Florida Legislature Archives - Page 6 of 44 - Florida Politics

Greg Steube: Local rental rules hurt the economy

Short-term rentals have become a vital component of Florida’s tourism industry, granting property owners and visitors more flexibility when planning the duration and location of their stay. These types of rentals also help lift financial burdens off family renters by allowing them to stay together in a home instead of multiple hotel rooms, which can get unnecessarily expensive.

Property rights are advanced by this industry as well, giving owners the freedom to rent out their property as they so choose.

In 2011, the Florida Legislature recognized these benefits by passing a law that banned local governments from prohibiting short-term rentals.

It only took three years before the Legislature changed its mind and gave more power to cities seeking to prohibit or severely cripple the short-term rental industry.

Since that time, we have seen local governments run wild, enacting onerous rules that, in my view, dampen our economy and trample on Floridians’ property rights.

Take Miami Beach, for example, where some homeowners have been fined $20,000 for violations of short-term rental ordinances. These exorbitant penalties have functioned as a de facto ban for many homeowners who would have liked to rent out their property to potential vacationers.

Instead of recognizing vacation rentals as an economic benefit, cities have exploited it with excessive fines, penalties and registration fees, all while violating your right to own and enjoy your property!

I have introduced Senate Bill 188, a bill that will stop this kind of overreach and return the law back to its 2011 version.

The debilitating effects of current law are not limited to just travelers and short-term rental owners. Policies that discourage tourism have widespread effects on our economy too. Travel and tourism are essential to Florida’s economic health, producing $67 billion in economic activity every year.

Diminishing tourism activity ultimately harms local businesses and job creation, depriving Florida of valuable tax dollars. Less tourism means less tax revenue to be used for projects in cities and communities across the state, including right here in the Tampa/St. Pete area.

Opponents of my bill claim that short-term rentals invite the potential for “party houses,” when justifying the restrictions enacted by the cities. But cities have their own local laws that address such nuisance complaints, and all homeowners – full-time or part-time – are subject to these rules. If you as a homeowner feel that neighboring renters are disruptive, urge your city to either enforce existing ordinances or pass stronger ordinances that deal with such behavior.

I don’t think the government should be in the business of picking one person’s property rights over another’s.

Further, it is important to clarify that this bill does not affect local homeowner’s associations and neighborhoods that have adopted their own covenants, declarations or bylaws. The bill simply serves to help safeguard a vibrant part of our economy while protecting property owners and renters from overreaching city governments.

Florida has a chance to go back to a law for short-term rentals that worked. By passing Senate Bill 188, we can once again establish a commonsense approach to preserving a growing segment of Florida’s most important industry. Strong statewide standards that protect all Floridians’ property rights are crucial to ensuring the well-being of Florida’s tourism economy.


Greg Steube represents Florida Senate District 23, which includes Sarasota County and western Charlotte County.


Carl Domino: Bridging the justice gap pays off for Floridians in multiple ways

Carl Domino

When I was a member of the Florida Legislature, I always supported efforts to expand access to justice. It’s a right that’s enshrined in the Pledge of Allegiance, the U.S. Constitution and the Florida Constitution: “The courts shall be open to every person for redress of any injury, and justice shall be administered without sale, denial or delay.”

But let’s be honest. Our legal system can be complex and difficult to navigate without an attorney, and many people cannot afford one. Faced with problems like foreclosure proceedings, evictions, divorces, probate or consumer disputes, they try to manage on their own. That’s costly, not just for them, but for all of us.

Investing in civil legal aid makes sense not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because that investment pays off for all of us, with a return of more than $7 for every $1 spent, according to a newly released study commissioned by The Florida Bar Foundation. From the $83 million spent on civil legal assistance in Florida in 2015, businesses experienced $274.8 million in increased revenue, and this, in turn, helped generate 2,243 new jobs, according to the study’s calculations.

The overall $600 million return on investment also comes from savings to the court system as it runs more efficiently and avoids cases that shouldn’t be there. It comes from fewer domestic violence calls to police; from less demand for welfare and housing assistance; from more stable communities and home values; and from payments of past-due child support. And it comes from legal help in capturing the veterans’ benefits due to those Floridians who served their country, as well as reimbursements from federal Medicare and Medicaid programs, and more.

I’m a lifelong Republican who, after a long and rewarding career in finance and politics, decided to seize the challenge of studying law in my late 60s. Since passing the Florida Bar exam, I’ve taken quite a few pro-bono cases, because the need is so great.

These are real people with real problems. They may not be getting alimony payments; their condo association may not be responding to them. Sometimes all I need to do is write a letter, and a situation can be resolved, keeping it out of the courts. Having a lawyer on your side in meritorious cases can really make a difference.

Community-based legal aid agencies have long served as that safety net for low-income Floridians in need of legal support. But due to in large part to the interest-rate sensitivity of one of Florida’s primary legal aid funding mechanisms, funding for civil legal aid in Florida has fallen to its lowest level in 10 years.

According to the new study, “Economic Impacts of Civil Legal Aid Organizations in Florida,” every additional $100,000 of funding enables legal aid organizations to generate an additional $719,000 in economic benefits.

That’s why bridging the justice gap will benefit us all.

So what’s the answer? More volunteering by lawyers would help. Broader philanthropic support of civil legal aid as part of the spectrum of human services would also help. Contributions from businesses, including in-kind support for civil legal aid organizations, would help. The Florida Bar Foundation’s study, conducted by The Resource for Great Programs, offers solid evidence that foundations, donors and businesses can make a real positive impact by supporting civil legal services.

Access to the justice system is a basic right, so let’s make sure that that access continues, for the good of all.


Carl Domino served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2002 to 2010. He serves on the board of The Florida Bar Foundation. An investment manager who founded Northern Trust Value Investors, in 2014 he earned a law degree from Nova Southeastern University at the age of 70.

Rick Scott to roll out his spending plan

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is announcing his annual budget recommendations next week.

Scott plans to release details of his spending plan on Tuesday during the annual legislative planning session hosted by The Associated Press.

The Florida Legislature will consider Scott’s budget request during the session that starts in March.

The Republican governor has already outlined some recommendations. Scott this week called on legislators to slash taxes by $618 million this year.

Legislators usually use the governor’s budget recommendations as the starting point.

But this year legislators appear to be on a collision course because of recent projections showing that Florida could have a budget shortfall in two to three years. House Speaker Richard Corcoran says because of that he wants to cut the budget by at least $1 billion.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Keith Perry files bill to create 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday

Sen. Keith Perry has filed a bill calling for a 10-day back-to-school tax holiday in August.

Under the proposed legislation (SB 490), certain school supplies would be tax exempt from Aug. 4 through 14.

“As I talk to folks across north central Florida, I hear the same thing over and over – people are working hard to do right by their children,” he said in a statement Thursday. “Any steps we can take legislatively to lessen the burden on Florida’s families is a step in the right direction.”

The proposal would include clothing, backpack and sneakers that cost $100 or less; pens, pencils, notebooks, markers, calculators, and lunchboxes that cost $15 or less; and laptops or desktop computers that cost $1,000 or less.

Perry’s decision to file the legislation coincided with Gov. Rick Scott’s announcement that he is proposed $618 million in tax cuts. The governor made his announcement in Jacksonville on Wednesday morning, kicking off a multi-city swing to promote his proposal.

Scott’s proposal includes a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday, which he estimates would save Floridians $72 million.

In 2016, the annual back-to-school sales tax holiday ran from Aug. 5 through Aug. 7. It was scaled back from the previous year, when lawmakers approved a 10-day holiday.

“For Florida’s hardworking families, every dollar counts at back-to-school time,” said Perry. “I am proud to sponsor this common sense plan to put money back in the pockets of parents across the state.”


Bill to ban hydraulic fracking attracts bipartisan support

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers have endorsed proposed legislation to ban extraction of oil and gas via hydraulic fracturing in Florida.

“This bill is concise and straightforward. It bans fracking of all types in Florida,” Senate sponsor Dana Young said Tuesday during a news conference outside the Senate chamber.

“As a sixth generation Floridian and avid outdoorsman, I believe we must act quickly and decisively to to protect our fragile environment from incompatible practices.”

Present at the news conference  to discuss Young’s SB 442 were Democratic Sens. Gary Farmer and Linda Stewart, and Republican Sens. Jack Latvia and Keith Perry; House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, and Democratic House member Mike Miller, who is expected to introduce a House companion bill this week.

“Just this collection of folks, you can see that this is an issue that transcends politics,” Farmer said. We can all come together to protect something as critically important as our water supply.”

Legislation to study fracking in Florida died last year in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Lavala, who chairs that committee this year, helped to kill it. He said he didn’t buy assurance from the Department of Environmental Protection that fracking would be safe in Florida.

“We looked a the worst-case scenario, and if there was any possibility in anyone’s mind that a bill might have the effect that people thought it would, then we took the bill down,” Latvala said. “Now we’re all together to try to so something positive to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.”

Young promised while campaigning last fall that she would introduce a fracking ban, after she was accused of supporting the controversial practice of extracting natural gas and oil during the 2016 legislative session.

The ban would be statewide, Young said.

“The aquifer in our state does not know county lines. It does not know city boundaries,” she said.

Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters, issued a written statement praising Young and the bill.

“Fracking poses too big a risk for the millions of Florida families and visitors who rely on our groundwater for safe, clean, driving water,” Moncrief said. “We look forward to working with Sen. Young throughout the 2017 legislative session as we work to ban fracking in Florida once and for all.

Floridians Against Fracking, a coalition of anti-fracking organizations, noted that nearly 90 cities and counties have passed anti-fracking resolutions and nearly 20 counties have passed local fracking bans.

“We’re excited by the bi-partisan support for banning fracking in Florida. The citizens have long seen that fracking is a risk Florida cannot afford for its environment, its tourism-based economy, and its communities,” Kim Ross, president of Rethink Energy Florida, said in a written statement.

“We look forward to working with these senators to get a strong ban bill on Governor Scott’s desk,” Ross said.

Jennifer Rubiello, Environment Florida state director, also issued a written statement.

“We applaud Sen. Young for listening to her constituents and Floridians across the state who want a ban on fracking,” Rubiello said. “A ban on fracking will ensure our communities, our health, and our environment are better protected. Floridians should celebrate this bill, pick up their phones, and tell their state senators to support it.”

“Sen. Dana Young’s decision to introduce a fracking ban bill is an example of true leadership,” said Michelle Allen, Florida organizer for Food & Water Watch. “Florida residents have been fighting relentlessly for a fracking ban and with Young on board, the momentum will only continue to build.”


Kathleen Peters asks state for millions to help solve sewage problems in St. Pete, St. Pete Beach

State Rep. Kathleen Peters filed two bills Wednesday aimed at helping pay for sewer improvements in St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach.

Peters, a Republican from Treasure Island, asked for $5.5 million in state funding.

Of that, $3 million in state funding would be earmarked for St. Petersburg to smoke test sewer pipes for leaks, install and seal manholes, among other work. The remaining $2.5 million would go to St. Pete Beach for the engineering, construction and permitting of the city’s sanitary sewer system.

Sewer systems in South Pinellas were the focus of much news last year after St. Petersburg and other cities either dumped or had overflows of raw and partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay, Clam Bayou and other waterways. The problems were blamed in part on aging infrastructure that allowed rain- and groundwater to seep into the systems and overburden them.

Heavy rains during two tropical storms overloaded the systems. And, in St. Pete Beach’s case, the system was already at capacity in good weather.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and the City Council pledged to spend millions to fix and upgrade the system. Work began this month in the Bahama Shores and Coquina Key neighborhoods.

The $3.2 million project is part of Kriseman‘s infrastructure plan, The work consists of lining the pipes, which is supposed to extend the life of sanitary sewer mains and prevent groundwater infiltration from entering the city’s sewage collection system. Depending on the weather, the project is expected to be completed by September.

Campaign against guns on campus adds lobbyist

The Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus has added Jacob Elpern, the former chief of its Florida State University chapter, to its lobbying team in Tallahassee.

Elpern, who graduated this year, joins the organization’s staff full time, state affairs director Kathryn Grant said.

His registration took effect on Dec. 14. Grant also lobbies for the group, which belongs to the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.

Targets this year, Grant said, include SB 140, which would allow people to openly carry guns on college campuses, local government meetings, the Legislature, airport passenger terminals outside security screening areas, and elsewhere.

HB 6005, meanwhile, would allow concealed weapons on campus but not in the other places envisioned in the Senate bill.

EMTeLink hires David Bishop as legislative lobbyist

EMTeLINK, a leading medical information company, has enlisted the help of Solaris Consulting.

David Bishop, the president of Solaris Consulting, registered as a lobbyist to represent EMTeLink on Dec. 13

A technology company, EMTeLINK provides first responders with information patients medical conditions in the event of an emergency. The technology allows first responders and medical technicians to access a patient’s medical information with the patient’s driver’s license.

The company allows families and individuals to store emergency contacts and medical histories, including medications and allergies.

State records show Richard Watson with Richard Watson & Associates was also registered as a lobbyist to represent the firm before the Legislature in 2016. Watson’s registration went into effect Jan. 6, 2016.

Bill would qualify Ruth Eckerd Hall for tourism tax dollars

Legislation filed in the Florida Senate would allow Ruth Eckert Hall and similar auditoriums to benefit from taxes raised to promote tourism.

SB 68 by Sen. Denise Grimsley would clarify that tourist development tax dollars may flow to facilities, like Clearwater’s Eckerd Hall, that are publicly owned but managed by nonprofit organizations.

Existing law allows tourism tax money to be spent only on convention centers, sports stadiums or arenas, or coliseums that are publicly owned and operated.

“This measure offers clarity for communities on the appropriate uses of their local tourist dollars,” Grimsley, a Lake Placid Republican, said via email.

Pinellas County collected around $49 million through the tax last year, but Eckerd Hall has not qualified for any proceeds.

In 2013, declining corporate, state and federal support forced Eckerd Hall to lay off 13 employees, nearly one-third of its workforce. During the past two years, however, the Hall reportedly has posted record ticket sales.

The venue ranks No. 3 in the world for venues with fewer than 2,500 seats, chosen by leading industry trade magazines.

Panel: Amendment 2 firing up big bowl of who-knows-what

Medical marijuana champion John Morgan has said repeatedly recently that the “now-what?” questions regarding Amendment 2 are in the hands of lobbyists, lawyers, and legislators; but on Thursday a lobbyist, a lawyer and a legislator told told the Seminole County Chamber of Commerce they don’t really  know what’s next at this point.

Lobbyist Louis Rotundo who represents the Florida Medical Cannabis Association, lawyer Wade Vose who counsels several cities, and state Rep. Jason Bordeur, all agreed that the Florida Legislature, the Florida Department of Health, cities and counties, and businesses and entrepreneurs wanting to go into the medical marijuana industry, all have a lot of unanswered questions to sort through. And just saying no isn’t going to work in most cases.

In particular Brodeur, the Sanford Republican who has professional background in working with the Food and Drug Administration on drug approvals, outlined a long list of uncertainties from regulating where seeds can come from, to limitations on who can work in the industry, to disposal of unused parts of the plants, to how law enforcement deals with situations involving people with medical marijuana referrals.

All of that, he cautioned, is with a background of federal law that still make medical marijuana a Schedule 1 drug. That means if the federal government decided to enforce the laws, people could go to federal prisons for things authorized by the state legislature and Amendment 2.

“There are 100 decision points that we still need to do,” he said. “The answer is, I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

The same may be true with how local governments might consider regulating local facilities, particularly retail outlets, known as dispensaries in state regulations and as pot shops in opponents’ language. Rotundo cautioned that cities ought not try to zone them into industrial areas only. He drew an image of a woman taking a child to a dispensary in an industrial area – a dark and creepy location. And she’s carrying cash, because marijuana medicines can only be purchased with cash. If she’s robbed or worse, the city is going to look really bad, he cautioned. Another alternative to tough zoning restrictions – which is happening right now – involves marijuana medicine being delivered to homes in unmarked delivery vans and cars, a method he suggested most neighborhoods would found unacceptable if they knew it was happening.

Vose conceded the points, but said cities and counties still must receive, from the legislature, direction and authority to regulate where the shops can go.

“It was a big wake-up call for cities and counties that they need to get in gear to get ready for these organizations, particularly for the retail,” Vose said of Amendment 2’s passage. “That’s where the big focus is for local government. Getting in gear and getting in place appropriate regulations… so they can adequately regulate where these products are going to be sold.”

Rotundo said the growth of the industry remains unpredictable. So far, it’s small, and he expressed doubts about the high estimates some have cited, that it could grow to a billion dollar industry in Florida. As long as it’s small, with seven licensed marijuana medicine producers and a handful of others that may win court challenges to join them,  there won’t be much to regulate.

“You can’t suspend the laws of economics,” he said. “The patient base is very limited right now.”


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