March 04, 2015

Scott quietly pulls the plug on drug-testing appeal

From the Associated Press:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott will not seek U.S. Supreme Court review of a law that would have required applicants for welfare benefits to submit to mandatory drug testing

The law, a top priority of the Republican governor’s first term, was ruled unconstitutional by two federal courts. Scott’s administration did not ask the Supreme Court to consider the case by a Tuesday deadline.

American Civil Liberties Union of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon said that means lower court rulings invalidating the 2011 law will stand.

“After nearly four years of litigation, this ugly attack on poor Floridians has finally come to an end,” Simon said Wednesday. “This law was always about scoring political points on the backs of Florida’s poor and treating them like suspected criminals without suspicion or evidence.”

U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven in Orlando originally declared the law requiring urine tests for the applicants to be an unconstitutional search and seizure, a ruling upheld by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in December. Scriven and the appeals judges found no evidence of a pervasive drug problem among Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program applicants.

More here.

Mixed signals from Scott's office cause Cabinet-level confusion

Gov. Rick Scott faces new roadblocks in trying to fire heads of three Cabinet-level agencies at the start of his second term. At Wednesday's meeting of policy aides to Scott and Cabinet members, Scott's aide appeared to contradict the governor's own intentions on whether those agency heads should be present next Tuesday when new performance measures are discussed.

The push for new "metrics" follows the botched dismissal of FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey, who lost his job with no review or public discussion of his performance, which has triggered a lawsuit alleging the Sunshine law was broken. Scott replaced Bailey on an interim basis with another FDLE veteran, Rick Swearingen, whose appointment was later ratified by the Cabinet. The surprise maneuver allowed Scott to have unilateral power to appoint a powerful agency head who also reports to the three independently-elected Cabinet members, Pam Bondi, Jeff Atwater and Adam Putnam.

At the aides' meeting, Scott Cabinet aide Monica Russell, who chaired the meeting, released his plan for reviewing performances of agency heads, which in some cases require that "100 percent" of goals be achieved within 30 days. That's probably unattainable, and it would make it easier to justify firing an agency head -- and the one whose head is closest to the chopping block is Kevin McCarty, who runs the Office of Insurance Regulation. The others are Marshall Stranburg at the Department of Revenue and Drew Breakspear at the Office of Financial Regulation.

Aides to Attorney General Pam Bondi said the agencies deserve a voice in how their track records are judged. "I think we'd need to hear from the agency themselves," Bondi Cabinet aide Rob Johnson told Russell. "I think we need to figure out a way to get them here to answer the questions that my principal (Bondi) may have ... Are you going to formally invite them?"

"Well, they won't be on the agenda, obviously, but yes, we're going to invite them to be here," Russell replied.

That wasn't Scott's plan. At the last Cabinet meeting on Feb. 5, Scott made it clear he wanted a discussion of the agencies' performance measures to take place without the agency heads present.

A transcript of the meeting shows Scott saying: "What we might want to do, and I think what we ought to do is, let's take those three and just among the four of us and say, how -- what will be our recommendation on how we review those agencies, but without them there." (Emphasis added).

As confusion reigned, Scott''s office issued a statement that left the decision up to the agency heads. "Those agencies do not have presentations scheduled. However, it would be beneficial for them to attend in the event Cabinet members have questions on their agency."

Cabinet performance reviews: It's really not a new idea

As the aides to Gov. Rick Scott and his colleagues on the Cabinet revived the debate today over crafting a new policy about how to evaluate the performance of agency heads who report to them in the wake of the governor’s botched firing of former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey, some history:

If they had asked their predecessors, they would have learned that the practice had been in place for years and, on occasion used by this governor and Cabinet. 

Records and transcripts of Cabinet meetings reviewed by the Herald/Times show that the governor and Cabinet had a record of requiring a “performance review” of officials who reported to them.

The practice continued for the first year Scott and the three Cabinet officials came to office but then waned. DOR Secretary Lisa Echeverri did not have one in 2012 and her replacement, Marshall Stranburg, has never had one.

Continue reading "Cabinet performance reviews: It's really not a new idea" »

Scott won't backfill federal LIP funding

If the state and federal government can't reach an agreement on Florida's Low Income Pool program, Gov. Rick Scott won't backfill with program with state dollars, he said Wednesday. 

"Florida taxpayers fund our federal government and deserve to get a return on their investment," Scott wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama. "Moreover, we have worked hard to turn Florida's economy around and cannot afford to fund programs started by the federal government."

The Low Income Pool is key to Florida's budget.

The $2 billion program, which reimburses hospitals that treat large numbers of poor and uninsured patients, is scheduled to expire on June 30. The state Agency for Health Care Administration is hoping to reach a deal with the federal government to keep the federal portion of the funding in place.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, has made it clear that the program will not continue without significant changes.

Scott is open to restructuring LIP.

"In our current discussions with CMS, Florida is not proposing to continue the LIP waiver in its present form, but to maximize the value of our tax dollars to further the same goals for the Medicaid program that we have shared with CMS over the last four years," he wrote in the letter.

If the program were to end, Scott added, it would "hamper future efforts to improve health care services for low-income individuals."

"As with previous negotiations, we are optimistic that you will not terminate LIP and we will be able to reach an agreement on how best to structure this program in a way that protects both our state's most vulnerable residents as well as state and federal taxpayers," he wrote.

Gov. Rick Scott targets President Obama in op-ed for Politico

Gov. Rick Scott has an op-ed column in Politico this morning, squarely taking aim at President Barack Obama. Here's an excerpt (full column here):

President Obama should come back to Florida and make another speech. This one should map out a plan for how our low-income citizens can access healthcare at a cost they can afford. If President Obama is serious about driving down healthcare costs (which he said was the goal of Obamacare), he will reform the exchange system so around $5 billion in federal funding flows directly to 1.6 million individual healthcare accounts, like Health Savings Accounts, where Floridians currently on the exchange can each receive the $297 a month the Obama administration today pays to the 14 insurance companies who sell policies on the federal exchange in Florida.

To drive down healthcare costs, you simply need to increase competition. Today, there is very little competition within the federal exchange because there is only one person paying—the federal government (HHS). And, this single payer is deciding what plans to sell. We should let individuals decide how they want to spend their healthcare dollars. By setting aside the same amount of money the federal government is spending today in 1.6 million individual healthcare accounts, the President would move the purchasing power from one person, Uncle Sam, to 1.6 million low income people who can best make their own healthcare decisions. High income Americans get to select the healthcare that fits their needs. Shouldn’t the 1.6 million low income Floridians currently on the exchange be given the same right?

Scott takes to the airwaves to promise tax cuts


Gov. Rick Scott may be treated like a lame duck in Tallahassee, but a new television ad from his still abundant campaign account shows he's acting like he's still -- or wants to be -- a candidate.

Scott's Let’s Get to Work political committee is sponsoring a 30-second ad that will start airing this Thursday in all Florida markets and include broadcast, cable  and satellite, said Brecht Heuchan, of the Labrador Company. 

The ad is also a subtle push to promote the governor's $500 million plan to cut communications and other taxes -- a notion that has not been embraced by the GOP-led Legislature which faces the prospect of having to fill a nearly $2 billion budget hole because of the potential loss in federal health care funds known as the Low Income Pool. The governor made no mention of the potential budget holes in his State of the State speech on Tuesday, but he did tout his proposed tax cut. 

"We are expanding our industries, investing in our ports, making a record commitment to you, devoting more resources to education,'' Scott says in the ad, as he walks across a map of Florida. "Now, working with your legislators, we plan to cut taxes by half-a-billion-dollars. We believe you can spend your money better than government can. That's a dream come true, and that's your Florida."

The governor's political committee has not reported how much he's spent on the ads. He paid media consultant Nelson Warfield's company $42,469 in January. 

Scott won his narrow victory in November, but he's still been cashing in the contribution checks, even with no foreseeable political campaign in site. The largest -- outside of a $580,000 check from the Republican Party of Florida on Jan. 16 -- was a $90,000 contribution on Dec. 19 from the Geo Group, the Boca Raton-based private prison company that operates two thirds of the state's privately-run prisons. 

In light of the recent complaints about the governor's decision to short the budget for the state run prisons, and chronic troubles in the prison system, rumors abound that the Geo Group is ready to expand and take over. Meanwhile, the governor has been silent about the problems festering at the Department of Corrections. 

March 03, 2015

Hillary Clinton email controversy raises questions about Jeb Bush, Rick Scott

via @learyreports

News that Hillary Clinton used a private email account during her time as Secretary of State draws contrasts and similarities to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and current Gov. Rick Scott, both of whom have drawn criticism for using private email.

Bush, a leading Republican contender for president, quickly jumped on the news against an expected rival, whom critics have long cast as secretive.

“Transparency matters,” Bush wrote Monday night on Twitter. “Unclassified @HillaryClinton emails should be released. You can see mine, here.

Earlier this year Bush released several hundred thousand emails covering his eight years as governor, a massive archive that gave insight into his handling of sensitive issues such as the Terri Schiavo saga and into his assertive leadership style.

The records were already available but Bush, putting them in an easy-to-read format, touted his commitment to transparency.

But the public cannot see everything.

Bush, who used a private account, removed from the record those emails related to politics, fundraising and family matters.

“He’s being a bit disingenuous because he decided what we saw and didn’t see,” said Barbara A. Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, a group that is supported by news organizations, including the Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald.

More here.

Updated: No meeting scheduled between Rick Scott, black caucus

UPDATE: Jackie Schutz, spokesperson for Gov. Rick Scott confirmed Wednesday that members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus did request a meeting with the governor via phone.

Staff in Scott's office asked for additional information on the meeting request via email, she said, and they didn't hear a response.

EARLIER: The first day of the legislative session is over, and Gov. Rick Scott hasn't yet met with members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus to discuss issues they say are important to minority communities across the state.

Continue reading "Updated: No meeting scheduled between Rick Scott, black caucus" »

Activists unveil liberal agenda to counter Rick Scott's

Pointing to inequality and “self-delusion” by Gov. Rick Scott after his State of the State address Tuesday, a group of liberal activists called Awake the State outlined their proposals for the legislative session.

“We’re here to unveil a bold, progressive agenda that works for all Floridians, not just the wealthy and well connected,” said Barbara DeVane of the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans.

Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Town of Cutler Bay, headlined the announcement, which brought together activists on five central agenda items.

Continue reading "Activists unveil liberal agenda to counter Rick Scott's" »

Gov. Rick Scott delivers 2015 State of State address

The 2015 session of the Legislature opened Tuesday in Tallahassee with an upbeat State of the State speech from Gov. Rick Scott, who described a Florida where "everything is possible."

Addressing all 160 lawmakers in the House chamber, Scott reiterated his goals of cutting taxes, spending more money for public schools and job training and freezing graduate school tuition in Florida universities.

"We agree on more than we disagree on," Scott said in prepared remarks. "We want to give families back more of the money they earn and reduce the burden of government."

He asked lawmakers to help him keep a campaign promise to raise K-12 funding to its highest level in state history. That's likely to happen, but Scott's call for a freeze on graduate school tuition is already drawing resistance from lawmakers.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, told the Times/Herald: "There will be a pretty strong argument made by universities that graduate school costs are different than for undergraduates. That's one I would keep an eye on."

Scott's optimistic speech made no mention of current controversies over high-stakes testing of Florida students, the festering crisis in the state prison system or whether the state should expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Scott, a Republican, was re-elected in November with 48 percent of the vote, making him the only governor in Florida's 170-year history to win consecutive terms without receiving a majority of the vote either time. He has strong Republican majorities in both the Senate and House, but legislative leaders have already demonstrated a new willingness to test Scott and to emphasize their own priorities.