Tuesday, March 2, 2021 marked the opening day for the 2021 Legislative Session for the House and the Senate. Senate President Wilton Simpson, House Speaker Chris Sprowls, and Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed both chambers with a level of hope and optimism as the state is doing its best to function in what is now a year-long pandemic.
President Simpson and Speaker Sprowls provided their thoughts on the COVID-19 pandemic and commended the leadership of Gov. DeSantis and his efforts to maintain the safety of Floridians while focusing on the economy and keeping businesses open.
President Simpson urged his colleagues to be mindful and cognizant of the state’s affairs in preparing the state budget. He also discussed additional priorities for this session – cleaning the environment, child welfare reform, and COVID-19 liability issues – and expressed his support for increasing the weekly unemployment benefit from its current amount of $275.
Speaker Sprowls urged his colleagues to remain focused on their individual agendas and not the pressures of the media or interest groups.
Gov. DeSantis laid out his legislative priorities for this session and recounted the state’s successes – lowering unemployment, reopening schools, allowing businesses to reopen – in its approach to responding to the year-long pandemic. His speech closed with a focus on the economy and a challenge to both Chambers to remain optimistic, embracing the view that Florida’s economy is moving in a positive direction.
HB 7 by Representative McClure was heard on the House floor and passed favorably with a vote of 83 Yeas, 31 Nays. This high-priority bill will provide protections for businesses, educational institutions, governmental entities, and religious institutions facing COVID-19 related liability claims for damages, injury, or death. The Senate version of the bill, SB 72, by Senator Brandes. passed favorably in the Commerce and Tourism committee with a 7-4 vote. The next stop is the Rules committee.
HB 9 by Rep. Adrian Zika, was also heard on the House floor and passed favorably with a unanimous vote of 113-0. This bill will protect consumers against fraud as it relates to the dissemination of false or misleading vaccine information, or false or misleading information regarding the sale of personal protective gear. The bill also provides for criminal penalties and authorizes civil remedies for such actions. A similar bill filed in the Senate, SB 1608 by Senator Bean, was referred to three committees but has not been heard. Both HB 7 and HB 9 are effective when they become law.
HB 1 by Representative Fernandez-Barquin and backed by Governor Ron DeSantis was heard in House Justice Appropriations, passing favorably with a vote of 10-5. The bill will give law enforcement and prosecutors additional tools to prevent violence and property destruction by holding rioters who engage in criminal activity accountable for their actions and boosting the subsequent penalties.
Having first been heard in the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee, the bill mostly attracted opponents during public comment from a wide-ranging group of faith-based organizations, labor unions, free speech groups, and the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy. The Florida Smart Justice Alliance, the College Republicans at FSU, and a handful of members of the public testified in support of the legislation.
The Criminal Justice Impact Conference considered the bill on February 15, 2021, and determined the bill may have a positive indeterminate impact on prison and jail beds by creating new and enhancing current penalties for specified felony and misdemeanor offenses. The bill may have a negative indeterminate fiscal impact on municipal governments by waiving sovereign immunity for specified civil claims arising from a riot or unlawful assembly.
The bill is awaiting a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. Its companion, SB 484 by Senator Burgess, received three committee referrals and has not yet been heard.
A number of bills that seek to shift more regulatory and oversight power from local to state government; or remove certain authority from government altogether, have been filed this session.
HB 55 by Rep. Overdorf would bar the ability of a governmental entity to impose and apply “building design elements” to single-family or two-family dwellings unless the dwelling is in a historic district or designated historic by a National Register; or unless the regulations were adopted to implement the National Flood Insurance Program. Building design elements outlined by the legislation are defined as: the external color of the dwelling; type or style of cladding material used; style or material of roof structure or porches; exterior nonstructural architectural ornamentation; location, styling, or orientation of the garage, windows, or doors; number or type of rooms; and the layout interior of rooms. The bill passed favorably in its first committee of reference with a vote of 12-6. It has now been scheduled to be heard in the Commerce Committee on Tuesday, March 9th.
SB 426 by Sen. Boyd seeks to preempt the regulation of commerce in state seaports to the state. He has sought input from the Florida Ports Council as to how the bill can be made more palatable, offering a potential amendment that would pare down the scope to bar regulation based on vessel size (with certain exceptions); vessel type or capacity; source or type of cargo; number of passengers disembarked; and environmental or health records of a particular vessel. The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Transportation committee on Wednesday, March 10th.
SB 266 by Senator Perry sets a standard for the definition of a “home-based business,” and would authorize home-based businesses to operate in residential zones under certain circumstances. The legislation would also prohibit local government from certain actions relating to the licensing and regulation of these home-based businesses, preempting those actions to the state. However, parking related to the activities of these home-based businesses must comply with local zoning requirements, not generating an increase in traffic, noise, or waste and recycling. Further, the activities of the home-based business must be secondary to the property’s residential use; and only up to two individuals not within the immediate family of the residents of the dwelling would be permitted. The bill is scheduled to be heard on Wednesday, March 10th. Similar legislation in the House, HB 403 by Rep. Giallombardo, passed favorably in its first committee with a vote of 10-6. It is now scheduled to be heard in its final committee, Commerce, on Tuesday, March 9th.
SB 50 by Senator Gruters would allow for the state to collect sales tax from out-of-state retailers for e-commerce. While presenting the legislation before the Senate Committee on Finance and Tax, Senator Gruters told members that his bill could generate $1.3 billion in uncollected sales tax at the state and local level. The legislation has sailed through both of its Senate committee references with unanimous support, while its companion in the House, HB 15 by Representatives Clemons and LaMarca, awaits a hearing in the first of its two committee references.
HJR 11 by Representative Sabatini would place an amendment to the State Constitution on the ballot that would allow voters the option to decide to impose 8-year term limits on school board members. If enacted, the bill would apply to terms of office beginning on November 8th, 2022; and would prohibit incumbent members who have served the preceding 8-years from appearing on a ballot for re-election to office. The joint resolution awaits a hearing in the first of its three committee references in the House; and its companion in the Senate, SJR 1642 by Senator Gruters, awaits the assignment of its committee referrals.
HB 35 by Representative Fine would allow for governments to have the option to publish legal notices online and to authorize fiscally constrained counties to use publicly accessible websites to publish public notices and legally required advertisements. In essence, the bill would allow for governmental entities to decline print advertisements for public and legal notices; and would apply to general legal advertisements like the registration of fictitious names or sale of storage units. The legislation passed favorably in its first committee of reference with a vote of 11-6, it now awaits a hearing in the Judiciary Committee. The companion in the Senate, SB 402 by Senator Ray Rodrigues, has received three committee referrals but was temporarily postponed by each committee.
Becker’s State Legislative Lobbying Team will continue to monitor these developments as they evolve and will share with you as soon as information becomes available.