Health officials select five marijuana-growing nurseries in Florida

Florida Department of Health selects five marijuana-growing nurseries
Florida Department of Health selects five marijuana-growing nurseries

Florida’s long-delayed medical marijuana initiative took a step forward Monday with the selection of five large nurseries to start growing, processing and distributing the non-euphoric pot.

The state’s Department of Health chose the five from a list of 28 nurseries that had applied in July for the potentially lucrative licenses to provide Charlotte’s Web, a form of marijuana oil.

The product is low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — which gives marijuana its psychoactive quality — but high in cannabadiol, or CBD, which research shows eases convulsions, inflammation, anxiety and nausea.

Cancer patients and those suffering from severe epilepsy were supposed to be able to obtain a non-euphoric marijuana oil dubbed Charlotte’s Web beginning Jan. 1, 2015. But crafting regulations for a new Florida marijuana industry has stalled the introduction.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether more delays could stem from legal appeals by any of the nurseries not selected by health officials.

Under the state’s 2014 law, the nurseries are chosen geographically, with Costa Nursery Farm in south Miami-Dade County, the location where patients from Palm Beach County would be expected to pick up the product.

Like all the winning nurseries, Costa is expected to post a $5 million bond within 10 days and 75 days from today to request approval to start growing medical marijuana. Once that so-called cultivation authorization is approved, growers must begin dispensing the product within 210 days, according to the notices sent Monday by the Department of Health.



Scott proposes $79.3 billion state budget, topped by tax cuts, more school spending

Gov. Rick Scott proposed a $79.3 billion state budget for next year
Gov. Rick Scott proposed a $79.3 billion state budget for next year

Gov. Rick Scott proposed a $79.3 billion state budget for next year, highlighted by a $1 billion tax cut proposal and a record high-level of per-pupil spending.

The proposal is roughly a $1 billion boost from the current year’s spending.

“We’re clearly headed in the right direction,” Scott said. “Now, we’ve got to invest that money well.”

Scott unveiled his 2016-17 blueprint at a Jacksonville sign company, underscoring a provision of his business-oriented tax-cut plan that includes elimination of the sales tax applied to manufacturers’ equipment purchases.

“We love businesses,” said Scott, in laying out highlights of the budget backed by Harbinger Sign Co., employees in a large warehouse.

Scott included in his proposal public school funding that would allow for an average $7,221 per-pupil spending for Florida’s 2.7 million school children. That would top the previous, pre-recession record by $95, reached during 2007-08.

The Republican governor also proposed a record amount last year, only to have lawmakers scale back his plan. His tax-cut package a year ago also proved more robust than what ultimately became law.

Scott’s proposal is a recommendation to the Legislature, which actually crafts the state budget.

Next year’s session begins in January.

Scott to unveil 16-17 spending blueprint for Florida

Gov. Rick Scott
Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott unveils his state budget proposal for next year this morning at a Jacksonville sign company.

Scott’s spending plan is topped by a $1 billion tax-cut recommendation to kick-in over the next two years — a piece of it going to manufacturers and a reason the Republican governor has chosen a sign-maker as the location for revealing his proposal.

The Republican-led Legislature opens the 2016 session in January. Lawmakers will be the ones crafting the budget, with the governor’s plan a blueprint for how he’d like to see it go.

Scott has already laid out some priority items: He wants $250 million in economic incentive cash, an increase in funding for Department of Children & Families case managers, a boost in mental health funding, and more money for technical centers to help students get ready for the workforce are among the initiatives he’s already highlighted.


Muoio, a Democrat, and Abrams, a Republican, endorse Scott’s call for cash

West Palm Beach mayor Jeri Muoio
West Palm Beach mayor Jeri Muoio

West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio and Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams are the latest city and county officials to endorse Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign to push lawmakers into giving him $250 million for economic incentive programs.

Muoio, a Democrat, and Abrams, a Republican, both signed onto Scott’s proposal, saying that beefing up the available cash for the economic development partnership, Enterprise Florida, could help lure companies and their jobs to the county.

Scott has been asking local officials to sign letters mostly aimed at prodding the Florida Senate, which has resisted his pitch, into giving him the money next year.

“As we work to attract and grow the financial sector in our Flagler Financial District, as well as other industries in West Palm Beach, Enterprise Florida has been a great partner in our ongoing efforts,” said Mayor Muoio. “The collaboration between the city’s economic development team and Enterprise Florida is making significant progress towards growing our city’s economy.”

Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams
Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams

Abrams also echoed Scott’s pitch that his plan will include a role for lawmakers — requiring legislative leaders to sign off on any incentives topping $1 million. It also is intended to toughen the job-creating standards for companies seeking the incentive cash to relocate or expand in Florida.

“These reforms will continue to diversify our local economy, empower our small businesses, and create even more great jobs,” Abrams said.

Is 8 no longer enough? Lawmakers propose 12-year term limits

Extend term limits for lawmakers? Legislators have an idea.
Extend term limits for lawmakers? Legislators have an idea.

House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach joined with a Republican senator Thursday in touting their proposals to extend Florida’s eight-year term limits for state lawmakers to 12 years.

The proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Pafford and Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Miami, would go before voters in November 2016. It would only affect the terms of lawmakers elected after that date.

Pafford and Garcia acknowledged the idea’s a longshot –both in the Legislature and before voters.

“The intent here is tweaking the Constitution,” Pafford said, but, “if voters want to keep eight, that will occur.”

Garcia said, “It is not self-serving, it is not about us. It’s about the future of the Florida Legislature.”

Voters overwhelmingly approved eight-year term limits in 1992.

But lawmakers, lobbyists and many public-interest groups have since term limits for leading to a short-term focus on issues in the Legislature.

There’s been a loss of institutional knowledge and legislators are more intent on rising quickly to leadership posts than toiling as a lawmaker, critics said.

But changing term limits can prove a tough sell.

The House and Senate in 2006 voted to put a similar measure on the ballot, only to return and repeal the proposal — saying it was certain to fail and they had only gotten grief for the idea.


A year after FSU tragedy, guns on campus proposal advances in House

Guns on campus bill poised for House vote
Guns on campus bill poised for House vote

A measure allowing people with concealed weapons permits to bring their guns onto Florida college campuses cleared a key committee stop Thursday and is positioned for a full House vote in coming weeks.

The legislation (CS/HB 4001) has drawn controversy — and packed hearings — as it advanced in the House. A similar idea also is moving forward in the Senate.

The House Judiciary Committee attracted what has proved a familiar lineup of supporters and critics. Representatives of college and university administrators, campus police and instructors’ organizations testified against the measure.

“There is no groundswell of support for this bill,” said Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth.

Florida State University has been ground zero for the debate over guns on campus since gunman Myron May last Nov. 20 wounded two students and a library employee before being killed in a hail of gunfire from police.

The tragedy was cited Thursday by speakers on both sides of campus carry.


Voters’ coalition submits six maps for Senate boundaries to court

David King, attorney for the voters' coalition
David King, attorney for the voters’ coalition

A voters’ coalition has proposed a half-dozen plans for Senate boundaries to a Leon County judge in advance of a trial scheduled for next month to settle on a map for next year’s elections.

The move came hours after the Senate submitted its own plan Thursday, which melded two separate, staff-drawn proposals.

Palm Beach County would lose a Senate seat — the district currently held by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart — but retain three districts held by Democrats in close to their current configurations, under the proposed Senate map.

But the six proposed maps turned into Circuit Judge George Reynolds by the coalition, led by the Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause-Florida, would keep a portion of Negron’s district in Palm Beach County while making changes to the three Democratic-held seats.

Negron would take in the county’s northwest area. But Sens. Joe Abruzzo of Wellington and Maria Sachs of Delray Beach could be forced to tangle for a district that includes portions of each lawmaker’s current district.

A western Palm Beach County district, including the Glades area, comprising much of Abruzzo’s district, would loop south into Boca Raton and Broward County, taking in voters Sachs currently serves.

Sen. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth would mostly be unaffected by the coalition’s proposals, keeping most of the voters he currently represents in the central part of the county. The third county Senate seat would include West Palm Beach north to the Martin County line, coralling part of an area Abruzzo now serves.

While doing some disruption to Palm Beach County, the coalition proposals focus chiefly on making changes to the Senate approach to the Tampa Bay area and south Miami-Dade County, which emerged as battlegrounds between Senate Republican leaders, Democrats and the voters’ groups.

Reynolds has scheduled a Dec. 14-18 trial to review and hear testimony on the plans. He is expected to send a recommendation to the Florida Supreme Court, which will decide which map to put in place for next year’s contests.

Courts have taken over congressional and Senate redistricting in the latest turn in a protracted clash over the once-a-decade process to realign boundaries to reflect population changes from the 2010 census.

Florida Senate’s latest redistricting plan keeps Palm Beach County’s three Democrats in place

Here's what Palm Beach County Senate districts look like in chamber's proposal to court
Here’s what Palm Beach County Senate districts look like in chamber’s proposal to court

The Florida Senate weighed in first Wednesday with a proposed redistricting map for the chamber — submitted to Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds.

Reynolds is expected to hold a trial Dec. 14-18 to settle on Senate boundaries he’ll submit to the Florida Supreme Court, which will decide the map for next year’s elections.

The Senate’s latest proposal is another mash-up map — an approach the chamber has taken before by melding features of a couple different proposals. This one uses a statewide map approved by senators — but replaces the South Florida region with a different configuration included in a staff-drawn proposal.

In Palm Beach County, this latest proposal may do the least disruption.

The district held by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is moved out of the county — and into Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties. But almost every proposal considered by lawmakers did that — over opposition from Palm Beach County officials.

But the county’s three remaining districts would look similar to what they are currently.

Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, would likely feel at home in the western Palm Beach County district that would now also go a little further north to the Martin County line.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, would appear to have an easy transition into a central county district configured much the same as his current seat.

And Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, would be positioned to retain a south county-north Broward district like the one she currently represents.

The Senate proposal, however, is just the latest pitch in a long political game. A voters’ coalition including the Florida League of Women Voters and the state’s Common Cause is expected to submit its own proposals, possibly later Wednesday, and the Florida House is not precluded from offering a plan for the Senate.

Is Florida ready for less ‘lewd and lascivious behavior’? Bid to repeal 1868 law against cohabitation advances

Is it time for Florida to scrap 1868 ban on cohabitation?
Is it time for Florida to scrap 1868 ban on cohabitation?

There could soon be a little less “lewd and lascivious behavior” in Florida.

A measure was sent Wednesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee that would make it legal for couples to live together without being married. It repeals an 1868 law still on the books that makes living together a misdemeanor punishable by 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

“We live in a different world now, and it’s time that we brought Florida’s laws into the 21st century” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, sponsor of the legislation (SB 498) which unanimously cleared the Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday.

“The government has no business intruding into the private lives of two consenting adults,” she added.

A similar measure (HB 4003) is still awaiting its first House hearing. Florida is one of only three states — Michigan and Mississippi are the others — that make cohabitation illegal.

Current law views cohabitation as violating “lewd and lascivious behavior” restrictions. But Sobel said that even though the measure is outdated, it has been used to deny grandparents visitation rights because they live with an unmarried partner.

Over opposition from sheriffs, open-carry gun bill squeaks through House panel

Open carry squeaks through a House committee
Open carry squeaks through a House committee

Legislation that would allow concealed weapons holders to openly carry guns in Florida narrowly cleared a House committee Wednesday, after changes aimed at resolving concerns raised earlier by business groups.

The Justice Appropriations Subcommittee approved the measure 7-6,  with even two usually gun-friendly Republicans against the bill (CS/HB 163) by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. Several lawmakers cited the Florida Sheriffs Association’s opposition to the proposal as guiding their decision.

“We don’t need full-blown open carry. It’s not good for Florida,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who pointed out that 47 of the state’s 67 sheriffs had agreed to fight the legislation.

The open-carry measure would allow the more than 1.4 million Floridians with concealed weapons permits to walk the streets with handguns displayed – not tucked into a purse, under a jacket or in a pocket.

Supporters say it will enhance public safety. They also said it is merely an extension of constitutional firearms protections.

Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, acknowledged that reaction to the legislation was polarizing. But in supporting the bill, Spano said he would vote, “on the side of the constitution.”

The action came after Gaetz also endorsed amendments to the bill that underscored the right of property owners to prohibit guns from being openly carried in their bars, restaurants and other public buildings. Another change added was aimed at assuring that guns couldn’t be displayed recklessly.

Although 43 states now allow open-carry, opponents argued it would hurt Florida’s lucrative tourist industry, confuse law enforcement in tense situations, and heighten the risk of violence for Floridians. Gualtieri also said that just because other states had embraced open-carry, that didn’t make it right for Florida.

“Montana is not Miami,” Gualtieri said.