BRADENTON -- Gov. Rick Scott came to Bradenton Thursday, 300 miles away from protests in Tallahassee, for ideas to help businesses.
But he still couldn't avoid questions about the Stand Your Ground law. Ernie Withers, general manager of Mercedes-Benz of Sarasota, wanted to know if the governor would repeal the controversial law in light of protests and boycotts following the not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial.
Scott, appearing at the business roundtable organized at Mixon Fruit Farms, said he agrees with experts the law does not need to be changed.
"I put together a task force of 19 bipartisan individuals. They got testimony from ordinary citizens, from experts from around the city. They concurred with the existing law, so I agree with them," Scott said. "So we've done the process right."
Scott addressed reporters in Bradenton, saying "this thing should not be politicized."
"Look, we're at a 42-year low on our crime rate," Scott said. "I want to thank the police, the chief, the sheriffs and everybody in law enforcement -- FDLE, corrections. We are doing the right thing in our state."
Since Zimmerman was found not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin, 17-year-old, protests and riots across the country have included a sit-in at the governor's office. A Boycott Florida movement encourages tourists to shun the Sunshine State.
That talk bothers Withers.
"The thing that concerns me as a business person is that you have people that say they're going to boycott Florida, and you have Stevie Wonder saying that. I guess there's a sit-in at the governor's office for the last three days, and it has generated a lot of conversation about Stand Your Ground," Withers said. "Right or wrong, I think the jury spoke, and it's a tragedy what happened to Trayvon Martin. I, too, have three children, six grandchildren. To lose a child's life under those circumstances is devastating."
Thursday's session was a grab bag of open questions from the business community with the governor.
"Small businesses are still struggling a lot," said Sam Mixon of Mixon Fruit Farms.
Mixon took a shot at state subsidies some big companies have received for coming here.
"We don't need new regulations and new taxes on us to bring in these people that are getting all these subsidies by coming into the state and bringing in their employees," Mixon said. "And a lot of them don't even stay here. They come here just to get it, and before you know it they're gone. They're bankrupt and they can't pay it back to the state."
Scott said the state has cut 2,500 regulations, eliminated the sales tax on machinery and equipment and doesn't impose a business tax on 80 percent of businesses.
Scott also noted the permitting processes has been streamlined now taking only about 1.5 days to get a license from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and 50 days to get an environmental permit.
"While we still have success, we still have a lot of businesses that are struggling," Scott acknowledged.
Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett, a former state senator, said businesses have to be more specific with state lawmakers about problematic regulations.
"They don't send in specifics. If you could get rid of this regulation, then they've got something to work with. But the general term, 'We've got to get rid of regulation,' doesn't work," Bennett said.
Scott echoed Bennett.
"When you have legislation that you want to have passed, it's helpful to show up in Tallahassee. I know it's a long way to go," Scott said. "They respond to stories about how it impacts somebody."
Insignia Bank Chairman and CEO Charlie Brown wanted to know what the governor is doing about Florida's illegal drug trade.
"As a community banker we get a lot of phone calls from business owners looking to moving their businesses here," Brown said. "One of the questions they ask about is what it's like to raise a family in the area."
Scott said the oxycodone problem is improving after legislation passed to crack down on pill mills (doctors illegally prescribing the drug).
In 2010, the Drug Enforcement Administration reported 90 of the 100 top oxycodone-purchasing physicians in the nation were in Florida. Scott called the problem "old news" and said Florida's place on the list has dropped to nearly zero. Instead, more needs to be done to address synthetic drugs such as K-2 and Spice.
"Every year we pass legislation to deal with synthetic drugs, but the other side is pretty smart," Scott said. "We made it easier to prosecute, but they're good."
Bob Bartz, president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, told the governor a traffic light should be adjusted on U.S. 301 in front of Feld Entertainment in Ellenton, which recently relocated its headquarters there.
The traffic light operates with the full red-yellow-green during the morning and evening, and is causing some confusion as it switches from flashing mode to full, Bartz said.
"The light flashes yellow in between times, and people are used to seeing that light yellow, so now when it changes, there have been a lot of near-accidents, and they're afraid they're going to have someone killed as a result," Bartz said. "It's a major concern of Feld, and they're going to be a major employer with 400 or 500 employees."
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.