FLORIDA GOVERNMENT

Security for Scott, others is costly

 

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Florida taxpayers spent more than $2.6 million in the past year to provide security for Gov. Rick Scott, First Lady Ann Scott and dozens of visiting out-of-state dignitaries who came to make speeches, play politics, fish and soak up the sun.

The security cost is the highest in at least eight years, in part because more than two dozen governors came to Tampa last August for the 2012 Republican National Convention. The expenses are detailed in a report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement released Monday.

The cost of round-the-clock protection for Gov. Scott totaled $1.8 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, a slight decrease from the previous year. Most of that cost are salaries and overtime pay to FDLE agents assigned to guard the governor at all times, with transportation costs a distant second.

First Lady Ann Scott’s security costs rose by nearly one-third last year, to $225,000, a reflection of her increased visibility and comfort with the public demands of her role.

“She has traveled the state, promoting reading and literacy, meeting with Florida military families and finding forever homes for Florida’s foster children,” said Jackie Schutz, a spokesman for the governor.

FDLE for years has provided security and transportation to visiting leaders from other states and countries, and a state law says that Florida’s failure to do so could cause “public embarrassment” to the state.

Law enforcement agents helped to guard First Lady Michelle Obama when she visited the University of Florida last September.

Agents also were by the side of Texas Gov. Rick Perry when he went fishing with Scott in Destin last August, and they were close by on a day in July when Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal stood in the back of a pickup truck in Coral Springs, near Fort Lauderdale, to mock President Barack Obama’s “you didn’t build that” remark.

Jindal and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell each received state-funded security on four trips to Florida in the past year. One of McDonnell’s visits was as keynote speaker at the Republican Party of Florida’s victory dinner in Orlando on Oct. 4.

FDLE’s security report also lists trips that correspond with an August 2012 swing by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to St. Augustine and South Florida. Vice President Joe Biden received protection during an October visit, as did the premier of Quebec, Pauline Marois, in November.

The costliest security assignment was to protect South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley during the week of the Republican convention, which cost nearly $18,000. Haley was one of 28 state chief executives who received protection at the convention, including the governors of Guam, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Haley has paid seven visits to the state in the past year, the most of any out-of-state dignitary, including a March speech to an Orlando conference that was attended by 4,000 companies that supply Wal-Mart stores.

Three times during the past year, the report said, FDLE agents provided security for Attorney General Pam Bondi at a total cost of $7,300. One of those events was the week of the GOP convention when the FDLE also offered protection for state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Total cost for all security last year was $2,643,876.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com.

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