Florida to drug test public employees but not elected officials, reinforces Scott’s Solantic ties
By Madison Ruppert
Editor of End the LieFlorida has become the first state in the America to allow public employees to be randomly tested for a wide variety of drugs, thanks to the Florida legislature and Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott.
The glaring problem with this legislation – which was promoted by Governor Scott who actually co-founded Solantic, a company that runs a chain of some 32 urgent care centers, which we will get into later in this article – is that all elected officials are exempt from the law.
When similar legislation aimed at forcing the drug testing of welfare recipients (something Governor Scott also pushed for in Florida) was proposed in Indiana, some astute legislators amended the bill to include elected officials as well. Unsurprisingly, the bill was thrown out post haste.
Therefore, if you want to do mounds of cocaine and hold a taxpayer-funded job, you’d better get elected to some government position; otherwise you’re liable to get your urine tested.
I must point out, however, that the law does not require that state agencies drug test employees, it merely allows such activities.
It allows state agencies to randomly test up to 10% of their employees every three months for illicit drugs, prescription drugs and even alcohol, according to Noel Brinkerhoff with AllGov.
However, how they will test for alcohol is unclear to me, as most tests require the subject to have consumed alcohol recently, meaning it would likely only catch people who were actually drinking on the job.
On the other hand, some illegal substances like cannabis can remain in the system for quite a while but other illegal drugs like methamphetamine and others pass relatively quickly.
Unfortunately, the people of Florida have not been very vocal on this issue, especially the fact that such tests will usually catch people who smoke marijuana, but not others who use much more dangerous drugs which rapidly pass through the system.
Personally, I couldn’t care less if my mailman or the person at my local Department of Motor Vehicles smoke some cannabis. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d be a bit more concerned if these people were smoking crack, methamphetamine, or PCP.
Thankfully some civil libertarians are speaking out publicly against this move, which hopefully will not spread like a cancer to other states.
“People are always in favor of locking up miscreants, and, despite our constitutional legal traditions, there’s always a lot to be reaped from the argument that if you haven’t done anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about,” Colin Gordon, a labor historian at the University of Iowa, told The Christian Science Monitor.
Gordon is correct and this fallacious logic is applied to just about everything our tyrannical government does these days. Notably, this is evoked when issues surrounding the complete lack of internet privacy and privacy in general, come up.
The law goes into effect July 1 but it does not include funding for the drug testing. This means that the agencies that choose to test their employees will have to make budget cuts somewhere in order to free up the funds.
So, why has Governor Scott been pushing for so long to get drug tested implemented in his state?
It started with the testing of applications for the Federal Needy Families Program and now has grown to include state employees as well.
This question is easily answered when one considers the fact that Governor Scott had a large stake ($62 million large) in a company called Solantic.
In order to deflect the accusations of malfeasance and conflicts of interest, Governor Scott put his investment into a trust under his wife’s name.
This allowed him to claim that he is no longer involved in the company, even though that is obviously a laughable assertion.
Governor Scott has not only pushed for drug testing state workers and welfare recipients, he has also pursued policies which would move Medicaid patients to private HMOs along with cutting public health clinic funding.
Obviously every single one of these policies Governor Scott has been pursuing would directly benefit his $62 million investment, yet he still claims this is not a conflict of interest.
Unfortunately, under Florida state law, he might be correct in saying it is not a legal conflict.
Just days before Governor Scott took office, he shifted his shares over to the Francis Annette Scott Revocable Trust which now holds enough stock to control Solantic.
Back in 2001, Scott co-founded Solantic Corporation, which now has walk-in clinics throughout Florida and the east coast, which handle a wide-range of medical procedures.
These clinics operate in a truly commercial style, with charges for various procedures listed in a manner reminiscent of glowing fast food menus.
Solantic also has partnerships with hospitals in numerous markets and much of Governor Scott’s policies serve to directly benefit this corporation.
When asked why he didn’t sell his shares in Solantic in April of last year, he simply said, “As I’ve told you, I’m not involved in that company.”
According to Mark Herron, a Tallahassee-based lawyer who is identified as an expert on ethics laws in Florida by the Tampa Bay Times, unless Solantic directly conducts business with the office of the governor, there are technically no conflicts.
However, most of the other states and the federal government allegedly forbid the kind of tactics used by Scott, although I think we all know that this isn’t enforced as much as it should be.
Indeed in Florida, there is absolutely nothing stopping Governor Scott from pushing policies that could directly benefit a company which his family derives financial benefit from. Insane, is it not?
Just a few examples Scott’s questionable activities are:
Scott has expressed support for shuffling almost 3 million recipients of Medicaid into private managed care plans. Since Solantic only accepts traditional Medicaid at one of their locations while maintaining relationships with various private Medicaid providers, this could drastically increase the patient base available to the corporation.
In the past Scott pushed for legislation which would require that some 58,000 adult welfare recipients get drug tested on their own dime. Solantic’s chief executive Karen Bowling claims that they would not bid on the job as long as Scott’s shares remained. However, since the shares are not technically Scott’s anymore, there is nothing legally preventing them from doing so.
Governor Scott’s budget cuts public health department funding, which used to handle the checkups, travel shots and other immunizations and other minor procedures for people who did not have private physicians. Solantic could pick up some of this business and as of last year they were charging $50 for a basic physical, in addition to immunizations, including shots for international travel.
In response, Bowling claimed that physicals and shots are a very small portion of Solantic’s overall revenue. Bowling also claimed that more than half of their business occurs during nights, weekends and holidays when health departments and many other healthcare providers are closed.
As governor, Scott is able to appoint the heads of the Agency for Health care Administration and the Department of Health. These agencies license, inspect and investigate public complaints against healthcare providers, including Solantic. This, too, is technically legal in Florida according to Herron.
Solantic claims that Medicaid payments only make up 3.1 percent of all patient visits, yet they declined to reveal revenues.
They claim that state agency payments are mostly from the health department for determining disability, something which Solantic receives $14 per patient for as of last year.
Bowling claims that this work is actually subcontracted out to a company which deals primarily in workers compensation cases.
Bowling claimed that Solantic billed $110,657 in state agencies in 2010 and $20,061 in just the first three to four months of 2011 alone.
However, Bowling’s claims are dubious at best given her history with Scott.
Bowling and Scott worked together back when Scott was the chief executive of the Columbia/HCA chain of hospitals.
At the time, Bowling was a marketing executive with the chain. Scott was pushed out of the company in 1997 due to a federal investigation into billing fraud.
The investigation resulted in Columbia/HCA paying out a whopping $1.7 billion penalty fine, yet Scott left with a staggering $10 million in severance pay, not to mention $300 million in stocks and options.
Unsurprisingly, Scott was never charged with any wrongdoing in the investigation and thanks to the massive wealth accrued through the company, he was able to start up Solantic with Bowling in 2001.
Scott maintained an active role in Solantic as well as a board member until January of 2010, which is when he began his campaign for governor.
The connections go even deeper with a former HCA executive who worked with Scott at the time, Charles Evans, now handling Scott’s wife’s trust which holds the controlling shares of Solantic.
Evans also just happens to be the chairman of the board at Solantic.
“I have not discussed Solantic with Gov. Scott or his wife since he became governor,” Bowling claimed last year.
But wait! There’s more!
It gets even worse when we consider that Scott has outright refused to release the depositions taken in a lawsuit which involved Solantic and the fact that Scott’s lawyers actually informally consulted with representatives of the Florida Commission on Ethics a whopping three separate times.
His lawyers asked about how past public officials have dealt with their investments, according to the Florida Commission on Ethics.
The executive director and general counsel of the commission, Philip Claypool, claimed that the meetings were nothing more than “attorney-to-attorney discussions” which resulted in no public record.
Scott’s lawyers took quite a tricky approach and instead of requesting a formal advisory opinion which would have sparked a full-scale vetting of his potential conflicts of interest and ultimately resulted in a binding recommendation, they opted for the informal route which only resulted in “suggestions” from Claypool and his staff.
According to Kenneth Gross, a Washington lawyer and expert on ethics laws, points out that Florida is among just a few states who consider the investments of a spouse to not be a conflict of interest with a public official.
“It’s an area that’s crying out for attention,” Gross said. “I think in this situation, he has to make sure he either gets rid of the asset completely or that he conducts affairs as governor in such a fashion that it doesn’t create conflict of interest with that business.”
“He may not be in on the day-to-day running of the company and that’s nice,” Gross pointed out. “But if he has ownership interest by virtue of a revocable trust, he maintains an interest in the welfare of the company.”
These conclusions are quite obvious, in my opinion, yet the people of Florida don’t seem to care all too much about this.
In defending Scott’s holdings, his spokesman Brian Burgess claimed it’s not as easy as selling publicly traded stock, “It’s not like going onto E-trade and pushing a button.”
However, it is as easy as making a call or two, but Burgess, of course, ignored that fact.
I believe that any thinking person would see the relationship between Scott, Solantic and Bowling to be questionable at best.
It is quite unfortunate that Florida allows this type of activity to go on, and I would highly encourage the people of Florida to push back against this painfully blatant corruption.
If Floridians allow this to go on without protest, they can only expect the future to bring more in-your-face corporatism and the exploitation of the taxpayer.
The entire notion of testing public employees while not testing elected officials is outright laughable, in my humble opinion.
I believe that if anyone who receives a cent of government money is going to be drug tested, then every single person who receives a cent of government money should be drug tested.
This includes every bank that received bailout funds, every elected official across the nation including those on Capitol Hill, the president, all cabinet members, every single person at the Pentagon, and so forth.
That being said, I think that would be ludicrously costly and unfeasible, so I think the much more logical conclusion would be to refrain from drug testing anyone, especially with the corruption and conflicts of interest which would inevitably be involved.
Did I miss anything or would you like to submit some of your own original writing or perhaps send a story tip or some other information my way? Email me at [email protected]