Legislators fight over stalled bill in committee

A Senate video lottery bill expected to pass through the regulated industries committee ran into an unexpected impasse Tuesday.

During deliberations on SB 1298, a motion was raised to temporarily pass the bill and take up SB 1422, a pari-mutuel licensing bill sponsored by Sen. Rudy Garcia, R-Hialeah. An argument ensued between Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, and committee chairman Skip Campbell, D-Fort Lauderdale, over the maneuver.

“In my eight years in the Senate, I have never seen a bill under consideration interrupted in the middle of discussion,” Latvala said.

As the meeting neared its conclusion, SB 1422 was temporarily passed and placed on next week’s committee schedule.

With time running out, SB 1298 sponsor Steven Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, withdrew all the bill’s amendments in an attempt to speed up debate. Committee vice chairman Jim King, R-Jacksonville, quickly moved to temporarily pass the bill and place it behind SB 1422 on next week’s agenda. As the motion passed, Geller threw up his hands in disgust.

After the other committee members had filed out of the Senate Office Building, Geller was still seething.

“It will sail through the committee if I ever get the chance to vote on the thing,” Geller said. “I’m very unhappy.”

Before the interruption, Geller had touted SB 1298 as legislation which, through the expansion of video gambling at state sites already regulated for that purpose, would help offset budget cuts necessitated by recent economic woes.

The bill allows for the installation and use of video lottery games on any property where pari-mutuel operations were lawful under county or municipal ordinances before July 1, 2000. It also requires the establishment of a treatment and prevention program for compulsive gamblers.

Last week, the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling released a study showing the state has more than double the percentage of problem and compulsive gamblers than the national average.

Under the bill, the Department of Children and Family Services would receive an estimated $486,000 to administer treatment to compulsive gamblers.

Geller said, by his conservative estimates, the bill would raise $1 billion a year for education in Florida, with 36 cents from every dollar collected in taxes going to an Education Enhancement Trust Fund.