With Floridians poised to vote this fall on broad legalization of medical marijuana, Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed a bill that will allow terminally ill patients to have access to marijuana as they try to ease suffering.
The bill, which lawmakers approved this month, was one of 68 measures that Scott signed into law Friday. He also vetoed one bill dealing with a utility in Alachua County.
Scott did not issue a comment on the medical-marijuana bill (HB 307), but House sponsor Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, went on Twitter to say the governor showed "heart & compassion" by signing the measure.
The bill expands a 2015 law known as the "Right to Try Act" to include medical marijuana. That law allows terminally ill patients to have access to experimental drugs that have not been approved for general use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Along with making marijuana available to dying patients, the bill also seeks to address long-running problems in carrying out a 2014 cannabis law that was primarily billed as a way to help children with severe forms of epilepsy. That law was supposed to make available forms of cannabis that do not get users high —- but administrative issues and legal challenges have prevented patients from getting access to the substances.
The 2014 law and the newly signed bill are far narrower than the legalization proposal that will go on the November ballot. That proposed constitutional amendment, spearheaded by prominent Orlando attorney John Morgan, would allow patients with a wide variety of medical conditions to use full-strength marijuana if they get physician approval. Examples of those conditions include cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, post-traumatic stress disorder, Crohn's disease and Parkinson's disease.
A similar ballot initiative in 2014 fell short of the required 60 percent voter approval for proposed constitutional amendments.
The 68 bills signed into law Friday were part of 111 measures that Scott approved this week, as he continues plowing through legislation passed during the session that ended March 11.
The most-controversial bill signed Friday was a measure (HB 1411) that will place additional restrictions on abortion clinics and seek to prevent public money from going to groups such as Planned Parenthood. While public money cannot be used for elective abortions, it has been able to go toward other health services provided by Planned Parenthood. The measure was sponsored by Rep. Collen Burton and Sen. Kelli Stargel, both Lakeland Republicans.
Other bills signed Friday that dealt with health-care issues included a measure (HB 1061) aimed at helping nurses practice across state lines. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, and Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, would lead to Florida entering into what is known as a "nurse licensure compact" with more than two dozen other states.
Florida nurses would be able to receive multi-state licenses to practice in other states that are part of the compact. Similarly, nurses from the other states would be able to practice in Florida.
Also, Scott signed a bill (SB 586), sponsored by Stargel and Burton, that would require hospitals to notify doctors at least 120 days before closing obstetrical units or halting obstetrical services. Supporters of the measure argued, at least in part, that obstetrical-unit closures can affect pregnant women who are nearly ready to give birth.
The Alachua County utility bill (HB 1355) was the only measure Scott vetoed during the week. In a veto message, Scott said the bill would create an authority to manage and operate city-owned Gainesville Regional Utilities. But he objected to part of the bill that would provide compensation to appointed board members of the authority.
"Across Florida, hundreds of appointees serve on boards with critical governance and regulatory responsibilities for which the appointees are not compensated,'' the veto message said. "The success of similar utility authorities that do not compensate board members demonstrates that qualified individuals will answer the call to serve the public, without consideration of a taxpayer supported payment."