Jim Rosica – Page 5 – 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.

Joe Negron reflects on past, looks to future

In a brief ‘exit interview’ last week with Florida Politics, outgoing Senate President Joe Negron said lawmakers over the last two Sessions “made tremendous progress” on goals he set out in his 2015 designation speech, “a blueprint of things I tried to accomplish.”

Among those, beefing up higher education “with world class faculties,” addressing pollution in Lake Okeechobee, and “decriminalizing adolescence” with pre-arrest diversion programs and making it easier to expunge juvenile arrest records.

In other highlights:

— What “didn’t get a lot of attention” last year, the Stuart Republican said, was reforming eyewitness identifications in criminal cases “to reduce the chance of wrongful convictions.”

— The Constitution Revision Commission, on which he has nine appointees, starts its Session Monday.

Negron, an attorney, said he favors proposals that would raise the retirement age for judges and help with K-12 education “flexibility.” He’s had “general conversations” with his appointees on his “guiding principles,” but added he trusts their “good judgment.”  

— Though redistricting has afforded him an extra two years in the Senate after his 2016-18 presidency, he said he hasn’t yet decided whether he’ll serve that bonus time.

Negron was elected to the House in 2000, serving for six years, including a term as Appropriations Committee chair in 2005-06 under then-House Speaker Allen Bense. He was first elected to the Senate in 2009, and also served as budget chair there in 2012-14.

“I’m going to take a few weeks to think about it,” he said. “Term limits are there for a reason.”

— Negron now is focusing on his business litigation work for the Akerman firm in its West Palm Beach office.

“I’m a lawyer first, a legislator second,” he said. “This was one part of my life that I greatly value … but my primary professional identity is as a lawyer. I’m back in the office. I enjoy what I do.”

— When asked what advice he’d give to future legislative candidates, he said he’d repeat the advice given him by Bense in 2000. 

“He told me in order to be strong in Tallahassee, be strong at home. (Candidates’) political efforts and philosophy should be grounded in their community.”

Quick budget turnaround cuts TaxWatch off at the pass

Talk about pre-emption.

With Gov. Rick Scott speedily approving the 2018-19 state budget and issuing line-item vetoes just two days after it hit his desk, Florida TaxWatch was prevented from holding its signature event: The annual presentation of “Budget Turkeys.”


“This historically, exceptionally fast turnaround time did not allow Florida TaxWatch to fully complete the meticulous review of all appropriations required to produce our annual Budget Turkey Watch report before the governor exercised the constitutionally provided check-and-balance known as the line-item-veto,” said Dominic M. Calabro, TaxWatch President and CEO.

The group defines turkeys as “legislatively directed projects, usually local member projects, placed in individual line-items or accompanying proviso language that are added to the final appropriations bill without being fully scrutinized by the public and subjected to the budget committee process, or that circumvented established grant and other selection processes.”

The nonprofit organization, which bills itself as anindependent, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute,” usually holds a press conference every year at Tallahassee’s Press Center to roll out the report.

“We certainly hope the Governor’s hard-working staff had time to duteously review every expenditure of public dollars on behalf of the taxpayers statewide who will be funding these projects,” Calabro added in a Friday statement.

There was some good news, he added: “Because of good rules governing appropriations projects … , the vast majority of these projects do not qualify as Budget Turkeys under the established Florida TaxWatch criteria.”

Nonetheless, the roughly $88 billion budget “also contains a startling number of local transportation member projects—nearly 60 projects worth $120 million … for which there is no formal evaluation and selection process.”

Better luck next year.

No quilts for you: Rick Scott vetoes museum money

Out of $64 million in budget vetoes issued Friday, Gov. Rick Scott killed $270,000 slated for the acquisition of the Florida Quilt Museum building in Trenton, the county seat of Gilchrist County.

That gladdened Rep. Evan Jenne, a Dania Beach Democrat who inveighed against the money during debate on the state’s spending plan.

“I am pleased to see that Gov. Scott took appropriate action on this particular line item veto,” Jenne said in a text message.

“The State of Florida should not be doling out $270,000 for a quilt museum with a taxable value of $98,000 and no quilts. It was the height of fiscal absurdity and had no place in our budget funded on the backs of taxpayers.”

Earlier Friday, he tweeted: “It’s the little victories that keep me going.”

Stephanie Metts, the museum’s founder and a board member, first learned of Scott’s line-item veto from a Florida Politics reporter. 

“What a shame for this little community that is so struggling,” she said. Trenton’s population is a little over 2,000.

The museum is “not funded by anybody; my husband and I are the only ones putting any money into this,” Metts said.

She also denied the “no quilts” claim: “We have all kinds of quilts,” Metts said, mentioning there were over 100 now on display through loans. “We own very few quilts because it takes money to buy quilts, which we don’t have.

“There’s one traffic light here and not even a motel,” she added. “We’ll try to raise more money … We’re getting older and we can’t keep doing this.”

Greyhound racing ban passes legal muster, ‘pregnant pig’ lawyer says

The lawyer that successfully represented a pig farmer who sued over the state’s ‘pregnant pig’ constitutional amendment now says another proposed amendment to do away with greyhound racing is legally sound.

Broad & Cassel attorney M. Stephen Turner, who represented Florida pig farmer Stephen Basford, wrote an opinion letter – provided to Florida Politics Thursday – for GREY2K USA Worldwide, the organization that seeks to end dog racing.

Greyhound owners say that the amendment at issue (P67), would amount to an unconstitutional ‘taking’ if passed. In constitutional-law parlance, a taking is when government “uses, regulates, (or) seizes private property” and doesn’t pay for it.

Florida also has its own law, the “Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act,” to protect property owners from takings that don’t rise to a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp and former appellate judge Paul Hawkes, who now represent the Florida Greyhound Association (FGA), say the amendment’s passage will subject the state to lawsuits worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 12 tracks.

The dog-racing ban is one of 36 to be considered by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) when it convenes in Session, beginning Monday in Tallahassee. Turner’s letter was sent to commissioners earlier Thursday.

The panel is formed every 20 years to review and consider changes to the state’s governing document. The CRC can place amendments directly on the ballot, but they still must be approved by at least 60 percent.

Proposal sponsor Tom Lee, a CRC member and Republican state senator from Thonotosassa, plans to tweak it to include a ban on the “commercial” racing of dogs altogether, not just betting on dog races, as it currently stands.

Turner won Basford’s case over the pig amendment, passed by voters in 2002 and in effect by 2008, that said pregnant pigs could not be “confined” in such a way that “prevented (them) from turning around freely.”

Basford had to shut down his pig operation; he eventually won over $500,000 in a decision upheld in a 2-1 ruling by a 1st District Court of Appeal panel.

“In contrast, gambling on dog races is a nuisance at common law, and a constitutional amendment reverting that activity to illegal status would not cause taking of property,” Turner wrote. “… Its prohibition is well within (the state’s) police power.”

Turner’s letter, however, is based on a ban on wagering on greyhound racing, not the outright ban on dog racing that Lee now contemplates. Lee filed that change Wednesday.

“Unfortunately for Mr. Turner he obviously wrote his opinion before” Lee filed the change, said Jack Cory, the FGA’s spokesman and lobbyist. That change “only strengthens our position.”

Still, “to the extent that dog owners, breeders, trainers and kennel operators might claim their personal property is devalued … even a regulation directed to personal property cannot constitute a taking if there is some remaining use that can be made of the property,” Turner wrote.

“The voters deserve the opportunity to decide whether commercial greyhound racing should be phased out,” said Christine Dorchak, co-founder, president and general counsel of GREY2K USA Worldwide. “Proposal 67 deserves a place before voters in November.”

But Kottkamp and Hawkes, writing in an op-ed sent this week to Florida Politics, see a potential deluge of claims.

“Nothing in CRC Proposal 67 prohibits bleachers, but the state would most likely have to compensate the owners of the bleachers or viewing stands at each of the racetracks because (they were) part of the ‘functionally integrated nature’ of the property,” they wrote.

“The question then is: What is the fair market value of all the real and tangible property in Florida that would be adversely affected by the passage of CRC Proposal 67?” Added to that figure would be litigation cost and attorney fees as in the Basford case.

Racing greyhounds “are routinely purchased for as little as $2,000 or as much as $50,000,” they added. “You could assume a very conservative average of $5,000 per dog, which would total $40 million. You would then add the value of the approximately 7,000 racing greyhounds on farms that are being raised and trained. A very conservative figure for greyhounds in training would be $3,000 each or another $21 million.

“Thus, an extremely conservative estimate of the damages just for the racing greyhounds that could no longer race as the result of CRC Proposal 67 would be over $60 million. This does not include the partial taking and loss-of-value claims related to kennel property and equipment.”

Updated Friday — Dorchak responds in an email: “The Florida Greyhound Association does not understand the proposed legislation and is desperately trying to confuse Commissioners. Proposal 67 outlaws commercial dog racing, and prohibits new racing licenses. The Broad and Cassel memo makes clear that racing licenses are not property and do not trigger recovery under the Bert Harris Act. This carefully prepared analysis applies equally to the initially filed text and to the new strike-all language.”

Advocates rally to save Tobacco Free Florida funding

If passed, a proposed constitutional amendment to redirect dollars from tobacco-prevention efforts to cancer research would turn “a bad idea into a hard reality,” one opponent said Wednesday morning.

Later that same day, however, the amendment’s sponsor deleted the section about cancer research funding.

Longtime Tallahassee PR man Ron Sachs joined former Attorney General Bob Butterworth and others in a conference call to beat back the proposal (P94), filed by Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) member and House Speaker pro tempore Jeanette Nuñez.


The call was sponsored by the American Cancer Society of Florida’s Cancer Action Network.

Tobacco Free Florida, the state’s tobacco prevention and cessation program, is funded with 15 percent of the annual proceeds from the 1995 landmark settlement between the Sunshine State and Big Tobacco,” a news release explained.

But “Proposal 94 would allow those funds to be diverted away from tobacco prevention and be used for cancer research,” it says. “Additionally, it would remove a requirement that one-third of the Tobacco Free Florida budget be focused on directly combating the marketing efforts of Big Tobacco.”

But Wednesday also was the deadline to file changes to active proposals, of which there are 36, including Nuñez’s. She filed a change to P94, taking out the section about cancer research funding.

Sachs, reached later in the day, called the last-minute tweak “a puff of smoke,” saying the proposal still restricts funding to smoking prevention efforts. Wednesday’s change still must be adopted by the commission.

A message seeking comment from Nuñez, a Miami Republican, was left at her district office. The 2018 Legislative Session ended Sunday.

After years of litigation, Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1997 signed off on a roughly $11 billion settlement with Big Tobacco industry, which he called “the straw that broke Joe Camel’s back.” Sachs had been Chiles’ chief spokesman; he later started his own PR firm that represented “the ‘dream team’ of lawyers fighting Big Tobacco into a settlement,” he said.

Butterworth, also a Democrat, was in office at the time and helped negotiate the deal. The idea was to use the tobacco industry’s own profits to help Florida pay for public health costs created by smoking-related sickness.

That has since, however, created a “policy schizophrenia,” as Florida Trend Executive Editor Mark Howard put it in 2010: “One hand keeps tobacco money firmly attached to its budgetary lip, while the other does everything it can to quit the habit.”


Butterworth, who jokingly introduced himself as “recovering politician,” noted that the percentage of Florida’s high school smokers decreased from 27.5 percent to 4.2 percent over the last two decades.

He called Nuñez’s idea “a very bad proposal,” adding, “we have a lot of work to go … we have to keep this battle going.”

Sachs warned that approving the amendment would create “a high-five moment” for Big Tobacco, which in its marketing still outspends Florida’s anti-smoking efforts by a 24-1 ratio. Passing Nuñez’s proposal would turn “a bad idea into a hard reality,” he added.

The CRC, which convenes every 20 years, still must clear the language for the November ballot. Then, it would have to be approved by no less than 60 percent of statewide voters to be added to the state’s governing document.

Rick Scott surprises Larry Metz: He’s a judge

In a surprise announcement Sunday from the dais of the Florida House, Gov. Rick Scott said he had appointed Republican Rep. Larry Metz as a circuit judge.

Metz, a Yalaha Republican and 62-year-old lawyer in private practice, applied for a judgeship in the 5th Judicial Circuit, covering Lake, Marion, and Sumter counties. He’s term-limited in the House this year.

“This caught me clearly off guard,” he said Sunday. “… It shows that (Scott) has very special trust and confidence in me … I’ll never forget this day and I look forward to being able to uphold the rule of law as a member of the judiciary.”

The former Marine is one of the House’s most reliably conservative members. He chairs the Public Integrity & Ethics committee under House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and has previously chaired the Justice Appropriations subcommittee.

Metz also has backed measures that would stop Florida cities and counties from shielding undocumented immigrants (the “sanctuary cities” bill), ban the use of foreign law in Florida courts, and call for a “convention of states” to consider congressional term limits.

Circuit judges hear civil disputes of more than $15,000 and criminal felonies, as well as probate, juvenile, and other cases.

Metz argued before the Supreme Court in favor of a new evidence law he sponsored, one that toughens the state’s expert witness standard.

He unsuccessfully applied for a seat on that same court in late 2016, for an opening that went to current Justice Alan Lawson. During an interview for the position, Metz revealed he has Parkinson’s disease.

“I disclosed it in a context I thought I needed to,” he said in a 2016 interview. But the disease “hasn’t stopped me from doing what I want to do.”

Parkinson’s is a “chronic and progressive movement disorder, meaning that symptoms continue and worsen over time,” according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.

The disease, which has an unknown cause, often manifests through trembling of the hands, legs and jaw. There’s no cure, although the symptoms can be managed through medication.

“I have a positive outlook,” he said in 2016. “This is not going to affect my future. I’m going to continue to work hard and do my job.”

Tallahassee not only capitol with ‘sine die’ traditions

Tallahassee is devoted to certain traditions on “sine die,” the final day of the yearly Legislative Session, but it’s the not only state that has them.

In Idaho, capital reporters wear ugly ties near session’s end to “encourage legislators to finish their business quickly and go home,” says a Legislative Research Librarians newsletter.

In the Magnolia State, Mississippi State University lobbyists put tomato seedlings “on the desks of legislators, staff members and sometimes statehouse reporters.”

“The tradition started several decades ago after university researchers engineered a robust tomato plant capable of traveling well,” according to a Stateline blog post. “Proud of their development, they sent some to the Capitol, where the tomatoes were a hit.”

In Georgia, lawmakers toss ripped paper into the air above their desks, and in Alabama, legislators give a “shroud” award to the bill deemed least likely to pass.

Here in Florida, traditions focus on colors: Pink, red and white.

Pink, as in the color of ties, sport coats, dresses and flowers worn by lobbyists, lawmakers and others, especially as they mill about in the 4th floor Rotunda between the two chambers.

Wearing pink, for those who still remember the reason, is to honor the late insurance lobbyist Marvin Arrington, who wore a pink sports coat on the last day of Session.

Arrington died the last week of the 2002 Session, succumbing to a heart attack in his car near the Capitol. (For the story on that tradition, click here.)

The red refers to the same-colored Solo cups ubiquitous on the last day. Capitol Police frown on drinking alcohol in the building, so (mainly) lobbyists sneak their tipple in the plastic chalices — though now it’s pretty much an open secret.

The same cups also were immortalized — maybe even “immoralized” — in song by Toby Keith, who called them “the best receptacle/For barbecues, tailgates, fairs and festivals.”

And white, as in the handkerchiefs ceremonially dropped by the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms to mark the precise moment of Session’s end.

As the State Library and Archives of Florida explains, in the days pre-technology days in the Old Capitol, the presiding officers of each chamber couldn’t see each other and weren’t in communication by telephone.

“The House and Senate sergeants would stand in the rotunda where they could be observed by the Senate President and House Speaker,” the website says. “The sergeants would drop a handkerchief at the moment agreed upon for adjournment and the gavels would fall in each house to formally signal the end of the session.”

That tradition, though, has taken a hit in recent years.

In 2011, the chambers were at odds over a flurry of competing priorities, including claim bills and tax breaks. They adjourned separately in the wee hours of the morning, eschewing the traditional joint “hanky drop.”

And in 2016, the House went home three days early after the chambers deadlocked over health care funding, forcing a Special Session to finish the 2015-16 state budget.

Sunshine State gambling #fails: A short history (updated for 2018)

Just as it always does in recent years, a legislative effort to revisit the state’s gambling laws tanked in the last week of this year’s Legislative Session.

Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran released a joint statement Friday night: “Despite the good faith efforts of both the House and Senate, a gaming bill will not pass the Legislature this session,” they said.

It’s not clear when lawmakers will get another shot: A proposed “voter control of gambling” constitutional amendment will be on November’s ballot. It would give statewide voters sole power to approve future expansions of gambling in Florida.

“The amendment could have a big effect,” Senate-President-designate Bill Galvano told reporters late Friday, mentioning the initiative was polling in the low 70 percent-range. It needs 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

“It could ultimately take off the table the opportunity for certain types of expansion,” added the Bradenton Republican, who’s president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States. “It has the potential of narrowing the issues.”

Failing again was an attempt to get a proposed new “Compact” – the gambling agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe.

Then again, Florida has a history of failure when it comes to addressing gambling. The state’s inaction even caused the Las Vegas Sands Corp. to give up its efforts to build a destination casino resort in Florida.

The inertia is largely because of the fractured vote when it comes to gambling issues, split among anti-gambling-expansion lawmakers, those with a Seminole casino in their district, and those with other pari-mutuel interests among their constituency (i.e., dog or horse tracks).

In 2016, Nick Iarossi, the Sands’ Florida lobbyist, said he “understand(s) their perspective … We’ve been pushing this for six years with no success.”

Four years before that, former state Sen. Ellyn Setnor Bogdanoff pushed a measure to permit three destination hotel-casinos in South Florida. That effort died.

“Nobody wants to address a comprehensive approach to gambling in this state,” she said then. “It’s taboo but it still needs to be fixed.”

The next year, realizing they had likely bungled it, lawmakers hastily moved to ban Internet gambling cafés – only after a multistate investigation that netted dozens of arrests threw egg on the Legislature’s collective face.

Two years later, House Republican Leader Dana Young of Tampa sponsored her own sweeping legislation to permit two destination resort casinos in South Florida and allow dog tracks to stop live racing but continue to offer slot machines, among many other provisions.

It, too, died during the Legislative Session.

Last year, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, then the House’s point man on gambling, said an impossibility of compromise over slot machines killed a gambling bill.

“We were too far apart and the Senate wanted to bring it in for a landing during budget conference, and we were not going to be able to do that,” he said. “The timing was off.”

Slot machines killed the 2018 attempt as well. A conference committee melting down over an impasse related to expanding slots to eight counties that approved them in local referendums: Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington.

The House’s final proposal — five new “limited gaming” licenses for either 500 slot machines or the ability to offer a certain type of card game, but not both — was deemed “too cute” by Negron, according to one person in the industry.

“He was willing to extend gaming conference over the weekend, but the last House offer killed it. So we’re done,” that person said privately.

Negron, a Stuart Republican who leaves the presidency after this year, had long pushed to expand slots to referendum counties, including St. Lucie, which he represents.

And the House was intransigent on designated player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack that’s proved lucrative to pari-mutuel cardrooms, being banned everywhere else besides those areas.

But, as another gaming lobbyist said late Friday, “The status quo isn’t all that bad.”


Parts of this post were published previously.

Legislature slashing Health Dep’t pay because of medical marijuana delays

[Ed. Note — This story, first posted Thursday, was updated Friday.]

Lawmakers on Thursday included a provision to withhold more than $1.9 million in Department of Health salaries and benefits in the final 2018-19 state budget until regulators fully implement medical marijuana.

The proviso language, which “qualifies or restricts a specific appropriation,” means certain Health officials will get a temporary pay and benefits cut until they “implement” medical cannabis as authorized under the state constitution and statute.

The full budget was released midday Thursday, to be voted on Sunday. The money will be “held in reserve,” with its release “contingent upon implementation,” the language says.

That means “solely and exclusively by adopting all rules required by statute and any other rules necessary to implement this constitutional provision.”

House Republican Jason Brodeur of Sanford, who first submitted the budget provision, on Friday clarified that the withheld pay applies to the department’s “executive direction entity.”

He defined that as including Health Secretary and state Surgeon General Celeste Philip, her chief of staff, legislative affairs director, and the Office of Medical Marijuana Use, including its director, Christian Bax.

The withheld pay is effective July 1, the start of the next fiscal year, but “wouldn’t have an impact until later in the year so it won’t cripple them right away,” Brodeur said.

“The (budget’s) implementing bill also provides some language to assist them in meeting that contingency so they can implement the will of the legislature more timely,” he added.

The budget would still be subject to line-item vetoes by Gov. Rick Scott, to whom the Health Department reports.

Lawmakers have long been irritated over the department’s delay in implementing medical marijuana under a 2016 constitutional amendment that voters passed by 71 percent.

They later approved and Scott signed an implementing bill, which gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

Brodeur and other legislators, including Republican Sen. Dana Young of Tampa, have been peeved over a backlog of applications for marijuana growing and dispensing licenses, and for state-issued patient ID cards, among other things.

Moreover, the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee, which ensures that agencies write rules that line up with statutes, has sent at least 17 individual objections to the department over medical cannabis regulation.

They range from the department’s issuing “contingent licenses” and requiring the submission of a $60,830 nonrefundable application fee, to its listing more than 40 distinct operations violations “with no standards or guidance … , thereby vesting unbridled discretion in the Department.”

Bax has told lawmakers of recent progress, however.

That includes regulations on advertising and signage, edible products, and addressing the use of “solvents and gases” used in marijuana processing that could be toxic to humans. And he has said the department has inspected over 100 medical marijuana treatment centers, some “multiple times.”

Bax also told legislators that a deluge of lawsuits and administrative challenges, most over denied licenses, was slowing down the works.

But at a committee meeting last October, Young shot back, “I’m not buying it that because there’s litigation out there you can’t fulfill your statutory duty to issue these licenses.”


Updated — The following statement in response to this post was sent by Health Department spokeswoman Mara Gambineri:

“We are appreciative of the Legislature for exempting the department from the ratification requirement, which posed a barrier to expeditious implementation of rules – specifically the department’s ability to accept applications for new Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTCs). As stated in the department’s letter to JAPC, we plan to move forward with accepting applications for new MMTCs this spring.

“In addition, the department has initiated rulemaking for 11 rules and next week are hosting two public rule workshops focusing on the standards for the production of edibles and dosing for both low-THC cannabis and medical marijuana. Additional public workshops have been scheduled in March and April.

“The department has put substantial effort into streamlining the Medical Marijuana Use Registry Identification Card program. Yesterday, we announced that we’ve further streamlined the application process for OMMU Registry Identification Cards through the deployment of online payments.

“This comes on the heels of completing the integration of photos from the Department of Highway Safety’s system. To date, there are more than 83,000 patients registered in the OMMU Registry with access to 29 dispensing locations and statewide delivery of low-THC cannabis and medical marijuana.

“The department has made – and will continue to make – significant progress in the implementation of Amendment 2 and section 381.986 Florida Statutes, despite the special interests involved in this new industry.”

Snake eyes: Gambling bill dies for 2018

The Florida Legislature’s last best chance to pass comprehensive legislation on gambling came up a bad beat on Friday, with a conference committee calling it quits.

Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran released a joint statement Friday night.

“Despite the good faith efforts of both the House and Senate, a gaming bill will not pass the Legislature this session,” they said.

That means the status quo abides, and no renewed deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida that would have guaranteed $3 billion into state coffers over seven years. Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner declined comment.

It’s not clear when lawmakers will get another shot: A proposed “voter control of gambling” constitutional amendment will be on November’s ballot. If that’s approved by 60 percent, it would give statewide voters sole power to approve future expansions of gambling in Florida.

“We appreciate the tireless efforts of Chair (Travis) Hutson and Chair (Mike) La Rosa, as well as the many members of the House and Senate, and the professional staff, who worked diligently during these final days and hours of session,” the two legislative leaders said.

Sen. Hutson, a St. Augustine Republican, and Rep. La Rosa, a St. Cloud Republican, led their respective Senate and House contingents in the Conference Committee on Gaming.

“Gaming remains one of the most difficult issues we face as a Legislature,” Negron and Corcoran said. “We are pleased with the progress made over the last week and know that our colleagues will continue to work on this important issue.”

The House had made the last offer: Five new “limited gaming” licenses for either 500 slot machines or the ability to offer a certain type of card game—but not both.

Those licenses would be for any of the eight counties that approved slot machines through a local referendum: Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington.

“We were going to get creative, think outside the box,” La Rosa told reporters earlier Friday, explaining the offer.

It was too creative, however, for Negron. He’s long pushed to expand slots to referendum counties, including St. Lucie, which he represents.

As a gaming industry source privately explained: “The House offer was too cute. Joe (Negron) wasn’t having it. He was willing to extend gaming conference over the weekend, but the last House offer killed it. So we’re done.”

Negron put it a little differently late Friday as regards the slots referendum counties.

“When we got to the details of what would be required to take advantage of those slots, it was just a bridge too far,” he said. “I think we just ran out of time … The positions ultimately weren’t reconcilable.”

The House also was intransigent on designated player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack that’s proved lucrative to pari-mutuel cardrooms, being banned everywhere else.

Saved by the collapse of talks are pre-reveal machines, video games that look and play like slot machines that the House sought to explicitly outlaw.

Supporters say they’re for entertainment only, though they do pay out winning plays. Opponents, including the Tribe, say they’re illegal and violate its exclusive rights to offer slots outside South Florida.

A Tallahassee judge’s ruling that they constitute illegal gambling is on appeal.

The Tribe pays between $200 million and $300 million a year into state coffers as part of a deal that guarantees it exclusivity to offer certain games, particularly blackjack.

Though the Tribe and the state settled a lawsuit over blackjack, allowing them to offer the game till 2030, the Tribe’s ongoing payments to the state are contingent on state gambling regulators promising “aggressive enforcement” against games that threaten their exclusivity.

That has included pre-reveal, some kinds of designated player games, and even fantasy sports.

The sides are now in a “forbearance period” that ends March 31. But most gambling industry insiders don’t believe the Tribe would ever stop paying.

“That would just give the Legislature the excuse they need to finally do a deal with the pari-mutuels that would pass,” said one person, who asked not to be named.

The various offers from Friday are below.


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