Travis Hutson takes stock of 2021 Legislative Session
Travis Hutson. Image via Colin Hackley.

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From COVID-19 liability to craft distilleries, Hutson had an active Session.

Sen. Travis Hutson looked back Wednesday on a 2021 Session full of achievements during a conversation with Florida Politics.

The St. Johns County Republican chairs the Regulated Industries Committee, and he had his fingerprints on key legislation throughout the Session.

Hutson was among the myriad co-sponsors of an early Session priority — SB 72, legislation that affords businesses protection from COVID-19 liability suits.

That was a major preoccupation early in the pandemic, and the Senator cautions that while it may not be particularly “sexy” legislation with the passage of time, it was necessary nonetheless to protect against potential class action lawsuits in these “unprecedented times.”

“We got it off the plate early,” Hutson said of the bill passed in March.

Some issues took a little longer, however, such as the move to allow amateur athletes compensation for endorsements via “name, image, and likeness” legislation.

Until an 11th hour legislative fix, there was a chance the path to compensation would not have started until 2022, a potential catastrophe for student athletes and college athletic programs.

Hutson filed an amendment to an unrelated bill dealing with the State University Free Seat Program (HB 845) that restored the July 2021 start date. The Senator also clarified some of the confusion around the issue, describing his conversation with NCAA President Mark Emmert, in which he got assurances that the NCAA had an “intention to protect” athletes by not interfering with their route to compensation.

Another major bill for Hutson in 2021 was legislation that gave new prerogatives to craft distilleries. Their annual production limit at craft distilleries was boosted from 75,000 to 250,000 gallons, a move that Hutson says will put Florida distilleries “on the same playing field as the rest of the nation.”

It would also give distilleries in entertainment venues, such as wedding and concert venues, greater flexibility to dress up their drinks to effectively act as a bar. Beginning in July 2026, the bill would require recipes to include at least one agricultural product grown in Florida. And by that date, 60% of the drink must be distilled in the Sunshine State.

The measure (SB 46) received a unanimous vote in the Senate and was a vote shy of the same accomplishment in the House.

The Senator also addressed some similarities and differences between Gov. Ron DeSantis and his immediate predecessor, current U.S. Sen. Rick Scott.

“Both great Governors,” Hutson said, noting that his family supported both of them early in their respective political careers.

The differences? 

“One’s a CEO,” Hutson said of the former Governor, noting his approach to crisis management, which included “storm-chasing” during hurricane season.

DeSantis? He’s a “lawyer,” Hutson said, an advantage during intractable negotiations between the House and the Senate.

“There are times when we get stuck,” Hutson said. “Somebody calls the Governor, asks what does he want to do” on a given issue. 

Hutson has made that call himself on occasion. And he may be in position for behind-the-scenes negotiations that could lead to another call later this month during the Special Session.

The Legislature is scheduled to reconvene May 17-21 to take up a new Seminole Compact as well as separate legislation to establish a gaming commission and remove the live racing requirement for pari-mutuels to offer other forms of gambling, such as poker or slot machines.

Hutson will take a leadership role, introducing the bills that should lead to a renewed Seminole Compact, according to a memo from Senate President Wilton Simpson.

Expect more details on those bills in the days ahead.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at [email protected]



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