2017 Legislative Session Archives - SaintPetersBlog

Rick Scott signs $180M tax cut package into law

Florida will reduce the tax pay on business pay on rent, have two, three-day sales tax holidays, and eliminate the so-called tampon tax under a $180 million tax cut package signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott signed the measure (HB 7109) during an event at 3C Interactive in Boca Raton on Thursday. While the tax cut package is significantly smaller than the $618 million tax cut plan Scott proposed in January, the Naples Republican said he was proud to sign legislation that continues to cut “taxes for Florida families and businesses.”

“Since I’ve been in office, I’ve fought to cut taxes and reduce burdensome regulations to help boost Florida’s economy and ensure our children and grandchildren have the opportunity to succeed in our great state,” said Scott in a prepared statement. “Every time we cut taxes, we are encouraging businesses of all sizes to create opportunities for families across the state and more money is put back in taxpayers’ pockets.”

Approved on the final day of the 2017 Legislative Session, the tax cut package reduces the tax on commercial leases by 0.2 percent in 2018. Florida is the only state that has a tax on commercial leases, and the reduction is expected to save Florida businesses $61 million a year.

“Cutting this business tax will help the small, local businesses in our communities that lease property,” said Sen. Anitere Flores, who carried a bill (SB 378) in the Senate to lower the business rent tax. “This legislation is a great step towards reducing and hopefully one day eliminating this burdensome tax on business.”

The Florida Retail Federation, a proponent of reducing the tax on business leases, said it was pleased the governor decided to sign the tax cut package, saying it would allow business owners to keep more of their money.

“We are grateful to Governor Scott for signing these important tax measures that will allow retailers, consumers, and other businesses to see their money stretch farther and help grow this economy,” said R. Scott Shalley, the president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation in a statement. “The .2 percent reduction in the business rent tax will allow small businesses to keep more of their own revenue, allowing them to reinvest those funds and create jobs.”

The tax cut package also includes a three-day, disaster preparedness sales tax holiday and a three-day, back-to-school sales tax holiday, which runs from Aug. 4 through Aug. 6.

The 2017 Disaster Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday runs from June 2 through June 4. During the three-day window, items like flashlights, batteries, coolers, and portable generators are tax-exempt. The sales tax holiday is estimated to save Floridians $4.5 million.

“The 2017 Disaster Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday is an opportunity for Floridians to purchase supplies in preparation for a variety of storm-related activity,” said Leon Biegalski, executive director of the Florida Department of Revenue, in a statement. “From powerful thunderstorms and tornados, to tropical storms and hurricanes, Florida experiences a range of potentially dangerous weather throughout summer and fall. We encourage Floridians to participate in this sales tax holiday as being proactive is in the best interest of their safety.”

Scott’s decision to sign the bill also means Florida will join 13 other states and the District of Columbia in exempting taxes on the sale of feminine hygiene products or have enacted laws to exempt these products in the future.

Advocates for the change have said these items are a necessity for women, and should be considered a “common household remedy.” In Florida, the push to make feminine hygiene products tax exempt was pushed by Rep. Katie Edwards and Sen. Kathleen Passidomo.

“This common sense legislation will result in a tax savings for women all over the state who purchase these necessary products,” said Passidomo in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

The hangover: Rick Scott vetoes ‘whiskey & Wheaties’ bill

Saying it could hurt job creation, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a contentious bill that would have removed the ‘wall of separation’ between hard liquor and other goods.

Scott filed his veto letter of the measure (SB 106) on Wednesday night, his deadline to act on the bill. It’s the first veto of a bill from the 2017 Legislative Session.

It would have removed the 82-year-old requirement, enacted in Florida after Prohibition, that hard liquor be sold in a separate store. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in the Sunshine State.

But independent liquor store owners and other opponents flooded the Governor’s Office with thousands of emails and petitions against the bill.

Scott was careful to explain his position in his veto letter, balancing his concerns over jobs with the desires of big businesses that sorely wanted him to approve the legislation.

“Since becoming governor in 2011, I have repealed almost 5,000 regulations to reduce unnecessary burdens on Floridians,” he wrote. “From the day I took office, I have been committed to eliminating regulations that impose duplicative and unnecessary requirements on Florida’s citizens and businesses.

“I carefully reviewed this bill and I have met with stakeholders on both sides,” the governor added. “I listened closely to what they had to say and I understand that both positions have merit.

“Nevertheless, I have heard concerns as to how this bill could affect many small businesses across Florida. I was a small business owner and many locally owned businesses have told me this bill will impact their families and their ability to create jobs.”

For example, Kiran Patel, who owns liquor stores in Melbourne and Palm Bay, told lawmakers earlier this year that if the proposal became law, “we are finished … There’s no way we can even compete with” big box stores, which will “put pallets and pallets” of booze out in the open.

Amit Dashondi, who owns liquor stores in Brevard County, said his customers had been rooting for a veto.

“They love their independent liquor stores,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday night. “We know our customers by name. That’s not going to happen in big, corporate stores. They know how to take your money, and that’s it.”

Most recently, Costco had joined Wal-Mart, Target and others in one last push to get Scott to sign the bill, known by the nickname “whiskey and Wheaties.”

“Requiring retailers to segregate spirits into a separate store is outdated, discriminatory and unnecessary in a modern marketplace,” said Jay Hibbard, vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council, which supported the bill. “Florida consumers want the same convenience of one-stop shopping that consumers in most states enjoy. We encourage the Legislature to make this a priority in the next session.” 

Whole Foods Market and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association also were for the bill. But the Publix supermarket chain was against it because of its investment in its many separate liquor stores.

The veto effort was a rare effort by rivals: Florida’s own ABC Fine Wines & Spirits opposed the measure, as did the Florida Independent Spirits Association, representing smaller, independent liquor stores. Both were led by lobbyist Scott Dick, who fought against the proposal every year since it was filed in 2014.

There was last-minute lobbying on the measure: Scott’s public schedule for Tuesday shows he had taken a call with Wal-Mart U.S. President and CEO Greg Foran, and met in Tallahassee with ABC’s CEO and Chairman Charles Bailes III. 

“Thanks to Gov. Scott, we now have the opportunity to keep our doors open and keep our Florida workforce going strong,” said Rory Eggers, president of the Florida Independent Spirits Association, in a statement.

Added Bailes: “We believe he made his decision based on what is best for the State of Florida. We applaud the governor for saving hundreds of Florida small businesses that employ thousands of Floridians, while at the same time keeping safeguards in place for minors.”

The bill passed both chambers on close margins: 21-17 in the Senate and a razor thin 58-57 in the House. Also, five House members who missed the vote voted ‘no’ after the roll call.

Among other things, the bill would have required miniature bottles to be sold behind a counter and allowed for a 5-year phase-in. It further called for employees over 18 to check customers’ ID and approve sales of spirits by cashiers under 18.

Governor signs 16 bills into law

Foster families will get free annual passes to Florida state parks under a bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday.

Sponsored by Rep. Larry Lee in the House and Sen. Aaron Bean in the Senate, the new law provides families who operate a licensed family foster home free family annual passes and a discount on base campsite fees at Florida State Parks. Families who adopt children with special needs would be eligible to receive a one-time family annual entrance pass to the Florida State Parks.

It also requires the Division of Recreation and Parks to work with the Department of Children and Families to identify the types of documentation needed to establish eligibility for discounts.

The law requires the division to continue to partner with DCF to promote foster care and the adoption of children with special needs through events held during National Foster Care Month and National Adoption Month.

The law goes into effect on July 1.

The bill was one of 16 the governor signed into law on Wednesday. The Naples Republican also signed a claims bill to compensate Victor Barahona $3.75 million in an abuse case that took the life of his sister, Nubia.

He also signed into law a bill (HB 711) that would reduce registration fees for recreational vessels equipped with an emergency position-indicating radio beacon or where the owner owns a personal locator beacon.

Lawmakers in 2016 reduced registration fees for boat owners with the emergency radio beacon or personal locator. That fee reduction, however, was applicable for vessels registered between July 1, 2016 and June 30.

The new law further lowers the fees, and removes the repeal of the vessel registration discounts.

“Just two years ago, we suffered the heartbreaking loss of two teenagers after sailing from the Jupiter Inlet,” said Scott in a statement. “This important legislation encourages the use of safety measures to ensure this kind of tragedy never happens again. I’m proud to continue our efforts to keep Florida’s families and visitors safe by signing HB 711 today.”

The new fee reduction goes into effect July 1, 2017.

The governor also signed into law:

— SB 80, which requires judges to award attorney fees if they find an agency broke the public records law and a “requestor” gave five days’ notice before filing suit.

 — HB 7041, a bill dealing with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation fees

— SB 818, a bill dealing with timeshares

— SB 852, a bill dealing with human trafficking

— SB 884, a bill that codifies a prohibition against shark finning established by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

— SB 886, a public records exemption bill

— SB 1020, a bill dealing with collective bargaining impasses

— HB 1233, a bill making it easier for cottage food operations to sell and accept payment for goods over the internet

— HB 7045, a bill dealing with the OGSR/reports of Unclaimed Property

— HB 7067, A Review Under the Open Government Sunset Review Act, and

— HB 7107, the homestead exemption implementation

Why Jack Latvala ranks ahead of Richard Corcoran on our list of Tampa Bay’s most powerful pols

SaintPetersBlog’s fifth annual ranking of Tampa Bay’s most powerful pols wraps up today with the (somewhat) surprising reveal that state Sen. Jack Latvala finished ahead of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

A dominant force in regional and state politics for decades, this is Latvala’s first time atop the list.

But how can this be? Isn’t the Speaker of the House more powerful than any individual state Senator?

Yes, of course, the Speaker is more powerful than any senator, including the Senate President. Besides the Governor, the Speaker is the most powerful person in state government.

What’s more, Corcoran is an especially powerful House Speaker. As the Tampa Bay Times’ Tim Nickens wrote last week, Corcoran dominated the 2017 Legislative Session more than any other lawmaker dominated a previous session since Dempsey Barron held the gavel.

But none of this makes Corcoran more powerful in Tampa Bay and that, I would presume, is why our panel gives Latvala the edge.

It’s important to keep in mind that this was a collective decision. The panel includes some of the smartest consultants, lobbyists and operatives in the Tampa Bay region. If anyone can judge who is more powerful between Corcoran and Latvala (which is like asking who is the better NBA player, LeBron James or Stephen Curry?), it’s our panel.

Talking with several panelists, here’s what Corcoran versus Latvala came down to — all politics is local.

While Corcoran can zero-fund Enterprise Florida, he doesn’t have the sway Latvala has in the city halls and regional planning offices of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco.

I’m sure the panelists weren’t suggesting that Corcoran doesn’t have influence with, say, the City of Clearwater or with the TBARTA board — Lord knows the Speaker could light a fire there if he wanted — it’s that the senior senator from Pinellas keeps a close eye on his backyard.

Another factor on some panelists’ minds was Latvala’s influence in local elections.

It’s certainly not what it once was, just as his recent track record across the state has not been good enough to make him Senate President, he’s much more of a force in local elections than Corcoran, who doesn’t really play in sub-legislative contests in Hillsborough or Pinellas.

We know Senator Latvala watches his ranking closely (he’ll occasionally refer to himself as “#4”), so congratulations to him for finally taking the top spot.

Big-box chains, others make one last push for ‘whiskey & Wheaties’

Costco now is joining Wal-Mart, Target and others in one last push to get Gov. Rick Scott to sign a bill to remove the ‘wall of separation’ between hard liquor and other goods.

Their Floridians For Fair Business Practices coalition on Friday released a tranche of letters sent to Scott encouraging him to OK the legislation (SB 106) known by the nickname “whiskey and Wheaties.”

They also include representatives of Whole Foods Market, the Distilled Spirits Council and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association.

It could be an uphill fight—as of Wednesday, the Governor’s Office reported 2,649 emails opposed to the bill and 315 supporting, as well as 3,245 people who signed a petition against the bill.

The office also took 177 calls against and 123 for, and 569 printed letters opposed and seven letters in favor—all from pro-bill coalition members, spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said.

The governor has till May 24 to sign the bill into law, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature. His office has said Scott will “review” the legislation.

It remain whether the “jobs” governor will be swayed by opponents—including independent liquor stores—who are calling the proposal a job-killer and asking Scott to nix it.

The bill passed both chambers on close margins: 21-17 in the Senate and a razor thin 58-57 in the House. Also, five House members who missed the vote voted ‘no’ after the roll call.

Filed every year since 2014, it removes the 82-year-old ‘wall of separation’ between hard liquor and other items enacted in Florida after Prohibition. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles.

Among other things, the bill requires miniature bottles to be sold behind a counter and allows for a 5-year phase-in. It further calls for employees over 18 to check customers’ ID and approve sales of spirits by cashiers under 18.

Florida’s own ABC Fine Wines & Spirits also opposes the measure, as does the Publix supermarket chain, because of its investment in its many separate liquor stores.

Chris Sprowls looks back on successful legislative session

Now that the 2017 Legislative Session is in the history books (for the most part), Florida lawmakers are beginning to take stock. And Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls is no different.

Sprowls offers his own post-Session review, in an email to supporters highlighting some of his major legislative actions in the House over the past year.

At the top of the list is HB 221, the landmark ride-sharing legislation co-sponsored by Sprowls and recently signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

The measure creates a statewide standard for companies like Uber and Lyft, which Sprowls says “ensures safety, convenience, and consistency.”

“I am proud of this bill because it guarantees that anyone in Florida has access to this convenient transportation option should they choose it, in addition to providing an extra source of income for many Floridians looking to make ends meet.

Inspiring Sprowls to bring the bill were conversations with Floridians “who love driving for rideshare companies,” particularly for its flexibility in work times — perfect for people such as single parents, veterans, college students and others.

HB 221 opens the market for ride-sharing jobs, as well as offering a “convenient mode of transportation for Floridians and vacationers alike.”

Most notably, this bill can be a template for ride-sharing bills across the country, Sprowls says.

Another legislative success were reforms to Florida’s death penalty statute, ensuring the state has a “working death penalty law.”

In October 2016, the Florida Supreme Court ruled the state’s death penalty law unconstitutional — throwing the process into legal ambiguity, putting capital cases in a state of limbo.

Sprowls, a former state attorney, saw this legal instability as a disservice to all involved. HB 527 fixed the state death penalty statute, bringing the law in-line with Constitutional requirements.

Sprowls also introduced legislation to honor Officer Charles Kondek, killed December 2014 in the line of duty.

“Officer Kondek had a decades-long career serving our community,” Sprowls writes, “and it is only fitting that we rename a portion of Alternate 19 so that we always remember his service, sacrifice and legacy.”

The “Officer Charles ‘Charlie K’ Kondek Jr. Memorial Highway” is at U.S. 19A/S.R 595 between Tarpon Avenue and the Pasco County line in Pinellas County.

Sprowls was also among the lawmakers sponsoring a formal apology to the Groveland Four from the 1940s, as well as to the Dozier Boys who suffered torture and abuse at the Dozier School for Boys.

“It was an honor to have the families of the Groveland Four, and the remaining survivors of the Dozier School in Tallahassee a few weeks ago to hear their stories and witness the closure they have so long awaited,” Sprowls writes.

Other victories for Sprowls in the 2017 Session were in ethics and government spending reforms, including passage of sweeping ethics changes and a lobbying ban that is the strictest in the country.

Similarly, Sprowls takes sides in the fight over incentive program funding, touting his support for a state budget which puts an end to “state-funded corporate welfare.”

“Government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers,” he writes, “and Enterprise Florida was using your tax dollars to subsidize the operations of large businesses.”

Sprowls, who is in line to be House Speaker in 2020-22, notes that Enterprise Florida has seen a $1.2 million increase in payroll without showing similar gains in job creation.

While Enterprise Florida was intended to be a public-private partnership, Sprowls says that it is indeed funded 90 percent by taxpayers.

“We as a Legislature are tasked with ensuring your hard-earned money is spent wisely and efficiently,” he writes. “Enterprise Florida’s use of your tax dollars was neither.”

Still no decision from Joe Negron on special session on pot referendum

Senate President Joe Negron has yet to decide to join House Speaker Richard Corcoran in calling for a Special Session on medical marijuana implementation, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, is still “in the process of having discussions with senators in response to the memorandum he sent last Thursday,” Katie Betta said in an email. 

Negron had sought input from fellow senators after the 2017 Legislative Session ended without a bill to guide state Health regulators on the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment.

An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

A state law provides that the “President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, by joint proclamation duly filed with the Department of State, may convene the Legislature in special session.”

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, last week called for a Special Session during WFLA-FM radio’s “The Morning Show with Preston Scott.”

“I do believe and support the notion that we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana,” Corcoran told Scott. “Does that mean a special session?” Scott asked. “It would, absolutely,” Corcoran said.

Others chiming in on social media for a Special Session include Sens. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican; Dana Young, a Tampa Republican; Travis Hutson, an Elkton Republican; and Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who also penned the only “formal response” as of Friday.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham and Orlando trial attorney John Morgan have called for a session on medical marijuana, with Morgan doing so in a nearly nine-minute video on TwitterMorgan has been behind the amendment since it was first filed for 2014, when it failed to get enough votes.

Despite lack of deal, Seminole Tribe still paying state millions

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has given the state of Florida another multi-million dollar payday.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation reported that the tribe paid $19.5 million in gambling revenue share on Monday. The department regulates gambling.

That money includes revenue share from banked card games, specifically blackjack. The tribe also offers slots.

It has Vegas-style and other gambling at seven casinos around the state, including Tampa’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, but has blackjack only in Tampa and Hollywood.

Monday’s deposit brings the total amount paid by the Seminoles this year to $97.5 million, DBPR spokesman Stephen Lawson said.

The cut of the money from blackjack, however, is being “administratively segregated” in the General Revenue Fund until the Tribe and state come to agreement on renewed rights to offer blackjack in Florida.

A blackjack provision in a prior agreement from 2010, known as the Seminole Compact, expired in 2015. In December of that year, Gov. Rick Scott had negotiated a new blackjack deal in return for $3 billion to state coffers over seven years. Lawmakers did not approve it.

The original 2010 deal actually wound up being worth more than $200 million per year in revenue share to state coffers. Blackjack and other gambling, including slots, has brought in billions for the tribe.

A year later, a federal judge ruled that the state—in allowing other card games that played too much like blackjack at pari-mutuel cardrooms—broke the original deal and let the Tribe have blackjack till 2030.

The tribe is no longer obligated to pay revenue share from blackjack games but has been doing so out of good faith in the hopes of brokering a deal. Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner declined comment when reached Tuesday.

This Legislative Session, lawmakers couldn’t pass a comprehensive gambling bill after failing to agree on whether to expand slot machines in the state. What also died, once again, was the renewed agreement with the Tribe, which had been rolled into the legislation.

Jeff Brandes asks for medical marijuana Special Session

Add state Sen. Jeff Brandes to the list of those calling for a Special Legislative Session on medical marijuana implementation.

“I hope that we can reconvene in a Special Session, which should include ample time for public input, to implement the will of the voters, so that patients and entrepreneurs alike may access the marketplace,” Brandes wrote to Senate President Joe Negron on Friday.

This week, Negron sought input from fellow senators after the 2017 Legislative Session ended without a bill to implement the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment. An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

As of mid-afternoon Friday, Senate spokeswoman LaQuisha Persak said there had been no “other formal responses.”

Lawmakers failed to come to agreement on a bill related to the medical cannabis constitutional amendment passed in 2016. Just over 71 percent of statewide voters approved the measure.

Before that, the state in 2014 legalized low-THC, or “non-euphoric,” marijuana to help children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. THC is the chemical that causes the high from pot.

The state later expanded the use of medicinal marijuana through another Brandes measure, the “Right to Try Act,” that includes patients suffering intractable pain and loss of appetite from terminal illnesses.

Brandes, who filed a marijuana measure (SB 614) this Session, is asking for a “horizontally integrated regulatory framework … to provide the flexibility needed to promote specialization and robust competition.”

The two chambers this year came to an impasse over the number of dispensaries, with the Senate moving to 15, “five times the original cap of three in an earlier version of the Senate bill,” Negron said in a memo.

But the House “responded by setting its dispensary cap at 100 and providing a deadline for issuing new licenses of more than a year from now. Obviously, the Senate was not in a position to accept this House proposal. The medical cannabis bill then died,” Negron said.

The 2017 Legislative Session ended Monday.

“The drive of implementation legislation must be patient focused, not the interests of existing license holders,” Brandes said, calling for “local governments (to) play a role in determining the number of dispensaries and their locations,” and avoiding “arbitrary limitations on the number of (medical marijuana treatment clinic) licenses,” instead following “market demand.”

“I believe we can accomplish these goals by setting high quality standards, strong insurance and bonding requirements, robust seed-to-sale tracking, and a well-regulated registry,” Brandes wrote. “This model would promote ease of use and the availability of affordable medical products to suffering patients.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran this week called for a Special Session during WFLA-FM radio’s “The Morning Show with Preston Scott.”

“I do believe and support the notion that we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana,” Corcoran told Scott. “Does that mean a special session?” Scott asked. “It would, absolutely,” Corcoran said.

Corcoran spokesman Fred Piccolo on Friday said his office had not received any communications from House members about a Special Session.

Florida Lottery made $528 million in April, for strongest quarter to date

The Florida Lottery sold more than $528 million in tickets during April, contributing to its strongest quarterly returns on record, officials announced Thursday.

That was $100 million more than the April returns five years ago, and meant more than $130 million to the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund.

“I am extremely proud of our Florida Lottery team and retailers as we continue to shatter previous records,” Florida Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie said in a press release.

“In addition to their winning experiences, our players should take pride in knowing that with the purchase of every lottery ticket, they are making a difference in the lives of Florida’s students,” he said.

The news followed a strong 2016, when the lottery surpassed $6.2 billion in sales. That set a record for annual sales.

Lottery administrators have predicted a hit to sales under new legislation requiring warnings against gambling addiction to be printed on tickets. Assuming a sales slump of 1 percent to 3 percent, they projected a revenue decline of between $16 million and $50 million.

During the past 15 years, the lottery has contributed more than $1 billion to education — 6 percent of state spending on schools.

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