Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 127

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

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.

Jared Moskowitz files resolution condemning U.N. Security Council Israeli settlement vote

A South Florida Democrat has filed a resolution calling on the Florida House to stand with Congress in its condemnation of the United Nations.

Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat, filed a resolution (HR 281) last week objecting to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334.

“The passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 undermined the long-standing position of the United States to oppose and veto United Nation Security Council resolutions that seek to impose solutions to final-status issues or are one sided and anti Israel, reversing decades of bipartisan agreement,” reads the proposed House resolution. “The passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution undermines the prospect of Israelis and Palestinians resuming productive, direct, bilateral negotiations.”

In December, then-President Barack Obama’s administration abstained from a U.N. Security Council resolution that called Israeli settlements on land claimed by Palestinians a violation of international law. The U.S. had used its veto power to block similar measures in the past.

Days later, the GOP led U.S. House passed a resolution calling for the repeal of the resolution. The vote, according to the Washington Post, reflected the bipartisan nature of Congress’s support for Israel.

Moskowitz’s proposal will likely find bipartisan support in the Florida House as well. In 2016, a bill requiring the State Board of Administration to identify companies it does business with that are boycotting Israel overwhelmingly passed both the House (112-2) and the Senate (38-0). Moskowitz carried that bill in the Florida House.

“The United Nations has proven time and again that it lacks the ability to be an impartial mediator when it comes to issues of the state of Israel. The fact that one of the most holy sites of the Jewish people, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, is considered occupied territory under the terms of UNSCR 2334 is just the most egregious example of this continuing bias,” said Moskowitz in a statement. “I have no doubt that if any other holy site in the world was considered occupied territory, other nations around the world would be outraged, and rightly so. I urge my colleagues to support this resolution expressing our disappointment in the United States decision to break from long-standing tradition of allowing the two sides to negotiate independently towards a viable two-state solution and to reaffirm Florida’s continuing friendship with the Israeli people.”


Rick Scott: Donald Trump presidency will be ‘really good for our state’

Gov. Rick Scott said attending his first presidential inauguration was an exciting event, but is ready to get back to work on issues important to Floridians.

“I think it’s going to be really good for our state,” said Scott after a jobs announcement in Naples on Monday. “I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure this is the state that everyone wants to live in, make you you can get a good job, get your kids a good education and be safe.”

Scott was one of dozens of Floridians who attended President Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday. A longtime friend of the New York Republican, Scott penned an editorial early in Trump’s campaign lauding Trump. He endorsed him immediately after the Florida’s presidential primary, and went on to become the chairman of a super PAC backing Trump’s presidential bid.

The Naples Republican spent much of last week in Washington, D.C., meeting with Trump transition officials and congressional Republicans. Scott and his wife, First Lady Ann Scott, even hosted an inaugural ball.

“It was exciting. This was the first presidential inauguration I ever attended,” said Scott, who is believed to be considering a 2018 U.S. Senate bid. “Trump has been a friend for 20 years; Mike Pence has been a very good friend.”

An ardent supporter of the new president, Scott said he thinks Trump “is going to do what we’ve done” when it comes to jobs and the economy. He said he looks forward to working with the Trump administration to “repeal and replace Obamacare.”

And while Scott might not have agreed with the thousands upon thousands of people across the country who marched in opposition of Trump and his policies on Saturday, he did say he thought it was “important people express their views.”

“That’s what’s great about our country, and they can do it in a non-violent manner,” he said. “I think it’s exciting people have the opportunity to go and let people know what they believe. It doesn’t matter what political party you are, get involved. Run for office, help people get elected. I think it’s important to be active, it’s important for our country.”

medical marijuana

Drug Free America urges caution as lawmakers discuss Amendment 2 implementation

Drug Free America is urging Florida lawmakers to “proceed with caution” as they begin crafting legislation to implement the state’s newest medical marijuana law.

“While we were opposed to Amendment 2 for a number of specific reasons, we recognize Florida voters have spoken,” said Calvina Fay, the executive director of Drug Free America, in a statement. “We also recognize lawmakers will soon convene and consider implementing language … that will dictate policy for generations to come. We strongly urge them to exercise extreme caution moving forward.

On Thursday, Sen. Rob Bradley filed Senate Bill 406, the Amendment 2 implementing bill. The bill comes just days after the Department of Health initiated the process of developing rules, as outlined under the ballot language.

The bill, among other things, allows for the growth of medical marijuana treatment centers once the number of registered patients hits a certain number.

“In 2014, the Florida Legislature legalized low-THC medical marijuana, and in 2016 expanded the medical marijuana system to provide legal access to marijuana for terminally ill Floridians,” said Bradley in a statement last week. “Floridians want even more options, speaking loud and clear at the polls in November by passing Amendment Two. This bill significantly expands the current medical marijuana system to give Floridians the relief they have demanded, and it does so safely and quickly.”

Under Bradley’s bill, 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. 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.

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

“As we’ve seen in states like Colorado and California, measures intended to open the door just a little, results in the door opening far too wide,” said Fay. “Because marijuana – and this is not a surprise to anyone – is subject to abuse, has a robust black market, and is the drug of choice for too many of our nation’s youth, the ‘market’ will rapidly and dramatically take advantage of every loophole that can be exploited.”

Fay said growers have indicated they will have “far more capacity than is needed for the foreseeable future,” and warned that further expansion could “create an undue burden on already overwhelmed officials for effectively regulating this industry.

“For these reason, we ask lawmakers to proceed with caution, recognize that the for-profit marijuana industry will exploit loopholes, and to please keep treating marijuana as a dangerous drug that requires strict safeguards and controls,” said Fay.

Bradley’s bill, which was co-introduced by Sen. Dana Young, hasn’t received its committee assignments yet. But that doesn’t mean lawmakers won’t be talking about medical marijuana this week.

The House Health Quality subcommittee is scheduled to hear from several experts — including officials with the Florida Police Chiefs Association and Florida Sheriffs Association — during its meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday. While a companion to Bradley’s bill hasn’t been filed, House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues is expected to carry the House implementing bill.

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