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Nancy Smith

Stadium Bill Crosses Home Plate, Wins the House

April 24, 2014 - 6:00pm

The House stadium bill, legislation that provides an application process for sports facilities needing state money for upgrades, sailed through the lower chamber Friday on a wave of members' bipartisan support.

Following a quorum check, members passed CS/HB 7095, 93-16.

Only Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, spoke against the bill. "If we pass this," he said, "2015 will be the first tax break Olympics." Rodriguez claimed the bill wasn't tied closely enough to economic development. "The bill requires a commitment to hire locals and buy local products," he said. "How do you verify a commitment?"

But eight other members rose in support of Rep. Jimmy Patronis' bill, "fixed," he said, after 2013 legislation "when we were bombarded with star-studded stadium applications."

Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, said, "This is a bill I can finally embrace. ... I hope the folks back home who are emailing and calling this 'corporate welfare' are listening today. ... We're not giving anybody corporate welfare."

Rep. Dwayne L. Taylor, D-Daytona Beach, invited members to come to Daytona Beach, see the more than $400 million investment the Daytona National Speedway has put into its facility already. "Next to our beaches, the Speedway is our second biggest attraction," Taylor said. They're only looking for "a measly $2 million."

Said Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, "What gets lost in all this is, sports bills create opportunities for economic development." Hotels, restaurants, airlines -- any business that relies on tourism -- benefits from an enabling bill like this one, he said.

Speaking as one of the biggest proponents of the bill, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, admitted he is proud of the bill "that fixes a problem from last year and sends a message to Major League Baseball." He was referring to his and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz's amendment that stipulates until MLB resolves concerns about the treatment of Cuban players -- whom the league ignores and victimizes as human trafficking targets -- its franchises will be ineligible to apply for the state rebates.

In closing, Patronis, R-Panama City, said the bill now "is almost like a mortgage application." Franchises have to fill out an application to qualify for sales-tax rebates. The money isn't automatic -- each application will be considered on its own merit.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423.

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