News from Tallahassee for 3/5/15

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Senate passes bill on reporting of racing dog injuries posted on 3/4/15

by JAMES L. ROSICA | Tribune/Scripps Capital Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Senate on Tuesday passed its first bill (SB 2) of the 2015 legislative session, a measure that requires the reporting of racing greyhound injuries.

Senators approved the bill on a 38-0 vote.

Florida and Alabama are the last two states that do not mandate racing-dog injury reporting.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood, said 11,722 injuries to racing greyhounds have been reported across the country since 2008.

Those injuries include more than 3,000 broken legs, she added. Another 909 dogs died.

According to the ASPCA, dog racing tracks remain in operation in seven states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Florida, Texas and West Virginia.

Sobel blamed the state’s requirement that tracks continue to offer live racing so they can have more profitable slot machines and card rooms, calling dog racing “a barbaric sport.”

The bill was immediately sent to the House, where it died last year.

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House Gambling Bill Includes Casinos, More Slots - Not For Seminoles posted on 3/3/15

by dara kam | news service of florida

Two Las Vegas-style casinos, greyhound tracks without dog racing and slot machines at two pari-mutuels outside South Florida are all on the table in a sweeping House proposal released Monday.

A statewide commission to oversee the gambling industry is also part of a 316-page bill made public by the proposal's sponsor, House Majority Leader Dana Young, a day before the 2015 legislative session begins.

But what's left out of the bill may speak louder to some people than the goodies included for pari-mutuels and out-of-state casino operators eager to establish a footprint in Florida.

The proposal includes nothing about the Seminole Indians, whose five-year deal with the state giving the tribe exclusive rights to offer banked card games such as blackjack at most of its facilities dries up in mid-July unless the Legislature reauthorizes or redraws the agreement, called a "compact." The card games are a portion of a larger, 20-year deal granting the tribe the ability to have slot machines at its nine casinos across the state.

Bills that would have opened the door for "destination resorts" --- casinos with hotels, retail and convention space --- have failed to gain traction in the Legislature in previous years, even after lawmakers spent $400,000 on a gambling study.

The sweeping proposal offered Monday by one of the House's most-powerful Republicans comes in sharp contrast to the past, when conservative members in the heretofore gambling-leery House have consistently balked at any gambling expansion.

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A look at the 5 biggest issues for the Florida Legislature posted on 3/3/15

by GARY FINEOUT | AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida's GOP-controlled Legislature kicks off its annual session Tuesday, one that could be consumed by plenty of high-profile issues - but lacking the intensity that comes during an election year session.

Both House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner have their own agendas. But it appears the focus over the next 60 days may be more about how Gov. Rick Scott and various special interest groups fare during the weeks to come.

Here then are the five biggest questions of the 2015 session:

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Expansion of casino gambling draws dire warnings, praise posted on 2/25/15

by Scott Powers | Orlando Sentinel

If Florida increases its bet on gambling, the wager will ride on whether new casinos could become economic engines as in Baltimore, or economic vacuums as in Atlantic City.

That was the central argument in a debate over gambling during a Florida Forward forum sponsored in downtown Orlando on Tuesday by the Orlando Sentinel.

Opponents, notably No Casinos Inc. President John Sowinski, argued that many new casinos have sucked vitality out of communities by drawing dollars away from existing restaurants, hotels and attractions. And he held up Atlantic City's economic demise, with recent widespread casino failures, as a frightening cautionary tale.

Supporters, notably Geoff Freeman, president of the American Gaming Association, argued that many new casinos that are more wisely planned and regulated, as in Baltimore and Ohio, have been boons to their cities' economies and could serve as role models for any Florida expansion.

The casino issue is reemerging because Florida's five-year compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida expires this summer. It allows the tribe lucrative, exclusive rights for its seven tribal-land casinos, in exchange for more than $130 million in annual fees.

A renegotiated contract could open up what other casino operators want — expansion of competition.

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10 big issues to watch during the 2015 Session posted on 2/24/15

by JIM SAUNDERS | NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

FL Capitol Bldg RotundaTHE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, February 23, 2015— Florida lawmakers will gather March 3 in the Capitol for the pomp-filled start of the 2015 legislative session. Then the real work begins. For 60 days, the House and Senate will grapple with hot-button issues ranging from standardized testing in public schools to reforming the troubled prison system. And that doesn't even touch on the one must-pass bill of the session: a roughly $77 billion state budget.

Here are 10 big issues to watch during the upcoming session:

BUDGET: Banking on a nearly $1 billion surplus, Gov. Rick Scott offered a budget proposal in January that included record per-student spending in public schools and $673 million in tax cuts. But a major question looms for the Republican-dominated Legislature as it prepares to negotiate a final spending plan this spring. A program that has funneled about $1 billion a year to hospitals and other health providers is set to expire June 30, and it is unclear whether state and federal officials can agree on an extension. If they can't agree, that would leave a huge hole in the budget. The program, known as the Low Income Pool, helps subsidize care for low-income and uninsured Floridians...

HEALTH CARE: The noisiest health-care issue during the upcoming session likely will focus on whether the state should accept tens of billions of dollars in federal money to expand Medicaid or to provide coverage through a similar private health-insurance program. But like the past two years, the idea appears dead on arrival in the Florida House. Health-care lobbyists, however, are working on a variety of other issues, including proposals to bolster the use of telemedicine in the state. The House and Senate could not reach agreement on a telemedicine bill last year but appear to be close to a compromise heading into this spring's session.

LAND AND WATER: Voters sent a strong message in November when they overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment requiring the state to set aside hundreds of millions of dollars a year for land and water projects. But one of the most closely watched issues of the session will be how the Legislature carries that out. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, and Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, have made clear that water issues will be a priority of their two years leading the Legislature. But at least part of the debate will focus on how to divvy up money between proposed water projects, which range from cleaning up natural springs and the Everglades to helping with local-government stormwater systems.

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