Gov. Rick Scott Archives - Page 3 of 76 - Florida Politics

Court grills Aramis Ayala lawyer over avoidance of death penalty

A dubious-sounding Florida Supreme Court shellacked Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s lawyer during oral arguments Wednesday, questioning her prosecutorial “discretion” in not seeking the death penalty.

“I don’t even see a gray area,” Justice R. Fred Lewis said. “It seems to me that ‘discretion’ is not to ignore Florida law.”

Justice Barbara Pariente also raised concerns over “equal enforcement of the death penalty statute,” suggesting that Ayala created a legal oasis in which murderers will never face the ultimate punishment.

Ayala, elected last year, unilaterally took “the death penalty off the table in the 9th (Judicial) Circuit … (and) she didn’t run on that platform.”

Attorneys for Ayala, who attended Wednesday’s hearing in Tallahassee, and lawyers for Gov. Rick Scott debated Ayala’s request that the court order the governor to return capital punishment cases he reassigned to neighboring 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King.

Ayala is a Democrat; Scott and King are Republicans.

Her attorney, Roy Austin, argued that no law requires her to seek an execution in any given murder case. Austin, who’s been a civil-rights lawyer with the U.S. Justice Department and aide to President Barack Obama, said Scott should be ordered to return the 24 death penalty-eligible cases he took away from her office.

But Justice Charles Canady, a member of the court’s conservative-leaning minority, countered: “That discretion has to be exercised on a case-by-case basis, rather than a blanket policy … It’s a very absolutist position you are taking.”

Florida Solicitor General Amit Agarwal, who argued his case without notes, represented Scott. He told the court there was “no prinicipled (way) to defend a blanket policy.”

The conflict fight began in March when Ayala said her office would no longer seek the death penalty, explaining the process is costly, it’s not a crime deterrent and it drags on for years for the victims’ relatives. House Republicans soon castigated her and moved to strip funding from her office.

She announced her decision as her office was starting to build a case against Markeith Loyd in the fatal shooting of an Orlando police lieutenant and his pregnant ex-girlfriend.

“No one individual has the right … to make a policy judgment that has practical effect of nullifying” the state’s capital punishment scheme, Agarwal said. “… No one has done what the petitioner has done here, to say ‘in my mind, (the death penalty) should never be enforced.’ “

Agarwal also said Scott gave Ayala an opportunity to recuse herself from death penalty cases, which she declined.

“And reassignment doesn’t let the governor tell prosecutors how to pursue a case,” he said, adding that Scott can’t “micromanage” murder prosecutions.

After the hearing, Austin told reporters “the law is very clear here.”

“There’s nothing that requires a case-by-case decision,” he said. “There’s nothing in the law that requires her to seek the death penalty.”

Ayala spoke briefly, defending her decision to abstain from seeking executions as punishment, saying she was never “given a blueprint.”

The justices did not give a timeline on when they will rule.

(This post includes background from The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.)

Personnel note: Jonathan Zachem appointed DBPR secretary

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday appointed Jonathan Zachem as the new Secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR).

Matilde Miller, who had been serving as interim secretary since January, has accepted the job of Vice President of Compliance for VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s public-private tourism marketing agency.

“DBPR is often on the front lines of supporting new and existing businesses across our state” Scott said in a statement. “With his leadership experience at DBPR, Jonathan understands the importance of reducing burdensome regulations while helping our job creators and families.

“I know that Jonathan will be a great leader as we continue to work together to make Florida the most business-friendly state in the nation,” the governor added. “I appreciate Matilde Miller’s service to the State of Florida and her dedication to our mission of growing jobs for our families.”

Zachem was the department’s deputy secretary. Before that, he was chief attorney and then director of DBPR’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.

He also worked for the Prosecution Services Unit (PSU) of the Florida Department of Health.

Zachem received his undergraduate degree from the University of Florida, a graduate degree from the University of South Florida and a law degree from the Barry University School of Law, according to the Governor’s Office.

Jimmy Patronis’ move to CFO creates PSC, CRC openings

Now that Jimmy Patronis is leaving the Public Service Commission and Constitution Revision Commission to become the state’s next Chief Financial Officer, Gov. Rick Scott has to replace him on those panels.

The Florida Public Service Commission Nominating Council is charged with “screening and nominating applicants for appointment by the Governor to fill vacancies on the Florida Public Service Commission,” its website says.

(The 12-member council, by the way, has four vacancies, including its vice chair, according to its website.)

Patronis’ term on the commission, which regulated investor-owned utilities, wasn’t up till Jan. 1, 2019. A council spokeswoman couldn’t be immediately reached Tuesday on whether any applications for Patronis’ seat have been filed.

Scott formally named Patronis, a former state legislator, as state CFO on Monday. He replaces Jeff Atwater, whose last day on the job is Friday. He’s becoming chief financial officer for Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

For the empty seat on the Constitution Revision Commission, Scott has three alternates that he already appointed to choose from: Don Eslinger, former Sheriff of Seminole County; Tom Kuntz, chairman of the Board of Governors for the State University System of Florida; and John Stargel, a circuit judge in the 10th Judicial Circuit and husband of state Sen. Kelli Stargel

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

A Scott spokesman said the governor is “reviewing” how to handle that vacancy.

The state constitution says openings “shall be filled in the same manner as the original appointments,” but it’s unclear whether Scott has to pick an existing alternate or can select someone totally new.

Education funding, other bills OK’d by Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott has signed a bill making it easier for parents and residents to challenge school textbooks and school library books.

The legislation, which was one of 29 bills signed on Monday, allows parents and residents to review instructional materials and then challenge them as inappropriate before a hearing officer.

It was one of five education bills signed by Scott, including increasing funding by $100 per student in the state budget.

Scott also signed the bill establishing the $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund along with $50 million in repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee.

That bill “also fully funds VISIT FLORIDA at $76 million and implements new accountability and transparency measures to VISIT FLORIDA and Enterprise Florida (EFI),” the governor’s office said in a statement.

Rick Scott vetoes re-organization of state’s technology agency, a priority of Blaise Ingoglia

A House bill aimed at shaking up the state’s Agency for State Technology was vetoed Friday by Gov. Rick Scott.

Sources earlier had told Florida Politics the measure (HB 5301), backed by state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, could fall under the Governor’s veto pen.

It passed both chambers this Legislative Session with only 13 total votes against it. In part, Ingoglia had complained the state’s data center costs were “escalating out of control.”

But James Taylor, executive director for nonprofit Florida Technology Council, criticized an earlier version of the bill in a StateScoop.com story this April.

“The only thing this truly does is put Florida further behind,” Taylor said. “When you’re trying to fix something, it is always more expensive in the beginning. And that’s where we’re at right now.”

The House had angled for a major overhaul, even doing away with the agency, but agreed to keep it intact during budget negotiations.

The agency came under fire in January after a report by Florida Auditor General Sherrill F. Norman’s office laid out a laundry list of security and other problems at the relatively new agency.

Jason Allison resigned as Chief Information Officer in February. He joined the Foley & Lardner law firm as a “director of public affairs” in the Tallahassee office.

The agency, which replaced the predecessor Agency for Enterprise Information Technology, was created by lawmakers in 2014. Allison was appointed its head that Dec. 9. He was paid $130,000 a year.

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

Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican, previously explained that the agency won’t be abolished: It “is going to stay,” he said.

The bill reduces the agency’s “top-heavy” management structure, eliminating “the deputy executive director, chief planning officer, chief operations officer, and chief technology officer.”

It also requires the agency head, the state’s Chief Information Officer, to have 10 years of “executive management experience.”

A provision to move more information to cloud computing earned criticism from Government Technology this May. The website said it “cripple(s) the enterprise structure, allowing data center customer agencies to unilaterally move to cloud solutions.”

Rick Scott says citrus veto is constitutionally valid

Gov. Rick Scott responded Monday to a lawsuit brought by homeowners whose healthy citrus trees were torn down by the state, saying his veto of reimbursements to homeowners was “consistent with his constitutional authority.”

The homeowners have asked the Florida Supreme Court to undo Scott’s veto of more than $37 million.

The Republican-controlled Legislature agreed to pay homeowners in both Broward and Lee counties whose trees were torn down in a failed attempt to eradicate citrus canker. The money was to pay off judgments that had been won against the state.

In court filings, attorneys for the homeowners argue Scott lacked legal authority to veto the money because a court had already ruled the state violated the private property rights of homeowners.

In a 26-page response by Scott general counsel Daniel Nordby, the governor said the petition “should be dismissed or denied” in part because, under the state constitution, Scott “may exercise his veto power for any reason whatsoever.”

It goes on to say there’s “no basis for the exercise of this Court’s jurisdiction and … there is no legal merit to the (homeowners’) claims.” Specifically, they have no “clear legal right to the requested relief,” mentioning lower court action still pending.

Scott said in his veto message that he vetoed the money because there are other citrus canker lawsuits still ongoing.

Moreover, “separation of powers concerns also counsel strongly against any claim that the judicial branch may direct a governor regarding whether and how to exercise his discretionary line-item veto authority with respect to specific appropriations,” Scott’s filing says.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater—who leaves office Friday—also responded to the suit, taking “no position” but saying “he is not a proper party to this proceeding.” Atwater is taking a job as chief financial officer for Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

And Secretary of State Ken Detzner—a Scott appointee—filed a response, saying the homeowners have “no clear legal right to have the Governor ‘undo’ his veto,” and thus Detzner has “no duty to ‘expunge’ the Governor’s vetoes from the public records of Florida.”

Both officials were also named in the petition for writ of mandamus, a court order to an elected official to perform a certain action.

The homeowners have till noon Tuesday to file any replies.

Background material provided by The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.

drone

Governor signs drone regulation bill

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday approved the Legislature’s “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act,” which gives the state authority to regulate “personal delivery devices (PDDs) and unmanned aircraft systems.”

A “personal delivery device” is a machine for use on sidewalks, usually not traveling more than 10 miles per hour.

Ground drones
Photo credit: Starship Technologies

London-based Starship Technologies, for instance, makes a six-wheeled “self-driving delivery robot” that was starting to make deliveries in California and Washington, D.C. at the beginning of this year.

“The bill authorizes, subject to local government regulation, the operation of PDDs on sidewalks, but prohibits them on certain state-owned trails,” a staff analysis explained.

It also “prohibits political subdivisions from enacting or enforcing ordinances or regulations relating to the use of unmanned aircraft systems (or drones),”  but they can “enact ordinances regarding illegal acts arising from the use of unmanned aircraft systems if the ordinances are not specific to unmanned aircraft systems.”

Limiting the operation of a drone means applying to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The bill was backed by Republicans Dana Young of Tampa in the Senate and Clay Yarborough of Jacksonville in the House.

“This bill adds important protections to Florida’s critical infrastructure and provides certainty and clarity to law enforcement,” Young said in a statement. “I’m delighted that Gov. Scott signed it into law.”

craft distillery

Craft distillers to get fee break under new law

Craft distillers got another win in legislation approved by Gov. Rick Scott on Friday.

The governor signed into law a wide-ranging bill (HB 689) that changes the state’s alcoholic beverage laws. 

Among the changes taking effect Saturday, the first day of the new budget year, it cuts the “annual license fee for a craft distillery from $4,000 to $1,000.”

“Craft distilleries that qualify for the craft distillery designation will see a 75 percent reduction in the annual license fee for a distillery license, or a savings of $3,000 per license each year,” according to a staff analysis.

“We’re grateful for the legislation and to Rep. Colleen Burton and Sen. Keith Perry,” who sponsored the bills in the House and Senate respectively, said Philip McDaniel, co-founder and CEO of St. Augustine Distillery. “This will allow more start-up distilleries to compete and become more profitable, more quickly.”

The bill also defines sake, the Japanese fermented-rice beverage, as “wine” under state law. 

Florida law had defined wine as being made from fruit so sake was technically not wine. Theoretically, restaurants could have been forced to stop serving sake, and the language fixes the potential issue.

Moreover, the bill eases regulations on “caterers licensed to sell beer, wine and distilled spirits,” the analysis said. 

And the measure expressly allows minors to work in stores selling beer, wine or liquor so long as someone over 18 is supervising them.

Gov. Scott to appoint Jimmy Patronis as state’s Chief Financial Officer

Public Service Commissioner and former state Rep. Jimmy Patronis will be named state Chief Financial Officer to replace the outgoing Jeff Atwater, the Governor’s Office confirms.

An announcement will be made Monday in Panama City.

The Panama City Republican and ally of Gov. Rick Scott beat out state Rep. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican and another friend of Scott, for the interim position.

“CFO successor has been identified and known since Atwater originally resigned,” a source familiar with the workings of the EOG told FloridaPolitics.com this week. “Has only been one name the entire time, regardless what others have said, reported, or assumed.”

Atwater, first elected in 2010, is leaving office early to become chief financial officer of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. His home and family are in Palm Beach County. His last day with the state is June 30.

Atwater’s background was in finance—he was president and CEO of Florida’s Barnett Bank, acquired by NationsBank in 1997—while Patronis is a small businessman. With his brother Johnny, he owns the Capt. Anderson’s restaurant in Panama City Beach.

According to his online bio, Patronis also has been “a bank director, hospital trustee, as well as a board member for many charitable and nonprofit organizations.”

As CFO, Patronis will oversee the Department of Financial Services, be the State Fire Marshal and sit as a member of the Florida Cabinet. The department also includes the state’s insurance department and treasury.

Scott appointed Patronis, who was term-limited out of the House in 2014, to the Public Service Commission, the body that regulates the state’s investor-owned utilities. He joined the panel in 2015 for a four-year term.

He has served on the Florida Elections Commission and Bay County-Panama City International Airport and Industrial District.

Patronis also was appointed by Scott this year to the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which convenes every 20 years to review the state Constitution and consider possible amendments.

The Bay County native got his undergraduate degree in political science from Florida State University.

Rick Scott reappoints picks to State University System Board of Governors

Gov. Rick Scott Thursday announced the reappointment of Syd Kitson and Darlene Jordan to the Board of Governors of the State University System.

The move comes after the Florida Senate, which must confirm Scott’s appointments, failed to do so during this year’s Legislative Session.

Kitson, 58, CEO of Kitson & Partners, “had a notable career in the National Football League, playing offensive guard for both the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys,” Scott’s statement said.

Kitson’s term runs this Thursday through Jan. 6, 2024.

Jordan, 50, the executive director of the Gerald R. Jordan Foundation, also is a member of the Fordham University Board of Trustees, the Harvard Business School Board of Dean’s Advisors, the Oxbridge Academy Board of Trustees, the Boys and Girls Club of Boston, and the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach.

She was previously an assistant attorney general and an assistant district attorney in Massachusetts. Jordan’s term also begins now and ends Jan. 6, 2024.

Scott also appointed Alan Levine, 49, president and CEO of Mountain States Health Alliance and formerly Secretary of Health for Louisiana and Secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

His term runs concurrent with Kitson and Jordan.

The Board of Governors is a 17-member board that serves as the governing body for the State University System of Florida, which includes all public universities in the state of Florida.

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