Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 158

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.
casino table

Fresh off Atlantic City deal, Seminole Tribe now adding Hard Rock in Canada

The Seminole Tribe of Florida, which recently bought the former Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, is expanding its Hard Rock gambling and entertainment brand to Canada.

Hard Rock Casino Ottawa
Hard Rock Casino Ottawa (rendering). (PRNewsfoto/Hard Rock International)

A Tribe spokesman on Tuesday said that the Seminoles had won a bidding process to open a Hard Rock Casino in Ottawa, the nation’s capital.

The deal with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., pending final approval by Canadian authorities, includes an investment by Rideau Carleton Raceway Holdings Limited, a Canadian horse racing concern.

“This is a crucial first step towards a larger strategic vision of our world-class brand’s expansion efforts in Ontario and throughout Canada,” said Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International and Seminole Gaming CEO, in a statement.

The investment group will transform an “existing property with a complete remodel, rebrand and significant expansion, leading to an economic development boost,” according to a press release. “The multi-phase project is expected to potentially create 1,900 construction-related jobs and 2,000 direct and indirect ongoing jobs.”

Hard Rock International, which the Tribe controls, earlier this year bought the shuttered Trump Taj Mahal casino on Atlantic City’s famed boardwalk, formerly owned by President Donald Trump, from billionaire Carl Icahn. That deal includes two New Jersey investors.

Allen also has said the Tribe wants to build a $1 billion casino in northern New Jersey just outside New York City. He told The Associated Press that Hard Rock remains committed to its plan to build a casino at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford if voters change the law to allow it.

The Tribe last year consolidated its control over the rock ‘n’ roll-themed Hard Rock hotel and casino brand, buying out remaining rights from the owner-operator of Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

Despite lack of deal, Seminole Tribe still paying state millions

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has given the state of Florida another multi-million dollar payday.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation reported that the tribe paid $19.5 million in gambling revenue share on Monday. The department regulates gambling.

That money includes revenue share from banked card games, specifically blackjack. The tribe also offers slots.

It has Vegas-style and other gambling at seven casinos around the state, including Tampa’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, but has blackjack only in Tampa and Hollywood.

Monday’s deposit brings the total amount paid by the Seminoles this year to $97.5 million, DBPR spokesman Stephen Lawson said.

The cut of the money from blackjack, however, is being “administratively segregated” in the General Revenue Fund until the Tribe and state come to agreement on renewed rights to offer blackjack in Florida.

A blackjack provision in a prior agreement from 2010, known as the Seminole Compact, expired in 2015. In December of that year, Gov. Rick Scott had negotiated a new blackjack deal in return for $3 billion to state coffers over seven years. Lawmakers did not approve it.

The original 2010 deal actually wound up being worth more than $200 million per year in revenue share to state coffers. Blackjack and other gambling, including slots, has brought in billions for the tribe.

A year later, a federal judge ruled that the state—in allowing other card games that played too much like blackjack at pari-mutuel cardrooms—broke the original deal and let the Tribe have blackjack till 2030.

The tribe is no longer obligated to pay revenue share from blackjack games but has been doing so out of good faith in the hopes of brokering a deal. Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner declined comment when reached Tuesday.

This Legislative Session, lawmakers couldn’t pass a comprehensive gambling bill after failing to agree on whether to expand slot machines in the state. What also died, once again, was the renewed agreement with the Tribe, which had been rolled into the legislation.

Kim McDougal to depart as Rick Scott’s chief of staff

Kim McDougal is leaving as Gov. Rick Scott‘s chief of staff effective July 1, according to a Monday press release.

McDougal

McDougal, who’s been in the position since April 2016, “will be pursuing opportunities in the private sector,” the release said.

“Over the last year, Florida had its fair share of tragic events including two hurricanes, the terrorist attack at Pulse Nightclub, and the shooting at Ft. Lauderdale Airport,” Scott said in a statement. “During these tough events, Kim has led my team through crisis and helped ensure we did all we could to help Florida families during these dark hours.

“Despite these challenges, we have also had great success this year, and she has worked every day to make sure Florida remains the top place for families to succeed and live their dreams,” he said. “Kim is a statewide leader in education policy and has played a tremendous role in guiding the education policies I have fought for while in office, including providing record funding for our students, keeping higher education affordable and expanding school choice options.

“Kim has proudly served Florida families for nearly three decades and her years of experience will be missed in my office. I know she will continue to do great things for our state.”

In the same statement, McDougal said, “It has been my absolute pleasure serving Florida families for almost three decades. It truly has been an honor to wake up every day and fight for policies that will make a difference in our families’ lives.

“Governor Scott is focused on making Florida the top place to get a great job and education, and I was honored to help work on policies to make Florida number one in the nation for families.”

McDougal was Scott’s fifth chief of staff since he took office in 2011, following, in order: Mike Prendergast, Steve MacNamaraAdam Hollingsworth, and Melissa Sellers (now Stone).

Our story from March 2016 when McDougal was hired is here.

Here’s more from the release:

McDougal, 54, began her public service with the State of Florida in 1989 and served in each role as an at-will state employee. McDougal has served as Chief of Staff since April 2016 and prior to that, she served as Governor Scott’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Legislative Affairs Director and Education Policy Coordinator. McDougal also served on his successful reelection campaign as a policy advisor.

McDougal has previously served in numerous leadership roles at the Department of Education, including Governmental Relations Director and Senior Policy Advisor for several Commissioners of Education. McDougal also served Governor Jeb Bush and in the Office of Program Policy and Government Accountability in the Florida Legislature.

She earned her bachelor’s degree from Tulane University and her master’s and doctorate degrees from the Florida State University College of Education. She graduated from the Louise S. McGehee High School in New Orleans, Louisiana. She has resided in Tallahassee since 1984.

Jeff Brandes asks for medical marijuana Special Session

Add state Sen. Jeff Brandes to the list of those calling for a Special Legislative Session on medical marijuana implementation.

“I hope that we can reconvene in a Special Session, which should include ample time for public input, to implement the will of the voters, so that patients and entrepreneurs alike may access the marketplace,” Brandes wrote to Senate President Joe Negron on Friday.

This week, Negron sought input from fellow senators after the 2017 Legislative Session ended without a bill to implement the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment. An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

As of mid-afternoon Friday, Senate spokeswoman LaQuisha Persak said there had been no “other formal responses.”

Lawmakers failed to come to agreement on a bill related to the medical cannabis constitutional amendment passed in 2016. Just over 71 percent of statewide voters approved the measure.

Before that, the state in 2014 legalized 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.

The state later expanded the use of medicinal marijuana through another Brandes measure, the “Right to Try Act,” that includes patients suffering intractable pain and loss of appetite from terminal illnesses.

Brandes, who filed a marijuana measure (SB 614) this Session, is asking for a “horizontally integrated regulatory framework … to provide the flexibility needed to promote specialization and robust competition.”

The two chambers this year came to an impasse over the number of dispensaries, with the Senate moving to 15, “five times the original cap of three in an earlier version of the Senate bill,” Negron said in a memo.

But the House “responded by setting its dispensary cap at 100 and providing a deadline for issuing new licenses of more than a year from now. Obviously, the Senate was not in a position to accept this House proposal. The medical cannabis bill then died,” Negron said.

The 2017 Legislative Session ended Monday.

“The drive of implementation legislation must be patient focused, not the interests of existing license holders,” Brandes said, calling for “local governments (to) play a role in determining the number of dispensaries and their locations,” and avoiding “arbitrary limitations on the number of (medical marijuana treatment clinic) licenses,” instead following “market demand.”

“I believe we can accomplish these goals by setting high quality standards, strong insurance and bonding requirements, robust seed-to-sale tracking, and a well-regulated registry,” Brandes wrote. “This model would promote ease of use and the availability of affordable medical products to suffering patients.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran this week called for a Special Session during WFLA-FM radio’s “The Morning Show with Preston Scott.”

“I do believe and support the notion that we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana,” Corcoran told Scott. “Does that mean a special session?” Scott asked. “It would, absolutely,” Corcoran said.

Corcoran spokesman Fred Piccolo on Friday said his office had not received any communications from House members about a Special Session.

Syria

VISIT FLORIDA cops to ‘clerical error’ on Syria advertising

VISIT FLORIDA is saying ‘oops’ over what it calls a “clerical error” showing it made advertising buys in several Middle Eastern countries, including Syria, listed by the feds as a “state sponsor of terrorism.”

The state’s embattled tourism marketing arm “was recently alerted to a clerical error in a short-term contract with the international advertising agency AVIAREPS,” said John Tupps, vice president of government relations for the agency, in an email.

“In two places, the contract inaccurately listed several Middle East countries as areas of marketing focus. We immediately updated the contract to reflect the correct countries,” he said.

“ZERO taxpayer dollars and ZERO private dollars were spent advertising to the inaccurate countries,” Tupps added. “VISIT FLORIDA does not spend any marketing dollars in Bahrain, Oman, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Egypt.”

House lawmakers, led by Speaker Richard Corcoran, have in recent months lambasted the public-private agency that is funded largely with taxpayers’ money. It was stripped down to $25 million — down from around $75 million — in recurring operating funds next budget year.

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has gone after the agency for what he calls wasteful spending, even threatening to sue after it refused to reveal a secret deal with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism. The rapper later disclosed on social media he had been set to be paid up to $1 million.

“All of the deliverables listed in this contract are exclusively tied to bringing more tourists and direct flights from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates,” Tupps said. “Tourists from this region are second only to Scandinavia on the amount of money they spend while traveling.

The contract with the error is here, and the “corrected” contract is here.

“We regret this error,” Tupps said.

Joe Negron seeks guidance on medical marijuana

Without using the words “Special Session,” Senate President Joe Negron is seeking “ideas” from fellow senators after the 2017 Legislative Session ended without a bill to implement the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment.

Negron sent a memo Thursday, released by his office, saying he “believe(s) we should consider the best way to meet our constitutional obligation to implement Amendment 2.”

Lawmakers failed to come to agreement on a bill that would implement the medical cannabis constitutional amendment passed in 2016. Just over 71 percent of statewide voters approved the measure.

An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

“It was our mutual obligation to work together in good faith to find a principled middle ground on this important issue,” Negron wrote. “…Please feel free to contact me with your ideas on how to achieve this objective.”

The memo came a day after House Speaker Richard Corcoran called for a special legislative session during WFLA-FM radio’s “The Morning Show with Preston Scott.”

“I do believe and support the notion that we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana,” Corcoran told Scott. “Does that mean a special session?” Scott asked. “It would, absolutely,” Corcoran said.

Earlier Thursday, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, urged for a Special Session on medicinal cannabis implementation and insurance issues during an appearance at the Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce.

The full text of Negron’s memo follows:


As the Senate evaluates the best path forward on legislative implementation of Amendment 2 (Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Medical Conditions), I wanted to provide you with the context of actions and opportunities to date.

Under the leadership of Senator Bradley, the Senate passed an implementation bill that reflected three guiding principles shared by a strong majority of our membership. This Senate consensus can be described as follows.

First, the Legislature has a solemn duty to fully and fairly implement Amendment 2, which was passed with the support of over 71 percent of the voters in 2016.

Second, we should ensure medical marijuana is readily accessible to any Floridian who suffers from an enumerated debilitating condition, as determined by a licensed Florida physician. At the same time, the Senate did not support an unwarranted expansion of treatment centers until patient demand has been established.

Third, in order to foster a free market and affordable medicine, licenses and dispensaries should be structured in a way that promotes competition and quality.

The Senate Bill (SB 406 by Senator Bradley) also included sound provisions such as requiring dispensaries to look and feel like medical offices and providing that medicine certified by a physician would be available without arbitrary and unreasonable delay.

Of course, our colleagues in the House had their version of how an appropriate implementation bill would look. It was our mutual obligation to work together in good faith to find a principled middle ground on this important issue. I believe both the House and Senate did their best to accomplish this goal; however, we were unsuccessful in reaching agreement during the 2017 Regular Session.

Consistent with the wishes of most Senators, the final Senate position was to provide for immediate issuance of 10 new licenses, which we believe is fair to the seven incumbent providers (who are already authorized to cultivate, process, and dispense) and reflects the Senate commitment to marketplace competition.

In addition, to move in the direction of the House position, during informal negotiations the Senate offered to raise the dispensary cap to 15, which was five times the original cap of three in an earlier version of the Senate bill.

On the final day of Session, the House responded by setting its dispensary cap at 100 and providing a deadline for issuing new licenses of more than a year from now. Obviously, the Senate was not in a position to accept this House proposal. The medical cannabis bill then died in the House without being transmitted to the Senate for further consideration prior to Sine Die.

As I said on Monday evening, I believe we should consider the best way to meet our constitutional obligation to implement Amendment 2. Please feel free to contact me with your ideas on how to achieve this objective.

cardrooms

More fun with summer jai alai permits: Dania looking to sell

Saying it will be good for “tourism and tax revenue,” a South Florida gambling permitholder is asking state regulators to OK the permit’s sale and allow the next operator to build on a new location in Broward County.

Dania Entertainment Center, which operates The Casino @ Dania Beach, last Monday asked for a declaratory judgment from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation on its “converted summer jai alai” permit. The department regulates gambling in the state.

The company has a tentative deal with an unnamed buyer that wants to build a casino at a new location, the filing explains, even though it argues under current law the department’s “approval of the relocation … is not required.” The terms of the sale require the ability to set up shop elsewhere in the county.

If the permit can’t be relocated, that limits its “marketability” and “will diminish the tax revenue and opportunity for mass local job creation that could be generated,” the request says. And “courts have consistently held that increasing tourism and tax revenue is key” to state wagering law.

The filing came a week before state lawmakers deadlocked and gave up on efforts to pass a comprehensive gambling bill that would have addressed, among other things, the thorny issue of summer jai alai permits in general.

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, besides jai alai.

One proposal in this year’s legislation would have prohibited new summer jai alai permits from being used to open a cardroom. The permit at issue in the Dania case already exists.

Moreover, an appellate court decision last month ordering the reinstatement of another casino’s application for a new summer jai alai permit promised to result in a wave of new applications, gambling experts said.

That case involved another company operated by the Havenick family, which runs the Dania casino as well as Miami’s Magic City Casino and Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Racing & Poker in Bonita Springs.

A request for comment to family spokesman Izzy Havenick is pending consultation with his lawyers. He has said he wants to put up a new facility in downtown Miami about six miles from Magic City, and offer jai alai, poker, a restaurant and an entertainment venue.

Tallahassee-based attorney John Lockwood, who specializes in “alcoholic beverage (and) casino gaming” issues, is representing Dania Entertainment Center.

His filing lays out the difference between “ratified” permits, which have to be approved by local voters, and “converted” permits, which do not. The permit at issue is a converted one.

Any change in the location of games under a ratified permit has to approved by the department, but not so under a converted one, the filing says.

State law says the holder of such a permit “may lease or build anywhere within the county in which its permit is located.” Dania’s request suggests it’s seeking the state’s OK out of an abundance of caution.

Richard Corcoran joins calls for medical marijuana special session

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has added his voice to those calling for a special legislative session on medical marijuana.

Corcoran spoke Wednesday on “The Morning Show with Preston Scott” on WFLA-FM radio in Tallahassee.

Lawmakers failed to come to agreement this Legislative Session on a bill that would implement the medical cannabis constitutional amendment passed in 2016. Just over 71 percent of statewide voters approved the measure.

An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

“It absolutely needs to be dealt with,” Corcoran told Scott. “When you have 71 percent of the voters say, ‘we want legalized medical marijuana,’ and the fact we couldn’t get (an implementing bill) done, to just leave it to bureaucrats sitting at the Department of Health would be a gross injustice.

“I do believe and support the notion that we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana,” he added.

“Does that mean a special session?” Scott asked.

“It would, absolutely,” Corcoran said.

Senate President Joe Negron on Monday also signaled his inclination for a special session.

“I think that’s something that now that session is over and our budget passed that we’ll confer with the House and governor, and then make a decision on whether that’s something we should do,” he told reporters. “I think the Legislature does have a responsibility to be involved in that implementation, so that’s something we’ll look at.”

Others, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham and Orlando trial attorney John Morgan also called for a special session on medical marijuana, with Morgan doing so in a nearly nine-minute video on Twitter.

Morgan has been behind the amendment since it was first filed for 2014, when it failed to get enough votes.

Under the state constitution, a special session can be convened by proclamation of Gov. Rick Scott, or “by consent of two-thirds of the membership of each house.”

A state law also provides that the “President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, by joint proclamation duly filed with the Department of State, may convene the Legislature in special session.”

Another section of that statute allows 20 percent of state lawmakers to request a special session, after which the Florida Department of State must poll all members, who have to approve on a three-fifths vote.

grapefruit

Reversal of fortune: Citrus forecast says oranges up, grapefruit down

Another bag of mixed news for Florida’s signature crops: Orange production actually increased while grapefruit production has declined.

That’s according to the latest forecast released Wednesday from the the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, or NASS.

“The May report projects the state’s orange crop to increase to 68 million boxes for the 2016-17 season,” said a press release from the Florida Department of Citrus (FDOC). “The grapefruit crop dipped to 7.8 million boxes.”

The department, funded mainly through box taxes paid by the state’s citrus growers, serves as the chief marketing, regulation and promotional arm of the industry.

“It is heartbreaking to watch an industry you love work so hard to survive,” said Shannon Shepp, the department’s executive director. “Florida citrus is valued around the world for its premium taste and quality. We will not let that change.”

In comparison, the April report had projects the state’s orange crop to stay at 67 million boxes for the 2016-17 season, while the grapefruit crop was reduced by 800,000 boxes to 8.1 million.

The industry has been savaged by a citrus greening epidemic. The so-far incurable disease is attacking fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree. Florida’s famous oranges are most at risk.

Greening is caused by a jumping plant louse and the bacteria it hosts. The tiny bugs feed on citrus leaves and infect the trees with the bacteria as they go. Researchers have been looking into ways to cure the disease or to grow a strain of citrus resistant to the bacteria.

Florida’s growers and industry groups have sought approval from the federal government to use antimicrobial treatments to fight greening.

 

 

Daniel Sohn withdraws from 2018 Agriculture Commissioner’s race

Daniel Sohn, a Democratic candidate for Agriculture Commissioner in 2018, announced on his Facebook page Wednesday that he is withdrawing from the race.

Sohn, district aide to Palm Beach Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor Pat Edmonson, confirmed the post in a phone call.

“There are some serious reoccurring health issues that need my immediate attention,” he said in the post. “Over the next couple of months, I will be undergoing procedures that will require much recovery time. I promise during that time to get myself stronger and ready to continue to resist.

“This race was all about growing Florida stronger,” Sohn wrote. “I still believe the strength of Florida can and will be determined by how well we take care of our people and environment. In the future I hope to count on your support again.”

Sohn announced only last month he was running for the seat, being vacated by term-limited Republican Adam Putnam, who will run for governor in next year’s election.

Sohn’s withdrawal leaves Michael Damian Christine as the lone Democrat in the race.

Republicans Paul Paulson, state Sen. Denise Grimsley and state Rep. Matt Caldwell also have filed to run.

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