The Florida Chamber Foundation’s Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity closed Thursday with remarks from state Rep. Paul Renner, as Renner laid out the GOP’s plans to combat generational poverty among Floridians.
One big takeaway? Get government out of the way.
Renner was introduced by Florida Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Wilson, who noted the important role Renner could play in pushing forward the policies advanced by the Chamber over the two-day summit.
“We had a former Speaker, Will Weatherford, who four years ago helped me launch this,” Wilson said of the summit.
“And to have a future Speaker want to be interested in what can we do statewide, what kind of policies can we change so that we can actually impact neighborhoods and zip codes, is really a breath of fresh air.”
Earlier in the day, Wilson acknowledged the government’s role in helping those in poverty but argued that government can’t do it alone.
“If government can solve this, we wouldn’t have had a need for this conference,” Wilson said.
“We wouldn’t have had a need for our full-time effort. Government’s an incredibly important partner in a lot of ways. But I think our business community needs to be driving the conversation.”
Renner, too, gave a nod to the importance of government action in certain areas, such as career and technical training.
Renner referenced a bill requiring schools to present students with non-college alternatives to post-high school education. The need for more skilled workers was echoed throughout the Chamber’s two-day summit.
“Our efforts in career and technical training this year will help start to open up again vocational training,” Renner said.
Renner also pointed to action on criminal justice reform, highlighting a bill approved by the Legislature this past Session. Among the reforms in the bill are measures aimed at allowing prisoners to train in order to get occupational licenses, so that they have a potential career once they are freed.
“The idea that we drop somebody off in a bus, give them $50 and say, ‘Good luck,’ when they don’t have the ability to do anything but pursue what got them in prison in the first place, is insanity.”
Elsewhere, Renner argued the solutions to generational poverty will be found outside government.
While Renner supported helping prisoners receive occupational licenses, the Republican also said he backed bipartisan efforts to cut down on the number of those licenses required.
“The [Barack] Obama administration took a leadership role on this issue and described how, in the 1950s, one out of every 20 people had an occupation that required an occupational license,” Renner noted.
“Now it’s one in four. So it creates barriers, unnecessary barriers, to work and opportunity that we need to get rid of. And so looking at how we can deregulate or lower the burden is important, consistent with health and safety.”
And Renner said without certain community pillars, government action won’t be able to help poorer Floridians.
“I keep going back to faith, family and community. If you have those pieces of the puzzle, you’re probably not in poverty,” Renner argued.
“I say that as a preacher’s kid just having seen the life-changing circumstances that faith brings to people’s lives to bring them out of difficult circumstances; having a strong father and mother in a child’s life to make sure that they’re on the right path; and strong communities, philanthropy — all the groups that are in this room that make a community work — that fill in the gaps that government can’t possibly fill.”