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Gov. Rick Scott Unbowed by Legal Setback

August 17, 2011 - 6:00pm

Gov. Rick Scott is the subject of numerous lawsuits seeking to thwart his agenda, and Tuesday he experienced his first legal setback when the Florida Supreme Court found he overstepped his authority in seeking executive approval of new agency rules.

The decision prevents the office he set up to review new and existing rules from stopping new rules, but Scotts office will continue to be involved in the rule-making process, even if it doesnt have a de jure veto power over new rules.

Scott said he disagreed with the decision, but remains confident he is on solid legal ground in other lawsuits.

No, it wont, Scott said when asked if the decision would affect how he proceeds in future legal challenges.

His early track record with lawsuits gives ample justification for such confidence, having received a unanimous Florida Supreme Court opinion backing his decision to kill the states proposed high-speed rail project earlier this year.

But Tuesdays decision showed Scott wont receive wholehearted backing from the courts on every issue or suit. He has already adjusted his tactics, if not his overall policy, in the face of lawsuits.

Two months ago, Scott halted his plan to drug-test state workers, citing a forthcoming legal challenge from the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

He previously issued an executive order directing state agencies under his control to draft plans for testing employees. Faced with a lawsuit, however, Scott temporarily paused plans to drug-screen workers in most state agencies.

The Department of Corrections, which already tests 21,000 of its 27,000 employees, was directed to draft a plan to expand its testing to all employees. DOC workers were given a 60-day notice that drug tests of all employees will begin sometime after Sept. 15, but a specific plan is still in the drafting phases and is yet to be implemented.

We have not started testing yet. We are in the process of changing our administrative rule on random testing. Making changes to administrative rules take (sic) time. We do not have a definite start date yet, said DOC spokesperson Jo Ellyn Rackleff. We have yet to test anyone who would not have been tested under our existing programs, she added.

Scott's office says he is still committed to the policy of drug-testing state workers.

The governors legal team is likely to remain busy. Heres a list of the other lawsuits Scott is involved in:

  • State worker unions are suing over a required 3 percent contribution to their pensions, which they claim is a violation of existing contract agreements.
  • The Police Benevolent Association is trying to block Floridas planned privatization of 30 prisons.
  • The ACLU is also suing to prevent the new elections law from being fully implemented. The law shortens early voting time, prevents voters from changing their name or address on the day of an election, and imposes stricter regulations and fines on third-party voter registration groups.
  • Florida doctors are suing to stop a law that prohibits doctors from asking patients about gun ownership unless it directly relates to a patients health.
  • Although it hasnt officially filed a suit yet, the Florida Education Association, the states largest teachers union and one of the unions suing over the pension contribution, will likely challenge the teacher merit pay bill Scott signed into law this year that ties salaries more closely to student test scores.

Scotts office says he is unfairly and inappropriately being named in lawsuits to draw attention to a groups particular cause.

His lawyers asked federal courts to review the most objectionable parts of the elections law -- instead of the U.S. Department of Justice review that elections laws typically receive -- and requested Scotts name be withdrawn as a defendant in the case because Secretary of State Kurt Browning is tasked with enforcing it.

The next round in Scotts legal battle will center on the prison privatization lawsuit, with trial dates set for Sept. 29 and Oct. 25. The pension contribution suit will get a hearing Oct. 26.

Reach Gray Rohrer at or at (850) 727-0859.

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