In his State of the State Address, Gov. Rick Scott highlighted human trafficking, saying his Florida Families First budget invests $1.5 million of his $74.2 billion budget to provide safe houses for victims.
In his speech Tuesday morning, Scott referred to Allison Good, who in a YouTube video describes how she was used for sexual favors and drugged when she was just five years old.
Gov. Rick Scott gave shoutouts to several business owners and economic
development professionals during his State of the State speech Tuesday,
heralding the business community for creating jobs in Florida.
Scott, a former CEO-turned-governor, has made courting corporations
and businesses a staple of his legislative strategy. According to Scott, who
gave an upbeat address to kick off the legislative session, “It’s working.”
The governor personally invited business owners and acknowledged
them during his speech.
Invited were: Wes Bush (CEO of Northrop Grumman), Dave Brown
(president of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care in Jacksonville),
Michelle Robinson (Regional Vice President of Verizon) and Frank Unanue
(president of Goya Foods in Miami).
Scott has highlighted all of the businesses in the past for
creating jobs, often with taxpayer incentives from the state.
Scott hailed Verizon VP Robinson in his speech for the company's decision to locate a new facility in Central Florida,
a move he said would bring “hundreds” of jobs to the state.
Robinson said Scott’s recruitment efforts helped Verizon
over other states for its expansion project.
“What it came down for us was quality of life, availability
of a qualified labor pool and the cost of living factor,” she said in an interview. “I think Florida is very
competitive with Gov. Scott and the work that [Commerce Secretary] Gray Swoope
is doing… working hard to compete for new jobs in Florida.”
Florida taxpayers also chipped in millions of dollars in economic
incentives awards to seal the Verizon deal. Scott is asking for nearly $300
million in funding for incentives deals this year, but lawmakers have expressed
Scott also acknowledged Bill
Johnson, director of the Port
of Miami and Chairman of
the Florida Ports Council, during the speech.
“When the Miami port dredge
project is completed, along with the Panama Canal
expansion, thousands of new jobs will be created,” Scott said.
Unanue, who welcomed Scott to a recent “work day” at Goya
Foods in Miami,
said the state’s business climate was improving.
“I think the state has turned around,” he said. “We’ve been
growing. And I see it around in the community as well… You see people going out
and moving, going out to clubs and restaurants. You see the economy moving
Scott stuck to that theme during his speech, which repeatedly used the phrase “It’s working” and pointed to the brightening spots of Florida’s economy.
While the economy is slowly improving, job creation in Florida still lags the
national pace. Florida is adding jobs at a
growth rate at 0.7 percent, half the rate of the U.S. Much of the drop in the
unemployment rate—which is down 3 percentage points since Scott was elected—is
due to a decline in labor force participation.
Florida House of Representatives released a new mobile app that House
Speaker Will Weatherford said will “set
a national standard.”
app, reported by the Herald/Times yesterday,
will allow users to track the legislative process on their mobile devices, with
features like live streaming from the Capitol in Tallahassee and tracking of bills.
is the way that people are communicating with their government,” said
Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican.
is expected to be released next week, as the 60-day legislative session begins.
more about it here
and see the House press release here.
After the press conference,
Weatherford took questions from reporters on a range of issues, including
Medicaid, Citizens Insurance, the budget sequester and Internet cafes.
brushed off questions about a potential run for governor against Rick Scott, while continuing to differ
from Scott on the key issues of Medicaid expansion and across-the-board $2,500 pay raises for teachers.
people who are saying those things must not know me well,” he said about those
who are whispering about a 2014 primary challenge. “I’m busy enough trying to
be the Speaker of the House… I’m not thinking of any of that stuff right now.”
did not specifically rule out the possibility, but said that he doesn’t “have
any plans to do anything like that.”
Citizens Property Insurance, which
came under intense scrutiny last year when it fired four corporate
investigators, released a report to show that it has not broken the rules when
it comes to corporate integrity.
According to a review of 474 cases
investigated since 2008, “all complaints were addressed and corrective action
taken in accordance with Citizens’ policies in place at the time.”
Citizens released information about
the 474 cases of internal misconduct allegations ranging from sexual harassment
to misuse of funds to falsified documents. Citizens Office of Corporate
Integrity had investigated many of the allegations, but that office was abruptly
shut down last year. The abrupt firings sparked backlash from top lawmakers, after
the Herald/Times reported that the investigators
had discovered evidence of misconduct by Citizens’ highest executives shortly
before they were fired.
Gov. Rick Scott’s chief inspector
general is looking into the firings after the governor said he was concerned
about the “appearance of impropriety.”
The document released by Citizens
is long, but it’s filled with case file information from workplace scandals at
Citizens. The document reads like a laundry list of sexual affairs,
corporate corruption, workplace pornography, discrimination, theft and other allegations. One case summary references an employee who regularly used his corporate credit
card at what appears to be a strip club.
“The preliminary review of outstanding charges disclosed that
employee had purchased alcohol on at least six separate occasions and
entertainment at an adult entertainment establishment,” the report reads. The
employee resigned in 2011.
Citizens is looking to reform
itself after a series of scandals last year reported in the Herald/Times, including lavish executive
spending, drunken exploits on company retreats, $2.5 million in overpayments to
an insurance company and the abrupt disbanding of the Office of Corporate
Announced reforms include new
restrictions on travel spending, tougher standards for private contracting and
new rules for company execs.
A Miami-Dade company that received a large tax incentive
deal from the state of Florida
folded last week, casting another black eye on the state’s job recruitment
Banah International Group, a sugar company, was approved for
a “qualified target industry” tax credit worth $437,000.
Adding insult to injury: News that Banah’s chairman had been convicted of cocaine trafficking five years
before the company was approved for inventives.
which does much of the vetting in Florida’s
multimillion-dollar business incentives program, has been under heightened scrutiny in
recent weeks as lawmakers have questioned the practice of doling out tax breaks
and cash to companies promising to create jobs. EFI said that Banah did not
disclose the criminal past of its chairman.
The organization pointed out, in all capital letters, that
Banah did not receive any tax money from the state because it failed to create the
jobs it promised.
“IF A COMPANY CANNOT MEET ITS CONTRACTUAL OBLIGATION, IT
RECEIVES NO REFUND, AND WILL BE REMOVED FROM THE PROGRAM,” an Enterprise Florida
Gov. Rick Scott is asking the Legislature to approve nearly
$300 million in incentives funding this year, a massive increase from about $111 million
Lawmakers are skeptical about the funding request,
especially after at least three companies have gone bust in the last year after
accepting incentives deals.
Groups like Integrity Florida and the Koch-brothers
sponsored Americans for Prosperity have slammed Enterprise Florida’s incentive
program, saying it picks “winners and losers” in the marketplace. When a
company goes bust after accepting government funds—as was the case with
Solyndra and Florida’s
own Digital Domain—critics blame the government for picking a loser.
EFI has countered that narrative by stating it is using the
taxpayer funds to recruit companies that create high-paying jobs in Florida.
Most of the deals that it approves go on to fulfill—and often
surpass—their requirements, EFI has said.
In the case of Banah, EFI was surprised by the bankruptcy.
“There were no concerns regarding the financial viability of
Banah,” EFI said.
Hoping to convince lawmakers to make significant reforms on
the politically thorny issue of property insurance, a business group has
released an interactive map showing legislators how many of their constituents
are covered by Citizens Property Insurance.
The idea is to get lawmakers to realize that, in most cases,
the majority of their constituents get coverage in the private market, not from
government-run Citizens. That realization would theoretically make it easier for lawmakers to back legislation raising rates at Citizens.
“This is the first time we’ve looked at the data this way
and it’s very telling. More than two-thirds of residents in a majority of Senate and House districts
don’t have Citizens as their property insurer,” said Associated Industries of
Florida president Tom Feeney in a statement.
AIF is pushing for major reforms, many of which will lead to
higher insurance rates for property owners covered by Citizens, and potentially for those covered by private insurers as well. AIF says the threat of those "hurricane taxes" is bad for business. Citizens, the largest insurer in the state
with 1.3 million policies, covers about 23 percent of the market.
If the company—which is running a record surplus—ever runs
out of money after a massive monster hurricane, it might have to levy “assessments”
on Florida consumers to make up the shortfall. Federal and state taxpayers may
also pick up some of the tab, as has happened in the past after devastating
Property insurance has been a tough political football
because of the pocketbook impact it has on homeowners. In places like South Florida, where Citizens dominates the market, the
typical family spends about 5 percent of its income on property insurance,
much higher than state and national averages.
Those homeowners are very vocal come election time, so
Republicans in South Florida and other high-cost
coastal regions have been wary of voting for business-backed insurance bills in
the past. Democrats have joined those wary Republicans to kill bills that the insurance
industry wants and this year the minority party has made keeping insurance costs down part of its platform.
A federal appeals court upheld the temporary ban on Florida’s drug-testing
for welfare recipients Tuesday, saying that a lawsuit against the state had a
good chance of succeeding.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta sided with a lower court decision, stating that Florida failed to show that
the drug testing plan was so critical that the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable
searches by the government, should be suspended.
The decision—which did not weigh in on the ultimate
constitutionality question—is the latest development in Gov. Rick Scott's controversial drug testing push. In 2011,Scott and the Florida Legislature instituted a
program for drug-testing all recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy
Families. Luis Lebron, a single-father and TANF applicant who refused to take
the test on constitutional grounds, filed a lawsuit with help from the American Civil Liberties Union.
In authoring the court’s opinion, Circuit Judge Rosemary
Barkett said that Florida
had not proven that its drug-testing program serves a “special” or “immediate” need,
or that it even protected children in families with substance abuse.
“There is nothing so special or immediate about the
government’s interest in ensuring that TANF recipients are drug free so as to warrant
suspension of the Fourth Amendment,” Barkett wrote. “The only known and shared
characteristic of the individuals who would be subjected to Florida’s mandatory drug testing program is
that they are financially needy families with children.”
Scott vowed to appeal the decision and take his fight to the Supreme Court.
“The court’s ruling today is disturbing," he said in a statement. "Welfare is 100 percent about helping children. Welfare is taxpayer money to help people looking for jobs who have children. Drug use by anyone with children looking for a job is totally destructive. This is fundamentally about protecting the wellbeing of Florida families. We will protect children and families in our state, and this decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court.”
The court relied on a similar case in Georgia, which
struck down the state’s program for requiring all political candidates to take
drug tests. That case found that Georgia did not show that there was
a drug problem among elected officials, and the law was mostly “symbolic.”
In the rejecting Florida’s
appeal to the lower court's preliminary injunction, Barkett took a similar position.
“The State has presented no evidence that simply because an
applicant for TANF benefits is having financial problems, he is also drug
addicted or prone to fraudulent and neglectful behavior,” she wrote.
The ACLU's associate legal director Maria Kayanan said the ruling was a vindication for struggling families who apply for government assistance.
"The state of Florida can’t treat an entire segment of our community like suspected criminals simply because they are poor and are trying to get temporary assistance from the government to support their families,” said Kayanan, who was lead counsel on the case.
also passed a law last year requiring drug testing for all state workers, but
that issue is also tangled in constitutional challenges and litigation.
A 19-member task force commissioned by Gov. Rick Scott to review Florida’s Stand Your Ground law has put out
report, largely voicing its support for the law.
The task force made a handful of recommendations for the Legislature,
but began the report by stating that, at its core, the self-defense law is fine
as it is.
“All persons who are conducting themselves in a lawful
manner have a fundamental right to stand their ground and defend themselves
from attack with proportionate force in every place they have a lawful right to
be,” the report reads.
The controversial law grants immunity to people who use
force, including deadly force, in response to a perceived threat of bodily
harm. It was thrust into the spotlight last year after Miami
Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin was
shot to death in Sanford
by a man who later claimed self-defense under Stand Your Ground. The shooter, neighborhood
watch volunteer George Zimmerman, was initially not charged, but now awaits
trial on second-degree murder charges.
Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll chaired the task force, which held statewide hearings and consisted of two lawmakers who drafted the Stand Your Ground law and others who
voted for it. Police, lawyers and neighborhood watch volunteers were also appointed. Critics blasted the group's makeup from the outset, predicting that it would not push for any significant changes to the law.
The recommendations the group did come up with include reconsidering the state’s
10-20-Life law, tightening standards for neighborhood watch groups and commissioning
a study to look into issues of racial disparities and unintended consequences
of Stand Your Ground.
The task force also urged the Legislature to consider
whether Stand Your Ground should apply when an innocent bystander is caught in
the crossfire and to clarify whether or not the law’s immunity provision prohibits
police from detaining and questioning a shooter.
Two task force members -- Miami-Dade State attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and
Tallahassee-based pastor Rev. R.B. Holmes
-- each submitted letters indicating they wished the group had pushed for more
“I have also seen not only from the experiences in my
Office, but from the testimony of our citizens and experts who came before our
Task Force, that the law has had some consequences which I believe were
unintended,” Fernandez-Rundle wrote in a letter attached to the report. She
said the law’s “immunity” provision should be scrapped.
Gov. Rick Scott blasted top executives at Citizens Property Insurance
for “foolish” behavior Wednesday, calling on them to give back large pay raises
they received last year.
“First off, they have these outrageous pay raises,” Scott
said in an interview “They ought to give that back. Those ought to go back.”
The raises, first
reported by the Herald/Times,
came as the state-run company was increasing homeowners’ insurance rates and scaling
back coverage. Scott said no one told him about the pay
hikes—which were as large as $31,000—and made it clear that he did not approve.
Citizens has been through a number
of controversies in the last year as news of the company’s
spending habits has come to light. Expenditures unearthed by the Herald/Times, independent auditors and
Scott’s chief inspector general include gourmet dinners, alcohol, international
travel and stays in $600-a-night hotels.
A Citizens spokesperson said the company will "revisit" its board-approved compensation plan and "make a revised recommendation at the March meeting."
In a Wednesday opinion
piece in the Bradenton Herald, Citizens’
board chairman Carlos Lacasa said
that the company has “sound internal governance” and the raises were merited
due to increased responsibilities and comparisons with the private insurance
"The raises also followed three
straight years of no merit raises and were accompanied by a decrease to
benefits in the form of increased health insurance premiums and higher
co-pays,” Lacasa wrote.
Scott said that his staff had heard
Citizens’ rationale for raising the salaries, but he remained critical of the
pay increases, which went out to some of the highest-paid execs at the
state-run insurer. Employees at state agencies have not received a raise in six
On several occasions, Scott made
mention of executives’ use of the corporate credit card to buy alcohol,
including purchases brought to light by Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel.
Citizens responded to Scott’s
inspector general by saying that Lacasa had reimbursed the company for $300 in
alcohol purchased at a company dinner last June. Receipts obtained by the Times/Herald show that seven or eight
officials at Citizens ordered about $369 of red wine and Grey Goose Vodka
during a $918 dinner at Orlando’s
Ocean Prime restaurant.
“We shouldn’t be reimbursing them for alcohol,” Scott said.
“This is a state organized entity. It shouldn’t be any different.”
A new proposal announced Tuesday—dubbed “Smart Justice”—would
change the way Florida
deals with non-violent drug offenders.
The bill seeks to reduce recidivism by redirecting some non-violent
offenders from high-security prison into re-entry and drug treatment programs.
“It’s time that we change the way we’re doing business,” said
Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, who is
co-sponsoring the measure. “We’re in the modern days, the 21st century.
But in many ways our criminal justice system is still in the Middle Ages.”
Inmates in the last three years of their sentences would be
potentially eligible for the program. New “Correctional Re-entry Treatment
Facilities” would be created—and run by private providers—to take in the
Rep. Dennis Baxley,
an Ocala Republican who chairs the House’s Judiciary Committee, is also
sponsoring the measure. He said it would help reduce recidivism in Florida’s prison system.
“The ideas contained in this legislation will make a
meaningful difference,” Baxley said in a statement. “Not just in the lives of
offenders, but more importantly in the lives of Floridians who might otherwise
become their future crime victims.”