August 25, 2015

Voters clueless about Fla. Senate field; Scott's numbers improve

A new statewide poll in Florida by Quinnipiac University largely comes up empty by finding that every major candidate for U.S. Senate in both parties is so unknown that "none has achieved enough voter recognition for a valid measure of their favorability."

And in a small sign of progress for Republican Gov. Rick Scott, his job approval edged upward, with a divided electorate approving of his performance by 45 to 44 percent. That's hardly a ringing endorsement, but it marks the first time since February 2011, one month after Scott took office, that he scored a positive approval rating with voters. The previous Q-poll in late June had Scott underwater, with 39 percent approving of his job performance and 49 percent disapproving.

Quinnipiac polled 1,093 Florida voters from Aug. 7 to 18. The overall poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

As expected, the race for U.S. Senate is completely wide open and very few voters recognize the names of the people jockeying to replace Republican Marco Rubio.

In the Republican Senate field, 92 percent of voters have not heard of entrepreneur and combat veteran Todd Wilcox of Orlando; 87 percent didn't recognize the name of U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach; and 86 percent didn't know enough about either U.S. Rep. David Jolly of St. Petersburg or Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera to rate him.

Former state Attorney General and U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum's name was a mystery to 71 percent of voters, a stunning statistic considering McCollum has run four times for statewide office in the past 15 years, including previous two Senate bids in 2000 and 2004.

Among Democrats, the most familiar name was U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando, but his numbers suggest trouble at 10 percent favorable, 22 percent unfavorable and 67 percent not knowing who he is. The "don't recognize" numbers was 86 percent for one-term U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and 81 percent for two-term U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter.

August 24, 2015

For third time, Gov. Scott appoints Spottswood to statewide board

The third time was the charm for Robert Spottswood.

Gov. Rick Scott has appointed the Keys real estate developer, a sixth-generation Floridian, to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. He'll replace board chairman Richard Corbett, a Tampa real estate investor who submitted his resignation last week.

Scott's appointment of Spottswood is effective Sept. 2. The governor also appointed Spottswood to the 3rd District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission in 2013 and to Scott's Commission on Healthcare and Hospitals last May.

Spottswood and his company gave $13,000 to Scott's Let's Get to Work Committee in the 2014 campaign, and he gave an additional $3,000 to Scott's re-election campaign.

Corbett had an unusually long tenure on the FWC board. He was first appointed in 2003 and was named chairman in 2013 after Scott appointed him to a third consecutive five-year term. He gave no reason for his resignation, which is effective Sept. 1.

Scott also appointed Spottswood's wife Elena to the Florida Keys Community College Board of Trustees.

Gov. Scott on late-summer vacation in cooler Colorado

Imagine fleeing Tallahassee in late August when the "real feel" is a balmy 99 degrees! Gov. Rick Scott will spend most of this week on a family vacation in Colorado, the governor's office said Monday. Scott, First Lady Ann Scott, their two daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren took a leisurely family trip to France earlier in the month. 

Had the Legislature approved a congressional redistricting map, Scott would have been required to review it, sign it or veto it. But that didn't happen and the Scotts all headed west. Two years ago, Scott sent "one-way" letters to a number of Colorado business leaders, trying to convince them to leave the Rocky Mountain State and relocate to Florida. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is a Democrat.

August 20, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott blasts Legislature over job incentive money

Gov. Rick Scott picked a new fight with his fellow Republicans in the Legislature Thursday by criticizing them for not spending more money for incentive programs to bring jobs to Florida. Speaking to business leaders at an Enterprise Florida board meeting in Ponte Vedra Beach, Scott voiced frustration with lawmakers.

"The Legislature didn't fully fund our tool kit. It's pretty frustrating," Scott said. "We're down to $9 million ... We will not be able to get deals done moving forward."

Legislators insist that Enterprise Florida didn't spen most of the money it got last year and that the public-private partnership is too dependent on taxpayer subsidies to survive. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who chairs a budget subcommittee for all economic development programs, said Enterprise Florida keeps earmarked escrow funds in a bank where it draws one quarter of 1 percent interest. He proposed moving the money to a fund under control of a state agency where it would draw at least 3 percent interest.

"If money for businesses is so important, why does the governor and his people continue to fight me on getting a better return on our investment?" Latvala said. "It's a little sad. But I'm going to continue to fight for the taxpayers."

Continue reading "Gov. Rick Scott blasts Legislature over job incentive money" »

August 19, 2015

Health officials: We haven't backed down on Planned Parenthood abortions

@MichaelAuslen

In response to reports that Gov. Rick Scott's Agency for Health Care Administration was backing down from its legal battle with Planned Parenthood over allegedly illegal abortions at three clinics, officials sent a letter Wednesday saying they will continue their investigations.

The latest letter from AHCA general counsel Stuart Williams to Planned Parenthood attorney Julie Gallagher says that the agency still believes the clinics performed abortions for which they were not licensed, despite an earlier letter that led Planned Parenthood to drop its request that a judge intervene to stop license sanctions from going forward.

"Your client, Planned Parenthood, continues to misrepresent to the media that AHCA has changed its position, and Planned Parenthood clinics in Florida may now provide unauthorized second trimester abortions. This is false," the letter says.

A letter sent Tuesday and later released to the public says that AHCA considers abortions performed in the first 14 weeks after the last normal menstrual period to be in the first trimester, consitent with state regulations.

Planned Parenthood clinics in St. Petersburg, Naples and Fort Myers, which only have licenses for first-trimester abortions, were accused Aug. 5 by AHCA of performing procedures in the second trimester of pregnancies. The pregnancies in question were performed in the 13th week.

Neither Planned Parenthood nor AHCA had an immediate comment on the latest letter, but earlier today, Planned Parenthood issued a statement after releasing the earlier letter. In it, Barbara Zdravecky, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said, “AHCA has agreed – as we have maintained all along – that, as long as the procedures performed are within 14 weeks from a woman’s last menstrual period, they do not exceed the authority under our licenses.”

It continues, “The public does not want elected officials spending time and money looking into bogus claims that are just part of a political agenda."

August 18, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott's response to 'unprecedented' Planned Parenthood citations

@MichaelAuslen and @mjmachrowicz

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday pointed directly to viral videos of Planned Parenthood's organ donation program as the reason behind sudden license violations against three of the organization's clinics in Florida, which say they have not changed their practices for years.

The state Agency for Health Care Administration cited clinics in St. Petersburg, Naples and Fort Myers for performing second-trimester abortions without a license, but the abortions in question are by most doctors' standards first-trimester procedures, Planned Parenthood contends in a lawsuit filed Monday. Further, the organization frequently reports information about its abortions to the state, and it has had no pushback on similar procedures since an AHCA rule defining the first and second trimester was passed in 2006.

Asked about why the state has waited until now to go after the abortions, Scott pivoted to the videos, a hot political issue, which spurred him to order inspections by AHCA.

"As anybody that saw those videos regarding Planned Parenthood, it was very disturbing and troubling," he said at an event Tuesday morning in Gibsonton, Fla. "So, we did the right thing, we said we're going to make sure that the Planned Parenthood facilities in Florida are compliant with the law, so AHCA went in to do that. They're working to make sure that they're compliant with the law, and they'll continue to do that. I know they're, right now, it looks like there's going to be litigation, and AHCA will be responsible for that."

The abortions in question are those done 13 weeks into a pregnancy, generally measured by doctors starting at the pregnant woman's last menstrual period. State rules define the first trimester as the first 12 weeks after fertalization, the same as 14 weeks after the last menstrual period.

Still, AHCA cited the three locations, which are only licensed to conduct first-trimester abortions.

Planned Parenthood has called the move "unprecedented" in a lawsuit requesting an emergency injunction against the agency, filed Monday in Leon County.

August 17, 2015

Surprise! Election supervisors hail ruling by Gov. Scott & Co.

Surprise, surprise. Gov. Rick Scott's election experts have taken a step that has the support of Florida's supervisors of elections -- for a change.

The issue involves candidates for Congress and state Senate in 2016 and the ongoing redistricting mess in Tallahassee, and a ruling by the state Division of Elections will be good news to candidates and ease confusion on the campaign trail.

Candidates in Florida can get on the ballot by paying a qualifying fee or collecting valid signatures from registered voters. For Congress, it requires 2,298 signatures and for state Senate, 1,552. It takes a lot of work, but it saves candidates money and helps to build a cornerstone of a grass-roots network.

Here's the glitch: The law requires that the signatures be collected from voters who live in the district where the candidate is running, except in a reapportionment year when the signatures are valid from anywhere in Florida. Election supervisors must determine which signatures are valid and which are not. The 2016 petition gathering is already underway but congressional and Senate district boundaries aren't final, so how would candidates know which signatures are legitimate?

Election supervisors have been asking Secretary of State Ken Detzner's office for weeks for clarification. Detzner's Division of Elections said Friday that signatures will be considered valid "from any registered voter in Florida," and candidates don't have to list the number of the district they are running from for the signatures to count.

"We can now relay the pertinent information on ballot placement via the petition method to both congressional & state Senate candidates for the 2016 cycle," said Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley, president of a statewide supervisors' group.

Supervisors and Detzner have clashed repeatedly since he took office in 2012, most recently over Detzner's unsuccessful efforts to sidetrack a bill creating an online voter registration portal by 2017. 

Planned Parenthood to ask judge to step in on health care agency violations

@MichaelAuslen

Planned Parenthood on Monday requested that a judge intervene in its ongoing battle with the Agency for Health Care Administration over state regulatory violations it was issued Aug. 5.

The request for an emergency injunction centers around three Planned Parenthood clinics cited for illegally performing second-trimester abortions while holding only a license for first-trimester abortions. Planned Parenthood has said the procedures were first-trimester abortions, and that the citations by AHCA violate the agency's own licensing rules.

"We're trying to get clarification from the court as to our rights and responsibilities," Planned Parenthood lawyer Julie Gallagher said.  "We're seeking an injunction to prevent AHCA from taking any further action against us in the form of sanctions or actions against our clinics."

At issue, Gallagher said, is a 2006 rule by the state Agency for Health Care Administration that defined the first trimester as the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and the first 14 weeks from the pregnant woman's last menstrual period.

The allegations by Gov. Rick Scott's administration are false, Gallagher said, but in an abundance of caution, all three clinics have stopped performing abortions up through the 14th week. Those patients have been redirected to other clinics.

Continue reading "Planned Parenthood to ask judge to step in on health care agency violations" »

August 14, 2015

Florida spent nearly $3 million to protect Gov. Scott, visitors

Florida is a popular destination not just for tourists but for out-of-state politicians.

Dozens of them passed through the state over the past year, and Florida taxpayers pay for their security whiile they're here to the tune of more than half a million dollars.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported Friday that it spent $530,000 over the past year for transportation and protective services for out-of-state politicians.

State law provides that FDLE agents provide transportation and security for visiting governors and their families, for business and pleasure, "upon request by the governor." The full report is here.

FDLE also reported spending $2.4 million to protect Gov. Rick Scott, First Lady Ann Scott, family members and the grounds of the Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee. The total cost for those services was slightly higher than for the previous year.

In its report, FDLE cited $216,000 to provide security and transportation for Attorney General Pam Bondi, and $88,000 for a Republican Governors' Association conference in Florida last November. The runaway winner for most visits to Florida over the past year was Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and his family, who visited the state at least 10 times at a cost to Florida taxpayers of $19,000.

August 07, 2015

Florida's election purges and racial issues at the ballot box: PolitiFact Florida's report on Voting Rights Act's 50th

This week marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act.

In scenes memorialized in the movie Selma earlier this year, police on March 7, 1965, savagely beat hundreds of peaceful protesters as they set out to march for voting rights in Selma, Ala. "Bloody Sunday" became a turning point in the civil rights movement, speeding passage of the Voting Rights Act, which was crafted secure voting rights for all Americans. Johnson signed it on Aug. 6, 1965. 

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the Act involving federal pre-clearance of changes to state election law that could harm minority voters. This has led to a congressional push -- so far unsuccessful -- to strengthen the law.

Here’s a look at some of our fact-checks about voting rights from PolitiFact Florida including claims by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, Gov. Rick Scott and President Barack Obama.