Jim Rosica – Page 6 – 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.
cardrooms

House strikes back on gambling: Five ‘limited gaming’ licenses

The House’s turn to deal in talks toward an omnibus gambling bill produced an proposal for five new “limited gaming” licenses for either 500 slots or designated player games—but not both.

And designated player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack that’s proved lucrative to pari-mutuel cardrooms, would be banned everywhere else. And no new pari-mutuel, cardroom or slots licenses could be issued in the state.

The latest offer came at the Conference Committee on Gaming‘s second meeting on Friday.

“Our goal is to contract gaming as much as possible,” Rep. Mike La Rosa said after the meeting. “You can have slot machines or you can have designated player games.”

Earlier, the Senate came to the table with a plan for six new slots licenses, upping the House’s open of three new slots licenses.

The House’s caveats were that the licenses go outside Miami-Dade and Broward counties to any of the eight counties that approved slot machines through a local referendum: Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington.

The House returned to its insistence that counties ratify their vote in a second slots referendum after this July 1, and that license  applicants “relinquish” five or more pari-mutuel permits. It added a $1 million non-refundable application fee.

The House contingent also insisted on an earlier provision that any new facility be at least 100 miles away from the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, and at least 20 miles away from any other Seminole casino, including the one in Hollywood.

To renew a proposed limited gaming licenses, a pari-mutuel has to pony up $40 million in taxes and fees after one year.

In other provisions, the eight existing slots casinos in South Florida would have to reduce slot machines to 1,500 from 2,000.

The House would outlaw pre-reveal machines, video games that look and play like slot machines.

“This is not the type of gaming we want to allow,” said La Rosa, a St. Cloud Republican. “Slot machines are illegal unless we authorize them. We don’t see these as any different.”

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

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

“We try to include them,” La Rosa said of the Tribe. “We are thinking about them … Right now, we need to figure this out with the Senate.”

“The jet’s not in the air,” added Travis Hutson, La Rosa’s Senate counterpart, referring to the Seminoles’ method of travel to Tallahassee.

A pending deal with the Tribe would renew their exclusive rights to offer blackjack in the state and slots outside South Florida in exchange for $3 billion over seven years. The Senate wanted a 22-year deal; the House was at 20 years.

A next meeting conference committee meeting was not immediately set.

“I think the ball’s in our court,” said Hutson, a St. Augustine Republican. “We’ll take a look at this, seriously consider it, see what we want to do, if it’s something we want to move forward with.”

The various offers are below.

 

generic casino photo

Senate raises gambling offer to six slots licenses

The maneuvering toward comprehensive gambling legislation continues, with the Senate seeing the House offer to create three new slot machine licenses, and raising them three more.

The Conference Committee on Gaming met again Friday morning.

Out of the mix so far is expressly allowing fantasy sports play in the state, and allowing continued play of designated player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack that’s proved lucrative to pari-mutuel cardrooms.

The Senate further restricted their offer of six new slots licenses to Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Lee, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties. Those counties previously passed local referendums to add slots at pari-mutuels.

Hamilton and Washington, two other “referendum counties,” were left out.

To strive toward the House goal of a net contraction of gambling in the state, the Senate included a requirement for pari-mutuels there to give up an active greyhound permit that generated $20 million in total handle, or two active greyhound or jai alai permits.

“Handle” refers to the total amounts of bets taken.

The Senate didn’t accept the House’s geographical restriction that any new slots facility be at least 100 miles away from the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, and at least 25 miles away from any other Seminole casino, including the one in Hollywood.

And the chamber would increase the House’s cap on machines per casino to 750 from 500.

Other highlights are below. A full story on the House’s opening offer is here.

House makes modest offer toward gambling compromise

The House’s first stab on comprehensive gambling legislation this year includes a spartan offer to the Senate of only three new slot machine licenses for pari-mutuels in counties that OK’d slots in local referendums.

The Conference Committee on Gaming met for the first time Thursday evening; Rep. Mike La Rosa was elected chair.

The proposal on the table would also require the selected counties to conduct a second referendum to confirm the first, to be held after July 1, the offer says.

Owners would have to surrender a gambling permit at one of their locations and agree to “permanent termination of all gaming activities at that permitted location.”

Slots referendums have passed in eight counties, including Palm Beach and Gadsden. There, the Alabama-based Poarch Band of Creek Indians operates the track in Gretna, and a greyhound track in Pensacola. For instance, they’d have to agree to shut down greyhound operations to get slots in Gretna.

The offer, however, also requires the permit (or permits) given up to have “generated at least $40 million in total handle during” fiscal year 2015-16. (Handle refers to the total amount of bets taken.)

At first, only Palm Beach County appears to qualify under the initial offer. But an owner in any of the other “referendum counties” could combine or buy up permits to reach the magic number, the language suggests.

Palm Beach Kennel Club reported more than $42 million in total handle that fiscal year, according to state records. In fact, that’s the only one that clears the threshold by itself. Pensacola Greyhound Track reported total handle of $986,835 that same year.

Moreover, any new slots facility would have to be at least 100 miles away from the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, and at least 25 miles away from any other Seminole casino, including the one in Hollywood.

Each new casino can have no more than 500 machines, and renewal would be contingent on that facility ponying up at least $40 million in taxes and fees after a year.

The maximum number of slot machines in casinos where they’re now offered at pari-mutuels in South Florida would have to go down to 1,500 from 2,000.

Committee vice-chair Travis Hutson took the offer for the Senate but did not comment on it. By shortly after 7 p.m., the committee announced it would hold no further meetings Thursday evening.

slot machines

Lawmakers going to conference on gaming

Updated 12:10 p.m. — On a voice vote, the House approved going to conference on the gaming bill, with Mike La Rosa named chair of the House contingent. He chairs the Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee.

As of 2 p.m., a conference had not been noticed.

Updated 6:45 p.m. — The conference committee picked La Rosa as chair, and Hutson as vice chair. La Rosa presented House Offer #1, the details of which were not immediately available, and which was taken under advisement. The committee then adjourned till further notice.

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House members received a memo Thursday morning announcing a plan to conference on this year’s gambling bill.

“Today we will take up a returning message list that consists of the gaming bill (HB 7067),” the memo said.

“Rep. (Mike) LaRosa will move to refuse to concur in the Senate amendment and accede to the Senate’s request to appoint a conference committee … Please stay nearby and ready as we will likely recess and reconvene a few times today to await returning messages.”

On Wednesday, Senate bill sponsor Travis Hutson offered an amendment to the House version that already passed off the floor. The chamber OK’d it 22-10, sending it back.

“voter control of gambling” constitutional amendment will be on November’s ballot. If it passes by the required 60 percent, the initiative would give voters power to approve or kill future expansions of gambling in Florida. That could shut out lawmakers from having a say over gambling indefinitely.

The latest language adds, among other things, what Hutson called a “partial decoupling” for thoroughbred horse racing, referring to the term for removing provisions in state law requiring dog and horse tracks to run live races if they wish to offer other gambling, such as cardrooms.

It also adds a ban on steroid use in racing greyhounds, but removes a ban on video games known as “pre-reveal” that look and play like slot machines, and that critics say are illegal gambling. Pre-reveal game makers say they’re only for entertainment, though they do pay out winning plays.

Other significant differences exists between the chambers: The Senate is OK with designated player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack played at pari-mutuel cardrooms; the House would ban them. The House also would ban pre-reveal games.

Both chambers would extend a gambling exclusivity agreement with the Seminoles in exchange for $3 billion in revenue share over seven years. But the Senate is at 22 years; the House is at 20 years.

There’s more time for lawmakers to address gambling because the chambers failed to finalize a state budget on time this week to finish the 2018 Legislative Session on Friday.

On 67-50 vote, House sends contentious gun, school safety bill to governor

After the Florida House passed contentious legislation Wednesday that would arms school personnel and create unprecedented gun restrictions in the state, members took a moment to applaud Andrew Pollack, the father of a girl shot dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The hastily crafted bill, HB 7026, passed the Republican-controlled House on a 67-50 vote after almost eight hours of emotional debate. The proposal divided Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature in the weeks that followed the Valentine’s Day school massacre.

But all eyes are now on Gov. Rick Scott, who on Wednesday would not commit to its final passage. He said he would take his time to read every line of the bill before signing it into law.

The $400 million gun and school safety proposal includes funding to demolish the building where teenagers and teachers were slaughtered by a 19-year-old gunman. It also includes gun-control provisions banning the sale of bump stock and raising the legal age to buy an assault rifle from 18 to 21 that hardline Republicans, like state Rep. Jay Fant opposed.

The bill that now heads to the governor also includes language that would allow local governments to participate in a program that would arm school personnel and train them to react in case of an active shooting on campus.

Pollack and Ryan Petty, the father of a 14-year-old girl who was also killed in the school shooting, told reporters Wednesday they were in favor of the proposal because it had a lot of good in it.

“As families, we have different opinions and different backgrounds, but we came together and are united behind this legislation and our ask is that the House comes together, as the families have, to pass this bill,” Petty said.

Petty did not get to see the House vote on legislation because he had to catch a flight. Pollack had a flight at 7pm, but likely missed it in order to watch what legislators would do in response to the tragedy that took his kid.

But even with parents being in support of it, some lawmakers were still not fans of the legislation.

“There is language in here that are lot of folks don’t love, but will support,” said Rep. Kristin Jacobs, whose district includes the high school, in Parkland. “We don’t support it because we love it but because we know it is the first of many steps, (and) when we take incremental steps, we get somewhere.

“We understand there are sections (in the bill) we can’t stomach, but we must move forward together,” she added.

Rep. Evan Jenne of Dania Beach, the House Democratic Caucus policy chair, noted lawmakers have all “been through a lot … this has not been a good last couple of weeks.”

He said he spoke with Parkland students, who made clear they “didn’t want more guns in their classrooms, that wasn’t going to make them feel safe.”

Jenne went on to say the bill “reads like the rough first draft of a Steven Seagal movie, like the cafeteria ladies are going to spring into action.”

Members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus pointing to concerns about black and brown children being targeted if school staff are allowed to carry guns in schools.

“Each and every day, black and brown boys and girl face the threat of gun violence whenever they leave their homes,” said Democratic state Rep. Tracie Davis said.

“This issue affects our communities in a way that some in this chamber will never understand,” she added, “while we are having this debate, I ask that we keep their lives in mind, their futures in mind, their dreams in mind, because too often, this legislature has not.”

Senate passes gambling bill, requests conference

The Florida Senate on Wednesday passed the latest version of comprehensive gambling legislation for 2018, and asked the House to go into conference to bang out a compromise.

Bill sponsor Travis Hutson offered an amendment to the House bill (HB 7067) that already passed off the floor. The chamber OK’d it 22-10, sending it back.

Hutson—a St. Augustine Republican who chairs the Regulated Industries Committee—noted further concessions in his measure while saying, “The House has not come closer to us at all.”

“voter control of gambling” constitutional amendment will be on November’s ballot. If it passes by the required 60 percent, the initiative would give voters power to approve or kill future expansions of gambling in Florida. That could shut out lawmakers from having a say over gambling indefinitely.

The latest language adds, among other things, what Hutson called a “partial decoupling” for thoroughbred horse racing, referring to the term for removing provisions in state law requiring dog and horse tracks to run live races if they wish to offer other gambling, such as cardrooms.

It also adds a ban on steroid use in racing greyhounds, but removes a ban on video games known as “pre-reveal” that look and play like slot machines, and that critics say are illegal gambling. Pre-reveal game makers say they’re only for entertainment, though they do pay out winning plays.

Not discussed Wednesday was a plan by a consortium of pari-mutuel owners to increase the money they give to the state if lawmakers agree to grant slot machines in counties that OK’d them in local referendums. Allowing such slots is now in the Senate bill.

The idea is to match or beat the revenue share—estimated at $200 million-$300 million a year going forward—coming from the Seminole Tribe of Florida for their exclusive rights to offer slots outside South Florida and to offer blackjack.

A working proposal would guarantee $250 million in “slot machine taxes and license fees to the state.”

Other significant differences exists between the chambers: The Senate is OK with designated player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack played at pari-mutuel cardrooms; the House would ban them. The House also would ban pre-reveal games.

Both chambers would extend a gambling exclusivity agreement with the Seminoles in exchange for $3 billion in revenue share over seven years. But the Senate is at 22 years; the House is at 20 years.

The Senate also does not specify how that Seminole gambling money is spent. The House would divvy it up three ways:

— A third to “K-12 teacher recruitment and retention bonuses.”

— Another third to “higher education institutions to recruit and retain distinguished faculty.”

— The final third to “schools that serve students from persistently failing schools,” or Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s priority “Schools of Hope” program.

There’s more time for lawmakers to address gambling because the chambers failed to finalize a state budget on time this week to finish the 2018 Legislative Session on Friday.

Session, at least for now, looks likely to continue at least through Monday.

A conference would include Senate President-designate Bill Galvano and House Speaker-designate José Oliva, the two gaming negotiators for the Session.

As Session creeps to close, blockbuster gambling deal emerges

A consortium of pari-mutuel owners is working on a proposal to increase the money they give to the state if lawmakers agree to grant slot machines in counties that OK’d them in local referendums, industry sources told Florida Politics early Wednesday.

The play is to match or beat the revenue share—estimated at $200 million-$300 million a year going forward—coming from the Seminole Tribe of Florida for their exclusive rights to offer slots outside South Florida and to offer blackjack.

The proposal now is to guarantee $250 million in “slot machine taxes and license fees to the state,” as provided by the most recent strike-all amendment in the Senate.

Sen. Travis Hutson, the St. Augustine Republican who chairs the Regulated Industries Committee, plans to put that amendment on the House bill (HB 7067) already passed off the floor and ask to go to conference on the legislation this week.

Request for comment to Hutson and to Senate President-designate Bill Galvano, who would lead gambling bill negotiations in conference, are pending. The Tribe does not comment on any pending negotiations related to gambling legislation, spokesman Gary Bitner said.

The dog and horse tracks got more time as lawmakers failed to finalize a state budget on time to finish the 2018 Legislative Session this Friday. Session, at least for now, looks likely to continue at least through Monday.

But one owner says he doesn’t have his hopes up.

“I guess we’ll see, but I’m not optimistic,” said that person, who asked not to be named, citing ongoing talks. “I don’t know why anyone expects anything to change. (The House and Senate) are too far apart.” The House opposes any new slots.

Moreover, 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.

The plan in the works is to guarantee a total annual pot of money from all the facilities, instead of per facility, one source said.

It would also satisfy Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s desire for “an absolute contraction” of gambling in the state, insiders say. Here’s how: Pari-mutuels that have facilities in counties where a slots referendum passed would get the machines if they give up active gambling licenses elsewhere.

For example, the Alabama-based Poarch Band of Creek Indians operates facilities in Gretna, Gadsden County, where a slots referendum passed, and a greyhound track in Pensacola. They’d have to agree to shut down greyhound operations to get slots in Gretna.

“Right now, I would trade in permits I have to get slots, absolutely,” said the pari-mutuel owner, who’s not connected to the Poarch.

But if legislators fail to agree on legislation by Sine Die and the constitutional amendment on gambling passes, that same owner says he’s washing his hands of The Process—and of political contributions to state lawmakers.

“They’ll never see any of my money ever again,” the owner said. “Why bother?”

Updated 2:15 p.m. — The Senate bill was temporarily postponed on the floor.

Colin Hackley

Rick Scott says he’ll sign first responders’ benefits bill

Gov. Rick Scott said he will sign a measure to expand workers’ compensation benefits to first responders who suffer job-related post-traumatic stress disorder.

Scott made the announcement early Wednesday at a “Ringing of the Bell” ceremony for Florida’s fallen firefighters at The Capitol.

The legislation (SB 376) is a priority of Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, also the state’s Fire Marshal. Patronis and Scott, both Republicans, are political allies.

“Gov. Scott’s announcement today shows his continued leadership and commitment to this community,” Patronis said in a statement.

PTSD is a hidden killer among our first responders,” he added. “It’s critical that we do everything possible to ensure first responders are not alone as they cope with the horrific images they see daily. Today was not only a day to honor those we have lost, but to celebrate the lives we could save.”

Democratic Sen. Lauren Book of Plantation, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, carried the bill in the Senate; Rep. Matt Willhite, a Wellington Democrat and Palm Beach County Fire Rescue captain, sponsored the House version (HB 227).

The Florida League of Cities had 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.

School safety bill up for vote in House

The House began debate Wednesday on the Legislature’s school safety bill, hastily crafted in response to the Valentine’s Day shooting at Broward County’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that claimed 17 lives.

The day before, the Republican-controlled chamber beat down a slew of amendments on the measure (SB 7026), including one aimed at deleting a ‘guardian program’ to train and arm school staff, excluding full-time classroom teachers.

But two parents who lost children in the shooting told reporters they support the legislation as is.

The idea is to make sure the bill doesn’t “bounce.” Amending the Senate bill in the House and then passing it would mean the bill would have to go back to the Senate, instead of straight to Gov. Rick Scott. Scott has said he opposes “arming teachers.”

Despite the House Democratic Caucus taking a position to oppose the bill, known as the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act,” one Broward County Democrat said she was voting for the measure.

“There is language in here that are lot of folks don’t love, but will support,” said Rep. Kristin Jacobs, whose district includes the high school, in Parkland. “We don’t support it because we love it but because we know it is the first of many steps, (and) when we take incremental steps, we get somewhere.

“We understand there are sections (in the bill) we can’t stomach, but we must move forward together,” she added.

Rep. Evan Jenne of Dania Beach, the House Democratic Caucus policy chair, noted lawmakers have all “been through a lot … this has not been a good last couple of weeks.”

He said he spoke with Parkland students, who made clear they “didn’t want more guns in their classrooms, that wasn’t going to make them feel safe.”

Jenne went on to say the bill “reads like the rough first draft of a Steven Seagal movie, like the cafeteria ladies are going to spring into action.”

Speaker Richard Corcoran later pointed out Ryan Petty in the gallery. His 14-year-old daughter, Alaina, died in the shooting.

“As families, we have different opinions and different backgrounds, but we came together and are united behind this legislation and our ask is that the House comes together, as the families have, to pass this bill,” said Petty, who later spoke to reporters.

“There are so many good things in the bill that it is hard for me to comprehend why you would be against this bill,” added Andrew Pollack, who lost his 18-year-old daughter Meadow. “The majority of this bill is going to help the communities.”

Ralph Massullo, a Lecanto Republican and medical doctor, was one of several who spoke up for the guardian program.

“We’re not requiring teachers to be armed; we are giving people who work in schools the option to be armed,” he said. “… If it saves one life, it’s worth it.”

House members continued to debate the bill as of 11 a.m. The last summary of the bill’s provisions is here.

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Capitol correspondent Ana Ceballos contributed reporting. 

House begins deliberations on post-Parkland measure

The House spent three hours just on questions on a contentious $400 million school safety proposal passed by the Senate on Monday.

House members took up the bill (SB 7026) Tuesday, with Democrats peppering Speaker-designate José Oliva with questions, many of them duplicative.

“Asked and answered,” Speaker pro tempore Jeanette Nuñez said several times.

She was in the chair as Speaker Richard Corcoran was trying to finalize a state budget for 2018-19, due on the desks today to finish the Legislative Session on time by Friday.

Lawmakers are struggling to pass a bill to address school safety and mental health after the Valentine’s Day shooting at Broward County’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that claimed the lives of three adults and 14 teens.

A summary of the bill’s provisions as of Tuesday morning is here.

Outside the chamber, a group of students and progressive activists held a “die-in,” lying on the floor of the rotunda to protest the bill and later chanting, “Our children are dying.”

(Photo: Jim Rosica)

“We believe that an increased presence of guns in K-12 schools is not the answer to gun violence,” said a press release from the group, which included Florida State and Florida A&M students.

Part of the legislation, called the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act,” had been scaled back.

It originally included a ‘marshal program,’ which would have allowed teachers to carry concealed weapons on campus to fend off active shooters.

An amendment changed the name to the “Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program,” in honor of the coach who died trying to protect students. It now ensures “instructional personnel who are in the classroom cannot participate in the program.”

Democrats and other critics noted that school librarians, coaches and psychologists can still sign up for the program.

Liability was one area seized on by House Democrats, with several – including John Cortes of Kissimmee, a retired corrections officer – wondering who could be sued if a guardian shot the wrong person.

That “will be for insurance (companies’) actuaries to determine,” Oliva said.

Democratic Leader-designate Kionne McGhee of Miami questioned Oliva about “bump stocks,” which make semi-automatic rifles fire at the rate of an automatic. The bill outlaws their possession, Oliva said.

By 1:30 p.m., the House had just gotten to the first of over 40 active amendments filed on the bill, almost all by Democrats.

The day before, Sen. Tom Lee – a Thonotosassa Republican who had voted against the bill there – offered words of warning.

“I don’t know if they’re going to continue to work on this in the House,” he said. “I can’t imagine them bouncing this back and we have to go through this all over again … God help us if they send it back.”

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