April 8-12, 2019

Week 6 of the 2019 Legislative Session represented a very deliberate pace as the House and Senate worked to finish as scheduled on May 3. Both chambers spent time hearing and passing bills while in session this week. The Senate considered SB 178 by Senator Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) that would remove the sunset on VISIT FLORIDA and discussed the need to for the Florida Tourism Industry Marketing Corporation to be reauthorized. Senator Gruters stressed how the agency was instrumental in combating negative media from toxic algae blooms and hurricanes and has helped non-urban areas of the state engage in national and international marketing efforts. Senator Debbie Mayfield (R-Rockledge) offered an amendment that was adopted that would instead extend the sunset from 2019 to 2027. The bill is now scheduled to be considered for final vote on Wednesday of next week.

 

However, the House continues to maintain its position to allow VISIT FLORIDA to sunset on October 1, 2019 and only fund the tourism marketing agency’s operations at $19 million until the sunset. Fortunately, the Senate is positioned to extend VISIT FLORIDA for at least eight more years and to also fund the agency at $50 million for the upcoming fiscal year. The two chambers are currently in position to begin budget conference as early as next week to reconcile their budget differences and to decide the fate of VISIT FLORIDA.

 

The following is a quick summary of key priorities for the Florida Attractions Association (FAA):

 

 

Protection of Tourism Development Taxes

We believe Tourism Development Taxes (Bed Taxes) must be preserved for their intended purpose – to promote tourism and develop tourist-attracting facilities in the county where they are collected. These visitors also pay nearly a quarter of all sales tax collected in the state. Expansion of uses will dilute a destination’s ability to compete for visitor stays in their county.

 

This year, Senator Linda Stewart (D-Orlando) filed SB 726 that authorizes counties imposing the tax to use the tax revenues to promote or incentivize film or television productions in the state. If revenues are used for production, they must include in its credits the statement “Created in Florida” or “Filmed in Florida.”

 

Another bill, SB 1708 by Senator Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg), would permit counties with a population of 900,000 or more to form more than one tourist development council. If a county has more than one tourist development council, a recommendation for a tourist development tax-funded public facility project must originate from the tourist development council for the area where the proposed project is located. The bill has passed two committees already and is headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

 

Support for VISIT FLORIDA

We support reauthorization of VISIT FLORIDA and the abolishment of the sunset provision. According to the Office of Economic and Demographic Research our investment in VISIT FLORIDA ranks among the top 5 ROIs of all the state’s incentives and investment programs.  

 

Thus far, there are bills in the House and Senate that would repeal the sunset. Senator Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) is the sponsor of SB 178 and Representative Mel Ponder (R-Destin) is the sponsor of HB 6031. SB 178 was considered and amended on second reading on the Senate floor this week and is scheduled for final consideration next week. However, the House version of the bill has yet to be heard in its first committee of reference, the House Workforce Development and Tourism Subcommittee. The Speaker has yet to show support for reauthorization of the tourism marking agency.

 

We also support continued funding for VISIT FLORIDA. VISIT FLORIDA continues to provide a strong ROI for Florida taxpayers and its 12,000 tourism industry partners create jobs and remains the foundation for Florida’s robust economy. We support Governor DeSantis’ proposed funding of VISIT FLORIDA at $76 million for the 2019-20 fiscal year. Meanwhile, the Senate has expressed their desire to fund the program at $50 million. The House has proposed to fund VISIT FLORIDA at $19 million until it is scheduled to sunset on October 1, 2019.

 

Nontransferable Tickets

Florida attractions employ numerous strategies to sell admission tickets. Often, these tickets are discounted based on a guest’s profile (military, senior, Florida resident, etc.). Admission tickets are sold through dozens of online ticket resellers.

 

Legislation has been filed in the House and Senate that would allow a ticket issuer to employ a nontransferable ticketing system if the consumer is offered an option at the time of the initial sale to purchase the same ticket in a transferable form that allows tickets to be given away or resold. Representative Anthony Rodriguez (R-Miami) has filed HB 331 and Senator Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast) has filed SB 736.  (Update: Thanks to the lobbying efforts of our FAA members and lobby team the HB was withdrawn by the sponsor.)

 

Preservation of Cultural, Historical and Library Grants

We support funding for the Cultural and Museum Grants program administered by the Department of State. The program provides program support for local arts agencies, state service organizations, and organizations that have general program activity in any of the art and cultural disciplines. This year, the Senate has proposed $12,300,000 for the program and the House has proposed $8,219,857. Both of the current proposals represent an increase from the $7,161,630 that was allocated by the Legislation last session.

 

Promote Responsible Stewardship of Animals in Human Care

FAA members include a variety of zoos, aquariums and marine mammals representing the finest family attractions in Florida. Our members include a variety of zoos, aquariums and marine mammal facilities that are dedicated to the welfare of the animals in their attractions and to education, conservation, and the protection of wildlife. These facilities inspire millions of people a year to help protect the natural wonders around the world. We support our members in this commitment and will oppose any legislation that would restrict the responsible stewardship of animals in human care.

 

We are working to counter efforts by the Animal Legal Defense Fund to prohibit animals held in captivity for any other reason than research or rehabilitation purposes. They have sought to introduce legislation this session to prohibit orcas in captivity at marine amusement parks. While there was never legislation filed, they have issued a call to action to their members urging a grassroots effort to contact their legislators to support amendments to achieve this priority.  

 

Lost and Found Articles

We support streamlined measures for attractions and other hospitality-related industries to secure and record lost & found items recovered on their property, then donate unclaimed lost or abandoned personal property to local non-profit charities.  

 

Legislation has been passed in the House and Senate that would allow an owner or operator of a theme park, entertainment complex, zoo, museum, aquarium, public food service establishment, or public lodging establishment to elect to dispose of or donate lost or abandoned property found on its premises. SB 180 by Senator Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) and HB 423 by Representative Spencer Roach (R-Ft. Myers) became one of the first substantive policy bills passed and signed by Governor DeSantis during the 2019 Legislative Session.  

 

Human Trafficking

HB 851 by Representative Heather Fitzenhagen (R-Ft. Myers) and SB 540 by Senator Lauren Book (D-Plantation) requires an owner and operator of a public lodging establishment to train certain employees who routinely interact with guests to complete awareness training for the identification, prevention and reporting of suspected human trafficking within 30 days of being hired. These establishments would also be required to implement employee protocol to prevent, detect and report suspected human trafficking by January 1, 2020 or face an administrative fine of up to $1,000 per day.

 

SB 540 has already passed its second committee and will now be considered in the Senate Appropriations committee. However, the bill has been amended and one of the provisions removed from the original draft was the issuance of administrative fines by the Division of Hotels and Restaurants of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The House version of the bill was passed in the House Appropriations Committee this week by a vote of 28-0. However, there was concern expressed with a provision that would allow hotels and massage parlors to avoid lawsuits from liability for harm resulting from their failure to prevent, detect or report suspected human trafficking. The sponsor has expressed her intent to make changes to this portion of the bill.

 

State Incentives for Professional Sports Franchises

Legislation has been filed that would repeal the Sports Development program created in 2014 to provide a procedure for professional sports franchises to receive state incentives. The bills, HB 791 by Representative Bryan Avila (R-Miami) and SB 414 by Senator Tom Lee (R-Brandon), would remove the ability of professional sports franchises to apply for state sales and use tax revenues to pay for the construction or renovation of facilities. To date, however, no funding has been approved by the Legislature for the program. SB 414 was passed by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism & Economic Development by a 6-0 vote and will now go to its final committee, the Senate Appropriations Committee. The House passed HB 791 this week on the floor by a vote of 103-13 and will now wait for the Senate to approve the bill.

 

Expansion of Gun Rights

We support private property-owner rights to restrict persons carrying concealed weapons; we oppose institution of Florida as an “open-carry” state. We oppose legislation that would burden private property owners with liability if terrorist acts occur on their property. To date, 148 bills have been filed related to firearms ranging from mental health to social media posts to school safety. Most bills deal with additional regulation of concealed weapons licenses.