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Renner takes helm of Florida State House

Paul Renner
Phil Sears
/
AP
Paul Renner, R- Palm Coast, makes a point, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, during a combined meeting of House Commerce, Education and Judiciary Committees to discuss equal treatment of student athletes at the Knott Building in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

Rep. Sam Garrison described it as part of the “Renner myth.”

When Paul Renner first ran for the state House in 2014 in a Jacksonville district, he lost by two votes in a Republican primary — 5,962 to 5,960.

“I was there,” Garrison, R-Fleming Island, told House members Tuesday. “It was a tough, brutal primary, street by street, block by block, phone call by phone call.”

But after another House seat opened, Renner moved about 60 miles from Jacksonville to Palm Coast and won a 2015 special election.

“Paul went all in again, and this time he won handily,” Garrison said.

And Tuesday, more than eight years after losing the primary to Republican Jay Fant by the narrowest of margins, Renner took the gavel as state House speaker — one of the most-powerful positions in Florida.

>>> Watch the House Organization Session

Renner, a lawyer and Navy veteran, was sworn in during a post-election organization session to start a two-year term as speaker. Also Tuesday, Naples Republican Kathleen Passidomo became Senate president.

The one-day session was largely ceremonial, with new lawmakers getting sworn in and leaders such as Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on hand. But an undercurrent of the day was the huge majorities that Republicans won in the Nov. 8 elections, further cementing GOP control of state government.

Renner, who succeeded outgoing Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, outlined priorities during a speech to the House, including announcing that he will create a Select Committee on Hurricane Resiliency and Recovery to help the state rebound from Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole and to prepare for future storms.

Renner also vowed to address inflation and cost-of-living issues such as taxes, insurance, housing, fuel and electricity.

“Inflation is hurting everyone, and we will take action,” Renner said.

Lawmakers are expected to hold a special session in December to address the troubled property-insurance market. Private insurers during the past two years have dropped hundreds of thousands of policies, sought large rate increases and, in some cases, gone insolvent because of financial problems.

During a news conference after the organization session, Renner said lawmakers will look at a “kitchen sink of options” to try to stabilize the insurance market and expand private coverage. But he also cautioned that whatever changes the Legislature makes during the special session will not lead to immediate rate reductions for consumers.

While he did not detail potential changes in the insurance system, he left open the possibility of revamping laws dealing with fees paid to plaintiffs’ attorneys in lawsuits against property insurers — a longtime priority of the insurance industry.

He also indicated lawmakers could consider tapping state reserves to help with reinsurance — critical backup coverage — for property insurers. Renner, however, said he did not want to make a “long-term commitment to underwrite insurance.”

During a May special session, lawmakers agreed to spend $2 billion to temporarily provide additional reinsurance coverage to help shore up carriers.

In addition to discussing priorities such as insurance, Renner during his speech to House members offered a taste of conservative stances that could drive debate in the coming months. With the GOP coming out of the elections with a “supermajority” of 85 seats in the 120-member House, Democrats have little power to block Republican priorities.

As an example, Renner took aim at investment practices that involve what are known as “environmental, social and governance ratings,” or ESG, which can include such things as taking into account climate change.

Renner contended that “ideologues” have “co-opted Wall Street” and that the use of environmental, social and governance ratings are causing higher prices for gasoline and electricity. He also said ESG is a “direct threat to Florida’s pension fund and our credit rating.”

Renner said he sent a letter Tuesday to three credit-rating agencies about the use of ESG and said the state will protect people in the Florida Retirement System. In August, DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis approved a resolution directing pension-fund managers against using ESG ratings when investing state money.

“We will never let your life savings be put at risk by the political interference of ESG,” Renner said, referring to people in the pension system.

Jim Saunders - News Service of Florida