Florida Legislature Archives - Page 3 of 54 - Florida Politics

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.

Lawmakers want judge tossed off environmental funding suit

Saying he violated their constitutional rights “in multiple ways, and over repeated objections,” House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron asked a Tallahassee judge to remove himself from future proceedings in an environmental funding case.

The legislative leaders filed their disqualification request with Circuit Judge Charles Dodson earlier this week.

On June 28, Dodson had granted a “final (summary) judgment for (the) plaintiffs” in a lawsuit over how lawmakers fund environmental conservation. Summary judgments allow parties to win a case without a trial.

A notice of appeal has not yet been filed, according to court dockets. But attorneys sometimes move for disqualification to avoid having the same judge if a suit on appeal gets kicked back down to the lower-court judge for further action.

The case, first filed in 2015, was over the Water and Land Legacy Amendment, also known as Amendment 1. The 2014 constitutional change, mandating state spending for land and water conservation, garnered a landslide of nearly 75 percent, or more than 4.2 million “yes” votes.

Amendment 1 requires state officials to set aside 33 percent of the money from the real estate “documentary stamp” tax to protect Florida’s environmentally sensitive areas for 20 years.

Advocates — including the Florida Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club — sued, saying lawmakers wrongly appropriated money for, among other things, “salaries and ordinary expenses of state agencies” tasked with executing the amendment’s mandate.

Dodson agreed, declaring a laundry list of 2015 and 2016 appropriations unconstitutional.

“The clear intent was to create a trust fund to purchase new conservation lands and take care of them,” he wrote. “The conservation lands the state already owned were to be taken care of, certainly, but from non-trust money.”

But Andy Bardos, the GrayRobinson lawyer representing Corcoran and Negron, said in his filing the plaintiffs never asked for a final judgment, “but only for partial summary judgment as to nine of 114 appropriations challenged in (the) complaint—or eight percent of its case.”

That violated lawmakers’ right to due process, Bardos said, which has now “eliminated the Legislative Parties’ confidence in the fairness and impartiality of this proceeding.”

In response, David Guest – one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers – said “the alleged bias is based entirely on Judge Dodson’s rejection of their legal arguments, all of which were squarely presented at various points in the proceedings.

“That a judge finds a party’s legal argument unpersuasive cannot be the basis of a motion to recuse the judge – only the basis for an appeal,” he added.

This sets a very low bar for what counsel for the Legislature considers to be acceptable conduct. Expect more of this kind of play before this case is over.”

As of June 21, the Senate spent $229,172 in total “litigation expenses” defending the suit, Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said. Similar information was not immediately available from the House.

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, also a defendant named in his official capacity, said his department “did not obtain outside counsel on this case.”

The full filing, with exhibits, is below:

White House backs Everglades reservoir

The White House has backed Florida’s effort to secure federal funding for a reservoir intended to move water away from Lake Okeechobee and reduce discharges that residents blame for repeated toxic algae outbreaks spreading on both coasts.

The request by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to include funding for the roughly $1.6 billion Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir, approved by the state Legislature last year, now heads to the U.S. Senate. The plan is expected to be included as part of America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018.

The reservoir was a priority for Florida Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who is leaving office in November.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio quickly welcomed the White House action.

“This project, spearheaded by state Sen. Negron and coupled with existing efforts, will greatly reduce the harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges once again threatening our coastal communities,” Rubio said in a press release before discussing the algae outbreak on the Senate floor on Tuesday.

“I am encouraged by the administration’s continued engagement on Florida’s water issues, and I look forward to working with the president to fund the expedited construction of these critical Everglades restoration projects.”

On Wednesday, Rubio asked the Small Business Administration to provide help to small businesses adversely affected by the algal blooms.

Gov. Rick Scott, who has close ties to President Donald Trump, took to social media to praise the White House action, which came a day after the governor took a boat tour of the impacted waters in Southwest Florida and issued an emergency declaration regarding the outbreak.

“This critical project will help us move & store more water south of Lake Okeechobee,” Scott, a Republican running against incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, tweeted Tuesday.

The state is banking that the federal government will pick up the tab for half of the project, projected to cost about $1.6 billion.

“This reservoir is an indispensable component to finally eliminating the harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee that are polluting our estuaries and waterways,” Negron said in a statement Tuesday night.

Negron expressed hope that the initial permitting and engineering for the reservoir can begin within the next few months.

“This is an emergency; time is of the essence,” he said.

Tuesday’s approval by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget came a day after Scott imposed an emergency order for Glades, Hendry, Lee, Martin, Okeechobee, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties over the reemergence of toxic algae outbreaks in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. A similar outbreak of “guacamole-thick” algae blooms spreading across the Treasure Coast spurred the Legislature to advance plans for the reservoir two years ago.

Scott’s emergency declaration Monday also enlisted a number of state agencies to address the toxic waters.

The governor directed the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the South Florida Water Management District to waive various restrictions and regulations to store water in additional areas south of the lake.

Also, Scott ordered the DEP to set up a grant program to help local governments pay for clean-up services. The governor told the Department of Economic Opportunity to assist businesses impacted by the algae outbreak.

And Scott ordered state health officials to inform Floridians and visitors of the dangers of algal blooms, and directed tourism officials to find ways to reduce the impact of the outbreak on the state’s travel industry.

Updated 1 p.m. — Scott in a statement said he has “aggressively fought for these communities since I became Governor … The approval of the reservoir project is a tremendous step toward storing more water south of Lake Okeechobee.

“Once again, our communities are facing a threat from water being released by the federal government from Lake Okeechobee. In Florida, to minimize the impact of these water discharges, we have taken decisive action to find more water storage to protect our rivers and coastal estuaries. This includes the reservoir project that I worked with the Florida Legislature to accelerate and the critical repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike that we urged to be included in supplemental disaster funding.

“Also, I issued an emergency declaration this week, so the state can do everything in our power to mitigate the immediate threat of the Army Corps of Engineers’ water releases.

“Now that this project has been approved by the White House, there is no excuse for Congress not to advance and fund the reservoir as soon as possible. Congress must act immediately to help find a solution to the water that the Army Corps of Engineers is releasing into our coastal communities.”

Florida’s bizarre fireworks law still in place

It’s almost Independence Day, which in Florida means: Time to scare some birds.

Although you can buy fireworks in the state, they’re not actually legal here.

Indeed, The Tampa Tribune in 2014 called fireworks sales in Florida an “institutionalized charade,” leading one lawmaker to call for “more freedom (and) less fraud.”

Retail sales are allowed only because of a 62-year-old loophole in the law, the only known one of its kind in the country.

That allows “fireworks … to be used solely and exclusively in frightening birds from agricultural works and fish hatcheries.”

Indeed, anyone who’s bought fireworks from a roadside tent over the years may remember signing a form acknowledging the buyer falls under an agricultural, fisheries or other exemption.

For the record, fireworks can also be used for “signal purposes or illumination” of a railroad or quarry, “for signal or ceremonial purposes in athletics or sports, or for use by military organizations.”

Enforcement is up to local police and fire agencies, and case law says fireworks vendors aren’t responsible for verifying that buyers actually intend to chase off egrets or light up a track meet.

Every so often, lawmakers file bills either to remove or tighten certain exemptions, or to just legalize retail sales of fireworks. None have made it into law.

Only one state, Massachusetts, still has an outright ban on consumer fireworks, according to the American Pyrotechnic Association.

In Florida, former state Rep. Matt Gaetz once tried to legalize Roman candles, bottle rockets and other fireworks for recreational use. The Fort Walton Beach Republican is now a congressman.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, pushed a similar bill prohibiting sales of fireworks and sparklers only to children under 16 and requiring other buyers to sign a disclaimer saying they know fireworks are dangerous.

Current law “does not promote public safety and should be repealed to simply allow fireworks to be sold,” he has said. “More freedom, less fraud.”

And last year, state Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, filed legislation to legalize consumer fireworks in Florida. It died in committee.

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Ed. Note – This story ran previously and has been re-published as a service to our readers.

New budget, dozens of laws take effect July 1

More than 100 bills that Gov. Rick Scott signed into law from the 2018 Legislative Session will take effect Sunday, including a new state budget that tops $88 billion.

Lawmakers sent 195 bills to Scott from the Session that ended in March. The Governor vetoed two, while signing the rest.

Of the signed measures, 105 will hit the books Sunday.

Of the remainder, 54 went into effect upon Scott’s signature, with the rest effective in October or 2019.

Among the measures slated to take effect Sunday:

State budget

— HB 5001: Lawmakers passed an $88.7 billion budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. The spending plan increases public-school funding by $101.50 per student, though Democrats and many education officials have argued that a far lower amount will be available for basic school expenses.

Among other things, the budget will provide $100.8 million for the Florida Forever land preservation program and offer a $130 million increase in Medicaid funding for nursing homes. Lawmakers also included $3.3 billion in reserves and put money into such issues as Everglades restoration, beach restoration, “pre-eminent” universities and helping universities attract “world-class” faculty.

Tax package

— HB 7087. A roughly $170 million tax-cut package provides relief for farmers and property owners impacted by Hurricane Irma, provides a sales-tax “holiday” in August for back-to-school shoppers and retroactively covers a disaster-preparedness tax “holiday” in early June that coincided with the start of hurricane season. The package also includes reducing a commercial lease tax from 5.8 percent to 5.7 percent, though that cut will begin Jan. 1.

Education

— HB 7055: The law expands the use of voucher-like scholarships to send more public-school students to private schools. One program in the bill will let students who face bullying or harassment in public schools transfer to private schools. The so-called “hope scholarships” will be funded by motorists who voluntarily agree to contribute sales taxes they would normally pay on vehicle transactions to fund the scholarships. Among other things, the bill also boosts the Gardiner scholarship program, which pays for services and private-school scholarships for students with disabilities.

Child marriage

 SB 140: The bill will largely block minors from getting married in Florida. In the past, minors ages 16 and 17 have been able to get marriage licenses with parental consent, and judges have had discretion to issue licenses to younger minors if they have children or if pregnancies are involved.

Under the change, marriage will generally be barred for people under age 18, though an exception will be in place for 17-year-olds who have written consent from their parents or guardians. Also, the 17-year-olds will not be able to marry people who are more than two years older than them.

Opioids

— HB 21: With Florida facing an opioid epidemic, the measure is aimed at preventing patients from getting addicted to prescription painkillers and then turning to street drugs such as heroin and fentanyl.

The bill, in part, will place limits on prescriptions that doctors can write for treatment of acute pain. Doctors in many cases would be limited to writing prescriptions for three-day supplies, though they could prescribe up to seven-day supplies of controlled substances if “medically necessary.” Cancer patients, people who are terminally ill, palliative care patients and those who suffer from major trauma would be exempt from the limits. The bill also requires physicians or their staff members to check with a statewide database before prescribing or dispensing controlled substances.

Bethune statue

— SB 472: Lawmakers approved placing a statue of civil-rights leader and educator Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of what became Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, in the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.

The statue of Bethune will replace a likeness of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, who has long been one of Florida’s two representatives in the hall at the U.S. Capitol. The state’s other representative is John Gorrie, widely considered the father of air conditioning.

Slavery memorial

— HB 67: The measure will lead to building a memorial on the Capitol grounds to honor the untold number of slaves in Florida history. The bill requires the Department of Management Services to develop a plan and costs for the memorial, with the plan then submitted to the governor and legislative leaders.

Daylight saving time

— SB 1013: The measure seeks to place Florida on year-round daylight-saving time. The change, promoted as a way to help Florida tourism, still needs congressional approval.

Veterans

— HB 29: Named the “Don Hahnfeldt Veteran and Military Family Opportunity Act” after a House Republican who died in December, the measure expands a 2014 law by further reducing professional licensing fees and requirements for certain military members, veterans and their spouses. This bill also designates March 25 each year as “Medal of Honor Day.”

Foreign affairs

— HB 545 and HB 359: One measure (HB 545) will prohibit state agencies and local governments from contracting with companies that boycott Israel. The other (HB 359) bars state agencies from investing in companies doing business with the government of Venezuela, a step intended to put pressure on the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

New budget year brings boost in spending

Florida’s new $88.7 billion budget will take effect Sunday, but that doesn’t tell the whole story about spending on education, health care, transportation and other state programs in the new fiscal year.

Projected spending in 2018-2019 is greater than the budget bottom line because lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott approved 16 bills during the 2018 Legislative Session that included additional funding totaling nearly $610 million.

The $89.3 billion in spending is $4.36 billion higher than the 2017-2018 budget year that ends Saturday, representing more than a 5 percent increase. It is more than $20 billion higher than the $69 billion 2011-2012 spending plan, which was the first under Scott, who leaves office in January because of term limits.

The state’s largest expenditures in 2018-2019 will be on human services, which include Medicaid and other health-care programs, accounting for 43.3 percent of the spending. Education will be the second largest component at 28.5 percent.

Among the bills was legislation (SB 4) making permanent an expansion of the Bright Futures scholarship program, including covering 75 percent of the tuition and fees in the new academic year for students who are “medallion scholars.” The $123.5 million in spending will also let those students use their scholarships for summer classes in 2019.

An additional $53.6 million will be spent on dealing with Florida’s ongoing opioid crisis through another bill (HB 21).

The largest spending outside the main budget is $400 million for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act (SB 7026), which passed after the Feb. 14 mass shooting that killed 17 people at the Broward County school.

The legislation includes $69 million for mental-health programs in school districts, a $97 million increase to hire more school resource officers, a $98 million grant program for improving school security and $67 million for an initiative that would allow school personnel to be trained as armed “guardians” on school campuses.

The increased safety spending is reflected in a $485 million increase in the funding formula for the 67 school districts in 2018-2019. But since much of the $101.50 increase in per-student funding is earmarked for the safety programs, the school districts will only see a statewide average increase of 47 cents in the “base student allocation,” the primary source for general operations.

State employees will not receive a general pay raise in the new budget, which was approved by lawmakers in March. But there will be targeted increases.

The seven state Supreme Court justices will see their annual pay rise to $220,600, a 24 percent increase.

State law enforcement officers could get a raise up to 10 percent if they have 10 or more years of experience. Department of Juvenile Justice probation and detention officers will get a 10 percent increase.

State firefighters will get a $2,500 annual pay raise, while there will be adjustment up to $4,000 a year for assistant state attorneys and public defenders if they have worked more than three years in their offices.

In health care, the new budget has nearly a $900 million increase to account for additional costs in Medicaid, the state-federal health program for poor and disabled people. There is $128.5 million increase in Medicaid payments to nursing homes.

Nursing home patients will benefit from a $16.9 million increase in their “personal needs allowance,” which will increase by $25 a month to $130. It will allow them to pay for personal services and items like hair styling and clothes.

In the environmental arena, in addition to $101 million for the Florida Forever land-acquisition program, there is $64 million for an Everglades-area reservoir project, $50 million for natural springs restoration, $50 million for repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee and $50 million for beach-management grants to local governments.

The new budget has a $9.9 billion “work program” for the Department of Transportation, including $3.9 billion for the construction of highways and bridges and $1.3 billion for resurfacing and maintenance.

More than $454 million is slated to be spent on education construction and maintenance projects in the new academic year. That includes $50 million for maintenance at public schools and $145 million for charter schools.

The budget includes $3.25 billion in reserve funding, including $1 billion in unspent general revenue, $1.48 billion in a budget-stabilization fund and $770 million in the Chiles endowment, which is funded by a settlement with tobacco companies.

Chris King tempers expectations on his big gun agenda

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King told a room full of gun-control activists Wednesday that he’s carrying a big agenda for them if he’s elected governor but that he’s got some doubts about how much of it could be enacted, short of a Constitutional Amendment.

King, the Winter Park entrepreneur, has embraced the full Democratic platform led by banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and tightening background checks, and has added a few items of his own, such as a bullet tax to help pay for gun-violence prevention programs.

In downtown Orlando Wednesday, a gathering of about 30 activists, which included members of Moms Demand Action, March For Our Lives, the Youth Coalition to End Gun Violence, and some unaffiliated individuals, welcomed much of King’s agenda, and cheered and applauded him more than once, allowing him to declare them and himself to be “soul mates.”

But in anticipation of working with a Republican-controlled Florida Legislature, King also tapped the brakes.

“All of those things that you’ve talked about are going to be, if I win and I have two houses against me, are going to be very hard to pass,” King said.

“We’ve been to Tallahassee. We know all about that,” agreed one of the members of Moms Demand Action, a group that emerged from the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Ct.

“I want to be very honest about that. I’m even feeling there is a flexing of muscle by the NRA. They feel they’ve survived the first blitz,” King picked up. “They’re courage is coming back. You see it in Republican nominees. They’re feeling like the students will dissipate. … And so the way this works in my view is we have to keep the heat on.

“But likely the way it would work is some combination of things would be on the ballot, led by citizens, championed by a Democratic governor, in 2020, a presidential year. I think that’s when could make the strike. That’s how it would happen,” King added. “It certainly would be nice to see it earlier, but that’s probably how it’s going to happen.”

King faces former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene for the August 28 Democratic primary. All of them except Greene, who still is in the dead-silence phase of his campaign since filing last Friday, has made gun control big parts of their campaigns, especially since the Feb. 14 massacre of students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

King has stepped up the agenda with his proposal last week to use sales taxes from guns and bullets, plus an additional “safety fee” tax on bullets, and a couple other sources, to finance statewide gun violence prevention and study programs.

Wednesday’s roundtable discussion also veered often into other areas such as criminal justice reform, mental health funding, and education, allowing King to tout his proposals in those areas, especially his criminal justice reform platform reducing the housing of nonviolent offenders in prisons.

Joe Henderson: Gwen Graham makes stand against conversion therapy quackery

So-called “conversion therapy” is only a thing because a segment of wingnut nation considers it a sacred duty to force its values on everyone. The practice goes on because too many lawmakers look the other way.

But it’s not therapy at all, at least as reasonably educated people understand the practice. It is, instead, medieval quackery on par with bloodletting and lobotomies.

What it does have is a high chance of inflicting real harm on someone who dares to be who they are.

It is outlawed in 12 states, and while Florida doesn’t have a blanket ban it is prohibited in 19 municipalities — including Tampa, Miami, and Palm Beach County. As Florida Politics reported, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham said Legislature should extend that ban to the entire state.

She is correct.  

Conversion therapy seeks to force, er, “convert” gay and transgender people into becoming straight people. What possibly could go wrong?

It usually is linked to conservative religious zealots, not to be confused with many mainline evangelicals who simply believe homosexuals may be born that way but can fight the “temptation.”

Because homosexuality it is not considered a disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, treatment to “correct” that not only lacks scientific backup, it can actually be harmful to the person being “corrected.”

The so-called therapy can include electroshock treatments to induce seizures and memory loss, maybe so the one being “treated” will forget what vile people did that to him or her. It relies on basically brainwashing the treated person into hating themselves enough to “change.”

As Saul Levin, the APA’s Chief Executive Officer and Medical Director, American Psychiatric Association, noted, “(the treatment) does come bundled with a real group of potential risks, including depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior.”

This “therapy” is not a new thing, but it gained increased attention when the Republican Party platform in 2016 tiptoed up to the edge of what many believed was an endorsement of the practice, declaring “right of parents to determine the proper medical treatment and therapy for their minor children.”

The key word — “therapy” — was seized upon by LGBTQ groups, but party officials denied there was any connection.

But it is a fact that many conservative Christians have a tough time separating the biblical declaration that homosexuality is a sin from the rights of people under the secular law. That may help explain why two attempts by Democrats to push through a law banning conversion therapy through the Legislature got nowhere.

Alas, even if Graham wins and becomes Governor, Democrats will be pressed to have enough legislative muscle to get this past Tallahassee Republicans. She could always try an executive order, as she hinted in a tweet, but opponents could challenge that in court.

Some conversions are a bridge too far, you know?

After all, can’t upset the base by endorsing science.

Medical marijuana regulator: We’ll change our rules—or not

Despite lawmakers’ concerns, the Department of Health has final say over how medical marijuana plays out in Florida, the state’s top regulator suggested.

The agency regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use. The office’s director, Christian Bax, spoke with reporters Thursday after a rulemaking hearing in Tallahassee.

A legislative panel took Bax’s office to task in a letter sent earlier this month, asking whether staff there is “refusing to modify the rules” governing the drug.

The Joint Administrative Procedures Committee (JAPC) ensures that agencies write rules that line up with statutes passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor. 

Medicinal cannabis regulators haven’t yet formally responded to the panel’s objections, including one over a $60,000 “nonrefundable application fee” to become a marijuana provider. 

“The proposed rules we issue go in front of JAPC, JAPC responds … There is always give and take, especially with complicated and controversial rules,” Bax said.

He said department staff is still “reviewing” the 2 ½-page letter.

“If the Department believes that we need to make changes, we’ll make the change. If not, we’re going to continue to move forward with the process,” Bax told reporters.

He added: “We certainly respect the Legislature’s prerogative to provide input on this process and we’re looking forward to continuing our work with them.”

For instance, he had clarified in the hearing that the application fee could be refunded before his office “took action” on a given application. 

Bax is trying to finalize rules governing applications to become the state’s next medical marijuana providers.

State law says within six months of reaching 100,000 “active” and “qualified” patients, “the department shall license four additional medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs).” That means they must have “a qualified patient identification card.” As of last Friday, there were just over 86,000.

Lawmakers have been upset for months over perceptions of the department’s lassitude in implementing medical marijuana under the 2016 constitutional amendment voters passed by 71 percent.

Moreover, 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 since October giving Health officials a heads-up as to concerns—to be met with no response.

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, including Bax, until they get going on putting new rules in place.

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