A.G. Gancarski - SaintPetersBlog

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written a weekly column for Jacksonville’s Folio Weekly since 2003. His writings on politics, culture, and sport have appeared in the Washington Times, the Daily Caller, and the American Conservative. His radio and TV appearances include frequent contributions to WJCT-FM (Jacksonville’s Public Radio station); additionally, he has been a guest on Huff Post Live and the Savage Nation radio show. Gancarski can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

Certificate of Need program in Senate’s crosshairs

On Friday, Florida State Sen. Rob Bradley filed a bill to repeal the state’s controversial Certificate of Need program. And Gov. Rick Scott supports the measure.

Senate Bill 676 would eliminate the Certificate of Need (CON) Program at the Agency for Health Care Administration.

Currently, health care providers require a certificate of need prior before building or converting hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices.

Under Bradley’s bill, the Agency for Health Care Administration would develop licensure rules for new providers, and sets guidelines for the licensure of hospitals and hospice facilities.

Bradley, a traditional free-market conservative, believes that competition will help reduce health care costs for consumers.

“By eliminating the state’s restrictive CON process we’ll increase competition and drive down the cost of health care for Floridians,” said Senator Bradley. “For years, this cumbersome process has been used to block the expansion of facilities and restrict competition. So, in addition to driving costs, we should also see a significant economic impact in terms of the creation of new jobs by removing this barrier.”

Gov. Scott, who has been focused on health care cost reform throughout his tenure, backs this play.

“I’ve traveled across our state and spoken with Floridians who have been charged unconscionable prices for procedures. This session, I want to fight to make the healthcare system fair for families and ensure health care works for patients and not for hospitals’ bottom lines. I look forward to working with Senator Bradley to champion this legislation as we continue to help bring greater access, quality, transparency and fairness to patients,” Gov. Scott asserted.

Steering policy in this model: local health councils, which would be selected regionally and would have carve out membership requirements ensuring that all counties in a given area have a say, and ensuring that seniors are represented on the councils.

These panels would provide guidance, and serve as an intermediary between local and state governmental concerns.

These councils would be paid for via assessments on licensed medical facilities, including such as hospices and abortion clinics.

Hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices would pay a fee per bed; other facilities would get a flat rate cost of $150 per annum.

Bradley is making a number of strategic, big picture plays that speak to a larger understanding of collaboration this session.

An example of such: his introduction of a bill Senate President Joe Negron backs, to bond out $1.2 million (a number matched by federal funds) for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, right around the time he requested $45 million of Amendment 1 funds for the Keystone Lakes and the St. Johns River.

With the governor’s backing and a powerful sponsor moving against it in the Florida Senate, this may be the year the Certificate of Need program finally goes away.

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Paul Renner files Occupational Opportunity Act, reciprocal occupational licensing for military families

Florida House Bill 615filed by Rep. Paul Renner of Palm Coast, would make transfers to Florida a bit easier for military families.

Also known as the “Occupational Opportunity Act,” HB 615 would compel Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation to license military members, spouses, and surviving spouses in occupations they have licenses for in other states.

Renner’s bill would also extend the amount of time after discharge that such license reciprocity would be granted, from six months to two years.

The proposal also waives license fees for military, spouses, and what a press release from his office calls “low-income individuals.”

Low-income individuals are those having a household income not exceeding 130 percent of federal guidelines for their household size, or enrolled in entitlement programs, such as Medicaid and SNAP.

“This bill helps two groups who most need our help: military families and those seeking a job to escape generational poverty. Moving forward,” Renner said, “we must continue to reform occupational licensing, which has become a barrier to opportunity for millions of Floridians.”

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Competitive Workforce Act filed once again in Legislature

On Thursday, the Florida Competitive Workforce Act was filed again in the Florida Legislature, this time by Rep. Ben Diamond and Rep. Rene Plascenia on the House side, and Sen. Jeff Clemens in the Senate.

House Bill 623/Senate Bill 666 prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Gender expression is not in the current bill.

The FCWA would amend Ch. 760 of the Florida State Statutes (“The Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992“), which bars such discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex national origin, age, handicap, pregnancy, or marital status.

The bill has been filed for multiple years now.

Its first filing was in 2009, and it has slowly but surely gotten traction since.

Florida needs to make sure it stays competitive in a global marketplace,” said Sen. Clemens.

“Recruiting the best-trained, most innovative workforce means eliminating discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations. This makes good business sense, but more importantly, it’s the right thing to do. We need to signal that Florida is the best place in the world for workers and businesses,” Clemens added.

“I am proud to file this bipartisan legislation in the Florida House,” said Rep. Diamond. “Young, well-educated workers are looking for diverse and inclusive communities to build their careers. By modernizing our civil rights laws, we can protect our LGBT community from discrimination, and make Florida a more competitive state in the global economy. That is good for our businesses, our workers, and for all Floridians.”

“This issue is critical to the state’s economic success. It’s imperative that businesses, employees and families know that Florida is open for business,” said Rep. Plasencia. “Florida must remain one of the top places in the nation to live, work and play, and by promising equal opportunity employment, and affirming basic human rights to the LGBT community, we can be confident in continued business growth.”

Yet again, this bill is a bipartisan effort.

In 2016, the FCWA received bipartisan support in the Florida Senate and House, with Republicans like Travis Hutson and Jack Latvala co-sponsoring the bill in the Senate, and Republican Rep. Holly Raschein sponsoring it in the House.

Though the bipartisan support was encouraging to supporters, neither the House nor the Senate bill made it through one committee last session.

The bill died in the Economic Affairs Committee in the House and Judiciary in the Senate.

With uncertainty as to where the Donald Trump administration falls on LGBT rights, and the possibility of a national “religious liberty” executive order emerging, it will be interesting to see if the measure does better this session.

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Rick Scott: Obamacare expanded the welfare state

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who has asserted that he is helping President Donald Trump work on a replacement for “Obamacare,” made his feelings known about the Affordable Care Act again on Friday.

In an editorial on CNN‘s website, Scott made a number of points.

Among them, that the Affordable Care Act was nothing more than an expansion of the welfare state, and an usurpation of state’s rights when it comes to handling Medicaid.

“With Obamacare,” Scott writes, “President Obama enacted a massive expansion of the welfare state. And, not surprisingly, Obamacare has resulted in widespread increases in premiums and costs are expected to continue increasing.”

Scott’s preferred option — and likely the one the Trump administration will land on — block grants to the states for low-income health care.

“States can do a far better job administering the Medicaid program than the federal government can. If Florida is given the flexibility to run our own Medicaid program, we will be more efficient and less wasteful than the federal government,” Scott notes.

“Liberal Democrats,” asserts Gov. Scott, “have a game plan for America: everything for free, provided by the government, paid for with your tax dollars. There is a name for this approach, and it is called socialism. President Obama gave it a try, and in the process he proved what we already knew — it does not work.”

“Government assistance must be the last resort,” Scott adds, “not the first stop. This is no time for Republicans to go wobbly or get weak in the knees about repealing Obamacare. If we refuse to roll back the welfare state, what real purpose do we serve?”

With many people expecting Scott, termed out next year, to challenge Democrat Bill Nelson for his Senate seat, an oped like this serves multiple purposes.

It reminds national conservatives that, when it came to Medicaid expansion, the governor fought Washington and won.

It allows the governor to frame the current debate around what he has accomplished in Florida.

And, most importantly, it provides a framework for what might come out of Washington this year regarding reform of the current health care schematic.

Expect more op-eds like this in the weeks ahead.

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Florida House bill would offer tax incentives to hire veterans

A recurring problem for military veterans: finding work in the private sector after completing public service.

A Florida House bill filed Friday by Rep. Kim Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat, seeks to remedy that problem, offering tax incentives to companies that hire veterans or their spouses.

House Bill 561, the “Veterans Preference Incentive Act,” would help small businesses that wanted to hire veterans.

HB 561 would offer a $1,000 corporate income tax credit to companies who hired veterans or their spouses.

That offer is good for the first three veterans hired in any tax year.

This bill would become law on July 1.

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Senate companion filed for controversial kratom ban bill

One of the more controversial bills filed in the Florida House this session, a proposed ban of constituent elements for kratom, saw a Florida Senate companion emerge Monday.

Senate Bill 424, filed by Democrat Darryl Rouson, mirrors the House bill.

Both bills would add Mitragynine and Hydroxymitragynine, constituents of Kratom, to the schedule of controlled substances, offering an exception for any FDA approved substance containing these chemicals.

Selling, delivering, manufacturing, or importing these Kratom chemical constituents into Florida would be considered a misdemeanor of the first degree under either bill.

Even before Rouson’s version was filed, the House bill filed by Rep. Kristin Jacobs, a Democrat from Coconut Creek, got national scrutiny.

Jacobs, in a no-holds-barred interview with FloridaPolitics.com, compared kratom advocates to one of history’s greatest villains.

“They have a story,” Jacobs told us via phone. “Just like Hitler believed if you tell a lie over and over again, it becomes the truth.”

Contrary to the many assertions from kratom users that the herbal remedy helps them manage pain, anxiety, and other debilitating conditions, Jacobs brought forth a “kratom madness” style of rhetoric when dismissing those who use the substance.

Jacobs described kratom users as “addicts with glassy eyes and shaky hands.”

Kratom advocates forcefully countered such descriptions soon after that.

Rouson received campaign contributions in 2016 from at least one party with a vested interest in a kratom ban.

Mark Fontaine, the former executive director of the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association, gave Rouson $400.

“Caremark Rx,” a division of the CVS drugstore chain, gave Rouson $1,000.

ABC Fine Wine and Spirits, which sells liquor, gave $1,000 on two occasions during the 2016 cycle. Meanwhile, the Beer Distributors Committee, Wine and Spirits Distributors, and Southern Wine and Spirits all gave $1,000 once.

Betty Sembler, the wife of anti-cannabis crusader Mel Sembler, gave Rouson $500.

We’ve reached out to Sen. Rouson to ask if he aligns with Rep. Jacobs’ comments, and whether or not his campaign’s financial backing factored into his decision to file companion legislation to a bill bounced out of the Florida Legislature in each of the last two sessions.

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Florida Senate to consider Amendment 2 implementation bill

A bill filed Thursday in the Florida Senate, if passed, would expand the medical marijuana system in the Sunshine State, complying with 2016’s Amendment 2.

However, some critics — inside the Senate and outside as well — have raised concerns, suggesting the bill will not have the smoothest glide path.

Senate Bill 406, filed by Orange Park Republican Rob Bradley, would codify Amendment 2, establishing parameters for prescribing physicians, the treatment of minors, mandated yearly examinations for medical marijuana patients, and a requirement of a caregiver registry.

“In 2014, the Florida Legislature legalized low-THC medical marijuana, and in 2016 expanded the medical marijuana system to provide legal access to marijuana for terminally ill Floridians,” said Bradley in a press release Thursday.

“Floridians want even more options, speaking loud and clear at the polls in November by passing Amendment Two. This bill significantly expands the current medical marijuana system to give Floridians the relief they have demanded, and it does so safely and quickly,” Bradley added.

Sen. Dana Young, chair of the Senate Health Policy committee, is a co-introducer of the legislation. She also worked closely with Bradley on the bill.

“This bill faithfully honors our solemn obligation to the people of Florida to implement Amendment Two,” Young said. “Suffering Floridians will have now real options with no unreasonable delays.” The Health Policy Committee heard testimony from numerous Floridians at a recent committee meeting in Tallahassee.

The bill would amend language in Section 381.986 of Florida statute, changing the title to “Compassionate use of low-THC cannabis and marijuana.”

A definition of “medical cannabis” is stricken from the bill, replaced instead with a statement that “marijuana” means what it says in the Florida Constitution.”

“Medical use” of marijuana, in the language of the bill, does not include “possession, use, or administration of marijuana that was not purchased or acquired from an MMTC registered with the Department of Health.”

Qualifying doctors are allowed to prescribe medical cannabis and “a delivery device,” if they ascertain that a patient has a qualifying condition, and that the health benefits of cannabis use outweigh the risks.

To qualify, they will have to take a four hour course from the Florida Medical Association, or the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association.

Patients will be allowed a 90 day supply of marijuana, up from 45 in the previous statutory language.

Prescribing cannabis to non-qualified patients will be a misdemeanor of the first degree for prescribing doctors. That same penalty would be imposed on anyone who “fraudulently” claims the kind of debilitating condition that qualifies.

As well, qualified patients who smoke in public, on school grounds, in school buses or other vehicles also will be found guilty of that first degree misdemeanor.

The bill also has provisions for caregivers, who may help administer the cannabis to patients. Caregivers must be over 21 years of age, and must pass a level 2 screening unless related to the caregiver.

Additionally, a patient may have one caregiver at a time, outside of a hospice or nursing home setting.

The department, meanwhile, will register caregivers, physicians, and patients, and have rules set up by July 3, and a system up and running by Oct. 3. By that date, patient and caregiver identification cards will have been issued.

The bill also has provisions for expanding the industry.

Six months after the threshold of 250,000 patients is hit, five more Medical Marijuan Treatment Centers will be brought on line. The same will happen after 350,000 patients, 400,000 patients, and for every 100,000 patients thereafter.

Rules for processing and dispensing cannabis are also established in this bill.

Among them, that dosage info should be labeled with the recommended dose, and that no recreational-style delivery devices, such as bongs and rolling papers and the like, will be made available by the dispensing organization.

All transactions are to be cataloged and recorded, and MMTCs will have 24 hour video recording with archives kept for 45 days in controlled areas, ranging from grow and storage rooms to point of sale locations.

While the Bradley/Young nexus will be formidable, Sen. Jeff Brandes — an advocate of opening up the MMTC market to more providers — doesn’t think this bill goes far enough.

“I am encouraged that Senator Bradley’s proposal expands access to medical marijuana for more patients, and I am further encouraged that his proposal begins to chip away at the unnecessary regulatory hurdles burdening Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers. However, I believe the voters of Florida voiced their overwhelming support for a new approach to the regulation of medical marijuana in this state, not a revision to the existing framework,” Brandes said in a statement Thursday.

“I am continuing to work on what I believe is the most free-market option to address the implementation of Amendment 2. I look forward to releasing my proposal in the coming weeks and working with Senator Bradley as well as my fellow colleagues to implement the will of the Florida voters,” Brandes added.

Ben Pollara of United for Care also had some thoughts on the legislation.

“Senator Bradley’s bill is an encouraging start to the legislative process of implementing the medical marijuana amendment. His approach certainly stands in stark contrast to the proposed rule issued earlier this week by DOH by respecting the basic elements and language of the constitution,” Pollara noted.

“The two most important elements of implementation are respecting the sanctity and primacy of the doctor-patient relationship under the law,” Pollara added, “and diversifying and expanding the marketplace to best serve patient access.”

The caveats were inevitable, of course.

“Bradley’s bill does a mostly excellent job respecting the doctor-patient relationship. However, the bill doesn’t sufficiently expand the licensing of medical marijuana treatment centers to serve the estimated patient population, nor does the proposed expansion occur quickly enough to keep up with a patient population that will quickly boom across the state. It also leaves in place the current requirement of vertical integration that stifles innovation, diversity and ultimately patient access,” Pollara added.

Long story short? The future of medical marijuana in Florida is going to be robustly contested at least through this session.

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Florida House will again consider ‘conversion therapy’ ban for minors

A bill banning “conversion therapy” for LGBT teens was filed Tuesday in the Florida House, surfacing for the second consecutive year.

HB 273, filed by Miami Beach Democrat David Richardson, defines “conversion therapy,” and prohibits such therapy for minors.

The bill defines conversion therapy as a “practice or treatment” designed to change a person’s sexual orientation — a phrase that includes gender identity and gender expression in this context.

Richardson’s measure does include a qualifier — counseling as part of gender transition is not considered to be conversion therapy.

It also includes a broad spectrum of disciplines barred from this practice with minors: “medical practitioners, osteopathic practitioners, psychologists, psychotherapists, social workers, marriage and family therapists, and licensed counselors, may not engage in conversion therapy with a person younger than 18 years of age.”

It would be up to the regulatory boards of these practitioners’ disciplines to impose sanctions.

The bill faces an uphill battle in the Florida House.

In 2016, Richardson’s bill died in a House subcommittee.

Five states and six Florida cities have banned conversion therapy for minors already, reports the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

However, most of those Florida cities are in South Florida, which augurs poorly for support of this measure in other regions of the state.

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‘Judicial accountability’ bills filed in House, Senate

Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Kionne McGhee, two Florida Democrats, announced Monday they filed “judicial accountability” bills in both chambers.

Each proposal calls for sentencing data to be compiled annually, according to a news release.

(The bills, filed this morning, have not appeared public database; when they do, more detail will be forthcoming.)

Once compiled, data will be “presented to trial and sentencing judges, the Legislature, Governor, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and posted for the public on Florida Legislature’s research arm, the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability website,” according to a news release.

Sen. Gibson said: “Faced with the reality that even using a point-scoring system and other factors added to our criminal justice system, to get control over sentencing disparities, the components still are not working.

“It is imperative that we find a better solution to a continuing grave situation, particularly for people of color,” she added.

Rep. McGhee said the bill “seeks to analyze and address judicial patterns in sentencing.”

“Bias on the bench perpetuates inequality in the courtroom,” McGhee noted.


Updated Tuesday: McGhee’s bill is now here. Gibson’s bill is here.

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Marco Rubio backs James Mattis for Defense Secretary

While Sen. Marco Rubio has been a tough sell for some of Donald Trump‘s Cabinet nominees, he’s all in behind James Mattis as Defense Secretary.

A Friday statement from Rubio’s office made a strong case for Mattis at the Pentagon, saying he would serve “honorably and effectively as our next secretary of defense” and “will bring an unparalleled level of real-world experience, a pragmatic and clear-eyed view of the world and America’s unique role in it, and a principled commitment to America’s values.”

Rubio, noting that we live in a “dangerous world,” sees Mattis as the right man to confront global geopolitical challenges.

“As General Mattis clearly and unequivocally articulated in his confirmation hearing this week, the United States is ‘under the biggest attack since World War II,’ and ‘that’s from Russia, from terrorist groups and with what China is doing in the South China Sea.’ He understands these prime threats, and the many others he will encounter as defense secretary, including the need to rebuild our nation’s military after years of devastating defense cuts,” Rubio said.

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