Florida Legislature Archives - Florida Politics

David Simmons selected Senate President Pro Tempore

State Sen. David Simmons is primed to be the upper chamber’s second-in-command during the 2019 and 2020 Legislative Sessions.

Senate President-elect Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, on Wednesday announced his selection of the Longwood Republican to fill the role.

The Senate is expected to approve Simmons’ appointment on Tuesday, when the chamber meets for Organizational Session.

Simmons is a longtime state lawmaker, having served an eight-year stint in the state House before being elected to the Senate in 2010. During his first term in the Senate, Simmons served as Majority Whip, another leadership role.

The Pro Tempore “is responsible for ensuring we abide by the letter and spirit of the Senate Rules to ensure all Senators have the opportunity to advocate for their constituents,” Galvano wrote in a memo announcing the selection to his chamber colleagues.

“We share a love of history and an appreciation for the rules and procedures that govern the legislative process,” Galvano continued, noting Simmons previously chaired the Senate Rules Committee. “As President Pro Tempore he will ensure we maintain the high standards of fair and open civil discourse expected of the Florida Senate.”

Simmons has been a “reliable partner” in working through difficult policy issues presented to lawmakers, added Galvano.

“We have all seen David’s unmatched work ethic and tireless determination to fiercely advocate for the issues and causes he supports,” said Galvano. “However, those of us who have served with David in both the House and the Senate have also witnessed the countless occasions where he demonstrates the same tenacity and dedication when speaking up for his fellow Representatives or Senators if he feels that a colleague has been treated unfairly.”

Incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva announced his leadership team last week, along with committee assignments.

TBARTA taps RSA Consulting, Suskey Consulting for first-ever lobbying contract

The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority tapped RSA Consulting and Suskey Consulting to manage its state-level lobbying now that the agency is under new leadership and focuses more on regional transit.

The firms will try to draw down recurring state funding for the agency’s operations and identify funding for the proposed 42-mile bus rapid transit route connecting downtown St. Petersburg to Wesley Chapel along Interstate 275.

The Legislature previously approved changing TBARTA from a transportation agency narrowly focused on long-range planning and a vanpool service to a regional transit authority overseeing projects to better connect Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Pasco counties.

While the Legislature approved the shift in focus, it did not provide any operating funds on a recurring basis, which hamstrung the agency executing its new mission.

Alan Suskey, president of Suskey Consulting, said the firm has an idea of how much money they’ll seek from lawmakers in the 2019 Legislative session, but those numbers have not yet been approved.

Ron Pierce

RSA, led by veteran lobbyist Ron Pierce and includes Natalie King and Edward Briggs, and Suskey, along with his colleagues Donovan Brown and RJ Myers, also work for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit AuthorityThe TBARTA board approved the contract with the two firms last month during its regular meeting after considering the team’s success in drawing down state funds for PSTA and helping the agency land innovative new partnerships.

Pierce and Suskey helped secure $1 million in funding for PSTA to conduct a corridor study along the Clearwater Causeway evaluating the feasibility of a dedicated lane for transit. They also secured $500,000 in funding for the Central Avenue BRT route in St. Pete that will eventually connect downtown St. Pete to the Gulf beaches along First Avenues North and South.

The team was also behind the first-in-the-nation partnership between a transit agency and ride-sharing company Uber offering free rides to low-income transit users.

PSTA’s TD Late Shift allows people who are considered ‘transportation disadvantaged’ to use Uber during times when buses don’t run. The service is particularly helpful for riders who work third shifts and aren’t able to catch a bus to or from work.

“As a result of that success, TBARTA hired us to represent them in front of the Legislature,” Suskey said.

Pierce and Suskey will continue to represent PSTA in addition to its new duties with TBARTA. Suskey has an office in Pinellas County and tends to focus on matters on that side of Tampa Bay while RSA is more focused on Hillsborough County.

Incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva names committee chairs

With the election behind them, the Republican-led state House is swiftly organizing.

On Wednesday, incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva, a Hialeah Republican, unveiled the committee structure for the 2019 and 2020 Legislative Sessions.

Filling in as Speaker Pro-Tempore is Rep. MaryLynn Magar, a Hobe Sound Republican. She replaces state Rep. Jeannette Nunez, who was elected Lieutenant Governor alongside Governor-elect Ron DeSantis on Tuesday.

The Republican Majority Leader is Rep. Dane Eagle, a Cape Coral Republican. Eagle replaces Estero Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues. Rodrigues will instead head the Health and Human Services Committee.

Chairing the powerful Appropriations Committee is state Republican Rep. Travis Cummings, of Orange Park. He replaces former House budget chair Carlos Trujillo, who left the Legislature after being appointed Ambassador to the Organization of American States.

Cummings, elected to the Legislature in 2012, has served through six regular lawmaking sessions. During the 2018 Legislative Session, Cummings was among the 67 other legislators to pass the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act as a standalone bill. At the time, it came with an estimated $400 million price tag. He has yet to file any bills ahead of the 2019 Session.

Cummings received his masters in business administration from the University of North Florida. Before being elected to the Legislature, he served in a variety of roles at the local level in Orange Park, including a stint as Mayor of the town.

Much of Cummings’ sponsored bills have sought to benefit the Northeast portion of Florida he inhabits. And this will be the second year in a row in which that part of the state has direct representation in a powerful post in the Legislature. Fleming Island Republican state Sen. Rob Bradley chaired the Senate’s budget committee in 2018, helping to secure millions for nearby restoration projects in the St. Johns River and Keystone Heights areas.

Generally well-liked by legislators in both chambers, Sachs Media Group’s Public Affairs Director Herbie Thiele, a longtime observer of the Tallahassee’s political process, said Cummings “is a great appointment,” from Oliva.

And a close relationship with Bradley could mean that Cummings is better-equipped — almost like a quarterback understudy — to handle the budget negotiations in the later days of the upcoming session, Thiele added.

Eustis Republican state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan will take the reins of the Education Committee.

By vote, Sullivan has shown a demonstrated willingness to further expand school choice and charter schools in Florida. In 2017, Sullivan voted in favor of the “Schools of Hope” plan. The eventual law provided for “hope operators,” who could set up charter schools within five miles of “persistently” low-performing public schools. It also provided money for traditional low-performing public schools.

In 2018, Sullivan successfully championed two education-reform bills. Among those were HB 731, which provided greater flexibility to family-administered homeschooling programs. Another, HB 1279, changed accountability and transparency mandates for schools, requiring school districts to post financial summaries to their websites, among other things.

Sullivan also supported the House’s “Hope Scholarship” plan, a tax-credit funded program that allows students who are victims of bullying or other violence to receive public funding to move to private schools or other public schools.

The next two House Speakers in line also received committee chair appointments from Oliva.

Clearwater Republican Rep. Chris Sprowls, in line to preside over the House beginning 2021, will chair the Rules Committee. Palm Coast Republican Rep. Paul Renner, set to become Speaker in 2022, will chair the Judiciary Committee. Renner is a former Assistant State Attorney.

St. Cloud Rep. Mike La Rosa will chair the Commerce Committee under Oliva’s leadership. In the past, LaRosa has sought to change the state’s alcoholic beverage laws, including allowing “cooperative” advertising in theme parks. That measure, however, failed to pass in 2018 after reaching the House floor. LaRosa also has championed legislation that would pre-empt local regulation of vacation rentals, though that measure too died after reaching the House floor.

Overall, Oliva commended the talent of lawmakers now leading the chamber’s committees.

“I am blessed by a deep bench of talent to pull from when it comes to leading our committees and working with the Senate and Governor-elect DeSantis,” Oliva said in a statement. “The chairs named today are men and women of principle, integrity, and an unrelenting desire to serve the people of Florida.”

The remaining, all-Republican committee chairs: Hialeah Rep. Bryan Avila, Economic Affairs Committee; Daytona Beach Rep. Tom Leek, Public Integrity & Ethics Committee; Spring Hill Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, State Affairs Committee; and Monticello Rep. Halsey Beshears, Ways & Means Committee.

Background provided by Florida Politics Senior Editor Jim Rosica and the News Service of Florida.

Amendment 5

Supermajority tax amendment approved by supermajority of voters

A ballot measure that requires a two-thirds vote by the state Legislature for any future tax increases was approved by Florida voters Tuesday.

Amendment 5 was up 66 percent-34 percent as of 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. Constitutional amendments need no less than 60 percent of the vote to pass.

Also known as the “Supermajority Vote Required to Impose, Authorize, or Raise State Taxes or Fees” amendment, it’s one of a dozen amendments on the statewide General Election ballot. It, along with a pair of property tax proposals, was placed on the ballot by the Florida Legislature.

Five days out from Election Day, voters were teetering between enshrining the amendment in the state’s governing document and telling state lawmakers to kick rocks with 47 percent in favor and 34 percent opposed.

In the end, quite a few more than the 19 percent of voters who said they were undecided last week ended up breaking toward “yes.”

Specifically, Amendment 5 requires two-thirds of both legislative chambers — that is, 80 members of the House and 27 members of the Senate — to approve any new taxes or fees or to increase existing ones.

Critics railed against the proposal, saying it would make it far more difficult to pass such measures at the state level.

If the Legislature’s hands were tied by a future economic crisis, such as the Great Recession that dominated the end of the Charlie Crist era and the first act of Rick Scott’s tenure in Tallahassee, the anti-A5 crowd crowed that state lawmakers’ efforts to keep the books in the black could be derailed by a handful of elected officials in the “taxed enough already” troupe.

Unlike the two property tax measures green-lit for the 2018 ballot, however, Amendment 5 will not impact tax and fee collections by county and municipal governments.

Political committee Floridians for Tax Fairness spent $1.7 million this election cycle fighting Amendment 5 and Amendment 1, a measure which would have upped homestead exemptions by another $25,000. In the end, the Joseph Pennisi-chaired committee went one for two on Election Day.

The amendment goes into effect Jan. 8.

Despite new law, Florida will still ‘fall back’ for end of Daylight Saving Time

The “Sunshine Protection Act” aimed to make Daylight Saving Time permanent in Florida, meaning those in the Sunshine State would no longer have to set their clocks back an hour each November.

But even though the bill passed the Florida Legislature and was signed by Gov. Rick Scott seven months ago, Floridians will still “fall back” this weekend.

That’s because the measure cannot take effect unless Congress changes federal law to allow it. The state would have to be exempt from the Uniform Time Act of 1966; both Hawaii and Arizona have exemptions, though they stay on standard time rather than recognizing Daylight Saving Time.

Sen. Marco Rubio introduced two bills in the U.S. Senate to facilitate Florida’s bill: one to exempt the state from the Uniform Time Act and another that goes one step further by making Daylight Saving Time permanent nationwide.

“Last week, Florida’s Legislature overwhelmingly voted for permanent daylight saving time for the state of Florida,” Rubio said when the state’s bill passed in March. “Reflecting the will of the Sunshine State, I proudly introduce these bills that would approve Florida’s will and, if made nationally, would also ensure Florida is not out of sync with the rest of the nation.”

Rubio said the time change affects Florida’s agricultural economy by disrupting farmers’ schedules and says Daylight Saving Time reduces traffic accidents because of greater visibility.

Gov. Scott said he supported the move because it would help the state’s tourism industry. He said it would allow residents and visitors to “enjoy everything our beautiful state has to offer later in the day.”

The Florida PTA had asked for a veto because more children would go to school in the morning in the dark.

Material republished with permission from The Associated Press.

Amendment 5 getting closer to passage, according to St. Pete Polls

A new survey on Amendment 5, which would require a supermajority in the Legislature to increase taxes, has a path to passage.

That’s according to new results from St. Pete Polls.

The survey, released Thursday, shows 47 percent in favor of Amendment 5, with 34 percent against and 18 percent undecided. If the undecideds break in the same proportion as those who have an opinion, that would leave “yes” at around 58 percent support. That’s just short of the 60 percent required for passage.

Or the undecideds could lean more toward “yes” or “no” than those who have made up their minds, pushing it over the 60-percent threshold or leaving it far short.

But with 18 percent still unsure, the amendment at least has a chance of getting through.

Among those who have already voted, 50 percent say they voted “Yes” and 37 percent said “No,” with 13 percent undecided.

The Oct. 30-31 survey consisted of 2,470 likely voters; the margin of error is 2 percent.

Amendment 5 would require two-thirds of both legislative chambers to approve any increase in taxes or fees. That would make it far more difficult to pass such measures at the state level, but would not apply to taxes and fees collected at the city or county level.

While no one likes paying more in taxes, critics say the measure may make it more difficult to respond to an economic crisis.

The amendment showed strong splits by party and race. In total, 55 percent of Republicans supported the measure, while just 38 percent of Democrats said the same.

Those of Asian or Pacific Islander descent were most likely to support Amendment 5, with 53 percent backing it. That was followed by white non-Hispanics with 51 percent, Hispanics at 45 percent, and black non-Hispanics at 35 percent.

Pam Bondi 9-6-2017

Cannabis chronicles: Pam Bondi OKs new marijuana-based drug

Following the feds’ lead, Attorney General Pam Bondi on Thursday issued an emergency rule allowing a new drug for child epilepsy patients that contains CBD, a ‘non-euphoric’ chemical from cannabis.

Bondi’s filing with the Secretary of State notes there are now about “64 patients in the state of Florida who are legally using an FDA-approved cannabidiol product for the treatment of seizures…” As many as 4,000 Floridians — many of whom are children — could be eligible to get the medication.

It’s marketed under the brand name Epidiolex, “the first cannabis-based medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, (which) is now available by prescription in all 50 states,” CNNWire reported.

“While Attorney General Bondi has used emergency powers since taking office in 2011 to schedule 133 chemical compounds commonly used in deadly synthetic drugs, this is the first time she has used her authority to de-schedule a drug,” said Whitney Ray, her spokesman.

Her filing says “any delay caused by the rescheduling of this product through the regular rulemaking process or by waiting for legislative action during the 2019 Legislative Session will likely cause a disruption in the supply of this product that will result in serious bodily harm to seriously ill Floridians.”

Bondi “recognizes that such circumstances constitute an immediate danger to the health, safety and welfare of a limited but extremely vulnerable population of Floridians, and therefore, concludes that such circumstances justify the promulgation of (an) emergency rule….”

That affects its classification in the drug “standards and schedules” in state law, tracking the federal system, which ranks controlled substances “depending upon acceptable medical use and the drug’s abuse or dependency potential.”

Schedule I includes cannabis, as well as fentanyl and its derivatives, heroin, morphine, mescaline, and many others. Bondi’s move classifies Epidiolex as a Schedule V drug, which includes pregabalin, marketed under the brand name Lyrica, a medication for epilepsy and nerve pain.

That’s in line with the FDA, U.S. Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration, which already OK’d Epidiolex as a federal Schedule V substance, allowing it to be prescribed.

Marijuana is still considered a Schedule I substance by the feds, however, and selling marijuana is still a federal crime, even though many states — including Florida — allow marijuana as medicine or even — as in Colorado — its recreational use by adults.

“The Attorney General will continue to promulgate a rule through the regular rulemaking process and will ask the Florida Legislature to memorialize this action through legislation in its 2019 Legislative Session,” her filing says.

Bondi, a Tampa Bay-area Republican first elected in 2010, faces term limits this year.

Epidiolex treats two types of epileptic syndromes: “Dravet syndrome, a rare genetic dysfunction of the brain that begins in the first year of life, and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a form of epilepsy with multiple types of seizures that begins in early childhood, usually between ages 3 and 5,” CNN said.

“These syndromes are otherwise highly treatment-resistant, often causing those afflicted to suffer more seizures than those with more common forms of epilepsy,” Ray said.

Other points from the CNN report: “GW Pharmaceuticals says the average list price of Epidiolex is $32,500 a year. The company expects that the drug will be covered by most insurance plans.”

And “although Epidiolex is approved only for the treatment of two rare seizure disorders, doctors can now prescribe the medication ‘off-label’ for other conditions … This is both legal and common; one in five of all medications prescribed is for off-label use.”

Ray Blacklidge backs out of campaign forum with Jennifer Webb

Florida House District 69 Republican candidate Ray Blacklidge backed out of a campaign forum at Eckerd College organized by a bipartisan group of students at the private, liberal arts college.

Blacklidge is running against Democrat Jennifer Webb for the St. Petersburg district currently held by Republican Kathleen Peters. Peters is not seeking re-election; she’s running for Pinellas County Commission.

Blacklidge texted event organizers that “unforeseen circumstances” came up and he was no longer able to attend. The students are still hoping he will change his mind. Blacklidge did not immediately respond to an inquiry.

If Blacklidge does not attend, Webb will appear solo at the event in a less formal town hall format. She will discuss her campaign platform and take questions from students, event organizers said.

It’s at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Eckerd College Sheen Auditorium.

HD 69 includes part of St. Petersburg and the communities of Redington Beach, Madeira Beach, Treasure Island, South Pasadena and Gulfport. 

The race between the two candidates started out cordial with both vowing to avoid negative campaigning. Neither candidate has directly attacked the other, but outside groups supporting Blacklidge in the race have aired negative ads about Webb.

The seat is a target for Democrats looking to regain a majority in the Florida Legislature. Peters, the incumbent, is a Republican. The latest polling shows Webb leading Blacklidge by double digits.

Republicans have a slim lead in voter registrations in the district, which voted plus-3 for Donald Trump in 2016. Webb ran against Peters two years ago, but lost the race to Peters by 13 percentage points.

House seeks to defend medical marijuana law

The Florida House is seeking to intervene in a potentially far-reaching legal battle about the constitutionality of a 2017 law that set regulations for the state’s medical-marijuana industry.

House lawyers last week requested approval to help defend the law, which was designed to carry out a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana. A Leon County circuit judge this month sided with a Tampa-based firm that contends the 2017 law did not properly follow the constitutional amendment, in part because the law capped the number of medical-marijuana licenses that can be issued.

In a motion filed last week seeking to intervene in the case, House lawyers contended that the 2017 law was carefully crafted to carry out the voter-approved constitutional amendment and to comply with federal guidance about medical- marijuana issues. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, though it has been legalized for medicinal and recreational uses in various states.

“The House seeks to intervene here to defend the Legislature’s prudent effort at striking the necessary, delicate balance between implementation of the voter-adopted MMA policy (the medical marijuana constitutional amendment), on the one hand, and conflicting federal drug policy, on the other,” the motion to intervene said. “Indeed, the House has a direct interest in preserving, from judicial encroachment, the Legislature’s constitutional prerogative to address such a conflict and effectuate the voters’ will to the extent federal law will allow.”

The Tampa-based firm Florigrown, which had unsuccessfully sought a state license to get into the medical-marijuana industry, filed the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the 2017 law. Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson agreed that the law was unconstitutional and issued a temporary injunction Oct. 5 that required state health officials to begin registering Florigrown and other medical-marijuana firms to do business.

Gov. Rick Scott’s administration appealed, which had the effect of placing an automatic stay on Dodson’s ruling while the 1st District Court of Appeal considers the issues. Florigrown last week filed a motion in Dodson’s court to vacate the automatic stay, alleging that the Legislature had tried to create an “oligarchy” by limiting the number of licenses in what is expected to be a lucrative industry.

“This oligarchy has resulted in the creation of astronomic and artificial values in ‘licenses,’ contrary to the goal of making medical marijuana ‘safe and available’ and at the expense of qualifying patients and those so woefully in need of compassion, not exploitation by the select few,” Florigrown attorneys wrote.

Dodson has scheduled a Nov. 19 hearing to consider several issues, including the motion to vacate the automatic stay and the House’s request to intervene. While Dodson granted a temporary injunction, the underlying lawsuit also remains in his court.

The 2017 law ordered health officials to grant licenses to operators who were already up and running at the time in Florida or who were involved in litigation as of Jan. 1, 2017. The law also required a license for a black farmer who meets certain conditions and set aside a preference for applicants with certain ties to the citrus industry.

Dodson’s ruling found fault with caps on the number of licenses and issues such as the creation of a “vertical integration” system that requires marijuana operators to grow, process and sell medical marijuana — as opposed to businesses being licensed to play different roles in the industry. More than 71 percent of voters approved the medical-marijuana constitutional amendment in 2016.

In seeking to intervene in the case last week, House lawyers pointed to 2013 guidance from the Obama-era U.S. Justice Department that indicated state and local governments should have tight regulatory systems for medical marijuana. It also said uncertainty has been “amplified” by the Trump administration’s tougher stance on marijuana, which this year included rescinding the 2013 guidance.

“Only the Legislature — made up of the citizens’ representatives — has the constitutional authority to navigate the state through the tempestuous waters caused by the direct conflict between federal policy and a state policy enacted by citizen initiative,” the House lawyers wrote.

Gambling amendment fight has high stakes

The words on the November ballot appear simple enough: “Voter Control of Gambling in Florida.”

According to proponents of Amendment 3, it’s not much more complicated than what the ballot title proclaims.

But the proposal’s foes — including dog and horse tracks, NFL teams and sports-betting firms FanDuel and DraftKings — say a “yes” vote for the proposed constitutional amendment would shut the door not only on expanded gambling in the Sunshine State but on games Floridians already enjoy.

Amendment 3, placed on the ballot by a political committee largely backed by Disney Worldwide Services, Inc. and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, would give voters the “exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling” in the state. The change, if approved by 60 percent of voters, would require statewide approval of casino-style games, such as slot machines, in the future. Such decisions are now largely controlled by the Legislature.

The high-dollar fight over Amendment 3 has pitted the Seminole Tribe — who now has exclusive rights to operate casinos with Las Vegas-style card games, such as blackjack — and Disney — which has long opposed the expansion of gambling in Florida — against pari-mutuels and out-of-state betting operators.

“Voters In Charge,” the committee behind the ballot initiative, has spent more than $31 million on the effort. Proponents of the measure, such as the committee’s chairman, John Sowinski, are using voters’ distrust of politicians and “special interests” to shore up support for the constitutional change.

“This comes down to, who do you trust: the voters or the politicians and the gambling lobbyists?” Sowinski told The News Service of Florida in a recent telephone interview. “Their burden is to suggest with a straight face that things are better in the hands of politicians and the lobbyists who contribute to them and who influence them.”

Meanwhile, two groups trying to kill the proposal — “Citizens for the Truth about Amendment 3” and “Vote No on 3” — have raised a combined $8 million since forming in late July. The anti-Amendment 3 groups are backed largely by pari-mutuels and “racinos” — South Florida pari-mutuels that have slot machines — along with firms such as FanDuel and DraftKings.

“It’s really the fundamental loss of local control that bothers people, more so than any specific game or anything,” IsadoreIzzyHavenick, whose family owns pari-mutuels in Miami-Dade County and Southwest Florida, told the News Service. “People in Pensacola shouldn’t be telling people in Miami-Dade County what they should do. And conversely, people in Miami-Dade County shouldn’t be telling people in Pensacola what they should be doing.”

The constitutional effort comes after the Republican-dominated Legislature has repeatedly failed to agree on sweeping gambling packages in recent years.

Among the issues that lawmakers have grappled with is whether to authorize slot machines in eight counties — Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington — where voters have approved the machines in referendums.

Legislators also have not gone along with pitches from national and international casino operators for “destination resorts,” swanky retail, lodging and gambling combos that proponents maintain could boost the state’s economy and deliver numerous high-paying jobs.

Unlike states like New Jersey and Mississippi, Florida also hasn’t taken advantage of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a federal ban on state-sanctioned sports betting. The Supreme Court decision cleared the decks for states to allow gamblers to legally bet on professional and collegiate sports teams, similar to what has been allowed in Nevada.

Approval of the constitutional amendment in November could cause Florida to lose out on millions of dollars from sports betting, incoming state Senate President Bill Galvano told the News Service. Illegal sports betting has long taken place in Florida and across the country.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s May decision “provides an opportunity for us to regulate and capture revenues from an activity that is currently going on in the state of Florida,” said Galvano, a Bradenton lawyer who’s been a chief legislative negotiator on gambling issues for nearly a decade.

“The revenues are substantial. If Amendment 3 is passed, we’d lose that opportunity and we’re hamstrung,” Galvano said.

But Sowinski contradicted the Republican leader.

“It doesn’t mean it’s prohibited,” Sowinski said. “It means that, if it’s casino gambling — and sports betting is casino gambling, under the federal law — it’s voters that have the last say on it, not politicians and lobbyists.”

Critics of the proposed constitutional amendment counter that entities with deep pockets, like the Seminole Tribe, will spend big bucks to kill any sort of gambling expansion.

If it passes, the amendment could also put an end to the popular and controversial “designated player” card games offered by pari-mutuel cardrooms. The lucrative games have been at the heart of a legal dispute between the state and the Seminoles, who pay the state at least $250 million a year in exchange for the exclusive rights to operate “banked” card games, such as blackjack, at the tribe’s casinos.

A federal judge sided with the tribe in the clash over whether designated player games breached the Seminoles’ exclusive rights to offer banked card games. After that ruling, the Seminoles agreed to continue make payments to the state, and gambling regulators promised to “aggressively enforce” the manner in which pari-mutuel cardrooms conduct the designated player games.

“Amendment 3 will clearly eliminate designated player games in cardrooms throughout the state of Florida. Period,” Jamie Shelton, president of pari-mutuel bestbet Jacksonville, told the News Service.

Like Havenick, Shelton argues the amendment would eliminate “local control” of gambling.

But decisions about thorny gambling issues now are largely in the hands of the Legislature.

“We’re dealing with an industry and an issue that is constantly morphing and changing. And without the ability to address it legislatively and the agility that requires, you’re going to create real problems within the state of Florida, and you’ll end up creating a monopoly for the Seminole Tribe,” Galvano predicted.

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