April 26, 2016

Here's why Florida's CFO won't accept Jeffrey Bragg as the new state insurance commissioner


After the Florida Cabinet again deadlocked over who to make the new insurance commissioner, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said he is just not certain that the man Gov. Rick Scott is committed to for the job has the right background for the post.

Moments after Scott and Atwater, both Republicans, declared another impasse in picking a commissioner, Atwater told reporters that he doesn't know if Pinellas County resident Jeffrey Bragg has the required private sector experience or regulatory experience to even legally hold the position of Florida Insurance Commissioner.

"I don't know the answer to that," Atwater told reporters.

Bragg, a 67-year-old Republican who lives in Palm Harbor, ran the nation's terrorism risk insurance program from 2003 until his retirement in 2014. In the early 1980s, he worked under the Reagan Administration, serving in the Federal Emergency Management Agency where he was the administrator for the national flood insurance program. 

Between those appointments, Bragg worked in the private sector, including as a senior vice president for Zurich Risk Management from 2001 to 2003 and as executive vice president for IMSG in St. Petersburg from 1997 to 2000.

During a public interview with Bragg on Tuesday during the cabinet meeting, Atwater said he tried to probe him about his regulatory background to get answers as to whether Bragg really is qualified to regulate Florida's insurance market. 

"He wasn't regulating players offering products in the private sector market place or who the complied with his programs," Atwater said.

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Has Florida cut more than $1 billion in taxes as Gov. Rick Scott says?

Despite lawmakers virtually ignoring his budget wish list during the 2016 legislative session, Gov. Rick Scott is boasting about fulfilling a campaign promise to cut taxes by $1 billion in his second term.

Scott took credit for the fiscal feat both before and after signing the Legislature’swide-ranging tax-cut package, HB 7099. "Over the past two years, Florida has cut more than $1 billion in taxes," an April 13, 2016, press release from the governor’s office read.

Scott had pledged to hit the billion-dollar mark in tax reductions during his successful 2014 re-election campaign, mostly by giving breaks to businesses and limiting property tax growth. In his March 15 press release announcing his intention to sign the Legislature’s budget, Scott said he’d kept his promise with $1.2 billion in tax cuts over the first two years of his second term.

Scott has repeated this claim several times in one form or another. But have taxes really gone down by more than $1 billion in two years, like he says? It depends on how you look at what the Legislature has done, but the changes haven’t happened the way Scott wanted.

Keep reading Joshua Gillin's fact-check from PolitiFact Florida  and check out Scott's full Truth-O-Meter record.

April 21, 2016

Florida governor says he's unfamiliar with FPL power lines ruling


Florida Gov. Rick Scott got a question in Hollywood on Thursday about Wednesday's momentous ruling against Florida Power & Light over its Miami power lines project.

"I haven't seen it," the governor said.

An appeals court found Scott and the Florida Cabinet failed to consider the city of Miami's development regulations in backing FPL's plan.

Rick Scott cautions GOP against convention 'monkey business'


Republicans should respect the "will of the voters" when it comes to picking a presidential nominee, Florida Gov. Rick Scott told the party's elite Thursday, cautioning the GOP against any convention "monkey business."

What Scott didn't do: mention the candidate he's endorsed, Donald Trump.

Scott was the luncheon speaker at the Republican National Committee's spring meeting, being held over three days at the Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood. He didn't use the prominent platform to rally reluctant Republicans round Trump. 

Instead, Scott focused on his favorite subject -- jobs -- and chided all the candidates for failing to make that issue a campaign centerpiece.

"We know how tall their boots are. We know the size of of their hands. We know who's got the best hair," he said. "We also know that we all love Ronald Reagan, we don't care too much about Hillary Clinton, we're pro-life and we're anti-ISIS.

"What are we missing? What have we not talked about? Jobs. If you talk to anybody -- even in our state, were we are heading in the right direction -- the job market, growing this economy, is still the most important thing on the average person's mind."

Scott tied the 2016 presidential race to his own election in 2010, noting he was an outsider unsupported by GOP stalwarts.

"The voters made a choice. The voters believed they should choose," Scott said. Then he brought it back to July's convention, which could be contested if Trump doesn't obtain the required delegate majority: "We have got to be transparent. We can't take the chance that we're accused of any monkey business, tricks, stunts -- anything."

Scott never uttered the word Trump. In fact, the only candidate he mentioned, in an attempt at humor, was former candidate Ben Carson, whom the governor joked "is either the angriest person in the world, or the calmest."

Scott later told reporters Trump will either win the nomination outright "or be very close." 

"I'm focused on winning in November. The way to win in November is rally behind Donald Trump. I think he's the best candidate to win in November," Scott said.

But why not talk about him from stage?

"I used the microphone to brag about Florida," Scott said.

Gwen Graham may run for Florida governor in 2018


U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, announced in a press release and video this morning that she might run for Florida governor in 2018.

"I'm excited to tell you first I am seriously considering running for governor in 2018," she said.

Graham, who said she won't seek re-election to her Congressional seat, would have faced a tough re-election after redistricting made her northern Florida district less favorable for Democrats. Republican Gov. Rick Scott is term limited so he can't run for re-election.

Graham won her seat in Congress in 2014. She has name recognition beyond northern Florida because she is the daughter of former governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn also seems to be feeling out a Democratic race. Other potential names mentioned include Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and State Sen. Jeremy Ring who represents western Broward.

On the Republican side, it has been speculated that Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will run -- his political action committee raised more than $4 million in one year. There has also been considerable chatter that U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio will run even though he denied that a couple days after he lost the Florida presidential primary.

Graham's challenge in a statewide Democratic primary will be explaining some right-leaning votes she took in her conservative district including in favor of the Keystone pipeline.

Since her district was reconfigured by a court order, Graham has been rumored to be preparing to drop out of Congress and launch a campaign for governor in 2018. When U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown announced she would stay in the seat, Graham's options narrowed. This is considered more than a trial balloon but a warning shot to funders and potential foes. 

From her press release:

The politicians, lobbyists and courts in Tallahassee have been working to redraw and divide the North Florida district I represent -- they’ve turned what was an example of a fair district, into two partisan districts.

This is a perfect example of how dysfunctional our state government has become, and it’s caused me to rethink how I can best serve the people of North Florida and our state.

I’m excited to tell you, first, I’m seriously considering running for governor in 2018.

Public servants must focus on the job they’re elected to do, so I will spend the remainder of my term fully representing you in Congress, but I will not seek re-election while considering this next step of service.

Working together, I know we can bring common sense back to Tallahassee and make our state work for the people, again.

Thank you for all the support you’ve given me in the past. I will continue looking to you for advice, support and inspiration as we build a stronger future for Florida.

Photo credit Associated Press

April 18, 2016

Florida Gov. Rick Scott calls for delegates to rally around Donald Trump

As controversy continues about Florida GOP leaders choosing delegates to the convention, Gov. Rick Scott avoided a question about delegate selection but still showed support for Donald Trump while in Broward Monday.

When asked if the Republican Party of Florida should mostly appoint Trump supporters since he won the Florida primary, Scott said: “you'd have to go talk to RPOF.”

When asked if Trump should be the nominee if he enters the convention with the most votes and delegates but doesn’t have a majority, Scott said: “Donald Trump will either have a majority of delegates or he will be very close. If we want to win in November we don’t want four more years of Barack Obama’s policies that are injuring our families. If Trump is in that position we need to rally around him.”

Scott didn’t directly answer a question about whether Congress should pass $1.9 billion to fight Zika as requested by Obama. Instead, he recapped the state’s efforts to deal with Zika including the requests to get additional test kits from the Centers for Disease Control. When asked about the funding a second time, he said:

“I don’t know exactly what the right number should be but I think we have to take this seriously.”

Scott wouldn’t answer a question about who he will support for state insurance commissioner at next week’s Cabinet meeting.

Scott answered political questions briefly Monday after holding a ceremonial bill signing at the David Posnack Jewish Community for a Holocaust memorial to be constructed in Tallahassee.

Gov. Rick Scott holds event in honor of Holocaust memorial bill

Gov. Rick Scott held an event in Broward today that included a ceremonial bill signing related to building a Holocaust memorial in Tallahassee.

“The Holocaust is a stark reminder that evil exists in the world,” Scott said at the David Posnack Jewish Community Center in Davie.

There were several Democratic politicians and activists at the ceremony which is unusual for an event with the Republican governor, but this bill had wide bipartisan support: passed the Florida Senate unanimously and all but one House member voted for it.

Bill sponsors included State Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, who spoke at the JCC. Several additional Democratic legislators spoke including State Representatives Katie Edwards and Jared Moskowitz of Broward and State Sen. Maria Sachs of Palm Beach County.

Scott also gave the governor’s freedom award to Norman Frajman, a local Holocaust survivor who as a teenager survived four concentration and forced-labor camps. Frajman’s parents and younger sister died in the Holocaust and he now speaks to school groups and colleges about his experience.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera spoke about his recent visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Israel. He quoted Elie Wiesel, an author who wrote the book Night about his experience in a concentration camp: “Never shall I forget that night, that first night in the camp.”

Governor names lawyer Linda Robison to hospital district vacancy

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday appointed Linda Robison, a Pompano Beach mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer in the health care industry, to a vacancy on the board of the North Broward Hospital District. Robison, 67, replaces David Di Pietro, who resigned his seat last week after a judge had struck down Scott's suspension of him and ordered him reinstated.

Robison, 67, is a partner in the firm of Shutts & Bowen.The firm's web site says she "has significant experience representing healthcare providers, including hospitals." She served for the past several years as a Scott appointee to the Florida Commission on Ethics, where she also served as chairman.

The North Broward Hospital District, with a budget of $1.5 billion and 8,000 employees, collects property taxes from more than half of the homeowners and businesses in Broward County to operate a network of public hospitals. The district has been mired in controversy for month, and Scott's chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, is conducting a review of the district's spending.

"I am sure that Linda will be a good steward of taxpayer dollars, which the board is entrusted to protect," Scott said in a statement. "I am confident she will faithfully serve Floridians with honor and dignity.”

April 15, 2016

Scott signs bill ending Dade Medical College loophole


Gov. Rick Scott has signed a law ending a legal loophole that benefited Dade Medical College. The now-shuttered for-profit college used the loophole to offer expensive degrees with few job prospects.

The degrees were in the field of physical therapy assistant, and Dade Medical’s $40,050 PTA associate’s degree program was unaccredited. That meant that graduates of the school, under federal regulations, couldn’t work with Medicare patients. Several large hospitals made it clear they would never hire these students.

Tad Fisher, CEO of the Florida Physical Therapy Association, said students were “taken advantage of” by the unaccredited PTA programs, and he credited the Miami Herald with exposing the damage caused by the loophole. Fisher’s association had repeatedly asked lawmakers to close the loophole, and this year the Legislature finally did so, adding the provision to a wide-ranging Department of Health bill that passed the House and Senate easily.

It was a lawmaker with close ties to Dade Medical — Miami state Rep. Carlos Trujillo — who engineered the loophole in 2013.

Read more here

April 14, 2016

Gov. Scott signs 'school choice' education bill, 19 others into law; vetoes dental incentive



Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed into law on Thursday a massive education bill that will let public school students, starting in 2017-18, attend any school in the state that has space available.

Starting next school year, the measure also will let high school athletes have immediate eligibility when transferring schools, and it will subject charter schools to more accountability and a new formula for receiving capital dollars.

Scott also signed 19 other bills, including the session's main transportation package and new laws affecting health care policy and Citizens Property Insurance Committee.

He also issued his second veto of the session, disapproving of HB 139 -- which would have provided incentives for dentists who practice in underserved areas or who treated underserved people. Scott said it did not place "appropriate safeguards on taxpayer investments" and it "is duplicative of existing programs."

Scott has just three bills remaining to act on of the 272 that lawmakers passed during the 2016 session. Two require his action by Saturday and the final one -- a controversial bill reforming alimony and child custody arrangements -- is due for action by Tuesday.

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