Jim Rosica – Page 4 – Florida Politics

Jim Rosica

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

With little ado, House passes 2018 gaming bill

With only one member commenting, the House swiftly passed its omnibus gambling bill for 2018, setting up a possible conference of the two chambers.

The bill (HB 7067) was OK’d on a 70-40 vote, with Republican Halsey Beshears of Monticello and Tom Goodson of Rockledge joining the Democrats in voting ‘no.’

Bill sponsor Mike La Rosa, a St. Cloud Republican, has said he expects both chambers to go to conference on the legislation.

A proposed “voter control of gambling” constitutional amendment will be on November’s ballot; if approved, it would give statewide voters power to approve future expansions of gambling in Florida.

If they don’t get something done now, lawmakers may well be frozen out of influencing gambling.

In debate, Aventura Democrat Joe Geller objected to a ban on pre-reveal games, video consoles that look and play like slot machines.

He also said the 20-year term on a renewed Seminole Compact was too long and would “tie the hands” of future Legislatures.

Finally, he said a provision to funnel some gambling money away from traditional public education was a “poison pill” for the chamber’s Democrats.

Significant differences still separate the House and Senate: For one, the House proposal declares designated-player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack that’s been lucrative for the pari-mutuels, to be “illegal and prohibited.” The Senate would allow them.

The Senate bill (SB 840) is available for the floor there. The 2018 Legislative Session ends Friday.

GOP blocks Democratic attempts to change school safety bill

A win turned into a loss Saturday, as the Republican-controlled Senate first approved—then killed—an amendment on a school safety bill that would have mandated a moratorium on assault rifle sales in the state.

The legislation, called the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act” (SB 7026), is in response to the Valentine’s Day shooting at the Broward County school that left 17 dead.

The defendant in custody – 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz – used a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle, police say.

Mentioning other mass shootings in recent years, “what you can say about all of them is that (the shooters) had an AR-15, that’s the one thing that’s consistent,” said Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II of Miami Gardens, who filed the amendment.

His filing would have created a 2-year moratorium on the “sale, delivery, and transfer of all AR-15-style assault rifles” while the Florida Department of Law Enforcement studies the effectiveness of a permanent ban.

Surprising many in the chamber, Senate President Joe Negron ruled that a voice vote had OK’d the amendment.

Soon, however, Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley moved to reconsider that vote, with the chamber eventually killing it 21-17, with Miami-Dade Republicans Anitere Flores and Rene Garcia joining the chamber’s Democrats to vote for the moratorium.

Bradley later explained to POLITICO Florida’s Matt Dixon: “The president calls balls and strikes. He thought he heard more senators say yes than no. When we went to the board, it turned out he was wrong.”

Democratic outrage to the procedural move was swift.

“Just when you think the GOP is going to do the right thing, they go right back to do nothing to end gun violence,” Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Caroline Rowland quickly vented in an email to reporters.

Democratic candidate for governor Gwen Graham also tweeted, “If I was Governor, I would veto any bill that puts more guns in schools & doesn’t ban assault weapons, and I’d call the Legislature back all summer to get this right.”

Plenty of other amendments from Senate Democrats were also voted down, including “a registry of all firearms sold in the state,” by Jose Javier Rodriguez of Miami-Dade County, and an outright ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, by Orlando’s Linda Stewart.

In a lengthy speech, Altamonte Springs Republican David Simmons inveighed against a ban, mentioning Adolf Hitler, violent video games, the North Korean dictatorship, and alluding to Cuban strongman Fidel Castro.

“You think it doesn’t happen in a free society? It does,” Simmons said. “You never know when that day is going to come.”

But Stewart called them “killing machines” that “blow people up.”

“They need to be banned,” she said. “Let’s do what the kids asked us to do,” referring to Douglas High teens who have come up to Tallahassee to ask for a ban. After an hour of debate, that measure went down on a 20-17 vote against it.

Braynon also tried to remove a “school marshal” proposal from the bill. Commonly referred to as the “arming teachers” provision opposed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, it would allow willing teachers, administrators and staff to be trained and carry concealed weapons.

“No way, no form, no shape. This is a non-starter,” said Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat.

Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican, countered that a teacher could the first defense against a future school shooter: “A teacher with a firearm could be the only thing that stops them.” The amendment to delete the marshal program was defeated 20-18.

By late afternoon, senators were still debating amendments after agreeing to extend Saturday’s floor session to 9 p.m. And late-filed amendments were still being submitted as of nearly 4 p.m.

The latest form of the legislation includes a 3-day waiting period – with some exceptions – to buy any firearm; a waiting period now applies only to handguns. It also raises the age to purchase all firearms in Florida from 18 to 21. And it creates a commission to make recommendations on school safety. Its first meeting could be as early as this June.

A story from earlier Saturday is here. A summary of the bill’s provisions is below.

Senate begins discussing school safety bill

The Florida Senate on Saturday began its consideration of a school safety bill in response to the Valentine’s Day deadly shooting at Broward County’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Senate President-designate Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, presented the latest version of the bill (SB 7026), a summary of which is below.

He was still taking questions from fellow senators by late morning, before the chamber dealt with over 100 amendments, most from Democrats.

The new measure, among other things, now creates a felony for threatening to commit a mass shooting, offers a $500 stipend to teachers who choose to carry a gun at school, and outlaws the possession of “bump stocks,” which make semi-automatic rifles fire at the rate of an automatic.

There still is no assault rifles ban—Galvano said it would raise constitutional concerns, and not just the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.

What raised a red flag with Galvano, he said, was the Florida Constitution’s right to privacy provision, and how a ban could conflict with that.

The legislation, called the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act,” does include a 3-day waiting period – with some exceptions –to buy any firearm; a waiting period now applies only to handguns.

It also raises the age to purchase all firearms in Florida from 18 to 21.

The bill creates a commission to make recommendations on school safety. It “will have teeth,” Galvano said, including subpoena power. Its first meeting could be as early as this June.

Senate passes PTSD benefits for first responders

Without debate, the Florida Senate on Saturday unanimously passed a bill to expand workers’ compensation benefits to first responders who suffer job-related post-traumatic stress disorder.

The measure (SB 376) was among several added to a rare weekend sitting to handle pending school safety legislation. That’s in response to last month’s deadly shooting at Broward County’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The 33-0 vote sends the first responders bill, carried by Democratic Sen. Lauren Book, to the House. A similar companion measure (HB 227) there also is ready for a vote.

The legislation is a priority of Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, also the state’s Fire Marshal.

“The stories we’ve heard over the past few months from first responders, their families and loved ones have been stories of strength that propelled this measure forward,” he said in a Saturday statement.

“Today we approach the finish line and are one step closer to ensuring first responders get access to the mental health benefits they deserve,” Patronis added.

The Florida League of Cities previously dropped its opposition to the proposal; because cities and counties in Florida employ almost all first responders, they will incur almost all of the costs of the benefit.

‘Pre-reveal’: Entertainment or gambling? Legislature may decide

The House on Friday briefly discussed a measure that would ban video game consoles found in bars that look and play like slot machines.

The bill (HB 1367) now will be up for a vote Monday. Longwood Republican Scott Plakon‘s measure expressly makes them illegal under state gambling law.


The Seminole Tribe of Florida, which has exclusive rights to offer slots outside South Florida, is attempting to shut down the games because it believes they violate that exclusivity.

Other states, including Indiana and North Carolina, have found pre-reveal games to be illegal gambling.

A court decision that they are illegal slot machines is under appeal, but Plakon told colleagues, “We should be making policy, not the courts.”

Rep. Al Jacquet, a Lantana Democrat who favors leaving pre-reveal games alone, prodded Plakon about his measure. He noted the Senate companion did not get a hearing this Session, signaling the House bill could be dead on arrival in the other chamber.

“I have never in seven years considered what the Senate is doing,” Plakon said.

The games “preview” certain outcomes as to their winning or losing status. Northeast Florida is largely the home of the pre-reveal games, also called ‘no chance’ games. 

In legal filings, the Tribe’s lawyers have argued pre-reveal players are “not wagering for the already revealed outcome, but rather on the next outcome, which is unknown.”

Players “are not … merely spending money to see spinning reels and flashing lights,” one brief said. “Rather, it is a slot machine, with which players are wagering on an unknown, unpredictable outcome” that they may or may not win.

But Christine Davis-Graves, a pre-reveal game company lobbyist, previously told lawmakers, “If you don’t like the outcome, you can choose to play another … you know exactly what’s going to happen.”

Tom Lee ‘fed up’ with Joe Negron, top down leadership

An embittered Sen. Tom Lee on Friday said the Legislature’s rank and file is “getting crumbs” from leadership and “they’re fed up about it.”

Senate President Joe Negron later countered he’s “proud of the process,” saying “everyone is entitled to their opinion.”

Lee had disagreed with a provision in the House’s big education bill (HB 7055) and offered an amendment to soften union decertification language that critics have called union-busting. The amendment went down on a 19-19 tie.

After the floor session, Lee – a Thonotosassa Republican expected to run for Chief Financial Officer this year – vented with reporters, bemoaning the top-down leadership on both sides of the Capitol rotunda.

“I’ve never seen this place get so transactional, where people are getting locked down on votes, and we’re just getting going here,” said Lee, who was Senate President in 2004-06. “You’re going to have a gun bill that law enforcement’s against, the NRA’s against … members from rural districts are in a headlock because they’re being instructed to vote for it.

“I’ve just had enough … I’ve struggled to get things out of this institution … and it’s petty and I am fed up,” he said. “I didn’t come up here to get bullied; I didn’t come up here to ‘follow directions.’ I came to represent my constituents.”

“It was entertaining political theater,” Senate budget chairman Rob Bradley told POLITICO after Lee’s outburst. “It was totally devoid of facts and detached from reality, but it was entertaining.”

Lee is an ally of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, but earlier on the floor had said the union-related provision was “punitive.”

Naples Republican Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, the sponsor of the Senate bill, told POLITICO she took “umbrage with being called ‘mean-spirited and ‘punitive.'”

“What’s broken about this process? Is it term limits? Is it political committees? I am just done with these people and the way they run this institution. It’s like a third world country,” Lee told reporters.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, also met with reporters later Friday, growing increasingly piqued when asked about Lee’s concerns.

“I’m spending my time” on considering good legislation “as opposed to getting all caught up in home and away football analogies,” he said. “Who’s winning, who’s losing, who has more bills. I’m interested in (the question): Are we making life better for Floridians?

“… There are two competing narratives, and they both can’t be true,” Negron said. “One is that I’m not tough enough on people, I’m not aggressive enough, and the other is I’m running everything from the top down. I’ll actually take that all as a compliment that I’m right in the middle.

“I’m proud of the way the Senate is running right now,” he added. “Bills are being considered; the budget is being put together in a timely way. It’s refreshing to hear criticism that I run things with too heavy a hand because I’ve had criticism the other way.”

The 2018 Legislative Session is scheduled to end next Friday.

Sucker bet? Gambling bills on the move in both chambers

The House and Senate gambling bills were heard separately Friday, but one lawmaker already is folding his hand.

“The chances of a gaming bill passing this session are none,” said Rep. Joe Abruzzo, a Boynton Beach Democrat. “Let’s go home.”

A strike-all amendment had been OK’d on the Senate’s legislation (SB 840) in the Appropriations Committee, clearing it for the floor. Later Friday, the House bill (HB 7067) was discussed and rolled to third reading. Senate President-designate Bill Galvano has said he hopes to get the bills into conference next week.

Lawmakers are under self-imposed pressure to pass comprehensive gambling legislation this year, something they haven’t been able to accomplish for years.

That’s because a “voter control of gambling” constitutional amendment will be on November’s ballot. If it passes, the measure would give voters the power to approve or kill future expansions of gambling in Florida, likely freezing out lawmakers indefinitely.

But the two chambers—as is usually the case in gambling—are still far apart on policy. That includes one provision that authorizes slot machines at pari-mutuels in counties where voters previously OK’d them in local referendums. That was added to the Senate bill Friday; it’s not in the House’s bill.

Both sides of the Legislature include a renewed deal for Seminole Tribe of Florida: Exclusive rights to offer blackjack statewide and to have slot machines outside of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. The state in return gets $3 billion over the first seven years.

Even there, however, the Senate has the deal—known as the Seminole Compact—at 22 years from enactment; the House has 20 years.

Both bills were gummed up Friday by last-minute pushes to expressly legalize pre-reveal games, amusement consoles that look and play like slot machines and that the Seminoles object to as a violation of their slots exclusivity.

Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge John Cooper’s ruling that the games are illegal slots is under appeal. That decision came after a rehearing; Cooper at first decided they were legal.

In the Senate, Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II of Miami Gardens tried to tack on an amendment that he ultimately withdrew.

In the House, members argued for a half-hour over a similar amendment from Al Jacquet, a Lantana Democrat, that was eventually voted down. He said pre-reveal games can’t be illegal gambling because they’re amusements, not games of chance.

“Can you think of any amusement machine that you can put money in and receive more money back?” asked Rep. Randy Fine, a Palm Bay Republican. Jacquet said yes, comparing pre-reveal play to winning a teddy bear from a claw machine.

Asked later why people play pre-reveal if there’s no element of chance, Jacquet said: “I don’t want go into the psychology of gamers. I don’t know why people sit for eight hours in front of a GameStation.”

Senate will meet Saturday to consider school safety bill

In a rare move, the Senate will meet on Saturday to consider school safety legislation.

With the Session clock ticking down, Senate President Joe Negron announced the weekend sitting on Friday morning in a memo to fellow senators. The 2018 Legislative Session is scheduled to end next Friday.

A floor session is planned for 10 a.m.-1 p.m. to hear the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act (SB 7026).

Senate President-designate Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican working on the bill, “informed me that he would like to temporarily postpone consideration of Senate Bill 7026 today to allow additional time to work on this important issue,” Negron wrote.

“As you may be aware, after the 58th day of Session (March 7), the House may only consider returning messages, conference reports and concurrent resolutions,” Negron said. “I do not want to delay consideration of Senate Bill 7026 until next week, possibly affecting the House’s ability to hear the Senate Bill.

“Holding a sitting on Saturday is the best option for both working within our existing rules and affording this legislation the serious time and consideration it deserves,” he added.

“As previously planned, the bill would be heard on Third Reading and available for a final vote on Monday, March 5, 2018.

“My goal is to ensure the Senate has ample time to consider this important bill.”

Asked the last time the body met on a Saturday, Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said she checked with the chamber’s longest-serving staff member, Deputy Secretary of the Senate Gary McKenzie.

“He did not immediately recall a Saturday sitting scheduled during a Regular Session,” she said. “There have, however, been many cases where session extended into Saturday, and also when a sitting during a special session occurred on a Saturday. There have also been committee meetings scheduled for Saturdays.”

Progressive groups call for constitutional amendment on guns

A coalition of progressive and other groups has asked the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) to consider a constitutional amendment that would “ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines.”

The Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, Progress Florida, the League of Women Voters of Florida and 10 others sent a letter to CRC chair Carlos Beruff on Friday.

Noting that the issue is “politically charged,” the letter says the commission “has the ability within its own rules to bring the issue forward.”

In the wake of the deadly shooting at Broward County’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the Republican-controlled Legislature is moving proposals to train and arm teachers, among other school safety measures, but has blocked moves to consider a ban on the sale of assault-type weapons.

“One of the 37 proposed amendments before the commission tweaks the right to bear arms and could be amended to address assault weapons,” the letter explains. “There is a big difference between ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ – and between ‘difficult’ and ‘impossible.’ ”

CRC spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice did not comment specifically on the coalition’s request. The commission is now holding public hearings statewide.

“At (those) public hearings, commissioners are encouraging Floridians to provide feedback on the 37 active proposals that made it through the CRC committee process,” she said. That list is here.

The text of the letter and a copy of the printed letter is below:


Dear Chairman Beruff and Members of the CRC:

The tragedy in Parkland and the ensuing discussion of antidotes to gun violence are perfect examples of the sorts of things the CRC was meant to address. Even though these horrendous murders came late in your process, we write to urge you to include on the 2018 ballot a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

It is no secret that these issues are politically charged, making it difficult or impossible for the Legislature to make any real change. Your Constitution Revision Commission is uniquely positioned to rise above the politics and move some real solutions to the ballot so that Florida Voters have the opportunity to have their voices heard.

You are likely aware of recent polling conducted by Senate leaders that found a strong majority of Floridians across party lines support a ban on military style semiautomatic assault weapons and high capacity magazines.  A Quinnipiac poll conducted earlier this week found 62 percent of Florida voters support a nationwide ban on the sale of “assault weapons.”

A Florida Atlantic University poll released Wednesday found a majority of voters over every party affiliation support stricter gun laws and 69 percent support a ban on assault-style rifles.  Polling conducted last week by one of our coalition partners reached similar conclusions.

In addition to the 64% of Florida voters who support a ban on semiautomatic assault weapons and ammunition, the poll conducted by Public Policy Polling found that even more Floridians – 74% – would like the opportunity to vote on such a ban.  Under each one of these polls, a constitutional ban would be approved by Florida voters.

As the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel editorial board pointed out earlier this week, the Constitution Revision Commission has the ability within its own rules to bring the issue forward. One of the 37 proposed amendments before the commission tweaks the right to bear arms and could be amended to address assault weapons.

There is a big difference between “can’t” and “won’t” – and between “difficult” and “impossible.”   We urge you to put politics aside and let the citizens of Florida have their say.


David L. Barkey, Southeastern & National Religious Freedom Counsel, Anti-Defamation League

Joe Saunders, Senior Political Director, Equality Florida

Barbara A. Petersen, President, Florida First Amendment Foundation

Laura Goodhue, Executive Director, Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates

Maria Rodriguez, Executive Director, Florida Immigrant Coalition

Terry Sanders, President, Florida NOW

Joseph Pennisi, Executive Director, Florida Policy Institute

Pamela Goodman, President, League of Women Voters Florida

Linda Geller-Schwartz, Florida State Policy Advocacy Chair, National Council of Jewish Women

Esteban Garces, State Director, Mi Familia Vota

Mark Ferrulo, Executive Director, Progress Florida

Monica Russo, President, SEIU Florida

Mark Walter, Executive Committee Chairperson, Sierra Club Florida

cc: All CRC Commission Members

Rob Bradley on the budget: ‘A smooth process’

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley told reporters Thursday “major (budget) issues are still unresolved” but “we’re having great communications” with the House.

“It’s been a very smooth process,” he said.

No doubt helping matters is the relative closeness of the two chambers in terms of total spending for next year.

The House and Senate went into conference separated by roughly $100 million; last year, that difference was $4 billion.

The year before that, it was $1.4 billion.

Hospital and environmental funding will likely be “bump” issues, meaning the subcommittees will ask leadership to ultimately resolve differences.

By 10:30 a.m. Friday, “all unresolved issues will bump to Chair Bradley and (House budget chief Carlos) Trujillo,” an email from the Senate explained earlier this week.

By 10:30 a.m. Sunday, “all unresolved issues will bump to the presiding officers,” meaning Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Lawmakers also are looking at spending hundreds of millions for increased school safety after the Parkland high school tragedy.

“But we’re in great shape,” Bradley said. “We’re where we need to be … There’s an agreement on both sides about wanting to accomplish each other’s priorities.”

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