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Storefront gaming ban headed to Senate floor

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013 by Dara Kam

Delray Beach sisters Anita Silverman and Tobie Berg

A proposed ban on Internet cafes that would also shutter adult arcades is headed to the Senate floor for a vote as early as Tuesday over the objections of dozens of seniors who traveled from Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties to plead with lawmakers to leave them alone.

The proposed ban, already passed by the Florida House, is a swift reaction to a a multi-state sting last month that resulted in 57 arrests and prompted Jennifer Carroll to resign as lieutenant governor. Authorities accused Allied Veterans of the World, a charitable organization Carroll consulted for while a state representative, of racketeering and money laundering charges associated with operating a $300 million illegal gambling ring.
The proposal would ban slot machine-like games at storefront gaming centers, including those that cater to seniors who testified Tuesday morning that they spend hours playing the games for as little as $20.

And, the seniors and arcade operators said, the amusement centers give them a place to and people to hang out with instead of spending their days – and nights – alone.

Many of the seniors were from Port St. Lucie. They complained that the arcades are the only entertainment for them in their community.

“We have lunch. We have dinner. We celebrate our birthday there. So if they close, a lot of us are going to be very lonely,” one Port St. Lucie resident said.

Mike Cannon, who owns Mardi Gras arcade in Port St. Lucie, told the committee that the arcades, which operate under a 30-year-old statute, shouldn’t be punished because of the Allied Veterans wrongdoing.

“You had a big scandal on your hands and we had nothing to do with it,” Cannon said. “We didn’t do anything wrong. We paid our taxes. We do everything by the law and we’ve never had a problem.”

Sen. John Thrasher, the bill sponsor, explained that the measure (SB 1030) would not impact children’s arcades such as Dave and Buster’s or Chuck E. Cheese.

That drew the wrath of Gale Fontaine, president of the Florida Arcade and Bingo Association, who owns several adult arcades in Broward County.

“This is nowhere for them to go. They eat lunch together. They eat dinner together. It has nothing to do about the games. It’s their clubhouse,” Fontaine said, referring to dozens of elderly audience members, some with canes or in wheelchairs, and many of whom were clad in white T-shirts imprinted with “Don’t kill amusement centers” in red.
“I think it’s a disgrace that we will take care of the children’s community and not take care of the senior community.”

Delray Beach resident Anita Silverman, 82, traveled on a bus organized by the association along with about 80 others to attend the committee meeting early Tuesday morning.

She said she is a widow who enjoys the camaraderie of the Atlantic Arcade less than a mile from her house.

“Come Saturday night, I’m all by myself. Saturday night is very lonely,” she said.

The ban will shut down about half of the 300 American Legion halls now open throughout the state, Bob Kiley, American Legion District 6 commander, said. Many of the halls run adult arcades, but all of the proceeds go to charity, Kiley said.

The Senate Rules Committee unanimously approved the proposal even as several members expressed concern that it cast too broad a net.

“I would like to see…a carve out just like we gave Chuck E. Cheese bingo,” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood.

The arcades pay 4 percent of their gross proceeds to the state and 6 percent sales tax, Sobel pointed out.
“They’re a legitimate business and there’s unintended consequences by putting them into a different category. I don’t think we intended to do that. If there needs to be more regulation…so be it. This is the difference between apples & oranges.”

Acknowledging that the proposal may cast “too wide a net,” Sen. Jeremy Ring chided the arcade operators for fiercely opposing previous efforts to impose stricter regulations on them.

“We don’t need to be here today. This could have been worked out years ago.
But it is here today because there has only been vehement opposition and never any proactive response to try to work together to create the proper regulations that I’m convinced do not exist,” Ring, D-Margate, said.

But Thrasher insisted the bill is designed to close a “gray area” in law exposed by the Allied Veterans sting.

“I don’t believe we’re putting anybody out of business. If… because of existing loopholes…they have moved into areas they shouldn’t have moved into…they may have to adjust some of the games that are out there,” Thrasher said. “But what this bill does is tighten up the gambling laws. I’m not going to back off.”

Prison privatization critics say they will kill the bill on tie vote in Senate Tuesday

Monday, February 13th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A key senator who helped kill an amendment that would have stripped a controversial prison privatization measure and replaced it with a study said he will vote against the measure on Tuesday in what opponents predict will be a tie vote.

“I liked the concept of the study. But I like the idea of just killing the bill better,” said Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, one of a gang of nine Republicans who have joined with all but one Democrat whose coalition would kill the measure on a 20-20 vote.

Sen. Paula Dockery, one of the leading GOP senators opposed to the privatization plan (SB 2038), insisted after the 21-19 vote on the amendment late Monday that her coalition will put the issue to rest on the Senate floor on Tuesday.

“We do not lose anybody who’s going to be here to vote. My only concern is does somebody get sick, does somebody whatever. But our 20 are solid, 100 percent, anti-, don’t want this to happen. Twenty very solid votes,” Dockery, R-Lakeland said.

The Senate was originally scheduled to be in session in the morning, but late Monday Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher announced on the floor the session had been postponed until later in the afternoon. Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Margate Democrat, was originally slated to be out of town tomorrow afternoon.

Later Monday evening, Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich said Ring’s travel plans were changed so he could be in the Capitol for the vote.

“He’ll be here,” Rich, D-Weston, said.

State Dem party leader Thurman should step down, senator says

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

After getting trounced in the Florida House and Senate races and a GOP sweep of the Cabinet, state Sen. Jeremy Ring is demanding that Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Thurman resign.

“With the momentum of all the losses on the Democratic sides, there needs to be new leadership. Karen Thurman needs to resign. Immediately,” Ring, D-Margate, said of the Florida Democratic Party chairwoman early today.

Republicans swept the Cabinet seats and won a veto-proof majority in both the state Senate and ultimately recaptured the governor’s seat after Palm Beach County’s election returns left Rick Scott’s victory in the lurch overnight.

Ring, a moderate Democrat who frequently votes with Republicans, said the “election activities of the Republicans trumping the Democrats” at polling places he visited on Election Day demonstrate that his party is in a shambles.

“Whether it was hundreds of more signs and volunteers and palm cards and all the precincts covered, I didn’t see any coordinated effort on the Democratic side yesterday,” Ring said.

Ring was among several prominent Democrats who tried to oust Thurman when she was reelected as chairwoman two years ago.

Those efforts failed because no replacement could be found, Ring said.

He blamed Thurman for that.

“Part of any leader’s job is not to only raise money and recruit candidates but they should recruit their successor…part of her job is to have a succession plan. Clearly there isn’t one,” he said.

Crist brings indie Senate campaign to Democratic heart of Palm Beach County

Friday, August 27th, 2010 by George Bennett

Republican-turned-independent Senate candidate Charlie Crist is coming to Palm Beach County’s Democratic heartland to campaign on Sunday. Crist is scheduled to appear at the South County Civic Center west of Delray Beach at 9:30 a.m.

Consultant Eric Johnson, a Democratic operative hired by Crist to help woo South Florida Dems, said Crist will be introduced by a “high-profile” Democrat, but wouldn’t name names. It won’t be Broward County Democratic state Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Johnson client who attended a Crist event in Coconut Creek this month but today announced he’s endorsing Democrat Kendrick Meek in the Senate race.

Crist faces Meek and Republican Marco Rubio in the Nov. 2 general election. Since bolting the GOP in April, Crist has aggressively courted Democratic voters in South Florida. Both Meek and Rubio have attempted to lump Crist with the opposing party in the three-way race.

Crist woos Dems, won’t answer caucus question, explains Greer refund

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010 by George Bennett

COCONUT CREEK — Republican-turned-independent Gov. and U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Crist courted Democratic voters this morning — but wouldn’t say whether he’d align with Democrats or the GOP if he’s elected in November.

“I’m not answering that question, because I’ve said that I will caucus with the people of Florida,” Crist told reporters after speaking to a crowd of about 500 at the heavily Democratic Wynmoor retirement community.

Crist was introduced by Democratic state Rep. Ari Porth, who has endorsed him. Democratic state Sen. Jeremy Ring and Republican Broward County Sheriff Al Lamberti were also on hand, but said they have not made endorsements.


Indie Crist could make Democratic condo inroads with bill signings

Monday, June 7th, 2010 by George Bennett

He no longer has the fund-raising and organizational might of a political party to help his Senate camapign, but Republican-turned-independent Gov. Charlie Crist has the ability to schedule bill-signing ceremonies before key groups.

With the help of Democratic state Rep. Maria Sachs and Sen. Jeremy Ring, Crist has been eyeing a tour of the Palm Beach-Broward Democratic condo belt to ceremonially sign a condominium reform bill. Events at Century Village of West Palm Beach and Wynmoor of Coconut Creek were penciled in last week before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill forced Crist to change plans. Sachs and Ring say the signings could be rescheduled for this week or next.

Read about it in this week’s Politics column, where you’ll also find out why one local lawmaker has earned the nickname “Joey Eleven” and where you can catch up on the congressional primary between two candidates who have been Democrats for six weeks.

Near derailment in Senate Dems over trains

Monday, December 7th, 2009 by Dara Kam

A heated exchange took place in the Senate Democratic Caucus meeting this afternoon over the sweeping rail proposal that is the topic of the special session now underway.

Conspicuously absent from the meeting were representatives of the state Department of Transportation, responsible for a controversial $641 million deal with transportation giant CSX Inc.

A provision included in the bill that would allow state transportation officials to unlink union jobs from railroads has put the measure in jeopardy in the Senate.

A frustrated Sen. Tony Hill, a former longshoreman and union organizer, demanded that fellow Democrat Jeremy Ring, the bill’s Senate sponsor, fix the measure to ensure that union workers won’t lose their jobs.

“Get it right. Get it right. It’s your bill. Get it right,” Hill, D-Jacksonville, told Ring.

The bill is either all about jobs or has nothing to do with jobs, depending on who is talking and what day of the week it is.

About 138 Tri-Rail workers would get pink slips if the bill passes, union representatives say.

That’s not true, countered South Florida Regional Transportation Authority Chairman Jeff Koons, also a Palm Beach County Commissioner.

He claimed the only way Tri-Rail workers will be out of a job is if the controversial bill does not pass because the commuter rail system won’t get the extra $15 million a year included in the measure. Without that, he said, Tri-Rail won’t be able to run its full schedule.

“We are holding our nose. We are supporting this agreement,” Koons told the packed conference room.


Special session bill “not about SunRail” but talk about Sunrail just the same

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009 by Dara Kam

Senate President Jeff Atwater and his GOP lieutenants insist that the rail proposal now being considered in a special session that opened today has nothing to do with a controversial Central Florida commuter line known as “SunRail.”

That’s probably a wise maneuver since Senators twice failed to pass measures that would have allowed the state Department of Transportation to move forward with a deal paying CSX Inc. $641 million for 61 miles of track to start the commuter line and allow CSX to continue to run freight on the line for $1 a year.

Yet the first committee to take up the 49-page bill in a workshop this morning spent nearly the entire three hours discussing the SunRail project that the measure is supposedly not about.

And Tri-Rail got a fair amount of attention, too.

Sen. Paula Dockery, who’s hoping to ride a victory in the death of the SunRail deal earlier this year to the governor’s mansion, led the charge against SunRail with some simple questions about Tri-Rail.

The proposal will give up to a $15 million helping hand to Tri-Rail that, like every other public transit system in the country, loses money every year.

And it will bring thousands of jobs, said Sen. Jeremy Ring, the bill’s sponsor.

“How many jobs were created when Tri-Rail went into existence 20 years ago,” Dockery asked Ring.

Ring said that the 20-year-old commuter line has 330 employees.

Broward state Sen. Jeremy Ring won’t run for Wexler’s Palm Beach-dominated congressional seat

Friday, October 16th, 2009 by George Bennett



State Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Coral Springs, said this morning he will not enter the special election to replace U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton.

“I gave this really serious consideration and I enjoy my life as it is,” said Ring, who said serving in Congress would disrupt his family life.

The Broward County resident also noted that 71 percent of congressional District 19 voters live in Palm Beach County.

“Not that it’s not winnable, but it’s primarily a Palm Beach seat,” Ring said.

Ring, a wealthy former Yahoo executive, was considered a potentially formidable candidate because of his ability to pour personal money into an expected short campaign.

State Sen. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, former Broward County Mayor Ben Graber and Jose Ruiz, all Democrats, have announced their intentions to run. Wexler is stepping down in January to head a Middle East-focused think tank.

Battle of the Wexler proteges?

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009 by George Bennett

U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton, was instrumental in getting little-known Democrats Ted Deutch and Jeremy Ring elected to the state Senate in 2006.

Now the Wexler proteges could battle each other for their mentor’s congressional seat.

Boca Raton Sen. Deutch and Coral Springs Sen. Ring are among the half dozen or more Democrats who might enter a special election for Wexler’s Palm Beach-Broward congressional seat when Wexler steps down in January to head a Middle East think tank.

Wexler remains close to Deutch and Ring, but a Democratic insider said Wexler is likely to endorse Deutch as his replacement.

Other prominent Democrats eyeing the race include West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, Broward County Mayor Stacy Ritter, former Broward Mayor Ben Graber and former Boca Raton state Rep. Irving Slosberg.

The winner of the Democratic primary will likely claim the seat in a district where Democrats hold more than a 2-to-1 registration edge over Republicans and no GOP candidate has received more than 34.4 percent since 1996.

Primary and general election dates will be set after Gov. Charlie Crist receives a resignation letter from Wexler.

Graber, who got 6.6 percent against Wexler last year as a no-party candidate, announced today he will run as a Democrat in the special election.

Other potential candidates said they were in soul-searching mode.

“I have to talk to my friends and family and see what’s in my heart,” said Frankel.

“I am talking to community members, I am talking to leaders all across my district and most importantly I am talking to my family,” said Deutch, who expects to make an announcement Thursday.

Ring said he is “absolutely investigating it, considering it. I should have a decision this weekend.”

Ritter said she’ll make a decision next week.

With about 71 percent of District 19 voters in Palm Beach County, Broward candidates Ring and Ritter both said they would have to analyze whether multiple Broward candidates would hurt each other and maximize Palm Beach County’s advantage.

Wexler likely to back Deutch, Democratic source says

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009 by George Bennett



U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton, will probably back state Sen. Ted Deutch in the special election to fill Wexler’s congressional seat, a knowledgeable Democratic source says.

Wexler himself wasn’t ready to make any endorsements today as he confirmed he’s leaving Congress in the middle of his seventh term to become president of the nonprofit Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation.

Wexler has a long history of getting involved in Democratic primaries and other local races. His most memorable activity was probably his successful 2004 effort to topple former elections chief Theresa LePore and install Arthur Anderson. Wexler later cooled on Anderson and was neutral when Anderson lost his reelection bid last year to Susan Bucher.

In 2006, Wexler backed Deutch in a Democratic state Senate primary and helped him defeat better-known, better-financed state Rep. Irving Slosberg. At the same time, Wexler was instrumental in Jeremy Ring’s victory over Ben Graber in a Democratic state Senate primary in Broward County. Now Deutch and Ring are among the candidates considering running for Wexler’s congressional seat.

Wexler hinted he’ll make an endorsement soon.

“I have been known to get involved in primaries before, both to people’s happiness and chagrin…I’ve done it before. I care deeply about the person who will replace me and lead this community in Congress, so we’ll leave that for another day,” Wexler said.

Wexler to leave Congress for Middle East-focused nonprofit, Democratic sources say

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009 by George Bennett



Seven-term U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton, has told South Florida Democratic insiders he will resign from Congress to take a job with a nonprofit that promotes peace in the Middle East.

Wexler, 48, is to discuss his timetable for leaving office and other details publicly Wednesday morning after speaking to several Democrats individually this week and in a conference call tonight.

Wexler’s departure is likely to set off a scramble among Democrats to replace him in a special election in an overwhelmingly Democratic Palm Beach-Broward congressional district with a large population of Jewish and senior voters.

Among the potential candidates: state Sens. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Jeremy Ring of Coral Springs, West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, former Boca Raton state Rep. Irving Slosberg, Broward County Mayor Stacy Ritter and former Broward Mayor Ben Graber.

Ring, who said Wexler told him Monday he will be “moving on,” confirmed his interest in running for the congressional seat. Slosberg, who once toyed with the idea of challenging Wexler in a Democratic primary, said he’s “leaving his options open.”

Frankel and Deutch said they’d wait for Wexler to go public before discussing their plans.


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