Jim Rosica – Florida Politics

Jim Rosica

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

Dana Young: Let’s get the medical marijuana licensing train rolling

Sen. Dana Young is pressing the Department of Health to ramp up efforts to issue more licenses for medical marijuana providers.

Young, a Tampa Republican, sent a letter to Office of Medical Marijuana Use director Christian Bax on Tuesday.

She referred to the state’s cracking the 100,000 mark last Friday – coincidentally on April 20, or 4/20 – in the number of registered medicinal cannabis patients.

Lawmakers, as well as patient and provider advocates, have been complaining about Florida’s supply of medicinal cannabis not keeping up with what they say is the burgeoning demand.

“Given the indisputable fact that patient demand for medical marijuana is quickly increasing, my strong recommendation is that the Department award the additional four contingent MMTC (medical marijuana treatment centers) licenses in the upcoming review cycle to be activated once the number of qualified patients reaches 200,000,” Young wrote.

Approved MMTCs currently number 13, with 34 retail locations across the state, state records show.

“Thus, the review for issuance of licenses for the 200,000 patient threshold would be done at the same time as the review for licenses to meet the initial 100,000 threshold,” Young said.

She added: “Based on information from my constituents and others interested in the success of Florida’s medical marijuana program, there are many interested and qualified applicants for these statutorily mandated additional MMTC licenses, ensuring that the current application cycle will have a sufficient number of strong candidates.”

(For those wondering, her campaign account reported a $1,000 contribution on March 30 from Surterra Texas, a medical cannabis company. Surterra also is licensed in Florida, with six dispensaries here. Young faces re-election this November against outgoing Democratic House Leader Janet Cruz, also of Tampa. Democrat Bob Buesing has said he’s dropping out of the race.)

But a Health Department spokesman last week noted that patients not only have to be registered to trigger additional licenses, but also “active” and “qualified,” according to state law.

That means they also must have a patient identification card, Devin Galleta said. As of last Friday’s tally, the number of “approved ID card applications” is only 75,208, with 2,935 more applications being processed.

Young has lambasted Bax before over the backlog of applications for both marijuana growing and dispensing licenses and state-issued patient ID cards. Bax, in turn, blamed delays, in part, on the number of lawsuits and administrative challenges over marijuana.

At a committee meeting last October, Young shot back, “I’m not buying it that because there’s litigation out there you can’t fulfill your statutory duty to issue these licenses.”

“The department is currently in the rulemaking process for the acceptance of new MMTC license applications,” Galleta said Tuesday. “We appreciate Sen. Young’s input into the process and will take her recommendation into consideration as we work to finalize the rule.”

The full text of the letter is here.

Lawmakers swapping deals toward Special Session on gambling

Lawmakers have moved from informal talks to exchanging offers toward a Special Session on gambling, sources said late Monday.

That’s despite an agreement announced last week between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida guaranteeing that the Tribe will keep sharing gaming revenue from its casinos at least till May 2019.

The impetus behind the Special Session effort is a proposed constitutional amendment that polls show will likely pass this November. It would require a statewide vote to approve any future expansions of gambling.

Representatives for both chambers had no comment on developments Monday.

Industry and legislative sources, however, say Senate President-designate Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, and House Speaker-designate Jose Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican, have been sending proposals across the Capitol rotunda.

Those offers include, among other things, provisions to ensure the state doesn’t lose out on any gambling-related taxes or fees.

The Tribe paid a little more than $290 million last fiscal year into state coffers as part of a 2010 agreement that guarantees it exclusivity to offer certain games, particularly blackjack. (“Exclusivity” essentially means freedom from competition.) If the Tribe considers its exclusivity broken, it’s entitled to reduce payments or stop them altogether.

Two sources specifically credited recent progress to Lisa Vickers, Galvano’s longtime senior policy adviser who is slated to become his chief of staff when he takes over the chamber after the 2018 election, assuming a Republican majority still holds.

As previously reported, here are some of the issues likely in play:

— Allowing slot machines in at least some of the eight counties that passed a local referendum allowing them. That could include St. Lucie County, which has a jai alai fronton and card room now known as Casino Fort Pierce and is in Senate President Joe Negron’s district.

— Allowing existing designated player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack, to continue at pari-mutuel card rooms now offering those games.

— Setting a new minimum guarantee in tax money from those pari-mutuels now offering slots in South Florida. Only the Tribe can offer slots outside that area.

— Figuring out a way to do all that while achieving a “true contraction” of gambling in the state, a prerequisite of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

That almost certainly means a provision for pari-mutuel owners to surrender gambling permits at some locations to get slots in another, something that was considered this past Regular Session.

“Special sessions may be called by the Governor, or may be convened by joint proclamation of the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives,” the Senate’s website says. “Special sessions may not exceed 20 days, unless extended by a three-fifths vote of each house.”

Harris files open records suit over statewide radio contract

A month after losing a contract for the state’s first responder radio system, Harris Corp. has filed a public records lawsuit in Tallahassee.

The Melbourne-based company filed its complaint last week. It seeks an “expedited hearing” after it asked for information that its competitor, Motorola Solutions, says is covered by a “trade secrets” exemption.

The state on March 14 signaled its intent to go with Motorola over Harris, which held the contract since September 2000. It’s been estimated to cost the state upward of $18 million a year, funded through a $1 fee tacked on to vehicle registrations.

The system, known as the Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System, or SLERS, is “a single, unified digital radio network that meets the radio voice communications needs of state law enforcement officers and other participating agencies throughout the state,” as the Department of Management Services (DMS) explains it.

Contenders for state contracts often file public record requests for info from a winning competitor after losing an award. The awarding of the deal concluded almost three years of bureaucratic and legislative infighting, with some lawmakers — often benefiting from political contributions — backing one side over the other.

Harris’ complaint is against the department. It says DMS refused its public record request, saying certain information can’t be released. But the company says portions of those Motorola records that were “extensively redacted” don’t contain any trade secrets exempt from disclosure.

In fact, as lead Harris lawyer Karen Walker of the Holland & Knight law firm wrote in her filing, “the sheer volume of what has been redacted … suggests that information has been redacted (that) does not meet the statutory definition of ‘trade secret.’ “

The company wants an “immediate hearing” to determine what’s a trade secret in the information it requested, and what isn’t. It also seeks to be reimbursed for attorney fees.

A request for comment is pending with a Harris spokesman. A Motorola representative declined comment on the suit.

The case, for now assigned to Leon County-based Circuit Judge Jim Shelfer, has not yet been set for hearing, dockets show.

Gainesville correspondent Drew Wilson contributed to this post. 

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Updated 4 p.m. – As part of a bid protest filed by Harris in the Division of Administrative Hearings, the parties agreed on a protective order covering “confidential” and “restricted” information as it pertains to filings in that case. The order, signed by Administrative Law Judge J. Bruce Culpepper, is here.

Florida Bar seeks early win in traffic ticket firm case

The Florida Bar is asking the state’s Supreme Court to give it the “W” in a case against an upstart Miami firm that’s allegedly practicing law without a license.

In its case against TIKD, The Bar is requesting for a “judgment on the pleadings,” bypassing oral arguments “when the outcome of the case rests on the court’s interpretation of the law.”

The company hires lawyers to fight people’s traffic tickets for them. If TIKD loses, it pays customers’ fines or court costs.

The Bar maintains that TIKD is in the wrong, in part because founder and CEO Chris Riley — a U.S. Navy commander-turned entrepreneur  isn’t a lawyer but his company advertises and acts like a law firm. 

“It is an undisputed material fact that (TIKD) offers legal representation to (its) customers through Florida lawyers to defend their traffic tickets,” the Bar said in a motion filed late Friday.

The company’s “advertising offers the public legal services to resolve their traffic tickets,” says The Bar, which regulates the practice of law and prosecutes the unlicensed practice of law, or UPL.

“It constitutes the unlicensed practice of law for a nonlawyer (i.e., Riley) to offer to provide legal services directly to the public,” The Bar’s motion says. “… (A) corporation owned and operated by nonlawyers (can’t) employ an attorney to give legal advice to its customers.”

TIKD’s defense has been the Uber argument: Just as the ride-booking company says it isn’t a transportation concern but a technology company, TIKD has said it’s “a technology platform,” not a law firm, on which customers pay a “fixed, pre-determined charge” to get their cases resolved.

This past Regular Session, TIKD hired Ballard PartnersBrian Ballard and Mat Forrest to get some legislative relief, but couldn’t get any traction with lawmakers.

No action on the motion had been taken as of Monday morning, court dockets show.

State tops 100,000 marijuana patients—but don’t expect more providers

Florida now has topped 100,000 patients in its medical marijuana use registry, according to the Department of Health.

But that doesn’t mean the department will issue another four licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana, as provided under state law.

 

The Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU) reported Friday – coincidentally on April 20, or 4/20 – that there were 100,576 people in the state’s medical marijuana registry.

State law says within six months of cracking the 100,000 mark, “the department shall license four additional medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs).” With every additional 100,000 patients, another four licenses have to issue.

Here’s the catch: Those patients have to be “active” and “qualified.”

That means “a resident of this state who has been added to the medical marijuana use registry by a qualified physician to receive marijuana or a marijuana delivery device for a medical use, and who has a qualified patient identification card,” Health spokesman Devin Galleta explained in an email.

As the department’s own disclaimer says, “Not all patients entered into the medical marijuana use registry apply for medical marijuana use identification cards.”

And the number of “approved ID card applications” is only 75,208, according to OMMU records. There are 2,935 applications now being processed.

Approved MMTCs number 13, with 34 retail locations across the state, records show.

Gary Stein, among other things a medical marijuana advocate and marijuana historian, has been critical of the state, as have lawmakers, for a backlog of applications for state-issued patient ID cards. The Legislature earlier this year cut top Health Department officials’ pay until regulators fully implement medical marijuana.

“Who are these people who were registered by their doctors, but have no card, nor are they in the (queue) to get a card?” wrote Stein in February, on the CannaChronicle website.

He further questioned why patients paid hundreds of dollars “for their doctor visits, then never bothered to send in the $75 and their application to get their card?”

“It is possible some may have died,” he added. “We know from talking to several MMJ doctors that people have died waiting for their cards.”

Nonetheless, Friday’s news comes as some cheer to those representing medical marijuana businesses.

“Today’s number shows the perpetually maturing patient base in Florida,”said Taylor Patrick Biehl, who help runs the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida. “It is our hope that those anxiously awaiting to apply for MMTC licenses will soon be able to, creating a more equitable, accessible and affordable market for our patient base.”

You say marijuana, I say tomato: Joe Redner keeps fighting for ‘home grow’

Comparing marijuana to tomatoes, Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner‘s lawyer has asked an appellate court to allow his client to start growing and ‘juicing’ his own medical marijuana.

In a 49-page filing, docketed Friday, attorney Luke Lirot told the 1st District Court of Appeal to leave in place a lower court’s decision that Redner, a 77-year-old lung cancer survivor, has an immediate right to ‘home grow.’

The state’s Department of Health appealed both Circuit Judge Karen Gievers‘ decision earlier this week for Redner and her order to lift an automatic ‘stay‘ of the ruling while it’s under appeal. 

His doctors say juiced marijuana is the “optimal” way to keep Redner’s cancer in remission. The owner of the Mons Venus strip club also is a vegan.

Lirot argued Gievers didn’t “abuse (her) discretion” by making the effect of her ruling immediate, and that the state wouldn’t be harmed by Redner starting to grow his own medicinal cannabis. He also said Redner has a “substantial likelihood” of winning the underlying appeal.

In fact, he said “the Department’s execution of its responsibilities in the area of medical marijuana has been plagued by delays, obfuscation, and a refusal” to issue regulations under the state’s constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2016

Lirot also noted the amendment uses state law’s definition of marijuana as “all parts of any plant of the genus Cannabis, whether growing or not, (and) the seeds thereof.”

“Amendment 2,” he wrote, referring to the amendment’s 2016 ballot number, “does not prohibit, in any way, a qualified patient from possessing a ‘growing plant’ for personal medical use.”

As to the state’s argument that only licensed medical marijuana providers can possess growing plants, Lirot compared them to tomatoes.

“Tomatoes come in many forms — raw, chopped, diced, stewed, pureed, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and growing tomato plants,” the filing says. “Each … is used for a different purpose but they are all understood to be tomatoes.

“…A citizen may possess a growing tomato plant in his home, but this does not make him a manufacturer of tomato products or establish he is engaged in commercial tomato cultivation,” Lirot added.

Gievers’ prior order limits Redner to no more than eight ounces or raw marijuana daily, based on his doctors’ recommendations. It applies only to Redner, and allows him to “possess, grow and use marijuana” only for juicing.

Devin Galetta, the Department of Health’s interim communications director, said it “fully expects Judge Giever’s ruling to be reversed on appeal.” The department regulates medicinal cannabis through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

John Morgan’s ‘no smoke’ marijuana lawsuit loses a plaintiff

A Tallahassee judge has dismissed one of the plaintiffs in John Morgan‘s legal effort to overturn the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana.

Roberto Pickering of Leon County, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, was one of three patients with a chronic illness who want to smoke medicinal cannabis under a state constitutional amendment passed in 2016.

In an order filed Thursday, Circuit Judge Karen Gievers dropped him from the case, citing his “non-compliance” with requests for information and “non-contact” with attorneys.

That leaves Diana Dodson of Levy County, a cancer patient; Cathy Jordan of Manatee County, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease; and Florida for Care, a newly added “corporate” plaintiff and pro-medical marijuana group.

A one-day trial remains set for May 16, as does a hearing before the trial on the state’s motion for summary judgment, which allow parties to win a case without a trial. If Gievers decides not to grant summary judgment, she’ll hear the case without a jury.

The suit originally was filed last July by People United for Medical Marijuana, the political committee behind the amendment. The named defendant is the Department of Health, which regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

Morgan, of Morgan & Morgan law firm fame, bankrolled the initiative that was OK’d by 71 percent of voters. He’s also behind the current lawsuit, which seeks a declaratory judgment that the smoking ban runs counter to the amendment’s language.

Lawmakers approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law implementing legislation for the amendment that does not allow medicinal marijuana to be smoked. Plaintiffs’ attorney Jon Mills has said the amendment’s definition of marijuana implicitly includes the smokable kind.

Deal ’em: Rick Scott, Seminole Tribe agree on gambling money

It’s another happy day at Hard Rock.

Gov. Rick Scott Wednesday announced an agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida that “extends the Tribe’s current commitment to make (gambling) revenue sharing payments to the state through May 2019.” The tribe operates Hard Rock-branded and other casinos in Florida, including the flagship Hard Rock Tampa location.

That means the flow of money, now $19.5 million a month with a balloon payment at fiscal year’s end, will continue through Scott’s last term as Governor, which ends next January, and past the 2019 Legislative Session set for March-April.

It also is well after the November election, which includes a proposed constitutional amendment that would require a statewide vote to approve any future expansions of gambling.

“This agreement does not make any changes to state gaming law or expand current gaming operations in Florida in any way,” a press release from the Governor’s Office said. 

Sources in the gaming industry, moreover, said Scott’s deal with the Seminoles wouldn’t affect plans by the Legislature to call a Special Session to address unresolved gambling issues.

One source said Senate President-designate Bill Galvano and House Speaker-designate Jose Oliva, set to take over their chambers after the November election, now are “fully engaged” and were aware of the Seminole deal, finalized around 4 p.m. Tuesday.

“This development shows good faith on the part of the Tribe to continue to partner with the State of Florida,” Galvano said in a statement later Wednesday. “This news also helps provide predictability with regard to our state revenues. However, discussions with regard to Special Session will continue.”

Coincidentally, minutes after the announcement, Hard Rock International — the hotel and casino conglomerate owned by the Tribe — separately announced a grand opening date of June 28 for its new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, formerly the Trump Taj Mahal.

“Since I took office, the Seminole Compact has generated more than $1.75 billion which has helped our state make historic investments in things like Florida’s education and environment,” Scott said in a statement.

“With today’s agreement, revenue sharing payments from the Tribe will carry on as the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) continues its work of aggressively following and enforcing Florida’s strict gaming laws and rules.”

Added Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr.: “The Tribe is committed to its long term compact with the State of Florida and intends to continue making revenue sharing payments as spelled out in the agreement.

“The gaming compact, which runs through the year 2030, is good for the people of Florida and good for the members of the Seminole Tribe,” Osceola said. “The Tribe is investing more than $2.4 billion to expand its Seminole Hard Rock Casinos in Tampa and Hollywood and is hiring thousands of Floridians to fill jobs in construction and as permanent team members.”

The Tribe paid a little more than $290 million last fiscal year into state coffers as part of a 2010 agreement, the Seminole Compact, that guarantees it exclusivity to offer certain games, particularly blackjack. (Exclusivity essentially means freedom from competition.)

Though the Tribe and the state settled a lawsuit over blackjack, allowing them to offer the game till 2030, the Tribe’s continued payments to the state are contingent on state gambling regulators promising “aggressive enforcement” against games that threaten their exclusivity.

The sides had been in a “forbearance period” that ended March 31, after which the Tribe was entitled to stop paying. Attorney Barry Richard, who has long represented the Tribe, told Florida Politics earlier this month the Tribe would not stop paying.

The agreement disclosed Wednesday extends that forbearance period. 

Appellate court will review Joe Redner ‘home grow’ marijuana case

An appellate court is asking Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner why it shouldn’t “review” a lower court order that he can grow and make juice of medical marijuana.

Outside lawyers for the Department of Health Tuesday appealed Circuit Judge Karen Gievers‘ decision to lift the ‘stay‘ on the case, making her ruling have an immediate effect. It also appealed the underlying decision.

That same day, the 1st District Court of Appeal (DCA) issued an order to Redner to “show cause” why it shouldn’t act. The 1st DCA order gives Redner and his attorneys till Thursday to respond.

That response hadn’t been filed with the court as of Wednesday morning, dockets show.

Redner is a lung cancer survivor who is in remission. His doctors say juiced marijuana is the “optimal” way to keep his cancer in check.

The department, on the other hand, “has provided no evidence of the harm it will suffer” by lifting the stay, Gievers wrote in an order released Tuesday, adding that medical marijuana regulators have not “complied with (their) constitutional duties as to determining dosage.”

Her prior order limits Redner to no more than eight ounces daily, based on his doctors’ recommendations.

Gievers previously said her decision was supported by the “clear language” of the state constitutional amendment OK’d by voters in 2016, and the “lack of any credible evidence” to the contrary.

Her order, which applies only to Redner, allows him to “possess, grow and use marijuana,” but only for juicing.

The department “fully expects Judge Giever’s ruling to be reversed on appeal,” said Devin Galetta, Health’s interim communications director.

The DCA case number is 1D18-1505.

Greyhound owners plan legal challenge of dog racing ban

The group that represents the state’s racing-greyhound breeders and owners will challenge a proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw dog racing, its spokesman and lobbyist told Florida Politics Tuesday.

Jack Cory, who represents the Florida Greyhound Association (FGA), said former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp and former appellate judge Paul Hawkes, who also now represent the group, are working on a brief to the Florida Supreme CourtA request for comment sent to Kottkamp on the details of that challenge is pending.

On Monday, the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) approved the proposal (P6012) on a 27-10 vote; it needed at least 22 votes. Barring court action, it will go directly on November’s statewide ballot, where it needs at least 60 percent approval to be added to the constitution.

“We’re obviously very disappointed,” Cory said. “We don’t feel the proposal meets the requirements for ballot placement. We appreciate those who voted against it, but as we’ve seen, you only need a few lies to poison the well.”

In debate on the amendment, Attorney General Pam Bondi inveighed against dog racing; the Tampa Republican is known for regularly bringing shelter dogs to state Cabinet meetings to get them adopted.

“The entire country is watching us,” she said Monday, reciting a litany of alleged abuses of racing dogs. She told fellow commissioners that dog racing “is cruel and inhumane (and) horrible … This is not who we are as a state.”

Cory responded that Bondi, term-limited this year, was “wrong, and a modicum of research would have shown that.”

But “she read from the script given to her by an out of state so-called animal rights group,” he added, referring to GREY2K USA Worldwide, which opposes greyhound racing. 

Moreover, as the state’s chief legal officer, “she has full access to any kennel in the state,” Cory said. “She could see any abuse firsthand, but she won’t, because there is none … Respectfully, she did not know what she was talking about.”

Carey M. TheilGREY2K’s executive director, called the association’s members “sore losers” and said there was no basis for a challenge.

“This is a desperate attempt to prevent voters from having a say because they know they will lose at the ballot box,” he said.

Between Bondi and greyhound interests, “voters can look and decide who they want to believe,” Theil added.

He said a public relations campaign, including “grassroots volunteers” and paid advertising, is already being planned for the amendment’s passage in November.

The main vehicle for that campaign will be the Committee to Protect Dogs, a Florida political committee. State records show the panel has not yet raised any funds.

“We’re going to ask voters one simple question: ‘Would you treat your dog this way?’ ” Theil said.

Cory said the stakes are high to knock down the amendment: If it passes, “you’re putting people out of work, some who have been in the business for over 50 years. That’s not right.”

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