TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – The Florida Senate has approved a bill that grants a sales tax exemption and allows Miami-Dade County voters to decide on using tourist dollars to help with the renovations to Sun Life Stadium.

The bill passed by an overwhelming vote of 35-4 during Monday’s late afternoon session. The stadium bill was originally removed from the Senate agenda Monday, but late in the day the bill made an unexpected appearance on the floor.

Miami Dolphins owners Stephen Ross and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell watched the vote in the gallery.

“The community benefits,” Ross said. “I’m paying for most of the cost of it. But really it’s the community that’s really the major beneficiary.”

Goodell believes the bill — if passed and approved by voters — could be a significant boon to South Florida.

“It’s good for the community,” Goodell said. “It’s good for Florida and we think ultimately it’s gonna keep the Dolphins stronger and bring more big events to Florida.”

The sales tax exemption and the usage of tourist tax dollars is required for the deal between Miami-Dade County and the Dolphins to be completed.

The stadium renovation plan is expected to cost at least $350 million and the Dolphins have vowed to pay back some of the money used to make the renovations.

Last week, a companion bill in the Florida House for the renovation of Sun Life Stadium was not brought up in the appropriations committee. However, the Senate’s action to approve the bill on Monday allows the bill new life in the House.

The Senate bill will now be brought to a House committee that 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.

Debate in the Senate was light. Bill sponsor Senator Oscar Braynon II said the bill will hold professional sports teams accountable.

“I don’t see this as welfare to billionaires,” Braynon said on the Senate floor. “I see this as telling them you have to invest in Florida. You have to invest in Floridians.”

Without the stadium renovations, the possibility of future Super Bowls in South Florida becomes less likely.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has hinted in the past that South Florida won’t host another Super Bowl until Sun Life stadium gets a significant face lift.  “It is important for us to play the game on the best possible stage and the stadiums are getting better and better,” Goodell said in March.

It’s not just Super Bowls that the renovations could help attract.

The renovations would help attract college championship games along with soccer matches and other events like Wrestlemania. Dolphins officials say those events bring in millions in economic impact to South Florida.

If approved by the House, the bill also clears the way for Miami-Dade voters to decide whether to raise the hotel tax to help pay for stadium improvements. Early voting began Monday and turnout was light.

CBS4 News spoke to several voters who supported the bill and others who planned to vote against it. Opponents said the owners of the teams should pay the entire cost of stadium upgrades.

Other voters said they had no idea there was a special election on the issue.

If the bill makes it through the legislature, a special election in Miami-Dade is set for May 14th.


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