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Rick Scott, black legislators find little common ground

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In what one legislator called a “long-delayed meeting,” Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislative Black Caucus discussed race relations, economic deprivation and healthcare in sometimes confrontational language Tuesday, finding little common ground.

State Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, caucus chairman, said afterward he heard “non-responses” from Scott.

“The blood of the community is boiling” over police shootings in Florida and elsewhere,” Bullard told reporters after the meeting.

He told Scott caucus members are working in their districts to “quell those problems before they get to the level of national attention” as have police-involved deaths in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York.

But Scott said members of the caucus had failed to contact him in the past when they had concerns over the issues they were raising, and that his administration is taking the right approaches to solving the problems the legislators raised.

“I can’t think of one person in here that has called me to complain” about police or state agency actions, he said. “I can’t solve problems I don’t know about.”

The legislators asked Scott about continued high unemployment in largely black communities; about whether he will support using federal money to expand the state’s Medicaid program; and about what Bullard called “lack of diversity in both your office and in your appointments.”

He said that has led to “a non-sympathetic culture” in the administration “perceived by our constituents as malice toward black people.”

State incentive programs to lure businesses should include minority contracting provisions targeting economically deprived communities, he said.

Scott responded that the state has cut its unemployment rate in half and added 728,000 jobs during his administration, and that the only way to produce jobs is to recruit companies to Florida by cutting taxes and regulations and calling on businesses.

In making appointments, he said, “I’m going to try to find the best people I can. … I believe I’ve tried to find the most qualified people.”

Concerning Medicaid, Scott said the program was growing at an “unsustainable” rate when he took office and costs have been contained.

He blamed President Barack Obama’s administration for what may be an impending cutoff of aid to Florida hospitals that serve the poor, and said the legislators “should be furious” over it. Federal authorities say under the Affordable Care Act, an expanded Medicaid program was supposed to replace that aid.

But other legislators also said Scott didn’t directly address their concerns.

State Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, said Scott’s comments were “continued talking points we’ve heard before.”

State Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville, said, “I’m still waiting for (Scott) to act like he cares.”

The meeting continues rocky relations between Scott and the caucus.

The group canceled a pre-legislative session last year, saying it wouldn’t be fruitful. This year, the meeting was delayed after disagreements between Scott and the Governor’s Office about whether it had extended a formal invitation.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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