April 23, 2015

Florida Senate president reiterates he won't confirm governor's agency heads

via @stevebousquet

Senate President Andy Gardiner says he has no plans to confirm a dozen of Gov. Rick Scott's agency heads before the May 1 end of the regular legislative session.

The Orlando Republican said two weeks ago he wouldn't play political games with Scott's agency heads, and he reiterated Thursday that he isn't. If they aren't confirmed, Scott can reappoint them within 45 days. If they're not confirmed in the 2016 session, they'll lose their jobs.

"Historically they have two years to be confirmed. I think some of our senators have concerns about some of the responses from secretaries," Gardiner told reporters. "By no means would we be playing games or threatening or anything like that."

Speaking one day after Scott threatened to veto Republican senators' bills and budget items if they reject his package of tax cuts, Gardiner said with a wry smile: "Certainly I hope nobody's threatening anybody in this process."

Two of Scott's agency heads have faced a particularly rough time in Senate hearings this session. Health Secretary and Surgeon General John Armstrong repeatedly sidestepped questions about Medicaid expansion and Secretary of State Ken Detzner is trying to block a bipartisan bill to create online voter registration in Florida by 2017. Corrections Secretary Julie Jones is also among the agency heads in political limbo.

--STEVE BOUSQUET, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Death, polls and jobs: Fact-checking claims about Medicaid expansion

A feud over Medicaid expansion that stretches from Tallahassee to the White House means the Florida Legislature may not pass a budget by the time the session ends on May 1. PolitiFact Florida has been fact-checking the fight over whether more poor Floridians will be able to qualify for heavily subsidized health insurance.

The federal government is offering billions if Florida expands Medicaid, paying 100 percent of the expansion at first and gradually downshifting to 90 percent in later years. The program currently eats up a sizable portion of the state budget.

The state Senate has supported the idea of some type of expansion, while the House remains opposed. Gov. Rick Scott has taken different positions on Medicaid over the years, but has settled into opposition during the session. He’s upped the ante on that by declaring he intends to sue the federal government.

Turn to PolitiFact Florida for the rest of our article about our Medicaid fact-checks.

O Canada! Gov. Scott and Florida pay Quebec firm to lure new jobs

Gov. Rick Scott's two-day job-poaching jaunt to Philadelphia in February ran up a tab of more than $43,000 in public and private money -- and nearly half of it went to a company based in Canada to attract jobs to Florida.

The cost of the 36-hour trip was shared by Florida taxpayers and private money that's controlled by Enterprise Florida Inc., the public-private partnership that promotes economic development in Florida. Enterprise Florida paid $16,500 in private funds to Research on Investment (ROI) to develop business leads and set up meetings with at least eight employers.

ROI is based in Montreal, Quebec.

"We already have a contract with them to represent Florida in Canada. They are our arm in Canada," said Enterprise Florida senior vice president Melissa Medley. She dismissed questions about whether Florida should hire a U.S. company to create jobs, and noted that ROI has offices in the U.S.

"I don't think that's even a point," Medley said. "They are in this country and they are in Canada. It makes perfect sense to use them for this service."

The use of a non-Florida company directly contradicts a policy set down by EFI's new chief executive, Bill Johnson, who got the job after the firm was hired and who also accompanied Scott to Philadelphia.

Continue reading "O Canada! Gov. Scott and Florida pay Quebec firm to lure new jobs" »

April 22, 2015

Fact-checking Rick Scott and Marco Rubio on sea-level rise, climate change

With President Barack Obama scheduled to visit the Everglades for Earth Day, it seems like a good day to look back at some of PolitiFact Florida’s fact-checks about climate change and the environment including claims by or about Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio.

Here are a few from our archives:

Scott said during an October debate "We have spent $350 million to deal with sea-level rise" in the Miami area and "hundreds of millions dollars to deal with coral reefs."

Scott was exaggerating. The state has spent $100 million to help the Keys upgrade to a sewer system, which should improve water quality -- a benefit for coral reefs. But Scott omitted that it was under Gov. Charlie Crist that the Legislature passed a law paving the way for the money. For the sea-level rise portion of his claim, his spokesman pointed to a variety of projects that related to flood mitigation or beach protection. While those are worthy projects, they don’t address future sea-level rise. We rated that claim Mostly False.

Scott said during his 2014 State of the State speech that "we have invested record funding in protecting our environment." That’s not correct. Scott’s spokesman said that he was referring to his "record" proposal to fund springs protection. The budget for the state Department of Environmental Protection was not a record under Scott. We rated the claim False.

We have also rated several of Scott’s promises related to the environment including about oil drilling, environmental penalties and springs restoration.

In the spring of 2014, scientists issued reports warning about climate change.

Just a day before those reports were released, Rubio said, "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it." (That wasn’t the first time that Rubio had disputed the basic science of climate change.)

A May 2013 report analyzing all scientific papers that address the causes of climate change showed 97.1 percent of scientists’ findings that took a position agree that there’s been a negative human impact on the atmosphere. We rated Rubio’s statement False.

April 16, 2015

Scott's voting chief says 'forces of evil' can derail online registration

Gov. Rick Scott's elections chief got roughed up again Thursday in the Senate as he continues to oppose a bipartisan bill for an online system of voter registration by 2017, which already exists in 20 states.

Appearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Secretary of State Ken Detzner said his agency has no plan to implement the change and he's worried about having to work with 67 county supervisors of election, 67 tax collectors and the state highway safety agency.

He raised a flurry of potential problems, including "distractions" from the 2016 presidential election and the "high risk" of computer hacking, cyber-attacks and "the forces of evil" that seek to disrupt Florida elections.

"I would prefer to have a plan in place before I knew that I had an implementation date," Detzner said. "This is too important to get wrong."

None of the 20 states with online voter registration have reported problems. Florida election supervisors say electronic registration will save money and reduce the possibility of human error and voter fraud.

As he did last week in another Senate committee, Detzner did not want to testify, which only riled senators even more. When a young aide to Detzner said the Department of State "waived in opposition," Sen. Don Gaetz quickly insisted that Detzner testify, and things rapidly went downhill from there.

In resisting online registration, Detzner also has picked a fight with one of the Senate's most popular members and the bill's co-sponsor, Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, and one of its most tenacious members, Gaetz.

Citing rumors in the Capitol, Gaetz directly asked Detzner if his opposition was directed by Scott himself. Detzner said no: "I have never been told what my position is."

"This isn't your first rodeo," Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, told Detzner, a long-time friend. Detzner worked in the Department of State decades ago.

The Senate bill (SB 228) passed with four no votes, from Republicans: Sens. Anitere Flores, Rene Garcia, Dorothy Hukill and Joe Negron. The Senate and House have agreed to give Detzner's agency $1.8 million to start planning for online registration, but a minor disagreement over the source of that money prompted the bill (HB 7143) to stall Thursday, temporarily delaying a House floor vote.

Checking in on the Scott-O-Meter: Rick Scott's promise to be No. 1 in graduation rates

As part of a group of promises to invest in education, Gov. Rick Scott promised in his second term to "be No. 1 in nation for high school graduation rates."

There are a few different ways to measure graduation rates, but the one the state Department of Education points to is the federal government's cohort method, which examines how many students who enter 9th grade graduate four years later with a standard diploma.

By that measurement, Florida's rate was 76 percent in 2012-13, below the national average of 81 percent. Only seven states had a lower rate -- Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon -- while two, Mississippi and Washington, were tied with Florida.

When we asked about this promise, Scott spokeswoman Jeri Bustamante pointed to  Scott's proposal to increase K-12 per-student funding to $7,176, which is about a $261 increase compared to the current year.

Turn to PolitiFact Florida's Scott-O-Meter to see how we rated Scott's progress.

PolitiFact updates Rick Scott's promise on school tests

After calling for an investigation into standardized tests and suspending a new exam by executive order, Gov. Rick Scott quickly signed a bill limiting how many hours students can be evaluated.

The Legislature passed HB 7069 on April 9, 2015, permanently ending the 11th-grade Florida Standards Assessment for language arts that Scott's February executive order put on hold. Results from a Department of Education investigation into testing were released Feb. 18 influenced the bill. Scott signed the bill on April 14.

"I agree with many teachers and parents who say we have too many tests, and while this legislation is a great step forward, we will keep working to make sure Florida students are not over tested," Scott said in a statement. His office did not elaborate on what the next step might be, although Scott did tell reporters he had no plans to issue more executive orders.

See how Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida rated Scott's progress on this promise on our Scott-O-Meter.

Scott to sue feds over hospital funding

Republican Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday he will sue the federal government for allegedly coercing Florida to expand Medicaid.

“It is appalling that President Obama would cut off federal healthcare dollars to Florida in an effort to force our state further into Obamacare,” Scott said in a statement.

The announcement is but the latest round in an ongoing spat between Scott and the feds.

It centers around a $2.2 billion program known as the Low Income Pool, which provides funding to hospitals that treat uninsured and Medicaid patients. The LIP program is scheduled to expire in June, unless the state and federal government can negotiate a successor program. But despite weeks of negotiations, no deal has been reached.

In a letter Tuesday, the federal agency handling the negotiations told Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration that any decision regarding LIP would be tied to whether the state uses federal Medicaid expansion money to expand coverage — a politically charged policy option Scott has recently come out against.

Scott said linking the two issues violated a U.S. Supreme Court ruling “that the president cannot force Medicaid expansion on states.”

“Not only does President Obama’s end to LIP funding in Florida violate the law by crossing the line into a coercion tactic for Obamacare, it also threatens poor families’ access to the safety net healthcare services they need,” Scott said.

He called the actions “outrageous and specifically what the Supreme Court warned against.”

The lawsuit stands to further tie up the budget building process, which is already behind schedule and is likely to force lawmakers into a special or extended legislative session.

More here.

April 15, 2015

Gardiner tells Gov. Scott his tax cuts are 'on the shelf' in Senate

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, had a phone conversation with Gov. Rick Scott Wednesday about the session's budget stalemate.

"They had a cordial conversation," said Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, who was listening in Gardiner's office. "The president indicated that we're anxious to get a budget and we'd like to do it on time, and we're anxious to get a budget that responds to the (health care) issues -- and we've got the tax cuts on the shelf. We're also supportive of the education funding that the governor wants to do. But before we decide how to do it, we've got to get this big elephant tamed. There's a $2 billion elephant in the room."

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.