September 03, 2014

Legislative lawyer slams state's medical pot rule, raising doubts about its fate

The first set of rules for medical marijuana in Florida got hit with a whammy of a complaint last week when the top lawyer for the legislature’s oversight committee suggested  the proposed rule failed to follow the law legislators passed this spring. 

The 19-page critique, drafted by Marjorie Holladay, chief attorney for the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee and sent to Department of Health to General Counsel Jennifer Tschetter corrected everything from typos and grammar to the agency's interpretation of the law.  Download JAPC DOH request for revisions

The most significant criticism: that the state has failed to establish sufficient standards in nearly a dozen areas as it writes the rules by which applicants will be chosen to be eligible for a lottery. The lottery will then select five companies to be medical marijuana dispensaries that will be licensed to sell low-THC cannabis for medical purposes.

After two hearings on the draft proposal, the Department of Health published a final rule and will hold a hearing on it on Friday. Holladay's critique could make it difficult to finish the rule quickly. 

Among Holladay’s complaints: the department “has no statutory authority” to limit nursery ownership to 25 percent. Legislators decided that only nurseries that have been in business in Florida for 30 continuous years and who have at least 400,000 plants are eligible to apply.

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Miami-Dade voters will get ballot questions on courthouse funding, FIU expansion

@PatriciaMazzei @doug_hanks

Miami-Dade County voters will decide in November whether to raise their property taxes to pay nearly $400 million for a replacement courthouse, and whether to allow Florida International University to expand into county parkland occupied by the youth fairgrounds.

The County Commission voted Wednesday to put both items on the Nov. 4 ballot after both issues drew lengthy debate, with Miami-Dade’s legal industry pushing hard for voters to take up the courthouse question and FIU busing in students to pack the chambers in support of the park question. In the end, neither vote was close, with commissioners overwhelmingly backing referendums on both items.

If the courthouse question passes, it would give commissioners the authority to increase property taxes enough to borrow $393 million for a replacement to the county’s aging civil courthouse. If the FIU question passes, the state school would win the waiver needed to expand into the youth fair’s current home in Tamiami Park, though Miami-Dade still needs to find replacement fairgrounds — and FIU must find a way to pay for the move.

“Miami-Dade County certainly will not be spending any money on the expansion of FIU,” Mayor Carlos Gimenez said.

More here.

Sen. Latvala reaches out to teachers union on voucher lawsuit

Sen. Jack Latvala, of Clearwater, isn't the first Republican lawmaker to disagree with the union-backed lawsuit challenging the school voucher program.

But he may be among the first offering to work with union leaders on the issue.

On Wednesday, Latvala sent a letter to Florida Education Association President Andy Ford expressing his concerns about the legal challenge.

"If the Tax Credit Scholarship Program were to be eliminated, there are nearly 70,000 students who now stand to receive scholarships under the program who would be deprived of their opportunity to attend institutions that are better suited to meet their learning needs," Latvala said.

But he also said he shares the union's concerns "about the potential for the unbridled expansion of this program."

"As someone who has supported the FEA on most issues for many years, I would like to offer myself to you as a bridge, if desired, to try to ensure that the current success of the program does not exceed the tipping point of what is constitutional or responsible," he said. 

FEA Vice President Joanne McCall said her organization "[looks] forward to working with Sen. Latvala to stop the shame and blame game, fund public schools appropriately, stop toxic testing and do what's right for all schools so all students can have a high quality public education."

"But until then, we're moving forward with our lawsuit," she said.

Read Latvala's letter below.

Download Latvalaletter

Movers & Shakers

Fort Lauderdale judge added to adult offender council

Raag Singhal, a judge with the 17th Judicial Circuit Court in Broward County, has been appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to the State Council for Interstate Adult Offender Supervision.

Singhal, 50, of Fort Lauderdale, succeeds Elisabeth Goodner and is appointed for a term that ends June 30, 2015.

Former House general counsel joins Tallahassee law firm

Daniel Nordby, who was general counsel to the Florida House of Representatives under Speaker Will Weatherford, has joined Shutts & Bowen as a partner in the firm's Tallahassee office.

In his new job, Nordby, 36, will "litigate and advise on governmental affairs," according to the firm's press release on the appointment.

Nordby is the chairman of The Florida Bar's Administrative Law Section and is a member of the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission. He has also served as general counsel to Florida's Secretary of State and, in private practice, as outside general counsel to the Republican Party of Florida.

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No surprise, but Broward's low primary turnout was even lower for GOP voters

Overall turnout in Broward for the primary election was all-around lousy, but it was slightly higher among Democrats than Republicans.

Broward Supervisor of Elections summary data shows turnout was 14.4 percent for Democrats, 10.91 percent for Republicans and 3.65 percent for non-party affiliated voters. Overall turnout was 10.77 percent -- the second lowest turnout in the state and only ahead of Glades County.

It’s not a surprise that Democratic turnout would be slightly higher in the left-leaning county. Heading into the primary Democrat Charlie Crist and Republican Gov. Rick Scott were assured easy victories. But Crist had a more interesting race for Broward in that he faced former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston while Scott faced a couple of unknown challengers. The Democratic primary for Attorney General also included a Broward legislator -- Perry Thurston -- who lost to George Sheldon.

One part of Crist's strategy is to drive up turnout in South Florida but that could prove a challenge in Broward where voters have turned up in low numbers in recent non-presidential years.

Other races on the Broward primary ballot including county commission, school board and judicial races failed to excite voters. During the general election, a couple of races in eastern Broward could drive up turnout in that slice of the county including the race between Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach and former Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, in a Palm Beach/Broward district. The county commission’s lone GOPer, Chip LaMarca, faces a rematch against Democrat Ken Keechl.


Florida senators, reps weigh in on murder of journalist Steven Sotloff


Florida lawmakers continued to weigh in on the beheading of Steven Sotloff, a South Florida journalist who had been reporting in Syria until he was taken hostage in 2013.

Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, said: “Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Steven Sotloff. Let there be no doubt, we must go after ISIS right away because the U.S. is the only one that can put together a coalition to stop this group that’s intent on barbaric cruelty.” Nelson has also said he would offer legislation to allow the Obama administration to take air strikes against the group responsible.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, noted in a statement that, “Steven’s balanced and earnest approach to journalism was met with love by many in the Middle East, but with brutal disdain by those whose tactics stood in such clear contrast to his own.” The group responsible – variously called ISIS or ISIL – “represents a threat to the American people, our allies, and the principles of freedom and human rights that we cherish,” Rubio said.

Rep. Joe Garcia, a Democrat from Miami, said in statement that, “The killing of Steven Sotloff by ISIS and the continued targeting of journalists is simply unacceptable and sickening. This is a brutal crime that shocks the conscience and its perpetrators must be brought to justice.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Miami, said in her statement that, “This atrocious and brutal act shows that ISIL’s cruelty knows no bounds and that it has no respect for human life.”

UPDATE: Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Gardens Democrat, added her comment Wednesday: “The brutal murder of journalist Steven Sotloff was an act beyond evil. His death is a tragedy, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. It is my hope that his loved ones find some peace in the knowledge that he was on a mission to enlighten us and shine a light on issues which the world might not have otherwise known.”

$60 million Overtown CRA funding flap resolved


A financial dispute that once threatened to undercut $60 million in public investment in Miami's Overtown has been resolved. And for all the barbs and legal threats during the last six months, Miami's Southeast Overtown Park West Community Redevelopment Agency and Miami-Dade County appear to be working hand-in-hand once again.

The Overtown CRA closed Friday on the full $60 million bond issue, according to Executive Director Clarence Woods. The money will be used to fund a gut rehab of the old Town Park communities, a six-story apartment building next to the Culmer Neighborhood Center, and mixed-use developments next to the newly renovated Gibson Park, St. John Institutional Baptist Church, and the historic Lyric Theater.

"This is really significant," said Woods.

Last month, it appeared some of those projects would lose millions in funding amid the dispute between the city and county, both of which fund the CRA with property tax revenues.
While researching the financing of the bonds, the county discovered an old law they said capped Miami-Dade's funding of the CRA and kept its contribution from growing along with property values. That gave bond underwriters pause about the CRA's future financing and stalled the issuance of the bonds until a resolution could be found.
When none came after more than half a year, Miami commissioners, sitting as the CRA's board of directors, voted to secure the bonds even if it meant leveraging only the city's portion of the agency's funding and reducing the amount by $16.5 million.
But that wasn't necessary.
At the urging of County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, the county attorney's office swiftly issued a legal opinion that the cap became moot once the CRA issued its bonds. And on Wednesday, the Board of County Commissioners went one step further, taking the first of two votes to strike the cap provision from its laws altogether.


Same-sex couple suing over marriage ban asks Miami-Dade commission for support

@PatriciaMazzei Photo (23)

One of the six couples suing Miami-Dade Clerk of the Courts Harvey Ruvin over Florida's same-sex marriage ban implored county commissioners Wednesday for their support.

Jorge Diaz and Don Johnston urged the county for a symbolic resolution -- similar to ones passed in cities such as Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando -- backing their case.

"We love each other, and we want to remove the barriers so that we can care for one another," Johnston said.

"This commission has taken strong stances in the past, has stood for what it believes in," said Diaz, the younger brother of former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz.

Commissioners made no commitment to any legislation. But Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa made an apparent reference to newly elected board member Daniella Levine Cava, a same-sex marriage supporter who will be sworn into office in November.

"I heard through the grapevine that some votes are coming our way," she said.

TaxWatch honors three South Florida principals

For the second year in a row, South Florida was well represented on the Florida TaxWatch list of top school administrators.

The latest list of six principals, released Wednesday, included two from Miami-Dade County: Kelli Hunter-Sheppard, of Leisure City K-8 Center, and Benny Valdes, of Miami Senior High School.

Cassandra Robinson, of Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, also made the cut.

TaxWatch, a fiscal watchdog group, partnered with the Florida State University Learning Systems Institute to choose the principals. The selections were based on student achievement gains in reading and mathematics. No nominations were accepted.

To be considered, the principals had to have spent at least three years in a school serving mostly at-risk children.

"These six principals are breaking down barriers to achievement for high-risk students by creating the best learning environment for their success," TaxWatch Chief Research Officer Robert Weissert said.

The principals will be honored in Orlando on Oct. 16.

Each will receive a $5,000 stipend sponsored by the Florida Lottery, Kyra Infotech, J.M. Rubin Foundation, State Farm, Wells Fargo, and Brighthouse Networks.

Last year, five of the six award recipients were from Miami-Dade.

Those principals — and the principals honored Wednesday — will participate in a study to identify the traits, habits and practices of top-performing school leaders.

"Our aim is to understand which leadership and staffing practices are associated with these phenomenal outcomes," said Kristina Lavenia, of the Learning Systems Institute.

Career academics line up to challenge Thrasher for FSU presidency


State Sen. John Thrasher may not be the only front-runner for the Florida State University presidency for long.

Several people who have served in top jobs at universities across the nation waited until just before a midnight deadline to apply to become FSU's next leader.

It was just as the school's new search firm had predicted, contradicting advice from the first search consultant that Thrasher's candidacy was scaring off others from vying for the job.

Among the 12 14 (two names were added later in the day) candidates who applied shortly before Tuesday's deadline are the chancellor of the Colorado State University System and the University of South Carolina's provost. But the name that is most familiar is FSU interim president Garnett Stokes, who served as provost under former President Eric Barron.

She had long been rumored as a being interested in applying for the permanent job.

Stokes now becomes a front-runner alongside Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, a powerful FSU alum who has never worked in higher education. It ultimately may boil down to the Board of Trustees and if they decide on a more traditional candidate like the career academics who applied Tuesday or a non-traditional president in Thrasher, a politician who says he can help the school raise half a billion dollars. Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston is also likely to make the short list and would be another non-academic candidate.

Many members of the FSU faculty and progressive student organizations have been critical of Thrasher and said they felt he has been given an unfair, inside track to the top job. In her cover letter, Stokes said that she was heavily recruited to apply for the position. 

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