Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 136

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

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.

medical marijuana

House medical marijuana implementing bill headed to the floor

A House panel advanced an amended version of the lower chamber’s medical marijuana implementing bill, preparing the bill for a vote by the full House in the coming weeks.

But with two weeks left until the scheduled end of the 2017 Legislative Session, the House and Senate continue to be at odds when it comes to implementing the 2016 constitutional medical marijuana amendment.

While Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, the sponsor of House bill (HB 1397), had hoped to present a reconciliation bill during the House Health and Human Services Committee Meeting, the Estero Republican said he and Sen. Rob Bradley “have not gotten there yet.”

“We have had talks,” said Rodrigues. “I’m confident we’ll get there.”

But changes accepted by the House Health & Human Services Committee appear to move the bill away from the Senate position. The committee approved a committee substitute Monday that, among other things, prohibits pregnant women from using medical marijuana, and prohibits physicians from initiating or maintaining a physician-patient relationship through telemedicine.

“Since HB 1397 was filed, I have been critical of this proposal and have been hopeful it will evolve,” said Ben Pollara, the executive director of Florida for Care. “Understanding that negotiations are ongoing, (the proposed changes) all have the effect of moving further from the Senate bill.”

The newly amended bill does establish the Coalition for Medical Marijuana Research and Education at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer and Research Institute, something which is included in the Senate proposal.

The panel, however, rejected a proposed amendment by Rep. Bobby DuBose, which would have, among other things, removed the requirement that 150,000 qualified patients must register with the compassionate use registry before a license is issued to a black farmer.

Rodrigues said the issue of licenses was currently being negotiated with the Senate, and said the amendment was unfriendly.

Opponents continued to criticize the House bill, saying it didn’t follow the spirit of the constitutional amendment, which passed with 71 percent of the vote in November. Several members of the public raised concerns about access, with some saying the bill “picks winners and losers.”

“We need to stop pretending this issue is about hippies and stoners,” said Stephani Scruggs, whose husband suffered a seizure during the Senate meeting on its version of the implementing bill last week.

Some committee members agreed, with Democrats saying they did not think Rodrigues’ bill followed the spirit of the constitutional amendment.

“What we have here is an incredible maze of bureaucracy. It’s a maze of entanglement,” said Rep. Daisy Baez. “This implementing bill does not do the service that 71 percent, or 6 million, people voted for.”

Rodrigues said he continues to work with the Senate on a compromise bill, and hopes to have one soon. The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to discuss the Senate proposal (SB 406) during its meeting Tuesday.

“This is a bill that is a work in progress,” he said.

Florida’s unemployment rate dips to 4.8% in March

Florida’s unemployment rate is dropping.

The state Department of Economic Opportunity announced Friday the unemployment rate dipped to 4.8 percent in March, down from 5 percent one month earlier. That’s slightly lower than March 2016, when the state reported a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 4.9 percent.

“This is an exciting day — jobs, jobs, jobs,” said Gov. Rick Scott, who announced the March jobs numbers at Pelican Wire in Naples. “When I ran back in 2010, I ran on a campaign of 700,000 jobs over seven years. Now we’re at 6 years and 3 months and 1.35 million jobs. That’s great. This state is on a roll. We have job openings in our state, our labor force is growing.”

On Friday, Scott boasted the state has added more than 60,000 private sector jobs in the first quarter of 2017. That brings the total number of private sector jobs added since December 2010 more than 1.3 million, according to the Governor’s Office.

According to the Department of Economic Opportunity, the education and health services industry saw the most job gains in March. The industry, according to the agency, added 44,300 jobs, or a 3.6 percent increase.

The professional and business services industry added 43,500 jobs in March, followed by trade, transportation and utilities with 40,3000 jobs, and the construction industries with 36,500 jobs. The information industry was the only industry losing jobs, according to the Department of Economic Opportunity.

The Orlando area led the state in job creation, adding 42,700 new private-sector jobs in March, according to the Governor’s Office. The unemployment rate for the region was 3.9 percent.

The leisure and hospitality industry led the pack in Orlando, adding 12,000 new jobs; followed by trade, transportation and utilities with 8,200 new jobs, and professional and business services with 7,1200 new jobs.

The Tampa Bay region added nearly 42,000 new jobs and had an unemployment rate of 4.1 percent. The region was first among the metro areas in job demand, with 44,544 job openings.

Monroe County had the state’s lowest unemployment rate at 2.8 percent, while Hendry County had the highest unemployment rate at 6.4 percent.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball calls Florida’s 2018 gubernatorial race a ‘toss-up’ in initial ratings

With so much uncertainty about who is in or out of the 2018 Florida gubernatorial race, it’s not surprising that at least one political seer has deemed Florida too-close-to-call.

Initial 2018 gubernatorial ratings released Thursday by Sabato’s Crystal Ball ranked Florida as one of 10 states considered a “toss-up” going into the 2018 election cycle. The ratings found more than half of the 38 gubernatorial races on the ballot next year either start in “competitive toss-up or leans Republican/Democratic categories.”

The report noted Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has been “gearing up for a gubernatorial run for years” and is seen as the favorite on the Republican side to succeed Gov. Rick Scott. But with several other Republicans considering a run, authors Geoffrey Skelley and Kyle Kondik report it is “hard to say just how clear his path to the nomination will be.”

Putnam has been touring the state meeting with local Republican and business group to talk about his vision for the future, and has been building up his campaign coffers in advance of his expected bid. State records show Florida Grown, the political committee expected to fuel his gubernatorial bid, has raised more than $10.5 million since 2015, and had more than $7.7 million cash on hand at the end of March.

The Bartow Republican is scheduled to have a barbecue in his hometown on May 10, just five days after the expected end of the annual 2017 Legislative Session. The event, according to the Tampa Bay Times, will be held at the Old Polk County Courthouse.

But Putnam could face competition from Sen. Jack Latvala and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, both of whom are believed to be considering a 2018 bid.

Latvala, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, raised more than $246,000 for his political committee, the Florida Leadership Committee, in the days leading up to the start of the 2017 Legislative Session. That one-week fundraising haul in March came after one of his best fundraising months to date, when his committee raised nearly $1.1 million in February.

The Democratic side isn’t any easier to predict, according to the team at Sabato’s. While the authors write it might “come down to Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and ex-Rep. Gwen Graham, both of who could be considered rising stars in the party,” the team does note there are “some wealthy wild cards who could self-fund, such as 2010 Senate candidate Jeff Greene, businessman Chris King, and well-known attorney John Morgan.”

Gillum and King are the only Democrats who have filed to run, but Graham is widely expected to jump in the race soon, as is Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who could fall into the self-fund category.

State records show Levine pumped $2 million of his own money into his political committee, All About Florida, in March. Levine has spent the last few weeks touring the state meeting with community members.

Both Gillum and King have been staffing up. Gillum announced this week that Scott Arceneaux, the former head of the Florida Democratic Party, would be joining his campaign as chief strategist; while King unveiled a host of key hires, including Raymond Paultre as his director of strategic engagement and Stephanie McClung as his finance director.

Gillum announced earlier this month he had raised $765,000 — spread between his official campaign and his political committee Forward Florida — since the start of 2017, most of which was raised since March 1. Meanwhile, state records show King brought in nearly $1.2 million for his official campaign in March. That sum included a $1 million contribution King made to his own campaign.

But a crowded field could be an issue for Democrats hoping to turn Florida blue, according to Sabato’s Crystal Ball. The rankings noted that although Democrats came close to winning in 2010 and 2014, they “haven’t won a gubernatorial race in Florida since 1994 … so an extremely crowded field in an expensive state with a late primary could be problematic for them.”

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