As always, the Florida legislature dealt with hundreds of bills filed during its Legislative Session. Some of them became law, others died a nasty or a quiet death. Some bills faded into oblivion because the Senate and House could not jointly reach agreement, and $410 million in projects felt the sharp sting of Governor Rick Scott’s veto ax.
Florida’s statewide business community was active throughout the process, because the legislature has the potential to either hurt or help business in a significant way.
Suiting up in the role as both a NFL quarterback and a middle linebacker, Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) positioned itself front row center, in the thick of the fight, pushing on offense to pass what business needs, and playing the tackler on defense to stop business from getting run over.
The major legislative issues for business in the 2017 Session included workers’ compensation, new proposals which would have jacked up the costs of doing business, protecting private agricultural land, prejudgment interest, and reducing the business rent tax.
The business leadership of Florida “knew that workers’ comp was going to be a big issue for employers this session”, said Tom Feeney, President of AIF and a former Congressman. “In preparation for this, AIF organized an impressive array of business leaders from around the state to form the AIF Workers’ Compensation Strategic Task Force. Our Task Force members and AIF Lobby Team worked diligently with key legislators to try and find viable solutions.”
Here’s a quick look at the top business-related bills:
- A bill passed that protects the private information of injured or deceased employees. Previously, this information had been open to the public, resulting in injured workers being inundated from attorneys encouraging them to sue their employer.
- Legislation was introduced to repeal the insurance premium tax credit, which would result in a $300 million tax increase on Florida’s insurance industry. In turn, this would have increased the cost of insurance premiums for Florida’s business community. The bill died.
- A bill relating to prejudgment interest sought to accrue such interest starting from the date the plaintiff incurs economic losses. Currently, such interest is only awardable on economic losses at the judge’s discretion. The bill would have resulted in litigation cost increases for Florida businesses, however it died in committee.
- The House and Senate passed a plan for a deeper reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, for water storage, to be completed on existing state-owned land. The federal government is expected to pay half the costs, and the proposal caps annual Florida funding at $64 million, lower than the originally-proposed $100 million. Earlier versions, opposed by agricultural farmers, sugar cane growers, and most business leaders, would have required farmland to be removed from production and used to build the reservoir. The final version requires no privately owned farmland and removes the specter of eminent domain.
- In 2016, the Florida Supreme Court rendered a decision related to attorney’s fees that increased workers’ comp rates by 14.5%. This was a major expense increase to Florida businesses. The bills that were introduced to remedy this problem would not have reduced rates very much. Business supported legislation passed by the House to provide relief, but it died because it was never taken back up by the Senate.
- Legislation was passed making 5G wireless technology availability a reality throughout Florida. This accommodates the increasing need for reliable wireless networks to help support communities and businesses in the future.
- A bill passed to create more transparency in prescription drug pricing, in turn giving employers and consumers the ability to make more informed decisions regarding their health care spending.
- The commercial lease tax was reduced from 6% to 5.8%, saving businesses over $25 million in the coming fiscal year and over $60 million the following year.
Overall, the 2017 legislative process improved the accountability and transparency of proposals by members. Negotiations and conference decisions did get contentious. Several significant budget items were decided behind closed doors. Agreements finally materialized but not before the Session was extended by three days, to finalize the budget.