Gov. Rick Scott Archives - Florida Politics

Julie Brown, Gary Clark to stay on PSC

Incumbents Julie Brown and Gary Clark are staying on the Florida Public Service Commission.

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday said he had reappointed the two to serve another four-year term each. His picks are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

The five-member panel regulates the state’s investor-owned utilities.

Clark, 50, of Chipley, had been Deputy Secretary of land and recreation at the Department of Environmental Protection.

Brown, 43, of Tampa, previously was Associate Legal Counsel for First American Title Insurance Co., and an assistant city attorney for the City of Tampa.

They were among six names sent to Scott for consideration by the Public Service Commission Nominating Council. The position pays $132,000 a year and is based in Tallahassee.

Brown’s and Clark’s current terms expire at the end of the year. The Florida Constitution forbids commissioners from serving more than three four-year terms.

Brown first joined the panel in 2011; Clark was tapped by Scott last year.

He is finishing the term of now-CFO Jimmy Patronis, himself named by the governor to replace Jeff Atwater as state chief financial officer.

Atwater left elected office early to work for Florida Atlantic University.

Personnel note: Rachel Nordby joins Shutts & Bowen

Rachel Nordby, who’s been a deputy solicitor general for Attorney General Pam Bondi, is heading to the Shutts & Bowen law firm as a partner in the Tallahassee office, the firm announced Friday.

Nordby, who starts Sept. 10, will be vice chair of the firm’s Appellate Practice Group.

Her hire follows another recent high-profile addition from state government: Ben Gibson, a former deputy general counsel to Gov. Rick Scott, joined the firm as a partner in its Business Litigation Practice Group in Tallahassee.

“Shutts & Bowen is Florida’s oldest statewide law firm, founded in 1910 when Henry Flagler recruited his favorite lawyer, Frank Shutts, to relocate to Miami and handle legal affairs for his railroad and resort hotels,” said Jason Gonzalez, managing partner of the Tallahassee office.

“With the hiring of Rachel Nordby and Ben Gibson, we are carrying on Flagler’s tradition of recruiting the best legal talent in Florida.”

Nordby, a 2008 graduate of the Florida State University College of Law, is married to Daniel Nordby, currently general counsel to Scott — and a former Shutts partner. As general counsel, he’s Scott’s top legal advisor holds great sway over who Scott taps for judicial appointments.

Gonzalez himself is a former general counsel to the Republican Party of Florida and to Gov. Charlie Crist, whom he advised on four state Supreme Court appointments: Charles CanadyRicky PolstonJorge Labarga, and James E.C. Perry.

“I hired Dan Nordby, Rachel Nordby and Ben Gibson as my law clerks when they were in law school over a decade ago,” Gonzalez said.

“Rachel and Dan have become hands-down the most talented husband and wife lawyer duo in this state,” he added. “Just look at the cases they have won at the highest courts and the clients they have been representing (the governor and attorney general). It’s an amazing record of winning.”

To name a few, those cases include successful defenses of Florida’s teacher evaluation policies, the state’s fuel tax policy (challenged by the Seminole Tribe of Florida), and the Communications Services Tax and Tax Credit Scholarship Program, Gonzalez said.

Rachel Nordby was less successful on another high-profile case this year: She was on the team of lawyers that lost a challenge organized by Orlando attorney John Morgan of the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana. That decision is now under appeal, however.

Cost to protect Rick Scott rises to $2.5 million

Protecting Gov. Rick Scott cost the state $2.5 million last fiscal year, up from $2.3 million the year before.

That’s according to a new report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The combined cost to guard the governor, First Lady Ann Scott, their family, and the Governor’s Mansion and grounds was roughly $3.25 million in 2017-18, up more than a quarter-million dollars from 2016-17 ($2.99 million).

The annual Report of Transportation and Protective Services, released Wednesday, also shows individual costs for 37 protective details for “visiting dignitaries.”

All costs include agents’ and officers’ salary and any overtime, plus the cost of transportation and other expenses. That total was about $50,000.

That’s down from last fiscal year, when 75 protective details were performed at a cost of $304,000, last year’s report shows.

For example, the Feb. 20-21 visit from U.S. Second Lady Karen Pence – who gets Secret Service protection – came in at just $406.

The most expensive visit was March 23-27, by Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and his family: $6,553. It was listed as “personal.”

State law authorizes security and transportation for anyone “whom the failure to provide security or transportation could result in a clear and present danger to the personal safety of such persons, or to the safety of other persons or property within this state, or could result in public embarrassment to the state.”

Carol Dover: Take action to protect Florida’s tourism industry

As every Floridian knows, tourism is critical to our state’s booming economy. This $111.7 billion industry represents 1.4 million employees, and one out of every four people in the Sunshine State works in hospitality. With more than 850 miles of beautiful coastline, seemingly endless options for entertainment and warm sunshine, it’s no wonder that millions of people come to Florida every year.

Our state’s largest industry is in danger as a result of the algal blooms caused when the federal government releases water from Lake Okeechobee into our rivers and estuaries. Gov. Scott has taken incredible steps in securing millions of dollars in state funding for repairs to the Herbert Hoover dike and billions for Everglades restoration projects.

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has worked tirelessly to expedite the EAA reservoir project, which is imperative for reducing the discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

Further, the SFWMD continues to study the situation and determine what other actions can be taken. But the bottom line is that Gov. Scott, the SFWMD and Floridians cannot stop the algal blooms or minimize the damage to our environment and economy on our own.

The federal government must take immediate and decisive action to help Florida.

The federal government should immediately fully fund their half of the state-federal partnership for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. To date, the state has contributed more than $2.3 billion, but the federal government has contributed only $1.3 billion.

Their failure to follow through on their commitment delays critical projects that will clean, store and move water south and thereby eliminate the need for the Lake Okeechobee releases.

Congress should quickly approve the EAA Reservoir Project. The SFWMD accelerated the planning and design for this project, and the White House Office of Management and Budget approved the plan last month.

However, the plan is still sitting in Congress, waiting on approval. Without Congressional approval, this key project is on hold, and the Lake Okeechobee discharges continue.

Finally, the Army Corps of Engineers should evaluate their plan for Lake Okeechobee. We are in the middle of the wet season. Funding for the Herbert Hoover dike rehabilitation is secured thanks to Gov. Scott. And yet, the Army Corps of Engineers has not updated the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule for a decade.

Florida’s leaders are doing all that they can to protect our environment, our people, our wildlife and our economy. We all understand that a long-term, lasting solution requires everyone working together, and Floridians are doing all we can.

We need our partners at the federal level to do the same.

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Carol Dover is CEO/President of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association. She can be reached at cdover@frla.org.

Rick Scott OKs emergency loans to cope with algae, red tide

Small businesses hurt by algae blooms and red tide can now apply to the state for emergency loans, Gov. Rick Scott‘s office announced Tuesday.

Scott activated the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program, which provides “short-term, interest-free loans to small businesses experiencing physical or economic loss.” The program is managed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO).

“Florida’s businesses are a large reason why our state is the best place in the country to live,” Scott said in a statement. “This program will help our business community recover from these emergencies.”

— Small businesses affected by blue-green algae in Glades, Hendry, Lee, Martin, Okeechobee, Palm Beach, and St. Lucie counties may apply for assistance from today through Sept. 7.

— Small businesses affected by the red tide in Charlotte, Collier, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties may apply for assistance from today through Oct. 12.

The short-term, interest-free loans help ‘bridge the gap’ between the time damage is incurred and when a business secures other financial resources.

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For more information on the program, visit www.floridadisasterloan.org, call the Florida Small Business Development Center Network at (850) 898-3479 or email. The phone line will be answered during regular business hours; all voicemails and emails will be responded to within 24 hours.

State has spent $2M on legal bills for medical marijuana

As it defends a slew of cases over medical marijuana, the state of Florida has spent close to $2 million on outside lawyers. Nearly all of that went to one firm.

Records reviewed last week show at least $1.9 million approved by the Department of Health (DOH) going to two law firms — mostly Vezina, Lawrence & Piscitelli, but also Shutts & Bowen.

The contracts, which were usually amended for increasing amounts of money, were posted on Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis‘ Florida Accountability Contract Tracking System, or FACTS. It’s an “online tool developed to make the government contracting process in Florida more transparent.”

Meantime, medicinal cannabis advocates – including Orlando lawyer John Morgan – have called on term-limited Gov. Rick Scott to drop appeals of cannabis-related rulings that went against the state. That includes a case that Morgan backed, challenging the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana.

“Enough is enough, drop YOUR #MedicalMarijuana appeal,” Morgan said in a May 29 tweet that he has pinned to his Twitter page. “Do it for the PEOPLE!”

Paying big bucks for hired legal guns isn’t surprising: Under Scott “and other top Florida Republicans,” the state has “quietly spent more than $237 million on private lawyers to advance and defend their agendas,” the Associated Press reported last year.

That figure doesn’t include the nearly $16 million “Florida taxpayers have been forced to reimburse (for) opponents’ private attorney fees” when the state has lost, the AP said.

A request for comment with a Health Department spokesman was pending as of late Friday. It regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

Its director, Christian Bax, worked his last day Friday after tendering his resignation last month. Deputy director Courtney Coppola will serve as interim head. And the department’s general counsel, Nichole Geary, who signed the legal-work contracts, also has resigned. She leaves later this month.

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Contracts for outside legal work on medical marijuana begin in March 2015, with a $230,000 deal to the Vezina, Lawrence & Piscitelli law firm of Tallahassee, for “legal representation to DOH in a rule challenge.” Total paid: $219,568.09. 

Dahlia Barnhart, a then 4-year-old with a brain tumor, and her mother, Moriah Barnhart, challenged the department in order to “expedite … (patients’) access to low THC cannabis.”

This was before passage of the state’s constitutional amendment authorizing medical marijuana, but after lawmakers OK’d use of low-THC, or “non-euphoric,” marijuana to help severely ill children. THC is the chemical that causes the high from pot.

The state later expanded the use of medicinal marijuana through the “Right to Try Act,” which includes patients suffering intractable pain and loss of appetite from terminal illnesses.

The state won the case, with an administrative law judge finding among other things that the Barnharts alleged “insufficient facts … to show (Dahlia) would be substantially affected.”

Moriah Barnhart recently told the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau “she is still getting her daughter’s medical marijuana from out of state,” adding that she’s “never gotten a legal product from the state of Florida.”

The same law firm, in August 2015, also inked a contract eventually worth $1.275 million for “legal proceedings.” Total paid: $1,053,836.46.

Services include reviewing and analyzing files, attending meetings and preparing any court filings needed, the contract shows. For example, the firm has represented the state in administrative hearings on other medical marijuana rule challenges.  

Moreover, partner W. Robert Vezina III is listed as attorney of record for the department in an Okaloosa County lawsuit. That’s over whether a medical marijuana license preference for black farmers should include “Native American farmers and ranchers.”

The firm scored a third contract, similar to the second, worth a total of $700,000 in February 2017. Total paid: $540,721.34. 

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A fourth contract found on the FACTS system shows an August 2017 deal potentially worth $300,000 for the Shutts law firm, which has an office in Tallahassee. Total paid: $177,990.24. 

For instance, the firm helped represent the state in the lawsuit brought by Tampa strip club mogul, free speech fighter and medical marijuana patient Joe Redner.

Redner is suing the state to be allowed to grow his own marijuana and make juice of it; his doctor recommended fresh juice as the best way to keep his lung cancer in remission. He won at trial, but the state is appealing.

The firm has connections to Scott: Ben Gibson, a former lawyer to the governor, joined the firm this summer as a partner in its Business Litigation Practice Group in Tallahassee.

Gibson served as Deputy General Counsel and Assistant General Counsel to Scott for nearly five years, “helping advise the governor on the appointment of more than 120 judges to Florida’s courts.”

Mike Carroll quits as head of Florida’s child-welfare agency

Mike Carroll, Secretary of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), will quit his post effective Sept. 6, Gov. Rick Scott‘s office announced Friday.

“Mike embodies the ideals and mission of the Department … and has devoted nearly three decades to improve and change the lives of Florida’s vulnerable children and families,” the governor said in a statement.

“Mike’s tenure as secretary is the longest in DCF’s 21-year history,” he added. Carroll was appointed in December 2014.

He inherited a system documented earlier that year, by the Miami Herald’s “Innocents Lost” investigation, as “clearly broken, leaving children unprotected and at risk.”

Carroll worked at DCF and its predecessor, the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS), since January 1990. Scott, who is term-limited and leaving office in January, did not immediately name his replacement.

The press release from Scott’s office said Carroll oversaw “expanded substance abuse treatment services statewide, including medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders; achieved record numbers of adoptions; (and) championed anti-human trafficking efforts,” among other achievements.

“Throughout his career, Mike has focused on innovative solutions to complicated problems, finding ways to enable better outcomes for children and families,” Scott said.

But lowlights during Carroll’s tenure include a foster child hanging herself while broadcasting it on social media. Naika Venant, a 14-year-old Miami-Dade County girl who was in and out of foster care starting in 2009, killed herself last year during a Facebook Live video.

“This case is kind of symptomatic of what we deal with,” he later told a state Senate committee. “Many of these kids have cracks … they’re broken, they’re in pieces …

“We’re charged as a state agency to put those pieces back together. And we aren’t always able to do that. And that’s the most tragic thing about our work.”

Two years before that, lawmakers heard results of a study into a series of missteps by DCF leading up to the father of 5-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck throwing her off a bridge into Tampa Bay.

“The DCF report concluded Phoebe was subjected to a storm of mental health issues, substance abuse and domestic violence in her short life,” the Tampa Tribune reported.

Carroll told legislators he responded by “requiring abuse hot-line counselors to have a four-year college degree and undergo 13 weeks of training, including nine weeks in a classroom,” the paper reported.

“Getting (employees) who are qualified to do this work and then getting them to stay on the job is a challenge,” Carroll said. “It is very stressful work. The work hours are incredible and not predictable … and you always work with a level of uncertainty.

“Every family you address, every home you walk into, you’re asked to make decisions … and you think you make the right decisions but when you walk out of that home, you never know.”

And a 133-page internal review commissioned by Carroll in 2016 depicted a dysfunctional agency, with workers feeling “unsupported,” “overwhelmed,” and “defeated.”

Cabinet decision on top financial regulator postponed

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet are moving back a decision on hiring a new top financial regulator.

Scott and the Cabinet had been expected to make a pick during a meeting next week, but Kristin Olson, Scott’s Cabinet aide, said Wednesday that the Governor’s Office continues to review applicants for the job of commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation — and another position as inspector general of the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

“Our office needed more time to review those candidates, so they’ll be on the next Cabinet agenda,” Olson said.

The Cabinet meets only two more times this year after next Tuesday’s meeting: Sept. 11 and Dec. 4.

Scott and the Cabinet — Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis — in June agreed to name Pam Epting as acting commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation and to reopen the application process after interviewing five applicants.

An additional 20 applications were submitted following the June meeting. Epting, who was deputy commissioner of the office, had her pay raised by $10,000 to $135,000 with the acting title.

She is not among the applicants to replace former Commissioner Drew Breakspear, who resigned under pressure from Patronis. He claimed there was a “lack of cooperation, responsiveness and communication” from the office under Breakspear.

Scott, Bondi and Putnam will leave their current offices in January, while Patronis is running in the November election to remain as CFO.

Putnam is running for governor, while Scott is running for U.S. Senate.  Bondi can’t seek re-election due to term limits and isn’t seeking another office.

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Republished with permission of The News Service of Florida

Judicial candidate filed campaign paperwork too late, appeals court says

A state appeals court has blocked Clay County judicial candidate Lucy Ann Hoover from appearing on the ballot because she filed her paperwork too late.

“We recognize that the public policy of Florida generally favors letting the people decide the ultimate qualifications of candidates,” the 1st District Court of Appeal concluded Wednesday, in an opinion by Judge T. Kent Wetherell II. Judges Ross L. Bilbrey and M. Kemmerly Thomas concurred.

“However, absent special circumstances, public policy considerations cannot override the clear and unambiguous statutory requirement that all of the candidate’s qualifying paperwork must be received by the filing officer by the end of the qualifying period.”

The court upheld a trial judge in the 7th Judicial Circuit, who heard the case because it originated with a motion filed by incumbent Clay County Judge Kristina Mobley. Gov. Rick Scott placed her on the bench in 2015.

Record show Hoover arrived at the county supervisor of elections office at 11:55 a.m. on May 4, just shy of the noon deadline. She filed her qualifying check at 11:57, but her candidate oath came in at 12:01 and her financial disclosure form at 12:12.

The office accepted the late documents, and certified Hoover as a candidate, under a policy of requiring only that prospective candidates be physically present and filling out their paperwork before the deadline falls.

Mobley then went to court to have Hoover’s name stripped from the ballot.

Hoover, a visiting professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of North Florida, cited a 1st DCA precedent allowing a legislative candidate to appear on the ballot under a similar policy maintained by Florida’s secretary of state.

But that was because an aide to the candidate was misdirected inside a crowded and confused elections office, Wetherell wrote, and had the paperwork completed and ready to file. By contrast, Hoover was the only candidate inside the local supervisor’s office.

“Here, there were no special circumstances that would excuse Hoover’s failure to meet the qualifying deadline, but rather … this is simply a case of a prospective candidate missing the qualifying deadline because she waited until too late to complete the necessary paperwork,” the opinion says.

State seeks to uphold ban on smoking medical cannabis

Pointing in part to smoking-related health effects, Attorney General Pam Bondis office on Friday filed a 57-page brief arguing that an appeals court should uphold a decision by the Legislature to ban smoking medical marijuana.

The brief, filed at the 1st District Court of Appeal, came as the state challenges a May ruling by Tallahassee Circuit Judge Karen Gievers, who said the smoking ban violates a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana.

The Legislature in 2017 passed a law to carry out the constitutional amendment and included the smoking ban.

Prominent Orlando lawyer John Morgan, who heavily bankrolled the constitutional amendment, filed a lawsuit last year challenging the smoking ban. Bondi’s office Friday filed an initial brief in its attempt to overturn Gievers’ ruling.

The brief raised a series of issues, including arguing that the Legislature “considered important health and safety factors” when deciding to ban smoking.

“Notably, the Legislature considered evidence of the health hazards of smoking and concluded that smoking marijuana constitutes a harmful delivery method,” the brief said. “Time and again during debate, elected members of Florida’s Legislature emphasized that the amendment is exclusively about medicine, and that smoking is antithetical to good medicine.

“In considering these health-related factors, the Legislature reasonably determined that the harms caused by smoking — including harms to patients and those exposed to secondhand smoke — were ample reason to exclude smoking from the statutory definition of ‘medical use.’

“The Legislature therefore acted under its general authority to regulate public health, safety, and welfare when it drew a reasonable line between the smoking of medical marijuana, and other delivery methods.”

But in her May ruling, Gievers found that language in the amendment “recognizes there is no right to smoke in public places, thereby implicitly recognizing the appropriateness of using smokable medical marijuana in private places consistent with the amendment.”

The “ability to smoke medical marijuana was implied” in the constitutional language “and is therefore a protected right,” Gievers wrote.

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Republished with permission of The News Service of Florida. 

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