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The week that was in Florida politics – March 13

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I was all prepared to begin this week’s column telling you how cool and smooth I think John Armstrong is. I’ve taken some shots at the Secretary of Health over his handling of developing rules to implement the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014. The process places us in an adversarial relationship and the Scott administration communication strategy makes it a heated one.

My Buckeye education though mandates acknowledgement of a skilled player at work. Seriously, Pittsburgh Pirates icons decorate my home and fundamental principles of life and although as a youth I spent countless hours praying to St. Sebastian for horrible things to happen to the Phillies’ Mike Schmidt, I know he is among the greatest 3rd basemen of all time and cherish the memory of a late-night coffee chat we once had in Fort Myers.

Armstrong nearly pulled it off. He came within a bloop single of finalizing the rule. He may have used a tactic that sickens someone like me but one communication professionals and political strategists would admire with a wink and a grin. In the end, the move convinced me that Armstrong means it when he says:

“Our focus is to get a (cannabis) product as quickly and safely as possible to children and their families dealing with refractory epilepsy and to adults with advanced cancer,” . . . to get this framework established so that we can get this product to the children and adults with cancer as quickly as possible.”

One has to understand and accept the Florida’s rule-making process is so complicated that it had to have been designed to make citizens feel like the butt of an ethnic joke to appreciate the maneuver Armstrong attempted.

One of its peculiarities is how a deadlines for appeals and challenges move. Last week the deadline changed for challenging a proposed rule sitting in a cooling off period. DOH posted a news release somewhere on its website but didn’t tell anyone about it, at least no one I know.

Then Armstrong tried to whistle pass the graveyard so to speak, apparently hoping that a deadline would pass without anyone noticing.

This is not a criticism, if Armstrong had pulled it off I know of at least 1,500 families and scores of capitol observers who would have high fived the Secretary and sung his praises while I wrote nasty words about him violating the spirit of open government. (We all have a role to play).

Alas, it didn’t happen. A Jacksonville attorney filed a challenge Wednesday. Word on the street is at least one more is in the works and every thing is on hold. Given rule-making procedures any speculation of when Florida’s first legal marijuana crop will be in the ground is silly except for one reason. He goes by the name of Rob Bradley.

The chair of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee is also the frustrated sponsored of the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act.

“This latest challenge is probably the last straw for many in the legislature,” said Bradley Friday. “We’re beyond figuring out what is wrong and whose to blame we just need a plan forward that gets this substance into the hands of families as quickly as possible. “

Bradley said as soon as possible – either in two or three weeks – his regulatory committee will have a “serious” discussion of a “self-executing statute” and bypass rule making all together.

If he succeeds the challenge is moot and the law could be implemented quicker then what it would have been had the challenge not been filed. How’s that for manipulating the bureaucratic process?

The budget stalemate continues. The Senate Appropriations Committee did not meet while Chair Sen. Tom Lee tries to figure out how a hole in the health care budget will be filled. The gap is created by a Washington/Tallahassee dispute over a federal program that reimburses hospitals for caring for the uninsured. Details on that are here.

An interesting side story here is that the foundation of the dispute is Medicaid Expansion.

“This is not a Democratic/Republican, liberal/conservative dispute,” explained House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford noting that House Democrats supported the Senate’s so-called Negron Plan to provide health insurance to low income residents.

“This is a House Republican issue,” said Pafford.

 So, it was with interest I watched a Health News Florida reporter gathered her things and walk out of the Senate press room for her journey back to St. Petersburg.

Earlier she had relayed a conversation with an aid informing her that Speaker Steve Crisafulli wouldn’t be meeting with her “anytime soon” for a health care interview.

And she said when she approached Rep. Richard Corcoran for an interview he had told that being raised by a British mother had made him “shy.”

So at week’s end a disappointed reporter left the state capitol promising she would be back. Safe travels, my friend, your pleasant spirit lit up the place.

Gov. Rick Scott also got out of town this week. He went hunting for jobs in Jerry Brown’s California. It may be hard for Californians to hear him above the noise generated by a humming economy. It seems the high-tax, highly regulated granola-people’s republic economy is the strongest in the nation, according to Bloomberg.

And a budget battle is brewing over how to implement Amendment 1, the voter-approved initiative earmarking documentary stamp money towards conservation efforts. The Senate is considering proposals changing affordable housing and transportation’s share of doc stamp money. Environmentalists are concerned about lawmakers’ definition of conservation “efforts.” All the makings of a classic brouhaha, there is more here.

Overheard at the Capitol; long-time WLRN and former WSUN reporter Rick Stone explaining to a lawmaker the beauty of a simple declarative sentence, especially when you have only 15-seconds for a sound bite.

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