Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis continued advocating legislation to shield businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits on Thursday during the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s 2021 Economic Outlook & Jobs Solution Summit.
Patronis has spent the last few months crisscrossing the state advocating for the protections in his “Rally at the Restaurant” tour, and during the first committee weeks ahead of the 2021 Legislative Session, he has showed up to voice his support.
The Panhandle Republican opened his talk with an overview of Florida’s current economic conditions
“Back when this started Florida’s economy was white-hot, we were poised for growth and Florida had the potential that only the Sunshine State offers. Obviously, things have changed with the pandemic,” he said, noting the sharp rise in unemployment and business closings in the early days of the pandemic.
“I was a legislator during the last Great Recession. I remember the difficult decisions that we had to make,” he said.
But the economy is on the rebound. About half of those lost jobs have returned and the estimated budget shortfall, initially pegged at more than $5 billion over two years, has been halved by state economists.
“Our state, our citizens, our businesses are resilient. These signs are positive, but we must not let our foot off the gas. That’s why I’m fighting this year for COVID liability protection,” he said.
Liability protections would allow businesses to stop “living in fear.” Passing the legislation, he asserts, would create a better business environment, which translates into higher revenues for businesses and more jobs for Floridians. And, in turn, more money flowing into state coffers.
“We don’t want our small businesses to fall to unscrupulous lawyers, activist judges, who allow a suit and settlement environment to develop for businesses that are following CDC guidelines, observing social distancing, doing everything they can to protect their employees and the customers,” he said. “They shouldn’t have to fear frivolous lawsuits.”
The Republican-led Legislature agrees.
The House advanced its liability protections bill last week, and the Senate followed on Monday. House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson have also placed the proposal atop their priority lists.
Those bills, HB 7 and SB 72, focus on non-health care businesses and attempts to amend protections for them and for health care providers have so far failed.