BY BRENDAN FARRINGTON, TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The hoopla and optimistic speeches surrounding the start of Florida’s annual 60-day legislative session are over, and lawmakers now head into their second week with a list of nearly 3,400 bills to consider before going home May 3.
The one that will get the most attention next week is a bill to repeal Florida’s ban on smokable medical marijuana — part of what is often called the “no smoke is a joke” campaign. It really wasn’t on the session agenda until Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis gave lawmakers an ultimatum in late January: either get rid of the ban, or he’ll let the courts do it.
There are few things Republican lawmakers hate more than judges striking down laws they put on the books, so while some don’t like the idea of doctors letting patients smoke their medical marijuana, they probably won’t like the idea of a judges doing so even more.
The Senate passed a bill Thursday that repeals the ban, and now the House takes up that legislation Wednesday. It’s the first major action by lawmakers this year, largely because DeSantis gave them a mid-March deadline to get it done.
Here’s the background: Voters overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana in 2017. The Republican-dominated Legislature wasn’t entirely on board, so when it implemented the law, lawmakers included restrictions like the smokable pot ban. Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill, but trial lawyer John Morgan, who led the effort to legalize medical marijuana, sued to overturn the ban and won. Scott, who is now a U.S. senator, appealed the decision and the case is still pending. DeSantis is now threatening to drop the appeal if lawmakers don’t take action, saying that the smoking ban doesn’t reflect the will of voters.
There are differences in the House and Senate bills, and those will have to be resolved quickly if lawmakers want to meet DeSantis’ deadline. The Senate bill would allow children to smoke medical marijuana if they are terminally ill and if two doctors, including a pediatrician, give their approval. The House bill currently bans smokable medical marijuana for anyone under 18 in any circumstance. The House bill also mandates that smokable pot can only be given to patients in pre-rolled cigarettes, and the Senate bill only states that pre-rolled cigarettes have to be available, but they’re an option and not a mandate.
Among other topics sure to get attention next week: A proposed ban on fracking and a bill that would prohibit so-called sanctuary cities.
The ban on fracking was set for a vote last week in the Senate Agriculture Committee but time ran out because several dozen people wanted to let senators know their opinion of the bill.
Environmentalists oppose the proposal because of a loophole they say would allow a particular form of fracking called matrix acidization that is a threat to underground water.
Proponents said the technique is mainly used for well cleanup, but opponents said it could easily be converted into a fracking method to produce oil and natural gas by dissolving rock. The measure is scheduled for a committee vote Monday.
Republican Sen. Joe Gruters is also taking an immigration bill to its second Senate stop. It’s guaranteed to pack the room when the Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee takes it up on Tuesday.
The bill would require Florida law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal authorities that enforce immigration laws and ban so-called sanctuary policies practiced by local governments.
Gruters says the bill is simply a matter of following the law and protecting public safety. But advocates for immigrants believe it could be abused by law enforcement and that immigrants in the country illegally could face deportation for something as simple as a traffic violation.
Among other items up in committee next week is a bill that would make it illegal to text or email nude photos of someone to a third party without the permission from the naked individual. It’s an expansion of the so-called revenge porn law that makes it illegal to post compromising images of people online without their consent.
AP writer Curt Anderson contributed to this report.
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