Watchdog Reporting from Florida's State Capitol

Before DeSantis could say he kicked migrants out of Florida, he had to pay to fly them in

Documents released this week by the aviation company that helped manage Florida’s $12 million migrant relocation program shed new light on behind-the-scenes dealings as the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis, working with the politically connected vendor, wriggled around a requirement that Florida use the money to export Florida migrants — not those living in some other state.

Senate president steers $331 million to agriculture. He might get to spend it, too.

Republican Senate President Wilton Simpson wants to be the next Florida agriculture commissioner, and he is using his power over the $105 billion state budget to give the agency a gift: $331 million in new spending. But it also comes with a catch: It can’t be spent until after the election. The money — $300 million for land acquisition, plus aerial drones, agriculture promotion and new jobs — must be held in reserve and not used by Nikki Fried, the current agriculture commissioner who is a Democratic candidate for governor.

Legislating in the time of COVID-19 means putting protections over public access

Located on the tallest hill in the highest part of the state, halfway between Pensacola and Jacksonville, Florida’s Capitol is hard to reach for most Floridians during the annual legislative session.But this year, as legislators opened their 60-day session Tuesday trying to navigate a global pandemic and stay healthy enough to avoid disrupting their activities, access to elected government is even more distant.

Timeline: Florida’s dark year for its Sunshine Law

A year ago on March 1, 2020, Florida announced its first two cases of the novel coronavirus, and declared a public health emergency recognizing the emergence of the novel coronavirus. Only later did we learn that the spread of COVID-19 in Florida likely began in January, if not earlier, but as late as March 11, as the White House downplayed the virus, Gov. Ron DeSantis denied that community spread was taking place in Florida. Here is a summary of the state of transparency in Florida over the last year:

Florida lawmakers feed on special-interest money

In the latest election cycle, dozens of Florida legislators raked in $6 million in special-interest campaign money and spent a good deal of it on themselves for meals, rental cars, plane trips and hotels. Some lawmakers are feeding at the trough of contributors, enjoying expensive dinners at upscale restaurants with donors’ money at a time when one in 10 Floridians are on food stamps. Others are churning cash from one political committee to another, sing it to finance direct contributions and attack ads for other candidates, thereby strengthening their own clout in a virtually untraceable shell game.

This secretive group is trying to create barriers to amending Florida’s Constitution

A secretive organization with the goal of thwarting amendments approved by voters after the 2020 election cycle has spent more than $800,000 on paid petition gatherers in the last four months, using funds from undisclosed sources and raising the specter of another high stakes fight over the future of energy regulation in Florida. The organization calls itself Keep Our Constitution Clean and says its purpose is to keep the state’s premier legal document uncluttered by special interest measures.

Reluctantly, under pressure, Florida disclosed COVID-19 data. What the numbers tell us

As Florida’s government built a plan to contain the effects of a global pandemic, it elevated one tool above all others: data. But unlike the way the state has handled other infectious diseases, the COVID-19 records have been incomplete, changed without explanation, dropped from the Department of Health website without warning, or don’t match the public narrative advanced by the governor. The Miami Herald investigated.

The Florida COVID-19 data said one thing while Gov. DeSantis sometimes said another

When Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that most of the state would reopen for business on May 4, he cited his administration’s “data-driven strategy” and success at achieving “critical benchmarks in flattening the curve” to contain COVID-19. But a review of the data the governor was using shows his public pronouncements were often in conflict with real-time facts. He either wasn’t aware the data showed that community spread, regional outbreaks and death tolls were worse than he was telling Floridians, or he selectively focused on outdated statistics to make his case.
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