Associated Industries names its legislative “Champions of Business”

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Following what it describes as the most business-friendly session advanced by the Florida House of Representatives since 2008, Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) announced the 12 Representatives and four Senators it believes made such a pro-business session possible.

Based on statistics compiled from AIF’s 2012 Voting Records Report, the 2012 Champion for Business awards are presented to those who are dedicated to protecting and enhancing Florida’s businesses and employees. The 16 legislators honored this year have proven track records of working – sometimes on controversial issues – to create a thriving business climate in our state. While the awards will be formally presented to winners during the Champion for Business ceremony held in conjunction with AIF’s Annual Conference in September, the benefits of these legislators’ hard work will be felt much earlier.

“Businesses – big and small – are the lifeblood of our state. Florida’s economic climate depends on their health and stability. As the voice of Florida business, AIF is proud to honor pro-business legislators who made positive strides for our state with the 2012 Champion for Business awards. Each year, our award recipients embody a dedication to Florida businesses and this year was no different,” said Tom Feeney, AIF President and CEO. “The 16 legislators we honor this year were instrumental in passing policies that will protect and nurture businesses and their employees. From tax relief and deregulation to improvements in Florida’s insurance climate and water quality standards, our award winners demonstrated incredible leadership that will pave the way for Florida’s economic revival.”

The 2012 award winners are:

· Rep. Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) – Rep. Weatherford has been a stalwart supporter of businesses and is receiving his third AIF Champion for Business Award this year. As the incoming Speaker of the House, Rep. Weatherford has personified the definition of a champion for business. This year, Rep. Weatherford spearheaded efforts to mitigate the impending unemployment compensation tax increase on Florida businesses. Thanks to his leadership, the reforms included in HB 7027 will save employers approximately $50 per employee.

· Rep. Mack Bernard (D-West Palm Beach) – Since his arrival in the House of Representatives, Rep. Bernard has been a strong supporter of Florida’s business community, and is receiving his first AIF Champion for Business Award this year. He is being recognized for his role in passing important reforms to Florida’s workers’ compensation system. Rep. Bernard filed HB 307, a bill designed to ensure that all companies, regardless of their legal structure, are required to provide workers’ compensation coverage to their employees. This important clarification has been a goal of AIF since the passage of the 2003 workers’ compensation reforms. HB 307 also ensures that companies remain immune from civil actions for work injuries because workers’ compensation coverage is now required.

· Rep. Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton) – Rep. Boyd is receiving his first AIF Champion for Business Award this year. Throughout the 2012 session, Rep. Boyd was the steady force behind efforts to reform Florida’s broken auto insurance system. One of AIF’s top priorities this year, HB 119 addressed the major cost drivers that force Florida consumers and businesses to pay almost 50 percent more for auto insurance than most other states. The fraud-fighting provisions championed by Rep. Boyd will go a long way in helping promote a healthy auto insurance market in Florida.

· Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Ft. Myers) – Rep. Caldwell is receiving his first AIF Champion for Business Award this year for his leadership in sponsoring HB 7051, a bill that allows DEP to proceed with the implementation of sensible Numeric Nutrient Criteria rules. This legislation was critical to ensuring that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not impose burdensome rules that will add to the already increasing costs of doing business in Florida.

· Rep. Steve Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island) – Now a two-time AIF Champion for Business Award winner, Rep. Crisafulli is being recognized this year for his outstanding leadership in the environmental policy arena. He sponsored and promoted HB 7003, which allows the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to create a statewide Environmental Resource Permitting (ERP) system. This will afford employers consistent, predictable outcomes irrespective of their business’ location in the State of Florida.

· Rep. Dan Davis (R-Jacksonville) – Rep. Davis is being honored with his first AIF Champion for Business Award this year for sponsoring HB 4169, a bill designed to repeal the arcane regulatory practice of prohibiting workers’ compensation carriers from carrying over “excess profits.” This prohibition creates both accounting and cash flow problems for these companies. The elimination of this regulatory provision will alleviate these burdensome and confusing regulations, thus creating a more fair and predictable regulatory environment. The provisions of HB 4169 eventually found their way onto a different piece of legislation thanks to Rep. Davis’ determination and constant attention.

· Rep. Eric Eisnaugle (R-Orlando) – Since arriving in the Florida House, Rep. Eisnaugle has been a strong supporter of the business community and championed economic development and free market principles. He is receiving his first AIF Champion for Business Award for his leadership in passing a proposed constitutional amendment, HJR 1003, which, if approved, would exempt thousands of small businesses from having to pay Tangible Personal Property (TPP) taxes. In addition, the amendment would provide local municipalities and counties the authority to implement additional TPP exemptions by ordinance.

· Rep. Erik Fresen (R-Miami) – Rep. Fresen is another first-time AIF Champion for Business Award winner. Rep. Fresen was the prime sponsor of legislation, HB 487, that would enact comprehensive gaming reform in Florida. Furthermore, the bill would allow for the construction of up to three destination resorts in Florida, which would create tens of thousands of jobs and bring billions in private capital investment to our state.

· Rep. James Grant (R-Tampa) – Accepting his first AIF Champion for Business Award, Rep. Grant led the charge to reform Florida’s Communications Services Tax, the third highest tax on communications services in the country. Rep. Grant’s sponsorship of HB 809 ensures Florida consumers – both residents and businesses – do not pay these excessive taxes on goods or services that are not “communications services” but are provided by communications service providers. The legislation also establishes a “task force” to review and recommend ways to further simplify this insidious tax and options for potentially reducing the overall tax burden on Floridians.

· Rep. Seth McKeel (R-Lakeland) – Rep. McKeel is a first-time recipient of an AIF Champion for Business Award. As Chairman of the powerful House State Affairs Council, he played a key role in the passage and ratification of legislation, HB 7051, dealing with Numeric Nutrient Criteria rules. Legislative ratification of this Florida-based solution to the establishment of water quality criteria was incredibly important to the business community.

· Rep. Jimmy Patronis (R-Panama City) – Rep. Patronis is a three-time AIF Champion for Business Award winner. This year, Rep. Patronis is being recognized for successfully sponsoring and passing landmark environmental permitting legislation, HB 503. This bill provides a major step forward in streamlining permitting across state agencies. The bill will help accelerate the permit approval process and bring certainty to businesses dealing with multiple state agencies.

· Rep. Steve Precourt (R-Orlando) – Rep. Precourt is bringing home his first AIF Champion for Business Award for his work to craft a dynamic economic development package that incorporated many of AIF’s top economic development incentives for 2012. The legislation included tax breaks and incentives for important industries like manufacturing, agriculture and film. The incentives included in HB 7087 will ensure that Florida remains a beacon for investment and economic activity.

· Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) – This year, Sen. Gaetz is receiving his second AIF Champion for Business Award. As the incoming Senate President, he was instrumental in helping bring tax relief for employers in the form of lower unemployment compensation taxes. Sen. Gaetz remains committed to bringing much needed reform to Florida’s broken unemployment compensation system and AIF pledges to continue working with him to achieve this goal.

· Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff (R-Ft. Lauderdale) – Sen. Bogdanoff is being awarded her second AIF Champion for Business Award this year. As a long-time opponent of the expansion of gaming in Florida, Sen. Bogdanoff took on the difficult task of sponsoring legislation aimed at passing real, comprehensive gaming reform in our state. The legislation offered by Sen. Bogdanoff would also allow for the construction of up to three destination resorts in South Florida – a proposal that would lead to the creation of thousands of jobs and billions in private capital investment. Sen. Bogdanoff also played a major role this session in the debate to bring tax equity to our “main street” retailers who are struggling to compete with online retailers that currently do not charge sales taxes on purchases made over the Internet. Sen. Bogdanoff offered legislation that would restore fairness by requiring these virtual companies to remit sales taxes back to the state.

· Sen. Jack Latvala (R-St. Petersburg) – A strong defender of the business community, and now a two-time AIF Champion for Business Award winner, Sen. Latvala was involved in a number of issues of vital importance to employers across our state. Sen. Latvala is being recognized this year for his steadfast support of free market principles in the health care arena. Akin to a game of “whack-a-mole,” Sen. Latvala successfully defeated a number of attempts this session to pass mandatory contract­ing provisions between hospitals and health plan providers. In essence, these proposals would have obliterated the competitive process by which managed-care entities negotiate with their provider networks.

· Sen. Chris Smith (D-Ft. Lauderdale) – Sen. Smith is now a two-time winner, taking home his second AIF Champion for Business Award this year. Sen. Smith continues his long track record of working with the business community to pass legislation that improves our state’s business climate. This year, Sen. Smith is being recognized for his work on two important business issues. First, he was the prime Senate sponsor of metal theft legislation, SB 540, which enacted critical provisions to help thwart these crimes that are costing businesses in Florida hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. In addition, Sen. Smith played a key role in the passage of legislation that will ensure all companies, regardless of their legal structure, are required to provide workers’ compensation coverage to their employees.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.