Influence Archives - Florida Politics

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.

House and Senate settle budget allotments, appoint conference committees

The House and Senate agreed upon the outlines of a state budget Thursday and appointed conferees to work out the details, beginning that afternoon.

Senate President Joe Negron said the deal would provide an across-the-board raise for state workers — their first in about nine years, according to Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, for whom the raise was a priority.

“This has not been the least difficult negotiation that either of us has ever been in,” Latvala told Negron from the floor.

“It’s been a long negotiation. We’ve had a lot of reports that we were done when we weren’t really done. But we’re here now to start the conference process,” Latvala said.

Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran together settled the major points of contention between the two chambers, Latvala said.

Conference subcommittees have until noon Saturday to complete their negotiations, he said. Anything they can’t settle will go to the full committee. Any controversies still unresolved will go to the presiding officers by noon Sunday.

Senate sends Groveland Four resolution to the governor and Cabinet

The Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to apologize to survivors of the Groveland Four — African-American men who were brutalized in 1949 following a false accusation of rape.

The senators first voted, 36-0, to sign on as cosponsors, then approved the resolution on a voice vote.

“This is a great miscarriage of justice,” sponsor Gary Farmer said.

“This is Florida’s version of the Scotsboro Boys. This is our To Kill a Mockingbird. We cannot change the hands of time. We cannot go back to this terrible event and undo it. But we can acknowledge our wrongs. And we can bring peace, and healing, and closure to the families who have suffered so long.”

Those family members traveled to Tallahassee to watch the House approve the resolution on April 18 and could not return for the Senate vote, Farmer said.

“But I have met with the survivors, and they have told me of the years of dealing with this, and the years of shame and injustice that they have had to endure.”

He credited former Sen. Geraldine Thomspon, who sponsored the apology legislation in past years. “I only picked up the torch that she lit,” he said.

The resolution, CS/HCR 631 declares that injustice was done toward Charles GreenleeWalter IrvinSamuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, offers an official apology on behalf of the state of Florida, and urges Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet to exonerate them.

It urges Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet to pardon Irvin and Greenlee, the two who lived long enough to be convicted and imprisoned.

“(W)e hereby acknowledge that Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, who came to be known as ‘the Groveland Four,’ were the victims of gross injustices and that their abhorrent treatment by the criminal justice system is a shameful chapter in this state’s history,” the resolution reads.

Rick Scott calls proposed cuts to Visit Florida ‘irresponsible’ in new web ad

Gov. Rick Scott is continuing his push for money for Visit Florida, releasing a new digital ad hitting lawmakers over proposals to cut funding for the state’s tourism marketing agency.

In the 60-second spot, released by Scott’s political committee Let’s Get to Work, the Naples Republican is shown saying “Florida’s been winning, now a group of politicians in Tallahassee want us to lose.”

“That’s irresponsible,” he continues. “It’s real simple, if the politicians in Tallahassee say they don’t want to market our state and we lose tourists, then we’re going to lose jobs. The politicians in Tallahassee don’t get it. Ever job is important, every family is important to our state. There is not a job that’s expendable.”

The new digital ad, which was first reported by POLITICO Florida, comes with just eight days left in the 2017 Session. State lawmakers could begin final budget negotiations are early as this afternoon, and the latest deal reportedly funds Visit Florida at $25 million, a more than $50 million cut from the current level.

“If Rick Scott wants to condemn a self-serving Tallahassee politician who’s wasting Floridians’ tax dollars to promote his own political agenda he should look in the mirror,” said David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, about Scott’s new ad. “Throughout his years in Tallahassee Scott has always looked out for only person – himself – while Floridians who actually work for a living are paying the price.”

Scott, who has spent much of the week in Argentina as part of a trade mission, has lashed out at the decision. His office released a memo from Christian Weiss with the Revenue Estimating Conference that suggested the proposed cuts could reduce state revenues by about $210 million. His office also released a letter that Ben Watkins, the director of the Division of Bond Finance, sent to Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Carlos Trujillo, which suggested Visit Florida cuts could have “negative impacts on bond ratings across the state.”

The governor is scheduled to meet with 10 state senators — including Latvala and Oscar Braynon, Anitere Flores, Bill Galvano, and Wilton Simpson — today. He also has a meeting with Rep. Scott Plakon on his public schedule.

Budget deal struck, House and Senate leaders appoint conferees

There is a deal.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron announced a settlement Thursday on the major points of difference between their chambers on an $83 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and appointed conference committee members to work out the details.

The conferees were to begin work at 1:30. They have until noon Sunday — any differences remaining at that point would go to Corcoran and Negron to settle.

“I am confident we can produce a final, balanced budget that incorporates the priorities of our constituents,” Negron said in a written statement.

“Over the next few days, we can and we will complete our work in a timely manner that appropriately meets the needs of our growing state and responsibly plans for Florida’s future,” he said.

“The reports of the demise of session have been greatly exaggerated,” Corcoran said.

“We look forward to working with our friends in the Senate to produce a budget that is balanced, provides tax relief, funds critical needs, and preserves the fiscal security of future generations.”

The news of a budget deal came after days of will-they-or-won’t-they over the state’s multi-billion dollar spending plan.

The two chambers appeared to reach a stalemate early this week, after a weekend of negotiations. The House has approved a “standard operating budget,” or contingency budget, adhering mostly to the budget the Legislature approved last year for the existing fiscal year.

But as the week progressed, there was word of movement, with many expecting the House and Senate to unveil an $83 billion budget Tuesday. That afternoon Corcoran said the House was “very, very, very close to having allocations agreed to with the Senate,” and even predicted budget conference would begin that evening. But that proved to be overly optimistic, by late evening Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Senate President Joe Negron Negron, said there would be no conference.

Budget breakdowns appeared to stall again Wednesday, when another day passed without budget allocations or conference meetings.

The budget framework could give Corcoran and Negron their top priorities while delivering a likely-fatal blow to Enterprise Florida, the public-private economic development organization Gov. Rick Scott wants full funding for.

 

Interests for and against ‘liquor wall’ legislation react to passage

The reaction to the Florida Legislature’s repeal of the state’s “booze wall” law continued long after Wednesday’s vote.

The House, on a close vote of 58-57, passed the Senate’s bill (SB 106) to allow retailers to remove the ‘wall of separation’ between hard liquor and other goods. (Full story here.)

The legislation now heads to Gov. Rick Scott. If signed into law, the state will end 82 years of mandating that retailers sell distilled spirits in a separate store from other items.

Floridians for Fair Business Practices, a business coalition that included Wal-Mart, Target, Whole Foods Markets and others who favored the measure, issued a statement saying “the legislation finally removes an archaic regulation which has no basis in today’s modern society.”

“We are pleased both chambers recognized the importance of free market principles, increased consumer choice and healthy competition,” the group said. “We encourage Gov. Scott to sign this common sense, pro-business bill into law.”

The Distilled Spirits Council, a national trade association, praised lawmakers for “taking down the wall.” 

“Florida consumers want a modern marketplace where they can purchase spirits, wine and beer at the same time and same place – like in most states,” Distilled Spirits Council Vice President Jay Hibbard said in a statement. “We applaud the Florida legislature for listening to its constituents and urge Gov. Scott to sign this pro-consumer legislation.”

Skylar Zander, deputy state director of Americans for Prosperity-Florida, the state’s pro-free market organization, called the separation requirement “outdated.”

“Small businesses and consumers should have the ability to choose what products go on the shelves and what products come off of them,” Zander said. “Rep. Bryan Avila and Sen. Anitere Flores did a great job managing this contentious issue.”

But ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, which has long opposed the legislation, said the Prohibition-era law still “prevent(ed) minors from unlawful access to liquor.”

“The protection of minors and small businesses lost by a single vote in the House today because of members who bowed to enormous political pressure and financial influence from Wal-Mart and Target,” said Charles Bailes III, chairman and CEO of the Orlando-based chain.

“The wall, which has separated minors from hard liquor for decades, has never hurt competition in Florida but it has kept young people from stealing bottles or drinking them in stores,” he said. “We are grateful for the 57 members who voted to fight for that protection and respect their political courage to do the right thing.”

medical marijuana

Amendment moves House closer to Senate on medical marijuana, but differences remain

The Florida House is moving closer to the Senate’s position when it comes to medical marijuana, but conflicts over several big issues, including the number of licenses, remain in conflict.

Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues filed an 86-page, delete-all amendment Wednesday to his medical marijuana implementing bill (HB 1397). The amendment was one of more than two dozen amendments filed Wednesday, ahead of an expected discussion on the measure on the House floor Friday.

The Estero Republican has long said he was in negotiations with the Senate over the bill. He said he had hoped to present a so-called reconciliation bill during the Health & Human Services Committee meeting Monday, but told committee members that he and the Senate had “not gotten there yet.”

The amendment moves the House version closer to the Senate bill, allowing edible forms of marijuana, so long as they are not “attractive to children.” The bill calls on edibles to be, among other things, individually sealed in “plain, opaque wrapping marked only with marijuana universal symbol.” The amendment also allows vaping, something the original House bill did not allow.

The amendment also removes a controversial provision that requires patients to have a three-month relationship with a physician before they can get access to marijuana. A holdover from the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, dozens of advocates have call for the House to remove the provision.

The Senate bill allows edibles and vaping, and does not include the 90-day wait period.

While the House has moved closer to the Senate on some positions, it appears to be standing firm — at least right now — in others. The proposed amendment does not lower the threshold for licensing new medical marijuana treatment centers.

Under the House proposal, current license holders would be grandfathered in, and a member of the Florida chapter of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association, which was shut out under the existing system, would be issued a license. The Department of Health would then issue five new licenses to once there are 150,000 qualified patients registered with the compassionate use registry.

The Senate bill quickens the pace, issuing five more licenses by October and then adding four medical marijuana treatment centers for every 75,000 people who patients who register.

The Senate bill, however, caps the number of retail facilities a license-holder can have, something the House amendment is silent on.

The House could begin discussions its bill on Friday. The Senate bill (SB 406), sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, has not yet been placed on the calendar.

House approves Everglades python hunting bill

The Florida House voted to enter into competitive bid contracts with private individuals who want to hunt down pythons, lionfish and other invasive species in the Everglades.

The measure (HB 587) unanimously passed by the Florida House on Wednesday would establish a pilot program, which would track data on each nonnative animal’s capture on state-managed land and water. Florida currently spends $1.2 million in several statewide efforts to boost python removals. Some of the current incentives for hunters include an $8.10 hourly pay and monthly prize winnings.

Under the bill, pet dealers would also need to tag certain invasive species before putting them up for sale.

A similar bill in the Senate has moved ahead in two committee stops.

House votes to shield college official searches from sunshine

Job searches for the top officials of the state’s public universities would be shrouded in secrecy under a bill passed Wednesday by the Florida House.

House members OK’d the measure (HB 351) 103-11.

But its reception in the Senate is unclear: With less than two weeks left in session, a companion bill (SB 478) has not had a hearing.

The legislation would maintain the privacy of candidates who apply for positions of “president, vice president, provost, or dean of a state university or Florida College System institution.”

The bill makes their identifying information “confidential and exempt,” the highest level of secrecy under the state’s public records law.

It also would close meetings for “identifying or vetting” of candidates. Lists of finalists, however, would be public.

“Many, if not most, applicants for such a position are currently employed at another job at the time they apply and could jeopardize their current positions if it were to become known that they were seeking employment elsewhere,” the bill’s legislative intent section says.

Taxing question: House OKs bill forcing county tax votes only in primary, general elections

Legislation limiting placement of local sales tax referendum to primary or general election ballots and requiring passage with 60 percent support was approved Wednesday by the Florida House.

The same bill by Spring Hill Republican Blaise Ingoglia (HB 139) passed in that chamber a year ago, but died in the Senate. Legislation sponsored by Sarasota Republican Greg Steube this year (SB 278) currently sits in the Appropriations Committee.

The final vote in the House on Wednesday was 93-23.

One of those who voted no was Dania Beach Democrat Steven Geller, who said it would result in another case of the state telling local governments how to behave. He specifically disliked the idea of a referenda item not being held when many local municipalities hold their elections in spring time.

“One of the problems we have with local tax referenda, is that right now currently counties can place that question anywhere on the ballot, ” Ingoglia responded, adding that to a certain degree, many counties have been “abusing that process.”

Citing turnout numbers hovering at 22 percent in some municipal elections, Ingoglia said he believed that “if you’re going to ask people to tax themselves, you should have the maximum participation possible.”

The original bill said counties could only hold tax referenda questions on the date of a general election to maximize the voting potential.

A problem with holding a vote in a primary is, Ingoglia said, depending on the county, participation is often much higher in number in primaries by the dominant political party in that county.

In Steube’s bill, language has been added in committee that would  allow local governments to hold a tax referendum on an off-year election cycle (such as 2017), as long as the tax increase was “revenue neutral.”

“Transparency in local tax increase referendums is critical. We commend Representative Ingoglia for passing HB 139 to strengthen local tax referendum processes to ensure more voter participation in local taxing decisions,” said Skylar Zander, deputy director of Americans for Prosperity Florida. “This is a good transparency measure and will make local tax increases more accountableWe call on the Florida Senate to pass this bill.”

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