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Amid rise of electronic cigs, Senate panel takes on “vaping” by minors

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014 by John Kennedy

A Florida Senate panel took a swipe at wiping out “vaping” by minors, approving a measure that would prohibit the sale of nicotine dispensers to people under age 18.

The Criminal Justice Committee approved the restriction on smokeless cigarettes on a 5-0 vote. The dispensers give users a jolt of nicotine through inhaled vapors — giving the practice its nickname.

“The use of electronic cigarettes is becoming increasingly popular among Florida’s youth, and yet there are still no age restrictions at both the state and federal level on the purchase of these harmful products,” said Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, sponsor of the measure (SB 224).

“By regulating electronic cigarettes like other tobacco products, Florida will be one step closer to preventing a new generation of nicotine addicts,” she added.

The committee’s action was the second Senate panel which unanimously approved the restriction. A similar bill (HB 153) has been filed in the House by Rep. Ronald ‘Doc’ Renuart, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, but hasn’t advanced.

Anti-tobacco advocates are also keeping an eye on other measures aimed at giving local governments authority to ban smoking on playgrounds. It’s a retreat by proponents who last year were turned back in efforts to allow cities and counties to prohibit smoking on public property, including such outdoor locations as beaches, parks, playgrounds and recreational areas.

That legislation advanced in the Senate, but never got a hearing in the House.

Palm Beach County sole redistricting hearing set

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011 by John Kennedy

Although Palm Beach County often seems to end up as ground zero for weird, puzzling and too-close-to-call episodes in Florida election history, state lawmakers aren’t giving the county much love in a 26-city redistricting tour.

Legislative redistricting committees are holding only one public hearing in Palm Beach County this summer. The 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. event will be held Aug. 16 at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

The night before, Aug. 15, members of the public can vent about House, Senate and congressional district boundaries at a 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., hearing at Stuart’s Blake Library. On the same day as the FAU hearing, the redistricting committees will hold an evening public hearing from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., in Davie at the Broward College gym.

Palm Beach County districts are likely to undergo some big changes with the once-a-decade redistricting, which lawmakers will begin in January.

 Among the boundaries expected to change significantly are the five-county Senate District 27, now held by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, and another sure-to-be battleground — the Broward-Palm Beach county congressional seat held by U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fort Lauderdale.

More information and a schedule of hearings can be found at


Could be lights out in Senate for utility rate hike

Friday, April 15th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Legislation that would have given Florida Power & Light and other investor-owned utilities authority to boost customer rates $377 million over the next five years looks troubled in the state Senate.

Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander said he spoke Friday with Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, chairman of the Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee that advanced the legislation (CS/SB 2078) earlier this month.

Alexander said that in their conversation, he discouraged Benacquisto from continuing with the legislation, as crafted, since it gave utilities authority to raise rates without prior approval by regulators.

Alexander, one of the Senate leaders, said Benacquisto, a first-year lawmaker, has agreed, and is reworking it. Benacquisto couldn’t be immediately reached Friday evening. 

“If it’s a…carve-out with no regulatory oversight, I think that’s not ideal,” Alexander said, adding that the legislation involved a “heckuva lot of money.”

The electric companies, heavy contributors to both political parties, would have been allowed to tack on an additional charge — without prior approval by state regulators — to cover their costs of building solar and biomass energy plants or buying renewable energy from producers.

For FPL’s 4 million customers, mostly in South Florida, the Jupiter-based utility’s $206.1 million share could mean an extra $2.40-a-month on average, or $28.80 annually, to encourage the use of alternate sources to oil-, gas-, coal-, or nuclear power.

Supporters said the move will create jobs in the burgeoning renewable industry. Critics said the extra charge is a giveaway, especially to FPL which last year was denied most of a $1.25 billion rate hike by the Florida Public Service Commission.

“I’m just concerned about that level of unregulated choice by IOUs. That doesn’t strike me as the way the Senate wants to be,” Alexander said.

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