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July 06, 2017

John Morgan sues to invalidate marijuana implementation because it forbids smoking for medical use

Cannabis samples Juste@MaryEllenKlas

Arguing that Florida legislators violated voters’ intent when they prohibited smoking for the medical use of marijuana, the author of the state's medical marijuana amendment sued the state on Thursday to throw out the implementing law.

John Morgan, the Orlando trial lawyer who spearheaded and financed the successful campaign to make medical access to cannabis a constitutional right, filed the lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Court Thursday morning, asking the court to declare the law implementing the 2016 constitutional amendment unenforceable.

“Inhalation is a medically effective and efficient way to deliver Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and other cannabinoids, to the bloodstream,” wrote Morgan and his lead lawyer, Jon Mills, a constitutional lawyer and former Democratic House speaker, on behalf of Florida for Care Inc., the non-profit formed to promote the initiative.“By redefining the constitutionally defined term ‘medical use' to exclude smoking, the Legislature substitutes its medical judgment for that of ‘a licensed Florida physician’ and is in direct conflict with the specifically articulated Constitutional process,” the lawsuit states.

More than 71 percent of Florida voters approved the amendment in November 2016, the largest percentage of support a medical marijuana initiative has received by popular vote.

The lawsuit argues that the amendment does not prohibit smoking but instead contemplates that smoking would be authorized because it allows the state to prohibit smoking of marijuana for medical purposes in public places.

“The statement unambiguously says that smoking medical marijuana in a private place in compliance with the provisions of the amendment is legal,” the suit states. Story here, 

Photo: In this January 2016 file photo, samples of cannabis are tested for purity inside Modern Health Concepts, a South Florida dispensary for medical marijuana that is producing medicine inside its Redland plant. CARL JUSTE Miami Herald

Lawsuit against HB 7069 looms in Broward; Corcoran calls it 'clueless, arguably heartless'



The bitter fight over new K-12 public school reforms that the Republican-led Legislature approved this spring entered a new stage on Wednesday when the Broward County School Board voted unanimously to challenge the law’s constitutionality in court.

Broward is the first school district to vote to sue over the passage of House Bill 7069, which became law Saturday above passionate objections from school administrators, teachers’ unions and parent groups statewide for its many provisions friendly to charter schools, in some cases, at the expense of traditional public schools.

“I’m in favor of taking aggressive action as soon as we possibly can,” Broward School Board member Rosalind Osgood said during a special board meeting convened solely to authorize Superintendent Robert Runcie to file the legal challenge and to spend up to $25,000 on initial legal fees.

MORE: “Here’s how the controversial new schools law will impact South Florida”

“We’re on life support now, and we have to literally fight for the life of public education in this state,” Osgood said. “If we don’t stand up now, if we miss this opportunity, we’ll never recover from it.”

It’s unclear how soon the lawsuit will be filed.

Broward County’s allegations of unconstitutionality primarily surround how HB 7069 gives charter schools a leg up over traditional public schools through less-restrictive regulations and extra taxpayer funding that make it easier for them to expand.

In a statement to the Herald/Times, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, blasted the Broward School Board for its decision, saying in part: "Not only is it clueless, it is also arguably heartless."

Full story here.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file

July 05, 2017

State settles gambling dispute with Seminole Tribe, becomes $340 million richer


Blackjack will continue uninterrupted at casinos run by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, parimutuels will be ordered to stop offering controversial competing card games, and the State of Florida will have access to more than $340 million in new money, under a settlement agreement reached late Wednesday between the tribe and state regulators.

Under the agreement, the Seminole Tribe has agreed to continue monthly revenue sharing payments to the state in return for the state’s agreeing to enforce a judge’s ruling that allows it to continue to operate blackjack and other banked card games at its casinos for another 13 years.

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation must also enforce a rule that prevents competing casinos and card rooms from operating blackjack and slot machines that mimic the banked card games the tribe is entitled to operate exclusively in Florida. Story here. 

After death threat, Miami Republican agrees to diversion program for suspect



After receiving a death threat last week, a Miami Republican has agreed to allow the suspect to enter a diversion program, where he would receive mental health treatment and perhaps a lesser sentence.

Florida Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, who last week received a death threat on his Facebook page, told the Miami Herald's editorial board on Wednesday that he "expressed a desire" to help suspect Steve St. Felix enter into a diversion program as opposed to an immediate criminal sentence.

In Miami-Dade County, the victims of minor felonies must consent to allow suspects enter into year-long diversion programs, said Jacqueline Woodward, St. Felix's attorney. Afterward, a judge would decide on a charge.

"I on my own did contact the judiciary and I've spoken with the judges that are in charge of these mental health issues and I expressed a desire to work with the gentleman that threatened me to work on a diversion plan for him," said Diaz, who is running for state Senate. "I don't want him to go to jail for the rest of his life."

St. Felix, a former member of the Miami-Dade Republican Executive Committee, was arrested Monday and charged with making written threats with intent to do bodily injury.

"I'll kill your ass and you better not show up to the next REC meeting," the 34-year-old wrote, a reference to the local Republican party, according to his arrest report. A registered Republican living in Miami Gardens, St. Felix told police he didn't intend to harm Diaz, a current member of the REC. Police said St. Felix had not taken his medications when he made the threat, but it is not known what condition he suffers from.

Steve StfelizHe remains in jail on a $500,000 bond, according to jail records.

"I would be very happy to hear Mr. Diaz is understanding of the situation and realizes that Steve needs mental health help," Woodward said.

During the editorial board meeting, Diaz was joined by fellow Republican candidate Lorenzo Palomares, a local attorney who on Friday offered to represent St. Felix pro-bono after saying Diaz had used the incident to earn free airtime.

While he said the issue should have been dealt within the Republican Executive Committee, which St. Felix resigned from several months ago, Palomares said he was "pleased" with the idea of a diversion program.

"I'm glad that perhaps my input into it made the changes that are coming in respect to that case," Palomares said,to which Diaz shook his head. "But I stand by what I said. I believe a conditional threat is no threat at all."

Diaz said St. Felix had previously posted about harming himself, police and that he was armed, which signaled to him that the threat, while not in person, warranted a call to police.

He called Palomares' offer "disgusting" and out of "third-world politics."

"My goal, not only for his safety but for my family's safety is that he gets the proper treatment he needs," Diaz said. "And if he spirals out of control when he's off his medications, I want to ensure that he's on a program that's monitoring him and making sure that he's taking his medications. Because, you know, today it may be a threat against me but tomorrow it could be against Mr. Palomares."

Rick Scott, Jose Javier Rodríguez want to ban Florida from doing business with Maduro in Venezuela

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Wednesday his plan to ban the State of Florida from doing business with any entity that supports embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. 

“During the next meeting of the Florida Cabinet in August, I will bring forward a proposal that will prohibit the State of Florida from doing business with any organization that supports the oppressive Maduro dictatorship," Scott said in a statement. "Floridians stand with the people of Venezuela as they fight for their freedom, and as a state, we must not provide any support for Maduro and his thugs." 

Scott's announcement comes hours after Democratic State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez said he will file legislation seeking divestment by the State of Florida from businesses who work with the Maduro regime. He also encouraged state agencies not to wait for legislation to divest. 

"Venezuelan Independence Day is a fitting time to propose a response by the State of Florida to Goldman Sachs' callous decision to turn a profit at the expense of the Venezuelan people -- I call on state agencies to immediately initiate divestment from Goldman Sachs and I call on my colleagues to support legislation I intend to introduce during the 2018 Legislative Session that would prevent future business ties between the State of Florida and the Maduro regime," Rodríguez said in a statement. 

Rodríguez is vying for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's open congressional seat in 2018 while Scott is likely to challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018. 

July 5 marks Venezuelan Independence Day, and pro-government militias attacked Venezuelan lawmakers during a special session that coincided with the holiday. 


Facing term limits, Miami-Dade mayor still ready to raise political money


Gimenez fox

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez can't run for reelection in 2020, but that hasn't stopped him from getting ready to raise some money from political donors.

The two-term Republican recently filed paperwork to solicit donations from his long-time political committee, Miami-Dade Residents First, and a new one called Miami First. Joe Carollo, the former Miami mayor now running for his brother Frank's city commission seat, is listed as chairman of Miami First. 

Carollo declined to elaborate on the committee's mission. It has only raised $5,000 from a single donation provided by a Miami firm called Rodriguez-Duret Investment Management. "I don't think Mayor Gimenez has been raising money for that PAC," Carollo said. Miami-Dade Residents First hasn't reported new donations since November. 

Gimenez's June 23 filing is required under a 2016 county law seeking more transparency for fundraising. The legislation requires elected officials to file paperwork before soliciting donations for political committees. 

Carollo worked on Gimenez's successful 2016 reelection campaign, and the two are allies. Gimenez, who raised a record $7 million in 2016, has used surplus money in Miami-Dade Residents First to pay for a March poll that, among other things, measured public opinion on increasing taxes to imrpove transit.

So Gimenez's fund-raising registrations could signal a popular incumbent helping raise money for an ally's campaign and restocking a war chest that funds some political activities tied to his final three years as mayor.

But the paperwork also adds fuel to speculation that Gimenez may be setting his sights on another race once his time at County Hall comes to an end. People close to Gimenez aren't knocking down that speculation. On Monday, Carollo suggested it would wrong to assume that Gimenez, 63, is ready to retire from politics after his second term ends three years from November.

"You never know what Carlos' future may hold after being mayor of Miami-Dade County," he said. "Don't count him out." 

Gimenez isn't countering the buzz, either. Asked via text message if he was looking at a life in politics once he's a former mayor of Miami-Dade, Gimenez wrote: "Possibly." 


Miami Senate race a hard-edged referendum on Donald Trump



The Republican primary for a Miami state Senate seat — the first local partisan election since last November — has become a referendum on President Donald Trump.

Two self-described Trump loyalists — a former state senator with a taste for Twitter tussles and an attorney who loathes regulation — have channeled Trump in a hard-edged race against a rival who appears to be their polar opposite: A state representative beloved by Tallahassee Republicans with serious financial backing and a more complicated, and more personal, relationship to the president.

The attorney, Lorenzo Palomares, was the first to invoke Trump in the Senate District 40 race, noting his early support for Trump’s candidacy. But it’s the well-known former senator, Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who’s most prominently tried to position himself as Trump’s heir among Republicans with whom the president remains quite popular.

Then there’s Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the best-funded candidate in the race and a one-time contestant on Trump’s “The Apprentice” reality TV show. Soon after entering the campaign, he drew scorn from both the left and right after deleting from his Twitter account a photo of himself with Trump at an inauguration party, citing “aggressive trolling” from enemies. Diaz de la Portilla and Palomares pointed to the deletion as proof Diaz isn’t a true Trump supporter.

“He’s part of the establishment,” said Palomares, 63, who served as an unofficial Trump surrogate on Spanish-language TV. “He was one of the hundreds of Republicans that never supported Trump. It was only when he became president that they all jumped on the bandwagon.”

Palomares is divorced with two adult daughters and five grandchildren.

Diaz, 37, who is married with two young sons, has tried to distance himself from the hostility, pointing to his four House election victories over the past six years as a sign he could defeat a Democrat in the competitive Senate seat.

“I feel like I have a winning formula,” said Diaz, who represents part of the Senate district in House District 116 and works as a government law attorney. “If you look at my endorsements, the business groups, the conservative groups have endorsed me and not my opponents.”

The three Cuban Americans are vying to represent a largely Hispanic swath of Southwest Miami-Dade County in a special July 25 primary election, which was scheduled following the resignation of former Sen. Frank Artiles, a Republican who left office in April after using racial slurs in conversation with black lawmakers. The Miami Herald also revealed that he had hired a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy model as political consultants.

Democrats, who hold only 15 of 40 state Senate seats, see an opportunity to seize back control of the district, which they lost last November when Artiles defeated former Sen. Dwight Bullard. The Democratic contenders are former Rep. Ana Rivas Logan and businesswoman Annette Taddeo; the general election will take place Sept. 26.

Read more here.

Two women vie for votes to replace disgraced former Sen. Frank Artiles



Perennially outnumbered by Republicans in Tallahassee, Florida Democrats have a chance to win back a competitive Miami state Senate seat in September. But first, Kendall-area voters will have to pick between two political veterans running in the Senate District 40 primary: former state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan and businesswoman Annette Taddeo.

Compared to the more expensive and more heated Republican primary, the race between Taddeo and Rivas Logan has been low-key. The two Hispanic women agree on a lot. But Rivas Logan is campaigning as an underdog, outraised by Taddeo even though Rivas Logan has prior experience in elected office and Taddeo does not.

“I have never outraised anyone and have never gotten big-time endorsements, but I have outworked and outsmarted my opponents every time,” Rivas Logan said. As of July 1, Taddeo had raised nearly $46,000, compared to Rivas Logan’s $10,425.

The financial gap makes Taddeo the favorite, at least on paper. But Taddeo has lost four elections over the past eight years, even in cases where she’s raked in more campaign cash. She lost a bid for Congress in 2008, for Miami-Dade County Commission in 2010, as Charlie Crist’s gubernatorial running mate in 2014 and to Joe Garcia in a Democratic congressional primary in 2016.

“I am a girl, not Cuban and have never been elected, which is tough,” said Taddeo, who is Colombian-American. “It’s not how many times you’ve fallen but how you’ve learned from them and get back on your feet and keep on fighting.”

The special July 25 primary election was set after former Sen. Frank Artiles resigned in April following a tirade unleashed against two fellow legislators and the revelation that he’d paid a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy model as political campaign consultants. Three Republicans — former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and attorney Lorenzo Palomares — are also running; the general election will take place Sept. 26.

Democrats used to hold the district, but lost it when Artiles defeated former Sen. Dwight Bullard last November. Winning this year would give Democrats a 16th seat — out of 40 — in the Senate.

After Artiles resigned, Florida Democratic Party leaders backed a run by Rep. Daisy Baez of Coral Gables. But she dropped out before formally qualifying as a candidate, after the Miami Herald revealed she not only didn’t live in District 40 but also didn’t appear to live in her current House district.

Read more here. 

Trump plan to overhaul air traffic control has key opponent: Mario Diaz-Balart

Mario Diaz-Balart


One month ago, Donald Trump publicly backed an overhaul of the nation’s air traffic control system during a White House speech, the first major policy proposal announced by the president during “Infrastructure Week.”

But standing in Trump’s way is the only Miami House Republican who voted for him during the 2016 election: Mario Diaz-Balart.

Diaz-Balart is chairman of the House subcommittee tasked with funding the Federal Aviation Administration, a powerful position that allows the veteran lawmaker to shape legislation that affects the federal budget. He’s worried that public oversight of the nation’s air-traffic control system could end if it’s run by a private non-profit controlled by various stakeholders in the airline industry.

Proponents of the plan say that privatizing the nation’s air traffic control system will lead to faster implementation of GPS technology that will result in fewer flight delays and queues on the tarmac.

Diaz-Balart bristles at calling the proposal “privatization.”

“It’s not privatization,” Diaz-Balart said. “It’s a monopoly and it will remain a monopoly as opposed to being a monopoly being run by the public sector. It will be a monopoly run by private interests with zero oversight. There’s still no competition.”

Diaz-Balart said it’s important to have elected officials in charge of overseeing the nation’s air traffic control system, because everyday citizens can choose to vote someone out of office if they think a member of Congress isn’t doing enough to rectify airplane noise or pollution complaints.

In the past, Diaz-Balart has contacted the FAA on flight paths through downtown Miami and said the FAA made changes to the flight paths after his office reached out.

That doesn’t happen if a private non-profit takes control, said Diaz-Balart, whose district includes Miami International Airport.

“Who would people go to if in fact there are issues of excess noise?” Diaz-Balart said. “Who are you going to complain to? Right now you complain to your member of Congress and we win some and lose some. I don’t have a problem with special interests but I do have a problem when you’re giving those special interests run of the U.S. airspace without competition.”

Airlines for America, a group composed of major commercial airlines in favor of privatization, said Diaz-Balart’s opposition won’t slow the bill down.

“It would be unfortunate for political turf wars in Washington to stand between the residents of South Florida and the modern, 21st century ATC system they are paying for but haven’t yet received,” Airlines for America spokesman Vaughn Jennings said in an email. “There is unprecedented momentum in favor of reforming our nation’s antiquated ATC infrastructure. We are confident that the bill will reach the floor.”

Read more here. 

Talk of fixing HB 7069 ‘way too premature,’ Hialeah lawmaker says

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Although a major school reform bill was signed into law last month amid heavy criticism and calls that it be fixed immediately, an influential lawmaker from Miami-Dade County indicates that issue won’t be a priority on the Legislature’s agenda for 2018.

“It’s way too premature,” said Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., who helms the House’s pre-K-12 education budget committee. “Making adjustments going forward — we first have to see what happens instead of jumping the gun.”

HB 7069 took effect Saturday, prompting myriad changes in statewide education policy — many favorable to charter schools seeking less restrictions to their expansion in Florida.

Among the most controversial of those changes is a new “Schools of Hope” program to help the state’s worst-performing schools by, in part, providing incentives for new charter schools to directly compete with them.

It’s that part of the bill that some senators — led by Republican David Simmons of Altamonte Springs — have argued needs to be revised. They say, as written, the new law forces failing schools to either shut down after getting two “D” or “F” grades or hand themselves over to privately managed charters, with both options leaving the schools’ teachers out of work.

Diaz — who helped craft HB 7069 and shepherd it through the Legislature — contends such critics are misreading the new law and they need to be patient while the Florida Department of Education drafts rules this summer that better clarify how the “Schools of Hope” program will be implemented.

More here.

Photo credit: AP