Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 191

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.

Fantasy sports bill moves after one high-profile ‘no’ vote

A proposal to exempt fantasy sports from state gambling regulation cleared a Senate committee Thursday—but with one notable opponent.

“I don’t think the issues raised are clear,” said Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Port Orange Republican and vice-chair of the Regulated Industries Committee, which handles gambling policy.

Aside from Hukill’s ‘no’ vote, that committee otherwise moved the bill (SB 374) by Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, on an 8-1 vote. Similar measures (SB 840, HB 223) have been filed for the upcoming Legislative Session.

In the online games, players pick teams of real-life athletes and vie for cash and other prizes based on how those athletes do in actual games.  

Asked to clarify her position after the meeting, Hukill said, “Is this a game of skill or not? I don’t think that’s clear, at least for now. If I knew (more), I would do an amendment to the bill.”

The committee also OK’d an amendment to the measure that further defines a “fantasy contest operator” as a “participant in the fantasy contest, serves as the commissioner of not more than 10 fantasy contests in a calendar year, and distributes all entry fees for the fantasy contest as prizes or awards to the participants in that fantasy contest.”

“We need to make sure that the individuals playing fantasy sports are not subject to criminal penalties because of any uncertainty” in state law, she told the committee. Young has said fantasy sports can’t be gambling because they are largely games of skill, not chance.

But opponents, including the Seminole Tribe of Florida, say they are games of chance and passing the bill would constitute an expansion of gambling, which violates the revenue-sharing deal between the state and the Tribe that’s worth over $200 million a year.

The state of law on such games is muddy. Florida and other states continue to grapple with whether the games are mere entertainment or illegal sports betting.

A 2006 federal law banned online gambling but specifically exempted fantasy sports, paving the way for the creation of the niche industry that’s since exploded in popularity. 

A 1991 opinion by then-Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, however, says “operation of a fantasy sports league” violates state gambling law. Such opinions don’t have the force of law, but can be used to persuade judges.

Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Ken Bell, now in private practice, wrote an opinion letter earlier this year for client DraftKings, a leading fantasy sports website, that “fantasy sports are themselves a form of sport, requiring skill to be played, and do not constitute wagering on an athletic competition.”

And this Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard argument in the state of New Jersey’s challenge to a 1992 federal law that prohibits states from allowing gambling on sports.

Young’s bill next heads to the Rules Committee. This is the last ‘committee week’ before the start of the 2018 Legislative Session on Jan. 9.

Annette Taddeo, Lori Berman press for Medicaid expansion by ballot

In what is likely a dead-on-arrival proposal, two South Florida lawmakers said they will push for a legislatively-initiated state constitutional amendment approving Medicaid expansion in Florida.

Sen. Annette Taddeo of Miami and Rep. Lori Berman of Lantana, both Democrats, announced their resolutions (SJR 1136 and HJR 911) at Thursday press conference in the Capitol.

“The resolutions will put before the voters the opportunity to determine whether approximately 800,000 working poor without healthcare should be able to get the insurance Florida’s taxpayers have already paid for,” they said in a statement.

Democratic candidate for governor Gwen Graham also came out last month in support of a constitutional amendment on Medicaid expansion.

“Maine recently passed a constitutional amendment that mirrors Florida’s proposal, and states including Utah and Idaho are considering ballot initiatives as well, indicating that momentum is building across the country,” the lawmakers’ statement said.

“It is time for the Legislature to listen,” Taddeo added Thursday.

The House’s Republican leadership, however, has been vehemently opposed to Medicaid expansion for years, virtually ensuring the measure won’t survive that chamber in the 2018 Legislative Session. That’s despite some polls showing support for such a ballot initiative at nearly 70 percent.

Expanding Medicaid to cover working poor without health insurance is a provision of the Affordable Care Act. When lawmakers first began considering such a move in 2013, Florida could have received close to $51 billion over 10 years, according to reports.

As the Tampa Tribune has reported, the idea was to “wean states, including Florida, from another federal funding source known as the Low Income Pool, or LIP. The pool reimburses hospitals for charity care.

But “House leadership warn(ed) that the federal government (then under President Obama) could withhold dollars at any time, leaving state taxpayers stuck with the bill,” the paper reported. “Close to a third of the state budget already goes to paying for Medicaid.”

Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposed budget for 2018-19 “provides more than $1.5 billion annually over five years to fund the low income pool (LIP), in the event hospital districts decide to contribute the necessary matching funds,” according to the Governor’s Office.

“It is incumbent on the hospital districts to partner with the federal government to draw down these funds,” its website says. “The LIP program is a federal matching program that provides federal funds to Florida hospitals to cover costs for the state’s most vulnerable patients.

“This year, Gov. Scott worked with the federal government to secure this critical funding. This funding is an increase of more than $892 million over what was provided by the Obama Administration.”

A Periscope video of Thursday’s press conference is below.

Seminole Tribe criticism of fantasy sports is ‘off point,’ Dana Young says

State Sen. Dana Young is defending her fantasy sports bill for 2018, saying the Seminole Tribe’s criticism of her measure and related legislation is “off point.”

On Wednesday, the Tampa Republican referred to a February legal opinion by former Florida Supreme Court Justice Ken Bell for DraftKings, a leading fantasy sports website.

The day before, the Tribe sent a letter warning lawmakers that fantasy sports bills filed for the 2018 Legislative Session, if approved, would violate the Seminole Compact. (An earlier story is here.)

In sum, Bell said “the passage of legislation authorizing online fantasy sports should have no effect on the payments due to the State of Florida under the Compact.”

That’s the gambling agreement struck by the state and the Seminoles that, among other things, promises them exclusive rights to certain games. In return, the Tribe pays the state over $200 million a year.

But any violation of the exclusivity deal “would allow the Tribe to cease all revenue sharing payments to the State,” the Tribe’s letter said. The implication is that the bills would impinge on that exclusivity by allowing an expansion of gambling.

In an interview, Young was incredulous when told of the Tribe’s concerns. Her bill (SB 374) exempts fantasy sports play from state gambling regulation. Similar measures (SB 840, HB 223) have been filed for the upcoming Legislative Session.

“This issue has been around since 2015 and this is the first time the Tribe has raised the Compact as it relates to fantasy sports,” she said.

Fantasy sports fans have argued their hobby is a game of skill and not of chance, and shouldn’t be considered gambling—a position with which Young said she agrees.

Such contests “are games of skill in which prizes are offered, and are not gambling,” Young said. “The Tribe’s letter is therefore off point and not relevant to this legislation.”

In the opinion letter, Bell—now with the Gunster law firm—says “fantasy sports should not be considered internet/online gaming or casino-style gaming.”

“Fantasy sports competitions, such as those sponsored by DraftKings, should not be classified as internet gambling (because) they do not constitute an online bet or gamble,” he wrote.

“It can be reasonably argued that … fantasy sports are themselves a form of sport, requiring skill to be played, and do not constitute wagering on an athletic competition.”

The Tribe’s objections happened to come one day after the U.S. Supreme Court heard argument in the state of New Jersey’s challenge to a 1992 federal law that prohibits states from allowing gambling on sports.

Updated 2:15 p.m. — Young has filed a strike-all amendment on her bill, which can be read here.

It defines a “fantasy contest operator” as a “natural person who is a participant in the fantasy contest, serves as the commissioner of not more than 10 fantasy contests in a calendar year, and distributes all entry fees for the fantasy contest as prizes or awards to the participants in that fantasy contest.”

*                              *                              *

Seminole Tribe fires warning letter to Legislature over fantasy sports

The Seminole Tribe of Florida‘s top in-house lawyer told lawmakers this week that their fantasy sports bills are a dealbreaker.

A $200 million dealbreaker.

The Tribe now says fantasy sports bills filed for the 2018 Legislative Session, if passed, would violate the Seminole Compact. That’s the gambling agreement struck by the state and the Seminoles that, among other things, promises them exclusive rights to certain games. In return, the Tribe pays the state hundreds of millions per year.

Break that deal, the Tribe says, and it’s entitled to pay not one more dime. Around 3 million Floridians say they play some sort of fantasy sports.

Jim Shore, the Tribe’s general counsel, sent a warning letter dated Tuesday to Sen. Travis Hutson, a St. Augustine Republican, and Rep. Mike La Rosa, a St. Cloud Republican. Hutson chairs the Senate’s Regulated Industries Committee, which oversees gambling issues; La Rosa chairs the House’s Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee.

While Tribal leaders “remain willing” to talk about the legislation, Shore said any violation of their exclusivity deal “would allow the Tribe to cease all revenue sharing payments to the State.” That amounts to over $200 million yearly.

But that’s only if the state “expands” gambling. Fantasy sports fans have long argued their hobby – such as played on websites like FanDuel and DraftKings – is a game of skill and not of chance, and thus shouldn’t be considered gambling.

A bill (HB 223) by Republican Rep. Jason Brodeur of Sanford would exempt fantasy sports play from state gambling regulation. Another bill (SB 374) by GOP Sen. Dana Young of Tampa would do the same.

Past measures in the Legislature would have gone further by explicitly declaring that fantasy play is not gambling.

Hutson’s own omnibus gambling bill for 2018 (SB 840) includes a section on fantasy sports, defining it as being driven by player performance rather than team performance, and as long as someone isn’t “commissioner” of more than ten leagues, he is exempt from regulation.

A proposed omnibus gambling bill failed this past session, getting caught up in a late-session meltdown over a renewed blackjack agreement with the Seminoles and related measures that would have expanded gambling in the state.

Requests for comment on the letter are pending with lawmakers.

Jacksonville correspondent A.G. Gancarski contributed to this report. 

Lobby up: TIKD hires Ballard Partners for traffic ticket ‘food fight’

In what’s shaping up to be one of the 2018 Legislative Session’s “food fights,” an upstart Miami firm has hired Ballard PartnersBrian Ballard and Mat Forrest.

It’s not so much a traditional food fight as usually riles the Capitol halls, but a David and Goliath battle of the “status quo” versus a “market disrupter.”

The disrupter is TIKD Holdings, which will – get this – fight your speeding tickets for you in court.

“Users … pay a one-time fee that’s always less than the original ticket,” CNN explains. TIKD then “goes to court in your place.”

“… If you get points on your license, you’ll get a refund and TIKD will also pay for the original ticket,” the CNN story adds. “The company says it has saved customers more than $100,000 in fines and nearly $4 million in avoided insurance costs.”

TIKD launched this year and already has helped over 5,000 people, the company says.

Here’s the problem: “TIKD is not a law firm, but instead uses independent lawyers to resolve the tickets at a cost that is 15 to 20 percent less than the ticket fee,” a Miami Herald story says.

TIKD founder Chris Riley, a U.S. Navy commander-turned entrepreneur, told TBO.com he “got the idea for TIKD after he was caught going a few miles over the speed limit in Miami and was hit with hundreds of dollars in fines and costs.”

With success comes notoriety: The Florida Bar soon opened an “unlicensed practice of law” investigation into the company after it was featured in the Miami Herald story.

“A few months later, attorneys with The Ticket Clinic, a Miami firm that also handles traffic tickets, threatened to report two of TIKD’s lawyers to the Bar if they continued to work with the new company,” the TBO story said.

“Bar staffers issued an opinion suggesting that lawyers who worked with programs like TIKD’s could be in violation of Bar ethics rules,” it added.

TIKD has since filed suit against The Bar in federal court in South Florida. In the latest development, The Bar on Tuesday moved “to disqualify its former president Ramon Abadin” from representing TIKD, according to the Daily Business Review.

The Bar argues “that during his 2015-16 term, Abadin ‘was provided attorney-client and attorney work-product communications and advice about and involving the specific antitrust issues and allegations asserted in this action.’ ”

Stay tuned to this one.

Florida Democratic Party: Jack Latvala ‘must resign’ 

The Florida Democratic Party now says Sen. Jack Latvala “must resign” in light of “the numerous allegations of sexual harassment against” him.

Latvala

The party released a statement Tuesday through its spokeswoman, Johanna Cervone. It follows calls from fellow GOP senators also calling for him to, or suggesting that he, step down from office.

“Latvala’s behavior is unacceptable and there is no place for it in our government or our state,” Cervone said. “Using a position of power to harass, touch, demean and pressure women—or anyone else—is wrong, plain and simple.

“Now, Latvala’s smear campaign against (Senate aide) Rachel Perrin Rogers has resulted in her needing armed security. He must resign.”

Hours later, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum released his own statement calling on the powerful senator to resign.

“His intimidation of a sexual harassment victim is repulsive and disgusting, as is his alleged behavior,” Gillum said.

“I believe these women, and we need Florida’s Capitol to be a welcoming place for all people — not a place where sexual harassment victims need police protection.”

Latvala responded to those calls on social media, reasserting his innocence and saying he will “keep fighting.”

POLITICO Florida reported on Nov. 3 that six women—Perrin Rogers says one of them is her—accused Latvala of sexually harassing and groping them. The others remain anonymous.

Perrin Rogers, 35, is a top aide to state Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican who is expected to become Senate President for 2020-22, assuming the GOP maintains its majority.

She filed a grievance with the Senate Rules Committee in early November, and two Senate investigations now are pending into Latvala’s alleged misconduct. They include claims of sexual assault and sexual and verbal harassment.

Perrin Rogers said there were unwelcome sexual comments about her clothes, breasts and legs. She says the 66-year-old Latvala accosted her in a state Capitol elevator, brushing her breast and trying to touch her groin.

Meantime, Perrin Rogers requested a security guard while in the Capitol out of concern for her safety.

“Instead of taking steps to discourage this behavior, (Senate President) Joe Negron‘s mishandling of the complaint filed against Latvala has resulted in an environment where women continue to feel unsafe and afraid to come forward,” Cervone added.

“Anyone who is guilty of using their power to harass or compromise women should resign immediately.”

Hutson

Sen. Travis Hutson, a St. Augustine Republican who chairs the Regulated Industries Committee, also is calling for Latvala to quit the Senate “so that we do not have to deal with this problem anymore,” he told POLITICO Florida.

In that same story, Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Rockledge Republican, said “it might be better for him, and his family and the Senate if he considered stepping down.”

And Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, said Monday that “serious rules” are needed to make sure powerful senators like Latvala stop making a “mockery of serious allegations.”

“Without independent investigation or serious rules, persons in power will game the system, intimidate victims and make a mockery of serious allegations, exactly as Senator Latvala is doing,” Rodriguez said in a statement.

Stop prosecuting kids as adults, advocates say

Miguel Rodriguez is only 24, but he already lost nearly a decade of his life to the criminal justice system.

He attended a Tuesday press conference at the Capitol to argue for changes to the way Florida prosecutes juvenile offenders, including what’s known as the direct-file process, in which some minors are charged and handled in adult court.

Rodriguez was prosecuted as an adult when he was 15, he says, for breaking into and vandalizing a vacant house in his Tampa neighborhood with a group of high school friends.

His odyssey through the system includes being sent to prison at 20 for three years for violating his curfew—because he ran late leaving his job at a restaurant.

“We didn’t think we were hurting anybody,” Rodriguez told Florida Politics of his original arrest. “And we didn’t understand the consequences.”

Legislation filed for the 2018 Legislative Session (SB 936, HB 509) aims to reform the system, in part by limiting the ability of prosecutors to put teens into the adult justice system, requiring demographic and other information on who gets charged statewide, and allowing minors to ask for a hearing before a judge “to determine whether (they) shall remain in adult court.”

“These are people who maybe have made a mistake, but we still want to give them an opportunity to contribute to society,” said state Sen. Bobby Powell, a West Palm Beach Democrat who is sponsoring his chamber’s bill. Rep. Sean Shaw, a Tampa Democrat, is behind the House version.

The measures will have an uphill slog through The Process. Powell said he and other proponents have had “many, many meetings” over the seven years some form of the legislation has been introduced. But “we haven’t gotten to the place where the prosecutors agree with everything,” Powell said.

Buddy Jacobs, longtime lobbyist for the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

“About 98 percent of the more than 7,600 children prosecuted in Florida’s adult courts  since 2011 were transferred at the sole discretion of a prosecutor, without a hearing before a judge,” says a report by No Place for A Child, a coalition of right- and left-leaning groups in favor of overhauling the system.

Rodriguez said he’s moving on with his life, planning on getting certified as a paralegal and going to college in Maryland.

“I’m at peace with my circumstances but there’s a spirit of revenge that lives on about what happened to me,” he said. “But to fight back, I use the pen, not the sword. It’s by sharing my story, to make sure what happened to me doesn’t happen to others.”

A Periscope video of Tuesday’s press conference is below:

T’is the season: First Capitol holiday display approved

An “educational display of the astronomy causing the winter solstice” is the first holiday display to gain approval this year for the Florida Capitol rotunda.

A “triptych poster,” sponsored by the First Coast Freethought Society of Jacksonville, is approved for display Dec. 15-22.

Nina Ashley, spokeswoman for the Department of Management Services, the state’s real estate manager, said it was the only request for a display received thus far for the 2017 holiday season.

Every year, groups have sought to place various displays in the plaza-level rotunda of the Capitol during the holiday season.

A controversy arose in 2013 when The Satanic Temple sought to place a cardboard diorama of an angel falling into hell. The state rejected the diorama, saying it was “grossly offensive,” which nearly sparked a First Amendment lawsuit.

After being placed in the rotunda the following year, a Tallahassee woman who described herself as a “devout Catholic” later was arrested by Capitol Police after she tried to remove the diorama. She was charged with criminal mischief, though prosecutors later dropped the case.

Two variations of a six-foot Festivus pole also have graced the rotunda, both by South Florida activist Chaz Stevens: One was made of empty Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans; another was a rainbow-colored “Gay Pride” version topped with a disco ball.

The poles honor Festivus, the fictional holiday from a 1997 episode of “Seinfeld.”

Stevens last year proposed an all-black “Shot by Cops” pole containing “the names of all unarmed black men killed by police in 2016,” but family health issues prevented him from bringing the pole to Tallahassee.

Aside from traditional Hanukkah menorahs and Christian Nativity scenes, other past displays have included:

— A placard with a tongue-in-cheek message to “celebrate the true meaning of Xmas” with “friends,” “fun” and “Chinese food” by American Atheists.

— A “Happy Holidays from the Tallahassee Atheists” banner.

— A “Flying Spaghetti Monster” display put up by Secular Student Alliance and Pastafarian Peter Wood.

Request denied: Rick Scott won’t (yet) appoint special prosecutor in Jack Latvala case

Gov. Rick Scott‘s top lawyer has – at least for now – turned down a request to appoint a special prosecutor from the attorney representing Rachel Perrin Rogers, a Senate staffer who has accused Sen. Jack Latvala of sexual harassment.

The reason: Scott doesn’t yet have “the legal authority” to appoint a prosecutor.

“This morning, the Governor’s General Counsel, Daniel Nordby, reached out to (Tiffany R.) Cruz,” said Lauren Schenone, a Scott spokeswoman, on Monday.

“Our office clarified that the Governor does not have authority to act until a matter is pending before a state attorney and following an investigation by local law enforcement,” she said. “Additionally, a conflict of interest must also be identified.”

Earlier Monday, Cruz asked Scott’s office to appoint a special prosecutor, saying Latvala may have committed crimes.

POLITICO Florida reported on Nov. 3 that six women — one of them Perrin Rogers now says is her — accused Latvala of sexually harassing and groping them. The others remain anonymous.

Perrin Rogers, 35, is a top aide to state Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican who is expected to become Senate President for 2020-22, assuming the GOP maintains its majority in the chamber.

She filed a grievance with the Senate Rules Committee in early November, and two Senate investigations now are pending into Latvala’s alleged misconduct. They include claims of sexual assault and both sexual and verbal harassment.

Perrin Rogers said there were unwelcome sexual comments about her clothes, breasts and legs. She says the 66-year-old Latvala “assaulted” her in a state Capitol elevator, brushing her breast and trying to touch her groin.

Meantime, Perrin Rogers requested a security guard while in the Capitol out of concern for her safety.

Nordby’s email to Cruz is below:

Nordby Cruz email

Daphne Campbell appointed chair of Haitian Temporary Relief Task Force

State Sen. Daphne Campbell has been appointed Chair of the Haitian Temporary Relief Task Force.

The Miami Democrat, elected to the Senate last year after serving six years in the House, announced the appointment Monday. It was made by state Rep. Kionne McGhee, a Democrat who leads the Miami-Dade County Legislative Delegation.

The task force is an organization formed to “advocate on behalf of tens of thousands of Haitian refugees in Florida who fled their native country but now face deportation in the near future,” according to a Senate Democratic Caucus news release.

Campbell seeks for “Haitians and other refugees (to) receive permanent residence,” she said.

“Her selection comes on the heels of the decision rendered by the Trump Administration last month regarding Haiti’s Temporary Protected Status,” it adds.

Such status is a “form of temporary permission” to be in the United States, shielding Haitian nationals from deportation, The Washington Post explained.

“Since the 2010 earthquake, the number of displaced people in Haiti has decreased by 97 percent,” the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement.

“Significant steps have been taken to improve the stability and quality of life for Haitian citizens, and Haiti is able to safely receive traditional levels of returned citizens,” it said. “Haiti has also demonstrated a commitment to adequately prepare for when the country’s TPS designation is terminated.”

Campbell — born in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti, and moved to Florida in 1981 — has filed nonbinding legislation urging the feds to continue the status and she met with a host of appointed and elected federal officials.

“Campbell advocated that Haiti TPS be extended for an additional 18 months as it was scheduled to expire on January 22, 2018, causing some 60,000 Haitians to be forcibly returned back to Haiti,” the release said.

“Despite multiple campaign promises that he would be their ‘biggest champion,’ President Trump’s administration agreed to allow them to remain in the (United States) only until July 22, 2019.”

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