Gov. Rick Scott Archives - Page 4 of 67 - Florida Politics

Florida House, Rick Scott again at loggerheads over VISIT FLORIDA

House Speaker Richard Corcoran offered a compromise Monday in his plan to kill the public-private VISIT FLORIDA tourism marketing agency, but Gov. Rick Scott rejected it as a “massive cut.”

One day before a bill (HB 7005) aimed at eliminating the organization gets its second and final committee review, an amendment to be offered by GOP state Rep. Paul Renner would save the agency, but slash its budget to $25 million. Its latest budget is nearly $80 million.

The amendment also would require the agency submit to a list of demands, including making it “submit a detailed operating budget each year,” having its CEO be confirmed by the Senate, and “remov(ing) the public records exemption for marketing projects and research.”

Moreover, the bill would still get rid of the public-private Enterprise Florida economic development organization.

“The Florida House is proposing a 67 percent cut to tourism marketing,” Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said in a statement. “More than a million Florida families rely on jobs in our tourism industry and are threatened with this massive cut.

“Unfortunately, some politicians in the Florida House think fighting for jobs is simply hysteria and don’t understand that jobs are not expendable to families who have to put food on the table,” she said.

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, is out to kill VISIT FLORIDA, Enterprise Florida, and most of state government’s business incentive programs – what he calls “corporate welfare.” Scott, a Naples Republican, says they all help create jobs.

Earlier Monday, Corcoran called defenders of VISIT FLORIDA “increasingly hysterical, complete with their ‘Chicken Little’ predictions of economic collapse, state income taxes, and tens of thousands out of work.”

The agency faced criticism for keeping secret a promotional contract it negotiated with South Florida rapper Pitbull. Corcoran sued to get the contract released to the public, but Pitbull himself published a copy of the contract via Twitter, revealing he was promised a maximum of $1 million.

“The burden is now on the defenders of VISIT FLORIDA to decide if they are willing to accept accountability and transparency or if they are looking only to return to the good old days of operating in the shadows,” Corcoran said in a statement. “… Rest assured, the House will not spend another penny on VISIT FLORIDA should accountability and transparency measures be rejected.”

Schutz responded, “Gov. Scott believes in transparency and accountability for any taxpayer dollars used and that is why he has demanded changes and brought in new leadership at VISIT FLORIDA.”

CEO Will Seccombe stepped down after Scott called for his resignation, and Ken Lawson moved from being secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to now head the tourism agency.

Meantime, GOP state Rep. Joe Gruters of Sarasota, a Scott ally, has filed legislation to overhaul the agencies, not abolish them.

The bill will next be heard 1 p.m. Tuesday by the House Appropriations Committee.

Lottery says it’s generated $1 billion for education this year

The Florida Lottery, now being sued by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Monday said it had reached “another record – $1 billion in contributions to education for the 15th consecutive year.”

On Friday, Corcoran – a Land O’ Lakes Republican – filed suit against the state agency for “wasteful and improper spending” for signing a multiyear, $700 million deal for new equipment.

The Lottery reports to Gov. Rick Scott.

In a press release, it said it had “reached the $1 billion mark for this fiscal year earlier than any other year in Florida Lottery history. This brings the Lottery’s life-to-date education contributions to more than $31 billion.”

The state’s fiscal year runs July 1-June 30. Lottery proceeds go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which helps pay for public education.

“This milestone would not have been possible without the support of our loyal players, dedicated retailers and hardworking Lottery staff,” Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie said in a statement.

“The Lottery will continue working hard every day to advance our mission of maximizing contributions to education in a manner that is consistent with the dignity and integrity of the state.”

The release added: “Florida Lottery contributions represent approximately six percent of the state’s total education budget. Lottery funds are appropriated by the Florida Legislature and are administered by the Florida Department of Education.”

Corcoran sued the Lottery “for signing a contract that spends beyond existing budget limitations.” The deal, with International Game Technology (IGT), will provide the Lottery with new retailer terminals, in-store signage, self-service lottery vending machines, self-service ticket checkers and an upgraded communications network.

In a press release last September, the company said the contract is for an initial 10-year period, and the Florida Lottery “simultaneously exercised the first of its three available three-year renewal options.”

But Corcoran’s suit asserts “there is insufficient budget authority for the contract to be paid under the current appropriation assuming current conference estimates of ticket sales,” according to a press release from his office.

 

 

Carol Dover still fighting for tourism marketing money

When it comes to supporting the state’s hospitality industry, Carol Dover won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

Despite the Florida House’s opposition to spending money on tourism marketing in the state budget, her Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association is seeking $1 million to do just that.

And the funding request is being sponsored by GOP state Rep. Jay Trumbull of Panama City, who already voted for a bill to kill VISIT FLORIDA, the public-private tourism marketing agency.

On Feb. 7, Dover – the association’s president & CEO since 1995 – asked for the money for an “In-State Marketing Program to Promote Florida Tourism.” Trumbull, first elected in 2014, is listed as the House sponsor.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran requires requests for project money in the budget to be filed separately and publicly; the submission is on the House’s website. He is also crusading against incentives as “corporate welfare” that should be stopped.

“Funds are transferred from the Hotels and Restaurants Trust Fund to contract with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Inc., to develop a coordinated marketing, media and events program to promote Florida tourism to residents of the state,” the request explains.

“This campaign requires a private matching program and is conducted throughout the state, as approved by and monitored by (the Department of Business and Professional Regulation) and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Inc., for the purpose of promoting tourism.”

One day later, the House Careers & Competition Subcommittee, of which Trumbull is vice-chair, cleared a measure to eliminate VISIT FLORIDA, as well as the Enterprise Florida economic development organization, and a bevy of business incentive programs.

Dover – who had broken her leg the weekend before – attended the hearing on crutches to oppose the bill, saying it would “destroy our tourism industry.”

She’s known as a tenacious fighter; Dover is a breast cancer survivor who first learned of her diagnosis on the opening day of the 2003 Legislative Session.

By Feb. 14, Gov. Rick Scott‘s statewide tour to promote his proposed 2017-18 budget made a stop in Trumbull’s district. According to MyPanhandle.com, Scott “wasted no time criticizing those who voted … to defund the agencies.”

“In Tallahassee, there (are) some politicians that don’t understand the importance of a job,” Scott said. “I am shocked that Rep. Jay Trumbull voted to abolish Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.”

Trumbull later “said his vote was not an attempt to limit jobs, but to start a conversation about transparency and accountability within the agencies,” the site reported.

The next day, Trumbull filed the 1-page bill (HB 3343) that goes along with Dover’s tourism funding request.

Trumbull could not be reached by mobile phone: His voicemail was full and he did not respond to a text message.

Dover was unavailable Monday and a request for comment is pending with the association’s communications director.

On Friday, Fred Piccolo, Corcoran’s spokesman, said the speaker was unaware of the FRLA’s request and had no comment.

The bill to kill the agencies and incentive plans has a second stop in the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday.

In op-ed, Rick Scott still swinging against GOP opposition to incentives

Gov. Rick Scott has released an opinion column on the “Florida House playing politics with Florida jobs” one day before a House panel discusses killing Enterprise Florida, VISIT FLORIDA and many business incentive programs.

Scott’s office emailed the op-ed to news media Monday afternoon. The House Appropriations Committee meets Tuesday to consider  a bill that would eliminate the agencies.

The email calls out by name Republican House members “who just last year supported Gov. Scott’s efforts to increase funding at Enterprise Florida,” including Jason Brodeur, Travis Cummings, Bill Hager, Larry Metz, Holly Raschein, and Charlie Stone.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has called such use of public money “corporate welfare.”

The op-ed as released is below:


The Florida House of Representatives has decided to push legislation to undo economic development funding in Florida and defund our state’s tourism agency.  A House panel voted for this job killing legislation two weeks ago and the House Appropriations Committee will be voting on it tomorrow.

That’s correct, many of your elected members of the Florida House have decided their top priority this year is to eliminate funding for Florida’s economy.  They want to eliminate Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida.

They say that they don’t want government intrusion in the free market. Of course, there is government financing in the areas of healthcare, transportation, education, housing, and social services. But, they have decided to try to totally eliminate funding for the one area where we can easily show a major return on the investment of your tax dollars – jobs are being created by more companies moving to our state and our tourism industry has recruited a record-breaking number of visitors over the last few years.

Even more absurd, the politicians in the Florida House who already voted for this bill say they don’t necessarily want to abolish these programs but instead want to advance a “conversation” …meaning they voted for something they don’t support. This is hypocrisy at its best and these are the kind of games I came to Tallahassee to change.

I ran for Governor to fight this sort of politics and bring common sense from the business world to our government.  The plan has worked, as Florida has added more than 1.26 million new jobs.

Many politicians spend a lifetime in government and they simply don’t have any understanding of how business actually works. These are the facts that confirm the negligence of eliminating our jobs and tourism agencies generating jobs:

  • Before I came into office, state incentives were often awarded before goals, like job creation, were met.
  • But, today Florida companies only receive economic incentives after an independent third-party audit proves stringent requirements are met, including proven job growth and wage requirements to ensure a great return on investment for Florida families.
  • This means NO MONEY is given as “corporate welfare” because no money can be awarded until contract requirements like jobs are created.
  • Because of our economic development programs, several companies like Hertz, Northrup Grumman, and Blue Origin – to name a few – have located or expanded in our state to create thousands of jobs.

The Florida House likes to rely on inaccurate information to push their narrative of “corporate welfare,” by highlighting the failed deal of Digital Domain.

Let’s look at the facts: EFI recommended that the state not fund Digital Domain.  Ironically, politicians in the Florida Legislature chose to ignore EFI’s recommendation and circumvented EFI’s strict process in 2009 by funding the failed project FROM THE LEGISLATURE.

Both Visit Florida and EFI have made mistakes over the years.  In both cases, we have made changes to ensure transparency of taxpayer dollars and brought in new leadership.  That is what you do in business; you make changes and get it right.   But what you do not do is close up shop.

If the House were to succeed with ending economic development and tourism programs in Florida, the small and rural communities in our state would be hurt the most. Cancelling our statewide program would hurt those areas in Florida that would truly be revitalized by a new job creator in their community.

Just last week I travelled the state and met with business owners who are devastated that there is even talk of abolishing these programs.  Many job creators rely on EFI and Visit Florida and said they would not be able to keep their doors open if it weren’t for their help.  No job is expendable to the families they employ.

Coming into this job after a lifetime in business, I knew I would have to learn to tolerate some aspects of politics, and I would have to endure lectures from people who do not know the first thing about creating jobs. But, I cannot allow thousands of Floridians to be denied jobs and opportunities in our state just so a few in elected office can get headlines for their campaign for higher office.

Our economy is booming. Our economic development and tourism programs are some of the best in the nation when it comes to getting a positive return on investment. I will continue to set the record straight on the politics the Florida House is playing and fight for the Florida families who expect their government officials to bring them more opportunity, not less.

This is no time to stand still.  In business you are either moving forward or you are moving backward.  The Florida House is currently planning to take our state backward.  I will fight to stop them, and so should you.

Nursing homes fighting plan to eliminate certificate of need program

The top legislative priority for Florida’s nursing homes this year is to kill a proposal, backed by Gov. Rick Scott, to repeal a requirement that they demonstrate a demand for new beds before they can expand or build new facilities.

SB 676, by Rob Bradley, and CS/HB 7 by Alex Miller, and would eliminate the certificate of need program at the Agency for Health Care Administration for all health care facilities.

Eliminating the requirement for nursing homes “would be extremely disruptive,” Florida Health Care Association chief lobbyist Bob Asztalos told reporters during a briefing Monday.

The association, which represents 82 percent of the skilled nursing facilities in Florida, fears competition from newer, shinier “Taj Mahal” facilities would drive down occupancy rates.

That’s what happened in Texas, where the occupancy rate hit 70 percent after the state scrapped its certificate of occupancy requirement, Asztalos said.

In Indiana, eliminating the requirement led to the construction of “so many buildings that they were looking at taxpayer money to buy buildings to take them off line,” he said.

“We don’t want to see Florida make the same mistakes,” Asztalos said.

Staffing levels would be “watered down,” said Rob Greene, CEO of Palm Garden Healthcare, which operates a network of facilities.

The association would like to see expansion limited to about 3,750 beds through July 2017, targeted to areas where they’re needed.

Free-market advocates, including Scott, argue an open marketplace would lower costs and increase quality.

“The government sets our rates. If there were a true free market, we would set our rates that the state would pay us for our care. But how do you have a free market where they set our rates?” Asztalos said.

The existing system is in the best interests of nursing homes, he conceded, but it also serves the state’s policy of placing patients in home- or community-based care.

“It’s not like nursing home A is going to steal beds from nursing home B. You’re going to look for people with high acuity who are in assisted living facilities, who are eligible for nursing home care or in home- or community-based care.”

“It’s really a bad idea,” said Emmett Reed, executive director of the association.

“I understand the free-market concept. But this is a public-private partnership. This is not a true free-market business we’re in.

He added: “I think that, philosophically, the governor wants to get it all on the table, to have the discussion. At the end of day, I think, he may have a reasonable ear for nursing homes when we discuss it with him.”

In other priorities, the association supports a proposed prospective payment reimbursement system — paying facilities on a per diem basis tied to factors including patient care and quality.

But it would like a three-year phase-in and more incentives to increase room size and build other improvements.

Additionally, representatives of the organization said, the state could save $68.2 million by exempting long-stay nursing home residents from Florida’s managed care system when it is demonstrated they can’t be moved to less intensive care settings.

Oscar Braynon calls for emergency declaration on heroin

Citing reports that heroin and fentanyl overdose deaths and public health costs are exploding in numbers in Florida, Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon called Monday for Florida to declare a public health emergency.

In a letter, Braynon urged Gov. Rick Scott to have Florida Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip to declare the public health emergency, which would give state agencies wider latitude to address the growing problem.

His call was made on behalf of the entire Florida Senate Democratic Caucus.

Braynon’s call echoes one made by Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay two weeks ago. And that call follows media reports in the Palm Beach Post, the Miami Herald and elsewhere detailing the impacts, including 77 percent or better increases in deaths. Earlier this month The Post estimated the heroin epidemic is costing $1.1 billion a year in Florida hospital charges.

“No longer confined to small urban enclaves, heroin and fentanyl have become the scourge of communities throughout Florida, wreaking widespread devastation not only from the ravages of addiction, but the resurgence of deadly diseases associated with drug abuse,” Braynon wrote. “There is no family, no race, no ethnicity, no income level this epidemic cannot touch, and no effective state bulwark in place to stop it.”

Braynon noted that public health emergencies were declared in 2011 during the height of the pill mill epidemic and the Zika outbreak in South Florida last year.

“This letter is to request that you issue a similar order urgently needed to address the growing threat and rising body count arising from Florida’s opioid-addiction crisis,” he wrote.

Richard Corcoran sues Florida Lottery over ‘improper spending’

In what one lobbyist privately compared to “the bombing of Pearl Harbor,” House Speaker Richard Corcoran Friday dropped a blockbuster lawsuit on the Florida Lottery, which reports to Gov. Rick Scott, saying it was guilty of “wasteful and improper spending” for signing a $700 million deal for new equipment. 

The legal action caps off weeks of tension and sniping between the Republican governor and Corcoran’s GOP House majority after the speaker said he was out to kill state government’s business incentives programs, what he calls “corporate welfare.” Scott says they help create jobs.

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, also seeks to eliminate the dispensers of the largesse, the public-private organizations Enterprise Florida, which does economic development, and VISIT FLORIDA, which handles the state’s tourism marketing.

In retaliation, Scott has been going to the home districts of Republican House members to publicly shame them for supporting an anti-incentives bill. He’s been doing so under the guise of promoting his proposed 2017-18 “Fighting for Florida’s Future” budget.

Later Friday, Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz shot back in an email, saying “Florida Lottery’s record sales have led to historic contributions to our state’s education system and the House sues?” Lottery proceeds go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which helps pay for public education.

Schutz then used a term considered anathema by conservatives: “Not shocking to have another lawsuit from a trial lawyer.” Corcoran is a commercial litigation attorney.

The suit had been known to be in the works and was disclosed earlier this week by POLITICO Florida. The 12-page suit, plus exhibits, was filed in Leon County Circuit Civil court at 4:54 p.m. Friday.

As previously reported, it is what’s known as a “quo warranto” writ, filed against government officials to demand they prove their authority to perform a certain action.

At 5 p.m. Friday, Corcoran’s office said he was suing the Lottery “for signing a contract that spends beyond existing budget limitations.”

The deal, with International Game Technology (IGT), will provide the Lottery with new retailer terminals, in-store signage, self-service lottery vending machines, self-service ticket checkers and an upgraded communications network.

In a press release last September, the company said the contract is for an initial 10-year period, and the Florida Lottery “simultaneously exercised the first of its three available three-year renewal options.”

But Corcoran’s suit asserts “there is insufficient budget authority for the contract to be paid under the current appropriation assuming current conference estimates of ticket sales,” according to the press release.

The complaint says the Lottery “cannot enter into a contract that obligates the agency to pay more in subsequent fiscal years than its current budget authority allows, and it certainly cannot use that contract to support a request for an increase or realignment in its appropriations. In fact, Florida law governing the budgeting process expressly prohibits” it.

State law “protects against executive agencies trying to force the Legislature’s hand in the budgeting process,” the complaint adds. “It also protects against agencies unleashing the lobbyists of private vendors to interfere with that process. This in turn ensures budgeting transparency and predictability.”

In a statement, the speaker said the contract was “yet another example of a government entity thinking it is more important than the people who pay for it.”

“The Lottery, and any other agency for that matter, does not have the right to obligate the taxpayers of Florida by even a penny beyond what the people’s elected Representatives say they can,” Corcoran said.

“This lawsuit filed today is about the rule of law and the protection of taxpayers,” he added. “In addition, I hope our actions today serve as a warning to any agency playing fast and loose with the rules that the people have had enough.”

One prominent lobbyist, who asked not to be named, said he won’t be surprised if Corcoran – rumored to be weighing a run for governor in 2018 – has similar lawsuits lined up against other agencies under Scott.

“This is just one more bomb in a greater war,” the lobbyist said. The House “will keep firing bullets at this governor … Richard wants to change the paradigm of how government does business, and his members are with him. You have to give him credit: He created an army of believers.”

Jacksonville correspondent A.G. Gancarski contributed to this report. 

It’s official: Jason Allison resigns as state CIO to join Foley & Lardner

Jason Allison, Florida’s Chief Information Officer, has told Gov. Rick Scott he is resigning.

Allison

Allison’s letter, dated Monday, was released Friday by the Agency for State Technology, which Allison heads. News of his departure was exclusively in Friday’s edition of SUNBURN.

“My years directing the Agency … and my prior service as your Technology Policy Coordinator have been some of the best in my life,” he wrote. “I cannot thank you enough for all of the opportunities and experiences you have provided me during my time in your administration.”

Allison’s letter says he is resigning effective March 7 – the first day of the 2017 Legislative Session. A news release sent Friday from Foley & Lardner says he is starting with the law firm the next day as a “director of public affairs in the Tallahassee office.”

A number of former Scott appointees now work at the firm, including Jon Steverson, former secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, and his predecessor at the department, Herschel Vinyard.

Others who have recently worked for Foley are former Department of Economic Opportunity head Jesse Panuccio, now at the U.S. Department of Justice under President Donald Trump, and Karen Bowling, who co-founded the Solantic walk-in urgent care centers with Scott. She was a Foley lobbyist before becoming CEO of a Jacksonville-based health care tech company.

“Jason is highly skilled at managing the creation, implementation and maintenance of information systems in highly structured and unstructured environments. His deep understanding of government operations and IT issues, combined with his years of experience in the public and private sectors, will tremendously benefit our clients,” David Ralston, chair of the firm’s Government & Public Policy Practice Group, said in a statement.

Allison added: “After spending most of my career dedicated to public service in the technology sector, I am eager to return to private practice with an esteemed group of professionals … Foley’s Government & Public Policy Practice is well known for its outstanding advocacy and counsel to clients, and I look forward to helping advance that effort.”

Under state law, he would not be able to lobby his own agency for two years after leaving. “No … appointed state officer … shall personally represent another person or entity for compensation before the government body or agency of which the individual was an officer or member for a period of 2 years following vacation of office,” the law says.

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

“The Chief Information Officer sets information technology (IT) policy and direction for the State of Florida,” the agency’s website says. “The State CIO is an advisor to the Governor on technology issues.”

In a statement, Scott said Allison “has done an outstanding job.”

“Under his leadership, Florida has made impressive strides to enhancing state IT operations,” Scott said. “I want to thank Jason for his dedication to the State of Florida and wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

Eric Larson, now the state’s Chief Technology Officer and AST’s Chief Operations Officer, will become Interim Executive Director and Chief Information Officer, according to a statement from the Governor’s Office. Larson has been with the agency since 2014.

Allison also has been Chief Information Officer for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, his online bio says. “Jason has more than 13 years’ experience in various facets of information technology and holds many industry certifications in areas such as IT process management, project management, security, and network administration,” it says.

He received an undergraduate degree in international affairs from Florida State University.

Allison leaves a month after his agency was dinged in a report by Florida Auditor General Sherrill F. Norman’s office that found security and record-keeping lapses.

Ed. Note: An earlier version of this post relied on a previous press release that mistakenly said Allison would start next Monday. The date is now correct in this version.

Supreme Court rejects evidence standard supported by Rick Scott, lawmakers

In yet another rejection of a policy backed by conservative lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Supreme Court Thursday “declined” to change the state’s expert evidence rule to one used by federal courts and most states.

“We decline to adopt the Daubert Amendment to the extent that it is procedural, due to the constitutional concerns raised, which must be left for a proper case or controversy,” said the majority opinion by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy A. Quince.

Those concerns include “undermining the right to a jury trial and denying access to courts.”

Florida uses the Frye standard, generally considered easier for plaintiffs to get damaging expert testimony before a jury, while it’s much harder to do so under Daubert.

That’s why Frye is preferred by plaintiffs’ attorneys, and Daubert became a favorite of the defense bar and its big business clients. The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors last year voted to recommend to the court against the change.

Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston, the court’s conservative minority, disagreed with their colleagues. The newest justice, conservative C. Alan Lawson, did not participate in the decision.

Polston, in a dissent in which Canady joined, questioned the majority’s concerns.

“Has the entire federal court system for the last 23 years as well as 36 states denied parties’ rights to a jury trial and access to courts? Do only Florida and a few other states have a constitutionally sound standard for the admissibility of expert testimony? Of course not,” he wrote.

In 2013, the Legislature approved and Scott signed into law the changing of Florida’s expert evidence rule to the Daubert standard, but the courts did not immediately follow suit.

The judicial branch avoided having to follow the change because of a question over whether switching the expert testimony rule is substantive or procedural. Generally under the state constitution, the Legislature has authority over the “substance” of court operations and the courts decide matters purely of “procedure.”

State Rep. Larry Metz, who sponsored the law that included the Frye-to-Daubert swap, had argued before the court last year that the change “gets to the fundamental purpose of courts,” having “a greater standard of reliability so we can get to the truth in cases.”

On Thursday, he said the court ignored the fact that his legislation passed in both chambers with comfortable majorities: “And we are representing the people of Florida in doing that.”

But William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, a group created by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement “there are no federal cases holding (that) Daubert violates a right to a jury trial and access to courts. The court was wrong to insinuate otherwise.”

The court noted it had received 56 comments in favor of keeping Frye and 131 comments in favor of switching to Daubert.

Of those, 77 were “form emails from ‘small business owners’ repeating the same request that the court (move to) ‘the Daubert expert witness standard that the Florida legislature passed in 2013,’ ” a footnote in the majority opinion said.

The Frye standard asks whether expert testimony is “generally accepted” in a particular scientific community. Daubert is stricter scientifically and can often require a kind of “mini-trial” even before an expert can appear in front of jurors. Both are named after court cases.

Oral argument in the case last year added the wrinkle of criminal cases, where advocates said Daubert might help defendants’ lawyers hold police crime labs more accountable, in cases involving drug-sniffing dogs and testing for arson, for example.

The full court Thursday also turned down two other proposed evidence changes.

One would require “a standard-of-care expert witness in a medical malpractice action to specialize in the same specialty as the health care provider against whom or on whose behalf the testimony is offered.”

The other would change “the hearsay exception relating to reports of abuse by elderly persons or disabled adults.”

 

Tri-Rail sticking with, defending, controversial $500M, one-bid contract

The operators of South Florida’s Tri-Rail commuter train are sticking to their guns, defending their process that disqualified five of six bidders for a half-billion dollar contract, and hoping to win back angry state leaders who want to cut their state funding over the matter.

“Right now, we’re moving forward. We followed a process, and we put the process in place,” said C. Mikel Oglesby, deputy executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.

That process has Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Department of Transportation and state Sen. Jeff Brandes, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development, all threatening to cut Tri-Rail’s money.

Their concerns are over how and why the regional transportation authority disqualified five lower bids before awarding the contract to Herzog Transit Services for $511 million for ten years.

The contract is a merged program that brings together the operations, train maintenance, track maintenance and dispatching for a commuter rail that serves 4 million people a year along a line from West Palm Beach to Miami.

The authority requested the proposals late last summer, and they were all submitted in December. Late in December the authority’s procurement staff, backed by its Technical Committee, ruled that five companies ignored explicit rules and made their proposals conditional, meaning their bottom lines might not be their ultimate bottom lines.

Their proposals were tossed, even though they were for less money, as low as $396 million over ten years. The bidding process wasn’t all about money; 80 percent of the competition had to do with other matters such as reliability and programmatic assurances. But no one knows how the others stacked up against Herzog on those scores because the tossed proposals were never scored.

All that is known for sure is that Herzog’s bid cost the most.

Tri-Rail gets about $42 million in operating subsidies from the Florida Legislature, through the Florida Department of Transportation, and also was slated to get $156 million in infrastructure money from the state.

Now all that’s at risk as the authority goes forward with what Oglesby said was the fair, appropriate and legal outcome of a bidding process in which all the bidders but one failed to follow the rules.

State officials though fear something may be amiss. In Scott’s budget proposal, Tri-Rail’s programmed infrastructure money was zeroed out, with a notation that Tri-Rail could get it only if it revisited the operations and maintenance contract award. Brandes was furious when the board ignored his concerns and approved the Herzog contract on Jan. 27, and threatened that money.

“We hope it doesn’t come to that,” Oglesby said.

The authority will get its first chance to defend itself and try to rescuer that funding Thursday morning before Brandes’s committee.

“We think that once they hear from us tomorrow, they’ll see that we followed the rules. I think they’ll have a better understanding about what we did and why we did it,” Oglesby said. “We’ll make sure we’re thorough and really succinct in our explanation. And it’s going to really come down to, what do we do next?”

Even at $511 million, Herzog’s proposal appeared reasonable, he said. That’s because the authority’s private, outside engineering estimate for what the services likely were worth had come to $530 million, so Herzog beat the cost estimate.

The authority also must deal with challenges from the losing companies, who deny that there was anything conditional about their proposals. Three of them went to court in January and argued that the authority’s procurement staff and technical committee had misinterpreted and mischaracterized their proposals, and that the Authority had the full power to hold them to their written bottom lines, regardless of whether there were concerns about the proposals being conditional.

However, in a preliminary decision, Circuit Judge Barbara McCarthy of Broward County sided with the authority.

“A judge listened to them for four and a half hours at a hearing and found that our procurement director’s determination was reasonable. She realized, yes, the proposers did condition, even though they claimed they didn’t,” Oglesby said. “A judge said they did. Our procurement director said they did. Our attorneys said they did. And ultimately, as we moved forward and got a majority board vote, the board agreed.”

There also is the issue of the riders, Oglesby added. Herzog met all the conditions with no caveats, including addressing some additional services such as providing ground transportation to other points away from the tracks, while the authority contended some of the other proposals left that up in the air.

The new services are to be in place July 1.

Extending the process by rejecting what essentially is a qualified bid below estimates and seeking to either rebid or re-award the contract would at the least cause delays of unknown length, he added; and then Herzog would have grounds to challenge.

“You have 4 million riders scratching their heads right now, wondering what’s going on, and why aren’t we moving forward and doing the right thing for us,” he said.

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