Jim Rosica - 6/100 - 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.
TRUMP TAJ MAHAL

Seminole Tribe buys former Trump Taj Mahal casino in NJ

The Seminole Tribe of Florida is expanding its gambling holdings to the Garden State.

Hard Rock International, which the Tribe controls, Wednesday announced it had bought the shuttered Trump Taj Mahal casino on Atlantic City’s famed boardwalk from billionaire Carl Icahn. The deal includes two New Jersey investors.

The sale comes four months after Icahn closed it amid a crippling strike. A sale price was not disclosed.

The Tribe operates the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casinos in Tampa and Hollywood.

“We are excited to be part of this revitalization of Atlantic City creating thousands of jobs to help local employment,” Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International and and Seminole Gaming CEO, said in a statement.

“We are 100 percent convinced Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City will be a success,” he added.

Hard Rock International, which will be majority owner, is in partnership with the Morris and Jingoli families of New Jersey. The investment group said they “will invest more than $300 million to purchase, substantially renovate and re-open the casino,” according to the statement.

The Tribe last year consolidated its control over the rock ‘n’ roll-themed Hard Rock hotel and casino brand, buying out remaining rights from the owner-operator of Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

President Donald Trump opened the Trump Taj Mahal casino in 1990 but lost control of it in a bankruptcy filing. Icahn bought it last year from a separate bankruptcy, but closed it in October amid a strike by its main casino workers’ union seeking restoration of employee health insurance and pension benefits that Icahn deemed unaffordable.

Icahn, who also owns Atlantic City’s Tropicana, said he only wanted to operate one casino in town. He’s still trying to sell the also closed former Trump Plaza casino, also closed.

The Morris family, led by Edgewood Properties CEO Jack Morris, has experience in redeveloping gambling properties. Edgewood led the redevelopment of Cherry Hill, New Jersey’s former Garden State Park racetrack into a mixed-use “town center” with retail and residences.

Firms controlled by the Jingoli family “specialize … in industrial, health care, education and gaming,” the statement said.

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

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Greg Steube files illegal immigration criminalization measure

Anyone ordered out of the country and later found in Florida could be charged with a crime under legislation filed Wednesday in the Florida Senate.

The bill (SB 1358), sponsored by Sarasota Republican Greg Steube, would create a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in state prison.

The proposal would apply to anyone who “is denied admission to, is excluded, deported, or removed from, or who departs the United States while an order of exclusion, deportation, or removal is outstanding and thereafter enters or is at any time found in the state.”

It creates an exception for those who can show that the federal government “consents to his or her admission or the person can establish that federal law does not require advance consent,” the bill says.

A voicemail seeking comment from Steube was left Wednesday.

Now, being in the country unlawfully is not a crime under federal law unless someone is deported and then returns without authorization, said Mark Schlakman, senior program director with the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights.

Questions of its constitutionality aside, he said, its “practical implication … would disproportionately burden Florida taxpayers for what would otherwise be a federal responsibility.”

Stuebe, a former House member and first-term senator, already has filed a number of controversial bills for the 2017 Legislative Session, including gun- and public records-related measures.

He also filed a bill (SB 82) that would undo a 2014 state law granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students, known as DREAMers. It stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, federal legislation that has not been passed.

DREAMers are children who entered the U.S. illegally but allowed to stay under an Obama administration initiative called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

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Letter: Feds may not have approved new Seminole Compact

The nation’s top Indian gambling regulator last year told the Seminole Tribe of Florida that the federal government would be “hard-pressed” to approve its new blackjack agreement with the state.

The tribe on Tuesday disclosed the June 2016 letter from Paula L. Hart, director of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Indian Gaming, as an attachment to its own letter this week to Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders. (The letters are here.)

Tribal Chairman Marcellus Osceola told the state that this year’s gambling legislation “neither would satisfy the requirements of federal law nor satisfy fundamental tribal concerns” and called them “not acceptable.”

The tribe’s concern was that it would be financially squeezed by the Legislature’s current proposals without getting enough in return. It offers blackjack at five of its seven casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tampa.

The Hart letter also confirmed a warning that Barry Richard, the tribe’s outside counsel, gave three years ago.

In a March 2014 interview with the Tampa Tribune, he explained that the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act prohibited tribes from paying states more than the cost of gambling regulation.

The Interior Department later interpreted the law to mean that a tribe may give a cut to a state in return for exclusive rights to a game, but the amount a tribe pays has to be a “fair value” for the exclusivity it’s getting, he said. 

Richard told the newspaper the feds will reject a deal if they think a tribe is paying more than the deal is worth: “(Their) message has been, ‘don’t push us on this,’ ” he said.

Hart later echoed Richard’s position when she discussed last year’s gambling bills, saying their gambling expansion provisions “dilute” the renewed compact that granted the Seminoles exclusive rights to blackjack in return for $3 billion over seven years.

“We would be hard-pressed to envision a scenario where we could lawfully approve or otherwise allow a compact to go into effect that calls for increased revenue sharing and reductions in existing exclusivity,” she wrote.

Fast forward to this year, with bills that contain many of the same proposals as last year, including expanding the availability of slot machines and card games.

“The Senate bill would require the same higher payments … (and) would add numerous additional exceptions to the Tribe’s exclusivity while broadly expanding gaming in Florida,” Osceola told Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“The House bill is less objectionable in that it does not propose as many new exceptions,” but it too “proposes major increases in the Tribe’s payments … without providing the necessary additional value.”

Osceola concluded by saying he was still willing “to work out a mutually beneficial agreement.” The 2017 Legislative Session starts next Tuesday.

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House splitting legislation on incentives, tourism funding

In a letter to fellow members, state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz says House leadership now is planning to bifurcate its legislation to eliminate Enterprise Florida and to overhaul VISIT FLORIDA.

The Senate, however, so far still intends to keep Enterprise Florida as part of its economic development tool chest.

On Monday, Diaz – the Miami-Dade Republican who chairs the House Commerce Committee – wrote an email titled “Accountability – Everyone is for it, Right? We’ll see…” about his chamber’s proposal (HB 7005).

“We have heard from members and stakeholders that they would prefer if Enterprise Florida and VISIT FLORIDA were addressed in separate bills,” he wrote. “Dividing the issues into separate bills allows for more engaged and meaningful debate while putting VISIT FLORIDA on a path to real reform.”

Originally, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, aimed to abolish both the state’s economic development organization, dispenser of many of the state’s business incentives, and its tourism marketing agency, both public-private endeavors.

The speaker 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.

But Corcoran later decided to salvage the tourism agency from the legislative wrecking ball, though stripping it down to a bare $25 million yearly budget from nearly $80 million.

As is, the combined bill cleared its review panels and was ready to be considered by the full House when the 2017 Legislative Session begins March 7.

Its sponsor, Republican Paul Renner of Palm Coast, has instead filed new legislation (HB 9) that addresses VISIT FLORIDA on its own. It will first be heard March 6 by the Rules & Policy Committee, the House website shows.

It “contains the accountability and oversight provisions introduced last week,” Diaz said. “The bill also tightens private matching requirements and clarifies that VISIT FLORIDA funding will be addressed in the budget.

“HB 7005 will also be amended in the Rules and Policy Committee to focus solely on Enterprise Florida and other economic development programs,” he added.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development, last week filed his own economic development legislation.

It would leave VISIT FLORIDA alone, and overhaul but not get rid of Enterprise Florida and incentive programs.

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Blackjack appeal now headed to mediation

An appeal to a federal judge’s ruling allowing the Seminole Tribe to keep offering blackjack at its Florida casinos now has been scheduled for an April 11 mediation, court dockets show.

The state’s lawyers had asked the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for more time to file their initial brief in the appeal.

But they withdrew that request upon learning that a mediation conference had been set at the Kinnard Mediation Center.

The state “learned that … the parties could obtain appropriate extensions of time to file briefs from the mediator,” wrote attorney J. Carter Andersen of the Bush Ross firm, which is representing the state.

“Counsel consulted with the (Tribe’s attorneys) regarding this motion, and (they do) not object to the requested relief,” he wrote.

Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in November had ruled that regulators working under Gov. Rick Scott allowed select Florida dog and horse tracks to offer card games that were too similar to 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, however, wanted Hinkle to instead order the tribe to remove the games because a blackjack provision in an agreement between the state and tribe expired in 2015.

Gambling legislation has again been filed in both chambers of the Legislature this year.

While the bills differ by expanding or contracting gambling, both included a new blackjack deal worth $3 billion over seven years in revenue share to the state. Negotiated by Scott last year, it previously failed to gain approval from lawmakers.

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House also files short witness list for Lottery trial

The House of Representatives’ in-house lawyer also plans to call just two witnesses at trial in Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s lawsuit against the Florida Lottery.

House general counsel Adam Tanenbaum‘s witness list was posted in court dockets Monday.

Barry Richard, the Lottery’s outside lawyer, similarly said he plans to call only two witnesses. A non-jury trial is scheduled for March 6.

The speaker sued the agency, which reports to Gov. Rick Scott, saying it was guilty of “wasteful and improper spending” for signing a multiple-year, $700 million contract for new equipment from International Game Technology (IGT).

Tanenbaum listed JoAnne Leznoff, staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, and Bruce Topp, budget chief for the Government Operation and Technology Appropriations Subcommittee.

Both started working for the House in November 2006, House records show.

Leznoff, among other things, will testify as to the history of the Lottery’s budget requests, while Topp will talk about the agency’s “fiscal policy” and “communications” between House and Lottery staff about the IGT contract.

Corcoran says the Lottery can’t sign “a contract that spends beyond existing budget limitations.”

The deal with IGT is for an initial 10-year period, and the Lottery exercised the first of its three available three-year renewal options.

Richard has countered that the Legislature cannot “micromanage individual contracts” and noted that the state’s “invitation to negotiate” for the contract discloses that any deal would be contingent on “an annual appropriation” from lawmakers. In fact, he adds, such a disclosure is required under state law.

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Richard Corcoran, Rick Scott still holding on constitutional panel picks

With the 2017 Legislative Session fast approaching, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott still have not released their appointees for the upcoming Constitution Revision Commission.

It’s the panel that meets every 20 years to suggest rewrites and additions to the state’s governing document.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Senate President Joe Negron have already announced their combined 12 picks. (Those appointments are here and here.)

Corcoran last week said he planned to disclose his nine picks next Monday, the day before Session begins. Scott’s office has not said when he plans to announce his 15 selections. His received applications can be seen here.

The state constitution says the commission must be “established … within (30) days before the convening of the 2017 regular session of the legislature.”

The “commission shall convene at the call of its chair, adopt its rules of procedure, examine the constitution of the state, hold public hearings, and, not later than one hundred eighty days prior to the next general election, file … its proposal, if any, of a revision of this constitution or any part of it,” it says.

As governor, Scott will choose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and he also selects its chairperson. Corcoran, as House Speaker, gets nine picks, as does Negron as head of the Senate.

Republican Pam Bondi is automatically a member as the state’s Attorney General.

The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this will be the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans, virtually ensuring it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.

The nonprofit Partnership for Revising Florida’s Constitution has suggested several issues the commission could address this year, including transportation, natural resources, crime and justice, representation, and “youth, elderly & the underserved.”

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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Lottery plans lean case against lawsuit

The Florida Lottery’s outside lawyer plans to call only two witnesses at trial in the lawsuit filed against it by House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

According to court filings, attorney Barry Richard listed Summer Sylvestri, the Lottery’s procurement director, and Michael Manley, its deputy chief of staff and legislative affairs director.

A non-jury trial is scheduled for March 6.

The speaker sued the agency, which reports to Gov. Rick Scott, saying it was guilty of “wasteful and improper spending” for signing a multiple-year, $700 million deal for new equipment.

Corcoran says the Lottery can’t sign “a contract that spends beyond existing budget limitations.”

Richard has countered that the Legislature cannot “micromanage individual contracts” and noted that the state’s “invitation to negotiate” leading to the contract discloses any deal would be contingent on “an annual appropriation” from lawmakers.

In fact, he adds, such a disclosure is required under state law.

Sylvestri will testify on “why it is important for the Lottery to contract with vendors prior to appropriation of money.”

She’ll also discuss why “the Lottery enters into multi-year contracts generally, and the basis for the decision to make the Contract multi-year.”

Manley will talk about the “importance of the Lottery being able to execute contracts … prior to receiving appropriations.”

And, according to Richard’s filing, he will testify on the “history of the Legislature’s awareness of the Lottery executing multiyear contracts and of the Legislature funding such contracts annually.”

The deal in question with International Game Technology (IGT) will provide the Lottery with an array of new equipment. The contract is for an initial 10-year period, and the Lottery exercised the first of its three available three-year renewal options.

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Anitere Flores wants to replace one tax cut with another

In a move sure to ire the insurance industry, state Sen. Anitere Flores is proposing a cut in the state tax on mobile phone and satellite and cable TV service by repealing a tax break to insurers.

Flores, the Senate President pro Tempore, on Friday said she was filing legislation (SB 378) to swap the insurance break for a 2 percent reduction in the state’s communications services tax (CST). The proposal is a priority of Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican.

The move also aligns with Gov. Rick Scott‘s and the Florida House’s appetite for continued tax relief. Flores’ proposal “could provide $300 million in recurring tax relief for families and businesses,” according to a news release.

“Florida’s CST is one of the highest in the nation,” said Flores, a Miami-Dade Republican. “In 2015, we made great progress by permanently reducing Florida’s CST by 1.73 percent. This year, we can reduce this burdensome tax even further and provide additional monthly savings to every Floridian with a cell phone or cable or satellite TV.”

The state’s communications services tax 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 on that two years ago.

In 2013, Negron tried to get rid of the now 30-year-old tax break to insurance companies, at the time was worth around $225 million, to decrease automobile fees.

The insurance industry helped kill that effort in the House. Fees were later reduced without scuttling the tax break.

But Negron earlier this year said he was again looking to eliminate the insurance deal this year, a 15 percent tax credit on the salaries that insurers give their full-time workers here in the state. “The same benefit is not provided for other industries.” he said in a statement.

“When originally put in place thirty years ago, this taxpayer-funded subsidy for insurance companies was well intentioned, but times have changed and we need to reprioritize,” Negron said. “We can take the revenue we save from eliminating a tax credit that only benefits one industry and use it to provide a meaningful, monthly, and permanent tax cut for Florida’s families and businesses.”

We’ll add reaction from the state’s insurers when we receive it.

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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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