Panthers could owe $30.8 million to Florida for not turning arena into homeless shelter

Every state has laws on the books that are neglected or ignored until some opportunist decides to enforce them. Remember how that guy from Texas tried to end the "sick, ugly tradition" of octopus tossing in Detroit through the 1982 Michigan Bodies of Dead Animals Act?

Yeah, that was weird.

Here's another arcane law: In 1988, the Florida legislature passed a measure that required the state's professional sports teams to use their facilities to run homeless shelters or run the risk of losing $166,667 in monthly taxpayer-supported funds. From the West Orlando News, the statute reads:

"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."

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, introduced Senate Bill 816 recently that seeks to enforce that 1988 law (along with requiring Florida-based NFL teams to purchase tickets for veterans, the homeless and disadvantaged children when their games are blacked out).

According to Matthew Hendley of the Broward Palm Beach New Times, there's an audit included in that bill which could really, really impact the NHL's Florida Panthers -- to the tune of $30 million.

From Hendley:

According to the bill analysis, the teams would have to return the money they received unless they can prove they've been running these homeless programs.

For the Panthers -- who play at Sunrise's BankAtlantic Center -- that's a tab of $30,833,395.

… It's not clear whether any of the teams have any of these programs set up in their facilities, but Bennett doesn't think so. Our inquiry to the Panthers' facility operations manager wasn't immediately returned.

The BankAtlantic Center opened in 1998 and was nearly entirely funded with public money.

From the Miami New Times:

"We have spent over $300 million supporting teams that can afford to pay a guy $7, 8, 10 million a year to throw a baseball 90 feet. I think they can pay for their own stadium," Bennett tells The Miami Herald. "I can not believe that we're going to cut money out of Medicaid and take it away from the homeless and take it away from the poor and impoverished, and we're continuing to support people who are billionaires."

While this audit — and this bill — may never force a professional sports team to do or pay anything, it does bring up the debate about public funding of sports facilities. Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, for example, used to wonder why taxpayers who already paid for a facility had to pay again for entrance.

And while that's an extreme libertarian example of the rhetoric, it does capture the spirit of the thing. At least for these lawmakers.

s/t Wayne from Tuskegee.