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Florida House: These were the 9 most-lobbied bills of the session

Health care and insurance bills drew lots of lobbyists during the legislative session.
Lobbyists like smart phones. Here they are on the fourth floor rotunda of the Florida Capitol in the final stretch of the 2019 legislative session. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published May 3

Amid dozens of bills passed in the last few days of the legislative session, some inevitably steal the spotlight. Partisan, emotional measures like the bills to allow arming teachers and a ban on so-called “sanctuary cities” draw media attention and inspire protests.

But Florida’s most powerful industries spent most of their time on other bills. Corporations, industry groups and cities paid lobbyists this year in droves to fight or push wonky and far-reaching legislation — especially if it has to do with healthcare or local government.

The lobbying firms with the most clients this session were Capital City Consulting, GrayRobinson PA and Smith Bryan & Myers Inc.

The following bills had the highest total numbers of lobbyists and clients in 2019, according to the Florida House’s lobbyist disclosure records. (See 2018′s top five here.)

1. The budget

On Wednesday, lawmakers agreed to consider a $91.1 billion budget they must approve so that they can send to Gov. Ron DeSantis. More than 500 clients had lobbyists register to petition lawmakers on the budget, including about 20 county governments and dozens of cities. Professional associations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, Florida Psychiatric Society, and Florida Bar were especially well-represented. Lobbyists also spoke on behalf of corporations as large as Microsoft, Delta Air Lines, RAI and Disney.

One group of stakeholders who may be happier than last year: local school boards. Lawmakers approved an additional $75 per student in the costs that pay for keeping schools open — salaries, electricity, insurance. That’s a win compared to 2018’s increase of just 47 cents.

Florida’s biggest firms on the bill were Ballard Partners (which lobbied on behalf of 191 clients), Capital City Consulting (136) and GrayRobinson PA (56).

2. Banning local regulations on business

House Bill 3 would prevent local governments from creating their own standards and procedures for occupational and professional licensing, keeping that process at the state level. Democrats have criticized the effort as against home rule, according to the News Service of Florida.

Fittingly, cities and counties are weighing in. Nineteen lobbyists have registered on the bill on behalf of the Florida League of Cities. Eight represented the Florida Association of Counties. Orlando, Key West, St. Cloud and Clearwater each had at least five lobbyists on the bill.

The bill passed the House but has stalled in the Senate.

3. Letting insurance companies use the appraisal process

House Bill 301 (with its companion, Senate Bill 714) would originally allow insurance companies to invoke the appraisal process after a homeowner files a notice of intent to sue, potentially delaying repairs. Trial lawyers said it encourages insurance companies to underpay.

Amendments to the bill have softened its benefit to insurers.

The Florida Justice Association, which represents trial lawyers, had 11 lobbyists on the bill. Other involved groups included insurance companies State Farm, Progressive, Nationwide and MetLife.

4. Banning texting while driving

Motorists using their cell phones while at the intersection of 4th Street North and 9th Avenue North in St. Petersburg. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

Texting while driving was already illegal, but police could not pull over drivers unless they committed another violation. With the passage of House Bill 107 and Senate Bill 76, typing on a phone while behind the wheel of a moving car will become a primary offense. (Here are seven things to know about it.)

Florida’s police union heavily lobbied the bill and celebrated its passing. Lobbyists on the bill also represented the American Academy of Pediatrics, local governments and the cell phone provider AT&T.

5. Allowing imported drugs from Canada

One of several healthcare deregulation efforts by House Speaker José Oliva, House Bill 19 allows state entities to import prescription drugs from Canada. But the state will have to wait on approval from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the plan to take effect.

Proponents see the change as a freer market for medicine, and Canada restricts how much drug manufacturers can charge, unlike the U.S.

The company with the largest lobbying presence has been American pharmaceutical manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb; eight lobbyists from the firm Metz Husband & Daughton registered on the bill. Pharmaceutical and biotech companies BioFlorida, Genentech, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Gilead, Pfizer Novo Nordisk and Allergan weighed in as well.

6. Pushing telehealth

Another health care initiative from House Republicans that awaits a signature from the governor, House Bill 23 would provide incentives for using telehealth (in which patients are treated through the Internet, for example).

A bevy of health care providers have multiple lobbyists on the bill: the Florida Health Care Association (17), Florida Hospital Association (12), Florida Medical Association (9) and Florida Chiropractic Association (8) lead the way.

7. Letting hospitals build or move without state approval

Tired of hearing about health care? No? Good!

This measure passed and, if signed into law, will repeal the “certificate of need” requirement hospitals must meet if they want to build new facilities or open new programs.

Again, healthcare providers brought the largest lobbying presence, headed by the Florida Health Care Association, Florida Hospital Association, Florida Medical Association and Baptist Health Care Corporation.

8. Allowing electric scooters on roads

A man parks his rented dockless scooter outside of a restaurant in Atlanta. Cities across the U.S. are grappling with how to deal with electric scooters that have begun appearing in sidewalks overnight without any regulations. (AP Photo/Brinley Hineman, File)

Outside of some recent pilot programs, electric scooters have been slow to come to Florida. That’s because many local governments in the state interpreted the law as banning electric scooter companies like Lime and Bird unless a local ordinance allows them. House Bill 453 would legalize them statewide and clarify they may be ridden on bike paths and sidewalks — anywhere someone can ride a bike, they’ll be able to ride a scooter. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said in March he was concerned by that rule, and some local government advocates worried that cities couldn’t set their own regulations on the industry. The bill also stipulates a rider can park their scooter on a sidewalk as long as it doesn’t impede pedestrian traffic.

Several major electric scooter rental companies have taken notice: Bird Rides, Bolt, Lime, Lyft, Skip, Spin and Uber all lobbied the bill. So did 16 individual cities and the Florida League of Cities.

9. Allowing autonomous vehicles without a human operator

Another bill friendly to rideshare companies, House Bill 311 would pave the way for Lyft or Uber to deploy autonomous vehicles. The bill, awaiting the governor’s signature, allows self-driving vehicles on Florida’s roads, even without a human operator in the driver’s seat.

According to Watchdog.org, the bill’s supporters at a hearing included representatives from Uber, Lyft, General Motors and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. All of those organizations lobbied on the bill, as did the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Google’s self-driving vehicle tech company Waymo.

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