Gov. Rick Scott Archives - Florida Politics

Joe Negron: Senate likely to consider tax amendment

Senate President Joe Negron said Friday he is open to the concept of a constitutional amendment that would make it harder for the Legislature to raise taxes.

In an interview with The News Service of Florida, The Stuart Republican said the Senate is working on a measure “that will be similar in goal” to Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposal to amend the state Constitution to require two-thirds votes by the Legislature before raising taxes or fees or creating new ones.

Negron said the measure is being developed by Senate Finance and Tax Chairwoman Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican.

In August, Scott called for a constitutional amendment that would require a “supermajority” vote before raising taxes and fees, which now can be created or raised by majority votes in the state House and Senate.

Scott said increasing the voting requirement “would make it harder for politicians in the future” to raise taxes or fees.

In November, the House unveiled a proposal (HJR 7001), sponsored by Rep. Tom Leek, an Ormond Beach Republican, that would require two-thirds votes by the Legislature to raise taxes or fees. That would translate to support from 80 members of the 120-member House and 27 members of the 40-member Senate.

The House proposal also would require each tax or fee increase to be passed as a single-subject bill.

The House proposal is pending in the Appropriations Committee, where if it gets a favorable vote, it would be ready for a debate on the House floor.

As the former chairman of budget committees in the House and Senate, Negron was asked about the impact of raising the threshold for passing taxes or fees.

“It’s highly unlikely that the Legislature would raise taxes,” Negron said. “I think the real issue is going to be, what should the percentage of the vote be? Should it also include fees?”

Kurt Wenner, vice president for research at Florida TaxWatch, testified at a House Ways & Means Committee in November in favor of an approval threshold of three-fifths votes by the House and Senate.

“It doesn’t get to where, basically, a third of the members could defeat something,” Wenner told the committee.

The Florida Constitution already contains a provision requiring a three-fifths vote by the Legislature to raise the state corporate income tax.

Negron expressed some doubt about including fees in the amendment. He recalled his time as the House budget chairman looking at agriculture-related fees that had not been raised in decades.

“If you’re making a fee actually reflect the current cost of something and it’s a fee, I think that’s a different issue than raising taxes,” Negron said.

But Negron said he expects the Senate to consider some version of an amendment increasing the voting threshold.

“I do think the Senate will take up a proposed constitutional amendment, which Sen. Stargel is working on, that addresses that issue and I am open to that,” Negron said.

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years and has the power to place constitutional amendments on the November 2018 ballot, will take up a measure (Proposal 72) next week that is similar to the House proposal, requiring two-thirds votes to raise taxes or fees.

The proposal, sponsored by Commissioner Fred Karlinsky, is scheduled to be heard by the commission’s Finance and Taxation Committee on Tuesday.

All of the proposals, if they are passed by the Legislature or the Constitution Revision Commission, would require approval by at least 60 percent of voters during the November 2018 election.

At least 14 other states require extraordinary votes by their legislatures when raising taxes, according to House analysts.

The vote thresholds range from a three-fifths vote to three-fourths votes in Arkansas, Michigan and Oklahoma. The Michigan threshold is limited to property taxes. Seven states have a two-thirds threshold, similar to the House proposal.

The Florida Legislature last voted for a major tax increase in 2009, raising taxes on packs of cigarettes by $1.

Annette Taddeo, Lori Berman press for Medicaid expansion by ballot

In what is likely a dead-on-arrival proposal, two South Florida lawmakers said they will push for a legislatively-initiated state constitutional amendment approving Medicaid expansion in Florida.

Sen. Annette Taddeo of Miami and Rep. Lori Berman of Lantana, both Democrats, announced their resolutions (SJR 1136 and HJR 911) at Thursday press conference in the Capitol.

“The resolutions will put before the voters the opportunity to determine whether approximately 800,000 working poor without healthcare should be able to get the insurance Florida’s taxpayers have already paid for,” they said in a statement.

Democratic candidate for governor Gwen Graham also came out last month in support of a constitutional amendment on Medicaid expansion.

“Maine recently passed a constitutional amendment that mirrors Florida’s proposal, and states including Utah and Idaho are considering ballot initiatives as well, indicating that momentum is building across the country,” the lawmakers’ statement said.

“It is time for the Legislature to listen,” Taddeo added Thursday.

The House’s Republican leadership, however, has been vehemently opposed to Medicaid expansion for years, virtually ensuring the measure won’t survive that chamber in the 2018 Legislative Session. That’s despite some polls showing support for such a ballot initiative at nearly 70 percent.

Expanding Medicaid to cover working poor without health insurance is a provision of the Affordable Care Act. When lawmakers first began considering such a move in 2013, Florida could have received close to $51 billion over 10 years, according to reports.

As the Tampa Tribune has reported, the idea was to “wean states, including Florida, from another federal funding source known as the Low Income Pool, or LIP. The pool reimburses hospitals for charity care.

But “House leadership warn(ed) that the federal government (then under President Obama) could withhold dollars at any time, leaving state taxpayers stuck with the bill,” the paper reported. “Close to a third of the state budget already goes to paying for Medicaid.”

Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposed budget for 2018-19 “provides more than $1.5 billion annually over five years to fund the low income pool (LIP), in the event hospital districts decide to contribute the necessary matching funds,” according to the Governor’s Office.

“It is incumbent on the hospital districts to partner with the federal government to draw down these funds,” its website says. “The LIP program is a federal matching program that provides federal funds to Florida hospitals to cover costs for the state’s most vulnerable patients.

“This year, Gov. Scott worked with the federal government to secure this critical funding. This funding is an increase of more than $892 million over what was provided by the Obama Administration.”

A Periscope video of Thursday’s press conference is below.

Request denied: Rick Scott won’t (yet) appoint special prosecutor in Jack Latvala case

Gov. Rick Scott‘s top lawyer has – at least for now – turned down a request to appoint a special prosecutor from the attorney representing Rachel Perrin Rogers, a Senate staffer who has accused Sen. Jack Latvala of sexual harassment.

The reason: Scott doesn’t yet have “the legal authority” to appoint a prosecutor.

“This morning, the Governor’s General Counsel, Daniel Nordby, reached out to (Tiffany R.) Cruz,” said Lauren Schenone, a Scott spokeswoman, on Monday.

“Our office clarified that the Governor does not have authority to act until a matter is pending before a state attorney and following an investigation by local law enforcement,” she said. “Additionally, a conflict of interest must also be identified.”

Earlier Monday, Cruz asked Scott’s office to appoint a special prosecutor, saying Latvala may have committed crimes.

POLITICO Florida reported on Nov. 3 that six women — one of them Perrin Rogers now says is her — accused Latvala of sexually harassing and groping them. The others remain anonymous.

Perrin Rogers, 35, is a top aide to state Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican who is expected to become Senate President for 2020-22, assuming the GOP maintains its majority in the chamber.

She filed a grievance with the Senate Rules Committee in early November, and two Senate investigations now are pending into Latvala’s alleged misconduct. They include claims of sexual assault and both sexual and verbal harassment.

Perrin Rogers said there were unwelcome sexual comments about her clothes, breasts and legs. She says the 66-year-old Latvala “assaulted” her in a state Capitol elevator, brushing her breast and trying to touch her groin.

Meantime, Perrin Rogers requested a security guard while in the Capitol out of concern for her safety.

Nordby’s email to Cruz is below:

Nordby Cruz email

Two new appointees join FWC

Gov. Rick Scott late Friday announced the appointment of Sonya Rood and Gary Nicklaus to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Rood, 53, of St. Augustine, succeeds Aliese “Liesa” Priddy and is appointed for a term ending Jan. 2, 2022. Nicklaus, 48, of Jupiter, succeeds Ronald Bergeron and is appointed for a term ending Aug. 1, 2022.

“I’d like to thank Liesa Priddy for nearly six years of service and Ron Bergeron for ten years of service to the state and their dedication to the conservation of Florida’s natural resources,” Scott said in a statement.

“It is because of the hard work of Floridians like Liesa and Ron that residents and visitors can safely enjoy our natural resources now and for generations to come,” he added. “I am confident that Gary Nicklaus and Sonya Rood will continue their great work and proudly serve Florida families.”

These appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

Brecht Heuchan says ethics complaint is part of ‘smear campaign

A member of the Constitution Revision Commission says he’s become the victim of a “smear campaign” after proposing a constitutional amendment creating a “bill of rights” for nursing home and assisted living facility residents.

On Wednesday, Conwell Hooper, head of an Atlanta-based group called the American Senior Alliance, issued a press release that he had filed a state ethics complaint against Commissioner Brecht Heuchan for filing a “special interest proposal designed to boost the bottom line of one law firm.”

Complaints filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics are confidential and exempt from public record disclosure until there’s been some initial determination as to their merit.

But Hooper explained that Heuchan “is a paid, registered lobbyist for Wilkes & McHugh, a law firm that specializes in personal injury cases against nursing homes.”

Heuchan, an appointee and ally of Gov. Rick Scott, is a lobbyist and political consultant, and founder of Contribution Link, a political data analytics firm. 

His proposal came after a South Florida nursing home lost air conditioning during Hurricane Irma. Up to 14 residents later died, with 12 of those having been ruled homicides by the Broward County Medical Examiner.

Heuchan’s amendment “would make it far easier for law firms to sue nursing homes, revoking provisions of a law enacted in 2014 over Mr. Heuchan’s objections on behalf of his client Wilkes & McHugh,” Hooper said. 

Moreover, “several provisions of Mr. Heuchan’s proposal mirrors policy positions advocated by Wilkes & McHugh … This is as clear-cut a conflict of interest as one is likely to find,” he added.

On Wednesday evening, Heuchan shot back: “This out-of-state organization appears to be a shill for whatever industry is paying him. It takes some nerve to call into question my intentions and integrity when (Hooper) holds himself out to be something he is not.”

Heuchan suggested American Senior Alliance is what’s known as an Astroturf group working with the Florida Health Care Association, a nursing-home advocacy group that has slammed his proposal.

Its head, Emmett Reed, has similarly criticized Heuchan: “A professional lobbyist representing trial attorneys has ignored his broader obligations in order to serve the narrow interest of his clients. The proposed amendment is an egregious governmental overstep, one that overreaches to a monumental extent.”

American Senior Alliance is listed as an “associate member” of the Florida Health Care Association, according to its website.

The Alliance “is known for its consistent advocacy for seniors, including the quality of nursing center care in Florida, so it’s no surprise to us that they have taken an interest in this issue,” said FHCA spokeswoman Kristen Knapp.

“We have had discussions with Mr. Hooper about our mutual concerns regarding this proposal, which we don’t believe belongs in the state Constitution,” she said in an email. “It adds nothing to residents’ quality of life. We believe the organization is raising valid concerns and (we) will be following this closely.”

Still, Heuchan called the ethics complaint a “typical Tallahassee tactic: When you can’t win on the merits, attack the proposer. Oldest trick in the book.”

Barbara Pariente to stay on Rick Scott judicial appointments case

The “hot mic” has gone cold.

In a one-sentence order, the Florida Supreme Court denied Gov. Rick Scott’s request to disqualify Justice Barbara Pariente from a pending case over his judicial appointment power.

“The respondent’s motion to disqualify Justice Pariente is hereby denied,” it said, without elaboration.

Scott “expects all judges to be fair and impartial,” Scott spokesman John Tupps said in a statement.

“It is disappointing that today’s decision was made without providing any plausible justification or explanation for Justice Pariente’s comments,” he added. “Given the gravity of this case, Floridians deserve better.”

The governor’s request stemmed from a conversation between Pariente and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga that was caught on a ‘hot mic’ immediately after a Nov. 1 oral argument in the case.

The League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida are challenging Scott’s authority to appoint three new Supreme Court justices on the last day of his term in 2019.

They say he can’t name successors to the court’s liberal-leaning triumvirate of Justices Pariente, Peggy A. Quince and R. Fred Lewis — only the governor elected after Scott can.

Moments after the argument ended, Labarga can be heard on a video of the courtroom saying what sounds like, “…anything on there, Panuccio.”

Jesse Panuccio, once Scott’s general counsel and a former head of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, is a member of the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission.

Pariente then can be heard saying what sounds like “crazy.”

Scott’s filing said that was “an apparent reference either to Gov. Scott or to (his) appointees to the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission—the constitutional body that will be responsible for nominating her successor.”

The groups had responded Tuesday there was “no there there” in Scott’s complaint, saying the conversational fragments that can be made out don’t paint a picture of “bias or prejudice.”

In fact, they said, “it is simply impossible to tell what the remark referenced.”

As is its usual practice, the court has not signaled when it will rule.

Voting restoration amendment has 900,000 signatures

The main backer of a proposed constitutional amendment that would automatically restore some felons’ voting rights after they complete their sentences told Florida Politics his effort now has collected over 900,000 signatures.

“Knowing that we set the goal of collecting 1 million, the fact that we are less than 100,000 petitions away from our goal is an amazing attestation to the growing energy, excitement, and support around second chances,” said Desmond Meade, chair of Floridians for Fair Democracy and president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, in a Tuesday email.

The Florida Division of Elections website showed as of the end of Tuesday that the citizen ballot initiative, known as “The Voting Restoration Amendment,” has 442,969 verified signatures.

Initiatives need 766,200 valid signatures for ballot placement. Signatures must be spread across Florida’s 27 congressional districts, with the total number due pegged to voter turnout in the most recent presidential election.

According to the ballot summary, “This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.

“The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on a case by case basis.”

Former state Senate Democratic Leaders Arthenia Joyner of Tampa and Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale separately filed the proposal with the Constitution Revision Commission, which has the power to put it directly on the ballot.

During his term as Florida governor, then-Republican Charlie Crist worked with Cabinet members Alex Sink and Charles Bronson to push through restoration of rights for more than 150,000 non-violent felons. That process was quickly halted by Gov. Rick Scott when he took office in 2011.

Current law requires Florida convicts to wait years after they complete their sentences to apply for rights restoration through the Board of Executive Clemency, made up of Scott and members of the Cabinet.

“This news has increased my level of excitement about what’s happening in Florida, and it has definitely increased my confidence that the desire of Florida voters to have this issue on the ballot will become a reality,” Meade said. “In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am extremely thankful for the tremendous efforts of the grassroots, and the diversity of the growing support to this campaign.”

Flags at half-staff for Jefferson County Sheriff David Hobbs

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday announced he had ordered flags at half-staff to honor the late David Hobbs, Sheriff of Jefferson County in north Florida.

Hobbs, who had cancer, died after being hospitalized Monday. He was 58.

According to a news obituary in the Tallahassee Democrat, he was elected sheriff in 2004 after serving as a Florida Highway Patrol trooper, Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy and in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.

Monticello, the Jefferson County seat, is about 30 miles east of Tallahassee.

Scott ordered the state and U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff at the Jefferson County Courthouse, Monticello City Hall, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the Capitol in Tallahassee from sunrise to sunset this Saturday.

“Ann and I are saddened by the passing of Sheriff Hobbs,” Scott said in a statement. “He dedicated his life to serving our country in the military and the families of Jefferson County as Sheriff.

“We honor his service and all law enforcement officers for risking their lives to keep others safe,” he added. “I have spoken with his wife Brenda to let her know that our thoughts and prayers are with their loved ones during this difficult time.”

Plaintiffs pooh-pooh Rick Scott’s bias concern in judicial appointments case

“There is no there there” in Gov. Rick Scott‘s complaint that Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente is biased against him, say the plaintiffs in a case over his judicial appointment power.

The League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida responded Tuesday to Scott’s motion for disqualification against Pariente. It was filed earlier this month by Daniel Nordby, Scott’s general counsel.

“No Supreme Court Justice should be disqualified for unintelligible comments that – even as interpreted by the Governor – had no possible relevance to the case that had just been heard and expressed no antipathy to any party or attorney in the case,” the latest filing says.

Pariente and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga had been caught on a ‘hot mic’ immediately after a Nov. 1 oral argument in the case. The groups say Scott, term-limited as governor in 2018, does not have authority to appoint three new Supreme Court justices on the last day of his term.

Those openings are caused by the mandatory retirements for the court’s liberal-leaning trio of Justices R. Fred Lewis, Pariente and Peggy A. Quince.

Moments after the argument ended, Labarga can first be heard on a recording from the courtroom saying what sounds like, “…anything on there, Panuccio.” Jesse Panuccio, once Scott’s general counsel and a former head of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, is a member of the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission.

Pariente then can be heard saying what sounds like “crazy.” Nordby said that was “an apparent reference either to Gov. Scott or to (his) appointees to the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission—the constitutional body that will be responsible for nominating her successor.”

That’s followed by Labarga: “Izzy Reyes is on there, he’ll listen to me.” JNC member Israel U. Reyes is founder of The Reyes Law Firm in Coral Gables and a former circuit judge. He’s also one of four members nominated to the nine-member JNC by The Florida Bar; the others are appointed by the governor.

Tuesday’s filing, by plaintiff’s attorney Thomas D. Hall, starts with an extended footnote on the “bugaboo that has plagued the bench and bar in wired courtrooms for years.”

“One would be hard pressed to find a trial judge or practicing lawyer today with any significant courtroom experience who does not have at least one war story of embarrassing private remarks caught on a live microphone at counsel’s table or in chambers,” he wrote, including “Justices Scalia and Thomas hoping for stiff sentences for courtroom protesters to President Obama criticizing a foreign leader to current United States Senators criticizing President Trump.”

As to the “crazy” remark, he said “no reasonable person could read the partial remarks by Justice Pariente as suggesting any view whatsoever about (Gov. Scott) or any of the lawyers representing him, much less bias or prejudice against them … It is simply impossible to tell what the remark referenced.”

Pariente, Labarga and court spokesman Craig Waters have not commented publicly on the matter.

The filing also dismisses statements made by Pariente while campaigning for retention in 2012, “A vote ‘yes’ will be a vote to retain me and the other two justices … A vote ‘no’ will give Gov. Scott the right to make his appointments, which will result in partisan political appointments.”

“Under no reasonable view was this a comment on what would or should happen if the justices were retained and completed their final terms and (Scott) successfully ran for re-election,” it says.

“(W)hatever controversy (Scott) has sought to create might be diffused by voluntary recusal, which would certainly be the easy road for Justice Pariente,” he added. “On the other hand, giving in to this transparent bullying tactic would set a dangerous precedent,” adding that it could also lead to a 3-3 split, causing more expense and delay.

“At bottom, whether to voluntarily recuse at this late stage is a question (that) precedent places solely in Justice Pariente’s discretion,” Hall wrote.

Later Tuesday night, Scott spokesman John Tupps said that “given Justice Pariente’s remarks, it’s abundantly clear that she will not be able to remain impartial and unbiased in this case. She must recuse herself.”

Hillsborough PTC attorney Cindy Oster named to county court

Cynthia Oster, who has been serving as the in-house attorney for the soon-to-be dismantled Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, has been named by Gov. Rick Scott to serve as a judge in Hillsborough County Court.

The 47-year-old Oster’s official position, which she has held for the past 17 years, was Senior Assistant County Attorney in Hillsborough. She was previously an assistant state attorney for the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit and an assistant public defender for the Tenth Judicial Circuit.

Oster received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and her law degree from Stetson University College of Law. She will fill the vacancy created by the appointment of Judge Jennifer X. Gabbard to the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Court.

In recent years with the PTC, Oster was busy with lawsuits between the agency and ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft, who battled the PTC for more than two years until they came into compliance a year ago.

Legislation passed earlier this year calls for the PTC to be dissolved at the end of this year.

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