Rick Scott – Page 2 – Florida Politics

Adam Putnam calls for return of statewide drug czar – a reversal of Rick Scott policy

If Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam becomes Governor, expect the “drug czar” position to be revived to lead the state’s battle with opioid addiction.

For the record, that would be a reversal of current policy.

In 2010, incoming Gov. Rick Scott was cutting costs, so he eliminated the Office of Drug Control, which was formed when Jeb Bush was in office.

Putnam, speaking at an opioid roundtable in Jacksonville, floated the drug czar concept. 

“I have asked this question every time I’ve been in an audience with folks where the focus of attention has been on how to solve the opioid crisis,” Putnam said.

“That’s included law enforcement, clinicians, medical professionals, and there seems to be pretty close to unanimous support that someone needs to be the quarterback, because the opioid crisis and its response touches virtually every agency of government, from health care to practitioners to the insurance providers to the law enforcement and prosecutors and judicial system,” Putnam added.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a reinvention of the old drug czar,” Putnam said, “but we need a coordinator of the response to this crisis.”

We asked if Scott had dropped the ball in phasing out the position.

“No! I don’t believe that Gov. Scott dropped the ball. He proposed a very aggressive response to the opioid crisis and the Legislature picked it up and passed it,” Putnam said.

“We all know that our work is never done. We’re in better shape today because of what Gov. Scott has done. We’re looking for the next steps,” Putnam said, “because clearly this isn’t a problem that’s going away overnight.”

We asked Putnam about President Donald Trump’s call, made in a recent speech, to execute serial drug dealers.

Putnam ruefully smirked, then fielded the question.

“Well, look, we need to be as aggressive as we possibly can. We need to be constantly reviewing the laws, the sentencing guidelines, to make sure that these drug dealers who are killing our kids are meeting the full consequences of their actions,” Putnam said.

“Many times you have these drug dealers in prison who have killed people,” Putnam added. “Whether that’s what they were prosecuted for or not, that’s the net effect of their action.”

“That’s a federal issue, and we’ll see how that plays out,” Putnam continued. “Here in Florida, I’m focused on listening to folks who are on the front lines every day, and we’re looking for ways to give them the resources and the tools to eradicate this scourge in our state.”

Rick Scott: Decision on U.S. Senate race to wait behind stack of bills

If Republican Gov. Rick Scott hears the clock ticking on his decision of whether to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, it will have to wait until after he gets through the stack of bills the Florida Legislature put on his desk.

At least that’s what he suggested Wednesday when asked, during a stop in Orlando, about his timetable.

“I just finished Session. I just finished the budget. I have a variety of bills to go through. I’ll make a decision after that. You know, most politicians can think about their next job. I’ve got to finish the job I’ve got here,” Scott said.

Nelson and various national Democratic and Republican committees have been preparing for a Nelson-Scott showdown. The National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee have been waging that battle for months. But as polls and special elections suggest a potential anti-President Donald Trump blue wave building on the horizon, Scott is making no overt commitments.

Meanwhile, as March wanes, anticipating a Scott run, no other credible Republican candidates have gone near the U.S. Senate race.

Gwen Graham vows to end prison visitor strip searches

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham on Wednesday urged Gov. Rick Scott to put an end to visitor strip searches at state prisons.

“Let’s call this what it is: Sexual harassment,” Graham said in an email. “It needs to end now. We can make prisons safer without humiliating women who are just trying to visit their family members. Even former corrections officials say this is a bad idea.

“I’m calling on Governor Rick Scott to immediately order the Department of Corrections to stop this assault and apply evidence-based policies to reduce crime in Florida’s prisons.

“If Scott doesn’t put an end to this now, I will stop it on my first day as governor.”

The practice was detailed in a recent article published in The Florida Times-Union. Ben Conarck’s article found women visiting inmates at prisons in northeast Florida were routinely being subjected to strip searches to get into the facility if they set off metal detectors, often due to underwire bras or other clothing.

The Florida Department of Corrections has called the strip searches “enhanced search procedures,” and said it was instituted to curb the influx of contraband such as drugs or cell phones in state prisons.

Women who decline the searches have their visitation privileges revoked.

The report found the practice was common among all facilities in Northeast Florida.

Before the policy was put in place last summer, corrections officers would use a wand to figure out what triggered metal detectors.

Drilling ban could be headed to ballot

Florida’s nearshore waters would be off limits to future oil and gas drilling under a measure that moved closer Tuesday to appearing before voters in November.

The state Constitution Revision Commission voted 32-1 to advance a proposal (Proposal 91) that seeks to prohibit oil and gas drilling within about three miles of the East Coast and nine miles of the Gulf of Mexico coast.

“These things (oil rigs) are not what we want along our shorelines,” said Commissioner Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, a former mayor of Sewall’s Point who sponsored the proposal. “We want to protect our natural resources and our scenic beauty.”

Commissioners still will have to take a final vote on the proposed constitutional amendment before it could go on the November ballot. The commission meets every 20 years to propose constitutional amendments and faces an early May deadline to finish its work.

Thurlow-Lippisch said her proposal is a needed “statement” to help the economy, wildlife and quality of life for Floridians.

“It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, or black or white or an alien from outer space, if you get to come here, you can walk the beaches and enjoy what they are,” Thurlow-Lippisch said.

Florida law currently prohibits the state from granting leases to drill for oil or natural gas in state coastal waters. But putting a drilling ban in the Constitution would be more permanent.

Thurlow-Lippisch’s proposal wouldn’t impact the transportation of oil and gas products produced outside those waters.

The proposal comes amid debate about Trump administration plans to allow oil and gas drilling in federal waters off various parts of the country. U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke appeared in January in Tallahassee and said drilling would not occur off Florida’s coasts, but the administration’s stance has continued to draw questions. The issue involves waters beyond the nation’s outer continental shelf — a jurisdictional term describing submerged lands 10.36 statutory miles off Florida’s West Coast and three nautical miles off the East Coast.

Former state Senate President Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who is a member of the Constitution Revision Commission, recalled the deadly 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and said the goal is for it not to happen again.

“Even the perception of oil reaching our Florida beaches, on the Northwest Florida coast, brought our economy, which is largely dependent on tourism, on its knees,” Gaetz said. “The economic damages that we suffered were in the billions of dollars.”

The region has been able to rebound in part through a settlement with BP. About three-quarters of the $2 billion the state is expected to receive will go to the non-profit organization Triumph Gulf Coast, which will direct money to economic-development projects in Northwest Florida.

Constitution Revision Commission member Gary Lester, a vice president of The Villages who was appointed to the commission by Gov. Rick Scott, cast the lone vote against the drilling-ban proposal.

Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican and member of the commission, advised Thurlow-Lippisch — while voting for the proposal — to consider adding a definition of drilling to offset the need for a future constitutional rewrite.

“I can see a day where technology is advanced to a point where someone may be able to do something with a level of comfort, security and safety that would satisfy you and the rest of us, that they could protect Florida’s Gulf Coast and still accomplish the objective we don’t want them accomplishing through what is loosely called drilling today,” Lee said.

Rick Scott signs bill establishing coral reef conservation area

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday signed a bill that establishes a coral reef conservation area off the South Florida coast.

HB 53 forms the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Ecosystem Conservation Area, which contains a stretch of coastline starting from the St. Lucie Inlet in the north to the northern boundary of Biscayne National Park in the south.

The bill doesn’t contain an appropriation for the conservation area, but the designation could make the area eligible for federal funds to protect the reef and allows it to be bracketed for water quality monitoring.

The area in recent years has been wracked by coral bleaching and has seen 21 of its 35 coral species die off.

Coconut Creek Democratic Rep. Kristin Jacobs, the bill’s sponsor, said she was grateful for Scott’s stamp of approval in a statement after it was signed into law.

“Our oceans and reefs know no political boundaries as evidenced by the bill’s 20 co-sponsors from both parties and unanimous support from the Florida House,” said Jacobs.  “This vital ecological and economic jewel must be preserved and this week we took a vital first step in doing that.”

Plantation Democratic Sen. Lauren Book, who sponsored companion legislation in the Senate, echoed Jacobs in the joint statement.

“Protecting the reef system is critical to Florida’s future for so many reasons and we are grateful that Governor Scott agrees and has signed this bill.  Our reefs provide a physical protective barrier to the mainland, offer billions of dollars in economic vitality and of course, an abundance and amazing variety of seafood,” said Book.  “This is an exciting and important beginning to restoring this critical part of our environment and economy.”

The bill was one of 30 signed by Scott on Monday, along with measures that will place a statue of Florida educator and civil-rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune in the U.S. Capitol, and create a slavery memorial at the state Capitol.

CRC rejects added duty for Lieutenant Governor

Florida’s lieutenant governor won’t have to worry about being required by voters to run a state agency.

Members of the state Constitution Revision Commission on Tuesday rejected, in a 20-12 vote, a proposed constitutional amendment (Proposal 66) that would have required the Lieutenant Governor to oversee a department within the executive branch.

“We spend about $1 million a year on support services and salary for the lieutenant governor,” said Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican and member of the commission who sponsored the proposal. “It was just an idea to get not only a bigger bang for our buck, but at the same time also create some added value and some self-actualization for the individual.”

In the past, Lee called the money spent on the office “wasteful.” On Tuesday, he said the position is one of the weakest in the nation and simply designed to “help elect a governor at election time.”

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera is paid $124,851 a year.

But several members of the commission noted the governor already can appoint the lieutenant governor to run an agency and that some agency-head positions have required qualifications. As an example, the Department of Health is headed by the state Surgeon General.

“In dealing with many of these agencies over the past seven years, I know the Department of Corrections is highly qualified in law enforcement,” Attorney General Pam Bondi said. “I think that’s another problem, that many of these require very specialized skills.”

Bondi is part of the 37-member commission, which meets every 20 years to craft constitutional amendments that will go before voters in November.

Commissioner Emery Gainey, a member of the Attorney General’s management team, asked what would happen if the Governor wasn’t satisfied with the performance of the Lieutenant Governor and no other agency-head position was open.

Lee initially proposed that the Lieutenant Governor act as a tie-breaking vote in the Florida Senate and replace the secretary of state, one of the positions now appointed by the Governor. But the proposal was scaled back to requiring that the Lieutenant Governor serve as an agency head.

Other examples of agencies under the Governor include the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Elder Affairs, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Lottery and the Department of Management Services.

Commissioner Don Gaetz, a former state Senate president, was among those backing the proposal.

“I think we’ve had some great lieutenant governors who actually had jobs,” said Gaetz, a Niceville Republican. “And then we’ve had some lieutenant governors who could have wandered the halls with their hands in their pockets, a waste of human resources. It’s just the way it was.”

The office has been around in Florida since 1968 and provides an immediate replacement if there is a gubernatorial vacancy — as happened in 1998, when Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay briefly became governor after the death of Gov. Lawton Chiles.

Under Gov. Rick Scott the position has been widely viewed as ceremonial.

Scott let the office sit idle for nearly a year between the resignation of Jennifer Carroll in March 2013 and his appointment of Lopez-Cantera in February 2014.

Despite Irma, Florida sets another tourism record

Gov. Rick Scott vowed to ensure tourism stayed vibrant even after Hurricane Irma wreaked its havoc, and the numbers released Tuesday in Naples show that he pulled it off.

The 116.5 million visitors, per VISIT FLORIDA, mark a 3.6 percent increase over the 112.4 million visitors in 2016. This was despite a loss of 1.8 million visitors because of Hurricane Irma.

Governor Scott said, “Today, I am proud to announce that Florida has continued our record-breaking success by welcoming more than 116 million visitors in 2017. Because of VISIT FLORIDA’s aggressive marketing efforts to make sure families across the world knew that Florida was open to visitors following Hurricane Irma, we are able to celebrate another record-breaking year for tourism. This is especially great news for the 1.4 million jobs that rely on our growing tourism industry. We will continue to market our state as the number one global destination for tourism.”

Overall, the state recorded 102.3 million domestic travelers last year, up from 97.9 million in 2016 and 91.3 million 2015. Meanwhile, overseas travel dropped for the second consecutive year, from 11.4 million in 2015 to 11.1 million in 2016 and 10.7 million last year.

Canadian tourists, who have been a target of Visit Florida President and CEO Ken Lawson, grew from 3.3 million in 2016 to 3.5 million last year.

Airport visitors and hotel room stays were both up over 4 percent — despite huge September drops throughout most of the state in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Hotel stays saw a pronounced drop in the Keys, which reported a 44 percent year-over-year decrease in room demand in September.

Lawson credited “the cutting-edge marketing programs at VISIT FLORIDA, particularly following Hurricane Irma” for the increases.

A report for Visit Florida by Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics company, found that Irma cost the state 1.8 million visitors, based on tourism trends before the September storm swept through the state. Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys and Collier County before barreling north.

“The majority of these lost visits occurred during September,” the report stated. “By December, the number of actual out-of-state visitors was nearly equal to the number of expected visitors to the state.”

Outside of the Keys, the storm is credited with helping to boost hotel room demand in October — up 10 percent from a year earlier — and November — 7 percent — due to displaced residents and workers responding to the disaster.

As 2017 got underway, Scott had sought to push the annual tourism figure to 120 million.


The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. 

CRC won’t consider tax measure

The sponsor of a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the ability of the Legislature to increase taxes and fees is withdrawing the measure from consideration by the state Constitution Revision Commission.

The Legislature has decided to place an identical measure (HJR 7001) on the November ballot. In light of that decision, Constitution Revision Commission member Fred Karlinsky of Weston said he will withdraw his proposal (Proposal 72), which had been scheduled for consideration by the commission this week.

The Legislature’s ballot measure, which was supported by Gov. Rick Scott, and Karlinsky’s proposal would require two-thirds votes by the House or Senate to pass tax or fee increases in the future.

Under current law, taxes and fees are generally subject to majority votes — an easier standard than requiring two-thirds votes. The Legislature’s ballot proposal will need support from at least 60 percent of voters in November to be enacted.

A poll released last week by the Tallahassee-based firm Clearview Research showed the measure had support from 64 percent of likely general-election voters.

Rick Scott signs bill on power transmission lines

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday signed a bill dealing with the approval of electric transmission lines, an issue that stemmed from a legal battle between Florida Power & Light and local governments in Miami-Dade County.

The bill (HB 405) was one of 30 that Scott’s office announced Monday night that he had signed.

During the Legislative Session that ended March 11, the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved the transmission-line bill, which was sponsored by Republicans Rep. Jayer Williamson of Pace, Rep. Bobby Payne of Palatka, and Sen. Tom Lee of Thonotosassa.

The bill was rooted in a 2016 ruling by the 3rd District Court of Appeal in a dispute involving a proposed FPL project that would add two nuclear reactors at the utility’s Turkey Point complex in Miami-Dade.

Scott and the state Cabinet approved the project in 2014 in their role as a state power-plant siting board. But the appeals court overturned that decision, with a key part of the ruling saying Scott and Cabinet members erroneously determined they could not require underground transmission lines as a condition of the project approval.

Lee said last month on the Senate floor that the bill would make changes that would effectively revert to an approval process that had been in place for decades before the court ruling. He said the changes are needed to make sure that transmission lines, which are crucial to power-plant projects, can be sited.

But Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat who opposed the bill, said the appeals court sided with local governments on issues related to land use and local regulations.

Proposal takes aim at hospital ‘certificates of need’

A Florida panel may be on the verge of ending the state’s contentious certificate-of-need process for hospitals.

Such a move could be a victory for Gov. Rick Scott and other Republicans who have been unable to win support for the deregulation of the hospital industry in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

The Constitution Revision Commission is expected Tuesday to consider a proposal that would ask Florida voters to tie new hospital growth to hospital-acquired infection rates.

Commission member Frank Kruppenbacher initially proposed a constitutional amendment (Proposal 54) that would have prevented the state from limiting hospitals, nursing homes, hospices or intermediate-care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities through the granting of certificates of need. The proposed amendment was subsequently altered to make clear that while the so-called CON laws would be repealed, laws that restrict or limit the ownership of facilities would remain in effect.

Kruppenbacher is now offering a revision, under the description “access to quality healthcare.” Under it, the state could not prevent hospitals from entering counties if any existing hospitals in those counties have infection rates higher than the statewide average.

The CON program is a regulatory process that has long required hospitals, nursing homes and other health providers to get state approval before adding new facilities or offering expanded services. Scott and House Republican leaders have wanted to eliminate the program, arguing it is a barrier to free enterprise and helps existing health-care facilities avoid competition.

The Constitution Revision Commission meets every 20 years and has the power to place proposed constitutional amendments directly on the November ballot. It is meeting this week in Tallahassee to try to narrow a list of ballot proposals. Ultimately, 60 percent of voters would have to approve any constitutional amendments.

When asked about the certificate-of-need proposal, Kerri Wyland, a Scott spokeswoman, said the governor “looks forward to seeing the CRC’s ideas on how to eliminate restrictions on the availability of health care services to increase access and quality of health care for Florida patients.”

There are 310 licensed hospitals across the state, located in most of Florida’s 67 counties. While more than a dozen small rural counties have no hospitals, other areas are flush in facilities, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Hillsborough counties which have 35, 23 and 16 hospitals, respectively.

Kruppenbacher’s new revision would not include nursing homes, which means the certificate-of-need program would continue to apply for new long-term care beds. Since 2014, the state Agency for Health Care Administration approved roughly 4,000 new nursing home beds, and upward of 40 new long-term care facilities are being built, said Florida Health Care Association lobbyist Bob Asztalos.

Asztalos said his association, which represents hundreds of nursing homes, supports Kruppenbacher’s revision. He said the certificate-of-need program keeps occupancy rates at Florida nursing homes high, which makes financial sense for taxpayers who foot much of the costs of long-term care through the Medicaid program.

Kruppenbacher’s new proposal would use infection rates as a measuring stick. But it does not define statewide average and does not specify the infection rates it would measure or how it would determine the rates.

Bryan Anderson, vice president of public relations at HCA, said his hospital company wasn’t behind Kruppenbacher’s initial version or the proposed revision and isn’t taking a position on the certificate-of-need issue.

Lindy Kennedy, executive vice president of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, urged members of the Constitution Revision Commission on Monday to reject the proposed constitutional amendment and the potential change, saying it would hurt hospitals that provide residency programs to future physicians and provide highly specialized medical care.

“Proposal 54 would be extremely detrimental to safety net hospitals caring for the state’s neediest patients with critical, complex needs,” she said.

Florida Department of Health spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said the state currently sends hospital acquired-infection information to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which publishes a standardized infection ratio.

In a 2015 report, Florida acute-care hospitals had higher standardized infection ratios than the national standard for infections spread by contaminated hands, ventilators or large tubes that are inserted into large veins.

But Florida hospitals scored better than national average for two other infection categories: infections from catheters and bacterial infections that cause deadly diarrhea.

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