In Legislature, new leaders and new members but lobbyists expect the same agenda

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When the Florida Legislature holds its reorganization session later this month it should be an easy transition for the Tallahassee lobbying corps. The partisan divide remains as it was in the Senate, with the GOP in control, and Republicans tighten their grip on the House, picking up six seats.  Incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner and incoming Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli will get to drop incoming from their titles and their designated chairs will assume control of legislative committees.

Lobbying is a contact sport. A personal relationship helps cut through the noise and confusion of a 60-day legislative session of debate and lawmaking.  And knowing a lawmaker’s agenda and campaign promises helps a lobbyist establish a working relationship. As for the kind of policies the newly installed leaders and elected legislators will follow most do not expect any surprising changes in policy.

“I see more of the same; good fiscal discipline moving forward,” said Dominic Calabro discussing the agenda for the 2015 Legislature. Calabro is CEO of Florida TaxWatch, a nonpartisan watchdog group which tracks government spending and economic policies.

Neither control of the Florida House or Senate was in doubt Tuesday night. The drama, if any, for the night was in picking out who the new members would be.

“The real focus for the lobbying corps is the time that needs to be spent getting to know in depth the new freshman legislators in the House and reaching out to members who have been appointed to key leadership positions,” said Dr. Jeffery Sharkey, whose list of clients includes the PGA Tour, the City of Key West and electrical contractors.

The dynamics at play in a legislature is that each leadership team may have its own agenda but it is all the same, explained Louis Rotundo whose client list includes cities and the Florida Medical Cannabis Association.

Rotundo explained the leaders are constrained by, well politics; their members have agendas based on their experiences and the politics that elected them.  That’s why starting the week of Nov. 17, if not sooner, when lawmakers convene a reorganization session, Sharkey, Rotundo and others will reach out to committee chairs and newly elected members to get an idea of what is possible, policy wise.

Calabro, not discussing lobbying but policy in general, suggests it is a good time to be representing tourism, transportation and construction. He said he sees in Gov. Rick Scott a commitment to building a diverse economy.

“I think you will see growth in the tourism infrastructure because you really do get diversification with tourism, including the building of airports, seaports, roads and bridges to accommodate the growth,” said Calabro.

Rotundo and Ron Watson of Watson Strategies, whose client list includes cannabis-related businesses, expect lawmakers to address medical marijuana. Amendment 2 received more votes than Gov. Scott or any state-wide candidate and both noted that many lawmakers were elected from districts where it received 58 percent.

“I have renewed hope that the 2015 Legislature might just listen to the will of the 57.6 percent who still supported medical marijuana despite the onslaught of negative ads and expand the existing low THC, high CBD law already on the books,” said Watson.