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Where does sh*t stand — the ‘legislative food fights’ edition

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Editor’s note: As the 2015 legislative session kicks into high gear, is continuing to report on several “legislative food fights” during the annual lawmaking period. These food fights don’t always make the front page of the traditional media outlets, but they are the kind of industry vs. industry or intra-industry turf battles that drive Tallahassee — and expand the field of play for state lobbyists. Here’s a look at where sh*t stands heading into the third week of session.

Big tobacco vs. Florida trial attorneys — The four tobacco industry defendants in the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement are now pursuing a bill that would retroactively limit their exposure in that case.

State Sen. Garrett Richter and state Rep. David Santiago are both running bills that would apply limitations on punative damages to all civil actions in which a judgment has not been entered — including those of around 4,000 claimants in the Big Tobacco settlement. Richter’s SB 978 has emerged from the slush pile and received a relatively short path to a full Senate vote, facing just two committees in Judiciary and Rules. The House version of the bill has also received just two assignments — Civil Justice and Judiciary — but neither bill has yet been considered or calendared.

Optometrists vs. 1-800-Contacts — As we wrote back in February, ambiguity in a federal regulatory battle concerning the legality of major contact manufacturers cooperating to create “unilateral pricing policies” — i.e. establishing price floors below which their products cannot be sold — set up a state-by-state legislative battle over who can sell their contacts directly to the public and how they can do it. Brandon state Sen. Tom Lee filed SB 1400, which would restrict the upstart independent retailers and help the optometrists maintain their dominance in the market.

Since then the bill has been referred to a slate of committees, namely Health Policy; Commerce & Tourism and Appropriations, but it has not been heard. A House companion sponsored by state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle has received committee referrals as well, and also has not moved.

Ticketmaster vs. StubHub — Our 2015 preview of this legislative donnybrook explained how Ticketmaster is seeking to expand its near-monopoly on major event ticket sales by redefining tickets as “revocable licenses” rather than personal property belonging to its owner upon purchase. That would force StubHub and shoe-leather scalpers everywhere to receive permission from Ticketmaster to resell tickets purchased from them, permission the company would almost certainly be tight with in the extreme.

RPOF Chairman and Spring Hill state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia filed a bill to do just that in HB 463. That bill continues to sit in the Business & Professions Subcommittee, where it has lain dormant since January. Its Senate companion, SB 742 by state Sen. Wilton Simpson, is also currently inert, having been referred to three committees but not taken up.

Major airline carriers vs. Mid-major carriers — This explosive imbroglio over jet fuel taxes features legislation that has, so far, reached higher altitudes than that of most of the above. Delta and American Airlines were left out of a fuel tax rebate granted to several smaller carriers in order to bolster Florida’s air travel industry amid post-9/11 fears of flagging business and tourism. But the carriers that benefit from the rebate — including SouthwestJet BlueAirTran and Spirit — have now gone for years in an improving economic climate, and the big boys are now saying it amounts to an unfair advantage.

State Sen. Anitere Flores‘ SB 722 and HB 595 by state Rep. George Moraitis seek to change that by deleting that rebate provision — and while they’re at it, also lowers the rate of the jet fuel tax from 6.9 cents per gallon to 5.4 cents per gallon. Both bills sit in their second of three committee assignments, House and Senate Finance & Tax, respectively. Moraitis’ bill was approved by Tourism & Economic Development on the first day of session, with state Reps. Dane Eagle and Mike La Rosa casting “No” votes. The Senate companion was given permission to take off in Transportation, where it was unanimously approved two days later.

Uber vs. Florida Taxicab Association — By far the most visible statehouse food fight to the apolitical public, the battle to allow ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft to operate without running afoul of local ordinances prohibiting their operations, has made uneven progress so far.

Shalimar state Rep. Matt Gaetz’s HB 817 was approved in House Transportation & Ports, with three Democrats casting “No” votes — probably not an obstacle that gives Capitol watchers much pause. On the other hand SB 1326, sponsored by Uber’s most visible champion, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, has not yet been taken up in committee nor has it been calendared. When it does come up in its first stop in Regulated Industries, it’ll be interesting to see whether committee member state Sen. Jack Latvala takes an interest in the debate.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at [email protected]

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