Gov. Rick Scott Archives - Page 3 of 67 - Florida Politics

DEP responds to House records request, defends payment of legal bills

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection on Friday night released its response to the House of Representatives’ request for documentation of the legal billing in a longstanding river water use fight against Georgia.

Interim DEP Secretary Ryan Matthews also sent a letter, saying his agency had “denied more than $3 million in expenses and hourly charges submitted by outside counsel.”

A cursory review of the records shows not only invoices for legal fees but also, for example, a $272,000 contract between DEP and the University of South Florida for oyster reef research. Another file showed a Nebraska company was paid $49,000 for “video production in support of (the) litigation.”

The 16-year long court fight centers around upstream water use from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers in Georgia. They meet at the Florida border to form the Apalachicola River, which empties into the Apalachicola Bay, on which oystermen have depended for decades for their catch.

The department had planned to ask lawmakers for an additional $13 million to pay ongoing legal bills from the still-unresolved case.

The litigation already has cost the state tens of millions of dollars, and a federal court official last month ruled in favor of Georgia by recommending against tough water consumption limits on the Peach State.

Meantime, House Speaker Richard Corcoran said his chamber wouldn’t entertain any more funding for the lawyers without a detailed audit of how DEP officials spent legal money already appropriated.

The speaker also was perturbed when former Secretary Jon Steverson quit for a job at the Foley & Lardner law firm, one of the outside law firms he approved payment to.

Corcoran tasked state Reps. Dan Raulerson, a Plant City Republican, and David Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat, with looking into the billing from outside law firms. Both men are CPAs.

Interim DEP Secretary Ryan Matthews provided House general counsel Adam Tanenbaum with the records and the letter. (The records are available via this link.)

“For 26 years and under five administrations, Florida has been fighting for its fair share of water due to Georgia’s reckless water use,” Matthews said. “Our fight is to protect our communities, marine fisheries and the vital economic impact of Apalachicola Bay which supports thousands of jobs.

“Based on (the) Latham Watkins (law firm’s) expertise, the Attorney General’s Office retained them on this case and I want to thank Attorney General Pam Bondi and her team for fighting for families in Apalachicola Bay,” he added.

“As evident in the records, DEP staff carefully reviews every invoice to verify that the expenses comply with the terms of the contract with outside counsel and Florida law,” Matthews said.

“In instances where outside counsel does not comply, the expenses are denied,” he said. “In fact, since July 2015, DEP has denied more than $3 million in expenses and hourly charges submitted by outside counsel retained on this case.

“Our scrutiny of expenses also ensures compliance with Florida’s per diem and travel policies as defined in law. DEP also carefully analyzed all hourly charges to ensure they were in compliance with the contract and rejects all charges that are not previously authorized or do not fall within the contracted terms.

“DEP will fight for families and the thousands of jobs at risk in Apalachicola Bay and we are optimistic we will prevail.”

House approves bill to rein in VISIT FLORIDA

VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency, will be subject to greater oversight under a bill passed the Florida House Friday.

State representatives passed the measure (HB 9), sponsored by Paul Renner of Palm Coast, by a vote of 80-35. Its reception in the Senate will likely not be warm: That chamber has not moved a matching companion bill.

The legislation has caused a war of words between Speaker Richard Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott, who oversees the public-private agency that is funded largely with taxpayers’ money.

The speaker, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has been critical of the agency, even threatening to sue after it refused to reveal a secret deal with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism.

The bill requires VISIT FLORIDA contracts “to contain performance standards, operating budgets and salaries of employees of the contracting entity,” and those deals would have to be posted online. It limits employees’ travel expenses and would cap annual pay at $130,000.

Stemming from the Pitbull deal, the proposal also would delete a public records exemption for “marketing projects and research.” It would ban any promotional project from “benefit(ing) only one company.” And it would force the agency to be funded with more private dollars.

In debate, some Democrats—including Tallahassee’s Loranne Ausley—faulted the bill for hurting the “mom and pop” businesses, such as family-owned hotels, who depend on help from the state.

“We know a robust marketing budget translates to more visitors,” she said.

St. Petersburg’s Wengay Newton added, “I think this is too severe a measure to happen today.” But some Republicans, including Key Largo’s Holly Raschein, also voted against the bill.

“This bill is not about whether we should promote tourism in this state,” Renner said. “This bill is about accountability and whether VISIT FLORIDA wants to submit to accountability to move forward.”

The bill does not address next year’s funding for VISIT FLORIDA, which will be worked out as lawmakers debate the 2017-18 state budget.

Rick Scott says ACA replacement is a work in progress

Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday that he thinks Florida would be treated unfairly under the current version of congressional Republicans’ Obamacare repeal bill.

Scott did not tell reporters he opposed the bill after meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan in Washington, D.C., though he did say the repeal bill needs to be fair for states like Florida, which did not expand Medicaid. He also said the bill needs to give autonomy to run their own Medicaid programs.

States like Florida which didn’t expand can’t get treated unfairly,” he said. He also called the current plan “a work in progress.”

The newly unveiled proposal would allow states that expanded Medicaid to keep their extra federal funds for the next few years until the program phases out in 2020. The bill would also tie Medicaid funding to the number of enrollees in each state.

States that did not expand Medicaid would get an extra $10 billion over the next five years under the bill and would also have spending cuts for safety net hospitals lifted in 2018, 2 years ahead of Medicaid expansion states.

doughnut donut

Jose Oliva talks doughnuts and incentives after Rick Scott speech

House Republican leaders defended their assault on Gov. Rick Scott‘s economic development and incentive plans, saying success in business shouldn’t depend on a government handout.

Oliva

Speaker Richard Corcoran and state Rep. Jose Oliva, slated to be speaker in 2018-20, spoke with reporters Tuesday after Scott’s State of the State address before a joint session of the House and Senate.

Florida, like other states, incentivizes businesses to move or expand here through a variety of tax breaks and public-paid subsidies. Scott, a proponent, says spending public dollars on private companies is worth it for the jobs he says they create.

“I will admit it is probably more difficult for people who have never gone hungry, or gone through foreclosure, or seen their family car repossessed, to understand this,” Scott said in his speech.

“If you have never lived through these experiences, it may be harder to understand the urgency,” Scott added. “I am fighting for our state’s job programs because I am fighting for families just like mine growing up.”

Oliva, a cigar company executive, said Scott underestimated House members’ experience.

“Very many of us in that chamber know what it’s like to be poor,” said Oliva, who remains as CEO of Oliva Cigar Co. after selling the company last year to a European concern. “We know what it’s like to have a car repossessed, to have the power cut in your house.

“We also know what it’s like to start a business,” he added. “I don’t know that when I was building my business I would have liked some of my tax dollars to go to help a competitor.”

Scott, who didn’t mention it specifically in his Tuesday speech, often has spoken of a doughnut shop he ran in the 1970s.

“Imagine if the governor, while he had that same doughnut shop, had his tax dollars go to Dunkin’ Donuts so they could come across the street and compete against him?” Oliva said.

Corcoran suggested that Scott doesn’t get the “optimism” of his legislative program.

“We’re saying what makes our country different is when anybody can engage in spirited, civil debate,” he said. “… Yeah, there’s passion and back-and-forth and sometimes quotes you want to take back. At the end of the day, … good things happen.”

2017 Legislative Session preview: Oscar Braynon on juvenile justice, incentives and Chance the Rapper

This is the first legislative session that South Florida’s Oscar Braynon II will be the Senate’s Democratic Leader.

The 40-year-old, who succeeded term-limited former Leader Arthenia Joyner, was first elected in 2011 after serving in the House and on the Miami Gardens City Council before that.

Though he’s in the minority, Braynon has high hopes for legislative breakthroughs with the GOP majority under President Joe Negron. “We have a good personal relationship and we’ve helped each other before we were in leadership,” Braynon says.

That said, one issue he’s already behind on is “decoupling,” in which the state would no longer require dog and horse tracks to run live races if they wish to offer other gambling, such as slots or cards. The House supports it this year; the Senate does not.

Braynon’s in favor because it would allow his district’s Calder Race Track, which he said he lives “around the corner from,” to sell its racetrack land to developers for much-needed retail, restaurants and a movie theater.

The city of 112,000 has no movie theater, one sit-down restaurant and little retail shopping, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert III recently told lawmakers.

But Braynon may have better luck on initiatives like juvenile civil citations, which gives “first-time misdemeanor offenders the opportunity to participate in intervention services at the earliest stage of delinquency,” according to the Department of Juvenile Justice. A bill now being carried by Anitere Flores, Negron’s right hand as President Pro Tempore, would expand their use.

Braynon gave a pre-session interview with FloridaPolitics.com last week. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.  

Q: What are you hoping to get accomplished this year?

A: I’m looking to some serious reform in our civil and criminal justice system. I think both sides of the aisle have come to the conclusion that minimum mandatory (sentences), putting juveniles in jail for minor crimes, keeping people locked up for drug offenses, those things put a strain on our budget. Also it puts a strain on our communities. We should look more into treatment for drug issues, economic development for communities like mine, where people think that dealing illegal drugs is the only way out (of poverty). If they can get a real job, they can have hope. I’ll be looking at that not just this year, but my two years as leader. And I think I have a willing partner in the Senate President.

Q: On the other hand, what are you hoping the Legislature avoids acting on?

A: I hope we avoid some of the repeats of what we did or tried to do in terms of tax cuts and cutting services … I think the fewer services you provide is not investing in the biggest and best resource of the state, its people. When you don’t invest in education, health care, mental health, the aged, DCF, the weakest among us, then you starve the infrastructure that is our way to get our state considered a premier state. Our mistake was we cut government and then on the other end we cut taxes for corporations, saying this is how we’re going to ‘save’ Florida. Look at us now. We’re looking at projections where we may be in another (budget) deficit. I call it crazy, because if it doesn’t work, why do it again?

Q: Which initiative gives you the most confidence to get done this year?

A: The civil citations bill, now pushed by Sen. Flores, is something our caucus has pushed for a long time. For the president pro tem to have it, that shows us being together on that issue of creating more juvenile civil citations statewide. I believe the concern on the other side has been being seen as ‘weak on crime.’ They think you’re not allowing children to be accountable for whatever (bad) things they did. But I don’t want to give them a mark for the rest of their lives.

Q: How do you think the current conflict between Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran—who are warring over Enterprise Florida (EFI), VISIT FLORIDA and business incentives—will affect this session?

A: (Laughs.) It’s not any different from previous years. It’s the same thing. Whether you take the money from (business in the form of taxes) or you give them so money back, it’s semantics. Whether you call them tax cuts or incentives, it’s a ridiculous argument. Look, businesses are doing well in Florida. We have a business-friendly environment. But we’re ranked low in mental health, education. I’m more than happy to watch them fight it out … And they all are going to fight, not just about this, but a whole number of things. Wait till we get to the budget, and who controls the process. It should not be up to the House. Then there’s land buying, and judicial term limits. The list is long. You could solve the EFI thing tomorrow and they’ll have seven other things they’ll disagree on. I do believe VISIT FLORIDA plays a role, but they could be more lean and transparent. As to incentives, I’m still waiting for someone to fully explain to me why they are really so necessary.

Q: Have you heard from Chance the Rapper yet? (Braynon supported a bill for Florida’s smaller craft brewers because it would help start-ups, likening them to the Chicago-based artist who rose to fame after distributing his own songs without a music label.)

A: No! I did not get a follow yet (from the rapper on Twitter).

2017 Legislative Session preview: Alimony rears its head

Get ready for a rumble: Lawmakers will again tackle the sticky issue of alimony in the 2017 Legislative Session.

Companion bills filed in the House and Senate aim to overhaul state alimony law to toughen the standards by which alimony is granted and changed. That’s despite unsuccessful tries in the last few years.

Neither bill had a hearing in the committee weeks leading up to this year’s session, which begins Tuesday.

Given its history, the effort promises to be one of the most contentious the Legislature will deal with this year, and both sides are primed for the fight. Last year, a hollering battle sparked outside Gov. Rick Scott’s office as reform advocates shouted down opponents of the bill.

In a nutshell: Former spouses who wrote the checks have said permanent alimony in particular, or “forever alimony,” wasn’t fair to them. Their exes have 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.

The First Wives Advocacy Group calls this year’s legislation “one-sided, inequitable, and harmful to Florida families, especially women and children.” Proponents say the measures won’t be retroactive; these ex-spouse advocates disagree.

“As written, the legislation will retroactively tamper with thousands of prior divorces, giving payors a virtual do-over at the expense of the recipient,” the group said in a statement. “During their divorces, many women sacrificed equitable distribution for the security of permanent alimony.  

“This legislation would result in (those paying alimony) filing for modification upon retirement, regardless of prior agreement, need, and ability to pay,” the group adds. “This is clearly not equitable.”

But Alan Frisher, chair of the National Parents Organization of Florida, called “the concept of permanent alimony … outdated in today’s society.”

“Alimony recipients must take some responsibility to earn a living after divorce in this day and age,” he said.

The 2017 bills “would provide predictability and consistency for all, plus, divorcing spouses could settle their financial differences out of court versus spending countless dollars on wasteful litigation,” Frisher added.

This year’s measures (HB 283, SB 412) don’t address the child custody provisions that garnered Scott‘s disfavor in 2016.

He nixed 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.”

Among other things, the current legislation 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.

Rep. Colleen Burton, a Lakeland Republican, is carrying the House bill and Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, is sponsoring its Senate counterpart.

2017 Legislative Session preview: Showdown over gambling—again

With competing legislation now set up in both chambers, the question remains whether lawmakers finally will pass a gambling overhaul or whether the effort will founder as it has in years past.

Hanging in the balance is a new blackjack exclusivity deal for the Seminole Tribe of Florida that promises a cut to the state worth $3 billion over seven years.

Negotiated by Gov. Rick Scott in late 2015, it failed to gain approval from lawmakers last session as it got bogged down by a fight over expanding games for the state’s pari-mutuel facilities, such as horse and dog tracks.

Indeed, the battle has usually been between pari-mutuels, who want to offer more gambling and be free of the state’s requirement that they run live races in order to offer cards or slots, and “family-friendly” tourism proponents, chiefly Disney. 

Younger audiences don’t want to bet on horses or dogs, the pari-mutuels say, and are more taken with diversions like fantasy sports, which would be made expressly legal in Florida in other legislation filed for this year.

Valery Bollier, CEO and co-Founder of Oulala Games, which offers fantasy soccer games in the U.K., told an International Casino Conference audience this month that the gambling industry “will fall off a cliff if they do not adapt to a millennial audience.”

“Young generations are not playing the same games as their parents,” Bollier said. “…They have access to such amazing skill games on their consoles and constant social interactions on their mobile phones.”

The two bills this year (SB 8, HB 7037) come at the issue from different directions, with the House seeking to “freeze” gambling in the state, and the Senate generally allowing expansion of gambling opportunities.

For example, the House outlaws designated-player card games, but the Senate would let “all cardroom operators … offer designated-player games,” which are similar to poker in that people play against each other.   

Moreover, the House would prohibit the expansion of slot machines, while the Senate generally expands the availability of slot machines, including to counties that passed a slots referendum. 

The House also would direct Seminole gambling money to education, including for “K-12 teacher recruitment and retention bonuses,” and funding “schools that serve students from persistently failing schools” and “higher education institutions to recruit and retain distinguished faculty.”

But Florida has a history of failure when it comes to addressing gambling. In 2012, former state Sen. Ellyn Setnor Bogdanoff pushed a measure to permit three destination hotel-casinos in South Florida. That effort died.

The next year, realizing they had likely bungled it, lawmakers hastily moved to ban Internet gambling cafés – only after a multistate investigation that netted dozens of arrests threw egg on the Legislature’s collective face.

Two years after that, then-House Republican Leader Dana Young of Tampa sponsored her own sweeping legislation to permit two destination resort casinos in South Florida and allow dog tracks to stop live racing but continue to offer slot machines, among many other provisions.

It, too, died during the Legislative Session.

And this year, neither bill addresses an idea proposed by Young, now a state senator, and others: Establishing an independent gambling commission, as in Nevada and New Jersey. Now, the state regulates gambling through the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Izzy Havenick, who with his family owns Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Racing in Bonita Springs, says he’s once again “cautiously optimistic” something will pass this year. Lee County is one of those that passed a slots referendum; his facility, which offers poker, competes with the Seminoles’ Immokalee casino, that has slots, about a 45-minute drive to the east.

“It’s hard to be in an industry where you never know what your rules and regulations are going to be,” Havenick said. “We hope they pass legislation that allows us to compete with the gambling that is all around us.”

Sadowski Coalition seeks full funding for affordable housing in state budget

Affordable housing advocates urged the Legislature Thursday to spend all of the state’s dedicated housing money for its intended purpose, saying that more than 910,000 Floridians pay more than half their income for shelter.

Representatives of the Sadowski Housing Coalition — including Associated Industries of Florida, AARP, the Florida Realtors Association, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the Florida Home Builders Association — appeared during a news conference to make their case.

Carrie O’Rourke, of the realtors’ group, said it supports the documentary stamp taxes on real estate purchases that finance two housing trust funds even though it’s levied against her industry.

“And we continue to support it today, because of the good it does for so many people,” O’Rourke said.

“Every community relies on dependable and accessible housing options to say healthy and vibrant. Without that option, the bedrock of the community becomes weak.”

“We as a state can make it possible for older adults to live safely, independently, and affordably, saving the state money, by fully funding our affordable housing programs,” said Dorene Barker, of AARP.

“With the aging population in our state on the rise, it is more important than ever that Florida use every penny of its housing funds to support Florida’s affordable housing programs.”

Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed budget would shift nearly 77 percent of the $293.4 million earmarked for low-income housing next year to other state priorities. That works out to $224 million from state and local housing trust funds that won’t go for their intended purpose.

Yet the need is great, according to member of the coalition. The group is named after Bill Sadowski, a former lawmaker and Department of Community Affairs secretary who died in a plane crash in 1992, and who advocated for affordable housing.

In its Home Matters Report for 2017, the group cited high housing costs for the working poor, seniors, and people with disabilities.

The state’s homeless population is the nation’s third highest, the report said. Some 34,000 Floridians live in homeless shelters and on the streets, including 2,902 veterans and 6,140 children.

One doesn’t even need to be poor to have trouble arranging shelter. In Collier County, for example, the rent is too high for some people in well-paying professions including nursing.

“If a person is making what you consider to be a good income here in Tallahassee, where they might be able to find housing fairly easily, they’re not able to with that same profession in Collier County,” said Jaimie Ross, president and CEO of the Florida Housing Coalition, a member of the Sadowski Coalition.

Historically, the Legislature has swept about 25 percent of the money in Florida’s state and local housing trust funds for other priorities, said Mark Hendrickson, executive director of the Association of Local Housing Finance Authorities.

“During the Great Recession, the percentage that was swept went way up,” he said. “In the past few years, we’ve made significant progress, and we are thankful to the Legislature for the progress we’ve made in moving back toward full funding.”

Of the governor’s proposal, he said: “That’s a starting point. We work with the Legislature at this point to move forward. Last year, the Legislature’s appropriation was well above the governor’s recommendation, and the sweep was smaller. We hope we’ll be headed in that same direction.”

Blackjack appeal now headed to mediation

An appeal to a federal judge’s ruling allowing the Seminole Tribe to keep offering blackjack at its Florida casinos now has been scheduled for an April 11 mediation, court dockets show.

The state’s lawyers had asked the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for more time to file their initial brief in the appeal.

But they withdrew that request upon learning that a mediation conference had been set at the Kinnard Mediation Center.

The state “learned that … the parties could obtain appropriate extensions of time to file briefs from the mediator,” wrote attorney J. Carter Andersen of the Bush Ross firm, which is representing the state.

“Counsel consulted with the (Tribe’s attorneys) regarding this motion, and (they do) not object to the requested relief,” he wrote.

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, however, 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.

Gambling legislation has again been filed in both chambers of the Legislature this year.

While the bills differ by expanding or contracting gambling, both included a new blackjack deal worth $3 billion over seven years in revenue share to the state. Negotiated by Scott last year, it previously failed to gain approval from lawmakers.

 

Richard Corcoran, Rick Scott still holding on constitutional panel picks

With the 2017 Legislative Session fast approaching, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott still have not released their appointees for the upcoming Constitution Revision Commission.

It’s the panel that meets every 20 years to suggest rewrites and additions to the state’s governing document.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Senate President Joe Negron have already announced their combined 12 picks. (Those appointments are here and here.)

Corcoran last week said he planned to disclose his nine picks next Monday, the day before Session begins. Scott’s office has not said when he plans to announce his 15 selections. His received applications can be seen here.

The state constitution says the commission must be “established … within (30) days before the convening of the 2017 regular session of the legislature.”

The “commission shall convene at the call of its chair, adopt its rules of procedure, examine the constitution of the state, hold public hearings, and, not later than one hundred eighty days prior to the next general election, file … its proposal, if any, of a revision of this constitution or any part of it,” it says.

As governor, Scott will choose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and he also selects its chairperson. Corcoran, as House Speaker, gets nine picks, as does Negron as head of the Senate.

Republican Pam Bondi is automatically a member as the state’s Attorney General.

The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this will be the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans, virtually ensuring it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.

The nonprofit Partnership for Revising Florida’s Constitution has suggested several issues the commission could address this year, including transportation, natural resources, crime and justice, representation, and “youth, elderly & the underserved.”

Any changes the commission proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.

 

 

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