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Associated Press

Calls grow for Special Session on medical marijuana

The leader behind getting Florida’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment passed last year is calling on Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature’s leaders to hold a special session to get rules enacted.

Orlando attorney John Morgan posted an eight-minute video on Tuesday and said it is Scott’s obligation to convene a special session to finish up where the legislature fell short. The bill collapsed on the final day of session when the Senate and House could not agree on how many retail dispensaries a medical marijuana treatment center could open.

Senate leaders on Monday said they would not discourage a special session.

Amendment 2, which was passed by 71 percent of voters last November, was enacted on Jan. 3. Rules must be in place by July and implemented by October.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Brian Mast looking to fast track Lake Okeechobee reservoir

U.S. Congressman Brian Mast has unveiled a proposal that would speed up the completion of Everglades restoration projects, including a massive reservoir system south of Lake Okeechobee approved by the Florida Legislature this year.

The bill will be formally introduced Thursday and would expedite the ambitious plan by a top Florida Republican to build a $1.5 billion reservoir system on state land. Mast’s bill would instruct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expedite the federal timeline for reports that will ensure Everglades projects are finished on time.

Gov. Rick Scott confirmed last week he will sign the proposal into law, which is meant to divert harmful discharges from coastal communities. The cost of the project would be split between the state and federal governments.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Amazon’s presence in Tampa area means booming cargo business

Tampa International Airport’s cargo business is growing, thanks in large part to the online retailer Amazon.

Seattle-based Amazon has opened two enormous distribution centers in the greater Tampa Bay area. To supply those warehouses with merchandise, Amazon is shipping goods to Tampa International Airport daily aboard a Boeing 767 cargo freighter plane.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that it’s a lucrative arrangement for Tampa’s airport, which has seen a spike of more than 20 percent in cargo activity over the last year.

The Amazon deal alone has generated more than $275,500 in revenue for the airport through fees and building rental payments, which continue to go up.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida Ag commissioner: ‘No end in sight’ for wildfires

Three schools canceled classes due to smoky conditions from a nearby wildfire as Florida’s agriculture commissioner said the state is in the “midst of its worst wildfire season in years – with no end in sight.”

Commissioner Adam Putnam said in a news release that nearly 125 active wildfires were burning Monday morning.

Officials in Pasco County near Tampa, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, called off classes Monday at an elementary, a middle and a high school near fire that burned some 2,300 acres (930.8 hectares) over the weekend.

The National Weather Service said dense smoke could quickly drop visibility near the wildfires. Fire officials say the fire was 70 percent contained on Sunday night.

Some residents north of the Jacksonville area also are on fire alert due to a wildfire in south Georgia.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Independent liquor stores fight ‘Whiskey and Wheaties Bill’

Owners of small, independent liquor stores in central Florida are asking customers to support their efforts urging the governor to veto a bill allowing the sale of spirits in grocery stores.

A proposal nicknamed the “Whiskey and Wheaties Bill” (SB 106) would allow grocery stores, big box retailers and other stores to sell liquor alongside wine, beer and other products. Gov. Rick Scott could sign the bill into law, after it passed the Florida Legislature last month with a one-vote margin in the House.

Since Prohibition ended, Florida law has required retailers to sell liquor apart from other products in side stores separated by a wall.

Independent liquor store owners opposed the bill, saying supermarkets and big box stores could drive them out of business as they gradually add liquor to their shelves, starting in 2018.

“Not only do they have a price and convenience advantage, but grocery stores will have the power to kick us out when our lease is up,” Bully’s Liquor owner Steve Park told the Orlando Sentinel. “If our landlord had to choose between us and the grocery store next door, we would be gone.”

At Park’s stores last week, employees asked every customer to sign the petition asking Scott to veto the bill.

“If we lose 20 percent of our business, we don’t have the money to turn the lights on,” Park said.

Jason Unger, a lobbyist for Target who testified in a Florida Senate hearing in January, said the bill allows supermarkets and big box retailers to meet their customers’ demands.

The bill is the latest legislative proposal to change how beer, liquor and wine can be made, distributed and sold in Florida. For example, brewers and distillers now can sell their products directly to consumers in pubs and in takeout jugs called growlers.

There are 209 active liquor stores in Orange, Seminole, Osceola and Lake counties, according to data from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations. Most are run by large chains, such as Publix or ABC Fine Wine and Spirits.

In recent years, large retailers such as Publix and Wal-Mart have expanded the number of liquor stores attached to their existing grocery stores.

Orlando-based ABC Fine Wine and Spirits is not worried about competition, said CEO Charles Bailes, but he opposed the “Whiskey and Wheaties Bill” because he said it would increase access to alcohol for minors. Publix officials also opposed the bill because of similar concerns.

George Knightly, a founder of the Florida Independent Spirits Association, said he wasn’t sure how his five Knightly Spirits in the Orlando would compete with larger retailers.

“Big-box stores have an enormous amount of leverage and clout. If you go into most grocery store plazas, you don’t see any butchers or florists because there is a no-compete clause,” he said.

Bully’s Liquor customer Leona Hutchinson of Orlando said she didn’t mind making a stop in a separate store just to buy liquor.

“It seems like the grocery should stay with the groceries and the liquor with the liquor,” she said. “I don’t understand the big deal.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Anxiety over GOP health plan for those with severe illnesses

Unease and uncertainty are settling over Americans with serious illnesses as Republicans move closer to dismantling Democratic former President Barack Obama‘s health care system.

A New Orleans attorney with multiple sclerosis fears he’ll be forced to close his practice if he loses coverage, while a Philadelphia woman with asthma is looking at stockpiling inhalers.

The Republican health care bill pushed through the House on Thursday leaves those with pre-existing conditions fearful of higher premiums and losing coverage altogether if the Affordable Care Act is replaced.

The bill sets aside billions of dollars more to help people afford coverage, but experts say that money is unlikely to guarantee an affordable alternative for people now covered under a popular provision of the existing law that prevents insurers from rejecting them or charging higher rates based on their health.

What happens to those with pre-existing conditions under the Republican plan remains unknown.

Several people unsettled by the prospects expressed these concerns.

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FORMER UTAH CHEF

Jake Martinez said he’s worried about getting health insurance in the future because he has epilepsy, considered a pre-existing condition by insurers.

For the last several years, he, his wife and their three children have settled into a comfortable place using health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. But now the Murray, Utah, residents are worried about what may happen with this new health care bill.

“Today, it really kind of sunk in that not only are we not going to potentially have health care coverage but that it was done as a political win rather than a well-thought-out plan,” said Martinez, a 32-year-old former chef who’s studying social work. “That’s what stings about it.”

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KENTUCKY ATTORNEY

Shortly after being diagnosed with type I diabetes, Amanda Perkins learned about the perils of pre-existing conditions when she starting trying to buy health insurance.

Now she worries that protections under the Affordable Care Act that made sure certain essential health benefits, like insulin prescriptions, could be eliminated.

The new Republican plan would let some states allow insurers to charge higher premiums for people with pre-existing conditions, but only if those people had a lapse in insurance coverage. Supporters say those states would need to have programs in place to help people pay for expensive medical treatments, including high-risk pools.

But Perkins said Kentucky’s previous high-risk pool had a 12-month waiting period and was too expensive for her.

“I bought a house just a couple of months ago. Will it come down to me paying my mortgage payment or paying my health insurance so I don’t have a lapse in coverage?” said Perkins, an attorney for a small firm in Lexington, Kentucky.

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KANSAS GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Janella Williams has a rare neurological disorder that forces her to receive expensive IV drugs every seven weeks. Without it, she would not be able to walk.

Williams, who owns her own graphic design company in Lawrence, Kansas, pays $480 under an Obamacare plan. It keeps her out-of-pocket maximum at $3,500 a year and provides her coverage despite her pre-existing condition.

“I’m terrified of becoming disabled. If I’m being completely honest, I’ve thought of ending my life if it comes to that,” she said.

High-risk pools run by the state are not the answer, she says. The Republican plan would also bring back lifetime caps on coverage, which Williams says she would meet after only her first IV treatment. She and her husband both work full time, but wouldn’t be able to afford the roughly $600,000 a year her treatments cost once the cap is met.

“I have really lost my faith in humanity,” she said. “It’s terrible how little we care for the sick.”

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NORTH CAROLINA FINANCIAL ADVISER

John Thompson credits his survival in large part because he bought a family insurance policy through the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

Thompson, of Greensboro, North Carolina, was laid off in 2013, lost his employer-backed insurance and diagnosed with cancer during the year he was unemployed.

If the House proposal allowing insurers to make coverage for pre-existing conditions unaffordable takes hold, he fears his cancer history will make him uninsurable if he would lose his current job as a retirement financial adviser.

“Like many of us here, whether you have asthma or a heart condition or diabetes or like me, cancer, any type of pre-existing condition, you go back to the way it was before, you give insurance companies carte blanche to do their underwriting and to exclude you,” Thompson said.

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FLORIDA MOM

Shelby Jehlen, of New Port Richey, Florida, was diagnosed six years ago with leukemia and says she wouldn’t be able to afford insurance if she lost her roughly $400 a month subsidy.

Jehlen saves about $1,000 every three months to see her cancer doctor under her Obamacare plan, but still pays about $1,500 for the check-ups.

She was forced to quit work because of all the X-rays and other chemicals she was exposed to daily as a veterinary assistant and now cuts corners, sacrificing phones and school activities for her two teen daughters, to afford the monthly premiums. The stress has caused her to struggle with depression and anxiety.

“Absolutely, I’m scared. I’m worried I’m going to have to figure out what I’m going to do with all my side effects with my leukemia if they take this away from me,” she said.

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PHILADELPHIA BUSINESSWOMAN

Adrienne Standley has been preparing for the possibility of losing her insurance since President Donald Trump took office.

Three days after the inauguration, she set up an appointment for a birth control implant so she would be covered for four years, no matter what happens.

The 29-year-old operations director at a start-up apparel business in Philadelphia also has asthma and attention deficit disorder.

“I’m looking at stockpiling, making sure I have an inhaler,” she said. “I’m pretty scared to lose coverage.”

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NEW ORLEANS ATTORNEY

John S. Williams says he’ll be forced to close his practice and find a job with a group insurance plan if he’s longer covered under the government’s health care plan

The New Orleans attorney has multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease for which medication alone costs $70,000 a year. He buys insurance for himself on the individual marketplace, and the Affordable Care Act has made that possible, he said.

“We always hear about job growth and business creation — being able to have affordable health care drives that,” Williams said. “Because of the ACA, I am able to employ people and help the economy grow.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Lockheed Martin is moving ballistic missile jobs to Florida

Lockheed Martin Corp. plans to move about 300 ballistic missile program jobs from California to Florida’s Space Coast over the next two years.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. spokesman Matt Kramer told Florida Today that the employees moving to Brevard County will work on testing and maintenance for the Navy’s Trident II D-5 Fleet Ballistic Missile.

The Trident II D5 is the latest generation of the Navy’s submarine-launched fleet ballistic missiles. Kramer said Lockheed Martin also will move additional missile program employees from Sunnyvale, California, to Colorado over the next several years.

Lockheed Martin currently has nearly 1,000 employees in Florida. In January, the company completed renovations to a Cape Canaveral Air Force Station facility that had been built in 1961 for NASA’s first manned spaceflight program.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Evacuations no longer needed near fire in nature preserve

Officials say voluntary evacuations are no longer needed in subdivisions near a wildfire burning in a Tampa Bay-area nature preserve.

Pasco County Government spokesman Doug Tobin said Sunday that the cause of the fire in Starkey Wilderness Park has not been determined.

The preserve remained closed Sunday, but the sheriff’s office and Florida Highway Patrol planned to reopen a nearby stretch of the Suncoast Parkway.

Tobin said residents who evacuated from subdivisions east of the preserve near Land O’ Lakes and Lutz could return home, though smoke could remain in the area.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida parents may get a bigger say over school textbooks

Florida could make it easier for parents and residents to challenge school textbooks and school library books under a bill passed by the state Legislature.

The Senate on Friday narrowly approved the measure by a 19-17 vote. It now heads to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott.

The legislation (HB 989) would allow parents and residents to review instructional materials and then challenge them as inappropriate before a hearing officer.

Critics of the bill contend that it could lead to schools removing books that discuss topics such as climate change or evolution.

But Rep. Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican sponsoring the bill, has maintained the legislation is about giving people an opportunity to raise questions about textbooks. He has noted that local school districts would still have the final say.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Rick Scott gets bill requiring autism training for police

Florida police officers may soon be required to undergo training to better deal with autistic individuals under a bill that has passed the state Legislature.

The measure was sent to Gov. Rick Scott on Friday. It comes after a North Miami shooting that left an unarmed black therapist shot and injured while he tried to protect his severely autistic client. The client had been the original target in the shooting.

If signed into law, police departments across the state would have to establish training to help police identify the behavior of autistic individuals.

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder are estimated to have up to seven times more contacts with police in their lifetime than their peers, even though only 20 percent of those are for criminal activity.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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