Gov. Rick Scott Archives - Page 7 of 66 - Florida Politics

Is Rick Scott co-opting Florida’s judicial nominating process?

Christian D. Searcy doesn’t consider himself “the most political person” but suggests you don’t need a weatherman to see which way the wind is blowing on Florida’s judicial nominating panels.

Searcy, president of the Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley personal-injury law firm, reacted to Tuesday’s news about the state’s Judicial Nominating Commissions (JNCs).

Gov. Rick Scott had summarily rejected all suggestions from The Florida Bar to fill vacancies in several JNCs, the panels that recommend lawyers for judgeships.

Searcy once was on a slate of three people recommended by the Bar to serve on West Palm Beach’s 4th District Court of Appeal nominating commission.

He and Kathryn S. Pecko of Hollywood and Glenn J. Waldman of Fort Lauderdale were rejected by Scott in November 2015, according to Bar records. He was never given a reason why, Searcy said.

“It would seem to any fair-minded person (that) what’s happening to these slates is just plain wrong,” he said. “It seems as though this governor aims to make the judiciary just another branch of the Governor’s Office.”

Scott and fellow conservatives have long complained of judicial activism, and the governor has said he wants “judges (who) say what the law is, rather than what it should be.” But often, that’s in response to a decision that just happens to go against a policy they favor.

In the Florida House, for instance, “the GOP leadership has been sore at the Supreme Court for a while now, mostly over forced legislative redistricting rules and use of public funds for school tuition vouchers,” writes Tallahassee Democrat columnist Bill Cotterell, referring to recently filed measures that could allow lawmakers to override court decisions they don’t like.

When Scott presented C. Alan Lawson last month as his first choice for the Florida Supreme Court, the governor said Lawson “clearly believes in following the rule of law. He is going to do a good job … and he’s not going to legislate from the bench.”

Scott “appoints JNC members who share his vision that judges will follow the law and serve humbly,” spokeswoman Lauren Schenone told “The voters that elected him expect that.”

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The nine-member Judicial Nominating Commissions, made up of lawyers and non-lawyers, hold great sway over who becomes a judge in Florida.

When a vacancy occurs that must be filled by appointment, a JNC “submit(s) three to six names of the most highly qualified applicants to the Governor, who must make a final selection from the list.”

The system, known as judicial merit selection, is supposed to ensure a nonpartisan way “to locate, recruit, investigate, and evaluate applicants for judicial office.”

Nominating commissions’ “structure and composition must provide a climate that fosters public confidence in the process,” wrote retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in a 2014 white paper. “They must not be a political or partisan entity.”

Getting onto a commission under Scott hasn’t been easy.

“Five members are appointed directly by the Governor, and the (Florida) Bar sends nominations to the Governor to fill the remaining four spots,” according to the Bar’s website.

But state law allows the governor to “reject all of the nominees recommended for a position and request that the (Bar) submit a new list.” In that way, a governor can simply turn down the Bar until he gets the names he wants.

Bar records show that Scott has rejected approximately 90 names put forth by the Bar for JNC openings since he took office in 2011. Of those, Searcy was the only person contacted by who would speak on the record.

Florida’s system “used to be held up as a model,” Searcy said. “But now it just allows (nominating panels) to be stacked by a governor.”

Rick Scott rejects Bar’s nominees for state’s judicial panels

Gov. Rick Scott has rejected all suggestions from The Florida Bar to fill vacancies in several of the state’s Judicial Nominating Commissions (JNC), the panels that recommend lawyers for judgeships.

The latest rejections now add up to at least 90 of the Bar’s recommendations for JNC openings that Scott has turned down since taking office in 2011, according to Bar records.

Other names that Scott rejected over the years include Vero Beach lawyer Erin Grall, now a Republican state representative, and nationally known civil-rights attorney Ben Crump of Tallahassee.

On Dec. 27, William Spicola, Scott’s general counsel, wrote a letter to Bar President William J. Schifino Jr., saying the governor wanted the Bar to start over and offer different recommendations for all the current openings. He did not give a reason.

“The Governor understands and appreciates The Bar’s time and effort in vetting and selecting nominees for appointment,” Spicola wrote. “Thank you for your important work, and we look forward to receiving additional names for consideration.”

A judicial nominating commission has nine members. “Five members are appointed directly by the Governor, and the Bar sends nominations to the Governor to fill the remaining four spots,” the Bar’s website explains.

The governor must select from the Bar’s recommendations, but state law allows for the governor to “reject all of the nominees recommended for a position and request that the (Bar) submit a new list.”

There is now one “lawyer vacancy” in each of five JNCs: the ones for the 2nd District Court of Appeal, the 3rd District Court of Appeal, and the 6th, 7th, and 20th Judicial Circuits.

The 15 rejected nominees are:

  • Thomas H. Dart, Sarasota
  • Amy S. Farrior, Tampa
  • Natalie P. Thomas, Tampa
  • Debora A. Diaz, Tarpon Springs
  • Robert H. Dillinger, St. Petersburg
  • Hugh C. Umsted, New Port Richey
  • Sonia M. Diaz, Naples
  • Kelley G. Price, Naples
  • Jamie B. Schwinghamer, Estero
  • Elliott B. Kula, Surfside
  • Lisa Lehner, Miami
  • Effie D. Silva, Miami
  • Aaron Delgado, Daytona Beach
  • Erum S. Kistemaker, Daytona Beach
  • Horace Smith Jr., Ormond Beach

The Bar is now taking applications, due Feb. 6, for the next set of nominations.

Judge invalidates pollution notification rule

A Florida administrative law judge says a rule requiring companies to notify the public of pollution events within 24 hours is invalid.

The new rule was pushed by Gov. Rick Scott after it took weeks for the public to be notified about a giant sinkhole at a fertilizer plant that sent millions of gallons of polluted water into the state’s main drinking water aquifer.

Administrative law judge Bram Canter on Friday ruled that the new rule, which would result in fines for companies who failed to report pollution within a day, was “an invalid exercise of delegated legislative authority.”

Five business groups – Associated Industries of Florida, Florida Farm Bureau Federation, Florida Retail Federation, Florida Trucking Association and the National Federation of Independent Business – challenged the rule in court, saying it would create excessive regulatory costs.

Scott’s office says he is reviewing the ruling and that he still believes the current rules are outdated and need to change.

Rick Scott appoints 24 to Judicial Nominating Commissions

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday announced thirteen appointments and eleven reappointments to many of the state’s Judicial Nominating Commissions, the panels charged with making recommendations for judgeships.

They “submit three to six names of the most highly qualified applicants to the Governor, who must make a final selection from the list,” according to The Florida Bar. “Each Judicial Nominating Commission has nine members. Five members are appointed directly by the Governor, and the Bar sends nominations to the Governor to fill the remaining four spots.”

The latest names are below:

First District Court of Appeal JNC

Christa Calamas, 45, of Tallahassee, is the staff director for the Florida House of Representatives’ Health & Human Services Committee. Calamas previously served as the secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration. She is reappointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2020.

Heather Stearns, 39, of Tallahassee, is an attorney with the Office of the Chief Inspector General. She succeeds Steven Yablonski and is appointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2020.

Christine Graves, 39, of Tallahassee, is an appellate attorney and shareholder with Carlton Fields. She succeeds Jerome Novey and is appointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2019.

Gary Hunter Jr., 49, of Tallahassee, is an attorney for Hopping Green & Sams, P.A. He is reappointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2020.

Second District Court of Appeal JNC

Charbel Barakat, 36, of Tampa, is the vice president and chief counsel of the Florida region for D.R. Horton, Inc. He succeeds Peter Meros and is appointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2020.

Hunter Chamberlin, 44, of Tampa, is an attorney and the owner of Chamberlin Law Firm, P.A. He is reappointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2020.

Fifth District Court of Appeal JNC

Amanda Carl, 35, of Deltona, is a corporate attorney for A. Duda & Sons, Inc. She succeeds Isaac Lidsky and is appointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2020.

Brett Renton, 34, of Orlando, is an attorney and partner with Shutts & Bowen, LLP. He succeeds Richard Mitchell and is appointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2020.

Michael C. Sasso, 64, of Oviedo, is an attorney and partner with Sasso & Sasso, P.A. He is reappointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2020.

Second Circuit JNC

J. Andrew Atkinson, 43, of Tallahassee, is the general counsel for the Department of Management Services. He is reappointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2020.

Stuart Williams, 46, of Tallahassee, is the general counsel for the Agency for Health Care Administration. He is reappointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2020.

Robert Clarke Jr., 59, of Tallahassee, is an attorney with Ausley McMullen. He is reappointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2020.

Sixth Circuit JNC

Bill Bunting, 76, of Hudson, succeeds Kevin Brennan and is appointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2020.

Todd Jennings, 35, of Belleair, is an attorney with Macfarlane, Ferguson, and McMullen. He is reappointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2020.

Kara Hardin, 40, of Zephyrhills, is an attorney with Kara Hardin, P.L. She succeeds Hugh Umsted and is appointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2019.

Ninth Circuit JNC

Paetra Brownlee, 34, of Orlando, is an attorney with Charles M. Greene, P.A. She is reappointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2020.

Matthew Klein, 34, of Orlando, is an attorney with Jackson Lewis, P.C. He succeeds Joshua Grosshans and is appointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2020.

Joshua Grosshans, 33, of Winter Garden, is an attorney with Latham, Shuker, Eden & Beaudine, LLP. He succeeds William Vose and is appointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2020.

William Vose, 72, of Orlando, is a former assistant state attorney for the Ninth Circuit. He fills a vacant seat and is appointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2018.

Eleventh Circuit JNC

Paul Huck Jr., 50, of Pinecrest, is an attorney with Jones Day. He is reappointed for a term beginningDecember 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2020.

Hayden O’Byrne, 35, of Coral Gables, is an associate attorney with K&L Gates, LLP. He succeeds Daniel Schwartz and is appointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2020.

Walter Harvey, 51, of Miami Shores, is an attorney for the Miami-Dade County School Board. He succeeds Melanie Damian and is appointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2020.

Thirteenth Circuit JNC

Michael Beltran, 32, of Tampa, is a sole practitioner with Beltran Litigation, P.A. He succeeds C. Howard Hunter, III, and is appointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2020.

Gilbert Singer, 61, of Tampa, is an attorney and partner with Marcadis Singer, P.A. He is reappointed for a term beginning December 30, 2016, and ending July 1, 2020.

Closing statement: Florida Supreme Court justice steps down

Florida Supreme Court Justice James E.C. Perry has reached his final day in office.


Perry is stepping down Friday because he reached the mandatory retirement age for justices.

Perry was appointed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist to the court in 2009. He was the fourth black justice appointed to the court.

During his tenure, he was part of a group of justices that has issued rulings that angered the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott.

Perry last week issued a lengthy dissent that asserted the state had applied the death penalty in a “biased and discriminatory fashion” and that there was no way it could be carried out in a constitutional manner.

Scott earlier this month appointed C. Alan Lawson, the chief judge of the 5th District Court of Appeal, to replace Perry.

Jim Rosica’s review of top state government stories in 2016

From algebra to Zika, 2016 brought a plethora of material to the Capitol Press Corps. Trying to pick the top state government stories is a subjective pursuit, to say the least, but here are the picks for the passing year. In (kind of) chronological order:

— Kevin McCarty ousted as state Insurance Commissioner, replaced by David Altmaier

McCarty gave himself the ax in early January, saying he was resigning to pursue “other career opportunities.” The then 56-year-old often took the blame for rising insurance rates in the state, especially when homeowners discovered they would have to pay more in premiums. Gov. Rick Scott had had it in for McCarty for a while; he was among a triumvirate of state officials that Scott forced out the door, including FDLE Commissioner Gerry Bailey and Department of Revenue head Marshall Stranburg. Then Scott and CFO Jeff Atwater deadlocked on McCarty’s replacement. (Under state law, Scott and Atwater first have to agree on one candidate.) Scott backed retired insurance executive Jeffrey Bragg, while Atwater was behind Bill Hager, a state representative and former Iowa Insurance Commissioner. The compromise candidate was David Altmaier, then the Office of Insurance Regulation’s deputy commissioner, who once was a high school algebra teacher. Altmaier was appointed in April.

— Pro-school vouchers rally in Tallahassee; school vouchers ruling

Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., led a march and rally in downtown Tallahassee during the Legislative Session in February, in support of Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship, attracting several thousand participants and spectators. Capitol Police director Chris Connell even sent an advisory to state workers that “organizers are busing in people from around the state and are planning for approximately 10,000 people to attend the rally.” The timing was apt: It was the day after the federal holiday memorializing his father, the slain civil-rights leader. Then in August, the 1st District Court of Appeal sided with a lower court to throw out the lawsuit filed by the Florida Education Association and others over the state’s largest private school voucher program. They had argued its method of funding private-school educations for more than 90,000 schoolchildren is unconstitutional. The vouchers are funded by companies, which in turn receive tax credits on money they owe to the state.

— Rick Scott’s $250 million in incentives nixed by lawmakers

Scott had proposed a “Florida Enterprise Fund,” $250 million for business incentives. “Everyone knows my priorities,” he said close to the end of session. “All of them are tied to getting more jobs in our state. The tax cut is important … along with the $250 million for (the Fund).” But, as Uncle Junior once said of Richie Aprile, “He couldn’t sell it.” An intransigent House, including current House Speaker Richard Corcoran, derided it as corporate welfare. Relentless criticism from groups like Americans for Prosperity-Florida didn’t help either. In the end, Scott’s business recruitment effort got “zero.” And Scott wound up vetoing $256.1 million from the final 2016-17 budget – eerily close to the $250 million he sought for economic development.

— Legislature punts on new Seminole Compact

The history of failure in dealing with gambling continued in the Legislature in 2016. A deal between the state and Seminole Tribe of Florida on exclusive rights to offer blackjack in Florida expired last year, and Scott negotiated a new “compact” guaranteeing blackjack exclusivity in exchange for $3 billion over seven years. The deal died in March when it couldn’t get to either floor for a vote. It contained provisions that would have allowed the tribe to also offer craps and roulette—that is, more games. And lawmakers tacked on bills that would have expanded gambling offerings for the dog and horse tracks in their districts. Legislative leaders say they support bringing the compact back in 2017. But a federal judge recently sided with the tribe in, saying no matter what the Seminoles can keep dealing cards till 2030 – the end of the original agreement – and don’t have to pay the state a dime. Nonetheless, the tribe is still paying to keep a fragile peace, depositing $19.5 million in state coffers this month.

— Rick Scott signs death penalty overhaul into law, which Supreme Court later invalidates 

In March, Scott signed a measure that overhauled Florida’s death penalty by requiring that at least 10 out of 12 jurors recommend an execution for it to be ordered. Florida previously only required that a majority of jurors recommend a death sentence but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the state’s sentencing law was unconstitutional. In 2013, Scott also signed “The Timely Justice Act,” which requires governors to sign death warrants within 30 days after a Death Row prisoner exhausts all appeals, among other provisions. This year’s fix was short-lived: By October, the Florida Supreme Court shot the law down, saying death sentences require a unanimous jury. The court added the new law can no longer be applied to pending prosecutions in the state. Still another decision opened the door to death-sentenced inmates getting their sentences reduced to life. And the opinions mean lawmakers will once again, in the words of Justice Harry Blackmun, have to “tinker with the machinery of death” in 2017.

— Supreme Court decisions punch holes in workers’ comp system

The state’s business lobby had a conniption after the Florida Supreme Court ruled on two cases this summer affecting the state’s workers’ comp system. One struck down a law that limited payments to injured workers to only two years. Another struck down a law that capped attorney fees in workers’ compensation cases. Soon, the National Council on Compensation Insurance, which submits rate filings on behalf of insurers, asked state regulators to OK a nearly 20 percent rate hike in workers’ comp premiums. That request was whittled down to 14.5 percent, which took effect Dec. 1. Opponents have criticized the 2003 changes put in place by Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature, saying they were draconian and favored employers at the cost of injured employees. Companies said the new system cut costs, which helps businesses grow jobs. And the changes also were intended to reduce lawsuits over benefits. Expect lawmakers to tackle this issue as well in 2017.

— Citrus Department gets smaller budget, staff cuts

The citrus greening epidemic, which is killing the state’s citrus trees, also hit the Department of Citrus this year. Normally, the department’s operations are paid for by a tax paid by growers on each box of citrus. But because the state’s citrus crop is shrinking, so are the department’s finances. The Florida Citrus Commission, which oversees the department, in June approved a $20.7 million spending plan for 2016-17, a 32 percent decrease from the prior budget year. That was after leading growers called for the Department to “be scaled back considerably,” saying they “do not believe current marketing programs are generating an economic return.” One bit of good news came by year’s end: Florida’s orange crop production will hold steady at 72 million boxes for the 2016-17 season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasted.

— State economists say budget is heading into the red

In September, the state’s economists told lawmakers Florida is likely to basically break even next year in terms of its state budget. The Joint Legislative Budget Commission met in the Capitol to hear the latest financial outlook for 2017-18: Income and outgo estimates left Florida with a relatively scant $7.5 million left over out of about $32.2 billion in available revenue. And deficits were forecast for following years. The current year’s budget is roughly $82 billion, which includes federal dollars. (About two-thirds of the yearly budget goes toward health care and education.) By December, the outlook was a bit more sanguine, with nearly $142 million expected to be available. Within context, however, that amounts to a “very minor adjustment,” said Amy Baker, the Legislature’s chief economist.

— Scott tussles with Tallahassee over Hurricane Hermine response

Welcome to Tallahassee, where politics meets weather. Hurricane Hermine, the first to make landfall in Florida since Wilma in 2005, smacked the Panhandle on Sept. 2. Afterward, Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee and Republican Gov. Rick Scott had a testy faceoff over the speed of repair to the city’s electric system. Scott said in a press release that the city was declining help from other utilities and the Department of Transportation. He said he was “frustrated” over how long it was taking to get power back on. Gillum shot back that Scott’s “comments and press releases and tweets have been put out, in my opinion, to undermine our cooperative process … We owe it to (the people of Tallahassee) to not be about politics, but to be about getting power to them.” When Hurricane Matthew skimmed Florida’s Atlantic coast the next month, Scott was more solicitous in dealing with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, a former Republican Party of Florida chair.

— Voters pass medical cannabis amendment

The second time was the charm for a state constitutional amendment guaranteeing Floridians a right to medical cannabis. Florida voters approved the initiative by 71 percent, well over the required 60 percent needed. That was two years after it missed passage by roughly 2 ½ percent. The amendment creates a right for people with debilitating medical conditions, as determined by a licensed Florida physician, to use medical marijuana. It defines a debilitating condition as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other disorders. In Florida, the “non-euphoric” version is already approved for children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. The state later passed a law allowing terminally ill patients to use a stronger form of marijuana during their final days. Lawmakers already have begun dealing with how medical marijuana will work in Florida, holding the first of many workshops this month.

— Dozens begin applying for seats on Constitution Revision Commission

The Florida Constitution allows for a “revision commission” to meet every 20 years to “examine the constitution, hold public hearings and … file its proposal, if any, of a revision of this constitution or any part of it.” The next one is scheduled to convene in the 30 days before the beginning of the 2017 Legislative Session in March. The lead-up started in January. That’s when the LeRoy Collins Institute, a nonpartisan policy think tank, released a cartoon featuring an animated Sandy D’Alemberte, the legal legend and former Florida State University president who chaired the commission in 1977-78. Later in the year, scores of constitution-revising aspirants turned in applications to Scott, who gets to pick 15 of the 37 members and will choose its chair. Applications also rolled in to Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, who gets three picks, and Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who get nine choices each. The applicant lists read like a Who’s Who of Florida, old and new, including present and former lawmakers, lawyers and law professors, local officials and lobbyists.

— Richard Corcoran rolls out tough new House rules

The new Speaker, calling for a new culture of transparency in the Florida House, issued new rules in November that get tough with the capital’s lobbying corps. One increases the ban on former members lobbying their colleagues from two years to six years. Another prohibits state representatives from flying in aircraft owned, leased, or otherwise paid for by lobbyists. Still another requires lobbyists to file an individual disclosure for every bill, amendment, and individual appropriation they are trying to influence. And he created a new Committee on Public Integrity and Ethics, which will “consider legislation and exercise oversight on matters relating to the conduct and ethics standards of House members, state and local public officials, public employees, lobbyists, and candidates for public office, the regulation of political fundraising and the constitutional prerogatives of the Legislature.” Lobbyists publicly nodded in agreement – and privately expressed displeasure. “What I take major issue with is trashing ALL lobbyists and accusing us of being the reason legislators are out of control,” one said anonymously.

— Pitbull controversy ends with VISIT FLORIDA head’s ouster

In December, Scott called on CEO Will Seccombe to resign, the last casualty of a kerfuffle over a secret contract with Miami rapper Pitbull to promote Florida tourism. Corcoran filed suit for the agency to reveal how much it promised the rapper after it claimed the deal was a “trade secret.” Pitbull had the last laugh, disclosing his contract via Twitter and showing he stands to make up to $1 million. Scott wrote to agency board chair William Talbert, telling him he wanted an overhaul of how it does business, revealing more on how it spends money, including contracts. “The notion that Visit Florida spending would not be transparent to the taxpayers is just ridiculous,” Scott wrote. By that point, Seccombe already had fired two of his top executives, Chief Operating Officer Vangie McCorvey and Chief Marketing Officer Paul Phipps, but it wasn’t enough. Seccombe had been in charge of the agency since 2012.

— Department of Health beats Zika–for now

Florida declared its crisis with local transmission of Zika over for the season in December, ahead of peak tourism months. But health authorities warned that travelers would continue bringing the disease into the state. Starting in late July, state health officials had identified four zones in the Miami area where the virus was spreading through local mosquitoes – the first such transmissions in the continental U.S. – and launched aggressive efforts to control the insects. One by one, the zones were deemed clear of continuing infections, and Scott announced that the last one – a 1.5-square-mile area in touristy South Beach – also was cleared. About 250 people have contracted Zika in Florida, and over 980 more Zika infections in the state have been linked to travel, according to state health officials. Zika causes mild flu-like symptoms for most people, but it can cause severe brain-related birth defects when pregnant women become infected. “Hopefully, by next summer, we’ll have a federal government that has a vaccine,” said Scott.

Peter Schorsch, Michael Moline and The Associated Press contributed to this post (reprinted with permission). 

Rick Scott: “Florida continues to outshine other states”

Gov. Rick Scott announced that “Florida’s strong economic and job growth is fueling Floridians’ consumer confidence and housing market which have both seen success at the end of 2016.”

Scott’s office released a statement Friday:

Consumer confidence rose nearly seven points in December to 97.2 points, the highest level in 2016. Meanwhile Florida’s housing market showed strengthening in November with statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes up 10 percent from the previous year’s median price and home sales increasing 12 percent over the last year.

Governor Scott said, “Florida is a great place to live, work and raise a family and people from around the nation know that moving to Florida is a great way to provide new opportunities for their families. As Florida continues to outshine other states with our economic success, growing consumer confidence and strengthening housing market, it is clear that this is truly the best state in the nation to achieve your dreams.”

All five components measured in Florida’s Consumer Sentiment Index rose in December, including personal finance indicators and expectations of future economic growth.

In November, the metro areas with the highest growth in sales over-the-year were Pensacola at nearly 34 percent, The Villages at 32 percent, Lakeland at 28 percent, Sebastian-Vero Beach at 23 percent, Tampa at nearly 22 percent and Gainesville at 20 percent. In November, 8,240 new building permits were issued in Florida, accounting for 9 percent of new building permits issued nationwide.

Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Cissy Proctor said, “As we end the year, it is great to see Florida building upon our economic success with growing consumer confidence and a strong housing market. By making the investments we need to attract jobs and keeping taxes low, Florida families are able to live their dreams here in our state.”

Enterprise Florida economic incentives

Jose Javier Rodriguez files Enterprise Florida reform legislation

Enterprise Florida (EFI) would have to hire outside auditors “to verify compliance” of businesses getting incentive money under legislation filed Tuesday.

Jose Javier Rodriguez

New state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami-Dade Democrat, filed the bill (SB 216) on the state’s public-private economic development organization.

The legislation, which does not yet have a House companion, would require the organization to then “publish on its website the results of each audit performed by the independent third party within 48 hours after receiving the results,” it says.

The bill could be the first of many times the beleaguered organization stares down a legislative gun this year.

Last session, Gov. Rick Scott‘s attempt to create a $250 million business incentive fund under EFI stalled and died.

His ongoing support of incentives puts him at odds with House leadership, especially Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has derided Enterprise Florida as a dispenser of “corporate welfare.” Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has said he’ll lead an effort to end taxpayer funding to the organization.

Rodriguez, a former House member, mostly agrees.

“I think the public has largely been fleeced – and I guess ‘fleeced’ is a strong word – but if these public-private partnerships really do work, we deserve to know that they work and how,” he said in a phone interview. “Over the years, hundreds of millions of dollars have flowed from taxpayers into private hands, and that money has been more about corporate welfare than true economic development.”

In September, the Republican Scott announced he would include $85 million in his 2016-17 budget for Enterprise Florida for economic incentives. But he added he plans to push for legislation to restructure the agency.

Last month, Chris Hart IV, a former state lawmaker and president and CEO of CareerSource Florida, was tapped to take over the CEO role at Enterprise Florida. He starts Jan. 3.

Hart replaces Bill Johnson, who left in June after questions over his hiring and expenses.

Scott and the EFI board have since agreed to streamline operations of the 20-year-old agency, including eliminating jobs, closing international offices, and canceling some contracts with outside consultants.

Among other things, Rodriguez’s bill would make EFI’s head “subject to confirmation by the Senate” and pushes it to disclose more information on the “return on investment” from its economic development programs.

The bill would mandate deals to “be approved by a two-thirds vote of the (agency’s) entire board of directors” if the company has business relations with a board member. That member wouldn’t be allowed to vote.

It would ensure that Enterprise Florida’s “state operational funding” isn’t greater than its “private sector support.” And its employee bonuses would have to be based on a “goal or result (that is) quantifiable, measurable, and verifiable.”

EFI spokesman Nathan Edwards said agency officials will review all legislation that affects the organization and “looks forward to working with the Legislature.”

Southwest Florida correspondent Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster contributed to this post. 

Rick Scott hands Pam Bondi complaint to new prosecutor

Gov. Rick Scott has assigned a complaint filed against Attorney General Pam Bondi to a prosecutor in southwest Florida.

The complaint stems from scrutiny this year over a $25,000 campaign contribution Bondi received from President-elect Donald Trump in 2013.

Bondi asked for the donation around the same time her office was being asked about a New York investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University.

A Massachusetts attorney filed numerous complaints against Bondi, including one that asked State Attorney Mark Ober to investigate Trump’s donation.

Ober asked Scott in September to appoint a different prosecutor because Bondi used to work for him.

Scott assigned the case Friday to State Attorney Stephen Russell, who has one year to decide whether the complaint has any merit.

After Asay decision, anti-death penalty advocates call for commutations

The state’s leading death penalty opposition group is calling for more than 200 Florida death row inmates to have their sentences reduced to life imprisonment.

Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (FADP) says a Florida Supreme Court decision on convicted killer Mark Asay out Thursday means that many are “entitled to be resentenced.”

The court determined that this year’s U.S. Supreme Court opinion, Hurst v. Florida, requiring Florida juries—not judges—”to (determine) the facts necessary to sentence a defendant to death” does not apply retroactively to Asay and many others.

But the opinion can be retroactive for certain death-sentenced inmates whose “cases were not final” when another related U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Ring v. Arizona, came out in 2002.

That’s when the court first said juries alone must decide on “aggravating factors” for the death penalty. As of Friday, there were 384 convicts facing capital punishment in Florida.

Resentencing efforts could cost Florida taxpayers more than $100 million, said Mark Elliott, FADP’s executive director, in a statement.

“Florida taxpayers could spend more than $500,000 for each complex death sentencing phase that may or may not result in a sentence of death,” he said.

“Commuting these death sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole would save many millions of critically needed criminal justice dollars,” Elliott added. “These funds could be reallocated to hire and train more law enforcement officers and better protect those who protect us.

“Now is the time to be both tough on crime and smart with taxpayer dollars.”

A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott said the governor’s lawyers would review the ruling but did not immediately indicate when executions will resume.

The last person put to death in Florida was Oscar Ray Bolin Jr. in January. Scott holds the record for presiding over the most executions as Florida governor – 23 – since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, according to the Department of Corrections.

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