Gaming bill not enough for NFIB members

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Small business owners expect to see more economic development measures than the casino proposals currently being weighed by the Legislature, the National Federation of Independent Businesses said Friday reports Brandn Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

With the Tuesday opening of the 2012 legislative session looming, NFIB unveiled a series of measures it said would provide relief to small businesses, including changes to the workers’ compensation, unemployment compensation and “bad faith” laws and a reduction in the tangible personal property tax.

“This is an extremely important session,” said Bill Herrle, executive director of NFIB Florida. “We are just on the cusp of what could be a nice economic recovery. But the Legislature has to take some difficult issues on.”

NFIB presented its priorities as an array of items that would relieve the cost burdens on small businesses, allowing them to hire more workers. Reining in prescription-drug rates for workers’ compensation and dropping the taxable wages for the unemployment system would lower those costs for businesses, the organization says.

Meanwhile, changes to bad faith laws, meant to weed out claims that the organization believes are frivolous, and efforts to increase the exemption for the tangible personal property tax would keep most of NFIB’s members from having to pay the tax.

At the same time, sentiment is sharply divided on a proposal to allow as many as three “destination resorts” featuring casino-style gambling. A survey of 400 NFIB members showed that 49 percent favor the proposal, while 40 percent oppose it. And 49 percent said regulating gaming interests in Florida — another aim of the legislation — should be the Legislature’s lowest priority in the new session.

Herrle said the gambling bill would likely gain the support of many of his members as long as lawmakers also tackled the organization’s priorities.

“Should the gaming issue pass under the guise of creating tens of thousands of jobs, it will be viewed as a frivolity by the small business community if these other hard issues are not addressed,” Herrle said.

But several of the measures could run into resistance. Trial lawyers are expected to fight any changes in the state’s bad faith laws. And changes to the unemployment system are also one of the top agenda items being watched by unions going into the session, though from a different perspective.

While current legislation wouldn’t change the number of weeks that unemployment benefits would be available, AFL-CIO lobbyist Rich Templin says unions are very concerned that some restrictions on benefits will be pushed by the business lobby and that lawmakers will eventually work it into the bill.

If unemployment taxes are going to be reduced, “that money has to come from somewhere,” said Templin.

“If they’re going to say, ‘Yeah, you don’t have to pay your taxes,’ the way they are going to try to find savings (probably) is by taking it away from the unemployed.”

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.