As the Florida Legislature heads into the final week of the 2018 regular session, lawmakwers continue to discuss measures to address the unfortunate school shooting tragedy in Parkland and have offered several proposed changes intended to keep schools safer.
The Senate held an unprecedented Saturday floor session to discuss hardening schools and preventing gun violence. Proposed legislation includes raising the age from 18 to 21 for individuals to purchase firearms, restraining orders for mentally ill individuals to purchase or possess firearms and arming certain teachers. The Senate concluded the marathon debate just after 6:00 pm and the House and Senate Appropriations chairs went into a budget conference at 6:45 pm. While they have inched closer to resolving House and Senate budget differences, several big ticket items still remain unresolved and will end up in the laps of the House Speaker Corcoran and Senate President Negron for final negotiations. To finish the session by Friday, a final budget must be in the hands of both chambers no later than Wednesday.
While lawmakers discuss ways the state could prevent future tragedies, the Legislature also continues to move forward with other legislation. Last week, the House took significant steps towards preserving Florida’s rich and unique heritage of historic items on state lands. HB 6041 by Representative Cyndi Stevenson passed the House by a vote of 94-18 and would eliminate the “isolated finds” program that was administered by the Florida Department of State from 1996 to 2005. The repeal would prevent any additional issuance of permits for individuals to take historical artifacts from state lands and sovereign submerged lands. Unfortunately, while HB 6041 is on the way to the Senate, the Senate has yet to hear their companion bill (SB 1296 by Sen. Greg Steube) in any committee.
The debate over gaming in Florida continues with the House and Senate moving vastly different proposal. With the Voters in Charge Constitutional amendment (Amendment 3) appearing to have enough support to pass in the fall, the Legislature seems increasingly committed to pass gaming legislation before their authority is ceded to the voters. After strengthening the Senate’s approach to gaming - which includes de-coupling of greyhound and quarterhorse tracks - SB 840 was passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee by a vote of 16-4. SB 840 is viewed as one of the largest expansions in gaming in recent history. The House approach - HB 7067 - was debated on the House floor today and passed by a vote of 70-40. One provision requires that as part of the agreement with the Seminole Tribe, a portion of the state’s revenue share shall be allocated to educational programs. The 2018 Seminole Compact would specify that monies be allocated to K-12 teacher recruitment and retention, failing schools and higher education distinguished faculty recruitment. While it is anticipated the two chambers are working toward a gaming conference to reconcile their differences, the time is again running out to get a bill across the finish line.
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.” 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 through its committees of reference and passed on the House floor by a vote of 90-23 and is awaiting action by the Senate. The Senate bill, SB 658 by Senator Jeff Brandes, is now in its final committee and would have to be withdrawn from the Appropriations Committee to make it to the floor.
Responsible Transparency Measures
The House is continuing its efforts to increase transparency for the allocation of public dollars by passing HB 3 by Representative Michael Grant that 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. While the bill has already passed the House by a vote of 87-20, SB 1714 by Senator Keith Perry has three more committees of reference and unlikely to make it to the Senate floor.
Support Funding for VISIT FLORIDA
The ongoing fight over funding seems to have come to consensus 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 has since revised their proposal to match the House’s position. Meanwhile, Governor Scott has maintained that should be funded at $100 million next year as he has toured the state and has continued to pressure lawmakers to boost marketing dollars. Unless drastic changes are made by Speaker Corcoran or President Negron, funding will be maintained at $76 million for FY 2018-19.
Stop the Expansion of Gambling
The Senate took the first step towards passing comprehensive gambling reform by filing SB 840 by Senator Travis Hutson. The bill would allow pari-mutuels to keep poker rooms even if they end live racing, essentially decoupling the requirement that parimutuels who offer card rooms also maintain live racing. The bill passed two Senate committees and will now move the floor. The House version of the gaming bill, HB 7067, relates to how the state provides the Seminole Tribe of Florida exclusivity as a means to uphold the compact. HB 7067 is scheduled for debate on the House floor today. It appears the bills are a starting point to get the two chambers into conference committee to negotiate their differences before the end of session.
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 the Department of Business & Profession Regulation under current gambling laws.
Promote Responsible Stewardship of Animals in Human Care
HB 1305 titled the Florida Orca Protection Act, by Representative Jared Moskowitz, 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. HB 1305 does not have a companion bill in the Senate and was never placed on the agenda for the House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee. Therefore, this bad legislation is effectively dead for this year.
Tax Cuts for Commercial Leases/Business Rent Tax
SB 902 by Senator Keith Perry addresses commercial and real estate property taxes by repealing 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 by 2026. Representative Larry Ahern has also filed the identical bill in the House, HB 409. While the stand-alone bills are faltering, the House’s tax package - HB 7087 - includes a reduction in the business rent tax from 5.8% to 5.5%. HB 7087 passed the full House by a vote of 75-35 and is on the way to the Senate.
Expansion of Gun Rights
In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, the House and Senate have essentially halted any discussion on expanding gun rights. One such bill 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. However, it appears neither bill will pass and the larger school safety package will be the focus of both chambers.
Lost and Found Articles
A bill 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 has been debated on the House floor and passed unanimously. SB 1052 is the Senate companion bill by Senator Dana Young and is in its final committee of reference, but could be withdrawn to allow the bill to go to the Senate floor.
Preservation of Historical and Cultural Resources
HB 6041 by Representative Cyndi Stevenson seeks to repeal the Department of State’s authority to create an “isolated finds” program. After two days of heated debate, the bill passed by a vote of 94-18 and is in the Senate. The Senate companion, SB 1296 by Senator Greg Steube has not been heard any any committee. While a repeal of the program is needed to protect our heritage and restrict evacuation and removal to trained archaeologists, opponents of the bill who remove and sell these historic items for personal gain appear to have the upper hand in killing the bill.
House and Senate calendars can be found at www.myfloridahouse.gov and www.flsenate.gov