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Sunburn for 4.27.17 – Gambling bill negotiations; Gov. is back; Vic Torres OK after crash; John Legg’s new role

in Peter/Top Headlines by

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

FIRST AND FOREMOST: Congratulations to Erin and James Ballas on the birth of their daughter, Dayton Jane, who was, of course, born on Erin’s favorite day of Session – Lilly Pulitzer Day in the Capitol.


Negotiations for a 2017-18 state budget may be mired, but talks to finalize a gambling bill for the year keep zipping along.

The Conference Committee on Gaming sent out a notice Wednesday for a meeting 9 a.m. Thursday, at which the Senate is expected to respond to the House offer.

As of Wednesday night, the best guesses are that the next Senate offer will include:

— Confining licenses for two new slot machine facilities to Miami-Dade County,

— Sticking to their guns on allowing the expansion of slots to those counties that approved them in local referendums, and

— Tweaking the language on designated-player games to make it more favorable to the cardrooms.

Designated-player games are a hybrid between blackjack and poker, where the bank is supposed to revolve among the players.

But regulators have said card rooms were flouting state law by allowing third-party companies to buy their way into the games, using a worker to act as a virtual bank—or “button”—that rarely or never rotated. That amounted to a sham, one judge determined.

“What we want to avoid is a scenario where there really isn’t an open game where everybody can participate,” said state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the vice-chair of the conference committee. “We would like to see that ‘button’ move.”

Otherwise, the card game plays too much like blackjack, which violates the promise of exclusivity to the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

That’s what caused a federal judge to rule that the state’s OK of non-tribal card rooms at dog and horse tracks offering designated-player games broke the exclusive rights to blackjack promised to the Seminoles in 2010.

Despite the blackjack provision expiring in 2015, the judge allowed the Tribe to keep its blackjack tables because of the broken promise.

Other gambling concerns puzzle over the first Senate offer’s position on bingo, which would “authorize park and recreational districts created as independent special districts to conduct bingo and instant bingo.”

“I’m surprised no one has keyed in on the bingo language and what that could mean for the state and the compact,” one consultant said.

And still not addressed is the issue of “summer jai alai permits,” which can allow hotels to open cardrooms and possibly slots.

“That will be addressed at some point,” said state Sen. Bill Galvano, the conference committee’s chair. “I may have that in my next offer.”

YESTERDAY’S MOVEMENT – HOUSE TAKES GIANT STEPS IN GAMBLING NEGOTIATION via Florida PoliticsThe House made several major offers Wednesday to get a gambling deal done this session, including authorizing decoupling for dog and horse tracks if county voters OK it in a local referendum. House and Senate negotiators met in the morning in their ongoing effort to agree on an omnibus gambling bill for 2017, including an agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to continue blackjack exclusivity in exchange for $3 billion over seven years. State law requires dog and horse tracks to run live races if they wish to offer other gambling such as cardrooms. Getting rid of that requirement is known as decoupling.

WHAT JOHN SOWINSKI IS READING: “Opposition mounts in Miami to new plan for casino via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald

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FROM ARGENTINA, RICK SCOTT KEEPS UP THE CHATTER FOR ECONOMIC INCENTIVES via Florida Politics –  Gov. Rick Scott, while on a trade mission to Argentina, urged the Florida Legislature Wednesday to include his economic incentives programs when finalizing the next state budget. “Lawmakers cannot be shortsighted at the expense of Florida families by cutting funds for tourism marketing and economic development,” Scott said in a written statement distributed by his office. “I would be absolutely shocked if politicians in the Florida Legislature put their self-interests before the interests of our families and small businesses,” he wrote. … It was the second time in as many days that Scott has spoken up for his economic development programs. Tuesday, his office distributed a letter from Division of Bond Finance director Ben Watkins to the House and Senate budget chairmen, warning that cutting Visit Florida could damage the state’s credit rating.

SCOTT WARNS OF HIT TO STATE REVENUES via Florida Politics – Gov. Scott has issued another missive urging full financial support for Visit Florida. This one is a memo written to Scott by Christian Weiss, in-house economist to the governor, who warns that cutting the tourism-development program by $50 million — as House and Senate budget negotiators are considering doing — would result in a $210 million decline in state revenues. Two thirds of that would comprise sales tax receipts to the state, Weiss wrote; the rest, in sales tax distributions to local governments and gas, rental car, and other taxes. …  Nearly 113 million tourists visited the state in 2016, Weiss notes — a nearly 6 percent increase over 2015, and the sixth straight record-setting year. They spent $109 billion here.

HAPPENING TODAY – SCOTT MEETS WITH LAWMAKERS — Gov. Scott returns from his trade mission to Argentina today, and has several meetings scheduled with lawmakers scheduled for the afternoon. The Naples Republican will kick off his whirlwind afternoon of meetings at noon with a meeting with Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, before meeting Sen. Rene Garcia at 12:15 p.m. At 12:30 p.m., Scott is scheduled to meet with Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, followed by a meeting with Sen. Jack Latvala at 12:45 p.m. and Sen. Rob Bradley at 1 p.m. He’ll then chat with Sen. Anitere Flores at 1:15 p.m., Sen. Bill Galvano at 1:30 p.m., Majority Leader Wilton Simpson at 1:45 p.m., and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto at 2 p.m. He’ll meet with Sen. David Simmons at 2:15 p.m., before meeting with Rep. Scott Plakon, the lone member of the House on his schedule, at 3:30 p.m.

HOUSE SPEAKER SAID HORSE-TRADING YIELDS ‘BAD POLICY.’ NOW, IT’S OK – SOMETIMES via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – When Senate President Negron and House Speaker Corcoran were asked two months ago if their legislative priorities in higher education and K-12 public schools, respectively, would end up becoming bargaining chips this session, Negron wouldn’t rule it out. But Corcoran offered a definitive response: “No.” And he’s now backing away from that — and making a key distinction — as the two chamber leaders have, indeed, agreed to horse-trade significant education policy in budget talks to ensure they get their priorities into law before the scheduled end of session May 5. “The process always works best when both of them — to the extent that they agree that those are good policies — move forward,” he said.


VICTOR TORRES, WIFE CARMEN TORRES, RECOVERING AFTER CAR CRASH via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising – Orlando Democratic State Sen. Torres and his wife were injured in a car crash in Tallahassee but have been released from the hospital. The three-car crash – with the Torres’ in the middle – occurred early Wednesday right in front of the Capitol Building, at the corner of Apalachee Parkway and Calhoun Street, said their daughter, state Rep. Amy Mercado … “They are OK,” Mercado said. “Obviously, they are going to have a little pain, but they are good.”

LAWMAKERS AGREE TO PAY SURVIVING BARAHONA VICTIM $3.75 MILLION via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – … and sent the bill to the governor for his signature. Victor Barahona, the surviving twin brother of Nubia Barahona, would receive the money as part of a legal settlement with the Department of Children and Families, which admitted negligence after Victor was found near death and covered with pesticides alongside his sister’s decomposing body along I-95 in Palm Beach County in 2011. They were 10 years old and in the custody of their adoptive parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, who have been charged with murder. “They would tie them up, beat them, smear feces on their face,” said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz sponsor of the House bill, HB 6523, which was approved 114-2. The Senate had already passed SB 18 in a 37-0 vote. He described the abuse as “the most horrible, atrocious thing you can imagine.” The Florida Department of Children and Families “had many red flags they did not pay attention to,” he said.

LEGISLATURE VOTES TO TEAR DOWN THE ‘LIQUOR WALL’ via Florida PoliticsThe House, on a by-a-nose vote of 58-57, Wednesday passed the Senate’s bill (SB 106) to allow retailers, at least those who choose to do so, to remove the ‘wall of separation’ between hard liquor and other goods. The legislation now heads to Gov. Scott. If signed into law, the state will end 82 years of mandating that retailers sell distilled spirits in a separate store from other items. Beer and wine now can be sold in grocery aisles in Florida. But opponents said their veto campaign has already begun, starting with an argument that the bill will be a “job killer”—a term sure to catch in the jobs governor’s ear.


— Rep. Cyndi Stevenson said she would have voted against the bill but missed the vote after leaving the room to work on an amendment to a separate measure she sponsored that relates to craft distilleries.

— Rep. Barrington Russell voted “yes” at first but later said he meant to vote “no.” Legislative rules allow members to submit or change votes after the fact, but it has no impact on the official tally.

— Reps. Mike Bileca and Cary Pigman also missed Wednesday’s vote and logged “no” votes afterward. Rep. Emily Slosberg also did not cast a vote despite being present on the floor at other times.

HAPPENING LATE WEDNESDAY – MEDICAL MARIJUANA AMENDMENT NARROWS GAP BETWEEN HOUSE, SENATE BILLS – An amendment filed by House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues allows for edibles and vaping, and cuts the 90-day requirement of the relationship between patients and doctors before recommending medical marijuana. However, differences remain, including regulations on the number of companies that can obtain licenses and limits on retail outlets. The Senate version allows five more “medical marijuana treatment centers” in the first year, with four more for every 75,000 registered patients. The House does not allow any immediate expansion, increasing the number of treatment centers by five, limiting those to companies that had unsuccessfully bid on a license, and only after the registry reaches 150,000 patients. Five more centers can be opened after 200,000 patients, with three for every 100,000 patients thereafter.

CRAFT DISTILLERY BILL PUT ON HOLD, THEN PASSED via Florida PoliticsA bill to allow craft distillers to sell more product directly to customers was set for a final vote Wednesday, was instead “temporarily postponed,” then finally voted out later in the day. The House eventually passed the measure (HB 141) by a 114-2 vote. … (The) measure would let distillers sell up to six bottles of spirits per customer in a given year. Now, they may sell two bottles.

— “Florida loves its booze, but not its medical marijuana” via John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times

HOUSE PASSES INCREASED HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION MEASURE via Florida PoliticsVoters next year could decide whether to approve a measure that would amount to a reduction in their property tax. The House on Wednesday passed a measure (HJR 7105) on a 81-35 vote to increase the current $25,000 homestead exemption. The language “increas(es) the homestead exemption by exempting the assessed valuation of homestead property greater than $75,000 and up to $100,000,” it says. Democrats, however, warned that cutting taxes meant less money to fund critical local services like police and fire. It wouldn’t affect taxes to fund local public schools.

HOUSE VOTES TO SHIELD COLLEGE OFFICIAL SEARCHES FROM SUNSHINE via Florida PoliticsJob searches for the top officials of the state’s public universities would be shrouded in secrecy under a bill passed Wednesday by the Florida House. House members OK’d the measure (HB 351) 103-11. But its reception in the Senate is unclear: With less than two weeks left in session, a companion bill (SB 478) has not had a hearing. The legislation would maintain the privacy of candidates who apply for positions of “president, vice president, provost, or dean of a state university or Florida College System institution.”

SENATE VOTES APOLOGY FOR ABUSE AT DOZIER SCHOOL FOR BOYS via Florida Politics – The Senate voted, 35-0, Wednesday to apologize for decades of abuse at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and Florida Schools for Boys at Okeechobee. Addressing 14 middle-aged and elderly survivors viewing from the Senate gallery, Sen. Daryl Rouson said: “We say to you, we apologize. We are sorry.” The House voted to apologize on April 18. CS/SR 1440 details the history of physical, mental, and sexual abuse by school staff from the 1940s through the 1960s. A forensic examination conducted between 2013 and 2016 uncovered at least 55 burial sites at Dozier, 24 more than records indicated.


HOUSE APPROVES ASSIGNMENT OF BENEFITS REFORM LEGISLATION via Florida Politics – Assignment of benefits reforms ardently sought by the insurance industry and business passed the Florida House Wednesday on a vote of 91-26. A spokeswoman for the Consumer Protection Coalition, a business-oriented lobby aligned with the Florida Chamber of Commerce, immediately praised the action. “The House’s action is a big step toward ending costly AOB abuse and protecting Florida’s homeowners and businesses,” chamber spokeswoman Edie Ousley said in a written statement. In debate, Democrat Joe Geller argued against the attorney fee provision. “It’s going to result in more, not less, litigation,” Geller said. “It’s going to be tied up for the next two years.” Co-sponsor James Grant replied that the problem has festered too long and that it was time to act. “Vote up on this good bill, and make sure we do not go home yet again having done nothing with the assignment of benefits problem,” Grant said.

HOUSE VOTES TO IMPOSE WORK REQUIREMENTS ON MEDICAID RECIPIENTS via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – Medicaid recipients who are able to work would have to prove to the state that they are working, actively seeking work or enrolled in a job-training program. It wouldn’t apply to people with disabilities, the elderly and children, groups that make up the majority of Florida’s Medicaid enrollment. Failure to meet the requirement will result in a loss of coverage for a year. The provision, which was tucked into a broader Medicaid bill (HB 7117), passed 81-34. Opponents say kicking people off Medicaid will end up costing the state and federal government money. They say that instead of seeking preventive care, sick people will go to hospital emergency rooms, where taxpayers and those with private insurance foot the bills of the uninsured.

VOTERS MAY VOTE ON NEW PROPERTY TAX BREAK via The Associated Press – Homeowners may get an additional $25,000 homestead exemption if voters go along with the proposal. The House voted 81-35 to put a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot that would allow homeowners to shield an additional $25,000 of the value of their home from most property taxes. The additional exemption would not apply to taxes charged by school districts. If 60 percent of voters say yes, the amendment would take effect in 2019.

EPILOGUE: EX-MIAMI REP DIDN’T FILE TAX RETURNS FOR 9 YEARS via Patricia Mazzei and Jay Weaver of the Miami Herald – For eight years, Erik Fresen served in the Florida House … leaving office November due to term limits. During all eight of those years, Fresen never filed a federal income tax return. Fresen … pleaded guilty in federal court to failing to file a tax return for 2011, a year in which he received $270,136 in income he didn’t report to Uncle Sam. But in all, Fresen admitted he actually failed to report his income to the Internal Revenue Service from 2007-16, according to a statement filed with his plea agreement. His tax troubles with the IRS arose before his political career, including the year before he was elected as a legislator. In total, Fresen still owes at least $100,000 in back taxes, excluding fines and penalties, federal prosecutor Harold Schimkat said.

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#CATESINEDIE IS HERE — The end of the 2017 Session is quickly approaching, and that can only mean one thing: It’s time to get your bets in. Yep, it’s time for #CateSineDie. You should know the rules by now, but if not, here’s a refresher: Tweet #CateSineDie along with your prediction for the exact date and time the hanky will drop, ending the 2017 Regular Legislative Session — closest without going over wins. Like last year, the winner will get $500 to their favorite charity. And this year, media guru Kevin Cate upped the ante — adding “something even more silly — a trophy.”All entries must be tweeted by 4 p.m. today

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Conference Committee on Gaming will meet at 9 a.m. in 37 Senate Office Building.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The newly formed Legislative Progressive Caucus will hold a press conference to announce its launch and announce key legislative priorities for the final two weeks of session at 9 a.m. on the fourth floor outside the House chambers.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Department of Economic Opportunity will hold a press conference as part of its annual Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day event at 10:30 a.m. on the 22nd floor of the Capitol. Cissy Proctor, the DEO’s executive director; Clay Tomlison, an education assistant at Challenger Learning Center; and several students are expected to attend. The DEO will host an event on the 22nd floor from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Constitution Revision Commission will hold a public hearing beginning at 11 a.m. in the Kent Campus Auditorium at Florida State College Jacksonville, 3939 Roosevelt Boulevard.

SUPREME COURT DENIES ARAMIS AYALA’S FIRST WRIT TO WIN BACK CASES RICK SCOTT REASSIGNED via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising – In denying Ayala’s emergency, non-routine petition to overturn Scott’s executive orders reassigning the cases to Ocala’s State Attorney Brad King, the Supreme Court concluded that the matter “is more properly addressed” through her other legal challenge, a writ of quo warranto, which she later filed. That leaves the matter where most expected it to be left, in her second challenge of Scott’s action, a case that has drawn broad support for both Ayala and Scott from a variety of outside groups who expect the ruling to be pivotal in determining the extent of powers in Florida of both the state attorney and the governor.

TODAY IN #STARCHAMBER: HEARING IN MACHETE-MURDER CASE CAN BE SECRET, MIAMI APPEALS COURT RULES via David Ovalle of the Miami Herald – The decision upends decades of press access to Miami criminal court and bans reporters from covering a bail hearing for two defendants accused in the machete-death of a Homestead student in 2015. The panel of three judges from the Third District Court of Appeal agreed with a trial court that the flood of information available in the modern digital age could potentially sway jurors at a future trial. “The speed of dissemination and the high percentage of likely jurors with access to social media and the internet also support the trial judge’s concern,” Judge Vance Salter wrote in the opinion.

ANDREW GILLUM’S FUNDRAISING PAC TOOK SHAPE IN CITY EMAIL via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee DemocratGillum and his chief of staff used city resources to hash out the framework for a political action committee that would become the cash machine for Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign. In a message from Dustin Daniels via his city account to Gillum at his People for the American Way account March 2, 2016, — a year before Gillum announced his candidacy — Daniels discussed revisions to the mission statement of Forward Florida, Gillum’s leadership PAC. “Adjusted language is below and attached. I can’t seem to edit the document from Word, so the logo may not appear at the top. If that’s true, I will fix it tomorrow,” Daniels wrote in the email. The email once again shines a light on the use of the city’s email accounts to convey political and campaign business unrelated to city activities.

AS A TEEN, GAINESVILLE PIVOTAL TO SHAPING GILLUM’S POLITICAL RISE, AMBITION via Susan Washington of Florida Politics – For the charismatic, 37-year-old mayor of Tallahassee, a day in Gainesville was an opportunity to campaign for Florida governor … but also a chance to reconnect with a place and some people who he describes as “pivotal.” His family’s move to Gainesville from Miami — to be closer to his paternal grandfather, JT Gillum, who was ill at that time — “felt like moving to a foreign place,” Andrew Gillum said. But the slower pace, compared to Miami — as well as family members and other community connections in Gainesville — were transformative for Gillum. “People took time to ask you, “how you doin’?’” he remembered, adding, “It was pivotal to slowing down my life to a pace where I could start to pay real attention to my education, to my community, to setting goals because I got exposed to a different type of environment,” he said … it was Gillum’s friendship — beginning in high school — with Christopher Moore Chestnut, the son of Charles Chestnut III and Cynthia Moore Chestnut, that drew Gillum into the politically active Chestnut family.

LENNY CURRY’S PENSION SUCCESS FUELS BUZZ ABOUT STATEWIDE OFFICE via David Bauerlein of the Florida Times-Union – How will Curry use that legislative victory? Speculation is rife that Gov. Scott is considering Curry for appointment as the state’s next chief financial officer, which would vault Curry into a high-ranking position in the state Cabinet. Or Curry could continue as mayor of Jacksonville and use the budget relief from pension reform to focus on the unfinished business of turning the tide on the city’s violent crime problem and getting long-delayed construction projects underway. Either way, Curry’s successful push to end pensions as a retirement benefit for new employees will lift his statewide profile, said University of North Florida political science professor Matt Corrigan.

JOHN LEGG JOINS STEP UP FOR STUDENTS BOARD via Travis Pillow with RedefineED — A former state lawmaker who helped shape Florida education in policy for more than a decade will join the board of Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that helps administer two major private school choice programs. State Sen. John Legg served in the Florida House from 2004 to 2012. He was elected to the state Senate in 2012, and served as chairman of the Education Committee for four years before leaving the Legislature in 2016. … Step Up’s board unanimously elected Legg to the unpaid position this week. He will join another former state lawmaker, Democratic Congressman Al Lawson. “John Legg is an innovative and successful educator, as well as a gifted legislator and a great person,” said Step Up President Doug Tuthill. “John is committed to serving disadvantaged youth, and will be a wonderful addition to our organization.”


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GOVERNORS CLUB THURSDAY LUNCH BUFFET MENU – Viva Italia! It’s Thursday at the Governors Club with tomato basil soup, roasted eggplant salad, seasonal greens, three dressing sections, Caesar salad – hearts of romaine, Parmesan cheese, Kalamata olives, Caesar dressing – shrimp Bucatini Pomodoro, roasted garlic chicken, Parmesan garlic risotto, cauliflower, plum tomatoes, eggplant Parmesan.

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PULSE NIGHTCLUB TO BECOME A SANCTUARY OF HOPE via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – The memorial will someday house a museum showcasing the artifacts and stories of the victims and survivors of the Pulse tragedy. Barbara Poma … will reveal plans May 4 on how donations collected since the June 12 tragedy will be used to honor the 49 murdered, the 68 injured victims and the first responders and health care professionals who treated them. The onePulse fund will support the construction and maintenance of the memorial, community grants to care for survivors and victims’ families and endowed scholarships for each of the 49 angels.

Pulse owner Barbara Poma intends to create a permanent memorial on the site of the former nightclub as a “a sanctuary of hope” for Orlando’s LGBTQ community. The memorial will eventually house a museum of artifacts and stories of the victims and survivors of the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil by a single shooter.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to our beloved Papa Ben.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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