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Fins Stadium Bill Stalls In Florida House; Future Uncertain

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An artist rendering of proposed changes to Sun Life Stadium (Source: Miami Dolphins)

An artist rendering of proposed changes to Sun Life Stadium (Source: Miami Dolphins)

David-Sutta-600x450 David Sutta
David Sutta joined the CBS4 news team in April of 2007. As S...
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Miami Dolphins had plenty to celebrate Thursday night between new uniforms and the acquisition of the number three overall pick in the draft. And now the planned renovations of Sun Life Stadium are back before a Senate committee.

Friday afternoon, the Senate President moved ahead with the Dolphins bill as it was sent for a second reading. It will need a third hearing before a final vote in the Senate which could come as early as Monday.

“Now is not the time to panic,” said Senator Oscar Braynon. “We are not at panic time. I think that it’s important that we look at the process and think that most big bills like this, they end up passing on the last week.”

Still, Friday morning the news for the Fins deteriorated as the House version of the Sun Life Stadium renovations bill died. The appropriations committee would have been the last stop before heading to a full floor vote, but it never made it.

“It’s an interesting process,” said Representative Seth McKeel of Lakeland. “That bill didn’t make its way through.”

Appropriations Committee Chairman, Representative Seth McKeel, became the legislative version of Tom Brady to the Fins when he refused to even hold a hearing on the bill.

CBS4’s David Sutta caught up with Representative McKeel and asked him if there was any specific reason why he didn’t want the bill heard.

“I didn’t feel the need to hear the bill,” said Representative McKeel. “Some members were supportive of it and some members were not. My job is to do the budget of the State of Florida and I’ve got to focus on that first.”

At this point, the original House version of the plan to renovate Sun Life Stadium is essentially dead. The legislature has to allow a sales tax exemption to pass, along with allowing Miami-Dade County voters to decide on using tourist dollars to help with the renovation, or the deal can’t even move to a public vote.

The plan, as of early Friday afternoon, was for the Senate to take up its bill early next week and if it passes, the House could then take up the bill. A House committee would still have to approve the bill and then it would be sent to the floor of the House for a vote on final passage.

“We are confident Tallahassee will allow voters of Miami-Dade County to decide,” the Miami Dolphins said in a statement. Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said he doesn’t think any bill has a traditional path to passage.

The Miami Dolphins have turned to noted lobbyist Ron Book to try and stem the legislative tide. Book said he’s still optimistic things can get moving.

“Nobody should believe that this thing is not going to have an opportunity to be heard,” Book said. “I believe 30 plus member of the Florida Senate are ready to vote yes. I believe there are 85 members plus in the Florida House ready to vote yes.”

While that may be true, only five more days are left in the legislature’s regular session. Still, opinion on the potential passage of the bill in the House is far from certain.

“If we take it up I strongly believe that we have the votes to pass this in the Florida House,” said Representative Eddy Gonzalez. “And if that’s not the case we are looking at other options. You know at the end of session you have to get crafty.”

“I think if they had the votes and they were confident, it would have come up already,” said Representative Carlos Trujillo. “I think there is a lot of trouble with the bill.”

Trujillo believes legislators are especially concerned about what happens after Sun Life Stadium.

““Where do we draw the line?  We do it for the Dolphins and this year already the Jacksonville Jaguars want their piece,” Rep. Trujillo said. “The Miami Heat; I’m sure we’ll want their piece. The Tampa Lighting will want their piece. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will want their piece. And where do we draw the line?”

While not completely dead, the bill faces a tall task of trying to completely navigate the legislature in just a matter of days.

CBS4’s David Sutta asked Book if he was spinning what’s currently happening in the legislature?

“I don’t need to spin it. I’ve been doing this for 40 years. I know what the process is. And the process is often times referred to as sausage making,” Book said. “It takes time and it’s often not as clean as you would like it to be. At the end of the day there is a lot of time left in this legislative session.”

Without the stadium renovations, the possibility of future Super Bowls in South Florida likely becomes a moot point. The NFL has indicated in the past that to get another Super Bowl, Sun Life Stadium will have to undergo major renovations and redesigns.

In other words, the Florida House has hundreds of millions of dollars and possibly thousands of jobs during the construction and during multiple Super Bowl’s in its hands right now with no clear path to the proverbial end zone.

The Senate will begin business next Monday at high noon and if the bill is not voted on by mid-week, things could get interesting. As one legislator told CBS4’s David Sutta, they (supporters of the plan) will have to get crafty.

The Dolphins are planning for all contingencies and working on their own two-minute offense in the legislature for what could be a crucial week in South Florida pro football history.

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