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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

House overhauls medical marijuana plan, but the bill still isn't final

State Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, in 2015.


State Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, in 2015.

State lawmakers are inching closer to an agreement on medical marijuana after more than 70 percent of voters declared they wanted to allow patients with debilitating conditions to use the drug.

On Friday, the Florida House made sweeping changes to their legislation (HB 1397), addressing concerns raised by activists that bill initially proposed by Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, made it too difficult for doctors to recommend cannabis to patients and limited access.

“We have listened and we have worked hard to create a patient-centered process,” Rodrigues said. “We believe this bill makes it easier for patients to obtain their medical marijuana.”

Among the changes: 

* Patients who complain of chronic pain can be recommended cannabis, but only if it is linked to another debilitating condition. This is in line with Senate proposals but a major step for the House.

* Marijuana dispensaries can sell edibles and products that can be “vaped.” The bill still bans smoking. …

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Rick Scott goes after Bill Nelson in NRA speech

Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks Friday at the National Rifle Association-ILA Leadership Forum in Atlanta.

Associated Press

Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks Friday at the National Rifle Association-ILA Leadership Forum in Atlanta.

Gov. Rick Scott used a speech before the NRA today to attack probable 2018 rival Bill Nelson, saying the Democratic senator "has beared far to the left."

"Look at the votes on this Supreme Court nominee and you can see that there are a number of senators who did not represent their states. These senators need to be retired," Scott said at the NRA conference in Atlanta, speaking after President Donald Trump.

"Unfortunately one of my Florida senators -- Bill Nelson -- has beared far to the left. He voted for Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and he just voted against Neil Gorsuch.

"I will leave you with this. You all have done great and important work but there is no rest for the weary. There is no time to relax. The opponents of freedom and liberty are constantly on the move. But fortunately for America today the defenders of freedom and liberty are stronger but we have to keep fighting to keep it that way.”

Florida Democratic Party President Sally Boynton Brown: …

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It's Camp Tallahassee 'superlatives' time for Florida House

Clip art

Clip art

As the Florida House was engaged in deep discussion Friday over things like whether to give more power to law enforcement to crack down illegal immigration, two freshmen House members were circulating a little survey in search of a colleagues "most likely to fall asleep," or the "best dressed" or the "life of the party."

Patterned after the popular summer camp and high school practice, Rep. Alex Miller, R-Sarasota, and Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, circulated the "2017 member superlatives" aimed at deciding which of the 120 members of the House should be given important designations.

"The Women’s Caucus is pleased to request your anonymous responses to the 2017 member superlatives,'' they wrote. "Please drop off at Rep Alex Miller or Rep Jackie Toledo’s office on the 14th floor (or in person). All 120 members of the House are included. Please submit responses by 5 pm on Monday May 1st."

Here's what they're looking for:  …

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Senator's 'discomfort about memorializing slavery' could block House-approved state monument

Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami

Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami

A proposal to create the first slavery memorial in Florida unanimously passed the state House on Friday with roaring applause — but its prospects in the Senate are uncertain after one committee chairman stalled the legislation over a “philosophical objection” to the concept.

Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley — the chairman of the Senate Government Oversight & Accountability Committee who is known for his conservative positions — never scheduled a hearing to consider the Senate’s version of a bill calling for a Florida Slavery Memorial near the Capitol in Tallahassee.

Because of that, the fate of HB 27 now hinges on a rare procedural override that President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, could try to execute.

House members Friday overwhelmingly embraced the idea for a slavery memorial, proposed in that chamber by Miami Democratic Rep. Kionne McGhee.

“I am literally — and many of us in this room, we are literally 7,923 weeks out of slavery,” McGhee, who is black, said on the House floor before the vote. “As we gather here at this defining moment in this Capitol ... this is perhaps one of the most joyous moments in my life to know that the journeys that my forefathers went through were not lost.” …

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Jack Latvala: Budget 'driven strictly by the guy that wants transparency'

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, with Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.


Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, with Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, the Senate Appropriations chairman, told reporters Friday that in his 15 years in the Florida Senate he's "never seen" a budget negotiated like the one lawmakers are crafting for 2017-18. 

And he cast blame on one person: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes -- although not mentioning him directly by name.

Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, insisted first on hashing out -- in private -- trades on significant policy priorities they want accomplished this year before they would agree to let public budget conference committee meetings begin yesterday. (Session is scheduled to end May 5.)

RELATED: "Lawmakers — privately — cut $200M deal to help kids in failing schools"

"I haven't seen it to the extent that we've seen it this year of deciding so many issues as a part of the budget process," Latvala said. "I've never seen that before." …

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Will Senate Democrats flex muscle on homestead exemption?

With the absence of Sen. Dorothy Hukill and the resignation of Sen. Frank Artiles, the 15 Democrats in the Florida Senate now have the power to block any vote that requires a three-fifths vote of the 40-member chamber. Enter the debate over putting an expanded homestead exemption on the November 2018 ballot. 

Will Democrats hold? "We're evaluating whether or not to do that or not,'' said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, the Senate's incoming Democratic leader.

He added: "It blows the entire session up. Because this is a trade with [House Speaker Richard] Corcoran,'' he said. "So if we take that step the budget stops and the session stops so that's what we're evaluating."

As evidence this is a policy trade for the budget resolution, the Florida Senate added the bill to the Senate Rules Committee agenda, amended it and passed it out on Friday.  The full Senate will take it up on Monday. 

Sen. Jose Javier Rodriquez, D-Miami, who voted for a version of the homestead amendment in committee, said he expects "if Democrats take a position, it holds,'' adding that leadership is deciding whether or not to do it.  …

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Trump signs order to open up more oil drilling, setting up clash with Florida

President Donald Trump holds up a signed executive order in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Friday, directing the Interior Department to begin review of restrictive drilling policies for the outer-continental shelf.

Pablo Martinez | Associated Press

President Donald Trump holds up a signed executive order in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Friday, directing the Interior Department to begin review of restrictive drilling policies for the outer-continental shelf.

WASHINGTON - President Trump this morning signed an executive order that could open up more oil drilling, setting up a confrontation with Florida politicians.

The “America First Offshore Energy Strategy” calls for a review of drilling in the outer continental shelf. President Obama before leaving office put into place restrictions that closed off areas in the Arctic and Atlantic as well as the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

"It’s a great day for America workers, unleashing American energy and clearing the way for thousands and thousands of high-paying American energy jobs," Trump said. "Our country is blessed with incredible natural resources, including abundant offshore oil and natural gas reserves."

Sen. Bill Nelson yesterday filed a bill to block the move but with a Republican majority in both chambers that effort may falter. Still, any changes under Trump could take years to implement.

Florida opposition emerged immediately. …

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Did House Speaker retaliate against members who supported Visit Florida funding? Jack Latvala says yes

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater

Times File Photo

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said he's convinced most rank-and-file members in the House never wanted to see Visit Florida slashed so dramatically.

But Latvala told reporters on Friday that House members were forced by "one guy" to vote with him or face political retaliation. Latvala didn't mention House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, by name, but it was clear who he was referencing.

"This is not a decision that was made by the rank-and-file members in the House," Latvala said. "This was made by one guy. And you know, there were a lot of brave souls that voted against the decision that were made on Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida and they've paid the price. And I know that because I've got bills sponsored with some of them that quit moving when they made that vote."

Latvala would not cite a specific example or member when asked by the Times/Herald.

House spokesman Fred Piccolo rejected Latvala's claim. …

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Echoing Trump, Adam Putnam blasts NAFTA

Adam Putnam

[OCTAVIO JONES | Tampa Bay Times]

Adam Putnam

From the News Service of Florida's Jim Turner and Jim Saunders.... …

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Cuts get more severe for Rick Scott's top priority

Gov. Rick Scott


Gov. Rick Scott

The cuts to Gov. Rick Scott's primary job creation agency is even deeper than first thought.

The Florida Legislature rolled out new budget details Friday that would not only reject the Governor's request for $85 million for job incentives to lure businesses to Florida, but also cut the agency that promotes Florida as a business destination and organizes international job training missions like the one Scott was on earlier this week in Argentina.

Originally House and Senate leaders said they'd cut Enterprise Florida's incentives and give them just a base operations budget of around $23 million like it had this year.

But this morning, when House and Senate budget negotiators met, it slashed Enterprise Florida's funding to just $16 million.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said the agency would have its base operations - around $8.4 million last year, but it was unclear if the agency will have funding to do the international programs.

"We're still working on that," Brandes said.

 Scott on Thursday met with 10 Senators and held a press conference with reporters where he ripped legislators for proposing cuts to Enterprise Florida, which he says is critical to job creation in Florida. …

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Bob Buckhorn, Rick Kriseman, others pressing for no votes on homestead exemption proposal

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn

Mayors and commissioners in Tampa Bay are pressing their local senators to oppose a far-reaching proposal to increase Florida's homestead exemption from $50,000 to $75,000. But the Republican Senate leadership is confident it has the votes it needs for passage.

"I think we'll be fine, otherwise we wouldn't bring it up," Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said Friday.

The Senate maneuvered the bill in place for a floor vote after bypassing the Appropriations Committee and the Finance & Tax Committee -- even though the proposal has an updated fiscal impact of an estimated $644 million on local governments.

Lobbying by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman helped convince Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, to oppose the bill, a linchpin in budget negotiations between the Senate and House and a top priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes. …

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Mike Feranandez adds his voice to Miami leaders blasting casino plan

Mike Fernandez

By Cbonarrigo -

Mike Fernandez

In an email drafted last night from his I-phone, Miami health care company founder Mike Fernandez sent a strongly-worded letter to Sen. Bill Galvano and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz Wednesday night blasting their decision to "dump casino expansion efforts on the South Florida community." He loaded it with a warning.

"The arrogance of those in public office and who set their priorities ahead of the needs and desires of their constituents, will not be ignored,'' he wrote. "Be assured that the efforts to be led by South Florida's leading social and business leaders will make their weight be felt.'' 

Fernandez, chairman of MBF Partners, a health care company that has run state medical managed care contracts, is one of the most prolific Republican donors in the state. He cited this Miami Herald story and added his voice to that of Armando Codina, the Miami developer and community leader who told the Miami Herald in an interview on Tuesday that the decision by House and Senate gambling negotiators to back a Miami casino was short-sighted.  …

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'Schools of hope' compromise all-but finalized -- in secret

Lawmakers secretly struck a tentative compromise Thursday on one of the most consequential education reforms of the 2017 session — a $200 million program to help students who attend perpetually failing K-12 public schools in Florida.

Specifics of the proposed deal were not released, as some of it was still being finalized, House and Senate pre-K-12 education budget chairmen said late Thursday. But the general description of the agreement was enough to earn initial support from some House Democrats, who had — until very recently — staunchly opposed the concept.

“We’re happy they listened to us and a lot of the ideas we had in committee,” said Broward County Rep. Shevrin Jones, the top Democrat on the House Education Committee, who helped negotiate the compromise on the Democrats’ behalf. “We’re happy with the direction they’re going in.”

That direction, Jones said, involves the House seeking middle ground with what school superintendents have asked for and with the Senate’s more blended proposal: Provide more financial aid and other resources to failing traditional public schools first, before implementing more drastic options, such as inviting competition from new charter schools. …

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Florida Republicans helped nix second attempt to overhaul Obamacare

A patient is examined at a practice in Taylorsville, Ky., Jan. 15, 2014.

Luke Sharrett | New York Times

A patient is examined at a practice in Taylorsville, Ky., Jan. 15, 2014.

UPDATE: Late Thursday House leaders announced they would not attempt a vote on Friday, conceding insufficient votes.

The tepid response from Florida, clear early in the day, portended that decision.

WASHINGTON - Florida House Republicans aren't rushing to embrace a new Obamacare overhaul that would give states the option to back out of certain parts of the law.

The Tampa Bay Times has asked all 16 members where they stand on the proposal.

Responses from press officers:

Gus Bilirakis: “Still reviewing”

Vern Buchanan: "Vern is reviewing the newest changes to the bill."

Carlos Curbelo: “Still in the process of reviewing the legislation and discussing it with House leaders.”

Ron DeSantis: No response.

Mario Diaz-Balart: Still reviewing "but with serious concerns."

Neal Dunn: "Dr. Dunn is still reviewing the changes to the bill."

Matt Gaetz: "The bill like the one I supported + more states rights?" -- responding to our question posed on Twitter. He's a yes, obviously.

Brian Mast: "He is in the process of reviewing the proposal."

Bill Posey: No response.

Tom Rooney: "Undecided" …

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House considers letting elected officials have secret meetings

The Florida Constitution and the state’s famed Sunshine Law give residents the right to know about and observe meetings held by the elected officials who represent them and make decisions on their behalf.

But a bill going to the state House floor on Friday would effectively thwart significant aspects of that constitutional guarantee and potentially render it meaningless by allowing local elected officials — from city and county commissioners to school board members — to meet behind closed doors and discuss public matters in secret.

The proposed law (HB 843) from Naples Republican Rep. Byron Donalds would exempt from open meetings requirements any gatherings between two members of a local, county or state agency board or commission. Those officials wouldn’t have to give any notice about their meeting and they wouldn’t have to keep any records of what they discuss. (The exemption would apply to boards or commissions with at least five members.)

Donalds argues that the Sunshine Law needs to be more practical in letting local elected officials conduct public business.

RELATED: “House votes to make secret the applicants for top college, university posts” …

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