Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 158

Jim Rosica

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

Jose Felix Diaz: ‘We were too far apart’ from Senate on gambling

State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the House’s point man on gambling, said an impossibility of compromise over slot machines killed the 2017 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 told reporters after Tuesday’s House floor session. “The timing was off.”

The sticking point was an offer to expand slot machines to pari-mutuels in counties that approved them in referendum votes. Such an expansion still needs legislative approval. The House opposed it; the Senate wanted it.

The will of residents who voted for slots “should be acknowledged and accepted by us,” Senate President Joe Negron said Tuesday in a Senate floor session, during which he officially dissolved the Conference Committee on Gaming

Also, Negron made clear Monday his desire to pass legislation was for the money: The state is holding about $200 million in gambling revenue share from the Seminole Tribe pending a resolution in legislation and litigation. A court fight between the state and Tribe is pending on appeal.

“My interest in doing a gaming bill this session significantly decreases if we’re not able to deploy the funds available that we’re currently holding,” Negron told reporters. He also had said both sides were “getting close” to a deal.

In any event, this week’s collapse continues the Legislature’s modern history of failure on passing any kind of overhaul of the state’s gambling laws.

The slots issue “was the big divide,” Diaz said, allowing that there were a myriad of other smaller disagreements. “Our constitution has said that gaming is not allowed, and when gaming needs to be expanded in a major way, everybody gets to vote.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran “has been pretty consistent” in not wanting to legislatively OK slots in referendum counties, Diaz said.

So far, voters have passed slots referendums in Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington counties.

When asked about the bill’s death after an impromptu press availability Tuesday, Corcoran said only, “You know my record.”

Lawyer: Seminole Tribe ‘will react accordingly’ to gambling bill’s death

The Seminole Tribe of Florida “will react accordingly” to the demise of a gambling bill this Legislative Session, the Tribe’s top outside lawyer said Tuesday.

Chief negotiators for the House and Senate said earlier Tuesday they wouldn’t resolve their differences over the legislation before the scheduled end of the 2017 Legislative Session on Friday.

When asked whether the Tribe plans to stop paying the state, attorney Barry Richard of the Greenberg Traurig law firm said, “I can’t answer that question,” adding such a decision requires a vote by the Tribal Council.

Gary Bitner, the Tribe’s spokesman, declined comment.

The death of the gambling bill also means killing any chance of passing a renewed blackjack agreement struck by Gov. Rick Scott that promised $3 billion over seven years in revenue share to the state.

But despite active litigation over its right to offer blackjack, the Tribe still pays gambling revenue share to the state as a “sign of good faith,” approximately $20 million a month. The money has gone into the state’s General Revenue Fund, but is not marked for spending.

Senate President Joe Negron has said there’s now about $200 million from the Seminoles sitting in state coffers.

federal judge last year ruled the state broke an original blackjack deal, which expired in 2015, and said the tribe can offer “banked card games” through 2030.

The state appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but that appeal has been on hold while lawmakers considered legislation that could have affected the agreement.

It allows for the Seminoles to stop paying if the state allows gambling that compete with the Tribe’s offerings, including slots and cards. The Tribe has seven casinos, offering blackjack at five, including Tampa’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

A court decision allowing slot machine-type entertainment devices and state regulators OK’ing “designated player games” that resemble blackjack constitute an “infringement” of the Seminole Compact, the overarching agreement signed in 2010.

“If that infringement continues, (not paying) is an option,” Richard said. “The state has to take action to shut those (games) down. If they don’t, the Tribe certainly is entitled to stop payments.”

A spokesman for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates gambling, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

House beats back shroud over Florida’s open meeting law

A change that critics said will neuter the state’s Sunshine Laws by allowing any two elected officials of a local governing body to meet without notice in private failed in the House on Tuesday.

The bill (HB 843), filed by Naples Republican Byron Donalds, received a vote of 68-48—less than the two-thirds needed to change the open meetings law.

It was likely dead on arrival in the Senate, anyway: A companion measure carried by Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley has not been heard this Legislative Session. The annual session is scheduled to end Friday.

It would have let two members of a board of five or more members to “discuss public business” without it being an official public meeting.

The caveat is they cannot “take any formal action, or agree to do so at a future meeting,” the bill says.

The law now says “all meetings” must be noticed and open to the public. In debate, members from both parties opposed the measure.

“We should not turn our back on the right of the public to know how their business is being conducted,” said Rep. Joe Geller, an Aventura Democrat.

Added Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, a St. Johns Republican and former county commissioner: “It’s so easy for deals to be made if we’re not in the Sunshine.”

Rep. Byron Donalds, the Naples Republican who filed the legislation, said the current law assumes that all elected officials “are bad actors.”

“Or should we treat them as we treat ourselves,” he said in debate. Any two state lawmakers can meet privately.

“They should be able to freely assemble … It’s hypocritical for us to meet one on one, and they cannot,” he added. Now, “the unelected staff members are running the show; they’re influencing the debate.”

RIP: Gambling bill dead for 2017

A deal on omnibus gambling legislation for the year went down the drain Tuesday as House and Senate negotiators couldn’t see eye to eye on whether to expand slot machines in the state.

Chief negotiators Bill Galvano for the Senate and Jose Felix Diaz in the House confirmed they were at loggerheads and wouldn’t resolve their differences before the scheduled end of the 2017 Legislative Session on Friday.

Failure was in some sense predestined, with the Senate’s desire to allow some expansion of gambling, including allowing slot machines at pari-mutuels in counties that passed a local referendum, running against the House’s disdain for more gambling.

What also dies is a proposed renewed agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to continue granting exclusive rights to blackjack in return for $3 billion over seven years.

A request for comment with a Tribe spokesman is pending.

Joe Negron: Lawmakers ‘getting close’ to agreement on gambling

Senate President Joe Negron on Monday said lawmakers are “getting close” to a deal on a gambling overhaul bill for the year.

The same day, however, a House Democrat who’s on the Conference Committee on Gaming tweeted “Nope” about the same thing.

Negron was asked about the legislation during a media availability after the day’s floor session. Lobbyists close to the negotiations said the House wouldn’t broker a gambling deal unless senators passed its favored homestead exemption increase, which won approval in the Senate Monday.

When asked how close, Negron said, “I don’t want to give you odds,” smiling. The 2017 Legislative Session is scheduled to end on Friday.

“We have a very compressed time period,” he said. “My interest in doing a gaming bill this session significantly decreases if we’re not able to deploy the funds available that we’re currently holding.”

Despite ongoing litigation over its right to offer blackjack, the Seminole Tribe of Florida continues to pay gambling revenue share to the state, about $20 million a month.

That money goes into the General Revenue Fund, though state officials have said it is administratively segregated.

A renewed blackjack agreement struck by Gov. Rick Scott promised $3 billion over seven years in revenue share to the state, but it failed to gain approval from lawmakers last year.

It’s back before the Legislature this year as part of dueling gambling legislation. The House wants to contract gambling overall, while the Senate would expand some gambling opportunities across the state, including allowing slot machines at pari-mutuels in counties that have passed local referendums approving them.

“I’m not committed to what we would do with those funds,” Negron said. “But I don’t think it makes sense to bring a gaming bill to the floor that doesn’t address the $200 million that’s available.”

But in response to the Senate passing the homestead bill, Tallahassee lawyer Hal Lewis tweeted, “The gambling bill should now be on the fast track!”

Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat on the gaming conference committee, soon tweeted back, “Nope.” 

“For too many years now, our inability to come to a solution on the issue of gaming has allowed the courts to fill the vacuum and legislate from the bench,” he said Monday night. “Meanwhile the dogs continue to run for their life next to an electrified third rail while no one is watching. I thought this year was going to be different.”

When asked specifically whether there was any chance of a bill this year, he said “no,” adding that “obviously the Senate President may know things I do not.”

department of transportation

Mike Dew now vying for top spot at Dep’t of Transportation

Mike Dew, the Florida Department of Transportation‘s chief of staff, now has applied to be Secretary of the department, according to a list of applicants released Monday.

As of Monday’s deadline, 125 people had applied for the open position, created when former Secretary Jim Boxold resigned in January to join Tallahassee’s Capital City Consulting firm. Dew applied Monday morning.

Richard Biter, one of two unsuccessful finalists for the top job at Enterprise Florida and a former assistant secretary of the transportation department, also had applied.

The Florida Transportation Commission, the department’s advisory board, will interview some applicants and nominate three candidates for Gov. Rick Scott’s consideration.

Other applicants from within the agency include Alexander Barr, the department’s Bicycle and Pedestrian coordinator for its Treasure Coast-South Florida district; and Phillip Gainer, its District Secretary for northwest Florida.

Brandye Hendrickson, who was Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Transportation under then-Gov. Mike Pence, previously applied but appears to have withdrawn. Her name was not on Monday’s list.

Lloyd “Luke” Reinhold, a U.S. Navy commander and principal strategist for the U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, has applied, as did Raymond Martinez, chair of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission and Chief Administrator in the Cabinet of Gov. Chris Christie.

The list is below.

Senate adds civil citations, passes Supreme Court reporting bill

The Senate on Monday passed the House’s Supreme Court reporting bill, but after Sen. Anitere Flores had tacked on as an amendment her plan to expand the use of juvenile civil citations.

Without debate, senators passed the measure (HB 301) on a 35-1 vote. Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, was the lone ‘no’ vote. Because of the change, the bill will return to the House.

The original bill, by Republican state Rep. Frank White of Pensacola, would require the state’s high court to tally in detail “each case on the court’s docket … for which a decision or disposition has not been rendered within 180 days.”

White’s bill also requires a “detailed explanation of the court’s failure to render a decision or disposition” in pending cases older than six months. It instructs the court to tally cases it decided in the previous year but took longer than six months.

The Republican-controlled House has long been antagonized by Supreme Court rulings its leaders have characterized as “judicial overreach.”

Flores, Senate President Joe Negron’s chief lieutenant as President Pro Tempore, wants to expand the use of juvenile civil citations. Negron, a Stuart Republican, “made juvenile justice reform a priority of his two-year term,” according to a press release.

They give “first-time misdemeanor offenders the opportunity to participate in intervention services at the earliest stage of delinquency,” according to the Department of Juvenile Justice.

“I’m pleased to hear about the Senate’s support for timely justice for Floridians,” White said later Monday afternoon. “I hope to have the opportunity to discuss Sen. Flores’ civil citations language with my House colleagues on the floor this week.”

The added language is from Flores’ bill (SB 196), which cleared its committees and had been placed on special order last week.

It “requires law enforcement officers to issue a civil citation, or require the juvenile’s participation in a diversion program, when the juvenile admits to committing certain first-time misdemeanor offenses including possession of alcoholic beverages, criminal mischief, trespass, and disorderly conduct, among others.”

“We should not, and we will not tolerate serious wrongdoing by young people,” Negron said in a statement. “But at the same time, we should not stigmatize non-violent, first-time youth offenders with a criminal record that could impact their ability to further their education, join our military, or earn credentials for many other important jobs.”

Greyhound steroid ban dies in Senate

A bipartisan bill banning the use of steroids on greyhound racing dogs is likely dead for the 2017 Legislative Session.

The last committee of reference for the Senate bill (SB 512) had been Appropriations, which did not hear it Monday at its last meeting. The House version (HB 743) passed earlier this month on an 84-32 vote.

“We had the votes to pass it,” said Senate bill sponsor Dana Young, a Tampa Republican. The Senate bill cleared two previous committees on 8-2 and 9-2 margins. “Unfortunately, we were not able to get it on the last agenda.”

Senate Appropriations chair Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, was not immediately available for comment. He did not mention the bill during a post-meeting interview with reporters Monday.

“It’s very sad,” Young added. “I’ve been working on humane issues like this for seven years.”

The House sponsor, Orlando Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith, did not immediately respond to a text message.

The measure had been vehemently opposed by racetrack and racing dog associations. There are 19 race-dog tracks remaining in the United States, 12 of them in Florida.

Smith had argued in committee that trainers use steroids on female greyhounds to keep them from going into heat and losing racing days. He called the use of steroids on dogs equivalent to “doping.”

“Anabolic steroids can have harmful long-term side effects, in addition to serving as a performance enhancer on female dogs,” Smith had said in a news release. “As long as greyhound racing continues in Florida, we have a moral obligation to ensure these dogs are treated as fairly and humanely as possible.”

casino table

House to Senate: No homestead exemption increase, no gambling bill

The fate of this year’s gambling bill is being held hostage to passage of a homestead exemption increase, sources told FloridaPolitics.com Sunday night.

Publicly, lawmakers have been saying that progress on omnibus gambling legislation was taking a backseat to the 2017-18 state budget talks.

The Conference Committee on Gaming hasn’t met since last Thursday. The Senate is largely for some expansion of gambling in the state; the House wants to hold the line.

Behind the scenes, however, House leadership made the decision to put gambling on hold until the Senate moved on the House’s priority bill, an increase in the state’s homestead exemption that would effectively result in a property tax reduction.

Even if passed, the measure creates a constitutional amendment that still has to be approved by 60 percent of voters on the 2018 statewide ballot.

It’s on the Senate floor for a vote Monday afternoon.

“Everyone is on pins and needles on lots of issues waiting for that vote,” said one veteran lobbyist. “Everything melts down if the Senate doesn’t pass it.”

But the measure is bitterly opposed by many Democrats and local governments, who say cutting taxes means less money to fund critical local services like police and fire. It wouldn’t affect taxes to fund local public schools.

But House Speaker Richard Corcoran and his lieutenants made clear, according to lobbyists in The Process, that the gambling bill “and a whole lot of other stuff” will suffocate and die without passage of the exemption measure.

“Session comes to a halt without the homestead bill,” another consultant said.

Signals from the Senate of how badly it wants a gambling bill this year have been mixed.

Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican and likely Senate President for 2018-10, has long been the chamber’s point man on gambling.

At the first conference meeting, Galvano said he did not “want to raise anybody’s expectations,” at the same time adding that “inaction (on gambling) is not an option.”

Neither he nor state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami-Dade Republican and Galvano’s House counterpart in the Gaming conference, responded to a request for comment.

The night before the Monday vote, a gambling lobbyist sent a text, saying things were “scary … I’m nervous.”

Constitutional review panel money becomes a ‘bump issue’

The House and Senate is seemingly at odds over whether to pay for the Constitution Revision Commission.

A Sunday spreadsheet that came out of the first 2017-18 state budget conference chairs meeting of the day had a line item for the commission, which meets every 20 years to review and revise the state’s governing document.

That includes going around the state to hold public hearings for ideas on possible amendments.

The item was among more than 40 statewide appropriation bump issues in what’s known as “administered funds.” Bump issues are those that ultimately may have to be worked out between Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

The spreadsheet shows that the Senate offered to fund the commission with $2 million; the House offers nothing.

“I would have to go back and look at it,” House Appropriations chair Carlos Trujillo said after the meeting. “Honestly, I couldn’t tell you anything specific about it.”

Added Senate Appropriations chair Jack Latvala: “I’m not familiar with that.”

Gov. Rick Scott asked for the commission funding out of general revenue in the “executive direction and support services” section of his proposed budget.

“We are continuing to watch this and support what the governor included in his budget,” Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said.

Added Meredith Beatrice, spokeswoman for commission chair Carlos Beruff: “We are working with the CRC’s appointing authorities and monitoring the budget process.”

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