Sen. Mike Bennett of Bradenton is pushing legislation to force nearly 20 Florida sports franchises to pay back tax money they've received over the years. As he says, "They owe the people of the state of Florida a little over $300 million and I plan on going to get it."
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A state Senator is ready to send a bill for $300 million to a variety of sports franchises in Florida because he says they're breaking the law when it comes to accepting tax dollars.
Sen. Mike Bennett is upset with about 20 sports franchises that receive state cash but don't open up their facilities to be used as homeless shelters, as required by law.
The Florida Legislature passed a law in 1988 requiring sports franchises that accept tax money to use their facilities as homeless shelters when they're not in use, and if they don't, then they have to pay the money back.
The state of Florida has paid out about $300 million to 18 sports franchises over the past 20 years. Not a single one has followed that law.
Sen. Bennett says in sports you have to play by the rules. He believes sports franchises should have to play by the rules of law in life because they're not being fair to the average taxpayer.
"We've got a guy out here catching mullet for a living. We're taking his taxpayers' money and we're funding a professional sports franchise down in Miami. They guy up here can never go to that stadium. He can't afford the ticket when he gets there and yet the billionaire that owns the Florida Marlins is taking advantage of these people and the money. If they want to play by the rules, they're sports franchises they always play by the rules, one of the rules is they have to use it as a homeless shelter and if they don't, as far as I'm concerned, they owe us the money back."
Bennett's bill got a very favorable reception in its first committee hearing Monday. The Senate Community Affairs Committee passed the bill on a unanimous vote.
The legislation still faces several more committee votes before it can head to the Senate floor for debate.
The sports franchises that have not followed the 1988 law include: the Florida Marlins/Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Tampa Buccaneers, Miami Heat and Orlando Magic. Ten other franchises have received tax dollars for spring training baseball.