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Tropiflora seeks holdup of new medical marijuana implementing bill

A Florida nursery that previously filed a protest over the Department of Health’s award of medical marijuana licenses is back in court this week.

Tropiflora LLC of Sarasota is asking a judge to delay enforcement of part of the state’s new medical marijuana implementing bill, passed during the recent Special Session. The company filed a motion Monday in Leon County Circuit Civil court.

Specifically, it’s asking for a “stay” of the section of the law‘s “medical marijuana treatment center” licensing scheme. The nursery says the department “wrongfully refused” to consider its license application.

The state law, in effect now, grandfathers in seven existing providers, renames them “medical marijuana treatment centers” (MMTCs) and requires the Department of Health to license 10 new providers by October. The bill also allows four new MMTCs for every increase of 100,000 patients prescribed marijuana.

It limits the number of retail locations each MMTC can open to 25 across the state, and divides that cap by region. As the patient count goes up, five more locations can be opened per provider for every new 100,000 patients in the state’s Medical Marijuana Use Registry. The limits expire in 2020.

In late 2015, Tropiflora was one of the first three nurseries to move against the state over the licensing of growers of medical marijuana. San Felasco Nurseries of Gainesville and Perkins Nursery of LaBelle also filed protests.

At that time, only five licenses were awarded to grow medicinal pot, to Hackney Nursery Co. (northwest region), Chestnut Hill Tree Farm (northeast), Knox Nursery (central), Alpha Foliage (southwest), and Costa Nursery Farms (southeast).

TropiFlora objected because four of the five licenses went to nurseries that also sat on the department’s “negotiated rulemaking” committee, records show.

In 2014, lawmakers passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a measure legalizing 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.

A three-member panel of state officials in DOH was tasked with selecting five approved pot providers out of 28 nurseries that turned in applications.

Since then, state voters approved a constitutional amendment on medicinal cannabis last year. Lawmakers approved and Scott also signed an implementing bill, which gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

A hearing on Tropiflora’s motion was set for Thursday before Circuit Judge Karen Gievers; we’ll update as we get more information. Tallahassee attorney Steve Andrews is representing the nursery.


Former South Florida lawmaker suspended from practicing law

Attorney and former state Rep. Phillip J. Brutus, the first Haitian-American elected to the Legislature, has been suspended from practicing law for one year, The Florida Bar announced Thursday.

The suspension became effective June 3. Brutus, of Lauderdale Lakes, also will be on probation for two years after his reinstatement, according to a disciplinary order by the Florida Supreme Court.

He was further ordered to reimburse the Bar for costs of $11,787.50, records show.

“In handling a (divorce) proceeding, Brutus disbursed funds from the former husband to the client and himself, and the remainder to costs, without a court order or settlement agreement indicating how the money would be disbursed,” the Bar’s press release said.

“A Bar audit also found that Brutus did not properly maintain his trust account in accordance with rules,” it added. “Between July and September 2010, there were at least three overdrafts.”

“A lawyer who receives funds that belong to a client must first place those funds in a trust account separate from the lawyer’s own money,” a LexisNexis white paper explained.

Brutus, who served in the House 2000-06 as a Democrat from North Miami, has been running “unsuccessful races for County Commission, Florida Senate and Congress since 2006,” the Miami Herald has reported.

Most recently, he ran for the Senate District 38 seat last year, now held by Daphne Campbell. Brutus was first admitted to law practice in Florida in 1987.

Florida Taxwatch survey finds Florida voters unaware of Constitution Revision Commission

Few Floridians appear to be aware of the Constitution Revision Commission, according to a new survey meant gauge how much Florida voters know about the process.

A new survey from Florida TaxWatch found 77 percent of Florida voters said they haven’t heard about recent Constitution Revision Commission meetings. Another 13 percent of respondents, according to the survey, said they only saw, read or heard “a little” about the commission’s activities.

Those findings come after months of public hearings across the state to get input from Floridians on issues important to them. According to the TaxWatch, about 2,350 citizens have attended the meetings, and more than 900 Floridians have addressed the commission on a variety of issues.

The live phone survey of 527 registered voters was conducted by Tallahassee-based Cherry Communications from June 7 through June 15. The survey has a margin of error of 4.23 percent.

The survey found that 75 percent of respondents who said they heard a lot, some or even a little about the Constitution Revision Commission said they also haven’t seen any editorials regarding the group’s public hearings. According to the survey, 19 percent said they had seen editorials on the commission’s activities.

There was a bit of good news for the panel, which convenes every 20 years to review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document. The survey found that more than 50 percent of respondents supported the idea of convening a commission ever 20 years to update the Constitution.

Southwest drops 2 Cuban routes, citing performance, ban

Southwest Airlines Co. says it will drop flights to two Cuban destinations, citing its struggles to attract passengers and a tougher U.S. stance toward the island nation.

Dallas-based Southwest on Wednesday announced service to Varadero and Santa Clara, Cuba, will end Sept. 4. It will continue to fly to Havana from Fort Lauderdale and Tampa.

President Donald Trump this month announced he’s reversing some of the warmer ties with Cuba that were initiated by the Obama administration.

A Southwest vice president, Steve Goldberg, says the decision to drop Varadero and Santa Clara comes after an analysis of performance the past few months that leaves no clear path to sustainability in the markets. Goldberg also cited the continuing U.S. prohibition on tourism to Cuba for Americans.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Keith Perry draws first Democratic opponent in SD 8

A Democrat has filed to run against Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry in 2018, according to Florida Division of Elections records.

Olysha Eva Magruder opened up her campaign account June 22 and is, so far, the only candidate running against Perry, who served three terms in the House and runs a roofing company in Alachua County.

Senate District 8 was one of the top targets for Democrats last year after redistricting all left-leaning Alachua County part of the same district, but despite rolling out former Florida Senator and local political heavyweight Rod Smith and throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars of party money at the race Perry won by 5 points on Election Day.

The first-term senator is off to a good start on the fundraising trail this cycle, with just over $100,000 on hand at the end of May, but that number could easily balloon if he finds himself in a competitive race down the stretch next year.

Whether Magruder is able to compete at that level remains to be seen. Her first campaign finance report is not due until mid-July.

Magruder has a Ph.D. in education from the University of Florida and has held teaching positions at Alachua County public schools as well as Santa Fe College and the University of Florida.

Though she hasn’t run for office before, Magruder made local news last month as the leader of a group who showed up at Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho’s Gainesville office to protest his vote for the AHCA, the House Republican bill to replace the Affordable Care Act.

During their visit, the protesters drew a chalk outline of a body in front of Yoho’s office and wrote “Save the ACA” and “No Yoho 2018.”

Magruder said the was meant to symbolize a person dying after losing their health care, but the move put staffers on edge after a flood of threats, angry calls and vandalism had come flooding into the office after Yoho’s vote.

In addition to Alachua, SD 8 includes Putnam County and the northern half of Marion County. About 46 percent of voters in the district are registered Democrats, while 34 percent are registered Republicans.

Only a few tenths of a point separated Hillary Clinton and President Donald Trump in the district, the smallest margin of any of Florida’s 40 Senate districts, and Perry outperformed Trump by 5 points.

Jack Latvala: ‘It is very possible I end up announcing something in the near future’

Sen. Jack Latvala didn’t use an appearance at the Tiger Bay Club of Southwest Florida to announce a 2018 gubernatorial bid.

Then again, he didn’t use it to quash any rumors about his plans for the future.

“We have several members of the press here today, so if I was to specifically make an announcement, then there wouldn’t be a reason for them to come to an announcement if I had one,” said the Clearwater Republican when asked what was in his future.

“I will say this: I have been involved in government in Tallahassee for a long time. I think I know the good and the bad, how many things happen and how to solve problems,” he said. “As I look at being term limited in the Senate, I obviously think about giving it a go and seeing what I can do. It is very possible I end up announcing something in the near future.”

Latvala, the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, is believed to be considering a run for governor in 2018. If he decides to run, he’ll join Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the GOP race to replace Gov. Rick Scott. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and House Speaker Richard Corcoran are also believed to be considering a run.

 “If I do it, it’s going to be based on the same principles that I’ve conducted myself. There might be some yelling, but mostly how I conduct myself is straight talk,” he said. “If people ask me a question, I give an answer. If I give somebody my word, I keep it. I work hard, and I think that’s what we need to have in our public officials at every level. I’m not going to be the best looking candidate, I’m not gonna be the slimmest candidate, but I think there’s not many jobs in government that I couldn’t do.”

When asked was going into making his final decision, Latvala said it wasn’t as much about making the final decision, but having enough time to make sure he could tell everyone he’s worked with over the years what his decision will be.

“There’s a lot of preparation that goes into it,” he said. “I want to do it right.”

While Latvala’s political future was on many people’s mind Wednesday, it wasn’t the only reason Latvala attended the Tiger Bay Club of Southwest Florida’s meeting. He was also on hand to discuss the 2017 Legislative Session, as well as the special session that followed.

Latvala called the 2017 Session “the worst one” in his years in the Legislature.

“We had, without a doubt, a tough session this year. By far, it was the worst one in my opinion. It was the least fun,” he said. “I think people are letting egos get in the way of their good judgement. They’re worried about their owned advancement, they’re worried about their own philosophy.”

Still, Latvala pointed to some achievements during the 2017 Session, including a legislation backed by Senate President Joe Negron to build additional water storage south of Lake Okeechobee, which will help alleviate discharges into the Calooshatchee River. He also touted money for beach renourishment projects and pay raises for state workers, both of which were personal priorities during the 2017 Legislative Session.

And Latvala said he was among those members who were concerned with the way the Session ended, with several big bills being negotiated behind the scenes.

“I hope we learned our lesson,” he said. “I think the Senate is not doing thing that way next year, people expect us to debate things on merit.”


Jeremy Ring praises Rick Scott for vetoing bill gutting Florida’s state tech agency

Among the five bills Gov. Rick Scott vetoed Tuesday was one that would have weakened Florida’s Agency for State Technology.

Scott’s veto earned some praise from Jeremy Ring, the former Yahoo executive and state senator who is running for Chief Financial Officer in 2018.

“For ten years, I worked to ensure that IT infrastructure was fortified and all sensitive data the State collects on individuals was secure,” Ring said in a statement Tuesday. “My first year out of office, the Legislature attempted to gut the Agency for State Technology, putting in peril the personal data of millions of Floridians.”

The legislation, sponsored by Spring Hill Republican Blaise Ingoglia, would have reduced the agency’s ”“top-heavy” management structure, eliminating “the deputy executive director, chief planning officer, chief operations officer, and chief technology officer.”

It also called for the agency’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) to have 10 years of executive management experience.

As FloridaPolitics.com James Rosica reports, the agency came under fire after an audit released last winter by Sherill F. Norman‘s office.

According to the audit, the agency failed to “review user access privileges for the mainframe, open systems environments, and the network domains,” kept an inaccurate “inventory of IT resources at the State Data Center,” and “State Data Center backup tape records were not up-to-date and some backup tapes could not be located and identified.”

Jason Allison, the agency’s Chief Financial Officer, resigned shortly after the audit became public.

Ring strongly supported the creation of a state IT agency, which was signed into law in 2014. Until then, Florida was the largest state in the nation without a CIO.

As reported in Government Technology, Florida’s IT agencies faced considerable challenges at the hands of the state’s Legislature to this point. In 2005, the Florida State Technology Office was shuttered after lawmakers cut funding. And in 2012, Scott pulled the Agency for Enterprise Information Technology, rather than allowing it to stand in title and function without funding.

Ring is the only major Democrat to enter the 2018 CFO race so far. The Broward County resident will publish a memoir about his time at Yahoo in the fall.

Chris King picks up Nick Duran’s endorsement in Democrats’ governor race

Chris King’s performance in the Democratic candidates’ gubernatorial forum earlier this month in Fort Lauderdale apparently won him the backing of at least one South Florida lawmaker, state Rep. Nicholas Duran of Miami.

Duran, a freshman who emerged in this year’s Legislative Session as a leading voice for the Democrats on health care policy and anti-addition policy, announced his endorsement of King Wednesday morning, through King’s campaign.

“Chris’s performance during the Gubernatorial Forum last week confirmed what I’ve known for months now: that he can go toe-to-toe with the eventual Republican nominee and win the economic debate,” Duran stated in a news release issued by King’s campaign.

Before anyone can face the eventual Republican nominee, King faces former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for the Democratic nomination to run for governor in 2018. The trio shared a stage at the Democrats’ Leadership Blue Gala in Fort Lauderdale. Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam is the only major Republican in the race.

“Chris King is the candidate for governor who can bring a truly fresh approach to politics,” Duran continued. “His values and record as a progressive entrepreneur will energize Florida’s economy and create new opportunity for small businesses and workers across the state. I’m proud to announce my endorsement of Chris King for governor. I look forward to working with him and his team in the coming months to move our party and state forward.”

Duran was the lead sponsor of House Bill 557 – The Controlled Substance Prescribing Act. Working with Democratic state Sen. Jeff Clemens, Duran passed the bill with overwhelming support from both chambers to help combat Florida’s opioid epidemic by modernizing the state’s prescription drug monitoring program.

“I’m thrilled to have the support of such an energetic and solutions-oriented leader here in Miami,” King stated in the release. “Rep. Duran has been a strong advocate for some of the most pressing issues facing the community, including health care and prescription drug abuse prevention. I’m looking forward to collaborating with him on these issues and others here in Miami and across the state so we can work together to lift up Florida’s hardworking families.”

Florida death penalty is in ‘chaos,’ former justice says

When death penalty trials finally resume in Florida—including retrials of overturned old cases—the system will be pure “chaos,” a retired Florida Supreme Court justice said Tuesday.

Gerald Kogan, who served on the court 1987-98, was one of several speakers who participated in a phone briefing organized by the nonpartisan Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Last January, the U.S. Supreme Court in Hurst v. Florida struck down Florida’s capital punishment scheme because it “require(d) not the jury but a judge to make the critical findings necessary to impose the death penalty.”

The state Supreme Court later ruled in October that a jury’s recommendation for a death sentence must be unanimous.

In cases where prisoners have been on death row for many years, new trials will be unsettling because there will be a need to go back and dig up lots of information as well as find relevant witnesses, Kogan said.

He added that will also be the case when re-doing the penalty phase to determine if the evidence against a particular defendant means they get a life sentence or the death penalty.

Adding to the mix for new juries is that there may now be additional evidence discovered between the first trial and the re-sentencing hearing.

“Every new penalty phase is going to have to be re-investigated and presented in full,” said Scott Sundby, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law.

“There will not be an ability to simply rely on the prior penalty phase, because the Supreme Court … has come down with a number of decisions as to what is considered mitigation, arguing for a sentence less than death,” he added.

“As we know, Florida has gotten its hand slapped a couple of times, because it had too much of a restrictive view of what constitutes intellectual disability.”

Every defense attorney will have to have a ‘mitigation specialist,’ Sundby said, who will go back and look at evidence before the trial, and evidence about the defendant’s mental health since he’s been on death row.

Juanita Perez, whose son Benjamin Hamilton and granddaughter Ivory were murdered by Justin Heyne, called the current situation “horrible.”

Heyne, convicted and sentenced to death in Brevard County in 2009, is expected to get a new sentencing hearing because the jury’s recommendation in his case was not unanimous.

“I want to throw up. Are you kidding me?” Perez said, regarding what lies ahead in many cases. “I don’t understand how this could have gotten so far.”

As of Tuesday, there were 362 inmates on death row in Florida, according to the Department of Corrections.

VISIT FLORIDA board approves $76 million marketing plan, but questions overall goal

With its full state funding finally secured, VISIT FLORIDA’s board of directors approved a $76 million marketing plan for 2017-’18 that pours far more of the state money into core marketing programs than before, all but eliminates sponsorships, and pares down administrative costs backed by the state money.

In a conference call meeting Tuesday, the attending members voted unanimously for the plan that puts $39 million, more than half of the state money approved earlier this month, into marketing efforts for North American visitors; another $11 million aimed at four international markets, the United Kingdom, China, Brazil, and Germany; and another $15 million into various other marketing efforts, ranging from welcome stations at the state lines to $1 million specifically earmarked for a Veterans for Florida program.

Various board and VISIT FLORIDA staff members occasionally yet only briefly acknowledged that the state’s official tourism marketing corporation dodged a bullet this spring after Speaker Richard Corcoran led an effort seeking to cut state funding to to just $25 million, out of concerns of lack of transparency and accountability and questionable spending last year. The $76 million was restored only through the legislative deal struck during the special session three weeks ago, between Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott, who, himself, late last year, fired and replaced the last VISIT FLORIDA president and other top executives, and issued a list of reform demands for the organization.

“I truly believe in my heart of hearts this is VISIT FLORIDA 2.0,” said Interim Chief Marketing Officer Nelson Mongiovi.

The plan approved Tuesday eliminates $11 million from the sponsorship pool of money, and reduces the administrative costs charged to the state by $5 million. All of that was pushed into the various marketing programs, particularly into the international marketing program.

Yet the bottom line goal of the marketing program was doubted and debated throughout Tuesday’s meeting.

Mongiovi set forth a goal of reaching 120 million visitors in calendar year 2017, which would be an 6 percent increase from the record 113 million that Florida attracted last year. Various board members raised concerns over whether that 120 million number was realistic, given some concerns about a potentially softening international market, and given the six months of 2017 in which VISIT FLORIDA found itself in turmoil, shedding staff and potentially losing momentum, while it awaited its fate and the prospect of huge state cuts.

“If I were betting on my private business, I would put it as an aspirational goal but certainly not as a realistic goal, just so we don’t get caught by someone saying, ‘Did you hit 120 million visitors?'” said Gene Prescott of The Biltmore Hotel. “If we can hit it, that’s fantastic. But I think it’s optimistic.”

The goal wasn’t changed, but it was downplayed. Mongiovi and others insisted repeatedly that VISIT FLORIDA’s main goal is to improve the yield of visitors – that is, to attract more of the kind of visitors who spend lots of money. That’s one reason for the increased marketing money going into the international markets. They also discussed their desire to replace or add to the total visitors’ goal with a goal that reflects economic impact dollars.

“I’m focusing on yield. Having the right visitors matter,” said VISIT FLORIDA President Ken Lawson.


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