Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 163

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.

Hard Rock names four new top executives

Hard Rock International, controlled by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Wednesday announced three new top executives.

Lucas

Jon Lucas will be the company’s new chief operating officer and “will oversee key company departments, in addition to brand operations,” according to a press release. He will report directly to Chairman and CEO Jim Allen.

He was previously executive vice president of hotel operations, where “he helped acquire Hard Rock casino and hotel rights throughout the western part of the U.S. and major international markets, spearheaded casino entry into Canada and entered the hotel management sector.”

The company is opening a fourth location in Florida later this year with the addition of the 200-room Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach.

That follows Hard Rock’s recent purchase of the former Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, and a deal to open a Hard Rock Casino in Ottawa, Canada. The company also wants to build a $1 billion casino in northern New Jersey just outside New York City.

Hipsh

Also, Dale Hipsh was promoted to senior vice president, “overseeing the entire hotel portfolio for Hard Rock International,” the release said. He previously served as vice president for hotel operations development.

And Sean Caffery joins the company to locate “new development locations, countries and partners for the casino business throughout North and South America.”

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.

In Florida, Hard Rock-themed properties are now in Tampa, Hollywood (both include casinos) and Orlando.

Updated 3 p.m. — The company later on Wednesday announced that Stephen K. Judge, a 30-year veteran of the restaurant industry, will serve as president of cafe operations.

He will “oversee daily operations for the brand’s 176 worldwide corporate and franchise cafe locations, and steer Hard Rock’s world-renowned branded retail merchandise, while strengthening the Hard Rock Cafe portfolio.”

With no legislative action, Confederate statue remains in U.S. Capitol

The General abides.

With lawmakers taking no action this year, a bronze statue of a Confederate general representing Florida shall remain indefinitely in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.

Two competing bills died this Legislative Session. One called for a likeness of educator and civil-rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune to replace the statue of Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith.

Another proposed a statue of environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of “The Everglades: River of Grass,” to take Smith’s place.

“Next year, we expect movement in the House and we’ll pass it in the Senate,” said state Sen. Perry Thurston, who sponsored the Bethune measure. “I am encouraged we will get it done next year.”

Each state has two statues on display in the Capitol. Florida’s other statue, a marble rendering of scientist-inventor Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola, a pivotal figure in the invention of air conditioning, is unaffected.

The move to replace Smith’s statue came after renewed debate about Confederate symbols, including the battle flag ubiquitous in the South.

City workers this week started moving a Confederate statue called “Johnny Reb” from a park in the heart of downtown Orlando, to a nearby cemetery. And the Hillsborough County Commission is set to discuss the removal of a Confederate memorial that sits in front of the county’s courthouse.

The state Senate also recently removed a decades-old mural that had been outside the 5th floor press and public galleries that included a depiction of another Confederate general and flag. The Senate in 2015 voted to remove that flag from its official seal and insignia.

At the time, then-Senate President Andy Gardiner said the artwork was “beginning to show signs of age that must be addressed if the mural is to be preserved.” Parts of it were fading and peeling.

The removal was part of an almost-$5 million renovation of the Senate chamber, the first since the Capitol opened in 1978. The 10-foot-by-16 foot “Five Flags Mural” now is in storage at the Historic Capitol.

Additional material provided by The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.

Updated 4:45 p.m. — The Hillsborough County Commission on Wednesday voted 4-3 to keep the Confederate memorial in front of the courthouse in downtown Tampa.

Voting to move it: Al Higginbotham, Pat Kemp, Les Miller.

Voting to keep it where it is: Victor Crist, Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman, Stacy White.

Simone Marstiller takes herself out of Attorney General contention

Former appellate judge and Republican Simone Marstiller said on Facebook she will not run for Attorney General in 2018.

“NOT running for AG,” she posted Monday night. “Holding that office has been a dream of mine for a long time.

Marstiller

“But I’ve reluctantly concluded that running for the office just isn’t financially feasible for me,” she added. “Thanks from the bottom of my heart to all of you for encouraging me and pledging your support. I am blessed beyond measure to have people like you in my life. The adventure continues …”

Marstiller declined further comment Tuesday.

Her name was first floated in a January post on The Capitolist by Brian Burgess, who included her among his picks to replace current Attorney General Pam Bondi amid rumors she was leaving to take a post in President Donald Trump‘s administration. Bondi is term-limited in 2018.

“She’s a staunch conservative thinker, a bit of a fireball, and strikes me as someone rank-and-file Republicans could embrace as potential A.G. candidate – not only because she’s got the fire in the belly for politics, but also because she’d throw a wrench into the flailing and failing identity politics machinery of the Florida Democratic Party,” Burgess wrote in January.

“She’d be an absolute joy to watch – not only arguing cases and in press conferences, but on the campaign trail, too.”

Last month, Marstiller told The Capitolist’s John Lucas she was “weighing her options” for a possible candidacy.

The Liberian-born Marstiller is now in private law practice after retiring in 2015 as a judge of the 1st District Court of Appeal, based in Tallahassee.

Her long resume includes being Secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Interim Secretary of the Department of Management Services, Deputy Chief of Staff, and state Chief Information Officer under Gov. Jeb Bush. 

She also was Associate Deputy Attorney General under Attorney General Bill McCollum and Executive Director for the Florida Elections Commission.

Declared GOP Attorney General candidates for 2018 include state Rep. Jay Fant of Jacksonville and former Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ashley Moody. Tampa Bay-area attorney and political newcomer Ryan Torrens has filed for the post as a Democrat.

Health Department getting started on medical marijuana rulemaking

In the wake of the Special Session’s implementing bill, the Florida Department of Health is gearing up to make rules governing the use of medical marijuana.

The department published a “notice of proposed regulation” in the Florida Administrative Register last Friday.

But the state still could face a lawsuit from personal-injury attorney John Morgan, who backed the constitutional amendment on medical marijuana that passed in 2016 with 71 percent of the vote. He has said he will sue because lawmakers would not allow medical marijuana to be smoked.

The implementing bill (SB 8-A) is pending Gov. Rick Scott‘s review, though he said he will sign it.

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

It also 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.

The department is working under an expedited rulemaking process to conform with deadlines in the amendment. Lawmakers failed to come to agreement on a bill during this year’s Regular Session. 

Before the amendment, 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 measure, the “Right to Try Act,” that includes patients suffering intractable pain and loss of appetite from terminal illnesses.

 

Judge reverses himself, decides ‘pre-reveal’ machines are slots

In a stunning reversal, a Tallahassee judge on Monday decided he had gotten it “wrong the first time around” and said games known as “pre-reveal” are in fact illegal slot machines. 

Circuit Judge John Cooper, however, was quick to say his change of mind was not influenced by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, but rather by further argument on how pre-reveal, or “no chance,” games actually play.

The Tribe’s lawyer had said that allowing the machines, which look and play like slots, violates their exclusive right to offer slot machines outside South Florida, imperiling the state’s future cut of the Tribe’s gambling revenue by “multi-billions of dollars.”

Whether pre-reveal games affect the Tribe’s deal is “a political issue,” Cooper said Monday. “My holding is not based upon whether (the Tribe) likes the ruling or dislikes the ruling.”

In March, Cooper issued issued a declaratory judgment that “pre-reveal” games weren’t slots. That was because players have to “press a ‘preview’ button before a play button can be activated.” If the outcome of the game is known, it’s not a game of chance, he said then.

But Barry Richardthe Tribe’s outside attorney, has previously argued Cooper misunderstood the game play: “The player is not wagering for the already revealed outcome, but rather on the next outcome, which is unknown.”

On Monday, Richard added: “Can anybody rationally believe the intent of the Legislature was to jeopardize (the state’s cut) … to allow these machines?”

Argument offered Monday dealt with the state law on slot machines, the nature of randomness, and whether the “unpredictability” of games of chance lies with the player or with the game.

“Once you walk up to the game, you see the outcome every time,” said Robert E. Turffs, attorney for Blue Sky Games, which designed the software that runs the games. 

Cooper countered: “But I have no way of knowing or predicting the next time, is that right?”

He also used an example of professional basketball player LeBron James shooting free throws. “The ball and the hoop has nothing to do with” James’ free-throw percentage—unless the hoop changes size every time he throws, Cooper said. 

The judge, in withdrawing his earlier ruling, said he had come to realize the game was a “series of plays,” including known and unknown outcomes.

Magdalena Ozarowski, attorney for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), said it’s the “later outcomes” of the game—not the one revealed to the player—that are unpredictable to the user. That’s what makes it a slot machine.

The case got started when DBPR agents found one of the games in a Jacksonville sports bar and told the proprietor the machine was an “illegal gambling device.”

The only way to remove the element of chance is to remove the pre-reveal software, Ozarowski added. Without that, you’d have a “box and a monitor.”

Kathey Bright Fanning, president of the Jacksonville-based Gator Coin II company that’s behind the machines, was in the courtroom for Monday’s proceeding. Afterward, she said she was “disappointed” with the judge’s turnabout.

“They’re wrong,” she said. “The Tribe is wrong.”

Cooper’s new decision will be “immediately appealable” to the 1st District Court of Appeal, he said: “Let’s call it a final judgment.”

Lawyers to face off in hearing over ‘pre-reveal’ games

Lawyers for the Seminole Tribe of Florida and companies behind what are known as “pre-reveal” games—a name they apparently disdain—will appear Monday afternoon in a Tallahassee courtroom.

Circuit Judge John Cooper agreed to hear argument on why he should reconsider his previous ruling that the stand-alone consoles aren’t illegal slot machines. The devices in question use a specific software known as “Version 67.”

Source: Twitter

The machines—offered mostly at bars and taverns—look and play like a slot machine, Cooper had reasoned, but don’t fit the legal definition of gambling because the player always knows whether he or she is a winner or loser.

The Tribe has countered that Cooper’s decision “upends the Compact,” the 2010 agreement between the Tribe and the state for exclusive rights to offer certain gambling in return for a cut of the revenue.

The Tribe believes the machines are slots, which violates its exclusivity. That could cost the state “multi-billions of dollars” by entitling the Tribe to stop paying the state a cut of its gambling revenue.

Barry Richard, the Tribe’s outside attorney, has argued Cooper misunderstood the game play: “The player is not wagering for the already revealed outcome, but rather on the next outcome, which is unknown.”

Gator Coin II and Blue Sky Games, the concerns behind pre-reveal, disagree. They have complained in court filings that the state continues to go after the games through its Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (ABT).

“Customers fear legal repercussions (and) most have decided not to offer the game, fearing (the department’s) wrath,” their filing said, referring to ABT’s “confusing and heavy-handed tactics.” They include threats of criminal prosecution and loss of liquor licenses, according to the motion.

But the state’s filing notes that the machines “operate upon the insertion of money and award prizes through the element of chance.”

A Twitter account called @RealBlueSkyGame has photos of banners advertising the devices as the “only Florida court approved no chance game,” adding that they offer a “cash payout.”

“We don’t violate anything and they know it,” says one tweet. “We are winning!!! They are wrong, so sad.”

Another tweet from that account responded to a FloridaPolitics.com post last week, saying, “They are not pre reveal anything. They are no chance games. Get the terminology correct.”

Rick Scott asked to respond to judicial appointments lawsuit

The Florida Supreme Court has asked Gov. Rick Scott to respond to a lawsuit claiming he doesn’t have authority to appoint three new justices on the last day of his term.

The court on Friday gave Scott till July 5 to file a response, with the League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF) and Common Cause having a July 17 deadline to reply to Scott’s filing.

The organizations this week filed a petition for “writ of quo warranto,” a court action against government officials to demand they prove their authority to perform a certain action.

Scott, a Naples Republican, has said he plans to name the replacements for the court’s liberal-leaning trio of Justices R. Fred LewisBarbara Pariente and Peggy A. Quince.

They face mandatory retirement on the same day—Jan. 8, 2019—that is Scott’s last in office as governor. He’s term limited next year.

The filing says Scott can’t replace those justices because he’ll be out of office earlier on the same day all three retire, and their terms last till midnight.

The Supreme Court, in a 2006 advisory opinion, said appellate vacancies may be filled by a governor only “upon the expiration of the term of the judge or justice.”

Advisory opinions, however, “do not constitute binding precedent, though they can be persuasive,” wrote former Justice Gerald Kogan and court spokesman Craig Waters in a 1994 law review article. “They are authorized by the (state) constitution to deal with situations in which the Court’s opinion on an abstract question can advance public interests.”

A Scott spokesman previously declined comment on the suit.

“A prompt, final decision on this pure question of constitutional law … would preempt cynical complaints by anyone dissatisfied with the decision that the case was contaminated by political considerations,” the petition says.

The petitioners also include LWVF President Pamela Goodman, former LWVF president Deirdre Macnab, and Liza McClenaghan, the state chair of Common Cause Florida.

They’re represented by Tallahassee attorneys John S. Mills and Thomas D. Hall, a former Clerk of the Florida Supreme Court.

Personnel note: Karl Rasmussen leaving Governor’s Office

Karl Rasmussen, Gov. Rick Scott‘s deputy chief of staff, is departing the Governor’s Office for a lobbying job at the Meenan Law Firm, name partner Tim Meenan confirmed Friday.

“Watching him from afar, I noticed he is one of the stars in the Capitol,” Meenan said in a phone interview. “He’s quiet, diligent and effective—the first thing you notice about him is his calm demeanor.”

Rasmussen (Source: LinkedIn)

Rasmussen, a deputy chief of staff since late 2014, will focus his lobbying efforts in some of the same subject areas he now covers for the governor, including environment and health care, Meenan said.

Rasmussen was previously the Director of Cabinet Affairs for Scott, according to his resume. Before that, he served as Assistant Director of State Lands, Director of Cabinet Affairs and Cabinet Affairs Liaison at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

He’ll be subject to the state’s 2-year lobbying ban on former employees, Meenan said, meaning Rasmussen can’t immediately lobby former colleagues at the Executive Office of the Governor.

“What clients look for are effective solutions to their problems,” Meenan said. “I think Karl bolsters our ability to really reach into a large number of state agencies and the Legislature.”

He begins as a government consultant for the firm on June 28.

Pam Bondi’s net worth rises to $1.7 million, report shows

Attorney General Pam Bondi has reported her latest net worth at nearly $1.7 million, according to her 2016 financial disclosure filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Her net worth now has risen from the $1.4 million reported in 2015 and from the almost $781,000 she reported for 2012, the earliest disclosure still publicly available on the commission’s website.

Her net worth jumped significantly in 2013 after she inherited from the estate of her father, 

Among assets, her disclosure for 2016 shows roughly $540,000 in “household goods and personal effects” and her “personal residence” now valued at $1.06 million. Her home’s value rose from $825,000 in 2015—a 28.5 percent increase.

She also lists a one-third share in a condominium worth $342,000.

Her liabilities consist of two loans from Tampa’s Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union totaling almost $255,000.

Bondi also lists her yearly attorney general’s salary from the state—$128,871.

The latest financial disclosures for Gov. Rick Scott, Agriculture Commissioner and GOP candidate for governor Adam Putnam, and departing Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater are not yet filed, according to the website. Atwater is stepping down June 30 to become chief financial officer for Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. 

Hearing set in lawsuit against Pam Bondi over unregistered charities

A Leon County judge has set a hearing in a lawsuit against Attorney General Pam Bondi that says she forces businesses to pony up millions of dollars to unregistered charities as part of settlements in consumer protection cases.

Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ordered the hearing for July 10 in Tallahassee, court records show.

The plaintiff, Orlando entrepreneur John D. Smith, was investigated on a consumer fraud allegation by Bondi’s office in 2015. He invented Storm Stoppers plastic panels as a “plywood alternative” to protect windows during storms.

He argues that some of the unregistered charities Bondi makes settling parties give money to is her own “Law Enforcement Officer of the Year” award and various “scholarship funds designated by the Attorney General.”

Smith also said Bondi was wrongly directing contributions to her office’s nonprofit, Seniors vs. Crime, which is a “conflict of interest,” the suit says. Two of its directors work for Bondi.

Bondi, through Deputy Solicitor General Jonathan L. Williams, responded that some of the organizations criticized by Smith aren’t “require(d) … to register (with the state) before receiving contributions from governmental entities.”

She further said Seniors vs. Crime “was created in 1989 by then-Attorney General Bob Butterworth (and) since 2002, OAG (Office of Attorney General) employees have consistently served on the organization’s board.

“In keeping with that close historical relationship, OAG and Seniors vs. Crime share a common interest—protecting Florida’s senior citizens against fraud.”

Scott Siverson, Smith’s attorney, also rebutted claims that Smith had settled his case with the Florida Attorney General’s Office. Many companies choose to settle in what’s known as an “assurance of voluntary compliance.”

“Apart from their initial threat letter to Storm Stoppers, the OAG never took any other action, and never sent a letter to Mr. Smith informing him that their investigation was concluded,” he said in a statement.

Since she first assumed office in 2011, Bondi’s office settled enforcement actions with 14 businesses in which they wound up paying more than $5.5 million to 35 unregistered charities, Smith’s suit says.

In a previous statement, Bondi called the legal action “meritless” and “harassment.”

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