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14 posts from March 21, 2013

March 21, 2013

Miami says video-gaming machines known as maquinitas are illegal

Across Miami, all video-gaming machines — more popularly known as “ maquinitas’’ in the Little Havana cafeterias and Flagler Street video arcades where most are installed — are illegal, now say the mayor and a top city official.

The reason for the change of heart: A controversial October 2010 bill championed by Mayor Tomas Regalado that required owners of an “amusement game or machine” to pay $500 a year for a license called a “business tax receipt.”

In the 2½ years since the ordinance was adopted, not a single machine owner has purchased the license, for what are believed to be hundreds if not thousands of the devices, administrators say.

“Every one of those machines is illegal,” said Noel Chavez, the city’s occupational license supervisor.

“That’s what I think,” agreed the mayor, whose support for the video-gaming industry caused so much friction between himself and Police Chief Miguel Exposito that it led to the chief’s ouster.

The issue came to light this week as bills rocket through the state legislature that would outlaw video gaming machines at Internet cafes and adult arcades throughout the state. The measures would apply to the type of machines sprinkled around Miami and Hialeah, legislators say.

The argument over the machines turns on the question of whether they are games of chance or skill. Florida law — outside of specified pari-mutuels — broadly forbids gambling, outlawing machines with “any element of chance.’’ The state law says it is “the duty’’ of law enforcement to “seize and take possession’’ of gambling machines.

But maquinita owners have sought to exploit an exception in the law that allows amusement games of skill, like video games at arcades, which can pay small prizes.

More from Charles Rabin and Melissa Sanchez here.

Miami mayor: City in better financial shape

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, in an expansive 47-minute “state of the city” speech at City Hall Wednesday, took credit for lowering taxes and upgrading services.

But four years after taking office, the mayor still couldn’t resist bashing the administration of his predecessor, Manny Diaz. The first half of Regalado’s speech was all about how Miami has recovered from four years ago, when “our city’s future was in jeopardy.”

The mayor focused on how he, along with the city commission, enabled the city to overcome a $100 million deficit, and how — in his opinion — the past administration wasn’t nearly as accessible as his.

His example: There was a bell in place when he arrived that visitors to the mayor’s office had to ring to get assistance. He saw it as an obstacle.

“Being mayor was not about cutting ribbons, grandiose ambitions and even grander parties. . . . The first day as mayor I had the bell removed,” he said.

More from Charles Rabin here.

Poll: Voters in the ‘Gunshine State’ want tougher gun laws, and Hillary

Florida voters support universal background checks for gun purchases, other gun control laws and Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, according to a new poll from Quinnipiac University.

The poll, released Thursday, found that 91 percent of Florida voters support universal background checks for all gun purchases.

“The idea of requiring background checks on those who want to buy guns has overwhelming support, 91 - 8 percent, in a country where getting a majority to agree on anything is often difficult,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

Floridians also support Hillary Clinton more than their homegrown political stars, Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush. In a head-to-head matchup, Clinton leads Bush 51 to 40 percent and outpolls Rubio 52 to 41 percent.

By a 51-44 percent margin, Florida voters support stricter gun control laws in the state, with majorities of voters backing an assault weapons ban and a ban on high capacity magazines.

Florida’s results track many of the results found by pollsters in other states, despite the fact that the Sunshine State is one of the most gun-friendly in the country. In December, Florida surpassed 1 million concealed carry permits, a number that leads the nation.

Those who own guns have very different opinions about gun control, with 61 percent opposed to stricter gun laws and 57 percent opposing an assault weapons ban. Still, gun owners support universal background checks by an 88-11 percent margin. The Florida Legislature has mostly avoided the gun debate this year, as several gun control bills have languished after being filed. 

Below are a few more results from the poll:

Continue reading "Poll: Voters in the ‘Gunshine State’ want tougher gun laws, and Hillary" »

Five things to look for in Thursday’s legislative session

 Like the weather, the legislative agenda is heating up. The House meets Thursday, taking up several important bills. There’s another grass-roots rally on election reform and the Senate is looking at topics like optometry and Medicaid.

Here are five things to watch:

A fast-tracked ban on Internet cafes (HB 155) moves to the House floor. The bill was prompted by a law enforcement raid on 49 gaming centers that led to the arrest of 57 people in Operation Reveal the Deal, a federal and state crackdown on illegal gambling.

Also on the House floor is one of House Speaker Will Weatherford’s top priorities: pension reform. Tje Wesley Chapel Republican has called Florida’s current pension plan a “ticking time bomb.” The Florida Retirement System bill (HB 7011), sponsored by Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, gets a second reading.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, Rep.’s Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, and Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, the Florida New Majority, Advancement Project and more than two dozen local community leaders from around the state will march to Gov. Rick Scott’s office after hosting a grassroots rally in the Capital’s fourth floor rotunda. Their message: House Bill 7013 and Senate Bill 600 do not go far enough to fix changes made in 2011, blamed for much of the long lines and confusion in the 2012 elections.

The Senate Appropriations Committee takes up the highly controversial bill (SB 278), sponsored by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, that would let optometrists dispense oral medications.

During the same Senate Appropriations Committee meeting, legislators will address another hot issue: the Senate alternative to Medicaid expansion (7038), proposed by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

- By Rochelle Koff, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau