Jim Rosica - SaintPetersBlog

Jim Rosica

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

Legal briefs due soon in Florida Lottery appeal

Initial briefs are due early next month in the Florida Lottery’s appeal of a Tallahassee judge’s decision that invalidated its $700 million contract for new equipment.

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers in March had invalidated the Lottery’s arrangement with IGT (International Game Technology), agreeing with House Speaker Richard Corcoran that the agency went on an illegal spending spree when it inked the deal last year.

Corcoran had filed a “writ of quo warranto,” a court action against government officials to demand they prove their authority to perform a certain action.

His suit faulted the Lottery “for signing a contract that spends beyond existing budget limitations.” Gievers eventually agreed with House general counsel Adam Tanenbaum, who had said the deal broke state law.

Because Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie “lacked the legal authority to enter into the IGT contract, (it) must, therefore, be found to be void and unenforceable,” Gievers wrote.

Delacenserie tendered his resignation last week, effective June 2. His letter did not give a reason.

Gievers faulted the agency for, among other things, not first seeking the Legislature’s permission to enter into a deal that committed the state to as much as two decades’ worth of funding.

The new deal provides much more than equipment, with provisions for in-store signage, self-service ticket checkers and upgraded security in the communications network.

Lottery proceeds go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which helps pay for public education.

Pam Bondi says charities she helps aren’t required to register with state

Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office this week responded to a lawsuit claiming she forces businesses to pony up millions of dollars to unregistered charities as part of settlements in consumer protection cases.

Deputy Solicitor General Jonathan L. Williams, writing on Bondi’s behalf, said in part that some of the organizations criticized by Orlando entrepreneur John D. Smith aren’t “require(d) … to register (with the state) before receiving contributions from governmental entities.”

Rather, they need to register as charities if they plan to “solicit,” or ask for, charitable contributions, Williams added.

Circuit Judge Charles Dodson of Tallahassee ordered Bondi to show why he shouldn’t find for Smith, giving Bondi 40 days to respond. Williams’ response, filed Monday, came on the 40th day.

“Florida law expressly and unambiguously authorizes (the Attorney General’s office to require) a settling party’s promise to make a contribution to a third party,” said the response to the order to show cause. “Nowhere in the relevant statutes does it say that these third-party entities must be registered charities.”

In 2015, Bondi’s office launched an investigation against Smith, who invented Storm Stoppers plastic panels as a “plywood alternative” to protect windows during storms. He was one of many companies that chose to settle in what’s known as an “assurance of voluntary compliance.”  

Smith filed a petition for a “writ of quo warranto” in Leon County Circuit Civil court, saying Bondi “exceeded (her) authority” under a state law aimed at protecting consumers and businesses from abuse.

Some of the unregistered charities that Bondi makes settling parties give money to is her own “Law Enforcement Officer of the Year” award and various “scholarship funds designated by the Attorney General.”

Smith also said Bondi was wrongly directing contributions to her office’s nonprofit, Seniors vs. Crime, which is a “conflict of interest,” the suit says. Two of its directors work for Bondi.

“Seniors vs. Crime was created in 1989 by then-Attorney General Bob Butterworth,” Williams countered. “Since 2002, OAG (Office of Attorney General) employees have consistently served on the organization’s board. In keeping with that close historical relationship, OAG and Seniors vs. Crime share a common interest—protecting Florida’s senior citizens against fraud.”

“(A)bundant authority holds that such eminently laudable public service does not run afoul of applicable ethical requirements,” he added. Since she first assumed office in 2011, Bondi’s office settled enforcement actions with 14 businesses in which they wound up paying more than $5.5 million to 35 unregistered charities, the quo warranto petition says.

Moreover, Williams said Smith doesn’t have standing to challenge Bondi: “The Legislature has not authorized third-party challenges to the voluntary settlement agreements at issue here, and it would be unprecedented to permit such challenges.”

In a previous statement, Bondi called the legal action “meritless” and “harassment.” A next hearing in the case was not docketed as of Tuesday.

The hangover: Rick Scott vetoes ‘whiskey & Wheaties’ bill

Saying it could hurt job creation, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a contentious bill that would have removed the ‘wall of separation’ between hard liquor and other goods.

Scott filed his veto letter of the measure (SB 106) on Wednesday night, his deadline to act on the bill. It’s the first veto of a bill from the 2017 Legislative Session.

It would have removed the 82-year-old requirement, enacted in Florida after Prohibition, that hard liquor be sold in a separate store. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in the Sunshine State.

But independent liquor store owners and other opponents flooded the Governor’s Office with thousands of emails and petitions against the bill.

Scott was careful to explain his position in his veto letter, balancing his concerns over jobs with the desires of big businesses that sorely wanted him to approve the legislation.

“Since becoming governor in 2011, I have repealed almost 5,000 regulations to reduce unnecessary burdens on Floridians,” he wrote. “From the day I took office, I have been committed to eliminating regulations that impose duplicative and unnecessary requirements on Florida’s citizens and businesses.

“I carefully reviewed this bill and I have met with stakeholders on both sides,” the governor added. “I listened closely to what they had to say and I understand that both positions have merit.

“Nevertheless, I have heard concerns as to how this bill could affect many small businesses across Florida. I was a small business owner and many locally owned businesses have told me this bill will impact their families and their ability to create jobs.”

For example, Kiran Patel, who owns liquor stores in Melbourne and Palm Bay, told lawmakers earlier this year that if the proposal became law, “we are finished … There’s no way we can even compete with” big box stores, which will “put pallets and pallets” of booze out in the open.

Amit Dashondi, who owns liquor stores in Brevard County, said his customers had been rooting for a veto.

“They love their independent liquor stores,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday night. “We know our customers by name. That’s not going to happen in big, corporate stores. They know how to take your money, and that’s it.”

Most recently, Costco had joined Wal-Mart, Target and others in one last push to get Scott to sign the bill, known by the nickname “whiskey and Wheaties.”

“Requiring retailers to segregate spirits into a separate store is outdated, discriminatory and unnecessary in a modern marketplace,” said Jay Hibbard, vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council, which supported the bill. “Florida consumers want the same convenience of one-stop shopping that consumers in most states enjoy. We encourage the Legislature to make this a priority in the next session.” 

Whole Foods Market and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association also were for the bill. But the Publix supermarket chain was against it because of its investment in its many separate liquor stores.

The veto effort was a rare effort by rivals: Florida’s own ABC Fine Wines & Spirits opposed the measure, as did the Florida Independent Spirits Association, representing smaller, independent liquor stores. Both were led by lobbyist Scott Dick, who fought against the proposal every year since it was filed in 2014.

There was last-minute lobbying on the measure: Scott’s public schedule for Tuesday shows he had taken a call with Wal-Mart U.S. President and CEO Greg Foran, and met in Tallahassee with ABC’s CEO and Chairman Charles Bailes III. 

“Thanks to Gov. Scott, we now have the opportunity to keep our doors open and keep our Florida workforce going strong,” said Rory Eggers, president of the Florida Independent Spirits Association, in a statement.

Added Bailes: “We believe he made his decision based on what is best for the State of Florida. We applaud the governor for saving hundreds of Florida small businesses that employ thousands of Floridians, while at the same time keeping safeguards in place for minors.”

The bill passed both chambers on close margins: 21-17 in the Senate and a razor thin 58-57 in the House. Also, five House members who missed the vote voted ‘no’ after the roll call.

Among other things, the bill would have required miniature bottles to be sold behind a counter and allowed for a 5-year phase-in. It further called for employees over 18 to check customers’ ID and approve sales of spirits by cashiers under 18.

environment

Amendment 1 lawsuit may rev up after Session

A lawsuit over the state’s environmental funding under a new constitutional amendment is expected to resume now that the annual Session is in lawmakers’ rear-view mirror.

An array of environmental advocacy groups had filed suit over the Water and Land Legacy Amendment, also known as Amendment 1. The constitutional change, approved by voters in 2014, mandates state spending for land and water conservation.

The amendment, which needed a minimum of 60 percent to pass, got a landslide of nearly 75 percent, or more than 4.2 million “yes” votes.

Advocates—including the Florida Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club—sued the state in 2015, saying lawmakers wrongly appropriated money for, among other things, “salaries and ordinary expenses of state agencies” tasked with executing the amendment’s mandate.

But the legal action had been put on hold earlier this year by Circuit Judge Charles Dodson. He cited a state law that allows litigation to be suspended during a Legislative Session and up to 15 days after the conclusion of one.

The 2017 Session ended on May 8, and the 15-day ‘stay’ ended Tuesday.

David Guest, one of the plaintiff’s lawyers, said they’re now awaiting a response from the state.

“We’ll see what they say,” said Guest, also the retired Tallahassee-based managing attorney of Earthjustice, a San Francisco-based nonprofit environmental law firm. “There are specific statutory accounting requirements regarding exactly how much is spent on land management, public access, and restoration projects.”

He contends that total is $310 million less than what the Legislature should have spent money on. “Then the question is, where’d it go,” Guest added. “They spent it on something else.”

One suit targeted the Legislature; another went after the agencies, including the Department of Environmental Protection and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Dodson later consolidated the suits into one action.

Amendment 1 requires state officials to set aside 33 percent of the money from the real estate “documentary stamp” tax to protect Florida’s environmentally sensitive areas for 20 years. The mechanism to do so is through the Florida Forever conservation program.

Florida Forever regularly received upward of $300 million annually after it became law in 1999, but those expenditures were dramatically reduced after the recession hit a decade ago.

Tom Delacenserie taking over Kentucky Lottery

Tom Delacenserie, the outgoing secretary of the Florida Lottery, is getting a pay raise to become the new president and CEO of the Kentucky Lottery.

Delacenserie, who submitted his resignation to Gov. Rick Scott last week, will be paid $204,000 a year. His current Florida state salary as agency head is $141,000.

Delacenserie was confirmed by the Kentucky Lottery’s board of directors on Tuesday, according to a press release. His first day is June 5.

“I’m very much looking forward to joining one of the premier lotteries in the country,” Delacenserie said in a statement. “My dedication will be to continuing the Kentucky Lottery’s emphasis on increasing both sales and proceeds to the Commonwealth. I’m committed to providing exciting products and winning experiences to our retailers and lottery players.”

Delacenserie was lottery secretary since November 2015, when he replaced former Secretary Cynthia O’Connell, and has overseen the growth and escalating sales of Lottery products. The Lottery’s profits go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which among other things pays for Florida Bright Futures Scholarships.

But House Speaker Richard Corcoran sued the agency in February, saying it went on an illegal spending spree last year when it inked a $700 million deal with IGT (International Game Technology) for new equipment. The next month, a Tallahassee judge sided with Corcoran and invalidated the contract.

Judge Karen Gievers faulted the agency for, among other things, not first seeking the Legislature’s permission to enter into a deal that committed the state to as much as two decades’ worth of funding. The case is now under appeal.

Delacenserie began with the Lottery in 2000 as the Fort Myers district manager, later promoted in 2005 to the Lottery’s Director of Sales.

In 2013, he became the Lottery’s Deputy Secretary of Sales and Marketing, then served as interim secretary after O’Connell’s departure. She quit after four years as secretary amid questions about her work habits, travel schedule and spending.

Delacenserie replaces Arch Gleason, the longtime head of the Kentucky Lottery, who died last year just weeks after announcing plans to retire after 23 years at the agency.

slot machines

Pari-mutuels subdued on next steps after Supreme Court slots decision

With the state Supreme Court’s decision last week striking down the possibility of a slot machine expansion, what’s next?

A unanimous court ruled against pari-mutuels seeking to add slot machines in counties that passed a referendum in support of them: Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington.

Those concerns are holding their cards close to the vest, at least publicly.

That includes bestbet in Jacksonville, which unsuccessfully applied to the state for a slots license.

Spokesman Brian Hughes told the Times-Union’s Tia Mitchell last week that “the company was disappointed by the ruling but hopeful that the Legislature will pass new laws that negate its effect.”

“Something it clearly demonstrates is that the Legislature still has an opportunity to respect the will of the people at the local level,” Hughes told the paper.

But lawmakers have been sequentially unable to pass new gambling laws for years, the most recent attempt ending in impasse this Legislative Session.

The Senate declined to back down on its insistence that slots should be expanded to pari-mutuels in counties that approved them, while the House opposed such a move.

The track that brought the litigation, Creek Entertainment/Gretna in Gadsden County, said it was “disappointed” in the ruling, but didn’t hint what it might do.

“Because of this ruling, we are now unable to create new jobs,” spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said. “We are considering our options on how to proceed.”

Izzy Havenick, a member of the family that owns Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Racing & Poker in Bonita Springs, said he too will go back to the drawing board with lawmakers.

Lee County passed a slots referendum with almost 63 percent of the vote in November 2012; turnout that election was nearly 69 percent.

“What do we do? We go back to the Legislature next year and hope they honor the will of the people,” Havenick said.

And according to TCPalm, Fort Pierce Jai-Alai & Poker in St. Lucie “wants to invest $100 million to expand its facility into an entertainment complex (that) owner Casino Miami says would employ about 500 people, but only if it can add 1,000 slots.”

A representative for Casino Miami couldn’t be reached Friday.

Tom Delacenserie stepping down as Florida Lottery secretary

Florida Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie is resigning effective the beginning of June, sources told FloridaPolitics.com on Friday.

The move was confirmed by the Governor’s Office, which provided a copy of his resignation letter. The letter did not mention his future plans but Delacenserie wrote that he “enjoyed all of my 17 years with the Florida Lottery but none more than the time spent under your leadership.”

Delacenserie has been in the top job since November 2015, when he replaced former Secretary Cynthia O’Connell. A spokeswoman for the Lottery was in a meeting Friday afternoon and unavailable, an assistant said.

Delacenserie has overseen the growth and escalating sales of Lottery products, leading to the “strongest start ever to the final quarter of the fiscal year, with record sales for the month of April totaling more than $528 million,” a recent press release said.

The Lottery’s profits go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which among other things pays for Florida Bright Futures Scholarships.

“I am extremely proud of our Florida Lottery team and retailers as we continue to shatter previous records,” Delacenserie said in the release. “In addition to their winning experiences, our players should take pride in knowing that with the purchase of every Lottery ticket, they are making a difference in the lives of Florida’s students.”

There have been stumbles, however.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran sued the agency in February, saying it went on an illegal spending spree last year when it inked a $700 million deal with IGT (International Game Technology) for new equipment. The next month, a Tallahassee judge sided with Corcoran and invalidated the contract.

Judge Karen Gievers faulted the agency for, among other things, not first seeking the Legislature’s permission to enter into a deal that committed the state to as much as two decades’ worth of funding.

Moreover, lawmakers this Session passed a bill requiring lottery ticket warning labels after removing a requirement that warnings also be displayed at counters where tickets are sold. It has not yet been sent to Gov. Rick Scott.

The bill mandates six rotating warnings on lottery tickets and advertisements. They include “WARNING: GAMBLING CAN BE ADDICTIVE” and “WARNING: YOUR ODDS OF WINNING THE TOP PRIZE ARE EXTREMELY LOW.”

A press release sent later Friday said “further announcements on agency leadership will be made at a later date.”

“Tom has done a great job and under his leadership, the Lottery has seen record sales and made historic contributions to Florida’s education system,” Scott said in a statement.

“Tom has been a valued member of my team since the start of my administration and I am proud of the great work he has done for Florida’s students,” he added. “I wish Tom and his family the very best in their future endeavors.”

Delacenserie began with the Lottery in 2000 as the Fort Myers district manager, later promoted in 2005 to the Lottery’s Director of Sales. In 2013, he became the Lottery’s Deputy Secretary of Sales and Marketing, then served as interim secretary after O’Connell’s departure.

She quit after four years as secretary amid questions about her work habits, travel schedule and spending.

Her abrupt resignation came shortly after POLITICO Florida reported that she had taken nearly nine weeks of vacation and racked up nearly $30,000 in travel bills.

Big-box chains, others make one last push for ‘whiskey & Wheaties’

Costco now is joining Wal-Mart, Target and others in one last push to get Gov. Rick Scott to sign a bill to remove the ‘wall of separation’ between hard liquor and other goods.

Their Floridians For Fair Business Practices coalition on Friday released a tranche of letters sent to Scott encouraging him to OK the legislation (SB 106) known by the nickname “whiskey and Wheaties.”

They also include representatives of Whole Foods Market, the Distilled Spirits Council and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association.

It could be an uphill fight—as of Wednesday, the Governor’s Office reported 2,649 emails opposed to the bill and 315 supporting, as well as 3,245 people who signed a petition against the bill.

The office also took 177 calls against and 123 for, and 569 printed letters opposed and seven letters in favor—all from pro-bill coalition members, spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said.

The governor has till May 24 to sign the bill into law, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature. His office has said Scott will “review” the legislation.

It remain whether the “jobs” governor will be swayed by opponents—including independent liquor stores—who are calling the proposal a job-killer and asking Scott to nix it.

The bill passed both chambers on close margins: 21-17 in the Senate and a razor thin 58-57 in the House. Also, five House members who missed the vote voted ‘no’ after the roll call.

Filed every year since 2014, it removes the 82-year-old ‘wall of separation’ between hard liquor and other items enacted in Florida after Prohibition. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles.

Among other things, the bill requires miniature bottles to be sold behind a counter and allows for a 5-year phase-in. It further calls for employees over 18 to check customers’ ID and approve sales of spirits by cashiers under 18.

Florida’s own ABC Fine Wines & Spirits also opposes the measure, as does the Publix supermarket chain, because of its investment in its many separate liquor stores.

Florida Supreme Court rules against Gretna track, slots expansion

A unanimous Florida Supreme Court has ruled against a North Florida racetrack seeking to add slot machines.

The 20-page decision, released Thursday, means that gambling facilities in Gadsden County’s Gretna and in seven other counties that passed local referendums allowing slots also will not be able to offer them.

In doing so, the court upheld a decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal that agreed with state gambling regulators who denied the track a slots permit.

In sum, the ruling comes as a loss for the state’s pari-mutuels and a win for gambling expansion opponents. If it had gone the other way, the decision might have led to the single biggest gambling expansion in the state.

“The good news is there will not be thousands of slot machines coming to Florida without further action by the legislature,” said John Sowinski, president of the No Casinos anti-gambling expansion group.

Sowinski also chairs Voters in Charge, a political committee trying to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2018 statewide ballot to give voters “the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling.”

Lawmakers, many of whom have bitterly complained of judicial overreach into policy, failed to agree on a comprehensive overhaul of the state’s gambling laws this Legislative Session.

*   *   *

At issue in the Gretna case was “whether local voters can authorize the operation of slot machines in counties outside of Dade and Broward.”

Statewide voters in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment legalizing slots at existing jai-alai frontons and horse and dog racetracks only in those counties and only if voters there OK’d it in referendums there.

Since then, voters in Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington counties approved slots.

But the opinion, authored by Justice Charles Canady, found that “nothing in (state gambling law) grants any authority to regulate slot machine gaming to any county.”

Specifically, the “general power of non-charter counties to ‘carry on county government’ does not constitute authorization to conduct a referendum to approve slot machine gaming,” the opinion said.

(“Charters are formal written documents that confer powers, duties, or privileges on the county,” according to the Florida Association of Counties.)

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices C. Alan Lawson, Barbara Pariente and Ricky Polston concurred in the decision. Justice Peggy A. Quince had been recused.

Oral argument in the case was last June but Lawson, appointed to the court in December to replace retired Justice James E.C. Perry, “fully participated after reviewing all of the materials including the oral argument video,” spokesman Craig Waters said.

Justice R. Fred Lewis also concurred, but wrote separately to note “the confusion in this area of the law.”

“Because slot machines are generally prohibited, Gadsden County does not have and cannot assert home rule powers as a basis to support a referendum on slot machine gambling,” he wrote.

Any other construction of the law is “misplaced,” he added.

*   *   *

The horse track, known as Creek Entertainment/Gretna, is managed and operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said they were “disappointed the Florida Supreme Court did not agree with our interpretation of the law.”

“Because of this ruling, we are now unable to create new jobs,” she said. “We are considering our options on how to proceed.”

Track lawyer Marc Dunbar, also a part owner, told justices in oral argument that the Legislature intended to allow for an expansion of slot machines in the state, saying counties were empowered under state law to decide whether to allow slots.

The track, about 30 miles west of Tallahassee, had asked the court to let it have slot machines because voters approved them in 2012.

Attorney Dan Gelber, the former House Democratic leader who represented No Casinos at argument, countered that lawmakers “would not have allowed slots but for that constitutional amendment.” He served in the House 2000-08.

“The idea that in implementing that amendment that they would, under the table, give 65 other counties that same right is sort of absurd,” he said. “If that had happened, I know a couple of my colleagues’ heads would have exploded.”

A decision the other way also likely would have broken the exclusivity to slots outside of South Florida enjoyed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. That would have entitled the Tribe to reduce or stop paying money to the state.

“The Tribe is continuing to review the decision, but it looks like very good news for the State of Florida and for the Seminole Tribe,” spokesman Gary Bitner said.

And Stephen Lawson, spokesman for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates gambling, said the agency was “pleased that the Florida Supreme Court agreed with us on this important issue.”

“We will continue to follow the law,” he added.

Still no decision from Joe Negron on special session on pot referendum

Senate President Joe Negron has yet to decide to join House Speaker Richard Corcoran in calling for a Special Session on medical marijuana implementation, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, is still “in the process of having discussions with senators in response to the memorandum he sent last Thursday,” Katie Betta said in an email. 

Negron had sought input from fellow senators after the 2017 Legislative Session ended without a bill to guide state Health regulators on the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment.

An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

A state law provides that the “President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, by joint proclamation duly filed with the Department of State, may convene the Legislature in special session.”

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, last week called for a Special Session during WFLA-FM radio’s “The Morning Show with Preston Scott.”

“I do believe and support the notion that we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana,” Corcoran told Scott. “Does that mean a special session?” Scott asked. “It would, absolutely,” Corcoran said.

Others chiming in on social media for a Special Session include Sens. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican; Dana Young, a Tampa Republican; Travis Hutson, an Elkton Republican; and Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who also penned the only “formal response” as of Friday.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham and Orlando trial attorney John Morgan have called for a session on medical marijuana, with Morgan doing so in a nearly nine-minute video on TwitterMorgan has been behind the amendment since it was first filed for 2014, when it failed to get enough votes.

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