The State Senate’s No. 1 leader enters the new Legislative session with lots of ambition, from medical marijuana clarification to infrastructure needs. His chief worry: blind spots.
When Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, was named Florida State Senate President after November’s elections, the soft-spoken attorney’s first directive to his chamber colleagues was to conduct the people’s business with “civility, transparency and candor.”
Galvano’s goal: avoid partisan rancor that’s embittered the nation’s political discourse.
So far, so good. By early February, state senators had pre-filed more than 400 bills, with committees conducting several rounds of primers in business-like fashion in anticipation of the 60-day legislative sessions that begins March 5.
A partner at Grimes Goebel Grimes Hawkins Gladfelter & Galvano in Bradenton, and onetime city attorney for Arcadia in Desoto County, Galvano was first elected to the Florida House in 2002. After being term-limited out of the House, in 2010 he was elected to the Senate. He was elected unanimously to be Senate President in January.
Galvano’s core principles in Tallahassee include supporting zero-based budgeting; school choice; diversifying the state’s economy; investing in the state’s infrastructure; and protecting the environment — he is a trustee with the Mote Marine Library and the Mote Scientific Foundation.
In late January, Galvano provided The Business Observer with written responses to questions about his priorities for the 2019 Legislative Session. Edited excerpts:
What will be a key emphasis for the 2019 Legislature?
I believe that the future of Florida’s economy and our ability to diversify and grow is tied to our infrastructure and our investment therein. I am talking about it at all levels, from transportation to water to communications to power. We need to think innovatively when it comes to infrastructure, so we are not just meeting the needs of today, mitigating the needs of yesterday, but anticipating the needs of tomorrow.
Recent estimates tell us that we gain over 850 people a day in this state and will continue to over the next years. That means we are gaining a population slightly larger than the city of Orlando every year. We need to be ready. We need to govern with this reality in mind.
Did you learning anything in pre-session primers you didn’t expect?
In the 16 years I have served in the Florida Legislature, I can tell you nothing has ever played out as predicted or planned for. Many of the major issues we will deal with have yet to reveal themselves. Last session was certainly no exception.
My colleagues and I cannot fully predict what challenges lie ahead, but we are doing our due diligence to plan and to be ready to respond. For example, setting aside ample reserves as we made our way through the budget process last year provided flexibility that allowed us to transfer $400 million to school safety initiatives in the final weeks of session following the tragedy in Parkland.
Likewise, reserve funds proved essential to ensuring a swift and effective state response when Hurricane Michael ravaged the Panhandle this fall.
Business Rent Tax, vacation rentals, occupational licensing, AOB reform, workers’ comp…which, in your view, can be resolved most quickly?
Based on conversations I’ve had with Senators about issues they are interested in, I think there is an appetite in the Senate to look at insurance issues like assignment of benefits, workers’ compensation and PIP.
We have made progress towards reducing the business rent tax in recent years, but I understand that the business community is hoping we can continue to reduce that tax over time.
How can Florida sustain growth in its tourism industry?
'We are gaining a population slightly larger than the city of Orlando every year. We need to be ready. We need to govern with this reality in mind.’ Bill Galvano
Florida set another record in 2017, welcoming 116.5 million visitors, the highest number in state history. I certainly see the value in Visit Florida as tourism remains a huge and growing industry in our state.
However, I also think we need to focus on emerging industries. With proper planning, we can attract technology and not just tourists. We can be a target for venture capital, for job creators, for startups. Our schools, colleges, and universities are part of this vision. Hand-in-hand with growing an economy is a trained and skilled workforce with a nexus to the demands of that economy.
I want to find new ways to maximize our technical schools and our state colleges. I think our goal should be to continue to grow jobs, but I think it is time we hyper-focus on higher paying, skilled jobs.
What role would you like to see Enterprise Florida play in economic development? Are more economic incentives sound fiscal policy?
I do see a role for Enterprise Florida. However, I also share a concern that government should not cherry pick certain businesses or industries. Therefore, we need balance in how we use dollars to attract economic development.
It is important that we remain competitive in attracting high-wage, high-value business to our state, and the reality is that we are in many cases competing with other states that offer various economic incentives. Gov. Scott was a tremendous champion in this regard, and we saw great results under his leadership.
However, equally important to me is that we maintain a regulatory system, transportation and security infrastructure, and certainly a K-20 education system that keeps Florida a destination for all businesses looking to hired skilled workers and expand and grow their companies.
How will the Legislature address red tide?
I am certainly committed to ensuring the Legislature continues to fund valuable research on Red Tide. Much of the research funding the Legislature has appropriated over the last several years is utilized in our region through a partnership with Mote Marine Lab. I am working with Senator Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, and the science community on a “Red Tide Initiative” for collaboration of entities to address this issue.
In recent months, the issue of red tide has become extremely politicized across the state, but the reality is that in my home community, this is an issue we have been dealing with for decades, and we understand and feel the impact on our economy.
It is very important to me that we have science-based not political solutions.
Will the Senate pursue Medicaid block grants to extend coverage?
The Senate has a long history of collaborative and bipartisan work on policy proposals designed to improve the availability and delivery of health care services in our state. I expect the robust debate surrounding these issues to continue.
However, there is not support in the Legislature for the traditional expansion of Medicaid as contemplated in the Affordable Care Act. I am willing to explore the opportunity for Medicaid block grants.
How will the Legislature fix the state’s troubled medical marijuana program?
Gov. DeSantis has indicated he prefers a legislative solution rather than a judicial order to bring the issue of implementation of the amendment to a conclusion. A legislative solution has always been my preferred course of action, and we will certainly honor the Governor’s request to bring a bill forward early in session that addresses both his concerns and those raised in litigation.
Many Senators share these concerns and have ideas they are interested in advancing, which include smokable forms of treatment. The Senate is also prepared to revisit the number of licenses permitted.
Autonomous vehicle, artificial intelligence economic development: How is the Legislature preparing for the economy of tomorrow?
I am following the private investments being made into livable cities in the Tampa Bay area, the private high-speed rail system between Tampa and Orlando and the enhanced use of autonomous vehicle programs.
There is a role for government in my opinion, as I said above, not just trying to cherry-pick certain industries, but removing barriers and ensuring a regulatory structure that fosters private sector innovation.