Governor Rick Scott addresses AIF membership at our Annual Conference in Orlando
Keyna Cory - AIF Chief Lobbyist
March 18, 2009 - One Stop Florida?
I am finding out it is all about semantics. This afternoon I was in the Senate Select Committee on Florida’s Economy waiting to hear about “one stop permitting.” I have been working with the Task Force on Streamline Permitting and was excited to hear about their ideas. Our group met with Senator Don Gaetz, the Chair of the Select Committee and gave him our top ten list of ideas on streamlining the permitting process. Well, our idea of streamlined permitting and the select committee’s notion of the concept are quite different. We are looking at construction and environmental permits that businesses need to build and they are looking at professional licenses. Houston … we have a problem!
Both are important. Per the testimony during the committee meeting, people are waiting too long to receive a license from the appropriate state agency. But usually people are working while they are waiting for their license. Unfortunately, when it comes to a building or environmental permit you can not move forward until you received the appropriate documentation. Although both are important, I really feel as though we need to address the building and environmental permits first to kick start Florida economy again.
Hopefully we can educate the legislators on how important the streamlined permitting process is to the business community at the workshop being held by the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee tomorrow.
And I am still recovering from the Irish Caucus event last night. Over 50 legislators attended to show how “Irish” they really are along with Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp. And as a special treat, the Mayor of Fort Lauderdale Jack Seiler called in to wish everyone a Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe next year he can join us in Tallahassee. And the Co-Chair of the Irish Caucus, Speaker Pro-Tempore Ron Reagan was the last to leave.
Being of Irish decent (and who isn’t on St. Patrick’s Day) you would think I would have something green in my closet to wear today. But all I had was my favorite little pin I bought in Ireland that has a small shamrock in it so I wore it proudly. After all it was from Ireland and I should get points for that! But not everyone wore green today. Brad Piepenbrink, Senator Garrett Richter’s aide was asked about his green when he appeared before the Senate Community Affairs Committee today. If a Senator can not be in a committee to present his or her bill, the Senator’s Aide is allowed. Brad was well prepared on the bill about “Truth In Millage” notices called TRIM notices sponsored by Senator Richter. He told the committee that the issue was brought to the Senator by Mr. Flanagan and in the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day he asked for them to support the bill. That prompted a question from Chairman Mike Bennett, “Where is your green?” It is normal for new legislative aides to be harassed when presenting bills but Brad took all of it in good stride. The bill passed unanimously.
I told you yesterday about SB 1468 by Senator Charlie Dean that would implement Amendment 6 – the constitutional amendment that passed last November to change the way working waterfront are assessed by property appraisers. Good news! It passed unanimously and now is on its way to the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee. I took my yard sign that had “Vote yes on Amendment 6” with our cool logo that AIF created for the Save Our Waterfronts Coalition with me to the podium when I spoke in favor of the bill. I also wanted to take a minute to thank the members of the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission who sponsored the amendment for us – Ken Wilkinson, Lee County Property Appraiser; former Senator & Broward County Commissioner Jim Scott and former Representative Carlos Lacasa.
However during public testimony, the representative from the Miami River Group asks the committee to add language to the bill to cover all of her members’ properties. As much as I would love to help the Miami River, I can’t. You see this is a different type of bill. When you have legislation to implement a constitutional amendment you can not deviate from the language that appeared on the ballot. We actually have members of the Save Our Waterfronts Coalition that did not get all of their properties included in the definitions. We had to carefully craft language so that the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission would approve the constitutional amendment that appeared on the ballot. Maybe the Miami River Group can find another bill to correct their problem. We have come too far to have the potential problem of expanding the bill beyond what is in the constitution.
Well, I am going to wrap up as soon as I can so I can go to the Irish Caucus event at Goodie’s Restaurant. This is a time when it doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or Republican … as long as you are Irish it doesn’t matter what party you belong to! We will miss Rep. Jack Seiler who is no longer in the House due to term limits. He loved the Irish Caucus party. But we will toast him tonight … he is being sworn in as Mayor of Fort Lauderdale. The luck of the Irish continues!
March 16, 2009 - Mondays are not supposed to be this busy …
But today was packed full of meetings. We started off our day with our AIF Lobby Team meeting where we go over our priority bills and calendars for the week. I put together a chart showing where all of our AIF 2009 Session Priorities bills are in the legislative process and shared with the Team. It is amazing how many bills we have working their way through committees! You can see a similar list on our AIF website – go to www.aif.com and click on “Session Central.”
As soon as we finished with our Team meeting, we had a Workers Compensation Coalition for Business and Industry meeting at 10:00 am. Tammy Perdue, AIF General Counsel and Chair of the Coalition let everyone know that the bill would be up in the House General Government Policy Council tomorrow. The Coalition and our AIF Team were busy checking our assignments and making sure that every member of the Council has been contacted about the bill and if there are any questions, get them answers.
At 11:00 am, the AIF Committee on Taxation met and Senator Thad Altman, the Chair of the Finance & Tax Committee was our special guest speaker. It was a great time for our members to ask questions about their tax issues.
Then at noon, Frank Meiners, our tax expert and I were at the House Finance & Tax Council meeting in the Capitol. Frank testified in support of the Streamlined Sales & Tax issue but after 2 hours of testimony from other speakers, he thought he would lighten up his comments. He wanted the committee to pass streamlined sales tax since Randy Miller is getting older … he wanted them to pass it before he retires! It got a chuckle, especially from Randy would took the harassment with a smile. Randy is with the Florida Retail Federation and has been advocating for the streamlined sales tax for years.
Finally, I attended the Streamlining Task Force meeting. Our task force is looking at ways to streamline the permitting process and have submitted a “top 10” list of ideas to the House and Senate. We hope that our list appears later this week in a PCB (proposed committee bill).
I am already looking forward to tomorrow – SB 1468 by Senator Charlie Dean is up in the Senate Community Affairs Committee. This bill implements the constitutional amendment that clarifies the way working waterfronts are assessed by property appraisers. AIF was actively involved in the passage of Amendment 6 so I can not wait to see how we do in the committee. But more about SB 1468 tomorrow!
Today I attended the Senate General Government Appropriations Committee meeting. They are reviewing the budgets of the different agencies and departments under their purview. A Department of Business and Professional Regulations (DBPR) representative was asked by Senator Steve Oelrich (R-Gainesville) what would happen if the $1 per packet tax on cigarettes was adopted. He wanted to know would the department be able to handle additional cases of cigarette smuggling. It has been proven that an increase in taxes causes bootlegging of tobacco products from states with lower taxes. Last year, the department investigated 85,000 cases of smuggling with a very limited staff. The representative from Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) said they would not be able to handle the increase, especially since they are investigating more gambling and money laundering cases as well.
Chairman Carey Baker (R-Eustis) said he did not want enforcement efforts to “go up in smoke.” Senator Oelrich replied “let’s nip it in the butt.”
All we needed was a drum set with a “pa-dum” at the end! Thanks Senators Baker and Oelrich for the one liners of the day!
March 11, 2009 - Of course I still love you Rep. Schultz …
Now that I have your attention let me explain. After all I am a very happily married woman.
I was in the House Military & Local Affairs Policy Committee this morning when Rep. Ron Schultz stopped and sat next to me and asked if I still loved him even though he voted against a bill I was advocating last week. Of course I still love him! He is a great member! Just because he disagreed with me about impact fees doesn't mean he will always vote against me.
Legislators have been elected to vote on behalf of their constituents. As a lobbyist I must respect their vote and never take it personally. As long as a legislator is willing to listen to my side of the story then it is OK for them to disagree. Naturally I am much happier when they vote my way!
As much as I would like to see every member receive a 100% voting record from AIF, the House average last year was 90% - still not bad! But I am working along with the AIF Team to raise that average. Let’s see how we do!
See you in the halls!
Jose Gonzalez - Vice President Governmental Affairs
March 11, 2009 - Moving at a Snail’s Pace
As I visit with legislators this week, one topic of conversation keeps coming up – bills aren’t really moving! In fact, some committee chairs are talking about holding their last meetings. Given the difficult economic times facing Floridians; this is not necessarily a bad thing. Both Speaker Cretul and Senate President Atwater have publicly stated that the number one priority this session is the budget and that is the way it should be. The state of Florida is facing an unprecedented downturn in revenue collections due to the ongoing recession. Finding ways to balance the budget without doing too much harm to education and healthcare is a tough putt. So if a bill has a fiscal impact on the state you might as well forget it, but even bills strictly dealing with policy are getting five and six committee references. I know this must frustrate some of the many freshmen legislators who want to see their bills passed. But given the severity of the budget crisis, “all hands need to be on deck” to get our state out of this jam.
For the business community having fewer bills is usually a win-win since we are constantly fighting off proposals or legislation that really isn’t needed. Let’s see what happens next week…it should give us a real indication of what we have in store for this session.
At least it seems that way. This is my 25th session and yet I am still amazed with the amount of legislation that is filed to address local issues. Under pressure from local groups and media, legislators file legislation to address a particular problem but many times do not realize the unintended consequences. Senator Charlie Justice has a bill that would require the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to notify all property owners within a mile radius if contamination is found. And it does not stop there – DEP also has to notify the local governmental officials, state legislators, Congressional and US Senate members. I am surprise they did not include the Governor! At least there was an amendment adopted today to the bill, which lowered the radius of notification to 1,000 feet. But really, is there any scientific reason for this distance or are we just picking numbers out of the air? Currently DEP sends notices to property owners who have property next to a contaminated site where the contamination has move across boundaries. That makes sense. But why in the world would you want to alarm property owners that will never feel the affect of the contamination? Why jeopardize property values without verification of a problem on that particular parcel of land?
The bill still has several committee stops before reaching the floor of the Senate. Hopefully we can work out a compromise with Senator Justice and DEP to make sure the public is protected. After all, no one wants to purchase a parcel of land to build their company headquarters only to find out the neighborhood has contamination problems. But I would hate to be that person with a parcel of land ready to sell only to have a “notice of possible contamination” surface and not be able to sell the property for the full value. Senator Justice’s heart is in the right place but let’s not over react.
Due to so many tax issues before the legislature this year AIF reactivated its Taxation Committee. We had a meeting this morning with special guest speaker, Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, Chair of the House Finance and Tax Council. She gave us some insight to how the House plans to address all of the taxation issues facing them this session. I know our AIF members who attended and those who participated by phone were very happy with the information we received at this meeting. On a personal note - thank heavens no one asked about skyboxes!
Mondays are AIF Team Meeting days! Our group of lobbyist meets over lunch to discuss proposed legislation and review the calendar. It is a great way for us to stay on top of all of the bills we are working on for our members and find out other tidbits of political information. High priority today was getting ready for the House Insurance, Business & Financial Affairs Committee meeting on Tuesday am. HB 903 by Rep. Anitere Flores Relating to Workers Compensation Attorneys Fees is on the agenda and we needed to check our votes. Tammy Perdue, AIF General Counsel and Chair of the Workers Compensation Coalition for Business and Industry is leading the charge for the business community and coordinating all aspects of this important effort. Trust me … AIF will be ready for this very important meeting!
Jose Gonzalez - Vice President Governmental Affairs
March 5, 2009 - Lobbyist Relief Act
In these tough economic times job security is at a premium. The lobbying profession is no different than all the other professions hurting during this recession. Nothing helps lobbyists out like a review of sales tax exemptions. You see, members of the House Finance and Tax Council are currently undergoing a thorough review of the more than 200 sales tax exemptions currently in the books in Florida. From the original list of 200+, Council members identified approximately 50 exemptions for placement on the proverbial “chopping block.” Now, whether or not they get rid of any exemptions is still to be determined…you can picture the campaign mailers now: “My Opponent Voted for a Tax Increase.” But one thing is for sure, it is standing room only during these meetings. Industries rely on lobbyists to defend their exemptions and provide the valuable perspective needed to understand the background associated with each exemption and why they were enacted into law in the first place.
AIF is not opposed to a review of sales tax exemptions. It is a worthy exercise that should be done every few years. We believe that the vast majority of these exemptions serve a public purpose and they help Florida remain competitive with our sister states in the region. We are; however, opposed to any sort of automatic repeal or “sunset” of these exemptions. In fact, during the last two day of meetings a number of Council members have suggested ways to tweak or expand the existing exemptions so that additional benefits can be derived. This is part of the reason why balancing the budget will be so difficult for lawmakers. After already slashing billions of dollars from the state budget it’s getting increasingly difficult to find additional areas of the budget to cut. Finding additional sources of revenue is just as difficult. Stay tuned to see how this movie ends…it will be a while before they get through all 50 or so.
Keyna Cory - AIF Chief Lobbyist
March 5, 2009 - Debunking the Sky Box Myth
While the UF football team was being recognized by the legislature today, guess what was discussed in the House Finance & Tax Council today … you guessed it, the sales tax exemptions on skyboxes. The Finance & Tax Council is going over every sales tax exemption to find out why it was adopted by the legislature, who benefits from it and the amount of the lost revenue. Some of the exemptions still on the books date back to 1949 when sales tax exemptions originally went into law. Any time this particular sales tax exemption come up I have to explain that it is not for pro stadiums but for 501(c)(3) organizations who rent skyboxes for bowl games and high school games. I think I have educated a lot of legislators on the issue … now only if I can get the press to clarify in their stories!
Tomorrow will be busy for our AIF Team. The Senate is not meeting tomorrow but the House has several committee meetings planned. I will be in the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee talking about water. Jim Rathbun, our Energy Council lobbyist will be in the Energy & Utilities Policy. Gerald Wester will be in the Insurance, Business & Financial Affairs Policy Committee. Tammy Perdue and some of our Maritime Council members are testifying in the joint committee of Criminal & Civil Justice Policy Council and the Public Safety & Domestic Security Policy. They are having a workshop on seaport security
Stay tuned… it will there is a lot of action coming on very important issues
March 4, 2009 - It Doesn’t Hurt to Let them Know you Care
My “Day 2” started in the House Military and Local Affairs Committee. AIF Team member Richard Gentry was there to support the impact fee bill by Rep. Gary Aubuchon. This is a priority bill for AIF. Richard turned in an appearance card and waived his time to speak and just said he was in support of the bill. Earlier, Rep. Aubuchon had requested that speakers waive their time unless there were questions. Unfortunately, later in the meeting were there a lot of questions! Towards the end we were not sure of the vote count so I decided to take an opportunity to let the committee know that this issue was part of our 2009 Session Priorities. Since I carry one of the Session Priorities publications in my brief case at all times, I was able to show a copy to the committee during my testimony! Reducing the cost of impact fees will reduce the cost of homes and businesses across the state. And Florida has the second highest impact fees in the country (only California is ahead of us). Thankfully, the committee voted in favor of the bill and it now goes to its next committee of reference.
There is always time to harass the freshmen legislator in the committee and today it was Rep. Mark Pafford’s turn. He had a bill about special districts being able to take advantage of contracting for goods and services with cities and counties. It is a tradition for legislators to drill a freshman about his or her bill when they present the bill for the first time. Rep. Pafford did a great job of putting up with the all the harassment.
Tomorrow, the corporate income tax glitch bill is up in the House for its final vote so we are excited to get this bill passed and down to the Governor for his signature.
Florida is different than other many states – the Legislature meets in the Regular Session for 60 days – some states meet for only 45 days; 6 months or even year round. I think year round is a little too long. Other states only meet every other year. That is a little too short! Not to sound like the Three Bears … Florida is just right! So today we began the countdown … 59 days to go. However you can expect a lot of action during this period of time.
But before the legislators turn its attention to business, they had some time to relax with their colleagues at the annual AIF Welcome Back Reception last night. More than 1,500 people and over 80 legislators attended the traditional party the night before session begins. It was great to see everyone enjoy themselves under a crystal clear but cool night at AIF Headquarters. The Sea World penguins really enjoyed the cool weather and I had so much fun with Senator Chris Smith’s kids trying to walk like the penguins! The bald eagle was majestic – there is no other way of saying it! And the pace car from Daytona Speedway received a lot of attention too! Great food and fellowship … it was a wonderful party!
As we were starting a new session, future leadership positions were being confirmed. Yesterday the Republican designated Rep. Dean Cannon (R-Winter Park) as the next Speaker beginning in 2010. Today in the House, Rep. Ron Saunders (D-Key West) won a close vote to become the Democratic Leader from 2010 – 2012. On the Senate side, Senator Nan Rich (D-Weston) won her election to become the first woman Democratic Leader in the Senate. Power will start to shift to these newly elected leaders very quickly. Term limits have caused shifts in power in a faster pace than before term limits went into effect.
It will be a busy week for our AIF Team as we have a lot of bills already working their way through the process.
See you in the halls!
Jose Gonzalez - Vice President Governmental Affairs
March 3, 2009 - The Race for Space
For a second year in a row, AIF will advocate for a continued emphasis on Florida’s space industry. During these difficult economic times, it is very easy to lose sight of some of Florida’s inherent advantages. For decades now, we have been the center of the space world as launches from Cape Canaveral have put man on the moon and an international space station in Earth’s orbit. Unfortunately, Florida’s prominence and its leadership in space have begun to be challenged by other states and other countries across the globe. For that reason, AIF has been intimately engaged in the space agenda. On Wednesday, representatives from NASA and aerospace industry will descend upon the Capitol for the annual Space Day at the Capitol.
On Tuesday evening, AIF was happy to host a reception for all of the Space Day participants at the Tallahassee Challenger Center. A great number of business leaders were in attendance as preparations begun for a day of lobbying on the hill. It was great to see Representatives Steve Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island) and Scott Randolph (D-Orlando) at the event as well as former House Speaker John Thrasher, a strong advocate for the space agenda, and Bob Cabana a former astronaut and current director of the Kennedy Space Center.