Influence Archives - Page 5 of 337 - Florida Politics

Medical marijuana research, 16 other higher-ed programs restored in budget deal

The budget package deal that gave Gov. Rick Scott the $85 million he wants for a Florida Job Growth Grant Fund also restored cut funding sought by Florida colleges and universities for 17 different projects, including funding for medical marijuana research.

The research money, $1.69 million will go to the University of Florida Health Center for the College of Cannabis Research in Gainesville. UF also is getting $5.9 million for its Music Building.

Florida State University was a big winner from the special session, getting four projects totaling more than $12 million restored. FSU will get $6.8 for its Interdisciplinary Research Commercialization Building, $4.2 million for its STEM Teaching Lab, $846,000 for faculty and a scholarship program for FSU College of Law, and $515,000 for its Florida Campus Compact.

Another big winner was Florida International University in Miami, which is getting $12.7 million for its School of International and Public Affairs.

Also winning big was Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, which is getting $12.7 million for its Integrated Watershed and Costal Studies program.

Polk State College is getting $2.5 million to expand its Art Program.

Lake Erie College is getting $2.1 million for its Osteopathic Medicine School in Bradenton.

The University of Central Florida in Orlando is getting $1.69 million for its downtown presence initiatives.

Miami-Dade College in Miami is getting $1.2 million to rem ode its gymnasium into a Justice Center.

Florida Atlantic University is getting $1 million for its Tech Runway Initiative.

The University of West Florida in Pensacola is getting $931,0000 for its Archaeology Program.

Florida Gateway College of Lake City is getting $336,000 for its Olustee Campus Public Safety Facility

Lawmakers finally pass medical marijuana implementation bill

After a false start during the regular Legislative Session, lawmakers Friday passed a medical marijuana implementation bill on the last day of the Special Session, sending it to Gov. Rick Scott.

The wide-ranging legislation (SB 8-A) will give guidance to state regulators as they put the state’s constitutional amendment medical marijuana into effect.

Gov. Rick Scott said later on Friday he will sign the bill into law.

According to the bill analysis’ summary, the measure among other things:

— Grandfathers in seven existing providers, renames them “medical marijuana treatment centers” (MMTCs) and requires the Department of Health to license 10 new providers by October. The bill also allows four new MMTCs for every increase of 100,000 patients prescribed marijuana.

— Limits the number of retail locations each MMTC can open to 25 across the state, and divides that cap by region. As the patient count goes up, five more locations can be opened per provider for every new 100,000 patients in the state’s Medical Marijuana Use Registry. The limits expire in 2020.

A fight over the retail location cap hung up the bill during the session that ended in May.

— Requires laboratory testing of marijuana products and creates a certification program for medical marijuana testing laboratories.

— Exempts the sale of “marijuana and marijuana delivery devices” from state sales tax.

— Establishes “qualifications required to become a caregiver including requiring the Department of Health (DOH) to create a caregiver certification course that each caregiver must take.”

An accompanying public records bill exempts the personal identifying information of patient caregivers that is in the state’s “Compassionate Use Registry.”

Senate holds off on school funding until House acts on higher education

The Senate has teed up a compromise school-funding bill designed to help send the Legislature home from its special session.

But the senators held off a final vote until the House makes good on its promise to OK an economic development bill that contains $60 million in higher education projects.

The Senate passed the latter bill, HB 1-A, earlier in the afternoon, on a vote of 34-2 (with Jeff Brandes and Perry Thurston dissenting).

Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala conceded that the Senate’s efforts to tighten oversight of the bill’s Florida Jobs Growth Grant Fund had failed.

“In the negotiations to work this bill out … those got dropped by the wayside,” he said.

But the governor and Department of Economic Opportunity will soon “find that they are going to need to set up some (oversight) process. The demand from the public and media will be there for transparency,” he said.

The Senate had voted on Day 1 of the three-day session to override Gov. Rick Scott’s line-item vetoes of higher education projects worth $75 million. The approved version drops two of those projects, and apportions prorated shares among what’s left.

The public education bill, HB 3-A, would meet Scott’s demand to add $215 million to the Florida Education Finance Program — $100 per student.

Critics said the overall funding level, in light of diversions to charter schools under the House’s Schools of Hope program, would prove inadequate, should Scott sign it into law.

“These dollars are greatly needed. Seriously needed,” Sen. Bill Montford said. Without them, “three weeks from now school districts would be laying off people and cutting programs.”

Still, HB 7069 needs fixing, Montford continued.

“We’ve got work to do when we get back in the fall” for the next regular session,” he said.

Update at 4:30 p.m.: The Senate approved the economic incentives bill on a vote of 34-1 after the House sent it back with language providing $50 million in state money to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike, around Lake Okeechobee. The addition was key to the compromise designed to let the Legislature conclude its special session.

Updated at 4:38 p.m.: The Senate voted, 31-4, to send the schools funding bill to the governor after the House accepted its higher education package. Scott made an appearance on the Senate dais for the occasion.

We have a deal: Rick Scott expands scope of special session

Gov. Rick Scott expanded the call of the Legislature’s special session Friday to include money he wants to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike and higher education investments important to the Senate.

And here are the details that got us here:

The Senate will relent on trying to appropriate more money for hospitals; there will be nothing that looks like a tax increase; Scott will allow restoration of $60 million in preferred Senate projects; there will be no changes in the ‘required local effort’ part of public schools funding.

These widgets will be in the House’s bill on the Florida Education Finance Program, sources said.

Scott will get $50 million to repair the dike. House Speaker Richard Corcoran had proposed the changes in a letter to Scott earlier in the day.

The Senate earlier was in recess pending what President Joe Negron referred to as “an amendment being prepared based on current developments.”

Corcoran put forward the dam project as economic development spending, fully compatible with the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund created in legislation that cleared the House floor earlier Friday.

The deal lacks $100 million the Senate sought to ameliorate Medicaid reimbursement cuts to Florida hospitals. It wouldn’t increase taxes or change local schools property taxes. It would include $60 million for Senate higher education projects, and $50 million for the dike.

“This disaster has all the characteristics and consequences that the (fund) is designed to address,” Corcoran wrote — specifically, “the devastating economic impact resulting from the blue-green algae bloom in South Florida” last summer.

“The House believes infrastructure projects, such as the rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike, can assist economic recovery and support the area’s workforce,” he wrote.

Corcoran noted that “your friendship with President Trump” has resulted a promise for federal matching money for the $200 million project, which Scott urged the Legislature to support during the regular session.

Negron on Thursday evening demanded respect for the Senate’s higher education priorities — he wants Florida’s colleges and universities to rank among the nation’s best. The upper chamber has voted to override Scott’s vetoes of $75 million in higher ed projects.

Corcoran found a way to qualify those projects as economic incentives. “These institutions can and ahould provide ongoing research, training, and support for local economic recovery,” he wrote.

“As I have publicly stated, the House will not participate in any legislative action to override your higher education project vetoes,” Corcoran stressed.

“However, with your agreement, we can support more conservative appropriations to provide funding for higher education projects that will contribute to the broader goal of strong public infrastructure and a skilled workforce.”

Scott confirmed in a written statement that Trump has promised money to fix the dike, which surrounds Lake Okeechobee.

“Along with SB 10, a major priority for Senate President Joe Negron, that I signed into law last month, repairing the Herbert Hoover Dike will ensure that future generations of Floridians will not be plagued with safety concerns during flooding events and problems with algae. I urge the Legislature to take up this call and fund these critical repairs,” Scott said.

“Also, today, I updated the call to include higher education funding. Last week, I signed a historic $4.9 billion budget for Florida’s universities, which is a $174 million increase over last year,” Scott continued.

“By adding higher education to the topics that can be considered during the ongoing special session, the Legislature will have the opportunity to modify these issues for my consideration.”

Senate passes medical marijuana implementation bill

The state Senate passed its medical marijuana implementation bill on Friday, the last scheduled day of the Special Session.

The measure (SB 8-A), after technical and “product safety” amendments were tacked on, was approved by a 28-8 vote.

Senators also passed, 36-0, a related public records bill exempting the personal identifying information of patient caregivers that is in the state’s “Compassionate Use Registry.” Both were sponsored by Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican.

Both bills now travel to the House. The Special Session is scheduled to end 6 p.m. Friday.

In debate, Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens said he still did not believe “this bill implements … the will of the voters.” He has objected to the lack of allowance for medicinal cannabis to be smoked.

Personal-injury attorney John Morgan, who backed the constitutional amendment on medical marijuana that passed in 2016 with 71 percent of the vote, said this week he will sue the state if lawmakers don’t allow medical marijuana to be smoked.

“We have to do the right thing, not just something,” Clemens said. He also objected to preferences for growing licenses that favor nurseries in business for at least 30 years. 

Such operations “know no more about growing cannabis than a college student with a closet,” Clemens added. 

Gainesville Republican Keith Perry, who opposes smoking, pointed to what he called 22 scientific studies showing the perils of smoked cannabis, including cancer and lung diseases.

“It needs to be administered in a form that will not cause further harm to patients,” Perry said. 

Kevin Rader, a Delray Beach Democrat, told a personal story about his mother. She’s near the end of her life and residing in Israel because she needs to take advantage of its socialized medicine system.

She smokes marijuana to manage pain, he said. 

If (patients) want to smoke it, they should be able to smoke it,” he said. “Once (they) realize they can’t smoke it, we’ll be back here to fix it.”

Tom Lee lamented that “every drug has to go through the FDA, but this drug we’ve made a populist decision … but I don’t want to relitigate that.”

The Thonotosassa Republican also feared that the state’s licensing regime will drive up the price of medicinal cannabis so much that some patients will seek it “from the black market.”

He too has a personal stake in the system, though. Lee mentioned a friend undergoing treatment at Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center who urged him to vote for the bill. She wants to use edible “gummy bear” marijuana, which the legislation does permit.

Later Friday, a U.S. Sugar spokeswoman knocked down reports that it would benefit from a special provision in the bill.

It provides for up to two growing licenses to applicants who can show “they own one or more facilities that are, or were, used for the canning, concentrating, or otherwise processing of citrus fruit or citrus molasses, and will use or convert the facility or facilities for the processing of marijuana.”

“Our company has not been engaged in any way with any member of the Florida Legislature regarding medical marijuana,” Judy Sanchez said.

Updated 4 p.m. — The House took up the Senate bill but made minor changes, sending it back to that chamber after OK’ing it by a vote of 103-9.

The economic incentives bill clears the House by a lopsided vote

The House passed the economic incentives package Friday over complaints it would hand Gov. Rick Scott a “slush fund” and make a mockery of the leadership’s professed opposition to picking winners and losers in the economy.

The vote was 111-4. The “no” votes were John Cortes, Evan Jenne, McGhee, and Emily Slosberg — all Democrats.

The bill represents “a fundamental change in direction” for the state’s economic development programs — away from subsidizing individual companies, said Paul Renner, carrying the measure.

“The old way of doing economic development asked from the many to give to the few — asked from all the taxpayers to give to a handful of privileged companies that can navigate the system here in Tallahassee to receive these incentives,” he said.

“We are taking a departure from that, because it violated that basic fundamental principle, that compact between the government and the taxpayers.”

Democrats, however, complained the bill would give governors too much discretion to spend money without oversight — creating an “$85 million slush fund where we’re giving the governor a little bucket of money … and he’s going to get to pick winners and losers,” David Richardson argued.

He voted for it anyway.

“We don’t want to support this slush fund but, if we don’t vote for it, we can’t get the money for Visit Florida. And that’s all part of the design,” he said. “Members, welcome to sausage-making.”

The bill, HB 1-A, envisions an $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund to support infrastructure and job training programs. It would not allow grants to individual businesses. There’d be another $76 million for Visit Florida tourism marketing.

The Senate version, SB 2-A, provides for tighter oversight. For example, projects more than $750,000 would need approval by a special legislative committee. Those worth more than $500,000 would need to be posted on the organization’s website for 14 days before they take effect.

The House pushed to end both programs during the regular session; the Senate sided with Scott in favor. House leaders relented following the session after Scott agreed to limit grants to broad infrastructure and training investments.

Republican Randy Fine said he was prepared to trust that Scott — a wealthy businessman who doesn’t draw his salary — “will spend this money in the best way possible.”

Furthermore, the bill could “serve as a model to the country for how economic development should work. Maybe we can lead the country away from this notion from handing money out to companies,” and toward investments in infrastructure and job training.

“This is a great compromise,” Fine said.

Democrat Kionne McGhee didn’t buy it.

“What we are doing today is creating a political action committee for the governor,” he said. “This is not a slush fund or trust fund — this is a state-sponsored PAC.”

Jim Boyd, a Republican who sits on Enterprise Florida’s board, insisted the bill represents a fair compromise. “We don’t always end up where we started out, and that’s a good thing,” he said.

Commission clears Cary Pigman in state ethics case

The Florida Ethics Commission has cleared Rep. Cary Pigman of charges that he misused his position to retaliated against a school principal in his district.

The approved a recommendation by Judge June C. McKinney to dismiss the case against Pigman. At least one member of the commission abstained from the vote, while another member voted against the recommendation.

Pigman, a doctor of emergency medicine and Army Reserve physician, was accused of “linking his efforts to obtain legislative funding for the Okeechobee School District … to retaliate or attempt to retaliate against an employee of the School District.”

The employee in question was Tracy Maxwell Downing, an elementary school principal and the ex-sister-in-law of Pigman’s former secretary, Libby Maxwell, with whom he had been having and an affair and to whom he is now married.

The commission’s decision to accept McKinney’s recommendation comes just days after the TC Palm reported Pigman is serving one-year probation following a March arrest for driving under the influence.

According to the TC Palm, Pigman, pleaded no contest to a charge of driving under the influence, was found guilty in April. The paper reported his license was suspended for six months, he was ordered to pay a $500 fine, do 50 hours of community service and go to DUI school.

Pigman was arrested in March after a Florida Highway Patrol trooper noticed his Jeep “drifting” between his lane and the highway’s shoulder around 10:45 p.m., according to the arrest report.

The trooper reported “immediately smell(ing) an odor of alcoholic beverage” when he came up to the open window, and “saw an open wine bottle in the front passenger seat.” Pigman, the report said, failed field sobriety tests, including almost falling and not following instructions.

The Avon Park Republican resigned his position as chairman of the House Health Quality Subcommittee in the days following the incident.


Joe Negron doubles down: He was not party to any special session deal

Senate President Joe Negron insisted Thursday, for the second time in as many days, that he emphatically was not party to any deal between Gov. Rick Scott and the House over public education spending and economic incentives.

Any suggestion otherwise, Negron told reporters following the day’s Senate session, is a “false narrative.”

There is evidence, he said — absence of reference to him in the governor’s special session proclamation, and of any quote from a press release announcing the session.

He said early drafts of those documents would back him up, but his office hadn’t produced them Thursday evening.

He’d asked not to be included, lest it be mistaken as an endorsement, although he did attend a June 2 news conference announcing the special session call.

“I hear this false narrative by some that, somehow, the Senate is not keeping its end of the deal,” Negron said.

“We all care about our reputation. Our word is our bond. I think the evidence is indisputable — and it makes perfect sense — that the governor and the speaker have resolved a conflict. But they can’t resolve that conflict by using the Senate priorities to make that happen.”

Negron stressed that the major disagreements during the regular session were between Scott and the House. The Senate sided with Scott on funding for Enterprise Florida Inc. and Visit Florida, over determined opposition in the House.

“Now the House has decided to give the governor every single dollar he has demanded for EFI, every single dollar for Visit Florida. And they’ve decided we’ll go ahead and do the $215 more for FEFP (public schools) — which is less than what the Senate had agreed to do in our budget,” Negron said.

“That’s the conflict. That’s why we’re here. We’re not here because of the Senate.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is on record to the effect that Negron “did not stick to the plan.”

Negron objected that Scott’s line item vetoes favored House projects over the Senate’s by a 2-1 margin.

Among the first things the Senate did upon convening Wednesday morning was to override Scott’s veto of the schools budget and $75 million in higher education projects. Boosting higher education has been a key Senate priority.

Additionally, the Senate is bent on reducing cuts to Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals by $100 million.

“We’re not just going to rubberstamp an agreement the two parties made without our priorities being taken into account,” Negron said.

“The good news is, we can be out of here by 2:30 or 3 o’clock tomorrow. It’s real simple. We fund the Senate priorities in higher education. We make sure the Senate’s views are respected as part of the negotiation. We look at hospital funding, which is important to the Senate. I’m open to discussing how we get there. And we still have reserves that exceed the current reserves that we have now,” he said.

“That’s what it’s going to take. But the Senate is united on not simply ratify an agreement that we weren’t part of.”

Negron spokeswoman Katie Betta said a Scott aide had shown her drafts of the proclamation and press release on a tablet computer. The proclaimation lacked Negron’s name, and she asked the aide to remove references to the president.

Senate avoids loading down schools funding bill with hostile amendments

The Senate rejected amendments Thursday that might have blocked a meeting of minds with the House on public schools funding — including bids to tie the legislation explicitly to economic development investments.

“These issues have been parsed out separately,” said Sen. Gary Farmer, who offered both amendments.

“Let’s put them together. And let’s candidly assert ourselves as the Florida Senate. Let’s make a statement about what our policy is. Let’s send the House one bill, one package,” he said.

“Let’s do our thing, and maybe not be so worried about what they’re going to do.”

Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala was sympathetic, saying the leadership had decided against such a move to avoid a confrontation with the House.

“In the end, in the spirit of trying to arrive at a solution, we made the decision not to go in that direction,” Latvala said.

He stressed that the point was to inject $215 million — $100 more per pupil — into the schools.

“If we try to get too cute, we may blow the whole thing up, and we have come up here for naught. I think that would be very unfortunate,” Latvala said.

The debate set the bill up for a final vote on Friday.

It came during the second day of a three-day special session that Gov. Rick Scott called after he vetoed the $11 billion Florida Education Finance Program, the public education budget.

SB 2500-A is designed to supplement the Appropriations Act approved last month, to get around the 72-hour waiting period for budget bills, Latvala said.

Additionally, the Senate voted Wednesday to override Scott’s veto of the schools budget plus $75 million in higher education projects.

That did set up a confrontation with the House.

“We’d be the first Republican Legislature that overrode a Republican governor on pork-barrel spending,” House Speaker Richard Corcoran told reporters.

Additionally, the Senate set final votes on an Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida bill containing tougher oversight than does the version favored by Scott and the House. And on a bill that would restore $100 million of the $200 million cut from Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals in the state budget.

Details on those bills here.

Again, Corcoran didn’t sound interested.

“It’s not in the call,” the speaker said. “We’re happy with where we are with the funding for the hospitals.”

Senators used the occasion of the schools-funding bill to re-debate HB 7069, the House’s big Schools of Hope package from the regular session. The upper chamber passed that bill only reluctantly, as part of the budget deal reached in an extended session.

Farmer was behind a series of amendments seeking to pick away at HB 7069. He would have stripped most of the money out of the $414 million Schools of Hope and related programs and sent them to public schools, while preserving aid to students with disabilities.

A third would have provided $100 in social services for students in the struggling schools targeted for closure under HB 7069. Another would have stripped $30 million the disability money from that bill. All failed.

Sen. Dennis Simmons withdrew amendments providing for similar raids, in the interest of compromise with the House, he said.

Evan Jenne

House beats back effort to allow smoking of medical marijuana

A change to the Special Session’s medical marijuana legislation that would have allowed patients to smoke it was handily defeated Thursday.

The amendment offered by Rep. Evan Jenne, a Dania Beach Democrat, was killed on the House floor by a vote of 37-71.

“If a doctor and a patient determine that (smoking) is the best way to alleviate pain, or whatever it might be, then that should be left up to them,” he told reporters after the House’s daily session. “In any doctor-patient relationship, there is no one-size-fits-all.”

But legislative GOP leadership disagrees with the interpretation of John Morgan—attorney, entrepreneur and main backer of Florida’s medical marijuana amendment—that voters contemplated smoking when they approved the constitutional change by 71 percent in 2016.

“I will be suing the state to allow smoke,” he said this week. “It was part of my amendment.”

Others, including House Democrat and attorney Katie Edwards of Plantation, said the amendment was clear. 

She read aloud one section that smoking advocates—including Morgan—cite, that the state can’t “require any accommodation of any on-site medical use of marijuana in any correctional institution or detention facility or place of education or employment, or of smoking medical marijuana in any public place.”

“If I’m wrong, we need to fix this … I do not want us to be sued,” she said. “A lawsuit benefits one attorney, one firm. It does not help us get (marijuana) to the patients any quicker … (and) do not tell us that lawsuits don’t hinder patient access.”

The House eventually set the bill (HB 5A) up for a vote on Friday.

The legislation, among other things, calls for 10 new growers to be licensed this year, in addition to the seven existing ones. Five new growers would be added for every 100,000 patients, and a limit of 25 retail locations per authorized grower will be OK’d, though that limit can rise. That cap will “sunset,” or go away, in 2020.

Jenne also wasn’t looking forward to a suit from Morgan or anyone else.

“I think everyone assumed that that’s what they were voting for,” he said, referring to the smoking of medical cannabis. “And if there is one thing we’re good at as a Legislature, it’s losing in court.”

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