Jim Rosica - 2/100 - 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.

Constitutional rewrite panel’s transparency rules would track Legislature’s

Just like the Legislature, any two members of the new Constitution Revision Commission could meet out of the “sunshine,” according to a copy of the panel’s proposed rules.

The draft rules, posted online Monday, say that “all meetings at which Commission business is discussed between more than two members of the Commission shall be open to the public, following the procedure outlined in the Florida Constitution.”

If approved, the commission will follow the constitutional provision governing legislative meetings, which says “all prearranged gatherings, between more than two members of the legislature … shall be reasonably open to the public.”

Another draft rule says “all records of the Commission shall be accessible to the public unless otherwise exempted by law.”

Florida legal legend Sandy D’Alemberte on Monday morning called the draft rules “a good start.”

As early as January, D’Alemberte—who’s been a Democratic lawmaker, Florida State University law school dean and president, and American Bar Association president—had raised concerns whether the commission would elect “to be governed by the Sunshine Law.”

Last week, he penned an op-ed for the Tallahassee Democrat in which he urged commission members to operate in the open.

“Open government is the Florida way and it is important for the Commission to signal from the very beginning that it respects this most important feature of Florida government,” he wrote.

D’Alemberte said he hopes members get properly schooled on openness. He recalled serving on the Miami-Dade Community College Board years ago, and his fellow members were “always calling me, wanting to talk about issues.”

“It took forever to educate people how to operate when you serve on a public body, that you can’t have all these private discussions,” he said.

Updated 12:15 p.m. — The First Amendment Foundation (FAF), an open government watchdog, in a letter to commission chairman Carlos Beruff, had two quibbles with the draft rules.

In the public records section, the organization suggested changing “accessible to the public” to “open to the public” to track with state law.

It also suggested modifying the meetings rule to apply to those of two or more commissioners, saying the “higher standard … applies to every collegial body in Florida except the Legislature.”

“We would expect the CRC to hold itself to the highest standards of transparency, allowing all Floridians to oversee the work of the Commission and hold it accountable for its actions,” said the letter, signed by FAF president Barbara A. Petersen.

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House gambling bill set for Ways & Means this week

The House of Representatives’ omnibus gambling bill will again be heard this week, records show.

The bill (HB 7037) is on the agenda for the Ways & Means Committee, chaired by Bradenton Republican Jim Boyd, on Tuesday.

Though it includes a renewed blackjack agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the legislation overall “freezes” the current ambit of gambling in the state, as Rep. Mike La Rosa has said. He chairs the Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee, which already OK’d the measure 10-5.

That contrasts with the Senate’s gambling bill (SB 8), which cleared all its committees and awaits a hearing on the chamber floor.

The House would outlaw designated-player card games, but the Senate would let “all cardroom operators … offer designated player games.” The House also would prohibit the expansion of slot machines, while the Senate generally expands the availability of slot machines.

Moreover, La Rosa’s legislation would divert the state’s cut of the Seminole gambling money – $3 billion over seven years – to 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.”

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Poll: Most voters down on expanding gambling

The vast majority of Florida voters — 84 percent“want to reduce or hold the line on gambling” and 60 percent also “are less likely to support a candidate … that votes to expand gambling,” a new poll released Monday shows.

The latest Mason-Dixon poll included questions on gambling, according to a news release from No Casinos, Florida’s anti-gambling expansion group.

The anti-expansion “feeling among Floridians carries across all regions of the state: North Florida (87 percent), Central Florida (92 percent), Tampa Bay (81 percent), Southwest Florida (84 percent), Southeast Florida (78 percent),” the release said.

“Tallahassee politicians need to get the message that only 8 percent of Florida voters want gambling expanded, and 84 percent want it left alone or reduced,” said John Sowinski, president of No Casinos. “It’s time to stop listening to gambling lobbyists and listen to the people.”

In addition, he said most “Floridians don’t want their elected officials to expand gambling, because they know that more gambling hurts the quality of life for them and their families.”

The poll was conducted from Feb. 24-28. It had a sample of 625 registered Florida voters, and the margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent.

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Senate tax cut proposal, as is, may be on the ropes

A tax cut that’s a priority of Senate President Joe Negron is running into resistance from his fellow senators.

Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami-Dade Republican and Negron’s right hand in the chamber, is running the bill (SB 378) to pay for a cut in the state’s tax on mobile phone, satellite and cable TV service by repealing a tax break to insurers.

On Friday evening, Flores said “there have been conversations” among some senators—she didn’t say whom—who want to  restructure the bill, still taking the tax credits from the insurance industry but instead applying them to another cost driver.

School funding was one example bandied about this week, she added.

“My point is, many senators—if not the majority of senators—are still in favor of getting rid of this break that benefits only one industry to provide (tax) relief for more Floridians,” she said in a phone interview.

The bill was to be discussed Wednesday by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax, but was pulled off the agenda by chair Kelli Stargel, who later said she didn’t want to take up the bill because only three of the panel’s five members were there.

“That’s a decision that was made by the chair,” Negron told reporters later Wednesday. “I wasn’t involved in that decision but I think it’s perfectly reasonable and I support (it).” No one said a lack of votes was the problem.

Flores, however, still is advocating the original tax swap, taking away a 15 percent tax credit on the salaries that insurers give their full-time workers here in the state for a reduction in the state’s communications services tax (CST).

Other colleagues of hers aren’t sure that’s the best use of the money.

When asked if a compromise could be struck, Flores said she wanted the legislation “to be a collaborative bill, so right now this is a work in progress.”

A coalition of Florida business groups—including Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the Florida Insurance Council (FIC)—already has publicly opposed taking away the insurance industry’s tax credit.

In 2013, Negron tried to get rid of the now 30-year-old tax break to insurance companies, now worth around $435 million, to decrease automobile fees. The insurance industry helped kill that effort in the House. Fees were later reduced without scuttling the tax break.

Earlier this year, the Stuart Republican said he was again looking to eliminate the insurance deal.

“Those funds would much be much better spent providing tax relief to Floridians, to businesses, rather than subsidizing the labor cost of one particular industry,” he said Wednesday.

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Senate’s ‘whiskey & Wheaties’ bill teed up for floor

The Florida Senate’s bill to remove the “wall of separation” between hard liquor and other retail goods is scheduled for the floor next week.

The “whiskey and Wheaties” legislation (SB 106) is on the special order calendar for next Tuesday, according to the chamber’s website on Friday.

Meantime, the House companion (HB 81) has been struggling, escaping its committees by one-vote margins twice.

A version of the bill has been filed for four years running, aiming to repeal the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor.

The Senate’s bill would allow a phase-in period over several years, starting in 2018. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Lawmakers have been caught in the middle between big-box stores like Wal-Mart, who want the repeal, and independently-owned liquor store operators who say they will suffer.

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Constitution Revision Commission to hold first meeting

The Constitution Revision Commission has launched a website and announced an organizational meeting next Monday.

The meeting will be 2-4 p.m. in the Capitol’s Senate chamber, with a brief agenda of “Welcoming Remarks, Oath of Office, Rules of the Commission, Ethics Briefing.”

The panel, which convenes every 20 years, will review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document after holding public meetings across the state.

Its newest hire is Meredith Beatrice, who was spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, and is now the CRC’s “external affairs” director.

The 37-member board is chaired by Carlos Beruff, a Manatee County homebuilder and unsuccessful Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in 2016.

The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this is the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans. 

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

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Senate panel OKs beer bill — that beer companies hate

A bill that—as one beer-company insider put it—could allow theme parks to “extort” advertising dollars out of them cleared a Senate panel this week.

The legislation (SB 388), which allows beer companies to advertise in theme parks, was OK’d unanimously by the Senate Regulated Industries Committee with scant attention.

It chips away at the state’s “tied house evil” law by allowing ads, which could include a beer company sponsoring a concert or festival within a park. And ironically, the companies don’t want the law changed.

Moreover, a previous version of the bill theoretically could have allowed beer makers to stock the inside of any Florida bar or tavern with ads because it covered any “vendor licensed under the Beverage Law.”

Bill sponsor Travis Hutson, the Elkton Republican who chairs the committee, amended the bill so it only covered the parks.

“This is a holdover from Prohibition-era laws,” Hutson told the committee Wednesday. He couldn’t be reached Thursday.

As the Tampa Tribune once explained, “Florida and other states passed ‘tied house’ laws, which prohibited taverns and bars from being owned by, or ‘tied’ to, alcoholic beverage manufacturers. Tied houses, common in England, were thought to encourage overconsumption.”

“The federal government … has left this authority up to the states,” Hutson added. If signed into law, Florida would be the fifth state to allow beer ads in its theme parks, he added.

But the strike-all’s language is rather specific: “… a theme park complex comprised of at least 25 contiguous acres owned and controlled by the same business entity and which contains permanent exhibitions and a variety of recreational activities and has a minimum of 1 million visitors annually.”

Representatives for SeaWorld and Universal Orlando said they supported the measure.

Lobbyists for MillerCoors; the Beer Industry of Florida, the association of Florida’s MillerCoors distributors; and the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, which represents Anheuser-Busch distributors; all opposed it.

One critic of the legislation, who asked not to be identified, said current law “actually promotes an open market and competition.”

It prohibits “directly or indirectly giving, lending, renting, selling, or in any other manner furnishing to a vendor any outside sign, printed, painted, electric, or otherwise; providing neon or electric signs, window painting and (decals), posters, placards, and other advertising material … in the interior of (a) licensed premises,” according to a bill analysis.

Under Hutson’s measure, “the biggest players will come in and write the biggest checks,” this person said.

“So when you sit down in a park to order a beer, you’ll look up, see the signage, point to it and tell your waiter, ‘I guess I’ll just have one of those,’ ” the person said.

Still another beer company representative, who also asked not to be named, said they “fear being extorted by the theme parks.”

“We do a lot of business (with them), and we kind of see a situation where they say, ‘We do such-and-such theme night but now we’d like you to pay for it,’ by sponsoring it,” the second person said. “None of the beer guys support this because we all feel like we’ll be put over a barrel.”

The Senate bill, which has an identical House companion (HB 423), will next be considered by the chamber’s Commerce and Tourism and Rules committees. The House bill has not yet had a hearing.

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Florida Supreme Court rules sex is sex, no matter who’s doing it

A law that requires someone with HIV to notify a potential sex partner beforehand applies to same-sex relationships as well as between a man and a woman, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously decided Thursday.

The defendant, Gary Debaun, has been trying to have a charge dismissed under a 1986 state law designed to prevent the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus.

Debaun is HIV-positive, according to records.

The case, argued last February, involved the definition of “sexual intercourse.” In 2011, Debaun, a man, lied to a male sex partner that he was HIV-negative, “forg(ing) his doctor’s signature on the lab report,” the opinion said. It did not state whether the other man acquired the virus from having sex with Debaun.

Lawyers for Debaun had argued the law says it’s illegal not to disclose an HIV infection before “sexual intercourse,” but that definition only appeals to traditional sex between a man and a woman—not two men.

The law itself does not define sex, and two different appellate courts had disagreed over the definition.

Justice Charles Canady, who wrote the decision, said: “We first consider the plain and ordinary meaning of the term ‘sexual intercourse’ and conclude that it is not limited to only penile-vaginal intercourse.”

He then notes that “HIV can be spread through vaginal, anal, and oral sex, but anal sex presents the greatest risk of transmitting the infection,” and “gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men … are the population most severely affected by HIV.”

Including forms of sex other than penile-vaginal in the definition of intercourse is “a reasonable result, which gives full effect to the Legislature’s intent to reduce the incidence of HIV,” Canady wrote.

“As used in a statute directed at curtailing the spread of HIV(, )it would be absurd for the term ‘sexual intercourse’ to apply only to the act of heterosexual penile-vaginal intercourse,” he added.

As of mid-2015, the Florida Department of Health estimated that nearly 110,000 Floridians were living with HIV, and there had been almost 5,900 newly-diagnosed HIV infections in the state in 2014.

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Senate passes fix to ‘stand your ground’ law

The Florida Senate has passed a change to the state’s “stand your ground” law that would make it easier for criminal defendants to claim self-defense.

It was approved on a 23-15 vote during Wednesday’s floor session. Specifically, the bill would require prosecutors to prove “that a defendant is not immune from prosecution.”

The bill (SB 128), sponsored by Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley, is in reaction to a state Supreme Court decision that put the onus on the defendant to show self-defense under the law, passed in 2005.

The stand your ground law allows people who are attacked to counter deadly force with deadly force in self-defense without any requirement that they flee.

Democrats, including Jacksonville’s Audrey Gibson, said in often emotional debate that the bill would encourage wrongful claims of self-defense.

“This tips the scales against fairness and justice … this is a how-to-get-away-with-murder bill,” she said.

Bradley later responded: “If I thought for one second this would encourage criminal behavior because it created some sort of loophole, I would have had no part of it.”

Sen. Dennis Baxley, the Ocala Republican who sponsored the original law in the House of Representatives in 2005, said the change would help prevent violent acts.

He also said the legislation wasn’t “about guns”: In protecting oneself or others, “I don’t care if you use a chair leg.”

Bradley’s bill now goes to the House for consideration.

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Mosquito control boards seeking more money from state

Members of local mosquito control districts are in Tallahassee Wednesday to ask lawmakers for $3.8 million in next year’s budget to fight the two-winged insects.

The Florida Mosquito Control Association held a press conference in the Capitol to drum up support, appearing with state Rep. Matt Caldwell, chairman of the House Government Accountability Committee.

The problem: The state’s relatively warm winter means it’s likely there will be more active mosquitoes and another outbreak of Zika virus infections.

“With the outbreak of Zika we saw in our state last year, it is imperative that we continue to remain vigilant,” Caldwell said. “Mosquitoes ignore county lines, so we must look at mosquito control as a statewide effort in order to be most effective at reducing this dangerous mosquito population and the risk of Zika.”

The $3.8 million request is an increase of $1.2 million over last year.

The money will go toward research and street-level control, said Andrea Leal, Executive Director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District and co-chair of the Florida Mosquito Control Association’s Legislative Committee.

A Periscope video of the press conference can be viewed below:

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