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Coming soon to a Florida ballpark near you: the homeless

Osceola County Stadium

Buried deep inside the Florida statutes, there’s a provision telling cities they must use state-funded sports facilities as homeless shelters on non-game nights. Since they don’t, two lawmakers want that state money back.

Truth is, we searched the Florida statutes and couldn’t find reference to the obscure 1998 law, so we can’t comment directly on it. But legislators say the law compels sports facilities funded with state money to house the homeless when there is no event scheduled.

Since there’s apparently no enforcement mechanism in the obscure 1998 bill, and no one in their right mind thinks the concourse of Osceola County Stadium would work as a homeless shelter, the law has been ignored. State Senator Michael Bennett (R-Bradenton) is seeking to basically add an enforcement mechanism to the law; his legislation would force municipalities to return any state funds unless the sports facility does indeed house the homeless. Now, we’re guessing the conservative Republican really doesn’t want to the homeless camping out at McKechnie Field: he’s basically attacking public funding of sports facilities. His real target: the major-league teams (i.e., the Miami Dolphins, Miami Heat, Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers) who have high ticket prices and receive public subsidies.

But his attack seems to miss the target. Let’s say his bill succeeds (an extremely long shot, though it’s already been voted out of one committee). Who would repay the $33 million the city of St. Petersburg has received for Tropicana Field support? Not the Tampa Bay Rays. Instead, the city — and its taxpayers — would be on the hook. So all this talk about sticking it to sports teams by forcing cities to return state dollars is laughable: it’s just another way for the state to raid the coffers of local governments.


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