When the Florida Legislative convenes Tuesday for the beginning of the 2017 regular session, this region’s legislators will be front and center on a number of momentous and prickly statewide issues with long histories. Here are but a few that promise to be contentious.
No dice on a solution to the stalemate on gambling, the Seminole Tribe informed the governor, Senate president and House speaker last week. The Senate’s legislation, sponsored by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, proposes a massive expansion of gaming via slot machines, approval for a new Miami casino and permission to the pari-mutuel industry to install slots and end dog racing.
The House version pretty much maintains the status quo, but, like its Senate counterpart, requires the tribe to boost its revenue share to the state. Both bills also diminish the Seminole’s exclusive rights to some games, the House less so. But combined, those two elements are “almost certain” to be rejected by the federal government as violating the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the tribe contends in its message to state leaders. Plus, neither “make economic sense” for the tribe.
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With the tribe’s opposition, both measures appear dead in the water and in need of rewrites. On such a substantial issue, this is a thorny problem as session opens — especially with hundreds of millions of dollars in gambling revenue the state desperately needs on the table.
Background: One key provision of the state’s 20-year gaming compact with the tribe, reached in 2010 — exclusive rights to offer blackjack and baccarat in exchange for a piece of the revenue pie — expired in 2015. A new agreement has not been negotiated, thus necessitating legislation, which lawmakers have thus far failed to achieve.
Year after year, first in the House, now in the Senate, Greg Steube tries his best to relax gun restrictions — though this year the Sarasota Republican is extending his reach to allow people with concealed-carry permits to openly display their guns. His bills do not go as far as other legislation allows concealed-carry in law enforcement stations; courthouses; government and legislative meetings; airport passenger terminals; seaports; public college and university campuses; public K-12 schools; school, college and professional athletic events; bar and other places that serve alcohol.
Steube and others target “gun-free zones” in the name of public safety, should an active-shooter incident arise and permit-holders return fire. So bullets could be flying everywhere, missing their targets and causing collateral damage. Interestingly, experts in gun violence note research does not show the idea that mass shooters zero in on gun-free zones, one of the key points that supporters of easing restrictions argue.
In the interests of punishing businesses that forbid concealed weapons, a bill makes those companies liable should a permit holder be injured or slain during the commission of a crime.
The state will be a more dangerous place with guns practically everywhere — including in the hands of the hotheads, reckless and irresponsible among us.
Legislators deplore suffocating federal mandates placed on states, yet they routinely put the screws on local governments by preempting county and municipal ordinances and regulations. Hypocritically, conservative lawmakers embrace less government and support the idea that the government closest to the people governs best. Except when it suits their particular political goals.
This year, bills in the Republican-controlled House aim to override city and county business regulations, noise ordinances and minimum wage laws that exceed the state standard as well as rules designed to check air and water pollution, even human rights protections for the LGBT community and zoning regulations that restrict where certain types of businesses can be located. The measure banning local business regulations would repeal those rules in 2020, except those give special authorization by — who else? — state lawmakers.
Sen. Steube authored one measure that will justifiably infuriate many permanent residents of Anna Maria Island and northern Longboat Key. The text of his bill states: “A local law, ordinance, or regulation may not restrict the use of vacation rentals, prohibit vacation rentals, or regulate the duration or frequency of rental of vacation rentals based solely on their classification, use, or occupancy.”
This bill repeals any local law, ordinance or regulation adopted after June 1, 2011 — thereby invalidating all the hard work that island officials and residents have set in motion over the past few years to curb the proliferation of monstrous vacation homes. In effect, this will hasten the island’s transformation from residential to vacation spot. This is another case of business first, people second, a terrible injustice perpetrated by outsiders. Home rule be damned.
One of Manatee County’s top legislative priorities is for $500,000 in state funding for “a pilot demonstration outreach project focused upon opioid and substance use disorder prevention, intervention and education program utilizing the evidence-based practice of peer recovery coaching, targeting neighborhoods most effected.” Republican Rep. Joe Gruters, whose district covers parts of Manatee and Sarasota counties, is sponsoring this request in HB 2641.
Rep. Jim Boyd, whose district also includes both counties, zeroes in from a different angle with HB 477, which calls for manslaughter charges in cases where the sale of a drug containing heroin or fentanyl causes a death, among other provisions — hopefully leading to the deterrence of drug dealing.
As with citizen initiatives that brought amendments to Florida’s Constitution — think Fair Districts and land conservation — will the Legislature once again find a way to circumvent the will of the people and adopt laws for the implementation if the medical cannabis amendment that suit their purposes? Nobody should be surprised if that happens, not with the Legislature’s recent track record.