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Osceola legislators give Tallahassee session highlights

Posted on Sunday, July 16, 2017 at 6:00 am

By Ken Jackson
Staff Writer
Characterized as “predictable unpredictability,” to get the true essence of the recently-completed Florida Legislative session, “you had to be there,” local lawmakers said on Tuesday.
Representatives John Cortes (D-Kissimmee), Mike La Rosa (R-St. Cloud) and Neil Combee (R-Polk City) were,

News-Gazette Photo/Martin Maddock
State Rep. Neil Combee stands the the podium to make his report on the recent legislative session at Osceola Heritage Park on Tuesday.

and they reported back on how the session went down at Tuesday’s annual Osceola Legislative Update at Osceola Heritage Park.
Victor Torres (D-Orlando), Osceola County’s state senator, could not attend Tuesday.
The event was postponed from June, when a special session needed to be held to finalize school funding and other special topics.
Chris Emmanuel, the director of infrastructure and governance policy for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, gave an overview of the session, noted a couple of themes: Republicans (79 of 120 in the house) fighting with each other rather than with Democrats and “billionaires with agendas.”
“We had philosophical differences show up within hours of each other,” Emmanuel said.
La Rosa spoke of the many bills he worked on and the committees he sat on. He chaired the Gaming and Tourism Committee, which opened his eyes, he said.
“The gaming portion was probably the most uneven playing field I’ve seen,” he said. “I don’t believe expanding gambling does us any good. We have a responsibility to sign a deal with the Seminole Tribe, but we should go no further.”
He was aboard the group that looked to eliminate Enterprise Florida and revamp Visit Florida with big changes in the way they offer incentives to bring companies and visitors to the state. The end result was a fully funded Visit Florida at $78 million and a business incentive program to replicate Enterprise.
“My view on Visit Florida wasn’t an attack on tourism,” La Rosa said. “It attacked the way taxpayer dollars were spent and the transparency of it.”
His business roots are in real estate, and he pushed to reinstate a second homestead exemption that would end in 2018 and add another $25,000 exemption on property values over $125,000
Cortes’ time at the podium started off rocky as he stumbled on the stage steps, but recovered to say it was a particularly tough session for the outnumbered Democrats, who couldn’t win an argument — and there were plenty — even if former college football coaches Bobby Bowden or Steve Spurrier came to help.
“It was interesting, there was infighting with everybody,” he said.
Cortes showed disappointment in bills passed for education, the lack of the

m to help the homeless, and the new homestead exemption.
“The tax base in Florida will be falling on people buying new homes (in impact fees),” he said.
He said he was originally against funding Visit Florida at all, and only flipped on it because of how he saw it could bring economic development to his district — and that was one of the few bright spots from Cortes.
“I’m sorry to be negative, but it was not a great session for me,” he said.
The House education bill (HB 7069) was a polarizing topic. While Emmanuel said it called for fewer tests and teacher bonuses through the Best and Brightest program, it didn’t address the state college system properly, and Cortes said he’s “not a proponent” of charter schools. La Rosa implored Floridians “not to fight the charter movement, but embrace it.”
Look for more on the education bill in next week’s News-Gazette.