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BOOZE BILL

Booze bill ready for vote in Senate

A bill that would allow advertising by beer companies in the state’s theme parks is ready for a final vote in the Senate.

The measure (SB 388), carried by Republican Sen. Travis Hutson of Elkton, was heard on the floor Tuesday and placed on the third reading calendar.

It eases the state’s “tied house evil” law by allowing ads, which could include a beer company sponsoring a concert or festival within a park. Universal Orlando has supported the bill.

Some beer industry representatives had privately complained, however, they “fear being extorted by the theme parks.”

“We do a lot of business (with them), and we kind of see a situation where they say, ‘We do such-and-such theme night but now we’d like you to pay for it,’ by sponsoring it,” said one. “(W)e all feel like we’ll be put over a barrel.”

The bill also repeals a state law to permit wine bottles of all sizes to be sold.

That includes the “Nebuchadnezzar,” which hold 15 liters, or the volume of 20 standard wine bottles.

Further, it would repeal another state law that requires diners to order and consume a full meal — “consisting of a salad or vegetable, entree, a beverage, and bread” — before they can take home an opened bottle of wine.

It continues the legacy of the late Senate President Jim King‘s 2005 measure that first legalized carryout wine.

Amendment could limit the number of retail locations allowed to dispense medical marijuana

A proposed amendment to the Senate’s medical marijuana implementing could limit the number of retail facilities allowed to dispense medical marijuana.

Sen. Frank Artiles filed an amendment  to the Senate proposal (SB 406) Monday that appears to place a cap on the number of retail facilities from which medical marijuana treatment centers can dispense medical marijuana.

According to the amendment, medical marijuana treatment centers “may not dispense marijuana from more than 3 retail facilities.” The amendment does not limit “MMTC facilities that only dispense low-THC cannabis and sell marijuana delivery devices to qualified patients.”

The amendment could impact existing license holders, including ones that have already opened retail locations across the state.

There are currently seven dispensing organizations — similar to a medical marijuana treatment centers under the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment — authorized to cultivate, process and dispense medical marijuana in Florida.  But a bill set to be discussed during the Senate’s Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee meeting could open the door to new licenses as soon as October.

Under the bill sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, the state would be required to add five additional medical marijuana treatment centers — at least of which must be a black farmer — by Oct. 3, 2017.

It then calls on the state to register four more medical marijuana treatment centers within “six months after each instance of the registration of 75,000 qualifying patients with the compassionate use registry” if a sufficient number of applicants meet the registration requirements.

A second amendment by Artiles would require the state to issue of the four remaining licenses to a “veteran business enterprise.” That amendment also calls on the state to “grant preferential and bonus scoring criteria for applicants that, at the time of the initial application, are veteran business enterprises … which meet the requirements to be awarded and registered as an MMTC.”

Senate records show Sen. Bobby Powell has filed an amendment meant to encourage minority participation in the in MMTC operations and subcontracting.

Bradley’s bill is scheduled to be discussed during the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee meeting at 4 p.m.

The House Appropriations Committee is set to discuss its version of the medical marijuana implementing bill (HB 1397) during its meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

House ‘assault’ derails Senate, budget chief Jack Latvala tells Tiger Bay

In the venue where newly qualified, but unlikely, candidate Rick Scott introduced himself to Tallahassee in 2010 and another potential gubernatorial candidate, John Morgan, came to visit in February, Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala paid a visit Monday to the Capital Tiger Bay Club.

While rumors swirl about Latvala’s possible 2018 run for Florida’s top spot and his fundraising apparatus runs full speed ahead, he played coy when asked about his future political ambitions.

“I’m not going to answer that specifically … I don’t think I’m finished,” he said. “I think if this session shows anything, it shows me that we still need the kind of approach that I bring up here — problem-solving and kind of a big-picture approach — the experience I have in all facets of government for 22 years.

“I’m not ready to hang it up, but I’m not ready to say what I’m doing, either.”

As the 2016 session speeds toward its planned May 5 sine die, Latvala predicted (only half in jest) it could drag on until July. And he puts the blame squarely at the feet of the House and its leadership.

After a three-and-a-half-year tug-of-war, Sen. Joe Negron was named Senate president and Latvala was given the powerful appropriations chairmanship.

“I’m very happy with the way that’s turned out,” he said. “I was hopeful we could come up here, and we could do some good,” with ambitious projects like beefing up Florida’s universities to compete for the nation’s best students, cleaning up Lake Okeechobee and other waterways, addressing a coming freshwater shortage, boosting “good-paying jobs,” and shoring up infrastructure.

“I came to Tallahassee ready to start working on these, and instead, unfortunately, we got involved in an all-out assault on Florida’s economic development apparatus …. from the House of Representatives.”

He spoke of the House’s efforts to defund Enterprise Florida completely, and dramatically slash the state’s contribution to Visit Florida, as well as an “unprecedented” attack on home rule.

Close to home for him, Latvala singled out a House bill that would preclude sports facilities or teams from getting funding from local governments or building facilities on government-owned land.

“They do that in the name of not picking winners and losers. This is the mantra,” he said. “That’s all well and good, except that that doesn’t apply to a lot of the other efforts that we’ve got going on out there.”

Latvala specifically mentioned the elimination of no-fault auto insurance and an attempt to allow Florida Power & Light, Florida’s largest electric company, to charge ratepayers to explore for gas.

During the Q&A portion, Latvala was asked whether it was “more fun” being on the inside or an outsider in the process.

“Maybe give me a couple more weeks to answer that one,” he quipped. “I generally try to cope with whatever the cards are that are dealt me. I’m on the inside now, I think, and I’m trying very hard to make the Senate successful with the team that we have in place.” The Everglades bill was one example. “Even though it wasn’t my issue, the president asked me to get involved and see if I could get it to a point where we could pass it out of the Senate,” he said.

He said he invoked a little “Latvala magic” to get the job done — an inside joke about him blowing his stack. “But it is almost unfailingly successful in getting people to compromise and getting people to get together and work toward a solution.”

About 200 people came to listen to Latvala talk, spending a half-hour before the luncheon greeting members as they walked in along with Sen. Bill Montford, who made his introduction.

Surveying the audience, Latvala got one of the biggest laughs of the day.

“I always wondered where old lobbyists went when they retired. And now I know — they’re at the Tallahassee Tiger Bay Club,” he said. “And this is probably not politically correct, but there’s actually a couple people here I thought had died. But I’m glad you didn’t.”

Public-records exemption for murder witnesses heading to the governor

The Senate met the two-thirds requirement Thursday to send Gov. Rick Scott a bill creating a public-records exemption for information that could identify murder witnesses.

The vote was 34-3 to accept CS/CS/HB 111, the House version of legislation sponsored in the Senate by Ocoee Democrat Randolph Bracy.

Exemptions to Florida’s stringent public-records laws require two-thirds votes in both Houses. The House overwhelmingly approved the measure on March 30.

Voting “No” in the Senate were Rob Bradley, Jeff Brandes, and Jeff Clemens.

Bracy opened by introducing about a dozen family members of murder victims who’d traveled to Tallahassee to lobby for the legislation.

“This is a group who have endured a terrible tragedy, in their kids being murdered,” he said. “They have been here through every hearing in the Senate and the House.”

The idea is to shield witnesses from intimidation or retaliation.

“It’s long overdue,” Hialeah Republican Rene Garcia said.

“Back in our community, the biggest problem we have is that people don’t want to speak up when they see a crime. This bill is going to go a long way to ensure that people’s voices are heard and their identities are kept private,” Garcia said.

“I talk a lot about senseless violence and things that happen in my community. This is one of those bills that will help the law enforcement find the perpetrators of these senseless acts,” Democratic leader Oscar Braynon said.North Miami Beach Democrat Daphne Campbell pointed out a constituent in the visitor’s gallery.

“She has only one son — only one son. And she got a phone call, and her son is gone,” Campbell said. “This bill really is just a little token of what this parent is going through.”

“I just want again to thank the parents of murdered kids for your advocacy,” Bracy concluded. “Our hearts and prayers are still with you.”

Senate votes to clear up ‘mistakes’ in self-defense law for homeowners

A bill clarifying that homeowners need not wait to be attacked inside their dwellings before resorting to defensive force passed the Senate Thursday.

CS/CS/SB 1052 would reconcile conflicting statutes involving self-defense, correcting drafting errors muddying the legal situation made in 2014 legislation, bill sponsor David Simmons said.

“Senators, this protects all of us in our own home. It’s rational. It’s reasonable. It brings us back to the way it was prior to the mistakes that were made in 2014, drafting errors,” Simpson said.

The Senate defeated efforts by Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez to clarify that force would have to be used against an aggressor.

He cited the 2012 Trayvon Martin case, in which George Zimmerman shot the teenager after following him through a neighborhood.

“You do have a duty to retreat if you provoke and you do not stand down,” Rodriquez said.

A provision in existing law says one must wait to be attacked before using force. But other provisions hold that the right of self-defense begins when one “reasonably” believes it is necessary, according to a staff analysis of the bill.

“They must actually believe — not only reasonably, but subjectively believe — that their lives are in danger, and they must reasonably act,” Simmons said at one point in the debate. “How much more do you want to impose upon a homeowner?”

Democrat Audrey Gibson said she agreed with the bill in principle but couldn’t vote for it on the floor — even though she had in committee.

“So much negative has gone on in various communities, particularly as it related to people of color,” Gibson said. “And if I stand here today and support what I do believe is right within your bill, there will be newspaper articles in district and across the state that say, ‘Gibson supports stand your ground’ — and that could not be further from the truth.”

Florida Senate passes budget with limited cut to Aramis Ayala’s office

A Florida Legislature Conference Committee showdown appears likely over how much money will be cut from Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s office now that the Florida Senate passed a budget package Wednesday that includes a much smaller cut than is being proposed in the Florida House.

Engineered by state Sen. Randolph Bracy, an Oakland Democrat, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Jack Latvala, a compromise was inserted into the budget package that would cut $622,000 from the Office of the State Attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, but restore another $569,000 that the Senate initially proposed cutting.

The House of Representatives is still looking at a full $1.3 million cut to Ayala’s office. Under an arrangement put together by Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon, all the money would go to the Judicial Administration Commission, to be redistributed to other state attorneys who get 9th JC cases.

Ayala is under fire from many Tallahassee politicians, mostly Republicans, for her stance to not prosecute death penalty sentences in CD 9. As a result, Gov. Rick Scott has reassigned 23 first-degree murder cases to the neighboring 5th Judicial Circuit. On Tuesday Ayala challenged those reassignments in the Florida Supreme Court and in U.S. District Court.

The $622,000 cut from her office in the Senate budget package would go to 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King, to whom Scott reassigned the 23 cases.

Bracy said the money had been allocated last year for human trafficking and domestic violence prosecution programs, and the human trafficking problem is rapidly increasing in the CJ 9 and a top concern for the House Judiciary Committee. Those also were top priorities for Ayala during her election campaign last year.
“I felt for that reason alone she needed the money,” Bracy said.

Bracy is one of the few lawmakers to openly back Ayala. After both the cuts appeared in committees, he pushed to get money restored for her office. Earlier this week he worked out the 45 percent/55 percent split of the original $1.3 million cut with Latvala, the Republican from Clearwater.

Last week Bracy authored an op-ed column in the New York Times in which he conceded he does not necessarily agree with Ayala’s stance on the death penalty, but strongly supports her right to take that stance.

“Although Ms. Ayala’s critics have denounced her actions as dereliction of duty, they cannot point to a single law or statute that she has violated. That’s because she hasn’t,” Bracy wrote in the column. “There are no federal or state laws that say prosecutors must seek death sentences. And the United States Supreme Court has banned all state laws that make executions mandatory for murders.”

On Tuesday Plakon, a strong critic of Ayala’s stance on the death penalty, defended the $1.3 million figure, saying that capital punishment cases are very expensive so the money should follow the cases, that it’s approximately how much extra money the JC 9 office got last year, and that Ayala still has not filled many vacancies in her office, so she’s not spending what she has.

Trump administration comes to the rescue as Senate approves its budget

The Trump administration’s pledge of $1.5 million to pay hospitals for charity care came as the Senate — which was counting on the money — debated its budget plan for 2017-18.

Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala announced the development Wednesday on the Senate floor, saying Gov. Rick Scott had delivered the news during a telephone call.

“Thank you very much for that news from the governor,” Senate President Joe Negron said. “It will be taken into consideration as we continue to work on our budget.”

Scott confirmed the news via a press release.

“I appreciate their quick turnaround and commitment to working with Florida to provide additional flexibility for how these funds can be used more efficiently, including allowing money to follow each patient,” Scott said.

“This will provide better healthcare for the individuals intended to be served with this funding.”

The Senate budget includes $607 million in the Low Income Pool for charity patients — money the feds now have agreed to supply.

“I’m really hopeful and optimistic that Plan A will work out,” HHS subcommittee chair Anitere Flores said earlier in the debate.

The House wasn’t counting on the money.

The Senate proceeded to approve SB 2500, its $82.3 billion Appropriations Act, on a vote of 39-0.

The measure advances Negron priorities including the environment, education, and pay raises for state workers, especially corrections officers.

“If you look around the country, if you see vibrant, sustainable economic development and high paying jobs, you almost always see a higher education presence,” Negron said in a prepared statement following the vote.

“The Senate budget reflects our commitment to elevate that environment here in Florida, while at the same time setting aside a more than $3 billion rainy day fund,” he said.

“A dedicated and qualified state workforce is critical to our economy,” Latvia said.

“For far too long, our state employees have gone without an increase in their pay. Our budget provides an across the board pay increase for state employees, with meaningful pay increases in areas where we have had trouble with employee retention.”

The Senate accepted amendments funding member projects and technical revisions, but a series of amendments failed on voice votes.

Senators accepted a compromise that would return nearly $570,000 of the $1.3 million the bill would have stripped from Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s budget over her refusal to seek the death penalty in any case.

Latvala had worked out the deal with Randolph Bracy because of concerns the original figure would hobble a new anti-human trafficking program.

Democratic leader Oscar Braynon offered an amendment to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which survived GOP efforts in Washington to kill it off. He said 800,000 Floridians would benefit. “These people still are suffering and don’t have health insurance,” he said.

The Senate tried to expand the program last year but the House and Gov. Rick Scott refused.

Flores said the political climate isn’t right.

“We have really litigated this issue,” she said. “But at this point, and in this time … I would have to recommend that we vote against this amendment.”

An amendment by Kevin Rader would have steered $100 million to substance abuse rehabilitation programs, contingent on passage of additional cigarette taxes. He cited an opioid addiction epidemic that killed 529 people in Palm Beach County alone last year.

“We have to put money into the actual treatment,” detox beds, and short-term recovery, Rader said.

Latvala said he sympathized but that Rader’s amendment violated Senate rules by threatening to through the budget out of balance.

“Every now and then, you just don’t have enough (money) to go around,” Latvala said.

At Latvala’s urging, Rader withdrew his amendment.

Amendments providing $1 million each for a port and airport project included in Negron’s Lake Okeechobee plan sailed to approval.

 

LeadingAge calls proposed amendment to Senate nursing home payment plan a ‘step in the right direction’

LeadingAge Florida CEO Steve Bahmer is thanking Senate Democratic Minority Leader Oscar Braynon for a proposed amendment that would tweak the Senate’s proposed prospective payment system for nursing homes, which is currently included in the Senate’s budget.

The amendment, filed earlier this week, specifies that “funds received by a facility beyond current levels be used for patient care or quality improvements for nursing home residents.”

In a statement Wednesday, Bahmer said Braynon organized a meeting to discuss the Medicaid payment plan included in the Senate’s budget proposal. Bahmer said meeting “demonstrated that there are still major holes in the plan that must be addressed.”

Under a prospective payment plan, the state pays nursing homes using a per diem rate calculated based on four components, of which patient care would account for the largest portion, 80 percent, of total reimbursement.

LeadingAge Florida, which represents about 400 senior communities throughout the state, expressed concerns about the initial proposal, saying it could shift money from high-quality nursing homes to lower-quality nursing home, threatening the quality of the care offered in facilities across the state.

The Florida Health Care Association, which represents about 82 percent of all facilities, was generally supportive of the plan laid out in a Navigant study, but did request a few changes.

Much like as outlined in the Senate’s budget, the amendment calls for the state to set aside money to provide for a three-year transition period to implement the prospective payment system, “guaranteeing all providers the greater of their 2016 cost rate or the PPS rate calculated in accordance with the new methodology.” It caps gains at 4.075 percent so potential for losses can be prevented.

However, the amendment specifies that any “additional funds beyond current levels that a facility receives must be spent on patient care or quality improvement for Florida Medicaid nursing home residents.” The amendment also calls on facilities that received additional funding to “sign and submit to the agency an attestation that details how the additional funds were spent.”

While Bahmer said the amendment “won’t entirely fix the proposal,” he did call it a “step in the right direction.”

“We look forward to continuing to work with members of the Florida Senate and House, as well as fellow stakeholders, on a PPS plan that meets our collective goals of ensuring accountability of taxpayer dollars and providing the highest standard of care for our state’s seniors,” he said.

The amendment will likely be discussed later today as part of the Senate’s budget discussions.

Randolph Bracy, Jack Latvala reach compromise on Senate cut to Aramis Ayala’s office

Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s office would take a much smaller budget hit this year under a compromise worked out by state Sen. Randolph Bracy and Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala Tuesday.

Both the Florida Senate and the Florida House of Representatives have been pursuing budget proposals that would have cut at least $1.3 million from the budget of Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s office, though for different stated reasons.

Ayala is the embattled state attorney there, whose decision in March to not pursue death penalty prosecutions has led to a political firestorm. That has included some retaliatory responses, including from Gov. Rick Scott and several Central Florida House members, and proposed cuts in funding to her office.

Scott stripped 23 first-degree murder cases from her office and reassigned them to the 5th Judicial Circuit. State Rep. Scott Plakon of Altamonte Springs engineered the House cut of about $1.3 million, to transfer that money to the the 5th Judicial Circuit, which is set to get the cases Scott reassigned from Ayala.

Bracy, of Oakland, is one of the few Democrats who have actively come to Ayala’s aid

Under the arrangement agreed to by Bracy and Latvala, $569,000 of the proposed Senate cut would be restored, while $622,000 would be transferred to the office of the 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King.

“It’s what Latvala and I agreed to,” Bracy stated in a text to FloridaPolitics.com. “It’s 45 percent of the $1.3 million that was cut will go to the 9th Circuit. 55 percent will go to the 5th.”

In another text, Latvala, the Republican from Clearwater, confirmed the deal and that he would support it on the floor.

Expect no such deal on the House side, so the matter is likely to head to conference committee.

“My team recommended the $1.3 million because we thought that was the right number,” Plakon said. “Anything different from that will have to be worked out in conference.”

And he said he stood by the validity of the $1.3 million cut for several reasons. First, it’s approximately what the office got as extra money in a special appropriation awarded last year, so Plakon said it would make sense to roll that back. He also argued that the $1.3 million is being identified as money needed to prosecute death penalty cases, which are typically extremely expensive, and which Ayala has announced she would not do. So the House proposal would authorize the Judicial Administration Commission to decide which state attorneys most need the money. And third, Ayala’s office still has a number of open positions – Plakon cited references to 60, while Ayala’s office said last week the number was 33 and dropping.

Plakon said he believes the 60 to be accurate, but noted that either number is greater than the 21 positions in the proposed cut, “So she wouldn’t need those funds.”

Bill to regulate Uber, Lyft headed to Senate floor

A bill that would create a regulatory framework for transportation network companies in Florida cleared the Senate Rules Committee, teeing it up for a vote in the full Senate within the coming days.

Sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, the bill (SB 340) would require Uber and Lyft to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app but hasn’t secured a passenger. While a rider is in the vehicle, they are required to have $1 million worth of coverage.

The proposal also calls on companies to have third parties conduct local and national background checks on drivers.

“Today’s vote signals a major milestone in the effort to ensure every Florida resident and visitor has access to ride-sharing,” said Stephanie Smith, the senior manager for public policy at Uber Technologies, in a statement. “At Uber, we are focused on connecting people and communities, increasing mobility, and this vote brings us one step closer to achieving this.

The bill cleared the committee on a 10-1 vote. It now heads to the Senate floor.

This legislation will give Florida’s residents and visitors easy access to an affordable and reliable transportation option, ultimately providing the state with increased economic opportunity,” said Chelsea Harrison, the senior policy communications manager for Lyft, in a statement. “We look forward to passage by the full Senate.”

A similar bill (HB 221), sponsored by Reps. Chris Sprowls and Jamie Grant, unanimously passed the House Wednesday.

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