Associated Industries vote analysis suggests shift in priorities

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According to the Associated Industries of Florida analysis of more than 10,451 votes cast on 89 business-related bills, the gap between Democrat’s and Republican’s voting records decreased this year, from a difference of 26 points last year to 19 points in 2013. In 2001, the divide between parties was 48, with Republicans averaging at 97 percent and Democrats at 49.

This growing congruence between parties may be due as much to changing AIF priorities as it is to an alignment on issues. Particularly in the area of health care, AIF has become a vocal proponent of expanded scope of practice for nurses and optometrists, and the expansion of public health care coverage for the uninsured — and both of these issues have historically been supported in greater number by Democrats.

Indeed, in 2013, 90 percent of health care votes were seen favorably by AIF. This percent has steadily increased for the past six years, up from just 44 percent in 2008.

In some subject areas, 100 percent of votes cast in 2013 were in line with AIF priorities:  growth management and information technology were full wins for the association, as was — surprisingly — business regulation which historically has seen more partisan divide.  Since 2002, on average, 87 percent of votes cast on business regulation were consistent with AIF priorities.

Labor relations was the area that saw the lowest overall alignment between member votes and AIF priorities, with just 66 percent of votes falling where AIF would like. Key bills in this category included the regulation of family or medical leave benefits and prohibitions on mandated benefits — issues which were almost exclusively voted up or down on party lines.

Environmental issues had the greatest number of votes analyzed at 2,264, of which 94 percent were cast in line with AIF preferences. Comparatively, just 43 votes hit upon AIF priorities in growth management, and 194 on information technology.  In sum, 90 percent of 2013 votes were seen as wins for AIF — up from 88 percent last year, and 80 percent in 2009.

However, considering the role of chamber leadership in agenda setting , only rough comparisons can be made between years. Votes can only be cast on bills which progress through the system. Therefore, missing from the AIF vote analysis is a measure of non-action on priority issues: i.e. bills that AIF would support but were never heard.  For example, an issue such as Medicaid expansion, which never had a hearing in the House, could be considered a de facto “no” vote by House leadership who prevented its movement.  Federal health care reform places considerable burden on businesses, leading AIF and other industry groups to look to the state for solutions that would prevent “double taxation” on employers. This is a huge issue that had no resolution in 2013.

“Employers are still shouldering the burden of indirect costs associated with paying for the health care of Florida’s uninsured,” said Tom Feeney, AIF president and CEO, who shared that health care coverage wasn’t the only area where AIF was left hanging.

Feeney continued, “A watered-down property insurance bill and legislative inaction on right-sizing the Cat Fund leave Florida’s policyholders at risk.”

Not one legislator earned a perfect 100 percent on AIF priority votes — but many came close.  The main kicker in scores for House Republicans seemed to be for voting “yes” on the Florida Health Choices program, HB 7169, a proposal which would not have provided enough expansion of health care coverage to meet AIF criteria.

AIF has been tracking, analyzing and reporting legislative votes on business issues since 1979, and makes its archives available with the ability to view information by year, political party, legislator, subject area, and chamber.  You can check it out, along with legislator rankings, at www.aif.com.

 Karen Cyphers, PhD, is a public policy consultant, researcher, and mother to three daughters.