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March 13, 2015

Friday: Five things to (binge) watch

Not a single meeting is scheduled for Friday, the 11th day of the legislative session. Lawmakers are fried, having spent the week clashing over Medicaid expansion and complicated water proposals. So here are five things to (binge) watch this weekend:

House of Cards: Senate leaders seeking inspiration on how to pass an alternative to Medicaid expansion can take a cue from Frank Underwood.

House of Cards (BBC edition): What government would be like if we all had British accents.

Scandal: It's always good to know what Olivia Pope would do.

The West Wing: A nice escape for Florida Democrats, who are used to being in the minority.

Game of Thrones: Westeros has nothing on Tallahassee.

Scott Walker sizes up Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush

via @adamsmithtimes

MANCHESTER, N.H. --- We sat down this morning with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is making his first New Hampshire campaign swing as a likely presidential candidate this weekend along with Jeb Bush. Naturally we asked him how he can compete against Bush, who appears to be raising immense sums of money, and about Marco Rubio's suggestion that, as a senator and foreign relations and intelligence committee member, Rubio has a key advantage over current or previous governors on foreign policy.

Walker on foreign policy: "I think (Rubio's) great at foreign policy and other issues, but I just think there's a difference. In my lifetime, the most significant president in terms of foreign policy was a governor -- Ronald Reagan. The most important ingredient in foreign policy is leadership."

On Bush and his support from GOP establishment: "We had Bob Dole, John McCain, Mitt Romney. If it's just whoever's next up, that hasn't worked so well for the Republican party in the past. ... Jeb's a good man. You're not going to hear me speak ill will of Jeb. He's a friend of mine, He called me two days before (announcing) his PAC, I think highly of him. I just think voters are going to look at this and say, 'If we're running against Hillary Clinton, we'll need a name from the future -- not a name from the past -  to win.' "

On Bush's fundraising: "Yeah, he'll have by far the biggest report. There's a lot of people who are loyal to that family because of an ambassadorship or an appointment or something like that, so those people are going to show up big on his first report. What we're hoping going forward are not donors of obligation but donors of passion, people who are passionate about the reforms we bring to the table."

--ADAM SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

March 12, 2015

UPDATED New rules for limited medical marijuana in Florida met with legal challenge


Rules to implement Florida's limited medical marijuana law, already mired in bureaucratic red tape, became further entangled this week by a new legal challenge.

A Jacksonville attorney representing a 4-year-old girl with an inoperable brain tumor argued in a filing with the state Division of Administrative Hearings that the proposed regulations for a cannabis strain known as Charlotte's Web are inadequate to help suffering patients. Lawmakers in 2014 authorized Charlotte's Web -- which has low amounts of THC, the chemical that induces a high -- for people with  cancer and severe epilepsy.

An administrative judge rejected the initial draft of regulations for the drug last year. And while the state defended its new proposal earlier this year, the challenge filed Monday by attorney Ian Christensen on behalf of young Dahlia Barnhart -- who would qualify for the treatment, according to the document -- criticizes the way Florida would select five companies to grow and dispense the marijuana, contending that there would be no minimum standards to ensure statewide access to the pot. 

The proposed rule is invalid, Christensen wrote, because it "fails to provide any assurances that there will be reasonable access to this medicine, leaving this critical delegated authority left up to a group of five nursery owners who have absolutely no experience growing cannabis, let alone a medicine."

The new wrinkle is a sign that approving Charlotte's Web did not do enough to address patients' needs, said Ben Pollara, executive director of Florida for Care, the group that put a constitutional amendment on medical marijuana on the 2014 ballot. It received support from nearly 58 percent of voters, just missing the 60-percent threshold required to pass.

"This recent challenge further demonstrates the need to pass meaningful and comprehensive medical marijuana legislation this session," he said. The Charlotte's Web legislation was "well intentioned," he added, "but the continuing issues with its implementation should give legislators good reason to start from scratch and pass a law that actually works and one that will help a broader group of sick and suffering Floridians."

Some legislators have said that Tallahassee should wait until Charlotte's Web is implemented before allowing for other marijuana strains to treat a broader range of medical conditions.

UPDATE: In a statement posted on its website Friday, the Florida Department of Health said the legal challenge will further delay giving patients access to Charlotte's Web. The department has been responsible for drafting the rules to use the medical marijuana strain.

"We have maintained an unprecedented, open process for developing this rule framework," Patricia Nelson, director of the department's office of compassionate use, said in the statement. "The department will take every possible action to minimize the delay this rule challenge has created in getting this product to Florida's children who need it."

Florida school uniform proposal advances

Florida lawmakers want to help kids across the state with an age-old quandary: what to wear to school.

A House panel on Thursday gave its approval to a plan that would encourage school districts to adopt a standard attire policy for students in grades K-8.

The bill includes a cash incentive — $10 per student —for school districts that comply.

That could mean as much as $1.4 million for the Broward district, and $2.25 million for Miami-Dade. The money would be earmarked for school safety initiatives.

"We think this would streamline morning activities for moms and dads, and help improve the climate at schools across the state," House K-12 Education Committee Chairwoman Janet Adkins said Thursday.

More here.

How one Florida congressman reacted to state's distaste for using 'climate change'


U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, took to Twitter on Thursday to jab Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott over his administration's aversion to using the terms "climate change" and "global warming" in writing. (The state says it's not true.)

John Kerry takes on Rick Scott over avoiding 'climate change'

From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that elected officials who ban the words "climate change" are unwilling to face the facts, a non-so-subtle dig at Florida Gov. Rick Scott's administration.

Kerry, a longtime champion of combatting climate change, said the officials were ignoring the scientific facts.

"Now folks, we literally do not have the time to waste debating whether we can say 'climate change,'" Kerry said during a speech at The Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank. "Because no matter how much people want to bury their heads in the sand, it will not alter the fact that 97 percent of peer-reviewed climate studies confirm that climate change is happening and that human activity is largely responsible."

Kerry did not refer to Scott by name but said that he had read in the last "couple of days" reports about the ban.

More here.

Univision fires TV host who compared Michelle Obama to 'Planet of the Apes'

via @SarahMorenoENH

Univision fired Emmy-award winning Spanish-language television personality Rodner Figueroa after he said that First Lady Michelle Obama looked as if she were a member of the cast of the Hollywood film Planet of the Apes.

Figueroa, who’s known for his biting fashion commentary, made his remarks Wednesday during a live segment of the show El Gordo y la Flacain which the hosts were commenting on a viral video that shows a makeup artist transforming himself into different celebrities, including Michelle Obama.

“Well, watch out, you know that Michelle Obama looks like she’s from the cast of Planet of the Apes, the movie,” Figueroa, 42, said with a giggle.

When hostess Lili Estefan countered with “What are you saying?” and host Raul de Molina said Obama was very attractive, Figueroa defended his remark, saying “but it is true.”

In a statement Thursday morning, Univision called Figueroa’s comments “completely reprehensible.”

More here.

Miami Republican congressman questions need for Iran letter


Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo told a Spanish-language television station this week that he opposes the Obama administration's nuclear talks with Iran.

But he also said, when pressed in the interview, that the letter from 47 GOP senators (and Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal) to the government of Iran may have taken things a bit too far. The letter warned Iran that any potential deal might not pass long-term muster with the U.S. Senate.

"I understand that the letter maybe wasn't necessary," Curbelo said, repeating the sentiment in acknowledgment of critics who have lashed out at the senators for intervening in sensitive diplomatic negotiations.

Inviting Israeli Prime  Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress about the Iran talks, however -- an invitation that was extended without first reaching out to the White House, as is tradition -- was a good idea, Curbelo added.

"I applaud that Congress invited Mr. Netanyahu," said Curbelo, who attended the speech.

The discussion arose from a question from América TeVe's Juan Manuel Cao about Curbelo's relationship with Sen. Bob Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat reportedly under federal corruption investigation and a fellow Cuban American. Curbelo said he knows Menendez, though they're not friends, and praised the senator's hard line foreign-policy positions, which coincide with his own.

Curbelo echoed other Cuban-American Republicans who have suggested news about the Menendez investigation is an Obama administration attempt to weaken a Democrat critical of the president on U.S. policy toward Cuba and Iran.

"I'm not surprised that this information has leaked before any indictment," Curbelo said, adding that the timing "raises suspicions."


How much of the state budget goes to Medicaid?

After rejecting Medicaid expansion in 2013, the Florida Legislature is taking a serious look at it this session. The program pays for health insurance for the very poor.

On March 10, a state Senate panel approved a proposal that would allow Florida to accept $50 billion in federal dollars to expand coverage to about 800,000 low-income residents. The plan would establish a state-run private insurance exchange for residents who earn less than $16,000 a year or $33,000 for a family of four.

Though the bill won unanimous support of the GOP-dominated Senate Health Policy Committee, it faces an uphill battle in the more conservative House. Also, it would require the federal government to grant Florida a waiver. The feds might object to parts of the Senate proposal that require beneficiaries to pay a monthly premium based on their salary, ranging from $3 to $25.

During the Senate hearing, the Florida Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Wilson said he had met with legislators to discuss the chamber’s ideas for a Medicaid proposal.

"We recommended a 32 percent cap on state expenditures, we are coming close to 30 percent right now," he said. "It's the biggest expenditure at the state and we’d like to protect taxpayers with a 32 percent cap."

Does Medicaid come close to eating up nearly one-third of the state budget and is it the state’s biggest expenditure?

Turn to PolitiFact Florida for the answer.