News from Tallahassee for 7/5/15

Gov. Rick Scott's budget vetoes leave lawmakers reeling posted on 6/25/15

by Tia mitchell | Politijax

TALLAHASSEE | Lawmakers critical of Gov. Rick Scott’s record number of vetoes say the cuts in state spending have real impact in Florida communities that now face loss of jobs and resources dependent on now-eliminated funding.

At one point during the budget negotiation process, all new money for Cecil Spaceport had been zeroed out. Representatives from the Jacksonville Aviation Authority worked with local delegation members to plead their case and ultimately got $1.5 million approved to pay for more infrastructure at the Westside Jacksonville facility marketed as Florida’s horizontal launch pad for space travel.

Scott vetoed the money, saying it circumvents the due diligence and review process of Space Florida, a public-private agency that facilitates industry growth.

That was news to state Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, who noted Scott allowed similar funding a year ago. “When did Space Florida have a due diligence process?” she said. “I’ve never heard of it.”

Gibson said Scott’s vetoes appeared to be payback to lawmakers who opposed him over the last year. He publicly feuded with the Senate over Medicaid expansion and hospital funding.

“When you call yourself the ‘jobs governor ‘or you’re the ‘keep Florida working’ governor, there is nobody who knows better what the jobs would be in their communities than the people who represent their districts,” Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said.

Sen. Aaron Bean and Rep. Janet Adkins, both Fernandina Beach Republicans, celebrated too early about the $1 million in state funding for the St. Johns River Ferry they successfully lobbied to include in the budget. The duo issued a new release about the funding Monday; Scott vetoed it the next day on the grounds that the $1 million allocated last year was enough.

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Taxpayers foot the bill as Scott settles open-government lawsuits posted on 6/23/15

by Mary Ellen Klas | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE— For the second time in a month, Gov. Rick Scott is negotiating a settlement that would use taxpayer dollars to end a lawsuit that claims he violated state Sunshine laws.

According to documents filed in the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee this month, the governor is negotiating with Tallahassee attorney Steve Andrews over a lawsuit accusing Scott of skirting state public records laws by using private email accounts to conduct public business. The negotiations began after a California judge ordered Google to turn over information that could reveal whether Scott’s top staff set up the private email accounts to allow the governor to circumvent the state public records law.

How much taxpayers will be on the hook under the settlement has not been disclosed, but it comes on the heels of another settlement in a Sunshine law violation case expected to be approved by the governor and Cabinet on Tuesday. Records show that fees in that case will cost taxpayers in excess of $228,000.

That lawsuit was brought by St. Petersburg lawyer Matthew Weidner and several media organizations, including the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, who accused Scott and the Cabinet of violating the state’s open meeting laws when they allowed staff to use back channels to oust former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey with no public discussion or vote.

In that settlement announced last week, Scott and the three members of the state Cabinet — Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — would agree to pay $55,000 to the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, Andrea Mogensen. They would also agree to revise their policies to operate with more transparency, including turning over their private emails promptly when they conduct public business.

To end the lawsuit, the governor and Cabinet did not acknowledge they violated the law but instead agreed to improve the transparency of their operations, including turning over their private emails promptly when they conduct public business.

Documents obtained by the Herald/Times show lawyers for the three members of the Cabinet were paid at least $173,098 — more than three times as much as Mogensen — to defend against the allegations. Scott’s office has not responded to a request made a week ago to provide the cost of his legal defense in the case.

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Winners and losers of the Florida Legislature’s special session posted on 6/22/15

by palm beach post

FL Capitol rotundaWorking into June on a state budget for the first time in 23 years, Florida lawmakers avoided a government shutdown by approving a $78.7 billion spending plan Friday evening.

But the long battle left a few bruises.

Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders didn’t get all they wanted. Talk back in March of almost $700 million in tax breaks got downsized amid a long fight over the Senate’s unsuccessful push to expand health coverage for the uninsured.

And the special session that started June 1 after the regular 60-day legislative session ended without a budget will cost taxpayers.

The cost of the extra 19 days of legislating? It’s still being calculated. But history shows taxpayers will pony up anywhere from $24,000- to $87,000-a-day, or in other words probably somewhere in the $500,000-$1.5 million range.

Scott is now reviewing the budget. He’s expected to sign it, while issuing a round of line-item vetoes before this year’s budget expires July 1.

How did some of the top players, and special interests, fare? Take a look inside.

In ‘climate change’ controversy, a tale of two agencies posted on 6/22/15


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.

Prior to Scott’s election, DEP was aggressively studying climate change. When Scott, a climate change skeptic, took office in 2011, the terms “climate change” and “global warming” began to disappear from DEP reports, according to a previous analysis by FCIR. Former DEP employees recounted to FCIR meetings where they were ordered not to use the terms. In emails, DEP officials instructed employees and volunteers to stay away from the subject.

Scott and DEP officials have denied the existence of any policy prohibiting the terms, but they have never attempted to explain or dispute FCIR’s findings.

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Gov. Rick Scott, Cabinet agree to terms to end Sunshine Law case posted on 6/16/15

by Steve Bousquet | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott and all three elected Cabinet members will agree to more transparency and training to end a lawsuit by news outlets accusing them of backroom dealings that violated Florida's Sunshine Law.

The compromise agreement ends the suit by more than a dozen media organizations, including the Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald, that accused all four statewide officials of circumventing the open meetings law in the orchestrated removal of Gerald Bailey as commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

"This is a case about transparency," said Sarasota lawyer Andrea Flynn Mogensen, who represented news outlets and other plaintiffs, including Matthew Weidner, a St. Petersburg lawyer, in the case of Weid­ner vs. Scott. "They're agreeing to greater transparency, which one would think any politician would want to be in favor of. Very few of their constituents would be opposed to that."

As Bailey was preparing to give testimony in which he planned to repeat his account of his removal that he first made to the Times/Herald, both sides agreed to closed-door negotiations that were mediated by Major Harding, a retired chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court.

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