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.

VIDEO: Lawmakers, supporters speak out on school recess

Sen. Anitere Flores, Rep. Rene “Coach P” Plasencia, and a throng of “recess moms” spoke with reporters Thursday in support of legislation that would mandate school recess.

The Senate Education Committee this week voted unanimously to approve this year’s bill (SB 78). Its House companion (HB 67) has not yet heard a hearing.

It requires school districts to provide at least 20 minutes of recess each day to students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

This may well be the year the bill passes the Legislature. A version was OK’d by the House last year but died in the Senate because then-Sen. John Legg refused to hear the measure in the Pre-K-12 Education Committee he chaired.

That was despite the fact former Senate President Andy Gardiner supported the bill.

“He did not believe in the policy and he did not hear the bill,” Gardiner said in an INFLUENCE magazine interview last year. “He felt, and it’s legitimate, that that’s a local issue and we should allow local school districts to make that decision.

“Some said I should have forced him to hear that (bill),” Gardiner said. “I talked to him about but ultimately it was his decision. He’s the chair. That was just my style.”

A Periscope video of Thursday’s news conference in the Capitol’s 4th floor rotunda is below.

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House gambling bill gets thumbs up on first look

With its chair saying he wants to “freeze” gambling in the state, a House gambling panel on Thursday cleared that chamber’s overhaul bill, including a renewed blackjack agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

The Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee OK’d the measure (PCB TGC 17-01) on a 10-5 party-line vote.

But the bill, which isn’t yet assigned to another committee, differs greatly from the Senate’s gambling legislation. Its proposal (SB 8) now is cleared for consideration by the full chamber after a 14-2 vote in the Appropriations Committee, also Thursday.

The House is looking to contract gambling overall; the Senate would expand some gambling opportunities though bill sponsor Bill Galvano has said it contracts gambling overall.

State Rep. Mike La Rosa, the House panel’s chair, was hopeful about reaching compromise, though he made clear the Senate would have to vastly change its position.

“I think their expansion and where they’re going with it would be a non-starter here,” the St. Cloud Republican told reporters after the meeting. 

For example, the House outlaws designated-player card games, but the Senate would let “all cardroom operators … offer designated player games,” and the House would prohibit the expansion of slot machines, while the Senate generally expands the availability of slot machines. No Casinos, the anti-gambling expansion group, supports the House bill.

Moreover, the state’s cut of the Seminole gambling money – $3 billion over seven years – would go to education, split three ways among “K-12 teacher recruitment and retention bonuses,” “schools that serve students from persistently failing schools,” and “higher education institutions to recruit and retain distinguished faculty.”

But state Rep. Jared Moskowitz criticized the bill for doing exactly what the House’s GOP majority says it hates: Picking winners and losers.

“The winners are the Seminoles, and the losers are everybody else,” he said. The Coral Springs Democrat had tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to delete a legal requirement that racetracks run live races to also offer other gambling, like poker.

This is not free market—this is a corporate mandate,” he said of the legislation. Moskowitz also pointed out the many gambling policy conflicts between the chambers.

“What are we doing here? I have no idea, actually,” Moskowitz said. “…We’re debating something we know is already dead.”

State Rep. Joe Geller of Aventura, the panel’s Democratic Ranking Member, suggested that the bill’s funding mechanism would disproportionately benefit privately-run charter schools.  

“It’s not corporate welfare” for charter schools, La Rosa told reporters.

Where the money goes exactly isn’t “solid yet,” he added, but “who’s actually benefiting is the student (who doesn’t have to go) to a failing school.”

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Firms randomly picked for lobbying compensation audits

Even as some lawmakers have questioned its necessity, legislative and executive branch lobbying firms were again randomly selected Wednesday for audits of their compensation reports.

The firms picked for legislative lobbying audits are:

— Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney

— Buigas & Associates

— David R. Custin & Associates

— Ericks Consultants

— Hopping Green & Sams

— Lewis Longman & Walker

— Lisa Aaron Consulting

— Luis E. Rojas

— McGee & Mason

— Redfish Consulting

— Ronald R. Richmond

— Shumaker Loop & Kendrick

— Smith & Smith

— The Labrador Co.

The alternates are:

— Barlow Consulting

— Butler Weihmuller Katz Craig

— Capitol Hill Group

— Damon Smith Consulting

— Dixie Sansom Consulting

— Littlejohn Mann & Associates

— Pruitt & Associates

— Quintairos Prieto Wood & Boyer

— R. Dale Patchett Managemen

— Shutts & Bowen

— Southern Campaign Resources

— Strategos Public Affairs

— Sunrise Consulting Group

— Uhlfelder and Associates

The firms picked for executive-branch lobbying audits are:

— Andrew J. Liles

— Calhoun Management & Consulting

— Capitol Insight

— Carr Allison

— Champion Consultants

— Janet Llewellyn

— Lester Abberger

— Lindstrom Consulting

— Pruitt & Associates

— T.B. Consultants

— TC Wolfe

— Wilson & Associates

The alternates are:

— Capitol Energy Florida

— Foley & Lardner

— Horton & Associates

— Impact GR

— Jordan Connors Group

— Law Office of Cynthia G. Angelos

— Cusick and Associates

— Punyko Associates

— R. Bruce Kershner Co.

— Rachael Ondrus

— Richard S. Kip

— The Peeples Group

The last round of audits, required under a 2005 state law and released in September 2015, found discrepancies big and small after staff randomly picked 26 lobbying firms to be audited.

Auditors discovered a number of firms either underreporting or overreporting the money they made in 2014. In another case, auditors couldn’t tell who had paid a particular bill.

But generally, lobbying firms were annoyed at having to undergo auditing and lawmakers were underwhelmed.

“I don’t understand how the public’s interest is advanced by this exercise,” said state Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who formerly sat on the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee.

“I just don’t see how this information is relevant” other than being a “marketing tool for big lobbying firms,” Bradley said in late 2015.

Legislation was actually filed for the 2016 Legislative Session that would have repealed the audit requirement, but it died in both chambers.

The latest audits are scheduled to begin May.

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Craft beer debate includes … Chance the Rapper?

Craft brewers can thank Chance the Rapper for getting this year’s beer bill over its first legislative hurdle.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee on Wednesday cleared the measure (SB 554) on a 6-3 vote. Democrats Perry Thurston and Randolph Bracy joined Republican Lizbeth Benacquisto in opposing the bill.  

But Oscar Braynon, the chamber’s Democratic Leader, said he would support the legislation because of the example of the 23-year-old Chicago-based rap star.

The measure would allow smaller craft brewers to distribute their own beer. It would create an exception to Florida’s “three-tier system” born after Prohibition, which requires separation of alcoholic beverage manufacturers, distributors and retailers to avoid price-fixing.

Braynon explained that Chance, who won three Grammy Awards this year, first independently distributed his own music before getting “multimillion-dollar offers for distribution deals.”

The bill “would allow small brewers to do just what Chance the Rapper did,” Braynon said. “So I’m going to give this (bill) a chance—thanks to Chance the Rapper.”

(Chance, however, may be staying independent, according to The New York Post; he’s allegedly turning down $5 million-$10 million offers from record labels.)

The measure, sponsored by Tampa Republican and craft beer advocate Dana Young, only applies to those who produce 7,000 kegs or less a year, which she called the “smallest of the small” craft beermakers who are “not on the radar of distributors.”

Still, 7,000 kegs—at 15.5 gallons each—equals 868,000 pints of beer.

Lobbyists for “Big Beer” concerns rejected arguments there is a shortage of distributors for small brewers and added that the bill would further chip away at the state’s three-tier system.

Thurston agreed: “We are looking at a dismantling” of that, adding Chance “gave his music away … for free” at first to gain a following.

But Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, looked confused. “I’ve never heard of Chance the Rapper,” he said before voting for the bill.

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Senate adds bingo, doping, ADW to its 2017 gambling bill

The sponsor of the Senate’s 2017 gambling bill has filed a 134-page strike-all amendment, a day before the bill is scheduled to be heard by the Appropriations Committee and a House version to be heard by its first panel.

Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican expected to be Senate President in 2018-20, filed the amendment early Wednesday.

On a first read, the strike-all’s most significant changes are:

— A new bingo provision for charitable organizations. The new section would allow certain “veterans’ organizations” to offer “instant bingo … using electronic tickets in lieu of or together with instant bingo paper tickets.”

— A provision that appears to outlaw a form of gambling called advance-deposit wagering (ADW), “in which the bettor must fund his account before being allowed to place bets,” according to Investopedia, adding “racetrack owners, horse trainers and state governments sometimes receive a cut of ADW revenues.” The amendment makes a third-degree felony out of accepting such a wager, but only “on horseraces,” not dog races.

— Toughening testing standards for race animal “doping,” the giving of performance-enhancing drugs to a racehorse or greyhound.

In other sections, the strike-all also changes the proposed “Office of Amusements” that would regulate fantasy sports to an “Office of Contest Amusements.”

For counties that pass a slots referendum, the amendment would allow state gambling regulators to “fix annually the time, place, and number of days during which operations may be conducted (as) ratified in the election.”

And it would give gambling regulators no more than 45 days to approve “rules for a new authorized game submitted by a licensed cardroom or provide the cardroom with a list of deficiencies as to those rules.”

The underlying bill (SB 8) was cleared by the Regulated Industries committee, which oversees gambling policy. If cleared by the Appropriations panel, it can be taken up by the full Senate.

Meantime, the House measure is slated to be first considered by the Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee, also on Thursday morning. The 2017 Legislative Session begins March 7.

The bills are at odds in several ways: For example, the House bill outlaws designated-player card games, but the Senate would let “all cardroom operators … offer designated player games,” and the House would prohibit the expansion of slot machines, while the Senate generally expands the availability of slot machines.

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Bill to kill business incentives, Enterprise Florida cleared for House floor

A House bill that would abolish the Enterprise Florida economic development organization, eliminate a throng of business incentive programs, and strip the VISIT FLORIDA tourism marketing agency down to a barebones $25 million budget cleared its second and final panel Tuesday.

That means the measure (HB 7005), OK’d by the House Appropriations Committee on an 18-12 vote, is ready to be considered by the full House when the 2017 Legislative Session begins March 7. 

The vote was another hit to Gov. Rick Scott, an advocate of both agencies and economic incentives, which he says create jobs for Floridians. In a statement, he again responded to the House with the “P” word.

“Today’s vote by politicians in the Florida House is a job killer,” the governor said. “I know some politicians … say they don’t necessarily want to abolish these programs but instead want to advance a ‘conversation.’

“This is completely hypocritical and the kind of games I came to Tallahassee to change,” he added. “Perhaps if these politicians would listen to their constituents, instead of playing politics, they would understand how hurtful this legislation will be to Florida families.”

Even if the House passes its bill as currently is, however, it could well be dead on arrival in the Senate. The House originally aimed to kill VISIT FLORIDA, then offered to keep it but with far less money.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development, on Tuesday filed his own economic development legislation. It would leave VISIT FLORIDA alone, and overhaul but not get rid of Enterprise Florida and incentive programs.

“The focus of economic development should be on Florida’s small businesses,” Brandes said. “Fostering a start-up culture in our state and encouraging small business development will create a better ecosystem where opportunity can thrive.”

But the House legislation is the star of GOP House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s push for more government transparency and better stewardship of the public’s money.

Corcoran had threatened to sue VISIT FLORIDA after it refused to reveal a secret deal with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism, later revealed to be worth up to $1 million. The ensuing controversy cost former agency CEO Will Seccombe his job.

That’s what got the measure support from House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa: “We need to see (VISIT FLORIDA) on the front page when they’re helping us, not embarrassing us.”

She also noted that singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett has promoted the state for years. “He’s the loser here because he never earned a dime for that,” Cruz said.

As state Rep. Paul Renner, the Palm Coast Republican behind the 190-page bill, told the committee: “No more Pitbull contracts in secret …  no more money going to a privileged few.”

An array of local economic development interests, regional tourism groups, small business advocates and small business owners themselves opposed the bill, including hoteliers, restaurateurs, and even a co-operative of Panhandle oyster farmers. 

Chris Hart, Enterprise Florida’s CEO, told lawmakers his group is “fiscally responsible. We have integrity, we are stewards of public dollars … and we take the job very seriously.”

But state Rep. David Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat who voted against the bill because of the VISIT FLORIDA reduction, said he had “nothing good to say about Enterprise Florida … I have grave concerns about the incentives paid and the return on investment.”

Give him a bill only on that organization, he added, “and I’ll kill that for you.”


After the hearing, committee chair Carlos Trujillo held a brief media availability, which can be seen in the Periscope video below:

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VIDEO: Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense takes the Capitol

Michelle Gajda, the Florida chapter leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, spoke to reporters in the Capitol’s rotunda Tuesday as the group’s members met with lawmakers about gun-related legislation.

Monday’s story about the organization is here.

A Periscope video of Gajda’s remarks to news media is below:

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Personnel note: Matt Galka departs for Phoenix

Matt Galka, an on-air reporter for Mike Vasilinda‘s Capitol News Service, has left Tallahassee to join the FOX affiliate in Phoenix.

Galka, a member of the SaintPetersblog “30 Under 30” Class of 2015, will be a general assignment reporter at KSAZ starting Monday, Feb. 27, according to FOX spokeswoman Claudia Russo

He’s originally from Southington, Connecticut, where he lost more than 100 pounds in high school to get on the football team, eventually becoming team captain.

Galka graduated from Syracuse University, where he was a walk-on football player, and then got his master’s from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

In Florida, Galka won the “Best Overall” award in 2013 from Florida Associated Press Broadcasters, and followed that up with a “Best Continuing Coverage” award for his reporting on the Jameis Winston sexual assault allegations at Florida State in 2014.

“I want to be the same person on TV that you could talk to at a bar,” he said in a 2015 interview. “I’m not out there playing some character. It’s important to be honest in a world where so many aren’t.”

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Bar exam board now seeking public members

The board responsible for writing the state’s bar examination is looking for two more volunteer members.

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners now is seeking “two public members” for three-year terms each, it announced in a Tuesday press release.

“A public member volunteer should possess education or work-related experience such as educational testing, accounting, statistical analysis, medicine, psychology or related sciences,” the release said. “A bachelor’s degree is required. Lawyers are not eligible.”

The Board “ensures that (Bar) applicants have met the requirements … with regard to character and fitness, education and technical competence before recommending to the Supreme Court of Florida an applicant’s admission” as a lawyer, according to the release.

Applicants “must be able to attend approximately 10 meetings a year in various Florida locations, with travel and (other) expenses reimbursed. Board members should be willing and able to devote the equivalent of 3-4 days’ work a month, or up to 350 or more hours per year on Board business, depending on committee assignments.”

Interested? You can download a questionnaire here or should call the Bar at (850) 561-5757.

Completed applications must be received by the Executive Director, The Florida Bar, 651 E. Jefferson St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-2300 or submitted via email to <specialapptapp@floridabar.org> by close of business on Monday, April 3.

On Monday, the Board announced it was also looking for two lawyer-members.

Florida’s bar exam is given twice yearly over two days, in July and February, at the Tampa Convention Center. The latest exam is happening today and Wednesday.

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House lobbying ban extension cleared for floor

A measure to increase the ban from two years to six years on former lawmakers and statewide elected officers lobbying their colleagues after leaving office is now cleared to be considered by the full House of Representatives.

The House Rules and Policy Committee OK’d the measure (HJR 7001) unanimously on Tuesday. As its second and final review panel, it’s now available to be discussed on the House floor when the 2017 Legislative Session begins March 7.

Extending the lobbying ban is a plank of GOP House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s program to create a “culture of transparency” in state government.

The proposal, which requires a constitutional amendment, addresses “the perception, if not the reality, of the ‘revolving door,’ ” said state Rep. Larry Metz, the Yalaha Republican who is sponsoring the bill.

“The public is entitled to have the perception corrected, at a minimum,” he added. Metz chairs the Public Integrity and Ethics Committee.

The six-year ban, which would be the lengthiest in the country, already has raised some constitutional concerns over free speech and restraint of trade.

The bill’s own staff analysis notes that “provisions of Florida law that regulate lobbyist activity have been challenged on grounds they violate First Amendment protections.”

President Donald Trump last month “issued an executive order prohibiting executive branch appointees from lobbying the agency which they were appointed to serve for five years after termination of employment,” the staff analysis adds.

Thirty-four states in all have some lobbying ban on former state lawmakers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“While no state currently has a post-service lobbying ban longer than two years,” the Missouri House of Representatives is considering extending that state’s “lobbying ban applicable to former legislators and appointed state officers (who require confirmation by the state senate) to five years following vacation of office, from six months,” the analysis says.

Metz’s bill was changed Tuesday to remove “appointed state officers,” such as executive-branch agency heads, whose ban would remain at two years.

The rules committee also unanimously OK’d a second measure (HB 7003) that would codify the ban extension into state law and have an earlier effective date.

Measures that create state constitutional amendments have to be approved by three-fifths of each chamber of the Legislature. And any amendment needs 60 percent of the statewide vote to be passed.

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