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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam wants Legislature to clarify legality of internet cafes

Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Adam Putnam told reporters Wednesday that the Legislature needs to clarify Florida law so his agency can deal with the explosion of internet cafes across the state.

Are the rooms a form of illegal gambling or a sweepstakes, which his agency oversees?

“Clarification is needed. There is no question in my mind that there is an ambiguity in the law itself, which is leading to uneven enforcement. And that’s unhealthy regardless of who the impact parties are. You can’t have a rule of law that is subject to an individual sheriff or state attorney’s interpretation. So even the internet cafes would say that there is an ambiguity. And so the short answer is, yes, it needs to be clarified.”

Putnam said internet cafes would argue they are technically a sweepstakes, not gambling, because "there is a predetermined number of winners at that video terminal just as there are a predetermined number of Boardwalks and Park Places that allow you to win a new Wii."

Putnam also talked about his newest acquisition courtesy of a supportive Legislature: school food programs. Putnam successfully lobbied for passage of SB 1312, which transfers school food programs from the Department of Education to his agency and awaits Gov. Rick Scott's signature.

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He also talked chocolate milk and vending machines. Basically, he won't be banning either.

A reporter asked if Putnam had any plans to deal with chocolate milk. Putnam asked the Board of Education to hold off on plans to ban the beverage last year.

"Ever since that conversation began we have already worked cooperatively with vendors to the school system and, without us even having responsibility for it, we have a vendor that is responsible for milk, including flavored milk, in 16 counties who’s already cut carbs, sugar and total grams of fat," he said. "So there are ways to improve the quality and nutritional value of those meals without an outright ban on chocolate milk."

Putnam said he has his eye on restricting "competing foods," like soda, sugary vending machine offerings and food chains that offer their products in schools. He said the transfer, if approved, grants him that authority.

"That would mean either turning off vending machines during school hours or turning off carbonated beverage vending machines during school hours. There are certainly vending machines that sell juice, that sell water, that sell healthier snacks. I’m not opposed doing what it takes to improve the quality and nutritional value of what our kids have recognizing that the policy for a high school student would be different than the policy for elementary school students. ... The way forward on that is not to ban vending machines, it’s to have vending machines that are selling healthier options."

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There was also talk of immigration policy -- specifically, the Legislature's failure to pass one this year.

On Sen. J.D. Alexander's famous floor speech on E-Verify, Putnam said his words "were exceptional." Putnam had been cool to immigration reform all along, saying an Arizona-style law would not be good for Florida and the responsibility really belonged to Congress.

"Our strength comes from our diversity, and we are essentially the capital of the Western Hemisphere. We are the financial capital of Latin America, particularly South Florida. We are a trade destination, an international tourism destination, we need to get it right."

"I think that Sen. (Anitere) Flores and Sen. Alexander did an extraordinary job of shepherding an explosively emotional, passionate, complicated issue and ultimately it did not make it across the finish line. The conversation continues, it’s not going way. And hopefully this summer will give everyone an opportunity to address the issue without the distractions of the other thousands of things going on in the session."

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 6:16pm]

    

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