Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 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.

Appellate court calls out ‘abuse of discretion’ in medical marijuana case

An appellate court delivered the equivalent of a judicial smackdown Tuesday following its decision last month to reinstate a delay on the effect of a lower court’s ruling that medical marijuana can be smoked in Florida.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal (DCA) issued a 5-page order calling Circuit Judge Karen Gievers‘ ruling to allow patients to smoke pending appeal “an abuse of discretion.”

The state’s appeal after Gievers’ decision had placed an automatic stay, or hold, on the ruling pending review.

Gievers lifted that stay. She found that the ban – written into state law – violates the constitutional amendment on medicinal cannabis, passed by 71 percent of voters in 2016.

But the appellate judges said the smoking plaintiffs “have not shown that compelling circumstances exist to support the order vacating the stay in this appeal,” nor have they “sufficiently demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits.”

That also counters Gievers, who previously said “there is no likelihood of success” by the state on appeal.

The 1st DCA left the door open, however, saying in a footnote that Tuesday’s move “do(es) not intend to preclude full review of the issues on appeal.”

John Morgan – the Orlando attorney, entrepreneur and medical marijuana advocate behind the 2016 amendment – organized the smoking ban lawsuit. Smoking was outlawed by lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott in an implementing bill approved last year.

The plaintiffs include Cathy Jordan, a woman with Lou Gehrig’s disease who has testified she wouldn’t be alive but for smoking marijuana.

The suit is against the Department of Health, which regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

Morgan has called on Republican Gov. Rick Scott, now running for U.S. Senate, to drop further court challenges of Gievers’ ruling.

And he has since said he’s “going to look at starting a fund” toward an initiative to legalize marijuana, including recreational use, on the 2020 ballot.

Attorneys in the smoking case and in a separate case brought by Joe Redner — the Tampa strip club mogul who won a decision allowing him to grow and juice his own medical marijuana — had asked the state’s Supreme Court to take over the appeals. Those requests were denied.

“This is not surprising and why it should go to the Supreme Court now,” Morgan tweeted in response to the latest ruling. “It’s not a matter of if but when. So why waste taxpayers money. Vacating a stay is impossible. This issue will haunt @FLGovScott in November when his ‘stay’ will be over!”

Tuesday’s order was by a unanimous three-judge panel of Joseph Lewis Jr., Lori S. Rowe, and M. Kemmerly Thomas.

Legal battle over racing-dog videos stays heated

Supporters of a constitutional ban on betting on greyhound racing have fired back with their own letter after ban opponents served a cease and desist letter on the group.

The upshot: The Committee to Protect Dogs on Friday said the videos – made by artist Jeff Sonksen – used in an online ad by the Protect Dogs — Yes on 13 campaign aren’t copyrighted. And even if they are, they fall under what’s called the “fair use” exception. 

Amendment 13, placed on the November statewide ballot by the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission, would outlaw betting on dog races in Florida beginning in 2021.

Greyhound owners and breeders, who oppose the ban, have challenged the proposed amendment in court; a trial is set for next month in Tallahassee. Proposed amendments need at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

The committee was responding to a letter sent earlier this week by the Committee to Support Greyhounds, which opposes the ban, on behalf of Sonksen. It said Sonksen’s work was used and altered without his permission, asking the campaign to take down the ad.

Nope, said Leonard Collins, the Broad and Cassel lawyer representing the dog-racing ban proponents.

Sonksen “owns no such copyright and a search of the public catalog of copyrighted material reveals that neither Mr. Sonksen nor Paint the Trail (his company) have secured any copyrights whatsoever,” he wrote.

The U.S. Copyright Office says that “in general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created.” But authors and artists have to register if they “wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work.”

“While Mr. Sonksen’s videos are not copyrighted, even if they were, … there are limitations on exclusive rights, in this instance for the use of copyrighted video, for fair use under certain circumstances,” Collins wrote.

Fair use “is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and ‘transformative’ purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work,” said Rich Stim, a lawyer writing on Stanford University Libraries’ Copyright & Fair Use blog.

“Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner,” Stim wrote. “In other words, fair use is a defense against a claim of copyright infringement.”

The committee “noticed that these videos depict the cruel conditions that greyhounds suffer at race tracks in Florida,” Collins wrote. “Indeed, people should see these videos and judge for themselves as whether these conditions are inhumane.

“In our view, the videos that you referenced in the Cease and Desist Notice (do) not reflect any improper conduct,” he added.

“To the contrary, these actions are well in line with political campaigns around the country. While we understand your client’s frustration, as the release of these videos was clearly an unforced error, the committee’s actions have been entirely professional and in line with state and federal law.”

The amendment would allow other gambling at tracks, such as card games, to continue even after dog racing ends. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 12 tracks.

Jennifer Newcome, chairman of the Committee to Support Greyhounds, had said her group was “happy to support Mr. Sonksen’s measures to get justice not only for himself, but also for all of the greyhounds.”

Alex Sink endorses Nikki Fried for Ag. Commissioner

Alex Sink, “the last Democratic member of the Florida Cabinet,” has endorsed Democrat Nikki Fried to be the next Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Sink, of Thonotosassa, was the state’s chief financial officer 2007-11. She ran for governor in 2010 and lost narrowly to current incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

“I trust Nikki Fried to steer this state in the right direction,” Sink said in a Friday email. “I am certain that she will do what’s right for all Floridians and that’s why I’m endorsing her … We need her to protect our civil rights and preserve public lands.”

Fried, a lawyer and lobbyist specializing in medical marijuana clients, filed to run for Agriculture Commissioner this month after flirting with a run for governor.

She so far has focused on gun control and – unsurprisingly – easing access to medicinal cannabis.

Sink’s 50-second endorsement video on YouTube is below.

Lawsuit over dog-racing ban heads to court

A group that supports a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit betting on greyhound racing won’t be allowed to enter a case against the ban, a Tallahassee judge ruled Friday.

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers denied a motion to intervene from the Committee to Protect Dogs, but said it could file a friend-of-the-court brief, as can the Animal Law Section of The Florida Bar

Amendment 13, put on the November ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), aims at ending commercial dog racing in the state. In Florida, 12 tracks still conduct live dog racing.

The suit, brought by the Florida Greyhound Association, named the Department of State as a defendant. Its secretary, Ken Detzner, is the state’s chief elections officer. 

Among other claims, the complaint says the ballot title and summary “ … fail to inform voters that its passage would essentially expand gambling by allowing pari-mutuel facilities in Florida to convert to mini-casinos.” The amendment would allow other gambling activities such as card games to continue at tracks after betting on dog racing ends.

Major B. Harding, a former Florida Supreme Court justice now with Tallahassee’s Ausley McMullen law firm, represents the greyhound association. He told Gievers the controversy is over the ballot title and summary, not whether greyhound racing is wrong.

The committee does not have standing to challenge the amendment in this case, he said, adding that the state’s attorneys best protect its interests.

But Broad & Cassel attorney Stephen Turner of Tallahassee, representing the committee, explained his client wanted to be a party so it can file an appeal, if needed. Backing the committee are the Humane Society of the United States and GREY2K USA Worldwide, which works to end dog racing.

Feds still deliberating entering lawsuit over FIU bridge records

The federal government is asking a Tallahassee judge to delay any rulings while it decides whether to get involved 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 north Florida had first sent a notice on June 15 to Circuit Judge John Cooper, saying federal law authorized him to “attend to the interests of the United States in (any state) lawsuit,” records show.

The Miami Herald; its Capital bureau chief, Mary Ellen Klas; and Tallahassee correspondent Elizabeth Koh sued the state’s Department of Transportation in Leon County Circuit Civil court last month, 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, expecting to decide by this Wednesday whether to enter the case.

In a new notice filed late Thursday, Canova said he needs approval from “the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice” to get involved, and “that process is still ongoing.” (The department’s website shows Chad A. Readler is now acting in that role.)

“The government will provide a further status update on or before July 11, and respectfully requests that the court continue to defer its ruling,” Canova wrote.

The March 15 collapse of the then-recently erected bridge killed six midday motorists or passengers, and injured nine others. 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.

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

At a hearing in the suit earlier this month, Cooper called the NTSB an “indispensable party” and declined to dismiss the lawsuit.

“He … ordered FDOT to send (a) letter asking NTSB to join the lawsuit as a party or file an amicus brief to defend its legal reasoning,” The Herald reported. If NTSB declines, Cooper added, the state will tell it “we’re going to continue the party without you.”

The Herald is represented by Sandy Bohrer, a partner in the Holland & Knight law firm in Miami and co-chair of the firm’s National Media Team.

Rick Scott, Cabinet delay decision on hiring new OFR head

Despite interviewing five “quality candidates” on Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet held off on appointing a new head of the state’s Office of Financial Regulation (OFR).

Instead, they decided to keep the application period open through mid-July. Thirty-four people already had applied.

Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam held a conference call and interviewed their top five applicants to replace outgoing OFR Commissioner Drew Breakspear.

Meantime, Pam Epting will become interim commissioner at the post’s $135,000 salary. Breakspear’s official last day is June 30.

He recently announced he was stepping down after Patronis pressured him to leave the position. Patronis’ office had said he received numerous calls for a new top regulator from mortgage and security industry leaders who had clashed with the agency.

Any permanent replacement will face a new governor and Cabinet in 2019, as all four positions are up for election in November.

After interviewing the five – including state GOP state Rep. Jay Fant of Jacksonville – Scott balked, saying he wanted more time to make a decision. Scott and the others also agreed to accept more applications and decide at the next Cabinet meeting on Aug. 14.

Fant, who ran his family’s Jacksonville bank before it was shut down, dropped out of the race for attorney general to apply for OFR Commissioner.

Fant had been on Scott’s side last year, when he voted against a bill backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran that sought to abolish Scott’s favored Enterprise Florida economic development organization.

But during his interview Patronis raised the issue of the failure of Fant’s family-run bank amid the recession.

Fant said “community banks” like his family’s were hurt by the federal government’s bailout, which he said benefited only the big banks and left smaller banks in the dust: “Capital wasn’t available to the small companies.”

They were “terrible times for us as Floridians, as Americans,” Fant said, but added he would apply lessons from that experience “to the future.”

Two additional applicants with years of regulatory experience, William Jannace and Kevin Rosen, had been advanced for consideration by Bondi.

Also applying were banking lobbyist Scott Jenkins and Linda Charity, a former OFR official who served as interim commissioner twice.

The OFR reports to the Financial Services Commission, which is made up of the Governor and Cabinet. State law says they can hire or fire the OFR’s head “by a majority vote consisting of at least three affirmative votes, with both the Governor and the Chief Financial Officer on the prevailing side.”

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Ed. Note — A live-reporting Twitter thread with details from the interviews during Wednesday’s meeting is here.

Florida Politics Jacksonville correspondent A.G. Gancarski, Gainesville correspondent Drew Wilson, and The News Service of Florida (content republished with permission) contributed to this post.

Rick Scott won’t say whether he likes Jay Fant as OFR head

Gov. Rick Scott didn’t telegraph his interest in who should be the state’s top financial regulator at a Tuesday campaign stop in Jacksonville for his U.S. Senate campaign.

Earlier, an aide to the Governor at a Cabinet Aides meeting said he would announce his preference later in the day.

When asked whether Republican state Rep. Jay Fant, a political ally, was his pick, Scott said “it goes through the Cabinet process. There are individuals who have applied.

“We’ll go through the interview process and soon as we go through that process, I’m sure (we’ll) pick the right person,” he said, speaking with Florida Politics reporter A.G. Gancarski at a “Make Washington Work” plan rollout event at Bobcat of Jacksonville. 

Scott and Cabinet members will hold a conference call Wednesday morning and are expected to interview applicants and appoint a replacement for Drew Breakspear.

He recently announced he was stepping down as commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation (OFR). Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a member of the Cabinet, pressured Breakspear to leave the post.

Fant, who ran his family’s Jacksonville bank before it was shut down, dropped out of the race for attorney general to apply for OFR Commissioner earlier this month. He’s one of five applicants scheduled to be interviewed.

The OFR reports to the Financial Services Commission, which is made up of the Governor and Cabinet: Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer and Agriculture Commissioner.

State law says they can hire or fire the OFR’s head “by a majority vote consisting of at least three affirmative votes, with both the Governor and the Chief Financial Officer on the prevailing side.” Patronis is a friend and political ally of Gov. Rick Scott.

Fant was on Scott’s side last year, when he voted against a bill backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran that sought to abolish Scott’s favored Enterprise Florida economic development organization.

Fant said then that he doesn’t “like going against leadership on a vote, and I stick with them on just about everything, but this just isn’t one of those things.”

And Scott later had Fant’s back at an Enterprise Florida meeting later that year.

“There are not a lot of people in the Legislature that stood up for us and talked vocally about their support of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida,” Scott said. “Jay Fant was one of the few, and I want to thank Jay for doing that, and I wish all luck in your next endeavor.”

During a gaggle, Scott then amplified his comments, calling Fant a “leader.”

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Florida Politics Jacksonville correspondent A.G. Gancarski and The News Service of Florida (content republished with permission) contributed to this post.

John Morgan hints at ballot initiative for marijuana legalization

John Morgan on Tuesday said he’s “going to look at starting a fund” toward an initiative to legalize marijuana, including recreational use, on the 2020 ballot.

He has previously has been on the record supporting marijuana legalization. His latest tweets move him further in terms of personally promising a political solution.

The Orlando attorney and businessman, who was behind the 2016 constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana in the state, was tweeting in response to a Florida Politics tweet on an appellate court order.

The 1st District Court of Appeal earlier Tuesday denied a request for a case on the state’s marijuana smoking ban to be moved directly to the Supreme Court.

Morgan organized that lawsuit; Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge Karen Gievers ruled that the ban violates the amendment, and the state appealed.

“Maybe it’s just time for full legalization,” Morgan tweeted. “It would pass with flying colors!”

Marijuana has been legalized in nine states, the District of Columbia and, most recently, Canada. Twenty-nine states, including Florida, allow medical use of marijuana. The 2016 amendment was approved by 71 percent of voters.

Morgan already chairs a political committee, Florida For A Fair Wage, that seeks to place a constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot. It would Florida’s minimum wage to $10, effective Sept. 30, 2021, and then raise it $1 a year until it is $15 on Sept. 30, 2026.

Morgan’s tweets are below.

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Background from The News Service of Florida, reprinted with permission.

Greyhound racing supporters hit back with ‘cease and desist’ letter

The battle over a proposed constitutional ban on greyhound racing is heating up, as ban opponents served a cease and desist letter on the group promoting an end to dog racing.

The Committee to Support Greyhounds said it hit the Protect Dogs — Yes on 13 campaign with the letter on Monday.

At issue: The “use of and subsequent alteration without permission of video artwork belonging to Jeff Sonksen,” a greyhound racing supporter, in a “Yes on 13” media ad.

“13” refers to Amendment 13, placed on the November statewide ballot by the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission. It would outlaw betting on dog races in Florida beginning in 2021.

Greyhound owners and breeders, who oppose the ban, have challenged the proposed amendment in court; a trial is set for next month in Tallahassee. Proposed amendments need at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

The proposal also would allow other gambling at tracks, such as card games, to continue even after dog racing ends. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 12 tracks.

Jennifer Rosenblum, an attorney representing Sonksen, explained in a news release that “the owner of a copyrighted work has the exclusive right to control how and where the work, or any derivative thereof, is published.”

“We hope the members of Yes on 13 recognize the importance of respecting Mr. Sonksen’s work and pending copyright and will take all necessary and appropriate steps to cooperate in rectifying this infringement,” said Rosenblum, whose online bio says she also “formed her own charity (to) assist in the placement of retired racing greyhounds.”

Added Sonksen: “I’ve spent six months as an average citizen — an outsider — looking into greyhound racing and how the dogs are treated. I’ve spent thousands of dollars and countless hours making these videos. The greyhound videos are my property.

“This group has to steal my videos, slow them down and darken the imagery to make it look sinister,” he said. “They steal my videos because they themselves have not taken the time to see the inside of a racing kennel.”

And Jennifer Newcome, chairman of the Committee to Support Greyhounds, said her group was “happy to support Mr. Sonksen’s measures to get justice not only for himself, but also for all of the greyhounds.”

“The radical animal activists have not only stolen this footage, they have also altered it to deliberately deceive every Floridian who has viewed it,” Newcome said in a statement. “This certainly gives the people of Florida cause to question the integrity and credibility of this Yes on 13 activist group …”

Updated 4:30 p.m. — Protect Dogs — Yes on 13 released the following statement in response to the cease and desist letter.

“This morning, we received a letter from an attorney who claims to represent dog racing promoter Jeff Sonksen. In recent months, Sonksen has documented commercial greyhound racing in Florida, and posted video footage on Facebook.

“We are not surprised that the greyhound industry is now trying to hide evidence of greyhound confinement. This is the industry’s dirty little secret: Greyhounds are confined for 20 to 23 hours per day at Florida racetracks, kept in warehouse-style kennels in rows of stacked metal cages.

“We have an absolute right, protected by the First Amendment, the Fair Use doctrine, and anti-SLAPP laws, to share his footage with Florida voters. In fact, Sonksen himself has stated that his footage is ‘without a doubt …. the truth about greyhound racing,’ and that he wants the public to ‘see the truth’ through his videos.

“Florida voters deserve a full and fair debate, and we are confident that when they have all the facts, they will vote ‘yes’ on Amendment 13.”

Proposed medical marijuana rules already bringing challenges

They haven’t even been approved, but proposed rules on medical marijuana have already drawn legal challenges.

Liberty Health Sciences, a licensed medicinal cannabis provider, is challenging two rules, both debuted only two weeks ago. One is on a “supplemental licensing fee” and another covers a “variance procedure” for medical marijuana treatment centers, or MMTCs, as providers as called in Florida.

Both challenges were filed last week in the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings. “The department will review the challenges,” said Health Department spokesman Devin Galetta in an email.

The fee in question, an “annual payment by a registered (provider) to cover the (state’s) costs of administering” the law governing cannabis, came with a price tag of $174,844.

Liberty’s challenge is that the Department of Health, which regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use, set the fee too high. That’s because the calculation requires the state’s 13 currently licensed MMTCs “to bear the burden of the supplemental licensure fee when the fee should be borne by at least 17 MMTCs.”

The money from the fee would help fund the Coalition for Medical Marijuana Research and Education within the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa. Lawmakers gave it a mission “to conduct rigorous scientific research, provide education, disseminate research, and guide policy for the adoption of a statewide policy on ordering and dosing practices for the medical use of marijuana.”

The other rule would “establish a procedure for the Department of Health to grant variances from the representations made in a medical marijuana treatment center’s initial application for registration.”

The idea behind that rule, for one example, was to allow providers who had originally applied to use a certain marijuana processing procedure to later ask to use a newer, better technology.

But Liberty’s challenge suggests it could also cause administrative nightmares by “requiring an MMTC to request a variance before hiring or firing any employee or manager.”

Liberty Health Sciences is a subsidiary of Canadian-based DFMMJ Investments, which itself is partly owned by Aphria, a Canadian producer of medical cannabis products.

With dispensaries in Summerfield, St. Petersburg, Tampa and Port St. Lucie, the company is represented by The Lockwood Law Firm of Tallahassee.

“We look forward to working with the department on the substance of both rules,” firm principal John Lockwood told Florida Politics. “We’re not generally opposed to the concept of either rule. We’re just concerned with some of the formalities imposed. We want to accomplish both our goal and the department’s goal as well.”

The filings are below.

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