Carol Dover is not your typical government insider. Aside from serving as President and CEO of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association (FRLA), the former Deputy Chief of Staff has her hands in several proposals that could have lasting impacts on Florida's tourism and pro-business climate.
With just 21 days remaining before the Republican-led legislature officially adjourns, there are still numerous measures whose fate remains undecided. Those include legislation dealing with employment conditions and predictive scheduling, whether local governments can regulate short-term vacation homes, and a proposed budget that could potentially nix Visit Florida.
Before session comes to a close, Dover sat down with The Florida Report to discuss these key issues, while giving us a glimpse into her background, career, and what's next for the Tallahassee leader. Here's what she had to say:
Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
A: I’m a native Floridian. I graduated from Winter Park High School and earned my bachelor’s degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management from the Florida State University Dedman School of Hospitality. I also have an Honorary Doctor of Business Administration in Hospitality Management from Johnson & Wales University. I believe that hard work and commitment are essential. I began working as a hotel desk clerk, where I made minimum wage, and I put myself through college waiting tables. I’m so proud to now lead the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, the premier trade association representing Florida’s $111 billion hospitality industry, including more than 10,000 members and 1.5 million employees. I love my family so much – I have three children and three grandchildren, and I have been married to the love of my life, Walt, for more than 41 years.
Q: What are your biggest legislative priorities this session?
A: There are several issues we are working on this session, including advocating for VISIT Florida, which plays a vital role in attracting visitors to our beautiful state. Tourism is the economic engine of Florida, and now is not the time to reduce investments in that area. Strength in tourism is compensating for drags in other parts of our economy, so we will continue to advocate for reauthorization and continued funding for VISIT Florida.
Short term rentals is another issue we are working on. STRs have become an increasingly popular option for Florida’s visitors, and we do not oppose them. However, it is important that lodging establishments operate on a level playing field to provide consistent, safe, and high-quality experiences for guests. Appropriate regulation of vacation rental properties and their hosting platforms will ensure that basic registration, safety, and sanitation requirements are met and that appropriate taxes are collected and paid.
A third issue this session deals with employment conditions and predictive scheduling, which refers to laws and ordinances that mandate specific employee scheduling practices and levy penalties for violations. These regulations, while well-intended, hamper employer’s ability to respond to the needs and demands of their businesses and takes away the flexibility employees in this industry desire, like the ability to pick up extra shifts. We support a law that prohibits regulation of the employer/employee relationship at the local level, including scheduling mandates.
Q: You’re a leader in the hospitality industry. What are some key concerns that need to be addressed in this field?
A: One major priority of our industry and our members is to continue our efforts to combat human trafficking in Florida. It is a serious problem, and I am so proud that Florida is leading the efforts to train our teams to combat trafficking. Last legislative session, the law passed to require all hospitality workers to be trained on the signs of trafficking and how to report it, and the law is effective January of 2021. But in Florida, we wanted to be proactive to equip and empower our hospitality industry team members at all levels to identify, report, and ultimately stop trafficking in our state. We held training and advocacy events before Super Bowl LIV and will continue our efforts year-round.
The biggest issue facing our industry this year is Amendment 2, which will appear on the general election ballot. If passed, it will raise the minimum wage to $15/hour over a six-year period. This is a 75% increase in labor costs and will be devastating to Florida businesses, including those throughout the tourism industry, and it would negatively affect workers, Florida families, seniors, and consumers.
To survive such a dramatic increase, businesses will have to adapt, including cutting positions and laying off their employees, increasing automation, cutting benefits, or going to a flat fee, which would seriously hurt tipped employees. We will continue to educate Floridians about the negative consequences that would result from this. Most do not realize it will hurt the people it is intended to help.
Q: In your opinion, who are some of the top Florida lawmakers fighting for FRLA’s mission?
A: There are honestly too many to mention. We look forward to continuing to work with members of both the House and Senate on these and other issues impacting Florida’s tourism industry.
Q: You’ve accomplished so much in your career. What’s next for Carol Dover?
A: I’m deeply committed to my advocacy efforts to ensure that Florida’s hospitality industry remains strong so that we can provide the best experiences for our visitors and so Florida can remain economically sound. I keep promising to slow down, but retirement isn’t quite on the forefront of my mind just yet. There’s still so much to do!