Bill banning Internet cafes to get House floor vote Friday
TALLAHASSEE, Mar 22, 2013 (The News Herald - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
State House Democrats challenged a bill Thursday that would ban Internet cafes, adult arcades and South Florida's "maquinitas," citing concerns over lost jobs and outlawing games that courts have ruled are legal.
The bill is aimed at officially criminalizing -- what critics say -- is gambling operations that exploit a "grey area" in Florida law.
State Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, led the charge against the bill (HB 155), zeroing in on the adult arcades. He told the bill's sponsor -- Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami -- every time litigation has been brought against adult arcades in Broward County, the court has ruled in the business' favor.
"The reality is these machines are not illegal. The courts have determined they are games of skill," Waldman said.
There is a demarcation line between "games of chance" and "games of skill" when prizes are given away. If it's a game of chance, then it's illegal gambling, but if it's a game of skill, like skeeball at Chuck E. Cheese's, then it's legal.
There were also accusations that the bill is being rushed through the House. Last week, it received its first and only committee hearing, and Friday it will receive a floor vote.
Waldman said the bill moved so fast that stakeholders weren't able to testify against it in committee. He made a motion on the floor to send it back through the committee process, but it was rejected on a voice vote.
"I really think we ought to slow this bill down a bit," he said.
Thousands of jobs also would be eliminated if Internet cafes were shut down. When Trujillowas asked about that, he said no jobs would be lost, in his view. He drew a comparison between drug dealers and Internet cafe owners, asking if people would consider a drug dealer's arrest a lost job.
Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, took issue with that and pointed out Internet cafe owners and employees pay payroll taxes.
"You do not believe there will be even one job lost as the result of these closures " he asked Trujillo.
Richardson followed that by asking how many drug dealers Trujillo knew who filed W2s or 1099s.
Despite the detractors, the bill's primaryco-sponsor, state Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, predicted it will pass the House floor with fewer than 20 "no" votes.
"It will have bi-partisan support," he said.
Patronis said the legislation eliminates the grey area in Florida law, unequivocally making Internet cafes, adult arcades and maquinitas (found in gas stations) illegal.
But the adult arcade and maquinita ban wasn't part of Trujillo's original bill, and the Senate may be less tolerant of banning these games. Nevertheless, there's rock solid support on one issue, Patronis said.
"I think the constant is both chambers totally agree on getting rid of Internet cafes," he said.
In the Senate, companion legislation (SB 1030) has been referred to the Rules Committee -- its last stop before a floor vote.
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