|Date:||February 08, 2017|
This is an era when sensibly moderate agendas are increasingly hard to find.
But "sensible and moderate" usually describes the type of agenda rolled out each year by the Florida Chamber of Commerce. And it aptly characterizes the list of priorities that the chamber plans to pursue during the Florida Legislature's upcoming session.
"Our main focus is to keep Florida competitive in every way," said David Hart, the chamber's executive vice president, during a recent session with the Times-Union editorial board. That theme is obvious in the chamber's current legislative agenda, which offers common-sense proposals that deserve serious consideration by Florida lawmakers.
The chamber's overriding top priority, Hart said, is to urge legislators to make reforms in the state workers compensation system. Hart declared that it has become so rife with abuse and manipulation that the average Florida employer is facing a whopping 14.5 percent increase in its worker-related insurance rates.
"We're seeing the highest (rate increases) in the Southeast," Hart said, noting that it could lead countless Florida businesses to raise prices, decrease employee benefits, freeze hiring or even lay off staff.
And while the rising insurance costs are hurting Florida businesses and taxpayers, Hart suggested, "law firms across the state are (opening up) workers compensation offices because they see a pot of money" they can earn by exploiting the current crisis.
Granted, Hart is likely indulging in a bit of hyperbole with that jab at the legal industry. But there's a reason why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has determined that only six states have worse legal climates for business than Florida - and one factor is surely the dramatic rate hikes that state businesses are absorbing to protect themselves against workers compensation claims.
It's an issue that lawmakers should address in a constructive manner when they convene in March.
Hart also told the editorial board that the chamber will seek Legislature support to reduce property insurance fraud, a problem he said has reached epidemic proportions and threatens a wide swath of businesses across Florida.