Andy Gardiner Archives - Page 5 of 22 - SaintPetersBlog

Rick Scott calls session ‘successful’ – but still hasn’t got what he wants

Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday suggested, with as much subtext as he could muster, that lawmakers need to come around on his two main budget goals for 2016-17: $1 billion in tax cuts and $25o million for business incentives.

After all, legislative leadership passed their priority bills early on, which Scott happily signed.

The message was clear: You got yours, I want mine.

“We’ve had a very good Session. It’s all going to be successful,” Scott told reporters after a bill signing in his office.

“We started with the water bill that the Speaker of the House wanted, we started with the Gardiner Scholarship bill for those with unique abilities (named after Senate President Andy Gardiner), those have already been signed,” he said.

“Everyone knows my priorities,” Scott added. “All of them are tied to getting more jobs in our state. The tax cut is important … along with the $250 million for (the Florida Enterprise Fund).

“I believe we’re going to have a good end to Session. And there’s plenty of money in the budget.”

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, in separate comments to reporters, basically said Scott was overspending and asking for too much.

“I’ve said it, the President has said it, even the governor has said it: There has to be compromise on all sides,” he said. “That’s the only way to bring those numbers within a threshold we can obtain.”

As of Wednesday night, House budget chief Richard Corcoran and Senate budget chair Tom Lee had not announced agreement on allocations, the silos of money for each major part of the state budget.

“We know the governor is very focused on his message,” Crisafulli said. “He’s fighting for as much as he can get, but there’s a reality in all this … Nobody gets everything they want.”

Added Gardiner: “It’s give and take … everybody’s going to have give and take if we want to go home on time.”

The session ends March 11, but the budget has to be done before then because of a 72-hour “cooling off” period mandated by law, giving lawmakers and the public time to inspect the details.

“He’s going to have vetoes; he’s probably going to have a lot of vetoes,” Gardiner said of Scott after a Wednesday Senate floor session. “If we all sat out and had a big group hug, he’d still have a lot of vetoes … I’m trying to put together what I think is a responsible budget.”

No more ’70s paneling: Florida Senate readies for a refresh

Say goodbye to all those yards of fake-wood laminate: The Florida Senate will be shedding the 1970s look of its chamber with a nearly $5 million renovation this year.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, in a Jan. 6 memo to fellow senators, said the remodeling will begin this summer. A copy of the memo was provided to FloridaPolitics.com on Monday.

“In my view, we are guests in this building and we have an important responsibility to adequately preserve and maintain areas of the Capitol complex designated for use by the Senate and often utilized by students and other civic groups when the Senate is not in Session,” the Orlando Republican said.

The last redo of the House chamber occurred in 1999 under then-Speaker John Thrasher, now Florida State University president. He spent nearly $7 million to renovate the chamber, the speaker’s office and the House Office Building.

But Gardiner and the rest of the Senate no doubt will tread carefully with their refurb, with the 2010 “Taj Mahal” courthouse controversy still sticking in many memories.

Now-retired Tampa Bay Times reporter Lucy Morgan broke the story of the 1st District Court of Appeal’s new courthouse in Tallahassee that cost $48 million and became the poster building for pre-Great Recession excess.

In one story, it was described as “a monument to profligate spending, with no taxpayer dollar spared, a courthouse outfitted with 20 miles of African mahogany, etched glass and, for each judge, a private kitchen and bathroom.”

After Morgan started reporting, the plans changed, such as removing the individual kitchens for a central one. Other stories noted an abundance of granite countertops and large, flat-screen television screens throughout.

As Gardiner’s memo makes clear, this isn’t that kind of upgrade.

“As many Senators and visitors have mentioned to me over the last few years, our Senate Chamber has received only minimal updates since its original construction in the 1970s,” he said.

“Over the last four decades, the carpet has been replaced, the Senators’ chairs along with the gallery seating were replaced, and Senators’ desks were modified to accommodate changes in technology,” Gardiner added. “Currently, our carpet is again in serious need of replacement and the HVAC units are outdated.”

In 2003, then-Senate President Jim King proposed remodeling the Senate chamber and the Senate Office Building, south of the Capitol tower. To control costs, the chamber upgrade was put on hold.

Now, three contracts are posted on the Senate website: Allstate Construction of Tallahassee will do the building, and Hick Nation Architects will do the design. Still another firm – Spitz Inc. of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania – will design and build a new ceiling dome modeled after one in the Old Capitol.

The cost estimate for a “scope of work” summary comes in at about $4.9 million, and includes $782,000 for the new dome and surrounding ceiling.

The final look of the new and improved chamber is still a work in progress, according to Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta.

Betta sent an artist’s conception of the new chamber with the following proviso: “Please bear in mind that this is a graphic rendering only and does not reflect final decisions on some key design elements.”

The mock-up shows the proposed new ceiling dome and other design elements similar to the exterior of the Old Capitol, including a pediment on top of columns over the president’s rostrum and the words, “In God We Trust.”

Senate President pro tem Garrett Richter, a Naples Republican, is leading a “Chamber Renovation Working Group” that includes GOP Sens. Lizbeth Benacquisto, Tom Lee and Kelli Stargel with Democrats Oscar Braynon II and Bill Montford.

They will recommend “specific decisions regarding aesthetic and historical elements of the renovation,” Gardiner said.

Work begins after adjournment sine die of the 2016 Legislative Session, “and construction is scheduled to conclude prior to the 2016 Organization Session this fall,” he added.

Andy Gardiner questions impact of changed Seminole Compact, gambling bill

Senate President Andy Gardiner says he’s still unclear whether changes made this week to the proposed gambling deal between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida would violate an existing deal between the two.

“We probably have to get some revenue estimating numbers to find out,” he told reporters after Thursday’s floor session. “There are some that will believe it affects the existing compact, and if it passes, the existing compact will go away.”

The tribe already has paid Florida more than $1 billion since 2010 for exclusive rights to offer blackjack. Those rights expired last year, requiring a new deal.

The new deal guarantees $3 billion over seven years for continued exclusivity to offer blackjack. The tribe now has blackjack at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa and six other casinos.

Tribal spokesman Gary Bitner has said card games generate just under 20 percent of the tribe’s total gambling revenue, which is up to $1 billion yearly just at the Tampa location.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee, which oversees gambling in Florida, approved both measures (SB 7072, SB 7074) on Wednesday with changes. The full Legislature and U.S. Department of Interior still must sign off on the agreement.

Changes made this week include expanding slot machines beyond South Florida to pari-mutuel facilities, lowering the effective tax rate on the machines, and clarifying that fantasy sports play is a game of skill and not gambling.

Expanding the availability of slot machines likely will violate another portion of the existing agreement, which in some instances means the Seminoles can reduce or stop sharing gambling revenue altogether. That affects revenue available for the upcoming state budget.

“All the changes … make that bill a pretty heavy lift,” Gardiner added, saying he’d figure out what to do with the compact and related gambling legislation “in the next couple of days.”

“But it makes no sense to me to move it till we know what the fiscal impact is,” he said.


Jim Rosica (jim@floridapolitics.com) covers the Florida Legislature, state agencies and courts from Tallahassee. 

Legislature wants to be dropped from federal redistricting lawsuit

The Republican-led Florida Legislature is asking a federal judge to dismiss the House and Senate from an ongoing lawsuit challenging the state’s congressional map.

Lawyers for the House and Senate filed the request Tuesday. The state Supreme Court last month approved a new map for Florida’s 27 congressional districts that will result in changes to the state’s political landscape.

A spokeswoman for Senate President Andy Gardiner said he does not see a reason for the Legislature to defend the court ruling.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown has filed a lawsuit that contends her new district violates federal voting laws and diminishes the voting clout of minorities. The new map shifts the district of the Jacksonville Democrat from one that runs north-south to one that stretches westward to Tallahassee.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner has asked that the lawsuit be dismissed.

Senate committee passes 2 key bills expanding health care access

Bills that would iron out rules for direct primary care contracts and encourage healthcare companies to give free health care to low-income Floridians passed the Senate Committee on Health Policy Monday.

SB 1144, sponsored by Niceville Republican Sen. Don Gaetz, would allow new medical facilities to bypass a lengthy review process known as “certificate of need” if they commit to giving free health care to low-income patients.

“This regulatory framework promotes access to care, while protecting safety net providers from unfair competition,” said Senate President Andy Gardiner. “Senator Gaetz’s legislation eliminates this burdensome process as long as facilities provide or fund a threshold level of charity care to low-income, uninsured residents.”

Under the bill, companies would need to give 1.5 percent of a new facility’s first-year profits to the Agency for Health Care Administration, and would have to match the area average for free health care from the facility’s second year and onward.

The committee also voted for a bill by Sebring Republican Sen. Denise Grimsley, SB 132, that clears up rules surrounding “direct primary care” – an arrangement where patients or their employers pay physicians a monthly fee for regular checkups and necessary care, rather than involving an insurance company.

“We know how important basic primary care is to our overall health, and we want to make sure more people can afford to purchase these services from a doctor they know and trust, rather than in a hospital emergency room when they are at their sickest and most vulnerable,” Gardiner said.

The bill would require direct primary care agreements to be in writing, specify what services are included in the contract and make clear that it is not a replacement for health insurance, among other provisions.

SB 132 is similar to HB 37, sponsored by Port Orange Republican Rep. Fred Costello. That bill made it through its last committee stop on Jan. 27 and is ready for a floor vote in the House.

Grimsley’s bill now moves to the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, chaired by Fort Myers Republican Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, while SB 1144 is heading to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, led by Hialeah Republican Sen. Rene Garcia.

Senate budget eliminates direct funding for youth mentoring

State Sen. Joe Negron, a former budget panel chief, told his colleagues last month in an acceptance speech for his upcoming Senate presidency that the state must do more for its troubled children and teens.

“We should not and we will not tolerate serious wrongdoing by young people but, at the same time, let’s not criminalize adolescence,” he said, according to the Senate Journal’s version.

Most experts agree that after-school mentoring programs, such as those offered by Big Brothers Big Sisters, are effective at helping kids, especially those at risk, to succeed in school and develop social skills.

But the Florida Senate, in its proposed $80.9 billion budget for next year, seemingly has gone to a “dog-eat-dog” approach, telling the state’s mentoring programs that to get funding, they’ll have to fight for it among themselves.

The Senate budget, released Friday afternoon, essentially zeros out funding for individual providers and instead creates a $30 million “competitive grants” program where organizations will have to apply.

Under the Senate plan, money will be awarded by a committee of members appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Andy Gardiner, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, and could include Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and other top officials.

State Sen. Don Gaetz, the Niceville Republican who chairs the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, was unavailable for an interview, his assistant said.

Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta provided a statement from Gaetz: “The grant process is designed so worthy groups can be funded on the basis of their value to children and their results. Our committee is recommending more money in this fund than the total funded for these purposes in the past. (It is) a fairer process based on evaluation of results, not dependent on lobbyists, and (provides) more money for these worthy causes.”

In a Tuesday hearing, Gaetz warned the nonprofits that before they issue calls to “go to the Capitol and burn the place down,” they should realize their funding won’t be “on a line-item basis (but) they’re not being cut.”

When state Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Margate Democrat, questioned the overall education spending plan, Gaetz told him, “The concrete is poured, and it’s hardening … Everything is a zero-sum game.”

Representatives of the state’s nonprofit children organizations say they’re flabbergasted — and feeling betrayed.

“We’ve been getting funding from the Legislature for 19 years,” said Daniel Lyons, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs. “We did everything we were asked to do, so this came out of nowhere.”

The Boys and Girls Clubs mentor about 6,000 children in over 200 facilities throughout the state.

Lyons said converting funding into grants for which each group will have to apply means organizations like his won’t get paid, if at all, until well after the start of the fiscal year on July 1.

“Talk about being bowled over and slapped in the face,” he said.

Jody Clifford, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Florida, said she didn’t immediately know how many youths are in her mentoring programs “but it’s a huge number.”

Having to compete and wait for funding “could have a huge negative impact on the already low-performing children we help,” she said. “We’re absolutely stunned.”

On the other hand, the House proposed budget, also released Friday, keeps a method of direct funding to specific groups with a $14.8 million pot of money.

From it, $2.2 million is slated for Big Brothers Big Sisters, $3 million goes to the Florida Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs, and $6.2 million is for Take Stock in Children, a nonprofit led by Jillian Hasner, wife of former state Rep. Adam Hasner, the House Republican Leader in 2008-10.

Money for mentoring has been decreasing in recent years’ state budgets, going from $30.5 million in fiscal year 2014-15 to $18.4 million for 2015-16.


Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify that Senator Gaetz’s “concrete” quote was in response to a question from Senator Ring. It also includes an updated comment on the Senate spending plan from Gaetz.

Rick Scott makes pitch for hospital transparency proposal at American Enterprise Institute

Florida Gov. Rick Scott made a pitch for his hospital transparency legislation, this time laying out his plan to a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.

Scott, a former hospital executive, spoke at the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday. The Naples Republican used his appearance as a chance to outline a proposal that, he contends, would make hospital pricing more transparent.

“There’s no reason, in my opinion, that we should not know what things cost,” he said. “What I pushed for this year is that all hospitals should post all of their prices on their website. On top of that, if you go in for something, like to the emergency room, (hospitals) shouldn’t be able to charge you more than a certain percentage over their average price.”

Scott said hospitals need to tell patients “how much money they make, what their executive compensation is,” so they can make informed decisions.

In May, Scott created the Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding to look at ways government spending on health care can be more efficient. Scott and the board heard from Floridians who reported price gouging, and Scott said his proposal would attempt to put a stop to that.

“It’s wrong that our hospital industry doesn’t tell us what things cost,” he said. “It’s not fair to patients.”

Scott’s speech came as the state Senate health and human services appropriations subcommittee passed legislation aimed increasing transparency and availability of pricing and quality of service information.

The Senate proposal requires the Agency for Health Care Administration to work with vendors to create a database that consumers can research the cost of health care services. It also provides for penalties for “unconscionable prices.”

“Patients in need of medical treatment deserve to know how much they should reasonably expect to pay for particular services,” said Senate President Andy Gardiner in a statement. “This bill will make that information more readily available and also includes penalties for those entities who would charge unconscionable prices to Floridians in need of medical attention.”

Scott, however, told the crowd at the American Enterprise Institute that House and Senate proposals don’t go far enough, and there need to be penalties to ensure the law is enforced.

“Everyone should know what everything costs,” said Scott. “The information should be posted online, and you’ve got to have penalties. I think it’s important.”

Brian Pitts suing Rick Scott, lawmakers over “invalid” state budget

Perennial gadfly and Capitol fixture Brian Pitts is suing Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature for “preliminary and perpetual relief” from what he calls an “invalid” state budget for this year.

Pitts, a trustee of his St. Petersburg-based Justice-2-Jesus church group, filed a 30-page complaint in Leon Circuit Civil Court last week, according to court records. The suit also names House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Senate President Andy Gardiner, and Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

He’s well known to observers of The Process, often speaking at committee hearings where he hectors lawmakers for what he considers flawed legislation. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.

In the sometimes rambling document, mystifyingly laid out in landscape format, Pitts said the 2015-16 state budget, passed in a Special Session last year, is both “unlawful and unconstitutional.”

Pitts laid out a laundry list of offenses bolstering his argument, including a lack of itemizations and improperly defined line-items, though Pitts acknowledges “there are just too many (deficiencies) to number.”

Surprisingly for a plaintiff in a court action, Pitts seemingly apologizes for having to file suit.

“Plaintiff, truly, has learned to love … each unique and highly esteemed member of the Florida Legislature, but they cannot continue in their pattern of unbridle(d) discretion or abuse,” he wrote. “To be honest, in all sincerity, plaintiff never thought he would ever be filing such a massive relief application” but his “conscience will not allow ignoring this any longer.”

The case was assigned to Circuit Judge George Reynolds III, who recently presided over the state Senate redistricting challenge, finding for the League of Women Voters and other plaintiffs, resulting in a redrawn district map.

Pitts also filed to pursue his action under indigent status, asking to be relieved of usual court costs. He seeks unspecified damages, costs and attorney fees; he filed the case “pro se,” meaning he is acting as his own attorney.

In 2003, Pitts spent nearly four months in the Pinellas County jail on a charge of practicing law without a license, which he said was a wrongful arrest. Claim bills have been subsequently filed in Tallahassee seeking to reimburse Pitts up to $350,000, records show.

Florida GOP, Blaise Ingoglia get truce offer from Rick Scott one year after split

The Republican Party of Florida kicked off the 2016 election year with offers of truces from Gov. Rick Scott and incoming Florida Senate leaders though the party still will have less of the state’s Republican campaign money and political messaging under its control.

With unity being a critical theme in a presidential election year commonly carried by Democrats, an emissary for Scott and incoming Senate President Joe Negron both pledged just that Saturday at the party’s annual meeting in Orlando. The pledges come a year after a Scott and current Senate President Andy Gardiner effectively split with Florida GOP leadership, took back money they had contributed to the party, and set out to run fundraising, Republican campaigns and agenda messaging more independently of the party.

The rift occurred after state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill got elected the new chairman of the RPOF in what had essentially been a grassroots coup last January, ousting Scott’s hand-picked party chief, Leslie Dougher. Ingoglia, calling for a party refocus on grassroots, then cleaned house of much of the RPOF staff under Dougher, infuriating Gardiner.

But now, about 10 months from the general election, everyone is insisting they want to be on the same page.

The money that Scott and Gardiner removed from RPOF coffers is not likely to come back; and Scott, the  Senate Republicans and others will continue to run their independent political committees to promote Republican campaigns and political agendas. But Saturday everyone vowed to be on the same page, and even help the RPOF with its fundraising.

“Governor Scott’s agenda is the party’s agenda, and the party’s agenda is the governor’s agenda,” Scott Hopes, a medical services executive who is a Scott designee to the party, told the RPOF general meeting.

And he offered more, an end to outright competition for Republican contributions. In the past year, Scott’s fundraising efforts have focused on his own Let’s Get To Work committee rather than the party.

“We are calling on all Republicans across the state to unify for the cause, including raising money for the party,” Hopes said. “Mr. Chairman, we look forward to helping you raise money for the party.”

Ingoglia accepted.

“We love the governor,” he told the meeting. “The governor is the head of the party, and, like Scott [Hopes] said, the governor’s agenda is our agenda, and our agenda is the governor’s agenda.”

Ingoglia insisted in his report to the party that it “has never been in a better position than we are in right now.”

But it has been a challenging year as the splits of the governor and Senate president accelerated what might have been an inevitable shift anyway, how the party itself can raise money and direct the Republican campaigning and messaging. Nationwide super PACs and other committees have been rising to compete with national and local parties for money and control of candidates’ campaigns and political messages.

Ingoglia insisted later that the party and the governor’s staff have never fallen out of communication. But he added, “Any involvement the governor has with the party, we welcome.”

Legal battle over state Senate districts coming to an end

A contentious battle over Florida state senate districts is coming to an end.

The Florida Senate is not going to appeal a redistricting ruling handed down in December. Circuit Judge George Reynolds in that decision signed off on a map drawn by a coalition of voting rights groups.

That decision means that Republicans could lose control of the state Senate. That’s because the map chosen by Reynolds is split nearly evenly between GOP and Democratic-leaning districts and will likely create four South Florida seats that could be won by Hispanic candidates.

Senate President Andy Gardiner decided to accept the ruling after discussing the ruling with attorneys and Sen. Bill Galvano. Galvano said he concluded that it would not be “prudent” to pursue an appeal.

Voting rights groups in 2012 sued over the existing Senate districts.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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