Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 146

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.

Construction at Capitol continues underground

Work on the grounds of the Florida Capitol and its underground parking garages continues after the Senate garage was closed last May.

It was shut down when its primary support girder showed signs of stress after years of water intrusion. 

“The next milestone for the Senate garage is structural repair as we work to restore that main girder,” said Maggie Mickler, spokeswoman for the Department of Management Services, the state’s real estate manager.

The repair work, started last month, is expected to be completed in April, she added.

The Senate garage, in continuous use since 1978, was shut down “in an abundance of caution,” officials said. That meant 210 spaces were no longer available for use, with senators and staffers shunted to other state garages and surface lots downtown.

The original waterproofing, which contains coal tar pitch, had degraded over the years and was letting in water. Structural engineers then saw “an accelerated deterioration” of parts of the garage.

Throughout late 2016, workers installed shoring for structural stability and removed trees and roughly 6,000 tons of dirt—5,200 on the Senate and 900 on the House—from the Capitol’s grounds.

This January and early February, “construction work continued inside and around the garage, with crews conducting demolition of sidewalks and dirt excavation, as well as removal of the old fire sprinkler systems inside the garage,” Mickler said.

That’s in preparation of removing the original waterproofing material from the sides of the garage. Pilings will need to be installed and more dirt excavated up to 30 feet underground.

The remediation is part of a larger effort to renovate the Capitol grounds.

“When it’s over, the plaza will have fewer trees, more space for memorials and shady spots to sit and relax, and better public access,” the Tallahassee Democrat reported last August.

The entire project is expected to be completed by June 2018.

Update: Later on Monday, Mickler said the entire project now is expected to be completed by August 2018.

2017 Legislative Session preview: Oscar Braynon on juvenile justice, incentives and Chance the Rapper

This is the first legislative session that South Florida’s Oscar Braynon II will be the Senate’s Democratic Leader.

The 40-year-old, who succeeded term-limited former Leader Arthenia Joyner, was first elected in 2011 after serving in the House and on the Miami Gardens City Council before that.

Though he’s in the minority, Braynon has high hopes for legislative breakthroughs with the GOP majority under President Joe Negron. “We have a good personal relationship and we’ve helped each other before we were in leadership,” Braynon says.

That said, one issue he’s already behind on is “decoupling,” in which the state would no longer require dog and horse tracks to run live races if they wish to offer other gambling, such as slots or cards. The House supports it this year; the Senate does not.

Braynon’s in favor because it would allow his district’s Calder Race Track, which he said he lives “around the corner from,” to sell its racetrack land to developers for much-needed retail, restaurants and a movie theater.

The city of 112,000 has no movie theater, one sit-down restaurant and little retail shopping, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert III recently told lawmakers.

But Braynon may have better luck on initiatives like juvenile civil citations, which gives “first-time misdemeanor offenders the opportunity to participate in intervention services at the earliest stage of delinquency,” according to the Department of Juvenile Justice. A bill now being carried by Anitere Flores, Negron’s right hand as President Pro Tempore, would expand their use.

Braynon gave a pre-session interview with FloridaPolitics.com last week. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.  

Q: What are you hoping to get accomplished this year?

A: I’m looking to some serious reform in our civil and criminal justice system. I think both sides of the aisle have come to the conclusion that minimum mandatory (sentences), putting juveniles in jail for minor crimes, keeping people locked up for drug offenses, those things put a strain on our budget. Also it puts a strain on our communities. We should look more into treatment for drug issues, economic development for communities like mine, where people think that dealing illegal drugs is the only way out (of poverty). If they can get a real job, they can have hope. I’ll be looking at that not just this year, but my two years as leader. And I think I have a willing partner in the Senate President.

Q: On the other hand, what are you hoping the Legislature avoids acting on?

A: I hope we avoid some of the repeats of what we did or tried to do in terms of tax cuts and cutting services … I think the fewer services you provide is not investing in the biggest and best resource of the state, its people. When you don’t invest in education, health care, mental health, the aged, DCF, the weakest among us, then you starve the infrastructure that is our way to get our state considered a premier state. Our mistake was we cut government and then on the other end we cut taxes for corporations, saying this is how we’re going to ‘save’ Florida. Look at us now. We’re looking at projections where we may be in another (budget) deficit. I call it crazy, because if it doesn’t work, why do it again?

Q: Which initiative gives you the most confidence to get done this year?

A: The civil citations bill, now pushed by Sen. Flores, is something our caucus has pushed for a long time. For the president pro tem to have it, that shows us being together on that issue of creating more juvenile civil citations statewide. I believe the concern on the other side has been being seen as ‘weak on crime.’ They think you’re not allowing children to be accountable for whatever (bad) things they did. But I don’t want to give them a mark for the rest of their lives.

Q: How do you think the current conflict between Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran—who are warring over Enterprise Florida (EFI), VISIT FLORIDA and business incentives—will affect this session?

A: (Laughs.) It’s not any different from previous years. It’s the same thing. Whether you take the money from (business in the form of taxes) or you give them so money back, it’s semantics. Whether you call them tax cuts or incentives, it’s a ridiculous argument. Look, businesses are doing well in Florida. We have a business-friendly environment. But we’re ranked low in mental health, education. I’m more than happy to watch them fight it out … And they all are going to fight, not just about this, but a whole number of things. Wait till we get to the budget, and who controls the process. It should not be up to the House. Then there’s land buying, and judicial term limits. The list is long. You could solve the EFI thing tomorrow and they’ll have seven other things they’ll disagree on. I do believe VISIT FLORIDA plays a role, but they could be more lean and transparent. As to incentives, I’m still waiting for someone to fully explain to me why they are really so necessary.

Q: Have you heard from Chance the Rapper yet? (Braynon supported a bill for Florida’s smaller craft brewers because it would help start-ups, likening them to the Chicago-based artist who rose to fame after distributing his own songs without a music label.)

A: No! I did not get a follow yet (from the rapper on Twitter).

2017 Legislative Session preview: Alimony rears its head

Get ready for a rumble: Lawmakers will again tackle the sticky issue of alimony in the 2017 Legislative Session.

Companion bills filed in the House and Senate aim to overhaul state alimony law to toughen the standards by which alimony is granted and changed. That’s despite unsuccessful tries in the last few years.

Neither bill had a hearing in the committee weeks leading up to this year’s session, which begins Tuesday.

Given its history, the effort promises to be one of the most contentious the Legislature will deal with this year, and both sides are primed for the fight. Last year, a hollering battle sparked outside Gov. Rick Scott’s office as reform advocates shouted down opponents of the bill.

In a nutshell: Former spouses who wrote the checks have said permanent alimony in particular, or “forever alimony,” wasn’t fair to them. Their exes have shot back that they shouldn’t be penalized, for example, after staying home to raise the children and then having trouble re-entering the workplace.

The First Wives Advocacy Group calls this year’s legislation “one-sided, inequitable, and harmful to Florida families, especially women and children.” Proponents say the measures won’t be retroactive; these ex-spouse advocates disagree.

“As written, the legislation will retroactively tamper with thousands of prior divorces, giving payors a virtual do-over at the expense of the recipient,” the group said in a statement. “During their divorces, many women sacrificed equitable distribution for the security of permanent alimony.  

“This legislation would result in (those paying alimony) filing for modification upon retirement, regardless of prior agreement, need, and ability to pay,” the group adds. “This is clearly not equitable.”

But Alan Frisher, chair of the National Parents Organization of Florida, called “the concept of permanent alimony … outdated in today’s society.”

“Alimony recipients must take some responsibility to earn a living after divorce in this day and age,” he said.

The 2017 bills “would provide predictability and consistency for all, plus, divorcing spouses could settle their financial differences out of court versus spending countless dollars on wasteful litigation,” Frisher added.

This year’s measures (HB 283, SB 412) don’t address the child custody provisions that garnered Scott‘s disfavor in 2016.

He nixed that legislation because it had the potential to put the “wants of a parent before the child’s best interest by creating a premise of equal time-sharing,” his veto letter said.

Family-law related bills have had trouble getting Scott’s signature even as lawmakers have tried for years to change the way Florida’s courts award alimony.

In 2013, Scott vetoed a previous attempt to modify alimony law because, he said, “it applies retroactively and thus tampers with the settled economic expectations of many Floridians who have experienced divorce.” He added that the “retroactive adjustment of alimony could result in unfair, unanticipated results.”

Among other things, the current legislation contains a guideline that says judges should consider an ex-spouse’s “services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party” when calculating an award.

A judge can go outside the suggested alimony amount under the bill “only if the court considers all of the factors … and makes specific written findings concerning the relevant factors that justify” the deviation.

Rep. Colleen Burton, a Lakeland Republican, is carrying the House bill and Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, is sponsoring its Senate counterpart.

2017 Legislative Session preview: Showdown over gambling—again

With competing legislation now set up in both chambers, the question remains whether lawmakers finally will pass a gambling overhaul or whether the effort will founder as it has in years past.

Hanging in the balance is a new blackjack exclusivity deal for the Seminole Tribe of Florida that promises a cut to the state worth $3 billion over seven years.

Negotiated by Gov. Rick Scott in late 2015, it failed to gain approval from lawmakers last session as it got bogged down by a fight over expanding games for the state’s pari-mutuel facilities, such as horse and dog tracks.

Indeed, the battle has usually been between pari-mutuels, who want to offer more gambling and be free of the state’s requirement that they run live races in order to offer cards or slots, and “family-friendly” tourism proponents, chiefly Disney. 

Younger audiences don’t want to bet on horses or dogs, the pari-mutuels say, and are more taken with diversions like fantasy sports, which would be made expressly legal in Florida in other legislation filed for this year.

Valery Bollier, CEO and co-Founder of Oulala Games, which offers fantasy soccer games in the U.K., told an International Casino Conference audience this month that the gambling industry “will fall off a cliff if they do not adapt to a millennial audience.”

“Young generations are not playing the same games as their parents,” Bollier said. “…They have access to such amazing skill games on their consoles and constant social interactions on their mobile phones.”

The two bills this year (SB 8, HB 7037) come at the issue from different directions, with the House seeking to “freeze” gambling in the state, and the Senate generally allowing expansion of gambling opportunities.

For example, the House outlaws designated-player card games, but the Senate would let “all cardroom operators … offer designated-player games,” which are similar to poker in that people play against each other.   

Moreover, the House would prohibit the expansion of slot machines, while the Senate generally expands the availability of slot machines, including to counties that passed a slots referendum. 

The House also would direct Seminole gambling money to education, including for “K-12 teacher recruitment and retention bonuses,” and funding “schools that serve students from persistently failing schools” and “higher education institutions to recruit and retain distinguished faculty.”

But Florida has a history of failure when it comes to addressing gambling. In 2012, former state Sen. Ellyn Setnor Bogdanoff pushed a measure to permit three destination hotel-casinos in South Florida. That effort died.

The next year, realizing they had likely bungled it, lawmakers hastily moved to ban Internet gambling cafés – only after a multistate investigation that netted dozens of arrests threw egg on the Legislature’s collective face.

Two years after that, then-House Republican Leader Dana Young of Tampa sponsored her own sweeping legislation to permit two destination resort casinos in South Florida and allow dog tracks to stop live racing but continue to offer slot machines, among many other provisions.

It, too, died during the Legislative Session.

And this year, neither bill addresses an idea proposed by Young, now a state senator, and others: Establishing an independent gambling commission, as in Nevada and New Jersey. Now, the state regulates gambling through the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Izzy Havenick, who with his family owns Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Racing in Bonita Springs, says he’s once again “cautiously optimistic” something will pass this year. Lee County is one of those that passed a slots referendum; his facility, which offers poker, competes with the Seminoles’ Immokalee casino, that has slots, about a 45-minute drive to the east.

“It’s hard to be in an industry where you never know what your rules and regulations are going to be,” Havenick said. “We hope they pass legislation that allows us to compete with the gambling that is all around us.”

Pam Stewart, Jimmy Patronis among Rick Scott constitutional review panel picks

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday released the rest of his appointments to the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), the panel that meets every 20 years to suggest rewrites and additions to the state’s governing document.

Unsurprisingly, his selections are heavy with friends, appointees and supporters, including Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and former state Rep. and now Public Service Commissioner Jimmy Patronis. The picks also are rife in conservative bona fides.

“These members stood out as exemplary choices for this historic Commission whose diverse backgrounds and experience in education, business and policy will ensure we continue to champion policies that make Florida the best place for families for generations to come,” the governor said.

In a press release, Scott disclosed the remaining picks, after previously announcing Carlos Beruff, the Manatee Republican homebuilder who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2016, as chair and Jeff Woodburn, currently the governor’s Policy Director, as the executive director.

According to the release, they are:

Dr. Jose “Pepe” Armas of Miami, “a distinguished physician and healthcare executive whose focus on patient-centered care has defined his career.” He currently serves as the Chairman of MCCI Group, which he founded in 1998, a physician healthcare group in the Southeastern United States. Scott appointed him in 2011 to the Florida International University Board of Trustees, and reappointed him to in 2016.

Former state Sen. Lisa Carlton of Sarasota, a lawyer and “an eighth generation Floridian and co-owner and manager of the Mabry Carlton Ranch, Inc. in Sarasota County.” She’s also a director for the Gulf Coast Community Foundation and founding member of the Florida Historic Capitol Foundation.

Tim Cerio of Tallahassee, the governor’s former general counsel now practicing with the GrayRobinson law firm. He also was chief of staff and general counsel at the Department of Health and now serves on the 1st District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission.

Emery Gainey of Tallahassee, a veteran law enforcement official and “member of the Attorney General’s senior executive management team and currently the Director of Law Enforcement, Victim Services & Criminal Justice Programs. Scott also tapped him to serve temporarily as Marion County sheriff last year.

Brecht Heuchan of Tallahassee, who helps run Scott’s Let’s Get to Work political committee. He founded and is CEO of ContributionLink, a political data analysis and fundraising firm. He also owns The Labrador Company, a political and government affairs firm, and was House Speaker Daniel Webster‘s liaison to the 1997-98 CRC.

Marva Johnson of Winter Garden, chair of the Florida State Board of Education and regional vice president of state government affairs for Charter Communications. She previously was a member of the Florida Virtual School Board and Advisory Board for Rollins College’s Crummer Center for Leadership Development.

Darlene Jordan of Palm Beach, executive Director of the Gerald R. Jordan Foundation, “a nonprofit organization that supports education, health and youth services, and the arts.” Scott appointed her last year to the Board of Governors of the State University System. She’s a former assistant attorney general for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Fred Karlinsky of Weston, the governor’s go-to man on insurance issues and co-chair of the Greenberg Traurig law firm’s Insurance Regulatory and Transactions Practice Group. He’s “recognized as one of the top insurance lawyers … throughout the U.S. and internationally in a wide variety of business, operational, regulatory, transactional and governmental matters.” Scott named him to the 17th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission and the Florida Supreme Court Nominating Commission.

Belinda Keiser of Parkland, vice chancellor of Keiser University and past member of the Workforce Florida board of directors, where she also served as chair. She also sits on the 17th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission and the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors.

Frank Kruppenbacher of Orlando, an attorney who has been on the Florida Commission on Ethics, Florida Commission on Sales Tax Reform, Greater Orlando Chamber of Commerce, Orange County Ethics & Campaign Finance Reform Taskforce, Orange County Oversight Committee, Orange County Charter Commission, Central Florida Zoological Board, Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau and Orange County Sheriff Department Oversight Board. He now is chair of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, appointed by Scott.

Dr. Gary Lester of The Villages, its vice president for community relations and a Presbyterian minister. He too has served on a number of boards and advisory groups,  including the United States Military Academy Nominations Board and the Judicial Nominating Commission for the Middle District of Florida.

Jimmy Patronis of Panama City, former state representative from Bay County and now a Scott-appointed member of the Public Service Commission, the body that regulates the state’s investor-owned utilities. With his brother Jimmy, he owns and runs the Capt. Anderson’s restaurant in Panama City Beach. He also has been on the Florida Elections Commission and Bay County-Panama City International Airport and Industrial District.

Pam Stewart of Tallahassee, the state’s education commissioner.  She has a 37-year history in education, beginning as a classroom teacher, and later guidance counselor, testing and research specialist, assistant principal and principal in both elementary and high schools, and asa district deputy superintendent in St. Johns County.

Nicole Washington of Miami Beach, state policy consultant for the Lumina Foundation, an educational grant maker. “In Florida, Ms. Washington has served as the Associate Director of Governmental Relations for the State University System Board of Governors, as well as the Budget Director for Education in the Governor’s Office of Policy and Budget (OPB).” She’s on the board of Florida A&M University, the LeRoy Collins Institute and the Veterans Trust Board.

Scott also picked three alternates: Tom Kuntz, chairman of the Board of Governors for the State University System of Florida; Don Eslinger, former Sheriff of Seminole County; and Judge John Stargel, a circuit judge in the 10th Judicial Circuit and husband of state Sen. Kelli Stargel

Scott’s appointees join the 12 previously-released selections of Senate President Joe Negron and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga. (Those appointments are here and here.)

House Speaker Richard Corcoran said he planned to disclose his nine picks next Monday, the day before the 2017 Legislative Session begins.

The state constitution says the commission must be “established … within (30) days before the convening of the 2017 regular session of the legislature.” A first meeting of the panel has not yet been announced.

The “commission shall convene at the call of its chair, adopt its rules of procedure, examine the constitution of the state, hold public hearings, and, not later than one hundred eighty days prior to the next general election, file … its proposal, if any, of a revision of this constitution or any part of it,” it says.

As governor, Scott chooses 15 of the 37 commissioners, and he also selects its chairperson. Corcoran, as House Speaker, gets nine picks, as does Negron as head of the Senate. The chief justice is alloted three picks. Republican Pam Bondi is automatically a member as the state’s Attorney General.

The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this will be the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans, virtually ensuring it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.

The nonprofit Partnership for Revising Florida’s Constitution has suggested several issues the commission could address this year, including transportation, natural resources, crime and justice, representation, and “youth, elderly & the underserved.”

Any changes the commission proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.

Supreme Court suspends judge considered by House impeachment panel

A North Florida judge used as an example by a House panel looking into impeachment of public officials has been suspended for six months by the Florida Supreme Court.


The court’s 46-page decision, released Thursday, also orders 3rd Circuit Judge Andrew Decker to get a public reprimand and pay investigative costs. A judicial misconduct hearing panel had recommended the same, but only a 90-day suspension.

Decker had been under investigation for three years for alleged attorney-ethical lapses before he was elected a judge in 2012.

State Rep. Larry Metz, chair of the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, has been critical of the court for sitting on the case for over a year without taking final action.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices Peggy A. Quince, Charles Canady, Ricky Polston and C. Alan Lawson concurred in the per curiam ruling.

Justice Barbara Pariente also concurred but wrote a separate opinion, joined by R. Fred Lewis, saying “Decker’s ethical missteps as an attorney … are compounded by the false and otherwise unethical statements he made on the campaign trail.”

At the same time, she agreed that “despite his professional misconduct as an attorney, Judge Decker has ably served the citizens of the Third Judicial Circuit since assuming the bench.”

Decker had been charged with a number of ethical breaches as a civil litigation attorney, including not disclosing conflicts of interest to clients in one case and inappropriate communication with an opposing party in another matter.

During his campaign for judge, he took part in a televised debate in which he said he had never been accused of having a conflict of interest. “The statement was false because less than four months earlier, a formal complaint was filed with The Florida Bar by a former client, alleging conflict of interest,” the opinion said.

Moreover, “at a judicial forum sponsored by the Lafayette County Republican Executive Committee, then-attorney Decker stated to the audience that he is a registered Republican, that his former affiliation with the Democratic Party was an error, and that he is ‘pro-life.’ It was alleged that these statements violated the Code of Judicial Conduct,” which also applies to candidates.

Last month, Decker was used a case study by Metz’s panel as it looks into exercising the House’s constitutionally-granted impeachment power.

The Yalaha Republican admitted, however, that the House can only act on “misdemeanors that occur in office,” not on earlier behavior. Metz was not immediately available for comment.

State Rep. Randy Fine, a Brevard County Republican, raised concerns Decker had not been made aware he was going to be used as an example: “It does trouble me we don’t at least (him) know we’re going to be laying out all the bad things (he’s) done.”

“I’m just glad it’s over and I’m sure the judge is too,” said Tampa lawyer Scott Tozian, who representied Decker in the misconduct investigation.

donkey statue

Lawsuit over donkey statue injury dropped

A Tallahassee woman has dropped her lawsuit against a local Mexican restaurant after she fell off its donkey statue and broke her back.

Leon County court dockets show Kimberly Bonn, who was being represented by the Morgan & Morgan personal injury law firm, had voluntarily dismissed her complaint on Tuesday.

No reason was given for the dismissal, first reported by the Tallahassee Democrat.

The suit itself, first reported by FloridaPolitics.com last month, alleged that Bonn was having dinner at El Jalisco Southwood restaurant in 2015 when she got up on a “life-size statue of a donkey,” slipped off, and fell “hard to the floor,” which gave her a “fractured spine.”

The inanimate beast of burden has since become a cause célèbre. It has its own Facebook page, “For the Donkey,” a turn on Morgan & Morgan’s “For the People” catchphrase.

In her complaint, Bonn had said customers were encouraged to have their photos taken on the donkey.

But El Jalisco’s attorneys, in an earlier court filing, said Bonn “assumed the risk of any resulting injuries” when she got up on the donkey, which “she knew or should have known involved a risk of harm.”

Trump Taj Mahal

Seminole Tribe buys former Trump Taj Mahal casino in NJ

The Seminole Tribe of Florida is expanding its gambling holdings to the Garden State.

Hard Rock International, which the Tribe controls, Wednesday announced it had bought the shuttered Trump Taj Mahal casino on Atlantic City’s famed boardwalk from billionaire Carl Icahn. The deal includes two New Jersey investors.

The sale comes four months after Icahn closed it amid a crippling strike. A sale price was not disclosed.

The Tribe operates the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casinos in Tampa and Hollywood.

“We are excited to be part of this revitalization of Atlantic City creating thousands of jobs to help local employment,” Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International and and Seminole Gaming CEO, said in a statement.

“We are 100 percent convinced Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City will be a success,” he added.

Hard Rock International, which will be majority owner, is in partnership with the Morris and Jingoli families of New Jersey. The investment group said they “will invest more than $300 million to purchase, substantially renovate and re-open the casino,” according to the statement.

The Tribe last year consolidated its control over the rock ‘n’ roll-themed Hard Rock hotel and casino brand, buying out remaining rights from the owner-operator of Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

President Donald Trump opened the Trump Taj Mahal casino in 1990 but lost control of it in a bankruptcy filing. Icahn bought it last year from a separate bankruptcy, but closed it in October amid a strike by its main casino workers’ union seeking restoration of employee health insurance and pension benefits that Icahn deemed unaffordable.

Icahn, who also owns Atlantic City’s Tropicana, said he only wanted to operate one casino in town. He’s still trying to sell the also closed former Trump Plaza casino, also closed.

The Morris family, led by Edgewood Properties CEO Jack Morris, has experience in redeveloping gambling properties. Edgewood led the redevelopment of Cherry Hill, New Jersey’s former Garden State Park racetrack into a mixed-use “town center” with retail and residences.

Firms controlled by the Jingoli family “specialize … in industrial, health care, education and gaming,” the statement said.

The Associated Press contributed to this post, reprinted with permission. 



Greg Steube files illegal immigration criminalization measure

Anyone ordered out of the country and later found in Florida could be charged with a crime under legislation filed Wednesday in the Florida Senate.

The bill (SB 1358), sponsored by Sarasota Republican Greg Steube, would create a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in state prison.

The proposal would apply to anyone who “is denied admission to, is excluded, deported, or removed from, or who departs the United States while an order of exclusion, deportation, or removal is outstanding and thereafter enters or is at any time found in the state.”

It creates an exception for those who can show that the federal government “consents to his or her admission or the person can establish that federal law does not require advance consent,” the bill says.

A voicemail seeking comment from Steube was left Wednesday.

Now, being in the country unlawfully is not a crime under federal law unless someone is deported and then returns without authorization, said Mark Schlakman, senior program director with the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights.

Questions of its constitutionality aside, he said, its “practical implication … would disproportionately burden Florida taxpayers for what would otherwise be a federal responsibility.”

Stuebe, a former House member and first-term senator, already has filed a number of controversial bills for the 2017 Legislative Session, including gun- and public records-related measures.

He also filed a bill (SB 82) that would undo a 2014 state law granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students, known as DREAMers. It stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, federal legislation that has not been passed.

DREAMers are children who entered the U.S. illegally but allowed to stay under an Obama administration initiative called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Letter: Feds may not have approved new Seminole Compact

The nation’s top Indian gambling regulator last year told the Seminole Tribe of Florida that the federal government would be “hard-pressed” to approve its new blackjack agreement with the state.

The tribe on Tuesday disclosed the June 2016 letter from Paula L. Hart, director of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Indian Gaming, as an attachment to its own letter this week to Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders. (The letters are here.)

Tribal Chairman Marcellus Osceola told the state that this year’s gambling legislation “neither would satisfy the requirements of federal law nor satisfy fundamental tribal concerns” and called them “not acceptable.”

The tribe’s concern was that it would be financially squeezed by the Legislature’s current proposals without getting enough in return. It offers blackjack at five of its seven casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tampa.

The Hart letter also confirmed a warning that Barry Richard, the tribe’s outside counsel, gave three years ago.

In a March 2014 interview with the Tampa Tribune, he explained that the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act prohibited tribes from paying states more than the cost of gambling regulation.

The Interior Department later interpreted the law to mean that a tribe may give a cut to a state in return for exclusive rights to a game, but the amount a tribe pays has to be a “fair value” for the exclusivity it’s getting, he said. 

Richard told the newspaper the feds will reject a deal if they think a tribe is paying more than the deal is worth: “(Their) message has been, ‘don’t push us on this,’ ” he said.

Hart later echoed Richard’s position when she discussed last year’s gambling bills, saying their gambling expansion provisions “dilute” the renewed compact that granted the Seminoles exclusive rights to blackjack in return for $3 billion over seven years.

“We would be hard-pressed to envision a scenario where we could lawfully approve or otherwise allow a compact to go into effect that calls for increased revenue sharing and reductions in existing exclusivity,” she wrote.

Fast forward to this year, with bills that contain many of the same proposals as last year, including expanding the availability of slot machines and card games.

“The Senate bill would require the same higher payments … (and) would add numerous additional exceptions to the Tribe’s exclusivity while broadly expanding gaming in Florida,” Osceola told Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“The House bill is less objectionable in that it does not propose as many new exceptions,” but it too “proposes major increases in the Tribe’s payments … without providing the necessary additional value.”

Osceola concluded by saying he was still willing “to work out a mutually beneficial agreement.” The 2017 Legislative Session starts next Tuesday.

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