Steve DeAngelo, medical marijuana leader, will speak at CannaBiz Day in Orlando
With the Republican-led Legislature recently approving a measure legalizing a strain of medical marijuana in Florida, there is certainly something different in the political air.
Next month, the business-side of the marijuana industry will gather in Orlando for the state’s first CannaBiz Day — June 6.
Organizers said the event at the Royal Caribe Hotel, just down the road from DisneyWorld, will feature business owners, legal, real estate and finance professionals with real-world cannabis business experience. Also expected to attend are activists and policy makers involved in Florida’s marijuana movement.
Keynote speaker is Steve DeAngelo, who operates Harborside Health Center, a nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary in Oakland, Cal. Harborside was a pioneer in treating children suffering from severe epilepsy with the non-euphoric marijuana oil now dubbed Charlotte’s Web, which Florida lawmakers have approved for epilepsy and cancer victims.
Gov. Rick Scott has said he will sign the legislation into law.
Much of the one-day session, though, also will focus on the more sweeping medical marijuana initiative that is set to go on Florida’s November ballot as a constitutional amendment. That measure could broaden the use and cultivation of medical marijuana in the state.
The Senate approved legislation Monday authorizing the use of a marijuana strain for treating victims of severe epilepsy, with several families and children suffering from the illness looked on from the gallery.
The so-called Charlotte’s Web legislation has drawn the blessing of Republican leaders in the Legislature but still faces an uncertain outcome as lawmakers lurch toward a scheduled Friday adjournment.
Some Republican leaders see it as potentially dulling support for a November ballot measure that would go further and legalize medical marijuana.
But the measure has become troubled since major Republican donor Mel Sembler, an opponent of softening marijuana laws, opened a political spending committee called Drug Free Florida with a $100,000 donation last month.
Soon after, Gov. Rick Scott’s Surgeon General, John Armstrong, testified before a House committee raising concerns with the legislation.
Some senators Monday traced their personal histories with the legislation, saying they came around to backing the proposal (CS/SB 1030) only after meeting with the parents seeking help for children with Dravet Syndrome, a severe epilepsy which affects 125,000 Florida youngsters.
The Senate approved authorizing doctors to prescribe the marijuana strain on a 36-3 vote.
“This is it,” said Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach. “These folks are at the end of the line. We’re just trying to bring hope to these families.”
With the 2014 Legislature entering its final week, Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has been floating the idea of a special session next month to renew the gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe that is slated to end next year.
The renewed compact would likely include more money for the state — and could bolster the governor’s leadership credentials heading into his re-election campaign against likely Democratic rival Charlie Crist who as Republican governor from 2007-11, signed the current compact.
But a hurry-up session is complicated.
For those supporting expanded gambling, it presents little chance of putting into play sweeteners for the state’s financially struggling pari-mutuel sites, or making a case for Genting Group, the Malaysian gaming giant looking to open resort casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Scott’s office, though, sought to quash the special session talk Friday night.
“There is no deal, and without a deal, there cannot be any decision on how to ratify a deal,” said Scott spokesman Frank Collins.
Still, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, acknowledged that he had spoken with Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantero about compact negotiations, but that a special session wasn’t discussed.
“They were getting very close. He was kind of updating us on the progress. There were no specifics talked about,” Weatherford said.
The speaker said he responded, “When you have a deal, let us know what it is. We’d love to look at it and we’ll tell you what we think.”
Weatherford earlier talked of possibly considering a gambling expansion during the current legislative session. But it was hinged on a Seminole compact being crafted that allowed such expansion. He also envisioned next putting a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that could limit further gambling in Florida.
“I’ve always been a proponent of reducing the amount of gaming in Florida, not expanding it,” Weatherford said. “I don’t know if this compact reduces or expands it.”
House Democrats said Scott’s office hasn’t contacted them. And they vowed to block any compact that focuses solely on the tribe and not pari-mutuels, card rooms and casino resorts.
“The idea about the compact coming back is it should give the Legislature the opportunity to address those things,” said Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek.
Asked if Democratic votes were needed to seal a compact, House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale said, “Without a doubt.”
The House jump-started legislation Monday aimed at decriminalizing the possession of low-grade marijuana for use in treating seizures.
The measure has been languishing since shortly after major Republican donor Mel Sembler, an opponent of softening marijuana laws, poured $100,000 into starting a Drug Free Florida political spending committee last month. But the Judiciary Committees’ 15-3 vote in favor of CS/HB 843) positions the so-called Charlotte’s Web legislation for action by the full House in the session’s closing two weeks.
“The effectiveness of this strain of marijuana is hard to debate,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, sponsor of the measure.
The House panel revamped portions of the bill Monday, adding a requirement that the state’s Department of Health establish four organizations in Florida to dispense the low-grade pot. The department also would create the Office of Compassionate Use, to compile a registry of patients doctors consider eligible for being treated with the marijuana strain.
Judiciary Committee Chair Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, was among lawmakers voting against the measure, saying he feared it “was too edgy.”
Gaetz and many lawmakers have become advocates of Charlotte’s Web after hearing from parents of children with severe epilepsy have gained relief by treating them with a liquid form of marijuana rich in cannabidiol or CBD. The pot is low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound which produces a “high.”
The legislation also sets aside $1 million for research into cannibidiol and its effect on childhood epilepsy.
The measure has gotten the blessing of Republican leaders in the Legislature, with many seeing it as potentially blunting a ballot measure in November that would go much further and legalize medical marijuana in Florida. Gaetz, however, told committee members Monday, “there is not a political objective associated with this bill.”
Although several lawmakers said they were deeply troubled by the bill, the House budget committee Thursday unanimously approved legislation aimed at barring prosecutors from charging those who have low-grade marijuana for use in treating seizures.
The so-called Charlotte’s Web measure (CS/HB 843) is getting the blessing of Republican leaders in the Legislature, with many seeing it as potentially blunting a ballot measure in November that would legalize medical marijuana in Florida.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, a sponsor of the proposal, said parents of children with severe epilepsy have gained relief treating them with a liquid form of a marijuana strain rich in cannabidiol or CBD, effective in treating seizure disorders. The pot is low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound which produces a “high.”
The legislation also sets aside $1 million for research into cannibidiol and its effect on childhood epilepsy.
“There is no high, but it has had a remarkable effect on these children,” Gaetz told the committee. “We’ve got kids who are 6-, 7-, 8-years-old, who are no longer on feeding tubes…They are now able to ride their bikes, play on the streets, and tell their parents they love them for the first time.”
Some lawmakers, though, said they were willing to go along with the bill Thursday. But that they remained concerned about opening the door to broader marijuana use. Even the cultivation of non-euphoric pot, which the bill would authorize, could be a problem, they said.
“It’s a real challenge for law enforcement,” said Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota. “I don’t want to see bad actors who are going to…sell marijuana for purposes not in this bill.”
The Florida Supreme Court in a split decision ruled Monday that voters can decide this fall on whether to legalize medical marijuana, rejecting arguments from the state’s Republican leaders that the proposed ballot measure is unconstitutionally flawed.
The 4-3 ruling also has implications for the governor’s race this fall. Republican Gov. Rick Scott opposes allowing Floridians to obtain prescriptions for pot use while Democrats Charlie Crist and Nan Rich are supporting the proposed amendment.
Justices were asked to rule whether the proposed language of the citizens’ initiative meets constitutional standards. Opponents, who included most of the state’s Republican leadership, argued that the proposal involved more than one subject, confused voters, or made them think they are endorsing something they’re not.
Justices said the measure passed muster.
“We conclude that the proposed amendment has a logical and natural oneness of purpose—namely, whether Floridians want a provision in the state constitution authorizing the medical use of marijuana, as determined by a licensed Florida physician, under Florida law,” the court majority wrote.
Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and James Perry ruled in favor of the amendment. Chief Justice Ricky Polston and Justices Charles Canady and Jorge Labarga wrote the measure should be struck from the ballot.
Twenty states and Washington, D.C., have legalized the use of marijuana for treatment of a variety of medical conditions, including cancer, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease and epilepsy.
Eleven of the states have enacted such laws through ballot measures, similar to that promoted in Florida by the organization, United for Care.
Florida voters will get a chance to steer as much as $10 billion toward environmental efforts over the next two decades through a ballot measure officially set Thursday for the November ballot.
The Water and Land Legacy campaign’s proposal was officially designated as Amendment 1 by Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner.
“We are pleased to be slated as Amendment 1 on the ballot because water and land conservation deserves to be a top priority for our state,” said Will Abberger, the campaign’s chair and director of conservation finance for The Trust for Public Land.
“Florida is home to one-of-a-kind natural waters and lands and voters now have an opportunity to make a commitment to conservation that will last for generations of Floridians to come.”
The campaign topped the 683,149 valid signatures from Florida registered voters to secure a place on the ballot. Another active ballot campaign aimed at asking voters to approve medical marijuana is near the valid number of signatures, with 654,330 on hand Thursday.
But organizers say that thousands more petition signatures still await certification by the Feb. 1 deadline.
The Water and Land effort faced no challenge before the Florida Supreme Court. But state Republican leaders are seeking to have the marijuana initiative barred from the ballot because they claim the proposed amendment misleads voters. Justices have not yet ruled.
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who was Florida governor from 1979-87, helped launch the Water and Land campaign, which is backed by the Trust for Public Land, Audubon Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club and others.
The amendment would earmark one-third of the state’s documentary stamp tax dollars, drawn from real-estate transactions, for conservation, management and restoration of Florida’s water and land for 20 years, beginning in July 2015.
The measure so far hasn’t drawn overt opposition. But the Florida Chamber of Commerce is warning the proposal ties the “hands of our elected representatives.”
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican, also has criticized the proposed amendment. Putnam, who is attempting to take a leading role in developing a statewide water policy, takes issue with the constitutional approach.
A half-dozen gay and lesbian couples backed by the Equality Florida Institute filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Miami looking to overturn the state’s 2008 constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
The lawsuit contends that the state prohibition violates the U.S. Constitution by denying same-sex couples the same legal protections given heterosexual couples.
“These couples have been embraced by their families and communities, but every day, Florida laws are denying them the protections and dignity that every family deserves,” said Nadine Smith, chief executive officer of the Equality Florida Institute. “These harmful laws are outdated and out of step.”
The lawsuit has been brewing since last summer, when U.S. Supreme Court rulings struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and a same-sex prohibition in California. The rulings have clouded the future of same-sex marriage bans across the country. Utah and Oklahoma recently lifted marriage bans based on the high court ruling, although both actions are being appealed.
In Florida, a ballot proposal was floated earlier this year by an organization called Equal Marriage Florida. But it seems to have languished and the court challenge has been advanced by advocates as the swiftest way to overturn the law.
Democratic candidate for governor, Charlie Crist, wasted no time weighing in on the lawsuit.
“No one would want to be told they can’t marry the person they love,” Crist said. “It’s an issue of fairness and I’m proud to support it.”
Following last summer’s Supreme Court action, Gov. Rick Scott said that the 2008 same-sex marriage ban approved by 62 percent of voters remains “the law of the land.”
He added, ““Look, I’ve been married since I was 19. I believe in traditional marriage.”
The Florida Family Policy Council, which helped lead the ballot campaign that led to the 2008 statewide ban, said it would “vigorously defend” the law.
“Sixty two percent of Floridians have decisively spoken on this issue,” said FFPC President John Stemberger, citing the percent of Florida voters who backed the 2008 initiative. “Gay activists cannot win in the marketplace, so they have resorted to trying to find renegade courts who have little respect for the rule of law to create social change that would never happen through the people or their elected representatives.”
Petition gatherers are now taking the place of street corner Santas and bell-ringers as ballot proposals to legalize medical marijuana and boost environmental spending race toward a fast-approaching deadline.
United for Care, the marijuana initiative, and Florida’s Water and Land Legacy campaign, both have collected close to 1 million voter signatures.
But the campaigns are still working toward building a sizable cushion to clear the required level of 683,149 valid signatures needed by Feb. 1 to qualify for the November ballot.
“Even if a large percentage of what we have now are determined to be not valid for some reason, we’re confident we have what we need,” said Aliki Moncrief, field director for Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, which could set aside $10 billion over the next two decades for environmental efforts.
The Florida Supreme Court has already approved the campaign’s ballot language. Meeting the signature hurdle is likely to quickly shift the campaign toward another round of fund-raising and strategy aimed at November, Moncrief said.
The effort had 559,211 valid signatures through Friday, according to the state’s Division of Elections. But about 400,000 more signatures either have not yet been officially recorded by the state or still remain in the hands of county election supervisors, according to the campaign.
Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care, said signature gatherers for the marijuana proposal plan to wind down next week, comfortable that their total also will yield the state requirement.
Florida elections officials have recorded 210,961 valid signatures from United for Care, although plenty more are still being processed, Pollara said.
Supporters of the initiative, however, are keeping an eye on the Supreme Court, which last month heard contentious arguments over whether United for Care’s ballot language is constitutional, or, as opponents insist, is misleading to voters.
Much of Florida’s Republican leadership was joined by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the state’s medical association and law enforcement organizations in urging that justices bar the measure from the ballot.
The court has until April 1 to decide.
“We still think that the court will rule in our favor,” Pollara said. “But there’s nothing we can do about that now.
“We do know, though, that this would all be for naught if we didn’t get the signatures. That’s 150 percent of our focus right now.”
The Florida Supreme Court ruled Friday that state lawmakers can be forced to testify in redistricting cases claiming that backroom huddling with consultants and a flurry of email exchanges were part of an illegal effort to keep Republicans in command of Florida.
The 5-2 ruling by justices sided with the League of Women Voters of Florida, which disputed the stand by lawmakers that “legislative privilege” shields them from testifying in lawsuits challenging the state’s new congressional and state Senate maps.
Justice Barbara Pariente, writing for the majority, said constitutional standards approved by voters in 2010 specifically were designed to keep partisan politics out of the once-a-decade process of redrawing the state’s political boundaries.
“We conclude that there is no unbending right for legislators and legislative staff members to hide behind a broad assertion of legislative privilege to present the discovery of relevant evidence,” Pariente wrote.
Court documents in the lawsuits filed in Leon County Circuit Court show that emails were exchanged between aides to Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford and consultants who analyzed proposed maps.
The emails also show that in 2010, Rich Heffley, a Florida Republican Party consultant advising Gaetz, then the Senate’s redistricting chairman, organized a “brainstorming” meeting at the state party headquarters in Tallahassee.
Other documents show that Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, designated last week as Gaetz’s successor as president, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, also angling for the job in the future, emailed district information to consultants for review.
In a legal battle whose social and political shadings have drawn an all-star cast of combatants, the Florida Supreme Court this week will consider a measure asking voters to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for a range of illnesses.
Much of Florida’s Republican leadership is being joined by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the state’s medical association and law enforcement organizations in fighting the proposed 2014 ballot measure.
On the opposite side, leading Democratic donor John Morgan, an Orlando trial lawyer close to former Gov. Charlie Crist, is bankrolling the campaign. Crist, previously a Republican while governor, is now running for the office as a Democrat.
A former Democratic House Speaker, Jon Mills of Gainesville, will make the campaign’s case before justices on Thursday.
While the politics of the fight are viewed as closely entwined in next year’s governor’s race, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said his opposition stems only from concerns about how the ballot proposal is constructed.
“It’s misleading to voters, flawed and doesn’t really tell you just how pervasive marijuana would be in this state,” Weatherford told The Palm Beach Post. “If this were approved, it would be a nightmare for the Legislature to implement.”
Florida’s Republican legislative leaders Friday said a proposed 2014 measure legalizing medical marijuana should be barred from the ballot because of a host of constitutional problems.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, submitted a brief to the Florida Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear arguments Dec. 5 on the measure backed by the organization United for Care.
Lawyers for the legislators cited failings in the proposal’s text and ballot summary, concluding it is misleading to voters and violates a number of constitutional standards.
“The proposed amendment and its ballot title and summary fail to provide the clarity that the voters deserve when considering whether to amend their constitution,” Weatherford and Gaetz said in their brief.
“This court should issue an advisory opinion directing that the proposed amendment not be placed on the ballot,” they told justices.
Attorney General Pam Bondi last month submitted papers to the court, saying she also found problems with the measure.
On Friday, the deadline set by justices for briefs in the matter, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Medical Association, Florida Sheriffs Association and the advocacy group, Save Our Society from Drugs, also weighed in against the measure.
The Florida Supreme Court approved the first proposed constitutional amendment slated for next year’s ballot — a water and land conservation measure that could set aside $10 billion over the next two decades for environmental efforts.
The Florida Land and Water Legacy, the organization sponsoring the effort, is more than halfway to the 683,149 petition signatures needed to get on the November ballot, an amount representing 8 percent of all registered voters who cast ballots in the last general election.
“This is monumental step as we continue gathering petitions to place this important measure on the ballot,” said Will Abberger, the campaign’s chairman and director of conservation finance for The Trust for Public Land. ”Our campaign is proving that Floridians care deeply about our state’s natural heritage and want to safeguard it for future generations.”
The amendment would earmark one-third of the state’s documentary stamp tax dollars, drawn from real-estate transactions, for conservation, management, and restoration of Florida’s water and land for 20 years, beginning in July 2015.
Florida’s ruling Republican legislators should be required to testify about whether they violated state law by secretly getting advice from party consultants before drawing new political boundaries, the Supreme Court was told Monday.
Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, attorney for the League of Women Voters of Florida, said that there is no “legislative privilege” which shields lawmakers from giving depositions in lawsuits looking to overturn at least portions of the state’s congressional and state Senate maps approved during last year’s redistricting.
“We have great pride in being an open government state,” D’Alemberte told reporters after an almost hourlong argument before the high court. “If you now can’t get to what the Legislature did…what does that do to the core of our principles about open government. I see this as important on several different levels.”
But Raoul Cantero, a former state Supreme Court justice now representing the Legislature in the case, said that Florida, like all states across the country, protect lawmakers from being forced to testify about the subjective thought process that went into passing legislation.
While Republican leaders have surrendered more than 30,000 documents as public records in the lawsuits underway, the court should not now demand that legislators testify about their actions, Cantero said.
“No court in the country has ever ordered that a legislator testify about the legislative process,” Cantero said following arguments. “If the court were to order depositions in this case, they’d be the first court in this country to do so. We just want (justices) to do what every other state has done.”
Former NBA star Tim Hardaway tonight is scheduled to become the first petition-signer on the Equal Marriage Florida effort to put a proposed constitutional amendment legalizing same-sex marriage in the state on the November 2014 ballot.
Hardaway, a member of some great Miami Heat teams in the 1990s, plans to sign the petition at 7 p.m. at Scully’s Tavern in the Kendall area. The campaign must gather more than 680,000 signatures from registered voters to have a chance to get on the ballot.
Signing the same-sex marriage measure comes only a couple months after Hardaway reached out and endorsed NBA player Jason Collins for coming out as the first openly gay athlete in any of the major professional leagues. Hardaway’s son, Tim, Jr., also has just been drafted by the New York Knicks.
Hardaway in 2007 made news for telling a Miami radio interviewer that he didn’t like gay people and acknowledged he was homophobic. After enduring a host of financial sanctions and being barred from activities at an NBA All-Star weekend, Hardaway began a long road toward tolerance, telling another interviewer about the incident, ”I’m going to do whatever I can to correct it.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich sent out a fund-raising appeal Tuesday pledging to erase Florida’s same-sex marriage ban.
Rich, who badly trails potential Democratic rivals Charlie Crist and Alex Sink in polls, targets Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s defense of the marriage ban in a blast email to supporters.
“The ink was barely dry on the Supreme Court’s decision before Gov. Scott announced he supports continuing Florida’s ban of same-sex marriage,” Rich said. “Well…I do not.
“As governor, I will work to pass a new constitutional amendment that will allow Florida to join the rapidly growing ranks of marriage equality states,” she said.
Equal Marriage Florida last week began work on gathering the more than 680,000 petition signatures needed for a proposed constitutional amendment erasing the gay marriage ban approved by voters only five years ago.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings Wednesday expanding gay rights brought a swift reaction in Florida, with some saying the decisions now turn the focus on Tallahassee and the state’s own 2008 constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
“As Democrats, we are committed to full equality for every American,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant. “Today, the Supreme Court moved us further toward that goal. All married couples will now enjoy the federal benefits and protections they have been wrongfully denied for years.”
She added, “There is still a long road ahead before we achieve full equality for GLBT Americans, and here in Florida we stand committed to continue this fight.”
A gay rights advocacy organization, Equality Florida, last week unveiled a statewide campaign called “Get Engaged,” ultimately aimed at ending the state’s constitutional prohibition against same-sex marriage.
Advocates said a ballot proposal to repeal Florida’s constitutional amendment is not planned for next year. But eliminating the ban enacted by 62 percent of Florida voters in 2008 would be a goal of the education campaign.
“Today’s rulings are a major step forward for the country, but for Floridians they fall far short of justice and are more than anything a call to action,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida.
“For those of us who live in state’s like Florida where our marriages are still not recognized, today’s rulings are a reminder that we cannot wait for justice to be handed to us, we are going to have to get engaged and fight,” she added.
Getting a voter-backed repeal effort on the ballot in Florida would not be easy, with more than 600,000 signatures needed for a proposed constitutional amendment.
Although it was only in 2008 that Floridians endorsed the ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions, polls indicate the state and the nation’s views on the issue are changing rapidly.
A survey by liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling in March found that 75 percent of Floridians support letting same-sex couples marry or have civil unions. Only 23 percent of those surveyed in Florida opposed any legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship.
PPP found the numbers, pro- and con-, varied little between registered Democrats and Republicans. Minnesota, Rhode Island and Delaware this spring brought to 12 the number of states where same-sex marriage is legal.
Florida is among 30 states that have adopted bans, similar to the one justices allowed to remain struck down in California.
“It’s a great day for Americans, and for Floridians,” Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, said Wednesday, following the high court rulings.
Sobel proposed legislation last spring allowing for a statewide domestic partnership registry. The measure was noteworthy in that it cleared a Senate committee before failing to advance further.
This spring in Tallahassee saw the state’s first two openly gay legislators take seats in the House, Reps. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, and Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach. But the Republican-controlled House and Senate traditionally has resisted issues endorsed by Florida’s gay and lesbian community.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott supports the same-sex ban. But former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, now a Democrat seen as a likely Scott opponent in next year’s governor’s race, last month endorsed gay marriage – despite signing the 2006 petition for a constitutional ban and reaffirming his opposition in 2008.
“I think for anything to change in Florida, it’s going to have to be a grassroots effort,” Sobel said
Rep. Linda Stewart, an Orlando Democrat whose district contains a large gay population, said she was “in solidarity” with the community.
“The past has shown that equality does not always come quickly, and never cheaply; the forces of justice have often
fought those of prejudice and misunderstanding, and lost,” Stewart said Wednesday. ”But today’s ruling proves that while it is not always a steady or even march toward basic civil rights for millions of Americans, it is surely an inevitable one.”
Documents released Thursday in a wide-ranging lawsuit over last year’s redistricting effort raise more questions about communication between Florida Republicans and party consultants over proposed maps, possibly in violation of the state constitution.
In a deposition given last month, campaign consultant Marc Reichelderfer acknowledged having received draft versions of proposed congressional redistricting plans from Kirk Pepper, a top aide to then-House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park.
Reichelderfer received seven proposed maps in a Dropbox account, two weeks before they were made public.
In his deposition, Reichelderfer was asked, “You got them for a reason, isn’t that right?”
The consultant responded, “I assume it was for a reason.”
Asked if it was to determine how the maps performed, politically, Reichelderfer said, “I could have done that, yes, sir.”
Democratic-allied voter groups want congressional and legislative maps thrown out because Republican leaders shared data and
maps with political consultants. The voter-approved Fair District amendments to the state constitution prohibit districts from being drawn to help or hurt incumbents.
The Florida League of Women Voters, Common Cause and individual voters organizations suing say such communication has become evident in the first rounds of data already provided by the Legislature and various consultants subpoenaed in the lawsuit.
Court documents filed earlier with Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis show that emails were exchanged between aides to Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford and consultants who analyzed proposed maps.
The emails also show that in 2010, Rich Heffley, a Florida Republican Party consultant advising Gaetz, then the Senate’s
redistricting chairman, organized a “brainstorming” meeting at the state party headquarters in Tallahassee.
Other documents in the case show that Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who are both angling for Senate presidency in coming years, emailed district information to consultants for review.
The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee will workshop two voting-related bills sponsored by Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens on Tuesday.
One of Clemens’s proposals would automatically register voters when they get a driver’s license or state ID card (they could opt out if they choose). The second would restrict legislators to putting three constitutional amendments on the ballot at any one time.
They’ll be the first official pieces of legislation heard by the committee, tasked by Senate President Don Gaetz to figure out what went wrong with the 2012 election and propose legislative fixes.
Elections supervisors told the committee earlier this month that the number one problem – even in areas that didn’t have six hour waits like Palm Beach County – was the length of the ballot.
The GOP-controlled legislature placed 11 lengthy, and according to the supervisors confusing, constitutional questions on the 2012 ballot. Three of them passed, and the rest did not even get a majority approval from voters. Constitutional amendments require 60 percent approval by voters to pass.
Limiting the number of constitutional questions lawmakers can place on the ballot requires a change to the constitution, which means Clemens’s proposal would have to go before voters.
“The irony of this is yes, I filed a constitutional amendment to limit constitutitonal amendments,” Clemens said. “That’s the only way to accomplish it. I think it’s a legitimate constitutional issue as opposed to many of the items placed on the ballot in November which were purely political.”
For many Capitol insiders, the 60-day legislative sessions are more than long enough.
But state Sen. Jeff Clemens, a freshman who won a bitter primary against former state Rep. Mack Bernard, filed a resolution that would make the sessions last two years.
Under Clemens’s proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 512), the session would begin two weeks after the general election and last two years.
Clemens said lawmakers don’t have enough time to fully vet issues during the two-month session.
“The compressed nature of the legislature as we have it right now forces us to rush bills through without thinking them through and doesn’t allow enough time for us to delve into the budgetary process,” the Lake Worth Democrat said. “I think the voters suffer because of that.”
And the 160 members of the House and Senate, whose annual legislative salaries is around $30,000, have full-time, outside jobs that may create conflicts when voting on legislation, Clemens said.
“It’s really a case of not being able to serve two masters at once,” he said. “The idea of a full-time legislature is really rooted in allowing legislators to make decisions based on what they think is best for the state and not have to have their individual employment or individual financial situations compromised by that.”
No word yet on what Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, thinks of Clemens’s proposal. But, after the GOP-controlled legislature was blamed for long voting lines during the 2012 presidential election because they put 11 lengthy constitutional questions on the ballot, Gaetz has said instructed his members to use restraint regarding constitutional changes.
“If you have a proposed constitutional amendment, it’d better solve a constitutional problem, not an issue du jour,” Gaetz said in November.