Jenna BuzzaccoFoerster - 4/92 - SaintPetersBlog

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

Battle over building code changes could take center stage in House, Senate today

Lawmakers in both chambers are scheduled to consider legislation Tuesday that could change the way the Florida Building Code is updated; a move that could have a big impact on the construction and insurance industries.

The proposals (HB 901 and SB 860) essentially flip the set of building codes the construction industry uses as its standard. The Senate provisions have garnered the support from some in the construction industry, but opponents have worried it could lead to a loss in federal funding or turning back the clock on the state’s building codes.

Under current law, Florida uses the International Code, building regulations developed by the International Code Council and used across the country, as its baseline. The Florida Building Commission adopts the International Code, and then makes Florida-specific amendments and changes when it adopts the Florida Building Code.

The Senate proposal removes the provision requiring the International Code be used as a baseline, and instead requires the “6th edition, and subsequent editions, of the Florida Building Code,” be used as the foundation for the development and updates to the state code. It also calls on the commission to review the Florida Building Code every three years “to consider whether it needs to be revised.”

Sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, the bill was amended during the Senate Community Affairs Committee meeting earlier this month to include the the entirety of a committee bill (SB 7000) backed by Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican homebuilder. The committee voted unanimously to approve the amended version of the St. Petersburg Republican’s bill.

Lee’s bill unanimously cleared the Senate Community Affairs Committee in January. It also received unanimous support from the Senate General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, despite some opposition from some industry officials and experts.

“Florida has had a single building code since 1997, and the Florida Building Code has been based on the I-Codes, our legacy documents, since it was created,” said Sara Yerkes, the senior vice president for government relations at the International Code Council, during the March 15 meeting where Lee’s bill was discussed. “Having on building code with Florida-specific amendments has made it the best building code in the nation. We join the majority of Florida building and safety community stakeholder who oppose … because we believe it will take the state backwards.”

Committee records show representatives for the American Insurance Association, the Florida Insurance Council, the National Association of Mutual Insurance, the Florida Engineering Society, the Florida Association of the American Institute of Architects, the Florida Fire Marshals & Inspectors Association, and the Florida Fire Chiefs Association were on hand to oppose the bill.

Lee has said the proposal is meant to streamline the process, saying the current process creates an undue burden for the industry.

“The Florida Building Code has been an effective tool for improving the structural integrity and energy efficiency of our state’s housing stock, leading to lower property and casualty insurance rates and minimizing windstorm damages,” said Lee in a December statement about the proposed legislation. “However, now that the most dramatic gains have been realized, it’s time to look for a more common sense and cost effective approach to updating the code.”

The shift is supported by the Florida Home Builder Association, which has dismissed claims that the state could lose federal funding if it doesn’t use the international standards.

“Florida has one of the strongest building codes in the nation — our state did that on its own,” said FHBA President Jeremy Stewart said in a statement this week. “We are the gold standard. Florida should be in control of its own, superior building codes, rather than starting from scratch every three years with an out-of-state base code, rife with unnecessary requirements by special interests.”

Sponsored by Rep. Stan McClain, the House bill also removes the requirement that the International Code be used as a baseline, and calls on the Florida Building Code to be used as the foundation for any future development and updates to state code. The Belleview Republican is a state certified residential contractor.

McClain’s proposal is expected to be discussed during the House Careers & Competition Subcommittee meeting at 8 a.m.; while the Senate Regulated Industries Committee will take up Brandes’ bill when it meets at 11 a.m.

PSC chairwoman says she is ‘fully committed’ to providing residents opportunities to participate in water rate discussions

The chairwoman of the Public Service Commission said she is “fully committed” to providing Summertree residents the chance to continue to participate in discussions about rate discussions.

In a letter to Senate Majority Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Friday, PSC Chairwoman Julie Brown said she appreciated lawmakers raising constituent concerns about whether they would have a chance to speak during upcoming proceedings about rates. The letter comes just one day after the two Pasco County lawmakers sent Brown a letter expressing concern that residents might not be able to testify during upcoming proceedings.

Brown said the commission “always welcomes timely public comment concerning matters that comes before it” and said she believes strongly that “hearing from customers is the best way to make an informed decision.”

Summertree residents have complained that they are being charged more than double than people living in nearby neighborhoods, according to a recent report from WFTS Tampa Bay.

The utility company is proposing consolidating its rates for all of its customers statewide to about $71 for water and sewer to pay for infrastructure improvements, according to the report. And that has residents worried their rate will continue to go up.

According to a letter sent to Brown earlier this week, residents have told Simpson and Corcoran that the “Public Service Commission is considering barring them from testifying at an upcoming proceeding.”

In her response to Simpson and Corcoran, Brown said the commission has held “an abundant amount of service hearings in order to solicit as much public comment from UIF’s customers.”

“To put this into perspective, in the case of UIF and its estimated 60,000 customers, the Commission held eight (8) service hearings throughout its service territory in Florida,” she wrote. “In comparison, in the most recent rate case for FPL and its estimated 4.8 million customers, the Commission held nine service (9) hearings throughout FPL’s service territory.”

Brown went on to say that under state law, anyone can address the commission at service hearings, but “in order to protect the due process rights of all parties, only parties of record may address the Commission during a formal evidentiary proceeding.” But Brown said given the “extraordinary nature” of the issue, she was committed to “providing for the continued participation of interested persons in our process.”


Wilton Simspon, Richard Corcoran tell PSC it is of ‘utmost importance’ residents get to express concerns during proceedings

Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson is putting the state’s Public Service Commission on notice.

In a letter Thursday, Simpson and House Speaker Richard Corcoran scolded PSC Chairwoman Julie Brown over reports that the commission is considering barring members of the Summertree community from testifying at an upcoming proceeding.

“For several years, we have voiced our serious concerns about the high prices being charged and the quality of water being received by these citizens,” the two men wrote in the letter. “The water quality issues have largely been resolved as a result of the recent interconnection with Pasco County’s water system. However, the citizens we represent continue to have very serious issues and concerns with what they consider to be exorbitant water rates and poor-quality customer service provided to them by this utility.”

Residents have complained that they are being charged more than double than people living in nearby neighborhoods, according to a recent report from WFTS Tampa Bay.

The utility company is proposing consolidating its rates for all of its customers statewide to about $71 for water and sewer to pay for infrastructure improvements, according to the report. And that has residents worried their rate will continue to go up.

According to the letter to Brown, residents have told Simpson and Corcoran that the “Public Service Commission is considering barring them from testifying at an upcoming proceeding.”

“To put it plainly, this is unacceptable,” they wrote. “It is of the utmost importance that our citizens and taxpayers are afforded further opportunity to express their grave concerns at a public forum.”

The letter goes on to point out that both the House and Senate have taken “aggressive steps to hold all governmental entities to higher standards of transparency and accountability,” and told Brown the commission’s “protocols and procedures should always reflect the State of Florida’s longstanding commitment to transparency and accountability.”

AIF, Florida Chamber, other business groups join forces to oppose Senate tax proposal

A bevy of business groups have joined forces in opposition to a Senate proposal to lower the tax commercial rents by eliminating a tax credit benefiting another industry.

Eight of the state’s leading business organizations — including Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the Florida United Business Association — sent a letter to Sen. Anitere Flores on Wednesday urging here to “support lowering the sales tax currently charged on all business leases without removing the insurance premium tax credit as proposed.”

Flores, a Miami-Dade Republican who serves as Senate President Pro-Tempore, is carrying the legislation (SB 378). The proposal initially would have paid for a cut in the state’s communications service tax by repealing a tax break for insurers. The move has been a priority for Senate President Joe Negron.

But on Tuesday, the Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee approved an amended version of the bill that would repeal the tax break for insurance companies, and use the money to reduce the tax business pay on their commercial rents. Gov. Rick Scott has long advocated for the reduction, as have business groups.

“The business rent tax is a heavy burden to say the least. It discourages new business start-ups and is subjecting existing Florida businesses to disproportionate regulatory burdens, creating instances of double taxation, and stifling business expansion — ultimately costing Florida jobs,” reads the letter to Flores.

“However, eliminating the insurance premium tax credit as a way to reduce the business rent tax does not solve the problem. In fact, it will likely make the problem worse as insurance companies increase insurance premiums on all Florida insurance holders, including homeowners and business owners,” it continues. “In Senate Bill 378 you are effectively swapping a tax cut for a tax increase that will end up costing Floridians more in the end.”

The letter was signed by Tom Feeney, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida; Scott Shalley, the president and CEO of Florida Retail Federation; Mark Wilson, the president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce; Lance Lozano, chief operating officer Florida United Businesses Association; Bill Martin, CEO of the Florida Realtors; Nancy Stephens, executive directors of Manufacturers Association of Florida; Carol Dover, president and CEO of Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association; and Bill Herrle, Florida executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

The group said it sent an identical letter to Negron.  The bill now heads to Senate Appropriations.

Senate begins discussion of medical marijuana implementing legislation

Sen. Rob Bradley indicated he is willing to support opening up the medical marijuana market more than he first proposed, but continues to believe vertical integration is the right system for Florida.

Bradley, an Orange Park Republican, filed one of five medical marijuana implementing bills this Legislative Session. His proposal (SB 406) would, among other things, allow for the growth of the industry once the number of registered patients hits certain thresholds.

Under his proposal, the Department of Health would be required to register five more treatment centers within six months of 250,000 qualified patients registering with the compassionate use registry. After that, five new medical marijuana treatment centers would be registered when the number of patients reach 350,000; 400,000; and 500,000.

But on Wednesday, Bradley said he has come to believe his bill is “too restrictive based on the feedback (he) received.” Instead, he said he would support a measure that finds a balance between his proposal and one sponsored by Minority Leader Oscar Braynon.

Braynon’s bill (SB 1666), among other things, calls on the state to register 10 additional medical marijuana treatment centers by October 1. It then requires the Department of Health to register four more treatment centers each time the compassionate use registry adds qualified patients after Jan. 1, 2018.

“We’re going to have a population group (where) there isn’t enough competition to make sure the pricing is reasonable,” said Bradley during a Senate Health Policy workshop on medical marijuana implementation bills.

“The more people we have growing and selling, it provides different voices and ideas on how to treat things. One treatment center might have a specialty. That’s something that will develop organically.”

What Bradley doesn’t support, however, is a proposal to blow up the entire system and start from scratch. All but one — a bill (SB 614) by Sen. Jeff Brandes —  of the five proposals keeps the current regulatory framework in place.

Brandes’ bill gets rid of vertical integration, creating four different function licenses — cultivation, processing, transportation, and retail — that a medical marijuana treatment center can obtain. His bill also allows for treatment centers to get a combination of licenses, a departure from current law, which requires treatment centers to grow, process and sell their own product.

“I hear a lot of talk about the current system we have … being a cartel and we need a free market approach,” said Bradley. “This is not the selling of lawn mowers or office supplies. This is very different.”

The workshop marked the Senate’s first steps toward medical marijuana implementation, giving members a chance to questions Bradley and Sen. Dana Young, the committee’s chairwoman and a co-sponsor of Bradley’s bill, about medical marijuana measures that could be coming before the committee.

Sen. Frank Artiles and Sen. Denise Grimsley have also filed bills to implement the 2016 medical marijuana amendment.

Approved with support from 71 percent of Floridians in November, the constitutional amendment allows Floridians with debilitating medical conditions, determined by a licensed physician, to use medical marijuana. The amendment went into effect Jan. 3, but state lawmakers and the Florida Department of Health have been tasked with adopting rules and implementing the amendment.

The Department of Health initiated the process of creating rules in January. The state agency has until July to put rules in place, but a recent poll found Floridians think the state is moving too slowly when it comes to implementing the amendment.

The poll, which was first reported by POLITICO Florida, found 44 percent of Floridians think the state is moving too slowly when it comes to implementing the law. Of those people who voted in favor of the measure, 57 percent said they believe the state is moving too slowly.

No action was taken during Wednesday’s meeting, and Young said a bill will be discussed and voted on at a later date.

Poll: 78% of Floridians support incentives to ‘encourage companies to stay in … or move to Florida’

Florida voters appear to support economic incentives and Visit Florida, at least according to a new survey from the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

The survey found 78 percent of Floridians support financial incentives to “encourage companies to stay in Florida or move to Florida from another state in exchange for creating jobs and investing in our state,” according to a polling memo released Monday. The survey also showed 73 percent of voters supported Florida “tax dollars to promote tourists visiting Florida.”

The survey of 600 likely voters was conducted by Cherry Communications by phone from March 6 through March 14. The findings were released on the eve of the annual Florida Chamber of Commerce Capitol Days.

The Florida Chamber has opposed efforts by the Florida House to slash funding for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, and eliminate Enterprise Florida, the private-public economic development agency.

According to the polling memo, support for financial incentives crosses party lines with 87 percent of Republicans, 71 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of independents “supporting Florida remaining the number on destination for jobs in the nation.”

The House voted 87-28 to approve a bill that would eliminate Enterprise Florida and a slew of other economic incentive programs. The measure still needs approval from the Senate, which does not appear to be as inclined to take as severe a position when it comes to economic incentives.

The memo goes on to say that 81 percent of Republicans, 66 percent of Democrats, and 71 percent of independents support using tax dollars for tourism advertising. The House voted 80-35 for a bill that would, among other things, slash funding for Visit Florida.

Poll: Bill Nelson leads Rick Scott 48%-42% in hypothetical 2018 match-up

Sen. Bill Nelson continues to hold an edge over Gov. Rick Scott in a hypothetical 2018 match-up.

A new poll from the Florida Chamber of Commerce shows the Orlando Democrat leads Scott 48 percent to 42 percent. Nelson leads the Naples Republican 79 percent to 11 percent among Democrats, and 44 percent to 36 percent among independents.

Scott leads Nelson 75 percent to 18 percent among Republicans, according to a polling memo.

The survey of 600 likely voters was conducted by Cherry Communications by phone from March 6 through March 14. The findings were released on the eve of the annual Florida Chamber of Commerce Capitol Days.

The poll is the latest in a series that showed Nelson leading Scott, who is believed to be seriously considering a run for Senate in 2018. Scott can’t run for re-election because of term-limits.

According to a University of North Florida Public Opinion Research Laboratory survey, Nelson would take 44 percent to Scott’s 38 percent. Michael Binder, the survey’s director, said even though it’s early in the election cycle the “six-point lead is meaningful.” Meanwhile, a recent Mason-Dixon survey gave Nelson a 46-41 edge over Scott.

The Chamber survey found 50 percent of Floridians approve of the job Scott is doing as governor; while 47 percent of Floridians approve of the job Nelson is doing as U.S. senator.

Puerto Rico governor asks Rick Scott for help addressing health care crisis

The governor of Puerto Rico has asked Gov. Rick Scott for his help in addressing the nation’s healthcare crisis.

In a letter to Scott dated March 17, Gov. Ricardo Rossello said his administration is working hard to stabilize the current fiscal fiscal and economic crisis and to “put the island back on a path of fiscal responsibility and economic growth.” However, he said the so-called Medicaid cliff that will come into effect before the end of 2017 threatens to derail Puerto Rico’s fiscal and economic efforts.

“This could lead to a full-blown collapse of our healthcare system,” he wrote. “Moreover, if this issue is not addressed by Congress in the very near future the fallout will be felt not only in Puerto Rico but also in the states, because the already high rate of migration of the U.S. citizens moving from Puerto Rico to the states will likely increase significantly, affecting Florida in particular.”

More than 440,000 residents of Puerto Rico have moved stateside between 2006 and 2015, driven mostly by better economic opportunities. The loss in population, he wrote to Scott, is “devastating because it decreases our tax base, erodes our consumer base, and diminishes our workforce, which all make our economic recovery more difficult.”

Rossello said he developed a fiscal plan approved by the Financial Oversight and Management Board, created under PROMESA, that reduces spending and spurs economic growth. But federal legislators need to address the Medicaid cliff and “ensure the success of these reforms.”

He asked for Scott’s help in “activating Florida’s congressional delegation as a voice of reason in Congress on this avoidable issue.”

“We are willing to do our part to provide greater accountability, increased spending controls, and prosecute any fraud, waste and abuse tied to federal healthcare dollars,” he wrote. “However, Congress must find a way to include Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico at current levels until ACA replacement comes into effect and must also help Puerto Rico obtain more equitable and fiscally sustainable federal healthcare funding going forward.”

Rick Scott launches TV ad taking aim at ‘politicians in Tallahassee’ over tourism, jobs

The fight between Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida House continues to heat up, with the governor taking to the airwaves to bash “the politicians in Tallahassee.”

The Naples Republican released a 30-second advertisement Thursday. The ad — paid for by Let’s Get to Work, his political committee — is expected to air across the state beginning next week, according to Gary Fineout with The Associated Press.

The advertisement comes one week after the Florida House voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill to eliminate Enterprise Florida. The House also voted to adopt a measure to slash Visit Florida funding.

“The politicians in Tallahassee don’t get it. They don’t understand how jobs are created,” the governor is shown saying in the advertisement. “If the politicians in Tallahassee say they don’t want to market our state and we lose tourists, then we’re going to lose jobs. If we lost 2 percent of the jobs in tourism, that’s 28,000 jobs.”

Scott continues by saying the “politicians are wrong.”

“There is not a job that is expendable,” he says. “Every job is important. Florida will compete.”

Scott has been traveling the state rallying support from business, economic development and tourism leaders. He held a tourism rally in the Capitol, and hosted roundtable discussions in Tallahassee and Sarasota this week.

Florida’s unemployment rate ticks up to 5% in January

Florida’s unemployment rate ticked up in January, reaching 5 percent for the first time in a year.

The January unemployment rate marks a slight uptick from December, when state officials reported an unemployment rate of 4.9 percent. The statewide rate is higher than the national unemployment rate of 4.8 percent.

Despite the increase in the unemployment rate, Gov. Rick Scott lauded private sector employers Monday for creating more than 50,000 jobs in January.

The governor made the monthly jobs announcement at Herc Rentals in Bonita Springs, and used his appearance to once again take aim at lawmakers who voted to support a bill (HB 7005) to eliminate Enterprise Florida and a slew of other economic incentive programs.

“It makes no sense to me,” said Scott. “The House took a vote last week, and they said we don’t need Enterprise Florida anymore. That’s going to absolutely kill jobs. That’s going to kill opportunities.”

On Friday, the Florida House voted 87-28 to approve the measure, with more than half the House Democrats voting for the proposal. All of the House members who represent Lee and Collier counties voted in favor of the bill.

Scott was quick to point out that several of those members who voted for the bill attended a 2013 event announcing rental car giant Hertz would be relocating its offices to Lee County. Scott said that bringing Hertz, and later Herc Rentals, to Southwest Florida likely wouldn’t have been possible without the work of Enterprise Florida.

“We’re on a roll, this state is booming. Why would we mess this up,” said Scott. “I’m going to be out there fighting for jobs every day.”

Scott is scheduled to hold a roundtable with business and economic development leaders in Tallahassee later today, where he’ll talk about Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. The event is expected to be similar to ones he’s held elsewhere across the state, and will likely target lawmakers in the Big Bend region who supported the House measure.

The jobs report showed the professional and business services industry saw the largest year-over-year gains, adding 55,900 jobs between January 2016 and January 2017. The report also showed 23 out of the state’s 24 metro areas saw year-over-year gains, with the Orlando metropolitan area once again leading the state with 54,600 jobs during the one year period.

“With the creation of 51,500 new jobs and the second-highest job demand in the state, Orlando’s economy is booming,” said Scott in a statement. “Across the state, jobs are growing and businesses are succeeding, and we will continue to cut taxes and support initiatives that foster further economic development, so every Floridian can get a great job.”

The Tampa Bay region added 38,200 jobs between January 2016 and January 2017, while Miami metropolitan area added 31,800 jobs in the one-year period.

While the unemployment rate ticked up from December to January, the report shows it is unchanged from January 2016.

The Department of Economic Opportunity is scheduled to release February jobs numbers on March 24.

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