Gov. Rick Scott Archives - Page 5 of 22 - SaintPetersBlog

Rick Scott not bothered by Jon Steverson’s departure

Gov. Rick Scott suggested he wasn’t bothered by one of his agency heads overseeing the flow of millions of dollars to a law firm that he’s now going to work for.

Scott spoke to reporters after Tuesday’s Florida Cabinet meeting.

“We have people that come to work for the state and they work hard,” Scott told reporters. “And (then) they find opportunities. That’s just part of the process.”

Jon Steverson, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, quit last Friday, reportedly for a job at the Foley & Lardner law firm, according to a Scott spokesman. The firm still has not publicly confirmed the hire.

Foley & Lardner also is one of the firms representing the state in a nearly two-decades-old court fight with Georgia over river water use.

The dispute centers around upstream water use from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers in Georgia. They meet at the Florida border to form the Apalachicola River, which empties into the Apalachicola Bay.

Steverson’s department is asking the Legislature for $13 million more to pay expected legal bills from the still-unresolved case. A joint committee is scheduled to take up the request later Tuesday.

But House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Monday night said his chamber won’t entertain the request without a detailed audit of how DEP officials spent legal money already appropriated.

The governor said he’s “appreciative of the people that are willing to come work with me … I know they work really hard. But when they have opportunities, they ought to go pursue them.”

Scott also defended the costs of the litigation, now approaching $100 million.

As The Associated Press has explained: “Florida blames rapid growth in metropolitan Atlanta and agriculture in south Georgia for causing low river flows that have imperiled fisheries dependent on fresh water entering the area. Georgia has argued that Florida didn’t prove its water use is to blame for the low flows and says a cap will damage the state’s economy.”

Added Scott on Steverson: “It’s hard to be an agency head. Sometimes the media isn’t very nice to them. One thing that surprises a lot of them is how much media attention they get.”

Richard Corcoran: House won’t OK legal money for DEP

House Speaker Richard Corcoran late Monday said his chamber won’t agree to hand over any more money for the Department of Environmental Protection to pay its legal bills until the agency gives a full accounting of what’s already been spent.

Corcoran was reacting to the DEP’s request to the Joint Legislative Budget Commission for an additional $13 million to pay outside legal counsel in an ongoing court fight between Georgia and Florida over water use. (Earlier story here.)

The commission is scheduled to take up the request Tuesday.

Coincidentally, DEP Secretary Jon Steverson resigned Friday and is going to work for one of the law firms, Foley & Lardner, that’s representing the state in the matter. Steverson is an attorney.

“We won’t approve the money until an audit is done and we will pass legislation barring the revolving door from agency head to lobbyist/lawyer,” Corcoran said in a statement.

The Joint Legislative Budget Commission acts as a joint committee of the Legislature, charged with reviewing and approving the equivalent of mid-course corrections to the current year’s state spending plan.

It’s made up of seven members of the state House and seven of the Senate. Of those House members, five belong to the House’s controlling Republican caucus, including commission co-chair Carlos Trujillo, who also heads the House Appropriations committee.

Earlier Monday, Trujillo told FloridaPolitics.com he would “need additional information before we can even consider approval,” noting the state will have dedicated over $100 million to legal and related fees in the water use case if the latest dollars are OK’d.

The nearly two-decade dispute centers around upstream water use from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers in Georgia. They meet at the Florida border to form the Apalachicola River, which empties into the Apalachicola Bay.

water use

“Water war” could cost the state another $13M in legal fees

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has busted its outside legal expenses budget over the ongoing ‘water war’ between Georgia and Florida, legislative records show.

It’s asking for an additional $13 million from the Joint Legislative Budget Commission, which meets Tuesday — and even that may not be enough.

Gov. Rick Scott‘s office approved the request to the commission, made up of House and Senate members, for “litigation costs.”

“This increase is necessary to meet projected expenditures for outside counsel as it relates to the ongoing litigation in the Florida v. Georgia Supreme Court case for equitable apportionment of the waters of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin,” the request says.

If the extra money is approved, the state will have dedicated over $100 million to legal and related fees in the water use case, said state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, the Miami-Dade Republican who co-chairs the commission.

“I’m very concerned about the costs of this litigation and we need additional information before we can even consider approval,” added Trujillo, the House Appropriations chair. “It’s been somewhat of a surprise.”

Commission co-chair Jack Latvala, the Senate Appropriations chair, was not immediately available.

The request was submitted before DEP Secretary Jon Steverson suddenly resigned his post on Friday, giving no reason in his resignation letter to Scott, to whom he reported. His official departure date is Feb. 3.

A spokeswoman for Scott Monday evening said there was “no connection” between the escalating legal costs and Steverson’s resignation.

His leaving “will be discussed at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting, but since it was not properly noticed, no action is scheduled to be taken,” Scott spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said in an email.

Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis told the Tampa Bay Times that Steverson was going to work for the lobbying team at the Foley & Lardner law firm, one of four firms representing the state in the water use case. The law firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The legal dispute focuses on water use from a watershed in western Georgia, eastern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.

The Chattahoochee and Flint rivers flow through Georgia and meet at the Florida border to form the Apalachicola River, which flows into the Apalachicola Bay.

Florida blames rapid growth in metropolitan Atlanta and agriculture in south Georgia for causing low river flows that have imperiled fisheries dependent on fresh water entering the area. Georgia has argued that Florida didn’t prove its water use is to blame for the low flows and says a cap will damage the state’s economy.

Alabama isn’t directly involved in this case but has sided with Florida, encouraging a cap on Georgia’s use.

A federal court official recently ordered attorneys for Florida and Georgia to try again to settle the yearslong disagreement.

According to budget documents, the DEP was given $18.6 million in the 2016-17 budget year to pay for legal expenses.

“The department utilized $2.4 million in base funding and processed a budget amendment to increase base funding by $3.0 million for litigation expenses, for a total of $23.9 million in available funding,” its request explains.

“The DEP carried over $11.7 million in expenditures from Fiscal Year 2015-16, has $7.1 million in actual billings for July and August of 2016, and the projected expenses from September 2016 through June 2017 are $22.2 million, for a total of $41.1 million in projected costs,” it says. “The estimated additional need in excess of current appropriations is $17.1 million.”

The added $13 million would be made of $9 million from the state’s Internal Improvement Trust Fund and another $4 million from the Permit Fee Trust Fund, according to the request.

“The remaining projected deficit is $4.1 million,” it says.

Background from The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.

It’s official: Jim Boxold resigns as state Transportation secretary

Gov. Rick Scott Monday officially announced the resignation of state Transportation Secretary Jim Boxold after FloridaPolitics.com broke the story of his departure last Friday night.

Boxold’s resignation is effective Feb. 3, the governor said in a statement. Rachel Cone, who is now Assistant Secretary for Finance and Administration, will serve as interim secretary.

Later Monday, the governmental affairs firm Capital City Consulting also confirmed he was joining the team.

“Jim Boxold has done a great job leading FDOT and I want to thank him for his hard work as we have continued to make critical investments in Florida’s transportation infrastructure,” Scott said.

“Under his leadership, Florida has been a leader in transportation and made great improvements in our seaports, bridges and airports,” he added. “His dedication to our state has helped ensure we have a world-class transportation system that supports continued economic growth and job creation. I am truly proud of all the good work Jim has done and wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

FloridaPolitics.com reported on Friday that, according to well-placed sources, Boxold had accepted an offer to join the governmental affairs firm Capital City Consulting. (The governor’s statement did not mention where Boxold was going.)

Boxold, a former DOT chief of staff, was appointed to lead the agency in December 2014 to succeed Ananth Prasad.

He’s one of two high-profile departures from the Scott administration in recent days: DEP Secretary Jon Steverson turned in his resignation on Friday.

Prior to his time at the DOT, Boxold served a decade as Director of Cabinet Affairs for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, now led by Adam Putnam.

Before that, Boxold was Deputy Director of Cabinet Affairs for Gov. Jeb Bush. He also served as legislative affairs director for U.S. Rep. Porter J. Goss in 1995-2001.

“Jim has served the State of Florida with distinction and has overseen major seaport expansions, significant upgrades to our interstates and roadways, and the infusion of new technologies that has forever changed traditional transportation models,” said Ron LaFace, partner at Capital City Consulting. “We are excited and honored that Jim will bring his knowledge and experience to assist Capital City Consulting’s clients.”

Added Nick Iarossi, partner at Capital City Consulting: “Jim is one of the most intelligent and respected members in state government. We expect his experience at the Department of Transportation and the Department of Agriculture will help us better serve our clients and lead to strong growth areas for the firm.”

Boxold said he “really enjoyed my time in state government and most recently being part of Governor Scott’s hard working team, (but) I now look forward to using my experience to help Capital City Consulting provide unmatched service and results for its clients.”

A graduate of The George Washington University in 1995, he and his family live in Tallahassee.

Jim Boxold to step down as DOT head for lobbying job

In the second of two surprise departures from the Gov. Rick Scott administration, the secretary of the state’s Department of Transportation is expected to step down to pursue a career in the private sector.

Jim Boxold, who was appointed in December 2014 to succeed Ananth Prasad, is leavinf to join the governmental affairs firm Capital City Consulting, multiple sources have confirmed.

An announcement about Boxold’s joining the firm could come as soon as Monday.

Boxold is the second department head to leave the Scott Administration this month; DEP Secretary Jon Steverson turned in his resignation on Friday.

The Governor’s Office late Friday night said Boxold had not submitted a letter of resignation, but sources who have spoken to Boxold and those inside CCC say the former DOT chief of staff – who was elevated to lead the agency – is headed to the Adams Street firm.

Capital City Consulting is considered one of the “Big 4” lobbying firms, earning more than $1 million per quarter in compensation to represent clients before the Legislature.

The firm was established in 2003 by Nick IarossiRon LaFace, and Gerald Wester.

Prior to his time at FDOT, Boxold served a decade as Director of Cabinet Affairs for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs.

Before that, he was Deputy Director of Cabinet Affairs for Gov. Jeb Bush. He also served as legislative affairs director for U.S. Rep. Porter J. Goss in 1995-2001.

Jon Steverson resigns as DEP secretary

Jon Steverson, the Secretary of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection under Gov. Rick Scott, has resigned.

His departure was confirmed Friday night by McKinley Lewis, Scott’s deputy communications director, who provided a copy of the resignation letter.

Steverson is set to join the legal-lobbying firm Foley & Lardner, sources tell FloridaPolitics.com. Herschel Vineyard, who also served as a DEP Secretary, is a part of Foley’s governmental relations team.

Steverson, whose last day will be Feb. 3, did not mention reasons for his leaving in the letter.

“I want to thank Jon Steverson for his hard work,” Scott said in a statement. “Jon has devoted his career to protecting Florida’s pristine environment and I am proud of the tremendous and historic strides we have made toward safeguarding Florida’s natural resources during his time at DEP.

“Under his leadership, we have invested in Florida’s natural lands and completed projects which will ensure protection of our springs, restoration of the Everglades and the continued enhancement of our award-winning state parks for years to come.”

Lewis said the Governor’s Office will have “further announcements on this next week.”

Among the leading candidates to replace Steverson are Karl Rasmussen, a Deputy Chief of Staff in the Governor’s Office, and Ryan Matthews, the Deputy Secretary of Regulatory Programs at DEP.

Steverson raised hackles for, among other things, suggesting that the state allow timber harvesting and cattle grazing to help state parks boost their income.

More recently, his department did not immediately notify the public that a huge sinkhole formed under a fertilizer plant and sent contaminated water and fertilizer into Florida’s main drinking water aquifer.

He began as interim DEP Secretary in December 2014. The Florida Senate declined to confirm him and other agency heads in 2015, though he finally won confirmation January of last year.

Steverson was previously executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District. Before that, he was DEP’s Special Counsel on Policy and Legislative Affairs and an acting Deputy Secretary for Water Policy and Ecosystem Restoration, according to his bio.

Steverson also served in the Executive Office of the Governor in 2005-09 in several positions, including Environmental Policy Coordinator.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this post.

 

Rick Scott orders flags at half-staff for Austin J. Ruiz

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered flags at half-staff in honor of a Marine who died during a training exercise.

Lance Cpl. Austin J. Ruiz of Naples died last Friday.

Scott, who has a home in Naples, ordered that the U.S. and state flags be flown at half-staff at City Hall in Naples, the Collier County Courthouse and at the Capitol in Tallahassee from sunrise to sunset this Sunday. 

“Ann and I are heartbroken to hear of the loss of Floridian and U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Austin Ruiz,” the governor said in a statement. “Like all of our incredible servicemen and women, Austin put his life on the line in order to defend our families and our freedom, and we will do all we can to honor his sacrifice.”

Ruiz was killed and another Marine was injured during a live-fire exercise at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California.

“We join all Floridians in mourning for this fallen hero and praying for his many loved ones during this unimaginably difficult time,” Scott added.”We hope that they may find comfort in remembering Austin’s bravery and dedication to selflessly serving our country.”

blackjack

State appeals federal ruling on Seminole Tribe blackjack

The state of Florida has filed an appeal to a federal judge’s ruling allowing the Seminole Tribe to keep offering blackjack at its casinos.

The 7-page “notice of appeal” to the 11th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals was filed Thursday by Jason Maine, general counsel to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates gambling.

The filing did not preview any arguments the state intends to make to get the decision reversed.

Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in November had ruled that regulators working under Gov. Rick Scott allowed select Florida dog and horse tracks to offer card games that were too similar to ones that were supposed to be exclusive to Tribe-owned casinos for a five-year period.

The judge decided the Tribe could keep its blackjack tables till 2030. The state wanted Hinkle to instead order the tribe to remove the games because a blackjack provision in an agreement between the state and tribe expired in 2015.

Scott’s office did not immediately comment on the appeal.

Barry Richard, the Tribe’s Tallahassee-based attorney, suggested that the state was working against its own financial interest: Without blackjack, there’s no money from it to share with the state.

The previous agreement generated well over $1 billion in blackjack revenue share. The Seminoles offer blackjack at five of their seven casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa.

“As I told the lawyer for the state, I don’t recall in my career an opposing party working so hard to keep my client from paying it hundreds of million of dollars – and it still is,” Richard said.

But the tribe is still paying, most recently putting nearly $20 million into state coffers as a show of good faith. A state economist last week said that money is being held effectively in reserve in the General Revenue fund.

And the tribe still wants a new blackjack deal worth $3 billion over seven years in revenue share to the state, but it failed to gain approval from lawmakers last year.

Also this year, lawmakers will begin considering an omnibus gambling bill that includes that deal but also would allow for more slot machines across the state, legalize fantasy sports and even open up lottery ticket sales at gas pumps.

In addition, the bill would expand blackjack from just the state’s Seminole casinos to South Florida’s pari-mutuels, including Pompano Park.

“In a sense, the Tribe has been fighting to pay the state and the state has been fighting to stop it,” said Richard, with the Greenberg Traurig law firm. “As far as the issue of whether the Tribe still has to pay, it’s not an issue because the Tribe has chosen not to make it an issue.”

State won’t have to pay Planned Parenthood’s legal tab

The state won’t end up on the hook for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida‘s legal fees, according to an appellate court decision released Thursday.

The health care organization had sought to punish the Agency for Health Care Administration by making it pay the group’s attorney fees after filing “administrative complaints … alleging violations of (its) license to perform abortions.”

The state eventually “voluntarily dismissed the complaints,” according to the opinion. But an administrative law judge still ordered an evidentiary hearing on the fees question.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal said that judge overstepped his bounds, “depart(ing) from the essential requirements of the law.”

Citing case law, Judges Brad ThomasT. Kent Wetherell II and M. Kemmerly Thomas said he didn’t have authority to order a hearing “because the case was voluntarily dismissed” and thus Planned Parenthood can’t be considered a “prevailing party.”

The case began last year after the agency, under Gov. Rick Scott, said Planned Parenthood clinics in St. Petersburg, Naples and Fort Myers were wrongfully providing second-trimester abortions.

Planned Parenthood lawyers had argued AHCA was incorrectly defining the beginning and end of trimesters and that the organization was innocent of any wrongdoing.

data center

Audit slams security, other lapses at state tech agency

I hate to overstate the findings of any report, but my first thought while reading the latest audit of the Agency for State Technology was:

“Jeez, is this joint as potentially ‘leaky’ as I think it is?”

The report by Florida Auditor General Sherrill F. Norman’s office, which I got a copy of on Thursday, lays out a laundry list of security and other problems at the relatively new agency.

And the best defense that state Chief Information Officer Jason Allison, appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, can muster is to deflect blame and point fingers.

Among the many audit findings are that “access privileges for some AST users … did not restrict (them) to only those functions appropriate and necessary for assigned job duties or functions.”

Gee, no security problem there.

Also, some “accounts remained active when no longer needed and some … inappropriately allowed interactive logon, increasing the risk that the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of AST data and IT resources may be compromised.”

I’m no expert, but that sounds downright dangerous.  

The AST also failed to “review user access privileges for the mainframe, open systems environments, and the network domains,” kept an inaccurate “inventory of IT resources at the State Data Center,” and “State Data Center backup tape records were not up-to-date and some backup tapes could not be located and identified.”

The agency, created by the Legislature in 2014, was aimed at avoiding all the problems of its predecessor, the Agency for Enterprise Information Technology, effectively abolished in 2012.

Mission not accomplished.

Allison, in a weak-beer response included in the audit report, says he just inherited problems from the Northwood and Southwood Shared Resource Centers, which his agency took over.

“It is important to note that AST has combined two separate data centers into a new state agency with a single, cohesive team,” he said.

Yes, a team that apparently doesn’t know when to tell people to change their freaking passwords.

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