Influence Archives - Page 6 of 283 - Florida Politics

Pennsylvania joins Florida in considering ‘whiskey & Wheaties’

In addition to the Sunshine State, Pennsylvania lawmakers have now filed legislation to break down the wall of separation between liquor and other goods.

On Saturday, the Philadelphia-based Billy Penn news site reported that bills in that state’s “House and Senate would create a new category of license that would allow grocery and convenience stores to add hard liquor to their shelves.”

For decades, Pennsylvanians had to purchase distilled spirits at “state stores,” government-run retail outlets, and wine and beer to go at licensed package stores.

But recently there’s been a booze glasnost in the Keystone State, resulting in new laws allowing “beer sales at gas stations, six-pack sales at beer distributors, shipments of wine direct to consumer addresses and … wine sales at grocery stores,” the story said.

“The primary focus is to provide to my constituents a one-stop shop experience,” Pennsylvania state Rep. Mike Reese, sponsor of the House bill, told the website.

That echoes the pro-consumer argument advanced by proponents of this year’s legislation in Florida; the Senate bill (SB 106) is on the special order calendar for Tuesday, and the House bill (HB 81) is up next before the Commerce Committee.

That hearing has not yet been scheduled; the House version struggled to escape its first two committees of reference, clearing them by one-vote margins.

Another similarity between the two states: Pennsylvania is facing a “budget shortfall,” the Billy Penn story said, and Florida is facing a tight budget for 2017-18 and likely deficits for following years.

A version of the bill has been filed in Florida for four years running, aiming to repeal the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor.

The Senate’s bill would allow a phase-in period over several years, starting in 2018. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Lawmakers have been caught in the middle between big-box stores like Wal-Mart, who want the “whiskey & Wheaties” wall repealed, and independently-owned liquor store operators who say they will suffer.

Updated 4:30 p.m. — The Florida House bill will be heard by the Commerce Committee this Wednesday at 9:15 a.m. in 212 Knott.

AFP-FL launches direct mail campaign to support lawmakers who backed bill to kill Enterprise Florida

Keep an eye on your mailboxes, Florida: Americans for Prosperity-Florida is out with a new mailer.

The statewide organization launched a direct mail campaign Monday in districts of state lawmakers who supported a proposal (HB 7005) Enterprise Florida and other economic incentive programs. The mailer, according to the organization, is meant to “educate citizens in the districts of legislators that voted to eliminate corporate welfare.”

“Corporate welfare is the result of government, at any level, picking winners and losers by redistributing our hard-earned tax dollars to big business and special interests. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The leaders of the Florida House that have voted for H.B. 7005, vote to level the playing field for Florida’s small businesses and taxpayers,” said Chris Hudson, the organization’s state director, in a statement. “We’re hopeful that the Florida Senate will also heed the calls for good stewardship and fiscal responsibility, that they pick up H.B. 7005, and pass a responsible budget without Enterprise Florida that promotes a rigged system against the citizens they serve.”

Americans for Prosperity-Florida has led the charge against economic incentives. According to the organization, the mailer is part of “a robust effort to educate Floridians” about the proposal.

The House voted 87-28 to approve the measure, gaining support from about half of the chamber’s Democrats.

 

Constitutional rewrite panel’s transparency rules would track Legislature’s

Just like the Legislature, any two members of the new Constitution Revision Commission could meet out of the “sunshine,” according to a copy of the panel’s proposed rules.

The draft rules, posted online Monday, say that “all meetings at which Commission business is discussed between more than two members of the Commission shall be open to the public, following the procedure outlined in the Florida Constitution.”

If approved, the commission will follow the constitutional provision governing legislative meetings, which says “all prearranged gatherings, between more than two members of the legislature … shall be reasonably open to the public.”

Another draft rule says “all records of the Commission shall be accessible to the public unless otherwise exempted by law.”

Florida legal legend Sandy D’Alemberte on Monday morning called the draft rules “a good start.”

As early as January, D’Alemberte—who’s been a Democratic lawmaker, Florida State University law school dean and president, and American Bar Association president—had raised concerns whether the commission would elect “to be governed by the Sunshine Law.”

Last week, he penned an op-ed for the Tallahassee Democrat in which he urged commission members to operate in the open.

“Open government is the Florida way and it is important for the Commission to signal from the very beginning that it respects this most important feature of Florida government,” he wrote.

D’Alemberte said he hopes members get properly schooled on openness. He recalled serving on the Miami-Dade Community College Board years ago, and his fellow members were “always calling me, wanting to talk about issues.”

“It took forever to educate people how to operate when you serve on a public body, that you can’t have all these private discussions,” he said.

Updated 12:15 p.m. — The First Amendment Foundation (FAF), an open government watchdog, in a letter to commission chairman Carlos Beruff, had two quibbles with the draft rules.

In the public records section, the organization suggested changing “accessible to the public” to “open to the public” to track with state law.

It also suggested modifying the meetings rule to apply to those of two or more commissioners, saying the “higher standard … applies to every collegial body in Florida except the Legislature.”

“We would expect the CRC to hold itself to the highest standards of transparency, allowing all Floridians to oversee the work of the Commission and hold it accountable for its actions,” said the letter, signed by FAF president Barbara A. Petersen.

House gambling bill set for Ways & Means this week

The House of Representatives’ omnibus gambling bill will again be heard this week, records show.

The bill (HB 7037) is on the agenda for the Ways & Means Committee, chaired by Bradenton Republican Jim Boyd, on Tuesday.

Though it includes a renewed blackjack agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the legislation overall “freezes” the current ambit of gambling in the state, as Rep. Mike La Rosa has said. He chairs the Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee, which already OK’d the measure 10-5.

That contrasts with the Senate’s gambling bill (SB 8), which cleared all its committees and awaits a hearing on the chamber floor.

The House would outlaw designated-player card games, but the Senate would let “all cardroom operators … offer designated player games.” The House also would prohibit the expansion of slot machines, while the Senate generally expands the availability of slot machines.

Moreover, La Rosa’s legislation would divert the state’s cut of the Seminole gambling money – $3 billion over seven years – to go to education, split three ways among “K-12 teacher recruitment and retention bonuses,” “schools that serve students from persistently failing schools,” and “higher education institutions to recruit and retain distinguished faculty.”

 

All Aboard Florida says Senate railroad bill ‘unconstitutionally targets one company’

The Senate Transportation Committee unanimously approved a bill Tuesday that would require private rail companies to add safety features along their tracks, a move maligned by officials at All Aboard Florida.

SB 386’s safety standards require passenger rail companies to install features such as positive train control, which helps prevent train-on-train collisions, and a remote health monitoring system capable of detecting malfunctions at signal crossings.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Debbie Mayfield, also requires rail companies to install fencing along their tracks in areas the Florida Department of Transportation expects to have a lot of foot traffic, such as near schools or parks.

The fences must be at least 4-and-a-half -feet tall and must be built inside the train company’s right of way. Additionally, the company must install ornamental fencing rather than chain link fencing in urban areas.

The bill also adds reporting requirements for accidents and insurance coverage, among other things, which would be part of an annual report from the Department of Transportation.

During the committee’s meeting, All Aboard Florida vice president of government affairs Rusty Roberts called out bill out because, as he sees it, it “unconstitutionally targets one company.”

All Aboard Florida expects to start running passengers between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale this summer, with service between Miami and Fort Lauderdale scheduled to come online shortly thereafter.

Further down the line, the company plans to offer service between South Florida and Orlando, a four-hour road trip the company says its trains will make in three hours.

Construction has not yet begun on the stretch of track connecting the South Florida line to Orlando, and the Senate bill conspicuously applies to passenger rail services that travel “in excess of 80 miles per hour on or after July 1, 2017.”

On the South Florida line, AAF’s trains are expected to run at 79 mph, but that speed ratchets up to 125 mph between Cocoa Beach and Orlando.

All Aboard Florida says the Senate bill is redundant given current federal oversight, and Roberts added that the bill would “create a climate for many years of legal and administrative challenges.”

Roberts said in a statement that the company already plans to install safety features along its line, but the added requirements could derail the Orlando-to-South Florida line before it even gets started — not to mention future service expansions to Jacksonville and Tampa.

“All Aboard Florida has committed for years that it would bear the financial burden of the significant upgrades and safety improvements being made in order to create the only railroad in full compliance with all the latest and highest applicable safety standards,” he said. “Despite the fact that these costs are rightfully the obligation of the public under the existing long-standing agreements, AAF will fully fund the capital improvements, continue to fund railroad maintenance, but expects that the public will continue to fund their obligations in the existing agreements. SB 386 would have AAF pay for all the financial obligations that currently reside with public entities.”

Despite Roberts’ concerns, Mayfield says the bill is not targeting All Aboard Florida and is simply “about setting a framework for Florida.”

SB 386 is currently pending review of its committee references, but after the Transportation Committee, the bill was set up to head to the Senate Community Affairs Committee, followed by the full Senate Appropriations Committee.

A similar bill filed in the House, HB 269 by Republican Reps. MaryLynn Magar and Erin Grall, has yet to be taken up in committee.

Powerful Florida panel that could bring big changes gears up

A powerful panel that has the power to alter the Florida Constitution is getting down to work.

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission is holding its first meeting on Monday.

The 37-member panel meets every 20 years and is allowed to propose changes to the state constitution. The commission’s amendments will go before voters during the 2018 election.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed Carlos Beruff, a Manatee County homebuilder as chairman. Beruff unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in last year’s election.

The members of the commission are appointed by the governor, the president of the state Senate, the speaker of the Florida House and the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court. Attorney General Pam Bondi is automatically a member of the panel.

Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press

Rise of the (pre-reveal) machines: The coming battle in Florida gambling?

A recent ruling by a Tallahassee judge could result in Florida being inundated by a slot machine-style entertainment device in bars, arcades and even dog and horse tracks.

It’s also not yet clear whether the decision could trigger a violation of the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s exclusivity rights in its gambling “compact” with the state. That would entitle the Tribe to stop paying the state a cut of its gambling revenue.

Circuit Judge John Cooper earlier this month issued a declaratory judgment that a specific kind of game, usually called a “pre-reveal” game, was “not an illegal slot machine or gambling device.”

Cooper limited his opinion to a specific kind of game, “Version 67,” provided by Gator Coin II in Jacksonville. Other states, such as North Carolina, have found pre-reveal games to be illegal gambling, however.

Players must “press a ‘preview’ button before a play button can be activated,” the judge’s order explained. The outcome of the next game is always known, thus it’s not a game of skill or chance, he said. You always know you’re a winner or a loser.

“I tried to rationalize to myself why people would play this game when they knew they were going to lose,” Cooper said in court, according to a transcript.

“… I’m not sure that’s a relevant consideration,” he said. “That’s a consideration perhaps for the Legislature in deciding whether it wants to change” the state’s gambling laws.

The case got started when agents from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) found one of the games in a Jacksonville sports bar and at least one other location, records show.

The agents told the proprietors the machines were “illegal gambling devices,” and the businesses told the Gator Coin company, who came and removed them. Since the games were in storage and not making any money, Gator Coin took action against the state.

Kathey Bright Fanning, head of the company, said she was “pleased” with the ruling.

The pre-reveal “is a game of entertainment,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s very appropriate for certain locations, just like a pool table or a dartboard or a jukebox in a local tavern would be, and it’s not appropriate for other locations.”

When asked what those would be, she said places such as “family fun centers.” Asked about dog and horse tracks, Fanning said, “Perhaps. I don’t know much about the pari-mutuels.”

The amusement equipment company, founded by her father in 1946, has had to “change with the times,” she added. For example, it once had over 600 cigarette machines on the street; now there’s fewer than 20.

“It’s all about innovation,” Fanning said.

Whether the innovation in pre-reveal games runs afoul of the Seminole Compact could be a court fight for another day. Some attorneys says pre-reveal is a form of “electronically-assisted pull-tab game” that the Compact says is a “gaming expansion” against its terms.

“We are reviewing the decision,” said Barry Richard, the Tribe’s outside counsel. A DBPR spokesman added the department “is currently reviewing the order and will take the appropriate steps moving forward in the process.”

For now, the ruling applies only in the 2nd Judicial Circuit, where Cooper is a judge. It comprises Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties in north Florida.

Nonetheless, “I see a giant wave coming,” said one person in Florida’s gambling industry who asked not to be named. “My phone is blowing up from people (at pari-mutuels) who want these” pre-reveal games.

Ray Rodrigues stance on medical marijuana angers Amendment 2 advocates

Because polling in 2016 showed less than half of all Floridians want to legalize marijuana outright, Ray Rodrigues believes he is doing the right thing by pushing regulations that ban people from smoking cannabis or using edible pot.

“Here’s what we know,” the Fort Myers House Republican told former Congressman David Jolly on AM 820 WWBA Thursday afternoon. “Amendment 2 passed with more than 70 percent of the vote. And for those of us who were polling this issue during the course of the campaign, support for medical marijuana was always over 70 percent.

“However,” Rodrigues added, “during those same polls, we would ask about recreational marijuana. The support for recreational marijuana was never anywhere near the passage rate. It was consistently under 50 percent. So what that told us was the people in Florida want to see patients have access to marijuana for medicinal reasons, but the support for recreational marijuana is not nearly at the same level of support.”

Not every public survey showed that, however. A Quinnipiac poll conducted between April 27 and May 8 of 2016 showed 56 percent supported recreational use; 41 percent opposed.

Rodrigues stunned medical marijuana advocates last week when he unveiled a bill (HB 1397) that included language stating that the medical use of cannabis did not include “possession, use, or administration of marijuana in a form for smoking or vaping or in the form of commercially produced food items made with marijuana or marijuana oils, except for vapable forms possessed, used, or administered by or for a qualified patient diagnosed with a terminal condition.”

Rodrigues is not an outlier when it comes to Florida lawmakers pushing medical marijuana regulations to ban smokable pot.

Of five bills on medical marijuana now floating in the Legislature this Session, three prohibit smoking (two others are sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes and Miami Republican Frank Artiles).

Ben Pollara, the campaign manager for United for Care, says that the Legislature is acting like it’s trying to appease the 29 percent of Floridians who opposed Amendment 2, not the overwhelming majority who did.

“Do I think that’s what the people thought they were voting for? No,” Pollara says about a bill that would ban smokable marijuana. “Do I think that’s what the constitutional amendment says? No. I think the constitution allows — if not the smoking of marijuana — then the purchase and possession of smokable marijuana.”

Of the 24 states that have legalized medical marijuana, only two, New York and Pennsylvania, mandate that patients with a recommendation from a doctor cannot smoke marijuana. In Pennsylvania, edible forms of marijuana can’t be sold in dispensaries, but the law allows patients to produce those items at home.

Rodrigues also told WWBA about 2013 study conducted by Columbia University that found marijuana in a pill form provided longer relief than smoking (4.5 hours compared to 2.5 hours). “When you smoke, you’re using known carcinogens into your body, and reducing lung function,” he said. “So from a medical standpoint, the pill form is definitely medicine. It provides you the benefit of medicine. And the smoking of it is not medicine, it does not provide benefits, it often provides more harm than good.”

“When you smoke, you’re using known carcinogens into your body, and reducing lung function,” he said. “So from a medical standpoint, the pill form is definitely medicine. It provides you the benefit of medicine. And the smoking of it is not medicine, it does not provide benefits, it often provides more harm than good.”

Chris Cano, the executive director of the Central Florida Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (CFL NORML), says that for legislators to determine that smoking isn’t good for some patients is “big government at its worst.” Cano cites the example of Cathy Jordan, a Manatee County woman who has been smoking marijuana for years to control symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

“Cathy Jordan smokes two joints every morning, so that she can cough up the phlegm and fluids that she has due to her ALS,” he says. “So smoking works for her. When he says the science is wrong, he’s absolutely wrong. There’s certain benefits to smoking.”

Michael Minardi, the legal director of NORML of Florida, responded to Rodrigues by citing a 2012 Journal of the American Medical Association study that marijuana smokers performed better on tests of lung function compared to either nonsmokers or cigarette smokers.

Rodrigues acknowledged he has heard from Amendment 2 supporters, who aren’t happy with his bill.

“There were definitely people who believed that they were voting to smoke it because those people have contacted me since we had filed that bill and expressed that sentiment,” he said. “However, I do not believe that is the majority of the people. Clearly, the majority of the people believed they were voting for medical marijuana, and as long as they get the benefits from medical marijuana, the way that it is administered is irrelevant. And I would say that the science is on our side.”

In 2014, the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law the “Charlotte’s Web” bill, which legalized strains of marijuana high in cannabidiol, or CBD, but low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that produces a high.

For nearly four years, Pollara has worked to make medical marijuana legal in Florida. He says that the attitude of most members of the Legislature this entire time is to make it as “unappealing to nonmusical consumers as possible.”

“What gets lost in that is that sometimes what you need is to get high,” Pollara says. “You can’t extricate the medical benefit from the getting high part of it.”

While it doesn’t appear to be the sentiment in Tallahassee at this point, Pollara optimistically surmises that there’s still plenty of time for the Legislature to come up with a final product before Sine Die.

(WWBA does not yet have a link to the Rodrigues interview on their website yet. When they do, we will include the link).

 

Senate tax cut proposal, as is, may be on the ropes

A tax cut that’s a priority of Senate President Joe Negron is running into resistance from his fellow senators.

Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami-Dade Republican and Negron’s right hand in the chamber, is running the bill (SB 378) to pay for a cut in the state’s tax on mobile phone, satellite and cable TV service by repealing a tax break to insurers.

On Friday evening, Flores said “there have been conversations” among some senators—she didn’t say whom—who want to  restructure the bill, still taking the tax credits from the insurance industry but instead applying them to another cost driver.

School funding was one example bandied about this week, she added.

“My point is, many senators—if not the majority of senators—are still in favor of getting rid of this break that benefits only one industry to provide (tax) relief for more Floridians,” she said in a phone interview.

The bill was to be discussed Wednesday by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax, but was pulled off the agenda by chair Kelli Stargel, who later said she didn’t want to take up the bill because only three of the panel’s five members were there.

“That’s a decision that was made by the chair,” Negron told reporters later Wednesday. “I wasn’t involved in that decision but I think it’s perfectly reasonable and I support (it).” No one said a lack of votes was the problem.

Flores, however, still is advocating the original tax swap, taking away a 15 percent tax credit on the salaries that insurers give their full-time workers here in the state for a reduction in the state’s communications services tax (CST).

Other colleagues of hers aren’t sure that’s the best use of the money.

When asked if a compromise could be struck, Flores said she wanted the legislation “to be a collaborative bill, so right now this is a work in progress.”

A coalition of Florida business groups—including Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the Florida Insurance Council (FIC)—already has publicly opposed taking away the insurance industry’s tax credit.

In 2013, Negron tried to get rid of the now 30-year-old tax break to insurance companies, now worth around $435 million, to decrease automobile fees. The insurance industry helped kill that effort in the House. Fees were later reduced without scuttling the tax break.

Earlier this year, the Stuart Republican said he was again looking to eliminate the insurance deal.

“Those funds would much be much better spent providing tax relief to Floridians, to businesses, rather than subsidizing the labor cost of one particular industry,” he said Wednesday.

Florida unit investigating Medicaid fraud gets high marks

 Florida is among one of the nation’s top states in recovering money from health care providers suspected of Medicaid fraud.

Data released earlier this month by the federal government shows that Florida’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit recovered more than $165 million during the 2016 federal fiscal year.

That placed Florida second behind the state of New York. Florida was 11th overall in the nation in the amount of convictions won by its Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, according to information compiled by the federal government.

The state’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit reports to Attorney General Pam Bondi but the costs are split between the state and federal government.

Federal authorities have called Florida, especially South Florida, one of the “hot spots for health care fraud” in the nation.
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