TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – The Senate accepted a House proposal Thursday that would require Major League Baseball to change how Cuban players are treated if baseball wants to share in state money for stadium work.
The proposal is part of a bill (HB 7095) lined up for a vote Friday, the last day of the regular session, to establish new criteria for teams and local governments seeking state money.
“We’re sending a strong message saying just because the rules are different in Cuba, it doesn’t mean the rules can be different here,” Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said. “You can’t treat Cuban players differently.”
Other than for Canadians, Major League Baseball allows foreign nationals to negotiate as free agents with any club. However, a U.S. embargo prohibits Cuban players from negotiating as free agents while still in Cuba and requires that those who defect to America enter the annual amateur draft.
Flores noted the unintended consequence is that Cubans must first establish residency in a third country. That consequence was recently highlighted in reports about human trafficking in the escape of Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig to Mexico.
“Major League Baseball, either knowingly or perhaps unknowingly, has been a part of what essentially has become a major human trafficking scheme,” Flores said.
After the House approved a similar amendment on the bill last week, Major League Baseball issued a statement that questioned the proposal. But the league added it intends to address with the players union signing rules for Cuban players.
“While the sponsors of the bill in Florida blame MLB policies for the role of human smugglers, they do not provide any support for their premise that Cuban players must rely on traffickers to defect to countries other than the U.S. such as Mexico or the Dominican Republic, but would not need the assistance of traffickers to reach U.S. soil,” MLB said in the statement.
The statement also encouraged Florida lawmakers to address federal actions with the U.S. State Department to reduce or eliminate the trafficking of Cuban baseball players.
MLB spokesman Pat Courtney texted Thursday that, “We are having ongoing dialogue with the (players union) on this issue.”
However, it still is uncertain if the issue will reach Gov. Rick Scott. If the Senate approves the package, details of the stadium-funding bill would still have to be quickly worked out with the House.
Both chambers are seeking to set up a ranking system within the Department of Economic Opportunity for teams and communities to go through.
Under the Senate plan, the process would allow projects that cost more than $200 million to apply for more than $3 million a year in funding for 30 years. Projects worth between $100 million and $200 million could apply for up to $2 million a year, and those between $30 million and $100 million would be eligible for up to $1 million a year.
The money would be available annually for the major sports leagues, along with Major League Soccer, the North American Soccer League, NASCAR, Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, hosts of the Breeders’ Cup horse races and minor-league baseball facilities.
Currently, only Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, the National Football League and the National Basketball Association are eligible for sales-tax dollars for stadium work.
But the Senate wants an annual pool of $13 million in sales-tax dollars for stadium work starting in 2015, with $7 million allocated this year potentially for Daytona International Speedway and Major League Soccer expansion-franchise stadium plans in Orlando and Miami.
The House has proposed the annual pool at $12 million in sales-tax dollars, without the quick cash for Daytona and soccer.
The proposals are the result of a controversy last year about an unsuccessful effort by the Miami Dolphins to land tax money for upgrades at Sun Life Stadium. Orlando Republican Sen. Andy Gardiner said the policy changes are a better way of doing business than allowing “whoever could get up and give the best story.”
This report is by Jim Turner with The News Service of Florida.