Florida Legislature Archives - Florida Politics

University system looks for funding boost

The Florida Board of Governors is ready to consider a $5.2 billion budget request for the state university system for next year, representing a 3.6 percent increase in spending and including $75 million in additional state performance funding.

The proposal, which will be considered by the university-system board during a two-day meeting that begins Wednesday at New College of Florida, would increase state funding for the system by $183 million in the 2019-2020 budget year.

Overall, it would include $3.2 billion in state funding, along with $1.96 billion in tuition and fees, although there would not be a tuition increase.

The proposal would increase performance funding for the 12 universities to $655 million next budget year, up from $560 million this year. The overall $95 million increase would be a combination of money from the state and from the institutions.

The budget would include $327.3 million in state performance funds, including the $75 million increase, along with $327.3 million in performance funds from the institutions.

The funding is distributed to the universities each year based on 10 measurements of performance by each of the institutions, including graduation rates, salaries of recent graduates, retention of students and student costs.

New metrics include holding the 12 schools in the system to a four-year graduation rate and rewarding schools that serve large numbers of economically disadvantaged students, reflected by those receiving federal Pell grants.

The budget proposal would also increase funding for the World Class Faculty and Scholar Program by $20 million, up from the current $91 million. The program is designed to help universities attract top-level faculty and researchers.

The Board of Governors will also consider $30 million for a newly authorized initiative that is designed to identify and reward academic programs throughout the system that “reflect national excellence.”

The board is developing criteria to identify those programs and the proposal envisions a two-year process, where $30 million would be distributed in the first year, followed by another $30 million in the second year.

The board’s proposal includes some $28 million in projects related to individual schools, including $6.4 million for the Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering and $12.4 million for Florida Gulf Coast University as part of a three-year plan to boost academic programs and research opportunities at the school.

Those projects are only part of the $324.5 million in proposals advanced by the 12 schools for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, which begins in July.

If approved this week by the Board of Governors, the $5.2 billion proposal will be forwarded to the state’s new Governor, who will take office in January, and the Legislature, which will begin its 2019 Legislative Session in March.

Democrats for Cabinet calling for Groveland Four pardons, Republicans mum

In 2017 the Florida Legislature acknowledged and apologized for one of Florida’s ugliest recorded events of 20th-century racism. Yet barring a late surprise it would be left to the next state government to address the Groveland Four, and all four Democratic Florida Cabinet nominees pledged they would move swiftly, if elected, to issue long-sought pardons.

On Tuesday the Florida Board of Clemency will meet. As with the previous five times the board has met since the Florida Legislature urged Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet to issue posthumous pardons for “grave injustices perpetrated against Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas,” such pardons are not on the agenda.

The offices of Scott and the other Cabinet members, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, have never publicly said whether they have any intention of considering the pardons demanded by the Legislature and families of the four men whose lives were destroyed in 1949 after what now are recognized as false rape accusations and a series of racism-fueled injustices.

That silence continued through the end of last week, despite fresh inquiries from Florida Politics and others. On Friday, Scott’s office provided essentially the same response it did twice earlier, last October and in April, saying only that he is keeping his options open. The statement did not say what those options might be, or if the options include not acting at all.

The bipartisan-pushed and -celebrated resolution CS/HCR 631 was unanimously approved by both chambers of the Florida Legislature in April 2017, urging them to perform “expedited clemency review of the cases and grant full pardons.”

Now, all four Democratic Florida Cabinet nominees including gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum are making it clear that they would act swiftly, if elected, on behalf of the Groveland Four. The Republican nominees each declined opportunities to comment on the pardons.

The Democrats also are declaring shame on Scott, Bondi, Putnam and Patronis for doing and saying nothing so far.

There is only one more scheduled meeting of the Clemency Board under Scott and the current Florida Cabinet, set for Dec. 5.

“It makes me incensed that the Cabinet would just ignore the will of a bipartisan Legislature,” said Democratic chief financial officer nominee Jeremy Ring, a former state senator. “This was [Republican House Speaker] Richard Corcoran and [Democratic state Sen.] Gary Farmer coming together, right? This was a unanimous decision. … But more than just absurd that they would ignore the Legislature, it’s unconscionable and mean that they would ignore the families.”

“The total silence from the Governor and Florida Cabinet on expediting the pardons of the Groveland Four speaks volumes about why we so desperately need new leadership in Tallahassee,” Democratic agriculture commissioner nominee Nikki Fried said in a written statement. “As ag commissioner, and a member of the cabinet, I would not hesitate to move the clemency review process, and these long-deserved pardons, forward quickly. The Groveland Four, and their families, deserve to finally realize the justice they were never able to in their lifetimes. And Florida deserves a Cabinet that will actually act in the spirit of fairness and compassion when it comes to the clemency review process.”

“Justice for Ernest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin is seven decades overdue,” Democratic attorney general nominee Sean Shaw said in written statement. “I will do everything within my power to bring closure for these families if this is not resolved by my first Clemency Board meeting as attorney general.”

Gillum declined to comment, though his campaign staff and his running mate made it clear he, too, is ready to issue pardons.

“The mistreatment suffered by these young men should trouble every law-abiding citizen and posthumous pardons from Gov. Scott are long overdue,” Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Chris King said in a written statement.

Records released by the FBI and evidence and testimony gathered by Civil Rights crusaiders including Thurgood Marshall, the future Supreme Court justice, laid a powerful case that the four were falsely accused of raping a white woman in a rural area of Lake County outside Groveland in 1949. The story of racism and justice gone awry, and the individual stories of nightmares-come-true of the Groveland Four, were first comprehensively detailed in Gary Corsair‘s 2012 book “Legal Lynching: The Sad Saga of the Groveland Four” and then internationally exposed in Gilbert King‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning, 2013 best seller “Devil in the Grove.”

Shepherd and Thomas were killed in custody. Greenlee and Irvin were convicted and imprisoned. They since have died.

“We hereby acknowledge that Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, the Groveland Four, were the victims of gross injustices and that their abhorrent treatment by the criminal justice system is a shameful chapter in this state’s history,” the Florida Legislature declared in the resolution.

The resolution also extended the Florida Legislature’s “heartfelt apology to the families … for the enduring sorrow caused by the criminal justice system’s failure.”

The desperate familes, watching aging loved ones who are contemporaries of the Groveland Four move into the twilights of their lives, have gone from joyful to angry as time has slipped by since that resolution was published, Ap;ril 28, 2017, without any word of formal considerations of such pardons from the Florida Cabinet.

They’re now assisted by a loosely-defined group that is getting pro-bono help from the firm Edelman Orlando for a more organized push for the pardons. The nameless group includes several family members and several others who’ve been involved in the effort for years, such as King and Josh Venkataraman, the young activist who brought the matter to the attentions of Farmer, then-state Sen. Geraldine Thompson, state Rep. Bobby DuBose and the Legislature. The group has been writing to the Cabinet members urging action, and seeking more media attention. So far they’ve not heard anything from Florida Cabinet officials either.

“It’s like the Legislature vote did not happen,” said Greenlee’s daughter, Carol Greenlee.

Among survivors is Henrietta Irvin, sister of Walter Irvin.

“There’s an 84-year-old woman in Miami with crippled hands that no longer work, who can no longer bathe herself or brush her hair, who spends her days in bed, wasting away because she has no appetite – a divorcee who raised children, worked long hours at a hospital, buried two daughters, took care of a mentally disabled brother for decades, who has nurtured the hope that her wrongfully-convicted brother, Walter Lee Irvin, would one day be exonerated,” Corsair wrote in an email to Florida Politics. “I believe only one thing is keeping this praiseworthy woman alive – a fading hope that the state of Florida will right a terrible wrong and restore Walter Lee Irvin’s to nullify his criminal record and restore his reputation to law-abiding citizen.”

The response from Scott’s office, from his press secretary Ashley Cook, did not provide any specific reason for Irvin or others involved to hope that a resolution is forthcoming.

“Governor Scott is aware of the Groveland Four case and is strongly against any form of racial injustice or discrimination. Currently, the families of Walter Irvin and Charles Greenlee have applications pending with the Commission on Offender Review which, on behalf of the state of Florida, conducts clemency investigations per standard procedure and the Florida Constitution. After the Commission concludes clemency investigation, their findings are presented to the four-member Board of Executive Clemency,” Cook said in a written statement. “We continue to review all of our options.”

Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor, is ready to pursue pardons “following the will of the Legislature,” if he is elected governor, according to his spokesman. “The Groveland Four and their families deserve closure,” said Geoff Burgan.

Anna Eskamani

Meet Anna Eskamani, Democrat running for Florida House District 47

Nearly 350 candidates are vying for state House and state Senate seats in 2018. Try as we will, Florida Politics can’t interview all of them.

Just like in 2016, we’re again asking every candidate, including incumbents, to complete a questionnaire we believe offers an interesting, albeit, thumbnail sketch of who they are and why they are running. If you are a candidate and would like to complete the questionnaire, email Peter@FloridaPolitics.com.

Today’s feature: Anna Eskamani, a Democrat running for Florida House District 47.

Significant other? Kids?

No, very single. Sometimes I feel like I’m marrying the State of Florida. I hope the voters say “I do!”

Education background? Professional background?

I went to Orange County Public Schools, K-12. I then went to the University of Central Florida (Go Knights!) for all of my degrees. I hold two BAs, one in Political Science with a focus in International Relations. My second BA is in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on Women’s Studies. I also hold an undergraduate certificate in Service Learning. From there I continued my academics while working full time, and completed a dual Master’s Degree program, earning myself a MA in Public Administration and a MA in Nonprofit Management. I also hold a graduate certificate in Gender Studies. Today I am pursuing a PhD in Public Affairs, and am very close to taking my qualifying exams.

My Dad, brother, and twin-sister all went to UCF. We are a family of Knights, and I am forever grateful to this incredible institution.

What was your first job?

My first paid job was a summer at Ross in east Orlando. Before my Mom passed away she worked at K-mart as a department manager and we would help her clean the shelves and put clothes away on the weekends.  

In 25 words or less, why are you running for office?

I care about people, and Tallahassee is deeply disconnected from the lives of everyday Floridians. It’s time for a change.

Did you speak with anybody in your political party before deciding on running? Receive any encouragement? From whom?

Not really, no. A community Facebook page was launched, encouraging me to run for Orange County Mayor. Some major Democrats threw their weight behind that idea but I felt like my heart and purpose was more in the Florida House. I did meet with former Orange County Comptroller Martha Haynie (a Republican) for advice, and she also encouraged me to run for the Florida House. I actually sought advice from Democrats, Republicans, and NPAs. I am really lucky to have friends from all political persuasions in my life.

Who do you count on for advice?

My twin sister. She is one of a kind. I like to tell people we are “womb to tomb” but she hates it when I say that.

Who is your political consultant? Campaign manager?

Our campaign does not use a general consultant. We instead built our movement from the ground-up. We did use the support of Dave Plotkin and Renata Głębocki of You Should Run to design our logo and website, but our manager is a first-time campaign manager; our team intergenerational and heavily volunteer driven.

Who was the first person to contribute to your campaign? Why did they donate?

The now retired CEO at Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, Barbara Zdravecky. She is a warrior, and wanted to be my first donor.

Who, if anyone, inspires you in state government?

I admire Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith greatly. He is authentic, bold, does his homework, and focused on doing good for his community each and every day.

Why do people mistrust elected officials and what are you going to do about it?

Politicians are too concerned about using poll-tested talking points versus just being themselves. Constituents deserve someone who is authentic and accessible to them. I do my part to always be myself – you know what you get with me, and even if you don’t like it, at least you know where I am coming from, and maybe from that place of honesty we can strive to find common ground.

I am also a very empathetic person. That helps to draw connections with constituents and find common ground.  

What are 3 issues that you’re running on? (You’re not allowed to say education or “improving the schools”)

So many but here are three that instantly come to mind: Enhance the growth of Central Florida’s tech and entrepreneurial community; ensure every person can access a positive educational experience via K-12 and beyond; push to expand access to Medicaid so we can finally close the coverage gap – I have been fighting for this issue since 2013!

What is a “disruptive” issue (i.e., ride-sharing) you are interested in?

Driverless vehicles, and especially its impact on public transit. I want the public to be safe and our workers ready for this disrupter.

What does your legislative district need from Tallahassee?

We need mental health resources, affordable housing funds, and competitive salaries for our teacher.

Who was the best governor in Florida’s modern history?

I have a lot of respect for Lawton Chiles.

Are yard signs an important part of campaigning in your district?

People love yard signs and we always love seeing them!

What’s the first thing you read each morning?

My email.

Where do you get your political news?

Why Florida Politics, of course! (Seriously, I’m a long time reader.) I also love visiting my local NPR station and Orlando Sentinel.

Social media presence? Twitter handle?

All day, every day. Find us at @AnnaForFlorida on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and of course Facebook My snapchat is @Anna_V_E.

In 280 characters, what’s a tweet that best describes your campaign message?

Orlando native, daughter of immigrants, authentic, and unafraid Democrat who cares deeply about people, and has proven herself as a community leader who gets things done.

Hobbies?

I love writing, and dream about publishing my own book of poetry one day.  

Favorite sport and sports team?

I will always cheer for my UCF Knights, and love supporting or women athletic teams when I can.

‘Please explain’: Legislative panel again questions marijuana regulators

A special panel of lawmakers continues to demand answers from medical marijuana regulators, according to a new letter obtained Tuesday through a public record request.

Among the latest queries from the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee (JAPC): The identities of “subject matter experts” that the Department of Health plans to use to evaluate license applications, and whether a rule governing a license reserved for a black farmer contradicts state law.

Not mentioned in the committee’s Aug. 17 letter, however, is a Tallahassee judge’s ruling earlier this month that the medical marijuana law’s carve-out of special categories of licenses is unconstitutional.

JAPC ensures that agencies write rules that line up with statutes passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor. The department regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

Health spokesman Brad Dalton said the agency’s lawyers were “still reviewing the letter,” and “no response has been authored at this time.”

The 9-page JAPC letter, signed by Chief Attorney Marjorie C. Holladay, starts many of its paragraphs with “please explain” or “please correct.”

For instance, “Please explain how an applicant can explain its plan for the recall of medical marijuana products based on a testing result when the department has not proposed or adopted rules regarding testing.”

It dings regulators for conflating “license” and “registration” as used for medical cannabis providers, known as “medical marijuana treatment centers,” saying “the terms are not interchangeable.”

“The Legislature’s use of the terms ‘license’ and ‘licensure’ … was deliberate and indicates a preference for the use of those terms, and the use of the word ‘registration’ within that context is inconsistent with the statute,” Holladay wrote.

She even asks why one regulation “only requires the applicant’s floor plan to demonstrate that it has outdoor lighting” when state law “requires a medical marijuana treatment center to ensure that its outdoor premises have sufficient lighting from dusk until dawn.”

The missive comes less than a month after Circuit Judge Charles W. Dodson struck down several parts of the law that implements the constitutional amendment – passed by 71 percent of voters in 2016 – that authorized medicinal cannabis.

The ruling came in a challenge brought by Florigrown, which had been denied a chance to become a provider. The company is partly owned by free speech advocate and Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner.

He is a medical marijuana patient himself, having won a ruling to grow his own marijuana and make juice of it to keep his cancer from recurring. That’s under appeal by the state.

The letter is another salvo by legislators, many of whom have been exasperated over what they see as the department’s sluggishness in implementing medical marijuana.

At a meeting this February, JAPC formally approved 17 individual objections and listed more than 40 distinct operations violations “with no standards or guidance, thereby vesting unbridled discretion in the Department.”

The committee also sent more than a dozen letters to the department giving Health officials a heads-up as to concerns—to be met with no response.

As a reminder of its displeasure, the Legislature also included a provision in the 2018-19 state budget that freezes a portion of salaries and benefits for the department’s top brass until they get going on putting new rules in place.

The full letter is below:

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Final votes recorded for failed ‘Stand Your Ground’ session

A Democratic push to reconvene state legislators for a special session on the state’s controversial ‘Stand Your Ground’ law is dead.

Although doomed Thursday night, when it became clear that the three-fifths support threshold could not be met, lawmakers had until noon Friday to go on record with their support or opposition to the special session.

Between the state House and Senate, 77 members voted against the idea, with 48 voting in support. Thirty-one members did not respond to the poll, nor confirm receipt, according to data recorded by the Florida Department of State. 

To spawn a special session, 70 members in the House and 24 members in Senate would have needed to vote favorably. In the House, just 33 members voted ‘yes,’ with 15 doing the same in the Senate.

The special session request follows the shooting death of Markeis McGlockton in the parking lot of a Clearwater convenience store. Pinellas County law enforcement did not pursue charges against the shooter, saying he acted within the state’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law.

Outraged, Democratic members called for lawmakers to be polled on whether they should return to Tallahassee during the lawmaking offseason to revisit the law.

In the Senate, results split across party lines, with all ‘yes’ votes belonging to Democrats and all ‘no’ votes belonging to Republicans. In total, 19 senators voted against a special session and 14 voted in support.

Results tracked along party lines, with a few notable exceptions — and absences.

Republican Sens. Keith Perry, Tom Lee, Rene Garcia and Anitere Flores did not vote, nor did they acknowledge receipt of the poll. Garcia and Flores, of South Florida, have diverted from Republican leadership on gun issues in the past. In March, the two senators voted alongside Democrats in favor of an assault weapons ban.

Orlando Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart also did not cast a vote on the session nor confirm receipt of the poll.

Democratic Reps. Bruce Antone and Katie EdwardsWalpole sided with Republicans in opting not to return to Tallahassee, and Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison cast the single ‘yes’ vote from his party in the chamber.

Among Republicans in the House who did not vote nor confirm receipt of the poll: Republican Reps. Bryan Avila, Michael Bileca, Colleen Burton, Manny Diaz, Byron Donalds, Dane Eagle, Jay Fant, Tom Leek, Amber Mariano, Larry Metz, Mike Miller, Jose Oliva, Cary Pigman, Holly Raschein, Rick Roth, Ross Spano, Cyndi Stevenson and Jackie Toledo.

On the Democratic side, Reps. Matt Willhite, Emily Slosberg, Barrington Russell, Jared Moskowitz, Larry Lee, Jr., and Al Jacquet did not vote nor confirm receipt.

‘Stand Your Ground’ session likely doomed

Florida lawmakers have until noon Friday to respond to a proposal by Democrats to call a special session to revisit the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law.

As of Wednesday evening, responses have largely fallen along party lines. House Republicans, expected to reject the idea of holding a session, made up 43 of the 44 recorded ‘no’ responses. Retiring Democrat Katie EdwardsWalpole also rejected the idea.

House Democrats, expected to back the idea of holding a session, made up 24 of the 25 ‘yes’ responses thus far. Rep. Shawn Harrison, a Tampa Republican, also supported the idea.

A total of 48 responses are still pending from the state House. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, responded ‘no.’

In the Senate, 12 Democrats have responded ‘yes’ while 11 Republicans have said ‘no’ as of Wednesday evening. Responses from 16 senators are pending.

All 16 Senate Democrats and 23 of the 41 House Democrats signed a request by Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, that triggered the state Department of State to poll the entire Legislature on holding a special session.

The proposal needs three-fifths support in each of the GOP-dominated legislative chambers, which would equate to 70 members of the House and 24 members of the Senate, according to the state department.

The request to revisit the self-defense law came in response to the July 23 shooting death of Markeis McGlockton in the parking lot of a Clearwater convenience store. No charges have been filed against the shooter, with Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri saying the gunman is protected under the long-controversial law.

Material from the News Service of Florida is used in this post with permission.

Judge declares parts of medical marijuana law unconstitutional

A Tallahassee judge eviscerated the state law on medical marijuana, declaring major provisions to be unconstitutional.

The ruling came in a challenge brought by Florigrown, which had been denied a chance to become a “medical marijuana treatment center” (MMTC), or provider. The company is partly owned by Tampa strip club mogul and free speech advocate Joe Redner.

In a written order, Circuit Judge Charles W. Dodson struck down several parts of the law that implements the constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2016 authorizing medicinal cannabis:

— The requirement that Florida have a vertically-integrated market, meaning the same provider grows, processes and sells its own marijuana.

Dodson said lawmakers improperly modified the amendment’s definition of an MMTC: “… an entity that acquires, cultivates, possesses, processes, transfers, transports, sells, distributes, dispenses, or administers marijuana …. (emphasis added)” The law instead uses “and” instead of “or,” Dodson wrote, which “contradicts” the amendment.

— Limits on the number of marijuana providers that can be licensed by the state.

“The amendment places no limits or caps on the number of MMTCs in Florida,” the judge wrote. “Such limits directly undermine the clear intent of the amendment.”

— Special categories of licenses, such as for owners of former citrus processing facilities.

For example, another provision in the law gives preference in granting medical marijuana provider licenses to companies with underused or shuttered citrus factories. Dodson said that violates another part of the state constitution barring a “grant of privilege to a private corporation.”

“This court understands the importance of both the Legislature and the Department (of Health) in developing a thorough, effective, and efficient framework within which to regulate medical marijuana, as directed by the amendment,” Dodson wrote.

“Florigrown has established that the Legislature and the department have such a framework … They have simply chosen to restrict access in a manner that violates the amendment.” The department regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

“Providing patient care to the citizens of Florida is exactly what Florigrown is trying to do with this suit,” company CEO Adam Elend said.

“We provided evidence that the current system threatens the availability and safe use of marijuana,” he said in a statement. “Under this broken system, there’s no way for the department to predict supply or calculate how many dispensaries are needed for the number of patients on the registry.” (Florigrown’s full statement is here.)

Dodson’s ruling, docketed last Thursday, was in the context of Florigrown’s request for a temporary injunction, which he denied. He instead set a case management hearing for Oct. 3.

“The court is concerned about findings of no irreparable harm and that granting a temporary injunction at this time is not in the public interest,” he wrote. “The passing of more time may alter those findings.” Dodson did find that Florigrown has a “substantial likelihood of success on the merits” of the case.

A request for comment is pending with Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican and primary architect of the state law.

“The denial of the request for temporary injunction will allow the department to continue to work to implement the law so Floridians can have safe access to this medicine,” said Health spokesman Brad Dalton in an email.

The lawsuit began with an epic 238-page lawsuit — replete with references to Encyclopedia Britannica, ancient Roman medical texts and the Nixon White House tapes — that alleged the state was failing its responsibility to carry out the people’s will when it comes to medical marijuana.

Retailers expect near record spending during back-to-school tax holiday

The second biggest shopping holiday of the year is here.

No, it’s not the U.S. Coast Guard’s birthday, not in Florida at least. It’s the “Back-to-School” sales tax holiday.

According to the Florida Retail Federation, the weekend — scheduled yearly by Florida lawmakers — is second only to Black Friday when it comes to getting customers to open their wallets, and 2018 is no different.

“The Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday remains as popular with retailers as consumers, and with the increased strength of Florida’s economy right now, we expect to see near-record sales this year,” said FRF president and CEO R. Scott Shalley. “We want to thank Governor [Rick] Scott and our legislative leaders for including this holiday in the state budget once again, and we look forward to another successful shopping season with retailers piggybacking discounts on top of the tax-free spending and consumers taking advantage of these deals.”

From Friday to Sunday, Florida’s tax-free holiday will see consumers shave a few bucks off the price of clothing, shoes and bags priced at $60 or less as well as school supplies costing $15 or less. Unlike recent years, electronics didn’t make the tax-free list.

Early proposals this year in the Legislature would have offered a 10-day holiday, as requested by Scott, with taxes lifted on the first $1,000 of the cost of personal computers and related accessories.

But as lawmakers shifted budget priorities after the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a broad package (HB 7087) of tax and fee reductions was scaled down from a high of $618 million to a final amount of $171 million. And a proposal to extend the tax discount to computers was cut.

Still, FRF’s nationwide partner, the National Retail Federation, doesn’t think the slimmer version will bring about any grey skies for retailers.

The retail trade group said the back-to-school season will see the average American family spend $684.79 getting their kids ready for class. While that doesn’t shatter last year’s record of $687.72, it’s good enough for the third-highest total in survey history. Families with college-bound kids will shell out even more — $942.17 apiece, according to NRF’s data.

“This year’s expected spending continues a streak of more than 18 months of record or near-record spending on shopping holidays,” said Shalley. “This shows how strong the overall health of our retail industry is, as well as how vital it is to the economic strength of our state and nation as a whole.”

Clothing is once again the atop the shopping list for K-12 students and their families, with new threads and kicks expected to make up $237 of the back-to-school budget. Calculators and cellphones will account for another $187 for the average family, followed another $139 for new kicks and $122 on backpacks and the supplies to fill them.

The shopping list for college students is a little more complicated — electronics top the list, but dorm furnishings, food and college branded apparel will get their own categories on the ledger.

Florida lawmakers have approved a back-to-school sales tax holiday for 17 out of the 21 years since it first began in 1998. This year marks the ninth year in a row that the holiday has been included in the state budget.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.

Lawmakers grudgingly OK more money for marijuana regulators

The Legislature opened the state’s wallet again Thursday, granting a request from the state’s medical marijuana regulators for another $13 million in operating costs.

The approval from the Joint Legislative Budget Commission didn’t come without some grousing, however. The Department of Health, under Gov. Rick Scott, regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU).

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa told department officials she had “lost some sleep over this,” mentioning her and other lawmakers’ frustration over the slow-going of the office, including delays in issuing medicinal cannabis patient identification cards. 

Legislators had pushed back earlier this year when they included a provision from House Republican Jason Brodeur in the 2018-19 budget to withhold more than $1.9 million in Department of Health salaries and benefits until regulators fully implement medical marijuana.

Moreover, $1.5 million of the extra money requested Thursday will go to outside lawyers hired by the office to represent it in ongoing litigation.

For example, the state is appealing two high-profile cases: Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner’s circuit court win to grow and juice his own medicinal cannabis, and plaintiffs backed by Orlando attorney John Morgan who won a decision allowing them to smoke medical marijuana.

“Let’s stop wasting taxpayer dollars” on suits the state shouldn’t be appealing, Cruz said. “Please start taking this seriously,” she added, calling the office’s actions part “intentional ineptitude” and part “simple sabotage.”

Other OMMU needs include covering the cost to review applications for four new provider licenses now that the number of medical marijuana patients is over 100,000, and to procure “a computer software tracking system that traces marijuana from seed-to-sale,” according to the request. (Details from the request are here.)

The Commission, which acts as a joint committee of the Legislature, is charged with reviewing and approving the equivalent of mid-course corrections to the current year’s state spending plan. The budget went into effect July 1. 

But Sen. Rob Bradley, the Fleming Island Republican who chaired Thursday’s meeting, said lawmakers “should have dealt with these issues” during the 2018 Legislative Session “while the budget was being prepared.”

“I’m disappointed that we are dealing with this now,” added Bradley, the Senate’s Appropriations Committee chair. “But we’re dealing with it. And we need to get these things done.”

In other action, lawmakers:

— Approved a request from Secretary of State Ken Detzner for authority to distribute $19.2 million from the feds for heightened elections security. All 67 counties have applied for funds, he said. The money may be spent on “cybersecurity” needs, among other things.

— OK’d a request from the Department of Emergency Management to dole out $340 million from a federal grant to farmers and grove owners to aid the citrus industry’s recovery from recent hurricanes. The money will go toward “purchasing and planting replacement trees,” ” repair of damages to irrigation systems,” and to repay growers for “economic losses.”

— Agreed to nearly $3.2 million more for the state Office on Homelessness to “support local homeless agencies in their efforts to reduce homelessness throughout Florida.”

Gwen Graham buys TV time in Jacksonville, West Palm Beach

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham is finally going up on television in Jacksonville and West Palm Beach.

Per a media release from her campaign: “The new ad, ‘Lessons,’ introduces Graham as a mother, former PTA president, congresswoman, and daughter of popular former Governor and Senator Bob Graham. Like her previous ads, the new spot contrasts 20 years of Republican rule with Graham’s progressive priorities of restoring public schools and expanding health care.”

“Everything I do is through the prism of being a mom,” Graham says in the ad. “The Florida Legislature have not taken Medicaid expansion. They have hurt education. They have used the lottery to reduce funding — but we’re gonna take it back.”

The media release notes that despite having spent just $3.8 million this campaign, “far less than her self-funding opponents” Jeff Greene and Philip Levine, Graham is still in the mix in polls. The results of a recent survey conducted by St. Pete Polls and commissioned by Florida Politics shows Graham ahead of Levine and trailing Greene by just a tenth of a percentage point.

The ad’s message will be familiar to those paying attention to this campaign.

“Twenty years with one party running everything…with all the wrong priorities. The Florida Legislature have not taken Medicaid expansion they have hurt education. They have used the lottery to reduce funding — but we’re gonna take it back,” Graham says in the spot.

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