Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 175

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.

Smoke this: John Morgan adds plaintiffs to marijuana lawsuit

Medical marijuana advocate John Morgan has added three more plaintiffs to his lawsuit against the state, filed after lawmakers refused to allow marijuana to be smoked, according to court filings accessed Wednesday.

Diana Dodson of Levy County, a cancer patient; Catherine Jordan of Manatee County, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease; and Roberto Pickering of Leon County, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder; all qualify to use medicinal cannabis under a constitutional amendment passed last year.

Their names were added to the action this week. Also, Circuit Judge Karen Gievers allowed Morgan an extra 30 days to file an amended complaint in the case, first lodged in July by People United for Medical Marijuana, the political committee behind the amendment.

The suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the smoking ban runs counter to the amendment’s language.

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,” Rodrigues has said.

“The people of Florida knew exactly what they were voting on,” Morgan told reporters after he filed the suit in Tallahassee. “(T)he vast majority, if not 100 percent, knew that smoke was included … I’m right, and 71 percent of the people of Florida know I’m right.”

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

The lawsuit says the legislative intent of the bill clashes with voter intent expressed in the amendment. For example, a doctor may determine that smoking marijuana gives a particular patient the best benefit of the drug, Morgan said.

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 also has cited a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2012 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.”

The suit names as defendants 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.

Déjà vu: Richard Corcoran seeks repeal of public campaign financing

House Speaker and presumptive Republican candidate for governor Richard Corcoran, who declared war on “corporate welfare” last Legislative Session, now wants to end “welfare for politicians.”

On Wednesday, he asked the Constitution Revision Commission—of which he appointed nine of its 37 members—to consider an proposal to repeal a section of the state Constitution that provides for public financing of statewide political campaigns.

The Legislature, however, placed a similar amendment on the ballot for statewide approval in 2010. It flunked at the polls with 52 percent approval; amendments need 60 percent for adoption.

“Commissioners have received the letter and will consider it along with all other comments and proposals submitted to the commission,” CRC spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice told Florida Politics.

The money, which comes with provisos, comes out of the state’s general revenue, said Department of State spokeswoman Sarah Revell.

“This is a gross waste of taxpayer money and is nothing more than welfare for politicians,” Corcoran said in a statement. “All it does is protect the insider political class.

“You really have to be clueless or just plain selfish to accept money from our state coffers that could go to our schoolchildren, first responders, or be put back in the pockets of our taxpayers,” he added. “This proposal is simply about doing the right thing.”

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, is widely expected to run for governor. He opened a new political committee, Watchdog PAC, though he publicly has said he will remain Speaker through 2018 and will decide on his future plans after the next session. He’s term-limited in the House next year.

Corcoran’s office also provided links to information on past statewide candidates that have taken public financing, including Agriculture Commissioner and Republican candidate for governor Adam Putnam, who took $587,000 for his 2010 election and another $459,000 during his 2014 re-election.

Attorney General Pam Bondi took $432,000 in 2010 and $328,000 in 2014. Gov. Rick Scott took no public dollars to fund his 2010 or 2014 campaigns, records show.

Though the original intent of public financing was to “level the playing field,” as Corcoran and House Commerce Committee chair Jim Boyd, a Bradenton Republican, wrote in a letter to commissioners, instead it has been used “to subsidize statewide candidates, mostly incumbents, when they are facing weak opposition.

“Simply put: politicians benefit, voters do not,” they wrote. “Pollsters, media buyers, mail houses, and campaign consultants benefit while the people of Florida are left holding the bill.”

Maria Sachs accuser seeks to drop harassment case

An ex-aide to former state Sen. Maria Lorts Sachs has asked a federal court to drop his sexual harassment case against the Florida Senate.

Matthew Damsky’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss Tuesday, asking that each side pay for its own attorneys’ fees and costs. The Senate was named as the defendant because it was Damsky’s official employer.

The Senate’s outside counsel, Lisa Fountain of the Sniffen & Spellman firm, told attorney Marie Mattox that the chamber would “consent” to the request. As of Tuesday, the Senate’s cost to defend the case was $9,690.35, according to Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta.

Damsky, then 28, had first sued in Leon County Circuit Civil court last year on gender discrimination and retaliation charges. The 68-year-old Sachs, first elected to the Senate in 2010, declined to run for re-election last year. His case was later moved to federal court in Tallahassee.

He claimed that Sachs “exposed (him) to unwelcome sexual conduct” by frequently undressing in front of him. The Palm Beach County Democrat was known for her frequent wardrobe changes, particularly on long days of the legislative session.

But Mattox also had told the Senate’s lawyers, according to recent court filings, that her client “may dismiss the case due to difficulties with (his) criminal defense lawyer,” referring to “a criminal investigation involving Mr. Damsky.” Sachs had filed a criminal complaint into the unauthorized use of her personal credit card.

“The Court has rightly been asked to dismiss this bogus lawsuit against the Florida Senate that was a flimsy smokescreen created by Damsky to distract attention from his thieving criminal acts against Florida taxpayers and my family,” Sachs said in a statement provided to Florida Politics. “Nothing will eclipse the truth about those illegal acts as he faces justice, accountability, and deserved consequences.”

Damsky was let go in February 2016 when he objected to Sachs’s demands of doing her “grocery shopping, walking her dog, maintaining her relatives’ homes, and traveling cross country to assist” them, his suit says.

He says he also was “ordered” to perform work for her legal practice on Senate time, including “drafting legal pleadings,” according to his original complaint.

A complaint in a lawsuit tells one side of a story. The Senate has denied liability, citing sovereign immunity, the doctrine of “unclean hands,” and other defenses. 

Sachs previously “categorically denied” all of his allegations, telling Florida Politics last July she believed the lawsuit was an attempt to short circuit a criminal investigation. She said Damsky admitted to charging nearly $50,000 in plane tickets on her credit card without her knowledge, among other things. 

Court asks why it shouldn’t dismiss ‘pre-reveal’ appeal

An appellate court was on the verge of rejecting an appeal of a lower court’s decision that entertainment devices known as “pre-reveal” games are in fact illegal slot machines.

Dockets at the 1st District Court of Appeal show that Gator Coin IIthe Jacksonville company that distributes the games—was ordered to show “why this appeal should not be dismissed” because its filings weren’t in order.

An attorney for the company, Bryan E. DeMaggio, responded in a 21-page court filing—including exhibits—that lawyers “inadvertently neglected” to file a copy of Circuit Judge John Cooper‘s final order, filed on July 10.

DeMaggio further said they did not file the earlier order because it was “not … being appealed here.” He then attached a copy of Cooper’s final judgment. He said “the appeal should not be dismissed and the matter should be heard on the merits.”

Dockets accessed Friday show that the court has not yet acted on the filing. DeMaggio did not respond Friday to a request for comment.

Last month, Cooper reversed his previous ruling, saying he had “(gotten) it wrong the first time.”

In March, the judge issued a previous judgment that “pre-reveal” games weren’t slots because players had to “press a ‘preview’ button before a play button can be activated.” If the outcome of the game is known, it’s not a game of chance, he said then.

Cooper’s new order, in part, says that “to have a chance to receive an outcome other than what is currently displayed by the preview feature, the player must commit money to the machine to be privy to the next preview.” That “play pattern” is an “illegal gaming scheme designed to circumvent gambling prohibitions,” his order says.

Cooper changed his mind after a hearing in which Barry Richard, a lawyer for Seminole Tribe of Florida, told him the machines violate the Tribe’s exclusive right to offer slot machines outside South Florida, imperiling the state’s future cut of its gambling revenue by “multi-billions of dollars.”

But Cooper said his reversal was “not based upon whether (the Tribe) likes the (original) ruling or dislikes the ruling,” but by further evidence on how the pre-reveal, or “no chance,” games—as its maker prefers to call them—actually play.

The case got started, records show, when Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) agents found one of the games in a Jacksonville sports bar and told the proprietor the machine was an “illegal gambling device.”

Clock ticks toward deadline to resolve Lottery lawsuit

An Aug. 31 deadline looms for the House of Representatives and Florida Lottery to turn in a “status report” on their efforts to settle a lawsuit over a $700 million contract for new equipment.

House spokesman Fred Piccolo on Friday said there had been no resolution, and that “negotiations continue.” Barry Richard, outside counsel for the Lottery, only said the case was still on hold.

The 1st District Court of Appeal last month agreed to suspend the case while the sides work out their differences. “If the case has not been dismissed” by then, the parties have to report by the end of the month whether they see a “need for any further proceedings,” a docket order says.

In March, Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge Karen Gievers invalidated the Lottery’s 15-year deal with IGT (International Game Technology) for new equipment for draw and scratch-off tickets. It also provides for in-store signage, self-service ticket checkers and upgraded security in the communications network.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran had sued, essentially saying the agency went on an illegal spending spree when it inked the contract last year.

Gievers agreed with House general counsel Adam Tanenbaum, who had said the agreement broke state law by going “beyond (the Lottery’s) existing budget limitations.”

Because then-Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie “lacked the legal authority to enter into the IGT contract, (it) must, therefore, be found to be void and unenforceable,” Gievers wrote.

Delacenserie later left to head the Kentucky Lottery, and the department is now led by former Department of Economic Opportunity chief of staff Jim Poppell. Meantime, the Lottery appealed.

Gievers had faulted the agency for, among other things, not first seeking the Legislature’s permission to enter into a deal that committed the state to as much as two decades’ worth of funding.

Rick Scott: Florida unemployment down to 4.1 percent

Gov. Rick Scott announced the creation of more than 26,000 private-sector jobs in July, with the unemployment rate remaining at “the lowest rate in a decade, 4.1 percent.”

“Over the past six and a half years, we have worked relentlessly to cut taxes, reduce burdensome regulations and completely turn around Florida’s economy,” Scott said in a statement. “Our goal was to create 700,000 jobs in seven years and while we were proud to reach that ambitious goal three years early, we did not slow down.

“I am proud to announce today that after cutting taxes more than 75 times, Florida businesses have created more than 1.4 million new jobs, officially doubling our promise to create 700,000 jobs in seven years.”

Scott, who released the latest jobs numbers at Morgan Auto Group’s Brandon Honda location, also plugged his latest priority: A constitutional amendment “to require a supermajority vote by future state legislatures to raise any taxes or fees.”

“Together, we can make sure future generations are not burdened with unfair taxes and that our state remains a national leader in job creation and opportunity,” Scott said.

 

Andrew Gillum: Get rid of Capitol’s Confederate memorial

Ed. Note — This story, originally published Wednesday, was updated Thursday night.


Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Gillum has called for the removal of a Confederate monument in front of the Historic Capitol.

“In the wake of Charlottesville, people all around the country are grappling with how we deal with our nation’s history and its uglier elements, including slavery, racism and the Confederacy,” he said in a Wednesday statement.

“Floridians must be a part of this work because our own history is checkered, and today I am calling on Gov. Rick Scott to immediately remove the Confederate monument … It is long past time. If he refuses, and I sincerely hope that he does act, I will do so on my first day as Governor.”

But a spokeswoman for the Department of Management Services, which reports to Scott and acts as the state’s real estate manager, said it’s not the governor’s decision to make.

“This monument is listed as a permanent exhibit of the Florida Historic Capitol Museum, which is managed by the Florida Legislature,” spokeswoman Maggie Mickler said late Thursday. “The Department of Management Services would not take any action regarding the Florida Historic Capitol Museum or any of its monuments or exhibits without Legislative approval.”

Records show the memorial was dedicated in 1882, and was moved to its current location near Monroe Street in 1923. It honors “the heroic patriotism of the men of Leon County who perished in the Civil War….”

“We owe it to our children and grandchildren to acknowledge that while we cannot change history, we do not have to glorify its ugliest moments with displays on public lands,” Gillum added. “And most certainly not in our state’s capital, and not in front of our historic statehouse. This weekend’s tragedy calls all decent people to act with courage, and I hope the Governor will do so.”

The Florida Senate has already removed a Confederate flag from its official seal and took down a mural outside the entrance to its public and press galleries that included a depiction of a Confederate general.

But with lawmakers taking no action last session, a bronze statue of a Confederate general representing Florida remains in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.

Two competing bills died in the 2017 Legislative Session. One called for a likeness of educator and civil-rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune to replace the statue of Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. Another proposed a statue of environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of “The Everglades: River of Grass,” to take Smith’s place.

Art Graham, Ronald Brisé win nominations to be returned to PSC

Art Graham and Ronald Brisé on Thursday won nominations to be returned to their seats on the Public Service Commission, which regulates investor-owned utilities in the state.

If selected, both men would serve third terms; each was first appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010.

The Public Service Commission Nominating Council also decided on six people to fill the unexpired term of former Commissioner Jimmy Patronis, who stepped down to replace Jeff Atwater as state Chief Financial Officer. Patronis’ term is up at the end of 2018. Those candidates are:

— Bill Conrad, former mayor of Newberry in Alachua County.

— Associate Public Counsel Erik Sayler. The Office of Public Counsel represents the interests of ratepayers before the commission.

— Ted Schrader, a former Pasco County commissioner and Tampa Bay Water board member.

Rich Glorioso, a Plant City Republican and retired U.S. Air Force colonel, who served in the House 2004-2012.

Gary Clark, the Department of Environmental Protection’s deputy secretary for land and recreation.

— Ritch Workman, a former state representative. The Melbourne Republican lost a bruising primary battle last year to fellow GOP Rep. Debbie Mayfield for Senate District 17.

The council also recommended another four for Graham’s and Brisé’s seats; their terms are up at year’s end. Those candidates include Conrad and:

— Former state Rep. Kenneth Littlefield, a Pasco County Republican who once chaired the House Utilities & Telecommunications Committee. Littlefield is a former PSC member himself, having been put on the commission by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2006. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist replaced him the following year.

— Anibal Taboas, an Illinois-based consultant and former U.S. Department of Energy official.

— Jody Ann Newman, who chairs the Florida Board of Nursing.

Taboas and Newman won their nominations in a runoff vote, after initially not capturing the required seven votes.

Losing candidates include Greg Evers, a Baker Republican who left the Senate to run last year for northwest Florida’s Congressional seat, losing to Matt Gaetz; and current state Rep. Tom Goodson, a Brevard County Republican who chairs the House Agriculture and Property Rights subcommittee and is term-limited next year.

Another noteworthy applicant, former state Comptroller and retired Marine general Bob Milligan, was shut out early in the process, receiving no votes to move forward when the council met in Tampa last week.

The council will forward its recommendations to Gov. Rick Scott, who will decide on the appointments, subject to final approval by the Florida Senate.

Senate demands information in harassment lawsuit against Maria Sachs

A federal judge has given an ex-aide to former state Sen. Maria Lorts Sachs till next Tuesday to explain why he shouldn’t provide information in his still-pending sexual harassment case.

Matthew Damsky, then 28, had sued the Florida Senate in Leon County Circuit Civil court last year on gender discrimination and retaliation charges. The 68-year-old Sachs, first elected to the Senate in 2010, declined to run for re-election last year.

Damsky, whose case was later moved to federal court in Tallahassee, claimed that she “exposed (him) to unwelcome sexual conduct” by frequently undressing in front of him. The Palm Beach County Democrat was known for her frequent wardrobe changes, particularly on long days of the legislative session.

The Senate this week filed a motion to compel discovery, the gathering of information in preparation for a possible trial, saying Damsky was nearly a month late and has “no(t) produced a single document.” It has denied liability, citing sovereign immunity, the doctrine of “unclean hands,” and other defenses. 

His attorney, Tallahassee’s Marie Mattox, had told the Senate’s lawyers her client “may dismiss the case due to difficulties with (his) criminal defense lawyer,” referring to “a criminal investigation involving Mr. Damsky.” That was not explained in a court filing, but Sachs had filed a criminal complaint into the unauthorized use of her personal credit card. 

“The Senate is under no obligation to lie in wait indefinitely for Plaintiff to act,” said its filing by Sniffen & Spellman, the chamber’s outside counsel. “Therefore, given the looming discovery deadline and Plaintiff’s counsel failure to provide any assurances her client will either respond to discovery or be produced for deposition, the Senate has no option but to move to compel.”

Mattox said she could not comment at length, but told Florida Politics she plans to file a stay of proceedings on the civil case until the criminal matter can be resolved.

Records also show the case had been referred to mediation, with a report due to Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle by Dec. 8. If the sides can’t resolve their differences, a jury trial is set to begin Feb. 20.

Damsky was let go in February 2016 when he objected to Sachs’s demands of doing her “grocery shopping, walking her dog, maintaining her relatives’ homes, and traveling cross country to assist” them, his suit says. He says he also was “ordered” to perform work for her legal practice on Senate time, including “drafting legal pleadings.”

Sachs has “categorically denied” all of his allegations, telling Florida Politics last July she believed the lawsuit was an attempt to short circuit the criminal investigation. She said Damsky admitted to charging nearly $50,000 in plane tickets on Sachs’ credit card without her knowledge, among other things.

The cost to the Senate to defend the case in court was not immediately available.

Rick Scott, Cabinet members OK Venezuela investment ban

With no discussion, Gov. Rick Scott and members of the Florida Cabinet Wednesday approved a policy to forbid any investments benefiting the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela.

Scott, state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Attorney General Pam Bondi sit as Trustees of the State Board of Administration, which oversees state investments.

The state currently has no investments that involve Venezuela, Ash Williams, the SBA’s executive director & chief investment officer, told reporters.

Scott, widely expected to run for U.S. Senate next year, has championed opposition to President Maduro, calling out the government for placing opposition leader Leopoldo López under house arrest after he was released from prison following a 3-year sentence for leading anti-government protests.

“It’s disgusting what’s happening down there,” Scott said Tuesday. “Maduro needs to step down; he needs to release all political prisoners; we need democracy again.”

The policy bans any investments by the state’s $193 billion pension plan that would benefit the government of Venezuela, including “any securities issued by the government of Venezuela or any company that is majority-owned by the government of Venezuela.”

It will last “until such time as the SBA determines it is otherwise prudent to do so,” it says. Legislation (SB 70) also has been filed for the 2018 Session that would ban the state from doing business with the Maduro government or companies financially tied to it, including Goldman Sachs.

Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, the Miami-Dade Democrat who filed the bill, released a statement later Wednesday that, as of June, “the SBA holds 687,581 shares of Goldman Sachs stock worth $147,135,458 and $171,071,885 in Goldman Sachs bonds/paper and the SBA has several agreements with Goldman Sachs to manage funds.”

“The people of Venezuela need us to side with them not just in word, but also in deed,” Rodríguez said in the statement. “I welcome the SBA’s initial step and look forward to continuing to work with them on taking concrete steps to support the Venezuelan people during a deepening political and economic crisis of Maduro’s making.”

Williams said the pension plan is roughly 85 percent funded; the “unfunded liability” is the difference between the money it has and the money it needs to cover current and expected future payouts.

But financial experts generally call pension plans healthy if they’re at least 80 percent funded. That’s because employees retire at different times, making a virtual ‘run on the bank’ unlikely.

The latest guidance will be incorporated into the state’s Investment Policy Statement, Williams added. “It doesn’t have to be there, but we think it’s better that it be there,” he said.

“I think what we have done today, based on an analysis of the facts, the law and our fiduciary obligations, is completely appropriate,” Williams told reporters.

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