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Internet ban, in limbo in Senate, on its way to House floor with blessing of Gov. Scott and Cabinet

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet are putting pressure on lawmakers to approve an all-out ban on Internet cafés now on its way to the House floor but facing a doubtful future in the Senate.

The House Economic Affairs Committee approved the bill (HB 3) this morning, drawing the praise of the Republican governor and Cabinet who want the so-called “casinos on the corner” shuttered.

Critics of the cafés, an estimated $1 billion industry which operates under state “sweepstakes” laws and are largely unregulated, say they prey on the state’s poor and vulnerable. But the café operators say they provide good jobs for their employees and a place to socialize for seniors and others.

Scott believes the store-front casinos found in strip malls throughout the state are already illegal but wants lawmakers to officially ban them.

“These store front casinos are impacting Florida’s neighborhoods and families,” said Governor Scott. “They are and should be illegal. Representative Plakon’s bill closes this loophole and I commend his dedication to shutting down these establishments,” Scott said in a statement released by Rep. Scott Plakon, the Longwood Republican who’s sponsored the bill.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam joined in the chorus demanding the shut-down.

But the Senate is moving forward with a separate measure that would regulate the cafés and impose a $100 fee per computer terminal for operators. Estimates of the number of cafés in the state range from 800 to 1,400 but all agree they have mushroomed in the past few years. Palm Beach County commissioners recently barred new cafés from opening in unincorporated areas.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee approved a regulation measure and set aside a bill that would make the cafés illegal.

Bittersweet cupcake amendment fails to move GOP lawmakers

Monday, January 30th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The state’s neediest families shouldn’t be able to use emergency cash assistance to buy booze, watch strip shows or gamble, most GOP lawmakers agree.

But they’re divided over whether Floridians should be allowed to use food stamps to buy cupcakes, Cokes or candy.

A measure that would impose those prohibitions passed a House committee this afternoon but not before some Republicans on the panel told the bill (HB 1401) sponsor they’d kill the bill if he didn’t trim out the food stamp restrictions, also opposed by retailers, soda companies and convenience store owners.

Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, said he got the message and would consider modifying the measure to get limits on where individuals getting Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) can use their state-issued debit cards.

Rep. Mark Pafford tried to sweeten the bill with a “cupcake amendment” that would have allowed food stamp users to purchase cakes or cupcakes for birthdays.

“It’s just an exception for a child to celebrate a birthday by having a cake or a cupcake,” Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, explained.

But Plakon wouldn’t swallow.

He said that a birthday cake can cost up to $40 while a cake mix costs just $4. Pafford’s amendment failed.

Rep. Dana Young was on the 8-6 winning side in favor of the bill, but let Plakon know it was the end of the line if he doesn’t make the changes.

“I’m all about good nutrition,” Young, R-Tampa, said. “But I don’t want people to tell me what to eat. And I just don’t think it’s right for us as legislators and as a government to tell anyone what they can eat, even if they happen to be poor. Even if they happen to be on food stamps.”

Chances are it won’t matter whether the lawmakers approve the ban on junk food or not.

The feds would have to sign off on a waiver to impose the restrictions. Several states have applied for the waiver but the U.S. Department of Agriculture has denied them all.

House committee approves ban on Internet cafes

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A measure banning Internet cafes in Florida cleared its first hurdle in the Florida House over the objections of two Palm Beach County Democrats and setting up a stand-off with the Senate that wants to regulate the “casinos on the corner.”

Lawmakers need to shutter the cafes because they prey on the poor and elderly and are highly addictive, said bill sponsor Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood.

Plakon also cited reports showing that welfare recipients are using state-issued debit cards to at ATMs at the facilities to underwrite their gambling habit.

Lawmakers can pass his bill (HB 3), do nothing or regulate the facilities, which could cost the state $200 million a year by invalidating a deal Florida has with the Seminole Indians, Plakon said.

“The regulation bill would be the effect of us authorizing 1,000 gambling locations in this state,” Plakon said.

To help persuade the Business and Consumer Affairs Committee to support his bill, Plakon pointed to a San Francisco newspaper that pilloried Florida lawmakers for failing to shut down the cafes.

“This is San Francisco laughing at us,” Plakon said. “San Francisco, mind you members, is laughing at us.”

Cafe customers purchase Internet time, which they can use to browse the Web or play free “sweepstakes” games, in which computer credit or time is won. Those credits can be redeemed for cash.

Palm Beach County commissioners recently issued a moratorium blocking any new cafes from opening in unincorporated areas.
Industry backers say shutting the cafes down would put thousands of workers in the unemployment line.

“What strikes me is the jobs. It seems like some funny, fuzzy math but there are thousands, possibly tens of thousands of jobs at risk,” said Rep. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, on the losing side of a 10-5 vote.

Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, voted against the measure but said he was troubled by the bill needed more information about the ability the use of welfare money at the cafes.

“This is one of the sickest votes I’ve taken since I’ve been here,” Bernard said.

Cain Florida supporters in ‘wait-and-see’ mode, Plakon says

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Embattled GOP presidential contender Herman Cain‘s Sunshine State supporters are in a wait-and-see mode while the campaign decides on its next move in the wake of allegations of a decade-long extramarital affair, Cain’s Florida campaign co-chairman Rep. Scott Plakon said Tuesday.

Cain told advisors and supporters including Plakon this morning that he is “reassessing” whether to remain in the race.

But Plakon said that, if what Cain says is true and he did not have a 13-year affair with Ginger White, Cain should stay in. And if that’s the case, he’s got Plakon’s support.

“If it turns out that all he had was 61 text messages, that seems like a pretty lousy reason o drive someone out of the presidential race…To say he should get out because of that I can speak for myself. I just don’t roll that way,” Plakon, R-Longwood, said.

And, Plakon said, Cain’s Florida supporters are on hold but haven’t bailed after the latest round of accusations.

“We haven’t heard anybody calling to say, ‘I’m out of here.’ He’s so well-liked people are willing to see what the reassessment looks like over the next few days,” Plakon said.

Plakon, who said he was on the conference call with Cain’s national advisors Tuesday morning, said the accusations alone should not force Cain to step aside.

“He says he didn’t do these things. And if that is true, to be forced out of this race over allegations that aren’t true would be truly unfortunate and I think would be bad for our country. We have a long tradition in the country. You should be presumed innocent until you’re found guilty,” he said. “If it turns out that all he had was 61 text messages, that seems like a pretty lousy reason o drive someone out of the presidential race…To say he should get out because of that I can speak for myself. I just don’t roll that way.”

If the allegations are true, however, Cain should drop out, Plakon said.

“If he did have a 13-year affair, then he should get out. But I take him at his word. And he said he didn’t do it. So unless proof comes forward, I don’t think these things should chase a presidential candidate in the top tier out of the race,” he said.

The latest set of accusations are sure to hamper Cain, once a favorite among GOP voters but whose star plummeted in the wake of the first round of accusations of sexual harassment earlier this month.

(more…)

As promised, Cain’s Florida team includes ‘seasoned’ political pros

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011 by George Bennett

Cain

Former Jeb Bush operatives Kathleen Shanahan and Arlene DiBenigno and veteran Tampa GOP media consultant Adam Goodman will be part of Herman Cain’s long-awaited campaign team in Florida.

An official announcement is expected later today, but details were reported this morning by The St. Petersburg Times and confirmed to PostOnPolitics by state Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, an early Cain endorser who’ll be one of four state co-chairs for Cain.

The other co-chairs will be Shanahan, former St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker and former state Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis.

Cain, whose Sept. 24 victory in a Republican Party of Florida straw poll propelled him into the top tier of GOP presidential candidates, has so far been relying on a network of volunteers in the crucial Sunshine State. But Plakon last week promised that the campaign would be adding “serious, seasoned people who have run significant campaigns.”

Others on Cain’s Florida team include Hillsborough County GOP Chairwoman Deborah Cox-Roush and Orlando activist “Typhoon Lou” Marin, who’s been heading the volunteer Florida4Cain organization.

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