Gov. Rick Scott Archives - Page 7 of 69 - Florida Politics

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.

State could wed whiskey and Wheaties, but at what cost?

Lost in the rush to get the “whiskey and Wheaties” bill over the finish line this year is the incredible toll it might take on independently-owned liquor stores.

The Senate bill (SB 106) that would tear down the “wall of separation” between hard liquor and other retail goods already zoomed through its committees and is now ready to be considered by the full chamber when the 2017 Legislative Session kicks off on March 7.

The House bill (HB 81) is teed up to be discussed by the Careers & Competition Subcommittee today (Wednesday).

A version of the bill has been filed for four years running, aiming to repeal the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Maybe it’s time to hit the brakes.

Take the story of Chuck Kelley, whose family owns four locations of Beach Liquors in Fort Walton Beach, Panama City Beach, Destin and Crestview in the state’s Panhandle.

The business started out as grocery stores, then added liquor stores next to the groceries, as required by current law.

“We got out of the grocery business because we saw Wal-Mart and others going into groceries and thought we just could not compete,” Kelley said.

But now three of the four Beach Liquors are in strip malls that have an “anchor tenant,” the big-box chain stores behind the push to remove the separation requirement.

“If this bill passes, those anchors can put liquor inside their stores, and all of a sudden, they have the traffic that will buy that liquor,” Kelley said. “Our business will be cut. I may not have the sales to justify staying open.”

That means the employees who work for Kelley will be out of jobs. Hmm, and here I thought we were all about “jobs, jobs, jobs” here in Florida.

Rory Eggers, president of the Florida Independent Spirits Association, adds that anchor tenants – the Wal-marts, Targets and others that are behind the push – almost always have a no-compete clause in their lease regarding certain items for sale.

That may include booze. And that means they very well could have the muscle to force out smaller liquor stores in their same shopping centers.

Eggers estimates there are about 260 independently owned stores in just such a situation, putting over 900 jobs at risk.

I’m all for competition and increased business, but at what cost? If I were Gov. Rick Scott, with his almighty veto pen, seems like snuffing out family-owned small businesses is a cost I wouldn’t want to bear.

new judge

Robert J. Luck elevated to appeals court judge

Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday appointed Circuit Judge Robert J. Luck to the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami.

Luck, 37, of North Miami Beach, has served as a circuit judge for the 11th Judicial Circuit since 2013.

He previously was an Assistant U.S. Attorney and Deputy Chief at the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.

Luck received both his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida. He fills the vacancy created by the Jan. 3 retirement of Judge Frank A. Shepherd.

Alan Abramowitz reappointed head of Guardians ad Litem

Gov. Rick Scott reappointed Alan Abramowitz as head of the state’s child advocates program.

The Governor’s Office announced the appointment Wednesday night for a term of Feb. 8, 2017-Feb. 8, 2019.

Abramowitz, 54, of Tallahassee, has been Executive Director of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program since 2010.

Guardians ad litem represent the interests of children in court proceedings, especially in divorce and juvenile dependency matters.

Abramowitz, who served in the Florida National Guard and the United States Army from 1983-98, was state director for family safety for the Department of Children and Families.

He’s also been chief legal counsel for the Department of Children and Families’ Central Florida area and Assistant General Counsel for the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Abramowitz received his bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University, his law degree from Florida State University, and his master’s degree from the University of Central Florida.

House panel votes to kill Enterprise Florida, VISIT FLORIDA

A Florida House panel Wednesday cleared a bill that would eliminate the Enterprise Florida economic development organization, the VISIT FLORIDA tourism marketing agency, and a slew of economic incentive programs.

The Careers and Competition Subcommittee OK’d the proposal (PCB CCS 17-01) by a nearly party-line vote of 10-5.

One Democrat voted for it, Miami’s Roy Hardemon, and one Republican was opposed, Sarasota’s Joe Gruters – an ally of Gov. Rick Scott, who believes in incentives. 

The committee room was packed with bill opponents, including those in the service and tourism industry and many from rural areas, who said economic development and tourism marketing was vital to their livelihood.

Passing the bill as is will “destroy our tourism industry,” said Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, speaking for the thousands of “waitstaff, cooks (and others) worried about losing their jobs.”

The legislation comes in the wake of VISIT FLORIDA CEO Will Seccombe’s December resignation, the last casualty of a kerfuffle over a secret contract – later revealed to be worth up to $1 million – with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism.

Moreover, Scott’s continued support of incentives puts him at odds with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has derided Enterprise Florida as a dispenser of corporate welfare.

“Politicians in @MyFLHouse turned their back on jobs today by supporting job killing legislation,” the governor tweeted after the vote.

Chris Hudson, state director of Americans for Prosperity-Florida, lauded the vote as the death knell of “bloated subsidies.”

“Lawmakers were elected to serve the hardworking people of the state, not well-connected special interests that seek lucrative deals to pad their bottom line,” he said.

“… We applaud the members of this committee who today stood up for fairness, for principle, and for Florida taxpayers.”

But dozens more local officials and small business owners came to Tallahassee to oppose the legislation. Dairy owners joined oyster farmers, short-order cooks, and fishing captains to tell lawmakers the bill would harm them financially.  

Kelly Paige is president of Film Florida, but also owns Level Talent Group in Tampa. She said the state’s previous ending of a film incentive caused her to lose 40 percent of her workforce.

“This bill actually represents a tax increase for my industry,” she told the panel. “If you repeal (any more incentives), you are saying we are closed for business.”

Eric Fletcher, manager of airport operations for Allegiant Air, said VISIT FLORIDA helped his airline grow 2,000 jobs in the state, bringing in 3 million visitors.

And Visit Florida board chairman William Talbert told the subcommittee “every single representative here knows … we would have a state income tax if it was not for tourism.”

After the vote, state Rep. Halsey Beshears, the Monticello Republican who chairs the panel, said he was impressed by the many stories he heard during public comment.

“Obviously, there’s a huge demand out there for (both organizations), but I do think we have to start from zero,” he said. “Still, we’ll let the Speaker know all the concerns we heard today.

“… Not everything will be zeroed out,” Beshears added. “We cannot ignore all the people who traveled from all over Florida to be heard on this.

“I appreciate the dairy man who said every little bit (of marketing) helps, but then the server in Orlando (who supports the bill) told us we need to be good stewards of the people’s money,” he said.

Rick Scott’s favorite business incentive is losing money, Senate hears

Gov. Rick Scott’s favored economic incentive program – the Quick Action Closing Fund (QAC) – is now losing money, the Legislature’s chief economist told a Senate panel Wednesday.

The QAC is a pot of cash that Scott can draw up to $2 million from without legislative approval to entice businesses to the state.

But though the state’s “return on investment” from QAC projects was $1.10 per dollar four years ago, it’s now down to 60 cents per dollar, Amy Baker told the Transportation, Tourism & Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee.

In fact, more state incentive programs are losers than winners, according to Baker’s slides. Incentive programs, including the QAC, as well as Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development organization, and VISIT FLORIDA, the state tourism agency, are slated for elimination under legislation filed in the House. 

Only eight incentives – what Baker called the “strongest of the strong” – make money for state coffers, including the Florida Sports Foundation Grant Program ($5.60 per dollar) and the Qualified Target Industry program (QTI), which now makes $6.40 per dollar invested.

The QTI targets businesses that offer high-wage jobs.

The others either don’t “break even,” though the state may recover some of its costs, such as the Spring Training Baseball Franchise Incentive, Baker’s slides said.

Or the “state loses all of its investment, plus incurs additional costs,” such as Enterprise Zones.

That’s when “we’ve made things worse than it was when we started,” she said, giving the example of no longer taxing something that used to be taxed.

Just breaking even, however, “is a lofty challenge,” Baker said. She noted that a incentive dollar has to “cycle through the economy 16.67 times” to make money for the state.

State Sen. Frank Artiles, a Miami Republican, later asked Baker about the merit of tax breaks for films.

She said they target “the most footloose part” of the film industry, being the shooting of a movie or commercial, “and when they’re done, they’re gone.”

“They’re not building, they’re not ‘nesting’ in local communities,” Baker explained, instead referring to companies that build soundstages here, or focus on “production and editing.”

“They’re less transient,” she said.

Subcommittee chair Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, eventually floated an analogy that instead of just fishing for sharks, lawmakers should focus on keeping “the coral reef” healthy, and that will attract small fish, then bigger fish, then sharks.

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