Legislative Update – February 15, 2020

Senate Passes 2020-2021 Balanced Budget, Focusing Investments on Teachers, Environment and State Employees

The Florida Senate passed Senate Bill 2500: Appropriations, a proposed state budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

The proposed Senate budget, presented by Appropriations Committee Chair Rob Bradley, invests in Florida’s teachers, state employees, and environment, while maintaining $3.5 billion in total reserves.

The budget includes $500 million for a new teacher salary increase allocation and $325 million in increased flexible funding through the Base Student Allocation.  This provides funding for schools districts to increase the starting salary for classroom teachers while also investing in veteran teachers and other members of school district personnel who serve our children.

$643.6 million of the budget is appropriated to address Everglades restoration and protection of our water resources, and an additional $125 million will go toward Florida Forever for water and land conservation efforts.

The Senate budget also invests in hardworking state employees with $403 million to fund across-the-board salary increases for state employees, as well as health insurance and retirement benefits.

Other key investments include:

·         Full funding for affordable housing opportunities with $387 million from the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Funds;

·         $110 million in new funding for the Department of Corrections;

·         Increased funding for home and community-based services for Floridians with unique abilities; and

·         A rate enhancement for the dedicated providers who serve Floridians living in nursing homes.

The Florida Senate’s budget continues to prioritize critical areas such as hurricane recovery, tax relief for Floridians, health and human services, transportation and elections security.

The House also passed its budget this past week, and the next step in the process is for the Senate and the House to convene in Conference to iron out the differences.

“We have a lot of challenges with explosive growth, a lot of challenges that come when you have to meet the needs of 21.8 million Floridians, and I think that this budget meets that challenge.” – Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley

Senate Committee Approves Tax Relief Legislation

The Senate Committee on Finance and Tax, chaired by Senator George Gainer, unanimously approved two bills establishing sales tax holidays that will save Florida families millions in tax dollars. 

Senate Bill 542, by Senator Keith Perry, creates a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday beginning July 31, 2020.

The legislation would eliminate taxes during the designated holiday on the following items:

·         Clothing;

·         Footwear;

·         Backpacks costing $60 or less;

·         School supplies costing $15 or less; and 

·         Personal computers or personal computer-related accessories costing $1,000 or less per item. 

This measure will help to ensure students have the tools and supplies necessary to be successful in the classroom.

Senate Bill 524, by Senator Joe Gruters, establishes an 18-day sales tax holiday beginning May 29, 2020, for disaster supplies.

Some examples of tax-free items include:

·         Flashlights and lanterns costing $20 or less;

·         Radios and tarps costing $50 or less;

·         Coolers and batteries costing $30 or less;

·         Generators costing $750 or less; and

·         Impact-resistant windows and doors.

This legislation allows Florida families to purchase critical disaster preparedness supplies tax-free so they are better prepared for the upcoming 2020 hurricane season.

Guardianship Reform Bill Heads to Senate Floor 

My guardianship bill, Senate Bill 994, passed out of the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday.  The bill will now to the Senate Floor for a vote.

In the Rules Committee, I offered an amendment to the legislation to clarify the procedure for an expedited judicial intervention if the Do-Not-Resuscitate court approval is requested due to exigent circumstances.  If this occurs, Rule 5.900 of the Florida Probate Rules would then apply, and the court must hold a hearing within 72 hours.

What happened recently in Orlando is unforgivable.  The accused was charged of taking advantage of a number of vulnerable seniors under her care when they most needed protection.  Because of cases like these, Rep. Burton and I introduced the measure this session to protect the rights and lives of seniors under the care of professional guardians.  Our vulnerable seniors need to know they can find care and justice here in Florida.

Senate Approves Measure to “Keep Our Graduates Working”

As student loan debt continues to climb, House Bill 115: Keep Our Graduates Working Act prevents any state authority, including the Department of Health, from denying the issuance of or refusing to renew an individual’s professional license, certificate, registration or permit solely on the basis of defaulting on a student loan payment.

The bill does not forgive any student debt or remove the ability to suspend or revoke a health care professional license based on violations specified in law.  Senator Travis Hutson has championed this legislation that will help graduates remain in Florida’s workforce.

The Keep Our Graduates Working Act passed the full Senate and will now be sent to the Governor’s desk.

Measures Benefitting Disabled Veterans Advance 

The Senate Committee on Rules, chaired by Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto, approved Senate Bill 936: Disability Retirement Benefits, by Senator George Gainer.

This legislation improves access to benefits for disabled veterans by easing proof of disability requirements for a veteran in the Florida Retirement System who is receiving care at a federal Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facility.  Currently, a veteran is required to receive certification of proof of total and permanent disability from physicians licensed in Florida or the state in which the veteran works.

SB 936 would allow a veteran to obtain proof of disability from a VHA physician regardless of the state that physician is licensed in.

In the Senate Committee on Community Affairs, chaired by Senator Anitere Flores, senators voted to approve Senate Bill 1662: Property Tax Exemption for Disabled Veterans, by Senator Ben Albritton.  This legislation expands the property tax exemption for a permanently disabled veteran, or his or her surviving spouse, to allow for a prorated refund of ad valorem taxes paid for newly acquired property.  Although current law provides a full property tax exemption for homestead property owned by disabled veterans, tax-exempt veterans may sustain some tax liabilities when moving homestead property.

SB 1662 resolves this issue by allowing a veteran or surviving spouse to keep their exempt status upon acquiring new homestead property through a rebate process.

These measures continue Florida’s efforts to remain the most-veteran friendly state in the nation.

Bill to Require E-Verify Passes Senate Judiciary Committee

Both federal and Florida law prohibit a business from employing a person who is not authorized to work in the United States.

SB 664 would require a private or public employer, as well as a contractor or subcontractor of a public employer, to use an E-Verify system to confirm that a newly hired employee is authorized to work in the United States.  At least 19 other states require the use of E-Verify by public employers, contractors or subcontractors of public employers or private employers.

Bill to Promote Holocaust Education Passes Senate Committee on Education

Senate Bill 1628 by Senator Book would expand the required instruction associated with the history of the Holocaust.  The legislation would authorize the Department of Education (DOE) to work with the Florida Holocaust Museum and other Holocaust educational organizations to develop standards for curriculum, training and resources for the instruction on the history of the Holocaust.

The bill passed the Senate Education Committee on Monday and will be heard next in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.

Bill to Give Municipalities the Right to Ban Smoking in Parks Heads to Senate Floor

Senate Bill 630 by Senator Debbie Mayfield, which would allow counties and cities to restrict smoking in a park that they own, passed the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday.

Currently, smoking is preempted to the State under the ‘Florida Clean Indoor Air Act.’  This bill would give counties and cities the ability to ban the practice for the purpose of protecting the environment.

Committee Approves Legislation to Save Florida ABLE, Inc. Program from Repeal

The Senate Committee on Rules unanimously voted to approve Senate Bill 828: Florida ABLE Program, by Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto.

The bill saves Florida ABLE, Inc., the direct-support organization that administers the Florida ABLE Program, from repeal.

The Florida ABLE Program was created in 2015 to encourage and assist individuals and families with tax-free savings and an investment to support individuals with unique abilities in maintaining health, independence and quality of life.  The program serves over 4,000 Florida families and helps families with children with unique abilities to better prepare for the future.

Update on Vacation Rental Legislation

On Tuesday, Senate Bill 1128 by Senator Diaz passed in the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee.  The bill was amended after input from communities from across the state.

Specifically, some of the changes made in the Commerce and Tourism Committee include:

·         Requiring the advertising platform to verify  the validity and application of the vacation rental license number provided by the owner or operator before publishing the advertisement and at the end of each calendar quarter;

·         Requiring the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) to maintain license information in an accessible electronic format to facilitate prompt compliance with the advertising requirements; and

·         Requiring advertising platforms to collect and remit sale and tourist development taxes if the guest pays for the rental on or through the advertising platform. This also permits advertising platforms to exclude service fees when calculating the taxes to be collected and remitted, and authorizes the DOR to adopt rules.

The amendment provides that the application of the act “shall not” supersede any current or former governing document of a community association.

The bill, most importantly, authorizes local governments to continue to pass zoning ordinances and regulate activities that arise when a property is used as a vacation rental so long as the regulation applies uniformly to all residential properties without regard to whether the property is used as a vacation rental or as a long-term rental.

Senate Bill 1128 still has to pass the Rules Committee before it can be heard on the Senate Floor.

Vulnerable Investors Bill Moves Forward

Senate Bill 1672, by Banking and Insurance Chair, Doug Broxson, would add additional protections for investors who are vulnerable adults who may be victims of suspected financial exploitation.

A vulnerable adult is a person 18 years of age or older whose ability to perform the normal activities of daily living or to provide for his or her own care or protection is impaired. This could be due to a mental, emotional, sensory, long-term physical, or developmental disability or dysfunction.  This also includes an individual living with brain damage or the infirmities of aging.

In Florida, an estimated 20 percent (or 4,129,854) of the population is age 65 or older.  Studies show that financial exploitation is the most common form of elder abuse and yet few incidents are reported.  It is estimated that annual losses to older adults have ranged from $2.9 billion to $36.5 billion in the United States.

The bill would require securities dealers, investment advisers and associated persons to report knowledge or suspicion of abuse, neglect or exploitation of vulnerable adults to the Department of Children and Families’ central abuse hotline immediately.  The bill also allows securities dealers and investment advisers to delay disbursements or transaction of funds or securities from an account of a specified adult or a vulnerable adult if suspicious activity arises.

The bill unanimously passed the Judiciary Committee and will be heard next in the Senate Committee on Rules.

Honoring MSD Victims

On Thursday, we honored the victims whose lives were lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018.

We join the families, the survivors and the Parkland community as a whole, as they continue to mourn this devastating loss.

Welcome to the Florida Senate

The Florida Senate welcomed the following groups to the Capitol:

·         ABATE of Florida, Inc.

·         Boy Scouts of America

·         Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

·         Florida Building and Construction Trades Council

·         Florida Developmental Disabilities Council

·         Florida Professional Firefighters

·         Florida Public Transportation Association

·         Florida State University

·         Florida Undergraduate Research Association

·         Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.

·         The Arc of Florida, Inc.

·         Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.

I enjoyed meeting with Stacie Wiesenbaugh from Bonita Springs this week.  Stacie traveled to Tallahassee to take part in the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking Program.

Members of the Southwest Florida League of Cities paid a visit to my office earlier this week.

It was wonderful to meet with Fred Forbes and Daphne Saunders from the city of Bonita Springs.

I was pleased to have had the opportunity this week to sit down with visitors from the city of Fort Myers.

Randy Martin, City Manager for ‘America’s Sweetest Town,’ the city of Clewiston, also joined us in Tallahassee this week.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office any time that I can be of assistance.

Kathleen C. Passidomo

Senate Majority Leader
State Senator, District 28

Naples Office:

3299 East Tamiami Trail
Suite 203
Naples, FL 34112

LaBelle Office:

25 East Hickpochee Avenue
Room J-126
LaBelle, FL 33935

Tallahassee Office:

330 Senate Office Building
Tallahassee, FL 32339

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