Questions Raised About Proposed Pot Rule

By on March 2nd, 2015 | Last updated: March 2, 2015 at 5:43 pm

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, February 27, 2015 — A lawyer for the Legislature is questioning the Department of Health’s proposed medical-marijuana rule, slated for a public vetting on Monday.

The top lawyer for the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee raised concerns this week about a variety of issues, including a scoring system proposal to decide “dispensing organizations” that will grow, process and distribute the non-euphoric marijuana legalized last year.

The proposal under scrutiny is the department’s second stab at creating a framework for types of cannabis that are low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD, authorized by the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott last year for patients who suffer from severe spasms or cancer. An administrative law judge tossed the department’s first attempt at a rule, finding fault with a proposed lottery to choose five nurseries across the state to kick off Florida’s pot industry.

The latest plan, issued after a rare “negotiated rule” workshop last month, replaces the lottery with a scoring system. The weighted scorecard would rate applicants based on cultivation (30 percent), processing (30 percent), dispensing (15 percent), financials (20 percent) and medical director (5 percent).

But, in a 14-page letter Thursday to the health department’s Office of Compassionate Use Director Patricia Nelson, the legislative committee’s chief attorney, Marjorie Holladay, suggested that the proposed scoring system is too vague.

“It does not appear that part III of the application contains any ascertainable minimum thresholds or standards to demonstrate each item,” Holladay wrote.

Under the law, five nurseries that have been in business for 30 years or longer and cultivate at least 400,000 plants would be eligible to apply for licenses in five regions.

But Holladay’s letter also requested an explanation of the department’s decision to allow “dispensing organizations” to grow the product in one place, process it in another and distribute it in other locations, the same issue that prompted a request for a hearing Monday on the proposed rule.

The Joint Administrative Procedures Committee plays a key role in overseeing state regulations and frequently requests more information when new rules are proposed. Two months before Administrative Law Judge W. David Watkins struck down the original proposal in November, Holladay sent health officials a similar inquiry.

In Thursday’s letter, she also asked why health officials are asking applicants to provide information about their relationships with independent laboratories because nothing in the proposed rule requires testing, an expensive process that could raise the cost imposed by the rule, another issue brought up by Holladay.

Florida law requires legislative approval of rules if regulatory costs for all the businesses that participate in the program exceed $200,000 in one year, or $1 million over five years. At last month’s negotiating session, the 12-member panel, hand-picked by health officials, went to great lengths to eliminate costs directly associated with the rule, instead embedding them into the application.

The committee estimated that 15 nurseries would apply for the licenses, bringing the cumulative cost of the rule to just under $1 million.

But the proposal does not address how much the biannual renewal fee would be, Holladay noted.

“Depending on the amount of this fee, the statutory threshold for legislative ratification could be triggered, especially because there will be three renewal fees to be paid by the five dispensing organizations seeking renewal within five years after implementation of the rule,” Holladay wrote.

Health officials had wanted to avoid legislative approval in order to get the product to eligible patients sooner. The law had required the department to have selected the five dispensing organizations by Jan. 1 of this year, but the legal challenge created a delay.

Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Rob Bradley, whose panel is expected to take up other medical-medical marijuana legislation this session and who was instrumental in passage of the low-THC measure last year, said he wants the issue resolved.

“If it’s required, it needs to be done,” Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said.



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In The News: Trial Begins Over ACLU, Rubio Presidential Run, Flagler College Has New Scholarship, Hearing For Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, New Rules Manatee Protections

By and on March 2nd, 2015 | Last updated: March 2, 2015 at 10:26 am
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FWC Hosts First Statewide Nonnative Fish Catch

By on February 27th, 2015 | Last updated: February 27, 2015 at 3:18 pm

A Mayan cichlid, caught by John Petersen, a participant of the Nonnative Fish Catch, Click and Submit Contest, measures about six and a half inches. These fish are part of a long list of invasive species that disrupt the natural state of Florida’s native fish population. Photo courtesy of John Petersen.

Sometimes Florida biologists like to see a fish out of water.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is hosting Florida’s first statewide nonnative fish catch to reduce the growing population of troublesome fish species in the state’s waterways.

The Nonnative Fish Catch, Click and Submit Contest, which will last until March 1, involves catching nonnative fish, photographing them and submitting the photos to the FWC.

The contest is open to all licensed fishers in Florida and extends to all legal, freshwater fishing areas in the state.

The contest is a part of National Invasive Species Awareness week taking place Feb. 22-28. It focuses on educating people about the invasive plants and animals that disrupt natural ecosystems.

Kelly Gestring, a biologist at the FWC, said that there are only so many fish that biologists can find and capture on their own.

“Florida is a very big state and has an awful lot of water in it, and there are many places which are not frequently sampled by fish biologists,” Gestring said.

Nonnative fish act as invasive competitors against the native populations. They can steal resources, spread disease and prey on native fish, according to Gestring.

John Petersen, a contest participant, sees this kind of habitat destruction happening in his backyard.

He said he has seen a huge increase in the number of nonnative fish that he reels in over the past two or three years.

The most common invader in Florida is the sailfin catfish. It’s well known among biologists for its tendency to make large burrows on the banks of rivers that contribute to shoreline erosion, according to Gestring.

John Petersen lines up his bounty of invasive fish for the FWC's Nonnative Fish Catch, Click and Submit Contest. The Mayan cichlid is one of the many invasive species whose population increase is becoming a problem for the native habitats of Florida.

John Petersen lines the invasive fish he caught after only two hours of fishing for FWC’s Nonnative Fish Catch, Click and Submit contest. The Mayan cichlid is one of the many invasive species whose population increase is becoming a problem for the native habitats of Florida. Photo courtesy of John Petersen.

“I see those sailfin cats all the time and they’re just tearing things up,” Petersen said.

Blue tilapia and Mayan cichlids are also invasive species that are starting to affect native fish habitats across the state. 

Petersen said that lately, he hooks about six Mayan cichlids and only one native fish, like the blue gill, when he’s on the water.

The Nonnative Fish Catch, Click and Submit Contest hopes to help solve this problem through involvement, awareness and education.

“I wish [the contest] would run year-round,” Petersen said.

Gestring hopes to see hundreds, if not thousands, of reports coming into the FWC from participants submitting their exotic catches.

“You know, we sure wish the fish weren’t here,” Gestring said. “And part of what we try to do is develop ways in which folks can utilize these unwanted species and that’s part of the essence behind the contest.”

While people can play a big role in removing these species, they are also part of the problem. 

Pet owners who dump unwanted fish into lakes and rivers are a major contributor to the rise in invasive fish species, Gestring said.

“That’s very problematic because of the interconnectedness of our state’s water bodies,” he said. “There’s thousands of miles of canals that are connected to one another.”

Liz Barraco, spokeswoman for the FWC, said the event is about raising awareness of the nonnative fish and the issues they cause in Florida.

“People who are out there participating in activities and recreation,” Barraco said. “I think it’s important for them to know what’s happening in the ecosystem around them.”

Those interested can register at http://www.eddmaps.org/ and view the contest rules and prizes at http://www.floridainvasives.org/CatchClickSubmit/index.cfm.

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In The News: Legislature Considers Statewide Ban On Ivory, Senate Panel Votes To Confirm Loretta Lynch Attorney General, Facebook Adds Gender Options For Users, Entire House Stolen In Oregon

By on February 27th, 2015 | Last updated: February 27, 2015 at 3:45 pm
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Feb. 27, 2015: Afternoon News In 90

By on February 27th, 2015 | Last updated: February 27, 2015 at 3:35 pm

Andrew Briz produced this update. 

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Jazz Band, Street Fair Draw Crowd To Downtown Gainesville For Frank Conference

By on February 27th, 2015 | Last updated: February 27, 2015 at 3:42 pm

New Orleans visited Gainesville Thursday evening.

Part of the frank 2015 conference, which annually gathers speakers from the communication fields and puts on various events for the community, the downtown street fair featured local food trucks and live performances from Flat Land and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The street fair was free and open to the public to bring lawn chairs and enjoy the cool weather. This came after a day of speaking with authors, journalists and filmmakers, among other special guests.

Kerry Leslie flew from San Francisco, California, to attend the public communications interest conference. Leslie said she liked the idea of the street fair.

“It’s an opportunity to network and continue conversations started at the conference,” Leslie said.

At about 8 p.m., the Preservation Jazz Band took the stage. Soon, couples were dancing on the sidewalks. At one point, the band led the crowd in an a cappella version of “You Are My Sunshine.”

Originally from New Orleans, the band plays regularly at its home venue, Preservation Hall.

Gia Monteleone, the tour coordinator for the Preservation Jazz Band, said the band does a variety of shows.

“We do a lot of festivals, and this kind of feels like a festival,” she said.

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Siembra Farm Encourages Sustainability Through Local Community Food System

By on February 27th, 2015 | Last updated: February 27, 2015 at 4:15 pm

Cody Galligan walked between the low levels of dirt that separated rows of plotted seeds and plants. His hands grasped the edges of white plastic and lifted them to reveal sprouting vegetables.

About 15 minutes away from the University of Florida campus is Siembra Farm, a small, family-owned farm that produces organic food. Hosted by the Gator Community Supported Agriculture program at the Office of Sustainability at the University of Florida, Siembra Farm prioritizes sustainable farming techniques.

The community supported agriculture (CSA) program, launched in 2010 at UF, minimizes the miles that food travels by asking local consumers to pay a given amount of money at the beginning of the season on Nov. 1 to the end of June. In turn, the consumers are able to harvest crops directly from the farm once they are grown.

“It’s something that all people of the world can do, not just the top 1 percent,” Galligan said. The 35-year-old farmer, who co-owns Siembra Farm with his wife, Veronica Robleto, said he believes that one way sustainability can be achieved is through localizing purchases.

Eating food that is grown in the immediate area and is in season are ways to be sustainable, Galligan said.

“You are eating things that are easy to grow and easy to transport to where you are,” he said. “You’re not eating apples from New Zealand or tomatoes from Peru.”

Allison Vitt, the outreach and communications coordinator at the Office of Sustainability, said she agrees that buying locally grown food is a good way to practice sustainability.

It supports local business and lessens transportation that results in carbon emissions, she said.

“Former UF president Bernie Machen really put this goal for us to be a carbon-neutral campus by 2025,” she said. “We’re really trying to work to reduce our carbon impact.”

Galligan said buying local produce does more than decrease the carbon footprint.

“Your money is returning to your community instead of dropping that money to Walmart,” he said. “When you give me your money for your CSA, the more we keep the money in the community, the more it benefits everyone. If that money stays in your community, it’s probably going to make its way back to you.”

Jennifer Ramsey, a 42-year-old volunteer, manages local produce. She said she hopes the word about CSA will spread more throughout campus and the community.

About 1.1 percent of Florida residents purchase food through CSA organizations, according to a project done by the Florida Specialty Crop Foundation.

Ramsey said when he tells people he delivers CSA, they might not understand what that means.

“When the word gets out more, and people know what CSA is, then it’s kind of cool,” he said.

Ramsey helps Galligan load pickups for the Union Street Farmers Market, which is open Wednesdays from 4 to 7 p.m. in downtown Gainesville.

“Having that space helps [us] have a direct relationship with the consumer,” Galligan said. “It keeps farming sustainable and accessible for people who don’t have time to go out to a farm.”

Galligan suggests students join the CSA to become more involved with sustainability and encourages supporting the local environment and community by going to the farmers market.

“To say it’s sustainable means that we can all do it,” he said.

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Oakleaf Overpass Closed During Culvert Construction

By on February 27th, 2015 | Last updated: February 27, 2015 at 11:04 am

A routine inspection of a Clay County culvert found deteriorations that caused the immediate closure of the Oakleaf overpass on Plantation Oaks Boulevard on Jan. 29, affecting thousands who use it every day.

The Oakleaf overpass in Clay County was closed Jan. 29 due to inspectors from the Florida Department of Transportation finding deteriorations in the culvert underneath. Hundreds of drivers and students now have to find alternate routes and combat about 15 minutes of added traffic.

The Oakleaf overpass in Clay County was closed Jan. 29 due to inspectors from the Florida Department of Transportation finding deteriorations in the culvert underneath. Hundreds of drivers and students now have to find alternate routes and combat about 15 minutes of added traffic. Tenley Ross / WUFT

The culvert, a concrete tunnel that runs water under the road, was built by developers east of State Road 23 in 2002. Both the culvert and the overpass are maintained by the Florida Department of Transportation because they are located near State Road 23.

Although the overpass is not damaged, the weight of cars driving on it could affect the culvert underneath, FDOT spokeswoman Gina Busscher said. The original materials used to build it were not right, she also said.

Construction began Feb. 5 after Superior Construction Company Southeast was awarded a $1.2 million contract to repair the culvert within 60 days. There is a financial incentive to complete the project in 45 days or less.

Construction workers from Superior Construction Company Southeast work on replacing the culvert underneath the Oakleaf overpass in Clay County on Wednesday, Feb. 11.

Construction workers from Superior Construction Company Southeast work on replacing the culvert underneath the Oakleaf overpass in Clay County on Wednesday, Feb. 11. Gina Busscher / FDOT

Contractors pulled up the old three-tunnel-wide culvert and completely replaced it. They then poured concrete over the surface and leveled it out.

As of Feb. 20, project manager Gene Howard said the project was about 75 percent complete and is expected to be finished in three weeks. The newly constructed concrete cast adheres to FDOT standards.

Howard said the culvert was in place for only 12 years when FDOT inspectors found problems with it. He hadn’t ever seen one deteriorate so quickly. Water was found inside and they had to tear it out, he said.

“The bottom of the top slab was falling off,” Howard said. “If it had continued to deteriorate, the culvert could have collapsed.”

Fazil Najafi, a University of Florida expert in construction management, said the life of a culvert spans about 20 to 30 years, and many factors can contribute to its deterioration, especially the maintenance and surrounding soil. It needs to be checked regularly just like a car, he said.

“If contractors put materials that are lousy, it must be taken care of before its completely destroyed,” Najafi said.

FDOT inspects state-owned bridges every two years. Weather conditions and salt water can cause them to gradually lose strength over the years, FDOT spokesman Ron Tittle said. Those factors can deteriorate the concrete and steel.

Ross Hammock, engineers section manager of the District 2 bridge maintenance office, said he thinks a culvert’s environment could affect it, but he isn’t sure what caused such a quick deterioration.

If steel is exposed, rust forms and causes expansion. Once it expands, concrete starts to crack. Heavy vehicles can put stress on it, but the Oakleaf overpass doesn’t see heavy trucks. Hammock thinks the problem has more of an environmental explanation. Acidic soil could be possible, he said.

Samples of the old culvert are being investigated by the State Materials Office. The deterioration could be due to corrosion of structural steel, he said, but it may be a while before the information is released.

The inspection reports from FDOT are not public records and the exact deficiencies were redacted from the report, Tittle said.

“State Road 23 is not typical,” Hammock said. “Without the investigation being complete, we don’t know what happened.”

For the thousands who use the overpass every day, the construction’s completion could not come soon enough.

Construction workers from Superior Construction Company Southeast work on replacing the culvert underneath the Oakleaf overpass in Clay County on Thursday, Feb 12.

Construction workers from Superior Construction Company Southeast work on replacing the culvert underneath the Oakleaf overpass in Clay County on Thursday, Feb 12. Gina Busscher / FDOT

Jacksonville resident Thiara Colombani took the Oakleaf overpass on her daily commute until it was shut down. Her daughter attends school on Knight Boxx Road, but Colombani still ends up driving through Argyle Forest Boulevard and State Road 23.

The added traffic due to the overpass closure puts her behind about 15 minutes, if not more, most days.

“It definitely makes it harder for my commute,” Colombani said.

Nate Warmouth, an assistant principal at Oakleaf High School, said the adjustment has been a nightmare, but the school district is providing students, who used to walk the overpass, with a shuttle system. It picks them up at 6:50 a.m from the Oakleaf Athletic Fields East.

Four bus routes also pick students up 15 minutes earlier and the school adjusted class schedules to be flexible with the students’ tardies.

Mika Garcia, 16, is one of thousands of students from the three schools who are affected by the construction’s detour. She lives about a mile away from Oakleaf High School and used to think waking up at 5:45 a.m was early. Now she has to leave by 6:15 a.m. to make it in time for first period at 7:20 a.m. She said she just wants the culvert to be fixed.

Instead of taking the Oakleaf overpass on Plantation Oaks BoulevardGarcia’s mother must now drive through Oakleaf Village Parkway to Boulevard continue on to Oakleaf Plantation Parkway and go around the roundabout to head to Plantation Oaks Boulevard.

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Trial Date Set For ACLU, Lake County School’s Gay-Straight Alliance Case

By on February 27th, 2015 | Last updated: February 27, 2015 at 11:08 am

A federal judge has set a trial date for a lawsuit challenging the Lake County School Board’s refusal to allow students to form a gay-straight alliance at Carver Middle School in Leesburg, Florida.

The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida in December 2014 on behalf of a group of students who attend the middle school.

The suit challenges the board’s refusal to allow the formation of the club, stating it is a violation of the students’ rights.

Gay-Straight Alliances are student organizations made up of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and their straight allies who advocate for an end to bullying, harassment and discrimination.

Daniel Tilley, a staff attorney for LGBT rights at the ACLU of Florida who will represent the organization, spoke with WUFT News.

Sherri Owens, communications officer for Lake County Schools, responded in an email declining to comment at this time, saying, “With the trial coming up in just a few days, I don’t think the timing is appropriate for us to discuss the case.”

The trial will begin March 2 at the U.S. District Court in Ocala, Florida.

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Feb. 27, 2015: Morning News In 90

By on February 27th, 2015 | Last updated: February 27, 2015 at 11:32 am

Kelly Audette produced this update.

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