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Miami-Dade lawmakers eye state funds in session

When big things shake Tallahassee, we tend to feel big aftershocks in Miami-Dade, the state’s largest county. And big things are afoot in the annual lawmaking session that begins Tuesday in the Florida Capitol.

Redistricting. The state budget. And gambling, gambling, gambling.

No issue has created more local buzz in the weeks leading up to session than the heated debate over whether the state should allow big-time casinos in Florida.

Rep. Erik Fresen of Miami and Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale, both Republicans, are pushing to reshape gambling in Florida and allow up to three so-called “destination resort” casinos throughout the state.

Still, their broad proposal faces a long slog in a year when lawmakers — in addition to crafting a budget in a state with a projected $1.7 billion shortfall — must engage in the once-a-decade process of drawing new legislative districts to ensure each has an equal population.

Redistricting, also known as reapportionment, will force all Florida House and Senate members to be up for election this fall. That prospect will make this year’s session more political than usual as every lawmaker casts votes with an eye on November. One Miami-Dade legislator, Democratic Rep. Luis Garcia of Miami, is already campaigning for Congress.

The Miami-Dade delegation, the state’s largest and with a history of fractious Republicans, has made a concerted effort to remain united ever since a new crop of lawmakers won their seats in late 2010. Last year, legislators joined forces against a controversial proposal cracking down on illegal immigration. They also tried to squeeze the state budget for funding for local institutions and organizations.

This may be the last year — at least for the near future — that Miami-Dade lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Capitol have a clear voice in the leadership that rules the House and Senate. Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, the delegation’s chairman and House majority leader, is term-limited. None of his Miami-Dade colleagues is on a definite path to join the powerful leadership ranks next year. Full story here.