BRANDON - With lobbyists constantly vying for their attention and their votes, state legislators are hard-pressed to know where their constituents stand on important issues unless they hear from them, Sen. Tom Lee said.
Lee, and freshman state representatives Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, Ross Spano, R-Dover and Dan Raulerson R-Plant City, met with members of the business community during a round table at The Regent last week. They hope to have similar meetings quarterly.
"Use us and give us the opportunity to help you out with (local) problems," Lee said. Too often, it is the lobbyists who are calling legislators' offices day and night, because they have specific agendas and clients they want to please, he said.
What legislators need more is calls from small businesses back home or from other constituents with issues they need the state legislature to address.
Other issues discussed during the informal meeting included legislation to end permanent alimony, Obamacare's affect on local small businesses and what the state intends to do to collect Internet sales tax.
On the issue of alimony reform, Raburn, R-Lithia, cosponsored a bill that would have put an end to permanent alimony, unless, among other exceptions, the marriage had lasted more than 15 years. The legislation passed the house and senate, but Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it, citing concern over a portion of the bill that would have allowed judges to reopen cases that had already been decided. Raburn said he is not sure if the bill will be revived next session.
On the Internet sales tax topic, the difficulty is finding a balance between brick and mortar businesses that must submit sales tax for every sale they make and companies that sell over the internet for less because they are not collecting sales tax.
"As conservatives, we believe it is important to maintain a low (tax) burden," Spano said. "And it is difficult, if not impossible to regulate and enforce the rules" when it comes to Internet sales tax, he said. Plans by Amazon.com to move a portion of its operations to Florida will make it easier for the state to collect sales tax from at least one Internet sales giant, but it doesn't solve the whole problem, he said.
According to PC Magazine, Amazon.com is the "largest online shopping site and one of the most widely known e-commerce sites on the Web." Founded by Jeff Bezos in 1995, it had 1,600 employees by the end of its first year in business.
"Technology has outpaced legislation," on this issue, Raulerson said. "It's not tax revenue we're losing. It's commerce going outside of the state.
"Tax reform is always difficult," Lee said. "It is not a matter of if" on this issue, but when, he said. Right now, he said, the state just doesn't have a practical enforcement method for companies that aren't paying the internet sales tax.
No one had any concrete answers on how the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act, known commonly as Obamacare, will affect local businesses. Spano said about 96 percent of the area's businesses have fewer than 50 employees, which would exempt them from the requirement to provide health care coverage for their workers.
But, he said, there are also incentives to encourage small businesses to provide health insurance.
The federal health care legislation will be a nightmare for those in agriculture, Raburn said. Most farms in this area go a portion of the year with much fewer than 50 employees. But when the strawberries ripen, for example, the workforce swells. "Everyone will be affected by the Affordable Care Act," but it is extremely complicated, he said.
"Everyone is starting to pay attention and realize what a disaster it is going to be," Raulerson said. "It is going to devastate the agricultural community."
If the legislation could be delayed for at least a year - and there has been discussion of such a delay, Raulerson said - it would allow more time to figure it all out.
"There are just a lot of moving parts people don't understand," he said.
Lee called health care reform "a massive, massive issue we should be spending a lot of time on."