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Seminole Compact, other gambling issues expected to be top priority in House Commerce committee

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The House Commerce Committee is poised to tackle everything from assignment of benefits to economic incentives, but it’s the most narrowly defined subcommittee that could be the busiest in the months leading up to, and during, the 2017 Legislative Session.

The full House Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, met Tuesday morning to get an overview of topics expected to come up in the upcoming 60-day legislative session.

“So it begins,” said Diaz. “We’re going to be busy. We will be dealing with some of the weightiest issues of the state.”

While each of the subcommittees laid out what could be considered jam-packed agendas, Rep. Mike La Rosa, chairman of the Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee, outlined an aggressive schedule largely focused on gambling in Florida.

The subcommittee will spend the next few weeks tackling different aspects of the industry, looking first at the Seminole Compact. The subcommittee is scheduled to hold a two-hour panel discussion Thursday to discuss issues relating to the Seminole Compact.

A federal court judge in November sided with the Seminole Tribe saying the state broke its exclusivity deal with the tribe allowing it to keep blackjack tables until 2030.

“With everything we did last year, we thought we were going to be able to pass a bill, but it didn’t get across the finish line,” said Diaz. “We feel like the opportunity to negotiate (is still there). We’re having negotiations with the Senate, and we’ll pass a compact or bill that’s in the best interests of the citizens of Florida that invests money in the right places.”

Diaz said the Legislature is still “in the early stages of conversation,” but warned the end of session will be here before lawmakers know it.

“If you have concerns with the compact, if you want to make sure (issues are) addressed, now is the time to have the conversation,” he said.

The compact isn’t the only issue the Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee will tackle. La Rosa said he expects the committee to discuss slot machines, decoupling, and online fantasy sports. The committee might also take up destination resort casinos, a constitutional amendment restricting the expansion of gambling, and whether to establish a statewide gaming commission.

La Rosa said members will be tasked with addressing concerns about VISIT Florida, which falls under the committee’s responsibilities. The agency has recently faced criticism about the way it handled a secret marketing contract worth up to $1 million with Pitbull.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran filed suit to force the Miami superstar to disclose the contents of his contract. Pitbull released the details of his contract on Twitter one day later.

The controversy led to the firing of two top VISIT Florida officials, and Gov. Rick Scott called for former CEO Will Seccombe’s resignation. The organization’s board of directors on Tuesday agreed to pay Seccombe, $73,000 as part of a severance agreement.

On Tuesday, Scott announced Ken Lawson, the former Secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, would take the helm of agency.

“Ken understands the responsibility we have to be transparent with every tax dollar. He has tirelessly fought to make it easier for Florida businesses to create jobs, has helped cut millions of dollars in fees and has streamlined the agency to ensure the state reduced burdensome regulations,” said Scott in a statement. “A native Floridian and military veteran, Ken has an incredible appreciation and understanding for our great state. I know he will use his unmatched experience and love for Florida to promote tourism while bringing much needed reforms to VISIT FLORIDA so our state can break even more tourism records.”

The House Commerce Committee and its subcommittees are also expected to take up assignment of benefits, personal injury protection insurance, economic incentives, and deregulation during the 2017 Legislative Session.

_The Associated Press contributed to this report, with permission.

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