Joe Negron Archives - Page 7 of 42 - Florida Politics

Steve Hayes: Tourism industry in jeopardy with House Bill 1A

The Florida House of Representatives has recently espoused a philosophy of not “picking winners and losers,” but House Bill 1A does just that.

As I watched Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, and Speaker Richard Corcoran announce their plans for a special session to discuss tourism funding, I felt hopeful for the fate of Florida’s tourism industry. However, my optimism faded when I read the strict VISIT Florida provisions tucked inside House Bill 1A. Of course, I am deeply appreciative of our lawmakers’ willingness to rethink the issue of VISIT Florida’s funding, but I am concerned the severe restrictions still hinder VISIT Florida’s ability to help smaller communities compete in the increasingly aggressive tourism promotion industry.

VISIT Florida must be able to operate to keep tourists, and revenue, flowing into the Sunshine State. Restoring its funding to $76 million is certainly a critical component to ensuring our tourism industry continues to flourish, but the bureaucratic red tape proposed by HB 1A counteracts the increased budget.

I am a proud member of Pensacola’s tourism industry, so the fund matching provisions found in HB 1A are especially troubling. In its current form, HB 1A could force VISIT Florida to partner only with the larger tourism industry businesses that can match funds, shutting out county destination marketing organization. The small businesses that previously benefited from state tourism promotion efforts by partnering with their local destination marketing organization (DMO), like Visit Pensacola, will no longer be afforded this opportunity — and they are the ones who need tourism promotion the most. Seafood shacks, bed and breakfasts, kayak rentals and numerous other companies do not have a marketing team and therefore rely on their local DMO to partner with VISIT Florida. Similar are the smaller destinations in Northern Florida, without the same brand recognition as some of our state’s larger cities — without cooperation between state and local tourism promotion, many of Florida’s hidden gems would remain a secret.

Like many smaller communities, tourism is Pensacola’s livelihood. The tourism industry employs more than 22,000 residents and relies on Pensacola tourists to feed their families and maintain their way of life. And, those outside of the travel industry benefit from our county tourism promotion efforts as well. For example, every dollar invested in marketing Pensacola creates $3.55 in tax revenue. The money generated by tourism helps improve our roads, maintain our beaches and fund other public projects.

DMO’s, like Visit Pensacola, enable smaller, local tourism businesses to participate in VISIT Florida marketing programs they could not afford without local support. The small businesses could maximize their minimal funds by getting a matching contribution from both the state and their local tax-funded tourism bureau. For example, a water sports attraction on the coast can achieve exposure in magazine advertisements by partnering with their local destination marketing organization, reaching millions of potential customers across the country at a significantly reduced cost. Now, local tourism businesses will be excluded from these types of opportunities.

Recently, Gov. Scott announced Florida welcomed a record 31.1 million visitors in the first three months of 2017. This accomplishment is a direct result of last year’s $76 million allowance for tourism promotion, coupled with each county’s investment in publicizing the Sunshine State. Now that counties and other long-term VISIT Florida partners are unable to help fund state marketing programs, the strength of the Florida brand will surely weaken.

We have proven time and time again that investing in tourism promotion is good public policy, and VISIT Florida’s success has been consistent. Small communities and businesses who have been partners since the beginning should not be punished by a shortsighted decision. HB 1A must be modified so that counties both big and small can continue to benefit from VISIT Florida’s tourism promotion efforts. Tourism must work for the entire state — we cannot leave small communities in the dust.

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Steve Hayes is the vice chairman of the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations (FADMO) and the president of Visit Pensacola.

Joe Henderson: Tallahassee gets special session, the public gets the bill

After the budget compromise reached by Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the biggest question hanging over the Legislature’s three-day special session this week is whether there is enough time for some lawmakers to grow a backbone.

Only one of two things can happen.

There will either be a full-blown party revolt at how this was handled, followed by points, counterpoints, then fire and pestilence raining down on the state capital as rank-and-file members stand up to their leaders. I’m not betting on that one, by the way.

Or … party leaders will tell members how to vote because this compromise is the greatest thing since craft beer was invented.  After some serious harrumphing in private, those legislators will fall into line, lest their future committee assignments reflect the cost of rebellion.

The latter is the smart wager.

Democrats might as well send their “nay” votes in by Skype because Florida’s one-party system of Republican control has rendered them irrelevant.

In the musical Hamilton, there is a scene that could have doubled for what happened in Tallahassee. Corcoran, Scott and Negron were three key figures in the room where it happened. Decisions were happening, and other leaders need not apply. On Friday, they were kind enough to share news of the deal they reached.

Scott got what he wanted. Corcoran got what he wanted.

What everyone else got was a take-it-or-leave-it deal that smacked of smoke-filled rooms and quid pro quos. Even Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, who chairs the Senate’s budget panel on tourism and economic development, was left out of the conversation.

That led to this cynical tweet from Republican state Senator and possible gubernatorial candidate Jack Latvala: “It’s a shame the House wouldn’t negotiate during the regular session. Now we have to spend $60-70k a day on a special session.”

Write that on the tombstone for this Legislative Session.

Scott salvaged his priorities — more money for tourism promotion and incentives (read: taxpayer cash) for businesses to create jobs here. In the wake of the statewide backlash against the controversial HB 7069, which diverts millions from public schools to charters, Scott got a little more cash for public schools. I sense that will be coming to a U.S. Senate campaign ad next year.

Educators were not impressed.

“The gaping flaws in HB 7069 haven’t changed with this suggested increase in funding,” Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall said in a written statement.

“It doesn’t even pay for the massive giveaway to charter schools included in the bill. The governor and the legislative leaders who cooked up these changes and called for a special session are not addressing the needs of the parents and students in this state.”

This is probably a good time to recall that Corcoran called the union “downright evil” last because it opposed his plan for charter schools.

He added that the union’s stance was tantamount to “attempting to destroy the lives of almost 100,000 children, mostly minority, and all of them poor.”

Corcoran really, really wanted more money for those “Schools of Hope” charters that would otherwise have gone to public schools. Assuming lawmakers go along to get along, Corcoran wins.

Scott wins.

And what do we, the people, receive?

As always, we get the bill.

Welcome to Tallahassee.

Special session called to tackle economic programs, public education funding

Florida lawmakers will head back to Tallahassee for a special session next week to address economic programs and public education funding.

Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and Senate President Joe Negron announced Friday morning lawmakers will convene in a special session from June 7 to June 9 to tackle several issues relating to the budget.

The announcement coincided with news that Scott signed the budget 2017-18 budget, vetoing $410 million in legislative projects. The Naples Republican also vetoed the Florida Educational Finance Program, which funds K-12 public education, and a bill (HB 5501) that, among other things, slashed funding for Visit Florida Funding by 60 percent. A full list of vetoes is expected to be released later today, according to the Governor’s Office.

The governor is calling on the Legislature to provide an additional $215 million to K-12 public education, which would increase per student funding by $100; establish the Florida Job Growth Fund to promote public infrastructure and individual job training and fund it at $85 million, the same amount he requested for incentive programs for Enterprise Florida; and pass legislation that sets aside $76 million for Visit Florida and includes comprehensive transparency and accountability measures for the organization.

In a memo to House members Friday, Corcoran said the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund would be housed within the Department of Economic Opportunity and would provide “$85 million in new resources to be used for public infrastructure and workforce training.”

The House railed against incentive programs this year, even voting overwhelming to abolish Enterprise Florida, the state’s private-public economic development program. However, Corcoran told members the new program would not be used for the exclusive benefit of one company, and could become “a model for the nation.”

“The bill will be a flexible fund that the Governor can use to help create the infrastructure and job skills necessary to support economic diversification for targeted industries or for specific regions of the state,” he wrote. “The bill will require that funds be used for broad public value and not for the exclusive benefit for any one company. We believe that this new tool can become a model for the nation.”

In his memo to members, Corcoran said legislation filed during the special session, which will be carried by Rep. Paul Renner, will including $76 million in funding, but maintain the “kind of strong accountability and transparency language passed” during the 2017 regular Session.

The Senate did not support the House position on cuts to Enterprise Florida or Visit Florida, and Negron said Friday he was pleased the House was moving to the Senate position on those issues. The Senate also wanted a higher per-pupil funding model.

“As we prepare to return to Tallahassee, it appears that our colleagues in the House have expressed a willingness to move toward the Senate position in several key areas, including a significant increase in per student funding for our K-12 public schools, as well as elevating the state investment in tourism marketing and economic development efforts,” said Negron in a memo to members. “I look forward to advocating for Senators’ budget priorities during the upcoming Special Session.

In return for reaching a compromise on his top priorities, the governor is expected to sign a wide-sweeping education bill (HB 7069), a top priority for Corcoran, and a higher education bill (SB 374), a top priority for Negron. Both bills have come under scrutiny in recent weeks, in part over concerns they were negotiated largely behind closed doors.

When asked whether he planned to sign the education bill during a press conference in Miami on Friday, Scott said he was reviewing it.

The call, signed by Scott and filed with the Department of State at 9:30 a.m., does not include medical marijuana. However, Corcoran told members in a memo Friday morning the “House has communicated to … the Senate that this is an issue we believe must be addressed and that we are prepared to expand the call to address the implementation of the constitutional amendment approved by voters of the constitutional amendment approved by the voters during the 2016 election.”

Florida taxpayers, entrepreneurs winners in new budget deal, says Americans for Prosperity

Florida taxpayers will be the true winners next week as lawmakers return to Tallahassee for a special session on economic incentives and education funding in the state’s budget, says Americans for Prosperity-Florida.

The conservative government watchdog group is applauding Friday’s announcement by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Senate President Joe Negron, and Gov. Rick Scott that they will be meeting for a Special Session to reconcile the state’s nearly $84 billion budget.

As reported by FloridaPolitics.com, Scott called on the Legislature to provide an additional $215 million to K-12 public education, which would increase per student funding by $100. establish an $85 million “Florida Job growth fund” to promote public infrastructure and individual job training. That $85 million price tag was the same as the request Scott made for Enterprise Florida.

The governor also seeks to pass legislation setting aside $76 million for VISIT Florida — the state’s tourism arm — which includes comprehensive transparency and accountability measures.

AFP-FL has long denounced Florida’s “corporate welfare handouts” through incentive programs such as VISIT Florida and Enterprise Florida.

AFP-FL state director Chris Hudson praised the development in a statement:

“While we wait to see the details in writing, we’re cautiously optimist about the move to establish the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund. This new plan will help all jobs creators, not just the well-connected, looking to come to Florida or those investing to expand their homegrown businesses. This is how economic development should have always existed in the state. This is a model for the rest of the country. We are excited that at least for now the war for incentives is over.”

“This is a huge win for taxpayers and a huge win for our organization and the activists that drove the discussion.”

The 2017 Special Legislative Session will be June 7-9.

 

Florida Democrats accuses Rick Scott of ‘backroom politics at its worst’ over special session

Florida Democrats are hitting Gov. Rick Scott and Republican leadership over a budget deal announced Friday.

In a statement, Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Johanna Cervone said the budget deal fails the state’s working families, while funneling money to Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.

“Not only does this budget deal funnel millions to private for-profit charter schools, remove oversight from local school boards, and short-change Florida’s children–it was negotiated in secret, and the end result will bring millions to Scott and Corcoran’s corporate benefactors,” she said in a statement. “Rick Scott and Richard Corcoran represent dirty, backroom politics at its worst, and this secret budget fails Florida’s working families.”

Scott, Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron announced Friday morning lawmakers will convene in a special session from June 7 to June 9 to tackle several issues relating to the budget.

The announcement coincided with news that Scott signed the budget 2017-18 budget, vetoing $410 million in legislative projects. Scott vetoed the Florida Educational Finance Program, which funds K-12 public education, and a bill that, among other things, slashed funding for Visit Florida Funding by 60 percent.

A full list of vetoes is expected to be released later today, according to the Governor’s Office.

The governor is calling on the Legislature to provide an additional $215 million to K-12 public education, which would increase per student funding by $100; establish the Florida Job Growth Fund to promote public infrastructure and individual job training and fund it at $85 million, the same amount he requested for incentive programs for Enterprise Florida; and pass legislation that sets aside $76 million for Visit Florida and includes comprehensive transparency and accountability measures for the organization.

In return for reaching a compromise on his top priorities, the governor is expected to sign a wide-sweeping education bill (HB 7069), a top priority for Corcoran, and a higher education bill (SB 374), a top priority for Negron.

In a separate statement, House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa called the Special Session “a farce being inflicted upon the people of Florida.”

“To pretend this newest backroom deal will help public education in our state is laughable,” she said. “That politicians in positions of leadership are willing to sell out our public schools by approving the creation of a $140 million slush fund for private charter school operators in exchange for an $85 million slush fund for corporate welfare is the epitome of everything that people despise about politics.

“Welcome to the swamp.”

15 big questions facing Florida politics heading into summer

Summer is here — well, unofficially at least. And with it comes cookouts, summer vacations, and the start of the 2018 election cycle (again, unofficially). With a tumultuous legislative session in our rearview mirror and a jam-packed election cycle on the horizon, the answers to these 14 questions (plus a fill-in-the-blank) could shape the future of the state.

Does Gov. Rick Scott veto the budget? The Naples Republican isn’t saying whether he plans to veto the $83 billion spending plan; but really when it comes down it, he isn’t saying much of anything about his plans. Scott has repeatedly taken swipes at lawmakers for slashing funding for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, as well as raising concerns about transparency. But when asked whether he’ll veto it, Scott has noted he could veto all or part of it.

If Scott were to veto the 2017-18 budget, it would trigger a special session to get a new spending plan in place before the end of the fiscal year. And after a year of legislative defeats, vetoing the entire budget could be a risky move: The House and Senate could overturn a veto with a two-third vote of members present and voting.

The budget passed the House on a 98-14 vote; while the Senate voted 34-4 to approve it, effectively giving it a veto-proof majority in both chambers, assuming no member changes his or her vote.

Will there be a special session? Forget a special session to tackle the budget. Let’s talk about medical marijuana.

Lawmakers failed to pass a bill to implement the medical marijuana constitutional amendment, which passed with 71 percent support in 2016. And almost as soon as the 2017 Legislative Session ended, calls for a Special Session began to pour in.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran said he supported one, as did Sen. Bill Galvano and Rep. Chris Sprowls, among others. Senate President Joe Negron didn’t close the door on it, although he asked for input from his membership; and more than a dozen lawmakers have sent letters to the Department of State in hopes of triggering a special session that way. A special session to tackle medical marijuana is also backed by John Morgan, who bankrolled the 2014 and 2016 constitutional amendments, and the Drug Free America Foundation, which opposed it.

But with about a month until the Department of Health is required to have its rules in place, it’s not entirely clear whether lawmakers will call a special session this summer or wait until committee meetings begin in the fall.

How will the House Speaker’s race play out? Republicans in the House approved a rule that said Speaker candidates can only officially begin accepting pledges of support after June 30. But the shadow campaign, well that’s been ongoing.

The freshman class is expected to hold a vote June 30, with Rep. Larry Metz counting ballots, on June 30 to determine their caucus leader and the future House Speaker, if Republicans hold the majority in the House.

The race appears to be between Reps. Paul Renner, Jamie Grant and Randy Fine. Renner is believed to have a number of votes lined up behind him, including Rep. Joe Gruters who said he planned to back Renner. Grant is pulling in a significant number of anti-Renner votes, while Fine could play the role of spoiler if neither Grant nor Renner wins outright.

But Renner, Grant and Fine aren’t the only names in the pot. Naples Republican Byron Donalds is also a contender, and Erin Grall is said to be considering a run.

Who will be the next Chief Financial Officer? When CFO Jeff Atwater announced earlier this year he was leaving his post to take a job at Florida Atlantic University, he said his departure would come at the end of the 2017 Legislative Session.

While Atwater is sticking around until the 2017-18 budget is resolved, speculation of who Scott will pick to replace him have been swirling about for weeks now. Former Sen. Pat Neal is believed to be a top contender, and Sen. Aaron Bean has said he is interested in the position. Other names that have been floated include Gruters, a longtime ally of Scott’s, and former Rep. Jimmy Patronis.

Republicans will be watching who Scott selects, since it’s likely that person will run for the seat in 2018. And speaking of the upcoming election: Democrat Jeremy Ring filed to run for the seat in 2018, becoming the first person to officially throw their hat in the race.

What impact do the special elections have on the Legislature? Sen. Frank Artiles resignation from the Florida Senate has created a domino effect in the South Florida legislative delegation, with special elections scheduled in Senate District 40 and House District 116 this summer.

The South Florida Senate seat is seen as a must-win for Democrats, who lost the seat last year when Artiles defeated longtime Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard. Three Democrats — Ana Rivas Logan, Steve Smith and Annette Taddeo — have already qualified for the race.

Rivas Logan ran for the seat in 2016, but lost the primary to Bullard. She previously served in the Florida House as a Republican. Taddeo, meanwhile, ran for Congress in 2016 and was Charlie Crist’s pick for lieutenant governor when he ran for governor as a Democrat in 2014.

The Republican race pits former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla against Rep. Jose Felix Diaz. Republican Lorenzo Palomares also filed to run.

Diaz resigned his seat to run for Senate District 40, triggering a special election in House District 40.  Republicans Jose Miguel Mallea and Daniel Anthony Perez have filed to run, as has Democrat Ross Hancock. Mallea has received the backing of former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Not to be outdone, Central Florida voters will also head to the polls this summer to replace Rep. Eric Eisnaugle in House District 44. Several legislative hopefuls have already thrown their hat in the race.

Can Democrats recruit? The special elections this summer could the first test of the Democrats power going into the 2018 election cycle.

With a new chair at its helm and a host of new staffers, the state party says its confident it will “build the strongest, most effective grassroots infrastructure in the entire country as we turn Florida back to blue in 2018.”

At the state level, Democratic House Victory announced it was bringing on Reggie Cardozo, who worked with the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns in Florida, as its general consultant; as well as Janee Murphy, a Tampa political consultant and an ally of incoming Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee.

With several vulnerable congressional seats up this election, including the seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Democrats are going to need to be able to recruit good candidates across all levels of government. And that could mean pulling from robbing from one level — as could happen in the case of Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Democrat running for Ros-Lehtinen’s seat — to help another.

How long before Rick Scott announces U.S. Senate bid? It seems like more and more the discussions about whether Scott will challenge Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018 are turning into not if, but when conversations.

The Naples Republican is already starting to sound like he’s running for something, calling members of the House and Senate “politicians in Tallahassee.” His frequent trips to Washington, D.C. haven’t gone unnoticed; neither has the $3.26 million his state political committee, Let’s Get to Work, has raised since January, despite the fact Scott can’t run for re-election again in 2018.

And he seems to be laying the groundwork for a political operation. He recently announced he would chair the New Republican, a federal super PAC headed up by Melissa Stone, his former chief of staff and campaign manager for his 2014 re-election bid.

Scott has been coy about whether he’ll run, saying it’s an option before going on to say he’s focused on his current job. With an early session in 2018, he might hold off making any formal announcements until after next year’s Legislative Session.

What can Bill Nelson do to hold off Scott? The Orlando Democrat has already said he’s running for re-election in 2018, and several polls earlier this year showed Nelson leading Scott. But with millions upon millions of dollars expected to be spent on the race, Nelson might have to ramp up his efforts if he wants to guarantee another win in his column.

As the only statewide elected Democrat in Florida, look for a lot of pressure on Nelson to perform. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is already attacking him, and it’s expected millions upon millions of dollars will be poured into the race to try to defeat the 74-year-old.

Nelson has already raised nearly $2.1 million for his re-election campaign, and had $3.6 million cash on hand at the end of the first quarter of 2017. Look for Nelson to take a more outspoken stance against President Donald Trump, an ally of Scott’s, in the coming months as he begins to ramp up his campaign.

What will Jack Latvala do? The Clearwater Republican is one of the big question marks when it comes to the 2018 race to replace Scott.

Latvala has made no secret of the fact that he’s considering a gubernatorial run. He’s been making the rounds across the state, and his fundraising committee has raised nearly $1.5 million since the beginning of the year.

In May, he told the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club if he runs it would keep career politicians from taking over Tallahassee like they’ve done in Washington, saying the state needs “a business perspective. We need experience in the real world. I just don’t see that on my side of the aisle in the governor’s race.”

But Latvala is hardly an outsider. He served in the Florida Senate from 1994 until 2002, and was elected again in 2010. He currently serves as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and arguably one of the most powerful state lawmakers in the House and Senate.

While he isn’t a household name, Latvala could spice up the Republican race to replace Scott. And his support for Scott’s top priorities this session — namely Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida — could earn him some Brownie points from Scott.

Latvala said he plans to announce his intentions in August. If he gets in, watch for a heated primary between him and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who many consider the front-runner. Latvala’s son, Rep. Chris Latvala, is already taking jabs at Putnam on social media, using the hashtag #PutnamIsStale when tweeting about Putnam.

Does Phil Levine really want to run for governor (and as a Democrat)? Earlier this year, the Miami Beach Democrat seemed to be on track to announce a 2018 run.

He started a political committee, All About Florida, and hired Matthew Van Name to coordinate efforts. State records show he poured $2 million of his own money into the committee, but hasn’t raised any coin beyond that.

With three Democrats — Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham and Chris King — already vying for their party’s nomination, Levine’s entry would make a crowded field even more crowded. And that appears to be something he’s cognizant of, even opening the door to an independent run during a Tampa Tiger Bay Club event in May.

A big Democratic fundraiser, Levine would have put raise lots of cash — and put plenty of his own on the line — in order to boost name recognition. And with a wedding and baby on the way, one has to wonder if Levine wants to invest the time (and money) to get his name out there.

How much money will races pull in? We’re already seeing big numbers when it comes to the 2018 governor’s race, and with more than 400 days until the Aug. 28 primary that number will surely be on the rise.

But it isn’t just the governor’s race we’re watching. With all the Cabinet positions, several competitive state House and Senate races, a U.S. Senate race, and a couple of congressional districts in play, the 2018 election cycle could be one of the most expensive cycles to date.

It isn’t just candidates (and their political committees) we’ll be watching, though. Already you’re seeing outside groups, like the American Action Network, pour money into Florida, and it will be interesting to see how much groups are willing to pay to play in the Sunshine State.

Which Rick will come out on top in St. Pete? The race between Rick Baker and Rick Kriseman for St. Petersburg mayor is shaping up to be one of the must-watch local races this election cycle.

Baker, the former Republican mayor, is hoping to make a comeback, and polls show he has a wide margin over Kriseman, the city’s current Democratic mayor. A recent poll from St. Pete Polls showed 46 percent of registered St. Petersburg voters saying they would pick him in a head-to-head matchup, while 33 percent are with Kriseman. Twenty percent of voters polled said they were unsure.

You can expect the city’s recent sewage issue to be a big factor when voters head to the polls in the upcoming mayoral race. According to the recent St. Pete Polls survey 44 percent of respondents said the city’s recent sewage issues will be a “major factor” in their decision for who they vote for in the upcoming mayoral race; while 36 percent said it will be a “minor factor.”

What will the CRC do? It’s been 20 years since the Constitution Revision Commission last met, and this uniquely Florida board seems to be off to a rough start.

The commission still hasn’t adopted rules, something that has drawn the ire of several organizations, including the Florida League of Women Voters. And with Republicans controlling the Governor’s Mansion, the House and the Senate, the 37-member panel has a distinctly Republican lean, leaving some Floridians to worry about what will end up on the ballot come 2018.

The commission has held a series of meetings across the state, giving Floridians a chance to weigh in on what they think should be changed. And voters have sure sounded off, suggesting the Florida Constitution be amended to address abortion, privacy, voting rights and even secede from the United States. But since committee members have remained mostly silent during the meetings, it’s hard to say where they stand on any of the proposals.

Will a hurricane sweep through Florida? We are talking about a political storm, although if you ask Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a weather event can turn into a political one in the blink of an eye.

No, we’re talking about the weather. Florida got hit with two hurricanes last year, after a decade-long dry spell. The weather woes put the Sunshine State in the spotlight, and forced everyone — including politicians in impacted communities — to make sure they were ready for the storm.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration is predicting 11 to 17 named storms, five to nine of which could become hurricanes. Of those hurricanes, NOAA’s forecast calls for two to four to become major hurricanes.

While it’s impossible to say whether a storm will hit Florida’s shores, one thing is clear: Another storm season like 2016’s could have a major impact on the state this year — and could have a ripple effect on politics in the year to come.

— Any list of questions facing Florida politics has to include a fill-in-the-blank section because you truly never know what event will occur to reset the axis. Will it be another tragedy, like last year’s shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub? Or will a prominent Florida pol take their act from the Sunshine State to the Donald Trump administration? You never really know because, as we like to say about trying to predict Florida politics: “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.”

medical marijuana

Rick Scott says he’s ‘reviewing’ whether to call medical marijuana special session

Gov. Rick Scott did not close the door entirely on a special session on medical marijuana, telling reporters his office was reviewing his options.

“I know there’s a lot of people involved and interested in the issue,” said Scott, following a stop in Fort Myers on Tuesday morning.

Scott said a special session was “something we’re reviewing.”

The comments come as calls for a special session to pass rules governing medical marijuana implementation continue to mount. More than a dozen state lawmakers have sent letters to the Department of State asking for a special session, and others have taken to social media to show their support for a special session.

Lawmakers couldn’t agree on an implementing bill before the end of the 2017 Legislative Session earlier this month. One of the main sticking points between the House and Senate was whether to limit the number of retail facilities licensed growers could have. The Senate supported caps; the House did not.

Calls for a special session to address medical marijuana began almost as soon as the 2017 Legislative Session ended. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has said he supported a special session on the issue; while Senate President Joe Negron has asked members for their input on how they think the they should proceed.

Lawmakers could head back to Tallahassee if Scott were to decide to call a special session; or if Corcoran and Negron issue a call for a special session. There is also a process for rank-and-file members to trigger a special session, something some members are trying to do.

As of last week, 16 members of the House and Senate had sent letters to the Department of State asking for a special session. The department received 11 letters from House members, including Rep. Kathleen Peters and Rep. Katie Edwards, and five from senators, including Sen. Darryl Rouson and Sen. Greg Steube.

“It is with great urgency that I write this letter to you requesting that the State of Florida properly and efficiently convene a Special Session that serves the purpose of ensuring that the 71% of Floridians that voted for the legalization of medical marijuana are heard,” wrote Rep. Shevrin Jones in a May 24 letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner. “It is our duty to ensure that the usage of medical marijuana serves its purpose here in the great state of Florida to enervate medical conditions.”

If 32 lawmakers formally request a special session, the department must poll the Legislature. Three-fifths of each chamber need to agree before a call is issued.

Drug Free America Foundation wants marijuana Special Session

The Drug Free America Foundation is adding its voice to those calling for a Special Session on Medical Marijuana Implementation, according to a Monday press release.

“It is critical that our leaders call a special session to complete the unfinished business of implementing Amendment 2,” said Calvina Fay, executive director of the Foundation. “Moreover, it is short-sighted to think that the lack of legislation to implement Amendment 2 will stop the marijuana industry from operating.”

Fay, among other examples, cited a recent cease and desist letter from the Department of Health to Trulieve, telling it to stop selling its whole-flower cannabis product meant for vaping that also could be broken down and smoked.

“These and other similar issues are all addressed in compromise legislation that died when members of the legislature could not come to an agreement on the number of dispensaries allowed for each licensee,” Fay added.

“It is imperative that our legislators come together, take action and not allow the marijuana industry to operate as it does in some states, with no regards to public health and safety.”

A Special Session could be called jointly by Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, but Negron has not yet made up his mind whether to convene lawmakers.

The regular 2017 Legislative Session ended earlier this month without agreement on a bill.

Still no decision from Joe Negron on marijuana Special Session

Senate President Joe Negron has yet to decide to join House Speaker Richard Corcoran in calling for a Special Session on medical marijuana implementation, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, is still “in the process of having discussions with senators in response to the memorandum he sent last Thursday,” Katie Betta said in an email. 

Negron had sought input from fellow senators after the 2017 Legislative Session ended without a bill to guide state Health regulators on the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment.

An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

A state law provides that the “President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, by joint proclamation duly filed with the Department of State, may convene the Legislature in special session.”

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, last week called for a Special Session during WFLA-FM radio’s “The Morning Show with Preston Scott.”

“I do believe and support the notion that we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana,” Corcoran told Scott. “Does that mean a special session?” Scott asked. “It would, absolutely,” Corcoran said.

Others chiming in on social media for a Special Session include Sens. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican; Dana Young, a Tampa Republican; Travis Hutson, an Elkton Republican; and Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who also penned the only “formal response” as of Friday.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham and Orlando trial attorney John Morgan have called for a session on medical marijuana, with Morgan doing so in a nearly nine-minute video on TwitterMorgan has been behind the amendment since it was first filed for 2014, when it failed to get enough votes.

Jeff Brandes asks for medical marijuana Special Session

Add state Sen. Jeff Brandes to the list of those calling for a Special Legislative Session on medical marijuana implementation.

“I hope that we can reconvene in a Special Session, which should include ample time for public input, to implement the will of the voters, so that patients and entrepreneurs alike may access the marketplace,” Brandes wrote to Senate President Joe Negron on Friday.

This week, Negron sought input from fellow senators after the 2017 Legislative Session ended without a bill to implement the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment. An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

As of mid-afternoon Friday, Senate spokeswoman LaQuisha Persak said there had been no “other formal responses.”

Lawmakers failed to come to agreement on a bill related to the medical cannabis constitutional amendment passed in 2016. Just over 71 percent of statewide voters approved the measure.

Before that, the state in 2014 legalized low-THC, or “non-euphoric,” marijuana to help children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. THC is the chemical that causes the high from pot.

The state later expanded the use of medicinal marijuana through another Brandes measure, the “Right to Try Act,” that includes patients suffering intractable pain and loss of appetite from terminal illnesses.

Brandes, who filed a marijuana measure (SB 614) this Session, is asking for a “horizontally integrated regulatory framework … to provide the flexibility needed to promote specialization and robust competition.”

The two chambers this year came to an impasse over the number of dispensaries, with the Senate moving to 15, “five times the original cap of three in an earlier version of the Senate bill,” Negron said in a memo.

But the House “responded by setting its dispensary cap at 100 and providing a deadline for issuing new licenses of more than a year from now. Obviously, the Senate was not in a position to accept this House proposal. The medical cannabis bill then died,” Negron said.

The 2017 Legislative Session ended Monday.

“The drive of implementation legislation must be patient focused, not the interests of existing license holders,” Brandes said, calling for “local governments (to) play a role in determining the number of dispensaries and their locations,” and avoiding “arbitrary limitations on the number of (medical marijuana treatment clinic) licenses,” instead following “market demand.”

“I believe we can accomplish these goals by setting high quality standards, strong insurance and bonding requirements, robust seed-to-sale tracking, and a well-regulated registry,” Brandes wrote. “This model would promote ease of use and the availability of affordable medical products to suffering patients.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran this week called for a Special Session during WFLA-FM radio’s “The Morning Show with Preston Scott.”

“I do believe and support the notion that we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana,” Corcoran told Scott. “Does that mean a special session?” Scott asked. “It would, absolutely,” Corcoran said.

Corcoran spokesman Fred Piccolo on Friday said his office had not received any communications from House members about a Special Session.

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