October 08, 2015

GOP senator seeks out Gov. Scott's chief of staff to 'melt the ice'

Four months later, he remains baffled by Gov. Rick Scott's budget vetoes, and the political atmosphere is tense. But Republican Sen. Aaron Bean of Fernandina Beach made a solo mission this week in what he called an effort to "melt the ice" between the Senate and the governor's office.

"It's as tense as it's ever been," Bean said. So the gregarious lawmaker decided to pay a brief call Monday on Melissa Sellers, Scott's chief of staff.

"'Hey, I'm Aaron Bean. I want to start the relationship off better,'" is how Bean describes him breaking the ice. "She was very cordial. We've got to work together. We've got to have a professional relationship going forward. Hopefully we're headed in that direction."

Asked if he felt he made progress, Bean hesitated for several seconds and said, "Uh, yes, I think so. If not, that's what my mom told me: Go introduce yourself and say, 'Hey, I'm here to help.'"

Scott's office declined to comment. "Our office policy is not to comment on private meetings," said spokeswoman Jackie Schutz.

Bean was a Scott supporter and campaign surrogate in the 2014 campaign. He also sponsored the Senate health care expansion plan that Scott, along with the House, defeated in the 2015 session. The senator said Scott vetoed his budget priorities, including money for the St. Johns River ferry in Jacksonville, a van for a local Association of Retarded Citizens group and a state grant for a school for special needs kids, financed largely by private money.

"I had a lot of stuff vetoed," he said, "but I'm going to be as positive as I can, going forward. We're all on the same team."

State economist's economic development ideas clash with Gov. Scott's


While Gov. Rick Scott was in New York recruiting jobs Thursday, the state’s top economist as in Tallahassee telling lawmakers that Florida’s strategy for growing the economy is off-base.

Economist Amy Baker laid out recommendations for economic incentive programs that differ from much of the development strategy that the state has taken. The state should give more support to small businesses and entrepreneurs, she said, and spend less effort attracting businesses in industries that might be drawn to Florida anyway.

“They or a competitor of theirs are likely to come to Florida anyway,” Baker said to the House Economic Affairs Committee. “If they’re likely to come anyway, you’re not really getting the bang for your buck.”

Baker further pointed to the problems with using tax incentives to bring in large companies that have a presence in other states. The state’s return on the investment becomes diluted, as money ends up boosting economies in other states where a company already exists.

Much of the growth in Florida right now, she said, is in start-ups and small businesses, and the state can capitalize on that growth and keep more money in the state by focusing less on bigger firms.

“It’s not bad to be big,” Baker said. “It’s definitely a policy decision for the Legislature to say that’s the element of our economy we want to focus on.”

Continue reading "State economist's economic development ideas clash with Gov. Scott's" »

Quinnipiac poll: Florida voters back recreational marijuana, Dems lead in Senate race to replace Marco Rubio

A new poll shows that Florida voters back recreational marijuana and that Democrats are leading the U.S. Senate race however the poll omitted some candidates in that race.

The poll by Quinnipiac shows that Florida voters overall support legalizing personal marijuana use 51 – 45 percent with the highest support among young voters. And voters support legalizing medical marijuana 87 – 12 percent.

A question on the ballot last year to allow medical marijuana failed by about two points to achieve the 60 percent margin needed for a constitutional amendment. A similar question will likely appear on the ballot next year.

In the race to replace U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter leads Republican Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami 37 – 29 percent and tops U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, Ponte Vedra Beach, 37 – 30 percent. Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando gets 35 percent to Lopez-Cantera’s 32 percent and leads DeSantis 37 – 31 percent.

The poll did not include Republican candidates U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Tampa or Todd Wilcox and did not ask Democratic voters to choose between Murphy and Grayson.

It also didn’t include potential candidates including Republican CFO Jeff Atwater and Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott gets a negative 41 – 47 percent job approval rating, down from 45 – 44 percent in an Aug. 25 Quinnipiac University poll.

Voters approve 46 – 27 percent of the job Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is doing and give Rubio a 52 – 36 percent job approval rating.

The survey was done between Sept. 25 and Oct. 5 and included 1,173 Florida voters with a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percentage points.  

October 07, 2015

A misleading claim about Planned Parenthood 'illegally' selling body parts in Florida

An Orlando-based conservative Christian group has called on Gov. Rick Scott to choke off all forms of state funding for Planned Parenthood, saying the organization has broken the law and doesn’t deserve taxpayer money.

In a letter dated Sept. 22, 2015, Florida Family Policy Council President John Stemberger thanked Scott for investigating state Planned Parenthood affiliates after videos showing officials discussing fetal tissue were released by the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress this summer. But Stemberger wanted Scott to go further.

Stemberger said because of what the videos show, the group should not get money through the state’s Medicaid program and Title X, a federal grant program for family planning and preventive health services.

"No organization with a record of illegal activity and abuse, now found to also illegally sell baby parts and likely altering abortion practices to do so, should receive taxpayer dollars," Stemberger wrote. (GOP presidential candidate and former Gov. Jeb Bush ended direct state subsidies for the group in 2001.)

Planned Parenthood has been subject to hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives because of the videos, but has it been proven the organization broke the law with their fetal tissue donations? The short answer is no, but there’s no shortage of accusations.

See what Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida found.

Latvala cites Scott aide's 'arrogance,' defends AFL-CIO lobbyist

Gov. Rick Scott's jobs guru, Jesse Panuccio, never got a chance Wednesday to make his pitch for $3.5 million to fight benefits fraud in the Department of Economic Opportunity. Instead, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, took the DEO chief to the woodshed, criticizing his "arrogance" toward a union lobbyist and telling Panuccio, a Scott favorite: "I frankly don't like your attitude."

It's the latest sign of open hostility between the Senate and Scott, and it's clear Panuccio could have problems winning Senate confirmation next session. If Panuccio is not confirmed, he'll lose his $141,000-a-year job -- a decision the jobs chief says is "out of my hands."

Panuccio, testifying before Latvala's Senate budget subcommittee, hit his usual points: The economy is improving, the number of jobs is growing, unemployment is declining -- and fewer Floridians are filing for unemployment benefits.

That was the opening senators were waiting for. They cited persistent complaints from constituents who can't file for unemployment because of problems with Connect, DEO's troubled online system for filing claims. Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, said of the unemployed: "They don't get paid, therefore the statistics look good. You can't get anybody on the phone. I just want the system to work."

AFL-CIO lobbyist Rich Templin cited statistics on the unemployed that Panuccio called "invalid" and suggested the left-leaning labor organization had a political agenda for refusing to acknowledge that Scott's policies have improved the economy. At that point, Latvala defended the AFL-CIO lobbyist for his "courage" and tore into Panuccio.

"You know, I frankly don't like your attitude. I think there's an arrogance in the way you present this that's a sense of entitlement, and I just think it's wrong," Latvala said. "We're here to serve the people." He said if Templin has "the courage to come up here and speak their mind, then I just don't think they should be put down the way you put Mr. Templin down, and I object to that."

After the meeting, Panuccio told the Herald/Times: "I try to deal in facts. I know there's a lot of politics swirling around the Capitol right now." Asked if he's worried he could lose his job if the Senate refuses to confirm him in 2016, he said: "All I can do is do my job every day and come and report as honestly as I can on what we do. All those things are out of my hands."

October 06, 2015

Gov. Scott authorizes first execution since January

Gov. Rick Scott has authorized the execution of Jerry Correll, a man convicted in the stabbing deaths of four people in 1985, and the first death warrant the governor has signed in nine months.

The execution is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 29.

Originally, Correll's execution was scheduled for Feb. 26 until the Florida Supreme Court postponed it, pending a federal case over one of the lethal injection drugs used in Florida and other states.

"Without a stay of execution in this case, Florida risks the unconstitutional execution of Correll, for which there is no remedy," Chief Justice Jorge Labarga wrote in a February order postponing the execution. "In contrast, a stay pending determination of the issue in the United States Supreme Court will not prejudice the State and, more importantly, will ensure that Florida does not risk an unconstitutional execution."

Last week, the Supreme Court lifted the stay of execution, writing that Correll had exhausted his appeals and that the case in the U.S. Supreme Court had not deemed the drug midazolam to be "cruel and unusual punishment."

Download execution letter from Gov. Scott here.

October 05, 2015

Democrats push Gov. Rick Scott to change position on Citizens veto


Homeowners hit with dramatically higher insurance premiums at the hands of new private insurance carriers would be able to return to the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp., under a bill proposed by a pair of House Democrats.

But the prospects of the bill (HB 289) already look dim in the Legislature given that four months ago Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the exact same bill because he worried it would lead to more people returning to the state-run insurance company. Scott has applauded the depopulation of Citizens, a process that has shrunk the carrier from holding more than 1.5 million policies in 2012 to under 600,000 now.

Still the Democrats say they are hoping Scott reverses himself on the issue because the measure passed unanimously in both the House and Senate back in April before Scott vetoed it. State Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, said Scott has changed his position on other big issues over the years, and hopes this will be another one.

“We’re hoping the governor flip-flops on this issue too,” Rodriguez said.

The new bill, like the one previously vetoed, would allow a person to return to Citizens if a private carrier that agreed to take on a policy charges more than 10 percent higher premiums than originally estimated. They could also return if a private carrier increases the rate more than 10 percent per year during 36 months after the policy is first shifted out of Citizens.

But while the bill is nearly identical, it has one key missing ingredient so far: Republican support. None of the co-sponsors of the House bill that passed in April have signed up to support the bill by Rodriguez and Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg.

Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, said he absolutely agrees that the governor was “mistaken” to veto the previous bill in June, but expects any new bill to come later in the legislative process after more discussion.

“I think it will come back up again,” Artiles said.

The state has been pushing to reduce the size of Citizens as more private insurance companies have returned to Florida’s market. The more policies in Citizens, the greater the financial risk for the entire state. In the event Citizens cannot cover all of its policy owners’ damage, all property owners with insurance can be subject to an assessment to cover costs.

When Scott vetoed the bill in June, he cited the burden Citizens is on all taxpayers when it is too large. He specifically objected to allowing people to return to Citizens.

“This perpetuates reliance on Citizens, which increases the potential for burdensome assessments on Florida families,” Scott said in vetoing the bill.

Some consumers have complained about how Citizens size has been reduced. Many have said notices warning them that they were going to be shifted to a private carrier were unclear and looked like junk mail. Others complain that premium estimates were far lower than what they were charged months later by private insurers once they were out of Citizens and could not return.

Gov. Scott issues statement in controversial 'warning shot' case

Gov. Rick Scott has issued a brief statement on his decision to deny mercy for a Polk County man serving 20 years for firing a warning shot in his home, but it sheds little new light on why Orville "Lee" Wollard, 60, must stay in prison until 2028.

Wollard fired a single shot, claiming his daughter's boyfriend was being abusive and making threats against his family. After he rejected a plea deal for five years of probation and no prison time, he was convicted of aggravated assault with a firearm, a crime that in 2008 carried a minimum mandatory 20-year prison term under Florida's 10-20-Life law. Several national groups have cited Wollard's case as a symbol of why minimum mandatory sentences are wrong, but the prosecutor in the case, Jerry Hill, urged Scott not to set Wollard free.

The Herald/Times asked Scott's office to explain his decision.

"These cases are often difficult to decide and Gov. Scott takes them very seriously," the statement said. "All the facts on these cases are closely evaluated and he makes the best decisions to keep families safe and ensure we are operating justly.”

In brief remarks after his denial last Wednesday, Scott hinted that a confidential report by the staff of the Florida Commission on Offender Review had incriminating information about Wollard.

"The commission has done an absolute thorough review and we have a lot of information that you don't get to hear," Scott said, addressing a crowded Cabinet room of people seeking pardons or restoration of civil rights. "Often you'll think, 'Gosh, that sounds pretty good.' But you read the record and you look at things like there is domestic violence, some things other people have said, and it makes it pretty easy to make a decision."

Under state law, clemency staff reports are confidential, but Scott has the power to make them public.

The law states: "All records developed or received by any state entity pursuant to a Board of Executive Clemency investigation shall be confidential and exempt ... However, such records may be released upon the approval of the governor."

The Herald/Times has asked that the report be made public.

October 02, 2015

Gov. Scott doesn't plan to cancel Planned Parenthood contracts


Gov. Rick Scott has no interest in cancelling the state's Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood.

Spokeswoman Jackie Schutz confirmed that the governor has no intentions to cancel the contracts after the conservative Florida Family Policy Council went after Scott on Thursday, demanding that he cancel the contracts.

Florida has not paid a direct subsidy to Planned Parenthood since 2001, when funding was vetoed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush. But the organization does receive funds through the state's share of Medicaid reimbursements: $45,000, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration.

“We believe he has a moral, ethical and now a fiscal obligation to do this,” Florida Family Policy Council president John Stemberger said Thursday. “We believe this is what a pro-life governor could do and should do.”

Scott issued a statement in response pointing out that the state investigated Planned Parenthood in the wake of controversial videos released this summer and reminding people about his opposition to abortion.

October 01, 2015

As Legislature returns to Tallahassee, Scott is headed to New York

A cranky Florida Legislature returns to Tallahassee next week for a full schedule of committee meetings, including a closer look at budget requests by the state agencies under Gov. Rick Scott's control.

What better time for the jobs governor to hit the road?

Scott announced Thursday that he will travel to New York City on Oct. 6-8 to meet with prospective employers, including hedge funds and financial institutions, and give a luncheon speech on Florida's resurgent economy to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research on Oct. 7.

A release from Scott's office noted that about 250,000 people move to Florida each year and that the state is the No. 1 destination for New Yorkers on the move.