Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 125

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

medical marijuana

Treadwell Nursery hires Gunster lobbyists Joanna Lee Clary Bonafanti and J. Larry Williams

Treadwell Nursery appears to be sticking with Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart.

Joanna Lee Clary Bonafanti and J. Larry Williams registered with the state to lobby the Florida Legislature on behalf of the Central Florida nursery on Dec. 13. The nursery, which was one of several applicants seeking a permit to grow and distribute medical marijuana, enlisted the help of two other Gunster team members earlier in 2016.

State records show Derek Bruce and Cameron Yarbrough registered to lobby the Legislature on the nursery’s behalf in August and July respectively. In October 2016, the nursery also enlisted the help of Jeffrey Sharkey and Taylor Patrick Biehl with Capitol Alliance Group.

In April, Treadwell Nursery filed a petition for formal administrative hearings in response to the Department of Health’s decision to approve San Felasco Nurseries as a northeast Florida dispensing organization.

The nursery challenged how the Department of Health responded to a new state law, saying it had no criteria or timing outlined about how and when it would award additional licenses.

Treadwell Nursery, a more than 40-year-old family owned nursery in Central Florida, was one of eight nurseries in the central region to apply to be a dispensing organization. The nursery lost out to Knox Nursery. A second nursery in the region, San Felasco Nursery, won its administrative challenge and was eventually issued a licenses.

The fight over who can grow and distribute medical marijuana will surely heat up in the coming months, as state lawmakers and health department officials begin to craft rules and implement the medical marijuana constitutional amendment, which went into effect on Jan. 3.

The new law allows people with debilitating medical conditions to use higher strength medical marijuana if recommended by a licensed physician. According to the Associated Press, there are nearly 1,500 patients in the state registry and about 340 physicians have registered.

The industry is also expected to experience significant growth in the coming years. A recent report from New Frontier Data and Arcview Market Research showed Florida’s market will grow to $1.6 billion by 2020 at a compound annual growth rate of 140 percent. The report notes that the Sunshine State could make up 14 percent of the medical marijuana market by 2020.

House panel begins discussions about economic incentives

A Florida House subcommittee took its first stab at addressing economic incentives during a panel discussion Wednesday.

While the two-hour House Careers & Competition Subcommittee meeting gave experts a chance to weigh-in on economic incentives, the crux of the discussion centered around a single question from Rep. Halsey Beshears, the committee’s chairman.

Beshears asked the panel — which included Chris Hart IV, president and CEO of Enterprise Florida; Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Development; and Fatima Perez, the regional manager of state government affairs for Koch Companies Public Sector — why the House should, or shouldn’t, modify the current economic incentive policies. The response? Well, that was mixed.

“Economic development does not happen without an investment,” said Proctor. “We believe in a strong economic development package, and we have to have (incentives).”

The House blocked an effort in 2016 to create a $250 million business incentive fund under Enterprise Florida. And House Republicans appear to be the poised to do the same in 2017.

Led by Speaker Richard Corcoran, the Florida House appears poised to oppose economic incentive proposals. Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes Republican, has derided Enterprise Florida as a dispenser of “corporate welfare” and has vowed to lead the effort  to end taxpayer funding to the organization.

“All of the members here, we’ve heard the Speaker passionately argue against corporate welfare and we want to get a better handle on it,” said Beshears, a Monticello Republican, who went on to say the House is having discussions to figure out how to move forward.

Perez said her company supports ending “corporate welfare.” And that should come as no surprise to capital watchers. Americans for Prosperity-Florida, which led the effort against economic incentives last year, is backed by the Koch brothers.

“While Florida lawmakers are continuing to look at this, we believe there is plenty of room for improvement,” she said.

But supporters said incentives are just one tool in the toolbox, and are only one part of the discussion state and local officials have with companies looking to move to Florida.

“They are not an entitlement, (but) they tip the scale in our favor” said Kelly Smallridge, the president and CEO of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County. “Incentives are only one policy discussion.”

medical marijuana

Ray Rodrigues: House bill won’t include tax on medical marijuana

The Florida House will push to make medical marijuana tax exempt, according the sponsor of the yet-to-be filed bill implementing Amendment 2.

While lawmakers are in the early stages of drafting an implementing bill, House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues said the House does not plan to include a tax on medical marijuana in its proposal. The Estero Republican will be sponsoring the House bill during the 2017 Legislative Session.

“Obviously our goal is to honor the intent of the constitutional amendment that more than 70 percent of Florida voters approved,” said Rodrigues. “The only thing I can firmly commit to is, I reviewed the Senate testimony that was offered in the Senate Health committee, and Ben Pollara, who led the organization that put the amendment on the ballot, said … it was his hope that Amendment 2 would be treated with the same seriousness as we treat medicine and all other health care decisions.”

“We respect that and, to that end, the one thing I can say about the House bill is we’re going to treat medical marijuana like medicine and we will not contain a tax on medical marijuana,” he continued.

Rodrigues said he is in the early stages of crafting the legislation, but does not currently have legislation in bill drafting. He said he hopes to meet with all of the stakeholders before drafting the legislation. But when it comes to the legislation, Rodrigues said he thinks everything will be on the table.

“I think the key is to come out with a product that honors the constitutional amendment, but also provides the regulations that are necessary to safeguard Florida citizens,” he said.

Rodrigues’ comments came after a two-hour House Health Quality Subcommittee meeting Wednesday, where lawmakers heard from Christian Bax, the director of the state’s Office of Compassionate Use, and other medical marijuana experts.

The constitutional amendment, which received support from 71 percent of Florida voters, allows Floridians with debilitating medical condition, determined by a licensed physician, to use medical marijuana. The amendment went into effect Jan. 3, but state lawmakers and the Florida Department of Health are now tasked with adopting rules and implementing the amendment.

Bax said the Department of Health will begin the rule-making process in the coming days. The agency, he said, plans to hold workshops in five regions throughout the state to create an open dialogue about the needs.

“The Department of Health remains committed to executing the will of Florida voters,” he told the committee.

Rick Scott selects Matilde Miller to serve as interim DBPR secretary

Matilde Miller will take the helm of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation — at least temporarily.

Gov. Rick Scott announced Tuesday Miller was named the interim secretary of DBPR, replacing former Secretary Ken Lawson.

“Matilde has spent many years at DBPR serving in numerous leadership positions and understands how important it is to help businesses open and create jobs in our state,” said Scott in a statement. “Like Secretary Lawson, she will focus on reducing burdensome regulations and fees that make it harder for job creators to succeed in Florida. She has extensive legislative experience and relationships and I am confident she will be a great leader at DBPR.”

On Tuesday, Lawson was hired to serve as the president and CEO of Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency. The former federal prosecutor replaces Will Seccombe, the outgoing president and CEO, who resigned amid the fallout from a secret deal with rapper Pitbull.

Visit Florida refused to say how much it paid Pitbull or disclose any of the details of a contract with the Miami superstar, calling it a trade secret. House Speaker Richard Corcoran sued in December to release the contract, but withdrew the lawsuit after Pitbull used Twitter to release it.

Scott, who has praised Visit Florida in the past, responded to criticism by calling on Seccombe to resign. During a meeting in Orlando on Tuesday, the Visit Florida board of directors agreed to pay Seccombe $73,000 as severance. A spokeswoman for the governor said that sum is paid for using private funds.

Lawson will receive a salary of $175,000 a year and work without a contract. He has led the Department of Business and Professional Development since 2011.

“Ken understands the responsibility we have to be transparent with every tax dollar. He has tirelessly fought to make it easier for Florida businesses to create jobs, has helped cut millions of dollars in fees and has streamlined the agency to ensure the state reduced burdensome regulations,” said Scott in a statement. “A native Floridian and military veteran, Ken has an incredible appreciation and understanding for our great state. I know he will use his unmatched experience and love for Florida to promote tourism while bringing much needed reforms to VISIT FLORIDA so our state can break even more tourism records.”

A 16-year veteran of DBPR, Miller has served as chief of staff since 2014. Prior to becoming chief of staff, she served as the agency’s legislative coordinator, deputy legislative affairs director, and director of legislative director. She previously worked in the Florida House and as a high school English and Spanish teacher.

Her first day is Wednesday.

__The Associated Press contributed to this report, with permission.

 

Seminole Compact, other gambling issues expected to be top priority in House Commerce committee

The House Commerce Committee is poised to tackle everything from assignment of benefits to economic incentives, but it’s the most narrowly defined subcommittee that could be the busiest in the months leading up to, and during, the 2017 Legislative Session.

The full House Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, met Tuesday morning to get an overview of topics expected to come up in the upcoming 60-day legislative session.

“So it begins,” said Diaz. “We’re going to be busy. We will be dealing with some of the weightiest issues of the state.”

While each of the subcommittees laid out what could be considered jam-packed agendas, Rep. Mike La Rosa, chairman of the Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee, outlined an aggressive schedule largely focused on gambling in Florida.

The subcommittee will spend the next few weeks tackling different aspects of the industry, looking first at the Seminole Compact. The subcommittee is scheduled to hold a two-hour panel discussion Thursday to discuss issues relating to the Seminole Compact.

A federal court judge in November sided with the Seminole Tribe saying the state broke its exclusivity deal with the tribe allowing it to keep blackjack tables until 2030.

“With everything we did last year, we thought we were going to be able to pass a bill, but it didn’t get across the finish line,” said Diaz. “We feel like the opportunity to negotiate (is still there). We’re having negotiations with the Senate, and we’ll pass a compact or bill that’s in the best interests of the citizens of Florida that invests money in the right places.”

Diaz said the Legislature is still “in the early stages of conversation,” but warned the end of session will be here before lawmakers know it.

“If you have concerns with the compact, if you want to make sure (issues are) addressed, now is the time to have the conversation,” he said.

The compact isn’t the only issue the Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee will tackle. La Rosa said he expects the committee to discuss slot machines, decoupling, and online fantasy sports. The committee might also take up destination resort casinos, a constitutional amendment restricting the expansion of gambling, and whether to establish a statewide gaming commission.

La Rosa said members will be tasked with addressing concerns about VISIT Florida, which falls under the committee’s responsibilities. The agency has recently faced criticism about the way it handled a secret marketing contract worth up to $1 million with Pitbull.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran filed suit to force the Miami superstar to disclose the contents of his contract. Pitbull released the details of his contract on Twitter one day later.

The controversy led to the firing of two top VISIT Florida officials, and Gov. Rick Scott called for former CEO Will Seccombe’s resignation. The organization’s board of directors on Tuesday agreed to pay Seccombe, $73,000 as part of a severance agreement.

On Tuesday, Scott announced Ken Lawson, the former Secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, would take the helm of agency.

“Ken understands the responsibility we have to be transparent with every tax dollar. He has tirelessly fought to make it easier for Florida businesses to create jobs, has helped cut millions of dollars in fees and has streamlined the agency to ensure the state reduced burdensome regulations,” said Scott in a statement. “A native Floridian and military veteran, Ken has an incredible appreciation and understanding for our great state. I know he will use his unmatched experience and love for Florida to promote tourism while bringing much needed reforms to VISIT FLORIDA so our state can break even more tourism records.”

The House Commerce Committee and its subcommittees are also expected to take up assignment of benefits, personal injury protection insurance, economic incentives, and deregulation during the 2017 Legislative Session.

_The Associated Press contributed to this report, with permission.

Rick Scott: ‘The citizens of Florida will not tolerate senseless acts of violence’

Calling the shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport a “senseless act of evil,” Gov. Rick Scott on Friday said the state would use every available resource to keep Floridians and visitors safe.

“The citizens of Florida will not tolerate senseless acts of evil,” said Scott during a news conference at the airport Friday. “Whoever is responsible will be held accountable to the full extent of the law.”

Authorities said five were killed and eight were wounded after a lone suspect opened fire at the Fort Lauderdale airport. The gunman has tentatively been identified as Esteban Santiago.

According to The Associated Press, he was born in New Jersey but moved to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico when he was 2 years old.

Bryan Santiago, the man’s brother, told The Associated Press Esteban Santiago grew up in the southern coastal town of Penuelas and served with the island’s National Guard for a couple of years. He was deployed to Iraq in 2010 and spent a year there with the 130th Engineer Battalion, the 1013th engineer company out of Aguadilla, according to Puerto Rico National Guard spokesman Maj. Paul Dahlen.

“You just can’t imagine how this can ever happen in a state like ours. Think of the innocent lives that were lost,” said Scott. “You can’t imagine how this can happen to any family anywhere in the world, but clearly we don’t want this happening in our state.”

Scott said his No. 1 priority is keeping “everyone that lives in our state, travels to our state” safe.

Scott said he spoke to President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence about the incident. He said has not talked with President Barack Obama. He also dismissed questions about whether the state should take steps to strengthen gun laws, saying it wasn’t the time for politics.

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

DOH issues final order denying Loop’s Nuersery medical marijuana license

The Florida Department of Health has issued a final order rejecting a Northeast Florida nursery’s request for a licenses to grow and distribute medical marijuana, four months after an administrative law judge said the nursery failed to show it should have been approved.

On Thursday, Surgeon General Celeste Philip issued a final order denying Loop’s Nursery & Greenhouses’ application to “become a dispensing organization of low-THC cannabis in the Northeast Region.”

The 36-page order upholds a ruling an October ruling by administrative law Judge R. Bruce McKibben, which said the nursery ““failed to prove by a preponderance of evidence that its application to become a distributing organization in the Northeast Region should have been approved.”

“It was Loop’s duty to show how its application was superior to the other applicants. It was Loop’s duty to present whatever evidence about San Felasco and Chestnut Hill was necessary to make that comparison,” wrote McKibben in his October ruling. “Loop’s failed to do so.”

Loop’s was one of five nurseries that applied to be a dispensing organization for the Northeast region of Florida. After it was passed over, the nursery challenged the decision.

Court documents showed the challenge hinged on it producing a specific strain of low-THC medical marijuana and being better equipped to produce the product. But McKibben disagreed with the premise, at the time saying Loop’s assertion it could comply with cultivation requirements better than the other two nurseries was “purely speculative.”

The Florida Department of Health initially awarded the license for the Northeast region to Chestnut Hill Tree Farm, even though San Felasco received the highest score.

The department denied San Felasco’s application because an employee failed a background check; but that denial was later overturned and San Felasco also received a license.

 

Hearing on gun bills postponed after Senate cancels Judiciary Committee meeting

A pair of controversial gun bills in the Florida Senate will not be discussed during committee meetings next week

According to the Senate calendar, a Judiciary Committee meeting scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday has been cancelled. The committee, which is chaired by Sen. Greg Steube, was set to take up two gun bills during the two-hour meeting.

Steube’s open carry bill — Senate Bill 140 — was one of the two bills scheduled to be discussed. Under that proposal, concealed carry permit holders would be allowed to openly carry a handgun.

Senate President Joe Negron cancelled the meeting at Steube’s request, spokeswoman Katie Betta said.

“Sen. (Rene) Garcia indicated that he would need to request an excused absence from the meeting,” she said. “It is still very early in the committee process and Chair Steube felt it was important to postpone the meeting until all committee members could be present.”

It’s unclear whether either measure has the votes needed to get out its first committee of reference. The committee’s four Democrats will likely vote against the open carry measure, and could be joined by Garcia and Sen. Anitere Flores, both South Florida Republicans who have been skeptical of the legislation.

Similar gun legislation failed to make any progress in the Florida Senate last year. Former Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, who served as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the 2014-16 term, blocked several gun proposals from being heard in his committee.

The Judiciary Committee is often the first committee of reference for gun legislation.

A second bill — Senate Bill 128, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley — was also on the agenda. That bill aims to clarify that prosecutors have the burden of proving that shootings are unjustified under Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law.

The Fleming Island Republican said in December that the measure would overturn overturn the Florida Supreme Court ruling in Bretherick v. Florida. In the 2015 opinion, the court said people charged in shootings must prove during pretrial proceedings that they are entitled to immunity from prosecution.

Bradley proposed similar legislation in 2016. It passed the Senate, but failed to make any progress in the House.

Andrew Gillum, possible 2018 governor candidate, launches ‘Campaign to Defend Local Solutions’

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is fighting for local rights, announcing this week he’s launched a statewide campaign to “defend local solutions.”

A rising star in the Democratic Party, Gillum has been mentioned as possible 2018 gubernatorial contender. He announced today he’s launched the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, a nonpartisan, grassroots effort aimed at bringing together “individuals, organizations, and elected officials concerned about the erosion of local rights.”

And this new organization could help boost his profile across the state, especially when it comes to red meat issues for Democrats.

“This effort …  will send a message to state lawmakers, and give citizens around the country the tools to push back against special interest groups and large corporations, and maintain their right to put forward local solutions to the issues facing their community,” wrote Gillum in a post on Medium announcing the creation of the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions.

Among other things, Gillum said the group will “hold events to rise against looming threats on issues like minimum wage and health benefits, the environment, local hiring practices, and water quality.”

“We will help bring awareness and support to similar fights being undertaken by local officials across the country that are fighting to defend local solutions,” he continued. “And we will elevate the voices and narratives of these efforts, so that no attempt to bully or intimidate local communities around the country will ever be tolerated.”

If Gillum were to get in the race, he’d likely face a crowded Democratic field. Former Rep. Gwen Graham, the daughter of former governor and Sen. Bob Graham, and Orlando attorney John Morgan are considering a run. And Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer have all been floated as possible contenders.

Gillum’s announcement comes just days before the 1st District Court of Appeals is set to hear oral arguments in a case involving Gillum and the city of Tallahassee after the City Commission decided not to repeal city codes regulating firearms.

“I’m being personally sued by the gun lobby. In 2014, as a Tallahassee City Commissioner, my colleagues and I refused to repeal ordinances that prevent shooting guns in a public park,” he wrote. “Because of our actions that day, and our commitment to the safety of our citizens, my fellow locally elected officials and I are facing fines of $5,000 per vote, damages up to $100,000, and the potential to be removed from our elected jobs by the Governor of Florida. We have also been forced to find our own lawyers to defend us in Court.”

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Florida Carry and the Second Amendment Foundation sued the city, Gillum, city commissioners Gil Ziffer and Nancy Miller, and then-Mayor John Marks in 2014. The groups claimed the commission violated state statutes when it refused to repeal city codes regulated firearms provisions, according to the paper.

Among other things, the city code said it was illegal to discharge a firearm in a city-owned park or facility. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, plaintiffs in the case said it violates state law, which says only the state can regulate firearms.

In November 2015, Circuit Judge George S. Reynolds ruled the city didn’t violate state statute. Florida Carry and the Second Amendment Foundation appealed the ruling, sending it to the 1st District Court of Appeals. Oral arguments are scheduled for Jan. 10.

Gillum said the suit isn’t about guns, but about “huge special interests, in this case the National Rifle Association (NRA), spending big money to take away local voices and local control, using tactics called preemption and super-preemption.”

“It’s also about how these special interests and corporations, after getting their way with state government, are trying to intimidate and bully local communities by filing damaging lawsuits against officials like me. Like your local commissioners. Like your local councilmembers. Like your Mayor. And like you,” he wrote. “It’s wrong, it’s cowardly, and unfortunately, it seems to be getting worse; especially in places with far-right conservative state governments.”

“I am calling on you to help defend your vote, defend your rights, and to help us #DefendLocal at DefendLocal.com,” he continued. “This is how we fight and win against bullies like the NRA.”

Personnel note: Former Sen. Chris Smith joins Tripp Scott

Former Sen. Chris Smith is returning to his legal roots.

Smith has joined Tripp Scott, the Fort Lauderdale-based law firm announced this week.

“We’re so excited to have you here,” said Edward J. Pozzuoli, the president of Tripp Scott, in a video interview with Smith.

The 46-year-old Fort Lauderdale Democrat got his start at Tripp Scott, working as a law clerk at the firm for two summers. He later joined the firm, working in the contract department writing leases and doing other contract work.

In a video announcing his hire, Smith said his decision to join Tripp Scott brings him “back to where I started, back to where I got my roots, my legal roots especially.”

Smith served in the Florida Legislature for nearly two decades. He was first elected to the Florida House in 1998, where he served until 2006. He was elected to the Florida Senate in 2008. He served in the upper chamber until 2016, but was forced out because of term limits.

He served as the Democratic Leader in both the House and the Senate.

Smith said his years of government experience will allow him to provide clients with insight into “how government works.”

“Being a former legislator helps me be a better lawyer,” he said.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons