Online travel issue comes back as Brodeur, Gardiner file bills letting Expedia, Orbitz, etc. off the hook

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Three Republican lawmakers have filed bills that will refuel a debate about the amount of hotel taxes that online travel companies should pay, reports the News Service of Florida. Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, and Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, filed identical bills (HB 1393 and SB 1888) Monday that would make clear companies such as Expedia and Orbitz do not have to pay a disputed portion of bed taxes. Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, filed a similar bill (SB 1748) last week, though he said he opposes the online-travel industry on the issue. The companies, which serve as middlemen between hotels and travelers, charge customers for room rentals and fees related to providing the service. The dispute centers on whether the companies should have to pay taxes on the total cost, or only on amount that goes for room rental. Brodeur and the online-travel industry contend that taxing the total amount would effectively lead to collecting a “services” tax. But opponents say the bills would be unfair to hoteliers who get taxed on the full amounts that they charge customers. “This makes for a very unlevel playing field, from a tax perspective,” said Carol Dover, president of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association. The dispute has led to lawsuits involving online travel companies and numerous counties. Altman said he filed his bill for the procedural reason of ensuring that the Senate would have a bill available if the House passes a measure dealing with the issue.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.