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medical marijuana

Senate begins discussion of medical marijuana implementing legislation

Sen. Rob Bradley indicated he is willing to support opening up the medical marijuana market more than he first proposed, but continues to believe vertical integration is the right system for Florida.

Bradley, an Orange Park Republican, filed one of five medical marijuana implementing bills this Legislative Session. His proposal (SB 406) would, among other things, allow for the growth of the industry once the number of registered patients hits certain thresholds.

Under his proposal, the Department of Health would be required to register five more treatment centers within six months of 250,000 qualified patients registering 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.

But on Wednesday, Bradley said he has come to believe his bill is “too restrictive based on the feedback (he) received.” Instead, he said he would support a measure that finds a balance between his proposal and one sponsored by Minority Leader Oscar Braynon.

Braynon’s bill (SB 1666), among other things, calls on the state to register 10 additional medical marijuana treatment centers by October 1. It then requires the Department of Health to register four more treatment centers each time the compassionate use registry adds qualified patients after Jan. 1, 2018.

“We’re going to have a population group (where) there isn’t enough competition to make sure the pricing is reasonable,” said Bradley during a Senate Health Policy workshop on medical marijuana implementation bills.

“The more people we have growing and selling, it provides different voices and ideas on how to treat things. One treatment center might have a specialty. That’s something that will develop organically.”

What Bradley doesn’t support, however, is a proposal to blow up the entire system and start from scratch. All but one — a bill (SB 614) by Sen. Jeff Brandes —  of the five proposals keeps the current regulatory framework in place.

Brandes’ bill gets rid of vertical integration, creating four different function licenses — cultivation, processing, transportation, and retail — that a medical marijuana treatment center can obtain. His bill also allows for treatment centers to get a combination of licenses, a departure from current law, which requires treatment centers to grow, process and sell their own product.

“I hear a lot of talk about the current system we have … being a cartel and we need a free market approach,” said Bradley. “This is not the selling of lawn mowers or office supplies. This is very different.”

The workshop marked the Senate’s first steps toward medical marijuana implementation, giving members a chance to questions Bradley and Sen. Dana Young, the committee’s chairwoman and a co-sponsor of Bradley’s bill, about medical marijuana measures that could be coming before the committee.

Sen. Frank Artiles and Sen. Denise Grimsley have also filed bills to implement the 2016 medical marijuana amendment.

Approved with support from 71 percent of Floridians in November, the constitutional amendment allows Floridians with debilitating medical conditions, determined by a licensed physician, to use medical marijuana. The amendment went into effect Jan. 3, but state lawmakers and the Florida Department of Health have been tasked with adopting rules and implementing the amendment.

The Department of Health initiated the process of creating rules in January. The state agency has until July to put rules in place, but a recent poll found Floridians think the state is moving too slowly when it comes to implementing the amendment.

The poll, which was first reported by POLITICO Florida, found 44 percent of Floridians think the state is moving too slowly when it comes to implementing the law. Of those people who voted in favor of the measure, 57 percent said they believe the state is moving too slowly.

No action was taken during Wednesday’s meeting, and Young said a bill will be discussed and voted on at a later date.

Ben Pollara: Medical marijuana implementation for the 29, 48 … or 71 percent?

Ben Pollara

Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues claims to have polled Floridians on whether they want marijuana legalized.

They do not.

Undisclosed interests hired a political consultant, who then hired Donald Trump‘s pollster to ask the same question.

They got the same answer: 48 percent oppose legalization, while 46 percent support it.

I have two questions that don’t necessitate public opinion research to answer:

– Who cares?

– Why are we even talking about this?

Medical marijuana has now twice been before Florida voters. In 2014, it garnered a substantial majority of 58 percent, albeit not enough to pass.

Two years later, 71 percent of Floridians voted “yes,” placing Article X, Section 29, “Use of marijuana for debilitating medical conditions,” in our state’s constitution.

In both campaigns, opponents argued that medical marijuana was merely a ruse – “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” was a favorite metaphor – for recreational marijuana.

That cynical argument – that voters tricked into something they didn’t want – ultimately lost, and badly. Voters were smarter than opponents gave them credit for, and In November overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana.

So why is the Majority Leader still parroting the talking points of Mel and Betty Sembler? Why is his implementing legislation seemingly written for the less than 29 percent who voted “no,” rather than the super-majority who put this law into our Constitution?

Florida for Care, which I lead, has been for almost three years educating and advocating Floridians your Wednesday thread for reasonable, responsible medical marijuana legislation in Tallahassee. That is and has always been our only scope.

As such, it is extraordinarily frustrating, and more than a little insulting, to even be engaging in these conversations about legalization. But I’m just an advocate. It is exponentially more hair-pullingly vexing for sick and suffering patients, who have been waiting desperately for medical marijuana, to see their concerns cast aside for a debate that is neither here nor there.

Legislators talk from both sides of their mouth when they claim in one breath not to be able to adjudicate voters’ intent when implementing medical marijuana, and in the next cite polling data on legalization to interpret that same purpose.

Here’s what I believe the voters’ intent was in passing Amendment 2: they wanted to legalize medical marijuana in Florida like had been done in two dozen states prior, and unlike the existing, overly restrictive, low-THC cannabis statute that had been on the books for nearly two years before the election.

It doesn’t take a psychic or a statewide poll to determine that the 71 percent vote was a vote for a broader medical marijuana law, or that it was a message that the existing laws were simply not good enough.

All the Senate proposals have built upon existing law (except for Jeff Brandes‘ “repeal and replace” bill, which starts anew), in an attempt to fulfill that voter mandate and respect the Constitution. Rodrigues’ House bill restricts medical marijuana even further than the existing statute.

It is both a truism and cliche in politics that, “the only poll that matters is Election Day.”

We had an election on medical marijuana. Two, actually.

The “only poll that matters” came down firmly for medical marijuana.

Almost every week since December, I’ve left my wife and two young children in Miami so I could be in Tallahassee, advocating for the implementation of this law.

I only wish the House actually wanted to talk about it, instead of debating an issue that has neither a popular, nor constitutional, imperative.

___

Ben Pollara is the executive director of Florida for Care. He managed the 2014 and 2016 campaigns for Amendment 2 and was one of the primary authors of both amendments.

Here’s where sh*t stands in Tampa Bay politics — the ‘this place is the best’ edition

Besides, maybe, New York City or Washington, D.C., there really is no better place from which to write about politics than Tampa Bay.

One reason is that there are so many competitive congressional and legislative seats in the region. And what’s spent to win those seats is oftentimes as much as the amount spent to win other state’s U.S. Senate seats. These seats are competitive because Hillsborough and Pinellas remain “purple” seats in an era when more and more counties throughout the country move to becoming single-party geographic enclaves.

According to a must-read article from FiveThirtyEight.com which was highlighted by the Tampa Bay Times John Romano, “of the 50 counties that had the most voters at the polls in November, Pinellas had the closest election results in America. It was 48.6 percent for Trump and 47.5 for Clinton. That’s a 1.1 percent swing. Hillsborough County was 51.5 for Clinton and 44.7 for Trump, a 6.8 percent swing.”

It’s razor-thin margins like this that have made and will make Tampa Bay the center of the universe during the 2018 election cycle.

It’s also why a Democrat like Bob Buesing is considering a rematch against Dana Young, even though Republicans traditionally turn out at a better clip than they do during presidential election cycles.

It’s why there’s no battleground more interesting to write about than Tampa Bay. Here’s where sh*t stands.

Hillsborough County teacher Jessica Harrington, a self-described progressive Democrat, is exploring a run in 2018 against Tampa Republican James “Jamie” Grant in House District 64.

In an announcement Tuesday on WFLA News Radio 970, Harrington said she is turning her attention toward Tallahassee. As a member of the Florida Democratic Progressive Caucus, Harrington initially considered running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis in Florida’s 12th Congressional District.

Harrington changed her mind after a trip to Tallahassee to drop off letters to lawmakers on education funding.

“I realized that no one really knows me … nationally,” Harrington told WFLA’s AM Tampa Bay. “But a lot of people know me locally.”

Harrington’s primary focus will be public schools, which he says are inadequately funded and overcrowded, something she blames on budget cuts in the early years of Gov. Scott. She is also “greatly offended” by the selection of Betsy DeVos as President Donald Trump’s secretary of education.

Something you rarely see in Pinellas politics is a genuinely competitive Republican primary for a state legislative seat. Even when there is a primary, it’s typically a David-and-Goliath situation, i.e. Jim Frishe vs. Jeff Brandes, where the eventual winner was never in doubt.

However, the scrum shaping up in House District 66, where Rep. Larry Ahern is term-limited from running again, is already developing into an elbows-out contest.

Former state prosecutor Berny Jacques jumped into the race first and has already earned an the endorsement of the young Republicans organization he recently led. Not soon afterwards Pinellas GOP chairman Nick DiCeglie made it clear he intends to run for the seat.

Now this internecine battle threatens to split the local party.

On one side, backing Jacques, is former U.S. Rep. David Jolly. On the other is, well, pretty much the rest of the establishment.

Well, except for the host of young lawyers who agreed to be on the host committee for Jacques’ kickoff party this Thursday.

Of particular note are the names of Jim Holton and Paul Jallo on the host committee. Those are two of the heaviest hitters in local fundraising circles.

Patrick Manteiga notes that Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White raised $55,750 from his re-election kickoff campaign event held last week at the Columbia Restaurant.

Rick Kriseman‘s re-election campaign will be managed by Jacob Smith, a South Florida native who began his political career as a volunteer for Barack Obama‘s first campaign in 2008. In 2012, he joined Obama’s re-election campaign in Southwest Florida.

Smith was the field director for Kriseman’s 2013 campaign.

Look for an announcement from the Kriseman camp soon.

Madeira Beach City Manager Shane Crawford and Treasure Island City Manager Reid Silverboard could be looking at pink slips after voters elected five new commissioners in their towns last week.

Crawford, whose city elected three new commissioners, said he believes he will be terminated, while Silverboard said he is ready to offer his resignation.

Candidates running against major redevelopment projects won big last week, leaving both men wondering if they will have a job in the near future.

“From what I’ve learned is they’re going to terminate my employment when they’re sworn in on April 11,” Crawford said. “I’m a little miffed. I gave a lot to the city.”

Silverboard said he was going to offer his resignation when commissioners take the oath Tuesday.

“I believe that the City Commission is ready for a change in the Administration of the City to lead the organization,” Silverboard said. “It will be in both of our best interest to reach a mutually agreeable severance agreement.”

Anthony Weiss, a backer of the “Stop Tall Buildings” group, said he thinks “it’s an appropriate time for to find other opportunities. I don’t think that if he voluntarily resigns that he’s entitled to a severance package.“

Despite her incumbency, interim Mayor Deborah Schechner didn’t fare too well in the St. Pete Beach municipal elections.

Just 35 percent of the 2,941 voters in St. Pete Beach’s municipal elections chose Scherer, while challenger Alan Johnson is the mayor-elect with 61 percent of the vote.

An additional 4 percent picked John-Michael Fleig.

Schechner was appointed interim mayor after the job became available June 30 when former Mayor Maria Lowe stepped down to accompany her husband to France after he was named deputy director of cemetery operations for the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Ray Rodrigues stance on medical marijuana angers Amendment 2 advocates

Because polling in 2016 showed less than half of all Floridians want to legalize marijuana outright, Ray Rodrigues believes he is doing the right thing by pushing regulations that ban people from smoking cannabis or using edible pot.

“Here’s what we know,” the Fort Myers House Republican told former Congressman David Jolly on AM 820 WWBA Thursday afternoon. “Amendment 2 passed with more than 70 percent of the vote. And for those of us who were polling this issue during the course of the campaign, support for medical marijuana was always over 70 percent.

“However,” Rodrigues added, “during those same polls, we would ask about recreational marijuana. The support for recreational marijuana was never anywhere near the passage rate. It was consistently under 50 percent. So what that told us was the people in Florida want to see patients have access to marijuana for medicinal reasons, but the support for recreational marijuana is not nearly at the same level of support.”

Not every public survey showed that, however. A Quinnipiac poll conducted between April 27 and May 8 of 2016 showed 56 percent supported recreational use; 41 percent opposed.

Rodrigues stunned medical marijuana advocates last week when he unveiled a bill (HB 1397) that included language stating that the medical use of cannabis did not include “possession, use, or administration of marijuana in a form for smoking or vaping or in the form of commercially produced food items made with marijuana or marijuana oils, except for vapable forms possessed, used, or administered by or for a qualified patient diagnosed with a terminal condition.”

Rodrigues is not an outlier when it comes to Florida lawmakers pushing medical marijuana regulations to ban smokable pot.

Of five bills on medical marijuana now floating in the Legislature this Session, three prohibit smoking (two others are sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes and Miami Republican Frank Artiles).

Ben Pollara, the campaign manager for United for Care, says that the Legislature is acting like it’s trying to appease the 29 percent of Floridians who opposed Amendment 2, not the overwhelming majority who did.

“Do I think that’s what the people thought they were voting for? No,” Pollara says about a bill that would ban smokable marijuana. “Do I think that’s what the constitutional amendment says? No. I think the constitution allows — if not the smoking of marijuana — then the purchase and possession of smokable marijuana.”

Of the 24 states that have legalized medical marijuana, only two, New York and Pennsylvania, mandate that patients with a recommendation from a doctor cannot smoke marijuana. In Pennsylvania, edible forms of marijuana can’t be sold in dispensaries, but the law allows patients to produce those items at home.

Rodrigues also told WWBA about 2013 study conducted by Columbia University that found marijuana in a pill form provided longer relief than smoking (4.5 hours compared to 2.5 hours). “When you smoke, you’re using known carcinogens into your body, and reducing lung function,” he said. “So from a medical standpoint, the pill form is definitely medicine. It provides you the benefit of medicine. And the smoking of it is not medicine, it does not provide benefits, it often provides more harm than good.”

“When you smoke, you’re using known carcinogens into your body, and reducing lung function,” he said. “So from a medical standpoint, the pill form is definitely medicine. It provides you the benefit of medicine. And the smoking of it is not medicine, it does not provide benefits, it often provides more harm than good.”

Chris Cano, the executive director of the Central Florida Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (CFL NORML), says that for legislators to determine that smoking isn’t good for some patients is “big government at its worst.” Cano cites the example of Cathy Jordan, a Manatee County woman who has been smoking marijuana for years to control symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

“Cathy Jordan smokes two joints every morning, so that she can cough up the phlegm and fluids that she has due to her ALS,” he says. “So smoking works for her. When he says the science is wrong, he’s absolutely wrong. There’s certain benefits to smoking.”

Michael Minardi, the legal director of NORML of Florida, responded to Rodrigues by citing a 2012 Journal of the American Medical Association study that marijuana smokers performed better on tests of lung function compared to either nonsmokers or cigarette smokers.

Rodrigues acknowledged he has heard from Amendment 2 supporters, who aren’t happy with his bill.

“There were definitely people who believed that they were voting to smoke it because those people have contacted me since we had filed that bill and expressed that sentiment,” he said. “However, I do not believe that is the majority of the people. Clearly, the majority of the people believed they were voting for medical marijuana, and as long as they get the benefits from medical marijuana, the way that it is administered is irrelevant. And I would say that the science is on our side.”

In 2014, the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law the “Charlotte’s Web” bill, which legalized strains of marijuana high in cannabidiol, or CBD, but low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that produces a high.

For nearly four years, Pollara has worked to make medical marijuana legal in Florida. He says that the attitude of most members of the Legislature this entire time is to make it as “unappealing to nonmusical consumers as possible.”

“What gets lost in that is that sometimes what you need is to get high,” Pollara says. “You can’t extricate the medical benefit from the getting high part of it.”

While it doesn’t appear to be the sentiment in Tallahassee at this point, Pollara optimistically surmises that there’s still plenty of time for the Legislature to come up with a final product before Sine Die.

(WWBA does not yet have a link to the Rodrigues interview on their website yet. When they do, we will include the link).

 

Florida prison chief: State losing corrections staff to ‘Wal-Mart,’ creating insecurity in system

More than three-quarters of Florida’s corrections officers have less than two years’ experience. In some state prisons, a single CO will be left alone to supervise 150-200 inmates in a jail block.

Contraband has become so bad, one random search of (just half) a Dade facility turned up $15,000 in street value of cocaine, seven knives, 46 cellphones and an array of other drugs and illicit materials, said Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones Thursday.

The state’s prisons chief was in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee, having to explain just how bad the situation was, even though the state’s inmate population dropped by 3,000 from the year before.

Three main problems, she said, were safety, recidivism, and operational deficiencies — all due to a lack of funding. Corrections officers are paid so little, and have such a high stress in a dangerous job, she can’t keep them on the payroll.

“I’m losing state and local officers to state and local businesses — even to Wal-Mart,” she told the committee. “We hire thousands of new corrections officers every year. We’re a hiring machine. The problem is we can’t keep them.”

She said turnover for COs has increased 95 percent since 2009.

Entry-level base pay for a corrections officer before completion of on-the-job training hovers around $29,000. It goes up, slightly, when a combination of certifications and on-the-job training are completed, but for working 12 hour shifts — sometimes doubles due to the lack of staffing, especially at correctional facilities specializing in mental health issues, Jones said — it’s no wonder why she can’t keep anyone on for more than a year or so.

That tempts some COs to earn a little extra money on the side.

Jones said, unfortunately, some of the ones securing the facility are the ones bringing in the contraband or are looking the other way in exchange for bribes. And with career field numbers so low — with a current vacancy rate of 13 percent statewide, she said — security issues become a factor. Drugs and weapons are stashed in trash cans or simply tossed over fences by friends or loved ones working in cahoots with inmates.

When a random search of a prison, or part of a prison, takes place, inmates caught with illegal materials, products or drugs face more charges, leading to high recidivism rates.

Since 2009, the introduction of contraband into the prisons system has increased more than 400 percent.

Inmate on inmate attacked have increased 68 percent during the same period, she cited.

To boot, she admitted, when questioned by Sen. Jeff Brandes, facilities are falling apart. Fencing at some prisons is so old, or dilapidated, the department doesn’t have a way to mend it without tearing it all down and rebuilding or renovating, and there simply isn’t the money to do that, she said.

Without a new and increased pay package, she said she doesn’t any change for the better coming. She’s requested more money and according to the chair of the appropriations committee, Jack Latvala, the cavalry is coming.

“I am pleased to report, in consultation with Sen. [Joe] Negron … help is on the way from the Florida Senate,” he said. “Our budget will include some substantial help on this issue. … Let’s go to work and make it happen.”

Law enforcement says Anitere Flores’ civil citations proposal still ‘a non-starter’

There are a number of bills floating in the Florida Legislature this year that deal with criminal justice reform, but one that has law enforcement completely flummoxed is a bill that would remove their discretion to charge a minor regarding a variety of first-time offenses.

Miami Republican Senator Anitere Flores‘ bill (SB 196) requires a law enforcement officer to issue a civil citation or require the juvenile’s participation in a diversion program when that juvenile admits to committing certain first-time misdemeanor offenses.

Officials with the Florida Police Chiefs Association and the Florida Sheriffs Association are strongly opposed to bill, however, because it mandates that officers will no longer have the discretion to choose between offering a juvenile a civil citation for the offense, or making an arrest.

Among the eleven listed first-time misdemeanors that law enforcement would have to give a civil citation to a juvenile offense include battery, disorderly conduct, affrays and riots, theft and resisting an officer without violence.

At the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice last week, Flores said that a misdemeanor battery charge currently can result simply by individuals accidentally touching each other.

That’s not what officers charge juveniles with out on the streets, insists Butch Arenel, the Coconut Creek Chief of Police and president of the Florida Police Chiefs Association.

We’re talking about a road rage incident where a juvenile gets out of a car, approaches another driver and punches him in the face,” says Arenal. “That is a misdemeanor battery, and to think we’re going to have an incident like that where’s it’s a violent crime against a victim, and we’re going to simply issue a noncriminal ticket, and let them walk away, sends a wrong message to our youth.”

Resisting an officer without violence is also problematic, Arenal says. He cites as an example a law enforcement officer encountering a juvenile after he or she commits an offense, and then watching that youth take off, with the officer finally bringing him down after a lengthy chase.

“We apprehend them, and we can’t arrest them?” he asks incredulously. “That’s commonly known as obstruction.”

“What we need to remember is that the offenses in Senate Bill 196 are all misdemeanors and that it must be the child’s first time committing one of the misdemeanors,” Flores tells FloridaPolitics, regarding the opposition from law enforcement.

“I am willing to amend the bill as it progresses, but again these are only first time offenses and misdemeanors committed by children,” Flores said, adding, “I believe law enforcement deserves the utmost respect and generally deference.”

Currently, there is a wide disparity between counties in terms of how much local law enforcement is offering diversion programs for wayward youth. Flores has mentioned the gap between juveniles who get detained in Hillsborough County under Sheriff David Gee vs. what would happen to them if they committed the same offense across the bay in Pinellas County, which has an established youth civil citation program. Last year, 94 percent of juvenile offenders were issued civil citations in Pinellas, whereas in Hillsborough County, that only happened 34 percent of the time.

“While civil citations have been in law for years, unfortunately not all law enforcement agencies have issued them uniformly, only half of first time juvenile misdemeanors actually receive a citation,” Flores says. “Thousands of first time misdemeanor offenders as children are going to DJJ, where the recidivism rates are much higher, and the effects last a lifetime.”

Arenal acknowledges that Flores’ “has a point” that there are regions of the state where civil citations are offered more much liberally than in others. The answer he says, is for police chiefs and sheriffs to continue to advocate for that policy change. “We have been advocating for it,” he insists.

Although his department is among top counties in the state in offering civil citations, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri testified against the bill earlier this month in his role with the Florida Sheriffs Association. His opposition in part led to St. Petersburg Senator Jeff Brandes to oppose Flores bill when it was debated in the Criminal Justice Committee in January.

At last week’s  Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens told an official with the Police Chiefs Association “if law enforcement in this state had been a little bit better in adopting these programs and utilizing the way that they should be used, then perhaps we wouldn’t be in the situation of having to say we’re going to make you do it.”

That comment wasn’t appreciated by law enforcement officials.

“We are the ones who know who were dealing with and the crime we’re seeing and to create the perception that we’re heavy handed and that we’re not flexible in our approach to juveniles is just completely unfair,” Arenal says.

Meanwhile, while supporters of the legislation would undoubtedly like law enforcement’s buy-in, the fact is that neither of the two bills in the House, from Orange County Democrat Kamia Brown (HB 213) or Seminole Republican Larry Ahern (HB 205) would take away officers discretion on issuing out a civil citation for juveniles. Flores says that it’s still early in the process and says she’s making progress with House members.

“I have had many productive conversations with the House and I am confident we share common goals of not sentencing children who make a mistake to a lifetime of negative consequences,” she says.

 

 

 

Capitol Reax: Uber, Lyft, PCI, and the League of Southeastern Credit Unions sound off on the day’s news

The Senate Banking & Insurance Committee approved a bill to regulate transportation network companies, like Uber and Lyft. The bill establishes minimum insurance requirements, requires background screenings and includes consumer protection provisions.

Stephanie Smith, senior manager, public policy for Uber Technologies: “The bipartisan vote in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee is another step toward ensuring Florida doesn’t fall behind the transportation innovation curve. Thank you to Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) for his constant support and advocacy for ridesharing in the state.

Uber’s goal is to empower people through mobility, with the safety of our riders and drivers at the forefront of every decision we make. We will continue to work to create a statewide regulatory framework so that drivers and riders have access to ridesharing no matter where they live in Florida.”

Chelsea Harrison, senior policy communications manager for Lyft: “We are grateful for Sen. Brandes’ advocacy on this important issue and applaud the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee for approving this legislation. This is a significant step toward a uniform, statewide framework for modern options like Lyft and we look forward to continuing to advocate for expanded consumer choice that keeps public safety first.”

Logan McFaddin, regional manager for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America: “PCI commends the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee and Senator Brandes for acknowledging insurance gaps when a driver is engaged in rideshare activity. PCI and our members strongly support making sure rideshare drivers and their passengers are protected from the time the driver turns the app on until the app is turned off.

This is yet another critical step in making sure Florida’s rideshare drivers have adequate insurance coverage if an accident were to occur. PCI and our members have been out front on this issue in Florida and other states and will remain engaged in working on a responsible solution that protects all Floridians.

Our top priority is to protect drivers and the public by closing the insurance gaps and this bill accomplishes that goal.  PCI looks forward to continued dialogue to ensure the coverage gaps that leave consumers at risk are closed. Model legislation has already passed in 43 states, and it’s time for Florida to do the same.”

The Senate Banking & Insurance Committee also approved a bill dealing with public deposits and credit unions.

Patrick La Pine, president and CEO of League of Southeastern Credit Unions & Affiliates: “We commend members of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee for choosing to take a much-needed step forward by supporting Senate Bill 1170, which would allow credit unions to accept deposits from public entities, and grant such entities greater freedom for their financial needs. This bill will not only allow communities to keep their funds within their local communities, but ensure the banking needs of universities and local governments, to name a few, are properly and adequately met.

We also thank the bill’s sponsor, Senator Hutson, for his commitment to making 2017 the year depository choice passes, as we truly believe it is in the best interest of Florida’s taxpayer-funded public entities to have a choice to meet their financial needs.”

 

Bill regulating ride-sharing in Florida advances in Senate Committee

Legislation to provide statewide regulations for transportation network companies (TNC’s) advanced in its latest committee stop in the Florida Senate Tuesday.

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes‘ bill (SB 340) received only two votes in opposition in clearing the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, though there were substantial concerns expressed about funding for paratransit that animated the debate.

Noting that there is a hole in disability transportation, Parkland Democrat Gary Farmer offered an amendment that would assess ride-sharing companies one-half of one percent of TNC gross revenues go to the state and then be redistributed to the counties that would pay for disability transportation.

Farmer said that in 14 states, ride-sharing companies had been assessed fees “for one thing or another,” and thus it wasn’t outside the mainstream to do so in Florida.

Miami Republican Rene Garcia called Farmer’s amendment “well-intentioned,” but said the real answer was to address the needs of the state’s Transportation Disadvantaged program.

Garcia said he intended to present a bill or add as an amendment during the session that would allow for operators in the program to cross county lines.

“Unfortunately right now we don’t have that system that’s fully integrated that crosses county lines and so forth,” Garcia said, adding that work has been going on behind the scenes to put that into legislation into place. He also said some local boards aren’t administrating federal and state paratransit funds in the most efficient way.

Farmer’s amendment ultimately went down to defeat.

Along with Farmer, the only other dissenting vote for the entire legislation in the committee came from Panama City Republican George Gainer, who said he didn’t understand why ride-sharing companies needed to be regulated by the state when that wasn’t the case with taxicabs.

“The goal here is to establish the statewide standard in both insurance and background checks, so that both business travelers, residents and tourists, understand that they have seamless transportation options as it relates to this technology,” Brandes told Gainer.

The Florida League of Cities also continues to oppose the legislation, specifying criticizing the background check policy that will require TNC drivers to get background checks only every three years, “which could result in drivers who committed criminal acts still driving for these companies within that window,” said Megan Sirjane-Samples.

The committee did approve two amendments that Brandes added to the legislation, including authorizing seaports to impose pickup fees on rideshare drivers when picking up or dropping riders from ports, as long as they do not exceed what that particular port is charging taxicab companies to pay.

In the original bill, only airports were allowed to charge pickup fees.

The amendment also requires ride-sharing companies to contract with the state’s Department of Financial Services (DFS) to review their insurance and background check process. Specifically, the DFS can impose civil penalties Uber or Lyft if they are noncompliant.

The first violation would result in a $250 penalty for each incidence of noncompliance within a review, and $500 per any repeated noncompliance issues within a report.

The legislation requires 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 driving a rider, they’re required to have $1 million worth of coverage. The bill also requires transportation network companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

“The bipartisan vote in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee is another step toward ensuring Florida doesn’t fall behind the transportation innovation curve,” said Stephanie Smith, senior manager of public policy with Uber.

“We are grateful for Sen. Brandes’ advocacy on this important issue and applaud the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee for approving this legislation,” said Lyft’s Chelsea Harrison, senior policy communications manager for Lyft. “This is a significant step toward a uniform, statewide framework for modern options like Lyft and we look forward to continuing to advocate for expanded consumer choice that keeps public safety first.”

Safety Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant are sponsoring the companion bill moving in the House (CS/HB 221).

Criminal justice reform task force and other reform bills advance in Florida Senate

A raft of bills that would reform Florida’s criminal justice system sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes were approved by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee Monday.

That included legislation that would create a criminal justice task force (SB 458) consisting of 27 members that would take a “holistic” review of the state’s criminal justice system, including (but not limited to) sentencing practices, minimum mandatory requirements in statute, prison and jail facilities and criminal penalties in statute. The task force would deliver a report on the first day of the 2018 legislative session.

“The goal is to bring the parties together in the interim between session and try to find using data based solutions, a pathway forward for comprehensive reform,” said Brandes.

The 27 member force would come from those representing the Florida House, Senate, the Governor’s offices and various state agencies, as well as from a victim’s advocacy group, the formerly incarcerated, and the faith community.

In talking about the need for such reform, Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley invoked the memory of Darren Rainey, the mentally ill inmate who died at Dade Correctional Institution in 2012 after he was thrown into a steaming shower.

“I don’t know what it takes to wake everybody up to know that we’ve got a problem, but we have a problem, and to fix the problem, you’ve gotta recognize that there’s a problem,” Bradley told his colleagues, asking if conservative states like Texas can enact such criminal justice reform, Florida surely can as well.

Three other Brandes backed bills addressing criminal justice were also passed by the committee.

Including among them was SB 448,  which would give the discretion to law enforcement agencies to implement pre-arrest diversion programs for certain offenders.

A critic of the bill named Ralph Wilson  said that the language of that legislation was derived from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the controversial organization that creates model conservative legislation that is adopted by state legislators around the country. Wilson claimed that when compared with  ALEC’s “model legislation” on pre-arrest diversion.  He claimed that three of the five sections of the  bill was more than 97% identical to the ALEC bill.

Brandes rejected the claim, as did Barney Bishop with the Florida Smart Justice Alliance, who said that his organization actually shopped it over to ALEC.

Ocala Senator Dennis Baxley said that he previously had opposed the bill, but was coming around on it, and said he was impressed that ALEC was supporting it as well.

The committee also passed  SB 450 involving public records. The bill would require that a civil citation, documentation of a rearrest diversion program and any other reports or documents held by a law enforcement agency are exempt from public records requirements.

And they passed SB 790 which is related to probation and community control.

 

 

Jeff Brandes amends ridesharing bill in Florida Senate

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes has amended his ridesharing bill (SB 340) that has been moving its way through the Florida Senate.

Among those changes include authorizing seaports to impose pickup fees on rideshare drivers when picking up or dropping riders from seaports, as long as they do not exceed what that particular port is charging taxicab companies to pay.

In the original bill, only airports were allowed to charge pickup fees.

The amendment also requires ridesharing companies to contract with the state’s Department of Financial Services (DFS) to review their insurance and background check process. Specifically, the DFS can impose civil penalties on Uber or Lyft if they are noncompliant. The first violation would result in a $250 penalty for each incidence of noncompliance within a review, and $500 per any repeated noncompliance issues within a report.

The DFS would have authorization “to shut down bad actors” and prohibit specific drivers from operating on platforms if they are noncompliant.

The legislation requires 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 driving a rider, they’re required to have $1 million worth of coverage. The bill also requires transportation network companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

Safety Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant are sponsoring the companion bill moving in the House (CS/HB 221).

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