Jim Rosica - 6/106 - 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.

House amends Senate’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ bill

The House on Tuesday began consideration of a Senate bill changing the state’s “stand your ground” law to make it easier to claim self-defense.

But the House soon amended the measure (SB 128) to change the burden of proof to overcome self-defense to “clear and convincing evidence,” a lower threshold than the Senate’s “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The burden would be on “the party seeking to overcome the immunity from criminal prosecution,” usually prosecutors, requiring a separate mini-trial, of sorts.

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz asked Rep. Bobby Payne, a Palatka Republican who’s sponsoring the House version, whether he knew that prosecutors have said that would cost them an extra $8 million a year.

“I think that is a far-reaching estimate,” he said.

Other Democrats continued to be skeptical, at best.

“Would this allow (people) to get away with a crime they would otherwise be prosecuted for?” asked state Rep. Robert Asencio, a Miami-Dade Democrat.

“I don’t believe so,” Payne said. “But those who are truly protecting themselves, and their loved one, should be protected. People should be considered innocent until proven guilty.”

Rep. Jamie Grant, a Tampa Republican, later asked Payne, “Would you agree that your bill is trying to help someone who might be wrongfully arrested, while not making it any easier or having no impact on someone who committed murder and is trying to use a tool that was intended to create more due process for a defendant?”

“Yes, I would agree,” Payne said.

Specifically, the Senate bill—first passed March 15 on a 23-15 vote—would make prosecutors show “that a defendant is not immune from prosecution.” It was sponsored by Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley, an attorney.

It’s in reaction to a state Supreme Court decision that put the onus on the defendant to show self-defense under the stand your ground law, passed in 2005.

The bill, if passed in the House later this week, would have to go back to the Senate.

Court ruling could result in explosion of gambling permits

An appellate court’s ruling promises to further muddy the legal landscape of gambling in Florida.

A 1st District Court of Appeal opinion released Tuesday reversed the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and ordered the reinstatement of a South Florida casino’s application for a new “summer jai alai” permit. The department regulates gambling.

Pari-mutuels, particularly in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, covet such permits because at a minimum they allow a facility to open a cardroom and offer simulcast betting.

The decision promises to result in an wave of new applications, gambling experts say, and comes on the same day the House is scheduled to take up the Senate’s already-passed omnibus gambling legislation for 2017.

The House, which is opposed to allowing more gambling in the state, is expected to amend the Senate bill with its own and go to conference to work out the differences.

The unanimous three-judge panel said the department’s denial of the permit, from West Flagler Associates, “was premised on an insupportable reading” of state law, and reversed.

West Flagler Associates operates Magic City Casino in Miami.

“It’s nice to have a victory, but we’re cautiously optimistic,” said Izzy Havenick, whose family operates the casino and Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Racing & Poker.

He noted that the decision only allows the application to go forward but does not guarantee approval: “Hopefully, they’ll give it to us.”

Havenick said the new facility, which would be in downtown Miami about six miles from Magic City, would employ 300-350 people and offer jai alai, poker, a restaurant and an entertainment venue.

When asked what specific kinds of poker, he threw up his hands. “Whatever’s legal in a given week,” he joked.

He doesn’t yet have a name for the new location or a final development plan: “We stopped planning because we didn’t know what would happen.”

Judges Harvey L. Jay, III, Timothy D. Osterhaus and Allen Winsor concurred in the decision.

“We find that the plain meaning of (state law) creates two separate ways for permittees to obtain a summer jai alai permit and hold that the (DBPR’s) conflation of these two distinct permit opportunities improperly imposed unrelated timing requirements on the ‘new permit’ language,” the opinion said.

“A qualified pari-mutuel permittee ‘may apply to the division to convert its permit to a permit to conduct a summer jai alai fronton’ when its ‘mutuel play from the operation of such parimutuel pools for the (two) consecutive years next prior to filing an application under this section has had the smallest play or total pool within the county,” it added.

beer booze cheers

Bottoms up: Beer, booze bills clear Senate committee

Let freedom pour: Bills aimed at changing beer and booze regulations in Florida have cleared their latest review panel.

The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee OK’d measures that would allow beer distributors to give free branded beer glasses to bars and restaurants, authorize beer companies to advertise in theme parks and let craft distillers sell more bottles directly to consumers.

Sen. Frank Artiles, the Miami-Dade Republican sponsoring the glass bill (SB 1040), told committee members the measure would benefit small businesses who deal with glass theft and breakage. It would allow brewers to provide glassware to distributors, who could then give away the glasses. Now, they must be sold.

MillerCoors and the state’s craft beer lobby continue to oppose the bill, saying deep-pocketed global beer behemoth Anheuser-Busch stands to benefit the most: Each branded glass effectively acts as a passive advertisement for a particular label.

It was approved 6-1, with Democrat José Javier Rodríguez the lone ‘no’ vote.

Another bill (SB 388) by Republican Sen. Travis Hutson of Elkton allows “co-operative advertising” by beer companies in the state’s theme parks. Universal Orlando supports the bill.

The idea behind the measure is to ease the state’s “tied house evil” law by allowing ads, which could include a beer company sponsoring a concert or festival within a park. But some beer representatives privately have complained 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,” said one person, who asked not to be named. “(W)e all feel like we’ll be put over a barrel.”

The bill was cleared 7-0.

The third bill (SB 166), carried by GOP Sen. Greg Steube of Sarasota, would remove a limit on how many bottles distillers can sell directly to consumers, though it requires bottles be no bigger than 1.75 liters. Now, it’s capped at “two bottles per person per brand per year at one location,” he said.

The House version would only expand the limit to six bottles, he noted, in answer to a question from Jacksonville Democrat Audrey Gibson.

But “you can go to Wal-Mart and buy as many shotguns as you want,” he told senators. “I just think the government telling a business how many pieces of product they can sell is archaic. It’s not good public policy.”

The measure was OK’d 6-1, with Gibson the only dissenter.

Pam Bondi’s office to Emily Slosberg: Local government can’t outlaw texting while driving

The Legislature can’t create an exception for Palm Beach County to make texting while driving in a school zone a primary offense there, Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office said in a recent letter.

Slosberg headshot
E. Slosberg

The answer came in response to a question from state Rep. Emily Slosberg, a Boca Raton Democrat elected last year. The informal legal opinion letter, dated Feb. 3, was part of an Attorney General’s Opinions Digest released Monday.

Slosberg wanted to know “whether the Legislature may provide express authority for the Palm Beach County Commission to pass an ordinance making ‘texting while driving’ in a school zone in Palm Beach County a primary offense.”

Nope, said Lagran Saunders, director of Bondi’s Opinions Division. It’s now a secondary offense, meaning a driver has to be pulled over for something else first.

“To enact legislation granting authority to Palm Beach County to solely enact an ordinance making texting while driving in a school zone a primary offense would be contrary to this express legislative intent of a uniform system of traffic regulation and would violate the Florida Constitution,” the letter said.

A December letter from the Palm Beach County Attorney’s Office gave the same opinion.

“It’s all subject to interpretation,” Slosberg said in a phone interview. “I understand the need for uniformity but the danger of putting a phone in the hands of an inexperienced driver is still a deadly combination.”

Emily Slosberg’s twin sister, Dori, died i

State law now makes it a secondary offense to view or send text messages while driving. That means a driver first needs to be pulled over for a different traffic infraction, like speeding or not wearing a seat belt, before law enforcement can issue a texting and driving ticket.

Slosberg filed a bill this year (HB 47) to remove the secondary offense language and increase penalties for someone caught using their device in a school zone. But the legislation has not yet had a hearing.

Her persistence in pushing the measure has earned her the enmity of some in the Palm Beach Legislative Delegation.

State Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat whom the elder Slosberg unsuccessfully challenged in last year’s primary, in December said it wasn’t “a legal local bill, and there shouldn’t ever be any vote held on it.”

“She’s effectively killed her ability to work with anyone in the Legislature,” he added.

As Saunders said at the end of his letter, “You may wish to work with your colleagues in crafting legislation which will allow your concerns to be addressed throughout the state.”

Black clouds loom over this year’s gambling bills

Ed. Note: A version of this story ran previously in Saturday’s “Takeaways from Tallahassee” email.

It’s long been a Capitol cliché, but there are few pronouncements on a piece of legislation as inauspicious as calling something “a heavy lift.”

Saying a bill is “a heavy, heavy lift” sounds even more portending of defeat.

Yet that’s how House Speaker Richard Corcoran referred to the omnibus gambling bills now on their way to conference. They include a new agreement for continued exclusive rights for the Seminole Tribe of Florida to offer blackjack in return for $3 billion over seven years.

“It’s got a long way to go,” the Land O’ Lakes Republican said in a press conference after Thursday’s floor session.

Generally, the House holds the line on gambling expansion; the Senate is open to some expansion, including allowing slot machines at pari-mutuels in counties that approved a slots referendum.

Having blackjack money for the upcoming $80 billion-plus state budget could mean an extra $340 million-$350 million.

“It’s a heavy lift. There’s a reason it hasn’t been passed in decades,” Corcoran said. “But this is the first time, probably that anyone can recall, where you have two bills moving … That puts them in a posture to see where a negotiation goes.

“But I would still say it’s a heavy, heavy lift … We’ll see how it unfolds.”

Another sign: Neither chamber factored gambling revenue share from the Seminole Tribe to the state into their respective budgets, he said.

“I think it’s generally considered an irresponsible budgeting practice to budget money” that you don’t know you have, Corcoran said.

Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who’s the Senate’s point man on gambling, said any gambling revenue—assuming a deal is struck—”would come in at the back end.”

The Senate passed its gambling package (SB 8) Thursday; the House Commerce Committee cleared its bill (HB 7037) later that day. It’s set to be discussed next Tuesday on the House floor.

Galvano, speaking to reporters after the Senate’s floor session, said getting both sides to ‘yes’ won’t be easy.

“I told the members here today that I couldn’t guarantee we’ll ultimately have a final resolution,” he said. The House is “interested in seeing something move …  My conversations with the Seminole Tribe have been positive.”

The Tribe had sent a letter to Corcoran, Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President Joe Negron saying “neither (bill) 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.

When told his warning to his colleagues “sounded ominous,” Galvano said, “I have to manage expectations,” adding the chambers were still “light years ahead of where we’ve ended in the past.”

That is, nowhere. And still in wait is a state Supreme Court decision on whether Florida dog and horse tracks outside South Florida can have slot machines. That could add additional revenue to state coffers, but would cross the Seminoles, who have slots exclusively outside South Florida.

Moreover, a Leon County circuit judge recently ruled that slot-machine looking games known as “pre-reveal” (one example is here) can’t be legally defined as slots.

The Tribe has disagreed, saying such games also violate the existing agreement, the Seminole Compact, between the Seminole and the state. That would entitle them not to pay any more slots money. Galvano said he doesn’t believe the games violate the Compact.

Still, “if we can’t get to where we have the votes in each chamber to pass, then we have to walk away,” he said.

beer glasses

Beer glass bills coming to a head

Free stuff is good, right? Surprisingly, not everyone agrees when it comes to beer glasses.

Bills are moving in the Legislature to allow beer distributors to give away glasses from brewers imprinted with product names and logos to bars and restaurants. Now, they have to be sold.

The House bill (HB 853) was first OK’d by the Careers & Competition Subcommittee last week on a 10-4 vote. Three Democrats and Republican Julio Gonzalez voted against it.

The Senate version (SB 1040) was previously approved in the Regulated Industries Committee 10-zip. It’s up next in the Senate today (Monday) in the Commerce and Tourism Committee.

Stella ArtoisSo what’s the problem? Proponents, including small businesses, say it’ll be a boon to them to cut down on glasses lost from theft and breakage.

Take the often-cited example of the chalice-style glass for Stella Artois, “designed to release the beer’s flavor and aroma.”

That brand is owned by global beer behemoth Anheuser-Busch InBev. And thus the opposition.

Rep. Randy Fine, a Brevard County Republican who supports the measure, nonetheless said the glasses could be “used as an inducement to create anti-competitive behavior, that there will be strings attached.”

Anheuser-Busch might need the boost. Domestic beer sales, taking out craft, were down close to 2 percent from last year, the equivalent of about 40 million cases, according to Beer Institute numbers out last month. And craft beer sales, though still growing, are slowing nationally.

Many Florida craft brewers, though not all, are concerned that they won’t be able to afford to keep up with the stream of Big Beer’s free glasses, which effectively act as passive advertisements for a particular label.

“This is an arms race we can’t compete in,” said Josh Aubuchon, executive director of the Florida Brewers Guild, the state’s craft beer lobby.

Fine offered an amendment, which was tacked on to the House bill, to make sure free glasses “cannot be (used as) part of a quid pro quo.” The House measure also puts a yearly cap on the number of glasses that can be given away gratis.

Earl Benton, CEO of Champion Brands, a Jacksonville beer and beverage distributor, calls it “a terrible bill.” He said it’s a naked power play by Anheuser-Busch to gain market share. He distributes craft and MillerCoors beers, among others.

Regarding a limit, he doesn’t believe there’s any way for state alcoholic beverage regulators to police whether Anheuser-Busch beer distributors “give away three cases or 300 cases.”

“I urge you not to allow it,” Benton told House members. “Keep things competitive for the small brewers … (The bill) is bad for consumers and it’s bad for business.”

Eric Criss, president of the Beer Industry of Florida, the association of Florida’s MillerCoors distributors, even called Anheuser-Busch “the python in the Everglades, eating everything around it.”

Anheuser-Busch lobbyist Jonathan Rees shot back that it was “a brewer-agnostic bill.”

“Tastes have changed; you don’t have two or three brands anymore,” he said. “We’re attempting to change the statute as we see these palates changing.” Ironically, Mitch Rubin, head of the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, which represents Anheuser-Busch distributors, opposes the bill.

Retail groups, such as the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, are all for it. Another press release last week quoted Tallahassee restaurateur Mike Ferrara, longtime owner of Cabos Island Grill and Bar.

“Glassware is a significant cost driver to my small business,” he said. “While I would like to be able to purchase the appropriate glassware to serve the different varieties of beer we have to make my patrons’ visit more exciting and enjoyable, it is simply too costly.”

Like many legislative food fights, the battle for now will continue over whose cost is higher.
generic casino photo

Senate passes 2017 gambling bill

As expected, the Senate on Thursday passed its gambling overhaul for this year, including a renewal of exclusive rights to blackjack games for the Seminole Tribe.

Sen. Bill Galvano, the chamber’s shepherd of this year’s legislation, told fellow lawmakers he couldn’t promise that “we’ll reach a state of resolution” this session.

That said, he expects the House and Senate to go to conference on their respective bills, which are significantly different.

Galvano later told reporters the bill represents $340-350 million in potential revenue for the 2017-18 budget, and this year, every bit helps.

Senate President Joe Negron, in a statement, said he was “pleased” that the bill “honors the will of our fellow citizens in the eight counties that have approved referenda to expand the availability of gaming options.”

Those counties –Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington – approved slot machines through a ballot question.

Below is a Periscope of Galvano answering questions from reporters after Thursday’s Senate floor session:

Alimony legislation dead for 2017, sponsor says

Good news for opponents of this year’s alimony overhaul, and bad news for its supporters: The bills are dead for the year.

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, the Naples Republican who’s carrying the Senate version (SB 412), on Wednesday said the chair of its first committee of reference has refused to hear the bill. Rene Garcia chairs the Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs.

“Chairman Garcia determined that he was not interested in hearing it and I respect that decision,”  Passidomo said. “I don’t think leadership weighed in on it.”

Garcia was not immediately available for comment after Wednesday’s floor session.

Passidomo also noted the House bill (HB 283), sponsored by Lakeland Republican state Rep. Colleen Burton, also has not gotten a hearing. And with House subcommittees wrapping up work this week, that virtually dooms the legislation there.

Burton was unavailable; the House was still in session Wednesday afternoon.

As filed, the bills would have toughened the standards by which alimony is granted and modified. That’s despite unsuccessful tries in the last few years.

In a nutshell: Former spouses who wrote the checks have said permanent alimony in particular, or “forever alimony,” wasn’t fair to them. Their exes have shot back that they shouldn’t be penalized, for example, after staying home to raise the children and then having trouble re-entering the workplace.

Passidomo, an attorney, said this year’s bills were hobbled by a misunderstanding of their effect.

“That was, that you couldn’t get ‘permanent’ alimony (under the bill) but that’s not really true,” she said. “Someone in a longstanding marriage is still going to get alimony permanently if the court awards it.”

Among other things, the current legislation contains a guideline that says judges should consider an ex-spouse’s “services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party” when calculating an alimony award.

A judge can go outside the suggested alimony amount under the bill “only if the court considers all of the factors … and makes specific written findings concerning the relevant factors that justify” the deviation.

“This bill would have gone a long way in curtailing some of the gamesmanship” in fighting for and against alimony in court, Passidomo said. “Somebody who is entitled to alimony should get it and the person who needs to pay it should pay it. I’ve never believed in changing that.”

Passidomo said she plans to file the bill again next year.

generic public meeting art

Progressive groups slam constitutional rewrite panel’s ‘lack of transparency’

A coalition of progressive interests, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, on Wednesday chided the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) for leaving the public in the dust—and in the dark.

A CRC spokeswoman, however, later said its “No. 1 priority is to ensure that the public is actively involved and engaged.”

Pamela Goodman, the League’s president in Florida, spoke at a news conference on the steps of the old Capitol in Tallahassee.

The commission, which meets every 20 years to review and suggest rewrites to the state’s governing document, was throwing up “roadblocks to public engagement,” Goodman said. The first public hearing is Wednesday night in Orlando.

For instance, “the rushed actions of the CRC to date cause us to question how public participation and transparency will be taken,” said Goodman, the former president and CEO of the Limited Express clothing retailer.

The commission “meets for approximately one year, traveling the State of Florida, identifying issues, performing research, and possibly recommending changes to the Constitution,” its website says.

Its first public meeting, March 20 in Tallahassee, “was planned and commissioners were notified weeks in advance, but that meeting was not announced to the public until late afternoon of the Thursday before,” Goodman said.

“How can Floridians trust the (commission’s) intentions when no respect is shown for our need and right to have full notice of and access to everything that happens in the process?” she added.

Meredith Beatrice, the commission’s spokeswoman, said Chairman Carlos Beruff‘s “top priority is ensuring the public is involved and engaged in this short process.”

Another criticism was that the panel was beginning public hearings across the state during the 2017 Legislative Session: Five commissioners are current lawmakers and need to be in Tallahassee.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who appointed all those members, said Beruff immediately “disenfranchise(d) one sixth” of his panel. “I don’t think that is a good start,” he told reporters earlier this month.

Beruff is “working to … maximize both commissioner participation and public input,” Beatrice said.

The Orlando hearing “was publicly noticed over a week ago on multiple platforms (and) Chair Beruff announced it” at the organization meeting in Tallahassee, she added. 

Notice of future meetings will be made public 1-2 weeks prior, all will be broadcast by The Florida Channel, and court reporters will transcribe each hearing, Beatrice said.

“Our top priority now is to hit the road and start talking to Floridians,” she said, adding that they soon will be able to submit their own proposals and comments through the commission’s website.

Any amendments the commission proposes would go on the 2018 general election ballot, and have to get 60 percent approval by voters to be added to the Constitution.

Other groups represented at Wednesday’s event included Common Cause and Florida Conservation Voters.

Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee’s mission: To keep the world from ‘spoiling’

Now that he’s dispensed with the possibility of running for political office again, former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says he just wants to be a cultural “preservative.”

Huckabee – a Christian minister, former Arkansas governor and now Walton County resident – spoke to reporters before his appearance at Wednesday’s Legislative Prayer Breakfast in Tallahassee.

Huckabee ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and 2016. His daughter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, now is deputy White House press secretary for President Donald Trump.

Earlier this week, at the Okaloosa County Republican Party’s Lincoln Dinner, he batted down continued rumors of another run for elective office, including Florida governor.

“Let me be real clear — it ain’t me,” Huckabee said, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. “There is a greater likelihood that I will have transgender surgery than I will run for the governor of any state, at any time, or anything, anywhere. It ain’t happening.”

On Wednesday, he referred to a passage in Matthew in which Jesus tells his followers they are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.”

“We seek to have an influence and a preservative effect on the culture,” he said. “Salt in the first century was a preservative. It’s how things were kept from spoiling … there were no Yeti coolers.

“When Jesus told us that, what he meant was, if the world is rotting, putrefying, spoiling, you’re supposed to keep that from happening,” Huckabee said. “It’s not the secular world’s fault that things are going astray, it’s our fault. If the salt isn’t doing its purpose, to preserve, then things will get worse.

“The burden is not on the people who do not embrace the Gospel; the burden is on those of us who do.”

Indeed, the problem in his view is that “Christian believers are not doing enough … It’s not one or two issues, it should mean that in every aspect of our lives, everything we do is changed through our relationship with Christ.

“If we’re not consistent, I can see why people would be cynical and say, ‘if that’s what it means to be a believer, to treat people with indignities, then I don’t want any part of it,’ ” he added. “And that’s the challenge.”

For instance, the biblical perspective “means there is no such thing as an expendable person, as a person who is disposable,” he said. “Every life is sacred … We shouldn’t put a higher value on the captain of the football team than a child with Down syndrome.”

Attending a VIP reception before the breakfast was Agriculture Commissioner and likely 2018 GOP gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, Republican state Sens. Keith Perry and Dennis Baxley, and conservative Florida Supreme Court justices Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson.

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