Florida Senate

Bigger, better, stronger? Panama City officials plead for aid

Months after Hurricane Michael ravaged the Florida Panhandle, Panama City officials are calling out both state lawmakers and Congress to adequately fund disaster relief.

The appeal comes in a two-and-a-half-minute video that highlights successful recovery efforts while expressing the agonizing wait for assistance that has stretched to 200 days.

The storm that crippled Bay County left behind 31million cubic yards of debris, or 12 million truckloads, created a housing crisis and displaced thousands of students, Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki explains as he takes viewers on a tour of his community.

“We know that we need help from Tallahassee and Washington,” Brudnicki says as he wraps up the video. “With your help we can rebuild Panama City bigger, better and stronger. Thank you.”

Brudnicki and City Manager Mark McQueen are off Monday to D.C. for several days of meetings with members of Congress and various federal agencies.

By Jim Turner.

This year’s (Aaron) Bean bar: “Game of Bills”

img_7337-1.jpegSen. Aaron Bean’s doubled as Tom Selleck, Luke Skywalker and a member of the Duck Dynasty clan.

This year, the Fernandina Beach Republican is adding Tormund Giantsbane to the collection of characters he’s appeared as on the candy bars he gives out during the legislative session.

Bean points out that the 2019 Bean bar features the “Game of Thrones” font,  includes a play on the show’s “Winter is Coming” come-on, and has a tag line of Best Wishes on Your ‘Game of Bills.’

In the Star Wars-themed candy bar wrapper, Bean made a pun out of his Senate District 4: “May the Fourth Be With You.”

“It’s good to have a sense of humor, I think,” the high-spirited senator told Truth or Dara Thursday afternoon.

IMG_1693The ebullient Bean even distributes the chocolate bars to some of the Capitol press corps, whose shrinking numbers hasn’t gone unnoticed by the senator.

“Nobody gives the press anything but grief. That’s what they give ya. You get grief!” he said.

The fifth estate “is a central part of the process,” Bean said.

“It makes everybody better, knowing that the 21 million Floridians are watching, reading or listening to what we do here every day. And that’s the bottom line. How ‘bout that? We need you here,” he said.

Bean said he recently read a story detailing how “more and more bureaus are closing, consolidating,” adding that “the model is changing.”

The role of the press is “vital, vital,” he said, even making a pitch for next week’s  Press Skits.

“That’s going to be fun. Do you know? I was in ‘em two years ago. So that’s good. You raise money for charity,” Bean said.

Galvano on “awkward moment” in DeSantis SOS speech

DeSantis SOSGov. Ron DeSantis delivered his first State of the State speech to kick off the 2019 legislative session today, covering a wide range of topics and boasting about a variety of accomplishments since the Republican took office in January.

DeSantis bragged about ousting former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, who was harshly criticized for how his office handled the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland last year. DeSantis replaced Israel with Gregory Tony.

Israel has appealed his suspension to the Florida Senate, which has the power to reinstate or remove elected officials.

During his remarks Tuesday, DeSantis noted that Israel’s suspension “will come before the Senate soon,” adding “the failures of the former sheriff are well-documented.”

“Why any senator would want to thumb his nose at the Parkland families and to eject Sheriff Tony, who is doing a great job and has made history as the first African-American sheriff in Broward history, is beyond me,” the governor said.

When asked about his remarks later, DeSantis spoke about the families of the 17 students and school staff who were slain.

“Those families were really frustrated that action had not been taken against him. I did it within a couple days because to me, I thought it should have been done. It was just a point that not only did that give satisfaction to families but we have a guy in there now who’s really making positive changes,” DeSantis told reporters.

The governor said he’s “not worried at all” about the Senate process.

“But I do think it was an important action we took early in the administration. I just wanted to highlight it,” he said.

Senate President Bill Galvano, who appointed former House Rep. Dudley Goodlette as special master to oversee Israel’s appeal and make recommendations, wasn’t keen on DeSantis’ veiled threat.

“Of everything that was in that speech, that was a bit of an awkward moment for the governor,” Galvano, R-Bradenton, told reporters.

Galvano said he asked himself if a senator made a comment about the Broward sheriffs but didn’t believe that was the case.

“Look, he has every right to suspend him and has his reasons for doing so. But the Senate also has a role, and we’re going to do it right. We’re going to have due process and we’re going to vet through the suspension and we’ll make a decision. I’ve asked our senators to give it the respect that it’s due and not to prejudge. That’s the role of the Senate. I’ve said this before. We’re not just going to be a rubber stamp for the governor,” he said.

#Nosmokeisajoke: Florida laughing stock over MMJ smoking ban

Pot exclamation point!.pngLawyer Michael Minardi, the general counsel for Florida NORML unloaded on a Florida House committee yesterday over the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana.

Minardi, whose website proclaims he’s “The Gold Standard of the Green Industry,” joined other MMJ smoke proponents to shake the Florida House Health and Human Services Committee into axing the prohibition.

Before hearing from the advocates, committee Chairman Ray Rodrigues made a significant concession by stripping a provision that would have required docs to get approval from a “case review panel” before they could order smokable marijuana for patients.

The House plan now would restrict patients to buying pre-rolled joints with filters from licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. The advocates aren’t crazy about that provision, but hey, they can always rip off the filters and stuff the weed into a bong or whatev once they get it home, per Ray Rod.

Minardi told the committee that smoke is the number one choice for patients in other states where medical marijuana is legal. (It’s much cheaper than tinctures or vape oils). The committee also heard from patients who admitted they’re smoking weed so they can benefit from the “entourage effect” you can only get from whole flower.

“Patients are going to continue to use flower whether or not you do this (legalize smoking) or not. They’re going to either get it from the black market, as they already are, because they know it’s what works for them. Every other state in this country is laughing at us, saying that we gave our patients tinctures, and we have wax and shatter on the shelves, and not flower,” Minardi said.

“Do you understand the impact of that and how ironic that is? You’re giving them the hard stuff, but not letting them have the beer but take a shot of tequila. That’s what that’s equivalent to,” he went on.

We’re pretty sure that most of the members of the committee have no clue what “wax” or “shatter” is, but who hasn’t had a Dos Equis followed by a shot of Cuervo Gold?

Lawmakers are taking the wrong approach with filters, if they’re concerned about screening toxins out of joints, according to Minardi.

“A bong hit is the best way to do that,” he advised.

The pre-rolled, filtered MMJ “cigarettes” are sure to be a negotiation point between the House and Senate as they try to meet Gov. Ron DeSantis’ March 15 deadline to nix the smoking ban.

Sen. Jeff Brandes’ proposal, approved by the Innovation, Infrastructure and Technology Committee yesterday afternoon, doesn’t have any restrictions on whole flower sold at dispensaries, and would allow patients to buy equipment at smoke shops.

The buy-your-bong-at-a-bong-shop provision will likely be another item on the negotiation table.

Galvano: Gun-toting teachers on the table

IMG_1251One of the most fiercely debated components of the sweeping school-safety law crafted in response to the deadly Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is back.

The commission tasked with investigating the Parkland massacre and making recommendations wants to expand the controversial “school guardian” program to allow armed teachers to bring their guns to their classrooms.

(More about that here.)

Teachers, parents and gun-control advocates raised heck over the proposal during the legislative session that ended in March. The state ended up with a watered-down version of the original bill, which now allows school personnel who are specially trained but are not full-time classroom instructors to be armed.

But Senate President Bill Galvano told reporters Thursday he’s open to the idea of allowing teachers to pack heat.

He said the commission made the recommendation after viewing video of the horrific attack at Stoneman Douglas, which left 14 students and three faculty members dead and 17 others injured.

Realistic conversation about “what can work and what seems like it could work and just makes us feel good.”

“They realized that just having responsive support and counter-defense was not enough,” the Bradenton Republican said of the commission, led by Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

“I am very open to looking at that suggestion,” Galvano said of arming teachers.

He noted that he objected to Gov. Rick Scott’s request to allow schools to use left-over money that had been earmarked for the school guardian program for the traditional school-resource officers, who are generally sheriff’s deputies.

The Senate leader acknowledged that the teachers’ union and others would likely participate in talks about the proposal.

“It will have to be a matter of everybody understanding, including myself, and having that realistic conversation about what can work and what seems like ti could work and just makes us feel good,” Galvano said.

Family members whose loved ones were killed by confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz, however, aren’t sold on the idea.

Broward County teacher Debbi Hixon’s husband, Chris, was the Parkland school’s athletics director and wrestling coach and was among the victims.

Teachers already have to prepare students for standardized tests and are responsible for their emotional and physical well-being, Hixon said.

“To add the burden of knowing that you’re responsible for taking out a shooter if they come into your room, even if a teacher thinks they are up to that task, I just think it is unfair to have that expectation for them,” she told us Thursday.

Senate exploring process for ousted Broward supervisor Snipes

fullsizeoutput_1861Senate President Bill Galvano said Tuesday he’s working with his staff to address the issue of former Broward County elections supervisor Brenda Snipes, ousted from her office by Gov. Rick Scott after she submitted her resignation from the post.

The embattled Snipes, appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2003 and re-elected four times, told Scott she was walking away from the job, effective Jan. 4, amid repeated calls for her to step down or be stripped from office following a number of problems in the November election.

But after Scott booted her from office Friday night, Snipes rescinded her resignation, accusing the Republican governor — and U.S. senator-elect — of attempting to embarrass her and “tarnish her record.”

Scott replaced Snipes with long-time ally Pete Antonacci, whose badge awaited him at the winter meeting of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections but who was a no-show.

If Snipes chooses to follow through with her fight against her removal from office, the Florida Senate will have the final say in whether she should keep her position.

After he appeared briefly at the supervisors’ conference in Sarasota Tuesday morning, reporters asked Galvano about Snipes.

“I’m working with my staff on that issue and I’m not going to comment further,” the Bradenton Republican said.

Someone “reached out on her behalf” to his staff “to understand what the process is,” Galvano said.

Senators “are the ones who ultimately remove, or maintain her current position” after a trial, Galvano explained when asked to explain the Senate’s role.

“We are looking at the process right now, and what the options are and what’s required of us and what the timing of all of that is, so it will be sooner rather than later,” he said, when asked how long it would be until the Senate weighs in on the matter.

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee would be the first panel to take up the issue, he said.

Marijuana patient database hits 100,000 mark on 4/20 day. Coincidence?

purple bud.JPGAccording to Sigmund Freud, accidents don’t exist.

So how to explain the state’s medical marijuana patient database hitting the magical 100,000 mark on 4/20, better known as “weed day” among acolytes of the Grateful Dead, Phish and whoever else pot aficionados are listening to these days. (We could give you the soundtrack to our cloudy college days, but we’ll spare you.)

Whether it’s a coincidence or not, Florida patients may have as much to mourn as to celebrate.

The state’s pot czar, Christian Bax, and his troupe have yet to finalize rules regulating the state’s rapidly growing pot industry.

But, worse yet, major marijuana-related lawsuits — including one initiated by Amendment 2 big daddy John Morgan — have a long way to go before they’re settled.

Morgan’s suit, which features marijuana patient-icon Cathy Jordan as a plaintiff, challenges a state law passed last year that bans patients like Jordan from smoking cannabis. Vaping makes Jordan, who has ALS, gag, and her doctors have recommended smoking as the best route of administration.

Meanwhile, Tampa strip club owner Joe Redner — who revolutionized the “gentleman’s club” industry in Florida — won a victory from Tallahassee Judge Karen Gievers, who gave the 77-year-old lung cancer survivor permission to grow his own weed for juicing purposes.

Redner’s doc says that eight ounces of whole plant juice daily — which would take about three pounds of raw plant material, or about 40 plants in varying stages of growth — is the best way for his patient to keep his cancer in remission.

The state quickly appealed Gievers’s decision, and it’s unknown whether the appellate court will let him move forward while the case is under appeal.

The legal challenges are only a few of the issues facing the pot industry. Medical marijuana purveyors are having a hard time finding retail locales to ply their wares, and some in the industry are complaining there aren’t enough doctors to handling a quickly growing patient base.

But, hey, it’s 4/20 day, so, sit back, crank up whatever, and chill.