January 15-19, 2018

Florida lawmakers were back in Tallahassee for the second week of the 2018 Legislative Session. Following the observation of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s holiday, legislators began their efforts on Tuesday to continue moving legislation to Governor Rick Scott’s desk before sine die. This included a broad range of issues including the budget, a proposal to make texting while driving a “primary” offense, environmental restoration and tackling the state’s opioid crisis.

 

Tourism industry professionals from across the state traveled to Tallahassee to advocate for the state’s top economic driver and educate legislators on the challenges facing the industry. Meanwhile, VISIT FLORIDA continues to promote its efforts to attract more visitors to the state through tourism marketing. VISIT FLORIDA announced this week the tourism industry brought in a record $112 billion to Florida’s economy in 2017, up almost 3% from the previous year. In his final year as Governor, Rick Scott has requested that VISIT FLORIDA be funded at $100 million for the next year, up from $76 million this year.

 

Coinciding with Florida Tourism Day at the Capitol, a House panel passed legislation that would give local tourism development councils the option of spending money on roads, sewers or environmental cleanup projects that benefit tourist attractions. However, many in the tourism industry believe the change could potentially erode efforts to market in Florida.


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

 

Protection of Tourism Development Taxes

 

The House Ways & Means Committee passed a bill on Wednesday 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 15-4. The bill will now head to it’s final committee of reference as it is moving quickly through the committee process. The Senate companion bill, SB 658 by Senator Jeff Brandes, still has two additional committees to pass through before going to the full Senate.

 

Responsible Transparency Measures

 

The House is continuing its efforts to increase transparency for the allocation of public dollars. This session, Representative Michael Grant has filed HB 3. The bill 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 form 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 Senate version of the bill, SB 1714 by Senator Keith Perry, has been referenced to four committees and has yet to be heard.

 

Support Funding for VISIT FLORIDA

 

The House Tourism & Gaming subcommittee heard a brief presentation from state economist Amy Baker on the return on investment for funding for VISIT FLORIDA Currently at $76 million this year, Baker stated that the state is getting less of a return on investment than in previous years. Her review demonstrated that in 2011-2013, the group brought in $3.20 for every dollar spend on it at that time. The more current evaluation found the return on investment has dropped to $2.20 per dollar indicating that it is becoming harder for the agency to attract visitors with marketing efforts. Governor Rick Scott has recommended the Legislature boost VISIT FLORIDA funding to $100 million next year.

 

Stop the Expansion of Gambling

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee passed a gambling bill this week, SB 840 by Senator Travis Hutson, that would make it clear fantasy sports are legal in Florida.

Senator Hutson also serves as the Chairman of the 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 passed by a margin of 7-

2. While there is no House version of the bill at this time, Senator Hutson did state that the House is currently working on a bill that should be filed in the next few weeks.

 

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.

 

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

 

Three bills related to the increased protection for gun rights were defeated in Senate Judiciary, where the sponsor Senator Greg Steube is Chairman. The bills included allowing concealed weapons at private religious schools located on church properties (SB

134) and a bill that would have decreased the penalty for accidentally displaying a concealed weapon in public (SB 148). SB 274 by Senator Kelli Stargel contained components of both bills, along with provisions that would allow concealed weapons to be carried into courthouses and left with security, however this bill was also defeated. These votes mean it is unlikely the Senate will consider any gun-related legislation this session.

 

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 and unanimously passed the Senate Commerce & Tourism Committee this week. The bill will now head to the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.

 

Other Bills of Interest:
School Calendars

Senator Jeff Brandes has filed the companion bill SB 668 to HB 587 by Representative Newt Newton that would authorize a district school board to create a year-round school program for any school within its district that is one of the 300 lowest-performing schools in the state.

 

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