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Homeless Bills Targeting Pro Sports Teams Make Legislative Rounds

MIAMI (CBS4) - A pair of bills making their way through the Florida legislature could have local homeless sleeping on the 50-yard-line of Sun Life Stadium or up in the rafter of the AmericanAirlines Arena.

Florida State Senator Mike Bennett (R-Bradenton) and State Rep. Frank Artilles (R-Miami) have introduced bills to demand Florida's professional sports franchises to either start housing homeless folks in their stadiums and arenas, or give back the hundreds of millions of dollars they have received from the state.

"I want to make good citizens out of them," Bennett told CBS4 News Tuesday. "Here we are cutting money for Medicaid, we're cutting money for education, we're cutting money for homeless programs and shelters and all these other things and we're saying, you know what maybe we should ask for that money back since they didn't do it, they didn't comply, they chose to ignore the law."

The law Bennett refers to is a provision of a 1988 statute requiring teams that take state money to convert to homeless shelters when the teams aren't playing. In the 23 years the law has been in existence; it has never been enforced.

Bennett and Artilles point out that every sports team in South Florida has taken millions of dollars of state taxpayer's money. Across the state the total figure is more than $270 million.

"I think they should follow the rule and the rule was you took the money you were supposed to use it for a program for homeless people and you didn't do it and therefore we want our money back," Bennett said.

But homeless advocates argue warehousing homeless individuals in large facilities is not the answer and would actually be counter-productive.

In 1988, when the stadium homeless law was first enacted, there were more than 8,000 people living on the streets of Miami. Today, there are fewer than 800 - with many of those refusing help.

"Miami-Dade has a more comprehensive, broader program than most anyplace else in America," said Ron Book, chairman of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust.

The Trust was created in 1993 and spends more than $45 million a year on helping the homeless.

"The 27 person homeless trust board would never look at a solution as to housing people in our stadiums and our arenas as an acceptable method to end homelessness," he added. "That's just not what we do."

It should be noted that Ron Book is also the lobbyist for the Miami Dolphins. Whether this bill will make it very far remains to be seen.

It seems unlikely that legislators will actually be able to claw back the millions they've given the various franchises. At the very least though, it offers legislators a chance to beat up on the pro sports teams and their billionaire owners; a sport that is always fun for politicians.

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