June 27, 2017

Rick Scott declines to say if he thinks Marco Rubio should vote for the health care bill as written



Florida Gov. Rick Scott is crisscrossing Capitol Hill on Tuesday as the Senate wrestles with a bill that would repeal parts of Obamacare. He's meeting with top Republicans Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and senior Republicans like Sen. Orrin Hatch.

But Scott, a Republican and ally of Donald Trump, demurred when asked if Sen. Marco Rubio should vote for the bill as written. Scott will meet with Rubio later on Tuesday afternoon. 

"There's constant conversations and it's changing, so you can't say where it is right now," Scott said. "Let's all focus on the biggest here, and the biggest issue here is cost reduction. What I'm talking about to him right now are the things that are important to our families and our taxpayers." 

Rubio hasn't given any indication that he plans to block the bill's path to the Senate floor, although he's brought three staffers from Tallahassee to Washington to review the bill. 

The staffers are Allen Brown, health care adviser to Senate President Joe Negron; Carol Gormley, health care adviser to House Speaker Richard Corcoran; and Justin Senior, secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

Scott said a big priority for him is to make sure that states who didn't expand Medicaid, like Florida, receive the same per capita funding for Medicaid as a state that chose to expand the program under Obamacare. 

"We're not treated the same way as a state like New York," Scott said, arguing that New York gets $23 billion in federal dollars for health insurance while Florida gets $14 billion, despite Florida having more people to cover than New York. 

"Our federal tax rates aren't lower so why should we get paid less?"

Senate leadership is urging a vote on the health care bill this week, saying that a further delay will make it harder for a majority to support the bill. But a  

"Whoever is paying for it, the Obamacare costs have skyrocketed, people can't afford their health care, employers can't afford their health care and the government can't afford their health care.  

Four Republican senators, including moderates Susan Collins of Maine and Dean Heller of Nevada along with conservatives Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, said they will not allow the legislation to proceed in its current form. The GOP enjoys a four seat majority in the Senate, meaning three Republican dissenters can kill the bill. 

Even if the bill passes the Senate, it could be a tough road to make it through the House. A group of conservative lawmakers dubbed the Freedom Caucus are expected to oppose the Senate bill in its current form. 

"I don't have a vote," Scott said. "But it's very important to repeal and replace Obamacare." 


Gov. Scott signs school funding, economic development bills


From the News Service of Florida:

Gov. Rick Scott signed 29 bills late Monday, including measures boosting spending on education, tourism marketing and economic development.

By signing the bills, and vetoing five more, Scott essentially closed the books on this year’s regular and special legislative sessions.

The bills Scott approved included perhaps one of the hardest-fought wins of his time as governor: a measure (HB 1A) that provided $76 million for the tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida; established an $85 million fund to pay for infrastructure improvements and job training to help draw businesses; and set aside $50 million in repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike along Lake Okeechobee.

That legislation was approved in this month’s special session after the House refused to approve direct business incentives that Scott prefers and gave far less for Visit Florida than he had requested during the regular session, which ended in May.

“With this legislation, we can promote public infrastructure projects and job-training projects to continue to grow jobs for families in every community of our state,” Scott said in a statement issued by his office. “We know that for Florida to be competitive in domestic and international markets, we need as many tools as possible to attract growing businesses to our state.”

Scott also signed another bill from the special session (HB 3A) boosting per-student spending in the state’s main formula for funding public education by $100. The budget for public schools had originally only increased spending by $24 a student, leading to charges from critics that it was too stingy and prompting a rare veto by Scott.

The governor hailed the increase Monday.

“Our students are the future of our state, and I’m incredibly proud to sign legislation today to ensure they have every opportunity for success,” he said.

During the special session, some Democrats had complained that the increase wouldn’t offset what they said would be the negative impact of HB 7069, a controversial and wide-ranging education bill Scott approved shortly after the special session as part of a rumored deal with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes.

“It’s an increase — but at what cost?” asked Rep. Cynthia Stafford, a Miami Democrat who pointed out that funding for education is still short of pre-recession levels when inflation is factored in. “The state has recovered, but education funding has not.”

Scott also signed several other education bills Monday, including a measure (HB 15) expanding eligibility for a program that helps pay for educational services for students with disabilities and boosting the size of voucher-like tax credit scholarships that help parents pay for private school tuition.

In addition, the governor approved HB 989, which overhauls the state’s policy on instructional materials to allow any county resident — not just parents — to challenge materials used at schools.

In all, Scott signed 230 of the bills that lawmakers approved during this year’s regular legislative session while vetoing 11. He signed all four bills that passed during the special session.

Photo credit: AP

June 26, 2017

Rubio reviews Senate healthcare bill while protesters ask him to oppose it

Healthcare2 protest lnew cm

To study the Senate healthcare bill's effects on Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio last week invited the top three Republicans in the state Capitol -- Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron -- to weigh in on the legislation.

By Monday, three staffers sent by the three state GOP leaders were in Washington, going through the bill with Rubio aides. Scott himself will travel to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to offer his thoughts to Rubio directly.

The staffers are Allen Brown, health care adviser to Negron; Carol Gormley, health care adviser to Corcoran; and Justin Senior secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. 

The Republican senator has yet to say how he'll vote. But he's hardly expected to oppose the legislation, given his past support to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And the state staffers, expected to remain "embedded" in Rubio's office all week, probably won't give him a compelling reason to vote no, either: Scott, Corcoran and Negron chose not to expand Medicaid under the ACA and have been critical of the law. That's even though Florida, with its large uninsured population, was one of the states to see the most people covered under Obamacare.

Rubio outlined his criteria for the bill in a Facebook Live appearance last week. For example, he wants people with pre-existing conditions to be protected and Florida to be "treated fairly" on Medicaid (that is, not penalized for not expanding the program).

Pro-Obamacare activists demonstrated outside Rubio's Doral office Monday to urge him to oppose the Senate's "Better Care Reconciliation Act."

"Rubio, do your job!" some of them chanted.

After the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated Monday that 22 million Americans would lose health-insurance coverage by 2026 under the Senate plan, two Republican senators said they would vote against the bill as written: Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Three GOP no's would kill the bill.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Bill Nelson took to the Senate floor to oppose the legislation: "This bill is just as bad as the House bill," he said.

This post has been updated.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, el Nuevo Herald

Don Gaetz likes Jimmy Patronis as CFO -- but really likes Tom Lee

Don GaetzFormer Senate President Don Gaetz joined the growing list of Republicans commending Public Service Commissioner Jimmy Patronis, whom the governor appointed today as the state's next Chief Financial Officer, replacing Jeff Atwater who is resigning to work in academia.

"He would be eminently qualified,'' Gaetz said Friday, reached after a fishing trip in Canada. He noted that he has known Patronis 10 years, that his son, Matt, was positioned to run against him in the state Senate seat Gaetz was vacating and that he sees Patronis' skills as a restaurant owner and manager helpful to being the man in charge of overseeing one of the state's most important agencies.

"He spent his entire life working and expanding and managing one of Florida's most successful small businesses,'' Gaetz said. "It's a very complex and very successful business. Jimmy has been pivotal in the expansion and success of the business."

But Gaetz has a unique perspective. Gaetz is business partners with the other likely candidate in the race, Democrat and former state senator and Yahoo executive Jeremy Ring but hints that he'd prefer another person -- who is not an announced candidate -- former Senate President Tom Lee. 

 "If the governor doesn't appoint Jimmy as a caretaker and chooses not to run -- even though Jeremy is a great friend of mine -- I would certainly be supporting Tom Lee,'' Gaetz said. 

He said he hasn't spoken to Lee, now a senator from Thonotosassa, who unsuccessfully ran against Democrat Alex Sink for the CFO job in 2006, about the job but would like him to consider it. 

"I've had the chance to see Tom operate as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and also as a highly successful business owner and I think Tom Lee would be an outstanding CFO,'' Gaetz said. "He has the experience, the maturity and understanding of how government should work That would make him a great CFO."

The job requires innovation and an ability to take the bureaucratic and political establishment -- particularly the lobbying interests that have an outsized-influence on the contracting process, Gaetz said.

Atwater tried to increase the financial accountability and oversight role of the department "but he hasn't gone as far as he would like to because he hasn't had enough support from the Legislature and governor to make the innovative changes that would result in more financial accountability and more smart contracting,'' Gaetz said. "And I think Tom Lee would be a perfect fit for that."

Read our stories on this here: Florida CFO: Flaws in contracts could be costing taxpayers millions of dollars

Atwater hopes to reform flawed contracting process by exposing it to sunlight

Cashing in on state contracts is a Florida growth industry

June 25, 2017

As expected, governor to appoint 'loyal soldier' Jimmy Patronis as next state Chief Financial Officer

As we reported, Gov. Rick Scott has announced that tomorrow he will appoint Jimmy Patronis, one of his longest-serving allies, to become the state's next top fiscal officer.

Patronis now gets another title to add to his alphabet soup of governor appointments -- which now includes PSC (Public Service Commissioner) and CRC (Constitution Revision Commission) member. But while the governor's goal here is to give Patronis a springboard to office by allowing him to campaign as an incumbent in 2018, can Patronis hold off an ambitious political field within the GOP?

Then, there's the divided ranks within Patronis' home territory. Many see Patronis as a loyal Republican but, as we wrote about last week, many GOP leaders are angry with Scott for the charter school expansion bill. We also know that other names are circulating as possible primary challengers. Stay tuned. 

Here's the AP story with comments from the governor and Patronis:

Florida governor to name ally as chief financial officer


June 23, 2017

Gov. Scott plans D.C. trip as U.S. Senate debates Obamacare repeal

Scott_rick apday 0131


Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday that he will travel to Washington, D.C. next week so he can provide input as the U.S. Senate debates its proposal to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a new plan.

No details were released as to when Scott would travel to the nation's capital or whom he will meet with there.

"I have been carefully reviewing the bill and next week, I will be traveling to Washington to meet with congressional leaders to provide input on how we can make the bill better for Floridians," Scott said in a statement.

Scott is widely expected to run for U.S. Senate in 2018 against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson.

Scott called Obamacare a "terrible, expensive mess" and offered some general insight into what he would want to see out of Congress' replacement plan.

“All states must be treated equitably. Florida taxpayers deserve the same treatment as every other state under the Medicaid program," Scott said. He added: "Every American, including those with pre-existing conditions, should have the ability to buy any kind of insurance they want. This will drive down costs and give people the flexibility and power to determine what they want to buy."

Photo credit: AP

June 21, 2017

Connecticut newspaper to Gov. Rick Scott: 'Go back to Florida and stay there'

via @KatieLSanders

Gov. Rick Scott's job-poaching mission in Connecticut left a sour taste in the mouth of the state's largest newspaper.

Scott told a small crowd in Norfolk, Ct., Monday to "go ahead and give up ... capitulate, and come to Florida and make it easier on yourselves," rather than stay in Connecticut with its higher income taxes and lack of palm trees.

The Hartford Courant editorial board fired back in a feisty Wednesday editorial detailing Florida's flaws and telling Scott to shove it:

"Here's some advice for Florida Gov. Rick Scott: Go back to Florida and stay there."

With all due respect, Mr. Scott, no thanks. Promises of a better climate and pictures of palm trees are nice, but there's more to a state than its shrubbery.

Peel the lemon, and the truth is obvious: Florida can't compare to Connecticut.

The ed board responded to Scott's brag about Florida's lack of income tax and influx of Nutmeggers (the Internet said I could use that) with its own statistics showing all is not well in paradise.

Connecticut beats Florida in median income, percent of children attending preschool, percent of high schoolers graduating on time, percent with a college education (44.7 percent, compared to 36.7 percent in Florida), civic engagement, volunteerism and more, according to a recent study. Florida has more poverty, more violent crime and more disconnected youth, the study found.

Even the commute is worse in Florida (an average of 26.4 minutes, compared to 25.4 minutes in Connecticut). A recent Miami Herald editorial begged drivers to consider using turn signals.


And even though some 53,000 Connecticut residents moved to Florida between 2010 and 2014, it is by no means a one-way street. The census bureau estimates that 32,774 people moved to Connecticut from Florida during that same time. Many who do take up residence in Florida do so only long enough to qualify for the tax break.

Read the long burn.

--KATIE SANDERS, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Connecticut State Police via AP

Another lawsuit attempts to get juice out of the citrus scare by overturning Rick Scott's veto

Canker 1997@MaryEllenKlas

The legal saga of thousands of lost citrus trees took a new twist late Tuesday as homeowners in Broward and Lee counties asked the court to reverse Gov. Rick Scott's line-item veto of $37.3 million to compensate trees destroyed a decade ago.

The unusual lawsuit, filed in the Florida Supreme Court, claims that Scott's veto of two specific appropriations -- $20.9 million and $16.4 million -- was unconstitutional because it undermines the state's obligation to make good on an illegal "taking" of private property. 

After years of litigation, the Legislature for the first time set aside the money this year to compensate homeowners who lost "healthy, uninfected residential citrus trees" as part of the state's Citrus Canker Eradication Program between 2000 and 2006 and to pay their attorneys fees.

In 2008, Broward courts awarded 70,036 homeowners in that county $20.9 million as payment for their lost citrus trees. In 2014, another court awarded 167,677 homeowners in Lee County $16.4 million for their lost trees.

The state was ordered to make the payments on the grounds that destroying the trees without adequate compensation was an unconstitutional "taking."

But in his veto message, Scott rejected the payments  -- saying they were vetoed "because of ongoing litigation."

The homeowners argue that there is no ongoing litigation -- except the lawsuit to collect the payments.

They say his reason was not only wrong, it was unconstitutional and violates their rights to due process.

The veto "undermines the State’s constitutional obligation to pay full compensation for the taking of private property."

They cite the Florida Constitution which states: “No private property shall be taken except for a public purpose and with full compensation therefore paid to each owner or secured by deposit in the registry of the court and available to the owner.”

If the court accepts the case, it could test the premise offered the Fourth District Court of Appeals that said if the state didn't authorize the payments, Broward homeowners and their lawyers could pursue a writ of mandamus "to enforce the judgments."

Throughout Florida history, only the state Legislature has had the power to overturn a governor's veto of an appropriation in the state spending bill.

Lawmakers set aside the money to compensate homeowners this year after the Fourth District Court of Appeals held that "while the government has the ability to establish procedures for payment of its constitutional obligation, it does not have the luxury of avoiding it."

In an attempt to follow through the on the suggested remedy, attorneys filed a claim with the Broward circuit court, seeking a mandamus judgment. The case is still pending.

The petition filed Tuesday asks the state's highest court to issue a writ of mandamus to "expunge" the vetoes from the record and "direct the Chief Financial Officer" to pay the homeowners as set forth in the settlement agreement the state signed.

Under the failed citrus eradication program, state agriculture inspectors deployed crews with chain saws to chop down 577,253 orange, grapefruit and key lime trees throughout the state — even if the trees showed no signs of infection.

Outraged property owners representing counties with 94 percent of the lost trees joined five class action lawsuits to seek compensation. In four of the cases, the court ordered the state to pay more than $100 million in judgments, attorneys fees and interest.

The fifth case, involving Miami-Dade residents who lost 40 percent of the healthy trees removed in Florida, is still pending. The bench trial in that case ended June 2016 but the judge has not ruled.

Broward homeowners sought compensation for the destruction of 133,720 healthy trees and Lee County homeowners sought payment for 33,957 healthy trees.

Lawmakers added the money to the budget for only two of the four counties in which judgments have been rendered. They did not include money for homeowners in Orange and Palm Beach counties.  

The courts uniformly disagreed with lawyers for the Department of Agriculture, and Commissioner Adam Putnam, who argued against paying homeowners for the lost trees. They contended that trees exposed to canker were a public nuisance and their removal is not a taking that should be compensated by the state.

Petitioners include homeowners, Toby and Robert Bogorff, Timothy Farley, Beth and Roald Garcia, Deanna and John Klockow, Lois and Charles Stroh, and Nancy and Joseph Dolliver and the law firms of Grossman Roth, Robert C. Gilbert, P.A., Lytal Reiter Smith Ivey & Fronrath, and Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman, P.L. who represented the owners of residential properties in Broward and Lee Counties, Florida.

"The importance of deciding this issue before the commencement of the new budget year cannot be overstated,'' the petition argues.

"Absent an immediate decision by this Court, the State will argue that no appropriated funds exist with which to pay and satisfy the constitutional takings judgments held by Petitioners, and Petitioners will be left holding constitutional takings judgments that cannot be satisfied.

"The process will continue to recur unless this Court puts an end to it once and for all."

Photo: A work crew mulches a citrus plant in Hialeah in 1997, the early stages of South Florida’s canker war. Roberto Koltun El Nuevo Herald

June 19, 2017

Ads tie Rick Scott to GOP health care plans



The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is promoting a Google "takeover" ad that seeks to tie Gov. Rick Scott to the GOP health care plan in Washington.

The DSCC said the video will be shown across a full screen and targets mobile viewers and people who consume television lightly. "The ad will reach targeted voters in Florida who comprise key elements of the 2018 midterm electorate, including older, women and swing voters as part of an ongoing six-figure digital ad buy," the group said.

Scott, who hasn't yet formally announced he's running for Senate, has supported an Obamacare replacement but has been harder to pin down on the specifics of the proposals in Washington.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

June 15, 2017

League petitions Supreme Court, warns of 'constitutional crisis' prompted by Rick Scott's 'midnight appointments' to Supreme Court

Florida supreme court.1_12061496_8colThe Florida Supreme Court is being asked to avoid a potential "constitutional crisis" and affirm that Gov. Rick Scott does not have the authority to appoint judges whose term expires on the same day he leaves office in 2019.

The request came in the form of a quo warranto petition filed late Wednesday by the Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause which argues that governor cannot appoint the successors of three Florida Supreme Court justices who will be retiring on the same day he is out of office because the justice's terms "run through the last second of the evening of Jan. 8, 2019."

Under current law, the governor is not allowed to make an appointment to the Florida Supreme Court, or the state courts of appeal, unless there is a vacancy. Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince are scheduled to retire because they have reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 on Jan. 8, 2019 -- the same day a new govenror will be sworn in the replace Scott. 

Scott, a two-term Republican, said during a December press conference that: "I'll appoint three more justices the morning I finish my term.” But the League warns that if Scott attempts a "midnight appointment" and attempts to choose the successors before the deadline, it will draw lawsuits and set the court system into chaos. 

"The importance of deciding this issue before Gov. Scott attempts to make the subject appointments cannot be overstated,'' wrote the attorneys for the voting rights groups. "Not only would that invite a constitutional crisis, especially if his successor makes different appointments, but it would disrupt the functioning of this court and any district court on which a similar vacancy might arise."

The petition urges the court to decide the matter swiftly to "clarify for the electorate and potential candidates the scope of what is at stake in the 2018 election."

It also asks the court not to send the issue to the lower courts to decide. Although the 2018 election is "over a year away, there is simply not enough time" for the case to wind its way through the court system to reach a resolution, the petition said.

The petition also argued that the high court should accept the case because there may be candidates for their jobs among the judges on the lower courts and "that is a very real conflict of interest that simply does not exist for any member of this court."

The petition cites previous court opinions to conclude "that the outgoing governor does not get to appoint successor justices or judges on the way out of office."

The issue has already came before voters in 2014 -- in the form of a constitutional amendment asking them to give the outgoing governor the appointment authority. But the measure needed approval from 60 percent of voters and only 48 percent approved.

The 2014 amendment was the brainchild of the Florida Legislature and Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, who was then chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.It was supported by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Council of 100 but was opposed by the League of Women Voters.

Lee argued the current law is unclear about whether the incoming or outgoing governor can make the appointment and also warned that a potential legal battle could set off a “constitutional crisis.”

But in the petition, lawyers for the voting groups also note that a resolution to this soon "would also preempt cynical complaints by anyone dissatisfied with the decision that the case was contaminated by political considerations."

Photo by Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times