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Salzman: 1st Legislative Session 'A Lot Of Fun'

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Florida lawmakers returned to Tallahassee on Monday, for a special session to consider a gaming deal between the state and the Seminole Tribe. WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody recently spoke with state Rep. Michelle Salzman on that, and her first regular session in office.

The 30-year compact would expand gambling and legalize sports betting in the nation’s third most populous state. DeSantis said at the signing last month that the agreement, if passed, would allow the state to capitalize on internet sport betting, which is already underway with increasing popularity.

“Sports betting really is going on already,” contended the governor. “Why don’t we come together, put some structure to this, and let it be done in a way where the tribe is in control of the sports, and the state is able to share with some generous revenue payments.”

“This is the best deal for everybody. It’s not in favor of the tribe or the state. It’s in favor of both parties,” said Marcellus Osceola Jr., the chairman of the Seminole Tribe.

The deal would give the state at least $2.5 billion over the first five years and at least $6 billion from the Tribe by 2030. State officials say the pact would create 2,200 new jobs.

“We’ve been attending what they’re calling ‘Legislator University’ classes, trying to get our minds wrapped around on what gaming is, and the state’s responsibility is in that process,” said Rep. Michelle Salzman (R-Pensacola), who adds that she’s going into the special session with an open mind on what it could mean for Florida.

“It’s a huge privilege to be able to be a part of this conversation, because it’s certainly not something most of us will ever get the opportunity to do; so I do take it very seriously, but I haven’t really heard anything back from local constituents, which has been interesting.”

As mentioned, Salzman – who won election last November – has just finished her inaugural regular session. The freshman was asked how it did it go?

“It was really a lot of fun, and a lot easier than I anticipated,” she said. “But certainly it was successful, at least from my perspective. I had went [sic] over there with the objective to ‘bring a dollar’ back (laughs). And so far, so good with almost $5 million waiting for the governor to sign.”

One tough part of the session, says Salzman, was the writing and submission of legislation. But she added help was there in the form of staffers and constitutional lawyers.

“The bill drafting – I think the most intimidating for me was whatever you submitted, it’s public record,” Salzman said. “So everybody can see what you wrote – no matter how good or how bad it is, it’s there. It was confusing, it was certainly stressful trying to figure it out. But, they just have so many great resources there.”

One of the traditions that veteran lawmakers like to do, says Salzman, is to haze new representatives when they do their first bill presentation – such as asking “silly questions” of the rookie legislators.

“There’s a representative named Mike Giallombardo, and the question from the chair was ‘How many vowels are in your last name?’ said Salzman. I really didn’t get any of that; my first bill that I presented was an Alzheimer’s awareness bill, and it’s such an emotional bill I think people were just too scared to make jokes. But it was a good time.”

The Alzheimer’s measure passed the House, but stalled in a Senate committee, which didn’t meet to revisit it.

“They adopted some of the language into another bill, so that they could get some of that pushed through,” Salzman said. “But the partnership itself with the [state] Health Department, the bill’s going to have to be ran [sic] again next year in order to get that into law.”

Salzman has not decided whether she’ll back the Alzheimer’s bill in 2022 – she’s already committed to shepherding other measures, such as a motorcycle license plate on the Blue Angels.

“When you run a motorcycle license plate bill, you have to run a fee bill; so that takes up two bill slots,” said Salzman. “Then there’s the Walkability bill and I’m not sure I’m going to need that bill’s slot. I’m meeting with the speaker’s office to see if we can run the study without doing the bill again. So I don’t want to commit to too many bill slots before I get there.”

On review, Salzman gives high marks to the local delegation serving Districts one and two for their job in the 2021 session. One of her personal highlights was being named to the House Appropriations Committee for Health Care.

“We got some good legislation passed; COVID liability was a huge thing, getting Florida opened back up again and making sure that businesses and hospitals were funded, said Salzman. “All of our hospitals here locally got fully funded, and so I think it was a huge win – I think we all did really well.”

While it didn’t get much coverage – if any at all – Salzman says she’s excited about getting money for the town of Century’s well water management system. That was part of her priority to concentrate on serving all voters in District-1, and not just the squeakiest wheels.