Gov. Rick Scott – Page 7 – Florida Politics

Gwen Graham: Rick Scott should address AR-15s or his legacy ‘will forever be covered in blood’

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham has expanded her response to Wednesday’s high school massacre from vowing to ban assault weapons if she is elected to calling on current Gov. Rick Scott to immediately suspend their sales.

She also declared that Scott’s “legacy will forever be covered in blood” if he and the Legislature do not confront gun violence.

“The time for talk was before the shooting — we need immediate actions to stem the tide of violence and mass shootings being inflicted upon our state. Listen to the children who survived this shooting and the mothers who lost their kids. I stand with them in demanding our leaders take action now,” Graham stated Friday in a news release issued by her campaign.

This release is her second response to the mass shooting that took the lives of 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. On Thursday Graham declared her platform as governor would include seeking a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as addressing background checks, domestic violence and mental health issues.

On Friday, following similar platform declarations by her Democratic gubernatorial primary opponent the high school from Andrew Gillum, Philip Levine, and Chris King, Graham turned to the immediate moment.  She called on Scott to issue an executive order suspending the permitting and sales of AR-15s and guns like it.

“Governor Rick Scott should immediately suspend the permitting and sale of the AR-15s and assault weapons that have killed 17 children Wednesday. These are weapons of war that have murdered countless Floridians and continue to threaten our communities every day that they are sold,” Graham stated.

She noted that the semiautomatic AR-15 assault rifle used at the high school is the same kind of weapon used at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“It is disgraceful that a troubled 18-year-old can purchase a weapon of war at all. It’s even more shameful that he can purchase one faster and easier than a handgun,” Graham said. “Instead of taking action, the legislature is taking a four-day weekend. They should work every remaining day of this session and for as long as it takes to address the crisis of violence we face.”

“After the largest mass shooting in modern American history, Rick Scott sat on his hands. After 13 school shootings, Rick Scott looked the other way. After the massacre of children, Rick Scott won’t even say the words common sense gun safety laws,” Graham said. “If Rick Scott and Republicans in Tallahassee won’t even confront the problem we face, how can we expect it to ever stop? Rick Scott’s legacy will forever be covered in blood.”

 

Andrew Fay nomination clears Senate panel

Andrew Fay easily and quickly won a Senate panel’s confirmation vote on Tuesday to the Public Service Commission (PSC).

The Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee unanimously cleared Fay for full Senate consideration.

Fay

The 34-year-old lawyer and Tampa native had been Special Counsel to Attorney General Pam Bondi and served as her Director of Legislative Affairs, Cabinet Affairs and Public Policy.

Gov. Rick Scott named him to the PSC, which regulates investor-owned utilities.

During the hearing, Fay alluded to his youth — “We must be representative of all bodies and generations. I am hopeful that the vision I can bring is different and beneficial” — and to his relative inexperience on energy issues.

He compared himself to a high school football player who carries around a play binder: “Mine hasn’t left my hands yet,” he said, adding, “The more I learn, the more I realize there is to learn.”

Fay also acknowledged he had a “nerdy, techy viewpoint” and said his immediate concerns will be power restoration and electric grid security.

State, voting rights group disagree on how to handle clemency process

In response to a federal judge saying that the Florida’s voting rights restoration process is unconstitutional, the state’s legal team said Monday the state’s clemency board should fix its flaws — not the courts.

State Solicitor General Amit Agarwal argued that U.S. District Judge Mark Walker should not issue any corrective orders, saying “there is no reason to upend the state’s constitutional and statutory framework.”

Rather, the Board of Executive Clemency itself should come up with a system that meets constitutional muster.

Fair Election Legal Network, the group that sued the state for running a system that “hinders former felons from truly reentering society,” disagreed.

The national voting rights group said the court should order the state to restore the voting rights of former felons after “any waiting period of a specific duration of time” set forth by the state or the board.

Currently, that waiting period is five years after completing their sentences. Except for those convicted of murder or a sex offenses; they must wait seven years.

The legal teams of both groups filed their briefs with Walker, who had ordered them to submit briefs to find a remedy for the system’s deficiencies.

“An injunction requiring (the state) to affirmatively act to create a new vote-restoration procedure would be inappropriate,” the state argued.

Federal courts, it added, “cannot issue an order that is tantamount to saying ‘act right.’ ”

Scott has helped shape the current voter-restoration system which requires all felons to wait at least five years after they serve their sentences to apply to have their voting rights restored.

The clemency board that oversees a felon’s case consists of Scott and the three members of the Florida Cabinet—Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Attorney General Pam Bondi and state CFO Jimmy Patronis. The governor, however, does have sole power to reject an application.

It can take years for the board to hear a case and currently the state has a backlog of more than 10,000 cases, which could cost taxpayers $500,000 to fix next year if the Legislature approves it.

The state of Florida is home to about 1.5 million citizens who cannot cast a vote.

As the legal fight continues in court, Floridians will be able to cast their own ballot in November to decide whether ex-felons should have their voting rights automatically restored.

A citizen initiative to add a “Voting Restoration Amendment” to the state constitution needs 60 percent approval. If it passes, the amendment could have wide-ranging political implications in the nation’s largest swing state.

Gov. Rick Scott to sign state-funded pro-life clinics into law

Gov. Rick Scott‘s office said Monday the governor is expected to sign into a law a bill that would permanently set aside millions in taxpayer money to operate pro-life clinics in Florida, a concept that critics call “fake” clinics.

The Republican-controlled Senate passed the bill last week, with Democrats opposed.

When the bill becomes law, it will codify an anti-abortion program run by the private Florida Pregnancy Care Network that has been in place for over a decade. That network will receive $4 million in state funds every year to give pregnant women free pro-birth services. Women can continue receiving services at the clinic a year after their children are born.

The underlying policy in the bill would allow faith-based organizations to be among the service providers in the program.

“I am not in favor of giving faith-based materials to a woman who is facing the most difficult decision in their life,” Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer said during the Senate floor debate.

“I am a true believer of a separation between church and state.”

Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernardina Republican led the effort in the Senate and adopted the House version of the bill.

“Yeah, (the clinics) are about life and about having that baby, but they are also about giving support where it didn’t exist before,” said Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Republican leading the effort in the Senate.

DEP head formally opposes offshore drilling in Florida

Noah Valenstein, Florida’s Secretary of Environmental Protection (DEP), on Thursday sent a letter to the feds in opposition of any exploratory drilling for gas or oil off the state’s coasts.

The move comes after Gov. Rick Scottsecured a commitment from (U.S.) Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to take Florida off the table for future consideration for offshore oil drilling,” a DEP press release said.

No other state got such treatment, leading “environmental groups who oppose the administration’s oil-drilling plan (to) denounce the decision as a political move meant to bolster Gov. Scott’s intention to run for Senate next year,” according to National Public Radio.

Moreover, since then “a senior Interior Department official said Florida’s coastal waters had not been excluded after all,” the New York Times reported.

But Scott just this week told the Tampa Bay Times “the right thing happened. There’s not going to be offshore drilling.” Scott, a Navy veteran, called Zinke “a man of his word. He’s a Navy Seal and I believe they’re going to do exactly what they committed.”

Just in case, Valenstein wrote to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management‘s Kelly Hammerle that the state “oppose(s) the inclusion of any lease sales in Florida’s coastal and offshore areas.

“Florida’s coastal and offshore areas have high environmental, economic and military value not only for Florida, but also for the nation,” he said. “These areas provide great economic impact for our citizens and provide each resident with recreational opportunities that are unique to Florida.

“(W)e’ve remained concerned by the potential impacts of oil and gas activities on marine and coastal environments and the biological resources and critical habitats associated with them, as well as the military activities critical to our nation’s security,” Valenstein added.

The full letter is below:

Medical marijuana regulator’s silence vexes lawmakers

Four times, lawmakers on Monday gave the state’s top medical marijuana regulator an opportunity to speak on their objections to rules and regulations on the drug.

Bax

And four times, Christian Bax said nothing because it wasn’t yet time to do so, he later explained.

“The department has 30 days in order to respond,” Bax, director of the Health Department‘s Office of Medical Marijuana Use, later told reporters.

“Our responses are a collaborative process between leadership, legal and policy,” he added. “We think it’s appropriate to give these objections the time and consideration they’re due … We’ll respond in good time.”

Bax did, however, give a brief presentation to members of the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee, which ensures that agencies write rules that line up with statutes passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.

The upshot: “We now understand the Legislature disagrees with us … we hear you (and) we plan on moving aggressively,” Bax told the panel.

It wasn’t enough for committee chair Kevin Rader, a Democratic state senator from Delray Beach: “They’ve had these (objections) for four months to look at, to work on, to talk about with our staff. It’s incompetence. This has never happened … in the 40 years this committee has been meeting.”

Lawmakers have been upset for months mainly over what they call the department’s slow-going in implementing medical marijuana under a 2016 constitutional amendment that voters passed by 71 percent. Lawmakers later approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed an implementing bill, which gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

At Monday’s meeting, the committee formally approved 17 individual objections, ranging from the department’s issuing “contingent licenses” and requiring the submission of a $60,830 nonrefundable application fee, to its listing more than 40 distinct operations violations “with no standards or guidance … , thereby vesting unbridled discretion in the Department.”

Rader

The committee sent 15 letters to the department since October giving Health officials a heads-up as to concerns—to be met with no response, Rader said.

“We asked them, how did they come up with the rules they’re coming up with?” he told reporters. “Mr. Bax and his office must do something to move forward, to let the voters know, our constituents, the people in pain who want this.”

But Bax did go over efforts trying to regulate advertising and signage, edible products, and addressing the use of “solvents and gases” used in marijuana processing that could be toxic to humans. And he said the department has inspected over 100 medical marijuana treatment centers, some “multiple times.”

Ultimately, the committee can wag its collective finger but can’t enforce sanctions against the department, an executive branch agency that answers to Gov. Rick Scott.

Rader mentioned a budget-related proposal by Rep. Jason Brodeur, a Sanford Republican, to freeze salaries and benefits for the department’s brass, including Secretary and state Surgeon General Celeste Philip, until they get a move on.

Wouldn’t that do more harm than good in getting Health officials to do their job, Rader was asked.

“I think that’d be a good conversation (to have) with the Governor’s Office and their staff,” he said. “Because there’s incompetence going on.”

Added Taylor Patrick Biehl of the Medical Marijuana Business Association: “The question remains: How long will this be held up? Will the process be further delayed? We can only hope that the Department will heed the continued comments and frustration by both the Legislature and sick patients.”

The committee’s meeting packet is here. A Twitter thread during the meeting is here.

Updated 7:30 p.m. — Health Department spokeswoman Mara Gambineri sent the following statement:

“The Florida Department of Health’s priority continues to be ensuring patients have safe access to low-THC cannabis and medical marijuana, as determined by Florida voters and outlined by the Florida Legislature.

“We are proud of the progress we have made. Low-THC cannabis and medical marijuana has been and continues to be available for the more than 45,000 approved Florida patients. DOH has approved 27 dispensing locations, and delivery options from licensed MMTCs (medical marijuana treatment centers). There are also more than 1,000 qualified ordering physicians available to patients, and the processing time for identification cards continues to drop and is now down to under 30 days.

“Since July, DOH has licensed six additional MMTCs. This issue continues to be frequently litigated by special interests, but our focus will remain with Florida patients.”

Plans sought for hurricane fuel reserve

After runs on gas stations as people tried to flee Hurricane Irma, a Senate committee Thursday approved creation of a task force to develop plans for stockpiling fuel across the state.

The proposal (SB 700) would set up the Florida Strategic Fuel Reserve Task Force within the Florida Division of Emergency Management. The task force would recommend a strategic fuel reserve plan to meet private and public needs during emergencies and disasters.

Sen. Victor Torres, an Orlando Democrat co-sponsoring the bill with Sen. Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, said the proposal came from people who couldn’t get away from areas that were expected to be hit by Hurricane Irma in September.

“You remember how during Irma drivers were stranded and coming up from the Keys and other areas in the state from where fuel was running out,” Torres said. “I think this bill gives an opportunity now for the state to prepare better in the future so we can have those fuel locations up and ready in case a disaster comes.”

Florida strained to keep up with fuel demand as Hurricane Irma neared the state. As 6.5 million people were ordered to evacuate their homes, others scrambled for last-minute hurricane supplies. Motorists reported spending up to 12 hours on routes that typically are covered in six or seven hours.

The situation grew worse as ports, where fuel is delivered to the state, were closed due to storm winds.

Rushing fuel to South Florida before the storm, the Florida Highway Patrol served as escorts for tanker trucks.

A month later, when Hurricane Nate threatened the Gulf Coast, Gov. Rick Scott acknowledged that Florida was better prepared for Nate than Irma because there weren’t concerns about fuel shortages.

In October, Scott directed the Florida Department of Transportation to work with other state agencies, ports, law enforcement and fuel retailers to determine how to increase fuel capacity during emergencies.

The agency was supposed to produce recommendations by last month for fuel distribution and availability to consumers. Neither the agency nor Scott’s office responded by 5 p.m. Thursday when asked about the status of the report.

The nine-member task force, appointed by the governor, the Senate president and the House speaker, would be required to make recommendations by April 30, 2019. The proposal has a one-time cost of $569,000 for contractor and staff expenses.

The Senate bill doesn’t have a House version, but it is similar to a recommendation from the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness. That recommendation called for the Department of Transportation to contract for an independent study on the feasibility of establishing strategically located petroleum distribution centers.

Other select-committee recommendations included considering the use of railroads to speed fuel delivery into areas affected by storms.

The Senate bill drew unanimous support Thursday from the Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee. It would need to get approved by two more committees before it could go to the full Senate.

‘Political gymnastics’: House panel kills Kathleen Peters’ ethics proposals

Rep. Kathleen Peters‘ attempt to amend an House ethics reform bill resulted in virtual fireworks Thursday, with a prominent lobbyist saying Peters was targeting him and a lawmaker bemoaning “political gymnastics” that temporarily gummed up the measure.

One of Peters’ amendments would have banned sitting lawmakers and their immediate family members from working for lobbying firms. The other would have barred lawmakers from working for a lobbying firm, including law firms with lobbying teams, while in office. Both eventually were voted down.

“This was geared at one person: He’s here with a target on his chest,” lobbyist Ron Book said, referring to himself. Peters is a political ally of former Sen. Jack Latvala; Book represented women that Latvala had allegedly harassed. And Book’s daughter Lauren is a sitting state senator.

The idea had been for the Public Integrity and Ethics Committee to add to the bill (HB 7007) bipartisan sexual harassment-prevention provisions offered by Republican Jennifer Sullivan and Democrat Kristin Jacobs. Those were accepted.

But Peters, a Treasure Island Republican, also tried to attach the amendments widely seen as a dig at Speaker Richard Corcoran. Corcoran’s brother Michael is a lobbyist.

Peters already has been been “ousted to political Siberia,” as the Tampa Bay Times put it, after she refused to support Corcoran’s efforts to overhaul VISIT Florida and Enterprise Florida last year.

She previously has tweeted that her measures were “not a shot at the speaker. This is good common sense reform.” But on Thursday, she told fellow lawmakers “what happened on the floor last year … was what sparked my desire to do this,” adding she wondered whether her proposals didn’t “go far enough.”

That was an oblique reference to the House’s passage of the “whiskey and Wheaties” bill, later vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott, that would have removed the legal requirement that hard liquor be sold in a separate retail store from other goods. Michael Corcoran represented Wal-Mart, which wanted the wall repeal.

Referring to the state’s ban on lawmakers accepting gifts from lobbyists, Peters said lobbyists “can’t buy us a cup of coffee” but they can “hire us for six figures.”

Others on the panel laid into Peters, calling her proposals both “too narrow” and “overbroad.” Book, in a fiery tirade, called Peters’ proposals “retaliatory conduct.”

That’s “because I willing to step forward and represent several women involved in the Latvala investigation. So let’s just call this what it is,” he told the panel.

Peters denied that, saying she had intended to file her language as a bill last year but ran out of bill allocations.

“I’m all for cleaning up government, but I feel like it’s overly broad,” Republican Jason Brodeur said, adding that Peter’s language could have prevented him from meeting and marrying his wife, Juvenile Justice Secretary Christina Daly, also a registered lobbyist. “My wife might not be my wife.”

Sullivan grew peeved: “It’s exasperating to me at this point that this bill has been workshopped, voted on last year, and none of these suggestions were made at any of those points … This is stealing the time and the thunder” of the bill.

Peters responded: “With due respect, I’m exasperated that we’re not willing to call a spade a spade,” mentioning that former Florida House Speaker and current U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was hired by a law firm only after his legislative election.

Peters, elected to the House in 2012, intends to leave the chamber to run for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission.

After the meeting, Jacobs said, “I think that in the clash of ideas that happens up here, we’re big girls and boys, and you deal with an issue and you move forward,”

“She felt very strongly … and she had the opportunity to express it clearly. The committee did not agree.”

Minutes earlier, Ormond Beach Republican Tom Leek, the committee’s vice chair, told Sullivan and Jacobs he was “sorry that you, the sponsors, and victims of sexual harassment everywhere had to endure the political gymnastics that took place today.”

Judge allows medical marijuana ‘no smoke’ case to go forward

What looks like a loss at first blush is a win for John Morgan in his legal effort to overturn the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana.

A Tallahassee judge on Friday granted the state’s motion to dismiss as to People United for Medical Marijuana, the association-plaintiff, saying it didn’t have the legal standing to be in the case.

It’s the political committee behind the constitutional amendment on medicinal cannabis approved in 2016. Morgan, the Orlando attorney and entrepreneur known for his ubiquitous Morgan & Morgan law firm advertisements, championed the amendment’s passage.

But Circuit Judge Karen Gievers allowed the lawsuit to move forward for the three other patient-plaintiffs, who qualify to use the drug. (Her order is here.)

They are Diana Dodson of Levy County, a cancer patient; Roberto Pickering of Leon County, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder; and Catherine Jordan of Manatee County, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease. Jordan and her husband attended the hearing on the motion Thursday.

“This is a win for the patients; it specifically recognizes their rights,” plaintiffs’ attorney Jon Mills said in an interview. “I spoke to the Jordans and they are delighted. She’s a hero and I am glad to represent her.”

Gievers gave Mills 10 days to amend the complaint, which he said he “may or may not” do, now that the patient-plaintiffs won the day. 

The state has two weeks to file an answer to the complaint, including any affirmative defenses. A request for comment from the Department of Health, charged with regulating medical marijuana, is pending.

Last year, lawmakers approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law an implementing bill (SB 8-A) for the amendment that does not allow marijuana to be smoked.

The suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the smoking ban runs counter to the amendment’s language, which does not expressly permit medicinal cannabis to be smoked.

House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues of Estero, who sponsored the implementing bill, has said “we don’t believe you smoke medicine.” Edibles and “vaping” are permitted, however.

Mills, arguing against the ban at Thursday’s hearing, said the amendment’s definition of marijuana includes the smokeable kind.

Updated at 6 p.m. — Morgan tweeted later on Friday, “This is a win for patients who are sick and who are dying. The Florida Legislature should save the taxpayers money and enact smoke NEXT week!! But then the pharmaceutical giants would not like that. #NoSmokeIsAJoke” 

In another tweet, he said, “Today was a GREAT day for patients’ rights. We will amend for this one plaintiff. This judge’s rulings today puts us one step closer to the right to smoke and to fight illness and death with dignity!! #NoSmokeIsAJoke”

blackjack casino games

House gambling bill to pari-mutuels: Drop dead

The House on Friday dropped its 83-page omnibus gambling bill for 2018, which reads like a love letter to the Seminole Tribe of Florida and a poison pen missive to nearly all the other gambling interests in the state.

Industry representatives privately admitted the legislation—overseen by Speaker-designate Jose Oliva—was a placeholder for the House to pass, getting the House and Senate into conference committee to hammer out the details, as they did last year, albeit unsuccessfully.

But they also groused the House wanted to renew a 2010 gambling deal with the Seminoles, who pay for certain exclusive rights to offer gambling in Florida, at the expense of the state’s dog and horse tracks that offer other gambling, like cardrooms. The House bill includes a new “Seminole Compact,” the deal between the Tribe and the state; the Senate version does not.

Moreover, the House directs that part of the cut of the state’s money from Seminole gambling go to education, including shoring up “persistently failing schools,” a concern of Speaker Richard Corcoran.

The House proposal also declares designated-player games offered in many pari-mutuel cardrooms to be “illegal and prohibited.” The Senate bill allows them, but says they can’t constitute more than half of games in a cardroom.

The games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack that’s been lucrative for the pari-mutuels, were at the core of a lawsuit by the Tribe against the state that settled out of court last year. The Tribe argued some designated-player games played too much like blackjack, which the state had guaranteed that the Tribe could offer exclusively in Florida.

The House bill would expressly outlaw pre-reveal machines, slot machine-style entertainment devices, most often placed in bars. A Tallahassee judge’s ruling that they’re illegal slots is under appeal.

And the House also provides for the “mandatory revocation of dormant and delinquent (gambling) permits,” allows for “discretionary revocation of certain permits” and “prohibits the issuance of new permits,” “prohibits the conversion of permits” and “prohibits the transfer or relocation of pari-mutuel permits or licenses,” according to a bill summary.

“We would love to have a long-standing, 20, 30 year certainty of what gaming looks like for Florida,” Corcoran told reporters Tuesday. “At the same time, we would like to see a contraction” of gambling, “given our make-up as a family-values state.”

The staff analysis for the bill, however, warns that “affected permitholders may claim that such provisions offend constitutional protections.”

On the other hand, the legislation “extends for 20 years both the Tribe’s current exclusive authorization to conduct banked games (like blackjack) statewide and the Tribe’s current exclusive authorization to conduct slot machine gaming outside of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.”

In exchange, “the Tribe will make revenue sharing payments totaling at least $3 billion to the State during the first seven years of the 2018 Compact”—mirroring a deal Gov. Rick Scott struck with Tribal leaders in late 2015 but that lawmakers never approved.

That money would be split three ways: A third to “K-12 teacher recruitment and retention bonuses,” another third to “schools that serve students from persistently failing schools,” and the final third to “higher education institutions to recruit and retain distinguished faculty.”

A blackjack provision in the 2010 Compact has expired, but the Tribe sued, saying the state’s OK of designated-player games broke the exclusivity deal. A federal judge agreed, allowing the Seminoles to keep offering blackjack till 2030.

“Under the settlement, the Tribe agrees to continue making revenue sharing payments for a period of time (ending March 31) so long as (state gambling regulators) pursue ‘aggressive enforcement’ against the operation of banked card games by pari-mutuel facilities,” the staff analysis explains.

When asked for comment, Gary Bitner—the Tribe’s longtime spokesman—said only that “the Seminole Tribe is always open to discussion with leaders and members of the Legislature.”

The proposal will be on the agenda at the next meeting of the House Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee, 9 a.m. Tuesday.

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