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medical marijuana

House medical marijuana implementing bill headed to the floor

A House panel advanced an amended version of the lower chamber’s medical marijuana implementing bill, preparing the bill for a vote by the full House in the coming weeks.

But with two weeks left until the scheduled end of the 2017 Legislative Session, the House and Senate continue to be at odds when it comes to implementing the 2016 constitutional medical marijuana amendment.

While Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, the sponsor of House bill (HB 1397), had hoped to present a reconciliation bill during the House Health and Human Services Committee Meeting, the Estero Republican said he and Sen. Rob Bradley “have not gotten there yet.”

“We have had talks,” said Rodrigues. “I’m confident we’ll get there.”

But changes accepted by the House Health & Human Services Committee appear to move the bill away from the Senate position. The committee approved a committee substitute Monday that, among other things, prohibits pregnant women from using medical marijuana, and prohibits physicians from initiating or maintaining a physician-patient relationship through telemedicine.

“Since HB 1397 was filed, I have been critical of this proposal and have been hopeful it will evolve,” said Ben Pollara, the executive director of Florida for Care. “Understanding that negotiations are ongoing, (the proposed changes) all have the effect of moving further from the Senate bill.”

The newly amended bill does establish the Coalition for Medical Marijuana Research and Education at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer and Research Institute, something which is included in the Senate proposal.

The panel, however, rejected a proposed amendment by Rep. Bobby DuBose, which would have, among other things, removed the requirement that 150,000 qualified patients must register with the compassionate use registry before a license is issued to a black farmer.

Rodrigues said the issue of licenses was currently being negotiated with the Senate, and said the amendment was unfriendly.

Opponents continued to criticize the House bill, saying it didn’t follow the spirit of the constitutional amendment, which passed with 71 percent of the vote in November. Several members of the public raised concerns about access, with some saying the bill “picks winners and losers.”

“We need to stop pretending this issue is about hippies and stoners,” said Stephani Scruggs, whose husband suffered a seizure during the Senate meeting on its version of the implementing bill last week.

Some committee members agreed, with Democrats saying they did not think Rodrigues’ bill followed the spirit of the constitutional amendment.

“What we have here is an incredible maze of bureaucracy. It’s a maze of entanglement,” said Rep. Daisy Baez. “This implementing bill does not do the service that 71 percent, or 6 million, people voted for.”

Rodrigues said he continues to work with the Senate on a compromise bill, and hopes to have one soon. The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to discuss the Senate proposal (SB 406) during its meeting Tuesday.

“This is a bill that is a work in progress,” he said.

Talks stalled, House schedules committee review of continuation budget

The House Appropriations Committee will meet Tuesday morning to consider a “standard operating budget,” pending progress in negotiations with the Senate over spending priorities for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced the move in a note to House members Monday evening. He acted after Senate President Joe Negron rejected a House proposal to enact a “continuation budget” maintaining spending more or less at existing levels.

“The purpose of this meeting is to consider a standard operating budget. We remain hopeful that we will be able to reach an acceptable compromise and begin budget conference this week; it is our responsibility to pass a budget that continues the functions of state government,” Corcoran wrote.

“This standard operating budget will set aside nearly $2 billion in reserves and will protect the critical needs of the state while also providing for natural growth on issues such as Medicaid caseload and K-12 enrollment,” Corcoran continued.

The plan would maintain state agencies at existing spending levels; provide for maintenance and repair of infrastructure; and “includes health and human services funding for issues such as decreasing the (adult persons with disabilities) wait list,” Corcoran said.

“Again, to emphasize, we remain optimistic that we will reach budget consensus with the Senate. However, by considering this standard operating budget as a contingency, we would prevent an unnecessary government shutdown, protect the state’s future, and still enable us to fund new priorities in the future,” he wrote.

Earlier, Negron denounced the idea.

“I understand the concept of a ‘continuation budget’ to be a Washington creation where Congress is habitually unable to pass a budget and then simply carries forward the current budget for years at a time, with additional spending,” he wrote to senators.

“I have no interest in adopting this ineffectual practice. Our constituents deserve and expect more.”

Meanwhile, House Democratic leader Janet Cruz criticized “useless posturing” by House and Senate Republican leaders, suggesting they’re more interested in higher office than in meeting the state’s needs.

“Republican leadership in the House and Senate is failing the people of Florida,” Cruz said in a written statement issued by the Democratic caucus office.

“While House Democrats have been focused on and have filed legislation dealing with the real priorities of Floridians, Republican leadership in both chambers have spent their time this session on useless posturing and messaging towards higher office instead of addressing the pressing issues facing our state.”

Cruz called the situation “an outrage.”

The House has passed an $81.2 proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. The Senate budget would spend $85 billion. Existing spending amounts to $82.3 billion.

House forms first-ever Legislative Progressive Caucus

More than a dozen Democratic Florida House members have formed the Progressive Legislative Caucus, with firebrand state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando elected as its first chair.

The caucus held its organization meeting last week with Smith becoming chair, state Rep. Amy Mercado of Orlando vice chair, and state Rep. Joseph Abruzzo of Boca Raton as clerk.

“As we enter the final weeks of the 2017 legislative session, the Legislative Progressive Caucus will adopt caucus positions on key legislation to underscore our values and priorities,” Smith stated in a news release.

Other charter members included state Reps. Robert Asencio of Miami, Lori Berman of Lantana, Daisy Baez of Coral Gables, John Cortes of Kissimmee, Nicholas Duran of Miami, Joseph Gellar of Aventura, Evan Jenne of Dania Beach, Barrington Russell of Lauderdale Lakes, Sean Shaw of Tampa, Emily Slosberg of Boca Raton, Richard Stark of Weston, and Clovis Watson of Alachua.

The caucus put out a release stating that its members were inspired by the Congressional Progressive Caucus and aim to unite the progressive wing of the Democratic Caucus as a collective block to influence key legislation and advocate for progressive policy solutions that benefit all Floridians.

The caucus is committed to advocating for social and economic justice and security for all Floridians, protecting civil rights, civil liberties and advancing environmental protection and sustainability in the Sunshine State, according to the release.

 

Student assessment changes approved by House Education Committee

A bill that would push many student assessment tests to the last weeks of the year and open the prospect that SAT and ACT tests could replace Florida’s English and math tests was overwhelmingly approved by the Florida House Education Committee Monday.

Committee Substitute for House Bill 773 contains a number of education omnibus reforms ranging from removing bonus caps for public school teachers to allowing pencils and paper testing again for younger students.

Key provisions for the bill, however, continue the Florida Legislature’s efforts to roll back on perceived over-testing of students.

The bill, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah,  requires that English tests for students in grades 3-10 and math tests for grades 3-8 be held in the last three weeks of the year, to reduce disruptions.

The bill also provides that the Florida Department of Education commission a study to see how well the SAT and ACT national college preparatory tests align with Florida’s assessments, to see if they might be used instead of many of Florida’s tests.

It also requires that teachers – both current and following-year instructors – receive “easy-to-read” and understandable reports on a student’s performance on the tests, to include advice to parents on how to help with strengths and areas that need improvement.

The bill’s companion measure, Committee Substitute to Senate Bill 926, goes further in many areas, including eliminations of some end-of-course exams, and House Education members and public speakers who spoke for HB 773 either voiced support for Diaz’s effort or hope that it could go even further to mirror the reforms in 926.

“We like this bill. We hope that as it moves forward, we can go even further,” said Angie Gallo of the Florida PTA.

 

blackjack

Senate budges little in initial gambling negotiation

Saying he wanted to “start taking small steps,” state Sen. Bill Galvano on Monday tendered the first offer in the Legislature’s negotiation on a gambling bill this year.

The initial tender, though it largely maintains what’s in the Senate’s bill, also would classify contentious “pre-reveal” games as slot machines, and would limit two new slots facilities to either Broward or Miami-Dade counties.

A circuit court ruling last month against the state said entertainment devices that look and play like slot machines, called “pre-reveal” games, were “not an illegal slot machine or gambling device.” House leaders in particular feared that meant they would wind up in bars, restaurants, and even in family fun centers.

The Senate offer also would give the state more time, up to two years, to address any future violation of blackjack exclusivity brought by the Seminole Tribe of Florida with a legislative fix. That also was addressed to court rulings that create such “violations.”

The House and Senate are far apart on their respective gambling bills this session, with the House holding the line on gambling expansion, and the Senate pushing for new games.

A deal is pending to grant continued blackjack exclusivity to the tribe in return for $3 billion over seven years, though that money isn’t part of ongoing budget talks between the House and Senate. A request for comment is pending with the Tribe’s spokesman.

Galvano’s House counterpart, state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, said he appreciated the offer “to get the conversation going,” specifically mentioning the 2-year provision in the context of court decisions on gambling.

“There are still plenty of threats out there and we’re constantly playing a game of catch-up,” he said. Diaz added that he expects to respond some time later this week: “There is some low-hanging fruit here and some more complicated issues to work through.” The 2017 Legislative Session is scheduled to meet May 5.

Galvano mentioned last Thursday’s Supreme Court decision that cleared the “Voter Control of Gambling” amendment for the 2018 ballot.

He surmised from Justices Ricky Polston‘s and R. Fred Lewis‘ dissent in that case that the court is ready to rule in favor of expanding slot machines to counties that approved them in local referendums.

“One can almost glean from the dissent that it’s a fait accompli just pending in the court,” Galvano said. “Either we do it or the courts are going to do it.”

“When I look at the dissenting opinion, it almost references (new slots in referendum counties) as if they’re existing,” Galvano later told reporters. “All of these things play into the big picture.”

He also has concerns that the amendment, if adopted, could retroactively quash new slots approved for Hialeah. When asked whether he were reading between the lines, he added, “That’s a good way of putting it.”

Legislature at stalemate over new state budget

With time running out in this year’s regular session, Florida’s legislative leaders are at a stalemate over a new state budget and are starting to lash out at one another over the breakdown.

The first but crucial round of negotiations between the House and Senate fell apart on Sunday. The session is scheduled to end on May 5, but state law requires that all work on the budget be finished 72 hours ahead of a final vote.

The lack of a budget deal can also derail other crucial legislation since many times stand-alone bills get tied to the spending plan or are used as leverage in negotiations.

The growing divide prompted Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran to lash out at fellow Republicans in the Senate, comparing them to national Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders.

“There are no limits to their liberalism,” Corcoran said.

Sen. Jack Latvala, the Senate budget chief, said that Corcoran was acting as if “everyone was a liberal but him.”

“I just think it’s very unfortunate for the process, where we start calling names and broadly classify people instead of trying to constructively work out solutions,” Latvala said.

The House and Senate are working on a new budget to cover state spending from July 1 of this year to June 30, 2018. The two chambers started their budget negotiations with a roughly $4 billion difference in their rival spending plans.

For more than a week, the two sides privately traded broad offers that outlined how much money would be spent in key areas such as education, health care, the environment and economic development.

Gov. Rick Scott has been highly critical of a House plan to shutter the state’s economic development agency and to sharply cut money to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing corporation. Scott has urged Senate Republicans to stand firm against House Republicans.

Part of this broad framework also included how much money the state should set aside in reserves.

Corcoran said one stumbling block was that the House wanted to place more money in reserves because of projections that show a possible budget deficit in the next two to three years if spending continues to increase.

“We refuse to let the state go bankrupt,” said Corcoran, who also said such a strategy could force Florida to raise taxes.

Unable to reach a deal, the House over the weekend offered a “continuation” budget that would have kept intact state funding at current levels in many places. That would have allowed legislators to end the session on time and avoid the need for a costly special session. But it would have meant that there would be no money for any new projects.

The Senate, however, rejected this idea. Senate President Joe Negron, in a memo sent out to senators Monday morning, called it a “Washington creation where Congress is habitually unable to pass a budget.”

Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press.

AFP-FL urges Senate to keep incentives out of Triumph Gulf Coast bill

A Northwest Florida Republican plans to amend the Senate’s version of a bill to send millions of dollars to the Panhandle communities impacted by the 2010 BP oil spill to allow money to be spent on economic incentives.

The Panama City News Herald reported this weekend that Sen. George Gainer said he plans to file an amendment to the bill (SB 364) so that it allows funds to be spent on economic incentives for companies in the region that provide high paying jobs. Gainer, a Panama City Republican, sponsored the Senate bill to funnel $300 million of settlement funds from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to Triumph Gulf Coast.

The House bill (HB 7077) unanimously passed the full House on March 23. Rep. Jay Trumbull, the Panama City Republican who sponsored the bill in the House, told the News Herald that adding economic incentives — something the House has opposed — into the bill could kill the bill.

But Gainer, according to the report, said the Triumph program was meant to help the region and incentives can help spur growth.

The House sponsor isn’t the only one who appears to be critical of the addition of incentives, though. In a statement Monday, Americans for Prosperity-Florida state director Chris Hudson said the Senate would be wrong to “direct disaster relief money towards incentives.”

“That money should be used to help ensure the Panhandle’s affected natural resources, beautiful beaches, and critical infrastructure needs are addressed. Handing that money over to a few select private companies is another form of corporate welfare and is wrong,” said Hudson. “We call on Senator Gainer to not file his amendment and vote on the house bill as it stands. He should put the Gulf Coast ahead of politics and not kill this bill over corporate welfare.”

Gainer’s bill is ready for a vote by the full Senate, and could be heard in the next few days.

Emily Slosberg’s personal, uphill battle for tougher texting laws

Twenty-one years after a car crash that took her twin sister’s life, Emily Slosberg is continuing the fight to make Florida roads safer.

Slosberg, the state representative and daughter of longtime Democratic state lawmaker Irv Slosberg, has picked up her father’s crusade on driver’s safety by championing stronger texting while driving laws statewide.

As reported by WTSP 10Investigates, the issue is deeply personal for both Emily and Irv Slosberg,

On Feb. 23, 1996, seven teenagers between the ages of 13 and 15 — including Emily and Dori Slosberg — had been riding in the back seat of a 1995 Honda Civic. In the front seat were a 19-year-old and 17-year-old.

After the car had swerved to miss an oncoming car, the Honda hit a pole and slammed into another vehicle. Five of the teens were killed, others suffered severe spinal injuries. Emily Slosberg spent 10 days in the hospital and missed her sister’s funeral.

Irv Slosberg, who first came to the Florida House in 2000, passed a mandatory seat belt bill in 2009 — the Dori Slosberg and Katie Marchetti Safety Belt Law — signed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. Slosberg was also one of first to advocate stronger texting laws in Florida, first enacted in 2013.

Emily Slosberg, CEO of the Dori Slosberg Foundation, is now a Democrat representing District 91, the seat her father held since 2012 and had given up in 2016 for an unsuccessful Senate run.

Emily seeks to continue what her father started.

“We have an epidemic on the roads,” she told WTSP. “I believe that texting and driving, distracted driving, is a major cause of driving fatalities.”

Slosberg said that she is not looking to replace Florida’s existing texting while driving law but to strengthen it.

Current Florida law puts texting while driving as a secondary offense — law enforcement cannot pull a driver over for texting only, and can only do so when they are committing another traffic violation. Even then, a texting ticket is only $20.

Initially, Slosberg sought to use a creative tactic to change the law, by attempting to introduce a bill making texting and driving a primary offense in her Palm Beach County district (known as a “municipality bill”), effectively sidestepping the state law restrictions that consider it a secondary offense.

Slosberg, however, faced stiff opposition from influential members of the Legislature — including some from her own delegation.

“She said on the night she planned to present her bill to her colleagues,” write Donovan Myrie and Noah Pransky of WTSP. “State Sen. Bobby Powell, the chair of the local Palm County delegation, blocked her from speaking to her colleagues. Slosberg was forced to make her presentation during public testimony, and in her words, leadership attempted to ‘add insult to injury’ by adjourning before she had a chance to speak.”

Slosberg also faced a legal challenge for her municipality bill, when Dawn Wynn, the senior assistant attorney for Palm Beach County, issued an opinion (at Powell’s request) confirming that “traffic laws shall be uniform throughout the state” and reinforcing that texting and driving is a secondary offense.

Republicans, many with a Libertarian lean, were also resistant to the idea.

What’s more, Powell suggested making texting while driving a primary offense could have racial overtones — saying that additional laws give law enforcement another opportunity to profile African-Americans and Hispanics.

Despite that, Slosberg stays undeterred, and progress could be coming, although not soon enough for many.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran — typically opposed to greater government intervention — told 10Investigates he will consider a workshop of the issue which could include a national study by Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA). That would result in legislative recommendations in late 2017, and the issue of distracted driving would return for the 2018 Session. If passed, tougher laws in Florida could come as soon as summer 2018.

Stop stealing our video, Florida Channel says

The Florida Channel wants you … to stop stealing its videos.

A new disclaimer began popping up Friday under the channel’s online video feeds: “Programming produced by The Florida Channel CANNOT be used for political, campaign, advocacy or commercial purposes!”

It adds: “ANY editing, embedding or distribution without permission is strictly PROHIBITED. Direct linking to complete video files is permissible, except in the case of political campaigns.”

Florida Channel executive director Beth Switzer on Monday explained the “terms of use” reminder was sparked by the “increasing number of people stealing (videos) for advocacy purposes.” She did not point to specific examples. 

Switzer referred to a state law that she said prohibits such use.

It says, in part, that the “facilities, plant, or personnel of an educational television station that is supported in whole or in part by state funds may not be used directly or indirectly for the promotion, advertisement, or advancement of a political candidate for a municipal, county, legislative, congressional, or state office.”

The law, which doesn’t mention work product such as videos, provides that a violation is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Those parts of the law were added in 2014.

Aside from a “huge number of videos being lifted and put out there,” Switzer also said her office is getting swamped with calls asking her staff to provide edited clips for use in commercials and other promotions.

“Making copies of what we do is not really in our scope of work,” she said.

Joe Negron says no to House’s proposed ‘continuation budget’ as talks stall

Senate President Joe Negron has rejected a House proposal to settle some $4 billion in state budget disagreements with a “continuation budget.”

Negron said in a memo to senators Monday that House negotiators made the proposal over the weekend.

“Despite serving as the Appropriations chair in both the House and Senate, I had never encountered this term in state government until it began to appear in these negotiations,” Negron wrote.

“I understand the concept of a ‘continuation budget’ to be a Washington creation where Congress is habitually unable to pass a budget and then simply carries forward the current budget for years at a time, with additional spending.

“I have no interest in adopting this ineffectual practice.  Our constituents deserve and expect more.”

This year’s state budget amounts to $82.3 billion.

The move left budget negotiations stalled, at least for the time being, as the Legislative Session entered its final two weeks. House and Senate leaders indicated last week that conference committee members would have to know by early this week how much money they’d get to spend.

By law, any compromise would have to be available for scrutiny for three days before any final vote.

Asked how things were going in his office Monday afternoon, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala said: “No comment.”

A continuation budget would be just fine with Broward Democrat Evan Jenne.

“Last year’s budget was widely respected by both chambers and both parties. Grand total, there was 149 yeas and one nay, when you combine the two chambers,” Jenne said.

“Granted, a lot of that means that individual member projects would go by the wayside. But we’re not here for individual member projects. We’re here to get the budget done.”

A Senate aide argued that would not provide for Senate priorities.

“I think it points to the fact that we’re not going to get done on time,” said Jenne, who’s been following progress through member-to-member contact with Republicans knowledgeable about the talks.

“I hope we do, but I don’t have warm feelings about that happening, just given the lack of communication and lack of time at this point. I mean, we’re down to it now.”

Florida TaxWatch president and CEO Dominick Calabro was gloomy, too. The House and Senate aren’t quibbling over dollars, he said, but over fundamental policy disputes.

“It’s highly unlikely they’ll get done on time,” Calabro said.

The House has passed an $81.2 proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. It sets aside $200 million to create a “schools of hope” program that would shift students from failing schools to charter schools; includes $22.8 million for pay increases for corrections officers; includes $25 million for Visit Florida; and funds 46 new counter-terrorism positions.

The House proposal, however, doesn’t fund Enterprise Florida or a host of economic incentive programs associated with the public-private economic development agency, and does not include across the board pay raises for state employees. The Senate’s $85 billion proposal includes both, plus first-year funding for Negron’s $1.5 billion Lake Okeechobee plan.

House and Senate negotiators last week “exchanged meaningful and productive offers on proposed budget allocations and significant policy issues,” Negron wrote in his memo.

“I value the extraordinary amount of creative energy members of the Florida House and Senate have contributed to build their respective budgets over the last six months. I do not wish to set aside that work product and instead settle for last year’s base budget,” he continued.

“I will insist on a budget work product that reflects public testimony from our fellow citizens, input from the constituents we represent and the thousands of informed decisions – big and small – elected legislators have made since November 2016.

“Accordingly, I stand ready, willing, and able to respond to a budget and policy counteroffer from the House, with both the House and Senate negotiating in a principled way to agree on allocations and policy for the upcoming fiscal year.  Before the appearance of the “continuation budget” from the House, many budget and policy issues had been amicably resolved.

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