1. Opinion

Scott has more strikeouts than hits

Published Jul. 7, 2012

If Gov. Rick Scott were a ballplayer, he would be a pretty weak hitter. In the early innings of his administration, the governor has struck out often and hit few homers in the courts. Fortunately, the judicial branch has acted as a check on the executive and legislative branches when they have trampled on the rights of Floridians or challenged the federal government for stepping in where the state has failed. The scorecard:


Docs vs. Glocks. A 2011 state law largely barring doctors from asking their patients about gun ownership that was pushed by the National Rifle Association was overturned by a federal court judge. U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke ruled that the Firearm Owners' Privacy Act violated physicians' free speech rights by being so vague that it prevented doctors from providing patients with truthful, non-misleading, safety-related information.

Health care. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld nearly the entire Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi led the fight against the law. Now Scott says he still will not create a health care exchange or agree to the expansion of Medicaid that would be largely paid for with federal dollars.

Private Prisons. After a late change to the state budget last year that would have privatized 29 prisons, a Leon County circuit judge blocked the plan that was supported by Scott, saying the Legislature should have passed a stand-alone bill rather than making such a substantial policy change in the fine print of its budget language. That decision is on appeal.

Drug Testing. In April, Scott's executive order requiring random drug tests for 85,000 state employees was set aside by U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro in Miami. In September, U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven in Orlando preliminarily blocked a 2011 law requiring welfare applicants to take a drug test before they could receive cash assistance. The state has appealed.

Voter laws. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee set aside provisions that forced voter registration groups to submit voter forms within 48 hours or face substantial fines. The judge found that the law made it "risky business" for voter registration groups to operate. His injunction means that groups now have 10 days to get the forms into elections supervisors' offices, just as before.

Air and water. In February, Hinkle upheld most of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's water cleanup standards that Scott and Bondi sought to overturn and affirmed the EPA's authority to enforce the federal Clean Water Act. Two rules were tossed out on primarily technical grounds. In June, a federal appeals court upheld the EPA's efforts to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases. Florida is one of 15 states challenging the EPA's efforts and vowing to appeal.

Cuba Policy. In May, Scott signed a bill at Miami's Freedom Tower that would bar state and local governments from hiring companies with business ties in Cuba or Syria for contracts valued at $1 million or more. But soon after, Scott issued a signing statement that he believed the law was unenforceable. U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore temporarily enjoined the law last month as an intrusion on the federal government's sole authority to dictate foreign policy.

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Public Pensions. In 2011, the Legislature passed a law pushed by Scott that required the state's 560,000 public employees, from teachers to city workers, who are members of the Florida Retirement System to contribute 3 percent of their salaries to the pension fund. In March, Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford ruled that the contributions violated the employees' contract rights and constituted an illegal taking of property. Fulford also found unconstitutional the way the law unilaterally lowered cost-of-living adjustments retirees received. The ruling has been appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.

Rulemaking. Hours after Scott was inaugurated in January 2011 he signed an executive order requiring his approval of all proposed state rules and freezing all pending rules. That power grab was set aside by the Florida Supreme Court, which said Scott "overstepped his constitutional authority and violated the separation of powers." Scott denounced the ruling as "not right."


Voter Purge. An attempt by the U.S. Justice Department to stop Florida from using a faulty list to purge noncitizens from the state's voter rolls close to an election failed last month. Hinkle, the federal judge, accepted the state's claim that its purge was over after more than 2,600 names of suspected noncitizens were sent to the county election supervisors. The supervisors of elections had said they would stop using the lists.

Everglades. A decades-long dispute over the state's responsibility to dramatically reduce polluted farm, ranch and yard runoff into the River of Grass has been settled. Scott's administration announced in June that an agreement had been reached with federal environmental regulators that should resolve two ongoing federal lawsuits and commit Florida to an $880 million state cleanup plan.

High-Speed Rail. After Scott rejected $2.4 billion in federal money to build a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, a last-ditch lawsuit was filed by two state senators to block the move, arguing that Scott overstepped his executive authority. The Florida Supreme Court quickly ruled unanimously in a one-page ruling siding with Scott.

On deck

County Medicaid Bills. In April, the Florida Association of Counties sued the state over legislation requiring counties pay up to $325 million in contested Medicaid bills.

Voting. There are two issues — whether a three-judge federal court will preclear the 2011 changes to Florida's election law in the five counties where it is required to ensure that minority voters are not adversely affected; and whether an election can go forward with two different sets of election rules within the state. A petition filed June 29 with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings asks whether having nonuniform election procedures in five out of 67 counties violates Florida law.


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