Governor Rick Scott vetoed the controversial alimony invoice, saying it might hurt youngsters in divorce instances
TALLAHASSEE – Governor Rick Scott vetoed the 2016 Legislature’s most controversial bill on Friday, a major overhaul of the Maintenance Act that would have mandated that judges begin presuming equal share of custody in divorce cases.
Scott’s veto ended weeks of tension and high-intensity lobbying campaigns on both sides, in which more than 11,000 calls and emails bombed his office, with supporters ahead 4: 1.
Scott, who, like many of his constituents, has experienced divorce in his own family, delivered a vetoed message with an unusually personal tone.
“As a husband, father and grandfather, I understand the importance of family and the sensitivity and passion that go with the subject of family law,” said Scott’s veto message. “As such, we should be prudent and carefully weigh the long-term and real-world implications for Florida families.”
He said he was concerned about a provision in the bill (SB 668) that would require judges to initiate divorce proceedings on the premise that both parents will have approximately the same amount of time with their children. Scott said this would “put a parent’s wishes above the best interests of the child by creating a premise for time-sharing equality,” a decision he believes should be left to the judges.
“I’m definitely disappointed,” said Senator Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who tried for the second time to get amendments to the Maintenance Act passed after Scott vetoed it in 2013. Lee called Friday’s veto “quite a surprise” because lawmakers responded to Scott’s earlier objection that the law could apply retrospectively.
Although emotionally divisive, the bill found widespread support in the legislature, passing the House of Representatives with a comfortable 74-38 and the Senate with 24-14 votes in March.
“At this point it is unclear what future family law reform laws the governor deems acceptable,” Lee said in a statement. “(The) veto message is vague and does nothing to further elucidate the governor’s concerns. … (It) focuses solely on potential outcomes, without justifying how the legislation might actually lead to those outcomes. “
Scott’s decision was seldom lauded by some of its most vocal critics.
“I don’t say that often, but fine @FLGovScott,” Paula Dockery, columnist and former Republican Senator, said on Twitter.
Scott received applause from another longtime opponent, the liberal National Organization for Women.
“Oh my god, I’m thrilled,” said Barbara DeVane of NOW. “He says he’s a family-friendly governor and this bill was hostile to the family.”
Scott had been flogged for weeks by supporters and opponents who clashed at demonstrations at the State Capitol in Tallahassee this week.
“Good for him!” tweeted Amy Tidd, a Democratic activist in Brevard County who ran against House Alimony Sponsor Rep, Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne in 2010.
Workman said Friday that the decision to merge maintenance and custody provisions into one bill was, in hindsight, the wrong strategy.
“The governor’s message is clear,” Workman said. “We have to tackle each issue in family law separately, rather than lump them all together.”
Workman is a state Senate candidate who said he would tackle the issues again in the 2017 session if he were elected.
Troy Matson, 44, of Jacksonville, a member of the National Parents Organization and an advocate for the law, said efforts for change will continue.
“This is a tidal wave that is coming across the country building policies that will introduce family justice to Florida,” he said.
Matson, a divorced father of a four-year-old, said timeshare was “really in the best interests of the child”.
With the alimony and custody dispute sure to continue for the next year, Jackie Green, a two-decade family law attorney in Jacksonville who opposed the law, said she would be more involved in politics.
When she heard of Scott’s veto, “we had tears in our office. It was on behalf of the children,” said Green, who brought her two-year-old daughter to the Tallahassee protests on Tuesday.
In his statement, Scott failed to address other controversial aspects of the bill, such as the end of permanent maintenance after a payer retires and a change in payments based on length of marriage.
His veto ends his lawsuit against all bills passed by the legislature at the March 11th session.
The governor, a multimillionaire former hospital manager, has spoken publicly about his troubled childhood in Illinois, when his mother divorced his father when he was a baby. Scott, who loves his four grandchildren, recently told reporters that his daughter was getting divorced.
Robert Doyel, a retired Polk County judge who joined opponents of the bill in Tuesday’s protest, met with Scott’s Policy Director Jeffrey Woodburn and highlighted the risks of the time-share idea.
“A lot of things interfere with the children’s pacing. Who is taking the child to the bus stop? There are all sorts of practical implications that the theoretical idea of 50-50 custody just doesn’t take into account,” Doyel said.
A Democrat running for a seat in the State House told Doyel, “I’m not a huge fan of Rick Scott – except today.”
Contact Steve Bousquet at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.
Clarification: Equal time-sharing in custody cases is currently allowed in Florida, but a law vetoed last week would have mandated this as a starting point for court decisions. An earlier version of this story on the internet was unclear on this point.