BROWARD COUNTY, FL - Broward County Commissioners today choose Vice Mayor/Commissioner Marty Kiar to serve as Mayor and Commissioner Barbara Sharief to serve as Vice Mayor.
"I'm am declaring this the 'Year of Good News' in Broward County," said Mayor Kiar. "During this year I hope that each Commissioner will choose to highlight those who are doing good things in Broward. We will also showcase the good services of Broward County."
Mayor Kiar was born in Pembroke Pines and is a lifelong resident of Broward County. In 2006, Kiar was elected to serve in the Florida House of Representatives. He was re-elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2008 and in 2010. In 2012, Kiar was elected to the Broward County Commission and served as Vice Mayor this past year.
Commissioners selected Barbara Sharief to serve as Vice Mayor. Sharief served as Broward Mayor in 2014 and was the first African American female to serve as Mayor. She also served Vice Mayor in 2013. Sharief was born in South Florida and raised in Broward County.
In the 2015 State of the County Address outgoing Mayor Tim Ryan said that Broward County is "running on all cylinders." He noted that Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport and Broward parks and libraries were operating effectively, providing residents and visitors with great service and programs.
Major accomplishments this year included the 20th Anniversary of Broward County's Human Rights Ordinance, "which remains a model for the state," said Ryan. Expansion of the Domestic Partnership Ordinance, passage of an expanded Living Wage Ordinance, a new Broward Animal Care Shelter and progress toward becoming a "no-kill" shelter were among the highlights of the Commission.
"There are also two key accomplishments we made this year. Upgrading our traffic signalization system is one and expanding our libraries back to six days a week," said Ryan.
Broward County also celebrated its 100th birthday this year with a series of Centennial community celebrations.
"I'm grateful for the trust and respect that you have given me in this past year," Ryan told his fellow Commissioners. "I look forward to the year ahead under our new Mayor."
The Broward County Charter stipulates that Commissioners, elected from single member districts, vote annually in November for the position of Mayor and Vice Mayor.
With a constitutional amendment that would legalize medical marijuana looming for next year's ballot, some Florida legislators are floating proposals that would expand on a limited pot law that's almost a year behind schedule.
One measure --- backed by sponsors of the 2014 law that authorized non-euphoric marijuana, commonly known as "Charlotte's Web" --- would allow terminally ill patients to use full-strength medical marijuana. House and Senate committees are slated to give the proposal a first vetting .
Another bill would make medical marijuana legal for patients with illnesses ranging from epilepsy to Parkinson's disease. That bill largely mirrors a constitutional proposal that likely will be on the November 2016 ballot after getting narrowly rejected by voters last year.
Sen. Rob Bradley, who was instrumental in passage of the 2014 law that authorized non-euphoric marijuana for patients with severe muscle spasms or cancer, is hoping to add pot into the mix of Florida's "Right to Try" law, approved earlier this year. The law allows terminally ill patients to have access to experimental drugs not approved for general use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Bradley insists that his proposal (SB 460) has nothing to do with a second attempt by the group People United for Medical Marijuana, more commonly known as "United for Care," to pass a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for a broad swath of patients with certain illnesses or symptoms.
"As I've consistently said, I really think this is an issue that is particularly suited for the Legislature to deal with rather than the constitutional amendment process," Bradley, R-Fleming Island, told The News Service of Florida. "That being said, I'm not filing this bill as a political reaction to the debate over the constitutional amendment. I'm filing this bill because, ever since we did the Charlotte's Web legislation, I've been contacted by constituents of mine who are concerned about the issue. I'm talking about from the far-right conservatives to the liberals in my district. This goes way beyond politics."
But it's the second time Republican lawmakers --- who have historically failed to take up marijuana-related bills --- are considering pot legislation with a constitutional amendment on the horizon, following passage of the limited measure last year.
The Senate Health Policy Committee is scheduled to take up Bradley's bill. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee will take up the House version (HB 307), sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, and Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation.
Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, is reviving a broader attempt to legalize medical marijuana for a variety of illnesses and symptoms.
Brandes, who sponsored a similar proposal that failed to gain traction earlier this year, openly admits that his plan --- which also includes a regulatory overhaul for the marijuana industry --- would offset the ballot initiative.
"At the end of the day, everyone recognizes that there's going to be a constitutional amendment, that it's likely to pass, and that they would like to show some legislative leadership versus being told by the Constitution what they must do," Brandes told the News Service .
Some lawmakers point to problems in other states as reasons why Florida should shun a broad-based approach to medical marijuana, but Brandes shrugged off such "slippery slope" arguments.
"We're not going down the slope. We're there. We have a constitutional amendment that missed by less than 3 percent of the vote last year and that was a non-presidential year. Now you're going to have it in a presidential year, and everyone thinks it's going to pass," he said. "So it's either you pass my bill, or you deal with it during the next legislative session under a constitutional amendment."
United for Care campaign manager Ben Pollara praised Brandes' bill, but said that ailing Floridians can't rely on lawmakers. Backers of the proposed amendment are awaiting Florida Supreme Court approval of the ballot wording and need to submit about 340,000 more valid petition signatures to the state.
"Unfortunately, the Legislature has proved itself to be incapable of passing a comprehensive law such as Sen. Brandes has now filed for a second time. The only way to truly ensure a strong medical marijuana law in Florida is by taking it to the voters again in 2016," Pollara said.
The latest proposals come amid intensifying dissatisfaction with the Department of Health's handling of last year's law, which authorized the use of types of cannabis low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD, for certain patients. Parents of children with severe forms of epilepsy pushed lawmakers to approve the low-THC cannabis, believing it can end or dramatically reduce life-threatening seizures.
Under the law, doctors were supposed to begin ordering the marijuana for patients on . But, because of legal challenges, health officials have yet to select five dispensing organizations that will grow, process and dispense the low-THC products across the state.
Bradley said health officials recently told him and Gaetz, the House sponsor, that the department was "weeks away" from awarding the licenses.
"I just don't understand the problem. And I don't understand why it's so difficult to get information on this matter. I'm very, very frustrated," said Bradley, whose new proposal would allow the five licensees to also cultivate, process and distribute the higher-THC marijuana for terminally ill patients. "These families had a right to this substance a long time ago and they deserve answers. At some point, it's just empty words until something happens."
Concerns about the process could affect Surgeon General John Armstrong, who needs Senate confirmation to keep his job.
"We're going to continue to exercise our oversight capacity, and the Senate has been certainly very serious about holding department secretaries to account across the board," Bradley said.
When asked if Armstrong's confirmation could be in jeopardy, Bradley said, "If we roll into session and there is not significant progress on this issue --- and by that I mean that we have awarded licenses --- then my answer to you is yes."
But, for Brandes, the problem rests not with the health agency's Office of Compassionate Use --- which has had three directors in less than a year --- but with the regulatory framework, which he believes will hamstring any efforts at expansion.
His proposal (SB 852) would do away with the limit on dispensing organizations but would restrict the number of retail locations in a county based on population, with a maximum of one dispensary for each 50,000 residents.
"What we've done is create a regulatory structure that's broken from day one," Brandes said. "The Charlotte's Web regulatory structure is for five licensees statewide. That regulatory structure does not go to scale. You can't just have five producers, and think that you can start adding illnesses."
By DARA KAM
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
A Leon County judge quickly rejected a Florida Senate request to bring in an outside expert to redraw the Senate's 40 districts.
Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds III, who turned down the Senate proposal during a 30-minute hearing conducted over the phone, said there wasn't enough time remaining to bring in a "special master" to help draw new district lines.
County supervisors of elections await new lines as they prepare for the 2016 elections, and a court hearing on the Senate map is scheduled for Reynolds held a hearing just a day after the Senate proposed using a special master.
"It appears to me that we just don't have enough time left to engage in any process other than the one we're currently on," Reynolds said. "I think that ship has sailed, and we're on the sea, and we hope to hit land sometime by the end of December."
The Senate and voting-rights organizations including the League of Women Voters and Common Cause have until to submit proposed Senate maps. A special legislative session collapsed last week when the House and Senate couldn't agree on a plan to redraw Senate districts.
Raoul Cantero, a former Florida Supreme Court justice who represents the Senate in redistricting litigation, argued before Reynolds that bringing in a "neutral" outside expert to help the court redraw the map would be the "most reasonable and cost efficient" way to move forward.
"I believe it would give the public the greater confidence that whatever plan is adopted for the state Senate districts for the state of Florida is a neutrally drawn map," Cantero said.
But David King, an attorney for the voting-rights organizations that challenged the current Senate and congressional districts in court, refused to concede that the Senate's three recommended experts were neutral and called the Senate proposal "a diversion."
King added that the request could add as much as six months to the process of getting new districts in place. The qualifying period for candidates to run for the Legislature in 2016 is . King also questioned the Senate's concern about cost.
"That's an amazing recognition on behalf of the Legislature, as the clock is about to strike , and after they've spent $11 million defending their unconstitutional maps, with six weeks to the finish line," King said. "We're going to have to have a trial regardless of how we get to that point. But they're not going to save any money with this kind of approach."
The redistricting legal battle, and another over the congressional lines, stem from voter approval in 2010 of the anti-gerrymandering "Fair Districts" standards.
The Florida Supreme Court this summer ruled that current congressional districts did not comply with the standards, leading lawmakers to hold a special session in August. When the House and Senate were unable to reach agreement on a plan, the map-drawing process went to another Leon County circuit judge, Terry Lewis, who has recommended a congressional map to the Supreme Court.
After the Supreme Court invalidated the current congressional districts, the Legislature and the voting-rights groups reached a settlement that acknowledged current Senate districts also likely would not be upheld. That led to the special session that ended in failure last week, kicking the issue to Reynolds.
By JIM TURNER
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
Saying the move would save time and money in the search for a constitutional redistricting plan, the Florida Senate asked a Leon County judge to appoint an outside expert to draw a map of the chamber's 40 districts.
If the judge agrees to the Senate's request, it would essentially kill off the maps floated in a special redistricting session that collapsed last week after a proposed plan drawn by the House was voted down by the Senate. That was the second redistricting session this year to end in failure, after one held in August produced no agreement on congressional districts.
Under the new Senate proposal, a "special master," as such experts are known in the courts, would be charged with drawing a Senate map that follows a voter-approved ban on political gerrymandering.
The special master would also be dramatically different from a process that another Leon County judge used to sort out the congressional redistricting mess. Circuit Judge Terry Lewis considered seven maps from the House, Senate, voting-rights organizations and a group of voters supported by the Florida Democratic Party.
Lewis eventually recommended a congressional map drawn by the voting-rights organizations. That plan is now being considered by the Florida Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in the case .
A hearing on the Senate map is scheduled for in front of Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds, who issued an order setting procedural deadlines that did not mention the Senate's request.
In its filing lawyers for the Senate argued that a one-day hearing would be enough if Reynolds names a special master.
"The appointment of a consultant would streamline this litigation and reduce the burden to the parties and Florida's taxpayers by eliminating the need for costly discovery and a five-day evidentiary hearing," the lawyers wrote. "It would also eliminate any suspicion that the adopted map was laden with improper intent."
The Senate also argued that the map's challengers "have a demonstrated history of asking courts to adopt a redistricting map drawn with improper intent," a reference to congressional maps considered by Lewis that were drawn by employees of consulting firms aligned with Democrats.
The Senate asked Reynolds to appoint a master by the same day parties are supposed to submit proposed Senate maps to the court.
According to the filing, the House hasn't taken a position on the request for a special master. In a statement issuedHouse Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said his chamber would defer to the Senate.
"Without a legislatively approved map, the issue will now return to the courts," Crisafulli said. "During the legal proceedings, the House intends once again to defer as much as possible to the Senate. The House has fulfilled its duty to the extent we can."
But a lawyer for the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida, which have led the legal challenges, told Reynolds in a letter that the organizations don't agree with the idea of a special master.
"We do not believe appointment of an expert consultant to draw the remedial Senate map in lieu of a remedial trial is appropriate, and will be pleased share with the court our views on that issue when the court considers the Senate's motion," attorney David King wrote.
If the court does agree to the Senate's motion, the chamber recommended three experts: Nathaniel Persily, a professor at the Stanford Law School who has served as a special master in New York, Connecticut, Georgia and Maryland; Bernard Grofman, a political science professor at the University of California, Irvine, who has also served as a special master in New York and Georgia and has been a consultant on other cases; and Theodore Arrington, a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte who now lives in New Mexico.
Arrington, who was a consultant for Common Cause Florida in a 1992 redistricting case, said in a resume filed with the court that he was involved in Republican politics in three states in the 1960s and 1970s. But he said he is registered as a Democrat in New Mexico because the state doesn't allow independents to vote in primaries "and the Democrats are dominant in New Mexico."
The redistricting legal battles stem from voter approval in 2010 of the anti-gerrymandering "Fair Districts" standards.
The Florida Supreme Court this summer ruled that current congressional districts did not comply with the standards, leading lawmakers to hold a special session in August. When the House and Senate were unable to reach agreement on a plan, the map-drawing process went to Lewis, who sent his recommendation to the Supreme Court.
After the Supreme Court invalidated the current congressional districts, the Legislature and the voting-rights groups reached a settlement that acknowledged current Senate districts also likely would not be upheld. That led to the special session that ended in failure last week.
By BRANDON LARRABEE
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
LeadingAge Florida and the Florida Life Care Residents Association will hold a workshop to try to boost grassroots advocacy heading into the 2016 legislative session. Lawmakers expected to attend include Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana; Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami; Rep. Gwyn Clarke-Reed, D-Deerfield Beach; Rep.Shevrin, Jones, D-West Park; and Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale. (, John Knox Village of Florida, 651 S.W. Sixth St., Pompano Beach.)
Broward County Commissioners have passed a new ordinance that gives law enforcement officers the option of issuing a civil citation to anyone caught with twenty grams or less of marijuana, instead of making an arrest.
"Eighty percent of people arrested for marijuana possession are never convicted, yet an arrest can ruin their lives. This simply gives people another chance at life," said Vice Mayor Marty Kiar, who brought the ordinance forward. "There's a fiscal component too, because after an arrest people go to jail, often lose their jobs and their ability to provide for their families and in the end, taxpayers pay for that."
"We're not taking away the option for an officer to make an arrest. It's up to a trained law enforcement officer to decide if the situation warrants an arrest or a civil citation," said Mayor Tim Ryan.
The civil citation carries a $100 fine for the first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for a third. Those given citations would have a choice of paying the fine, performing community service, or can voluntarily participate in a drug treatment or educational program. After a third citation, an assessment would be mandatory to determine if the person should participate in a drug treatment or educational program. No civil citation would be available for a fourth or subsequent offense.
"This is not a blank check," said Commissioner Lois Wexler. "At some point there has to be a hammer. Some people have to hit rock bottom before they'll go for treatment."
"There has to be a consequence at some point in time for something that is illegal," said Commissioner Stacy Ritter.
"It's important that we not lock people up in jail. It leaves people unproductive because they have a record," said Commissioner Dale V.C. Holness.
"The purpose of a civil citation is to give a person a break. For non-violent offenders to get arrested for a small amount of marijuana possession is ridiculous. I'm in favor of increasing fines with education," said Commissioner Mark Bogen.
"Unless addicts are ready to be helped, it won't make a difference. I'd rather someone go through self-assessment. I don't see this as a crime that should result in a person going to jail," said Commissioner Beam Furr.
Under the county ordinance, civil citations would not be allowed if marijuana is found in conjunction with other crimes such as driving under the influence, any felony, violent crime, domestic violence or outstanding citations.
The new law would be enforceable throughout Broward County unless a city formally elected to opt out of the county ordinance.
Florida law makes possession of twenty grams or less of marijuana a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum jail term of one year and a $1,000 fine.
U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., will speak at an event in Palm Beach County marking the fifth anniversary of Veterans' Court, which provides an alternative approach to handling criminal offenders who have served in the military. (, Criminal Justice Complex, 3228 Gun Club Road, West Palm Beach.
a second consecutive redistricting session fell apart and the Legislature went home yet again without passing a map, lawmakers' message was more or less: We told you so.
Five years ago, with voters set to decide whether to add the anti-gerrymandering "Fair Districts" amendments to the Florida Constitution, legislative leaders argued against it. The standards were unworkable, they argued. Despite language calling for cities and counties to be kept whole, communities that had similar interests could be divided or disregarded. The amendments would lead to endless litigation and could become a quagmire.
And with the collapse this week of a special session called to redraw the 40 state Senate districts, two of the three maps once controlled by the Legislature will instead be selected by the courts. Next week, the Florida Supreme Court will consider whether to accept a Leon County judge's recommendation that a map submitted by voting-rights groups be used for Florida's congressional elections.
"I think the amendments may be unworkable, to be frank with you," said Senate Reapportionment Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, after a bipartisan group of senators rebelled and defeated a House-drawn Senate map that legislative leaders wanted both chambers to adopt.
Not even all Republicans share Galvano's opinion. After all, a state House map drawn in 2012 as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process has not been challenged and will apparently stand until the lines are moved again in 2022.
"This is a difficult process," said House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes. "It's not impossible. It's certainly not ideal."
David King, an attorney for voting-rights organizations that challenged the current Senate and congressional districts in court, blasted lawmakers for their comments about standards that were approved in 2010 with 63 percent of the vote.
"By blaming the amendments, rather than themselves, they are simply perpetuating their opposition to the will of the people and engaging in the very conduct that Florida voters clearly wanted to eliminate from our state," King said.
But lawmakers were already beginning to consider new approaches to drawing lines for the state --- including ideas that Republicans had all but ruled out just weeks ago.
Oliva, who is set to take over as speaker of the House after the 2018 elections, said in the wake of the failed session that he was ready to consider an independent redistricting commission that would recommend maps to the Legislature. The House and Senate also failed to agree on a congressional redistricting plan during an August special session.
"I'm for looking into it, because I certainly think that we need to have maps that aren't disputed halfway into the next Census," Oliva said.
At the same time, he pointed out some of the pitfalls for a commission.
"Where will we get these people?" Oliva asked. "Who will appoint them? Will they have ever ... had a motivation ever during their lifetime? Probably. Could they possibly have had an intent to have an outcome sometime in their lifetime? Probably."
Democrats, who have argued for a commission for months, note that the current system has shown that lawmakers seem to be incapable of drawing lines without considering the political implications.
"These are political animals," said House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach. "Everybody seems to be worried about where they're going to go next, in the Senate, in the House, and you cannot possibly have a system that extricates that political type of thought out of a map process. It's going to be in it."
Some lawmakers were looking in another direction: tweaking the Fair Districts amendments, perhaps to include a provision melding "communities of interest" into the list of standards that have to be considered by map-drawers.
In 2010, during the fight over Fair Districts, legislative leaders tried to add a third redistricting amendment to the ballot --- one that would have allowed them to essentially ignore the proposed standards, known as Amendments 5 and 6, in order to protect minority voting rights and communities of interest.
But the Supreme Court struck that proposed amendment from the ballot, saying the wording of a summary that would have been shown to voters was misleading.
Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, blamed an excessive reliance on compactness scores and other redistricting formulas for the anger displayed by senators who voted down the proposed Senate map . Communities of interest were, Gardiner said, central to many of the arguments that senators made.
"Unfortunately, in the eyes of the court, and in the eyes of Amendments 5 and 6, they are irrelevant," Gardiner said. "And that's the sad part of where we are. It is strictly Reock (one of the redistricting) scores, numbers, and that's the sadness of 5 and 6."
By BRANDON LARRABEE
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
Attorney General Pam Bondi defended Florida's environmental record and called former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg a "billionaire bully" after she became a target of a political committee he's funded. Bondi and three other state attorneys general are the focus of political ads for participating in a multi-state lawsuit that challenges an Obama administration rule aimed at reducing carbon emissions from power plants. The Bloomberg-backed Independence USA PAC launched an ad campaign of at least $10 million criticizing Republicans Bondi, Bill Schuette of Michigan and Brad Schimel of Wisconsin and Missouri Democrat Chris Koster for joining the West Virginia-led lawsuit opposing the White House's Clean Power Plan. "Florida has a great and conscientious track record of improving its air quality and protecting its environment," Bondi said in a prepared statement afternoon. "Now a billionaire bully is attacking Florida, and 26 other states, for having the audacity of defending their citizens against the EPA's heavy-handed and unlawful regulations, which will drastically increase Floridians' power bills --- something this billionaire clearly cares little about." The Bondi ad is online and is slated to air in the Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando markets. Howard Wolfson, senior adviser to Independence USA PAC, said in a conference call with reporters that the targeted attorneys general are in states that are politically competitive. Bondi is characterized in an ad as "siding with big polluters," putting coal industry profits ahead of her constituents. The Clean Power Plan, released by the Environmental Protection Agency in August, sets limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants and is intended to help states reduce dependence on coal and other fossil fuels while increasing cleaner energy sources. The lawsuit was filed Oct. 23 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.