Gov. DeSantis signs law defining, deregulating cryptocurrency

RON DESANTIS BILL SIGNING (12)
The measure takes effect Jan. 1, 2023.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Thursday defining the term “virtual currency” to clarify state law on cryptocurrency and ease state financial regulations.

The measure defines “virtual currency” as a “medium of exchange in electronic or digital format which is not currency.” Upon taking effect Jan. 1, 2023, it will upend a 2019 court ruling preventing people who own bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies from selling them without a license.

Miami Republican Rep. Vance Aloupis sponsored the legislation in the House (HB 273), where it passed unanimously. The 2022 Legislative Session marked the second consecutive year Aloupis carried the bill.

Republican Sen. Jason Brodeur of Sanford sponsored its companion bill (SB 486), which cleared the Legislature’s upper chamber with only Panama City Republican Sen. George Gainer casting a “no” vote.

The legislation clarifies that only intermediaries — such as platforms that enable cryptocurrency transactions, like Coinbase and Voyager — require a money transmitter license. That adjustment in state statutes makes clear that individuals seeking to sell cryptocurrency are not subject to licensure requirements.

The measure also frees intermediaries from having to hold cash and other assets equivalent to the value of the cryptocurrency, and its definition of “virtual currency” is meant to allow for clear regulation in the future by state officials.

“(The legislation) lays some guardrails down for how we will deal with cryptocurrency,” Brodeur said while advocating for the measure in January. “It’s largely uncontemplated in law since it’s so new.”

Aloupis has said he was surprised two years ago to learn Florida law made no mention of virtual currency. He called HB 273 the first step in what will hopefully be a long journey.

“I don’t think this bill is a question of whether or not you believe in virtual currency,” he said. “This is an acknowledgement that this is an industry that is very real, not only in Florida but across this country.”

The legislation will go into effect just under three years after a state appeals court bucked guidance from the Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) by ruling in Florida v. Espinoza that individuals who own cryptocurrencies need a license to sell them.

The case sprung up when the Miami Beach Police Department arrested a man for selling bitcoin for cash. He was charged with two counts of money laundering and one count of transmitting money without a license. The man argued Florida’s money transmitter law doesn’t apply to bitcoin.

Last year, it was Republican St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes who carried the measure, which Wellington Democratic Rep. Matt Willhite said will help alleviate concerns for businesses accepting cryptocurrencies for payment.

“You should have options to pay with a lot of things,” he said. “And if you’re going to, it should be a trusted version.”

Stuart Republican Rep. John Snyder called cryptocurrency a critical discovery that is decentralized and largely inflation-proof.

“Whether you have binance or ethereum, dogecoin or bitcoin, this is a great bill,” he said.

OFR Commissioner Russell Weigel has signaled support for the legislation. Aloupis said Weigel’s office received more than 70 comments on how the industry should be regulated.

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Renzo Downey and Gray Rohrer of Florida Politics contributed to this report.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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