Region's business leaders hopeful for an economy-boosting legislative session

— As state lawmakers get ready for the 2012 legislative session, business leaders throughout Southwest Florida have prepared their list of what they hope is accomplished.

In some cases, the wish list is more about how lawmakers approach the job when they convene starting Jan. 10 than it is about a specific piece of legislation.

Using new census data, lawmakers are required this session to redraw boundaries for Congressional seats and for state House and Senate districts. Approval of a state budget is a task the Legislature must do every year.

After that, business leaders hope legislators turn their attention to the economy.

"Economic diversification and development are two of Southwest Florida's most important issues and we also need to pay special attention to whether or not Las Vegas-style casino gambling is introduced into the state," said James D. Dati, board chairman of the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce. "I would also like to see legislators give serious consideration to legislation to further the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Six Pillars of Florida's Future Economy."

The pillars are intended to promote Florida's economy. They were created through a visioning process that identified critical factors for the state's future success, among them talent, innovation and infrastructure to make business competitive.

"In 2012, lawmakers need to work together in a nonpartisan, less-divisive manner for the common good of Floridians and Florida's future," Dati said. "They need to consider natural resource protection and provide continued support for the area's school districts and higher education facilities as well as focus on economic diversification and development."

Kathleen Curatolo, on NewsMakers 7-3-11.

Kathleen Curatolo, on NewsMakers 7-3-11.

"Overall, areas of focus should be streamlining regulation and reducing costs that are sensible and less-intrusive to help stimulate our economy and grow jobs," said Kathy Curatolo, executive vice president of the Collier Building Industry Association. "A specific example within the new Department of Business and Professional Regulation ... would be the creation of a Division of Construction and Design with a focus on developing a licensing process that streamlines regulation and reduces cost."

Part of a strong economy is a healthy climate for growth, which has a significant effect on the building industry and people like Kathy Curatolo, executive vice president of the Collier Building Industry Association.

"Overall, areas of focus should be streamlining regulation and reducing costs that are sensible and less-intrusive to help stimulate our economy and grow jobs," she said. "A specific example within the new Department of Business and Professional Regulation ... would be the creation of a Division of Construction and Design with a focus on developing a licensing process that streamlines regulation and reduces cost."

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation licenses and regulates Florida businesses and professionals, such as real estate agents and contractors, among many categories. The organization licenses and regulates nearly a million professionals and businesses.

"We would also like to see an increase in dedicated revenues to support the work of the (department), a moratorium on impact fees and continued state funding for building-code education to name a few," Curatolo said.

Another issue the Collier builders' group would like to see addressed in 2012 is legislation to step up efforts to stop unlicensed activity, Curatolo said.

"Southwest Florida's most important issues are stimulating the economy and growing jobs," Curatolo said. "Given our local delegation's commitment in 2011, we look for significant support for continued legislation that will support this goal."

Meanwhile, the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce wants lawmakers to keep a clear focus on redistricting, education and health care.

"We are concerned about redistricting and making sure Collier County is redistricted as compactly as possible," said Michael Reagen, president and CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce. "And support for education is critical, both in our public schools and higher education."

Reagan said he hopes for a balanced approach to helping Collier County's elderly in a continuing recession, particularly when it comes to Medicaid dollars and nursing home services for the elderly and poor.

Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce President
Mike Reagen

Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce President Mike Reagen

"We are concerned about redistricting and making sure Collier County is redistricted as compactly as possible," said Michael Reagen, president and CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce. "And support for education is critical, both in our public schools and higher education."

"We continue to need to focus on our laws to curtail pill mills," Reagen also said. "Lastly, we are concerned about insurance rates and the solvency of Citizens insurance company."

He was referring to Citizens Property Insurance Corp., created by the Legislature nearly 10 years ago by merging two state-backed insurance pools. Today, it is Florida's largest home insurer.

In Lee County, the Chamber of Southwest Florida sees balancing the budget and the economy as top issues.

David K. Miller, executive director of the Chamber of Southwest Florida, has a few issues he would like lawmakers to address.

"There are a multitude of issues to address beginning with the constitutionally mandated balanced budget," he said. "That is followed by jobs and the economy, educational and environmental concerns, redistricting and resort casinos to name a few."

For Miller and his organization, the most specific area overall in need of attention is the economy.

"With our region being one of the hardest-hit by economic recession, jobs and economic development must take a priority," he said.

With his hopes for what lawmakers will accomplish in 2012, Miller has some encouraging words and he recognizes something legislators could do without.

"The Chamber of Southwest Florida recognizes the challenges our 160 lawmakers face this year," he said. "And, we wish them a productive session free of distractions."

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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