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Bottoms up: Beer, booze bills clear Senate committee

Let freedom pour: Bills aimed at changing beer and booze regulations in Florida have cleared their latest review panel.

The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee OK’d measures that would allow beer distributors to give free branded beer glasses to bars and restaurants, authorize beer companies to advertise in theme parks and let craft distillers sell more bottles directly to consumers.

Sen. Frank Artiles, the Miami-Dade Republican sponsoring the glass bill (SB 1040), told committee members the measure would benefit small businesses who deal with glass theft and breakage. It would allow brewers to provide glassware to distributors, who could then give away the glasses. Now, they must be sold.

MillerCoors and the state’s craft beer lobby continue to oppose the bill, saying deep-pocketed global beer behemoth Anheuser-Busch stands to benefit the most: Each branded glass effectively acts as a passive advertisement for a particular label.

It was approved 6-1, with Democrat José Javier Rodríguez the lone ‘no’ vote.

Another bill (SB 388) by Republican Sen. Travis Hutson of Elkton allows “co-operative advertising” by beer companies in the state’s theme parks. Universal Orlando supports the bill.

The idea behind the measure is to ease the state’s “tied house evil” law by allowing ads, which could include a beer company sponsoring a concert or festival within a park. But some beer representatives privately have complained 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 person, who asked not to be named. “(W)e all feel like we’ll be put over a barrel.”

The bill was cleared 7-0.

The third bill (SB 166), carried by GOP Sen. Greg Steube of Sarasota, would remove a limit on how many bottles distillers can sell directly to consumers, though it requires bottles be no bigger than 1.75 liters. Now, it’s capped at “two bottles per person per brand per year at one location,” he said.

The House version would only expand the limit to six bottles, he noted, in answer to a question from Jacksonville Democrat Audrey Gibson.

But “you can go to Wal-Mart and buy as many shotguns as you want,” he told senators. “I just think the government telling a business how many pieces of product they can sell is archaic. It’s not good public policy.”

The measure was OK’d 6-1, with Gibson the only dissenter.

medical marijuana

Senate amendment quickens pace for medical marijuana treatment center growth

A Senate panel is poised to approve legislation this week that could add five more medical marijuana treatment centers in Florida by October and lower the threshold for adding additional treatment centers in the future.

The Senate Health Policy Committee is scheduled to discuss and vote on a bill (SB 406), sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, that would implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment. The Orange Park Republican has filed eight amendments to his bill, incorporating aspects of several other implementing bills filed in the Senate during the 2017 Legislative Session.

One of the most significant changes Bradley has proposed would lower the threshold for adding new medical marijuana treatment centers. Under an amendment filed Friday, the state would be required to add five additional medical marijuana treatment centers — at least one of which must be a black farmer — by Oct. 3, 2017.

The amendment then stipulates within “six months after each instance of the registration of 75,000 qualifying patients with the compassionate use registry” the state register four additional treatment centers “if a sufficient number of MMTC applicants meet the registration requirements.”

That’s a significantly lower threshold than what Bradley first proposed. Under the bill Bradley filed in January, the state health department would have been required to add more treatment centers only when an additional 250,000 qualified patients registered with the compassionate use registry. After that, five new medical marijuana treatment centers would be registered when the number of patients reach 350,000; 400,000; and 500,000.

During a workshop in March, Bradley said based on feedback he received he had come to believe his bill was “too restrictive.”

If approved, the Senate bill has the potential to open the door for far more medical marijuana treatment centers than the House proposal (HB 1397).

That proposal, sponsored by Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, calls on the state to issue licenses to five applicants denied by the Department of Health and one black farmer after 150,000 qualified patients are registered in the compassionate use registry. New applicants would then be allowed once there are 200,000 qualified patients.

Rodrigues’ bill cleared the Health Quality Subcommittee on a 14-1 vote, and will next be discussed in the House Appropriations Committee.

Bradley has also proposed an amendment that would require medical marijuana to be tested by an independent testing lab to ensure it meets the standards established by the state’s quality control programs. A bill (SB 1388) filed by Sen. Frank Artiles also called for independent third party testing.

Committee members will also be asked to vote on an amendment Monday that would establish the Coalition for Medical Marijuana Research and Education within the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute.

The purpose of the coalition would be to “conduct rigorous scientific research, provide education, disseminate research, and to guide policy for the adoption of a statewide policy on ordering and dosing practices for the medicinal use of marijuana.” The amendment appears to be substantially similar to a bill (SB 1472) filed Sen. Bill Galvano, which passed the Senate Education on a 9-0 vote on March 27.

The Senate Health Policy Committee is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. in 412 Knott.

Poll: 45% of Florida voters would like to see increase in Medicaid funding

A new survey from the Florida Hospital Association shows strong support among Florida voters to keep — or in many increase — state funding for Medicaid programs.

The survey, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies from March 1 through March 5, found Floridians have the most favorable opinion of Medicaid that the association has recorded in six years. The poll of 600 registered voters found 56 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Medicaid, up from 47 percent in a November 2011 survey.

The results of the survey come as state lawmakers began releasing their initial budget recommendations, which included taking away as much as $621.8 million from hospitals in the coming year.

The House proposal cuts the state’s share of Medicaid by $238.6 million, or a total of $621.8 million once federal dollars are factored in. The Senate has recommended cutting $99.3 million, or a $258.6 million total cut.

But the Florida Hospital Association found that while the state is slashing budgets, many Floridians would actually like to see lawmakers keep funding as is, if not give the programs funding boost.

According to the survey, 45 percent of Floridians said they would like to see Medicaid funding increased, while 29 percent said they believe state funding should stay the same. Just 8 percent said funding for the programs should be decreased.

Six years ago, 47 percent of Floridians supported keeping the funding the same, while 39 percent wanted to see more money put into the program. Back in November 2011, 11 percent of Floridians supported decreasing funding for Medicaid programs.

When respondents were asked about a few specific areas the Legislature will be spending money on this year, 61 percent of Floridians said the state should increase funding for Medicaid, which provides health care to lower-income children, the disabled elderly, and pregnant women.

Voters also supported increasing funding for water quality problems (67%); the state’s colleges and universities (52%); tax cuts to help business to expand or relocate to Florida (31%); and tourism promotion (23%).

Yet when asked whether they would support redirecting money from Medicaid to help pay for increased funding for colleges and universities, tax cuts for businesses, and tourism promotion, 75 percent of voters said they would advise their legislator to keep the money in Medicaid programs.

There appeared to be broad support to keep money in Medicaid programs, with 68 percent of Republicans, 85 percent of Democrats, and 73 percent of independents saying they would advise their legislator to keep funding Medicaid.

That feeling was echoed throughout the state, with a solid majority of voters in each media market saying the Legislature keep money for Medicaid.

The highest support for keeping the cash for Medicaid came from the Jacksonville area, where 80 percent of respondents said they wanted legislators to keep money for Medicaid programs.

The Fort Myers media market — which includes Gov. Rick Scott’s hometown of Naples — had the highest percentage of people saying they should shift the funds, with 20 percent of respondents saying they would tell their lawmaker to use it for something else.

 

Florida House passes bill to allow therapy animals in courts

Children testifying in court in abuse, abandonment and neglect cases would be allowed the help of therapy animals under a bill passed by the Florida House.

The bill passed unanimously Thursday and expands a law that already allows therapy animals for victims testifying in sexual offense cases.

A legislative analysis of the bill says that research has shown animals reduce stress in children and three Florida district courts that have allowed them have reported positive results.

A similar bill in the Senate is ready for a full chamber vote.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

generic casino photo

Senate passes 2017 gambling bill

As expected, the Senate on Thursday passed its gambling overhaul for this year, including a renewal of exclusive rights to blackjack games for the Seminole Tribe.

Sen. Bill Galvano, the chamber’s shepherd of this year’s legislation, told fellow lawmakers he couldn’t promise that “we’ll reach a state of resolution” this session.

That said, he expects the House and Senate to go to conference on their respective bills, which are significantly different.

Galvano later told reporters the bill represents $340-350 million in potential revenue for the 2017-18 budget, and this year, every bit helps.

Senate President Joe Negron, in a statement, said he was “pleased” that the bill “honors the will of our fellow citizens in the eight counties that have approved referenda to expand the availability of gaming options.”

Those counties –Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington – approved slot machines through a ballot question.

Below is a Periscope of Galvano answering questions from reporters after Thursday’s Senate floor session:

Alimony legislation dead for 2017, sponsor says

Good news for opponents of this year’s alimony overhaul, and bad news for its supporters: The bills are dead for the year.

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, the Naples Republican who’s carrying the Senate version (SB 412), on Wednesday said the chair of its first committee of reference has refused to hear the bill. Rene Garcia chairs the Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs.

“Chairman Garcia determined that he was not interested in hearing it and I respect that decision,” Passidomo said. “I don’t think leadership weighed in on it.”

Garcia was not immediately available for comment after Wednesday’s floor session.

Passidomo also noted the House bill (HB 283), sponsored by Lakeland Republican state Rep. Colleen Burton, also has not gotten a hearing. And with House subcommittees wrapping up work this week, that virtually dooms the legislation there.

Burton was unavailable; the House was still in session Wednesday afternoon.

As filed, the bills would have toughened the standards by which alimony is granted and modified. That’s despite unsuccessful tries in the last few years.

In a nutshell: Former spouses who wrote the checks have said permanent alimony in particular, or “forever alimony,” wasn’t fair to them. Their exes have shot back that they shouldn’t be penalized, for example, after staying home to raise the children and then having trouble re-entering the workplace.

Passidomo, an attorney, said this year’s bills were hobbled by a misunderstanding of their effect.

“That was, that you couldn’t get ‘permanent’ alimony (under the bill) but that’s not really true,” she said. “Someone in a longstanding marriage is still going to get alimony permanently if the court awards it.”

Among other things, the current legislation contains a guideline that says judges should consider an ex-spouse’s “services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party” when calculating an alimony award.

A judge can go outside the suggested alimony amount under the bill “only if the court considers all of the factors … and makes specific written findings concerning the relevant factors that justify” the deviation.

“This bill would have gone a long way in curtailing some of the gamesmanship” in fighting for and against alimony in court, Passidomo said. “Somebody who is entitled to alimony should get it and the person who needs to pay it should pay it. I’ve never believed in changing that.”

Passidomo said she plans to file the bill again next year.

Senate passes ‘whiskey & Wheaties’ bill

Three Legislative Sessions later, the Senate finally passed a bill to allow retailers to sell hard liquor in the same store as other goods.

Senators approved the “whiskey and Wheaties” legislation (SB 106) on a 21-17 vote after a debate in which one senator said it would “kill … kids.”

Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who first filed a one-line repealer in 2014, spoke in favor of what has now become a 5-page bill. Among other things, it requires miniatures to be sold behind a counter and allows for a 5-year phase-in.

Today, the separation of spirits from retail has “no nexus to the reality of everyday life,” said Galvano, in line to become Senate President in 2018-20.

In a speech that started by mentioning famed mobster and bootlegger Al Capone, Galvano said alcohol now has been “mainstreamed.”

A Prohibition-era state law requires businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Big-box stores like Wal-Mart and Target want the repeal, saying the added convenience is “pro-consumer,” and independently-owned liquor store operators say they will suffer. Publix also has opposed the move, saying it’s invested in the separate liquor store model.

Sen. Frank Artiles, a Miami-Dade Republican, asked colleagues, “Why are we doing this?” He called it “the Wal-Mart bill,” and said it would give an “unfair advantage” against small businesses.

The rhetoric eventually gave rise to emotion: Sen. Daphne Campbell attacked the bill, saying it wasn’t even about “politics, it’s poli-tricks.”

The Miami-Dade Democrat said the effect of the legislation would be to “kill your own kids … How can we do this?” Critics of the bill have feared it will increase teens’ access to alcohol.

Anitere Flores, the Miami-Dade Republican carrying this year’s bill, was taken aback.

People watching the debate, she said, must be asking “what in the world does this bill do? Does it kill children. No.” She earlier pointed out it’s not a mandate on any business.

The repeal’s fate in the House is unclear: That chamber’s version, recently amended to be more similar to the Senate’s, has been limping through its committees on one- and two-vote margins.

Joe Negron adds to committees’ strength during Dorothy Hukill’s recovery

While Sen. Dorothy Hukill recovers from cervical cancer, Senate President Joe Negron has named additional members to committees on which she serves.

In a memo dated Tuesday, Negron said Sen. Anitere Flores will help out in the Education Committee, which Hukill leads.

“Sen. Hukill will remain the chair of the Committee on Education,” Negron aide Katie Betta said. “Under the Senate rules, the chair designates a senator on the committee to serve in her absence on a week by week basis.”

Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala takes a seat on the budget Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto will serve on the Health Policy Committee. And Ben Galvano will sit on the Transportation Committee.

The appointments take effect immediately, Negron said.

“I appreciate your willingness to take on this additional responsibility on behalf of the Florida Senate,” he wrote.

“Sen, Hukill is still on all of these committees,” Betta said.

Hukill has been absent from Tallahassee during the Legislative Session, but has been following proceedings remotely.

Senate begins consideration of ‘whiskey and Wheaties’ bill

After Sen. Bill Galvano first proposed it four years ago, the Senate is poised to pass a bill removing the “wall of separation” between hard liquor and other retail goods. 

Bill sponsor Anitere Flores, a Miami-Dade Republican and Senate President pro tempore, took questions on the legislation (SB 106) Tuesday. It’s now set up for debate and a final vote.

The “whiskey and Wheaties” measure aims to repeal the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor.

“The question now becomes has this outlived its purpose?” Flores said. “The answer is yes.” Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

The Senate bill also would phase-in the integration of liquor into main stores over several years, starting in 2018. The House companion (HB 81) has been struggling, escaping its committees by one-vote margins twice.

Big-box stores like Wal-Mart and Target want the repeal, saying the added convenience is “pro-consumer,” and independently-owned liquor store operators say they will suffer.

If signed into law, Florida would be the 30th state to allows the sale of hard liquor in general retail space, advocates say.

 

Redistricting-related bill OK’d by Senate

The Florida Senate Tuesday passed a bill aimed at streamlining the handling of political redistricting court cases.

The legislation (SB 352) was approved without debate 24-14, sending it to the House. 

Bill sponsor Travis Hutson, an Elkton Republican, has said the plan “locks the maps in place on qualification day,” giving clarity to candidates.

It also “encourages” courts “to follow certain procedures to maintain public oversight when drafting a remedial redistricting plan,” according to a bill analysis.

The bill is a response to court challenges over the state’s redrawn districts after the 2010 Census.

Hutson, an Elkton Republican, was concerned that previous redistricting cases were decided “behind closed doors, outside of the public eye” by judges.

Opponents, including Integrity Florida, a Tallahassee-based ethics watchdog, had called the bill a “solution in search of a problem.”

 

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