Gov. Rick Scott Archives - Page 7 of 106 - Florida Politics

Bill Nelson’s Brevard County property valuation challenged

A Brevard County taxpayer is challenging U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson‘s appraisal of land he owns there, alleging it has been undervalued for years, costing the county “hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions” in under-taxation.

It’s not a new issue, and Nelson, in a brief conversation on Friday, dismissed the complaint as something that comes up from political opponents in every election, while he insisted the property’s appraisal is appropriate as the land’s use is for grazing cattle.

The complaint was filed last week by James Peter Fusscas of Malabar with the Brevard County Property Appraiser’s office. It charges that Nelson’s property has been far undervalued, with the office listing the land’s market value at $3,038,750, while assessing its value for tax purposes at only $210,630, when Nelson had once listed the property, and a smaller adjacent parcel, for sale for at nearly $10 million.

That was a reference to a listing from the Allen Morris Company, a real estate agent based in Maitland, which had sought $9.975 million for the 75.7 acres along the coastline and U.S. Highway 1 near Malabar. That listing covered two parcels owned by Nelson, the agricultural area and an adjacent parcel that is zoned for single-family houses but also vacant. The listing included the projection that the two parcels combined could bring $21.5 million if redeveloped for housing.

Fusscas inaccurately contended in his complaint that the property is for sale.

In an email, agent Henry Pineiro told Florida Politics: “This property is not currently for sale and has not been for sale for the last couple of years.”

Nelson’s campaign staff also confirmed that the property is not for sale.

Fusscas’s complaint also refers previous media reports on the land that noted that Nelson leases it at no cost, and also notes that his federal financial disclosures have reported no income from the property for at least the previous seven years.

Fusscas argues that Nelson’s property should not be getting a tax break, and adds, “even if Senator Nelson is somehow entitled to a green belt exemption, his tax burden has nevertheless been much lower than the exemption contemplates.”

Last year Nelson paid $3,687 in taxes on the larger property and $4,309 on the smaller parcel.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott is challenging Nelson’s re-election campaign.

In a brief conversation Friday, Nelson said he has not seen the complaint but said that Republicans try to make an issue of the agricultural appraisal on his property and the taxes in every election cycle, and said this is no different.

“It is agriculture, cow pasture for 60 years,” Nelson said. “This comes up every election.”

Rick Scott names four to circuit, county benches

Gov. Rick Scott announced several judicial appointments late Monday.

Stephen Pitre to the 1st Judicial Circuit

Pitre, 46, of Gulf Breeze, is a shareholder at Clark, Partington, Hart, Larry, Bond, & Stackhouse, P.A. He previously served as an Assistant State Attorney for the 1st Judicial Circuit.

He received his bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University and his law degree from Loyola College School of Law.

Pitre fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Edward P. Nickinson III.

Angela Mason to the Okaloosa County Court

Mason, 41, of Fort Walton Beach, is currently an Assistant State Attorney for the 1st Judicial Circuit, and previously served as an Assistant State Attorney for the 4th Judicial Circuit.

She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and her law degree from the University of Tennessee.

Mason fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge T. Patterson Maney.

Ramiro Christen Areces and Elijah A. Levitt to the Miami-Dade County Court

Areces, 35, of Coral Gables, is a solo practitioner, and previously practiced with Jorden Burt, LLP.

He received his bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and his law degree from the University of Miami. Areces fills the vacancy created by the death of Judge Shelley J. Kravitz.

Levitt, 39, of Miami, is also a solo practitioner. He previously served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and as an Assistant State Attorney for the 11th Judicial Circuit.

He received his bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and his law degree from the University of Miami.

Levitt fills the vacancy created by the appointment of Judge Spencer J. Multack to the 11th Judicial Circuit Court.

Flags at half-staff for Texas school shooting victims

Gov. Rick Scott ordered flags at half-staff in Florida, in solidarity with Texas as it mourns 10 dead there after another high school shooting spree.

“My wife, Ann, and I are devastated to learn of the tragic school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas,” he said in a statement.

“I spoke to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and offered any assistance or support they may need in response to this horrific act of violence against innocent students, teachers, and law enforcement,” he added.

“As we continue to mourn the loss we experienced in Florida on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, we unfortunately know the enormity of the grief they are experiencing and our hearts are broken over this senseless tragedy.”

To “honor and remember” the victims at the Santa Fe High School on May 18, he directed the U.S. and state flags “to be flown at half-staff at all local and state buildings, installations, and grounds throughout the State of Florida.”

“The flags shall be lowered immediately and remain at half-staff until the expiration of President Donald J. Trump’s national directive, until sunset on Tuesday, May 22,” he said. 

President Trump’s proclamation is here.

NRA appeals judge’s decision against pseudonyms in Parkland lawsuit

The National Rifle Association is appealing a federal judge’s ruling against shielding a plaintiff’s name in its litigation against the state’s new school safety and mental health law.

The NRA filed a notice of appeal Thursday to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, court dockets show.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker earlier this week turned down the association’s request to use a “Jane Doe” pseudonym for a 19-year-old Alachua County woman.

She’s been portrayed in court documents as seeking to remain anonymous due to fear that public exposure could result in “harassment, intimidation, and potentially even physical violence.”

In late April, the NRA filed a motion to add “Jane Doe” as a plaintiff to the lawsuit, which contends the age restriction in the new Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act “violates the fundamental rights of thousands of responsible, law-abiding adult Florida citizens and is thus invalid under the Second and Fourteenth Amendments.”

The lawsuit, filed March 9 by the NRA, came just hours after Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a sweeping school-safety measure that included new gun-related restrictions.

The legislation was a rapid response to the Feb. 14 shooting at the Parkland, Broward County high school that left 17 students and faculty members dead and 17 others wounded.

The law raised from 18 to 21 the minimum age to purchase rifles and other long guns.

It also imposed a three-day waiting period on the sale of long guns, such as the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz last year legally purchased, without any waiting period, and is accused of using in the Valentine’s Day massacre at his former school.

While acknowledging that false names may sometimes be used in litigation, Walker cited federal court rules that complaints “must name all the parties,” and referred to case law that lawsuits are “public events” and that the public has a “legitimate interest in knowing all of the facts involved, including the identities of the parties.”

“The NRA must file its amended complaint—without pseudonyms—no later than May 21,” Walker ordered.

Attorney General Pam Bondi had opposed the move, saying the woman’s desire for anonymity was not justified. “The amended complaint also includes allegations about a 19-year-old male identified as John Doe,” Walker’s order notes.

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Background provided by The News Service of Florida. 

Smoke ’em? Judge will decide on puffing medical marijuana

It’s now up to a Tallahassee judge whether the Legislature overstepped when it outlawed the smoking of medical marijuana.

Attorneys for the state and patients who want to smoke the drug squared off in a Leon County courtroom Wednesday before Circuit Judge Karen Gievers. She didn’t immediately rule after the close of evidence, but could issue a decision as early as tonight, if previous experience holds.

The highlight was plaintiff Cathy Jordan, a Manatee County woman who has Lou Gehrig’s disease, uses a wheelchair and struggles to speak. She testified she’s been smoking marijuana since the late 1980s: “I figured, ‘what the heck, what’s it gonna do, kill me?’ “

The issue was whether lawmakers’ ban on smoking runs counter to the constitutional amendment on medicinal cannabis, spearheaded by Orlando attorney and entrepreneur John Morgan, that was approved by voters statewide in 2016. 

Morgan, who sat at counsel’s table but did not participate in the one-day trial, placed the blame solely on Gov. Rick Scott. He signed the medical marijuana implementing law that bans smoking.

He’s “the CEO of the state,” Morgan said after the trial. “Look, people are screaming for this, and he does nothing about it. I think there’s a whole story to be told here about (the state) trying to deny the will of the people.”

Plaintiffs’ attorney Jon Mills argued that the amendment’s use of the definition of the drug in a state law is key.

It says “cannabis” means “all parts of any plant of the genus Cannabis, whether growing or not (emphasis added); the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of the plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant or its seeds or resin.”

If the state can prohibit smoking, why not vaping, or edibles, or indeed, “why not just outlaw” medical marijuana itself, he asked.

Senior Deputy Solicitor General Rachel Nordby countered that the smoking ban is “entirely consistent” with the state’s role to regulate public health. She said the Department of Health, the named defendant, can address “reasonable health and safety concerns,” including smoking.

The state does allow ‘vaping’ as an alternative, she added, because of scientific evidence advising against smoking as an “inhaled method” of delivery.

But Jordan testified she must smoke marijuana because it helps dry up her saliva, which she otherwise chokes on. (Her husband, standing beside her at the witness stand, helped ‘translate’ some of her answers.) It relaxes her muscles, helps prevent further atrophy, and increases her appetite, she said: “It makes my life a lot more bearable.”

She added: “I was given three to five years to live. I’m still here … I’m amazed at my health.”

But Jordan also raised some eyebrows when co-counsel George Coe asked her if she would smoke marijuana legally. She at first suggested no, saying “I grow it in my yard.” Asked to clarify, she later said she would: “That’s why I joined this case.”

Another plaintiff – Diana Dodson, who has HIV and AIDS – testified she “would not be alive today without cannabis,” adding that “smoked cannabis works best for me.”

Dodson, who’s previously from California, said she could not currently afford to get a state medical marijuana patient ID card, however. Medical marijuana also is not covered by health insurance.

And Ben Pollara, head of the pro-medical marijuana Florida for Care organization, told the court smoking “is how most patients consume the medication.” The group claims 41,000 members.

He also referred to an “intent statement” for the amendment that says it “does not require that the smoking of medical marijuana be allowed in public.” Conversely, that means smoking is allowed in private, such as in one’s home, he said.

In an interview, Morgan also questioned whether the Health Department’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use, which regulates the drug, was “inept” or “malicious.”

Lawmakers have been upset for months, mainly over what they call the department’s slow-going in implementing medical marijuana under the amendment, which passed by 71 percent.

“You can’t be this bad,” Morgan said. “It’s like if you went to get to your driver’s license, and stood there all day, and didn’t get to take the test. ‘Sorry, couldn’t get to you, come back tomorrow’ … It becomes malicious. And the person controlling that is Gov. Scott.

“…You couldn’t f–k up this bad unless it’s intentional,” he added. “Enough is enough. Let’s stop the politics. Let’s let these people live.”

Update: Scott spokesman John Tupps responded later Wednesday to Morgan.

“It was the Legislature’s duty to outline how to implement Amendment 2 and the Department of Health has been working nonstop to implement the law that was passed with an overwhelming bipartisan majority,” he said.

“Currently, there are more than 109,000 patients that have access to medical marijuana in Florida and DOH has certified nearly 1,400 doctors who can prescribe this treatment. Also, in addition to home delivery, there are 35 locations across Florida where patients have access. Implementing Amendment 2 has been delayed by the constant litigation filed by special interests.”

A thread of live tweets from the trial is here.

Flags ordered at half-staff for Highlands County deputy

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered flags at half-staff Tuesday to honor the Highlands County sheriff’s deputy killed on duty May 7.

Deputy William J. Gentry Jr., 40, had served with the the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office for nine years, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.

Gentry was shot and killed “while responding to an animal abuse call  … in which a homeowner’s cat had been fatally shot with a pellet gun,” the page said.

Gentry “and a deputy he was training responded to the victim’s home,” it said. “During the investigation, Gentry went to the suspect’s home, a convicted felon who lived next door, to make contact with him. As he stood at the front door the suspect opened fire on him, shooting him in the head.

“The 69-year-old subject was taken into custody at the scene and charged with numerous counts. Gentry was flown to Lee Memorial Hospital where he succumbed to his wound the following day.”

Scott directed the U.S. and state flags to be flown at half-staff at the Highlands County Courthouse in Sebring, Sebring City Hall, the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office in Sebring, and the Capitol in Tallahassee from sunrise to sunset.

Judge denies anonymity in NRA suit against gun law

A federal judge has denied the National Rifle Association‘s request to shield a plaintiff’s name in litigation against the state’s new school safety and mental health law.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker on Sunday turned down the NRA’s request to use a “Jane Doe” pseudonym for the 19-year-old Alachua County woman, portrayed in court documents as seeking to remain anonymous due to fear that public exposure could result in “harassment, intimidation, and potentially even physical violence.”

Attorney General Pam Bondi had opposed the move, saying the woman’s desire for anonymity was not justified. “The amended complaint also includes allegations about a 19-year-old male identified as John Doe,” Walker’s order notes.

While acknowledging that false names may sometimes be used in litigation, the judge cited federal court rules that complaints “must name all the parties,” and referred to case law that lawsuits are “public events” and that the public has a “legitimate interest in knowing all of the facts involved, including the identities of the parties.”

The NRA’s local attorney handling the case, former federal prosecutor Ken Sukhia, referred questions to David H. Thompson, managing partner for the Cooper & Kirk law firm in Washington, D.C. He was not available Monday morning.

Lawyers for the NRA late last month asked Walker to keep the woman’s identity secret, based in large part on a declaration filed by the gun-rights group’s Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer, who detailed threatening emails she had received featuring derogatory words for parts of the female anatomy.

Walker, however, suggested that were it “entirely” up to him, he would have granted the request.

“One need only look to the harassment suffered by some of the Parkland shooting survivors to appreciate the vitriol that has infected public discourse about the Second Amendment,” he wrote. “And this Court has no doubt that the harassment goes both ways; Hammer’s affidavit proves just that.

“People—especially teenagers—should not have to subject themselves to threats of violence, continued harassment, and a concerning amount of public scrutiny just to share their views about the Second Amendment (whatever those views may be).

“But it’s not entirely up to this Court.”

Here’s another excerpt:

The lawsuit, filed March 9 by the NRA, came just hours after Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a sweeping school-safety measure that included new gun-related restrictions. The legislation was a rapid response to the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 students and faculty members dead and 17 others wounded.

The law raised from 18 to 21 the minimum age to purchase rifles and other long guns. It also imposed a three-day waiting period on the sale of long guns, such as the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz last year legally purchased, without any waiting period, and is accused of using in the Valentine’s Day massacre at his former school in Parkland.

In late April, the NRA filed a motion to add “Jane Doe” as a plaintiff to the lawsuit, which contends the age restriction in the new law “violates the fundamental rights of thousands of responsible, law-abiding adult Florida citizens and is thus invalid under the Second and Fourteenth Amendments.”

“The NRA must file its amended complaint—without pseudonyms—no later than May 21,” Walker ordered.

 

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Background provided by The News Service of Florida. 

Jimmy Patronis: ‘No confidence’ in state’s chief financial regulator

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is telling the state’s top financial regulator he “no longer ha(s) confidence” in Drew Breakspear‘s ability to lead the Office of Financial Regulation.

Patronis, a Panama City Republican running for re-election this year, sent a letter to Breakspear on Thursday.

“Over the last 10 months, I have developed concerns over the lack of cooperation, responsiveness, and communication from your office in its dealings with your customers and Florida’s financial services community,” he wrote. “My experiences with you and your office, and the feedback I have received from my staff, have validated these concerns. I believe this is due to a lack of leadership at the top.

“While I appreciate your years of service to the state, my obligation as Florida’s Chief Financial Officer is to ensure that Florida taxpayers are being provided with value by the entities I have a role in overseeing.

“I no longer have confidence in your ability to lead the Office of Financial Regulation.  I am extending you the courtesy of letting you know that I am prepared to discuss these issues during your assessment review at the Cabinet meeting on May 15, 2018. Should there be a change in leadership, I am prepared to recommend an interim commissioner to ensure continuity of operations.”

Breakspear has served as Commissioner of the Florida Office of Financial Regulation since November 2012. The agency polices the banking, finance and securities industries.

“I am proud of the work the Office of Financial Regulation has done to protect the people of Florida and regulate the financial services industry,” he said in a statement later Thursday. “To date, I have had no discussions with CFO Patronis concerning the issues raised in his letter. I have since reached out to him and look forward to discussing his letter with him soon.

“I will reserve making further comment until such time as we have had this discussion.”

Breakspear answers to the state’s Financial Services Commission, made up of Patronis, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Under state law, the Commission can fire Breakspear “by a majority vote consisting of at least three affirmative votes, with both the Governor and the Chief Financial Officer on the prevailing side.” Scott and Patronis are friends and political allies.

“We learned of the CFO’s concerns from his letter today,” Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis said in an email. “This will be discussed at the next meeting of the Florida Cabinet.”

Patronis’ letter comes one day after he wrote to Citizens Property Insurance Corp. president and CEO Barry Gilway.

Saying “transparency should be a key component to any organization,” he asked Gilway to “consider … publicly documenting entities that lobby Citizens.” Lobbyists for Citizens register their appearances, but those who lobby Citizens do not have to.

Breakspear has “more than 40 years of experience, having worked in the international banking industry and management consulting,” his online bio says.

“Mr. Breakspear is a respected expert on corporate governance, compliance, and risk management. He is known for his acumen in corporate strategy, for his effectiveness in guiding audit organizations, and working with regulators globally.”

He received an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, according to the bio.

Joe Negron to leave Senate early

Senate President Joe Negron tendered his resignation from elected office to Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday, to be effective Nov. 6, “the same day his term as Senate President ends.”

Despite his current and final term not ending till 2020, Negron had telegraphed his decision his recent months in ‘exit interviews’ he gave to state news media, including Florida Politics. He was last elected in 2016.

“I have always been a big believer in term limits,” the Stuart Republican said in a statement. “I have had the privilege of representing the Treasure Coast and parts of Palm Beach County in the Florida Senate for nine years.

“The way I see it, I actually received an extra year because I came to the Senate in a Special Election in 2009. The additional two years of my final term were added only through the vagaries of reapportionment litigation.”

He replaced former Senate President Ken Pruitt, a St. Lucie County Republican who himself left office early after the 2009 Legislative Session.

In his resignation letter, Negron said he wanted “to afford as much notice as possible to allow the next State Senator from District 25 to be elected in the regular 2018 primary and general election cycle without the necessity of a special election.”

“I would respectfully request that you consider scheduling the dates of the special primary election and special general election to coincide with the dates of the primary election and general election,” Negron told Scott.

“With key election-related deadlines and activities scheduled in the ensuing weeks and months, I believe this proposed course of action would be in the best interests of constituents.”

Negron was elected to the House in 2000, serving for six years, including a term as Appropriations Committee chair in 2005-06 under then-House Speaker Allen Bense. He was first elected to the Senate in 2009, and also served as budget chair there in 2012-14 before becoming president for 2016-18.

Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, is slated to take over the presidency from Negron after the November election, assuming the GOP holds its majority in the chamber.

“I know @joenegronfl has been thoughtfully considering this choice for some time, and I support his decision,” he tweeted Wednesday. “Julie and I will certainly miss having Joe and Rebecca in Tallahassee. We wish their family well as they prepare to conclude his term as Senate President in November.”

In a March interview with Florida Politics, Negron said lawmakers over the last two Sessions “made tremendous progress” on goals he set out in his 2015 designation speech, “a blueprint of things I tried to accomplish.”

Among those, beefing up higher education “with world class faculties,” addressing pollution in Lake Okeechobee, and “decriminalizing adolescence” with pre-arrest diversion programs and making it easier to expunge juvenile arrest records.

What “didn’t get a lot of attention” last year, he added, was reforming eyewitness identifications in criminal cases “to reduce the chance of wrongful convictions.”

Negron then he hadn’t yet decided whether he would serve his bonus time: “I’m going to take a few weeks to think about it … Term limits are there for a reason.”

He said in the interview he plans to focus on his business litigation work for the Akerman firm in its West Palm Beach office.

“I’m a lawyer first, a legislator second,” Negron said. “This was one part of my life that I greatly value … but my primary professional identity is as a lawyer. I’m back in the office. I enjoy what I do.”

On Wednesday he added: “I believe in a citizen Legislature where women and men from all walks of life serve for a reasonable period of time and then return to the private sector. I have done my very best to fight for my community in Tallahassee and November is the right time to retire from my service in the Legislature.”

The resignation letter is below.

Personnel note: Damien Kelly named director of Office of Safe Schools

FDLE corruption inspector Damien Kelly has been named director of the state’s new Office of Safe Schools, Education Commissioner Pam Stuart announced.

The office was created in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school safety act passed by lawmakers at the tail end of the 2018 Legislative Session.

“We are thrilled for Special Agent Kelly to join our team,” Stuart said in a statement. “With 25 years of experience as a law enforcement officer specializing in a variety of different areas, he will complement the wide-ranging expertise of our agency’s staff.”

Kelly has been with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement since 2005, most recently as a public corruption inspector.

During his time at FDLE, Kelly “led protective operations, accepted domestic and international assignments and became an expert in firearms certification and proficiency; surveillance and protective operations; and gang investigation and interrogation,” a press release said.

“Also while at FDLE, Kelly served as a section team leader overseeing and providing training to fellow officers. Before joining FDLE, he spent 12 years as a police officer for City of Memphis Police Department.”

On March 23, Gov. Rick Scott sent a letter to district superintendents and school board members that set deadlines FDOE and each school district must meet. Scott directed the department to hire a director for the newly created Office of Safe Schools by May 1.

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