Amid several days of heated floor debates on school safety, workforce housing, education, the state budget, gaming and other high-profile policy issues the Florida Legislature was forced into overtime.
The House and Senate were unable to agree to a state budget until Thursday afternoon and since lawmakers are Constitutionally-required to wait 72 hours before the final budget vote, both chambers came back to Tallahassee for brief floor sessions on Sunday afternoon. All other pending bills “died” Friday evening including a major transportation package as well as statutory changes to sexual harassment policies. The session was not officially completed until Sunday afternoon after the full vote on the general appropriations act, the implementing bill and the annual tax package. The $89 billion budget will now go to Governor Scott who possesses line-item veto authority.
One of the issues we followed closely was a legislative proposal to allow the use of tourist development taxes by local governments on roads, sewers, drainage projects and sidewalks that “are needed to increase tourist-related business activities.” While the original bill had stalled in the Senate, the language was amended into the omnibus tax package - HB 7087 - and passed on the final day of session.
The debate over gaming in Florida continued this session with the House and Senate moving forward very different proposals. With the Voters in Charge proposed constitutional amendment (Amendment 3) appearing to have enough support to pass in the November elections, the Legislature seemed increasingly committed to pass a gaming agreement before giving control voters control of future gambling decisions. SB 840 and HB 7067 were each passed by their respective chambers and a special gaming conference was held.
During the gaming conference, the House and Senate made attempts to reach a new deal with the Seminole Tribe to ensure continued revenue sharing with the state. Additionally, the Senate was hopeful to gain legislative approval to allow slots in eight counties where voters passed referendums but to also de-couple greyhound tracks, jai alai frontons and harness and quarter horse racing while allowing the facilities to keep their slots or cardrooms. The House made a surprise offer to agree to allow slots in three counties, but after two subsequent offers the Senate President and House Speaker announced gaming discussions were at an impasse and would end for the 2018 legislative session.
Following is a quick summary of key priorities for the Florida Attractions Association:
Protection of Tourism Development Taxes
The Legislature has passed a new law that will allow the use of tourist development taxes by local governments to be spent 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 re-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. However, the Senate Bill by Senator Jeff Brandes stalled in its final committee. The language was amended into the tax package, HB 7087, and was ultimately passed.
Responsible Transparency Measures
The House continued its efforts this session to increase transparency for the allocation of public dollars by passing HB 3 by Representative Mike Grant. 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 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 was passed by the House, SB 1714 by Senator Keith Perry only passed one of its four committees. Both bills died.
Support Funding for VISIT FLORIDA
The fight over funding continued this year between the House, Senate and Governor Rick Scott. The Governor maintained that should be funded at $100 million this year as he toured the state and pressured lawmakers to boost marketing dollars. 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 revised their proposal to match the House’s position and a budget of $76 million for VISIT FLORIDA is included in the general appropriations act en route to Governor Scott.
Stop the Expansion of Gambling
The Senate took the first step towards passing comprehensive gambing reform by filing SB 840 by Senator Travis Hutson. The bill would have allowed 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 House version of the bill, HB 7067, outlined how the state would provide the Seminole Tribe of Florida exclusivity on certain types of gambling as a means to uphold the Compact. It appeared from the onset the bills were a starting point to get the two chambers into conference committee to negotiate their differences – which ultimately ended in no consensus. Both bills died in conference.
Promote Responsible Stewardship of Animals in Care
HB 1305 titled the Florida Orca Protection Act, by Representative Jared Moskowitz, would have prohibited the captivity of a killer whale for any purpose. Additionally, any killer whale in captivity on July 1, 2018 could not be used for entertainment purposes after December 31, 2018 and could only be used for educational presentations. The bill did not 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 and died in committee.
Tax Cuts for Commercial Leases
Neither bill filed in the Senate SB 902 or the House HB 409 was heard in a committee this session. Each bill would have repealed 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. Language in the omnibus tax package reduces the tax on commercial leases by 0.1% from 5.8% to 5.7%.
Expansion of Gun Rights
In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, the House and Senate essentially halted any discussion on expanding gun rights. One such bill would have allowed 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 did not have the same preclusive language at this time. However, neither bill passed but the House and Senate passed the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act” – HB 7026 – and $400 million in funding for the program. HB 7026 has made national headlines and was signed into law by Governor Scott late last week.
Lost and Found Articles
A bill by newly-elected Representative Bobby Olszewski would have allowed 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 had provisions that required theme parks and other institutions to hold on to items for at least 30 days or longer if they choose. The rightful owner would have been able to 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 was passed by the House unanimously, however, its Senate companion bill by Senator Dana Young was never heard in its final committee of reference and both bills died on the calendar.
Preservation of Historical and Cultural Resources
A bill to repeal the Department of State’s authority to create an “isolated finds program,” passed the full House. HB 6041 by Representative Cyndi Stevenson passed by a vote of 94-18. SB 1296 by Senator Greg Steube was never heard in the Senate Governmental Oversight & Accountability Committee. While a repeal of the program is needed to protect our heritage and restrict evacuation and removal to trained archaeologist both bills died in the Senate.
Only 200 bills passed during the legislative session and were sent to the Governor. Click here for a list of these bills in a PDF. We will update FAA members as the Governor takes action on each of these pieces of legislation.