Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics

Jim Rosica

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

Beer advertising bill cleared for House floor

A House bill that would have allowed “advertising” by beer companies in the state’s theme parks on Monday morphed into a measure that specifically allows “brand naming agreements.”

What “brand naming agreements” are, however, isn’t defined in the bill (HB 423).

“I’ll bet you your definition and my definition are two different things,” sponsor Mike La Rosa told the Commerce Committee, which eventually cleared the bill for the full House on a 17-9 vote after no debate.

“My intent is that it’s for marketing purposes,” he added. “So if a manufacturer wanted to name an event, or sponsor an event, they can do both” under the bill.  

But another amendment failed that would have allowed such agreements with all businesses that serve booze on premises, not just theme parks.

Josh Aubuchon, executive director of the Florida Brewers Guild, the state’s craft beer lobby, referred to the proposal as “little more than a cash grab by the theme parks from beer manufacturers.”

A similar measure (SB 388) already passed the Senate but contains provisions not in the House, including opening up the state to the sale of wine bottles of all sizes.

Updated 10:30 p.m. — As of Monday night, both bills were placed on the House’s special order calendar for Thursday.

Rick Scott says he will sign ‘Uber bill’

Gov. Rick Scott tweeted on Monday that he will sign into law a bill creating statewide regulations for ride-booking companies like Uber and Lyft.

“I look forward to signing the @Uber/ @lyft bill,” Scott tweeted from his official account, @FLGovScott. The governor is in Argentina on a trade mission.

Colin Tooze, Uber’s director of public affairs, tweeted back, “Many thanks for your leadership, @FLGovScott ! All of us at @Uber are excited to have a permanent home in the Sunshine State.”

Lawmakers had considered legislation for four years before passing a bill this year.

The Senate finally approved a House measure (HB 221) on a 36-1 vote, with Sen. Jack Latvala the only ‘no’ vote.

The legislation, among other things, requires Uber, Lyft and similar “transportation network companies” to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged into the app, but hasn’t yet secured a passenger.

When a driver gets a ride, they need to have $1 million in coverage.

The bill also requires companies to have third parties run criminal background checks on drivers. It also pre-empts local ordinances and other rules on transportation network companies, or TNCs.

“On behalf of thousands of Uber driver partners and millions of Florida residents and visitors who rely on ride-sharing, we thank Gov. Scott for his commitment to ensuring our state remains at the forefront of innovation and job creation,” said Javi Correoso, Public Affairs Manager for Uber Florida, in a statement.

“Upon the governor’s signature, Floridians and tourists will have access to a safe, reliable and affordable transportation option,” Correoso added. “We look forward to his official signature on this landmark legislation.”

blackjack

Senate budges little in initial gambling negotiation

Saying he wanted to “start taking small steps,” state Sen. Bill Galvano on Monday tendered the first offer in the Legislature’s negotiation on a gambling bill this year.

The initial tender, though it largely maintains what’s in the Senate’s bill, also would classify contentious “pre-reveal” games as slot machines, and would limit two new slots facilities to either Broward or Miami-Dade counties.

A circuit court ruling last month against the state said entertainment devices that look and play like slot machines, called “pre-reveal” games, were “not an illegal slot machine or gambling device.” House leaders in particular feared that meant they would wind up in bars, restaurants, and even in family fun centers.

The Senate offer also would give the state more time, up to two years, to address any future violation of blackjack exclusivity brought by the Seminole Tribe of Florida with a legislative fix. That also was addressed to court rulings that create such “violations.”

The House and Senate are far apart on their respective gambling bills this session, with the House holding the line on gambling expansion, and the Senate pushing for new games.

A deal is pending to grant continued blackjack exclusivity to the tribe in return for $3 billion over seven years, though that money isn’t part of ongoing budget talks between the House and Senate. A request for comment is pending with the Tribe’s spokesman.

Galvano’s House counterpart, state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, said he appreciated the offer “to get the conversation going,” specifically mentioning the 2-year provision in the context of court decisions on gambling.

“There are still plenty of threats out there and we’re constantly playing a game of catch-up,” he said. Diaz added that he expects to respond some time later this week: “There is some low-hanging fruit here and some more complicated issues to work through.” The 2017 Legislative Session is scheduled to meet May 5.

Galvano mentioned last Thursday’s Supreme Court decision that cleared the “Voter Control of Gambling” amendment for the 2018 ballot.

He surmised from Justices Ricky Polston‘s and R. Fred Lewis‘ dissent in that case that the court is ready to rule in favor of expanding slot machines to counties that approved them in local referendums.

“One can almost glean from the dissent that it’s a fait accompli just pending in the court,” Galvano said. “Either we do it or the courts are going to do it.”

“When I look at the dissenting opinion, it almost references (new slots in referendum counties) as if they’re existing,” Galvano later told reporters. “All of these things play into the big picture.”

He also has concerns that the amendment, if adopted, could retroactively quash new slots approved for Hialeah. When asked whether he were reading between the lines, he added, “That’s a good way of putting it.”

Stop stealing our video, Florida Channel says

The Florida Channel wants you … to stop stealing its videos.

A new disclaimer began popping up Friday under the channel’s online video feeds: “Programming produced by The Florida Channel CANNOT be used for political, campaign, advocacy or commercial purposes!”

It adds: “ANY editing, embedding or distribution without permission is strictly PROHIBITED. Direct linking to complete video files is permissible, except in the case of political campaigns.”

Florida Channel executive director Beth Switzer on Monday explained the “terms of use” reminder was sparked by the “increasing number of people stealing (videos) for advocacy purposes.” She did not point to specific examples. 

Switzer referred to a state law that she said prohibits such use.

It says, in part, that the “facilities, plant, or personnel of an educational television station that is supported in whole or in part by state funds may not be used directly or indirectly for the promotion, advertisement, or advancement of a political candidate for a municipal, county, legislative, congressional, or state office.”

The law, which doesn’t mention work product such as videos, provides that a violation is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Those parts of the law were added in 2014.

Aside from a “huge number of videos being lifted and put out there,” Switzer also said her office is getting swamped with calls asking her staff to provide edited clips for use in commercials and other promotions.

“Making copies of what we do is not really in our scope of work,” she said.

Gambling deal may come down to slots question

Seeing it as the “lesser of various evils” to pass a gambling bill this year, the House may give in to the Senate’s position to legislatively approve new slot machines in counties that passed referendums allowing them, according to those familiar with the negotiations.

As of early Monday, the Conference Committee on Gaming was set to meet later in the day at 1:30 p.m., though an official notice had not yet gone out.

The House and Senate are far apart on their respective gambling bills this session, with the House holding the line on gambling expansion, and the Senate pushing for new games. Both sides also want to see some new agreement with the Seminole Tribe on continued exclusivity to offer blackjack in exchange for $3 billion over seven years.

What’s becoming clearer as the 2017 Legislative Session’s May 5th end looms is House leadership’s distress at recent court decisions, the practical effect of which is opening up more gambling opportunities without legislative say.

Sources had said conference chair and state Sen. Bill Galvano had gotten “spooked” by a Supreme Court decision last Thursday that cleared for the 2018 ballot a “Voter Control of Gambling” amendment, giving voters the power to OK or veto future casino gambling in the state.

Vice-chair and state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz confirmed that Galvano, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, wanted to make sure the amendment “wouldn’t affect the Senate’s offer.”

But one representative of gambling interests throughout the state, who asked not to be named, said the House “was very careful in not taking the referendum counties issue off the table.”

A second person said that “(a)ll things considered, that was way down on the list of things that gave them heartburn.”

More concerning was a 1st District Court of Appeal opinion earlier this month against the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulated gambling, ordering the reinstatement of a South Florida casino’s application for a new “summer jai alai” permit.

Taken to one logical extension, the ruling could lead to “mini-casinos” in hotels, they say. Miami-Dade lawmakers in particular have been concerned about Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau Hotel pursuing slot machines in the last few years. At a minimum, such permits allow a pari-mutuel facility to open a cardroom and offer simulcast betting.

Another circuit court ruling last month against the department said entertainment devices that look and play like slot machines, called “pre-reveal” games, were “not an illegal slot machine or gambling device.” Judge John Cooper reasoned that was because players “press a ‘preview’ button before a play button can be activated.”

That ruling’s applicability was, at first, unclear: Because Cooper is a circuit judge, some state officials said his order only applied in north Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit of Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties.

Later, attorneys in the industry argued Cooper’s decision applied all over Florida, because it was against the department that regulates gambling statewide. That had House leaders “freaked out” that pre-reveal games would start appearing in bars, restaurants, and even in family fun centers.

Meantime, Galvano and others in the Senate fixated on the dissent in the gambling amendment case, and its implication on what’s known as the “Gretna case.”

Justices Ricky Polston and R. Fred Lewis said the amendment’s “ballot title and summary do not clearly inform the public that the proposed amendment may substantially affect slot machines approved by county-wide (referendums).”

With Lewis signing on to the dissent, “that made us think there was another vote in favor of Gretna that we didn’t think was there,” said yet another person in the gambling industry.

The court has not yet ruled in a case, pending since oral argument was given last June, on Gretna Racing. That’s the Gadsden County track seeking to add slot machines; pari-mutuel interests have said Gretna and other facilities in counties where voters approved slots should be allowed to offer them.

If the court rules in favor, that could result in the single biggest gambling expansion in the state.

“I think the House is fed up with it,” said the first industry consultant, referring to gambling-related court decisions. “The only way they can get a handle on (gambling expansion) is to get a bill done, and if that means throwing in the towel on slots in referendum counties, that’s the lesser of the various evils.”

Is this ‘whiskey & Wheaties’ last hurrah for 2017?

A troubled measure to undo the requirement that retailers sell distilled spirits separately from other goods is back on the House calendar for this week.

But a number of amendments were filed Friday night that could continue to muddle the legislation’s path to passage.

The House on Tuesday will again consider the “whiskey & Wheaties” bill (SB 106/HB 81), after postponing it twice in recent weeks. The Senate’s version passed last month. 

The most recent snag came after lawyers for Publix, the Florida supermarket chain that opposes the measure, said their reading of state law suggested teenage employees would no longer be allowed to work in stores if hard booze was sold there. Publix’s opposition has been rooted in its investment in separate stores.

Indeed, one amendment filed by Rep. Scott Plakon, a Longwood Republican, would clearly make it “unlawful for any vendor licensed (to sell hard liquor for consumption off premises) to employ any person under 21 years of age.”

Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who chairs the Appropriations Committee, raised concerns as early as February that the bill would allow retail employees under 18 to be around liquor.

Moreover, “I just don’t see the fervor,” he added, during a Senate Rules Committee meeting. “This is not a problem I have heard anyone urge me to fix.”

Another Friday amendment from Al Jacquet, a Lantana Democrat, says no business can sell booze if it “received, or continues to receive, state subsidies such as tax credits, tax incentives, sales tax refunds, or grants … , has at least 10,000 square feet of retail space …  and is located in a slum or blighted area.”

That would include locations of Wal-Mart, one of the corporations pushing the repeal.

A version of the bill—which started as a one-line repealer—has been filed for four years running.

It aims to do away with the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Pure-play alcoholic beverage retailers, such as ABC Fine Wines & Spirits and independent operators, have complained the bill is being pushed by big retailers looking to expand their market reach.

But Wal-Mart, Target and others say tearing down the wall of separation between liquor and other goods is simply a “pro-consumer” move toward added convenience.

As Hialeah Republican Bryan Avila, the House sponsor, said recently: “Trust me: I can tell you with certainty I have experienced every thing imaginable that could possibly happen in the legislative process with this bill.”

Frank Artiles resigns from Senate

Frank Artiles has resigned his Senate seat rather than face a hearing that could result in his expulsion, according to a letter he sent to Senate President Joe Negron Friday.

Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County, made national news after he accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b****h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee Monday night.

Artiles also used a slang variation of the ‘N-word,’ referring to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Thurston and Gibson are black. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Thurston subsequently filed a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his expulsion. Artiles, elected to the Senate last year after six years in the House, had initially called efforts to remove him politically motivated.

Gibson, in a brief statement released by the Senate Democratic Office, “thank(ed) everyone for their outpouring of support.”

“This has been an ordeal that no one should have to endure,” said Gibson, who kept her back turned to Artiles when he delivered his apology. “I wish him well in all of his endeavors.”

In the resignation letter mentioning his Marine service and crediting his family’s support, he said it was “clear to me my recent actions and words that I spoke fell far short of what I expect for myself, and for this, I am very sorry.

“I apologize to my family and friends, and I apologize to all of my fellow Senators and lawmakers. To the people of my district and all of Miami-Dade, I am sorry I have let you down and ask for your forgiveness.

“My actions and my presence in government is now a distraction to my colleagues, the legislative process, and the citizens of our great State. I am responsible, and I am accountable, and effective immediately, I am resigning from the Florida State Senate.

“It’s clear there are consequences to every action, and in this area, I will need time for personal reflection and growth. I leave this office knowing that despite my shortcomings, I have fought hard to change the status quo while remaining true to myself. I’m grateful for those that have stood by my side, including my family, friends, and supporters.

“Serving my community in the Florida Legislature has been the honor of a lifetime, and I do not leave this process lightly. I will discover ways to continue to serve my community in the future.

“God bless the great state of Florida and our great country,” he concluded, signing off, “Sincerely, Senator Frank Artiles.”

In a separate statement, Negron said Artiles “made the right decision.”

“As Senator Artiles has noted, he holds himself responsible and accountable for his actions and comments,” Negron, a Stuart Republican. “Despite the events of the last week, Senator Artiles has a long and proud record of public service. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for serving our country in the United States Marine Corps, where he fought for our freedom in the Global War on Terror.

“Additionally, his years of service in the Florida House and Senate demonstrate a commitment to helping others that will not end with his departure from the Senate. My Senate colleagues and I wish Senator Artiles and his family well.”

Negron added that Thurston will withdraw his complaint and he “directed the (Senate General Counsel Dawn Roberts) to close her investigation. No further action by the Senate will be taken in regard to this matter.”

On Thursday, Gibson had told reporters Artiles’ tirade was “horrific.”

“No one has ever addressed me in such a manner in my entire life,” she said, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. “I’ve never heard such nasty comments about leadership in my entire life and really denigrating the entire Senate as far as I’m concerned and the constituencies around the state.”

In an interview with The Florida Channel, she added, “I need to feel, and I have the right to feel, as comfortable as he does in that body, to which I was elected. And I don’t know that I could do that with him there.”

Artiles could not be reached. A message was left with his attorney, Steve Andrews of Tallahassee, on Friday morning. Artiles reportedly told colleagues he feared he wouldn’t have the support he needed to avoid a vote of expulsion from the Senate, to which he was elected last year after serving six years in the House.

In a statement, Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II “welcomed” Artiles’ decision to leave the Senate.

“It was not only the right decision, but the honorable one, for himself and the people of Florida,” said Braynon, of Miami Gardens. 

“I take no pleasure in these unfortunate events. But I urge that we learn from them. In our communities, our state, and our country, there should be a message of hope, of tolerance, of unity. We cannot afford the high cost (that) words of divisiveness and cruelty leave in their wake. 

“I wish Senator Artiles the best, and I hope that, upon reflection, he finds consolation in knowing that his actions, today, show the contrition demanded, and the Senate was owed.”

The full resignation is below:

Perry Thurston: Frank Artiles’ resignation was ‘right action’

Sen. Perry Thurston “welcome(d) the news of Senator Frank Artiles’ resignation today from the Florida Senate,” he said in a Friday statement.

“On behalf of the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators, …we regret that this action was necessary, but we believe it was the right action to take,” said Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat.

“It was surely a difficult decision for the Senator to make, but we believe he followed his conscience and made the right choice,” he added. “The actions of this Senate, and those of the multitude of Floridians who stood up in objection to the events of this week are to be lauded. They underscored the critical lesson that words can be painful, they can be hurtful, and they can have consequences.”

Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County, made national news after he accosted Thurston and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b****h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee Monday night.

Artiles also used a slang variation of the ‘N-word,’ referring to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Thurston and Gibson are black. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Thurston subsequently filed a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his expulsion. He said earlier Friday he was withdrawing the complaint.

Audrey Gibson responds to Frank Artiles’ ‘horrific’ tirade

Sen. Audrey Gibson on Thursday publicly responded to fellow Sen. Frank Artiles‘ racially-charged invective aimed at her earlier this week, saying she’s unsure she can be “comfortable” continuing to serve with Artiles in the Senate.

Gibson appeared at a press conference with Sen. Perry Thurston and a group of Tallahassee-area pastors at the city’s Bethel Missionary Baptist Church.

“It was horrific,” Gibson said, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. “No one has ever addressed me in such a manner in my entire life. I’ve never heard such nasty comments about leadership in my entire life and really denigrating the entire Senate as far as I’m concerned and the constituencies around the state.”

Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County, made national news after he accosted Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee Monday night. Thurston and Gibson are black.

Artiles also used a slang variation of the ‘N-word,’ referring to her and to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Thurston and Gibson are black. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Thurston subsequently filed a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his expulsion. Artiles, who is represented by Tallahassee attorney Steve Andrews, has called efforts to remove him politically motivated.

Gibson, 61, recalled an incident for the Democrat “when she was a young girl at a department store where African-Americans were allowed to shop.”

“There was a young girl with her mom and we were playing together and her mom yanked her away and said ‘you don’t play with those people,’ ” she said. “Such is life. Back then. But this is today and there is no earthly reason for using any N-words whether you’re referring to Perry and I or your own colleagues. There’s no place for that word.”

In an interview with The Florida Channel, she added, “I need to feel, and I have the right to feel, as comfortable as he does in that body, to which I was elected. And I don’t know that I could do that with him there.”

Senate General Counsel Dawn Roberts is investigating Thurston’s complaint and is scheduled to issue a report to the chamber’s Rules Committee next Tuesday.

public records

Lawmakers approve attorney fee tweak to public record law

Lawmakers on Thursday unanimously passed a compromise measure on winners of public records lawsuits collecting attorney fees, sending the bill to Gov. Rick Scott.

The House passed the Senate bill (SB 80) on a 115-0 vote.

The legislation requires judges to award attorney fees if they find an agency broke the public records law and a “requestor” gave five days’ notice before filing suit.

Most importantly, a judge must determine if a request was for an “improper purpose,” such as intentionally forcing an agency to break the records law or for a “frivolous” reason.

Local governments have for years complained they’ve been bombarded by frivolous public records requests in order to provide an excuse for requesters to take them to court. Current law requires state and local agencies to cover the cost of attorney fees in public records cases.

Open government watchdogs, such as the First Amendment Foundation, countered that previous legislative fixes would have hurt legitimate actions against local governments and state agencies that unreasonably refuse to respond to record requests.

“The bill is a compromise, certainly, and I hope it deals with the issue of the predatory public record requests without unduly hindering those who simply want the records they’ve requested,” said Barbara Petersen, the First Amendment Foundation’s president.

“I see this as a first step — the Legislature needs to consider passage of a enforcement mechanism so that those who’ve been wrongly denied access to public records have an alternative other than going to court,” she added. 

If Scott signs it into law, it won’t apply retroactively, Petersen said, meaning that it doesn’t affect any pending public record request.

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