Tom Lee

Lawmakers bad for business? Nah, just so-so

We would have been in deep trouble for earning a ‘C’ average back in the day, but that’s the grade the Florida Chamber of Commerce gave the GOP-dominated Legislature for its work this session.

The Chamber, one of the most influential business lobbying outfits in Tallahassee, granted just a single ‘A’ grade to a member of the upper chamber: Former Senate President Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa (who actually pulled off an ‘A-‘ on the 10-point scale.

That’s a big contrast from last year, when 30 of the Senate’s 40 members received an ‘A’ on the Chamber’s annual legislative report cardannual legislative report card.
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The House didn’t fare much better this year, either.

Republican Reps. Joe Gruters of Sarasota and Dan Raulerson of Plant City were the only lawmakers to ace the finals with perfect scores.

Eleven other House members — all Republicans — earned A-grades.

The grades are based upon how each lawmaker voted on wide range of “pro-jobs issues,” according to the Chamber.

In 2016, 80 of the 120 members of the House got an ‘A.”

Both chambers received passing grades, on average. The Senate received a cumulative 70 GPA, while the House earned a 74 GPA.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the Land O’ Lakes Republican who orchestrated drives to kill the business-recruitment agency Enterprise Florida and scale back tourism-marketing efforts out of Visit Florida, was among those picking up a ‘C.’

But the business lobbying group flunked Senate President Joe Negron, one of just three Republicans to be branded with an ‘F.’

The Senate president joined Tampa Rep. Shawn Harrison and former Sen. Frank Artiles of Miami — who resigned from the Senate mid-session after a racially loaded verbal tirade at a private club in Tallahassee — and 34 Democrats in getting the ultimate failing grade.

One of Negron’s key pieces of legislation this year was a bill designed to create a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee (SB 10).

The chamber opposed the controversial proposal that was initially crafted to directly impact existing farm land that included large, influential sugar growers.

The Chamber partly attributed the drop in the grades on the lawmakers’ failure to address workers’ comp or assignment of benefits.

Posted by Jim Turner.

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.