Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 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.

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.


Constitution Revision Commission to hold first meeting

The Constitution Revision Commission has launched a website and announced an organizational meeting next Monday.

The meeting will be 2-4 p.m. in the Capitol’s Senate chamber, with a brief agenda of “Welcoming Remarks, Oath of Office, Rules of the Commission, Ethics Briefing.”

The panel, which convenes every 20 years, will review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document after holding public meetings across the state.

Its newest hire is Meredith Beatrice, who was spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, and is now the CRC’s “external affairs” director.

The 37-member board is chaired by Carlos Beruff, a Manatee County homebuilder and unsuccessful Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in 2016.

The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this is the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans. 

Any changes the commission proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.

Senate panel OKs beer bill — that beer companies hate

A bill that—as one beer-company insider put it—could allow theme parks to “extort” advertising dollars out of them cleared a Senate panel this week.

The legislation (SB 388), which allows beer companies to advertise in theme parks, was OK’d unanimously by the Senate Regulated Industries Committee with scant attention.

It chips away at the state’s “tied house evil” law by allowing ads, which could include a beer company sponsoring a concert or festival within a park. And ironically, the companies don’t want the law changed.

Moreover, a previous version of the bill theoretically could have allowed beer makers to stock the inside of any Florida bar or tavern with ads because it covered any “vendor licensed under the Beverage Law.”

Bill sponsor Travis Hutson, the Elkton Republican who chairs the committee, amended the bill so it only covered the parks.

“This is a holdover from Prohibition-era laws,” Hutson told the committee Wednesday. He couldn’t be reached Thursday.

As the Tampa Tribune once explained, “Florida and other states passed ‘tied house’ laws, which prohibited taverns and bars from being owned by, or ‘tied’ to, alcoholic beverage manufacturers. Tied houses, common in England, were thought to encourage overconsumption.”

“The federal government … has left this authority up to the states,” Hutson added. If signed into law, Florida would be the fifth state to allow beer ads in its theme parks, he added.

But the strike-all’s language is rather specific: “… a theme park complex comprised of at least 25 contiguous acres owned and controlled by the same business entity and which contains permanent exhibitions and a variety of recreational activities and has a minimum of 1 million visitors annually.”

Representatives for SeaWorld and Universal Orlando said they supported the measure.

Lobbyists for MillerCoors; the Beer Industry of Florida, the association of Florida’s MillerCoors distributors; and the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, which represents Anheuser-Busch distributors; all opposed it.

One critic of the legislation, who asked not to be identified, said current law “actually promotes an open market and competition.”

It prohibits “directly or indirectly giving, lending, renting, selling, or in any other manner furnishing to a vendor any outside sign, printed, painted, electric, or otherwise; providing neon or electric signs, window painting and (decals), posters, placards, and other advertising material … in the interior of (a) licensed premises,” according to a bill analysis.

Under Hutson’s measure, “the biggest players will come in and write the biggest checks,” this person said.

“So when you sit down in a park to order a beer, you’ll look up, see the signage, point to it and tell your waiter, ‘I guess I’ll just have one of those,’ ” the person said.

Still another beer company representative, who also asked not to be named, said they “fear being extorted by the theme parks.”

“We do a lot of business (with them), and we kind of see a situation where they say, ‘We do such-and-such theme night but now we’d like you to pay for it,’ by sponsoring it,” the second person said. “None of the beer guys support this because we all feel like we’ll be put over a barrel.”

The Senate bill, which has an identical House companion (HB 423), will next be considered by the chamber’s Commerce and Tourism and Rules committees. The House bill has not yet had a hearing.

Florida Supreme Court rules sex is sex, no matter who’s doing it

A law that requires someone with HIV to notify a potential sex partner beforehand applies to same-sex relationships as well as between a man and a woman, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously decided Thursday.

The defendant, Gary Debaun, has been trying to have a charge dismissed under a 1986 state law designed to prevent the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus.

Debaun is HIV-positive, according to records.

The case, argued last February, involved the definition of “sexual intercourse.” In 2011, Debaun, a man, lied to a male sex partner that he was HIV-negative, “forg(ing) his doctor’s signature on the lab report,” the opinion said. It did not state whether the other man acquired the virus from having sex with Debaun.

Lawyers for Debaun had argued the law says it’s illegal not to disclose an HIV infection before “sexual intercourse,” but that definition only appeals to traditional sex between a man and a woman—not two men.

The law itself does not define sex, and two different appellate courts had disagreed over the definition.

Justice Charles Canady, who wrote the decision, said: “We first consider the plain and ordinary meaning of the term ‘sexual intercourse’ and conclude that it is not limited to only penile-vaginal intercourse.”

He then notes that “HIV can be spread through vaginal, anal, and oral sex, but anal sex presents the greatest risk of transmitting the infection,” and “gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men … are the population most severely affected by HIV.”

Including forms of sex other than penile-vaginal in the definition of intercourse is “a reasonable result, which gives full effect to the Legislature’s intent to reduce the incidence of HIV,” Canady wrote.

“As used in a statute directed at curtailing the spread of HIV(, )it would be absurd for the term ‘sexual intercourse’ to apply only to the act of heterosexual penile-vaginal intercourse,” he added.

As of mid-2015, the Florida Department of Health estimated that nearly 110,000 Floridians were living with HIV, and there had been almost 5,900 newly-diagnosed HIV infections in the state in 2014.

Senate passes fix to ‘stand your ground’ law

The Florida Senate has passed a change to the state’s “stand your ground” law that would make it easier for criminal defendants to claim self-defense.

It was approved on a 23-15 vote during Wednesday’s floor session. Specifically, the bill would require prosecutors to prove “that a defendant is not immune from prosecution.”

The bill (SB 128), sponsored by Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley, is in reaction to a state Supreme Court decision that put the onus on the defendant to show self-defense under the law, passed in 2005.

The stand your ground law allows people who are attacked to counter deadly force with deadly force in self-defense without any requirement that they flee.

Democrats, including Jacksonville’s Audrey Gibson, said in often emotional debate that the bill would encourage wrongful claims of self-defense.

“This tips the scales against fairness and justice … this is a how-to-get-away-with-murder bill,” she said.

Bradley later responded: “If I thought for one second this would encourage criminal behavior because it created some sort of loophole, I would have had no part of it.”

Sen. Dennis Baxley, the Ocala Republican who sponsored the original law in the House of Representatives in 2005, said the change would help prevent violent acts.

He also said the legislation wasn’t “about guns”: In protecting oneself or others, “I don’t care if you use a chair leg.”

Bradley’s bill now goes to the House for consideration.


Mosquito control boards seeking more money from state

Members of local mosquito control districts are in Tallahassee Wednesday to ask lawmakers for $3.8 million in next year’s budget to fight the two-winged insects.

The Florida Mosquito Control Association held a press conference in the Capitol to drum up support, appearing with state Rep. Matt Caldwell, chairman of the House Government Accountability Committee.

The problem: The state’s relatively warm winter means it’s likely there will be more active mosquitoes and another outbreak of Zika virus infections.

“With the outbreak of Zika we saw in our state last year, it is imperative that we continue to remain vigilant,” Caldwell said. “Mosquitoes ignore county lines, so we must look at mosquito control as a statewide effort in order to be most effective at reducing this dangerous mosquito population and the risk of Zika.”

The $3.8 million request is an increase of $1.2 million over last year.

The money will go toward research and street-level control, said Andrea Leal, Executive Director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District and co-chair of the Florida Mosquito Control Association’s Legislative Committee.

A Periscope video of the press conference can be viewed below:

Rick Scott 03-13-2017

Rick Scott rallies allies for VISIT FLORIDA

With VISIT FLORIDA chief Ken Lawson acting as hype man, Gov. Rick Scott held a Tuesday rally inside the Florida Capitol to “save” the embattled tourism organization.

Scott, not normally a high-energy performer, worked up the crowd of hundreds in the building’s rotunda with the help of CFO Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. In the background, Lawson hollered, “That’s right!” and “Yessir!”

“We need to remain the tourist capital of the world,” Scott said to cheers and whistling.

Meantime, dozens of hotel and restaurant employees and others in tourism-related businesses packed the Plaza level, many holding signs of support, such as “Tourism = Tax revenue,” while others recorded on their smartphones.

“I find it so hard to comprehend that all of you needed to leave your businesses to come here to fight for what the most obvious brand of Florida is, a family-friendly tourist destination,” Putnam said to applause.

He added that many agritourism and ecotourism attractions are thriving because “VISIT FLORIDA was there to help give them a leg up.”

The House voted last week to rein in VISIT FLORIDA, a public-private partnership largely funded with taxpayers’ dollars. It acts as the state’s tourism marketing agency, subsidizing advertising and PR for the industry.

The House wants to subject it to stricter oversight and reduce its budget. Republican Speaker Richard Corcoran took aim after the agency was embroiled in controversy after striking a secret deal, later revealed to be worth as much as $1 million, for Miami rap star Pitbull to promote the state through song, video and social media.

The House also passed a bill last week to abolish the Enterprise Florida economic development organization and a host of business incentive programs.

The Senate, however, generally backs business incentives and tourism subsidies, suggesting the House effort won’t find traction there.

Supporters said the agency gave their marketing boost that they couldn’t alone achieve with their smaller budgets. Putnam urged lawmakers to stay the course, and continue to promote the state.

“As Lawton Chiles used to say, it’s a poor frog that won’t croak in his own pond,” he said.

Scott later told reporters VISIT FLORIDA “is important for jobs in our state. And people care about jobs.”

When asked if he would veto a budget that cut money for the organization, he added, “I never talk about what I’ll do at the end of a (legislative) session.”

“… I can tell you this: I’m going to fight every day for VISIT FLORIDA because it’s about people’s jobs. Look, it’s about families.”


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