Members met this week in Tallahassee concluding the 5 week Interim Committee schedule leading up to the Regular Session beginning on March 2nd. Lawmakers will have next week off before they head back to Florida's Capital presumably on Monday, March 1st to participate in the annual tradition of fundraising activities before the start of Session. Legislators spent this week moving leadership priorities and other legislation through committees. Major bill action from this week is outlined below.
Taxes and Incentives
SB 598 Back-to-school Sales Tax Holiday establishes a 10-day "back-to-school" sales tax holiday from Friday, July 30 to Sunday, August 8, 2021, for certain clothing, school supplies, personal computers, and personal computer-related accessories. The bill takes effect upon becoming law. SB 598 passed the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee and has two references remaining.
SB 704 Entertainment Industry creates the Film, Television, and Digital Media Targeted Rebate Program (program) within the Department of Economic Opportunity in order to broaden the entertainment industry's impact, enhance tourism, and encourage more family-friendly productions to be produced in Florida. The program gives rebates on qualified expenditures to film, television, and digital media production projects that, among other requirements, employ a crew of which at least 60 percent are Florida residents and spend at least 70 percent of their production days in Florida. A project may only receive a rebate after it has completed production and its expenditures have been verified by the Office of Film and Entertainment. The program is subject to legislative appropriation, but the bill does not contain any appropriation of state funds. SB 704 passed the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee and has two references remaining.
SB 50 Sales and Use Tax requires out-of-state retailers and marketplace providers with no physical presence in Florida to collect Florida's sales tax on sales of taxable items delivered to purchasers in Florida if the out-of-state retailer or marketplace provider makes a substantial number of sales into Florida. A substantial number of remote sales means conducting any number of taxable remote sales in an amount exceeding $100,000 during the previous calendar year. The Revenue Estimating Conference determined the bill will increase General Revenue Fund receipts by $937.6 million in Fiscal Year 2021-2022 and by $1.08 billion each year thereafter. Local government revenues will increase by $229.5 million in Fiscal Year 2021-2022 and by $253.7 million each year thereafter. SB 50 passed the Senate Finance and Tax Committee and has one reference remaining.
SB 54 Motor Vehicle Insurance repeals the Florida Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law (No-Fault Law), which requires every owner and registrant of a motor vehicle in this state to maintain Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. Beginning January 1, 2022, the bill enacts financial responsibility requirements for liability for motor vehicle ownership or operation, as follows:
- For bodily injury (BI) or death of one person in any one crash, $25,000, and, subject to that limit for one person, $50,000 for BI or death of two or more people in any one crash.
- The bill sets a lower financial responsibility requirement of $15,000 for BI or death of one person, and $30,000 for BI or death of two or more persons, for persons having a household income of 200 percent or less of the federal poverty guidelines and for full time students attending a secondary or post-secondary school.
- The existing $10,000 financial responsibility requirement for property damage (PD) is retained.
The bill increases required coverage amounts for garage liability and commercial motor vehicle insurance. It increases the cash deposit amount required for a certificate of self-insurance establishing financial responsibility for owners and operators of motor vehicles that are not for-hire vehicles. The bill requires insurers to offer medical payments coverage (MedPay) with limits of $5,000 or $10,000 to cover medical expenses of the insured. Insurers may also offer other policy limits that exceed $5,000. Insurers must offer a zero deductible option for MedPay, and may also offer deductibles of up to $500. Insurers must reserve $5,000 of MedPay benefits for 30 days to pay physicians or dentists who provide emergency services and care or who provide hospital inpatient care. SB 54 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and has one reference remaining.
SB 44 Drones provides additional exceptions to the statutory ban on certain uses of drones by law enforcement agencies, fire departments, state agencies, and political subdivisions of the state. Currently, s. 934.50, F.S., prohibits a:
- Law enforcement agency from using a drone to gather evidence or other information.
- Person, or state or local entity, from using a drone to capture images of private property in violation of a person's reasonable expectation of privacy. However, these prohibitions are subject to exceptions, and the bill adds to these exceptions. Specifically, under the bill, s. 943.50, F.S., no longer prohibits a law enforcement agency from using a drone to:
- Assist with traffic management, except that the agency may not issue a traffic citation based on images or video captured by a drone; and
- Facilitate evidence collection at a crime scene or traffic crash scene. Moreover, the bill provides that s. 934.50, F.S., does not prohibit a state agency or political subdivision to use a drone to assess damage due to a natural disaster, or for the management of vegetation and wildlife management on public land or water. Finally, the bill provides that this section does not prohibit certified fire department personnel to use drones, as long as they use the drone to perform tasks within the scope and practice authorized under their certifications.
SB 44 passed the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security Committee and has one reference remaining.
HB 433 Use of Drones by a Government Agency creates an additional exception to the general prohibition on drone surveillance to allow a state agency or political subdivision to use a drone to assess damage resulting from a hurricane, flood, wildfire, or other natural disaster. HB 433 passed the House Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee and has one reference remaining.
SB 514 Resiliency establishes the Statewide Office of Resiliency within the Executive Office of the Governor. The office must be headed by a Chief Resilience Officer, appointed by and serving at the pleasure of the Governor. The bill creates the Statewide Sea-Level Rise Task Force, adjunct to the Statewide Office of Resiliency, to recommend consensus projections of the anticipated sea level rise and flooding impacts along Florida's coastline. The bill provides for task force membership and requires that all appointments be made by August 1, 2021.
The task force must develop and recommend consensus baseline projections of the expected sea level rise for planning horizons designated by the task force. The task force is authorized to designate technical advisory groups to inform its decision-making and to request the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to contract for services to assist in developing the recommended baseline projections. The DEP must serve as contract administrator for such contracts and must provide administrative support to the task force. By January 1, 2022, the task force must submit its recommended projections to the Environmental Regulation Commission for adoption or rejection. If adopted, the task force's projections must serve as the state's official estimate of sea level rise and flooding impacts along Florida's coastline for the purpose of developing future state projects, plans, and programs. The bill repeals the provisions relating to the task force on July 1, 2024. SB 514 passed the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee and has two references remaining.
HB 522 Vacation Rentals SB 522 preempts all regulation of vacation rentals to the state, including the inspection and licensing of vacation rentals. A vacation rental is a unit in a condominium or cooperative, or a single, two, three, or four family house that is rented to guests more than three times a year for periods of less than 30 days or one calendar month, whichever is shorter, or held out as regularly rented to guests. Vacation rentals are licensed by the Division of Hotels and Restaurants (division) within the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR). The bill adds "licensing" to the list of regulations of public lodging establishments and public food service establishments that are now expressly preempted to the state. It provides that a local law, ordinance, or regulation may not require local inspection or licensing of the public lodging or public food service establishments. Under the bill, a local government may regulate activities that arise when a property is used as a vacation rental, provided the regulation applies uniformly to all residential properties. The bill maintains current law that local governments may not prohibit vacation rentals or regulate the duration or frequency of vacation rentals. The bill maintains the current "grandfathered" status for local laws, ordinances, or regulations adopted on or before June 1, 2011, and provides that a local government may amend a grandfathered regulation to be less restrictive. SB 522 passed the Senate Regulated Industries Committee and has two references remaining.
COVID -19 Issues
HB 7 Civil Liability for Damages Relating to COVID-19 provides several COVID-19-related liability protections for businesses, educational institutions, government entities, religious organizations, and other entities. Under the bill, a covered entity that makes a good faith effort to substantially comply with applicable COVID-19 guidance is immune from civil liability from a COVID-19-related civil action. The bill also provides that for any COVID-19-related civil action against a covered entity, a plaintiff must:
- Plead his or her complaint with particularity.
- Submit, at the time of filing suit, a physician's affidavit confirming the physician's belief that the plaintiff's COVID-19-related injury occurred because of the defendant's conduct.
- Prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant was at least grossly negligent.
The bill's liability protections do not apply to a health care provider, such as a hospital, nursing home, assisted living facility, or other health care-related entity. The bill provides a one-year statute of limitations for COVID19-related claims. For a plaintiff whose cause of action has already accrued, the one-year period does not begin to run until the bill becomes effective. The bill may have a positive fiscal impact on state government. The bill provides that it is effective upon becoming a law and applies retroactively. However, the bill's provisions do not apply in a civil action against a particular defendant if the action is filed before the bill's effective date. HB 7 passed the House Judiciary Committee and is available for floor action.
PCB HHS 21-01 Healthcare Civil Liability provides heightened liability protections to health care entities for negligence claims by patients and residents arising under existing laws governing medical malpractice and long-term care facility litigation related to:
- Contracting COVID-19;
- Injury due to delay or omission in scheduling surgery or an act or omission in providing care for a medical condition due to a lack of resources caused by COVID-19;
- Novel or experimental COVID-19 treatment given to a COVID-19 patient; or
- Treatment of a COVID-19 patient whose injuries were related to an exacerbation of pre-existing conditions by COVID-19.
A plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that a defendant was grossly negligent, reckless or committed intentional misconduct to recover under these COVID-19-related medical claims, thus immunizing providers from acts that constitute mere negligence. The proposed bill provides an affirmative defense for defendants who complied with applicable government-issued COVID-19 guidance. The proposed bill also provides heightened liability protections for negligence claims against a health care provider that do not fall under existing medical malpractice and long-term care facility litigation statutes related to contracting COVID-19, applicable claims by individuals other than patients and residents ( i.e., visitors). A health care provider that made a good faith effort to substantially comply with applicable COVID-19 guidance is immune from these negligence claims. HHS 21-01 was voted favorably by the House Health & Human Services Committee.
HB 233 Post-Secondary Education & Lifelong Learning requires the State Board of Education (SBE) and Board of Governors of the State University System (BOG) to select or create a survey to be administered by all Florida College System (FCS) institutions and state universities annually. Beginning September 1, 2022, the results of this survey are to be compiled by the SBE and the BOG, respectively, and published each September. Additionally, to encourage intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity, the bill prohibits the SBE, the BOG, FCS institutions, and state universities from shielding students, faculty, or staff from protected free speech. HB 233 passed the House Post-Secondary Education & Lifelong Learning Subcommittee and has two references remaining.
SB 510 State Funds exempts the State Housing Trust Fund and the Local Government Housing Trust Fund from a provision authorizing the Legislature, in the General Appropriations Act, to transfer unappropriated cash balances from specified trust funds to the Budget Stabilization Fund and General Revenue Fund. SB 510 passed the Senate Finance and Tax Committee and has one reference remaining.
*Summaries provided by House and Senate bill analyses
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