Influence Archives - Page 3 of 240 - Florida Politics

Campaign against guns on campus adds lobbyist

The Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus has added Jacob Elpern, the former chief of its Florida State University chapter, to its lobbying team in Tallahassee.

Elpern, who graduated this year, joins the organization’s staff full time, state affairs director Kathryn Grant said.

His registration took effect on Dec. 14. Grant also lobbies for the group, which belongs to the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.

Targets this year, Grant said, include SB 140, which would allow people to openly carry guns on college campuses, local government meetings, the Legislature, airport passenger terminals outside security screening areas, and elsewhere.

HB 6005, meanwhile, would allow concealed weapons on campus but not in the other places envisioned in the Senate bill.

Bill Galvano files 112-page gambling bill for 2017

This year’s first big gambling bill has something for everyone: Lottery ticket sales at gas pumps, fantasy sports, more slot machines, and a provision to finally OK the long-delayed gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

As he promised, state Sen. Bill Galvano filed this year’s bill (SB 8) on Thursday afternoon, coming in at 112 pages – with a 16-page summary separately provided.

One notable highlight: It would expand blackjack from just the state’s Seminole casinos to South Florida’s pari-mutuels, including Pompano Park.

Coincidentally, the legislation came the same day that Atlantic City’s casinos posted “their first revenue increase in a decade,” according to The Associated Press, helped largely by internet gambling. New Jersey casinos “won $2.6 billion from gamblers in 2016, an increase of 1.5 percent from a year earlier.”

No Casinos, the state’s anti-gambling expansion organization, tweeted its opposition Thursday night.

“This bill massively expands gambling throughout Florida by legalizing new forms of gambling at tribal facilities, and legalizing slot machines outside Miami-Dade and Broward counties, allowing for two new casinos in South Florida and expanding blackjack,” the group said. “…We will vigorously oppose this bill and urge legislators to stop Florida from becoming the next Atlantic City.”

Galvano, a Bradenton Republican expected to be Senate President in 2018-20, called his bill “an important step in the development of a comprehensive, statewide approach to reforming current gaming laws.”

“This legislation in large part builds upon Senate work that has taken place over the last several years,” he said in a statement.

“My goal has been to address all aspects of gaming in a comprehensive manner that balances the interests of an industry that has contributed to Florida’s economy for nearly a hundred years, our ongoing revenue-sharing agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and the authority of local voters, while maximizing revenues to the state.”

To avoid complaints that the measure represents an expansion of gambling, Galvano – an attorney – included provisions to pare down the number of state gambling licenses, for instance.

The changes to gambling law “represent a myriad of ideas advocated by various Senators and address industry concerns regarding antiquated and ambiguous provisions of current law,” he added. “The bill balances the will of the voters who have authorized additional games and locations with a retraction of gaming permits across the state.”

State Rep. Mike La Rosa, the St. Cloud Republican who chairs the House Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee, earlier Thursday had told reporters he hadn’t seen Galvano’s bill.

But he hoped “it would be the best deal for the citizens of the state of Florida, and we’ll see what happens,” La Rosa said.

In an email, spokesman Gary Bitner said “the Seminole Tribe prefers to carefully review the bill before commenting.” Expanded gambling is a condition for the tribe to stop sharing revenue from its casinos.

Galvano admitted “further negotiations to reach a new agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida are necessary … While this legislation represents an important step, there is still a great deal of work to be done.”

A great deal of work is already in the bill, however. In order, the bill would:

Allow lottery tickets at “point-of sale” terminals – This could include customers could buying lottery tickets at the gas pump, an idea proposed before.

Critics had worried about minors, lower-income Floridians and compulsive gamblers having easier access to tickets. Galvano’s measure restricts sales to minors and wouldn’t allow games to use “slot machine or casino game themes.”

Approve a new Seminole Compact – Gov. Rick Scott and tribal representatives agreed on a new deal for continued rights to blackjack in exchange for $3 billion over seven years. But that agreement couldn’t get to either floor for a vote last Legislative Session.

This year’s bill would ratify the new agreement – with conditions. The tribe must agree that all ongoing legal actions over the agreement will be dropped, and accept “revised exceptions from exclusivity” on slot machines and certain card games now being offered at pari-mutuel facilities with card rooms.

But the tribe would get craps, roulette, and could offer blackjack at all its casinos in the state.

Make clear that fantasy sports play is legal in Florida – The bill would “find that fantasy contests … involve the skill of contest participants,” and thus aren’t games of chance, i.e. gambling.

It sets up an “Office of Amusements” to regulate fantasy contests in the state, similar to Senate President Joe Negron‘s measure last year.

That means sites like DraftKings and FanDuel, now seeking federal approval of a merger, would have to have a state license and contract for independent audits.

Provide for ‘decoupling’ at horse and dog tracks – Under the bill, 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 move is known as decoupling.

Pari-mutuels say they want decoupling because the audience for dog and horse races – and thus the money bet on them – continues to decline. But horse and dog interests say it will kill their industry.

The bill “would change Brand Florida to Brand Mississippi, would cost over 3,000 Florida families their small businesses and put over 8,000 beautiful greyhounds at risk,” said Jack Cory, spokesman for the Florida Greyhound Association.

Establish a pari-mutuel permit reduction program – It would authorize the state to buy back “and cancel active pari-mutuel permits.” The money would come out of the revenue share payments from the Seminoles, up to $20 million.

A pre-condition of a sale could be something “most likely to reduce gaming in Florida.”

Expand the availability of slot machines – The legislation amends the definition of “eligible facility” so that “any licensed pari-mutuel facility” could get slots.

But the tracks must be in a county where voters OK’d slots by referendum, such as Brevard, Duval and Palm Beach, and have “conducted a full schedule of live racing for two consecutive years.”

The bill could also allow for one extra slot machine license each in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Expands blackjack beyond Seminole casinos – It OKs blackjack in South Florida pari-mutuels, but at no more than 25 tables per facility.

Wagers may not exceed $100 for each initial two card wager,” the summary says. “Each pari-mutuel permitholder offering banked blackjack must pay a tax to the state of 25 percent of the blackjack operator’s monthly gross receipts.”

Among other provisions, the legislation reduces the state slot machine tax from 35 percent to 25 percent, would allow slots and cards to be played 24 hours a day, and let “all cardroom operators … offer designated player games.”

In banked card games, players bet against the “house,” or the casino, and not each other. In traditional poker, people play against each other for a pot of money. Designated-player games are a hybrid, where the bank is supposed to revolve among the players.

Jack Latvala to House: The Senate makes its own rules

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala sent a message Thursday to the House leadership: Don’t expect to force the Senate to abide by your strict new budget rules.

“We have our own rules in the Senate. We are going to abide by our own rules,” Latvala told reporters following a committee meeting.

“I think it would be unfortunate if we got to a position where, because the House is trying to force their rules on the whole process, that we get into some kind of government shutdown or something like that,” he said.

“The way to avoid that is to have conversation and negotiation early on in the process. Next month, you’ll see us take some steps to try to bring that about.”

Under rules approved when Richard Corcoran assumed the speakership, members must file a specific bill describing each project they hope to insert into the state budget. The idea is to get away from secretive logrolling late during sessions.

Corcoran has suggested that senators seeking projects find a House co-sponsor, to remain within the spirit of the House’s drive for transparency.

Latvala, a Republican from Clearwater, wasn’t having it.

“We are going to have our own process, just like we have from time immemorial. We are going do things differently than the House does,” he said.

“Each subcommittee is going to have one or more hearings where we’re going to thoroughly vet those projects that people have put forward. Each of our conference meetings that we host this year, we are going to make sure there’s time for public participation. Some of these things haven’t been done in the past. There’s different ways of getting transparency.”

As for whether senators should file project bills, Latvala allowed that might be a good idea.

“I’m encouraging people to file these bills. It kind of helps catalog what’s in the system. I have no objection to it,” he said.

“It’s important to have a consistent set of rules that both sides adhere to and agree to,” he said.

“But you can’t have a set of rules in the House and a set of rules in the Senate and they’re different. That’s never happened before. There’s a lot of case law that says this is a bicameral legislature, and that one house in this legislature can’t encumber or make decisions for the other house.”

He added: “It’ll all work out.”

As for the House’s tightened disclosure requirements for lobbyists, Latvala said:

“All that’s done is create some more bookkeeping for the lobbying firms. It’s helping Tallahassee employment, because some of the lobbying firms have told me they’re having to add people to fill out the paperwork. So much for government staying out of business.”

Meanwhile, Latvala welcomed news from the Division of Bond Finance that Florida’s debt load has declined by $4 billion during the past six years.

It means “we’ve got some room to do some bonding for projects like Sen. (Joe) Negron’s Everglades project,” Latvala said.

State lawmaker gets national attention for comparing Kratom lobby to Adolf Hitler

For the third straight year, Rep. Kristin Jacobs filed a bill in the Florida House to ban Kratom.

However, this time is different for Jacobs, who submitted her proposal earlier this month.

Not only is she carrying a bill that already failed twice, but Jacobs also decided to sell the bill by calling the Kratom lobby “just like Hitler.”


Reaction came from Kratom advocates very quickly, contending that — as we wrote — “Godwin’s law makes bad law.”

Kratom supporters in Florida (and well beyond) bristled at the comparison to the author of one of history’s most horrific genocides, simply for advocating for their own natural right to benefit from the analgesic properties of a plant.

We saw the reaction, via dozens and dozens of comments on our site.

No comments were advocating a ban on the constituent parts of Kratom.

There were comments from veterans; those suffering chronic pain; others who had shaken off the legitimately life-threatening effects of opioids, ranging from Big Pharma to street heroin.

The consistent message: Kratom is a lifesaver.

Jacobs, who equated Kratom to heroin in our interview, also maligned those who have traveled to Tallahassee to testify in the House. She mocked them for being “addicts with glassy eyes and shaky hands.”

Those so-called “addicts” will have some new ammunition for committee hearings, as Jacobs’ comparison of Kratom advocates to Hitler has received some national exposure this week.


In the Huffington Post, Nick Wing follows up on our pieces on Jacobs’ “meltdown” earlier in the week.

“The drug warrior mindset is alive and well in the Florida state legislature,” Wing observes.

Wing was unsuccessful in getting a comment for his post from Jacobs, an indication that the lawmaker may be trying to distance herself from her unguarded polemic days back.

Meanwhile, just as a Florida-based advocate for Kratom’s medicinal benefits took umbrage at Jacobs, national Kratom advocates have gotten into the act, as quoted by the Huffington Post.

Susan Ash, the founder of the American Kratom Association, told the website that she had “never been more offended by a comment made about our efforts.”

Kratom advocates have reached out to Jacobs, Ash adds, but have been rebuffed.

Florida Chamber head still bullish on incentives (with an explanation)

The head of the Florida Chamber of Commerce Thursday defended the state’s handout of economic incentives, but said they were only ever meant to stoke job creation in a targeted way.

“In very, very limited cases, incentives are in play,” said Mark Wilson, the organization’s president and CEO. “We shouldn’t be using incentives for every job we create. In fact, they should rarely be used.”

Wilson and others, including dozens of former and current lawmakers, spoke at a press conference in the Capitol.

The organization rolled out its 2017 Competitiveness Agenda, “a blueprint of legislative priorities built on jobs, growth and opportunity for Florida families and small businesses.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Americans for Prosperity-Florida, a free market advocacy organization, have inveighed against them as “corporate welfare.”

In questions and answers after the press conference, Wilson explained incentives are best used for targeted industries, such as advanced manufacturing and life sciences.

“When we can compete for those kinds of high-skill, high-wage jobs … in those very limited cases, incentives make sense,” he said. “Incentives and marketing dollars are incredibly important and when they’re used, they’re the difference maker.”

Corcoran has said, however, he expects requests for taxpayer-financed economic incentives to move through his chamber despite his personal objections to them.

This year, Gov. Rick Scott is requesting $85 million in incentives for a broad range of business deals to attract businesses to Florida.

The governor had last year proposed a “Florida Enterprise Fund” of $250 million for business incentives, a proposal that didn’t get funded in the 2016-17 state budget.

Marco Rubio votes to repeal Affordable Care Act

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio has cast his vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

Early Thursday morning, the Senate GOP took a first step towards a repeal of the law – which they’ve long said was a goal of theirs and which President-elect Donald Trump made a campaign promise to do. In a marathon voting session, they approved a budget resolution that would speed through the repeal of the law.

Rubio was right on board with that.

“ObamaCare has led to rising premiums, a collapse of the individual insurance market and fewer choices for patients,” Rubio said. “The law is an absolute failure, and its proponents insist it must be salvaged with a taxpayer-funded bailout of health insurance companies. We’ve now taken an important first step to repeal this law and replace ‎it with a patient-centered approach that expands access to providers and lowers costs of care.

“It is my hope and expectation that the transition to a replacement program can be done relatively seamlessly and minimize disruptions to patients.”

Opponents of the measure say a repeal of the Affordable Care Act would be disastrous and leave many people without health care, as well as leaving people with pre-existing conditions unable to find coverage.

The GOP and Trump say they’ll work towards implementing a replacement for the law that will be better, though no details on what that plan will be have surfaced.

Lawmakers get ready for Seminole Compact, gambling debate

The chair of the House’s gambling policy panel Thursday made clear what the elephant in the committee room would be this legislative session.

“Everything we do is connected to this gaming compact,” said state Rep. Mike La Rosa, referring to the pending renewal of an agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. 

Indeed, the Legislature’s real work on gambling won’t start till the Senate files its gambling legislation for 2017, expected later today (Thursday).

La Rosa, a St. Cloud Republican, and Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee members heard from legislative economist Amy Baker and Department of Business and Professional Regulation Deputy Secretary Jonathan Zachem, the state’s top gambling regulator, and Jason Maine, its general counsel.

Maine mentioned that the state’s deadline to appeal a federal court ruling on Indian gambling is next week, but didn’t say what the state would do. 

Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled in November that the tribe can continue to offer blackjack and other “banked card games” to its Hard Rock Casino customers in the state.

Hinkle had said the state had broken an exclusivity deal with the tribe, part of what’s called the 2010 Seminole Compact, allowing it to keep its blackjack tables until 2030 even though the blackjack provision expired in 2015.

Also in the mix is a Supreme Court case over whether a Gadsden County race track can offer slot machines because voters previously approved them there.

If the court rules in Gretna Racing’s favor, it could open the door for slots to be added in other counties where voters OK’d a local slots referendum.

But if slots are expanded, it would allow the Seminoles to reduce the gambling revenue they’re required to share with the state.

State Rep. Tom Goodson, a Rockledge Republican, asked Zachem whether the state’s tax on slots might make up any lost revenue from the tribe. Zachem answered – essentially – that he didn’t know.

“It’s not a clear-cut, thumbs up or thumbs down,” he said.

Florida House bill seeks non-partisan elections for state attorneys, public defenders

Northeast Florida Democrats were incensed last year at being disenfranchised in closed GOP primaries for state attorney and public defender.

Now, one of their own — House District 13 Rep. Tracie Davis — has filed a bill in the Florida House to remedy that condition.

And her political mentor, Sen. Audrey Gibson, filed the Senate version.

House Bill 231 seeks to make elections for state attorney and public defender non-partisan, adding the offices to current statute, which includes school board members.

Last summer, the Jacksonville media market saw stories about former State Attorney Angela Corey, whose campaign manager filed paperwork for a write-in candidate with the express purpose of closing a primary that otherwise would have been open.

The primary in the public defender’s race likewise was closed by a write-in candidate, who wasn’t able to articulate a compelling reason for running against incumbent Matt Shirk when asked.

While Corey and Shirk maintained that nothing wrong had been done, voters disagreed, and turned each of them out of office by historic margins in the very GOP primaries they sought to close.

Worth watching: will Davis’ bill get prominent Republican support?

Most area Republicans endorsed Corey for State Attorney, even as it was the political team of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry (an endorser of Corey) that ended her career.

House civil justice subcommittee takes up judicial term limits

A House panel began talking Thursday about imposing term limits on judges — and also reviewed how quickly the courts are clearing their caseloads.

Judicial term limits failed in the Legislature last year, but House Speaker Richard Corcoran has declared the issue an important priority.

Heather Fitzenhagen, chairwoman of the Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee, said she has not yet taken a position.

She rejected a suggestion that House Republicans want to publish the Florida Supreme Court for rulings striking down GOP priority legislation.

“Absolutely not. What we’re trying to do is the people’s business and making sure that all of our branches of government are functioning at the best possible efficiency, and that we’re getting things done in the best manner possible. That justice is served in a timely manner.”

In Florida, appellate judges — including justices of the Supreme Court — are appointed by the governor subject to merit retention elections. They may serve until age 70 if the voters retain them.

No appellate judge has ever been bounced via a merit retention vote, according to Nathan Bond, policy chief for the subcommittee. He supplied the committee with statistics detailing court efficiency levels.

Warren Husband, a Tallahassee attorney appearing for the Florida Bar, said the organization’s Board of Governors unanimously opposed last year’s proposal over practical concern that higher turnover might affect the administration of justice.

As it happens, the appellate courts experienced a nearly 30 percent turnover rate between 2011 and 2015, he said.

“You’re probably going to get older applicants than you get now — and, in fact, older appointees and nominees than you get now,” Husband said.

“You can’t carry on a law practice while you’re a judge. You have to leave your practice, leave your clients, turn those over to other folks, go on the bench for 12, 13, 15 years, whatever it happens to be, and you can’t reasonably expect to pick up where you left off when you get off the bench.”

No specific bill language has emerged this year, and Fitzenhagen, a Republican from Fort Myers, reiterated that she is not taking a position. “I’m going to look at everything with fresh eyes,” she told reporters.

Tampa Democrat Sean Shaw saw a possible threat to judicial independence. He is the son of the late Leander Shaw, who served 20 years on the Supreme Court and was targeted for defeat during a merit retention vote for writing a 1989 ruling affirming women’s right to abortion.

“Apparently, under these scenarios we’re talking about, the last 10 years of his time on the Supreme Court would have been null and void,” Shaw said.

“I don’t know what problem we’re trying to solve.”

Regarding efficiency, “there’s one answer to that. I thought that was one of the easiest things. Give them more judges. When was the last time we gave the court budget allocations for more judges?”

And if no judge has ever been defeated for merit retention? “So what? They have faced the voters. Just because no one’s lost is not a good reason to say it’s not working.”

Florida Senate bill seeks expedited hearings for district map changes

A bill filed Thursday in the Florida Senate would fast-track court rulings in challenges to electoral district boundaries, while requiring current boundaries to be used if the ruling isn’t rendered in a timely fashion.

Senate Bill 352, filed by Elkton Republican Travis Hutson, seeks to resolve uncertainty among candidates and voters alike – a utilitarian measure in the light of high-profile recent challenges to Florida Senate boundaries as well as to those of the United States House of Representatives.

Challenges to boundaries in legislative races must be given an expedited hearing, according to the bill.

If a ruling is not rendered by the 71st day before the primary election in multi-county district races, the election must proceed according to extant boundaries, with any changes taking effect for the next election cycle.

This would not apply to state attorney or public defender races, where the lines are not controversial; rather, to State Senate and State House races.

If a court order mandating change is rendered for a U.S. House of Representatives primary race 116 days before the primary, those candidates must requalify in accordance with the changes.

Additionally, Hutson’s bill has provisions that allow for public oversight in the case of a remedial map from a court, incorporating provisions for public review and commentary, and requiring records to be kept of the process.

“Our districts are the literal building blocks of a successful representative democracy,” said Hutson in a press release.

“The process of creating districts is too important to have uncertainty. This bill clearly sets a framework so all those involved in the electoral process, from the Supervisors of Elections to candidates and most importantly the voters, can be confident that timely and fair elections are held in our state,” Hutson added.

“I am a firm believer that three co-equal branches of government with strong public input and oversight is what our constitution is built upon,” Hutson continued. “This bill ensures transparency and fairness throughout the entire redistricting process.”

The bill has yet to get a Florida House companion bill, but it almost certainly will.

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