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Governor Wants to Shake Up the Medical Marijuana Industry

January 18th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

In addition to asking state lawmakers to make smokeable cannabis available to patients, Governor Ron DeSantis also wants to shake up the entire distribution system.

The Governor likens the current seed to sale structure to a drug cartel.

DeSantis didn’t mince words when asked if agreed with the way Florida’s Medical Marijuana Industry was operating Thursday afternoon.

“They created a cartel essentially,” said DeSantis. “I don’t know that the amendment necessarily prohibits that, but that is not good policy.”

Under the current policy, 14 companies have a virtual monopoly controlling everything from seed to sale.

Jeff Sharkey with the Medical Marijuana Business Association says that makes it nearly impossible for smaller operations to acquire licenses.

“So there has been some concern and question about, do we need to be vertically integrated, you’ve got to do the whole thing,” said Sharkey. “Or can we allow people to do pieces of this they’re very good at?”

DeSantis wants to open up the market, by allowing companies to provide specific services, like growing, transporting or dispensing.

We reached out to representatives from medical marijuana provider Trulieve, but were told the company wasn’t ready to comment on DeSantis’ proposed changes.

Current licensees stand to lose the most if the market is opened up.

The licenses they hold are worth upwards of $50 million, even if they haven’t sold a single product yet.

Florida’s requirement for growers to follow a seed to sale model was successfully challenged in court last year.

The state appealed, blocking the ruling, but DeSantis has suggested he could drop the appeal, if the Legislature doesn’t cooperate.

“Policymakers, they want industry to survive, but you know there’s plenty of room here for other qualified people to get in and participate in this growing medical marijuana market,” said Sharkey.

Two bills have already been filed for the 2019 session.

One allows smoking, the other would require dispensaries be independently owned instead of controlled by the growers.

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Leaders in State Capitol Teaming Up to Help Federal Workers

January 18th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

A coalition of faith, businesses and civic leaders has convened to help furloughed federal workers in the the State’s Capitol.

The group calling themselves the “Love Thy Neighbor Movement” are helping gather recourse and encourage banks, city governments and medical providers to be conscious of the financial stress put on an estimated 300 government workers in the city directly impacted by the Government shutdown.

It’s been 28 days since the shut down started and the coalition is begging Congress and the President to set aside their differences for the good of the 800,000 federal employees nationwide going without pay.

“It’s not about Democrats or Republicans, or black or white or brown or jews or catholics or protistans. It’s about our community and how do we make sure that we provide resources to men and women who need their lights to stay on,” said Reverend Dr. R.B. Holmes.

The coalition says if the Government shutdown doesn’t end soon, it will take the fight directly to Washington DC, traveling by bus to meet face to face with lawmakers.

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DeSantis Sets Deadline for Smokable Medical Marijuana

January 17th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Nearly 170,000 medical marijuana patients in the state may soon have a new option for how they take their medicine… smoking.

Governor Ron DeSantis announced Thursday the state will drop its appeal of a court ruling that threw out the state ban on smoking medical cannabis if the Legislature doesn’t change the law during the first two weeks of March.

When 71% of voters approved medical marijuana in 2016 many thought smoking would be an option for patients.

The Legislature had other ideas.

“They voted for medical marijuana. They did not vote specifically for what form it comes in,” said then Representative Elizabeth Porter at a committee meeting in 2017.

Lawmakers’ decision to outlaw smoking spurred Amendment Author John Morgan to file his ‘No Smoke is a Joke’ lawsuit.

“There are 400, 500,000 people, sick people today that are counting on this,” said Morgan in July of 2017.

A circuit court agreed with Morgan, ruling the Legislature’s ban on smoking was unconstitutional.

The state appealed, blocking the ruling from taking effect, but now that may change.

Governor Ron DeSantis says he will drop the appeal if the Legislature doesn’t change the law to allow smoking by mid-March.

“Whether they have to smoke it or not, who am I to judge that? I want people to be able to have their suffering relieved,” said DeSantis.

Senator Rob Bradley, the author of the law says DeSantis is on the right track.

“It was put into law for some very good solid policy reasons, but it is starting to get the feel of an issue that we probably need to move past,” said Bradley.

Medical marijuana advocates agree, but only if the change actually happens.

“People can say all kinds of things, so I’m going to remain cautiously optimistic,” said Josephine Cannela-Khrel with the Florida Cannabis Action Network.

The announcement has Medical marijuana business advocates rejoicing.

They believe it’s a first step toward dropping appeals in other cases like the limitation on the number of growers licenses.

Calling the current distribution system a cartel, DeSantis also wants lawmakers to change the state’s seed to sale requirement opening the market and creating more access.

The issue is at the center of another lawsuit being appealed by the state.

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Marcy’s Law Confusing Law Enforcement

January 17th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Ambiguities in the victims rights amendment approved by voters are creating headaches for law-enforcement agencies across the state.

Different agencies in the same county have different ideas of what’s required, and both legislative changes and lawsuits are on the horizon.

The Amendment giving crime victims new rights barely squeaked into the constitution with just over 61% of the vote.

Now the First amendment Foundation and virtually every police legal adviser in the state says the amendment leaves too many questions unanswered.

Ambiguous is the word most are using.

At the Tallahassee Police Department, every victim’s name from every report is being redacted, including reports from years ago.

“We can not, basically reveal the victims name, and or their family or their location,” said TPD Spokesmen Damon Miller. “So a lot of things will be dependent on the relationship to the victims.”

While in the state Capitol, the police department is redacting everything, the sheriff’s department isn’t redacting anything unless the victim requests it.

Richard Greenberg is the President of the Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys Association.

He calls what the amend does, unprecedented.

“The public could be able to provide information, but if they don’t know who the victim is or maybe where the incident occurred, things like that, it’s going to hinder law enforcement,” said Greenberg.

State lawmakers have already held a round table, and legislation to clarify the amendment will be filed.

Court challenges, particularly a federal challenge over the rights of the accused is also in the works.

A similar amendment in Montana was declared unconstitutional, and courts in states where it has been adopted are reviewing its constitutionality.

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What if they forgot to change the law when Cabinet downsized?

January 16th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Ron DeSantis’ picks to head the state Veterans Affairs and Revenue agencies are hung up over procedural questions being pushed by the lone state wide elected Democrat.

It is the first time we’ve seen the new Governor’s temper flash in public.

State Representative Danny Burgess is an army vet.

His passion convinced the new Governor to select him to run the state Veterans Affairs agency, but now he’s caught up in a skirmish between the Governor and the State’s lone elected Democrat, Nikki Fried.

“I will have to vote no today based on process and procedure,” said Fried.

Under a requirement that was overlooked 20 years ago when the Cabinet was downsized, the appointment now requires a unanimous vote, rather than a simple majority.

The Governor pushed back.

“Well, for the Department of Veterans Affairs, the statutes require the Governor, it’s a Governor appointment, it’s not a Cabinet appointment, so I’m going to go ahead and have Danny interview. I think that’s appropriate,” said DeSantis.

Fried’s caution dates back four years when Rick Scott said the top official at the Department of Law Enforcement had resigned.
It wasn’t true.

The official was forced out.

Fried says this isn’t about Burgess but about keeping the system honest.
“To make sure we are honoring transparency and the Sunshine laws here in our state,” said Fried.

So far, two candidates have filed to replace Burgess, but for now, he remains a member of the Florida House, and will until the appointment gets worked out.

Fried is expected to support Burgess when the vote comes up at the next scheduled meeting.

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Assignment of Benefits Key Issue for 2019 Session

January 16th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Insurance companies are butting heads with contractors and consumers are stuck in the middle.

It’s a battle over an option that allows people to sign their policy over to repair companies and who pays for the attorney’s fees.

Insurance industry insiders wrapped up a two day long summit in the state’s capitol Wednesday.

One of the top issues: Assignment of Benefits.

It allows people to sign away the rights to insurance proceeds to contractors, who then take over and negotiate with the insurance company.

“When you turn over your rights under your policy to a third party they then have the ability to file a claim on your behalf, they can seek damages from your insurance company on your behalf,” said Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier. “They can do all of these things without your knowledge and often times it can lead to an excessive amount of litigation.”

The cost of that litigation falls on the insurance company.

Current law requires insurers to cover the cost of the policyholders attorney, or in the case of an assignment of benefits agreement, the contractor.

Tasha Carter is the Director of the Division of Consumer Services within the Department of Financial Services.

She told us about a case following Hurricane Michael where a contractor used the protection to over charge for services.

“$18,000, just to place a tarp on their roof,” said Carter.

Those cases often lead to legal battles, that insurers credit for driving up rates for consumers.

A bill already filed for the 2019 session would remove insurer’s responsibility to pay attorney’s fees in disputes brought by contractors, but keep protections for lawsuits brought by policy holders.

However, Jeff Grant, owner of Bone Dry Reconstruction told us in 2017, if contractors are responsible for covering the cost, they’d be vulnerable to abuse from insurers.

“It’s pure economics for the insurance company,” said Grant. “If they can save $50 doing the wrong thing, then they’re going to try to save $50.”

That could make contractors more hesitant to take risky jobs, leaving consumers between a rock and a hard place the next time a major storm hits the state.

Legislation to address assignment of benefits issues have been brought up for at least the past five years. It’s yet to be seen if this year’s attempt has the support it needs to make it to the finish line.

The Restoration Association of Florida and a coalition of contractors issued a statement Wednesday afternoon calling on the Governor to hold insurance companies responsible for paying out claims for Hurricane Michael damage.

The Association says insurance company’s lowball payouts are to blame for increased litigation.

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Supreme Court Makeover Underway

January 15th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Ron Desantis is on a mission to remake Florida Courts.

He’s already filled two vacancies on the state’s highest court and one more appointment is in the works, but there’s no guarantee his choices will ultimately make decisions to the Governor’s liking.

The new governor made it clear in his inaugural address what he wants in a judge.

“For far too long, Florida has seen judges expand their power beyond constitutional bounds,” said DeSantis.

So far, his picks for the State Supreme Court are being praised.

Barbara Lagoa is the first female Hispanic on the court.

Robert Luck, at 37 could spend nearly four decades there before reaching mandatory retirement at 75.

A number of controversial decisions from Florida’s Supreme Court have been decided on a four to three vote, but there has also been unanimous votes.

Mark Schlakman is a former Gubernatorial Special Counsel.

He says no ideological guarantee comes with any selection.

“When they reach that level, given Stare Decisis and precedent, most judges do the right thing for the right reason,” said Schlakman.

The new Governor is also facing some criticism.

For the first time in decades, no African American is on the court.

The panel that screened potential judges chose not to recommend one.

Attorney Thomas Dickens says it matters.

“What if you were say, a white litigant, and you go before a panel that is all African American jurists,” said Dickens. “How does, does that make you feel comfortable that justice was done once the answer comes back?”

Democrats have already filed legislation to revamp the makeup of the panels that screen and nominate judicial candidates, but it stands little chance of passing.

Even if lawmakers were to approve changing the judicial nomination commission make up, this or any Governor would likely veto it, since the Governor controls all the appointments.

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Lawmakers Aim to Ban Predatory Pet Leasing

January 15th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

We’ve all heard about leasing a car, but how about a cat or a dog?

Animal rights groups say these so called, ‘lease-to-own schemes’ prey on people’s love of animals, but newly filed legislation aims to ban the practice in Florida.

Carol Hoover owns Carol’s Critters.

She’s been in business for nearly 30 years, but when we asked her if she had ever heard of pet leasing, she was dumbfounded.

“You know, a car or something maybe, but I’ve never heard of leasing a pet. It’s obviously something we would not do here,” said Hoover.

Her reaction isn’t surprising.

So called, ‘lease-to-own’ options only began gaining popularity over the past few years and are most commonly offered for purebred dog sales.

However, the bill filed by Democratic Senator Annette Taddeo would ban the practice in Florida for all pets.

Jennifer Hobgood with the ASPCA calls the practice, predatory and deceptive.

“The problem is most people don’t read the fine print,” said Hobgood. “They don’t realize they’re signing a lease and that they won’t actually own the dog until they make payments over a long period of time.”

Some victims of lease-to-own schemes report spending as much as three times the list price of a pet.

For some dog breeds that can add up to thousands of dollars.

“Even if the dog passes away, dies, runs away, if they can’t keep the animal anymore and have to surrender it to a shelter they’re still paying for that dog for often times years,” said Hobgood.

If purchasers can’t pay, the family pet could legally be taken away by the leasing company.

For Carol Hoover, the thought of using a pet as collateral is reprehensible.
“It must just not be anybody with any heart, any emotions, any clue what they’re doing to people if they would take their animal away from them,” said Hoover.

So far three states have banned lease-to-own schemes.

Animal rights groups hope Florida will become the fourth this year.

According to the ASPCA, of the approximately 65 puppy-selling stores in Florida, all but 6 offer leasing options.

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Sate May Seek Internet Tax Collections

January 14th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida law requires residents to report and pay the sales taxes they own on items purchased from mail order catalogs or the internet.

Few do, but a recent US Supreme Court decision cleared the way for out of state businesses to begin the collections, but the change would require legislative approval.

Buy something on the internet from Amazon or any company that has a physical presence in Florida, and you are charged sales tax, but buy from some company with no store front in the state, and state law shifts the burden to report and pay the tax to the purchasers.

We asked internet shopper Quincy Davis Internet Shopper if he knew what the DR-15MO form was.

“Out of state purchase return,” said Davis. “What’s this?”

You’re supposed to fill out the form when you make an online purchase.

When newly elected state lawmakers were briefed on the system

Some had the same reaction, asking how the state would collect the taxes owed from purchasers.

“If she owes the use tax, and is willing to send the money into the Department of Revenue, that would be one way. It’s probably not the most common way,” said House Ways and Means Staff Director Dr. Don Langston.

A recent US Supreme Court decision overruled an earlier case.

It said computers no longer make it too big of a burden on businesses to figure out and charge tax no matter where you are.

“This is very serious. This is something that’s vital, obviously for our retailers going forward,” said James Miller with the Florida Retail Federation. “Every company has an advantage outside of Florida right now. Most of them do at least. And we’re getting killed by companies particularly.”

The big political roadblock  in the state Capitol is that policy makers don’t want to get tagged with raising taxes.

Even though they wouldn’t be doing that , they’d just be collecting taxes already owed.

Making the change could bring as much as seven hundred million a year to the state treasury.

If lawmakers move forward in collecting the tax, one idea being talked about is to cut a like amount of other taxes, so no one can accuse them of raising taxes during the next campaign.

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New Bill Would Ban Abortions After Heartbeat is Detectable

January 14th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

New Legislation filed by a conservative state lawmaker would severely restrict abortions in the state.

Legislation in 2017 aimed at banning abortions in Florida after 20 weeks died in early committee meetings.

The new bill, filed for the 2019 session, goes even further.

It would make it a 3rd-degree felony for a doctor to perform an abortion if a fetal heartbeat could be detected.

“Consider the rights of that unborn baby,” said bill sponsor Representative Mike Hill.

Hill says the decision to file the bill came down to his constitutional oath.

The legislation also redefines an “unborn fetus” as an “unborn human being.”

“My oath said that I would protect life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Life being the first one,” said Hill.

Kimberly Scott with Planned Parenthood calls the heartbeat bill: “The most dangerous bill that we have seen for reproductive health in the Florida Legislature.”

Representative Hill says a fetal heart beat can usually be detected after 18 days.

Planned Parenthood says 6 weeks.

Either way, it would be a major decrease from the 24 weeks currently allowed under Florida law.

Planned Parenthood says legal challenges would undoubtedly ensue if the bill became law.

“They spend millions of tax payer dollars in order to defend this type of Legislation in the courts,” said Scott. “This legislation is not in effect anywhere because it is so blatantly unconstitutional.”

However, Hill says the shifting make up of the courts might help his bill hold up.

“We think we can start overturning a lot of these abortion rulings that are killing the unborn,” said Hill.

Similar laws passed in three states were blocked by the courts, a nearly identical bill was vetoed in Ohio.

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DeSantis Touts Executive Order, Environmentalists Cautiously Optimistic

January 11th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Environmental groups say Florida’s environmental policies are headed in a positive direction after Governor Ron DeSantis issued a sweeping Executive Order since taking office on Tuesday.

The order aims to clean up the state’s water ways.

The move is a giant shift from the previous administration that never spoke of climate change.

When former Governor Rick Scott was asked if he believed in climate change back in 2014 he dodged the question.

“I’m not a scientist, but I know what I can do and that’s do everything I can to protect the environment,” said Scott.

This is how DeSantis responded to the same question.

“To me I’m not even as concerned about, is it this sole cause or that sole cause? You know if you have water in the streets you have to find a way to combat that,” said DeSantis.

Governor Ron DeSantis campaigned on cleaning the states water ways and in his first week in office he issued an executive order taking a stance against fracking and offshore drilling, giving the Department of Environmental protection and Scientists a larger role in mitigating algal blooms and promising $2.5 billion for everglades restoration.

“Probably the boldest set of policies that we’ve seen in quite some time in Florida,” said DeSantis.

Another major change DeSantis included in his order puts a priority on the construction of a reservoir south of lake Okeechobee to help filter agricultural run off.

It’s an ask Governor Rick Scott repeatedly ignored, despite continued calls from environmentalists.

The Group Earth Justice says it’s a huge change in attitude.

“It’s certainly a shift in tone and whereas we never really had reason to be cautiously optimistic with Governor Scott, we are now,” said Bradley Marshall, an attorney for Earth Justice.

Even some Democratic lawmakers like Senator Gary Farmer say the new Governor is taking the state’s environmental policies in the right direction.

“This Governor has undone things that our prior Governor did do that I think were detrimental to our environment,” said Farmer.

However,  Aliki Moncrief with the Florida Conservation Voters says DeSantis needs to prove himself with follow through and meaningful action.

“Citizens are going to be in the position of having to hold Governor DeSantis accountable to his promises,” said Moncrief.

Now that task falls to lawmakers to make DeSantis’ asks a reality.

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Groveland Four Pardoned After 70 Years

January 11th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

On July 16, 1949, a seventeen year old central Florida woman accused four black men of rape.

Two were killed, one by a mob, the other by the Sheriff.

Two others served a dozen years in prison.

Now, Governor Ron DeSantis and the Clemency Board have righted a 70-year-old wrong.

Carol Greenlee first met her father, one of four black men accused of rape, in Florida State Prison.

“He was accused, put in jail, tortured, for something he did not do,” said Greenlee.

Norma Padgett, the now 87-year-old alleged victim sat in the front row, when the first cousin of Samuel Shepherd, the man shot and killed in cold blood by the county sheriff, let sparks fly.

“It never happened Miss Padgett. Family, it never happened. You all are liars,” said Dr. Beverly Robinson.

Padgett told the panel she sticks by her story.

“And I don’t want the pardoned. No I do not and you wouldn’t either,” said Padgett. “I know she called me a liar, but I’m not no liar.”

The State Legislature apologized to the Groveland families in 2017.

So has Lake County, where the injustice occurred.

Governor Ron DeSantis told reporters before the meeting he had read the entire file and was convinced action was needed.

“I think it was a miscarriage of justice,” said DeSantis.

Efforts to get the pardon began in 2014.

Attorney General Ashley Moody said it wasn’t about who was telling the truth.

“Today we were focused on righting a wrong of more than 70 years ago,” said Moody.

Carol Greenlee told us she feels the life sentence she’s been servicing is finally over.

“My father is not a rapist. My father is a christian man,” said Greenlee.

In addition to pardoning he two men who served prison time, the board also pardoned the two who were killed before standing trial.

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Prison Workers Protest Shutdown

January 10th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Federal prison workers protested in front of the State Capitol this morning demanding Congress and the President act to reopen the Federal Government.

The protest was organized by the Union representing prison workers in Tallahassee, where the shut down has already resulted in employees losing part of a pay check.

Friday will be the first full pay check employees will not receive.

Union President Ray Coleman Jr. says the President’s assertion that Federal workers support the shut down is simply not true.

“The general consensus is, hey let’s come together and open the government so we can get paid and you guys can dialogue about that and come to a consensus about whatever we need to do to move forward, but pay us for the jobs we’re doing in the meantime,” said Coleman. “You know we don’t like being political pawns in a political chess match.”

Coleman estimates Florida is home to between three and four thousand Federal prison workers. A total of 800,000 Federal employees nationwide are either working without pay or have been furloughed as a result of the shutdown.

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Florida Group Protests Maduro’s Second Term

January 10th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela was sworn in to a second term as President Thursday, and about a dozen protesters made their displeasure know in front of the state capitol.

The group Ola Tallahassee hopes to encourage state lawmakers to take more actions to sanction what the group is calling a corrupt regime.

Last year the legislature ordered the state pension fund to sell any investments in the country.

Maria Naceno says families are fleeing the nation because of the corruption.

“Many people don’t know what’s happening in my country. Many people need to know today he’s going to be the President for the next six years again. Many people don’t know this election was a fraud, so that’s why we are here,” said Naceno.

Legislation has already been filed to continue state financial sanctions against the country and to encourage the U.S. government to do more.

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Rebuild 850 Looks to Help Hurricane Victims

January 10th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Three months after Hurricane Michael caused wide spread devastation in the Florida panhandle, residents there are still in desperate need of help.

The coalition Rebuild 850, named for the area code, is raising money to help pay for unmet needs.

Thursday marked exactly three months since Hurricane Michael tore through Florida’s Panhandle costing billions of dollars in damage to not only homes, but infrastructure, agriculture and businesses.

“Public assistance is needed now more than ever,” said former Congresswoman Gwen Graham.

A bipartisan group led by Graham, former Florida House Speaker Allan Bense and former Florida Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon says the devastation persists.

“A picture that I took Monday,” said Bense. “It’s of a camper that’s overturned four blocks from my house. It’s still overturned. It’s just, it’s ugly.”
The group called Rebuild 850 is partnering with Volunteer Florida to raise money to help in the recovery.

A $250,000 check presented by Bank of America brings the total collection to nearly $400,000.

Rebuild 850 says the money it collects will go towards things like diapers and the every day living costs that state and federal recovery funds don’t address.

“Our commitment is to make sure that the resources are well spent and spent to help people in their lives and recovery and getting back to a more normal existence,” said Graham.

Volunteer Florida CEO David Mica Jr. says every dollar collected will go directly to victims.

“Volunteer Florida doesn’t take salary or benefit dollars out of those donations,” said Mica. “We move those directly through a granting process to our partners.”

Rebuild 850 is also encouraging people to consider vacationing in the Panhandle because it says Tourism dollars help local businesses stay afloat.

To donate to Rebuild 850 click this link.

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