House Speaker not worried about budget negotiations, doesn’t expect gambling deal
House Speaker José Oliva.

Session will go long, but differences are not deal breakers.

An extended Legislative Session is all but inevitable with the House and Senate unable to agree on allocations just nine days before scheduled sine die.

Nevertheless, House Speaker José Oliva was optimistic during a gaggle with media Wednesday after the floor session.

His takeaway: While “delays” exist, they aren’t “problems.”

“I wouldn’t characterize them as problems,” Oliva said about the $1.4 billion gap between the House and Senate proposals.

“There are a lot of different things that each of the chambers wants,” Oliva said. “And what we’re trying to do, which is causing some delays, is get those things in position that are acceptable to either chamber.”

“Health care bills get a good deal of attention,” the Speaker added, “but there’s a good number of other things that are being discussed.”

Policy issues are in play, including spending on the Department of Children and Families, but “we’re not that far apart on anything” even as there are a lot of people with individual concerns on either side.

The differences between Senate and House proposals will animate discussions, leading more than likely to brinksmanship and bargaining up to and perhaps through March 13, the scheduled end of the Legislative Session, unless they forge a budget accord.

Among the key differences: fully funding the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund with $387 million and $52.5 million for VISIT FLORIDA — two positions where the House diverges from the Senate, offering $144 million and zero dollars respectively.

“Some education bills … matters of criminal justice reform … gaming,” Oliva said.

Gaming discussions, the Speaker contended, are moving “slowly” with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

“We want to get to a place where if we have a proposal, it addresses the main concerns that have broken down negotiations in the past,” Oliva said.

“Some of the existing games, whether some of those games violate the Compact or not, those are sticking points,” he continued.

“Rather than try to roll something out with only a few days left in Session,” Oliva added, “we’re trying to have conversations about these things in a way where if we can reach agreement on how they should possibly be pursued, then maybe we can put a piece of legislation forward to go through committees, to be vetted that way and brought to the floor.”

With the end of the Session on the horizon, House and Senate committees have stopped meeting.

“If something was done that everyone could agree upon,” Oliva said he would not be averse to a Special Session.

“For a regular Session,” Oliva added, “it’s very difficult to make that happen.”

Oliva’s remarks came a day after Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who was instrumental in the passage of a 2010 agreement with the tribe, and Gov. Ron DeSantis held out hope that a deal could be nailed down.

Galvano said Tuesday that lawmakers had “made progress internally, and we are now engaged in negotiations with the Tribe” on what is known as a gambling compact.

The discord officially began with the lawsuit, stemming from what the Tribe called a breach of a 2010 agreement — formally known as the Seminole Compact — that guarantees it exclusivity to offer certain games, particularly blackjack.

Sources close to the talks now underway maintain that the Legislature’s proposal would allow pari-mutuels to continue hosting the controversial card games, which could be a deal-breaker for the Seminoles.

Pari-mutuel cardrooms, especially those outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties that are not allowed to have slot machines, have grown to rely heavily on designated-player games as their major sources of revenue. Pari-mutuels contend that thousands of jobs — and tens of millions of dollars in revenue for the operators — would be lost, were the games to go away.

But, agreeing with the Seminoles, a federal judge ruled that the card games violate the 2010 compact, which gave the tribe “exclusivity” over operating banked card games, such as blackjack. That agreement, however, expired in 2015, prompting discussions about a new compact, which would have severely pared the designated-player games.

Under a settlement with former Gov. Rick Scott, the tribe continued to pay about $350 million a year to the state. But in May, the Seminoles made good on threats and quit the longstanding revenue-sharing agreement.

The tribe stopped its payments after the demise of a potential deal they had reached last spring with Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican slated to take over as Senate President after the 2020 elections.

DeSantis, who took office in January 2019, rejected the plan last spring, saying he needed more time to scrutinize its details.

The urgency to finalize a compact with the tribe — and reap its financial benefits — has escalated for lawmakers grappling with a potential economic crunch caused by the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The deal under discussion could bring the state up to $700 million, if the tribe agrees. But it is unlikely the Seminoles would sign off on any compact that does not do away with designated player games — unless the tribe gets a major concession in return.


The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


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