Rob Bradley

Bradley: “Zero tolerance” for intimidation

Fleming Island Republican Sen. Rob Bradley seemed to deliver a stern message about allegations of intimidation swirling amid investigations into alleged wrongdoing by Sen. Jack Latvala.

Bradley took over the reins as the Senate budget chief after Latvala was stripped of the post, following allegations that the Clearwater Republican had groped several women over the past few years.

The allegations are the subject of two investigations now underway, including a probe by a special master that could result in Latvala’s expulsion from the Senate.

Bradley spoke to reporters about the events following an Appropriations Committee meeting Wednesday afternoon.

“There is a real chance that at some point in time we’ll be listening to evidence not only of underlying conduct that is alleged, but also potential conduct that has occurred since the allegations have come to light,” Bradley said. “I think it’s important that not only there is zero tolerance for sexual misconduct and verbal abuse, but there also be zero tolerance for any behavior that leads to one feeling like they shouldn’t come forward or feeling intimidated.”

Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, yesterday filed a complaint against Latvala with the Rules Committee, which will also decide on the sexual harassment complaint filed by Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson’s chief legislative aide, Rachel Perrin Rogers. Book’s complaint accused Latvala of improperly taking steps to “out” Perrin Rogers, who has hired armed security in the midst of the investigations.

Perrin Rogers accused Latvala of groping her on six occasions over the past four years. Latvala has steadfastly denied the allegations. The rhetoric around the investigations has escalated, with lawyers from both sides releasing text messages and affidavits to the media and supporters of the Senate aide and the senator taking to Twitter and Facebook to air their grievances.

Bradley said he expects the special master report regarding Perrin Rogers’s complaint may be out as early as next week, but he doesn’t know if the Rules Committee will be called in to hold an emergency meeting before the legislative session begins on Jan. 9.

“I do think it’s important that everyone that visits the Capitol, who advocates for or against proposals we consider, that are involved as employees or otherwise, they understand there is zero tolerance for sexual misconduct for verbal abuse or for, even when those allegations are made, for any attempts to intimidate. And that needs to be stated clearly and publicly so that there is no doubt that that is the position of this senator and the colleagues that I stand side-by-side with,” Bradley said.

The special master’s report will be given to the Senate Rules Committee. If the special master recommends dismissal, the committee must dismiss the complaint. The special master, retired judge Ronald Swanson, could recommend censure, reprimand or expulsion. The Rules Committee, headed by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, could adopt his recommendation or come up with its own. 

Benacquisto yesterday effectively killed the appointment of Ritch Workman, a former state representative, to the Public Service Commission. Gov. Rick Scott had nominated Workman for the post, which requires Senate confirmation. But Benacquisto said she would not take up his appointment because Workman manhandled her at a charity event last year. Workman subsequently withdrew his nomination.

Sexual harassment allegations create “awkward” mood in Senate

Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, took over as the upper chamber’s powerful budget chief Monday after Senate President Joe Negron told Sen. Jack Latvala to step aside, at least for now.

Bradley’s no stranger to the budget process. The former prosecutor has chaired three budget subcommittees since joining the Senate five years ago.

Negron stripped Latvala of his post as Appropriations Committee chairman following allegations that the Clearwater Republican groped women and made unwelcome verbal comments about their bodies. Latvala, who is running for governor, is out of the post while an investigation, ordered by Negron, is pending, the Senate president said Monday.

Latvala has steadfastly denied the allegations, vowing to clear his name.

The investigation into the alleged misconduct by Latvala comes after a high-ranking Democrat, Jeff Clemens, resigned from his Senate seat after admitting he had an affair with a lobbyist.

Bradley said he’s “going to keep the trains moving on time” to make sure the budget process keeps on track in Latvala’s absence.

When asked about the mood of the Senate following Clemens’s exit and the accusations against Latvala, Bradley said it was “awkward.”

“It’s an awkward situation that we find ourselves in. Ever since the Harvey Weinstein story and the Roger Ailes story became national news, I think there’s been an appropriate focus on sexual mistreatment in the workplace. It’s no surprise that Tallahassee isn’t immune from those dynamics and those discussions,” Bradley said in an interview Monday afternoon. “My focus is on making sure that anyone who has been the victim of sexual misconduct while either working for the Senate or visiting the Senate feels completely comfortable coming forward and sharing their experiences.”

Bradley said he was sickened by the allegations.

“What I hear, in terms of how other people perceive they’ve been treated, how other people have been treated, and this concern about retribution going forward, all of that makes me sick to my stomach,” he said.

The spotlight on sexual harassment and sexually inappropriate behavior, as awkward and uncomfortable as it may be, could be a good thing, Bradley said.

“For too long, there was a discomfort in people sharing those experiences, and that’s wrong. I think in some ways, this is going to result in positive changes for how Tallahassee does business, just like I think there’s positive changes for how people to business in the private sector and government throughout our country,” he said.

Some female lobbyists are complaining that the scrutiny is making it harder for them to do their jobs: Some male lawmakers and aides  are refusing to meet after-hours or privately with the women.

Bradley said he treats everyone equally, and called on his colleagues and lashed out at anyone who’s excluding women.

“This concept that women feel like they’re going to be disadvantaged because men are less inclined to deal with females or work with females because they’re afraid of being misconstrued, I think that’s a bunch of hogwash,” he said. “I think it’s hogwash to say that you’re going to change your behavior and not allow women to interact with you under the same set of rules, I think that’s hogwash to make such a statement. Women and men need to be treated equally in this process. And whatever rules one has for dealing with men, they need to have the same rules for dealing with women. It should all be professional.”

On airport marijuana ban, thoughts on traveling with insulin

IMG_2721Patients won’t be able to bring their pot treatment with them when traveling through the Orlando International Airport.

The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority Board approved the marijuana ban yesterday.

Click here to watch WFTV‘s report on the ban.

This got me thinking about the problems I encountered traveling in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Airport authorities were extremely nervous about liquids, even in small amounts.

I’ve been an insulin-dependent, Type I diabetic for more than … well, for a long time.

Type-I diabetic, for those who don’t know, means I need insulin to stay alive.

But that didn’t matter to some of the airport folks.

I once was prohibited from traveling with my insulin (which comes in vials or pens clearly marked as medicine).

I scrapped my trip, rather than risk going without my life-saving meds.

After that, I traveled with a notarized letter from my doctor attesting to the fact that these medications were critical.

One of the problems, I learned over the years, was that airport authorities in and out of the state treated my insulin in disparate ways.

Sometimes, they ignored it.

Other times, I was subjected to a super-duper special search after the slim needle on a syringe or insulin pen caught the attention of a security tech, who feared the metal object on her X-ray screen indicated the presence of a bomb. (I’ll save the story about the time my daughter’s teddy bear — with a music box — resulted in an airport bomb squad and dog-sniffing search for another day.)

And on a few occasions, I was forced to explain my medical condition and my treatment while a long line of stocking-footed, impatient travelers piled up behind me.

According to yesterday’s report by the television station, Orlando airport law enforcement officials say they’re not going to go out of their way to sniff out pot travelers.

Further complicating the issue, while Florida law bars patients from smoking “whole flower” — dudes, we call it “bud” — the sale of whole flower for use in vaporizers isn’t prohibited.

After reporting on MMJ for years, I know that marijuana is viewed, like insulin, as a life-saving treatment for some patients. I was inches away from a man who had an epileptic seizure while he awaited his turn to testify before a Senate committee earlier this year. His wife pleaded with attendees for marijuana-based CBD oil, while awaiting emergency personnel. The man, Michael Bowen, serves on the board of the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida.

But, unlike the medicine I’ve been taking for oh-so-long, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, posing a legitimate problem for law enforcement officials at airports and, most certainly, other transportation hubs.

Traveling with insulin within the U.S. has become a lot less problematic for me in the past few years. I don’t even have a letter from my doctor anymore, but an escalation in international terrorist attacks has prompted me to ask her for an updated authorization.

Sen. Rob Bradley, the Fleming Island Republican who’s been instrumental in passing the state’s medical marijuana legislation, calls the era in which dozens of states, including Florida, have legalized MMJ “a brand new world.” (Is he aware of the Aldous Huxley reference to hallucinogens?)

Traveling with treatment is just one part of that brave new world, for patients, law enforcement, and elected officials contemplating new policies.

Quick pot bites from the floor

Lawmakers are set to pass a roll-out of Amendment 2, the constitutional proposal overwhelmingly approved by voters last year that legalized medical marijuana for a broad swath of patients.

Yesterday’s debate over the pot legislation — which would add 10 MMJ licenses to the state’s current 7 operators and set a cap of 25 dispensaries per operator (sort of) — included some exchanges that elicited groans, giggles and gasps from the 5th floor press galleries and others observing the fireworks.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, who sponsored an amendment that would have allowed patients to smoke marijuana products said the smoking ban is unconstitutional.

“There’s going to e a lawsuit and we’re going to lose,” he said.

Clemens also rejected arguments that patients shouldn’t be allowed to smoke pot because smoking isn’t healthy, pointing out that some patients are terminally ill or suffer from diseases like ALS.

“Are we really going to tell those folks that we’re worried about your lung health 30 years down the road when you’ve got six months to live? That’s absurd,” he said.

Questions about who would benefit from a component of the bill that would give preference to current or one-time citrus processors who want to gain entree into the pot industry were largely left unanswered.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, offered an amendment on the floor that would have stricken the provision from the bill, using an olfactory analogy to prove his point.

“You and I know this doesn’t smell right,” Brandes, who has pushed a broad expansion of the marijuana market.”There are industries that go in and out of business all the time.
You should allow a process that allows everyone to compete.”

Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican who once served as president of the chamber, backed him up.

“Enough’s enough,” Lee said, adding that the provision should have allowed health officials to also give preference to other facilities “situated for reuse” in blighted or economically depressed areas. “But my guess is this is for one company. We’re just about soon to find out who it is. For me enough’s enough. Enough’s enough.”

That drew an explanation from Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.

“First of all, the way this language is written is for no one that is guaranteed a license. It is very specific that says you have a better opportunity,” Simpson said in what was, for him, an unusually long response.

Simpson said health officials might give the citrus processors “two additional points” when scoring the applications, and that the provision could help a failing industry.

In certain parts of the state, “you will see these large factories that used to be orange (producers) with hundreds of jobs and sometimes thousands of jobs,” Simpson said.

“Dade City, Florida, had two of these facilities. Both are gone. And today we have more than 20 of these facilities where farmers and groups of farmers have tens of millions of dollars of capital tied up in these facilities and now they are shuttered. This amendment simply says that in the process of adding to license holders they can have a consideration of favorability, all other things being equal,” he said. “These are food-grade facilities. These aren’t just farmers with stands on the side of the road.”

In the lower chamber, a discussion of the ban on smoking included in the legislation prompted an intra-party dispute.

Rep. Katie Edwards, a Plantation Democrat who was instrumental in the passage of the state’s 2014 low-THC marijuana law, read from the language of the amendment, which said that smoking can be forbidden in public places.

She noted that lawmakers are being hammered by proponents of the measure who insist that the amendment allows patients to smoke pot products, a campaign that’s generated the hashtag #nosmokeisajoke.

“It’s very easy to get sidetracked and come up with hashtags and campaigns,” Edwards, a lawyer, said. “I do not want us to be sued. Nobody here wants to be sued because you know what? A lawsuit benefits one attorney, one firm. It does not help us get this to the patients quicker.”

Rob Bradley predicted the medical marijuana legislation would evolve into an annual examination, much like fights over alcohol laws.

“We are going to open this law and revisit it and tweak it every year. There’s an alcohol bill every year. …and there’s going to be a marijuana bill every year,” Bradley, who’s been in charge of the pot legislation for the past three years.

Bradley also defended an element of the bill that allows local governments to ban dispensaries but, cities and counties can’t limit the number of retail outlets if they permit them at all.

“I’ll be very frank. This language makes some of the incumbents mad. This language makes some of the counties and cities not particularly happy,” he said.

The provision was intended to “strike a balance” between local control and guaranteeing access to medical marijuana to patients, Bradley said.

“This is not a joke. This isn’t Cheech and Chong. This is serious medicine, and it should be treated as such,” he said.

Scott medical marijuana research vetoes not a problem, at least for now

IMG_2721Amid all the consternation over medical marijuana, Florida Gov. Rick Scott‘s $400 million-plus vetoes included more than $3 million for cannabis research.

Scott axed $2 million for the University of Florida’s cannabis research initiative. UF was originally tasked with tracking the state’s high-CBD, low-THC law passed in 2014. But the university was never enthusiastic about the endeavor, in part because cannabis remained illegal under federal law, raising questions for university officials about whether pot research might undermine funding for other programs.

This year, lawmakers steered more than $1 million in pot research toward the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute for the “Coalition for Medicinal Cannabis Research and Education Board,” an entity created by the Legislature during the 2017 session in a measure that never passed.

Scott vetoed $370,000 for to create the board at the Moffitt Center because the Tampa-based center “received a total of $10.6 million in Fiscal Year 2017-2018 and has the ability to fund this initiative,” according to the governor’s veto message.

Scott also red-lined $750,000 for pot research at the center because it was contingent upon legislation that never passed.

State Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who was instrumental in the passage of the 2014 low-THC bill and has been a major player in the marijuana legislation that failed to pass this year, said he was bummed that Scott vetoed the MMJ research money.

But Bradley told The News Service of Florida Monday he’s not overly troubled that Scott axed the funding for the UF research.

“The center of gravity, in terms of where medical marijuana research and data collection is going to take place, is moving away from the University of Florida and towards Moffitt,” Bradley said.

While UF may have had a stone-faced approach to the pot research, the Moffitt Center — founded by onetime House speaker Lee Moffitt, a Democrat — was enthusiastic about the endeavor.

Bradley said he was “very disappointed” in Scott’s veto of the Moffitt funds, which totaled more than $1 million.

But he predicted the research has a shinier future, once the Legislature officially creates the research-centered coalition based at Moffitt .

“I think that will make the argument much more compelling to include that in future budgets. So I’m confident that in the future this won’t be an issue,” Bradley said.

— Posted by Dara Kam

Bradley on medical pot: ‘sense of urgency’

IMG_0600With a July 3 deadline fast approaching, state health officials have crafted what’s designed as a speedy way to implement the voter-approved constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for patients with debilitating medical conditions.

The amendment gives the Department of Health until July 3 to create a regulatory scheme for what could be one of the largest medical marijuana markets in the country.

The agency yesterday announced a process aimed at avoiding protracted delays involving challenges typically made via the state’s Administrative Procedures Act.

Health officials are moving forward with the alternative procedure after lawmakers failed to pass a measure to implement the amendment.

The implementation bill became a battle between the state’s seven marijuana operators — disparagingly dubbed “golden ticket” winners by industry wannabes — and groups trying to set up shop in a state that’s home to an estimated 400,000 patients, by DOH counts.

Lawmakers are facing increasing pressure to hold a special session on the issue, but legislative leaders are unlikely to return to Tallahassee just to craft a pot deal.

Gov. Rick Scott‘s red ink, however, could cause some cannabis reconsideration.

Scott is being pushed to kill an education measure that has a $400 million price tag, and the governor could also veto the state’s entire public school education budget.

That would force the Legislature to come back to the Capitol, which might make pot more palatable.

“We may be back sooner rather than later to deal with the budget, based on what decisions the governor makes,” Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who has shepherded marijuana bills for the past three years, said yesterday. “If we come back to Tallahassee to deal with the budget, that provides an opportunity to expand the call to include medical marijuana.”

Folks trying to get in on Florida’s green rush fear that DOH bureaucrats won’t do much to expand the industry by increasing the number of marijuana operator licenses.

Even Bradley is considered that the agency is going to “preserve the status quo.”

While there’s much consternation over a special session and who’s going to implement the amendment — and how — Bradley pointed out that patients are already able to purchase pot products.

“I gain a small level of comfort in the fact that because of the work that we did in 2014 there is already marijuana growing and being processed in the state of Florida. That’s not good enough, though. We need to provide further regulation,” he said.

Bradley was instrumental in the passage of the state’s low-THC, high-CBD marijuana law, which made the non-euphoric treatment available for patients with epilepsy, severe muscle spasms or cancer. The law was passed in 2014, in anticipation that voters would approve Amendment 2’s predecessor that year. The proposal narrowly failed to capture the 60 percent of the vote required for passage.

Last year, Bradley sponsored a measure that legalized “full-strength” marijuana for terminally ill patients, thus allowing marijuana operators to start cultivating traditional pot even before voters last fall overwhelmingly signed off on the second attempt at legalizing medical marijuana in Florida.

“We knew back in 2014 that this day would come. And it’s important to keep in mind that if we had not done what we did in 2014 there would be no marijuana being grown in the state of Florida and we would be at least a year-and-a-half behind,” he said.

Bradley said he has “a sense of urgency” to implement the amendment, but it’s important to remember that marijuana is being grown, processed and delivered to patients right now.

Still, he said, “Should there be fewer barriers to access to marijuana? Yes. And that’s what we need to work on.”

— Posted by Dara Kam