Florida Legislature Archives - Florida Politics

Florida’s cost for losing lawsuits keeps growing

Florida’s price tag for losing legal battles – which has included courtroom fights over drug testing, voting rights and gay marriage – continues to grow under Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott recently agreed to pay $1.1 million to cover the legal bills of physicians and medical organizations in their successful challenge of a law that restricted doctors’ ability to talk to patients about guns. The law had been pushed through the Florida Legislature at the urging of the National Rifle Association.

In early July, the state also agreed to a $2 million payment that will go to lawyers who sued on behalf of disabled inmates.

A review of records by The Associated Press shows that since Scott took office in 2011 the state has paid at least $19 million to cover expenses and fees for lawyers who have sued the state. Many of those lawsuits took aim at policies put in place by Scott and the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The Scott administration has defended the legal expenses in the past, saying the governor will “vigorously defend” Florida’s laws.

In February a federal appeals court ruled that Florida doctors can talk to patients about gun safety, declaring a law aimed at restricting such discussions a violation of the First Amendment’s right to free speech. The state did not appeal the decision and in late June reached a settlement to pay $1.1 million for attorney fees and costs.

One of the firms involved in the lawsuit – Ropes & Gray – announced it would donate $100,000 of its fee award to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

“This award is a message to states to think twice before enacting or defending laws that put lives at risk just to boost the gun industry’s bottom line,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, in a statement.

John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, defended the state’s fight over the law. He said the governor was a “strong supporter” of the 2nd Amendment and that he signed the bill “after it was approved by a large, bipartisan majority in the Florida Legislature.”

Earlier this month, the state agreed to pay $2 million to cover the fees and costs for groups that sued the state in 2016 over its treatment of inmates with hearing, vision and mobility disabilities.

Randall Berg with the Florida Justice Institute said the money will go to reimbursing the institute, Disability Rights Florida, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and the well-known personal injury law firm Morgan & Morgan. John Morgan is a frequent Democratic donor and has been speculating about running for governor next year.

In the last six years, the state has agreed to pay attorney fees of lawyers who have sued the state over everything from employee discrimination to drug testing of welfare recipients.

The total includes $12 million paid to attorneys who represented pediatricians in a more than 10-year legal battle over whether Florida violated federal mandates by failing to deliver critical health services to 2 million children on Medicaid.

The state also paid more than $800,000 to lawyers working for the American Civil Liberties Union and nearly $513,000 to lawyers who defeated a state law targeting businesses doing business in Cuba.

An AP review found that between 2011 and early 2017 that Florida had spent more than $237 million on outside lawyers hired to defend the state.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Squeezed: Supreme Court denies challenge of citrus veto

The Florida Supreme Court Thursday dismissed a challenge of Gov. Rick Scott‘s veto of reimbursements to homeowners whose healthy citrus trees were torn down by the state.

The homeowners had asked the court to undo Scott’s veto of more than $37 million by filing a petition for writ of mandamus, an order to an elected official to perform a certain action.

In a 6-1 decision, the court declined, mentioning lower court actions that had been filed.

“Because the governor’s constitutional line-item veto authority at issue in this case is a part of the process that results in ‘an appropriation made by law,’ we hereby dismiss this petition without prejudice to seek redress in pending circuit court actions,” the order said.

The Republican-controlled Legislature agreed to pay homeowners in both Broward and Lee counties whose trees were torn down in a failed attempt to eradicate citrus canker, “a bacterial disease of citrus that causes premature leaf and fruit drop,” according to the state’s Agriculture Department.

The money was to pay off judgments that had been won against the state. The remaining “pending” actions seek to compel that payment.

Justice Barbara Pariente “reluctantly” agreed, saying “the petitioners (had) obtained final judgments, the validity of which are not contested,” and “the Governor’s veto was based on misinformation that the litigation in these cases was still ongoing when that was not the case.”

Though she said the court undoing a veto “is not legally permissible,” Pariente added that the “petitioners have the right to full compensation. The time has come for the state to pay up.”

Justice R. Fred Lewis dissented: “(F)ull and complete compensation when private property is taken by a government is a foundational cornerstone of this democracy.”

The U.S. constitution promises “…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation,” and the state constitution says “no private property shall be taken except for a public purpose and with full compensation … paid to each owner.”

“This is not a game and our citizens should not be toyed with as if a yo-yo, and yet that is exactly what this veto accomplishes,” Lewis wrote.

“Now, with the opportunity to stop this ten-year game of yo-yo, this court abdicates its responsibility when it allows state actors to disregard their constitutional obligation by playing further games of delay and obfuscation. Justice demands that it stop now.”

Scott spokesman John Tupps called the matter “unfortunate.”

“Gov. Scott sincerely understands their concern,” Tupps said in a statement. “Due to ongoing litigation, the $37.4 million in the budget was not approved. We are hopeful that all litigation regarding this issue will be completely resolved, allowing the issue to be addressed comprehensively across the state.”

(Background material provided by The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.)

New College of Florida to request $3.6M from state as part of three-year growth plan

New College of Florida will request more than $3.6 million from the Florida Legislature in fiscal 2018 to help continue its effort to grow enrollment.

The New College of Florida board of trustees on Monday voted to approve its fiscal 2018-19 legislative budget request. The 2018 request includes a single item — more than $3.63 million to fund the second year of a three-year plan to grow enrollment to 1,200 and increase four-year graduation rates.

Founded in 1960, the Sarasota college had a total enrollment of 861 students in the fall of 2015. While the school is recognized as one of the nation’s leading liberal arts schools, New College officials have said the school’s small size could be hampering its success.

“Outside the Claremont consortium, ever liberal arts college ranked in the top 40 has at least 1,200 students,” according to a staff report to the school’s board of trustees. “With fewer students, it becomes difficult to sustain the broad range of academic disciplines common to high-quality to sustain the institutions and the activities to student development.”

The requested funding, according to a staff analysis, will “support strategic initiatives in three key areas: academic excellence, student development and infrastructure.

According to a staff analysis, the second year of funding will increase the enrollment target by an additional 150 students by 2023 and the four-year graduation rate by an additional 6 percent for the 2023 entering cohort.

The second year of funding will, among other things, provide for:

— 15 additional faculty lines and administrative support to increase capacity for the second phase of enrollment growth;

— A summer research program for third- and fourth- year students to work with faculty in labs or in the field;

— Systems to track student engagement with curricular and co-curricular activities allowing early intervention with at-risk students;

— A disability case manager to track and coordinate support from a variety of college units;

— A psychologist to meet the needs of growing enrollment;

— Two additional police officers to ensure officers are on duty 24/7; and

— One financial aid staffer to meet the needs of growing enrollment and to help recruit and retain top students.

The Legislature approved $5.4 million as part of the fiscal 2017-18 budget to implement the first year of the growth plan. New College of Florida will supplement that funding with a goal of $3 million in private fundraising.

The first year of the three-year growth plan was unanimously approved by the Board of Governors as a system-wide priority last year, and school officials said Monday they are hopeful the second year of funding will be a system-wide priority this year.

Personnel note: Kim McDougal joins GrayRobinson lobbying team

Kim McDougal, Gov. Rick Scott‘s former chief of staff, is joining GrayRobinson‘s Tallahassee office as a Senior Director of Government Affairs, the law firm announced Friday.

“Kim brings tremendous insight and invaluable experience to our firm, and will also substantially increase our expertise in the education policy and appropriations areas,” said Jason Unger, managing partner of the Tallahassee office. “The breadth of her governmental experience cannot be underestimated as a resource to our clients.”

She “will advise and lobby for clients in all sectors on both policy and appropriations issues, while she continues her passion by also focusing on education-related issues,” a press release said.

“Her experience at the highest level in state government provided her in-depth knowledge on both policy and appropriation issues as well as how state government functions and how to effectively navigate through Florida’s entire state government.”

McDougal, who was chief of staff from April 2016 to May of this year, was Scott’s fifth chief of staff since he took office in 2011, following, in order: Mike Prendergast, Steve MacNamaraAdam Hollingsworth, and Melissa Sellers (now Stone). Former communications director Jackie Schutz is now chief of staff.

Our story from March 2016 when McDougal was hired is here. Her last reported yearly salary with the state was $170,000.

Here’s the rest of the release:

McDougal began her public service career with the State of Florida in 1989 as a program auditor with the Office of the Auditor General, and she later worked for the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability.

During her 10 years with the Florida Legislature, she worked on a wide array of policy areas, but the majority of her policy work focused on K-20 education policy. McDougal has worked as a senior advisor or in a leadership role for many of Florida’s Education Commissioners.

She also worked for Gov. Jeb Bush in several roles within the Executive Office of the Governor, including the Policy Coordinator for Education in the Office of Planning and Budget.

McDougal served Gov. Scott’s administration for almost four years, beginning as a special advisor on education, then serving as Policy Coordinator for Education in the Office of Planning and Budget, then joining the Senior Leadership Team as Policy Director and subsequently serving as Legislative Affairs Director.

While serving as Scott’s Chief of Staff, McDougal was responsible for directly serving and advising the Governor and regarding the over 100,000 executive branch employees and the administration of an $83 billion state budget.

She graduated from the Louise S. McGehee School, a private all-girls school in New Orleans, then got her bachelor’s degree from Tulane University and her master’s and doctoral degrees from the Florida State University College of Education.

McDougal has resided in Tallahassee since 1984.

Legislative leaders announce committee week schedule

Florida lawmakers will head back to Tallahassee in mid-September to kick-off the 2018 Legislative Session.

Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran outlined the interim committee week schedule in memos to their respective members Thursday. The schedule, as it stands right now, includes one week in September, two weeks in October and November, and one in December.

The first week of committee meetings begins on or after 1 p.m. on Sept. 12. Members will then return for meetings during the week of Oct. 9 and Oct. 23.

They’ll be back in Tallahassee for meetings during the week of Nov.6, but both Negron and Corcoran note “meetings will conclude prior to the observance of the Veterans’ Day holiday” on Friday, Nov. 10. Members will be asked to return to the capital city for committee meetings during the week of Nov. 13.

The only committee week scheduled in December is during the week of Dec. 4.

According to Negron’s memo, travel to Tallahassee is authorized for senators and one member of district staff beginning on Sunday of each week of scheduled committee meetings. Travel from Tallahassee back to the district is authorized at the conclusion of the meeting.

The 2018 Legislative Session begins at noon on Jan. 8. The annual 60-day Session is scheduled to end on March 9.

Jose Javier Rodriguez: We’re being called back to bless backroom deal

Democrats staked out their contempt for the stated purpose of the Legislature’s Special Session today with state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriquez saying lawmakers are being called in to bless a backroom deal to give the governor a slush fund.

Rodriguez, of Miami, and state Rep. Shevrin Jones of West Park decried what they described as a cynical process for Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislative leaders to get what they want in exchange for $2015 million in education funding that already had been stripped away from public schools and routed to charter schools in House Bill 7069.

The special session begins this afternoon and is scheduled to run through Friday. Scott called the session to also 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.

Rodriguez called the Florida Job Growth Fund a “slush fund” for the governor.

“We’re coming up here basically because we’re being asked to bless a deal that has been cut,” Rodriguez charged.

“One of the things being done with respect to our economic development program is creating this job growth program, which looks more like a slush fund than anything else, $85 million, that is not subject to scrutiny that we are going to be increasing on Enterprise Florida,” Rodriguez added. “It basically is the governor’s pot of money to do with what he will.”

Jones took aim at the education funding and HB 7069, which was passed on the last day of the Legislative Session and awaits transmittal to the governor’s office. That bill, he charged, was created without transparency “at its worst.”

He and Rodriguez characterized the Special Session as a waste of time and money and not good for Florida residents. But Rodriguez acknowledged that could change if medical marijuana is scheduled, as FloridaPolitics.com reported earlier Wednesday will happen.

“If we are being called up here to enact the will of the voters, yeah, sure, that’s a reason to have a Special Session,” he said.

Split appeal court upholds Rick Scott’s 2015 veto of firefighters’ $2,000 raise

The governor’s constitutional authority to veto budget line items trumps a state law requiring him to bow to the Legislature when it resolves labor collective bargaining impasses, a divided 1st District Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

The majority conceded that, under the state Labor Code, “any actions taken by the Legislature shall bind the parties” — meaning a public employee union and the governor.

“Based primarily on a statute, appellant asks us to recognize a limitation on the governor’s constitutional authority to review the (General Appropriations Act), even though the Constitution explicitly allows the governor to veto the GAA or ‘any specific appropriation in a general appropriation bill,’ ” Timothy Osterhaus wrote for the majority.

“We cannot accept appellant’s invitation. The Florida Constitution clearly articulates the governor’s authority to veto the GAA, or specific appropriations therein. It authorized him to veto the raise appropriation here,” the court said.

“That appellant’s members possess constitutional collective bargaining rights does not alter the governor’s constitutional authority with respect to the GAA. … The governor’s action in this case comported with his constitutional authority.”

Judge Harvey Jay also signed the majority opinion.

The dispute involved Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of a $2,000 raise the Legislature OK’d for members of the International Association of Firefighters Local S-20 — representing the Florida Forest Service — for the fiscal year that began on July 1, 2015.

In a dissent, Judge Bradford Thomas noted that the Florida Constitution also enshrines public employees’ right to bargain collectively.

“Here, the public employees’ argument should prevail, which would not otherwise significantly impair the governor’s general veto authority and properly harmonizes conflicting provisions of organic law,” Thomas wrote.

He cited the principle that, “if possible, amendments to the Constitution should be construed so as to harmonize with other constitutional provisions, but if this cannot be done, the amendment being the last expression of the will of the people will prevail.”

Otherwise, he wrote, the right to collective bargaining is “eviscerated.” Persuading majorities in the House and Senate to approve a salary increase is “herculean,” but requiring the supermajorities necessary to override a veto “in essence holds that public employees have no effective constitutional right to collective bargaining.”

Thomas suggested vetoes of such line items might be justified by “a compelling public interest, such as a budgetary emergency.”

He cited precedents through which the Florida Supreme Court refused to allow the Legislature rescind a pay raise it had approved for university faculty, or to force a contract approved by a governor to bind the Legislature.

“The question at issue here is whether the governor, by using his veto power, may unilaterally vacate the Legislature’s decision to resolve a collective-bargaining impasse,” Thomas wrote. “Based on logic, precedent, and the constitutional basis of public employees’ collective bargaining rights, the correct answer is no.”

Aramis Ayala defends death penalty position, asserts budget cut will hit key programs

Orlando’s reform-pledging yet controversial State Attorney Aramis Ayala defended her anti-death penalty position as “evidence based” and charged that the Florida Legislature’s $1.3 million cut to her budget will hamper anti-human trafficking and domestic violence prosecutions.

In a feature published Thursday morning by Orlando-Rising.com, a sister website to FloridaPolitics.com, the rookie state attorney representing Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit also reiterated her earlier statements that she has had nothing to do with Democratic political rainmaker George Soros, who ran an independent campaign on her behalf last summer; and that she believes Gov. Rick Scott reassigned 23 first-degree murder cases from her “solely based on his own political beliefs.”

“I know the ‘death penalty’ is extremely controversial and evokes emotion from both people who are for and against it. As I stated on steps of Orange County Courthouse when I made my announcement, what is NOT controversial is the evidence that led me to my decision,” Ayala stated in a written interview with Orlando-Rising.com, part of the ongoing “OR Conversations” weekly feature, highlighting the thoughts and views of newsmakers.

The feature, which involved Ayala providing written responses to written questions, marks the most comprehensive public statements Ayala has made since her March 16 announcement that she had decided that Florida’s capital punishment laws are unjust to all, and she would not pursue them. That announcement had led to a firestorm of political, social, legislative, and legal responses, some of which she told Orlando-Rising.com she anticipated, and some of which she did not.

“What I did not anticipate is the governor overstepping his authority by inserting himself in a prosecutorial decision and removing 23 cases from my office,” Ayala stated. “I believe what Gov. Scott has done is an attack on the U.S. Constitution, the Florida Constitution, the rule of law, the separation of powers and our criminal justice system. Scott’s move is unprecedented and solely based on his own political beliefs.”

She and the governor are locked in litigation battles, in the Florida Supreme Court, and in U.S. District Court, over her decision to not seek death penalties, and his subsequent decision to reassign her first-degree murder cases to other state attorneys.

“I did not anticipate the Legislature cutting my office budget $1.3 million dollars and eliminating 21 positions from my office. This move will severely impact this agency’s ability to effectively prosecute crimes, threaten public safety and ultimately have an economic impact on the central Florida community.

“I also did not anticipate racist responses including someone sending a noose to my office because they disagree with how my administration will handle death penalty cases,” added Ayala, the first African American known to be elected to the position of state attorney anywhere in Florida, in history.

Ayala went into great detail on how she fears the $1.3 million cut in her 2018 budget could affect her office’s ability to prosecute human trafficking and domestic violence cases, two special programs she campaigned for, the first of which had received a special $1.4 million appropriation in 2017. Her response essentially included position statements she provided the Florida Legislature. For the sake of their newsworthiness, Orlando-Rising.com decided to publish them in their entirety, even though they went beyond the normal bounds of brevity the OR Conversations feature requests of its newsmaker subjects.

The Florida Legislature had argued that the $1.3 million should and will follow the reassigned first-degree murder cases to the receiving state attorney, which, in the case of the currently-reassigned 23 cases, is Brad King of Florida’s 5th Judicial Circuit. But Ayala challenged that logic, arguing that money already automatically follows reassigned cases, so that what the legislature did was essentially charge her for those cases twice.

“My office will also be footing the bill for every single case Scott removed from this office,” she stated. “Florida Statute 27.15 requires all expenses and costs incurred by any gubernatorial re-assignment to be paid for by the circuit receiving the assistance. As such, the 9th Circuit will pay any and all costs and expenses as required by law from its existing budget appropriation.

“The impact of cutting $1.3 million and eliminating 21 positions will have a devastating effect on existing efforts to prosecute widespread human trafficking and domestic violence offenders in this circuit,” she added.

As for Soros’ help during her campaign, Ayala said she appreciated his involvement but that she had nothing to do with him. The New York-based liberal crusader set up an independent campaign fund that spent nearly $1.4 million in the last four weeks of the state attorney’s office primary election campaign, buying TV commercials and mailers blitzing her opponent, then-incumbent State Attorney Jeff Ashton.  The money Soros’ spent on that race through his Florida Safety & Justice political action committee was eight times as much as Ayala’s and Ashton’s official campaigns spent combined.

“I understand that Mr. Soros invested in around a dozen prosecutor campaigns across the country, both Republicans and Democrats as supporters and opponents to the death penalty,” she told Orlando-Rising.com. “He supported candidates like myself who were committed to bringing change and reform to prosecution. My values and goals were very clear before Mr. Soros ever supported my campaign. I appreciate the support he gave, but I never solicited it nor did it change my platform.”

Gil Langley: Post-Session reflection on tourism marketing

Last week, Gov. Rick Scott announced record-breaking tourism numbers in the Sunshine State. It may be the last time for a while. Ignoring extensive research, case studies and pleas from travel industry constituents across the state, the Florida Legislature slashed funding for VISIT Florida by a crippling 67 percent — recklessly jeopardizing the tourism industry’s leading role as a generator of jobs and government revenues.

A $25 million budget to market Florida, one of the world’s top travel destinations, is not conducive to success on any front – job creation, revenue increases or lower taxes for Florida residents. By cutting off funds for advertising, marketing, and promotion, Florida will essentially surrender the gains made over the past several years while global competitors steal market share.

Contrary to assertions made by some elected officials, vacation destinations do not sell themselves. Every great product needs to make potential customers aware of the benefits their product offers – and why it is a better choice than the alternative. That is why California spends more than $100 million every year to market their state, even with well-known major attractions such as Disneyland, Hollywood, the Golden Gate Bridge and great beaches.

Tourism is an incredibly competitive industry. Not only are we competing against 49 other states (some with eight-figure marketing budgets), we are battling destinations across the globe to get the attention of potential visitors. Mexico, the Bahamas and Cuba are thrilled Florida’s travel marketing budget has been reduced, allowing them to gain market share while VISIT Florida goes silent in the marketplace.

These cuts were approved despite warnings from experts in government and the private sector. Detailed case studies about states like Colorado and Washington (who cut tourism marketing, only to lose jobs, revenues and market share) provided a cautionary tale ignored. Prestigious organizations such as Florida TaxWatch conducted economic studies demonstrating VISIT Florida’s return on investment, proving investing in tourism is good public policy.

Our elected officials have demonstrated they know the importance of consistent messaging. Legislators raised $73 million for election campaigns in 2016 – even though 57 seats were uncontested. They spent money to keep the voters informed of the job they do, and explained why they should continue to serve. Reminding vacationers of why Florida is a great choice for their family follows the same principle.

The decision to slash tourism marketing funding and create barriers to VISIT Florida’s success negatively impacts every single Floridian. Less marketing means fewer visitors and fewer visitors means less tax revenue to fund necessary public projects such as schools, beaches, parks, roads and other infrastructure. Even if the entire $61 million cut were dedicated to other programs, the impact would be minimal. For example, according to FDOT, $61 million would construct only 4 miles of urban interstate – in a state with nearly 1,500 miles of interstate. On a larger scale, the $61 million cut from VISIT Florida’s budget would fund state government operations for just five hours out of the year. Invested in marketing the state, however, those same funds would generate over $160 million in new state and local tax revenue that could support transportation, education and senior services. It is also important to note VISIT Florida represents a minuscule portion of the state’s budget, yet any decrease in funding will result in significant ramifications. Even if VISIT Florida were funded at Governor Scott’s recommendation of $100 million, 98.7 percent of the state’s budget would be left for other priorities.

I live and work in the small coastal community of Amelia Island, a community that is twice as dependent on tourism as the average Florida county. We are especially concerned about the budget cuts’ impact to rural communities. To a degree, large urban destinations, mega resorts and world-famous theme parks can rely on global brand recognition, but many of Florida’s hidden gems will be left without the resources to market themselves. For Nassau County, the potential impacts are frightening.

Tourist spending generates 37 percent of the sales taxes generated here. Over 25 percent of the workforce have jobs in the hospitality business. Tourist spending provides a net gain of $40 million to County government, saving every household in the County $2,748 in state and local taxes. If tourism declines, it means fewer jobs, fewer services and potentially increased taxes on residents.

Just as in Nassau County, other hardworking Floridian families will suffer, too. A TaxWatch study analyzed the economic impact of the new tourism promotion budget, and found that reducing funding to $25 million means a loss of at least 5 million tourists. With a 5 percent tourism downturn, every household in Florida would have to be taxed an additional $1,535 a year to replace the lost state and local taxes generated from visitor activity. Perhaps even more disheartening are the 70,000 jobs that will be lost due to fewer visitors.

Our hope is that before tourism losses mount in 2018, legislators will reverse course and fully fund a marketing effort that maintains our status as the Earth’s most popular family destination. If not, jobs will be lost, small businesses will be harmed and tax revenue will be diminished. Objectively evaluating the return on investment clearly proves tourism works for Florida – and supporting it financially is a wise move for all our citizens.

 ___

Gil Langley is chair of the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations, the statewide association representing county tourism promotion agencies.

 

Carlos Guillermo Smith, Amy Mercado say special session needed to end cannabis legal limbo

Saying that the current limbo of law is bad for doctors and patients, Democratic state Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Amy Mercado pleaded with Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Legislature leaders to call a special session to deal with medical marijuana.

“We are here because 71 percent of Florida voters approved the constitutional right to medical cannabis. But we also are here because unfortunately once again Tallahassee politicians have thwarted the will of the people and they have refused to implement Amendment 2, medical cannabis,” said Smith, of Orlando. “They should be ashamed.

“While the out-of-touch, old-fashioned conservative majority in Tallahassee continues its hand-wringing over whether or not cannabis is actual medicine… or whether they can actually get over themselves and listen to the voters, qualified patients are dying, qualified patients are waiting,” he continued. “And there is no question that the governor, the Senate president of the senate and the speaker of the House need to be leaders and officially call for a special session and demand that the Legislature implement the will of the voters immediately.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has called for a special session to pass implementing legislation to fill out the laws for the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative approved by 71 percent of the voters in November. Senate President Joe Negron and Gov. Rick Scott have not. The Florida Legislature failed to pass the implementing bill on the last day of Session earlier this month.

Cannabis activist and author Gary Stein argued that the lack of implementing laws means that the qualifying patients – and the doctors who assist them – are caught in legal “fog” between what should be authorized under Amendment 2 and what little cannabis law and regulation exists based on the 2014 “Charlotte’s Web” bill the Florida Legislature approve.

Mercado, also of Orlando, talked about how her grandmother went through chemical and radiation therapy for stage 4 cancer, and she and the family wanted to try everything and anything. “Had medical cannabis been available, I’m pretty sure we’d have tried that too,” she said. “So we need to make sure, and ensure, that no one gets the way of patient access to medication that makes them feel better.”

Smith and Mercado also called on the Florida Department of Health to lift rules that would not be allowed under Amendment 2, but which slow down or prevent people from using medicines derived from cannabis.

Among them, they called for Florida to:

– Waive the 90-day waiting period for patients to access the medicines after they have been certified as qualified patients.

– “Stay out of the sacred patient-doctor relationship.”

– Stop rules that prevent qualified patients from getting access.

– Protect employees who can be legally fired from their jobs for using medicines derived from cannabis in their homes.

– Expand qualified conditions to include non-malignant chronic pain.

– Open the market to allow more competition, including to minority-owned businesses.

– Allow for smokable cannabis.

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