Saturday, December 16, 2017
Business

Gov. Rick Scott signs Cuba-crackdown bill, but it's a public relations fiasco

Gov. Rick Scott began Tuesday morning as the darling of Miami's Cuban exile community, but by day's end he was being vilified for the way he handled a bill cracking down on companies that do business with Cuba and Syria.

Shortly after praising their fellow Republican for signing the law at the historic Freedom Tower, Cuban-American lawmakers at the event learned Scott issued a letter that essentially declared it unenforceable.

The lawmakers — members of Congress, legislators and local commissioners — said Scott blindsided them and undermined the legislation, which prohibits state and local taxpayers from hiring firms that do work in Cuba and Syria.

After a heated telephone conversation with Scott, U.S. Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, said he was ready to take the governor to court.

"As a Florida taxpayer who does not want my tax dollars going to companies that do business with terrorist regimes, I am more than willing to sue the governor and the state of Florida to force implementation of this law," Rivera said.

"I'm sure the governor has been misled by his staff and hope he will reconsider his position so that it does not result in a lawsuit," said Rivera, who later joined state lawmakers on Spanish-language radio to bash Scott.

But Scott's administration said the governor was clear Tuesday morning about the law when he appeared on a couple of Spanish-language radio stations. He said that, since this state law involves foreign trade, the president and Congress need to expressly authorize it.

"The way it works is, it's not operative until the federal government passes legislation," Scott told WQBA-AM (1140) an hour before the bill signing.

"Right now, there's federal legislation that allows you not to do business with Sudan and Iran. But there's not federal legislation for Syria and Cuba yet," he said. "So President Obama needs to do it. It's the right thing to do. We need to continue to put pressure on Cuba and Syria. Both of them are repressive regimes."

But the Republican lawmakers at the event, including the congressional members, said Scott is wrong; Congress doesn't need to change the law.

The confusion and finger-pointing is a case study of Miami's highly emotional exile politics and underscores how Scott, a political newcomer, is still feeling his way around the state's sometimes-treacherous politics.

Scott's error: He never told any of the lawmakers that he would issue a signing statement that mentioned what he said on the radio. After the event, he failed to clearly mention his concerns in a 12-minute question-and-answer session. His office then issued his letter after the bill-signing, leading some to accuse the governor of disguising his intentions to help big business.

That one act turned a picture-perfect election-year bill signing into a public relations fiasco.

Earlier, Scott was cheered for ceremonially signing the bill by Rivera and his fellow U.S. representatives, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart. Rep. Connie Mack also spoke, as did the legislation sponsors, state Rep. Michael Bileca of Miami and Sen. Rene Garcia of Hialeah. Florida House Republican leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera hosted the event.

Former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz Balart and the legislators said that Scott's position in his letter doesn't change the state law. He signed it. And therefore it goes into effect July 1, regardless of what Scott writes, they said. But they're worried that Scott's written concerns will be Exhibit A in a future lawsuit challenging the restrictions.

Scott's spokesman, Brian Burgess, said the governor is basing his decision on the legal analysis of staffers, not politics.

"It's unfortunate people are taking out their frustrations on the governor," Burgess said. "The governor has done his part. He supports this legislation. He signed it. He stands with them."

The state law would prohibit state and local governments from hiring companies with business ties in Cuba or Syria for contracts worth at least $1 million. A main target: Odebrecht, the giant Brazilian engineering and construction conglomerate.

Odebrecht USA, a Coral Gables-based U.S. subsidiary, has been involved in most of South Florida's major projects, including the North Terminal at Miami International Airport and the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

Odebrecht officials and the president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce had lobbied the governor and Attorney General Pam Bondi behind the scenes to veto the proposal.

When a veto began to look unlikely, they pushed for Scott to keep the portion of the legislation keeping the state from investing in companies expanding trade with Cuba — but to question whether the portion affecting state and local government contracts would be enforceable. It's unclear which, or how many, companies would be affected by the legislation.

Alfredo Durán, a Miami lawyer and Bay of Pigs veteran who advocates for U.S. dialogue with Cuba, called the law an election-year attempt aimed at Cuban-American voters.

"The Legislature cannot override U.S. foreign policy," he said. "It's a hypocritical exercise to wrap themselves around the Cuban flag."

Comments
Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

TAMPA — For the half of the year that Harry Nichols lives in Oldsmar, he plays 18 holes several times a month at Rocky Point Golf Course. On a good day, Nichols said he shoots close to par on the Dana Shores course. And if he’s really lucky, it’ll on...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Fueled by indulgence and machismo, restaurants are a hotbed for sexual harassment

Fueled by indulgence and machismo, restaurants are a hotbed for sexual harassment

When Brenda Terry was 16 and living in St. Louis, she was a hostess and food runner at a sports bar where female employees wore cute, little cheerleading skirts. One night, she said, a patron grabbed her crotch. She ran to her management team and the...
Published: 12/15/17
Pigs can be therapy animals too. So can horses and rats and cats and llamas and … (w/video)

Pigs can be therapy animals too. So can horses and rats and cats and llamas and … (w/video)

Shrieks of laughter echoed off the walls of the hospital as Thunder the mini pig flopped onto his side and the children huddled around him, scratching his pink, hairy belly. He and his wet-nosed partner, Bolt, drew patients in wheelchairs and bandage...
Published: 12/15/17
Vology landlord challenges property tax assessment

Vology landlord challenges property tax assessment

LARGO — Eight months after paying $10.15 million for the office building that houses IT services company Vology, a New York company is suing the Pinellas County Property Appraiser and Florida Department of Revenue contending its $5.5 million tax asse...
Published: 12/15/17
Florida’s $1.1 billion Hardest Hit Fund winding down after some hard knocks

Florida’s $1.1 billion Hardest Hit Fund winding down after some hard knocks

In 2010, Florida was in the throes of an unprecedented housing crisis. One in every eight homes was in some stage of foreclosure. Today, the foreclosure rate is one in every 83. Because of that enormous drop, Florida’s Hardest Hit Fund will s...
Published: 12/15/17
Report: Rich will get still richer unless policies change

Report: Rich will get still richer unless policies change

By ELAINE KURTENBACHTOKYO — Global inequality has stabilized at high levels in recent years, a report said Friday, despite gains among the poor in China and much milder disparities in incomes and wealth in Western Europe. The World Inequality Report ...
Published: 12/15/17
How the Disney/Fox deal will shake up Hollywood

How the Disney/Fox deal will shake up Hollywood

Associated Press NEW YORK — After years of tremors, the earthquake that had long been predicted finally shook Hollywood. Disney’s deal to purchase most of 21st Century Fox ends the era of the "Big Six" major movie studios, toppling one ...
Published: 12/15/17
St. Petersburg’s Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement set to be complete in 2019

St. Petersburg’s Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement set to be complete in 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — The Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, under construction since 2015, is scheduled to be complete by the summer of 2019.The five-story, 137,100-square-foot building will house businessman and collector Rudy Ciccarello’s...
Published: 12/15/17
Obamacare enrollment ends today, but some can get an extension

Obamacare enrollment ends today, but some can get an extension

Today is the day that open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act will close for most people. But those affected by the slew of hurricanes that pummelled Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and other states earlier this year can take advantage of a two-week ...
Published: 12/15/17
Pack your bags: 107.3M Americans to set holiday traveling record

Pack your bags: 107.3M Americans to set holiday traveling record

A record-breaking number of Americans are expected to travel this holiday season.The American Automobile Association projects that 107.3 million Americans will pack their bags and travel more than 50 miles by planes, trains, automobiles and other mod...
Published: 12/14/17