The unprecedented 2021 Legislative Session came to a close on Friday, April 30 at 2:40 p.m., as the Legislature adjourned Sine Die. With COVID-19 restrictions limiting public access to the Capitol during all of the interim committee weeks and the entire session, advocates and members of the public were forced to find alternative ways to make their voices heard. Whether making online reservations to appear before a House committee or attending a Senate committee hearing at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee, stakeholders modified the way they did business this session. While legislators filed less bills this session than during the 2020 Legislative Session, more bills passed both chambers, with 275 bills making their way to the desk of Governor Ron DeSantis.
Governor DeSantis, House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson each secured legislative wins this session, as a number of their policy priorities passed both chambers and are on track to become law or have already been signed into law. One of the Governor’s main priorities was to pass social media platform regulation, which creates a framework to prevent social media companies from censoring users or “de-platforming” candidates for public office. Another priority passed was the anti-riot legislation which was subsequently signed into law by Governor DeSantis on April 19, 2021. This new law will crack down on violent protests and ensure that any demonstrations remain peaceful and nonviolent. Key priorities of Speaker Sprowls and President Simpson that crossed the finish line included legislation related to COVID- 19 liability protections for businesses and health care providers, which was also signed into law. Additional priorities of House and Senate leadership that passed were bills related to expanding school choice options, the collection of remote sales tax and providing funding for statewide resiliency programs.
Finally, the 2021 Legislative Session would not be complete without lawmakers passing a balanced budget for fiscal year 2021-22. This year’s final budget was adopted on Friday, April 30, for a total of $101.5 billion as compared to the 2020-21 budget of $93.2 billion that passed the Legislature last session prior to COVID. This year’s budget does include federal stimulus relief funds. The General Appropriations Act - SB 2500 - passed the Senate 39-0 and the House 117-1. This proposed spending plan includes funding for education, health care, transportation, tourism and economic development, criminal and civil justice and agriculture, environment and general government. The proposed budget also includes pay raises for state employees, tax breaks for Florida families, tourism marketing funding, bonuses for first responders and teachers, water quality improvements and infrastructure upgrades.
For the 2021 Legislative Session the Governor proposed a $96.6 billion budget. After the House proposed a $97.1 billion spending plan and the Senate proposed $95.0 billion, both chambers approved a final budget of $101.5 billion. Governor DeSantis now has power to approve the budget or use his line-item veto authority for specific items in the budget.
See the budget comparison below:
2020 Legislative Session (FY 2020-21)
Budget passed by the Legislature: $93.2 billion Governor veto: $1 billion
Final approved budget: $92.2 billion
2021 Legislative Session (FY 2021-22)
Budget passed by the Legislature: $101.5 billion Governor veto: TBD
Final approved budget: TBD
Additionally, Governor DeSantis struck a deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to extend the Seminole Compact for 30 years and to finalize this deal, the Legislature must ratify the compact. Both Speaker Sprowls and President Simpson announced late in session that a Special Session on gaming scheduled for the week of May 17 will be held to ratify this compact. The compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe is projected to bring at least $2.5 billion in revenue to the state over the next five years and nearly $6 billion through 2030. Legislation related to gaming that was introduced during this past session will mostly likely be re-introduced and reconsidered during this time.
Below is a list of general priority bills that passed and failed the Legislature followed by a list of the priorities pieces of legislation we worked on your behalf.
KEY ISSUES THAT PASSED
The Legislature succeeded in passing several pieces of impactful legislation this session that included some of the issues below:
COVID-19 Liability Protections for Businesses and Healthcare Providers (SB 72 by Senator Jeff Brandes) – The bill provides legal protections to businesses, schools, nonprofits, religious organizations and health care providers that are following COVID-19 protocols from frivolous lawsuits. (Signed into law on March 29)
Collection of Remote Sales Tax (SB 50 by Senator Joe Gruters) – The bill requires retailers with no physical presence in Florida to collect and remit applicable sales tax, provided they have a substantial number (over $100,000 annually) of remote sales in the state. (Signed into law on April 19)
Child Welfare Reform (SB 80 by Senator Jason Brodeur and SB 96 by Senator Lauren Book) – Two measures relating to child welfare were passed to support youth by better preparing them for adulthood and providing support to older foster youth who age out of care. They also contain provisions to protect child victims of abuse and sexual abuse by updating reporting requirements and data collection.
Expanded School Choice Options for K-12 (HB 7045 by Representative Randy Fine) – Legislation provides the largest expansion of school choice in the nation by increasing the eligible household income cap, including special-needs scholarships and extending scholarships to students already in private school.
Social Media Platform Regulation (SB 7072 by Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez) – The bill would fine social media companies for knowingly de-platforming political candidates but would not apply to temporary social media bans on a candidate or instances where a social media platform removes specific posts that violate that platform’s terms of service.
Tax Relief for Families and Businesses (HB 7061 by Representative Bobby Payne) – The Legislature passed a tax package that includes several provisions including the creation of a sales tax holiday (Freedom Week) from Thursday, July 1, through Wednesday, July 7, 2021, exempting certain purchases for outdoor activities – such as boating, camping and outdoor sporting events; also includes back-to-school and disaster preparedness tax holidays.
Anti-riot Legislation (HB 1 by Representative Fernandez-Barquin) – Creates one of the strongest anti-mob violence laws in the country to protect peaceful protests and law enforcement by defining a riot, changing law enforcement budgeting policies and adding penalties for crimes committed during riots.
Statewide Flooding and Sea-level Rise Resilience Plan (SB 1954 by Senator Ray Rodrigues) – The bill establishes a fund up to $100 million annually for resiliency projects designed to address areas of the state most at risk from coastal flooding and rising seas.
Election Reform (SB 90 by Senator Dennis Baxley) – Legislation was passed to limit to the use of ballot drop boxes and who can help pick up or deliver a voter’s mail-in ballot and additional guidelines on requesting a ballot by mail, signature verification and the collection of ballots.
Elimination of No-fault Auto Insurance (SB 54 by Senator Danny Burgess) – The legislation would remove the requirement for carrying Personal Insurance Protection (PIP) insurance and only require that motorists need to have bodily-injury coverage.
KEY ISSUES THAT FAILED
Several other high-profile issues that did not end up passing during the 2021 Legislative Session include:
Vacation Rentals (HB 219 by Representative Jason Fischer/SB 522 by Senator Manny Diaz) – The bills would have preempted the licensing and inspection of short-term rentals to the state. It would also have preempted the regulation of advertising platforms to the state and increased requirements that are put on advertising platforms. Local governments that adopted vacation rental ordinances or laws prior June 1, 2011 would have been grandfathered in and not affected by the legislation. The House and Senate bills both died in committee.
Tourist & Convention Development Taxes (HB 1429 by Representative Bryan Avila/SB 2008 by Senator Manny Diaz) - The bill would have authorized tourist development or convention development tax revenue to be used to finance flood mitigation projects or improvements. The bill would also have required any imposition or increase of these taxes to be approved by referendum. The legislation passed the House but died in a Senate committee.
Medical Marijuana (HB 1455 by Representative Spencer Roach/SB 1958 by Senator Ray Rodrigues) – This legislation would have capped the supply and potency of medical marijuana that is prescribed by physicians. The bill would also have prohibited a physician from prescribing marijuana to an individual under the age of 18, other than low-potency THC. Medical marijuana treatment centers would have also been required to recall any product that did not meet health and safety standards. The House bill died in committee while the Senate bill never received a committee hearing.
Retirement (SB 84 by Senator Ray Rodrigues) – This controversial legislation would have required members of the Florida Retirement System to enroll in a defined contribution retirement plan such as a 401(k) instead of the current defined benefit pension plan. The proposal faced pushback by a number of groups and the Senate bill died in committee. The legislation was not filed in the House.
Employee Organizations (HB 835 by Representative Cord Byrd/SB 1014 by Senator Dennis Baxley) – The legislation would have required individuals to sign an authorization form before joining an employee organization such as a union. Dues and uniform assessments would also have been prohibited from being deducted from employee salaries. Certain membership information and documentation would have also been required under the legislation. The House bill died on the floor while the Senate bill died in committee.
School Board Term Limits (HB 1461 by Representative Sam Garrison/SB 1642 by Senator Joe Gruters) – Under this legislation, if voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2022, school board members would have been limited to serving a maximum of eight years.
Reemployment Assistance (SB 1906 by Senator Jason Brodeur) – This legislation would have increased unemployment benefits from a maximum of $275 a week to $375 a week. The bill passed the Senate but died in the House.
FLORIDA ATTRACTIONS ASSOCIATION LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES
VISIT FLORIDA had an extremely productive session, as the tourism marketing agency received
$75 million for FY 2021-22. With Florida being a worldwide tourist destination, we are grateful that the Legislature understood the importance of VISIT FLORIDA and funded the agency at an adequate level. While lawmakers were faced with difficult decisions, they made the right decision by continuing to invest in tourism marketing and Florida will reap the benefits. During the legislative session and in discussions with industry leaders, we conveyed the importance of VISIT FLORIDA and the positive impact that it has on the state as a whole.
Our firm also supported two bills during the 2021 Legislative Session on behalf of FAA that would have repealed the scheduled sunset of VISIT FLORIDA. SB 778 by Senator Ed Hooper (R-Palm Harbor) passed its first two committees but ultimately died in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The House companion – HB 675 – by Representative Rene Plasencia (R-Orlando) was also filed but unfortunately did not receive a committee hearing. While these pieces of legislation did not make it across the finish, we maintain great relationships with both bill sponsors and look forward to the legislation being filed again next session.
Tourist and Convention Development Taxes:
Throughout the legislative session, we worked hand-in-hand with FAA to ensure that tourist development tax (TDT) and convention development tax (CDT) dollars were preserved and used for their intended purposes. These critical dollars were threatened when legislation was filed in the House and Senate that would have expanded the allowable uses of such dollars. Under HB 1429 by Representative Bryan Avila (R-Hialeah) and SB 2008 by Senator Manny Diaz (R-Hialeah Gardens), TDT funds would have been able to have been used to finance flood mitigation projects.
While the Senate bill did not gain any traction and didn’t receive a committee hearing, the House bill passed each committee as well as the House floor. During House committee meetings, we spoke in opposition to the TDT expansion provision on behalf of FAA and urged lawmakers to vote against the proposal. While HB 1429 passed its committee references and the House floor, the Senate did not take up the measure. In an attempt to get the language to pass, the negative provisions in HB 1429 were amended onto the House tax package – HB 7061. Once this language was added in, we kept fighting on behalf of FAA by continuing to assist in drafting letters of opposition to lawmakers and call-to-action alerts for FAA members. Additionally, we included the call-to-actions in our firm’s weekly legislative newsletter that is distributed to all legislators and key players in the political process. We are extremely proud to say that the hard work paid off, as the troublesome TDT provisions were removed from the final version of HB 7061 - which was passed by both chambers and now awaits the Governor’s signature. Through teamwork and collaboration, Liberty Partners of Tallahassee and FAA were able to effectively eliminate any expansion of TDT dollars and ensure that these dollars are spent in a thoughtful, efficient way.
Consumer Data Privacy:
Fortunately, neither bill was passed by both chambers, as the House and Senate could not reach an agreement. While HB 969 passed the House floor on April 21, the bill was amended in the Senate before it passed the Senate floor on April 29. As a result, the bill bounced back to the House and died in House returning messages, with the chamber not having enough time to take up the legislation. SB 1734 passed both committees of reference but was laid on the table on April 28, after being replaced by HB 969. Our firm worked diligently with FAA to oppose any provisions in the bills that would have hurt FAA members and we are pleased that our efforts paid off.
Civil Liability for Damages Relating to COVID-19:
We are grateful that Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation into law that will protect FAA’s members from frivolous lawsuits and allow attractions in the state to operate in a safe and efficient manner. SB 72 by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) created civil liability protections for businesses, individuals, governmental entities, health care providers and other organizations in response to COVID-19. On March 29, the new legislation was enacted to heighten legal protections for defendants facing COVID-19 related lawsuits. Specifically, the law provides civil immunity for entities that make a “good faith” effort to comply with government-issued health and safety guidance. This legislation is designed to eliminate the threat of unnecessary litigation for businesses and facilities already left financially vulnerable by the pandemic.
OTHER BILLS OF INTEREST
There were more than 3,000 bills filed for the 2021 Legislative Session, however only 275 passed both chambers and will become law with the approval by the Governor. Please see the attached tracking list for bills monitored for FAA during the 2021 Legislative Session.
Pursuant to Article III, section 8, of the Florida Constitution, "Every bill passed by the Legislature shall be presented to the governor for approval and shall become a law if the governor approves and signs it or fails to veto it within seven consecutive days after presentation. If during that period or on the seventh day the legislature adjourns sine die or takes a recess of more than thirty days, the governor shall have fifteen consecutive days from the date of presentation to act on the bill."
Therefore, Governor Ron DeSantis will now have 15 days to take action on the state spending plan along with more than 200 bills that will be sent his way. He also possesses line-item veto authority which may be used with the General Appropriations Act (GAA). After the Governor has completed his line-item vetoes, he will then sign the GAA into law, establishing the statewide budget for the next fiscal year beginning on July 1. A two-thirds majority vote of both the Senate and House is required to overturn any of the Governor’s line-item vetoes.
Once again, Liberty Partners considers it a great privilege to serve as your advocates in Tallahassee. Please do not hesitate to reach out to our team for additional information.