Joe Reedy, Author at Florida Politics

Joe Reedy

Florida State answers report alleging academic favoritism

Florida State University once again finds itself answering allegations of academic fraud involving its football program.

The New York Times on Friday reported that six players on the 2013 National Championship team received special treatment in online courses. The university said in an email to The Associated Press that an independent investigation found no wrongdoing.

“Florida State University retained a leading law firm with a highly experienced collegiate sports practice to conduct an independent investigation of the course in question,” said university spokeswoman Amy Farnum-Patronis. “After a thorough examination of the facts, no NCAA violations were found. The course was subsequently modified for other reasons.”

The case is a major part of Mike McIntire‘s book “Champions Way: Football, Florida, and the Lost Soul of College Sports,” which will be released on Tuesday.

Christina Suggs, a former teaching assistant and doctoral student, said in the book that she felt extra pressure to give breaks to student-athletes taking hospitality courses on coffee, tea and wine. Suggs provided evidence to the Florida State inspector general in August of 2013 before the case was taken over by university attorneys.

Suggs said she was pressured to raise the grade of former running back James Wilder Jr. McIntire also reported that Wilder and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin plagiarized parts of a final project. Wilder was the most valuable player in the 2013 ACC Championship game, while Benjamin caught the winning touchdown pass in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game win over Auburn a month later.

Suggs’ contract was not renewed toward the end of 2013. She left the school and died accidentally from a toxic combination of prescription medicines following back surgery less than a year later. She was 48.

The university has been at the center of academic allegations before. The football program had 12 victories vacated in 2006 and ’07 due to cheating in an online music course involving 61 student-athletes in 10 sports. The vacated wins meant that Bobby Bowden did not retire as the winningest coach in Division I history.

It is also not the first time the 2013 team has been under scrutiny. Quarterback Jameis Winston was accused of raping a student but was never charged. The university settled a Title IX lawsuit over its handling of the allegations with Winston’s accuser, Erica Kinsman, in January 2016 for $1.7 million.

The University of North Carolina is currently under an NCAA investigation involving African Studies courses.

John Morgan plans lawsuit to allow for smoking of medical pot

The Florida Legislature’s passage of a bill to enact the state’s constitutional amendment expanding the use of medical marijuana has ended one chapter in the battle over setting up regulations for the nascent industry. But pro-pot supporters say it doesn’t go far enough.

Once Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill, the principal backer of getting the amendment on last year’s ballot said he intends to sue over the law’s ban on smoking. John Morgan has been steadfast in saying that the 71 percent who voted for the amendment expected smoking as one of the ways to consume cannabis.

“I don’t know why they would object to anyone on their death bed wanting to use what they wanted to relieve pain and suffering,” Morgan said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Friday night. “If they were really concerned about smoking, why don’t they heavily tax cigarettes?”

Morgan said he plans to file the suit in Leon County and has enlisted constitutional law expert Jon L. Mills, the dean emeritus of the University of Florida’s Levin School of Law, to help in the coming legal battle.

Senate Democrats made a last-ditch attempt to get smoking added, citing that nearly 90 percent of people who use it smoke it, but it was voted down.

The legislation passed Friday allows patients who suffer chronic pain related to 10 qualifying conditions to receive either low-THC cannabis or full-strength medical marijuana.

The bill sponsors in both chambers have said there aren’t any scientific studies to show that smoking pot is more effective than other ways of ingesting the drug.

State Sen. Rob Bradley said during Special Session that if he spent his time responding to Morgan’s statements and tweets “then I’d be a congressman dealing with Trump.”

Rep. Ray Rodrigues said that “If he wants to sue us, that it is his prerogative. I am confident it can be defended in front of a judge.”

Vaping is allowed in the bill, but Rodrigues and Bradley could repeatedly not answer what the difference is between smoking and vaping.

Morgan, nonetheless, said he was pleased to see the Legislature pass a bill, instead of the rules-making process being left solely up to the Department of Health. But he said that in the end, the bill came down to special interests and not patients.

“At the very end we saw what most of the Legislature was about which was profits and not patient care or access,” he said.

Morgan though did laud House Speaker Richard Corcoran for advocating for a special session and for negotiating to craft a deal. Morgan called Corcoran the real winner of the session and said he will hold a fund-raiser for Corcoran next week in Orlando.

Besides smoking, one or more of the seven currently licensed distributing organizations could challenge the caps of 25 retail dispensary locations per licensee. The caps are due to sunset in 2020 and more can be added per 100,000 patients added to the medical marijuana registry.

According to the Department of Health, the state registry now has 16,614 patients. A recent state revenue impact study projects that by 2022 there will be 472,000 medical cannabis patients and $542 million in sales.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Deceased FSU player’s brother says bill provides closure

Devard Darling said his family can finally feel closure after the Florida Legislature passed a bill on Tuesday to compensate his parents $1.8 million for the death of his twin brother, Devaughn Darling, a Florida State football player who died during team drills.

The bill’s passage comes more than 16 years after Devaughn Darling’s death. It’s been nearly 13 years since Florida State agreed to the cash settlement, but Florida law prohibits the university from paying more than $200,000 without legislative authorization.

“It is something we have been looking forward to for a long time,” Devard Darling said. “My mom has wanted to see this all the way through. Finally, we can move on.”

The House approved the bill 112-4 on April 26, and it passed the Senate by a 34-2 vote Tuesday. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott.

Devaughn Darling died on Feb. 27, 2001, after doing indoor drills during offseason training. He had the sickle-cell trait, which can make people vulnerable to illness from exertion.

His parents, Wendy Smith and Dennis Darling Sr., filed a lawsuit against Florida State in October 2002, alleging negligence by trainers. The university agreed to settle in June 2004, for $2 million.

This was the 13th consecutive legislative session in which a claims bill was filed on behalf of the family. From 2005-14, it was not heard in a committee in either chamber. In 2015, it was heard in one committee in the House and Senate. Last year, the family and Darling’s former teammates held a press conference in front of the Senate chamber to bring more attention to the bill. Coincidentally, it was held on Florida State Day at the Capitol.

The bill got through two of three Senate committees but was heard in just one in the House. Devard Darling said they decided against another press conference this year because of the emotional strain it caused the family last year.

He said he started to feel hopeful the bill would pass this year when it got through all three House and Senate committees to reach the chamber floors.

Senate Democrat leader Oscar Braynon, who was one of the sponsors of the bill, is a Florida State graduate and said getting the claims bill passed has been a long time coming.

“The whole time I’ve been in the Legislature we’ve been pushing for it. When it comes down to school claims bills, it can be tricky, but it’s about time we finally passed it,” he said.

The $1.8 million will come from FSU, which has denied any negligent conduct but supported passage of a claim bill. After attorney and lobbying fees, the family will receive at least $1.3 million.

Devard Darling also had the sickle-cell trait and was not cleared by FSU trainers to return following Devaughn’s death. He subsequently transferred to Washington State University before being drafted as a wide receiver by Baltimore in 2004. He played six seasons in the NFL for the Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs.

Devard Darling said he hopes his family can have better relations with Florida State. Devaughn Darling was buried in his FSU uniform, and there is a plaque honoring him near the practice fields.

“The university is a huge part of our lives. Everything is always bittersweet when I return to Tallahassee. Hopefully, we can mend our relationship,” Devard Darling said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Legislature makes slow progress on medical pot rules

Florida’s voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in November that formally legalized medical marijuana for chronic pain and other ailments, but with less than a month to go in their session, Florida legislators remain far apart on how to implement it.

Bills in the Senate and House don’t agree on the details of expanding access to the drug, from adding pot distributors to deciding whether doctors can prescribe marijuana to people who haven’t been their patients for at least three months.

The Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley (SB 406) is seen as more permissive and has drawn support from medical marijuana advocates, while the House bill sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodrigues (HB 1397) is widely considered more restrictive and is backed by the Drug-Free America Foundation.

The Senate measure would eliminate a current requirement that a patient be under a doctor’s care for more than 90 days before being able to get a prescription for marijuana — a restriction that would be kept in place under the House version. The Senate bill would immediately expand the number of licenses issued for marijuana distributors in the state, while the House version would require that 150,000 patients sign up for medical marijuana use before expanding the existing pool of distributors.

Taylor Patrick Biehl, who help runs the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, said Bradley’s Senate bill is more in line with what voters approved.

“He’s turned out to be a true champion for patients,” Biehl said.

Disabled veteran Bill Cody called the House bill an “abomination” and said even Bradley’s bill doesn’t provide doctors with enough leeway to determine what ailments could qualify for marijuana prescriptions.

The amendment passed by voters would expand its use beyond the limited prescriptions for low-strength marijuana allowed under a 2014 law. It also would expand the eligible ailments beyond the current list of cancer, epilepsy and chronic muscle spasms, to include HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or other similar conditions.

The state Health Department would issue regulations defining the additional conditions, but Cody said that could be too restrictive. He thinks doctors should be explicitly authorized to decide what conditions should qualify.

“There are many cases of chronic pain that are not covered currently,” he said.

The amendment stipulates that new rules must be adopted by July 3. If lawmakers cannot agree on them by their May 5 end of session, the Health Department would issue regulations on its own, but those would be more vulnerable to legal challenges, essentially leaving the issue up to the courts.

Doctors and patients remain in limbo. Sunai Edwards, a lawyer at GrayRobinson in Tampa, has received plenty of calls from doctors and has given them all the same advice: Wait until the new rules are implemented.

The bills in each chamber have gone through only one of three scheduled committees. Still, the campaign manager for medical marijuana advocates United for Care, Ben Pollara, remains optimistic a bill will be passed.

“Hopefully all issues can be resolved. We want something done. It’s about getting something in place,” Pollara said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press

Legislation would help Florida craft distilleries, breweries

Philip McDaniel is like most craft distillers in Florida – he is frustrated that he can sell only two bottles per label a year to each visitor of his distillery in St. Augustine when breweries and wineries can sell as much as they want.

McDaniel, who makes rum, gin and vodka, wants that bottle limit lifted. Meanwhile, small craft beer breweries in the state want to be able to expand their businesses by selling to retailers without going through distributors.

Those proposals are part of bills moving through the Florida Legislature. As in past years, the changes are being opposed by liquor stores and distributors who see it as cutting into their business. Florida’s three-tier system of suppliers, distributors and retailers, which has been in place since the end of prohibition, is considered more restrictive than other states.

“If you summarize the bill in one sentence, it puts us on the same playing field as breweries and wineries,” McDaniel said.

Gabe Grass of GrassLands Brewing in Tallahassee said most breweries and distillers do not want to have their own large-scale distribution system, but that the bills do offer a way for emerging businesses to get their brands into the marketplace sooner.

Grass supports Senator Dana Young‘s craft breweries bill (SB 554) because it would allow brewers to directly sell up to 7,000 kegs to bars and restaurants before needing a distributor. In 2015, the Legislature passed a bill allowing craft breweries to sell unlimited products at their breweries.

Eric Criss, who represents Miller/Coors Distributors, says the current system is fine and that Florida brewers already have some of the more generous retail privileges in the country. He cites consumers being able to buy unlimited quantities of beer at tap houses compared to Alabama, where the limit is 128 ounces a day per person.

“Brewers say that they only want to distribute in small areas close to them but in many cases, those are the best accounts in the areas,” Criss said.

Sen. Greg Steube‘s bill (SB 166) would allow customers to purchase as many bottles of craft liquor that they want. The current law, which was approved in 2013, allows customers to buy only two bottles per label per year. It also allows distillers to sell liquor at one other salesroom located in the same county.

Florida is 10th in the nation in number of craft distilleries. McDaniel said he worries out-of-state craft distillers will be able to come into Florida and sell their product.

Scott Ashley, president of Wine and Spirits Distributors of Florida, said high-end wines are harder to put on their shelves because wineries can directly sell them and that he sees the same thing happening with craft liquors.

Richard deMontollin, owner of Tallahassee’s Liberty Bar and Grille, said he welcomes more products from Florida distilleries.

“It grows agriculture and makes me feel as a bar owner I can do something cool for my customers,” he said.

Florida officials, voters clash over medical marijuana rules

Three months after Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment on medical marijuana, state health officials and prospective pot-seeking patients are at odds over proposed rules that would spell out who could get marijuana.

State officials have recommended restrictions on what type of patients can qualify for medical marijuana, and where they can obtain it. Their suggestions, however, have prompted a wave of opposition across the state, with nearly 1,300 residents attending what are normally low-key bureaucratic hearings to press for less restricted access to marijuana.

“Patients, doctors, caregivers and activists all had a unified message which is rare,” said Ben Pollara, who is the campaign manager for United for Care. “They want impediments removed and a free market place.”

Amendment 2, which was approved by 71 percent of voters last November, was enacted on Jan. 3. It allows higher-strength marijuana to be used for a wider list of medical ailments than what was currently allowed in state law. The rules have become a flashpoint because the amendment requires the state to adopt them by July 3 and have them in place by September.

The state held hearings in several locations and Thursday’s two hours of public testimony in Tallahassee mirrored what happened earlier this week in Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Orlando. Most who spoke statewide are also concerned about high prices and limited availability so far of marijuana products. Only five of the seven organizations approved to dispense cannabis are up and running.

Activists want a requirement eliminated that a patient must be under a prescribing physician’s care for at least 90 days. They also believe it should be up to doctors to deem when medical marijuana is necessary and not be confined by the conditions enumerated in the amendment or by the Board of Medicine.

Doug Bench, a former judge who testified in Tallahassee, said that people often delay seeing a doctor until they urgently need treatment.

“When you are ill you, you put it off. You don’t want to hear what the doctor says and by the time you finally go you need it now,” Bench said.

The current law – which was approved by the state legislature in 2014 – allows for non-smoked, low-THC pot for patients with cancer or ailments that cause chronic seizures or severe spasms. It was expanded last March to allow patients with terminal conditions to gain access to higher strength cannabis.

The department will review all comments it has received and agency officials will then publish another proposed rule. How quickly that rule gets published depends on subsequent public comments or any legal challenges.

The Florida Legislature will also get a chance to weigh in. There are two bills in the Senate with the House of Representatives expected to release its version before session opens on March 7.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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