Florida Rental Dealers Hold 5th Annual Legislative Conference
By Terry Beville, FRDA President

March 4, 2004 - The FRDA held its Fifth Annual State Association Legislative Conference March 3-4 in Tallahassee. Fifteen FRDA members, led by state president Terry Beville, gathered in the office of FRDA lobbyist Juhon Mixon mid-morning on March 3 to assign and discuss the afternoon's legislative visits and review PAC fund activity for 2003. This year's group included representation of eight companies. In addition, there were six first-time attendees.

Before having lunch, the Florida Chamber of Commerce Chair-Elect Frederick Leonhardt briefed the group on several issues for this year's session, advised us on the work being done by the Florida Chamber and thanked us for getting involved and making a difference.

During lunch with former rent-to-own owner and now state Sen. Michael Bennett, FRDA was honored to have Gov. Jeb Bush and Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings drop by and share their priorities for this year's session, asking for FRDA's support and help in taking their messages to the House and Senate members the attendees would be visiting with over the next day and a half.

Attendees were broken into three teams and over the next day they visited the offices of all 40 elected Senators and several House members. The goal this year was to meet with every Senator or his or her key legislative aide and get their support and/or sponsorship for a bill coming out of draft this week sponsored by Sen. Victor Crist. The groups also presented a fact sheet introducing the new bill, which would once and for all eliminate the exclusion of rental dealers in Florida from sometimes not being able to prosecute customers who steal RTO merchandise. FRDA had thought the exclusion problem had been taken care of with a bill a couple of years back that amended the existing wording. However, it has since been discovered that some state's attorney's offices and law enforcement venues still will not prosecute as long as subsection 7 is in the statute.

Lobbyist Mixon also showed attendees a new House bill supported by the pawn industry in Florida that would, if passed, with the changing of only one word in the existing statute, be very damaging to the RTO industry. It would effectively stop RTO dealers from being able to get stolen products back once pawned even though it was clearly marked as RTO property or if an RTO dealer could prove they still owned it. The one word is "misappropriated" changed to "stolen." So, FRDA members were also letting everyone they visited know that FRDA opposed the word change and asked them not to support it or allow it to be attached to a companion bill on the Senate side (without a companion bill it could not become law!).

At the end of the day, everyone crossed the street to the Governor's Club to enjoy a wonderful dinner sharing the day's events, catching up on everyone's business and singing happy birthday to board member Larry Sutton, who, along with his lovely wife Suzi, graciously spent his birthday with us in Tallahassee.

Although only a day long, FRDA recognizes the importance of returning every year to see Florida's elected officials as their constituents and businessmen and women asking for fair laws and representation.