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The Sarasota Herald-Tribune is pushing back against Greg Steube's 'Tallahassee knows best' attitude.

Influence

Vacation rentals bill approved by Senate Regulated Industries Committee

A bill to once again roll back local regulation of vacation rental homes got approval Thursday from the Florida Senate Committee on Regulated Industries, its second committee success.

The bill, a committee substitute that combined Senate Bills 1400 and 1640 introduced by Republican state Sens. Greg Steube and David Simmons, drew a long list of opponents Thursday among representatives of cities, counties and hotel interests, who do not want to see the state pre-empting local laws and regulations. But it also drew strong statements of support from proponents of vacation rental homes who want them open for business anywhere, including the big vacation rental marketing firms Airbnb and HomeAway, and also a bipartisan cross-section of senators.

At issue is whether the cities and counties that have tried to regulate vacation rental homes in the past six or seven years will be able to enforce anything, a concern that centered most on local governments’ desire to conduct safety and building-code inspections prior to state licensure.

The bill would allow local regulations on vacation rental homes that apply to all other homes, a position Steube and other proponents have argued should take care of the most significant concerns many opponents raised, about houses converted into a vacation rental that turn into party houses, in the middle of otherwise residential neighborhoods.

“We’re pre-empting back to 2011, so if you had an ordinance in place prior to 2011, this bill is not going to affect you,” Steube said. “This bill allows counties and cities to do anything they want to do to regulate noise, to regulate traffic, to regulate parking, to regulate trash, to regulate how many people you want in a home. So if you want to limit occupancy, if you want to limit how big the houses are in a certain community, you can do that. You just have to pass the law so it applies uniformly to the entire jurisdiction.”

That led Steube, the Republican from Sarasota, to recount how when he was growing up, his family couldn’t afford the expensive hotels along the beach, but could afford to rent out a portion of someone’s house for a vacation.

“There are a lot of families out there that are blue-collar families, families that live in Florida, that look forward to being able to take advantages of places like Airbnb,” Steube said.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, the Democrat from Jacksonville, said something similar before committing her vote for the bill. “I look at … the opportunity of families to be able to go to places where they may not ever have an opportunity to go, and at a cost they could actually afford,” she said.

There was opposition. Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Republican from Port Orange, expressed concern that cities and counties, trying to bring order to what some said were chaotic situations with vacation rental homes, have been pushed back and forth in recent years, as the Florida Legislature has pre-empted local control before, and then partially restored it, and now is pre-empting it again.

Gibson and two other Democrats, Sens. Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale and Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens, were particularly interested in seeing that the bill addressed potential discrimination by vacation rental home operators. Thurston offered an amendment that would require vacation rental home operators to maintain a log of potential guests who’d been turned away for whatever reasons, as hotels do. However, after opposition to that amendment, and contentions that federal and state law already strongly prohibit discrimination, he withdrew it, saying he would pursue the concerns later.

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The bill still must go through the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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