Each annual legislative session is defined by significant events that set the overall tone and priorities for the Florida Legislature. While the last two sessions were hyper-focused on an appropriate legislative response to the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and the devastation of Hurricane Michael to the Panhandle, the 2020 session proceeded without prominent theme until the very last week of the scheduled 60-day annual session when the threat of the COVID-19 or coronavirus began to paralyze the nation and impact Florida’s economy.
During one of the final floor sessions, the House chose to temporarily interrupt their proceedings to announce that several Representatives may have been recently exposed to the virus while attending a conference. The remainder of the session was focused on measures that would help the state prepare for the spread of the virus and the subsequent impact on the state. In fact, the Legislature decided to extend the regular session from March 13, 2020 to March 20, 2020 to finalize the FY 2020-2021 state budget. All regular bills died after midnight on March 13 and members were directed to head home to their districts until a final vote on the budget scheduled for Thursday, March 19, 2020. Given the daily developments on COVID-19 and the certain impact on Florida’s economy, the Legislature has signaled they will likely return to Tallahassee this summer to adjust both the FY 2019-2020 and FY 2020-2021 budgets.
Although most of the 3,578 bills filed this year died, of the 207 bill that did pass both chambers, there were several victories for the House Speaker, Senate President and Governor. House Speaker Jose Oliva was able to pass meaningful health care reforms including a bill to allow nurse practitioners to independently operate primary care practices, including family medicine, general pediatrics and general internal medicine without an attending doctor’s supervision. Senate President Bill Galvano quietly oversaw the Florida Senate achieve another productive session but without his longtime efforts on reaching a renewal of the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Compact with the state and the $350 million in annual payments that come with it. Meanwhile, Governor Ron DeSantis was successful in pushing for a bill requiring employers to check the immigration status of new hires as well as a major teacher pay raise.
Legislators were able to agree on a state spending plan two days after the scheduled March 13 adjournment. The General Appropriations Act (GAA), HB 5001 was placed on legislators’ desks on Sunday, March 15 at 7:07 pm which began the Constitutionally required 72-hour “cooling off” period before the budget could be voted on. After 66 days in the Capitol, legislators passed a $93.2 billion budget for FY 2020-2021 on Thursday, March 19, 2020 (House vote 104-0, Senate vote 32-0). The GAA now heads to the Governor’s desk for final action, as he possesses line item veto authority. It is anticipated that the Governor will have a heavy veto pen in the wake of the economic downturn on the country’s horizon.
KEY ISSUES THAT PASSED
The Legislature succeeded in passing several bold and meaningful legislation this session that included some of the issues below:
Tax Package, Back to School Tax Holiday - The Legislature passed a tax package that includes several revisions including another back to school tax holiday and hurricane supplies tax holiday.
Scope of Practice Expansion - The bill allows for qualified nurse practitioners to provide primary care without physician supervision. Pharmacists will be able to help patients manage their chronic conditions in collaboration with a physician and may test and treat the flu.
Extension of Visit Florida Sunset – Legislation was passed this year to extend the upcoming sunset for the tourism marketing agency to 2023. Additionally, the Florida Legislature agreed to maintain funding for the agency at $50 million. The future of Visit Florida will be critical in the face of the economic downturn anticipated ahead.
School Panic Alarms - The bill would require public and charter schools in the state to implement a mobile panic alarm system that would connect emergency officials with firstresponders in the event of a school emergency. The Florida Legislature agreed to $8 million in funding through the Florida Department of Education.
Child Welfare Reform – One of the priorities of First Lady Casey DeSantis was to bring accountability to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) by moving toward a “prevention” model and bringing some of the services back to the department that have been outsourced. Legislation passed to move toward statewide standards for both DCF and outsourced programs to Sheriffs and other entities.
Affordable Housing – For the first time since 2007, the Florida House and Senate have agreed to fully fund the state’s affordable housing trust fund, known as the Sadowski fund. Both chambers agreed to dedicate the full $370 million to the fund.
Water Quality – The comprehensive legislation is designed to improve water data collection and make investments into inspecting septic systems and replacing them with sewer infrastructure.
Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Stations – The legislation would make several enhancements to the state’s infrastructure system, including a framework for increasing the amount of EV charging stations on Florida’s roadways and includes a cooperative report from the Florida
Department of Transportation – in consultation with the Florida Public Service Commission, Florida Office of Energy and appropriate public or private entities – to have a report to the Legislature and Governor by July 1, 2021.
Private School Voucher Expansion – The bill makes several revisions and expansions to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and Family Empowerment Scholarship. Under both programs, scholarship eligibility would be expanded, allowing more students to attend schools that meet their individual educational needs.
Teacher Salary Increase – The bill requires local school districts to use money set aside by the Legislature to raise minimum teacher salaries to $47,500 and provide raises for teachers who are already above that minimum. The increase would place Florida behind only New Jersey among state base salaries.
Employment Verification – The bill would require public employers, contractors and subcontractors to use the E-Verify employment verification system by January 1, 2021 to ensure that all employees are legal citizens. Private employers would also be required to use E-Verify or information documented in an employee’s I-9 form to determine the legal status of its employees.
College Athletes – The bill would allow student-athletes to earn outside compensation for their likeness, image or persona and to get professional representation through athletic agents.
State Employee Pay Raises – The House and Senate agreed to a 3-percent across-the-board pay raise for all state employees.
Parental Consent for Abortion – The bill would require pregnant minors and physicians to get consent from a parent or legal guardian before receiving or performing an abortion.
KEY ISSUES THAT FAILED
Several other high-profile issues that did not end up passing during the 2020 Legislative Session include:
Remote Sales Tax Collection/Wayfair – The bill would have authorized the state to impose sales tax collection responsibilities on remote sellers lacking a physical presence in Florida and streamline administration of current sales tax laws by extending sales tax collection responsibilities to marketplace providers increasing General Revenue Fund receipts by $479 million annually.
Vacation Rentals – The bill would have pre-empted to the state the authority to license and inspect short-term rentals and only allow local governments the ability to enact regulations that apply to all homes equally, whether short-term or not. Any ordinances that were passed before 2011 would not have been impacted.
Gambling/Sports Betting – There were discussions on the state negotiating a deal with the Seminole Tribe to restore revenue sharing through the gaming compact as well as the potential for sports betting. However, these negotiations never materialized. There was a bill introduced to create a “buyback” of facility permits but it was not heard in committee.
Restoration of Voting Rights – Efforts to clarify a controversial measure passed last session requiring convicted felons to pay restitution before regaining their voting rights were unsuccessful.
Criminal Justice Reform – There were several measures relating to criminal justice reform passed by the Senate, including mandatory-minimum criminal sentencing and gain time for inmates, however, the measures failed in the House.
School Safety – The House and Senate failed to agree to legislation to adopt recommendations from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Safety Commission’s 2019 report citing failures in implementing school safety improvements.
Office of Energy Move – The House proposed legislation to move the Office of Energy from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services under Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried to the Department of Environmental Protection under Governor Ron DeSantis. However, the Senate did not support the measure.
Constitutional Revision Commission Repeal – The Commission that meets every 20 years to propose constitutional amendments, which is one of only five ways to be added to the Florida Constitution, would have been repealed by a bill that passed the House. However, the same measure never received a hearing in the Senate.
Transportation Package – The annual omnibus transportation package would make multiple changes including authorizing portable radar speed display units to display flashing red and blue lights under certain circumstances, staging areas along the Florida Turnpike System and require certain vessels to be removed from marinas.
2020 LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES FOR
FLORIDA ATTRACTIONS ASSOCIATION
VISIT FLORIDA Sunset Extension and Funding:
VISIT FLORIDA had an incredible session, as the tourism-marketing agency was fully-funded at $50 million in the FY 2020-21 budget proposed by the Legislature. While the House and Senate had been at odds about funding the agency, during the beginning of the budget conference process on March 7, House Appropriations Chairman Representative Travis Cummings (ROrange Park) and Senate Appropriations Chairman Senator Rob Bradley announced that the two chambers had reached an agreement to fully-fund VISIT FLORIDA. The Legislature’s decision of fund the agency at $50 million aligns with Governor DeSantis’ proposed funding levels. Liberty Partners will fight to ensure that this line-item remains in the budget and is signed into law by the Governor.
The ninth week of the 2020 Legislative Session held surprising news, as the House passed legislation that will extend VISIT FLORIDA’s scheduled sunset from 2020 until 2023. While SB 362 by Senator Ed Hooper (R-Palm Harbor) passed through each Senate committee unanimously and had passed the Senate floor unanimously by February 13, the House companion did not receive a single committee or floor hearing leading up to week nine. March 11 signaled a turn of events however, as the Senate bill by Senator Hooper was substituted for HB 213 by Representative Mel Ponder (R-Fort Walton Beach) and passed the House floor by an overwhelming favorable vote of 114-2. As this legislation heads to DeSantis’ desk for final approval, we will work to ensure that the bill is not vetoed.
Liberty Partners recognizes the impact that VISIT FLORIDA has on FAA and its members. We are proud to have spoken in support of SB 362 during each committee stop and see this legislation clear both chambers. We were also happy to work with FAA to create a call-to-action so that FAA members could email their legislators and urge them to reauthorize VISIT FLORIDA and fully-fund the agency. Additionally, we were able to work with FAA to craft a welcome letter outlining FAA’s priorities and distribute this welcome letter to all legislators during the beginning of the 2020 Legislative Session.
Amusement Ride Inspections:
Throughout the legislative session, we worked diligently with FAA and the Florida Departmentof Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) on legislation that would revise and modernize temporary amusement ride regulations and inspections across the state. SB 1228 by Senator Lauren Book (D-Plantation), which was substituted for HB 1275 by Representative Sharon Pritchett (D-Miami Gardens) makes several revisions to the inspection process, most notably the frequency that certain rides must be inspected. Temporary amusement rides such as carnival or fair rides must be inspected each time the ride is set up at a different location and must receive a certificate of inspection from FDACS. Permanent amusement rides, however, must only be inspected twice a year by an accredited inspection organization.
With FAA’s members operating permanent facilities, Liberty Partners offered amendment language and worked with FDACS, Senator Book and Representative Pritchett to ensure that FAA members would be exempt from the frequent, burdensome inspections that temporary amusement ride facilities are subject to.
The House bill moved swiftly through the legislative process, unanimously passing all committee references by February 13 and unanimously passing the House floor on February 26. Liberty Partners testified before each committee on behalf of FAA in support of the legislation and shared FAA’s position with committee members. The Senate companion passed the Senate Commerce Committee unanimously on February 18, with Liberty Partners speaking in support of the bill on behalf of FAA.
During the final week of session, the Senate bill was substituted for the House bill and unanimously passed the Senate floor on March 13. For more than a month, we monitored this legislation and worked with Senator Book and Representative Pritchett to ensure that the bill remained favorable to FAA and its members. We will now shift our attention and efforts to making sure that the Governor signs this legislation into law.
Verification of Employment Eligibility:
Liberty Partners monitored controversial legislation this legislative session that could have a potentially significant impact on public and private employers in the state. The verification of employment eligibility has been a top-priority of Governor DeSantis, as he has pushed for employers across the state to use E-Verify or a similar system to ensure that employees are legal residents.
SB 664 by Senator Tom Lee (R-Brandon) will require private and public employers, as well as contractors and subcontractors to use technology to ensure that all employees are legal. Beginning January 1, 2021, a public employer, contractor or subcontractor must register with and implement the E-Verify system to verify the work status of all employees. A contract will not be able to be entered into if any of the parties have failed to register with E-Verify. A private employer would have the ability to use either E-Verify or an employee's I9 form to confirm the employment eligibility and would be required to keep the employee's documentation on file for three years after the employee begins working. Beginning January 1, 2021, a private employer must verify a new worker's status before the employee can begin working. If an employee has worked with the business since before January 1, 2021, the worker's status would not be required to be verified but the employee's citizenship status would have to be verified before the employee could receive a contract extension or renewal. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), Attorney General, statewide prosecutor and state attorney will have the authority to enforce these requirements by requesting documentation from the employers at any given time. If a private employer fails to comply with these requirements, the employer must provide FDLE with an affidavit that states they will begin compliance, terminate the unauthorized worker's employment and not knowingly hire an authorized worker. If the business fails to send an affidavit to FDLE within 30 days, the private employer's license will be suspended by the appropriate licensing agency until the employer complies with the affidavit submission. If a private employer commits three violations within three years, the business license would be permanently suspended.
The Senate bill passed all committees of reference by a narrow margin and passed the Senate floor by a vote of 23-17. The House companion - HB 1265 by Representative Cord Byrd (R-Jacksonville Beach) passed both of its committee references but was then “laid on the table” and replaced by SB 664.
We will continue to monitor this bill as it is sent to Governor DeSantis for final approval. We understand that this legislation could have impacts on FAA members and will keep FAA abreast on the implementation of the legislation.
Preservation of Tourist Development Tax:
We are happy to announce that tourist development taxes (TDT) will stay limited to certain purposes. When the House’s proposed tax package - HB 7097 by Representative Bryan Avila (R-Hialeah) was filed on February 20, FAA became concerned about a provision contained in the bill that would allow counties to use TDT dollars to fund water quality improvement projects, as well as publicly-owned parks and trails. The expanded usage of these dollars would have also applied to the Convention Development Tax levied in Duval, Miami-Dade and Volusia counties as well as the Local Option Food and Beverage Tax levied within parts of Miami-Dade County.
During each committee stop, Liberty Partners spoke in opposition to this provision on behalf of FAA and urged House members to not further erode TDT dollars by expanding usage. Thankfully, once the tax package made its way to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Anitere Flores (R-Miami) filed an amendment that removed the provisions within the bill that would have expanded the use of TDT dollars. As the bill continued to make its way through the legislative process, the Senate held steady on the removal of these provisions, and as a result, these harmful provisions were removed from HB 7097. HB 7097 passed the full Legislature and will go to the Governor for his signature.
OTHER BILLS OF INTEREST
There were more than 3,500 bills filed for the 2020 Legislative Session, however only 207 passed both chambers and will become law with approval by the Governor. Below is a list of priority bills that we monitored on behalf of FAA and the status of the bills:
SB 1084 by Senator Manny Diaz and Representative Sam Killebrew – Emotional Support Animals
Defines the terms “emotional support animal” and “housing provider”; prohibits discrimination in housing provided to a person with a disability or a disability-related need for an emotional support animal; prohibits a health care practitioner from providing information regarding a person’s need for an emotional support animal without having personal knowledge of that person’s need for the animal; prohibits the falsification of information or other fraudulent misrepresentation regarding the use of an emotional support animal, etc. The bill passed both chambers and moves to Governor DeSantis for final action.
SB 680 by Senator Travis Hutson and Representative Kristen Jacobs – Shark Fins
Cites this act as the “Kristin Jacobs Ocean Conservation Act”; prohibits the import, export, and sale of shark fins in this state; provides exceptions; requires the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to evaluate the potential economic impacts to the commercial shark fishing industry in this state; requires the commission to review the potential impact on shark populations; requires a report to the Legislature by a specified date; authorizes the Legislature to impose a ban on the domestic production of shark fins based upon the findings of the report, etc. The bill passed both chambers and heads to the Governor for his signature before becoming law.
HB 757 by Representative Holly Raschein and Senator Darryl Rouson – Cultural Affairs
Renames Division of Cultural Affairs as Division of Arts & Culture; provides that Secretary of State shall be known as "Florida's Chief Arts & Culture Officer". The bill died in the Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee.
HB 1011 by Representative Jason Fischer, SB 1128 by Senator Manny Diaz – Vacation Rentals
Preempts the regulation of vacation rentals to the state; prohibits 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; requires licenses issued by the Division of Hotels and Restaurants of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to be displayed conspicuously to the public inside the licensed establishment, etc. The House bill died on the House floor and the Senate bill died in the Senate Rules Committee.
SB 334 by Senator Linda Stewart – Tourist Development Tax
Authorizes counties imposing the tax to use the tax revenues to promote or incentivize film or television productions in this state; requires such counties to require certain productions to include a specified statement in the production’s credits, etc. The bill died in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
SB 772 by Senator Travis Hutson, HB 647 by Representative Brad Drake – Department of Health’s Regulation of Recreational Activities
Provides a timeframe for certain owners or transferees to apply for a permit; preempts to the Department of Health the regulatory authority for permitting standards; provides that evidence of a certain length of stay in a guest register creates a rebuttable presumption that a guest is transient; specifies when certain property becomes abandoned; authorizes a park operator to refuse certain individuals access to the premises and to eject transient guests or visitors based on specified conduct; provides that certain surf pools are exempt from supervision under certain circumstances, etc. The Senate bill died in the Senate Rules Committee and the House bill died on the House floor.
HB 991 by Representative Will Robinson and Senator Keith Perry – Lottery Games
Prohibits electronic device from being used to play any lottery game; prohibits DOL from authorizing operation of specified lottery game; requires DOL to include specified warning in all advertisements & promotions of lottery games; requires contracts between DOL & vendor to require vendor to print specified warning on all lottery tickets. The bill died in the Senate Innovation, Industry and Technology Committee.
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.
Following the recent cancelation of several major events and a surge of Floridians testing positive for COVID-19, the Legislature ensured the FY 2020-2021 GAA contained a $300 million contingency plan to address the economic impact the crisis will have on the state budget. However, while state policymakers are unable to accurately forecast the ultimate economic impact the virus will have before the budget has to be in place on June 30, it is anticipated that a special session may become necessary when new revenue outlook numbers by the Office of Economic & Demographic Research (EDR) become available in the coming weeks.
Since the Presidential Preference Primary Election was held on Tuesday, March 17, the state will now begin getting ready for the Primary Election on Tuesday, August 18 and the General Election scheduled for Tuesday, November 3. We will be watching to see what the impact of this year’s elections will have on the makeup of the Florida Legislature. Currently, the Florida Senate is split 23-17 between Republicans and Democrats while the Florida House is split 73-47.
Once again, Liberty Partners considers it a great privilege to serve as your advocates in Tallahassee. Please do not hesitate to reach out to any member of our team for additional information.