Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 132

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

Rick Scott says lawmakers inability to finish budget on time ‘doesn’t make any sense’

Gov. Rick Scott chastised state lawmakers for being unable to complete the 2017-18 budget on time, but once again stopped short of saying whether he would veto the entire spending plan once it reaches his desk.

“You would expect that when people have a job to do they’d get it done. I’ve been in business all my life, and that’s what you expect if you have a deadline,” said Scott following a stop in Naples on Thursday morning. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.’”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron announced Wednesday they had reached an agreement on a final 2017-18 state budget. Both legislative leaders told their chambers the plan was to reconvene in Tallahassee at 1 p.m. Monday to consider the budget and budget bills.

“It would be my goal that we would conclude our session at a reasonable time on Monday evening, to allow members to travel home if they chose to, or stay until Tuesday and go back then,” Negron told members Wednesday.

The budget needs to be finalized 72-hours before the final vote. While Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Carlos Trujillo met Wednesday to publicly finalize several parts of the budget, there are still a few pots of money that need to be publicly closed out.

Much of the $83 billion budget was crafted in secret, something that Scott has pounced on in recent days. The Naples Republican — who launched a three-day, 10-city tour to make a last minute push for his priorities Wednesday — chided lawmakers for working on the budget behind closed doors during his stop at Best Home Services in Naples.

Scott encouraged Floridians to call their legislators and ask them what was in the budget and why there wasn’t more of an opportunity for public input. He also said voters should ask lawmakers “why can’t you get it done on time?”

“They’re supposed to vote on this budget on Monday, and I have no earthly idea what’s in this budget,” said Scott. “Remember what Nancy Pelosi said about … Obamacare a few years ago: ‘You won’t know until you vote for it.’ It’s similar to this. I don’t know anyone is going to know (what’s in it).”

“On an annual basis, there’s 4,000 lines in the budget. It takes us a long time to review them,” he continued. “How is someone going to vote on Monday on a budget, 4,000 lines in a budget, that they haven’t seen?”

Scott is scheduled to hit five cities Thursday, where he’ll urge Floridians to call their lawmakers to ask them to support his top priorities — $100 million Visit Florida and $200 million to fix the dike around Lake Okeechobee. The governor also wants money for Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development agency, to help lure businesses to the Sunshine State.

It’s unlikely he’s going to get much of his requests. Legislators have agreed to set aside $25 million for tourism marketing, and don’t have money for the Herbert Hoover Dike in the budget.

Although Scott declined to say whether he would veto the entire budget when it gets to his desk, he did note it was an option.

“When I get the budget — when I finally get to see it, because I haven’t see the budget — then I’ll make the decision whether I veto the entire budget or look at any lines and see if they are a good use of your money,” he said. “Because remember, it’s not the Legislature’s money. It’s not the state’s money. It’s your money.”

_The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permissions.

House passes medical marijuana implementing bill, sends to Senate

The House overwhelming approved its version of a medical marijuana implementing bill, setting the bill up for final negotiations with the Senate later this week.

The House voted 105-9 to approve a bill (HB 1397) that would implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment.

“Understanding the level of pain and the level of need patients have … there is no way I would block this type of legislation,” said Rep. Amy Mercado, who voted against the bill in its first committee stop. “I stand here not at 100 percent, but because it will help patients.”

Sponsored by Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, the House amended the bill Tuesday to, among other things, allow pregnant women to use low-THC cannabis, and allow the use of low-THC cannabis in public.

The amended version of the bill also quickens the pace by which the state issues licenses for medical marijuana treatment centers.

Under the amendment approved Tuesday, current license holders would be grandfathered in and receive a license to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana, as well as low-THC cannabis. The amendment also calls on the department to license any applicants denied a license, if the applicant was awarded “a license pursuant to an administrative or legal challenge.”

It then calls on the Department of Health to issue 10 more licenses “as soon as practicable, but no later than July 1, 2018.” Under the bill, one of the applicants in each region must be the “next-highest scoring applicant after the applicant or applicants that were awarded a license for that region; was not a litigant in an administrative challenge on or after March 31; and is not licensed in another region.” It also needs to issue a license to a member of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalist Association.

 The department is then required to issue four additional licenses within six months after the registration of 100,000 active, qualified patients in compassionate use registry.

Rodrigues said “95 percent” of the changes adopted as part of the amendment have been negotiated with the Senate. The House bill does not include caps on the number of retail locations growers can have, something the Senate bill includes.

“We do not believe 21 storefronts would provide necessary access,” said Rodrigues about the Senate’s proposal to allow growers to have three retail locations from which they can dispense medical marijuana. There are currently seven licensed growers in Florida.

The bill prohibits patients from smoking medical marijuana, although it allows edibles and vaping. But those limitations, among other things, is what prompted Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith to vote against the bill.

“I believe there are hundreds of thousands of people who are using smokeable cannabis to help mitigate their pain,” said Smith. “Who are we to tell legitimate patients they can’t smoke?”

In a statement Ben Pollara, the executive director of Florida for Care, said the House bill puts “profits over patient access.”

“The Senate should make significant amendments before sending what is currently a fatally flawed bill back to the House,” he said.

Floridians won’t have to wait too long to see what the Senate does on the bill. With just a few days left until the scheduled end of the 2017 Legislative Session, the Senate is begin discussions of its version of the bill (SB 406) on Wednesday.

House medical marijuana amendment could quicken pace for new licenses

After months of discussion, the House appears ready take steps to open up the medical marijuana industry.

Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues filed an 82-page, delete all amendment on his medical marijuana implementing bill (HB 1397) early Tuesday morning. The amendment comes just hours before the House is scheduled to vote on the bill.

The amendment, among other things, appears to quicken the pace by which the state issues licenses for medical marijuana treatment centers.

Under the proposed amendment, current license holders would be grandfathered in and receive a license to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana, as well as low-THC cannabis. The amendment also calls on the department to license any applicants denied a license, if the applicant was awarded “a license pursuant to an administrative or legal challenge.”

While that language was contained in the amended version of the bill lawmakers discussed on Friday, the amendment put forth Tuesday calls on the Department of Health to issue 10 more licenses “as soon as practicable, but no later than July 1, 2018.”

According to the amendment, one of the applicants in each region must be the “next-highest scoring applicant after the applicant or applicants that were awarded a license for that region; was not a litigant in an administrative challenge on or after March 31; and is not licensed in another region.” The department must also issue a license to a member of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalist Association.

The amendment then calls on the department to issue four additional licenses within six months after the registration of 100,000 active, qualified patients in compassionate use registry.

The bill as it currently stands doesn’t bring new licenses online until 150,000 qualified patients register with the medical marijuana use registry.

The House is scheduled to take up the bill when it meets at 10:30 a.m. today.

Gwen Graham signals she’ll launch gubernatorial campaign Tuesday

Gwen Graham appears ready to make it official.

The former Democratic congresswoman from Tallahassee is expected to announce her 2018 gubernatorial bid on Tuesday. The announcement will make Graham, the daughter of former governor and Sen. Bob Graham, the third Democrat to enter the race to replace Gov. Rick Scott.

Her entry has long-been expected. When she announced she wouldn’t run for re-election in 2016, she told supporters in a video announcement that she was “seriously considering running for governor in 2018.”

Since then she has dropped plenty of hints about her plan, even saying she would be poised to run a 67-county strategy. And she’s been slowly building the framework, traveling the state meeting with Democratic clubs and chatting with voters about their priorities.

In February, she launched Our Florida, a state political committee expected to fund her 2018 gubernatorial run, and transferred $250,000 from her congressional coffers to the state committee. The committee is chaired by Stephanie Toothaker, an attorney with Tripp Scott who served as special counsel to her father.

The committee had about $186,903 cash on hand at the end of March, state records show.

Her federal campaign coffers aren’t completely empty. According to federal campaign finance records, Graham had about $1 million left in her federal account at the end of the first quarter.

The Democratic field is becoming more crowded by the minute. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando businessman Chris King have already announced their runs, while Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando attorney John Morgan are still considering a run.

State records show Gillum has raised $569,940 for his political committee, Forward Florida, since February 2016. The political committee had more than $105,000 cash on hand at the end March.

Gillum raised $241,736 in March for his official campaign, state records show.

King, who filed to run in March, brought in nearly $1.2 million in March. However, that sum includes $1 million King gave his own campaign.

State records show Levine put $2 million of his own money into his political committee, All About Florida, in March.

While big name Republicans haven’t thrown their hat in the race yet, the GOP primary is expected to be just as heated. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is widely expected to run, and a barbecue scheduled for May 10, just days after the scheduled end of the 2017 Legislative Session, has many wondering if his announcement will be coming soon.

Putnam’s committee, Florida Grown, has raised $10.5 million since February 2015. The committee ended March with more than $7.7 million cash on hand.

Both Sen. Jack Latvala and Speaker Richard Corcoran are also believed to be considering their options.

Latvala’s political committee, Florida Leadership Committee, has raised $8.2 million since 2013. The committee had one of its best fundraising periods to date in February, raising nearly $1.1 million.

Matt Caldwell files to run for Agriculture Commissioner

Matt Caldwell has made it official, formally announcing Monday he was running for Agriculture Commissioner in 2018.

Caldwell, a North Fort Myers Republican, had long been expected to enter the race. In February he told FloridaPolitics.com, that he had “every intention of filing to run in August.”

But with the 2017 Legislative Session nearing an end and a special session becoming more unlikely, Caldwell said Monday he decided to pull the trigger sooner, so he can start focusing on the statewide campaign.

“We’re just going to get out of session and start focusing on grassroots,” said Caldwell.

In a statement to POLITICO Florida, which first reported Caldwell had filed his paperwork, Caldwell said he was running “in order to continue our work together, fighting for and building upon the important issues we’ve tackled in the Florida House.”

Since January, Caldwell has raised $702,825 for his political committee Friends of Matt Caldwell. State records show his February 2017 fundraising haul of $412,075 was the largest single month haul since August 2016, when the committee was started.

The committee ended March with more than $650,000 cash on hand, according to state records.

Caldwell called the sum a “great base from which to start.”

“At the end of the day, it’s a statewide race,” he said. “It gives us a starting point to talk about the political issues.”

Caldwell, the chairman of the Government Accountability Committee, has spent much of his career in the Legislature focused on environmental and agricultural issues, a background that could serve him well in the position.

He can’t run for re-election in the House because of term limits.

He isn’t the only legislator who has thrown his hat in the race. Sen. Denise Grimsley filed to run for the seat earlier this year. A fifth generation Floridian, Grimsley was first elected to the Florida House in 2004, where she served until 2012, when she was elected to the Senate

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam can’t run for the seat because of term limits. He is widely expected to run for governor.

House prepares medical marijuana bill for vote

The Florida House began discussions on its medical marijuana implementation bill, teeing it up for a vote early next week.

The proposal (HB 1397) was amended Friday to move it closer to the Senate bill (SB 406), but House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, the bill’s sponsor, told members the House continues to be negotiations with the Senate over the final bill.

The amended version of the bill, among other things, allows edible forms of medical marijuana, so long as they are not “attractive to children.” The updated version of the bill also allows for vaping.

It also removes a contentious provision that requires patients to have a three-month relationship with a physician before they can access marijuana. A holdover from the 2014 Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, dozens of advocates had called on the House to remove the provision.

The Senate bill allows edibles and vaping, and does not include the 90-day wait period.

Once considered to be more restrictive than the Senate version, the amendment appeared to draw the ire of some of the House’s more conservative members. During debate on the amendment, Rep. Gayle Harrell said while she was “pleased to be able to vote on House bill in Health and Human Services,” she couldn’t support the amended proposal.

“This substitute amendment really expands the scope of the constitutional amendment,” said Harrell. “I believe this amendment is very dangerous. It’s going to open up the patient market.”

Harrell pointed to provisions that would expand the use of medical marijuana to people suffering from chronic nonmalignant pain as one of the issues that concerned her. That provision, she said, could allow someone to get a recommendation for something like big toe pain or a headache.

Members also peppered Rodrigues about his decision not to prohibit smoking under the bill, something Rodrigues stood behind.

“It doesn’t ban smoking,” said the Estero Republican. “Smoking is already banned.”

He also said the constitutional amendment authorized a doctor to recommend medical marijuana, but left it up to the Legislature to define the method of delivery. He said science supports the methods outlined in the proposal, and they are methods that “lead to better outcomes for Florida patients.”

The amended version of the bill does not lower the threshold for licensing new medical marijuana treatment centers. Under the proposal, current license holders are grandfathered in, and a member of the Florida chapter of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association, which was shut out of the existing system, would be issued a license. The Department of Health would then issue five new licenses to once there are 150,000 qualified patients registered with the compassionate use registry.

The Senate bill quickens the paces, issuing five more licenses by October and then adding four more for every 75,000 people who register with the compassionate use registry.

Rodrigues said licensing is part of the negotiations with the Senate.

The House could vote on the bill early next week. The full Senate could hear the Senate proposal in the coming days.

Mike Fernandez: If gambling in South Florida passes without referendum, ‘the wrath of the community you will feel’

Mike Fernandez, a billionaire businessman and top Republican donor, is expressing his disappointment in the House and Senate’s decision to “advance and dump” casino expansion efforts on South Florida.

In an email to Sen. Bill Galvano and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz on Thursday, Fernandez criticized the decision to move forward with a proposal that would bring another casino to South Florida.

The provision was part of the latest offer from the Senate as part of ongoing negotiations to strike a compromise on gambling legislation.

The Senate on Thursday agreed to two new gambling facilities in Broward or Miami-Dade or both, through competitive procurement, with up to 1,500 slot machines each.

“I and others are very disappointed with your position to advance and dump the casino expansion efforts on the South Florida community,” wrote Fernandez in his email.

“Once again it is cynical to see those elected officials who proclaim their devotion to faith based initiatives, contradict themselves when simultaneously supporting the expansion of programs that erode the God-like values which are the foundation of our Nation and State.”

He continued by saying the “arrogance of those in public office and who set their priorities ahead of the needs and desires of their constituents will not be ignored.”

Miami-Dade officials have urged lawmakers to give county voters a say before approving new casinos. Mayor Carlos Gimenez told the Miami Herald this week that he indicated to both Diaz and Galvano that there “has to be a referendum by the people of Miami-Dade.”

The Herald reported that the Miami Beach City Commission unanimously adopted a resolution this week opposing a casino on the beach, and commissioners warned there was no guarantee the city would approve a permit for a new casino.

The Fontainebleau hotel has indicated it was interested in pursuing a license if Miami-Dade could get an additional one.

“This attack to the social fiber of a community who has spent decades creating a progressive environment which has delivered technological and financial advancement, as well as fosters the existence of the largest concentration of multinational business headquarters, is insulting to the 3 million people of South Florida,” said Fernandez.

Fernandez also issued an ominous warning, telling Galvano and Diaz if “gaming in South Florida passes, without a referendum and the approval of affected residents … the wrath of the community you will feel.”

Rick Scott calls proposed cuts to Visit Florida ‘irresponsible’ in new web ad

Gov. Rick Scott is continuing his push for money for Visit Florida, releasing a new digital ad hitting lawmakers over proposals to cut funding for the state’s tourism marketing agency.

In the 60-second spot, released by Scott’s political committee Let’s Get to Work, the Naples Republican is shown saying “Florida’s been winning, now a group of politicians in Tallahassee want us to lose.”

“That’s irresponsible,” he continues. “It’s real simple, if the politicians in Tallahassee say they don’t want to market our state and we lose tourists, then we’re going to lose jobs. The politicians in Tallahassee don’t get it. Ever job is important, every family is important to our state. There is not a job that’s expendable.”

The new digital ad, which was first reported by POLITICO Florida, comes with just eight days left in the 2017 Session. State lawmakers could begin final budget negotiations are early as this afternoon, and the latest deal reportedly funds Visit Florida at $25 million, a more than $50 million cut from the current level.

“If Rick Scott wants to condemn a self-serving Tallahassee politician who’s wasting Floridians’ tax dollars to promote his own political agenda he should look in the mirror,” said David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, about Scott’s new ad. “Throughout his years in Tallahassee Scott has always looked out for only person – himself – while Floridians who actually work for a living are paying the price.”

Scott, who has spent much of the week in Argentina as part of a trade mission, has lashed out at the decision. His office released a memo from Christian Weiss with the Revenue Estimating Conference that suggested the proposed cuts could reduce state revenues by about $210 million. His office also released a letter that Ben Watkins, the director of the Division of Bond Finance, sent to Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Carlos Trujillo, which suggested Visit Florida cuts could have “negative impacts on bond ratings across the state.”

The governor is scheduled to meet with 10 state senators — including Latvala and Oscar Braynon, Anitere Flores, Bill Galvano, and Wilton Simpson — today. He also has a meeting with Rep. Scott Plakon on his public schedule.

medical marijuana

Amendment moves House closer to Senate on medical marijuana, but differences remain

The Florida House is moving closer to the Senate’s position when it comes to medical marijuana, but conflicts over several big issues, including the number of licenses, remain in conflict.

Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues filed an 86-page, delete-all amendment Wednesday to his medical marijuana implementing bill (HB 1397). The amendment was one of more than two dozen amendments filed Wednesday, ahead of an expected discussion on the measure on the House floor Friday.

The Estero Republican has long said he was in negotiations with the Senate over the bill. He said he had hoped to present a so-called reconciliation bill during the Health & Human Services Committee meeting Monday, but told committee members that he and the Senate had “not gotten there yet.”

The amendment moves the House version closer to the Senate bill, allowing edible forms of marijuana, so long as they are not “attractive to children.” The bill calls on edibles to be, among other things, individually sealed in “plain, opaque wrapping marked only with marijuana universal symbol.” The amendment also allows vaping, something the original House bill did not allow.

The amendment also removes a controversial provision that requires patients to have a three-month relationship with a physician before they can get access to marijuana. A holdover from the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, dozens of advocates have call for the House to remove the provision.

The Senate bill allows edibles and vaping, and does not include the 90-day wait period.

While the House has moved closer to the Senate on some positions, it appears to be standing firm — at least right now — in others. The proposed amendment does not lower the threshold for licensing new medical marijuana treatment centers.

Under the House proposal, current license holders would be grandfathered in, and a member of the Florida chapter of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association, which was shut out under the existing system, would be issued a license. The Department of Health would then issue five new licenses to once there are 150,000 qualified patients registered with the compassionate use registry.

The Senate bill quickens the pace, issuing five more licenses by October and then adding four medical marijuana treatment centers for every 75,000 people who patients who register.

The Senate bill, however, caps the number of retail facilities a license-holder can have, something the House amendment is silent on.

The House could begin discussions its bill on Friday. The Senate bill (SB 406), sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, has not yet been placed on the calendar.

Appropriations Committee sends its medical marijuana bill to Senate floor

A Senate panel cleared its version of the medical marijuana implementing bill, sending it to the floor and setting House and Senate up for negotiations over the two different proposals in the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill (SB 406) that would implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment. Sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, the bill is generally favored by medical marijuana advocates; but several expressed concerns about access during the final committee stop Tuesday.

“We have a huge supply deficit in the state,” said Dennis Deckerhoff, whose son uses low-THC cannabis.

Deckerhoff said one of the dispensaries in the state has run out of the product his son uses, forcing him to go to a second dispensary, which has since changed the formula.

“Access means getting the medicine you need, not the medicine the dispensary is producing,” said Deckerhoff, who urged lawmakers not to pass the bill.

Bradley’s proposal, among other things, grandfathers in existing dispensing organizations as medical marijuana treatment centers, brings five additional medical marijuana treatment centers online by Oct. 3, and requires the Department of Health to license four more medical marijuana treatment centers after each time 75,000 patients register with the state’s compassionate use registry.

The bill also removes the three-month waiting period and limits the number of retail facilities from which growers can dispense medical marijuana.

The vote comes one day after the House Health and Human Services Committee approved its version of an implementing bill. The House proposal (HB 1397), which is considered more restrictive, includes the 90-day wait period; bans pregnant women from using medical marijuana, even if their doctor recommends it, and prohibits vaping and edibles.

Bradley said the Senate is in “active negotiations with our friends in the House” over the proposal. The House version is also headed to the floor.

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