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State files to block effect of ‘home grow’ ruling

The state’s Department of Health says a trial court made an “erroneous conclusion” that Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner has a constitutional right to homegrown, juiced (medical) marijuana.”

But Redner’s attorney says the state simply continues to argue – also erroneously – that the state’s constitutional amendment on medical marijuana doesn’t mean what it says.

The department filed a response Friday to Redner’s request to the state’s Supreme Court to allow him to immediately pursue growing and juicing his own marijuana.

He won a decision, now under appeal, from Tallahassee Circuit Judge Karen Gievers last month that Redner — a 77-year-old lung cancer survivor — has an immediate right to ‘home grow.’ His doctor says juiced marijuana is the best way to keep his cancer in remission, though the state countered he “also acknowledged the lack of scientific research to support this claim.”

But the state appealed to the 1st District Court of Appeal, which reinstated a delay of the effect of the ruling while the case is under review there. Redner asked that court to expedite the appeal.

The Health Department regulates medicinal cannabis through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

In its response, the department’s lawyers in part argued that under the “definition of ‘medical use,’ a qualifying patient is not entitled to cultivate (i.e., grow) or process marijuana because the words ‘cultivate’ and ‘process’ are not included” in the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2016.

“Instead, the right to cultivate and process medical marijuana is reserved for” authorized medical marijuana providers, it says.

But the state’s definition of “cannabis” says it’s “all parts of any plant of the genus Cannabis, whether growing or not (and) the seeds thereof,” which Redner says bolsters his case.

While he awaits the appeal, he’s also asking Gievers to order the state to reimburse his legal costs — including $16,000 for PowerPoint presentations — because he won the lawsuit. The state later asked that the costs request be held “in abeyance” pending the appeal.

Health spokesman Devin Galetta has said the agency “fully expects Judge Gievers’ ruling to be reversed on appeal.”

Luke Lirot, Redner’s attorney, said he “disagrees with the department’s arguments” and said the stay should be lifted. 

“We have an important constitutional issue that will invariably be before them, coupled with (Redner’s) emergent medical condition,” he said. “… Time is of the essence.”

Redner, owner of the Mons Venus nightclub, also is a vegan. Gievers’ order limits him to no more than eight ounces or raw marijuana daily, based on his doctors’ recommendations. It applies only to Redner and allows him to “possess, grow and use marijuana” only for juicing.

Friday’s full 22-page filing is here.

‘Thin blue line’ to be honored at The Capitol

Current and former law enforcement officers from all over Florida will be honored Saturday at the Law Enforcement Officers’ Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Tallahassee.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) announced the event Friday.

“The Florida Law Enforcement Officers’ Hall of Fame was created by the 2014 Florida Legislature to recognize and honor law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line for the safety and protection of Florida’s citizens and visitors through their works, service and exemplary accomplishments,” a press release said.

The 2018 inductees are:

Robert E. Blackburn, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

— Donald F. Eslinger, Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.

Ernest W. George, West Palm Beach Police Department.

Frederick A. Maas, Sunny Isles Beach Police Department.

James W. Smith, Miami Beach Police Department.

FDLE Assistant Commissioner Jennifer Pritt will preside over the ceremony, which is at 2:30 p.m., in 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.

For more information, call FDLE at (850) 410-7001.

Report says changes will increase health premiums

Premiums for health insurance plans sold on the federal marketplace are expected to increase by nearly 16.9 percent in Florida next year due to changes in the Affordable Care Act, according to a new analysis released Friday.

Released by the Center for American Progress, the analysis estimates that a decision by Congress and President Donald Trump to repeal the mandate that people buy health insurance, coupled with proposed changes to the types of policies that can be sold, will increase premiums for Floridians by $1,011.

The report by the left-leaning group estimates that the average unsubsidized health insurance premium for a 40-year-old male buying a marketplace policy in 2019 will be $6,995.

The Affordable Care Act has provided subsidies for many people buying coverage, reducing their costs. More than. 1.7 million Floridians enrolled in the health insurance marketplace this year, with more than 1.5 million receiving subsidies either in the form of advanced premium tax credits or additional cost-sharing reductions that help lower co-payments and coinsurance requirements.

The new analysis accounts for the impact of repealing the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that individuals buy health-insurance policies as well as a Trump administration proposed rule to rescind limits on the sale of short-term insurance plans.

The individual mandate, one of the most controversial parts of the federal health care law commonly known as Obamacare, was repealed as part of a tax overhaul that passed in December.

In a prepared statement, Topher Spiro, vice president for health policy at the Center for American Progress, blasted Trump and Congress for what he called “sabotage of the insurance marketplaces.”

“First they passed massive tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, and now they’re asking middle-class Americans and people with pre-existing conditions to pick up the tab,” Spiro said. “They should be focused on lowering health care costs, not increasing them and intentionally undermining the stability of the insurance marketplaces that millions of Americans benefit from.”

The analysis came a day after Florida Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott urging him to take steps to protect Floridians from spikes in health insurance premiums. They also asked that Scott — who adamantly opposes the Affordable Care Act — require health plans to provide for essential health benefits, like hospital care or prescription drugs, and raised concerns that consumers could end up buying low-benefit plans.

“These junk plans would return patients to the days where only upon illness did they discover their plans imposed limits on coverage and excluded vital benefits,” said the letter, signed by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Congresswoman Kathy Castor and 10 other Democratic members of the delegation. Nelson faces an election challenge in November from Scott.

The letter asked Scott to work with state Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier to take steps to make sure consumers are kept safe. Democrats also asked that Scott consider investing in outreach and enrollment efforts and help provide funding to navigators who can connect patients with the federal marketplace. Floridians buy coverage through the federal marketplace because the state decided against setting up its own exchange.

John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, said the governor’s office received the letter, adding that “Congress hasn’t controlled the nation’s health care costs or passed a balanced budget in decades.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Former Verizon executive appointed to state university board

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday appointed the former chief financial officer of Verizon and former New York higher education authority Fred Salerno to the State University System Board of Governors.

Salerno, 74, fills a vacant seat on the board for a term effective immediately and ending January 6, 2019. His appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Of Hobe Sound, Salerno is a longtime veteran of the telecommunications industry. He received his bachelor’s degree from Manhattan College and his master’s degree from Adelphi University. His C.V. is extensive, packed with various leadership positions including stints as Verizon’s CFO and top spots at Viacom.

Between 1990 and 1996, Salerno chaired the Board of Trustees for the State University of New York, according to his Bloomberg profile, which also claims he’s held trustee positions with the Inner City Scholarship Fund, his alma mater Manhattan College, and the Archdiocese of New York’s Partnership for Quality Education.

He at one point also was appointed by a New York governor to head the Salerno Commission, a task force to examine the equity of state-funded education policies and practices.

The Board of Governors acts as the governing body of the State University System. Its authorities include operation, management, control and regulation of the state’s 12 universities. The 17-member panel has 14 gubernatorial appointees, along with Chair of the Advisory Council of Faculty Senates Gary S. Tyson, Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart, and the Chair of the Florida Student Association Kishane Patel.

NRA appeals judge’s decision against pseudonyms in Parkland lawsuit

The National Rifle Association is appealing a federal judge’s ruling against shielding a plaintiff’s name in its litigation against the state’s new school safety and mental health law.

The NRA filed a notice of appeal Thursday to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, court dockets show.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker earlier this week turned down the association’s request to use a “Jane Doe” pseudonym for a 19-year-old Alachua County woman.

She’s been portrayed in court documents as seeking to remain anonymous due to fear that public exposure could result in “harassment, intimidation, and potentially even physical violence.”

In late April, the NRA filed a motion to add “Jane Doe” as a plaintiff to the lawsuit, which contends the age restriction in the new Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act “violates the fundamental rights of thousands of responsible, law-abiding adult Florida citizens and is thus invalid under the Second and Fourteenth Amendments.”

The lawsuit, filed March 9 by the NRA, came just hours after Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a sweeping school-safety measure that included new gun-related restrictions.

The legislation was a rapid response to the Feb. 14 shooting at the Parkland, Broward County high school that left 17 students and faculty members dead and 17 others wounded.

The law raised from 18 to 21 the minimum age to purchase rifles and other long guns.

It also imposed a three-day waiting period on the sale of long guns, such as the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz last year legally purchased, without any waiting period, and is accused of using in the Valentine’s Day massacre at his former school.

While acknowledging that false names may sometimes be used in litigation, Walker cited federal court rules that complaints “must name all the parties,” and referred to case law that lawsuits are “public events” and that the public has a “legitimate interest in knowing all of the facts involved, including the identities of the parties.”

“The NRA must file its amended complaint—without pseudonyms—no later than May 21,” Walker ordered.

Attorney General Pam Bondi had opposed the move, saying the woman’s desire for anonymity was not justified. “The amended complaint also includes allegations about a 19-year-old male identified as John Doe,” Walker’s order notes.

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Background provided by The News Service of Florida. 

Putnam Ad 5.17.2018

Adam Putnam promotes voc-ed, bashes ‘liberal elites’ in new ad

Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam put out a new ad Thursday promising to strengthen vocational education in the Sunshine State and bashing so-called “liberal elites” who don’t respect trade workers.

“As a fifth generation Florida farmer, I know what it’s like to sweat for your paycheck,” Putnam said in the 30-second ad, which features shots of him walking through a factory and shaking hands with workers.

“Today, liberal elites look down on people who work with their hands, pressuring too many kids into student loan debt, leaving them with degrees they can’t use and bills they can’t pay. We need to get back to honoring and respecting experts of a trade,” he said in the ad. “I’ll make vocational training a top priority. Our kids should be career-ready, not debt ridden. College is not the only path to success, and it’s okay to say it.”

A campaign release said the ad will begin running on cable and broadcast statewide beginning tomorrow. The closing frames of the TV spot indicate it was paid for by Florida Grown, Putnam’s affiliated political committee.

The ad follows the campaigns recent release of its “Florida Jobs First Agenda,” which includes a plan to boost vocational and technical education in middle and high schools. When it was released, Putnam said if Florida is going to continue job growth, it needs to better prepare students who don’t pursue a four-year college degree to get jobs in trades.

“As Governor, Putnam’s top priority will be to build a robust education pipeline that puts vocational and technical education back into middle schools and high schools, providing Florida’s students with the tools and practice necessary to find their piece of the American Dream here in Florida,” a Monday press release announced.

Democrats aren’t buying the rhetoric.

“Adam Putnam is a multi-millionaire career politician who spent ten years in Congress voting to make it more expensive for students to go to college and against vocational education. Putnam’s latest ad is another absurd election year attempt to hide his long record of hurting Florida students and working families,” Florida Democratic Party spokesperson Kevin Donohoe said in a Thursday press release.

The FDP release included more than a dozen clippings on past votes Putnam made during his decade in Congress, including his vote against interest rate reductions for federal student loans in 2007. A Lakeland Ledger article from the time said the bill was supported by “all but the staunchest of White House lapdogs.”

Putnam, currently in his second term as Agriculture Commissioner, faces Northeast Florida U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in the Republican Primary to succeed termed-out Gov. Rick Scott. Four major Democrats are also running.

Putnam sits atop the field in fundraising, with $28.88 million raised including $2 million in April.

The ad is below.

Citrus agency counts on bigger crop next year

The Florida Department of Citrus is banking on storm-battered and disease-hardened growers being able to pick more fruit from their trees next growing season.

As it starts to patch together a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, the department is projecting that revenues will increase by just over $400,000 through upticks in orange, grapefruit and specialty-fruit production, according to numbers released by the agency.

However, a continued decline in the forecast for the ongoing growing season forced the Bartow-based department on Wednesday to once again squeeze its current operating budget.

This time the Citrus Commission, which oversees the department, had to cut $137,866 from the just-over $17 million operating budget.

Department officials said they were able to make the cuts by shifting $122,352 from reserves, with the remainder from general revenue service-charge changes and medical research.

The Department of Citrus is funded through a “box” tax on citrus. Revenues have dropped as citrus production has declined in recent years because of citrus-greening disease and destruction from September’s Hurricane Irma.

In January, the commission shifted more than $70,000 out of administration, scientific-research and global-marketing budgets to cover an anticipated drop in revenue. A month earlier, the hole created by declining crops required the commission to shift $556,147 from reserves to the operating budget.

Irma, which made landfall in the Keys and Collier County before barreling up the state, caused major damage to the citrus industry in regions such as Southwest Florida. A federal relief package will provide $340 million to the state in the form of a block grant to help citrus farmers rebuild. Farmers are expected to be able to start applying for money through the “2017 Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program” by July 16.

A preliminary budget for the department’s next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, will be based on projections that growers will be able to fill 60 million 90-pound boxes of oranges, 5 million similar-sized boxes of grapefruit and 880,000 boxes of specialty fruits, which include tangerines and tangelos. The preliminary budget will be formally introduced at a June 20 meeting.

The numbers would remain historic lows for the state’s signature industry, but if reached would represent a 34.8 percent increase in oranges from the current season, a 26.6 percent increase in grapefruit and 17.3 percent increase in specialty fruits.

The industry is currently on pace to record its lowest yield since the 1937-1938 season, when an overall total of 40.87 million boxes were filled.

Filling a projected 65.88 million boxes in the next season would put the state on par with the with the 1942-1943 season, when growers filled 36.5 million boxes of oranges, 27.3 million boxes of grapefruit, and 4.9 million boxes of specialty fruits.

The commission receives revenue by charging 7 cents on each 90-pound box of processed oranges, grapefruit and specialty fruits.

No discussion was made of the box taxes on Wednesday, with officials noting the rates will be addressed in October, after the first forecast of next season by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Greyhound owners sue over proposed dog racing ban

Photo above: Greyhounds racing on the track in Bonita Springs. Credit: Van Abernathy.

As promised, the group that represents Florida’s greyhound owners and breeders is suing to keep a proposed constitutional amendment to rid the state of dog racing off the November ballot.

But a top greyhound racing opponent quickly called the suit “dead on arrival.”

The Florida Greyhound Association and its president, James Blanchard, filed suit Thursday in Leon County Circuit Civil court against the Department of State, which include the Division of Elections, and Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

Among other claims, the suit 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, one of eight by the Constitution Revision Commission, would allow other gambling activities such as card games to continue at tracks after dog racing ends.

The suit asks for a court order preventing the division “from placing Amendment No. 13 on the ballot for the November 2018 General Election.”

The group first raised the possibility of a legal challenge last month. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 12 tracks.

In general, the complaint says the measure’s “ballot title and summary language are inaccurate, misleading, and fail to inform voters of the true effect of the proposed amendment.”

Amendment 13 “would not end dog racing,” according to the suit, but would rather only prohibit betting on dog races. “A voter might well be misled into approving Amendment 13 based on the belief that the effect of the amendment is to end all dog racing,” the complaint says.

The association also takes issue with the ballot summary’s saying the measure “phases out commercial dog racing in connection with wagering by 2020.”

First, the phrase ‘commercial dog racing’ is not defined, nor is the phrase contained anywhere in the text of the amendment,” the complaint says. 

“ ‘Commercial dog racing’ is far broader than the scope of the ballot title or the proposed amendment itself. This phrase is not only vague and ambiguous, but makes it impossible for voters to know exactly what they are voting on.”

And the proposal doesn’t make clear that it “does not prohibit persons in Florida from betting on dog races being conducted in other states.”

“Providing voters with false statements such as that the amendment ‘ENDS DOG RACING’ is the very essence of a misleading ballot summary,” the complaint says.

Kate MacFall, co-chair of the “Protect Dogs-Yes on 13 Campaign,” later Thursday called the suit “dead on arrival (and) a desperate attempt to prevent voters from having a voice on whether greyhound confinement and deaths should continue.”

MacFall, also the Florida State Director of The Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement the language doesn’t run afoul of a legal standard for removal of “clearly and conclusively defective.”

“Asking voters to approve a question entitled ‘Ends Greyhound Racing’ says what it does and does what it says,” MacFall said. “As the text reads, ‘The humane treatment of animals is a fundamental value of the people of Florida.’ If the members of the Florida Greyhound Association disagree with this premise, they are free to vote ‘no’ in November.”

Frank White puts another $1.25M of own money behind A.G. bid

Pensacola Republican Rep. Frank White has boosted his campaign for Attorney General with another $1.25 million in self-funding according to a source close to his campaign.

The cash infusion brings White’s cash on hand up to $3.3 million. That total includes $1.5 million he used to bolster his campaign shortly after it launched in October.

The move gives White a more than $1.7 million hard-money advantage over his leading rival in the Republican Primary, former circuit court judge Ashley Moody. She had $1.45 million in her campaign account heading into May. Jacksonville Rep. Jay Fant was in a distant third with $839,000 banked, including $750,000 in loans.

The two-to-one hard money advantage would certainly make an impact when “lowest unit rate” rules kick in 45 days out from the primary election. By making the call two months ahead of that phase of the race, however, White may be signaling that he plans to hit the airwaves hard without waiting for the discount, and possibly even before the qualifying period begins in mid-June.

Self-funding spends the same as money raised the hard way – Philip Levine has effectively bought a ticket to the top of the four-way Democratic Primary for governor by dumping millions of his own money into running ads. The same could be said for Gov. Rick Scott in his 2010 campaign.

White’s campaign has pushed out eight online videos already, including a half-dozen designed to drop into a 30-second TV slot.

If White were to take the Scott/Levine approach and push those or similar ads out to Florida voters, it could help him gain ground on Moody, who leads him in endorsements and true fundraising as well as name recognition.

Moody was the top pick and White was the bottom one in a too-early poll of the Republican Primary for AG. A more recent survey testing Republican candidates against likely Democratic nominee Sean Shaw didn’t even include White as an option.

Donors weren’t far behind for Levine or Scott once they got their names out, either, so White could also be treating the massive amount of self-funding as a strategy to spark interest from donors, who so far have been more keen on sending checks to Moody.

In April alone, Moody nearly tripled White in fundraising if the $50,000 check he received from his in-laws is excluded.

Sean Shaw endorsed by three state attorneys

Attorney General candidate Sean Shaw announced Wednesday that three state attorneys are backing his campaign for the Cabinet post.

The endorsements came in from Dave Aronberg of the 15th Circuit, Jack Campbell of the 2nd Circuit and Andrew Warren of the 13th Circuit. Each cited a different strong point in their statements backing the Tampa Democrat’s bid to replace termed-out Attorney General Pam Bondi.

“I’m endorsing Sean Shaw to be our next Attorney General because he has a proven track record as a fearless advocate for consumers and a financial watchdog for Florida taxpayers,” said Aronberg, also a former state Senator. “I’ve seen firsthand the devastating impact the opioid epidemic is inflicting on our communities, and I know that Sean Shaw will target those responsible for this epidemic and will help local prosecutors keep our streets safe.”

Campbell’s endorsement invoked Shaw’s “proven track record” of fighting to keep children safe.

“I’m supporting Sean Shaw because we need a partner in the Attorney General’s office to crack down on those who seek to harm our children in our communities and over the internet. I look forward to working with Sean on this invaluable mission,” he said.

Warren added, “Over the last two years, I’ve had the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with Sean Shaw on common sense criminal justice reforms that keep our communities safe and offer second chances to those who deserve them. Sean has my endorsement because I know he will bring that same mindset of results-oriented reform to the Attorney General’s office. Floridians deserve a truly independent watchdog committed to ensuring equal protection under the law, and they will have that when Sean Shaw is elected Attorney General.”

Shaw is currently in his first term as a state Representative and is the leading Democrat in the Attorney General race. Before elected office, he served as the state’s insurance consumer advocate under former CFO Alex Sink. The state attorney endorsements follow a recent endorsement from the Florida Police Benevolent Association.

“I am extremely grateful for the support of State Attorneys Aronberg, Campbell, and Warren as we seek to return the power of the Attorney General’s office back to the people of Florida, where it belongs,” Shaw said. “I look forward to working with these highly respected members of law enforcement as Attorney General to fight back against the opioid epidemic, keep our children safe, and institute smart criminal justice reforms to make ensure fairness and equity for all those who come into contact with the law.”

Shaw faces Ryan Torrens in the Democratic Primary. Running on the Republican side are former circuit court judge Ashley Moody and state Reps. Jay Fant and Frank White.

The primary election is Aug. 28.

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