Facing Flurry of Lawsuits, a Governor Loses a Round

Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican conservative, took office this year on a promise to shake things up. That he did, and now the aggrieved — teachers, prison workers, food stamp recipients, doctors — are plastering him with lawsuits.

The lawsuits have rolled in over the past few months, making Governor Scott as popular in the legal sphere as he is at a Tea Party meet-and-greet.

On Tuesday, he lost a round. The Florida Supreme Court concluded that Mr. Scott “overstepped his constitutional authority” and “violated the separation of powers” when he suspended all proposed rules until he could review and approve them. It was the governor’s first executive order.

A majority of judges stated that Mr. Scott encroached on the State Legislature’s authority when he opted to unilaterally freeze rule-making.

The governor, who issued the order to stave off any burdensome rules for the private sector, was sued in June by a blind Miami woman collecting food stamps. The woman, Rosalie Whiley, said Governor Scott had delayed a rule that made it easier for her to collect food stamps.

“It’s a disappointment,” Mr. Scott said, about the decision. “You know, think about it. The secretaries of these agencies report to me. They work for me at will, then I’m not supposed to supervise them? It doesn’t make any sense.”

But the governor has many more chances to vindicate himself in court.

He is being sued for requiring state agencies to test job applicants for drugs and conduct random screening on existing employees (none are taking place pending the outcome of the suit).

Florida doctors and their lobbyists are suing him to block a law that hampers their ability to ask patients about guns in their homes. The law states that any question about guns must be relevant to the patient’s case.

Three unions representing state workers, including the teachers’ union, filed a class-action suit against the governor for taking 3 percent of their salaries and shifting the money into the pension system.

The unions say the state violated its contractual obligation to the workers and broke the law. At the same time, the union that represents state correctional officers is suing him in the hope of derailing a plan to privatize 30 Florida prisons.

Also pending is a lawsuit that challenges the governor and his administration over the establishment of a new voting law, which would among other things tighten rules on third party registration, until the Department of Justice completes a full review.

Last week, Citizens for National Security jumped in the fray. The volunteer group, which monitors national security and extremism, sued Governor Scott over a new law that changes the way textbooks are reviewed and selected. In particular, the group is concerned about how religions are depicted in the textbooks.

The law, a cost-saving measure, cut the number of people assigned to oversee textbooks from at least 10 to 2 people, making a thorough review almost impossible, the group said in the suit.

Lane Wright, a spokesman for Mr. Scott, played down the lawsuits, saying it was not exactly surprising for a new governor to be sued. Plus, Mr. Wright added, placing the governor’s name on a lawsuit, as opposed to the Florida Legislature or any one of its lesser-known members, attracts a lot more attention to a cause.

“Sometimes special interests will file lawsuits to try to get their views represented,” Mr. Wright said. “Often, they name the governor, even though it’s not always appropriate to do that. The governor does sign things into law. That doesn’t make him a de facto defendant in the suit.”

But Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said the governor had earned the title of lead defendant in the suits because of his disregard for the Constitution, the legislative branch and courts. The A.C.L.U. is party to several of the lawsuits.

“And there is more coming,” Mr. Simon said. “He has to take ownership and responsibility for bad laws.”

But Mr. Simon did concede: “It’s not only him. You’ve had an out-of-control Legislature.”

At the root of this, Mr. Simon said, is the governor’s failure to make the transition from corporate chief executive to governor.

“Government doesn’t operate in the way that you wake up one morning and you issue an edict and you expect everyone to jump,” Mr. Simon said. “There is shared power. He is not used to sharing power.”

 

Source:  Lizette Alvarez @ The New York Times

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