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Florida Legislative Preview - 2012

GAMING

Casinos

CASINOS — The hottest non-redistricting fight likely will play out around a bill sponsored by Rep. Erik Fresen (R-Miami) and Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff (R-Fort Lauderdale). Their legislation would create a state gaming commission styled after regulatory bodies in Nevada and New Jersey that would award licenses to three entities to build high-end resort casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Bidders would pay $50 million, refundable if the bidder is denied, to compete for a license and would be required to make a $2-billion minimum investment in each facility. Casino operators would pay a 10% tax rate on net gambling revenue. Focus of the debate: Jobs and economic development vs. the psychological, business and social impacts of gambling.

Gambling
Players: Gaming and resort interests like the Genting Group of Malaysia and the Las Vegas Sands Group. Sands will try to influence the law so there's only one license available and then try to win it. The state's pari-mutuel industry, meanwhile, wants to be taxed in the same way as the casino resorts if the state allows casino operations. Meanwhile, powerhouses including the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Walt Disney World will fight to keep the casinos out, while Associated Industries of Florida is backing the casinos. Chamber President Mark Wilson says mega casinos would pose a "major threat" to other existing businesses and would harm the state's reputation and evolution toward a more diverse economy. "We think what happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas."

INTERNET CAFES — Another gambling-related fight will play out over the 1,000 internet cafes featuring sweepstakes-style games that have sprung up in Florida. Rep. Scott Plakon (R-Longwood) and Sen. Steve Oelrich (R-Gainesville) have reintroduced legislation that would outlaw the cafes, which sell customers phone cards and web surfing time in exchange for the opportunity to play slot-machine-type games on computers. Other legislation would merely regulate the cafes, described variously as either crime magnets or innocuous pastimes akin to McDonald's Monopoly game.

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Lawmakers return to Tallahassee two months early to begin their once-a-decade task of redrawing district lines for state House and Senate seats and the U.S. Congress. The Game of Redistricting »

LEGAL

Foreclosure

FORECLOSURES — The Florida Bankers Association may again seek to create a non-judicial foreclosure process. The group says that taking foreclosures out of the court system won't help the current glut of foreclosures but would be a worthwhile change for the future. Anthony DiMarco, executive vice president of government affairs for the association, says the Legislature could expedite current foreclosures by fully funding the courts and reinstating the "rocket docket" foreclosure courts presided over by retired judges. State lawmakers disbanded the $6-million program last year.

LAWSUIT LIMITS — The Florida Hospital Association supports giving sovereign immunity to hospitals and physicians and backs other laws that would clarify that hospitals are not liable for non-employed physicians. The Florida Medical Association's No. 1 priority is giving sovereign immunity to emergency room physicians.

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EDUCATION

STEM, etc. — In the K-12 arena, the Florida Chamber is pushing for expanded use of digital learning and increased parental choice. In the higher education system, several groups support incentives for students pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees — and possibly tying a portion of university funding to the number of STEM degrees awarded.

GOVERNANCE — The Florida Board of Governors is urging the Legislature to repeal a law requiring universities to fund off-campus infrastructure concurrency improvements that are connected to university building projects. The board also wants to be able to approve university requests to increase various student fees.

Education

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LAW ENFORCEMENT

TIMESHARE FRAUD — Attorney General Pam Bondi will seek laws to crack down on timeshare retail fraud — the No. 1 complaint her office receives.

PRESCRIPTION ADDICTION — Bondi also is creating a task force to study the problem of babies born addicted to prescription opiates.

Law Enforcement

TAXES

Hotel Room

ONLINE HOTEL BOOKINGS — Online travel companies like Expedia, Priceline and Hotels.com pay taxes on the bulk, wholesale price they pay to hotels for unbooked rooms — not on the marked-up, retail rate they charge their online customers. Business lobby Associated Industries of Florida, along with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, argue that the rules give online travel firms a competitive advantage and leave the hotels paying the bulk of the taxes. Online travel companies say the difference between the wholesale price and retail price is simply a service fee that shouldn't be taxed. Last year, Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Destin) and Rep. Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford) introduced legislation that would exempt the online travel companies from having to pay taxes on their retail room sales. The Florida Chamber is siding with the online travel companies.

MORE ONLINE — The Florida Retail Federation says retailers with actual stores are at a disadvantage competing against online sellers like Amazon.com that don't collect sales tax in Florida. The federation wants the state to sign an interstate compact known as the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement, which encourages Congress to pass federal legislation allowing states to require internet sellers to collect sales tax. A number of internet retailers have indicated they'll voluntarily collect the tax if enough states sign the compact.

Online
The Florida Retail Federation wants the state to encourage federal legislation requiring internet sellers to collect sales tax.

TANGIBLES — Gov. Rick Scott wants to increase the corporate tax exemption from $25,000 to $50,000 and reduce the Tangible Personal Property Tax, which is paid by 300,000 business owners. Scott wants the Legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would completely exempt any business with less than $50,000 in tangible personal property from having to pay the tax.

ENERGY — Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam wants to keep tax exemptions on investments in renewable energy production and to enhance the Public Service Commission's ability to factor in fuel diversity, price stability, reliability and security benefits in setting rates.

Solar Panels

MANUFACTURING — The Manufacturers Association of Florida wants the state to eliminate a requirement that companies show a 10% increase in productivity from the purchase of manufacturing machinery and equipment in order to qualify for a sales tax exemption on the purchase.

UNEMPLOYMENT — The Retail Federation will seek relief from an increase in the unemployment compensation tax, which jumped by about $60 per employee last year and may go up by an additional $100 per employee this year.

unemployment

INSURANCE

CITIZENS — The state-run "insurer of last resort" is the biggest insurer in Florida, growing at a rate of about 1,000 policies per day. With its rates not actuarially sound, Citizens subjects the state to a financial catastrophe in the event of a big storm. One potential fix — proposed by Sen. Garrett Richter and Rep. Jim Boyd — would be to allow surplus lines insurance companies (out-of-state insurers with less oversight than in-state insurers) to participate in a program to shrink Citizens' rolls. Sam Miller, executive vice president of the Florida Insurance Council, says a true fix will "involve a lot more," including higher rates so Citizens no longer competes with the private market, tighter eligibility requirements, less attractive policy coverages and other changes contained in the Citizens bill that did not pass during the 2011 session.


PIP — Auto insurers, business groups like the Florida Chamber and AIF, the Florida Sheriffs Association and others are pushing for reform of Florida's no-fault auto insurance system — in particular the state's mandatory $10,000 personal injury protection coverage. Throughout the state, PIP fraud crime rings stage accidents and work with crooked clinics to file fraudulent claims, costing insurers hundreds of millions of dollars and driving up costs for consumers. Gov. Rick Scott, meanwhile, hasn't ruled out the idea of eliminating PIP altogether.

PIP
[Photo: Douglas Clifford/Tampa Bay Times]

SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT

 [Photo: Brendan Fitterer/Tampa Bay Times]
The session will as always see its share of grab-bag legislation, including several laws related to sports and entertainment: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) is proposing legislation aimed at ticket brokers like Ticketmaster that have restrictive paperless ticketing policies. He aims to make it easier for purchasers to resell or pass along tickets they can't use.

Sen. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey) has introduced a bill that would prohibit Florida's three NFL teams that receive tax dollars from the state from blacking out their games.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Bennett (R-Bradenton) has a bill that would make sports franchises in Florida comply with an overlooked statute that requires them to use their sports facilities as homeless shelters when the stadium is not in use.

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MEDICAL

Medical
REGULATION — The Retail Federation will push for "open networks" for pharmacies and other service providers as the state's Medicaid system moves to a managed care system. It also wants no new restrictions on retail medical clinics, such as CVS' MinuteClinic and The Clinic at Walmart.

NURSES — The Florida Nurses Association wants the state to give more responsibility to registered nurse practitioners, including allowing them to prescribe certain controlled substances. Florida TaxWatch estimates the move could save $339 million across all healthcare systems, including Medicaid.

DRUGS — State Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty and a broad business coalition that includes the Florida Chamber of Commerce, AIF and corporations are urging lawmakers to cap the amount that physicians charge when they include repackaged drugs as part of an injured worker's treatment under workers' comp insurance — a lucrative source of income for many physicians but a cost driver in workers' compensation insurance rates, which are set to rise 8.9% this year. On the other side of the issue are groups like the Florida Medical Association and businesses like Automated HealthCare Solutions, a Miramar-based company that sells software called ezDispense to doctors who dispense medications in their offices.

FUNDING FIGHTS

Money Bucket
With a predicted $2-billion gap between expected revenue and expenses, a host of groups will be scrambling to preserve their pieces of the funding pie. The Manufacturing Association of Florida wants increased training funds, particularly for the Incumbent Worker Training and Quick Response Training programs.

The Florida Hospital Association and the Florida Nurses Association, along with groups concerned about healthcare for the poor, will fight additional cuts in Medicaid funding.

Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida will wage its annual battle to preserve grants for Florida residents attending private schools (FRAG), received by 41,000 students. ICUF also wants the state to extend funding for partnerships among universities to the private schools.

The Florida Board of Governors, which operates the 11-member State University System, wants the state to restore the Alec P. Courtelis Capital Facilities Enhancement Challenge Grant, a state program that matches donations 100%. The program has gone unfunded for the past five years and was suspended in 2011.

The state's schools also want the maximum possible PECO (public education capital outlay) funding, which is used for construction, remodeling, renovation and repair of education facilities.

The Sadowski Coalition, a group of two dozen statewide organizations, is urging the Legislature to appropriate Florida's housing trust funds — an estimated $153.4 million for the 2012-13 fiscal year — for affordable housing. For the past several years, lawmakers have raided the trust funds and diverted the money to general revenue.

The Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association wants to maintain funding for the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The Moffitt Cancer Center wants lawmakers to restore its allocation of cigarette tax funds to its 2008 level.

Gov. Scott will try to require those who receive unemployment benefits to get job training.

The Florida Chamber is also pushing for further public pension reforms, including shifting public employees from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan.

The Florida Medical Association is pushing for increased funding for graduate medical education.