June 22, 2015

Two Florida agencies, two approaches to climate change

From the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting:

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a steering committee to address climate change. The commission maintains computer modeling programs that show how climate change will affect water and land crucial to wildlife. It holds regular seminars to educate staff on the latest climate science.

On its website, the commission has a “Climate Change 101” page that addresses key challenges the state faces.

Eight miles from the state commission’s Tallahassee headquarters, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which bills itself as the state’s “lead agency for environmental management and stewardship,” states that it is only monitoring sea-level rise. That is its sole effort to address climate change.

As Florida Center for Investigative Reporting first reported, the emphasis on “climate change” within the DEP has declined over the past five years during Gov. Rick Scott’s tenure in office. For instance, a Web page titled “Climate Change and Coral Reefs” hasn’t been updated since Nov. 18, 2011 — the year Scott took office. That was also the year a DEP spokesperson told the Tampa Bay Times that “DEP is not pursuing any programs or projects regarding climate change.”

One likely explanation for the different priorities at the two agencies is that FWC, created by voters in 1999 as an independent commission and run by an autonomous board, does not answer to the governor. The DEP, on the other hand, does report to the governor’s office.

More here.

June 21, 2015

Scott tours state on Monday to tout tax cuts


Florida Gov. Rick Scott is wasting no time celebrating more than $400 million in tax cuts the Florida Legislature gave him last week.

The Republican governor is planning a whirlwind tour of Florida on Monday, hitting seven cities in about 12 hours to hold press conferences to celebrate the tax cut package. It starts in Fort Myers at 8:30 a.m., and hits Miami, Greenacres, St. Petersburg, Winter Garden, Jacksonville and finally Pensacola.

Scott’s Miami event is set for 10:30 a.m. at Sergio’s Restaurant, 1640 NW 87th Ave..

The centerpiece of the tax cut plan is a reduction in the state’s communications tax charged on most cellular phone and cable television services. The 6.65 percent rate will drop to 4.92 percent, saving a consumer $20 a year on a $100 a month bill. While Scott is celebrating the cut, it’s about half of what he had sought from the Legislature in January, when he proposed a $40 a month cut.

Continue reading "Scott tours state on Monday to tout tax cuts" »

June 19, 2015

Disney donated to Gov. Rick Scott's PAC on GOP summit day

via @JeremySWallace

Florida Gov. Rick Scott's presidential candidates summit earlier this month in Orlando happened in large part thanks to Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts.

New campaign finance records show Disney donated nearly a quarter million to Scott's Let's Get to Work political fundraising committee on June 2, the same day the Republican governor held an Economic Growth Summit held at a Disney hotel that drew some of the top GOP candidates for 2016.

Let's Get to Work reported collecting $252,503.34 from the Walt Disney World Parks & Resorts. It's the single largest donation to Scott's political committee this year from a donor, not counting the Republican Party of Florida, which transferred $500,000 to the governor in January.

On its website, Let's Get to Work said the money was for "travel, food and beverages."

Seven Republican presidential hopefuls spoke at Scott's Economic Growth Summit, where he touted the state's improving economy since he took office in 2011.

--JEREMY S. WALLACE, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

June 17, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott won't drop lawsuit against feds until decision made on LIP


A federal court hearing that could have featured testimony from Florida Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Health and Human Services Sec. Sylvia Burwell was canceled today after Gov. Scott withdrew his request that the judge in the case compel the government to continue a hospital payment program set to expire on June 30.

Judge M. Casey Rodgers issued the order today canceling the hearing previously set for Friday, and she ordered the federal government to file a response by July 8 to Gov. Scott's legal complaint that the Obama administration was attempting to coerce Florida to adopt Medicaid expansion by withholding a decision on the hospital payment program known as Low Income Pool.

In a legal brief filed Wednesday, Gov. Scott stated that the Florida Legislature's budget agreement assumes LIP funding will continue and that the proposal sets aside sufficient funds to pay state hospitals that care for large numbers of uninsured and under-insured  patients on Medicaid.

"The budget agreement thus mitigates the threat of imminent harm to the State, its healthcare providers, and their patients,'' the legal brief states.

Continue reading "Gov. Rick Scott won't drop lawsuit against feds until decision made on LIP" »

June 11, 2015

Family of Tampa officer killed by county official to receive $1.5 million payout

The family of Victor Guerrero, a Tampa police officer killed May 1, 2008, by a Pasco County employee, will receive $1.5 million in payouts after Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill authorizing the payout Thursday.

Guerrero’s wife, Lara, sued Pasco County after an employee struck her husband’s motorcycle in 2008. He was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital and pronounced dead on arrival.

“He was my heart, my best friend. He was my everything,” Lara Guerrero said in 2012 after a jury awarded her $7 million in compensation. “And he was taken away.”

On March 6, the county and Lara Guerrero reached a $1.5 million settlement. Large lawsuit payouts from cities, counties and the state must be approved by the Legislature and the governor.

Times files contributed to this report.

Gov. Scott signs into law bill allowing gay parents to adopt

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday evening signed intot law a bill that aims to increase adoptions but became embroiled in the debate over gay rights after a provision was added to allow adoptions by gay parents.

The new law will create incentives for state workers to adopt children, and it rewards Community-Based Care agencies in the state for achieving performance goals in adoption and foster care.

But it also repeals from statute a ban on gay people adopting children.

That change is largely symbolic. The ban hasn't been enforced since 2010, when the Third District Court of Appeal ruled it unconstiutional.

Still, it became an early flashpiont in the legislative session as conservative members of the House tried to add a "conscience clause" that would allow adoption agencies connected with religious groups to reject gay parents.

Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, carried the bill and said that in other states, reigious organizations have faced a difficult choice: Serve gay parents despite their religious convictions, or shut down altogether.

"We've seen that in other states, these agencies are being shut down," Brodeur said, debating on the floor of the House in April. "I don't believe that the state should be able to discriminate against these organizations based on their religious beliefs."

Some in the Legislature -- largely Democrats -- said that change would amount to discrimination.

In a letter accompanying the bill signed by Scott, the governor wrote that "signing this bill codifies the state’s current practice into law and does not harm those fundamental rights." However, he said, there is merit to a religious protection, as well.

"It is my hope and expectation that the Legislature will take future action to make clear that we will support private, faith-based operators in the child welfare system and ensure that their religious convictions continue to be protected," he wrote. "Florida’s laws must protect the free exercise of religious liberty and faith while protecting Floridians from illegal discrimination."

June 10, 2015

Gov. Scott signs 24-hour abortion waiting period, 54 other new laws

Florida women will now have to see a doctor and then wait another 24 hours before they can have an abortion under a bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday.

The measure, which goes into effect July 1, is one of the most emotionally charged issues tackled by the Legislature this spring. It has drawn passionate defenses from pro-life supporters and the ire of pro-choice activists.

Scott signed the bill, as well as 54 others late Wednesday:

Continue reading "Gov. Scott signs 24-hour abortion waiting period, 54 other new laws" »

Judge denies Gov. Scott's request for mediation over LIP program


A federal judge on Wednesday denied a request from Gov. Rick Scott that the court intervene in the state’s ongoing negotiations with healthcare regulators over the extension and revamping of a $1 billion government program that pays hospitals for caring for uninsured and under-insured patients.

In denying Gov. Scott’s request, Chief Judge for the U.S. District Court in Pensacola M. Casey Rodgers cited a June 19 hearing in the state's lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that will require “extensive preparation on the part of all parties.’’

If the court were to compel mediation in the federal-state negotiations over the hospital payment program known as the Low Income Pool or LIP, then such an order “would be unduly burdensome, expensive, and not likely to advance the process any faster than the expected proceeding currently scheduled,’’ Rodgers wrote.

Gov. Scott issued a written statement following the judge's order, lamenting what he has repeatedly alleged are coercive tactics by the federal government to pressure Florida to adopt Medicaid expansion. 

Continue reading "Judge denies Gov. Scott's request for mediation over LIP program" »

Elections conference could put Gov. Rick Scott's chief in hot seat

via @stevebousquet

Gov. Rick Scott's chief elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, could get an unfriendly welcome Wednesday when he appears before the annual mid-year conference of state election supervisors in Kissimmee.

Tensions are still high between Detzner and the supervisors after he spent the regular legislative session unsuccessfully trying to defeat their top priority: creation of an online system for voters to register and update their voting information by 2017. 

The Herald/Times first noted Detzner's invitation to the conference last month. To complicate matters for Detzner, the new president of the supervisors' group is one of his toughest critics, Pasco Supervisor Brian Corley, the outspoken son of a former New York City police officer and a tenacious advocate of making it easier to vote in Florida. 

Detzner has been working to repair the damage from the regular session, in which senators were so dissatisfied with him they refused to confirm him, forcing Scott to reappoint him.

On Sunday, after a budget conference committee, he was seen engaged in an animated conversation with Sens. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, who was the sponsor of the online voter registration bill that Scott recently signed into law. Clemens declined to discuss their conversation, but he said during the session that he was offended that Detzner didn't tell him to his face that he was trying to kill his legislation.

Clemens is vice-chairman of the budget conference committee with jurisdiction over the Department of State's budget, and the chairman is Latvala, who also had harsh words for Detzner during the spring session. Asked what the discussion was about, Latvala said: "I just want everybody to love everybody."

Detzner must report to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2016, on the progress his agency is making to begin implementation of the online registration system.

--STEVE BOUSQUET, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

June 08, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott defends time away from budget battle

In Tampa on Monday morning, Gov. Rick Scott defended spending time away from the Capitol during the special session and said he still intends to go to Paris for the air show later this week.

"I'll be going to the air show. I'll go Friday night and come back Monday. So I'll shorten my trip. But it's an important trip. We have the second-most number of aviation and aerospace establishments in the country. I'll have an opportunity to meet with a lot of the companies over there. A lot of them have added jobs and some of them we're still talking to them about adding jobs. So it's a good place where I can meet with all of those companies at one time and continue to build the relationship and answer any questions they may have to get more jobs. We're going to continue to work with the House and Senate to get a good budget for everybody."

Asked in general terms about spending time away, he echoed his theme about how Florida is adding jobs.

Then he said: "We're working with the House and Senate during the special session. They know my priorities. I've been very clear about our priorities. I've always let them know they can just pass my budget that I gave them back in January."

After the event, Scott staffer Jeri Bustamente called to say that she wanted to make it clear that the governor is watching what is happening in Tallahassee.

"We're continuing to monitor the process," she said.

UPDATE: A Scott spokeswoman said Monday afternoon whether or not the governor will travel to Paris will be a "game time decision" depending on what is happening in Tallahassee. Budget talks between the Senate and House broke off abruptly Monday following a dispute over spending for Scott's job incentives program.

-- JEFF HARRINGTON, Tampa Bay Times