Longform

A Tour of Gov. Rick Scott's Dirtiest Deeds

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Proponents said the prison contracts will go only to bidders who reduce costs by 7 percent, saving the state about $27 million a year. But a legislative analyst who testified before the state Senate in February admitted it was tough to figure out the cost savings, because private and public prisons often operate differently. "They're never apples to apples," analyst Byron Brown said.

And a 2010 study of prisons in Arizona, which also has a cost-savings requirement for its private lockups, questioned whether outsourcing is the cheapest option. The Arizona state auditor found that medium-security private prisons cost $1,200 more per inmate a year than state-run facilities. Reviewing prison studies in other states, the auditor also noted "cost savings from contracting with private prisons... are not guaranteed."

Enacted Jim Crow-Style Voting Laws

After squeaking into office with just 61,550 more votes than his opponent, Scott wasted no time in disenfranchising people who might oust him in the next election cycle. In March, the Florida Clemency Board — composed of Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, and other members of his Cabinet — passed a ban on felon voting rights, forcing nonviolent offenders to wait five years after completing their sentences to apply to have their rights restored.

The new rule turned back the clock on Florida's voting laws. During the 2000 election, thousands of voters were wrongfully purged from the rolls because they were misidentified as felons. That mishap brought to light the painful fact that Florida had the largest number of disenfranchised felons in the nation — a disproportionate swath of whom were African-American.

Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist heeded the outcry over this injustice and made it easier for ex-felons to get their voting rights restored. But Scott undid all their reforms, dismissing the racist implications of his decision.

The felon voting ban dates back to the years just following the Civil War. It was zealously employed — just like poll taxes — to keep African-Americans from voting, says Lance deHaven-Smith, a professor of public administration at Florida State University. "It was used to target and weaken voting rights for blacks, and that is what they're doing with it today," he says.

And Scott wasn't done. In May, the Legislature passed new election requirements that can be used to prevent less-wealthy people — those who work long hours and move frequently — from voting. The law makes it tougher for get-out-the-vote groups to register new voters, requires voters to use a provisional ballot if they have moved from one county to another and not registered the address change before Election Day, and reduces the number of early voting days from 14 to eight.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit in Miami seeking to block implementation of the new law. Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida branch of the ACLU, called the law "a trifecta of voter suppression."

Mandated Drug Testing for State Workers and Welfare Recipients

You know something has gone terribly wrong when a concerned group of Key West citizens feels the need to send a communal vat of urine to Florida's governor.

The group, called the Committee for the Positive Insistence on a Sane Society (PISS), collected the urine samples to protest an executive order that Scott issued in March, requiring all state employees to submit to drug tests. "Floridians deserve to know that those in public service, whose salaries are paid with taxpayer dollars, are part of a drug-free workplace," he said at the time.

In June, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit calling the pee test unconstitutional. Scott suspended the order, pending the lawsuit, although state Department of Corrections employees will still be tested.

He campaigned on, and delivered, a separate law signed in May that requires prospective recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — cash welfare for families with children — to pass a drug test.This rule struck close to home for Scott. He has a brother in Texas who has struggled with bipolar disorder, has a criminal history that includes drug possession, and now receives social security insurance.

With this law, Florida may be repeating an old mistake. Thirteen years ago the state launched a pilot program to drug-test recipients of cash welfare, and it was an utter failure. Only 3.8 percent of the 8,800 people who took the test failed it. This little government experiment cost the state $2.7 million, and the program was ultimately scrapped, according to PolitiFact.com.

How's that for fiscal austerity?

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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab