Palm Beach County’s newly elected state legislators gave the business community a sneak peek of the issues they’ll be tackling when they begin their official work in Tallahassee this month.
Thursday’s luncheon – sponsored by the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce, Bethesda Health and business groups like BIZPAC — is an annual event that allows business leaders to hear directly from their representatives on the Palm Beach County Legislative Delegation.
This year’s all-Democratic panel included newly sworn-in Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, Reps. Irv Slosberg and Lori Berman, three other veteran legislators and newcomer Rep. Bobby Powell.
The officials announced their newly released committee assignments and answered written audience questions about issues many expect will come up during this spring’s session. Some of the highlights included questions and answers that went somewhat like this:
Do you believe Florida should implement a cyber-sales tax?
“I see both sides of this issue,” Abruzzo said. “At the end of the day, our brick-and-mortar stores are suffering. As a proud pro-business, fiscal conservative Democrat, I can’t sign off 100 percent until I see the bill, but we need the revenue.”
Are you in favor of eliminating HOV lanes?
State Senator Jeff Clemens said Miami has turned its HOV lanes into pay lanes, and Broward is doing the same. Florida’s transportation secretary wants Palm Beach County to keep its HOV lanes intact so they, too, can be turned into pay lanes, he said.
“Within 12 to 18 months, Palm Beach County will have pay lanes,” Slosberg added. “I think it’s a good idea.”
Abruzzo said he’d like to meet with the Palm Beach County Commission to “find out how they feel about the HOV issue in Palm Beach County.”
What is going on with gaming?
Panel members agreed there is a lot of work to do in governing the state’s gaming operations, saying a strong effort will be made to establish a gaming commission to regulate Internet cafes and approve slot machines, as well as negotiate with the Seminole Tribe.
Does the Stand Your Ground Law need to be changed?
“Yes, we need a whole overhaul on gun laws in this state,” Berman said, adding that the ability for anyone to to go into a daycare center or a city hall with a gun “is a big problem.”
Rep. Kevin Rader, though, expected a big fight from the gun lobby.
“The NRA is the biggest lobby in the United States and the strongest in the state of Florida,” he said.
Powell said attempts to strengthen the state’s gun laws “may not happen this year or next year, but it definitely needs to change.”
Rep. Mark Pafford agreed: “It’s a disgusting system, and you are all part of it.”
Other topics covered briefly at the luncheon included Citizens property insurance, education, Obamacare and the state budget.
Following the event, several audience members made off-the-record comments about how disappointed they were to have such a one-sided panel speaking to the business community.