October 29, 2013

Gambling by the numbers: Final report does little to change conclusions

The final version of the Spectrum Gaming report is out and, while the numbers have been revised and the explanations made clearer, the conclusion remains the same: Florida's economy is so big that the expansion into casinos would have a little overall impact on the state.

The report, produced by the New Jersey-based company, analyzed 12 gaming scenarios provided by the Florida Legislature in anticipation of an attempt by lawmakers to rewrite the existing law. The Florida Senate Gaming Committee, for example, will conduct the second of four hearings on the issue, in Lakeland tomorrow afternoon.

It offers many insights for policymakers, including Gov. Rick Scott, who will be in charge of renegotiating the gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, if he choses to start the talks next year, before the portion of the company regulating table games expires in 2015.

Spectrum notes, for example, that allowing the tribe to continue to have exclusive operation of table games in Florida "could widen the revenue gap between the Seminole casinos and the pari-mutuel casinos, creating deterioration of operating performance for the pari-mutuels."

Here are some of the report's other conclusions:

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October 01, 2013

State Rep. Darryl Rouson hit with $155,000 tax lien

State Rep. Darryl Rouson and his wife failed to pay more than $155,000 in federal income taxes from 2008 through 2010, according to a lien filed by the Internal Revenue Service.

In one of those years, Rouson, a St. Petersburg attorney, made $565,000 working for the powerhouse law firm of Morgan & Morgan.

The IRS lien is the latest setback for Rouson, who recently came under fire from fellow House Democrats for creating a party-related fundraising committee only he could control. His colleagues ousted him as incoming Democratic leader on Sept. 23, the day before the IRS filed its lien in Pinellas County circuit court.

“I don’t take this lightly,’’ Rouson said Tuesday. “I am working with my CPA and my tax attorney, and I’m very optimistic this will all get resolved.

“It’s been a tough summer,’’ he added. 

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September 23, 2013

Latvala says state law needs to tighten definition of residency

The 2014 Legislature will take up needed changes in state law to tighten the legal definition of residency, a key senator said Monday. That will possibly include a new provision to bar legislators from claiming the homestead exemption on homes outside their districts.

Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who chairs the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee, said the law is needed in the wake of media reports that "from 12 to 14" lawmakers may have been living outside their districts, in apparent violation of state law. 

Latvala's committee had a brief and muted discussion of the issue Monday. "We've got a long way to  go on this, but I believe they are taking it seriously," he said in reference to Senate leaders. "I will tell you I believe there is going to be a bill on residency."

Latvala said Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, wants to file a bill dealing with the homestead-exemption issue, and Latvala said he has agreed to sponsor the Senate version.

Much of the media coverage involving lawmakers' residencies has focused on Democratic House members in South Florida.

Latvala, speaking generally, told reporters: "If you're abiding by the Constitution and taking a homestead exemption somewhere else, or if you're supposed to represent a district and get the homestead exemption somewhere else, that ought to be illegal."

He said the issue would be handled largely by Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who also faced residency questions in 2011 when he won a special election. But none of that was discussed
publicly Monday. Democratic senators were silent after a staffer outlined at least 10 different ways to define legal residency, from a driver's license address to a voting address to where someone gets mail.

-- Steve Bousquet

August 28, 2013

With state under fire from feds, nursing homes are quietly closing kids wings

Even as Florida health regulators vigorously defend against two federal lawsuits accusing them of warehousing sickly and disabled children in geriatric nursing homes, the homes themselves are quietly getting out of the kids business.

The most recent nursing home to abandon the pediatric market is Orlando Health & Rehabilitation Center, which operates a 40-bed pediatric wing called “Grandma’s House.” Orlando Health & Rehab, in Orlando, notified the state Agency for Healthcare Administration last week that it will voluntarily close the wing, said Michelle Dahnke, an AHCA spokeswoman in Tallahassee. Earlier this year, a troubled Miami Gardens nursing home, Golden Glades Nursing & Rehabilitation, shuttered its pediatric wing after the Miami Herald reported extensively about the deaths of two children who had been admitted there.

In July, the Lakeshore Villas nursing home in Tampa announced it would shut its doors after the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cut off all federal funding. At the time, AHCA had also announced its intention not to renew the home's license. Lakeshore Villas had been one of the state’s most troubled nursing homes, racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

The latest closure comes at a time of significant change and controversy over Florida’s methods for financing the care of severely disabled and medically complex children, whose housing and treatment can be enormously costly. More here from Carol Marbin Miller.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/08/27/3589764/florida-nursing-homes-under-fire.html#storylink=cpy

August 09, 2013

On SYG, Democrats no match for Republican unity

Friday came and went without Democrats filing the necessary 32 letters, a first step state law requires from lawmakers for a special session on Florida’s stand your ground law.

They have until October to get the letters in, but the House Democratic Leader, Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, predicted last week that at least 32 letters would be filed at the Secretary of State’s office by now, enough to trigger a poll of the lawmakers to order a special session. (It's a longshot, with 96 lawmakers needed to agree to it).

Instead, according to Secretary of State spokesman Mark Ard, the department had received 28 letters, all Democrats.

They are:


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August 08, 2013

Dream Defenders to launch massive voter registration drive

The Dream Defenders, who are marking Day 24 of their Capitol sit-in outside Gov. Rick Scott's office, announced they are launching a massive drive to register 61,550 voters by 2014 -- the margin Scott won by in the 2010 election. 

"We intend to register the people that are forgotten - the black, the brown, the indigent, the poor, the LGBT community and we will meet them where they are, in the classrooms, in the mall, at the club, on the corner, at the bus stop" said the Dream Defenders Executive Director Philip Agnew at a press conference Thursday.

He said the effort, which would enlist students on Florida campuses, would be geared toward issues, not candidates. "At the end of the day, we are not blue or red."

There's a need to "build power," Agnew said, so that "when the time comes again for us to move on issues like the school-to-prison pipeline, like racial profiling, like Stand Your Ground, we don't have to sit on the floor again."

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July 18, 2013

Lee wants to give Senate presidency another whirl

Sen. Tom Lee said when he decided earlier this month to run for president, he did so because other lawmakers in Tampa Bay were running for the same post.

“I’ve been calling a few members, which is actually when I learned a couple have made a commitment to Sen. (Wilton) Simpson,” Lee said. “I know Simpson is running very hard, and so is Bill Galvano.”

Lee, R-Brandon, was Senate president in 2004 to 2006 and was elected back to the Senate last year for a two-year term after the former incumbent, Ronda Storms, left the seat to run unsuccessfully for Hillsborough County property appraiser.

The 51-year-old homebuilder said he he was seeking the presidency in 2020 (where he would preside over the 2021 and 2022 sessions). Even though he concedes it’s too early to run for such a far out date (Lee would have to win next year’s election, plus a second in 2018), but said since others were doing so, he felt compelled to announce now.

“They’ve forced me to run,” Lee said.

Tampa Bay hasn’t had a Senate president since Lee in 2006. With Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, currently locked in the race for 2016 (for the 2017 and 2018 sessions) with Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, Lee is laying out a scenario in which four Tampa Bay lawmakers are now in the mix for the job (if one includes Manatee County as part of Tampa Bay).

According to our friends at The Bradenton Herald, Galvano, R-Bradenton, is being coy about his plans for the presidency in 2018 (for the 2019 and 2020 sessions).  As for Simpson, R-Trilby, the Times/Herald asked him on July 11 if he was running for the presidency and he said he was too busy being a regular senator.

“I would be very humbled if my colleagues suggest I can do that job,” Simpson said. “I’m working very hard to be a humble public servant. If that adds up to more than me representing Senate District 18, I would be honored. But right now, all I’m focused on is representing my constituents.”

July 05, 2013

Legislative leaders spread the love this session, giving select staff pay raises

When Florida legislators this year broke the freeze on employee pay and offered state workers salary increases for the first time in seven years, legislative leaders made sure to give some of their own employees pay raises, too.

Using criteria based on performance and promotions, the increases amounted to about three to five percent for most workers but as much as 20 percent for others.

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz took different approaches. Gaetz provided bonuses and salary increases to 35 staff members, beginning last month. Weatherford gave raises to 71 full-time employees, starting this month.  Download Senate - Promotions Salary Increases - 2013 Session

Weatherford attempted to keep the House annual budget the same by reorganizing, and using retirements and departures of some staff members, said Ryan Duffy, spokesman for Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. The net cost of the raises to taxpayers was about $27,000, he said.  Download House Salary Review Summer 2013 Press Request (1)

The Senate bonuses, by contrast, cost taxpayers an additional $105,848, said Katie Betta, Senate spokeswoman. More here. 

June 20, 2013

NRA launches email campaign to support bill banning firearms sale to mentally ill

Gun rights Marion Hammer, who for decades has fought laws that restrict firearms in Florida, is mounting a campaign to urge Gov. Rick Scott to sign a bill that will ban gun purchases –- for the mentally ill

Hammer, the powerful lobbyist for the National Rifle Association and United Sportsmen of Florida, has started an email “alert” to about 200,000 of the group’s members  urging them to “Please email Governor Scott right away and urge him to sign HB-1355.”

The blitz is necessary, she said, to “counter the barrage of emails” loaded with “patently false” information filling Scott's “Sunburst” email inbox.

Since the bill’s passage, the governor’s office has received at least 17,008 emails and 2,711 calls in opposition to the bill (as of June 19). Many of the emails are identical, except for names of  the senders. In contrast, Scott has received a dozen calls and one email in support of the bill.

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June 12, 2013

Ethics commission finds Sachs left off condo from disclosure form but drops complaint

The Florida Commission on Ethics has found probable cause to conclude that Sen. Maria Sachs failed to properly disclose a Tallahassee condominium on her annual financial disclosure forms for three years but, because Sachs amended her forms to correct the omission, the commission chose not to pursue any further action. 

The complaint alleging  alleging that Sachs violated state financial disclosure law by failing to include her Tallahassee condominium on her annual report for three years was filed by Palm Beach County Republican Party chairman Sid Dinerstein on Oct. 15.

Sachs, a Democrat, was embroiled in a hotly contested race against former state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale at the time, which she won. They were forced to run against each other because of redistricting.

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