May 21, 2015

Scott signs 44 bills into law, including concealed carry, body camera legislation

Gov. Rick Scott signed 44 bills into law Thursday afternoon, including one allowing concealed weapons to be carried without a permit during emergency evacuations and another that will shield police body camera videos from public record laws.

The concealed carry bill is a favorite project of Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who says the change in law will allow lawful gun owners to avoid criminal citations for simply carrying their belongings with them while evacuating from a hurricane or other disaster.

Opponents have said there should be fewer guns on the streets during emergencies, not more.

The body camera legislation, sponsored by Sen. Chris Smith, R-Ft. Lauderdale, is intended to protect people’s privacy when police officers enter homes, hospitals, mental health institutions and anywhere else where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Open-government advocates say that law enforcement agencies can use the language to shield video that is in the public interest, particularly now that video is being used more frequently in broader debates over the role of police in society.

But supporters argue that privacy protections will encourage more agencies to use body cameras.

Here's the full list, courtesy of Scott's office:

Continue reading "Scott signs 44 bills into law, including concealed carry, body camera legislation" »

May 15, 2015

'With some hesitation,' Scott signs online voter registration bill

Gov. Rick Scott, citing "some hesitation," signed legislation Friday requiring Florida to create an online voter registration system by 2017.

In a signing letter, Scott expressed concern about "the timing of required deliverables" that coincide with ongoing efforts to modernize the statewide voter database. "This system has been experiencing maintenance issues, which election supervisors have rightly cited as a challenge to their duties," Scott wrote. "Another concern relates to cyber security because added technology results in added challenges and vulnerabilities.

"Cyber attacks are on the front pages almost every day, and fraud and identification theft issues arise whenever a new avenue for information transmittal is created. While these challenges exist, I am confident that the Department and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles will act carefully and prudently in developing needed protection for citizen information." 

Scott added: "We must do everything possible to encourage 100 percent participation in elections, with zero percent fraud."

The bill (SB 228), sponsored by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, is the most significant piece of legislation sponsored by a Democrat to clear the governor's desk in the 2015 session. It requires Detzner to report to the Legislature by Jan. 1 on progress being made toward implementing the new system, which must be fully in place by October 2017. Lawmakers included $1.8 million in the bill to pay for the costs of implementation in an effort to overcome any financial opposition Scott might have had. The appropriation is subject to passage of a state budget.

Continue reading "'With some hesitation,' Scott signs online voter registration bill " »

May 14, 2015

Scott wants lists of critical service needs, hints at July 1 shutdown

Gov. Rick Scott directed all state agencies Thursday to draw up lists of "critical service needs ... in the event Florida is forced into a government shutdown on July 1."

Scott's memos to agencies carry an alarming tone and were issued the day after the Legislature's chief budget-writers, Sen. Tom Lee and Rep. Richard Corcoran, struck a hopeful tone and said they had made progress toward a compromise after an all-day negotiating session in the Capitol.

In some more Scott-speak not likely to endear him to Republican senators, Scott refers in his agency memos that he's building a budget without "controversial and divisive issues like Medicaid expansion or using Florida tax dollars to fund the federal low-income pool program."

Both programs are Senate priorities, though Senate GOP leaders deny that their limited expansion of health care to the uninsured is an expansion of Medicaid.

Scott's memorandum says the lists of critical service needs are needed because "it is possible that Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and the Florida Senate will not agree to any budget without the specific expansion of Medicaid at a cost to state taxpayers of $5 billion over 10 years."

Scott's budget director Cynthia Kelly has identified 13 critical service needs that should be addressed in the upcoming special session on the state budget. They include operating deficits in four state agencies; an anticipated increase of 15,000 students in the public schools; the transportation work program; and implementation of Amendment 1, the water and land protection amendment. 

Scott has used the term "continuation budget" -- a term that he has not defined and has never been used in the Legislature and does not appear in Florida statutes. However, a "continuation budget" is a common practice in Louisiana, where Scott's chief of staff, Melissa Sellers, worked for Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal before coming to Florida.

May 13, 2015

Say what? Scott stands by $8B surplus with no explanation

The savviest number-crunchers in state government are shaking their heads again.

Gov. Rick Scott's office said Wednesday that Scott stands by his statement on Fox News Monday that the state would have a surplus of $8 billion if the Legislature adopts what he calls a "continuation budget" with no tax cuts and no boost in per-pupil funding for schools.

"He meant to say $8 billion. It is $8 billion," spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said. She said that when she clarified the point Tuesday in response to questions and said the surplus was $1.8 billion, she misunderstood the reporter's question and that $8 billion is correct. (The $1.8 billion is the figure used by state economists).

Scott's office declined requests by the Times/Herald to document how it arrived at a number that legislators consider outlandishly high.

Scott's budget director, Cynthia Kelly, is an experienced and respected veteran of state budgeting. But no one -- no one -- in the legislative branch is suggesting that Florida has an $8 billion surplus. The most detailed and reliable revenue projections, detailed in a March financial outlook statement by state economists, suggest that the state could have $3.8 billion more general tax revenue to build next year's budget.

The outlook statement, produced by the Economic and Demographic Research unit, says that because of improved economic conditions, the projected amount of general tax revenue available for next year's budget would be $30.774.7 billion. That's $3.8 billion more than the current year but it includes a projected surplus of $1.8 billion that would be left unspent at the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

Scott asks federal health officials for guidance

Gov. Rick Scott floated a few broad ideas for expanding health care coverage in a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell on Tuesday.

The letter, first reported by Politico, asked several questions intended to guide the governor's new Commission on Hospital and Healthcare Funding. Among them: Would the federal government be willing to give Florida a block grant to expand coverage? 

HHS has yet to respond.

Scott's letter came one day after he compared the Obama Administration to the Sopranos for allegedly coercing Florida into expanding Medicaid. Scott has also filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the feds from linking expansion to the continuation of a federal-state hospital funding program known as the Low Income Pool.

Read the full text of the letter to Burwell here.

May 12, 2015

Breaking: Gov. Scott makes case with outdated pop cultural reference

SopranosEvery time Tony Soprano thinks his name won’t be invoked by Gov. Rick Scott as a metaphor for bullying by the federal government on Medicaid expansion, Scott pulls him back in.

On April 17, Scott told reporters in Fort Lauderdale that if the federal government cancelled the Low Income Pool program for hospitals that treat the uninsured to coerce the state to expand Medicaid, it was akin to bullying by the HBO mobster.

On Tuesday, Scott did it again during a visit to Washington D.C.

"This is The Sopranos," Scott said.

The Sopranos? Didn't that show end in 2007? Wouldn’t a Game of Thrones reference be more timely? Or, if the backdrop is Washington, why not something from House of Cards?

With all those DVD boxsets and second runs on AMC, could it be that The Sopranos has had more time to filter into the pop consciousness of the body politic? Perhaps a Sopranos’ reference tests better than a quote from Frank Underwood or an allusion to the cruel fate of Ned Stark?

No doubt Rick Scott’s political committee, Let’s Get to Work, has been busy on its messaging. In April, it spent $751,244. Most of that, about $650,000, was with the Annapolis, Md. political consulting firm OnMessage Inc. While the firm does opinion research, the committee's payments to the firm in April was for a massive TV ad buy. Pollster Tony Fabrizio's firm was paid $23,000, but that wasn't for a poll. There was a poll the committee released last month showing Scott's job approval was between 50-45 percent. The same poll showed that the Affordable Care Act was opposed by 55 percent of respondents.

But Brecht Heuchan, a senior adviser with Let's Get to Work, said the Sopranos' reference was not poll tested or focus grouped.

So why exactly is Scott name checking a fictional mobster from a show that last aired eight years ago?

"I don't know if the governor watches TV," Heuchan said. "I'm not familiar with the show myself. But he feels he's getting strong-armed, and I'm sure that's what he's trying to get at."

As of yet, Scott hasn't compared Florida's standoff with the federal government to an episode of Ally McBeal or L.A. Law, but stay tuned.

Gov. Rick Scott gets promise of a hearing on what he calls 'Sopranos'-like coercion from Obama administration

via @learyreports

Gov. Rick Scott continued his offensive against Medicaid expansion during a visit to Washington D.C. Tuesday, pressing members of the state delegation to make phone calls and write letters, and gaining assurance from a powerful committee chairman to hold a hearing on what Scott said was a "Sopranos"-like coercion from the federal government.

The governor echoed a theme from April, when he first compared the Obama administration's push to the TV show on organized crime.

Scott said Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, would hold a hearing his summer "to review this coercion."

Scott met with more than a dozen Florida Republicans and urged them to join the fight.

"They can continue to highlight what the federal government is doing, what the Obama administration is doing by, one, walking away from an existing program for poor families and, two, using coercion tactics -- this is the Sopranos," he said.

Scott dismissed a question about using Florida's budget surplus to avoid a case-line "continuation" budget. He said, however, that the spending plan would account for money that must be allocated under the voter-approved Amendment 1 for environmental conservation.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Who Rick Scott is talking to in Washington, D.C.

As part of a Washington, D.C., whirlwind tour — his second in as many weeks — Gov. Rick Scott is making stops with more than a dozen members of Congress.

Last time he visited the nation's capitol, Scott was there to negotiate with federal regulators on the health care funding stalemate in Florida. So far, no similar meetings have been announced for this trip. Yesterday, he had interviews with Fox News and Politico and met with Rep. Gus Bilirakis.

On the agenda for today are 14 additional Republican members of Florida’s congressional delegation:
* Rep. Jeff Miller
* Rep. Tom Rooney
* Rep. Ron DeSantis
* Rep. Ted Yoho
* Rep. Curt Clawson
* Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
* Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart
* Rep. Carlos Curbelo
* Rep. David Jolly
* Rep. Dennis Ross
* Rep. Rich Nugent
* Rep. Bill Posey
* Rep. Vern Buchanan
* Rep. John Mica

Plus other House and Senate leaders:
* Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
* Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee

On Fox News, Scott gives up: We won't do what 'I wanted to do'

Gov. Rick Scott appeared on Greta Van Susteren's show on Fox News Monday night and sounded resigned to the fact that the Legislature won't give him the tax cuts and school spending surge that he promised Florida voters when he ran for re-election last year.

"What I believe is going to happen is this," Scott said. "We'll just have a continuation budget, which will mean we'll have about an $8 billion surplus ... We'll just do what we've done this last year. We won't put more money into schools, which I wanted to do. We won't cut taxes, which I wanted to do. We'll just leave the money there and deal with it in our next session which starts in January."

(Note: Cutting taxes remains a House priority and the state can't possibly have anything close to an $8 billion surplus unless the Legislature decided to put no money into cash reserves, which it likely would never do).

Scott also defended his double flip on Medicaid expansion. He opposed "Obamacare" when he ran Conservatives for Patients Rights, came out in favor of full-blown Medicaid expansion in 2013, and sided with the House this spring in opposing the Senate's modified Medicaid expansion plan that has prompted the current legislative stalemate.

"I said at the time (in 2013), I will not stand in the way of the federal government if they want to take care of the low-income families," Scott told Fox. "I said the same thing about high-speed rail. If the federal government wants to run a program in my state, have at it. But don't expect me to tax my citizens, and I still stand by that."

May 11, 2015

About Gov. Rick Scott's profit sharing idea...

How do state lawmakers feel about Republican Gov. Rick Scott's recent suggestion that hospitals pool their profits to cover charity care?

Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman René García, R-Hialeah, called the idea "worth exploring."

"I've always said that everything should be on the table," he said. "We need to have a comprehensive approach when we look at the delivery of healthcare that talks about access, quality, affordability and reducing the cost."

There, however, was a caveat.

"I think it would be very difficult for local communities to send their tax money to other communities rather than re-investing it in their own backyard," García said, pointing out that only some counties raise local dollars for health care. 

The idea may not go anywhere in the House.

"I think there are other solutions available to Florida that do not include a hospital profit share plan," Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said in a statement.

For the past decade, Florida hospitals have relied on a federal-state program known as the Low Income Pool to help pay for charity care. But the program may not be renewed next year, meaning a loss of $1.3 billion in federal healthcare funding.

The House, Senate and governor's office are proposing different ways to plug the hole.

The Senate wants to accept $2.8 billion in federal Medicaid expansion money to help provide more coverage to low-income Floridians on the front end. The House wants to approve a series of reforms that would broaden access to health care and lower the cost.

Scott, meanwhile, has convened a commission on hospital and healthcare funding to explore how taxpayer-supported hospitals spend their money. He has asked the members to look specifically at profit sharing as a solution to the possible end of LIP.