March 06, 2019

Right to grow front-yard veggies gets green light for Senate floor


Tom Carroll and Hermine Ricketts stand in front of their home at 53 NE 106th St., Miami Shores, Florida, in November 2013, when the couple maintained a front-yard vegetable garden. Walter Michot/Miami Herald file photo.










After some light teasing by committee members about Sen. Rob Bradley's "most important bill of the year," a Senate bill to ban local governments from banning vegetable gardens is headed to the Senate floor.

The Senate Rules Committee — the bill’s last stop — voted unanimously Wednesday to advance the proposal.

Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, filed a similar bill that passed during last year’s 2018 session, but the clock ran out and a House version was never filed. Lucky for garden enthusiasts, Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff, R-DeLand, has filed the House version (HB 145), which is identical in language.

“Freedom is at stake,” Bradley, the Senate budget chair said.

In January, the Senate Community Affairs Committee unanimously backed the measure which prohibits a county or municipality from regulating vegetable gardens on residential properties and voids any existing ordinance of that nature.

The vegetable garden proposal is rooted in a legal dispute about an ordinance in Miami Shores that banned the gardens from being planted in front yards. Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll sued the village, and in November 2017, an appeals court upheld a ruling that the couple does not have a constitutional right to grow vegetables in their front yard. They appealed the ruling to the Florida Supreme Court, which declined to grant review.

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, voted against the bill when it came up in 2018. She said she changed her vote Wednesday because of homeowners associations and other groups that are not covered by the bill and are able to create their own regulations when it comes to vegetable gardens.

“Sometimes a local government will pass an ordinance that is, for lack of a better term, a stupid ordinance,” she said. “A local government that prevents someone from putting in a vegetable garden in their yard is wrong. It’s the principle, but we can’t have someone’s private property rights impacted like that.”

The League of Cities has publicly opposed both vegetable garden bills in the past, maintaining that the legislature should respect local government’s authority to make decisions on ordinances for their communities.

No one representing the League of Cities was at the Rules Committee meeting Wednesday.

March 04, 2019

Florida bill was aimed at banning plastic straws. Now it does the opposite.

In July, bartenders picked up 437 straws along a two-block stretch of Miami Beach. While that city is expanding its ban on plastic straws, Islamorada has decided against a ban and will simply discourage their use. DAVE DOEBLER

The Senate Commerce and Tourism committee approved a bill Monday that, instead of taking aim at plastic straw use, sets up a study to look at the effects of the plastic utensils. It also puts a five-year moratorium on local plastic straw bans.

The amended bill, introduced by committee member Sen. Travis Hutson, now sets up a study to be carried out by the Department of Environmental Protection. Local governments would not be able to ban plastic straws until 2024.

An earlier version of the bill would have required restaurants and other eateries to only give out plastic straws at the request of a customer. 

"I realized that I was kind of putting my own thoughts into this .. it was government overreach," the Elkton Republican said. "So what I did was file an amendment that would put a moratorium but give us a study." 

Under the current bill, a local government that violates the rule would be fined $25,000 fine.

In 2008, the Legislature enacted a similar law requiring DEP to analyze “the need for new or different regulation of auxiliary containers, wrappings, or disposable plastic bags used by consumers to carry products from retail establishments.”

To date, the Legislature has not yet adopted any recommendations contained in the report.

Campaigns to eliminate plastic straws in Florida have popped up in recent years. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection launched a “Skip the Straw” campaign earlier this year, and cities like Coral Gables, St. Petersburg, Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale have passed regulations about the plastic utensils.

In February 2016 Coral Gables voted to ban the use of Styrofoam containers even after the Florida Legislature passed a law prohibiting cities from banning the polystyrene products.

That summer, the city was sued by the Florida Retail Federation, Inc. and Super Progreso Inc., who alleged that the ordinance was preempted by state statute. The courts ruled that the ordinance was “valid and enforceable.”

Jennifer Rubiello, of St. Petersburg-based Environment Florida, said by putting a stay on plastic bans, the state is allowing everyday items plastic straws to threaten Florida's premier wildlife and waterways.

"As a state surrounded by water on three sides, we should be leading the nation in moving away from single-use plastics rather tying the hands of local governments who want to protect wildlife and the health of their communities from pollution," she said. 

Holly Parker-Curry of the Surfrider Foundation agreed.

"If you stop and clean a beach for five minutes, you’ll have a bag full of straws. The impact is already very clear and very established," she said. "We don’t need a study, we need action."

Senate panel postpones vote on fracking ban bill


After passionate testimony both for and against the bill, the Senate Agriculture Committee postponed a proposal to ban fracking in the state.

The opponents who packed the committee room Monday scorned the bill, citing an “enormous loophole” in excluding matrix acidizing from the ban.

Matrix acidization is an oil extraction method performed by pumping acidic fluids into a well at a low pressure. Operators use acid to dissolve minerals and bypass formation damage around the well. The House version of the bill also does not include matrix acidizing, and an amendment to add the language didn’t pass.

Because Florida is largely a porous plateau of limestone, matrix acidizing could be the most likely fracking technique to be used in the state.

Michelle Allen of Food & Water Watch called the loophole a "failure by leadership."

"It seems legislators have been duped by the oil industry’s claim that matrix acidizing is just a simple, routine clean up technique," Allen said. "Matrix acidizing is not used to clean the oil pipes ... matrix acidizing uses toxic acids powerful enough to dissolve rocks deep underground in order to create pathways to oil deposits.”

Jennifer Willson, a lobbyist for Conservancy of Southwest Florida in Naples, said it is "not a safe procedure." 

In 2013, 20,000 gallons of acid was injected into a well near Naples for matrix acidization.

“There’s no benefit to using all the water that can never be returned to our freshwater supply," she said. 

Environmentalists say if the bill is in the same shape by the time it hits the House floor, groups like Kanter — which recently won a permit to drill in the Everglades — could technically frack the already vulnerable land.

David Cullen, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said the bill was full of “loopholes you could drive a truck through.”

Fracking is of concern for a variety of environmental reasons, including water contamination and stress on water supply. Fracking is known to degrade air quality and threatens underground drinking water basins or wells.

The bill does not apply to all types of drilling, which means the rules would not affect drilling for private wells, deep wells or the like.

The first time a similar bill in the Senate was heard — Sen. Bill Montford’s SB 314 — environmentalists cheered.

It had more inclusive language than the House version of the bill, and included matrix acidizing as a form of fracking.

David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council said his organization opposes the bill "for totally different reasons."

"We quietly are able to produce the robust that we need to make us less depending on foreign oil and produce American energy," Mica told the Senate panel. "I wish you would just abandon this effort." 

In 2018, the Florida constitution was amended to prohibit drilling for exploration or extraction of oil or natural gas on certain, more vulnerable lands.

Earlier this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis went further and announced fracking bans as a priority after he unveiled sweeping measures to protect the state’s aquifer and clean up the state's water supply.

If a fracking ban passes this legislative session, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection will have revise existing rules to implement the fracking ban.

February 21, 2019

House bill to repeal medical marijuana smoking ban advances


As Sen. Jeff Brandes put it Wednesday, "The end is in sight, we’re not far.”

Both the House and Senate bills to repeal a ban on smokeable medical marijuana are hitting some of their final stops this week, bringing them one step closer to the chamber floors.

The House bill, brought by Rep. Ray Rodrigues and the Health and Human Services Committee, passed favorably in appropriations Thursday, including a strike-through that got rid of requirements for filters on medical marijuana cigarettes. The amendment also appropriates $1.5 million in recurring general revenue to fund a consortium to research the effects of medical marijuana.

Only Rep. Clay Yarborough, a Jacksonville Republican, voted no. 

“Bronchitis, lung issues, all these other things that are a big concern to me,” he said about the bill last week. 

The two bills have grown more similar through each committee stop, which Brandes said has helped the process. A key difference is that Senate version doesn't limit smoking to pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes and instead allows for a 35-day of whole-flower supply.

The House bill recommends the Board of Governors designate which state university will hold the consortium, a change from the bill's former language specifying the University of Florida. It also sets aside about $705,000 for three positions at the Office of Medical Marijuana Use and about $215,000 for technology upgrades to the medical marijuana registry.

Lawmakers in both chambers agree that more needs to be done to make access more affordable and accessible to patients across the state. But they say they plan to address that kind of legislation in the future, and are more focused now on getting smoking ban repeal bills to the Governor's desk by the deadline.

"I've been given assurance that future legislation that will be considered by this body will address cost and affordability concerns," said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat who voted yes on the bill. "Although this isn't perfect, it's hard for me to vote against it."

Rep Joe Geller, D-Aventura, said he thinks Rodrigues' bill will help patients, but that issues like vertical integration will need to be taken up in a future bill. Vertical integration is the part of the medical marijuana law that requires license holders to grow, process and sell their own product, as opposed to offering contracts to other vendors. 

"There are some things we need to do that aren't addressed in this bill, and don't need to be," he said. "Something needs to be done to break the logjam that is keeping the medicine from the people who need it."

Gov. Ron DeSantis in January tasked the Legislature with amending Florida law to allow smoking medical marijuana. If legislators don’t by the deadline, the governor said he will do so with litigation.

In 2016, about 71 percent of voting Floridians approved a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana. While the 2017 bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott legalized access to the drug in pill, oil, edible and vape form, it made smoking it illegal. In addition to the ban on smoking, the law also capped the number of medical marijuana licenses and the number of dispensaries in the state.

The provision, which became known as the “smoking ban,” was challenged in circuit court in July 2017. In its complaint, People United for Medical Marijuana, Inc., argued the smoking ban altered the definition of “marijuana” and by banning smoking in public, implicitly authorized smoking marijuana in a private place.

In May 2018, Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers declared the smoking ban unconstitutional, but the Department of Health appealed the ruling later that month.

After DeSantis announced his intent to drop the appeal should the Legislature not act to remove the smoking ban, both parties filed a motion to stay the appeal until March 2019.

January 30, 2019

Senate President calls for focus on rural Florida at AP planning session

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Senate President Bill Galvano outlined his top priorities and goals Wednesday, saying a key goal as the chamber’s new leader is to enhance infrastructure in rural Florida and empower senators from March 5 and beyond.

“As Senate President I have lots of discretion […] I will fulfill those duties to the best of ability but always keeping in mind the opportunities that exist when the Senators are empowered,” he said. “I’ve shared with them a vision that is important going forward in the future.”

Galvano, who created a new Committee on Infrastructure and Security this year, said much of the state's funding for infrastructure has focused on Florida's urban areas. This year, he hopes to focus on large portions of rural Florida that have suffered from impacts on farming. 

The Senate President tasked the new committee's chair, Sen. Tom Lee, with expediting the construction of three new corridors in rural areas of the state. The corridors include one from Polk County to Collier County, a Suncoast Parkway extension to Georgia and a northern turnpike connector.

He highlighted the "exodus and loss" to local economies, and that the state can't solely depend on Florida's coasts to support the state. 

"We need to have access to our rural communities and provide multipurpose right-of-ways so that prosperity can return there," he said. 

Here are some of the other topics the Senate president addressed at the Associated Press’ Legislative Day:

Red tide

Of the myriad issues coming through Senate committees, Galvano said agriculture is high on his list in considering Florida’s future, as well as addressing red tide.

The Bradenton Republican said he hopes the Senate looks toward more solutions to mitigate red tide issues plaguing animals and the tourism industry on the west coast.

One specific collaboration he mentioned was working with Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota as a “clearinghouse for real scientific information” to address the problem.

Amendment 4

The Legislature is tasked with implementing Amendment 4, or the constitutional amendment that passed this fall to restores voting rights for felons who have completed their sentences and paid off any restitution.

Galvano said writing implementing legislation is not necessary, and that the legislative process should not be an obstacle for new voters who hope to take advantage of the constitutional amendment.

“I think it’s worthy of us to look and language — not implementing but supplementing language,” he said.

Medical marijuana

Two weeks ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis asked the Legislature to change Florida law to allow smoking medical marijuana. If lawmakers don’t comply by mid March, he’ll drop the state’s appeal of a court decision that says banning it violates a constitutional amendment.

Two bills to reverse the smoking ban have already been filed in the Senate and Galvano said he is confident the Legislature will get something to the Governor’s desk by March 15.

Galvano said he also expects to see bills filed to address marijuana vertical integration, which requires medical marijuana companies to grow, manufacture, sell and market their own product. The system has been widely criticized from both those in the medical marijuana community and the Governor himself. 

“Right now, we are with the Governor,” he said. “Smoking is the issue we are going to address first and foremost.”


When it comes to banning fracking — an item the Governor called for repeatedly during his campaign — Galvano said there are bills being drafted in his chamber, but did not expand. 

“It’s an issue that will definitely come up and go through the session,” he said.

School safety

Galvano said the program created last year to arm school staff — called the “guardian” program — is something he will continue to support.

He added that there is more work to do on school safety and that he plans to take seriously recommendations from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which was created in 2018 after the fatal shooting at the high school last February.


The Senate President said this year, he hopes his chamber will make moves to regulate sports betting in the state. 

Since Amendment 3 passed on the 2018 ballot, expanding gambling options in Florida now requires a statewide vote.

“It’s an activity that’s occurring but we are not collecting revenue,” he said.

January 09, 2019

FAU researcher to Senators: Address septic systems over Everglades reservoir

Labelle algae

Should addressing Florida’s septic systems take precedence in addressing water quality issues?

A presentation made to the Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee told lawmakers “yes.”

Brian Lapointe, a researcher from Florida Atlantic University presented for nearly an hour to the committee Wednesday, explaining how septic systems provide primary treatment and are not designed to remove nutrients, bacteria, viruses or pharmaceuticals.

After a long presentation of historical data and a video funded by the Florida Chamber (which initially opposed the Everglades reservoir), Lapointe made the point that a group within the Department of Environmental Protection needs to build a plan to combat septic systems from dumping huge nutrient loads into the waterways.

Lapointe said the Everglades reservoir is “a distraction”  from the real problem of septic tanks, and added that curtailing toxic blue-green algae blooms in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers by sending Lake Okeechobee water south is a bad decision.

“We need a Manhattan Project,” he said. “We need to go to war against blue-green algae. We have to build a state master plan.”

Sen. Ben Albritton, a citrus grower, agreed with Lapointe and blamed newspapers for spreading “misinformation” about how the blooms spread and grow. The Wauchula Republican said farmers are falsely blamed for contaminating the water, and that the public needs to understand the real truth.

“It seems to me that this septic system problem is a bigger and bigger piece of the pie of where the nitrogen is coming from,” he said.

Sen. José Javier Rodríguez expressed concern about his native South Florida, and how it’s more important to send higher quality than a higher quantity of water south to the Everglades from the lake.

But Lapoint said it cleaning water “doesn’t make sense.”

“We have to protect Lake O,” he said. “We have to focus on the source of the water, clean it there and store it there. That’s common sense to me.”

Julie Wraithmell, the executive director of Audubon Florida, called Lapointe’s presentation “completely disingenuous.”

She pointed out how his charts that suggest water flows have increased to the Everglades over time start in the 1940s, which is after the Everglades were drained. She also said the presentation didn’t show how little water the Everglades is getting in dry season flows, which is when the most damage occurs. 

Wraithmell also added that she was “flummoxed” by the idea of blaming septic systems for the majority of nutrient dumps.

“There is no smoking gun for our water quality issues and no silver bullet,” she said. “It’s unfortunate because while it’s part of the science, it’s not all of the science, and for decision-makers to make good decisions, they need all the information."

October 10, 2017

Taddeo joins Florida Senate as first Hispanic Democratic woman elected to chamber

Taddeo swearing in1 (1)


Beginning her service in Tallahassee this week as Florida’s newest state senator, Miami Democrat Annette Taddeo said she aims to be “a voice of inclusion, a voice of opportunity for all.”

“Just bringing the voice of the people,” Taddeo said at the state Capitol Tuesday morning after she was officially sworn in as District 40’s next senator. “It was not just a hashtag when we said it was ‘a people-powered campaign’ — it was truly born from the community and I’m very proud of that.”

Taddeo won a special election on Sept. 26 to replace disgraced former Sen. Frank Artiles, a Miami Republican who resigned in April. Her upset win over former state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, helped the Democrats secure an additional seat in the Senate, narrowing the Republican majority to 24-16.

In joining the Senate, the Colombian-born Taddeo also became the first Hispanic Democratic woman elected to the chamber.

“It’s a humbling experience; I’m very excited and honored to be given this responsibility,” she said. “I’m ready.”

Full story here.


Photo credit: State Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, center, is sworn in to office by Florida Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince on Oct. 10, 2017. She was joined at her swearing-in ceremony by her 11-year-old daughter Sofia Taddeo-Goldstein, her husband Eric Goldstein and her mother Elizabeth Taddeo. [Florida Senate]

September 25, 2017

Open Miami-Dade House, Senate seats will be decided in Tuesday special election

Diaz and Taddeo


In a special election on Tuesday, voters in southwest Miami-Dade County will determine the successors for two seats in the state Legislature that opened up after a Miami Republican senator was forced to resign last spring when he made racist and insulting remarks in front of fellow senators at a bar near the state Capitol.

The fight for the District 40 Senate seat — formerly held by Frank Artiles, who stepped down in April — has been highly competitive for what it could mean, particularly for Democrats: The chance to flip the seat and narrow Republicans’ current 24-15 advantage in the chamber.

The House District 116 seat is also on the ballot, because Florida’s “resign to run” law required Miami Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz to vacate that seat when he chose to run in the District 40 contest.

More details here.

Photo credit: Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, left, and Democrat Annette Taddeo, right. [Miami Herald file photo.]

September 21, 2017

Annette Taddeo nabs late campaign endorsement from Joe Biden



Just how important is a win next week for Florida Democrats in the competitive special election for a state Senate seat in Miami-Dade County?

Important enough that former Vice President Joe Biden recorded a campaign call for Annette Taddeo in an effort to give a late boost to the Democrat’s candidacy against Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz.

Taddeo’s campaign announced Biden’s endorsement — and the phone call he recorded for her — on Thursday afternoon, five days before the District 40 election will be decided on Tuesday. Voting early in person and by mail has already started.

“I wanted to call to remind you that voting is underway for a very important special election in your community,” Biden says in the 50-second recording to voters, which is a political ad paid for by Taddeo’s campaign.

More here.

Photo credit: AP

September 18, 2017

As state Senate election nears, Diaz, Taddeo debate 'lessons learned' from Hurricane Irma

Diaz taddeo debate 0917


The impacts and recovery efforts that followed Hurricane Irma have presented fresh fodder for political debate between the two main candidates who are seeking voters’ support in a bitter battle that will be decided next week for an open state Senate seat in Miami-Dade County.

On WPLG Local 10 News’ “This Week in South Florida” on Sunday, Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and Democrat Annette Taddeo sparred about the “lessons learned” from the storm.

They also used the 10-minute televised debate to trade attacks over which of them caters more to special interest groups and industries that came to the forefront during and after the hurricane, such as utilities and nursing home care.

“What we have learned is that industry has a great impact at the [Public Service Commission], at the Legislature. They have killed certain legislation so it could have prevented the lives that we lost at the nursing home,” Taddeo said on the Sunday morning show, referencing the eight elderly people who died last week in a Broward County facility that lacked air conditioning after the hurricane.

Whether it was the elder care industry or utilities, like Florida Power & Light, Taddeo said: “We need to make sure we have representatives that represent us — not the special interests. And that’s not what we have right now; we have had this problem in Florida for decades.”

Diaz — who’s served in the Florida House for seven years — countered that “it’s unfortunate that my opponent would try to paint me off as someone who’s beholden to special interests.”

“The only special interest that matters to me is the people of my community. Nobody’s worked harder during and after this storm than me,” Diaz said.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, left, and Democrat Annette Taddeo, right, debate during Sunday’s episode of “This Week in South Florida” on WPLG Local 10 News in Miami. Diaz and Taddeo are candidates for the open Senate District 40 seat in Miami-Dade County. [WPLG]