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Andrew Warren slams proposed bill that would shift the burden of proof in Stand Your Ground cases

Elected on a platform of wanting to reform much of Hillsborough County’s current system of justice,State Attorney Andrew Warren is voicing his strong opposition to a measure pending in the Florida Legislature that would shift the burden of proof in ‘Stand Your Ground’ self-defense cases.

The bill, sponsored by Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley (SB 128), would shift the burden of proof to prosecutors during evidentiary hearings in self-defense cases. It stems from a Florida Supreme Court ruling in 2015 that said defendants have the burden of proof to show they should be shielded from prosecution under the “stand your ground” law.

“Proponents of changing the law claim it restores the fundamental principal of justice that a citizen is innocent until proven guilty. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Warren writes in an op-ed published in Friday’s Tampa Bay Times. Our Constitution guarantees the innocence of the accused until every element of the crime has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. As the state attorney for Hillsborough County, I wholeheartedly embrace our extremely high burden of proof to obtain a conviction. The proposed changes, however, create an unnecessary and technical legal hurdle in the law to force the state to disprove a defense — which would often require proving a negative — beyond a reasonable doubt, upending the constitutional standard and centuries-old common law.”

Warren also says passage of the bill would be extremely costly to Hillsborough taxpayers, writing that if it were implemented, “we will need more judges, more courtrooms, more prosecutors and more law enforcement officers. In Hillsborough County, this would impact more than 5,000 cases per year. If only half of those cases involve a claim of “stand your ground” immunity, the time and resources in my office alone amount to nearly $3 million annually.”

The 40-year-old Warren is a former federal prosecutor who won in a stunning upset victory over 16-year GOP incumbent State Attorney Mark Ober in November. He was one of a wave of  reform-minded candidates who won prosecutorial races in major jurisdictions across the country, including Aramis Ayala in Orange County and Melissa Nelson in Jacksonville.

Bradley’sproposal passed the Senate during the 2016 session but failed to get to the House floor. It’s being sponsored in the House this spring by Duval County Republican Jason Fischer and Palatka Republican Bobby Payne.

 

Newsprint vendor sues Tampa Bay Times over defaulted $340K debt

A newsprint vendor is suing the Tampa Bay Times, claiming the paper owes more than $340,000 in debt from the acquisition of the Tampa Tribune last year.

Emails submitted in the suit show a story of increasing disarray with vendors at the 121-year-old Trib leading up to the May 2016 purchase.

In April 2015, the Tribune issued a promissory note to Boise Packaging acknowledging an unpaid debt of nearly $600,000 for newsprint. Boise Packaging is a subsidiary of Packaging Corporation of America, an Illinois-based manufacturer of corrugated boxes and paper products.

The note came about three years after Revolution Capital Group, led by Robert David Loring Jr., purchased the struggling paper for $9.5 million.

Court records show the Tribune agreeing to weekly payments until the debt was clear. Boise’s credit manager Steve Grant, in a series of emails in 2015, communicated with Revolution Capital chief financial officer Stanley Huang about the Tribune’s unpaid debt.

On June 8, 2015, Grant wrote to Huang: “My patience has run out. Last chance to begin paying $10,000 a week without fail. Failure to do so will result in legal action. The ball is in your court.”

Huang responded with several excuses — including the postponed sale of the Tribune’s headquarters and unexpected employee health-insurance claims — for the paper’s failure to make payments.

“I can definitely appreciate and understand your frustration,” Huang responded. “To be honest, you weren’t at the bottom of the list. There were other current vendors that didn’t get paid this week. The medical claims typically come in around $50K a week, but this week it skyrocketed to $110K and ate up all the availability we had on paying vendors.”

“I wish people didn’t get sick and we didn’t have to pay these medical costs that just automatically get drawn,” said Huang’s email of June 26. “I don’t ever call in sick and rarely do I go to the doctor so I wonder where do all of these medical claims come from.”

“Hopefully you won’t find a lawsuit necessary,” Huang said.

Nevertheless, when the Tampa Bay Times took over the Tribune, it was with a stock deal in which the Times assumed the Trib’s liabilities.

By then, the Tribune owed Boise $403,773, plus interest.

Soon after, Times chief financial officer Jana Jones promised Grant the paper would set up a repayment plan, saying the previously agreed upon arrangement “is likely to work for us as well.”

A May 26 email from Jones acknowledges the Times acquired the debt to Boise Packaging, asking for a few weeks to set up a new plan.

“Things haven’t really settled down … it is very busy,” she wrote. “In addition to the systems/operations integration, we are still untangling all of the past due invoices from various vendors. Candidly, it’s taking longer than anticipated.”

However, Jones noted, the debt remained obligations of the Tampa Media Group.

“That company remains active,” she said. “We are not transferring obligations to Times Publishing Company.”

In July 2016, the Times promised Boise monthly payments ranging from $15,000 to $25,000 until December 2017, when the debt would be fully retired.

In the suit, filed Feb. 22 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Boise claims the Times defaulted on the revised repayment plan, making only two such monthly payments.

A legal notice sent to Jones from Boise Packaging attorney Monica Cockerille points out that while the vendor did receive payments for July and August, they did receive one for September, and — at the time of the letter, Oct. 25 – no payment for October.

The suit, which names the Tampa Bay Times, Revolution Capital, and Tampa Media Group, is asking for $340,983 in unpaid principal, plus interest.

Tampa Bay Times’ Paul Tash says a priority for him is to ‘reconnect’ with Donald Trump supporters

Although the Tampa Bay Times has a national presence, its greatest impact is, arguably, its reporting on what’s going on in the Tampa Bay area and the state of Florida. Yet when Paul Tash, the paper’s president and CEO, came before the usually aggressive members of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, most of those who got the chance to ask him a question focused on their concerns about the phenomenon known as “fake news” and other related aspects to the emergence of Donald Trump as the country’s 45th President.

“Fake news – that is, fake news that has been entirely made up, has been with us for a long time,” Tash said in his prepared remarks, as images of famed covers of the Weekly World News were displayed behind him. “But nobody really expected you to believe this,” he said of such over the top stories.

But he said fake news took a dark turn last year when a detailed conspiracy theory known as “Pizzagate” happened. That was the story about the perception by a North Carolina man that a pedophile ring run by Hillary Clinton was operating out of Washington D.C. pizzeria. It ultimately resulted with that man terrifying customers and workers with his ­assault-style rifle as he searched the establishment.

Tash said the way the Times answers fake news and truth from fiction is with PolitFact, its ten-year-old journalism project that captured a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 and has since spread to other news organizations across the globe.

If there was a central theme to the CEO’s remarks, it’s that it was up to the public to care about quality journalism.

“It’s up to news organizations to help figure out what’s true, what’s fact and what’s fake. But that won’t matter unless we care.”

The Times financial situation has been well documented in the media. The paper took out a $28 million loan in 2013, and borrowed another $13.3 million just before purchasing the Tampa Tribune last year. When asked about how the paper’s finances are doing in 2017, Tash said “we are cash flow positive,” and said that the acquisition of the Tribune last May has helped expand its circulation.

Nobody’s cash flow is better at the Times than Tash’s, who made $487,000 in 2015.

He acknowledged that print journalism is “not an easy business,” and said the fact that retailers like J.C. Penney’s and Macy’s are closing stores could also constitute a problem for the paper, since that could reduce the money that those retailers will spend on print advertising.

After the Times purchased the Tribune last year, the paper announced that it would expand its editorial pages, and include more right-of-center voices. Tash said one of his priorities for this year is to “continue to connect, or reconnect, with the good people who voted for Donald Trump.”

“That was not the editorial position, that the newspapers took,” he said regarding nearly every paper in the country’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president (only six major papers around the country endorsed Trump). Trump won Pinellas County last fall.

“I want to make sure that we stay in touch, and stay connected,” he added.

There were a few questions that came from Tiger Bay members about the Times coverage of local issues.

Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Susan McGrath questioned the Times endorsement of Philip Garett over incumbent Steve Kornell in the 2015 St. Pete City Council District 6 race. It was a a recommendation, McGrath asserted, that “many believe was motivated by interests to keep the baseball team in the Bay area.”

Tash punted on the response, saying he couldn’t recall the particulars of that editorial decision, quickly segueing to affirming how valuable the Times recommendations are, particularly in local judicial races.

And Tash wasn’t about to take the heat for Big Journalism everywhere when it came to the reporting on Clinton. When Pinellas County Democratic activist Bill Bucolo asked if there was “selective enforcement” of the press making a large issue out of certain things such as the  Whitewater  scandal of the 1990’s, he said most definitely not.

“There were questions being raised and they deserved answers and I would say the one of the problems that Mrs. Clinton has is the basic tendency to try to coverup,” he said, adding that it was one of the things that “diminished her candidacy. This steady, incremental, by degree kind of grudging recognition of what was later revealed to be true.”

“The Republicans think the selected enforcement works against them, and not the Democrats,” he said, adding, “We do our best to be even handed.”

Tampa Bay Times acknowledges its recent stories on Mosaic spill are inaccurate

Last week, the Tampa Bay Times quoted two retired hydrology experts who slammed the phosphate giant Mosaic and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection over the massive sinkhole that exploded under a gypsum stack at Mosaic’s New Wales plant in Mulberry last summer, resulting in 215 million gallons of radioactive wastewater released into the Florida aquifer.

Don Rice and Mary Hrenda told the Times that a full year before the incident, monitoring wells around the stack showed a sinkhole was developing, and that both Mosaic and the DEP should have been aware of the sinkhole at the time. The information was also presented at a news conference last Friday with environmental groups in Manatee County.

“They should have seen this 2016 sinkhole coming,” Rice told the Times last Thursday. “Alarm bells should have been going off — danger, danger!”

Now the Times acknowledges that Rice and Hrenda have retracted their statements.

“News organizations routinely cover disputes between two credible sides, and that’s what we did in our original story,” says Jennifer Orsi, managing editor of the Times, in an email. “Mosaic, which declined to discuss the allegations for that story, responded the next day, and we covered that as well. Now, the hydrologists quoted in our original story have retracted their findings and expressed regret, which we will cover in a story on the front page of Wednesday’s Tampa Bay Times. Stories evolve, and we routinely cover those steps as they happen.”

Upon publication of the story Friday, both the DEP and Mosaic strongly disputed the report, and on Tuesday the first independently affiliated group, a relatively new organization based in Florida called the Center for Sustainability and Conservation (CFSC) weighed in.

The group released findings from an independent, Florida-licensed geologist, which also contradicted information originally published in the Times about the genesis of last year’s spill.

“Our geologist concluded that the increase in water levels were due to a grouting program in the area and not the precursor to a sinkhole. In his opinion, an indication of a sinkhole would have produced a drop in water levels, not an increase,” said Dave Gray, founder and Executive Director of CFSC.

Gray said he had his own independent Florida-licensed geologist, Abner Patton, reviewed the data and information Rice provided to environmental groups at last week’s news conference.

In his report, Abner writes that the “significant rise in water levels” in the three recognized aquifers near the New Wales facility “is not related to an event associated with the 2016 sinkhole collapse. In fact, our interpretation would be just the opposite response, significant decline in water levels would have occurred as the sinkhole was developing.”

Abner also refers to a grouting program conducted in the spring and summer of 2015. He notes that it is his interpretation that significant level changes in the three wells “are the result of a successful grouting program within the confining unit.”

“The data and information surrounding Florida’s natural resources and geology are complex and multidisciplined,” Gray said. “It is imperative that everyone understands such data can be used to draw false claims and manipulate conclusions to different outcomes, especially if examined by someone who is not licensed in Florida and does not have a thorough understanding of Florida’s unique geology.”

Rice and Hrenda, who is his wife, both worked as hydrologists in New Jersey, not Florida.

The Times report was challenged last week by the DEP, which said that the data in question have “nothing to do with the formation of the 2016 sinkhole.”

“The data the Tampa Bay Times provided is referring to monitoring wells under the closed North stack at the New Wales facility, which was closed in 2005, not under the South stack where the 2016 sinkhole formed,” the DEP said on Friday.

“I don’t think they did their diligence on evaluating the data, I think they chose some data they thought could carry a message and ran with it, whether or not that message was correct,” said David Jellerson, Mosaic’s Senior Director of Environmental and Phosphate Projects.

At the news conference in front of the Manatee County Commission last Friday, a host of environmental groups called for an investigation of the DEP, and said they were sending a letter to Gov. Rick Scott and State Attorney General Pam Bondi. It was signed by Suncoast Waterkeeper, the Center for Biological Diversity, People for Protecting the Peace River, ManaSota-88, Sierra Club Manatee-Sarasota and Saving the Face of Florida.

They said that the agency was “negligent, possibly criminally negligent” when it failed to recognize warning signs of a sinkhole and taking preventive measures to drain the stack.

On Wednesday, Mosaic officials are set to go before the Manatee County Commission over the proposal to approve the expansion of a phosphate mine on a 3,600-acre plot in Myakka City. The environmental groups strongly oppose the plan.

Mosaic pushes back hard against Tampa Bay Times over sinkhole reporting

Following a report from the Tampa Bay Times’ Craig Pittman regarding the sinkhole that opened up on Mosaic Fertilizer’s property in late 2016, the company sent out a scathing rebuke to media alleging Pittman “continues to provide a platform for false information.”

In the report, Pittman interviewed Don Rice, a former hydrologist from the U.S. Geological Survey, who alleges the company should have seen the signs of a sinkhole forming.

Jackie Barron, a Mosaic spokeswoman, said the claims made in Pittman’s article are “fundamentally wrong.”

“The water level increases cited in his article were observed in a location that is in no way related to the recent sinkhole at Mosaic’s New Wales facility,” Barron wrote in a memo to media.

The company is also taking issue with the newspaper’s failure to check the facts before reporting.

“Responsible journalists check facts from multiple sources to get to the truth before they accuse a company of negligence,” said the memo. “That did not happen here.”

In a separate release, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection claims allegations by Rice are wrong because they reference a section of Mosaic’s property where a sinkhole did not form.

“This is false because the data they are referring to is from the North stack,” the release said, “which while continuously monitored and intact, has been closed and non-operational for nearly 12 years.”

The DEP also takes issue with the Times’ failure to disclose the data used by Rice as the basis for his allegations.

“After multiple requests for the Tampa Bay Times’ reporter to provide the data being referenced, DEP was pointed to one chart on Page 5 of a July 2016 monitoring report, which DEP had reviewed and posted online Aug. 11, 2016,” the statement said. “DEP has posted monitoring reports for the two stacks, North and South, at the Mosaic New Wales facility dating back to 1994, and these reports have been available online since 2013.”

Last week, Mosaic employees began work filling the sinkhole. As part of the effort, Mosaic employees plan to work 24 hours per day with a six-day workweek.

Mosaic estimates the sinkhole will be filled by the rainy season.

Hillsborough MPO head wants to slow down talk of new regional transportation authority

Beth Alden is looking to have a serious discussion about regional transportation in the Tampa Bay area.

In early 2017, the consensus among the political and business establishment is that the Tampa Bay region must come together as one cohesive regional entity to maximize its leverage before anything can be done about transportation.

However, Alden, the head of the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Organization (MPO), wants to put on the brakes.

“Let’s not do this half-assed,” she asserted in an interview earlier this week. “If we’re going to do this, let’s do this for real. Let’s have a real conversation about this.”

Alden fears that with the regular legislative session scheduled to begin in just a few weeks that conversation with all the key players involved won’t happen in time.

According to a new white paper prepared by the D.C.-based Enos Center for Transportation, a regional structure for transportation planning, operations and decision-making is paramount to developing a regional transportation system.

The document was sponsored by the Tampa Bay Partnership, who is leading the way to have the eight-county region come together as one unit to facilitate and expedite transportation improvements.

Speaking at a meeting of the Tampa Bay Area Legislative Delegation in Clearwater last week was Veology CEO Barry Shelvin, who is the co-chair transportation working group with the TBP with Jeff Vinik.

Shelvin said two goals for the Partnership this year is to create a multicounty MPO and to a support a regional center for transit operations.

HART and PSTA, the two biggest transit agencies in the Bay area, should have a “closer relationship,” he said, leaving it open as to how that happens.

HART and PSTA formally signed a Memorandum of Understanding this week, which some transit critics fear is a stalking horse toward another sales tax referendum, or possibly a merger of the agencies.

That concern led HART officials to explicitly add language to the agreement saying that won’t happen.

The Hillsborough County MPO already has formal planning agreements with Pinellas, Hernando, Pasco, Polk, Sarasota and Manatees counties, all working within the MPO TBARTA coordinating committee.

In December, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) jointly finalized a new rule calling for MPO’s in urbanized areas to merge. It was first promulgated last summer, and Alden says her organization has spent the past six months studying four different cases on how MPO’s organize planning processes in other parts of the country.

“We think we have crafted a thoughtful approach that includes public discussion of the issue, and independent nationwide research into effective strategies to address the issue of regionalization,” she says. “We can do this well, but we need to do our homework.”

Alden was inspired to post a lengthy comment on the MPO’s Facebook page last week following a Tampa Bay Times editorial lauding the Enos Center report, writing: “I’m not at all saying we should do nothing for regional transit. I’m saying we have to walk before we can fly.”

The Times editorial and Clearwater state Sen. Jack Latvala have invoked the example of Tampa Bay Water as a template for creating a regional transportation authority, but Alden questions that logic.

In the case of Tampa Bay Water, local governments turned over their own water resources to a third party to sell the water back to them at wholesale prices. Alden wants to know how that apply to regional transit.

“The primary source of operating funding for transit is a property tax levy, so what are we talking about, asking HART and PSTA to begin turning over their property tax to an independent agency across multiple counties?” she asks.

Disagreeing with Alden is Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, who says the time is now for the Legislature to create a Tampa Bay area transit authority.

“Now they’re going to do another study?” she asked disdainfully. “As if this issue has not been studied to death.”

At long last, Jamie Grant files bill to kill Hillsborough PTC

Tampa GOP state Representative Jamie Grant has filed a bill (HB 647) that would eliminate the controversial Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.

“With new information being made public every day, it becomes increasingly clear that this agency needs to be abolished,” Grant said in a statement. “Everything that has come to light has confirmed what we knew all along; that this agency no longer serves a useful purpose and the residents of Hillsborough County deserve better.”

That ‘new information’ Grant is referring to is the continued negative reports regarding the PTC’s former Kyle Cockream, who resigned at the end of last year.

Over the weekend, expletive-laden text messages between Cockream and PTC chief inspector Brett Saunders surfaced in a story published in the Tampa Bay Times. They were discovered as a result of an investigation being conducted against the PTC by a Sarasota law firm.

Cockream resigned last fall (the second time that he had announced he would be leaving the agency) after former PTC chairman Victor Crist called for an investigation as the result of reports about Cockream showing favoritism towards the taxicab industry. The PTC regulates all vehicle-for-hire companies in Hillsborough County, which over the past three years has included trying to get transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft to come to terms with the PTC.

For years, the PTC had agents who had been issuing citations against Uber and Lyft drivers for operating illegally in the county. The PTC and the ridesharing companies did finally come to an agreement last fall.

The announcement of Grant’s legislation is no surprise, as the entire Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation voted to support the bill when he proposed it back in December. It calls for the agency to  end all operations on December 31, 2017.

As of now it is not certain who would inherit the duties of the PTC, although every other county in the state finds a way to do so (the PTC is the only type of agency of its kind in Florida). The Board of County Commissioners could be that agency, although Tax Collector Doug Belden has recently said his office could take over those responsibilities.

Corey Givens Jr. says he’s ready to serve on the St. Petersburg City Council

Corey Givens Jr. isn’t even 25 years old, yet the millennial activist is immersed in a panoply of local organizations in St. Petersburg.

In addition to being president of the Lakewood Terrace Neighborhood Association, he serves on the local chapters of the NAACP, the Sierra Club and the Citizens Advisory Council for the South St. Pete CRA.  And now he’s running for the St. Petersburg District 6 City Council seat being vacated this year by Karl Nurse, who is term limited.

“I want to focus on accountability,” he says. “Making sure that we’re voting on issues that are relevant to people who were serving.”

When asked who or what was an influence in his intense interest in the community, he credits his journalism professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, the late Bob Dardenne, for inspiring him.

“It started in his classroom,” Givens said speaking to this reporter earlier this week at the Panera Bread outlet on 4th Street North. Givens’ beat on the Crow’s Nest paper was covering local government, and he said he observed the discontent among citizens in St. Petersburg and Gulfport regarding red-light cameras, who didn’t feel like their interests were being heard. Covering issues like that made him realize how vital the role of local government is in people’s lives, he says.

Givens calls former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch and former City Councilman Frank Peterman to be some of his mentors, and says he honors some of other African-American leaders who previously served in the seat, like David Welch and Ernest Williams.

Another theme of his candidacy is embracing the future while respecting the past, something that he says informs his opinion on the latest developments regarding the Pier, where he celebrated at Cha Cha Coconuts when graduating from Lakewood High. He says it needs to be family friendly, yet responsive to small business needs.

Despite his youth, this isn’t Givens first run for local office. As a 20-year old in 2012, he ran for a seat on the Pinellas County School board, but his campaign efforts ended ignominiously when it was discovered that he falsely boasted to the Tampa Bay Times that he had an associate’s degree from St. Petersburg College, a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and was pursuing a master’s degree at the USFSP.

With a whopper like that on his resume, Givens addressed the issue head on in his statement announcing his candidacy last month.

“I made a mistake,” he said this week. “It’s how we rebound from those mistakes is what truly defines us. And I worked my behind off to earn the trust back from my family, my supporters, my friends, my community. Making sure that they could feel that they could trust me again, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past six years is serving, and ever since that hiccup back in 2012 I’ve made sure that I’m doing my part.”

Givens says he’s all about uniting the city, and isn’t interested battles of downtown vs. the Southside, black vs. white, or rich vs. poor.

“It’s about making sure that we’re all working together, to build up our community, so that we have a more vibrant, economic base, so that we are preserving and protecting our waterfront, so that we are making sure that our children and our young adults are prepared for jobs for the future in tech and trade.”

When asked if some voters might hesitate to vote for someone only in his mid-20’s, Givens says he uses “haters” to motivate him to prove that he’s worthy. He says he’s a workhorse, not a showhorse, referring to the fact that he started serving on the NAACP youth council when he was 17. “That’s what folks want to see, somebody who’s not necessarily been at the top, but somebody who’s been behind the scenes, doing the work, putting in the ground work, because those are the kind of folks we want to see serving in our govt. not those who have a sense of entitledness, but those with humbleness. Those who have the heart of public service, and that’s what I bring to the table.”

Givens is the first candidates to declare for the District 6 seat. He turns 25 in April, and if elected in the fall, he’d become the youngest council member in St. Pete history.

Saying voter intent ‘ignored’ on medical marijuana, Tampa Bay Times is just plain wrong

The Tampa Bay Times is just plain wrong about something, and it has stuck in my craw for nearly a week now.

Last Thursday, a Times headline read: “Voter intent on medical marijuana ignored.” Two days later, columnist John Romano followed suit with virtually the same narrative.

“Ignored?”

The clear inference of the editorial – notably, the word “ignored” – utterly fails to acknowledge reality.

“Ignored” clearly and purposefully claims the will of those who voted for the constitutional amendment has been intentionally disregarded or not considered. Whether you agree or disagree with the direction things are headed, clear evidence suggests Amendment 2 is NOT being ignored.

If the amendment were indeed being ignored, the Florida Department of Health (DOH) would have done nothing. Nada.

Instead, the DOH – absent legislative guidance and before rule hearings or public testimony – took a fairly dramatic stance expanding access to medical cannabis. The Department publicly stated physicians can now order medical marijuana for those patient conditions identified in the amendment.

That’s not ignoring. That’s the Department of Health taking a pretty bold step forward. (Applause?)

Typically, state agencies have limited authority to make such a determination. But in this case, the DOH action – taken within days of Amendment 2’s enactment – allows for the expansion of conditions precisely as directed under the newly passed amendment.

One could make the argument that this is the exact opposite of “ignored.”

Further, DOH did not (and does not) have authority to simply wipe away statutes put in place explicitly to handle an array of issues that deal with a substance that is (may I remind everyone) STILL illegal at the federal level.

The agency could not have, for example, issued an edict allowing anyone to grow marijuana or to sell it as that person saw fit. And they cannot just wipe away licensure requirements or legislatively mandated training requirements for physicians that are currently still on the books. Instead, they let the current statutory framework for growing, distributing and selling to stand – concepts that are clearly articulated under the law as it stands now – taking the bold step of allowing physicians to immediately begin ordering medical cannabis for a new group of patients.

Seriously, what more do the good folks at TBT want?

Second, and equally bizarre: they roundly criticize lawmakers.

This accusation – plainly false – simply makes no sense.

Lawmakers are, right now, in the business of meeting, taking public testimony and considering various viewpoints. They drafted bills, weighing different options and are moving forward with great speed, even though the start of the legislative session is still weeks away.

There have been three public hearings and, as of this writing, two separate Senate bills are being floated, and we can expect one from the House any moment now.

Again, what more do they want?  Session hasn’t even started.

Let us keep in mind that 70 percent of voters did NOT vote for recreational marijuana usage. Voters said “yes” to the PHYSICIAN-directed use of MEDICAL marijuana for patients with extreme conditions. The proponents repeatedly and steadfastly maintained that we would not have widespread use of marijuana but that it would ONLY be available for the severely ill.

One must presume that the critically ill are under the treatment and care of a licensed and, hopefully, fully trained physician.

The paper’s position that the Board of Medicine should have no role in the administration of medicine is not only misguided, but entirely inconsistent with the promise made by those who supported this amendment.

As a father and a citizen of this state, I am genuinely terrified that Florida could become the next California – or worse. We have seen what happens when imperfect, but well-intended, laws are exploited.

Once that genie is out of the bottle, it’s almost impossible to put it back in.

I don’t want to live in a state where anybody with a smartphone can feign virtually any illness and have pot delivered to their front door. I am fairly confident that most who voted in support of Amendment 2 will agree.

Of course, we will never know exactly what anyone who voted for (or against) it was thinking.

But here is what we do know.

You may not like the way things are headed. You may prefer Sen. Brandes’ approach over the one from Sen. Bradley. You may think DOH moved too quickly or was too narrow in their interpretation. Fine. Fair enough.

But saying the Department of Health has “ignored” Amendment 2, or imply that lawmakers have done likewise, is simply – and demonstrably – wrong.

Alan Clendenin dismisses complaint filed against him as ‘baseless’

The battle to be the next chair of the Florida Democratic Party is becoming increasingly crazy – and intense. Two of the five candidates have had to move to different counties to be eligible for the position and one of them, Alan Clendenin, has been hit with a complaint regarding his election as state committeeman in Bradford County last month.

On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Times Adam Smith was first to report that Patricia Byrd, a state committeewoman in Bay County, filed a complaint last week with current chair Allison Tant, calling on her to reject Clendenin’s election.

In a statement issued Tuesday night, Clendenin is dismissing the complaint, alleging that Byrd is a supporter of Stephen Bittel, the Coconut Grove developer whose own election as state committeeman in Miami-Dade County last month has been subject to criticism.

“Instead of making the case for why he’s the best person for the job, it appears as though this candidate is trying to win by clearing the field using baseless and unfounded complaints to disqualify his opponents,” Clendenin says about Bittel.

“I want to be clear – the complaint filed today with Chair Tant is baseless,” Clendenin continued. “Like other candidates in this race, as well as the past four FDP Chairs, I qualified for this position within our current rules. I know that these rules do not make sense to many people which is why I’m calling for them to be changed and will make this a top priority if elected. This complaint is nothing more than an unnecessary distraction from talking about how we move this party forward.”

Clendenin and former state Senator Dwight Bullard both lost in their bids for state committeeman at their respective counties reorganization meetings last month, making them ineligible to run for state party chair. However, both have now relocated to different counties where there were positions open for committeeman; both were elected.

In Clendenin’s case, it necessitated moving from his South Tampa home to Hampton in Bradford County. Bullard moved to Gadsden County, after losing his bid for committeeman in Miami-Dade.

Bittel won that vote, but only he was able to run after the party’s former committeeman, Bret Berlin, resigned to make way for Bittel.

Duval County Committeewoman Lisa King and Osceola County Democratic Chair Leah Carius round out the field.

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