Speaker says state House won’t consider Medicaid expansion this year

James L. Rosica, (@JlRosicaTBO)

For the third year in a row, a Florida House speaker has closed the door on expanding Medicaid in the state even as a coalition of Florida businesses is joining traditional advocates for the poor in urging acceptance of federal dollars to provide some added coverage.

Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican, made clear that the GOP-controlled “House still stands where we stood before: We do not plan to do anything on Medicaid expansion.”

His predecessor as speaker, Wesley Chapel Republican Will Weatherford, similarly refused to consider any expansion that included federal funds.

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Pinellas sheriff who opposed pot amendment backs much of medical marijuana bill

Kristen Mitchell, (@KristenReports)

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, a fierce opponent of the medical marijuana ballot measure in November, says he supports a bill filed this week in the state Legislature to legalize a medicinal form of the drug.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filed the The “Florida Medical Marijuana Act,” on Monday. His bill is more specific about which types of doctors would be allowed to prescribe the drug than was the referendum calling for a state constitutional amendment. That specificity is what led Gualtieri to support Brandes’ proposal, the sheriff said at a news conference Wednesday.

The bill is a starting point, Gualtieri said, but not perfect. The sheriff doesn’t favor a provision allowing marijuana in a smokable form, which he said would lead to social use of the drug.

“Very few people are going to be sitting around on Saturday night thinking, ‘Oh my God, let’s sit here with our strobe lights or whatever and let’s get oil and rub it on our hand,’” he said. “No, they want to smoke it; so if we take smokable off the table, we’re taking the recreational.”

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Gualtieri, who chairs the Florida Sheriffs Task Force and shepherds Florida Sheriffs Association initiatives before the Legislature, said he hopes to work with Brandes to improve the bill. He said he opposed the marijuana amendment not based on the concept but its content.

“Something having to do with medical marijuana doesn’t need to be in the Florida Constitution. It took about $4 million and about 700,000 signatures,” he said. “Anywhere that laws are passed, they don’t always get them right, and sometimes they have to go back and tweak them. There’s no going back, because once it’s in the Constitution, it’s done.”

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Gov. Scott getting ready for trip to Philly

James L. Rosica, (@JLRosicaTBO)

Gov. Rick Scott Wednesday said his scheduled trip to Pennsylvania next month “is all about jobs.”

Scott spoke at the Associated Press legislative planning meeting held in the Capitol before the state Legislature’s annual 60-day session.

Scott’s office has said the newly re-elected Republican governor will follow up on his Jan. 6 inaugural speech call for companies in northern, high-tax states to relocate to Florida.

Scott will first travel to Philadelphia in late February “to meet with job creators and business leaders to discuss why they should … buy a one-way ticket to the Sunshine State.”

His trip will be about getting “companies that are doing business in the state … to move to Florida and add more jobs for Floridians,” he said Wednesday.

“My job … is about jobs, doing everything I can to get more jobs in this state,” the governor said.

Scott said he already had meetings set up with business leaders there, though he wouldn’t say which ones.

In fact, when directly asked which companies he was interested in luring away, he said, “All of ‘em.”

Complaint filed alleging Sunshine Law violations in FDLE firing

Matt Dixon, (@Mdixon55)

St. Petersburg Attorney Matthew D. Weidner filed a complaint Wednesday seeking a criminal probe into allegations the Cabinet violated state open meeting laws when discussing the ouster of Florida’s top cop.

Gov. Rick Scott fired former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey in December without informing the three-member Cabinet, which also oversees the department. Bailey later told the Tampa Times/Miami Herald Capitol Bureau that when he was “forced out” Scott’s former top attorney told him that Cabinet members were aware of the move.

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“This request is based on the statement of Gerald Bailey…who indicated that “he was forced out by Scott and was told by General [Counsel] Pete Antonacci that he had the concurrence of all three Cabinet members,” according to a complaint filed with Tallahassee State Attorney Willie Meggs.

If Cabinet officials spoke with Scott outside of a public meeting, it would be a violation of state Sunshine Laws. Since Bailey’s comments were first reported, Cabinet members, which include CFO Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi, and Agriculture Commissioner Pam Bondi, said Scott’s office did not inform them Bailey was being fired.

Late last week, Meggs said he would not get involved with the case.

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Tax cuts, education among top priorities for House, Senate leadership

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, (@Jenna_Buzzacco)

Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli laid out a 2015 legislative agenda that included a focus on tax cuts, natural resources and education and employment options for people with disabilities.

The roll out of their 2015 work plan – a tradition started a with Sen. Don Gaetz and Rep. Will Weatherford, when they held the same roles – came during the annual pre-legislative session meeting hosted by the Associated Press.

“One of our fundamental beliefs is money is better with the taxpayers than the government,” said Gardiner, R-Orlando.

The work plan 2015 would:

  • Provide tax relief through tax cuts
  • Create a path to economic independence for people with “unique abilities” through postsecondary designation programs serving students with disabilities, expanding policy guidelines and increase personal learning scholarship accounts; and create financial literacy programs designed to help people with development disabilities participate in the economy independently
  • Develop a plan for statewide funding and policy strategy for water and natural resources
  • Promote adoptions by restoring an adoption subsidy program for state and local government employees
  • Boost Florida’s investment in K-12 and higher education by increasing per-pupil funding, keeping higher education affordable and increasing performance funding for universities.

Gardiner and Crisafulli said both chambers will also take a look at the statewide assessment system. Crisafulli said House and Senate leaders are aware of concerns over the assessments.

“I have a message … we hear you, we you very clearly,” said Crisafulli. “We will make appropriate reforms, while still continuing to get a first rate education.”