AIDS Healthcare Foundation Sues Rick Scott: Why Are You Hiding?

In Featured by Rachel Mills

MEDIA CONTACTS:

FLORIDA:

Imara Canady, Regional Director, Communications & Community Engagement for AHF

[email protected]954.952.0258 mobile

NATIONAL:

Marin Austin, Director of Communications, AHF +1.323.308.1821 work   +1.323.333.7754 cell   [email protected]

 

This afternoon, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), filed a law suit against Florida Governor Rick Scott in response to Scott’s denial to provide open records of his public schedule, pursuant to an open records request filed on July 19th.

TALLAHASSEE (July 26, 2018) AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the world’s largest non-profit HIV/AIDS service organization, with operations throughout the State of Florida, has filed a law suit today against Florida Governor Rick Scott, in response to his office refusing to provide copies of his gubernatorial public schedule, requested by the agency earlier this month.

Following multiple attempts by AHF to reach the Governor to address the agencies concerns in regards to a recent decision by Scott and state Medicaid officials to deny the continuation of healthcare coverage to over 2,000 patients living with HIV, provided by Positive Healthcare (PHC), a Medicaid managed healthcare plan administered by the non-profit, the agency file an  open records request.  Given AHF’s failure to connect with Scott, the open records request, submitted on behalf of PHC, was submitted to the Governor’s Office on July 19th requesting copies of all public records showing meetings and travel plans involving the Governor for the period of July 20, 2018 through October 31, 2018.  More specifically, the following was requested:

  1. A copy of Governor Scott’s electronic calendar showing all meetings, events, and

appearances involving the Governor for the period July 20, 2018 through October 31, 2018;

  1. A copy of any hardcopy calendars or other documents showing all meetings, events, and

appearances involving the Governor for the period July 20, 2018 through October 31, 2018;

  1. All documents and records that indicate where Governor Scott will travel during the

period July 20, 2018 through October 31, 2018;

  1. All documents and records that indicate where Governor Scott will reside during the

period July 20, 2018 through October 31, 2018; and

  1. A list of all campaign and fundraising events Governor Scott will attend as part of his

campaign for U.S. Senate during the period July 20, 2018 through October 31, 2018.

The Governor’s Office denied AHF’s request stating they were “unable to provide these records at this time as they are exempt pursuant to 119.071(2)(d) F.S.” essentially stating that the information about Scott’s schedule is exempt from the public records law because the law doesn’t provide for access to “any information revealing surveillance techniques or procedures or personnel”.

On July 23rd, in a written correspondence addressing concerns about this response, AHF’s legal counsel responded stating that “as a threshold matter, the Florida Public Records Act is expressly broad and favors the disclosure of records: “It is the policy of this state that all state, county, and municipal records are open for personal inspection and copying by any person. Providing access to public records is a duty of each agency.” As pursuant to the Florida Constitution, Chapter 119.01 F.S.  The written response went on to state: Moreover, this position has been explicitly endorsed by Florida courts. For example, a Florida District Court of Appeals clearly stated that “[t]he general purpose of the Florida Public Records Act is to open public records so that Florida’s citizens can discover the actions of their government.

AHF’s written documentation further stated that given this underlying policy, the Act is to be construed liberally in favor of openness, and all exemptions from disclosure are to be construed narrowly and limited to their designated purpose. The State has made no such showing.

AHF legal team asserted that Scott’s office indicates that the records are exempt pursuant to 119.071(2)(d) F.S. without offering any explanation or argument as to why the exemption applies. In fact, the exemption referred to by the Governor’s staff is clearly limited to “agency investigations.” As the statute referenced on itself states “[a]ny information revealing surveillance techniques or procedures or personnel is exempt from s. 119.07(1) and s. 24(a), Article. 1 of the State Constitution.” The AHF team further clarified that, PHC requested information about the governor’s travel schedule and public appearances – the request has absolutely nothing to do with surveillance techniques or surveillance personnel. A simple review of court cases related to this exemption show that it is exclusively related to situations involving law enforcement surveillance activities and surveillance personnel.

Following no response from Governor’s Scott staff, AHF retained the legal representation of Tallahassee attorney Steven R. Andrews and filed their legal suit in the Second Judicial Court in Leon County, Florida.  The general allegations of the suit state:

The Executive Office of the Governor (EOG) has failed to provide Petitioner access to public records as required by Chapter 119, Florida Statutes. Public records are defined to include:

“…all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, films, sound recordings, data processing software, or other material, regardless of the physical form, characteristics, or means of transmission, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any agency.” § 119.011(12), Fla. Stat. (2013).

A full copy of the law suit can be accessed here: http://shorturl.at/tuO27

“Governor Scott has a consistent history of a lack of transparency of his schedule and hence what business he is allegedly conducting as the top-leader of the state, to ensure that the needs of all people are addressed,” stated Michael Kahane, AHF Southern Bureau Chief. “Given the explosion of the HIV epidemic that has occurred under Scott’s watch, making Florida lead the nation in terms of new HIV diagnosis, as the nation’s largest HIV/AIDS service provider, with a strong presence throughout Florida, it is of critical concern to us, on behalf of the thousands of clients we serve in the state, to know what the Governor is doing in his day-to-day schedule to address this epidemic.  We implore Governor Scott to be transparent and let all of the constituents he was elected to serve know what he’s doing.”

AHF’s lawsuit is not the first incident of Scott being involved in legal issues in regards to his lack of transparency and non-compliance to the State of Florida Sunshine Laws, which were enacted in 1995 to guarantee that the public has access to the public records of governmental bodies in Florida.  According to an August 2015 article in the Tampa Bay Times, regarding legal proceedings implicated on Scott and other state officials in his administration, where Scott paid out over $700,000 of state funds to settle an open records suit, “The settlement, is precedent-setting in that it is the first time in state history that a sitting governor and attorney general have been sued and agreed to settle allegations that they violated Florida’s public records laws. It is also the third legal defeat in recent months for the governor, and the second time he has agreed to use state dollars to end a Sunshine Law lawsuit against him.”

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization, currently provides medical care and/or services to over 920,000 individuals in 39 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean, the Asia/Pacific Region and Eastern Europe. To learn more about AHF, please visit our website: www.aidshealth.org, find us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/aidshealth and follow us on Twitter: @aidshealthcare and Instagram: @aidshealthcare 

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