Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 187

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.

Business interests lambaste environmental amendment

Business interests brought out a panoply of former state officials, judges and others Tuesday to heap criticism on a proposed state constitutional amendment to expand the right to bring environmental-related lawsuits.

But one environmental advocate countered there was no potential for a “parade of horribles” to come out of the amendment.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida opposes the proposal (P23), which was not formally considered Tuesday by the Judicial Committee of the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC). The committee did, however, hear “presentations on environmental rights.”

Commissioner Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, a CRC appointee of Senate President Joe Negron, filed the language. Both are from Martin County.

It says that “the natural resources of the state are the legacy of present and future generations. Every person has a right to a clean and healthful environment, including clean air and water; control of pollution; and the conservation and restoration of the natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic values of the environment as provided by law.”

The last sentence causes the greatest heartburn: “Any person may enforce this right against any party, public or private, subject to reasonable limitations, as provided by law.” Critics say this will open the floodgates to litigation.

A right to sue over environmental claims is already robust, said Ryan Matthews, a lobbyist and former interim secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP): “I can assure you we were sued multiple times when I was at DEP.”

Former state department head and appellate judge Simone Marstiller said the proposal’s language is “vague and ambiguous.”

Courts often are called on to divine meaning in laws, but most “constitutional principles have history,” added Marstiller, now with the Gunster law firm. These don’t, she suggested.

Former state Supreme Court Justice Ken Bell, also with Gunster, piled on. He said the state’s governing document “should not give such broad rights to just anybody.”

Judges and lawmakers ultimately answer to the people, he said. “Somebody who chooses to file suit under this right has no accountability,” he told the committee.

But Aliki Moncrief, the executive director of Florida Conservation Voters, told commissioners “we all want and expect a clean environment … I don’t see the parade of horribles articulated today.”

Moncrief, a former DEP lawyer, went on to call the proposed amendment “a slight course correction.” When Commissioner Arthenia Joyner noted there’s already a right to sue in the state’s Environmental Protection Act, Moncrief said that right has been “chipped away.”

Tom Lee’s proposal to augment CFO duties dies in committee

A review panel has killed a proposed constitutional amendment that would have added financial oversight duties to the state’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO).

The proposal (P68), filed by Commissioner Tom Lee, died on a tie vote in the Constitution Revision Commission‘s Executive Committee on Tuesday as some panel members raised fiscal and legal questions. A parliamentary attempt by Commissioner Don Gaetz to revive the measure later failed.

But Lee, a Republican state senator from Thonotosassa, said he next plans to take his proposal to the full Commission for consideration.

He previously has said he also intends to run for CFO in 2018; former state Rep. and later Public Service Commissioner Jimmy Patronis was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to fill the rest of then-CFO Jeff Atwater‘s term after he left for a university job.

His amendment, in part a response to a recent lawsuit by House Speaker Richard Corcoran against the Florida Lottery, would have required the CFO “to review and certify contracts … if the contract requires payment of more than $10 million,” a staff analysis said.

Corcoran’s suit alleges that the Lottery went on an illegal spending spree last year when it inked a 15-year, $700 million contract with IGT (International Game Technology) for new equipment for draw and scratch-off tickets. Corcoran won at trial, and the Lottery appealed; both sides now are seeking a settlement.

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, appointed Lee to the commission.

“You have an obvious problem in state government in that there’s a lack of accountability, checks and balances, internal controls,” Lee told Florida Politics after the committee meeting. “Government has an opportunity to run like a business … yet given an opportunity, we don’t avail ourselves of it.

“I was really disappointed that the basis for voting down the proposal … (included) matters that could have been addressed” by the time the measure reached its next committee, he added.

One problem raised by staff was an increase in costs to the CFO “due to additional staff required to perform contract review.”

Another raised a separation of powers concern. Allowing the CFO to essentially veto contracts could trigger vendor challenges in courts, which might “determine that the (language) does not provide legislative standards or thresholds specifying the CFO’s obligations.”

Attorney General Pam Bondi, also a commission member, voted for the proposal but warned Lee she had “concerns” over the “potential constitutional issues.” Other commissioners voted no, saying they agreed with Bondi.

The CFO’s office was itself created by the 1997-98 Constitution Revision Commission, which shrank the Florida Cabinet from six members to three: An Attorney General, a Chief Financial Officer, and an Agriculture Commissioner. It merged the Cabinet offices of Treasurer and Comptroller into a then-new CFO.

BOOZE BILL

Drinking, advertising—and ‘extortion’? Beer bill back for 2018

Legislation that critics said would allow theme parks to “extort” advertising dollars from beer companies has been re-filed for the 2018 Legislative Session.

The bills (HB 775, SB 822), filed by Republicans Rep. Mike La Rosa of St. Cloud and Sen. Travis Hutson of Elkton, generally would allow “cooperative” advertising in theme parks.

Hutson, chair of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, sponsored the language in the previous Session. At the time, he said Florida would be the fifth state to allow beer ads in theme parks if the measures passed. He didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Both bills now include this language: “Within 10 days after the execution of such agreement, the vendor files with the (state) a description of the agreement which includes the location, dates, and the name of the manufacturer or importer that entered into the agreement.”

Last year’s measures grew contentious, however, when beer industry representatives started privately complaining of fears they’d be “extorted by the theme parks.”

Lobbyists for MillerCoors; the Beer Industry of Florida, the association of Florida’s MillerCoors distributors; and the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, which represents Anheuser-Busch distributors; all opposed it in various committee hearings.

“We are opposed to continued alcohol deregulation and we believe the tide of public opinion is shifting toward a more conservative approach,” said Eric Criss, president of the Beer Industry of Florida, in an email last week.

The legislation, by allowing ads, could include a beer company sponsoring a concert or festival within a park.

“We kind of see a situation where (the parks) say, ‘We do such-and-such theme night, but now we’d like you to pay’ ” to sponsor it, said one person, who asked not to be named, earlier this year. “… We all feel like we’ll be put over a barrel.”

Another person who works in the state’s craft beer industry raised a concern that “the biggest players will come in and write the biggest checks.”

“So when you sit down in a park to order a beer, you’ll look up, see the signage, point to it and tell your waiter, ‘I guess I’ll just have one of those.’ ”

Doug Holder agrees to settle ethics case

Former state Rep. Doug Holder will pay $6,500 in civil penalties to resolve an ethics complaint that he filed “inaccurate” financial disclosures in 2010-14.

The Sarasota County Republican agreed to the settlement, which was disclosed by the Florida Commission on Ethics on Wednesday. The deal still must be approved by commissioners at their Dec. 8 meeting.

Holder, 50, served in the House 2006-14 and ran unsuccessfully in 2016 to succeed GOP state Sen. Nancy Detert, losing to fellow Republican Greg Steube. Holder is now a lobbyist.

He admitted to filing inaccurate financial disclosures and later filed corrected disclosures, according to the filing. Holder also “acknowledged a $20,000 loan” he had failed to report as a liability.

The complaint was filed last year after the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and others raised questions about Holder’s disclosure forms.

In part, “during his 2015 divorce, Holder listed among his debts five ‘unsecured promissory’ notes totaling $212,000 owed to his father that never were included on his financial disclosures,” the paper reported.

Jay Fant says he’ll create new position to handle harassment

State Rep. Jay Fant, a Jacksonville Republican running for state Attorney General in 2018, says he will create a “Confidential Investigator and Ethics Officer” to deal with sexual harassment complaints if elected.

Fant tweeted the plan on Wednesday.

The new position would meet “confidentially” with those who claim harassment by a “public official.”

Any information developed would be referred to law enforcement or the Florida Commission on Ethics, he said.

Fant also tweeted a link to a POLITICO Florida story on House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s call for “Congress to stop doling out payments for sexual harassment settlements.”

“I ask you to please bring a swift end to this perverse hush fund — it is not only the right thing to do, but it is also a needed step toward regaining the trust of the taxpayer,” Corcoran wrote in a letter to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan.

For now, Fant will face fellow state Reps. Frank White of Pensacola and Ross Spano of Dover, and former Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Ashley Moody in the Republican primary.

Tampa lawyer Ryan Torrens is the lone Democrat in the race.

Lori Berman resigns from House—but not leaving till April

Rep. Lori Berman, a Lantana Democrat, has turned in her resignation letter from the House of Representatives, but it won’t become effective till “11:59 p.m. on April 9.”

Berman, first elected to the House in 2010, is running in the special election for Senate District 31 to succeed Democrat Jeff Clemens, who resigned after his extramarital affair with a lobbyist was made public.

The special primary election will be held Jan. 30, with a special general election on April 10. The state’s “resign to run” law requires elected officials to quit the office they currently hold if the term of another state office they seek overlaps.

Former state Rep. Irv Slosberg has said he too will run for the open Senate seat. Other Democrats who have expressed an interest in the seat include state Rep. David Silvers and Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein.

The winner of the special election would serve the remainder of the term Clemens’ won last year, which runs through Election Day 2020.

Rob Bradley offers glimmer of hope for fracking ban

A top senator is leaving open the possibility that a proposed ban on ‘fracking’ in Florida will be considered in the 2018 Legislative Session.

Bradley

Rob Bradley, the Fleming Island Republican who recently was named chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, also leads the chamber’s Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee.

That’s the first committee of reference for Sen. Dana Young’s bill (SB 462) to prohibit hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the controversial drilling technique that involves shooting water and chemicals deep underground.

That breaks up rock to get at oil and natural gas that’s unreachable by conventional drilling, but critics say it can potentially damage subterranean drinking water supplies.

This is the second year Young, a Tampa Republican, has run a fracking ban. Similar legislation died in the House last Session. And this upcoming Session’s Senate measure has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

When asked whether he would hear the bill, Bradley on Tuesday offered a terse text-message response: “No final decisions have been made on future agendas.”

But that was enough to steel Young as to her bill’s chances.

Young

“My good friend Sen. Bradley has just moved into a major role as Appropriations Chair, and I want to give him all the time and flexibility he needs to consider the bills on his environmental policy agenda,” she told Florida Politics.

“I am pleased that Sen. Bradley supported the bill last year in committee and I’m hopeful that he will place it on his agenda in the near future,” she added.

An identical companion (HB 237), sponsored by Republican state Rep. Kathleen Peters of Treasure Island, also has been assigned to committees but not heard.

“The oil and gas industry has been misleading the public and our lawmakers for decades about the safety of their equipment and infrastructure,” said Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters, in a statement.

“Now they want to bring fracking to Florida. And they are making the same impossible promises,” she added. “But the Legislature has a choice this year. They can ban fracking now, or they can wait until after a spill. With more than 90 percent of Floridians getting their drinking water from underground aquifers, the choice shouldn’t be this difficult.”

State to medical marijuana company: Stop selling ‘vaping’ devices

State regulators have told a South Florida medical marijuana provider to quit selling “unapproved” vaping devices.

The Department of Health‘s Office of Medical Marijuana Use sent a “cease and desist” letter Monday to Curaleaf of Miami.

It also tells the company to stop “running unapproved advertisements encouraging (its) product to be used in a manner inconsistent” with state law.

Florida bans medical marijuana from being smoked, but does allow vaporizing, or “vaping.” Patients can use battery-powered devices that heat cannabis, allowing the user to inhale the vapor produced.

The state told Curaleaf, formerly called Costa Nurseries, that it had not yet OK’d its brand of vaporizer.

Curaleaf is what’s known in Florida as a medical marijuana treatment center, or MMTC, a vertically-integrated operation that combines growing, processing and retail sales of medicinal cannabis. 

Regulators also cited Curaleaf for “post(ing) an advertisement to its Facebook account (this month) displaying an open herb cartridge with the contents visible.”

“Not only was the Facebook advertisement detailed above not approved, it clearly encourages an improper use of the product,” the letter said.

“Licensed MMTCs have a responsibility to ensure their product is not one that could be easily transitioned into a smokable use.” The Facebook ad “must be removed immediately.”

Failure to comply “will result in a $1,000 fine to $10,000 fine per violation,” the letter adds, with further penalties including the loss of Curaleaf’s MMTC license.

The state gave Curaleaf 24 hours to respond in writing. A company representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. 

In a related matterTrulieve this month filed a petition with the department, accusing the agency of dragging its feet on allowing that company to once again sell its own vaping devices after a similar cease and desist letter.

Trulieve says it’s been waiting since July for approval to offer ceramic vaporizer cups filled with ground marijuana flower.

Updated Wednesday, Nov. 29 — Curaleaf has since taken issue with our original story, issuing this response:

“The specific device that was called out is not a ‘vape pen.’ The device is a vaporizer used for vaping a dry herb product. Vape pens … typically refer to vaporizers for oil. Curaleaf is currently authorized to sell vape pens for vape oil.”

Vape ’em if you got ’em, Trulieve says

A medical marijuana provider is accusing the Department of Health of dragging its feet on allowing the company to once again sell ‘vaping’ devices.

Trulieve this month filed a petition for declaratory statement with the department, which regulates medicinal cannabis through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

In May, the department told Trulieve to stop selling wire-mesh vape cups filled with whole flower marijuana because they could be too easily opened to get at the product inside.

Regulators were concerned the marijuana would then be smoked, not vaped—short for vaporized. State law allows medical marijuana edibles and vaping, but not smoking.

The petition explains the difference, below:

In its latest filing, Trulieve said it asked regulators this July for approval to sell ceramic vaporizer cups filled with ground marijuana flower. The department “did not act on the application within the time allowed … thus (it is) approved by default,” its petition says.

A second application to approve a different vaporizer device is similarly being sat on, and the Health Department “informally declined to recognize” the default OK of the first application under state law, according to the petition.

The department “has no basis to further delay or deny” its official approval of the vaping equipment, Trulieve says.

In 2014, lawmakers passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a measure legalizing low-THC, or “non-euphoric,” marijuana to help children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. THC is the chemical that causes the high from pot.

Two years later, voters approved a state constitutional amendment allowing medicinal cannabis. Lawmakers this year approved and Scott also signed an implementing bill, which gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

Orlando attorney and medical marijuana advocate John Morgan, the main backer of the amendment, is suing the state to allow patients prescribed marijuana to smoke it.

Rick Scott moves to throw Barbara Pariente off judicial appointments case

Gov. Rick Scott is moving to remove Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente from a legal challenge to his judicial appointment power, saying she’s biased against him.

Daniel Nordby, Scott’s general counsel, filed a motion for disqualification Monday.

Scott’s decision follows Pariente “making disparaging remarks after the conclusion of the oral argument in this case on November 1, 2017 which were captured on a live microphone and widely reported on,” the Governor’s Office said in a statement.

The motion also refers to statements made by Pariente while campaigning for retention in 2012, “A vote ‘yes’ will be a vote to retain me and the other two justices … A vote ‘no’ will give Gov. Scott the right to make his appointments, which will result in partisan political appointments.”

“Gov. Scott strongly believes that all Floridians deserve judges that are impartial, fair and non-partisan,” Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis said.

“Justice Pariente’s past remarks cast grave doubt on her ability to take an objective and unbiased position when evaluating Gov. Scott’s authority in this case. She must be disqualified to ensure a fair decision.”

Pariente and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga had been caught on a ‘hot mic’ immediately after a Nov. 1 oral argument in a case over Gov. Rick Scott’s judicial appointment power.

Progressive groups claim Scott doesn’t have authority to appoint three new Supreme Court justices on the last day of his term. The openings are caused by the mandatory retirements for the court’s liberal-leaning trio of Justices R. Fred Lewis, Pariente and Peggy A. Quince.

The Governor’s Office had filed a records request for a piece of paper on the bench to which Pariente and Labarga were ostensibly referring during their exchange. That document turned out to be the current membership list of the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commissionwhich happens to include Nordby.

Moments after the argument ended, Labarga can first be heard on a recording from the courtroom saying what sounds like, “…anything on there, Panuccio.” Jesse Panuccio, once Scott’s general counsel and a former head of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, is a member of the Supreme Court JNC.

Pariente then can be heard saying what sounds like “crazy.” Nordby said that was “an apparent reference either to Gov. Scott or to (his) appointees to the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission—the constitutional body that will be responsible for nominating her successor.”

That’s followed by Labarga: “Izzy Reyes is on there, he’ll listen to me.” JNC member Israel U. Reyes is founder of The Reyes Law Firm in Coral Gables and a former circuit judge. He’s also one of four members nominated to the nine-member commission by The Florida Bar; the others are appointed by the governor.

When previously asked if he might pursue recusals of Labarga and Pariente from his case, Scott has said, “I think we have to find out. Let’s put the facts on the table. Then we can make a decision of how we should go forward.”

Nordby’s filing says Pariente’s comments, combined with her previous public statements, “provide a reasonable basis to question her impartiality … Scott is reasonably in doubt that this case will not be decided fairly.”

Pariente, Labarga and court spokesman Craig Waters have not commented publicly on the matter.

*                              *                              *

Updated Wednesday – Kendra Arnold, executive director of the conservative Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), issued a statement that her group supports Scott’s motion.

It filed a public records request for Pariente’s and Labarga’s emails over what it calls “the justices’ overt political bias.”

“In a verbal attack on one of Scott’s appointees to the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission, as well as making other past politically biased comments, she has shown herself to be clearly unfit to hear this case objectively,” Arnold said.

“Justice Pariente may not like Gov. Scott or his politics, but a justice’s No. 1 job is to be just, not political. In fact, judicial ethics rules clearly state that any personal bias or prejudice shown by a justice toward a given party is grounds for recusal.”

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