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.

Anitere Flores wants to replace one tax cut with another

In a move sure to ire the insurance industry, state Sen. Anitere Flores is proposing a cut in the state tax on mobile phone and satellite and cable TV service by repealing a tax break to insurers.

Flores, the Senate President pro Tempore, on Friday said she was filing legislation (SB 378) to swap the insurance break for a 2 percent reduction in the state’s communications services tax (CST). The proposal is a priority of Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican.

The move also aligns with Gov. Rick Scott‘s and the Florida House’s appetite for continued tax relief. Flores’ proposal “could provide $300 million in recurring tax relief for families and businesses,” according to a news release.

“Florida’s CST is one of the highest in the nation,” said Flores, a Miami-Dade Republican. “In 2015, we made great progress by permanently reducing Florida’s CST by 1.73 percent. This year, we can reduce this burdensome tax even further and provide additional monthly savings to every Floridian with a cell phone or cable or satellite TV.”

The state’s communications services tax charges “direct-to-home satellite service” at a total rate of 11.44 percent. Cable TV, however, is taxed at a total of 7.44 percent; the state reduced the CST on that two years ago.

In 2013, Negron tried to get rid of the now 30-year-old tax break to insurance companies, at the time was worth around $225 million, to decrease automobile fees.

The insurance industry helped kill that effort in the House. Fees were later reduced without scuttling the tax break.

But Negron earlier this year said he was again looking to eliminate the insurance deal this year, a 15 percent tax credit on the salaries that insurers give their full-time workers here in the state. “The same benefit is not provided for other industries.” he said in a statement.

“When originally put in place thirty years ago, this taxpayer-funded subsidy for insurance companies was well intentioned, but times have changed and we need to reprioritize,” Negron said. “We can take the revenue we save from eliminating a tax credit that only benefits one industry and use it to provide a meaningful, monthly, and permanent tax cut for Florida’s families and businesses.”

We’ll add reaction from the state’s insurers when we receive it.

VIDEO: Lawmakers, supporters speak out on school recess

Sen. Anitere Flores, Rep. Rene “Coach P” Plasencia, and a throng of “recess moms” spoke with reporters Thursday in support of legislation that would mandate school recess.

The Senate Education Committee this week voted unanimously to approve this year’s bill (SB 78). Its House companion (HB 67) has not yet heard a hearing.

It requires school districts to provide at least 20 minutes of recess each day to students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

This may well be the year the bill passes the Legislature. A version was OK’d by the House last year but died in the Senate because then-Sen. John Legg refused to hear the measure in the Pre-K-12 Education Committee he chaired.

That was despite the fact former Senate President Andy Gardiner supported the bill.

“He did not believe in the policy and he did not hear the bill,” Gardiner said in an INFLUENCE magazine interview last year. “He felt, and it’s legitimate, that that’s a local issue and we should allow local school districts to make that decision.

“Some said I should have forced him to hear that (bill),” Gardiner said. “I talked to him about but ultimately it was his decision. He’s the chair. That was just my style.”

A Periscope video of Thursday’s news conference in the Capitol’s 4th floor rotunda is below.


casino table

House gambling bill gets thumbs up on first look

With its chair saying he wants to “freeze” gambling in the state, a House gambling panel on Thursday cleared that chamber’s overhaul bill, including a renewed blackjack agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

The Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee OK’d the measure (PCB TGC 17-01) on a 10-5 party-line vote.

But the bill, which isn’t yet assigned to another committee, differs greatly from the Senate’s gambling legislation. Its proposal (SB 8) now is cleared for consideration by the full chamber after a 14-2 vote in the Appropriations Committee, also Thursday.

The House is looking to contract gambling overall; the Senate would expand some gambling opportunities though bill sponsor Bill Galvano has said it contracts gambling overall.

State Rep. Mike La Rosa, the House panel’s chair, was hopeful about reaching compromise, though he made clear the Senate would have to vastly change its position.

“I think their expansion and where they’re going with it would be a non-starter here,” the St. Cloud Republican told reporters after the meeting. 

For example, the House outlaws designated-player card games, but the Senate would let “all cardroom operators … offer designated player games,” and the House would prohibit the expansion of slot machines, while the Senate generally expands the availability of slot machines. No Casinos, the anti-gambling expansion group, supports the House bill.

Moreover, the state’s cut of the Seminole gambling money – $3 billion over seven years – would go to education, split three ways among “K-12 teacher recruitment and retention bonuses,” “schools that serve students from persistently failing schools,” and “higher education institutions to recruit and retain distinguished faculty.”

But state Rep. Jared Moskowitz criticized the bill for doing exactly what the House’s GOP majority says it hates: Picking winners and losers.

“The winners are the Seminoles, and the losers are everybody else,” he said. The Coral Springs Democrat had tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to delete a legal requirement that racetracks run live races to also offer other gambling, like poker.

This is not free market—this is a corporate mandate,” he said of the legislation. Moskowitz also pointed out the many gambling policy conflicts between the chambers.

“What are we doing here? I have no idea, actually,” Moskowitz said. “…We’re debating something we know is already dead.”

State Rep. Joe Geller of Aventura, the panel’s Democratic Ranking Member, suggested that the bill’s funding mechanism would disproportionately benefit privately-run charter schools.  

“It’s not corporate welfare” for charter schools, La Rosa told reporters.

Where the money goes exactly isn’t “solid yet,” he added, but “who’s actually benefiting is the student (who doesn’t have to go) to a failing school.”

VIDEO: Matt Gaetz in Tallahassee to promote Medicaid block grants

Congressman Matt Gaetz was in the Capitol Wednesday to discuss health care reform, including his support for a block grant funding method for Medicaid, the joint state-federal health care program for the poor.

After a structured media availability, the former state representative elected to Congress last year held a more informal gaggle with members of the Capitol Press Corps.

Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, served in the Florida House for six years.

Below is a Periscope video of his Q&A in the House media room.

Firms randomly picked for lobbying compensation audits

Even as some lawmakers have questioned its necessity, legislative and executive branch lobbying firms were again randomly selected Wednesday for audits of their compensation reports.

The firms picked for legislative lobbying audits are:

— Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney

— Buigas & Associates

— David R. Custin & Associates

— Ericks Consultants

— Hopping Green & Sams

— Lewis Longman & Walker

— Lisa Aaron Consulting

— Luis E. Rojas

— McGee & Mason

— Redfish Consulting

— Ronald R. Richmond

— Shumaker Loop & Kendrick

— Smith & Smith

— The Labrador Co.

The alternates are:

— Barlow Consulting

— Butler Weihmuller Katz Craig

— Capitol Hill Group

— Damon Smith Consulting

— Dixie Sansom Consulting

— Littlejohn Mann & Associates

— Pruitt & Associates

— Quintairos Prieto Wood & Boyer

— R. Dale Patchett Managemen

— Shutts & Bowen

— Southern Campaign Resources

— Strategos Public Affairs

— Sunrise Consulting Group

— Uhlfelder and Associates

The firms picked for executive-branch lobbying audits are:

— Andrew J. Liles

— Calhoun Management & Consulting

— Capitol Insight

— Carr Allison

— Champion Consultants

— Janet Llewellyn

— Lester Abberger

— Lindstrom Consulting

— Pruitt & Associates

— T.B. Consultants

— TC Wolfe

— Wilson & Associates

The alternates are:

— Capitol Energy Florida

— Foley & Lardner

— Horton & Associates

— Impact GR

— Jordan Connors Group

— Law Office of Cynthia G. Angelos

— Cusick and Associates

— Punyko Associates

— R. Bruce Kershner Co.

— Rachael Ondrus

— Richard S. Kip

— The Peeples Group

The last round of audits, required under a 2005 state law and released in September 2015, found discrepancies big and small after staff randomly picked 26 lobbying firms to be audited.

Auditors discovered a number of firms either underreporting or overreporting the money they made in 2014. In another case, auditors couldn’t tell who had paid a particular bill.

But generally, lobbying firms were annoyed at having to undergo auditing and lawmakers were underwhelmed.

“I don’t understand how the public’s interest is advanced by this exercise,” said state Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who formerly sat on the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee.

“I just don’t see how this information is relevant” other than being a “marketing tool for big lobbying firms,” Bradley said in late 2015.

Legislation was actually filed for the 2016 Legislative Session that would have repealed the audit requirement, but it died in both chambers.

The latest audits are scheduled to begin May.


Craft beer debate includes … Chance the Rapper?

Craft brewers can thank Chance the Rapper for getting this year’s beer bill over its first legislative hurdle.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee on Wednesday cleared the measure (SB 554) on a 6-3 vote. Democrats Perry Thurston and Randolph Bracy joined Republican Lizbeth Benacquisto in opposing the bill.  

But Oscar Braynon, the chamber’s Democratic Leader, said he would support the legislation because of the example of the 23-year-old Chicago-based rap star.

The measure would allow smaller craft brewers to distribute their own beer. It would create an exception to Florida’s “three-tier system” born after Prohibition, which requires separation of alcoholic beverage manufacturers, distributors and retailers to avoid price-fixing.

Braynon explained that Chance, who won three Grammy Awards this year, first independently distributed his own music before getting “multimillion-dollar offers for distribution deals.”

The bill “would allow small brewers to do just what Chance the Rapper did,” Braynon said. “So I’m going to give this (bill) a chance—thanks to Chance the Rapper.”

(Chance, however, may be staying independent, according to The New York Post; he’s allegedly turning down $5 million-$10 million offers from record labels.)

The measure, sponsored by Tampa Republican and craft beer advocate Dana Young, only applies to those who produce 7,000 kegs or less a year, which she called the “smallest of the small” craft beermakers who are “not on the radar of distributors.”

Still, 7,000 kegs—at 15.5 gallons each—equals 868,000 pints of beer.

Lobbyists for “Big Beer” concerns rejected arguments there is a shortage of distributors for small brewers and added that the bill would further chip away at the state’s three-tier system.

Thurston agreed: “We are looking at a dismantling” of that, adding Chance “gave his music away … for free” at first to gain a following.

But Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, looked confused. “I’ve never heard of Chance the Rapper,” he said before voting for the bill.


Senate adds bingo, doping, ADW to its 2017 gambling bill

The sponsor of the Senate’s 2017 gambling bill has filed a 134-page strike-all amendment, a day before the bill is scheduled to be heard by the Appropriations Committee and a House version to be heard by its first panel.

Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican expected to be Senate President in 2018-20, filed the amendment early Wednesday.

On a first read, the strike-all’s most significant changes are:

— A new bingo provision for charitable organizations. The new section would allow certain “veterans’ organizations” to offer “instant bingo … using electronic tickets in lieu of or together with instant bingo paper tickets.”

— A provision that appears to outlaw a form of gambling called advance-deposit wagering (ADW), “in which the bettor must fund his account before being allowed to place bets,” according to Investopedia, adding “racetrack owners, horse trainers and state governments sometimes receive a cut of ADW revenues.” The amendment makes a third-degree felony out of accepting such a wager, but only “on horseraces,” not dog races.

— Toughening testing standards for race animal “doping,” the giving of performance-enhancing drugs to a racehorse or greyhound.

In other sections, the strike-all also changes the proposed “Office of Amusements” that would regulate fantasy sports to an “Office of Contest Amusements.”

For counties that pass a slots referendum, the amendment would allow state gambling regulators to “fix annually the time, place, and number of days during which operations may be conducted (as) ratified in the election.”

And it would give gambling regulators no more than 45 days to approve “rules for a new authorized game submitted by a licensed cardroom or provide the cardroom with a list of deficiencies as to those rules.”

The underlying bill (SB 8) was cleared by the Regulated Industries committee, which oversees gambling policy. If cleared by the Appropriations panel, it can be taken up by the full Senate.

Meantime, the House measure is slated to be first considered by the Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee, also on Thursday morning. The 2017 Legislative Session begins March 7.

The bills are at odds in several ways: For example, the House bill outlaws designated-player card games, but the Senate would let “all cardroom operators … offer designated player games,” and the House would prohibit the expansion of slot machines, while the Senate generally expands the availability of slot machines.

Economic incentives

Bill to kill business incentives, Enterprise Florida cleared for House floor

A House bill that would abolish the Enterprise Florida economic development organization, eliminate a throng of business incentive programs, and strip the VISIT FLORIDA tourism marketing agency down to a barebones $25 million budget cleared its second and final panel Tuesday.

That means the measure (HB 7005), OK’d by the House Appropriations Committee on an 18-12 vote, is ready to be considered by the full House when the 2017 Legislative Session begins March 7. 

The vote was another hit to Gov. Rick Scott, an advocate of both agencies and economic incentives, which he says create jobs for Floridians. In a statement, he again responded to the House with the “P” word.

“Today’s vote by politicians in the Florida House is a job killer,” the governor said. “I know some politicians … say they don’t necessarily want to abolish these programs but instead want to advance a ‘conversation.’

“This is completely hypocritical and the kind of games I came to Tallahassee to change,” he added. “Perhaps if these politicians would listen to their constituents, instead of playing politics, they would understand how hurtful this legislation will be to Florida families.”

Even if the House passes its bill as currently is, however, it could well be dead on arrival in the Senate. The House originally aimed to kill VISIT FLORIDA, then offered to keep it but with far less money.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development, on Tuesday filed his own economic development legislation. It would leave VISIT FLORIDA alone, and overhaul but not get rid of Enterprise Florida and incentive programs.

“The focus of economic development should be on Florida’s small businesses,” Brandes said. “Fostering a start-up culture in our state and encouraging small business development will create a better ecosystem where opportunity can thrive.”

But the House legislation is the star of GOP House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s push for more government transparency and better stewardship of the public’s money.

Corcoran had threatened to sue VISIT FLORIDA after it refused to reveal a secret deal with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism, later revealed to be worth up to $1 million. The ensuing controversy cost former agency CEO Will Seccombe his job.

That’s what got the measure support from House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa: “We need to see (VISIT FLORIDA) on the front page when they’re helping us, not embarrassing us.”

She also noted that singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett has promoted the state for years. “He’s the loser here because he never earned a dime for that,” Cruz said.

As state Rep. Paul Renner, the Palm Coast Republican behind the 190-page bill, told the committee: “No more Pitbull contracts in secret …  no more money going to a privileged few.”

An array of local economic development interests, regional tourism groups, small business advocates and small business owners themselves opposed the bill, including hoteliers, restaurateurs, and even a co-operative of Panhandle oyster farmers. 

Chris Hart, Enterprise Florida’s CEO, told lawmakers his group is “fiscally responsible. We have integrity, we are stewards of public dollars … and we take the job very seriously.”

But state Rep. David Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat who voted against the bill because of the VISIT FLORIDA reduction, said he had “nothing good to say about Enterprise Florida … I have grave concerns about the incentives paid and the return on investment.”

Give him a bill only on that organization, he added, “and I’ll kill that for you.”

After the hearing, committee chair Carlos Trujillo held a brief media availability, which can be seen in the Periscope video below:

VIDEO: Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense takes the Capitol

Michelle Gajda, the Florida chapter leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, spoke to reporters in the Capitol’s rotunda Tuesday as the group’s members met with lawmakers about gun-related legislation.

Monday’s story about the organization is here.

A Periscope video of Gajda’s remarks to news media is below:

Personnel note: Matt Galka departs for Phoenix

Matt Galka, an on-air reporter for Mike Vasilinda‘s Capitol News Service, has left Tallahassee to join the FOX affiliate in Phoenix.

Galka, a member of the SaintPetersblog “30 Under 30” Class of 2015, will be a general assignment reporter at KSAZ starting Monday, Feb. 27, according to FOX spokeswoman Claudia Russo

He’s originally from Southington, Connecticut, where he lost more than 100 pounds in high school to get on the football team, eventually becoming team captain.

Galka graduated from Syracuse University, where he was a walk-on football player, and then got his master’s from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

In Florida, Galka won the “Best Overall” award in 2013 from Florida Associated Press Broadcasters, and followed that up with a “Best Continuing Coverage” award for his reporting on the Jameis Winston sexual assault allegations at Florida State in 2014.

“I want to be the same person on TV that you could talk to at a bar,” he said in a 2015 interview. “I’m not out there playing some character. It’s important to be honest in a world where so many aren’t.”


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