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.

No more dog racing at South Florida casino, state says

In a decision sure to ripple through the state’s gambling interests, the Havenick family has won its years-long fight to drop dog racing at its Magic City Casino in Miami.

A spokesman for the state’s greyhound breeders on Friday said they’re already working on a legal challenge to the decision, which has been long awaited by the Havenicks. They also operate a dog track near Naples.

“This approval paves the way for our family-owned business to adapt to current market demands and transition to jai-alai activities,” family spokesman Isadore “Izzy” Havenick said in a statement Friday.

“More importantly, our business will be able to increase year round jobs and expand our growing amphitheater to a capacity of 4,000, allowing for multiple uses of the outdoor facilities, coupled with over 7 acres of free parking,” he added.

Operators—who essentially complain that dog racing has become a loss leader—have been trying to exploit a technical loophole, converting their licenses to offer gambling to what are known as summer jai alai permits.

Pari-mutuels, particularly in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, covet such permits because at a minimum they allow a facility to open a cardroom and offer simulcast betting. But offering slots, which Magic City already does, has always been the end game.

Pari-mutuels in Florida usually are required to continue running live dog or horse races to have slots and card games that make those facilities more money. A move afoot called “decoupling,” removing the live racing requirement, has failed in the Legislature in recent year, including this past Session.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates gambling through its Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, approved the Havenicks’ request this week in a first-of-its-kind ruling.

“It’s an outrageous decision,” said Jack Cory, the lobbyist who represents the Florida Greyhound Association and National Greyhound Association in Florida. “We will challenge this decision in the courts, up to the Supreme Court of Florida. Bureaucrats have no right to change the Legislature’s intent, or the voters’ intent.”

Statewide voters in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment legalizing slots at existing jai-alai frontons and horse and dog racetracks only in Miami-Dade and Broward counties and only if voters there OK’d it in referendums. The caveat was that tracks had to continue racing dogs or horses.

The greyhound association’s general counsel—Jeff Kottkamp, a former lieutenant governor—is “preparing an appeal as we speak,” Cory added in a Friday interview. Kottkamp declined further comment.

Florida Lottery confirms resignation of three high-level employees

The Florida Lottery on Thursday confirmed that three top officials had turned in their resignations—but wouldn’t say why. 

Secretary Jim Poppell “is committed to the Lottery fulfilling its mission of funding education for Florida’s students,” spokeswoman Connie Barnes said in an email. The Lottery’s profits go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which pays for Florida Bright Futures Scholarships, among other things.

“The department anticipates filling the General Counsel and Legislative Affairs position within the next week,” Barnes added. “We are currently evaluating how to best to utilize the Deputy Secretary (of Administration) position.”

She did not, however, provide copies of resignation letters or explain under what circumstances the three had left the agency.

But one insider told FloridaPolitics.com that the resignations are part of a “housecleaning” by Poppell, appointed by Gov. Rick Scott last month to replace Tom Delacenserie, now the head of the Kentucky Lottery. Poppell had been the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s chief of staff.

“There have been a lot of complaints about the Lottery, mostly from vendors about the department’s procurement process,” said the source, who asked not to be identified. “I think Poppell was given a mandate to clean house as the Lottery is a high priority for Gov. Scott … Three top people just don’t coincidentally decide to quit at the same time.”

Michael Manley had been Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Legislative Affairs, with a listed salary of $80,000. Josefina “Josie” Tamayo, a former circuit judge in Tallahassee, was General Counsel with a salary of $109,074 a year.

Tamayo, who’s held several top legal positions in state government over the years, was appointed a judge in 2010 by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. She was defeated in a 2012 election for her seat by Tallahassee attorney Barbara Hobbs and left the bench.

Medical marijuana grower wants in on challenge to pot law

A medical marijuana nursery is asking a Tallahassee judge to allow it to step in on a case over the state’s new law governing the drug.

Canadian-based DFMMJ Investments, which inked a deal to take over operations of Chestnut Hill Tree Farm, filed a “motion to intervene” earlier this week with Circuit Judge Karen Gievers.

Sarasota’s TropiFlora is asking the courts to delay the issuance of one of 10 “medical marijuana treatment center” (MMTC) licenses. The nursery has said the department “wrongfully refused” to consider its license application.

When the state’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use in the Department of Health approves the transfer of Chestnut Hill’s growing and operating license to DFMMJ, it will then “take over full ownership,” its filing explains.

DFMMJ is partly owned by Aphria, a Canadian “producer of medical cannabis products,” according to its website.

The company, represented by Tallahassee’s Lockwood Law Firm, is concerned that “any proposed stay, however limited, may interfere with the pending transfer” of the license.

Dockets show Gievers has not yet acted on the motion or the requested stay.

Tropiflora’s attorney, Brian O. Finnerty of Tallahassee, said in an email that “entities such as TropiFlora, that previously applied for but were denied a medical marijuana license, take precedence over new entities that are applying for a MMTC license for the first time.”

Further, he said it’s clear “that the Department of Health has not taken any steps to effectuate the new law as it relates to implementing an application process for the new MMTC licenses. (That) further supports the fact that TropiFlora’s request for a stay of only one MMTC license can in no way act to delay enforcement of part of the new implementing law.”

The new state law grandfathers in seven existing providers, renames them “medical marijuana treatment centers” (MMTCs) and requires the Department of Health to license 10 new providers by October. The bill also allows four new MMTCs for every increase of 100,000 patients prescribed marijuana.

It limits the number of retail locations each MMTC can open to 25 across the state, and divides that cap by region. As the patient count goes up, five more locations can be opened per provider for every new 100,000 patients in the state’s Medical Marijuana Use Registry. The limits expire in 2020.

In late 2015, Tropiflora was one of the first three nurseries to move against the state over the licensing of growers of medical marijuana. San Felasco Nurseries of Gainesville and Perkins Nursery of LaBelle also filed protests.

At that time, only five licenses were awarded to grow medicinal pot, to Chestnut Hill  for the state’s northeast region, Hackney Nursery Co. (northwest region),  Knox Nursery (central), Alpha Foliage (southwest), and Costa Nursery Farms (southeast).

TropiFlora objected because four of the five licenses went to nurseries that also sat on the department’s “negotiated rulemaking” committee.

In 2014, lawmakers passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a measure legalizing low-THC, or “non-euphoric,” marijuana to help children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. THC is the chemical that causes the high from pot.

A three-member panel of state officials in DOH was tasked with selecting five approved pot providers out of 28 nurseries that turned in applications.

Since then, state voters approved a constitutional amendment on medicinal cannabis last year. Lawmakers approved and Scott also signed an implementing bill, passed during a recent Special Session. It gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

Pete Antonacci likely next head of Enterprise Florida

The executive committee of Enterprise Florida (EFI), the state’s public-private economic development organization, Wednesday recommended lawyer Pete Antonacci to be its next CEO.

The vote for Antonacci, formerly Gov. Rick Scott‘s general counsel and now head of the South Florida Water Management District, is largely a formality. The full board is expected to approve Antonacci’s nomination; he’s a Scott loyalist.

The motion to hire Antonacci was made by executive committee member Alan Becker, a prominent South Florida attorney and friend of the governor. Scott, in his role as governor, chairs the EFI board of directors.

Antonacci would replace Chris Hart IV, who stepped down this March after less than three months as CEO, citing a lack of “common vision” with Scott. Hart is now Executive Vice President of Florida TaxWatch.

Mike Grissom has been interim CEO. The agency’s head also carries the title of Florida’s Secretary of Commerce.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran tried to scuttle the organization and a multitude of its business incentives this Legislative Session, saying EFI was little more than a dispenser of “corporate welfare.” Though a public-private partnership, it doles out mostly public dollars.

Scott supports EFI, saying it helps bring companies and their jobs to the state. Scott and lawmakers eventually worked out a deal to save the agency this year by creating an $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, focused on promoting public infrastructure and job training. 

Bill Johnson, the agency’s leader before Hart, had taken hits over his people skills as a proposed $250 million incentives fund crashed and burned during the 2016 Legislative Session. He also was questioned over his hiring and expenses.

Judge gives state 2 months to defend abortion waiting period

If the state thinks a law requiring women to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion is constitutional, it needs to prove it, a Tallahassee judge said during a Wednesday hearing.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis—a 28-year veteran of the bench—gave the Attorney General’s Office 60 days to develop evidence to counter a Supreme Court decision this February temporarily halting enforcement of the waiting period, passed in 2015.

Opponents say delays could lead to victims of domestic abuse being forced to forgo an abortion, or cause additional emotional distress for women who have a doomed pregnancy. Proponents counter the waiting period is necessary because the decision can’t be undone.

Julia Kaye, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer representing a Gainesville women’s clinic, later told reporters the “mandatory timeout” was an “insulting law,” and that Lewis’ move meant “Florida women will just have to wait a little longer for justice.”

Deputy Solicitor General Denise Harle had argued that the law doesn’t create significant burdens for women and was the “least intrusive” way to achieve a “compelling state interest.”

Harle suggested that evidence offered might include details of similar laws in other states, for example.

But the Supreme Court said there’s a strong likelihood that a lower court will determine the law is unconstitutional because the state had offered no evidence that the law in fact does address a compelling state interest.

(Background from The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.)

Adam Putnam sees ‘pathway’ to open carry, campus carry

Agriculture Commissioner and Republican candidate for governor Adam Putnam Tuesday said “there is absolutely a pathway” to bring back open carry and to permit what’s called “campus carry” in Florida.

“We have a track record of law-abiding citizens in Florida who submit their fingerprints, undergo background checks, and lawfully exercise their Second Amendment right,” he told reporters.

Putnam spoke at Tallahassee’s National Guard Armory at an event on his initiative to expedite applications for concealed weapon licenses (CWLs) from active-duty service members and veterans. He was joined by fellow Cabinet member and state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who pulled out his wallet to show his license.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, through its Division of Licensing, oversees the issuance of such permits.

Open carry was repealed in 1987, the same year the state permitted concealed carry. Legislation to reinstitute it and to allow campus carry, allowing guns on Florida’s college campuses, has been filed but failed in recent years.

Though he didn’t offer his own specific proposal, Putnam said campuses and other “gun free zones, where victims have no opportunity to defend themselves, ought to be modified in a responsible way so that people can exercise their Second Amendment rights.”

The Legislature “has struggled with the right way to get there,” Putnam added. “But it is a proven fact that areas that are gun free zones tend to be an attractive target for people who would prey on victims who can’t shoot back.”

In late 2014, for example, a gunman opened fire inside Florida State University’s main library, shooting and injuring three people. Law enforcement arrived soon after and shot the gunman after he fired on them, killing him.

Putnam also noted “the number of students who have had an extraordinary amount of firearms training (and) are highly qualified, highly competent and safe … There is absolutely a way” to allow guns on campuses.

The state Supreme Court earlier this year upheld the open-carry ban after a constitutional challenge from a Fort Pierce man who had a concealed weapon license but was arrested after he carried his handgun openly on his hip.

Putnam said “there’s some interest” among Floridians he’s talked with over the years in again legalizing open carry, though “it varies.”

Also Tuesday, the Florida Democratic Party jabbed Putnam for what it called his “endorsement” of the National Rifle Association‘s “violent video ad.” (For more on that story, click here.)

“The NRA’s recruitment video … was meant to provoke fear and stoke the flames of division,” party spokeswoman Johanna Cervone said in a press release.

“The activists in Tampa Bay were right to denounce this video for what it is—a dangerous incitement of violence,” she said. “If Adam Putnam is endorsing this video, he’s encouraging violence against fellow Americans.”

Tom Goodson, others apply for Public Service Commission

State Rep. Tom Goodson, a Brevard County Republican, is among 14 applicants so far for vacancies on the state’s Public Service Commission, according to a preliminary list released Monday.

The terms of Commissioners Art Graham and Ronald Brisé are up at the end of the year, but both men have reapplied for their positions. They were last reappointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2013.

Applications for those two spots are due by 5 p.m. Tuesday. Applications for a third PSC opening, created when Commissioner Jimmy Patronis stepped down to replace Jeff Atwater as the state’s CFO, aren’t due till July 28.

The commission regulates the state’s biggest investor-owned electric utilities, including Tampa Electric Co., as well as natural gas, water and sewer utilities, and reviews and approves proposed rate increases.

Goodson, first elected to the House in 2010, chairs the Agriculture and Property Rights subcommittee. He’s a “road contractor” by trade, according to his House member page

Other applicants include:

— Former state Rep. Kenneth Littlefield, a Pasco County Republican who once chaired the House Utilities & Telecommunications Committee. Littlefield is a former PSC member, having been put on the commission by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2006. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist replaced him the following year.

— Associate Public Counsel Erik Sayler. The Office of Public Counsel represents the interests of ratepayers before the commission.

Steven Petty, an adjunct economics professor at Flagler College and former chief economist for Florida TaxWatch.

Bill Veach, deputy county manager of Lake County.

Clay Lindstrom, who until recently was director of the Fort Pierce Utilities Authority. Lindstrom was fired last week after a controversy over businesses not paying utility deposits.

Jim Overton, former Jacksonville City Council member and Duval County Property Appraiser.

— Bill Conrad, former mayor of Newberry in Alachua County.

The applications go to the Public Service Commission Nominating Council, which is responsible for “screening and nominating applicants.” Commissioners are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Florida Senate. The pay is $131,036 per year.

CFO’s office largely loses fight to get info from insurance companies

A Tallahassee judge sided with life insurance companies Monday, restricting preliminary information-gathering by the state in defense of a new law requiring insurers to track down beneficiaries.

The outside lawyer for the Department of Financial Services, which advocated for the measure, said he plans to appeal the decision that allows only limited discovery.

Judge Terry Lewis. Photo: Steve Cannon/AP.

“We believe, respectfully, that what you’ve done has gutted the case,” said GrayRobinson attorney George Meros, representing CFO Jimmy Patronis, to Circuit Judge Terry Lewis. “You’ve absolved them of their responsibility.”

A group of companies sued the state over the law, passed last year, that makes them check annually which policyholders have died, then track down any beneficiaries.

If beneficiaries can’t be found, the insurance proceeds must be turned over to the state as unclaimed property.

The bill, a priority of former Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and featured on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” passed both chambers of the Legislature unanimously and was signed by Gov. Rick Scott. 

The plaintiffs — United Insurance Co. of America, Reliable Life Insurance Co., Mutual Savings Life Insurance Co. and Reserve National Insurance Co. — write policies in Florida.

They’re challenging the law’s retroactivity as unfair, saying having to track down millions of old death records to find beneficiaries is too burdensome, especially when the law prohibits them from passing along their costs to insureds or beneficiaries.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys Carol Lynn Thompson and Barry Richard suggested the law was “facially unconstitutional” because it wrongfully imposes a duty on insurers that they didn’t have in the past.

Meros countered that was exactly the point, that the law requires insurance companies to do something they should have been doing all along: Making sure people entitled to life insurance proceeds get paid.

Whether insurance companies had such a duty under previous law remains to be decided.

Still, Meros told Lewis the law’s aim is “remedy prior wrongs.”

“There were obligations that existed and were not fulfilled,” he said.

But the judge—a 28-year veteran of the bench—wasn’t buying the department’s need for depositions of company employees to prove the law’s constitutionality on its face: “I just don’t see it … It just doesn’t make logical sense to me.”

‘Busted’: Lawyer, poker player at odds over ‘staking’ deal

A Tallahassee attorney who fronted “large sums of money” to a professional poker player is suing after the player lost over $22,000 of that bankroll in unauthorized side gambling, according to a lawsuit filed last week.

Hal Lewis is a name partner in the Fonvielle Lewis Messer & McConnaughhay personal-injury law firm and a poker aficionado.

Poker player Maurice Hawkins of South Florida has posted lifetime earnings of nearly $3 million, according to the Hendon Mob online poker database.

The suit, filed in Leon County, is also a glimpse into the world of “staking” in professional poker.

“A poker investor (‘the backer’) puts up money on behalf of a poker player (‘the horse’) in exchange for a cut of the profits,” explains an Upswing Poker article from last October.

“The backer typically assumes all the risk: Any money the horse loses is on the backer,” the article continues. “But if the horse wins, the profits are shared according to the terms of the poker staking contract between the parties (usually, the cut is around 50/50).”

That was the deal cut by Lewis and Hawkins, whom Lewis said he met at a tournament in Jacksonville last March.

“It’s a roller coaster,” Lewis said of his poker investing in a Friday interview. “These guys win and lose, but you keep going, and you hope that your player eventually wins big,” even up to a million-dollar payoff.

Lewis’ suit said he “deposit(ed) various large sums of money” into Hawkins’ wife’s bank account so Hawkins could play last summer’s World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Las Vegas. (By the way, Hawkins on Friday was listed as a “trending player” on the WSOP website with $1,854,866 in wins.)

Hawkins played—and lost, the suit says. He told Lewis he wanted to quit the staking deal and give back $22,788 that was left.

That is, he wanted to but couldn’t, because he lost that money on bets outside of the deal, according to the suit.

“I just busted,” Hawkins said at first, according to copies of text messages from last June that Lewis attached to his complaint. “I owe you 22,788.”

But Hawkins later texted he had gotten a “feeling of despair” that “caused me to gamble, which caused me to lose and that’s why I lost all the money … I lost the 22,788… I am really emotional … I will make it right.”

He didn’t, Lewis said.

A complaint in a lawsuit tells one side of a story. Reached by phone, Hawkins disputed Lewis’ account, saying he owed the attorney nothing and that Lewis was being a “big bully.”

“Do I get a court date?” Hawkins said, avoiding a question about the texts. “Because the truth will come out then.”

Lewis now says he’s “very soured” on staking: “I still like playing, but I guess of all the people you shouldn’t trust, it’s probably those who lie, or ‘bluff,’ for a living.”

Ed. Note — This story first ran in Saturday’s “Takeaways from Tallahassee.”

CFO’s office back in court over insurance benefits case

Life insurers will be in court Monday in their lawsuit against the Department of Financial Services over a law requiring them to track down insurance beneficiaries.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis is set to hear argument in the Leon County Courthouse about their request to cancel planned depositions of their employees, which they call “burdensome, harassing and irrelevant.”

The department has countered it needs the testimony to show that the statute in question “responds to serious and widespread wrongs” because the companies “ignored their obligations under prior law.”

The law, which is retroactive, requires life insurance companies to check every year on which policyholders have died, then they must track down the beneficiaries. The measure, passed last year, was a priority of former Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and was featured on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

If beneficiaries can’t be found, the insurance proceeds must be turned over to the state as unclaimed property. The bill passed both chambers of the Legislature unanimously and was signed by Gov. Rick Scott. 

The plaintiffs — United Insurance Co. of America, Reliable Life Insurance Co., Mutual Savings Life Insurance Co. and Reserve National Insurance Co. — say the law’s retroactivity is unfair. They write policies in Florida.

Having to annually track down millions of death records to find beneficiaries is too burdensome, they have said in court filings, especially when the law prohibits them from passing along their costs to insureds or beneficiaries.

The plaintiffs are represented by Tallahassee attorney Barry Richard of the Greenberg Traurig law firm; George Meros of GrayRobinson is on the case as outside counsel for the department, now led by new CFO Jimmy Patronis.

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