Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 215

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.

Medical marijuana advocates start their own PAC

Gary Stein, a medical marijuana historian and advocate, has opened his own Florida fundraising panel — the first of its kind — to support pro-marijuana candidates and influence legislation.

Clarity PAC was officially registered Wednesday as a non-profit corporation and political committee, state records show.

Its mission: “To advocate for full legal access to medicinal cannabis and the responsible adult use of cannabis, and to help create and pass legislation supporting that topic.” It hasn’t yet posted any contributions or expenses.

Its official launch will be this Sunday, with a noon rally in St. Petersburg at Cage Brewing, 2001 1st Ave. South.

“Clarity PAC will be presenting all candidates’ and elected officials’ views to Florida voters to help them make an informed choice at the polls in the form of spreadsheets … that include answers to specific questions, publicly issued statements and letter grades on reliability on cannabis issues,” Stein said in a statement.

That “information will be coming from more than just the traditional surveys sent to candidate’s offices or calls from phone banking,” he added.

“Advocates across the states, dubbed ‘canna-warriors,’ will be tasked with connecting with candidates … Canna-warriors will be paid for audio and video recordings that can be posted on the internet, and quotes from the candidates will be documented for the media.”

Among the committee’s backers: Tampa strip club mogul, free speech fighter and medical marijuana patient Joe Redner.

Redner is suing the state to be allowed to grow his own marijuana and make juice of it; his doctor recommended fresh juice as the best way to keep his lung cancer in remission. Redner won at trial, but the state is appealing.

Also on Stein’s board is Bill Monroe, a Navy veteran who’s director of facilities for 3 Boys Farm, a medical marijuana treatment center based in Ruskin.

Cannabis Cures Investments, or CannCure, recently agreed to buy a 60 percent interest in 3 Boys, with the closing expected in mid-August. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

Sean Shaw promises task force on gun violence ‘on day one’

Democratic candidate for Attorney General Sean Shaw said, if elected, he will convene a “statewide gun violence working group” on his first day in office. He made the announcement at a Thursday press conference.

“Your voices will be heard,” said Shaw, standing outside Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s Plaza-level office in the Capitol. He was flanked by members of Moms Demand Action, a gun-control group.

“Your concerns will be addressed,” he added. “And I’ll take action.”

Most recently, Markeis McGlockton was shot and killed last month during a confrontation over a handicapped parking spot at a Clearwater convenience store. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri declined to charge alleged shooter Michael Drejka, referring to the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

Shaw plans to take “task force’s recommendations and champion new laws and regulations during the 2019 Legislative Session,” a press release said.

It will include “invited representation from the Governor’s Office and Cabinet Members, legislators, law enforcement, county sheriffs, county executives, public defenders, mayors, chiefs of police, schools, teachers, students, victims’ rights advocates, mental health organizations, community groups, and gun rights advocates.”

Shaw, now a state representative from Tampa, faces only Tampa lawyer Ryan Torrens in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary for Attorney General.

Shaw also is challenging Torrens’ qualifications to be on the ballot. Torrens called the lawsuit a “sham,” and admitted to making a honest fundraising mistake.

When asked why he sued Torrens, Shaw mentioned that he’s “running on a platform of being one of the most active attorney generals” in the country.

“If I don’t hold my primary opponent accountable, what does it mean when I tell people I am going to hold the Legislature accountable?” he said. “Or when I’m going to go after anyone doing wrong in this state? … This is what being a proactive attorney general looks like.”

Periscope videos of Shaw’s press conference and his taking further question from reporters are below.

Group backing gambling amendment plans $30M ad buy

The political committee behind a proposed constitutional amendment limiting gambling plans a $30 million ad buy to promote the measure’s passage.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) public files document some of the purchase. John Sowinski, chairman of Voters In Charge which is behind the “Voter Control of Gambling” amendment, on Wednesday confirmed the total buy.

The initiative will appear on the November ballot as Amendment 3.

The ‘Yes on 3’ campaign “has begun placement of an initial media buy of approximately $30 million, approximately $20 million of which has already been reserved, with the remaining $10 million being reserved in the coming days,” Sowinski said in an email, in response to an inquiry from Florida Politics.

“The lobbyists and politicians who oppose Amendment 3 have fought us at every turn, because they don’t want voters to have a voice,” he said. “We will run a robust campaign to give back to Florida voters the final say when it comes to casino gambling.”

The committee is sitting on nearly $10 million in cash-on-hand, according to campaign finance records listed on the Division of Elections website Wednesday.

Sowinski said those numbers do not reflect contributions that came in the last 10 days, which he did not disclose.

The amendment is backed by Disney and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, who both have a stake in limiting the expansion of gambling in the state. Each chipped in $5 million in April; the committee has not posted any fundraising since then.

Amendment 3 would tie the hands of the Legislature by “ensur(ing) that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling,” according to the ballot summary.

Amendments need at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution. Amendment 3 has previously polled from the mid-70s to mid-80s.

Sowinski also heads the anti-casino expansion organization, No Casinos, but that group and the political committee are separate entities.

Bill Nelson: Rick Scott is ‘silly’ about debate refusal claims

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Rick Scott‘s claims that Nelson refuses to debate him are “silly.”

Nelson spoke with reporters in Tallahassee on Tuesday, before a ceremony at the Tallahassee Veterans Affairs Health Care Center to name the facility after Marine Corps Sgt. Ernest “Boots” Thomas.

“Obviously, it’s to my advantage to debate him,” the incumbent senator said of Scott, his GOP challenger and the state’s term-limited governor.

“I’m going to wait until after the primary. What he’ll do is, he’ll (suggest) a bunch of debates and then he’ll start backing out on them.” Nelson is unopposed in the Aug. 28 primary.

“We will accept debates in a format that are a real, substantive discussion,” he added, suggesting a CNN debate with the news network’s Jake Tapper or Wolf Blitzer as moderator.  “That would be good … As you know all too well, (Scott) tries to sidestep questions.”

A spokeswoman for the Scott campaign stood by its claim that Nelson is refusing to debate.

“What’s ‘silly’ is that Bill Nelson let 50 days pass before he finally addressed the debates Gov. Scott accepted,” said campaign spokeswoman Lauren Schenone.

Nelson also was asked whether the Scott campaign rhetoric about his being ‘out of touch’ and ‘confused’ was a way to telegraph he’s become too old for the job.

Nelson is 75; Scott is 65.

“Any time he wants to have a contest about push ups or pull ups, we’ll see who’s not up to it,” Nelson said.

And Nelson was questioned about a letter supposedly sent from his office to federal regulators that echoed one sent by Scott shortly after his 2010 election, protesting “onerous (environmental) regulation.”

“Not only do I not recall that, that just simply could not be true,” he said.

(Scott’s campaign later contradicted that as well, providing the text of a letter [posted at bottom] allegedly sent by Nelson in 2010.)

Nelson sponsored the legislation to have the Tallahassee clinic named after Thomas, a Florida native who “took part in the original – and now-famous – flag raising atop of Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi in 1945,” a press release said.

“Thomas was killed in action March 3, 1945, just days after the flag raising, and was posthumously presented a Purple Heart and the Navy Cross for his extraordinary heroism during World War II.”

A Periscope video of his conversation with reporters is below:


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Rob Bradley says medical marijuana law will be upheld

Despite a Tallahassee judge declaring significant parts of the state’s medical marijuana law unconstitutional, the law’s chief architect on Tuesday said he was confident the law would be affirmed.

“The trial court ruling injected unnecessary uncertainty into the emerging medical marijuana marketplace,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican. “I’m confident that our appellate courts will uphold (its) constitutionality.”

In 2017, lawmakers passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed the measure (SB 8-A) into law to implement the state’s medicinal cannabis constitutional amendment, passed by 71 percent of voters the year before. Bradley was the main sponsor.

In recent months, however, judges have been chipping away at the law, beginning with Circuit Judge Karen Gievers‘ ruling that Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner can grow and make juice of his own marijuana.

In another case, Gievers struck down the law’s ban on smoking medical marijuana, saying that conflicted with the amendment. Both of those rulings are being appealed by the state.

Last week, Circuit Judge Charles W. Dodson in a preliminary order struck down the requirement that Florida have a vertically-integrated market, meaning the same provider grows, processes and sells its own marijuana.

Dodson also ruled against the limit on the number of providers that can be licensed, and said creating special licenses – including giving a preference to former citrus processors – was out of bounds. 

Also on Monday, the company that challenged the state’s licensing scheme sent a letter (posted below) to state regulators asking that it be immediately “registered” as a medical marijuana treatment center, or provider. It’s partly owned by Redner.

“I am reaching out on behalf of Florigrown to see if we can reach a quick resolution,” wrote company president Adam Elend. “We sympathize with the difficult position the Legislature has placed the department in, but, as Judge Dodson stated, ‘… the legislative guidance was … inconsistent with the amendment.’ ”

Bradley disagreed: “Medical marijuana is being grown, processed and sold in a safe, orderly fashion today in Florida,” he told Florida Politics.

“As more companies come on line, and the Department (of Health) fully implements an integrated seed-to-sale system and a delay-free ID card system, the system will develop into a model for other states,” he added.

The department regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

“Floridians rightfully expect to have access to safe, quality medical marijuana, and also expect that the product be regulated properly like any other medicine,” Bradley said. “SB 8-A accomplishes both goals.”

Lara Trump, Pam Bondi endorse dog racing ban for ballot

The Protect Dogs-Yes on 13 campaign on Tuesday announced endorsements from Lara Trump, President Donald Trump‘s daughter in law, as well as Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Trump and Bondi also are listed as “special guests” at a fundraiser for the campaign set for Thursday in Connecticut. It’s trying to garner votes for a proposed constitutional amendment ending commercial dog racing in Florida.

Other endorsements announced Tuesday include Republican state Rep. Jackie Toledo of Tampa, as well as House candidates, businesses and lawyers. 

“Greyhound racing is nothing more than outdated, legalized animal cruelty,” attorney Mary Stewart of Longwood said. “Floridians will be on the right side of history and vote ‘yes’ on Amendment 13 in November to end live dog racing in Florida.”

Though a Tallahassee judge recently ordered the amendment off the ballot, the state appealed, which automatically delays the effect of that ruling.

The measure had been slated for the ballot by the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), of which Bondi was a member. Amendments need no less than 60 percent approval by voters to be added to the state constitution.

The other endorsements announced are: 

— Candidates Debra Bellanti for Florida House (District 60), Jessica Harrington for Florida House (District 64), Robert Joseph for Florida House (District 84), Rebecca Koelzer for Florida House (District 4), Sally Laufer for Florida House (District 65). Also, the Sarasota-Charlotte Democratic Progressive Caucus. 

— All Dogs Hair Haven; Concrete Analysis And Testing Laboratories; Cynthia Davis, MD, P.A.; Flow Carpets; Heartwired Technical Solutions; Hip Dog Canine Hydrotherapy; I Nails and Spa; Insurance Time; Jupiter Dive Center; Madeira Public Relations; Pasco Signs; Salon Roxy; Six Ten Brewing. 

— Almost Home Rescue; Canine Castaways; DARE Dachshund Rescue; Diamonds in the Rough Farm; Gulf Shore Animal League; Moonracer Animal Rescue; Leader of the Equine Community; Ingrid Taskin of Red Fences Farm; Michael Dodane

— Maria Kazouris, Esq.; Pamela Polani, Esq.; Mary M. Stewart, Esq.; Andrew Smith, P.A.; Welt & Rheaume, P.A.; Rick Ruhl, Esq.

Techno-blunder? Lawyers say they can’t view files in their own cases

Court-appointed attorneys in Pinellas and Pasco counties are complaining they’re blocked from seeing key documents in the very cases they’re supposed to be defending.

The Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel for the 2nd District filed a petition last week asking for online access to documents.

The office was created by lawmakers to represent clients when public defenders have a conflict of interest, and in certain civil cases, like dependency proceedings.

But the filing says “Counsel is blocked from accessing documents such as reports written and filed by the Guardian Ad Litem Program, and some medical or mental health records of our clients.”

The petition says being to read such documents “is necessary in order to see what has been filed in the court file, find contact information for our clients or other parties, know the history of the case, quickly obtain clearer copies of some documents, check for conflicts, and investigate and prepare for hearings when time is of the essence.”

The office seeks a court order granting its attorneys the ability to see documents they need to prepare cases, including “medical and mental health records.”

Appeals court hands off dog racing ban challenge to Supreme Court

The 1st District Court of Appeal on Monday agreed to “pass through” to the state’s Supreme Court a case on whether a proposed amendment to end greyhound racing should stay on the November ballot.

A unanimous three-judge panel said the matter was “of great public importance,” needing “immediate resolution … due to time constraints related to the pending election and ballot preparation timelines.” The Supreme Court did not immediately accept jurisdiction.

Tallahassee Circuit Judge Karen Gievers ruled last week that the proposed ballot title and summary were “clearly and conclusively defective,” and the amendment should not go on the ballot. The measure bans betting on dog racing effective the beginning of 2021.

Among other things, Gievers said the title and summary didn’t make clear to voters that other gambling at racetracks, such as card games and slots, would continue if the measure passed.

Edward M. Wenger – the state’s chief deputy solicitor general – appealed the decision, placing a hold on the effect of Gievers’ ruling pending appellate review.

Judges Joseph Lewis Jr., Scott Makar and M. Kemmerly Thomas also said their court “stand(s) ready to assist on an emergency basis should the matter be remanded back to us for our consideration.”

Amendment 13, placed on the ballot by the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission, was challenged by the Florida Greyhound Association, which represents the state’s breeders and owners. Amendments need no less than 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

Both the state and the association had agreed to ask the DCA to pass the case to the Supreme Court, noting that time was of the essence: Mail-in ballots must, by law, be sent to voters by Sept. 22.

“There are only a few companies certified to print these paper ballots in the United States, and every other state in the country is holding elections” on Nov. 6, their filing said. “As a result, counties in Florida submit their ballot orders as early as possible to ensure they meet the mailing deadline.

“… Expedited briefing and oral argument could occur in (the Supreme) Court before the early September practical deadline for printing the general election ballots,” the request said. 


Featured photo by Van Abernethy

Judge strikes down proposed ‘citrus preference’ rule for marijuana licenses

An administrative law judge on Monday struck down a proposed state regulation carving out a ‘citrus preference’ for medical marijuana provider licenses, calling it “invalid.”

The decision may be moot, however, because a circuit judge last week declared the section of state law creating the preference to be unconstitutional. (That story is here.)

Louis Del Favero Orchids of Tampa challenged the proposed Department of Health rule, based on the law passed last year implementing a voter-approved constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana.

The orchid grower argued the proposal fails to properly carry out the law, which includes giving preference for up to two medical marijuana licenses to applicants who own facilities that had been used to process citrus. It had bought a site in Pinellas County for “approximately $775,000” to qualify.

At issue was the difference between a “facility” and a “property.”

“The Legislature clearly intended to give a preference to applicants who ‘own … facilities that are, or were, used for canning, concentrating, or otherwise processing of citrus … and will use or convert the … facilities for the processing of medical marijuana,’ ” Judge R. Bruce McKibben wrote in his final order.

“The Legislature failed, however, to provide guidance by way of definitions,” he added.

“While the Legislature chose the words ‘facility or facilities’ in the Preference Statute, the Department complicated the issue by using the word ‘property’ for the most part, but also using the words ‘facility’ and ‘facilities’ at times,” McKibben wrote.

“Favero contends that a property is much broader in scope than a facility, and the Department therefore exceeded its delegated legislative authority.”

In sum: “The Department interprets the statutory language concerning ‘facility or facilities’ to include ‘property.’ It is impossible to reconcile that interpretation, especially in light of the fact the Legislature contemplated conversion of the facilities. The Department’s interpretation is hereby rejected as being outside the range of permissible interpretations.”

McKibben also found that a “packinghouse” would not qualify for the preference because “processing” means “doing something more with the raw product.”

That shuts out Mecca Farms, which filed as an intervenor in the case, because it “owns a packinghouse only, not a processing facility as that term seems to be used by the Legislature.”

McKibben’s order can be appealed to the 1st District Court of Appeal.


Background for this post provided by The News Service of Florida, republished with permission.

Judge declares parts of medical marijuana law unconstitutional

A Tallahassee judge eviscerated the state law on medical marijuana, declaring major provisions to be unconstitutional.

The ruling came in a challenge brought by Florigrown, which had been denied a chance to become a “medical marijuana treatment center” (MMTC), or provider. The company is partly owned by Tampa strip club mogul and free speech advocate Joe Redner.

In a written order, Circuit Judge Charles W. Dodson struck down several parts of the law that implements the constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2016 authorizing medicinal cannabis:

— The requirement that Florida have a vertically-integrated market, meaning the same provider grows, processes and sells its own marijuana.

Dodson said lawmakers improperly modified the amendment’s definition of an MMTC: “… an entity that acquires, cultivates, possesses, processes, transfers, transports, sells, distributes, dispenses, or administers marijuana …. (emphasis added)” The law instead uses “and” instead of “or,” Dodson wrote, which “contradicts” the amendment.

— Limits on the number of marijuana providers that can be licensed by the state.

“The amendment places no limits or caps on the number of MMTCs in Florida,” the judge wrote. “Such limits directly undermine the clear intent of the amendment.”

— Special categories of licenses, such as for owners of former citrus processing facilities.

For example, another provision in the law gives preference in granting medical marijuana provider licenses to companies with underused or shuttered citrus factories. Dodson said that violates another part of the state constitution barring a “grant of privilege to a private corporation.”

“This court understands the importance of both the Legislature and the Department (of Health) in developing a thorough, effective, and efficient framework within which to regulate medical marijuana, as directed by the amendment,” Dodson wrote.

“Florigrown has established that the Legislature and the department have such a framework … They have simply chosen to restrict access in a manner that violates the amendment.” The department regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

“Providing patient care to the citizens of Florida is exactly what Florigrown is trying to do with this suit,” company CEO Adam Elend said.

“We provided evidence that the current system threatens the availability and safe use of marijuana,” he said in a statement. “Under this broken system, there’s no way for the department to predict supply or calculate how many dispensaries are needed for the number of patients on the registry.” (Florigrown’s full statement is here.)

Dodson’s ruling, docketed last Thursday, was in the context of Florigrown’s request for a temporary injunction, which he denied. He instead set a case management hearing for Oct. 3.

“The court is concerned about findings of no irreparable harm and that granting a temporary injunction at this time is not in the public interest,” he wrote. “The passing of more time may alter those findings.” Dodson did find that Florigrown has a “substantial likelihood of success on the merits” of the case.

A request for comment is pending with Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican and primary architect of the state law.

“The denial of the request for temporary injunction will allow the department to continue to work to implement the law so Floridians can have safe access to this medicine,” said Health spokesman Brad Dalton in an email.

The lawsuit began with an epic 238-page lawsuit — replete with references to Encyclopedia Britannica, ancient Roman medical texts and the Nixon White House tapes — that alleged the state was failing its responsibility to carry out the people’s will when it comes to medical marijuana.

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