Gov. Rick Scott Archives - SaintPetersBlog

Rick Scott demands full funding for tourism, development

Rick Scott did not look like he was negotiating.

The governor fired a shot over the bow of the Legislature, all but demanding full funding in the state budget for his 2017-18 priorirites: $200 million to begin fixing the dike at Lake Okeechobee, $100 million for VISIT FLORIDA, and salvaging Enterprise Florida from House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s wrecking ball.

“All three of those project impact jobs,” he said. “And whatever happens after this session—I’ll have 610 days to go—I’ll spend every day trying to get more jobs in this state.”

Scott met briefly with reporters Thursday after a series of meetings with state senators, including Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala.

But when asked specifically what he’ll do if he vetoes the budget and lawmakers override the veto, Scott basically said he’ll try again next year.

“I’ll do exactly what I said I’ll do,” he said. “I’ve been completely open on what I ran on. And people agree with me. They care about jobs, they care about education, they care about being safe. And that’s what I work on every day.”

The governor spoke after legislative leadership announced agreement on budget allocations, the large pots of money that go toward funding major areas, such as education and health.

While the Senate largely has sided with Scott, Corcoran for months has lobbed linguistic grenades at the governor, including calling his favored business incentives programs, including the Quick Action Closing fund, “corporate welfare.”

Scott has endorsed a key element of Senate President Joe Negron’s Lake Okeechobee rehabilitation plan: Storing and treating water south of the lake. He has called upon the House and Senate to invest $200 million in repairs to the Herbert Hoover dike.

The state can afford the repairs because the $1.5 billion the Trump administration has provided to reimburse hospitals for charity care has freed up money for elsewhere.

“This is a golden opportunity to get this done,” Scott said Thursday. “It’s an environmental issue and a jobs issue.”

He continued to advocate for VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency, saying he “could not believe legislators don’t understand the value of continuing to market this state.” Fewer tourists mean fewer jobs in the tourist industry, he explained. “I am shocked at anyone who thinks we should cut one dollar from VISIT FLORIDA.”

But Corcoran nearly sued the agency after it refused to disclose a promotional contract it inked with South Florida rapper Pitbull. The artist himself made the case moot by publishing a copy of the contract via Twitter, revealing he was promised a maximum of $1 million.

The speaker also has lambasted a promotional deal with superstar chef/restaurateur Emeril Lagasse for nearly $12 million.

Scott also said the state was losing deals for companies to move to Florida because he didn’t have money in the Quick Action Closing fund, a pot of cash Scott can use with the least input from lawmakers.

“We are still competing with 49 other states,” he said. “They want the jobs there, I want the jobs here. This legislature is turning its back on its constituents.”

Interests for and against ‘liquor wall’ legislation react to passage

The reaction to the Florida Legislature’s repeal of the state’s “booze wall” law continued long after Wednesday’s vote.

The House, on a close vote of 58-57, passed the Senate’s bill (SB 106) to allow retailers to remove the ‘wall of separation’ between hard liquor and other goods. (Full story here.)

The legislation now heads to Gov. Rick Scott. If signed into law, the state will end 82 years of mandating that retailers sell distilled spirits in a separate store from other items.

Floridians for Fair Business Practices, a business coalition that included Wal-Mart, Target, Whole Foods Markets and others who favored the measure, issued a statement saying “the legislation finally removes an archaic regulation which has no basis in today’s modern society.”

“We are pleased both chambers recognized the importance of free market principles, increased consumer choice and healthy competition,” the group said. “We encourage Gov. Scott to sign this common sense, pro-business bill into law.”

The Distilled Spirits Council, a national trade association, praised lawmakers for “taking down the wall.” 

“Florida consumers want a modern marketplace where they can purchase spirits, wine and beer at the same time and same place – like in most states,” Distilled Spirits Council Vice President Jay Hibbard said in a statement. “We applaud the Florida legislature for listening to its constituents and urge Gov. Scott to sign this pro-consumer legislation.”

Skylar Zander, deputy state director of Americans for Prosperity-Florida, the state’s pro-free market organization, called the separation requirement “outdated.”

“Small businesses and consumers should have the ability to choose what products go on the shelves and what products come off of them,” Zander said. “Rep. Bryan Avila and Sen. Anitere Flores did a great job managing this contentious issue.”

But ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, which has long opposed the legislation, said the Prohibition-era law still “prevent(ed) minors from unlawful access to liquor.”

“The protection of minors and small businesses lost by a single vote in the House today because of members who bowed to enormous political pressure and financial influence from Wal-Mart and Target,” said Charles Bailes III, chairman and CEO of the Orlando-based chain.

“The wall, which has separated minors from hard liquor for decades, has never hurt competition in Florida but it has kept young people from stealing bottles or drinking them in stores,” he said. “We are grateful for the 57 members who voted to fight for that protection and respect their political courage to do the right thing.”

Rick Scott says he will sign ‘Uber bill’

Gov. Rick Scott tweeted on Monday that he will sign into law a bill creating statewide regulations for ride-booking companies like Uber and Lyft.

“I look forward to signing the @Uber/ @lyft bill,” Scott tweeted from his official account, @FLGovScott.

Colin Tooze, Uber’s director of public affairs, tweeted back, “Many thanks for your leadership, @FLGovScott ! All of us at @Uber are excited to have a permanent home in the Sunshine State.”

Lawmakers had considered legislation for four years before passing a bill this year.

The Senate finally approved a House measure (HB 221) on a 36-1 vote, with Sen. Jack Latvala the only ‘no’ vote.

The legislation, among other things, requires Uber, Lyft and similar “transportation network companies” to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged into the app, but hasn’t yet secured a passenger.

When a driver gets a ride, they need to have $1 million in coverage.

The bill also requires companies to have third parties run criminal background checks on drivers. It also pre-empts local ordinances and other rules on transportation network companies, or TNCs.

Legislature at stalemate over new state budget

With time running out in this year’s regular session, Florida’s legislative leaders are at a stalemate over a new state budget and are starting to lash out at one another over the breakdown.

The first but crucial round of negotiations between the House and Senate fell apart on Sunday. The session is scheduled to end on May 5, but state law requires that all work on the budget be finished 72 hours ahead of a final vote.

The lack of a budget deal can also derail other crucial legislation since many times stand-alone bills get tied to the spending plan or are used as leverage in negotiations.

The growing divide prompted Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran to lash out at fellow Republicans in the Senate, comparing them to national Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders.

“There are no limits to their liberalism,” Corcoran said.

Sen. Jack Latvala, the Senate budget chief, said that Corcoran was acting as if “everyone was a liberal but him.”

“I just think it’s very unfortunate for the process, where we start calling names and broadly classify people instead of trying to constructively work out solutions,” Latvala said.

The House and Senate are working on a new budget to cover state spending from July 1 of this year to June 30, 2018. The two chambers started their budget negotiations with a roughly $4 billion difference in their rival spending plans.

For more than a week, the two sides privately traded broad offers that outlined how much money would be spent in key areas such as education, health care, the environment and economic development.

Gov. Rick Scott has been highly critical of a House plan to shutter the state’s economic development agency and to sharply cut money to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing corporation. Scott has urged Senate Republicans to stand firm against House Republicans.

Part of this broad framework also included how much money the state should set aside in reserves.

Corcoran said one stumbling block was that the House wanted to place more money in reserves because of projections that show a possible budget deficit in the next two to three years if spending continues to increase.

“We refuse to let the state go bankrupt,” said Corcoran, who also said such a strategy could force Florida to raise taxes.

Unable to reach a deal, the House over the weekend offered a “continuation” budget that would have kept intact state funding at current levels in many places. That would have allowed legislators to end the session on time and avoid the need for a costly special session. But it would have meant that there would be no money for any new projects.

The Senate, however, rejected this idea. Senate President Joe Negron, in a memo sent out to senators Monday morning, called it a “Washington creation where Congress is habitually unable to pass a budget.”

Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press.

Rick Scott pushes ahead for VISIT FLORIDA funding

Gov. Rick Scott went once more unto the breach Tuesday, pressing his case for full funding of the state’s VISIT FLORIDA tourism marketing agency.

The Republican governor—surrounded by VISIT FLORIDA’s CEO Ken Lawson, board chairman William Talbert, and others—spoke with reporters outside his Capitol office.

The GOP-majority House of Representatives, which at first wanted to eliminate the agency, instead reduced its budget to $25 million for next year.

Scott wants $100 million to market the state to visitors, saying every dollar spent brings back $3.20 in tourism-related revenue, including from gasoline and sales taxes.

Scott mentioned that Florida is getting shellacked by ads—”…and they’re nice,” he said—from Utah, Michigan, California, Texas, and Georgia trying to divert tourists.

With Florida getting roughly 113 million tourists last year, “if we want even more tourists, we’re going to have to spend more money,” Scott said. “We have plenty of money in the budget … but the House has really limited our ability to market the state.”

The Senate supported the work of VISIT FLORIDA with about $76 million in its budget. Senators soon will go into conference with the House to work out a compromise budget for 2017-18.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has criticized both VISIT FLORIDA and economic development organization Enterprise Florida as needless dispensers of “corporate welfare.” Though both are public-private partnerships, both take in far more public money than private.

But Scott says they help create jobs, adding that 1.4 million jobs are tied to tourism alone.

Scott has gone around the state, including the home districts of Republican House members who voted against VISIT FLORIDA, to host “roundtables.” There, he has pointedly criticized lawmakers who went against him.

The people have his back, Scott added: They are “just shocked that the House would even think” about cutting money to promote tourism. “…I don’t want to lose any jobs.”

And he has enlisted them to the cause.

“I tell people, ‘look, this is your Legislature,’ ” Scott said. ” ‘You need to reach out to them.’ “

George Gainer, Jeff Brandes reverse positions on Tri-Rail, push bill to let controversial contract stand

Tri-Rail’s controversial, one-source, half-billion, operations contract could go forward under an amended bill pushed Thursday by the Gov. Rick Scott administration and state Sens. George Gainer and Jeff Brandes.

Just a few weeks ago, both Gainer and Brandes were hostile critics of the contract and Tri-Rail.

Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, sponsored an amendment Thursday that strips away language that he and Scott had pushed for earlier that would have forced Tri-Rail to rebid the $511 million, 10-year contract.

Tri-Rail’s operating agency, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, awarded that contract in January after rejecting five lower bids for technical issues that the companies are contesting. The award brought, from Scott, Brandes and Gainer, harsh rebukes, demands for investigations, vows of new state control, as well as demands to rebid the contract.

Gainer, a Panama City Republican, introduced Senate Bill 1118 to require those things.

Yet Brandes’ new amendment, introduced Thursday at the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development, which he chairs, reverses the demand for the rebid. The amendment was adopted it unanimously, then Gainer’s amended Committee Substitute for SB 1118 was approved unanimously, Thursday.

The amendment and the bill drew strong objections from representatives of the companies that lost the Tri-Rail contract, which runs commuter rail trains through Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Several argued that their companies had agreed to continue current operations contracts until a new one could be rebid, so that there would be no disruption in services for passengers. The new contract, switching operations management to Herzog, is set to begin July 1.

There was little explanation or defense of the change of position from Brandes, or Gainer, or anyone else during Thursday’s committee meeting.

Brandes’ office said the state got assurances it needed through language in the amendment.

The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Jack Stephens said it was a good day for Tri-Rail and its riders in South Florida. He said the bills’ amendments were the results of negotiations between the authority, the governor’s office, and the FDOT secretary’s office. The key was working out a state financing model that could give the state more control yet allow the authority to keep paying its bills.

The state financing model was spelled out in the amendments to SB 1118 and to a related bill, Senate Bill 842, which also eased up on a threatened crackdowns on Tri-Rail. Amendment sponsor Frank Artiles said it was at the behest of Scott’s administration, after the negotiations with the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.

The amendments require the transportation authority to receive FDOT approval for any new, extended or renewed contracts that use state money, and to submit monthly invoices to FDOT for reimbursements, rather than just receive lump-sum quarterly transfers totaling $42 million a year in taxpayer money. There also are other new accounting requirements. “I believe the principal concerns have been addressed, and they have been addressed to the benefits of all involved, in regards to the governor’s office, the secretary’s office and ourselves, and the citizens of South Florida, of course,” Stephens said.

Tri-Rail still faces a budget proviso in the House of Representatives that would require the transportation authority to rebid the contract if it wants to receive state money. Stephens said he was hopeful that, too, could be dropped, though he cautioned he did not want to predict.

Tri-Rail also faces the prospect of court challenges to the bid, from any or all the five companies that offered lower bids that got thrown out by the transportation authority’s procurements director. All of that happened before the single remaining bid, from Herzog Transportation Services, was brought to the authority’s board for consideration and approval in late January.

There also is a Florida Department of Transportation Inspector General investigation of the contract underway.

“We’re disappointed in the outcome,” said Tom Martin, head of Business Development for Bombardier Americas, which had submitted an operations bid that was $115 million less expensive than Herzog’s.

He said all the companies wanted was the state to assure a fair contract competition.

Asked about the prospect that Bombardier might take the Tri-Rail contract to court, he added, “I think we will keep all of our options open.”

Committee Substitute to SB 842 drew less outrage from Herzog’s competitors, but also cut Tri-Rail some slack.

A budget proviso had required that the state Department of Transportation would from now on review and approve all the transportation authorities’ contracts if it were to continue to receive about $42 million in state subsidies.

However, SB 842 draws a tight distinction between funding the transportation authority gets from the state and from other sources, including the federal government and fares, and allows that any contracts paid for with those non-state monies could be exercised without state approval.

Rick Scott won’t end fight for economic development, tourism funding

With the House seemingly intent on gutting VISIT FLORIDA and eliminating Enterprise Florida, Gov. Rick Scott suggested he won’t stop counterpunching.

The governor, who spoke to reporters after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, has been openly warring with House Speaker Richard Corcoran. He’s been out to kill state government’s business incentives programs.

Corcoran counts Enterprise Florida (EFI), the state’s economic development organization, and VISIT FLORIDA, its tourism marketing arm, as dispensers of “corporate welfare.”

Scott says they help create jobs. Though both are public-private partnerships, both take in far more public money than private.

The governor has been going to the home districts of Republican House members and hosting “roundtables” with the aim of “encourag(ing) members of the community to voice their support for EFI and VISIT FLORIDA,” spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said.

At these roundtables, however, Scott has pointedly criticized House Republicans who had voted to kill incentive programs and the two organizations.

“I’m traveling the state to make sure everybody knows the importance of what our Legislature does,” Scott said Tuesday. “We’re at record tourism numbers,” with close to 113 million tourists visiting the state last year.

With thousands of jobs tied to tourism, “it’s important to me that we fully fund VISIT FLORIDA,” he said. “I know it’s a lot of jobs … If you look at the fact we added all these jobs, it’s because we got a good return for taxpayers. We’ve also recruited companies to expand and to move here. It’s really had a very positive impact.”

But many of those jobs were created without the use of subsidies, leading to a question of whether that worked against the governor’s position. Scott’s proposed $250 million Florida Enterprise Fund was zeroed out by lawmakers in the current year’s budget.

“We haven’t seen a lot of big deals; we haven’t seen a lot of corporate offices moving here,” Scott said. “There aren’t a lot of manufacturing plants moving here. We’ve got to compete … this is about somebody’s job.”

Supreme Court tweaks its ‘senior justice’ rule after controversy

The Florida Supreme Court no longer will allow its justices to keep working indefinitely on open cases after they leave the bench, according to a new rule released Thursday.

After Justice James E.C. Perry officially retired on Dec. 30, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga allowed him to finish work on opinions as a “senior justice,” following decades of court practice.

But critics, including Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran, cried foul. They complained Perry was displacing his successor, C. Alan Lawson, who started work the next day on Dec. 31. Perry worked for an additional month after that.

C. ALAN LAWSON/JAMES E.C. PERRY
Lawson (left), Perry

Lawson—GOP Gov. Rick Scott‘s first Supreme Court pick—is a conservative; Perry most often voted with the court’s left-leaning contingent.

Corcoran even prepared a legal challenge to Perry’s continued work, saying among other things that Perry was an unconstitutional “eighth” justice on the seven-member court.

Now, the new Rule of Judicial Administration says, “(N)o retired justice … or other judge who is qualified to serve may be assigned to the supreme court, or continue in such assignment, after 7 (seven) sitting duly sworn justices are available and able to perform the duties of office.”

In defending his decision, Labarga had said the court’s protocol, “as long as I can remember,” has been to grant retired justices senior status to finish work they started; that is, to work on opinions in cases in which they participated in oral argument.

“Appellate work is not like trial work,” Labarga said in February. “If I leave the bench today and a new judge comes in, that judge can’t just start that morning. The records are huge. It takes time to read” all the material.

“This way, when you’re almost out of the woods, almost done with an opinion, you can get it done.”

In a Thursday media availability, Corcoran called it “a great rule change … and my hat’s off to Chief Justice Labarga.”

“They took it upon themselves to come up with a rule, it looks like it was supported by all the justices, and despite that people want to say, ‘there’s tension here, there’s tension there,’ I’ve said it a thousand times that I consider Chief Justice Labarga a friend,” he added. “I think they all want to do … what is best for the judicial system.”

Randolph Bracy comes to Aramis Ayala’s defense with NY Times op-ed

Democratic state Senator Randolph Bracy has published a national defense of Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala Tuesday with an op-ed column in the New York Times contending Gov. Rick Scott has overreached in removing cases from her.

In the column headlined “Florida’s Vengeful Governor,” Bracy argues that Scott’s reassignment of 22 death penalty cases from Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, prosecuted by Ayala, to Florida’s 5th Judicial Circuit, prosecuted by State Attorney Brad King, is without precedent or any legal foundation.

Scott did so because Ayala announced that she had concluded that Florida’s death penalty is not just for anyone and she would not pursue it in any cases. Last month Scott used an executive order to reassign the case of alleged cop-killer Markeith Loyd. On Monday he used 21 more executive orders to reassign the cases of 21 others.

Bracy called Scott’s actions “retaliation.”

“They are meant to punish the state attorney, Aramis D. Ayala, Florida’s first black elected prosecutor, for announcing she would no longer seek the death penalty because it was not in the best interest of her jurisdiction, which stretches from Orlando to Kissimmee,” Bracy wrote.

“Ms. Ayala rightly argued that capital punishment does not deter crime, nor does it protect police officers. Instead, it often leads to protracted appeals, and rarely delivers closure to the victim’s family,” he continued.

Bracy argued that Ayala is well within her rights and duties as a state attorney to make that decision and set that policy.

“Although Ms. Ayala’s critics have denounced her actions as dereliction of duty, they cannot point to a single law or statute that she has violated. That’s because she hasn’t,” Bracy writes. “There are no federal or state laws that say prosecutors must seek death sentences. And the United States Supreme Court has banned all state laws that make executions mandatory for murders.”

Although Ayala has received broad support from various Democratic, Civil Rights, religious, legal, and anti-death penalty groups, Bracy has been one of the few elected officials who has aggressively defended her.

Bracy concedes in the column that he might not share Ayala’s view on the death penalty, but he respects her rights and duties of prosecutorial discretion and the fact that she is an independent elected official placed in office by voters.

He also noted the racial history of the death penalty and his own effort, through a bill, to address equal justice concerns.

“As a black man, I see the death penalty as a powerful symbol of injustice in which race often determines who lives and who dies, especially in Florida,” Bracy wrote. “The state has the second-largest number of death row inmates in the country, after California, and African-Americans are grossly overrepresented on Florida’s death row. This disproportionality was a driving force behind my bill. And while I felt that Florida was not ready to relinquish the death penalty, I tried to make it more fair.”

Black clouds loom over this year’s gambling bills

Ed. Note: A version of this story ran previously in Saturday’s “Takeaways from Tallahassee” email.


It’s long been a Capitol cliché, but there are few pronouncements on a piece of legislation as inauspicious as calling something “a heavy lift.”

Saying a bill is “a heavy, heavy lift” sounds even more portending of defeat.

Yet that’s how House Speaker Richard Corcoran referred to the omnibus gambling bills now on their way to conference. They include a new agreement for continued exclusive rights for the Seminole Tribe of Florida to offer blackjack in return for $3 billion over seven years.

“It’s got a long way to go,” the Land O’ Lakes Republican said in a press conference after Thursday’s floor session.

Generally, the House holds the line on gambling expansion; the Senate is open to some expansion, including allowing slot machines at pari-mutuels in counties that approved a slots referendum.

Having blackjack money for the upcoming $80 billion-plus state budget could mean an extra $340 million-$350 million.

“It’s a heavy lift. There’s a reason it hasn’t been passed in decades,” Corcoran said. “But this is the first time, probably that anyone can recall, where you have two bills moving … That puts them in a posture to see where a negotiation goes.

“But I would still say it’s a heavy, heavy lift … We’ll see how it unfolds.”

Another sign: Neither chamber factored gambling revenue share from the Seminole Tribe to the state into their respective budgets, he said.

“I think it’s generally considered an irresponsible budgeting practice to budget money” that you don’t know you have, Corcoran said.

Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who’s the Senate’s point man on gambling, said any gambling revenue—assuming a deal is struck—”would come in at the back end.”

The Senate passed its gambling package (SB 8) Thursday; the House Commerce Committee cleared its bill (HB 7037) later that day. It’s set to be discussed next Tuesday on the House floor.

Galvano, speaking to reporters after the Senate’s floor session, said getting both sides to ‘yes’ won’t be easy.

“I told the members here today that I couldn’t guarantee we’ll ultimately have a final resolution,” he said. The House is “interested in seeing something move …  My conversations with the Seminole Tribe have been positive.”

The Tribe had sent a letter to Corcoran, Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President Joe Negron saying “neither (bill) would satisfy the requirements of federal law nor satisfy fundamental tribal concerns” and called them “not acceptable.”

The Tribe’s concern was that it would be financially squeezed by the Legislature’s current proposals without getting enough in return. It offers blackjack at five of its seven casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tampa.

When told his warning to his colleagues “sounded ominous,” Galvano said, “I have to manage expectations,” adding the chambers were still “light years ahead of where we’ve ended in the past.”

That is, nowhere. And still in wait is a state Supreme Court decision on whether Florida dog and horse tracks outside South Florida can have slot machines. That could add additional revenue to state coffers, but would cross the Seminoles, who have slots exclusively outside South Florida.

Moreover, a Leon County circuit judge recently ruled that slot-machine looking games known as “pre-reveal” (one example is here) can’t be legally defined as slots.

The Tribe has disagreed, saying such games also violate the existing agreement, the Seminole Compact, between the Seminole and the state. That would entitle them not to pay any more slots money. Galvano said he doesn’t believe the games violate the Compact.

Still, “if we can’t get to where we have the votes in each chamber to pass, then we have to walk away,” he said.

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