January 29 - February 2, 2018

Florida legislators took a significant step forward towards completing their Constitutional responsibility of passing a state budget by passing their respective spending plans in both the House and Senate appropriations committees. While their current spending plans are roughly $100 million apart, it is unusually early in the session for both chambers to be prepared to pass their budgets next week, in just the fifth week of the legislative session.


Meanwhile, the fight over VISIT FLORIDA funding continues between the House, Senate and Governor Rick Scott. Governor Scott has requested that VISIT FLORIDA be funded at $100 million for the next year, up from $76 million this year. The House has recommended the tourism marketing agency be funded at current levels, while the Senate has proposed allocating $50 million. The Senate says this is just a starting point for negotiations with Governor Scott and the House, but cuts current funding by 30-percent.


The House concluded their workweek in Tallahassee by passing legislation to bring more transparency to tourism agencies. Despite objections from members of the tourism industry, HB 585 by Representative Randy Fine passed its final committee in the House and will now move forward for final consideration. Meanwhile, the Senate version still has two more committee stops.


The following is a quick rundown where the Legislature currently stands on legislation impacting FAA:


Protection of Tourism Development Taxes


The House Commerce Committee passed a bill that would allow the use of tourist development taxes by local governments to spend on roads, sewers, drainage projects and sidewalks that “are needed to increase tourist-related business activities.” Opponents contend the bill would give local governments a loophole to spend tourism development taxes on expensive infrastructure projects only partially related to tourism. It could also lead to a sharp drop in funding for marketing or other efforts with a direct effect on businesses in the industry. Current law only allows bed taxes to be spent on tourism marketing, beach nourishment, convention centers, sports arenas, zoos, aquariums and other tourist attractions.  HB 585, by Representative Randy Fine, passed by a vote of 18-6, and it now ready for a full floor vote. The Senate companion bill, SB 658 by Senator Jeff Brandes, is scheduled to be heard in its second committee of reference this week.


Responsible Transparency Measures


The House is continuing its efforts to increase transparency for the allocation of public dollars by passing legislation last week. HB 3 by Representative Michael Grant would increase oversight for economic development agencies, including tourism groups that use public funding and limit how the groups could spend money. The bill blocks tourism agencies from spending money on food, beverages, lodging, entertainment or gifts and from accepting any of those things from other individuals or entities. The bill also requires agencies to post contracts totaling more than $5,000 on their website within five business days. The bill has already been passed by the full House, while the Senate version of the bill, SB 1714 by Senator Keith Perry, was passed in its first of four committees last week.


Support Funding for VISIT FLORIDA


An initial House budget proposals calls for spending $76 million on tourism marketing by VISIT FLORIDA, which is $24 million less that what Governor Rick Scott has requested. Meanwhile, an initial Senate plan would provide $50 million. These allocations come on the heels of an economic analysis by the Legislature’s Economic and Demographic Research that found VISIT FLORIDA yields a $2.20 return on investment for every $1 spent. The two chambers are scheduled to pass their respective budget proposals in their full appropriation committees this week.


Stop the Expansion of Gambling


The Senate took the first step towards passing comprehensive gambling reform by filing SB 840 by Senator Travis Hutson. Senator Hutson serves as the Chairman of the Regulated Industries Committee and stated that he felt the bill was in no way an expansion of gambling in Florida but actually represented a contraction since several pari-mutuels would be allowed to “decouple” live racing and therefore reduce the options to gamblers. The bill would allow dog tracks to keep poker rooms even if they end live racing, essentially decoupling the requirement that those pari-mutuels who offer card rooms also maintain live racing. The bill has already passed his committee by a margin of 7-2. The House Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee passed their version of a gaming bill, HB 7067, last week by a vote of 9-6. Much of this bill related to how the state provides the Seminole Tribe of Florida exclusivity as a means to uphold the current compact. It is anticipated the bill is a starting point to get the two chambers into conference committee to negotiate their differences.


Provisions not included in either omnibus gambling bill, is the legalization of fantasy sports. However, it is the subject of two bills that are currently moving in the House and Senate. HB 223 by Representative Jason Brodeur and SB 374 by Senator Dana Young are both moving quickly through the legislative process, with the Senate bill already on the calendar for consideration by the full Senate. However, the legislation creates a new section in statute within the family entertainment section. It appears this is designed to exempt these games from DBPR regulation under current gambling laws.


Promote Responsible Stewardship of Animals in Care


Representative Jared Moskowitz has filed HB 1305 titled the Florida Orca Protection Act. The bill would prohibit the captivity of a killer whale for any purpose. Additionally, any killer whale in captivity on July 1, 2018, may not be used for entertainment purposes after December 31, 2018 and can only be used for educational presentations. The bill does not currently have a companion bill in the Senate. Additionally, the bill was never placed on the agenda for the House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee. Therefore, following their announcement last week that they will not hold any more meetings this session this proposed legislation is effectively dead for the year. 


Tax Cuts for Commercial Leases


Senator Keith Perry filed legislation on commercial and real estate property taxes that he sponsored last session. SB 902 would repeal the statute related to rental taxes on the first $10,000 and increase by increments of $10,000 for each year until reaching the threshold of the first $90,000 in 2026. Representative Larry Ahern has also filed the identical bill in the House, HB 409. Neither bill has been heard in a committee at this time.


Expansion of Gun Rights


The House and Senate have started moving forward with measures that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns on the grounds of churches and other religious institutions that include schools. SB 1048 by Senator Dennis Baxley was amended last week to preclude the possession of firearms during hours when schools or day-care centers are operating. HB 1419 by Representatives Lawrence McClure and Ross Spano does not have the same preclusive language at this time. These two bills are on the calendar for full consideration of the respective chambers.  


Lost and Found Articles


A bill filed by newly-elected Representative Bobby Olszewski would allow facilities, such as zoos, museums, and aquariums, to give unclaimed items to a charitable institution without first having to turn them over to law enforcement. HB 851 has provisions that require theme parks and other institutions to hold on to items for at least 30 days, but they can store them longer if they choose. The rightful owner may reclaim the property at any time before the disposition, sale or donation of the property in accordance with the established policies and procedures of the facility operator. SB 1052 is the Senate companion bill filed by Senator Dana Young. Both of these bills are in the final committee of reference.  



House and Senate calendars can be found at www.myfloridahouse.gov and www.flsenate.gov