Richard Corcoran Archives - Page 3 of 28 - Florida Politics

Visit Florida axes top officials after Pitbull controversy

Gov. Rick Scott has confirmed the firings of Chief Operating Officer Vangie McCorvey and Chief Marketing Officer Paul Phipps at Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency.

Scott was in Orlando Friday to release the latest unemployment figures.

Seccombe

CEO Will Seccombe suddenly postponed a quarterly staff meeting scheduled for Friday morning to the afternoon. Speculation was that he was heading to the Governor’s Office to get marching orders about requested “job actions.”

The agency has been criticized for keeping secret a promotional contract it inked with South Florida rapper Pitbull. In fact, it embraces secrecy: It does not disclose its own staff salaries, for instance.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran sued to get the contract released to the public, saying Visit Florida’s “trade-secret” claims can’t shield the contract’s terms from legislative oversight.

But Pitbull himself made the case moot by publishing a copy of the contract via Twitter, revealing he was promised a maximum of $1 million.

Visit Florida, the “official tourism marketing corporation” for the state, was created by the Florida Legislature in 1996 as a public-private partnership, according to its website.

Its mission “is to promote travel and drive visitation to and within Florida, supporting its vision to establish the Sunshine State as the #1 travel destination in the world … through cooperative destination marketing programs both domestically and internationally,” it says.

Orlando correspondent Scott Powers contributed to this post. 

Richard Corcoran battle over Pitbull, Visit Florida contract sets the right tone

There has been a lot to like about the tone new House Speaker Richard Corcoran has set in Tallahassee. There is a new emphasis on ethics and disclosure of how the people’s representatives do their business — and more importantly who they do it for.

We all benefit from that.

That includes, especially, Corcoran’s insistence this week that details of the $1 million promotional contract between Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotion arm, and rapper Pitbull be made public.

Pitbull’s production company, PDR Productions, balked, claiming the details were a trade secret and disclosing them would be a third-degree felony. Visit Florida officials also argued that letting the world know details of that contract would the state’s tourism industry at a disadvantage.

That’s not a little deal, of course. In 2015, tourists generated $89.1 billion for the economy here.

It’s ironic, though, that the marketing arm of the Sunshine State would want to keep business in the dark.

That’s why Corcoran sued Pitbull’s company to force details of the contract into the sunlight. Pitbull, whose real name is Armando Christian Pérez, released the contract himself after the issue became a big story.

So all is well and a teapot-sized tempest is stilled, right?

Not yet. Hopefully, it’s just the beginning. This was Corcoran’s latest way of letting everyone know that things are going to change in Tallahassee.

It was never about the contract itself or the wisdom of using Pitbull to promote the state. The cost, frankly, seems reasonable and fair considering the potential return on investment. Pitbull is a fine ambassador for Florida in the highly competitive fight for tourism dollars.

But there was that slippery slope his company and Visit Florida tried to use as a defense, claiming Florida could be hurt if other states knew details of what we’re up to here.

Maybe so.

If other states want to operate in the dark, though, that’s their problem. Florida once had the strongest sunshine law in the country, and despite the efforts of legislators over the years to chip away at it, the law remains a bedrock principle of how the public’s business should be done.

I don’t think there is any question that this contract likely would have remained secret under many other Speakers. It would have been easy for Corcoran to keep the details hidden under that “trade secrets” argument. Besides, it’s only $1 million, right?

What Corcoran said instead, and backed up with his actions, is that there is no “only” when it comes to doing the right thing.

Refreshing.

Pitbull releases $1M Visit Florida contract on Twitter; state suit still pending

In a surprise move, Miami rapper Pitbull released his entire controversial contract with Visit Florida this morning by posting it onto a tweet Thursday, revealing the breadth of duties he’d signed onto as a celebrity tourism ambassador for the state, and Florida’s fee for his service — $1 million per year.

The move comes just over a day after Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran sued his production company to get a judge’s ruling against him. Corcoran was challenging claims that the contract must be kept secret because it contains trade secrets covered by exemptions in Florida’s Sunshine Laws.

Yet the unexpected release by Pitbull — said to be strongly supportive of wanting to help promote his state — does not mean the lawsuit is going away.

At about 9:30 a.m. Pitbull, whose real name is Armando Chrstian Perez, tweeted, “Full Disclosure — Florida” with a picture of himself set proudly against the Miami skyline, and posted a link to a Dropbox account containing the full contract, with just addresses redacted out.

Corcoran responded with a hint of frustration. And his communications director Fred Piccolo said he will meet with counsel to determine whether to continue the lawsuit. Ultimately, the key issue in the lawsuit is not about Pitbull but whether Visit Florida can shield its contracts to promote Florida tourism, as was done with this contract, or whether the Florida House of Representatives has overriding legal responsibility to review them, Piccolo said.

The issue became contested because Corcoran and others expressed growing concerns that Visit Florida contracts are being shielded both from public review and from legislative review by increasing reliance on the trade secrets loophole. Corcoran and the house want to scrutinize the state-chartered nonprofit corporation acting as a quasi-state agency, starting with the contract with Pitbull’s production company, PDR Productions of Miami

But Visit Florida advised him that PDR Productions considered virtually the entire contract a trade secret, and said the company even threatened to sue anyone associated with the Florida House of Representatives if they publicly disclosed anything. So late Tuesday Corcoran sued PDR first, seeking to stop such veils. On Thursday he sounded still determined.

“It is unfortunate that it took litigation to lift the veil of secrecy on this particular contract. This was a long unnecessary journey through claims of trade secrets, threats of prosecution, and corporate welfare paid for by taxpayers,” said in a statement released Thursday. “The people’s house will not hesitate to use every tool at our disposal to protect the taxpayer and ensure transparency is the rule and not the exception in state government. It is my hope that the coverage this issue received will foster a larger discussion of the proper role of government in the free market and the need to end the idea that government as ‘venture capitalist’ is good for our economy.”

The 11-page contract was good for the period of July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2016, with options for both Pitbull and Visit Florida to renew it annually. Among the things Pitbull agreed to do:

* Work with Visit Florida to coordinate a live-TV broadcast of a New Year’s Eve celebration in Miami, featuring him.

* Create a music video called “Sexy Beaches” featuring Florida beach scenes, and licensed it to Visit Florida for promotional uses.

* Promote Florida through social media, including using and promoting the hashtag #LoveFL, to be displayed on a video screen during each of his concerts

* Participate in quarterly strategy planning sessions with Visit Florida to coordinate his activities with the Visit Florida brand.

* Make promotional public appearances, with Visit Florida picking up his travel expenses.

* Provide 10-15 second “intro” and “outro” video clips for Visit Florida to use with its “Conquering Florida” video series.

* Make best efforts to use Florida locales in his other music video productions.

* Allow Visit Florida reasonable use of his music in other promotions.

* Have Visit Florida pick up many of the production expenses.

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz also chimed in, calling the disclosure a win, but with final judgment on the value of the contract still to be determined:

“Today’s disclosure of Visit Florida’s $1 million payment to Pitbull is a win for Floridians who may now judge for themselves whether or not this agreement constitutes a good deal for our state with all the facts at hand.

“For state government to be fully accountable to the people of Florida, these decisions must be made without secrecy and in the sunshine at all times. There is no excuse for a lack of transparency when it comes to how taxpayer dollars are being spent.

“With the many challenges currently facing our state, we must ensure that every tax dollar spent is gaining the greatest benefit for every Floridian.”

Florida House sues over Visit Florida-Pitbull deal documents

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran sued PDR Productions Inc. Tuesday for a judge’s permission to publicly release documents involved in the Visit Florida deal used to hire Miami rapper Pitbull to promote Florida tourism.

At issue is Corcoran’s concern that Visit Florida deals — done increasingly in secret — may require deeper scrutiny in how it’s spending state money. He wants the Florida House of Representatives Appropriations Committee to hold hearings, starting with a look at the PDR contract.

But Visit Florida turned over the PDR contract only with explicit statements from the company that the firm believes its entire contents are “trade secrets” which must be shielded from Florida Sunshine Laws.

The company threatened to sue House staff members or others if anything was publicly disclosed.

In his 10-page lawsuit filed in his capacity as Speaker of the House Tuesday in Circuit Court for Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit in Tallahassee, Corcoran argued that there are no trade secrets in the contract, or if there are their importance is far outweighed by the Florida Legislature’s mandates to watch spending. And Corcoran stated that there is no way the house committee can hold a hearing on a secret document. He also argued that the contract, as administered by the Florida Division of Tourism Marketing, is subject to Florida’s Sunshine Laws, which require public disclosure.

Corcoran asked the court to take a look at the contract, hold an immediate hearing, and then declare that it contains no trade secrets, allowing the house committee to release it and discuss its terms in open session in this year’s Legislative Session.

Miami lawyer Sandra Navarro-Garcia, the registered agent for PDR Productions, was not immediately available Tuesday afternoon to comment on the suit or the company’s response.

Neither Visit Florida nor PDR has disclosed even how much the company was paid, or the full responsibilities Pitbull agreed to in the contract.

The Florida Legislature appropriated $74 million overall to Visit Florida, which acts as the state’s tourism and visitors promotions agency but is, in fact, a state-chartered non-profit corporation formally known as the Florida Tourism Industry Marketing Corporation.

“PDR’s trade secret confidentiality claim effectively covers the entire contract with Visit Florida,” Corcoran’s complaint states.

The complaint continues: “PDR’s over broad trade secret confidentiality claim, and the attendant threat of litigation against anyone violating that claim, will impede the ability of the house, it’s members, and committee staff to fulfill their duties to monitor and investigate true expenditure of public funds, to insure that public funds are properly spent in the public interest in the manner intended by the legislature, and to participate in the development of a General Appropriations Act for the coming fiscal year in an open and transparent process,”

Visit Florida has not made a claim of confidentiality for itself; it only asserted the claim on behalf of PDR, the lawsuit claims.

Nearly 40 apply to Joe Negron for Constitution Revision Commission

A former Senate President, Secretary of State, and state Supreme Court Justice have applied to Senate President Joe Negron for a seat on the panel that reviews the state’s constitution every 20 years.

At last tally, 39 people had applied for one of Negron’s nine picks to the Constitution Revision Commission, according to a list provided by his office. They include:

— Former Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who was term limited out of office this year. Gaetz also served as Senate President 2012-14.

— Lobbyist and former lawmaker Sandra Mortham, who also was the elected Secretary of State 1995-99. One of the changes from the last commission was making the position appointed by the governor.

— Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Wells, who was on the bench 1994-2009. Wells also was chief justice during the 2000 presidential election challenge and recount.

This will be the fourth commission to convene since 1966, and the first to be selected by mostly Republicans, suggesting it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.  

Both Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran have said they want the commission to revisit redistricting, for instance, specifically, a rewrite of voter-endorsed amendments from 2012 that ban gerrymandering — the manipulation of political boundaries to favor one party.

As governor, Rick Scott will choose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and he also selects its chairperson.

Negron and Corcoran each get nine picks. Pam Bondi is automatically a member as attorney general, and Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga gets three picks.

Under law, the next commission is scheduled to hold its first meeting in a 30-day period before the beginning of the Legislature’s 2017 regular session on March 7.

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

Others who applied to Negron are former state Sen. Dennis Jones, a Republican, and former Sens. Eleanor Sobel and Chris Smith, both Democrats.


Ed. note: This post was originally based on a list released Monday evening. The Senate provided a new list on Tuesday, in which the list has grown to 39 applicants, including new Sens. Dana Young and Gary Farmer, and Magdalena Fresen, sister of former state Rep. Erik Fresen. That list is below:

LAST NAME FIRST NAME COUNTY OF RESIDENCE
Berger Jason Martin
Boggs Glenn Leon
Christiansen Patrick Orange
Crotty Richard Orange
Cullen Lisa Brevard
Curtis Donald Taylor
Dawson Warren Hillsborough
Duckworth Richard Charlotte
Edwards Charles Lee
Farmer Gary Broward
Fresen Magdalena Dade
Gaetz Donald Okaloosa
Gentry WC Duval
Hackney Charles Manatee
Heyman Sally Dade
Hoch Rand Palm Beach
Hofstee Michael St. Lucie
Ingram Kasey Martin
Jackson John Holmes
Jazil Mohammad Leon
Jones Dennis Marion
Kilbride Robert Leon
McManus Shields Martin
Miller Mark Martin
Moriarty Mark Sarasota
Mortham Sandra Leon
Plymale Sherry Martin
Rowe Randell Volusia
Schifino William Hillsborough
Scott Anne Martin
Smith Chris Broward
Sobel Eleanor Broward
Specht Steven Escambia
Stargel John Polk
Thompson Geraldine Orange
Wadell Gene Indian River
Wells Charles Orange
Winik Tyler Brevard
Young Dana Hillsborough

Florida House announces more leadership roles

The state House of Representatives Monday released its full 2016-18 committee and subcommittee assignments and chairs.

“I am proud of the way the new process was handled by all involved – applicants and chairs alike,” Speaker Richard Corcoran said in a statement. “All who participated have my respect and will be called upon to use their talents and knowledge to transform the way government works for the people of Florida.”

Corcoran, who said he wanted to “decentralize authority,” said the decisions were made based on “member consultations, preferences, committee chair interviews, leadership team meetings, and input from the Minority Leader (Democrat Janet Cruz of Tampa).”

The full list is here; below are the committee/subcommittee leadership positions:

Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee — Chair: Ben Albritton; Vice Chair: Charlie Stone; Democratic Ranking Member: Clovis Watson Jr. 

Agriculture & Property Rights Subcommittee — Chair: Tom Goodson; Vice Chair: Elizabeth Porter; Democratic Ranking Member: Katie Edwards.

Appropriations Committee — Chair: Carlos Trujillo; Vice Chair: George Moraitis Jr.; Democratic Ranking Member: Jared Moskowitz.

Careers & Competition Subcommittee — Chair: Halsey Beshears; Vice Chair: Jay Trumbull; Democratic Ranking Member: Loranne Ausley.

Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee — Chair: Gayle Harrell; Vice Chair: Julio Gonzalez; Democratic Ranking Member: Clovis Watson, Jr.

Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee — Chair: Heather Fitzenhagen; Vice Chair: Jay Fant; Democratic Ranking Member: Barbara Watson.

Commerce Committee — Chair: Jose Felix Diaz; Vice Chair: Bryan Avila; Democratic Ranking Member: Evan Jenne.

Criminal Justice Subcommittee — Chair: Ross Spano; Vice Chair: Julio Gonzalez; Democratic Ranking Member: Sharon Pritchett.

Education Committee — Chair: Michael Bileca; Vice Chair: Robert Cortes; Democratic Ranking Member: Shevrin Jones.

Energy & Utilities Subcommittee — Chair: Kathleen Peters; Vice Chair: Eric Eisnaugle; Democratic Ranking Member: Lori Berman.

Government Accountability Committee — Chair: Matt Caldwell; Vice Chair: Charlie Stone; Democratic Ranking Member: Clovis Watson, Jr.

Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee — Chair: Blaise Ingoglia; Vice Chair: Neil Combee; Democratic Ranking Member: John Cortes.

Health & Human Services Committee — Chair: Travis Cummings; Vice Chair: David Santiago; Democratic Ranking Member: Bobby DuBose.

Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee — Chair: Jason Brodeur; Vice Chair: Gayle Harrell; Democratic Ranking Member: David Richardson.

Health Innovation Subcommittee — Chair: MaryLynn Magar; Vice Chair: Shawn Harrison; Democratic Ranking Member: John Cortes.

Health Quality Subcommittee — Chair: Cary Pigman; Vice Chair: Rene Plasencia; Democratic Ranking Member: Shevrin Jones.

Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee — Chair: Larry Ahern; Vice Chair: Elizabeth Porter; Democratic Ranking Member: Larry Lee, Jr.

Insurance & Banking Subcommittee — Chair: Danny Burgess; Vice Chair: David Santiago; Democratic Ranking Member: Richard Stark.

Judiciary Committee — Chair: Chris Sprowls; Vice Chair: Ross Spano; Democratic Ranking Member: Cynthia Stafford.

Justice Appropriations Subcommittee — Chair: Bill Hager; Vice Chair: Eric Eisnaugle; Democratic Ranking Member: Sharon Pritchett.

Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee — Chair: Scott Plakon; Vice Chair: Colleen Burton; Democratic Ranking Member: Joseph Abruzzo.

Natural Resources & Public Lands Subcommittee — Chair: Holly Raschein; Vice Chair: Ben Albritton; Democratic Ranking Member: Kristin Jacobs.

Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee — Chair: Neil Combee; Vice Chair: Blaise Ingoglia; Democratic Ranking Member: Katie Edwards.

Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee — Chair: Elizabeth Porter; Vice Chair: Larry Ahern; Democratic Ranking Member: Richard Stark.

PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee — Chair: Manny Diaz Jr.; Vice Chair: Jake Raburn; Democratic Ranking Member: Larry Lee Jr.

PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee — Chair: Chris Latvala; Vice Chair: Jennifer Sullivan; Democratic Ranking Member: Joseph Abruzzo.

PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee — Chair: Jake Raburn; Vice Chair: Rene Plasencia; Democratic Ranking Member: Bruce Antone.

Public Integrity & Ethics Committee — Chair: Larry Metz; Vice Chair: Jennifer Sullivan; Democratic Ranking Member: David Richardson.

Rules & Policy Committee — Chair: Jose Oliva; Vice Chair: Shawn Harrison; Democratic Ranking Member: Lori Berman.

Select Committee on Triumph Gulf Coast — Chair: Jay Trumbull; Vice Chair: Clay Ingram.

Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee — Chair: Mike La Rosa; Vice Chair: Mike Miller; Democratic Ranking Member: Joe Geller.

Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee — Chair: Brad Drake; Vice Chair: Clay Ingram; Democratic Ranking Member: Barbara Watson.

Transportation & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee — Chair: Clay Ingram; Vice Chair: Brad Drake; Democratic Ranking Member: Evan Jenne.

Ways & Means Committee — Chair: Jim Boyd; Vice Chair: Colleen Burton; Democratic Ranking Member: Joseph Abruzzo.

Corcoran’s own leadership team is now: Jeanette Nuñez, Speaker pro tempore; Ray Rodrigues, Majority Leader; Dane Eagle, Majority Whip.

“For years, many of us engaged in this fight have advocated for reform,” Corcoran said. “From requiring every Member project to be voted on individually, to changing the way the Speaker is elected, to curbing the power of lobbyists and special interests and more, we will continue to do what we said we would do.

“We’ve changed the Rules of the House to increase accountability and transparency and we’ve changed the way committee and subcommittee chairmanships are chosen to decentralize authority,” he added. “These reforms, and those to come, clearly demonstrate our commitment to changing the way business is done in Tallahassee. They should also reassure the people of Florida that when the House makes a promise, it is kept.”

Chris Hudson, state director of the libertarian-oriented Americans for Prosperity-Florida, said he was “excited to begin working with the new House subcommittee leaders this upcoming session on several key issues.”

They include “fighting against corporate welfare, pushing for education reform and removing barriers for our state’s entrepreneurs to freely innovate.”

“We commend Speaker Corcoran for his strong selection and are confident that together we can lead Florida to a brighter and more prosperous future,”Hudson said in a statement.

Trial lawyers must be very happy with Florida Senate committee assignments

It will come as no surprise that trial lawyers are looking to shoot the moon this Legislative Session.

They already made a power play during the 2016 election cycle. The Florida Justice Association, through its political committee Florida Justice PAC, spent $4.5 million since the beginning of 2015, much of which went to candidates or affiliated committees.

The group was also involved in two dozen state House and Senate primary races this year; and all but one of those candidates — Dwight Bullard, who lost his Senate District 40 race to Frank Artiles — were sworn into office last month.

But if you need more evidence of the clout plaintiffs’ attorneys are angling for, look no further than the make-up of the 2016-18 Senate committees.

While conventional wisdom tells us trial attorneys won’t get jilted under Senate President Joe Negron (an attorney) and House Speaker Richard Corcoran (ditto), the appointments to several key Senate committees appears to have already given trial attorneys — and their interests — a leg up.

Need an example? Take a look at the Banking and Insurance committee.

Chaired by Sen. Anitere Flores, the nine-person committee has four members for whom the Florida Justice PAC played Daddy Warbucks during the primaries. One of those members? Gary Farmer, the former president of the Florida Justice Association, which prides itself on “upholding the civil justice system and fighting for consumer rights,” which sounds like a tossed-off Morgan and Morgan slogan.

Farmer wears those trial lawyer credentials like a badge of honor. On the “About Gary” section of his campaign site, Farmer says he “spent almost his entire career fighting for the rights of consumers, fair and just compensation, and the protection of the civil justice system and full access to courts.” And as he points out, he’s made a career of representing patients and consumers that were “wronged by various corporations, hospitals and insurance companies’ deceptive trade practices.”

So, what the heck? Let’s put the guy who has made his bones suing insurance companies on the committee that is tasked with, in part, vetting legislation aimed at regulating the insurance industry. (Sounds like Negron is taking a page from the Donald Trump playbook.)

Also on the committee — Greg Steube, Randolph Bracy and Debbie Mayfield. All of which had the backing of the trial attorneys in their recent elections.

In a year where insurance issues rule the roost — assignment of benefits, workers’ compensation and PIP reform are just a few of the issues that could be on the table — you have to wonder, what message does having a Banking and Insurance committee that has four trial lawyer-friendly members really send to the business industry? (Hint: The courthouse is open for business.)

Steube — an attorney at Becker & Poliakoff, where he focuses on business litigation, public private partnerships, and government law & lobbying — also found himself at the helm of another powerful committee that could give trial attorneys a leg up.

Negron tapped the Senate freshman to head the Judiciary Committee. And while much has been said about what that means for gun legislation, the impact it could have on trial attorneys (and maybe their wallets) could be, as they say nowadays, “yuge.”

Case in point? On Dec. 5, Steube filed Senate Bill 100, which would repeal an entire section of law dealing with tobacco settlement agreements. Not amend a few lines here or there; no, we’re talking removing all of Section 569.23 from Florida Statutes.

So what exactly does that section of state law do? Well, among other things it drastically capped the bond amount tobacco companies have to pay to appeal court ruling. When the law was OK’d in 2009, industry officials said it was for the good of the state. If companies were bankrupted by endless Florida lawsuits, officials argued at the time, they couldn’t make the payments to the state as part of a 1999 tobacco settlement.

The Florida Justice Association threw a fit when it was OK’d, and repealing the law, even if it is eight years later, would most definitely be considered a win.

But to repeal it, supporters would need to have some friendly faces on key committees to even have a chance. And as luck – or a healthy campaign contribution plan — would have it, they do.

The nine-member Senate Judiciary Committee, where the bill would surely find itself if it were to get a hearing has at least four Florida Justice PAC backed members on it (Steube, Bracy, Mayfield and Bobby Powell).

Bracy and Jeff Clemens, another FJA backed candidate, are both members of the five-person Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, where a bill like that might land if there is a fiscal impact.

With committee assignments like these, you have to wonder: Whatever happened to the business friendly Republican Senate?

Seminoles still paying state blackjack money—for now

Seminole Tribe of Florida spokesman Thursday declined comment on whether the tribe would stop payment to the state from its blackjack revenue.

A source close to the tribe told FloridaPolitics.com on Wednesday that it’s considering not paying “one more dollar” to the state treasury without a new gambling agreement. According to a federal judge, it doesn’t have to.

Coincidentally, Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen, the tribe’s general counsel Jim Shore and others were in Tallahassee Monday for meetings, including a sit-down with Gov. Rick Scott.

Spokesman Gary Bitner said the meeting was “part of their ongoing effort and continuing desire to finalize a new gaming compact with the state of Florida.”

“As further evidence of its positive approach, the Tribe is continuing to make monthly payments to the state that will total $306 million this year,” he said.

When asked whether those payments would end if no new agreement is approved this year, Bitner said, “As has been noted many times, it is the Tribe’s policy to not discuss the specific content of its compact negotiations with the state.”

A representative for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates gambling in the state, has not yet responded to a request for comment.

The state and tribe struck a long-term deal—the 2010 Seminole Compact—that included a provision, expired last year, giving the Seminoles exclusive rights to offer blackjack in return for revenue share to the state. That meant more than $200 million per year.

Scott and tribal representatives agreed on a new deal for continued rights to blackjack in exchange for $3 billion over seven years.

That agreement couldn’t get to either floor for a vote last Legislative Session. It contained provisions that would have allowed the tribe to also offer craps and roulette—that is, more games. And lawmakers with dog and horse tracks in their districts tacked on legislation that would have expanded gambling at those facilities.

Since then, the Seminoles won a federal case allowing the tribe to offer blackjack and other “banked card games” at the Tampa Hard Rock and other casinos. And it allows them to not pay the state through 2030, the end of the original compact.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron have recently said they support an attempt to approve the renewed deal again in the 2017 Legislative Session.

But while Negron supports county initiatives to allow slot machines, for example, Corcoran said any package up this year has to mean “a reduction in gambling.”

On Tuesday, Scott told reporters he’ll “be looking at what we do next” when asked about opening the most recent proposed compact up for more changes.

“The Legislature didn’t pass it last year,” Scott said. “So we’ll continue to work with legislators, and see what their interests are.”

Hillsborough Commission to copy Richard Corcoran’s proposal to ban texting by lobbyists?

Hillsborough County Commissioners approved a motion on Wednesday directing their attorney to research and provide draft language on a proposal that would ban them from receiving text messages from a lobbyist during a board meeting.

However, the proposal’s ultimate passage is unclear, based on comments from some members.

“In the event that we did receive a text message during a commission meeting from a lobbyist related to official public business, we would have to disclose that communication by filing it with our … lobbyists registration within 48 hours of receipt,” said Commissioner Sandy Murman in announcing her plan.

But Murman’s proposal doesn’t include any penalties for a commissioner who would violate the ban, something that bothered Commissioner Les Miller. “I see where you’re trying to go with this,” he told Murman, saying that it echoed the recent lobbying rules that were approved last month by the Florida House of Representatives.

Under the new lobbying rules promulgated by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, lobbyists who violate the ban would lose their privileges to lobby the rest of the session. Miller then speculated that there “might be some punishment of making them, taking them off a chairman of a committee or moving their office space or parking space.” He then asked Murman what penalty would a commissioner face for violating the ban?

“There’s not going to be any reprimand, or fine,” replied Murman. “This is going to be a matter of disclosure.”

“If there’s not going to be any enforcement, what’s the need for?” asked Miller.

“Well, the need for it is transparency,” Murman responded.

Actually, the new rules passed in the Florida House don’t address any sanctions for lawmakers if they receive texts from lobbyists.

Commissioner Ken Hagan dismissed the idea outright, calling it “symbolism over substance.” Hagan added that the proposal attempts to solve a problem that just doesn’t exist in the county. And noting that he received only one email on the subject, Hagan deduced that the public doesn’t really care about it.

Newly-elected Commissioner Pat Kemp expressed concerns about any banning of texts from members of the public, “especially from community advocates sometimes that I have communications with.”

County Commissioners earlier this year passed an ordinance requiring all lobbyists to register by name, who they met with, what they talked about and who they represented when meeting with board members. They were prompted in large part by the controversy around how transportation engineer Parsons Brinckerhoff became contractor for the Go Hillsborough effort — and subsequently hired Beth Leytham as a subcontractor. Leytham never registered as a lobbyist when she communicated with commissioners via text message and email during that process.

Commission Chair Stacy White said he understood the concerns expressed by Hagan and Miller, but said he wanted to see the draft language that Fletcher employs when he brings the proposal back to the board, and said he supported it. He also emphasized that he didn’t want to give up the option of looking at his smartphone during a board meeting, even if did take away his attention from the proceedings at hand. “What I don’t want is for people to think that if a commissioner up here at this dais grabs a cellphone that there’s somehow corruption or somehow something underhanded going on.”

The measure passed 5-1, with Hagan dissenting.

Attorney Chip Fletcher and his staff draft a proposal and present it to the commission at a future meeting.

Rick Scott mum on meeting with Seminole Tribe

Gov. Rick Scott Tuesday held his cards close to his vest about the future of a gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen, general counsel Jim Shore and others were in Tallahassee Monday for meetings.  

Scott, who spoke with reporters after a Florida Cabinet meeting, didn’t get into specifics of his meeting with them.

“We’ll continue to look at what the right thing is for the state of Florida,” Scott said. “We’ll be looking at what we do next. The Legislature didn’t pass it last year. So we’ll continue to work with legislators, and see what their interests are.”

The state and tribe struck a long-term deal in 2010—the Seminole Compact—that included a provision, expired last year, giving the Seminoles exclusive rights to offer blackjack for five years in return for revenue share to the state. That meant more than $200 million per year.

Scott and tribal representatives then 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; it contained provisions that would have allowed the tribe to also offer craps and roulette—that is, more games.

Senate President Joe Negron recently said he backs its passage, but added he was comfortable with related initiatives seen as an expansion of gambling, such as local initiatives to allow slot machines.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, on the other hand, has said “we’re a very conservative chamber, and if something is going to pass it will have to be conservative. It’s going to have to be a reduction in gambling.”

Negron countered: “I’m optimistic that we can work together with our colleagues in the House and ratify a compact so the state has predictability in revenue.”

But the state’s leverage went down after a federal judge ruled the tribe can continue to offer blackjack and other “banked card games” without having to pay the state a dime.

Judge Robert Hinkle found that the state reneged on the original deal by allowing blackjack-like card games at certain cardrooms, meaning the tribe can have blackjack until 2030 at its Hard Rock Casinos across the state, including its Tampa location.

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