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AIF Names Legislature's 2012 Business Champions

May 1, 2012 - 6:00pm

Associated Industries of Florida, which had previously declared the 2012 legislative session the most business friendly since 2008, honored 16 lawmakers Wednesday, including House Speaker-designate Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President-designate Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who were behind the pro-business efforts.

The business lobbying outfit put the spotlight on four senators and 12 representatives as 2012 Champion for Business award winners.

The 16 legislators we honor this year were instrumental in passing policies that will protect and nurture businesses and their employees, Tom Feeney, AIF president and CEO, stated in a release.

From tax relief and deregulation to improvements in Floridas insurance climate and water-quality standards, our award winners demonstrated incredible leadership that will pave the way for Floridas economic revival.

The awards were based upon AIFs 2012 voting records report.

Per a release from AIF, 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 Floridas 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 Floridas 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 Floridas broken auto insurance system. One of AIFs 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-Fort 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 businesss 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 Floridas Communications Services Tax, the third highest tax on communications services in the country. Rep. Grants 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 AIFs 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 Floridas broken unemployment compensation system and AIF pledges to continue working with him to achieve this goal.

Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale: Sen. Bogdanoff is being awarded her second AIF Champion for Business Award this year. As a longtime 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-Fort 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 states 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.

The 2012 Council Legislator of the Year award winners are:

Environmental Sustainability Council

Rep. Clay Ford, R-Pensacola, and Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa: As the prime sponsors of HB 885 and SB 1324, these two legislators spearheaded efforts to address costly metal theft in our state. Unfortunately, unscrupulous individuals have realized there is a lucrative market for metals in our state. This uptick in metal theft is coming at a very high cost for business owners who are victims of these crimes. Both HB 885 and SB 1324 include important provisions to deter this practice.

Council for Community Hospitals

Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater: As the Legislator of the Year by AIFs Council for Community Hospitals, Rep. Hooper sponsored and helped to pass legislation that will ensure greater public oversight in the sale or lease of a county, district or municipal hospital. HB 711 protects both the taxpayer and the community by ensuring full and fair market value is received in exchange for the sale and/or lease of public hospitals. Rep. Hooper has been a vocal advocate of greater transparency for these highly complex and important transactions.

Development and Infrastructure Council

Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami: Rep. Artiles filed HB 1013 in response to a recent 5th District Court of Appeals decision, which would have exposed builders in Florida to new and unwarranted causes of action. This opinion would have made builders responsible for off-site improvements that had nothing to do with warranties associated with the construction of a home. Thanks to Rep. Artiles leadership and his sponsorship of this legislation, Floridas construction industry will be protected from frivolous lawsuits.

Financial Services Council

Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton: This year, Rep. Hager sponsored legislation, HB 803, aimed at right sizing Floridas Hurricane Catastrophe Fund (CatFund). Currently, Floridas CatFund is overexposed and if a storm or series of storms were to hit Florida there exists a real potential for this fund to default on its responsibilities. While politically unpopular, Rep. Hagers dedication to addressing this crisis shows his commitment to the future of Florida.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City: This year, Sen. Negron was designated as the prime negotiator and sponsor of legislation, SB 1860, to reform Floridas broken auto insurance system. Sen. Negrons experience dealing with difficult and complex issues once again came in handy as legislators worked with Gov. Scott to pass meaningful reforms that addressed the rampant fraud and cost drivers in the system. Throughout the weeks of debate, public testimony, and negotiations, Sen. Negron remained fair and deliberate, always keeping the best interests of Floridians and employers in mind.

Reach Jim Turner at or at (772) 215-9889.

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