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February 02, 2016

Three nurseries that didn't get low-THC cannabis licenses sue health department


Three nurseries that were not granted licenses to grow low-THC medical marijuana are suing the Department of Health and asking a judge for an injunction to stop growers in three of five regions in the state from moving forward.

The suit, filed Tuesday in the state circuit court in Tallahassee, alleges that DOH forced nurseries to move forward with growing the drug ahead of schedule before legal challenges to the licenses issued last November had been cleared.

What’s more, the nurseries — McCrory’s Sunny Hill Nursery, San Felasco Nurseries and Tornello Landscape 3 Boys Farm — say some of those licensed to grow the drug don’t meet minimum standards set by DOH.

“We believe the Department has approved applications of applicants which fail to meet even basic qualifications,” Jim McKee, an attorney with Foley & Lardner LLP, said in a statement.

The nurseries filing the suit were beat out for the five available licenses to grow cannabis low in high-inducing compound THC. It’s a useful drug for children suffering from severe epilepsy, among others, and the Legislature authorized DOH to move forward with licensing growers to produce and sell it in 2014.

Just last year, the licenses were issued, but the plaintiff nurseries say DOH did not follow through with investigating the nurseries it had selected, including three they want a judge to order to stop production: Chestnut Hill Tree Farm, Alpha Foliage and Knox Nursery. The drug is still not available.

The plaintiffs filed administrative challenges with the department, and they’re asking the judge to order the department to stop moving forward with its role in licensing and regulating the nurseries while those challenges continue.

DOH declined comment. "The department does not comment on active litigation," spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said.

House advances abortion restrictions


Abortion continues to be a hot issue in the Florida Legislature as a long list of proposals on Tuesday cleared its second House hearing.

Supporters are billing HB 1411 as “an effort to protect the health and welfare of Floridians,” said Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, the sponsor.

But it’s viewed by opponents as an all-out attack on abortion rights in Florida and clinics like Planned Parenthood.

The bill would institute new regulations over abortion providers and state licensing. Among them:

* Requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges or a transfer agreement at a hospital within a “reasonable distance,” or about 30 minutes.
* Blocking state funding for any services to clinics that provide abortions, except cases of rape, incest or when the health of the woman is in jeopardy.
* Defining when each trimester of a pregnancy begins and ends, part of a licensing dispute between the Agency for Health Care Administration and Planned Parenthood this summer, in which the agency claimed said trimesters ended two weeks earlier than the clinics’ doctors did.
* Requires half of the records at all abortion clinics to be inspected every year by AHCA.

After more than an hour of debate and emotional testimony, the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee approved the legislation in a party-line vote: nine Republicans in favor and four Democrats opposed.

“This bill protects the health of Floridians,” Burton said. “We regulate procedures all across the board here in Florida, and while this particular procedure has an emotional component that many others don’t, it is still a medical procedure.”

Amber Kelly of the anti-abortion group Florida Family Action said that it “would give more options for women to receive health care in the state of Florida.”

But House Democrats said that’s not the case. Burton’s bill would stop funding non-abortion services at abortion clinics, which Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said would make things even more difficult for women who cannot afford health care.

Cruz said that she understands the predicament young women face when they need contraception and family planning services and cannot afford it. Cutting public funding, she argued, would make their situations more difficult.

“I was one of those women a long time ago,” Cruz said. “If it weren’t for the care of a center, I don’t know — I’m not sure what my situation would be today. But they were there for me when I needed them.”

Over the last five years, the state has cut positions in county health departments. Meanwhile, HIV infection is on the rise, with more new cases in Florida than anywhere else.

Meanwhile, other groups like the American Civil Liberties Union say the bill could be unconstitutional. It includes provisions similar to a Texas law currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Since a decision is expected in June, the Florida Legislature should wait for that Supreme Court ruling before moving forward," said Michelle Richardson, ACLU of Florida's director of public policy.

Next, the bill goes before the House Health and Human Services Committee, where chairman Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, promises more heated debate. For him, the issue is about cutting down the number of abortions that take place in Florida. It’s also personal, he said.

“Over 40 years ago, right after Roe vs. Wade, I was adopted,” Brodeur said. “So those who say that we as men have no idea or no stake in this issue are completely false because there are people who never had an opportunity to come up to this podium to defend themselves and their life because they are gone.

Under GOP pressure, Broward lawmaker drops rental car fee cap

Motorists angry over being hit with extra fees to cover unpaid highway tolls when they rent cars in Florida won't be getting any help from the Legislature.

A bill that would have capped the fees at $10 a day moved ahead in the House Tuesday, but only after it was amended to eliminate the fee cap. The amended bill was supported by lobbyists for rental car companies.

The bill (HB 1119) is sponsored by Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, who said she filed it to help unsuspecting consumers who rent cars in Florida and are charged from $4 to $15 a day by rental car companies, in addition to the tolls themselves, to cover cases in which renters pass through electronic toll booths where there are no humans to accept money.

Jacobs' bill was likely doomed in the House Transportation & Ports Subcommittee unless she removed the fee limit, so she took it out. "Up here, you know how far that went," Jacobs said. "So I'll take a baby step -- can they just tell us what the fees are?"

Jacobs' amended bill now says that "a rental car company which imposes a fee in additional to the toll charge incurred by the renter ... must post the applicable terms and conditions in a conspicuous location on the business premises" in addition to including the conditions in a rental agreement.

The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who initially filed his own proposed regulations, but he declared it dead last week.

As a state employee, Jacobs is required to rent from Enterprise and its affiliates, Alamo and National, which hold a multi-year contract with the state. Those firms charge a fee of $3.95 a day for every day a toll is unpaid to cover the costs of unpaid tolls.

Jacobs said she was surprised that the Department of Management Services, which negotiated the contract with Enterprise, did not negotiate a removal of the fees, which will be passed on to Florida taxpayers. "So even on ourselves, we're paying more as a state," Jacobs said. "We could have negotiated that clause away."

Enterprise Holdings and related firms have donated $1.2 million in campaign contributions to legislators and candidates since 1996, most of it to Republicans. Enterprise has given $100,000 to the Republican Party of Florida since 2014.

Florida closer to allowing concealed weapons permits as forms of ID to vote

Florida’s 1.4 million concealed weapons permit holders are closer to being able to use their identification cards to vote.

The Florida Senate voted 36-0 this morning to allow concealed weapons permit cards and veteran health cards as part of a list of acceptable forms of ID to be able to vote.

Besides a state-issued driver’s licenses, voters currently can show a list of other photo IDs including U.S. passports, military ID cards, neighborhood association cards, retirement center IDs and public assistance ID cards.

The bill, (SB 666) is sponsored by Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity.

A nearly identical bill has already passed three committees in the House and is headed to the floor for a final vote.


PortMiami preparing for daily ferry service to Cuba


Interest in Cuba-bound ferries has been high enough at PortMiami that officials are looking for ways to create temporary terminals to accommodate operators wanting to launch overnight runs to Havana every day.

Planning for a new passenger-and-cargo route to Cuba is detailed in hundreds of emails and internal documents obtained by the Miami Herald through Florida’s open-records laws. They show multiple ferry operators with newly secured licenses from Washington eager to lock down space at the port, which at one point was planning on the Cuba-bound vessels launching in March.

The documents show a yearlong effort by PortMiami to get ready for what could be a significant new enterprise there. Industry leaders predict the ferry routes will be popular with Cuban-Americans not only visiting their homeland, but bringing large stores of goods from the U.S. for family on the island.

Internal emails also hint at the dicey politics involved at the county-owned port, given the Castro regime’s continued pariah status in large swaths of Miami’s Cuban-American population.

Sensitivity was on display during an early email exchange between United Caribbean’s Bruce Nierenberg and senior port officials just weeks after President Obama’s Dec. 17, 2014 announcement on his pursuit of full diplomatic relations with Cuba.

“Was good to see you all again,” Nierenberg wrote Port Director Juan Kuryla and his top aides in an email dated Jan. 21, 2015. “Just wanted to thank you for the enthusiastic approach to figuring out how to get the Port of Miami into its rightful position as the first Home port for overnight ferry service to Cuba.”

Read more here

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44 amendments filed to Florida House open-carry bill ahead of today's scheduled floor debate



The discourse over gun rights versus gun control will be on full display in the Florida House this afternoon.

The chamber's 120 representatives are set to debate a high-profile and controversial measure that would allow 1.4 million people with concealed weapons permits in Florida openly carry their weapons statewide.

As of late Monday, 44 amendments -- including four that were subsequently withdrawn -- had been filed to HB 163,  a little more than half of them by Democrats seeking to shore up or chip away at what they described last week as flawed legislation.

They're unlikely to be successful in the Republican-majority chamber, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach -- the sponsor of the bill who says he wants to "vindicate" Floridians' Second Amendment rights by legalizing open carry -- filed 21 of the proposed changes, many of them substitute amendments that appear to counter the Democratic proposals.

Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, has brought back an amendment he attempted but later withdrew during last week's lengthy and heated hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. It would allow lawmakers to carry concealed in legislative sessions and official meetings.

Among the Democratic amendments, Rep. Jared Moskowitz, of Coral Springs, leads the pack with 16 proposed changes. Rep. Amanda Murphy of New Port Richey has proposed four others, and Rep. Joseph Geller of Aventura offered two.

Their proposals include:

Continue reading "44 amendments filed to Florida House open-carry bill ahead of today's scheduled floor debate" »

Marco Rubio PAC releases new ad after Iowa caucus


The Conservative Solution PAC supporting Marco Rubio released a new ad after his third-place finish in the Iowa caucus last night.

"Ted Cruz says Donald Trump has boatloads of liberal positions. Donald Trump says Ted Cruz can’t beat the Democrats. Well – they’re both right! Marco Rubio is the conservative who can win – and the Clinton machine knows it. Rubio beat the establishment.  He’ll unite Republicans and restore the American Dream. If you’re not with Marco, you’re electing the Democrats."



Capitol Buzz: Five things to watch today in Tallahassee

Both the House and Senate are in session today, and they'll have plenty of old and familiar faces on hand as their special guests for the morning. Here's what we're watching:

* Current and former lawmakers will come together in each chamber, as part of a weeklong legislative reunion in Tallahassee. The House is set to honor former members during a special "reunion" session from 9:15-10 a.m., and then the Senate plans to do the same from 11 a.m. to noon, after an hour of regular floor work.
* The House convenes again for its regular session at 4 p.m. Daily business is set to include debate on sanctuary cities, revisions to the state's 10-20-Life law and two high-profile guns bills -- open carry and campus carry.
* The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee will consider a proposal to address Florida's death penalty procedures in the wake of the Hurst v. Florida U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this month. A Senate panel held a similar hearing last week. Along that same vein, the Florida Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this morning on whether Hurst applies to the case of death-row inmate Michael Lambrix, who has been denied a stay for his execution set for Feb. 11.
* The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee will debate two controversial ideas: Making both the commissioner of education and the secretary of state elected positions.
* A contingent of current and former NFL players will join Democratic lawmakers for a press conference urging the Legislature to sign off on a settlement deal reached in the wrongful death suit of Florida State University freshman linebacker Devaughn Darling. Darling collapsed and died in 2001 while participating in a series of intense conditioning drills at FSU.

February 01, 2016

Marco Rubio finishes 3rd in Iowa caucuses, Jeb Bush places 6th

GOP 2016 Rubio (7)


DES MOINES -- Iowa voters wielded their political power in the U.S. presidential elections Monday, handing a Republican caucus victory to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — who devoted ample time and extensive resources to the state —over celebrity businessman Donald Trump, who blew off a local debate and repeatedly chose TV interviews over voter handshakes.

The victory by Cruz over Trump and fellow Cuban-American Marco Rubio sets up a three-way race GOP ahead of the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary. The Florida senator’s finish closely behind Trump bolsters his case that mainstream Republicans should unite behind him to take on the front-runners.

“This is the moment they said would never happen. For months, they told us we had no chance,” Rubio told a Des Moines crowd that celebrated his third-place finish as an outright victory. “They told me that we had no chance because my hair wasn’t gray enough and my boots were too high. They told me I needed to wait your turn, that I needed to wait in line.

“But tonight here in Iowa, the people of this great state have sent a very clear message: After seven years of Barack Obama, we are not waiting any longer,” a triumphant Rubio concluded, standing next to his wife, Jeanette, and their four children.

The Democratic race between former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was too close to call late Monday. A third Democrat, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, did so poorly he ended his campaign. So did the Republican who won the 2008 caucuses in Iowa, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

For Trump, the loss could be significant. He built his candidacy on the notion that he’s a winner, and though he led Cruz in Iowa polls, Cruz’s vaunted organization and bus tours propelled him to the top.

More here.

Photo credit: Paul Sancya, Associated Press

Body-camera bill starts moving in Florida Senate


A state Senate committee gave initial approval Monday to a proposal that would require law enforcement agencies in Florida that use body cameras — such as several police departments in Miami-Dade and Broward counties — to have policies in place regulating use of the devices and storage of the footage they capture.

Senate Bill 418 by Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, mirrors a House measure that got initial traction in the fall.

The proposal falls short of requiring agencies to use body cameras, but Smith said it would ensure that those officers who wear the devices are trained to use them properly and follow appropriate rules. Body cameras have become a more common tool to accurately document officer interactions with the public.

“We need rules and regulations in place so that if anything goes bad, we can look at those rules and regulations and make sure they’re doing it the right way,” Smith said.

More here.