Gov. Rick Scott Archives - Page 3 of 91 - Florida Politics

Judge sets hearing in ‘no smoke’ medical marijuana case

A Tallahassee judge will hear argument on whether to throw out Orlando attorney John Morgan‘s lawsuit over the ban on smoking medical marijuana.

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers scheduled a Jan. 25 hearing on the state’s motion to dismiss, court records show.

The suit originally was filed in July by People United for Medical Marijuana, the political committee behind the constitutional amendment on medicinal cannabis approved last year.

Morgan, of Morgan & Morgan law firm fame, bankrolled the amendment that was OK’d by a whopping 71 percent of voters. The suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the smoking ban runs counter to the amendment’s language.

Lawmakers have since approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law an implementing bill (SB 8-A) for the amendment that does not allow medicinal marijuana to be smoked.

House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues, who sponsored the implementing bill, has said “we don’t believe you smoke medicine.” Edibles and “vaping”—heating cannabis and inhaling the steam—are permitted.

Deputy Solicitor General Denise Harle argues that “the plain language of the Amendment refutes” Morgan’s case.

The plaintiffs, who include patients qualified to use medicinal cannabis, “do not even try to claim that the constitutional text … actually states that smoking must be permitted.”

Indeed, when Morgan spoke to reporters this summer after filing suit in Tallahassee, he said he included the language in an “intent statement,” but not in the text of the amendment.

The amendment says “(n)othing in this section shall require any accommodation of any on-site medical use of marijuana in any correctional institution or detention facility or place of education or employment, or of smoking medical marijuana in any public place.”

Morgan analogized the situation to a pool sign that says, “No swimming without lifeguard on duty.” It’s implied that when there’s a lifeguard around, swimming is allowed, he said.

When asked why he didn’t make it crystal clear, Morgan said the amendment “speaks for itself. Now, if you can’t figure it out, I can’t help that.”

Jon Mills, retired dean of the University of Florida law school and a former state House Speaker (1986-88), is Morgan’s lead counsel on the action.

Mills responded to Harle that the amendment itself “places no limitation on the use of marijuana in a form for smoking,” calling the ban a “direct irreconcilable conflict.”

Saying that the amendment doesn’t overtly address smoking “misses the point,” he added: Banning it “takes discretion out of the hands of patients and physicians.”

Joe Redner’s Florigrown files mammoth medical marijuana lawsuit

An epic 238-page lawsuit filed by Joe Redner‘s Florigrown company—replete with references to Encyclopedia Britannica, ancient Roman medical texts and the Nixon White House tapes—alleges that the state is failing its responsibility to carry out the people’s will when it comes to medical marijuana.

The complaint was filed Wednesday in Leon County Circuit Civil court against the Department of Health, its Office of Medical Marijuana Use and director Christian Bax, state Surgeon General Celeste Philip and Gov. Rick Scott.

The latest action adds to the growing amount of litigation over medical marijuana, which has state lawmakers concerned it’s interfering with the department’s ability to process vendor licenses and patient ID cards, among other things.

Chief among the many suits is another constitutional challenge from attorney John Morgan over lawmakers’ ban on smoking medicinal cannabis. Morgan was the main backer of the state constitutional amendment authorizing marijuana as medicine and approved by voters last year.

Florigrown, which had been denied the ability to be a medical marijuana treatment center, says the state is shirking its duties under the constitutional amendment passed last year that authorizes medical marijuana, and in regulating the drug under state law.

Redner is a Tampa icon, who built an adult entertainment empire after acquiring the legendary Mons Venus club, then became a free speech advocate and frequent political candidate.

He also has been diagnosed with lung cancer and separately sued to be allowed to grow his own marijuana.

Redner’s business partner in Florigrown, Adam Elend, said the company is qualified and ready to supply medicinal cannabis.

“The department is confusing licensing with registering, which is a ministerial function,” he said. The Department of Health, like other agencies under Scott, does not comment on pending litigation. 

Elend added that caps on the number of licenses the state gives to vendors are unconstitutional “because the (state) is charged with creating regulations that guarantee access and the safe use of marijuana by qualifying patients.”

The state also carved out some special categories, such as preferences for black farmers and former citrus producers, which are the subject of other suits.

“There’s no process in place to open up the market,” Elend said.

The complaint and exhibits are below:

‘We decline’: Court tosses challenge to Rick Scott’s appointment power

Saying the issue wasn’t ready for judicial review, the state’s highest court Thursday dismissed a challenge to Gov. Rick Scott‘s  power to appoint three new justices on his last day in office in 2019.

In a 6-1 decision, the Florida Supreme Court said it couldn’t step into the controversy because the governor hasn’t taken any action yet.

The three justices who are retiring and will be replaced took issue with the decision, though two of them agreed with the result. The third called Scott’s intentions “blatantly unconstitutional.”

The League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause filed the case in June. Their unstated concern was that Scott, a Naples Republican, would pack the court with more conservatives.

Although Scott has said he intended to make the picks on his way out the door, “clearly no appointments have been made,” according to the per curiam opinion. “To review an action which is merely contemplated but not consummated, as in the present case, would require this Court to depart from historical” precedent.

“This we decline to do. Until some action is taken by the Governor, the matter the League seeks to have resolved is not ripe, and this Court lacks jurisdiction to determine whether … relief is warranted,” the opinion said.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, usually a swing vote, joined with the court’s conservatives: Justices Charles Canady, Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson, its newest member.

Soon-to-retire Justices Barbara Pariente and Peggy A. Quince concurred, but said “the majority ignores that we have previously granted a petition … challenging the Governor’s authority to endeavor to fill a judicial vacancy.” That refers to a case over an empty county court judgeship.

“Under this Court’s precedent, we have the authority to act prior to the Governor’s making an appointment that is contrary to law,” their opinion said.

Justice R. Fred Lewis, the third of the justices who will retire on the same day Scott leaves office, dissented and called Scott’s proposed actions “blatantly unconstitutional.”

“Future Floridians have lost the ability to protect themselves and society from clearly unconstitutional action,” he wrote. “The Florida Constitution requires devoted protection and the Florida citizens deserve better.”

The suit challenged Scott’s ability to name successors for Pariente, Quince and Lewis—the court’s liberal-leaning triumvirate. Only the governor elected after Scott can, the plaintiffs said.

Scott has said he plans to name their replacements the morning of his last day in office, Jan. 8, 2019. His attorneys argued that their age-mandated retirements also will become effective that Jan. 8.

The League and Common Cause countered that the governor can’t replace the justices because he’ll be out of office earlier on the same day they retire, and their final judicial terms last till midnight.

The case also included a short-lived dispute over comments Labarga and Pariente made in a conversation caught on a “hot mic”  after the Nov. 1 oral argument.

Scott’s lawyers tried but failed to have Pariente disqualified from the case, saying snippets of what could be heard were “disparaging remarks.” The court denied the request.

Rick Scott signs executive order on sexual harassment

Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order Wednesday mandating all state agencies under him have a “process that works” when it comes to receiving and investigating sexual harassment complaints.

“We cannot tolerate sexual harassment at all in Florida, and today’s executive order protects state employees by directing how agencies report, investigate and train against sexual harassment in the workplace,” Scott said in a statement.

Effective immediately, all state agencies in the executive branch are to designate a person to provide sexual harassment training for all new employees within a month of their start date.

Scott has also directed each agency to “initiate a prompt review of all complaints of sexual harassment” when they are received.

But he dodged questions about whether he had swiftly handled the allegations against former state Rep. Ritch Workman, whom he appointed to the Public Service Commission. Workman resigned after Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto publicly accused him of making “vulgar and inappropriate gestures” at an event last year.

“Ritch Workman did the right thing for his family, and I’m going to do everything I can to protect everyone in our state … (but) I don’t go into conversations I have with members of the Legislature,” Scott told reporters after Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting in the Capitol.

Workman’s resignation came after Benacquisto sent out a statement on the claims, and not after the Scott administration was first made aware of the allegations. Scott said Workman did “the right thing” by stepping down.

During Scott’s tenure, there have been seven sexual harassment cases settled with state executive agencies, totaling $413,750. Fourteen percent of those cases involved state workers alleging sexual harassment and retaliation in the workplace.

Over the past 30 years, the state has doled out more than $11 million to settle more than 300 cases in which state workers alleged they were sexually harassed or forced to work in a hostile work environment.

Under state and federal law, retaliation against anyone who has reported sexual harassment is prohibited. In order to prevent this from happening, Scott’s executive order states that each agency is required to protect the privacy of those involved.

“To the extent practicable, each agency should take action to eliminate further contact between the complainant and the subject of the complaint until the conclusion of the investigation,” the order states.

The governor previously signed legislation creating a public records exemption for “identifying information of state employees who file sexual harassment complaints.”

After an investigation concludes, Scott is ordering that those who filed the complaint should be offered resources available from the state’s employee assistance program.

State agencies that don’t fall under the governor’s umbrella are not required to follow the practices put forth in the executive order, but Scott “encouraged” them to do so.

Later Wednesday, AFSCME Florida Executive Director Andy Madtes said his union “strongly supports” the Governor’s directive.

“We are hopeful it will give future victims the ability to come forward without fear or intimidation for themselves or their careers,” he said in a statement.

Capital correspondent Ana Ceballos contributed to this post. 

Show ’em the money? Campaign financing repeal yanked by sponsor

A proposal to repeal Florida’s system of public financing for statewide campaigns won’t make it into the state constitution, at least for now.

Kruppenbacher

Frank Kruppenbacher, the proposed amendment’s sponsor, withdrew it from consideration at Wednesday’s meeting of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission’s Ethics and Election committee.

That was after representatives of progressive groups, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, uniformly opposed the idea (P 56).

But Kruppenbacher, a CRC appointee of Gov. Rick Scott, said he instead intends to press lawmakers to think about reforming the system this year. (See update below.) The state spent over $4.3 million in the 2014 election cycle financing campaigns, according to records.

“I see the election process as having been co-opted by money to the point where the public has been disinterested and not paying attention to campaigns,” said Kruppenbacher, an attorney with the statewide Morgan & Morgan law firm, in an interview.

“Look at Washington, look at Congress, and how broken it is,” Kruppenbacher added. “But everybody keeps getting re-elected. Nobody can campaign against (the incumbents).”

But the Legislature itself placed a similar amendment on the ballot for statewide approval in 2010. It flunked at the polls with 52 percent approval; amendments need 60 percent for adoption.

“I guess I just question strategically why to put this before voters” since they already rejected it, Integrity Florida’s Ben Wilcox told the panel.

House Speaker and presumptive Republican candidate for governor Richard Corcoran, however, has said he wants public campaign financing to end, calling it “welfare for politicians.”

Now, public dollars are available to candidates for governor, attorney general, agriculture commissioner and chief financial officer, though the money comes with some provisos.

The funds come out of the state’s general revenue, but there had been a “Election Campaign Financing Trust Fund” that was shut down in 1996.

Past statewide candidates that have taken public financing include Agriculture Commissioner and Republican candidate for governor Adam Putnam, who took $587,000 for his 2010 election and another $459,000 during his 2014 re-election.

Attorney General Pam Bondi took $432,000 in 2010 and $328,000 in 2014. Gov. Rick Scott took no public dollars to fund his 2010 or 2014 campaigns, records show.

During the meeting, Kruppenbacher told the panel, “We’re funding people who are already highly funded … I’d rather see (the money) go to school children.”

Update: GOP state Rep. Frank White of Pensacola, a candidate for attorney general, filed legislation later on Wednesday to repeal provisions in state law and the state constitution on “public financing of campaigns of candidates for elective statewide office.”

Joe Negron: Senate likely to consider tax amendment

Senate President Joe Negron said Friday he is open to the concept of a constitutional amendment that would make it harder for the Legislature to raise taxes.

In an interview with The News Service of Florida, The Stuart Republican said the Senate is working on a measure “that will be similar in goal” to Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposal to amend the state Constitution to require two-thirds votes by the Legislature before raising taxes or fees or creating new ones.

Negron said the measure is being developed by Senate Finance and Tax Chairwoman Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican.

In August, Scott called for a constitutional amendment that would require a “supermajority” vote before raising taxes and fees, which now can be created or raised by majority votes in the state House and Senate.

Scott said increasing the voting requirement “would make it harder for politicians in the future” to raise taxes or fees.

In November, the House unveiled a proposal (HJR 7001), sponsored by Rep. Tom Leek, an Ormond Beach Republican, that would require two-thirds votes by the Legislature to raise taxes or fees. That would translate to support from 80 members of the 120-member House and 27 members of the 40-member Senate.

The House proposal also would require each tax or fee increase to be passed as a single-subject bill.

The House proposal is pending in the Appropriations Committee, where if it gets a favorable vote, it would be ready for a debate on the House floor.

As the former chairman of budget committees in the House and Senate, Negron was asked about the impact of raising the threshold for passing taxes or fees.

“It’s highly unlikely that the Legislature would raise taxes,” Negron said. “I think the real issue is going to be, what should the percentage of the vote be? Should it also include fees?”

Kurt Wenner, vice president for research at Florida TaxWatch, testified at a House Ways & Means Committee in November in favor of an approval threshold of three-fifths votes by the House and Senate.

“It doesn’t get to where, basically, a third of the members could defeat something,” Wenner told the committee.

The Florida Constitution already contains a provision requiring a three-fifths vote by the Legislature to raise the state corporate income tax.

Negron expressed some doubt about including fees in the amendment. He recalled his time as the House budget chairman looking at agriculture-related fees that had not been raised in decades.

“If you’re making a fee actually reflect the current cost of something and it’s a fee, I think that’s a different issue than raising taxes,” Negron said.

But Negron said he expects the Senate to consider some version of an amendment increasing the voting threshold.

“I do think the Senate will take up a proposed constitutional amendment, which Sen. Stargel is working on, that addresses that issue and I am open to that,” Negron said.

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years and has the power to place constitutional amendments on the November 2018 ballot, will take up a measure (Proposal 72) next week that is similar to the House proposal, requiring two-thirds votes to raise taxes or fees.

The proposal, sponsored by Commissioner Fred Karlinsky, is scheduled to be heard by the commission’s Finance and Taxation Committee on Tuesday.

All of the proposals, if they are passed by the Legislature or the Constitution Revision Commission, would require approval by at least 60 percent of voters during the November 2018 election.

At least 14 other states require extraordinary votes by their legislatures when raising taxes, according to House analysts.

The vote thresholds range from a three-fifths vote to three-fourths votes in Arkansas, Michigan and Oklahoma. The Michigan threshold is limited to property taxes. Seven states have a two-thirds threshold, similar to the House proposal.

The Florida Legislature last voted for a major tax increase in 2009, raising taxes on packs of cigarettes by $1.

Annette Taddeo, Lori Berman press for Medicaid expansion by ballot

In what is likely a dead-on-arrival proposal, two South Florida lawmakers said they will push for a legislatively-initiated state constitutional amendment approving Medicaid expansion in Florida.

Sen. Annette Taddeo of Miami and Rep. Lori Berman of Lantana, both Democrats, announced their resolutions (SJR 1136 and HJR 911) at Thursday press conference in the Capitol.

“The resolutions will put before the voters the opportunity to determine whether approximately 800,000 working poor without healthcare should be able to get the insurance Florida’s taxpayers have already paid for,” they said in a statement.

Democratic candidate for governor Gwen Graham also came out last month in support of a constitutional amendment on Medicaid expansion.

“Maine recently passed a constitutional amendment that mirrors Florida’s proposal, and states including Utah and Idaho are considering ballot initiatives as well, indicating that momentum is building across the country,” the lawmakers’ statement said.

“It is time for the Legislature to listen,” Taddeo added Thursday.

The House’s Republican leadership, however, has been vehemently opposed to Medicaid expansion for years, virtually ensuring the measure won’t survive that chamber in the 2018 Legislative Session. That’s despite some polls showing support for such a ballot initiative at nearly 70 percent.

Expanding Medicaid to cover working poor without health insurance is a provision of the Affordable Care Act. When lawmakers first began considering such a move in 2013, Florida could have received close to $51 billion over 10 years, according to reports.

As the Tampa Tribune has reported, the idea was to “wean states, including Florida, from another federal funding source known as the Low Income Pool, or LIP. The pool reimburses hospitals for charity care.

But “House leadership warn(ed) that the federal government (then under President Obama) could withhold dollars at any time, leaving state taxpayers stuck with the bill,” the paper reported. “Close to a third of the state budget already goes to paying for Medicaid.”

Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposed budget for 2018-19 “provides more than $1.5 billion annually over five years to fund the low income pool (LIP), in the event hospital districts decide to contribute the necessary matching funds,” according to the Governor’s Office.

“It is incumbent on the hospital districts to partner with the federal government to draw down these funds,” its website says. “The LIP program is a federal matching program that provides federal funds to Florida hospitals to cover costs for the state’s most vulnerable patients.

“This year, Gov. Scott worked with the federal government to secure this critical funding. This funding is an increase of more than $892 million over what was provided by the Obama Administration.”

A Periscope video of Thursday’s press conference is below.

Request denied: Rick Scott won’t (yet) appoint special prosecutor in Jack Latvala case

Gov. Rick Scott‘s top lawyer has – at least for now – turned down a request to appoint a special prosecutor from the attorney representing Rachel Perrin Rogers, a Senate staffer who has accused Sen. Jack Latvala of sexual harassment.

The reason: Scott doesn’t yet have “the legal authority” to appoint a prosecutor.

“This morning, the Governor’s General Counsel, Daniel Nordby, reached out to (Tiffany R.) Cruz,” said Lauren Schenone, a Scott spokeswoman, on Monday.

“Our office clarified that the Governor does not have authority to act until a matter is pending before a state attorney and following an investigation by local law enforcement,” she said. “Additionally, a conflict of interest must also be identified.”

Earlier Monday, Cruz asked Scott’s office to appoint a special prosecutor, saying Latvala may have committed crimes.

POLITICO Florida reported on Nov. 3 that six women — one of them Perrin Rogers now says is her — accused Latvala of sexually harassing and groping them. The others remain anonymous.

Perrin Rogers, 35, is a top aide to state Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican who is expected to become Senate President for 2020-22, assuming the GOP maintains its majority in the chamber.

She filed a grievance with the Senate Rules Committee in early November, and two Senate investigations now are pending into Latvala’s alleged misconduct. They include claims of sexual assault and both sexual and verbal harassment.

Perrin Rogers said there were unwelcome sexual comments about her clothes, breasts and legs. She says the 66-year-old Latvala “assaulted” her in a state Capitol elevator, brushing her breast and trying to touch her groin.

Meantime, Perrin Rogers requested a security guard while in the Capitol out of concern for her safety.

Nordby’s email to Cruz is below:

Nordby Cruz email

Two new appointees join FWC

Gov. Rick Scott late Friday announced the appointment of Sonya Rood and Gary Nicklaus to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Rood, 53, of St. Augustine, succeeds Aliese “Liesa” Priddy and is appointed for a term ending Jan. 2, 2022. Nicklaus, 48, of Jupiter, succeeds Ronald Bergeron and is appointed for a term ending Aug. 1, 2022.

“I’d like to thank Liesa Priddy for nearly six years of service and Ron Bergeron for ten years of service to the state and their dedication to the conservation of Florida’s natural resources,” Scott said in a statement.

“It is because of the hard work of Floridians like Liesa and Ron that residents and visitors can safely enjoy our natural resources now and for generations to come,” he added. “I am confident that Gary Nicklaus and Sonya Rood will continue their great work and proudly serve Florida families.”

These appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

Brecht Heuchan says ethics complaint is part of ‘smear campaign

A member of the Constitution Revision Commission says he’s become the victim of a “smear campaign” after proposing a constitutional amendment creating a “bill of rights” for nursing home and assisted living facility residents.

On Wednesday, Conwell Hooper, head of an Atlanta-based group called the American Senior Alliance, issued a press release that he had filed a state ethics complaint against Commissioner Brecht Heuchan for filing a “special interest proposal designed to boost the bottom line of one law firm.”

Complaints filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics are confidential and exempt from public record disclosure until there’s been some initial determination as to their merit.

But Hooper explained that Heuchan “is a paid, registered lobbyist for Wilkes & McHugh, a law firm that specializes in personal injury cases against nursing homes.”

Heuchan, an appointee and ally of Gov. Rick Scott, is a lobbyist and political consultant, and founder of Contribution Link, a political data analytics firm. 

His proposal came after a South Florida nursing home lost air conditioning during Hurricane Irma. Up to 14 residents later died, with 12 of those having been ruled homicides by the Broward County Medical Examiner.

Heuchan’s amendment “would make it far easier for law firms to sue nursing homes, revoking provisions of a law enacted in 2014 over Mr. Heuchan’s objections on behalf of his client Wilkes & McHugh,” Hooper said. 

Moreover, “several provisions of Mr. Heuchan’s proposal mirrors policy positions advocated by Wilkes & McHugh … This is as clear-cut a conflict of interest as one is likely to find,” he added.

On Wednesday evening, Heuchan shot back: “This out-of-state organization appears to be a shill for whatever industry is paying him. It takes some nerve to call into question my intentions and integrity when (Hooper) holds himself out to be something he is not.”

Heuchan suggested American Senior Alliance is what’s known as an Astroturf group working with the Florida Health Care Association, a nursing-home advocacy group that has slammed his proposal.

Its head, Emmett Reed, has similarly criticized Heuchan: “A professional lobbyist representing trial attorneys has ignored his broader obligations in order to serve the narrow interest of his clients. The proposed amendment is an egregious governmental overstep, one that overreaches to a monumental extent.”

American Senior Alliance is listed as an “associate member” of the Florida Health Care Association, according to its website.

The Alliance “is known for its consistent advocacy for seniors, including the quality of nursing center care in Florida, so it’s no surprise to us that they have taken an interest in this issue,” said FHCA spokeswoman Kristen Knapp.

“We have had discussions with Mr. Hooper about our mutual concerns regarding this proposal, which we don’t believe belongs in the state Constitution,” she said in an email. “It adds nothing to residents’ quality of life. We believe the organization is raising valid concerns and (we) will be following this closely.”

Still, Heuchan called the ethics complaint a “typical Tallahassee tactic: When you can’t win on the merits, attack the proposer. Oldest trick in the book.”

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