By: John Towey, Ave Maria University Campus Representative, The James Madison Institute

It was about 20 years ago, just as Florida and the rest of the world prepared to enter the next millennium, that Floridians from all corners of the state took to the ballot box to redirect the course of the state’s government and public policy.  Legislators, intent on remedying many of the structural ills contributing to a stagnating economy, made fiscal accountability and economic freedom their points of focus for the future policies of the Sunshine State.

Thanks to a series of legislative successes throughout the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Florida now boasts one of the healthiest business and tax environments in the United States, as well as a government committed to responsible spending.  Big moves in the realm of public policy came when Floridians said “no” to a state income tax and “yes” to constitutional provisions mandating a balanced state budget every fiscal year.  Two decades of a fiscally-conservative philosophy on the state level has resulted in a new identity for Florida as a haven for businesses and a beacon of opportunity for all.

The decisions made by Florida lawmakers to embrace the principles of limited government and free enterprise have propelled the state to unprecedented levels of growth and economic prosperity. While our reliance on construction and real estate resulted in Florida being hit harder than most by the “Great Recession,” we bounced back faster than any predictions and projections made.

Election day this November will mark a new chapter in the saga of our nation’s enviable democratic tradition.  The last 20 years of fiscally-conservative governance and prudent statesmanship has provided opportunities for the people of Florida to live lives of independence and prosperity.  While we have made tremendous headway in crafting sound public policy, there is always room for improvement.  It will be the decisions that Floridians make on November 6th of this year that will chart the next twenty years of freedom and economic opportunity for our state.

Early in 2018, The James Madison Institute published the policy brief, “Structural Reform for a More Prosperous Florida: Common Sense Solutions for a Better Government.”   Jointly authored by scholars at JMI and the Goldwater Institute, the brief outlines two new policy proposals Florida lawmakers should consider to keep the avenues of free enterprise and limited government open for the future.   With both of these issues weighing heavily on the minds of lawmakers and citizens alike, Florida has an unprecedented opportunity to lead the nation by example.

The Right to Earn a Living Act

While Florida’s economic freedom has widened considerably over the last decades, lawmakers have consistently failed to address the barrier that occupational licensing poses to job entry.   As it exists presently, approximately one in four jobs require a state-issued license to be certified to work in that profession. By way of contrast, in the 1950s that number was one in 20.  This impediment is compounded when state regulatory boards add on extensive licensing requirements which often lack any significant public health or safety justification.  A structural solution to the problems occupational licensing is creating comes in the form of a Right to Earn a Living Act.

Championed by the Goldwater Institute and later enacted in Arizona, this policy reform requires regulators to prove the necessity of new agency rules by showing that they specifically fulfill a public health, safety, or welfare concern.  For years, administrative rules have only had to meet a “rational basis” standard of review when such rules are called into question.  The leniency implicit in this degree of scrutiny has effectively permitted virtually all agency rules to pass into law unhindered, even if they cause adverse economic effects.  The Right to Earn a Living Act reverses this standard by subjecting agency rules to a strict scrutiny standard.  Under the provisions of the new legislation, regulators must assume the burden of proof in justifying specific rules and restrictions.  If an agency rule fails this standard, it can no longer stand in the way of people seeking to pursue an occupation of their choice.


Another concern for Florida business owners is the financial and time costs associated with federal and state regulatory compliance.  In addition to the enormity of the Code of Federal Regulations, Florida businesses must also maneuver approximately 174,000 restrictions present in the Florida Administrative Code.  To give some reprieve to business owners, the REINS Act (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) has been proposed by fiscally-conservative lawmakers in Washington and several state houses.  The aim of REINS is to return congressional oversight to its proper role within the legislative process.

Currently, the Florida Legislature has the authority to override existing agency rules and regulations through joint resolution.  While sound in theory, the sheer scope of the administrative code, paired with the short time frame to override existing rules, leaves the problem largely unsolved.  REINS is a step in the right direction.  The REINS Act grants legislatures the authority to review new agency rules before they become law.  This common-sense solution returns much-needed oversight to where it belongs – in the legislative process. The REINS Act presents a the promise that Florida’s businesses will no longer be at the mercy of onerous rules and restrictions imposed by unelected, and ultimately unaccountable, bureaucrats.  Florida can look to a state like Wisconsin, which has already adopted REINS, and take a stand for economic freedom.

Florida is a modern-day archetype of the American dream.  The growth of economic freedom and opportunity over the last 20 years has made for an incredibly dynamic and diverse state where all are free to pursue prosperity and happiness, unimpeded by excessive government intervention.   Much of this credit is due to our state’s elected officials who have served their constituents well over the years.  With much to build from, let us continue to choose economic freedom and fiscally-astute government.

Read “Structural Reform for Next Generation Prosperity” here: