Florida Legislature Archives - Florida Politics

Don’t throw decoupling out with the proverbial gaming bath water

It seems like every year the Florida Legislature revisits the idea of decoupling, which is not a term to describe modern romance, but rather a gaming term. It’s what happens when venues operate a casino without the requirement to also run live horse or dog racing.

Seems simple enough; but every year, decoupling doesn’t pass because, inevitably, the gaming bill turns into a gambling train, and decoupling has to go along for the ride.

Ultimately, the two chambers can’t agree, and nothing passes at all.

Decoupling, though, has something for everyone, so it should be something all parties agree on — except for my friend Jack Cory — even during a contentious session.

 For the pro-growth crowd, it would have a positive economic impact on the communities where there is a casino that is forced to continue to run live dog or horse races because of this archaic law.

Look no further than the City of Miami Gardens for example.

The mayor there, Oliver Gilbert, has made the trek up to Tallahassee to implore legislators to seriously consider decoupling this Session, because, as he puts it, his city has “only one sit-down restaurant, virtually no shopping and little in the way of regular entertainment.” Yet, there is a parcel of land positioned on a major commercial thoroughfare that cannot be redeveloped because a horse track, mostly unused, occupies it.

He thinks that if the facility, Calder Race Course, had the ability to sell its land, but continue to operate its casino, the city could redevelop the land, infusing needed capital and adding jobs to a community that has a suppressed economy.

And, for the No Casinos crowd — with which I typically sympathize — who want to see reduced gaming in the state, decoupling may be the best to get rid of gaming.

Yes, these venues would still be able to operate their casinos, but decoupling would get rid of some horse and dog racing. And, oh by the way, while you have to be 21 years old to get into casinos across the state, you can go gamble at dog and horse tracks at just 18. So not only would decoupling reduce gaming, it would reduce exposing gambling to those under 21.

Beyond these positive benefits, while many gaming issues come with plenty of controversy, decoupling just isn’t one of them.

Aside from the thoroughbred industry claiming that it will be detrimental to Florida families — a red herring argument because the consolidation of thoroughbred racing has actually had a positive effect on the industry in South Florida — there simply isn’t much opposition to decoupling.

I get it, the reality is a lot of gaming policy won’t see the light of day this session — especially in the Florida House which remains staunchly opposed to the expansion of gaming — but, I would just say: Don’t throw decoupling out with the proverbial gaming bath water.

It’s just too simple and too much to agree on not to finally allow decoupling.

Michael Carlson: Don’t trade a tax cut for a tax increase – preserve the salary tax credits for insurers

Michael Carlson

For three decades, Florida has offered insurance companies a highly effective, performance-based tax credit that has resulted in tens of thousands of good jobs being created or imported to our state. Not only does this credit bolster our state’s economy in a transparent, accountable way, it also helps ensure insurance rates for Floridians stay as affordable as possible.

Senate Bill 378 by Sen. Anitere Flores would bring that to an unfortunate end. It would repeal tax credits available to insurers as a way to lower the communications services tax currently levied on telecommunications, video, cable and satellite television and other related services.

Cutting one tax but increasing another is a bad trade that would do more harm than good. It would eliminate tax credits that have been working exactly as intended and sets a bad precedent for other businesses considering a move to Florida based on the availability of similar tax credits. Importantly to consumers and businesses, it would amount to a $300 million tax increase that could translate to higher insurance rates for everyone.

The insurance premium tax credits allow insurers to deduct 15 percent of the employee salary for each job they create or import to Florida from the premium tax they pay each year to the state. For taxpayers, the essential fact is this: Insurers only get the credit if they actually create or import a job. They don’t get a credit for a mere promise of creating jobs. And if the insurance company eliminates the job, they lose the credit.

An independent evaluation of the tax credit in 2013 found it had led to the creation of 40,000 insurance industry-related jobs since 2008 – a tremendous return on the state’s investment. In other words, while many industries were being hit hard and laying off workers during the Great Recession, the insurance industry in Florida was able to create good-paying jobs for Floridians.

Since the recession, Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature have strongly focused on job creation and strategies that promote economic growth in the state. Unquestionably, this credit has contributed to the insurance industry’s considerable investment in Florida. In fact, the insurance industry today touts more than 200,000 jobs that collectively pay about $12 billion in total salaries to workers in Florida.

It’s important to consider that if this successful tax credit is repealed, Florida will be sending a conflicting message to all industries that are thinking about relocating to Florida under the promise of a tax credit like this one, only to watch it get repealed years later. Even worse, eliminating it could send companies out of Florida to a competing state to plant their headquarters or call centers and, quite possibly, to a location that offers the tax credits they thought they would be able to maintain here in Florida.

While periodic review of corporate incentives is reasonable, it would be a mistake to repeal tax credits that have created jobs in Florida and contributed to the economy. We urge lawmakers to reject SB 378 as a shortsighted move that would swap one tax for another and result in higher premiums for all purchasers of insurance.

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Michael Carlson is the president of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, a trade association of insurance companies that provide automobile and homeowners’ property insurance.

Lauren Book, Joe Geller file bills seeking higher penalties for guns at school, boost firearm safety

Two bills introduced in the Florida Legislature this week seek to bolster gun safety when children are involved.

Cosponsored by Plantation Democratic state Sen. Lauren Book, SB 648 would establish a perimeter of safety for students around schools, as well as strengthen penalties for careless storage of firearms which then fall into the hands of minors.

Aventura Democratic Rep. Joseph Geller filed the companion House Bill (HB 957).

If passed, the bills would increase penalties on individuals who brandish a firearm on or near school property, on the unlawful firing of a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school, and for those who do not properly store their firearms, allowing access to minors

“All children deserve to be kept safe,” Book said in a statement Monday. “One of the most basic and straightforward ways we can ensure child safety is by keeping firearms out of the hands of children and away from school property.”

According to the American Bar Association, in 47 states, a parent can leave a loaded, unlocked gun on a dining room table, nightstand or other easily accessed location and face no legal consequences for having the gun within a child’s reach.

“The safety of Florida’s students, both while at school and at home, is paramount to their success in the classroom and in life,” Geller said in a statement. “There’s no excuse for brandishing a firearm at a school. Neither is there any reason for allowing a minor access to a firearm because it isn’t stored in a secure manner. These commonsense gun safety reforms ensure that our students are protected and that those who threaten their safety are punished.”

Under the bill, if a minor gets ahold of an improperly stored gun, the owner would be charged with a first degree misdemeanor instead of a second degree misdemeanor as current law allows. The bill would also tack on a felony charge if the gun is fired.

The bill would also ratchet up charges on adults if a minor brandishes a gun in public or if a minor violates the same rules with a BB gun or air gun.

 

Florida doesn’t need an elected Secretary of State, or Agriculture Commissioner

It would tax the imagination to come up with anything that Florida needs less than to elect a secretary of state once again. Why would the Legislature even consider that?

Sen. Aaron Bean, the sponsor, explained it the other day. As reported by FloridaPolitics.com, the Fernandina Beach Republican told the Senate ethics committee that in the main he wants a fifth position on the Cabinet to avoid tie votes that require the governor to be on the prevailing side or the motion fails.

Actually, he and nearly everyone else are incorrect when they refer to that group of four as “the Cabinet.” Article IV Section 4 of the Constitution provides for the Cabinet to consist of an attorney general, a chief financial officer, and a commissioner of agriculture. The governor is NOT — I repeat, NOT — a member of the Cabinet.

And because they are elected, it’s not “his” Cabinet even though the members too often vote as if it were. They oversee 12 agencies in their collective role as — to put it accurately — “the governor and Cabinet.”

To the extent that the tie vote issue is a problem, there’s a simpler and less expensive way to deal with it than the creation of yet another statewide pooh-bah with yet another six-figure salary.

That’s to get rid of the elected agriculture commissioner. Let the governor appoint the position, as does now with the secretary of state. Or have the governor and the remaining two Cabinet members jointly select someone in the same manner as the head of the office of financial regulation.

But avoiding a tie vote situation strikes me as the lamest possible pretext to elect the secretary, which Florida last did in 1998.

The more important issue is how best to oversee elections, which is the function of the office that the public cares most about. The record-keeping, the corporations’ division, the arts, library and archives are less about policy than professional management. You don’t need to elect anyone for those.

But electing a secretary of state doesn’t guarantee that the duty will be carried out in a bipartisan, nonpolitical and professional manner. The present secretary, Ken Detzner, has been accused of doing what the governor wants to discourage rather than encourage voting. The last elected secretary, Katherine Harris, is best remembered for the infamous 2000 campaign in which she was first a co-chair of George W. Bush’s campaign and then made critical decisions in his favor.

Harris’s predecessor, Sandra Mortham, spoke at the committee hearing and referred to the dicey position of governor-appointed secretaries as “very, very, very difficult” for them. She also noted that local elected supervisors of election would be better off with a popularly elected state leader than with one named by the governor.

Those are better points, to be sure, than the tie vote issue. Harris’ tenure, though, was hardly a shining example of political independence.

Though nearly half the states have elected sectaries to state to manage elections, nine have appointed boards or commissions that are bipartisan, at least in theory. One of them is in North Carolina, where despite fierce efforts by a Republican and legislature to suppress voting, the GOP-dominated board acted respectably last year. Florida should consider that method of governance.

“I think there is no magic bullet,” says Ion Sancho, Leon County’s recently retired election supervisor, who is a nationally recognized figure in the field. “It doesn’t matter a darn bit if you elect the person if they have to follow the rigged election laws passed by the Florida Legislature.

He sees no point, however, in enlarging the elected Cabinet.

There used to be six Cabinet members, plus the governor, each with their own departments, in charge of an array of agencies they governed collectively. That system was created in the aftermath of post-Civil War Reconstruction to deliberately keep the governors weak. Trouble was, with everyone supposedly watching the store no one actually did. In modern times, two of Florida’s best governors, LeRoy Collins and Reubin Askew, tried unsuccessfully to be rid of the system.

Twenty years ago, the Constitution Revision Commission set out to trim the Cabinet to the only two offices that truly need to be independently elected: the attorney general and the chief financial officer. But agricultural lobbies threatened to defeat the entire reform at the polls if it didn’t retain the agriculture commissioner. Finding themselves with four voting officers instead of the intended three, the Commission came up with the curious tie-breaking rule. Eliminating the elected agriculture commissioner would dispose of that.

Agriculture is still one of the pillars of Florida’s economy, but it’s difficult to see why it needs its own surrogate governor any more than tourism or construction do. Rick Scott’s well-advertised faults as governor don’t mean that his successor shouldn’t be trusted with agriculture to the same extent as education, which once had its own elected Cabinet member too.

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Guns, gambling and taxes: Legislators return to work

Once the Florida Legislature kicks off its 60-day Session March 7, legislators are expected to pass, or kill, dozens of measures dealing with everything from abortion to gambling and the environment.

So far, more than 2,000 bills have been filed, but in the end, legislators usually pass fewer than 300 pieces of legislation each year.

Here’s a look at some of the top issues this Session:

DEATH PENALTY: Florida legislators are expected to quickly pass a measure that would require a unanimous jury recommendation before the death penalty can be imposed. Last year, the state Supreme Court declared a new law requiring a 10-2 jury vote to impose the death penalty unconstitutional.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Voters last November overwhelmingly approved Amendment 2, which allows higher-strength marijuana to be used for a wider list of medical ailments than had been allowed under state law. Legislators will consider bills to implement the amendment, including possibly expanding who can grow and sell medical marijuana.

GUNS: There are about two dozen gun-related bills that already have been filed and the vast majority would expand gun rights so they can be carried in places that they are now not allowed including university campuses and non-secure areas of airports. Democrats have proposed more restrictions, but they have virtually no chance of passing.

GAMBLING: Top legislative leaders say they would like to come up with a comprehensive overhaul of gambling laws. But so far, the House and Senate are divided on what should be done.

The Senate is considering a bill that would allow slot machines at dog and horse tracks in eight counties outside South Florida. The Senate gambling bill would also allow the Seminole Tribe to offer craps and roulette at its casinos.

The House version would allow the Seminoles to keep blackjack and slot machines at its casinos for 20 years. But it would not allow gambling to expand to other parts of the state.

WATER: Senate President Joe Negron wants to borrow up to $1.2 billion to acquire 60,000 acres of land and build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries that have been blamed for toxic algae blooms.

JUDICIAL TERM LIMITS: House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants to impose a 12-year term limit on Supreme Court justices and appeals court judges. The House is backing a constitutional amendment for the 2018 ballot that would ask voters to make the change. But it’s unclear if the Senate will consider the proposal.

BUDGET: Florida legislators are required to annually pass a new budget. Gov. Rick Scott has recommended an $83.5 billion budget that includes money for tax cuts, steep reductions for hospitals and uses local tax dollars to boost school spending.

House Republicans are opposed to Scott’s use of local property taxes and they are expected to call for large budget cuts while also increasing spending on education. Senate President Joe Negron wants to eliminate a tax break for the insurance industry and use the money to cut taxes charged on cellphone service and cable television. Negron also wants to boost spending on universities and colleges.

EDUCATION: Legislators are considering several bills dealing with schools, including one that would require elementary schools to set aside 20 minutes each day for “free-play recess.” Another bill would allow high school students to earn foreign language credits if they take courses in computer coding. Legislators are also considering changes to Florida’s high-stakes standardized tests, including pushing back the testing date to the end of the school year.

HIGHER EDUCATION: Negron has called for an overhaul of the state’s colleges and universities that requires the state to cover 100 percent of tuition costs for top performing high school students who attend a university or college. The Senate plan also calls for boosting efforts to recruit and retain university faculty.

ABORTION: Several abortion bills have been filed including one that would make it easier for women to sue physicians for physical or emotional injuries stemming from abortions.

ECONOMIC INCENTIVES: Corcoran wants to scuttle the state’s economic development agency and trim back spending at the state’s tourism marketing outfit. The move is strongly opposed by Gov. Scott who says they help the economy, but Corcoran has criticized the efforts as a form of “corporate welfare.”

HEALTH CARE: Legislators are considering several proposals that would eliminate limits on certain types of health care facilities. They may also overhaul the state worker health insurance program and expand the use of direct primary care agreements between physicians and patients.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

John Sowinski: Finally, a sensible gambling plan for Florida’s future

There are two things we can count on in Florida. In any given body of water, eventually the alligators will show up. And in any given meeting of the Florida Legislature, the same applies to gambling lobbyists.

Feed either and they only become more insatiable.

With regard to the gambling interests, unfortunately, the Florida Senate is setting up a buffet of glutinous proportions. Proposed legislation calls for the biggest expansion of gambling in Florida’s history.

It literally would recreate our state in Nevada’s image, with casinos popping up in communities from the far reaches of the Panhandle to the end of the Everglades.

There would be two new Las Vegas-style casinos in Broward and Miami-Dade, a region already suffering from a glut of casinos. There would be a massive increase in gambling supply there, without a corresponding increase in gamblers, creating a dynamic in which the casinos could only survive by cannibalizing each other’s customers. Even the gambling industry’s own financial experts predict that 95 percent of the patrons would be locals, not tourists.

This type of gambling over-saturation is what brought the industry crashing down in Atlantic City, but not before it eviscerated existing local jobs and businesses from restaurants to retail stores.

But the Senate bill does not stop with more gambling in South Florida. Initially, casinos would spread to eight other counties. That only would be for starters because under Senate Bill 8, every horse track, dog track or jai alai fronton could become a casino.

Getting back to the alligator analogy, what the Senate is proposing is akin to taking 500 bags of marshmallows out into the middle of Lake Okeechobee at midnight and tossing them in the water.

Even worse, the regulators now have allowed banked games in pari-mutuel card rooms despite state law that bans them, a clear violation of Florida’s gambling agreement with the Seminoles that has embroiled the state in expensive litigation and halted the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars of tribal payments to the state. The Senate bill addresses this in the usual Tallahassee manner — rather than shutting down this illegal gambling, it legalizes it.

For years, lawmakers have talked about comprehensive legislation that would establish a permanent framework for the future of gambling in Florida. The Senate bill makes Florida’s future look like Atlantic City’s current train wreck.

Understanding this, leaders in the Florida House have taken a different tack. They have put forth a bill that fixes weaknesses in existing gambling law, closes loopholes that gambling lawyers continually exploit, stops the proliferation of slot machines throughout Florida, honors Florida’s constitutional restrictions on gambling, and respects the will of the people of Florida, who have consistently rejected statewide expansions of gambling. Finally, it provides for an agreement with the Seminole tribe that would achieve the stated intent of the original Seminole compact — holding the line on gambling and creating a firewall to stop the spread of casinos throughout Florida.

There are many reasons to oppose the expansion of gambling in Florida. The legislature’s own economists have repeatedly said in presentations that, “some or all of the jobs, wages and tax revenues attributed to gambling enterprises may be simply transferred from elsewhere.” This means that money spent in a casino merely cannibalizes existing jobs and businesses.  It puts our multibillion-dollar family-friendly tourism brand at risk, and it spreads addiction and dependency that destroys lives and families, at a huge cost to society and taxpayers.

For Florida Legislators, the choice is clear. They can either keep feeding the alligators by going with the Senate plan, or follow the lead of the Florida House bill by advancing a sensible strategy to control the spread of gambling in our state.

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John Sowinski is president of NoCasinos.

Combative House Speaker vows contentious Session

The outcome of this year’s Florida Legislature session may depend largely on a 51-year-old firebrand attorney with a deep conservative streak and a love for cigars and the band U2.

New House Speaker Richard Corcoran has taken on rapper Pitbull, gotten in a knock-down fight with fellow Republican Gov. Rick Scott and vowed to keep legislators in session for months if he doesn’t get his way on property taxes.

He has an ambitious agenda for the 60-day session that starts next week, which also includes term limits for Florida’s most senior judges and throwing out some of the state’s regulations on health care providers. While at one time he lashed out at then-candidate Donald Trump, Corcoran has adopted the president’s populist tone in vowing to fight a “culture of corruption” in a town where Republicans have held sway for nearly 20 years.

Corcoran is unapologetic for his combative ways.

“I think certainly in the political arena, that the hardest thing, in my opinion, that determines a person’s character is what a man does when everyone is looking and you know you are going to go against the grain,” he said last month at a Tallahassee private school appearance.

Corcoran has flummoxed fellow Republicans and stirred speculation he’s more interested in grabbing headlines in anticipation of a potential run for governor in 2018. Corcoran has declined to discuss future political plans.

“Richard is not a political opportunist, he’s never been one,” said Mike Fasano, the Pasco County tax collector and a former legislator who met Corcoran nearly 35 years ago when he was a teenager helping out on local legislative campaigns. “He’s trying to accomplish what he truly believes in.”

Born in Toronto, Corcoran moved to Florida when he was 11. At a young age, he became enamored of conservative thinkers such as author William F. Buckley Jr., and drops names of philosophers like Locke, Hobbes and Rousseau in his speeches. He earned a law degree from Regent University, the school established by evangelist Pat Robertson.

Corcoran works at a well-established law firm and once did legal work for Scott before either was elected. But most of his career has been in politics, including as a legislative aide and chief-of-staff for then-Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, when he helped write Rubio’s blueprint entitled “100 Ideas for Florida’s Future.”

After two unsuccessful runs for the Legislature, Corcoran finally got elected to a Pasco County House seat in 2010. He quickly rose through the ranks and secured enough pledges to become speaker.

He pushed to have the Florida House reject billions in federal aid available under President Barack Obama‘s health care overhaul. During a floor speech now famous in Tallahassee, Corcoran made it clear during a standoff with Senate Republicans over Medicaid expansion that the House would never go along.

“They want us to come to the dance? We’re not dancing. We’re not dancing this session. We’re not dancing next session. We’re not dancing next summer – we’re not dancing,” Corcoran said.

Since he became speaker in November, Corcoran sued to force Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, to reveal how much it paid to Pitbull to promote the state. Corcoran then pushed legislation to scrap the state organization that uses incentives to lure companies to the state. Those moves have angered Scott, whose political committee labeled Corcoran a “career politician.”

Corcoran has put both Scott and Senate Republicans on notice he will not go along with a plan to use a hike in property values – which trigger higher tax payments – to boost funding on schools. Yet at the same time, Corcoran has hinted at his own ambitious plans for education, which will likely mean more money for charter schools. Corcoran’s wife, Anne, founded a charter school. They have six children, and met while attending law school.

Corcoran is a maze of seeming contradictions.

He has railed against the influence of lobbyists, banning them from texting or emailing legislators during committee meetings. Yet his own brother, Michael, is a long-time lobbyist. While at times he sounds stern, he can quickly run off a stream of sarcastic comments and jokes.

“Every day Gov. Scott and I get together and take long walks in the park together,” he quipped recently.

Yet despite harsh treatment leveled at him by the governor, Corcoran says he remains grateful that Scott once hired him, adding: “If Gov. Scott poked me in the chest or whatever, I would take it 10 out of 10 times.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Sadowski Coalition seeks full funding for affordable housing in state budget

Affordable housing advocates urged the Legislature Thursday to spend all of the state’s dedicated housing money for its intended purpose, saying that more than 910,000 Floridians pay more than half their income for shelter.

Representatives of the Sadowski Housing Coalition — including Associated Industries of Florida, AARP, the Florida Realtors Association, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the Florida Home Builders Association — appeared during a news conference to make their case.

Carrie O’Rourke, of the realtors’ group, said it supports the documentary stamp taxes on real estate purchases that finance two housing trust funds even though it’s levied against her industry.

“And we continue to support it today, because of the good it does for so many people,” O’Rourke said.

“Every community relies on dependable and accessible housing options to say healthy and vibrant. Without that option, the bedrock of the community becomes weak.”

“We as a state can make it possible for older adults to live safely, independently, and affordably, saving the state money, by fully funding our affordable housing programs,” said Dorene Barker, of AARP.

“With the aging population in our state on the rise, it is more important than ever that Florida use every penny of its housing funds to support Florida’s affordable housing programs.”

Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed budget would shift nearly 77 percent of the $293.4 million earmarked for low-income housing next year to other state priorities. That works out to $224 million from state and local housing trust funds that won’t go for their intended purpose.

Yet the need is great, according to member of the coalition. The group is named after Bill Sadowski, a former lawmaker and Department of Community Affairs secretary who died in a plane crash in 1992, and who advocated for affordable housing.

In its Home Matters Report for 2017, the group cited high housing costs for the working poor, seniors, and people with disabilities.

The state’s homeless population is the nation’s third highest, the report said. Some 34,000 Floridians live in homeless shelters and on the streets, including 2,902 veterans and 6,140 children.

One doesn’t even need to be poor to have trouble arranging shelter. In Collier County, for example, the rent is too high for some people in well-paying professions including nursing.

“If a person is making what you consider to be a good income here in Tallahassee, where they might be able to find housing fairly easily, they’re not able to with that same profession in Collier County,” said Jaimie Ross, president and CEO of the Florida Housing Coalition, a member of the Sadowski Coalition.

Historically, the Legislature has swept about 25 percent of the money in Florida’s state and local housing trust funds for other priorities, said Mark Hendrickson, executive director of the Association of Local Housing Finance Authorities.

“During the Great Recession, the percentage that was swept went way up,” he said. “In the past few years, we’ve made significant progress, and we are thankful to the Legislature for the progress we’ve made in moving back toward full funding.”

Of the governor’s proposal, he said: “That’s a starting point. We work with the Legislature at this point to move forward. Last year, the Legislature’s appropriation was well above the governor’s recommendation, and the sweep was smaller. We hope we’ll be headed in that same direction.”

Poll: Rick Scott more popular than Florida Legislature

As Florida Gov. Rick Scott steels himself for a Session showdown with the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature, he got some good news from a new poll.

A University of North Florida survey shows that, among registered voters in Florida, Scott is more popular than the legislative branch.

46 percent of those surveyed approve of Scott, with 40 percent disapproving.

Scott’s strength is with Republicans, according to the UNF poll; 74 percent approve of the Governor, compared to 24 percent of Democrats and 39 percent of NPAs.

Meanwhile, the Legislature sees that same mark of disapproval, but only 39 percent approval.

The approval numbers for the Legislature, asserted UNF polling director Michael Binder, were a “surprise … a very positive number for them compared to most polling on Congress.”

UNF polled 973 people — 27 percent on landlines — between the dates of Feb. 13 and Feb. 26. The asserted margin of error is 3 percent.

medical marijuana

New group seeks to steer medical marijuana between control, free market

As at least one key lawmaker pushes to open Florida’s coming medical marijuana industry to a free market and the current seven licensed companies fight to keep it tight, a new advocacy group is emerging saying it wants to help develop a middle ground.

Smart Medicine For Florida will be pushing for regulations that would assure quality, safety, and security while also seeking a market open enough to assure fair pricing and the voices of patients and doctors, said the new group’s leader, Brian Hughes.

The new group will be emerging in coming weeks with details as the Florida Legislature begins in ernest to transition from the very limited, low-THC marijuana medicine production and distribution program that began in 2016 to the much broader one authorized when voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 2 in November, essentially legalizing all forms of medicines derived from marijuana.

That legislative debate could pingpong between interests that still want to regulate medical marijuana into non-existence, to rising advocacy for a free-market.

“We intend to be a voice in the middle of this debate about what’s gong to happen with Amendment 2,” Hughes said. “It feels like there’s a space for patients and doctors and people regardless of where they stood on Amendment 2.”

Amendment 2 allows for virtually all forms of marijuana medicines from edibles to smoke, to treat any disabling medical conditions. That’s a huge step from the program authorized by the Florida Legislature in 2015, which allows only oil extracts, only from plants essentially devoid of the THC chemical that can make people high, and only for patients with epilepsy, a few other neurological disorders, and certain cancer treatments.

With the limited market that had been envisioned for the current program, it was limited to just seven highly-regulated statewide producers. Already some lawmakers are saying that does not make sense for a future market that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year now that Amendment 2 has been approved.

Among them, state Sen. Jeff Brandes is calling for a free market. His Senate Bill 614 sets that up with no vertical integration of marijuana businesses. And now he has called out the House of Representatives on expectations that it will follow the same philosophy.

“The House of Representatives has been a steadfast supporter of the free market. The House stands against government intervention that picks winners and losers, and opposes onerous rules and regulations that distort the private sector,” Brandes said in a statement.

“The laws in place today governing Florida’s medical marijuana system restrict market participants, and it is tailor-made for a few influential businesses to dominate the industry,” Brandes continued. “The result of this type of market distortion is often higher prices, shortages of goods, and a lower quality product for consumers. Given the free market track record of the House, I am confident that they will not buckle under the pressure of the special interests of the existing cartel who wrote the current broken medical marijuana law.”

Hughes said his group wants to see what ideas emerge from the Florida Legislature and to work with those. He cautioned against any wide-open market that could lead to a situation like California’s which have become notorious for pot shops masquerading as medical dispensaries.

“The voters approved a medical marijuana policy that provides medicine to patients. They did not approve recreational use. Florida is not California and doesn’t want to become California,” Hughes said. “Creating the wild west of weed in Florida and claiming it’s about free markets is not a responsible way forward.

“Medical marijuana is a drug,” Hughes added. “So policymakers have a responsibility to ensure it is appropriately regulated for patient safety and medical quality while at the same time ensuring reasonable access to those in need. Done the right way, this will end the illicit market that exists to keep marijuana off our streets and out of our schools.”

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