Rick Scott Archives - Florida Politics

Senator seeks probe into whether lobbyist Lisa Miller posed as ‘concerned citizen’ during call

Sen. Kevin Rader is asking Gov. Rick Scott to investigate whether Tallahassee lobbyist Lisa Miller posed as a “concerned citizen” to mislead participants in a conference call with a company that rates Florida insurers.

“I know you understand that matters such as these must be completely in the sunshine and all principals must play by the rules. This is crucial to the integrity and transparency of the insurance market,” Rader wrote in a letter to Scott dated Thursday.

“The citizens of our state have had a difficult time with their insurance matters over the last decade and they deserve to have a full accounting of this incident. We are talking about peoples’ homes, and it is absolutely critical to get to the bottom of this. Insurers and their rating companies must play by the rules and not orchestrate false or misleading presentations with impersonations of ‘concerned citizens’ intended to deceive government officials and the public.”

In an interview with Florida Politics on Feb. 16, Miller denied posing as someone named Mary Beth Wilson to praise Ohio-based Demotech Inc. during the call on Feb. 10.

“No,” Miller said when asked whether she had done it. “I did not make that call.”

“Let me assure you that if this occurred, no one at Demotech coordinated it or scripted it,” Demotech president Joe Petrelli said by email that day.

“Demotech, its officers, employees or representatives never have, and on my watch, never will, ask anyone, paid lobbyist, consumer or client, to pretend to be someone or something  they are not,” Petrelli said in a follow-up email Friday. ” This is true in general and is also specific to the recent teleconferences.”

In his letter to Scott, Rader — a Democrat from Boca Raton who sits on the Government Oversight and Accountability Committee — called the possibility “troubling.” Legislative staff and other government officials participated in the call, he said.

He asked the governor to investigate whether the company or Miller “violated Florida’s lobbying statutes or other statutes regarding misleading acts or statements to members of the legislative and executive branches, including having the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and/or inspector general investigate this matter.”

Demotech held the call to explain a change in its rating system and discuss the downgrade of some Florida insurance companies.

Jeff Grady, president and CEO of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents, first reported on his blog (password protected) that “most industry professionals” believed the caller was Miller, of Lisa Miller & Associates.

He did not name her, but posted a link to her lobbyist registration page, which identifies her as representing Demotech, among other clients.

Grady said he’d known Miller for 15 years and recognized her voice, as did other participants.

Rader asked Scott to look into whether anyone on the call purported to be Wilson; whether Demotech and Petrelli or any of Miller’s other clients directed her to do it; and how a “concerned citizen” would come by the call-in number, date, and time of the call.

He suggested investigating whether any other participants could identify the caller, whether any government staff were misled, and whether Florida laws or rules had been violated.

“If necessary, based on the outcome of that investigation, action or response by Demotech or its lobbyist may be warranted,” Rader wrote. “Or, in lieu of an investigation, please provide a written response as to why one is not required in this case.”

Rick Scott joining with other governors in D.C.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is joining with the nation’s governors who are scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Scott is leaving Thursday for Washington D.C. where he will attend events connected to the winter meetings of the National Governors Association and the Republican Governors Association. Reports indicate Scott is the favorite to become Vice Chair of the Republican Governors Association, putting him in line to the lead the organization in 2018.

This includes a Friday luncheon with Pence and a visit to the White House on Sunday.

Scott is also scheduled to take part in the “State Solutions Conference” hosted Friday by POLITICO.

The GOP governor, who constantly criticized former President Barack Obama, is friends with Trump and backed his bid for president right after he won Florida’s presidential primary.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Rick Scott’s newest title – lame duck

Gov. Rick Scott has added a new title to his resume in the last few weeks – lame duck.

Sure, he officially retains the job of Florida governor until a successor takes over in 2019, but for all intents, it appears a majority of state House members aren’t waiting until then to stop listening to him.

The House Appropriations Committee euphemistically threw a pie in the governor’s face Tuesday by voting to eliminate Enterprise Florida and eviscerate Visit Florida, the state agency that markets the glory of the Sunshine State to people in the cold, frozen north.

This happened despite perhaps the most aggressive public pitch by Scott in his six years as governor to preserve both entities. It was a stinging rebuke by his own party, and what we can conclude is that it almost certainly is the shape of things to come.

Scott went down swinging.

“(Tuesday’s) vote by politicians in the Florida House is a job killer. I know some politicians who have voted for this job killing bill say they don’t necessarily want to abolish these programs but instead want to advance a ‘conversation.’ This is completely hypocritical and the kind of games I came to Tallahassee to change,” Scott said in a statement that wound up in my mailbox and no doubt hundreds of others.

“Perhaps if these politicians would listen to their constituents, instead of playing politics, they would understand how hurtful this legislation will be to Florida families.”

That’s feisty talk, but the truth is undeniable. The governor has been powerless though in the face of opposition by House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes.

Corcoran sees both programs as revenue-sucking wastes of taxpayer money. He has called Enterprise Florida and its job-creation incentives “corporate welfare” and basically a colossal failure.

All Scott has been able to do is complain. He has been unable to summon the political clout to combat this insurgency within his own party, so what does that tell you?

Well, a couple of things.

Most important for the moment is that it says House Republicans have tuned out their Republican governor on an issue he cares passionately about. Once that happens, the disconnect only gets worse.

It also further stamps Corcoran as a legitimate contender to succeed Scott in the governor’s mansion, if future political ambitions take him in that direction. That makes the relative silence lately by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam even more interesting. Putnam is widely considered to be the likely Republican nominee for governor next time around.

Meanwhile, I wouldn’t expect Corcoran to give an inch going forward. When it comes to issues like these, compromise doesn’t seem to be in his playbook.

That’s not good news for Rick Scott after all the effort he has put in to save these programs, but as a lame duck, there’s not much he can do about it.

Rick Scott says fellow Republicans — he’s looking at you, Mr. Speaker — are spreading fake news

Gov. Rick Scott is now saying that his fellow Republicans in the Florida House are using “fake news” to justify their plan to scrap the state’s economic development agency.

Scott used his campaign Twitter account on Wednesday to distribute a video critical of House Speaker Richard Corcoran and House Republicans. The video labels Corcoran a “career politician” who wasted money by having the House produce a video that trashed programs championed by Scott.

The House video released last week blasted Visit Florida, the agency that promotes tourism, and Enterprise Florida, the organization that uses taxpayer money to lure companies to the state. The House is considering a bill that would eliminate Enterprise Florida.

Scott’s video points out that the House criticized incentives handed out before Scott was governor.

Legislation to require unanimous jury rulings for the death penalty advances in Florida Senate

The state of Florida took another step towards the mainstream of American jurisprudence when a Senate committee Wednesday approved a proposal that would require a unanimous verdict from a jury to sentence a prisoner to the death penalty.

The Senate Rules Committee approved a measure (SB 280) sponsored by Orlando Democrat Randolph Bracy that would replace the current state law that calls for at least 10 of the 12 jurors to recommend death, and make it unanimous for the death penalty to be imposed. That follow a similar measure passed by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

The death penalty in Florida has effectively been suspended since January of 2016, when the U.S. Supreme Court found the state’s death penalty law unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges, instead of juries. It left it to the Florida Supreme Court to decide whether the ruling should apply retroactively.

The state has not executed an inmate since then.

The Legislature rewrote the death penalty law immediately after that ruling giving juries more power, declaring that at least 10 of the 12 jurors had to agree to recommend a death sentence. However, the Florida Supreme Court struck that law down last October, saying it was unconstitutional because it failed to require a unanimous vote by jurors before the death penalty could be imposed. The Court ruled that every penalty decision since 2002 was unconstitutional.

The bills being pushed in the Legislature this winter addresses the state Supreme Court’s ruling, and it appears likely that a remedy of requiring unanimous verdicts only in death penalty cases will soon get to Governor Rick Scott’s desk.

Rex Dimmig, the Public Defender for the 10th Judicial Circuit of Hardee, Highlands and Polk counties, said the Legislature should have passed a bill last year requiring unanimity in death row cases.

Reacting to a comment from Hillsborough County based GOP Senator Tom Lee about the heavy work load that prosecutors will have to contend with after death row cases have been put on hold over the last year, Dimmig said that as of last month, there were 313 new death row cases in the state, and will probably be around 150 cases coming back for re-sentencing in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.

“The best estimate could cost all (state) agencies…in excess of $200 million to relitigate penalty cases in those cases,” Dimmig said, adding that the public defenders will be working with the appropriations committees in the Legislature to address those funding needs.

The bill does nothing else to death penalty itself, which remains the law in Florida and 18 other states.

Herman Lindsey says it’s still a problem. Lindsey was exonerated in by the Florida Supreme Court in 2009 after spending three years on death row for the killing of a woman during a Fort Lauderdale pawnshop robbery in 1994. He called the Bracy bill a “good move,”  but added that all it ultimately does is end up “putting a bandage over a wound that needs stitches.”

Of the 31 states with the death penalty, Florida is one of only two states that does not require unanimous jury decisions for death to be imposed. The other is Alabama.

Automated shuttle to Baptist Health? Yes, if a Florida House bill passes

Could self-driving shuttle buses come to Jacksonville in the near future? A bill filed in the Florida House may make that happen sooner than later.

HB 3831, filed by Rep. Jason Fischer, seeks $500,000 for a local deployment of the Olli minibus, a Local Motors vehicle made in part with 3D printing and powered by IBM Watson technology.

The Watson technology allows passengers to communicate with the vehicle, much as an iPhone user might with Siri.

That half a million dollars would bring two Olli shuttles to Jacksonville and Baptist Health Complex as the first working example of this technology anywhere in Florida.

The shuttles would be used for medical transport — Elite Parking Services of America would, in conjunction with Baptist Health, start up this two shuttle system.

The system would be the first in Florida, and could serve as a pilot to see if the program is practicable in areas of urban density.

The program is supported locally, including by the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, home of the downtown automated Skyway system, a people mover that was expected to be a prototype for a future that didn’t exactly arrive.

Elite Parking Services is a name known beyond Jacksonville; its owner and proprietor, Dane Grey, is a connected Jacksonville Republican who was honored by Gov. Rick Scott in 2016’s State of the State address.

Grey, who also received a gubernatorial Young Entrepreneur award, is an unlikely candidate for the veto pen, should this bill clear the Florida Legislature.

The lobbyist of record on this bill: Kevin Doyle of Wexford Strategies.

Senate Republicans begin targeting Bill Nelson in new digital ad campaign

Bill Nelson isn’t running for re-election for another year, but it’s never too early to start the campaign against him.

That’s what the National Republican Senate Committee is doing this week, unveiling a new digital ad campaign to inform Florida voters of what they call Nelson’s “liberal record” in Washington, comparing his Senate voting record to Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren.

“Bill Nelson has positioned himself squarely on the left, voting with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren 92 percent of the time,” said NRSC Communications Director Katie Martin. “Bill Nelson may try to pose as a moderate as the election approaches, but his record shows that he has more in common with Washington liberals than with Florida voters.”

Although progressive Democrats in Florida have occasionally criticized Nelson’s voting record, he was largely in sync with Barack Obama over the past eight years on the main pieces of legislation.

He’s served in the Senate for over 16 years, defeating Bill McCollum, Katherine Harris and Connie Mack IV along the way. Although there are rumors of various Republicans who will challenge him in 2018, most observers believe Governor Rick Scott is the leading contender at this point.

Nelson has said he’s ready and willing for the challenge against Scott, saying“I only know one way to run, and that’s to run as hard as I can as if there’s no tomorrow.”

The digital ads will run on Facebook and are part of a national campaign targeting Senate Democrats representing states won by Donald Trump in November.

GOP leaders get high marks from their Republican base, new Associated Industries of Florida poll shows

Republicans are getting a good report card from Florida voters according to a new poll conducted by Associated Industries of Florida and obtained by FloridaPolitics.com.

AIF found that 71 percent of likely Republican voters think the state is headed in the right direction, and an astounding 81 percent approve of the job President Donald Trump is doing through his first month in the White House.

The Trump numbers are a far cry from the most recent Gallup national poll on his popularity, which showed him with a 40 percent approval rating on Feb. 17.

Naysayers measured in at 20 percent for the direction of the state and 14 percent for Trump’s job approval, leading to a net 51 percent approval and 67 percent approval, respectively.

Survey participants also had no qualms with Gov. Rick Scott, who garnered 81 percent support compared to 14 percent who said he his performance wasn’t up to snuff.

While Scott and Trump are enjoying glowing reviews from likely Republican voters, second-term U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio isn’t faring as well.

Though 69 percent of those polled said they thought he was doing a good job, the bulk of those supporters stated that they only “somewhat approved” of the Miami Republican, leaving him with a softer approval rating than Scott or Trump.

AIF surveyed 800 likely Republican voters who had voted in at least one of the last three Republican primaries, but not the presidential preference in 2016. The group said 81 percent of those polled were over 50 years old and 90 percent were white.

For ‘Dem-witted’ Florida Democrats, stop arguing and get to work

In case Democrats haven’t figured it out yet, they are in a position of increasing irrelevance for a couple of big reasons: They consistently have been outworked, and they apparently can’t understand what’s actually happening in Florida and this country.

The election of Donald Trump is just the latest in what has been a series of events that left Democrats dazed and confused (apologies to Led Zeppelin). I was reminded of that Saturday when an enthusiastic and large crowd (yes, Mr. President, it was large) turned out in Melbourne to hear President Trump rail against his favorite targets — chief among them, the media.

Democrats will point to opinion polls that show the president at historic lows after one month in office. Many of them will assume that means Trump’s administration is headed for a thrashing in the 2018 midterms, ultimately to crash on the rocks in 2020 — if he isn’t impeached before then.

They may be right, but I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on it. The disconnect between everyday people and the so-called powerful elite has been widening for a while now. It shows no signs of easing. If anything, the gap is increasing. News flash: The everyday people are winning.

Go back to the 2010 governor’s election in Florida. How many experts gave Rick Scott any chance of winning? After he beat Alex Sink, Democrats disdainfully wrote it off an anomaly that would self-correct.

They argued that Scott had essentially bought the election by pouring millions from his own bank account into the campaign. They grumped that Sink had run a lackluster campaign. And when Scott was later judged to be the least popular governor in the nation, Democrats assumed they would regain power in 2014.

How did that work out?

Take it even closer to home. There was a story Friday on SaintPetersBlog from Mitch Perry about a transportation forum in Tampa. People listened as Sharon Calvert, Tom Rask and Barb Haselden — three local activists who resist labels but sound a lot like Tea Party folks — gave their views on public transportation.

It’s fair to say they oppose big government transportation projects they see as outdated money-losers, and they appear to be quite proud of their roles in scuttling local tax referendums for transportation in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

I have frequently dealt with Sharon Calvert, and while I don’t agree with many of her viewpoints, I respect her and her colleagues for their persistence and willingness to engage. And boy, do they engage.

They attend mind-numbing planning meetings and challenge officials to prove the things they say. They go over news articles and columns word by word to argue points that may seem arcane, but really aren’t. They are relentless on the details.

And here’s the biggest thing: they are convincing. Not to me necessarily and certainly not to many public officials, but they get their word out to the people and convince them to vote. They are the definition of grass roots.

That’s how Trump won, too. I remember driving by the Florida State Fairgrounds late one night shortly before November’s election. The place was packed with people coming to hear Donald Trump, a man who supposedly was lagging hopelessly behind in the polls at that point.

There were scenes like that playing out all over the country. Democrats dismissed it as a bunch of misguided yahoos and didn’t see the sucker punch coming until it knocked them to the floor.

So here’s the deal they better learn. They better stop being so Dem-witted about how election “shockers” like Trump and Rick Scott happen. They need to realize how much ground they need to make up with voters who have tuned them out.

They need to look at crowds like the one President Trump just had in Melbourne and see that for it is: reality. And then, as two-term Gov. Scott might say, get to work.


Task force would seek to remake Florida’s criminal justice system

Florida’s state lawmakers increasingly are embracing criminal justice reform policies that break with the state’s “tough on crime” past. But a sea change could be in the works.

But a sea change could be in the works.

Last year, Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, and the GOP-controlled legislature approved one of the most far-reaching civil asset forfeiture reforms in the country, repealed a 10-20-life mandatory minimum sentencing law, and expanded health care delivery for mentally ill inmates. Mental health advocates say as much as 40 percent of Florida’s prison population needs treatment.

Dozens of reform-related bills already have been filed ahead this year’s state legislative session.

Now, it’s time to go big.

Seizing on momentum, Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg wants to remake the entire system.

“If you look around the country, many other states are leading on criminal justice reform. It’s a wave that’s just starting to hit Florida,” Brandes told Watchdog.org.

“It’s time to look at a holistic view about how to transform the system,” he said.

Brandes is seeking legislative approval to form a task force to conduct a comprehensive review of Florida’s criminal justice, court and corrections systems.

Ultimately, the task force would submit a report with findings, conclusions and recommendations to be molded into legislation for the 2018 state session.

Overhauling state prisons may be the first priority.

“We have prisons that are in a kind of crisis mode right now. We’re having a tough time hiring guards. Contraband rates are through the roof. Our education of prisoners is at rock bottom, and recidivism is a struggle for the state,” Brandes said.

Membership must reflect the racial, gender, geographic and economic diversity of the state, as well as the diversity and demographics of the state’s prison population, according to the proposal. The 28-member group would include members of the House and Senate, judges, academics, faith leaders, victims’ advocates, public defenders, law enforcement officials and even prison inmates in good standing.

Brandes said he has been in contact with groups such as the Crime and Justice Institute and Pew Research Center to discuss how to approach the issue and what possible outcomes might look like.

The task force would use a data-driven approach to arrive at sentencing and corrections recommendations for the purpose of:

— Reducing the state prison population.

— Decreasing spending by focusing on serious offenses and violent criminals.

— Holding offenders accountable through research-based supervision and sentencing practices.

— Reinvesting savings into strategies known to decrease recidivism, including reentry outcomes.

“We think states like Texas are thought leaders in criminal justice reform. It’s time for Florida to follow Texas’s lead on the criminal justice issue and to get serious about criminal justice reform,” Brandes said.

Florida is often compared to Texas both economically and demographically. In 2007, Texas instituted a nationally recognized reform package, and has added to it ever since.

When asked to describe possible obstacles, Brandes said, “Most arguments in the Legislature are fortress versus frontier arguments. I’m, almost to a fault, with the frontiers.”

According to the proposal, task force members would receive no taxpayer compensation for their work.

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