Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 125

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

Rick Scott wants state to cut $8M in fees

Gov. Rick Scott wants to cut millions of dollars of fees that impact Florida’s veterans, seniors and businesses.

The Naples Republican announced Monday he plans to cut an $8 million in annual fees during the upcoming legislative session. The announcement comes on the eve of the annual Associated Press legislative planning session, where Scott will officially announce his fiscal 2017-18 budget.

The cuts, according to the Governor’s Office, include: free vehicle title transfers for surviving spouses; free replacement and renewal ID cards for citizens 80 years old and over; and free ID cards for citizens over 80 who surrender their drivers’ licenses.

About 5 percent of Florida’s population is over the age of 80, according data compiled as part of the 2015 American Community Survey$8 .

The proposal also includes free veteran designation on new identification, licenses and renewals; free commercial driver’s licenses for veterans; reducing all fees associated with commercial driving schools by 50 percent; and reducing delinquency fees.

“When we cut fees and taxes, it helps businesses create jobs, and reduces costs for families across our state,” said Scott in a statement Monday. “This session I look forward to working with the Legislature to cut more than $8 million in unnecessary fees. We have to continue to do all we can to return more money back to families and job creators.”

Scott’s decision to push for a fee reduction comes just one week after he announced he wants to cut taxes by $618 million. The governor will unveil his full budget at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

Jeff Brandes files bill to standardize visitation plans

Sen. Jeff Brandes has filed a bill aimed at providing standardized visitation plans for unmarried parents.

The St. Petersburg Republican filed legislation (SB 590) Monday, which would create a standard visitation schedule for unmarried parents. If adopted, the proposal would encourage contact between non-custodial parents and their children.

“Spending time with our children is the most valuable gift parents can give,” he said in a statement. “The state currently requires child support be paid but is silent on time. This bill seeks to offer parents an optional time sharing plan, used in many other states, that puts the focus on parents spending time with their children.”

The time plan, according to Brandes’ office, would be provided as an option when parents meet with the Department of Revenue to set up child support. It would allow the parents to bypass the court system.

Under the proposed plan, children would be with the non-custodial parents every other weekend; one evening per week; Thanksgiving break and spring break in even numbered years; winter break in odd years; and for two weeks during the summer.

Parents could accept the plan as laid out, deviate and agree upon a different plan, or go through further mediation. It provides several exceptions, including when a family member lives more than 100 miles away or when there are concerns of familial or domestic violence.

medical marijuana

Modern Health Concepts, PalliaTech team up as Florida’s medical pot industry grows

A South Florida medical marijuana dispensing organization is thinking ahead, entering into a strategic partnership to help plan for future growth.

Modern Health Concepts, a South Florida-based medical cannabis provider, announced last week that shareholders successfully formed a strategic partnership with PalliaTech Inc.

Created in 2010, the Massachusetts-based company began as a medical device company and was one of the first to develop and patent a medical cannabis vaporizing unit able to deliver a single metered dose to patients. It now operates vertically-integrated cannabis companies in several states.

“We admire what Modern Health Concepts has done to date to successfully evolve this industry and are excited about this partnership,” said Joseph Lusardi, CEO of PalliaTech in a statement. “We are encouraged by the commitment and dedication Modern Health Concepts has demonstrated regarding their vital role in this industry, and we are proud to partner with them and invest in growing their ability to provide medicine to many Floridians for years to come.”

Affiliated with Costa Nurseries, Modern Health Concepts is one of seven approved medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. The company, according to its website, plans to begin offering vaporizing cartridges early this year.

The partnership comes as state lawmakers and the health officials begin the process of implementing Amendment 2, the medical marijuana constitutional amendment.

Earlier this month, the state Department of Health initiated the process of developing rules for Amendment 2. Under the ballot language, the agency has until July 3 to create rules and regulations to implement the new medical marijuana law.

Under the preliminary rule, medical marijuana treatment centers — which would be the same as dispensing organizations — must go through the same “approval and selection process” outlined in existing law. Those organizations are also “subject to the same limitations and operational requirements” currently outlined in state law.

But a proposal by Sen. Rob Bradley looks to change state law as it relates to the number of treatment centers allowed in the state. Under his implementing bill, the Department of Health would be required register five more medical marijuana treatment centers within six months of 250,000 qualified patients registering with the compassionate use registry.

It then allows for more five more treatment centers to receive licenses after the 350,000 qualified patients, 400,000 qualified patients, 500,000 qualified patients, and after each additional 100,000 qualified patients register with the state’s compassionate use registry.

“We are very excited about the opportunity to partner with PalliaTech to augment our operations and enable us to grow at a much faster rate with the end goal to better service increasing demand from patients in need,” said Richard Young, CEO of Modern Health Concepts, in a statement.

More legislative hopefuls file to run in 2018, 2020

The list of incumbents eyeing re-election just keeps getting longer.

State elections records show dozens of members of the state House and Senate have filed to run for re-election in 2018, and several more are looking ahead to 2020.

Sen. Gary Farmer is one of those lawmakers thinking about his next race. He filed to run for re-election in Senate District 34 on Jan. 24. Farmer won his seat in 2016, beating out two well-known South Florida Democrats for the seat. Sen. Bobby Powell Jr. also filed to run for re-election in Senate District 30 on Jan. 26.

Several House members also recently filed for re-election in 2018, including Republican Reps. Charles Wesley Clemons Sr., Stan McClain, David Santiago, Jennifer Sullivan, and Mike Miller.

And it isn’t just incumbents looking ahead to the next election.

Former Rep. James Bush III is looking to get back to the Florida House, filing to run for House District 109 on Jan. 23. The Democrat served in the House from 2008 to 2010, when he stepped down to run in Florida’s 17th Congressional District.

Polk County Commissioner Melony Bell is looking to make the leap to state government, filing to run in House District 56 on Jan. 17. Bell would face Democrat David Poulin, who filed to run on Jan. 9.

Looking ahead to 2020: Sen. Doug Broxson is already gearing up his next election. Broxson filed to run again in Senate District 1 on Jan. 12.

And he isn’t alone. Sen. Randolph Bracy filed to run again in Senate District 11 on Jan. 24; while Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez filed to run again in Senate District 37 on Jan. 23.

Keith Perry files bill to create 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday

Sen. Keith Perry has filed a bill calling for a 10-day back-to-school tax holiday in August.

Under the proposed legislation (SB 490), certain school supplies would be tax exempt from Aug. 4 through 14.

“As I talk to folks across north central Florida, I hear the same thing over and over – people are working hard to do right by their children,” he said in a statement Thursday. “Any steps we can take legislatively to lessen the burden on Florida’s families is a step in the right direction.”

The proposal would include clothing, backpack and sneakers that cost $100 or less; pens, pencils, notebooks, markers, calculators, and lunchboxes that cost $15 or less; and laptops or desktop computers that cost $1,000 or less.

Perry’s decision to file the legislation coincided with Gov. Rick Scott’s announcement that he is proposed $618 million in tax cuts. The governor made his announcement in Jacksonville on Wednesday morning, kicking off a multi-city swing to promote his proposal.

Scott’s proposal includes a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday, which he estimates would save Floridians $72 million.

In 2016, the annual back-to-school sales tax holiday ran from Aug. 5 through Aug. 7. It was scaled back from the previous year, when lawmakers approved a 10-day holiday.

“For Florida’s hardworking families, every dollar counts at back-to-school time,” said Perry. “I am proud to sponsor this common sense plan to put money back in the pockets of parents across the state.”


medical marijuana

House Health Quality panel hears from former Colorado pot czar

The former Colorado marijuana czar encouraged Florida lawmakers to invest in public education as they begin discussions about implementing Amendment 2.

Andrew Freedman, the former director of marijuana coordination in Colorado, told the House Quality Subcommittee that the state should consider investing in public education, even before tax dollars derived from the medical marijuana industry starts rolling in. Freedman said his state waited until they received tax dollars, and officials were “surprised by what people didn’t know.”

The state spends between $8 million and $9 million a year on public education, which includes public education campaigns focused on driving while high. The state puts $12 million aside for curriculum in schools, and that money is used to help schools screen for high-risk students.

Public education, said Freedman, is “incredibly essential to the success of the program.”

Freedman’s testimony came during a two-hour panel discussion on medical marijuana. The discussion was the second in a series of meetings scheduled as the House begins the process of crafting legislation to implement Amendment 2, the medical marijuana constitutional amendment.

Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues is expected to carry the bill in the House. Sen. Rob Bradley has already filed a bill the Senate’s version of the proposal.

Among other things, the Senate bill would expand the number of medical marijuana treatment centers, similar to what is currently called a dispensing organization, allowed to operate in the state.

Under Bradley’s proposal, the Department of Health is required register five more medical marijuana treatment centers within six months of 250,000 qualified patients registering with the compassionate use registry.

The bill then allows for more five more treatment centers to receive licenses after the 350,000 qualified patients, 400,000 qualified patients, 500,000 qualified patients, and after each additional 100,000 qualified patients register with the state’s compassionate use registry.

Existing law does allow for some growth, authorizing the state health health department to issue three more licenses once 250,000 qualified patients register with the state’s compassionate use registry.

The state currently has a vertical integration system in place, meaning the same company needs to grow, cultivate and sell the product. Freedman, who served as Colorado’s marijuana czar from 2013 until earlier this month, said Colorado started with a vertical integration system, with organizations having to grow at least 75 percent of what they are selling. While that remains the case with medical marijuana, Freedman indicated the state has moved away from that system when it comes to the recreational market.

Freedman said there are benefits to vertical integration. It allows the state to know who is doing business in the state, limits the number of licenses issued and the number of background checks required. But in the long run, Freedman said Colorado “didn’t see a big difference” when it came to vertical integration versus horizontal integration.

Lawmakers also heard from Miami Beach Chief Daniel Oates, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, and Lt. Col. Mike Thomas with the Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles, all of whom discussed concerns about safety and enforcement.

“Colorado produces the best marijuana in the world,” said Oates, who was representing the Florida Police Chiefs Association. “I think we want to avoid … a thriving black market (in Florida). And we believe very, very strongly everyone should know whether (someone) possesses it legally under a medical marijuana scheme.”

Earlier this month, the Department of Health initiated the process of developing rules for Amendment 2. Under the ballot language, the agency has until July 3 to create rules and regulations to implement the new medical marijuana law

Progressives launch ad urging Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson to vote against Steven Mnuchin

A coalition of progressive organizations is hitting the airwaves to urge Sen. Bill Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio to vote against President Donald Trump’s nominee for Treasury secretary.

The Progressive Change Campaign, Allied Progress Action, and Demand Progress Action will air a TV spot Wednesday and Thursday in Florida, and several other states, targeting Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s pick for Treasury secretary. The ad is slated to air on MSNBC, CNN, FOX News, and in the Orlando and Tampa media markets.

“Owning a home is not only a dream for millions of Americans, it is also the largest investment most will make in their lifetimes. Steve Mnuchin ran OneWest bank as a foreclosure machine, ripping the financial rug out from underneath thousands of homeowners like Lisa, using fraudulent practices to take people’s homes and line his own pockets,” said Kurt Walters, campaign director for Demand Progress Action.

“Last week’s hearing only made it more clear that Steven Mnuchin is unqualified to make decisions about the direction of our entire economy at the Treasury Department, both out of his depth and apparently unconcerned by how his choices harm ordinary Americans.”

The 30-second spot features Lisa Fraser, a widow whose home was foreclosed on by a bank Mnuchin ran.  A former partner at Goldman Sachs, he has been criticized for aggressive foreclosure practices.

“Steve Mnuchin ran the bank that committed fraud and took our home, and now Donald Trump has nominated him to run our economy as Treasury secretary,” she says in the ad. “We can’t let that happen.”

The six figure ad buy will allow the coalition to expand into Florida, Missouri, Colorado, Delaware and Virginia. It continues to air in Arizona, Nevada and Iowa.

“Mnuchin is the poster child for how Trump has betrayed America’s working families by turning over our economy to Goldman Sachs bankers and Wall Street billionaires,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “All Senators on the Finance Committee — Democratic and Republican — owe it to their constituents to vote no on Mnuchin.”

Rick Scott taps Ryan Matthews as interim DEP chief

Ryan Matthews will serve as the interim Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.

Gov. Rick Scott announced Matthews appointment Tuesday, just days after first reported DEP Secretary Jon Steverson was resigning. Steverson’s last day is Feb. 3.

Matthews joined the DEP in 2015, serving as the Director of Office of Water Policy and most recently, serving as the deputy secretary of regulatory programs. Before joining the state agency, he was an associate legislative affairs director for the Florida League of Cities.

“Ryan’s hard work and dedication to protecting Florida’s environment have led the way to improved water quality and stronger environmental policies for Florida,” said Scott in a statement Tuesday. “I am confident that he will continue to fight to protect Florida’s pristine environment as Interim Secretary.”

According to guidelines adopted by the governor and the Cabinet, Scott is required to name an interim appointee to temporarily fill the vacancy, subject to the approval of interim appointments by the Cabinet. Scott and the Cabinet are expected to meet via phone next week to discuss the interim appointment.

The process of making a permanent appointment will also be governed by the Cabinet Governance Guidelines.

House panel gets update on dental carve out law

A recent study by the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability into how effective managed care plans are at providing dental care appeared to be inconclusive, agency officials said this week.

OPPAGA was tasked with looking into how effectively managed care plans are at providing dental care under a contentious 2016 law.

The law, among other things, carved out dental care from the list of minimum benefits offered under the state’s Medicaid managed care plans. It required the Agency for Health Care Administration to implement a prepaid dental health program for children and adults beginning enrollment by March 1, 2019, unless the Legislature acts during the 2017 Legislative Session to require the statewide plans to cover it again.

 Mary Alice Nye, a staff director at OPPAGA, told the House Health & Human Services Committee her team could not come to a “definitive conclusion” about which was a more effective way to provide the service.

Nye said it was difficult to draw a conclusion because there wasn’t a lot of available data for comparison. There were only two full years available for OPPAGA to use for comparison.

According to the OPPAGA report, nearly 24 percent of eligible children received preventative dental services in fiscal 2013. That increased to 31 percent in fiscal 2015.

“I think what we are hearing is that move to statewide medical managed care and including dental is working for the state of Florida and for the children in Medicaid,” said Audrey Brown, the president and CEO of Florida Association of Health Plans, which opposed the 2016 legislation.

Nye said of the 28 states similar to Florida, 14 include dental services as part of comprehensive managed care, four use a pre-paid managed dental program, and 10 use a fee-for-service system. Seven states are currently in transition, with four choosing to carve dental services in. Two states, she said, are carving dental out. One is still weighing its options.

“I think we definitely need a more in depth analysis if we’re going to change the system,” said Rep. Gayle Harrell. “The outcomes are extremely important.”

Trulieve to open medical marijuana dispensary in Tampa

Trulieve is expanding into Tampa.

The medical marijuana dispensing organization announced Tuesday it will open its third dispensary Thursday in Tampa. The company currently has dispensaries in Tallahassee and Clearwater.

“This is an exciting start to the new year for Trulieve and the patients we serve,” said Kim Rivers, the company’s CEO in a statement. “As the first licensee to be authorized to dispense medical cannabis in Florida, we are pleased to serve an expanding Tampa market. We are also excited to be opening our newest dispensary.”

Trulieve is one of seven dispensing organizations currently authorized by the Department of Health to grow and distribute medical marijuana. According to the company, the new dispensary will have both low-THC and high-THC medical cannabis available in a several forms, including oral capsules and vaporizers.

Earlier this month, the Department of Health initiated the process of creating rules and regulations governing Amendment 2.

Under preliminary rules, medical marijuana treatment centers — which under new rules would be the same as a dispensing organization, must go through the same “approval and selection process” outlined in existing law. Those organizations are also “subject to the same limitations and operational requirements” currently outlined in state law.

That could mean the seven nurseries currently authorized to grow and sell medical marijuana would have a corner on the market.

Lawmakers have indicated they’re planning to weigh in on Amendment 2 implementation, and last week Sen. Rob Bradley filed a bill that would, among other things, allow for the growth of medical marijuana treatment centers once the number of registered patients hits a certain number.

A spokeswoman for the health department said in an email to last week the agency looks forward to “receiving input from all interested stakeholders through the open and transparent rulemaking process.”

In addition to dispensaries, Trulieve also offers a statewide delivery service. The company is scheduled to hold a press conference at 10 a.m. Thursday at the new dispensary.

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