Bill Galvano

Speaker Oliva: Florida pot system “not terribly free market”

img_0971(1)He’s not calling it a cartel, as Gov. Ron DeSantis did right out of the gate.

But House Speaker José Oliva does admit the state’s vertically integrated medical marijuana system — which requires operators to grow, process and dispense cannabis and related products — “isn’t terribly free market.”

“I couldn’t possibly be a defender of free markets and call that structure a free market,” the Miami Lakes Republican, who made his fortune in his family’s cigar business, told reporters at The Associated Press’s annual pre-session gathering in the Capitol today.

“The limiting of licenses and the limiting of dispensaries is probably the greatest affront to the free-market argument,” he went on.

Whether the Legislature will agree to change the current system during the upcoming session, however, remains a mystery.

When asked about revisiting the state’s MMJ regulatory structure, Senate President Bill Galvano gave a tepid response.

“I expect that bills will be filed in that regard,” Galvano, R-Bradenton, said.

Despite his free-market concerns, Oliva was even less enthusiastic, using a lot of double negatives to describe the House’s position.

“I’m not entirely sure that that’s not something that we will be revisiting this year, because it affects access and it could certainly affect price,” Oliva said. “We’re still trying to get an idea of what kind of demand there really is for this. But I wouldn’t disagree … It hasn’t been a terribly free-market process.”

Shortly after taking office, DeSantis bashed vertical integration and the caps on licenses.

But this week, the governor appeared to walk back his opposition to those issues, focusing instead on his demand that the Legislature do away with the state’s ban on smokable medical marijuana.

Here’s what Oliva said when we asked him if doing away with vertical integration would destabilize a market in which licenses have sold for tens of millions of dollars — including one transaction in which a license sold for $63 million in cash earlier this month.

“If the question is, would having a more free-market approach destabilize the private market, in particular the value of these licenses, well, sure, that’s what markets do,” the speaker said, making us feel a little foolish for asking the question, TBH.

“If the question is, will it destabilize the market and its ability to bring forth products that are safe and traceable and consistent, I don’t think it will do that. So, yeah, if you put more houses on the market, chances are you’ll have to lower the price of your house,” he concluded.

Oh, and about that repeal of the smoking prohibition the governor wants?

DeSantis may be forced to carry through on his threat to drop the appeal in the lawsuit over smokable medical marijuana, based on what the legislative leaders said today.

To put it mildly, Oliva’s not keen on allowing patients to smoke their medicine.

“Is one to believe that an 8-year-old child should be smoking marijuana and inhaling smoke into their lungs? I’ve been in the smoke business my entire life, and I’ve never heard anyone say it’s good for you,” he said.

The speaker indicated the push for smokable MMJ is just a ploy to open the door to recreational weed.

“Is medicine a façade and a masquerade for recreational marijuana? If it is, that won’t be very supported by the House. If we really want to look at marijuana, and what ailments it can truly relieve and people it can actually benefit, then that’s what we’re looking at,” Oliva said.

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.

School safety measure in House’s hands

All eyes are now on the House, after a sweeping school safety measure squeaked out of the Senate on a 20-18 vote Monday evening.

But could a tweak that may have kept the bill from going down in the upper chamber result in its demise across the rotunda?

Sen. Rene Garcia, a Hialeah Republican, sponsored an amendment that would exclude individuals who “exclusively” provide classroom instruction from participating in the school marshal program, rebranded by the Senate on Monday as the “Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program.” The controversial program would allow specially trained teachers or other school personnel to bring guns to class.

With the clock ticking down until the session ends Friday, there’s no guarantee that the House, slated to take up the bill (SB 7026) tomorrow, will pass it as is, Senate leaders acknowledged.

“It’s been a very dynamic process. There were even amendments on third reading, which is unusual for a bill of this stature,” Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, told reporters late Monday evening.

“There’s some general consensus, but I wouldn’t be surprised if both the House and the Senate had some additional input into the process. But I think on some of the fundamental areas, there’s agreement,” he said.

The Senate plan also includes a provision that requires both school districts and sheriffs to sign off on the plan, while the House’s version would only require the blessing of the school boards.

Gov. Rick Scott has opposed arming teachers, and it’s unclear whether he would support the revised bill.

Sen. Bill Galvano, who’s negotiated with Speaker-Designate Jose Oliva and Scott on the proposal, said that the measure passed by the Senate Monday night “was not a deal with the House,” but was generated from “the discussion” during Saturday’s floor debate.

Garcia was a no vote, Galvano pointed out.

(Translation: If Garcia had joined the opposition on Monday, the bill would have died on a 19-19 tie.)

 

 

Scrambling for gambling

As talks between key lawmakers and the Seminoles heat up, the anti-gambling group behind a constitutional amendment going on this fall’s ballot is taking to the air waves to scold the Legislature for trying to beat voters to the punch.

Voters In Charge, the political committee that pushed the “Voter Control of Gambling Amendment,” is running a 30-second TV ad and a 60-second radio ad — in additional to digital and social media advertising — starting today, according to a release issued by the group this morning.

If approved, voters statewide would have to approve any expansion of gambling, something now largely controlled by the Legislature. A recent poll showed 76 percent support for the measure, which will appear as Amendment 3 on the November ballot and was largely bankrolled by a Disney company and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Anticipating passage of the proposal, legislators are scurrying to craft a new 20-year agreement with the Seminoles, prompting the attack from Voters in Charge.

“They’re trying desperately to expand gambling now, before voters have their say,” a female voiceover on the TV ad scolds.

Sen. Bill Galvano and House Speaker-designate Jose Oliva met with Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen, and the tribe’s lobbyist Will McKinley, yesterday. Galvano told Truth or Dara he expects the Seminoles to give the legislative leaders a draft compact this week.

“The reaction by gambling lobbyists and Tallahassee politicians shows exactly why we need Amendment 3,” Sowinski said in the release announcing the ads.

 

Gambling stalemate over slots?

About a dozen pari-mutuel lobbyists were huddled inside Rep. Jose Felix Diaz’s suite late this afternoon, as the clock winds down on the legislative session without a gambling deal in hand.

The biggest issue dividing the two chambers?

That’s an easy bet — slots.

The Senate wants to allow the lucrative machines in eight counties — Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington — where voters have approved the one-armed bandits for local tracks or frontons.

The House, meanwhile, continues to balk at what they view as an expansion of gambling, and left the referendum counties out of its plan. Diaz, R-Miami, didn’t include the expansion of slots in an offer he made to the Senate Wednesday.

The Senate’s chief negotiator on the gambling deal, Bill Galvano, late Friday called the issue of the referendum counties “the elephant in the room,” implying that the House has to move on slots or there’s no deal.

The Florida Supreme Court last year heard arguments in a case focused on whether facilities in the counties can add the machines without the express permission of the Legislature. But Thursday after Thursday, when the court opinions are released, has gone by without the highly anticipated decision.

Galvano said late Friday evening he’s waiting for a “substantial” offer from his counterpart.

“They understand that that’s an important issue for us, here in the Senate,” Galvano, R-Bradenton, said.

Galvano said all of the counties need to be included in the plan because “that’s when you’re going to run into problems, if you cherry-pick, constitutionally.”

Galvano, who takes over as Senate president after next year’s November elections and who was instrumental in crafting a gambling deal with the Seminoles in 2010, acknowledged that the House has a more conservative approach toward gambling than the Senate.

“They want to make sure, as we’re resolving these court issues, that we’re retracting at the same time. So I’m open to how they want to make their offer, and if they have a more aggressive way of buying back permits, that’s great. We’ll consider it,” he said. “At the same time, (the issue of the referendum counties) that’s the elephant in the room. So we either need to know that that’s a non-starter for them or we can have a negotiation over that.”

Posted by Dara Kam

Senate responds to Seminoles on gambling, seeks meeting

The day before the legislative session opened Tuesday, Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who is the chamber’s go-to gambling guy, sent a letter to Seminole tribal leaders saying a new deal with the state won’t happen unless lawmakers also pass a major gambling package.

Galvano’s letter, on behalf of the Senate, comes after the Seminoles told Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders that competing bills moving in the two chambers won’t work for the tribe. The tribe contends that the proposals won’t get the required approval of the U.S. Department of the Interior because the plans don’t give the Seminoles enough “exclusivity” in exchange for the $3 billion minimum guarantee over seven years the state is seeking.

In Monday’s letter, Galvano noted that he has stressed that “inaction on the subject of gaming is not an option,” in part because of pending litigation. A federal judge decided that the tribe can continue to offer lucrative blackjack games, but the state has appealed the ruling.

The Florida Supreme Court is also poised to rule on a lawsuit that could have far-reaching implications about whether pari-mutuels in counties where voters have approved slot machines can add slots without the express say-so of the Legislature.

“Negotiations between and among all parties must address all Florida gaming issues in order to pass meaningful comprehensive gaming legislation. In short, approval of a new, revised compact must occur concurrently with, and is interdependent upon, resolution of a number of gaming issues, including matters relating to and affecting Florida’s pari-mutuel industry, cardrooms, designated player games, blackjack, and operation of slot machine facilities in the referendum counties,” Galvano wrote to Marcellus Osceola, chairman of the Seminole tribal council.

“Without a doubt, resolving these matters will require patient and thoughtful, good faith negotiations between and among all the affected parties. I am prepared, on behalf of the Senate, to do just that,” Galvano added.

Galvano also said he intends to keep moving his bill — essentially a pari-mutuel industry wish-list —  forward while negotiations with the state take place, and asked for a meeting with Osceola “or one of your representatives to discuss this matter in detail.”

Posted by Dara Kam