Pro Teams Must Help Homeless says Lawmaker
Florida’s professional sports teams would have to provide shelter for the homeless or face losing millions in state funding, under a measure that passed its first Senate committee on Monday.
Citing a 24-year-old law that appears to have never been enforced, Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, introduced a measure (SB 816) that would require the clubs to comply with a 1987 law requiring them to run homeless shelters, or face the loss of $166,000 in monthly payments that since their inception have pumped more than $271 million in taxpayer money into the coffers of professional sports teams.
An amendment added to the bill Monday, would also require pro teams to purchase tickets for veterans, the homeless, needy kids and their families in the event that their games are blacked out in the local area, a pointed swipe at the National Football League teams in Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville. The amendment contains the content of a bill filed earlier by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.
“We have spent over $300 million supporting teams than can afford to pay a guy $7, $8, $10 million a year to throw a baseball 90 feet,” Bennett said. “I think that they can pay for their own stadium.”
The law requiring that the teams help the homeless, which went into effect in 1988, states: “Any professional sports facility constructed with financial assistance from the State of Florida shall be designated as a shelter site for the homeless in accordance with the criteria of locally existing homeless shelter programs, except when the facility is otherwise contractually obligated for a specific event or activity.”
Bennett said the law has largely been ignored by the football and baseball teams that call Florida home, but added those clubs that have established some type of homeless program in cooperation with their host cities would be in compliance with the law.
Among the biggest beneficiaries of state tax funds are the Miami Dolphins/Florida Marlins ($37 million) and the City of Jacksonville ($35 million.)
The bill is the latest in an ongoing spat between Bennett and professional baseball and football franchises, which Bennett claims can afford to pay their own way, but have balked. The bill passed unanimously Monday in the Senate Community Affairs Committee, which Bennett chairs.
“I can’t believe we are going to cut Medicaid and take money away from the homeless, the poor and the impoverished and continue to support people who are billionaires and own stadiums,” Bennett said.
The bill is a long way from home, however. It has three more scheduled committee stops before reaching the floor.
By Michael Peltier