September 21, 2015

Scott budget will include $19 million for mental health

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday announced that he will ask for more than $19 million in his state budget proposal to address mental health and substance abuse in the state, his first announcement for next year's budget.

The money is intended to fund proposals to expand mental health care services across the state, which Scott laid out in an executive order in June that said "state funding for mental healthcare is too fragmented."

"It is critical that we do all we can to help individuals and families affected by mental illness and substance abuse in our state," Scott said in a written statement Monday.

Lapses in mental health care access has been targeted recently in reports by the Miami Herald and other news organizations about the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Corrections.

Scott's budget will include:

* $12.8 million for Community Behavioral Health Services that aim to help people with mental health needs without resorting to incarceration and to help mentally ill inmates rejoin the community.

* $3.7 million to create five Community Action Treatment teams to treat youth with unmet mental health needs.

* $2.8 million to expand Family Intensive Treatment teams in counties where abuse and neglect is rampant and closely tied to substance abuse.

September 18, 2015

Florida voters don't want to pay for Scott's Sunshine law violations & Gators are more popular than Seminoles

Florida voters overwhelmingly do not want to foot the bill to defend against allegations that Gov. Rick Scott has violated the state's Sunshine Laws according to a new robo-poll from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling.

The poll of 814 voters from Sept. 11 to 14 covers a grab bag of issues from Donald Trump to the popularity of Florida sports teams. It found that 70 percent of those surveyed don't want taxpayers to cover Scott's legal bills, while only  20 percent support that use of taxpayer money. The results are pretty complete across party lines with 79 percent of Democrats agreeing, 67 percent of independents, and 62 percent of Republicans.

According to a Herald/Times analysis of the invoices and budget requests submitted to date, the governor's legal bills have topped $1.2 million as he has agreed to settle lawsuits with St. Petersburg attorney Matthew Weidner, and a group of public records watchdogs that included the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, and a lawsuit with Tallahassee attorney Steven R. Andrews. 

The poll found that Floridians are supportive of a handful of issues that are likely to get zero traction with the governor or the Republican-controlled Legislature this upcoming session. From the PPP press release:

Continue reading "Florida voters don't want to pay for Scott's Sunshine law violations & Gators are more popular than Seminoles " »

September 16, 2015

AHCA communications director resigns


A top state health official is leaving the Agency for Health Care Administration.

Katherine Riviere, who has been communications director, is stepping down to move with her husband to another city, where he has a career opportunity.

"It's been a tough decision to make but one we feel is right for us at this time," she wrote in the letter.

Her resignation letter dated Aug. 21 predates by more than a week stories reported by Politico Florida, as well as by the Herald/Times, about Gov. Rick Scott and his staff's intimate involvement in AHCA investigations into Planned Parenthood.

The news was first reported by Politico Florida on Tuesday but was independently confirmed by the Herald/Times.

Governor Scott's job recruiting chief issues public apology to senators


Gov. Rick Scott’s top job recruitment chief publicly apologized to key members of the Florida Senate on Wednesday morning for his role in adding to an acrimonious summer with the Legislature over the governor’s signature campaign issue.

“I do know that some of my comments have offended,” Enterprise Florida President Bill Johnson said. “And I apologize for that.”

His apology came after State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, told him that the tension around the topic of economic development traces back to earlier in the summer when Johnson publicly called the Legislature’s proposed budget for a specific job creation program “shameful” and suggested the amount was so low that it would put Enterprise Florida out of business. The Legislature refused to give Scott the $85 million he requested for Enterprise Florida including a portion for a “quick action closing fund” to make deals with businesses moving to Florida. Instead, the Legislature cut that amount in half, reasoning that past money allocated for the same fund had still not be given out.

Scott later publicly warned that Florida may not be able to get deals done going forward.

Latvala has bristled as the "sky is falling scenarios" that Scott and Johnson have been expressing.

The Senate has responded by questioning how Enterprise Florida has used past funding the Legislature has given it for job creation. Since Scott took office in 2011, Florida Senate president Andy Gardiner said nearly all of the $264 million approved for the quick action fund is either in escrow or was returned, unspent, to the state treasury. Last week he questioned if how the governor was managing the fund was even legal, given the Legislature had not authorized what amounts to an escrow account that draws little interest. The interest rate is one-quarter of 1 percent.

Latvala said the heated rhetoric Johnson started is making it harder to work out a solution to legitimate issues at play on economic development.

“The rhetoric started recently and really goes back to you,” Latvala told Johnson. “The rhetoric on this issue needs to be lower.”

Continue reading "Governor Scott's job recruiting chief issues public apology to senators" »

September 15, 2015

Creaky bureaucracy sends long budget wish list to Gov. Scott

The Florida Lottery wants to offer cash bonuses to its sales staff. The Department of Environmental Protection needs to replace trucks that are unsafe to drive. The Department of Corrections wants new software to track down emails and respond faster to "prepare for lawsuits and investigations."

These are among hundreds of requests by state agencies to Gov. Rick Scott. The agencies faced an earlier-than-usual deadline of Tuesday to submit their annual LBRs or legislative budget requests, which Scott will consider as he prepares his budget recommendations to the Legislature in advance of the next regular session in January 2016.

Scott faces a fiscal balancing act as he weighs his agencies' requests against his 2014 campaign promise to cut taxes by $1 billion over a two-year period (he got almost to the halfway point in the 2015 session). 

In a likely preview of another battle between Scott and the Senate, the Department of Economic Opportunity wants $75 million for an array of incentive programs to lure jobs to the state. It's highly doubtful the Senate would agree to that after the Legislature gave Scott $43 million of the $85 million he asked for in the current year's budget.

"If this request is not funded, the department will not be able to meet contractually obligated state of Florida payments and Enterprise Florida will not be able to compete for new competitive projects," DEO writes.

The reams of budget requests portray a creaky bureaucracy where equipment failures are common. For example, the Department of Juvenile Justice wants $700,000 to replace 200 aging computer switches in juvenile detention centers, assessment centers and probation offices that are prone to breakdowns, resulting in a lack of communication with families and providers. "At this point the devices become a security risk," the agency says.

The prison system wants $950,000 in next year's budget to move all of its archived email to one searchable repository. The agency says all emails prior to January 2015 are archived separately, and searches can take up to six months.

The prison system is being sued by The Miami Herald for withholding information on investigations of suspicious deaths and possible physical and sexual assaults of inmates.

"Public record requests and internal requests for information related to litigation and investigations are a significant requirement in the day-to-day operations of the department," says the agency, which has up to 46 pending public records requests at any given time.

Putnam makes new push for Florida forestry firefighter pay raises


Three months after Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a plan to give the state forestry firefighters a $2,000 pay increase, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is making a new pitch to get those raises.

In a new budget request for 2016 released on Tuesday, Putnam is asking the Legislature to give him $2.3 million to help him hand out $2,000 per-person pay raises to the state’s 959 forest fighters and support teams.  

“If additional funding for the firefighter positions is not available, the turnover rate will continue to increase,” the Florida Department of Agriculture’s annual budget request states. “The Florida Forest Service will lose critical expertise in its firefighter and fire management/support ranks, which increases the potential for fire suppression accidents because of lack of experience.”

The average annual pay for the state's 606 forestry firefighters is just over $27,000. Starting firefighters make just $24,000. And since 2006, they have had only one pay increase. In June, the state Legislature approved a $2,000 pay hike for them, but it was vetoed by Scott.

In vetoing the funds, Scott maintained that pay raises for state employees should be addressed on a statewide level, and not just for the forestry firefighters. The only other employees budgeted for a pay hike were workers for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Scott did not veto those raises.

The low pay has been one of the reasons why hundreds of the state's firefighters voluntarily travel west to fight fires in places like California, Oregon and Washington. Working out west after Florida's fire season dies down allows firefighters to supplement their incomes in overtime pay subsidized by other states and the federal government.

Governor won't block state's first bear hunt in two decades

From The News Service of Florida:

Gov. Rick Scott will not use his executive authority to block the state's first bear-hunting season in more than two decades, despite pleas from animal-rights groups.

While anti-hunt groups have been collecting petitions and planning protests across the state on the eve of next month's hunt, the governor's office said Scott has left the issue up to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which has already voted to proceed.

"It is for FWC to decide what is best for Florida's growing bear population," spokesman John Tupps said in an email. "Gov. Scott trusts them to make the right decision to keep families safe."

For some hunt opponents, the reply from the governor's office was not a surprise, but it further limits their options. Laura Bevan, southern regional director for the Humane Society of the United States, said her group has yet to decide if it will join a lawsuit filed in July in Leon County circuit court by the Seminole County-based environmental group Speak Up Wekiva. That lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the commission-approved hunt and claims there is no evidence that hunting bears in remote wildlife-management areas will reduce the animals' conflicts with humans in suburbia.

"There really does not appear to be any other action that can be taken before the hunt takes place," Bevan said.

Adam Sugalski, campaign director for Stop The Florida Bear Hunt, said his group is coordinating plans to serve as "watchdogs" to ensure that hunters follow rules about timely reporting each kill.

"With over 2,000 permits sold for 320 kills, we feel that many more bears are going to be killed and many cubs orphaned," said Sugalski, whose group has also been gathering petitions and coordinating anti-hunt protests that will be held Oct. 23 in Jacksonville, Orlando, Tallahassee, Sarasota, Tampa, St. Augustine, Fort Myers, West Palm Beach, St. Petersburg, Gainesville, Miami, Jupiter and Melbourne.

The bear hunt, set to start Oct. 24, has a goal of 320 bears killed. The hunt will last from two to seven days in the four bear-management regions where the hunt will be allowed. The length of the hunt in each region will depend on the numbers of bears killed. The hunt is expected to help reduce the bear population by about 10 percent.

September 14, 2015

Governor Scott vows to make sure FDLE has resources it needs


Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he will work with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to make sure the agency has what it needs to solve past crimes and prevent future ones.

Scott’s comments on Monday come a day after the Herad/Times reported  that waiting for some crime lab results from FDLE are taking twice as long as it did three years ago, and low pay for investigators and crime lab analysts has resulted in significant staff turnover. FDLE commissioner Richard Swearingen is proposing the state increase the agency’s funding by $35 million to raise salaries and add more workers to the state’s crime lab.

“Commissioner Swearingen is doing a very good job and we’ll be working with him on the budget to make sure they have the resources they need to, one, do everything we can to solve any crimes but also hopefully to prevent anything,” Scott told reporters.

In 2012, FDLE told Scott and the Florida Cabinet that labs were taking on average 22 days to process chemistry evidence requests, 43 days to clear requests for latent finger prints, and 48 days to complete computer evidence submissions. All three areas now take at least twice as long to process.

Other needs, like processing DNA has jumped from a 74-day wait to 85 days and finishing a request on trace evidence from a crime scene has gone from taking 131 days on average to 176 days.

September 10, 2015

In SFWMD shakeup, Scott sends former deputy Pete Antonacci in to take reins

via @jenstaletovich @MaryEllenKlas @stevebousquet

A political insider who served as general counsel to Gov. Rick Scott will take over the state’s largest water management district.

On Thursday, the South Florida Water Management District’s governing board named Pete Antonacci to run the sprawling agency after announcing that executive director Blake Guillory, an engineer, would resign at the end of the month. Antonacci becomes the only director overseeing one of the state’s major districts without a background in science.

“It appears that Antonacci’s primary qualification is his close relationship with Gov. Scott,” Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper said. “But it doesn’t change the fact that the water management district is facing a budget crisis that will undermine Everglades restoration, water supply and flood protection.”

Guillory’s resignation follows a contentious summer in which the board flip-flopped on a tax cut. In July, board members agreed to maintain the tax rate, ending four years of cuts and keeping the district from dipping into reserves to balance its $754 million budget. The agency, which employs 1,550 people, handles flood protection for a third of the state along with overseeing decades-long efforts to restore the ailing Everglades.

But the decision defied Scott’s longstanding order to cut taxes. Two weeks later, the board called a second meeting and reversed the vote. Last week, Guillory’s chief of staff resigned.

More here.

This post has been updated.

September 08, 2015

GOP governors -- including Rick Scott -- oppose Iran deal

via @learyreports

Gov. Rick Scott joined 14 Republican governors in a letter to President Obama opposing the nuclear pact with Iran. The letter focuses concern about how it would affect pension divestment policies and contracting restrictions.

"Paragraph 25 of the Iran nuclear agreement provides that the federal government will “actively encourage” states to lif t state-level sanctions such as the divestment and contracting restriction laws," the letter states. "While Secretary Kerry confirmed in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the agreement will not preempt state law because it is not a treaty, we are concerned about what steps your Administration may take to attempt to implement paragraph 25. Therefore, we wish to make it clear to you in advance of any efforts to implement paragraph 25 that we intend to ensure that the various state-level sanctions that are now in effect remain in effect. These state-level sanctions are critically important and must be maintained."

The letter was signed by Govs. Scott, Doug Ducey of Arizona, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, Mike Pence of Indiana, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Phil Bryant of Mississippi, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota, John Kasich of Ohio, Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota, Greg Abbott of Texas, Gary Herbert of Utah, and Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times