On Tuesday, Republican lawmakers laid out their agenda for the legislative session to a group of leading business representatives attending Capitol Days, the yearly Florida Chamber of Commerce event.
At the same time, the Chamber also issued its own plans for the session, reports Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida, announcing an agenda that was mostly in step with the GOP-controlled Legislature.
“Ninety percent of the time it feels like our agenda is your agenda, maybe more than that,” House Speaker Will Weatherford said during the Chamber’s visit to the House floor.
High on the Chamber’s priority list: pension changes for government workers, reductions in taxes for commercial leases and communications services, and improving the state’s transportation infrastructure.
Also on the business group’s agenda are measures to minimize the number of “frivolous lawsuits,” maintain Enterprise Florida’s economic development program, and force out-of-state companies to collect sales taxes on goods sold online.
For example, Weatherford is once again working on a pension-system overhaul, drawing the ire of employee groups.
For years, lawmakers have considered a sales tax for online sales as a revenue source, but could not agree on measures that some believe equals a tax increase. During the 2013 legislative session, eight bills addressing taxes on online sales died, including one that would have offset revenue by lowering other taxes.
The Chamber looks at the way legislators vote in both committee and on the floor and gives each a grade. The bigger the issue, the larger the point values.
Final scores determine how the Chamber spends lobbying money in campaigns. Republicans often get the best grades.
One issue sure to affect grades this year is gambling. With Disney World as a member, the Chamber continues to oppose gambling expansion, including building new casinos.
Sen. President Don Gaetz tells the News Service that although gambling is not one of his “high priorities,” he did admit that he and Weatherford agree Florida needs a framework for a “comprehensive” gaming policy.
“You can’t say we’re not going to have any gaming in Florida,” said Gaetz. “Florida already is one of the leading gaming states in the country in terms of money and the number of games. Good God, Florida is already running one of the biggest numbers rackets in the world with the Florida Lottery.”
By Feb. 24, the Senate Gaming Committee could roll out three bills on a wide range of gambling proposals: creation of a gaming commission, “decoupling” pari-mutuel racing from permits (allowing the operation of slot machines and card rooms), and giving the nod to two “destination resort” casino permits – one in Broward and another in Miami-Dade County — as well as changes to the controversial 2013 law that planned to put Internet cafes out of business.
Even if the proposals do not come out this year, Gaetz tells the News Service, the Legislature is intending to “tee up” a policy for future sessions.