Florida Legislature

Baez: “You’re my army!”

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State Rep. Daisy Baez, under investigation by a House committee, is using her military experience to raise money for a re-election campaign.

The picture above accompanied a fundraising email sent out by the campaign of Baez, a Miami Democrat.

As a soldier I wore this nation’s uniform to give my life for the cause of freedom, justice, and democracy. Soldiers never give up, and I will never waver on my commitment to continue fighting for you.

You’re my army, and I need you to join this battle today with your support and contributions. Will you contribute $50, $25, or any other amount today?

A state House committee Tuesday found “probable cause” to proceed with an investigation of whether Baez violated residency requirements when she was elected to her Miami-Dade County seat in 2016.

After hearing an investigative report that alleged Baez used residences outside House District 114 for a homestead exemption, a driver’s license and voter registration, the Select Committee on Member Conduct voted to move the investigation forward to the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, which will likely conduct a broader inquiry into the allegations.

Baez, a Democrat in her first term, attended the meeting but did not testify, although she said she has not violated the requirement that she live in District 114 at the time of her election and subsequently as she represents the area.

“I just want to reiterate that I believe I am a resident and I have evidence to support that I am a resident of District 114,” she said, adding she would cooperate with the investigation so it can be resolved “in an expedient way.”

Being in the Legislature really cuts down on college fun

16906979_1917457831811450_6226071917556662272_a“I Got Rejected From Harvard. Then I Won a State Election.”

That’s the catchy headline on a chatty piece in Cosmopolitan mag by Florida state Rep. Amber Mariano, as told to Tess Koman.

The Hudson Republican talks about her decision to run for office, what it was like to win a state House contest at the tender age of 21 (while she was a student at the University of Central Florida) and being a millennial — without using the word — and a politician at the same time (spoiler alert: You have to trash your social media accounts and can’t hang out at bars with your buds).

“I can’t just like post a selfie anymore, which is super annoying. When I first got elected, I had a personal Instagram, then I had a private one, then I also had a campaign one. But I realized really there’s no private anymore anyway. I was like, ‘Well, I have 100 followers on my campaign one and 1,000 on my personal one. So I should probably just make my personal one my representative one and delete the other one.’ I try and post some things, but I can’t just post a picture of me and my friends having a drink. I posted a picture of me hiking this summer.”

Mariano, who turns 22 on Wednesday, also shares what it was like to campaign for office when you’re too young to belly up to the bar.

I turned 21 about two weeks before the election, so for most of the campaign I couldn’t even drink. And I look really young, especially when I’m campaigning and my hair’s up, I have no makeup on, and I’m sweating. That was tough because I’d knock on people’s doors and they’d be like, “How old are you? Thirteen?” And I’d be like “Uh, no?” But once someone would hear me talk, they’d be like, “Oh, OK, I’m not worried about her being young.” People were encouraged and excited because, obviously, with Trump’s election, they wanted something new and different than what they’re used to seeing, so for them, I fit that bill.

And she reveals that she was “star-struck” when she got an election-night call from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

I don’t think anything will ever top that night. I was crying the entire time because, what the heck, I just became the youngest person to ever be elected to the Florida House. I got a phone call from the governor congratulating me and then a few minutes later, I got a call from who I thought was Marco Rubio’s staff director, but it was actually Marco himself. I think he said he’s proud of me, but I was too star-struck to remember. My sister took a Snapchat of me after we hung up: I was on the ground uncontrollably sobbing I was so happy.

Being the youngest state legislator while trying to finish up your college degree isn’t such a picnic because Mariano said she “can’t be seen at one of those bars” where her pals hang out.

Since being elected, I really haven’t had a college life. I finished up my final semester during the first week of June, which was really tough because I was trying to write papers while I was trying to write my bills, so this past spring semester, I only went [to school] part-time and I took online classes while I was in Tallahassee. A lot of my friends are turning 21, and at UCF you go to the local college bar and you do all these dares and you have a little party to celebrate. I haven’t really been able to go to any of my friends’ birthdays, because I really can’t be seen at one of those bars, but honestly, I really don’t like that scene anyway.

Read the full story here.

By Jim Turner and Dara Kam

State pot czar: No idea when new marijuana operators will be chosen

budOffice of Medical Marijuana Use Executive Director Christian Bax got a friendly reception from a House panel yesterday, even though his office missed a legislatively mandated deadline earlier this month.

Bax’s office was supposed to hand out five new medical marijuana licenses by Oct. 3, including one to a black farmer who met certain requirements.

The deadline was a component of a sweeping measure , designed to implement a voter-approved constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana for a broad swath of patients with debilitating medical conditions, passed by lawmakers during a special session in June.

Bax late last month told legislative leaders his office wouldn’t be able to grant the licenses in time, blaming Hurricane Irma and recent litigation for the delay.

When asked for an update yesterday, Bax couldn’t give the House Health Quality Committee an estimate of when the highly coveted licenses — in what he said could be one of the nation’s “most robust” cannabis markets — will be issued.

“I don’t have a date or date range to give this committee at this time,” Bax said, adding that “the application process has been complicated by the litigation which we are now involved in.”

Bax was referring to a lawsuit filed last month challenging the part of the new law that requires health officials to grant one license to a black farmer who was a member of settled class action lawsuits about federal officials’ lending practices that discriminated against black farmers. Under the law, the black farmer also has to be a member of the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association.

But the lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the statute, alleging that it is so narrowly drawn that only a handful of black farmers could qualify for the license. The association shut down membership after the law passed.

The lawsuit has complicated the process of hiring a vendor to rank applications, Bax said later.

To avoid past problems in the MMJ operator selection process that resulted in lengthy — and expensive — challenges, Bax is outsourcing the scoring of the applications. More than a dozen “subject matter experts” will grade the proposals, using a “blind-testing” method.

Bax issued a request for quotes, but hasn’t selected a vendor yet.

“So, the litigation has complicated the application process. The graders would be intimately involved in that process. As such, the selection of the graders has also been complicated by this recent round of lawsuits, constitutional challenges to the application provision,” Bax told a reporter when asked about the hold up.

“We’re currently reviewing the responses (from potential vendors) that we’ve got. Because it’s a procurement, I’m limited to what I can say about the details of that procurement. The department will be ready with its graders once we have moved forward with accepting the applications,” he said.

Bax couldn’t say when his office would begin accepting applications, something that won’t happen until the vendor is chosen.

Meanwhile, Bax’s office is in negotiations with a vendor to process medical marijuana patient ID cards. The new law also required that the ID cards be privatized.

Patients currently have about a 30-day wait before they get their ID cards, a requirement before they are able to purchase medical marijuana treatments ordered by their doctors.

Some of the delays are caused by incomplete applications for an ID card, Bax said — patients either forget to sign the forms, don’t attach a $75 check to pay for the ID cards, or provide a picture that can’t be used.

Patients are submitting selfies, photos with pets or pictures “with interesting background furniture,” Bax told the panel yesterday.

And that’s not all.

Like other marijuana-related businesses, his office is butting up against the banking world, because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, regarding payment for the ID cards.

“We have ironically run into our own issues of … banking reticence to be involved in this industry,” Bax said. “The system that most other state agencies (and) offices will use to accept online payment will not touch this money because they think it’s related to marijuana.”

Janet Cruz heads to Puerto Rico for relief effort

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Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, with Evelio Otero, on Oct. 4. Otero collected more than 2 million pounds of goods for Puerto Ricans.

House Minority Leader Janet Cruz is headed to Puerto Rico today in conjunction with a relief effort organized by Major League Baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays and Moffitt Cancer Center.

Today’s flight will be the second to Ponce by Cruz, a Tampa Democrat whose ex-husband has family members on the island. She returned from her previous tour in tears, saying she was horrified by the dire conditions Puerto Ricans were living after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory.

Weeks after the storm ravaged the island, more than 80 percent of Puerto Rico remains without power and about a third don’t have water.

According to a press release issued by Cruz’s office this morning, the group will deliver 30,000 pounds of supplies, including food, water and medical necessities.

Cruz and the others also plan to bring back tissue samples “currently on the verge of spoiling that represent years of critical medical research” along with cancer patients and a group of nuns displaced by the storm.

“After disasters, it’s our duty as citizens to look out for each other,” Cruz said in the release. “We all must ensure we are doing everything we possibly can to help our Puerto Rican neighbors recover from the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria. I’m proud to have found such incredible partners in Major League Baseball, the Rays, and Moffitt to help aide in this effort.”

Last week, Cruz visited a Tampa warehouse where volunteers, led by Evelio Otero, were collecting items for Puerto Ricans impacted by the storm.

She’s baaaack! Hugs for Hukill

HukillSen. Dorothy Hukill received a round of applause yesterday from her colleagues during roll call in the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee.

The Port Orange Republican, who missed the entire 2017 legislative session due to cancer treatments, even seemed delighted to hear the input of Brian Pitts, the ubiquitous Capitol gadfly.

Pitts, a.k.a. Justice to Jesus, was commenting provided on a bill that would designate $50 million a year for beach renourishment.

“I missed it,” Hukill said, to the disbelief of Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala.

“At the first committee meeting of the final year of my 16 years up here, and I listen to the speaker,” Latvala, the bill’s sponsor, said, “and I think about the things that I’m going to miss in the process, and the things that I’m not going to miss, that’s definitely going to be on one of those lists.”

Hukill, a 71-year-old attorney who admittedly can be “pretty insistent,” spent the 2017 session watching the session on a pair of screens — a home computer and an iPad — at her Port Orange home while recovering from surgery for cervical cancer.

“It’s very exciting to be in the (committee) room,” Hukill said after Monday’s meeting. “It’s lovely to watch it on the wonderful Florida Channel, which I was very, very happy to have. But I’d rather be here.”

Hukill noted she often got “verbal” at the screens while watching the 2017 session and that a number of people “got tired of me calling them.”

She expects the welcome-backs and hugs to quickly give way to legislative normalcy.

“It’s exciting to be back. People are giving give me a breather for a day or two,” she noted. “It’s tough not being here.”

Hukill, the chair of the Education Committee, had been diagnosed as she was running for re-election in 2016.

Radiation treatments ended just as the 2017 regular session was coming to a close.

Hukill, who represents parts of Brevard and Volusia counties, has been in the state Legislature since 2004, the Senate since 2012.

By Jim Turner.

Dems ask Scott for relief centers to aid in expected Puerto Rican migration

As conditions continue to deteriorate in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, Florida Democratic legislators are calling on Gov. Rick Scott to set up relief centers for Puerto Rican evacuees.

Friday’s ask comes as Scott, who traveled to the island yesterday, meets with President Donald Trump in Washington to give him an update of what’s going on in Puerto Rico and the Sunshine State, still recovering from Hurricane Irma.

The situation in Puerto Rico is growing dire, the Democrats wrote in a letter to Scott.

“Now more than a week removed from Maria’s landfall, nearly 3.4 million Puerto Ricans remain without power, the telecommunications grid for the island is in tatters, citizens are running low on cash due to the lack of functioning ATMs necessary to purchase supplies and are faced with an inability to process debit transactions, and large areas outside urban centers remain inaccessible as roads continue to be blocked by fallen debris or are washed away completely,” incoming Senate Minority Leader Jeff Clemens, House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, and a handful of House and Senate members wrote to Scott.

The disaster could result in “hundreds of thousands” of evacuees fleeing to Florida, home to more than 1 million Puerto Ricans already, the Democrats wrote.

“To prepare for this influx of hundreds of thousands new Floridians, we believe it is vital that the state respond proactively to ease their transition and reduce the mental and financial strain this process is sure to inflict on many families,” they wrote.

The “relief centers” could provide”one-stop access to local, state, and federal officials who could offer guidance on housing aid and availability and other services, the Democrats suggested.

The request for the relief centers comes a day after Florida U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio called for the “cavalry” — in the form of the U.S. military — to come to the rescue in Puerto Rico.

 

Law professor: “Nobody” executing Death Row inmate

Chance Meyer, a Nova Southeastern University law professor who previously defended prisoners sentenced to death, penned an op-ed in advance of the execution of Cary Michael Lambrix, scheduled for Oct. 5.

Meyer, an instructor and adjunct professor at Nova’s Shepard Broad College of Law, contends those involved in the execution process — including Gov. Rick Scott — maintain that they are merely following state law in ordering and performing death by lethal injection.

Here’s Meyer’s take on the proces:

Nobody is going to execute Michael Lambrix

On Thursday, October 5, around 6:00 in the evening, in the lethal injection chamber at Florida State Prison in Bradford County, nobody is going to execute Michael Lambrix.

Nobody on the team of corrections officers that performs the lethal injection will be the one who executes Lambrix. Department of Corrections procedures give each officer a discrete task in the overall process, so nobody is responsible for the end result. The tasks are “requisite,” so nobody has to choose whether to perform them. The officers’ identities are “kept strictly confidential,” so nobody has to be anybody.

The officers just follow orders from the warden. And the warden just follows orders from the Governor.

On September 1, Governor Rick Scott sent the warden a death warrant ordering Lambrix executed.

In the warrant, Scott explained that a Florida statute “requires that I set a . . . date for execution . . . .” In other words, he didn’t choose to have Lambrix executed. Nobody did. He just followed orders from the Florida Legislature.

The Legislature passed the statute in 2013, as part of the so-called Timely Justice Act. At that time, legislators explained that their intent for the act was “that capital postconviction proceedings be conducted in accordance with court rules, and that courts strictly adhere to the timeframes . . . established therein.” In other words, the Legislature was not giving new orders. Nobody was. The Legislature was just trying to ensure that everyone would follow court orders.

A court ordered Lambrix executed, but neither the judge that issued the order nor the jurors that voted for the execution are responsible.

Lambrix was sentenced in 1984. His judge made the critical findings necessary to impose the death penalty. Since then, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that only juries, not judges, can make “the critical findings necessary to impose the death penalty.”

In 1984, his jury’s recommended sentence of death was not unanimous. Since then, the Florida Supreme Court has held that a “jury’s recommended sentence of death must be unanimous.”

So nobody made a lawful decision to execute Lambrix.

“[T]umble[ing] down the dizzying rabbit hole of untenable line drawing” is how Justice Lewis of the Florida Supreme Court describes the legal regime that permits defendants like Lambrix to be executed. Nobody understands it.

So, on Thursday, October 5, around 6:00 in the evening, in the lethal injection chamber at Florida State Prison in Bradford County, nobody is going to execute Michael Lambrix.