Bill Galvano

School safety measure in House’s hands

All eyes are now on the House, after a sweeping school safety measure squeaked out of the Senate on a 20-18 vote Monday evening.

But could a tweak that may have kept the bill from going down in the upper chamber result in its demise across the rotunda?

Sen. Rene Garcia, a Hialeah Republican, sponsored an amendment that would exclude individuals who “exclusively” provide classroom instruction from participating in the school marshal program, rebranded by the Senate on Monday as the “Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program.” The controversial program would allow specially trained teachers or other school personnel to bring guns to class.

With the clock ticking down until the session ends Friday, there’s no guarantee that the House, slated to take up the bill (SB 7026) tomorrow, will pass it as is, Senate leaders acknowledged.

“It’s been a very dynamic process. There were even amendments on third reading, which is unusual for a bill of this stature,” Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, told reporters late Monday evening.

“There’s some general consensus, but I wouldn’t be surprised if both the House and the Senate had some additional input into the process. But I think on some of the fundamental areas, there’s agreement,” he said.

The Senate plan also includes a provision that requires both school districts and sheriffs to sign off on the plan, while the House’s version would only require the blessing of the school boards.

Gov. Rick Scott has opposed arming teachers, and it’s unclear whether he would support the revised bill.

Sen. Bill Galvano, who’s negotiated with Speaker-Designate Jose Oliva and Scott on the proposal, said that the measure passed by the Senate Monday night “was not a deal with the House,” but was generated from “the discussion” during Saturday’s floor debate.

Garcia was a no vote, Galvano pointed out.

(Translation: If Garcia had joined the opposition on Monday, the bill would have died on a 19-19 tie.)



Scrambling for gambling

As talks between key lawmakers and the Seminoles heat up, the anti-gambling group behind a constitutional amendment going on this fall’s ballot is taking to the air waves to scold the Legislature for trying to beat voters to the punch.

Voters In Charge, the political committee that pushed the “Voter Control of Gambling Amendment,” is running a 30-second TV ad and a 60-second radio ad — in additional to digital and social media advertising — starting today, according to a release issued by the group this morning.

If approved, voters statewide would have to approve any expansion of gambling, something now largely controlled by the Legislature. A recent poll showed 76 percent support for the measure, which will appear as Amendment 3 on the November ballot and was largely bankrolled by a Disney company and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Anticipating passage of the proposal, legislators are scurrying to craft a new 20-year agreement with the Seminoles, prompting the attack from Voters in Charge.

“They’re trying desperately to expand gambling now, before voters have their say,” a female voiceover on the TV ad scolds.

Sen. Bill Galvano and House Speaker-designate Jose Oliva met with Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen, and the tribe’s lobbyist Will McKinley, yesterday. Galvano told Truth or Dara he expects the Seminoles to give the legislative leaders a draft compact this week.

“The reaction by gambling lobbyists and Tallahassee politicians shows exactly why we need Amendment 3,” Sowinski said in the release announcing the ads.


Gambling stalemate over slots?

About a dozen pari-mutuel lobbyists were huddled inside Rep. Jose Felix Diaz’s suite late this afternoon, as the clock winds down on the legislative session without a gambling deal in hand.

The biggest issue dividing the two chambers?

That’s an easy bet — slots.

The Senate wants to allow the lucrative machines in eight counties — Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington — where voters have approved the one-armed bandits for local tracks or frontons.

The House, meanwhile, continues to balk at what they view as an expansion of gambling, and left the referendum counties out of its plan. Diaz, R-Miami, didn’t include the expansion of slots in an offer he made to the Senate Wednesday.

The Senate’s chief negotiator on the gambling deal, Bill Galvano, late Friday called the issue of the referendum counties “the elephant in the room,” implying that the House has to move on slots or there’s no deal.

The Florida Supreme Court last year heard arguments in a case focused on whether facilities in the counties can add the machines without the express permission of the Legislature. But Thursday after Thursday, when the court opinions are released, has gone by without the highly anticipated decision.

Galvano said late Friday evening he’s waiting for a “substantial” offer from his counterpart.

“They understand that that’s an important issue for us, here in the Senate,” Galvano, R-Bradenton, said.

Galvano said all of the counties need to be included in the plan because “that’s when you’re going to run into problems, if you cherry-pick, constitutionally.”

Galvano, who takes over as Senate president after next year’s November elections and who was instrumental in crafting a gambling deal with the Seminoles in 2010, acknowledged that the House has a more conservative approach toward gambling than the Senate.

“They want to make sure, as we’re resolving these court issues, that we’re retracting at the same time. So I’m open to how they want to make their offer, and if they have a more aggressive way of buying back permits, that’s great. We’ll consider it,” he said. “At the same time, (the issue of the referendum counties) that’s the elephant in the room. So we either need to know that that’s a non-starter for them or we can have a negotiation over that.”

Posted by Dara Kam

Senate responds to Seminoles on gambling, seeks meeting

The day before the legislative session opened Tuesday, Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who is the chamber’s go-to gambling guy, sent a letter to Seminole tribal leaders saying a new deal with the state won’t happen unless lawmakers also pass a major gambling package.

Galvano’s letter, on behalf of the Senate, comes after the Seminoles told Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders that competing bills moving in the two chambers won’t work for the tribe. The tribe contends that the proposals won’t get the required approval of the U.S. Department of the Interior because the plans don’t give the Seminoles enough “exclusivity” in exchange for the $3 billion minimum guarantee over seven years the state is seeking.

In Monday’s letter, Galvano noted that he has stressed that “inaction on the subject of gaming is not an option,” in part because of pending litigation. A federal judge decided that the tribe can continue to offer lucrative blackjack games, but the state has appealed the ruling.

The Florida Supreme Court is also poised to rule on a lawsuit that could have far-reaching implications about whether pari-mutuels in counties where voters have approved slot machines can add slots without the express say-so of the Legislature.

“Negotiations between and among all parties must address all Florida gaming issues in order to pass meaningful comprehensive gaming legislation. In short, approval of a new, revised compact must occur concurrently with, and is interdependent upon, resolution of a number of gaming issues, including matters relating to and affecting Florida’s pari-mutuel industry, cardrooms, designated player games, blackjack, and operation of slot machine facilities in the referendum counties,” Galvano wrote to Marcellus Osceola, chairman of the Seminole tribal council.

“Without a doubt, resolving these matters will require patient and thoughtful, good faith negotiations between and among all the affected parties. I am prepared, on behalf of the Senate, to do just that,” Galvano added.

Galvano also said he intends to keep moving his bill — essentially a pari-mutuel industry wish-list —  forward while negotiations with the state take place, and asked for a meeting with Osceola “or one of your representatives to discuss this matter in detail.”

Posted by Dara Kam