The 2021 Legislative Session officially kicked off on Tuesday, as lawmakers in the House and Senate convened in Tallahassee for opening day ceremonies. While the legislative process looks quite different than in previous years, House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-Clearwater), Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) and Governor Ron DeSantis laid out their visions for the 60-day legislative session.
During the House’s opening session on Tuesday, Speaker Sprowls focused on the importance of education, childhood literacy and expanding workforce education programs in the state. Health care is also a priority of the Speaker, as he looks to improve health outcomes in minority communities. Improvements to the state’s foster care and child welfare systems are also on Speaker Sprowls’ radar, as well as addressing environmental concerns such as sea level rise throughout the state’s communities.
President Simpson spoke in detail about his goals for session during his speech to Senate colleagues. He began his address by thanking all health care workers, first responders and essential workers for their perseverance and determination during these unprecedented times. President Simpson is also concerned about the state’s economic health and shared that federal economic relief dollars will go toward road projects, water infrastructure and replenishing the state’s Unemployment Trust Fund. President Simpson will also look to tackle numerous policy issues during this year’s session, including COVID-19 liability protections, pension plans and child welfare. Increasing educational options for students in the K-12 education system is also important, as he discussed the need to expand and streamline the state’s scholarship programs, while also encouraging workforce education programs.
To conclude Tuesday’s ceremonies, Governor Ron DeSantis presented his State of the State address to members of the House and Senate. In the weeks ahead, the Governor will be focused on keeping Florida’s schools and businesses open, protecting businesses from frivolous litigation, and maintaining Florida’s fiscal health. Governor DeSantis also noted that the state’s revenues are currently exceeding previous forecasts and that tourism revenues are expected to increase in the coming months. He will also look to bolster Florida’s reputation as an educational leader. Through increased school choice options, vocational training opportunities and course certifications, the Governor is optimistic that Florida will be able to meet future workforce needs.
Water quality and natural resource preservation are also high on Governor DeSantis’ priority list. During his speech, he encouraged legislators to fund environmental projects such as Resilient Florida. Resilient Florida is a $1 billion investment that would help communities prepare for flooding and other environmental threats that stem from sea level rise and natural disasters.
To conclude his State of the State, Governor DeSantis reiterated his support for law enforcement and highlighted legislation that seeks to crack down on rioting and violent protests. He also voiced the need for large technology companies to be held accountable when de-platforming or censoring users.
While Tuesday’s activities were mainly ceremonial, several committees in the House and Senate met throughout the week and advanced impactful legislation. Following is a quick summary of bills that have been filed that are of interest to the Florida Attractions Association (FAA):
Civil Liability for Damages Relating to COVID-19
HB 7 by Representative Lawrence McClure (R-Plant City) would provide requirements for civil action based on COVID-19-related claim; provide that the plaintiff has burden of proof in such action and provide a statute of limitations. The bill passed the House floor on Friday, March 5. The Senate companion – SB 72 – by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) is awaiting its final committee hearing in the Senate Rules Committee.
Tourist And Convention Development Taxes
HB 1429 by Representative Bryan Avila (R-Miami) would revise provisions concerning voting procedures for & authorized uses of tourist development taxes & convention development taxes. The House bill has not been referred to any committees. The Senate companion – SB 2008 – by Senator Manny Diaz (R-Hialeah Gardens) is awaiting its first hearing in the Senate Community Affairs Committee.
HB 219 by Representative Jason Fischer (R-Jacksonville) would require advertising platforms to collect & remit specified taxes imposed for certain transactions; preempt regulation of vacation rentals to the state; prohibit a local law, ordinance, or regulation from allowing or requiring inspections or licensing of public lodging establishments, including vacation rentals, or public food service establishments and require licenses issued by Division of Hotels & Restaurants of DBPR to be displayed conspicuously to the public inside the licensed establishment. The House bill is awaiting its second committee stop in the House Ways & Means Committee. The Senate companion – SB 522 – by Senator Manny Diaz is awaiting its second committee stop in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
HB 1317 by Representative Chip LaMarca (R-Lighthouse Point) would authorize wagers on sports events; provide duties of Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering; authorize application to division for license to operate sports pool; require annual renewal of license; prohibit sports pools from being offered by anyone other than division or licensee; specify requirements for accepting wagers; authorize provision of benefits to induce wagering; require background checks for licensee employees; prohibit & require adoption of procedures to prevent certain persons from wagering; prohibit accepting wagers from certain persons; provide for distribution of unclaimed winnings; require deposit of certain penalties into DBPR's Pari-mutuel Wagering Trust Fund. The bill has not received any committee references. The Senate companion – SB 392 – by Senator Jeff Brandes is awaiting its first committee stop in the Senate Regulated Industries Committee.
Alcoholic Beverage Licenses
HB 329 by Representative Josie Tomkow (R-Auburndale) would authorize food service establishments to sell or deliver alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption if requirements are met; revise provisions that authorize restaurant to allow patrons to remove partially consumed bottles of wine from restaurant for off-premises consumption; revise requirements for sale of alcoholic beverages by certain vendors. The House bill is awaiting its final committee stop in the House Commerce Committee. The Senate companion – SB 134 – by Senator Jeff Brandes is awaiting its first stop in the Senate Regulated Industries Committee. A related bill – SB 148 – by Senator Jennifer Bradley (R-Orange Park) is awaiting its second hearing in the Senate Commerce & Tourism Committee.
Sales & Use Tax
HB 15 by Representative Chuck Clemons (R-Jonesville) would revise conditions for certain dealers subject to sales tax; delete exemption for certain dealers from collecting local option surtaxes; provide certain marketplace providers are subject to registration, collection, & remittance requirements for sales taxes; require marketplace providers to provide certification to marketplace sellers; specify requirements for marketplace sellers; require marketplace providers to allow DOR to audit books & records; provide that marketplace seller is liable for sales tax collection & remittance; authorize marketplace providers & marketplace sellers to enter into agreements to recover certain taxes, interest, & penalties; grant DOR settlement & compromise authority for marketplace sales; remove authority of DOR to negotiate collection allowance with certain dealers. The House bill is awaiting its first hearing in the House Ways & Means Committee. The Senate companion – SB 50 – by Senator Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) has passed all committee references and heads to the Senate floor for consideration.
Protecting Consumers Against Pandemic-related Fraud
HB 9 by Representative Ardian Zika (R-Land O’Lakes) would define "personal protective equipment"; prohibit dissemination of false or misleading information relating to personal protective equipment with specified intent; prohibit dissemination of false or misleading vaccine information with specified intent; authorize state attorney or statewide prosecutor to prosecute violation; authorize AG to seek civil remedies. The bill has been passed by the full House and is waiting for action on the Senate bill. The Senate companion – SB 1608 – by Senator Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville) is awaiting its first committee hearing in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.
2021 LEGISLATIVE SESSION SCHEDULE
January 11 – January 15, 2021 1st Interim Committee Week
January 25 – January 29, 2021 2nd Interim Committee Week
February 1 – February 5, 2021 3rd Interim Committee Week
February 8 – February 12, 2021 4th Interim Committee Week
February 15 – February 19, 2021 5th Interim Committee Week
March 2, 2021 Regular Session Convenes
April 20, 2021 Last Day for Regular Committee Meetings
April 30, 2021 Last Day of Regular Session