June 21, 2017

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

Rick2+jungle+lnew+cmg

@learyreports

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 

June 13, 2017

With the governor's signature of HB 7069 expected, is a legal challenge coming?

Gary farmerWith Gov. Rick Scott expected to sign the controversial charter-school friendly bill -- that incited a groundswell of criticism -- at a press conference somewhere in Orlando on Thursday, opponents are mounting a last minute effort to lay the groundwork for a legal challenge or legislative retooling of HB 7069. 

In a letter to the governor on Tuesday, Sen. Gary Farmer, a freshman Democrat from Lighthouse Point, urged the governor to veto the bill because it would "dramatically reduce the ability of school districts across the state to devote resources towards improving our public education" as well as allowing private management companies to profit off taxpayer dollars, and local communities to be cut out of zoning decisions relating to schools.  Download SenatorFarmerLetterRe7069

But Farmer, a lawyer, also outlined his case -- for why he believes it could be challenged on the grounds that it passed illegally -- and in violation of the Senate rules and may be ripe for a legal challenge.

"I do intend to look into it,'' Farmer told the Herald/Times. "Process is supposed to matter. There are supposed to be boundaries and limitations so everybody is on equal footing. When we don't follow the rules, it erodes and denigrates the process."

For example, he said, HB 7069 morphed from a six-page bill "which dealt entirely with the Best and Brightest Scholarship Program" to a 278-page amendment" that included provisions that were the subject of 55 other bills "the vast majority of which either had been voted down in committee or had stalled."

In a lengthy point of order on the Senate floor on May 8, Farmer noted that the conference committee on May 5, the last scheduled day of session, between House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron settled up the final budget package but the final wording of HB 7069 was rolled out two hours after they had met at the conference. At that meeting, Corcoran and Negron did not take a vote on the final budget agreement, except to announce that the agreement was made.

 

Although most of the bills’ provisions had been discussed at least conceptually by one of the chambers, not all of them had. The concept of the “Schools of Hope” was only discussed for only 90 minutes in the Senate prior to the final passage.

A Herald/Times analysis of HB 7069 also found that HB 7069 not only included language from 55 bills but also from bills never before discussed or considered publicly and — in one case — a bill that was defeated by a Senate committee.

For example, a new bonus scheme whereby all “highly effective” teachers would get $1,200 in each of the next three years and all “effective” teachers could get up to $800 as never discussed before in either chamber.

House Pre-K-12 Appropriations Chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, acknowledged the language was new but defended it. “That’s new, granted,'' he told reporters on May 5. "But it’s within the context of teacher bonuses”  as part of the “Best & Brightest” program.

 

June 08, 2017

June 07, 2017

Gov. Scott to attend White House infrastructure event with Trump

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - With the special session under way in Tallahassee, Gov. Rick Scott will be at the White House Thursday for a "listening session" on infrastructure with President Donald Trump.

He will join a number of governors and state, local and private sector leaders "who are interested in working together to improve our nation’s infrastructure," a White House spokesman says.

Scott has made repeated trips to Washington for events with Trump or meetings with administration officials.

His office confirmed he will attend, and the meeting lands as a three-day special session is under way in Tallahassee.

Also participating in the White House event is Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Gov. Rick Scott: "The United States must stop doing business with Venezuela"

US NEWS FLA-LEOPOLDOLOPEZ-RALLY 6 MI

@alextdaugherty 

In a new op-ed, Florida Gov. Rick Scott encouraged United States companies to stop conducting business with Venezuela and its embattled President Nicolás Maduro, without mentioning his position on Goldman Sachs' recent purchase of Venezuelan oil bonds. 

"The United States must stop doing business with Venezuela immediately," Scott wrote. 

He then compared the Maduro regime to Cuba while criticizing Barack Obama's move to open up relations during the final stretch of his administration. 

"The turmoil in Venezuela is eerily similar to events that have plagued the island nation of Cuba for decades. When President Obama moved to normalize relations with the Castro dictatorship many argued that the new relationship would be the beginning of a better life for the Cuban people. Yet two and half years later, repression is growing and the brutal crackdown of the peaceful opposition movement is most alarming." 

Earlier Wednesday, Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen criticized Goldman Sachs' purchase of Venezuelan bonds for a cut rate price on the U.S. House floor. 

Read the full text of the op-ed below: 

U.S. Must Take Stand Against Cuba and Venezuela

By Governor Rick Scott

In recent months, we have seen Venezuela slip into complete chaos. Under the brutal and oppressive dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro, we have seen things go from bad to worse. Food and medicine shortages, violence on the streets and economic uncertainty.

We've also seen companies like General Motors, Bridgestone and General Mills scale back their operations in Venezuela. Recently, United Airlines also joined in this effort by announcing it will suspend flights to Venezuela next month.

It's no wonder that these companies are pulling out of a country engulfed in violent political protests and economic chaos.

Venezuelans endure long lines to purchase basic necessities all while Maduro's dictatorship blames companies for the country’s shortages. The Maduro regime continues to mismanage the country's oil resources, has produced a swollen inflation rate and dismal exchange rate, leaving the Venezuelan people to deal with hardship and corruption.

This is not acceptable and we should not stand for these injustices to the Venezuelan people. The United States must stop doing business with Venezuela immediately.

The turmoil in Venezuela is eerily similar to events that have plagued the island nation of Cuba for decades. When President Obama moved to normalize relations with the Castro dictatorship many argued that the new relationship would be the beginning of a better life for the Cuban people. Yet two and half years later, repression is growing and the brutal crackdown of the peaceful opposition movement is most alarming.

This was the wrong move. A message must be sent to both the Maduro and Castro regimes and their gangs of thugs that the United States will not tolerate their continued aggressions.

Organizations like the Ladies in White and UNPACU are the constant targets of the Castro regime's violent rage. The anticipated "emerging private sector" (cuentapropistas) has actually decreased and tens of thousands of Cubans have attempted to flee the enslaved island in numbers not seen since 1994. In Venezuela, the Castro dictatorship continues to pull the strings, aiding the Maduro government's bloodbath against the heroic Venezuelan people.

Moreover, the Obama-Castro deal failed to prioritize America's interests. It purposely did not contemplate the certified claims of American citizens whose properties were stolen by Castro's regime; it allowed Cuba's trafficking of 240 tons of missile technology and other heavy weaponry with North Korea, and those responsible for it, to get away without consequence; it allowed companies to put American workers at a competitive disadvantage through deals with Cuba's state-owned entities, which employ forced and exploitative labor practices that are contrary to international norms; it ignored judicial claims of American victims of terrorism by Castro's regime and the cries for justice from American families whose killers are being harbored by Castro's regime. To add insult to injury, President Obama even commuted the life sentence of a Cuban spy that was convicted of conspiracy in the murder of three American citizens.

The approach for the new United States-Cuba policy should be a substantive shift. The current direction has proven to provide the Cuban military and state security the resources that will enable them to transfer power from one family member to another. The new course must be focused on doing our part so that the Cuban people may regain their right to self-determination.

Today, I am encouraging President Trump to take a stand against these brutal dictatorships. President Trump and his Administration have the opportunity to set a new course. One that recognizes that the Cuban and Venezuelan people deserve to be free, and prioritizes human rights, democracy, security and the rule of law. This new course should serve as a beacon of hope for those brave activists in Cuba and Venezuela by making it clear that, if you are a Castro or Maduro government official involved in the violation of human rights, you will be prohibited from obtaining any immigrant or non-immigrant visa to the United States. I'm convinced that this new direction will better serve U.S. interests, generate genuine economic prosperity and help the Cuban and Venezuelan people achieve their long-awaited freedom.

June 05, 2017

New economic development bill gives governor $85 million grant fund with few strings attached

Scott at MIA 60217

After spending the session peeling back what they deemed was taxpayer-financed “corporate welfare” in the name of jobs, the Florida House returns this week with a plan to replace those programs with a new $85 million economic development fund that gives Gov. Rick Scott exclusive control — and few strings attached.

The agreement, between House Speaker Richard Corcoran and the governor, and signed off on by Senate President Joe Negron last week, paved the way for Scott to sign the $83 billion budget on Friday and call for a three-day special session starting Wednesday.

In calling back legislators, the governor directed them to add $215 million in K-12 funding to the budget, restore $75 million to the tourism marketing agency, Visit Florida, and create an $85 million grant program within the Department of Economic Opportunity. If they pass the bills, many expect the governor to sign Corcoran’s priority legislation, HB 7069, a controversial public education bill intended to expand charter schools by giving them control of the state’s struggling schools.

READ MORE: “Another backroom deal stokes distrust in Florida’s Legislature”

The economic development bill proposed by the House, HB 1a, will regulate how taxpayer money is used for economic development. It creates the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund within the Department of Economic Opportunity to finance projects that fit broad criteria to help targeted industries: rural infrastructure, transportation projects for local governments and individual training programs at state colleges and technical schools.

The bill says that DEO and Enterprise Florida will “identify projects, solicit proposals, and make funding recommendations to the Governor, who is authorized to approve” them.

There are no restrictions on how the grant money is dispersed except that it “shall not be used for the exclusive benefit of any single company, corporation, or business entity.” Nothing in the legislation requires an audit. There are no application requirements, no job metrics and no mandate that the project show it is developing jobs.

After feuding with the governor all session, many lawmakers were surprised that the House was willing to turn over unfettered control for economic development spending to Scott, and Senate leaders say they may not be ready to accept the House bill entirely. Story here. 

 

Senate budget bills, Stand Your Ground change among 24 proposals sent to Gov. Scott today

SP_410740_KEEL_17_FLGOV

@ByKristenMClark

Several high-profile bills lawmakers passed during the 2017 session were officially sent to Gov. Rick Scott's desk this afternoon -- including a controversial shift in the state's Stand Your Ground law, an expansive public records exemption that would permanently seal millions of criminal and arrest records, and a higher education reform bill that's a top priority of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

Scott now has 15 days to decide whether they should become law. He can either sign them, veto them or let them become law by default.

Negron's higher ed bill (SB 374) was one of several budget-related measures from the Senate that were sent to Scott on Monday, marking another key step in the process of adopting spending for the 2017-18 fiscal year that begins July 1. (Scott approved the main budget act on Friday, with several substantial vetoes that included base state funding for K-12 schools -- a chunk of spending lawmakers will do-over in a three-day special session later this week.)

The Senate's "conforming" bills are complementary to the main budget and deal with specific issues, such as colleges and universities, the state pension system, health care and the clerks of court. The House has its own conforming bills, among which is HB 7069, a highly contentious K-12 public schools bill; none of those have been sent to Scott yet.

The change to Florida's Stand Your Ground law (SB 128) -- which shifts the burden of proof in pretrial hearings to prosecutors -- passed the Legislature on the final day of the regularly scheduled session as part of a deal to also pass a bill dealing with religious expression in public K-12 schools (SB 436). That legislation was also sent to Scott Monday.

Meanwhile, SB 118 could virtually eliminate Floridians’ access to many individuals’ criminal histories in the name of addressing stigma against those accused, but not convicted, of crimes. It has drawn opposition from open government advocates and is one of several bills the First Amendment Foundation has asked Scott to veto.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

June 03, 2017

Second backroom budget deal is sowing seeds of distrust

Scott at MIA 60217@MaryEllenKlas and @Steve Bousquet

Another backroom deal, this time involving the governor who has blasted the Legislature for secrecy, is leaving a trail of frustration and distrust in the state capital as elected lawmakers are being called back for a special session this week to rubber stamp a budget they were excluded from negotiating.

After stoking rumors that he might veto the Legislature’s budget and an accompanying controversial public school reform bill because they were negotiated behind closed doors, Gov. Rick Scott emerged this week with House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron in Miami with an announcement. He would sign the budget, veto $409 million in local projects, and order lawmakers back June 7-9 to add $215 million to the public education budget.

The announcement caught most legislators off guard, even ranking Republicans who were left out of the deal-making.

“Other than a seeing a press release, I haven’t talked to anyone about any of it,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who chairs the Senate budget panel on tourism and economic development.

“Is this how the process is supposed to work?” he asked. “There has to be a better way.” Story here.