April 16, 2015

Scott's voting chief says 'forces of evil' can derail online registration

Gov. Rick Scott's elections chief got roughed up again Thursday in the Senate as he continues to oppose a bipartisan bill for an online system of voter registration by 2017, which already exists in 20 states.

Appearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Secretary of State Ken Detzner said his agency has no plan to implement the change and he's worried about having to work with 67 county supervisors of election, 67 tax collectors and the state highway safety agency.

He raised a flurry of potential problems, including "distractions" from the 2016 presidential election and the "high risk" of computer hacking, cyber-attacks and "the forces of evil" that seek to disrupt Florida elections.

"I would prefer to have a plan in place before I knew that I had an implementation date," Detzner said. "This is too important to get wrong."

None of the 20 states with online voter registration have reported problems. Florida election supervisors say electronic registration will save money and reduce the possibility of human error and voter fraud.

As he did last week in another Senate committee, Detzner did not want to testify, which only riled senators even more. When a young aide to Detzner said the Department of State "waived in opposition," Sen. Don Gaetz quickly insisted that Detzner testify, and things rapidly went downhill from there.

In resisting online registration, Detzner also has picked a fight with one of the Senate's most popular members and the bill's co-sponsor, Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, and one of its most tenacious members, Gaetz.

Citing rumors in the Capitol, Gaetz directly asked Detzner if his opposition was directed by Scott himself. Detzner said no: "I have never been told what my position is."

"This isn't your first rodeo," Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, told Detzner, a long-time friend. Detzner worked in the Department of State decades ago.

The Senate bill (SB 228) passed with four no votes, from Republicans: Sens. Anitere Flores, Rene Garcia, Dorothy Hukill and Joe Negron. The Senate and House have agreed to give Detzner's agency $1.8 million to start planning for online registration, but a minor disagreement over the source of that money prompted the bill (HB 7143) to stall Thursday, temporarily delaying a House floor vote.

Checking in on the Scott-O-Meter: Rick Scott's promise to be No. 1 in graduation rates

As part of a group of promises to invest in education, Gov. Rick Scott promised in his second term to "be No. 1 in nation for high school graduation rates."

There are a few different ways to measure graduation rates, but the one the state Department of Education points to is the federal government's cohort method, which examines how many students who enter 9th grade graduate four years later with a standard diploma.

By that measurement, Florida's rate was 76 percent in 2012-13, below the national average of 81 percent. Only seven states had a lower rate -- Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon -- while two, Mississippi and Washington, were tied with Florida.

When we asked about this promise, Scott spokeswoman Jeri Bustamante pointed to  Scott's proposal to increase K-12 per-student funding to $7,176, which is about a $261 increase compared to the current year.

Turn to PolitiFact Florida's Scott-O-Meter to see how we rated Scott's progress.

PolitiFact updates Rick Scott's promise on school tests

After calling for an investigation into standardized tests and suspending a new exam by executive order, Gov. Rick Scott quickly signed a bill limiting how many hours students can be evaluated.

The Legislature passed HB 7069 on April 9, 2015, permanently ending the 11th-grade Florida Standards Assessment for language arts that Scott's February executive order put on hold. Results from a Department of Education investigation into testing were released Feb. 18 influenced the bill. Scott signed the bill on April 14.

"I agree with many teachers and parents who say we have too many tests, and while this legislation is a great step forward, we will keep working to make sure Florida students are not over tested," Scott said in a statement. His office did not elaborate on what the next step might be, although Scott did tell reporters he had no plans to issue more executive orders.

See how Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida rated Scott's progress on this promise on our Scott-O-Meter.

Scott to sue feds over hospital funding

Republican Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday he will sue the federal government for allegedly coercing Florida to expand Medicaid.

“It is appalling that President Obama would cut off federal healthcare dollars to Florida in an effort to force our state further into Obamacare,” Scott said in a statement.

The announcement is but the latest round in an ongoing spat between Scott and the feds.

It centers around a $2.2 billion program known as the Low Income Pool, which provides funding to hospitals that treat uninsured and Medicaid patients. The LIP program is scheduled to expire in June, unless the state and federal government can negotiate a successor program. But despite weeks of negotiations, no deal has been reached.

In a letter Tuesday, the federal agency handling the negotiations told Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration that any decision regarding LIP would be tied to whether the state uses federal Medicaid expansion money to expand coverage — a politically charged policy option Scott has recently come out against.

Scott said linking the two issues violated a U.S. Supreme Court ruling “that the president cannot force Medicaid expansion on states.”

“Not only does President Obama’s end to LIP funding in Florida violate the law by crossing the line into a coercion tactic for Obamacare, it also threatens poor families’ access to the safety net healthcare services they need,” Scott said.

He called the actions “outrageous and specifically what the Supreme Court warned against.”

The lawsuit stands to further tie up the budget building process, which is already behind schedule and is likely to force lawmakers into a special or extended legislative session.

More here.

April 15, 2015

Gardiner tells Gov. Scott his tax cuts are 'on the shelf' in Senate

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, had a phone conversation with Gov. Rick Scott Wednesday about the session's budget stalemate.

"They had a cordial conversation," said Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, who was listening in Gardiner's office. "The president indicated that we're anxious to get a budget and we'd like to do it on time, and we're anxious to get a budget that responds to the (health care) issues -- and we've got the tax cuts on the shelf. We're also supportive of the education funding that the governor wants to do. But before we decide how to do it, we've got to get this big elephant tamed. There's a $2 billion elephant in the room."

Scott, Cabinet, news outlets head to mediation in Sunshine case

After two months of behind-the-scenes legal combat, the attorneys for Gov. Rick Scott, all three Cabinet members and most major Florida news outlets will try to mediate their differences in a lawsuit that accuses the four state officials of violating the Sunshine Law.

The April 22 mediation session in Tallahassee will mean that a scheduled videotaped deposition of former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey will be rescheduled. Bailey was forced to retire in December by Scott's general counsel, with no public vote or discussion, even though by law the FDLE chief also reports to all three elected Cabinet members.

Michael Barfield, a paralegal for Sarasota attorney Andrea Flynn Mogensen, who represents the news organizations, said the plaintiffs agreed to mediation after repeated efforts by lawyers for Scott and the Cabinet to delay or limit the scope of Bailey's sworn statements.

Barfield said the news outlets are seeking, among other things, a new public two-step process for the hiring of Cabinet agency heads; an executive order from Scott prohibiting state officials from using private email accounts for public business; a requirement that high-level state officials must post text messages and emails on the Project Sunburst web site within 24 hours; and a voiding of the Jan. 13 vote that made Rick Swearingen the new commissioner of FDLE (Swearingen could be reappointed).

In conversations, Barfield said state officials, through their lawyers, have been receptive to the requests. "We'll go to mediation and see if they're serious," he said.  

The Tampa Bay Times, Miami Herald and Associated Press are among the news organizations that have sued Scott and Cabinet members.

Barfield said he and Mogensen met for three hours with Bailey last week. He said news outlets also are insisting that Bailey's deposition must take place before any settlement can occur.

"There will be no settlement absent some discovery," he said. "Even if we go to mediation, we're still taking Bailey's deposition."

The two sides have selected former Florida Supreme Court Justice Major Harding as mediator. In his last similar role as a hearing officer, Harding ruled in December that former FSU quarterback Jameis Winston did not violate the university's code of student conduct. 

April 14, 2015

Rick Scott's claim about LIP and Medicaid

Florida simply can’t trust the federal government to follow through on expanding Medicaid because Washington has already abandoned funding a current statewide health care program, Gov. Rick Scott says.

Scott is pointing to the state’s loss of federal money for safety net hospitals called the Low Income Pool. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services made it crystal clear in February 2015 that some $1.3 billion in Florida’s LIP funding won’t be renewed after June 30. That left a billion-dollar hole in Scott’s proposed budget, which assumed that LIP money would be available.

"The same federal government that offers some money for a program is walking away from another health care program," Scott said during an April 9 stop in Sarasota. "How can you feel comfortable picking up another federal program when they are walking away from an existing program?"

The Florida House and Senate are currently debating a potential state solution to Medicaid expansion, but this claim deals with the specifics of this LIP funding -- namely what it is, how it’s funded and when Washington told Florida they’d be doing without. The issue sounds confusing, but don’t worry, Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida will nurse you through it.

April 10, 2015

PolitiFact looks at Rick Scott's promise to enact tougher environmental penalties

After being criticized by environmentalists for his pro-business policies during his first term, Gov. Rick Scott stepped up his environmental promises for his re-election campaign.

One of those promises was to crack down on polluters by proposing "legislation to increase penalties to ensure fines match the value of Florida's natural resources, and also provide agencies with the flexibility to analyze the past actions of those seeking environmental permits in Florida."

When we asked the Department of Environmental Protection if there was any legislation pending, spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller pointed to SB 1468.

The bill addresses some types of fracking, though it uses the term "high pressure well stimulation" instead of fracking. (Not all techniques using these chemicals use high pressure to create fractures; some use acid instead to dissolve the rock.) The bill defines "high pressure well stimulation" as a procedure that involves injecting more than 100,000 gallons of fluids into a rock formation at a pressure that is high enough to cause fractures to increase oil or gas production. The bill calls for increasing penalties from the current $10,000 a day to $25,000 per day for oil and gas companies that are using certain types of fracking. Those penalties could be for a variety of violations that could harm the air, water or property, such as not following DEP rules, improper storage of gas, or refusing to allow a state inspection. DEP collaborated on the bill with its sponsor, Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples.

On March 31, the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee passed the bill 6-2.

We asked a spokeswoman for Scott, Jeri Bustamante, if he supports the bill and she said "the governor will review any legislation that will come to his desk."

Turn to PolitiFact Florida to see how we rated Scott's progress on this promise.

April 09, 2015

Sen. Gaetz: Scott has shifted Medicaid stand 'two or three times'

Don Gaetz has a way with words -- especially on the subject of Gov. Rick Scott.

The Republican senator from Niceville, asked about Scott's latest statement in opposition to a Senate plan to draw down federal money to expand health care to low-income Floridians, told Capitol reporters: "The governor is entitled to all of his positions on the issue."

Gaetz was smiling. But he wasn't kidding. And he kept going.

Elaborating on Scott's Medicaid stand, Gaetz said: "He's entitled to change his mind. But on this issue, he's changed it two or three times. Maybe he'll land sometime soon on a position that he'll hold for an extended period of time. I hope it's in favor of Sen. (Aaron) Bean's bill."

Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, is the sponsor of SB 7044, which would use billions in federal money to create a Florida health insurance exchange that senators say is not a full-blown expansion of Medicaid.

Gaetz's comments reflect the Senate leadership's growing frustration with Scott's unwillingness to fully engage on the biggest issue of the 2015 legislative session as Week Six prepares to draw to a close.

Gaetz also played an important role at a Senate hearing Tuesday in stalling the confirmation of Dr. John Armstrong, Scott's surgeon general and secretary of the state Department of Health, after Armstrong stonewalled senators' questions about the benefits of expanded health insurance coverage.

Gaetz said he likes Armstrong, has toured public health clinics with him and got a "nice note" from Armstrong after their sharp exchange. But he added: "As the chief health officer of the state, he has to, in my judgment, be able to answer direct questions about whether improved health access can result in better health outcomes. That's not a trick question."

April 08, 2015

Latvala literally calls 'bulls---' on testimony by Gov. Scott's aide

It was a rough outing Wednesday for Gov. Rick Scott's top elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who for the first time publicly warned the Legislature not to create an online voter registration form by October 2017.
 
Detzner reluctantly testified before a Senate appropriations subcommittee about his opposition to an idea that enjoys broad bipartisan support and the backing of all 67 Florida election supervisors. House and Senate bills are moving forward in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
 
In a Senate subcommittee chaired by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, Detzner registered his opposition to the Senate bill and remained seated, but a senator demanded he come to the microphone and explain the reasons for his resistance.
 
"Behind this vote and behind what we have to do is a lot of technical work dealing with highly sophisticated databases," Detzner testified.
 
At that moment, Latvala can be heard whispering "This is so much bulls---" into an open mike, according to the committee videotape, which is on The Florida Channel's web site.