COVID-19. Governor DeSantis announced on Friday that Floridians aged 50 and older will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine beginning March 22nd, due to the now modest demand for vaccines. The Governor estimates that the state will be on track to open vaccines to all Floridians before May 1st. At this juncture, more than 3 million senior citizens in the state have been vaccinated, with nearly 70% of seniors having received at least one shot.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava have announced their intentions to soon begin vaccinating Floridians aged 40 and older in their localities. These announcements were met with some pushback from the Governor’s Office, encouraging the local officials to do more to vaccinate seniors and questioning their ability to make decisions with respect to eligibility.
In Tallahassee this week, the Florida Senate passed SB 72 by Senator Brandes, otherwise known as the “COVID liability bill,” which seeks to enumerate certain protections for businesses, nursing homes, and other health-care providers against COVID-19-related lawsuits. Legislative leaders said that they expect the bill to be on Governor DeSantis’ desk by the end of next week. The House version of the legislation, HB 7 by Representative McClure, passed the House earlier this month, but addressed healthcare providers in a different piece of legislation. Senate President Simpson and House Speaker Sprowls announced an agreement regarding the Senate’s combined language found in SB 72 on Thursday.
Home Based Business. As an update from Week 1, HB 403 Home Based Business by Rep. Giallombardo was heard in its final committee on Tuesday, March 9th, passing favorably with a committee substitute with a vote of 14 Yeas, 8 Nays. The committee substitute provides that the bill does not affect or supersede any current or future condominium association declarations, cooperative association documents, or homeowner’s association covenants. As previously stated, this legislation would prohibit local governments from certain actions relating to the licensing and regulation of these home-based businesses, preempting those actions to the state. Said bill has now been placed on the calendar for second reading. Its companion bill, SB 266 by Senator Perry, will be heard in its second committee, Commerce and Tourism, on Monday, March 22nd.
Code Enforcement. As an update from last week, SB 60 County and Municipal Code Enforcement by Senator Bradley is now on the Senate floor having been read a second time and placed on the calendar to be read a third time on Thursday, March 25th. This legislation would prohibit code inspectors and code enforcement officers from initiating a code enforcement investigation based upon an anonymous complaint. It also requires an individual making a complaint of a potential violation to provide his or her name and address to the local government body before an investigation occurs. If passed, the bill takes effect July 1, 2021. The companion bill, HB 883 by Rep. Overdorf, is now awaiting a hearing in its second committee, Public Integrity & Elections Committee.
Elections. On Monday, the House Committee on Public Integrity & Elections will consider a committee bill (PCB PIE-2015), which seeks to revamp certain election laws in the state. A similar piece of legislation in the Senate, SB 90 by Senator Baxley, has already cleared two committees and is set to be heard in the Rules Committee on a date to be determined. The House proposal would provide for greater oversight and surveillance of vote-by-mail ballot drop boxes, as well as shorten the window of time that a vote-by-mail ballot request can remain active. While the Senate legislation bans drop boxes altogether, it also requires more information be provided when requesting a vote-by-mail ballot on behalf of another individual; and puts more security measures in place for ensuring vote-by-mail ballot envelopes do not display the partisan information of the receiving voter.
Infrastructure. On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee advanced SB 100 by Senator Harrell, which seeks to undo much of what former Senate President Bill Galvano championed during his tenure with respect to the expansion of toll roads in rural Florida. The legislation would eliminate a planned road between Collier and Polk counties, while requiring plans to extend the turnpike west from Wildwood to the Suncoast Parkway and to lay out a route that would weave the Suncoast Parkway north along U.S. 19 to connect with Interstate 10 in Madison County. The bill would also shift $132 million earmarked for the Multi-Use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) projects to the State Transportation Trust Fund and Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise. SB 100 is currently without a House companion.
Farming. SB 88 by Senator Brodeur, otherwise known as the “Right to Farm Act” passed the full Senate on Thursday by a vote of 37-1. The legislation, if approved, would expand existing law that seeks to protect farmers from nuisance lawsuits. In essence, the bill would prohibit nuisance lawsuits from being filed by individuals unless they are within one-half mile of alleged violations. Furthermore, the legislation would bring issues relating to agritourism and particle emissions under protection of current law and require those who file lawsuits to show “clear and convincing” evidence that farms did not comply with state and federal environmental laws. The House companion, HB 1601 by Representative J. Williamson, passed its first of three committee stops on Wednesday in the Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee by a vote of 14-4.
Healthcare. The House Healthcare Appropriations Subcommittee advanced HB 1455 by Representative Roach, which seeks to impose restrictions with respect to THC potency for smokable medical marijuana and other cannabis products. Specifically, the measure would impose a 10% THC limit on whole flower marijuana (used for smoking), and a 60% cap on most other medical marijuana products. While past efforts to cap THC potency have been unsuccessful upon arrival to the Senate from the House, Senate President Wilton Simpson said his chamber is interested in pursuing the pot potency limits.
Education. HB 233 Postsecondary Education by Rep. Roach was read a second and third time on Thursday, March 18th, passing favorably on the House floor with a vote of 77 Yeas and 42 Nays. This piece of legislation requires colleges and universities to issue a survey to students about their perceptions of the level of intellectual freedom on campus and bar universities from “shielding” students from viewpoints they don’t like. The bill also authorizes the recording, for specified purposes, of video and audio in classrooms at Florida’s public institutions of higher education, while clarifying that the nonconsensual recording of video and audio in classrooms is permissible. This bill provides an effective date of July 1, 2021. The Senate companion, SB 264 Higher Education, passed its last committee of reference with a committee substitute and a vote of 12 Yeas and 8 Nays. It is now headed to the Senate floor.
Insurance. SB 76 Property Insurance by Senator Boyd was set to be heard on Thursday, March 18th, in its final committee, Rules. Said bill was temporarily postponed and will be rescheduled to be heard on a different date. This bill will overhaul Florida’s property insurance laws by forcing claimants, attorneys, and insurers to seek resolutions without going to court by removing “incentives” for legal action in resolving disputes over claims, especially for roof repairs.
Additionally, the bill establishes a third-degree felony for knowingly aiding or abetting an unlicensed person who transacts or engages in insurance activities without a license. There are a variety of companion bills that have been filed in both the House and Senate. HB 717 Consumer Protection by Rep. Clemons is awaiting a hearing in its final committee of reference. HB 305 Property Insurance Claims and Reimbursement by Rep. Rommel is scheduled to be heard in its first committee on Tuesday, March 23rd. A proposed committee substitute (PCS) was filed to replace HB 305 and “the objectionable language on roofing was removed.” SB 212 Contingency Risk Multipliers by Senator Brandes is awaiting a hearing in its first committee of reference.
Impact Fees. HB 337 Impact Fees by Representative DiCeglie passed its first committee stop on Tuesday in the House Local Administration & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee by a vote of 13-5. If passed, this legislation would add restrictions as to how local governments can use impact fees collected from new developments. The bill would restrict impact fees to be used for emergency medical, fire and law enforcement public facilities; and infrastructure, defined in the legislation as “costs required to bring the public facility into service.” Furthermore, the bill would prohibit impact fees from exceeding a 50% increase above the current rate, and bar fees from being increased more than once every four years.
Local Licensing. HB 735 Preemption of Local Occupational Licensing by Representative Harding passed its last committee stop in the House in the Commerce Committee on Tuesday by a favorable vote of 19-5. If passed, the legislation would preempt licensing of occupations to the state and prohibit local governments from imposing or modifying licensing requirements; or requiring certain specialty contractors to obtain a license. Its companion in the Senate, SB 268 by Senator Perry, passed its first of three committee stops on Tuesday in the Regulated Industries Committee by a vote of 7-1.
Utility Services. SB 1128 Preemption Over Restriction of Utility Services by Senator Hutson passed its second of three committee stops on Tuesday in the Senate Community Affairs Committee by a vote of 9-0. If passed, this legislation would prohibit counties, municipalities, or other political subdivisions from restricting or prohibiting the types or fuel sources of energy production used, delivered, converted, or supplied by certain entities to customers. Its companion in the House, HB 919 by Representative Tomkow, is set to be heard in the Local Administration & Veterans Affairs Committee this Tuesday.
Building Design. SB 284 Building Design by Senator Perry passed its first of three committee stops on Wednesday, March 17th, in the Senate Community Affairs Committee by a vote of 6 Yeas, 3 Nays. This bill would prohibit local government from regulating specific building design elements for residential dwellings. It would also prohibit local government from adopting zoning and development regulations that require specific building design elements for residential elements. A committee substitute was filed adding exceptions to the bill’s preemption to include dwellings in community redevelopment areas, and dwellings located in a planned unit development or master planned community created by ordinance before the bill’s effective date of July 1, 2021. The bill is scheduled to be heard in its second committee of reference on Tuesday, March 23rd. The House companion, HB 55 by Rep. Overdorf has moved swiftly through all its committee meetings and has been placed on the calendar on 2nd reading to be heard on the House floor.
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.