It's one thing to be a hands-off governor when it comes to lawmaking. It's something else to be a governor who fails to use the tools at his disposal to protect consumers even as he promotes himself as an advocate for the middle class. Five weeks after legislators left Tallahassee, the full scope of anticonsumer bills passed in the 2013 session is becoming apparent. Yet Gov. Rick Scott is routinely acquiescing to special interests by signing their bills rather than upholding his pledge to look out for consumers.
Through three legislative sessions, Scott has rarely bothered to personally become involved in the details of lawmaking. This year he focused on just two initiatives — teacher pay raises and a sales tax break for manufacturers. His implicit defense is he has a chance to weigh in on legislation as he signs bills into law or vetoes them.
But Scott seems only willing to defend consumers' interests if he perceives he will politically benefit — such as his veto of a modest tuition increase at the state's public universities. Scott said it amounted to tax increase. But he has yet to apply the same outrage on pocketbook issues hitting far more Floridians.
Consider the ways Scott has failed to show up for Floridians this year:
• He failed to mount any serious objection to a state law that has allowed Duke Energy to bill customers for one nuclear plant that won't be fixed and another that may never be built. He signed into law some tepid changes to the nuclear cost recovery law that do not go far enough (SB 1472). He should be pushing to repeal the law instead of collecting big checks from the utilities for his political committee.
• He continues to demand that homeowners be taken out of the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. He refuses to answer direct questions on whether he supports or opposes Citizens' outrageous decision to give a new St. Petersburg company, Heritage Property and Casualty Insurance, up to $52 million to assume up to 60,000 Citizens policies.
• He signed into law legislation that erodes the rights of Florida's nearly 6 million renters by making it easier for them to be evicted, including on weekends and holidays, even if they have paid partial rent. (HB 77)
• He signed into law legislation making it harder for consumers duped on a car lot to sue. Under the new law, victims of deceptive acts by car dealers have to file a demand letter to the dealer before filing suit and give the dealer 30 days to provide a remedy. (HB 55)
• He signed into law legislation that means cash-strapped Floridians can be charged even higher interest rates on short-term loans frequently called payday loans. (HB 425)
• He signed into law legislation giving up Florida's ability to regulate new insurance policies under the federal Affordable Care Act for two years. (SB 1842)
• He signed into law two pieces of legislation that will make it harder to ensure polluters — instead of taxpayers — pay for cleanup from sugar farming. (SB 768, HB 999)
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• He signed into law legislation that makes it harder for plaintiffs to win medical malpractice cases and other civil suits by making it more difficult to recruit expert witnesses. (HB 7015, SB 1792)
Scott says that his No. 1 priority is jobs for Floridians. He spent this weekend in Paris at an air show on another recruiting junket. But being chief economic development officer is just part of his duty. His job is also to stand up for 19 million Floridians and ensure that the laws he signs provide fair treatment for all, not just special favors for a few. The governor claims to represent the consumers, but his actions suggest otherwise.