By BILL KRESS
During a joint meeting of ChamberSOUTH and the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce members, two state lawmakers and a local lobbyist provided an overview of the 2016 Legislative Session, while underscoring a smooth state of affairs in the Senate Chamber.
State Senators Dwight M. Bullard and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla teamed up with Fausto Gomez of Gomez Barker & Assocs. to talk about state legislative activities and actions impacting Miami-Dade County. They shared their insights during the Chambers’ annual Florida Legislative Round-Up, May 24.
“We are grateful Sens. Bullard and Diaz de la Portilla so enthusiastically agreed to make this joint presentation for our members,” said Mary Scott Russell, President of ChamberSOUTH.
Coral Gables Chamber President Mark Trowbridge added, “The refreshing rapport they exhibited toward one another gave us a great sense of confidence in their leadership and abilities in representing the needs of the local business community.”
Sen. Bullard opened his remarks by stating that the mutual respect he and Sen. Diaz de la Portilla share is truly reflective of the overall amicable working environment that exists throughout the entire Florida State Senate, particularly this year.
“The 2016 session was nowhere near as tumultuous as the previous year, when we were tackling issues related to Medicaid and Medicaid expansion,” Bullard noted. “Instead, this year we were a little more deliberate in what we wanted to do.”
Diaz de la Portilla agreed it was a very “harmonious” session, and added, “Those of us representing Miami-Dade County work very well together – we all agree on 99 percent of the issues.”
Each Senator then discussed issues of policy they advanced during the 2016 session. Bullard touched on:
- An education bill to reduce the overabundance of testing in public schools, which ends up limiting creative learning, as teachers and students spend an inordinate amount of time preparing for tests. “Are we doing everything we can do in Tallahassee to ensure we are bringing forth future leaders in innovation? I say no.”
- A redirection of innovative tax credits for large manufacturing companies to small businesses. Noting that 75 percent of the employees in Miami-Dade County are with small businesses, “We want to ensure that large corporations are not sucking up all the incentive dollars that should be going to the backbone of our economy, businesses with 25 employees or less.”
Diaz de la Portilla touched on:
- A proposed phased elimination of sales tax on commercial leases. “Yes, there will be a fiscal impact, but because we are a high-growth state, we will offset those reductions through economic growth – an expanded tax base.”
- The “Underline” to revamp the space located directly under Miami Metro Rail lines. “Through the introduction of clean, safe, well-lit green spaces and trails, we will see a 10 to 25 percent increase in nearby property values.”
- A bill that helps individuals with mental-health issues who are presently in the criminal justice system for non-violent crimes. “Fiscal impact is $0 primarily because diversion from jail to a treatment facility is a lot cheaper, and a reduction in recidivism means a reduction in the volume of people cycling back into the system.”
Next up in the Round-Up was Fausto Gomez, who heads one of the leading lobbying and public affairs consulting firms in Florida. He also agreed that 2016 was a harmonious legislative session compared to the recent past. But noted, there was, however, “significant disharmony” between the Executive and the Legislative Branches.
Governor Scott’s priorities on economic development were not funded, his proposed Secretary of the Department of Health was not confirmed, his proposal for required local effort did not pass, and his negotiated compact with gaming with the Seminoles was largely ignored
Gomez surmised this does not bode well for the future relationship between the executive and the legislative branch. He then focused on issues related to the upcoming session, including:
- Enterprise Florida: The governor’s proposed $250 million for Enterprise Florida failed. “And the impact on our community is significant because it would provide incentives for international trade and promotion, and the film and entertainment industry – key areas of the Miami-Dade economy.”
- Small Business Development Center Network: “Woefully underfunded and under-recognized, this is the sort of program that would help our community, which is primarily composed of small businesses.”
- Worker’s Compensation: Reform is significant because every business pays into this system. “We need competitive rate making in worker’s compensation.”
- Loans for Micro Businesses: This program needs to be adjusted and re-funded, because successful businesses need capital. “The Senate took a step forward with the support of both Sens. Bullard and Diaz de le Portilla.”
The annual State of Florida Legislative Round-Up event was hosted by the ChamberSOUTH Governmental Affairs Committee.