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June 22, 2015

As Scott and Cabinet end one Sunshine lawsuit, governor negotiates settling another

For the second time in a month, Gov. Rick Scott is negotiating a settlement to use taxpayer dollars to end a lawsuit alleging he violated state Sunshine laws.

According to documents filed in First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee this month, the governor is negotiating with Tallahassee attorney Steve Andrews over a lawsuit accusing Scott of skirting state public records laws by using private email accounts to conduct public business. The negotiations began after a California judge ordered Google to turn over information that could reveal whether Scott’s top staff set up the private email accounts to allow the governor to circumvent the state public records law.

How much taxpayers will be on the hook under the settlement has not been disclosed, but it comes on the heels of another settlement in a Sunshine law violation case expected to be approved by the governor and Cabinet on Tuesday. Records show that fees in that case will cost taxpayers in excess of $228,000.

The lawsuit was brought by St. Petersburg lawyer Matthew Weidner and several media organizations, including the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, who accused Scott and the Cabinet of violating the state’s open meeting laws when they allowed staff to use back channels to oust former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey with no public discussion or vote.

In that settlement announced last week, Scott and the three members of the state Cabinet – Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam – would agree to pay $55,000 to the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, Andrea Mogensen. They would also agree to revise their policies to operate with more transparency, including turning over their private emails promptly when they conduct public business.

Continue reading "As Scott and Cabinet end one Sunshine lawsuit, governor negotiates settling another" »

'Bailout Bush,' claims attack video from pro-Rand Paul Super PAC

via @learyreports

A Super PAC aligned with Rand Paul says it’s paying for an attack ad on Jeb Bush to run online in early primary states. “If you love bailouts,” a crazy, bearded man says, “you’re going to love Bailout Bush.”

It seeks to link Bush’s support for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, and his paid work for Wall Street firms.

We've asked the Bush campaign for a response.


--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Ahead of 'turkey' list, Senate president rips Florida TaxWatch

It's an annual tradition in Tallahassee: the list of budget "turkeys" assembled by Florida TaxWatch, the self-styled watchdog group funded with large donations from the business community that undertakes a systematic review of pork-barrel projects and how they got in the budget.

And here's another Tallahassee tradition: Legislators criticizing TaxWatch for its turkey list.

TaxWatch has to move a lot faster this year because Gov. Rick Scott has less time than usual (eight days and counting) to sign the new state budget. It's a well-known fact that TaxWatch shares its drafts of turkeys with Scott's staff, in hopes that the governor's office will closely follow TaxWatch's recommendations, which would enable TaxWatch to claim that the governor relies on the group for advice.

TaxWatch traditionally flags as turkeys those projects that appeared for the first time in the late-session conference committee process or which non-competitively narrowly benefit one part of the state. TaxWatch no longer defines a turkey as a project not listed in an agency's LBR or legislative budget request -- a criterion that infuriated legislators, who say that they are far more knowledgeable about the needs in their districts than an invisible Dilbert in some bureaucratic cubicle in Tallahassee, let alone a "paid group" like TaxWatch.

TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro says this year's turkey list will be abundant, and it's sure to include several items championed by Senate President Andy Gardiner.

"It doesn't matter to me what TaxWatch thinks about anything, to be quite honest,'' Gardiner, R-Orlando, told reporters. "The governor has every right as governor to make adjustments to the budget, and I'm certain that he will. But, at the end of the day, every member of the Legislature, whether it's a House member or a senator … they know their district better than some paid group like TaxWatch. For most of us, it just doesn't matter to us. What matters to me is my district."

Environmentalists sue state over Amendment 1 conservation spending

Environmental group Earthjustice is suing the Florida Legislature and its leaders over their budget's use of money set aside for conservation by Amendment 1.

The lawsuit filed in Leon County on Monday against Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli alleges that almost half of the Amendment 1 money in the budget is being used for purposes that aren't permitted under state law.

“The Legislature did not do what the amendment requires,” Florida Wildlife Federation president Manley Fuller said in a statement. “Seventy-five percent of Florida voters approved this amendment last November, and they were clear that they want the state to buy conservation land. Instead, the Legislature took the money and used it for things it should not be spent on. This is a slap in the face to Florida voters, and it should not stand.”

The issue has drawn significant controversy since 75 percent of voters supported Amendment 1 last November. The amendment directs more than $700 million to be spent on conservation.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida.

Jeb Bush got angry emails after taking down Confederate flag in Florida

via @learyreports

In 2001, after he had the Confederate flag removed, Gov. Jeb Bush took some heat from those who saw it as history worth preserving. Bush told one man the flag would still be "proudly displayed" at a museum.

“With you removing the flags and especialy my beloved Confederate flag from the display at the Capitol grounds it would be proper to address you in a very diplomatic way,” a man named Jim from Madison wrote on Feb. 12, 2001.

“Sir, I cain't do that, you have no conception of the history of Florida,but then again you are a YANKEE trying to run a Southern State,you just don't get it do you??

“Sir, I voted for you, but NEVER again. I know you will never read my e-mail as you''ll have one of your flunkies respond ,but this is my input and I hope this flag incident will be your down fall.”

Jim was probably shocked to get a response, from Bush himself, just over an hour later.

“Mr. Jenkins, I am reading your email and I don't have flunkies around me. You will be able to see the flags that flew over Florida in the Museum of Florida History proudly displayed.”

Below are some more emails he got:

Continue reading "Jeb Bush got angry emails after taking down Confederate flag in Florida" »

Film Florida, defeated in budget, pushes back against Legislature

If you're looking for signs of bleeding in Florida, feast your eyes on the film industry.

No, we're not talking Quentin Tarantino-esque mass violence in movies.

We're talking cold, hard cash.

The state budget passed by lawmakers last week includes big cuts to the Office of Film and Entertainment, the agency responsible for bringing movie and TV show production to the Sunshine State.

The office will see a nearly-40-percent cut in its funding for staff. Plus, lawmakers didn't put money into its depleted fund for tax cuts to attract programs.

And an attempt by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, to push through $10 million in the budget for a "quick-action entertainment fund" failed in the final week of negotiations.

This comes after lawmakers were unable to make massive changes to the state's tax incentive program in the regular session this spring. Although that's a program that the Legislature's policy analysis arm reported earlier this year isn't as effective as it ought to be.

Now, unsurprisingly, the industry is calling out lawmakers for making the cuts, though the budget must still be approved by Gov. Rick Scott.

"By again refusing to fund our state’s incentive program, the legislature has ensured that Florida families and businesses will continue to face a worsening crisis in which jobs and projects continue to flow to competing states, and increasingly, families must relocate out of state to chase the work that could have been performed here," said Michelle Hillery, president of industry group Film Florida.

"This has never been about handout to Hollywood productions—it’s about supporting the hard working Floridians and businesses who have made Florida their home."

Would Rick Scott ask lieutenant governor to resign for U.S. Senate run?


Florida Gov. Rick Scott made light Monday in Miami that his appointed lieutenant governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, is poised to announce a 2016 U.S. Senate run next month.

"We're going to do this every year, year in and year out," Scott said of tax cuts in the state budget. "Carlos and I have another three years in Tallahassee -- well he might change what he's doing," he added, to laughter. "But we have another three years to cut more taxes."

Lopez-Cantera, who was standing next to him, told the Miami-Dade County Republican Party on Saturday that he will announce his decision July 15 whether to seek presidential candidate Marco Rubio's seat.

Because he holds a state office but would run for a federal one, Lopez-Cantera would not be required by law to resign his position as lieutenant governor.

Scott was asked if he would ask Lopez-Cantera to step aside anyway. The governor said he'd leave that decision to his deputy.

"He's been a very good lieutenant governor," Scott said. "I've enjoyed working with Carlos. He was very good when we worked together when he was in the House as  majority leader. I think he did a great job here in Miami [as property appraiser]. Those are decisions he'll make."

In Miami for tax-cut tour, Gov. Rick Scott calls state spending plan 'a good budget'


Florida Gov. Rick Scott dropped by the Miami suburb of Doral on Monday to trumpet tax cuts in the budget state lawmakers approved Friday -- even though they're only about half of what he had had asked for in January.

Standing at Sergio's Restaurant, Scott started a chant in English and Spanish -- "Cut my taxes! Cut my taxes! Recorta mis impuestos! Recorta mis impuestos!" -- and held up his iPhone to note the state's communications tax charged on most cell phone and cable TV bills will drop to 4.92 percent from 6.65 percent, saving an average person about $20 a year from a monthly bill of $100.

Asked about getting less from legislators than he sought, Scott still declared himself "excited."

"I'm excited that we got $400 million in tax cuts. I want to thank all the legislators that helped get that done," he said. "We cut taxes every year. Before this year, 40 tax cuts; $400 million this year. I'm not going to complain.... This is a good budget year."

He wouldn't say if the budget has too much spending on lawmakers' pet projects, or go into detail on how he plans to pick which items to veto.

"I'll be going through the budget like I've done every year," he said. "I started working on it this weekend.... The same way I go through it every time, I make sure it's good for all Florida families. I'm going to watch your money. I want to continue to make sure we have tax cuts."

Scott highlighted Sergio's, a local 40-year-old chain, for being owned by a Cuban-American woman, Blanca Gazitúa, who was the first Hispanic woman named to the National Restaurant Association, according to her son Carlos Gazitúa, Sergio's chief executive.

The governor told the story of a former server, Mónica Alarcón, an immigrant and mother pregnant with another child who stood next to him before reporters. She now manages hospitality training over 250 employees.

"Started out as a waitress -- probably 10 years old, very young," Scott joked. "Now she's a big shot.... It's great to watch [someone] build a business."

Jeb Bush's misleading claim about blaming the Dems for 'swift, mindless' military cuts

The size and scope of the U.S. military is already becoming an issue on the presidential campaign trail. During his presidential campaign kickoff speech, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush criticized the Obama administration for leaving the military to wither.

Among the bad decisions being made by "the party now in the White House," Bush said, was "the swift, mindless drawdown of a military that was generations in the making."

We decided to take a closer look at his claim. We’ll break it down into two key questions. Has there been a "swift, mindless drawdown" of the military? And are the Democrats "responsible"?

See what Louis Jacobson of PolitiFact found.

WSJ/NBC poll: It's starting to look like a Jeb Bush-Marco Rubio GOP race


Three-quarters of Republican primary voters across the country say they could see themselves supporting Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio for president, putting them ahead of the rest of the candidate field, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

In March, 49 percent of respondents said they could see themselves voting for Bush, the former Florida governor, and 56 percent for Rubio, a U.S. senator, the poll found. Three months later, those percentages climbed to 75 for Bush and 74 for Rubio. In third place is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, with 65 percent (up from 52 percent in March).

The particularly strong improvement for Bush comes a week after he formally announced his 2016 candidacy. The first primaries are still a long way away, though, and a national poll doesn't capture voters' sentiment in each of the early-voting states.

When asked to pick one candidate they could vote for in the election, 22 percent of respondents chose Bush, 17 percent chose Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and 16 percent chose Rubio. The poll's error margin is 6.38 percentage points.