Over two dozen Chamber members and community leaders descended on the State Capital last week for St. Pete Day in Tallahassee, presented by Spectrum. The annual trip is designed to give members access to our state leaders and to advocate for our community. This year we were honored to be joined by Mayor Rick Kriseman as well as St. Pete City Council Chair Ed Montanari and Councilwoman Brandi Gabbard.
Florida Chamber Briefing
Our first stop in Tallahassee was for a lunch sponsored Shumaker, Loop, and Kendrick/Shumaker Advisors at the Florida Chamber. Each year we receive a briefing from our friends at the Florida Chamber to kick off our time in the Capital. EVP of Government and Political Relations, David Hart briefed us on Florida’s economic outlook and highlighted key issues the Florida Chamber is focused on. Many of which align with the St. Pete Chamber’s Legislative Priorities, including reductions in the business rent tax and communications services tax. David also went over the Florida Scorecard, an online tool that tracks key metrics for the state economy.
Budget and Policy
Attendees then made our way to the Florida Capitol Building and up to the Executive Offices of the Governor to meet with Policy Director Chris Spencer. Chris is a St. Pete native and served as our Chamber’s Legislative Committee Co-Chair in 2018.
Chris gave us insight into the Governor’s priorities, focusing on the environment and education. He also explained the Governor’s budget policies and helped us understand how appropriations are vetted.
The House is in Session
One of the highlights of any visit to the Capitol is the opportunity to view a floor session in person. This year attendees watched a controversial bill which would require minors to obtain parental consent before having an abortion. Opponents to the bill peppered the bill sponsor with dozens of questions in an attempt to sway supporters of the bill. During a break in questioning, our local State Representative, Ben Diamond, was recognized by the Speaker to welcome the St. Pete Chamber and our local leaders to the Florida House.
Our evening reception, sponsored by TECO, was hosted at the beautiful offices of The Southern Group, a public and government affairs firm on historic Adams Street just steps from the Capitol. Attendees were treated to appetizers and cocktails while mingling with our local leaders and member of the Pinellas Delegation including Senators Darryl Rouson and Ed Hooper. Unfortunately the House Session ran long but Representatives Ben Diamond and Jen Webb were able to swing by before the reception ended.
Tallahassee After Hours
While many attendees decided to head back to the hotel, several met up for dinner at Harry’s, a local Cajun restaurant, and then headed to the Governor’s Club for late night drinks. Those attendees were able to meet Senate President Bill Galvano as well as spend time with our local Senator Jeff Brandes and Representative Wengay Newton.
After breakfast at the hotel, we loaded into the bus and arrived at the Capitol for two very different meetings. First on the agenda was time with Senator Joe Gruters from Sarasota. Gruters is also the Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida Chairman and his office did not let you forget it. Pictures of the Senator with President Trump and other Republican leaders cover the walls while “Make America Great Again” hats are perched on two replicas of the famous spear used to kick off Florida State University football games. Gruters explained his main priorities, one bill requiring internet retailers to collect sales tax and another requiring Florida employers confirm the immigration status of their employees by using E-verify.
The next meeting gave attendees the chance to experience the complete opposite side of the political spectrum. Representative Carlos Guillermo-Smith represents East Orlando and is a force in the Democratic Party. Once again, this was evident by the décor of his office proudly promoting his support of the LGBTQ+ Community and showcasing pictures of him with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama among others. Smith is a champion for the Competitive Workforce Act, a measure that would add workforce protections based on sexual orientation and identity. The Representative informed us that Colorado is now using our lack of a state-wide anti-discrimination policy in trying to attract businesses and college graduates to their state.
A Real Treat
Our time in the Capitol culminated with a tour of the Florida House Chamber from Representative Ben Diamond. As former Transportation Committee Chair for the Chamber, Diamond is uniquely in tune with our issues and he was gracious enough to provide us a tour of the House Chamber. Attendees were able to sit at the desks of leaders like Chris Sprowls and Chris Latvala while Rep. Diamond and Mayor Kriseman, a former legislator, explained the procedures adhered to during debate on the House Floor. Diamond gave us some inside information on his expectations for St. Pete’s appropriations requests and his hopes for more funding for resiliency and sustainability.
The last stop of the trip was at the famous Andrew’s Downtown, a local bar and grill located across the street from the Capitol Complex. A buffet lunch sponsored by St. Anthony’s BayCare was enjoyed by attendees and special guests including the CEO of Enterprise Florida Jamal Sowell who gave us a quick report on the work being done by his agency to attract businesses from around the world to our state.
Overall the trip was a tremendous success. Thank you to our presenting sponsor, Spectrum, to our lunch sponsors Shumaker, Loop, and Kendrick/Shumaker Advisors and St. Anthony’s BayCare and our reception host, The Southern Group and sponsor, TECO for their support of St. Pete Day and the St. Pete Chamber.
If you missed us in Tallahassee, join us Legislative Recap presented by Duke Energy, on March 19th where we’ll gather legislators and get the breakdown post-Legislative Session.