Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 131

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.

Rick Scott picks C. Alan Lawson for Supreme Court

Conservative appellate judge C. Alan Lawson will become the next Florida Supreme Court justice, Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday morning.

Lawson

Lawson, who will replace retiring Justice James E.C. Perry, is chief judge of the state’s 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach. Perry’s retirement is effective Dec. 30; Lawson’s first day is the 31st.

“He’s got a 20-year track record, he’s been a public servant, he clearly believes in following the rule of law,” Scott said, standing next to Lawson – his first ever Supreme Court pick – and his family. “He is going to do a good job … and he’s not going to legislate from the bench.” (Video of announcement here.)

Lawson now makes a third conservative vote on a seven-member state Supreme Court that often splits 5-2 on matters of public policy. To date, Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston have been the court’s most reliable conservative voices.

In a statement, both men “applaud(ed)” the appointment, calling Lawson “a true leader (who) brings strong conservative principles” to the court.

Conservative lawmakers and business interests have long derided the court – specifically its liberal-leaning triumvirate of Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy A. Quince and R. Fred Lewis – for “judicial overreach,” saying the court often breached the separation of powers between the lawmaking and judicial branches.

Recently, they denounced decisions chipping away at protections afforded business owners in the state’s workers’ compensation law, striking down caps on attorney fees and ordering disability benefits extended for injured workers.

The state’s highest court also becomes more white; Perry is black. With his departure, Quince is the now the lone African American on the court.

This isn’t Lawson’s first attempt to join the court. Perry, whom Lawson is replacing, beat him in 2009 for the opening created by the retirement of Justice Charles T. Wells.

Lawson appeared with his wife Julie and son Caleb, as well as his father and mother, Charles and Velma Lawson, sister Laurie Lawson Cox and brother-in-law Thomas Cox.

Lawson, whom Scott had first mistakenly introduced as “Lanson,” told reporters that the judiciary’s mandate to interpret laws “came with a promise, that it would be exercised with judicial restraint.”

“There are a lot of precedents from the Florida Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court that details what judicial restraint means and is not supposed to mean,” he added. Many critics have noted that “judges and courts have moved away from what is clearly laid out … that says, ‘this is what courts are supposed to do.’ “

When asked if he could name decisions in which judges have “overreached,” he said, “No. It’s not ethical for judges to comment on issues that could come before the Supreme Court.”

Lawson was then backed by “religious conservatives and the National Rifle Association,” wrote politics reporter William March in a February 2009 story for the now-defunct Tampa Tribune, while Perry was favored by “liberal groups and black leaders.” Those backers were largely silent this time around.

The appointment created a quandary for then-GOP Gov. Charlie Crist, March wrote, “pit(ting) conservatives in his own party (then Republican) against a minority community Crist is courting.” He eventually picked Perry, who joined the court the next month.

Lawson, born in Lakeland, grew up in Tallahassee. He graduated from Tallahassee Community College and later Clemson University with a degree in Parks, Recreation & Tourism Management, according to his online bio. He got his law degree from Florida State University in 1987.

He was in private practice for several years before becoming an assistant county attorney in Orange County and then a circuit judge in 2002.

Lawson also was a Florida Bar exam question writer and grader. He moved to the 5th District appellate bench in 2006. Both his judicial appointments were by Republican former Gov. Jeb Bush.

In 2012, he was a member of a three-judge appeals panel that considered a custody battle between two women who were formerly in a relationship.

The majority said both women have parental rights, but Lawson wrote “a blistering dissent,” in which he said a child can have only one mother, according to the Associated Press.

The court shouldn’t recognize two mothers “unless we are also willing to invalidate laws prohibiting same-sex marriage, bigamy, polygamy, or adult incestuous relationships on the same basis,” Lawson said. In a 4-3 opinion, the state Supreme Court later said the non-birth mother could seek shared custody.

Scott picked Lawson over two other conservative finalists for the post: Wendy W. Berger, another judge on the 5th District Court of Appeal, and Dan Gerber, an Orlando civil-trial defense attorney.

Scott “had three excellent candidates to consider,” Florida Bar President William J. Schifino Jr. said in a statement.

“I applaud the governor, the Judicial Nominating Commission and the process, and very much look forward to working with soon-to-be Justice Lawson in the future,” Schifino said. “He has demonstrated himself to be an excellent jurist and someone who has the best interests of all Floridians at heart.”

Business interests also commended the pick.

William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, a group created by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said Lawson’s appointment is a “reaffirmation of our system of checks and balances between the three branches of government.”

Scott “based his decision on the precepts that judges should strictly adhere to the rule of law,” he said in an email. The governor’s “thoughtful choice in this solemn duty will have a profoundly positive impact on Florida for a long time.”

Tom Feeney, CEO of Associated Industries of Florida, added that his members have been “anxious for the day that a majority of the Florida Supreme Court can restore respect for the constitutional separation of powers, including legitimate powers of the popularly elected members of the legislative and executive branches.”

“If the Florida Supreme Court will exercise only those legitimate judicial powers, such as deciding controversies of fact and enforcing the language of our duly enacted statutes and Constitution, as opposed to arbitrarily injecting their personal and political preferences, a constitutional balance can be restored.”

Scott could have the opportunity himself to put a conservative majority on the bench. Pariente, Quince and Lewis face mandatory retirement in early 2019, and Scott said he plans to replace them before he leaves office that January.

“I will appoint three more justices the morning I finish my term,” he said.

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz quickly reacted, saying she was “deeply troubled” by Scott’s position.

“The Supreme Court is no place for political gamesmanship,” she said in a statement. “If Gov. Scott follows through on this assertion, he risks setting off a contentious legal battle with his successor that would mar the transition process and throw our state’s highest court into uncertainty.

“The governor should look to the example set by Govs. Buddy MacKay and Jeb Bush in 1998 and do the right thing on behalf of Floridians,” she added, referring to their joint appointment of Quince.

Cruz, Janet

Janet Cruz files fix for vote-by-mail signature problem

As promised, House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa filed legislation Thursday that would let voters fix mismatching signatures on their vote-by-mail ballots so they can be counted.

The bill (HB 105) would require supervisors of elections and their staff “to allow submission of an affidavit to cure signature discrepancies.”

The measure was in response to a federal case earlier this year.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ordered the state to give thousands of voters a chance to make sure their vote-by-mail ballots count. The Florida Democratic Party challenged the state law governing mismatched signatures.

He said county election offices should notify voters if their signature on a vote-by-mail ballot and their voter registration forms don’t match.

Cruz, however, this week said a “permanent statutory fix” was needed “to ensure that all Floridians have the ability to remedy a mismatched or illegible signature.”

“As the right to vote is a bedrock principle of our democratic society, it is vital that the people of Florida have every opportunity to ensure that their voice is being heard at the ballot box,” she said.

Otherwise, voters whose signatures don’t match aren’t told about the problem until after the election is over.

Background from The Associated Press, reprinted with permission

craft distillery

Booze bill would benefit craft distillers

Florida’s craft distilleries got an early Christmas gift in legislation submitted Wednesday.

The bill (SB 166), filed by Republican state Sen. Greg Steube of Sarasota, would change state law to craft distillers’ benefit. He filed similar legislation when he was a House member.

One proposal expands how much booze they can produce and still be considered “craft,” raising the limit from 75,000 gallons per year to 250,000 gallons.

The bill reduces distilleries’ state license tax from $4,000 to $1,000, provided “it is distilling and bottling all of its products in containers approved for sale.”

It repeals limits on how many bottles distillers can sell directly to consumers, though it maintains a limit on bottles being no bigger than 1.75 liters.

The measure also lets them sell their liquor not only in an on-site gift shop but also at “one other approved sales room located in the same county as the distillery’s production building.”

Most notably, the plain language of the legislation appears to allow distillers to bypass the three-tier system of separate alcoholic beverage manufacturers, distributors and retailers set in place after Prohibition.

The bill would allow a distiller to “transfer … spirits … out of its federal bonded space or nonbonded space at its licensed premises or storage areas to its vendor’s licensed premises or approved sales room.”

Distributors and liquor stores have opposed measure to loosen restrictions, saying it would cut into their business.

Until 2013, distillers couldn’t sell any of their product to customers. That year, lawmakers approved a change to state law allowing two bottles to be sold to an individual customer yearly.

The law was changed again to two bottles annually per customer of each brand of liquor that a distiller makes. If a craft distiller produces only one type of liquor, however, four can be sold.

Philip McDaniel, CEO and co-founder of St. Augustine Distillery Co., and founding president of the Florida Craft Distillers Guild, said he was not involved with the bill’s drafting.

“It looks like it’s trying to give more freedom to craft distillers and bring us parallel to the breweries and wineries,” he said. “Anything that would help our businesses would be something we’re interested in.”

Update: A House companion (HB 141) was filed Dec. 29 by state Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, a St. Johns Republican.

Gambling money still going into GR, DBPR says

The Seminole Tribe of Florida‘s gambling revenue share payments are continuing to go into the state’s General Revenue Fund, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation said on Wednesday.

The department, which oversees gambling, clarified its previous statements this week on how the money is handled.

The tribe is seeking to extend a compact with the state to offer exclusively offer blackjack in return for a cut of that revenue, even though a federal judge ruled the state broke the original deal and the tribe can offer “banked card games” through 2030.

“As further evidence of its positive approach, the Tribe is continuing to make monthly payments to the state that will total $306 million this year,” spokesman Gary Bitner has said.

The Seminoles “remit revenue share payments through the Department of Revenue’s (DOR) online portal, which provides web services for electronic fund payments,” DBPR spokesman Stephen Lawson said.

“Through an automated process, DBPR is notified of the payment,” he added. “DBPR receipts and assigns the payment for credit to the General Revenue Fund, as required” by state law.

“Once credited to the General Revenue Fund, the authorization and use of funds are outlined” by another section of state law, Lawson said. “The General Revenue Fund is administered by the State Treasury, within the Department of Financial Services.”

Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle last month ruled the compact “afforded the tribe the right to conduct banked card games without competition from card rooms” at pari-mutuels, meaning dog and horse tracks.

“This was perhaps the most important benefit the tribe obtained under the compact,” he wrote in his order. “The most important benefit to the state was more than a billion dollars.”

The original deal actually wound up being worth more than $200 million per year in revenue share to state coffers. Blackjack and other gambling, including slots, has brought in billions for the tribe, making it arguably the richest American Indian tribe in the country.

A renewed blackjack agreement struck by Gov. Rick Scott earlier this year promised $3 billion over seven years in revenue share to the state, but it failed to gain approval from lawmakers.

Both House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron say they support bringing that deal back before lawmakers in the 2017 Legislative Session. But while Corcoran says there must be a reduction in overall gambling in the state, Negron says he’s OK with expanding gambling opportunities.

Personnel note: Maria Sachs to lead Innovation Florida

Former state Sen. Maria Lorts Sachs will be the next executive director of Innovation Florida, the new not-for-profit incubator for startup technology companies.

The organization announced the hire Wednesday in a press release.

“I am excited to be a part of a new initiative that will link venture capital and multinational corporations to research and development with our state universities, colleges, and entrepreneurs,” Sachs said in a statement.

“One of the keys to Florida’s success as the third most populous state is that every Florida graduate should have the key that will open a career in innovation.”

Sachs “will use her lifetime background as a former prosecutor, attorney, legislator and community activist for the benefit of the organization, its partners and the future of Florida,” the release added.

It also says that “through state appropriations, the Senator championed for expansion of research centers throughout the University systems especially at the South Florida based state universities and colleges.”

Sachs, however, falls under the state’s 2-year ban on former lawmakers lobbying the Legislature or executive agencies. The 68-year-old, elected to the Senate in 2010, declined to run for re-election this year.

Her former aide has sued The Florida Senate, saying she made him do personal chores and “exposed (him) to unwelcome sexual conduct” by frequently undressing in front of him.

Sachs has denied the allegations, saying Matthew Damsky quit when confronted with evidence he had charged nearly $50,000 in plane tickets, among other things, on Sachs’ credit card without her knowledge.

Innovation Florida was co-founded by the South Florida-based Greenspoon Marder law firm, the Fort Lauderdale-headquartered Citrix software company, and The South Florida Accelerator, another funder of startup businesses.

“Florida’s entrepreneurs have the potential to bring innovative change and technological developments to our state, as well as to the country as a whole,” said Gerald Greenspoon, co-managing director of Greenspoon Marder. “We are excited to play our part in providing valuable support and resources to help Florida thought leaders achieve success.”

plastic bag sea trash

Ban the bag, South Florida lawmaker says

State Rep. David Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat, filed his bill (HB 93) on Tuesday. Similar legislation has been filed in recent years.

Richardson’s bill would let municipalities with pilot programs “enact an ordinance for the regulation or ban of disposable plastic bags.”

Such regulations or bans would be short-lived, however, taking effect “no earlier than January 1, 2018, and expires no later than June 30, 2020.”

Such an ordinance “may not include any new taxes or fees,” the bill says. One previous version of the bill imposed a 10-cent surcharge for each plastic bag.

Environmentalists have long complained that disposable plastic bags often wind up in the water and on beaches, putting fish and marine animals in jeopardy.

Sea turtles, for instance, think the bags are jellyfish, eat them and wind up with intestinal blockages.

The Legislature authorized the Department of Environmental Protection in 2010 to produce a one-time “Retail Bags Report.”

“Plastic and paper bags are not inherently bad but they have terrible consequences in a throwaway society – and there are simple, readily available ways to reduce our dependency and properly reuse, recycle or dispose of them,” the report said.

“Bans produce the fastest results in reducing plastic bag use; fees or taxes follow closely behind,” it added.

California was the first state to enact an outright ban on all “single-use plastic bags” at large retail stores statewide, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). That ban took effect last July.

“In addition to California, a de facto statewide ban exists in Hawaii as all of the most populous counties in the state prohibit non-biodegradable plastic bags at checkout,” the organization’s website says.

And in 2009, the District of Columbia passed a law to ban distributing plastic carry-out bags. It also set a fee of 5 cents for all other disposable bags, according to the NCSL.

Former state Sen. Dwight Bullard, a Cutler Bay Democrat, also filed similar legislation that died in committee.

Personnel note: Paul Flemming joins state courts office

Paul Flemming, a former spokesman for the Florida House Democratic Office, now is public information officer for the Florida Office of State Courts Administrator (OSCA).

Flemming

Flemming, who also was the Tallahassee Democrat‘s politics & policy editor, announced his hiring Tuesday. He’s been on the job for almost two weeks.

“Not only am I new in the job, but it’s a new position as well,” said Flemming, a non-lawyer, in an email. “I look forward to serving as an additional point of entry for you to the state’s district, circuit and county courts ….”

He reports to State Courts Administrator Patricia (PK) Jameson, who reports to the Supreme Court.

Flemming, however, made clear he was not replacing the good work already being done by longtime Florida Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters and his staff.

“If you are intrigued and surprised by the distinction between the Florida Supreme Court and OSCA, I welcome the opportunity to discuss with you the important differences and key roles each play,” he said.

Flemming and another staffer were ousted by new House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa earlier this year. “I appreciate their service but it’s not unusual for a new leader to want to install their own team,” she told FloridaPolitics.com in August.

Flemming’s bio says he was “born in New Orleans, grew up in the Ozarks” and has been “living and working in Tallahassee since 2004.”

Before joining the Democrat, he led state coverage at the Gannett Co. newspapers’ now-defunct Tallahassee bureau.

blackjack

Where’s the Seminoles’ gambling money? State’s not clear

A state agency that reports to Gov. Rick Scott isn’t clear on the location of millions of dollars the Seminole Tribe says it’s still ponying up from its gambling operations.

A spokesman for the tribe last week said they have a “continuing desire to finalize a new gaming (agreement) with the state of Florida” that includes continued exclusive rights to offer blackjack.

“As further evidence of its positive approach, the Tribe is continuing to make monthly payments to the state that will total $306 million this year,” Gary Bitner said.

What wasn’t clear was what the state was doing with that money.

A recent request for explanation to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), which regulates gambling, was responded to with a chart showing past payments and projected future payments.

(When asked whether those payments would end if no new agreement is approved this year, Bitner said, “As has been noted many times, it is the Tribe’s policy to not discuss the specific content of its compact negotiations with the state.”)

Those payments “are made to the Department of Revenue,” according to a DBPR statement, “which should be able to provide more information about the types of accounts those funds are deposited into.”

Revenue, however, responded with puzzlement.

“The Florida Department of Revenue does not post, reconcile or distribute Indian gaming revenues shared with the State of Florida under the Compact,” its statement said.

In fact, state law “specifies that the (official) compliance agency (DBPR’s Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering) is designated as the state agency having the authority to carry out the state’s oversight responsibilities under the Compact,” the statement added.

“They are the best resource on this,” it said.

A request for clarification to the Governor’s Office is pending.

 

Nearly 40 apply to Joe Negron for Constitution Revision Commission

A former Senate President, Secretary of State, and state Supreme Court Justice have applied to Senate President Joe Negron for a seat on the panel that reviews the state’s constitution every 20 years.

At last tally, 39 people had applied for one of Negron’s nine picks to the Constitution Revision Commission, according to a list provided by his office. They include:

— Former Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who was term limited out of office this year. Gaetz also served as Senate President 2012-14.

— Lobbyist and former lawmaker Sandra Mortham, who also was the elected Secretary of State 1995-99. One of the changes from the last commission was making the position appointed by the governor.

— Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Wells, who was on the bench 1994-2009. Wells also was chief justice during the 2000 presidential election challenge and recount.

This will be the fourth commission to convene since 1966, and the first to be selected by mostly Republicans, suggesting it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.  

Both Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran have said they want the commission to revisit redistricting, for instance, specifically, a rewrite of voter-endorsed amendments from 2012 that ban gerrymandering — the manipulation of political boundaries to favor one party.

As governor, Rick Scott will choose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and he also selects its chairperson.

Negron and Corcoran each get nine picks. Pam Bondi is automatically a member as attorney general, and Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga gets three picks.

Under law, the next commission is scheduled to hold its first meeting in a 30-day period before the beginning of the Legislature’s 2017 regular session on March 7.

Any changes it proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.

Others who applied to Negron are former state Sen. Dennis Jones, a Republican, and former Sens. Eleanor Sobel and Chris Smith, both Democrats.


Ed. note: This post was originally based on a list released Monday evening. The Senate provided a new list on Tuesday, in which the list has grown to 39 applicants, including new Sens. Dana Young and Gary Farmer, and Magdalena Fresen, sister of former state Rep. Erik Fresen. That list is below:

LAST NAME FIRST NAME COUNTY OF RESIDENCE
Berger Jason Martin
Boggs Glenn Leon
Christiansen Patrick Orange
Crotty Richard Orange
Cullen Lisa Brevard
Curtis Donald Taylor
Dawson Warren Hillsborough
Duckworth Richard Charlotte
Edwards Charles Lee
Farmer Gary Broward
Fresen Magdalena Dade
Gaetz Donald Okaloosa
Gentry WC Duval
Hackney Charles Manatee
Heyman Sally Dade
Hoch Rand Palm Beach
Hofstee Michael St. Lucie
Ingram Kasey Martin
Jackson John Holmes
Jazil Mohammad Leon
Jones Dennis Marion
Kilbride Robert Leon
McManus Shields Martin
Miller Mark Martin
Moriarty Mark Sarasota
Mortham Sandra Leon
Plymale Sherry Martin
Rowe Randell Volusia
Schifino William Hillsborough
Scott Anne Martin
Smith Chris Broward
Sobel Eleanor Broward
Specht Steven Escambia
Stargel John Polk
Thompson Geraldine Orange
Wadell Gene Indian River
Wells Charles Orange
Winik Tyler Brevard
Young Dana Hillsborough

Treat medical marijuana “like medicine,” advocates say

The right way to put the new constitutional amendment on medical marijuana into effect is to “treat (it) like medicine,” supporters said Tuesday. 

The Senate Health Policy committee held its first workshop for the 2017 Legislative Session on medical cannabis implementation.

“The states that have done it poorly, with a lack of regulation, allowed folks to market and advertise the notion of getting high,” said Ben Pollara, who leads Florida for Care, the organization advocating for “a strong, well-regulated medical marijuana system.”

“The average recreational marijuana user is not what this is about,” he told lawmakers. “It has to be treated, at every step of the way, with the seriousness that we treat medicine and other health care decisions. There needs to be clear restrictions put in place.”

Pollara is in favor of childproof packaging for medicinal marijuana, for instance.

Lawmakers now are faced with creating a regulatory system for the dispensing of marijuana to thousands of patients who now qualify for it in Florida. The amendment technically goes into effect on Jan. 3 but the Legislature first must create that structure.

“We’ll continue having conversations with the stakeholders,” said committee chair Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, after the workshop. “No decisions have been made yet regarding specific legislation … but this is a topic we’re taking very seriously.”

Voters approved the initiative by 71 percent, well over the required 60 percent needed. That was two years after it missed passage by roughly 2 ½ percent.

In Florida, the “non-euphoric” version already has been approved for children with severe seizures and muscle spasms and is regulated by the Department of Health.

The state later passed a law allowing terminally ill patients to use a stronger form of marijuana during their final days.

The amendment now grants a state constitutional right to marijuana to people with debilitating medical conditions, as determined by a licensed Florida physician. It defines a debilitating condition as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among others.

Those in law enforcement and addiction treatment, while saying they respected the “will of the voters,” warned lawmakers to allow for a good amount of local control.

“We are not here to be obstructionist; we want to be honest brokers,” said Walton County Sheriff Michael A. Adkinson Jr. “But we want to address the concerns that will come up … This is a herculean task.”

He suggested prohibiting selling marijuana as candy or cookies, likely to entice children, and to require tamper-proof ID cards for marijuana users. Adkinson also said the state should give leeway to towns and cities to zone for marijuana dispensaries.

But state Sen. Bobby Powell, a Riviera Beach Democrat, said he was concerned some areas would “zone out” medical marijuana entirely from their communities.

Ellen Snelling, chairwoman of the Tampa Alcohol Coalition and member of the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance, added that marijuana isn’t harmless, telling the panel of her teenage daughter’s decline into drug use after trying pot.

Snelling argued for strict rules and regulations: “Don’t let Florida become California, where anyone can get a medical pot card.”

But Kim Rivers, CEO of Trulieve, one of the state’s first medical marijuana dispensing organizations, said she and others in the business in Florida are “all about product quality and patient safety.” Trulieve operates a retail marijuana store in northeast Tallahassee.

And Rivers said she expects business to only grow.

Her company now can serve 72,500 patients, she said. After an upcoming expansion, Trulieve will be able to accommodate up to 650,000 patients with 20 milligrams of cannabis a day.

Dr. Mark Hashim, a pain specialist in Hudson, disagreed with the Health Department’s proposed rule banning telemedicine to prescribe marijuana. It’s been described as “allowing doctors and patients to connect virtually, rather than face-to-face.”

He said it would help those in rural areas or simply too sick to get to a doctor: “I don’t see a reason why we are disallowing this.”

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