The Last 24
Good Wednesday evening. The House continued its parade of horribles (“serial vomiting,” “depression,” oh my!) against marijuana with more doctors telling a legislative panel about the negatives of the plant. Two emergency room doctors from Colorado — where recreational pot is legal — told the Health Policy Subcommittee that at least a quarter of adults there had used cannabis over the past month. Indeed, with no restrictions on THC levels, Dr. Andrew Monte said he saw issues with people being “poisoned” from marijuana, with edibles being the worst.
Among the concerns: Cannabis hyperemesis, which translates to serial vomiting among the most excessive users, and exacerbation of psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety and depression. Of course, worst-case scenarios were outlined, such as one man who shot his wife, and another who jumped off a balcony — both purportedly on an edible high. Sixty Days is guarding its gummy bears, lest they are cannabized (if that’s even a word). Here’s your nightly rundown.
Saving lives: Senate President-designate Wilton Simpson on Wednesday joined dozens of Tampa General Hospital patients in the Capitol courtyard to mark a milestone of 10,000 transplants performed at the hospital.
Fire ‘em while you got ‘em: A House panel OK’d legislation that would make it expressly legal for Floridians to buy fireworks.
Setting standards: Lauren Book is backing legislation that would task FDLE with setting up minimum active shooting training standards for law enforcement agencies statewide.
No more ‘stolen valor’: A House panel unanimously approved a bill that would amend a law making it illegal to misrepresent oneself as a member of the military.
Killing that Coppertone: On a party-line vote, a House panel moved a bill to end local bans on sunscreen sales.
Hemp heaven: If all goes well over the next few weeks, Florida officials expect the state’s first legal hemp farmers since the 1930s to soon start planting.
Save your supermarket bags: Democratic state Reps. Anna Eskamani and Michael Grieco are once again pushing legislation to allow municipalities to ban single-use plastics, such as plastic bags.
We had to look this up: A House panel moved a bill that would let insurance consumers know their “loss-run” history.
Quote of the Day
“I have a poodle.” — state Rep. Wengay Newton, a St. Pete Democrat, explaining his opposition to legalizing fireworks sales in Florida.
Bill Day’s Latest
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith celebrated the University of Central Florida Day at the Capitol, posing with students and alumni. The ranking member of the House Higher Education and Career Readiness Subcommittee plans to advocate for the school’s needs, despite a rocky 2019 Session for the university. The prominent progressive lawmaker also took the time to talk priorities for his caucus in 2020.
Florida Politics: 2019 saw so much movement of conservative priorities, what will progressive lawmakers prioritize in 2020?
Smith: There’s no question the 2019 Legislative Session was bad for all Floridians, with so many setbacks. From cracking down on undocumented workers, violating civil rights in the Sanctuary Cities bill, arming teachers, and then HB 5, that all works against our democracy and working against getting constitutional amendments on the ballot. Every year, the Legislature is working to undo the will of the voters on a variety of different issues. Last year it was around rights restoration with returning citizens on Amendment 4. The past year was undoing access to medical cannabis and the environment.
The Legislative Progressive Caucus will stay focused on a lot of what we have been focused on, like raising the minimum wage to $15, defending civil rights whether for LGBTQ citizens, returning citizens or immigrants, and gun violence prevention. We’re soon rolling out a comprehensive agenda that ranges from an assault weapon and large-capacity magazine ban, to universal background checks. We are for creating clear energy goals for the state of Florida.
On teacher pay, Democrats have been advocating for a substantial boost in starting salary for quite some time. We are glad to see the Governor has adopted the Democrats’ long help position, but we need details. We have teachers who have been teaching for decades who are right at around $50,000 per year and have to be included in a pay increase. There’s also focus around a student equity bill that will ensure students are not discriminated against in the issuing of state-based financial aid and scholarships such as Bright Futures.
If you are a DACA or TPS recipients, you’re ineligible in this state to qualify for state aid and scholarships, which is wrong and also not consistent with Florida values. We offer in-state tuition to undocumented students and if you are earning academic scholarships or are eligible in other ways, you shouldn’t be made ineligible because you are undocumented. And of course, we will likely have to play defense on E-Verify, on attacks on women’s reproductive rights, on our public schools.
FP: You mention citizen efforts to get matters on the ballot. As a lawmaker, do you share any concerns Republicans have raised about the inflexibility of implementing constitutional amendments?
Smith: I don’t agree with what state law dictates. HB 5 raised the bar and made it harder for citizens to have a voice of their own through constitutional amendments. Some ballot initiatives might not make it on the ballot because of what passed in HB 5. The process before was fine. It was already a tall order. It’s not easy to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot before HB 5. Now it’s harder.
It’s really frustrating for so many key issues facing Floridians. Not only is the Legislature unwilling to have dialogue around issues, but they are actually taking steps to make it harder for residents to have say. Advocates have realized and understood the best way to get an issue resolved is not to work with the Legislature but work around them. The $15 minimum wage. Gun violence prevention. Access to cannabis. Then the Legislature scrambles to implement what voters dictated and complain.
We have given lawmakers several chances to address these issues. Let’s have a hearing on living wages in the state. Do they have a compromise or better solution that goes beyond living in poverty? They have never offered an alternative. A reasonable person can make the argument we shouldn’t ban assault weapons. I disagree, but why never hold a hearing on an assault weapons ban year after year after the voices of Pulse and Parkland, overwhelming in recent years, insisted that be tackled by the Legislature?
FP: UCF took a beating from lawmakers last year over a finance scandal, with you sometimes serving as a staunch defender. What’s in store for the University this year?
Smith: It has really turned a corner. UCF has done everything they needed to do to build trust with the Legislature after some of the spending problems we saw last year. I am confident that Republican lawmakers will not continue to hold a grudge against UCF in a way that punishes students and faculty who had absolutely nothing to do with those spending problems at what is a world-class institution internationally recognized. How do you sit here and complain, cut costs and say you need to do this and do that? It’s a mixed message to then brag about being ranked as a No. 1 university in the nation. I hope the conversation is a bit more balanced, and I am confident it will be.
Every Legislative Session features its fair share of home rule battles. In the 2019 Legislative Session, it was plastic straw bans and e-scooters. In the lead up to the 2020 Legislative Session, it seems like a ban on sunscreen bans will be a hot topic.
The issue brings in more parties than the typical state-vs-local food fights. Dermatologists, environmental groups, local governments, and businesses are all approaching the issue from different angles.
Environmentalists point to some scientific studies that show chemicals in some types of sunscreen damages coral. Among the most vocal on that side of the argument is the Sierra Club, whose lobbyist, Deborah Foote, has spoken out several times in committee hearings for the sunscreen bill.
Key West passed a sunscreen ban that goes into effect next year, and it’s not happy with Tallahassee’s preemption effort. They’ve got Christopher Carmody, Christopher Dawson, Joseph Salzverg, Robert Stuart and Jason Unger repping them in the Capitol.
On the other side of the coin are dermatologists, some of whom have individually spoken out on the dangers of a ban. Miami dermatologist Andrew Weinstein said widespread bans — or even moving sunscreen behind the pharmacy counter — would cause a spike in skin cancer deaths.
Representing the Florida Society of Dermatology & Dermatologic Surgery in Tallahassee are Travis Blanton, Jon Johnson and Darrick McGhee of Johnson & Blanton.
Business groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Retail Federation say a preemption is the right call. They’ve each got teams of advocates in the Capitol complex.
FRF is represented by Johnson & Blanton as well as French Brown and Michael Dobson of Dean Mead. The Chamber has more than two-dozen lobbyists on retainer, including contracts with Holland & Knight, Hopping Green & Sams, Liberty Partners of Tallahassee and Smith Bryan & Myers, among others.
The Next 24
(Unless otherwise noted, all locations are in the Capitol Complex.)
Rep. Dotie Joseph, a North Miami Democrat, holds a Town Hall in advance of the 2020 Legislative Session. That’s at 7 p.m., Biscayne Gardens Civic Association, 15000 North Miami Ave., Biscayne Gardens.
Also, the following committees will meet:
— House Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee, 9 a.m., 12 House Office Building. On the agenda: Presentations on guardianship by the Department of Elder Affairs and the Clerks’ Statewide Investigations Alliance.
— Senate Appropriations Committee, 10 a.m., 412 Knott Building. On the agenda: Presentations on Everglades restoration and protection of water resources by the Department of Environment Protection, and Medical Marijuana Initiatives by Florida A&M University.