Gov. Toni Jennings turned on her trademark charm in a 90-minute
lunch meeting with AIF members who also pay dues to Florida Business
United (FBU), the association’s political arm. The lieutenant governor
was the guest at FBU’s inaugural Power Lunch, a monthly meet-and-eat
for FBU members and political leaders.
Lt. Gov. Jennings is a
native Floridian who is the first and only person to serve two terms
as president of the Florida Senate. After 24 years in public service,
she retired from the Legislature in 2000 to run Jack Jennings and
Sons, an Orlando-based construction company founded by her family
55 years ago. Earlier this year, upon Frank
Brogan’s resignation from the post, Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Jennings
lieutenant governor, making her the first woman to hold that post
in this state.
Jennings opened the luncheon
with brief comments, observing that her return to public life was
unplanned but that she accepted the job as lieutenant governor, calling
it the kind of opportunity that rarely comes along. She then opened
the floor to questions from each of the business people in attendance.
Since Jennings is a co-chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Access
to Affordable Health Insurance, and had just returned from the Florida
Health Care Symposium, the conversation naturally drifted toward the
problems of affordability and availability of health-insurance for
the employees of small companies.
The lieutenant governor
assured the FBU members that Florida would definitely not follow
the path recently taken in California where the Legislature just required
every employer with 20 or more workers to provide health coverage
and to pick up 80 percent of the costs. Instead, she noted that, since
four of every five uninsured Floridians are employed, any meaningful
solution would have to concentrate on expanding the options available
for businesses that cannot now afford to purchase group coverage.
In addition to health
care, the lieutenant governor expressed her frustration with the citizen-initiative
process for amending the state’s constitution, a concern shared by
the participants. A wide-ranging discussion ensued on methods to inject
some sanity into the process without violating the right of citizens
to alter the document that defines the limits on the power transferred
to government by the governed.
No matter what the politicians
do, however, Jennings warned that the solutions are only temporary,
calling issues like health care and medical malpractice “gum on my
shoe. No matter how many times I change my shoes, there they are,
still stuck to the bottom.”
The next Power Lunch is scheduled for October 2, when FBU will host Rep.
Dudley Goodlette (R-Naples), chairman of the House Policy
Committee, who was instrumental in negotiating the recently enacted
medical-liability compromise legislation.