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Tampa Bay Partnership hails House passage of ride-sharing bill

Heading into the 2017 Legislative Session, the Tampa Bay Partnership listed the creation of a regional transit agency connecting four Tampa Bay-area counties as its top priority.

Another priority was the desire to see a bill passed regulating ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft. It’s closer to achieving success on the latter, with the Florida House voting unanimously Wednesday for a bill sponsored by Republicans Chris Sprowls and Jamie Grant.

“Ride-sharing is an integral component of a multi-modal regional transportation system and a cost-effective, private sector option to enhance regional connectivity,” said Rhea Law, chair of the Tampa Bay Partnership. “It also shows strong promise as a solution to the ‘first mile, last mile’ concerns associated with moving people between their homes and a core transit system.”

Until last fall, the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission had been at war with Uber and Lyft, with both companies taking the PTC to court to challenge their rulemaking ability That tension was something that the Tampa Bay area political establishment, as personified by the Partnership, wanted to cease this year, something alluded to by Law in her statement.

“The previously inconsistent regulations throughout the state, and particularly within the Tampa Bay region, created an environment that negatively impacted both rideshare companies and their customers,” she said. “With the passage of this legislation, we’re closer to achieving consistent, and legal, policies to guide this growing industry, and ensuring that technology and innovation can continue to play a role in addressing our transportation challenges. We thank the bill sponsor, Rep. Chris Sprowls, and the other members of the Bay Area Legislative Delegation for their support and leadership on this issue.”

The PTC did finally make peace with Uber and Lyft last fall, coming to terms on a temporary agreement last November.

Despite the enthusiasm for Wednesday’s vote, the bill hasn’t gone to Governor Rick Scott’s desk just yet. That’s because its Senate companion, SB 340 sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, still has another committee to get through before making it to the Senate floor.

That vote is scheduled to take place Thursday afternoon.

Meanwhile, the bill creating a regional transit agency in the Tampa Bay area will come before the House Government Accountability Committee on Thursday.

Ride-sharing legislation speeds ahead in Florida House

A bill that would create the first statewide law regulating ride-sharing companies passed unanimously in the Florida House on Wednesday, 115-0.

Now it moves to the Senate.

It’s the second straight year that such a bill has passed in the Florida House, but the chances of it getting through the Senate are considered much greater than in 2016.

The legislation, sponsored by Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant (HB 221) requires ride-sharing companies to have third-parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

It would also prohibit from becoming ride-share drivers if they have three moving violations in the prior 3-year period; have been convicted of a felony within the previous five years; or have been convicted of a misdemeanor charge of sexual assault, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, hit and run, or attempting to flee a law enforcement officer within the past five years.

It also calls for drivers to carry insurance coverage worth $50,000 for death and bodily injury per person, $100,000 for death and bodily injury per incident and $25,000 for property damage when picking up passengers. Coverage would jump to a minimum of $1 million in coverage in the case of death, bodily injury and property damage while a passenger is in the vehicle.

Representatives from Uber and Lyft applauded the vote, and now hope for a similar fate in the Florida Senate.

“Today’s vote by the Florida House of Representatives is a major step toward Florida residents and visitors having permanent access to reliable transportation options,” said Kasra Moshkani, general manager of Uber South Florida. “We are encouraged by today’s vote, and the movement of Senate Bill 340, and look forward to working toward creating a permanent home for Uber in our state.”

“Today the Florida House overwhelmingly recognized that Florida needs a single, comprehensive set of rules for ride-sharing. Lyft is grateful to Speaker Corcoran and his leadership team for their work on this issue,” said Chelsea Harrison, senior policy communications manager for Lyft. “This framework will ensure that Floridians continue to enjoy the convenient, affordable rides Lyft provides across the state. We look forward to working with the Florida Senate to advance this legislation to the Governor’s desk for his signature.”

Last year’s House bill (sponsored by Matt Gaetz) passed by 108-10 margin, but a dispute over local pre-emption proved to be a bridge too far in the Senate, and the bill died on the final day of Session.

That’s not expected to be the case this year, as there has been little opposition so far in the Legislature’s upper chamber. St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes is sponsoring the Senate version (SB 340). It will be heard in the Senate Committee on Rules on Thursday, its final stop before going to the entire body.

House gets one step closer to passing statewide regs on Uber, Lyft

Legislation to regulate transportation network companies (TNC) in Florida advanced Tuesday on its second reading through the Florida House.

The bill sponsored by Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant (HB 221) requires ride-sharing companies to have third-parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

“That includes a multistage, multi-jurisdictional background check, a search of the National Sex Offender website, and a review of the public driving history of the applicant,” Sprowls said on the House floor.

Although critics say that the measure should include Level II federal background check requirements, Sprowls said that database is smaller than the one that Uber and Lyft will have to use in Florida. “The National Certified Background check has up to 500 million records,” he said.

The proposal would prohibit from becoming ride-share drivers if they have three moving violations in the prior 3-year period; have been convicted of a felony within the previous five years; or have been convicted of a misdemeanor charge of sexual assault, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, hit and run, or attempting to flee a law enforcement officer within the past five years.

It also calls for drivers to carry insurance coverage worth $50,000 for death and bodily injury per person, $100,000 for death and bodily injury per incident and $25,000 for property damage when picking up passengers. Coverage would jump to a minimum of $1 million in coverage in the case of death, bodily injury and property damage while a passenger is in the vehicle.

Amendments proposed by Miami Beach Democrat David Richardson that would require the ride-sharing companies to have a nondiscrimination policy regarding the hiring of drivers were defeated. At one point Sprowls said that he would work to have language added to the bill that would require TNC’s to follow state law on public accommodations.

Richardson said that really wouldn’t work since gays and lesbians are not currently protected under current state law.

Sprowls did amend the bill to make it more compatible with its Senate counterpart (SB 340) sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes. Those changes include authorizing seaports to impose pickup fees on rideshare drivers when picking up or dropping riders from seaports, as long as they do not exceed what that particular port is charging taxicab companies to pay.

The bill has one more reading through to pass the House, while it will be heard in the Rules Committee in the Senate Thursday.

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.

Unless changes made, Joe Redner says he’ll sue over Legislature’s medical marijuana bill

Advocates of Amendment 2, which legalized medical marijuana in Florida, have been expressing disdain for HB 1397, moving through the Legislature this Session, sponsored by Fort Myers Republican Ray Rodrigues.

“Folks, this bill is bad,” wrote Ben Pollara, head of United for Care, the organization that campaigned for the constitutional amendment that passed with more than 71 percent support of Floridians last fall.

“If passed, it would basically cancel out the vote we had last fall, if not make the situation worse,” Pollara added.

Specifically, Pollara and others are denouncing the bill as currently written, primarily because it bans smoking, vaporizing and eating of medical marijuana. It also requires patients recertify with the state every 90 days and compels patients to sign an “informed consent” document warning them about the dangers of marijuana use and reminding them that it is illegal federally.

In the past, Pollara said he knows organizations and individuals who may sue if the ultimate legislative product has those elements.

On Thursday, Tampa adult entrepreneur and gadfly Joe Redner confirmed he would be one of those individuals.

“We have a constitutional amendment, and I loooove the court system,” Redner said Thursday on WMNF-88.5 FM.

In the 1980s and 90s, Redner frequently battled the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County over his adult nightclubs, winning more than a million dollars in damages, according to a 2012 Deadspin report.

“I cannot wait to sue the state Legislature. Please don’t pass a good law!” he joked about the efforts of Rodrigues, who is pushing the main medical marijuana Bill in the Florida House.

“There were definitely people who believed that they were voting to smoke it because those people have contacted me since we had filed that bill and expressed that sentiment,” Rodrigues recently told a Tampa radio station.

“However, I do not believe that is the majority of the people,” Rodrigues explained. “Clearly, the majority of the people believed they were voting for medical marijuana, and as long as they get the benefits from medical marijuana, the way that it is administered is irrelevant. And I would say that the science is on our side.”

Accompanying Redner at WMNF were Adam Elend and Jeff Marks, his former “Voice of Freedom” cable access show co-hosts back in the aughts.

Redner said the two had been working in Colorado on marijuana-based businesses after the state legalized pot in 2012. Redner intends to work with them on a medical marijuana-related business in Tampa.

Whether he gets that opportunity is again subject to the whims of the Legislature, which seems bent on reducing the field of companies that can grow and distribute medical pot — keeping it to seven companies statewide. However, that number could grow if the patient population does.

Of all the medical marijuana bills now floating in the Florida Legislature, only a measure from St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes would open competition two more than those seven companies.

Brandes’ proposal would also let cities and counties determine how many retail facilities would be required.

During the interview, Redner admitted that despite proclamations to the contrary, Democrat Bob Buesing asked him to drop out of the four-person Senate District 18 race against Republican Dana Young last fall.

At the time, Buesing said Redner’s presence would not hurt him in his battle against Young. Young defeated Buesing by 7 percent, while the independent Redner took 9 percent.

Recently, Redner said he would not enter another race in 2018 if Buesing was again the Democratic candidate.

Redner also revealed that he had not spoken to his son, Cigar City Brewing head Joey Redner, until just recently, since Joey gave a financial contribution to Young in the Senate race.

“To me, it was my son telling me, he thought she was a better person than I was,” Redner said, adding that he is not sure he will ever get over it.

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.”

Capitol Reax: Visit Florida funding, Uber, high-speed rail

The Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee voted 5-1 to approve a proposal (SB 596) that would allow telecommunications companies to put small wireless communications infrastructure in public rights-of-way.

Tom Feeney, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida: “AIF supports legislation to bring technology of the future to Florida, allowing our communities to be a part of the smart cities revolution.  Florida’s economic environment will greatly benefit from this good legislation, allowing new technologically advanced companies to locate here in the Sunshine State.

AIF applauds Senator (Travis) Hutson for championing this legislation and the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee for passing this bill out of its committee today.  SB 596 will allow technology of the future, like smart cities, autonomous vehicles and instantaneous speeds, to become a reality through uniform deployment of small cell technology.”

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee temporarily postponed a proposal (HB 269), which would have established the Florida High Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act.

Brent Hanlon, chairman of Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE FL): “I want to once again thank Representatives MaryLynn Magar and Erin Grall for filing legislation this session to protect citizens from subsidizing high speed rail projects that pose risks to public safety.  We are disappointed that the subcommittee did not debate the bill today, but we respect the legislative process, and look forward to more dialogue about this important legislation in due course.

All Aboard Florida (AAF) is taking a victory lap today in its public statements, but its latest actions are nothing more than a special interest group flexing its political muscle in a desperate attempt to protect its profits which are reliant on taxpayer subsidies.

AAF continues to put the communities of South Florida on the hook for millions in upgrades to enhance safety measures and make a grab for taxpayer subsidies.

We will continue to advocate for legislation that puts public safety first and we know that our elected leaders want the same. This is nothing more than an ill-conceived rail project by a private company that wants to shift costs to the taxpayers.”

The Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee has proposed matching Gov. Rick Scott’s budget proposal of $76 million for Visit Florida, while setting aside $80 million for Enterprise Florida.

Chris Hudson, state director for American for Prosperity-Florida: “The Florida Senate is sending a bad message to their constituents. They are telling the hardworking small business owners that don’t even qualify for the handouts their proposing to sustain by maintaining funding to Enterprise Florida are more important than properly funding real priorities for their communities. The Senate should pick up where the Florida House left off and come together to eliminate corporate welfare by eliminating Enterprise Florida.

The Florida Senate is also wrong to fund Visit Florida with another $76 million dollars. Visit Florida’s lack of transparency and lack of accountability have engulfed the Sunshine State in national embarrassment that should not be rewarded. This failed program needs more than just reform; it should be completely eliminated.

Our grassroots teams will be deployed throughout the state in the districts of Senators who support funding corporate welfare. We will use every tool at our disposal to ensure that Floridians know which members of the legislature support corporate welfare and the programs that give away their tax dollars to private businesses instead of better supporting real priorities like education and infrastructure.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill (SB 340) to create a regulatory framework for transportation network companies, like Uber and Lyft.

Stephanie Smith, senior manager, public policy for Uber Technologies: “Today’s unanimous vote on Senate Bill 340 by the Senate Committee on Judiciary is a positive indication that Florida lawmakers support the safety, economic, and mobility benefits that come from ridesharing services like Uber.

We are grateful to all of the Senators who voted ‘yes’ on the bill, with special thanks to Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) who continues to be a champion for modern transportation options.”

Logan McFaddin, regional manager of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America: “PCI applauds the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senator Brandes for supporting legislation that addresses the insurance gaps when a driver is engaged in rideshare activity.  PCI and our members believe it is imperative rideshare drivers and their passengers are protected as they travel from point A to point B.

The insurance coverage concerns are significant, especially if ride share drivers use their personal vehicles for this commercial activity but only have personal auto insurance coverage. The standard personal auto insurance policy may not provide coverage if the vehicle is being used for commercial purposes and an accident were to occur.

With model legislation already passing in 45 other states, PCI encourages Florida lawmakers to do the same for Florida and protect the public.”

Senate Judiciary Committee gives big win for ridesharing regulation

Momentum remains strong in Tallahassee for the first bill in Florida to regulate ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft.

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the proposal (SB 340) unanimously without debate.

The bill, sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, would require ride-sharing companies to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app but hasn’t secured a passenger. While with a rider, drivers would be required to have $1 million worth of coverage.

It also requires transportation network companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

While all indications are the bill will get through the Legislature this spring, opposition from certain groups continues.

Former state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, now a lobbyist for the Florida Taxi Association, said the bill would tie the hands of local governments from regulating their own communities. Bogdanoff referenced problems with “exorbitant” numbers of cars circling around Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Port Everglades. She said issues that had been resolved between local governments and Uber and Lyft would be removed from the books, and also acknowledged the cold hard reality of the political calculus this session.

“I realize the train has left the station, or the car has left the Port, or whatever you want to call it,” she said.

Megan Samples, with the Florida League of Cities, again called the bill a pre-emption on local governments, particularly decrying what she said would be looser background checks for ride-sharing drivers.

Rich Templin, representing the Florida AFL-CIO, testified on behalf of the Amalgamated Transit Union. He said he was hoping to draft an amendment before the next stop for the bill that would address additional safety guidelines in the bill, considering that more public transit agencies are working with Uber and Lyft on options like first-mile last mile and paratransit options. He said he was worried the Brandes bill would undue guidelines already in place.

Immediately after the bill’s passage in committee, spokespersons for Uber and Lyft immediately issued statements praising the vote.

“Lyft applauds Chairman Greg Steube and sponsor Sen. Jeff Brandes for guiding SB 340 to approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee,” said Chelsea Harrison, communications manager for Lyft.

“This is important legislation that brings Florida one step closer to a consistent statewide framework for innovative services like Lyft,” Harrison added. “Floridians want access to ridesharing, and we look forward to providing the state’s residents and visitors with a safe, reliable transportation option for many years to come.”

“Today’s unanimous vote on Senate Bill 340 by the Senate Committee on Judiciary is a positive indication that Florida lawmakers support the safety, economic, and mobility benefits that come from ridesharing services like Uber,” said Stephanie Smith, Uber’s senior manager for public policy. “We are grateful to all of the Senators who voted ‘yes’ on the bill, with special thanks to Sen. Jeff Brandes … who continues to be a champion for modern transportation options.”

During the past two sessions, the House had pushed similar bills, but the issue tangled up in the Senate, where former President Andy Gardiner wanted to address more narrow issues such as insurance requirements for ridesharing drivers. After Gardiner left office last fall, the way eased a bit in the Legislature’s upper body.

Safety Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant are sponsoring the companion bill moving in the House (CS/HB 221).

Senate begins discussion of medical marijuana implementing legislation

Sen. Rob Bradley indicated he is willing to support opening up the medical marijuana market more than he first proposed, but continues to believe vertical integration is the right system for Florida.

Bradley, an Orange Park Republican, filed one of five medical marijuana implementing bills this Legislative Session. His proposal (SB 406) would, among other things, allow for the growth of the industry once the number of registered patients hits certain thresholds.

Under his proposal, the Department of Health would be required to register five more treatment centers within six months of 250,000 qualified patients registering 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.

But on Wednesday, Bradley said he has come to believe his bill is “too restrictive based on the feedback (he) received.” Instead, he said he would support a measure that finds a balance between his proposal and one sponsored by Minority Leader Oscar Braynon.

Braynon’s bill (SB 1666), among other things, calls on the state to register 10 additional medical marijuana treatment centers by October 1. It then requires the Department of Health to register four more treatment centers each time the compassionate use registry adds qualified patients after Jan. 1, 2018.

“We’re going to have a population group (where) there isn’t enough competition to make sure the pricing is reasonable,” said Bradley during a Senate Health Policy workshop on medical marijuana implementation bills.

“The more people we have growing and selling, it provides different voices and ideas on how to treat things. One treatment center might have a specialty. That’s something that will develop organically.”

What Bradley doesn’t support, however, is a proposal to blow up the entire system and start from scratch. All but one — a bill (SB 614) by Sen. Jeff Brandes —  of the five proposals keeps the current regulatory framework in place.

Brandes’ bill gets rid of vertical integration, creating four different function licenses — cultivation, processing, transportation, and retail — that a medical marijuana treatment center can obtain. His bill also allows for treatment centers to get a combination of licenses, a departure from current law, which requires treatment centers to grow, process and sell their own product.

“I hear a lot of talk about the current system we have … being a cartel and we need a free market approach,” said Bradley. “This is not the selling of lawn mowers or office supplies. This is very different.”

The workshop marked the Senate’s first steps toward medical marijuana implementation, giving members a chance to questions Bradley and Sen. Dana Young, the committee’s chairwoman and a co-sponsor of Bradley’s bill, about medical marijuana measures that could be coming before the committee.

Sen. Frank Artiles and Sen. Denise Grimsley have also filed bills to implement the 2016 medical marijuana amendment.

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 adopting rules and implementing the amendment.

The Department of Health initiated the process of creating rules in January. The state agency has until July to put rules in place, but a recent poll found Floridians think the state is moving too slowly when it comes to implementing the amendment.

The poll, which was first reported by POLITICO Florida, found 44 percent of Floridians think the state is moving too slowly when it comes to implementing the law. Of those people who voted in favor of the measure, 57 percent said they believe the state is moving too slowly.

No action was taken during Wednesday’s meeting, and Young said a bill will be discussed and voted on at a later date.

Ben Pollara: Medical marijuana implementation for the 29, 48 … or 71 percent?

Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues claims to have polled Floridians on whether they want marijuana legalized.

They do not.

Undisclosed interests hired a political consultant, who then hired Donald Trump‘s pollster to ask the same question.

They got the same answer: 48 percent oppose legalization, while 46 percent support it.

I have two questions that don’t necessitate public opinion research to answer:

– Who cares?

– Why are we even talking about this?

Medical marijuana has now twice been before Florida voters. In 2014, it garnered a substantial majority of 58 percent, albeit not enough to pass.

Two years later, 71 percent of Floridians voted “yes,” placing Article X, Section 29, “Use of marijuana for debilitating medical conditions,” in our state’s constitution.

In both campaigns, opponents argued that medical marijuana was merely a ruse – “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” was a favorite metaphor – for recreational marijuana.

That cynical argument – that voters tricked into something they didn’t want – ultimately lost, and badly. Voters were smarter than opponents gave them credit for, and In November overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana.

So why is the Majority Leader still parroting the talking points of Mel and Betty Sembler? Why is his implementing legislation seemingly written for the less than 29 percent who voted “no,” rather than the super-majority who put this law into our Constitution?

Florida for Care, which I lead, has been for almost three years educating and advocating Floridians your Wednesday thread for reasonable, responsible medical marijuana legislation in Tallahassee. That is and has always been our only scope.

As such, it is extraordinarily frustrating, and more than a little insulting, to even be engaging in these conversations about legalization. But I’m just an advocate. It is exponentially more hair-pullingly vexing for sick and suffering patients, who have been waiting desperately for medical marijuana, to see their concerns cast aside for a debate that is neither here nor there.

Legislators talk from both sides of their mouth when they claim in one breath not to be able to adjudicate voters’ intent when implementing medical marijuana, and in the next cite polling data on legalization to interpret that same purpose.

Here’s what I believe the voters’ intent was in passing Amendment 2: they wanted to legalize medical marijuana in Florida like had been done in two dozen states prior, and unlike the existing, overly restrictive, low-THC cannabis statute that had been on the books for nearly two years before the election.

It doesn’t take a psychic or a statewide poll to determine that the 71 percent vote was a vote for a broader medical marijuana law, or that it was a message that the existing laws were simply not good enough.

All the Senate proposals have built upon existing law (except for Jeff Brandes‘ “repeal and replace” bill, which starts anew), in an attempt to fulfill that voter mandate and respect the Constitution. Rodrigues’ House bill restricts medical marijuana even further than the existing statute.

It is both a truism and cliche in politics that, “the only poll that matters is Election Day.”

We had an election on medical marijuana. Two, actually.

The “only poll that matters” came down firmly for medical marijuana.

Almost every week since December, I’ve left my wife and two young children in Miami so I could be in Tallahassee, advocating for the implementation of this law.

I only wish the House actually wanted to talk about it, instead of debating an issue that has neither a popular, nor constitutional, imperative.

___

Ben Pollara is the executive director of Florida for Care. He managed the 2014 and 2016 campaigns for Amendment 2 and was one of the primary authors of both amendments.

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