Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 12.9.16

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Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.


With establishment lobbyists now representing it, the medical marijuana cause appears to have become—grab your pearls—respectable.

Florida for Care, the organization behind the state’s new medicinal pot constitutional amendmenthas hired Brecht Heuchan and The Mayernick Group to advocate for its interests.

Heuchan, who says he voted against the amendment this November, has worked for Gov. Rick Scott’s Let’s Get to Work PAC. He’ll lobby the executive agencies.

“I didn’t want Florida to be like California but my vote was an ignorant one, as it turns out,” he said. “The amendment … will change thousands and thousands of Floridians’ lives and this can be done in a responsible way.”

The Mayernicks, GOP loyalists and experts in appropriations, have the legislative end.

Florida voters approved the initiative by 71 percent, well over the required 60 percent needed. That was two years after it missed passage by roughly 2 ½ percent.

“It’s rare you get to work on an issue that helps people cope with their medical condition and is supported by an overwhelming mandate of the voters,” Frank Mayernick said.

Now the work lies in how the amendment will work in practice.

State Sen. Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, will hold a workshop next Tuesday in her Senate Health Policy committee on “Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Medical Conditions,” a Senate schedule shows.

“There are many competing interests on the implementation (of medical marijuana),” lobbyist Tracy Mayernick said.

“We will be advocating for reasonable implementation that allows for adequate access, patient safety and affordability to the expanded patient population as well as a strong regulatory structure that meets the needs of law enforcement and communities across Florida.”

Just as important, cannabis as medicine is about to become big, even huge, business. 

A recent report says Florida will rack up over $1 billion in medical marijuana sales in the next three years. Soon, the Sunshine State could be behind only California in the size of its medical pot revenues.

It’s used as a “critical therapy by millions of patients to alleviate symptoms of epilepsy, chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, and more,” according to Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access.

Here, the amendment grants a right to people with debilitating medical conditions, as determined by a licensed Florida physician, to use medical marijuana. The amendment defines a debilitating condition as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other things.

In Florida, the “non-euphoric” version is already approved for children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. The state later passed a law allowing terminally ill patients to use a stronger form of marijuana during their final days.

Florida and other states have operated under a kind of salutary neglect when it comes to marijuana, the sale of which is still a federal crime.

The Obama administration has directed federal prosecutors not to charge those, particularly “the seriously ill and their caregivers,” who distribute and use medical marijuana under a state law.

President-elect Donald Trump “has said he supports medical marijuana and that states should handle the question of whether to legalize,” according to TIME magazine.

“I think there’s an axis between the message the voters sent, the desire of the legislature to regulate this law in a lowercase ‘c’-conservative way, and the wants of the nascent medical marijuana industry,” Heuchan said.

“I agreed to join Florida for Care because they’re taking an approach to implementation that acknowledges this balancing act, and are seeking to be productive and reasonable in the process.”

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. at The Besty South Beach, 1440 Ocean Drive in Miami Beach. He is expected to life the area’s last local Zika transmission zone.

SCOTT STARTS OUT AS EARLY GOP FAVORITE TO CHALLENGE BILL NELSON via Kevin Derby of the Sunshine State News – Saint Leo University released a poll showing Scott takes 41 percent of Florida Republicans while 33 percent are undecided. But a third of Republicans–33 percent–remain undecided on who they want to take on Nelson in 2018. Outgoing U.S. Rep. David Jolly … pulls 6 percent in the poll … Other potential Republican Senate candidates pull less than 3 percent in the poll. These include U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney … and two previous candidates who, like Jolly, scuttled their Senate bids after Rubio decided to run again: U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis … and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. Another 11 percent of Republicans said they wanted “someone else” to run. “Clearly Rick Scott is benefiting from the fact that he is the most well-known of the Republicans seeking to unseat Bill Nelson,” said Saint Leo University Polling Institute Director Frank Orlando … “When facing off against the candidates who sought the GOP nomination before Marco Rubio decided to run for re-election, he’s dominating against candidates that have a lot of catching up to do in terms of name identification.” But the poll shows Nelson in solid shape if he runs for a fourth term with 52 percent of all voters approving of him while 25 disapprove of his performance in the Senate while 23 percent are not sure. While 17 percent of those surveyed see Nelson as very favorable, 9 percent see him as very unfavorable.

SPOTTED in a POLITICO story about “liberal mega donors” considering 2018 gubernatorial bids: Orlando Democrat, trial attorney and medical marijuana advocate John Morgan.

RGA HITS GWEN GRAHAM OVER FOIA RESPONSE, EVEN THOUGH LAW DOES NOT APPLY TO CONGRESSIONAL MEMBERS via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – In Florida, 2018 is officially upon us. The Republican Governor’s Association … sent an email blast hitting outgoing U.S. Rep. Graham, a Democrat who is likely running for governor. The Washington-based group says that Graham is being hypocritical for blasting Gov. Rick Scott for a slow response to public records requests, while her own office ignored a Freedom of Information Act request, even though the law does not apply to members of Congress. In an email sent to reporters, the group grilled Graham, but failed to note that FOIA only applies to executive agencies, not members of Congress, which never applied a similar transparency law to itself … The group is currently chaired by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Graham dismissed the RGA’s, calling them “petty nonsense.” … “We are 23 months away from the Governor’s election in Florida, and there will be plenty of time for the RGA to engage in this petty nonsense and partisan attacks,” she said in a statement. “For the rest of 2016, I’m focused on finishing the job I was elected to do and then enjoying the holiday season with my family. I recommend the folks at the RGA do the same.”

TWEET, TWEET: @Fineout: .@GwenGraham – “turn off your Twitter accounts and your press release machines for a few weeks; go spend time with your family…”

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FLORIDA EXPECTED TO LIFT SOUTH BEACH ZIKA ZONE via Daniel Chang and Joey Flechas and Douglas Hanks of WLRN Miami – Miami-Dade officials expect Florida to lift its Zika warning over South Beach [today], ending the county’s last transmission zone for the mosquito-borne disease that has rattled the region’s tourism industry and upended the lives of pregnant women and their partners. Gov. Scott is expected to hold a press conference at 10 a.m. at the Betsy Hotel in South Beach to declare an end to the Zika “transmission zone” that currently stretches from Eighth Street to 28th Street, overlapping with Miami Beach’s Art Deco District and Lincoln Road, two of the county’s top tourist attractions. South Beach is the last of four Zika zones remaining since health officials identified the nation’s first active transmission area for the virus in Wynwood in late July. Florida has since lifted all the zones but South Beach’s, which was identified on Aug. 19.

APPROVED: BLACK “FESTIVUS” POLE WILL BE PLACED IN CAPITOL via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – The Department of Management Services, which oversees state property, cleared the pole to have a place in the plaza-level rotunda, spokeswoman Maggie Mickler said … The all black, six-foot-tall pole “will contain the names of all unarmed black men killed by police in 2016,” according to the application from South Florida activist and former blogger Chaz Stevens. Stevens now runs the Religious Liberty Project, which plans to put a “Shot by Cops” pole in all 50 state capitals. “Additionally, a distressed black and white American flag will be flown at half-mast, lowered in protest to this senseless slaughter,” he said on the group’s website. “Kneeling at the base is the No. 7, painted in the colors of the San Fransisco 49ers, signaling our support for those who peacefully and silently protest,” referring to quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Mickler said DMS also approved a winter solstice poster from the First Coast Freethought Society in Jacksonville.

HAD LEGISLATORS FOLLOWED SCOTT A YEAR AGO, GAMBLING MESS WOULD’VE BEEN OVER via Nick Sortal of the Broward/Palm Beach New Times – A full year after Florida Gov. Scott proposed a monumental gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the opportunity seems lost. Rather than pay $3 billion for the next seven years, the Seminoles are in a position to pay zero for the next 14. A U.S. judge ruled in November that because some Florida card rooms, with permission from the state, offered blackjack-like games under the name “poker,” a vital portion of the compact was voided, so the Seminoles could offer blackjack and other table games — without paying Florida — through 2030. The tribe had been paying $250 million annually. Now it doesn’t have to fork out a cent. The state earns only about $1.5 million annually from the games, so it has lost out about $248.5 million. Ouch. That Scott proposal from December 2015, which died in a legislative committee, also would have enabled South Florida horse tracks, dog tracks and jai-alai frontons to offer blackjack (with a $15 maximum bet per hand) and added slot machines at the Palm Beach Kennel Club. The Florida legislature doesn’t meet until March of next year. Legislative leaders, naturally, have spoken eagerly about reaching an agreement with the Seminoles. What do they have to lose? But they need a reality check. Speaker Corcoran has said lawmakers again will consider a gambling agreement with the Seminoles, but he also wants a reduction in gambling. Hey, good luck with that.

SEMINOLES STILL PAYING STATE BLACKJACK MONEY—FOR NOW via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – A source close to the tribe told … that it’s considering not paying “one more dollar” to the state treasury without a new gambling agreement. According to a federal judge, it doesn’t have to. Coincidentally, Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen, the tribe’s general counsel Jim Shore and others were in Tallahassee … for meetings, including a sit-down with Gov. Scott. Spokesman Gary Bitner said the meeting was “part of their ongoing effort and continuing desire to finalize a new gaming compact with the state of Florida.” … “As further evidence of its positive approach, the Tribe is continuing to make monthly payments to the state that will total $306 million this year,” he said. When asked whether those payments would end if no new agreement is approved this year, Bitner said, “As has been noted many times, it is the Tribe’s policy to not discuss the specific content of its compact negotiations with the state.”

WHAT BRIAN BALLARD IS READING – GAMBLING GIANT GENTING FINALLY GETS TO RUN A SOUTH FLORIDA CASINO via Nick Sortal of the Miami Herald – Genting, which bought The Miami Herald building in 2011 with hopes of opening a waterfront resort-hotel casino, has entered into a consulting agreement for the casino portion of Gulfstream Park. Executives quietly moved into place this fall and are now overseeing all casino operations, including financial reporting, slot promotions and player hosting, Genting and Gulfstream executives confirmed. The Hallandale Beach property — home to a horse racing track, casino and shopping-and-dining complex — extends south across the Miami-Dade County line to the edge of Aventura. Genting operates about 10 large casinos under its Resorts World brand. Most garner much larger revenues than Gulfstream Park. New York’s Resorts World Aqueduct, for example, took in $845 million via slots in its most recent fiscal year, while Gulfstream Park collected $48 million in slots. “Gulfstream Park is a storied race facility which has long been considered a leader in thoroughbred horse racing,” Michael Levoff, senior vice president of public affairs at Genting, said in a statement. “By taking over management of the existing casino, Genting will modernize the current gaming offerings to a similar best-in-class level as the race facility. Gulfstream Park is an ideal location to expand our offerings in the region to include a top casino destination in South Florida.” Levoff added that Genting would not add Gulfstream Park to its Resorts World brand at this time. He declined to disclose financial terms of the deal.

MUST READ – FLORIDA’S BROKEN SENTENCING SYSTEM via the Miami Herald – In Manatee County, judges sentence whites convicted of felony drug possession to an average of five months behind bars. They gave blacks with identical charges and records more than a year. Judges in the Florida Panhandle county of Okaloosa sentence whites to nearly five months for battery. They lock up blacks for almost a year. Along the state’s northeast shore, judges in Flagler County put blacks convicted of armed robbery away for nearly triple the time. … Across Florida, when a white and black defendant score the same points for the same offense, judges give the black defendant a longer prison stay in 60 percent of felony cases. For the most serious first-degree crimes, judges sentence blacks to 68 percent more time than whites with identical points. For burglary, it’s 45 percent more. For battery, it’s 30 percent.

DEBATE OVER REVISION TO FLORIDA’S ‘STAND YOUR GROUND’ LAW RETURNS via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – State Sen. Rob Bradley is renewing his effort to change Florida’s “stand your ground” law in a way that prosecutors have said could make it harder for them to try cases. Bradley’s legislation in the 2016 session was the subject of much debate, because critics argued it would force prosecutors to essentially try a case before it actually got to trial. Bradley, a conservative Republican and attorney from Fleming Island, doesn’t see it that way. He’s on a mission to correct what he views as the Florida Supreme Court’s “misinterpretation” of law when it comes to who has the responsibility in a pretrial hearing to prove whether a defendant can claim self-defense under “stand your ground.” He revived the legislation by filing a bill (SB 128) for the 2017 session … In July 2015, five of seven Supreme Court justices ruled defendants who claim a stand-your-ground defense have to prove before trial why they’re entitled to that immunity. Bradley and some other conservative lawmakers complained that the court “overreached” its powers, and they argued the law was intended so that prosecutors — not defendants — should bear the burden of proof at the pre-trial hearing. That means, under Bradley’s proposed change, prosecutors would have to prove before trial why a defendant could not claim a stand-your-ground defense.

STATE SUSPENDS BELEAGURED FSECC via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat – The state of Florida is suspending its annual state worker charitable campaign after its most dismal year on record, leaving its future in serious doubt. This year’s Florida State Employees’ Charitable Campaign raised only $282,092, its lowest amount in its 36-year history. And once again, the New Jersey vendor serving as the campaign’s fiscal agent, Solix, Inc., was poised to get most of the money, some 63 percent. But the state’s decision to put the FSECC on ice means neither Solix nor the charities across Florida served by campaign will see any money from the fall drive, which ended Nov. 10 … Chad Poppell, secretary of the Department of Management Services, notified state agencies he was suspending next year’s campaign and ending the state’s contract with Solix by mutual agreement. He also said all pledges from state employees during the most recent drive would go unprocessed. “Employees who pledged to the campaign will be notified of the status of the campaign,” Poppell said in a memo, “and we are asking those who pledged to consider giving directly to the charity of their choice.” Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who was governor when the FSECC was created by the Cabinet in 1980, said he hopes the campaign can be salvaged. Graham said efforts like the FSECC not only help charities but also build bonds between government and communities.

MIAMI-DADE GOP CHAIRMAN SAYS HE’S RUNNING AGAIN via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – Nelson Diaz, the chairman of the Miami-Dade County Republican Party, said he’s running for re-election to another two-year term. In an interview … Diaz said he’s proud of how Republicans did in the Nov. 8 election but “there’s some unfinished business that we need to take care of.” … “We need to make sure we get a Republican governor and Cabinet back in 2018,” he said. “We need to send a Republican senator to help Marco Rubio. And there are a few state House seats we need to win back in Miami, and two state Senate seats we need to defend.” In an email to party members … Diaz outlined Republicans’ 2016 wins. “Presidential years are always tougher for Republicans, but together we proved we could survive and do better than everyone expected,” he wrote, adding that the local GOP’s annual Lincoln Day fundraisers brought in about $200,000 each over the past two years. Diaz, who has already served two terms, said a third term would be his last. He faces no opposition yet for the Dec. 22 election, but at least one early Donald Trump supporter, party member Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck, sounds eager to recruit a Trump loyalist for the job — or perhaps to run himself. Diaz remained neutral in the presidential primary, though he’s a friend of Rubio’s. “Miami-Dade needs a new direction,” Palomares-Starbuck, who is traveling out of the country, said in a text message … “Marco Rubio lost Miami-Dade. So did Trump.”

HILLSBOROUGH COMMISSION TO COPY RICHARD CORCORAN’S PROPOSAL TO BAN TEXTING BY LOBBYISTS? via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Hillsborough County Commissioners approved a motion … directing their attorney to research and provide draft language on a proposal that would ban them from receiving text messages from a lobbyist during a board meeting. However, the proposal’s ultimate passage is unclear, based on comments from some members. “In the event that we did receive a text message during a commission meeting from a lobbyist related to official public business, we would have to disclose that communication by filing it with our … lobbyists registration within 48 hours of receipt,” said Commissioner Sandy Murman in announcing her plan. But Murman’s proposal doesn’t include any penalties for a commissioner who would violate the ban, something that bothered Commissioner Les Miller. “I see where you’re trying to go with this,” he told Murman, saying that it echoed the recent lobbying rules that were approved last month by the Florida House of Representatives. Under the new lobbying rules promulgated by House Speaker Corcoran, lobbyists who violate the ban would lose their privileges to lobby the rest of the session. Miller then speculated that there “might be some punishment of making them, taking them off a chairman of a committee or moving their office space or parking space.” He then asked Murman what penalty would a commissioner face for violating the ban? “There’s not going to be any reprimand, or fine,” replied Murman. “This is going to be a matter of disclosure.”

APPOINTEDSydney Kitson to the Board of Governors of the State University System.

APPOINTEDForough Hosseini, Betty Holness, Stanley Escudero, Lloyd Freckleton to the District Board of Trustees of Daytona State College

APPOINTED: Cheryl Phipps, Vincent Oatis to the Board of Pilot Commissioners

CHRISTINE SEXTON OWNS THIS BEAT – INVESTIGATORS FIND FORMER BROWARD HEALTH CEO ‘RAN AFOULD’ OF FEDERAL ANTI-KICKBACK LAWS via Christine Sexton of POLITICO Florida Investigators examining health care fraud allegations involving former interim Broward Health CEO Pauline Grant found she was “not credible” and that she “ran afoul” of federal anti-kickback laws when awarding emergency room on-call contracts to orthopedic physicians, though they found she received no direct payments. … Nashville-based attorney Richard Westling wrote that the “manner in which contracts were awarded to orthopedic surgeons” seeking participation in Broward Health North’s on call emergency department rotation and the process for distributing call coverage to physicians once on the panel “ran afoul of the Anti-Kickback Statute.” Anti-kickback laws ban the exchange of anything of value in an effort to induce the referral of Medicare or Medicaid patients or other patient whose bills are paid for by the federal government.

FGCU WORRIED IT MAY LOSE $8 MIL IN FUNDING via Thyrie Bland of the News-Press – Florida Gulf Coast University is worried a change in the state’s performance-based funding metrics may cause it to become a bottom-performing school and lose more than $8 million in funding. … The Florida Board of Governors decided last month to no longer use an average cost per degree metric as one of the 10 categories that determine how Florida’s universities are performing and how much funding they should receive. The metric has been replaced with a new one – net tuition per degree.

FLORIDA: RECORD NUMBER OF MANATEES KILLED IN 2016 BY BOATS via The Associated Press — A record number of manatees were killed in 2016 by boat strikes, according to state wildlife data, but overall the number of the beloved sea cows increased in Florida this year. Data posted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission data show that 98 endangered manatees died by watercraft strikes between Jan. 1 and Dec. 2. The previous record was 97 in 2009, according to state records. A count earlier this year found about 6,300 manatees in Florida, which is up from last year and the most since 1991. As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed designating the manatees as threatened, rather than endangered, species.

JOHN SOWINSKI: ON CHARLIE REED, A LEGACY ‘BEYOND MEASURE’ for Orlando Rising – Charlie Reed was a hard charger, a master legislative strategist, a fantastically successful leader in higher education, a consummate professional and a class act. Reed became Chancellor of Florida’s State University System at about the same time that I became Executive Director of the Florida Student Association, the lobbying group that represents the students of Florida’s State University System. He left his job as Governor Bob Graham’s chief of staff to become Chancellor. It was 1985, and everyone in Florida’s higher education policy realm had had a healthy dose of respect for and fear of Reed. He wanted to raise tuition 15 percent per year. Students wanted tuition increases capped at no more than 5 percent per year … After the Session, I was summoned to the Board of Regents office for a one-on-one meeting with Chancellor Reed. I had no idea why he wanted to meet with me, much less alone. I thought he was going to take me to the woodshed, because he was a tough guy. My interactions with Chancellor Reed during the legislative session and at Board of Regents meetings were made awkward by the fact that we were diametrically opposed on the high-stakes tuition issue, and though we had spoken many times, we had never had a “casual” conversation. I nervously went into his office. We shook hands, and I sat down. He said he wanted to meet so that he could complement me on how I handled myself during the Session, how even though the issues were big and the stakes were high, it never became personal or disrespectful. Reed said it is always great to witness the abilities of so many student leaders coming out of Florida’s universities, and that even when we differ on issues, we all have the best interests of Florida’s students and universities at heart. He said that he heard that I wanted to return to Orlando after my 1-year contract was over and that he wanted to encourage me to stay involved in the process because he thought I was good at it. Coming from Charlie Reed, that was high praise. I’m saddened by his passing, and forever grateful for the lessons that a lion of those days taught, and the courtesies that he extended, to the 22-year old version of me. RIP Charlie Reed. Your legacy is beyond measure, and you will be greatly missed.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my dear friend, Richard Reeves, a man who embodies the phrase “Laissez les bons temps rouler.” Also celebrating today is Garrett Blanton and Beth Lerner.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.