to veto it.

The proposal “jeopardizes our entire budget, and bills and special projects, and it doesn’t have to be that way,” Fant said. “Why not compromise on some basic principle of business incentive? We can tailor it, we can negotiate it.”

But Renner said “it’s always still the taxpayers’ money … we’ve seen too many times that that has been forgotten.”

Craft distillery bill heads to Rick Scott

A bill to allow craft distillers to sell more product directly to customers was passed by lawmakers Friday.

The measure (HB 141) sailed through a 37-0 vote on the Senate floor, sending it to Gov. Rick Scott.

Sen. Greg Steube on Thursday had substituted the House version for his bill.

The measure would let distillers sell up to six bottles of spirits per customer in a given year.

“We are pleased the Legislature is continuing to recognize our growing industry,” said Philip McDaniel, CEO and co-founder of St. Augustine Distillery Co., and founding president of the Florida Craft Distillers Guild. “The opportunity to increase sales from our gift shops … will allow craft distillers to continue to grow and create jobs.”

Steube originally included several other provisions, such as raising the amount of spirits distillers can make and still be considered “craft,” from 75,000 gallons per year to 250,000 gallons.

Distributors and liquor stores have opposed measures to loosen restrictions, saying it would cut into their business.

Until 2013, distillers couldn’t sell any of their product to customers. That year, lawmakers approved a change to state law allowing two bottles to be sold to an individual customer yearly.

The law was changed again to two bottles annually per customer of each brand of liquor that a distiller makes. If a craft distiller produces only one type of liquor, however, four could be sold.

Rick Scott: Legislature’s inaction on gambling ‘doesn’t make any sense’

Gov. Rick Scott says he doesn’t understand lawmakers’ inability to pass comprehensive gambling legislation this year—especially when he gave them a head start.

Scott spoke with FloridaPolitics.com reporter Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster in Naples Thursday, after a stop of his “Fighting For Florida’s Future” tour.

Part of the legislative package was a deal negotiated by Scott with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, guaranteeing continued exclusive rights to blackjack in return for a $3 billion cut of gambling revenue over seven years.

“I don’t understand why they didn’t take that and try to work with it,” Scott said. “I know you have to work with both the Seminoles and the pari-mutuels. But there was a great framework there to get something done.”

Part of the continual tug-of-war that ultimately kills gambling bills is the tension between pari-mutuels who want more games to offer—meaning slots and cards—and the Seminoles, who want to limit the competition against them.

“I don’t get it. It’s more money for the state,” the governor said. “It stops this constant thinking about what we’re going to do, and it would solve a lot of problems … It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Rick Scott declares opioid emergency in Florida

Rick Scott is declaring a public health emergency across Florida due to the epidemic of heroin and other opioids abuse, addiction, and overdose deaths wracking the Sunshine State.

While the governor signed an executive order Wednesday following action by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which declared a national opioid epidemic, it comes months after Democrats and a few others around the state urged him to declare an emergency.

Scott’s order will allow state officials to immediately draw down on more than $27 million in federal grant money from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Opioid State Targeted Response Grant, awarded to Florida April 21.

Scott’s office said that before that grant award, Florida could have faced months of delays in distributing the money to local communities.

Also, Scott’s executive order calls on Florida Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip to issue a standing order for Naloxone, an emergency treatment for opioid overdoses. Naloxone can be used by first responders as an effective and immediate treatment for opioid overdoses.

Scott also directed the Florida Department of Children and Families, the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to meet with communities in Palm Beach, Manatee, Duval and Orange counties to identify additional strategies.

“I know firsthand how heartbreaking substance abuse can be to a family because it impacted my own family growing up,” Scott stated in a news release. “The individuals struggling with drug use are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends and each tragic case leaves loved ones searching for answers and praying for help. Families across our nation are fighting the opioid epidemic, and Florida is going to do everything possible to help our communities.”

In 2015 opioids were blamed for more than 3,900 deaths in Florida, according to Scott’s order.

And indications are it has become worse since.

On Tuesday, an Orange County heroin and opioid task force assembled by Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Sheriff Jerry Demings heard that treatment of patients with an opioid addition at Aspire, the county’s mental health and substance abuse contractor, has more than doubled since 2015. According to the Orlando Sentinel, it was fueled by a 450 percent increase in heroin addictions.

Attorney General Pam Bondi said the governor’s declarations would “help strengthen our continued efforts to combat the national opioid epidemic claiming lives in Florida by providing additional funding to secure prevention, treatment and recovery support services.”

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