In their first formal meeting in two years on Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislative Black Caucus discussed unemployment, health care and police violence in black communities across the state — even if they didn’t reach common ground.
The Black Caucus, chaired by Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, raised these three primary concerns at the meeting, as well as in a memo to the governor.
Despite drops in unemployment statewide, there remain parts of the state with recession-level poverty and unemployment, including predominantly minority communities.
“We’re dealing with pockets in our communities where we’re seeing unemployment rates above the 25-percent mark,” Bullard said. “It’s epidemic.”
Scott, in response, pointed to statewide improvements in unemployment since he became governor in 2011. He also said it’s up to local communities, as well as the state, to attract companies that will employ residents.
“Every area of the state has got to figure out what their strength is,” Scott said. “There’s nothing that government can do if companies don’t want to be there.”
The governor’s responses to caucus concerns about Medicaid expansion and police shootings of black Floridians were similarly defensive.
On the Medicaid issue, he made no commitment either way and pointed lawmakers’ focus instead onto the Low Income Pool, a federal program that is set to be defunded this year.
Scott called on the caucus to request more funding for low-income health care from the federal government, saying they should be “furious” that approximately $2 million in federal funding won’t make its way to Florida.
As the conversation shifted to the deaths of black Floridians at the hands of law enforcement officers and what the caucus calls a lack of minority representation in state government, the parties struggled to find common ground in even the scope of the problem or what had and hadn’t been done by the governor’s office to respond to problems in the past.
“Of grave concern to us is a non-sympathetic culture within the administration that is being perceived by our constituents as a malice toward black people,” Bullard said. “What if any efforts are you taking to change this belief?”
Scott defended his appointment decisions, saying his focus is to find the right person to fill each job.
And he said he has been responsive to violence against black citizens, pointing to his conversations with Trayvon Martin’s family in the wake of that death in 2012.
In fact, he said, caucus members hadn’t reached out to him enough to quell concerns among their constituents. Several lawmakers disagreed, saying they had reached out several times to no avail.
This is hardly the first time the Black Caucus and Scott have failed to reach common ground. Last year, the caucus cancelled a pre-session meeting with the governor, saying it would be “fruitless."