Jim Rosica - 2/86 - 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.

Blogger still irate over Justice James E.C. Perry’s continued presence at Supreme Court

Conservative blogger Ed Whelan isn’t giving up his position that retired Florida Supreme Court Justice James E.C. Perry continuing to work on pending cases “appears to be in plain violation of Florida law.”

Whelan wrote on National Review Online last week that Perry was wrongly “displac(ing)” Justice C. Alan Lawson, the newest conservative jurist on the state’s high court.

In the court’s defense, spokesman Craig Waters explained that the court’s “longstanding practice for many decades has been that retiring justices remain in senior status to complete their unfinished work after retirement.”

He also said “there are serious workload issues involved in processing cases because the work is cumulative … asking a new justice to step in … can greatly slow decision-making in those cases – a result that would impose delay and additional expense on the parties to those cases, some of which are facing the death penalty.”

Whelan’s recent rebuttal said “the proposition that the court has employed this ‘practice for many decades’ does not speak meaningfully to the legality of the practice.

“If the court can’t offer a compelling legal explanation for its practice of allowing a retired justice to continue to decide cases after his retirement, it ought to terminate that practice pronto.”

Moreover, “it’s one thing to decide already-argued cases without the new member. It’s quite another thing to allow the retired justice to displace the new member in those cases,” Whelan wrote.

Any “efficiency gains that Waters touts would be achieved by simply deciding the case without him,” he added.

“To be sure, there may be a small number of cases that would have to be re-argued because Lawson’s participation would break a tie among the six remaining justices who heard oral argument. But those are precisely the cases in which having Perry displace Lawson is most objectionable.”

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Senate readies this year’s gambling bill

A Senate spokeswoman on Tuesday said the chamber’s legislative package on gambling should be ready for hearing later this month.

A meeting of the Regulated Industries Committee, which oversees gambling policy, had been set for this Thursday but was cancelled.

“Based on conservations with Sen. (Bill) Galvano, President (Joe) Negron anticipates having a bill ready to be heard during the second committee week in January,” Katie Betta said in an email.

“Based on that timetable, President Negron felt that it would be more productive to cancel the workshop scheduled for this week and instead schedule a hearing when the bill is available later this month.”

The Miami Herald reported late Monday that lawmakers were close to a deal to get approval of a new agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida granting them continued exclusivity to offer blackjack and “banked card games.”

That deal would “allow owners of declining pari-mutuels to sell their permits to others who want to install slot machines at newer facilities outside of South Florida,” the paper reported.

Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, has been hammering out a deal with state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the Miami-Dade Republican who’s the House’s point man on gambling.

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

The deal satisfies that condition, the Herald reported, because it “lead(s) to a net reduction of live, active (dog and horse track) permits throughout the state.”

Don’t take that bet, said Paul Seago, executive director of No Casinos.

“Slots outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties should be a non-starter,” he said. “It violates the constitution and the promise made to Florida voters when they very narrowly approved the amendment to allow them there in 2004.

“We will strongly oppose any new compact agreement that allows for slot machines at pari-mutuels outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties.”

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Raulerson, Dan

Dan Raulerson qualifying challenge now in judge’s hands

A Tallahassee judge now will decide whether a lawsuit challenging state Rep. Dan Raulerson‘s re-election over the use of “Wite Out” will go forward.

“I’m going to review this and get an order out,” Circuit Judge Charles W. Dodson said Tuesday, after a half-hour hearing. “Good luck.”

Raulerson’s attorney had moved to toss out the case, saying it was moot with the Plant City Republican having won in November and been sworn in to represent House District 58. 

Only the House of Representatives, which is constitutionally the sole judge of its membership, now has jurisdiction over any challenge to Raulerson being seated, lawyer Emmett Mitchell said.

Vazquez (via Facebook)

Jose N. Vazquez Figueroa, who is representing himself, is seeking to disqualify Raulerson; Vazquez was his unsuccessful Democratic opponent last year.

The suit says Raulerson’s notary had incorrectly used “correction fluid” on his filing paperwork. The state’s notary manual says no correction fluid of any kind is allowed on notarized documents.

Specifically, Vazquez has said Raulerson’s notary “improperly completed” his paperwork by whiting out the date on her notarization of his financial disclosure, changing it from an April to a June date.

He sued Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer; Secretary of State Ken Detzner, the state’s chief elections officer; and Kristi Reid Bronson, records bureau chief for the Division of Elections, faulting all of them for not catching the error and allowing Raulerson to run in the first place.

“I never challenged his constitutional qualifications,” Vazquez told the court. “That’s a big difference … the fact is, Mr. Raulerson never qualified as a candidate. The document is not valid and so it’s a forfeit.”

Otherwise, Vazquez added, “we open a big Pandora’s box in the state of Florida where anybody can just ‘white out’ documents.”

Dodson did not say when he would issue an order.

Vazquez made the news in 2008 when he ran for the District 58 seat as a state prisoner. He was serving time on a charge of driving on a revoked license, records show. He himself was disqualified when he failed to include his full name on a written oath.

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diapers

Soon-to-be new mom Lauren Book wants diapers exempt from sales tax

New state Sen. Lauren Book, who’s eight months pregnant with twins, has filed legislation to exempt diapers and baby wipes from the state’s 6 percent sales tax.

Book

Book, a Broward County Democrat, filed her bill (SB 252) Thursday. A similar provision was filed last month by House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa.

The 32-year-old lawmaker, elected in November, said the idea came to her as she attended pregnancy classes. Book is having a boy and a girl, due in February.

“For many families, buying diapers can be a (financial) burden,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s not a luxury item.”

The average child “will use more than 2,700 diapers in the first year alone, which can add up to more than $550 (based on an average price of $0.20 per disposable diaper),” according to Investopedia. “And don’t forget an average of $20 per month for wipes.”

Based on that, Book’s bill could save a family about $48 a year.

Another example: A 128-count box of newborn-size Pampers Swaddlers Diapers costs roughly $35 at Wal-mart. A tax exemption would save about $2 per box.

And the language would extend the exemption to adult products, such as Depends.

The legislation defines diapers as “a product used to absorb or contain body waste, including, but not limited to, baby diapers and adult diapers and pads designed and used for incontinence.”

Baby wipes, as defined by the bill, are “a moistened, disposable, often antiseptic tissue used chiefly for cleansing the skin, especially of babies and children.”

Bills also have been filed for the 2017 Legislative Session to create sales-tax exemptions on feminine hygiene products such as tampons.

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Judge says no to Gretna track in gambling dispute

A federal judge has turned down a request by a North Florida race track to alter his ruling allowing the Seminole Tribe of Florida to keep blackjack at its casinos.

But the loss turned out to be a win for the track’s own card games.

Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued his order Wednesday. Gretna Racing in Gadsden County had moved to intervene last week.

Its attorneys, David Romanik and Marc Dunbar, had asked Hinkle to remove the part of his ruling they say could make it a “crime” for the track’s cardroom to continue offering certain card games. Romanik and Dunbar also are part-owners of Gretna Racing.

Hinkle called the move “untimely.”

The track “has no protectable interest in the compact between the Seminole Tribe and the State,” he said. “The judgment in this case has no binding effect on Gretna, and the order explaining the judgment will have a practical effect only to the extent a future tribunal finds the reasoning persuasive.”

Hinkle’s decision, then, in the Tribe’s case has no effect on Gretna’s or other tracks’ card game operations.

“We are certainly appreciative of the judge’s consideration,” Dunbar said.

At issue was the track’s offering certain card games that Hinkle based his Seminole decision on.

The judge ruled that regulators working under Gov. Rick Scott allowed certain Florida dog and horse tracks, including Gretna, to offer card games that mimicked ones that were supposed to be exclusive to tribe-owned casinos for a five-year period.

Because of that, Hinkle decided the Tribe could keep its blackjack tables till 2030.

The state wanted Hinkle to instead order the tribe to remove the games because a blackjack provision in an agreement between the state and tribe expired last year.

The Gretna track also has a case pending before the Florida Supreme Court on whether to expand slot machines in the state. Voters in Gadsden County, where the track is located, and six other counties passed local referendums to approve slots.

Background material from The Associated Press, reprinted with permission. 

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House bill would affect public records lawsuits

A House bill would require judges to make specific findings before they can award attorney fees in public records lawsuits.

State Rep. Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican and lawyer, filed the measure (HB 163) on Wednesday.

It would require a judge to determine that a public agency “unlawfully refused to permit a public record to be inspected or copied” and that the complainant “provided written notice identifying the public record request to the agency’s custodian … at least five business days before filing the civil action.”

The bill also says attorney fees can’t be awarded if the court finds “the request to inspect or copy the public record was made primarily to harass the agency.”

Burgess’ bill follows a similar bill (SB 80) filed by state Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican and also a lawyer, that changes the word “shall” to “may” regarding courts awarding legal fees when an “agency (has) unlawfully refused to permit a public record … to be inspected or copied.”

Steube backed a version of the bill last session as a state representative. It passed the Senate unanimously but died in the House.

This year’s bill would require a “complainant (to) provide written notice of the public records request to the agency’s custodian of public records at least 5 business days before” suing, like Burgess’. Records requests are not normally mandated to be in writing.

The idea is to cut down on the number of “frivolous” lawsuits at taxpayer expense by eliminating guaranteed attorney fees in cases where public officials made an honest mistake, bill advocates – including the Florida League of Cities – have said.

Open government watchdogs, such as the First Amendment Foundation, have countered that the bill would instead affect legitimate actions against local governments and state agencies that unreasonably refuse to respond to record requests.

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Fantasy sports bill filed again in Legislature

A bill to exempt fantasy sports play from state gambling regulation has again been filed in the Florida Legislature.

State Rep. Jason Brodeur, a Sanford Republican, filed a measure (HB 149) on Wednesday.

The bill would clarify that fantasy contests “reflect the relative knowledge and skill of the participants” and are not games of chance – and thus potentially illegal gambling.

The legislation specifically includes games based on “athletes in the case of sports events.” It doesn’t yet have a Senate companion.

It would exempt “fantasy contests” from regulation by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which oversees gambling in the state.

Last year, state Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, and state Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, unsuccessfully tried to move similar bills. Negron is now Senate President and Gaetz was elected to Congress.

The efforts, however, got caught up in a late session meltdown over a renewed blackjack agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and connected bills that would have expanded gambling in the state.

Negron’s measure would have declared fantasy sports play, such as on websites like FanDuel and DraftKings, “games of skill” and not gambling. He also would have established a state “Office of Amusement” to keep tabs on such operators.

Gaetz’s bill similarly would have regulated fantasy sports by putting registration requirements, among other provisions, on fantasy operators who have customers here.

The fact that their attempts didn’t move motivated Brodeur to file his own bill this year, he said in a phone interview.

“The question was never answered,” he said. “The millions of Floridians who play fantasy games deserve to know that what they’re doing is not a crime.”

Brodeur added he’s dabbled in pro football fantasy leagues over the last couple of years but “not enough that I would call myself skillful at it.”

Marc La Vorgna, spokesman for DraftKings and FanDuel, said the companies “look forward to working with Rep. Brodeur during the upcoming legislative session and, on behalf of the 3 million Floridians who love fantasy sports and want to keep their favorite pastime legal, we thank him for his support of fantasy sports.”

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Is Rick Scott co-opting Florida’s judicial nominating process?

Christian D. Searcy doesn’t consider himself “the most political person” but suggests you don’t need a weatherman to see which way the wind is blowing on Florida’s judicial nominating panels.

Searcy, president of the Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley personal-injury law firm, reacted to Tuesday’s news about the state’s Judicial Nominating Commissions (JNCs).

Gov. Rick Scott had summarily rejected all suggestions from The Florida Bar to fill vacancies in several JNCs, the panels that recommend lawyers for judgeships.

Searcy once was on a slate of three people recommended by the Bar to serve on West Palm Beach’s 4th District Court of Appeal nominating commission.

He and Kathryn S. Pecko of Hollywood and Glenn J. Waldman of Fort Lauderdale were rejected by Scott in November 2015, according to Bar records. He was never given a reason why, Searcy said.

“It would seem to any fair-minded person (that) what’s happening to these slates is just plain wrong,” he said. “It seems as though this governor aims to make the judiciary just another branch of the Governor’s Office.”

Scott and fellow conservatives have long complained of judicial activism, and the governor has said he wants “judges (who) say what the law is, rather than what it should be.” But often, that’s in response to a decision that just happens to go against a policy they favor.

In the Florida House, for instance, “the GOP leadership has been sore at the Supreme Court for a while now, mostly over forced legislative redistricting rules and use of public funds for school tuition vouchers,” writes Tallahassee Democrat columnist Bill Cotterell, referring to recently filed measures that could allow lawmakers to override court decisions they don’t like.

When Scott presented C. Alan Lawson last month as his first choice for the Florida Supreme Court, the governor said Lawson “clearly believes in following the rule of law. He is going to do a good job … and he’s not going to legislate from the bench.”

Scott “appoints JNC members who share his vision that judges will follow the law and serve humbly,” spokeswoman Lauren Schenone told FloridaPolitics.com. “The voters that elected him expect that.”

*          *          *

The nine-member Judicial Nominating Commissions, made up of lawyers and non-lawyers, hold great sway over who becomes a judge in Florida.

When a vacancy occurs that must be filled by appointment, a JNC “submit(s) three to six names of the most highly qualified applicants to the Governor, who must make a final selection from the list.”

The system, known as judicial merit selection, is supposed to ensure a nonpartisan way “to locate, recruit, investigate, and evaluate applicants for judicial office.”

Nominating commissions’ “structure and composition must provide a climate that fosters public confidence in the process,” wrote retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in a 2014 white paper. “They must not be a political or partisan entity.”

Getting onto a commission under Scott hasn’t been easy.

“Five members are appointed directly by the Governor, and the (Florida) Bar sends nominations to the Governor to fill the remaining four spots,” according to the Bar’s website.

But state law allows the governor to “reject all of the nominees recommended for a position and request that the (Bar) submit a new list.” In that way, a governor can simply turn down the Bar until he gets the names he wants.

Bar records show that Scott has rejected approximately 90 names put forth by the Bar for JNC openings since he took office in 2011. Of those, Searcy was the only person contacted by FloridaPolitics.com who would speak on the record.

Florida’s system “used to be held up as a model,” Searcy said. “But now it just allows (nominating panels) to be stacked by a governor.”

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Hotel Valley Ho

Florida lawmakers heading to Arizona for gambling conference

Eight Florida lawmakers have signed up to attend this weekend’s meeting of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The three-day conference, to include a keynote address from Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, is being held at the 4-star Hotel Valley Ho.

On the RSVP list:

— State Rep. Halsey Beshears, a Monticello Republican. His district includes the old Jefferson County Kennel Club, a track that once offered greyhound racing and poker but is now closed.

— State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami-Dade Republican. He chairs the House Commerce Committee, which oversees gambling policy.

— State Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican. Galvano has long been involved in gambling issues, having helped draft the 2010 Seminole Compact, the gambling agreement between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the state.

— State Rep. Joe Geller, an Aventura Democrat. He’s the Democratic Ranking Member of the House Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee.   

— State Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat. She’s a member of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, which oversees gambling-related legislation.

— State Rep. Mike LaRosa, a St. Cloud Republican. He chairs the House Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee.

— State Rep. David Richardson, a Miami-Dade Democrat.

— State Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat. He’s also a member of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, and is chair of the Council’s Committee on State-Federal Relations. He will lead a panel on “Jurisdiction, Legality over Emerging Forms of Gambling,” including daily fantasy sports.

A disclosure on the Council’s website says the conference is “organized and produced” by New Jersey-based Spectrum Gaming Group. The consulting firm won a $400,000 contract in 2013 to study the “present and future effects of gambling in Florida.”

One of its early findings: Gambling will keep growing with or without direction from lawmakers, because Florida already is a big gambling state.

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Murray, Peter F.

Personnel note: Pete Murray to Colodny Fass

Colodny Fass has snagged another “policy and legislative strategy veteran” with the hire of Peter F. Murray, the firm announced Tuesday.

Murray was Director of Legislative Affairs for the Florida Commission on Offender Review, formerly the Florida Parole Commission.

He also was Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs for the Florida Department of Corrections, and has worked in the Governor’s Office of Policy and Budget.

Before that, Murray was a Senior Program Analyst under then-Gov. Charlie Crist, focusing on energy and climate issues.

Early on, he was a property insurance claims adjuster for Liberty Mutual Group, and that experience will assist “Colodny Fass’ many property and casualty insurance company clients,” the firm said.

Murray has a Master of Public Administration degree from Florida State University, where he also got his Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and Criminology.

He will be based in Tallahassee.

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