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Business Observer Tuesday, May 1, 2012 6 years ago

Capitol Chatter: April 27

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The weekly roundup of what's happening in government and how it affects business.
by: Rod Thomson Staff Writer

Anti-Cuba legislation
could hurt Florida economy

A narrowly aimed law pushed by Southeast Florida Cuban legislators has triggered the universal law of unintended consequences.

The legislation that passed this session prohibits state and local governments from contracting with companies for more than $1 million if those companies work in Cuba or Syria. The law appeared intended to smack Odebrecht, a Brazilian conglomerate whose U.S. division is based in Coral Gables. The company is doing work to improve Cuba's Port Mariel.

But the law is hitting others, including many in Canada and Brazil -- Florida's largest international trading partners.

Mark Wilson, president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, told the Miami Herald that he got an unexpected and unwelcome call from the Canadian ambassador to the United States. The ambassador told him the new law could affect many Canadian firms doing work in Florida and Cuba and that the companies said: “they will not be making any more investments in Florida for fear they might get hit by this.”

Well, that's not what the Chamber and others have been trying to accomplish.

Wilson said no companies should be doing business with oppressive foreign regimes, but that foreign policy is the province of federal officials, not state legislators.

Gov. Rick Scott, who was just in Brazil on a trade mission earlier this year, has until May 5 to sign or veto the bill. Scott has clear moral values, but if a law is going to work against jobs in Florida — his top priority --¬†it is going to be hard to get past his veto pen.

Crist admires Obama,
sees Republican extremists

Former Gov. Charlie Crist continues his fall from Republican standard-bearer to as-yet-undetermined leftist, admiring President Barack Obama and talking of the “radical right” in the GOP.

After recently saying he would consider running as a Democrat against Scott, he has now expressed “admiration” for Obama for what he sees as the president's attempt to work with Republicans. Crist did not endorse Scott for re-election, yet, but he does seem to be sending strong feelers out on the level of support if he ran as a Democrat.

Crist, a big-spending governor who was getting creamed by Marco Rubio in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in 2010 before jumping ship, took out after the tea party, his nemesis since its rise. He told MSNBC that Republicans have to “toe the line and talk in tea party terminology.”

He added: “You've got to, I think, put forward a voice and a message that says that you want to govern for all the people not just the radical right of the Republican Party.”

State workers to get less state retirement funding
State employees will get smaller taxpayer-funded contributions to their retirement plans under a bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott last week.

The law is another in ongoing attempts to make the state pension plans affordable and continues to be fought by public employee unions. A law requiring state workers to contribute 3% of their salary to their pension last year in the defined benefit plan is being challenged in court.

This year's law is trying to reign in the employees in the defined contribution plan. Different classes of workers will see different declines. For instance, special risk employees, such as police, will see the state share decline from 18.3% to 12.3%. The bill had broad support in both the House and Senate, but obviously was opposed by employees who will see a smaller state contribution to their retirement.

“This legislation takes a positive step toward addressing the overall costs of the Florida Retirement System — making the overall retirement benefits more affordable for Florida's taxpayers,” Scott said in the transmittal letter.

Panthers lose protection,
property owners gain

In another blow to environmentalists' attempts to place heavy restrictions on thousands of acres of South Florida land, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling rejecting attempts to label new lands as critical habitat for the endangered Florida panther.

The Sierra Club and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida filed suit after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied the environmental groups' request for the designation. The federal appeals court ruled that the federal agency had the authority to deny the request.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Eastern Collier Property Owners groups backed the Wildlife Service's denial.

Banker Deutsch is named
economic opportunity chief

Longtime banking executive Hunting Deutsch is the new executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Gov. Rick Scott appointed Deutsch about two months after Doug Darling announced his resignation from the department.

Deutsch has worked for AmSouth Bank, CitiGroup and SunTrust banks. Most recently, he was president of BankUnited Financial Corp. after being executive vice president of wealth management for BankUnited.

The Department of Economic Opportunity, created by the Legislature working with Scott last year, is the result of a merger and streamlining of several state agencies.

Redistricting continues
to shake up races

State House Democratic Minority Leader Ron Saunders withdrew from his re-election to the House so he could run for a Senate seat that is similar to his South Florida House district.

It is his second attempt at the Senate, narrowly losing to Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, who is term-limited this year. However, Saunders will be facing Bullard's son, Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami and former Rep. James Bush.

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