Jim Rosica - 3/86 - 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.

Rick Scott rejects Bar’s nominees for state’s judicial panels

Gov. Rick Scott has rejected all suggestions from The Florida Bar to fill vacancies in several of the state’s Judicial Nominating Commissions (JNC), the panels that recommend lawyers for judgeships.

The latest rejections now add up to at least 90 of the Bar’s recommendations for JNC openings that Scott has turned down since taking office in 2011, according to Bar records.

Other names that Scott rejected over the years include Vero Beach lawyer Erin Grall, now a Republican state representative, and nationally known civil-rights attorney Ben Crump of Tallahassee.

On Dec. 27, William Spicola, Scott’s general counsel, wrote a letter to Bar President William J. Schifino Jr., saying the governor wanted the Bar to start over and offer different recommendations for all the current openings. He did not give a reason.

“The Governor understands and appreciates The Bar’s time and effort in vetting and selecting nominees for appointment,” Spicola wrote. “Thank you for your important work, and we look forward to receiving additional names for consideration.”

A judicial nominating commission has nine members. “Five members are appointed directly by the Governor, and the Bar sends nominations to the Governor to fill the remaining four spots,” the Bar’s website explains.

The governor must select from the Bar’s recommendations, but state law allows for the governor to “reject all of the nominees recommended for a position and request that the (Bar) submit a new list.”

There is now one “lawyer vacancy” in each of five JNCs: the ones for the 2nd District Court of Appeal, the 3rd District Court of Appeal, and the 6th, 7th, and 20th Judicial Circuits.

The 15 rejected nominees are:

  • Thomas H. Dart, Sarasota
  • Amy S. Farrior, Tampa
  • Natalie P. Thomas, Tampa
  • Debora A. Diaz, Tarpon Springs
  • Robert H. Dillinger, St. Petersburg
  • Hugh C. Umsted, New Port Richey
  • Sonia M. Diaz, Naples
  • Kelley G. Price, Naples
  • Jamie B. Schwinghamer, Estero
  • Elliott B. Kula, Surfside
  • Lisa Lehner, Miami
  • Effie D. Silva, Miami
  • Aaron Delgado, Daytona Beach
  • Erum S. Kistemaker, Daytona Beach
  • Horace Smith Jr., Ormond Beach

The Bar is now taking applications, due Feb. 6, for the next set of nominations.

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tegu lizards

Frank Artiles takes on the tegu

The tegu lizard is dead to Frank Artiles.

Artiles, Frank
Artiles

The Republican state senator from Miami-Dade County filed legislation (SB 230) Tuesday to eradicate the non-native reptile from Florida.

The lizard is “decimat(ing) the fauna and flora of the Everglades and other natural areas and ecosystems in the southern and central parts of this state at an accelerating rate,” the bill says.

Tegus, native to South America and brought to Florida as pets, have either escaped or been released over the years, creating new wild populations in Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties, according to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“Monitoring these populations and stopping the spread of this species is vital to maintaining Florida’s native wildlife,” an FWC brochure says. “Scientists are concerned that tegus will compete with and prey upon Florida’s native wildlife, including some threatened species.”

Artiles’ bill will set aside $300,000 over two years from the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund for the FWC to create a pilot program, which would use “strategically deployed hunting teams” – or lizard hunters.

Such teams would hunt in the Everglades and Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area “and all other state lands managed by the commission,” the bill says.

“The commission is authorized to enter into memoranda of agreement with other state and local entities to be permitted to deploy teams of hunters in other state and local natural areas,” it adds. “The commission is directed to seek permission from the National Park Service to deploy hunting teams in the Everglades National Park.”

The measure also would require the FWC to “submit a report of findings and recommendations” on the pilot program to the governor and lawmakers by Jan. 1, 2020.

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courtroom

Personnel note: Debra Henley out at FJA, Paul Jess in

Debra Henley left her job as executive director of the Florida Justice Association last month and is temporarily being replaced by her deputy, Paul Jess, according to a Tuesday press release.

Jess, Paul
Jess

Jess, who was called a “veteran association executive and attorney,” is now interim executive director, the release said.

The news comes just a couple of months after rumblings about Henley’s leaving the state’s trial lawyers organization were reported in SUNBURN.

At the time, FJA spokesman Ryan Banfill declined comment about any change in personnel.

Now, Florida Justice Association President Jimmy Gustafson is calling Jess “an outstanding leader who has a deep understanding of the important issues facing civil justice in Florida.”

Jess, a U.S. Navy veteran, has been with the association for 28 years, serving as deputy executive director and general counsel, according to the release.

“In addition to his years of legislative and political experience, Paul brings many more years of leadership and management experience to the table,” Gustafson said in his statement.

“He is committed to growing our membership, increasing our technological capabilities and improving our communications and fund development, including further development of our charitable foundation and its endowment.”

Gustafson did not provide a reason for Henley’s leaving, but said the group was “grateful to Debra, and we personally and professionally wish her the best in her future endeavors.” She became executive director in 2010.

“No other staffing changes are expected,” the release added.

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Facebook again hires Sebastian Aleksander for 2017 session

Social networking platform Facebook has again hired Sebastian Aleksander for the 2017 Legislative Session, lobbyist registration records reviewed Tuesday.

This makes the third year in a row that Aleksander will have represented the social media behemoth, based in Menlo Park, California. Among other major websites, he also represents Yahoo! Inc., records show.

Facebook’s last significant interest in Florida legislation was a “digital assets” bill backed by state Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Port Orange Republican.

It was aimed at ensuring that a person could designate control of their online accounts, including social media, after her or his death.

Facebook at first was against the bill because, the company said, it conflicted with federal online privacy laws.

Hukill later amended the measure so that someone has to give “explicit consent” to someone else to access and control a particular account. The digital assets legislation (SB 494) became law earlier this year.

A request for comment was pending with Aleksander as of Tuesday morning.

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Seminole Tribe objects to Gretna track’s intervention in gambling dispute

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has objected to a request by a North Florida race track to alter a federal judge’s ruling allowing the tribe to keep blackjack at its casinos.

Greenberg Traurig attorney Barry Richard, who represents the Tribe, filed his memorandum in opposition to Gretna Racing’s motion to intervene last week, court records show.

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.

The track has a case pending before the state 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.

At immediate issue, however, is the track’s offering certain card games that Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle based his decision on.

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

The judge 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.

“In future proceedings in Florida courts or before Florida state regulators, Gretna remains entirely free to argue that the games it offers do not offend Florida law,” Richard wrote. “… The fact that this Court’s decision might be cited as a non-binding precedent contrary to Gretna’s position in such future cases is not enough to justify granting Gretna the extraordinary relief it now seeks.”

Richard, among other things, also said the request wasn’t timely.

Romanik and Dunbar, he wrote, “were sufficiently aware of the progress of the case so that they knew or should have known of the possibility of an adverse ruling with respect to the issues for which they sought to intervene.”

Background material from The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.

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Zubaly, Amy

Personnel note: Amy Zubaly now interim head of FMEA

Amy Zubaly is now interim executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA), according to a Monday press release.

The board of directors tapped Zubaly, deputy executive director of public affairs and strategic communications, to helm the association while it looks for a new head. She’s been with the group for 17 years.

Longtime FMEA executive director Barry Moline resigned last month to lead the California Municipal Utilities Association (CMUA) in Sacramento.

“We are fortunate to have someone who has the longevity and knowledge of the industry and association that can lead us through the transition period,” FMEA President Clay Lindstrom said in a statement.

Zubaly thanked board members “for the opportunity and for the confidence they have in me to serve in this capacity as they decide on the best approach for a permanent executive director for the association,” she said.

Lindstrom, the general manager of the Fort Pierce Utilities Authority, “will develop a hiring plan in the coming months for a permanent replacement,” the release said.

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craft distillery

Craft distilleries hire lobbyists for upcoming session

As lawmakers get ready to consider relaxing the state’s booze regulations, distillers have started to lobby up for the 2017 Legislative Session.  

According to lobbying registration records reviewed Monday, some craft liquor makers have hired or re-hired representation for the upcoming session:

Ron Book and Kelly Mallette, for Florida Distillers of Lake Alfred.

Foley & Lardner’s Christian Caballero, Paul Lowell, Jon Yapo and Jonathan Kilman, for American Freedom Distillery of Tampa.

GrayRobinson’s Jason Unger and Robert Stuart, for the Florida Distillers Guild, the St. Augustine-based trade group.

Republican state Sen. Greg Steube of Sarasota already has filed a bill (SB 166) that would change state law to craft distillers’ benefit. The House companion (HB 141) was filed by state Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, a St. Johns Republican.

One provision in the measure expands how much booze they can produce and still be considered “craft,” raising the limit from 75,000 gallons per year to 250,000 gallons.

Another repeals limits on how many bottles distillers can sell directly to consumers, though it maintains a limit on bottles being no bigger than 1.75 liters.

Until 2013, distillers couldn’t sell any of their product to customers. That year, lawmakers approved a change to state law allowing two bottles to be sold to an individual customer yearly.

The law was changed again to two bottles annually per customer of each brand of liquor that a distiller makes. If a craft distiller produces only one type of liquor, however, four can be sold.

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Ballard Partners will continue repping daily fantasy sports sites

Ballard Partners will continue its representation of daily fantasy sports (DFS) companies into 2017, according to lobbying registration records reviewed Monday.

Brian Ballard and the lobbyists who work for him, including former state Rep. Chris Dorworth, have begun registering their representation for the 2017 Legislative Session, some effective as early as this week.

Chief among those interests are DraftKings and FanDuel, the DFS giants who announced their merger in November. It still requires federal approval.

In the online games, players pick teams of real-life athletes and vie for cash and other prizes based on how those athletes do in actual games.  

Florida struggled with fantasy sports last legislative session, ultimately letting die a measure that would have explicitly legalized online fantasy play.

A 2006 federal law banned online gambling but specifically exempted fantasy sports, paving the way for the creation of the niche industry that’s since exploded in popularity.

But several states continue to grapple with whether the games are mere entertainment or illegal sports betting.

1991 opinion by then-Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth says “operation of a fantasy sports league” violates state gambling law. Such opinions don’t have the force of law, but can be used to persuade judges.

In general, gambling promises to be a hot issue again in 2017, especially as lawmakers are expected to try again to pass some version of a new Seminole Compact.

It’s an agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida to extend exclusive rights to offer “banked card games,” mainly blackjack.

A deal worth $3 billion over seven years died in the 2016 Legislative Session.

It contained provisions that would have allowed the tribe to also offer craps and roulette—that is, more games. And lawmakers tacked on bills that would have expanded gambling offerings for the dog and horse tracks in their districts.

A federal judge recently sided with the tribe, saying the Seminoles can keep dealing cards till 2030 – the end of the original agreement.

But as part of the 2016 legislative tangle, state Sen. Joe Negron, the Stuart Republican who is now Senate President, filed a bill that would have legalized and regulated fantasy sports play in Florida, including a provision to create a new “Office of Amusements.”

Background material from The Associated Press, reprinted with permission. 

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Jim Rosica’s review of top state government stories in 2016

From algebra to Zika, 2016 brought a plethora of material to the Capitol Press Corps. Trying to pick the top state government stories is a subjective pursuit, to say the least, but here are the FloridaPolitics.com picks for the passing year. In (kind of) chronological order:

— Kevin McCarty ousted as state Insurance Commissioner, replaced by David Altmaier

McCarty gave himself the ax in early January, saying he was resigning to pursue “other career opportunities.” The then 56-year-old often took the blame for rising insurance rates in the state, especially when homeowners discovered they would have to pay more in premiums. Gov. Rick Scott had had it in for McCarty for a while; he was among a triumvirate of state officials that Scott forced out the door, including FDLE Commissioner Gerry Bailey and Department of Revenue head Marshall Stranburg. Then Scott and CFO Jeff Atwater deadlocked on McCarty’s replacement. (Under state law, Scott and Atwater first have to agree on one candidate.) Scott backed retired insurance executive Jeffrey Bragg, while Atwater was behind Bill Hager, a state representative and former Iowa Insurance Commissioner. The compromise candidate was David Altmaier, then the Office of Insurance Regulation’s deputy commissioner, who once was a high school algebra teacher. Altmaier was appointed in April.

— Pro-school vouchers rally in Tallahassee; school vouchers ruling

Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., led a march and rally in downtown Tallahassee during the Legislative Session in February, in support of Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship, attracting several thousand participants and spectators. Capitol Police director Chris Connell even sent an advisory to state workers that “organizers are busing in people from around the state and are planning for approximately 10,000 people to attend the rally.” The timing was apt: It was the day after the federal holiday memorializing his father, the slain civil-rights leader. Then in August, the 1st District Court of Appeal sided with a lower court to throw out the lawsuit filed by the Florida Education Association and others over the state’s largest private school voucher program. They had argued its method of funding private-school educations for more than 90,000 schoolchildren is unconstitutional. The vouchers are funded by companies, which in turn receive tax credits on money they owe to the state.

— Rick Scott’s $250 million in incentives nixed by lawmakers

Scott had proposed a “Florida Enterprise Fund,” $250 million for business incentives. “Everyone knows my priorities,” he said close to the end of session. “All of them are tied to getting more jobs in our state. The tax cut is important … along with the $250 million for (the Fund).” But, as Uncle Junior once said of Richie Aprile, “He couldn’t sell it.” An intransigent House, including current House Speaker Richard Corcoran, derided it as corporate welfare. Relentless criticism from groups like Americans for Prosperity-Florida didn’t help either. In the end, Scott’s business recruitment effort got “zero.” And Scott wound up vetoing $256.1 million from the final 2016-17 budget – eerily close to the $250 million he sought for economic development.

— Legislature punts on new Seminole Compact

The history of failure in dealing with gambling continued in the Legislature in 2016. A deal between the state and Seminole Tribe of Florida on exclusive rights to offer blackjack in Florida expired last year, and Scott negotiated a new “compact” guaranteeing blackjack exclusivity in exchange for $3 billion over seven years. The deal died in March when it couldn’t get to either floor for a vote. It contained provisions that would have allowed the tribe to also offer craps and roulette—that is, more games. And lawmakers tacked on bills that would have expanded gambling offerings for the dog and horse tracks in their districts. Legislative leaders say they support bringing the compact back in 2017. But a federal judge recently sided with the tribe in, saying no matter what the Seminoles can keep dealing cards till 2030 – the end of the original agreement – and don’t have to pay the state a dime. Nonetheless, the tribe is still paying to keep a fragile peace, depositing $19.5 million in state coffers this month.

— Rick Scott signs death penalty overhaul into law, which Supreme Court later invalidates 

In March, Scott signed a measure that overhauled Florida’s death penalty by requiring that at least 10 out of 12 jurors recommend an execution for it to be ordered. Florida previously only required that a majority of jurors recommend a death sentence but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the state’s sentencing law was unconstitutional. In 2013, Scott also signed “The Timely Justice Act,” which requires governors to sign death warrants within 30 days after a Death Row prisoner exhausts all appeals, among other provisions. This year’s fix was short-lived: By October, the Florida Supreme Court shot the law down, saying death sentences require a unanimous jury. The court added the new law can no longer be applied to pending prosecutions in the state. Still another decision opened the door to death-sentenced inmates getting their sentences reduced to life. And the opinions mean lawmakers will once again, in the words of Justice Harry Blackmun, have to “tinker with the machinery of death” in 2017.

— Supreme Court decisions punch holes in workers’ comp system

The state’s business lobby had a conniption after the Florida Supreme Court ruled on two cases this summer affecting the state’s workers’ comp system. One struck down a law that limited payments to injured workers to only two years. Another struck down a law that capped attorney fees in workers’ compensation cases. Soon, the National Council on Compensation Insurance, which submits rate filings on behalf of insurers, asked state regulators to OK a nearly 20 percent rate hike in workers’ comp premiums. That request was whittled down to 14.5 percent, which took effect Dec. 1. Opponents have criticized the 2003 changes put in place by Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature, saying they were draconian and favored employers at the cost of injured employees. Companies said the new system cut costs, which helps businesses grow jobs. And the changes also were intended to reduce lawsuits over benefits. Expect lawmakers to tackle this issue as well in 2017.

— Citrus Department gets smaller budget, staff cuts

The citrus greening epidemic, which is killing the state’s citrus trees, also hit the Department of Citrus this year. Normally, the department’s operations are paid for by a tax paid by growers on each box of citrus. But because the state’s citrus crop is shrinking, so are the department’s finances. The Florida Citrus Commission, which oversees the department, in June approved a $20.7 million spending plan for 2016-17, a 32 percent decrease from the prior budget year. That was after leading growers called for the Department to “be scaled back considerably,” saying they “do not believe current marketing programs are generating an economic return.” One bit of good news came by year’s end: Florida’s orange crop production will hold steady at 72 million boxes for the 2016-17 season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasted.

— State economists say budget is heading into the red

In September, the state’s economists told lawmakers Florida is likely to basically break even next year in terms of its state budget. The Joint Legislative Budget Commission met in the Capitol to hear the latest financial outlook for 2017-18: Income and outgo estimates left Florida with a relatively scant $7.5 million left over out of about $32.2 billion in available revenue. And deficits were forecast for following years. The current year’s budget is roughly $82 billion, which includes federal dollars. (About two-thirds of the yearly budget goes toward health care and education.) By December, the outlook was a bit more sanguine, with nearly $142 million expected to be available. Within context, however, that amounts to a “very minor adjustment,” said Amy Baker, the Legislature’s chief economist.

— Scott tussles with Tallahassee over Hurricane Hermine response

Welcome to Tallahassee, where politics meets weather. Hurricane Hermine, the first to make landfall in Florida since Wilma in 2005, smacked the Panhandle on Sept. 2. Afterward, Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee and Republican Gov. Rick Scott had a testy faceoff over the speed of repair to the city’s electric system. Scott said in a press release that the city was declining help from other utilities and the Department of Transportation. He said he was “frustrated” over how long it was taking to get power back on. Gillum shot back that Scott’s “comments and press releases and tweets have been put out, in my opinion, to undermine our cooperative process … We owe it to (the people of Tallahassee) to not be about politics, but to be about getting power to them.” When Hurricane Matthew skimmed Florida’s Atlantic coast the next month, Scott was more solicitous in dealing with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, a former Republican Party of Florida chair.

— Voters pass medical cannabis amendment

The second time was the charm for a state constitutional amendment guaranteeing Floridians a right to medical cannabis. Florida voters approved the initiative by 71 percent, well over the required 60 percent needed. That was two years after it missed passage by roughly 2 ½ percent. The amendment creates a right for people with debilitating medical conditions, as determined by a licensed Florida physician, to use medical marijuana. It defines a debilitating condition as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other disorders. In Florida, the “non-euphoric” version is already approved for children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. The state later passed a law allowing terminally ill patients to use a stronger form of marijuana during their final days. Lawmakers already have begun dealing with how medical marijuana will work in Florida, holding the first of many workshops this month.

— Dozens begin applying for seats on Constitution Revision Commission

The Florida Constitution allows for a “revision commission” to meet every 20 years to “examine the constitution, hold public hearings and … file its proposal, if any, of a revision of this constitution or any part of it.” The next one is scheduled to convene in the 30 days before the beginning of the 2017 Legislative Session in March. The lead-up started in January. That’s when the LeRoy Collins Institute, a nonpartisan policy think tank, released a cartoon featuring an animated Sandy D’Alemberte, the legal legend and former Florida State University president who chaired the commission in 1977-78. Later in the year, scores of constitution-revising aspirants turned in applications to Scott, who gets to pick 15 of the 37 members and will choose its chair. Applications also rolled in to Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, who gets three picks, and Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who get nine choices each. The applicant lists read like a Who’s Who of Florida, old and new, including present and former lawmakers, lawyers and law professors, local officials and lobbyists.

— Richard Corcoran rolls out tough new House rules

The new Speaker, calling for a new culture of transparency in the Florida House, issued new rules in November that get tough with the capital’s lobbying corps. One increases the ban on former members lobbying their colleagues from two years to six years. Another prohibits state representatives from flying in aircraft owned, leased, or otherwise paid for by lobbyists. Still another requires lobbyists to file an individual disclosure for every bill, amendment, and individual appropriation they are trying to influence. And he created a new Committee on Public Integrity and Ethics, which will “consider legislation and exercise oversight on matters relating to the conduct and ethics standards of House members, state and local public officials, public employees, lobbyists, and candidates for public office, the regulation of political fundraising and the constitutional prerogatives of the Legislature.” Lobbyists publicly nodded in agreement – and privately expressed displeasure. “What I take major issue with is trashing ALL lobbyists and accusing us of being the reason legislators are out of control,” one said anonymously. 

— Pitbull controversy ends with VISIT FLORIDA head’s ouster

In December, Scott called on CEO Will Seccombe to resign, the last casualty of a kerfuffle over a secret contract with Miami rapper Pitbull to promote Florida tourism. Corcoran filed suit for the agency to reveal how much it promised the rapper after it claimed the deal was a “trade secret.” Pitbull had the last laugh, disclosing his contract via Twitter and showing he stands to make up to $1 million. Scott wrote to agency board chair William Talbert, telling him he wanted an overhaul of how it does business, revealing more on how it spends money, including contracts. “The notion that Visit Florida spending would not be transparent to the taxpayers is just ridiculous,” Scott wrote. By that point, Seccombe already had fired two of his top executives, Chief Operating Officer Vangie McCorvey and Chief Marketing Officer Paul Phipps, but it wasn’t enough. Seccombe had been in charge of the agency since 2012.

— Department of Health beats Zika–for now

Florida declared its crisis with local transmission of Zika over for the season in December, ahead of peak tourism months. But health authorities warned that travelers would continue bringing the disease into the state. Starting in late July, state health officials had identified four zones in the Miami area where the virus was spreading through local mosquitoes – the first such transmissions in the continental U.S. – and launched aggressive efforts to control the insects. One by one, the zones were deemed clear of continuing infections, and Scott announced that the last one – a 1.5-square-mile area in touristy South Beach – also was cleared. About 250 people have contracted Zika in Florida, and over 980 more Zika infections in the state have been linked to travel, according to state health officials. Zika causes mild flu-like symptoms for most people, but it can cause severe brain-related birth defects when pregnant women become infected. “Hopefully, by next summer, we’ll have a federal government that has a vaccine,” said Scott.

Peter Schorsch, Michael Moline and The Associated Press contributed to this post (reprinted with permission). 

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High-profile Supreme Court cases still hanging fire at year’s end

With the Florida Supreme Court‘s opinion releases on winter break till Jan. 12, several high-profile cases will remain unresolved in 2016.

Here are a few, starting with the court’s official case summary:

— Debaun v. State of Florida: “This case asks whether laws governing sexually transmissible diseases apply only when the parties involved are a man and a woman.”

Gary Debaun is trying to have a charge dismissed under a 1986 law designed to prevent the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus.

The case, argued in February, involves the definition of sexual intercourse in a case involving a gay man charged with not letting a partner know he was HIV-positive.

Lawyers for Debaun 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.

A lower court judge dismissed the charge against Debaun, but an appeals court reinstated it saying the law was clearly intended to include other sexual activity where there is a risk of transmitting the virus.

— Florida Department of Revenue v. DirecTV: “This case challenges a state law that taxes satellite television providers at a higher rate than cable TV.”

The question here is whether satellite-television service be taxed at a higher rate than cable. Oral argument was held in April.

Satellite TV companies, including DirecTV, want the court to uphold the 1st District Court of Appeal’s 2-1 decision last year, which said that taxing the two services differently is unconstitutional. The state’s Revenue Department and Florida’s cable TV industry want it overturned.

At issue is the state’s communications services tax (CST), which charges “direct-to-home satellite service” at a total rate of 11.44 percent. Cable TV, however, is taxed at a total of 7.44 percent. (The state reduced the CST effective last July 1.)

The lower court’s majority ruling held that different tax rates violate the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause because they tend to benefit in-state cable companies over out-of-state satellite companies.

— Gretna Racing v. Department of Business & Professional Regulation: “This case asks whether local voters can authorize the operation of slot machines in counties outside of Dade and Broward.”

A horse track in Gretna, Gadsden County, about 30 miles west of Tallahassee, is asking the court to let it have slot machines because voters approved them in a local referendum in 2012.

If the court rules favorably, it could expand slot machines to counties where voters passed slots referendums: Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, and Washington. That could result in the single biggest gambling expansion in the state.

Marc Dunbar, the track’s attorney told justices 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.

— Norman v. State of Florida: “This case challenges the constitutionality of Florida’s statute restricting the ‘open carry’ of firearms.”

Also in June, the court heard the case of Dale Lee Norman, which could uphold or overturn Florida’s ban on openly carrying a firearm. The National Rifle Association filed a friend-of-the-court brief.

Norman was arrested by Fort Pierce police in February 2012 after having gotten his concealed weapon license earlier that day, according to his initial brief.

“A concerned citizen noticed Mr. Norman’s firearm on his right hip and called police,” the brief said. “The State’s sole allegation in this case is that Mr. Norman carried a firearm conspicuously and openly rather than concealed.”

His attorney, gun-rights activist Eric Friday, said the ban should be stricken because it “infringe(s) on the fundamental individual rights of citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves, their families, and the State.”

The Associated Press contributed to this post, reprinted with permission. 

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