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Rick Scott refuses to play pundit over GOP’s bad night

If Rick Scott runs for the U.S. Senate next year (as nearly everyone in Florida politics expects), he will have to deal with Donald Trump and his sagging poll numbers.

But less than 48 hours after Democrats posted big wins across the country Tuesday, the Republican governor shows no appetite to analyze the results of the off-year elections.

“I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of pundits that are going to talk about things like that,” Scott said during an appearance at Weather Tite Windows, a West Tampa window and door replacement company. “I’ve got 424 days to go on my job.”

He then launched a litany of talking points, which could very well transfer to a stump speech next year: “My focus is to make this the number one place for jobs, the number one place for education, and a place where people are safe. We’re at forty-six year low in our crime rate. Our higher education system just got ranked the best in the entire country.”

That last comment referred to U.S. News and World Report ranking Florida as the best state in the nation for higher education, with its relatively low tuition rate for colleges and universities and how more than half of students who seek a two-year degree either graduated on time or within three years.

Another Republican aspiring to a statewide ballot next year is Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. This week, the Republican gubernatorial candidate showed no reluctance to weigh in on the election.

“We are at a crossroads. Make no mistake. Look what happened in Virginia and New Jersey” Putnam said Wednesday in Winter Park. “There should be a sense of urgency about this election. Not complacency,

Scott’s main purpose for visiting Tampa was to tout his proposed $180 million in cuts to taxes and fees for 2018, his last year in office. His plan includes a mixture of license fee reductions, reducing traffic fines for drivers who attend a basic driver-improvement school after getting a ticket and a 10-day tax holiday on school supplies and clothes.

Many expect Scott will challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in his re-election bid next year. On hand to observe the event was Ryan Patmintra, who earlier in the week was named Florida political director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Nursing homes push back on public accusations of noncompliance in generator order

Florida’s leading nursing home association is pushing back on that state’s public accusations that nearly two dozen nursing homes missed a key deadline in Gov. Rick Scott‘s emergency generator rule.

A statement Wednesday from the Agency for Health Care Administration claims 23 nursing homes have not followed Scott’s rule that nursing homes and assisted living facilities must file emergency plans by Oct. 31, and purchase generators and fuel by Nov. 15 to sufficiently keep a temperature of 82 degrees in case of emergency.

Those charges are both unfair and false, said Emmett Reed, executive director of the Florida Health Care Association.

“The AHCA appears to have made no attempt to contact facilities in advance to verify the accuracy of this ill-conceived list before releasing it to the public,” Reed said in a statement. “Several facilities on the list not only submitted their documentation, but those variance requests have also been published on the AHCA website since Oct. 16.”

FHCA, which stands for most of the state’s 683 nursing homes, is “disappointed” by the AHCA statement, Reed said, noting that at least three of the nursing homes accused of noncompliance had submitted emergency plans by Oct. 31.

“It appears AHCA is more interested in generating news stories than in gathering facts and arriving at a place of consensus to will ensure that nursing homes meet the Governor’s mandate, despite its unrealistic timeline,” Reed added.

FHCA has “consistently stated its willingness to work with the agency,” Reed said, to prepare nursing centers and assisted living facilities so they can stay safe during severe weather events and other disasters.

Scott issued the Emergency Power Plan Rule Sept. 16 in response to the deaths of 14 elderly residents at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills which lost power during Hurricane Irma. The AHCA and the state’s Department of Elder Affairs were tasked with administering the order.

FHCA, along with other organizations representing nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, argues that Scott’s order was hastily prepared, and fails to give them enough time to implement.

The rule was challenged in administrative court, with Scott appealing the challenge. The issue is now in the 1st District Court of Appeal.

FHCA — which did not challenge the rule — has repeated asked Scott’s administration to negotiate directly with the trade groups, using the rule-making process instead of going through the courts.

Despite his disappointment with the AHCA accusations, Reed said his group remains “committed to working with the Governor and his administration to adopt workable procedures to protect the well-being of those entrusted to our care.”


CFO hopeful Jeremy Ring nabs four endorsements from Florida congressional delegation

Former Democratic state Sen. Jeremy Ring announced Wednesday that four Florida congressmen had endorsed his bid to be Florida’s next Chief Financial Officer.

U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson and Darren Soto, all Democrats, proclaimed their support for Ring via a Wednesday press release from his campaign.

“I’ve gotten to know Jeremy over the years as both a colleague and friend,” Deutch said. “His business background and innovative ideas are exactly what our state needs and his record of protecting the Florida retirement system is exactly what taxpayers deserve from their next CFO.”

Hastings, Lawson and Soto also harped on Ring’s financial background as a qualifier for taking over as CFO, a position currently held by former Republican Rep. Jimmy Patronis, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to take over for Jeff Atwater earlier this year.

Before becoming a state senator in 2006, Ring was one of the early executives of Yahoo and worked there during its heyday as the internet’s top search engine. He plans to release a book, “We Were Yahoo,” sometime this fall detailing the company’s rise – and missteps – from its inception through the early aughts.

The congressmen backing the Margate Democrat also said they saw him as a prime candidate to break the Republican stranglehold on Florida’s statewide offices.

“It has been far too long since we have had a Democrat serving in our state cabinet, and I’m proudly supporting Jeremy Ring to be Florida’s next Chief Financial Officer. He is an innovative and thoughtful leader whose ideas are exactly what Florida needs,” Hastings said.

Ring, the lone Democrat running for CFO, said he was “thrilled” to earn the congressmen’s endorsements.

“They are all remarkable public servants with an unyielding commitment to do everything in their power to improve the lives of the Floridians that they represent. I am humbled by their support and excited to have them join our campaign to bring innovation, technology and high-paying jobs to Florida,” he said.

Also in the race are Patronis, whom Scott has said is his hand-picked choice, and fellow Republican Antoanet Iotova, who lost to Democrat Gary Farmer in the race for the state Senate District 34 last November and is surely outmatched in the GOP primary for CFO – especially considering she was arrested last fall and charged with two counts of grand theft.

The South Florida-Sun Sentinel reported in January that an unsealed indictment revealed she and an associate were charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud and making false statements to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Not a good look for someone vying to be the state’s financial steward.

Iotova hasn’t posted any campaign contributions since filing, while Patronis jumped in the race on Nov. 1 and is sure to build up his campaign account quickly. A political committee he started before making the run official, Treasure Florida, had banked $222,750 through the end of September.

Brandon Republican Sen. Tom Lee could also jump in. Through September, he had nearly $2.1 million on hand in his political committee, The Conservative.

Ring had raised $276,349 for his campaign, including $100,000 in loans, through the end of October. He has $192,994 of that money on hand, with an additional $135,723 socked away in his political committee, Florida Action Fund.

With Rick Scott’s blessing, tax supermajority clears committee

After hearing support from Gov. Rick Scott, the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday cleared a measure that would amend Florida’s constitution to require a legislative supermajority in each chamber to create or increase a tax or fee.

The proposed language defines a supermajority as two-thirds of membership and would require 60 percent voter approval in 2018, should it pass this Session.

The bill (PCB WMC 18-010) is sponsored by Daytona Beach Republican Rep. Tom Leek.

Scott was the first to speak to lawmakers. He said that while cutting taxes, Florida has sustained a low unemployment rate, created jobs, reduced burdens and regulations, decreased state debt and increased general revenues.

“This Legislature has shown that you are against raising taxes by cutting hundreds of millions of tax dollars last year,” Scott told lawmakers. “But we need to work together to ensure this commitment will continue.”

He then asked for support on the proposal, and with future votes on the matter. This request comes a day after Scott unveiled a $180 million tax cut package.

“I think it’s important that we don’t raise taxes,” Scott told reporters afterward. He said he spoke with businesses during his October trip to Chicago, and said “almost every business I talked to” is considering leaving due to harmful municipal and state taxes.

After the governor, other interested parties spoke to the committee.

Tim Nungesser, Florida’s legislative director for the National Federation of Independent Business, supported the bill, saying that over 80 percent of the organization’s small businesses members did too.

“That’s largely due to the fact that when our members hit a recession and customers aren’t coming through the door, they can’t simply just raise prices on their customers because their customers won’t come back,” Nungesser explained.

Rich Templin, with AFLCIO, spoke against the resolution. He cited the ALICE study by United Waythat showed 3.2 million households are struggling. Templin pointed to limited funding for social services as a root cause for that problem.

“Education, mental health, health care for children, emergency economic services—we rank at the bottom or near the bottom of the rest of the 50 states,” Templin said.

Florida TaxWatch‘s Vice President of Research Kurt Wenner said his organization supports the resolution, but argued for a three-fifths supermajority, rather than two-thirds, saying it was a “non-draconian safeguard” to include.

Florida’s Americans for Prosperity (AFP-FL) waived in support at the committee meeting but later released a statement commending House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Leek and Scott for their support.

“What better way to add to Florida’s reputation as a great place to live and work than to give citizens peace of mind that a supermajority is needed in order to raise taxes,” Chris Hudson, state director for AFP-FL, said.

Following public comments, Rep. Joe Geller, an Aventura Democrat, said taxes and government spending exist to make life better.

“That’s why we have a highway system,” Geller said. “We spent a lot of money on it, but it makes life better.”

Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, a Boca Raton Democrat, said he was conflicted on the legislation and that it would be a “game-time decision,” but ultimately voted against it.

Florida’s constitution currently requires a three-fifths supermajority to increase the corporate income tax above 5 percent.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 15 states currently have a supermajority vote requirement – ranging from two-thirds to three-fourths to three-fifths – for tax increases. The supermajority stipulation applies to all tax increases in 11 of those states.

Democrats sue state over special election dates

The chairman of the Florida Democratic Party filed a lawsuit Monday asking a judge to force Gov. Rick Scott to set special-election dates in a Palm Beach County Senate district and a Miami-Dade County House district.

The lawsuit, filed in Leon County circuit court hours before Scott announced election dates in the Senate district, focuses on seats left vacant during the past two weeks by the departures of former Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat, and former Coral Gables Rep. Daisy Baez, also a Democrat.

Scott on Monday night announced that he had scheduled a special primary election on Jan. 30 in Senate District 31 and a special general election on April 10. He did not announce election dates in House District 114.

Clemens left the Senate seat Oct. 27 after acknowledging an affair with a lobbyist, while Baez resigned from the House seat last week after pleading guilty to perjury in a case related to her legal residency.

The lawsuit, which names state Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel and two residents of the districts as plaintiffs, seeks an order that would lead to holding elections in time for the replacements in Senate District 31 and House District 114 to take part in the 2018 Legislative Session. The Session starts Jan. 9.

The lawsuit alleges that the “inherent political rights of the electors of Senate District 31 and House District 114 … are being abridged by defendant Rick Scott’s failure to fix the dates of a special primary election and a special election to fill these legislative vacancies to assure representation of the residents of Senate District 31 and House District 114 in the 2018 legislative session.”

The dates Scott announced for the Senate special election followed a recommendation from Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher, a former Democratic state House member.

Bill Nelson, state tangle over disaster jobless benefits

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson wants the federal Department of Labor to provide help to the state as he’s heard “multiple accounts” of Floridians put out of work by Hurricane Irma unable to apply for disaster assistance.

The state Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees Florida’s unemployment system, disputes the claim.

In a letter Monday to U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, Nelson said constituents have been unable to use a Department of Economic Opportunity website to apply for disaster unemployment assistance, despite the extension of an application deadline to Nov. 14.

“They are getting kicked out of the online application system because they are not eligible for traditional unemployment insurance, despite being eligible for DUA (disaster unemployment assistance),” Nelson wrote. “When they call a representative for help, it can take hours on the phone to properly complete the application. An extension is pointless if the current process is not corrected to facilitate the proper management of the program.”

Nelson said applicants are being disqualified as answers allowed for disaster unemployment benefits are being rejected under criteria for regular unemployment benefits.

Department of Economic Opportunity spokeswoman Tiffany Vause called Nelson’s claim “not true.”

“The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is committed to offering assistance to those impacted by Hurricane Irma,” Vause said in an email Monday night. “Nearly 34,000 Floridians have applied for Disaster Unemployment Assistance, and the application process is fully functioning.”

Vause said the agency has extended call-center hours, waived weekly work search and registration requirements for September and established a contact line for claimants so applications can be filled out over the phone.

“It should also be noted that the agency developed a tailored communication to claimants who didn’t finalize their applications to encourage them to come back into the system to finish filing their applications and notified these claimants of the deadline extension,” Vause said.

The program provides assistance to businesses and residents whose employment was lost or interrupted as a result of Hurricane Irma.

Several categories of people are eligible for disaster benefits. They include:

— People who are self-employed.

— People who experienced a week of unemployment after Irma due to the storm.

— People who were unable to get to work because of the storm.

— People who were injured because of the storm and were unable to work.

Nelson, a Democrat, is running for re-election next year and is widely expected to face a challenge from Republican Gov. Rick Scott, whose administration includes the Department of Economic Opportunity. Scott has not announced his candidacy.

Rick Scott calls Texas slaughter ‘evil,’ calls for ‘more prayer’

Florida Gov. Rick Scott floundered for answers Monday when asked about a Tweet Sunday offering prayers for those who were killed in a Texas church.

Many of Scott’s Twitter followers posited that “prayers” aren’t enough to stop such things from happening. When asked for concrete policy solutions beyond prayers, Scott — a Governor entering his eighth year in office — had no solutions.

He did, however, use the word evil nine times in roughly two minutes.

“The most important thing we have to do,” Scott said, “is we need more prayer rather than less.”

“Last week, we had a terrorist attack in New York City. We need to pray for when these things happen. It’s horrible when these things happen,” Scott said.

“It’s evil when these things happen,” Scott continued. “Whether it’s a terrorist attack with a truck, somebody doing what they did in a church in the San Antonio area, I’m going to pray for them. We know it’s evil.”

“I believe in the Second Amendment. I just wish there was no evil in the world,” Scott added.

We asked Scott, given his use of the word terrorist, whether the Second Amendment was really the best framework for yet another mass shooting in an American church.

His answer won’t satisfy gun control advocates.

“It’s evil — whatever you want to call it. It’s evil. It’s evil what happened — the terrorism in New York, it was a terrorist inspired by ISIS in the Pulse attack. These things are evil,” Scott said.

“Evil is evil,” Scott added.

He dealt with a second gaggle question driving toward specific policy answers in much the same way.

“The first thing we have to do is take care of all the families,” Scott said. “After the Pulse attack, I spent quite a bit of time there, talking with the families and mourning with them. I’m sure the Governor of Texas will be doing the same thing in Texas.”

Investments in law enforcement, including hiring more counter-terrorism experts and sharing information across law enforcement platforms, were cited during the gaggle.

But such answers won’t satisfy those who equate mass shootings with the easy access to firearms, especially given the Texas shooting over the weekend, and the Las Vegas massacre last month.

Gov. Scott’s office reached out Monday evening with a brief statement clarifying his position regarding this specific case, seemingly saying that domestic violence convictions preclude gun ownership.

“Governor Scott believes that no man who spends a year in jail for abusing his wife and child should be able to purchase or own a gun. The Governor strongly supports the Second Amendment but this is not acceptable.”

However, groups on the left side of the spectrum — such as American Bridge — are calling Scott’s handling of the gun question “abysmal” and decrying his statement as “pablum.”

American Bridge Spokesman Joshua Karp said the Governor had “no answer to Floridians who are crying out for solutions to the gun violence that is ravaging our communities.”

“From Pulse in Orlando to the First Baptist Church in Sutherland, the problem of mass gun violence demands specific solutions, not pablum. Politicians like Rick Scott who fail to put the lives of Floridians — and all Americans — ahead of partisan politics will be rejected by the voters,” Karp added.




Rick Scott calls Jack Latvala sexual allegations ‘disgusting’

Gov. Rick Scott addressed the sexual allegations against Sen. Jack Latvala for the first time on Monday and said they were “disgusting” and that if anybody engages in such behavior they should “get out of office.”

“I can’t imagine this, I can’t believe (this),” Scott told reporters in Fort Myers. “Hopefully this is not happening. I expect that everyone is being treated with respect and that no one is mistreated.”

The sexual harassment claims against Latvala were first reported on Friday by POLITICO Florida. By Monday morning, Latvala had lost his seat as Senate budget chief.

The allegations have been condemned by members in both the House and Senate in both parties, and Senate President Joe Negron is looking for an independent party to investigate the claims made by the six unnamed women. Negron said the allegations that Latvala harassed and groped the women were “atrocious and horrendous.”

“We all need to understand the facts,” Scott said. “We need to know exactly what happened. If anybody has done anything wrong, we need to hold them accountable.”

Latvala has denied the accusers’ accounts and has threatened to sue POLITICO Florida for publishing the report. Following the report, at least five women, who have worked with Latvala closely over the years, have come to his defense in what some say appears to be a coordinated campaign to clear his name.

Gov. Scott to push ‘major’ tax cuts in 3 cities Monday

Gov. Rick Scott will visit Fort Myers, Sanford and Jacksonville Monday — and he will be promoting what his office calls “major” tax cuts that add up to $180 million in potential savings.

Among the proposals: a 10-day back-to-school tax holiday, three week-long storm prep tax holidays and cutting the prices of drivers’ license renewals from $48 to $20.

The back-to-school tax holiday in 2017 was just one weekend, and this is clearly an expansion of that concept. The same held true for the disaster prep tax holiday.

Though there are worries, especially in the light of Hurricane Irma, that the state is going to have a tighter budget year than it would otherwise, Scott clearly is undeterred in pushing for these proposals.

Gov. Scott, in addressing other proposals such as his environmental budget, has justified his spending proposals by saying “the big thing today is we have the money to do these things.

“I am proud to announce today that during the upcoming Legislative Session, I will fight to cut $180 million in taxes for families. This includes sales tax holidays to help families get prepared for the school year and for hurricane season, which is especially important following the devastation we saw from Hurricane Irma.

“I am also proposing to roll back many driver’s license fees, which will put money back into pockets of virtually every Florida family. These fees were raised in 2009 before I came into office, and I am proud to cut them by more than 58 percent to help every Floridian when they renew their license,” Scott added.

“Over the past seven years, we have worked relentlessly to turn around Florida’s economy and the results are clear – our unemployment rate has dropped to a more than ten year low of 3.8 percent, business have created more than 1.3 million private sector jobs and we have been able to make historic investments in education, transportation and our environment,” Scott continued.

“All of this was accomplished while cutting taxes more than 75 times, saving more than $7.5 billion for Florida families and job creators. Cutting taxes works and the rest of the nation needs to follow Florida’s lead. I am also fighting to make it harder for politicians to raise taxes in the future and I look forward to working with the Legislature during the upcoming session on these proposals,” Scott maintained.

The gaggles in these three cities may be more memorable than the actual proposals; expect Gov. Scott to get hammered with questions about his extension of “prayers” via Twitter after a mass shooting in a Texas church Sunday, and questions about the latest round of alleged sex scandals in Tallahassee.

During rally in St. Pete, Andrew Gillum contrasts Rick Kriseman to Rick Scott

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman‘s campaign — in a bruising battle for re-election against former Mayor Rick Baker — often invokes Donald Trump.

But Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum thinks there’s another Republican more apropos for comparison: Gov. Rick Scott.

“I know some people say it’s a non-partisan race. Well, let me tell you, when the governor of this state … the other Rick  — Rick Scott — decided he’s going to give $25,000 to Mr. Baker, I’m going to tell you right now, I’m going to stand on the side of Rick Kriseman,” Gillum told about 20 supporters at a get-out-the-vote rally Saturday morning at Kriseman’s Southside headquarters on 22nd Street.

Gillum is referring to a $25,000 campaign contribution from Let’s Get to Work, Scott’s PAC, to Baker’s political committee, Seamless Florida.

Kriseman supporters have referenced that contribution, as well as others by GOP interests, as a counterpoint to Baker’s claim that partisanship has no place in this local election.

“We have to make sure to send a very, very clear message that we reject the divisive, derisive politics of Donald Trump,” Gillum, one of four Democrats running for Governor in 2018, told the crowd.

“That we reject the $25,000 contribution that was given to this governor and his political organization to Rick Baker, and we’re going to make sure that the city of St. Pete stays in the hands of the people, not the powerful and the well-heeled, but the people.”

Kriseman started off by saying that he believes residents of St. Petersburg have never had as clear a choice for mayor as they do now.

The mayor also expressed concern that a Baker win could lead to a reversal of some of the policies he’s enacted since he was elected in 2013, comparing what could happen locally to what is happening in Washington D.C. this year with a change of administrations.

“You had a president who came into office, and it didn’t matter whether the policy worked or not because it had Obama’s name on it,” Kriseman said. “He was going to do everything in his power to get rid of that policy.”

“I worry about the same thing happening here in St. Pete.”

Baker has said that, if elected, he would definitely do some things differently than Kriseman, such as possibly re-opening the Albert Whitted sewage plant.

Kriseman specifically mentioned the city going backward on gay rights, an issue that began his campaign, and one his supporters tout as a significant difference between the two candidates.

It was an issue thoroughly reported when Baker entered the contest, mainly because during his tenure in office he declined to participate in any St. Pete Pride Festival, an event that has grown into the biggest of its kind in the Southeast.

(Baker did attend the Pride event this past summer).

“When you’ve got a candidate who in his history hasn’t celebrated diversity, he’s simply tolerated it, that’s not what we need in St. Pete. That’s not the kind of community that we want to see,” Kriseman intoned darkly.

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