News from Tallahassee for 4/20/14

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Politics make session a sleeper posted on 4/16/14

by News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Tax breaks are in. Gambling? No dice. Lower tuition is OK, but alimony is a no-no.

Blame the GOP-dominated Legislature’s attempt to give Gov. Rick Scott a helping hand for what people are calling one of the most boring sessions in recent history.

But, while they are doing all they can to keep the governor in office, Republicans also have their eyes on a bigger prize — the presidential race two years from now.

“Absolutely it’s important. We want the governor re-elected but it’s clearly important for 2016. No question,” said Sen. John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican and former head of the Republican Party of Florida who is also chairman of Scott’s re-election effort.

Lawmakers recently put the kibosh on gambling legislation that was sure to split the Republican faithful. And, after Scott vetoed a similar effort last year, they opted to not even consider a prickly overhaul of the alimony system, putting the issue on hold for at least another year.

But they are angling to land on the incumbent Republican’s desk a cornucopia of items that appeal to Hispanics, gun owners, drivers, families footing the bill for university educations and anyone disgusted by revelations that sexual offenders let loose by the state preyed again on children.

The Legislature quickly passed a package of measures aimed at cracking down on child molesters, even after critics complained that the legislation fails to fully address the problem.

And lawmakers handed Scott one of his top priorities, a nearly $400 million rollback of vehicle registration fees increased during economic tough times in 2009, when Charlie Crist — Scott’s leading Democratic opponent — was governor.

With the May 2 end of the session fast approaching, the House and Senate are now wrangling over how to parcel out the remaining $100 million of the $500 million in election-year tax and fee cuts Scott made a top priority.

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Weekly Roundup: Lights Out Permanently on Gambling, Temporarily on Session posted on 4/14/14


Lawmakers are turning out the lights in the Capitol next week while some celebrate Easter, others observe Passover and, with any luck, all get some R and R as the clock winds down on the 2014 legislative session.

Although House floor action dragged on past 4:30 p.m. Friday in advance of the week-long respite, an empty fourth floor rotunda was eerily quiet. Perhaps the lobbyists and hangers-on were getting an early jump on the weekend, or plotting their strategies for the brief two weeks that will remain in the session when House and Senate members return April 21.

Gambling lobbyists may have already rolled up their tents earlier in the week after House Speaker Will Weatherford declared the issue dead for the rest of the session.

The Republican-dominated Legislature closed out the week with the House passing red-meat legislation dealing with guns, abortion and school vouchers on Friday, sending the items to the typically more moderate Senate with plenty of time for horse-trading on the issues before the session ends May 2.

In other bartering business, the two chambers teed up the remainder of Gov. Rick Scott's election-year pledge to cut $500 million in taxes and fees. Disparities in the House and Senate tax break proposals are eliciting little more than a yawn from some old-schoolers, including Weatherford, who called the variations typical of the "posturing" during the latter part of the session.

One major question remained unresolved Friday evening -- which legislators would attend the Sopchoppy Worm Gruntin' Festival? Curiosity seekers may want to do a little research on the annual event, where sirens deploying the right equipment coax the creatures out of their underground hiding places. Any relationship to activities around the Capitol environs is left to the imagination of the reader.

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With compact, governor has the power to dictate future of gaming in Florida posted on 4/14/14

by Mary Ellen Klas | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Gov. Rick Scott, who made a career out of negotiating hospital mergers, is now applying his negotiating skills to a deal with the Seminole Tribe that could singlehandedly dictate the future of gaming in Florida.

The legal agreement, known as a compact, could open the door to swanky resort casinos in Miami Dade and Broward, or force them to remain off limits indefinitely. It could allow for dog racing to be replaced by arcade-style games, or close loopholes in state gambling law. It could allow for lower tax rates at the state’s horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons, or force them to remain at a competitive disadvantage with the tribe.

Or it could do nothing, leaving in place the status quo.

Like any good negotiator, Scott is keeping his cards close to the vest and neither he nor the tribe is talking.

Records show the governor’s general counsel, Pete Antonacci, hired two Minnesota law firms in December that specialize in tribal law to “provide advice and assistance on tribal-state compact negotiations.” Antonacci, traveled to Fort Lauderdale recently, to meet with the tribe’s top lawyers.

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Gambling bills are off the table, House speaker says posted on 4/10/14


TALLAHASSEE — House Speaker Will Weatherford put a lid on any gambling legislation this session, including a proposal that would require tracks to report greyhound injuries and deaths.

"I would say at this point the lights are out," Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, told The News Service of Florida on Wednesday afternoon.

Weatherford's comments came a day after a Senate committee set in motion a measure that would add Florida to all other states but Alabama that require greyhound tracks to report dog injuries.

The proposal has the blessing of Senate President Don Gaetz, his wife, Vicky, and son, Rep. Matt Gaetz. The Senate "first family" was present for most of the Senate Gaming Committee's debate Tuesday. The discussion also included a proposal, later pulled, that would have allowed greyhound tracks to do away with dog racing altogether.

But even the injury reporting appears to be a non-starter this late in the session, Weatherford said.

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Law would require Florida dog tracks to report injuries posted on 4/9/14

by Tonya Alanez | Sun Sentinel

TALLAHASSEE— Florida, one of only seven states in the nation to allow greyhound racing, is pushing to hold tracks more accountable for the sport's impact on the dogs.

A state Senate panel approved a bill Tuesday to require reporting of greyhound racing injuries, a move proponents say is badly needed. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, called racing a "barbaric" sport "that very few people watch, even fewer people bet on, and it's an activity that erodes our collective humanity."

Since last May, dog tracks in Florida have been required to report greyhound deaths. A report released in February showed 74 died in the six months from May 31 to Dec. 31. This year, 18 have died since January.

"Today, the sport of racing of dogs is plainly thoughtless, senseless and cruel, especially with the frequency of death occurring," said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, sponsor of SB 742. "A racing greyhound dies in Florida every three days. We definitely need better regulations."

But dozens of members of the Florida Greyhound Association – owners, breeders and kennel operators – turned out in the Capitol to oppose the measure.

"Reporting of injuries doesn't stop injuries," said the association's lobbyist, Jack Cory. The surest way to eliminate the majority of injuries, he said, would be by requiring track owners to maintain better track conditions.

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