No smoke no more
Gov. Ron DeSantis is hinting he’ll make swift changes to ongoing medical marijuana litigation.
Reporters this week asked the Governor if he’d drop an appeal to a ruling that found unconstitutional the state’s ban on smoking marijuana for medicine.
“We’ll have an announcement on that probably within a week or two,” DeSantis said.
We asked Attorney General Ashley Moody about the case. Her office represents the Florida Department of Health, the state agency that reports to the Governor involved in the legal battle.
Moody has gone on record calling the Legislature’s ban on smokable marijuana “reasonable.”
Here’s how she’ll make litigation moves going forward: “I have always said that I will make decisions on whether or not to be involved in litigation after careful analysis of the law, after thorough study of whether our position is justifiable and that is how I will base my decisions going forward.”
In 2016, Florida approved a medical marijuana amendment with more than 70 percent voter support.
The lawsuit on smokable marijuana, backed by Orlando attorney John Morgan, seeks a judgment that the smoking ban runs counter to the amendment’s language, which itself does not expressly say medicinal cannabis can be smoked.
Legislative implementation of the measure (Amendment 2) has centered on whether lawmakers have skirted voter intent.
Whose side is Florida’s newest Governor on?
“We want to implement their will,” DeSantis said. “I don’t think that’s been done fully.”
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Danny McAuliffe, Drew Wilson, Jim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Gov., Cabinet sworn in — Gov. DeSantis and the three members of the Florida Cabinet all were sworn into office this week. Two days of inaugural celebration welcomed to Tallahassee the state’s newest leadership. Two women Cabinet members, Republican Attorney General Moody and Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, took office. Republican Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, appointed in 2017 by then-Gov. Rick Scott, began his second term in office. Scott is now an official member of the U.S. Senate, having taken oath after DeSantis took over the Governor’s Mansion.
DeSantis targets environment — An executive order released by the new Governor during his first week in office called for the “appointment of a Chief Science Officer” and “creation of the Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency.” DeSantis also asked every board member of the South Florida Water Management District. “We really needed to have a fresh start,” DeSantis said. In the executive order, DeSantis also implored lawmakers to dole out “$2.5 billion over the next four years for Everglades restoration and protection of water resources.” As a candidate, DeSantis touted an environmental perspective molded by the late President Teddy Roosevelt. His early most priorities will include taking steps to combat blue-green algae and red tide.
Lagoa picked for high court — DeSantis announced the first of three new justices that on the Florida Supreme Court. DeSantis appointed Barbara Lagoa, chief judge of the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami, to be the newest justice and first Cuban American woman on the high court. Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, and Peggy A. Quince all faced mandatory retirement in 2019. Lagoa fills the seat reserved for a resident of the Third Appellate District, which handles cases from Miami-Dade and Monroe counties; the other two seats are at-large. DeSantis told an inaugural audience before making the appointment that “judicial activism ends, right here and right now.”
Groveland Four pardoned — The Clemency Board has pardoned the Groveland Four, coined for the four young black men falsely accused in 1949 of raping a white woman. The newly sworn-in Cabinet and Governor met as the Executive Clemency Board for the first time Friday to discuss and ultimately back the pardon. In 2017, the Florida Legislature unanimously passed a resolution declaring the Groveland Four case a grave injustice, apologizing on behalf of the state, and calling for expedited pardons. Calls for expedited pardons poured in to the last Clemency Board, headed by Gov. Scott, though the vote never came.
Lawmakers warned of recession — Chief legislative economist Amy Baker recently told the Florida House Appropriations Committee to not rule out a potential economic recession. The current economic expansion turns 10 years old in June, Baker told the panel. Lasting another month would make it the longest expansion ever recorded. House Appropriations chair Travis Cummings, an Orange Park Republican, said after the meeting that budget writers during the next two years should be “very, very cautious.” “I think it’s our job really to not tie the hands of future Legislatures,” Cummings said.
Write me, won’t you?
Newly sworn-in U.S. Sen. Scott didn’t abandon Tallahassee without first saying goodbye.
His parting gift to legislative colleagues? A letter thanking former House Speakers and Senate Presidents for helping him achieve success for the Sunshine State.
“When I took office, I promised to fight every day to make Florida the best place in the nation to get a great job and raise a family,” Scott wrote. “Working together, our hard work and determination has paid off.”
Among the letter’s talking points: Cuts to taxes and regulations, immense private-sector job growth, a 12-year-low unemployment rate and reduction of nearly a third of the state’s debt.
Those on the receiving end of the letter include former Senate Presidents Mike Haridopolos, Don Gaetz, Andy Gardiner and Joe Negron. Copies also went to former Speakers Dean Cannon, Will Weatherford, Steve Crisafulli and Richard Corcoran.
DeSantis addresses black justice controversy
Gov. DeSantis made quick headlines during his first few hours in office with the selection of Barbara Lagoa as one of the state’s newest Supreme Court justice.
DeSantis has two more spots to fill, but the crop of potentials does not include an African-American.
That’s sparked criticism from some interests. Trellis Randolph, general counsel of the Miami-Dade’s NAACP, said the nomination process “has clearly failed to reflect the nonpartisan, diverse, and qualified judiciary the people of Florida want and deserve.”
But DeSantis, while speaking to reporters during an inaugural event this week, denied any cause for concern. He said his favorite U.S. Supreme Court Justice is Clarence Thomas. He also said he didn’t know the race of the 11 candidates before meeting them.
“They were all pretty impressive,” DeSantis said. “But look I always want to promote people from a wide variety of walks of life.”
DeSantis open to criminal justice reform
A landmark overhaul of criminal justice at the federal level had conservative momentum and the eventual backing of President Donald Trump.
Known as the First Step Act, the reform package is a milestone for criminal justice activists. And in Florida, they might have a new friend, one who’s not too distant from Trump’s sphere of influence.
Gov. DeSantis told reporters this week that at the state level he wants to examine previous legislative changes to the state’s justice system and find ways to cut spending on inmates.
“At the end of the day our responsibility is to protect the public, hold people accountable,” DeSantis said. “But I want to do that as cost-effectively as possible.”
Helping to plot DeSantis’ CJ actions will be data collected under a new law that took effect July. In part, the law collects more data that should help state leaders assess the effectiveness of pretrial release programs.
Moody gets plum spot
Her first week on the job and already she’s joining clubs.
Attorney General Moody was named one of 10 attorneys general nationwide to serve on the National Association of Attorneys General Executive Committee.
The bipartisan association is made up of all 56 attorneys general from the United States and territories, and “is esteemed for its work in facilitating collaboration among attorneys general,” Moody said in a statement.
“I am honored to help lead this bipartisan association and will work with my fellow attorneys general to protect Floridians and all Americans.”
Moody, a Republican, is joined on the executive committee by the attorneys general from Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Utah, and the District of Columbia.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, also a Republican, serves as the president of the Executive Committee.
Environmentalist’s take on Tallahassee’s latest
With three new faces in the Cabinet and the Governor’s Mansion, Florida Conservation Voters Director Aliki Moncrief is hoping to see refreshing direction on environmental policy.
Moncrief said she hopes Gov. DeSantis, who’s described himself as a “Teddy Roosevelt” conservationist, will “take a necessary turn from the business as usual of the last administration, opting instead to protect our beautiful state from climate change and continued environmental destruction.”
FCV and environmentally minded citizens will “keep a close watch to make sure [DeSantis] fulfills his promises like banning fracking and cleaning up our waterways,” Moncrief said.
Meanwhile, Moncrief said Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is a “breath of fresh air” for Tallahassee … “an important ally who will work relentlessly to improve and protect our water resources and public lands and advocate for clean energy solutions.”
On Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody, who’s been relatively quiet in the weeks following the election, Moncrief said Moody “has the responsibility to vigorously advocate for the people of Florida — that includes holding the administration in Washington, D.C., accountable to the law when it comes to the urgent and immediate threats posed by climate change and polluted waterways.”
Instagram of the week
We have whips … deputy whips, that is
House Democratic Whip Ramon Alexander of Tallahassee this week announced his picks to serve as Deputy Whips for the House Democratic Caucus:
— Rep. Patricia Williams, House District 92.
— Rep. Wengay “Newt” Newton, House District 70.
— Rep. Cindy Polo, House District 103.
— Rep. Jennifer Webb, House District 69.
As Alexander explained it, deputy whips “are responsible for keeping all Caucus members advised of Caucus policy on any bill or issue before the House. Deputy whips will help guarantee that Caucus members are present, informed, and prepared to vote on all issues, as well as ensuring that the Democratic message is disseminated to all Caucus members.”
We like Slate magazine’s definition better: “The principal task of a party whip is to keep track of the number of votes for and against a piece of legislation. They’re also responsible, along with the party’s leader, for ‘whipping up’ support for a particular position. Not every vote gets whipped.”
In any event, Alexander said his “commitment to the Democratic agenda is unwavering. I will work with the newly elected Democratic leadership to strengthen the Caucus and advance the Democratic agenda.
“It’s up to us to continue to stand up for everyday Floridians. Now more than ever, Florida House Democrats are committed to fighting for initiatives that will improve the quality of life for all Florida families.
“I’m confident that the new Democratic Deputy Whips will play an instrumental part in helping the Caucus fight with a unified voice and stand against injustice. I look forward to working with them to ensure our success during this legislative session.”
Gambling bill? Don’t bet on it
It’s looking like a slow Session for the House Gaming Control Subcommittee.
The panel, chaired by Deltona Republican David Santiago, held a brief meeting this week, mostly overviews and introductions. Afterward, Santiago confirmed that no gaming-related bills have yet been filed for 2019.
This might be why: Voters in November passed a “voter control of gambling” constitutional amendment to limit gambling expansion in the state. It “ensure(s) Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling,” the ballot summary says.
For Santiago, the question is, “What can we do within the new constitutional parameters? We’ve gotten guidance from the public, that they don’t want to see gaming expanded, at least not without voter approval. They don’t want the Legislature to expand it on its own.”
One other question might relate to sports betting. The U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to it nationwide in May of last year. It overturned a 1992 federal law that banned governments, including the states, from allowing sports wagering. (Sports betting no doubt is happening now in Florida; it just isn’t expressly legal under state law.)
Asked whether he might take up a sports betting measure, Santiago said he didn’t know yet.
“Many states have already implemented it. The industry is certainly looking to see what Florida does,” he said. “But again, there are many questions about it as it relates to the amendment. Is (expressly allowing and regulating sports betting) an ‘expansion?’ … There are a lot of gray areas.”
Veterans Caucus backs bipartisan leadership
The Veterans and Military Families Caucus recently re-elected state Rep. Matt Wilhite as chair of the caucus.
Joining the Wellington Democrat in leadership by freshman Republican state Reps. Tommy Gregory of Sarasota and Anthony Sabatini of Howey in the Hills.
“I am deeply honored to have been re-elected chair of this caucus, and I look forward to working together to advocate for our veterans, military families and those actively serving,” Wilhite said.
Members from both chambers came together during the 2018 Legislative Session to respawn the caucus. The group will meet later during this year’s Session to “help build support for legislation aimed at assisting active military members, veterans and their families.”
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services pegs damage to the state’s apiary industry at $1.96 million, as a result of Hurricane Michael.
Here’s why: Tony Hogg, a past president of the Florida Beekeepers Association, told the Senate Agriculture Committee this week that the nine counties hit hardest by Hurricane Michael also are home to about 250 Florida beekeepers.
He estimates between 40,000 and 50,000 beehives are housed in those counties.
While the impact to beehives — which are near ground level — was “minimal,” damaged hives caused a chain reaction.
Hogg said exposed honey from a damaged hive led to bees “robbing” the other nests.
“It creates a feeding frenzy within a bee yard, and once those hives are robbed out they subsequently will rob out other hives,” Hogg said. He also said the phenomenon creates a path for “horizontal transmission of pests and diseases.”
Duke passing along its federal tax savings
The GOP’s big tax cut for corporations will mean nearly $151 million in savings for Duke Energy Florida’s 1.8 million customers.
A vote by the Public Service Commission allows the utility to apply its own savings to cover its costs of responding to Hurricane Irma, instead of passing along the bill to ratepayers.
Duke is the latest Florida utility to reach such an accommodation with the PSC regarding their savings under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
The one-time credit will apply after the utility covers all “prudently-incurred storm costs,” the PSC said.
“The act’s lower tax rates are being applied to best benefit customers,” PSC Chairman Art Graham said.
“In this case, we are providing Duke customers with a one-time rate reduction that offsets what could have been a rate increase.”
Order in the court
An era ended on the Florida Supreme Court this week as three of the seven justices retired. Last month, one of the three — Barbara Pariente — herself paid for a private event in the courthouse rotunda for current and former staff of the three departing justices. It was catered by one of Pariente’s favorite dessert shops, Dolce & Gelato in Pensacola.
File drawers into archives
In other Supreme Court news, Pariente and Quince donated some of their judicial papers to the Florida Supreme Court Library and Archives, according to a news release on the court’s website.
“The retiring justices have donated a combined 190 boxes of speeches, office files, correspondence and opinion files, so far,” the website said.
They’re not alone: “In total, 29 former justices have donated over 1,100 boxes to the library and archives.
“Although much of the justices’ work product on opinions remain confidential, the vast majority of this material is now available to Florida legal-history researchers.”
Well, not quite yet, but soon. Supreme Court Archivist Erik Robinson is in charge of organizing and preserving the files, and it’ll take a bit of time before any of the publicly-available material is open for a look-see.
“Archivists have meticulous procedures they follow to preserve, file and catalog the documents properly,” Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters explained.
Human services need-assessment underway
Leon County and the City of Tallahassee have partnered with the Center for Health Equity to conduct a community human services needs assessment, the governments said in a recent news release.
Over the next several months, the Center will work with local human services partners to identify the greatest areas of human services needs in Tallahassee-Leon County.
The primary purpose of the assessment is to evaluate the Community Human Services Partnership (CHSP) program. Since 1997, CHSP has served as a joint initiative of the County and City for the planning and funding of human services in the community. Human service agencies and their programs are funded in 10 CHSP categories, which have been in place for over 20 years.
The results of the needs assessment will include recommendations for changes to the existing CHSP funding categories and their respective funding allocations. In addition, the study will recommend potential uniform outcome measures to evaluate the effectiveness of programs funded through CHSP and establish a process to continually realign funding to meet changing community needs and desired community outcomes.
The assessment has commenced and will continue through summer 2019. As part of the needs assessment, the Center will conduct extensive outreach, including focus groups, interviews and a telephone survey, to gather feedback from the community.
A final report will be presented to the Leon County commissioners and Tallahassee city commissioners in fall 2019.
Ethics Board seeking 11th-hour apps
Those looking to grab a seat on Tallahassee’s Independent Ethics Board only have a couple of weeks left to freshen up their resumes and fill out an application — blue or black ink only, please.
There are two slots to fill on the six-member board, Seat 1 and Seat 6. The first will be appointed by the City Commission during their Jan. 30 meeting, while a vote of the board will approve the second when it meets Feb. 16.
To have a shot at Seat 1, completed applications need to be in the City Commission’s hands no later than Jan. 25 at 1 p.m. That gig could end up turning into an 8-year job since the City Commission’s selection will take over midway through a term.
Seat 6 applicants have until Feb. 6 at 5 p.m. to submit their paperwork. Whoever gets voted in by the board will be able to serve two 3-year terms.
To land the job, applicants must be registered to vote in Tallahassee and not be employed by the city government, though a demonstrable history of ethical prowess likely wouldn’t hurt.