Jenna BuzzaccoFoerster - 3/92 - SaintPetersBlog

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

Jack Latvala raises more than $244K on eve of 2017 Legislative Session

Jack Latvala raised more than $250,000 in the first week of March, much of which was raised in a single day.

Florida Leadership Committee, the Clearwater Republican’s political committee, raised at least $252,160 between March 1 and March 6, according to contribution data posted to the committee’s website. The committee received about $244,600 of that sum on March 6, the day before the 2017 Legislative Session kicked off.

Top contributors during the brief fundraising period, according to data posted on the website, including Associated Industries of Florida, Comcast Corp., Amscot Corp., Friends of Mount Sinai Medical Center, Minto Communities, Auto Tag of America, and the Florida Manufactured Housing Association PAC.

Latvala, the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, is believed to be considering a 2018 gubernatorial bid and appears to be boosting his coffers ahead of an eventual decision. State records show Latvala raised nearly $1.1 million in February, marking one of the committee’s largest fundraising hauls to date.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and House Speaker Richard Corcoran are also often mentioned as possible 2018 contenders

On the Democratic side, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando businessman Chris King have already announced their 2018 run, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham are expected to formally jump into the race soon.

Adam Putnam political committee brings in big bucks in March

Adam Putnam is poised to have another record fundraising month, laying the groundwork for his likely 2018 gubernatorial run.

Florida Grown, the political committee that will fuel Putnam’s likely 2018 run, raised at least $872,841 in March, according to contribution data posted on the committee’s website. That sum is expected to rise to nearly $1.1 million once final numbers are reported to the state Division of Elections in the coming days.

“As we travel the state, we’ve seen overwhelming support for Adam and his vision,” wrote Justin Hollis, the chairman of Florida Grown, in an email to supporters. “And that support is evident is contributions to the Florida Grown PC. To date, Florida Grown PC has received more than $10.5 million in contributions with $1,077,000 coming in March, and more than 1,700 supporters to date.”

That anticipated one-month haul would make March the second biggest fundraising month for the political committee to date. In February, the committee raised $2.5 million, it’s largest one-month fundraising haul since it opened in 2015

While Putnam hasn’t officially thrown his hat in the race, he’s acting the part of a candidate. In his email to supporters, Hollis said Putnam and Florida Grown have been “very busy crisscrossing the state meeting with supporters, including parents, teachers, small business owners, nurses, truck drivers and everything in between.”

“With every discussion, he learns more about the people of our state and what they want to see in future leadership. And Adam shares his vision for our state. He believes Florida is more than just the prize for a life well-lived somewhere else,” wrote Hollis. “He wants to attract folks to Florida decades sooner, so they can start their lives, build their businesses and grow their families right here in the Sunshine State. He believes Florida is not just a prize at the end of a career, but it can be the jumping off point for the American Dream.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala are also believed to be considering a 2018 gubernatorial run.

On the Democratic side, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando businessman Chris King have already announced their 2018 run, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham are expected to formally jump into the race soon.

Senate OKs mandatory recess bill

Recess scored a big win the Senate, but the proposal faces an uphill climb in the House.

The Senate voted 36-0 to approve a bill (SB 78) that would require school districts provide students in kindergarten through fifth grade with 20 minutes of recess each day. The vote marks a big milestone in the Senate, which just last year refused to hear to hear a similar proposal.

But the Senate proposal is significantly different than one moving through the House, and Sen. Anitere Flores, the Miami Republican sponsoring the Senate bill, said she hoped the Senate would send a message to House with its vote.

“The Senate feels strongly … if we’re going to have recess, it’s going to be recess. It should not be in competition with other things,” she said. “Recess should be able to stand on its own.”

The House proposal (HB 67) calls on school boards to include free-play recess for students in kindergarten through third grade as part of 150 minutes per week of physical education requirement. It also requires school districts to provide 20 minutes of recess on days when physical education classes aren’t held.

The House proposal originally mirrored the bill passed by the Senate, but was amended during its first committee stop. That proposal now heads to the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.

Senate panel OKs medical marijuana bill, speeds up pace for new licenses

A Senate panel is moving forward with its version of a bill to implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment, approving an amended version of the proposal during its meeting.

The Senate Health Policy Committee approved a bill (SB 406), sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, that would implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment. Facing a jam-packed agenda, members set aside just over an hour to tackle the bill and 15 amendments, leaving little time for public input and member debate.

The panel adopted an amendment that would lower the threshold for adding new medical marijuana treatment centers. Under the amendment adopted Monday, the state would be required to add five additional medical marijuana treatment centers — at least of which must be a black farmer — by Oct. 3, 2017.

The amended bill calls on the state to register four more medical marijuana treatment centers within “six months after each instance of the registration of 75,000 qualifying patients with the compassionate use registry” if a sufficient number of applicants meet the registration requirements. Under the proposal, applicants must be registered to do business in the state for the previous five consecutive years before submitting an application.

Several members expressed concerns about opening up the market to new licenses. Sen. Bill Montford said he was concerned adding five more medical marijuana treatment centers into the market so soon could have a negative impact on companies that are currently dispensing medical marijuana. Montford encouraged members to slow the process down and take a more deliberative approach to expansion, noting they’ll be back in “less than a year” and could make “a more well-informed decision at that time.”

Bradley said the Senate’s position on the number of licenses could put them in a good position to have discussions with the House, which has approved a bill that calls on the state to issue new licenses after 150,000 qualified patients are registered in the compassionate use registry.

The Senate also approved an amendment that would allow patients who are not residents of Florida, but have a qualifying condition to have access to medical marijuana while they are in Florida if they can “lawfully obtain marijuana through a medical marijuana program in a state that he or she resides in.”

The amendment was meant to address concerns raised during a workshop last month about snowbirds or long-term tourists who live in a state with medical marijuana, but can’t access it while they’re visiting Florida.

The committee also adopted amendments to allow the Department of Health to charge “a reasonable fee associated with the issuance and renewal of patient and caregiver identification cards,” an amendment that would require medical marijuana be tested by an independent testing lab, and an amendment that would establish the Coalition for Medical Marijuana Research and Education within the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute.

The bill now heads to the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.

Senate amendment quickens pace for medical marijuana treatment center growth

A Senate panel is poised to approve legislation this week that could add five more medical marijuana treatment centers in Florida by October and lower the threshold for adding additional treatment centers in the future.

The Senate Health Policy Committee is scheduled to discuss and vote on a bill (SB 406), sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, that would implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment. The Orange Park Republican has filed eight amendments to his bill, incorporating aspects of several other implementing bills filed in the Senate during the 2017 Legislative Session.

One of the most significant changes Bradley has proposed would lower the threshold for adding new medical marijuana treatment centers. Under an amendment filed Friday, the state would be required to add five additional medical marijuana treatment centers — at least one of which must be a black farmer — by Oct. 3, 2017.

The amendment then stipulates within “six months after each instance of the registration of 75,000 qualifying patients with the compassionate use registry” the state register four additional treatment centers “if a sufficient number of MMTC applicants meet the registration requirements.”

That’s a significantly lower threshold than what Bradley first proposed. Under the bill Bradley filed in January, the state health department would have been required to add more treatment centers only when an additional 250,000 qualified patients registered with the compassionate use registry. After that, five new medical marijuana treatment centers would be registered when the number of patients reach 350,000; 400,000; and 500,000.

During a workshop in March, Bradley said based on feedback he received he had come to believe his bill was “too restrictive.”

If approved, the Senate bill has the potential to open the door for far more medical marijuana treatment centers than the House proposal (HB 1397).

That proposal, sponsored by Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, calls on the state to issue licenses to five applicants denied by the Department of Health and one black farmer after 150,000 qualified patients are registered in the compassionate use registry. New applicants would then be allowed once there are 200,000 qualified patients.

Rodrigues’ bill cleared the Health Quality Subcommittee on a 14-1 vote, and will next be discussed in the House Appropriations Committee.

Bradley has also proposed an amendment that would require medical marijuana to be tested by an independent testing lab to ensure it meets the standards established by the state’s quality control programs. A bill (SB 1388) filed by Sen. Frank Artiles also called for independent third party testing.

Committee members will also be asked to vote on an amendment Monday that would establish the Coalition for Medical Marijuana Research and Education within the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute.

The purpose of the coalition would be to “conduct rigorous scientific research, provide education, disseminate research, and to guide policy for the adoption of a statewide policy on ordering and dosing practices for the medicinal use of marijuana.” The amendment appears to be substantially similar to a bill (SB 1472) filed Sen. Bill Galvano, which passed the Senate Education on a 9-0 vote on March 27.

The Senate Health Policy Committee is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. in 412 Knott.

House, Senate move in different directions on building code reform

Bills to change the way the Florida Building Code is updated continue to move through the Legislature, but the House and Senate now appear to be taking a different approach to reforming the system.

The House Careers & Competition Subcommittee voted unanimously last week to approve legislation (HB 901) that would keep international and national building codes as the baseline for the Florida Building Codes, but would require the Florida Building Commission to update the code every five years instead of every three. However, the Senate continues to move legislation (SB 860) that would allow the state to adopt provisions of the international code, while using the most recent version of the Florida Building Code as its baseline.

That House proposal, sponsored by Rep. Stan McClain, would also dramatically reduce the size of the commission, turning the 27-member board into an 11-member board.

“To start winnowing down commission seats somewhat haphazardly, with all due respect, overnight from 27 to (11) probably isn’t the best way to address the issue,” said Lori Killinger, who represents the Florida Manufactured Housing Association, one of several groups whose representation on the commission would be eliminated.

Under McClain’s proposal, the board would no longer be required to have:

— An air conditioning or mechanical contractor;

— Two of the municipal or district code enforcement officials, including the one who is also a fire marshal;

— A representative of the Department of Financial Services

— A county code enforcement official;

— A representative of a Florida-based organization of persons with disabilities or a nationally chartered organization of persons with disabilities

— A representative of the manufactured buildings industry

— A mechanical or electrical engineer

— A representative of the building products manufacturing industry

— A representative of a municipality of charter county

— A representative of the building owners and managers’ industry, who is active in the commercial industry

— A public education representative

— A swimming pool contractor

— A representative of the green building industry;

— A representative of the natural gas distribution system;

— A representative from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Office of Energy; and

— The member who is the chair.

The bill adds an addition residential contractor to the committee, and stipulates one of the residential contractors must be one who builds an average of less than 20 custom homes a year; while the other must be a residential contractor who builds an average of more than 100 homes a year.

McClain, a Belleview Republican and state certified residential contractor, said the Florida Building Commission does have subcommittees set up, which he said thought would be the place for for people to weigh in on code changes and “having 11 (people) on the commission is the right number.”

Sara Yerkes, the senior vice president for government relations at the International Code Council, said the plan to update Florida’s code every five years instead of every three could put the state behind the times. Since it takes several years to develop the code, Yerkes said moving to a five-year cycle could put Florida “eight to nine years in the rear.”

“If Florida wants to be a leader, a five-year cycle is not going to do that,” she said.

McClain said the move to a five-year cycle would give allow for “some stability in our industry.”

“I think all we’re trying to ask for is to give a little more stability moving forward from a regulatory process,” said McClain.

The proposal cleared its first of two committee stops last week, and now heads to the House Commerce Committee. A hearing has not yet been scheduled for the bill.

Meanwhile, the Senate Regulated Industries unanimously approved its bill that would essentially flip the set of building codes the construction industry uses as its standard.

The Senate proposal removes the provision requiring the International Code be used as a baseline, and instead requires the “6th edition, and subsequent editions, of the Florida Building Code,” be used as the foundation for the development and updates to the state code. It also calls on the commission to review the Florida Building Code every three years “to consider whether it needs to be revised.”

The Senate proposal, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, maintains a 27-member building commission. His proposal also creates an internship path for building code inspector certification and would require the Florida Building Code Administrators and Building Inspectors to give provisional certificates to code inspectors and plan examiners who meet certain requirements.

Brandes’ bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Florida voters would like to see increase in Medicaid funding, new poll shows

A new survey from the Florida Hospital Association shows strong support among Florida voters to keep — or in many increase — state funding for Medicaid programs.

The survey, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies from March 1 through March 5, found Floridians have the most favorable opinion of Medicaid that the association has recorded in six years. The poll of 600 registered voters found 56 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Medicaid, up from 47 percent in a November 2011 survey.

The results of the survey come as state lawmakers began releasing their initial budget recommendations, which included taking away as much as $621.8 million from hospitals in the coming year.

The House proposal cuts the state’s share of Medicaid by $238.6 million, or a total of $621.8 million once federal dollars are factored in. The Senate has recommended cutting $99.3 million, or a $258.6 million total cut.

But the Florida Hospital Association found that while the state is slashing budgets, many Floridians would actually like to see lawmakers keep funding as is, if not give the programs funding boost.

According to the survey, 45 percent of Floridians said they would like to see Medicaid funding increased, while 29 percent said they believe state funding should stay the same. Just 8 percent said funding for the programs should be decreased.

Six years ago, 47 percent of Floridians supported keeping the funding the same, while 39 percent wanted to see more money put into the program. Back in November 2011, 11 percent of Floridians supported decreasing funding for Medicaid programs.

When respondents were asked about a few specific areas the Legislature will be spending money on this year, 61 percent of Floridians said the state should increase funding for Medicaid, which provides health care to lower-income children, the disabled elderly, and pregnant women.

Voters also supported increasing funding for water quality problems (67%); the state’s colleges and universities (52%); tax cuts to help business to expand or relocate to Florida (31%); and tourism promotion (23%).

Yet when asked whether they would support redirecting money from Medicaid to help pay for increased funding for colleges and universities, tax cuts for businesses, and tourism promotion, 75 percent of voters said they would advise their legislator to keep the money in Medicaid programs.

There appeared to be broad support to keep money in Medicaid programs, with 68 percent of Republicans, 85 percent of Democrats, and 73 percent of independents saying they would advise their legislator to keep funding Medicaid.

That feeling was echoed throughout the state, with a solid majority of voters in each media market saying the Legislature keep money for Medicaid.

The highest support for keeping the cash for Medicaid came from the Jacksonville area, where 80 percent of respondents said they wanted legislators to keep money for Medicaid programs.

The Fort Myers media market — which includes Gov. Rick Scott’s hometown of Naples — had the highest percentage of people saying they should shift the funds, with 20 percent of respondents saying they would tell their lawmaker to use it for something else.

Cosmetics industry hopeful third time is the charm for reform bill

Cosmetic manufacturers are hopeful state lawmakers will take action this year to eliminate a policy requiring them to get approval before taking a product to market, a lengthy process that industry officials say goes above and beyond federal requirements.

The industry has been pushing for the change for several years now, but think a recent report from the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability bolsters their calls for change.

According to the Feb. 21 research memo, Florida is one of three states that requires premarket approval of cosmetic products. But unlike the other states with the premarket regulations, Florida cosmetic manufacturers employ more than 3,250 people and pay $124 million a year in wages.

The report also included an industry satisfaction survey, which included responses from 57 of the state’s 129 permitted cosmetic manufacturers. The survey found 46 percent of respondents said they have considered moving their manufacturing facility to another state. The three reasons for wanting to relocate were regulatory requirements, skill of workforce and tax rates.

“It’s bad policy. No. 1: It takes a long time to get approved, 90 days or longer. If you’re a nimble, dynamic cosmetic manufacturer … three months is a ridiculously long time,” said John Ray, who represents Seychelles Organics. “The other thing is, it’s expensive. It’s $30 for every main product and $15 for every difference. A company making a few hundred products, and every two years you have to renew your registration, that’s tens of thousands of dollars.”

State lawmakers have taken note of the concerns, filing legislation for the third year in a row to remove the premarket approval requirement. The bills (SB 114 and HB 211) would remove the requirements that manufacturers must register products with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Drugs, Devices and Cosmetics.

If approved, the cosmetics manufactured in Florida would be treated in a similar manner to those manufactured outside of Florida and distributed and sold in Florida.

The Senate proposal, sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, has unanimously cleared its first two committees of reference. It could be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee in the next few weeks.

And that could be where the bill hits its first snag. Despite what appears to be bipartisan support for removing the regulations, there is a fiscal impact. Brandes’ bill removes fees for cosmetic product registrations and renewals, and the fees for the issuances of certificates of free sale for these products.

According to a staff analysis prepared for the Senate General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, DBPR estimates the Senate bill will reduce annual revenue to the Drugs, Devices and Cosmetics Division account within the Professional Regulation Trust Fund by $226,141 in fiscal 2017-18. That estimate increases to $297,973 in fiscal 2018-19 and $393,072 in fiscal 2019-20.

The Senate proposal appropriates $222,564 in recurring dollars from the general revenue fund in fiscal 2017-18 to the division to offset a portion of reduced trust fund revenues.

The House bill, sponsored by Clearwater Republican Rep. Chris Latvala, removes the fee cap for cosmetic manufacturer permits, and authorizes the division to assess a “fee sufficient to cover the costs of administering the cosmetic manufacturing program,” according to a staff analysis prepared after the House Health Quality Subcommittee meeting last week.

Industry officials are supportive of this approach, saying the overall reform bill would deliver significant net user-fee savings to Florida manufacturers.

Latvala’s bill unanimously cleared the Health Quality Subcommittee meeting, and now heads to the Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee.

“Nobody disagrees with the policy,” said Ray, who noted the proposal hasn’t received a “no” vote in any committee hearing over the years. “User fees shouldn’t be the reason why a dumb law is in place.”

House Health Quality Subcommittee approves medical marijuana implementing bill

A House panel approved legislation Tuesday that would implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment, despite concerns from some advocates the proposal doesn’t honor the spirit of the amendment.

The House Health Quality Subcommittee voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill (HB 1397) that would implement the 2016 constitutional amendment. Sponsored by House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, the bill would, among other things, maintain the current vertically integrated regulatory structure, only allow terminally ill patients to use vaporizers or consume cannabis products, and would make medical marijuana exempt from sales tax.

While the committee strongly supported the proposal, several members expressed reservations about some of the provisions outlined in the bill, including one that essentially calls for a three-month waiting period before a physician can recommend medical marijuana.

Rodrigues defended the inclusion of the language, saying it was part of low-THC medical marijuana bill passed passed in 2014. The state put in the requirement in response to the pill mill crisis in hopes it would shut down any “cash for prescription” operations.

He said he decided to keep the same 90-day waiting period in the implementing bill because the belief is that by making it easier for doctors to register and get certified to order medical marijuana for a qualified patient, more physicians across the state are likely to do so.

In that scenario, Rodrigues said it is likely that patients would be seeing a doctor they already have an established relationship with. But there is also a chance that physicians specializing in medical marijuana will emerge, and in that case Rodrigues said having the waiting period could help ward off bad actors.

Approved with support from 71 percent of Floridians in November, the constitutional amendment allows Floridians with debilitating medical conditions, determined by a licensed physician, to use medical marijuana. The amendment went into effect Jan. 3, but state lawmakers and the Florida Department of Health have been tasked with implementing the law.

The health department began the process of creating rules in January, and has until July to put them in place. The Senate Health Policy Committee held a workshop on implementing the constitutional amendment last week, and Sen. Dana Young, the committee chairwoman, said it could be a few weeks before the panel votes on a measure. Five implementing bills have been filed in the Senate.

Opponents to the constitutional amendment lined up in support of Rodrigues’ bill on Tuesday, calling it a way to implement voters will, while balancing the public health and safety concerns.

“We believe this bill includes language that address our concerns and the concerns of our community,” said Amy Ronshausen, the deputy director of Save Our Society from Drugs. “We believe this bill clearly puts the public health and safety before the interests of big marijuana.”

But Ben Pollara, the executive director of Florida for Care, said the fact that so many one-time opponents have come out in support of Rodrigues’ bill should show it isn’t “representative of the will of the people.”

Pollara, who helped craft the constitutional amendment, commended Rodrigues for his thoughtful approach to the legislation, but said “unfortunately the result was he got the policy wrong.” He pointed to several provisions, including the 90-day waiting period, that he said created onerous barriers to patient access.

Committee members acknowledged the bill was not perfect, but said they appreciated Rodrigues’ willingness to work with those involved to hammer out the details going forward.

“We have a responsibility as lawmakers to make sure we do this right,” said Rep. Wengay Newton, a St. Petersburg Democrat. “I’m excited about the possibilities.”

House panel approves scaled back version of school recess bill

The House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee passed its version of the public school recess bill, setting lawmakers on two very different paths when it comes to free play.

The committee approved a committee substitute for the bill (HB 67) that would allow school boards to include free-play recess for students in kindergarten through third grade as part of 150 minutes per week of physical education requirement.

The proposal, sponsored by Reps. Rene Plasencia and Bob Cortes, also requires school districts to provide 20 minutes of recess on days when physical education classes aren’t held.

That’s significantly different from the bill Plasencia and Cortes originally filed, which mandated 20 minutes of daily recess for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

A similar bill (HB 833) filed during the 2016 Legislative sailed through its committees, receiving unanimous support in each of its stops. The 2016 measure cleared the House on a 112-2 vote, with current House Speaker Richard Corcoran and current Education Committee Chairman Michael Bileca voting against the bill.

The 2016 measure died in the Senate when it failed to get a hearing in the Senate Education Committee.

This year, the Senate proposal (SB 78) — which mandates 20 minutes of daily recess for public school students in kindergarten through fifth grade — has easily cleared each of its committees, receiving unanimous support in each of its committee stops. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, has been placed on the Senate Special Order calendar and will be taken up on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the House heard its version of the bill just under the wire; it was the last bill to be heard during the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee of this session.

The House bill now heads to the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.

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