December 15, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott to announce first Supreme Court pick on Friday

Florida supreme court.1_12061496_8colWill it be the female appellate court judge who says she has been "rarely reversed,'' or the male appellate judge who has lobbied the Legislature for court funding or will it be the lawyer in private practice who has represented industry giants like Publix and Orkin and worked to keep David Duke off the 1992 ballot?

Either Wendy Berger, C. Alan Lawson and Dan Gerber will be standing next to Gov. Rick Scott in his Capitol office at 8 a.m. Friday for a rare Tallahassee press conference to announce the governor's first -- and potentially only -- pick to the Florida Supreme Court. The new judge will be replacing Justice James E.C. Perry who is retiring at the end of the month because he has reached the mandatory retirement age.

The candidates all have two things in common: they are all self-professed conservatives, who abide by the "originalist" judicial philosophy that adheres to the notion that interpretation of law should be based on the original meeting of the text of the statute or the Constitution at the time its enacted, and they have each been heavily promoted by members of the Florida chapter of the Federalist Society, a conservative libertarian lawyers group many of whose members serve as the governors’ appointees to the Judicial Nominating Commission.

The JNC interviewed 11 candidates to recommend the three names (who were widely expected to be the pre-determined list) to the governor. 

For more on the selection process and who the candidates are, read our story here. 

Photo by Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times. 

December 14, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott to attend Trump's Orlando thank-you rally


TP_403878_ELLI_26_trumptampWhen President-elect Donald Trump comes to Orlando this Friday on his nationwide "thank you" tour, Florida Gov. Rick Scott will be right there with him.

Scott has publicly supported Trump since January, even while Floridians Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio were still fighting for the Republican nomination. But he rarely appeared with Trump during the campaign.

That changes Friday, spokeswoman Jackie Schutz confirmed. Trump's event is at 7 p.m. at the Central Florida Fairgrounds.

Scott views Trump, a part-time Florida resident with a home in Palm Beach called Mar-a-Lago, as cut from the same cloth as himself. Neither man had served in public office before being elected to lead the country or the state of Florida, and both are exceedingly wealthy businessmen, seen as outsiders by the Republican Party.

A harsh critic of President Barack Obama, Scott has said he's looking forward to the new administration in Washington. He traveled to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to meet with U.S. Rep. Tom Price, Trump's appointee to run the Department of Health and Human Services.

"When we have a problem and need a solution, at least we have someone to talk to," Scott said last month.

Photo: Florida Gov. Rick Scott takes the stage to speak on behalf of Donald Trump at a June 11 campaign rally, one of the few where Scott publicly spoke. (Loren Elliott, Tampa Bay Times)

December 13, 2016

Gov. Scott to Trump team: Replace, don't tweak, Obamacare

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Gov. Rick Scott, who met Tuesday afternoon with the man charged with overseeing a repeal of Obamacare, insists the sprawling program cannot simply be adjusted.

"I know a lot of people in Washington say, 'Oh, you can't replace it. It has to be tweaked.' The truth is, you have to replace it if you want people to get access to good quality health care at a price they can afford, your employers can afford, the government can afford," Scott told reporters after meeting with Rep. Tom Price, who is President-elect Donald Trump's choice for health secretary.

Scott's stance is no surprise; his entry into politics was driven by opposition to the Affordable Care Act, which he said Tuesday was created by "liberal bureaucrats" and sold as a "lie." He said he wants to be Trump's liaison for governors on the issue.

Scott said he discussed with Price ways to make Medicaid more flexible for states and to drive more competition into health care.

"The problem is cost. It's cost. It's cost. It's cost," he said.

The former hospital executive -- and potential 2018 U.S. Senate candidate -- was asked about concern from his former industry about dismantling the program. Again, Scott said competition on price and customer satisfaction is the way to go. 

Nothing he grew up poor, Scott said access to health care for all is important. "But if you can say, 'Oh, we have access but you can't afford it,' that's not access."

"The best way to get access to health care, as we all know, is through a job ... not relying on a government program that overpromises and underdelivers," he said.

Hours before Scott’s meeting Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell was in Tampa to urge people who want to sign up for Obamacare to do so by Dec. 15. 

"Whether Floridians get coverage through an employer, Medicaid, the individual market or Medicare, they have better health coverage and care today as a result of the ACA," Burwell said in a statement issued earlier. "We need to build on our progress and continue to improve health care access, quality and affordability — not move our system backward." 

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Rick Scott's Half True claim about federal Zika funding



Florida Gov. Rick Scott hopes that his ally headed to the White House, President-elect Donald Trump, will speed up funding for Florida to combat the Zika virus.

While announcing that state health officials had lifted the zone of active Zika transmission in one area of Miami-Dade County, Scott mentioned his ongoing feud with President Barack Obama’s administration about the pace and size of federal dollars flowing to Florida.

"It has been more than two months since over $1 billion in Zika funding was signed by President Obama, and the federal government has still only committed $7 million to help reimburse Florida’s costs of fighting this virus," Scott wrote in a Dec. 2 press statement. (A week later, Scott announced that the last Zika zone -- in South Beach -- had been lifted.)

We found that Scott isn’t telling the full story. Scott’s statement about only $7 million heading to Florida makes no mention of the millions of other federal dollars the state has had access to since the summer to combat Zika.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

December 05, 2016

Fact-checking Gov. Rick Scott's claim about invention of Obamacare



Donald Trump’s White House win gave Florida Gov. Rick Scott a powerful ally in his fight against Obamacare.

In a Nov. 30 op-ed in USA Today, the former hospital executive reiterated his 2010 campaign pledge to fight for repeal of the federal health care law.

"Other than President Obama and a few stragglers, everyone now realizes that Obamacare was a terrible notion," wrote the Republican governor. "It was sold on a lie. It was invented by liberal academic theorists who have no interaction with real families and businesses and therefore it doesn’t work."

Scott’s piece leaves out that the Affordable Care Act of 2010 is based on ideas from not just Democrats but also Republicans.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida


November 28, 2016

Eight months after losing confirmation fight, Armstrong leaves DOH


Since March, when it was clear the Senate would not confirm him as state surgeon general, Dr. John Armstrong has continued to cash a paycheck while on medical leave as deputy secretary of health.

On Nov. 21, he finally left the Department of Health.

The state announced Monday that Michele Tallent will officially take over the role of deputy secretary of health for administration after holding the job on an acting basis since January.

Tallent, who previously ran DOH's budget office and was Gov. Rick Scott's top adviser on the health and human services budget, will oversee the administrative functions of DOH. Her salary is $120,999.

"(Tallent's) years of service and extensive experience with finance and management will help ensure the department’s capacity to provide essential public health services," said Dr. Celeste Philip, the current surgeon general, in a statement Monday.

Armstrong has been undergoing treatment for colon cancer diagnosed last year. He continued to receive a $119,000 paycheck and benefits while on medical leave.

The state surgeon general and secretary of health from 2012, Armstrong left the job in March of this year, facing a state Senate that would not confirm him. Some senators criticized the department's handling of medical marijuana policy, the removal of sick children from a state-run health insurance program and cutbacks in county health departments that accompanied apparent rises in new HIV cases.

November 17, 2016

Scott meets president-elect inside Trump Tower


Florida Gov. Rick Scott said once again Thursday that he's not interested in serving in President-elect Donald Trump's administration, after meeting privately with Trump in New York.

"I'm staying in Florida," Scott told Neil Cavuto in a Fox News Channel interview shortly after concluding his Trump meeting. Scott, a former hospital executive, has been rumored as a contender for health and human services secretary.

Scott said he wants to help Trump be successful.

"I always believed he would win," Scott said. Of the so-far rocky transition, the governor added: "It's going to work out."

November 15, 2016

Florida Gov. Rick Scott: 'I talk to Trump a lot'

via @adamsmithtimes

ORLANDO -- There aren't many elected Republicans in America happier about Donald Trump's election than Gov. Rick Scott, an early Trump supporter in a battleground state dominated by Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio loyalists.

Scott not only is a fellow super-rich businessman and political outsider who ran against the GOP establishment, he also happens to have run a healthcare company, Columbia/HCA, that was targeted by the Clinton administration for allegedly massive Medicare fraud. So you can understand why Gov. Scott - a likely candidate for U.S. Senate in 2018 - is smiling big this week.

"I now have a president I can talk to. I talk to Trump a lot. I have both a president and a vice president who are friends of mine," Scott, 63, told reporters in a free-wheeling interview in Orlando Tuesday, where he is attending the annual conference of the Republican Governors Association.

Scott, who led a super PAC that spent $20-million on TV ads for Trump in states such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Ohio, noted that Republicans spent millions of dollars to beat him in his 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary. Afterward, he was willing to sit down with his opponents to accomplish common goals. 

"If you didn't embrace Trump, I would embrace him. I would figure out how to help him be successful," Scott said. "My experience with Trump in the years that I've known him, he's a guy that gets along with people. He's a consensus builder, he's pragmatic, and he wants to get stuff done."

Continue reading "Florida Gov. Rick Scott: 'I talk to Trump a lot'" »

November 09, 2016

October 24, 2016

South Florida a focus of Obama human-trafficking initiative



Secretary of State John Kerry hosted a White House meeting Monday of a high-level task force set up by President Barack Obama in 2012 to combat forced labor and prostitution.

Federal law enforcement agencies have initiated more than 6,000 human-trafficking cases and secured at least 4,000 convictions since Obama took office in January 2009.

"While more work is required to tackle the root causes and consequences of human trafficking, the United States continues to be a leader in the global movement to end modern slavery," the White House said in a statement.

Part of the Obama initiative is focused on Miami and New York, two national trafficking hubs.

The U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Justice are collaborating to provide job and training services in those cities for victims of human trafficking.

More than 1,200 instances of human trafficking were reported in the Sunshine State through the Florida Abuse Line in fiscal year 2014-15.

South Florida is the third-most-active region for sex trafficking in the country, with minors often the victims, according to the Justice Department.

Before it was cancelled because of Hurricane Matthew, Attorney General Pam Bondi had scheduled the Florida Human Trafficking Summit for Oct. 10 in Orlando. Five-hundred law-enforcement officers, service providers, healthcare professionals, educators, legislators and community leaders had signed up to attend, along with trafficking victims.

Obama's task force gave a presidential anti-trafficking award to Students Opposing Slavery, a network of high school and college students who raise awareness about trafficking among youth. The University of Central Florida in Orlando has one of the most active chapters of the group.

"Leaders in our state are committed to making Florida a zero-tolerance state for human-trafficking," Bondi said.

In a recent case, the drug-overdose death of a 14-year-old girl in Orlando led police to break open a human-trafficking ring based there.

Jose Ignacio Santiago-Sotomayor, 22, and Avorice Jeno Holman, 19, were arrested and charged with first-degree murder, human trafficking of a child and procuring a minor for prostitution. Police said they and other members of the ring drugged girls in order to have sex with them.

Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott declared January the Human Trafficking Awareness Month and signed four bills into law that stiffened penalties for human traffickers, established protections for past victims, and promoted efforts to help people recognize warning signs.

"It is unfathomable that this evil occurs in our state, but by expanding services and passing important legislation this year, we are helping to save and heal the lives of our state's most vulnerable," Scott said.

In July, police busted a human-trafficking ring in Seminole County with more than 20 victims, arresting Christian Pena Fernandez and Rachel Gonzalez.

Detectives said that Pena Fernandez ran a sophisticated organization in which he recruited and harbored women to provide sex. He ran ads seeking women on, they said.

The couple used motels and hotels across Central Florida in their operation, detectives said.

Photo credit: Getty Images