This week in Tallahassee the talk will be about congressional maps, a marijuana lottery and the economy.
Lawmakers hope to quickly adjourn a special session to draw new congressional districts and resume fundraising and campaigning for primary and general elections. Circuit Judge Terry Lewis had found the congressional map the legislature drew in 2012 in violation of the state constitution prohibition on gerrymandering and directed them to submit a new map by the 15 th.
Rep. Richard Corcoran, chair of the House Redistricting Committee and in line to be Speaker, deftly handled a question implying that lawmakers tried to cheat with the map Lewis found invalid. Here’s a tweet from AP reporter Gary Fineout on the conversation: “@richardcorcoran asked if GOP leaders “sinned” at 1 st go-round on redistricting. “I sin everyday, replies Corcoran.”
Friday House and Senate committees approved new maps (Times/Herald story here) and the session should end early this week.
The redesign affects seven districts but the changes appear minor. Congresswoman Corrine Brown’s District 5 seat is more compact with the makeup of the voting population going from 49.9 percent black to 48. 1 percent.
Congressman Dan Webster’s District 10 seat loses some conservative voters to Brown but not many. As drawn, the district is 10 percent Black and went for Mitt Romney 54 to 46 percent. The proposal before legislature increases the Black vote by 2 percent, making the district less red but it is still considered a safe seat for the GOP. Read a Washington Post analysis here.
While in town, lawmakers expressed concerned about how the Department of Health is planning to award the five marijuana licenses authorized by the Charlotte’s Web law. No meeting has been scheduled this week but the Senate sponsor and the House chair overseeing departmental rulemaking have strongly suggested that DOH reconsiders its proposal.
Lawmakers placed regulators in a pickle when they sought to restrict entry into what is expected to be a lucrative market and have the industry up and running by Jan. 1. To avoid litigation and meet the start date, DOH proposed a lottery among qualified applicants because, after all, it is hard to challenge the results of “a game of chance.”
Rep. James Grant, chair of the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee, which reviews whether departments’ exceed their authority when implementing state law, said he does not know if a lottery is consistent with legislative intent and whether the department has the authority to employ one in the selection process.
“As a sponsor of the Charlotte’s Web bill, I can tell you that the legislature contemplated that medical marijuana dispensaries would be run by organizations selected on the basis of their expertise and performance, not through the luck of a draw,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes.
The calendar indicates the state may already be late in deciding who will grow its first medicinal marijuana crop. It takes more than 200 days to cultivate and process the plant into oil to use to treat patients and there are fewer than 145 days until Jan. 1, when doctors can order the oil as part of a treatment plan but the rules won’t go into effect until 20 days after they are published.
We’ll be watching how the department safely gets rules in place without be called out by Grant or blocked by lobbyists lawsuits.
One thing that does seem to be in place is a growing economy. State economists will meet Thursday to discuss monthly tax collections. The information is used by lawmakers to craft a state budget in the spring. A preliminary forecast released last week indicates state revenue could grow nearly 4 percent this fiscal year, creating a billion dollar budget surplus for next year.
And this Friday we’ll get a look at unemployment numbers for July.