February 12-16, 2018

The House continues to move forward with legislation that would expand the use of tourism development taxes to include transportation, sewer, solid waste, drainage and other infrastructure – including estuary and lagoon improvements. HB 585 was passed on the House floor by a vote of 93-20. There were amendments to the bill, including requiring an economic study, a “super majority” of the local county commission, as well as a provision that would cap funding at 70% of certain local projects. The Senate version of the bill still has one additional committee reference.

The debate over gaming in Florida continued last week with the House and Senate moving proposals forward. With the Voters in Charge constitutional amendment appearing to have enough support to pass in the fall, the Legislature seems increasingly committed to pass an agreement before their authority is ceded to the public. SB 840 was unanimously passed by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance & Tax, after adopting provisions that brought it closer to the House bill. It is anticipated the chambers are working to get to budget conference to reconcile their differences.

The ongoing fight over VISIT FLORIDA funding continues between the House, Senate and Governor Rick Scott. The House recommended the tourism marketing agency be funded at current levels of $76 million, while the Senate originally proposed allocating $50 million. However, the Senate announced last week they were revising their proposal to match the House’s position. Meanwhile, Governor Scott has maintained that VISITFLORIDA should be funded at $100 million next year as he has toured the state and has continued to pressure lawmakers to boost marketing dollars.

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

Protection of Tourism Development Taxes

The House has 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, has been passed through its committees of reference and passed on the House floor by a vote of 90-23. The Senate companion bill, SB 658 by Senator Jeff Brandes, is now in its final committee of reference.


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 passed the full House, while the Senate version of the bill, SB 1714 by Senator Keith Perry, still has three committees of reference left.


Support Funding for VISIT FLORIDA

An initial House budget proposal calls for spending $76 million on tourism marketing by VISIT FLORIDA, which is $24 million less that what Governor Rick Scott has requested. An initial Senate plan recommended $50 million, however, the Senate revised their recommendation last week to match the House at $76 million. It is anticipated that the two chambers with meet in budget conference within the next two weeks to agree to a spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.


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 pari-mutuels who offer card rooms also maintain live racing. The bill passed the Regulated Industries Committee by a margin of 7-2 as well as the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance & Tax unanimously. The House Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee passed their version of a gaming bill, HB 7067, 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 bills are a starting point to get the two chambers into conference committee to negotiate their differences.

Another component in the discussion on gaming is the legalization of fantasy sports. It is also 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 committee at this time.


Expansion of Gun Rights

The House and Senate continue to move forward with measures that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns on the grounds of churches and other religious institutions, including schools. SB 1048 by Senator Dennis Baxley was amended 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.


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. The bill passed its final committee last week and will now go to the floor for final consideration. SB 1052 is the Senate companion bill filed by Senator Dana Young and is in its final committee of reference.


Preservation of Historical and Cultural Resources

A bill to repeal the Department of State’s authority to create an “isolated finds program,” will now go to the full House following its passage by the House Government Accountability Committee. HB 6041 by Representative Cyndi Stevenson passed by a vote of 15-7. SB 1296 by Senator Greg Steube is waiting to be heard in the Senate Governmental Oversight & Accountability Committee. A repeal of the program is needed to protect our heritage and restrict evacuation and removal to trained archaeologists.


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