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Lawyer: Seminole Tribe ‘will react accordingly’ to gambling bill’s death

The Seminole Tribe of Florida “will react accordingly” to the demise of a gambling bill this Legislative Session, the Tribe’s top outside lawyer said Tuesday.

Chief negotiators for the House and Senate said earlier Tuesday they wouldn’t resolve their differences over the legislation before the scheduled end of the 2017 Legislative Session on Friday.

When asked whether the Tribe plans to stop paying the state, attorney Barry Richard of the Greenberg Traurig law firm said, “I can’t answer that question,” adding such a decision requires a vote by the Tribal Council.

Gary Bitner, the Tribe’s spokesman, declined comment.

The death of the gambling bill also means killing any chance of passing a renewed blackjack agreement struck by Gov. Rick Scott that promised $3 billion over seven years in revenue share to the state.

But despite active litigation over its right to offer blackjack, the Tribe still pays gambling revenue share to the state as a “sign of good faith,” approximately $20 million a month. The money has gone into the state’s General Revenue Fund, but is not marked for spending.

Senate President Joe Negron has said there’s now about $200 million from the Seminoles sitting in state coffers.

federal judge last year ruled the state broke an original blackjack deal, which expired in 2015, and said the tribe can offer “banked card games” through 2030.

The state appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but that appeal has been on hold while lawmakers considered legislation that could have affected the agreement.

It allows for the Seminoles to stop paying if the state allows gambling that compete with the Tribe’s offerings, including slots and cards. The Tribe has seven casinos, offering blackjack at five, including Tampa’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

A court decision allowing slot machine-type entertainment devices and state regulators OK’ing “designated player games” that resemble blackjack constitute an “infringement” of the Seminole Compact, the overarching agreement signed in 2010.

“If that infringement continues, (not paying) is an option,” Richard said. “The state has to take action to shut those (games) down. If they don’t, the Tribe certainly is entitled to stop payments.”

A spokesman for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates gambling, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

Joe Negron: Lawmakers ‘getting close’ to agreement on gambling

Senate President Joe Negron on Monday said lawmakers are “getting close” to a deal on a gambling overhaul bill for the year.

The same day, however, a House Democrat who’s on the Conference Committee on Gaming tweeted “Nope” about the same thing.

Negron was asked about the legislation during a media availability after the day’s floor session. Lobbyists close to the negotiations said the House wouldn’t broker a gambling deal unless senators passed its favored homestead exemption increase, which won approval in the Senate Monday.

When asked how close, Negron said, “I don’t want to give you odds,” smiling. The 2017 Legislative Session is scheduled to end on Friday.

“We have a very compressed time period,” he said. “My interest in doing a gaming bill this session significantly decreases if we’re not able to deploy the funds available that we’re currently holding.”

Despite ongoing litigation over its right to offer blackjack, the Seminole Tribe of Florida continues to pay gambling revenue share to the state, about $20 million a month.

That money goes into the General Revenue Fund, though state officials have said it is administratively segregated.

A renewed blackjack agreement struck by Gov. Rick Scott promised $3 billion over seven years in revenue share to the state, but it failed to gain approval from lawmakers last year.

It’s back before the Legislature this year as part of dueling gambling legislation. The House wants to contract gambling overall, while the Senate would expand some gambling opportunities across the state, including allowing slot machines at pari-mutuels in counties that have passed local referendums approving them.

“I’m not committed to what we would do with those funds,” Negron said. “But I don’t think it makes sense to bring a gaming bill to the floor that doesn’t address the $200 million that’s available.”

But in response to the Senate passing the homestead bill, Tallahassee lawyer Hal Lewis tweeted, “The gambling bill should now be on the fast track!”

Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat on the gaming conference committee, soon tweeted back, “Nope.” 

“For too many years now, our inability to come to a solution on the issue of gaming has allowed the courts to fill the vacuum and legislate from the bench,” he said Monday night. “Meanwhile the dogs continue to run for their life next to an electrified third rail while no one is watching. I thought this year was going to be different.”

When asked specifically whether there was any chance of a bill this year, he said “no,” adding that “obviously the Senate President may know things I do not.”

department of transportation

Mike Dew now vying for top spot at Dep’t of Transportation

Mike Dew, the Florida Department of Transportation‘s chief of staff, now has applied to be Secretary of the department, according to a list of applicants released Monday.

As of Monday’s deadline, 125 people had applied for the open position, created when former Secretary Jim Boxold resigned in January to join Tallahassee’s Capital City Consulting firm. Dew applied Monday morning.

Richard Biter, one of two unsuccessful finalists for the top job at Enterprise Florida and a former assistant secretary of the transportation department, also had applied.

The Florida Transportation Commission, the department’s advisory board, will interview some applicants and nominate three candidates for Gov. Rick Scott’s consideration.

Other applicants from within the agency include Alexander Barr, the department’s Bicycle and Pedestrian coordinator for its Treasure Coast-South Florida district; and Phillip Gainer, its District Secretary for northwest Florida.

Brandye Hendrickson, who was Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Transportation under then-Gov. Mike Pence, previously applied but appears to have withdrawn. Her name was not on Monday’s list.

Lloyd “Luke” Reinhold, a U.S. Navy commander and principal strategist for the U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, has applied, as did Raymond Martinez, chair of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission and Chief Administrator in the Cabinet of Gov. Chris Christie.

The list is below.

Constitutional review panel money becomes a ‘bump issue’

The House and Senate is seemingly at odds over whether to pay for the Constitution Revision Commission.

A Sunday spreadsheet that came out of the first 2017-18 state budget conference chairs meeting of the day had a line item for the commission, which meets every 20 years to review and revise the state’s governing document.

That includes going around the state to hold public hearings for ideas on possible amendments.

The item was among more than 40 statewide appropriation bump issues in what’s known as “administered funds.” Bump issues are those that ultimately may have to be worked out between Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

The spreadsheet shows that the Senate offered to fund the commission with $2 million; the House offers nothing.

“I would have to go back and look at it,” House Appropriations chair Carlos Trujillo said after the meeting. “Honestly, I couldn’t tell you anything specific about it.”

Added Senate Appropriations chair Jack Latvala: “I’m not familiar with that.”

Gov. Rick Scott asked for the commission funding out of general revenue in the “executive direction and support services” section of his proposed budget.

“We are continuing to watch this and support what the governor included in his budget,” Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said.

Added Meredith Beatrice, spokeswoman for commission chair Carlos Beruff: “We are working with the CRC’s appointing authorities and monitoring the budget process.”

Top line tourism, economic development money closed out, chair says

Don’t expect any movement in the budgets for Enterprise Florida and VISIT FLORIDA at the conference committee level.

“I’m authorized to negotiate quite a few things in this budget and there’s a few things I’m not, and those would be among the things I’m not,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican chairing the Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Appropriations conference committee.

The panel met again at 8 a.m. Saturday. Earlier this week, legislative leadership agreed on roughly $83 billion in allocations, the main pots of money for major spending areas.

A deal already announced deal gave $25 million to VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency and $16 million in operating money only to EFI, Florida’s economic development arm. The money for EFI, however, would be recurring, or repeated year after year. Both entities are public-private agencies but funded largely with taxpayers’ money.

Gov. Rick Scott has asked for $85 million for EFI’s business incentives to lure businesses to the state, which House Speaker Richard Corcoran derides as “corporate welfare.”

The governor also wants $100 million for VISIT FLORIDA, saying the tourism industry and its jobs depend on it.  The current proposal cuts its funding from nearly $80 million.

“Obviously, this is all a negotiation between the Speaker and the President—and ultimately the Governor—as to where the topline issues end up,” Brandes added. “If they choose to reopen (them), that’s up to the Appropriations chairs and President and Speaker’s Office.”

The committee could meet once or twice more today before a noon deadline, when unresolved issues “bump up” to Senate Appropriations chair Jack Latvala and House Appropriations chair Carlos Trujillo.

After noon on Sunday, disagreements on spending go directly to Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron. On Friday, Corcoran told House members there would be no floor session on Monday.

State Rep. Clay Ingram, a Pensacola Republican and vice-chair of the committee, said without money for incentives, Enterprise Florida would be limited to “business marketing,” similar to what VISIT FLORIDA does to encourage tourists to visit the state. And EFI’s budget would only have around $2.5 million for that purpose.

Ingram also said he expected the House’s oversight requirements on VISIT FLORIDA to be part of the final budget deal. The speaker, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has been critical of the agency, even threatening to sue after it refused to reveal a secret deal with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism.

The oversight measures include requiring contracts “to contain performance standards, operating budgets and salaries of employees of the contracting entity,” and those deals would have to be posted online.

The House plan limits employees’ travel expenses and would cap annual pay at $130,000. It also would delete a public records exemption for “marketing projects and research.” It would ban any promotional project from “benefit(ing) only one company.” And it would force the agency to be funded with more private dollars.

When asked if there could be any “extraordinary circumstances” that could cause the top line agreement to change, Brandes smiled.

“I would say extraordinary circumstances happen in this process all the time,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”

 

 

Rick Scott demands full funding for tourism, development

Rick Scott did not look like he was negotiating.

The governor fired a shot over the bow of the Legislature, all but demanding full funding in the state budget for his 2017-18 priorities: $200 million to begin fixing the dike at Lake Okeechobee, $100 million for VISIT FLORIDA, and salvaging Enterprise Florida from House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s wrecking ball.

“All three of those project impact jobs,” he said. “And whatever happens after this session—I’ll have 610 days to go—I’ll spend every day trying to get more jobs in this state.”

Scott met briefly with reporters Thursday after a series of meetings with state senators, including Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala.

But when asked specifically what he’ll do if he vetoes the budget and lawmakers override the veto, Scott basically said he’ll try again next year.

“I’ll do exactly what I said I’ll do,” he said. “I’ve been completely open on what I ran on. And people agree with me. They care about jobs, they care about education, they care about being safe. And that’s what I work on every day.”

The governor spoke after legislative leadership announced agreement on budget allocations, the large pots of money that go toward funding major areas, such as education and health.

While the Senate largely has sided with Scott, Corcoran for months has lobbed linguistic grenades at the governor, including calling his favored business incentives programs, including the Quick Action Closing fund, “corporate welfare.”

Scott has endorsed a key element of Senate President Joe Negron’s Lake Okeechobee rehabilitation plan: Storing and treating water south of the lake. He has called upon the House and Senate to invest $200 million in repairs to the Herbert Hoover dike.

The state can afford the repairs because the $1.5 billion the Trump administration has provided to reimburse hospitals for charity care has freed up money for elsewhere.

“This is a golden opportunity to get this done,” Scott said Thursday. “It’s an environmental issue and a jobs issue.”

He continued to advocate for VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency, saying he “could not believe legislators don’t understand the value of continuing to market this state.” Fewer tourists mean fewer jobs in the tourist industry, he explained. “I am shocked at anyone who thinks we should cut one dollar from VISIT FLORIDA.”

But Corcoran nearly sued the agency after it refused to disclose a promotional contract it inked with South Florida rapper Pitbull. The artist himself made the case moot by publishing a copy of the contract via Twitter, revealing he was promised a maximum of $1 million.

The speaker also has lambasted a promotional deal with superstar chef/restaurateur Emeril Lagasse for nearly $12 million.

Scott also said the state was losing deals for companies to move to Florida because he didn’t have money in the Quick Action Closing fund, a pot of cash Scott can use with the least input from lawmakers.

“We are still competing with 49 other states,” he said. “They want the jobs there, I want the jobs here. This legislature is turning its back on its constituents.”

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.”

State budget deal struck? Jack Latvala says, ‘no,’ but…

Updated 2:45 p.m. — The House has sent over an offer and the Senate is reviewing, according to staffers in both chambers.

After teetering toward a late-session meltdown, the bones of a roughly $83 billion 2017-18 state budget are in place, according to three sources close to Gov. Rick Scott‘s office and several lobbyists familiar with the negotiations.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, however, early Tuesday morning said to “not believe the rumors.”

The budget framework, as it stands now, gives legislative leaders Richard Corcoran and Joe Negron their top priorities while delivering a likely-fatal blow to Enterprise Florida (EFI), the public-private economic development organization Scott wants full funding for.

Latvala even told Enterprise Florida interim CEO Mike Grissom Monday evening that a deal was coming together and Grissom “would not like it.”

Flexing their muscle, future Senate Presidents Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson played pivotal roles in shaping the compromise plan, sources said.

There was bound to be horse-trading: The Senate agreed to fund the House’s “Schools of Hope” charter-school proposal and backed down on increased property taxes, while the House will go along with the Senate’s plan to revitalize Lake Okeechobee.

Negron’s $1.5 billion plan to help Lake O and stop overflows of toxic “guacamole water” into the state’s rivers and streams earlier passed the Senate 36-3. The Senate wanted to leave mandatory local property tax levels (“required local effort,” in Capitol parlance) where they are, to capture rising property values for school funding; the House sees that as a tax increase. Negron also gets more money for higher education.

But the deal also sets up a showdown with the Governor’s Office: Funding for Enterprise Florida, which gets far more public than private dollars, would be zeroed-out.

And VISIT FLORIDA‘s budget would be capped at $50 million, and House accountability measures for the public-private tourism marketing agency also would be put in place, including pay caps and limiting employees’ travel expenses.

The sticking point in all of this may be the torpedoing of EFI, explaining Latvala’s resistance to saying there is a deal. He’s carried Scott’s water in the Senate, but at this point he may willing to go along with a deal if, as those close to the negotiations suggest, the hundreds of millions of dollars in projects that his committee has shepherded get funded.

Unable to reach a deal over the weekend, the House offered a “continuation” budget that would have kept state funding intact at current levels in many places.

That would have allowed legislators to end the session on time and avoid the need for a costly special session. But it would have meant that there would be no money for any new projects.

The Senate rejected this idea. Negron, in a memo to senators Monday morning, called it a “Washington creation where Congress is habitually unable to pass a budget,” adding he had “no interest in adopting this ineffectual practice.”

Despite Senate opposition, Corcoran announced late Monday the House would pass a second budget that would freeze most spending and allow for some growth in Medicaid and public school spending. He said this budget would prevent a possible government shutdown later this summer.

“We remain hopeful that we will be able to reach an acceptable compromise,” Corcoran said in a memo to members. “It is our responsibility to pass a budget that continues the functions of state government.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

Rick Scott says he will sign ‘Uber bill’

Gov. Rick Scott tweeted on Monday that he will sign into law a bill creating statewide regulations for ride-booking companies like Uber and Lyft.

“I look forward to signing the @Uber/ @lyft bill,” Scott tweeted from his official account, @FLGovScott. The governor is in Argentina on a trade mission.

Colin Tooze, Uber’s director of public affairs, tweeted back, “Many thanks for your leadership, @FLGovScott ! All of us at @Uber are excited to have a permanent home in the Sunshine State.”

Lawmakers had considered legislation for four years before passing a bill this year.

The Senate finally approved a House measure (HB 221) on a 36-1 vote, with Sen. Jack Latvala the only ‘no’ vote.

The legislation, among other things, requires Uber, Lyft and similar “transportation network companies” to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged into the app, but hasn’t yet secured a passenger.

When a driver gets a ride, they need to have $1 million in coverage.

The bill also requires companies to have third parties run criminal background checks on drivers. It also pre-empts local ordinances and other rules on transportation network companies, or TNCs.

“On behalf of thousands of Uber driver partners and millions of Florida residents and visitors who rely on ride-sharing, we thank Gov. Scott for his commitment to ensuring our state remains at the forefront of innovation and job creation,” said Javi Correoso, Public Affairs Manager for Uber Florida, in a statement.

“Upon the governor’s signature, Floridians and tourists will have access to a safe, reliable and affordable transportation option,” Correoso added. “We look forward to his official signature on this landmark legislation.”

Legislature at stalemate over new state budget

With time running out in this year’s regular session, Florida’s legislative leaders are at a stalemate over a new state budget and are starting to lash out at one another over the breakdown.

The first but crucial round of negotiations between the House and Senate fell apart on Sunday. The session is scheduled to end on May 5, but state law requires that all work on the budget be finished 72 hours ahead of a final vote.

The lack of a budget deal can also derail other crucial legislation since many times stand-alone bills get tied to the spending plan or are used as leverage in negotiations.

The growing divide prompted Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran to lash out at fellow Republicans in the Senate, comparing them to national Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders.

“There are no limits to their liberalism,” Corcoran said.

Sen. Jack Latvala, the Senate budget chief, said that Corcoran was acting as if “everyone was a liberal but him.”

“I just think it’s very unfortunate for the process, where we start calling names and broadly classify people instead of trying to constructively work out solutions,” Latvala said.

The House and Senate are working on a new budget to cover state spending from July 1 of this year to June 30, 2018. The two chambers started their budget negotiations with a roughly $4 billion difference in their rival spending plans.

For more than a week, the two sides privately traded broad offers that outlined how much money would be spent in key areas such as education, health care, the environment and economic development.

Gov. Rick Scott has been highly critical of a House plan to shutter the state’s economic development agency and to sharply cut money to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing corporation. Scott has urged Senate Republicans to stand firm against House Republicans.

Part of this broad framework also included how much money the state should set aside in reserves.

Corcoran said one stumbling block was that the House wanted to place more money in reserves because of projections that show a possible budget deficit in the next two to three years if spending continues to increase.

“We refuse to let the state go bankrupt,” said Corcoran, who also said such a strategy could force Florida to raise taxes.

Unable to reach a deal, the House over the weekend offered a “continuation” budget that would have kept intact state funding at current levels in many places. That would have allowed legislators to end the session on time and avoid the need for a costly special session. But it would have meant that there would be no money for any new projects.

The Senate, however, rejected this idea. Senate President Joe Negron, in a memo sent out to senators Monday morning, called it a “Washington creation where Congress is habitually unable to pass a budget.”

Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press.

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