Charity reform bill passes Florida Senate committee with “overwhelming” support

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On Monday, a Florida Senate bill seeking increased governmental oversight of charitable organizations passed the Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism with “overwhelming bi-partisan support.”

Sponsored by State Sen. Jeff Brandes, with the cooperation of Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam, the wide-ranging reform package could significantly enhance oversight on charitable groups operating in Florida.

“Florida has countless charities that do great work for people in need, and I feel strongly that charitable work is critically important to our community,” Brandes said in a statement released Monday. “Unfortunately there are a few bad actors operating in our state who take advantage of Floridians. These deceptive individuals portray themselves as legitimate organizations when they simply enrich themselves. I look forward to continuing to work with Commissioner Putnam to ensure that Florida is not a haven for deceptive and fraudulent charitable groups.”

The push for charity reform stems from “America’s Worst Charities” a Tampa Bay Times inquiry, as well as the publication of a series of articles detailing a system of waste and fraud by various charities operating in Florida. Reporters for the Times learned that 11 of the 50 worst charities are based in Florida.

Some of what SB 638 would realize: the Department of Revenue can revoke or deny a sales tax exemption to charitable organizations or sponsors disqualified by the department, create a limited appeal of the denial or revocation of the sales tax exemption, as well as redefine the term “religious institution.” The bill would impose regulations on staff members of charitable organizations that perform telephone solicitations, and tighten up the rules for the type of operations allowed in Florida.

“I am excited to see this great piece of Legislation make its way through the Senate,” said State Rep. Jim Boyd, sponsor of the companion House bill. “I look forward to working alongside Senator Brandes and Commissioner Putnam to pass this important piece of legislation that will enhance the laws that govern charities in Florida.”

The full language of SB 638 is here.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.