April 15, 2015

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.

April 07, 2015

PolitiFact Florida: Full flop for Gov. Rick Scott on Medicaid expansion

Has Gov. Rick Scott changed his mind on Medicaid again? In 2012, Scott said he was against expansion. In 2013 he said he was for it. Now, he says he’s against it. Or does he?

PolitiFact Florida decided to put Scott’s position on expanding Medicaid on our Flip-O-Meter, to document whether he has changed position. Let’s follow Scott’s path over the past few years.

More here.

April 06, 2015

Scott op-ed: Washington should follow Florida’s lead

In Washington Examiner op-ed today, Gov. Rick Scott has this to say to President Barack Obama:

“The federal government needs to follow our lead. President Obama needs to see this as an opportunity to change his ways; to stop spending money that we don't have and forcing our children and grandchildren to foot the bill.”

He’s talking about the budget, praising Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate for their proposals and saying the feds should have to pass a balanced budget, as Scott himself is required to do in Florida.

But he also brings up the biggest wedge in Florida’s budget right now — paying for health care.

As the House and Senate back home fight over Medicaid expansion and await a final verdict on millions of dollars in federal spending to support the Low Income Pool, the former hospital executive-turned governor calls out Obama and his signature Affordable Care Act for making it harder for Americans to pay for health care.

“Rising health care costs (a problem that Obamacare has only exacerbated), federal taxes higher than other developed nation's and an anti-business attitude by the Obama administration has caused stagnant wages and a diminishing workforce,” he writes. “House and Senate Republicans should be commended for seeking to address these systemic challenges that President Obama has either ignored or made worse.”

April 02, 2015

Politico: Rick Scott pollster joins Rand Paul presidential team

From Politico:

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has signed Tony Fabrizio, a veteran Republican pollster, to join his 2016 presidential campaign, according to a source familiar with the move.

[...]

Fabrizio’s resume is a long one: He worked on then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign — Perry recently inked Greg Strimple to poll for his likely campaign — and was a top strategist on Bob Dole’s 1996 bid. Fabrizio also serves as a top adviser to Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

More here.

Celebration woman charged with trying to kill Gov. Scott

An Osceola County woman was arrested Wednesday night on charges of threatening to kill Gov. Rick Scott.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Ruba Khandaqji, 36, of Celebration, faces two counts of corruption by threat against a public official and resisting arrest without violence and is being held in a county jail.

FDLE said Khandaqji called the Osceola County Sheriff's Office on March 30 and said she was going to hire a hitman to kill Scott because she wanted to be deported to Jordan. FDLE agents spoke to Khandaqji at her home on March 31 where she told agents she did not have to abide by U.S. laws because she was being held against her will by the government. FDLE said she repeated the threat Wednesday, telling sheriff's deputies she planned to have the governor killed. FDLE agents spoke to Khandaqji in February after she sent a "questionable comment" to the website flgov.com, but she was not deemed a security threat at that time.