Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 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.

Proviso language on Tampa airport audit ‘bumped’ to budget chairs

While Senate and House negotiators made progress on many tourism, transportations and economic development budgetary issues Saturday, a slew of line items will be “bumped” up to Appropriations Chairs Jack Latvala and Carlos Trujillo.

Most notable was a bump of proviso language on an audit of Tampa International Airport’s master renovation plan.

State Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican, earlier this month had called for the audit, alleging “potential public corruption” over the facility’s billion-dollar-plus renovation.

Another bump was whether to require the Department of Economic Opportunity to submit quarterly reports on employee travel and training costs.

Among spending bumps are the “Hotel Ponce de Leon restoration, Molly Wiley Art Building” on the Flagler College campus in St. Augustine, and the city of Bunnell’s Commerce Parkway connector road.

The Senate also reopened a Walton County transportation initiative for County Road 30-A, offering to spend $1.96 million in trust fund dollars.

With individual budget conferences having ended, Latvala and Trujillo are expected to meet in the late afternoon to begin work on bump issues.


Top line tourism, economic development money closed out, chair says

Don’t expect any movement in the budgets for Enterprise Florida and VISIT FLORIDA at the conference committee level.

“I’m authorized to negotiate quite a few things in this budget and there’s a few things I’m not, and those would be among the things I’m not,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican chairing the Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Appropriations conference committee.

The panel met again at 8 a.m. Saturday. Earlier this week, legislative leadership agreed on roughly $83 billion in allocations, the main pots of money for major spending areas.

A deal already announced deal gave $25 million to VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency and $16 million in operating money only to EFI, Florida’s economic development arm. The money for EFI, however, would be recurring, or repeated year after year. Both entities are public-private agencies but funded largely with taxpayers’ money.

Gov. Rick Scott has asked for $85 million for EFI’s business incentives to lure businesses to the state, which House Speaker Richard Corcoran derides as “corporate welfare.”

The governor also wants $100 million for VISIT FLORIDA, saying the tourism industry and its jobs depend on it.  The current proposal cuts its funding from nearly $80 million.

“Obviously, this is all a negotiation between the Speaker and the President—and ultimately the Governor—as to where the topline issues end up,” Brandes added. “If they choose to reopen (them), that’s up to the Appropriations chairs and President and Speaker’s Office.”

The committee could meet once or twice more today before a noon deadline, when unresolved issues “bump up” to Senate Appropriations chair Jack Latvala and House Appropriations chair Carlos Trujillo.

After noon on Sunday, disagreements on spending go directly to Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron. On Friday, Corcoran told House members there would be no floor session on Monday.

State Rep. Clay Ingram, a Pensacola Republican and vice-chair of the committee, said without money for incentives, Enterprise Florida would be limited to “business marketing,” similar to what VISIT FLORIDA does to encourage tourists to visit the state. And EFI’s budget would only have around $2.5 million for that purpose.

Ingram also said he expected the House’s oversight requirements on VISIT FLORIDA to be part of the final budget deal. The speaker, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has been critical of the agency, even threatening to sue after it refused to reveal a secret deal with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism.

The oversight measures include requiring contracts “to contain performance standards, operating budgets and salaries of employees of the contracting entity,” and those deals would have to be posted online.

The House plan limits employees’ travel expenses and would cap annual pay at $130,000. It also would delete a public records exemption for “marketing projects and research.” It would ban any promotional project from “benefit(ing) only one company.” And it would force the agency to be funded with more private dollars.

When asked if there could be any “extraordinary circumstances” that could cause the top line agreement to change, Brandes smiled.

“I would say extraordinary circumstances happen in this process all the time,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”




Beer bill bounces back to Senate with free glass provision

The House on Friday sent back a Senate beer advertising bill, having tacked on language that would also allow beer makers to give free glasses to bars and restaurants.

The measure (SB 388) allow advertising and sponsoring of events by beer companies in the state’s theme parks. It passed the House on a 110-9 vote.

But the House added a provision, lobbied for by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s biggest brewer, to allow manufacturers to distribute glasses with brand names and logos.

That revives what was known as the “beer glass bill,” which had been sponsored by former Sen. Frank Artiles, the Miami-Dade Republican who resigned earlier this session.

Universal Orlando has supported the bill. Some beer industry representatives had privately complained, however, they “fear being extorted by the theme parks” to pay to sponsor events.

After years of work, estoppel bill heads to governor

We’ve been writing about it for years, all the while wondering ‘why,’ but 2017 was the winning session for an overhaul of the estoppel letter process.

The House on Friday passed the Senate’s bill (SB 398) on a 117-0 vote, sending it to Gov. Rick Scott.

“This legislation will benefit Florida’s homeowners, associations, and taxpayers,” said Mark Anderson, executive director of Chief Executive Officers of Management Companies (CEOMC). “We encourage Governor Scott to sign this good bill.”

Estoppel letters, or estoppel certificates, are an obscure part of some real estate closings.

They’re legal documents sent by a homeowners association, detailing any amount owed to the association. Usually, that’s unpaid fines or association fees left by owners who defaulted on their mortgage.

Title agents and Realtors have wanted to shift the cost of preparing such letters from themselves back to the associations. Anderson says preparing estoppel letters takes time and research, costing anywhere from $15 to $400.

Former state Sen. Gwen Margolis, a Miami-Dade Democrat, disputed that story when she was in the Legislature, saying all homeowners associations “do is punch a button on a computer … It’s been a ripoff for a while.”

Among other things, the bill going to Scott would allow an association “to charge a maximum fee of $250 for the preparation and delivery of an estoppel certificate, if there are no delinquent amounts owed to the association (and) an additional maximum fee of $150, if there is a delinquent amount owed to the association,” the bill analysis says.

PR man and communications savant Kevin Cate, in an effort to get people to pay attention to the issue, once rebranded it as “smashing the Home Tax.”

On Friday, he offered his final pun: “Homeowners never estoppeled believing.”


trauma centers

Watered-down trauma center bill passes House

What began as a bang ended with a whimper as the House passed a diluted trauma center bill and sent it to the Senate Friday.

The measure (HB 1077), which passed 93-24, began its legislative life to do away with a cap on how many trauma centers can open in Florida.

The bill that was passed says areas with “at least 1.25 million … need at least two trauma centers,” and those with “more than 2.5 million … need at least four trauma centers,” the bill analysis says.

The state’s Department of Health “retains the authority to allocate the number of trauma centers needed in each (trauma service area), and the bill specifically authorizes (the department) to allocate additional trauma centers above the minimum need established in the bill.”

In 2004, the Legislature divided the state into trauma service areas, currently 19, and the statewide total of trauma centers is now capped at 44. There were 33 centers, including for pediatric care, as of mid-2016.

GOP state Rep. Jay Trumbull of Panama City, the bill’s sponsor, said the motivation for the bill was to end the flow of litigation against the department, which now reviews the need for new centers and approving them.

Almost every time a new application is filed, the department is hit with some kind of litigation, usually from neighboring hospitals that already operate a trauma center.

Those in favor of the measure, including hospitals that want to open new centers, say the growing number of Florida’s residents and visitors justifies the need for more centers.

Opponents, generally those already operating trauma centers, said opening more centers would put a strain on the availability of trauma surgeons and would dilute the pool of patients.


Warning labels could cost millions, Florida Lottery says

A well-meaning idea could cost the state’s pot of money for scholarships and public education up to about $50 million.

The House this week passed a measure (HB 937) mandating six different warnings, which would rotate, on Florida Lottery tickets and advertisements.


The bill also says the warning must “occupy no less than 10 percent of the total face of the lottery ticket.”

That’s a problem, according to a fiscal analysis filed Thursday by the Lottery, which reports to Gov. Rick Scott.

“All profits of the Florida Lottery are transmitted to the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund (EETF) and thus any impacts on sales/costs have a direct impact on contributions to that fund,” the analysis says. The fund, among other things, pays for Florida Bright Futures Scholarships. 

“The cost associated with one of several warnings to be printed equally over 10 percent of the surface area of all advertising/tickets/promotional items would most likely impact sales of Lottery products,” the fiscal note says.

“Using a range of a 1 percent, 2 percent, or 3 percent impact on sales and contributions, this language would reduce EETF contributions by an estimated $16 million (at 1 percent), $32 million (at 2 percent), or $48 million (at 3 percent) based upon the most recent sales estimates,” it adds.

The analysis does not include the methodology the Lottery used to arrive at those estimates.

In summary, the fiscal impact of the provisions in this language could reduce contributions to the EETF by an estimated $16 million to $51 million annually.”

Retailer commissions also could be “negatively impacted” in total by anywhere from $3.3 million to $10 million. There are around 13,000 retailers who sell Lottery tickets. 

The House bill’s sponsor, Mount Dora Republican Jennifer Sullivan, was not available Friday morning; the House was in session.

The Senate, which now has the bill, will consider its own version (SB 1370) in a Rules Committee hearing Friday morning. Its current language would hold to one warning, “WARNING: GAMBLING CAN BE ADDICTIVE.”

Updated 3 p.m. — The Rules Committee approved the bill by a 6-5 vote after it adopted an amendment eliminating a requirement that point-of-sale signs contain the warning.

The warnings would still need to take up 10 percent of the tickets’ real estate.

Sen. Jack Latvala, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, insisted a Lottery representative explain its estimate. “I think potentially there’s a large revenue impact here, and I’d like to hear from them directly about it,” he said.

The spokesman said the department calculated how much money it would lose if sales declined by between 1 percent and 3 percent. The low number as $16 million; the high number, $50 million.

“I can’t support that,” Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon said. “Our education fund is too important.” 

Bill sponsor Keith Perry didn’t believe the numbers, and insisted they weren’t the point: “We decrease by 1 percent or 10 percent, I think we’re doing our job to the general public to inform them.”

Correspondent Michael Moline contributed to this post from the Senate Office Building.

Ken Lawson on VISIT FLORIDA funding: ‘Protect our people’

Ken Lawson, CEO of the embattled VISIT FLORIDA, again pleaded with lawmakers to fully fund his agency, saying jobs depend on it.

Lawson, Ken (DBPR secretary)

Lawson appeared before the Legislature’s tourism and economic development budget conference on Friday as Gov. Rick Scott left the state to attend a National Rifle Association meeting in Atlanta.

Meantime, Scott’s political committee, Let’s Get to Work, has been “robo-calling” residents in key districts, asking them to encourage their lawmakers to vote for $200 million to start work on fixing the Lake Okeechobee dike to stem further algae-ridden discharges into other waterways.

“This is our state … we have to protect our people,” Lawson told lawmakers. “If VISIT FLORIDA is not funded at $100 million, we will lose jobs.”

The current proposed budget cuts funding available to the state’s tourism marketing agency Visit Florida from nearly $80 million to $25 million.

Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development agency, will get operating money for another year but it will not receive any money for incentives to lure businesses. Scott wanted $100 million for Visit Florida and $85 million for incentives.

Conference committee vice-chair Clay Ingram was unmoved.

“There’s still business in action; there are still incentives in the pot to be paid out,” the Pensacola Republican state representative told reporters after the meeting. “And whatever happens in the future happens.”

Lawson, however, clung to the Governor’s Office talking points that every dollar VISIT FLORIDA spends to promote tourism in the state brings back $3.20 in tax revenue. Less tourism means fewer jobs in the tourism industry, he said.

Using it as a cautionary tale, Lawson brought up a video his agency released on decades-old cuts to the Colorado Tourism Office.

According to the video, the state went from the No. 1 summer resort destination to No. 17. More than 21 years later, the state has regained its market share but hasn’t returned to the top spot, according to the ad.

Moreover, other states are rubbing their hands together, hoping that Florida tourism promotion is cut so they can reap the benefits, Lawson added.

“Don’t let that be the legacy of this Legislature,” he said. “We’ve got to fight the competition coming after us.”

Rick Scott demands full funding for tourism, development

Rick Scott did not look like he was negotiating.

The governor fired a shot over the bow of the Legislature, all but demanding full funding in the state budget for his 2017-18 priorities: $200 million to begin fixing the dike at Lake Okeechobee, $100 million for VISIT FLORIDA, and salvaging Enterprise Florida from House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s wrecking ball.

“All three of those project impact jobs,” he said. “And whatever happens after this session—I’ll have 610 days to go—I’ll spend every day trying to get more jobs in this state.”

Scott met briefly with reporters Thursday after a series of meetings with state senators, including Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala.

But when asked specifically what he’ll do if he vetoes the budget and lawmakers override the veto, Scott basically said he’ll try again next year.

“I’ll do exactly what I said I’ll do,” he said. “I’ve been completely open on what I ran on. And people agree with me. They care about jobs, they care about education, they care about being safe. And that’s what I work on every day.”

The governor spoke after legislative leadership announced agreement on budget allocations, the large pots of money that go toward funding major areas, such as education and health.

While the Senate largely has sided with Scott, Corcoran for months has lobbed linguistic grenades at the governor, including calling his favored business incentives programs, including the Quick Action Closing fund, “corporate welfare.”

Scott has endorsed a key element of Senate President Joe Negron’s Lake Okeechobee rehabilitation plan: Storing and treating water south of the lake. He has called upon the House and Senate to invest $200 million in repairs to the Herbert Hoover dike.

The state can afford the repairs because the $1.5 billion the Trump administration has provided to reimburse hospitals for charity care has freed up money for elsewhere.

“This is a golden opportunity to get this done,” Scott said Thursday. “It’s an environmental issue and a jobs issue.”

He continued to advocate for VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency, saying he “could not believe legislators don’t understand the value of continuing to market this state.” Fewer tourists mean fewer jobs in the tourist industry, he explained. “I am shocked at anyone who thinks we should cut one dollar from VISIT FLORIDA.”

But Corcoran nearly sued the agency after it refused to disclose a promotional contract it inked with South Florida rapper Pitbull. The artist himself made the case moot by publishing a copy of the contract via Twitter, revealing he was promised a maximum of $1 million.

The speaker also has lambasted a promotional deal with superstar chef/restaurateur Emeril Lagasse for nearly $12 million.

Scott also said the state was losing deals for companies to move to Florida because he didn’t have money in the Quick Action Closing fund, a pot of cash Scott can use with the least input from lawmakers.

“We are still competing with 49 other states,” he said. “They want the jobs there, I want the jobs here. This legislature is turning its back on its constituents.”

Beer advertising bill ready for vote on House floor

A bill to allow beer companies to sponsor “events, activities, or cooperative advertising” at the state’s theme parks is ready for a final vote in the Florida House.

The House on Friday will take up the Senate bill (SB 388), sponsored by Republican Sen. Travis Hutson of Elkton.

It eases the state’s “tied house evil” law by allowing on-site ads, including a beer company sponsoring a concert or festival within a park. Universal Orlando has supported the bill.

Some beer industry representatives had privately complained they feared “being extorted by the theme parks.”

“We … kind of see a situation where they say, ‘We do such-and-such theme night, but now we’d like you to pay for it,’ by sponsoring it,” said one, who asked not to be named. “(W)e all feel like we’ll be put over a barrel.”

The House version of the legislation (HB 423), now tabled, started to break down over successive changes. One would have allowed for “brand naming agreements,” which weren’t defined in that bill.

Moreover, an amendment to that measure failed that would have allowed such agreements with all businesses that serve booze on premises, not just theme parks.

Josh Aubuchon, executive director of the Florida Brewers Guild, the state’s craft beer lobby, has referred to the proposal as “little more than a cash grab by the theme parks from beer manufacturers.”

Senate and House move closer to deal on gambling bill

The Senate capitulated to the House on several issues Thursday as part of ongoing negotiations to strike a compromise on gambling legislation, while holding firm on others.

But the latest offer includes a key provision desired by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, OK’ing up to 1,500 slots machines in “facilities in referendum counties” with a requirement “to surrender to the state one active pari-mutuel permit.”

Still, it looks like a final deal will be far from the ‘no expansion’ position the House took earlier this year. The Senate now:

— Agrees with the House position to extend blackjack to all seven Seminole Tribe facilities, as well as craps and roulette.

— Allows decoupling, the removal of the requirement that tracks run live races to offer other forms of gambling, but without counties to hold referendums to do so. Also extends decoupling to jai alai frontons.

— Prohibits new “summer jai alai” permits from being used to open a cardroom. Those permits have caused heartburn in gambling opponents, since they can be used by hotels to open cardrooms and possibly slots. One of those is the Fontainebleau, a well-known Miami Beach hotel looking to add slots.

— Agrees to two new gambling facilities in Broward or Miami-Dade (or both) through “competitive procurement,” or a bidding process, with up to 1,500 slot machines each.

— Agrees to reduce slots tax if facilities voluntarily reduce the numbers of slot machines on the floor.

— Sticks to its blackjack expansion offer, but only to a maximum of 20 tables at each existing South Florida slots facility.

— Toughens the definition for designated-player games but includes three-card poker.

— Agrees with the House on lottery ticket sales at gas pumps and other automated dispensers.

— Concurs with language in a House bill exempting fantasy sports play from state gambling regulation. It would clarify that fantasy contests “reflect the relative knowledge and skill of the participants” and are not games of chance – and thus not gambling.

The House could respond as early as tonight or Friday.

“This latest offer amounts to a massive expansion plan that rewards special interests, punishes local communities, and violates the entire intent of even having a compact in the first place,” said John Sowinski, president of the anti-gambling expansion group No Casinos.

Sowinski was referring to the Seminole Compact, which “guaranteed payments from the Seminole Tribe in return for exclusivity that confined casino-style gambling to tribal lands and facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward counties authorized by the constitution to have slot machines.”

“The House should reject the Senate’s offer, and conferees should either pass a zero-expansion plan similar to the original House bill, or pass nothing at all,” he added.

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