Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 146

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.
highway transportation

Richard Biter among dozens applying for state transportation secretary

Richard Biter, one of two unsuccessful finalists for the top job at Enterprise Florida, now has thrown in his hat to be the state’s next Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation.

Biter (via LinkedIn)

Biter is one of more than 80 applicants for the open position, created when former Secretary Jim Boxold resigned in January to join Tallahassee’s Capital City Consulting firm.

It would be a homecoming for Biter: He’s a former assistant secretary of the department.

But he may not be on the short list. The Florida Transportation Commission, the advisory board that will interview applicants and nominate three candidates for Gov. Rick Scott’s consideration, recently extended the application deadline to May 1.

Jay N. Trumbull, the commission’s chairman, had said the panel needed more time “to complete a robust search and conduct the interview process post-Legislative Session.”

Biter last year was a finalist for CEO of Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private economic development organization, along with Mike Finney, the former president of the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Finney withdrew, choosing instead to seek a teaching job at the University of Michigan, and Scott eventually tapped Chris Hart, the president and CEO of CareerSource Florida.

Hart suddenly quit earlier this month, however, citing a lack of “common vision” with the governor.

Before serving at FDOT, Biter was a transportation consultant, according to his LinkedIn page. He also has been an administrator with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the now-defunct Interstate Commerce Commission.

Other applicants include Alexander Barr, the department’s Bicycle and Pedestrian coordinator for its Treasure Coast-South Florida district; and Phillip Gainer, its District Secretary for northwest Florida. 

Out-of-staters include Brandye Hendrickson, who was Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Transportation under then-Gov. Mike Pence; and Brian Roper, a supervisor at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

As is often the case with high-level state openings, dozens of fringe candidates also have filed for the job, including those who list their current place of employment as “Waffle House,” “Grub Burger Bar” and even “Florida Statue University.”  

Senate begins consideration of ‘whiskey and Wheaties’ bill

After Sen. Bill Galvano first proposed it four years ago, the Senate is poised to pass a bill removing the “wall of separation” between hard liquor and other retail goods. 

Bill sponsor Anitere Flores, a Miami-Dade Republican and Senate President pro tempore, took questions on the legislation (SB 106) Tuesday. It’s now set up for debate and a final vote.

The “whiskey and Wheaties” measure aims to repeal the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor.

“The question now becomes has this outlived its purpose?” Flores said. “The answer is yes.” Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

The Senate bill also would phase-in the integration of liquor into main stores over several years, starting in 2018. The House companion (HB 81) has been struggling, escaping its committees by one-vote margins twice.

Big-box stores like Wal-Mart and Target want the repeal, saying the added convenience is “pro-consumer,” and independently-owned liquor store operators say they will suffer.

If signed into law, Florida would be the 30th state to allows the sale of hard liquor in general retail space, advocates say.

 

2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission

Carlos Beruff: Constitution Revision Commission won’t waste taxpayers’ money or time

The newly-formed Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) won’t spend time on changes that can’t pass at the ballot box, its chairman said Monday.

“If the public doesn’t feel overwhelmingly supportive of (a proposed amendment), then why do it?” said Carlos Beruff, the Manatee County homebuilder appointed by Gov. Rick Scott. The panel held an organizational meeting in the Capitol.

“It just doesn’t make sense (when) we have a threshold of 60 percent,” he added. “We don’t need to waste the taxpayers’ money or their time with proposals we don’t think are going to meet that.”

The 37-member panel meets every 20 years to suggest rewrites and additions to the state’s governing document, but its suggestions have to be approved by 60 percent of voters during the next statewide election.

When asked if he’ll authorize polling to know what will make the cut and what won’t, he said, “That’ll probably be part of the plan but I’m not sure.”

He quickly added with a laugh: “I’m not much on that stuff, though. I spent money on polling; I know how that works.” Beruff, a Republican, unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in last year’s primary election.

He did announce the schedule for the first of a series of public hearings for ideas for amendments: Next Wednesday in Orange County, April 6 in Miami-Dade County, and April 7 in Palm Beach County. Times and exact locations are yet to be decided, he said.

Beruff also postponed a vote on the commission’s rules, including already contentious provisions on public records and open meetings.

The First Amendment Foundation (FAF), an open government watchdog, earlier Monday asked Beruff to apply open meeting standards to any meeting of commissioners, not just meetings of three or more.

The current draft rule tracks the Legislature’s rule that two people can meet without requiring notice and availability for public attendance.

Former Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, an appointee of Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, said she was concerned there was no provision for a vice-chair.

“There’s no continuity in the event that he, for some reason, cannot act,” she said of Beruff. “That affects how people feel about the integrity of the process.”

As governor, Scott chose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and selected the chairperson. Richard Corcoran, as House Speaker, got nine picks, as did Joe Negron as head of the Senate. Chief Justice Labarga is allotted three picks. Republican Pam Bondi is automatically a member as the state’s Attorney General.

The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this will be the first to have been selected by a majority of Republicans, virtually ensuring it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.

Pennsylvania joins Florida in considering ‘whiskey & Wheaties’

In addition to the Sunshine State, Pennsylvania lawmakers have now filed legislation to break down the wall of separation between liquor and other goods.

On Saturday, the Philadelphia-based Billy Penn news site reported that bills in that state’s “House and Senate would create a new category of license that would allow grocery and convenience stores to add hard liquor to their shelves.”

For decades, Pennsylvanians had to purchase distilled spirits at “state stores,” government-run retail outlets, and wine and beer to go at licensed package stores.

But recently there’s been a booze glasnost in the Keystone State, resulting in new laws allowing “beer sales at gas stations, six-pack sales at beer distributors, shipments of wine direct to consumer addresses and … wine sales at grocery stores,” the story said.

“The primary focus is to provide to my constituents a one-stop shop experience,” Pennsylvania state Rep. Mike Reese, sponsor of the House bill, told the website.

That echoes the pro-consumer argument advanced by proponents of this year’s legislation in Florida; the Senate bill (SB 106) is on the special order calendar for Tuesday, and the House bill (HB 81) is up next before the Commerce Committee.

That hearing has not yet been scheduled; the House version struggled to escape its first two committees of reference, clearing them by one-vote margins.

Another similarity between the two states: Pennsylvania is facing a “budget shortfall,” the Billy Penn story said, and Florida is facing a tight budget for 2017-18 and likely deficits for following years.

A version of the bill has been filed in Florida for four years running, aiming to repeal the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor.

The Senate’s bill would allow a phase-in period over several years, starting in 2018. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Lawmakers have been caught in the middle between big-box stores like Wal-Mart, who want the “whiskey & Wheaties” wall repealed, and independently-owned liquor store operators who say they will suffer.

Updated 4:30 p.m. — The Florida House bill will be heard by the Commerce Committee this Wednesday at 9:15 a.m. in 212 Knott.

Constitutional rewrite panel’s transparency rules would track Legislature’s

Just like the Legislature, any two members of the new Constitution Revision Commission could meet out of the “sunshine,” according to a copy of the panel’s proposed rules.

The draft rules, posted online Monday, say that “all meetings at which Commission business is discussed between more than two members of the Commission shall be open to the public, following the procedure outlined in the Florida Constitution.”

If approved, the commission will follow the constitutional provision governing legislative meetings, which says “all prearranged gatherings, between more than two members of the legislature … shall be reasonably open to the public.”

Another draft rule says “all records of the Commission shall be accessible to the public unless otherwise exempted by law.”

Florida legal legend Sandy D’Alemberte on Monday morning called the draft rules “a good start.”

As early as January, D’Alemberte—who’s been a Democratic lawmaker, Florida State University law school dean and president, and American Bar Association president—had raised concerns whether the commission would elect “to be governed by the Sunshine Law.”

Last week, he penned an op-ed for the Tallahassee Democrat in which he urged commission members to operate in the open.

“Open government is the Florida way and it is important for the Commission to signal from the very beginning that it respects this most important feature of Florida government,” he wrote.

D’Alemberte said he hopes members get properly schooled on openness. He recalled serving on the Miami-Dade Community College Board years ago, and his fellow members were “always calling me, wanting to talk about issues.”

“It took forever to educate people how to operate when you serve on a public body, that you can’t have all these private discussions,” he said.

Updated 12:15 p.m. — The First Amendment Foundation (FAF), an open government watchdog, in a letter to commission chairman Carlos Beruff, had two quibbles with the draft rules.

In the public records section, the organization suggested changing “accessible to the public” to “open to the public” to track with state law.

It also suggested modifying the meetings rule to apply to those of two or more commissioners, saying the “higher standard … applies to every collegial body in Florida except the Legislature.”

“We would expect the CRC to hold itself to the highest standards of transparency, allowing all Floridians to oversee the work of the Commission and hold it accountable for its actions,” said the letter, signed by FAF president Barbara A. Petersen.

House gambling bill set for Ways & Means this week

The House of Representatives’ omnibus gambling bill will again be heard this week, records show.

The bill (HB 7037) is on the agenda for the Ways & Means Committee, chaired by Bradenton Republican Jim Boyd, on Tuesday.

Though it includes a renewed blackjack agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the legislation overall “freezes” the current ambit of gambling in the state, as Rep. Mike La Rosa has said. He chairs the Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee, which already OK’d the measure 10-5.

That contrasts with the Senate’s gambling bill (SB 8), which cleared all its committees and awaits a hearing on the chamber floor.

The House would outlaw designated-player card games, but the Senate would let “all cardroom operators … offer designated player games.” The House also would prohibit the expansion of slot machines, while the Senate generally expands the availability of slot machines.

Moreover, La Rosa’s legislation would divert the state’s cut of the Seminole gambling money – $3 billion over seven years – to 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.”

 

Poll: Most voters down on expanding gambling

The vast majority of Florida voters — 84 percent“want to reduce or hold the line on gambling” and 60 percent also “are less likely to support a candidate … that votes to expand gambling,” a new poll released Monday shows.

The latest Mason-Dixon poll included questions on gambling, according to a news release from No Casinos, Florida’s anti-gambling expansion group.

The anti-expansion “feeling among Floridians carries across all regions of the state: North Florida (87 percent), Central Florida (92 percent), Tampa Bay (81 percent), Southwest Florida (84 percent), Southeast Florida (78 percent),” the release said.

“Tallahassee politicians need to get the message that only 8 percent of Florida voters want gambling expanded, and 84 percent want it left alone or reduced,” said John Sowinski, president of No Casinos. “It’s time to stop listening to gambling lobbyists and listen to the people.”

In addition, he said most “Floridians don’t want their elected officials to expand gambling, because they know that more gambling hurts the quality of life for them and their families.”

The poll was conducted from Feb. 24-28. It had a sample of 625 registered Florida voters, and the margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent.

 

 

 

Rise of the (pre-reveal) machines: The coming battle in Florida gambling?

A recent ruling by a Tallahassee judge could result in Florida being inundated by a slot machine-style entertainment device in bars, arcades and even dog and horse tracks.

It’s also not yet clear whether the decision could trigger a violation of the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s exclusivity rights in its gambling “compact” with the state. That would entitle the Tribe to stop paying the state a cut of its gambling revenue.

Circuit Judge John Cooper earlier this month issued a declaratory judgment that a specific kind of game, usually called a “pre-reveal” game, was “not an illegal slot machine or gambling device.”

Cooper limited his opinion to a specific kind of game, “Version 67,” provided by Gator Coin II in Jacksonville. Other states, such as North Carolina, have found pre-reveal games to be illegal gambling, however.

Players must “press a ‘preview’ button before a play button can be activated,” the judge’s order explained. The outcome of the next game is always known, thus it’s not a game of skill or chance, he said. You always know you’re a winner or a loser.

“I tried to rationalize to myself why people would play this game when they knew they were going to lose,” Cooper said in court, according to a transcript.

“… I’m not sure that’s a relevant consideration,” he said. “That’s a consideration perhaps for the Legislature in deciding whether it wants to change” the state’s gambling laws.

The case got started when agents from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) found one of the games in a Jacksonville sports bar and at least one other location, records show.

The agents told the proprietors the machines were “illegal gambling devices,” and the businesses told the Gator Coin company, who came and removed them. Since the games were in storage and not making any money, Gator Coin took action against the state.

Kathey Bright Fanning, head of the company, said she was “pleased” with the ruling.

The pre-reveal “is a game of entertainment,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s very appropriate for certain locations, just like a pool table or a dartboard or a jukebox in a local tavern would be, and it’s not appropriate for other locations.”

When asked what those would be, she said places such as “family fun centers.” Asked about dog and horse tracks, Fanning said, “Perhaps. I don’t know much about the pari-mutuels.”

The amusement equipment company, founded by her father in 1946, has had to “change with the times,” she added. For example, it once had over 600 cigarette machines on the street; now there’s fewer than 20.

“It’s all about innovation,” Fanning said.

Whether the innovation in pre-reveal games runs afoul of the Seminole Compact could be a court fight for another day. Some attorneys says pre-reveal is a form of “electronically-assisted pull-tab game” that the Compact says is a “gaming expansion” against its terms.

“We are reviewing the decision,” said Barry Richard, the Tribe’s outside counsel. A DBPR spokesman added the department “is currently reviewing the order and will take the appropriate steps moving forward in the process.”

For now, the ruling applies only in the 2nd Judicial Circuit, where Cooper is a judge. It comprises Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties in north Florida.

Nonetheless, “I see a giant wave coming,” said one person in Florida’s gambling industry who asked not to be named. “My phone is blowing up from people (at pari-mutuels) who want these” pre-reveal games.

Senate tax cut proposal, as is, may be on the ropes

A tax cut that’s a priority of Senate President Joe Negron is running into resistance from his fellow senators.

Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami-Dade Republican and Negron’s right hand in the chamber, is running the bill (SB 378) to pay for a cut in the state’s tax on mobile phone, satellite and cable TV service by repealing a tax break to insurers.

On Friday evening, Flores said “there have been conversations” among some senators—she didn’t say whom—who want to  restructure the bill, still taking the tax credits from the insurance industry but instead applying them to another cost driver.

School funding was one example bandied about this week, she added.

“My point is, many senators—if not the majority of senators—are still in favor of getting rid of this break that benefits only one industry to provide (tax) relief for more Floridians,” she said in a phone interview.

The bill was to be discussed Wednesday by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax, but was pulled off the agenda by chair Kelli Stargel, who later said she didn’t want to take up the bill because only three of the panel’s five members were there.

“That’s a decision that was made by the chair,” Negron told reporters later Wednesday. “I wasn’t involved in that decision but I think it’s perfectly reasonable and I support (it).” No one said a lack of votes was the problem.

Flores, however, still is advocating the original tax swap, taking away a 15 percent tax credit on the salaries that insurers give their full-time workers here in the state for a reduction in the state’s communications services tax (CST).

Other colleagues of hers aren’t sure that’s the best use of the money.

When asked if a compromise could be struck, Flores said she wanted the legislation “to be a collaborative bill, so right now this is a work in progress.”

A coalition of Florida business groups—including Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the Florida Insurance Council (FIC)—already has publicly opposed taking away the insurance industry’s tax credit.

In 2013, Negron tried to get rid of the now 30-year-old tax break to insurance companies, now worth around $435 million, to decrease automobile fees. The insurance industry helped kill that effort in the House. Fees were later reduced without scuttling the tax break.

Earlier this year, the Stuart Republican said he was again looking to eliminate the insurance deal.

“Those funds would much be much better spent providing tax relief to Floridians, to businesses, rather than subsidizing the labor cost of one particular industry,” he said Wednesday.

Senate’s ‘whiskey & Wheaties’ bill teed up for floor

The Florida Senate’s bill to remove the “wall of separation” between hard liquor and other retail goods is scheduled for the floor next week.

The “whiskey and Wheaties” legislation (SB 106) is on the special order calendar for next Tuesday, according to the chamber’s website on Friday.

Meantime, the House companion (HB 81) has been struggling, escaping its committees by one-vote margins twice.

A version of the bill has been filed for four years running, aiming to repeal the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor.

The Senate’s bill would allow a phase-in period over several years, starting in 2018. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Lawmakers have been caught in the middle between big-box stores like Wal-Mart, who want the repeal, and independently-owned liquor store operators who say they will suffer.

 

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