Takeaways from Tallahassee — Horses and the horserace

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There’s trouble brewing in the state’s horse racing industry.

For example, the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association (FTBOA) is under attack by a “dissident group” of nearly 60 members.

They’ve convinced a Marion County circuit judge to order the association to show why it shouldn’t make several changes to its bylaws. The county seat, Ocala, is informally known as “Horse Capital of the World.”

That conflict isn’t the only one. Ultimately, it’s about “who controls the money and how much goes back to horsemen and breeders,” as one observer privately put it.

There’s still big money in racing. The annual report of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), which oversees the state’s dog and horse tracks, shows purses paid in 2014-15 of more than $86 million, just on thoroughbred racing.

Also that year, “the total handle wagered for all industries exceeded $779 million, a decrease of approximately eight percent from the prior fiscal year,” the report said.

(The purse is the money paid to the top 5 finishers in a race; the handle is the total money wagered, according to Sportsbettingacumen.com.)

Now the in-fighting: BloodHorse.com explained last year that “a 1977 change in state law authorized the FTBOA … to manage the breeders’ awards program. To administer the awards distribution and for ‘general promotion of the industry,’ the FTBOA receives 10 percent of total revenue for incentive programs.”

As DBPR’s report adds, “Florida breeder promotions and award programs are administered by private breeders’ and owners’ associations organized to promote ownership and breeding of race horses in the State of Florida … Each association conducts its own campaign to enhance the horse breeding industry in the state and provides breeders’ and owners’ awards of up to 20 percent of announced gross purses.”

In addition, a hearing is set for next week before an administrative law judge in Tallahassee in a matter involving the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association. It “governs quarter horse permit holders’ payments of purses,” its petition says.

But DBPR also recognized an upstart group, South Florida Quarter Horse Association, at Hialeah Park, the petition says, “that will dramatically alter pari-mutuel wagering in this state.”

That group was “created at the whim of the individual pari-mutuel facility,” it says. If allowed to proceed, “individual facilities will be able to control the disbursement of revenues generated by wagering on the horse races as well as other gaming activities,” the filing says.

Don’t forget the gobs of revenue from cardrooms and, in South Florida, slot machines.

“In acknowledgement of the importance of the horsemen to Florida’s pari-mutuel industry, the Legislature includes provisions in (state law) requiring the cardroom and slot machine operations to be affiliated with pari-mutuel facilities that run live racing or games,” the petition says.

And it “require(s) agreements between the horsemen associations and the various permit holders governing the disbursement of purses and awards to the horsemen.”

All of this goes to say: Follow the money. 

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Jenna Buzzacco-FoersterMichael MolineJim Rosica, and Peter Schorsch.

First this: We like to keep this a campaign-free zone, but it’s hard not to talk about the silly season, especially when it intersects with policy. So bear with us this week as we rundown the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Verified voter — A federal judge shot down a request from Florida Democrats to allow unverified voters to cast ballots. U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker said there was no evidence Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner wasn’t doing everything possible to possible new voter registration forms. Walker earlier this ordered the state to extend the voter registration deadline to Oct. 18 because of Hurricane Matthew. An estimated 72,000 voter registration forms were submitted during the time period. The ruling came just days before the start of in-person early voting. Early voting begins Monday in more than four dozen counties.

Solar snafu — The 2016 solar power amendment was under increased scrutiny this week after leaked audio indicated the amendment would negate any pro-solar interests. The Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times reported, Sal Nuzzo, the policy director for the James Madison Institute, described the utility-backed amendment as “political jiu jitsu” to persuade voters to support restrictions on solar expansion. Consumers for Smart Solar denied the group ever worked with JMI, and JMI President Bob McClure said Nuzzo misspoke. However, the Herald reported Friday the campaign scrubbed its social media platforms of “nearly every reference to the James Madison Institute.”

Fleeing Florida — Gov. Rick Scott announced this week Florida businesses created 17,900 private-sector jobs in September. While that’s good for Florida, the governor is probably wishing he gave Donald Trump a heads up to this month’s jobs numbers. During the third and final debate, Trump said jobs from places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida have “fled to Mexico and other places.” Not true, says Scott, who addressed the issue following a stop in Bonita Springs. “In our state, we’re doing way better than the rest of the county,” said Scott. “Our job growth rate generally runs between 3.2 and 3.6 percent; the country is down to nearly 2 percent.”

Zero percent fraud — Election Day is just a little over two weeks away, and there’s been lots of chatter about voter fraud and a rigged election. Gov. Scott looked to dispel those claims this week. “My goal is 100 percent participation and zero percent fraud,” said Scott. “There’s always bad apples out there, there’s always people trying to do the wrong thing, but we’re going to work hard every day to make sure we have a fair election.” According to the Washington Post, more than one billion ballots were cast nationwide from 2000 through 2014. The newspaper reported there were “31 incidents of specific, credible allegations of voter impersonation at the polls.”

Death row discussions — Florida lawmakers will once again be tasked with fixing the state’s death-penalty sentencing scheme in response to a court ruling. The state Supreme Court ruled last week that legislation passed earlier this year was unconstitutional because it didn’t require unanimous consent. Senate President Designate Joe Negron said the state Legislature will have to take up the issue again during the 2017 legislative delegation. Florida was one of three states that did not require unanimous recommendations.

Say goodbye to the 1970s era decor.

The Florida Senate’s chamber renovations should be done by November, according to a tweet by Katie Betta, the Senate spokeswoman.

Photo courtesy Fla. Senate
Photo courtesy Fla. Senate

“Chamber Reno Update — About one month left to go,” she tweeted on Oct. 5.

Senate President Andy Gardiner pulled the trigger on the renovations, noting the chamber “has received only minimal updates since its original construction in the 1970s,” he said in a memo. The final product in the Senate will be similar to an artists’ rendering released earlier this year.

When the chamber is reopened, senators will stand under a new ceiling dome, modeled after one in the Historic Capitol.

The renovation project was budgeted for $5 million. The chamber should be ready for the Nov. 22 Organization Session.

Is your community “BearWise?”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission received 19 proposals for $825,000 in funding available for its BearWise program, aimed at helping communities reduce human-bear conflicts.

The following communities applied for bear-conflict reduction funding: Bay County, Collier County, Franklin County, Gulf County, Lake County, Leon County, Marion County, Orange County, Putnam County, Santa Rosa County, Seminole County, Volusia County, Wakulla County, City of Daytona, City of Debary, City of Carrabelle, Farm Worker Village Neighborhood Association, NatureWalk Homeowner’s Association, Springs Landing Homeowner’s Association.

“We’re excited to partner with these communities on this important step to keep bears out of garbage,” FWC Commission Chairman Brian Yablonski said in a statement.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature approved $500,000 of the funds primarily using proceeds from the 2015 bear hunt, and the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida provided an additional $325,000 using proceeds from sales of the “Conserve Wildlife” license plate.

Sixty percent of the $500,000 from the Legislature must go to local governments that have passed trash ordinances to reduce human-bear conflicts. Those local laws require residents and businesses to keep their trash secure until the morning of garbage pickup.

“If we can keep trash secure, we can eliminate the main reason why bears spend time in neighborhoods, which can help reduce human-bear conflicts,” said David Telesco, who leads the FWC’s Bear Management Program.

Here’s some bad news: New World screwworm has been detected on additional Florida Keys, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said this week.

The flesh-eating bug was first detected in the state earlier this month, marking the first local infestation in the United States in more than 30 years.

Screwworms are actually fly larvae, or maggots, that “can infest livestock and other warm-blooded animals, including, in rare cases, people,” according to a press release. “They most often enter an animal through an open wound and feed on the animal’s living flesh.”

Putnam already declared an agricultural state of emergency in Monroe County.

Now, the pest is on Big Torch Key, Middle Torch Key, Little Torch Key, Cudjoe, Ramrod, and on Summerland, where screwworm-infested Key deer were also seen.

To fight the bug, authorities have released sterile flies, “a scientifically proven method to achieve screwworm eradication,” stepping up surveillance “to determine the scope of the screwworm infestation,” and “extensive public outreach.”

That includes asking residents who have to watch their pets and livestock closely, seek veterinary care for open wounds, and report any potential cases to 1-800-HELP-FLA. Non-Florida residents should call (850) 410-3800.

Eight Florida communities were recognized for taking steps to make sure all of their citizens are treated equally.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation included eight Florida cities — Orlando, St. Petersburg, Wilton Manors, Gainesville, Tallahassee, Miami Shores, Oakland Park and Tampa — in 2016 Municipal Equality Index.

The report found the eight cities earned over 85 points on the 2016 index “despite hailing from a state without LGBTQ-inclusive statewide non-discrimination laws.” All eight cities earned the “All Star” designation in the index.

“Despite another year of legislative attacks on LGBTQ equality, we are not merely holding our ground; we also continue to make significant gains across the country,” said Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of the Equality Federation Institute, in a statement. “The opportunity for further progress is huge, and we are proud to partner with HRC on the Municipal Equality Index, a powerful roadmap for elected officials and community advocates who want to continue down the path to full equality.”

Floridians earning the minimum wage are getting a raise.

State officials announced this week the minimum wage will rise from $8.05 to $8.10 an hour starting Jan. 1. State law requires the state to annually calculate the rate based on increases in the federal Consumer Price Index.

According to the Associated Press, workers groups have called the small wage hike trivial, and it’s not enough to keep up with the cost of living in Florida’s urban areas. Republican leaders have repeatedly spoken out against raising the minimum wage hike any higher.

Florida’s minimum wage has gone up $2.95 an hour since 2005. Voters in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment raising the wage above the federal rate.

Take a minute to celebrate Florida’s forests.

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam honored the state’s second annual Working Forests Week. The week was developed in partnership with the Florida Forestry Association, and is held each year alongside National Forest Products Week.

Working forests include publicly or privately owned lands where sustainable timber production is balanced with promoting healthy populations, according to the Department of Agriculutre.

“To maintain a sustainable supply of forest products and to maintain Florida’s forestlands, more than 70 million trees are planted in Florida each year,” said Jim Karels, Florida State Forester.

The state’s forest industry has a $16 billion impact on the economy and employs nearly 80,000 people to provide more than 5,000 types of consumer goods.

Thanks, Florida Blue!

Gov. Scott announced this week the healthcare giant donated $10,000 to the Florida Disaster Fund to help those impacted by Hurricane Matthew.

“Florida Blue is working with several community partners to help and support recovery efforts,” said Susan Towler, vice president of the Florida Blue Foundation, statement. Volunteer Florida is a critical part of Florida’s service and donation infrastructure. We are pleased to help them with the important work of rebuilding what was lost in Hurricane Matthew.”

Scott activated the Florida Disaster Fund last week to help people and communities impacted by Hurricane Matthew. The fund is administered by the Volunteer Florida Foundation, and is meant to help communities in times of disaster.

“We are proud of the tremendous work our partners are doing in affected areas to help Florida families, businesses, and communities following Hurricane Matthew,” said Volunteer Florida CEO Chester Spellman. “Florida Blue’s generous contribution will be used to support the good work of those organizations and we are grateful.”

Florida is flipper territory.

A new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts found Florida topped the nation in flipped homes in the second quarter of 2016. The state reported 9,429 flipped homes during the second quarter, up 3 percent since the first quarter.

The report found flipped homes accounted for 7.9 percent of sales in Florida during the second quarter.

According to the report, flipping in Florida “has been revived by a steady supply of foreclosed housing and a demand for affordable housing that’s making once-marginal neighborhoods … more appealing to buying of renovated homes.” The report also noted rising rents are “encouraging small investors to buy renovated houses and rent them out … especially along the state’s central I-4 Corridor from Tampa to Orlando.”

Tennessee has the second-highest rate of house flipping at 7.2 percent, followed by Nevada at 7 percent and Washington, D.C., at 6.9 percent. Arizona rounded out the Top 5, with 6.9 percent of homes sold in the second quarter being flipped homes.

Give the kids recess, already.

The USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey found more than 80 percent of Floridians think ordering elementary schools to have 20 minutes of recess each day would move the state in the right direction.

The survey found just 5 percent of respondents thought it was a step in the wrong direction, while 14 percent didn’t have an opinion.


The Florida House overwhelmingly approved a bill during the 2016 legislative session requiring public schools to provide 100 minutes of recess each week in kindergarten through fifth grade. While it received bipartisan support in the House, it made no progress in the Florida Senate.

The survey found 85 percent of females and 86 percent of respondents with a child at home said they thought a 20-minute recess mandate was a step in the right direction. The survey also found an overwhelming number respondents in Tampa Bay (88%), Orlando (83%) and Naples area (83%) thought it would be a step in the right direction.

Public school funding has dropped considerably in the past decade.

A new report by the Center of Budget Policy and Priorities found public investment in K-12 schools has “declined dramatically in a number of states over the last decade.” The report found 35 states provided less overall state funding in the 2014 school year than in the 2008 school year.

Florida was one of those states. The report found total state K-12 funding was nearly 22 percent less in 2014 than 2008.

“Many states have undertaken education reforms … such as supporting professional development to improve teacher quality, improving interventions for young children to heighten school readiness, and turning around the lowest-achieving schools,” the report noted. “Deep cuts in state K-12 spending can undermine those reforms by limiting the funds generally available to improve schools and by terminating or undercutting specific reform initiatives.”

Arizona topped the list of states, with funding down nearly 37 percent from 2014 to 2008, followed by Idaho, with a nearly 23 percent decrease, and Alabama, with a 22 percent decrease.

The report also found that capital spending to build and renovate schools is also down. Elementary and high schools across the nation cut capital spending by $28 billion between 2008 and 2014, the latest year available.

Make a memory at the Florida State Fair.

The Florida State Fair Authority announced its theme for the 2017 state fair — “Picture Yourself at the Florida State Fair.” The 2017 theme is meant to emphasize unforgettable moments waiting to be a captured during the annual event.

“We want both loyal patrons and those who have not yet experienced the Fair to join us in making memories that will last a lifetime,” said Cheryl Flood, executive director of the Florida State Fair Authority.

The Fair Authority also announced the Country Gold Tour will return to the fair next year. The 2017 concerts will boast several big names, including Johnny Lee, Bobby Bare, and Marty Haggard, the son of Merle Haggard.

Tickets for the 2017 fair and the Country Gold Tour go on sale Dec. 1. The fair is scheduled for Feb. 9 through Feb. 20.

Step on it.

That was the message Gov. Scott sent when he directed the Florida Department of Transportation to expedite the restoration of two-way traffic on A1A in Flagler Beach. The order allows the agency to proceed with an emergency procurement to speed up the process of repairing the road.

“Restoring north-south traffic on A1A is the number one priority in the state for FDOT, and we have been working diligently since the storm passed to assess what needed to be done,” said FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold in a statement. “At the same time as we work to implement this intermediate fix to get A1A up and running, we will continue to work with our community members and elected officials to develop a more permanent solution for the section of road that was impacted by the storm.”

About 1.3 miles of A1A was damaged by Hurricane Matthew, forcing the road to be closed and traffic diverted. The restoration contract is expected to be executed over the weekend, and construction could begin early next week.

Floridians want heavier fines for folks caught texting while driving.

The USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey found 87 percent of Floridians thought imposing heavier fines for texting while driving would move the state in the right direction. Seven percent saw increased penalties as a step in the wrong direction, while only 6 percent of respondents didn’t express an opinion.


The state’s texting and driving law went into effect in 2013. The law made texting while driving a secondary offense, which means drivers must be stopped for a separate traffic violation before being ticketed for texting while driving.

Attempts to toughen Florida’s law made little headway in recent years, despite calls from some lawmakers and advocates.

Females are more likely than males to see imposing heavier fines as moving in the right direction. And the survey found 11 percent of young Floridians said stricter fines would be a step in the wrong direction.

Local and state government take note: Floridians don’t want their tax dollars to be used to build sports stadiums

A majority of Floridians (83%) of Floridians said they were opposed to using government money to build or renovate stadiums owned by privately owned sports teams, according to the USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey.

The survey found 13 percent supported using public dollars for these projects, while 1 percent said they were somewhere in the middle.

The survey found 85 percent of women, 91 percent of the oldest Floridians, and 86 percent of college graduates opposed using taxpayer dollars for stadiums.

Welcome to the bench.

Gov. Scott announced he appointed Alexander S. Bokor to the Miami-Dade County Court and Danielle L. Brewer to the DeSoto County Court.

Bokor, 38, of Miami, fills a vacancy left by the resignation of Judge Jacqueline Schwartz in Miami-Dade County. She resigned effective July 31 while facing an ethics investigation after appearing intoxicated on the bench. Bokor has served as assistant county attorney since 2008.

Brewer, 29, of Arcadia, takes the bench in DeSoto County Court. She had been a civil litigation and commercial transactions associate at Swaine & Harris since 2012. Earlier, she worked with the Foreign Agricultural Service in the U.S. embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam. She fills a vacancy created by the elevation of Judge Don T. Hall to the circuit court.

State boards got a few new members this week.

Gov. Scott appointed George Ballantyne and Edward Scott to the Fort Myers Beach Public Library District.

Ballantyne, a 73-year-old Fort Myers Beach resident, is a retired project manager for NIBCO, Inc. He fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Jack Green for a term ending Nov. 6, 2018.

Scott, a 78-year-old Fort Myers Beach resident is a retired repairman. He is fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Allison Throckmorton for a term ending Nov. 6, 2018.

Scott also appointed Dr. Hector Vila, a 59-year-old Tampa resident, to the Board of Medicine. He is the founding partner and vice president of Pediatric Dental Anesthesiology Associates. He fills a vacant seat and was appointed to a term ending Oct. 31, 2018.

The governor also reappointed Dr. Magdalena Averhoff, a 65-year-old Miami resident, and Dr. Steven Rosenberg, a 64-year-old West Palm Beach resident, to the Board of Medicine. Both fill a term ending Oct. 31, 2019. The Board of Medicine appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

There are also a few new members of the Boating Advisory Council. Scott appointed David Hankla and Robert Atkins to the board.

Hankla, a 61-year-old St. Augustine resident, is a self-employed environmental and wildlife conservation consultant. He was appointed to a term ending Sept. 30, 2017. Atkins, a 65-year-old Merritt Island resident, is a retired senior manager for Lockheed Martin. He is appointed to a term ending Sept. 30, 2018.

When it comes to the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority, Scott appointed Bennett Barrow, a 36-year-old Tampa resident. Barrow is the vice president of Barrow Asset Management, and was appointed to a term ending July 1, 2019.

The governor also appointed Roaya Tyson to the Statewide Drug Policy Advisory Council. Tyson, a 53-year-old Tampa resident, is the chief operating officer of Gracepoint Mental Health Center. She fills a vacant seat and was appointed to a term ending Sept. 6, 2019.

Tip your hat to a few excellent female legislators.

The National Foundation for Women Legislators honored two Florida legislators with its 2016 Elected Women of Excellence Award. The annual award, which will be presented during during a ceremony in Orlando next month, honors the hard work and dedication of women from across the country.

The national organization recognized Rep. Daphne Campbell, a Miami Democrat, and Rep. Holly Raschein, a Key Largo Republican.

“We are thrilled to acknowledge these women,” said Helene Keeley, the chairwoman of the NFWL and a Delaware representative.  “They showcase the strong leadership qualities, focused work ethic, and determination that we try to instill in young women across the nation, and deserve to be recognized for their tremendous efforts.”

Four out of ten Floridians have no opinion on whether “regulating fantasy sports as a form of gambling is a step in the right direction.”

That’s according to the latest USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey. Poll takers surmised that the “large proportion of ‘no opinion’ responses (40%) indicates a high level of unfamiliarity with the issue.”

Over one-third (36%) regards increasing regulation on the fantasy sport industry as moving the state in the “wrong direction,” while less than a quarter (24%) think it would be a move in the “right direction.”

A bill died last session that would have expressly legalized fantasy sports play in Florida.

A Senate measure backed by President-designate Joe Negron declared fantasy sports play a “game of skill” and not gambling. “Online gambling,” however, is illegal and most fantasy play happens on websites like FanDuel and DraftKings.

Estimates show as many as 3 million Floridians play some form of fantasy sports. “If 3 million Floridians are playing,” state Rep. Matt Gaetz said in March, “it probably shouldn’t be a crime.”

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is looking to consolidate a few divisions.

POLITICO Florida reported this week the agency is has proposed merging its Division Strategic Business Development with its Division of Housing and Community Development into the Division of Economic Development.

According to the proposal, the two divisions work “directly for the development of Florida’s economy, but do so from different perspectives.”

The budget proposal notes the move would “simplify the administration of these two unites, create better alignment of the shared process and resources of the two divisions, and provide greater transparency into the Department’s economic development programs.”

Critics, according to POLITICO, say the proposal could reduce state oversight of local government land use.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection wants you to get out and hike. Or go kayaking. Or both.

October is Greenways and Trails Month, and Florida has “more than 8,000 miles of land-based trails and 4,000 miles of paddling trails throughout the state,” according to a press release.

It’s “the perfect opportunity for everyone to get outside and enjoy the natural beauty Florida has to offer,” Florida Park Service Director Donald Forgione said.

For example, paddling enthusiasts can join the Paddle Florida Suwannee River Wilderness Trail trip from Oct. 17-24.

For those who enjoy biking, the Ride of the Living Dead cycling event will take place on Oct. 29 in Ocala, where you’re encouraged to wear your favorite Halloween costume.

If hiking is your hobby, there will be a ranger-led walk through Gainesville’s Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park Oct. 22. You’ll get the chance to learn about the history and nature of the park.

To find an event near you, click here.

Here’s this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:



Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, 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.