Senate president slots smack-down

Senate President Joe Negron may have upped the ante Thursday  as House and Senate leaders prepare to start negotiations over the two chambers’ vastly different gambling bills.

Rep. Mike La Rosa, the House’s bill sponsor, says he’s “been very, very consistent” about whether to allow slot machines at pari-mutuels in the eight counties where voters have approved them, something included in the Senate’s gambling package but left out of the House plan.

“That’s just a non-starter,” the St. Cloud Republican told reporters when asked about the issue Thursday.

A question about the “non-starter” comment drew a lengthy response that verged on a diatribe from Senate President Joe Negron a few hours later.

Allowing slots in the eight counties — Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington — is a “strong priority,” the president told reporters.

“There’s no basis” for lawmakers to “stand in the way” of or “ignore” the will of the voters, Negron said.

“If you don’t want to play slot machines in the eight counties that have approved it, then you can do other things with your time and your money. But the voters went to the polls. These are the same voters that elected us. They went to the polls. They know what they’re doing. They know what the referendums say, and they have voted to grant their community more gaming opportunities. It is not the place of the Legislature to substitute our judgment for the judgment of voters. That should be given the highest level of respect, and whether we personally agree or disagree with those decisions is immaterial,” Negron, R-Stuart, said. “It’s presumptuous for any legislator to know that voters have expressed their will through a referendum, and then somehow it’s perceived that the Legislature is in a position to say well, that’s an interesting development, we appreciate your opinion but we don’t agree with the outcome, so we’re not going to implement your will. I think that’s not a responsible way to legislate and I think it flips where our system is.”

Lawmakers “work” for the voters, Negron added.

“When they tell us by majority votes in eight communities that we want to have an additional gaming opportunity in our community, there’s no basis, in my opinion, for us to stand in the way of that, to ignore it, or to say, well, we personally don’t agree with it, so we’re going to simply not follow it. I think that’s not a conservative point of view. It’s a view that is elevating the legislator above the wishes of the constituent. And that’s not how our system works,” he concluded.

___ Posted by Dara Kam