Joe Gruters focused on preserving Florida’s superior business environment
Republican Party of Florida Chairman Joe Gruters

E-Fairness, E-Verify top priorities for Senate Commerce and Tourism chair.

Joe Gruters often finds himself in the headlines for his work as Republican Party of Florida chair. But right now, his focus will turn to lawmaking, where the tough part of the job may be moving stalwart conservatives.

The chair of the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee will take on some big lifts this year. He hopes to convince colleagues Florida should start assessing online sales taxes, holding polluters more accountable for sewage spills and funding VISIT FLORIDA.

“We still have an economy based on tourism,” Gruters said. That’s likely to be one of the big fights of the session, with House Speaker Jose Oliva making clear he thinks VISIT FLORIDA is a waste of money.

But chairing a committee focused on tourism, Gruters stands with tourism leaders across the state in supporting Florida’s de facto tourism agency’s continued existence.

“At end of day when we have a limited budget, everything becomes competitive,” the Sarasota Republican said.

Of course, he also said there are ways the state can start improving its revenue stream. He filed a new e-fairness bill in August (SB 126), and unlike last year’s attempt to start charging state sales tax at point of sale, it won’t be revenue-neutral this time.

That means the change could result in $750 million in recurring revenue for the state.

The legislation stands as one of Gruters’ top legislative priorities in 2020. And he’s refining his arguments to convince lawmakers of all philosophies why Florida needs to charge a tax, one that citizens technically are supposed to pay at the end of the year when they file their income taxes. He calls including the tax with transactions a convenience for the taxpayer and a way to make sure online retailers don’t have an unfair advantage.

“It definitely has a better chance this year,” Gruters said. “I just don’t want to help out and reward foreign retailers on backs on local main street mom and pop stores.”

One of his other top priorities may be more palatable to staunch conservatives— e-verify. With Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican, Gruters co-introduced a requirement for employers to check immigration status and hiring eligibility (SB 664).

Representing a coastal community, Gruters remains a vocal proponent of stricter enforcement of water protections. He has sponsored legislation that will increase fines on publicly owned utilities that pollute water through sewage spills.

He has less control over appropriations but will push this year to keep the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust fully funded. He’s not especially confident on that.

“It’s probably unlikely, but it doesn’t mean it can’t happen,” he said. “A lot of people want to see it happen.”

And many fiscal hawk organizations like Florida TaxWatch have endorsed the bulk of Gruters’ 2020 agenda.

“My job is to try and make sure Florida is the best possible place to do business in the country, and help push legislation that will continue to drive that message in the overall environment,” he said.

“Florida is already No. 1 and we want to maintain that superiority. We attract 1,000 plus a day here, and we need to provide good jobs.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


  • Denny

    January 13, 2020 at 6:02 pm

    Joe should be removed from office after reading this. Current law requires all employers to do I-9’s which means they are by law required to get two forms of ID before hiring anyone. So employers are either already violating that law or just accepting fake documents. E verify would make all records electronic. It a free, fast and accurate. Why would we not do this? The only reason is companies want cheap exploitable labor. Usually republicans are the ones fighting to make sure undocumented workers don’t come here. If undocumented workers cannot be hired, they will not come. So stop acting you are tough on immigration when you are not. Either you want the problem fixed or you are part of the problem. To introduce this compromise, this Senator is part of the problem.

  • John Jordan

    January 16, 2020 at 10:30 pm

    How can Florida be number one with a 47th in the US commitment to education?

Comments are closed.


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