Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 167

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.

Pam Bondi ordered to respond to lawsuit over unregistered charities

Attorney General Pam Bondi on Monday was ordered to file a written response to a lawsuit claiming she forces businesses to donate millions of dollars to unregistered charities as part of settlements in consumer protection cases.

Circuit Judge Charles Dodson, sitting in Tallahassee, also granted a request from Orlando entrepreneur John D. Smith to seek “discovery” in the case — that is, to get information from Bondi’s office in preparation for a possible trial.

Smith filed a petition for a “writ of quo warranto,” which demand government officials to prove their authority to perform a certain action. He did not attend Monday’s hearing.

Russell Kent, Bondi’s special counsel for litigation, objected to discovery, saying it was “generally not allowed” in quo warranto cases. He also said he intends to ask the court for summary judgment in the case, allowing Bondi to win without a trial.

But Scott Siverson, Smith’s attorney, said one of Bondi’s defenses is that donations to groups that weren’t registered as charities were OK because they were “unsolicited,” or not asked for.

“There is only one way for is to find out about that, and that’s to get discovery from” their office, Siverson told Dodson.

“I don’t know of anything that would prevent you at this time” from asking for records, Dodson replied. The judge also said a previous order he issued was “a little misleading” about whether Bondi needed to file an answer to Smith’s complaint.

“I don’t mind taking the fall for messing up on that,” Dodson said.

Smith had been investigated on a consumer fraud allegation by Bondi’s office in 2015. He invented Storm Stoppers plastic panels as a “plywood alternative” to protect windows during storms.

He says some of the unregistered charities Bondi makes settling parties give money to is her own “Law Enforcement Officer of the Year” award and various “scholarship funds designated by the Attorney General.”

Smith also said Bondi was improperly directing contributions to her office’s nonprofit, Seniors vs. Crime, which is a “conflict of interest,” the suit says. Two of its directors work for Bondi.

Since she first assumed office in 2011, Bondi’s office settled enforcement actions with 14 businesses in which they wound up paying more than $5.5 million to 35 unregistered charities, Smith’s suit says.

In a previous statement, Bondi called the legal action “meritless” and “harassment.” Siverson said his client just wants Bondi to play by the rules.

“This is a citizen’s lawsuit to make the Attorney General comply with the law,” he said after Monday’s hearing. “That, I think, is remarkable.”

Now cancer-free, Dorothy Hukill says, ‘I’m back’

After being pronounced cancer-free earlier this year, state Sen. Dorothy Hukill says she “feel(s) great” and already is “excited” to return to Tallahassee for next year’s Legislative Session.

She’s also back in the saddle in her district. The Port Orange Republican’s schedule is packed this week: There’s a grand-opening event for a Titusville space-supplies firm, a speech at the Titusville Chamber of Commerce, and post-Legislative Session round-ups before the Lake Helen City Commission and at the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce.

And as early as next week, the Port Orange City Council could vote on a proposal to rename the city’s old police department to the “Dorothy Hukill Annex” to honor Hukill, a former Port Orange mayor.

“I am back,” she said Monday. “Through the grace of God, friends and family, a great medical team, and a great Senate family, I am feeling wonderful.” 

In November, Hukill disclosed that she had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. She missed the 2017 Legislative Session while she was undergoing treatment.

“I am fortunate that it (is) in the early stages and my medical team advises that my prognosis for full recovery is good,” she wrote in a letter to Senate President Joe Negron.

In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, “if detected early, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable cancers.”

Not being in Tallahassee didn’t mean she stopped working, Hukill added, saying she continued to oversee her district offices, Capitol staff and committee responsibilities remotely.

Finally, this March, Hukill told Negron that “tests show no remaining cancer” and her doctors were “optimistic for a cancer-free full recovery.”

Hukill said she was surprised at the support she got, not only from those she knew, but from strangers who also dealt with cancer.

“It’s amazing to hear from people who have gone through what I have, to offer to talk about their own experience, or even just to say, ‘Let me know how I can help,’ ” she said.  

“Being a survivor transcends your background, your politics,” Hukill added. “One of the things you learn is that it’s a very special community.”

Pam Bondi case over unregistered charities heads to court

A Tallahassee-based circuit judge will hear arguments Monday in a lawsuit against Attorney General Pam Bondi that claims she forces businesses to pony up millions of dollars to unregistered charities as part of settlements in consumer protection cases.

Circuit Judge Charles Dodson will hear the case at 2 p.m. in the Leon County Courthouse, dockets accessed Friday show.

The plaintiff, Orlando entrepreneur John D. Smith, was investigated on a consumer fraud allegation by Bondi’s office in 2015. He invented Storm Stoppers plastic panels as a “plywood alternative” to protect windows during storms.

He now argues that some of the unregistered charities Bondi makes settling parties give money to is her own “Law Enforcement Officer of the Year” award and various “scholarship funds designated by the Attorney General.”

Smith also said Bondi was wrongly directing contributions to her office’s nonprofit, Seniors vs. Crime, which is a “conflict of interest,” the suit says. Two of its directors work for Bondi.

Bondi, through Deputy Solicitor General Jonathan L. Williams, earlier responded that some of the organizations criticized by Smith aren’t “require(d) … to register (with the state) before receiving contributions from governmental entities.”

She further said Seniors vs. Crime “was created in 1989 by then-Attorney General Bob Butterworth (and) since 2002, OAG (Office of Attorney General) employees have consistently served on the organization’s board … In keeping with that close historical relationship, OAG and Seniors vs. Crime share a common interest—protecting Florida’s senior citizens against fraud.”

Scott Siverson, Smith’s attorney, also denied that Smith had settled his case with the Florida Attorney General’s Office. Many companies choose to settle in what’s known as an “assurance of voluntary compliance.”

“Apart from their initial threat letter to Storm Stoppers, the OAG never took any other action, and never sent a letter to Mr. Smith informing him that their investigation was concluded,” he said in a statement.

Since she first assumed office in 2011, Bondi’s office settled enforcement actions with 14 businesses in which they wound up paying more than $5.5 million to 35 unregistered charities, Smith’s suit says.

In a previous statement, Bondi called the legal action “meritless” and “harassment.” She now will be represented by Russell Kent, her special counsel for litigation, records show.

Gwen Graham to Adam Putnam: ‘Defend’ Florida oranges

Steel and citrus brought us to this:

Gwen Graham is calling on Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam to defend Florida orange juice if President Donald Trump triggers a trade war with our European allies,” Graham’s campaign said in a Friday email.

Um, what?

Here’s what happened: “News broke this morning that the European Union is considering banning imports of American orange juice if Trump moves forward with plans to start a steel trade war.”

(Not mentioned by the Graham camp: That same story said EU officials also “are considering tariffs on other agricultural products,” including whiskey and dairy, “if Trump follows through with a steel tariff.” That whiskey is considered an “agricultural product” is a story for another day.)

“Orange juice is  … absolutely vital to Florida’s agriculture industry and our state’s economy,” Graham said in a statement. “Adam Putnam needs to put Florida first, pick up the phone, call his friend Donald Trump and defend our state’s jobs.”

If you need your memory jogged, former congresswoman Graham is a Democratic candidate for governor in 2018; Putnam is a Republican candidate.

Putnam campaign spokeswoman Amanda Bevis did not respond to Florida Politics’ request for comment, but told the Tampa Bay Times: “If you can’t grow it, you can’t export it. Even a half day pretending to work in citrus would teach Gwen Graham that the number one issue in Florida citrus is greening, not the EU.”

The state’s citrus industry has been decimated by the citrus greening epidemic. The so-far incurable disease is attacking fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree.

Meantime, we await defenders for Florida whiskey (yes, it exists) and dairy.

Drug Free America calls John Morgan lawsuit ‘disappointing’

John Morgan’s lawsuit against the state for not allowing medical marijuana to be smoked is “disappointing,” but “not surprising,” said the head of the Drug Free America Foundation on Thursday.

Morgan, the Orlando-based attorney and entrepreneur, backed the medical marijuana constitutional amendment that was OK’d by 71 percent of voters last year on the statewide ballot. He filed suit earlier on Thursday.

“It is obvious that the goal of the Legislature, which puts the health and safety of all Floridians first, is in clear conflict with his plans to profit from the sale of marijuana in the state,” said Calvina Fay, the foundation’s executive director, in a statement.

Morgan previously has “acknowledged a business plan to acquire an existing grower,” but avoided questions about details.

On Thursday, he sidestepped another question about his business interests in medical marijuana, saying he “wake(s) up every day in a 100-percent effort to make money, and lots of it … I’m never going to apologize for that.”

Fay said Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers “took the responsible approach in implementing” the state’s new constitutional amendment on medical marijuana. Their legislation (SB 8-A) allows vaping and edibles, but not smoking.

“Florida (is) setting a standard that can be followed by other states seeking to make their medical marijuana programs safer and more responsible,” she added.

“While not perfect, the legislation succeeded in finding a balance that protects the public health and safety of all Floridians while allowing the legal access to marijuana that was approved by voters.”

The St. Petersburg-based foundation was founded in 1995 by former U.S. Ambassador Mel Sembler and wife Betty.

It opposes what it calls “so-called medical marijuana,” saying in part in an online position paper, “Since marijuana is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is no way to determine proper dosage and potential side-effects with other medications.”

John Morgan for governor? Still might happen, he says

When asked Thursday whether he was still contemplating a run for governor, John Morgan told reporters about his warning to his pal, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“I told Richard Corcoran, the worst thing you could do to boost me is to limit smoke,” he said in Tallahassee, shortly after suing the state because it doesn’t allow medical marijuana to be lit and inhaled.

Morgan, the Orlando-based attorney and entrepreneur, backed the medical marijuana constitutional amendment that was OK’d by 71 percent of voters last year on the statewide ballot.

“I never thought I’d be the main bankroller of it all,” he said. “… I think it’s crazy what the Legislature has done to give me this platform … I’m going to take this wherever it leads me.”

Assuming he runs as a Democrat, he’d face former Tallahassee Congresswoman Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Orlando businessman Chris King. Morgan has said it’d be “easy” for him to self-finance a campaign—at least at first.

One reporter questioned his reported interest in investing in a medical marijuana dispensary, asking about criticisms that he’s just trying to “cash in.”

“I wake up every day in a 100-percent effort to make money, and lots of it,” he said. “I’m never going to apologize for that. I’m leaving here to fly to my office in Brooklyn to make money. I’ll leave Brooklyn and fly to Atlanta to make money. And I’m going to start an insurance company in Florida this year to make money. And I’m going to build a new attraction in Branson, Missouri, to make money.”

He’s not “Mother Teresa” or “Pope Francis,” he added.

Can you make money as governor? he was asked. “I don’t think you can,” he said.

So what’s the plan for a Morgan in the Governor’s Mansion?

“Some days, hot. Some days, cold,” he said, mentioning he’s heading to New Hampshire for vacation soon. “I’m going to think about it. Like when you wanted to ask somebody on a date, you kind of knew whether they were going to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ If I feel that way, maybe I will.

“I see no advantage in me announcing today or close to today,” he added. “I would hate to have to be holding coffee klatches or bullsh–ting people, telling everybody what they want to hear … and raising money.

“I have an advantage in that I (already) have name ID, for better or worse … I’m going to let the race take off, come all the way round, and I don’t have to make a decision until the horses are all coming down the stretch.”

John Morgan plays hero to the ’71 percenters’

“Compassionate capitalist” John Morgan came to Tallahassee Thursday morning, holding court for the cameras soon after he sued the state over not allowing medical marijuana to be smoked.

Pay no attention to the fact that Morgan had electronically filed his lawsuit an hour before: It was about speaking to and “for the people.”

“Today is a day that should not have been necessary,” he said outside the Leon County Courthouse. “The people of Florida knew exactly what they were voting on … the vast majority, if not 100 percent, knew that smoke was included.”

Morgan, the Orlando-based attorney and entrepreneur, backed the medical marijuana constitutional amendment that was OK’d by 71 percent of voters last year on the statewide ballot.

“I’m right, and 71 percent of the people of Florida know I’m right,” he said. He also plans to add more marijuana-using patients as plaintiffs, including people suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Lawmakers recently approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law an implementing bill (SB 8-A) for the amendment that does not allow medicinal marijuana to be smoked.

House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues, who sponsored the implementing bill during both the Regular Session and Special Session, has said “we don’t believe you smoke medicine.” Edibles and “vaping” are permitted, however.

““We believe that smoking causes as much harm as the benefits, particularly when we’re offering vaping, which provides all of the benefits and none of the harm,” he said last month.

Morgan slammed the Estero state representative, a budget manager at Florida Gulf Coast University, calling him a “bean counter.”

“Do the Ray Rodrigueses of the world know better than doctors?” Morgan said, shooing gnats from his face in Tallahassee’s 86-degree morning heat.

He also mentioned a conversation he had last year with a county sheriff, who was concerned about medicinal cannabis users lighting up in coffee shops.

“I’m like, ‘Dude, you can’t smoke cigarettes in Starbucks (as it is). What are you talking about?’ ” Morgan said.

He was on shakier footing when reporters asked why his amendment didn’t make clear that it contemplated allowing the smoking of medical marijuana. Morgan explained he included such language in an “intent statement,” but not in the text of the amendment.

The amendment says “(n)othing in this section shall require any accommodation of any on-site medical use of marijuana in any correctional institution or detention facility or place of education or employment, or of smoking medical marijuana in any public place.”

He analogized the situation to a pool sign that says, “No swimming without lifeguard on duty.” It’s implied that when there’s a lifeguard around, swimming is allowed, he said.

Right, but why not make it crystal clear? he was asked.

“It speaks for itself,” he said. “Now, if you can’t figure it out, I can’t help that.”

The full press availability can be viewed in a Periscope clip below:

John Morgan’s suit says smoking pot actually good for the lungs

Medical marijuana advocate John Morgan says cannabis smoking doesn’t “impair lung function” and even “increase(s) lung capacity,” as part of his lawsuit to be filed against the state Thursday.

Florida Politics on Wednesday night acquired a copy of the 15-page complaint that Morgan says he will file in Leon Circuit Civil court in Tallahassee—against which a leading House Republican has already said the state will prevail.

Morgan, the main backer of the marijuana amendment that passed last year, has said he would sue because lawmakers did not allow medicinal marijuana to be smoked. The named plaintiff, People United for Medical Marijuana, seeks a declaratory judgment allowing such cannabis to be lit and inhaled.

He cited a “study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2012” to back up his lung health claim, and added that “despite decades of marijuana being … smok(ed) in the United States, there have been no reported medical cases of lung cancer or emphysema attributed to marijuana.”

Lawmakers recently passed an implementing bill (SB 8-A) for the amendment that did not allow medicinal marijuana to be smoked. An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

“We believe we will win (a) lawsuit,” said House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues of Estero. He sponsored the House’s version of the implementing bill during both the Regular Session and Special Session this year.

Under the bill, edibles and “vaping” are allowed, but smoking is banned.

“We don’t believe you smoke medicine,” Rodrigues said last month. “We believe that smoking causes as much harm as the benefits, particularly when we’re offering vaping, which provides all of the benefits and none of the harm.”

But Morgan’s suit says the legislative intent of the bill clashes with voter intent expressed in the amendment. The medical cannabis constitutional amendment passed last year with just over 71 percent of statewide voters approving the measure.

For example, a doctor may determine that smoking marijuana gives a particular patient the best benefit of the drug.

By “redefining the constitutionally defined term ‘medical use’ to exclude smoking, the Legislature substitutes its medical judgment for that of a licensed Florida physician and is in direct conflict with the specifically articulated Constitutional process,” the suit says.

Moreover, since the amendment “does not require that the smoking of medical marijuana be allowed in public,” that means “that smoking medical marijuana in a private place in compliance with the provisions of the amendment is legal.”

Morgan wants a judge to fund that any provision banning smoking is “unenforceable,” and seeks reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.”

The suit names the state, the Department of Health, state Health Secretary and Surgeon General Celeste Philip, Office of Medical Marijuana Use Director Christian Bax, the state Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine, and their respective chairs, James Orr and Anna Hayden.

Morgan founded the Morgan & Morgan personal-injury law firm in Orlando. His smiling face is recognizable from ubiquitous billboards, television commercials and even bus advertisements across the state.

John Morgan gets ‘ready to rumble’ on no-smoke medical pot

Orlando attorney and entrepreneur John Morgan says he will make good on his threat to sue the state over this year’s implementation bill for medical marijuana because it doesn’t allow such cannabis to be smoked.

“Heading to Tally in the morning to file suit against the state on behalf of the citizens & patients of Florida!!” he tweeted Wednesday afternoon, adding the hashtag #NoSmokeIsAJoke.

He also included a GIF showing boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer and his trademarked catchphrase, “Let’s get ready to rumble!”

A press conference is planned between 9 and 9:30 a.m. outside the Leon County Courthouse, he added.

Morgan, the main backer of the marijuana amendment that passed last year, has said he would sue because lawmakers would not allow medicinal marijuana to be smoked.

“It was part of my amendment,” he said last month. The amendment refers to allowing cannabis to be smoked only indirectly, however.

It says in one section, for instance, the state can’t “require any accommodation of any on-site medical use of marijuana in any correctional institution or detention facility or place of education or employment, or of smoking medical marijuana in any public place.”

The amendment also uses the state law definition of marijuana that includes “every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant or its seeds or resin,” seeming to suggest smokeable cannabis is allowed. 

The 2017 Legislative Session ended without a bill to implement the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment. An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

Lawmakers wound up coming up with legislation during a later Special Session.

Gov. Rick Scott approved both a bill (SB 8-A) that implements the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment, passed by voters last year, and a companion measure (SB 6-A) that exempts caregivers’ personal information from public disclosure. Both went into effect immediately.

The medical cannabis constitutional amendment passed with just over 71 percent of statewide voters approving the measure.

Richard Corcoran’s net worth drops 27 percent

House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s net worth has fallen by more than 27 percent from last year, according to his latest financial disclosure.

His annual filing for 2016 was posted Wednesday on the Florida Commission on Ethics website.

Corcoran, an attorney and father of six children, reported a net worth of $341,750 as of Dec. 31, 2016—nearly $129,000 less than his 2015 reported worth of $470,640.

As assets for this year’s report, he listed his Land O’ Lakes residence, valued at roughly $500,000, and his house in Tallahassee, worth $365,000. He has $75,000 worth of unitemized “household goods and personal effects.”

Other assets include $40,000 in retirement savings and almost $5,000 in personal checking and savings.

He claimed $175,000 in income last year from the Broad and Cassel law firm, where he works “of counsel” as a commercial litigator, and $29,300 as a state lawmaker, his report says.

Corcoran, first elected in 2010, listed total liabilities of $643,608 to his hometown Regions Bank, which appear to be mortgages on both houses.

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