Influence – Page 7 – Florida Politics

Legislature backs bill removing black farmer medical marijuana requirement

The state is one step closer to removing a barrier for a black farmer to receive a medical marijuana growing license.

The Senate on Thursday passed a bill (HB 6049) that would delete a provision from statutes requiring a black farmer to be a member of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association Florida Chapter to be eligible for one of the state’s medical marijuana growing licenses.

The House passed the bill earlier, meaning it now awaits Gov. Rick Scott’s approval to become law.

The move comes in the wake of an ongoing lawsuit filed by Columbus Smith, a black farmer from Panama City who argued that the BFAA stipulation barred him from receiving a growing license.

The state is required to give one of its 10 pot-growing licenses to a recognized class member of the Pigford v Glickman class-action lawsuit, in which the federal government was found to have discriminated against black farmers. When the state crafted its medical marijuana licensing laws, it stipulated that in order for a black farmer to be eligible to receive a license under the Pigford v. Glickman clause, the black farmer must also belong to the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association.

Smith said he was not able to join BFAA and that the provision is unconstitutional. A Tallahassee judge in December sided with Smith and ordered Department of Health officials to stop awarding licenses, according to the News Service of Florida.

Before the vote, Sen. Kevin Rader withdrew an amendment that would have subjected the director of the Office of Medical Marijuana Use to confirmation of the Senate.

The current director, Christian Bax, has been criticized by the Legislature for not “fully implementing” medical marijuana as provided by statutes.

“This has never happened in the history of the Legislature where the rule that the statutes that we create are being broken by the executive branch and its as simple as that,” Rader, a Delray Beach Democrat, told senators before withdrawing his amendment.

The bill received near-unanimous approval in both chambers. Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican, was the lone no vote in the Senate. Rep. Brad Drake, a Eucheeanna Republican, was the lone no vote in his chamber.

Youth advocacy group urges Rick Scott to end ‘free-speech zones’

A youth advocacy group is launching digital campaign ads urging Gov. Rick Scott to sign a higher education bill that includes a provision that would end so-called “free speech zones.”

Generation Opportunity-Florida sent an email expressing particular support of a provision in Senate Bill 4 that would end so-called “free speech zones.”

‘By signing Senate Bill 4, Governor Scott would be putting an end to the unconstitutional practice of limiting free speech to secluded and pre-sanctioned ‘zones’ on college campuses,” said Demetrius Minor, the director for GO-FL Coalition.

“This practice not only violates the First Amendment but represents the kind of closed-minded thinking that is anathema to what college is all about,” Minor added.

The measure, known as the Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act, is a big priority of Senate President Joe Negron and aims to improve transparency, faculty recruitment and graduation rates in the state’s higher education system by rewarding universities with four-year graduation rates.

To view the ad image that would be sent in direct email to the governor’s office, click here.

Legislative leaders increase funding for UF project

Dozens of member projects were zeroed out as legislative leaders reached a deal on an $87 billion budget deal, but one University of Florida project was not only salvaged, it got double of what the House and Senate had initially agreed to.

“It was about making sure that the projects that we chose had the greatest impact on the economy and greatest return on investments,” Senate Budget Chair Rob Bradley told reporters after budget conference Wednesday night.

The House and the Senate had initially agreed to fund the Data Science and Information center at the University of Florida at $25 million, but on Wednesday once the budget deal had been agreed to, it got $50 million in funds.

Throughout the budget process, legislators said a lot of member projects had to be cut to find money for the $400 million “Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act.”

Most of the money in the school safety package will go to “school hardening,” such as security upgrades to school buildings and bringing more school resource officer on staff.

DSR survived the belt-tightening without a loss of funds.

“Having this data science center is an important step into the 21st Century and UF is a leader in that cutting-edge technology,” Bradley said.

The UF Data Science Research Lab uses cutting edge technology to develop data management, data mining and data analysis strategies for everything from text-based databases to multimedia ones with images and video.

In addition to state funding, projects at DSR have received funding from federal sources, such as DARPA, and private industry, including Amazon, Pivotal and Google.

Lawmakers agree with Rick Scott, give juvenile officers $8m in pay raises

With a budget deal done, there is good news for juvenile detention and probation officers. They are getting a pay raise.

The House and Senate agreed Wednesday to set aside $8 million in pay raises for the more than 2,000 detention and probation officers who work with at-risk youth in the state. That amount goes hand in hand with Gov. Rick Scott’s spending plan proposal was before the Legislative Session began.

The money commitment will amount to a 10-percent pay raise, which Scott hopes will help recruit and retain better detention and probation officers to work in the Department of Juvenile Justice.

It also comes after an investigation by the Miami Herald exposed juvenile detainees being abused and exploited in the state system by those tasked to care and supervise them.

The “Fight Club” series found that over a 10-year period youth care workers would give detainees honey buns and other treats as a reward for beating other youth, revealing systemic misconduct at DJJ stemming from inexperienced and underpaid staff as well as inadequate personnel standards and a high tolerance for cover-ups.

The $8 million will be part of the $87 billion spending plan for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

trauma centers

Safety net hospitals take a win in 2018-19 budget

Hospitals serving large numbers of the state’s Medicaid patients “applauded” funding in the 2018-19 budget they say “puts patients before profits.”

In a Thursday press release, the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida thanked budget writers for maintaining funding.

The Legislature agreed to fund another $319 million—including the federal share—in the upcoming year’s budget, as they did for this year (2017-18).

“Safety net hospitals ensure the highest level of care to all Floridians, regardless of their ability to pay,” it said. “By leaving intact this important funding policy, legislators showed compassion for the needs of low-income elderly, pregnant women, critically ill children and fragile newborns.”

Without the money, they “would have faced an even deeper financial hole caused by years of budget cuts,” the release said.

“Over the last five years, 14 safety net hospital systems have sustained half of the $688 million in combined net Medicaid cuts, putting vital programs and services at risk and adding pressure on communities to cover the cost of caring for their residents. Unfortunately, Medicaid only reimburses hospitals about 60 cents for every $1 of care provided.”

“The Legislature faced many issues of societal importance this session. We thank them for placing the preservation of the unique, special mission of safety net hospitals among their priorities. Across the state, our communities are better off for having this funding retained.”

‘It’s silly’: Senate won’t punish Enterprise Rent-A-Car for NRA move

Senate Budget Chief Rob Bradley said it would set “bad precedent” to go along with a House plan that would have financially punished Enterprise Rent-A-Car for cutting ties with the National Rifle Association.

“I think that it’s silly to get involved in rebidding contracts … because you’re mad at a temporary moment in time about something that they have or haven’t done politically,” Bradley said.

House members,  mirroring what Georgia lawmakers were doing, tried to target an aviation fuel tax reduction benefitting Delta and a statewide rental car contract held by Enterprise after the companies severed ties with the NRA, according to a POLITICO Florida report. The rental cat company’s contract expires in 2020.

The House quietly proposed a plan that would have hurt Delta and Enterprise after the companies decided not to give NRA members discounts following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The decision came after Parkland students, teachers and parents organized massive protests urging for more gun-control measures.

The Fleming Island Republican said the state should not get involved in the fight because it would set “bad precedent” if they did.

Lawmakers look for agreement in opioid battle

Lawmakers continued to negotiate the terms of opioid legislation Wednesday, with the Senate standing firm in its position that insurance companies should not put obstacles in the way of medication-assisted therapy.

The Senate passed a House opioids bill (HB 21) but tagged on an amendment that includes appropriating $54.5 million for such things as outpatient and residential treatment. It also would ban insurers and HMOs from using prior authorization or “step therapy” or making other requirements as a prerequisite to the use of medication-assisted therapy in treating substance abuse.

Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, said Wednesday night that the bill tackles the state’s growing opioid problem like the public health crisis that it is.

“For men and women who come forward and have an addiction who want help, they want to turn their lives around, they want to go back to work and be with their families … that should be treated as a public health issue, and I think this bill goes a long way toward that,” Negron said.

The original House bill did not have the medication-assisted treatment language, and it remains an issue the two chambers must hammer out before the 2018 Legislative Session ends in the coming days.

The centerpiece of the bill, however, may be a three-day limit on prescriptions for treatment of acute pain. Physicians could prescribe up to seven-day supplies of controlled substances if deemed medically necessary.

The Senate agreed with the House to exempt from the prescription limits cancer patients, people who are terminally ill, palliative care patients and those who suffer from major trauma. The bill also would require physicians or their staff members to check with a statewide database before prescribing or dispensing drugs.

As amended, the bill would earmark $991,000 for improvements to the database, known as the prescription drug monitoring program, so that it can interface with physicians’ offices and electronic health records used by doctors.

The bill, proponents of opioid limits say, will go a long way toward helping the state curb the use of opioids, which are narcotic painkillers that have caused widespread overdoses.

In 2016, heroin caused 952 deaths in Florida, fentanyl caused 1,390 deaths, oxycodone caused 723 deaths, and hydrocodone caused 245 deaths. Those statistics led Gov. Rick Scott in May 2017 to declare a state of emergency.

The $54.5 million in funding is a slight increase from an original Senate proposal of $53 million. Negron said the chambers haven’t finalized the opioid funding and that the amount of money could still increase. That would be good, said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

“My thoughts are $53 million is a great start for this year, but we need much more to combat that crisis overall,” she said.

Resign-to-run bill heads to Rick Scott’s desk

A bill that would require public office holders to resign before running for federal office could soon become law.

The House passed the legislation (SB 186) late Wednesday night, sending it to Gov. Rick Scott‘s desk for approval.

The bill would require elected Florida officials to resign from their offices, effective no later than the day before the federal office they seek would start.

The resign-to-run requirement only applies to officials seeking a federal term that would overlap with their current term.

Florida law already provides the same requirement for officeholders seeking other elected local or state seats.

The rule used to apply to federal seats, but in 2007 GOP lawmakers modified the rule to allow then-Gov. Charlie Crist to run for vice president without giving up the governor’s mansion.

The measure, sponsored by Republican Sen. Travis Hutson, passed the Senate in January with the approval of just four Democrats. Similarly, most House Democrats voted against the bill Wednesday night. It ultimately passed with 87 yeas and 27 nays.


Florida Politics’ Drew Wilson contributed reporting.

Pro-gun bills look doomed in Senate

Without hesitation, the state Senate temporarily postponed on Wednesday two bills that would’ve expanded gun rights in Florida.

This late in the Legislative Session, the move is a sign that the chamber does not intend to vote on the two pieces of legislation.

One bill, SB 1048, had been postponed by Senate President Joe Negron ahead of a final vote in the chamber last month. Negron’s decision to delay the bill came when survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre filled the Capitol.

The legislation, filed by Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, sought to allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry guns at churches attached to schools. Florida law provides for carrying firearms at churches, so long as they aren’t attached to school properties. The bill prohibits carrying guns at churches when school-sponsored activities are going on.

The other bill, HB 55, passed the House and was primed for a vote in the Senate — before 17 were fatally gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day.

The legislation would only slightly expand gun rights, allowing for electronic payments of criminal history checks for potential firearms buyers.

Both bills were approved by their respective committees before the Parkland tragedy. Since then, both chambers have passed significant gun reforms, including a three-day waiting period to buy any firearm, and a new age limit — 21 (up from 18) —  for firearms purchases, along with an all-out ban on bump stocks.

On 67-50 vote, House sends contentious gun, school safety bill to governor

After the Florida House passed contentious legislation Wednesday that would arms school personnel and create unprecedented gun restrictions in the state, members took a moment to applaud Andrew Pollack, the father of a girl shot dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The hastily crafted bill, HB 7026, passed the Republican-controlled House on a 67-50 vote after almost eight hours of emotional debate. The proposal divided Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature in the weeks that followed the Valentine’s Day school massacre.

But all eyes are now on Gov. Rick Scott, who on Wednesday would not commit to its final passage. He said he would take his time to read every line of the bill before signing it into law.

The $400 million gun and school safety proposal includes funding to demolish the building where teenagers and teachers were slaughtered by a 19-year-old gunman. It also includes gun-control provisions banning the sale of bump stock and raising the legal age to buy an assault rifle from 18 to 21 that hardline Republicans, like state Rep. Jay Fant opposed.

The bill that now heads to the governor also includes language that would allow local governments to participate in a program that would arm school personnel and train them to react in case of an active shooting on campus.

Pollack and Ryan Petty, the father of a 14-year-old girl who was also killed in the school shooting, told reporters Wednesday they were in favor of the proposal because it had a lot of good in it.

“As families, we have different opinions and different backgrounds, but we came together and are united behind this legislation and our ask is that the House comes together, as the families have, to pass this bill,” Petty said.

Petty did not get to see the House vote on legislation because he had to catch a flight. Pollack had a flight at 7pm, but likely missed it in order to watch what legislators would do in response to the tragedy that took his kid.

But even with parents being in support of it, some lawmakers were still not fans of the legislation.

“There is language in here that are lot of folks don’t love, but will support,” said Rep. Kristin Jacobs, whose district includes the high school, in Parkland. “We don’t support it because we love it but because we know it is the first of many steps, (and) when we take incremental steps, we get somewhere.

“We understand there are sections (in the bill) we can’t stomach, but we must move forward together,” she added.

Rep. Evan Jenne of Dania Beach, the House Democratic Caucus policy chair, noted lawmakers have all “been through a lot … this has not been a good last couple of weeks.”

He said he spoke with Parkland students, who made clear they “didn’t want more guns in their classrooms, that wasn’t going to make them feel safe.”

Jenne went on to say the bill “reads like the rough first draft of a Steven Seagal movie, like the cafeteria ladies are going to spring into action.”

Members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus pointing to concerns about black and brown children being targeted if school staff are allowed to carry guns in schools.

“Each and every day, black and brown boys and girl face the threat of gun violence whenever they leave their homes,” said Democratic state Rep. Tracie Davis said.

“This issue affects our communities in a way that some in this chamber will never understand,” she added, “while we are having this debate, I ask that we keep their lives in mind, their futures in mind, their dreams in mind, because too often, this legislature has not.”

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