Bill to expand casino Gaming makes headway
A reconstituted casino gaming bill emerged Tuesday in the Senate, allowing for a casino to be built in each of five regions of the state, but forbidding casinos in Orlando's tourism havens. It also provides sweeteners to the parimutuel industry. The bill, by Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami, was approved 4-2 by the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee after a series of amendments. It revives much of the language from a bill proposed by Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, but gives horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons that operate slot machines in Miami-Dade and Broward counties the same casino games and the same tax rate as the so-called resort casinos — 10 percent. Jones wouldn't agree to providing tax breaks to the parimutuel industry and, faced with amendments, pulled his bill from consideration last week. Braynon acknowledged the new casinos would violate the gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe but predicted it would create 100,000 jobs and bring in more revenue than the $235 million lost from tribal revenue. "This is the only bill that I have seen that actually produces jobs,'' said Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach.
School board pay bill draws protests
A proposal to scrap salaries for school board members got its first public airing when it was introduced into the Senate's Education Committee. Though the bill — put forth by Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville — did not come up for a vote, it drew a robust audience. Three people spoke against the measure, including Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association. He warned that doing away with salaries would reduce the presence of minorities on school boards and increase the power of special interests. Blanton also questioned the timing of the bill, saying members have worked closely with lawmakers over the past few years on budget cuts and reforms such as teacher merit pay. "I believe this would divide us," Blanton said. Wise said he is willing to work with opponents on the bill, but he fundamentally believes in eliminating salaries, he noted, saying UF trustees, for example, don't get paid.
Bill to broaden sales tax advances
The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee voted 5-1 to allow Florida to join with 20 other states in a compact that will make it easier for businesses to impose Florida sales tax on goods sold to Floridians online. Senate analysts said the impact on state revenue is undetermined, but a previous forecast by state economists predicted it would result in $40 million in additional revenue. The bill would require the state to reduce money it sends to local governments to offset the increase in taxes. Randy Miller of the Florida Retail Federation, which has sought the legislation for the past decade, said his organization's analysis shows that the state is losing as much as $1 billion a year in sales taxes.
The Donald to stop by Boca Raton
Donald Trump, who is engaged in a big tease over whether he'll run for president, will speak at a tea party rally in Boca Raton on April 16.
Times/Herald staff writers Alex Leary, Mary Ellen Klas and Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.