• Legislative Update - Live Local, Civil Tort, and more

    Legislative Update - Live Local, Civil Tort, and more

    The Florida Legislature has been in Session for less than one month and they are moving through their agenda at record speed. In this update, we explore the major affordable housing initiative signed into law by the Governor last week; a significant civil Tort Reform overhaul; Visit Florida/local Tourism Development attacks, and finally, the state of Florida’s 2023-2024 budget, which interestingly is the only Constitutionally mandated action by the Legislature each year.

    St. Johns County is not unique in Florida in that we have an affordable housing “crisis”. In fact, the lack of attainable middle-class housing has become a major impediment to growth for our County’s law enforcement, schools, health care, fire rescue, and aerospace manufacturing employers.  While St. Johns County is moving forward with a proposed workforce housing ordinance at the local level, action taken by the State Legislature last month significantly changes the playing field for the increased production of affordable homes statewide.
    SB 102, the “Live Local Act” is the first significant overhaul of Florida’s affordable housing laws in decades. Championed by Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner, the “Live Local Act” adds over $700 million in state funds toward affordable housing through the expansion of the Hometown Heroes down payment assistance program; additional funds for the State Housing Improvement Program (SHIP) and the State Apartment Incentive Loan Program (SAIL); amendments to multiple provisions of Florida Statutes related to the development of affordable housing and economic incentives; tax incentives available to developers who create affordable multi-family housing; and certain restrictions upon local government’s ability to control density, height limits, and rent control for developments that include a minimum of 40% affordable units that will remain affordable for 30 years.

    For more details on the program specifics go to: https://flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2023/102/Analyses/2023s00102.pre.ca.PDF

    This major overhaul of civil tort reform laws championed by Speaker Paul Renner and Senator Travis Hutson and signed into law by Governor DeSantis on March 24, 2023, significantly changes the way in which civil lawsuits will affect businesses. A recent study found Florida’s lawsuit abuse climate costs Florida families $5,065 annually in lawsuit abuse taxes– money that could have been spent on childcare, family, transportation, or even savings.

    In the words of Florida Chamber President Mark Wilson “Governor Ron DeSantis put Florida consumers and local businesses above special interests by signing historic, Florida Chamber-backed lawsuit abuse reform legislation into law. This law will begin to reverse the damage done by personal injury billboard trial lawyers, redirecting the billions of dollars spent annually on frivolous litigation and pulling Florida up from its bottom-five legal climate, setting us on the path to reaching our Florida 2030 Blueprint goal of being one of the top 12 legal climates in the nation.”

    For a more detailed discussion of SB 236 / HB 837, go to: https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2023/837/Analyses/h0837c.JDC.PDF

    The legislation was quietly introduced in the House late in the day on Friday, March 24 that would substantially change the way the State’s tourism development arm Visit Florida would be funded and would place major costs and restrictions on Florida’s 62 Tourism Development Councils including the St. Johns County Tourism Development Council, the County’s “Bed Tax” funded tourism marketing agency. The SJC Chamber worked in concert with the County’s Visitor and Convention Bureau, Attractions Association, and Chamber members directly impacted by this legislation to signal our state legislative delegation, including Speaker Paul Renner, to oppose this attack.  The House Regulatory Reform & Economic Development subcommittee held a hearing on March 28, where leaders of Florida’s tourism industry roundly criticized the effort to “tax” each county’s tourism development council up to 5% of their “Bed Tax” collections to fund Visit Florida’s marketing efforts statewide. Even though the subcommittee favorably reported out this legislation, many of the members voting aye expressed serious reservations because of the potential damage the bill would do to wildly successful Florida’s tourism marketing efforts in recent years.

    Contact the members of the St. Johns County legislative delegation below and urge them to oppose any effort, specifically, HB 7053, to kill Visit Florida or our County’s tourism marketing efforts, which are so important to the continued growth and prosperity of St. Johns County.

    Senator Travis Hutson (R - District 7)
    District Office: (386) 446-7610
    Email: Hutson.Travis@FLSenate.gov
    Rep. Paul Renner (R - District 19)
    Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives
    District Office: (386) 446-7644
    Email: Paul.Renner@MyFloridaHouse.gov
    Rep. Cyndi Stevenson (R - District 18)
    District Office:  (904) 823-2300
    Email: Cyndi.Stevenson@MyFloridaHouse.gov

    Continuing to streak through this year’s Legislative Session, the Florida House, and Senate voted to approve their respective budgets last week. The Senate proposal totals $113.7 billion which is $1 billion less than Governor Ron DeSantis’ proposed budget, while the House proposal of $113 billion is $2 billion less. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved 200 amendments changing the Senate’s proposed spending plan on Tuesday. Both budgets have raises for state employees, infrastructure, and land acquisition.

    Each body’s proposals have differences that they will have to work out before the Session ends on May 5. Among the major differences are: The House proposal does not include funding for Visit Florida while the Senate includes $80 million. The House eliminates Enterprise Florida, the State’s economic development arm, while the Senate and Governor’s budgets are silent. Education is another big difference between the two budget proposals. They both differ on how to pay for the newly signed universal school voucher program. The Senate has $100 million more than the House.

    Both the House and Senate propose an additional $2 billion on education which equates to more than a 4% increase per student. The House proposes a plan to pass down money to school districts in a new way, more of a “lump sum approach” while the Senate is skeptical and is not ready to change the formula. The House plan has an additional $250 million for teachers and school staff raises while the Senate has $200 million.

    Governor DeSantis has also included $1.5 Billion in tax cuts, primarily through a series of “tax holidays” on items purchased for hurricane preparation, back-to-school supplies to newly added items such as diapers, personal hygiene products, paper towels, and wipes.  These tax-cut proposals will be folded into the final budget for the State of Florida which must be acted upon before the Legislature adjourns on May 5.

    These are items that St. Johns County retail businesses sell day in and day out and the extra savings during these “tax holidays” encourages additional sales and increases profit as the retailers know when to order additional quantities of the tax-free goods. 


    Stay tuned throughout the Legislative Session for regular updates and a call to action when your input directly to our legislators is needed. For additional information on these or other legislative issues affecting your business, contact Bob Porter, the SJC Chamber’s VP of Public Policy bob.porter@sjcchamber.com 

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