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Drug Free America Foundation wants medical marijuana Special Session

The Drug Free America Foundation is adding its voice to those calling for a Special Session on Medical Marijuana Implementation, according to a Monday press release.

“It is critical that our leaders call a special session to complete the unfinished business of implementing Amendment 2,” said Calvina Fay, executive director of the Foundation. “Moreover, it is short-sighted to think that the lack of legislation to implement Amendment 2 will stop the marijuana industry from operating.”

Fay, among other examples, cited a recent cease and desist letter from the Department of Health to Trulieve, telling it to stop selling its whole-flower cannabis product meant for vaping that also could be broken down and smoked.

“These and other similar issues are all addressed in compromise legislation that died when members of the legislature could not come to an agreement on the number of dispensaries allowed for each licensee,” Fay added.

“It is imperative that our legislators come together, take action and not allow the marijuana industry to operate as it does in some states, with no regards to public health and safety.”

A Special Session could be called jointly by Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, but Negron has not yet made up his mind whether to convene lawmakers.

The regular 2017 Legislative Session ended earlier this month without agreement on a bill.

#1 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Jack Latvala

Jack Latvala, the 63-year-old Clearwater Republican, takes top honors in this year’s poll as he uses his clout as Senate Appropriations Chair after losing an epic battle for Senate President to Joe Negron.

Now in his 15th year in the Legislature, Latvala has been supportive of most of Gov. Rick Scott’s agenda, while he contemplates his own future as a possible 2018 gubernatorial nominee – possibly with the governor’s assent.

Whether he actually pulls the trigger is unknown at this time, but Latvala is dead serious about a potential run, trash talking potential opponents Adam Putnam and Richard Corcoran by noting that having run a printing company, he’s got experience in the private sector.

“Neither one of them has ever had the responsibility of writing paychecks, of having people on a payroll, paying their benefits, writing their works comp premium checks,” he told Tia Mitchell of the Florida Times-Union. “And the responsibility that comes with that helps you make decisions affecting other people that have businesses.”

Latvala was No. 2 in the 2016 survey.

Joe Henderson’s Take

“I like his ambition and his private sector background. There is no doubt he would love to challenge for the Republican nomination for governor, and he would be a strong presence in the primary. Putnam and perhaps Corcoran are standing in Latvala’s path, though, and that’s enough to make me wonder whether there is a legitimate path Latavla could follow to accomplish that goal.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

Still no decision from Joe Negron on special session on pot referendum

Senate President Joe Negron has yet to decide to join House Speaker Richard Corcoran in calling for a Special Session on medical marijuana implementation, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, is still “in the process of having discussions with senators in response to the memorandum he sent last Thursday,” Katie Betta said in an email. 

Negron had sought input from fellow senators after the 2017 Legislative Session ended without a bill to guide state Health regulators on the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment.

An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

A state law provides that the “President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, by joint proclamation duly filed with the Department of State, may convene the Legislature in special session.”

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, last week called for a Special Session during WFLA-FM radio’s “The Morning Show with Preston Scott.”

“I do believe and support the notion that we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana,” Corcoran told Scott. “Does that mean a special session?” Scott asked. “It would, absolutely,” Corcoran said.

Others chiming in on social media for a Special Session include Sens. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican; Dana Young, a Tampa Republican; Travis Hutson, an Elkton Republican; and Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who also penned the only “formal response” as of Friday.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham and Orlando trial attorney John Morgan have called for a session on medical marijuana, with Morgan doing so in a nearly nine-minute video on TwitterMorgan has been behind the amendment since it was first filed for 2014, when it failed to get enough votes.

Jeff Brandes asks for medical marijuana Special Session

Add state Sen. Jeff Brandes to the list of those calling for a Special Legislative Session on medical marijuana implementation.

“I hope that we can reconvene in a Special Session, which should include ample time for public input, to implement the will of the voters, so that patients and entrepreneurs alike may access the marketplace,” Brandes wrote to Senate President Joe Negron on Friday.

This week, Negron sought input from fellow senators after the 2017 Legislative Session ended without a bill to implement the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment. An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

As of mid-afternoon Friday, Senate spokeswoman LaQuisha Persak said there had been no “other formal responses.”

Lawmakers failed to come to agreement on a bill related to the medical cannabis constitutional amendment passed in 2016. Just over 71 percent of statewide voters approved the measure.

Before that, the state in 2014 legalized low-THC, or “non-euphoric,” marijuana to help children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. THC is the chemical that causes the high from pot.

The state later expanded the use of medicinal marijuana through another Brandes measure, the “Right to Try Act,” that includes patients suffering intractable pain and loss of appetite from terminal illnesses.

Brandes, who filed a marijuana measure (SB 614) this Session, is asking for a “horizontally integrated regulatory framework … to provide the flexibility needed to promote specialization and robust competition.”

The two chambers this year came to an impasse over the number of dispensaries, with the Senate moving to 15, “five times the original cap of three in an earlier version of the Senate bill,” Negron said in a memo.

But the House “responded by setting its dispensary cap at 100 and providing a deadline for issuing new licenses of more than a year from now. Obviously, the Senate was not in a position to accept this House proposal. The medical cannabis bill then died,” Negron said.

The 2017 Legislative Session ended Monday.

“The drive of implementation legislation must be patient focused, not the interests of existing license holders,” Brandes said, calling for “local governments (to) play a role in determining the number of dispensaries and their locations,” and avoiding “arbitrary limitations on the number of (medical marijuana treatment clinic) licenses,” instead following “market demand.”

“I believe we can accomplish these goals by setting high quality standards, strong insurance and bonding requirements, robust seed-to-sale tracking, and a well-regulated registry,” Brandes wrote. “This model would promote ease of use and the availability of affordable medical products to suffering patients.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran this week called for a Special Session during WFLA-FM radio’s “The Morning Show with Preston Scott.”

“I do believe and support the notion that we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana,” Corcoran told Scott. “Does that mean a special session?” Scott asked. “It would, absolutely,” Corcoran said.

Corcoran spokesman Fred Piccolo on Friday said his office had not received any communications from House members about a Special Session.

Joe Negron seeks guidance on medical marijuana

Without using the words “Special Session,” Senate President Joe Negron is seeking “ideas” from fellow senators after the 2017 Legislative Session ended without a bill to implement the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment.

Negron sent a memo Thursday, released by his office, saying he “believe(s) we should consider the best way to meet our constitutional obligation to implement Amendment 2.”

Lawmakers failed to come to agreement on a bill that would implement the medical cannabis constitutional amendment passed in 2016. Just over 71 percent of statewide voters approved the measure.

An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

“It was our mutual obligation to work together in good faith to find a principled middle ground on this important issue,” Negron wrote. “…Please feel free to contact me with your ideas on how to achieve this objective.”

The memo came a day after House Speaker Richard Corcoran called for a special legislative session during WFLA-FM radio’s “The Morning Show with Preston Scott.”

“I do believe and support the notion that we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana,” Corcoran told Scott. “Does that mean a special session?” Scott asked. “It would, absolutely,” Corcoran said.

Earlier Thursday, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, urged for a Special Session on medicinal cannabis implementation and insurance issues during an appearance at the Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce.

The full text of Negron’s memo follows:

As the Senate evaluates the best path forward on legislative implementation of Amendment 2 (Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Medical Conditions), I wanted to provide you with the context of actions and opportunities to date.

Under the leadership of Senator Bradley, the Senate passed an implementation bill that reflected three guiding principles shared by a strong majority of our membership. This Senate consensus can be described as follows.

First, the Legislature has a solemn duty to fully and fairly implement Amendment 2, which was passed with the support of over 71 percent of the voters in 2016.

Second, we should ensure medical marijuana is readily accessible to any Floridian who suffers from an enumerated debilitating condition, as determined by a licensed Florida physician. At the same time, the Senate did not support an unwarranted expansion of treatment centers until patient demand has been established.

Third, in order to foster a free market and affordable medicine, licenses and dispensaries should be structured in a way that promotes competition and quality.

The Senate Bill (SB 406 by Senator Bradley) also included sound provisions such as requiring dispensaries to look and feel like medical offices and providing that medicine certified by a physician would be available without arbitrary and unreasonable delay.

Of course, our colleagues in the House had their version of how an appropriate implementation bill would look. It was our mutual obligation to work together in good faith to find a principled middle ground on this important issue. I believe both the House and Senate did their best to accomplish this goal; however, we were unsuccessful in reaching agreement during the 2017 Regular Session.

Consistent with the wishes of most Senators, the final Senate position was to provide for immediate issuance of 10 new licenses, which we believe is fair to the seven incumbent providers (who are already authorized to cultivate, process, and dispense) and reflects the Senate commitment to marketplace competition.

In addition, to move in the direction of the House position, during informal negotiations the Senate offered to raise the dispensary cap to 15, which was five times the original cap of three in an earlier version of the Senate bill.

On the final day of Session, the House responded by setting its dispensary cap at 100 and providing a deadline for issuing new licenses of more than a year from now. Obviously, the Senate was not in a position to accept this House proposal. The medical cannabis bill then died in the House without being transmitted to the Senate for further consideration prior to Sine Die.

As I said on Monday evening, I believe we should consider the best way to meet our constitutional obligation to implement Amendment 2. Please feel free to contact me with your ideas on how to achieve this objective.

Richard Corcoran joins calls for medical marijuana special session

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has added his voice to those calling for a special legislative session on medical marijuana.

Corcoran spoke Wednesday on “The Morning Show with Preston Scott” on WFLA-FM radio in Tallahassee.

Lawmakers failed to come to agreement this Legislative Session on a bill that would implement the medical cannabis constitutional amendment passed in 2016. Just over 71 percent of statewide voters approved the measure.

An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

“It absolutely needs to be dealt with,” Corcoran told Scott. “When you have 71 percent of the voters say, ‘we want legalized medical marijuana,’ and the fact we couldn’t get (an implementing bill) done, to just leave it to bureaucrats sitting at the Department of Health would be a gross injustice.

“I do believe and support the notion that we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana,” he added.

“Does that mean a special session?” Scott asked.

“It would, absolutely,” Corcoran said.

Senate President Joe Negron on Monday also signaled his inclination for a special session.

“I think that’s something that now that session is over and our budget passed that we’ll confer with the House and governor, and then make a decision on whether that’s something we should do,” he told reporters. “I think the Legislature does have a responsibility to be involved in that implementation, so that’s something we’ll look at.”

Others, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham and Orlando trial attorney John Morgan also called for a special session on medical marijuana, with Morgan doing so in a nearly nine-minute video on Twitter.

Morgan has been behind the amendment since it was first filed for 2014, when it failed to get enough votes.

Under the state constitution, a special session can be convened by proclamation of Gov. Rick Scott, or “by consent of two-thirds of the membership of each house.”

A state law also provides that the “President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, by joint proclamation duly filed with the Department of State, may convene the Legislature in special session.”

Another section of that statute allows 20 percent of state lawmakers to request a special session, after which the Florida Department of State must poll all members, who have to approve on a three-fifths vote.

Rick Scott has a friend in White House and foes back home

With a friend and a political ally in the White House, this was supposed to be a moment of triumph for Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

For years, Scott complained and criticized President Barack Obama and contended he wasn’t helping Florida. Now with Donald Trump in office, Scott has worked out a deal with federal officials to provide at least $1 billion for the state’s hospitals and he obtained a promise to move forward with repairs to a federally-operated dike that surrounds the state largest freshwater lake.

But that didn’t help him with the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Instead by the end of this year’s session, Scott’s legislative agenda was in tatters, ignored by GOP legislators he has feuded with for months and criticized during visits to the lawmakers’ hometowns.

And on Tuesday, he bashed the newly-passed $83 billion budget, giving his strongest sign that he may veto the spending plan and force the state House and Senate to reconvene in a special session. He criticized legislators for assembling most of the budget — which covers spending from July of this year to June 2018 — in secret and for refusing to set aside money for his top priorities including money for business incentives.

“I ran for governor to fight career politicians and it’s backroom deals like this that make families think politics is nothing more than a game,” Scott said in a statement. “Just like I do every year, I will make my decisions based on what’s best for our families because my job is to wake up every day and fight for Floridians.”

The Florida Legislature wrapped up its session late Monday, passing a series of budget-related bills that included a pay raise for state workers, a measure to cut funding to the state’s tourism marketing agency by two-thirds and a small boost in money for day-to-day school operations. They also passed a sweeping education bill that includes more than $400 million for teacher bonuses as well as money for charter schools that enroll students now attending failing public schools.

Scott contends the new budget could harm the state’s economy and suppress job creation.

The big question, however, is whether Scott will take the political risk of vetoing the budget since it was passed by overwhelming margins. A Florida governor hasn’t vetoed the entire budget in more than two decades.

Scott, a potential candidate for U.S. Senate next year against incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, could be embarrassed if legislators return to the Capitol and override him. It takes a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate, meaning Republicans would need Democrats to join with them.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has derided Scott’s requests for business incentives as “corporate welfare” and has ridiculed VISIT Florida for deals such as the secret one where the rapper Pitbull was paid $1 million to promote the state. The Land O’ Lakes Republican has defended his strong stance opposite Scott and criticized politicians he says have flipped positions. Scott backed strong anti-immigration moves in 2010 but then backed off later. The governor also flipped on whether to support Medicaid expansion.

“There’s a war going on for the soul of the party,” said Corcoran, who says he thinks the Legislature has enough votes to block Scott’s veto. “Are we going to be who we say we are?”

Senate Republicans say they tried to back Scott’s priorities and have urged him to sign the new budget. Sen. Bill Galvano, a top Republican from Bradenton, said Scott’s situation was a byproduct of negotiations in order to get a final budget.

“The reality is what it is,” Galvano said. “There’s got to be some give and take.”

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon from Miami Gardens said Republicans should not assume that Democrats will join in an override, especially since there are measures, including the education bill, that were opposed by Democrats.

“You can’t predict that until we see what he vetoes,” Braynon said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida may restore college aid lost during Great Recession

Nearly a decade after the Great Recession, Florida may finally restore one of its main programs that aids students headed to college.

The state Legislature late Monday approved an overhaul of the state’s higher education system that is intended to lift schools in the Sunshine State into the ranks of elite counterparts.

A key part of the legislation now headed to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott would require the state to cover 100 percent of tuition costs for top performing high school students who attend a state university or college. Florida used to pay 100 percent of tuition for those eligible for the top level of the state’s Bright Futures scholarship, but it was scaled back when the economy soured.

Those students eligible for the top award would also be able to use their Bright Futures scholarship — which is paid from lottery ticket sales — on summer courses for the first time.

Senate President Joe Negron, who called for having schools in Florida rival other public universities such as University of Virginia and University of North Carolina, pointed out that legislators agreed to spend nearly $600 million to increase financial aid and to boost spending in state universities. The new state budget nearly doubles the amount of financial aid provided to low-income students.

The Stuart Republican asserted the changes in the bill (SB 374) would encourage students to graduate faster.

“I believe Florida taxpayers will see a return worthy of their investment when our top Florida students attend our own colleges and universities, complete degree programs on-time, and then graduate with job opportunities in high-demand fields needed in our growing communities,” Negron said.

Some Democrats questioned why the state was not boosting money available in other scholarship programs. Some Tampa Bay area legislators also were upset because a last-minute change pushed by Negron prevented University of South Florida from being eligible for money intended to the state’s top universities. Currently, only the University of Florida and Florida State University qualify for the extra money.

Rep. Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat, said her hometown school was “cheated” by the maneuver.

The House voted 85-27 for the bill, while the Senate approved the legislation by a 35-3 vote.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Joe Negron open to special session on medical marijuana

Senate President Joe Negron hasn’t closed the door to a special session to tackle medical marijuana.

The Stuart Republican said Monday he thinks the Legislature has a responsibility to be involved in the implementation of the 2016 medical marijuana, and said the Senate would discuss its options with the House and Gov. Rick Scott. His remarks came after the adjournment of the 2017 Legislative Session, during which lawmakers failed to pass an implementing bill.

“I think that’s something that now that session is over and our budget passed that we’ll confer with the House and governor, and then make a decision on whether that’s something we should do,” he told reporters Monday. “I think the Legislature does have a responsibility to be involved in that implementation, so that’s something we’ll look at.”

While lawmakers agreed on most key parts of an implementing bill, negotiations collapsed Friday, the final day the Legislature could take up policy issues, after the chambers couldn’t agree on the number of retail locations medical marijuana treatment centers could operate.

The House voted 99-16 on a bill that put the limit at 100 per treatment center. The Senate, which limited storefronts to five per license holder, did not take it up.

That now means the Department of Health will be charged with coming up with rules for patients, caregivers, doctors and treatment centers by July 3 and have them implemented by October.

Several advocates, including John Morgan, the bombastic Orlando Democrat who poured millions into the medical marijuana campaign, have called for a special session to address the issue. Morgan, who had a very public fall-out with his former ally Ben Pollara over proposed legislation, has said he would urge Scott to call a special session to implement the amendment.

He isn’t the only one calling for a special session. On Monday, Gwen Graham, a former U.S. representative and 2018 gubernatorial candidate, called for a special session, saying “failure to enact Amendment 2 to legalize medical marijuana, which passed with 71.32 percent approval in 2016, is just the latest example of the Legislature ignoring Florida voters.”

“I watched my husband battle cancer and the sickening effects of chemotherapy. So many patients with cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and other debilitating diseases could use medical marijuana as a way to treat their pain,” she said in a statement. “Floridians spent years begging the legislature to take action before taking their case to the voters, but once again, the legislature is ignoring them. If the people of Florida give me the honor of serving as governor, their voices will be heard.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

Janet Cruz blasts USF’s treatment in proposed budget

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz blasted legislative leadership’s treatment of the University of South Florida, saying the school’s achievement of state “pre-eminent” status was snatched away from it at the last moment.

Language in an education conforming bill late last Friday was changed, preventing USF from pre-eminence, a status that would have qualified it for millions of additional dollars in state funding.

Cruz, of Tampa, asked pointed questions of fellow state Rep. Larry Ahern, chair of the chamber’s Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee. 

Who decides when we move the goalpost … who makes that decision?” Cruz asked. Ahern said the change happened in the Senate. 

Senate President Joe Negron has denied accusations of unfairness, saying they are “entirely unsupported by the facts.”

A bill originally had language that a university must achieve a four-year graduation rate of 50 percent or higher, a mark that USF has exceeded.

But the conforming bill — written after the budget was finalized Friday — reverted to a previous benchmark: A six-year graduation rate of 70 percent or better for full-time, first-time students.

“Did you know that USF was celebrating that they would finally, after years of preparation, would finally achieve pre-eminent status?” Cruz asked Ahern. 

“I’m not sure what they were doing Friday night,” Ahern said.

In debate, Cruz later lambasted the process: “I was ready to be supportive but then someone took from my hometown … (The university) followed the rules, and late at night, the goal posts were changed.”

Tampa Republican Shawn Harrison added, “We were there until we weren’t … this is a blow to USF.”

Tampa correspondent Mitch Perry contributed to this post. 

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