Jim Rosica – Page 7 – 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.

Double or nothing? Senate gambling bill clears latest panel

Sen. Travis Hutson says he believes “there’s a way for us to get there” when asked about gambling legislation finally passing the Legislature this year.

The Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax on Monday unanimously approved his 90-page rewrite of the Senate’s gaming bill (SB 840) for 2018.

It now includes a House provision: A renewed 20-year deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida for $3 billion in revenue over seven years in return for exclusive rights to blackjack and slot machines outside South Florida.

But the Senate also allows the Seminoles to add craps and roulette, expressly authorizes designated player games, which the House opposes; and exempts fantasy sports from gambling regulation, a move opposed by the Tribe.

Overlaying all of that is Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s position that any bill the House agrees to must be “an absolute contraction” of gambling in the state—though he hasn’t specifically defined that term.

“I would argue this is a contraction all day long,” Hutson, chair of the Regulated Industries Committee, told reporters after the hearing.

Hutson’s bill, which next heads to the full Appropriations Committee, also now exempts thoroughbred horse tracks and jai alai frontons from decoupling, which allows a pari-mutuel to stop live racing but keep offering other gambling, such as slots. The bill does still allow for greyhound-racing decoupling, however.

“In terms of decoupling, there’ll be less bets,” Hutson said. “As far as designated player games and fantasy sports, they’re already being played today. To me, all that is not an expansion, that is a break-even or a contraction.”

Asked how comfortable the Tribe is with the latest Senate product, the St. Augustine Republican added: “We’re close. A couple tweaks here and there.” A spokesman for the Tribe declined comment Monday.

Likely off the table is a provision favored by Senate President Joe Negron that would grant slot machines to pari-mutuels in counties where voters OK’d them in local referendums. That’s opposed by the House and the Tribe.

Before the committee, he also alluded to the specter of a “Voter Control of Gambling” constitutional amendment on the November ballot, requiring a statewide OK for any new or added gaming in the state. If it gets 60 percent approval, the Legislature will be indefinitely shut out from influencing gambling.

“This could be our last possible chance to regulate gaming as a legislative body and I need not remind anybody of the fiscal implications, in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year,” he told lawmakers.

The Seminoles’ current deal with the state allows it to reduce or cut off payments to the state, now over $200 million annually, if other games are played that it believes impinges on any of its exclusive gambling rights.

The Senate bill also follows the House in outlawing pre-reveal games, slot machine-style video entertainment devices, most often placed in bars. A Tallahassee judge’s ruling that they’re illegal slots is under appeal.

Hialeah Republican Rene Garcia, who suggested leaving out that language while the issue is still with the courts, asked an industry lobbyist why people spend money on such games, which “preview” certain outcomes as to their winning or losing status.

“There is no answer to that,” said Christine Davis-Graves, lobbyist for Pace-O-Matic. “We can’t delve into the subjective mindset” of those who play, adding that one reason might just be “time wasting.”

In legal filings, Tribe outside counsel Barry Richard previously countered that pre-reveal players are “not wagering for the already revealed outcome, but rather on the next outcome, which is unknown.”

Players “are not … merely spending money to see spinning reels and flashing lights,” Richard wrote. “Rather, it is a slot machine, with which players are wagering on an unknown, unpredictable outcome” that they may or may not win. Other states, including Indiana and North Carolina, have found pre-reveal games to be illegal gambling.

Hutson earlier said he wouldn’t be able to please all of the gambling interests all of the time.

“Everybody wants a piece of the pie,” he said to the panel. “I wish I had two pies.”

casino table

Ante up: Senate files new 90-page gambling bill

The Senate made some big moves Friday in the annual legislative dance that is the negotiation for an omnibus gambling bill.

The biggest move: The chamber now includes a renewed 20-year deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida for $3 billion in revenue over seven years in return for exclusive rights to blackjack and slot machines outside South Florida. That was in the House bill, but not the Senate’s first bill filed for this year.

Moreover, the Senate would OK adding roulette and craps to the Seminoles’ offerings at its casinos in the state.

Regulated Industries Committee chair Travis Hutson filed the 90-page strike-all amendment on the pending Senate measure (SB 840). The Compact language takes up 54 of the 90 pages.

Lawmakers know time’s a-wasting: A proposed “Voter Control of Gambling” constitutional amendment will be on the November ballot, requiring an electoral OK for any new or added gaming in the state. If it gets 60 percent approval, the Legislature will be indefinitely shut out from influencing gambling.

“It’s important to note that we took a step closer to some House positions: Compact, dormant permits, pre-reveal machines,” the St. Augustine Republican tweeted on Friday in response to a Florida Politics reporter.

Added Senate President-designate Bill Galvano in a text message: “The bill remains a work in progress until we ultimately know where we are with the Seminoles. Chair Hutson is managing well to keep the bill moving forward.”

Galvano, a Bradenton Republican is the Senate’s lead negotiator of gambling this year; his House counterpart is House Speaker-designate Jose Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican. A request for comment was sent to Oliva’s spokesman.

Also through a text message, Seminole Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner said “the Tribe just received the information, and needs time to review it.”

To be sure, the House, Senate and Tribe are not quite in lock step.

The House would prohibit designated player games; the Senate allows them. They’re a hybrid of poker and blackjack, but some versions of the game resulted in the Tribe suing the state in federal court, saying the games played too much like blackjack, violating the Tribe’s exclusivity.

The Seminoles won, the state appealed, and the two sides settled their differences on appeal. That includes a “forbearance period” that ends March 31, during which the state has promised to “aggressively enforce” the exclusivity terms.

Other highlights of the Senate bill are:

— It exempts fantasy sports from gambling regulation. That has been a “non-starter” for the Tribe, however, according to outside counsel Barry Richard. But both chambers filed standalone bills this year to expressly allow fantasy sports play.

— The bill would allow dog tracks to “decouple,” meaning to allow a pari-mutuel to stop live greyhound racing but keep offering slots. Greyhound owners and breeders have staunchly opposed such language.

— It clamps down severely on the ability to relocate or convert gambling licenses, and would repeal summer jai alai permit conversions. Pari-mutuels, particularly in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, covet such permits because at a minimum they also allow a facility to open a cardroom and offer simulcast betting.

— The bill outlaws what are known as pre-reveal games, also a thorn in the side of the Seminoles. They’re slot machine-style video entertainment devices, most often placed in bars. A Tallahassee judge’s ruling that they’re illegal slots is under appeal.

The amendment will be up for discussion Monday when the Senate next considers the gambling legislation during a meeting of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax.

Florida’s biggest spending plan ever ready for final negotiations

The Florida House and Senate on Thursday passed their spending plans differing by only about $100 million — a tenth of a percent of the roughly $87 billion proposed by each chamber.

The starting point for final budget negotiations on what is the largest proposed budget in state history is more than a week ahead of schedule, Senate President Joe Negron said. And though he says money differences are not that big, clashes over the environment, health and education remain.

A plan by House GOP leadership to “link” the education sub-section to a “conforming” bill laden with new policy has roiled the chamber’s budget. That includes a proposal to create a new scholarship for students who are bullied in public schools to go to private school.

The two are so intertwined that Hialeah Republican Manny Diaz, chair of the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, admitted that if that bill (HB 7055) failed, legislators would have to start from scratch to craft a new lower education sub-budget.

Negron told reporters on Thursday that he would prefer the House move its education bill — a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran — “through the traditional process” and not through the budget as a conforming bill.

“It would be preferable to refer it to the appropriate committees,” Negron said, “but the larger picture is that many proposals in the bill enjoy the support of the Senate … the majority of the Senate is promoting school choice.”

House Democrats have complained that the education bill would violate the state constitution’s “single subject” rule, which requires that “every law shall embrace but one subject and matter properly connected therewith, and the subject shall be briefly expressed in the title.”

For example, Democratic Leader-designate Kionne McGhee and others rapped the bill for having a 12-page title.

He actually spent about 10 minutes just listing off all the headings of the provisions in the bill. “We’re laying down a record for the (state) Supreme Court to review this bill,” said McGhee, an attorney.

Miami Beach Democratic Rep. David Richardson, a forensic auditor known for his detailed budget analysis, tried to amend the budget to cut the link to HB 7055, calling it “a bad precedent.”

No surprise: That move was eventually shot down on a party-line vote. But the bill passed on a 66-43 vote.

Over in the Senate, the budget debate sailed through the chamber with a 33-1 vote.

The proposal sets aside $3.4 billion in total reserves and appropriates $21.1 billion for the state’s K-12 and higher education systems.

Next week, the process to schedule budget conference meetings will begin to reach a final agreement on the 2018-19 budget.

“We are close in amount, so that makes life a lot easier,” Negron said.

Down and down it goes: Florida’s orange crop plummets

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the feds this week announced “yet another decrease in the size of the Florida orange crop this season due to Hurricane Irma.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture‘s latest report pegs orange production for 2017-18 at 45 million boxes—”a 35 percent decrease over last season and the lowest crop size in more than 75 years,” according to a Thursday statement from the Florida Department of Citrus.

The USDA’s initial crop forecast in October guessed 54 million boxes of oranges, and grapefruit production was 4.65 million boxes, a drop of 40 percent over last season.

“While this is certainly lower than initial estimates, it was not unexpected,” said Shannon Shepp, the department’s executive director. “We are still hopeful the remainder of the season holds stable.

“Should disaster recovery funding pass today, it would give growers the confidence they need to continue making investments to keep this season’s crop stable and produce more Florida Citrus in the years to come.”

USA Today reported that a “bipartisan spending agreement” was pending, that includes “nearly $90 billion in long-sought disaster relief to help rebuild communities destroyed by wildfires in the West and hurricanes in the Southeast and U.S. territories.”

It also “would set aside more than $2.3 billion for agricultural assistance, much of it expected to help rescue Florida’s battered citrus industry which provides most of the orange juice consumed in the United States,” the paper reported. Last year’s Hurricane Irma devastated the state’s crops, including citrus.

“Florida growers reported 30-70 percent crop loss after Irma’s landfall on Sept. 10, with the southwest region of the state receiving the most damage,” the department said. “The hurricane uprooted trees and left many groves sitting in standing water for up to three weeks, potentially damaging the root systems and impacting future seasons’ growth.”

The usual disclosure: The monthly forecasts are best guesses; the real numbers come after the growing season ends. It’s those figures that tell the story of citrus in Florida.

The state’s citrus industry also has been hit by the citrus greening epidemic. The so-far incurable disease attacks the fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree.

On Richard Corcoran, gambling and third-graders

As owners of the state’s dog and horse tracks fret over a legislative deal this year, House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Thursday didn’t back down from his position that there be “an absolute contraction” of gambling in the state.

But he also didn’t make clear what a “contraction” actually looks like, and whether that could still include any concessions for the pari-mutuels.

A handful of reporters caught up with the Land O’ Lakes Republican after a photo op with home-schooled children on the 22nd floor of the Capitol.

He was asked if he was considering a deal with the pari-mutuels, many of which offer lucrative “designated player” card games that the House opposes. Those facilities also wouldn’t turn away a chance to offer slot machines.

The Legislature is again working on an omnibus bill this year to guide gambling in the state, with legislators mindful that a proposed state constitutional amendment—if approved—will tie their hands indefinitely.

The Voter Control of Gambling amendment, now polling at 76 percent approval, would require future voter approval to authorize further casino gambling in the state. Amendments need 60 percent to pass.

“I’ll say it util I’m blue in the face: Florida has a brand and that brand is special. That brand needs to be protected. And that brand is that we’re a family-friendly state,” Corcoran said.

“If we can achieve legislation that is an absolute contraction, recognizable by a third-grader, not in dispute, and have long-term certainty so that there isn’t this constant (stream of) special interests seeking favors for an expansion of gaming, if that’s ended, then certainly we’ll pass that legislation,” he added.

“At that point, you’ve done something absolutely great for the people of this state.”

But would he, to get a grand bargain, back down on some of the demands in the pending House bill? They include outlawing designated player games and forbidding added slots.

Notably, the House proposal also includes a renewed deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida guaranteeing the state $3 billion over seven years from the Tribe’s gambling revenue. That’s in return for exclusive rights to offer blackjack and slot machines outside of South Florida. The Senate’s bill does not include such a renewal.

Moreover, the Tribe hates designated player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack, because they can play too much like blackjack.

“I work for the people of the state,” the Speaker said. “My job is to do whatever I can, the best way possible, to protect them and make their lives better.”

Right, but could that mean easing back on the card-game ban or opposition to slots where voters have approved them?

“I don’t work for the special interests,” Corcoran said, smiling. Then he walked into the chamber for the Thursday floor session, in which the House was slated to pass its proposed budget for next year.

DEP head formally opposes offshore drilling in Florida

Noah Valenstein, Florida’s Secretary of Environmental Protection (DEP), on Thursday sent a letter to the feds in opposition of any exploratory drilling for gas or oil off the state’s coasts.

The move comes after Gov. Rick Scottsecured a commitment from (U.S.) Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to take Florida off the table for future consideration for offshore oil drilling,” a DEP press release said.

No other state got such treatment, leading “environmental groups who oppose the administration’s oil-drilling plan (to) denounce the decision as a political move meant to bolster Gov. Scott’s intention to run for Senate next year,” according to National Public Radio.

Moreover, since then “a senior Interior Department official said Florida’s coastal waters had not been excluded after all,” the New York Times reported.

But Scott just this week told the Tampa Bay Times “the right thing happened. There’s not going to be offshore drilling.” Scott, a Navy veteran, called Zinke “a man of his word. He’s a Navy Seal and I believe they’re going to do exactly what they committed.”

Just in case, Valenstein wrote to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management‘s Kelly Hammerle that the state “oppose(s) the inclusion of any lease sales in Florida’s coastal and offshore areas.

“Florida’s coastal and offshore areas have high environmental, economic and military value not only for Florida, but also for the nation,” he said. “These areas provide great economic impact for our citizens and provide each resident with recreational opportunities that are unique to Florida.

“(W)e’ve remained concerned by the potential impacts of oil and gas activities on marine and coastal environments and the biological resources and critical habitats associated with them, as well as the military activities critical to our nation’s security,” Valenstein added.

The full letter is below:

Poll: 76 percent support constitutional amendment on gambling

Lawmakers, take note: More than three-quarters of likely Florida voters favor a proposed state constitutional amendment “that would require voter approval to authorize casino gambling in the state,” according to poll results released Thursday.

A ballot question will be before voters in November as Amendment 3, or the Voter Control of Gambling amendment.

“When initially asked about the amendment, 76 percent of respondents supported it, compared to 19 percent in opposition,” a press release said. “After hearing a balanced dose of arguments both for and against Amendment 3, support for the measure increased to 84 percent with only 14 percent opposed.”

“For nearly a century, it was voters—not politicians—who decided whether to authorize casino gambling in our state,” said John Sowinski, chairman of Voters In Charge, the group sponsoring the amendment. “Voters overwhelmingly support Amendment 3 because it will return control of casino gambling decisions back to the people, rather than gambling lobbyists and Tallahassee politicians.”

The Legislature is again working on an omnibus bill this year to guide gambling in the state, with legislators mindful that the amendment—if approved—will tie their hands indefinitely.

That potentially includes a renewed deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida guaranteeing the state $3 billion over seven years from the Tribe’s gambling revenue. That’s in return for exclusive rights to offer blackjack and slot machines outside of South Florida.

“(I)f we feel like that there’s not a path forward, we’re going to have to re-evaluate and maybe make a change to the gaming (currently) in the state of Florida to recoup revenues … before a potential amendment passes,” Senate President-designate Bill Galvano said earlier this week. The Bradenton Republican is representing his chamber on negotiations with the House on a bill.

“The survey asked the actual language of Amendment 3 that will appear on the November ballot, which is considered the most reliable method of testing ballot measures,” the release added. “It found strong support for Amendment 3 regardless of age, geography, ideology, ethnicity or party affiliation.”

The survey also “suggests that legislators could have a political price to pay if they vote to authorize casino gambling without a statewide referendum,” it continued. “Seventy-three percent of voters said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate for office that ‘supports legalizing Las Vegas style casinos without requiring that it first be approved by a statewide vote of the people’ while only 23 percent are more likely.”

The survey was conducted by Hill Research Consultants Jan. 24-28. A total of 1,235 interviews were completed by voters who are likely to vote in Florida’s November 2018 general election.  Of these, 622 were phone interviews, half of which were to landline numbers, and the other half were mobile phones. And 613 online interviews were conducted.

The margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.9 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

Greyhound steroids ban clears another committee

A Senate bill to bar the use of steroids in racing greyhounds cleared another committee Wednesday, as a poison-pill amendment was withdrawn at the last minute.

The measure (SB 674) was approved by the Agriculture Committee on a 8-1 vote, with only Delray Beach Democrat Kevin Rader opposed.

Rader filed and withdrew an amendment that would have allowed steroids, but only for canine birth control. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 12 tracks.

“It wasn’t the right time,” he told Florida Politics after the meeting. “I’m working with the sponsor,” referring to Tampa Republican Dana Young.

“Sometimes you can get things done in other ways than just doing an amendment on a bill,” he added.

On Tuesday, Young had called the amendment “absurd,” saying it “takes a bill that bans the use of steroids in greyhounds, and expressly authorizes it … There is nothing about this amendment that helps protect greyhounds.”

Lobbyist Jeff Kottkamp, speaking for the Florida Greyhound Association (FGA), said only one kind of steroid is used on dogs: A “low dose” of testosterone given as a “chewable pill” to female dogs that does not enhance their performance.

State regulations—but not state law—now allow use of steroids, but only for birth control.

Kottkamp also said the bill was “really about snuffing out the industry.” Young has made no bones about her opposition to greyhound racing. A pending state constitutional amendment would ban dog racing outright.

“These are dollar bills running around a track on four legs,” she told fellow lawmakers. “Do not be fooled.”

She pointed out that dog trainers could keep male and female dogs apart and use separate kennels, but “that costs too much money.”

Young’s legislation must next clear the Rules Committee before heading to the floor. An identical House companion (HB 463) has cleared one of its two committees this Session.

Ruff and tumble: Battle of greyhound bills on in Senate

One Senate bill aims to ban giving any steroids to racing dogs. Another would allow steroids for canine birth control.

Now, the sponsor of the second bill is essentially trying to copy-paste his bill on the first.


On Tuesday afternoon, Delray Beach Democrat Kevin Rader filed an amendment on Tampa Republican Dana Young‘s steroid ban (SB 674).

Her bill, which has cleared one committee, is next on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

But the amendment is essentially Rader’s bill (SB 1774), which would allow dog trainers to give anabolic steroids to racing greyhounds. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 12 tracks.

Rader could not be immediately reached for comment.


“This amendment, being pushed by greyhound breeders, is absurd,” Young said in a text message. “It takes a bill that bans the use of steroids in greyhounds, and expressly authorizes it … There is nothing about this amendment that helps protect greyhounds.”

State regulations—but not state law—now allow use only of a “low-dose, non-performance enhancing” form of testosterone in greyhounds, and only as birth control, according to Florida Greyhound Association (FGA) lawyer-lobbyist Jeff Kottkamp.

The Rader measure also includes provisions from a draft bill circulated last year by the association, which represents breeders and owners. They include “maintaining a safe track surface” and “insulating all exposed electrical wires on the track.”

But Rader’s language also would pre-empt “regulation of the welfare of racing greyhounds to the state and supersedes any municipal or county ordinance on the subject.”

That would include a recent Seminole County ordinance. Among other things, that local law requires public reporting of greyhound injuries at Sanford Orlando Kennel Club, and puts the licensing and inspection of dogs and kennels under the county.

Carey Theil, executive director of greyhound racing opponents GREY2K USA Worldwide, said in a statement: “This amendment is a slap in the face to every volunteer who collected signatures for the Seminole County greyhound protection ordinance.

“It would cover up the greyhound injuries that are now being reported in Seminole County, pushing them back into the shadows,” he added.

Young has called steroid use in dogs “doping,” but FGA spokesman Jack Cory responds that drugs given to the dogs “are NOT performance enhancing steroids.”

He added: “This would meet the best practices as recommended by The Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI),” the official rulemaking body for professional horse and greyhound racing in North America.

Bill Galvano hopeful—but not betting—on gambling resolution

The Senate’s point man on gambling issues Tuesday said he sees “a way forward” on a grand gambling bargain—but also suggested lawmakers may have to fold ’em and walk away.

Senate President-designate Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, is representing his chamber as he and House Speaker-designate Jose Oliva try to land a comprehensive gambling bill that’s eluded the Legislature for years.

The House has proposed including in that package a renewed deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida guaranteeing the state $3 billion over seven years from the Tribe’s gambling revenue. That’s in return for exclusive rights to offer blackjack and slot machines outside of South Florida.

Galvano and Oliva met last week with tribal leaders, after which Barry Richard, the Tribe’s outside counsel, told Florida Politics his client wouldn’t bend to allowing new slots in the state, continued playing of “designated player” card games, or expressly legalizing fantasy sports play.

“Those things are non-starters for the Tribe,” Richard said in an interview last week. “It’s insulting to the Tribe to say, ‘yeah, pay us more and by the way, we’re going to increase your competition.’ ” The Seminoles pay the state more than $200 million yearly, and are projected to pay over $380 million next fiscal year.


“The impression I got, and I was at the meeting, was not that the Tribe was unwilling to compromise,” Galvano said. “They raised the greatest concern with regard to the expansion of slots. The designated player games are subject to many different machinations (and) definitions. So I believe that issue is still in play.

“The pressure points on the Tribe include a lack of stability on their part, the fact that if we feel like that there’s not a path forward, we’re going to have to re-evaluate and maybe make a change to the gaming (currently) in the state of Florida to recoup revenues … before a potential amendment passes,” he added.

That refers to the proposed “Voter Control of Gambling” constitutional amendment that will be on the November ballot. It would require voter approval for any new or added gaming in the state. And if it gets 60 percent approval, lawmakers will be indefinitely shut out from influencing gambling.

“And there are still other games that the Tribe wants, like craps and roulette, so we’re still open to discussion,” Galvano said. He said he spoke with Richard earlier Tuesday and expects to hear from the Tribe again by the end of the week.

“I am comfortable there is a way forward. I’m not saying it’s a failsafe. But there definitely is opportunity on the table to go forward,” the senator said.

And what if the Tribe won’t back down on new slots and designated player games, which the Senate proposal allows?

“I think we would have to regroup on how we want our relationship to exist with the Tribe going forward,” Galvano said. “This is based on my assessment on the landscape before us.”

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