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Senate budget chief JD Alexander on prison boss ouster, mental health and more

Thursday, August 25th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Senate budget chief JD Alexander sat down with Gov. Rick Scott for an hour this afternoon at the Lake Wales lawmaker’s request. Alexander was there to pitch Scott on allowing USF Polytechnic to become a stand-alone university at its campus near his hometown.

Before leaving the Capitol, Alexander shared some thoughts about Scott’s ouster of corrections secretary Ed Buss, the $700 million cut to water management districts’ spending and issues coming up in the next legislative session.

Alexander said Buss’s resignation was called for, citing concerns about a possible conflict of interest with the woman Buss hired to oversee the privatization of the prison system’s health care.

And Alexander harshly criticized Buss’s business plan justifying the privatization of all prisons within an 18-county region encompassing the southern portion of the state, calling it “wholly inadequate.”

Alexander included the privatization of the Department of Corrections Region IV in the budget late during the legislative session that ended in May. He’s convinced it will save the state about $45 million.

Perhaps Buss was not as keen on privatization as others in Scott’s administration or the legislature had hoped, Alexander was asked.

“That’s probably true. Looking not from what he told me during session but what he did after session didn’t seem like he was really taking that seriously,” Alexander said.

Read what Alexander says about what the legislature may do about the water management districts, the shuttering of the prison health care watchdog and state contracts after the jump.
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Florida Supreme Court rules against Scott, finds he violated separation of powers

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott overstepped his authority and violated the separation of powers by freezing state agency rulemaking, the Florida Supreme Court ruled today.

Shortly after he was sworn in as governor on Jan. 4, Scott suspended agency rulemaking and required the proposed rules be vetted by his office. He later created the “Office of Fiscal Accountability and Regulatory Reform” to review the rules, saying he wanted to make sure they did not slow down government, create barriers for businesses or cost taxpayers money.

But in a 5-2 ruling, the court found that Scott’s executive orders “infringe upon the very process of rulemaking and encroach upon the Legislature‘s delegation of its rulemaking power as set forth in the Florida Statutes.”

Chief Justice Charles Canady and Judge Ricky Polston, both appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist, dissented. Scott acted within his constitutional authority as the state’s chief administrative officer whose duty is “to manage, plan, and hold agencies under his charge accountable to State laws, including the APA. The actual facts before us do not demonstrate otherwise,” Polston wrote.

Canady called the majority opinion an “ill-conceived interference with the constitutional authority and responsibility of Florida‘s Governor.”

Scott also saw it that way.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” Scott said of the court ruling. “I don’t think it follows the constitution. It’s a disappointment.

“Think about it, the secretaries of these agencies report to me, they work for me at will, and I’m not supposed to supervise them? It doesn’t make sense,” he added.

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GOP leaders send warning to GOP Gov

Monday, March 14th, 2011 by John Kennedy

House Speaker Dean Cannon  and Senate President Mike Haridopolos sent memos Monday to  lawmakers, noting they could still consider a number of overrides to vetoes made last spring by former Gov. Charlie Crist.

But is the real target here new Gov. Rick Scott?

The memos warning that the Republican-led Legislature is ready to exert its muscle, follows Scott’s decision Friday to freeze at least until July $235 million in contracts for SunRail, the Central Florida commuter rail hailed by Cannon, Haridopolos and most other Orlando-area lawmakers.

 The delay threatens the $1.2 billion rail project. And it comes just weeks after the Republican governor antagonized many lawmakers — and was unsuccessfully sued by two of them — after refusing the federal government’s offer of $2.4 billion for high-speed rail linking Tampa to Orlando.

The two leaders’ notes are worded cautiously. But the intent is clear: Scott can mess with lawmakers, but they can mess right back.

” I am directing the committee chairs to evaluate potential veto overrides in their area and, should they find a candidate for an override, to conduct a public hearing on the bill,” Cannon wrote. ” The House will take up any override formally recommended by a committee.”

Haridopolos wrote, “Over the past few weeks, several members of the Senate have also expressed an interest in considering some of the remaining vetoed bills, and it is my desire to be open and inclusive in considering these requests.”

 Budget vetoes and slightly more than a dozen bills are eligible for override, the leaders wrote. Included are one measure that would shift the state’s Department of Management Services away from sole oversight by Scott and put it under the authority of the governor and the three independently elected Cabinet officers.

Another would create so-called leadership funds. These accounts would give legislative leaders total control of what typically is millions of dollars in campaign cash they raise but must deposit within the state’s political parties.

Springtime for Rick Scott

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott has sent tremors through Tallahassee with his plans for eliminating almost 8,700 state jobs, trimming employee benefits and cutting spending.

But the capital city is trying to make nice. Organizers have selected Scott as the first sitting governor to serve as the grand marshal of the annual Springtime Tallahassee festival on April 2.

“The decision was not politically motivated at all,” Richard Musgrove, Springtime’s president, told the Tallahassee Democrat today.”

Musgrove said Scott’s selection was in keeping with the 43rd annual event’s earlier themes. Springtime’s first parade was dubbed the “parade of governors,” Musgrove noted, although Scott will be the first Florida chief executive actually at the head of the line.

House speaker sets up government reorg committee

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

House Speaker Dean Cannon created a new committee to look into reorganizing state government, a good for Gov. Rick Scott and his ambitious plan to merge agencies and shift agency functions, something that requires legislative action.

Cannon’s memo to House members about the Select Committee on Government Reorganization expressed skepticism of Scott’s pledge to run government more like a business but the goal of the committee dovetails with the governor’s proposal to combine certain departments and possibly do away with others.

“Privatization, performance standards, running government like a business, and information technology are appealing ideas but not panaceas. Reform cannot consist of simply combining, recombining, dividing, or redividing government agencies. Our goal instead is to engage in the work of identifying the specific and necessary work of government in order to eliminate the extraneous tasks that have been added over the years. Florida government should be focused on core goals and structured to achieve those goals,” Cannon, R-Winter Park, wrote.

Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, will chair the committee.

The committee will “look at government programs that purport to promote or regulate private sector economic activity and “look at government programs involved with health and human service delivery systems.”

Scott’s transition team recommended merging the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Health and to combine the departments of Community Affairs, Environmental Protection and Transportation to streamline permitting and regulations.

Obama SOTU includes some Scott-like talk, but guv doesn’t buy it

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011 by Dara Kam

President Barack Obama threw out a few items in his state of the union speech that sounded as if they could have been lobbed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Obama’s already launched a review of rules and regulations with an eye on getting rid of those that hamstring businesses – the same thing the Republican governor started on his first day in office earlier this month.

And the president plans a massive reorg of the federal government, merging agencies to get rid of redundancies, another plan of Scott’s.

But Scott’s statement issued just after the conclusion of Obama’s hour-long talk didn’t mention any similarites. Instead, Scott derided the president’s “Sputnik moment” while making some big promises about his own budget, scheduled to come out Feb. 7 – three days later than he was supposed to deliver it to state lawmakers.

Read Scott’s remarks after the jump.
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Scott hires cost-cutter to head state procurement agency

Friday, January 21st, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott brought on fellow health care executive Jack Miles to head the Department of Management Services, an agency the governor has blasted for wasting taxpayer money.

Miles oversaw contract management and purchasing at CIGNA, one of the nation’s biggest health insurers. Scott founded and was formerly CEO of the Columbia/HCA hospital chain and owns Solantic, a chain of health care centers.

Miles slashed spending at CIGNA by $80 million in less than two years, according to a press release issued by the governor’s office announcing the appointment.

“State government has to learn to live within its means, and Jack Miles will make sure that our state spends taxpayer dollars more wisely as we tighten the belt across the entire government,” Scott said in a statement.

Scott will put Miles to work reviewing contracts to see where the state can “reduce costs and increase efficiency,” the release reads.

Scott’s office is now analyzing every state agency contract worth more than $1 million. He said earlier this week he’s looking at saving money on state purchases as a way to plug a $3.62 billion budget deficit.

‘Axis of Unemployment’ and other highlights of Scott’s inauguration speech

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott, who just one year ago was a virtual unknown to Floridians, choked up after being sworn in to office on his family’s Bible.

His voice hoarse from a week-long inaugural gala that will end with tonight’s black-tie ball, Scott’s 14-minute speech focused almost exclusively on job creation.

Scott, who’s already signed four executive orders including one freezing regulation-creation, tripped up when describing how he plans to review all state agencies and get rid of unnecessary rules.

“We’ll get rid of the agencies…,” Scott said, catching himself. “That’ll be in the paper. That wasn’t part of the script.”

Here are a few highlights from Scott’s first speech as the state’s 45th governor.

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Scott makes first agency head hires

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov.-elect Rick Scott has hired Indiana Corrections Commissioner Edwin G. Buss as Florida’s corrections secretary and Wal-Mart executive Bryan W. Koon to head the state’s emergency management division.

The pair – both former military men – are the first Scott has named to head his executive agencies before taking office on Jan. 4.

Here’s what Scott had to say about Buss in a press release issued late this afternoon:
Buss brings to Florida nearly twenty-four years of hands-on experience in corrections, emergency response, public safety, supervision and budgeting. As Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Corrections and a key member of Governor Mitch Daniels’ cabinet, Buss was responsible for over 7,500 employees, 26,000 inmates, 10,000 parolees throughout the state’s corrections facilities. Prior to serving as Commissioner, Buss served as Superintendent of two Indiana prisons where he refined Death Row and execution procedures, implemented accountability metrics and implemented a safe prison initiative. Throughout his career, Buss has been successful in implementing innovative policies that improve operations while reducing wasteful spending.

And here’s Koon’s biography from the press release announcing his appointment:
Koon brings to Florida nearly twenty years’ experience managing tactical and strategic emergencies in the military, government and private sector. In his current role as Director of Emergency Management for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Koon is responsible for the emergency management operations of over 8,500 facilities worldwide. He is an acknowledged expert in the fields of emergency preparedness, disaster response, continuity of operations and continuity of government. Koon’s broad and varied experience includes several years in the White House Military Office where he developed, maintained and implemented high level, classified programs to ensure continuity of government and continuity of operations in the wake of a tactical or natural disaster. He also served the nation with distinction as a Surface Warfare Officer in the United States Navy, both active duty and in the Navy Reserve.

Crist asks for agency heads’ resignations

Friday, November 19th, 2010 by Dara Kam

In a typical move as he prepares to leave office, Gov. Charlie Crist today asked for the resignations of his agency heads, their senior staff and Crist’s own workers.

“In an effort to ensure a smooth and seamless transition for Governor-elect Rick Scott’s executive and management team, I requested today letters of resignation from my senior executive staff, agency heads and their management teams, as well as all staff within the Executive Office of the Governor,” Crist said in a statement.

“There is no greater calling than to serve others, and I thank each of the dedicated public servants of my administration for their service to the people of Florida. The efficient transition from one leader to another is a testament to our nation’s democracy, and my administration stands ready and willing to assist as needed,” he wrote.

Scott’s amassed a transition team of more than a hundred individuals from Florida and throughout the country as he prepares to take office on Jan. 4.

Budget update: Mental health and substance abuse cuts could create a ‘forensics crisis,’ DCF chief says

Monday, April 26th, 2010 by Dara Kam

House and Senate budget chiefs are closing in on a final budget, with lawmakers backing off a plan to cut state workers’ salaries and agreeing to a ban on funding for human stem cell research.

For the first time, lawmakers and other high-ranking state workers would have to pay a nominal fee for their health insurance, from $100 a year.

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Secretary of State trying to save the libraries

Friday, April 23rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Lantana Road Branch Library (Palm Beach County Library System)

Lantana Road Branch Library (Palm Beach County Library System)

Secretary of State Kurt Browning pounding the Capitol halls today with one thing on his mind: saving the state’s libraries.

“This is a good government issue. This is motherhood and apple pies, public libraries,” said Browning.

He’s about halfway there.

State lawmakers originally scrubbed all funding – $21.2 million – for public libraries from the budget.

But during negotiations between the House and the Senate, the House has put in about $11 million and the Senate slightly more with $13 million.

That’s still not enough to reach the $21.2 million required to draw down about $9 million in federal aid. The state and federal funds keep the libraries in small counties alive and help purchase new books and other materials in others.

With the state’s economy in the tank, more and more Floridians are turning to libraries for free Internet access to search online for jobs and assistance.

The extra money for the libraries – about $10 million – is a drop in the bucket for the state’s $68 billion budget.

“I know money’s tough and I know money’s tight but you’re talking about some library systems that are so dependent on those state dollars” including the one in rural Hardee County that happens to be in Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander’s district, Browning pointed out.

“We need to have these libraries funded. So yes, we’re working on it.”

Questions about the Florida Lottery? Call Texas!

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010 by Dara Kam

With more than 1 million Floridians out of work, Florida taxpayers are footing the bill for the salaries for out-of-state workers.

This time, it’s Florida Lottery vendor GTECH’s workers in Texas that are the beneficiaries. GTECH’s call center is located in Austin and that’s where calls regarding the Lottery’s on-line tickets and other products are answered.

And lawmakers don’t even know how many jobs are at stake in Texas because the private contractors hired by the state to handle call lines won’t give up their number of employees or where they’re located, according to legislative analyst Emily Leventhal.

Sen. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat who sits on the committee, asked Leventhal how many of the 16 private call centers were located outside Florida.

Only GTECH’s, she told him.

“And do you know how many people the state of Florida is paying to work in Austin, Texas?” Deutch asked.

“I do not,” Leventhal replied.

“I think that would be worthwhile information for this committee,” Deutch said.

An incensed Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander agreed.

“If they take the cash or check they can tell us what we want to know,” said Alexander, R-Lake Wales.

Last year, the Department of Children and Families got in hot water because the agency’s food stamp contractor, JP Morgan Chase, routed questions about food stamp services to a call center based in India. The vendor stopped sending the calls overseas and instead sent them to Ohio and Illinois.

The head of the state’s tourism agency also earned the wrath of lawmakers last year when lawmakers found out that calls to Visit Florida were being answered in Missouri. The agency later canceled the contract.

Lawmaker has a beef with DOC ‘food loaf’

Thursday, February 4th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Food loaf. It’s what inmates hope isn’t for dinner.

As if prison food isn’t bad enough already, naughty inmates are fed a mystery “meat” called “food loaf.”

What exactly the loaf is made up of and what prisoners do to warrant the punishing meal isn’t clear either.

“Food loaf” is also known as called “meal management loaf,” “nutri-loaf” or “behavioral loaf in prison circles. In some prisons the concoction is made up of all of the day’s food put into a blender with some oats thrown in and baked into a loaf.

It is given in some prisons to unruly inmates who throw their food trays at correctional officers and was served in the past to Florida inmates with no utensils.

Currently, inmates in Vermont are suing prison officials over the use of the food loaf and which some states have banned.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, asked Department of Corrections Chief of Staff Richard Prudhom at this morning’s Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations meeting morning to give her, in writing, the caloric value of the mystery package and the department policy on offenses that result in the loaf.

Prudhom said he will report back.

The state spends $2.33 a day for three meals and a snack on the 100,000 prisoners behind bars.

Crist orders agencies to check on background checks

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist is ordering agencies to audit their compliance with state law requiring criminal background checks on workers who deal with children, the frail or the elderly.

Crist ordered the review after The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that about more than 6,000 people had been approved by the state to work with the elderly, disabled and children, including some who had been convicted of murder and rape.

Crist is asking a host of agencies to examine the current legal requirements for screening, compliance and report back to him on Nov. 2.

Crist’s order comes on the heels of Democratic Sen. Nan Rich’s filing of legislation to tighten up screening requirements.

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PSC Chairman Carter denies he’s “too cozy” with FPL

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009 by Dara Kam

matt_carterbioIn the latest installment of intrigue at the Public Service Commission, chairman Matthew Carter issued an indignant press release today saying he takes “great offense” at reports that utility regulators are too cozy with Florida Power & Light Co. executives.

The PSC is in the midst of a FPL rate hearing in which the company is seeking a $1.3 billion rate hike implemented over two years.

The opening of the hearing was delayed after it was revealed that a PSC lobbyist and government liaison attended a party at the Palm Beach Gardens home of FPL VP Ed Tancer. Ryder Rudd, director of the commission’s Office of Strategic Analysis and Governmental Affairs, oversees staff working on two pending FPL cases – the current rate hike and a proposed $1.5 billion natural gas pipeline from the Panhandle to Palm Beach County.

An internal investigation released yesterday found that Rudd may not have broken the law by attending the party but may have violated rules of conduct prohibiting PSC staff from accepting gifts from those whose cases are under review.

Commissioner Nathan Skop, who exposed Rudd’s attendance at the party, demanded that Rudd be fired immediately. Rudd has been taken off any dockets involving FPL.

Carter weighed in today with the press release denying that commissioners and their staff are “too cozy with regulated industries, FPL in particular.”

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State lost $250 million on NYC real estate deal

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Florida's $250 million investment in Peter Cooper Village in New York City has turned into a total loss, officials said today.

Florida's $250 million investment in Peter Cooper Village in New York City has turned into a total loss, officials said today.

Florida lost $250 million on a 2007 investment in a Manhattan apartment building, the head of the State Board of Administration told the panel overseeing the board this morning.

Peter Cooper Village in NYC is part of the state’s $99.6 billion portfolio that makes up the state’s pension plan.

The state invested $250 million in the apartment complex, where monthly rents range from $2,625 to $8,333, according to the development’s website.

Less than two years later, the value of the investment is zero, Williams told Gov. Charlie Crist, CFO Alex Sink and AG Bill McCollum, who oversee the SBA.

“We think we’re carrying that investment as a zero on our books,” Williams said.

This morning is the first of the quarterly meetings on the state’s investments requested by Sink that the SBA will give to the panel. (more…)

Protect the piggies – from swine flu!

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009 by Dara Kam

pigFlorida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles Bronson last week asked folks to stop giving pork a bad rap by calling the H1N1 virus “swine flu” because of the devastating impact it’s having on the pork industry.

But the threat of spreading the virus between pigs and people is a real threat, according to yesterday’s New York Times.

Not in the way most might think, however.

Vets fear that humans will spread the virus to the animals and are instituting precautions at state fairs and other places where the porcine creatures come into contact with those higher up on the food chain.

“When the Oregon State Fair opens next week, the pigs will be kept behind an elaborate configuration of plastic and ribbon barriers, taller-than-usual fences and off-limits walkways. The state veterinarian is also urging visitors to stay six feet away.

The worry? The spread of swine flu, but with a twist: state officials hope to insulate the pigs from sick people.

‘Help us protect the piggies,’ signs at the fair will read in pink,” the story begins.

“The whole idea of the animals getting sick from people is a foreign concept to people, but that’s what we’re looking at here,” said Iowa state veterinarian David E. Marshall said in the story.

UPDATE: Prisons chief asks FBI to investigate inmate beating

Friday, August 21st, 2009 by Dara Kam

homepage-mcneilFlorida Department of Corrections Secretary Walt McNeil has asked the Federal Bureau of Investigations to join state law enforcement officials investigating the weekend beating of an inmate by prison guards at Union Correction Institution in Raiford.

McNeil revealed little about the nature of the 47-year-old inmate’s injuries other than that they are “serious” but did not know if they were life-threatening. The unnamed inmate remains in the hospital, McNeil said.

Four guards took removed the inmate from his cell on Saturday after he threw feces at them, McNeil said. On Monday morning, another prison worker reported the injuries.

McNeil fired four nurses and placed seven correctional officers on paid leave. He said he asked the FBI to investigate because of possible civil rights violations.

The beatings are the latest in a string of attacks on inmates by prison guards at UCI and neighboring Florida State Prison in Starke.

But McNeil said he doubts there is a systemic problem in the prison system.

“There is never an excuse for this type of behavior. What you’re seeing is a manifestation of persons that don’t have that kind of self-control that they need to,” he said.

Florida unemployment holds steady

Friday, August 21st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Florida’s jobless rate remained at 10.7 percent in July, 1.3 percent points higher than the national unemployment rate of 9.4 percent, the Agency for Workforce Innovation reported today.

The unemployment rate in June and July is the highest in the past 34 years. In October 1975, the jobless rate was 11 percent.

The rate remained steady although the state has already spent more than $944 million of federal stimulus money on unemployment benefits and resources.

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