by Amy Keller
Updated 5 yearss ago
From Education to Infrastructure: The Florida Chamber of Commerce's top priorities this legislative session will include:
» Education Reform: The chamber is championing many of the changes contained in last year's SB 6, including tying teacher pay to student performance and achievement.
» Regulatory Reform: Chamber leaders are working with lawmakers on a significant rewrite of the state's growth management laws and are seeking changes to the laws that will speed up permitting. The chamber also supports disposing of the state's costly port security regulations, which were rendered unnecessary by federal regulations put in place after Sept. 11, 2001.
The chamber will continue to support public pension reform that would shift public employees from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan and tort reform, including reform of the state's bad faith laws and the state's "crashworthiness doctrine." The doctrine would change the way juries apportion fault in "enhanced injury cases" by requiring them to consider the fault of all entities who contributed to the automobile crash.
Items at the forefront of lobbyist Associated Industries of Florida's agenda include:
» Regulatory Overhaul:
» Budget Issues: The group wants a federal waiver exempting the state from federal mandates of the new healthcare law; proposals to combat Medicaid fraud; and an expansion of managed care pilot programs for Medicaid recipients.
» Infrastructure: AIF is supporting both destination gambling resorts and high-speed rail.
Casinos: Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate, has resumed his quest to bring resort-style casinos gaming to the Sunshine State. Two weeks after the November elections, Adelson met privately with Gov. Rick Scott in Las Vegas to discuss his ideas.
Andy Abboud, vice president of government relations and community development at Adelson's Las Vegas Sands Corp., says that Florida is one of the few states that can support a limited number of large-scale integrated resorts that include shopping, dining, gaming and entertainment. Wynn Resorts, Caesars Entertainment (previously known as Harrah's Entertainment) and Penn National Gaming are also said to be interested in expanding into Florida.
The destination-gamers emphasize the jobs angle: "If the right type of legislation is passed, the legalization of integrated resorts will create tens of thousands of jobs and millions of new visitors to Florida," Abboud told Florida Trend.
Prospects for success? Unlikely, says Tallahassee lobbyist Marc Dunbar, without some kind of subsidy or guarantee to protect Florida's existing horse racing and dog tracks. Dunbar points to Pennsylvania as a good example of a state that was able to rejuvenate its horse and harness racing industry with revenue from slot gaming.
iPoker: Rep. Joseph Abruzzo (D-Wellington) has introduced HB 77, which would allow card room operators to offer online poker in Florida.
? GROWTH MANAGEMENT
Reviving 360: Doug Buck, director of governmental affairs for the Florida Home Builders Association, says that dismantling the Department of Community Affairs won't mean anything unless the state makes significant changes to the overall growth management system. Buck favors returning oversight and decision-making to local governments, as SB 360, which was invalidated by a legal challenge, would have done. Other top association priorities include seeking funding forSadowski Affordable Housing and a septic tank study.
Cautious Growth: As lawmakers reconsider the state's approach to growth management, a coalition of environmental groups including 1000 Friends of Florida, Audubon of Florida, Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy and the Tropical Audubon Society, recently sent recommendations to Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos.
Among their recommendations:
» Maintaining "an independent state land-planning agency to promote the most efficient use of essential regional and statewide resources."
» Lessening state oversight in urban infill and redevelopment areas but increasing scrutiny of rural and "edge" areas with significant natural resources.
» Requiring new development to cover the cost of associated infrastructure and services so taxpayers are not forced to subsidize development through higher taxes.
» Placing an increased emphasis on protecting Florida's most significant natural areas, including the Everglades, the Wekiva basin, aquatic preserves, viable wildlife corridors, river corridors and publicly owned lands.
Sinkholes: The Florida Insurance Council, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, the Florida Property and Casualty Association and other industry groups are pressing lawmakers to do something to stem sinkhole claims. A recent report from the Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance stated that representatives with the state Office of Insurance Regulation, as well as insurers, "believe that a major driving force for the significant increase in sinkhole claims is the fact that many policyholders are incentivized to file such claims because they can keep the cash proceeds from the claim" rather than repair their property.
Another industry focal point is the state's bad faith statute. Katie Webb, whose firm Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky & Abate, represents the Florida Property and Casualty Association, says that Florida has become a "hotbed" for bad faith litigation. Bad faith suits often arise when an insurance company denies or delays payment of a claim made by the insured. Webb, however, contends that plaintiffs attorneys seeking to pad settlements are abusing the process by engaging in "gotcha" tactics to "set the insurance company up" for a bad faith claim.
Sen. Garrett Richter (R-Naples) has already introduced a bill that would hit on some of these areas, including sinkhole reform. SB 408 would also:
» Shift the burden of proof in contested sinkhole cases to the policyholder.
» Require an increase in minimum capital and surplus from $5 million to $15 million for new insurers.
» Institute a three-year filing deadline instead of up to five years.
» Allow an insurer to pay actual cash value and hold back replacement cash value until there is a written contract for repairs.
? HIGHER EDUCATION
Private College Funding: The Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida (ICUF), comprising 28 private, non-profit schools, is lobbying the Legislature to maintain funding of the Florida Resident Access Grant, state financial aid available to Florida residents who attend private schools. ICUF President Ed Moore says the grant, currently $2,425 per student, is less expensive for the state than if ICUF students attended state universities.
State Universities: The Florida Board of Governors, which operates the 11-member State University System, is backing several measures.
» Currently, students who earn nine or more credits through accelerated programs such as Advanced Placement classes, are not required to attend classes during the summer term, which is mandatory for other students. The Board of Governors wants to end that exemption because so many students enter the system with nine hours of credit that it's producing a bottleneck.
» The Board of Governors also wants to replenish the University Concurrency Trust Fund, which is intended to help fund infrastructure connected to university building projects. In recent years, the lawmakers have diverted money from the trust fund for other purposes.
FACU: The Florida Association of Colleges and Universities, and umbrella group for the State University System, the Florida College System (former the Florida Community College System) and the Independent Colleges and Universities, is urging the Legislature to:
» Support the Higher Education Coordinating Council, an advisory board created by the Legislature last spring to address issues like university enrollment and new degree programs for the state's universities. At the same time, FACU says the council needs to review the program approval process for new degree programs to ensure there is no "unwarranted duplication."
» Identify a dedicated source of revenue for higher education; provide money for Public Education Capital Outlay, which is used for construction, remodeling, renovation and repair of education facilities; invest in matching gifts programs for the State University System and the Florida College System; explore funding for construction on community/state college system campuses, targeting creation of university centers that encourage partnerships and expand offerings leading to baccalaureate degrees.
» Increase need-based aid.
» Support funding for the Florida Resident Access Grant, which provides $2,425 for Florida students attending private colleges.
» Create a matching funds/investment program to support a statewide initiative that specifically encourages students enrolled in any SACS-accredited college or university in Florida to complete their certificate or degree.
Former Community Colleges: The Florida College System, which includes 28 state colleges, is lobbying for:
» Continued backing for state funding and tuition increases to support rising student enrollment.
» Additional money to expand college facilities.
» Strengthening the transfer of credit between state colleges and Florida's public and private universities.
» Proposals that provide flexibility with certain fees and reporting requirements as ways to "allow colleges to do more with less."
Legislative Rx: Michael Jackson, executive vice president and CEO of the Florida Pharmacy Association, says that in addition to monitoring Medicaid reform efforts, his group is pushing to:
» Allow state employees to select their pharmacy provider, lifting a requirement to use mail order.
» Include training services relating to immunizations for pharmacy school interns.
Reform: Florida CHAIN (Community Health Action Information Network), a statewide consumer advocacy organization, says it will seek to make the "medical home" concept part of any Medicaid reform — creating one agent to handle all reimbursements related to a patient's health. The group also wants the state not to expand a pilot program in several counties that requires Medicaid patients to enroll in managed care plans until it's clear that system meets the needs of all recipients.
Solar Jobs: Florida lawmakers should pass comprehensive energy legislation that would allow utilities to use "cost recovery" to help pay for renewable energy projects, says Florida developer Syd Kitson, who is seeking to build a solar-powered town of 9,500 homes and 6 million square feet of office space on the outskirts of Fort Myers. Kitson says permitting is complete for his Babcock Ranch project and that Florida Power & Light could begin work on the solar array this year if the Legislature allows utilities to pass along some of the costs of building renewable energy projects to customers.
Josh Kellam, senior vice president of Global Energy United, a Virginia-based company that manufactures solar panels, says his company is prepared to open a manufacturing facility in the Palm Beach area if the state passes the sort of bill Kitson is talking about. Kellam says Global Energy United is interested in constructing a plant to manufacture 120 megawatts of photovoltaic solar panels annually — a move he estimates would create 250 to 300 jobs.
Concrete Efforts: Clobbered by the building bust, the Florida Concrete & Products Association is fighting for policies and laws that will boost demand for its products. The group's latest pitch plays on an environmental theme: It claims that using light-colored, reflective concrete for roads — rather than dark, heat-absorbing materials such as asphalt — can cut down on the "heat island effect" that causes cities to be up to 10 degrees warmer than surrounding rural areas. Michael Murtha, president of the Florida Concrete Products Association, urges the Legislature to follow in the footsteps of Miami, which passed an ordinance requiring a cooling strategy for at least 50% of "hardscaping" within the city limits.
? TORT REFORM
Liability: Tim Stapleton, executive vice president of the Florida Medical Association, says the state should adopt the same sort of sweeping medical liability reforms that Texas passed in 2003. Key components, Stapleton says, include expert witness reform, equal access to medical witnesses and emergency room sovereign immunity. Additionally, the association champions sovereign immunity to physicians who treat Medicaid patients.
Trial Lawyers: Top agenda items for the Florida Justice Association (formerly the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers):
» Crashworthiness: Opposing SB 142, by Sen. Garrett Richter (R-Naples), which would change the way juries apportion fault in "enhanced injury cases" by requiring them to consider the fault of all entities who contributed to the automobile crash. The justice association says the bill will "enable vehicle manufacturers to escape responsibility when their products cause serious injury to Floridians" by shifting the blame to someone else.
» Bad Faith: Fighting the insurance industry's attempts to eliminate or weaken the state's insurance bad faith laws.
» Med-mal: Opposing expert witness licensing and the push to provide immunity for emergency room physicians and Medicaid providers. According to the association, emergency room physicians in Florida are already protected by the state's $150,000 cap on non-economic damages — the lowest in the nation.
» Insurance Reforms: Opposing "anti-consumer" provisions in various insurance reform proposals.
Relief Efforts: Randy Miller, executive vice president of the Florida Retail Federation, says retailers are eyeing tort reform, potential changes to immigration laws and any legislation related to renewable energy. The federation is also advocating the following:
» Tax relief from an increase in the unemployment compensation tax, which jumped from a minimum rate of $25.20 to $72.10 in January. Florida employers also are facing a special assessment of $13 per employee that will be collected by the Florida Department of Revenue in June to pay back money that the state borrowed from the federal government for unemployment compensation benefits.
» Reauthorization of the three-day, back-to-school sales tax holiday.
» Increased efforts to collect taxes from internet purchases: Analysts estimate that the state loses approximately $2 billion every year.
» A bill to block local governments from banning the sale of fertilizer.
» A bill to block local governments from allowing employees with wage claims from filing the claim with the local government and subjecting the employer to a "non-judicial proceeding."
Funding and Incentives: Nancy Stephens, executive director of the Manufacturers Association of Florida, says Florida manufacturers want:
» State incentives for capital investment for manufacturers, including revisions to the Tax Refund Program for Qualified Target Industry businesses (QTI) that will provide incentives for capital investment. The group also supports measures that relieve and reduce taxes on capital investment and supports removal of all taxes on manufacturing inputs.
» Technical assistance with international trade, including a "Gold Key" program to mentor small businesses in international markets.
» Funding for port infrastructure expansion in order to promote international trade and attract more shipping traffic.
? CHILDREN'S ISSUES
Protection: Florida Children's First, an organization that advocates for the rights of children and youth in foster care, will be drafting a "normalcy" bill targeting several issues raised by children in foster care, including the ability to maintain contact with friends and family while they are in state care, privacy rights and the ability to work and participate in after-school activities. The group is also watching a plan by the Department of Children and Families to make significant changes to its Independent Living Program, which supports young adults who age out of state care.
Options: Dave Bundy, president and CEO of Children's Home Society, says his non-profit is focusing on four key areas during the 2011 legislative session:
» Ensuring that the state provides enough funding so that Florida can keep a federal waiver that gives it additional flexibility in helping children in troubled families.
» Limiting liability and reducing minimum limits of liability insurance required of providers of child welfare services under the community-based care system.
» Extending the foster care age for children to 21.
» Creating options that would allow non-profits like the Children's Home Society to combine service-delivery networks and offer Medicaid recipients the option of receiving aid in their own homes, communities and schools.
Children's Home Society also recommends that any Medicaid reform maintain a program for abused, neglected and abandoned children living in a shelter or residential group care settings.
Bearing Arms: Marion Hammer, Florida lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, is promoting three bills this session:
» HB 155 by Rep. Jason Brodeur/SB 432 by Sen. Greg Evers would make it a felony for a physician or staff member to ask patients or family members of patients if they own guns or store guns at home. The Florida Medical Association adamantly opposes the measure.
» HB 45 by Rep. Matt Gaetz/SB 402 by Sen. Joe Negron would penalize local government officials and local governments that enact regulations related to firearms and ammunition.
» SB 234 by Greg Evers, the "open-carry" measure, would allow holders of concealed weapons permits to carry their guns in public, into private schools and into career centers, colleges and universities. It would allow owners, not just employees, with a concealed weapons permit to bring their weapons onto the private property of another person or business with or without that property owner's consent.
More Smoke: Former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth and groups including the Florida Retail Federation, Associated Industries of Florida, the Consumer Federation of the Southeast and the American Cancer Society are again pushing for a new fee on cigarette makers that weren't included in the state's lawsuit against tobacco companies and its 1997 settlement. Yolanda Nader, CEO and CFO of Dosal Tobacco Corp., believes the measure is aimed primarily at her Opa Locka-based manufacturer, which was dismissed from the lawsuit and therefore doesn't pay the 45-cents-a-pack assessment that the settlement imposes on other tobacco companies.
Tax Timeout: Growers want no new fees or taxes, says Lisa Lochridge, director of the public affairs division of Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, which will reintroduce a bill (HB 7103, vetoed by former Gov. Charlie Crist) that prohibits local governments from duplicating fees and other regulation already imposed by the state.
Citrus: Florida Citrus Mutual has three priorities:
» Securing pest and disease research funds for the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida.
» Monitoring the immigration debate and ensuring that policies don't hurt agricultural interests.
» Monitoring changes in state agencies, most notably the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Florida Department of Citrus.
? HARBOR PILOTS
Incoming: The Florida Alliance of Maritime Organizations, which represents cruise and cargo shipping companies, will battle the Florida Harbor Pilots Association over state laws that require foreign-flagged ships and U.S.-flagged ships coming from foreign ports to use state-licensed harbor pilots in port channels. Under the law, companies are charged fees that pay for the harbor pilots' services. The companies say the law creates a "state-protected monopoly" and inflates the salaries for the pilots, which can range from $100,000 to $400,000. Capt. Joe Brown, president of the Florida Harbor Pilots Association, says efforts to change the state's harbor pilot system are an "attempt by foreign cruise and cargo companies to increase their profits" and threaten the safety and security of the ports.