Saturday, November 25, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Less time in court, more working for Florida

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Here's an idea for Gov. Rick Scott's second term: Spend less in taxpayer resources and administrative energy on pointless court fights, and focus instead on serving the people of Florida. Rulings earlier this month from the 11th U.S. District Court of Appeals in Atlanta that tossed two signature Scott efforts — drug testing welfare recipients and enforcing the state's unconstitutional ban on gay marriage — were a reminder of just how fruitless many of his efforts have been over the last four years.

In case you lost count, the scorecard:

LOST

Health care

The Florida-led effort asking the U.S. Supreme Court to set aside the Affordable Care Act largely failed, and now thousands more Floridians have health care coverage thanks to the act. Scott has claimed support for accepting Medicaid expansion money, but has done little to encourage his fellow Republicans in the state House to do so.

Private prisons

When Scott couldn't succeed in winning broad legislative support for converting state prisons in South Florida to privately-run ones, his legislative allies tucked proviso language into the 2012 state budget. First a trial judge, then an appellate one, said no.

Drug testing

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected Scott's attempt to resuscitate plans to drug-test welfare applicants and the U.S. Supreme Court has refused Scott's request to take up a challenge to his executive order subjecting all state workers to drug tests. Yet he's still pursing an abbreviated employee drug testing plan on appeal — acknowledging some workers don't need to be tested. The state is reviewing whether to further pursue the welfare case.

Voter laws

Federal courts struck down a state law that would have required voter registration groups to submit voter forms within 48 hours or face substantial fines.

Air and water

The state failed to stop a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initiative to clean up Florida's waterways, setting the stage for future fights over the EPA's authority. Florida also intervened in several losing efforts to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other major polluters and fighting cross-state air pollution — both programs that were later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cuba policy

Just 16 months after Scott traveled to Miami's Freedom Tower in 2012 to sign a law outlawing state and local governments from hiring companies with business ties to Cuba or Syria, the state declined to appeal a federal judge's ruling that it was an intrusion into the federal government's sole authority to determine foreign policy.

Voter purge

The governor's badly flawed 2012 purge effort violated federal law, a federal appeals court confirmed earlier this year. Yet Scott tried again in 2014 to purge the rolls before having to admit under pressure that the federal database he was relying on to identify noncitizens was too flawed.

Rulemaking

When Scott tried to make an immediate power grab upon becoming governor — signing an executive order requiring his approval of all proposed state administrative rules — the Florida Supreme Court let him know he had violated the separation of powers by usurping legislative authority.

WON

Docs vs. Glocks

A three-judge appeals panel sided with Scott and the Legislature earlier this year in overturning a trial court ruling that a 2011 state law violated doctors' free speech rights by largely barring them from asking patients about gun ownership. Doctors groups are seeking a rehearing before the full bench of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Everglades

Scott settled a decades-old dispute with federal regulators over runoff that was polluting the River of Grass by committing to a $880 million state cleanup plan.

Preclearance

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2013 greatly weakened the Voting Rights Act that had led to the federal government requiring preclearance of voting law changes in areas with a history of discriminating against minorities, including five counties in Florida.

Public pensions

Three years after lawmakers, at Scott's behest, began requiring state and local workers who make up the Florida Retirement System to contribute 3 percent of their salary to the system, an appellate court rejected unions' argument that the law violated contract rights.

High-speed rail

The Florida Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit that claimed Scott had not had the authority to reject $2.4 billion in federal money to build a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando.

UNDECIDED

Public records

Scott recently admitted to using a private email account to conduct public business, but now he's fighting to keep emails from that same private account from being released. Scott is spending his own money to continue a California suit initially filed by the state. It seeks to block Google from complying with a subpoena tied to a Florida court case in which the plaintiff's lawyers are seeking the records.

Vouchers

The state is facing a pair of lawsuits after Scott signed a law earlier this year that will dramatically increase the amount of corporate tax money siphoned off to fund private school vouchers as well as make it more likely middle-class families can qualify for a program that has been reserved for low-income families. The law also creates a poorly drafted plan to provide individual spending accounts to families with disabled children. One suit argues that vouchers violate the state's constitutional requirement for uniform and free public schools (voucher recipients often must also pay additional tuition at private schools); the other challenge argues that combining two disparate programs in one law violates the Constitution's single subject rule on legislation.

Teacher evaluation

A poorly written teacher evaluation plan that Scott embraced during his first year in office is now the subject of a teachers' union lawsuit claiming lack of due process. The scheme is overly reliant on standardized tests and actually had some teachers being evaluated based on the test scores of students they may never have taught.

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