Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 214

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.

Chuck Clemons appealing in social media ‘blocking’ case

State Rep. Chuck Clemons is appealing a federal judge’s decision not to toss out a lawsuit against him because he blocked a constituent from his official social media. 

Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker of the Northern District of Florida had denied the Newberry Republican’s motion to dismiss in May.

Attwood

While Clemons appeals Walker’s ruling to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of AppealsMorgan Attwood‘s civil-rights lawsuit is on hold. 

To compare, another federal judge has held that President Donald Trump‘s blocking of critics on Twitter is unconstitutional.

In February, Attwood, of Gainesville, had tweeted at Clemons to ask why he voted against a motion to take up debate on a bill to ban assault weapons.

In doing so, Attwood subtweeted Emma González, who as a high school senior survived the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County.

In response, Clemons blocked Attwood from Clemons’ official Twitter and Facebook accounts, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which is representing Attwood. 

“I was just trying to understand why my state representative didn’t support the assault weapon ban,” Attwood said in a statement. “I was shocked when he responded by blocking me from his accounts.”

Clemons

His suit alleges Clemons engaged in viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment by excluding him from official social media accounts, or “otherwise publicly accessible forums.”

Eric Lindstrom, another of Attwood’s attorneys, likened it to getting “kicked out of a public official’s town hall event … for asking a tough question.”

In an email earlier this year, Clemons countered that Twitter and Facebook “are not government entities, nor are pages paid for by government.”

“Any legislator, or any citizen, has the right to decide who they will or won’t allow to interact with them online,” he said. “I would no more allow someone to be hostile or abusive online than I would if they were standing on my front porch. This is still America and I feel confident that reason, common sense, and freedom will prevail.”

In part, Walker had said Clemons wasn’t immune against being sued because he “controlled his Facebook and Twitter accounts. He was responsible for blocking Attwood. Therefore, he was responsible for the challenged action.” Clemons is represented by Florida House general counsel Adam Tanenbaum.

Judge strikes down dog-racing ban, calling it ‘outright trickeration’

Saying it “hide(s) the ball” and calling it “outright ‘trickeration,’ ” a Tallahassee judge has ruled that a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at ending dog racing shouldn’t go on the November ballot.

But in a statement, Attorney General Pam Bondi – who supports a dog-racing ban – said her office “will appeal this decision immediately and seek an expedited review by the Florida Supreme Court.” Time is of the essence; Election Day is 97 days away as of Wednesday.

Among other things, Circuit Judge Karen Gievers‘ 27-page order (also posted below) said Amendment 13‘s ballot title and summary would mislead voters into believing a ‘yes’ vote was an outright ban on greyhound racing.

The amendment bans betting on live dog racing in Florida, and doesn’t make clear that trackgoers in Florida could still bet on ‘simulcast‘ dog races outside Florida, she said. Live racing is still conducted at 11 tracks in the state.

It also doesn’t make clear, Gievers added, that a vote for the amendment is a vote for other gambling – such as card games and slot machines – to continue at tracks that have them.

Gievers said the amendment title and summary were “clearly and conclusively defective,” a legal standard developed by the Supreme Court to justify keeping proposed amendments off the ballot.

Specifically, a ballot summary is defective if it “fails to specify exactly what was being changed, thereby confusing voters” or “gives the appearance of creating new rights or protections, when the actual effect is to reduce or eliminate rights or protections already in existence,” the court has said

Amendment 13 doesn’t provide voters with the “ ’truth in packaging’ to which they are entitled,” she wrote.

The measure was slated for the November ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC). Amendments need no less than 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

The Florida Greyhound Association, which represents breeders and owners who oppose Amendment 13, had sued to prevent it from appearing on the statewide ballot. A final hearing was held last Thursday.

“Judge Gievers was very thorough in her ruling,” said Jack Cory, lobbyist and spokesman for the association.

She had, for instance, said the ballot title and summary don’t disclose that “humane treatment of animals would become a fundamental value of the people of Florida,” agreeing with arguments made by the association’s lawyer, Major B. Harding, a retired Florida Supreme Court justice.

“The state of Florida should not use taxpayer dollars to appeal this case,” Cory added. “The proponents got a donation of $1.5 million last week,” referring to a large donation from the Doris Day Animal League. “If (they) want to appeal the ruling, they should use their own money, not (that of) taxpayers.”

The Protect Dogs–Yes on 13 campaign, which formed to push for the amendment’s passage, said the legal challenge isn’t over.

“This is a process that will end with a decision by the Florida Supreme Court,” the campaign said in a statement, echoing Bondi. “This is the first step on a long road, and we are confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the amendment.”

The campaign further called the suit “a desperate attempt to prevent voters from having a voice on whether greyhound confinement and deaths should continue. It was filed because greyhound breeders know that when Amendment 13 appears on the ballot, Floridians will vote ‘yes’ for the dogs.”

The ban was one of eight amendments OK’d by the CRC; 13 amendments in all had been set for the ballot. Amendment 13 is the first to be struck down out of the four CRC measures that have been challenged in court.

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Power outages reduced, storm hardening works, PSC says

The Public Service Commission (PSC) on Tuesday issued its report on electric utilities’ hurricane preparedness and restoration actions and “found that, overall, the length of power outages was reduced, indicating that storm hardening practices work.”

In 2006, the PSC ordered electric utilities to implement extensive activities to improve system resilience. That was followed by 10 years without a major storm landfall in Florida, making the 2016 and 2017 hurricane seasons the first opportunity to gather performance data.

“For more than a decade, the PSC has worked to strengthen the state’s electric infrastructure, while keeping costs down for customers,” PSC Chairman Art Graham said.

“This report confirms that our storm hardening rules are working and also identifies areas that can be improved, such as utilities’ undergrounding programs, customer communications, and tree-trimming coordination with local governments.

“It’s a real hardship to be without power, so it’s natural to be frustrated when it happens. We shouldn’t let that keep us from seeing the progress that’s been made – utilities achieved much shorter outage times than in the past, even though Irma was a huge storm,” Graham added.

The report’s key findings show the length of utility power outages was reduced from the 2004-2005 storm season, hardened distribution facilities performed better than non-hardened facilities, and power outages primarily resulted from falling trees, vegetation, and debris from outside the utilities’ rights of way.

The PSC also identified several issues the Legislature might want to consider, including a statewide public education program on tree trimming and possible legislation to require inspection and hardening of non-electric utility poles.

The “Review of Florida’s Electric Utility Hurricane Preparedness and Restoration Actions 2018” is here.

Andrew Gillum: Rick Scott should suspend ‘Stand Your Ground’ law

Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Gillum Monday called on Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency and suspend the state’s “stand your ground” law by executive order.

In a news conference in Tallahassee, Gillum said the law has become an “opportunity for vigilantes to agitate conflict” from behind the legal shield of the self-defense provision.

The July 19 shooting of Markeis McGlockton in Clearwater has sparked another debate over the controversial measure. The stand your ground law, enacted in 2005, allows people who are attacked to counter deadly force with deadly force in self-defense without any requirement that they flee.

As Jacob Sullum of Reason explained in a Monday blog post, “Michael Drejka told police he shot McGlockton, who had just shoved him to the pavement in the parking lot of a convenience store in Clearwater, because he was afraid (McGlockton) was bent on continuing the attack.”

A spokesman for Scott later Monday said the governor “expects that every Florida law be enforced and applied fairly by law enforcement and state attorneys, who are elected by Floridians.”

Indeed, “several prominent Florida Republicans have criticized Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri‘s misrepresentation of (the) law, (saying) Gualtieri was simply wrong when he claimed the standard for using lethal force is ‘largely subjective,’ ” Sullum also wrote Monday.

Gualtieri declined to pursue a case against Drejka.

“If the Legislature wants to make any changes to clarify Florida’s laws next Legislative Session, they can do so,” added Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis in an email.

That’s not good enough for Gillum, who wants action now: “I don’t believe that ‘stand your ground’ has a place in civilized society,” he said.

Gillum pointed out that surveillance video of the incident, “which began with a dispute over a handicapped parking spot, shows McGlockton backing away when Drejka draws his pistol,” as Sullum put it.

Gillum said if elected governor he would press to repeal the ‘stand your ground’ law “so that no more life is senselessly lost, particularly among people of color.”

McGlockton, 28, is black; Drejka, 47, is white, and has a concealed carry permit.

A Periscope video of Gillum’s remarks are below.

More money flowing into Florida’s medical marijuana market

Updated 1:30 p.m. — Toronto-based Scythian Biosciences Corp. announced on Monday it was buying Cannabis Cures Investments (see below) and renaming itself Sol Global Investments Corp., with that deal expected to close Oct. 15, pending regulatory approval.

A press release is here. The original post from earlier Monday is below.

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As the state gets ready to license more providers, another potentially big deal is in the works as medical marijuana captivates private capital as the newest new thing.

A new concern called Cannabis Cures Investments (CannCure) has agreed to buy a 60 percent interest in 3 Boys Farm of Ruskin, with the closing expected in mid-August. Terms of the pending deal were not disclosed.

Florida corporation records show CannCure itself is owned by Namaste Gorgie, one of South Florida yoga entrepreneur Cathy DeFrancesco‘s companies.

DeFrancesco, who founded SOL Yoga in Miami, and her husband, Andrew DeFrancesco, also are behind private equity firm The Delavaco Group, which has invested in Aphria, a Canadian producer of medical cannabis products.

And Aphria formerly was invested in Canadian-based DFMMJ Investments, which owns Florida medical marijuana provider Liberty Health Sciences.

The current heat is likely because, as financier Justin Costello recently put it, medicinal cannabis in Florida is seen as a potential “multibillion-dollar industry.” (Costello’s Seattle-based GRN Funds is coming to the state to offer banking services to marijuana providers.)

With the number of “qualified, active patients” surpassing 100,000, the state is finally beginning the process of issuing four additional medical marijuana provider licenses, as provided under state law.

But money doesn’t like to wait: The country’s biggest medical marijuana provider also is buying its way into the Florida market.

MedMen Enterprises Inc. of Los Angeles agreed last month to pay $53 million for the license held by Central Florida’s Treadwell Nursery. In Florida, providers are known as “medical marijuana treatment centers,” or MMTCs.

The most recently granted license, to a provider known as Nature’s Way after a legal challenge and settlement, now is held by Green Owl Pharms, according to state records.

The 3 Boys deal was revealed in a filing this month with the Department of Health, which regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

3 Boys is one of 14 licensed providers in the state, but now only has authority to grow. Florida has a vertically-integrated market, meaning the same provider grows, processes and sells its own marijuana.

It’s asking to be allowed to postpone having to sell its own product from this Tuesday to April 1, 2019: “It is anticipated that capital raised from the sale would be used to help build out (processing) and dispensing operations,” 3 Boys’ July 19 filing said.

“Because the production of medical marijuana in Florida is a new and evolving industry, there is a certain level of uncertainty for investors (that) has unavoidably complicated and extended the time for obtaining funding to proceed with getting product to market,” says the filing, by attorney Tana D. Storey of Tallahassee’s Rutledge Ecenia firm.

Contribution was really loan, Ryan Torrens explains – as he acknowledges he made mistake

Democratic candidate for Attorney General Ryan Torrens is striking back after primary opponent Sean Shaw sued last week to have him kicked off the ballot.

In a statement Monday, Torrens said the money that Shaw called an “illegal campaign contribution” was essentially a loan to his campaign, “as he will now see (and could have learned if he’d only had the decency to ask before attacking).”

Shaw’s suit said Torrens “failed to properly qualify” because of the questionable contribution. Shaw and Torrens are the only Democrats running for attorney general. Both are lawyers in the Tampa area; Shaw also represents House District 61. The primary election is Aug. 28.

Torrens’ campaign treasurer Jessica Vasconez acknowledged that the campaign received a $4,000 contribution from Francesca Yabraian. The maximum permitted for a statewide candidate is $3,000. Vasconez told state elections officials she refunded Yabraian $3,332.52.

Yabraian is Torrens’ wife. “The check he cited was drawn on our joint account,” Torrens said. “So the bottom line is, this was a case in which my money was being transferred to my campaign, and as all candidates know, there is no limit on the amount a candidate is allowed to spend on his or her own campaign.”

Shaw’s “desperate shift to attack-politics is the same old political game-playing that disgusts Florida voters of both parties and independents,” Torrens said.

“In this case, what Florida Democrats will find especially troubling is that this low-road attack is frankly beneath what we all expected from my primary opponent, given his career of public service and his family’s historic service to our state.”

(That’s a reference to Shaw’s father, the late Leander J. Shaw Jr., the first black chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court.)

Sean Shaw
Shaw

Shaw has said, however, that Torrens “initially submitted sworn statements characterizing this contribution as a loan, and then, after qualifying, recanted sworn statements and re-characterized the (money) as an excess campaign contribution,” his complaint said.

“If not for this willful and dishonest act, Torrens’ campaign would not have had the funds on hand necessary to qualify.” The complaint includes a copy of the Torrens campaign’s check for $7,738.32 to qualify for the race.

Torrens responded that he “made one small, inadvertent error that could have avoided this entire problem: I could have simply added my signature to my wife’s on that check – and that would have accomplished our same goal (of shifting our funds from our joint account to our campaign’s account) in an error-free, perfectly legal way.

“That’s why my primary opponent’s allegation in his suit is false when he claims our campaign didn’t have the funds to pay our qualifying fee. We indeed had the funds; but yes, I made that honest mistake. And yes, I’m kicking myself about that technicality that my opponent has taken advantage of by filing a distorting, low-road lawsuit.

“To prove the honesty and good faith of our intentions, we were our own whistleblower! As soon as we discovered our error, our campaign submitted correspondence to the state’s Division of Elections that the check bearing Francesca’s signature put her over the allowable $3,000 limit….

“We took the corrective action because we felt it was important to do the right thing and demonstrate that our campaign trail is always the high-road,” Torrens said.

He further alleged that Shaw has had his own problems following the law, highlighting “campaign finance violations levied against him concerning his 2016 campaign for state representative” and noting Shaw “repeatedly ignored correspondence and telephone calls from the Division of Elections.”

“Now that my primary opponent chose to try to file a lawsuit using false allegations as a weapon to challenge my integrity, and even the integrity of my wife — all as a weapon to try to force me out of the race — I have no choice but to aggressively stay the course and respond not with allegations, but just by making his record available,” Torrens said.

He added: “If my primary opponent had been willing to respond to my debate invitations by calling me even once, perhaps he could have simply asked me about that check — so I could have explained it all to him. Unfortunately, he chose his low-road lawsuit attack strategy.”

Shaw spokesman Michael Starr Hopkins responded by email: “We’ll let the judge decide whether this error was egregious enough to disqualify Mr. Torrens for breaking the rules.”

Also in the race for attorney general are Republicans Ashley Moody, a former Hillsborough County circuit judge, and Frank White, a state representative from Pensacola. Jeffrey Marc Siskind is running as a nonparty affiliated candidate.

Torrens’ full statement, his invitation to Shaw to debate, and Shaw’s Division of Elections dossier as provided by Torrens’ campaign, are below.

Christian Bax quits as state’s top medical marijuana regulator

Christian Bax, director of Florida’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU), has stepped down after a controversial three-year tenure that frustrated patients, angered lawmakers, and witnessed an explosion in litigation.

His resignation is effective Aug. 10. Deputy director Courtney Coppola will serve as interim director, Department of Health spokesman Devin Galleta said Friday.

Bax’s resignation letter, released later Friday (see below), did not reveal his future plans.

News of Bax’s departure stoked an angry denunciation from Tampa strip club owner Joe Redner. In April, he won a court battle, only to be appealed by the state, allowing him to grow and make juice of his own marijuana to keep his lung cancer in remission.

“If they worked for me, I would have fired them in a minute,” Redner said, referring to Bax and Coppola. “They have no idea how a free market works … We can only hope the next governor believes in the fee market and not in cartels who gain marijuana monopolies.”

The state’s system of licensing scheme of cannabis providers, known as medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs), has resulted in a stream of legal and administrative challenges.

At least 11 are still pending, though some relate to matters other than licensing, including Orlando attorney John Morgan‘s constitutional challenge of the state’s ban on smoking medicinal cannabis. Plaintiffs backed by Morgan won, and that case too is now under appeal.

Morgan bankrolled the 2016 state constitutional amendment allowing medicinal cannabis, passed by a little more than 71 percent of voters as a ballot question. And Morgan leveled heavy criticism of Bax.

“He was so inept that it had to be intentional. Anyone would be better and more capable,” Morgan said. “He was to health care in Florida what Barney Fife was to law enforcement. This is a great day for the sick and injured in Florida.”

Ben Pollara, campaign manager for Amendment 2’s political committee, said it was “a shame it’s taken this long” for Bax to leave. “

“His tenure has been marked by repeated failures to meet the needs of patients throughout Florida. I sincerely hope the office’s new leadership will learn from those mistakes and act quickly to get Florida’s medical marijuana program fully functional,” said Pollara.

Bax also faced reports he “had little experience when he won a high-profile job that state officials refused to publicly advertise,” relying on his family connections with Gov. Rick Scott, including father James Bax, described as “a wealthy, wired Tallahassee insider.”

Gary Stein, a medical marijuana historian and advocate, acknowledged that Bax “had a Herculean task, made infinitely harder by his lack of experience and probable pressure from above.”

The system “created for him to manage had a flawed application process that forced him to spend far too much time in litigation and far less time in the mandated tasks of regulation and rule-making,” said Stein, a former employee of the Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I was very critical of him because of the high importance of his position and the great needs of hundreds of thousands of patients that relied on the efficiency of his department for critical access to medicine.

“There was no room for the kind of errors and snail’s pace of the OMMU that occurred,” Stein added. “I wish him well, but he didn’t belong there, and he didn’t get the support that he needed … Rather than giving him more infrastructure, they gave him more lawyers.”

But Dr. Jeffrey Sharkey, founder and head of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, said he “always had a very productive working relationship with Mr. Bax.”

“… It is not surprising that he and his office have faced a lot of challenges over the last two years in trying to implement a brand new, highly regulated, fast-growing and dynamic medical cannabis industry in one of the largest states in the country, with all of its diverse players, politics and pressures,” Sharkey said.

“To his credit, he managed it professionally and the young industry is in better shape for his efforts. We wish him well.”

Patty Nelson, Bax’s predecessor and now an industry consultant, said the post is one that will draw criticism and scrutiny.

“There’s no denying it’s a hard job. It sometimes feels like an impossible job,” she said. “And you face critics from every direction, which makes it difficult to navigate.”

Coppola, Bax’s successor, began in state government as a 2013 member of the Gubernatorial Fellows Program, working for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation when she was a graduate student at Florida State University.

Kim Rivers, CEO of medical marijuana provider Trulieve, said in a statement Coppola “has a deep working understanding of the medical marijuana program in Florida, and we do not anticipate any issues or interruptions during the transition.”

Coppola appeared before lawmakers earlier this month to ask a special budget panel for another $13 million for operating costs. Legislators have been vexed over the slow-going of the office, including delays in issuing medicinal cannabis patient identification cards, though they granted the request.

They finally pushed back earlier this year when they included a provision from House Republican Jason Brodeur in the 2018-19 budget to withhold more than $1.9 million in Department of Health salaries and benefits until regulators fully implement medical marijuana.

“I can only add to the chorus of voices hoping the office will get going on the rule-making, in accordance with the clear direction given from the Legislature, to ensure people appropriately have access to the drug,” Brodeur said Friday in a text message.

One detail that troubled some lawmakers: $1.5 million of the extra money requested will go to outside lawyers hired by the office to represent it in ongoing litigation.

“Let’s stop wasting taxpayer dollars” on suits the state shouldn’t be appealing, House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz told Coppola. “Please start taking this seriously,” she added, calling the office’s actions part “intentional ineptitude” and part “simple sabotage.”

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

Feds now MIA in FIU bridge records case

The federal government is now ‘missing in action’ in a lawsuit over records on March’s pedestrian bridge collapse at Florida International University that killed six people.

U.S. Attorney Christopher P. Canova of the Northern District of Florida had asked a Tallahassee judge to delay any rulings while his office decides whether to get involved in the lawsuit. Federal law authorizes U.S. attorneys to “attend to the interests of the United States in (any state) lawsuit.”

The latest deadline for Canova’s office to file a notice about participating was Wednesday (the last filing is here). As of Thursday morning, the court clerk’s office said it hadn’t received the new filing, and none was docketed by late Thursday.

The case, which had been before Circuit Judge John Cooper, was reassigned to Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll as part of a routine judicial rotation by Chief Judge Jonathan Sjostrom of the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

Carroll set a status hearing in the case for 11 a.m. next Tuesday, records show, which was noticed to Canova’s office. His spokeswoman, Amy Alexander, has not responded to an inquiry from Florida Politics.

The Miami Herald, Capital bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas, and Tallahassee correspondent Elizabeth Koh sued the state’s Department of Transportation in Leon County Circuit Civil court, seeking “emails, meeting minutes and other records relating to the bridge’s design and construction.”

Some of those records “are the subject of a pending accident investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB),” Canova previously said. The March 15 collapse of the then-recently erected bridge killed six midday motorists or passengers, and injured nine others.

In a letter, NTSB assistant general counsel Benjamin T. Allen explained to Cooper that his agency has “prohibited” FDOT from releasing certain investigative information “absent NTSB approval.”

Allen also was the first to disclose in that same letter that “at least two federal agencies” and Miami-Dade police were pursuing criminal investigations into the collapse.

The bridge, spanning Tamiami Trail, was meant to connect the campus to student housing in Sweetwater. It happened “just days after cracks had been observed in the $14.3 million structure,” The Herald has reported.

Attorney General race goes ‘boom’ as Sean Shaw sues to get Ryan Torrens off ballot

Democratic candidate for Attorney General Sean Shaw is suing to knock primary opponent Ryan Torrens off the ballot, saying Torrens “failed to properly qualify” because of an “illegal campaign contribution.”

Torrens called the lawsuit a “sham.”

Shaw’s lawsuit was filed just before 5 p.m. Tuesday in Leon County Circuit Civil court against Torrens, the state’s Division of Elections and Secretary of State Ken Detzner, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to “immediately decertify Torrens.”

The primary election is Aug. 28; Shaw and Torrens are the only Democrats running for attorney general. Both are lawyers in the Tampa area; Shaw also represents House District 61.

The most damning accusation in the complaint: “Torrens improperly qualified … through fraudulent and dishonest means by accepting an illegal campaign contribution made via cashier’s check in excess of the legal contribution limits for the clear and obvious purpose of providing funds to pay Torrens’ qualifying fee.”

“Our campaign was recently made aware of potentially disqualifying campaign violations by our primary challenger — and so we have asked for a judge to rule,” said Shaw campaign spokesman Michael Starr Hopkins in a statement on Wednesday.

“With Donald Trump in the White House, there has never been a more important Attorney General election in our state’s history,” he added. “There is too much at stake to risk anything. Sean Shaw is running to fight and win for the people of Florida.”

Torrens

In his own statement, Torrens said the suit is a “desperate attempt by my corporate-backed challenger to win this election through frivolous litigation, now that he realizes that our message of standing up to big corporate interests is resonating all over the state.”

He and his supporters “look forward to aggressively defending our campaign in the circuit court and are confident that we will prevail on the merits of this case,” he said.

“In the meantime, just as we have been for the last 14 months, we will continue to campaign our hearts out across the whole of Florida, spreading our message of returning our party to its historic principles of standing up to big corporate interests and fighting for working Floridians.

“This just reminds me of the famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi, ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.’ ” (The quote, however, has long been “misattributed” to Gandhi, according to Snopes.com.)

Torrens’ campaign has already admitted to accepting more than the allowed maximum personal donation to a state campaign.

As Florida Politics reported Tuesday, Torrens’ campaign treasurer Jessica Vasconez acknowledged that the campaign received a $4,000 contribution from Francesca Yabraian. The maximum permitted for a statewide candidate is $3,000. Vasconez told state elections officials she refunded the donor $3,332.52.

Shaw now says Torrens “initially submitted sworn statements characterizing this contribution as a loan, and then, after qualifying recanted sworn statements and re-characterized the (money) as an excess campaign contribution,” the complaint says. “If not for this willful and dishonest act, Torrens’ campaign would not have had the funds on hand necessary to qualify.”

The complaint includes a copy of the Torrens campaign’s check for $7,738.32 to qualify for the race.

Shaw is represented by attorneys Andrew J. Baumann and Robert P. Diffenderfer of West Palm Beach, and Natalie Kato of Tallahassee. All three are with the Lewis, Longman & Walker law firm.

Also in the race for attorney general are Republicans Ashley Moody, a former Hillsborough County circuit judge, and Frank White, a state representative from Pensacola. Jeffrey Marc Siskind is running as a nonparty affiliated candidate.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the case had been assigned to Circuit Judge John Cooper. A copy of the complaint provided by the Shaw campaign is below.

whiskey Wheaties

It’s back: Costco’s weapon to win ‘whiskey and Wheaties’ war

Give Costco’s lawyers some credit: They may have a found a way to finally be able to sell tequila and turkey burgers in the same store.

The answer may involve its food courts — turkey provolone sandwich, anyone? — and repealing the state’s obscure, 24-year-old “Restaurant Rule.” And already, Costco’s critics are calling it an “end-around” of Gov. Rick Scott.

Still, if the membership warehouse retailer persuades the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) to strike that rule, it could finally win the “whiskey and Wheaties” battle.

Costco, which does “not have a PR or Media department,” did not respond to a request for comment.

Bills have been filed since 2014 to remove the 82-year-old requirement, enacted in Florida after Prohibition, that hard liquor be sold in a separate store. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in the Sunshine State.

Costco, along with Walmart and Target, has pushed to remove the ‘wall of separation.’ Publix, for it because of its investment in its many separate liquor stores, and independent liquor store owners have fought to keep the status quo.

Last year was the closest that supporters got to a victory, with legislation barely passing both chambers.

But Scott vetoed the measure, saying it’d be a job killer for small businesses, many of whom would likely get bulldozed by the big-box stores’ superior selling power.

Now, the GrayRobinson law firm, which represents Costco, thinks it’s found the Achilles heel.

Costco “is licensed as both a retail alcohol dealer and restaurant at over 100 locations throughout Florida,” wrote its lawyer, GrayRobinson’s D. Ty Jackson, in a letter to regulators.

The state held a workshop last month in Orlando to “update and clarify the items permitted to be sold.”

State law says licensed vendors “can sell anything … that is ‘customarily sold in a restaurant,’ ” but doesn’t define what that means “despite being in use for more than 80 years in the Florida Beverage Law,” Jackson wrote.

DBPR’s Restaurant Rule does define items “customarily sold,” including “ready to eat entree items” and “hot or cold beverages.”

That’s not fair, Jackson wrote, saying the rule “impermissibly purports to limit the items that can be sold” and should be repealed.

In fact, the department isn’t even following its own guidance, he suggested, having granted liquor licenses meant for restaurants to “entities that sell items beyond those identified in the (restaurant) rule.”

They include “golf country clubs, casinos, movie theatres … bowling alleys and senior living complexes.” GrayRobinson also said the vetoed bill involved package store licenses and not the “consumed on premises” licenses used by eateries and bars.

In contrast, William Hall, a Jones Walker attorney representing Publix, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, and the Florida Independent Spirits Association (FISA), told regulators that Costco’s effort “is nothing less than an end-around of the governor,” referring to his veto last year.

“Now, Costco seemingly wants the (state) to believe that (last year’s bill) and all of the other legislative wrangling on that issue was meaningless,” he wrote in his own letter. “Costco asserts that, by simply repealing the Restaurant Rule, the (state) can allow what the governor’s veto precluded.

“The purpose of rule-making is to interpret statutes, not to get around laws that a party does not like. The (state) should reject this attempt to use rule-making to usurp the legislative process.”

FISA President Chris Knightly — who represents small, independent liquor stores — added that “Costco’s true intent for these actions are to sell hard liquor on their grocery shelves,” according to a transcript of the Orlando workshop, held by DBPR’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco.

The big chains are trying to do through “legal loopholes … what their previously failed legislative efforts have not been able to accomplish. This is another attempt to bypass the appropriate governmental process,” said Knightly, co-owner of Knightly Spirits in Central Florida.  

“Allowing big-box stores to sell liquor would decimate the viable industry of independently owned liquor stores,” he went on. “ … The greed of a few corporations should not demolish these small businesses, which are the backbone of America.”

DBPR, however, reports to Scott. Though he is term-limited this year, he’s still in charge till the next governor is sworn in on Jan. 8. 

The department “is going through the rule-making process and receiving public input on this topic,” Scott spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said in an email. “The Governor expects them and every agency to follow Florida law.”

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