Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 214

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.

New committee forms to fight gambling-control amendment

A new political committee called “Vote NO on 3” has registered to oppose a proposed state constitutional amendment requiring voter approval of new gambling.

A Division of Elections listing accessed Friday show the political committee (PC) is chaired by South Florida’s Isadore “Izzy” Havenick, whose family operates Magic City Casino in Miami and Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Racing & Poker in Bonita Springs.

The Havenicks also recently gained approval from state gambling regulators to open a new casino just north of Miami’s downtown in the Edgewater neighborhood.

The PC’s formation paperwork and any initial campaign finance information has not yet been made available online.

“Look, we have a very big target on our back,” Havenick said in a phone interview. “The pari-mutuels and the ancillary businesses that work with us provide a lot of jobs and tax revenue to the state and to local communities. We have to defend ourselves.”

The new committee’s treasurer is Mark Herron, a Tallahassee election-law attorney who works with Democrats.

Its “registered agent” is Christian Ulvert of Miami, a Democratic political consultant and senior adviser to Democratic candidate for governor Philip Levine‘s campaign.

Amendment 3, backed by Disney and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, aims at limiting gambling’s expansion in the state.

The amendment would “ensure that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling,” the ballot summary says.

John Sowinski, chair of Voters In Charge – the PC backing the amendment – told Florida Politics in an email that “it appears that some people would rather buy gambling permits with political contributions and lobbyists than allow voters to have a say.”

The amendment “simply gives power to Florida voters, and takes it away from Tallahassee politicians and lobbyists,” Sowinski said. “It’s no surprise that those who spend millions bankrolling politicians would oppose Amendment 3.”

Izzy Havenick has personally made $9,000 in contributions dating back to 2002, campaign finance records, going to both Democratic and Republican candidates in Florida.

But the Havenicks’ company, West Flagler Associates, has given a minimum of nearly $2.5 million to state candidates and committees, according to records going back to the 1990s.

Division of Elections records also show that Disney and the Seminole Tribe, who both have a stake in limiting the expansion of gambling in the state, each chipped in $5 million in April to the Voters In Charge PC. It’s raised a total of almost $17.5 million since late 2015.

League of Women Voters sues over education amendment

Calling it “affirmatively misleading,” the League of Women Voters of Florida is seeking to have a proposed constitutional amendment on education tossed off the ballot.

At issue is a section that would let organizers of charter schools avoid having to get an OK from local school boards to open.

The League itself, President Patricia M. Brigham, and second Vice President Shawn Bartelt filed suit in Leon County Circuit Civil court on Thursday against Secretary of State Ken Detzner, the state’s chief elections officer.

Amendment 8 was approved earlier this year by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) and placed on the November statewide ballot. Amendments need at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

The suit says its “proposed ballot title and summary fail to inform voters of the chief purpose of the revision, and are affirmatively misleading as to (its) true purpose and effect.”

The League mentioned in its complaint that the amendment’s sponsor, CRC member and Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds, said she “intentionally drafted (the proposal) … to ‘allow the Legislature flexibility to create alternate processes to authorize the establishment of public schools within our state.’ ”

The amendment’s language “would, therefore, enable the Legislature to devise a method of creating and operating new public schools with no input from or participation by the local school boards, school districts within whose borders the schools are located, or local electors,” the suit said.

“Charter schools are nonprofit organizations that have a contract, or ‘charter,’ to provide the same educational services to students as district public schools,” according to the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools website.

In a separate statement, Brigham said: “The Amendment 8 language is blatantly, and unconstitutionally, misleading.”

Voters “will not recognize that the real purpose of the amendment is to allow unaccountable political appointees to control where and when charter schools can be established in their county,” she said.

“We know that Floridians overwhelmingly support the constitutional requirement to make adequate provision for the education of all children that is ‘uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality.’ We are asking the court to ensure that voters aren’t tricked into eliminating those protections.”

The case has not yet been docketed, so it wasn’t known Thursday to which circuit judge it had been assigned.

The League’s copy of the complaint is below.

Lawmakers want judge tossed off environmental funding suit

Saying he violated their constitutional rights “in multiple ways, and over repeated objections,” House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron asked a Tallahassee judge to remove himself from future proceedings in an environmental funding case.

The legislative leaders filed their disqualification request with Circuit Judge Charles Dodson earlier this week.

On June 28, Dodson had granted a “final (summary) judgment for (the) plaintiffs” in a lawsuit over how lawmakers fund environmental conservation. Summary judgments allow parties to win a case without a trial.

A notice of appeal has not yet been filed, according to court dockets. But attorneys sometimes move for disqualification to avoid having the same judge if a suit on appeal gets kicked back down to the lower-court judge for further action.

The case, first filed in 2015, was over the Water and Land Legacy Amendment, also known as Amendment 1. The 2014 constitutional change, mandating state spending for land and water conservation, garnered a landslide of nearly 75 percent, or more than 4.2 million “yes” votes.

Amendment 1 requires state officials to set aside 33 percent of the money from the real estate “documentary stamp” tax to protect Florida’s environmentally sensitive areas for 20 years.

Advocates — including the Florida Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club — sued, saying lawmakers wrongly appropriated money for, among other things, “salaries and ordinary expenses of state agencies” tasked with executing the amendment’s mandate.

Dodson agreed, declaring a laundry list of 2015 and 2016 appropriations unconstitutional.

“The clear intent was to create a trust fund to purchase new conservation lands and take care of them,” he wrote. “The conservation lands the state already owned were to be taken care of, certainly, but from non-trust money.”

But Andy Bardos, the GrayRobinson lawyer representing Corcoran and Negron, said in his filing the plaintiffs never asked for a final judgment, “but only for partial summary judgment as to nine of 114 appropriations challenged in (the) complaint—or eight percent of its case.”

That violated lawmakers’ right to due process, Bardos said, which has now “eliminated the Legislative Parties’ confidence in the fairness and impartiality of this proceeding.”

In response, David Guest – one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers – said “the alleged bias is based entirely on Judge Dodson’s rejection of their legal arguments, all of which were squarely presented at various points in the proceedings.

“That a judge finds a party’s legal argument unpersuasive cannot be the basis of a motion to recuse the judge – only the basis for an appeal,” he added.

This sets a very low bar for what counsel for the Legislature considers to be acceptable conduct. Expect more of this kind of play before this case is over.”

As of June 21, the Senate spent $229,172 in total “litigation expenses” defending the suit, Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said. Similar information was not immediately available from the House.

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, also a defendant named in his official capacity, said his department “did not obtain outside counsel on this case.”

The full filing, with exhibits, is below:

Medical marijuana regulators withdraw licensing fee rule

State regulators have given up for now on a contentious rule requiring a hefty fee from medical marijuana suppliers.

The Department of Health, which regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use, had first proposed in April a “supplemental licensing fee” of $174,844 from each provider.

But the office on Monday, without explanation, announced it was withdrawing the proposed fee from further consideration.

It already had drawn a legal challenge from Liberty Health Sciences, a state-licensed “medical marijuana treatment center” (MMTC).

Its lawyer had argued the state set the fee too high.

“I understand the department will conduct future rulemaking proceedings on this subject and my client looks forward to discussing their concerns,” said John Lockwood, the company’s Tallahassee-based attorney.

In an email, Health Department spokesman Devin Galetta added that the department “is working to ensure that input presented by stakeholders during the rulemaking process is addressed.”

The fee in question was to be an “annual payment by a registered (provider) to cover the (state’s) costs of administering” the law governing medicinal cannabis.

Lockwood said in a filing with the agency that the calculation requires the state’s 13 currently licensed MMTCs “to bear the burden of the supplemental licensure fee when the fee should be borne by at least 17 MMTCs” — which would bring it down to around $133,000, a 24 percent decrease.

The money from the fee would help fund the Coalition for Medical Marijuana Research and Education within the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa.

Lawmakers gave it a mission “to conduct rigorous scientific research, provide education, disseminate research, and guide policy for the adoption of a statewide policy on ordering and dosing practices for the medical use of marijuana.”

Liberty Health Sciences’ other challenge on a “variance procedure” for MMTCs is still pending; a hearing is set for next Friday. Both challenges were filed in the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings.

The idea behind the latter rule, for one example, was to allow providers who had originally applied to use a certain marijuana processing procedure to later ask to use a newer, better technology.

But Liberty’s challenge there suggests it could also cause administrative nightmares by “requiring an MMTC to request a variance before hiring or firing any employee or manager.”

Liberty Health Sciences is a subsidiary of Canadian-based DFMMJ Investments, which itself was formerly partly owned by Aphria, a Canadian producer of medical cannabis products. Liberty has dispensaries in Summerfield, St. Petersburg, Tampa and Port St. Lucie.

Topped out: Hard Rock Hollywood hoists final guitar tower girder

The $1.5 billion expansion underway at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood celebrated a milestone Monday with a “topping out” of its 450-foot high guitar-shaped tower.

That is, the final steel beam was ceremonially hoisted and set atop the tower. It will bring 638 new guest rooms and suites.

“The beam itself was transported to the Seminole Tribe’s Brighton, Immokalee, Big Cypress and Hollywood Reservations over the past month to allow members of the Tribal community throughout Florida the chance to sign it as a way to share in the celebration,” the company, owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, said in a press release. “The onsite construction teams also had the opportunity to leave their signatures on the beam.”

Slated for a fall 2019 opening, the entire project “adds hotel rooms, gaming space, dining and nightlife outlets, a full service spa, three distinct pool experiences, a new retail promenade, a 6,500-seat Hard Rock Live entertainment venue and meeting and convention space to the existing property footprint.”

“A vision has truly become a reality as we place this final beam atop this iconic landmark,” Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming and Chairman of Hard Rock International, said in a statement.

“I thank everyone involved in this project, from the designers and engineers to the day-to-day laborers that are showing the world what the Seminole Tribe and the Hard Rock brand are truly about, unconquered vision, unparalleled service and unlimited future.”

The tribe in late 2016 consolidated its control over the Hard Rock brand, buying out remaining rights from the owner-operator of Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

Since then, Hard Rock announced a fourth location in Florida with the addition of the 200-room Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach. Hard Rock-themed properties are now in Tampa, Hollywood (both include casinos) and Orlando.

The company bought and re-opened the former Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, and has a deal to open a Hard Rock Casino in Ottawa, Canada. The company also wants to build a $1 billion casino in northern New Jersey, just outside New York City.

Pro-greyhound racing campaign strikes back with new video

Can “athletes” perform at their best if they are “confined 23 hours a day in a crate”?

No, says the Committee to Support Greyhounds, in a new video posted Sunday on Facebook. The group opposes a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at ending commercial dog racing in the state.

Amendment 13, placed on the November statewide ballot by the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission, would outlaw betting on dog races in Florida beginning in 2021.

Greyhound owners and breeders, who oppose the ban, have challenged the proposed amendment in court; a trial is set for next month in Tallahassee. Proposed amendments need at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

The Committee to Protect Dogs, which favors the ban, has said the animals are caged for as much as 23 hours daily, using trainers’ own statements in a video and white paper released last month.

“How much sense does that make?” the video’s narrator says. “Think how you would feel” if this were true, the video adds, mentioning “bed sores,” “body aches,” and “an increased risk of stress and depression.”

The one minute and 20 second-long clip then shows greyhounds jumping, digging, playing with each other, and – of course – racing “at speeds up to 45 mph.”

“It’s an absolute lie,” the video says. “These dogs are athletes and we treat them like athletes,” giving them up to 12 hours of non-racing exercise a day, known as “turn outs.”

“The dogs don’t lie,” the video’s end card says.

Sonia Stratemann, the vice chair of the Protect Dogs — Yes on 13 campaign, countered in a Monday statement that “it is an absolute fact that greyhounds are confined for 20 to 23 hours per day.” The campaign is backed by the Humane Society of the United States and GREY2K USA Worldwide, which works to end dog racing.

The greyhound industry, Stratemann said, “admitted this fact until recently, but has apparently realized that Florida voters will not tolerate this cruelty. Dog racers are now willfully misleading the public about how long greyhounds are confined.

“Racing greyhounds are kept in warehouse-style kennels compounds, in rows of stacked metal cages. Every five or six days they are taken to a track, where they are kept in a cage until they race for 30 seconds.

“On non-race days, greyhounds are confined perpetually, except for four daily ‘turn-outs.’ during which dogs are muzzled, placed in small sand pits, and allowed to relieve themselves. Until recently, the industry admitted that greyhounds receive four daily turn-outs that last between 15 and 45 minutes each.

“According to state investigator Stephen Toner, greyhounds are ‘normally confined’ for ’20 to 23 hours per day.’ This is supported by many industry statements, including a video published by Sanford Orlando Kennel Club. I have personally assisted with dog track turn-outs at Palm Beach Kennel Club, and witnessed this extensive confinement myself.

“These are very young dogs that have been bred for speed and strength. Decades ago, the industry discovered it could cut costs by keeping young dogs in extensive confinement for short racing careers and not negatively impact performance.

“They are now trying to use this sad fact to mislead voters. This cruelty goes against our values, and we are confident that Floridians will vote ‘yes’ on Amendment 13.”

Greyhound racing-ban group releases first wave of endorsements

The Protect Dogs-Yes on 13 campaign Friday announced endorsements from over 20 local animal groups.

The group is promoting passage of Amendment 13, put on the November ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).

The proposal, which needs no less than 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution, aims at ending commercial dog racing in the state. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 12 tracks.

“These organizations serve as animal welfare first responders throughout the state, from the Panhandle to Key West,” the campaign said in a statement. “They rescue homeless animals, save lives, and provide an invaluable service to both animals and people in every community.”

“The animal sheltering community is united in our support of Amendment 13,” added Rich Anderson, Executive Director and CEO of Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League in West Palm Beach. “Greyhound racing is cruel and inhumane and should be phased out.”

The local animal shelters who announced endorsements are:

Alaqua Animal Refuge

Brevard Humane Society

Cat Depot

Flagler Humane Society

Florida Keys SPCA

First Coast No More Homeless Pets

Gulf Coast Humane Society

Halifax Humane Society

Humane Society of Tampa Bay

Humane Society of the Treasure Coast

Humane Society of Vero Beach and Indian River County

Justin Bartlett Animal Rescue

Leon County Humane Society

Last Hope Rescue FL

Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue

Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League

Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando

SPCA Florida

SPCA Tampa Bay

St. Augustine Humane Society

Tampa Pets

Challenge to early voting ban on campuses heading to court

A federal judge has set a hearing for this month in a case by university students seeking to overturn the state’s ban on early voting at public college campuses.

Mark Walker, now chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, will consider their motion for a “preliminary injunction to prevent Secretary of State Ken Detzner from enforcing” the ban.

That’s at 9 a.m. July 16, dockets accessed Thursday show. The hearing will be held in the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Tallahassee.

A reply to a motion to dismiss also is due this Friday, dockets show.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration opposes the suit, defending its interpretation of state law to leave out state university buildings from those sites available for early voting. Detzner, the state’s chief election officer as secretary of state, reports to Scott.

The students are joined in the suit by the nonprofit Andrew Goodman Foundation, and the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Florida.

Sponsoring the students — from the University of Florida and Florida State University — is Priorities USA Foundation, a “voter-centric progressive advocacy organization and service center for the grassroots progressive movement.”

Chairman Guy Cecil has said, “We’re confident that we will prevail in court when this case goes to full trial, and in the meantime urge the court to stop Secretary Detzner from suppressing the vote any further.”

Walker, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, has ruled against Scott in two prior voting rights cases.

‘Florida Phoenix’ news operation soars into Tallahassee

In a rare move in today’s media climate, a new online state-news website — “The Florida Phoenix” — launches Thursday in Florida’s capital.

“We don’t pay attention to the media bashers,” the site’s prelaunch splash page said earlier this week.

The nonprofit Phoenix “will cover state government and politics with a staff of four journalists located at the Florida Press Center in downtown Tallahassee,” according to a news release provided to Florida Politics. 

They include Editor-in-Chief Julie Hauserman, an award-winning former reporter for the Tallahassee bureau of the then-St. Petersburg Times, now Tampa Bay Times.

The site, which will be “free of advertising and free to readers,” is backed by the Washington, D.C.-based New Venture Fund, a “public charity that supports innovative and effective public interest projects,” its website says.

The Phoenix is “part of a national effort to fill the void caused by corporate news operations cutting their state capitol bureaus,” the release said. “The site will feature in-depth news stories, a blog, political cartoons, guest columns, social media updates on the latest happenings, and progressive commentary.”

“So much of what affects people in their daily lives happens at the state level, so having watchdog reporters covering state government and politics is critical to a functioning democracy,” Hauserman said. “There’s a lot of wrongheaded policies and influence peddling that goes on and needs to be exposed. That’s our job.”

She added: “We’ve got some terrific reporters, and we’ll be digging into news you need to know about Florida: How are your tax dollars being spent? Who is influencing the people who make decisions on your behalf?

“We want to be the news site for everyone who believes we should have clean water and air, quality public education, affordable health care, human rights, equality, and a fair system of political representation.”

Joining Hauserman is Diane Rado, another Times veteran who most recently was with The Chicago Tribune. She’ll serve as the Phoenix’s deputy editor.

“Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting,” the release said. 

Former Florida Politics Tampa Bay correspondent Mitch Perry has moved to Tallahassee to join the Phoenix. The San Francisco native has been political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and assistant news director at 88.5 WMNF radio in Tampa. 

CD Davidson-Hiers also will report from the capital. The 2017 summa cum laude graduate of Florida State University formerly wrote for the Tallahassee Democrat and Tallahassee Magazine. 

Jackpot: New casino permitted for downtown Miami

Downtown Miami is getting a brand-new casino.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates gambling in the state, late Tuesday issued what’s known as “summer jai alai” permit for a new facility to be built on Biscayne Boulevard.

Site of proposed casino in Miami along Biscayne Blvd., showing individual parcels. (Photo: DBPR)

The new permit was granted to West Flagler Associates, controlled by South Florida’s Havenick family. They operate Magic City Casino in Miami and Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Racing & Poker in Bonita Springs.

Pari-mutuels, particularly in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, covet summer jai alai permits because at a minimum they allow a facility to open a card room and offer simulcast betting.

The permit granting comes more than a year after the 1st District Court of Appeal reversed a denial of West Flagler’s permit application and ordered its reinstatement.

In a phone interview Tuesday night, family spokesman Izzy Havenick said the new property, about six miles from Magic City, would employ 300-350 people and offer jai alai, poker, a restaurant and an entertainment venue.

“We’re very happy, and looking forward to employing people and creating someplace new in downtown Miami,” said Havenick, also West Flagler’s vice president of political affairs.

The new casino does not yet have a name or a site plan. Havenick repeated what he said in a previous interview about the project: “We stopped planning because we didn’t know what would happen.”

He said he expects to resume planning the property next week.

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