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10 posts from June 14, 2013

June 14, 2013

Scott signs bill to streamline death penalty review, allowing him to execute at record pace

Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law Friday aimed at accelerating the pace of the death penalty process in Florida that could make the governor the most active executioner in modern state history.

The measure, dubbed “the Timely Justice Act” by its proponents, requires governors to sign death warrants 30 days after the Florida Supreme Court certifies that an inmate has exhausted his legal appeals. Once a death warrant is signed, the new law requires the state to execute the defendant within six months.

The bill, which passed the House 84-34 and was approved by the Senate 28-10, allows the governor to control the execution schedule slightly because it requires him to sign a death warrant after the required clemency review is completed and only the governor may order the clemency investigation. Scott’s office told lawmakers that because at least 13 of the 404 inmates on Death Row have exhausted their appeals, his office has already started the clock on the clemency review.

If Scott were to sign death warrants for the 13 eligible inmates, and their executions were to continue as planned, he will be on schedule to put to death 21 murderers since he took office in January 2011. The only other recent governor who executed that many people was former Gov. Jeb Bush, who ordered the execution of 21 convicted killers but did it over an eight-year period.

The only governor to commute a death sentence since the state passed its current capital punishment law in 1973 was former Gov. Bob Graham who reduced the sentences of seven men between 1979 and 1983 for various reasons, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Story here.


Rick Scott says no to wildflower plate

Florida’s native wildflowers include 263 species that sprout in yards, gardens and along the road, a ubiquity that has relegated the plant to a mostly overlooked status.

That all changed when the flower stormed the political stage Friday after Gov. Rick Scott vetoed HB 265 — a bill that would have increased the annual $15 fee for the wildflower license plate by $10. Scott’s veto sent shock waves throughout the plant world.

“I’m stunned,” said Lisa Roberts, executive director of the Florida Wildflower Foundation.

Scott announced the veto late Friday afternoon. He also vetoed legislation that would have exempted from public records the email addresses listed on voter registration applications, which drew criticism from Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley. “How could I explain to a voter that their email address was provided by me to a complete stranger? Horrible policy decision!” Corley tweeted.

Scott also signed 60 bills, including one that restricts local governments from passing laws requiring businesses to offer employees paid sick time.

But it was the veto of the $25 wildflower license tag bill that seemed downright bizarre. Just last month Scott approved a $25 specialty tag for Freemasonry. And on Wednesday, Scott approved a transportation bill that established license plates for three groups: the American Legion, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Lauren’s Kids, each one having a $25 fee for those who wanted to pay it.

Scott’s veto letter provided no insight into why he was treating the wildflower plate differently.

“Although buying a specialty license plate is voluntary, Floridians wishing to demonstrate their support for our state’s natural beauty would be subjected to the cost increases sought by the bill,” he wrote.
“Why did they get their plates passed and we didn’t?” Roberts said. “I can’t imagine anyone being against wildflowers.”

Roberts said the increase was needed because of a drop in revenue from the specialty plate, which was established in 2000. At its peak, in 2007, the tag raised $325,000. Last year it raised just about $230,000. The money goes to the foundation and helps pay for road side plantings.

Michael Van Sickler, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Scott's veto of mental health bill

Gov. Rick Scott's veto of a mental health bill this week not only surprised the Florida Legislature, which passed it unanimously, it contradicted the efforts of his own agency, the Department of Children and Families.

The bill, which would have shortened from five years to three years the time frame in which a judge would have to decide whether a person was mentally competent to stand trial, among other provisions, was rejected by Scott because reducing the time frame “could pose a serious public safety risk.”

What the veto letter didn't say was that Scott had been urged to veto the bill (SB 1420) by a lobbyist for the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association,  Buddy Jacobs, who argued that an amendment to the measure made it unacceptable to prosecutors because of the reduced time frame.

Now that the bill (SB 1420) has been vetoed, DCF’s spokesman Alexis Lambert said the department was "concurring with the governor” that shortening the time frame “could pose a public safety risk.” She wouldn’t comment on the lack of DCF opposition to the bill during the legislative process and assertions by the bill’s sponsors and a Broward County Judge that the department was involved “since its inception.”

Continue reading "Scott's veto of mental health bill" »

"Chicken Charlie" Crist draws fire in gun-control web video


As former Gov. Charlie Crist appears ready to announce a bid for his old job, the Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat has a target on his back for his old positions.

Especially guns.

Once A-rated by the NRA, Crist no longer will be. The gun lobby will back Gov. Rick Scott. But Crist also appears to be taking fire from progressives, including this new group, gutsorguns.com, that just posted this "Chicken Charlie" video:


After posting this, we got the press release:

Continue reading ""Chicken Charlie" Crist draws fire in gun-control web video" »

Norquist touts taxless income in tweet to Tallahassee

Washington anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist has gained fame for holding conservative elected officials to a no-new-taxes pledge. He's so powerful that his stamp of approval is a coup for any conservative wanting to prove himself to a wider national audience.

So on Friday afternoon, it was paydirt for Florida House Republicans when, seemingly unprompted, Norquist touted Florida's low taxes in a tweet to his 49,694 followers.

"How much bigger would your paycheck be if you lived and paid taxes in Florida?" Norquist tweeted Friday, including a link to a graphic. It showed the income taxes those earning $40,000 would pay in states with Democratic-controlled Legislatures (New York, California, Illinois) vs. the zero dollars someone living in "Republican controlled" Florida pays for income taxes.

"Any questions?" the graphic says at the bottom. "Brought to you by the Florida House Republicans."

Continue reading "Norquist touts taxless income in tweet to Tallahassee" »

One month after session, still little hope of Medicaid deal

Two House Republicans unwittingly revived hopes this month that lawmakers could compromise on a proposal to expand Medicaid.

"Lawmakers say Medicaid expansion not dead," read the headline in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, highlighting comments from Manatee County Reps. Greg Steube and Jim Boyd.

But the reality is no different today than it was when the legislative session ended:

Medicaid expansion, or some alternative, remains a long shot.

"All I was simply trying to say was, we all agree it's an important issue," Boyd told the Times/Herald  about his remarks at a June 6 luncheon. "We thought we had a pretty good plan."

Read more here.

"5 minutes?" Democrat Nan Rich fundraises off Florida Democratic Party snub


From an email:

Dear Marc,

As you may know, I haven’t been invited to speak at the Florida Democratic Party Jefferson-Jackson fundraiser tomorrow night.  It seems to me that the Jefferson-Jackson fundraiser is exactly the kind of event where the Party would want to feature a Gubernatorial candidate who has been actively campaigning to defeat Rick Scott for the past year.  But they have decided not to do so and that is entirely their decision to make.

That decision, however, has not gone unnoticed by the media and scores of Democratic activists around the state who expected me to speak at J-J.  In fact, over the past few of weeks, a number of news stories have been written about giving me 5 minutes to speak at the event.

Continue reading ""5 minutes?" Democrat Nan Rich fundraises off Florida Democratic Party snub" »

Is Amazon deal a flip-flop for Scott?

For Gov. Rick Scott, Thursday’s announcement boosts his claim that he’s a “jobs governor.”

Upon getting elected in 2010, Scott promised to create 700,000 new jobs on top of the average growth of 1 million jobs by 2017. About 302,500 jobs have been created since he took office. Thursday's Amazon announcement represents what would be one of the largest coups he’s had since taking office. The 3,000 jobs trails only 135,000 anticipated jobs from the opening of the Port Everglades Intermodal Terminal, 8,500 from a Winter Haven rail terminal, and 3,500 from a Wawa opening in Orlando. It would be the largest one-time job announcement for Tampa Bay since Scott became governor.

Yet for all the excitement, isn't it a tax increase? 

It had been reported that was why he walked away from a deal last month, because he didn’t want to tax online sales in Florida. But Scott spokeswoman Melissa Sellers said the deal was not a reversal of his earlier stance but a “culmination of ongoing discussions.” 

Amazon will begin collecting the 6 percent state sales tax as required under Florida law. A 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled that an Internet company only collects sales taxes in states where they are physically located, which would now include Florida. 

What do Scott's Tea Party supporters think of it? 

Henry Kelley, chairman of the Fort Walton Beach Tea Party, whcih has about 1,500 members, says he doesn't quite know what to think of the deal right now.

"I'm kind of torn on this one," Kelley said. "Obviously, when you aren't paying taxes you haven't paid before, it's a tax increase. Then again, this makes the state tax system more fair, because brick-and-mortar establishments already pay this. If it makes it more fair, I'm for it, I guess."

Kelley said he wants to see Scott make the deal "revenue neutral" by cutting taxes, fees or programs to make up for the estimated $45 million to $90 million that state coffers could gain from the deal.

"We need to diversify the economy," Kelley said. "I applaud him in trying to diversify. Where I live, the economy is just tourism and military. We need more industry than that, and the governor understands that. If this is kept revenue neutral in some capacity, I support it."

But Scott has bigger problem with his tea party base than convincing them that the Amazon deal is a winner, Kelley said. He said they still resent him for favoring Medicaid expansion and not vetoing $4 billion in this year's budget. To tea partiers like Kelley, that $4 billion represents unnecessary growth in the state's budget.

"Scott's done damage to his base," Kelley said, who said he's gone from a vociferous supporter of Scott to a tepid one. "His advisers stiff-armed the tea party when we became unpopular. With the IRS issues, we’ve become more popular. We'll see what happens next."

Scott's advisors knew about Citizens' $52 million insurance deal with Heritage

From The Associated Press:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott - and other top state officials - quickly distanced themselves last month from a controversial deal approved by Citizens Property Insurance Corp. to shift thousands of homeowner policies to a start-up insurance company.

But emails show that the Scott administration and other officials knew in advance about the unique deal that calls for Citizens, the state-backed insurance giant, to pay $52 million to Heritage Property Insurance and Casualty to absorb 60,000 policies.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show that a lobbyist representing Heritage had met with a top Scott aide to discuss the transaction. The Scott administration acknowledged that the meeting happened in late March - roughly two months before the Citizens board approved the deal.

Scott's chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth insisted in a statement that no one in the Scott administration took a position before Citizens approved the transaction, known as a "take-out," on May 22.

Continue reading "Scott's advisors knew about Citizens' $52 million insurance deal with Heritage" »

Florida receives final permission to privatize Medicaid

It's just a formality since the deal was announced months ago, but today Florida officially received the waiver it needs to privatize Medicaid. Gov. Rick Scott first announced in February that the state had received conditional approval from the federal government to allow private companies to administer the Medicaid program for roughly 3 million participants.

That was the same day Scott said he would support Medicaid expansion, his decision based in part on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' conditional agreement on granting the managed care waiver. The governor and the Senate agreed on an expansion alternative that would have qualified for $51 billion, but House Republicans blocked the deal.

Here is more from the governor's office on the final managed care waiver: 

Continue reading "Florida receives final permission to privatize Medicaid" »