The Florida Legislature starts today

House Speaker Dean Cannon & Senate President Mike Haridopolos
(AP)

Sixteen years ago, I had the pleasure of working my first session. The last session the Democrats were in control, as the Republicans would sweep into power that fall.

There have been a lot of changes. Term limits. Gift bans. Successive Republican administrations. A significant bend to the right in the legislative leadership, even in the more collegial Florida Senate. The Florida of today is not that much different, although we do have lower taxes and a bigger budget.

So what will the 2012 Session bring us? Redistricting for one, it’s the reason they’re starting in January instead of March — but more on that in another post.

The St. Petersburg er… TAMPA BAY Times (still getting used to that one) lists their five key issues as redistricting, the budget, gambling, insurance fraud, and online sales tax collections.

Gambling
The gambling issue is spearheaded by an effort to allow “destination” casinos in South Florida. The bill is getting some tweaks as it moves through the process. Personally, I support the idea – it would mean the Seminole Hard Rock Casino could become a destination casino as well; Federal law says that Native Americans can operate the same type of casinos that are allowed anywhere else in the state.

Insurance
Insurance fraud, specifically in the Personal Injury Protection area, is a key concern. PIP fraud occurs when doctors are bill insurance companies without performing any services. They get “patients” who were in real, although minor auto accidents, to submit claims and to get the minimum coverage. With little oversight, and no ability to investigate, it’s ripe for such corruption. And we all pay just a little more in our auto insurance premiums. At the same time, over-regulation of PIP (yes, Republicans, fighting fraud requires government regulation) could make it harder for true injuries to be paid. It’s fine balance that that puts trial attorneys, insurance companies, consumer advocates, and medical professionals into an interesting dynamic.

Online Sales Tax
When it comes to collecting online sales tax, the public and likely many legislators, don’t know purchases from eBay and Amazon and all other online sites are already subject to Florida’s sales and use tax. You see, the tax is supposed to be paid by the buyer — and is only collected by the seller because it’s easier for all of us. Brick and mortar stores actually get to KEEP some of the sales tax to offset the cost of collecting it. However, when you make a purchase online you – yes you, dear reader – are required to send a check to the Florida Department of Revenue for the tax, if the purchase is taxable.

Now you can see the issue. Most of us – myself included – don’t take the time to send that check. And more and more of us like shopping online. This is becoming a problem for our bricks and mortar stores — they claim, perhaps rightfully so, they are becoming the show rooms for online companies. We go to the local Best Buy and look around, ask some questions, then we go online to find a better deal. That is great for the short term, but in the long term stores will close and people will be out of work.

Budget
Florida doesn’t do the same kind of budgeting as the Federal Government. We don’t project out 10 years… but Florida does compare year to year. Our state will collect, from all sources, some $2 billion less than it needs to meet the projected funding levels of all our programs. And Governor Rick Scott wants to continue rolling back on the Corporate Income Tax – a good thing in the long run, making it cheaper for businesses to operate here in Florida. Finding the funds to plug the hole, or cutting back on programs, will make for an interesting dynamic.

Redistricting
The last big issue, one on which State of Sunshine will focus these coming weeks, is the redrawing of the lines for the Florida House of Representatives, Florida Senate, and Florida’s Congressional Districts. I took part in the process ten years ago, and it was an interesting process – and the passage of two Fair Districts amendments will make it that much more this time around.

Stay tuned….

About Jim Johnson

Editor and publisher of The State of Sunshine.
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