Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics

Jim Rosica

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

Joe Redner’s Florigrown files mammoth medical marijuana lawsuit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The complaint and exhibits are below:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offshore drilling ban clears constitutional review panel

Offshore drilling for gas and oil would be banned under a proposal that cleared a Constitution Revision Commission committee on Thursday.

The General Provisions Committee OK’d the proposal (P 91) on a 5-2 vote, though not after opposition from — unsurprisingly — petroleum industry interests.

That piqued the ire of committee chair Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, who filed the proposed constitutional amendment. The former Sewall’s Point commissioner and mayor is an appointee of Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican.

“I am not going to ask to TP this,” she said, referring to a temporary postponement, a procedure often used when a sponsor gauges a loss in support. “My job is to speak for the citizens of Florida. 

“This would be a positive for Florida, not a redundancy,” she added. “Let them have (offshore drilling) in New Orleans, let them have it in Mobile. We don’t need it here.”

Commissioner Will Lester earlier had questioned the need for the proposal, uniformly backed by environmental groups.

“The Legislature could do exactly what you’re asking for here,” he said.  

“Unfortunately, the state of Florida has a history of a dysfunctional legislature,” Thurlow-Lippisch answered, explaining lawmakers couldn’t be trusted to address a ban “in a timely manner.”

The proposed amendment next will be considered by the CRC’s Declaration of Rights committee.

The 37-member Commission convenes every 20 years to review and propose changes to the state’s governing document.

Any changes it approves still must go on the 2018 statewide ballot, where amendments must get 60 percent approval from voters to be added to the constitution.

Pam Bondi explains why she won’t endorse dog racing ban

Attorney General Pam Bondi finally explained why she won’t publicly support a proposed ban on greyhound racing in Florida or any other constitutional amendment.

Bondi sits on the 37-member Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), which convenes every 20 years to review and propose changes to the state’s governing document.

But, as the state’s chief legal officer, she’s also “the one who has to review all of these (amendments) for constitutionality … before they go on the ballot,” Bondi told reporters after Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting.

Any changes OK’d by the panel go on the 2018 statewide ballot, where they must get 60 percent approval from voters to be added to the constitution.

“So I’m trying not to comment on any of the CRC proposals,” she said. “I’m very careful commenting on anything until the appropriate time.”

Commissioner Tom Lee, a Republican state senator from Thonotosassa, had filed a proposed constitutional amendment to ban dog racing.

Bondi, a Tampa Republican who regularly brings shelter dogs to state Cabinet meetings to get them adopted, had declined to say whether she would support the amendment.

Lee’s original proposal would have phased out live racing over three years; it was since changed to take effect only one year after passage.

Jack Cory, spokesman for the Florida Greyhound Association, has said Lee’s proposal “is bad for Florida and it is bad for the greyhounds.”

“It would cost over 3,000 Florida jobs, put over 8,000 beautiful greyhounds at risk and create mini-casinos throughout Florida,” Cory said in a statement, referring to other gambling—such as cards—that would continue at pari-mutuel facilities.

Seminole Tribe now going after Jax ‘gambling parlors’

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has filed suit against 25 operators of what’s called “electronic gambling parlors” in the Jacksonville area, saying they violate the Tribe’s deal with the state to exclusively offer Vegas-style games.

The suit was filed in Duval County Circuit Civil court last week, records show.

The gambling parlors “infringe upon the Tribe’s right to substantial exclusivity in the operation of casino-style gambling,” says the complaint, filed by the Tribe’s outside counsel, Barry Richard of Greenberg Traurig‘s Tallahassee office.

The defendants operate outlets with names like “Fun Cade,” “Fun Spot,” and “Big Chances Internet Café,” according to the complaint. Those who could be reached Wednesday declined comment.

Richard explained that the defendants named weren’t traditional “internet cafés,” also known as “strip-mall casinos,” which were banned by the state in 2013 after a multi-state investigation netted dozens of arrests.

“Most of these places don’t even offer internet access,” he said in a phone interview. “The games they offer are resident on an in-house server. We’re talking (electronic) blackjack, all other kinds of games.

“It’s just straight-up gambling,” he added. “People are betting money to win.” The Seminoles seek a court order shutting down the parlors.

Richard said the Tribe felt compelled to sue after the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates gambling, declined to police the operations because they weren’t serving alcohol.

As for local law enforcement, “it’s just not high on their priority list,” Richard added.

“Although these complaints are outside the jurisdiction of the Department, we are always willing to provide support or assistance to law enforcement where appropriate,” DBPR spokeswoman Suellen Wilkins said in an email.

Richard said the electronic gambling parlors—or EGPs—are “all over the state,” but most are concentrated in the Jacksonville area. The Tribe hired a gaming expert to go undercover and patronize the parlors, resulting in the suit.

Northeast Florida also is home of the “pre-reveal” games, slot machine-style entertainment devices, most often placed in bars. A Tallahassee judge’s ruling that they’re illegal slots is under appeal.

The Tribe zealously guards its exclusive right to offer Vegas-style gambling in Florida, including blackjack. An agreement known as the Seminole Compact generates over $200 million a year in gaming revenue share for state coffers and likely billions for the Tribe.

And Jim Shore, the Tribe’s top in-house lawyer, recently warned lawmakers that legislation explicitly authorizing fantasy sports play also would violate the Compact. Break that deal, the Tribe has said, and it’s entitled to pay the state not one more dime.

Rick Scott signs executive order on sexual harassment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capital correspondent Ana Ceballos contributed to this post. 

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

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

Kruppenbacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

blackjack

Ante up: State to workshop new rules for card games

Gambling regulators plan to “update and clarify existing language” in the state’s rules on card games, according to an administrative notice posted Monday.

A “notice of development of rulemaking” was published in the Florida Administrative Register

An all-day workshop will be held Jan. 4, at the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering’s North Broward Regional Service Center in Fort Lauderdale. The division, under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, regulates gambling in Florida.

“The preliminary text of the proposed rule development is not available,” the notice said.

The Division previously published proposed rules on “designated player” games offered at certain pari-mutuel facilities. The games have been the subject of past and ongoing lawsuits.

The contemplated changes say that the dealer position in such games must “rotate around the card table in a clockwise fashion on a hand-by-hand basis to provide each player desiring to be the designated player an equal opportunity to participate.”

Last month, a DBPR spokeswoman said updating the rules would “allow the Division to move beyond pending litigation.”

The games, similar to poker, were at the core of a recent lawsuit by the Seminole Tribe of Florida against the state.

The Tribe argued some designated player games played too much like banked card games, like blackjack, which the state had guaranteed that the Tribe could offer exclusively in Florida.

A federal judge agreed, and the Tribe and state officials later settled the case while it was appealed.

In banked card games, players bet against the “house,” or the casino, and not each other. In traditional poker, people play against each other for a pot of money. Designated player games are a hybrid, where the bank is supposed to revolve among the players.

Regulators had said some card rooms were flouting state law by allowing third-party companies to buy their way into designated player games, using a worker to act as a virtual bank that didn’t rotate.

As one administrative law judge later put it, that set-up amounts to a sham, in which “the designated player is a player in name only. The existing operation of the games does no more than establish a bank against which participants play.”

Obscure Florida law prompts need for fantasy sports legislation

Fantasy sports advocates have said their hobby is a game of skill and shouldn’t be considered gambling.

There’s one sticking point with that position in Florida: A state law prohibits betting on games of skill, making it a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail. 

But a state Senator backing a bill to exempt fantasy sports from state gambling regulation says “the ambiguity and breadth of that statute is the whole reason we need a bill in the first place.”

Three fantasy sports bills so far have been filed for the 2018 Legislative Session.

The law in question, first put on the books in 1909, makes it “unlawful to bet on (the) result of (a) trial or contest of skill.”

It applies to any “contest of skill, speed or power or endurance of human or beast,” and includes those who place bets and anyone who “aids, assists, or abets … such acts.”

In the online games known as fantasy sports, players pick teams of real-life athletes and vie for cash and other prizes based on how those athletes do in actual games.  

Sen. Dana Young, the Tampa Republican behind one of the upcoming Session’s bills (SB 374) says the law “was not intended to criminalize social games that federal law does not consider to be gambling.”

Young and others have filed similar legislation for several years, to no avail. Her latest bill cleared the Regulated Industries Committee on an 8-1 vote last week.

“What (my) bill says in its most simple form is that players of fantasy contests should not be treated any differently than players in golf tournaments or participants in fishing tournaments,” she said. “The outcomes of all of these recreational activities (or) contests are predominantly determined by the skill of the participants.”

On the other hand, the law banning betting on games of skill “contemplates traditional Vegas-style sports betting,” Young said. 

Even so, both the tide of public opinion and the law may be turning when it comes to sports wagering.

Last Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard argument in the state of New Jersey’s challenge to a 1992 federal law that prohibits states from allowing gambling on sports. Some court watchers think the high court will eventually rule for the states.

Another 2006 federal law banned online gambling but specifically exempted fantasy sports, paving the way for the creation of the niche industry that’s since exploded in popularity.

But opponents have pointed to a 26-year-old opinion by then-Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth.

It says “operation of a fantasy sports league” violates state gambling law. Such opinions don’t have the force of law, but can be used to persuade judges.

The Legislature opens the next Session on Jan. 9.

Richard Corcoran steps into sanctuary city ‘dust up’

House Speaker Richard Corcoran elbowed into a social media “spat” between Adam Putnam and Andrew Gillum about immigration, saying they’re both on the wrong side of the amnesty debate.

“Ironic to see a dust up between these two on immigration, since they’ve both supported #amnesty for illegal immigrants. Call it amnesty or sanctuary cities, both defy our rule of law and make the nation (and Florida) less safe. #TwoSidesOfTheSameCoin,” Corcoran tweeted Thursday.

Corcoran is widely expected to jump into the governor’s race after the 2018 Legislative Session.

Earlier this week, Putnam – the term-limited Agriculture Commissioner and Republican candidate for governor – tweeted, “Thanks for the Half True, @PolitiFactFL. @AndrewGillum wants to make Florida a sanctuary state. That WILL NOT happen on my watch. #FloridaFirst.”

Gillum – the mayor of Tallahassee and Democratic candidate for governor – shot back in a tweet, “Half true & all racist is nothing to be proud of, Commissioner. I’m proud to stand up for all people – precisely what Floridians expect of their leaders.”

(Putnam since responded, also on Twitter, “It’s really unfortunate that we can’t have a public dialogue about policy without insults. Sanctuary cities are dangerous and have no place in the state of Florida. That’s a fact.”)

The issue has roiled conservatives most recently because of the case of 32-year-old Kate Steinle, who was shot and killed by an undocumented immigrant in San Francisco two years ago. Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was acquitted last week on state murder and manslaughter charges, but was soon charged on other counts in federal court.

On Friday, Corcoran followed up his tweet with a web ad across his social platforms.

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